Big city living, the downside

There had to be one, didn’t there. and I’ve discovered the thing that may just annoy me the most.

London local news.

We all know the deal with local news. A little bit of journalism, a little bit of whinging about Westminster now giving out enough money, a silly campaign, a funny looking cat, and then over to London for the serious news. The London news then deals with the big shit, as well as all the stories about London that are big enough to be of interest to the entire city.

So what’s left for the London local news? They still do the silly campaigns, they still whinge about any cuts that may be made, they still do the funny cats. But there doesn’t seem to be any actual journalism – all that is important to the whole story is covered in the national news. So they spend that little bit more time whinging and campaigning. And it’s bloody annoying.

So, I’ve discovered the downside. Good to get that out of the way, I think…

An actual campaign?

For many years, there have been comments leaking through the censors from Top Gear. The occasional comment against Health & Safety; a random little bitch about the latest ACPO missive; a mini-rant about just how bad Brown is at everything.

But they’re pushing a bit more. About the heatwave warning from the Met Office, they went off on one properly.

I discovered that I know when I’m too hot.

I don’t need the government telling me to have a drink of water.

Sod off, and leave us alone.

Followed by a slight period of time driving round Westminster with megaphones. Screaming 2 4 6 8, Jacqui Smyth’s husband likes to …

They may be beginning something … beautiful. Huzzah.

Kids these days

When I were a lad, the walkman was still new enough that not everybody had it, and those that did made sure to show them off.

And largely, those that showed them off were rightly pointed at, and laughed at. Because they looked silly.

That said, I’m not sure that I’m a massive fan of comparing them by today’s yardsticks.

… it’s not exactly the most aesthetically pleasing choice of music player. If I was browsing in a shop maybe I would have chosen something else.

From a practical point of view, the Walkman is rather cumbersome, and it is certainly not pocket-sized, unless you have large pockets. It comes with a handy belt clip screwed on to the back, yet the weight of the unit is enough to haul down a low-slung pair of combats.

When it came out, the walkman was pretty much the first piece of kit that could play music and be moved about without risking a hernia. That was revolutionary. iPods, discmans, all that, they’re evolutionary; they’re all developments of that original idea. Yes, they’re all immeasurably better, but none was anything other than a refinement of what went before*. So it pains me to see kids just dismissing it like this. Anyway, if it hauls down your low-slung combats, you may need to consider a better fashion idea.

Also: the kid mentions that he could be left ‘music-less’ for the rest of a day, as if that would be a bad thing. Personally, I think that it’d hardly be the end of the world. A little bit of interaction, a little bit of being able to hear buses hurtling towards you as you step out into the road, that can only be good.

Basically: we all seem to spend too much time entrenched in our own little private world, and not paying attention to what’s going on around us. And the kids wear strange clothes.

And now, once I find a pipe and a smoking jacket, my persona of a grumpy old man will be complete. Hurrah.


* – Save, perhaps, the integration between the iPod and iTunes, but I don’t like Apple. So I’m not going to focus on it at all.

A little hyperbole, but some valid points too

It’s surprising to me sometimes that this blog has kept going for as long as it has. I forgot to mark it this year, but it’s managed to keep going for six years. It’s seen me go from a student shitting himself over final exams to a gainfully employed individual. It’s seen me live in four houses in two countries. A lot of things have changed since I started, and some things haven’t changed at all.

Back at the start, I was a massive fan of His Clarksonness. And I reg his Sunday Times column religiously.

I’m still a massive fan, but I don’t find myself reading the columns as much. I don’t know if it’s a time thing, or what, but I don’t think I’ve gone looking through the paper looking for said column in a number of years.

Maybe I’m growing as a person; more likely it’s hyperbole fatigue. More likely still I’ve better things to be doing.

But that’s not what I started writing this post; this isn’t about me. No, this is about yet another person taking a shot at the totally inept administration that unfortunately runs this country.

The Clarkson take on the 2009 budget is worth a read.

Let’s imagine for a moment that we are all on a plane, with Brown and Darling at the controls.

We are heading for a mountain. We know that we are all about to be killed. And it is becoming increasingly obvious that our two pilots are completely useless.

Sure, they keep telling us over the PA system that it’s the biggest mountain they’ve seen since 1945 but we’re not to worry.

Unfortunately, however, we are worried because we keep being told by cabin staff that instead of trying to take sensible avoiding action, Brown and Darling are spending most of their time writing rude emails about other pilots, watching porn films and discussing whether Prince William’s as yet unborn daughter should become queen.

And they won’t increase power to the engines and climb out of danger because this would cause global warming.

Blimey. If there’s a better simile doing the rounds at the moment, I’m yet to hear it.

Perhaps I should go back to reading regularly. Who knows how much I’ve missed…

Interesting

I may have mentioned, over the years, that I’m a fan of the Song of Ice and Fire books. It’s a series on an epic scale; the only thing that I can think of that is more complicated and woven together than Wheel of Time, and nearly the equal of that for readability.

It does, of course, suffer from the same problem as WoT: because the scale and complexity has gotten a little out of hand, it’s taking more books to finish the story and each of them is longer than the last one. But too much of a good thing? That just makes it better…

Some years ago, it was mooted that there was to be a HBO attempt at making a TV series of said books, but the last I heard of it was before the writers strike. And thusly I’d forgotten about it.

Then, yesterday, I heard this BBC story.

The American company behind hit shows such as Sex and the City and The Sopranos is to film a television pilot in Northern Ireland later this year.

First and Deputy First Ministers Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness made the announcement after talks with HBO officials in California last month.

A Game of Thrones will be filmed in various locations including the Paint Hall studios at the Titanic Quarter.

“A Game of Thrones”? That’s a familiar name

It would appear, by some strange coincidence, that they’re going to try making a fantasy epic in the middle of a dockyard in Belfast. How’d that come to be?

However, having a quick think about it, I see quite a few things that could work. Dunluce could do the job of the Greyjoy stronghold; Enniskillen could do the job of the Twins; Gosford could do for Winterfell. Plus, Derry’s walls and river would make a nice approximation of King’s Landing.

Whadda know? If this works out, this could do wonders for the tourism trade round these parts…

Contain your excitement

Oh dear God people, his Obamaness himself is HERE. He’s in these islands, he has graced us with his presence. Soon all will be well, manna will rain from the heavens and the economic difficulties will waste away.

Or, another way that it could go: Obama will turn up, and cause as much hassle as Bush did. He’ll talk a load of wank, nothing will be any better, and Brown will act like the cat that got the cream while he fucks things up even more.

Plz to place your bets as to
a) which I think is more likely; and
b) which is more likely.

Add to that the expected useless crusties turning up to make the proceedings even more fun with their original performance art installations hippy with broken head caused by Met police and hippy picking on the defenceless, and it’s likely to be a fun few days for the media photographers. Because they’re the only ones allowed to take pictures of the police, or so it seems…

Stop the circle jerk, please

Sorry to be an old curmudgeon about things, but I really will be glad when this week is over. Why you ask? Simple, sez I: because Comic Fucking Relief will be over.

Back in the day, Comic Relief didn’t annoy me. It was a bit of a laugh, and it raised a goodly amount of money for important causes without pissing me off. Even last time round, I wasn’t too bothered.

This year, however, I’m getting royally fucked off by the whole thing. Not by the idea of raising money for charity, of course, because that’s hardly ever a bad idea. But the massive amount of smug back slapping going on by those involved (specifically by Moyles) is sickening. Especially when you look at the returns.

To get what it gets, Comic Relief is whored by hundreds of BBC employees for one entire week, plus all the preparation that is done for weeks before it. Hundreds of hours of TV and radio are devoted to it.

To get a fairly similar amount of money, Barclay’s Bank make money and then pass some of it on. So did Lloyds. So did RBS.

But these are bankers; this are targets of ire these days, despite each of them giving more money to charity each near than Comic Relief makes. We’re expected to treat the Radio 1 celebrities climbing a mountain as demi-gods for making a million and half, while we bitch about bankers who make thirty times that.

Plus, pious self congratulation generally annoys me, even when it’s me doing it. How annoyed do you think I’d be by celebrities I don’t even like sucking each other off on life radio?

Why the shame?

The BBC asks what about those well-thumbed novels we HAVE read, but are less keen to mention?.

What books are you ashamed of having read?

Answer: none.

I’ve read a whole hell of a lot of totally “unworthy” books. But why hide them.

Books that I’ve read that are ‘unworthy’, but much more enjoyable than most of the worthy ones that we’re meant to have read.

  • The original Bond books
  • Every word written by Tom Clancy
  • Harry Potter
  • The Council Wars series
  • The Larry Bond books
  • The Honor Harrington series
  • Almost everything by Harry Turtledove
  • Everything by Terry Pratchett

So, which ones do you think you’d prefer? Something from the list above, or Dreams from my fucking Father?

That said, there are books that I’m not happy about having read, or having tried to read. Things from which I got no joy, or from which I derived no sense of achievement at all. I’m looking at you here, Da Vinci Code and Catch-22…

No, they don’t. But they don’t care.

From last week’s Economist, about the abolition of the 11 plus in Norn Iron:

When Labour came to power in 1997 it proclaimed its determination to make every school a good school. That optimism has given way to a sadder, meaner goal of preventing the middle classes from monopolising the good schools that already exist. The rules governing admissions have been made mandatory—and bewilderingly complex (yes to selecting 10% of pupils according to “aptitude” but not “ability”, and only for “specialist schools”; yes to “fair banding”, which classes children by ability and admits a representative sample, but no to the 11-plus—unless you are one of the 164 grammars; yes to religious schools demanding baptismal certificates and the like, but no to interviewing to ascertain devoutness; and so on for 82 pages). Are Northern Ireland’s politicians really sure where their path leads?

Do those politicians in Norn Iron who have set us on this course know where it leads? No, they do not. But they don’t care; all they care about is the sad, mean goal of dragging everyone down to a level of their choosing. They don’t want anyone rising above the rest by dint of merit or otherwise.

They don’t care that every possible alternative to academic selection that has been tried has been shown to be worse than it; has been shown to have no greater effect on social mobility; has been shown to be more open to corruption.

They’ve taken a dislike to the 11 plus. And thusly, they’ll fucking destroy it, and to hell with anyone who gets in their way. And then they’ll not bother coming up with an alternative, because they don’t really care about education, they only care about destroying that which they don’t like.

In fact, they’re acting like spoiled three year old brats. And I hope that someone comes along at an election in the future and gives them a smack on the arse that’ll have them crying for years.

I have a slightly fearful hope

Red Dwarf. Being reingivorated for Dave.

Oh dear.

I am a great fan of the Dwarf. Of the books, of the TV show, of the characters and most of all of the quotes.

I’m also quite a fan of Dave, despite the silly name. It tends to have lots and lots of shows that I quite like, even if they do repeat them to death.

However, I’m not entirely convinced that a few special episodes of Red Dwarf on Dave is what the world needs now. The later seasons of Red Dwarf were the weakest ones, and one of the reasons that they were was because of the departure of Rob Grant. And Grant isn’t going to be on the team for this particular expedition either, so that might be a bad thing.

However, another reason that seasons 7 and 8 were unfortunately less good than the earlier ones was that they seemed to focus more on dodgy and overly showy computer graphics. And that isn’t being brought onto the Dave version, which can only be a good thing.

Bad thing again: all the actors are getting old and have much more baggage. Robert Llewellyn is now better known for running about the scrapheap and making really bad puns; Chris Barrie is the &uumt;ber geek; Danny John Jules is a somewhat low-key film dude and Craig Charles is a soap actor with a dodgy history of drug abuse. Will any new potential fans be able to seen beyond those and see the characters they became famous for?

However, I think that I’ll be tuning in anyway. Partly because I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. And partly because I’m going to be hoping for many more quotes to be boring everyone with…

Another good one

Jaysus Horatio Christ. Someone in the Economist office has been asleep at the wheel. Another less than woolly editorial? Only a month after the last one? Something must be wrong in the street of Saint James…

The rule of law is a wonderful thing, as anyone who has visited countries ruled by the whims of the powerful can attest. But you can have too much of a wonderful thing. And America has far too much law, argues Mr Howard in a new book, “Life without Lawyers”. For nearly every problem, lawmakers and bureaucrats imagine that more detailed rules are the answer. But people need to exercise their common sense, too. Alas, the proliferation of rules is making that harder.

Note to the world of government: when faced with a problem largely caused by too many poorly written rules, the cure is not to make more rules. The cure is more likely to be less rules. Or, at the very least, less poorly written and overly specific rules.

And the Economist tells us this in plain language. How about that?

Tell you what, Micklethwait must be on holiday over December and January. Editorials like these are remnants of the good old classically liberal Economist. None of the new and bullshit nonsense that’s been taking over the place since he was given the helm…

Endings and beginnings of endings

Tonight, the last episode of Atlantis aired. Not a massive loss; I’d not really been watching it since the great SkyOne denial episode of aught seven, but I thought I’d do it hte decency of watching the final show. And it was alright, nothing too special but then again nothing that debased the rest of the series.

However, that was just one ending. News of the beginning of another ending is much more important.

The final half of the final season of the greatest sci-fi show of our time begins next Tuesay, and that is both good and very bad.

Good, because GALACTICA IS BACK. And that makes me happy.

Bad, because there is to be no more after this. Boooooooooooooooooo.

Can’t have people going and enjoying themselves

I thank TLG for pointing out this latest method used by Nanny to ensure that nobody enjoyed themselves too much this Christmas.

Britain beware. The nation has been put on alert for a sinister Christmas-time menace.

Failure to heed the warnings, say ministers, could result in “tipsy” grandmas “toppling down the stairs” or “crashing to the floor when they miss their seat at the dinner table”, exploding gravy dishes and “parents stabbing themselves with scissors they’ve grabbed instead of screw-drivers to assemble toys”.

These danger signs are outlined in a “festive” leaflet designed to look like an Advent calendar and entitled “Tis the Season to Be Careful”. Some 150,000 will be thrust upon unsuspecting shoppers in high streets around the country in the last three shopping days before Christmas.

Of course, that hundred and fifty thousand copies of a scare story are as nothing compared to Nanny’s scary output. In Belfast alone, this has manifested in dozens of posters all over the city warning people that buying electronic presents could easily cause your entire family to DIE IN A FIRE. And many dozens of hours of radio commercials promising that Christmas driving will cause your family to receive sympathy cards, not Christmas cards. And television ads along the same lines, and newspaper spreads highlighting the downfall of society caused by x bogeyman of the week…

What is it, do you think, that causes people to go specifically out of their way to find more and more unlikely implausible excuses to scare us? Why do you have to go and point out that unless we secure our attic doors that EVIL MONSTERS from the attic will come down and kill us? Or that not washing the handle of our toasters may cause us to DIE from some wonderful new infection?

Me, I think it’s because people are bastards. It’s the only explanation that fits…

On top of that, there are the frankly disgusting ads by charities that specialise in scaring money out of people – in particular I’m looking at the NSPCC ‘baby P’ ad, which seriously had me considering if I could ring them up and demand every single penny that I’ve ever donated be reimbursed.

Er wot?

I’ve been to some of the nicer places in the world. I’ve walked the streets of New York and cycled across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco; I’ve had meals next to the Colosseum and wandered through the rooms of the Vatican; I’ve seen the depths of the Grand Canyon and the heights of the Canadian Rockys; I’ve viewed the ruins of Karnak and I’ve even seen the snow on a pretty Bulgarian hillside.

There are a great many other places I’d like to go as well; I’d like to see Ayres Rock; I’d like to sample Tokyo’s delights and the Inca trail.

But what I can’t really be doing with is visiting that little dump that is Belfast. Despite all the things that Frommers has to say about it.

In little more than a decade, Belfast has been transformed from fractured city into a hot city break destination, moving fast towards its 19th-century accolade of Paris of the North. Premier Victorian landmarks such as the City Hall, Ulster Museum, and Ulster Hall are reopening in 2009 after being given a makeover. But towering above the city, it’s the glass dome of the sophisticated new Victoria Square shopping centre that’s the real emblem of the city’s renaissance. The army check points that encircled the city centre during the Troubles are a thing of the past; today you can amble along the Golden Mile for relaxed drinks or enjoy Irish music in Cathedral Quarter bars. Try the Laganside for orchestral concerts at the riverfront Waterfront Hall and international cuisine from Teppanyaki at Harbour View to seafood at Tedfords. Or, for the ultimate treat, stay at the luxury Merchant Hotel, sip bubbly among the chandeliers in Cafe Vaudeville’s champagne bar and savor Michelin-starred dining at Deanes.

Oh that all sounds lovely. Apparently the renaissance of the city is best summed up by a shopping centre that’s too expensive for the place. Oh, and it’s an emblem that I’ve never really been in and don’t particularly plan on going to.

Does that mean that I’m not on board with the new Belfast?

It’s that time of year again

In his rather good book High Fidelity, Nick Hornby put forward the theorem that men really like lists.

This is likely not a surprise to many people, male or female, but it would appear than it’s not just men that like lists. No, newspapers seem to like them as well. And, what with this approaching the end of the year, that means that they get to write lists about what has happened over the preceeding year. And once they’ve started that, they just can’t help themselves, and start producing lists about everything.

Knowing my tastes, TLG is responsible for me reading some of these lists, in that she sends me links to them. Blame her, not me…

So, here’s a list of the few lists that have got my attention in the last day or two:

  • Johann Hari in the Independent – I look at this list, and I agree with precisely nothing on it. Which is a surprise; how rare is it to read something and not be able to identify with at least some of it? Actually, tell a lie, there’s one point I could get on board with – to an extent – but not necessarily for the reasons Mr Hari espouses.
  • The weird legal cases of the year in the Times – And it’s something of a sad reflection on how much I read things on t’internet that I was already aware of all but one of these…
  • And a non-round-up one from the Telegraph: strange words from around the world
    And my favourite list of the week. Partly because of the word Chantepleurer, which definitely applies to me. Except that I’m not the one crying when I sing…

So, anyone else spotted lists like these that are worthy of a read? Or have I exhausted all the interesting ones, thusly saving the media from collating any more before January 1st?

And continuing the balance

There was positive yesterday morning, and negative this morning.

Now, we shall continue that theme, with something that is both positive and negative.

To whit: this article.

It is positive, because it is informative, interesting, well written and funny.

Negative, because it is basically a manual for insulting people.

And with that, I have learned the following insult, which I shall direct to one Mr G Brown, Esq:

Gladna Karpatska valchitza s dalag kosam minet da ti prai deeba.

But I say it positively…

A bit of the old spirit

I’ll confess that I’ve been less than impressed with the Economist lately. With their full swallowing of the climate change kool-aid, their backing of Obama and their recent drift towards big government, they’ve not been hitting the right buttons with me.

However, I’m still in the middle of a subscription, so I still read it. And I hope against hope that they may recover some of their former common sense. Or even explain why they’ve changed track so much; I’ve not seen any explanation for their changes of opinion, and where they have tried to justify their choices (for example, they claimed to back Obama because McCain wasn’t centrist enough) it either hasn’t made sense or hasn’t rung true.

My hopes are, most weeks, dashed. Yes, they’re still talking sense about Zimbabwe; yes, they’re much more realistic about Iraq than most outlets. But they’re still considerably to the left of what they were only five years ago, especially with regards to the banking crisis.

This week, however, my hopes have been rekindled. By a leader that is very atypical of the recent Economist; it’s very reminiscent of the Economist of old that I used to rely on. And it ends like this:

So, children, here are some crunchy facts. Spending on education has more than doubled in a decade, but standards have stalled as New Labour has conspired with its friends in the teachers’ unions to dumb down exams and meet performance targets. One in five pupils still leaves primary school unable to read and write effectively. Britain is sliding down the world’s literacy league tables (it does better at maths, which thankfully remains ringfenced). You cannot teach children everything. But that is no excuse for teaching them nothing much at all.

Look at it; marvel at its beauty. It’s critical, it’s unequivocal, it’s targeted. It is also sensible, and tells a truth that is plain to all.

It would appear that the old paper is still there. It’s just been buried beneath nonsense…

The state of the world today

or “What Ed thinks is wrong with the world today”

Many years ago, in the dark days of (I think) 2003, a small and relatively unknown band called Snow Patrol wrote, performed and released a song called Run. And it was a very nice song; not massively powerful, and not spectacularly sung. It was without most of the angst and worrying psychotic meandering that have been in a lot of Snow Patrol’s other songs. It brought the band into the public perception, and it reached number 5 in the charts. It was the result of hard work, song writing skill, and promotional hard work.

In fact, it was good.

Fast forward to today. When some really annoying and dull bint with a very powerful voice sings the song once on a really annoying and somewhat pointless TV show, and it goes straight into the charts at number 1. It is no longer a nice song, being far too fiddly and far too ‘power ballad’. In fact, from being a song that I would make a point of listening to, it has now become one of the songs that make me switch the radio off. Very quickly. It is not the result of hard work, or song writing skill. It is not even the result of promotional hard work. It is the result of blind flocking by people.

In short, it is bad. And it is symptomatic of the downfall of civilization as we know it. Honest.

Best. Review. Ever.

One of the complaints thrown at Top Gear is that they’re really a light entertainment show with cars as an aside. Some would say that that is a plus, not a minus, but still there are complaints that there isn’t more serious, sensible, motoring reviews.

Last night, they took that on board, and did a serious and sensible review of the new Ford Fiesta. They asked about fuel efficiency and value for money; they tested parking agility and usefulness. All the usual stuff.

Then they emptied out a shopping centre and chased the Fiesta through it at 50 mph. And then borrowed a Royal Marine assault force. With helicopters and landing craft, just for that little bit more realism…

I like…