"I think taxes should be higher." "I'd be happy to pay higher taxes." - Common sentiments among certain sections of society. So how much did these people give voluntarily in extra taxation last year? A grand total of £604.48.
After the footballers who look like lesbians and the meerkats who look like Nigel Farage and the otters who look like Benedict Cumberbatch, it's the Empress of All The Russias who looks like David Cameron.
[Some background here for non-British readers. Up until the late sixties / early seventies, the cleverest 25% of pupils in the state education system went to grammar schools and the rest went to 'secondary modern' schools. Successive governments, especially Labour governments, have restricted grammar schools and any kind of selection, such that few areas of the country still have any grammar schools. In most areas, they were replaced with 'comprehensive' schools, like the one I went to. Some of the grammars became independent private schools and left the state system altogether.
However, while it is strictly forbidden to create a new state grammar, some of the old ones hang on. They tend to be extremely popular with parents and they generally get very good exam results. Pretty much all of the top-performing state schools come from the small number of grammar schools, although of course you would expect schools that only take the cleverest 11 year olds to have got good exam results at 16 and 18. Even Labour, whose 1997 manifesto promised to abolish all selection in schools, left the decision to "local parents" after the election, presumably because they could see that closing down good schools was unlikely to be a vote-winner among the parents of kids who attended them.
Ofsted is the "non-ministerial government department" (i.e. a quango) that regulates and inspects schools in England.
Social mobility has been a hot topic in this country for a while because of the increasing perception that few people from comprehensive schools get the top jobs in the country. After the last election, left-wing bloggers and journalists were quick to point out that only six out of 23 members of the new coalition cabinet had attended comprehensive schools. Right-wing bloggers and journalists pointed out that even in the supposedly pro-comprehensive, anti-grammar, anti-private Labour Party, only eight of the 22 shadow cabinet members went to comprehensives. A 2007 study found that from a sample of 500 people in what were deemed to be the country's "top jobs", only 17% went to comprehensive schools.
90% of children in England and Wales attend comprehensive schools.]
Here's what Sir Michael said:
"Grammar schools are stuffed full of middle-class kids. A tiny percentage are on free school meals: 3%. That is a nonsense. Anyone who thinks grammar schools are going to increase social mobility needs to look at those figures."
That statement raises a number of questions:
- Only the poorest 13% (approximately - eligibility is based on whether parents receive certain welfare state benefits) of children in state education are eligible for free school meals. Does this mean that social mobility for the remaining 87% doesn't matter? Clearly, some of those 87% are already at the top of the tree, but in the middle are very large numbers of pupils from what politicians would call "ordinary" working class or middle class backgrounds. Those pupils should also have the opportunity of social mobility in a true meritocracy.
- In order to survive this long, a grammar school has probably avoided being subject to rule by a left-wing council (because left-wing councils tend to close them down on ideological grounds). Those left-wing councils tend not to be elected in affluent, middle-class areas - so of course they're "stuffed full of middle-class kids". I can give a local counter-argument to this. Devonport is the part of Plymouth around the naval base - it's poor, but not especially left-wing and still has a boys' grammar school and a girls' grammar school. I've spent a lot of time in both because of the "You're Hired!" competition, and each has lots of kids from obviously less well off backgrounds.
- Sir Michael's whole argument that grammar schools do not promote social mobility is somewhat weakened by his own background. Today he's one of the elite quangocrats who run the country and a knight of the realm. He grew up the son of a London postman. And he went to a state grammar school.
Could anyone recommend a good single malt? I'm willing to spend up to around £35 (so links to shops would also be good). It's for someone whose favourite whisky is Talisker. That might give you some idea of his tastes, but I want to avoid just buying another bottle of Talisker 10 y.o.
The thing is, D&D (and by extension, most fantasy RPGs) is not epic fantasy. What it is, is swords and sorcery. As Gary Gygax made clear in Appendix N of the first edition AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide, authors like Tolkien were not the primary inspiration for D&D. I mean yes, there are hobbits (or there were until the lawyers got involved, and they became 'halflings') and orcs and elves and dwarves, but D&D as originally imagined is all about a party of adventurers entering a dungeon, killing some monsters and getting some loot. That sort of thing has much more in common with L. Sprague de Camp and Robert E. Howard than the likes of Tolkien or Donaldson or Eddings. And indeed, the aforementioned Appendix N lists Sprague de Camp and Howard as "the most immediate influences" on AD&D, along with Fritz Leiber, Jack Vance, H.P. Lovecraft and Abraham Merritt. Since AD&D was first published in the late 70s, a lot of fantasy has been written*. I'd be interested to see what literary influences were cited by the developers of more recent versions of the game.
Because D&D wasn't created to run epic fantasy scenarios, it's not actually that good at recreating that epic fantasy feel. Most D&D campaigns, even if they avoid traditional dungeon-crawling, still feature lots of skirmishes. Through the whole of The Lord of the Rings, how many times do Frodo and Sam actually partake in combat?
Dragonlance is an example of an epic fantasy trilogy that was D&D. (I've just finished the third book in the original Chronicles trilogy, and have been surprised by how good the third part was - I thought the first book was pretty poor.) However, when you read the books and you flick through the original AD&D modules, it's clear that the modules have much more dungeon crawling and monster slaying than the books. Conversely, the books have more character interaction.
It seems to me that any DM who wants to run an epic fantasy campaign may want to look beyond D&D...
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Anyway, while four new 18" Pirelli P-Zero Rosso tyres aren't cheap (a little shy of £800 fitted), a minor service shouldn't have been too painful. Long term readers of this journal may remember that in true Chartered Accountant fashion, I bought this car only after creating a complicated annual cost of ownership spreadsheet.** A big plus for the 911 is the low servicing cost compared to similar cars like Maseratis or Aston Martins.
Unfortunately, my car is now very old (thirteen years and counting) and very high mileage (well over 100,000). And bits have started to corrode. Not big bits, but small and expensive bits. After some pretty effective haggling to reduce the labour rate by 50% (!) and only doing the things absolutely necessary (while leaving the "advisables" to a later date), we got the cost down to £2,440 including the tyres. That's quite a financial blow for someone on my income. Nevertheless, the car is running much better now, and I'm encouraged to think that there's no reason I shouldn't be able to keep this car running for several years. Maybe one day, it'll be a classic 911.***
One silver lining is that for the three days they had Percy, they loaned me a brand new top of the range Cayman S PDK with pretty much every option. They had an identically-specced one in the showroom with a list price of £61,500, so that's quite a generous courtesy car. For the uninitiated, the Cayman is like a 911, but with the engine in the middle rather than at the back and with no rear seats. Anyone who has tried to sit in the back seats of my car may argue that the 911 doesn't have rear seats either. The S is the faster model with a 3.4 litre engine (291bhp, 171mph, 0-60 5.1 seconds). However, what I really loved was the PDK gearbox. PDK is Porsche's 7-speed flappy-paddle gearbox ("Porsche Doppelkupplungsgetriebe"). I've driven a Porsche Boxster in the past with the old "Tiptronic" flappy paddle, but wasn't massively impressed. PDK is completely different. High-revving when you want it to be, but still torquey at low revs and with almost instantaneous manual selection with a flick of the paddle. I'm a convert.
My colleague random once suggested that Jeremy Clarkson was a strong influence on my life. This is true up to a point, and there are many issues on which Mr Clarkson and I agree. However, he is wrong about two things:
1. The 911.
2. Flappy paddle gearboxes, or at least the PDK.
The other thing that this Cayman had was the optional switchable sports exhaust. Press a button and the exhaust is LOUDER. (Why you'd want it to be quiet is beyond me - it sounds glorious. I'm sure the bloke I overtook on Dartmoor**** thought the same as I blasted past him.)
* Percy the Purple Porsche.
** Here's the chart. The current annual running cost even accounting for this service is rather lower, mostly because we're now on the flatter part of the depreciation curve.
*** The 996 model of the 911 is perhaps the least sought after of all 911s (which is how I could afford it in the first place). This is because it was the first of the 'new' 911s with water-cooled engines and sensible interiors, which makes it less attractive to people who want a more 'pure' classic air-cooled 911 and not as good as the more modern 997 and the new 991 models.
**** I've got a shiny new Cayman S PDK to play around with, so I'm going to take the fun road rather than the dull dual carriageway.
Italy (me) 2 - 1 Japan
Italy side (4-1-2-2-1, wingers/inside forwards, Barcelona-style)
Chiartano Brambilla Terranova Ratta
Italy goals: Matsuoka og, Guarardi
Man of the Match: Brambilla
I've never won the Olympics before in all my years of Football Manager. I was only offered the job after winning the FA Cup with Wigan.