Friday, April 27, 2007

Wordplay of the week

Harry stuck between Iraq and a hard place
The Wrap (Guardian) on arguments over whether Prince Harry should serve in Iraq

"I hear the narrative has an impressive arc."
The Guardian’s Ryan Gilbey on director Darren Aronofsky’s screenplay about Noah

God wants his Ball back
The Sun on the death of footballer Alan Ball

And the wooden spoon award goes to...

Roon thinks it's Ball over
The Sun on how Alan Ball inspired Wayne Rooney

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Musical history lessons #23

The way British society perceived young offenders and how to deal with their needs underwent a seismic shift back in 1969, mainly due to some epoch-defining research released by government social think-tank The Beatles, led by eminent child psychiatrist Ringo Starr.

In the introduction to the group’s groundbreaking paper Octopus’s Garden, Starr explains how he himself would like to reside in one of the eponymous suboceanic compounds. But as the forceful yet beguiling argument continues, we realise that Starr is in fact suggesting these special recreational units should be used as asylum centres for troubled young people. “Oh what joy for every girl and boy,” writes Starr, “Knowing they're happy and they're safe.”

Harold Wilson’s Labour government was quick to respond to Starr’s calls for reform, and by September 1970, over 190 of the centres had been set up around the UK. Initially, they were a great success, providing unruly youths with a range of activities with which to fill their time.

However, because - as Starr had specifically stipulated in his paper - there was “no one there to tell [them] what to do”, the centres soon became hotbeds of anarchy and violence. Problems also arose due to the fact that the gardens were underneath the sea and often deliberately hidden, meaning many poorer families from inland urban communities found them difficult to access.

The government withdrew their support, and by 1973, the last octopus’s garden was closed down. But to this day Starr’s idealistic vision remains an inspiration to those working in youth justice.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Goodbye Stockwell Flats

Oh, Beckett House. I have to say goodbye to you. I'm moving to Kennington, and you're not coming with me. This may be the last photo I ever take of you, and the last time I ever stumble across a strangely fitting Beckett quote with which to caption you.

"Finished, it's finished, nearly finished,
it must be nearly finished."

"Grain upon grain, one by one, and one day, suddenly,
there's a
heap, a little heap, the impossible heap.
I can't be punished any more."

"I'll go now to my kitchen, ten feet by ten feet by ten feet,
and wait for him to whistle me. [Pause]
Nice dimensions, nice proportions..."

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

How does it feel?

Rolling Stone put up some quality audio clips of the magazine's co-founder Jann Wenner interviewing Bob Dylan (spotted by James).

I was going to link to the page, but they've taken it down, the fools. Shame, the clips were really good, with some hilarious role reversal going on; the first one had Wenner coming across as the moody one who Dylan was trying to impress, rather than the other way round. At one stage Dylan asks Wenner if he'd ever noticed how upbeat some of the postwar popular music songs are. "No," replies Wenner, sounding fed up.

Luckily I transcribed another bit before they were consigned to the cyber graveyard...

Jann Wenner: [exasperated] I’m trying to interview you.
Bob Dylan: I know.
JW: And you’re not being very helpful with this.
BD: Jann, have I ever been helpful?
JW: Well, you have in the past - you’ve given some really great interviews in the past several years.
BD: Well I wasn’t on tour when I was doing it you know, I could be fully present for your interviews. But now, I’m thinkin’ about amps going out and y’know...
JW: You don’t have people taking care of those for you?
BD: You would hope.
JW: So you can’t find a good road man, is that the problem here?

Monday, April 23, 2007

Weekend thoughts

When I'm old, I would like to look grizzled. Is a regular smoking habit likely to make me more or less grizzled? Hopefully the answer is less grizzled; if more, then I'll have to up my cigarette intake – and then the grizzled factor will be offset by the inevitable early cancerous death. Thus, I won't appear grizzled for very long.


Clearing out the stuff stored under my bed – I'm in the process of packing to move house – I come across an old English Lit essay accompanied by many files of notes. Then an old A4 refill pad. Oddly, both the A4 refill pad itself and the phrase "A4 refill pad" have become strange to me; how much life has changed since the glory days of academia!


Also, an old journal. An outdated concept indeed - imagine a blog, but on paper. This one begins at the end of 2003 and ends at the start of August 2005, with not all that much in between. One entry mentions that "The last official bare-knuckle fight was in 1889 between John L. Sullivan and Jake Kilrain." I always did love my trivia.

Friday, April 20, 2007

How jounalism works

"The novel by Herman Melville describes the voyage of a whaling ship as it hunts for the great whale Moby Dick. Narrator Ishmael tells the reader he has turned to the sea out of a feeling of alienation from human society."
He took name of classic loner, Daily Mirror, 20 April, p6

"The novel describes the voyage of the whaling ship Pequod, commanded by Captain Ahab, who leads his crew on a hunt for the great whale, Moby-Dick. Ishmael tells the reader that he has turned to the sea out of a feeling of alienation from human society."
Moby Dick, Wikipedia

Thursday, April 19, 2007

This just in: the Sky is broken

Wow, look, the Sky News website's gone and got itself a smart new redesign!

Mmmm, sweet, now it looks like a cross between the Yellow Pages and an entire screen of adverts. But what’s that on the bottom right? A tour of the rejigged site?

Yes it is. Looks interesting: I'd love to see the kind of new Web 2.0 interactive multimedia features they'll be offering me. Bet the tour's really flashy too. Click!

Oh dear. Perhaps they should’ve held off the launch just a few days longer...

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

You are to blame

You don't know when to stop, do you? Back in the '60s, you rose to fame when Bob Dylan famously slagged you off in his song Positively 4th Street.

That kept you quiet for a few decades, until you had an almighty comeback in December 2006 when Time magazine named you person of the year.

However, in February you fell from grace, when The Mirror blamed you for the death of model Anna Nicole Smith.

And now, just when you thought things couldn't get any worse, in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shootings, everyone is looking for a scapegoat. Some blame the police, some blame gun laws, some blame computer games. But again, The Mirror knows who's really responsible.

You never learn.

NB This post is an extended rewrite of a previous one. Do I look like I care? (Don't answer that.)


My two bits' worth.

Just a Tad

GUEST BLOGGER ALERT. Here, my Canadian pal Tadich – who now resides in Moscow - describes what he calls “a rather eventful day for me in the Managed Democracy”...

9am: convenience store near work
I am proud to say I conducted this conversation entirely in Russian!

Me: I'll have a packet of sour cream & onion chips, and, er, a red apple please.

Clerk: Green and red! Red and green! (NB: the bag of chips was green)

Me: Yes, it's like a traffic light isn't it?

Clerk: Almost, but you need some yellow!

[Clerk grabs a big bag of cheese-flavoured chips and plonks them down on the counter]

Me: (jokingly) No, I'd rather have some orange juice!

[Clerk suddenly turns all serious; grabs a litre carton of OJ from the fridge behind her, plonks it on the counter, and puts the cheese chips back]

Clerk: So, you want to buy the orange juice, then?

Me: [Sheepishly] No.

[Clerk scowls and rings up the purchase]


9pm: at the swimming pool
As I round the corner from the shower room into the changing room, a cleaner dumps a bucket of scalding water onto my naked feet.

Me: Ow!

Her: Watch where you're going!


10 pm: at the grocery store
There's a huge line-up (half the length of the store) because only two tills are staffed. But I wait through it cause I need to buy sausages.

An old guy who looks EXACTLY like Lenin c. 1917 (flat cap included) starts shouting very loudly at the store staff for a good five minutes, who completely ignore him.

Then he turns to face his fellow customers, and urges us to form a "union of fellow Russians" and to take our groceries "out onto the streets!" and not pay for them.

In his right hand, he clutches a huge amount of money, what looks like the equivalent of four or five hundred dollars.


12am: my apartment

Housemate: Are you cooking sausages?

Me: Yes. [Long pause. Realise I've never seen him eat meat.] Um... are you a vegetarian?

Housemate: [Smugly] Yes. But I eat meat once per year. I like the flavour and the texture.


Friday, April 13, 2007

This one's for my Peeps

The new series of Peep Show starts tonight!

It’s a programme filled with amazing quotes, but I particularly like this one, which sums up the different world views of Mark (works in insurance, incredibly anal) and Jeremy (wannabe musician, self-obsessed waster) just perfectly:

Jez: Crunchy Nut Cornflakes are just Frosties for wankers.
Mark: Frosties are just Cornflakes for people who can't face reality.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Steve Jobs says: "Boom"

Caitlin Moran on Doctor Who

"That a children's sci-fi show, made on what amounts to a minuscule budget, in Wales, by gays, should be one of the defining programmes of the 21st century, is just the kind of thing that makes Britain great. You'd never get the Americans knocking out a show about a 900-year-old pacifist with a magic screwdriver, whose biggest enemy is a set of giant, fatal pepperpots."

Wikid behaviour

This is football hooliganism at its worst.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Terror magnet

Saw World Trade Center on Saturday. It’s a pretty average film, but certainly worth watching as it’s bookended by appearances from 24’s Mike Novick (Jude Ciccolella) and Curtis Manning (Roger Cross). Those guys – they’re never far from a bit of terrorism.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Horsing around

"All wisdom can be found between the eyes of a horse" (Koran)

"Aargh, it's trying to eat my camera" (Parkhouse)


Deep lyrical analysis

As has been noted, there's some excellent diagrammatical work going on over on Smaller Than Life. In tribute, I've done my own. It's not as good.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

"Comscan has detected an energy field"

This is as old as the internet (well, nine months anyway), but it's still bloody brilliant. I'd advise you to finish your glass of milk before you watch.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Reading matters

The Guardian was on form yesterday. If you didn't get it, please read these:

Funny old world
As a show featuring Muslim comedy starts a British tour, its star tells Sarfraz Manzoor why Islam can laugh at itself, why fundamentalists don't get the joke - and why he's definitely hanging on to his beard
"Usman will be opening his British shows with an observation about how different the vibe is in Britain compared to the US. 'When I walk down the street in America I get dirty looks for being Muslim - here I'm hated just for being an American.'"

Peter Bradshaw reviews Danny Boyle's new film
"Icarus I was the first mission, led by Capt Pinbacker (Mark Strong) which went out some years ago and disappeared with crew and mega-bomb unaccounted for. Perhaps they all became demoralised by the frankly rather tactlessly chosen name."

How the web became a sexists' paradise
Everyone receives abuse online but the sheer hatred thrown at women bloggers has left some in fear for their lives. Jessica Valenti, editor of, reports
"It was, without doubt, the most humiliating experience of my life - all because I dared be photographed with a political figure."

Moira Stuart profile
Media celebs question BBC decision to dump one of its older female newsreaders
"She comes from an older generation, where the journalists did the journalism, and the newscasters, with magisterial authority, read the news without any inflection of opinion or judgment, except possibly a tiny half smile at the skateboarding canary."

East Coker does not deserve the taint
of TS Eliot's narcissistic gloom

A Somerset village with a golden-toned church was done a serious disservice by this bleak, American poet
"In my beginning is my end," he began the poem and ended it, "in my end is my beginning". This faintly oriental paradox leaves Eliot pilgrims scratching their heads before stomping off to the Helyar Arms down the road.

Friday, April 06, 2007


More gold from Sky, following the first press conference from the British marines and sailors, freshly released after their capture by Iran.

After a statement from two of the crew members and questions from the journalists in attendance, the press get the chance to do one-to-ones with the navy personnel, who, let’s remember, are not media trained.

Sky News’ journalist, Andy Moore, quickly heads over to get his exclusive face-to-face interview. "Adam Sperry, you’re live on Sky News," he says to the 22-year-old marine who’s now sitting with his family. Then, thrusting the mic into a startled Sperry’s face: "I understand you wished to be with a media officer, but you’re live."

Lights and darkness

As I'd predicted, the Stockwell traffic lights have been 'fixed'. Fixed so they no longer provide pedestrians with a guaranteed instant crossing. Fixed so drivers no longer have to bow to the superior whims of those on foot. Fixed so they are no longer the unique beacons of efficient beauty they once were.

This abhorrent neutering struck me with full force yesterday morning as I stood, waiting with the other poor stranded commuters, for the lights to change. For a moment, I contemplated throwing myself in front of the oblivious cars going by and shouting to the others, "Now walk, you poor stationary fools!" as my body was mashed by the churning wheels of the speed-greedy beasts of metal.

But then the lights changed, and I crossed.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Britons released, reports Sky, first

In the excitement following the announcement that Iran would be releasing the captured British Royal Navy service personnel, it was good to see Sky News getting its priorities right.

During a studio link-up interview with the sister of captured serviceman Arthur Batchelor Maggie Phillips, the relieved relative mentioned that she'd seen the news of the sailors and marines release "earlier on [BBC News] 24..."

The Sky interviewer - I believe it was Julie Etchingham - waited until Phillips had finished speaking and, in a rather prissy voice, pointed out that she would have heard about it even earlier if she'd been watching Sky News. Miaow!

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The three click trick

The traffic lights that lie on the road between Stockwell tube station and my flat are broken. Not a promising start, you might think, but I wouldn’t be writing about this if these traffic lights weren't the most amazing traffic lights I've ever encountered.

When I was younger, my grandma discovered – I know not how – that if you can't be bothered to wait around, there's a secret way for pedestrians to make the lights change to red immediately. To pull off this impressive trick, you simply press the button three times in quick succession and the lights will change, causing traffic to screech to a halt as you gleefully prance across the road.

But there are several hitches: a) it doesn't work on all sets of traffic lights b) it doesn't work if you don't get your button pressing timing right c) it doesn't work if the lights have only just changed to green. These three factors have led to problems when I've tried to convince people of the brilliance of the trick. I've frequently had to finish a failed demonstration by explaining weakly, "Well, it doesn't work on all traffic lights." This has meant that not everyone to whom I've revealed the trick has believed I'm telling the truth.

However, the brilliant thing about the Stockwell traffic lights is that the three-click trick isn't even required; as long as the lights have been green for a certain period of time, just one press of the button will immediately turn them red. This, as I often think to myself on my walk home from the tube, places all the power in the hands of the pedestrian. In being able to determine the exact moment that cars stop, and so potentially having an effect on factors such as what time drivers arrive at work, whether they'll miss being in a major life-changing accident up ahead and so on, the pedestrian is actually capable of changing the course of human history.

But now the Stockwell lights are broken. And I have a strange feeling that when are fixed, they'll have lost their unique power. The drivers will have regained the initiative.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Pity the April fool

Wrote a thing on The Other Blog yesterday about the day's best April Fools pranks. It's here.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Down a Pegg or two

Okay, Shawn of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, blah blah blah. But for my money, Simon Pegg's greatest ever moment came during the Brass Eye Special when the presenters are united in a terrible singalong (led by "the St Lazurus The Amethyst School Choir") encapsulating the lessons learnt during the programme.

Pegg only appears for several seconds, as the guitarist, but steals the show, despite not even being in the foreground of the shot. Sporting a wig of long curly blond hair and a white Mojo readers muso shirt, he combines ostentatious gum-chewing and a show-off guitar fill to make the programme's funniest moment. It's at 7.40 on the vid below (or 2.20 if it's showing time remaining).

"A melancholy emblem of parish cruelty"

There's no doubt about it, John Peel favourites Half Man Half Biscuit are a damn funny band.

But what makes them so good is not just those oh-so-British oh-so-scathing lyrics, but something rather technical and dull: it's how perfectly they fit the lyrics around the melodies. For example, the first line of Shit Arm, Bad Tattoo (which is all about The Libertines' eponymous second album) goes:

I could've put my head in a bucket full of porridge and moaned about the hospital parking scheme;
I would've saved £14 that I'd just splashed out on your second album.

It's the kind of lyric that most would struggle to shoehorn into an actual, y'know, song. But singer/writer Nigel Blackwell carries it off with complete ease, as if the track could begin with nothing but this strange couplet.

But this is not to underestimate Blackwell's lyrical skills. He's also capable of some surprisingly poetic moments. Towards the end of Bad Review, a song about a band who've just received an unfavourable write-up ("Page thirty-two, it's a bad review / Oh Lord. My girfriend's fuming"), the band start chanting "Boo hoo, what's to do? / It's a bad review" and Blackwell suddenly launches into the following lines:

The fearsome hollow boom of the older boys in the deep end,
Green shoots of recovery shriveled up in harsh tomorrows.
Left to pick dry sticks and mumble to myself;
A melancholy emblem of parish cruelty.

That last line really is the tops. After they played the song on Peel's show in the October of 1996, it prompted the DJ to come out with his occasionally-quoted epigram, "When I die, I want them to be buried with me."