How d’you solve a problem like Italian rugby?

Which sadly doesn’t quite scan to “how do you solve a problem like Maria?”

For the non-rugby union peeps reading, the 6 Nations is the Northern hemisphere annual international competition. Before 2000, it was the 5 Nations. In 2000, Italy were invited to join England, France, Ireland, Scotland and Wales to make it six.

Before Italy joined, it was a toss-up whether it would be them, Georgia or Romania who would be invited to join (it was one of those rare, three-sided coins). The International Rugby Board (or whatever they’re called this year) may have claimed to have a legitimate reason to choose Italy over the other two, but there was always a distinct hint that it was because the bigwigs would rather spend time in Rome than in Tbilisi or Bucharest.

This wouldn’t be a problem if Italy had done better. Only they haven’t, they’ve finished dead last 12 tournaments out of 18. Because of this, there are once again the regular calls to get rid of Italy and replace them with Georgia, or Romania.

I don’t think that will solve the intrinsic problem. This is not because I don’t think Gorgodzilla and friends won’t be awesome and try hard and compete.

None of those have been Italy’s problem either.

I’m a fan of Italian rugby; my heart was won by the Bergamasco boys, so I am biased. Their problem has never been lack of effort.

Their main problem has been having fewer resources than the other five teams. I don’t just mean money, I mean things like strength in depth of players. There was the famous case when England’s reserve players had more caps than the entire Italian team plus reserves. There’s always been a couple of positions where they’re significantly weaker than the other sides. Which particular position changes, the fact of it doesn’t.

Changing which team is the 6th team in the 6 Nations would not solve this problem. Georgia would have it, Romania would have it, just as much Italy have it now. Kicking Italy out and bolting the door would be a waste of the time, money and effort that have gone into Italian rugby in the past 20 plus years.

That doesn’t mean I want to keep the status quo. Locking out the teams in the European Nations Cup is a really bad idea.

Everyone agrees that there is no way that rugby players on the various national teams can play more games. They’re already the walking injured most of the time.

I’ve been informed that there’s no way that the Six Nations can be made less frequent. It was a suggestion I made only to hear the squeak of protest from certain people.

The most sensible thing would be to have a relegation play off between the team last in the 6 Nations and the team coming top of the European Nations Cup (ENC). Then host the game at the ENC team’s home stadium. This plan has several advantages. It gives the teams in the ENC something to play for. It gives a bit of extra money to help the top ENC team to bridge the gap if not that year then the next if they lose. It also gives whichever team finishes 6th (which isn’t always Italy) a chance to save themselves. A win all round I think.

Better The Devil You Know (Or Missing Bernie Ecclestone)

I can understand why people are glad Bernie Ecclestone has gone. He was a kleptocrat, who didn’t get media invented after 1980, and who seemed to be more interested in enriching himself than decent racing.

However, I do worry that Formula 1 fans might miss him more than we expect to.

When Bernie Ecclestone was in charge, you knew who was in charge and who was to blame for things. Who is in charge with Liberty Media? With whom does the buck stop? And I think with a sport, you do need *a* person in charge. Otherwise, instead of moving forward, you have lots of good ideas which never get implemented.

Liberty Media is run by a group of shareholders, who all have to be placated. With Bernie, you knew what he wanted, which was money, and more of it, but the process at least was easy.

The other thing, which could be me doing Liberty a disservice, is that Ecclestone was pretty hot on driver safety. Not openly. If he spoke about driver safety Ecclestone gave press quotes to annoy. But that was his thing, and if you believed anything Bernie Ecclestone said to the media, more fool you. On the other hand, US sports, particularly motorsports, have a reputation for not being careful about safety. Both the halo and the aeroscreen have their issues, but something needs to be done. I worry that Liberty won’t give that sort of change the help it needs to be pushed through.

As I said, I could be being unnecessarily pessimistic. Liberty are doing everything right so far, especially putting Ross Brawn in charge of improving the racing, but I do worry that we’ll miss Bernie.

Logan, which I’m banned from watching

There’s are many reasons why your friends would suggest you *not* watch a film.

They might not think it’s worth watching, because friends don’t let friends watch the Seth Rogen Green Hornet.

They might know it’s not the sort of thing you’d like, like the time I suggested my friend, who doesn’t like gore, violence and swearing, not watch Sin City. She made it half an hour in before she said, “I think you were right.” I want it known that I didn’t say ‘I told you so’.

I’m not banned from Logan for either of those reasons.

No. L, who has issued the ban, is worried that I’m going to cry so hard that I’ll desiccate.

In L’s defence, he was sat next to me when I got a little over-involved with the fate of a tree in Guardians of the Galaxy (and bought me a bonsai which is called Groot). Furthermore, my family do have form on the ‘crying so hard it disturbs other people’ front. The Baz Luhrmann version of Romeo and Juliet was in the cinema the year my girl-cousin studied it and my Uncle took her to see it. He cried so hard someone else’s mother gave him tissues.

It’s pretty much a given that I will cry like a baby at Logan.

It’s a mixture of things. Partly because I am a sucker for superheroes, and Logan plus girl-child is my platonic ideal of a Wolverine story. The first X-Men film is probably still my favourite because they understood that, and there’s that wonderful terrible moment where Logan thinks that Rogue is dead and he’s doing everything he can, even if it kills him, to bring her back. That’s the nearest I’ve come to crying at an X-Men film.

The people behind Logan seem to get him, and get which story they’re telling. Right down to the advertising people. I don’t watch superhero trailers before they reach the cinema because I don’t like to spoil myself but L does. And he banned me from seeing Logan the minute he saw the first one. His exact words were “they’re using Hurt as the background music.” Which was when I knew I was doomed (3rd gen Johnny Cash fan here).

But beyond that, it’s that it’s Hugh Jackman’s last film as Logan. It’s that “end of an era” feeling. Hugh Jackman has been Logan for longer than anyone has been Doctor Who, longer than anyone has been James Bond.

I was 15 when X-Men came out, before my home town got a cinema again. So going seeing a film was a bit of a production, and a rare treat. I can remember who I went with. We’re not the same people anymore, there’s no way we could be, but Wolverine’s always been there. X-Men 2 was supposed to be the first film I saw on my own in the cinema, but the person at the counter misheard me and gave me a ticket to the Matrix Reloaded instead (yeah, I know!). Wolverine: Origins was the first film I saw at the new Showcase in Leicester. First Class, which featured the greatest use of the one serious expletive you’re allowed in a 12, was one of the first films I saw in Birmingham, and I saw X-Men Apocalypse in Newcastle.

I’ve moved house 6 times, but Wolverine’s always been there. I’ve gone to uni, graduated twice, had three jobs, but Wolverine’s always been there. And now he won’t be.

If they do this properly, which from having finally seen the trailer, they are doing, I’m going to cry buckets. In between me being an X-Men fan for 25 years and some damned good acting on the parts of Sir Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman (who is a criminally underrated actor), it’s going to break me worse than Boromir and Thorin did.

So there’s a reason L has not just forbidden but five-biden and pi-bidden me from watching it. It’s for my own good.

I’m still going to watch it though because … oh it looks like it will be so good and I want to keep Wolverine while I can.

Yearly Book Location Update

It’s only a month late 😉

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As you can see, the variety hasn’t improved much. In my defence, I’ve been reading a fair bit of non-fiction which isn’t set anywhere in particular, and the books I have read that are set somewhere particular are either fantasy worlds or written by Plutarch with notes like ‘citadel x is probably modern day y’.

6 Months With A Smartphone

My friend L spent several years trying to convince me to get a smartphone and viewed my refusal to upgrade from my brick to be a sign of worrying technophobia in a scientist.

My reasons for not wanting a smartphone were entirely practical. I am clumsy and break things so I can’t afford to have fragile expensive things around my person. I also spend a lot of time travelling, especially for fencing, so I don’t always have access to sockets. I can’t have something that needs frequent charging.

On top of that, I’m also a raving technophobe.

Anyway, due to a new job I needed a phone that would at least let me respond to emails while I was out and about. It came down to a choice between a Samsung S7 and a Sony Xperia Z5 Compact. The Z5 was £200 cheaper, and the only thing that matches my clumsiness is my skinflintedness, so I went with that.

I still think it was the right choice because my phone is so dinky and lovely.

Size does matter on this occasion because I have small hands (at full extension I can’t even manage a full octave on a piano. Most frustrating!). That was one of the things putting me off getting a smart phone. I had visions of my desperately trying to keep hold of a giant phone and dropping it, or getting severe finger cramp.

I was also worried about a smartphone being so bulky that it wouldn’t fit in my pockets. That was one of the advantages of my old phone, I could shove it in my back pocket and forget about it. Now, the new phone is a bit bigger and heavier than that, but it still fits in fine, even in the ridiculous dandelion print hipsters I wear too frequently.

General Comments on Smart Phones:

I can see why people love them. They’re very useful. No more, ‘oh heck, I have forgotten to write down my train booking number’ or needing to print off maps to know where I’m going.

On the communication front I probably could have survived with just text and talk, but I shan’t pretend the ability to send links on the go isn’t useful (and a good way of keeping me entertained on my commute).

At the same time, smart phones don’t half make the simple things a lot more complicated than before. The difficulty I had in finding things like the calculator was ridiculous, and I still can’t figure out how to turn the vibrate setting on.

Getting a phone case is a definite yes. I’ve got a cheap fake leather one, but it’s definitely improved the experience. Mostly because the screen gets a lot less smeared. If anyone has any knitting patterns for phone covers they’d recommend, I’d love to see them because all the ones I can find are a bit too cutesy for my tastes.

Specific Comments on the Sony Xperia Z5 Compact:

Charging and battery life were things I worried about most. I used to say I refused to get a smartphone until they could last 2 days without a charge. This phone can and it’s not like I’m careful about battery usage.

I have noticed that different websites eat different amounts of battery, in particular Cracked.com is an energy eater. My other big worry was going over my data limit, but it turns out there’s a button for that.

It’s also really solid, and survives me dropping it very well, actually better than the last brick did.

In short, I’m very glad I did finally get a smartphone and I definitely recommend the Sony Xperia Z5 Compact.

The only downside is that L is going to be impossible after this…but that’s not really a concern that others need to factor in.

My Top 10 Films of 2016 Explained

The promised explanation for my top 10 films of 2016, mostly because I got the expected squawking noises from the expected source.

First, these are also the only films I saw in the cinema in 2016. It’s a mixture of things, mostly that I no longer have my Cineworld card because the nearest Cineworld to me is now an hour and a half away. Nothing against the cinema I do have near me, but it does mean going to the cinema has suddenly got more expensive. My new job is also taking up a lot more of my time than my previous one, which hasn’t helped.

The full logic behind my system can be found here, but the short version is did the film do what it was supposed to do? Was it technically competent? Did it make me want to go ‘but that makes no sense?,’ and did it affect me?

1 – Kubo And The Two Strings

I return to my original review of Kubo – “You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll fall in love with a child, a monkey, a beetle and an origami figure.” (which someone said summed it up perfectly, which is one of the nicest complements I’ve ever been paid). It’s amazing, a like a good figure skating programme, the sheer artistry of it means you don’t notice exactly how amazing the puppet work is, because you forget it’s stop motion animation and get completely caught up in the story.

It’s truly, truly amazing.

2 – The Jungle Book

I am the only person who could have done without the songs. They pulled me out of the film something chronic. Other than that, it was all good. It’s lovingly made, the effects are incredible and it’s the only 2016 film that made me cry courtesy of Lupita Nyong’o’s Raksha. (Kubo made me make all kinds of peculiar noises instead).

3 – Captain America: Civil War

Definitely the best of the comic book films this year. It was all interesting shades of grey, and right, wrong and ish, in the way good comics are. Also Black Panther and Zemo and *that* scene in the snow.

4 – Suicide Squad

Mostly for the visuals and the sense of fun which the rest of the DC-verse seems to lack. And the soundtrack. And Deadshot and Harley Quinn. Oh I loved Harley Quinn and Deadshot so much. And Amanda Waller – well love might not be the right word, suitably impressed might be better.

I’m happy with my top four and the order that they’re in. It’s after the top four that I start prevaricating.

5 – Batman vs Superman

I loved the Bat parts of the film, except how the film kept trying to tell me that he was doing the wrong thing when I think he was doing the only sensible thing, and that’s not just Bat-bias.

I can see what they were trying to do with Lex Luthor even if it didn’t work. The film’s quality jumps amazingly every time it’s Holly Hunter vs Lex Luthor.

They still don’t get Superman, which is a problem when he’s the co-headliner. And because of that it feels like the film lacks heart.

6 – Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I preferred this film when it was called “A New Hope”. And there’s yet another JJ Abrams character with Daddy Issues. And dear lord, do Kylo Ren’s many flaws ever make it seem like Luke is the worst Jedi master ever.

That being said, I do love Finn and Rey, and exactly how little time the First Order rank and file have for Kylo Ren’s temper tantrums.

7 – Star Trek Beyond

I enjoyed this a lot. Especially Jaylah. And Justin Lin can direct all the things because he really conveyed exactly how 3D space and space stations are.

But …

I kept forgetting I had seen this when I was counting the films I’d seen this year. That’s not a good sign.

8 – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2

This was good clean mindless fun. And when I went to see it that was exactly what I wanted to see. It does exactly what it says on the tin. And Bebop and Rocksteady are perfect. Actually perfect.

9 – Doctor Strange

The cape apart, this felt flat, like it was too concerned with setting up the next Avengers film and its own sequel to be a good film itself. Loved the Night Nurse (and Wong) but the rest of it was flat.

10 – X-Men: Apocalypse

I may have enjoyed it in parts but I have to acknowledge it was terrible.

It felt like half the film was missing. Our heroes successes came too easily and it tied everything up far too neatly. Apocalypse felt like an afterthought in his own film and too much of the film felt like generic superhero film, which X-Men should never feel like.

It’s a shame, because parts of it were wonderful, mostly the sore, ouchy character bits like Quicksilver’s complete inability to spit it out re: his Dad, and Mystique comforting the newbies when they were flying to the finale when you realise that she and Hank are the only ones from their generation left alive.

It should have been so much better.

My Top 10 Films of 2016

That I saw in the cinema. Full logic to come later.

1 – Kubo and the Two Strings

2 – The Jungle Book

3 – Captain America: Civil War

4 – Suicide Squad

5 – Batman vs Superman

6 – Star Wars: The Force Awakens

7 – Star Trek Beyond

8 – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2

9 – Doctor Strange

10 – X-Men: Apocalypse

I know I am very part of the problem because Kubo is the only one of the films that isn’t a sequel or related to an existing property. And while I’m sure about the order down to 4, 5 through to 8 are very much in flux.