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As mentioned before, I have an occasional tendancy towards splurging on CDs. This weekend I returned home from a ski trip somewhat cough-y and bleurg-y and so the following occurred:

The Foo Fighters – Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace

Mylo – Destroy Rock & Roll

The Pipettes – We Are The Pipettes

Counting Crows – Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings

Muse – H.A.A.R.P.

Sigur Ros – Hvarf & Heim

The Klaxons – Myths Of The Near Future

Duffy – Rockferry

And, because I can, Belinda Carlisle – The Best of Belinda

I may have over-splurged. So far I’ve made my way through The Pipettes (awesome), Counting Crows (well, not exactly August and Everything After), Mylo (singles good, rest ropey) and Foo Fighters (excellent). Details and reflections to come…


Well, over 3 million actually. So it’s hardly surprising that a new wave of pop-economics books have hit the shelves.


The Undercover Economist by Tim Harford is no Freakonomics but it is an interesting companion. It starts pretty slowly, spending a couple of chapters exploring a few tortured metaphors for Supply and Demand, but gradually becomes an insightful and useful analysis of how modern life is so fully affected by economics. Most importantly, it’s a readable book that brings what can be a tedious science to life.

And maybe that’s the critical thing. The lessons in books like this and Freakonomics are real and applicable. The lame struggles that GCSE Maths exams and the like go to in order to appear relevant are effortlessly surpassed in these well-written pop-Science books. In fact I’d go a step further, it would not be the worst decision in the history of the National Curriculum to add these and similar books. (A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson comes to mind) As exercises in education, they are refreshing and an extremely pleasing modern phenomenon.

When England won the Rugby World Cup final 4 1/2 years ago, it was one of the best mornings of my life. I think it was a pretty good afternoon too, but I can’t remember much beyond talking to some lacrosse girls during a Bath game, trying to get a 6 year old to swear and falling asleep in Pizza Express. It was the culmination of 6 years of England Rugby under Clive Woodward – and the transformation of an amateur organisation to the most professional of its type in the world.

There were a lot of peaks and troughs before the final zenith (50 points on Wales, France, Ireland and South Africa, first wins in Australia and New Zealand being the former, being drop-kicked out of the RWC ’99 by South Africa and losing successive grand slams to Wales, Scotland, France and Ireland being the latter), but there’s no doubting that a definite progression was made from 1997 to 2003.


Woodward wrote most of this book just after the world cup, but it has been revised and updated until just before the Lions Tour to New Zealand (for some reason there was no push to revise it after that). I’ve only just got around to reading it (picked it up at the airport if you must know) and, sadly, I don’t feel like I’ve missed much. The problem is that Woodward pitches it as a business book more than a rugby memoir, but all the interesting stuff comes from the memoirs. As part of his pledge to his players, it’s completely lacking in gossip – admirable perhaps, but very dull. Woodward is also a very poor writer, he’s very unfocussed and there’s no clear flow between chapters – apart from the constant refrain of “oh and if you weren’t aware, we did win the world cup” – like anyone who bought it wouldn’t already know that.

I can see what he’s trying to do – and he deserves a lot of praise for the progress he acheived. Sadly, the book is full of lessons that were failed to learn. One of his main concepts is to do 100 things 1% better than everyone else – 100 Critical Non-Essentials. Yet as late as the later group games in the RWC and the Quarter Final vs Wales, he’s bemoaning that they forgot to scout the hotels properly. After the 2001 Lions tour he had a poor run with England, and he comes to the (accurate) conclusion that he shouldn’t have picked people based on their form before the tour, but rather focus on their preparedness and form now. Fair enough. Sadly, that’s exactly the same mistake he made when coaching the 2005 Tour – picking players who had won him the world cup and ignoring the current form.

Woodward should be praised for creating an environment that allowed the likes of Johnson, Dallaglio, Greenwood and Dawson to acheive so much. But it is those players, Johnson especially, who should take the credit for the successful return to Britain, Webb Ellis trophy in tow. And, incidentally, Johnson’s memoir is a far better written and more interesting one too.


Sheryl Crow has had an interesting career. Her debut album ‘Tuesday Night Music Club’ came from almost nowhere to become a cult hit (despite the overplayed annoyance of ‘All I Wanna Do’), and the mainstream beckoned with her more pop-y eponymous follow-up. The Globe Sessions drifted her further away (while probably being her best actual album) before another swing at the mainstream (and duets with the likes of Lenny Kravitz) on her fourth, C’mon, C’mon. Then she decided to further indulge her political sensibilities for a while and didn’t bother writing anything for a while (and so in time-honoured fashion released a couple of best-ofs). I’m ignoring her god-awful cover of ‘Sweet Child O’Mine’ for an Adam Sandler movie on the basis that, well, she must have been seriously mentally ill at the time. I can’t think of any other possible reason for it.


Her latest album, Detours is very pleasing return to form. There’s still the political bitterness (if you couldn’t guess, she really doesn’t like George Bush), but her break-up with Tour de France legend Lance Armstrong really, ah, glooms through as well (‘diamond ring fucks up everything’, being a fairly obvious example). There’s some really nice stripped down numbers, but it remains accessible. A couple of less than great numbers aside (‘Make It Go Away’, is her dealing with cancer, but sadly ends up a bit too screechy and ‘Gasoline’ is a fairly lame go at, well, guess…) it’s a great album that probably won’t sell anywhere near as much as it deserves. I’ve a strange affinity for female singing bass players and Crow is definitely up there with Kim Deal and Chrissie Hynde.

While being slowly converted to snowboarding by a small group of nefarious colleagues (ref. here and here) I’ve historically been more of a skiier. Fortunately, my lovely girlfriend and her family are thoroughly uncharmed by boards and invited me along to their annual stick-and-pole excursion – in this case in Val D’Isere.

After an initial struggle with easyjet, baggage handlers, French roads and chalet girls who can only be described as lacking hap (© A!F) we girded ourselves for some hardcore rocking of the pow-pow. Sadly, I had forgotten that my skis hadn’t been waxed or sharpened in over 3 years – not conducive to the most elegant of swishing down the slopes. A swift overnight service got them back to their glidy best and it was onwards and downwards.

(Short aside, I’m now fully of the opinion that it is of no value whatsoever to own skis – or a snowboard for that matter – in my position. Once or twice a year is nowhere near enough to justify them. Adding the cost up – easyjet charge £20 each way for carriage and it’s another £20 to get them serviced. That £60 plus the hassle of carting them around adds up to pretty much the same cost as renting them in the first place – and then you get the latest model. If I lived somewhere that I could just head off and ski one afternoon it’d be worth it. Sadly, Putney is not such a location. Boots, however, are another matter, definitely worth having those, they’re easy to cart around, don’t cost any more to transport and are always more comfortable than rentals.)

(Shorter aside, any comments about boots will be dealt with harshly. Declan.)

Anyway, the second day was far more fun, with swishing and elegance a-plenty. Sadly no one could see this as we spent pretty much the entire day skiing in a whiteout snowstorm. 48 constant hours of snow would normally get anyone salivating, sadly it was snowing so much the piste beasties couldn’t bash their way around the mountain so we just had a lot of cut-up lumps of snow all over the shop – and as you could barely see 5m in front of you, life was a challenge.

Day three, however, dawned beautifully – clear, sun-filled skies smiled down upon us. I have to say it’s probably the best day’s skiing I’ve had in over a decade, beautiful pistes with just the right amount of powder. We skiied from lift-opening until after they all shut. Towards the end, there was an eerie silence over the mountain broken only by the spray of snow from our smart turns and the far off trumpetings of the apres-ski bars. It was truly brilliant fun.

Karma then decided I was having far too much fun and the bunged nose I’d been duelling with turned into a full on fever (with accompanied night-time writhings – not in a good way) with hacking cough. As I type, I’m missing my second consecutive day – and each has looked as glorious as the last one. I’m hoping to be hale and hearty for tomorrow’s final day, sadly the forecast suggest this will be a return to the low visibility bad days. Ah well. It’s been a good holiday nonetheless and I’ve been able to catch up on some music and books. That, plus fever has coloured my normally idiosyncratic philosophising. More on all three shortly…

I’m getting old. Or I’m turning into my Dad. Or possibly both. Anyway, I’ve found myself listening to a reasonable amount of folk music recently. It’s possibly just the latest rotation of my catholic approach to music, but, you know, there’s actually some pretty reasonable stuff out there. And it’s impinging on the mainstream – Kate Nash, Amy McDonald, Lily Allen – all singer songwriters with clear folk influences, or at least songs and albums very much in the tradition.

Anyway, Kate Rusby has been the recent apple of my ear:


Anyone expecting lyrics relevant and explanatory of 21st century life is… pretty dumb – it’s folk music, guys. But if you want a lovely voice with stripped-down accompaniment then it’s excellent. Whereas Eliza Carthy seems to strive against the fact she’s playing folk, Kate seems comfortable and happy to just excel with the material she has.

Maybe I’m just a sucker for a talented, musical female (or maybe Muse just haven’t released an album in a while) but whatever the genre, Kate Rusby has something about her.

What Has Gone Before

March 2008
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i miss your disposition and your strength to see the best in everyone