Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve

My blogging continues to be as sporadic as ever this year; generally finding time to write that which is not going to earn me money or readers of music reviews is difficult these days, what with a counter-productive job 9-5. Anyway, it's Christmas, and in light of the ever increasing dumbing down of Christmas, thought I would lay down one of the very few qualms I have with a modern Christmas.

Call me traditionalist, or something, but in my view Christmas Eve, and this really only applies if you've made the effort to spend Christmas with the family anyway, is the one evening in an entire calendar year you could bother to make the time to spend in and around your family. It is still a time of coming together and surrounding yourselves with the ones you love, even if it's all about online shopping and credit card debt. Similarly, even today, for me Christmas Eve still holds a sense of magic and anticipation I enjoyed when much younger, though the thrill and excitement of the day itself has long dimmed to a low flame, more of pleasant contentment than high-octane enjoyment. I enjoy spending Eve with my immediate family and remember Christmases from my childhood and recollect those feelings, which probably explains a little of it still retaining the sense of magic.

I also think that Christmas Day is the one day a year where it's unnecessary to be hungover. There is so much to enjoy to be stuck feeling ill, tired, sick, or disinterested. What a waste of time; clearly, Christmas lunch is the best meal of the year, while opening and exchanging gifts requires polite appreciation and is of course, an integral part to a great happy Christmas. Going clubbing, for example, on Christmas Eve, therefore, presents itself to me as a ridiculous notion. I would only look around and think "What the hell have all these people got to do with my Christmas?" I will probably go to the pub tomorrow afternoon with friends, or early evening, as I also enjoy spending time with them at this time of the year, but not as though I'm going to be rolling home at 1am. (Jinxed it now, blatantly going to be smashed).

This has no religious basing, as I don't bother with any services or anything over the Christmas period. This country's Christian stronghold had been dwindling long before I was born, and has never been a way of life for me at any point - more people will be shopping online on Christmas Day than going to a church in the UK, according to an article I read today. However, I just believe in family, I guess, and spending time with them at a time for celebration is something that everyone one can afford to do just once a year. It surely isn't too much to ask.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Sweet FA to do next summer

The dour, pessimistic English attitude is rife throughout the sports world, but even deeper down, far more real than we are prepared to admit, is the ever-present conviction that England will do well. Football, cricket, tennis, athletics, Formula 1: constant expectation constantly crushed, and yet every week/year/2 years/4 years, we are eager again in anticipation fronted by feigned indifference or cynicism.

It shouldn't come as any surprise that England's footballers, schooled in the art of doing things the hard way, couldnt grasp a chance gifted to them from a most unlikely situation that could only be described as a lifeline. Throughout their qualifying group England had been inconsistent enough to leave qualification out of their hands, and yet when their fate was placed, by small miracle, back into their hands again, still the performance wasn't there. (I say 'inconsistent' rather than poor, as England had their moments, notably the vital back to back 3-0 wins over Israel and Russia.)

It's difficult to know where to lay the blame for England's failure to qualify for next year's European Championships. How far back do you go? Carson's howler in the 8th monute? Throwing away victory in Russia last month? The 0-0 at home to Macedonia? Was McClaren the wrong appointment 18 months ago? Or did he simply inherit a team managed by a coach who was tactically astute enough to take England to two quarter-finals but at the expense of the passion and heart that is supposed to embody English sportsmen, and which more than anything else inspires the English fans?

Of course, Enlgish fans return their passion and heart through alcohol-fuelled destruction of foreign cities, so tonight's result will be a welcome relief for the Austro-Swiss officials and organisers.

Returning to tonight's game, it never once, naturally, looked remotely like going to according plan. McClaren chose a must-not-lose game to throw Scott Carson his first competititve cap. Of course, less than 10 minutes in and that choice was made to look laughable. At least no one would have been surprised if it had been Robinson making the same error. McClaren then chose to play a defensively minded 4-5-1 formation, neglecting the fact that England couldn't really risk playing for a draw as one Croat goal would scupper the plans completely. Two Croat goals therefore tore the entire plan to shreds. McClaren didn't help his formation by going with Crouch's height as the lone striker, with two wide players whose main asset is speed. Leaving out David Beckham, still one of the best crossers of the ball in the world, when our main threat in a 4-5-1 formation would come from crosses and set pieces, was little short of madness.

The only surprise came when McClaren made exactly the right subsitutions at half time. A quick striker to replace Barry - who had been ineffectually rubbish and, since we had gone 2-0 down with his role supposedly protecting against conceding, was even more surplus to requirements when we need goals - and getting David Beckham on to supply the passes. Almost amazingly, Defoe's presence won the penalty, and Beckham's pristine ball created the equaliser. If it hadn't been McClaren's errors initially, those subs would have been tactical masterstrokes.

Yet just when England looked to be in a position to go on and win the game, the team did what they did under Sven - which was, admittedly, about his only problem during his tenure as manager - consolidate the position and try to hold out. Being England of course, this didn't work. A better team than Croatia could have scored six past England tonight, so when Croatia's third went in, it was time once again for the desperation and anxious panic. Unlike against Greece four years ago when Beckham's 90th minute free kick sent England through, there was no smile from lady luck, no individual piece of genius, no (second) life line for England. The simple truth was we hadn't the belief or the performers to carry out what was required.

In searching for excuses; yes we were affected pretty dreadfully from injuries. Hargeaves fully fit would surely have seen Barry dropped, while Owen and Rooney's injuries saw a striker without a Premiership goal to his name start alone up front, with underachieving Spurs' second string striker pairing as back up. And the least said about the back four - to a man an understudy to England first choice of Cole, A., Ferdinand, Terry, Neville - the better. The pitch was poor, too.

Once McClaren has been sacked, and it will happen because the pithy FA would never risk the complete backlash that will come from every single England fan if a manager who couldn't take us from the group we had to the European Championships was kept on, what's needed is a fresh start. Though the debate about the quality of English players will surface, England do have the players to compete on an international level. The U21s, so nearly finalists at the Euros this year, are all bright prospects. The likes of Walcott, Taylor, Carson, Bentley, Richards, are all waiting to step up. Terry, Ferdinand, Lampard, Gerrard, Rooney and Owen can be the back bone of a world class team for 4 more years at least. It's finding a coach who can convince them, and the rest of the players available, that we ARE a world class team that will bring England's national side out of the slump that is surely at its lowest point tonight.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Kyle slammed for shit TV show

Yes! A bit of flagrant one-upmanship here for me over Jeremy Kyle's car crash of a show, put out daily by - who else - ITV, the News of the World of television. I'll intersperse snippets of the glorious BBC story into my blog just to rub it in as much as possible.

A judge has branded The Jeremy Kyle Show "a form of human bear-baiting" at a court case in Manchester. District Judge Alan Berg said the ITV1 daytime programme was "trash" and existed to "titillate bored members of the public with nothing better to do".

Don't you love it when judges actually do what their title entails, and pass judgment on something? And this guy couldn't be clearer, or more right. Jeremy Kyle's self-indulgent and moronic 'chat show' has come in for a complete battering, but in my view fairly. The show does exist to titillate members of the public - indeed, perhaps all programmes do - but the emphasis on pitting hapless idiots whose intentions are guaranteed to be anything but honourable is only going to end in one thing. For some reason, ITV producers think we'd actually care to see it.

Judge Berg added that it was "human bear-baiting which goes under the guise of entertainment. It should not surprise anyone that these people, some of whom have limited intellects, become aggressive with each other."

That quote is particularly important; 'under the guise of entertainment'. Certainly, the only possible entertainment to be gained from tripe like Kyle's programme is derogatory laughter at other people whose lives are ridiculously fucked up. Not that there's anything wrong with laughing either; it seems that ITV has a strict policy in place to make sure that only people with low self-esteem, "limited intellects", and a lack of education get on this programme, to ensure the maximum brainless outcome possible.

"It seems to me that the purpose of this show is to effect a morbid and depressing display of dysfunctional people whose lives are in turmoil."

For the purpose of ratings and audiences. I mean literally, the above is all the Jeremy Kyle show does. Is that what we need, a damning reminder of how bad some people's lives are? A reminder, however, that is so pointedly exposing and mocking that the only reaction is simply not to care? Kyle himself doesn't help, of course, but before I get onto ripping him apart, here's some abuse for the producers:

"This type of incident is exactly what the producers want. These self-righteous individuals should be in the dock with you. They pretend there is some kind of virtue in putting out a show like this," said Judge Berg...

which is exactly true, and the same can probably be said for the show's regular watching audience, pretending there's some worthwhile element to it. The show's a pile of crap: it's not social commentary, problem-solving or educational. It's simply encouraging apathy to other humans' plight, and glamorising the failings of society for 'amusement'.

The only amusing thing is what a cunt Jeremy Kyle is. Taking his cues from the US, Kyle simply sits his contestants, sorry, victims, in their chairs and proceeds to abuse them, talk over them when they try to speak, criticise them, make wild claims about them as though fact and then ignore any response he gets, all the while swanning about looking like a plumber dressed in a cheap suit and getting his braindead audience to cheer him on.

My next guest is a story about the sponsor of Jeremy Kyle pulling the plug on their £500,000 advertising deal. Let's bring him out!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The work ethic

It's been a sickeningly long time since I blogged; my digital silence crushed under the weight of its own hypocrisy. I have always advocated blogging and believed it to be a worthwhile online hobby, a 21st century communication tool and more, yet I haven't posted a blog in 7 weeks.

The main reason for this lack, at least in the last month, has been the daily grind of 9-5, the working life. In fact what made me think about blogging seriously again was a work e-mail and meeting regarding 'social networking sites' and Portman, who I currently work with. (I don't say 'work for' as I'm technically employed by a recruitment agency, who take about 15% of my wages, and because I could quit Portman with no notice at all as it is 'the nature of temping'). This e-mail said that it is important, working as we do with sensitive and highly confidential financial information, that all internet activity that in any way mentions Portman must be clearly safe and not in breach of the Data Protection Act, and secondly, and more oddly, must be accompanied by a disclaimer stating that any views expressed are those of the individual and are not held by Portman Building Society.* So:

*Any views expressed within this blog are those of the author, Tim Miller, and are not in any way opinions belonging to, or endorsed by, Portman Building Society. That Portman Building Society disappears into financial history and is literally no more from 28th August 2007 onwards, when it gets taken over by Nationwide, is not the point. My views, I guess, are not endorsed by Nationwide, either.

Anyway, the work ethic. Choosing Portman was forced upon me by my penniless situation and £290 p/m rent after 2 months of relaxing since finishing Uni, and not being able to afford living while the wait searching for and getting a job I wanted went on, as it was simply taking too long and everyone needs money. So having turned them down initially, I was humble enough to throw myself upon their £7 an hour offer a second time and was luckily not turned away. Also lucky is that I've landed in a Correspondence Team, so, as tenuous as it is, my writing and communication skills are actually in use! There's a moral in there somewhere, probably about not biting the hand that feeds.

Regardless of where it was, though, I needed a job, as my days without structure had begun to turn into weeks where the weekends bore no difference from the weekdays, and getting up before 11am was 'early'. I've spent three years in that mindset, now more than ever before, I guess, it's time to grow up. And it has been enjoyable, having a new place to go to, new people to meet, something, however menial or dull might seem, to work for. After the communal University atmosphere and the comradery forged through being students, a place where the majority of staff are under 30, bright and beautiful and on your level is not a lot different. It is, in fact, more of an extension of those relationships and links, except now I'm paid for turning up.

There's something faintly Hitler-esque about it, but earning your own wage is very comforting, knowing that you've earned money to call your own and do what you will with. You start somewhere, and this is only the beginning, but a real sense of self-satisfaction comes from working at something so that you might live a certain way, achieve a certain goal, create new possibilities. There's also a sense of independence, of freedom, and maybe Adolf was right: Arbeit Macht Frei.

Because it also makes you appreciate the free time you get, the friends you have, the hobbies you take part in, the music you listen to, and so on. For the first time since I was a 16 year old about to do my GCSEs, the weekends actually mean something to me. And of course, the great difference between working and Uni is that you leave your work at the door. No coming home straight into a 2,000 word essay anymore, or reading a hundred pages on Marxist criticism. At least until I do a Masters....!

Working is inescapably something that has to be done, for the bulk of your lifetime, and you spend more time with your colleagues than your family, friends and partners. That's why enjoying and embracing the work ethic is so important, and by association, finding a job you love is too. There is no sense in belittling a 'job', ignoring work until it's an aside between doing things in free time. It needs to be swiftly integrated and harmonised to suit the lifestyle you want. Until we find out what the human race is for, and the meaning of life, 'work' will be how your life is built and managed, and subsequently, something which has to be taken head on.

(This was certainly not presented as part of a speech at any recent Neo-Nazi conference, and again, is not in any way the views or opinions held by Portman Building Society or Nationwide. The rich fat-cat wankers).

Monday, July 02, 2007

The Blair Switch Project

A humorous title to begin my blog always helps, though I have to nod my head to Channel 5, who created a news piece on what Tony Blair might do next called Blair: Which Project?, which is a lot better than mine. The transition between Prime Ministers has not been an easy one this week, and Gordon Brown, dour-faced and rubbery, looks set to inherit a multitude of problems that in the run up to Blair's leaving do, were widely forgotten about.

After much umming and ahhing, Blair has finally left 10 Downing Street, months after originally signalling his intent to do so, and after several delays in specifying when exactly he would be moving house. I was perhaps too young to commit to memory much of the passover between John Major and Tony Blair in 1997 - a much more significant event, in that the change of Prime Minister then actually meant a change of Government too - but I do not remember such a spectacle made of the event then compared to this year. It will take months for Brown to affect any radical or even noticeable overhaul of the Labour Party's governing of this country, yet this passing over power turned into something of an all day television event.

The BBC's Huw Edwards spent hours commentating on bird's eye views of London where indistinguishable cars bearing Blair and then Brown visited Buckingham Palace to take part in what Edwards called a "great British tradition": the former PM resigning before the Queen, the new PM being appointed by her. Somehow, it seemed to go on for ever, and flicking to and fro from BBC One, I wondered at times whether they were actually re-running old footage and scenic shots of the London Marathon.

Cherie said it: "I don't think we'll miss you very much", and no doubt she was right. How the (admittedly convoluted) process of power passing from one man to another, that had been on the cards all year, deserved live coverage for hours on end is beyond me. It went on almost as long as Concert for Diana today (and THAT had Ricky Gervais, Lily Allen, Nelly Furtado, James Morrison, Elton John and Rod Stewart). The power switch didn't make for electrifying viewing: what was going to happen, Blair suddenly run out of the Palace yelling "I won't resign!!"? Brown's car go up on the kerb and into the railings outside number 10? As I said, it's significance in the moment was largely superficial, only time will tell what difference it will make. However, the country has certainly been a more...interesting place in the last few days since Brown took over.

Two foiled car bombs in central London (the police are lambasted when they shoot an innocent man, but prevent two potentially horrific nail bomb explosions and there's not a word of praise), a flaming car driven into Glasgow airport, half of Yorkshire under water; Brown's going to have his work cut out. Britain remains on the highest security alert after the two incidents in London and Glasgow seem almost certainly linked to a terrorist group, although that does lead me to ask what security alert we go to if something like 7/7 were to happen again in the next day or two. Still, the police and Scotland Yard do seem to be making strides in their investigations with several arrests and successful leads being followed. But the message, if indeed it was a message - the timing is all too punctual to be coincidence in my opinion - is clear.

Welcome to the hardest job in Britain, Mr Brown. Signed the media, the public, Osama, Iran, me, the Conservative and Lib Dem Parties, and France.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Na-na, why don't you get a job?

So this is it. The three years of University education, being a tax-dodging student, spunking money on nothing but beer and booze (...oh), are over, and it's time to move into the world, grow up, get a job and join the ranks of people counting down the days til retirement.

I'm not that cynical about this, actually; in fact I'm quite looking forward to procuring a nice job where I can settle into the initial groove of my career path and look upwards at the various rungs I wish to climb, as they - hopefully - come nearer. The trouble is, we came to Uni to get a get a good job. And since I finished my University work and stepped up the employment push, I've discovered something. Getting the degree, it seems, was the easy part.

For everybody has a degree nowadays. That's the first blow: of course, how did I not see at the beginning? Everybody who'll be applying to the jobs I want will need, and therefore have, a degree too! It must come down to grade, perhaps. But apparently, a lot of places don't place much emphasis on the difference between an upper second (2:1) or lower second (2:2). Why, then, did I bother working hard enough to aim to achieve a 2:1? (Or, why didn't I work harder to achieve a first?! Damnit Damnit Damnit.)

A desire to work in the type of industries where the cliche 'it's not what you know but who you know' is a general rule of thumb, which happens to be shared by thousands of people in exactly the same boat as me, is obviously an uphill struggle. In my view it's worth attempting and worth trying to succeed. However in just a few weeks I have learnt that your supposed aides, the recruitment agencies, are not your friend beyond the first contact. They'll happily cart you off into any role, vaguely linked to some element of your chosen profession often simply by being opposite a building where the job you actually want goes on. The way in, it appears all to clearly, is indeed to know someone, or hit that jackpot with a chance meeting, an opportunist, impulsive journey, or simply being in the right place at the right time. In other words, a degree might give you the knowledge, but that's it: it's up to you to find out how to use it.

I'm not convinced that this is what Playstation 3 meant when they said; 'This.Is.Living.'

Friday, June 01, 2007

Summer of celebrity

Probably at a similar time last year (check the archives), I embarked on my customary 'Big Brother is shit' rant. Naturally I watched this year's launch show, because to criticise something you don't know anything about is a double standard, and also because if I am to hold a conversation over the next few months, I will no doubt need some inside knowledge on it. So my brief thoughts: twins, I would, Posh Spice wannabe, I would, Emily, I would. The rest don't deserve even the little consideration I've given to those four there.

Anyway, Big Brother 8 (eight, for fuck's sake, wasn't 1, maybe 2 enough?) will no doubt be at the forefront of the tabloid newspapers until September/Madeleine is found alive/dead, and the inevitability of it just depresses me. Alright, they've filled the house with women for the first few days. And yes, in with the weird looking (possible man Tracey) and the plain weird (embalming-obsessed Laura), they've thrown in a couple of normal girls and plain, older women who probably just want a bit of fame. Where my problem lies is that they're going to get it, in shedloads, all summer, and for the rest of 2007, for doing absolutely nothing at all, and being absolute non-entities (Emily apart, she should be the next queen).

This country's saddening obsession with creating celebrities, putting people up on pedestals is just verging on the ridiculous now. Take those twins. If I want to see rather empty headed, slightly vain but attractive 18 year old blondes giggle and dress alluringly, I'd sit in Bournemouth town centre for an hour, cut eye holes in a newspaper and voyeur. That sort of girl exists in every town in every corner of Britain; I don't need a television screen and 24 hour coverage to see, understand, and have confirmed for me, their behaviour. Yet when they're evicted (or worse, WIN), they'll have lads mags shoots, television interviews, radio interviews, fashion lines I expect...for what? They're nothing but day to day girls, cherry picked (I wonder if they've had their cherries picked) from a million other girls exactly the same to appear on television, and be lauded over by a mass audience somehow TOO STUPID to realise that these people are outside on their doorsteps anyway.

The poorest part of this creating celebrity - note, the point is that we don't just worship them now, we make our own idols from anywhere and anyone - is that, in a typically British fashion, we set them up with huge, great expectations, perfect suckers for a fall when the realisation dawns that oh yes, they're normal people, and then take utter and intense delight in that fall from grace anyway. What does it say, that this country's press and Big Brother watching masses can create a self-sufficient circus of news, gossip and celebrity, that lasts for an entire year, with the only proviso that Endemol gets round to picking 14-odd people and building a house for them once every 12 months? Perhaps this famous quote, from hundreds of years ago, speaks for itself.

"The People, who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions; everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses" Juvenal, Roman satirist.

The other story, of course, from which we have not heard the last but may well fade over the summer, is of Britain's newest celebrity couple: Kate and Gerry McCann. Having flown into Rome for a chat with the Pope, as all devout Catholics are able to do of course, no matter where they're from or their status, the McCann clan are now off to Amsterdam and Berlin, taking in some of Europe's greatest cities and enjoying an extended summer holiday, having already stayed in Portugal and Spain over the last month.

I'm not sure who's paying for their European tour; but, despite having played already to sell out crowds in Wembley, Athens and Hampden Park, their fans are still urged to donate their money to a fund (confusingly entitled and to contribute more to the total, which stands at nearly £590,000.

In all seriousness: These people have lost a child. They are NOT Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. And £590,000 donated to a fund that does nothing, and serves no one. Next Big Brother will be donating their entire text message voting revenue to the website, and the world will implode in a tidal wave of tears from false compassion.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

End of days

"It was the best of times; it was the worst of times." I can't remember who it was that said that, but it seems fitting now. A torrid few days of past-midnight finished in Uni, then one final up-til-5am before getting up at 8.30am to hand it all in the same morning. Not a degree that has ever really been keen to go quietly, naturally the CD-writing didn't work first time round, and it was stress stress stress (stupidly tired, hungry and armed with a pair of scissors while shakily cutting out my final piece of work) til about 11:30am before a 12pm deadline.

That was, however, it. A week that had seen me watch ITV quizcall til the early hours, order a Domino's pizza to Weymouth House and go without a much needed food shop was over (the two rather obviously linked), and with it, three years of University, an entire degree, the end of life marshalled by education. It really was, in a way, the first day of the rest of our lives.

The relief at getting that final work in was replaced almost instantly with a feeling of not knowing how to feel, apart from tired, still. The warm realisation that there went the final piece of coursework I'm ever likely to do was balanced by the shock that the place that had been the centre of my life for three whole years was going to simply send me out into the world without so much as a tender goodbye, barely even a mention. Meanwhile, the prospect of a glorious summer of freedom ahead filled with fun times, fantastic friendships and experiences that only a cycle of time spent at University can create was tempered by the nagging reminder that, in the long term, things were certainly going to change when the sun goes down. Yes, no more Uni work; instead, the five day-a-week 9-5. The pauper's life of living off the student loan is replaced by having to pay off the student loan. Would you rather be meeting deadlines or targets? Can I risk going out tonight, or just start living for the weekend?

There is no way in words or pictures to sum up the last three years of my life sufficiently. Picutres: I'd need thousands from digital cameras that have probably been broken numerous times and photo albums that existed only on someone's old laptop. Words: I could write a dissertation-length narrative describing everything about University. Every single night out, ever. Getting tea in the break in Research Methods. The open top buses to Uni in summer. Friday afternoon lectures. When Elements used to be good. Literally, something worth talking about happens every week while you're at Uni, and the habits that you grow into don't become boring, they become lovingly kept up, looked forward to. The same old places hold new experiences. The great times are prolonged until the dark times can no longer be avoided, but are instead managed and got through by the promise of further great times on the other side. To the Uni, I'm just a name or a number, either 99109116 or bournemouth/d1163660, class of '04, but to me, the Uni and the three years I've spent here has and have been literally life-changing.

They say at the beginning of your degree that starting University is the biggest shift in your life. What they forget to add is "...until you finish". Throughout Uni, there's always been the 'next' thing; the next essay, that presentation, minor exams, second year, longer essays, the placement to sort, final year, the dissertation, more essays, revision. It's only now that the conveyor belt of University deadlines and landmarks has given way to a gaping chasm, called What Now? As one door closes, another opens, but it will be a few long weeks yet before I'm ready to step into the light.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Missing Madeline

Or 'Maddie' as the empathetic press have dubbed her.

I was moved to make some form of comment on this now international news story after watching BBC News 24 try badly to get a rise from a Portuguese spokeswoman about the competence of the Portuguese police and, because I have a lot of time for the BBC, it made me angry.

BBC's line of questioning went in the direction of asking this spokeswoman how the Portuguese were reacting to the British press' accusations of substandard police work and poor organisation and so on. The Portuguese spokeswoman started out by saying how shocked and concerned the country is with news, and then, quite rightly, said how surprised they've been that the fantastic institution that is this country's press has decided to focus on the work of the police and criticise that.

This is, of course, typical of British journalism. Not content with having a three year old Briton girl missing in a foreign country - and, according to latest police theories, kidnapped for a paedophilia ring - our national papers decide to attack the work of the Portuguese police, in a move that will surely inspire confidence in the family, and will raise up in their readers the usual British nationalism stuff. You can almost feel the tabloids, itching to say 'Well, if she'd gone missing in our country, she'd have been found by now'.

But that's not even the point. The BBC, usually able to detach itself from such a mess, instead goes and gets in even deeper, by focusing on those papers being critical of the police, as if THAT is the story!! I mean, come on BBC! It's the British tabloids! What do you expect of them? They're not going to report on the missing girl story objectively when it presents such a clear opportunity to invoke emotions in their readership that they don't really feel.

The Portuguese spokeswoman also managed a dig of her own against the British press, and had clearly been doing her research. There are, she said, 20 missing children in the UK under a certain age - I forget which - including several under 2 years old. Where are the front page stories about these children? What makes Madeline so different? Being blonde, photogenic and missing in a foreign country? What sort of criteria are they, except for making a better news story?

Cynical me again, of course. I'm just disappointed that in the 8 days this young girl has been missing, already the press have put scapegoats in place while they wait idly with nothing better to write, until the juicy finale in which she turns up dead or, miracuously is returned. Of course, everyone hopes for the latter...but we all know which outcome would run and run in the papers longest.

Monday, April 23, 2007

No smoking, please, we're English

Just a note, first, on returning to writing my blog for the first time in almost a month. It actually seems longer - I guess I've been busy, which I have, spending most days either writing, rewriting or rereading my dissertation. But that can finally be put to bed this week. I've almost forgotten what it's like to be able to write in first person again!

But a news story today caught my eye and reminded be that I hadn't bothered to blog about the smoking ban coming in on July the 1st yet. (yes yes yes yes yes). Today's story, anyway, was that the British Medical Association is calling for 10-packs of cigarettes to be abolished, saying that the amount encourages younger people to buy as they appear to be buying less and it doesn't cost as much as a pack of 20 (obviously. OBVIOUSLY!). The cynical idea that Labour ministers might have thought "once the smoking ban comes in cigarette sales could slow so we better hike the minimum price up" hasn't even crossed my mind. Apparently they make a lot of tax on cigarettes - I don't really know or care - so by all means, hike the price up to £10 a packet of 20.

Anyway, looking forward to the smoking ban. Wales and Scotland have already led the way, now finally it's our turn. One for the obvious health related issues: I'm fairly confident I haven't suffered too much at the hands of cigarette smoke so far, and now I won't again! Result. Two for the now-cliched going out fresh/coming home stinking reason. Next year my entire wardrobe will no longer smell faintly of smoke. Result, again. But the best thing about the smoking ban is the smug satisfaction in not having to even argue the good/bad about it. It doesn't matter if someone thinks the ban is a good thing or a bad thing, the fact is from the 1st of July it will be a thing; a law, in fact, so you avid die-hard smokers can moan til you're out of breath (which won't take as long as someone like, for example), but it won't make a bit of difference. There won't be such a thing as "social smoking" anymore, for all smoking will be anti-social. That, if anything can, will make some people hopefully question themselves a bit.

I expect in 2008 we'll find out that cigarette smoke actually balances the Ozone layer and the ban causes a critical imbalance in our atmosphere and the world will burn up in 2009, but nevermind. Two smoke free years!

Friday, March 30, 2007

Just fed up with England supporters to be honest

It's been a while since I've blogged, and it is down to a lot of Uni work: just for example, this week I had to write a 2,000 word dissertation chapter and create a 2' 30" long radio package from scratch. Did both in 4 days, I actually smashed it this week.

But anyway, despite to being smothered with Uni work and not keeping up with the news much, I haven't failed to notice how much criticism Steve McLaren has come in for this week. Ok, 0-0 against Israel is not the result of a team supposedly 6th in the world. But then, when 'England expects' as the saying goes, sometimes 'England forgets' the reality of the situation. Did the England fans watching the game (not least the ones actually there) somehow miss that for about 75 minutes, we were in total control and Israel just threw every single player behind the ball? How can you expect to win a football match like that when you're the only team trying to play football? Gareth Southgate has a point when he says that England shouldn't even have to play certain teams.

Returning to the England coach, Rome wasn't built in a day, and McLaren has been in this job about 8 months, playing only 6 competitive games. Sven Goran Eriksson, who spent most of his tenure as England manager under constant fire from the "anti-foreign managers of England" brigade, was given 5 years, and I suspect it's those same fans calling for McLaren's head. The pictures on Sky Sports showing those fans in Andorra berating McLaren with abuse and gestures just make me think: 'I'm English, I support England and want them to do well and would consider myself a fan, yet these so called 'real fans' that apparently represent my feelings just look like a bunch of wankers to me'.

What is also ironic, and saddening, is that only in England would a 0-3 away win in a competitive European qualifying match be classed as a failure. Like Israel 4 days earlier, Andorra just turned up to try not to lose by too many goals. For 45 minutes it worked, then England proved themselves. But the fans and the media were not happy. McLaren must feel hard done by: you manage a team that wins 3-0 and all the press want to ask you about is why we played so badly? No wonder he walked out of the press conference.

With that conference cut short, Sky Sports News turned to talk about themselves and the press, turning a news piece about England and football, incredulously, into a self-pitying parade of bollocks, acting as if it's not their fault - of course it is: we beat a team 3-0, and you're not satisfied with the good, so you talk about speculation and rifts and poor performances, while ignoring the basic facts. Is this representative of the way sports news, and indeed all news, is going? That 'good news is bad news', or perhaps that bad news is the only news. It just seems to me that the media needs to perpetuate something negative for the public to engage in, which is a really sorry, sorry state of affairs.

And the worst thing is that those witless fans that appeared in their droves in Andorra will lap up every word.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Upon meeting your heroes

It's that once in a lifetime chance. Make something of it, or let the opportunity slip. On Tuesday the 6th of March, 2007, (the day a key figure in my dissertation, Jean Baudrillard, died), I met one of my heroes, and the ACTUAL central figure to my dissertation. Christopher Morris.

I hadn't realised, until I was standing in a circle of likewise starstruck students listening to Chris Morris offer his sandwiches to a girl before the open interview he gave, how high a regard I hold the man in.

The thing is, he isn't your 'celebrity you'd love to meet', he isn't handsome, he isn't fashionable, he isn't even famous. His work is infamous. He himself is infamous, notorious but mysterious, a genius to some, a cunt to others.

He certainly is a genius to me. Taking it upon myself to pore over his most well known television material - The Day Today, Brass Eye, Jam - for my dissertation, instead of becoming sick and tired of going over the same ground constantly, as was the danger with writing a dissertation on a book, I was warned, I have instead become embroiled in the world of Chris Morris. The multitude of disguises, the phenomenal attention to detail, the brutally scathing but oh-so accurate parody and pastiche, the finest satirical material in contemporary television work, the man is regarded - in the right circles - to be perhaps the best comic satirist of our time. He was number 11 in Channel 4's 50 greatest comedians ever - a show voted for by other comedians and writers. That's some feat (if you ask me) when you consider his work isn't funny because it is comic, it's funny because it's true.

But to last Tuesday. Basically, if you don't know much about Morris: his last proper interview in a newspaper was in the Guardian in 2003. He thrives on not appearing in public to defend, explain or occasionally take credit for his work. He used to refuse to appear in public unless he was under the guise of a character from his television shows. All this I knew.

So for THE Chris Morris, the man who I am writing my dissertation on, the man who never appears in public, the man who has built his reputation on refusing to confirm or deny anything about himself, to be appearing, in public, at my University, IN MY MEDIA SCHOOL, FOR FREE, was about the biggest and most exciting coincidence of my life so far. In fact, so amazing to me was this coincidence, that until he appeared in Weymouth House at 6:05pm or so, bushy haired and with a spangly scarf, I was quietly prepared for him not to turn up at all.

When he appeared, he chatted leisurely with a few students about stuff, ate some sandwiches put on by the Media School and posed for one photo. I managed at this point to stand somewhat near to him, but my nerve failed me to step forward and ask him to sign my copy of Jam, as I was, actually, shaking. We all then trooped to the Barnes Lecture theatre for the main event. The interview itself, which we were specifically asked not to record audio or visual, was a fairly informal affair, conducted by Paul Lashmar, a freelancer who seemed to me to be fairly unsure what to make of Chris Morris. Things got a lot better when he opened up 'the floor' to the audience a chance to ask questions, which went on for about 45 minutes.

It is hard to describe how surreal, how "once-in-a-lifetime" that moment truly was. Chris Morris, a man who cloaks his every move and covers his every track, sitting, stripped of any mask or disguise, in a grubby lecture theatre in front of perhaps 200 or so students (mainly) , the very people who want to surround the him with the attention and hype he so deliberately avoids, though of course we all knew that and tried not to act so breathless and in awe. When the opportunity arose to ask a question, engage in conversation their media hero, everyone tried to outdo each other with interesting questions. I thought of three myself, but by the time I had the guts to put my hand in the air, I was overlooked for what turned out to be the last question and for the second time that night, I missed my opportunity.

After that, there was a generous 15 minutes before he had to be escorted to a train, in which some IDIOT animation students took up almost all his time trying to sell Chris Morris their ideas and productions. At this point, I could see the flicker of annoyance begin to appear in his face, a face which seemed to gently say 'Ah yes, this is why I don't do public appearances'. With that 15 minutes up, and still no one on one conversation held with him, I had no option but to join a couple of others in apologetically thrusting something into his hand to sign.

On taking my Jam DVD cover, which is purple, and my blue Biro, he said "this will just be some sort of colourless indentation", and looked at me slightly quizically, before writing "colourless indentation" above his signature. He briefly considered the futility of it, it seemed to me, and probably considered what sort of person I am not to care that you can only read what he's written in a good light. Maybe, just maybe, it appealed to him, this satisfying a fan with a colourless indentation.

It was over in 2 hours. I had two chances, but I DIDN'T MENTION THAT I AM WRITING MY DISSERTATION ON HIS WORK. Fuck fuck fuck fuck, why why why? I can at least count myself very, very lucky that this once in a lifetime opportunity occurred, and I think I almost managed to make the most of it. It isn't every day you get a chance to meet your heroes, and with Chris Morris, it's unlikely I will have such a clear opportunity to do so again. But I did, I met one of my heroes, and that, as I still seem to be unable to quite comprehend that it happened, was enough for me.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


Something I still remember from either a Bournemouth Open Day, a very first lecture or perhaps something another student said when I started at Bournemouth, was that 'you will find that postmodernism is everywhere'. Back then, postmodernism was just another one of those words to put aside til the time came, like SPSS, Feminism, decontexualised and chlamydia. But now, whoever it was, I see, was right.

This year, postmodernism has been looking over my shoulder in almost everything I do: it's fuelling my dissertation argument, it's been at the heart of some of my essays, and generally, whether I've realised at the time or not, it's underpinning just about every text book I read on all my University projects at the moment.

The problem is, whoever warned me about postmodernism nearly three years ago got one thing wrong. They hadn't bargained on me actually liking it.

Perhaps Universities, if they do nothing else, really open your eyes to your place in society, and finally show you glimpses of the real world before you enter into it. They act as the central site for generations of young people to take on board and evaluate the great thinkers and ideas that have shaped our society up til now - right before we go on to try and shape it ourselves. And since postmodernism is defining the aesthetic of the society we find ourselves in (it IS everywhere), it seems not the worst thing to actually spend some time thinking about.

For I quite fancy myself as a bit of an intellectual in the making - again, going to University at all has probably brought this egotism on - in that I want to entertain and try to understand the ideas of the great 20th century names, Saussere, Foucault, Baudrillard, Derrida and so on; those names that, on the first day of Uni, simply washed over you into the part of your brain marked 'probably won't need this name again', so that I can better understand, exist in and, who knows, affect my lifetime. University has perhaps dampened my belief in politics, despite it being the breeding ground for various movements and causes and petitions and campaigns and so on, all of us young people despairing at the inability for anyone but ourselves to see the way things really are. That sense of involvement, a genuine conviction in being able to make a difference, has lost some of its charm for me now.

Instead, I can see great enjoyment in the pretentious life of sitting about, writing about social and cultural issues in a detached, superior manner, casually obliterating entire periods of history, social movements and cultural trends of the past and the misguided present, telling people what was definitely wrong about 'Then' and what 'Now' definitely is and is not. Yes, that's the life for me.

And the reason postmodernism appeals so much in my modest quest for reputation and intellect is because, as University has shown, it is in everything I'm interested in, it is the period of my life, it is inescapable, for now. As someone once said, very wisely as it turns out, "You'll find that postmodernism is everywhere."

Update, 8/3/2007. I had no idea at all at the time I posted this blog, that on the same day, the 6th of March 2007, Jean Baudrillard died. He was 77.

Was Baudrillard, as I wrote about aspiring to critique and emulate the great philosophers of the last century like himself, uttering his very last words? Could his death have coincided with my declaration, setting in digital stone, as it were, that I would love to be considered a writer or even a philosopher of MY time? As Baudrillard died...have I begun? We shall soon see.

Jean Baudrillard, 1929 - 2007. In death we find out that he did live in reality, after all.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Our beautiful game...

Not so pretty anymore. Tonight's main football headlines on Sky Sports News at 8pm were: a mass brawl between QPR and the Chinese Olympic team in a 'friendly', tied to QPR's charges on a brawl involving them and Luton last month, Luis Aragones (Spain Manager) having his appeal against making BLATANT racist comments upheld, Sheffield United player Keith Gillespie getting an extra match ban for punching an opposition player, and more on the story in Italy where a policeman was killed, maybe murdered, by rioting football fans.

Great. There's no news in football to do with football anymore, the only thing papers and media want to talk about is bad relations, bad behaviour, problems off the pitch, and so on. Whereas these sort of stories rumble on for days, the brilliant goals and sublime football gets rounded up in a highlights package shown once or twice.

Has football become, like all its detractors claim, simply two teams of 11 to running around an agreed space at an agreed time and trying to incite kicking the shit out of each other while thousands/millions of people look on? Is that all that men want to do on a Saturday afternoon nowadays? Last Saturday I went along with the first team (the first team - the team that is meant to be our club's best) and watched as three of our players got sent off for nothing to do with the football, but for either swearing or punching someone. After our centre-mid floored a lippy 16 year old kiddie with one blow (to be fair, how did the kid think he was going to react to being stamped on? Twat) an out and out brawl ensued. There wasn't a football kicked in earnest for around 10 minutes while just about everyone on the pitch piled into one corner and started fighting. Where have we seen that before? Oh, right, a top flight match between two Premiership sides in supposedly the 'best league in the world'.

My main anxiety is that football, after all is said and done, allows whoever plays to release some pent up energy and gives exercise and all that, but that this spills over into neanderthal savagery anyway. Why bother with Football Factory style hooliganism and risk getting arrested when you can join a team and have a legitimate circumstance to do it? It isn't enough to take part in competitive sport. It isn't enough to win at it. You have to fight for it, and win that war.

In the words of Henry Newbolt's World War One poem likening that great war to sport, "play up! Play up and play the game!" ("for fuck's sake", he might have added).

Friday, February 02, 2007

BB will bite the hand that feeds...its own

After another classic series of the defining television programme of our time, the fallout rages on, the 'burning' issue in the pages of the tabloid rags. What have we learnt? Jade Goody IS a twat, after all, and even the most ardent of BB followers managed to jump on the bandwagon damning those racist remarks that were broadcast to an audience of...well, twats and racists in denial probably.

We were reminded in a timely manner just what drew our attention to Ms Goody in the first place - her extreme levels of genuine stupidity and general defamation of the term human being - when she appeared on her original Big Brother run; the show where real people do real things apparently. She should, at the time, have been mocked, ridiculed, made a spectacle of and made to feel ashamed. She was certainly a spectacle all right: and people with an ounce of intelligence looked on in disbelief as this society's celebrity obsessed culture made an idol out of this woman who could not set a poorer example to young girls if she tried.
And so it became the pattern; give someone an inch of limelight and they'll take a yard. Suddenly, all you had to do was appear on TV, and let the masses and their mass media (tabloids, Channel 4) begin the cycle. The "stars" of Big Brother became the stars of the tabloid masses, so the tabloids gave more and more info to those masses, who in return made greater "stars" out of those contestants, creating the need for even more tabloid coverage, and so on. As long as the show's running, the bewildering excitement and entertainment gained by some from Big Brother will grow uninhibited. Channel 4 knows this. Start a new series, sit back and let the BB circus run its course.

I've said this before on this blog, but I'll say it again. Are people's lives (or is it reality?) so dull that they find expression and enjoyment through a slim and fake involvement other people's lives? And what's most pathetic is that involvement is so non-existent: coverage of Big Brother contestent's lives is edited from 24 hours into one: what 'happens' in Big Brother is the choice of the programme producer. Viewers watch what they are told to watch, and think they're making individual choices and conclusions by doing so. Meanwhile, viewers cannot exert any influence over the lives they have a sudden interest in. There's always that human nature of curiosity, to be the unseen fly on the wall, an omniscient narrator if you will, but with Big Brother that's all there is. What point is there in 'knowing' everything that's going on and being unable to do anything about it? What use is that knowledge? Idle chit chat over an 11am cup of coffee, that's all.

The CBB just past has at last raised genuine doubts about Big Brother's hitherto untouchable status. It's uncomfortable suddenly seeing "one of our own" (I would usually detach myself completely from BB fans but for the sake of this argument I'll play along) make such a tit out of themselves and then remember that all the media interest, the condemnation, the embarrasment, the shame it brings on our nation, is down to the fact that, yes, it was us, we put her there in the first place. The people who put Goody on a pedastal suddenly don't want to know. The proud English are very quick to denounce the fallen, and even quicker to forget that we set them up for a fall at all (see football/cricket, our 'boys in Iraq', Tony Blair, Pete Doherty, etc etc). Even Big Brother's most die-hard fans joined in with the concern about the events in this Celebrity version, and it might mark, at long long last, the point where those fans realise that the 'reality' they hunger to observe is simply selected elements of our own culture, and it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. Suddenly, the realisation: if they want to feel better about their own lives and our society, making a spectacle (on television for crying out loud) out of the worst parts of it for all the world to see might not be a good idea after all.

It's only taken 8 years. But I hope with all my heart that the implosion of Big Brother has begun.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

New Year's Resolutions

It's difficult to know what to do with NYRs (what you make after NYE ). Nowadays it's barely worth even thinking about doing something positive in your life which will most likely have negative side-effects at first. Society is so very unbothered about making resolutions for itself.

However! (there had to be an 'however' didn't there). I always say to myself that I will make a new year's resolution or two, and I always take the step of writing them down. Nothing life-changing, like "discover cure for AIDS", although I really should be getting on with that. Just personal, minor things; more realistic you might say, more achievable.

The reason that I continue to make them is down to a conviction that it is actually good for myself. It shows a strength in character, to deliberately set yourself targets or goals to achieve. That they are minor or realistic isn't the case in point: simply the act of setting things I want to and believe I can achieve shows a nature who desires challenges, which I think is important for self-confidence and self-belief. Sticking to difficult NYRs is difficult, so why set difficult ones?! I'm not going to set resolutions that I think I ought to be targeting, like cutting out foods or taking up jogging for example. I've set things that matter to me: resolutions that Iwant to meet and that I feel I can look back upon and have completed. Things like: get a part-time job to ease the money problems, and make sure I work hard enough to get a 2:1 this year. Those are well within my abilities - any fool can get a part-time job, in fact - but it would mean something to me if I could start balancing my money a bit more, so it's well worth me doing personally.

So I guess that's it: people should be setting resolutions, not because it is a thing everybody else does, or pretends to ("I meant to........, this year"), but because there are things we all want to achieve which, looked at seriously, are far less daunting than they actually are. New Year's Resolutions shouldn't be mocked for making people do things they don't want to do, they should be embraced for offering the perfect excuse to start doing something which really could begin any other time of the year anyway.

The one time people take a sober look at their lives, and it gets ridiculed. I say: NYRs ftw!