Archive for May, 2007

Why? Just why?

I’ve no idea why I do it. Each year I vow not to watch Big Brother, and each year I’m sat in front of the TV for the launch party. This year I just accepted the inevitable and decided I might as well embrace it as I might a cuddly cactus. I’ll only get bored after a few weeks, stop watching and then re-engage when some kind of overhyped controversy erupts and I tune back in to see what all the fuss is about. No different from most of the rest of the country then.

Anyway, this year Big Brother’s decided that there are actually people who not only live outside of London, but also are over 50 and don’t look like they’ve stepped off the set of Hollyoaks. In other words, this year BB’s attempted to go for slightly more ‘normal’ people. Except they’re not normal. They’re all as mad a sticks in gravy and I already hate every last one of them.

Clearly hundreds of bloggers will take up the dedicated call to arms and churn out copious amounts of drivel comparable to the show, but I think I’d get in first and set the bar low so whoever picks up the baton needn’t worry about the quality of their post.

So, after two hours my (probably) hideously inaccurate snap judgments are as follows:

Sam & Mandy AKA The Twins: They’re one entity so there’s no point in separating them. They’d probably only be able to form half sentences. They’re like a pair of over-enthusiastic pink-garbed puppies, except this pair you’d have no hesitation in drowning. Look exactly like they were designed to be irritating characters who get killed off in an ironic fashion in Final Destination 4, I Definitely Know What You Did Last Summer or any other teen horror flick. I’m hoping one will choke to death on a chihuahua and the other will re-enact Jill Masterson’s death in Goldfinger, except with pink paint.

Lesley: The token old-serious person placed in the house solely to create conflict. She won’t get on with any of them, won’t be very interested and will probably be heavily edited from the daily highlights. Nobody will overly care about her. Alternatively she could come over all huggy, like you’re favourite aunt. Either way she’ll be a non-entity.

Charley: Clearly on a mission to be the most hated housemate by the British public, and despite some stiff competition from the varying degrees of morons from the previous series, she’s not got off to a bad start. Will probably start bitching and backstabbing and The Sun will give away free effigies of her to burn in week three. Other than that, appears to have all the personality of a grey chipboard.

Tracey: People like this do not exist anymore. Even caner friends of mine have toned it down a notch by now. Quite simply a walking cliche who will, by default, becoming the annoying one that nobody speaks to.

Chanelle: I’ll go out on a limb here and say she’s potentially the most interesting of the lot. She’s clearly not daft yet idolises Victoria Beckham, so there must be something slightly disturbed about her. She’s not instantly irritating and while she’s clearly in it for the fame, along with every other wannabe, its not quite clear what group she fits into or where she’ll go. Could be this year’s Aisleyne.

Shabnam: Self-proclaimed ‘wacky’ young housemate. Will turn out to be as about as interesting as a gathering of comatose trappist monks in a library. I had to look her up as I’d instantly discarded her from my memory.

Emily: Models herself on Peaches Geldof, so easily the most punchable of the lot. A big fan of a new phenomena called ‘indie music’ who nobody over 20 has apparently heard from. Claims not to be rich yet owns the contents of an entire bag shop. Probably as dim as two short planks sawn off at either end and will inevitably think herself both cooler and more intelligent than the rest of the housemates on the basis she listens to Babyshambles and ‘understand’ Pete Doherty.

Laura: She’s not as hateable as the rest of them, but even so… again, there’s more to this one than meets the eye. She wants to be an embalmer and I reckon she could have a few genuinely weird moments. I’m not entirely sure what to make of her, but for some reason that’s beyond me I have a feeling she could be a potential winner.

Nicky: Another one with the potential to be slightly more interesting than the rest, although I don’t think national TV is the best place to be airing her identity issues. Sadly, the most misanthropic-looking housemates usually turn out to be as cuddly as extra-cute kittens and I fear she’ll go this way before fading into the back into utter obscurity.

Carole: Oh. Dear. God. If you described yourself as left-wing you’d actively cross the street to avoid her. She’s clearly never moved on from Labour’s election defeat on 1983 and is still stuck somewhere around that area. Will probably encapsulate the worst aspects of political activism in one body and turn thousands of voters to UKIP overnight. Apparently stood as a Respect candidate. Honestly, after Galloway you’d have thought they’d have worked out just what a bad idea reality TV was.

This will probably all change as there’s no way they’ll stick for all girls and a boy, due on Friday, for more than 2 weeks and there’ll soon be a whole new collection of housemates I can vent my ire at, while at least half of the above will be gone and hopefully forgotten quick than you can say Jade Goody.

My suggestion for livening up the show. Introduce Katie from The Apprentice as a surprise housemate. You can just imagine her smile growing by the second as she gets booed while entering the house. And If she hasn’t organised a public hanging of at least one housemates by the end of her first week then I’ll be surprised and just a little disappointed.

Linky for the bank holiday

This isn’t a regular thing, but a few bits and bobs worth reading:

The Britblog Roundup at Liberal England.

Doctor Vee injecting some common sense into F1. Sign him up, media people. Please. And yes, Monaco was really dull. I did my washing up midway through and missed nothing.

Chris White gets angry. No change there.

Two good posts from Chris Dillow.

And finally, if you’re around the London area, keep your eyes peeled for Rachel North’s cyber-stalker. Rachel’s talked about this at various times on her blog, so I’ll just leave the one link and you can click through from there otherwise it gets a bit confusing. But it’s a very unpleasant story, and the kind of thing you can’t really begin to imagine. Any way you can help, I’m sure Rachel will be grateful.

(While I’m on that matter, I did try and insert the blog button into my sidebar. WordPress went a bit do-lally. Its not the first time its done that. I keep telling myself when I get a bit of time I’ll poke around and find the problem, but time’s a bit short at the moment and its low down on the list of priorities. Any suggestions for a quick fix gratefully received).

Stadium Arcadium

Bristol Rovers fans will probably come away with happy memories. Tomorrow, Yeovil Town and Blackpool fans will get a chance to gawp at the New Wembley Stadium. And once they’ve gawped, they’ll head inside and perhaps be a little underwhelmed

Let’s get one thing straight. New Wembley is not a bad stadium. But compared to other around the country, it’s a tad uninspiring.

From the outside, the arc can be seen for miles around. And yes, this is something you can’t help giggling excitedly at for your first visit, knowing you’re going to Wembley.

Walking around the stadium, everything feels shiny and new and just a tad impressive. But inside, you could be anywhere in the world. Somebody, on one of the endless hours of coverage the Beeb devoted to the FA Cup Final, called it an airport lounge. I’d agree with that. Everything’s slick, clean and very professional.

There’s nothing wrong with being slick, clean and professional. But around the bar and food areas in Wembley… well, I’ve been in Starbucks with more personality. The food and drink service is like a very efficient, well-round clean McDonalds [1]. Again, there’s nothing wrong with this but there’s a nagging sense something’s missing.

The seating area’s a bit more impressive. Vast would be the correct word and it’s no lie that you’ll have a perfect view no matter where you are. But there’s something about the design that means it doesn’t seem to hold noise particularly well. Granted, the Exeter fans weren’t in particularly great voice but from where I was sitting the Morecambe noise faded quickly as well.

A Stadium can look fantastic. It can give you a perfect view. But if it’s difficult to generate and keep atmosphere then its failed in part of its job. Perhaps the slick inside contributes to this. Perhaps it just hasn’t had enough memories yet. But Wembley lags a long way behind other stadiums in Britain.

Take Twickenham. The noise and passion generated from the fans for the Leicester v Ospreys game earlier this year managed to send a shiver down even a neutral’s spine. They’re still rebuilding part of it, but the home of English Rugby is a very solid Stadium indeed and outstrips Wembley except for impressiveness from the outside.

Old Trafford is another stadium with more going for it. I’ve absolutely zero love for the Red Devils, Ryan Giggs apart, but OT generates a crackle outside it. Invaded by prawn sarnie lover in recent years, perhaps, but its still a sight to behold and can generate a wall of sound all around. And Man United’s home has something Wembley certainly doesn’t yet: memories.

But all of the above, for me, still can’t beat Cardiff’s wonderful Millennium Stadium. It looks stunning no matter where you approach it from, and the wooden walkway by the River Taf just adds to this. Walking in, you feel like you’re at a proper stadium, with a proper buzz, whether the match is Wales v New Zealand in rugby or the slightly less glamorous fixture of a dead rubber football fixture of Wales v Azerbaijan. And the sound. Roof on or off that building knows how to inspire people to sing and then keep that noise hanging there for an enternity

It looks great, it feels great, the view’s great and the whole experience is something special, no matter how many times you visit. The FA Cup may be back in Wembley, but it’ll have to do a lot to beat the temporary custodians while it was being rebuilt.

[1] I’m not going to gripe about the price of this. It’s only to be expected. Their pies are nice though. 

Anything you say…. again

So, you’re a civil servant with a reputation for writing well-reasoned and thoughtful articles. The perfect man to do a hatchet job on, if you’re the Mail on Sunday, evidently. Unsurprisingly, Tim Worstall gives the article the thorough going over it deserves, white Unity chips in as well. Plus most other people who’ve got a blog, a brain and a sense of perspective.

It is a tad depressing to see the level of journalism standards on display here, but the article itself isn’t entirely surprising. Not because it’s the Mail – it could have been any paper, or blogger – but the subject matter. It was only a matter of time before somebody’s blog got a proper roasting in the press for saying, well, really very little.

Last month, I mentioned how Gavin Britton’s Myspace site was a boon to journalists creating their own take on events around him. Peter Bazalgette also touched on this in the Observer this Sunday (although as Chris points out, this is the equivalent of pots, kettles and the colour black).

The MoS story on Owen takes this one step, logically almost, further. Essentially, you stick something up on the internet, anybody can read it. Not exactly rocket science, even if some people don’t perhaps appreciate a simple post about a family barbeque can be read everywhere from Australia to Uganda to 10 Downing Street.

But Barder didn’t seem unaware of his job or his responsibility. Taken in the context his blog makes for perfectly normal, sensible reading. Cobble a few arbitrary bits together and you can make him sound like a sex-crazed Blairite Fascist.

I’ve always advocated the position if you don’t want somebody, any particular person, to read it, don’t put it up on the net. But in Barder’s case, you’d be hard pushed to find anything other than intelligent analysis. Some journalists aren’t above playing fast and loose with the context of online writings, and Tim encapsulates this problem neatly:

If they hound Owen out of his job on the basis of the above farrago and tissue of innuendo and misquotation then that’s rather going to be the end of this enjoyable pastime for most of us, isn’t it? Anyone writing tens of thousands of words over the years is open to such an assassination of the character.

I took down my old blog partly for this reason [1], and partly because I wanted a fresh start, a fresh reinvention if you will. The type brand managers pay thousands for, before discovering it wasn’t quite as good as the one they had before.

I try to keep this one reasonably on the straight and narrow, but if my local paper was so minded, I’ve no doubt they could cherry pick a few choice phrases, links, whatever and give the impression that I was a sex-crazed, foul-mouthed, misanthropic deviant worse than Hitler and Fred West put together [2]. So while this blog, hopefully, doesn’t reflect any of those traits (Well, maybe the misanthropy) how hard would it be to portray me as somebody you’d not only keep your children away from, but positively encourage them to build a bonfire, with the express hope it could be used to burn me at the stake to elicit mass catharsis?

The other worry is it’ll keep those in the public eye, slightly in the public eye, of vague interest to the public, or of no interest to the public at all, from blogging, and that would be a darn shame. Not quite a tragedy, but moving towards a similar adjective. Anybody should be able to, frankly, write what the hell they like without seeing it twisted, distorted and ending up in a Sunday tabloid.

Let’s take a not-at-all-implausible hypothetical here using Devil’s Kitchen. The Devil is somebody I disagree with on a good deal of issues and ideologies, but he’s also a very engaging, entertaining, well-argued and, often, downright hilarious writer [3], well known for his incredibly foul mouth. But that just adds to the enjoyment of his blog and the persona he creates.

The Devil is also starting to get active in the UKIP party in a big way. It is not inconceivable that he could stand as a councillor or parliamentary candidate in the future for the party. And any journo wanting to do a quick sly, nasty, once over on the guy could dive through the archives and turn the Devil into the Devil Incarnate in print, quite possibly finishing his political career. Disagree with his politics all you want (and I frequently do) but don’t put him out of a job because he writes a foul mouthed, hugely entertaining website.

Or take Dr. Crippen. NHS Blog Doctor is one of the best blogs on the internet, and with a lot of dross out there, that’s saying something. Or The Magistrate’s Blog. Or Nee Naw [4]. What if a journalist decided to have a further look into their blogs as well? I probably have a greater understanding of their assorted public services than I ever would from traditional media. They are great advertisements for blogging and long may they continue, and encourage others to follow in their footsteps.

And again, any blogger or note, or not noticed at all could be subject to this treatment. It’ll further serve to drive a wedge between blogs and the media, bloggers and non-bloggers, will lead to further self-censorship [5], and the loss from the internet of engaging, entertaining and thoughtful writers, both actual and potential. So the MoS aren’t just doing a thoroughly unpleasant job on one individual, they’re continuing a course of action that could have serious ramifications for freedom of speech and thought in what is technically an uncensored medium [6].

Fair enough if you’ve posted something idiotic online that deserves a good bit of ridicule, then you’ve only got yourself to blame. No sympathy there. But if you’re Barder, then its difficult to see what more you could have done, except not blog. And that would be denying him one of his basic Human Rights, the right to free speech.

So, to follow Tim’s lead: I’m Spartacus!

[1] Although I dare say somebody who knew what he was doing could probably get most of the stuff back, foul language, misanthropic rants, warts and all. I suspect, if you try hard enough, Coffee and PC isn’t exactly 404.

[2] Which, of course, I’m quite clearly not. Foul-mouthed misanthrope wouldn’t be far off the mark, mind.

[3] And is possibly responsible for one of the greatest deconstructions of a politician. Ever.

[4] I’m deliberately not including Tom Reynolds in this list because he’s already unmasked, largely, anyway. I wouldn’t have a clue who the others are.

[5] Yes, I appreciate the irony of that phrase given I’ve already admitted to practicing that in part of here.

[6] Let’s not get into the censorship debate. It’d be even more incoherent than this babble.

Some things never change

When I was a student/wannabe journalist [1] I often got advice from actual journalists on the best way to get work experience and thus further in the industry.

All of it had a ring of truth to it. A large amount was ever-so-somewhat patronising and an even large amount was incredibly cynical.

Earlier this week I got asked by an aspiring journo fresh out of college for help and advice in getting work experience with the company I work for. Having re-read what I sent her, it is rather cynical, ever-so-somewhat patronising.

Id quot circumiret, circumveniat, I believe. Still, it’s another step on the career ladder.

***

Closer to home, my housemate owed me a small sum of money. I said petty cash or a pint would be fine.

Earlier this evening, he went to the supermarket to pick me up some odds and sods and brought me the amount he owes me. In cheese. Three different cheeses to be precise.

I’m still perplexed.

[1] When, I saw wannabe. I still am now, but with two differences. People pay me money to do this under the delusion I know what I’m doing, and the Spice Girls are no longer together. 

Ashes to ashes

To mark the 50-day countdown to the smoking ban, the Guardian decides to give Christopher Hitchens and Simon Hoggart the space to duke it out over whether this is A Good Thing or not. Their pieces can be summarised as follows:

Christopher Hitchens: I’m going to start off by using incredibly long words and evoke the good old days to make myself sound simultaneously clever and in touch with the feelings of The People. I’ll also have a go at Patricia Hewitt because, frankly, nobody likes her and I’m on safe ground here. I’ll also contradict my argument a few times, but this doesn’t matter because it’ll be completely obscured by superfluous vocabulary that nobody will notice. Basically this has nothing to do with our health and is all about kiljoys wanting to stop us having a good time. But I don’t actually live in Britain anymore because I’m far too clever for you all, so this is all a massive presumption on my part.

Simon Hoggart: I got drunk once with famous people and politicians. Actually, I used to drink a lot with a lot of politicians, and decided to quit after one particularly bad hangover. But I can’t shake off the craving; it follows me everywhere but at least I’m a better person than the Royal Family. Where was I? Smoking’s a horrible habit, and I’ll rest my case with an amusing quote.

I can never decide if the smoking ban is a good or a bad thing. On one hand I feel uneasy with banning it. On the other hand, as a non-smoker, I really hate coming back stinking of smoke and really don’t like having to sit by smokers, even if I’m far too polite to tell them. By the time I’ve worked out if social intricacies permit me to ask if they’d mind smoking elsewhere they’ve usually finished their fags, so the whole internal debate becomes irrelevant. Actually, I can’t think of a single time I’ve asked somebody if they’d mind lighting up elsewhere, unless its in my house.

But the again, while I’m really not fond of smoking, there are a couple of pubs I frequent that just won’t seem the same once you take away the smoke and the wheezing regulars propping up the bar. In fact I’d go as so far to suggest some of these should immediately be encased and preserved as national treasures. The bars complete with regulars that is.

Then again, Christopher Hitchens is a bit of a buffoon [1] and I can’t possible side with an argument as badly thought through as that. Plus Simon Hoggart is much funnier. Plus the predictions of dooooom [2] don’t quite seem to have materialised in Scotland and Wales.

Ok, so I’m in favour of a ban. Ok, so it sits against my usual principles. I’m fine with that. I don’t have a problem with smokers smoking. That’s their choice. But, regardless of what Hitchens says, not by me pretty much every time I go out for a drink. That said, I’d still like to preserve my local around the corner as it really won’t be the same when they suck the smoke out.

[1] Take the following: “But it has been a long time since any non-smoker has been forced to breathe the same air as a smoker.” It is if you count since last Friday as a long time.

[2] And they are always predictions of dooooom. If it’s perceived something won’t work it’s not just enough that it won’t work. It also has to be responsible for the end of humanity as we know it before it can remotely qualify as A Bad Idea.

[EDIT]: I meant Christopher Hitchens. His name was staring right at me. Instead I wrote Peter. This, also, makes me a buffoon. Now edited. 

Are you local?

If the local elections were summed up in footballing cliches, you could say Labour defended manfully for the first 45 before becoming overran by the Conservatives in the second half, while the Lib Dems showed flashes of what they could be capable of, but lacked bite in midfield and somebody in the final third who could really pull the trigger.

I’d absolutely love John Motson and Alan Hansen to front the next election coverage. And transfer Peter Snow to the European Championships while you’re at it.  Both would be equally entertaining.

But I’d question a couple of points raised. Firstly by the Adam Smith Institute Blog, who take issue with the BBC’s coverage. Sole commentator Josh is probably about right in some of what he says – getting a full picture isn’t always easy and it wasn’t until about half three that I’d say I had any idea what the full picture was. Actually, I’d have probably gone with the ‘Labour losses not as bad’ line until about 4am ish.

Anyway, DK also doesn’t think Labour were handed a kicking either. I’d guess everybody was expecting them to get completely annihilated left, right and centre that anything less didn’t look as bad. Pessimists not being disappointed and all that.

But then, I’d also disagree with DK’s assertion this was completely about party politics.

That might seen a bit daft at first, given that most councillors are standing under some form of party banner. But Chris Dillow puts forward the suggestion that politics may be a minority interest due to the low turnout. Pseudoymous goes further in the comments:

What difference does it make who you vote for in a council election?

Probably hardly any of the people who did vote know who their councilor is or whether they are doing a good job.

You’re always going to get the party loyalists turn out, and that’ll account for a significant proportion of the vote and, given Chris’ figures, seems to fit about right with the turnout.

But, especially in the more rural wards, people know people. Well, duh, I hear you say. But in small villages and towns there, chances are you’ll know somebody who knows somebody who’s running for elections, and will probably vote accordingly. The end result is much like student union elections, only on a larger scale. Whoever’s got the most friends, or is involved in the most activities stands a better chance of getting elected.

Same in rural areas. If you’re active in your community, you’re more likely to be the kind of person who’ll stand for elections and because you’re a regular volunteer at jumble sales, the bowling club and are on the local carnival committee, say, then people will know your name, and names count for a lot.

That’s obviously going to be less of an issue in more urban areas where chances are you’ll only know somebody who lives two doors down from you if Royal Mail continue to insist on posting your post through their letterbox.

But there are still people who go to their local councillor if they need help or advice, or have a complaint of any nature. And if that councillor is sympathetic or helps get something done, regardless of party political persuasion you’ll vote for them.

My ward didn’t have any elections, but I often come into contact with city councillors on a regular basis. Given that I’ve no party affiliation, and more often than not don’t decide who to vote for until I get my ballot slip, I’ll tend to pay a lot more attention to the person, as that usually counts more on a local level.

At the moment, party-wise, I’m unlikely to vote for Labour. But there’s at least one Labour councillor in my city, who got re-elected, and rightly so. The times I’ve talked to her, she comes across as genuine, committed and talks about the local issues rather than the party. If I lived her her ward, she’d get my vote purely for what she did at a local level, rather than party politics.

Similarly, there are a few people I’ve met from all parties that, while I’ve voted for their party in the past [1], I come away from meeting the individual with an absolute conviction that short of turning into a combination of celebrities and politicians I admire, and achieving world peace, hell would have to freeze over before I voted for them. And even then, that wouldn’t be a guarantee of my vote.

If you’re a quiet, effective councillor who earns the respect of those you help and don’t come across badly in the media, then you’ll probably stand a good chance of retaining your seat no matter what party. It’s noticeable, certainly in my city, the two councillors to lose their seats were two of the highest profile ones [2], and that seemed to be a running theme across the country.

And ultimately, if the council has done noticeably badly or gone out of its way to arouse the ire of residents, then they’ll probably be at risk. As The Guardian points out, Lib Dems in Torbay gave themselves a 60% rise in expenses, which isn’t likely to go down well no matter what party you’re from.

So, in conclusion: who knows why, and who cares, wins. Sometimes. Not always.

[1] Not that my vote is particularly consistent. I think I’ve only ever voted for the same party twice in two consecutive elections. 

[2] And even then it’s debatable if they lost their seats because they were simply a name or if there was genuine dissatisfaction with the job they did. I’d incline towards the former. 


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Yes, this is my name. And my email. Use it wisely or you're not getting a biscuit with your tea: garyllewellynandrews [at] gmail [dot] com