Monday, February 27, 2012

The TV Dump (iii)

Being Pooh

The disparity between Being Human and Being Human (US) was massive. Russell Tovey, Aiden Turner and Lenora Critchlow's development was excellent; the drama never overblown, the humour never forced and especially for the first two series, the supernatural side was never too forced. It was a series about Being Human.

The US (or, to be pedantic, Canadian) version with Sam (Doomsday) Witwer, Sam Huntington and Meaghan Rath seemed to dispense with the quirk and development and went straight for the jugular. Don't get me wrong, as US supernatural shows go it's actually worth a try, especially if you think of it as an extension, a foreign cousin, to the original, which just happens to have similar things happen to this trio as happened to our original heroes. The SyFy Channel has, in many ways, dispensed with the being human side of the story in favour of typical angst ridden monster stuff. Witwer isn't a patch on Aiden Turner, Huntington is a different type of guy to Russell Tovey, even if they have almost the same back story and Rath is basically as up and down as Critchlow, but with less humour and more sulking.

Another thing is that you could believe that Mitchell and George were friends; there was a chemistry there - the werewolf acting as the vampire's moral compass. In the US version you get the impression that the vampire is sometimes a hair's breadth away from ripping the werewolf's head off and shitting down his neck and both characters seem to put up with rather than love their ghost.

The main problem with the US version is it likes to focus on the vampires and we're all getting a bit fed up with werewolves, vampires and the supernatural and it does them all in a US stylee while BBC3 does it in a mixture of British sitcom and 80s grit, therefore for that series to rise above others with similar characters it really has to try and be different; instead it's Being Lazy.

However, the initial disparity between the series is disappearing and not because the UK version is becoming more like it's younger sister, because the interesting parts of the show are now being outweighed by a Life on Mars kind of comedy villain (who - spoiler warning - is the adult version of the baby in the current story).

The Guardian claimed that Being Human does the balance of humour and horror extremely well, yet there has been too much humour in the UK version of late and Sunday night's episode felt like Rentaghost and while it had an interesting denouement, I couldn't help but feel that they ripped off some dodgy American programme's half-baked script.

The thing that pisses me off most about the current UK series is that I went out on a limb last week and told two lapsed viewers to give it another chance; saying that I believed it was finding its feet and returning to being an interesting series again. Then James Lance guest starred and by the 25 minute mark I was counting down time.

I think the wider picture is that even in this country the supernatural is becoming a bit overdone and unoriginal and it has to be something special to work. I hear rumours that Dark Shadows is being remade (again) and that there are a couple more barrel-scraping series planned; but the rumour around the US is that fantasy is going to try and move into that market and SF TV series - intelligent SF - could be the big thing for new shows in 2013.

I defended Being Human a lot and elements of it are still quite brilliant, but suddenly the new look feels a little contrived; with less than a handful of episodes left there seems to be more subplots being introduced than a 1990s X-Men comic (and non-comics fans, trust me, that's a lot) with no obvious conclusions in sight.

Beyond the Fringe

Scratch what I've said previously. It's still vastly improved, but I have no idea at all what they're playing at unless we're starting to get Twin Peaks sized red herrings.

Teens Too Far

I really like Skins. It has been, at times, a real breath of fresh air, and it manages to stay fresh because of its cast changing policy. The problem with series 5 and now 6 is that unlike previous series the dislikeable characters far outweigh the likeable ones.

In the past, there was almost a clear line between the good and the disenfranchised and the juxtaposition worked alarmingly well - kids make friends regardless of their social class or societal standing. However, the (not so) new crew have taken all of the focus; this series has barely been about that invisible barrier between adolescent and adult; between parent and child and more about just how fucked up each character is compared to another.

The current bunch of 4 girls and 4 boys has been diluted a little, with a swing back to the first two series with more recurring peripheral characters, but not one of them is a normal sixth-form college kid; every single one of them either is in a dysfunctional family or is having some kind of mental crisis - every single character! The thing that made the first bunch so good was that essentially they were non-fucked up kids with fucked up parents, who were fucking them up by osmosis. Yes, characters had problems, dilemmas and were into drink and drugs in a humongous way; but even Nicholas Hoult's narcissistic Tony was essentially just a teenager. A lot of the show hovered ambiguously over Effey, Tony's younger sister who was basically a walking disaster and would replace her brother as the main character in the second generation.

Effey and James Cook were the 'nutters' of seasons 3 & 4; there were other characters who had much to be ashamed about; but a lot of what happened was realistic as it related to peer pressure, the tragic mistakes teenagers can make and being confused. It, in many ways, was the perfect complement to the first generation. However the new crew have nothing in common with the previous groups and the continuity is maintained via the staff at the college, of which Professor Blood (Chris Addison - hamming it up badly). All of the characters, with the exception of Grace, who was almost too good to be believed, but also emotionally scarred by her incredibly protective parents, seem to have fundamental mental problems. They radiate considerably less empathy than previous groups and each character has had part of their personalities highlighted that are extremely unpalatable. The new group, whether you like the characters or not, are victims with some kind of dysfunctional metal trait and it doesn't ring true.

One of the other things about Skins I loved was that it was very much wishful thinking TV written by no one less than Thirty Something. It was, at times, like a bunch of 40 year olds given the chance to be teenagers again with hindsight. The new group feel as though they're being written by younger script writers. I'm happy that some issues have been addressed, but feel as though the need to shock has transplanted the need to entertain. The characters are almost interchangeable; few of them seem to have unique voices and they all seem intent on whinging a lot which turns the dialogue into a bit of a drone at times.

There's not long to go with this lot. This series has been full of continuity errors not seen before; inconsistencies of scripting and a drop in acting standards and the fact that Dakota Blue Richards looks like she's had DD implants put in since the last series is a little off-putting. There are a couple of characters that you can't help but like, but that's nothing to do with the story.

Egg of the Bored Dead

I suppose you could be thankful that US TV hasn't embraced zombies with the same fervour as vampires, because, as I've said before, zombies should be the lamest monsters in fiction and if you apply basic common sense to a situation you can pretty much survive a walking dead apocalypse, provided you stay away from the most likely scary parts of the world - major cities and towns and spend a lot of time up in areas where the temperature is freezing.

That said, The Walking Dead would be a pretty dull series if it was just about being practical in the face of flesh eating corpses. As it is, it's just pretty dull.

Cast your mind back to those first two episodes; they made George Romero seem like a 2nd rate after thought; they were genuinely creepy and the programme just oozed with menace. Then we got to know the survivors a little better and as soon as that happened every little bit of tension disappeared and the zombies suddenly became almost an afterthought.

I am completely gobsmacked at how this show has seemingly jumped the shark when it wasn't necessary and into a new theme where the most that happens in plot development is nothing. AMC were uninterested in spending money on the series despite the fabulous ratings it got and the second season has been static - on a farm - in a place where the zombies are almost an afterthought. It has become a human survival drama without any drama and is full of absolutely despicable and horrid characters.

I'm watching it now because it can only get better.

Low Gear

I'm of the same mind as Roger about Top Gear and he's only been watching it a couple of years. It is unashamedly one of my guilty pleasures and yet the last few series have been as interesting as studying Jeremy Clarkson's anus hair. It seems to have lost its edge; the madness has gone and been replaced with clever and clever doesn't work anywhere near as much.

It is still massive, but one wonders if now that Hammond and May have bright careers elsewhere, whether we might see the end of the series for a few years before the inevitable 'modern' update with idiots like Vernon Kay, Holly Willoughby and Jimmy Carr present it. Clarkson would undoubtedly produce it.

Friday, February 24, 2012

2012 - 9

The Definition of Bonus

1. A payment or gift added to what is usual or expected, in particular.
2. An amount of money added to wages on a seasonal basis, esp. as a reward for good performance.

Lloyds Bank (40% owned by the taxpayer) made a £3.5billion loss, mainly due to having to pay compensation for miss-selling Payment Protection Insurance. However, the employees of the bank are being paid from a Bonus Fund the sum total of £385million - which, if it was fairly distributed would amount to £4000 per employee.

What I can't understand and I'm sure you will agree, is if the bank lost a massive lot of money why are any bonuses being paid at all? I mean, the definition says it's a reward for good performance. Obviously, had the bank made money we would have been complaining about an even more obscene amount of money being paid to employees (of which the humble teller will get a couple of hundred quid - if they're lucky - and the executives will pocket anything up to 7 figures).

Am I the only person that finds this offensive?

BWAW - SF

'Nuff said, really.

Underpass

I come home at lunchtimes at the moment. I only get 45 minutes and 14 of those minutes are taken with driving to and from home and walking the distance from the car park to the signing back in list. That leaves me with about 30 minutes at home; seeing to the dogs, having a coffee and eating my lunch. It never seems like 30 minutes and probably it isn't because of my fear that I will overrun my break and leave someone in the lurch (and get in trouble).

I've been doing this for about the last four weeks and it breaks up my day and to be completely honest, this preamble seems a bit like scraping the bottom of the barrel for a story, especially if I say that I haven't really had so much as an interesting second on the journeys. Except, not exactly...

My sometime route home takes me up past the eyesore called the Weston Favell Shopping Centre - a thoroughly Seventies structure that has undergone a poorly executed facelift in recent years and seems to have it's own rules as far as cars and driving is concerned; but that's unimportant, except to say that to drive away from it, to get on the A43 Northbound - the way I sometimes go home - you have to go under an underpass that has been there since the mid 1970s when the centre and the corresponding dual carriageway (said A43) was built. It is an access/slip road, goes nowhere but onto the A43 and it isn't designed for pedestrians; there isn't even a path on either side.

On Wednesday, I pulled onto this bit of road and headed down the slope to the bottom of the underpass, before turning back upwards again to join the main road. This bottom part has, over the years, been flooded, had part of the wall fall out and because it is almost a hairpin bend has seen its fair share of accidents - mainly from idiot drivers going too fast. On this particular day there was something sitting in the middle of the road. I only caught a brief look at it and had I not been travelling in excess of 30 mph I might have seen it more clearly; but the, ahem, bottom line was that I definitely thought it was something a bit odd. So at 4.30, when I went home, I went the same route to see if I could see it again. Now I have to stress this wasn't a pressing issue, I just remembered it when I got back in the car.

This time, the shadows and dark obscured my vision just as badly as not getting a good look at it. But the following day, driving home at lunch, there was at least four cars in front of me and going through the underpass was much slower progress and this time I saw it again and my suspicions were confirmed. It was a massive red tinged shit. One that looked like it came from a human arse rather than a small horse or extremely big dog with IBS. It was also, as I said, red and it was standing curled and proud in the middle of the left hand lane.

Now, the thing is, like I said, this isn't a pedestrian walk way, nor is it an obvious dog walking (or even carnivorous horse riding) zone; in fact, because of the nature of the road it is probably a very stupid thing to do - walk on it, let alone let your dog or yourself take a dump there. So by the time I got home, I'd convinced myself that it must be something else and the angle just made it look like a massive 4lb turd.

Drove home tonight and someone had splatted it. It doesn't look like a big proud turd now; it looks like a cow pat after the cow had eaten several vindaloos with a couple of bottles of blood to wash it down.

This has been a pretty shitty story... I make no apologies.

Union Rules

Last Saturday, accompanied by my good friend One El, I went to my first rugby union match as a spectator. It was a brisk day which started with me picking up One, his stepson and grandson, in a torrential downpour. It looked grim, but the weatherman said it would be gone by 3pm and a little before Northampton Saints took the field to play Sale Sharks, the sun came out and we were sitting directly in its line, so while we all needed shades and sun visors, the general ambiance in the stand was improved by some warm late February sun on our faces.

I've seen a lot of rugby, but never this way, and it was good to go and see my adopted team win 24-17. It sounds like a reasonably high scoring game, but it was dominated by kicks, apart from one, rather well played Sale try; but only well played because the Saints defence was at sixes and sevens. The man of the match was Stephen Myler, the Saints back who kicked 21 of the side's 24 points and when you consider his side only really got into Sale's final 22 once in the entire match, it gives even the most uneducated a rough idea that the game was actually quite dull. It was a bruising encounter, played a lot in the middle of the park and featured a lacklustre performance from the team who eventually won.

On the face of it, Sale played the better rugby, but both teams were full of unforced errors and my team capitalised on those to better results. It was anything but a great advert for the game, but I had a really good time. It's strange being in such a passive but committed crowd; the worst insults were directed at their own players for failing to live up to expectations and it really does have a friendly relaxing feel about it rather than the underlying tension you get at a football match. I got the impression that if the Saints had lost, the people would have left less happy, but quite capable of writing it off and getting on with the rest of their lives until the next match. The ironic thing, for me, was that the referee had a stinker; even I saw that, but there was little inquest about it; people were not calling for his crucifixion in the middle of the pitch.

The only unsavoury things about the day were the horrible smells from the food village - a heady mix of hot vinegar, cooked dodgy meats and cheap tomato sauce and the horde of Sale fans at the end of the match who climbed over the advertising hoardings, armed with cutlasses, blunderbusses and shrunken heads on strings, like beads, attacked a group of pensioners on a day trip. The day was saved when Bernie the club mascot, with a bullet belt and an AK47 dropped them all before they could get over the halfway line; he was then surrounded by at least 14 scantily clad supermodels waving lubricant at him... I didn't see any of this, of course, I was too busy trying to avoid the unpleasant smells.

Stuff

I am still currently listening to the new Ulrich Schnauss & Mark Peters album called Underrated Silence. I am also listening to M83 by M83, Ghoststory by School of Seven Bells; some assorted Pearl Jam and Le Voyage Dans La Lune by Air.
I am still not reading anything in particular.
My car passed its first MOT test.
The weather was gorgeous on Thursday.
I have to go shopping.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

2012 - 8

Lumpy Pee

Yeah, I know. I said I wasn't going to talk about my health as much; but this one is worth telling, even if it is a touch gross...

My week has essentially been how I wanted it. I spent an even amount of time between things I needed to do and things I wanted to do and Thursday was going to be a busy day, one which would result in me pondering the slight irony of the situation.

We had the new plumber, George, coming to fix some new taps. I got up at 8am; not particularly a great time when you're on holiday, but it meant I could, with some judicious planning, possibly do all the things I wanted to do. I did my morning ablutions, had my breakfast and George turned up at 8.45. He set about doing his job, interspersed with conversation. As he was coming to the end of the job he turned to me and said, "You feeling okay? You look a bit green."

The thing was, I wasn't feeling very good at all. I needed to go to the toilet quite badly and I started to feel very very sick - as in vomit sick. George disappeared, I sprinted for the toilet and made it just in time. No vomit, just something that resembled the title of this vignette. I sat on the bog and shivered a massive, soul rattling shiver and was doubled up with a stomach spasm. I had the shits.

The thing was, I was due to go for a pint with One El to discuss our rugby arrangements for today and I was also supposed to be meeting my old work colleague Tony. I had this ideas that perhaps we could merge the two together, but Tony's plans put paid to that idea; but by 10.30am I was thinking that I was going to have to cry off and that wasn't an option really - I'd missed meeting with Tony three times since November and I like the guy; I was going to meet him regardless of the bottom problem.

Two more visits to the loo and by midday I was feeling like I'd cleared myself out and didn't feel so... electric. I parked up and walked into town, feeling dodgy but working on the principle that the company, conversation and a half decent pint would put it to the back of my mind. I met with Tony at the Moon on the Square in Northampton, explained to him briefly that I was suffering from an upset tummy and our session might be a little curtailed. Tony got through his pint and I'd barely touched mine, but gamely drank half a pint so he could top it up.

The beer tasted horrible and left an unpleasant after taste. We continued to talk and at 1.50 I started to feel really bad again. I could feel sweat breaking out on my forehead and Tony looked at me with concern. I started to say that perhaps we should call it a day, but I didn't get past 'day' when an eruption from my stomach splashed all over the floor in front of me. ½ a pint, a bowl of porridge, half a cup of coffee and whatever was left in there came hurtling out faster than Superman changing his underpants.

Tony helped me back to my car, where I sat and shivered for ten minutes until I called the wife to tell her what had happened. I got home a little before 2.30; spent another 20 minutes doubled up in agony on the bog before curling up on the sofa and sleeping for best part of the next four hours. We sat and watched The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but I kept dozing through most of it and I crawled into bed by midnight and slept until 5.20am when my bowels needed emptying again. By yesterday afternoon and a trip to Sainsbury's, I was feeling myself again and this morning the only thing I'm bringing up is the residue of the blasted cold I've had for what seems like the last five years.

However, the wife has come down with a cold - itself as rare as rocking horse shit - and that probably means I'll get it as well...

Deaf Head

I've embraced the fact that my hearing is a bit faulty; because it allows me to chuckle at the things I thought I heard and that gives life a slightly surreal aspect.

This morning while emptying the dishwasher, Saturday Kitchen is on in the background showing a clip from an old Rick Stein show. I wasn't paying any attention to it at all until I heard Stein say, "Just squeeze it until it craps." This, as you might understand, intrigued me, so I walked into the lounge, saw that Stein had a prawn in his hand and had obviously said 'squeeze it until it cracks'.

Or did he?

Sporting Chance

Today I go to see my first ever rugby match. Northampton v Sale. It might rain.

Divided Loyalties?

Tomorrow, in the FA Cup 5th round, the team I have supported all my life play the team from the place of my birth. Tottenham vs Stevenage. The match is being played in my home town and expectations will be high because they beat Newcastle last year. The focus will also be on Harry Rednapp, because he's had very few real upsets since he's been in charge of Spurs and this has potential banana skin all over it, especially given Spurs' propensity for taking lesser opponents to lightly.

To say I haven't followed Stevenage over the years would be a lie. They have, deep down, always been my 2nd club, despite leanings towards both Northampton and Rushden and Diamonds. If I follow my own rules of supporting, I should not support Spurs, but the team they face; but my family was always generally Spurs supporters, so that's probably why I support them.

Whatever the score is tomorrow, I can be proud of one; hopefully I can be proud of both.

Out of Time

I've resisted switching over to Timeline. I can't say I've resisted the urge, because there hasn't been one. It looks awful and appears to be about as far away from the original concept of Facebook as is possible without inventing an entirely new concept.

I also appreciate that I'm way outside the demographic that will switch and that eventually it will be switched for me and when that happens I shall have great fun inventing a completely fictitious and downright offensive timeline.

The thing is and I've said this before, but maybe not here, what Facebook needs is to use some of that information it has about us and offer everyone over a certain age the option of trying to be hip and trendy or using the interface in the way that attracted them in the first place. As someone who falls into that list, if I was ever going to be tempted to spend any money anywhere on the net, frivolously, then it's likely to be in an environment I like and trust. Not something that just confuses me.

That said, the BBC has beefed up its Sports web pages or maybe that should be custardised. Not only is a putrid yellow colour, but half of it doesn't work properly and the other half is really difficult to navigate around. It looks literally like a brought up dog's dinner.

What I really liked about the Sportsday and Live Football updates was the basic feel to them; a bit like a cross between a videprinter and ticker tape, now it's all big type; fancy graphics and pointless headlines. It's awful.

And as an extension to a review I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the new-look Guardian. The jury is now in and I don't like it at all. It now feels flimsy, the sports coverage is less, G2 is pompous and pretentious and if I can persuade the wife I'm going to look at an alternative... Problem is there is only one alternative and I know she hates that paper.

Amplified

I really like the band Amplifier. I have become a dedicated follower and have seen them when I can. But, I allowed my fondness for the band to overshadow my new found desire to be shed up collectors' mentality. I bought the special edition of their last album The Octopus despite it not fitting on any of my shelves. It now lies down with the other couple of dozen ridiculously shaped CD packages I've collected over the years.

Now the band are releasing The Octopus 2.0 which is a repackage of the original in an even more pointless package, with lots of extras, a bonus CD, blah blah blah. It costs a lot of money, is limited top 750 and for a split second I was tempted. But why? I have access to everything on the album apart from the extra comicbook artwork, which didn't really electrify me. I should have just bought the jewel case version in the first place, at least it would have fitted on the CD shelves next to the other Amplifier albums.

The other problem with fancy packaged CDs is that after a while, they get lost on shelves and you never play them as often. Lost Cities by Doves is the least played album I have of their - yes, it's a bit naff, but I might have played it more if it had been on the shelf.

The Dream of Retiring When You Are Young

It was always our dream for many years to buy a place on the west coast of Scotland and retire; but then the reality of it started to sink in as we got older.

The midges, the remoteness, the weather, the long nights, the lack of warmth, very few real ale pubs all soon outweighed the good life, excellent roads and healthy living and that idea changed into having enough money to buy somewhere in remotest Dorset - maybe a nice lottery win would help us buy a shed. We still want to retire to the seaside and we'd both like to be able to do it so we're fit enough to enjoy it.

I pretty much resigned myself to the fact that my old age is either going to be riddled with arthritis or chest ailments, but the wife is still a young, attractive and relatively fit 46 year old, so she should get benefits if our dream actually happens.

The problem with retirement is that for the average person it's just not about getting out there and enjoying things; it's about survival, especially as things do go wrong as you get older. I'd retire tomorrow if I could afford it and there was a coastline, some dogs and fine weather to keep me happy!

Back to School Boogie

Was a song by Jon Anderson and Vangelis back in the late 1970s. It is as awful as it sounds; but in this context it is correct. Another 6 weeks span now and Easter and I shall be ticking a column every time one of my colleagues mentions the number of weeks before the next holiday. I have a horrible feeling that I might be just as guilty as the rest by the time the end of March comes around...

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

2012 - 7

Too Much Time on My Hands

Sitting, doing very little but enjoying the fact that for a week I can do nothing if I so choose, I started to have some strange ideas. Like the sitcom called The Paul Stevens Show, which could be about anything whatsoever, but does not have anyone in it called Paul Stevens, not even by association. I just liked the idea of a show that's title has nothing whatsoever to do with it.

How about Jesus Loves You - a sitcom about the return of the messiah as a 21st century Lothario and sex addict? I mean, if you want to really upset people, he lives in a flat with his multicultural friends David - a Jew, Mohamed - a Muslim and Baldy - a Buddhist. They would also have an insidious landlord, probably an atheist and a neighbour who is a extreme porn actress. What's not to work?

Ignorant Racism

When I was growing up in Canada in the 1960s, my mum and I would, during the spring months, go searching for frogs and toads. I was fascinated by these creatures (and I'm pretty sure my mum had a soft spot for them, considering she would hang over the edges of ponds, with her arms sank to their elbows, searching under banks for all shapes and size of amphibious creatures.

We had a basement - a kind of utility cellar - in most of our houses, but when we lived on Caledon Mountain, we had a basement that was as big as the house I live in now and at the far end was a twin sink - 2 concrete sinks - which my mum used mainly for doing the washing. This was where we would store our catch; sometimes as many as 30 assorted frogs and toads, in a sink, with rocks and enough water to keep them happy. I even had a favourite - a bull frog (a big bugger) called Charlie.

I also used to grow my own frogs. In March or April when the first spawn appeared, I would come home with buckets of the stuff with the intention of having my own frog army. Now you and I have probably known the product of these eggs as tadpoles, but in Canada, especially in the days when casual racism, sexism and non-pc was the norm, tadpoles were called... polywogs.

Oh dear.

I have a relative who, bless his heart, is quite old now, heading towards his 90th year. He has always referred to black people as 'darkies' and there isn't the faintest whiff of intended racism there. And Fishwife works with a black guy who he refers to as 'coloured' all the time! I even pointed out to him that black people find the term really derogatory and his reply was to say that his mate didn't mind. I even pushed it and said, 'has it ever occurred to you that he might feel awkward about telling you not to say it?" It was like I asked him an easy question in Aramaic.

I remember having a conversation about racism with an Indian friend many years ago. Sanjay was a thoroughly westernised Ugandan Asian with parents from Gujarat. He had embraced western and white life so much, the only thing that made him different was the colour of his skin. Being of Indian origin, he grew up calling Pakistanis Pakis, had no problem calling Chinese people chinks and often referred to himself, ironically, as a wog. It was this he based a lot of his argument around...

This was probably the early 90s and PC was not yet the burgeoning presence it is today and he said that racism was largely dead in this country and he meant it. He felt that most of the Asians, Africans, West Indians and Chinese had lived here long enough to have naturalised children, who were gradually embracing western culture more and more and were themselves to blame for the culture of casual racism that remained. Remember this was less than a generation from Love Thy Neighbour where the expressions 'sambo' 'chalky' were rife and were accepted for many years. This was also a generation that had Jim Davidson! Sanjay believed that other races ability to adapt and not be offended by slurs, which in many cases were not meant in any derogatory fashion, was the key to moving on. He believed in a multicultural society and truly believed that by the time he was an old man racism would be reduced to isolated incidents; because every one would grow to tolerate ignorance and ignore it.

However, he was concerned. He felt that too many white people were growing angry about their perceived treatment of other cultures. He said to me, 'the thing that will bugger up race relations in the years to come will be white pinko liberals.' He went on to say that it is easy for people who have no concept of a reality to oppose what they see as an injustice. He also said that his late father, who lived here for 20 years and never learned more than a dozen words of English, used to say that the 'abuse' he got from kids and ignorant idiots was no worse than the kind of thing you would hear on the streets of Mumbai (or Bombay as it was then). Sanjay said his father, who worked for many years in the Indian equivalent of the Merchant Navy before moving to Uganda, claimed that every country in the world is racist and that the UK had dug a big hole for itself with the introduction of the Race Relations Board.

It's easy to say this, but when I was at school we had a number of Muslims; probably many more than most schools at the time and none of the girls were ever covered up; none of the boys ever showed anything but respect and not the hint of misogyny that seems to pervade the young Muslims now prominent on TV and the 'net. I wonder if things would have been different had Sanjay's idea of turning a blind eye to casual racism had remained and grown and eventually either died out or become as inoffensive as the word twit?

I remember talking to a Pole, who had grown up in Ireland, a few years ago; he said that everyone hates everyone else, really, but we have to share the planet and ignorance is often far better than wars. Actually, he was a really fascinating young man, I should tell you about him sometime.

Speaking of Wars

If you trawl through some of the blogs out there you will see there are as many arseholes as opinions, which at least confirms the old adage. I do something that probably has a neologism, but for me if, on a week like this, I find myself with an hour to spare and I don't fancy Bejewelled Blitz or Scrabble, I often click on a friend's blog, then randomly pick one of his links, have a scan or a read depending on the content and then look for another link, and then another, so I eventually get as far away from my initial friend as I can - a bit like the reverse of 6 degrees to Kevin Bacon or whatever that thing is called.

Often I find stuff as boring and banal as my own, occasionally I find things that I struggle to fathom; in that I'm not sure if it's for real or not. On Monday night, the wife was in bed by 10pm and after checking the TV schedules, I saw that the Family Guy episodes on BBC3 and FX were ones I'd already seen and I didn't fancy watching one of the 300 unseen episodes of stuff I've got on disc; so I went on line and did a bit of random blog reading. No, I'm not going to tell you I found some of the most amazing blogs I've ever seen, because I didn't. But as I got closer and closer to the heart of the USA, I noticed a lot of them had a similar theme running through them - they all seem to think that we're heading for a Third World War!

If you look at history for parallels you'll certainly find some, especially if you're a conspiracy theorist; but I have to say that the usual way of clearing up economic messes is to destroy the planet and then rebuild it; it certainly clips a few off the population numbers and lots of things need rebuilding - but usually all the countries who do this borrow money from others and that's where all the problems start.

The scary thing is that it's probably already started if it's going to happen; the elements that is. All we need now is for someone to do something really stupid and all of our current woes will be irrelevant.

Woof

Want cheering up after that rather dreary snippet? How about this: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/gallery/2012/feb/14/underwater-dogs-pictures#/?picture=385913198&index=0 It's best viewed in yesterday's middle pages of The Guardian, as a photo montage, but these pictures, especially the black labrador, the Belgian tervuren and the border collie - if they don't make you chuckle then you have no funny bones!

Stuff

I am currently listening to the new Ulrich Schnauss & Mark Peters album called Underrated Silence.
I am not reading anything.
You know what I watch on TV.
We won £140 at the pub quiz last night - thanks to Roger's nimble fingers (hah!) and for me remembering Gallagher & Lyle.
The wife got absolutely hammered last night.
I'm going to the pub tomorrow.
I said on Saturday, the worst thing about this week is it will go too fast. Look, it's Wednesday already!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

This is Another Entry About Football

I am Tottenham. Through thick and much thin I have supported them and in many ways the last 50 years have abstractly mirrored my life and Tottenham's fortunes. Lots of high points, but blighted by what seems like far more low points.

I remember standing in the Norwich City end at Wembley stadium when Ralph Coates won the League Cup in 1973, the second time Spurs had lifted the Mickey Mouse trophy in 3 years. I remember sitting by the radio listening to the news that Spurs had been relegated to the old Division 2 and I remember them beating Bristol Rovers 9-0 at White Hart Lane and some new kid on the block called Colin Lee scored, I think, five of the goals. But I also remember sitting in a car in Far Cotton listening to the old Radio 2's Sports coverage, knowing that their last game of that only season in Division 2 had to either finish as a draw or a win for my team or they would face another season in the lower league. In those strange days of radio when there was no Premier League and just about any team could win anything, the commentary was from The Dell, Southampton's old ground, and they needed a win to be promoted in Spurs' place.

It finished 0-0 and we returned to the top flight and my memory extends even further because I remember them signing Osvaldo Ardiles and Ricky Villa from the new world football champions Argentina. It was going to be heady days for my team.

A couple of FA Cups and a European trophy was all that they could muster, but it was still something to put in the trophy cabinet and they established themselves as a top 10 side; pretty much where they had been since winning the double in 1961.

By the mid 1980s I'd all but given up on football. The national team were still something of a joke (no changes there then), I could barely tell you the name of any of Spurs players and there were other, more distracting, things to occupy my time. The late 80s and early 90s were no better; even when I did take an interest in football again - such as the 1991 FA Cup final - I often spent more time hiding behind the sofa or getting smashed out of my face than actually paying any attention to it. I think the thing was, I was fed up of the seemingly eternal averageness of my team. The expectations that constantly were dashed when they'd get humiliated at home by Burnley or Coventry City. For years it just seemed like Spurs were there to make up the numbers.

I vaguely remember looking at a newspaper in 1983 when I was in the Canary Islands. It was after 3 matches and Spurs were top of the table. I remember it so vividly because it was something I couldn't ever remember seeing before.

Then my burgeoning friendship with Roger and Derrick - both huge football fans - started to influence my interest. The first half a dozen years we were friends I pretty much showed little or no interest in football; yes, I would watch the football results every Saturday and check the paper daily for results, but frankly they went in one way and straight out of my head in another second. Then Euro 96 came along and England were playing as hosts and even though they only showed glimpses of brilliance it rejuvenated my passion for football and over the next 15 years it has become a dominant force in my social life and, I suppose, has re-emerged as a hobby - following my team again, passionately.

The main problem between the start of the 1996/97 season and a bleak November night in 2008 when Juande Ramos was leading Spurs to a sixth defeat in eight games, which saw them at the foot of the table with just 2 points from a possible 24, was that Spurs were pretty much worse than they had been when I gave up caring about football. Instead of being a top 10 team, they were now a bottom 10 team; this once great team reduced to being an occasional bit part player in a relegation battle. Sralan Sugar employed a succession of managers with no idea or no real ability, and even returning legend Glenn Hoddle did worse than former Arsenal manager George Graham; the latter actually won the League Cup - the only real bright star on the Tottenham horizon since 1996.

But then along came Harry.

The thing that makes Harry's success at Spurs all the more impressive, in my opinion, is that he still has the nucleus of the team he inherited; there have been a few additions, but an entire team's worth of players were brought in by Martin Jol or Ramos, via the much-maligned Daniel Commoli. Good and potentially great players acting like 11 strangers on a large expanse of grass were quickly turned into a new and pretty much different beast - at times Spurs looked simply irresistible. From bottom to 8th by May; Spurs form improved, Harry lost a League Cup final, but the team had announced its arrival.

The following season Harry achieved the thing most Spurs fans believed was nothing more than a faint hope - the team finished 4th and qualified for the Champions League, where just about everyone in the world thought they'd get a good spanking. He steered them to a QF spot and while Real Madrid exposed the gap between class quite easily, Spurs were closing that gap and quickly. However, the emergence of Man Citeh and the toils of playing in the Champions League meant Spurs missed out on a second visit and 5th place appeared to be the best we were ever going to achieve - because, let's be honest about this, Arsenal and Chelsea are much better sides...

I expect most Spurs fans, by the beginning of August, were pretty much dreading the coming season. All the Luka Modric business; discontent amongst the fringe players and barely any noticeable activity on the transfer front; what was hoped to be a season of building on the last looked destined to be another one of failure and dashed hopes. Losing 1-5 to Man Citeh and then 3-0 to Man Utd probably didn't have a positive affect on the fans' collective health. Two matches in and Spurs were bottom of the Premiership, again. Had Harry done all he could?

Harry bought Adebayor in on loan from Man Citeh and splashed £5m on Scott Parker, which raised eyebrows everywhere as the midfielder was 31 and had no sell-on value; plus he had been brilliant in a crap West Ham side, he wasn't really as good as everyone thought he was. Fast forward to now: Spurs are 3rd, not just barely but by 10 points. They are actually closer to the leaders than they are to 4th. they are playing the most breathtakingly scintillating football the Premier League has ever seen - and that isn't me saying that - and wheeler-dealer cockney geezer Harry Rednapp is so odds-on favourite to replace Fabio Capello that most bookmakers have suspended betting on it.

Harry has his detractors, but most of those people either only think they understand football or are partisans. The potential of Harry Rednapp became clear when he was at West Ham. Not only did he turn them into a really good side, who for a while looked more than capable of breaking Arsenal's grip on top London club, but he had this uncanny ability of turning matches around. During Harry's time at the Hammers, he has the highest rating of turning a half time deficit into points. It was not as comfortable as you might think going in 2-0 up at half time against West Ham, because Harry had a knack of changing things around and transforming an underachieving team. Admittedly, he also had a knack of letting leads slip, buying dodgy Europeans and of course dubious financial irregularities, but he has done remarkably well with modest teams. To say I was over the moon when Spurs hired him would be an understatement.

Under Martin Jol, Spurs found a new gear. He assembled a better team, gave the players belief and almost achieved the impossible, but a dodgy lasagne put paid to what seemed like a nailed on Champions League spot. Oddly enough and slightly ironically it was West Ham who stopped us from getting into the big league. But it seemed the directors didn't have as much faith in BMJ as the fans and players did. Despite two consecutive 5th place finishes, the board were looking for a winner; a manager with a track record of turning teams from also-rans into winners. That man was Sevilla's Juande Ramos, so after a bad start to the 2007 season, BMJ was sacked at half-time during a match against Getafe in the UEFA Cup and despite winning the League Cup, ended up finishing mid table and looking ordinary.

And that brings us back to Harry. It is he who has turned Spurs into one of the top 3 teams in the country and it hasn't been a fluke. The signs were there, it just needed a man to get two things from a side that has lacked them for ever - consistency and belief. And now he's going to go, just as Spurs still have an outside chance of lifting the title and on the brink of what can only be considered as great times. I believe Harry will get England playing sweeping football; covering the pitch and dispensing with the long ball unless his side is 1-0 down with ten minutes to play in a major final. People who say they will keep things they've posted on line about how Harry will fuck up to prove how right they were, could find themselves in a situation that requires avoiding usual Internet haunts for a few months or maybe even forever.

But what of Spurs? The press has only really breezed over the impact of losing Rednapp. A couple of papers are suggesting that David Moyes is a shoo-in to replace the future England saviour; but while I have a lot of respect for the Scotsman, that would be a bad move by the club. What Spurs have to do if they want to remain genuine challengers for both the league title and the Champions League is to push on now they're established. The only way they can do that is to ensure that they hold onto Luka Modric, Gareth Bale, Rafael Van Der Vaart and make funds available to be able to pay all the players the kind of money that the champions pay their players. The only teams these players would want to go to are Barcelona or Real Madrid if they believed that Spurs were capable of becoming the next major force in Premiership history.

But not only do they have to smash the wage structure, they have to be prepared to pay Emmanuel Adebayor the kind of money a world class striker deserves. If the difference means winning a title or just finishing in the top 4, then Spurs need a player of Adebayor's quality: the Spurs team with him playing well is arguably the best team in the world; just look at the demolition of Newcastle on Saturday. Spurs really could have won that match 8 or 9-0; but once they got 4-0 up they treated it like a training ground game - such is the confidence of this bunch of players.

The next Spurs manager needs to be a Jose Mourinho, a Gus Hiddink or a Joachim Löw. managers who will love their players as well as turn Spurs into the kind of team Man Utd have been at times since SAF took charge. But one of those guys, plus demolishing the salary scales and signing four or five other players would require something like a £200m investment into the club, on the strength the new man and his charges can emulate what Harry did and go one better. Leeds United and Newcastle have both been on the cusp of what Spurs (and to some extent Man Citeh) are on and one of them has been in the third flight of English football for three of the last five years and the other got relegated, despite having a team too good to go down.

It's a tough call for Daniel Levy and Spurs' owner Joe Lewis, especially considering a top three finish would guarantee entry into the Champions League proper. That is lucrative enough, but losing Harry would get a couple of million in compensation as well and the inevitable sales of Gareth Bale to Barcelona for £50m+ and Luka Modric to Man Utd for £35m would mean the new manager might have £100m to spend on replacing the nucleus of the team. Werder Bremen's Marko Marin might be a pretty hot prospect to fill Modric's shoes, but there isn't a player in the world who can compare to Bale at the moment; not one who would cost less than the boy himself. Then there's the problem of a new striker; Spurs claim they simply cannot afford to pay Adebayor's wages, even if they get him for nothing, so this suggests that whoever the manager is, he'll have to bring in a striker, maybe two, who might not be the required class to even sustain a position let alone push on.

The main problem for Spurs is that their success has brought about this situation; had Roy Hodgson been given the time at Liverpool and turned them into title challengers, it would be he whose name would be at the top of the list. I think I'd be right in saying that even if Harry doesn't appear to have the trophies to back up his credentials, he is the only English manager to break into the top 3 of the league this century and that probably has to count for something.

The summer is going to be an interesting time; will Spurs have their man in place to seamlessly step into Harry's shoes the moment he dons his England blazer? Or are they going to see if they can poach a manager from the Euros, shortening the time for preparation? Can the club match its ambition or are we Spurs fans going to suffer possibly the worst false dawn ever?

Monday, February 13, 2012

The TV Dump (ii)

Stringing It Out?

With 8, possibly 9, episodes to go in the current season of The Vampire Diaries, you have to start questioning what the hell is going to happen and not in a dramatic way either. This current series has felt like one long season finale at times, with some blinding stand alone episodes that could easily have been climaxes for other, lesser, shows.

The problem that has crept into this current series is the 'big bad' - the main villain - because he's rapidly diminishing in stature and his story seems to be treading far too much water. The current VD villain is uber-hybrid vampire/werewolf original Klaus; one of the first vampires who is both vamp and wolf and is one of a family of immortals, who can only be 'killed' by a special method and they can be resurrected if desired - the mechanics of it are not really necessary, except to say that the fact you can't kill them rather limits your ultimate possibilities.

Klaus has been a reasonable character, equal parts charming and psychotic (as they often are) who packs the punch of a Smurf. Or at least that is what has happened to him. The original vampires were portrayed in this series as ruthless, utterly powerful beings that are not bound by the same curses normal vampires and werewolves are, who can rip other vampires to shreds as easily as you could tread on an insect; yet as the character and his siblings have developed, they seem, in many ways, to have become just another bunch of vampires. Throw into the mix a millennia of family broken ties, double-crossing and 'killing' each other and you have a pretty unstable mix of characters; yet they seem a bit too cosy.

The thing I like about VD is its parallels to Buffy, the slightly bonkers approach and the fact that there is an element of unpredictability about it. It also seems to enjoy parodying itself and other genre shows, giving it a slight irreverence that is reflected in some of the dialogue. It's crazy TV that acknowledges the fact. The problem is, going back to the beginning of this, there are a lot of hours to get through before the end of this season and I'm struggling to see where it can go unless it is going to string out the current storyline all the way to the end and if that is the case, we're going to badly need something to happen for it not to start repeating itself.

VD's problem is now it is established and the fans like their favourite characters, it's a bit too comfortable and it is relying a bit too much on the illusion of change. It is still a great way to spend 42 minutes on a Friday night though.

Beyond the Fringe

At last. Something is happening in Fringe. After over half a season of treading water in a new reality, the show is beginning to come alive and this week's episode felt a little like coming home. My theory also appears to be coming true or at least the bones of it. At the end of the last season, Peter disappeared from reality, the scales of time had been balanced and the Observers had fulfilled their objective of repairing their earlier mistakes. But Peter didn't disappear, because you can't just remove an entity from reality without him popping back up again. The new series has played big on the merged realities, making sure that the viewer is aware that this is the new reality, while simultaneously re-introducing Peter to a cast that have no idea who he is and it was not good TV. But recently, now that Peter has his 'father' helping him find his own reality via the Doomsday Machine introduced in the last series, it appears that the memories of the old reality are beginning to creep into this new reality. Characters are beginning to remember things that haven't or didn't happen and I believe as Peter and Walter search for a door into Peter's world, they will discover it doesn't exist and Peter is where he should be and everyone else is out of step with him.

Suddenly plot is taking centre stage in this series and I expect it to stay there, because the show's producers need to increase ratings and pay the devotees back for sticking with it. The problem Fringe has is that it has set up so many subplots on its return that the fans didn't care about. They care about the Peter Problem and not much else. It's a bit like the first few seasons of Babylon 5, people only cared about the Shadow War, the rest was a hindrance.

The latest episode was a mix of Groundhog Day, The Langoliers and Brigadoon and was, by far, the best episode of the season so far, because it has started to feel like the old team is working together again, rather than the disjointed, distrusting and unfamiliar feel the new season introduced. I just hope it isn't too late, because I feel it may not get renewed for another season after this experiment failed.

Wolf Bat Spirit

Apparently there's been a bit of a backlash from nerds about the massive changes in Being Human (UK). The sudden deaths of Mitchell, George and Nina sitting uncomfortably with aficionados and long time fans of the show and the replacement characters not gelling with the viewers.

A couple of things: I think Hal, the new vampire, has the scope to become a far better character than Mitchell. I think the guy playing him might have more range as an actor than Aiden Turner.

I think the series would have worked had it continued with the story of the Southend-on-Sea contingent. Have the first episode, but give Annie another door and close that story off for good. You could have had Tom (Michael Socha) join Hal and Pearl as a new trio and I think die-hard fans would have accepted it. As it stands Annie's character has been reduced to alarming comedy routine and after the first 30 minutes of last night's episode, I was seriously doubting whether I'd watch the third.

Successful TV shows will always struggle to keep their names because the temptation to move to new challenges is always great. Fanboys need to realise that sometimes their favourite fantasy shows are governed by the laws of reality - people die, people leave, people move on and if they treat their shows the same way they'll realise that it is just art imitating life.
As for the new main story... Well, there's something a bit Life On Mars cheesy about Eve from the future wanting to kill baby Eve and the new vampire horde are a bit disorganised. The new series seems to weighing heavily on the humour again and while it sometimes works, it just doesn't feel right. When I said about Annie becoming the comedy routine, I really meant it. Her character has become incredibly irritating and I really think a new ghost is needed.

Such a Shame

The real highlight of the week? Shameless (US). It is just the best thing to come out of the USA in years and as much as I hate to say this, pisses all over the UK version (once Anne Marie Duff and James McEvoy had left). Paul Abbot has transferred his creation superbly to the US and while it uses the same characters and themes, it has gone off in its own unique direction and seriously makes the UK version seem like a version of Little Britain. The US show is nasty, dirty, sexy, scary, funny and gobsmacking. Frank (William H. Macy) Gallagher (US) is a complete and utter c*nt. Fiona (the gorgeous Emmy Rossum) is the real star of the show, but Lip, who's UK counterpart was always very interesting, has the scope to lead this show if and when they write Fiona out.

It is just bonza TV. If it gets shown over here, you should watch it. Seriously. The UK is missing out on possibly the best thing since The Sopranos.

Rumour Mill

Talking to a mate yesterday via email, he said that he'd heard a rumour from a friend of his that one of the next season of Dr Who will feature an episode where Matt Smith meets the 22nd reincarnation of The Doctor. I take it with the usual pinch of salt that accompanies most DW rumours, but it is an interesting idea...

Saturday, February 11, 2012

2012 - 6

Je suis une pop song

Yes, I know, I'm not a pop song, but I am in an unusually Francophile musical period, what with me transforming M83's Hurry Up, We're Dreaming into the most listened to album of the last 5 months. At Christmas I was given some Amazon vouchers and I bought two further M83 albums, meaning that I now had all but one of the band's official releases as proper CDs. The only one I'm still to get is M83, their debut album. So, I shoved it in the car to listen to for the first time since I downloaded it about 2 years ago. Roger was more impressed with it than he is with the latest album and I have top say that it is a very very strange fish indeed - a bit like Jean Michel Jarre meets Norman Collier meets ET.

However, I've been swayed away from M83 this last few days and have been listening to the magnificent Air's new album Le Voyage Dans La Lune, which is just an absolute gem of an album. It is packed full of prog, jazz, lounge and mood influences and has rather blown me away, especially considering Air's output has dipped considerably since their first couple of albums. Listen to it on line - it's weird - and I'll bet real music lovers out there will listen again and again. Or my music taste just might be getting even more eclectic.

Barrel Scraping

My policy of writing stuff down to return to in blogs has rather gone the way of the pear and the only thing I had written on my pad this week was... Coates.

I just thought it was funny that Liverpool had bought a footballer called Sebastian Coates, who hails from Argentina. Tracing the Coates name, it is most common in the North West of England and along the northern Welsh borders; former Burnley and Spurs legend Ralph Coates had a Welsh grandfather. So my mind extrapolated that at some point when a whole bunch of people from Wales emigrated to Argentina that they took the name Coates with them.

So when this young South American played for the Red Shite against Spurs earlier this season, I was rather bemused by the pronunciation of his name: Co-Art-Ees. Huh? I don't put my winter coartees on in the morning. Does that make outspoken Stoke City chairman Peter Coates a coartees?

I still remember Ian Botham playing for England in india many years ago and the Indian commentator on TMS referring to him as Ian Bottom...

Just Because I Eat Worms

Something happened at work that I can't go into in great detail, for obvious reasons, but it involved one of my clients telling me that nobody liked me and that everybody hated me (like that would be a problem in my job); presumably designed to make me feel bad and leave. However, before I could come back with some witty retort about anything, three of my other clients informed the other that he was wrong and everybody thinks I'm 'good', 'cool' and 'standard', thus putting said accuser firmly in his place and leaving me sitting there quietly feeling pretty good about myself. It was made slightly bizarre by the guy who claimed no one liked me telling me that when he leaves he's going to 'take a shit on my car'. In this current spell of weather, he's more than happy to try.

Great Expectations

I have a week off. I'm sitting here with the rather prominent remnants of my last holiday still sitting heavily on my chest. I have no had 'this cough' for 8 weeks, which is a lot, but if it last until the wife's birthday then I will have had it for a quarter of a year!

The last couple of days, I've been walking around on tenterhooks; what with working in a Petri dish of disease, I've had icy conditions, snow and over-cautiousness to contend with. I have been literally praying for a week without being ill, having a bad [insert part of body here] or my week being ruined by anything. As I said to the wife last night, even if all I do all week is keep the house tidy and take the dogs out every day then I will be happy. I shall also add having a few lie ins and maybe a few pints to that list, but I just want an uneventful week of reasonably mild weather and for the following 6 or 7 weeks to be quick and Easter to get here as quickly as possible.

And there's me telling people not to wish their lives away...

Principles

I don't like John Terry. I think he encapsulates everything that is wrong about lad culture in football and I believe that when he was stripped of the England team captaincy the first time, he should never have been given it back. I also don't believe that Terry is anything but a passive racist - the same kind as people who use terms such as 'coloured' 'darky' or 'half-caste' - and I also believe that Fabio Capello was right to walk on a matter of principle. I was also glad to see him go because I don't think he advanced the cause of the England team an awful lot, but I would have preferred him to go after our ignominious departure from Poland and Ukraine. Capello is dead right, a man is innocent until proven guilty and if anything, the man - Terry - should have been 'persuaded' to step down on his own rather than cause the ructions it did. unless, of course, the FA were fed up with their anything but role model captain and the manager who seems to have less of an idea how to run the team than Beaker from the Muppets.

Now, because John Terry is essentially a twat, my football team are possibly... possibly? Who am I kidding? Definitely going to lose their saviour and be left with a rebuilding scheme under a new manager, just as we are on the verge of becoming, justifiably, one of the Big Four teams in England. It is a depressing dichotomy: I want what's best for my team, but I would like to see England become a force to be reckoned with again on the world football stage and if Harry Rednapp can get an England team playing like Spurs then the future isn't just bright, it's positively nuclear. If 'Arry can get England's misfiring bunch of overpaid prima donnas playing good attacking football, with verve and fair, then I think we'd be disappointed if we didn't win a trophy, but would be happy with a team trying to win it.

Now, if only Daniel Levy could tempt someone like Jose Mourinho or Gus Hiddink to coach my team, then I might just be inclined to be optimistic about the future.

Snippets

I burnt my finger on porridge!
Someone I know got run over.
I had my first Kingston Topaz since September.
I'm trying to help a mate get a job.
I was convinced on Thursday that I had TB.
After December 2010, you would have thought the country could have dealt with 3 inches of snow a little better and less dramatically.
We need a plumber.
That is all.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

2012 - 5

Reflections

It's not been a bad week. I had this horrible feeling that my cough was coming back with a grudge yesterday, but I think it was just a symptom of a long week, made more difficult by people being off sick (so now I suppose I know what it's like when I'm off).

Yes, I hate the weather. Getting up in the morning has only been tempered by my close proximity to radiators and the walk from the car to school has been hampered by this odd feeling I've had that I have to take my hat off before I even get out of the car; which is strange, as my boss has been wearing gloves since November - inside the building as well as out.

As you might imagine, a school is a warm place, especially my office, which is toasty and a bit too cloying at times. However, my assistant's room is a mass of windows, is a bit larger, and she has been complaining since November that it's bloody freezing. Every time either of us has gone to the caretakers to ask for the heating to be put up, we've been told it is on maximum. As a result, she went off sick with a chill on Tuesday and I was left holding the fort.

Fast forward to Friday. My assistant comes back to work, walks into the room and is greeted by her own breath condensing in front of her. Later in the morning, still wearing her coat and fielding complaints from blue-tinged children, the head caretaker comes into her room, looking for me. When asked if he thought the room was cold, he expanded and said he thought the room was freezing. He went to the thermostat, which only they can change because it is locked in a little box, and discovered the heating had, in fact, been turned off in that room entirely...

Now, I know that we both work with the kids who are already being condemned to having no future, but seriously, is killing them through hypothermia a solution? I admit, it's something that often needs to be considered, but maybe a little more subtly.

That chilly room aside, I coughed my way through the week and finished it actually feeling that I'm now part of the furniture. I think it's a moment all new employees hope for - the start of being a cog in the wheel rather than just trying to fit in.

I seemed to spend a lot of last week explaining things that I'm sure other people are better qualified at doing, but one student, who is working on a history project about JFK, found that my knowledge of Lee Harvey Oswald, his wife Marina and what he did before he killed the president was just totally awesome. It helped that I'd just read Stephen King's JFK book, which, as the afterword says, extrapolates on known facts about the assassin. I also spent the end of the week explaining why people shouldn't use the word 'Pikey' when talking about Travellers. It's a strange situation really; having to dissuade people from being judgemental about a group of individuals I have the same amount of respect for as my charges.

I also discovered that people at the school have me labelled. The students all think I'm like Greg Davis's character from The Inbetweeners - the head of 6th form, I believe. I am yet to watch it. While a group of my colleagues all think I remind them of... fucking Rik Mayal or however he spells his untalented and irritating name. One year 10 thinks I look like Justin Timberlake's dad... Not his actual dad, just what she imagines his dad would look like!?!?

Out Foul Spot

Chris Huhne allegedly perverts the course of justice. John Terry gets sacked as England Captain and the government accepts it was wrong to allow a top civil servant to subcontract his position to himself to allow him to avoid paying any tax or NI because he registered his company off shore. All this while Harry Rednapp is involved in a high profile tax avoidance court case for a sum of money that compared to every other bugger getting away with not paying their dues, looks like nothing more than an opportunity by HMRC to make the average person think they're doing something about tax avoidance.

It seems that Labour have laid down and accepted it was their fault that the country is in an economic mess, despite their fault being only a small percentage of the actual mess and that (apart from nobody particularly being impressed by Ed Milliband) seems to be the entire reason for thinking that David Cameron is now destined to lead the country eventually without his LibDem crutch. Here's a fact for you. Including the last Tory government's 18 years in power and Labour's 13, there have been a number of scandals that has resulted in ministers losing their jobs. So far governments with Conservatives in them are beating Labour 3:1 in terms of losing jobs because of illegal or inappropriate activities.

It seems that the country as a whole doesn't actually, really, care about whether our MPs are honest, decent and trustworthy, or, for that matter, our football captains or our HMRC...

Release the Pressure

My latest TV obsession (and another that's about 10 years after every one else) is Family Guy. A TV series that is essentially The Simpsons but much more anarchic and therefore considerably funnier.

Family Guy for those of you who haven't been bombarded with it on BBC3 or FX is essentially an animated 'sitcom' featuring the Griffin family of Peter, Lois, Meg, Chris, Stewie and the talking dog Brian, who is undoubtedly the most intelligent of the group, even if he is a dog. It is a similar set up to Homer and Bart's show - stupid dad, bright but misunderstood daughter, a wife who is intelligently bi-polar, a son who is dysfunctional and a baby. They all live in a fictional town, Peter drinks at the local bar with his usual gang of friends and the family get involved in all kinds of weird adventures. Except weird and adventures are not really what happens. Unlike The Simpsons which relies heavily on the family as a central theme, the Griffins don't so much have weekly plot developments more like a rough plot that is allowed to follow a bizarre stream of consciousness. Plus, despite Peter's similarities to Homer, the yellow skinned over-biter is considerably more intelligent than his Quahog counterpart. Lois is similar to Marge Simpson in many ways, except she is capable of some of the most bizarre and ill-thought-out ideas. Meg differs from Lisa in that Meg is ugly, fat, disliked and the butt of almost every one's jokes. Chris is no Bart Simpson; he is depicted as being slightly more stupid than his father and while the character is one of the most underused in the show, I think that's done deliberately. You often just see him standing around staring at walls or into thin air. The real differences are with Stewie, the baby of the family. Where Maggie Simpson does nothing but suck on a dummy and get into mishaps, Stewie wants world domination, hates his mother, loathes his father and has little or no time for his siblings, while simultaneously loving and ridiculing Brian the dog. Shaped like an American football, Stewie is equal parts baby, murderer, psychopath, evil genius and lovable scamp, therefore his antithesis is Brian the dog, who is intelligent, but moral (despite smoking and having a love for sex and booze) and is the ethical fibre of the Griffin family, doing everything he can to keep the family together, while lusting after Lois.

Among many things, the show specialises in bizarre cut away vignettes to quickly tell the story of a reference made by whatever character is talking, or in most cases to leave you blinking at the screen wondering how on earth an American writer could come up with something so surreal, yet so incredibly funny. I like to think it's how The Simpsons would have been like has Terry Gilliam produced it and insisted the script team cannot work unless they are under the influence of drugs. It also pushes the boundaries of common decency to a level I've never seen on US television and there isn't really any sex or nudity in it that would concern anyone, because it is done in a cartoon way.

Like the show it is often compared to, Family Guy does have its fair share of duff episodes, or can start brilliantly and then run out of steam, especially if the writers are deliberately trying to force a point they all feel strongly about that week. So, therefore, like The Simpsons there is an element of moralising, even if it's just an excuse to do something gross or bizarre.

One perfect example is an episode I watched on Wednesday night that, to be as brief as possible, involved Peter running up a $34,000 chemists bill, exchanging his daughter for the debt and the subplot of Stewie's new babysitter. These plot details are immaterial really, because it is the set piece scenes that tend to steal every show and they rarely advance the story. Part of Peter's debt to the chemist involves him basically taking anything he wants from racks of greetings cards to bottles of laxatives to play drinking games with. Said game involved drinking an entire bottle of the laxative (normal dose a teaspoon full) and seeing who can go the longest without throwing up - the winner getting the last piece of pie in the kitchen. By the time Peter, Chris, Stewie and Brian had covered the entire living room in vomit, I was laughing so hard I was worried I'd wake the wife up and I missed half of it stifling guffaws.

One of the funnier trademarks of Family Guy is its willingness to linger rather than have the joke and move on. What they effectively do is stretch the joke so far it's starts being funny, stops and then gets funnier again - a trick The Fast Show used to its advantage. I sometimes wonder what the Americans make of some of the jokes that seem to just last far longer than their usual attention spans, but for me it's one of the real highlights of the show and it's used sparingly, so as not to become repetitive.

It is also a show that I've been aware of for years and occasionally dipped into, but I don't think I was ever prepared for it until now and it is worth persevering with, because you'll be laughing before you know it.

Perseverance

Still getting free lobster spam. I'm also getting spam from someone called Anthony Morrison and it appeared the day after I made 'friends' on Facebook with someone called Morrison. That's a coincidence a little too far, I think. Might explain how Facebook make so much money considering they don't charge their 500 trillion members.

However, that extrapolation suggests that people who work for Mark Zuckerberg know the faceless wankers responsible for so much spam flying around the world and surely that's good enough reason to kill them all?

Huh?

The rest of my day is going to mainly trying to think of something to do for dinner, which wouldn't be so bad if I hadn't gone food shopping yesterday. It will also involve a chilly dog walk and will probably end with a night curled up in front of a roaring fire waiting for the impending blizzard that has been forecast. The weather men seem to all agree that it should start snowing in Northampton between 5 and 6:00pm and will continue until the wee hours of tomorrow morning, delivering up to 10cm of snow, which will then freeze causing death and carnage on the roads. Yet according to the BBC Live Football updates it was snowing heavily in Stoke-on-Trent at 1:00pm and that is just 100 miles away by road and actually about 75 miles as the crow flies. The skies are growing cloudy and I wouldn't be at all surprised if it didn't arrive here by 3:00pm.

We had the street light in front of my office turned off in the summer; the wife was pleased about it, but I miss it, especially during the winter, because it allows me to keep an eye on the immediate world outside and obviously tell you all about some of the strange things I've seen and heard. However, I'll really miss it for something altogether relaxing. In the 12 or so years we've lived in this house, a huge swathe of those years saw little or no snow at all, but the last few years have been more like winters we've been led to believe happened every year.

One of the most relaxing and pleasant experiences I've had on cold week nights, after the wife has gone to bed, is to turn off the lights in my office, sit back in my chair and watch the snow fall around the street lamp; watching as my part of the world transforms from being a typical dull town street into a winter wonderland and one that few cars come along to spoil. I just find it really peaceful, the same way I like listening to rain on the conservatory roof as I try to get to sleep on wet nights.

The most amusing aspect of this impending snow fall is the look of disappointment on the faces of my colleagues on Friday when they realised that the only snow of the year so far will fall on a weekend, thus stymieing their chances of getting a paid day off. It's not like we get enough holiday already, is it?