Sunday, October 31, 2004

Enough to make you scream

When I was a child, Halloween was a largely uncelebrated feast. With my antithalian tendencies I would prefer it had stayed that way. That it has not is probably another consequence of the miasma of American culture that arrives here with the gulf stream.
In my corner shop this morning, the staff were dressed as witches. If somebody had spent Saturday night on the piss this could give them a nasty shock. I don't like to be unkind, but in the case of those two ladies the costumes added so little to verisimilitude as to have been a waste of money. But worse was to come. A sensor-activated dispenser announced in an American accent 'Trick or treat' and then invited me to take some 'candy'. This, in turn, activated a usually dormant Little Englander neurotransmitter in my brain and I muttered 'stick your candy up your arse, you loud-mouthed, McDonald's-munching, Iraqui-murdering bastard.'
Anti-American? Moi? I don't think so. Some of my best friends are.........well, no they're not, actually. But hey! as those folks say, Stephen Sondheim is a god, Michael Moore is a demigod, and the Dave Matthews Band rock. But would that most insular of nations like it if they schlepped from the trailer park to the drugstore on a Sunday morning to be assaulted by a tight-arsed English voice inviting them to some sweets or, God forbid, a cheese-eating surrender monkey saying 'voulez-vous des bon-bons?'
I think not.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Meet Harry

With Halloween approaching, meet Harry the Spider, or 'Arry the Arachnid if you want to be nauseatingly whimsical. He's lived on the outside of my kitchen window for the past two months. Mostly he just hangs around waiting for something to turn up. So that's something we have in common. But he often disappears for several hours and I think a bird has eaten him and I can clean my window again. However, he always returns to his web by dusk. Again like me, he likes to spend his evenings at home.
But where does he go on these daytime jaunts? Does he maintain other webs in the garden and is busy with network repairs? Or is he out on the pull, or attending web design conferences with the myriad spiders who live on the ivy-clad wall?
I feel quite sorry for his hand-to-mouth existence. Last night he had to watch me rustling up a very good Chicken Pasanda while he faced another night in a web bereft of flies. "Life's a bitch, Harry old mate", I said as I lowered the blind.

The Power of Nightmares

Fears may be liars.
- Arthur Hugh Clough
The Power of Nightmares is a BBC documentary series that is already being hailed as documentary of the year, as much for its brilliant editing and use of images as for its content. It shows the remarkable parallels between the American Neocons and radical Islamists. Even if you feel its central thesis has been pushed too far - that the threat from terrorism has been exaggerated, although it undoubtedly has - it still provides an amazingly lucid insight into the history of the past 30 years and the rise of the politics of fear.
The timing is also fortuitous, with the Republicans showing election commercials that resemble a B horror movie, with wolves prowling in the woods, designed to scare the shit out of the electorate.
The terrorist threat has already been used by the British Government to mount an assault on civil liberties and democratic values but they'd like to go much further, which is in the nature of governments. As so often, the two Johns - Bird and Fortune - put it very well in their sketch last week. "David Blunkett is labouring under a great burden" said the 'Home Office advisor'. "There hasn't been a major terrorist attack in Britain." When you see what Blunkett has done on the basis of a threat, what might he do with the excuse of an actual attack? Now that is genuinely frightening.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Green Wing

The most recent episode of Channel 4's Green Wing included a wonderful piece of dialogue that could have come from the pen of Alan Bennett.
Dr Caroline is extremely jealous of Dr Mac's new girlfriend, a horsey, aristocratic girl, and fires these questions at him at machine-gun speed:

Caroline: She doesn't march about a bit too know...with quite big strides and swinging her arms.....'Ra, ra, ra', for instance?
Mac: For instance, no, she doesn't do that, no.
Caroline: So she doesn't have a big snorty laugh but have no sense of humour or have unresolved sexual tensions with her father or a brother who works in the City or a friend called Poppy who's an interior designer and always seems to be squeezing out babies and...and...she doesn't covet an Aga or have a great aunt who agreed with Hitler or have friends in Wiltshire and she's never stopped the car to have a wee in a bush....or......
Mac: No, she hasn't, she has not, and she doesn't...and she....and, no....
Caroline: Good
Mac: Fine
Caroline: She sounds great!

Tour de force, or what?

Green Wing is copyright of Talkback Productions. I nicked the screencap from a new GW fansite. My thanks to them.
One of the writers, James Henry, has a
blog that shines and dazzles like a diamond in the dustbin of the blogosphere.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Blog Bytes

The local paper now seems to be reporting things before they happen.
They had a placard which said:
It would be nice to think this tip-off enabled him to avoid this fate but I fear his life was lost along with those missing hyphens.


Following Ofcom's ruling that 'Morning Wood' was obscene (see Censorship Sucks), I am now investigating whether the Beatles classic 'Norwegian Wood' was in fact a paen to Scandinavian pornography.


The Guardian's David Aaronovitch has broken ranks with his fellow journalists and echoed my own comments about Lynda Lee-Potter. Cutting through all the cant, he concludes "she was the epitome of all that is most shitty about British middle-market journalism." You can read the full piece here.


Still in Middle England territory, John Peel, DJ and presenter, has died. He was, we are told, able 'to speak to Middle England', if not for it. I never really liked Mr Ravenscroft (as he really was), a public schoolboy who discovered he had a Liverpool accent even though he had never lived there. His very popular programme 'Home Truths' rounded up every pub bore in England and put them on the radio. Still, the nation owes him a debt for his promotion of punk. I was too old to pogo and spit but I always thought there was something joyous about the punk versions of 'My Way' and 'God Save the Queen'.

Voulez vous couchez.......

Forcing children into French Exchanges has long been blamed for perpetuating the antipathy between the British and their nearest European neighbours. But Graham Norton's new autobiography reveals a previously under-reported educational value to these visits when he relates how he lost his virginity to a boy called Jules.
Eartha Kitt used to sing that an Englishman takes his time but Jules was also skilled at biding his time. Chez Norton in Ireland, he was the model guest and kept his hormones in check. But once Graham was under his roof in France he made his move in a carefully planned and premeditated way.
On one occasion when he showed Graham his erection, Graham, with admirable presence of mind, remembered the purpose of these visits and asked him what it was called in French. Nor was this something Graham added in his book for comic effect. It comes from a diary he kept at the time. I suspect it took more courage for him to publish these excruciatingly embarrassing extracts from his teenage diary than some of the explicit sexual details which are what have become one of his television trademarks.

So Me by Graham Norton is published by Hodder Stoughton at £18.99.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Good Bacteria, Bad Science

The purveyors of 'probiotic' products which 'top up your good bacteria' have now lurched into the kiddie market with a breakfast cereal that will work wonders on your children's guts.
These 'friendly bacteria' have escaped from their traditional home of 'live' yogurt and are now infesting products from drinks to handwash in a market worth possibly £135M a year.
I heard an expert on the ecology of the human gut say on the radio that the problem with the claims made for probiotic products is that the ecology of every human gut is unique. Not only that, the ecology of each individual's gut can be completely different every day. The implication of this is that for a top-up of good bacteria to be effective, the dose would have to be tailor-made for each individual person every 24 hours.
The mystery is how all this nonsense gets past Trading Standards, the Advertising Standards Authority and a raft of Government regulators.
These topics are trenchantly covered in The Guardian's Bad Science column every week, although he probably has to be more wary of m'learned friends than I do - if that's not tempting fate.

Presumption Of Guilt

The Government is proposing that juries should be told of previous convictions for certain categories of crime, including child sex offences and theft. If this happens, there seems little point in the court examining the evidence in that particular case. They might as well just read the charge and the previous convictions and send the jury out to convict.
One of the great myths of our criminal justice system is the wisdom of juries. For every occasion when they make an intelligent and reasoned decision, there are probably another ten when they have the wool pulled over their eyes or are acting from prejudice. Telling them about previous convictions will only make matters worse.
It's worth remembering that all the notorious miscarriages of justice (and hundreds more we don't know about) were convictions by juries. Jury discussions are secret and mostly ring-fenced from any serious research. However, someone who served on a jury once told me cheerfully: "We all agreed that as soon as we saw them [the defendants] we knew they were guilty."

Monday, October 25, 2004

Bullshit In A Bottle

Just when you think you've seen every idiocy that alternative medicine can throw at you, up pops a full page colour ad in the Observer magazine for something that Bach Flower Remedies describe as "Yoga in a bottle."
They continue: "Two quick sprays to your tongue release the positive energy you need to find your inner calm again." So, in what circumstances should you risk making people think you have halitosis? Their website says:
"Everyday our emotions are put to the test; whether it be the dread of a dental appointment, nerves before an exam, the anticipation of a hot date or being put on hold once again by so called ‘customer services'."
Note the bare-faced cheek of the makers of so-called yoga in a bottle applying the epithet 'so-called' to something else. And if being put on hold for long periods annoys you, do what I do. Use a hands-free phone so you can get on with something else, even if it's only banging your head against the wall and shouting "Answer the phone, you fucking bastards."
We're told the bottle is sized to fit any handbag so presumably it's only marketed at women. Why this blatant sexism? Are women assumed to be more gullible or excitable? Or does it not work for men?
What's next? Tai Chi in a tablet? There's going to be a lot of empty evening classes.
Tip: if you decide to give it a try, ask them to leave it unwrapped. At £6.50 for 20ml you might need it before you leave the checkout.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Censorship Sucks - 1 in an occasional series

A recent ruling by Ofcom, the broadcasting watchdog, censured a BBC children's television show because one of the presenters wore a T shirt with the legend 'Morning Wood'. The BBC argued that the presenter's name was Dominic Wood and the show went out at 9.00 in the morning, hence 'Morning Wood'. Ofcom said yes but the phrase also has a sexual meaning and shouldn't have appeared on children's television. They added that none of the young viewers would have known the sexual meaning but that this was no defence. I rather doubt this latter point, given that the onset of puberty will soon be halfway through watching an episode of Bob the Builder. But on Ofcom's argument every possible double meaning, however obscure, would have to be removed from children's television.
Now fast forward to this Saturday's edition of The X Factor (son of Pop Idol) on ITV. Presenter Kate Thornton introduced Sharon Osbourne as "the mother of all mothers." Kids all over Britain must have been falling off the sofa laughing at this, perhaps to the bafflement of their parents. Sharon Osbourne also had a baffled look as she tried to work out whether Kate Thornton was taking the piss. Then zap to ITV2 where a female contestant said she liked one of the male contestants because he was "well hung and not hung like a moth." (I think that's what she said. I didn't know moths were hung at all but I'm about to put the lights on and open the windows to find out). This was still early evening television with lots of young viewers.
It would be interesting to test Ofcom's logic by reporting these two comments.
I won't, because I've recently complained about Clarkson's German joke and they'd probably file me under 'nutter'.

Tally Ho!

I rarely listen to 'Any Questions' but this week's edition was quite nostalgic with a panel that resorted to old-fashioned populist tub-thumping. It was reminiscent of the glory days of the last century when Sir Gerald Nabarro and Lord Boothby would tickle the political G-spot of middle England with their inimitable brand of blustering bigotry.
What you wouldn't have got in the old days was two openly gay MPs, Ben Bradshaw and Alan Duncan, engaging in a bitch-fest about banning hunting. When someone asked what the panel would like to chase instead of the fox in drag-hunting, Duncan suggested Bradshaw. Nobody made a pun about 'drag' so I'll restrain myself too.
Duncan tried to draw an absurd analogy between fox hunters and homosexuals on the basis that they were both minorities and this was cheered to the rafters by the rabidly pro-hunting audience in Devon. In terms of 'rainbow alliances' this takes some beating, although horn-tooting huntsmen are undeniably high camp when you think about it.
A minority does not have a claim on freedom or legal protection simply because it is a minority. If that were so, we would legalise dog fights, badger baiting and, for that matter, paedophilia.


I was wondering if I was too hard on Lynda Lee-Potter in a previous post, so I'm indebted to Christina Odone in today's Observer for this quote. Lee-Potter described single mothers on council estates as "idle sluts who aren't fit to look after a dog, let alone a child." As opposed, presumably, to single mothers in £500,000 houses with the benefit of a nanny or au pair so they don't have to miss their skiing holidays. Nevertheless, Odone, that prominent lay Catholic and deputy editor of the New Statesman, has felt able to compose a eulogy to Lee-Potter. It seems that if a journalist articulates the views of millions of people, the vileness of those views becomes irrelevant to how they are judged, even by their political opponents.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Not A Wilde Success

A new musical, at the Shaw Theatre in London, about Oscar Wilde has closed after one performance, probably setting a new record for theatrical disasters. Only 5 tickets had been sold for the second night. It was written and directed by former Radio 1 DJ Mike Read which should have rung warning bells. One critic wrote: "In 1895, Oscar Wilde was sentenced to two years' hard labour. A more cruel and unusual punishment has been devised by the former DJ Mike Read - a musical of exquisite awfulness."
A piece about it on Radio 4 drew parallels with Bordello, a seventies musical about Toulouse-Lautrec which I am proud to have worked on. Indeed, I own what may be the only live recording of the show in existence. But Bordello ran for several weeks in Shaftesbury Avenue, though God knows how. Even one of the earliest examples of full frontal nudity on the London stage couldn't save it. This was graciously provided by Lynda Bellingham (currently in ITV's The Bill) who, when you encountered her backstage completely naked, would smile and say good evening without a hint of self-consciousness. What a trouper.
One critic said of Bordello: "I am sorry to report that the show, sporting ten whores and a short man, fails even in this modest achievement, having hardly enough panache to knock the skin off a rice pudding."

Friday, October 22, 2004

These Boots Are Made For Vibrating

Boots are going to start selling sex aids. Lateral thinking, I suppose. They already sell batteries.
It's another example of how what used to be regarded as the wilder fringes of sexuality have become mainstream.
At the same time, Boots have announced they will no longer provide dentistry or chiropidy. Some may question their priorities. You might not feel much like shagging if you're suffering with toothache or an ingrowing toenail, although it might take your mind off it.


I've been infesting the Channel 4 Green Wing message boards. This is a new comedy that either leaves you cold or you think is a work of genius. Last night I started a thread about the best visual gags in the show. There are already 27 replies. I've had two of my quotes from the show corrected by people who must have taped and transcribed it - unless the writers are going there incognito.
I try to avoid message boards now because they can take over your life. I once got into an interminable argument with some Christians about homosexuality which was pointless because you can't debate rationally with people in the grip of an irrational belief. It was also stressful to have to remain polite to them and to be subjected to that nauseating bilge that they loved me as a person whilst insisting that what I do with my penis will condemn me to everlasting damnation.
But message boards are a good place to have some fun sharing your enthusiasm for a TV programme with people of the same impeccable taste.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Middle England Mourns (not)

Daily Mail columnist Lynda Lee-Potter has gone to join Jean Rook in the Features Department in the sky. We shall not see her like again, with any luck.
It was Lee-Potter who, ignorant of her chemotherapy, wrote gratuitous vitriol about Mo Mowlam, saying she looked like a Geordie trucker. How ironic that it was a brain tumour that killed Lee-Potter. My old friend, the saintly Mo, just laughed and forgave her. I'm not sure I could have been so generous.
Predictably, Paul Dacre has come out with that classic line about her "unshakeable faith in the decency of the quiet British majority". Bollocks. The quiet British majority wouldn't recognise decency if it was on special offer in Waitrose.

You Couldn't Make It Up part1

A couple making love in Stanley, Durham, accidentally dialled 999 by rolling on a mobile phone whilst making love and were startled when police rushed into the room. Sadly, my paper doesn't give any more detail or quotes from the parties involved. But if the couple had their video camera running the footage should turn up on the internet before long.

The Great Bustards recently re-introduced to Salisbury Plain were given "fox aversion therapy" by having high-powered water jets squirted at them when confronted by a tame fox. It wasn't a complete success. Two have been found with their heads bitten off by an untame fox. Poor Bustards.
Of course the young Bustards may have enjoyed being squirted with water rather as young humans enjoy playing with garden hoses on hot summer days and been filled with joyful anticipation when they saw Mr Fox bearing down on them. Psychological therapies have their limitations.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Pass The Green Ink

My God, am I turning into Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells?
This week I complained to The Guardian about their TV critic calling Channel 4's brilliant 'Green Wing' 'Green Room' and they published a correction. This was the second time he had done it. There's probably a comedy to be written set in a green room but if you'd watched 'Green Wing', you'd probably be inhibited from trying.
Then I complained to ITV and Ofcom about an offensive joke made by Jeremy Clarkson on Parkinson about the Germans who died in the Concorde crash. This probably wasn't technically a racist remark if German is a nationality rather than a race (although Hitler might not have agreed with that). But I can't believe it would have been transmitted if the people concerned had been Jamaican. Clarkson's defence was that he is politically incorrect. That is indeed his schtick and very lucrative it has been for him. He can be as rude as he likes about other nationalities but to say, in effect, that being incinerated in an air crash didn't matter because they were Germans is a step too far.
Generally I believe that nothing is off-limits for comedy. If the same remarks had been from the mouth of a fictional character I could probably have accepted them but Clarkson is inviting us to agree with him and laugh with him, not at him. There's also a tradition of tasteless jokes that circulate in the school playground and in the pub on a Saturday night. I've heard them about the Ethiopian famine and the Fred West murders, the latter involving dwarves and window boxes. But this is underground humour that would not only offend but would lose its frisson if it were on prime time television.
Perhaps the most depressing thing was that many of the audience laughed at Clarkson's comment and both Eddie Izzard and Donny Osmond referred back to it in a light-hearted way.
Parkinson muttered something disapproving but inaudible and chickened out of properly challenging it. Some years ago there was uproar when Stan Boardman told a joke about the German Fokker aircraft (=fucker. Geddit?) and it virtually destroyed his television career. It would be good to think that Clarkson's miserable 'career' would also be destroyed but I fear that many British people are still more upset by the F word than laughing at people they don't like burning to death.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

To Blog or Not to Blog

So here I am joining all the other egomaniacs who think that anyone gives a fuck about their opinions and banal witterings. But I'm only doing it for me, I tell myself; to force myself to write and as a form of neurological aerobics for my diminishing number of brain cells. Do I believe that or am I as self-deluded as the rest of humanity? Ah dunno, as Tony Blair would say.
I was going to call this blog 'Going Uphill' (hence the URL) because my mother was fond of quoting a line from Christina Rosetti: "does the road wind uphill all the way?" but I decided that was too opaque a title. Nevertheless, this blog is dedicated to her memory. As someone who kept a daily diary all her life, she would have loved blogging.
In the town where I was born "going uphill" was a term for material success and social aspiration. The boss class lived at the top of the hill, the workers at the bottom. I think I turned into an interesting looking cul-de-sac on the way up and never found my way out. Actually, Britain is one giant provincial cul-de-sac: small-minded, looking in on itself, complacent in its bigoted mediocrity.
Looks like this blog is going to be big on metaphor. You have been warned.