Wednesday, January 26, 2011

not on your telly

I noticed the other day that I had subconsciously restricted myself to only watching telly after 7pm, the way that some alcoholics control their drinking by only drinking after a certain time. Is watching the telly like an addiction? You start out only doing it for fun, watching only good programmes, enjoyably, but before you know it you've got hooked on the transport from dingy reality, and you're topping up on cheap supplies of dubious quality, before you end up telly on first thing, consumed with plotting ways to murder Jeremy Kyle.

Pushing the analogy a bit (who me?), there's also the same desire to up sticks and go and live in the country where your chosen drug is most abundant. As a youngster I daydreamed about going to stay in New York and just binging on their 358 channels all day. (This was in the days when we only had four, so by the time I actually got to New York, I'd got over that particular aegri somnia vana.) The only career direction I can remember having at school was a vague desire to be in a job that allowed me to watch the telly all day. And I managed to get a job like that quite soon after school, so it turns out that, despite appearances, my career is actually one of 100% achievement.

Nowadays I don't watch telly unless I'm feeling good about myself - which is rare - and so can withstand the combined assault of advertisers, airbrushes, arseholes ... In fact it's objectionable enough just giving your front room over to a parade of people with good jobs in telly, while I fester under my own cavalier approach to accomplishment. Drinking seems a much wiser choice.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Commentator commentry

When I was a kid I quite fancied being a football commentator. Like most idle fantasies of my childhood, I have no idea what the hell I was thinking, but my guess is that it was a way of being involved in the game long after it had become obvious I was never going to play the game. A those who can, do, those who can't, commentate, sort of thing. I at least never wanted to be a referee, which would be inexcusable, like wanting to be a policeman, a role for emotionally undernourished types. Having said that I once acted as the ref in a primary school game between my year and the year below and had a great time disallowing their goals for no legitimate reason whatsoever. Which, such was our collectively shaky understanding of the actual rules, they accepted without much fuss, .

At age about 9 my class made a book with all the rules of football in it. The offside rule was written up as "You are offside when you are in the other team's half", which even at that age most of us could see wasn't the whole picture. So it's not that boys are genetically programmed to understand the offside rule, it's just that we've generally been trying to get our heads around it for longer than girls, who in those days and at that age seemed to spend their whole time arranging coloured pens. Richard Keys and Andy Gray should probably remember that there was a time they didn't fully understand the rules of football - like for instance the rule about not chatting shit into an open mic - although alas they seem for the moment to have kept their places as the two smuggest men on the box.

Some people have been suggesting that as Ron Atkinson was sacked for being racist off-air, so these two leprechauns-of-culture should also take a long walk off a short plank. But Ron used the word 'nigger' and he's not a rapper, so he had to go. What will happen to Gray or Keys when they have to work with a female commentator? I'm hoping for spontaneous combustion.

How do you become a football commentator? Do you just become a commentator and then move up the ranks to football? Or do you somehow get into football and shuffle along the aisle until you get to commentating? Where are the jobs advertised? It's not as if you can study it at Loughborough. Where do they get new commentators from? Perhaps when you get dropped calls, or missed calls from strange numbers, it's the BBC, phoning round listening to people's answerphone messages and "hellos" in search of the perfect commentating voice.

Not that commentating is all it's cracked up to be. Can you really make a living as a commentator when there's not that many matches on anyway? Can a second tier commentator make enough money out of being on five minutes of MOTD highlights to be able to get by the rest of the week? What do they do the rest of the time? Bone up on football encyclopedias? Practice pronunciation skills and comment sprinting? And it must be quite tiring, the concentration of having to commentate, to be able to tell which player the ball's gone to in a blink of an eye, and with Colemanballs always on your shoulder. Myself, I think I'd prefer the commentator's mate's job, where you don't have to do much of the grunt work and only have to step in with football knowledge occasionally, most of which you can probably just make up.

Obviously recruitment is slow in the commentating business, what with there being not much staff turnover. Once you're in the commentary chair, you're set, it's the world's last ever job for life. But down the pecking order, you need to start thinking seriously about wacking some of your senior colleagues if you ever want to get the big games. Perhaps that's what the Graykeysgate leaker was thinking. Or, and this is my guess, they've both made such cunts of themselves over the years that everyone who works with them is gasping at the chance to turn them in.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

What was I saying?

One of the worst things about having a failing short-term memory is that I struggle to remember my dreams. Short-term memory is a bitch like that, you wake up and you have a presumably slightly longer-term memory that you have something in your short-term memory to look up, but you go there and the pail is completely empty, and no amount of scouring the factory floor will turn up its lost contents. It's not that I don't have dreams, because I remember that I had them, but the contents of them has evaporated which it never used to and often does now.

The analogy I've got today is of a bucket on a hinge which fills with memory slop on a regular basis, and then tips over and empties onto one of several memory conveyor belts: either to long-term memory, or to consciousness, or just in the trash. Even in the trash, though, it is still findable, just that you might have to get your hands dirty with a lot of rubbish that you never thought you'd have to remember. But my bucket is obviously on the piss somewhat and just tips out at odd times, before it's full, and not onto one of the conveyor belts but just onto the floor, where the contents mingles with the spit and sawdust and gets swept up whenever my brain does housekeeping.

It is common to blame short-term memory loss on smoking weed, but although being stoned could make you forgetful, I never found it damaged my ability when I wasn't stoned, and my memory was fine long after I'd given up smoking weed regularly. I blame MDMA, with whom I had a passionate, short and ultimately doomed love affair when I was, to be honest, old enough to know better. Maybe it's deeply narcissistic to compare a love affair to taking drugs (and not particularly original), but if you consider that one of the effects of being in love is how the other person makes you feel, maybe you can see the join. We started going out, every now and then at first, and I thought 'you know what, I really like this' and we saw more of each other, but the relationship didn't live up to its early promise, and we got into some destructive patterns: seeing each other too much and then falling out, before making up passionately. There were some horrible arguments in the mornings. I started cheating on her with other drugs, we tried out threesomes to bring back the pep but it was over and now we hardly ever even see each other, and when we do, well occasionally it's nice but mostly I think: thank god we're finished. Not that I don't remember what I saw in her, but yeeeeugsshh. She's happy now anyway, as she should be after the court awarded her half the brain cells.

True Stories Told Live

It's a nice little idea, in an upstairs room of a pub, five people get up and each get 10 minutes to tell a true story to a bunch of strangers. Anyone can have a go, although the storytellers are all vetted by the organisers beforehand, and the monthly event in Chapel Market is already so popular you have to apply for your free ticket weeks in advance. Created by David Hepworth (who launched such magazines as Just Seventeen, Q, Empire, Heat) and hosted by Canadian actor Kerry Shale, the night can't help but lean towards the mediaocracy, despite being ostensibly an egalitarian affair. Mr Shale twice referenced a previous storyteller who'd been in the army in Iraq as evidence that this wasn't just another chance for Islington media folk to yawn at each other, but the show I saw included two novelists, an Australian stand-up and the agony aunt from Cosmo, so they've got more work to be doing on that front. They are apparently hoping for a wider range of storytellers, but in any case everyone was good, the crowd were keen and it was a nice way to spend the evening.

The agony aunt was Irma Kurtz, who had told me beforehand in that quite unabashed way of Americans that she was incredibly nervous, and then got up and was slick as anything. She told a well-crafted tale from her childhood that ended with the line "and ten years later I looked at the signature on the piece of paper she'd given me and it said: Mae West!" Author Anthony McGowan told a nicely grim tale from his Leeds upbringing about shooting a dog with a crossbow, and ending by saying that he always puts dogs in his stories, and now you know why. Last up was author and journalist Alex Preston, an Oxbridge type who got the crowd onside by being self-depreciating and then told a gap yah story that was even more privileged than I'd have pinned on him at my most prejudiced, but which abruptly ended on a close shave with death that was quite poignant, for a posh boy. And we reckon his brother was Preston out of Big Brother. So a real celeb, after all.

I signed up for it at the end of the night. Of course I did, I couldn't resist a crowd that size being forced to listen to me. But whereas at the start of the night I'd have happily got up and spieled it, after watching the show the shadow of "wanting to be good" started to rear its ugly head. I tried out a tale on my cycle home and found that after 15 minutes I still hadn't got to the event at the heart of the story, so, alas, I might have to practise after all.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

My new blog wot I wrote

The great thing about tumblr blogs is that you can have millions of them, for every tiny little pocket of your existence that you want to reveal, in its own completely sterile blog environment. And so it is that I present a new blog of mine where I will be posting my long-awaited photomeisterwerk 42 Views of the Gherkin, which I have been doing for so long it is practically my life's work. The more cultured of you will realise that this is my attempt at a photographic version of Hokusai's 36 Views of Mount Fuji, but set in London. This less cultured will just I don't know try and guess where I took the photos from. The mediumly cultured will probably look at the attendant google map, which tells you. Those of you that are left may like the photos, or like the idea, or both, or neither, or all four.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Zen, BBC 1

Zen is a police drama set in Rome, starring Rufus Sewell as a suave police inspector, famous for his integrity. We know this because everyone he meets says "ah! you are famous for your integrity!" Based on the best-known of British crime writer Michael Dibdin's books, the show has two main gimmicks. The first is that Zen is the honest cop's name ‒ Aurelio Zen, in fact, and though you might think that was almost, I don't know, a Japanese name, Signor Zen tells everyone who asks that it's Venetian. Or possibly Phoenician, my ears are a bit suspect. The second gimmick is that, despite being set in Italy, everybody talks in English accents, and peculiar, geographically unanchored English accents to boot. This makes everything very strange for the first 20 minutes of each episode as your brain tries to reconcile the gorgeous sunshine and Roman architecture with the cadences of Midsomer Murders. But once you've got used to it ‒ I do it by imagining that I'm watching a show set in very southern England ‒ or at least forgotten about it, well then there's a creditable if slightly silly cop drama to enjoy filled with swish cars, swarthy crooks and Italian coffee.

Interestingly, the women actors are Italians, not British, which, according to this review, is because Andy Harries, the show's producer, thinks that "there's something distinctive about the Italian female form". I'll say there is. And don't we get to revel in it when one lady strips three times in the course of a two-minute interview with our hero, while he does the old Napoleon Solo avert-your-eyes routine. My girlfriend thinks the woman actors are Italian so that they remain exotic and other, while we identify with good old English Aurelio. Or Andy, to his mates. But by making Sewell, who remains pretty much in swoon-on mode the whole time, a divorcee who lives with his mum ‒ because he's Italian, not because he's a loser ‒ they aren't exactly alienating the Milfs in the crowd either.

The main advantage of setting the stories in Italy, apart from the women, is of course Italy's gargantuan corruption, which constantly threatens to derail Zen as he swans about, with impeccable integrity, solving things. This provides most of the sub-plots as the viewer tries to estimate which of the dodgy-looking types are corrupt and which are just plain criminal. The other advantages are that it's mostly sunny, something not to be sniffed at when making January telly, and that everyone gets to wear expensive suits and dine in fancy-looking gaffs and generally inhabit a fantasy exotic land that the viewer is less likely to spoil by knowing much about. It's called having your panecotta and eating it. With its fetish for Italiana, both real and imagined, Zen is essentially the TV equivalent of Waitrose. But I quite like Waitrose, on occasion. And I quite like Zen, although I'm not hoping for any great enlightenment from it.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Angry People in Local Newspapers

A blog that does what it says on the tin. APILN provides a fairly constant stream of photos snipped from local rags around the country (and increasingly from Australia) where the subject seems to have been asked by the photographer to grimace in such a way that their tragic tale is told across their brows. Because a picture tells a thousand stories and all that. And not always the story that was intended. I love this site, partly for the photos but mainly because, by selecting stories on the basis of the pic, it offers a skewed digest of the world of local papers, full of human interest, faceless bureaucracy, mean landlords, sad kids, hard-done-by OAPs, pickled onions and grimacing.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Idea of the century #1

For my first post of the new year and also, I notice, my 300th post at all, I've had an idea which should revolutionise medicine, disease and general doctoring stuff. OK you may have guessed that I haven't fully researched the field, but still I reckon I'm on to a cast-iron gold-standard silver-plated FA cup of an idea. The sort of idea that immortalised the greats like Mendel (of the Royal Fireworks fame), and Darwin. Yes I've compared myself to Darwin, because I've had a brainwave, a wave of brain so profound it will wash into the rancid fjords of our immature and wasteful society, drown the ne'erdowells who have up to now gripped science and medicine in their talons, drown them in my brain-tsunami, and wash them down and give them a thorough cleansing and so on. I know it needs work: obviously genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration, but I figure that the perspiration is the bit other people can do, and I'll get at least 1% of the Nobel Prize. So without further ado: My brilliant idea, which came to me as I lay in bed, or possibly in a dream, whichever sounds better and gains me further accolade. (Drum roll & horn vamp goes here)

A contagious vaccine

Yes! That's it. How come no-one's ever thought of that before? A vaccine which is contagious, so you give it to one person and they infect the rest of society with their immunity. In short order everyone is immune and disease turns around and just fucking gives the fuck up. We all live forever in global happiness and hospitals are closed and turned into nature reserves or Kew Gardens style hothouses.

Think of the advantages: No more vaccinating your poor innocent baby and watching as they cry for six hours and hate you for the first time of what will now be many, many times; no more vaccinations at school and getting punched on the arm where you just had the BCG jab and it fucking hurting a fuck of a lot; no more MMR scares and autism and people refusing vaccines because of something they read in the Daily Mail, because the contagious vaccine will obey no newspaper readership barriers; and best of all no more diseases apart from the new ones obviously, but we can work on those.

I know some poo-poohers are going to suggest that 1) making a contagious vaccine is actually quite difficult and probably requires 100 years of cleverness combined and 2) might not be such a good idea what with contagion vectors and virus mutuation and all that palava, but fuck 'em, they've had a good go at it and look at the mess they've made so far, leaving poo all over the place. And anyway you've got to start from somewhere, and I think starting from here is better than not starting at all, which is what the poo-poohers are suggesting.

Other, more conspiratorially-minded poo-poohers may worry about setting a precedent for basically infecting the entire nation for the good of its own health. It could lead to some civil liberty issues. Perhaps some contagion can be spread that, for example, changes brain chemistry to prevent people from enjoying cocaine, or X-Factor or shopping on a credit card when you are already far too in debt, or all the other woes of modern society that we'd like to abolish. That does sound a little big brotherish, and totalitarian, but I'm confident we can trust science and that, and er, well let's cross that bridge when we come to it.

So there you have it. An idea which will transform society and save the world. Thank you for listening. I'll be signing autographs in the Nobel Prize winners section later.