Wednesday, February 06, 2008


Pancake Day in St Albans

I took my bemused Australian cousin to a strange local event, the annual St Albans Pancake Day race. Four teams can do the relay at once - there were groups from local businesses, the Abbey (you can see the Abbey's bell tower at the back of this photo) and various Council departments, all taking time out from their lunch breaks to race up and down tossing pancakes.

Some people could watch from comfort, indoors.

Hertfordshire's Fourth Estate were out in force.

The Planning Department team were victorious and the Deputy Mayor (the verbose chap on the right who looks like a football manager) presented them with the Frying Pan of Glory.

The phalanx of photographers insisted on decorating the conquering heroes with clammy pancakes to mark their triumph.

I was delighted to capture this dramatic semi-final heat on video: this is the first time I've uploaded anything to YouTube. You can hear me squawk "Oooh, the vicar's down!" as if I'm watching a wrestling match. Which I suppose this is, in a way: a clash of the veritable titans of the pancake-entertainment world.

The sprinting vicars remind me of Bishop Brennan's magnificent fury in a certain Father Ted episode. Dad commented that they remind him more of the Spanish Inquisition. There's just something inherently comical about people sprinting in robes.

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008


Fired Up, Ready to Go - another music video about Obama!

To follow on from yesterday's post, I discovered another Obama fan-club song. I've always found gospel music emotionally stirring, even though it's a long way from the restrained British hymns I grew up with.

What an exciting time to be in the US! Best of luck for Super Tuesday, everyone!

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It's politics, Jim, but not as we know it - Barack Obama's "Yes We Can"

I came across this video today. It's a rousing, inspirational clip setting a speech by Barack Obama to music. All those celebrities, actors and musicians are very fervently, earnestly, reciting a political speech. Obama's delivery has definite echoes of preaching (notice I say preaching, rather than the British equivalent, giving a sermon.) This is a uniquely American artifact: no other country would make this without sending it up somehow (I have no doubt that some YouTubers are creating parody versions as I write...)

I have to admit, my reactions are mixed. On the one hand he's discussing an epic narrative, a nation's journey, and it is stirring stuff emotionally. On the other hand ... this is a politician, people! Not the President or Prime Minister, just someone currently in Opposition. Can you imagine this reaction to one of David Cameron's speeches? Or indeed, to any speech by a British politician?

We Brits are perhaps too cynical. I admit that parts of the video are slightly toe-curling (well, anyone who closes their eyes as they warble, shaking their head and staring off into the middle distance has me narrowing my eyes and retreating to a safe distance) but isn't this a fascinating outpouring?

I'm reminded of my reactionary A-Level History teacher, who for two years endeavoured to get us to think analytically about the history of the United States. We looked at the idealistic plans of the white settlers, the twists and turns of the colonies gradually becoming a country, and the way the language of idealism and manifest destiny would be used to justify horrific policies. What would the Founding Fathers think? We discussed Bill Clinton's potential impeachment desultorily, with detached interest: for most of us, I think, America was an exciting place we hoped to visit some day.

During uni I went to live in America on an academic exchange programme. I graduated. I travelled, living in many different places. I came to realise that the news I read and watched and heard was overwhelmingly influenced by the decisions of the US government. After these interminable Bush years - like the Howard era in Australia, or the endless corrupt Tories here in England - anything would be an improvement.

I'm dedicating this post to Mr Davies, wherever he is now. I didn't understand all the points he made at the time, but I've often thought back to our debates. It has to be uniquely American to create something like this - about politics!

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