Monday, November 19, 2007

Dame Agatha's return

I was 12 years old, maybe 13. Not quite bored of Enid Blyton but ready for something a bit more intense. The school library was not quite as vast as I would have liked it to be. And anyway, reading recommended by teachers was bound to be boring, wasnt it? So then one day, my English teacher (whom I loved, by the way) digressed from the lesson at hand to discuss what she thought we should be reading. I still remember her words, when she said "I hope you are not wasting your time reading trash like those Agatha Christie novels!".

Of course, that was all that was needed. I devoured most of Dame Agatha's novels with relish and became an ardent fan of Hercule Poirot especially. The first Christie I read happened to be "The Big Four" and my 12 or 13 yr old self was thoroughly impressed. But the Christie phase ended as reading tastes matured.

Anyway, even though I havent read a Christie novel over the past decade or so, I have always had a fond place in my favourites list for her mysteries. I still own half-a-dozen of them, and thats after having 'loaned' a bunch of them to friends, never to get them back. So, when I recently found 40 Agatha Christie books, the nostalgia itself egged me on to collect them.

And the first of the books I decided to read was "The Big Four". The same story which so thrilled me as a kid, seemed like one of Agatha's worst this time around. Hercule Poirot just does not seem the type who would have cigarettes which would double as a blow-pipe containing a poisonous dart. Although it does work in bits and pieces, overall - bad decision Dame Agatha.

I followed that up with the truly excellent "Mystery of the Blue Train". Perhaps this book is one of the best constructed of the Poirot mysteries. I was a bit dissappointed to find that I was able to guess the culprits identity well before the end, but I guess being a lot older than 13 has something to do with that. But it didnt take anything away from the pleasure and charm of reading a classically constructed Agatha Christie plot again. This story is also probably one of the less common Poirot stories which does not always follow Poirot around, making it necessary for the great detective to be constantly on the scene. He is very much in the periphery for great parts of the novel, and does not even make an appearance until well into the book. This book also differs from many other Christie novels in the build-up to the crime - which is a lot more detailed and complex, reminding me of PD James and Ruth Rendell. Much more than the usual dinner party with suggestive small talk during the main course! I dont think Agatha's fans will like that description!

But whether it be the antics of super-spy Poirot, or the intricate laying out of red herrings in the second book, the charm of reading an Agatha Christie novel once again has me in its embrace.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Radiohead's fans leave them 'High and Dry'

Social experiments are a way to understand society and social behaviours. As such, they can often lead to rather unglorious statements about our society.

So we have studies on how swearing at work can relieve stress. Maybe another study is required on how employees are affected when one of them starts relieving his/her stress by swearing loudly at meetings. Another on the impact on prospective customers/clients maybe?

Radiohead, the alternative rock band, decided on an alternative means of selling their new album, In Rainbows. They wanted their fans to decide the price at which they want to buy the album. The album was released on their website and allowed purchases for as low as 1 penny. This was an interesting social experiment which also had a possible econimic backlash to it. And unfortunately for Radiohead, and everyone who thought this was a path-breaking idea, its not quite gone as planned.

Studies show that more than 60% of the people who downloaded the album paid nothing! Only 38% paid anything at all, and the majority of these people paid less than 4 dollars - probably about a fifth of the price that would have been quoted for the album if it had been released the normal way. Kind of harsh!

On the flipside, Radiohead does get almost everything paid by a buyer since this model eliminates the label companies from the equation. This is a band which has a huge fan base of millions worldwide but when it comes to paying top dollar - i guess theres nothing like a freebie. But Radiohead was prepared for it, they knew it may all come to nothing at all. The website clearly informs the buyer that its upto you what you pay. Its a path-breaking way to connect to your fans definitely. And if this was Led Zep putting their new album out there and asking me to pay what I want for it - I would know what its worth and would pay it. I bet there were the true Radiohead fans out there too, who would know the albums worth and would pay the best they can.

With the worldwide popularity of peer-to-peer networks, and the high cost of buying music cd's, especially a new release, its hardly surprising that most people just helped themselves at the buffet. Being only a middling Radiohead fan, I guess I would have probably done the same - maybe I would have paid at most 4 dollars, the same price which Frys Electronics charged me for a brilliant collection of early Deep Purple classics which apparently no one was interested in. I found it in one of those discount bins, hidden in a huge pile of forgotten albums and collections.

But it must have hurt to think your fans dont think your new album is worth much. Radiohead now seems to have decided to re-launch the album in physical format. Possibly that haunting Thom Yorke refrain of "Dont leave me highhhhhh, dont leave me dryyyyyyyyyyy" must have come to mind more than once.

And what a night it was!

Following up on my previous post, a night to remember for the Kop faithful no doubt!

Liverpool 8 Besiktas 0 is not a scoreline Liverpool fans have seen often. I dont have the stats, but I definitely cant remember us scoring more than 4 in a match for some time now. But the team did what they did when it was sorely needed.

Again, Benayoun and Crouch made strong statements for bigger roles in the first team. Surely now Benitez must rethink his plan to use Crouch as a bit player. Crouch is not a great player, and strangely for a really tall guy he is better with his feet than with his head. But his contribution on the field is excellent. His ability to win balls allows players around him to play better too. He must surely be considered ahead of Voronin at least in the squad to play in the front line. Voronin was excellent yesterday playing on the wings too. But up front, his combination with Kuyt has not paid off yet.

Yossi Benayoun put in a brilliant performance and his hat-trick showed off his positional instincts wonderfully. Two of his goals were opportunistic and punished the goalie for his inability to hold on to a couple of cracking shots. Babel coming on late in the game and scoring two was also a good sign.

Benitez has a wealth of talent to use this season. With Kewell back, and putting in a decent performance against Blackburn in the weekend stalemate, there is a healthy competition on the wings. Crouch's performance might just have added that much pressure on Rafa to persist with him in the starting line-up. That would mean using Voronin on the wings, in addition to Kewell, Babel, Pennant, Benayoun and Rafa's possible favourite Jon Arne Riise. Inspite of their performances against Besiktas, neither of Crouch and Benayoun nor Babel may be sure of a starting place next weekend.

Here's hoping that Rafa works out a better alternative to his strategy of regular rotation.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Tonight's the night...

...when Rafa Benitez and Liverpool truly need to stand up and be counted. The clash against Besiktas today in the Champs League is of utmost importance if Liverpool are to avoid crashing out of the biggest football tournament.

And Stevie G, Rafa etc are making the right kind of confidence-boosting noises, but I have a sneaky feeling its going to be another one of those nervous evenings for the Kop faithful. In recent times, Liverpool have always seemed really edgy and brittle in important fixtures. And I cant help but think that a lot of the blame for that lies with Rafa.

His policy of enforced rotation, without consideration for present form is becoming less and less supportable. Almost no one is guaranteed a place in the starting eleven, even if they performed brilliantly in the previous match. At the moment, Sami Hyppia and Jamie Carragher are the only certainties in the first team, and thats because Benitez doesnt have cover for them with Dan Agger out. God forbid one of those two get injured before the January sales!! And with Torres unlikely to start, Benitez has a bit of a problem.

Kuyt has just not delivered so far this season, and has nothing to show for all his industry. His partnership with Voronin has not clicked at all, and the only times the Pool attack seems to be incisive is when the lanky Crouchinator is on the field. But there again lies a stink raised solely by Benitez. His trumpeting in the media about the need for Crouch to adjust as a bit player is clearly a sign that the lanky one may be on the shop window come January. Funnily enough, Crouch's performances (however erm, short they may have been) have probably made him attractive enough for the likes of Aston Villa and even perhaps Manchester City... though thats a rumour all my own. In fact, I'll just go out on a limb here. If Kuyt, Voronin and Crouch were all available, I think Crouch would generate the most interest.

So with so many of Pool's problem's seemingly Rafa-generated, has Benitez reached a plateau with Pool? Is a Houllier-like moment coming up sometime soon? Has the 'Rafalution' reached its climax? The expectations from the new owners and the fans this season is the highest it has been for some time now. Benitez has been provided the funds to deliver, and if he implodes in the first round of the CL so spectacularly , it will surely raise more than just a few eyebrows in the board room.

Thats whats making this game with Besiktas so important. I have my fingers crossed, especially with the prospect of Crouch being played from the start with Kuyt. Lets hope that Rafa sorts out his rotation itch and decides on his best team.