Tuesday, February 28, 2006


Start Boosting!

In this story, we learn that children up to the age of eleven are going to have to sit on booster seats in cars.

'RAC Foundation spokesman Kevin Delaney said: "There will be people who view this an intrusion by the nanny state, but it is right that as much as possible is done to offer children protection."'

Personally, I don't believe that children should be allowed out of the house. After all, the world is full of dangers, and if they enter it, they will surely be exposed to all of them. What's more, it's obvious that we cannot trust parents to look after their children, because - because - well, I'm not sure why actually, but clearly we can't.

What annoys me about this - and again, I know it's an esoteric thing to be annoyed about, but there you go - isn't really the unspoken implication in all of this that parents haven't a clue how to bring up children. It isn't even the intellectually degenerate underlying philosophy of 'safety first at whatever cost.' What really annoys me is that this is a directive handed down from Europe, and we will inevitably be the only people to pay any attention.

Part of the reason, it seems to me, that Britain is so eurosceptic, is that every other country in Europe either likes these rules or else dislikes them, and then ignores them. Only in Britain do we resent them, but also accept them.

When I was 10, I went to Italy on a week long exchange. The family I stayed with, a more jovial and rotund group you couldn't expect to meet, the Benuzzi's, drove me everywhere around their town. The first time I got in their car, I did my seatbelt up. Not only did they not follow suit, they looked at me in amazement and then burst out laughing. Don't imagaine, though, that this was confidence borne of skill - they were hopeless drivers. The dad had a terrifying habit of physically turning around in the driver's seat while accelerating in order to emphatically gesture a point. I would shrink back in my seat, preparing for the shuddering crash, but the worst that ever happened was him losing a wing mirror as he did this down a particularly narrow one-way street.

It could have been worse. When I returned five years later, to Rome this time, I was hit by cars twice within the space of three hours. However, a directive like this will never trouble the Polizia. Why not? Because in Italy, they haven't swallowed this fundamentally anti-humanist safety-first culture like we have. It always starts with an apparently laudable aim - who can argue against the government's plan to reduce child road deaths by 2000 in principle? Yet it always leads to endless, needless regulation and interfering, so that the government can seriously advise kids not to kiss each other in case of meningitis.

One day, maybe, just maybe, we will rise out this accursed safety culture and decide to enjoy our lives.

Monday, February 27, 2006


'Bound' And 'Brokeback Mountain': Critical Acceptance Of 'Gay Cinema'

Matt asked me to do a piece on why the Wachowski's went from 'Bound' to 'The Matrix.' I'm not going to, mostly because he has already written an immense, scholarly essay on 'The Matrix' that is far more useful than anything I could say. His conclusion;

'The Matrix is certainly not intelligible: it simply pretends to be. What it is is incoherent and using spectacular effects and filmic devices is the most significant way in which it pretends not to be.'

seems to me a fair summation of everything I dislike about 'The Matrix.' However, his request did give me a chance to dig out 'Bound' again, and I'm very thankful for that.

The reason it's worth re-visiting that piece is the forthcoming Oscars ceremony, in which 'Brokeback Mountain' is likely to win the Best Picture prize.

'Brokeback Mountain' was packaged to the press as a 'gay cowboy movie.' After a while, that tag became somewhat unpalatable, and everyone involved, from the director to the distributors, tried to step away from it. So, at the Bafta's last weekend, the producer James Schamus said:

"It's not a gay cowboy movie - it's a universal tale of gay shepherds!"

Is it? I don't understand this at all - both of the lead characters have on-screen sex with their wives, and if they are meant to be looking disgusted at this, as if they're being forced into it, then they aren't doing a very good job. So what we have is a bi-sexual shepherds-in-doomed-romance story.

The reason all this is important is this that Brokeback Mountain has been mostly viewed as a real break from traditional, heterosexual Hollywood narratives, as an essentially 'brave' endeavour. Yet a closer look at the film reveals it to be rather more conservative than most critics claim.

In the film, the two leads have sex and fall in love in what we are led to believe is a sort of perfect, magical season on top of the mountain. For the rest of their lives, they try to re-create that magic, forging a life apart from their main ones. However, at no point after that first time is their love for each other ever more than a burden. Not only, in fact, is it a burden to them, but to their wives and families too - in the film's most powerful scene, Jake Gyllenhaal's wife, played with discreet suffering by Michelle Williams, catches sight of the two fellas making out. It's the start of the process that sets about destroying the lives of everyone involved.

By the end of the film, the love affair has left nothing but a trail of destruction behind it. In this narrative, homosexuality goes hand in hand with emotional immaturity - Ennis and Jack reject the adult world constantly in a vain attempt to re-capture a lost youth. I should point out that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with this. In almost all cinematic love affairs, love blossoms in a fashion as innocent as possible. The participants almost never want to leave this stage - why should Jack and Ennis? Well, the problem is that it is hard to accept the narrative as particularly 'trangressive' if it shows its lads-in-love leads as incapable of emotional management of their situation.

Perhaps the best review of the film I've read comes from the conservative film critic Mark Steyn. He asks a rather pertinent question:

If it’s such a “bold” “courageous” “ground-breaking” film, isn’t it a little ridiculous that a gay male love story has Miss Williams and Miss Hathaway both baring their breasts with straight abandon while Messrs Ledger and Gyllenhaal’s penises remain discreetly tucked away?'

This is a surprisingly good point - we see here why the film actually conforms to some rather traditional Hollywood conventions. It's interesting that throughout the film we scarcely see any evidence of love between the two men. We see plenty of their dissatisfaction with the rest of their lives, for sure, but we don't really see too much evidence of a strong emotional, rather than sexual bond between them. So we have a doomed romance story, that plays for the ladies because of its strong-but-silent male leads and plays for the lads because of its willingness to cater to heterosexual desires for female nudity.

So is any of this a bad thing? Well, it depends on your perspective. Personally, I don't believe the film has to be transgressive at all - in fact, I shan't be upset if it does win Best Picture, because to be honest I enjoyed it very much. In truth, 'Brokeback Mountain' is a film damaged by its critical adoration far more than by anything specifically 'wrong' with it.

Ride 'im cowboy.

This brings us neatly to 'Bound.' 'Bound' was released a decade ago now, and it still remains the most widely accepted piece of outright lesbian cinema that has ever been made.

It's simple tale of a decorator who falls in love with a Mafia moll and their attempt to defraud the Mafia out of a large sum of money makes for an exciting thriller - never frightening, it's always tense. More importantly, it comes far closer to being actually radical. For a start, there are no positive male characters in the film. Of course, it's always easy to do this when you're dealing with criminals; if Violet and Corky, it's protagonists, were busy defrauding the corner shop, you might feel considerably less sympathy. 'The business' is far from being like any other business. Still, the position the viewer is put in, that of hoping for an escape for the lovers, with the real possibility that it could be realised, is a mile away from the certain doom that Jack and Ennis face. That's down to the way society works, and the changes that happened between the sixties and the nineties, but it's accompanied by an emotional maturity that is absent from the more recent work.

What really set 'Bound' apart at the time was its sex scene. That scene was choreographed by Susie Bright, who talks about it at length here and here. In the latter of those - in the former you can see the scene - she sets out some of the philosophy behind how the scene was shot, and it has a certain relevance to what I was talking about earlier:

'I don't know how many of you have seen the catalog of lesbian films over the years. Most of them, like 'Personal Best', or 'Desert Hearts', concern a tender soming-out story, shyly romantic, erotically timid. I'm known to be shy and sentimental myself, but lesbian life does not begin and end with baby powder foreplay.'

The result is that the relationship between the two lovers is far more certain, and far more dangerous to the traditional Hollywood role for homosexual relationships, than is ever seen in 'Brokeback Mountain.' One way that can be seen is in the different way the relevant sex scenes are shot. In 'Bound', it is shot with confidence, with a particular visual style - that is incidentally rather beautiful in its own right - whereas in 'Brokeback Mountain', the sex is something fumbling, something unsure, that starts suddenly and ends even more so. You could choose to lay the blame for this on culture - western societies are always happier to see lesbian sex than they are gay, to which there is often an adolescent 'ooh, that's icky' response. Still, if 'Brokeback Mountain' were to live up to the critical claims, it would challenge that more effectively by a more confident sexual display.

Look! Jennifer Tilly signed my blog!

Now, on to a slightly different matter. My DVD copy of 'Bound' states in big letters at the top 'The Full Uncut Version.' Yet it was never censored - this seems a rather shabby and desperate trick on behalf of the distributors to me. It's also worth noting the comparative paucity of DVD extras. The best deal I have had on any DVD recently is an offer in HMV for 'Black Hawk Down' at only £6.99. This is for a three disc special edition, with thirteen featurettes, two documentaries, three interviews, and three separate audio commentaries, amongst many other goodies. For DVD extra lovers like me, this is gold dust, and I'm sure it won't last for ever.

Now is as good a time as ever to catch those wacky Americans and their African misadventures.

Thursday, February 23, 2006


The Neutrality Of This Post Is Disputed

I think I may just have found the one single article that proves once and for all why Wikipedia is really struggling with its reputation. Behold, Darren Lehmann. Amongst other things, Lehmann was:

'Blessed with a great eye, natural gift and awesome power generated by his large frame, Lehmann is a fine player of pace and murderous against any form of spin, and is also a useful left-arm orthodox spinner himself.'

Yes, Lehmann was a god amongst men. Unfortunately, the short-sighted Wikipedia administrators can't see this, and have slapped his entry with the message saying 'The neutrality of this article is disputed.' No shit.

Indeed, sports seems to bring out the worst in Wikipedia contributors. Have a look at Aston Villa manager David O'Leary. Now read the section for this season at the bottom. That's quite a laugh, that is. It may well, indeed, be the worst encyclopaedia entry I've ever seen. Amongst other problems:

1) 'Villa's fortunes during the final three months of 2005-06 will decide the future of David O'Leary as manager.' How do you know?

2) 'However a "much" improved winter period has seen them move slightly up the league.' This article seems to be "quite" biased.

3) 'Injuries and suspensions have decimated the squad.' Yes, one in ten of those injured were shot to free up space on the physio tables.

'Ladies, I want you to look at that awesome frame. I want you to see into those knowing eyes, to admire those chiselled features, to imagine his bod. . . . sorry, is this supposed to be an encyclopaedia entry?'


Blowing Off Gas

I would like to have a bit off a moan about Centrica, the company that owns British Gas. Centrica made £1.5bn profit last year, an 11% rise. Gas prices went up 22% last week. I already have a gas bill that I can barely afford to pay. Now, to be fair, their profits from British Gas actually went down, due to higher prices, but still, could they not sort of divert money between different branches of their business so that I don't face that massive rise, given I'm already struggling?

Oh, and another thing. Please can they stop running adverts that say 'thousands of customers are coming back to British Gas', when in fact they have lost 3% share of customers last year?

I might not be doing too much cooking on the hob at this rate . . .

Wednesday, February 22, 2006


Two Royal Tits*

I am a republican. To me, the royal family are a hideous anachronism. Some time in the past, I believe I felt differently, but I can't for the life of me remember why. Actually, I reckon the only real reasons the House of Windsor still lord it over us are a traditionally British sense of deference, ennui and a throwback-to-our-childhoods enjoyment of words like 'prince' and 'princess.' If you ask people who like the monarchy to name a good reason for them to remain, almost always the answer will be 'lots of money from tourists', as if basing our system of government upon the wants of Japanese camera-clickers is a rational choice.

Anyway, to the point. I see that Prince Charles now 'sees himself as a dissident in a political fight', according to one of his former officials. I think it's time for people to seriously question the role of Charlie in the political debate. It is frankly ridiculous that in this day and age, an unelected man with no knowledge of the ins and outs of the lives of his future subjects can write policy-changing letters to ministers. Lots of people write to ministers, lots of the time, but since we aren't royalty, they never pay any attention. As soon as Cheery Charlie pops his head over the parapet, the government go cowering, cap in hand.

The latest self-defeating scheme he's got himself into is suing the Mail on Sunday for printing extracts of his private diaries. The extracts revealed various Duke-of-Edinburgh-like gaffes, including describing Chinese officials as 'appalling old waxworks.' However, it's worth noting that the Mail on Sunday expressed editorial agreement with the majority of what he said, and it does seem absurd to me for a member of the royal family to sue the most pro-royalist 'paper in the land.

Still, his pomposity fits nicely alongside Sir Ben Kingsley, who has taken it into his head that he should have his knighthood shown for all to see on all the promotional materials for his new film, the dreadfully named 'Lucky Number Slevin' (one of the people on the message board for the film, mslevin1, wrote this about the title - 'My surname is Slevin and even I have to say it's an absolutely ridiculous title for a movie. I mean, just because it's pronounced and sounds like 'seven', it still makes no fuggin sense. Even the gun on the poster is turned to look like a 7. Madness, I tellsya.')

Sir Ben, whose last film 'BloodRayne' was the latest Uwe Boll superflop (no 19 on the bottom 100!), has made this decision despite the fact that it makes him the first actor ever to do so. Roger Moore said:

"It's a load of pretentious bollocks. I don't see the point. Would it really add anything to have one's title included? I think it's the actor people want to see, not the knight."

Much better. My vast stores of goodwill to Kingsley thanks to his gobstopping performance in 'Sexy Beast' are slowly wearing thin. He'd better start making some good decisions sooner or later or I'll fall off the Kingsley wagon once and for all.

*Yes, I am aware that being a Knight Of The Realm doesn't make you royalty - however, just run with it for the pun, will ya?

'Sir' Ben in happier times.


I Can't Believe I'm Dedicating A Post To This, But . . .

. . . after much consideration, to answer one of those questions, my favourite noble gas is helium, since when I was small, I used to find that whole swallowing helium and getting all squeaky stuff very amusing.

'Use data books and diagrams?' Hmmm, perhaps not. I'm a busy man.

Monday, February 20, 2006


Does This DJ Do Requests?

I have absolutely nothing to write about at the moment. Have no fear - the Park Chan-wook post is 'under construction', and will be up sooner or later (I'm actually waiting for my local rentals to get Oldboy back so that I can check a couple of facts), but in the meantime, I'm throwing this open to the floor. If anyone has anything they want me to write about, I will happily oblige. Just leave a comment.

In the meantime, may I suggest you read about Hungbunny being famous, Boudica on smoking, Clairwil on Keane and Ivan the Terrible on why Britain is shit, plus general sidebar stuff, all at your disposal.

Saturday, February 18, 2006


El Nev Pasionata

After Gary Neville's 'provocative' goal celebration against Liverpool earlier in the season, football fans were treated to a chorus of media criticism, and a large chunk of it came from Five Live and their perpetually angry Ulsterman Alan Green.

Greeny went on a long and rambling rant, and carried on moaning into his phone-in show 6-0-6, which proceeded to become, in the words of Duleep Allirajah, '[not] so much a radio talk show as a shop-a-player hotline for replica-shirted copper's narks.' The fact that Mr Green is a life-long Liverpool fan appears to have been forgotten in the coverage.

Today, in the build-up to the much-hyped Cup tie between the two, the football crew at Five Live didn't appear to know what to do. The man in the studio - was it Pougie or Saggers? How can you tell the difference anyway? - was probing about the issue, while Greeny appeared to be backtracking, claiming that not enough attention was being paid to the actual game, and there was 'too much focus on personality.' Well, who started that?

Then I started to get really annoyed as senior football correspondant Mike Ingham weighed in. First he railed against talkSport, for allegedly claiming that Green was behind the controversy - which is at least half true anyway - and then said this:

'I'll tell you something else as well. The BBC would have loved to have this game as an evening kick-off, but it's had to be lunchtime because of the threat of crowd trouble.'

Oh, cry me a river. Five Live frequently have people on their programmes claiming that Sky showing matches, meaning that not everything kicks off at three on a Saturday afternoon, is slowly destroying football, yet when it's their own coverage that's inconvenienced, they suddenly expect pity.

Football players should celebrate goals as they see fit at the time. Whatever my personal dislike for Gary Neville - 'the world's worst trade union shop steward' as the BBC's own Kevin Day described him - at least he is a proper Mancunian with a genuine dislike for Scousers, and who can be upset at a bit of passion in the game? If the BBC lot had their way, football would be a bland spectacle with people never jeering, and only cheering at officially acceptable moments. As Neville himself said:

'What are you meant to do? Smile sweetly and jog back to the halfway line? Increasingly people seem to want their footballers to be whiter than white and there are calls for sanctions over every little incident. Do they want a game of robots?'

Fair point. Personally, if I were living in fantasy land, Neville would score a hat-trick today, including a winning decider in the 89th minute, before racing up to boringly litigous Scousers in the Kop and mooning them. Sadly, at halftime, Liverpool lead 1-0.

Don't you think it's worrying that this man has become a standard bearer for the freedom of expression?

Friday, February 17, 2006


One Man, His Wolf And His Friend

Imagine my delight upon discovering that ITV3 are re-running all the episodes of 'Due South.' I used to love that programme. I suspect an entire generation of people liked Canadians for no better reason than this programme, which is odd when you consider that actually, all the Canadian characters, including Fraser, are rather enigmatic. I'd forgotten just how witty it was too. Check out:

Vecchio: '[About a gun smuggler] His name's Lloyd P Nash. Wanna know what the 'P' stands for?'
Fraser: 'Is it pertinent?'

That's top quality punning, that is. Of course, its completely ridiculous - todays episode climaxed with Fraser throwing a knife into the barrel of a perp's gun at a distance of about fifty paces - but that's what TV is for, right?

Further investigation revealed that there are DVDs for all the series, but that they cost an absolute fortune. Please, please can we have some consideration for those of us who aren't millionaires.

I particularly love that, no matter what the characters are doing - rescuing old ladies, chasing perps cross country, putting out fires or chasing more perps - no character ever gets even the smallest crease on their clothes.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006



I am doing my best to stay inside today. I am also studiously avoiding the television and the sad rash of Valentine's Day themed dross that is sure to pollute the airwaves tonight.

In fact, it's an awkward day for those of us with no interest (ho hum) in what's going on, because going out tonight is also impossible. This year, every bar and pub and club near where I live has decided to have a 'traffic light party.' If you have never been to one of these, take some advice from me and don't bother. The idea is that people either wear green or red depending on whether they're available (green) or not (red). I believe some also incorporate orange, which presumably means you've got a boyfriend, and in fact that's him in the corner, but you're such a bitch to him that you're available for flirting anyway.

This might sound reasonable in theory. Certainly it's only an extension of something I suspect most blokes wish at some point, that women who have a boyfriend have to wear a giant 'B' on their forehead, or something. Unfortunately, like other ideas that must have seemed good on paper, such as Leninism and Hear'Say, it doesn't work in practice. What actually happens is that the couples in red take over the dancefloor, have a merry good time, while the men in green stand at one side of the room, and the women in green on the other, because let's face it, if they had actually had the courage to go and talk to the opposite sex, they wouldn't be single in the first place.

Anyway, I have decided that I shall go and see 'Lady Vengeance' tonight, on the basis that Park Chan-wook's bloody vengeance film should be fairly unpopular with lovers and such. Last night I decided to avoid the Valentine's business by watching 'Saw' on DVD - about which more later in the week, or soon anyway - and it worked a treat. Ah, I do love horror.

There's nothing quite like watching a man find out his wife and daughter have been kidnapped, while realising there's nothing he can do about it, because he's chained up in a dirty bathroom, to put your own problems in perspective.

Monday, February 13, 2006


All Mod Cons

I have spent all morning - and I mean all morning - on the phone to the TV Licencing people, trying to get a new telly licence. How hard can it be?

These things are always hard because I don't have a phone that works, so I have to walk to the phonebox to make any calls, and I am notoriously bad with public phone boxes. I once had a campaign to punch in all the screens of BTs new email phones, as I'd discovered one night in a blind rage, after seeing pound after pound go down the plughole without the phone letting me press more than three numbers, that if you hit the screens really, really hard, and in a certain way, the digital display couldn't take it any more.

So, it was with a degree of trepidation that I made my way there this morning. It started well, and I even got a human on the other end of the line, but I got a detail wrong, so I had to hang up and go away for a while until I'd get another operator.

I tried again, and got the automated system. The automated system asks for all your details, and clearly checks them with voice recognition, for when, upon being asked my phone number, I mumbled 'I don't have a phone', it promptly cut me off. Why do they ask my phone number? I don't want them to ring me later - I don't want to be friends with them or anything.

So, back to the drawing board. Except I'd run out of acceptable change, so I had to walk a quarter of a mile to buy a bag of Nik Naks, and ask for the change in 10p's. I travelled to the nearest phone box, but again I was thwarted - this phone wouldn't accept any money, and the returned coins tray was impossible. Now, look - I have abnormally long fingers, and even I was struggling to get my money out, and I was fucked if I was going to leave 10p there after the morning I'd had. So I grappled with the bloody thing, and eventually, after much tugging and cursing, I got the little silver slice of life back.

Next phone box, next try. This time I got a person again - the secret, by the way, is not to let the options list run to its conclusion, but to interrupt with the '1' button - and completed everything, fine. Until. He had just said 'I'll put that through for you', when the line went dead. Wasn't me. So have I actually managed it? Who knows.

I really struggle with technology. Phone boxes should be simple. My confusion and helplessness might be acceptable in some pensionable former seafarer who hasn't seen any advances in technology since 1955, but I'm a child of the '90s, a man about town. To be fair, I find really up to date technology simple, it's just the slightly older bits I can't cope with. Take my television - I know how it works, and I know how to change every setting, and what the effect will be, but I can't for the life of me work out which wire to take out when I want to plug the Playstation in. Or any of my four broken mobile phones - I know all the options, and I can work them pretty well, but for the life of me I can't open the panels at the back.

I was well annoyed by the cost of the TV licence. £126.25 or thereabouts. For what? Then I really thought about it, and it is worth it - not only is the footy not interrupted by advert breaks, but there's BBC Three. The trick with BBC Three is not to watch the programmes they tell you to, like that 'Tittybangbang' crap, but the ones they don't, which they put on sometime after midnight, and are always really bizarre.

My mate insists that 'Gypsy Wars' is an absolute classic, but I've yet to see it. I did, however, see a programme a few weeks ago about sperm which was worth the licence fee by itself. It was about the scientific possibility of sperm eating each other or something, but that wasn't the crucial point. The crucial point was that all the people filmed were genuine British eccentrics. One man, my favourite, was determined to prove that sperm have an 'oscillating motion' or some such, and to prove it he was building a giant sperm in his pond in his back garden. This had taken him months. The fact that it is possible to see how sperm move in a microscope had apparently passed him by, or maybe he just enjoyed it. I wonder what his wife said if anyone called to visit? She probably denied she was married.

Another fellow was trying to prove that frogs can't have sex if they are wearing clothes, and to prove this he'd got little bits of cloth on them. However, his studied nonchalance for the camera was undermined rather by the fact that the pieces of cloth had tiny lacy crennelations and were embroidered really precisely, making it appear that in his spare time he was role playing with them.

There was a woman from Oxford Uni who was asked about people's sex life. She was great. You know how you have that perception that everyone at Oxbridge talks in a really horsey accent? Well, she did, and then some. She even looked like a horse. What was best was that she was being so tongue-in-cheek about her own sexual history, and it began to appear to me that she'd done a fair amount of dogging in her time, given her comments. She was so nudge-nudge, haw-haw about it I fell about laughing.

I want them to put that programme back on. The funniest thing that's been on in ages.

Sunday, February 12, 2006


Nothing To Report

I have spent all afternoon watching footy in the pub, and I'm a little drunk. Still, I was glad to see that my praise of Man City wasn't wasted, as they matched the 5-2 away win at Charlton that propted that post with a 3-2 win at home today. Together, these two games have probably been the best two matches of the season that I've seen.

They certainly made a positive impression compared to Real Madrid v Athletico Bilbao last night, which was as dull as Spanish football usually is, with the usual tiresome gits who think it's cool to support a Spanish team despite the fact that they come from Milton Keynes watching it.

Joey Barton's goal alone is worth watching MOTD2 for tonight.

Barton's edge-of-the-area thunderbolt was a cracker - if you look at the ball in the air, the control he put on it is very impressive.

Friday, February 10, 2006


Crocodile Tears

I was watching telly the other day, and an advert came on for a CD named 'Ultimate Tearjerkers.' It emerges that this is part of a series of 'tearjerkers' CDs, which have now sold over half a million copies.

Let us look at the previous entries names:

All Time Classic Tearjerkers
All Time Classic Rock ‘N’ Roll Tearjerkers
All Time Classic Country Tearjerkers
The Ultimate All Time Classic Tearjerkers

Good God. This crap has sold over half a million copies? What sort of person buys this sort of thing anyway?

'So, what did you do over the weekend Jen?'
'Well, I thought about going out on Saturday night, but I decided my life is just so shit, I sobbed myself to sleep instead.'

You know who I blame?

Bridget Jones.

I can never quite work out whether Bridget Jones was a knowing parody of a sort of thirty-something woman that was already quite prevalent, or whether thirty-something women took one look at her and decided 'Yes! I want some of that.'

Whatever the case, she's typical of exactly the sort of woman who would buy this - the sort of people who are determinedly single, and bitch about the fact constantly, despite the fact that they have a good career and prospects and are actually rather attractive, but they like being single because they enjoy moaning about it.

Always remember that at the start of 'Bridget Jones's Diary', she's put off Colin Firth just because he's wearing a jumper with a reindeer on it. This is enough to make her completely disregard him, despite the fact that it's Colin Firth, for fucks' sake.

To be fair, it is pretty fucking horrid, but even that isn't enough to send me to the 'Tearjerkers' series.

Thursday, February 09, 2006


The British Media Can't Walk No Line

Moan, moan, moan, moan, moan. That's all I seem to do here. My apologies for that, and for the fact that this particular gripe is now a week old.

My gripe is this: why are the British media so nationalistic about Oscar nominations? As soon as they were announced last week, the nations' news media got into gear, and discovered that they had been spared the horrific prospect of actually providing any, you know, analysis or anything, by the fact that WE GOT FOUR NOMINATIONS! Did you hear that at the back, I said WE GOT FOUR NOMINATIONS!!!

Seriously, it was ghastly. I watched three news programmes that night, and only one failed to bawl the fact. Congratulations, therefore, are due to the Channel Four news, which to be fair provided a carefully presented five-minute segment, asking, amongst other things, the pertinent question of whether or not everyone has awards ennui these days.

The two media outlets that did worst were the BBC and ITV. I wouldn't mind all this overly exaggerated patriotism, but at least two of those nominations stand absolutely no chance at all. Judi Dench (for 'Mrs Henderson Presents') and Keira Knightley (for 'Pride & Prejudice'), in the Best Actress category, are obviously making up the numbers since Reese Witherspoon is, it seems to me, more than a certainty for 'Walk The Line', and having seen that last night, I have to say it would be an absolute travesty if she didn't win. Her performance is perfect, and then some. Again, kudos to Channel Four for acknowledging this, but it was magically missing from the BBC and ITV coverage, most notably on the BBC News website, where this article was run, comparing the two Brits, as if the two actresses can be meaningfully compared anyway, and then - in one of the absolute all time lowlights of 'participatory' news - asked readers to vote on their favourite of the two. Dame Judi won - what a surprise that must have been.

I know this is an odd, sad and esoteric thing to get angry about, but it's just so pathetic. I thought it had reached its nadir last year, when we had the laughable sight of news teams reporting on the oh so significnt win for Britain that was 'Wasp', winning Best Live Action Short Feature, despite the fact that blatantly none of them had seen it, or even had a clue what it was about.

At the end of the day, films are about universal feelings and actions, and personally, I'd rather Aunty and co thought a bit more about that than wasting time on tinny and feeble yelps of nationalism.

I may return to 'Walk The Line' at some point, because it's so fantastic that it really deserves a bit more attention. In the meantime, if you'll take my advice, go and see it - trust me, it's absolutely jaw-dropping. Unforgettable.

Go see. Phoenix and Witherspoon are just perfect.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006


And The Future Ruler Of Britain Is . . .

Hammond is a hazardous substance.

Behind the smile, the affable TV persona, and the 'weird celebrity crush' victory in 'Heat' magazine, lies a man who is slowly taking over the nation, one TV programme at a time.

Am I the only one to notice Mr Hammond's meteoric rise? From programmes about books for children and 'Brainiac', he's moved into the mainstream. First 'Top Gear', now this thing called 'Petrolheads', the signs were all there, but the clinching seal to the debate is that he has his own chat show these days.

He is slowly positioning himself to become a British Oprah, a gigantic cultural monolith - and once he has conquered the nations' television screens, he'll soon be in political power too. Remember folks, you heard it here first.

If I vanish in the next few days, you'll know what's happened to me . . .

Monday, February 06, 2006


An Inkling Of An Idea

Got given a pen today as I walked down the road. Looking at it, I realised that it was advertising a competition to set up a small business. There was a woman across the street hawking the competition in a megaphone. Apparently, near a university, it's the capitalists who need to holler at you. Anyway.

Me setting up a small business? Are they mad? I lack the one fundamental quality all enterpreneurs need. It's not intelligence. As of twenty years ago, the owner of the Horseshoe Casino in Las Vegas couldn't read or write, yet was worth about $100 million. Not convinced? Think about Richard Branson - famously left school at sixteen - a brilliant businessman, phenominally wealthy, yet I don't suppose he can talk at length about Plato, or tell me why I should like 'Paradise Lost.'

No. What I lack is common sense. I'll give you an example. Until very recently, I believed that flavoured water existed because some earnest employee of Volvic or whoever had trawled the Earth's freshwater springs looking for naturally flavoured water. I used to wonder - sometimes at length - where the strawberry flavoured spring was. It simply never occured to me that it might be artificial flavours that made it taste of strawberries. Let me tell you, I was gutted when I realised.

Still, I'm game for a stab, so I came up with an idea for a business.

Smokin' Steves

Sooner or later, it will be completely forbidden to smoke in pubs. My idea ingeniously gets around this. My patio bars, 'Smokin' Steves', will be outdoor affairs, with no walls, though they may have a high canvas covering. Sort of like a marquee, if you will. When a patron enters, they will be given a coupon for a cheap carton of cigarettes - which they can exhange for a drink if they don't smoke - and will sit down. The beer and other drinks will be more expensive to make up for my loss leader, but then I should have a captive audience - all those who like a fag with a drink. They will also be ambient, with a lounge jazz band of my choosing, and a fountain to provide the smooth sound of running water. I'll make a bomb, and smokers will be happy.

Whaddya reckon?

Saturday, February 04, 2006


Cartoon Controversy Hall Of Shame

One of the more obvious aspects of this stupid controversy has been that some people who should know better have been having saying the wrong things. I've been particularly bothered by two people;

1) Stewart Lee, creator of 'Jerry Springer: The Opera.'

In this opinion on the cartoons row, Lee displays a baffling attitude. He states:
'I don't think they really appreciated the massive taboo you cross by portraying the image of Muhammad.'

True. However, just because you 'appreciate' the taboo, that people doesn't mean will be understanding when you break it, as he should know only too well. I have said before that JS:TO was perfectly acceptable for broadcast, and I regularly link to sites that supported it - indeed, MWW was set up specifically for that purpose. However, supporter of his right to freedom of expression though I am, I'm left puzzled by his last-one-over-the-drawbridge attitude displayed - his show crossed loads of 'massive taboos', so why is he in any way superior? He does give an explanation:

'In Jerry Springer - The Opera, we were looking for a story that could be commonly understood in a Christian context. In the West, Christianity relinquished the right to be protective of its icons the day Virgin Mary snow globes were put up for sale at the Vatican.'

'But in the Islamic culture it is very different. To use a corporate image, Islam has always been a lot more conscientious about protecting its brand and as a satirist you need to engage with it on its own terms. That's what we did with Jerry Springer with the Christian religion.'

So, if I read this correctly, he is actually claiming that Christianity was 'asking for it' because Christians don't respect Jesus the way Muslims respect Mohammad. This totally misses the point of satire - isn't the very point of satire to prick egos? Why should I acknowledge him as the bigger man for picking on the smaller target? Whatever you think of the cartoons, they do engage with Islam 'on its own terms' - those terms being that Mohammad should not ever be displayed. They engaged with that, and challenged it. I can understand, I suppose, Lee trying to distance himself from the controversy, but his statement contrasts very poorly when compared, for instance, to the artistic solidarity expressed by, amongst others, Stephen Fry.

2) The staff of The Guardian (surprise, surprise)

Specifically, Sarah Joseph, writing this column. In it, she breaks Godwin's Law, comparing the twelve cartoonists to Julius Streicher and Der Sturmer. She writes:

'The Holocaust did not occur overnight. It took time to establish a people as subhuman, and cartoons played their part. Does Europe not remember its past and the Nazi propaganda of Der Stürmer?'

'Now the great shape-shifter of fascism seems to have taken on the clothes of "freedom of speech". If these cartoons were designed to provoke Muslim fundamentalists, maybe they have done more to reveal the prejudices of Europe. Europe has a history of turning on its minorities. Will that be its future too?'

This is disgraceful. Firstly, to be fair to Ms Joseph, she herself is a Muslim, and so the cartoons have clearly insulted her personally, but even so, this is a horrific exaggeration. Paul has written a fine post demolishing this already, but I wish to join in.

For a writer in a national newspaper to have such a poor grasp of the meaning of such a common word as 'fascism' is pretty shoddy. In that sentence, what she actually means is 'racism', or, because Islam isn't a race, 'religionism.' This controversy emerged from the tradition of free speech, out of which arose free expression, out of which arose the freedom of the press. These are not freedoms associated with a fascist approach to government - indeed, they are most often antithetical to the totalitarian approach, which often distinguishes itself, amongst other things, by state ownership and control of the media. I shouldn't need to explain that.

Secondly, this is a taking things grossly out of context. It isn't possible to compare twelve cartoons, published in a small newspaper, with a small readership, almost none of it Muslim, which have nonetheless caused widespread offence, with systematic abuse of propaganda to de-humanise an entire ethnic group, an action which had a direct causal link to the genocide of millions of people. Again, this shouldn't need explaining.

Joseph does put her statement in the context of an 'atmosphere of fear', saying:

'These are the stereotypes that, as Muslims, we face daily. The looks on the tube, the suspicion, the eyes on the bags we carry. There is no denying the feeling of being pushed against a wall, of drowning in the stereotypes that abound. This is no way to live, and it is certainly no springboard for making a major contribution to the society you live in.'

This is all fair and reasonable. No-one should have to live in fear, and I sympathise with her points here. However, the fear argument cuts both ways. Intimidation is not limited to one side in this argument - embassies have been set ablaze, and assassinations have been called for. Rightly, moderate Islamic voices have been decrying this, but Joseph doesn't - why not? To be fair, her article may have been written before those two developments, but violent protests had certainly already started.

Also to be fair, she is only following the line of her paper's editorial. One of the features of the crisis has been that no British newspaper has printed the cartoons, and they all published an editorial explaining why. Here is the Guardian's. Let's take a look:

'It is one thing to assert the right to publish an image of the prophet. As long as that is not illegal - and not even the government's amended religious hatred bill makes it so - then that right undoubtedly exists. But it is another thing to put that right to the test, especially when to do so inevitably causes offence to many Muslims and, even more so, when there is currently such a powerful need to craft a more inclusive public culture which can embrace them and their faith. That is why the defiant republication of the cartoons in some parts of Europe (some of them with far less good histories of intercommunal relations than this country) is more questionable than it may appear at first sight. That is also why the restraint of most of the British press may be the wiser course - at least for now. There has to be a very good reason for giving gratuitous offence of this kind. Yesterday's acquittal of two British National party officials on race hatred charges for attacking Islam - and the triumphalist scenes as the two freed men emerged from court - are part of the context that must be weighed in asserting any right to publish cartoons that offend Muslims.'

From the top:

1) What are the point of rights if you can't exercise them?

2) I hate this line, that Joseph parroted as well, about 'far less good histories of intercommunal relations than this country,' a snide and unfortunate poke at our European neighbours which reveals a deep distrust that, in fact, they may be unreformed fascists who'll start throwing people in cages if you give them half a chance, a view that conveniently overlooks changes in class structures, societal discourse, personal opinions and material wealth from seventy years ago as if they were irrelevant.

3) This argument about the BNP is a straw man. The far right have, throughout their history, been able to get loud and prominent support outside courthouses and in protests, a support which, ironically, shows how weak they really are - if so many people agreed with them, it wouldn't be necessary for those few to shout so loudly, would it?

4) Other straw men have been set up previously. We are told:

'But newspapers are not obliged to republish offensive material merely because it is controversial. It would not be appropriate, for instance, to publish an anti-semitic cartoon of the sort that was commonplace in Nazi Germany. Nor would we publish one which depicted black people in the way a Victorian caricature might have done. Every newspaper in the country regularly carries stories about child pornography, yet none has yet reproduced examples of such pornography as part of their coverage. Few people would argue that it is essential to an understanding of the issues that they should do so.'

Even if you accept these 'examples by association', the comparison is pointlessly flawed since all of those examples would be illegal anyway - the first two under the Incitement To Racial Hatred law, and the third under the Obscene Publications Act, plus many others, I should think.

The Guardian's general argument is dangerous. Paul characterises those most vocal in opposition to the cartoons as follows:

'Rather than recognise freedom of speech as an absolute and fundamental right, they start dissembling by pretending that the cartoons are something that they’re not and implying that Jyllands-Posten somehow deserved to be on the receiving end of death threats and bomb scares. They suggest that the Danish government perhaps should have “done something”, conveniently ignoring both the reality of the Danish constitution and the howls of protest that the same papers would raise if the British govenment “did something” about anything they published.'

This approach is an intellectual approach that, at its logical conclusion, leads to state control of the press - the leader even mentions 'responsibilities' being a first consideration, instead of 'rights', an admission that sounds less like the lion's roar of a free press, and more like a press release from the Department of Culture.

To be fair, which I am trying to be in this, they were joined in their actions by every other paper. I single them out for blame particulaly because a centre-left publication with a long tradition of defending freedom of speech should be the one place that doesn't come up with these arguments.


'Sorry Boys, Party's Over!'

Don't you hate the end of your birthday?

No dirty, germy blowing for me.

Friday, February 03, 2006


That Sound You Just Heard Was Houdini Escaping His Grave

We learn from the Melonfarmers that 'more than a dozen viewers' (thirteen, actually) complained about the escapologist Jonathan Goodwin being hanged from the gallows on live television, E4's 'Death Wish, Live!' programme on Monday night.

Well, sort of. In fact, he took part in a stunt whereby he had to pick his way out of a sturdy pair of handcuffs in order to escape the trapdoor being opened. He failed to do so in the time before the mechanism worked, and had to be cut down. He sustained no serious injuries.

Regular viewers of E4 will be aware that Goodwin is hardly the world's best escapologist. He had an entire programme devoted to him during that channel's 'Magic Week', and was proved to be more than a little average at his profession. In one of the stunts, he was taken to the top of a tall building, stripped naked, and bound up in something or other, before being put in an elevator, with his clothes in a pile. His family were waiting at the bottom of the lift. He completely failed to escape, was still naked, and had one of those gimp mask bits in his mouth, when the elevator doors opened. Apparently, his aunt has refused to speak to him since.

Another stunt saw him stripped to his underpants and put in a beehive. The hive was split in two, and he had to escape his predicament before the bees, stored in the other half of the hive, were let loose on him. I believe he may have been smeared with honey or something first, too. He left the hive covered in stings on almost every inch of his body.

The real purpose of telling you all this is that, after his failure on Monday, Goodwin said, 'I was told it was dangerous and stupid and it turns out that the advice was right. But despite a sore neck, I am fine and hope to be buried alive on Friday.' You see, Goodwin is being buried alive as the final part of 'Death Wish, Live!', and my Freeview is broken, so I don't have E4. Can someone watch it and tell me if he cocks up again, like I'm sure he will?

Grade A Nutter!


Happy Birthday To Me!

Well, folks, get out the whistles and klaxons, and leave some of your dinner for a bit of party food, because this blog is one year old today!


Feel free to leave a comment saying what an amazing, wonderful, thrilling, entertaining, informative and downright sexy year it's been if you want. I won't mind, you know.


A Cartoon Controversy

This blog needs a new strategy manager. Back in October, when I first read about the Danish Mohammad cartoons, I decided that it would be one of those stories just not worth writing about. I guess Jyllands-Posten probably thought the same thing, maybe a bit of trouble from a couple of Copenhagen imams, and then the end of the matter.

Well, both they and I were wrong. In a world with communication as wide as it is today, these stories always seep out eventually. It's taken over three months to reach this point, but now it has, it's become a diplomatic crisis.

The controversy has deepened over the last couple of days with several more European papers including the 'toons. A full list of the papers to do so, minus the Jordanian one found in that report, plus the editorial statements of those papers, can be found here. At least this last has helped separate the wheat from the chaff in blog terms - those who actually believe in the freedom of expression taking a different tack from those merely claim to.

The Danish cartoons, were, I suppose a little offensive. Probably the most offensive were:

According to this, the BBC news managed the worst possible compromise, showing the cartoons, but blacking bits out as if they were genitals before the watershed. In fact, perhaps they should have gone the whole hog and just put fig leafs in the strategic places.

Apparently, the Die Welt editorial claimed that 'One could take the Muslims protests more seriously if they were less hypocritical. When Syrian television broadcast a prime time documentary drama showing rabbis as cannibals, the imams were silent.'

I would go further than this. This website collects cartoons from some of the major newspapers in the Middle East, and the stench of hypocrisy runs foul indeed. For instance:

This is from the Jordanian Al-Dustur newspaper. The picture is obviously of Auschwitz, and the writing states 'Gaza Strip, or the Israeli Annihilation Camp.'


This one, from the official cartoonist of the Palestinian Authority (quite a job!), shows Jews as snakes - as they have been portrayed in European anti-Semitic literature for centuries - 'controlling' the US.

Now, my position on this is simple. Either both of these sets of cartoons are offensive and condemnable or neither. Personally, I think people should just grow up, get a thick skin and generally act like they've got a pair, and stop this pathetic whinging about cartoons, of all things. In particular, those protesting the Danish cartoons should acknowledge that they produce plenty offensive themselves, and call it a day. After all, at least those show a little thought - it could be worse, it could be Steve Bell drawing George Bush as a chimp yet again, for about the 800th time, in the Guardian. Great idea, Steve, did you think of it all by yourself?


It now emerges that, in fact, the controversy has been stoked by a handful of Danish Muslims who travelled to the Middle East, armed with the cartoons, plus three more that are even more controversial - one depicts a praying Muslim being raped by a dog, and the other two show Mohammad as a pedophile and as a pig respectively. These cartoons were not published by Jyllands-Posten, and were almost certainly not commissioned by them, or any other media source in Denmark. So, nice one, you travelling whiners, congratulations, you've just (unfairly) dropped your own country right in the shit. Well done.

Thursday, February 02, 2006


Maybe I Shouldn't Have Torn Oprah's Number Out Of The Phone Book . . .

The other day, I realised I no longer had a book for reading while on the loo, or in bed, so I toddled off to the massive Waterstone's in Manchester, which is like three storeys tall, to get something to peruse. I didn't really have anything in mind when I went in, which in retrospect was probably a mistake, since I spent about an hour and a half in there just trying to find anything that would pique my interest.

My God, isn't it hard to find anything you might like?

One of my first complaints was the reviews. One novel I idly picked up, entitled 'Modern Ranch Living', had about six different reviews on the back. One claimed that it dealt admirably with 'the inertia of American small-town life.' Another claimed it was 'full of kinetic energy.' Surely both can't be true? And if not, then why would I read a book even the experts can't get to grips with?

Another book I picked up was a biography of Philip Larkin. I looked at the back cover, which was simply full of praise for the writers' last work, a biography of Kingsley Amis. Now, this book was in hardback, so was that why apparently nobody had reviewed it? Don't newspapers or magazines ever review hardbacks?

The biography section held me for longest. I haven't read a biography for ages, the last even faintly autobiographical work being John Howard Griffin's 'Black Like Me.' The trouble was, of all the hundreds of titles on display, I couldn't honestly say I cared enough about any of the people whose lives had so fascinated themselves and others. For a while, I toyed with buying a couple of books that took this to the extreme, figureing they'd be good for a pisstake - a biography of Ashton Kutcher, and Jimmy Nail's lifestory seemed promising in this regard - but then I realised what a waste of time and money that would be for a couple of cheapshots.

In the end, I decided that having loved the film so much, I'd buy Tristram Shandy, which I fully anticipate failing to read the whole of.

It used to be that I listened to the book reviews of a Thursday on Simon Mayo's show on Five Live to decide reading matter, but recently the books they've reviewed haven't exactly interested me. If any of my handful of remaining readers has read anything good recently, feel free to recommend it in the comments.


Writers Write Well, And All Is Right With The World

MWW bring us the reactions of several writers to the very happy news that the government's terrible Incitement To Religious Hatred bill was tempered as much as possible.

Philip Pullman stated:

'The Commons vote last night shows how thoughtful argument, skilfully deployed in the service of a good cause, can still beat arrogant short-term political jerry-building. The episode also shows that if we want to guard freedom of expression, we can’t relax our vigilance for a minute. Those who think such freedom is a soft luxury, and well worth giving up in order to curry favour with whatever group has the votes they want, will come back another day and from another direction in order to destroy it; those of us who know it’s a hard necessity must be ready for them.'

Quite right too. Salman Rushdie stated more simply:

'There are moments when one is profoundly grateful for, and proud of, British Parliamentary democracy. This is one of them.'

Amen, brother!

Oh, I must also add that I laughed like a drain when I found out that it was Tony's absence that got one of the amendments through. Seriously, I laughed for like five minutes or something. Happy days.

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