Saturday, February 25, 2006


(Please note all names in the following have been changed. But the events unfolded pretty much as depicted.)

One Sunday afternoon some years ago, I went with my then-girlfriend and her Mum to see the college she’d been accepted at, to look at the general area the Halls of residence were in, that sort of thing.

I can understand why they did this – when I’d first visited Wolverhampton with my parents to try to find some digs, it had been a Saturday (meaning the various landlords we called tended not to be there), the few places we looked at were both grotty and costly, and the rain was hurtling down from a depressing grey sky. I seriously reconsidered the whole idea of going to college, I have to admit.

Anyway. It was a sunny Sunday afternoon as the three of us walked around the out-of-town area which contained the Halls of residence, and there were trees and patches of greenery all round. It seemed very pleasant, and everyone said as much.

As we skulked outside the general grounds of the Halls, not really feeling entirely comfortable with the idea of going in as we weren’t entirely legitimate visitors, a woman and a teenage girl came along and joined us in peering in, and trying to get the general feel of the place.

“Are… are you coming here too?” my girlfriend’s mother asked them.

“Yes, that’s right,” said the woman, clearly the girl’s mother. “ Starting in September.”

“Mmm, Sarah’s starting here then too,” said my girlfriend’s mum. “It looks nice – I’m glad, we weren’t quite sure about it, but, well, she did a bit better than predicted in her exams, so…”

“Oh yes,” said the other mother, “Kelly did too, so…”

The conversation dried up at that moment, and I recall distinctly the sound; it lasted only a second or two, but as the back-and-forth ended and the five of us stood there faintly awkwardly, I could hear the sound of cars a few streets away, a distant rumble, but closer, the chirping of birds in the trees. And as we stood there, the two proud and hopeful parents starting to play the comparison game, I realised that the sudden silence, born of sentences which weren’t really designed to further the conversation but instead to express the polite rivalry prevalent between so many parents – that silence, I suddenly thought, made a lie of the old song.

That sudden lull in the conversation, I knew, was truly the sound of the suburbs.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

REVIEW : New World

This film was written and directed by Terence Malick, who I understand was much-lauded for the film The Thin Red Line, but as I haven’t seen it, that’s just a point of reference and not any kind of comparison, as I did not like New World at all, for a variety of reasons.

Put simply, the film tells the story of Captain John Smith and Pocahontas, who, as the words of the song ‘Fever’ tell us, had a very mad affair. Except in this film, they don’t really, because the pivotal love story utterly failed to convince me – Colin Farrell inevitably brings an Irish accent to the part, but little else, playing Smith as a doe-eyed simpleton whose wooing of a member of a complex and evolved tribe appears mainly to have been accomplished by flicking of leaves and water at her. Smooth.

The film features voice-overs from the characters at various points, apparently designed to inject some feeling of depth into their relationship, but it’s a simplistic, Hallmark-card kind of romance, and I couldn’t help but wonder if it was an attempt to salvage the film in the edit; I can all too easily imagine the film-maker’s dismay on realising that what’s meant to be a compelling and believable love story consists mainly of people staring at each other with all the emotional depth of a Maestro transaction, and thus bringing the cast back in to add some voice-overs.

I’m guessing at that, but the film just didn’t work for me in other ways too; the pacing was askew – loads of shots of the happy couple making dopey eyes at each other, and then when the British send more settlers, we’re informed in a voice-over that ‘the British returned in force and soon won the battle’ (I paraphrase), which seems a pretty direct contravention of the old ‘show, don’t tell’ maxim about film-making. One of the people I saw it with remarked that ‘he does interesting things with pacing’ but I think that the example I just gave was more an example of budgetary constraints.

It was a couple of hours long, but felt a lot longer to me; Christopher Plummer and Christian Bale are kind of watchable in it, but it feels as if they’re trying their best with a bad script (and some of the dialogue is very wonky indeed, and oddly hard to understand sometimes on an audibility level), and so I really can’t recommend it at all – the most interesting elements were the lengthy shots of the natural world (but nature documentaries do that much better), and the music, which I believe was by James Newton Howard, though it was frequently reminiscent of Wagner – to my untrained ear, parts of Gotterdammerung, though I could be wrong.

Anyway, I didn’t enjoy it at all. You might, but if you watch it and don’t like it, hey, I warned ya.

Of course, this applies to many other artists as well

One thing which I think rather gets lost when people study Shakespeare, is that at the time he was working, he wasn’t expecting his writings to be subjected to kind of analysis which we know today.

At the time, Shaky was a travelling player, along with Burbage and the other members of his troupe, writing plays which he hoped would appeal. Now, sometimes this means that there are bits which don’t sit very comfortably with us, 400 years down the line – the portrayal of Shylock, or the bit in A Midsummer Night’s Dream where Francis Flute goes on about Bottom earning tuppence a day – but this is inevitable if you bear in mind how the plays were written and performed.

He was a populist, trying to ensure his work was enjoyed by as many people as possible. He had no – could not possibly have had any – idea that he’d later be feted as the greatest playwright of all time, and so (unlike modern-day writers) didn’t deliberately load his works with symbolism and leitmotifs in the hope that it would be scrutinised by his audience, as the majority of his plays were written to be performed (which is why learning about Shaky by reading his plays in a classroom is missing the point).

And to my mind, this is what makes his work all the more remarkable – when he used the image of gardens, and a poor gardener, in Richard II, he wasn’t doing it in the hope that the analogy with Richard’s bad kingship would be studied by me in a classroom in the 1980s, he was doing it because it served the plot, and it seemed to fit, and said what he wanted to say.

Which is, of course, what creativity, art and expression ultimately boils down to – finding a way to express what you want to express, in a way which you hope other people will relate to. Those artists who create works which are predominantly designed to be picked apart with academic rigour may well enjoy some success within the confines of the world of academia and critical analysis (and I’m particularly thinking of modern art as an example of this), but I think it unlikely that they’ll enjoy the same broad appeal, in as many variations, as the work of Shakespeare has over so many centuries.

The Fall and Rise of Stray Thoughts

  1. Am I the only one who thinks that there’s a joke to be made about the fact that George Bush Senior had a Vice President called Quayle, and the current V-P shooting someone whilst out on a Quail hunt? I haven’t seen anyone else comment on it, so feel free to work up the exact details of the joke yourself and drop it into conversation. No need to credit me.
  2. There’s a lot of talk at the moment about the ‘death of the sitcom’, probably part-fuelled by the fact that the US Networks are having a hard time finding something which proves to have the broad appeal of Friends or Seinfeld. But it’s discussed a lot in the UK too, and there are constant references to the fact that in the 1970s, sitcoms would get huge ratings, the like of which could barely be dreamed of now. Um, everyone’s remembering that there were only three TV channels in those days, right? The maths is fairly simple, even if you only apply it to terrestrial channels: 30m ÷ 5 = 6m (if you’re lucky), and so on…
  3. One of the greatest nonsenses and least impressive comebacks of all time has to be ‘Takes one to know one’. It’s so weak as to be meaningless to my mind, and effectively says ‘I have no reply to that, have a cliché’, in which case silence would surely be the better option?
  4. Twice that I know of, people have noted down the title of the book I’ve been reading on the tube, presumably to see about buying a copy later if it proves their sort of thing. The first time it happened was a year or two ago, when I was reading a book about the life of Aleister Crowley. The second time was this morning, reading a quite insane travel-type book (I’ll review it here soon, as there’s a startling amount I have to say about it), when I became aware that the man next to me was scribbling the name of the book on a piece of card he’d retrieved from his pocket. I looked back to the book, where, a line or three later, the author started to recount a meeting he claimed he’d had with … Aleister Crowley. Hmm.

Oh, how I love my tea

Submitted for your approval: a picture of a pillar at a tube station near where I live.

Despite the prevalence of coffee shops in London, it’s no longer possible to buy tea at this station, which I think is a shame, as 2 denarii for a cuppa seems very reasonable to me.

REVIEW: ‘Wodehouse – A Life’ by Robert McCrum

Whilst one might be sceptical about the praisesome quote on the front being derived from the Observer newspaper, and the author of this biography being the literary editor of that same newspaper, it has to be said that this is a very good biography.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve only discovered Wodehouse in the last few years, perhaps put off by the setting of the majority of his stories – as with Jane Austen’s work, I rather suspected that Wodehouse’s fans were partly taken by the setting, a setting which (as with Austen) I fear never truly existed. But I was very wrong indeed - it’s the tightness of the plots, the sharpness of the dialogue and the sheer before-its-timeness of Wodehouse that makes it so loved; he seems to have written pretty much every sitcom scenario decades before the sitcom was invented – mistaken identities, people being drunk at inappropriate times, lovers who are too timid to say anything about it, people under financial pressure being in the thrall of capricious bosses or relatives, innocent remarks being misunderstood, minor events spiralling out of control, and so on. The man wrote them all, and with a lightness of touch as to make them seem effortless.

But as McCrum’s book makes clear, it wasn’t effortless – or, at least, not initially – and one of the key factors behind Wodehouse’s success appears to have been how prolific he was (having discovered the greatness of his work, I find myself daunted by the sheer number of books he wrote, though let’s face it, this is one of the better things to be daunted by in life).McCrum explains the circumstances in which Wodehouse wrote his many works, and the ups and downs of his life, though the man himself appears to have been as generally unflappable as one of his most famous creations, and to have weathered his personal storms with the same degree of calm.

One of the biggest elements of the biography - and of Wodehouse’s life – is that of the broadcasts which Wodehouse made whilst interned during World War II. McCrum seems convinced that this was a combination of naïveté and poor judgment on Wodehouse’s part, the act of a man determined to make the best of, and if possible find humour in, even the worst of situations. It wasn’t seen this way at the time, though, and McCrum spends a large amount of time both detailing the events themselves and the public reaction, fairly clearly from an apologist stance; this wasn’t a failing as far as I could see, and he makes a good case, but if anything he dwells on this subject so much and provides so much evidence that I felt he may have been ‘defending too much’, as it were, and it certainly went beyond the stage where I needed any more convincing. However, I’m sure there are many people whose feelings towards Wodehouse are quite different from mine, and the sheer weight of evidence presented in this book may well be enough to change a few minds, which is no doubt what McCrum was aiming for.

Overall, a very readable, and interesting, portrait of a man whose effect on humour and comedy – and of course literature generally – should not be underestimated. Most definitely recommended.

About as much to do with Islam as football hooligans are to do with the game, I suspect

It’s been a while since my last post, and in that time the cartoon situation which I wrote about on 4 Feb 2006 (‘Sense and Censorship’) has escalated completely out of control – there have been riots, people killed, and embassies burned to the ground. And all because some people who claim to be followers of Islam are saying that they’re offended by the suggestion that there may be a connection between their professed religion and violence.

Let me just run that by you again in case the irony didn’t knock you to the floor: people are protesting against the alleged connection between their beliefs and violence, by behaving in a violent fashion.

And as if that wasn’t enough of a paradox, there’s a picture on page 6 of the current issue of Private Eye (cover dated 17 Feb – 2 Mar) of some protestors holding a placard reading “FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION GO TO HELL!!”

And they say we live in a ‘post-ironic’ age.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

REVIEW : West Ham v Birmingham - Upton Park, 13 Feb 2006

Incredibly, this is the first football match I've ever attended. I know, I know, you're wondering how someone who's done so many remarkable things in his life can have got into his fourth decade on the planet without attending a football match. If pressed, I'd probably say it was because I moved to Sheffield when I was 10, whereupon if asked 'which team?' you stood a 1 in 2 chance of getting it wrong, and thus receiving abuse. But there may be other reasons.

Anyway, that's the background nonsense: what of the experience? Well, it was at West Ham's home ground, wonderfully close to my penthouse flat, and my attendance was kindly arranged by friends who felt it was appalling I live where I do and hadn't seen West Ham play, so I doff my imaginary claret and blue bobble hat in thanks to Chris and Sarah.

If, like me, your idea of football supporters is predominantly drawn from news coverage, Robert Carlyle's performance in 'Cracker', and Nick Hornby's 'Fever Pitch', you'd get the idea that the Dr Martens Stand at Upton Park would be a sea of waving scarves, clenched teeth and curled fists, all lovingly drizzled in testosterone and rage. Not the case at all, I'm pleased to report - people were welcoming and shook my hand as I was introduced round, and even at the more tense moments of the game there was perspective; someone to one side of me suggested that one of the Birmingham players was one of the (PG version here) less savoury persons on the planet, and without hesitation someone to the other side of me suggested that honour instead belonged to an internationally-known terrorist, and the first chap cheerfully conceded the point.

As with many subjects, I don't know much about football, but interestingly after about ten minutes, I found commentatoresque phrases springing to my mind, and then coming out of my mouth (though that lack of filter is not, in itself, unusual for me); terms like 'he didn't take the bounce off that ball', 'good hands' and 'looks a bit lively there' were amongst the turns of phrase which I used. Now, I have no idea about the accuracy or appropriateness of these comments, but I wasn't bothered, and I certainly didn't feel the need to rein myself in.

West Ham had a 1-0 lead at half-time, and there was a brief intermission during which we were treated to a gospel rendition of 'I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles' (the kids were trying hard, but it turned out to be as ropey an idea in practice as I felt it was in theory), and after that the Hammerettes, a group of young ladies wearing only slightly more in the way of fabric than the average Andrex puppy, danced for us. I know about as much about dancing as I do about football, really, so I couldn't tell you if it was good or bad on a technical level, though it must say something about my advancing years that my main thought was 'dear me, they must be cold dressed like that'.

The second half saw West Ham extend their lead to 3-0, despite some refereeing decisions which certainly went down badly with the people around me, but as the end approached, both teams seemed less into it and there was a bit of a feeling that they were both marking time until the end of the match. Which eventually came, and the West Ham fans went home happy, if perhaps slightly disappointed that the game had tailed off a bit - many had started to leave at around the 40 minute mark in the second half, presumably feeling the win was pretty much assured.

But I enjoyed myself, and the feeling that I've often had when I see bits of matches on TV - that it's 90 minutes of which only 5 or so prove to be interesting - doesn't prove to be true when you're actually there. And the sense of community was enjoyable too - I've often thought that one of the great things about standing atop a mountain, or gazing out to sea or up at a night sky that's painted with stars, is that sense of being reminded that you're part of something larger, small and yet part of that greater entity. I think there's something of that (in a social sense) in being a member of a football crowd, and I think I can see now why it appeals to so many people.

As ever, then, a new experience proved well worth doing, and if I have any regret at all about last night, it's simply that I didn't get the opportunity - or didn't make the opportunity - to watch a football match much earlier in my life, as I now feel that I understand something which I'd previously been a bit too content to be rather dismissive of.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

The ego has landed...

... and apparently started to nest in the Fortean Times review section.

Which is to say, if you want to see more of my writing, then Fortean Times issue 207, just hitting newsstands around the nation, contains another of my book reviews, on page 65.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Sense and Censorship

There's an interesting situation which has arisen over the past week or so, and is prompting discussions about freedom of speech, a subject close to my heart ever since I worked in a Sheffield bookshop at the same time copies of The Satanic Verses were being burned in nearby Bradford. But that's context - I don't want to turn this post into one of those which uses anecdote or personal experience as evidence, as that would be doing an important issue something of a disservice.

To summarise; last September Jyllands-Posten, a Danish newspaper, published a series of cartoons depicting Mohammed, including one where he is shown wearing a bomb-shaped turban. Whilst I understand that depictions of the Prophet are not forbidden within the Koran, they’re not acceptable in practise to many Muslims, and obviously this depiction is hardly flattering. Following the publication of the cartoons, the offices of the newspaper in question received a bomb threat. Spanish, Italian, German and French newspapers picked up the story, and republished the cartoons, which has led to protests in the various countries, and here in the UK the Foreign Secretary has said that the decision to reprint the cartoons was disrespectful.

Okay, so let me make my position on this clear from the outset: people should be able to say anything they want, about anything they want. The only exception being where it strays into the realms of criminal actions. Other than that, people should be able to say what they want to say. Simple as that.

And if you don't like something that someone else says, tell them so, and debate the point. Tell them why you don't like it, and discuss it back and forth like the evolved people we claim to be. I don't care for the BNP's views at all, but they're perfectly entitled to express them, in exactly the same way I'm entitled to say why I think they're wrong.

Same goes for religion - if someone says something which is offensive to your religious beliefs, let's see some actual discussion about it, as opposed to threats of violence. Despite the insistence of men (and it is predominantly males, hence my use of that specific word) to reinterpret the words of their chosen deity to justify them committing violent acts against one another, I feel pretty damn confident in saying that no religion truly tells its followers to kill disbelievers. Just as the Crusades were a twisting of Christian teachings, the claims that Jihad is a part of Islam seem to have their origins in men telling other believers what the Prophet said, which is invariably a mistake, as men make mistakes. Because men are men, and not god, yes ?

I don't consider myself a religious person, but I'm fine with people who are, and those who actually have a relationship with their chosen deity and everything that entails, and as strongly as I hold to my various beliefs (life is sacred, we should strive to leave the world in a better state than that in which we entered it, etc), I'm absolutely fine if people want to knock them, and mock them, because - gasp - they're only beliefs. They're only ideas. I may cling to them and prize them, but I'm human and fallible, and just as I've come to believe different things as time's passed, so I suspect I'll shed opinions and hold others before I die. Because I'm only human, and it's all a learning process.

It's a mistake which certain religious factions appear to have made over time, and which the US government has made in recent times, to think that because you've silenced people who disagree with you, that you're eliminated all opposition. It's simply not true, and it's a mistake to equate silence with agreement or assent. Scaring people into thinking that the USA is brilliant or that Islam is a religion that you dare not say anything about is kind of like the school bully who twists his victim's arm until the victim agrees to say 'I smell' or similar; of course this doesn't actually mean that they actually smell, they're just doing what they think they have to in order to keep themselves safe. And of course there are parallels here between the early days of Christianity, if not most religions and other forms of belief.

It's truly unfortunate that Islam has had such a terrible reputation in recent years, because its tenets are fundamentally life-affirming, and have obviously given millions, if not billions, of people, a path in life which they find deeply meaningful, and which has made them happy; it's fair to say that Islamic countries were the cradle of civilisation, with artistic and scientific knowledge which was frankly staggering. But an unfortunate fringe of the religion has captured the headlines in recent years, killing people who they consider less than human and threatening people who disagree with them, making the religion seem to be synonymous with violence and hostility. It'd be like claiming that all Christians spend their whole time standing outside abortion clinics with placards, or shooting doctors. It's simply not reflective of the true nature of the religion, or of the people who practise it.

I drew a comparison above between the violent fringes of Islam and the US government, and this is entirely deliberate; ironically, whilst the US government has done its best in recent times to try to make Islam and Terrorism in some way seem to be one and the same, the self-proclaimedly Christian administration in Washington has tried to do much the same in terms of international policy, accusing the French of being cowards when they refused to join in the attacks on Iraq (for my money, the French have been stunningly gracious in their ideological victory, not yelling 'told you so' at every meeting of the UN), detaining people without charge for ... er, well, pretty much anything they fancy, it seems, and trying to stem any expressions of dissent. Does all this make people think that they're right ? No, of course not. If you're talking about something and someone tells you to shut up and refuses to let you speak, it doesn't make you think they have a point and reconsider your views, it merely entrenches your beliefs (especially if your ideological opponent, by their behaviour, seems to be the embodiment of wrongness). And the US administration, like the more violent elements of religious groups, is just acting to affirm its opponent's beliefs and prove them right.

So someone drew a cartoon which doesn't adhere to your beliefs. Or wrote a musical in which your messiah appears. These people clearly don't hold the same beliefs as you do, and if that bothers you so much, engage in some kind of dialogue with them - using the intellect and reason you believe your creator gave you - and see if you can figure out the points of difference between you. There may be more points of similarity than you'd like to think. But if not, and dialogue fails, well, it's quite the strange leap in thinking to then decide they should be killed.
After all, chances are you think that they're probably going to hell anyway, and why not use your energy and resources in a more profitable way, like... oh, I dunno, saving someone from dying of starvation? Somewhere in the world, someone dies that way every few seconds, and I would have thought that most deities - as the creator of life - would find that infinitely more blasphemous than someone having a belief that's not in line with their commandments, and then expressing it. That sounds less like a loving and forgiving deity to me, and more like a human approach to things, involving anger and a tendency to think that ideas or beliefs can be damaged from without.

Which simply isn't the case: if sincerely held, ideas and beliefs can be temporarily silenced, but not dented or extinguished. Of course, if someone holding a contrary belief offends and inflames you that much, it may well be that your beliefs aren't as sincerely rooted as you might proclaim or like to believe, and if that's the case, the solution is unlikely to be attempting to silence the voice of another person which questions what you think. Instead, it must be to listen to the voice within which dissents when you tell yourself what you believe.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Student Prince or Strident Ponce? You decide.

Just to emphasis how very old I am, I was a student back in the days when they actually gave you a grant to go to college. Oh, sure, they looked at your parent's income to make sure you weren't the son of a gazillionaire, so it was kind of means-tested, but the principle at the time was that if you needed money to enable you to go to college, you could apply for it, and in theory receive it.

This does seem like a million years ago now, I know - today students have to take out sizable loans to pay to go to college (even if they're planning on doing a socially useful job like being a medic), whilst the taxpayers don't see any discernible drop in their taxes as a result of the money saved. And oddly enough, the present government were recipients of grants, but have whittled away at them, whilst simultaneously encouraging 18 year olds to go to college. I might think that their motivation was less 'I'm all right, pull the ladder up' or motivated by a wish to keep teenagers off the dole figures if, say, they offered to pay back the grants they were given, adjusted to allow for inflation and the RPI, but hey, what do I know about it ? I'm sure this is all part of the government's avowed agenda to emphasise 'education, education, education', and no doubt my puny little college-educated taxpaying brain isn't clever enough to understand all the complicated details.

Anyway. When I was a student, my grant came from Sheffield Council, as that was where I lived at the time. Whilst there was a lot of lamenting generally at college about the tardiness with which grant cheques were sent out or received, I think it's fair to say that my tale of woe may be among the front-runners: the grant cheque for the first term of my second year was (drum roll) a term late.

Yes, that's right. It was so late - well done, Sheffield Council, glad I moved away once I started earning so you didn't get any of my money in the form of Council Tax - that term had actually ended, and I had to travel back to college from home, pick up the cheque, and then put it in the bank. Pretty startling.

Actually, while I'm on the subject of student poverty - and it appears I am - I survived during that period because my parents sent me money (thanks, Mum and Dad), though I recall at one stage I lasted a day or so on a combination of tea, custard cream biscuits, and Superted multivitamin tablets.

And speaking of custard creams, my final tale of student woe: during my revision for my third year exams, I was - difficult as it may be to believe from the results - actually working pretty hard, doing several hours of revision before allowing myself a break of any kind. One afternoon, after an hour or so of revising some jolly law topic, I stopped to make myself a cup of tea, and as the kettle boiled, realised I had a custard cream biscuit left. Yum, I thought, that'll go well with the cuppa. I poured hot water onto the tea bag and left it to stew for a moment or so. Then I took a teaspoon, stirred the tea a bit more, fished out the tea bag, and picked up the biscuit. And threw the biscuit into the kitchen bin, and spooned the still-very-hot teabag into my mouth.

See? Told you I'd been working hard.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Though, of course, 'Bincompetent' wouldn't make as nifty a slogan on the protest banners

As the hundredth British army employee has just died in Iraq, I think this might be an appropriate point to state my feelings on this subject - or, more specifically, on the issue of what the Prime Minister knew, and how he came to decide that yes, a war in Iraq was a good idea.

I feel there are a number of possible ways it can be interpreted:

1. Blair knew there were no Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq all along

2. Blair genuinely believed that there were Ws of MD, and that the evidence was sufficient to prove it.

3. Blair wasn't sure there were Ws of MD in Iraq, but thought that either
a) the evidence would be found as a result of troops going in
b) the premise of there being Ws of MD was just a cover, effectively justifying sending in the troops, and once the military action had started or was completed, then the original reason would be as good as forgotten.

Now, Option 1 is very popular, because it's nice and straightforward: Blair lied. And it's a very real possibility, suggesting he didn't really care about the reason that was given, and that sending in the troops was pretty much a fait accompli once the idea had been suggested. But Option 1 kind of makes Blair not only a liar, but something of a fool as well - a man whose concern for public perception and PR is minimal, and that doesn't seem to be true of him or his administration; they seem to be pathologically obsessed with the way things look, even at the cost of their substance. So this seems less likely to me, on balance.

Options 2 and 3, however, suggest less malevolence and intent to mislead, but instead spectacularly poor judgment, and to me, they seem more probable. Since the topic of war in Iraq has a history of tenting american trousers, I think it's fair to assume that there was a a lot of transatlantic pressure to go to war, and that Blair either sincerely believed (or simply hoped) that it would pan out in the long term, especially with the USA involved.

This combination of pressure, questionable belief, and hope appears to have been enough for Blair, which is why he felt justified in ignoring the holes in the evidence, the protests within Parliament and elsewhere (the largest co-ordinated protest march in record, wasn't it?), and decided to send in the troops. Which I think I can say without fear of contradiction - as it's what's technically known as a 'fact' - was a very bad decision indeed.

So, basically it boils down to one of two possibilities: either Blair's a liar, or his judgment is so poor that large numbers of people have died needlessly as a result.

Either of which, in most jobs, would almost certainly be grounds for dismissal.