Thursday, March 30, 2006


In Which He Attempts To Calm Nerves

My friend just asked me if 'Peep Show' had been cancelled. I hadn't heard any rumours to this effect, but a quick look around the internet reveals that, for a while, one of the best sitcoms of the last ten years had bitten the dust. Fortunately, however, Channel 4 have changed their minds.

Thank goodness!

Channel 4, understand - your remit is to show quality, inventive programming. 'Peep Show' is this. It matters not if only a couple of million people want to watch it. We are the ones with taste, remember?


Confirmation (last paragraph)


I have also just discovered that the audiobook for 'That Mitchell And Webb Sound', the radio series which was, if possible, even better than 'Peep Show', by the same creators, is now available to buy. Sadly, however, only the marginally inferior - but still absolutely amazing - series two is on sale. We want series 1! We want series 1! We want series 1!

Wednesday, March 29, 2006


'Loaded' Magazine Made My Four Year-Old Daughter Have Breast Implants!!!!!!!!!!

A few months ago, I saw the comedians John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman up here in Manchester, and while they were bantering with an audience member about said audience member's knowledge of current affairs, one of them made a crack about Newsround being for people 'whose knowledge of current affairs is mostly panda-based.' I thought that was a great line, and I was reminded of it today.

You see, Newsround are busy doing a feature on 'body image' of kids. I wouldn't have known that - I don't want you to run away with the impression that I watch kids TV all the time, just, you know, occasionally - except Five Live were also doing a feature on it, possibly the same feature in fact. This is the spirit of originality that makes the licence fee such good value for money.

This was a chance for Britain's prudes to poke their heads from the dusty woodwork, and boy, did they take the opportunity. Apparently, kids 'these days' (by the way, if I ever hear one more person use the phrase 'these days' in a derogatory fashion, I shall force them to wear ankle-length skirts and chain them to the cooker (yes, the men as well), as if 'these days' weren't a fucking mile better than everything that's gone before) are really, really upset with their body image, because they don't look like Rachel Stevens, or whoever it is that the yoof look up to.

Everyone was to blame (they always are). Obviously, first port of call were 'lads mags.' Now, I have stated before my feelings about lads mags, but to re-iterate broadly, I feel that they are a poor substitute for real pornogrpahy, but that they do the grand total of bugger all harm, except perhaps for killing just a couple of braincells each time you read one.

However, this wasn't good enough for the caller. They objectify women, she said (no, they don't). Indeed, she seemed most distressed by the possibility of a kid seeing them, as she also was about the possibility of kids seeing page three (the horror, the horror!). Good to see that people want us to return to the days of bitter battles about page three, because I should thoroughly enjoy watching the moralising prudes have their true impotence revealed by the power of the market. Trust me on this, as is said in that link:

'Edwards reckons that if the Sun ever does walk away from the topless Page Three, another paper will quickly step in.'

'"But I don't think the Sun will ever pull out," he says. "It knows its audience." Page Three plays on male weakness and that makes the business recession free, he says.'

Soft porn will be around for a long time yet.

Also to blame are women's magazines, everything from titles for teenage girls to gossip magazines. Well, I suppose it's somewhat more likely that a girl would want to look like an actress they admire than a porn star they don't, but still, I'm far from convinced. Anyway, the real shame of this is that we live in a society so vapid that some girl-band reject is the closest to a cultural hero adolescent girls have, which I think is far sadder than just the possibility that they may diet a bit to look like them.

Perhaps the best - by which I obviously mean worst - argument was put forward by a man who 'watches Saturday morning kids TV every week' with his spratchlings, and who believed that kids were becoming self-conscious about their body image because children's TV presenters are too good-looking. Apparently, he claimed that, as kids, we look up to childrens TV presenters. Erm, no. I don't seem to recall a burning desire to be Andi Peters from my own childhood.

The whole argument is fundamentally flawed, particularly by the attempt to present younger children as having a greater socio-sexual awareness than they actually do. The irony of it is that the prudes constantly argue that faintly sexual media is sexualising children before they are ready, yet in fact their own arguments project a far higher sexual consciousness onto young children than they actually have.

Sadly, the prudes are managing to have a bit of success in their campaigns. It has recently been announced that lads mags and the like 'are to be moved to higher shelves.' Let us get one thing straight - Loaded magazine and its counterparts are not illicit smut. All magazines like that are in reality a highly cynical attempt to separate naive adolescent men from their cash by means of cautiously titillating content.

You'd be better off down the sex shop.


I just remembered something. When I was in Sainsbury's the other day, they had, by the tills, copies of 'Closer' magazine and Sainsbury's own magazine. On top of 'Closer' it said 'magazine of the year.' On top of Sainsbury's own it said 'voted magazine of the year.'

I think the lesson from this is don't buy magazines or newspapers on the basis of tagline proclamations.


It just occurs to me that we are forever worrying about childhood obesity. Maybe kids being dissatisfied about their body shape may not be such a bad thing, if it made them decide to choke down a green salad, say, once a week.

Anyway, if all they are worried about is that kids are going to hate themselves for being a bit plump, then frankly I should think that is excellent preparation for adult life, when apparently we all hate everything, including ourselves, anyway.

Saturday, March 25, 2006


Have A Nice Week

In his book 'Playing The Moldovans At Tennis', Tony Hawks asserts that he finds being wished 'a nice day' irksome, saying that it 'makes me want to go back later, and explain in long and boring detail about exactly the sort of day I had' (? - Approx quote).

To be honest, I hadn't really come across the phenomenon until my local Sainsbury's sent around a memo stipulating that checkout staff must try and make conversation. Actually, I rather like it. I had a long conversation today with a really pleasant Chinese fellow who was busy asking me everything under the sun. I know some people think that this is an annoying trend, and worst of all, it comes from America, but it put me in an excellent mood.

Unfortunately, however, I've had to be a bit more reticent about my appearances at the local supermarket following a disaster the other day. I was in a long queue, and it took forever to get to the till. When I finally got there, the checkout girl asked me if I wanted any help packing my bags. By this, I presumed she meant that she'd pack half and I'd pack half, thus speeding up the process. To my horror, what she actually did was do it all for me, so I stood there, proferring a note pointlessly as she did all this packing, while about ten people in the queue behind me glowered angrily. I don't think I've ever felt such a worm.

Anyway, just thought I'd tell you. The real news is that posting will be light here until next weekend. I have a mountain of work to do, and because the Internet still doesn't work in our hovel, I have to treck to a local cluster to do all this blogging. This, of course, has many downsides, not least the fact that I've now been cut off from porn for months. Crisis! I shall try and rectify my neglect of the comments section tomorrow though.

In the meantime, my sidebar has no end of diversions. Give something new a try, and if you hate it, don't blame me.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006


Keeping You In The Dark

On October 7th, I brought you news of the UK ditributors of 'Revolver' putting deeply, deeply misleading quotes on the film poster. If you cast your mind back, the quotations on it, 'Brilliant . . . Guy Ritchie back to his best' came out of the mouths of a page three girl in the film and a marketing company promoting it, not anyone actually reviewing it.

Films change, but tactics don't. I was walking past the local newsies yesterday, and I came upon a poster for the DVD of 'Alone In The Dark.' Now, let me tell you a little bit about 'Alone In The Dark.' It is directed by Uwe Boll, who is generally considered to be the worst film director working big projects today. It currently resides at number 22 on the IMDb's bottom 100. It was met with almost complete critical ridicule on its American release. Boll himself was nominated for a 'Worst Director' Razzie.

Which is why my bullshit-o-meter went spinning out of control at the sight of a quote on the poster, from my beloved 'Fangoria' magazine, saying 'Rousing fight scenes and non-stop action.' Hardly praise, is it? Still, sadly, no, as they say. Fangoria is the best magazine for horror fans and gore hounds like me, and I was fairly confident that they wouldn't make this big an error in judgemnt.

I was right. It was reviewed by Michael Gingold, who is, I believe, one of their most senior reviewers, and he gave it the lowest possible rating, one skull out of four. At no point in his review are those words written. However, Gingold did have some choice words of his own about Boll's work. Take it away:

'. . . To call Boll’s direction strictly pedestrian would be an insult to all the fine citizens who walk the city streets every day, and to say that ALONE’s characters and dialogue are cardboard would demean that fine material which allows us to store and ship our consumer goods.'

Hmmm, maybe he wasn't a fan. So where does this statement come from? One of the commenters in this thread states:

'The reviews and Fangoria print reviews are often different. Too bad I don't have that issue since I quit buying the mag over a year ago to check the context of the quote.'

Sadly, I don't have that issue either. However, I am fairly sure that even if I had it open in front of me, it wouldn't say anything positive about the film. Maybe the wordings of the reviews are different, but it seems fairly unlikely that on a film that there was pretty much complete critical consensus of as total dross, they would have two reviews, one panning it and another praising it.

Anyway, this fits neatly into my campaign to have distributors exposed for putting quotes on posters that did not come from reviews. Momentum Pictures can hang their collective head in shame.

The mystery deepens.


I have also posted here.

Monday, March 20, 2006


FCC'ing Hell

I see that the FCC, the American television censors, have just fined CBS affiliates $4.1 million - pause to let that figure sink in - for just two 'obscene' programmes, and have also addressed complaints about 50 different shows from a period of three years (Feb '02 - Mar '05).

The number of complainants seems to be rising almost exponentially:

'Mr Martin [new head of the FCC] on Wednesday said the number of complaints received by the FCC had risen year after year, from hundreds to hundreds of thousands. "The number of programmes that trigger these complaints continues to increase as well. I share the concerns of the public - and of parents, in particular - that are voiced in these complaints." Last year the FCC received more than 230,000 complaints.'

The real reason for the rise is, of course, not that American network television has suddenly become a visual Sodom - almost all network TV looks incredibly tame by European, and even British, standards - but because of organisations like the Parents Television Council, a ludicrous pressure group who have managed to create a ComplainBot which can be filled in an infinite number of times. What's more, surprise surprise, it doesn't require the complainant to have actually seen the programme. We certainly shouldn't be shocked - the FCC gave FOX a fine for 'Married By America' ('sexually suggestive')on the basis of complaints by just three people, despite the show already having been cancelled.

The programme with the largest fine this time around is 'Without A Trace', a CBS detective drama. The scene that so exercised the censors contained a depiction of an 'orgy' with teenage participants, but that hardly presents a full picture. The sex isn't properly shown, all you see is artfully lit distance shots of people bouncing up and down a bit, and the FCC itself admits that the scene contains 'no nudity.' What is more, the participants are the bad guys of the programme, as the Parents Television Council themselves admit:

'This episode’s theme does not glorify or glamorize teen orgies or promiscuity; quite the opposite. Viewers see first-hand how relationships and lives are destroyed by this reckless behavior. But CBS crossed a line by depicting teens in such sexually provocative situations. What’s even more disturbing is that CBS chose the holiday season to re-air this most graphic and gross episode of debauchery.'

So not only is the scene not sexually explicit, it also serves a social function. In point of fact, it could well be argued that the scene is inherently moralistic in tone. Fortunately, thanks to the prurient Parents Television Council, whose interest in sex is more than a little reminiscent of TV evangelists like Jimmy Swaggart, who busily declaim sex in public while clearly enjoying it a bit too much in private, we can see the scene in question (halfway down, in a red box with the moniker 'WARNING: Graphic Content, Please Take Caution).

Hardly the stuff of revolutions, is it? It certainly doesn't require a $3.6 million fine. Now, a pause for a moment, while I make a disclaimer. On this blog, I have, in the past, mostly limited myself to discussing British censorship issues. The reason for this is that I don't really wish to tread on other people's toes - it may be that most Americans are completely happy with a regulator that can levy a massive fine for a scene barely a minute long, shown after ten o'clock at night, which contains no actual objectionable content. However, I don't believe this to be the case. It is my belief that organisations like the Parents Television Council do not begin to represent mainstream American opinion. 'Without A Trace' itself gets over 20 million viewers, an astounding number given the choice of channels available. From this, and from the high viewing figures of dramas like 'The Sopranos' on cable, I draw the conclusion that actually, most American adults enjoy watching well made programming for adults. Of course, this can be accessed on cable, which the FCC can do nothing about. However, the real question is, why should it have to be?

Some of the other verdicts are ridiculous. Amongst them was an affirmation of a fine for the Janet Jackson nipslip, possibly the least-important-event-with-most-importance-attached-to-it of the last century. Also in trouble was 'The Surreal Life 2', for a scene containing pixellated breasts. Have you ever watched 'The Surreal Life'? It's got to be amongst the least controversial programming I've ever watched. The idea that anyone could actually be offended by anything other than how bad the programmme is generally is baffling.

Some of the verdicts, however, are worse than ridiculus, and are actually troubling. For instance, for the first time in decades, the FCC have ruled that the words 'fuck' and 'shit' are actually profane. They are completely beyond bounds, as shown by the FCC's censoring of a PBS documentary 'The Blues: Godfathers And Sons.' That is, completely beyond bounds, except when they aren't - 'Saving Private Ryan' was exempted from the rule because of what an 'important' piece of cinema it is. They showed a double standard again when fining Howard Stern for discussing anal sex on his radio show, but decided that Oprah Winfrey doing the same thing was 'educational.' As Jeff Jarvis points out:

'Note then how the FCC has now put itself in the position of being not only our national nanny but our cultural critic laureate as well. They decide what is art worthy of protection and what is not. They decide what is good enough.'

The Parents Television Council have a webpage where they list programmes they feel are beyond the pale. Their 'Worst' list reads like a 'What To Watch' list. Congratulations are especially due to Seth McFarlane, the creator of both 'Family Guy' and 'American Dad', programmes which have managed to be in the 'worst' column six times in just over a year (5 for FG, 1 for AD). It is worth noting, for fairness' sake, that the FCC rejected complaints made about content in both 'Family Guy' and 'The Simpsons', once again showing the ludicrous situation that for grown-up programming on network TV, American adults have to watch cartoons.

Seeing as I'm discussing it now, it is worth leaving the final word to 'Family Guy', specifically the rather pertinent episode 'PTV', in which Peter sets up his own TV station, only for the FCC to shut it down, causing this song:

'They will clean up all your talking in a menace such as this
They will make you take a tinkle when you want to take a piss
And they’ll make you call fellatio a trouser-friendly kiss
It’s the plain situation!
There's no negiotiation!
With the fellows at the freakin FCC!'

'They’re as stuffy as the stuffiest of the special interest groups
Make a joke about your bowels and they order in the troops
Any baby with a brain could tell them everybody poops!
Take a tip, take a lesson!
You’ll never win by messin’
With the fellas at the freakin’ FCC!'

'And if you find yourself with some you sexy thing
You’re gonna have to do her with your ding-a-ling
Cause you can’t say penis!'

'So they sent this little warning they’re prepared to do the worst
And they stuck it in your mailbox hoping you could be co-erced
I can think of quite another place they should have stuck it first!
They may just be neurotic
Or possible psychotic
They’re the fellas at the freakin FCC!'



A Quick Holler . . .

. . . to thirteen people who deserve praise.

Firstly, I'd like to thank Matt, who has taken pity on me, and my DVD plight. His kindness has been noted! I can't promise any rewards beyond the grave, but I can say for certain that good karma is sure to keep him happy, for a while at least.

Secondly, I should also like to praise the twelve Muslim academics who recently published a document called the 'Manifesto Of 12', which calls for 'the promotion of freedom, equal opportunity and secular values worldwide.' Obviously something I would like, it occupies an even dearer place in my current affections based on the fact that the 12 authors, including Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Salman Rushdie, have since been threatened. Details of how to send a supportive email are on that MWW post.

Thursday, March 16, 2006


Sunday Night & Tuesday Night Tellyblogging On A Thursday

Sunday brought us a new detective drama on BBC1. Wait, wait, don't leave yet, I know what you're thinking, but maybe, just maybe, there's more to it than meets the eye. You're thinking;

'Oh My God, Steve, did the nation really need yet another smart talking TV detective-with-a-surprisingly-sassy-and-attractive-sidekick drama? For fucks' sake mate, I've already been asking my boss to call me and give me a bollocking just so I don't have to watch any more!'

At first glance, 'Mayo' was entirely typical. I was somewhat puzzled by the name - given the entirety of all the surnames in the English language, they chose a rather unusual one that is also the name of one of the BBC's most famous DJ's. Maybe Simon had a hand in the matter. Anyway, the BBC Drama department have found a template for more or less all of their programming, and like a dog with a particularly tasty bone, they just will not let go. The template goes somewhat like this: you have two principle characters, who have a backstory together. One will be male, one female. At first, they don't want to work together, but you know that deep down, they really do, because there's just so much sexual tension in the air. Sexual tension is expressed by snappy dialogue.

I'm cooling on snappy dialogue. I know it's great, and we all love to get behind characters with sass, but every time I hear it now, I can't resist thinking;

'Alright, yes, I get it, you could write 'snappy' in your sleep. I've read Oscar Wilde too. Now, could we have a TV character who we might be able to relate to?'

This shift away from realistic speech, characteristic of much of TV of the nineties, into the mdoern day equivalent of Wildean witticisms, is distinstly interesting in light of Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell's recent pronouncement that the BBC should 'take fun seriously.' Both Dave Weeden and Mark Holland have picked up on this. Personally, the cynic in me can't help but feel that the government would far rather we were watching TV detective dramas on the BBC than documentaries about how much the government are fucking up everything on Channel 4. Just a thought. In this light, 'Mayo' is a template of its own for the TV to come - intelligent, fast-paced, fun and completely vacuous.

Still, don't get the impression I was angry. It may be a far cry from the sort of improving television I was watching George Clooney and David Strathairn eulogise about in 'Good Night, and Good Luck' this week, but it has its advantages. New TV detective dramas have, essentially, two models they can follow. One is the brutal nihilistic realism of 'Taggart', where the characters communicate in borderline incomprehensible dialect (one for my Glaswegian readers there!) and where depictions of violence are usually reasonably violent. At the other end of the scale is the pantomime, throwaway nonsense of 'Midsomer Murders', which is so far removed from reality it sometimes looks like an AmDram production. Nonetheless, I rather like 'Midsomer Murders', mostly because it affords people in every other part of Britain a chance to watch southerners get bumped off in bizarre ways (yes, I intend to offend every one of my readers before the end of this post). Plus, this week, viewers had the chance to see John Nettles go paddling in an ice-grey ocean, and it was a genuinely funny sight.

'Mayo' is clearly intended for the 'Midsomer' end of the market, though its far away from that shows level of silliness. Still, we did have a plot based around incest, and also a race on golf carts, so we're definitely talking the same scale. The other noticeable thing about 'Mayo' is that it follows many of the conventions of some of BBC Drama's other efforts, particularly 'Hustle' and 'Hotel Babylon', as seen in its re-use of a colour palette that always starts with 'deep scarlet' and moves out from there. I wrote a bit about this here. The final noteable point about it is that Alistair McGowan is playing the eponymous detective. At first it struck me as odd that an impressionist should be given the role, but actually he was more than passable. 'Mayo' is worth giving a try to this Sunday.

What most people will be tuning into the TV for on a Sunday night, however, is 'Planet Earth', the latest BBC Wildlife venture. Whether you agree with the licence fee or not, most people seem to agree that the money spent on natural history programming is well worth it. Generally, I'm of the same opinion. It is always well-filmed, well-researched and let's face it, we all love David Attenborough, because he's like the nation's favourite grandad.

Nonetheless, I didn't think too much of 'Planet Earth' in its first week. There was a lack of focus on any geographical region or terrain, most of the animals presented had been covered extensively on previous programmes (does anyone not know everything there is to know about penguins these days?) and I objected to the fact that there was quite a lot of anthropomorphisation in Attenborough's commentary, frequently depicting chases between predator and prey as being between 'good' and 'bad', as if nature were anything like that simple. In one aprticularly egregious example, we were told that some big cat or other was 'not above' eating a rotting carcass, as if an animals need for food is likely to be subject to either human morals or tastes.

This week, however, was a considerable improvement, with a specific focus on the fauna of mountains, and some genuinely intruiging footage, including some of the extremely rare snow leopard. This was detailed in the end-of-the-show segment 'Planet Earth Diaries', which follows the now routine idea of showing the viewer how the action is captured. When they first started doing this, I was wholly against, viewing it as unbearably self-aggrandising, but I've been won over now - I'm now of the opinion that it's nice to see one's licence fee being spent productively.

Tuesday has been, for the past few weeks, the required time of watching for the E4 programme 'Beauty And The Geek', which, for those who didn't see it, did exactly what it said on the tin. Boffins were paired up with models and had to complete tasks - some brainy, for the models, and some based on style etc, for the geeks. Every week a couple was voted off. Tuesday was the final, but I sat it out in protest of 'Tory Boy' Will and 'Boxing Ring Beauty' Alex being voted off the previous week, since that couple made up about 15% of the contestants, and at least 75% of the entertainment. Not to mention the fact that Alex looked the best in a bikini. Let's hope that they find themselves on some other branch of trash television in the near future.

A giant panda. In case you didn't know what one looked like.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


We Was Robbed! Quite Literally

In this post, I intimated that there was a good chance that the particular crumbling hell-hole that I and four other people call home would be robbed, since it had been robbed three times in the previous year, and it has now happened. Frankly, I'm suprised it took so long.

Do you know what the best part of it is? All they stole was DVDs. Nothing else - just my entire DVD collection, apart from five films that were in a drawer upstairs, so now my entire collection consists of:

1) 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit?'
2) 'How Green Was My Valley'
3) 'Delicatessen'
4) 'The Happiness Of The Katakuris'
5) 'Life Is A Miracle' - thank God!

Everything else is gone. Gone, I tell thee! Only about three hundred pounds worth. The worst part of it is, because they got in through the back door, which my clot of a housemate had left unlocked, I can't get any money from the insurance. I am, to put it bluntly, miserable in the extreme.

It might be going a bit far to say that I hope they are caught and anally raped in prison, rather like 'Scum', which they also took, but let's put it this way, I wouldn't spare any tears if they were. In the meantime, I hope they are suitably terrorised by the prolonged torture scenes in the South Korean film 'Save The Green Planet!', are thoroughly depressed by David Lynch's urban dystopia in 'Eraserhead', and are grossed out by 'Braindead.'

Still, I'll live. I have to say, I find the possibility of these fucking townie bastards sitting down in their shitty hovel to watch the six-hour 'gay fantasia' 'Angels In America' to be pretty funny. Of course, that won't happen, because they'll just have nicked them to sell, but I don't suppose whoever buys it will be particularly grateful.

Incidentally, returning to this post, I would unhesistatingly say that 'Angels In America' is by far my favourite piece of LGBT-based culture ever produced. It is absolutely stunning, almost a religious experience (no pun intended) and filled with quality from beginning to end - even the title sequence is a joy, as you fly through clouds, dipping beneath every now and then to see many and various American landmarks. It would be impossible to watch that and view America as anything less than a storied land, yet of course the point of the text is that it's also a sick one, and the conflict between these ideas, the ideal and the reality, is a large part of what, thematically, it's all about. An amazing treat - now gone, thanks to some fucking little scumbag.

Prison is too good for 'em.

Sunday, March 12, 2006


Whiffs Of Nostalgia, Sentiment And Burning Rubber

When my alarm went off this afternoon, I was awoken to the sound of David Croft commenting on Fernando Alonso winning the Bahrainian Grand Prix. I was, I have to say, somewhat surprised - I didn't realise the season had started.

When I was a wee nipper, I used to love Formula One. As little as two years ago, I went to the Belgian GP on a Page & Moy package, and it was great fun. However, Schumacher constantly winning put me off the sport. Of course, last season, he didn't, and Alonso constantly won instead, which was hardly an improvement, so I became bored and gave up.

A glance at the ITV F1 website reveals that I don't even recognise half the teams. There are about four new names, but, depressingly, still nearly the same number - it's noticeable that all the rule changes to get more teams involved have been more or less of a complete waste. Worse, my beloved Minardi have vanished, being replaced by a 'B' team. Have they no shame?

It's a long time since the racing I remember of just over a decade ago. Without wishing to sound ridiculously sentimental, those were, indeed, the days. The majority of the teams were run by individual enterpreneurs out of a love of the sport, not by massive car manufacturers as a way to give shareholders a nice weekend out.

I appreciate that this is becoming embarassingly mawkish, but even the names of those teams spoke of a certain magic and romance - Footwork, Larrousse, Ligier, Tyrrell, Simtek, Pacific, Leyton House. By contrast, this year, two of the teams are named 'Red Bull.' Even the schemes of the cars were influenced less by sponsor demand - or so it seemed, anyway, though who knows? - and looked like they had actually been designed, rather than excreted.

The late '80s and early '90s saw lots and lots of new teams spawning all the time, mostly to collapse or change names and owners almost immediately afterwards. The real problem with Formula One these days is that almost everyone involved in the sport is missing the point - all of the teams, even the ones at the bottom of the grid, are professional outfits run by people who really know what they are doing, with vast amounts of money behind them. In the days of yore, the teams at the bottom were run by a motley assortment of garage mechanics and shoe salesmen who had precisely no idea how to run a business, and even less a racing team.

They even had pre-qualifying. That was great, that was, when a few of the teams didn't even qualify for the qualifying. The cars were also usually driven by guys who, to be charitable, were hardly Schumachers - who remembers Pedro Chaves, Perry McCarthy, Eric van de Poele, JJ Lehto, Paul Belmondo, Taki Inoue, and perhaps the best of all, Roberto Moreno, who, to quote the wonderful F1 Rejects site, on its page about the most hopeless of all the hopeless teams, Andrea Moda, would 'drive a wheelie bin if it was offered to him?'

The coverage of the races forgets these facts. Yes, a large part of the problem with Formula One is that we lack the days of Championships going down to the wire, of cars so similar in performance that it sometimes went down to the last few laps at Adelaide (let's forget 1992 in all this!). Oh, and by the way, whatever happened to Adelaide? Far more interesting than Melbourne. Similarly, in what way does the modern Indianapolis track compare to the old Phoenix street-race? Back to the point; that may be a large part of the problem, but I also miss the soap opera - the hopeless teams, the pre-qualifying, the drivers who bought their way into the sport with sponsorship or hard cash (my mate once drove Pedro Diniz to the paddock at Silverstone!). The only way to get all this back is to make it genuinely easy again to set up a team and get involved. Here's to hoping it happens again.


Mark Holland was watching the race, and has thoughts.

Saturday, March 11, 2006


More Medical Hell

So I finally made it to the MRI yesterday evening. I chose Friday night in the hope that no-one else would want to go then, so I might get seen quickly.


I sat in the waiting room for two hours. Doctors flitted past, and occasionally called out names - about one every twenty minutes or so would be my guess - and eventually, six o'clock came, and most of them went home with the shift-change. A new doctor arrived, who was dressed entirely in motorcycle leathers.

Five minutes later, I was called into his office. At this point, I was well pissed off. First of all, I think a two-hour wait gives a lie to the name 'walk-in centre.' Now, not only did this doctor not bother asking how long I'd waited or apologise for it, he had the temerity to keep me waiting an extra five minutes while he extricated himself from his stupid leather condom-like adornments. Pardon me for seeming old-fashioned, but I think doctors should turn up to work in a suit, or at least a lab-coat. Certainly something respectable.

I have a fair few prejudices in life, and one of the ones I am willing to acknowledge is a prejudice against motorcyclists. If there has ever been a mode of transportation that yelled 'penis extension' quite so loudly, then I don't know what it is. Then there's the accidents - a very good friend of mine used to ride a bike (though I'm sure he is adequately equipped downstairs) and he never seemed to stop crashing. It is as if they take a perverse pleasure in the probability of their ending up in a horrific accident, possibly with their severed limbs thrown all over the road. I mean, I'm all in favour of living dangerously, but there's danger, and then there's trying to commit suicide through the back door. Plus, they're always such boring bastards. I can't stand people talking about the specifications of their cars all the time, but at least that's preferable to long-winded anecdotes about how the rider skipped a massive traffic jam by driving up the middle of the road until someone opened their car door and knocked them off. Yawn, yawn, yawn, yawn, yawn.

So, I wasn't exactly enamoured with the doc when I went in. He proceeded to see me for thirty seconds, not bothering to examine me, before only giving me a months worth of meds while making the not-so-subtle implication that I was trying to somehow con him. He accused me of not having a GP, despite the fact that I had already explained the situation that my GP was 150 niles away. By the time he (nearly physically) ejected me from his office, I wanted to beat him over the head with his helmet until they carried him down the hall to A & E.

Friday, March 10, 2006


A Quick Joke*

Q: What do Charles Kennedy and Mark Oaten have in common?
A: They both like getting shit-faced.

*With thanks to reader 'MattyG.'

Wednesday, March 08, 2006


On Peaches Geldof

The other week, feeling bored, I perused nearly the whole of the Sunday Times, including all the supplements - no easy task, as seasoned veterans of the Sunday papers will know.

One article particularly caught my eye, being perhaps the worst nonsense I've ever come across in a supposedly serious publication. It was in the 'Women' supplement, and it was some fellow named Robert Crampton interviewing Peaches Geldof. Let's take a look-see, shall we?

'Barely drawing breath for the next hour and a half, Peaches reminded me of meeting Jamie Oliver before he got massive, or Kate Winslet before divorce and Sam Mendes, when those two were still just fresh, free-thinking full-of-beans talents. Except, at 16, she is a good few years younger even than they were then.'

'Full of beans?' That sounds like something your grandma might say about you just before she caught a terminal illness. I particularly like the way he says 'those two', as well, as if he were a fond uncle, and they were nieces and nephews who were once cute, but now gone wayward. Wistful, you might call it. Except, of course, nostalgia has nothing to do with it, only arrogance. 'Oh, oh, look at this, I've got so many famous people in my address book.' Oh, piss of, you tedious bore. Still, what comes after only gets worse . . .

'Some newspapers are saying she’s set on the same trajectory as her mother: hooked on fame, got her tongue pierced, goes to too many parties, blah blah blah.'

Don't you blah blah blah me young man! If I wanted to read someone write like a sixteen year old, I'd go back to my old job marking GCSE English papers. Writers, understand: it is just so not cool, as Peaches Geldof might say, to put such rubbish colloquialisms into a report of an interview. All we want to know is her opinions, not yours - it isn't The Robert Crampton Hour. (Actually, I don't really care about her opinions either, but, you know, let's keep that down for forms' sake).

Now, here comes the dreaded list:

'And, on Saturday, she lies in bed until 1pm. And she harbours baseless anxieties (“I’m trying to eat better because I’ve put on so much weight!”). And says absurd things (“I don’t think there’s a class hierarchy in Britain any more”). And reads Salinger, Burroughs and Bret Easton Ellis. And takes the mickey out of her dad’s music (“Yeah, Irish punk, go for it! Cool!”).'

Quite apart from the shudderingly banal daily life of a girl, who, let's face it, is only famous because her dad is a rather annoying man who seeks publicity the way Jimmy Carr seeks 100 Greatest . . . countdowns, we have here a man who is deliberately - deliberately, I tell thee! - throwing the rules of English grammar in my face and laughing maniacally as he does so. Yeah, way to go man, rage against the machine!

Oh, I've met your sort before Mr Crampton. You like to believe that the English language is a sort of linguistic plasticine, that can be shaped into whatever bizarre constructions and contortions you want. However, you're wrong. This is not Creative Writing 101. As a result, you are writing for a readership - people who actually wish to engage with your subject - so stop writing in such a self-consciously 'brave' way, and tell us something interesting.

'Normal teenage stuff, in other words. Except maybe the bit about “Bono coming round occasionally” and actually having met Bret Easton Ellis.'

Pull the other one. My mom's best friend met Bill Bryson at the Cheltenham Book Festival a few years ago, and at least people still read his books. A marked contrast, then, with Bret Easton Ellis, who is currently to be found on those horrifically pretentious More4 segues, admitting to the nation that he's currently almost broke. I could meet Bret Easton Ellis if I put my mind to it.

'At the moment Peaches Geldof is still more famous for her parents than for herself.'

That might be because she hasn't ever done, you know, anything.

'I’m sure she’ll make a good journalist, and on her own merits. She’s bright, yet unintellectual, with a gift for the punchy phrase. Jane Austen, for instance, is “boring feminist crap”. What’s wrong with being feminist? “I don’t like feminists. I like the mild feminists – go for it – but not crazy I-hate-men feminists.” She thinks “the Brontës are boring” too. Despite brimming over with opinions, she isn’t, she insists, the voice of a generation. “God, I hate that, being pigeonholed into being this teen spokesperson. I’m just one girl.”'

Read it and weep, folks, read it and weep. I'm sure she'll make a great journalist, if Robert Crampton is indicative of the intellectual level needed to attain that oh so lofty profession. What's more worrying is that he can describe the phrase 'the Brontës are boring' as 'bright.' Yes, Charlotte Brontë only wrote possibly the most important - and progressive! - novel of the entire nineteenth century. What a boring wench.

'Peaches is keen I don’t run away with the idea she is “some posh girl who hangs around Chelsea”, or that she doesn’t have a social conscience. “If somebody takes my phone,” she says, “I’m angry that I’ve lost all my numbers and, like, ‘ohmigod, my dad is going to kill me’, he always thinks I’ve lost it, which isn’t true, but I don’t feel anger for the people who took it. I feel sorry for them because it’s a small rebellion against the state. It’s just,” she continues, with the impeccably misplaced guilt of the young and well-off, “because of the culturally politically disenfranchised state that we live in! Because people are depressed and they have nowhere to turn and they need money so they take people’s phones and it’s not their fault, it’s the fault of the government!”'

I had some pretty stupid political ideas when I was sixteen too, but the difference is that I'm not 'the closest thing there is . . . to the voice of her generation.' A voice who thinks that the socially progressive literature of the nineteenth century is 'boring . . . crap', but who loves Bret Easton Ellis.

Feminism, R.I.P.

The best thing that could happen to this voice of a generation is for it to get laryngitis.

Monday, March 06, 2006


It's A Medical Emergency, God Damnit!

I wrote here about the nightmare that is trying to get my prescriptions, and today surpassed even that in terms of gobsmacking lunacy. My doctor's is in Stourbridge, but I'm living in Manchester at the moment, and I don't particularly want to travel 100 miles for a ten minute interview with a doctor who knows full well that I need to carry on with the prescription because my condition is really quite serious and short of being touched by Jesus or finding a genie in a bottle, there's no way it's going to have gone.

So, I tried to join the doctor's where my housemate goes, but apparently, I live outside the catchment area. He doesn't count as outside because he registered when he lived inside the area, whereas I didn't, which is apparently the crucial point in all of this. The result was a twenty minute walk to the next Health Centre, where I was told I could register, but it'll take weeks before I actually get the meds, which is useless because I'm going to run out on about Saturday.

However, the woman there told me I could go to the walk-in centre at Withington Community Hospital and pick them up there. Little did I know that Withington Community Hospital was closer to Watford than Withington, or so it felt like walking there. There was something about the name, though, that hardly inspires confidence. Community? I was half worried I'd see someone having the wrong leg amputated by the postman.

Surprise, surprise, fifty minutes walk later - and two stops to ask for directions - and I got there to find a receptionist telling me that there was no GP on site. Never before have I really understood why they have those 'Don't blame the receptionist' signs, but I did then. I wanted to grab him by the tie and pull him close to my face and say, 'Listen, you supercillious slab of shit, I've been walking around Manchester for an hour and half trying to get these fucking pills, and this is the last fucking straw. It's not like my problem is a particular secret - you can see it with your own eyes. To OD on these pills, I would have to take about 400, because they are approximately the strength of a Scotch egg - and just what the fuck is the point of a hospital without doctors anyway?'

So tomorrow I have to go to Manchester Royal Infirmary, which is where the really sick people go. Great. Now I have to queue up with people with bullets in their stomachs, or who've just had their arm put through a machine so that it looks like extended piece of Gruyere cheese. Fantastic.

I tell you what, I'm glad I don't pay any taxes.


File It In The 'Unimportant Information I Could Live Without' Drawer

Apparently, according to the front page of one of today's - actually, now yesterday's - tabloids (I can't remember which one), John Leslie has split up with his girlfriend. Wow. I don't believe she was even famous. How is that front page news, even for a tabloid? Surely there must be something more interesting happening in the world. She was pregnant. I suppose that makes a difference, but it's still not a crucial moment in our nation's history, is it?

Said ex alleged that John referred to celebrity turboslut Abi Titmuss as a 'banshee.' You know, I can just see that. She must be a right fucking horror to know. Still, you've got to admire the success of someone who has become famous simply for having a large chest.

I can barely remember what John Leslie was ever famous for in the first place. God, it must be shit being famous. Imagine being famous for nothing at all, yet still having reporters hiding behind your dustbins waiting for the shouting match to begin inside the house.

Fortunately, I don't suppose fame is something I have to worry too much about.


Romance With A Double Bass

On Friday night, I decided to partake in a bit of culture, and popped along to a showing of short films at the AMC Cinema in Manchester. The segment, Kino Horror, was a part of the '10th Manchester International Short Film Festival' - snappy name, right?

I'm unsure what to think about short film, and this problem wasn't helped any by actually watching some. I'll do some mini-reviews (like the films!) and maybe you'll see what I mean.

'Home Sweet Home', from South Korea, was entirely typical of South-East Asian horror films in that it avoided direct confrontation with the viewer, instead opting for psychological sniping. The story concerned a family finding out through the news that their daughter had died in a nursery fire, only for her to turn up on the doorstep. Instead of being grateful for this, they decide to try and kill her - but of course! Actually, I found it rather effective, and it was one of the better made of the films - shot nicely in washed-out blues, giving the proceedings a nice clinical air.

'Bass In Contra', from Germany, was my personal favourite. I have no idea who director Alex Schmidt is, but I would place money that at some point he has directed adverts. The whole thing was less than seven minutes, and in it's gloriously camp over-gothic stylings (would a twenty-something cellist really be able to afford to live in a gothic mansion?) was obviously aiming for comedy as much as for horror. Nonetheless, the contrabass of the title, jealous of it's owners new girlfriend, proceeding to attack her, was so simple yet sublime I was enchanted. The influence of 'Psycho' was obvious throughtout, but it didn't feel like a lame rip-off.

'Hambre', from Spain, was a curious animated feature clearly drawing inspiration from the horror films of a century ago. A young girl decides to dig up a corpse for food. It actually reminded me intensely of those Stella Artois adverts, particularly this one. The skill behind the animation was impressive, but the story was hardly gripping.

'The Carpenter And His Clumsy Wife', from Ireland, was also clearly aiming for humour. A clever little tale, it told of a man whose wife kept getting bits of her anatomy cut off in various accidents and him having to make (better) replacements for her. It was totally ridiculous, but I quite enjoyed the throwaway nature of it. Most surprising was its narration by Jim Sheridan, last seen directing the 50 Cent hagiography 'Get Rich Or Die Tryin'.'

'Las Viandas', also Spanish, was a very well worked tale about a man stopping to eat at a rural restaurant and not being able to leave the table. All good horror works when you identify with the victim in a situation they cannot escape from, and that is what was on offer here.

'Nemesis', again Spanish, was a tale about a man trapped as a ghost in his own tiny apartment. It was intriguing, but the constant narration and home-video method of shooting turned into a sort of domestic 'Blair Witch Project', and that's hardly a good thing.

'Oh My God', from the US, was pretty poor. A man comes home and finds his wife and kid dead. He yells 'Oh My God' and 'how did this happen?' over and over again. It's immensely irritating, but sets up the comic pay-off at the end. That is funny, but frankly the previous nine and a half minutes were just painful to watch.

I left happy, but unsatisfied. I can respect people who make short films - indeed, it must require nearly as much skill as a feature film, not least because of the vastly smaller crews, the deeply limited budgets, and the need for faster character exposition. Still, when was the last time you watched a short film? Who, exactly, are they made for? Supposing I wanted to watch any or all of these again, how on earth would I? Who knows?

Careful with that . . .

Thursday, March 02, 2006


Well, The Seven Times Table Is A Little Tricky . . .

From Reuters:

'Superstar David Beckham, whose mental agility has been questioned before in the media, has said his six-year-old son's maths homework leaves him baffled.'

'The England captain and Real Madrid midfielder was forced to call on his wife Victoria, a former member of the Spice Girls pop group, to help their son Brooklyn with a school assignment because the footballer found the sums too difficult.'

'"Their homework is so hard these days," Beckham, 30, said in an interview with the Mail on Sunday. "It's totally done differently to what I was teached when I was at school, and you know I was like 'Oh my God, I can't do this'."'

Comment is, I think, superfluous.

Don't wait for a Fields Medal, mate.

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