Tuesday, 17 November 2009

All you need to know about 2012

For those who aren't afraid of spoilers for films, my attitude towards 2012 can be summarised in one statement. Well, two.

For those who thought that the way Roland Emmerich blew up the White House in Independence Day wasn't over-the-top enough, skip to 2 mins 18 seconds into the trailer (the last effect shot included):

Worse yet, corny as it was, Independence Day had the President's Henry V-inspired battle speech with David Arnold's music rising to a climax behind it.

The best 2012 can manage is an "everyone deserves a chance" speech delivered by 2012's everyman-scientist (imagine him being played by Jeff Goldblum) which fizzles into nothingness. The only way it tugged at my tear ducts was the extent to which it made me want to cry with laughter!

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Armistice Day Thoughts

As the clock strikes eleven on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the world commemorates Armistice Day, the silencing of the guns of the First World War and the start of an uneasy peace.

Well, let's be honest, "the world" mainly means Great Britain, its Commonwealth, France and the Low Countries, those nations which lost more of their young men to the conflict than any other.

We don't normally think about the Germans because, well, we acknowledge they started it, and we don't normally think of the Russians because by the end of the war, they'd been through the October Revolution and the birth of the Soviet state, which had much more of a monumental effect on their future. And we don't think of the other two empires whose collapse the War precipitated, Austro-Hungary down the east of the Mediterranean sea, or the Ottomans, still further away.

Although proudly British, my cultural and genetic roots are far from here. Looking upon the seas of white crosses marking the Allied killing grounds of northern France and Belgium you won't find my surname or many like it. In fact, look at any statistics and you'll find there were no great numbers of Polish casualties of the Great War.

It's not because there weren't tens of thousands of Polish young men involved in the fighting. It's just that (and this is news to an alarming number of people), there was no Polish state at all during World War One and so the fallen don't count as Polish nationals. The country had been wiped off the face of the European map by the end of the 18th century and its territory divided up between the Russians, Prussians, Germans and Austrians. Thousands of young men, ethnically Poles, were forced to fight in the armies of their occupiers against their natural allies, or simply taken into slave camps or became prisoners of the state, partly to prevent the development of the Legions .

For Polish people, while 11th November remains an opportunity to remember the war dead lying in unmarked and forgotten graves across Europe and the Russian steppes, it is primarily the festival of the rebirth of a nation, the restoration of a physical entity whose existence had been denied for over 120 years.

My father was born at the start of the Great War and while he never talks of these things, I am always conscious, every 11th November, that he had been born in a country that didn't exist, but by the time he started school, he was one of the first children in three generations in his area allowed to go to a Polish school, run by Polish people, and taught in his own language completely openly without fear of repression or abuse.

So yes, I bow my head at 11am and think of tens of thousands of dead young men and their distraught families and I thank them for their sacrifice, but I also think of a country reborn, of hope that the future must be better than the past, and that a better future is always worth fighting for.

The red poppy has become the international symbol of Armistice Day and in the UK more than any country, we are encouraged to buy a facsimile and wear it with pride in memory of those who gave their lives for ours. For Poles, however, that symbol has a very slightly different meaning and is emblematic not of the killing fields of World War One, but the Allied operation to liberate Italy in World War Two (which is not to undermine its being the symbol of the fallen of all wars).

Every Polish-speaking child knows by heart Czerwone maki na Monte Cassino (The Red Poppies On Monte Cassino), a hymn to bravery, honour and sacrifice, written during the battle for Monte Cassino not far from Rome in May 1944. Read about the background of both the battle and the song on Wikipedia .

Oh and my dad was there, too, and it's something else he chooses not to talk about.

Every time I see the seas of red poppies in the first half of November on British streets and look down upon the one I wear myself, it's invariably this song I end up thinking about and singing to myself. And by the end, my eyes are never dry. There are several versions floating around online and I'm not really that taken with any of them, and there are also various translations into English, but I have problems with all of those two.

Please persevere with the song, and here is my non-poetic, non-scanning translation (I'm not a poet in any language) of the words:

Czerwone maki na Monte Cassino
The Red Poppies on Monte Cassino

Do you see those ruins on that hill?
Your enemy's hiding there like a rat!
You have to! You have to! YOU HAVE TO
Grab his neck and drag him from his heights!
And they moved on, mad, heedless,
And they moved on to kill and avenge,
And they went as stubborn as ever,
In honour's name, to fight.

The red poppies on Monte Cassino
Fed not on dew, but on Polish blood...
Polish soldiers crawled over and died on them,
But their anger was more potent than death!
Years will pass and the ages will dull memories,
Only traces of bygone days will remain,
But the poppies on Monte Cassino
Will be redder
From the Polish blood on which they thrived.

They charged through fire, the condemned,
Countless were hit and fell,
Like the cavalry at Samosierra,
They charged with furious momentum
Like those at Rokitna years ago.
And they persevered. And they prevailed.
And planted their white and scarlet standard
In the ruins in the clouds.

The red poppies on Monte Cassino...

Do you see this row of white crosses?
Polish soldiers did honour there wed.
The further, the higher you go forward,
The more of them you'll find at your feet.
This soil belongs to Poland,
Though Poland is far away,
For Freedom is measured in crosses -
This is History's curse.

The red poppies on Monte Cassino...

(25th Anniversary verse, not included in any recordings)

A quarter of a century, friends, has passed us,
The battle's dust has blown to the winds
And the monastery's white walls
Again reach to the sky.
But the memory of those terrible nights
And the blood which was spilled here -
Echoes in the monastery's bells
Rocking the fallen to their rest!

The red poppies on Monte Cassino...

Later in the day... While sorting through some old bits and pieces of paper, totally by coincidence I found a photograph of myself in a group at the Monte Cassino war cemetary while on a school trip to Italy. See if you can find which one's me! ;-)

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Stephen Fry returns to Twitter but the @brumplum controversy continues

About half an hour ago (it's now almost 3.30am UK time) I was about to close down my laptop and go to bed having finally had a fairly normal day in both the real world and on Twitter, when all of a sudden the "mentions" column in Tweetdeck suddenly sprang to life, with several people posting the same link (actually, the same title, but different abbreviated links every time).

The link was to an article on an Australian tech blog called Blorge.com (never heard of them before, sorry). I tried to leave a comment, but this resulted in an error message which said that my comment looked like it might be spam and that it would have to be approved by an admin (I don't hold that against them, as long as an admin actually does get to see the comment, and hopefully approves it, and it's not just been sent into a black hole).

Here's a link to the blog and a slightly re-written version of my comment:

Stephen Fry returns to Twitter but the @brumplum controversy continues

The topic has actually been all but dead for the last 18 hours or so (certainly nothing controversial, although I have picked up on a few jocular comments here and there). I have spent the day able to treat Twitter the way I always have and have resumed my usual activities and normal inane rambling and sharing pointless information with my (now-enlarged) group of friends. Mentions of my username have come from either those friends or other people with questions or comments which are generally unrelated to the controversy.

Until several people starting linking this article about 20 minutes ago, the @brumplum controversy was no more, and it is this article which resurrected it!

I'm not making any kind of moral judgment about it (I find the whole thing rather amusing), but I hope you realise that by publishing this now, its title has actually become a self-fulfilling prophecy?

(I hope that people reading this will draw appropriate conclusions and let this matter drop now; I am posting this blog mainly for the benefit of those who've already seen and retweeted the Blorge article)

Sunday, 1 November 2009

The Fry débacle, Addendum: #envioushomo and Alan Davies

I have two things to say which are effectively replies to comments on my last entry but I feel are significant enough to highlight, and not lose them in what is effectively a stream of footnotes.

Firstly, several people have picked up on a hashtag which appeared very early on in the day and caused some to shower me and others in outrage. I understand that it has been the cause of a certain amount of bad blood during the day (there was just FAR too much going on for me to get a handle on it), and a topic for at least three comments on my blog.

I am talking about

This was a term of fondness not addressed to Stephen Fry and it wasn't even addressed to me! As anyone who can use the Twitter search function (i.e. every-bloody-one) can see (check out the link I have provided above), it originated with a tweet from my friend @w00dRabbit who is gay, and called himself... an envious homo!

Here's his tweet:

I replied to him and because Tweetdeck, my Twitter application of choice, automatically appends any hashtags when replying, it showed up in my timeline. I thought it was fairly amusing and didn't consider for an instant that anyone could misconstrue it - after all, it's there for anyone to get the original context, isn't it?

EDIT: A comment
has just made me realise that @woodRabbit's tweets are protected, which means he needs to approve his followers and this tweets don't show up in the general timeline. (I've always found the concept of protected tweets a bit odd, between you and me.) Because we already follow each other, I see his tweets normally and thus made nothing of it.

It was therefore unfair of me to have a go at anyone in the previous version of this blog for not knowing the source of the hashtag. My bad as the youngsters say. My turn to eat crow. Nevertheless, I hope the above has now cleared it all up.

So folks, please get off my back, or anyone else's, for being homophobic or anything else of that ilk, cos you're jumping to ENTIRELY the w
rong conclusions!

The second item I would like to address is on a different level. I've honestly not had time to read through my twitter feed of the day. I've just picked up a few pits and pieces I've had pointed to me, mainly positive. I have no desire to see just how much vitriol people from around the planet could hurl in my direction.

A few friends, however, have pointed me in the direction of specific comments they felt were particularly egregious and in most cases I've laughed them off. One person, however, is in a very different category.

I am talking of Alan Davies, known in Twitter circles as @alandavies1. For the benefit of full disclosure, I should say that Alan Davies was probably the fourth or fifth person I followed on joining Twitter and I have, on and off, enjoyed what he's had to say. I've even replied to some of his stuff with positive noises.

He's Stephen Fry's friend, and along with Stephen, makes QI work as a concept and a show. I don't blame him for a moment for coming to Stephen Fry's defence. Several of my real-life friends came to mine, and that's only right. I fully expect they called each other tossers and wankers and twats.

But to my knowledge nobody who supported me has over a hundred thousand followers and called anyone else a c*nt. Yet Alan Davies considers this normal and acceptable behaviour, and it seems to me without having a clue about the background to the story or feeling the need to find out.

Much more important though is the tweet (which he has since deleted) in which he invited people to physically gang up on me, in "the Essex way".

Frankly, I expected just a little more class frrom the guy.

I have said that I expect no apology from Stephen Fry. But, BOY do I expect one from Alan Davies. Preferably to my face. That, or call me a wanker to my face, which is also, according to him, the Essex way. (He already called me a moron and a wanker on Twitter, so he'd just be following up on his own standards.)

Because I am more than wiling to call him an irresponsible idiot to his face, should anyone accord me the opportunity.

I really, HONESTLY, have no desire to drag this unfortunate misunderstanding out any more, but Alan Davies' part in all this leaves me with a particularly nasty taste in my mouth, and he's the only one who can take it away.

Similarly to my other blog entry which I ended with thanks to my friends, I would like to thank @
lachance680 for being particularly tenaciously on Alan Davies's back and for saving some of his more ill-judged comments for me to see.

EDIT: After a few comments on the subject, I would like to explain that it's not because Alan Davies said something slightly foolish that I demand an apology from him. It's specificially because he has MANY more followers than anyone else in this argument and was agreeing with the idea of working up the internet mob to become a real-world one :

@Alandavies1 Anyone has a pop at your mates you stick up for them.Twittr needs to be more like Essex.If you wouldn't say it to their face then do shut up

Firequacker @alandavies1 followed by smashing their windows slashing their tyres and sending dogs muck through the leter box.. Grays Stylee ??

@Alandavies1 @Firequacker if needs be

(anyone who really wanted to could identify me from my online existence and work out where I live). This is bad enough coming from anyone, but for someone with a public face it is simply irresponsible. Recent events should have taught him that he has sway over people and this kind of talk is really not on.