Thursday, January 31, 2008

Baka Beyond

It's easy to deride the 24 hour news channels, which is why I often do so.
But BBC News 24 deserves some credit today for running throughout the day unique live link-ups between a school in Richmond, Surrey and a school of Baka Pygmy children in the Cameroon rainforest. The latter children had never seen a television before, let alone the internet but the two groups of children were able to ask each other questions about each others' lives.

One boy described how some boys apply a sticky gel to their hair to make their hair stand up. The children on the other continent were intrigued to learn how such strange tribal customs have survived into the 21st century.
Oh, sorry. The TV is behind me when I'm at the computer. That was actually one of the Richmond boys talking about rubbing gluey unguent into his barnet.
What did the Baka boys envy most? It wasn't the hair gel or the spray deodorant (or "eau de Cologne" as one boy said - God, you could tell this was Richmond). It was the school uniforms.

Nearer My God To Thee

Wartime slang for a vicar was 'sky pilot'.
But following the emergency landing of an Air Canada flight at Shannon on Monday after the co-pilot began talking to God, it's clear that the two professions should always be kept separate.

Millions of people talk to God everyday. But if you talk to God aloud while flying a passenger jet you'll be handcuffed and dragged off to a psychiatric unit.
Which is probably how most air passengers would want it. Since 9/11, the precedents for people in cockpits talking to their God are not reassuring.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Quote of the Week (so far)

"I never buy the's the product of Satan's diseased bumgut."
- Stephen Mangan (Media Guardian)

Love you, Steve. Not just a fine actor but a prince among men.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


A phrase I used in my last post - Death is the ruffian on the stair - is my favourite metaphor for death. It comes from a verse by W.E. Henley:

Madame Life's a piece in bloom,
Death goes dogging everywhere:
She's the tenant of the room,
He's the ruffian on the stair.

It's a verse that sends my mind racing in many different directions, like a puppy released for the first time into a meadow.

The first line uses the archaic 'piece' as a term for a woman. It's similar to 'sort', as used by Del in Only Fools and Horses. I first heard 'piece' used in this way as a child from one of those 'uncles' who wasn't actually an uncle. He said a friend of his was seeing "that blonde piece who works in the pub." It's a rather insulting, misogynistic way of talking about women but I was very amused by it at the time and used it at every opportunity for a week or two.

'Death goes dogging everywhere': clearly the older sense of 'dogging' meaning to hunt like a dog but the recent usage (nocturnal sex with strangers in public places) gives the line a new, contemporary feel and makes you sit up.

'Ruffian on the Stair' is also the title of a play by Joe Orton, first produced in 1967, which was also the year of his untimely death. I assume he took the title from this poem.
Joe Orton, of course, was no stranger to dogging - dogging his way through the public toilets of north London and, for a change of scene, across North Africa, much of it chronicled in more detail than one might wish in his diaries.
Perhaps surprisingly for someone with a predilection for rough sex with rough trade it wasn't a ruffian on the stair that did for him. It was his fellow 'tenant of the room', his partner Kenneth Halliwell, who bludgeoned him to death.

But for many gay men, particularly in the past when risk-taking was unavoidable, death really did come in the form of a ruffian on the stair. But I think the metaphor goes much wider than sexuality. For anyone who belongs to a minority group or who is not a fully paid-up member of society, the ruffian on the stair is only a small political shift away from reality: "In Germany they first came for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist............" Martin Niemoller's famous lines are perhaps too well-known to need quoting in their entirety. But the point about the ruffian on the stair is that he can be wearing the well-polished brogues of the bureaucrat as easily as the jackboot of the neo-nazi or the Nike trainers of the psychotic criminal.

'She's the tenant of the room': we tend to live life as though we were freeholders but life is only ever leasehold. It has all the security of a short-term leasehold tenancy from Nicholas van Hoogstraten. You can pay the bills, sing loud hymns of praise to the landlord and put double locks on the doors but all to no avail. When you hear those floorboards creek on the stairs, you'd better hope it's just your neighbour going out for some milk.

And on that cheerful note, I wish you a very happy Tuesday.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Lost Post

I wrote a second post today - in Notepad, which is where I always write them before transferring them to Blogger, because Blogger has been known to wipe posts during the publishing process.
But I then closed Notepad without saving it and wiped my own post without any help from third party software failures.
It was a failure of my personal software, one of those increasingly common aberrations that make you think that if Death is the ruffian on the stair, then Senility is his gofer who turns the landing light out so you won't see Death coming.

These morbid musings are also prompted by something I did the other day.
Before going out I put a packet of cigarettes in my pocket. When I stopped for a cigarette on the shopping precinct I was startled to find that the pack of twenty I took from my pocket was actually a pack of eight and was an unfamiliar yellow colour. It was a packet of eight beef stock cubes.
A middle-aged man standing outside the newsagent, staring in bewilderment at a packet of stock cubes is not something that would raise eyebrows in my village, where at least 20% of the population are as mad as goats. And I suppose there would only be cause for concern if I had tried to light one or gone back to the boy in the newsagent and said "I asked for Silk Cut, not Knorr........ palming me off with these when you know I smoke low tar........beef flavour cigarettes!.......the world's gone mad!"


I think we can confidently state that the coming week will not see a more inane statement from a journalist than this from this morning's Today programme:
'The Romanian gypsies [in Slough] lead unconventional lives. In many cases, children's parents are not legally married.'

Indeed. Unthinkable that any couples in the indigenous population would ever raise children without being married.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Mail Editor Left Feeling A Right Tit

Poor old Mail on Sunday. (Never thought I'd write those words).
Saturday must have been a slow news day. Or a no news day. Certainly a no scoop day.
How else do you explain their front page lead that Britannia is to be removed from the 50p coin?
They've pinned this act of treachery on Brown, who apparently gave his permission when Chancellor for more modern symbols of Britain to replace the image of the war-mongering old hag.

The real imbecility of this frothing at the mouth over something so trivial becomes apparent when you discover that Britannia is a vestige of one of the two occasions when these islands were invaded, conquered and subject to foreign rule. 'Britannia' was the Roman name for Britain and the figure of Britannia was an invented goddess. The first person to put an image of Britannia on coins was Hadrian, the bloke who built the wall.

She may have later become a symbol of the British Empire but was originally a symbol of Britain as an insignificant and subject territory of a single, European state, the very scenario that, although totally false in contemporary terms, has launched a thousand Mail rants.

On early images of Britannia, she has her left tit hanging out. She was, you might say, one of the first celebrities to get her tits out for the lads. Maybe the Romans understood native culture far better than the upper class twits who ran the later British Empire.
This also suggests that The Sun might be a more appropriate paper to campaign on Britannia's behalf.
And, on reflection, maybe the 2,000 year old Page 3 stunner isn't such an inappropriate symbol after all.
A past her sell-by-date ladette, flashing her tits, clutching a Trident and waving the Union flag at an indifferent world.

Never Retune

If you have Radio 4 as your default radio station, don't be tempted to see what's on other channels. Not even to escape from Money Box.

At Saturday lunchtime, trapped by the grill because I was making an unusually complicated lunch of cheese and tomatoes on toast, I could take no more of Money Box and switched to Five.
I almost dropped the grill pan as the sports presenter said: "Let's get some homo-eroticism going in the studio."

I do not, of course, have anything against homo-eroticism. But there's a time and place for everything. And I don't want homo-eroticism shoved down my throat when I'm salivating at the prospect of cheese on toast with a light drizzle of Worcester sauce.
A gaggle of sportsmen and pundits were invited to nominate the hottest hunks in sport. Cue lots of laddish guffaws and this classic preamble: "I have an unblemished record of thirty years of heterosexuality......."

I began to ponder how you asess the sexual attractiveness of a gender to whom you are not attracted. Yet straight men often do this in a jokey, grudging way. "He's a good-looking bastard, isn't he?" they will say of a footballer.
I've always found it rather more problematic. At a business lunch when I was in my twenties, someone asked me: "Are you a tit man or a leg man?" When I hesitated, taking a swig of wine and praying that the fire alarm would go off, my indecision was mis-interpreted. Someone else said: "He's a tit man and a leg man! The lucky bastard!"
I chuckled knowingly, intimating that my catholic tastes concerning the female body had been rumbled.
But then a third suit, more perspicacious than the others, spoiled everything by saying to me: "I hope we're not putting you off your lunch."

By the time I was putting myself on the outside of four rounds of melted cheese on toast, I had tired of Radio Five's game of 'let's pretend we can identity the hottest hunks in sport whilst making it clear that we wouldn't under any circumstances give them one and have never for a nano-second had any doubts about our own 100% heterosexuality.'
So I switched to Radio 2 and the Jonathan Ross show.

Some of Ross's witty banter would be the perfect accompaniment to a light, savoury lunch.
Ross was describing his colonoscopy. In graphic detail.
"They shoved a camera up my jacksy."
It wasn't a messy procedure, he assured us, because his jacksy was as clean as a whistle.
I sprang towards the radio dial like a greyhound leaving the traps, knocking a pepper mill and a Worcester sauce bottle to the floor.
You know what? That Money Box isn't such a bad programme.
Better to drown in an alphabet soup of HIPs and ISAs than have your lunch ruined by images of Beckham's Brazilian or Ross's colon.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

British Social Attitudes Survey (2)

What I was about to mention from the British Social Attitudes Survey yesterday, when I was rudely interrupted by my own digressive rant, was changes in attitudes to homosexuality.
How you regard the Survey depends on your disposition. The Guardian always presents its results in a positive light. The onward march of tolerance, etc. It's the Whig view of history: a single direction of travel towards greater liberalism and enlightenment. "This is Nirvana. This train terminates here. Please make sure you leave any reactionary baggage behind. Thank you for travelling with the forces of progress."

The Survey results over the years do indeed show increasing acceptance of homosexuality and greater liberalism on many other issues. But I don't take quite such a sanguine view as The Guardian and much depends on the semantics of the questions asked and how you interpret and present the answers.
32% of people think homosexuality is always or mostly wrong. That's down from 75% in 1987.
Twice as many people say same sex couples can be as committed to each other as a man and a woman (63%).

Is there an inconsistency there? Not necessarily. For what some people are saying is: yes, same sex couples can be in love and committed to each other but it's still always or mostly wrong. Hmm. Sounds like that could be the Christians. They seldom deny the fact of homosexuality and many don't deny that love can be involved but anything physical and eternal hellfire awaits.
But going back to the first statistic, it's a chastening thought for a gay person that almost a third of your fellow citizens think your sexuality is always or mostly wrong. It proves what I have always argued: that although social attitudes have changed, they still lag behind the legal changes of recent years. And that the metropolitan middle classes have an exaggerated idea of levels of acceptance nationally.

The key word there is 'metropolitan'. This isn't really a class issue. It cuts across class divisions. Some of the people I've met who were most accepting of homosexuality have been working class, happily letting their sons bring boyfriends home for the night. Some of the people I've met who were most intolerant of homosexuality have also been working class, kicking their sons out on to the street. No doubt you would find the same wide range of attitudes within the middle classes.

The mystery in the Survey (and I haven't read the full report, only The Guardian summary) is this curious distinction between 'always' and 'mostly' wrong. Apparently only one in five people think homosexuality is 'always' wrong. But if you add in those who think it is 'mostly' wrong, you reach that figure of 32%.
One longs to ask those people who think it is 'mostly' wrong, in what small number of cases it is 'right'. Is it OK if you're a famous celebrity like Elton John or a TV presenter like Graham Norton but not OK if you're Tom and Bill holding hands in the local pub or your kid's schoolteacher or your GP?

There's a parallel here with racism which is still more deeply entrenched than most of us care to acknowledge. An elderly neighbour said to me recently: "We're the wrong colour, you and I". I was tempted to quote Chris Rock's comment to an audience: "there's not one white person in this room who would want to swap places with me.......and I'm rich."
The survey reveals that 36% of people think measures to promote equal opportunities for black and asian people have gone too far (my italics).
Not 'preferential treatment' or 'greater opportunities than white people' but 'equal opportunities'.

Let's put it the other way round, for this is what's being said: 'black and asian people should not have equal opportunities with white people; they should have less oportunities.'
They should go to the back of the queue, you might say. Which isn't a million miles from the back of the bus.
Of course, today they'll often be driving the bus. But that's because there's such a shortage of bus drivers that some bus companies are shipping in eastern Europeans as drivers. But that's all right. They're white. So most people think they qualify for equal treatment. Some of them may well be gay. Many gay Poles have fled the current, oppressive Polish regime.
Maybe the next survey could ask: Is it always or mostly wrong for your bus to be driven by a gay Pole?
Hang on.
What's that on the digital display board?
The no 69 service to racial and sexual equality is running approximately 30 years behind schedule. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.

Plods' Porkies

I don't like to shock you, gentle readers. But the police have been telling porkies.
Not those old favourites:
"He fell down the cell steps, Your Honour", or
"The defendant said: 'It's a fair cop, guv. You got me bang to rights'."
No, I refer to their current pay dispute and the untruths they have been promulgating about their conditions of employment.

They are claiming to be in a unique position because:
a) they cannot take a second job without the permission of their employers.
Leaving aside why they would want or need a second job when they can clock up all those hours of lucrative overtime, this condition also applies to local government officers. It probably applies to many other occupations.
b) they can be disciplined or fired for off-duty offences or indiscretions.
See above. The same applies in local government. I cite this because I once worked in local government. My contract said I must not do anything in my private life that might bring the local authority into disrepute. (It didn't specify what kind of indisretion that might be, fortunately. So I didn't worry too much when, at a lock-in at my local, I was persuaded to don lederhosen and sing 'Tomorrow Belongs To Me').
Conversely, the police, unlike other employees, sometimes get away with murder in their actual employment. Literally. As in shooting dead an innocent man on the London Underground.


Staying with crime, and linking seamlessly to my next snippet, last night saw the launch of the revamped Crimewatch (BBC1), now presented by Kirsty Young and the small but perfectly formed Matthew Amroliwala, moonlighting from his newsreading job on News 24. Crazy name, crazy guy.
The programme also has a new set which enables Kirsty Young to do a lot of walking. This is the new, walking, stalking, Crimewatch.
Changing fashions in television design and production leave the viewer bemused. This new set has lots of chunky pillars that regularly obscure the peripatetic presenter.
A few years ago (or maybe only last month), the cry would have gone up: "Get rid of those fucking pillars! They're blocking the shot."
But last night our screens were regularly filled by a large blue pillar as Kirsty continued in audio only. Now you see her, now you don't. A bit like the rapist they featured who skulked behind trees and bushes.

It's proof again that people who work in the 'creative' industries live in some strange parallel universe of their own.
Presumably, at the production meeting, someone said:
"And here's the really good bit. Kirsty is going to follow the camera, weaving in and out these large pillars and perspex screens. And the screens have crime details scrawled on them with marker pens, like those whiteboards the DCI uses on The Bill."
"I'm loving it!"


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

British Social Attitudes

You may think I'm being patronising or elitist when I sometimes write here that many people are very stupid and very ignorant.
"Ignorant" is probably a better term in most cases because large numbers of people are living their lives in a bubble of misinformation. The kind of things I have mentioned are the belief that 50% or more of the British population are black or the belief that hundreds of children are abducted and murdered by strangers each year. (The true fact that a child is murdered by its parents every ten days is possibly more shocking).

I return to the topic because the annual British Social Attitudes Survey (for 2006) has just been published. One of the things it reveals is that 50% of people still believe that "common law marriage" exists.
Just think about that for a moment. Common law marriage was abolished in the 18th century. In the 21st century, half the population think it still exists. This isn't some religious belief with no practical implications. More than 250 years later, people are still living together in the erroneous belief that common law marriage confers some legal rights.

How do we explain this? We've not only had mass education for a very long time but we live in a society that bombards us with information through a wide range of media 24 hours a day.
Perhaps one clue is in another survey revelation: only 20% of graduates read a quality newspaper today. Twenty years ago the figure was 50%.
Certainly the education system and the media must take some of the blame. But I think it goes deeper. People believe what they want to believe, regardless of the facts. How often in argument have you confronted someone with an irrefutable fact, only for them to say "I don't agree with that" or "I don't believe that"?

There's also an unattractive form of individualism around today - perhaps better described as a type of solipsism - that refuses to acknowledge any objective rules or standards.
I once told a girl that "docter" was an incorrect spelling. "That's how I spell it!" she said, and she wasn't joking. It's a trivial example and, as an individualist myself, this isn't an argument for extreme pedantry or dress codes or, God forbid, strict moral codes. But there's a difference, for example, between "I don't like Shakespeare" (perfectly reasonable) or "I don't understand Shakespeare" (perfectly reasonable) and "Shakespeare sucks" or "Shakespeare's shit".

An example I always quote comes from that great corrupter of values, Rupert Murdoch. When he bought The Times long ago, he said there was no difference in quality between The Times and The Sun. They were simply catering for different markets.
Ah, markets! There you have, in a nutshell, the corrupting nature of modern consumerism.
And when you survey the output of BBC television today, it's clear that you'd be hard pressed to find anyone in the corporation who dissented from Murdoch's view.

Too harsh?
Consider this: the acclaimed film maker Tony Palmer made a major documentary last year about Vaughan Williams. The BBC declined to screen it. Mr Palmer claims to have had a letter from the BBC which said: 'having looked at our own activity via the lens of find, play & share', it had been decided the film did not fit with 'the new vision for [BBC] Vision', and concluded: 'but good luck with the project, and do let me know if Mr. V. Williams has an important premiere in the future as this findability might allow us to reconsider.' Vaughan Williams died in 1958.
I find it hard to believe that wasn't a spoof but Mr Palmer insists the letter was genuine. The programme was eventually screened by Five, albeit at nine in the morning. Yet the BBC has acres of space to fill on its so-called cultural channel BBC4, which this week is full of programmes on pop music, many of them repeats.
Markets, you see. Not to mention demographics. Oh, and let's not forget that lens of find, play and share.

Oh dear, I've digressed into my dinner time. More on the Social Attitudes Survey next time.

Marks and What?

A woman called Laura Barton, writing in yesterday's Guardian, refers to the British public's tendency to refer to Marks and Spencer as "Marks and Sparkles".
Never in all my life , or "never in all my puff" as my father sometimes says (and I've been puffing, and huffing, for many years), have I ever heard anyone refer to said store as "Marks and Sparkles".
Most people use the nickname or shorthand "Marks and Sparks".

I think the company once used "Marks and Sparkles" in their Christmas commercials a few years ago but I've never heard someone say "I'm just popping into Marks and Sparkles for a 3-pack of boxer shorts and a prawn and mayo sarnie."

Maybe it's something that posh people say. Then again, if you were really posh you'd probably regard Marks as irredeemably middle class, somewhere your nanny might go for her lingerie, but only if you were paying her too much.
Admittedly, we now know that Jeremy Paxman shops there (and he's pretty posh and rich) because of his campaign about the deterioration in the quality of their men's underwear and what he's described as "gusset anxiety".
Not a good move really, for someone of Paxo's granite-faced gravitas. Imagine the next time he's asking one of Newsnight's female correspondents about a current political crisis:
"How much fall-out are we expecting from this?"
"You tell me, big boy."

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

They're All Behind You, Ken. (Carrying hatchets)

I'm not an unqualified supporter of Ken Livingstone. I think he has made some serious misjudgements. But when people on the left start doing hatchet jobs on Ken you wonder if they really want Boris as the next Mayor of London.

Last night's Dispatches (Channel 4) was a pretty pathetic piece of character assassination. Much of it was trivial stuff. So Ken sips from a glass of whisky during Mayor's Question Time. Well, until the puritanical Brown, it was a tradition for the Chancellor to sip from a glass of whisky or brandy when presenting his Budget to the House of Commons. If the programme had any evidence that Ken was pissed out of his brain for most of the time, presumably they'd have produced it. But they didn't.
(I think the well-known Westminster blogger Guido Fawkes should delete the comments on his blog today that describe Ken as a "chronic alcoholic". Libel laws do apply to blogs, you know. Get your writs out, Ken).

The argument that the Mayor has too much power was an odd one since the previous consensus was that the Mayor did not have enough power or autonomy. For example, Gordon Brown was able to impose public/private partnerships for the Underground against the Mayor's wishes and, from what I read, it's a policy that has been disastrous in many respects.

Ken wanted to prevent Trevor Phillips becoming the head of the new Equalities Commission. I'm not sure of Ken's reasons for this but I rather wish he'd succeeded because I find it extraordinary that a man who buys a private education for his children is made responsible for equality of treatment. It's not quite on a par with King Herod being made Minister for Children but it's not far off.

I seem to remember that when Ken (as Leader of the GLC) had the Thames Barrier built back in the 1980s, it was widely criticised as an expensive folly. Few thanked him when the Barrier protected London from the recent storm surge. Flawed he may be, but Ken is one of the few politicians prepared to think long-term and take expensive, controversial yet prescient decisions.

I trust that, in the interests of balance, the Dispatches team are working on a programme about Boris Johnson. They'd be mining a much richer seam of material.
Boris was sacked by Michael Howard not for having an extra-marital affair but for lying to him about it. Howard concluded he couldn't work with a collaegue who told bare-faced lies to his face.
Leaving aside the extra-marital shenanigans and the ramblings about 'piccaninnies', 'cannibals' and suchlike, it was Boris who supplied the name and address of a journalist to a fellow old Etonian and crook so the latter could have the journalist beaten up. Boris defended this on the grounds that he thought the attack would involve no more than a few broken ribs. I've put no "allegedly" there because it's on the public record and has been printed in several newspapers with the presumed approval of said newspapers' learned friends.

Whether or not Boris beats Ken in the Mayoral election, I have no doubt that David Cameron will rue the day he supported Boris's candidacy. And if Boris does win, there'll soon be cries of 'come back, Ken, all is forgiven'. Except from Ken's enemies on the left, for their hatred of Ken is so visceral and irrational that they'd rather see a bumbling, bigoted, Old Etonian clown make London a laughing stock throughout the world.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Media Charivari

Funniest Television Moment of The Week: Jon Snow's mis-pronunciation of the Geordie word "Howay" on Channel 4 News.

Most Bizarre Captioning Mistake of The Week: "Lord Oakeshott, Liberal Democrat spokesman" over a shot of an old Shanghai paddle steamer (BBC News 24).

Funniest News Report of the Week: the next series [of Grange Hill] will gradually move away from Grange Hill school and relocate to 'the Grange', a creative learning centre focused on multimedia technology (The Guardian).

Most Surreal TV Moment of the Week: actor and comedian (and former Cambridge physicist) Ben Miller talking about String Theory on Al Murray's comedy chat show (ITV1).

Looniest Academic Pronouncement of the Week: Dr Nick Bostrom, an Oxford philosopher, predicting a time when robots become so intelligent they will need to be granted the same rights as humans, including the right to own property, open a bank account and the right not to be turned off (The Guardian).

Most Misjudged Sound Effect of the Week: Coronation Street dubbing a tolling bell over the shot of Vera Duckworth leaving the street in a hearse, when no church bell has ever been heard on the street before.

Most Entertaining Weather Forecaster of the Week: (and every other week) Dan Corbett on BBC. "I know you're thinking: Go on Dan, pull the other one!" [I wasn't, actually] and "then, as it meets the cold air.....BOOM!" and "Brooooom! it comes! from the west!" Give the man a sound effects machine before he does himself a mischief. (Sunday, BBC News 24)

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The S Word

The Culture Show tonight (BBC2) had a feature on the new film of Stephen Sondheim's musical Sweeney Todd.
There were clips from the film and an interview with Tim Burton and Johnny Depp conducted by Mark Kermode.

At no point did anyone mention the words Stephen Sondheim.
Not programme presenter Lauren Laverne.
Not Mark Kermode.
Not Tim Burton,
Not Johnny Depp.

There have been many Sweeney Todds. This particular one is Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd.
It's one of the greatest stage musicals of the past fifty years. It is possibly Sondheim's finest work.
Those last two statements can be argued about.
This one can't: it is Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd.
It's Tim Burton's film.
It's Johnny Depp's portrayal of Sweeney Todd.
It was Mark Kermode's interview.
But not one of them made even the most fleeting reference to STEPHEN SONDHEIM.

The ignorant twats.
The disrespectful fucking bastards.
The despicable, up-their-own-arses, ego-consumed c**ts.

(I'll return to Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd at some point. At the moment I'm too fucking angry and I've just broken my keyboard).

The N Word

Watch the right-wing tabloids frothing at the mouth over the recent rises in gas and electricity prices. Today's Express was even diverted from Diana and the fact that it's raining to make British Gas's 15% increase its front page lead.
Then recall how, when Thatcher was in her pomp, these same papers were cheerleaders for the privatisation of public utilities. Remember how that Elysium of a share-owning democracy would lead to competition = greater efficiency = lower prices?

Yes, wholesale energy prices have increased (although very recently we were told they were about to fall dramatically). But the elementary point that is usually ignored is that private companies exist to make profits. Their shareholders demand a return on their investment. Part of the consumer's price rise is the shareholder's dividend.

It should be a fundamental principle of a civilised society that those things that are essential for life itself - fuel, water, sewerage - should be divorced from the profit motive.
What about food and shelter, you may ask. Social ownership of a vast and diverse food industry is impractical. But the state recognises the special status of food by exempting it from VAT. (There is, of course, VAT on fuel bills. Tories again.) The necessity of social housing was also part of the post-war consensus, including affordable, rented, council housing, until Thatcher ordered the selling off of council houses.

Privatisation has been a double-whammy for the tax-paying consumer, not only paying higher prices but subsidising these private companies and protecting their profit margins through their taxes.
The Labour Government introduced tax-funded winter fuel allowances for the elderly to mitigate the effects of high energy prices and try to reduce the large numbers of elderly people dying from hypothermia.
Tax credits subsidise low wages paid by vastly wealthy private companies.
More taxpayers' money is being poured into the privatised, fragmented railway system today than under the single, state-owned British Rail.
As reported this week, the taxpayer is handing £100 million a year to private schools. Don't make them justify their charitable status. If the Government hasn't the guts to abolish them (which it hasn't), just take their charitable status away. Everyone knows that charitable status is a piss-take.
But that's small beer compared to the £54 Billion of taxpayers' money that is currently propping up Northern Rock, a company that got into trouble through greed and mismanagement.

And if Gordon Brown is so terrified of the 'N' word, use the term I used above: take the fuel and water companies (many of them foreign-owned) back into 'social ownership'.
Rather than the bogus 'share-owning democracy' where only a minority of shares are owned by ordinary people, governments would be accountable to all of us for their management of these utilities through our elected representatives.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Virgin On The Ridiculous

Last night's The Bill had a wonderful variation on the usual police chase. They were chasing a criminal who was a 'free runner' - the sport of acrobatic scaling of obstacles in urban environments, climbing high walls and leaping from rooftop to rooftop. It was funny and spectacular in equal measure with the nice final touch of having the rather chubby Gina Gold (played by the brilliant Roberta Taylor) put the cuffs on him as he descended to earth.

A year or two ago, I was involved in a piece of improvised drama based on The Bill, though not by choice.
Beardy Branson's Virgin Media blokes had come to convert me to digital.
(A tip to Virgin subscribers: when you answer the door, don't say "Are you Virgin?" or, even worse, "Are you the Virgin boys?" You'll immediately wish you hadn't, suggesting as it does that you're enacting what I believe is a popular scenario in porn films, involving TV repair men.)

These particular Virgin boys were a threesome. Sorry, I'll rephrase that: there were three of them. That seemed a bit mob-handed to swop one set-top box for another.
Anyway, they had just been supplied with short-wave radios, or 'walkie-talkies' as we used to call them, to communicate with their colleague in the van outside.
I was startled to hear one of them say:
"We're in pursuit of an IC1 male in a blue Ford Escort, index Alpha, Tango, Victor, 492, Delta, heading on to the Jasmine Allen Estate."
"Shall I put SO19 on stand-by?" I said, trying to enter into the spirit of the thing.
"Do you watch The Bill, then?" he said, as though I hadn't made that as obvious as the balls on an Airedale.
Then his face lit up as he had an even more spiffing idea: "Can I tell him that you used to live on the Jasmine Allen Estate?"
I gave my consent, but he could see my enthusiasm, such as it was, was now waning.
To be honest, I was wondering how this piece of 'improv' was going to play out. Would they march me out of my house in handcuffs, throw me into the back of the Virgin van and drive me at high speed to the nearest town with one of them making siren noises and another on the radio saying: "Tell the DCI we've got the little scumbag."?
Happily, the need to get the colour balance right on my ancient TV soon distracted them from fantasy car chases round the Jasmine Allen.

The previous occasion that two Virgin engineers came to my house was equally bizarre. They had a mock fight in my living room, slapping each other round the face in what resembled a form of rough foreplay.
I wondered if I should put the gas fire on so that they could wrestle naked on the hearth rug like Alan Bates and Oliver Reed in Women in Love.

When I move, I'm switching to Sky.
My God, those Sky engineers have a lot to live up to.


Meanwhile, on last night's Coronation Street, where Jack and Vera are about to move to Blackpool, Vera was getting sentimental about 'The Old Vicarage', as she ludicrously named her terraced back-to-back a few years ago.
"Just think of all the meals I've served at this table", she said.
"Aye well," Jack replied, "Let's not dwell on the bad times."
That's why we love Corrie.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Just Desserts

Let's hope it's a warning to others.
The DJ Andy Kershaw has been jailed for three months for breaching a restraining order forbidding him to play World Music.*

*On reflection, this post may contain a factual error.
But sometimes the news one would have liked to hear is so much more pleasurable than the news one actually heard.


Welcome back, News at Ten.
It was an almost flawless first edition. Professional, well-balanced and as slick as a self-lubricating condom.

If I'm going to be picky (I know, very out of character), the only fault I could find was the delay in Trevor McDonald turning his head from the close-up camera to the longer distance one, so several times he seemed to be looking at somone over my right shoulder.
Strange, that.
You lure the doyen of veteran, iconic newsreaders out of retirement and then he looks into the wrong camera.
That said, give me Trevor any day rather than the ludicrous, affected and pompous Huw Edwards on the BBC. Why does he read little chunks of the bulletin from his script as though there were gaps on the autocue? Does he want us to think he delivers most of it from memory? Grow up, Huw!
And because there was no commercial break in News at Ten, we didn't get Trevor's famous drawl:
"When we come baaaaaaaaaack..."
Actually, I was rather disappointed about that.

The opening titles were splendid: preserving the famous brand but with a new, dramatic swoop up the Thames.
Like retro on speed.
(Christ, did I really say that? Sorry, I've been reading How To Bluff Your Way As A Media Creative.)
Call me childish, but that's how I want my news to begin. I want bongs, I want loud drums, I want frenetic strings.
I detest that lumbering BBC News music and those pathetic beeps that sound like a delivery lorry reversing outside the supermarket.
And those lines that ping the BBC's globe are wavy or crooked! They go round corners. I'm no expert but surely radio and satellite signals travel in straight lines?

Some will criticise the content of News at Ten and the lead scoop of an interview with Diana's ex-lover. But News at Ten was always a more populist news programme and viewers are entitled to a choice of styles. You might as well criticise a pollock for not being haddock.

However, on the trailers for News at Ten, Trevor's new sidekick, Julie Etchingham, said 'you're in people's homes at that time of night'.
She's not the first TV presenter to have said that but do these poor, deluded souls actually believe it?
Listen carefully, Julie:
Nobody is ever in my home at that time of night unless I'm going to sleep with them. And for reasons beyond my control that would never be you.
Far from being in my home, you are the flickering image of a midget person's disembodied head on a screen in the corner of my room.
And that's exactly how I like it.
For if you were actually in my home I wouldn't make a cup of tea without offering you one; I wouldn't turn my back on you to write my blog; I wouldn't wander around the room in my boxer shorts or scratch my arse; and I certainly wouldn't cut you off in mid-flow saying 'that's enough News at ten, so fuck off you pert, blonde bitch', switch the lights off and leave the room.
So be grateful for that.
And just to be clear: you are not my friend; I don't have to 'trust' you; you don't have a responsiblity to me; I don't have to believe what you're saying. You just have to read the autocue without stumbling and look into the right camera.
So don't get up yourself, dear.
Or you'll end up like Huw Edwards.

Monday, January 14, 2008


Louis Theroux's documentary on San Quentin prison (BBC2) was fascinating. But if it was Theroux at his best, it was also Theroux at his worst.
When he first appeared on television, he seemed to have given a new twist to the personalised documentary that was quite refreshing. But as time went on, I became increasingly irritated by his dorkish, faux-naive technique. All that exaggerated incredulity began to grate.
"You have Rice Crispies for breakfast?......Really?.......Wow!"

Entering San Quentin, he was given a stab-proof vest to wear. "What's the point of this?", he asked. It was to prevent him being killed if he were stabbed, the prison officer patiently explained. What the fuck did you think it was for, Louis? A fashion statement? A bib in case you spilt your porridge?
Better, or worse, was to come.
A transgender prisoner known as 'Dorothy' told Louis that inmates sometimes tried to drag her into their cells.
"Why would they do that?", said Louis.
Dorothy's eyes widened to the size of saucers.
"Hello?", she said.

There was self-imposed racial segregation amongst the prisoners. Over a breakfast that included gravy, two tattooed psychos told Louis that if he accepted food from a black inmate they would beat him up.
"Would you really do that?", said Louis, as though he had been threatened with GBH by a gay, Church of England vicar at a garden party.
For God's sake, Louis, give your glasses a clean and take a good look at them.

Once again, British viewers will have been bemused by US sentencing policy. One inmate was serving 500 years plus 11 life sentences. That 'plus' implied that these sentences were to be served consecutively, rather than concurrently.
Now that is worth a 'Really?', a 'Wow!' and a 'WHY?'
Oddly, Louis Theroux's eyebrows didn't move a millimetre vertically at this information.


BBC2 had scheduled recorded coverage of the opening weekend of Liverpool's year as European City Of Culture for 10.45 last night. An over-running darts match pushed it even further back into a graveyard slot, so I missed it.
How wonderfully British!
The Culture arriving at platform 2 has been delayed by a late-running darts match.
In my naiveté, I thought our national broadcaster would have some live coverage of the Liverpool events, if only on digital cultural outpost BBC4. But they were busy with two repeats and 'Ten Things You Didn't Know About Tsunamis'.
BBC3, then? Well obviously it would be unthinkable to move a repeat of
'Sex - With Mum and Dad.'
So might there have been more coverage if the City of Culture had been London?

Saturday, January 12, 2008

ADWATCH - No 1 of a new series

For the first Adwatch since my return, what better than a disgraceful assault on a commercial that isn't actually 'commercial' but exists to promote the most noble and altruistic of causes?
I refer to the commercial for the National Blood Service.
You know the one: a succession of celebrities introduce us to 'ordinary people' who, by giving blood, saved theirs or a loved one's life.
"This is Trevor. He saved my life when I fell over and cut my head open as I staggered out of the Pink Flamingo, completely rat-arsed."
"This is Julie. Without her, my brother would be dead after my sister-in-law tried to cut his bollocks off with a kitchen knife."
Well OK, the stories aren't as interesting as that and would be rejected in a script for Casualty.
So what's the problem?

Firstly, it's based on the conceit that you can actually identify the particular donor that saves a particular life. No, no, let me finish.
Most of us know this is just a fictitious device to dramatise the value of giving blood.
But a small proportion of the population are exceedingly stupid. They think soap operas are real. They think 50% of the British population is black. They think the sun goes round the earth, that Africa is in Europe and that poor Dirk Bogarde never did meet the right girl.
And most advertising is designed to exploit gullibility, if not stupidity, and that includes exploiting the sub-conscious credulousness of the intelligent.
That's why, before controls were more rigorous than today, a chocolate bar called Milky Way was advertised as "the sweet you can eat between meals without spoiling your appetite" and Craven A cigarettes were advertised as being good for your throat.
So is it responsible to be peddling the notion that, if you donate blood, some washed-up soap actor or celebrity chef may turn up at your workplace to thank you personally for saving their life?
Believe me, there are people who will think this is how it works.

Misunderstanding how blood transfusion works has been fertile ground for comedies over the years. Hancock's The Blood Donor is too well known to need describing here.
There was also an episode of Till Death Us Do Part where Alf Garnett was shocked to see a black man at the blood donor clinic and even more shocked to be told that his blood might be given to a white person. Sadly, some of the television audience would have shared his horror.

Secondly, if you are going to use celebrities in this commercial and assuming that some people see them as role models, wouldn't it be more sensible to show the celebs themselves donating blood? In this commercial, it's a one-way traffic. The 'ordinary people' are donating blood that is used to save the lives of the rich and famous and their families and friends. It's a kind of 'trickle-up' effect.
Not that the reverse scenario would be without its problems. Be honest. Would you want to be given Amy Winehouse's blood? Or Pete Doherty's?

Finally, as I've noted before, the use of celebrities in commercials (unless for a niche product) can be counter-productive.
Take Gordon Ramsay, who features in these ads with a tale of his spleen being ruptured rather than vented.
My father, himself a former chef, has a hatred of Ramsay so intense that if Ramsay were lying on the ground with a ruptured spleen, not only would my father not donate blood that had the remotest chance of being given to Ramsay but there would be a strong likelihood that it was my father who had ruptured Ramsay's spleen in the first place.
If a celebrity asked "If you prick us, do we not bleed?", you can be sure a proportion of the public would reply "You are a prick. Bleed to death, you bastard."

None of which should deter anyone from donating blood. The website ( even boasts a new 'Blood Donor Online' service.
God knows which USB port you use for that. And you'd have to make your own cup of tea. But it gives a whole new meaning to their slogan: "Do something amazing today."

Friday, January 11, 2008

Moving Update (1)

I find a woollen poncho in the attic. My mother knitted it for me when I was 16. It's a very thick wool (tog rating 95), sort of turquoise in colour, with a polo neck and tassles round the hem.
When I was 19 I wore it on the London Underground (the District Line from Bayswater to Richmond, since you ask). There were sarcastic wolf whistles and a man shouted "Who's a pretty boy, then?"
If you've ever lived in our mighty megalopolis, you'll know that it takes a lot to provoke that kind of reaction on the tube.

I don't think I've ever worn it since that traumatic summer's night but the poncho has come with me on countless changes of address and it has never 'got the moth'. (What an odd expression that is: as though there were only one moth. It's like people saying to waiters: 'I'll have the chicken", as though only a single fowl were available at each service).

But I've been keeping the poncho for the old people's home where it will serve as both outré day wear for the TV lounge and a warm bed jacket at night. It's long enough to hide a colostomy bag and I can use the tassles to flick flies away when I'm wheeled into the garden.

I shall also flaunt it when I invite young male nurses to my room for a pot of Assam and some fruitcake so I can regale them with entirely fictitious stories of how I worked as a rent boy in California in the 60's.
"That Rock Hudson, more like Soft Hudson, if you get my drift............some more Dundee cake, Kevin? (touching his knee).......I suppose a blanket bath's out of the question?"
If this strategy works, a Social Services committee will find me guilty of 'inappropriate behaviour' and I will be transferred to my own flat in warden-controlled sheltered housing.
Mission accomplished.
The poncho's work will be done.
God Bless you, mother.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Brass Neck

He's a bit of a card, that Pope Benedict, isn't he?
He's been lecturing professional footballers about corruption.
And to think people say that Germans have no sense of humour.

The guys at the Guardian, after sticking their own necks out yesterday with a front page lead based on the premise that Hillary Clinton had lost the primary, have also made a strong showing in the copper-bottomed chutzpah stakes.
Today's Leader begins: "After the Iowa caucuses we warned readers not to leap to conclusions about the outcome of the US presidential nomination races."
So that would be the warning that said 'Clinton moves to plan B...........Strategists may be sacked..........Focus now on winning big states.'
Sorry, Mr Rusbridger. It was clearly all our fault.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Hacked Off

Thought it was time I tidied up the borders of this blog and got rid of all the defunct blogs on the blogroll, following what my esteemed blogging friend Mike 'Troubled Diva' has called my "long lay off". (Would that it had been a "long lay", Mike).

But fuck me! What's this? Has someone hacked into my blogger profile?
It was giving my age as 251! The year of my birth had become the late 18th century. I know it has been said (probably by me) that I'm the Boswell of our times, but that's just ridiculous.

It got worse. It was giving my occupation as 'Accountancy'.
Seriously, do I come across as an accountant? Quite apart from the fact that, as I've recently revealed, I suffer from dyscalculia.
No disrespect to accountants, by the way. It's a boring job but some poor fucker has to do it. And who knows what Bacchanalian delights they indulge in when they're not playing with the balls on their abacus?

We once had a Prime Minister who was an accountant (Major). He was the son of a circus performer, so it was said he was the only man ever to run away from the circus to become an accountant. He presided over one of the biggest economic disasters in our history, so it wasn't a wise career move. Though in support of what I said above, the grey man spent several years secretly screwing Edwina Currie. But on reflection, only an accountant could regard that as a 'Bacchanalian delight'.

Anyway, despite several attempts to put 'not specified' the Blogger software is determined to say I'm an accountant. So I've opted for 'Communications and Media'.
After all, I communicate through the medium of a blog. And I've always wanted to be a media tart.
Or even just a tart.

Black Is Black, Or Possibly Not

That Barrack Obama: he's not really black, is he?
Watching him on Channel 4 News last night he looked almost as white as Michael Jackson.
If you painted your walls the colour of Obama's complexion, you could pass them off as Magnolia.

This is very distasteful comment, but I'm trying to work out its relevance to those for whom skin colour matters.
From my own British experience there are:
a) people who hate all foreigners
b) people who hate those of another 'race'
c) those who hate people of a different colour - usually black
My experience is that (c) are the largest group. That's why white, European immigrants experience less prejudice than black immigrants. It may also account for the fact that black contestants, however talented, usually get booted off the X Factor quite quickly. Leona Lewis, who won, was of mixed race and, like Obama, quite pale-skinned.

So I wonder whether for colour-prejudiced people, a person's position on the skin-colour spectrum is a relevant factor. If Obama were 'as black as the ace of spades', would he garner less votes than he is currently achieving?
I only ask the question.
Untypically for a blogger, I don't have all the answers, or even any of them.

Meanwhile, today's Guardian took a dangerous punt.
Their front page lead has Hillary losing the New Hampshire primary and sacking her strategists.
An important rule for journalists, as for politicians, is never put your faith in polls.
Wouldn't you love to be a fly on the wall at today's Guardian editorial conference? I bet Harry Potter's glasses are a bit steamed up.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Should Know Better

We are ill-served by our media, even those parts of it with a reputation for accuracy and objectivity.
This morning the Today programme described welfare obsessive Frank Field MP as "on the left".
I don't know what 'left' that would be. Maybe he 'dresses to the left'.
If Frank Field is on the left, then it's a miracle that I haven't been locked up as a dangerous revolutionary intent on the overthrow of the British state.

Meanwhile, yesterday's Guardian carried a report that the Vatican has called on the Catholic laity throughout the world to atone for sexual abuse by their priests. (Why the blameless laity should have to do this was not explained. I thought sinners had to atone for their sins, not the innocent nor the victims).
This global repentance is to take the form of the perpetual adoration of the Eucharist. The reporter said: "this would involve parishioners taking turns to keep a round-the-clock vigil in front of a consecrated host representing the body of Jesus."
No. In Catholic doctrine the consecrated host IS the body of Jesus. This doctrine was one of the points of divergence between Catholicism and Protestantism at the Reformation. It's in Protestantism that the wafer and wine are representative or symbolic. In Catholicism they actually become the body and blood of Christ. 'Not in appearance but in substance' was the bogus 'scientific' explanation given to generations of Catholic children.

It's true that most Catholics in the West (indeed all the Catholics I've asked) don't actually believe this, just as most don't accept Catholic teaching on contraception and probably a majority today don't accept Catholic teaching on homosexuality. Why they remain members of the church is almost a greater mystery than Eucharistic transubstantiation.
But when the consecrated host is exposed on the altar on certain occasions, older or 'fundamentalist' Catholics will fall to their knees, avert their eyes and even beat their breasts.
When I was a child, many older Irish men who only came into the church for the consecration (because that counts as attendance at Mass) would kneel at the back of the church and engage in an awesome histrionic display as the host was held aloft, punching themselves hard in the chest, sweat pouring down their faces. I used to wonder what heinous crimes they had committed and decided I had no need to emulate them because the worst I'd done that week was lie to my mother about having done my homework and done the Tony Hancock mime in the playground : Toe, Knee, Hand, Cock.

Oh well, at least the faux pas wasn't by the Guardian's religious affairs correspondent. But even so, John Hooper in Rome, you really should know your transubstantiation from your symbolism. Nip into the Vatican, hang your head and beat your chest and recite C.P. Scott's 'facts are sacred' fifty times.

Monday, January 07, 2008

So That's What It's Called

I'd always wondered if there was an equivalent term to 'dyslexia' for people who had difficulty with numbers. I've only just discovered that there is: it's "dyscalculia".
It doesn't mean 'bad at maths' but something much more profound and related to brain function.

I read about the symptoms with astonished and delighted recognition because I've suffered from this malfunction since childhood. It caused me misery at school, particularly as it was then called 'stupidity'. But I knew I wasn't stupid because I was outstanding at English.

One characteristic of dyscalculia is that where most people can recognise the number in a collection of dots, dyscalculians (if that's the collective term) have to actually count the individual dots. Don't laugh, but I still do this when I'm doing basic mental arithmetic. If I'm on my own I even point at the imaginary dots with my finger. I'm OK with a pattern of 5 or 10 dots but over 10 and I start getting confused and often have to go back to the beginning again.
So for people like me the calculator was one of the greatest inventions of the 20th century.

Numerical concepts mean nothing to me. For me, the fact that 2+2=4 is something I take on trust. I don't actually believe it as such. I don't see why it shouldn't equal 5 or 7. They're only names or labels after all. But I have to behave as though I believe it in order to function in a world where 2+2=4.
The odd thing is that, unlike many people, I'm fine with abstract concepts and the language we use to describe them. My tutor at university said I was one of the most gifted people at dealing with philosophical concepts he had ever taught. But had he asked me to do some simple arithmetic he would have decided I had severe learning difficulties.

Another feature of dyscalculia is difficulty in understanding the rules of sports or games. It had never occurred to me that this was linked to problems with numbers. But presumably it involves the same part of the brain.
It explains why my brain shuts down when someone tries to explain the rules of a card game or board game.
It explains why I always threw the ball forwards in rugby, although I always thought I did that because of the logical absurdity of throwing the ball in the opposite direction to your direction of travel and the place you had to reach in order to score. Needless to say, the games master was in no mood to discuss logic with me and muttered a word that, at that time, had not yet been heard on late night television.
When I was 16 some friends asked me to join a game of darts in a pub. When it became apparent that I couldn't understand the rules nor hit the dartboard and after I had almost put someone's eye out, they asked me to keep the score instead. You can imagine what a disaster that was.

Dyscalculia also impairs your ability to understand musical concepts (though fortunately not your ability to enjoy music). So that explains why I was told to read a book during music lessons and why I spent two miserable years of private violin tuition before my mother accepted defeat and the violin teacher had a nervous breakdown.

Tonight I shall go to bed a happy man, knowing I'm not the only dyscalculian in the village and knowing that what seemed unrelated failings are all the fault of genetically fucked-up neurons in my brain.
Apparently, it's a condition that affects about 4% of the population (isn't that 4 in a hundred? You see how hard I've been trying).
That's about the same percentage as people who are gay, if you leave aside bisexuals, the LibDems of the sexual spectrum. Not that there's any connection. It's just that if I don't mention sex in a posting, I don't get so many hits coming from Google.

Talking of which, if you Google 'dyslexia' you get 6,510,000 pages. But if you Google 'dyscalculia' you get only 144,000 pages. Even the most extreme sufferer from dyscalculia can see what that means: we're an unrecognised, downtrodden, stigmatised minority.
We need to come out.
We need a Dyscalculia Pride March.
We need T-shirts with patterns of dots on them and the slogan 'If you have to count these, you're dyscalculian.'
And we need an anthem. I suggest the Pet Shop Boys song: "One and One Make Five."

Just In Case

If posts are less frequent in the coming months, it's not because I've turned my back on blogging again. It's because I'm moving house.
I'm sure I've mentioned before that I'm a hoarder, so I now face the mother of all de-clutter operations.

I ventured into the attic yesterday to survey the Herculean task that confronts me. Hoarders should not have attics because they offer a final opt-out from ever actually chucking anything out - at least, until the ceiling collapses.
I found in the attic an old, broken electric kettle. Helpfully, a label on the box said 'KETTLE. SLIGHT LEAK.'
What was I thinking of?
If my current kettle had broken, would I have said "No need to buy a new kettle! I will make the precarious ascent to the attic to fetch a kettle that will leak all over the work-top and quite possibly electrocute me too."
I think I can confidently say that I wouldn't, not least because I had no idea it was there.

My new property has no attic, which is good news. No more struggling to squeeze bulky household items through a small, square hole in the ceiling whilst reciting the hoarder's mantra 'Just In Case'.
But the withdrawal symptoms will be terrible. I'll probably need counselling.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Original, my arse

Most ludicrous TV sponsorship slogan spotted recently was "Grolsch sponsors original comedy" plastered all over a 3-hour collection of ancient comedy catchphrases on Channel 4 last night.

If the Dutch brewer wanted to sponsor the whole of the Channel's comedy output, a less specific slogan might have been advisable.
But if you want to associate your product with stuff that's new, original, cutting edge, youthful, vibrant, blah, blah, blah, you don't want it linked to a lazy old clip show like this one.
Grolsch's position appears to be that all comedy was 'original' at the time it was written (judging by the phrasing on their website). Er, yes chaps, but that's like a secondhand shop describing items as 'new' on the grounds they were new when they were made.
Tell me, how many pints of your stuff did you have to drink to come up with that distorted piece of logic?

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Branson's New Year Gift

New Year's Eve: 45 minutes to Coronation Street and one of those traditional on/off soap wedding stories.
The TV picture freezes. Then it disappears. A strange code appears on the Virgin Cable box.
I try 'rebooting' the set-top box. Nothing.

Aha! Virgin have a recorded message line about any service problems. Number unobtainable tone.
Aha again! Virgin have a fault reporting line. Number unobtainable tone. Not even a recorded message.
Check the bank have paid my direct debit. They have.
Go outside to see if a drunken yob has pulled the cable off my wall. They haven't.

Connect to internet and go to Virgin website. Faults in the system are not put on the Home page. That would be far too convenient. I have to burrow deep into the website to find the 'service status' page. And I finally find confirmation that my area has lost the TV service. So, ironically, has Manchester, the home of Coronation Street. Just as well they're all at Liz's wedding.
But fear not. 'A ticket has been opened', whatever that means.

Just before Corrie starts, the picture returns. Then, 15 minutes before the second episode, the picture starts breaking up again.
On a night that is meant to be marked by goodwill to one's fellow man, I find myself wishing that a rare fungal infection infests Branson's facial hair so that his beard begins eating away his stupid, grinning face until all that remains is a bony shell and those giant, carniverously capitalist wide-boy molars.

Back to internet and ITV website. They now stream live broadcasts so at least I have back-up. But even on broadband the picture keeps freezing while 'buffering' takes place. Technology sucks.
And the internet stream is a couple of minutes behind the TV broadcast. But, darting between the TV and the PC and cursing like someone with severe Tourette's, I eventually see Liz marry Vernon.
At least I don't have to stay up until the early hours to watch the repeat on ITV2.

Go to bed to read Steven Pinker's The Stuff of Thought and the chapter on The Seven Words You Can't Say On Television.
These include: asshole, cunt, cocksucker and motherfucker. Coincidentally, some of the words I had been applying to Branson and his Virgin Media.
I now apply them again to the arseholes (British spelling) who are letting off fireworks outside, creating a realistic impression of World War Three, stopping me reading and stopping me sleeping.
'Happy New Year, you fuckwits', I murmured as the book fell from my hands and the pyrotechnic rumblings fell to the level of a quiet night in Basra.