Ramblings about stuff

Kidlington Chess Congress 2016

The annual gathering of chess aficionados in Kidlington was rather more traumatic than on previous years, due largely to my own poor play. It is also the first time I’ve ever seriously considered dropping out of such a tournament before the end. On balance, I’m glad that I didn’t do so, but the fact that it was on my mind probably didn’t help my play especially during the first game on Sunday. It’s also the first time I considered not doing a full blog write-up of the tournament, but instead just doing a one-liner consisting of a single, terse profanity.

  • Round One: playing Black against the highest-rated player in the section (whose brother happens to be a grandmaster!) was tough. That said, I played very solidly and managed to survive long enough to make a decent effort. I miscalculated a lengthy tactical sequence which led to him having two bishops against a rook in the endgame, which was a formality for him to win. Shame to have Lost the first game, but I wasn’t too unhappy about my play here and my opponent was very complimentary. He went on to win the tournament, so no need to feel too ashamed about losing.
  • Round Two: my opponent arrived 20 minutes late for this game (“Terribly sorry, I was watching Man City in the pub…”) but then proceeded to bash out the first 11 moves almost instantly. I was playing White against similarly-rated opposition and got a reasonably decent position out of the opening. I couldn’t find any way to break through and spent far too much time looking for a win in what was really an equal position. An outright blunder in time trouble meant that I Lost this one too. I’d never lost two consecutive games at this tournament before, so I was rather disappointed. Much worse was to come, however…
  • Round Three: the Saturday evening game drew me as Black against Darrell Watson, who I’ve played here twice before (also both as Black) and I’ve beaten him both times. I felt confident I could make amends and get my first points on the board. I gave up bishop for knight early on and then aimed to close the position to take advantage of the material imbalance: this worked very well and by move 30 I broke through, winning a pawn giving me connected passed pawns. Tragically, I immediately missed a simple tactic and lost queen for two minor pieces and it was effectively Lost from that moment. I was so angry with myself and I’m sure my opponent heard what I muttered under my breath at that instant! I played on for a short while, just giving my opponent a chance to go wrong, but it wasn’t to be. Finishing the first day without any points and having just misplayed so horribly was very difficult. Before heading home I stayed at the venue for a while mulling over whether to just give up and withdraw from the tournament. With a score of zero out of 3, there was a very real chance that if there were an odd number of players left in the tournament for Round Four I’d be without a game anyway. My thought processes were rather muddled, but I was evaluating “You’ve got 0 out of 3, you might get 2 out of 5.” against “You’ve got 0 out of 3, you might get 0 out of 5” and so on. I decided not to withdraw and headed home for some sleep, although I didn’t sleep very well.
  • Round Four: as the player with the lowest score in the tournament, I was pleased to see that I was not given a bye for this round and actually had an opponent. I played White against a chap who had lost his first two games too, but had taken a half-point bye for Round Three. I misplayed the opening (Hyper-accelerated Dragon) and got a very passive and poor position almost immediately. So there I was, 20 minutes after the game started, with 0 out of 3 and facing another lost position. My thoughts returned to withdrawing from the tournament, writing up the “one-line profanity” version of this blog post and so on. The game just didn’t seem to run in my favour and, despite thinking for a long time on several moves, I couldn’t find any way to get activity. I felt very demoralised at this moment. Eventually I couldn’t avoid losing a pawn. My opponent had strong central pawns, one of them a passed pawn, in a double bishop endgame. A stroke of luck in my favour was my opponent missing the strongest move and, although I was still losing, it gave me a glimmer of hope. I helped provoke a miscalculation on his part and he lost his extra pawn. The game looked drawn, but I only had three minutes (plus 15 second increment) on the clock. He played a move, then offered a draw: I had the suspicion he’d just noticed he’d made a mistake. This was indeed the case and the game simplified into a winning King and pawn endgame for me. It was a great relief to Win this game, after having spent around three hours believing I was lost. Points on the board at last!
  • Round Five: the last game was against slightly lower-rated opposition and as Black I played an open version of the Caro-Kann Defence which I’d not tried before, but proved quite successful. He played a little inaccurately and I got the opportunity to play a spectacular exchange sacrifice, although once he’d recovered from the quite visible shock, he was able to come out of the situation just down one pawn by returning the material. Convinced I had a winning position, I thought for possibly rather too long looking for the key moves. He offered a Draw after I’d repeated the position once and I accepted. It turned out there was a way to make progress, but it would have been very difficult: even with two extra pawns in an opposite-colour bishop endgame would not have been a certain win. I was partly relieved to have avoided defeat, to be honest and having played both Sunday games without a loss was psychologically very positive.

My final score of 1.5 out of 5 was of course not very impressive and my grade will drop for next year as a result: I’ve decided that even if it drops low enough to make me eligible for the Under-145 section, I’ll still play my ‘usual’ Under-180 section anyway. Better next year? Let’s hope so!

UPDATE: Games and analysis available here.

General Election 2015: First Past The Post messes it up again

Well that was a bit of a shock, wasn’t it? The opinion polls got it wrong and we ended up with a Conservative majority government. Albeit one which only gained 37% of the popular vote. That is, 11.3 million people voted Conservative, while 19.3 million people voted for a different party. This should not yield a governing mandate: 37% of the vote led to 51% of the seats. However, given that the Conservatives have a Parliamentary majority as a result of the the discredited First Past The Post (FPTP) voting system, I don’t expect them to start singing and dancing about voting reform any time soon.

Let’s be honest, though, FPTP really made some of these results look very silly indeed. More than 1 million people voted Green and they only got 1 MP; nearly 4 million people voted UKIP and they only got 1 MP. That’s appallingly undemocratic. Under a more proportional system, these two parties would have received about 25 and 80 seats respectively. It is right to be in favour of this even if one disagrees with, say, UKIP’s policies: if 4 million people vote for a party, they should have a very strong representation in Parliament.

In Scotland, it was even worse. Almost exactly 50% of Scottish voters voted SNP: this lucky 50% saw SNP win in 56 of the 59 constituencies, that’s 95% of the seats! The other 50% of Scottish voters weren’t so lucky: their votes led to just 3 MPs, just 5% of the seats. Looking at the map, you’d think that everyone in Scotland voted SNP, when that’s clearly not the case. It’s worth adding, however, that the SNP are in favour of a proportional system for Westminster elections and it’s not their fault the current system benefits them so much.

This is the fundamental failing of the results of FPTP: it exaggerates division and subtle differences. FPTP really, really has to go!

It was undoubtedly a catastrophic election for the Liberal Democrats, but most party members I’ve seen express an opinion believe that it was the ‘right thing’ to go into coalition in 2010. It was sad to see some key players lose their seats: ministers who have done a good job over the past five years, such as Vince Cable and Danny Alexander in business and at the Treasury, and Lynne Featherstone and Jo Swinson who have done great work on equal rights. If electoral wipe-out was the price for implementing lots of liberal policies and curtailing illiberal plans from the Conservatives, then perhaps it was a price worth paying.

I’m curious to see how David Cameron’s fairly small Parliamentary majority works in practice: it has the potential to become troublesome in future (c.f. John Major in 1990s) although I expect that in the short term there won’t be many rebellions from the Conservative benches. A small majority carries its own risk that the agenda may be steered by the extreme wings of the Conservative party. David Cameron may look back fondly on the Coalition’s majority of 70+!

(The day after the election, we had resignations from Clegg, Miliband and Farage: I had planned to include a joke here about these three being the new presenters of ‘Top Gear’, but it seems that since I drafted this Farage has un-resigned … !)

I certainly believe that the presence of the Liberal Democrats in government will be sorely missed. They implemented large parts of their manifesto and also kept the Conservatives in check when necessary. As I’m writing this post, the Liberal Democrats have announced that they have gained 10,000 new members since polling day, which is quite remarkable. There seems to be a very positive ‘fight back’ in place.

Until the next election, this is who I’m campaigning with:

  1. I’ve been a member of the Liberal Democrats for more than five years and still think it’s the best choice, even though I don’t necessarily agree with every detail of policy
  2. I’ve been a member of the Electoral Reform Society for more than five years: they campaign continuously to reform voting systems in the UK to make them more democratic and fairer. As you’d imagine, they always have an awful lot to say regarding General Elections because of both their significance and the disproportionate results that arise.
  3. I’ve been a member of the Open Rights Group for two days although I’ve been following their activities for some time. I was motivated to join after news was announced that there was a plan to reintroduce the so-called Snooper’s Charter, which the Liberal Democrats had successfully and rightly ‘blocked’ in government.

Terry Pratchett, 1948-2015

Sir Terry Pratchett died today.

Ever since I was given a copy of ‘Mort’ by a University housemate in 1992, I was hooked on the Discworld books. I now own every single one. I’ve read all of them at least once, most of them twice and some of them several times. Terry Pratchett produced the most consistently funny, insightful and creative stories for over 30 years.

The pace of his writing put other authors to shame. He churned out top quality novels, twice each year. They were always the first thing on my Birthday or Christmas list. “Latest Pratchett, Dave?”, I’d be asked and always nod eagerly in the affirmative.

And it looks like we’ll be lucky enough to see one final Discworld novel from him, “The Shepherd’s Crown”, finished and due to be published later in the year. It’ll be on my Christmas list, as always. “Final Pratchett, Dave?”, I’ll be asked. I’ll still nod, of course, but rather more sadly.

Farewell, PTerry.

Time is a drug. Too much of it kills you. — Small Gods

Why I want the outcome of the General Election to be Stupid and Messy

It’s no secret that I’m a proponent of electoral reform, in particular I’d like to see the ridiculous FPTP voting system replaced with a more proportional system, such as STV. However, we’re stuck with FPTP for now and it occurred to me that the best way to show that we need a change is to see messy results in the UK 2015 General Election and, in particular, how stupid some of the outcomes can be.

With that in mind, I have drawn up a list of goals. These are outcomes I’d like to see which show up the bias, disproportionality and unfairness that FPTP brings. In short, the more messy and stupid the election results are, the worse it reflects on FPTP as a system.

GOAL 1: I want to see a hung parliament. It goes without saying that any single-party majority government must not happen. PROBABILITY: Most current polls and projections indicate that this is highly likely. BONUS GOAL: I want to see a really hung parliament, where no two parties can form majority coalition, such as we have with the current government. Projections suggest this is certainly quite possible.

GOAL 2: I want to see very obvious disproportionate results when considering the national share of votes and the national share of seats. For example, we expect to see Labour gain far more seats than its vote share should warrant, yet equally we expect UKIP and Greens to manage only a small handful of MPs between them despite sharing perhaps 20% of the vote. PROBABILITY: This is basically certain to occur, given that it’s a built-in failing of the FPTP system; BONUS GOAL: I want to see the election produce the ‘wrong’ winner, i.e. whichever party gets the most votes doesn’t get the most seats: probability of this is higher than at any other recent election and, if it happens, will likely manifest itself with Labour getting fewer votes than the Conservatives, but winning more seats; SUPER-BONUS GOAL: I want to see something really messy and stupid, for example: Firstly, Labour gets most seats, but fewer votes than the Conservatives; then Labour form a coalition with the Liberal Democrats where the Liberal Democrats have more seats but fewer votes than UKIP. Thus the teams that come 2nd and 4th in the popular vote form a governing coalition. Probability of that? Possibly quite slim, but it would provide a very anti-FPTP message. I am aware that this SUPER-BONUS GOAL is at odds with GOAL 1 ‘BONUS’ above!

GOAL 3: I want to see many examples of low percentage winners in individual constituencies, demonstrating how badly FPTP works at a local level as well as when considered nationally. PROBABILITY: There should be no shortage of examples of this kind.

Kidlington Chess Congress 2015

Once again a chilly weekend in February heralds the annual Kidlington Chess Congress. Playing for the fourth year in the Under-180 section, I was looking to improve on last year’s 50% score.

  • Round One: I was drawn against a slightly lower graded, but very experienced opponent (he has played 175 graded games in the past 12 months!) and I had White. It was a long game and fairly even although I felt I had a small edge. Just as we reached the 3.5 hour stage, and while both our clocks were below 5 minutes, he misjudged a Queen exchange to leave me with a clearly winning pawn endgame. Nice to Win in the first round!
  • Round Two: My prize for winning the previous game was a game with Black against one of the strongest players in my section. I managed to keep the opening fairly solid, although I felt under pressure throughout the game. After three hours play we had only reached move 30 and I was down to under 3 minutes. Soon he was in time trouble too and we blitzed out a further 30 moves in the next 5 minutes! He missed an immediate win, but in the end it didn’t matter and he managed to play correctly to force a result in his favour shortly afterwards. Shame to have Lost such a long game, but I felt that I played well and have no real complaints about this one.
  • Round Three: The evening game for the first day paired me with White against a stronger player. I deliberately played an unambitious opening in order to simplify quickly because I was tired from two 3.5-hours games earlier in the day, but he then played very strangely: after playing normally for the first 10 moves, he undeveloped nearly all his minor pieces which left me with a huge advantage in space and, eventually, his position was so cramped he had no good moves at all. I used this advantage to force a win of material and he resigned almost immediately. He could have played on for a bit, bishop or knight down, but presumably decided he’d had enough. Very pleased to Win this one and end the day on 2 out of 3. The game finished in under two hours as well, which is very fast for this type of tournament!
  • Round Four: Day Two began with a game against a very strong and rapidly-improving 15-year-old boy. I played one of the new openings I’d been studying for when I play Black, but perhaps didn’t choose the best variation. He had a good advantage heading into the endgame and I lost a pawn. This would have eventually proved fatal if I’d just played ‘normally’ so I mounted a last-gasp “bayonet charge” against his king, which was unfortunately repulsed. Shame to have Lost, first time I’ve lost to a teenager since being one myself: but I was never graded this high at that time! Interestingly, in my post-match computer analysis I found that I’d missed an astonishing move which would have saved the game and forced a draw! We both missed this during the game and during the post mortem immediately after the game had finished. Pesky kids.
  • Round Five: Going into the last round on 2 out of 4 I played White against another rapidly-improving child: although this one was only 10! It’s easy to be complacent saying “Oh, he’s only 10…” but I had to remember that he had also managed to get to the score 2 out of 4 against similar opposition as me. The game was very even but I managed to keep control enough to have a very tiny edge as we approached the endgame. He had been playing very fast, however: at the critical moment, I had only 14 minutes left against his 38 minutes. I had an opportunity to play for a win in a very uncertain, theoretical endgame: it was *probably* drawn, but I knew there was a very small chance of winning; equally, there were plenty of opportunities to go wrong and lose, quite likely in time trouble. He actually offered a Draw and I gladly accepted. The computer tells me that it was indeed possible to win but far from simple to do so. I think I made the best decision, pragmatically. Perhaps if I’d been in the running for a prize I might have been more tempted to play for a win, I suppose.
  • Vishy Anand and Magnus Carlsen were playing in the Grenke Classic in Germany while we played in Kidlington.

    Vishy Anand and Magnus Carlsen were playing in the Grenke Classic in Germany while we played in Kidlington.

Like last year I ended on 2.5 out of 5, giving me 50%: I suppose that’s pretty reasonable, but it would have been nice to have a win on the second day. Especially since the computer says I missed good moves in both those games. On the other hand, I won because of unforced errors in two other games, so maybe all this stuff evens out in the end.

UPDATED 12.02.2015 My game analysis with comments is here and the full cross-table results for the U-180 section is here.

Kidlington Chess Congress 2014

I’m sure I could almost create a standard template for these posts now: it’s the sixth year I’ve played this tournament and here is a brief summary of what happened as I played again in the Under-180 section:

  • Round One: Got off to a poor start playing inaccurately in the opening as Black; I never recovered from that and, with a further missed tactic later on, this was always going to be Lost.
  • Round Two: For the third year running, playing Karl Biswas with White: got a good, solid position out of the opening and ground this one down to Win a slightly-better endgame.
  • Round Three: Last game of the day saw me playing Black against a remarkably strong and mature 12-year-old boy. Although it nearly went pear-shaped in the opening, this one fizzled into a Draw.
  • Round Four: Just like the first round, I mucked this one up right at the start by messing up the opening: as White against a strong opponent, I really should have done better here. I recovered enough to make a (long) fight of it, but – apart from hoping for errors from my opponent – this was destined to be Lost too.
  • Round Five: Playing Black against Darrell Watson, who I played four years ago in the lower section. For once I got a reasonable position from the opening and, in trying a little too hard to play for a win, my opponent gave me some excellent chances. As the time ran down, I made a serious blunder which should have cost me the game, but my opponent missed it and the game should have been drawn. But my opponent returned the favour a few moves later, meaning I could finish with a Win.
The new World Champion, Magnus Carlsen: not playing at Kidlington

The new World Champion, Magnus Carlsen: not playing at Kidlington

Overall I’m a little disappointed with my results this year: that’s the first year I can really say that so I probably shouldn’t complain.

The games were very long (all over three hours except the first, with the last one being nearly three-and-a-half) so it was very tiring. Because of my performance and the length of the games, I spent a huge amount of game time feeling rather low about how I was doing. Although I ended up on 50% overall, I only snatched that in the last minute of the final round. Given that I scored higher last year against much stronger average opposition makes this year’s results look poor by comparison.

Having said all that, it wasn’t a disastrous performance: two wins, one draw, two losses. My grade for the tournament was only about 140 (last two years it has been 160+), but that’s not a disgrace.

I’m most disappointed about how I played in the openings, particularly. If there’s a lesson to be learned from this event, it’s that I need to learn some lessons about openings! Mistakes in the opening ultimately cost me both games I lost and perhaps prevented me from doing better in the drawn game. Learning to handle openings better will no doubt improve my play generally, although there’s a lot of time required to do this that I don’t really have.

Beware future competitors of Kidlington 2015, I’ll be up for personal revenge!

Full games with my commentary/analysis here with full crosstabs and results for all sections available at the Kidlington Congress website

Final word of congratulations to local girl Zoe Varney who was joint winner of the lower Under-145 section with 5 out of 5. Worrying thing is, she might be in my section next year… !

Darkness falls across the LAN: a seasonal poem

To fully appreciate this you should voice it like Vincent Price in Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”, which is obviously the lyrics from which this has been spoofed. Listen to that track starting at 4 minutes 15 seconds here

So, here goes:

Darkness falls across the LAN
Powerpoint is close at hand
Users crawl in search of clue
To terrorize the printer queue

And whosoever shall be found
Without a soul from Redmond
Must stand and face the hounds of Dell
And rot inside a Windows shell

The foulest stench, your face it slaps
The cruft of forty thousand apps
And grizzly gangs from every spammer
Are closing in with suspect grammar

And though you fight to run your code
Your PC starts to jitter
For no mere user can resist
The evil of … the Twitter.

Opt-in/opt-out internet filtering?

A few things to get off my chest regarding proposed internet filtering. Firstly:

  • I pay my ISP for a service, namely the provision of an internet connection. They are an Internet Service Provider.
  • I don’t expect my internet connection to be deliberately crippled by said ISP in any way.

Prime Minister David Cameron’s speech on this matter conflates material which is already uncontroversially illegal (images of child abuse) with material which is not illegal. He uses public disgust at the former as a lever to invoke support for censoring the latter. This is simply deceitful.

To continue:

  • ISPs have been coerced by the government into providing internet filtering as “default switched on”, with an opt-out option. That is, everyone’s internet connection will be censored unless they make some decision to opt-out of that process. That’s just a way to make normal people sound pervy, because however the option is phrased it will make the person ticking the box feel as if they’re ticking the box marked “Tick this box for more boobies!” In reality, the opt-out option will be reluctantly required for anyone who finds that they run up against (legal!) things the filters have blocked. And what happens to the list of the names of people who have opted out?
  • An opt-in option is more reasonable: that is, no filtering unless the customer asks for it. This provides a service to those customers who want their internet connection (which they are paying for) to be deliberately crippled; everyone else’s internet connections are left alone. This was the preferred plan from ISPs before the government interfered. Why should customers want their connection disrupted in this way? Well…
  • Parents who want to offload some of their parental responsibilities to a piece of software running at an ISP will be able to do so with opt-in. So, rather than educating their children themselves, they will get a (completely false!) sense of security that their children can browse the internet unattended without any supervision. Because that’s a great idea, isn’t it, even with filtering software in place, what could possibly go wrong?
  • Any filtering software will be very bad and will fail “both ways”. That is, it will block things that it shouldn’t block and it will allow access to things that it was designed to block.
  • Any filtering software initially designed to block one type of content can be trivially modified to block further types of content. That’s a very slippery slope.
  • What if the option to opt-out of the filtering is removed in future?

So, the plans are stupid and dangerous. Why have they been announced? I can only assume it’s because the Prime Minister thinks that the prospect of a plan to filter perfectly legal content will be very popular with certain people. People he believes likely to vote for him at the next election, perhaps.

It’s my internet connection. I pay for it. Leave it alone.

Marvellous musical memories from ’80s movies

Here are some random annotations of memorable moments in films from the 1980s. No reason, except that I’ve been listening to the music a lot! In many cases I’ve picked out songs which are not necessarily the tracks one might immediately associate with each film; for example, I’ve deliberately not picked “Don’t you forget about me” (Breakfast Club), “Nothing’s gonna stop us now” (Mannequin) or “I’ve had the time of my life” (Dirty Dancing).

Make sure you’ve got speakers or headphones to hand when playing these clips: turn it up as loud as you dare.

Let’s start with “The Breakfast Club” (1985). In this slow-burning cult classic, the gradual development of the characters makes the film special. It’s all dialogue and there’s very little action, the exception being the following scene where the teenagers finally let their frustrations out, dancing to the song “We are not alone” by Karla DeVito.

On to “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” (1986) which has lots of action. In direct contrast to the previous film this clip is a quieter, thoughtful interlude in an otherwise lively production. Our main characters are taking a contemplative timeout in an art museum where they view exhibits by (amongst others) Picasso, Matisse, Rodin and Gauguin. The music is by The Dream Academy: a wonderfully atmospheric instrumental cover of The Smiths’ “Please, please, please, let me get what I want”.

The final section where Cameron is staring at the little girl in Georges Seurat’s painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” was explained by director John Hughes: “The closer he looks at the child, the less he sees. […] I think he fears that the more you look at _him_ the less you see.”

The most famous scene in “Mannequin” (1987) is when Jonathan and the mannequin (Kim Cattrall) dance around the inside of the department store to the poptastic “Do you dream about me?” by Alisha. There’s nothing deep about this, it’s just fun!

“Pretty in pink” (1986) is one of a handful of films to star Molly Ringwald (see “The Breakfast Club” above), but the far more memorable aspect of it to me is Jon Cryer’s magnificent portrayal of Duckie. The closing scene where he mouths “Moi?” and breaks the fourth wall to raise an eyebrow to the audience is delicious. The clip below isn’t directly from the film, but is a composite comprising various scenes taken from entire film. However it is accompanied by “If you leave” by Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark which was the song actually playing in the film proper during said ‘eyebrow’ moment.

Everyone knows “I’ve had the time of my life” from “Dirty dancing” (1987) and the bit where he lifts her up; but this is a more subtle scene with, in my opinion, a far better song. Here we have “Hungry eyes” by Eric Carmen:

No nostalgic rummage through the 1980s would be complete without the classic “boombox scene” from “Say anything…” (1989). For the uninitiated, our hero John Cusack playing Lloyd Dobler is trying to win back his girl Diane Court. To do so, he turns up outside her house and plays Peter Gabriel’s “In your eyes” on a ghetto-blaster (as we’d call it back then), held high above his head. It’s surprisingly hard to find a good clip of this online, but this is what I’ve found. Jump forward to 1 minute 43 seconds on this clip:

This particular scene has been repeated, spoofed and recreated by many different people. Although not quite in keeping with the rest of this post and I’m not sure I should really link to this (and I’m certainly not going to embed it in my post) but Glee did a reasonably faithful version of it here which gives you a longer bite at the song.

“Cocktail” (1988) is my penultimate choice. It has a great soundtrack but I’m not going to choose any of the songs you’ll have heard of. Not “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin, not “Hippy Hippy Shake” by Georgia Satellites, not “Kokomo” by the Beach Boys, not “Tutti Frutti” by Little Richard, not even “All shook up” by Ry Cooder or … and it goes on. My choice here is the track used to start the film: “Wild again” by Starship. I can’t find a clip which is just the opening, but someone has uploaded the entire film: the action kicks off just a few seconds in…

If you remembered to stop after the first four minutes of the above and haven’t been distracted watching the whole film, then we can move on to my final choice, “The Lost Boys” (1987), which has another great soundtrack. The classic song is “Cry little sister” by Gerard McMann. It’s played on several occasions during the film, here’s a clip from the opening credits:

There are many other films with great soundtracks, or even with just the odd great song, that I could have included (I’m thinking “Top Gun”, “Beverly Hills Cop”, “Back to the Future”, …), but I could never compile a complete list. Perhaps I’ll do a Part 2 one day.

Hope you enjoy watching/listening to these clips as much as I enjoyed compiling them!

Les anecdotes de Paris

A collection of random observations during our recent trip to Paris… this is not a full write-up of what we did, because that would take too long. Just a few anecdotes, as much for my own memory as anything else.

We went to Paris via Eurostar: train from London St Pancras to Paris via the Channel Tunnel, which took 2.5 hours. We measured the speed of the train using the GPS on a mobile phone, top speed was 189 mph (over 300km/h) and it cruised for prolonged periods at above 170 mph (273 km/h).

When we appeared on the French side of the tunnel, there was an amusing moment as almost everyone (us included) got their mobile phones out to ensure that they’d reconnected successfully to the French networks. All good, even though my phone defaulted to using the “” search engine instead of “”!

After arriving at Paris Gare du Nord (which is just like London Paddington except with more Gallic shrugging and less tea), we got quickly to the Paris metro (underground), greeted almost immediately by these easy-to-translate adverts:

McVities on the Metro

Cheeky buggers.

The metro was easy: very ‘familiar’ to anyone who has used the London Underground. There were occasional buskers, predominantly traditional French accordion players. This became a bit much later during our stay and prompted one of my charming daughters to proclaim “I want to punch him”, thankfully out of earshot of the musician and everyone else!

Our apartment had a Boulangerie/Patisserie just 30m from front door. This could have been rather dangerous, diet-wise, but we largely resisted.

The rest of the family were generally relying on me to converse with the locals: I think I did pretty well on this front. On our first afternoon, I had a long conversation with a shop owner; she got her speech slowed down to a suitable speed for me to follow, which was a good confidence booster. I also, on more than one occasion, answered questions from (French!) travellers on the Metro regarding directions and so on. And I never accidentally ordered a wardrobe or a giraffe in a restaurant, so that’s something.

Paying for stuff by credit card: the payment consoles sometimes had prompts in English, but usually in French. The prompts for “Insert card”, “Please wait” and “PIN OK” were replaced with equivalents, e.g. “Patientez” instead of “Please wait”. The French appear to have settled on “Code Bon” as their equivalent of “PIN OK”: I like this phrase and we began using it as a general term of approval for things we liked. e.g. “This croissant is delicious. Code bon!”

We took a trip up Montparnasse tower, which gives an excellent view around all of central Paris. There’s a small café at the top and, foolishly, I asked if they had tea. “Avez vous du thé?” The server assured me that she did and … well, you all know where this is going don’t you?

Not Quite Tea at Montparnasse

Proper tea: boiling water; French tea: moderately warm water. Proper tea: proper tea bag; French tea: plastic tea bag; Proper tea: fresh milk; French tea: UHT milk. I am reminded of a quote from the magnificent Douglas Adams in ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ where a vending machine “delivers a cupful of liquid that is almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea.”

And in a glass mug? No-one uses those unless you’re in an advert for water filters or you wear orange sunglasses while typing on a Macbook.

If “Avez vous du thé?” had been met with “Ah, non, monsieur” it might have saved everyone the trouble.

Oh, and one final thing. Coca Cola Light is not Diet Coke. Not in the French or any other universe.