Give our society a new toy and it will rip its head off and shit down its neck. And then complain.
Twitter again, folks. Sometimes it's a wonderful thing. Sometimes it's depressing.
And the thing that's depressing me today about twitter is a little panel on the left that tells me that some made up phrase with a boy band in it is trending. This is not news: it is noise.
In this particular case it's a fan campaign that serves no purpose whatsoever other than to be a self-perpetuating feast of self-love. Aren't we the best fans, because we get our boyband's name trending more often than anyone else? And tomorrow it will be Lady Gaga and the day after, it will be Justin Bieber, and then it will be someone else ad nauseam.
It turns what could be a useful, informative feature in to a game - the trending topics is something that people play, and in many cases do so to generate free advertising, either for the brand or band that they are a fan of, or for themselves.
Indeed, if you are stupid enough to click on a trending topic, hoping to find out why it is trending, then you are more than likely to find that most of the tweets are along the lines of "OMG I can't believe Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga and #LookAtMeNow are trending. I hate them!" - which is nothing but grandstanding.
It worries me that this says that large parts of our culture are basically very, very shallow.
I am a little bit in love with Dr Francesca Stavrakapoulou.
I saw one of her series of documentaries last year, and I've listened to her on the Radio 4 show, "Museum of Curiosity" this week. And she's brilliant. A theologian, a lecturer, a member of the European Association of Biblical Studies, a television presenter and an atheist.
In the space of a half hour radio comedy panel show, she manages to mention
Although a lot of people disagree with her on some of these points.
What I love is her historical approach to the study of religion which manages to be quite respectful as well as light-hearted. I'm sure academically she can be argued with, but she comes across as confident and funny. I knew most of her points above already; she manages to communicate them in a way which is accessible.
I'm sure some will find what she says sacreligious, but I find it tremendously respectful. She clearly loves and respects religion, but I think she's got its context pretty much right. I wish I could say what she says half as clearly as she does.
This week saw airing of "Red or Black?" a show which, apparently ITV passed on some time ago, on the basis that nobody was really interested in watching somebody else win money without having to do anything to get it.
There's a lot of evidence of this. For example, the BBC's history with the lottery show. It's a ratings winner when people think it could be them. It's a contractual obligation when people realise it might not be.
Enter "Red or Black?". I won't spell out the rules of the game, for they are few and pointless. It is primarily a huge budget variety show with a bit of gameshow stuck on the end, where the winner is decided by luck and the prize is similarly decided by luck. Either £1m or nothing.
And the first winner was Nathan Hageman. A man with a criminal record. A an who served two and a half years out of a five year sentence, but whose sentence has now expired in any case. This man doesn't deserve to win, apparently, and hence there is a media frenzy. The frenzy is far more interesting than the show.
Now, in the UK, we have a fine history of tension between the legal system and the media. The legal system, for example, asserts that it might be best if trials were conducted with a degree of decorum, with juries made up of people who are presented with facts and the opinions of people involved, steered by a judge, and ideally avoiding undue external influence.
The tabloid press, on the other hand, have a reputation for slapping photographs of people on their front pages, with headings like "Face of a Killer", and then a small retraction on page 18 the following day when the man with dark hair and thick lips has been released without charge.
But that's what the press needs, of course. With the proliferation and fragmentation of news sources, the press needs sensationalism, scandal. It needs opinion. The press needs a freakshow, and where it can't find one, it creates one.
In this case, the balance between the legal system and the media is clearer. Hageman has no legal requirement to hand over any of his money to anyone. He was not sentenced never to enter a game show, or indulge in gambling. There is no legal reason for him not to have entered the show, no legal reason for him not to be allowed to win. There are restrictions around the activities of criminals after they have served their sentence. Putting your arm around Simon Cowell's shoulder is, as far as I know, not one of them.
What there is, however, is moral indignation and pressure from some pressure groups within society. Perhaps allowing convicted criminals the right to win big money on bland gameshows should be curtailed. If that is the case, then the issue is between the pressure groups and the legal system.
And for the rest of us, bring on the bread and circuses.
I must admit, when I first heard that Channel 4 were making a show called "Seven Dwarves" following the lives of seven dwarves living together while working on a pantomime, I thought it was a gimmick. I thought it would be a televisual freakshow, leaping boldly in to the gap where Big Brother used to sit. "No, no," said the publicity machine. I was doubtful.
I have my suspcicions that the original genesis of the idea was somewhere along those lines. However, the execution of the documentary is very different.
First off, there is little mention of the pantomime. There's no attempt to force the actors in to Grumpy or Dopey shaped boxes. What we have, instead, is a series of interlinking documentaries following the lives of seven actors as they live together in a house for a period of time. They're away from home, missing their families, relying on each other. They have their own issues, their own love lives, their own background stories about how they got in to show business, and their own reasons for doing pantomime. They have their own hopes for the future, their own dreams.
They're all interesting stories, worth telling.
There's a parallel to "Big Fat Gypsy Weddings" in that both documentary series show us a parallel world, different from the life of the majority of British People. In "BFGW", the world is much more alien, however. The show has been accused of being a freak show, and although it doesn't pass judgement on the culture it documents, it does hold it up, and in a way that provokes debate, analysis, and ridicule.
The height of the subject of Seven Dwarves is why they're on this particular series. But it doesn't define them. It's there, in every camera shot. It does impact on everything. But it's often a secondary thing; it gives them extra depth.
As a result, Seven Dwarves doesn't feel like a freak show. Indeed, I feel it is far more likely to succeed in getting the viewers to question their own attitudes and preconceptions.
Science, science, science.
It's a wonderful thing. It keeps planes up, it makes the internet work, it causes the lights to go on when you flick that switch in the corner of the room. It gives us explanations for all sorts of things, including utter stupidity.
I had an argument. I have these arguments every couple of years, but I've been trying to cut back. I don't have the energy. It ran along the lines of:
Me: New Age Therapy X doesn't work. Scientifically, it can't work. It's just nonsense, and those who practice it are either manipulative or deluded.
This was a bad start, I know. I'm making some declarative statements, and I could probably have qualified it. Anyhow.
Her: (for it is a her) But science can't prove everything.
And this is the point when I have lost the argument. Because I am talking to an idiot.
The argument to discredit the entirety of science is that sometimes scientists make mistakes. And, of course, they do. But the great thing about scientists is that they accept that mistakes are made, they get their work peer-reviewed, and analysed and the bunch of theories that we call science get better and better with time. They're still theories, true, but many of them - like the theory of gravity - are so universally demonstrable that they might as well be true for most practical purposes, like going for a walk on a rock flying around the sun.
As far as I know, the theory of gravity is still evolving. There are different ways of conceptualising it that may lead in different directions, there are doubtless amendments that will apply in extreme circumstances that don't normally occur here on Earth. But, 9 times out of 10 - and actually more often - when we walk outside our front doors we don't fly off in to space.
The great thing about science is that you can take some small observations, extrapolate what that means, and see if you can observe whatever it is that your theory implies. Result: Good Theory.
Unfortunately, this leads me in two directions. Health and Morality. I'm not going to touch on morality, and I'm not going to mention the name of the health practice involved, but it involves the incredible dilution of materials to increase their strength.
It's clearly nonsense. That's my basic position, and one I won't actually be shaken from. Ever. It's demonstrably nonsense. It's magic beans. If you apply the basic scientific method and see where it takes you, it famously implies that weaker beer will get you drunk faster. Utter bilge.
The counter argument is usually by example. "My nana took a tincture of chicken albumen diluted a gazillion times and it cured her athlete's foot, and doctors couldn't do that. Science can't explain that."
Actually, science can. I can't, because I've not examined your nana, and I'm not going to, but if a proper analysis was done, science would probably be able to find out why your nana got better, and what triggered it. And then look at the coincidence of the magic bean.
"Oh, but dilute magic bean medicine is part of a family of therapies that work together. We treat the whole person, not the symptoms."
Listen to yourself. Do you realise how stupid you sound? This is the point where I want to educate you, tell you what you are doing. Because it's the point where you're actually doing some good. You're counselling. You're listening. You're making your patient believe that they will get better, triggering the release of chemicals that might actually do some good. You should keep doing that. You should understand what you are doing. You should not then give them a sugar tablet that contains less gnat's bladder than a millionth of a gnat and tell them it will cure their rickets.
But you'll never win. You'll get sucked in to the pseudo-science of dilution, the resonance of crystals, the manipulation of the aura, and the potent magic of contemporary witchcraft.
My advice is just to walk away. Slowly.
Katie Price - novelist, singer, celebrity.
She is, to be fair, a bit crap. She's not great at singing, she's not great at writing, and she looks like a cartoon version of a hooker. By all rights, she should be a non-entity, but she is the biggest celebrity in the United Kingdom, and there's been nobody to challenge herself since Princess Panda went head-over-heels in Paris and Jade Goody went the way of all flesh.
I don't care what happens to her. I don't watch her shows. I don't seek out information on her. But I know a ridiculous amount about her personal life (I carefully avoided the use of the word "private" there), her personal wealth and her marital status. What she has been very good at is filling a niche in society. In a world where tolerance is a watchword, she has made herself in to the person that it's okay to be glad that you're not.
I was standing queuing for my lunch yesterday, and she was on the front cover of every magazine. Her life, it seems, is so dramatic that it is almost scripted. She "writes" an autobiography every year, and I do have a theory that they are written in advance, and she gets someone to read them to her so that she can find out what to do next. Her presence is so pervasive, it is almost impossible not to know who she is, and who she is marrying or divorcing this week.
She's not important.
The world will not come crashing to a halt tomorrow unless she steps in to rescue the economy.
She is not going to find a cure for cancer through breast surgery.
Her husband's sexuality is absolutely none of my concern.
But she's a distraction. She is escapism. Regardless of her personality, her perceived persona is one that makes people jealous and offended in roughly equal measures. That, if nothing else, is admirable.
Luddites used to break machines that were taking their jobs.
Newspapers publish news online for free, supported by advertising. When that fails, they try to introduce paywalls.
Television programmes exist to get viewers to watch adverts.
e-Books are more expensive than printed books.
CD prices are at the cheapest they have ever been.
It costs more for airport taxes than for flights.
If you buy your flight by a credit card, there's a fee that isn't a fixed amount, and doesn't depend on the amount of the transaction, but depends on how many people are taking how many flights.
The BBC can justify closing down radio channels because they are not popular enough.
The BBC can justify closing down radio channels because they are too popular.
Celebrity magazines exist - and perpetuate themselves by creating their own celebrities. Pap will eat itself.
Brief thoughts on the evolution of the dinner party.
In the 1920s perhaps we would have piled down to Squiffy's place in Kent for the weekend. During the day we would have enjoyed the grounds. Ffytch would have sat in the arboretum, composing poetry, and Grumpy Montmorency Cleeves would have made a fool of himself in an amusing event in the gazebo, leaving Calamity Mitford under the mistaken impression that he had proposed. In the evening, chef would have served us primordial soup, the cream of Scotland Yard.
In the 1950s we would not have had dinner parties. We would have had austerity instead. Austerity is not a good alternative to dinner.
In the 1970s the dinner party was in its heyday. We'd be invited round to Margot and Jerry's, and Margot would serve us olives ("on a stick, how unusual!") with our Cinzanos before we settled down to dine on Prawn Cocktail and Boeuf Bourgignone. We'd prepare dinner in advance, just to check that it worked, and we would serve our carrots from a hostess trolley.
By the 1990s Boeuf Bourgignone was terribly bad taste. If we were entertaining clients, we'd pop out for Novelle Cuisine. ("I couldn't possibly take two carrots, I'm on a diet.") The dinner party evolved in to the more casual "having friends round for dinner", which was a chance to show off the wall we'd had removed to create a kitchen-diner, so the whole mystery of food was transformed in to a social event.
In 2010, that is being replaced by a phenomemon lifted from television. The 20-somethings of my acquaintance don't have friends for dinner, they don't throw dinner parties, or casual soirees. They "do" Come Dine With Me. A group of friends visit each other in rotation, mark each other in secret, and presumably rifle through each other's underwear drawers.
In the beginning, was the universe. The universe was very big, very confusing, and full of things that people couldn't understand. Things like the sun, and seasons, and death, and all sorts of things that if you were to stop and think about them would make you basically sit in a field all day going "Ug".
So, early mankind made up stories that explained observed phenomena. The sun was drawn across the sky on a chariot, and if you didn't eat your porridge it might not come up. Death was a doorway to a greater truth, but killing people was wrong.
That's fantastic. That's the beginning of a code of laws, the beginning of science, the beginnings of community. It also lets people stop worrying about what it's all about, and start focussing on really important things like inventing wheels and printing presses and processed cheese.
It's also the beginning of specialisation. If you've got one man who knows how the universe works he can worry about making sure it keeps working, and you can make sure that there's still bread on the table. He doesn't need to worry about yeast, and you don't need to worry about the laws of physics suddenly changing.
There's scope for a healthy degree of debate between the two of you. You might suggest, perhaps, that maybe eating Wob-meat gave you food poisoning, and he might oblige by checking with the Gods and finding out that Wob-meat is unclean. And he may suggest that the Gods have said that bread should be made with sand rather than flour, and you might oblige by telling him that you tried that and it didn't work.
What there is, though, is a healthy respect for the fact that you are the expert in baking, and he is the expert in the universe. If you say that Wob-meat gave you food poisoning, rather than declaring Wob-meat unclean, he may issue divine guidelines on how to cook Wob-meat properly, and thereby appease the thousands of Wob-farmers he might otherwise put out of work. He's got a different perspective. A wider perspective.
Of course, information is the enemy of this sort of specialisation.
I don't care how much the chairman of the BBC gets paid. Nor should you. Because it is none of your business.
Oh yes, you pay your licence fee - a tax by any other name - and that makes the BBC accountable, down to the last paperclip, the last penny of your money that you have paid to fund your BBC.
You're entitled to demand the removal of Jonathan Ross, the reinstatement of 6 Music, to moan about too much sport, or not enough, or whatever the heck you want.
This is a fantastic degree of transparency and openness. But it's flawed and ultimately kind of pointless and destructive.
Say you're a private contractor, working in some field of technical expertise. You're brilliant at your job and you can charge £500 per hour for your time. You get hired, a lot. Do your clients have the right to ask what they are going to get for their money?
Of course they do. They want some piece of technical knowledge that you either have, or can generate for them. You've obviously set your rate at one that you think fairly covers your costs, pays off some of your student loan and mortgage, has some contingency in it to cover the fact that as a private contractor you may not be working full time. You might have loaded it up a bit because you know the client is prepared to pay more for you. You might have rounded, or put in VAT at 17.5% when you're currently only paying it at 9%. At the end of the day, you are not a charity.
As long as the client is happy that the service received is worth the money that they have paid for it, everyone should be happy, shouldn't they?
They might not be. There might be a negotiation. Happens all the time. Cut a few quid off here, scale back a service there. All fair enough.
Never in a private business relationship does the client - who pays the wages - have a right to demand to know how that money is spent. They can't see how much you pay your PA, they can't see whether you've shopped around and got the cheapest energy provider to supply power to your office. They wouldn't expect to.
Paying for something does not give you an automatic right to control it.
I'll admit that there is a difference between a private contractor and the BBC - there are many - but the key one would be that the BBC - like the National Health Services and the Government - isn't in a competitive playing field. But the same principle applies.
Compare the benefit received to the price paid. Get that sorted first.
Freedom of speech is an interesting thing, isn't it. It's what allows you to sit in the privacy of your own home and say "Oh, I don't like Cormorants, they wet their nests", without the pro-Cormorant lobby breaking down your door and carting you away to the funny farm, there to be rehabilitated.
It is - like most concepts - hideously abused by some.
Just because you have something you want to say, it doesn't mean that I have to listen to it, agree with it, or give it any credibility at all. You have the right to say that you think that all children under the age of three should be shot. I have the equal right to say that you are a slavering idiot.
In the post-blog epoch, the place to get your rabid pointless message across to the masses is in the comments section of an online newspaper. It's brilliant. You don't need to justify your opinion, you don't need to read anyone else's comments, you don't even need to read anyone else's reply. You can just shout your meaningless shite into the ether, and because you are brilliant, everyone who reads it will come to your support. How brilliant is that?
It's not brilliant. It is, occasionally, funny, though.
I found myself teetering on the brink of doing it. On the BBC News web site, home of the deliciously random "Have Your Say" vitriol columns, where people with too much time and spare and unrelated opinions can persuade themselves that they matter. Hundreds of comments on a story that in itself was a report of a piece of research that reached inflammatory conclusions - possibly because they were the conclusions that it set out to reach. Yes, this country may have gone to the dogs, Have Your Say readers. However, by yapping away and thinking you matter, you are not part of any solution. Don't think that you are.
You do not represent the "moral majority". Yes, other people on the talkback agree with you - because the majority who disagree with you really don't think you're worth talking back to. You are a tiny yapping puppy in a big bucket full of them.
It's ironic that I am ranting about ranting, I know. I'm aware that by posting this online, I am in some ways just as bad as the "ban everything" brigade that annoy me so much. I know all that. But I'm not expecting anyone to read this. This is just for me, just for myself. Tell me how much you agree with me in the comments.
To close, though, a word from one of the wisest people I ever knew.
The right to freedom of speech does not include the right to be taken seriously.
In 1988, the most subversive programme on British television was Doctor Who.
In a thinly-veiled satire on contemporary society, The Happiness Patrol oozed on to our screens. Everything was sugar-coated, lift muzacked and synthetic. This, we were told, was good. Entertainment for the masses.
Sheila Hancock (mother of Tony and Roger) oozed Thatcherly charm as Helen A, devoted leader of the people of Terra Alpha, and not a thinly veiled political alligator at all. She loved her people, she just wanted them to be happy, and she was genuinely unaware of the stifling stranglehold she had on them. She didn't care about the little people. She saw the big picture.
Mind you, this was the story with some indigenous life forms whose lines were unintelligible, and a giant Bertie Bassett thrown in for good measure and not just to annoy confectioners, honest.
This, of course was what led to the downfall of Thatcherism and the dawn of the modern age. Or it would have done if Coronation Street hadn't been on the other side.
The other day, I was involved in a disagreement with a so-called "expert" who shouted me down, saying that seatbelts are indisputably safe for all toddlers and that parents of children with leukemia are "just a bit mad".
This is in the wake of a study that found a positive correlation between wearing seatbelts and childhood leukemia! Admittedly, the study has been discredited, but I've heard stories about parents taking their child to hospital in a car, wearing a seatbelt, and being told that their child had contracted leukemia. Coincidence? I don't think so.
This is another typical response from those bullies who don't want us to protect our children from leukemia. It is simply irresponsible to assert that seatbelts are appropriate in all cases, and to shout down anyone who disagrees as somehow educationally subnormel.
Some children have an allergic reaction to peanuts. Most don't. Does that mean you feed peanuts to all children? Of course it doesn't. In fact, most schools have banned peanuts. So, by analogy, we should also ban seatbelts. And watching television, reading, crossing the road and
Do you see what I did there? I took two unrelated concepts - one of which is a safety measure, and one of which is a tragic illness, put them together and - hurrah! - I look like an idiot.
It seems today that all we see is violence in movies, and death on television. I've been to the cinema twice in the last week, and both times the movie showed a broken world, post-apocalyptic and bleak. And I've not even seen The Road, which is supposed to be even worser than those.
All very gloomy and doomy. Even Being Human is looking more drama than comedy - although a show in which one of the main characters is dead is either going to have serious overtones or be a Classic comedy. Then I get home to the horrors of Haiti. There is a definitely dark vibe in the air.
Fortunately, I am enjoying Glee. A show about life's great shallownesses, a show that while being partly Ugly Betty has a good chunk of Pushing Daisies and even Ugly Betty when it was at its most camp.
I'm hard-pushed to guess at the target audience for Glee, though. It's too cynical to be aimed at the Disney Market, and too camp and cutting to be aimed, really, at anyone other than Gay Men in their 30s to 50s. Not that I'm complaining about that...
As we all know, teh internets is dead. It had a good run.
There was the boring grey phase, then the boring unteractive phase, then the creative bit, then the corporate whoredom, then everyone and their granny found it, and they renamed it Web 2.0, which basically means that the signal to noise ratio dropped through the floor and people who used to quite rightly keep their opinions to themselves discovered blogging and the BBC Have Your Say, anyone with a guitar and a bongo was on MySpace and Philip Schofield had a twitter feed.
Philip's twitter feed is very good, but I digress.
Anyway, somewhere in the middle of that, there stopped being anything new and edgy online and there started being a lot of adverts.
But creativity and imagination don't go away. You used to be able to find them on teh internets, in the same way that you used to be able to find them on Channel 4, or BBC2, or the Light Programme, or at the theatre, or from the guy who came round the village telling stories.
I think I have found the next next thing. And it's an old thing. It's sitcom.
I used to have a tag line on the old blog - "Interested in Everything", because basically I was. Let's consider the top headlines on the BBC's "Entertainment" News web site today.
Clarkson apologises for PM remark
True, what he said associated partial sightedness and Scottishness with being an idiot. But is it news? And is it entertainment?
BBC sorry over Bale swear gaffe
Another apology for transmitting inappropriate content at an inappropriate time
Sex and the City sequel announced
And that's the one that's really worrying - because all three of these headlines are indicative of the current trend in entertainment; away from being challenging, or interesting, or in any way edgy, and back towards safe, bland, apologetic and inoffensive.
Sex and the City is sexist claptrap, presenting an idealised world-view to women, objectifying men, and wearing its prejudices firmly on its sleeve. It's got all the ingredients to be potentially cutting edge, but it's tired and dated and incredibly bland.
And this is today's entertainment news?
The problem with television in particular is that it's already under siege from "new media". If the current backlash is allowed to stifle any innovation or creativity, it will become a preserve of the old, the bland, and the Daily Mail readers. And then it will die.
It's that time of year.
The cheery and relentlessly upbeat World Economic Forum is taking place in the picturesque municipality of Davos, somewhere in darkest Switzerland.
Davos was founded back in the 13th century or thereabouts. From about 1280, the barons of Vaz allowed Kaled colonists to settle down and permitted them certain rights, in exchange for their support in the ongoing skirmishes with the transylvanian Thal population.
Unfortunately, during this conflict, Davos was caught in a Thal attack and was left critically injured, leading to the entire town being confined to a wheelchair and losing an arm. Unsurprisingly, this led to something of a hardening of the character of the local population, and a determination to succeed, conquer, destroy and exterminate. And so on.
Eventually, Davos created the Daleks. However, they proved of limited use in Switzerland as they ran on castors and were easily pushed off alps.
I'm sitting waiting for my KimChi when she comes in.
- Look at this, she says.
I know I've said before that I won't go to my local chinese takeaway since they ripped out the soul, changed the menu, and put up a barrier so you can't see the chefs smoking and making the special sauce. They do Chinese, Korean, Thai and Malay food, and the Korean stuff is actually pretty good. So fried KimChi it is. But I digress.
- They're old, and they're overcooked, she goes on, ripping open the bag and dumping it unceremoniously on the counter. The cheery Korean chap looks at them. I can't work out his expression. She is looking around, possibly looking for an ally. I hunch over and make myself look small.
- Chips are cheap. You don't serve bad chips. And I went all the way home and had to come all the way back.
They take away the chips, and she sits down to wait.
- Check your food, she says.
I consider this. There's something very odd about buying chips from a Korean takeaway, particularly as they're slightly more expensive than the chips from the chip shop next door. Also, this place is famous for cocking up Chinese food, so their understanding of chips is likely to be even more random. I decide that my food will probably be fine.
And anyway, the last thing I want to do is take any advice from someone wearing pyjamas, slippers, and a cheap fake-fur coat.
Your home smells funny.
This is because of the dog, or the farting, or the baby sick, or the natural world creeping in to your hermetically sealed living capsule. You need the artificial natural smell of meadows, or pumpkins, or white tea and lily, delivered in to your home in puffs of chemistry, possibly with a changing light show and how about a magic little tune to let you know that a corner of your room now smells of something that might be orange blossom.
It's a multi-gazillion dollar industry probably, with new products squeezing themselves on to the market. The consumer - that's you, spraying frantically to cover up the fact that the dog has farted on the baby - has now realised that one smell is not enough - you get bored! And so, we now have air fresheners that change scent every forty-five seconds from chocolate to burning casserole to ck1, just to keep your home smelling fresh.
We need these products because we live in a world without fresh air, where opening a window lets the good air out, and where we have to keep all of our waste indoors because we don't have enough space for a compost patch as our gardens have been sacrificed for a range of six brightly-coloured waste bins (one for paper, one for glass, one for bodies, one for toenail clippings and so on) - which are collected fortnightly on an arcane rota known only to the air freshener companies.
Of course, most air fresheners don't get rid of smells, they just mask them. That's what the air freshener companies tell us, and they've been making this stuff out of long-chain hydrocarbons and waste from the petroleum industry for long enough that they've got to know, haven't they? So we now get products designed to kill nasty smells and the new second-generation version that covers up the new, fresh air, with the scent of lemon on a Tuesday. Aren't we lucky.
It's a multi-dollar industry, but one that nobody actually needs, so we've got to catch the youth market. Teach our offspring that the natural thing to do after a smelly poo is to push the ugly plastic sticky thing that's ruining the paintwork in the bathroom to release a puff of chemicals to cover up the other chemicals that have come out of your bottom. And then to complain to your mother, whose lips don't move in time with her words.
Your home smells funny. It always has done, and probably always will. And there's no doubt that artificial pseudopear and pseudojasmine can cover up the really nasty fart after a really good steak. But if you need a scented home with a smell that changes ever four seconds then you're either a nasally-retentive chemical addict or you should maybe consider finding a more long-term solution to the smell in your home. Clean.
There was something I heard recently that I found slightly disturbing. It was on one of these reality television programmes where people are relentlessly manipulated into argumentative caricatures.
A young woman, about nineteen I'd guess, described her ambition in life. She wanted to be a "wag".
Now, I may be missing a point somewhere along the line, but it's hardly a real ambition, is it? I'm not saying it's not hard work - there's the travel, the shopping, the forcing yourself to look good because the slapperazzi will be after you for that candid shot of you relaxing with your bikini half-off on your yacht. As a wag, you do help the media career of your husband or boyfriend (hob?), and help bring in the money and the lucrative advertising deals. Plus there's the added bonus of getting to shag a fit sportsman, so it's really not necessarily a bad thing to be.
But as an ambition, it really, really sucks. It presupposes that you're going to meet a world-class sportsman, they're going to fall in love with you, and that either you'll be prepared to move with him wherever his sporting career takes him, or that he'll be prepared to base his career moves on how handy his club is for Selfridges.
As an aside, you can't buy fridges there. I know, I asked.
However, this young woman wasn't completely daft. She knows that the media, bless them, have a love/hate relationship with wags. On the one hand, beautiful and brave ("Stunnah Shaqualla stands by husband through broken fingernail trauma"), and on the other hand vacuous and pointless ("Stupid Shaq Sucks at Six times Six"). So, she had a backup career planned.
"Maybe get a small career, like a newspaper column."
Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Where to start, eh? The idea of any career being "small", the idea that the inarticulate teenager could write a newspaper column, the fact that there's no actual thought of any training in there, the whole idea that this is something that could be an easy thing to do - as easy as snapping up a footballer. Oh. Dear.
The thing is, this is exactly what my Great Grandmother, Winifred Hambleton-Jones chained herself to a donkey at Margate for in one of the lesser-known suffragette protests. She never had a newspaper column or let a premiership footballer cover up his secret homosexuality by using her as a smokescreen, but then she never had the chance, did she? That's what she was fighting for - the right of women to their own lives, to make their own decisions, no matter how stupid those decisions might seem. So hurrah! for our teenage friend with her fantastic career plans. Because let's face it, I'm almost forty and I've still got no idea what I want to do.
One of the delights of living with a malevolent and yet adorable cat as an evil sidekick is that we don't always see eye to eye. And one of our big discussion points of recent days has been language.
The English language is a wonderful and diverse beast, and sometimes words take on new meanings. Let's make up an example. Let's use the word "egg". I do love these examples, although Mr Twinky thinks I'm silly. But he is, as I have said, a cat.
So. "Egg". Used for many years to describe the lovely breakfast food that chickens make for us, and in the 1960s on the back of some rallying speech and a popular song or two, it became a perjorative term used to apply to bald men. Hypothetically.
The next few years were bad for eggs, and for bald men. Egg sales went through the floor and dozens of chickens were needlessly slaughtered. Bald men, however, seized on the imagery of eggs and reclaimed the word. We all remember the great egg race of the 1980s, and the rallying cry of "Say it loud, I'm eggy and proud." Soon eggy men were using the symbol of the egg on their flag, carrying eggs on their parades, and indeed blatantly sharing omelettes.
But we're now in the interesting position, where having reclaimed the word egg, only bald men are allowed to use it. It's a word that the bald community have as a badge of pride, but if I use it, I'm automatically baldist. If my six year old nephew hears the word and - not knowing its perjorative history - uses it in the playground and the headmaster hears and is offended, then he is excluded. (Excluded, by the way, is the nice neologism for suspended or expelled. It's very clever, really, but another story for another day). However, his best friend David, who has really bad alopecia, can use the word with impunity.
Part of me admires those early egg-right activists, reclaiming a perjorative term as a badge of honour. But the constraints of society mean that the word means something different if two different people say it - surely it's still discriminatory, say I, surely it's wrong to judge the meaning of a word by the hirsuteness of the speaker?
Mr Twinky disagrees with this stance, and to be honest I am probably in agreement with him and to a degree playing devil's advocate here. People will still be offended by words, no matter how naive or thoughtless the person saying them is. Part of this is a knowledge of history, a memory of a hurt too soon brushed away. Part of it is a sign of our immaturity as a culture and how much easier it is to live in a comfortable past than an uncertain future. Part of it is that the meaning of words evolves, and different words mean different things to different people. In a world of six billion people, over 200 nations and over six languages, isn't it a wonder that any of us can communicate at all.
True story. Didn't happen to me, happened to Jim at work.
So Jim's out on Saturday. Sporting event, bit of a drink afterwards, you know the sort of thing. Six to ten drinks in, and he gets chatting to one of the opposing team. I say he gets chatting, actually what happens is that this guy bends Jim's ear for a good half an hour about fishing. Where to fish. What to fish. When to fish, and I dare say how to fish. And at the end of this he asks Jim, "Are you gay?"
Jim, I should point out, isn't gay. He's one of the most bigoted men on the planet in many ways, but fortunately not homophobic. So he replies simply. "No, are you?"
"No, but I dabble."
I raised an eyebrow when I heard this. I'm not even sure what it means. Playing around in the shallow end of being gay? Only going to first base? Don't ask me what first base is, I don't know. Jim, on hearing the dabbling line, makes his excuse and nips out for a fag,
But Jim's not one to let things lie. Especially not after seven or eleven pints. The way he tells it, when he goes back in, he's quite reasonable. Knowing him, I have my doubts, but never mind.
"Excuse me, mate," he says apparently, "but why did you think I was gay?"
"Because you listened."
Jim reckons he's the least gay man on the planet, he says.
"Insofar as you don't have sex with other men, I suppose you're right," I reply.
I feel so extraordinary
Something's got a hold on me
I get this feeling I'm in motion
A sudden sense of liberty
I don't care 'cause I'm not there
And I don't care if I'm here tomorrow
Again and again I've taken too much
Of the things that cost you too much
I used to think that the day would never come
I'd see delight in the shade of the morning sun
My morning sun is the drug that brings me near
To the childhood I lost, replaced by fear
I used to think that the day would never come
That my life would depend on the morning sun...
All of a sudden I'm feeling faintly forty.
We're sitting around at Jo and Conor's, enjoying a drunken and relaxing indoor picnic with wonderful cod fish cakes, Portuguese chorizo, and we're discussing subculture. First off, we're not terribly sure quite we mean by subculture - so that makes the conversation difficult. Secondly, all five of us are from different cultural backgrounds, which means that our definitions of culture are different, and so our ideas of subculture are different.
Also, two of us are straight, two of us are gay, and so there's yet another angle - is a drag show mainstream culture, subculture, or counter-culture? It's all so confusing.
But as I slink towards forty, the fact is that I'm definitely less open to the new things that the young people are coming up with. I eschew this new-fangled "come-round-and-trash-myspace" web site, I don't understand ringtone downloads, I've never called ITV play, and I have no idea who Fearne Cotton is, or why.
On the other hand, "chart music", once the hiding-place of yoof, is now pretty much my taste in music. It's not as good as music was in my day, of course, but what is?
Here in foreign, you can get drink almost any time you want it. It's like a religion. The Keep Sunday Special brigade would have a field day here, pointing out how a supposedly Catholic country has allowed itself to be overrun by Philistines, and how you can barely walk along the street without getting a bottle of wine, a six pack of condoms and a gaggle of a hen night thrust in your face.
So it's something of an anomaly that you can't get a drink on Good Friday. It's a public holiday, and you can get a drink on Easter Sunday, so why not Good Friday?
After much research, it seems to be something to do with transubstantiation - but then, what in this life can we say isn't indirectly related to transubstantiation. It seems, you see, that if you drink wine on Good Friday, it will turn in to blood automatically. This would normally be a good thing, but without the intervention of a duly ordained priest, you've got no guarantee whose blood you're going to end up with. Chicken? Goat? Simon Wicks from Eastenders?
It seems so easy, doesn't it. You log on to a web site, you find a flight for a pound, and by the time you've added on taxes, paid extra for your bags, paid extra for insurance, and paid extra for credit card handling on a site that only accepts credit card payment you're tired, stressed, tired, and the price of your ticket has increased by a factor of forty. And then you realise you've not booked a return flight and you find that not only are there no return flights when you want, the original flight you tried to book has gone up in price to Â£170. And that's before you're anywhere near an airport.
This is one of those airlines. The ones where you're expected to print off your own boarding pass - or pay an extra fee. The ones where you're not allocated a seat, but expected to squeeze through the boarding gate as quickly as possible to try to get a seat next to your other half. This is one where you're expected to pay a fortune for a cup of tea that tastes like grit, where you're not allowed to complain if the plane's late because "we're a budget airline and you get what you pay for". This is one of those airlines where they keep the costs down by making the staff pay for their own training and uniforms, where they're demotivated before they're even faced with a disgruntled customer.
But this sort of airline has made air travel accessible. They've made it feel like anyone can travel as long as they leave their dignity behind at the airport doors. They've stripped away the glamour of travel and left it bare bones, no frills and pimped it to the masses. This is a gateway airline. Oh yes, they'll try to get you hooked on airline travel and once you're racking up seven or eight flights a year, and nobody's ever mentioned the words "frequent flyer points" to you, they'll show you the special stuff. The planes where the price of the flight includes a cheap sandwich and putting your luggage in the hold. The planes where you get a little bit more leg room, where the gate that you land at is that little bit closer to the terminal. They'll show you a bright glossy future where planes are cleaned between flights, where - sure, you pay a little more, but that price includes the tax and the handling charges and the fuel surcharges. They'll push you something new and shiny and say "try this mate."
Remember that, next time you are squeezing yourself into a 24 inch seat, paying two hundred quid for a seat that the guy behind you paid forty quid for, with the people behind you asking you not to put your seat back "because they have a baby". It's a gateway airline. You're hooked.
Zhang Xiaogang is getting big in the world of Chinese art. His originals are trading hands for pretty much a million of your earth pounds, his prints are going for thousands, and his new stuff is looking particularly interesting.
I like his painting style, which is very simple and derives from old photographs, as far as I can ascertain. The series pictured here is one of several that address - in a very simple and effective way - the idea of what it means to be Chinese. There's a uniformity in the pictures, a smooth simplicity to the style, the palette, the use of surfaces. En masse, they can be quite unnerving, and seem almost interchangeable. But there are differences between them, as there are differences between any two families. So on the one hand you've got the idea of drawing attention to the subtle differences but making that important. That's one layer.
The next idea is a thin red line that runs through the paintings - erratic and random, subtle but always present, the meaning of the line is betrayed in the title "Bloodlines" - it's the idea that the people in them are all bound together, all share a single bloodline, and they're all part of a Big Family.
Incidentally, I can't actually work out if the title for the series of the paintings is "Bloodlines" or "Big Family". Both are appropriate, although the original Chinese name probably means something else entirely.
The blood line is important. Most of the paintings show families with children. The bloodline joins them together, and blood flows. It's a commentary on the one-child policy, as far as I'm aware. Parents pour their blood, their life in to their single child. Babies suck the life out of their parents, becoming bursting scarlet monsters. In one, a young boy is siphoning the blood from his older sister. I think. All this is simply conveyed through the joining line and the use of colour. The parents are pale, exhausted. The children are the future, but perhaps they are destroying the past.
Brilliant, simple, and finally getting the international recognition they deserve.
I listened to her patiently. She'd called up, looking for Mr Twinky, I'd offered to take a message in case she was someone important, but no. She was from the local mumbler's society. At least, I think that's what she said. She then launched straight in to her pitch, to get money from me.
The idea was that I'd buy raffle tickets, to sell to my friends and family (ie people I like) and the money would go to help deaf people. I know this, because I listened. It's one of my super powers, up there with looking out of the window to work out what the weather is.
And then I started on my carefully prepared speech. The one that starts with "I'm sorry, but as a matter of principle, I don't..." I didn't get much further than that before she tried to interrupt me. I kept going. She tried to interrupt again. I didn't let her. She obviously wasn't learning anything from me so I sped past most of my argument and straight on to "Thanks for calling, bye."
Society is riddled with unlisteners. You've probably come across them. They're trained not to listen. They nod, and say "yes," and "uh huh" at inappropriate times. They have a dead look in their eyes, mainly because their mind and brain have disconnected and while they are automatically performing "sound like you are listening" they are trying to decide which shade of puce to paint their garage. It's endemic in business, where 90% of communication has no point at all.
I wish I'd interrupted her interruption with "Excuse me - I'm talking. What's wrong with you, are you deaf?"
Thank goodness I'm not that evil.
I'm thoroughly enjoying one of the most entertaining pieces of television I've seen in ages. The 2007 "Brit" awards, live from Earl's Court. Oh yes, I could talk about the music, the glitter, the sparkle, the choreography, or the fact that the honoured guests get to sit at nice round tables. But I won't. Unless you count that bit.
The key word in the above, you see, is "live". The last time the awards were shown live it was a real embarrassment - the presenters were inexperienced, the autocue was a bit rubbish, and there were lots of pauses. Not so tonight. No. Russell Brand has been cheerfully spouting forth his usual stream of dysfunctional consciousness and it's been uniformly hilarious and utterly filthy and inappropriate. I would imagine that the first complaint arrived at ITV about five minutes after the opening credits (if you ignore all the complaints that would have come in beforehand), and that the people who like to complain about that sort of thing are now frothing at the mouth and conducting seances to resurrect Mary Whitehouse as some sort of gargantuan monstrous avenging angel, wielding her sword of truth and justice to strike down anyone who suggests that maybe it's wrong to look at intimate pictures of the Queen.
Fortunately, by ten past nine, we are now being given warnings that the content may become very adult. I guess that means more jokes about sex and more bands coming on stage drunk, stoned &/or incoherent. And that's what I'm enjoying so much. Knowing that while the show is perfectly targetted at the audience, it's going to attract a gazillion complaints a minute.
The best bit's still Tom Baker announcing the band names.
One of the things that struck me about London last weekend was the smell of the place. Egads boys, it's a real pea souper. Indoors, at least.
Back in the day, I never used to be too bothered about people smoking in pubs and bars. It was a fact of life. Part of going to a bar was the large ashtray in the middle of the table, overflowing with ash and butts. Occasionally it would get cleaned up, and if you were really lucky ending up with ash spilled over you. The air had a curious smell to it, more complex than just cigarettes. Windows were for letting in the light rather than letting people see inside. Children were not encouraged, and food was usually limited to crisps.
The biggest change in British pub life isn't the gastropub, isn't the all-pervasive-all-barone, isn't the web of pubs that used to be banking halls. It's the gradual piecemeal introduction of smoking bans. They've had a rather odd effect.
To start with, smokers block the doorways. Theoretically, they're supposedly not allowed to, but that's completely unenforceable. So to get in anywhere, you're pushing past someone and getting a good lungful of the olden days. And then, once you're inside, half your friends keep nipping out. If there's only one of you smoking, then they might drag you out to keep them company while they're taking a drag. And that's when you discover the truth. The smoking ban creates a secret club for smokers. A secret club where you get to sit outside under a malfunctioning brazier, huddled up in your winter woolies, true, but a special secret society nonetheless. Hardy men and women, spurned by society because of their lifestyle choice.
I don't know what the statistics tell us about the economics of all this. Certainly, bars are nicer places. They've lost the cigarette stench, worked out what the strange smell behind it was, and cleaned up that nasty mess in the basement at last. I'd probably be happier to spend more time in bars these days, and I wouldn't need to get my clothes dry cleaned afterwards. Indeed, it's probably the dry cleaning industry that's losing out most in this whole shift in attitudes.
Which brings me to London. The packed basement bar, and the party of women next to us who turned up and lit up. We've not had a smoking ban for long, but it's really taken psychologically. There was just something that felt so wrong about smoking in a bar - even though they were doing something perfectly legitimate. I actually had to stop myself from staring at them, at the same time pleased and bemused by how easily the smoking ban had become ingrained in me.
And the next day, our clothes smelled of pub.
I'm not a big fan of negative advertising.
One of the many careers that I juggle on a daily basis involves reviewing and signing off marketing. You can seriously cock up marketing. You can misrepresent your product, for instance. Bilious Fong, for instance may well get out 99% of stains, but you can't really claim that it raises the dead unless it's quite, quite clear that you're either taking the piss, or you've got some evidence that backs it up. And I don't mean a survey of 14 people, in which 90% thought that it might be responsible for Zombie outbreaks in Abergavenny.
Now, these Apple ads that have hit the UK, that are pretty similar to the American ones. They're actually slammed full of unsubstantiable claims, or things that are just plain wrong. You'd be forgiven for thinking that if you run a Mac rather than a PC you'd be safe from viruses. You'd be wrong. There are no known viruses for the Mac OS X. That means that it's not going to get infected, right?
There are two possible reasons why there are no viruses for the Mac. Either it's impossible to infect a Mac with a virus, or it's just that nobody's bothered to write one yet.
It's possible to infect a Mac with a virus. It can't be 100% secure. It's a physical impossibility. It's got an operating system, systems are written by people, people make mistakes. All the time. It runs software, software is written by people, same story.
So, it's a fairly safe assumption that nobody's written a virus for the Mac. Here we go with three theories of why.
If I can take the virus analogy a little too far, living in Swindon doesn't mean you won't get Malaria, it just makes it very unlikely. Just because you are not exposed to a disease, it doesn't make you immune to it. Quite the reverse, in fact. You need to take careful precautions, and not cheerily head off to rural India on holiday in your comedy poncho. With your MacBook.
My point - and yes, I do have one - is that the claims in the adverts aren't necessarily true, even if they're not far from the truth, and arguably close enough at the moment.
Apple's biggest barrier to market share in the home is market share in the office. People who work in an office want to be comfortable using their computer at home. They reckon that learning how to work two systems is hard. It's not, though. It's incredibly easy.
It's easy to mock PCs. Mine is still in bits, for instance, and I know I wouldn't have had that problem with a Mac. But apart from that, I'm hugely familiar with PCs and I don't have a good reason to change. And these adverts just tell me that Apple owners are a bit smug. They're selling me lifestyle and design and magic beans. Smoke and mirrors and sky castles. They're telling me that I need to be defined by my computer, and not the other way around.
And mainly, they're bloody everywhere I look, and they're getting on my tits.
"I always think that English men are more secure in their sexuality," says my companion. He comes from a small town in Ireland, and we're walking through London. His eyes are practically on stalks as we snake from Brewer Street, through the path of a cyclist and on to Old Compton Street. He reckoned that he could have pulled at least a dozen times walking along that stretch. I pointed out that really, that wasn't saying much.
I first visited London in the 1970s. Back then, it was hip, it was hippy, it was happening. There were lifts in all of the tube stations - none of this nonsense escalator stuff. It was all dirty, and nasty and exciting and full of delight. The stations were even more labyrinthine than they are now, and smelled of gunpowder and illicit corners. Tube tickets were little orange or yellow strips of card with 60p or 90p printed on them in giant Johnson Sans
Since then, London's had a good wash. It no longer feels like a smoky smoggy city trying to escape from the spirit of the blitz, and now it feels more like a bright beacon of culture and hope, setting itself up for the next one.
I last visited London, well, yesterday. The sky was clear , it was dry and crisp and fresh, and it looked fantastic. Off-season, it was still full of tourists, but there's enough to see and enough space to see it in, that apart from a few clusters of chaos, it's possible to walk through huge areas and never see a soul.
Cities are schizophrenic things, humanity's dysfunction writ large. There are places that you don't go to, where you won't feel comfortable, and the people who call it home will feel the same about somewhere else. You'll walk the same streets, drink coffee from the same pot with strangers who view the city entirely differently from you. Your idea of the centre of the city, of up and of down, will differ from anything official, and from anybody else's ideas. Sometimes I hate London, and sometimes it fills me with excitement.
On Sunday, as I walked through Spitalfields Market, looking up at Hawksmoor's Christ Church in the cold February light, I felt excited and chilled, and thrilled and alive.
Whatever the infantile debates and arguments in the Big Brother house are actually about doesn't really matter. Oxo cubes, undercooked chicken, class, race, whatever. It really doesn't matter.
The interesting side effect is the debate in the outside world. The debate that focuses not on what was said but on what was meant. It's interesting because it looks behind the veneer of Political Correctness and provokes debate.
I happen to work with a witch. At least, I assume she is a witch - she looks like one. We rub along fine most of the time. I can have a chat with her in the coffee room at work and when I hear about how she's turned some traffic policeman in to a toad, I can say something along the lines of "you are a witch." But if I interrupt her in the middle of a presentation and point out the same thing in the same words but with an entirely different emphasis, it's a disciplinary offence. It doesn't even have to be words. She likes touching me on the arm. She thinks it's building bridges between us. I think it's creepy and borderline sexual harassment, but I know that she doesn't mean it that way and so I just put it down to cultural differences. I have culture, and she has something different.
The debate in the United Kingdom of a few countries and Wales is important. Is the behaviour that we're seeing racially motivated, or is it more down to a personality clash combined with extreme circumstances?
Racism - or any sort of automatic discrimination against an individual because of one aspect of their character or physical characteristics is nasty. It's a learned, indoctrinated behaviour that is focussed solely on hatred and generally comes hand in hand with jealousy and a lack of self esteem. It's to be pitied, in many ways.
Bullying is not nice either, and it's very unpleasant to watch on television. But I don't think I know anyone who has never been bullied, and who has never been a bully themselves. Maybe not consistently, but I genuinely believe that given the right pressures and the right circumstances we are all capable of being pushed in to bullying behaviours. Except Mother Theresa, obviously, because she's dead (poor taste joke deleted).
So, which is worse, I wonder, and by how much? Bullying someone because your racism is ingrained in you from an early age and you can't help yourself, or bullying because you just don't like them? And as a victim, which should you be more upset about - the one that you couldn't avoid, or the one that you have triggered.
Indeed, if you actively provoke a reaction can it truly be called bullying?
See what I mean about the debate?
I'll admit to a plethora of self doubt around the whole Charity Crockpot Toilet Gift thing.
Having now been through the whole process from both sides, I think I've got it wrong. Slightly.
Giving to charity is a good thing. Giving a specific gift to charity is a great feeling, and much more pleasurable for the donor than being thwacked in the face with a clipboard. It may not be as good for their revenue stream, but nonetheless at the end of the day, the charity gets the money and up to 20% of it goes to a good cause, possibly even more.
Giving a gift like that, instead of throwing money away on some of the incredible junk that people give at Christmas is definitely preferable. I'd much rather have received a small picture of a chamber pot or a fork handle than a big tub of cookie dough. After all, cookie dough is pretty easy to make yourself. And a big tub of it is just a temptation if you're a fat bloke. Oh look, I'm digressing.
So, it's good for the charity, good for the world wide world of the world, and good for the giver. And in some circumstances, good for the recipient. But not always.
A bit of spin might help. The message on the card I gave was along the lines of "I bought you half a turnip but gave it to someone who needed it more..." and that's not quite the right sentiment. If I won a million quid in a raffle, but they gave the money to someone else, I might be a little upset. Eventually, I might get over it. But with a charity gift, the message needs work. It's closer to "I could have bought you something that was a bit rubbish and would have left you disappointed. My present was never going to make a significant difference to your life, but this way at least someone's life is significantly improved. I thought you'd like that."
Only in fewer words. Obviously. Sell it. Make the recipient feel that they've not lost out on anything. Remember when you were five. There's anticipation associated with a gift. You want to rip open the paper, and at the end of it you've got something you didn't have before. If you're going to shatter that anticipation, then sell it better. After all, you're not five years old any more.
If you are five years old, and you are reading this, then please run up to your mummy and say "bottoms!" at the top of your voice. That'll annoy her.
It's nearly that time of year again, and so I thought I would present the truth about charity Christmas presents. You know the ones that you get that look like cards.
On the outside is a picture of a lovely cow.
On the inside is a message that says "Isn't rampant commercialism awful. Auntie Doreen has made a gift of three cows and a chicken to a village on your behalf. Oh, and a toilet.
Now that's nice. It's great if you're a villager and you need the toilet, for instance. No more waiting, hurrah.
But in most cases, it's not actually a present. The card shouldn't read "on your behalf". It should read "instead of sending you anything."
Now don't get me wrong. I'm all in favour of people giving cows, chickens and toilets to those in need. But there is no way that the card with the cow is a gift to me. It's a gift from Auntie Doreen to the village. I've bought her a DVD of Dieux du Stade that will keep her happy for hours. She's given me... nothing. And a card that rubs my nose in the fact.
Now, Christmas is a time of many unwanted gifts, and the charity present at least has the advantage of being recyclable, and there's nothing wrong with saying to people that you don't want gifts and you'd rather they made a charitable gift instead, but if you've gone to the trouble of thinking about people, getting them something that they at best love, and at worst enjoy, then there's nothing that takes the wind out of your sails more than getting back the card with the picture of the airbrushed cow. It's like Santa has come back down the chimney and sucked all the joy out of giving.
It's not about the gift. Gifts don't have to be big, or expensive. They're really just the pretext to get together, to show each other that you still think about each other. Charity Christmas presents break that down. I suppose they're part of the modern malaise that is the breakdown of the family.
On the other hand, they do show awareness of something bigger, and that's only to be commended. And it's what I'm going to give the recipient of my Secret Santa present in the office this year.
There's an easy routine to hospital.
They wake you up at quarter past six to take your blood pressure, temperature and so on. Then they make you go back to sleep and wake you up again at eight for breakfast and bloodtaking. Sometimes they let you have breakfast first, sometimes it's blood first. When I went in, I didn't have any white blood cells, so that's what they were looking for.
Sometime in the morning, you might get a doctor. You might get four. You might get drugs, you might not. Anyway, you're not supposed to go water-ski-ing, in case the doctor comes around.
You get asked what you want for lunch. It may or may not be the same as what you get. Then take your blood pressure again. You start watching Countdown. The chap opposite you starts watching the Discovery Channel, at a volume that's slightly too loud, so you can't hear Countdown. But you don't turn the volume up, because you don't want to get in to that sort of war, not when you're poorly.
Tea is about five thirty. Maybe you get more pills, maybe you get another doctor, maybe you get wheeled down for a Cat scan, but you definitely get your blood pressure taken because they absolutely love getting your blood taken. You might get a bit of chat from Wincy Michaels, the attractive Indian Staff nurse, or perhaps it's her identical twin sister, Nincy Michaels, the slightly less attractive Indian Staff nurse. Or maybe the boring taxi driver in the bed opposite will try to persuade you that he thinks that you and Leona off X Factor would make a really nice couple. It's an exciting and random time.
Then - if you're lucky - you get a visitor. More fruit to add to the collection, a copy of a Cork newspaper, a change of socks. Company's really nice, even if there's nothing to catch up on. "What did you do today?" "Well, mainly I lay around and had my blood pressure taken." "How was that?" "Up a bit after they told me they were going to put a tap in my chest to drain the fluid out of my lungs, but down again, when they said they were going to reinflate my lungs by pulling down sharply on the red toggle. What did you do?" "Nothing."
About half past ten, you get bored with watching telly with the sound turned down so as not to wake the octagenarians who are - in any case - doped up to the eyeballs and have been asleep since six o'clock like well-behaved one-year-olds, and you decide to fall asleep. So you do.
Half an hour later you are woken up. They take your blood pressure. And that's it. Nothing disturbs your sleep except for the familiar sound of Thomas across the way emptying his bladder sluggishly into a bottle.
Familiar, simple routine.
The world is full of euphemisms, and made up phrases. I'm thinking of phrases here like "Bob is discussing other options within the company", which means he's been fired and he's being forced through an HR sausage machine. Or "this shampoo contains pro-hydroximol 90, clinically proven to reverse the signs of aging in a survey of eight mums in Winchester". And so on.
And we, that's the general public including myself - and before you think you're immune to it, I know you and you're not - we swallow up these soundbites, absorb them, mash them up, believe them, and spout them parrot fashion as if they're our own opinions, or even worse incontrovertible facts.
I've had a number of conversations recently, particularly with women in their mid-twenties, where I have pointed out to them that if they are going to hold two diametrically opposing and irreconcilable views on the same topic, then they really ought not to express them in the same sentence. It sounds ludicrous, and seems inconsistent. I suspect it isn't though. I suspect that it's a natural process. We are, by our very nature, contradictory.
The evidence of this is all around us. We seek out "like minds" and we absorb their prejudices. We assume that just because we like chips, and person B likes chips, that person B is somehow more credible, and must be right. So person B's view that children should be kept in small cages is automatically more believable, just because they like chips. It's nonsense, and it doesn't follow, but it's how we make sense of the world around us. Is it any wonder that we are, as a collective, deeply fucked up.
My thought for the day is therefore this.
There is something you believe, firmly and as a bedrock of your existence, something that is fundamentally incorrect. You don't need to worry about what it is, because it almost certainly doesn't matter - but there is something there.
You can either agree with that or disagree. If you agree, though, you are accepting that you are fundamentally flawed. If you disagree, good for you - but consider whether you are potentially blinding yourself to something.
How doubleplusgood is that?
Today, I called my bank at 9.30. I got through to my branch after about 2 minutes on hold.
The woman I spoke to wasn't able to help me. There was nobody around who was able to help me, because they were doing their weekly training. But she took my account number, a note of what I wanted to do, and my contact number.
A couple of hours later, someone called me back to confirm what I wanted to do, and said that she'd do it that day.
At no point did I have to give out digits four and six of my password - which I can't remember, and at no point did I have to tell them my maternal grandmother's maiden name. My request was simple, didn't need a huge amount of security and both people I dealt with were friendly and helpful. How good it that?
"Hello," I said. No reply. I wasn't really surprised.
For a variety of reasons I've spent most of today dealing with Customer Service. The quality of the service that I have received has been a big bunch of wanky fuck piss.
To change a pick-up time for a car hire, I tried contacting the office where the car was supposed to be picked up from. I was put through to a call centre. I went through a couple of menus before I got to a person who couldn't understand my accent and eventually told me that he couldn't help me and I'd have to go to the agency that I booked through.
Annoying for me, because I couldn't cut out the middle man, annoying for them because they'd have to waste twice as much time on a call. So hurrah for them.
So I went through the agent. I found my local number for the agent, and was put through to a call centre. I went through a couple of menus before I got to a person who couldn't understand my accent and eventually told me that he would pass my details on to someone else and they would call me back.
They didn't. So hurrah for them.
Finally, I was trying to trace a lost bag, lost on a plane. I wanted to get through to someone in the building where I reckon the bag might be, someone who could go and have a look on a shelf and see if it's there. I hunted on their web site for a contact number.
Hurrah for them. Not only do they not appear to have telephones, the advice on their site is to contact someone else.
Now, I may be old fashioned. Indeed, I know I'm old fashioned. But somewhere along the line, the meaning of the words Customer and Service - used together - have changed. It's like when "Staff Services", which was run by friendly helpful people, became "Human Resources", which is run by dragons and mainly consists of sacking people and denying them pay reviews. It's about keeping costs down. That's the way of the future. Yes.
Wanky. Fuck. Piss.
Miller time is the point in the evening when the women come around the pub and tell you about the special deal they've got on Miller. Last night it was very hard to hear, because of the loud music, but they said something about headphones, and winning a prize if you got an answer right, and still getting a prize if you got it wrong and so on and so forth.
So I thought.... why not? And it turned out that part of the deal was that I got a free pint of Miller too. As a result, I learned three things.
If I was a better designer, I would sell photographs of puppies hugging, emblazoned with motivational phrases.
My phrases would include:
Work's still great.
"Can I speak to the National Telecom account holder please?"
It's taken me two "Hello?"s to get him to say this. He sounds young, probably still wet behind the ears, although his voice has broken and he may have relatively few spots at the moment.
I stumble over my response, but it basically comes out as "Are you a representative of National Telecoms?"
"No Sir," he says. I like the "Sir" - it reminds me of stories I've been told about. I appreciate his honesty, and it makes the next line, my polite but firm...
"Then you have no business talking to me about my telephone account. Bye."
Polite, firm, honest. If it was Tele2, though, I don't know. They should have me on their "Do not call" list.
I'm dreading moving house for exactly that reason. The cold calls, the telemarketers, phoning you up, interrupting you, creating a little pocket of anger in a potentially pleasant evening, just to try to save you money. By making them money. I don't blame the kids making the calls. I don't blame the companies even, because in many cases the companies making the call are doing so at someone else's request.
Even the company whose product I will never knowingly consume as a result of this intrusion aren't really to blame. They wouldn't do it if cold calling didn't work. Someone must actually sign up to these things. Perhaps it's like charity muggers, they believe that if they harrass you enough eventually you'll give in and they'll go away. Yeah, like that's actually going to happen.
If it didn't work, it wouldn't happen. Maybe they piss off a thousand people before they get one customer - but that's one customer that's glad for the call, and a thousand people they don't give a shit about so why does it matter if they're pissed off.
So who's that one customer? Is it you?
It's an odd thing to get grumpy about, and it may seem horribly misogynistic, but picture this.
Imagine you're a man, walking along the pavement. You're aware of someone walking behind you. You are aware that this person is really really close to you, and that they blatantly want to get past, but the pavement is too narrow and the person behind you can't get past due to parked or moving vehicles. And they obviously are walking just too close, and waiting for an opportunity to nip out in front of you.
And the pavement widens, and they slip past you. And it's always a woman.
Now maybe it's not - maybe you're just aware of it more when it's a woman. And maybe it's that men keep their distance better.
It's something you learn as a teenager, or even earlier. If you're a man walking along the road, and there's someone else there, anyone else, you give them space. You make it clear that you're not a threat. Maybe women don't learn that.
I don't really know. It's just darned odd.
I don't like Public Displays of Affection.
There, I've said it. Now I'm all for tolerance, and I am not particularly happy that I feel this way, but as I transform myself from genteel man-about-town into irascible curmudgeon, I feel that I am, perhaps, permitted a moment to look at them and go... well, to be honest "ewwwwwwwwwww".
I'm not talking about holding hands here, although a family of four walking side by side holding hands is somewhere between sweet and a roadblock, or about a quick peck on the cheek. I'm talking about when a couple sit in a public place like an art gallery or shopping mall, or stand in the street, and basically attempt to climb inside each other.
I suppose I should really endorse it. I've been known to indulge, myself, but my fumblings have at least had the dignity to be up a back alley or in the doorway of a shop, at least trying to say to the world "I have a bit of decency about this". I suppose I should be thinking "good for them, that they're so much in love that they can't wait until they get home to do that, isn't young love sweet et cetera and so on" and all that exciting stuff I'd think I'd think.
But I don't.
As is so often the way with "not liking things", I don't really have a good reason for not liking public displays of affection. I suspect it's something to do with the rules of the street. There are certain ways that you behave yourself in public. You don't make eye contact. You don't draw attention to yourself, unless you want that attention. Eating your lover's tongue crosses the line. It draws the attention, but only so far. Because if you and your new best friend are indulging in the beginnings of foreplay, you probably don't want other people to join in - at least not in the street.
I got the hots for you, yeah, thingie
"What has happened to the English language?" is a cry that I hear often. Usually directed at the electric television that sits in the corner of our lounge. "What, oh what has happened?"
Now, I know and understand that language evolves, and indeed must evolve if humanity is to progress, hurrah! But there comes a point where enough is enough, and the lingua franca of the day becomes just plain silly. So it is with the very "to hot up".
Within the last five years this linguistic back-step has slipped in to common parlance so much that one wonders whether the next generation will look at the word "heat" and think "huh". It's currently only used in the context of competitive situations or pressure, and only in the sense of "things are hotting up", but let's face it here. Hotting isn't really a word, or wasn't until recently. "Heating", which works perfectly well, has been around for dozens, if not scores of years now.
On the other hand, there's no denying that "hotting" has a certain distinction to it, a sort of extra hotness that simply heating doesn't imply. Is hotting perhaps more sultry and humid, more forceful and oppressive. It's getting hot in here.
And on the other hand, is this perhaps the tip of the iceberg. If pushinged, I can seeing a day when perhaps the English language has changinged so much that we being talkerss like in Sloosha's Crossing, with the verbings and the nouns all mixing up like a stewpot.
Pop that stewpot on the fire, time to get it hotting up, friend.
It's a feature of modern life, it seems, and one I am kind of guilty of. I've been known to shout at cyclists that they have "missed the road" as they gently hurtle towards me on the pavement, usually when I'm tired which isn't an excuse and they're on the pavement because it's a one way street with no cycle lanes which isn't an excuse either.
Yesterday I was deliberately tripped up by someone. To be fair to him, I'd had to nip in just in front of him while walking down the street to avoid walking through the arse of the large woman in front of me who had just stopped, and to be fair, i could have stopped too and let him past, but I nipped in in front of him for whatever reason and was about to move out of his way again when he tripped me up. It was clearly deliberate.
The main reason that I know it was deliberate was his anrgy cry of "That's for walking in front of me, you fuckhead". It surprised me that my reply was an angry but honest "Sorry".
It's our "local" here, just opened on the corner next to the tram stop, great site and somewhere I pass what - two, three times a day. And as a caffeine addict, yeah, I buy some, even though it's that bit pricier than the stuff from the shop five minutes further away. That'll change in the summer when the weather's better. Probably.
There's a guy that works there, though, that might change that.
I hate calling these people "Barista". It sounds too much like "Barrister" and suggests that what they do is so much more than making coffee. This is not just coffee, this is a super duper Venti creamy frothy doppio latte. With an extra shot. Of something.
Guy in Starbucks. Too young for me. Can't be more than 23. He's got a shaven head, a little goatee beard. His hands are hands that have known hard work, real work, not like mine. But they're clean, the nails are manicured, and a simple transaction of passing him the money and getting change lets him brush them against mine. Twice. And his eyes are soft and hazel and when you look in to them you don't want to pull yourself away. But of course you do. Because he's the Starbucks Guy. He meets thousands of people a day, and he makes more of an impression on them than they do on him. It's just the way things are.
There was a woman complaining about the chilled cabinet. I didn't fancy her anything like as much.
Wind up, ready to go, opinions at the ready, let's launch Freedom of Speech.
It's fantastic. Let's get that out of the way to start with. Freedom of speech is fantastic, but in the same sense that Unicorns are fantastic and the crock of gold at the end of the rainbow is fantastic. It's a complete myth.
I'm writing this from the very heartland of a society that claims to have freedom of speech, and indeed does have a susbtantial amount of freedom of speech, but in practice it's restrained and constrained in almost every way. It doesn't stop the freedom that we have from being important, and necessary. But it's not total freedom. Remember that, boys and girls.
The limits on our freedom are many. Some are simple and self-imposed. In the world of blogs, for instance, it is usually considered prudent not to mention too much about our personal lives. For example, my partner might not want to be named on this site. So I don't. In theory, I could, but in practice I don't because of the little thing known as "consequences". In this case, a thick ear and a cold shoulder. Some are enshrined in law. I couldn't legitimately use my site to incite racial hatred. Just as well I have no intention of doing any such thing.
Libel laws are a huge impediment to freedom of speech. If I were a newspaper I couldn't publish a front page story about Tony Blair cheating on his wife with Gordon Brown unless there was some evidence to back it up - not without risking legal action anyway. It may be true, although it probably isn't. Regardless, a newspaper doesn't have the freedom to present it as fact, and nor do I.
But we have substantial freedom. We will never have full freedom in our society, because our society is about restricting our own freedoms in order to benefit society as a collective, and I'll write about that another time. We have freedom as long as we use that freedom in a responsible manner, and it is that debatable word "responsible" where the battle for freedom is constantly fought.
Now, don't get me wrong here. I hate PVRs.
I don't work with them, so I could have the acronym wrong, but they're these awful "press X to talk to a person in India, press 3 to have your goldfish resuscitated, press 6 to be put through to a different automated message" things.
And generally, they suck big time. They're cold, they're impersonal, they're downright unhelpful. But I just dealt with one at Bank of Scotland. I had an embarrassing request. I'd done something stupid, and I needed to be bailed out, and the machines helped me.
I was asked for a few bits of information that could be keyed from my phone. This was good, because I didn't need to remember digits 2, 4 and 89 of my 400 digit pass code. Also, I didn't need to read anything aloud - useful in an office environment. After they'd got my details, I was presented with a simple menu, and option 4 was "clean up after this foolish mistake Alan has made". And I pressed it, confirmed it, and hey presto, recovery.
All of which is good, all of which is automated, and all of which was actually slightly (and I do stress slightly) easier than calling up a branch would have been.
One of the regrets I have in my life is that I didn't realise earlier that by this stage in my life I would find myself wanting to argue about social and economic issues, about how the two interact, about church and state, and the fact that I have a very strong world-view and it's entirely mine and it's different from anybody else's and how part of my world-view automatically embraces diversity.
I didn't know I would have any sort of insight into cultural stagnation, into progress versus preservation, into the role of corporations in perpetuating economic growth. I didn't realise that I would see any of the links that I see when I look at the world, the vasy cultural tapestry that has formed the mess of the last thousand years, the way that a few groups within a few societies have through imperialism, terrorism, propaganda and lies shaped the world we live in.
As a result, I don't have the language to describe half of what I see around me. I can't put a name to the phenomenon whereby we can't see the world as a group of six billion people, and we need to divide down and down, to belong to ever decreasing circles, until we cross our own personal styx and get in to our own personal hell. I can't adequately explain why I feel a greater bond with someone I've only ever chatted to through the internet than I do with people I talk to every day.
Sometimes, it just completely overwhelms me. I know that I don't have answers, I know that no one individual has answers. The entirety of the human experience can't be governed by one book or one faith or one economic theory, and let's face it - we would be immensely poorer if it were.
And that takes me back to my biggest regret. If I had spent my formative years, the years when I was immersed in books reading up on economic theory and philosophy, perhaps my arguments would be more solid, perhaps I wouldn't be re-treading the same issues that have troubled generations before me and will continue to plague generations to come.
Because in a sense there is nothing new. Different trappings, different fashion, but the same issues persist. Things stay the same, things fall apart, there is an endless cycle of rebirth and renewal. I know that, in some sense I actually feel it, and it's what makes me the person that I am now. So excuse me my clumsiness. I'm just like all of us, struggling for answers.
I don't play accurately. Anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression.
I'm going to try this again. Because let's be honest here, The Importance of Being Earnest is worth banging on about. We were lucky enough to see it at the Abbey Theatre, here in Foreign, last weekend, and what a delight it was. The production we saw opens very differently from the version Wilde wrote. It is set in a cafe in Paris, where Wilde is winding down, tired, and remembering past glories. The conceit is that Earnest plays out in his head, with the young men from the cafe playing most of the parts, and Wilde becoming Lane, a manservant, and later the inimitable Lady Bracknell.
This re-setting makes the play's major depature from the traditional very apparent. All of the parts are played by men. And played - if I may use the word without fear - straight. In so far as any character in Earnest is straight.
London society is full of women of the very highest birth who have, of their own free choice, remained thirty-five for years.
I love the play. I love the way that everyone has their own agenda, everyone is entirely self centred, all the women are, to some extent, insane, and in the end everyone gets what they want. Whether or not anyone gets what they deserve is another and completely irrelevant matter. Because in the middle, Wilde's dialogue is at its most sparkling, most scathing. Perhaps it was the all-male cast, perhaps it was the way that Gwendolen, the most sympathetic of the cast of characters, was played as flighty and rather psychotic, but I also felt the play was perhaps more misogynistic than I recalled.
The only way to behave to a woman is to make love to her, if she is pretty, and to someone else if she is plain.
However much I enjoyed it, though, I've seen at least two productions before, plus a film or two. Mr Twinky came to it for the first time. We were both surprised by that, but I envied him the sheer pleasure of discovering, for the first time, the Importance of Being Earnest.
Here is some advice that I have picked up over the last few years. Some of it may come in useful.
These are just a few simple rules, that would drastically cut down on the numbers of injuries to cyclists, both caused by their own stupidity or inflicted by harrassed members of the public. I appreciate that neither drivers nor pedestrians are blameless in pavement-rage, and I know that our cities are not designed with cyclists in mind. Nonetheless, I have now opened a separate circle of hell especially for them. The Highway Code is not like the Pirate Code, and it's not "more a sort of guideline".
I suspect that I will be a bit venty today.
I've tried. Admittedly I'm a gentleman who likes soft furnishings, but I have really tried. And I don't understand sport.
That's not strictly true. I know that sport is good for you. Exercise is great for the health, apparently. Team sports encourage social development and interaction, and are not at all disheartening if you're always the last to be picked for the team, and nobody ever passes the ball to you when you do get to play.
I understand playing sport. I understand getting out and doing something healthy, and I've even been known to do it in my time. What I don't understand is watching sport.
There's nothing healthy about sitting watching footballers playing for an hour and a half, on your own with a couple of beers for instance. Unless, I suppose if you're going to play football yourself, and you're trying to pick up tips. But that's stretching it. I'll admit, i can kind of see the appeal of watching diving or swimming, but it's nothing to do with who wins.
Maybe it's that the pressure of modern life drives us to find ways to turn our brains off. Maybe the popularity of sport is due to a latent desire to be more active ourselves.
Or maybe it's just that without it certain groups of men would have nothing to talk to each other about...
A few times recently I've been reading my newspaper and come across the term "MSM". This is usually followed by a definition - it gets used along the lines of
This week in the "MSM" (what the blogging community likes to call the mainstream media), we've been mainly concentrating on Fearne Cotton and Lemar.
There's so much wrong with this.
Firstly, blogging community. Anyone who uses the phrase "blogging community" doesn't have any idea what sort of social paradigm to apply. Community suggests communication. There may be some in blogging, but it's coincidental. Blogging is the equivalent of sitting in a corner in a noisy pub shouting at anyone who will listen. Maybe you're funny, or you're actually making sense, or you've taken all your clothes off, and so you get some attention. And maybe you don't.
In any case, you're not going to have any sense of community with someone sitting in a different pub shouting in a different direction.
But tlet's assume that there's such a thing as a blogging community - does it actually use the term "MSM"? I don't. Nobody I know does. Indeed, the only place I've seen it is in printed newspapers.
Maybe I'm in the wrong corner of the community. Maybe I should combine my writing page with my intimate picture gallery? Maybe I should be using the term "MSM" in my writing more.
Still, I suppose I've used it five times on this entry already. Maybe it's a cunning plan by journalists to insert a "meme" into the blogging community that makes them sound "cool", so that the "kids" will read "newspapers" again. Or maybe I should get out more.
I love diversity.
There, I've said it.
I love the fact that there are people out there with whom I disagree entirely.
I don't believe in moral absolutism. I believe that morality is something constructed by society, and so the social codes from two independent societies can be radically different.
I think that the social codes within a single culture can vary dramatically, and that one-size-fits-all legislation is an impossibility and largely an irrelevance.
Europe should no more regulate the British sausage than it should restrict the sale of unpasteurised cheeses.
Consenting acts of adults in private cannot destroy society, or undermine the church or state.
Accepting diversity makes us stronger.
Myself, last week: Hello, the Oddverse residence, the lady of the house speaking, how may I help you or soothe your furrowed brow.
Bronagh, Impressive Telemarketer, Cheerily: Oh hello! Can I speak to the person who pays the Telephone Bill please?
M,LW: That would be me. Is there something wrong with my bill? Can I ask who you are?
BITC: My name's Bronagh, I'm calling from a cold-calling telephone company.
M,LW: Excellent. I've been looking forward to talking to you. I was wondering if you could take a note and somehow stop people from calling me please?
BITC: Errr... can I ask what the...
M,LW: It's just that I get tired of telling you people to piss off. I know it's not your fault, I was just hoping that you could help me out here.
BITC: So you wouldn't be interested in changing over to Annoying Company then?
M,LW: Why would I want to give money to a company that's cald me up at home in the evening, regularly every couple of weeks for the last year? It's like negotiating with a blackmailer. I hate your company. I don't care if it could offer me cheaper calls. It's a matter of principle.
BITC: We're just trying to offer you cheaper calls, though.
M,LW: No you're not. You're trying to make more profit. I think I've had enough of this call now, bye.
Here in Foreign, we're not members of the G8, so we don't really care about the shocking overturning of the benches along Princes Street. No, the big story over here is Bono getting his hat back.
In this day and age, I think it's important to consider ones priorities carefully. One could, for instance, rehearse prior to playing in Hyde Park and therefore avoid being embarassingly tuneless. Or one could go to court over a hat that you could replace for about a hundred quid.
But, as ever, it's more than just a hat. It's a special hat. This hat, more so than any other hat, symbolises the freedom of Ireland, it symbolises overthrowing oppression, it symbolises something that someone could have sold on e-bay and made a fortune on, it symbolises the power of politics over music. Oh, and it can talk, probably.
She's had the hat for eighteen years, in which time she has not sold it. Not even once. That's not very sensible, when you consider the legal bills she's got to pay.
There's a lesson to be learned from this, one that any fan or even acquaintance of a celebrity should learn. When you get a present from them, make sure that you get a signed declaration that it is actually a present. This will come in useful when you're selling it on e-bay later, as it comes with its own provenance. Clever, eh?
Also, if you do have any celebrity memorabilia that you've collected sell it quick before the market collapses.
Update: he got the hat back, and it was too small for his head.
The elevation of a person who performs good deeds to the status of sainthood is controversial.
It sends mixed messages to society. It says that so and so was a great person who did great good to mankind. But in doing so, it gives the deceased do-gooder a status greater than any of those around them who also do good. And doing "good" is in itself a subjective thing. I'm tired of writing about the awful atrocities carried out in the name of Christianity, decency, or family values. How anyone can hate in the name of love, or discriminate in the name of freedom is something that frankly horrifies me. Enough about that.
I suspect that's why the Catholic Church don't give out sainthoods to people just for having been good. There have to be genuine miracles involved. But miracles are hard to verify, as they're matters of faith. In today's weary society where we destroy our heroes as randomly as we raise them, it seems as random and divisive a process as ever, and perhaps generates more questions than it answers.
If the saints were to look down and see the kerfuffle that goes on in their name, in declaring them to be worthy of the nomenclature Saint, would they approve?
There's a product advertised at the moment that claims to be able to reverse the seven signs of ageing without stating what they are.
In an exclusive revelation, based on years of experience of getting older, I can exclusively reveal the seven signs of ageing that this product tackles.
It doesn't handle not being able to get it up three times in a night any more. That's not a sign of ageing, it's a sign of underuse.
Like pretty much everybody else in the entire world, I am gullible.
Which is to say that I'm open to suggestion. Everything I read, everything I see, everything I hear has some impact on my view of the world and my role in it. I notice things like the slow creep of Q10 from advertising for women's products into advertising for male grooming products. It's almost as if to say Right, Britain, we've persuaded you blokes that looking good will help you pull, now we need to use pretend science to make you think our product is better than anyone else's.
Advertsing pervades our lives. I read, or heard, or was brainwashed into believing that in the UK we receive around 3,000 different advertising messages every day. That's roughly one every twenty seconds that we're awake.
I manage this information without exploding. Some adverts make me stop and think. Some flash past and I miss them. Most, I suspect, leave a vague memory somewhere. Every time I see them, their message gets a little stronger. And then, when the time comes to make a purchase, I'm armed with a zillion little quanta of information telling which type of toilet paper I prefer.
I know absoutely that I do this. I was recently faced with a choice between two brands of toilet paper - one of which was charming, and the other of which is soft and strong. I selected them solely on the basis of their advertising campaigns. One is promoted as a value brand that saves money. Its adverts are deliberately clumsy, drawing attention because of their awkwardness, getting their message across in the few seconds alloted. The other brand is promoted with puppies. What on earth puppies have to do with wiping your bum, I have no idea. Never mind. So - value versus puppies. Cheap versus costs of puppy-training factored in to the price. At the end of the day, they were all going to end up in the same place.
Seconds passed. This was an awful decision. If I went for the one with the clunky advert, then em>they would have won - they'd have got my attention and therefore my money. If I went for the one with the puppy, then I'd be throwing away a few pennies of my hard-earned cash. There was no contest, really. And that's why I wipe my bum with puppy=patterned-paper.
Note: I started off writing one thing, ended up writing another. So?
Part of the odd thing about getting older is the way that your tastes develop. I'm going to write about myself here, because it's all I really know, and I'm going to relate that to my expectations when I was much younger and the way I perceived the world. If that's okay with you.
Looking back at my late teens and early twenties I remember getting terribly excited about things. These were new things, and they were things that encapsulated the Zeitgeist or whatever, and they merited my attention and to some extent adulation, but certainly I felt a desire to share them with all, and on occasion sundry.
The shock of the new hit me then. I was, of course, in a position where I was surrounded by people of my own age, but from very different backgrounds and who were therefore evangelical about different things. I could pick and choose, and with such a wealth of stimuli available, how could I fail to be stimulated.
Somewhere in there I found my own taste, and I found it to be made up of little bits of other people's taste, but that was fine because the final synergy of the whole thing was mine and therefore honest, true, and so on and so forth.
Then I hit the workforce. Although I didn't really realise it at the time, I was now surrounding myself with the downtrodden scum of the universe, and although I made some great friends and opened myself to some new influences and new excitement, my exposure to new stimuli faded away. I guess that I figured that my taste was now pretty much fully formed, and everything from here on in would be either my type of thing or not my type of thing based on how well it conformed with what my idea of my type of thing was.
Now, fast forward to the last few years. Art.
In the last few years I've seen a lot of art. I've seen some of it twice. I've been told that Yves Klein's Blue paintings are excellent, dismissed them as wank, and moved back slightly from that position. I've seen giant Rothko's and been utterly unmoved. I've learned about Henry Miller, and Rachel Whiteread, and Emin, Hirst and that crowd. I've bought work by contemporary Scottish painters, and commissioned work by an Irish painter. I've seen a hell of a lot of stuff, I've been told what to like, and for most of the time, I've liked it because it's basically pretty good. That's the popular stuff.
However, because I've seen so much Art, I'm surprised to discover that I've got a quite particular taste that doesn't really conform with any mainstream view and I'm going to tail off here and come back and finish off this thought later, I think.
There's an envelope coming round our office. Presumably it's being carried by individuals rather than wandering on its own, but I digress (as usual, I hear you cry - but I digress again). The purpose of this envelope is to collect money for relief efforts following the recent tsunami - covered in more detail elsewhere. For every Euro that I put in to this envelope, my company will match with a Euro of their own.
All of which sounds terribly laudable. Except for a few minor points.
Firstly, due to Christmas or something, it's over a fortnight since the tsunami. I've already given money to the relief effort. And we're not talking coppers in buckets, although I've done that. We're talking chunks of money with zeros at the end straight to the International Red Cross.
Secondly, when it hits my desk, I'm going to feel obliged to give something. Partly because people will be watching, but partly because I want to encourage my company to do this more. By giving money here, I'd be supporting the initiative, and hopefully next time the powers that be will come back from holiday quicker and make up their minds faster.
Thirdly, it's an envelope. You put coppers in an envelope. At most a tenner. It's what you use for a whip-round when someone's leaving the office. For something this size you send round a form, you organise a salary deduction, you covenant it to maximise the tax efficiency and hence the amount of the donation.
Fourthly, and finally (I bet you're relieved), it's not targeted for an individual charity. I don't know where my coppers will go. Surely a pre-requisite?
So I guess I'm giving my company 7/10 for the thought and 1/10 for the execution.
Where to start...?
There are times when I worry about absolutely everything. Where all of the problems of the world fight in my head for space and context and resolution.
All the time I'm ranting about commercialism and Christmas, and the inability of parents to control their children, part of my mind is thinking back to India, to that 45 minute-drive to work past the mile-wide slum blocks, where the kids brush their teeth in the rain water, and live in a way that is completely alien to me, a way I can never hope to understand or to do anything adequate about.
My horror at the atrocious human rights situation in, say, Zimbabwe, is reflected in my anger at the fund-raising tactics of charities in the UK and Ireland. I want to forget that part of the world, to live in my own happy little way. But our society isn't happy. It's got big problems, not least of which is its schizophrenia. We're an infinitely fractured society of tribes, and the contempt of one class for another is repeated on a global scale, and enshrined in the political structures that divide the world and keep humanity compartmentalised.
It's easy to say all this, of course. Just seeing the problems doesn't generate a solution, although I can see dozens of ideas that just wouldn't work. Just acknowedging that there are six billion other people out there doesn't give me any insight in to them at all.
Sometimes, though, it helps to enunciate it. To state that I know that there is a problem, before going out, getting drunk, eating junk food and falling asleep in my soft bed in my centrally-heated flat.
The two main things that are interesting me at the moment are summed up by the words "Ritual" and "Signals". They're two sides of the same coin, in some respects.
Every day, we live our lives through ritual. We get up, we follow a pattern of behaviours, we kick-start our days and we move forward through the day in a routine way. Sometimes we push beyond that routine, but if we do the chances are that all we're doing is changing our ritual for one that someone else has already used. We walk to work a different way, we buy a different sandwich, we give money to charity rather than spending it on cigarettes. Everything we do conforms to a pattern, and while we can change from one pattern to another, it's something rare and new to find a pattern that we can truly call unique.
Some rituals are so common that they almost define the society that created them, they are so ingrained in to the communal psyche that to stray from them becomes outré and unthinkable. These are the rituals that particularly interest me.
Signals surround us - advertising and media, predominantly, but also the trends and fashions that they spawn. It's easy to classify "the media" as a cultural spider, sitting at the centre of a web of information, drawing in its prey, and easy to lump it in to the same "evil black box" where business and politics live. I think that's incredibly naive. I'm struggling to find the words to explain what I'd put in its place. A media studies student in their late teens could probably do a better job than I could.
But I don't have to find solutions. I don't have to reach conclusions. I don't even have to ask questions. I'm just interested, that's all. Interested in everything.
Christmas. Christ's Mass. Founded by the Romans. On a Thursday, probably.
Imagine, for a moment, that you are the burgeoning Roman Catholic Church, keen to assert your authority as (a) the most popular Christian church out there and (b) the most popular church in the Holy Roman Empire. There are two things you need to do. You need to be more official, and you need to be available in an easy-to-digest form that the heathens will swallow.
So you need to fix dates for festivals. And you need those dates to be dates that will be popular with the greasy minions. So you co-opt an old heathen holiday. Saturnalia celebrated the rebirth of Saturn - the god of the harvest, and the dawn of the new year from the winter's darkness. So it's a festival of the solstice, really, co-opted in to the Roman Catholic church to allow the continuation of popular traditions and also, at the same time, cementing the popularity of the Roman Catholic Church. Good old Romans.
This is pretty common knowledge.
Even in the contemporary church, this is one of the least religious of the festivals. The little baby Jesus is simply a baby. He doesn't cry, but he doesn't do any miracles either. He's not a shining example to us, we shouldn't learn anything from his particular piety at his birth. The nearest things to lessons in the Christmas Story are don't go out slaying firstborn sons, presents are good, and if you don't have a spare bedroom, let your guests sleep in the garage. And yes, i appreciate that he's a special baby, but beyond the shiny halo (which must have hurt) he doesn't actually have his superpowers yet.
It's hard to shoehorn religion into Christmas, particularly when it is - and always has been - a festival of overt consumption, self-congratulation and indigestion. It's particularly hard to think of it as a "season of goodwill", when it's a season of last-minute shopping, elbowing grannies out of the way of the last turkey roast and swearing blind that next year you're emigrating to Venezuela.
Perhaps, however, it's as much about fulfilling society's need to vent as it is about fealty to any particular religion. Perhaps the people who rage against the commercialism of Christmas are simply obeying a valid urge to let off steam, and perhaps that commercialism is a response to the needs of society as much as the other way around.
Here's something that I find it very hard to disagree with.
Early in the morning he came again to the temple; all the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them.
The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, "Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such. What do you say about her?"
This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her." And once more he bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.
But when they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the eldest, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus looked up and said to her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" She said, "No one, Lord."
And Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again."
The Gospel according to John, Chapter 8, Verses 2 to 11
In many cases, all that differentiates a 'gift' from somthing sensible is packaging. You know the sort of stuff - the "luxury gift basket". Take a selection of useful things like face cream and hand cream, throw in some stuff that will never get sold otherwise like your special limited edition hemp bikini-line waxer, package them in a pretty basket, mark-up by 5% and sell on. Sons buy this for their mothers, their mothers use some of the stuff, discard the special limited edition ginger and lemon personal freshness enhancer and admire the beautiful wicker basket full of tissue paper. Ten months later, they throw it out.
There's a trick to buying a good gift for someone. First off, cut through the hype. Something that's advertised as a "perfect gift" probably isn't. But bear it in mind, to generate an idea.
Think about who you're buying for. Imagine yourself in their shoes. Think about what they like to do, who they think you are. And buy them something that you would like to receive if you were them. If they like M I Hummel figurines and you loathe them (as you probably do), then an M I Hummel figurine would be an appropriate gift, no matter how much liquor you have to consume before you can face the idea of buying one.
The C-season is rapidly approaching. I know because I am now immune to the gift advertising. I no longer respond to it (hurling socks at a television is rarely productive), but instead simply let it gloss over me, and pay it no heed, although I really must buy some Lacoste.
There's suddenly a preponderance of "gifts". That's not gifts in the sense of something you acquire for nothing, but gifts in the sense of something that you, as consumer, go out and purchase with the sole intention of giving to someone else. Marketing tells us it's not that simple, though. Bless marketing.
No, it seems that a gift isn't simply something that you give to someone. A gift is a product that is designed to be given. Spot the subtle distinction?
Let's consider some 'gifts'.
What makes these products 'gifts' rather than anything else? None of them are something that anyone sensible would buy for themselves. Ever. They're designed for aunts who don't know you very well to stumble across and thing "Alan would like that. Probably. I've not seen him for years. But he would have loved it when he was ten."
I repeat - 'Gifts' are designed to be given away.
By 2006, there will be a comprehensive ban on smoking in all public places in Scotland. This is probably a good thing.
Lots of people complain about this sort of ban. Principally publicans and restauranteurs, who believe that their livelihood is directly threatened. They may be right. There's anecdotal evidence in Ireland that suggests that takings at some pubs may be down. But pubs are far from empty, and landlords are far from resourceless.
Mr McConnell added that there had been a near nine per cent rise in tax revenues from New York bars and restaurants and, in Ireland, only a one point three per cent volume sales fall, where they were declining before the ban.
Restaurants should never have allowed smoking in the first place. I don't think anyone denies that it's a filthy habit, and that it smells. It destroys tastebuds, so if you're smoking you're not enjoying your food as much. And there is little less appetising than eating while someone at a table next to you is puffing away on their inter-course fix.
After six months of going only to non-smoking restaurants, there's a culture shock if I go in to a restaurant in the UK or mainland Europe and come across smokers. It feels less civilised, somehow. Anyway...
Bars are different, really. I can see more of a case for allowing smoking in bars - although there's a nice chunky grey area for bars that serve food. But smoking and drinking kind of go together. Don't they?
Again, the experience six months in to the ban here is an interesting one. I get home after a night out and my clothes don't stink of cigarettes. My throat is less dry from inhaling the smoke. I generally do feel a bit healthier, and I enjoy going out more. Most pubs have adapted - there's a sudden explosion in beer gardens that used to be back yards, or outdoor seating areas, covered by a canopy and heated by braziers. There's job creation for you. Most of the time I go to the local pub here, we sit outside in the "beer garden" that used to be the car park. We're warm, and we get more fresh air than we would if we sat inside.
People's smoking and drinking habits have changed, but smoking hasn't gone away, and nor has drinking. As far as I can see, the ban is working.
I think the real litmus test will be the winter, though. The cold could be a killer.
I'm delighted that Scotland will be following in Ireland's footsteps. I'm aware of the arguments against a ban, but the reality is that overall, the ban seems to work. It's controversial, true, and it couldn't really be called popular, but it's part of a global trend, and I'm pleased that my home country is exercising its devolved powers in such an enlightened manner.
It makes it a more attractive place to go back to.
It's increasingly difficult for teachers to keep control of classes. The power of the state to discipline the unruly is even less than the power of parents - and well-meaning legislation that protects children's rights continues to erode both. Increasingly, it seems, the only weapons that teachers can use in their fight to maintain order and discipline are psychological weapons. Specifically, peer pressure.
I remember well the old trick. If the straightforward question of "who threw that?" or whatever failed to elicit an immediate confession, then the entire class would be punished. This would have the desired effect - either the culprit would own up and spare his classmates, or he would stay quiet and incur their wrath in their own private and less legislated way. And so, children would learn their lesson.
That lesson being that if you can't find an individual culprit, it's perfectly acceptable to punish the community. A blanket targeting is fine. Everyone is guilty by association, until proven innocent. But maybe not even after that.
The stigma sticks. A class with a couple of unruly students in it gets a bad reputation. All the students are perceived to be difficult - by those who don't know any better. There's an incentive to behave badly because it's almost expected of you, and as long as you're not as bad as the real trouble makers, you'll get away with it. The control system doesn't create the problem, but in managing it, the problem is sometimes magnified.
At the same time, though, bad behaviour can't go unpunished. Staff can't let problem children get away with it, as the signals that sends are just as bad, if not worse. They don't have the time or resources to investigate fully. A quick response to classroom trouble is vital. What else are they supposed to do?
Exercising control only works when you are in a dominant position. To declare that an entire group is responsibility for the actions of an individual only works when that group is required to submit, either legally or morally. It doesn't work when the situation is reversed, or when the balance of power is more equal. In the classroom, the balance of power continues to shift. In the world wide world of the world, the balance of power is such a huge concept as to be virtually meaningless.
And yet, key voices in Community A will still target all of Community B when society are outraged by the actions of an individual. Members of Community B will react to the entirety of Community A based on the outspoken reactions of Community A. It's easy to mistake the voice of outrage for the voice of the community, far too easy to punish the entire class for the actions of a few.
Always be aware of the possibility of bias in your news reporting. Don't blindly assume that just because their news is quite clearly one-sided and driven by a political agenda that the news that you're viewing is less biased. It probably isn't.
Part of the reason for this is that news is a consumer item. It's a catch, a draw to pull people in, to make people buy newspapers or watch a particular channel, or view a particular web site and be exposed to a particular set of adverts. News "wants" to be addictive, and so it will align its bias with the views of its intended target audience. "You", the big nebulous public will tend to agree with the news media you consume, because you shape their views. And as a result, you will be influenced by the media and hence society evolves in a horribly self-obsessed spiral until it eats its own tail and disappears up its own bottom.
By design, we are already slightly blind to the problems with our own media, which makes it easier to see the problems with others. However, there is a possibility that we exaggerate the bias in other news media and refuse to accept the bias in our own.
Just ignore this. The self-righteous pompous dismissive fatuous arrogance of some British newspapers is just annoying me.
Disclaimer: In this entry, "you" is referring to a generalised "you" and not a particular individual. In particular, Oddverse readers are more likely to have realised most of this already and therefore do not take their news media for granted.
Surely, there can be no garment in this world that is more evil than the poncho.
A remnant of the decade that fashion forgot, these antediluvian monstrosities have emerged, gasping in to the 21st Century. Who cares that they are now machine-knitted, made from the finest lambs-wool and bought lovingly from Top Shop? They may be more professional ponchos that the ones your granny used to knit, they may be incredibly comfortable and practical for all I know. They are utterly ridiculous.
I suspect that the idea behind the poncho is that it is simple - it's essentially a shapeless item, not fitted in any way, and so not emphasising curves. It's the sort of garment that nuns would approve of, as it renders a woman completely asexual.
Ironically, the poncho was invented in 1970 by Clint Eastwood. As originally conceived, it was a practical working garment for men - it kept them warm while still giving the arms freedom of movement to shoot people and stuff. It was only once it was adopted by nutters and knitters that it metamorphosed in to the abomination of comedy knitwear that it has become.
When I see one I get the urge to laugh and point. Fortunately, I am well brung up, so I don't.
Now the thing about rituals, the important thing is that the nature of the ritual is completely irrelevant. It's not about what you do, it's not even about how you do it. What matters is why you do it, and why you have to do something.
"Drive carefully," was almost the last thing that Officer Egan said to us as we were leaving. There was never any danger that we were going to do anything else, though.
It must have been lunchtime-ish when we were leaving the hotel. We'd been up partying most of the night, as you do when you've got music and moonlight and wine and company, and as a result we were somewhat on the fragile side, although not as fragile as we could have been, or should have been. We were going to drive carefully, no doubt about it. Officer Egan - technically retired, but still a policeman at heart - was wise to warn us. Six people had died in road accidents the night before. We drove back to Dublin safely.
I'm used to anonymous strangers dying. Anonymous strangers die all the time. Most of them die due to illness or through the natural and inevitable process of organ failure. In Ireland, there's pretty much a violent death in Dublin every night, and accidents on the roads are common. There are worse ways to die. There are more media-focussed ways to die. It needs to be a big glamorous death to merit more than a passing mention on the news. But it's reassuring that murder is still worth mentioning. Some things should never become commonplace.
Death is not just an ending, though. It's the beginning of a new feeling, a new way of living. It's the beginning of living without. It's a sudden change - and no matter how long you think you've prepared for it, it's always sudden. A life is gone.
It's not surprising that society builds rituals to cope with this, builds ways to offer the hope that perhaps you will meet your loved one again in the great unknown. Otherwise, it would be so easy to let grief consume you, to withdraw from society and live inside your own head, with your memories. Even the least spiritual of us needs some view about death to cling to, even if that view is that it is inevitable, natural and needs rational acceptance.
Violent death is particularly hard.
When we left the hotel on Sunday, we knew that six people had died on the roads. We heard their grizzly epitaphs on the radio on the way home, sandwiched between Satellite of Love and Brian McFadden. Six young lives gone. By the end of the weekend, there had been ten fatalities in road accidents in Ireland.
I didn't know any of them, but my colleague Niamh did. She's 23, and her friend was 22. They studied together. They weren't the best buddies on the planet, but they were close enough that Niamh felt that she ought to be at the funeral. Apparently there were hundreds of mourners, mostly under the age of 25.
I always think that grief is an intensely personal thing. I don't think that anyone should be told how to grieve, or that they're not grieving enough. And yet, in the midst of all of this personal emotion, comes the funeral. Perhaps the oddest ritual in the panoply of human rituals, and one of the most powerful.
It can be a way to vent, to let some of the anger at the injustice out. It can be a way to remember, and to celebrate. It can be a meaningless thing, attended only to show support to those who need it. To me, at least, a funeral is about living, about remembering the good things - those we have lost, and those we still retain.
Everything passes, but life goes on.
If there is one phrase that I loathe more than any other in business correspondence, it is
Could you perhaps revert?
I've said this before, I know.
But there's such a huge gap between the question that the writer is trying to ask, and the question that they're actually asking that I just want to write back oozing sarcasm.
Update: I sent this to my staff.
I'm sorry guys, I just need to get this off my chest. It doesn't actually relate to anything you've done.
"revert" is a word that is often misused in correspondence.
The main meaning of the word is to return to a former condition, practice, subject, or belief.
So you can try something, and if it doesn't work then you can revert to a previous option.
There's also a secondary meaning is to return to a former owner (of money or property).
What it does not mean, under any circumstance, is "respond".
The phrase "Please revert to me by such & such a date" is, essentially meaningless.
Of course, lots of people use that phrase, all the time. And most of the time, people read it and understand what was intended. But there are anally retentive idiots like me out there who will read it and think that the person who wrote it is simply showing off their ignorance. So, try to avoid it. The English language is rich and varied and includes a good word to mean respond. That word is "respond".
It was - and not many people know this - Howard Edwards, a 43-year old postal worker from Illinois - who wrote the first deliberately fictitious estimated time of delivery. Indeed, he wrote so many of them, that by the time he retired then number of promises of "yes, Mr So&So, we will deliver between twelve and four" letters that he had written would have made a moderately interesting work of fiction. However, by then the practice had become so widespread that to publish the book would have seemed like bandwagoneering.
The setting, manipulation, and deletion of delivery times is an arcane art. It is now such a standard of contemporary life that actually trying to turn up when you say you will is considered to be such a unique selling feature that some companies see fit to advertise it.
I dare say before the innovation of Mr Edwards, there were some occasions when deliveries were late, or tradesmen failed to arrive at their specified hour, but these were generally few and far between, and met with cries of "compensate me". In those days it was less of an inconvenience, as the master of the house would be able to leave for work as usual in the morning, knowing that his wife or domestic servant would be able to cope.
These days, it's not that simple.
For example, today.
I took half a day off work, to wait for a guy who was supposed to arrive between 9 and 1. When he arrives, he'll be running over an hour beyond that.
What do I do when he leaves? If I go in to the office, I'm hardly getting any time at all there. So I'll probably try to rush him out of the door. This will suit him, as it means I'm less likely to find any problems with what he's done, or even to test it.
If I take the rest of the day off work, then I'm going to be Mr Unpopular even more than I am at the moment for taking half a day off. I'm wasting holidays by sharing them with deliveries.
This is the cunning wisdom of fictional delivery times. They tire people out, wear them down, make them acceptant of shoddy workmanship or service. I'm impressed at the same time as I'm angry. Hurrah for Howard Edwards.
Why does anyone care about the coach of the English national soccer team's private life ?
The clue there, by the way, is in the word "private".
Mr Eriksson is a painfully unattractive man, forced in to a position where he has become a celebrity. He's probably got some magnetism, some charisma, but he comes across as being deeply uninteresting and oddly media-shy.
And yet, I cannot illuminate my electric television without being reminded where he has allegedly put his genitals.
I don't care where he's put his genitals. But more than that, beyond those who he's actually been putting his genitals into, I don't understand why anyone in the world should care where they've been.
If Eriksson had been a politician, I could understand how the press could possibly make out that this was a matter of national interest. The old "if he can lie to his wife, what is to stop him lying to the nation" routine that's ultimately equivalent to "if he can walk across a road, what's to stop him walking across the Pacific?"
But he's not. He's the coach of a national soccer team. He's not affecting the quality of his training by putting his genitals into a diverse range of people, and he's not bringing the game in to disrepute, or at least not in the same way that Britney Spears made a mockery of marriage. He's not really done anything, as far as I can tell. Certainly none of the "journalism" I've seen on the subject has said that there's anything wrong with what he's done, but the FA are in 'crisis talks' and his ex is selling her story to the press.
Someone's making a lot of money out of this. And it's not even interesting.
Why is this news?
"You're walking through a forest, and you come across an animal. What is it?"
"It's a tiger."
"Describe it in five words."
"Fierce. Bold. Huge. Stripey. Cuddly."
"That's your ideal partner."
I saw two people having a conversation like that a day or two ago. They were taking it terribly seriously, despite the fact that it's the sort of thing that you get in an e-mail from an annoying ex-secretary who was a bit of a laugh when you were working together, but now has turned in to someone who clogs up your e-mail inbox with personality tests and huge shockwave files that are "the funniest thing. Evah."
In practice, there's only one way that the conversation above should end up with, and that's with the phrase "but surely that's just a load of bollocks that you just made up?" The fact that it didn't is slightly concerning.
But I digress.
In this life, I find that the phrase "but surely that's just a load of bollocks that you just made up?" is an incredibly powerful one. It's useful in business, it's useful in the pub, and it's especially useful when talking to nice young men in suits who want to talk to you about salvation.
This is the sort of thing that I'd usually put in the sidebar, but I actually wanted to comment on the Observer's article Revealed: how the police encouraged lesbian love.
The article talks about research that suggests that lesbianism was tacitly encouraged in the armed forces and police in the 1940s and 1950s.
Reading between the lines, this makes me wonder about the phrase 'tacit encouragement' itself. I'll write about that a bit later on today, or possibly tomorrow.
I just wanted to mention that Harry Cocks of the University of London will also reveal the story of lonely hearts magazine the Link.
It's an odd time to be Scottish.
It's the whole football thing, isn't it. It's not the world cup, but the other one. Scotland aren't in it, but England are. And so we're faced with a dilemma. If we cheer for England, we're being anti-Scottish, because the English and the Scots have different football teams, obviously. If we don't cheer for England, we're being anti-British, because after all, we're one country. We've got lots in common, and that suggests that central government has value - and we have substantial differences, hence the devolved Scottish parliament. It all makes a degree of sense, and I think Britain is stronger for recognising its own diversity.
Bizarrely, if Scotland were in the Not-the-world Cup and England weren't, the vast majority of the English would cheer the Scots. Of course, the rabid wing of the nationalist movement would claim that this was toadying sycophancy or something. Their loss.
It's an odd time to be British.
When 'we' want to commemorate something and make it public and permanent, we tend to do it in one of two ways. One is by something sculptural, whether it's an actual piece of sculpture, or a memorial garden, or a plain monolith. In the past, this might have meant sticking a statue of an Admiral on the top of a big pole and surrounding it with pigeons, or something like that. Another way to commemorate something in a public way is to build a museum devoted to it, to explaining what the something in question was, and to give visitors an idea of the context, background, and impact of something.
Rachel Whiteread's Holocaust memorial in Vienna is something unique. I've written about Whiteread before, and I'm aware that her work isn't to everyone's tastes. She works with absence, her sculpture defining the space that is left behind when things are removed or lost. Whether that's the interior of a house, a hot water bottle or, in this case, a library, what's left is something that can have a greater impact than a statue. Something more than figurative sculpture, something less than an actual building, I think that her Holocaust memorial speaks of missed opportunity, a death-mask of knowledge and culture.
I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the Jewish Museum in the Judenplatz was also designed by Whiteread. The museum was designed to showcase the unearthed ruins of a medieval synagogue, and is a scultpural experience in itself, an interconnected set of spaces that probably wouldn't work from the outside, alternately being tall, then deep, narrow then wide, leading you first down in to a basement, then along a narrow unadorned corridor before taking you back up in to the body of the synagogue. It doesn't matter that the exhibits in the museum are few, that the multimedia displays are innovative (and hard to use), because the use of space maximises the impact of the final emergence in to the ruins of the synagogue itself.
The memorial in itself is worth seeing, and worth experiencing. The museum itself is worth seeing as a structure, because it's a sympathetic building with one end rooted in the 19th century, and the other in the 14th century, while still being a contemporary design. To me, it's a strong example of the potential for Art in Architecture, and a fitting commemoration.
We live in a world that is shaped by construction. We build each other homes to live in. The homes we live in are driven by the circumstances of their construction, the pressures of the design process, both social and economical. The homes we live in affect the way we live our lives, and the way that we live our lives affects the homes that we build. We have a name for the people who design the homes that we buy. We call them architects. This is wrong.
To give an example of why this is wrong, consider two meals I had this weekend. On Saturday night, I had a terrine of Pork Cheek, followed by Fillet of Sea Bass and a Chocolate dessert. It was, frankly, fantastic. On Sunday night, I had home-made meatballs with roast vegetables. It was delicious. However, while it was delicious, it was in a completely different league from the meal on Saturday. On Monday I had something from Marks and Spencer.
All of the meals were good by their own standards. But they were designed with different needs in mind.
The M&S meal had to be quick, mass produced, providing certain nutritional needs but not being anything special. If this meal was housing, it would be a developer-built apartment block. It would be designed by a developer, or contractor, without any sign of an architect going anywhere near it. Much of today's building falls in to this category - it's quicker and cheaper than employing an architect. But in the end it's unfulfilling.
The home-cooked dinner had no pretentions, and was very good indeed, but it didn't knock my socks off and make me go 'wow'. If this meal was housing, it would be something where an architect had been engaged, but the constraints put upon him or her would have limited what could be done to truly innovate. In the end, it's better than not employing an architect at all, but it's fettered.
The restaurant meal was designed. The menu was limited, but the choice was sufficiently varied for there to be three or four dishes that I fancied for each course. Everything was just right, and I was left feeling truly impressed by the quality of the cooking, the choice of ingredients, and the range of interesting and delicious dishes on the menu. In architecture, this would win awards. It would be held up as a shining example of what could be done, and then developers would go to architects and let them loose to do what they want with minimal intervention.
But no architect ever has free reign. There are constraints everywhere. Some are superficially sensible (it's good to comply with fire regulations), some are driven by needs of whoever is paying for the build (fitting four hundred apartments in to the space that a Victorian semi-detached villa used to occupy), and some are just bizarre (designing a modern building to 'look like' the neighbouring building that is about to be condemned). It's like employing Gordon Ramsay to run your staff canteen and telling him that every course has to come with chips. Including dessert.
Bear this in mind the next time you're passing through a city centre, thinking of the awfulness of urban sprawl and considering who to blame. It's easy to point a finger and blame "architects", but architects hate that sort of thing as much as you do, if not more. Ultimately, we're all to blame. That mythical hydra, "society", with its broad tastes from low culture to high.
After all, why give the world Michelin-Star quality dishes when they're only prepared to pay for pie and mash?
This is particularly directed to gentlemen who work in offices. You know who you are.
When standing at a urinal, do not pick your nose. You know exactly where your finger has been.
If you do pick your nose, do not wipe the matter retrieved on the wall. I do not particularly want to look at it.
If you do pick your nose while urinating, do not talk on your phone at the same time. It's disrespectful to your caller, and it's not good for your shoes.
The smoking ban has been in force in Ireland for a little over two weeks. So far, it seems to be working.
Although the ban is on smoking in workplaces, and certain places are exempt (principally hotel rooms and prisons, where 'guests' can't nip out for a quick fag), the media has focused on the impact on bars and restaurants. Here's a quick assessment of the two.
Restaurants are immeasurably improved. I love being able to eat without the fear of my enjoyment of the meal being dampened by stray smoke wafting across my nose, or some inconsiderate wanker at the next table trying to keep smoke out of his wife's face by holding his cigarette way out to one side, virtually over my table.
That said, I'm not sure that the idea of a country with 100% non-smoking restaurants works for me. I can understand that some people enjoy a cigarette between courses, or a cigar after a meal. Perhaps it should be possible to apply for a licence to have a smoking room on the premises, where guests could retire to indulge. You could pay staff extra to work there, perhaps, or staff could have the right to refuse to work there.
Pubs are almost unrecognisable. Traditionally smoky areas are suddenly lighter, cleaner, healthier, and less pub-like. Outdoor areas like beer gardens are becoming smoking gardens, and there is a steady migration of people 'just nipping out for a puff' as well as 'just nipping out to the loo'. It does feel as if something is gone from pubs, more than just the smoke, but it's early days.
Give it more time, I think. We'll see.
When we went to London recently, we did "modern" art. We did it in the sense of going to see a lot of it, and enjoying the many and varied tea rooms in London's finest galleries.
The Museo dell'Opera del Duomo in Florence doesn't have any modern art, although it's a beautifully crafted and designed modern conversion. It's a neat symmetry to take an old building, convert it for use as a contemporary space, and then use it to show magnificent works such as Michelangelo's Pieta (1550), and Donatello's Magdalen (1457).
I admit it, I'm up to date. Indeed, I am so up to date that I can identify what will be fashionable tomorrow. The 1970s resurgence is coming to an end, and the next stage will be a return to early 1967. Again. The signs are there, boys and girls, and soon they'll break through in to mainstream.
In the mean time, what is "Milkshake"? For those who are less au fait with the vernacular of youth than I, it's a popular song with hugely opaque lyrics. For example.
My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard
And they're like, it's better than yours
Damn right it's better than yours
I could teach you but I have to charge
I see you're on it
You want me to teach the
Techniques that freaks these boys
It can't be bought
Just know things get caught
Watch if you're smart
Fashion advice for ladies:
Shell suit, pony tail, fag.
We saw so much ModernArt™ this month that worked. From the Chapman Brothers idols to Hirst's six legged calf (I could only count five), to Grayson Perry's incredible ceramics. One piece we saw twice, in two different places. It's Simon Patterson's The Great Bear.
It's not very good.
That's a hugely subjective statement, but every statement about ModernArt™ pretty much has to be. I didn't dislike it. I didn't think it was great. It didn't offend me, amuse me, arouse me, repel me, seduce me or astound me. It did, however, fascinate me.
It's not well crafted. It's just a map of the London Underground with the words changed. It's no more art than the rude map, or the anatomically correct map, or any of the other maps available based on the same template.
Sure, there's a certain conceit in printing it up as a limited edition of fifty and calling it ModernArt™, but the devil is in the detail. What I particularly like about The Great Bear is the
choice of revised station names.
By replacing the names of stations with the names of celebrities, and by associating the lines of the Underground with groups of celebrities - for example philosophers, or comedians, we are presented with a new way to look at information and ideas. Each name triggers memories, each journey along the tube line becomes a journey from one connected idea to the next, and - crucially - each junction becomes a crossing of these ideas, a tangent.
All very posy, I'm sure. And still not unique. I wouldn't call it art, any more than I would call a Venn Diagram art (unless it was a very pretty Venn Diagram).
There's nothing revolutionary about presenting information as a diagram. Literally dozens of people buy books about Mind Mapping every year. There's nothing revolutionary about putting the two ideas together. There's nothing about the whole thing that makes it art, to my mind, and certainly not ModernArt™.
What interested me most about the work was its use of one stylised map to present an entirely different type of information and the network of links between that information in a new way. And this is all very, very boring to many people. But at the moment, I'm finding the idea fascinating.
I've got a theory about the rising tide of obesity in the United Kingdom. It's a bit long-winded (which is always good, and very unsurprising), and it's woefully flawed because it ignores all of the influences that I want to ignore, but ultimately I think that the huge wave of flab seeping over the nation can be traced back to one man with a gun.
On the 28th of June, 1914, Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, a key event that precipitated the war later to be known as "The Great War".
Flash forward ninety years, and as a direct result of this, children are being force-fed liquidised junk food.
Whatever else you may say about the war, it's pretty clear that Germany came second. There was the whole treaty of Versaille thing, that basically helped to screw the German economy, causing misery and generally creating the circumstances that allowed a fascist dictator to take control and lead the country in a glorious crusade.
All with me so far? We've got as far as 1939. We're still quite a long way from people shovelling down burgers like there's no tomorrow, but we're closer than we were before.
Again, Germany came second. But this time, the war was nastier and meaner. Britain, you see, is an island. And for most of the war, it had been blockaded fairly successfully, meaning the imposition of rationing.
Rationing was so popular that it lasted through to 1954, nine years after the war was over. Rationing was great. It meant that people had a healthy balanced diet, and didn't overeat, because they couldn't. You couldn't nip out for a slap up plate of reconstituted animal protein in a bun, even if you'd wanted to. Rationing caused infant mortality to decrease, and helped people live longer.
Rationing also meant that my parents generation grew up remembering what it was like. And they repeated the pattern. As kids, my generation ate pretty frugally, because it was what our parents knew. But that was before the 1980s happened.
Suddenly, out went power cuts and discontent. We were told to rejoice! Greed was good, red braces were in - briefly.
Children, and teenagers, in the 1980s looked at the food that was available, and compared it to the food their parents had been able to give them. As one, they rose, and as one they cried aloud If I have to lie, steal, cheat or kill. As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again.
So now, you've got Emily born in 1997, having her jaw wired open and being force-fed lard because her mother, Brenda doesn't want Emily to feel deprived. Brenda was born in 1970, and was deprived by her mother, Sarah, you see. Sarah was working a three-day week and wondering where the next candle was coming from. Sarah was born in 1944, and was fed a perfectly healthy and balanced diet by her mother Grace, because of rationing.
It's all connected.
I don't know about you, but I like to measure the quality of a holiday by the number of celebrities that we ignore. So, our 2001 trip to Hollywood was a definite "2" largely due to 'Woman buying coffee', but also by 'Man sitting on wall outside hotel bar as we were leaving to walk home'. We also saw Brooke Shields, but that's a whole different story, as we didn't ignore her.
In London, we surpassed that lofty total.
Picture us, if you will. We're dressed in our usual finery, stalking the halls of County Hall, London. We waft from space to space - as is our wont - muttering darkly about the dark fate awaiting people who stand too close to pictures. We sneer gently at the works by the german chap whose name escapes me, we goggle at the sheer scale of the Chapmans' view of hell, we get slightly bored by Sarah Lucas' use of buckets as a metaphor, and we begin to realise why Grayson Perry is quite so extraordinary.
And then we turn a corner, Mr Twinky grabs my arm, and whispers to me "it's him".
I do a double take, looking around for anyone I recognise, but all I can see is some strapping young chunksters moving paintings around. But their gaffer... something familiar about him, but I can't quite place it.
Until I imagine what he would look like with Nigella beside him. Then I get it. It's the man himself. It's reassuring to see him so involved in the display of the art that he is famous for supporting. We do our usual trick of ignoring him completely while not getting between him and the art, and he returns the favour by ignoring us and quietly declining to even acknowledge our existence.
Later, we laugh about it, and I dare say that he does too.
It's embarassing to see someone making a fool of themselves in public.
For example, a television viewer in Tennessee who claim that the exposure of a breast is "sexually explicit conduct". It's not. It's blatantly not. I'm not just saying this because I have no real interest in breasts.
I'm aware that the breast-flashing-taboo is deeply ingrained in our society, and I can see the reasons behind it, but I find it hard to reconcile the rationale behind the taboo with the current degree of reaction to Janet Jackson. What happened is nothing, compared to
I can understand that the argument boils down to protecting children. I guess I almost see that - but I suspect it's more about protecting parents from having to answer awkward questions when their child is at an age where they can't fully take in the answers. ("Mummy, why is it okay for Justin to take his shirt off but not Janet?" "Because she's old, sweetheart. Now go and play with GI Joe and Barbie.")
I just know I'm missing something, because this whole debate just feels stupid, and a waste of time and energy that could be better spent elsewhere.
I'm sure I've rattled on before about the power, or otherwise of swearing. It's all a load of arse, really.
The power of swearing, you see, is in the mind of the listener. If I'm swearing away and nobody hears, who am I offending? If I'm swearing in front of someone who uses the same sort of language as me, then there's nobody being offended, and the words have little or no meaning beyond punctuation, or an expression of the frustration that is endemic in today's life.
You can split offensive language in to a number of groups.
There's the religious words - taking the name of a deity or prophet in vain - and their derivatives. Words in this group would include the obvious "Christ" and "God" when used as expressions of exasperation, and the less obvious "Struth" and "Blimey".
Then there's the words relating to bodily functions, be that copulatory or defecatory. Words such as "Fuck" and "Arse", "Shit" and the like would fall in to this category.
These two categories are what we generally regard as 'swearing'. However, we also include defamatory phrases in our definition of language that may cause offense. So racist, sexist or homophobic words like "Faggot" are offensive.
The level of offense that these words are likely to cause comes in waves. For example, a lot of the words that we would today classify as racial slurs were in common usage in polite society as recently as thirty years ago. In the 60s, the use of "the f word" on national television caused outrage. Today it is commonplace.
Remember, words have power because we give them power. "Sugar" is to "Shit" what "Blimey" is to "May God Blind Me". It's just a way of sanitising swearing.
What should society do about these words?
Looking around us, blasphemy is common, and largely acceptable.
Biological references are common in everyday speech, and as a result, are gradually losing their potency. I don't like to hear that sort of language coming from the mouth of a child, but that's my problem and my prejudice. From an adult, they offend me not one bit. Not even the 'most offensive word in the English language'.
The racist, sexist, homophobic words are more offensive to my ears, largely because some of them are directed at me from time to time, but also because they're clearly, deliberately offensive.
But again it's not clear. For example 'queer' - some people may use it as an insult, but for others it is an identification, a mark of pride.
Language evolves. The crude becomes accepted, the accepted becomes crude. This has nothing to do with maintaining standards. For the most part, this has nothing to do with blasphemy or seeking to cause offence. This is just the way things are.
In any case, it is not really the word that people are offended by. It is the attitude behind the word.
I've just realised that I've got my e-mail much more under control this year (so far) than last year.
I'm not certain if this is because the sheer year-end panic has died down, or if it's because of my new trick.
I only read e-mails that are addressed to me.
As most of us know, in the good old days, people used things called memos. These were essentially letters between people in a company, printed on paper. Each one had to be put in an envelope. Sending out a lot of memos took a lot of time. Also, before they went out you had to write them by hand or dictate them, pass them to a typist, and proof check them. There's a lot of thought in that process. A lot of time elapses between the pen touching paper, and the envelope leaving an out-tray.
In the brave new world, there is often less than a second between deciding to write an ungrammatical e-mail, and sending forty-eight pages of historic correspondence to four hundred people.
Good for some things, bad for others.
Most e-mail isn't urgent. Most of the e-mail I get isn't even for me. I'm copied in, but I don't need to read it, I just need to know that it's been done.
So now, all of the e-mail I get that isn't addressed to me is getting filed separately. I look at it in my own time, but it's not really a chore, because I know before I open it that it's probably unimportant. My main e-mail 'box' is clearer, and my other e-mail 'box' never really gets full, because I know I can clean it up quickly.
Now, if only I can get my personal e-mail sorted...
A couple of years ago, I discovered a simple truth about sympathy. It doesn't have to be eloquent. There's no need to spend hours trying to find the right words, because there aren't really any right words out there.
Just say something. Say anything. Say you're sorry to hear that. Because hearing something means so much more than hearing nothing.
If the stories circulating in our office are to be believed, at least one in three nativity plays in Dublin features a small child who is disgruntled at not being chosen to play Joseph, and feels slighted to be relegated to the role of Innkeeper.
When the happy couple turn up at the door of the Inn, and ask if he has any room, his response is that they are in luck, and they have one last room for them.
At this stage, the story stops - which is a big clue as to the authenticity of the tale. Doubtless, hilarious consequences are had by all.
Walking to work this morning, I had a burst of realisation. I've had a few of these in my life, little moments when suddenly I've realised something that should have been blindingly obvious. Today's realisation was:
Live every day as if it were your last.
Trite truism, I know. Often used as an excuse to justify bingeing.
I was coming at this phrase from a new angle, thinking about regrets and living in the past. I was thinking about knee-jerk reactions, and personal and social responsibility. And I think where I got to was an understanding of my own personal stance on life.
Life is a series of decisions. Some are large, and some are small. As I go through life, I try to avoid making snap decisions about things where I feel there is a chance that I will regret making the wrong choice. That way, if I get it wrong - and, of course, I do - I know that my intentions were sound and consistent. I aim to behave in a manner which I hope I can look back on with respect. And if I die tomorrow, I would like it to be known that I am happy with everything I did today.
God, I could write a self help book. I'm like an ex-smoker, preaching my own experiences as a cure for the world. Ignore me and find your own way.
Is sponsored by Cadbury.
Cadbury is going through a branding nightmare, sacrificing all its different brands for a uniform style and size across all its chocolate bars.
For example. Wispa. Much vaunted when it first arrived, hugely popular throughout its life, dumped unceremoniuosly and with little hype for its successor. Welcome Dairy Milk Bubbly, a brand of chocolate which plays on the history of the chocolate used, rather than the bar. Gone is the distinctive shape, replaced by a uniform size, to fit in with the rest of the Cadbury selection.
By doing this, Cadbury are implying that their chocolate bars are uniform - they all have the same size, they all have the same type of chocolate in them. And if you're not enticed by the wrapper design, your eye will skip across the display, looking for something new. They're targeting a single market, and I know all about the pitfalls of doing that. I saw it on a property show on Channel 4.
I care about this a bit. Don't know why, but I do.
People have the strangest attractions to the strangest body parts. I'm not going to list all of them, tempted though I am to bandy around words like nipple, armpit, and perineum. I have to say that the two oddest ones for me are large upper arms and large forearms.
Large upper arms are often seen in really tight-armed tee shirts. They just look silly. There's a particular trend at the moment for tee shirts to be cut really tight in the arm so that even those with average-sized upper arms look like they are bursting out of them, so great is their upper arm strength. Whatever. They're bloody uncomfortable and they look stupid.
The only time it's okay to have large upper arms is when they're properly in proportion with the rest of you.
Large forearms just look completely silly, unless you're a cartoon sailor.
Gary, the caretaker and artist, was literally run off his feet. Hardly had he welcomed one of Dublin's Q-List glitterati in to the front parlour of 15 Usher's Island, told them where the wine was and exchanged a snippet of small talk about the Calatrava bridge, than the burly builders at the door doffed their hard-hats once more, and he had to duck back along the burnt and scarred hallway to greet another guest. It was well for him that he did not have to attend to the serving of the wine also. But this had been thought of, and the wine was in the shell of a room that used to be a dining room. Two young men in waistcoats were there, quiet and polite, following guests around to the head of the stairs and back again, ensuring that all of the guests had a sufficiency of wine.
It was a great affair, the inaugural art show at the house described in Joyce's "The Dead". Everybody who was virtually anybody came to it, the artists friends and neighbours, those involved in the restoration of the house, and even members of the cast and crew of the John Huston movie from 1986. And although there was a real danger of it falling flat, it went off in splendid style. We were there partly as friends of the artist, but also keen to see the dark, gaunt house on Usher's Island, the upper part of which was once rented from "Mr Fulham", the corn-factor on the ground floor. That was a good hundred years ago if it was a day. Still being renovated after years of neglect and fire, the upper storeys still damaged and unsafe, the old kitchen in the basement doubling as a makeshift bathroom, lit by candles and virtually unplumbed, the walls and floorboards telling stories of time and neglect, of history and decay.
Applause was followed by speeches. A short speech from the owner of the house. A longer one from Rachael Dowling, who had once performed as Lily, the Caretaker's daughter. Her hands shook as she spoke, almost as though she were unused to public speaking. Beside us, her child cried. She then opened her copy of Dubliners and glanced at the first page with which she would close her speech. She was undecided about the fourth paragraph, for she feared they would be above the heads of her drunken hearers. Some quotation that they would recognise from Bono or from Westlife would be better. The indelicate clacking of the men's heels and the shuffling of their soles reminded her that their grade of culture differed from hers. She would only make herself ridiculous by quoting the fourth paragraph to them, which she herself could not understand. They would think that she was simply reading, unprepared, from a book. But she had not taken up a wrong tone. Her whole speech was a success from first to last, an appropriate effort.
And the night continued, and minor celebrities and film crew came and went, some to see the house, some to see the art, and some, simply, to be seen. We sat on the bridge and watched the river flowing beneath us, acutely aware of our place in history.
I just popped this up on my 'spotted' list - before I'd fully read it. It's an article about the Vatican being in an HIV condom row.
Now, I've no idea how true it is, but if there's any truth in the quotation from the Archbishop of Nairobi: "Aids...has grown so fast because of the availability of condoms," then this is completely and utterly outrageous.
It's one thing to advocate not using condoms if your faith proscribes birth control. It gets more dangerous when by doing so you are recommending a course of action that helps to spread sexually transmitted diseases. However, if "some priests have even been saying that condoms are laced with HIV/Aids", then they are irresponsible at best, and verging on criminal at worst.
Somewhere in me, I have a much longer piece about Patriotism. It's not a fully developed thought, but here's the gist of it.
Patriotism is great. It's fantastic to be really proud of your country, because let's face it you live there. I've lived in four different countries in my life, or three if you think that England isn't really a country in its own right. I'm proud of all of them, in their own ways.
Patriotism can also be evil. It can be an insidious, cliquey thing, that reeks of moral superiority simply due to an accident of birth. It can be used to justify evil acts, arrogance, and wars.
If a government to try to enforce patriotism, then I believe that this falls more into the second mood than the first. A people should be proud of their country and their government because of the history of the country and the actions of that government rather than because the government declares it is worthy of patriotism.
Which is why I cannot condone the celebration of patriotism on any date associated with invasion, attack or war, and indeed think that to do so is in exceptionally poor taste. Combining patriotic messages with images and feelings associated with attack and isolation seems designed to promote arrogance, small-mindedness, hubristic self-congratulation and unearned moral superiority.
But that's just my view.
I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member
- Groucho Marx
It's been alleged that the only possible justification for Mensa is the forum it provides for socially underdeveloped people, a place in which they can feel safer and definitely superior.
The same could hold true for country clubs, the Masons, the Rotary Club and the Garrick, all of which are joined strictly by invitation. By their very nature, they are exclusive - in every sense of the word. By deliberately excluding the vast majority of the world, they aim to retain a sense of being special, and retain a consistent, homogenic membership.
The exclusivity brings with it a necessary feeling of superiority. Joining these clubs is an achievement, a badge of honour. And yet, in many ways, they're not that dissimilar from support groups like Weight Watchers and Alcoholics Anonymous.
But I digress.
The purpose of Mensa is to identify and foster human intelligence for the benefit of humanity, to provide a stimulating intellectual and social environment for its members, and to encourage research into the nature, characteristics, and uses of intelligence. It's probably not the society to join if you want to go down to the pub and have a chat about which ones off Pop Idol you'd shag. But if you like doing puzzles, then it's probably for you.
What an absolutely awful fear for any young man to have.
This is, of course, speaking as someone who has never achieved any long term goals in his life. Plenty of short term stuff. Like last night, when I set myself a goal of buying salad on the way home. Managed that one.
But the goal I had when I was a nipper of being a fireman. Never got there. Slept with one, once, but it's not the same thing.
Or the goal of being a father by the time I was 30. Didn't happen. Goalposts shifted, my life went in a very different direction.
It's very easy to be excessively goal-obsessed. Particularly when society tells you that in order to succeed you must achieve. Frankly, it's a load of balls, and the quickest way to stress and a breakdown.
There is nothing wrong with setting personal goals. There is nothing wrong with sticking to them as long as possible. And there is nothing wrong with changing them as long as you're damn sure that changing them is the right thing to do.
But I'm not a psychologist. Or a motivational expert. So don't take my word for it. I'm just happy.
I don't know whether I'm in favour of the current proposals to improve Gay rights in the UK.
At heart, I think it's a good idea. I think it's a very good idea. The recognition of civil partnerships between same-sex couples removes a systematic prejudice in British society, which can only be a good thing, can't it?
The downside is that the current proposals do not extend the same civil partnership rights to heterosexual couples.
Let's look at it from a high-level viewpoint, though.
In essence this is exactly the point being made by Jacqui Smith, Minister for women and equality.
Ah, but this is putting gay partnership on a par with marriage, isn't it? It's marriage by another name. And that's undermining the sanctity of marriage. Can't do that.
So, how about reinventing it as Marriage-Light. So it's like marriage, but not. It's just registration of a partnership, with much easier dissolution, or something that differentiates it.
That keeps heterosexual lobbies happy. Couples who want to get married can still get married, straight couples who don't want to get married can still get the equality of treatment and the legal rights, but without any of the additional stuff that makes it a marriage (I'd like someone to tell me what that difference is, though). And gay couples can register their partnerships. Everyone's happy. The sanctity of marriage is preserved. Oh joy.
Except that's still two different systems. And someone, somewhere, will object to it.
No approach is going to make everyone happy. But any approach that makes most people happy will, in one way or another, involve the registration of gay partnerships.
Today's "Friday Five" is about hair. But I don't do the Friday Five thing, so I'm not going to go in to great detail about hair disasters, or whether my hair is curly or straight (depends on where you're looking, to be honest).
I'm going to address, albeit incredibly superficially, the ginger question.
I'm going to tackle the question by the cunning plan of splitting up and approaching it from two directions. Half of me is going to walk into its lair, tease it a little, and try to lure it out in to the open. Once the issues are fully exposed, the other half of me is going to drop a metaphorical barrel on the debate, allowing me to finally unmask the truth.
Ginger hair. It's associated with a number of things. It's associated with a fiery temper, with an uncontrollable individuality and impetuousness. It's also associated with Chris Evans and Geri Halliwell, with Judas Iscariot, and with Irishmen.
While some of these are obviously undesirable associations, none of them in and of themselves really justify the vitriolic ribbing that people with ginger hair receive. In some cases it's also untrue - sitting in an office in Ireland, and looking around me, I can't see a single person with ginger hair.
Fact about ginger haired people: They're prone to having pale skin and freckles. Nothing wrong with that. Some of them are quite attractive. Some aren't, but who says that you have to be attractive?
There are attractive ginger haired guys out there, though.
Anne Robinson is a bit ginger. So is Prince Harry. And Mick Hucknall. So were L Ron Hubbard and Arthur Lowe.
Interestingly, though, browsing through red and proud, it's hard to find a guy who is succesful, red haired and incredibly shaggable. It's far more common among women. Very odd thought.
Anyway, closing this ramble...
A nine-year-old girl has married a stray dog.
This is the exactly the sort of thing that girls do all the time - in their dreams. They're flown away to Narninarnar or somewhere, where they marry princes and become fairies, gain the power to grant wishes, and gradually become corrupted by this power, both physically and emotionally, so that by the time they hit puberty they are gnarled and ugly on the inside, and their soul is broken forever.
Like Caligula, most girls want a pony.
Boys of a similar age want to be soldiers. They have Action Man figures to re-enact all the activities that Action Men encounter. Crawling through the jungle. Fighting corporate criminals and international terrorists. Changing in to each others clothes. Sharing a bunk. Communal showers.
Or was that just me?
For three days in 1997, I worked in a call centre.
It's a confession - and one that needs qualification - but it's essentially true.
My company was going through a major piece of restructuring, and they sent out a mailshot to all of their customers. We knew that this was going to generate a lot of phone calls, and because all of our staff were busy on the restructuring, we outsourced the calls. We wrote a script, we trained some people, and for three days, I worked alongside these people in their office in London.
There was a three tier system. First off, there were the people who answered the phones. These people struggled through the scripts, answering all the tricky questions that irate customers could throw at them. If they couldn't answer a question, they'd call over a supervisor, who would then take the call forward. And when the supervisor couldn't answer a question, then the customer got through to me.
I was the last line of defence, with a small army of people before me. By the time customers spoke to me they were already angry. It was - it must be said - not fun at all. I developed a nubbin of respect for these people that we were paying to take the shit for us. They were young, they were hard working, they worked for peanuts but got lots of motivational effort to partly compensate. They had a career path of sorts, and could aspire to be senior call handlers on complex jobs. Some respect there.
And on the other side of the room, people were calling out, making sales calls on behalf of a bank. Sometimes people from one campaign would move to the other, and vice versa. The same people. One side of the room being helpful, and the other being a complete bunch of arseholes.
All of which is why I never shout at telephone sales people. It's not their fault, really. They wouldn't be doing the job if they didn't need the money - nobody really goes in to telephone sales as a career. And they have so little control over their working practices that it's laughable. Everything is geared around what the client wants. So if I'm woken up at 9 on a Saturday morning by someone calling to follow up on a piece of junk mail, I don't take it out on the caller.
Five vehicles almost hit me in the five minute walk from the Bretzel Bakery to work this morning. None of them were close, and none of them were moving particularly fast, but at some point each of them was moving towards me.
Four were bicycles. I've kind of grown used to bicycles on the pavements, or going the wrong way down a street, or - as in this case - crossing a pedestrian crossing through a red light. Less of a problem.
The first, though, was a Nissan Micra, turning right, through a 'No Right Turn' sign. She knew that she was doing wrong. She smiled sweetly and nodded at me, as I walked slowly across the street in front of her, my hand raised pointing at the sign.
Now, it could just be that I'm not a driver. Or that I only have any experience of the Highway Code as it applies in the UK. Maybe it's okay in Dublin to turn right through a no-right-turn sign if the road is clear, or if you're a woman, or if you're in a hurry to get little Diarmud to school. But I don't think so.
I was pondering earlier this morning who the first great war poet of this war would be. Obviously, it's Andrew Motion.
On the one hand, it's interesting that Regime Change is an anti-war poem, given the political climate, and the implicit endorsement of his position by the state.
On the other hand;
Take Babylon, the palace sprouting flowers
which sweetened empires in their peaceful hours
I've found a different way to scent the air:
already it's a by-word for despair.
"That's a spacious lounge?" screamed the tired young architect at the television. His long term life partner looked up from his book, harrumphed, and looked back down. Pretty zombies were eating brains - far too important to miss.
Let's make no bones about it, in the sense that we never make bones anyway. British television is currently atrocious. As is Irish television. Sure there are a couple of exceptions, but when you realise that the good programmes are the ones with Davina McCall in them, then there's something wrong. Television is designed to drive you away, to force you out of the house to do something less boring instead. Which is great if that's what you want. But if you're at home after an exhausting day working, what is there for the young homosexual professional and his boyfriend to relax to while munching on falafel and swigging Chablis like it was going out of fashion?
Well, lifestyle television is everywhere. Property investment is incredibly fashionable at the moment - not just because of the huge returns available, but because most television viewers live in a house, and are therefore able to look around them and see something that looks superficially like what they can see on the television. Obviously we're interested in Irish property prices, so we found ourselves watching 'Oh look, it's a lovely house' on RTE last night.
Two sisters, living round the corner from each other, were looking to sell both their houses and buy somewhere larger that they could share. Enid was married to Bob, and wanted somewhere that she could commute to work from. Enid's living room was described as 'spacious' by one of the people who came round to value it, and as 'boxy' by my slightly frazzled boyfriend.
Enid's sister Grainne lived round the corner, with dogs. She had a larger house and was looking for somewhere that had 'separate living area' for her, and ideally 'a separate door'. Sounded like she actually wanted a separate house. Not really surprising then.
So then a load of property agents were trotted in to value the house. "I'd put this on the market for €200,000 declared the first agent. And the second. And the third. The fourth pitched in with €280,000. Interesting, we thought.
And then they valued Grainne's house. The first three agents put values on ranging from €240,000 to €270,000. What would the last price be? My money was on €4,000,000, but the actual estimate was €285,000.
And then, presumably, they sold the houses. Or maybe they didn't. The programme moved on completely to a woman living in Dublin trying to buy a flat in Manchester for investment purposes. We may never know what happened to Enid and Grainne. And despite the fact that they were kind of amusing, we may never care.
So, on Saturday, we hauled ourselves out in to the streets of Dublin.
Dublin on the weekend of a rugby international is a seething cassoulet of cultures. On the one hand, the English. Proud, headstrong, valiant and true to the last. Intensely civilised, and not a bunch of pissheads at all.
Then, the Irish. By which I mean people from Ulster. Because it's important to remember that in the Six Nations, a united Ireland team plays. So there are new friendships formed and broken, new allegiances, and a special unified anthem for Ireland, probably written by Enya, one of the Corrs, or the ugly one from Westlife.
Naturally, the Scottish are also out in force in the streets of Dublin. This is not really anything to do with the rugby, and everything to do with going out on the piss, while wearing a kilt (officially the best thing to wear when you're out on the pull), and pulling, without having to worry about (a) a zip-fastener or (b) being spotted by your wife.
And on the other hand, there are the locals. Standing half way down Grafton Street, with a bucket, singing 'Dirty Old Town', or some other traditional Irish ballad.
And on the other hand there are the Russian women with their babies balanced precariously on one hip, and a McDonald's cup in the other, like some parody of fashion.
So we try to skirt past this lot, and find ourselves in the church of furniture, the calm haven that is Habitat. Bizarrely, they keep redecorating in an effort to look more and more like our flat.
Later, we decide to culture ourselves up, and visit a concert.
Unfortunately, the concert that we choose to visit is being given by the Evil Dead. The opening movement begins with a statement of the main theme on the flutes, which is then taken up by the violas, and then - in a slightly different key - by the violins. It turns out that the violinists have been reading from The Book of Evil, and as a result are slightly flat, and far louder than they should be, and they proceed to drown out the rest of the orchestra.
The second movement is less rambunctious, as the violinists have been locked in the cellar. However, they have infected the viola players, who sit and laugh maniacally, while the woodwind section attempts to carry on the main theme, and the percussion section have switched from triangle to chain saw.
The third movement doesn't have much for the string section to do, and is therefore vastly superior.
After the interval, there are two shorter pieces, during the first of which, the percussion section effectively dismembers the violinist, and the woods come alive and violate the brass section, which is pretty much what you would expect by this point.
To close, the Book of Evil is destroyed, and the remaining members of the orchestra limp through a rendition of 'My Old Man's A Dustman'. This is by far the best performed piece of the evening, and earns them a standing ovation. By this point, I need a drink.
I'm sitting chatting in the pub afterwards, and I am accosted by a cute, drunk English Rugby fan. Sadly, he is also an abusive drunk English Rugby fan, so I put all evil thoughts from my mind, quietly arrange for him to be escorted from the bar by the security guards, and relax into another pint of Guinness...
I used to write here a lot more about language. This was back when I lived in Asia, mainly, and I came to appreciate the fact that while language is a great tool for communication, grammar, spelling, and the other conventions that sit alongside language only serve to clarify and codify communication that can happen perfectly well without them. A prime example of this would have been conversations overheard in India between two people, both of whom spoke different languages and so communicated through their second language. This was English, but it was a version of English that I really couldn't understand myself without a hell of a lot of effort.
I've always avoided political correctness. Partly because I think it's anodyne and iniquitous, but also because it changes regularly, and it's virtually impossible to keep up to date. And it changes from individual to individual. A word that one person finds to be a perfectly acceptable description of them may be offensive to another. It's a mine field. That said, I've never gone out of my way to be particularly politically incorrect.
Example! At last I've come up with an example. I've made up an imaginary friend, Nicola, who works in a restaurant. Her job is to take orders from customers, and deliver food. Apparently the politically correct term for her job is a Wait person. She thinks this is silly. She's a waiter. She describes herself as a waiter. But her colleague, Diane, describes herself as a waitress. Because to call herself a waiter would be to deny the fact that she's a woman. She finds the term offensive. Personally, I call them Nicola and Diane. Or I would, if they existed.
The point of this, I guess, is that the word itself isn't offensive. It's the interpretation of the word that's offensive. So if a word is used with the intention of causing offence, the listener (or listenress) would have every right to be offended. If a word is used with no such intention, it's up to the listener to decide whether to explain to the speaker that they find the word offensive, or just to let it drop.
Back in the dark ages, before I met the man that I intend to spend the rest of my life with, I had a brief relationship that was based around a variety of things - a combination of physical and mental, but mainly that he thought I was wonderful.
Although, of course, he wanted to change me.
Now I realise that there has to be some of that in any relationship. Nobody is perfect. Not even Mary Poppins. The trick - or rather the knack - seems to be to find someone who wants to change you in ways that you wouldn't mind changing yourself. All good things.
If there was one thing I wanted to change about Mr X, at least at the beginning, it was his penchant for 'Chicken Soup For The Soul'. It was big in Hong Kong bookstores at the time, although Hong Kong bookstores themselves were pretty lousy. And Mr X loved it.
Here is a brief pastiche of 'Chicken Soup For The Soul'
Gosh, it's been a while since I've wrote to you. That's mainly because I've been in hospital.
Yes, little old me in a big white hospital! How exciting was that? They pulled me, poked me, sucked blood out of me, pumped drugs into me, and you know what? They still couldn't find anything wrong with me!
But there's something wrong. I know there's something wrong. Because I'm so tired all the time. Because my wife left me for a pro wrestler who was pretending to be a millionaire. Because little Poppy was thrown out of the Liberty X concert because she clashed with the rest of the crowd. Because one of Benji's puppies was born with only four legs.
This makes me so sick - sick to the core, I tell you. But there's nothing medically wrong with me.
Still, I can't complain. Because I find strength through Jesus. And some of the wonderful herbal and chemical relaxants that HE has given us.
Love and Hugs,
Okay, so that's utterly terrible and small-spirited but you get the idea. Stories that are heartwarming for the sake of it.
I never broke him of that habit. He tried to convert me. And that - apart from many of the other reasons - was why a split-up was inevitable...
Donatello's Penitent Magdalene. Dates back to the fifteenth century, round about 1454. And the thing is - you'd never know.
We saw this in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo in Florence. The museum itself is great - an interesting space in itself, and one that shows off the works inside to great effect (there are more pictures coming, I'm afraid). And this piece, made from wood, with polychromy and gold, is one of the most intense pieces of art I've ever seen.
Beyond the sheer intensity of the emotion in the statue, there is a rough, approximate feel to it. It feels unfinished, almost impressionistic. Almost contemporary.
I like this picture of the head of the statue. It may not capture all of the detail of the craftmanship, but for me, at least, it brings back all the emotion of viewing this extraordinary work.
Catherine Zeta Jones claims that she is hurt by 'sleazy' pictures. I have some sympathy with this. It's vital that she protects her image for her career's sake. Her job is all about her perception by the world, by her potential audience.
Which is kind of awful, really. Shouldn't she be judged on her acting ability? What sort of people are we? After all, imagine if Oliver Reed had been judged on his acting ability? Or Victoria Beckham on her singing?
The balancing act of celebrity is like walking along a bladed tight rope. Or something like that.
Take, for example, the celebrity wedding. There's a demand for photographs, and that demand is clearly in the interest of the celebrity involved, who can sell exclusive rights for, say, half a million pounds. But by creating the interest, by putting their private life up for auction in this way, doesn't the celebrity also commoditise themselves? Are they giving up the right to say 'I want to be alone?'
Or can they split their time? Can they say that they're public property some of the time, and private individuals by default the rest of the time? Even if they think they can, will the ravenous consumer let them get away with that?
I don't know the answer to these questions. I don't know how much is our fault, how much is theirs. I don't know whether selling the right to ones wedding photographs is buying into ones own personality cult or merely grabbing an opportunity that exists. I do know a couple of things.
A life in the spotlight means that the light is on you. All the time. Just you. Alone.
And, at a wedding, guests should be able to take pictures of the bride and groom. The wedding album should be full of pictures from friends and family. Not pictures, adverts, and fawning commentary.
Quietly, in the background, Cambridge colleges are doing their bit for modern architecture.
I can't remember exactly where this is, but I'm pretty sure it's hidden in the depths of Trinity. It's unapologetically modern, but nonetheless it's sensitive to its context. And I thought it looked nice.
That's me, and the extent of my architectural criticism that is. Oooh it looks nice. Deep.
You spot him as you walk in to the party. He's your type. Just the right sort of weight, just the right level of hairiness or otherwise, the right haircut, the right smile. And more than that, you know he's your boyfriend's type too.
Later, as the party's moved on, as the social flow has chaotically separated the two of you who started so close together, you realise that your boyfriend is over on the other side of the room chatting to Him. And you're spotted, so you go over and join the conversation. And it's all going well. Possibly too well. And then a third person arrives. And that's the moment of realisation.
He is now surrounded by three gay guys. You know that you fancy the stranger, you know that your boyfriend probably fancies him too - or maybe he's just being chatty - and you've no reason to suspect that the third man isn't ready to make a move. You've got no idea of the sexuality of the man in question, and all you really know about him is his name, the fact that he works with one of your hosts, where he comes from, what colour his eyes are, and the approximate shape of his arse.
What do you do, hot shot? What do you do?
It's an interesting question? Is art a luxury?
It's clearly not something that is common in the animal kingdom. I can't think of any examples. I'm prepared to be proven wrong.
However, in terms of what sets us apart, what gives mankind purpose...?
Art is inextricably linked with the evolution of language, with the building of tools. It's linked to the concepts of abstraction, of stretching the mind in new ways. Art has been, in its time, representative, an effort to capture, to record. It has paved the way for advances in technology, in all fields of science.
Art has been pure entertainment - perhaps its most frivolous form, its least essential. But even then art manipulates emotion, it helps to shape the environment, even if it is solely to relax the audience rather than to challenge.
Even representational art is evolutionary, it is camouflage, it is marketing.
Conceptual art can be entertaining, can be thought provoking, can be awe inspiring, can be revolting. It changes the way we look at the world, it reminds us that we are alive, and sometimes vibrant.
Mankind evolves. Art evolves, and challenges that evolution. It becomes commercial, it becomes less commercial. It breaks free of boundaries. It gets absorbed into the mainstream. It is everything and nothing.
I ask myself, without art, who would I be?
There are few things that get me shouting at the television. University Challenge, sometimes. Adverts set in my flat, perhaps. And, of course, Channel Four's coverage of the Turner Prize, 2002.
Do these people not understand the idea of art?
They pay lip service to it. The idea of art, they say, is to challenge. I can't disagree with that. Art is about repositioning the observer with relation to the universe. It is about creating a reaction in the mind of the audience. I would argue that even if that reaction was 'why did they bother?', that is still a valid reaction. 'Art' that I walk away from with no change in emotion is art that, for me, has failed.
So, watching the Turner Prize, I saw the art of Keith Tyson, and it left me feeling apathetic. There was a film about him. There was learned commentary. The art was explained to me. In that context, I could see what he was trying to do. So that was it.
Still, I didn't care about his work. Because Art that needs explanation before it says anything is Art that is incomplete. To me, the works presented and judged were different. The works as presented failed to interest me. The complete works, including the commentary were more meaningful.
But I still got more from the interior design of Liam Gillick, the interplay of text and form of Fiona Banner, or the incredible imagery of Catherine Yass.
Perhaps I'm doing Tyson an incredible injustice. I do know that there is a huge difference between interacting with art in context and observing it through the guided medium of television. Perhaps, like in so many cases, I am merely dancing about architecture.
Was Oscar British?
We'll start with the obvious. Was he Irish? Yes he was. Silly question. End of that debate. Did he have a silly haircut - again, yes.
In Wilde's time, Ireland was not independent. It was ruled from London, and was part of the United Kingdom. That's as in 'The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland' - suggesting that even people in Northern Ireland are not British. Now that's a whole other bone of contention.
So, assume Wilde was born in Ireland, part of the United Kingdom. That makes him United Kingdom-ish rather than British, yes?
Except ther's no such word. In a similar way to the way 'mankind' can include women, in common parlance, British can sometimes be taken to include anyone born in the United Kingdom.
What would the glorious and noble BBC do? Well, they included Farookh Bulsara, who was born in Zanzibar and brought up in Bombay. This doesn't really help decide anything. They also included Paul David Hewson, who was born in Ballymun in Dublin in 1960.
If the BBC can claim that someone born in Ireland in the 1960s is a great Briton, then someone born in the United Kingdom in 1854 surely counts?
Last week, I didn't care that Ulrika Jonsson was publishing her autobiography. Now I do, and I wish that I still didn't. Once more, the media has bottom-fed from itself, and has given us a story to rival even the passionate affair of John Major and Edwina Currie.
There's a reason that people in the public eye have private lives. It's to keep them sane. It's to give them space to be themselves in. Someone should have told Ulrika this. She should really have known.
So we're in a situation now where she's given up all rights to her own privacy. Despite not making any direct accusations herself, the man involved has been named, putting him in a position that she must have been able to predict. It's pure soap opera.
I can't help wondering how their reputations will be affected in the long term. It really doesn't seem to be doing hers any good. And she's been doing so well, career-wise. She's got a prime time Saturday Night game show, and a regular dating show. That's more than I have. She doesn't need the publicity. She shouldn't need the money.
By opening this wound now, she flags herself as dangerous. She makes herself no longer the victim, but the oppressor. If she'd done something about it at the time, it would be different. But by bringing the issue of her alleged date rape out now, and by deliberately not naming the man involved (although she must have known it would come out), she's exercising power, and using her celebrity to strike back. She damages the cause of those men and women who suffer date rape, by trivialising and sensationalising it.
And the worst thing is that I've just wasted five minutes waffling about her.
Remember, boys and girls. Trinny is Skinny.
Last night, in the vacuum that is Wednesday night television, Mr Twinky and I stumbled into the camp nonsense that is What Not To Wear. Gripped by the sheer awfulness of the presenters (in their lovely offices, largely decked out in Habitat furniture), and what they would do to Matthew, an innocent victim of 'going to the wrong shops'.
Matthew, you see, is a large chap. Particularly about the waist. Now, rather than going to a gym, he has learned how to disguise it. Which is great. I was sitting there glued to the screen, taking notes.
So, my checklist of tips I picked up from Skinny Trinny:
1. Get a goatee. Done.
2. Never buy double breasted suits. There already
3. Don't tuck your shirts in if you can avoid it
4. Shop at Marks and Spencer, because they make clothes that aren't cut so tight that they only look good if you're a skinny freak.
Well, did I learn anything new there?
1. To have faith that there is a god, who created heaven and earth and all that lies between.
2. To believe that this loving god would wish his followers to band together, in order to spread his word, rather than simply making the word of god manifest in every detail of creation
3. To believe that this god would be happy with religious genocide, because after all, if the heathens have never heard of him, it's our duty to save them - to force them to believe. Isn't it?
4. To believe that this god is a loving god.
I've figured out the purpose of evil corner desk units. It's insidious. Absolutely insidious.
At first I thought it was merely a cunning plan to get more people into a smaller space, and to give them the impression of having everything easily to hand, while at the same time forcing them to take up 40% of their desk space with a computer. That would have been bad enough, oh yes.
The main thing, though, is that it limits your view. You can see your computer, and if you're lucky you can see two out of the three people you work with. It's not the ideal position to run a team from, as the lines of communication are automatically blocked.
The really insidious part, though, is that by facing everyone away from the flow of human traffic, anyone who wants to speak to you has to come at you from behind (as it were, ooh err, thank you, I'm here all week). So, in any conversation you are instantly at a disadvantage.
Of course, now I have sussed this, I can use it. I will be aware of my powerful role when I go to talk to others of my colleagues. And I will turn my chair round so that I am sitting with my back to my computer.
Ah, Bill Bailey. Long haired comic of indeterminate age, but indubitable talent, his humour formed from travel, from science fiction, and from the works of Stephen Hawking ("at the end it's just word squares and pictures of cats, because he doesn't reckon anyone will get that far")
For reasons too complex to go into, we were in the middle of the front row when he played at the Olympia Theatre last night. So, when he decided to go for a little audience participation, he picked a random person (me) and asked if I'd ever been to Indonesia.
Wrong person to ask. Before he could get into his joke we'd already established which bits of Bali I'd been to. We didn't establish whether or not I got naked when I was there (I did, but I wasn't about to announce that to the world).
Still, at least I didn't heckle him. There was a lot of heckling. Some of it was completely inappropriate. Some of it was completely incomprehensible. And some of it was the audience trying to explain the relationship between the Taleban and the Tallaght Band.
In other news, Victoria Beckham has had a baby. I know this because she has no privacy. The mechanics of the birth are on public display for all to see; for three days now, the news-hungry public have had her womb-related antics thrust at them. Usually accompanied by pictures of her grinning husband in a silly hat.
She seems to seek this, though. Increasingly, she is famous solely for being famous, and one has to wonder if the method and timing of the birth was more for the benefit of the media rather than the health of the child.
Given the conspiracy theories about Diana's death, and the fact that the media seem to have latched onto the Beckhams as replacements, one has to wonder if the two facts are related...
We have two feral children who roam around our apartment complex. They're called Cormac and Miss Sophia Branstonia. Cormac's a nice enough kid; useful with his hands, and always ready to help out if we need anything doing about the flat. Miss Sophia Branstonia weighs in at around 280 pounds, and won't get out of her bed unless the scent of chicken and waffles is wafting through the air.
Feral children are good karma. Mainly, they live on hay which well-meaning locals will gather from the twin sources of Centra and Superquinn, and leave in handy mouth-height tin buckets that the council hangs from lamp posts. This allows the children to feed themselves, and rewards the providers of this food with a better afterlife. Except, for some reason, in Meath.
Most feral children are dreadfully undernourished. However, they're protected by law; they belong to the nation, rather than any individual.
Looking at this from a purely socio-cultural viewpoint, this practice is not dissimilar to the Thai custom of dressing children as small elephants and parading them through the streets at night. However, here we have no chai with which to anoint them, and the only money we are allowed to give to feral children is the new rubber Euro, which is notoriously hard to come by on this side of the Liffey.
In the mean time, Cormac and Miss Sophia Branstonia are currently working on a musical, and planning to replant some of the shrubs by the back gate.
Walking along a corridor in the office, I pass a member of our IT support team and I am struck by the hugely unpleasant whiff of undeodorised oxter.
The odd thing is that some people like armpits quite a lot. Which is an odd thing. They're not a hugely attractive part of the body, they're clearly pungent - so much so that a good 80% (official invented statistic) of scented products are targeted at armpits. And yet... I kind of like them, myself. What is the appeal?
So here's my theory.
First off, armpits are exotic. Don't laugh, think about it. How many times a day do you see an armpit? Damn few. They fall into the category of hidden anatomy, something that people can fantasise about before they see. It's why foot fetishes are more common than finger fetishes. You can fantasise about any foot, but fantasies about hands tend to be about a particular type of hand, a hand that must be sought.
I don't know this for sure, I'm just making it up.
The scent issue takes me back to the grand conceit that attraction is chemical as well as (or perhaps rather than) physical. Scent is certainly something that can repel or attract, and there's no doubt that natural human odour can be attractive, if even only to the owner of the odour. If we can find our own farts sometimes to be not unpleasant - and no matter how much people may deny it, everyone secretly knows that their own farts smell better than everyone else's - then there's nothing to stop us finding the smell of someone else's armpits intoxicating. Is there?
Unless it's overpowering, from two feet away, while walking through the office on a Thursday afternoon.
"Well," thought I, as my flight back from Brussels touched down on Friday afternoon. "It's early evening, Mr Twinky's at work, I could make him dinner." And so I hit the grocer's, picking up a selection of fresh fruit and vegetables, all ready to make my favourite new dish - salsa (see earlier entries for details). I was also thinking about chicken in a white wine sauce, and some sliced and grilled aubergines. And so I did some prep, and settled down in front of early evening television, awaiting Scott's return. And when he returned, I started to fry off the chicken, and slice the aubergine. Or eggplant, should you prefer.
It was on the final slice of the aubergine that I realised that for whatever reason, I was really holding it pretty badly. Let's just say there was more contact between knife and finger than there should have been, and save the gory details of the flaps of flesh hanging from my digit. Besides, I couldn't see it that well, because of the sudden pumping behind my eyes, and the awful way that it just wouldn't stop bleeding.
"We're going to casualty," said Mr Twinky. And it turned out that he was right. Now this is only the second time that I've been to a casualty department in my life, and the first time where I've been going there for treatment myself. They're called Accident and Emergency these days, and I'd clearly had an accident. This was more than could be said for many of the other couple of dozen people in the room, who were probably there for an evening out. Certainly one guy was only there to watch Coronation Street and Eastenders, and once that was over, he limped back out again, his foot wrapped in a Dunnes bag. Coincidentally we saw him the next day in O'Connell Street, still drunk.
Occasionally, a small nurse would stick her head out of a broom cupboard, and one or other of the new arrivals would be called in for a wee chat and a little bit of sympathy. I was called at around five to eight, just towards the end of Coronation Street. "Look!" I said. "Blood. I am not malingering here. How long will it be before I can see a doctor?" The response - four to six hours - was longer than I had anticipated. But she was such a cheery soul that I couldn't bring myself to be sarcastic. After all, I've seen ER. I know that she has problems with her violent Estonian boyfriend, so I gave her a nice smile and thanked her. And then we settled in on the hard plastic chairs, watching the stream of people come and go.
Treatment is through a secure door. From where we're sitting, it looks like there's a small room through there, perhaps a waiting area. In the first half hour that we're there, nobody is called through this door. Occasionally people arrive and are let through, but there's no sign of any rhyme or reason to it. None of them appear to have had accidents or be emergencies. I am slowly bleeding to death in a hospital of the mad. At last, a woman sticks her head through the door..."Albert Jackson?" There is no Albert Jackson.
"Maybe he's dead already," mutters Mr Twinky, and I have to poke him in the ribs. Since dinner's been put on hold, he's been forced to eat machine-dispensed chocolate, and he is now on a Yorkie-buzz. "Or," he continues, "Maybe Albert's gone to throw himself under a bus so he'll get to see a Doctor more quickly."
And at that moment, I knew that the evening had slipped out of control, and was veering steadily towards the surreal.
There's an excellent piece of news about the alleged 'Snoop' climbdown by David Blunkett, who has apparently ordered a re-think of new surveillance laws in the UK.
At the moment, the power to examine private phone records is only available to the police, inland revenue and customs and excise. There were proposals to extend this to cover matters like e-mail tracking and increase the bodies able to access the information to include seven Whitehall departments, every local council and public organisations such as NHS bodies and the Food Standards Agency. These bodies can currently ask telephone and internet companies for this information, but they can't compel them to hand over the information.
There's nothing wrong with the status quo. Most telephone and internet companies will happily comply, if the body asking gives sufficient reason to back up the request. It's a good, strong, independent check.
Part of living in a 'free' society is giving up some of your rights, and it's a fine point as to where the line is drawn. I want the police to be able to catch internet paedophile rings, but I don't want them to intercept any smutty e-mails that I may send to my partner. And for that, I need them to be able to intercept e-mails legally. But only if they have a good reason.
So, David Beckham is everywhere. From the tabloids to toilet paper, to sponsoring every type of consumable under the sun. A sea-going soccer tournament is being used to advertise shoes. In the advertsisng breaks between the programmes that you're watching to avoid the football, there it is. Even Sven Goran-Eriksson, coach to the team, and hardly the most charismatic man on the planet is getting in on the act, advertising supermarkets and pasta sauces, largely by remaining monosyllabic. It's all just a bit too much.
Roy Keane was used in Ireland to advertise everything from fizzy drinks to kebab shops - health conscious, I suspect. And now he's slightly in disgrace, and advertising campaigns are backfiring left, right and centre. After all, who wants to win a day training with the guy who got dumped from his team before he'd played a single game? Football, it has to be said, is a funny old game. Pinning the success of a marketing campaign to it alienates those of us who aren't fans, and is hugely risky if your team, or your 'personality' sponsor performs badly.
The problem with trying to engage Scottish people to support England during the World Cup, is that the approach that is invariably used is doomed to failure.
There are two main tactics. The first is to assume that your nationalistic fervour is going to rub off on the Scots, and that they'll therefore wind up supporting England. This is flawed. Yes, nationalistic fervour breeds nationalistic fervour, but Scottish fervour isn't English fervour. By trying to 'jolly along' the Scots, the wedge between Scotland and England is widened, not narrowed. And things get oh so ugly.
The other tactic is to play the "we're all one nation" card. Which - personally - I think is a valid tactic to take. The UK is one nation, in many significant ways. However, if you're using that tactic to try to drum up Scottish support, then it needs to be about a field of national endeavour where the UK is represented by a single team. Trying to raise national support for a fragmentary team is like trying to get support in Preston for increasing the price of parking in Taunton. Nobody will care. And people will look at you funnily for even thinking that they might care.
In the mean time, here is another picture of the man that they call 'Thickie Beckham', a talented footballer and self-publicist.
Why shouldn't I support England in the World Cup?
There was something I read the other day, something about Scots whinging on about some goal in 1978, pointing out that it was 24 years ago and when would the whinging Scots stop their whingy whinging? And my immediate reaction was "Twelve years after the English stop going on about 1966". And I caught myself there. I've no idea what the goal in question was. I've no idea why I had that knee-jerk reaction. It just happened. It's a learned reaction, bred into me somewhere along the line - possibly in 1978.
I like England. I like English people. I like nationalism - I think it's great, as long as it doesn't veer into aggressive posturing. And I'm sure that there's no intention to veer into posturing - but that's what happens every time that the nation is divided into four countries for sporting events. The fortunes of the largest quarter dominate. It's a natural thing, and I'm not pointing the finger at anyone, or blaming anyone. It happens.
Although my natural instinct is to cry "inequality!", that feels... small. So I'm glad England won. I hope they get through to the second round. But I'm also supporting Ireland.
Tattooing vs Piercing?
In the society I live in, both are cosmetic procedures, performed with the consent of the body being pierced or tattooed. Both are, to some extent a fashion choice. For example, pierced eyebrows are currently fashionable. Go figure. It's not the most sensible piercing, as there are only a limited number of things that you can put there without risking poking your eye out while running for a bus, but never mind. Back to piercing vs tattooing.
While a lot of the reasoning behind being pierced or tattooed is similar, it is a fundamentally different choice. You must consider what happens if you change your mind? Piercings, I have been informed, can heal. Tattoos can be removed - less easily, and not always effectively, but they can be removed.
Both should nonetheless be chosen with care. As Brent pointed out, tattoos are this decade's bellbottoms - permanent bellbottoms. But much harder to discard.
So, it's like making a fashion choice. A fairly serious fashion choice. It might even be about taking control of your own body. For some people I'm sure it is. But not for the eyebrow piercers of this world, not for the guys who get drunk and get tattoos just because it proves they're a man. Not for anyone who has ever had a tattoo removed. For some people it's about giving away control over your own body - about self mutilation in order to conform or to be accepted as a member of a social tribe. It's about living through the pain and living with the change. Sometimes the decision not to get a piercing is as much about taking control as the decision to be pierced.
Ranted. Incoherent. Sorry.
The world seems suddenly full of feral children. They roam the streets in packs, I hear. Occasionally, they are brought up by monkeys and grow up to be strapping young men who have no concept of human behaviour, other than to wear a gratuitous loin cloth.
We have feral children living in our street. They're not truly feral, being second generation feral children. They live with feral parents, and survive through a combination of peat burning and strange sadomasochistic chanting. Whe they grow up, they want to be hairdressers. Or leverets.
The world seems suddenly full of feral children. They roam the streets in packs, I hear. Occasionally, they are brought up by monkeys and grow up to be strapping young men who have no concept of human behaviour, other than to wear a gratuitous loin cloth.
We have feral children living in our street. They're not truly feral, being second generation feral children. They live with feral parents, and survive through a combination of peat burning and strange sadomasochistic chanting. Whe they grow up, they want to be hairdressers. Or leverets.
The BBC writes about the great cycling gamble, about the risk to cyclists on the roads. I symapthise, honestly, as an ex-cyclist. But - at least in Dublin - cyclists do themselves no favours.
Traffic in Dublin is a nightmare, so you get cyclists on the pavement all the time. I don't like that, but it's relatively safe compared to being on the road. But when they are on the road, the sort of behaviour that I see is
Now that's just stupid. All of that. Other road users abide by these signs pretty much. Yeah, you get the odd car going the wrong way down a one-way street, and you get a few cars slipping through the red light just after it's changed, but traffic signals act as a vague guide to the sort of direction you can expect traffic to come from. If a cyclist flouts these, then he's just asking for trouble. Sadly.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Part of love, part of committing yourself to a relationship, is the voluntary surrender of part of your emotions. You depend on another person. You are effectively giving that person permission to make you feel incredible. And also, to hurt you.
And when that hurt becomes too much to bear, then it's time to walk away. And walking away hurts too. It's all a matter of balance.
When did I become such a f*cking expert on this. I'm writing complete nonsense here. Just ignore me.
I know I've been on about bad service before, and I'm on about it again now. I know why this particular bugbear happens, and I understand that it's generally efficient but this is my gripe today.
Letters from banks that give contact numbers in call centres.
Why do they do this? Simple. Most calls can be answered efficiently by call centres, and this is an economical way of providing a generally good level of customer service. It frees up the bank staff to do face-to-face service, since there's nothing more annoying than going into a bank and finding all the staff on the phone and queues out of the door. Yay banks.
Why do I hate this? I get a letter from a named individual in a bank, and I have a query about it. The first thing that I do when I call the bank is ask to speak to that person. That person is a hundred miles away, and wee Jeannie on the helpdesk has never heard of her. Nonetheless she asks, very professionally, if I can explain the nature of my query, and maybe she can help me. I explain. She can't help. And I get put through to the branch, to the person who wanted to speak to me in the first place. Waste of time.
Scenario Two, the one I just tried. Phone the number, knowing that it's a call centre, and sit patiently in a queueing system. Explain my problem to the woman at the other end of the phone. Get blank voice, and put through to the branch anyway. Explain my problem for a second time. Get some sort of help, and eventually, prompted by the woman sitting next to her, an actual answer to my question. I then ask another question. My response is "Thank you for calling". I repeat the question. Same answer. At this point, I put the phone down, exasperated.
I can't blame any individual. The people I've dealt with have been unfailingly polite, and have dealt with my problem to the best of their ability. No individual has gone out of their way to cause me trouble. But I'm still exasperated, by procedure.
How can this be made better? There's obviously been a policy decision to stop people calling their bank branch, at least directly. Some queries will still require branch attention, though. If you give out a branch direct-dial number for those queries, people will actually call it for less serious matters. So it's not a starter to have one number for general enquiries, and another number for people who are replying to actual letters.
However, putting a code number on the letter might be a starter - with the right technology you could call a central number, quote your code, and be transferred - while copies of correspondence are automatically zapped up on people's screens.
Ultimately, though, it's about maximising customer service while minimising cost. It's a shame that it keeps frustrating me.
Clutter. It's inevitable in a consumer society. It grows. It has "value" but it just eats space.
The problem with getting rid of clutter is the value. It's something that you've paid money for. It's something that - chances are - someone else wants. But there's a hell of a lot of effort involved in realising that value and getting rid of that clutter. Part of it is the emotional attachment that comes with time - merely by owning something for four years, say, you think you're attached to it. Another part is that the emotional response aggregates with the quantity of clutter. Things stop being keepsakes, worth a few quid. They become (and I shudder here) a collection. By definition, a collection is worth at least as much as the sum of its constituent parts. It's a big unit, with a big value. And the larger something is, the harder it is to throw out.
I couldn't sleep on Saturday night last week, when faced with the clutter from a particularly cluttered phase of my life. I looked at my clutter, and even though I could discard two thirds of it fairly easily, I still despaired.
It's hard to break packrat tendencies. If it's like an addiction, the first step is to admit that there is a problem. I have a problem.
It's far too easy to grow up as a gay man convinced that the best thing all round is to be straight. After all, straight is the norm, isn't it? Being straight is what's expected of you. So you should try to be straight. Because it's the easy option, because it will make you happier. Because it will make the people that you love, and who love you happier.
I have a wonderful image of Victorian times, with Victorian values. With people living shells of marriages solely for appearances, denying their feelings in an effort to comply with the norms of society. Sure, times have changed, but they are still changing. And in the mean time, gay men are still hiding behind heterosexual masks.
Now, I'm not saying that this is either a good thing or a bad thing - it's just a thing. I spent most of my twenties hiding behind a heterosexual mask, and I'm well aware of the pressures of doing so, and the painful slowness of coming out to myself and my friends and family, piece by piece. I'm just grateful that I always maintained enough self-doubt never to get in to a situation where I was a father.
Gay Dad Syndrome. The tensions between the mother and father are at a peak, because one of them has been lying about something fundamental in the relationship, and they can't explain what or why to the kids. The feelings are highly charged - surely she should have noticed, surely there should have been something there. Was it something she did wrong? No. Obviously not - when you think about it, and when you throw away the basic assumption that you should be able to tell, that sexuality is something that is tattooed onto the buttocks, and that all you need to do to tell if a man is gay or not is flip him over. It's not that simple. Human sexuality is a spectrum. Love is not black and white.
Gay Dad Syndrome. The nagging feeling that a gay man cannot be a suitable parent. That he'll set a bad example to his kids. That he'll turn them gay, in the same way that his father didn't with him. That he'll do depraved things to them, because the tabloid press link gay men with child molesters and other damaging practices. All utter balls.
Fatherhood is not about being gay or straight. It's about being a father.
It's an odd thing to have an emotional response to the flag of another country. I mean, your own country is fine; you were brought up there, and the flag represents more to you than just a piece of design; it's part of your cultural thingie. But I have an emotional reaction to the flag of Hong Kong. I like it a lot.
It's simple, for a kick off. A single white image on a red background. The image itself isn't that simple, incorporating five stars against a backgroupd of a stylised bauhinia flower (Hong Kong's national flower, a mutant orchid), but the design contains a pleasing rotational symmetry that works against the simple rectangularity of the flag. It's a design that can be carried forward effectively into notepaper, rubber stamps, and multimedia presentations (and all without people decrying it as treason). It's sufficiently similar to the Chinese flag to give some sort of continuity of feel, without slavishly reproducing the Chinese brand trademark in the top-left quadrant (a particular pet hate of mine).
The flags of the world graded for design probably wouldn't like it, but they don't even mention it. Probably because of its relative newness.
I received a comment that was posted from Rich's Immac. This is all uninteresting, until one considers the major factoid presented on the site. Immac is rebranding as Veet. Gone will be the connotations of immaculateness, and in will come connotations of Veet, whatever that is.
Global branding is changing. Big time. Gone are the days when you can have the same product called two different things depending on where in the world you buy it. Jif becomes Cif, Marathon becomes Snickers, Oil of Ulay and Oil of Ulan both become Oil of Olay and then Olay. New words are appearing that are easy to pronounce in almost any language and don't rhyme with the chinese for 'death' or 'animal husbandry'. Against this background, marketing is becoming more localised. McDonalds has dropped the scary-yet-anodyne clown from marketing in France, and replaced him with Asterix. Those hilarious dubbed adverts are fewer and farther between.
A classic example of this is hair dye. I can't remember whose hair dye, but Andie McDowell has been plugging it for years, long after her heyday in Hudson Hawk and her bit part in Charlotte Coleman vehicle "Four weddings and a funeral". After years of being dubbed into an English accent, this woman is now allowed to speak to British people with her own voice. Words cannot express how happy this probably makes her.
It was a dark, stormy night probably. Some man, peacock that he was, decided that brown was the new black. And so he wore a brown suit.
Now, in the world of suits, there are generally dark, neutral colours. Black, grey, maybe a deep blue. Brown dared to be different. Brown dared to be a few shades lighter. Brown suits were worn with brown shoes. (Occasionally black suits were worn with brown shoes also, but everybody mocked that). But the worst thing about brown suits was that nobody actually suited them.
Nonetheless people still wore them, and were immensely proud of them, despite the fact that their colleagues laughed at them behind their backs, and referred to both the wearers of these suits and the colour of the suits themselves as 'a sort of dull shit'. Because that was the view of men who wore brown suits. They thought that they were interesting because their suit made them interesting. Instead, they appeared in the same attention-grabber bracket as people who went on courses to learn their 'colour palette' so that they could mix and match their wardrobe.
[Disclaimer: This view is based on a very small but highly consistent sample.]
Many people foolishly believe that office fashion is largely a static thing. Men wear a suit and tie, and that's about it. Wrong.
There are an immense range of variations within this. Think of the pin stripe suit, the kipper tie, the great brown suit fiasco of the 1990s, and you have some idea of the range of flexibility that the suit and tie combo permits. And with anything that involves choice, there is an inevitable trend.
Shirts, for instance. Ten years ago, the choice was definitely predominantly white, with perhaps a narrow strip of colour. Any pattern would be confined to the tie. Over the nineties, this evolved, until more or less any colour of shirt was appropriate - provided it was a single colour. Ties could be used to tone, or to contrast. So a dark blue tie would be worn with a light blue shirt, or a dark blue shirt would be set with a yellow tie. This is the version still in use by those with taste.
But there are two oddities creeping in to office fashion at the moment. Neither is attractive at all. The first is the flaring of collars, to expose more of the knot of the tie. It's a look that can only really be successfully carried off if you have a narrow neck. And the second faux pas is the proliferation of checked shirts. Wide-checked shirts, that look like little more than graph paper. They don't look good on anyone. On a larger frame, they look particularly bad, clearly showing the deformation of the shirt's surface by the body underneath.
It sounds horrible. It is horrible. But twenty years ago people wore aer-tex.
A slut will sleep with anyone. A slut will go out looking for sex, and find it, regardless of what self-degradation is involved. A fanny magnet will go out with their mates, looking for a good time, and will find that potential sexual partners are drawn to them. I'm pretty sure that's the distinction. A fanny magnet is therefore a much more salubrious character, and the sort of person that you're still willing to talk to despite the fact that they're getting more sex than you are - they retain some kind of aloofness from the underlying goal of shagging around.
In this case, obviously, fanny is used to refer to the female genitalia, rather than the buttock region. This may cause confusion to international people.
Another possible confusion is the the X'hibi tradition (pronounced with a glottal click, for those who care) of grafting small magnets into the genitalia of unfaithful women, so that their husbands can stick them to the fridge to ensure fidelity.
However, if I was an Englishwoman and I was on the verge of having dinner with a man who I find attractive, and with whom I have flirted on a number of occasions, I would currently be starting to get slightly fluttery round about now. Mind you, I would also be checking that I was adequately prepared for more than dinner.
Which gets me thinking. If you go on a first date, how do you know if it's worth going on a second date? Is winding up in the back of a taxi at four o'clock in the morning, fumbling ineptly with unfamiliar zippers a good sign? Or does it just mark you out as a trouser-hound, fanny-magnet, or whatever semi-derogatory, semi-jealous phrase you care to adopt? How do you know? Generally speaking, swapping phone numbers is a better sign than saying 'see you around', and getting each other's names is a definite plus.
Sex rears its rather attractive head at this point. If you don't sleep together, does it mean that you want to get to know each other better first, so that sex is a sign of definite commitment, or does it mean you don't find each other physically attractive? If you do sleep together, does it mean that all the mystery has gone, and you'll never hear from each other again? Certainly, bad sex on a first date can kill a relationship before you're too heavily emotionally invested, but what happens if the sex only seems bad to one of the two (or more, let's not be presumptious here) participants.
I used to think that I knew the answers to these questions. It turns out that I didn't have a clue, despite the fact that I knew myself pretty well. Then I had a year or so when I definitely knew what the answers were for me, and I could live confidently with my own sex vs dating agenda (a friend of mine described me as 'not a slut, more whatever the gay equivalent is for 'fanny-magnet'), and now I have no idea what I would do in a similar scenario, because I am a happily settled snuggle-bunny.
So my advice to any Englishwomen (or potential Englishwomen) is this. Ignore me. I don't have a clue what I'm talking about.
On the same theme
A single flow'r he sent me, since we met.
All tenderly his messenger he chose;
Deep-hearted, pure, with scented dew still wet --
One perfect rose.
I knew the language of the floweret;
"My fragile leaves," it said, "his heart enclose."
Love long has taken for his amulet
One perfect rose.
Why is it no one ever sent me yet
One perfect limousine, do you suppose?
Ah no, it's always just my luck to get
One perfect rose.
Dorothy Parker, first published Jan 4, 1923. Still perfect.
This comic book is sadly no longer with us, but I'm thinking fondly of it at the moment. It ran for something like 70 issues, and told stories that were sometimes cringeworthy, and sometimes heartachingly beautiful, but always drawn and inked with a simple, bold, effective style.
One of the things that I really liked about it was the passage of time between two stories - characters had lives outside the main narrative, character dynamics changed, and a large part of the fun of a new story was finding out what had happened between times. It was also the main frustration.
In the wake of last year's Sandman purchase, I'm thinking about getting hold of all of Love and Rockets again.
I blame Mr Twinky, wholeheartedly. He was the one who first got me hooked on the Australian (original) version of PopStars, the awful yet compulsive show in which zillions of hopefuls are narrowed down into a packageable pop commodity. And it was him that got me into Pop Idol, now entering week 991 of a run of 1000 weeks.
The first competitor out of the last ten is blaming "his public outing as a gay man for his elimination from the ITV 1 singing competition". Now, I watched the show. I agreed with the decision to vote him off. I don't have a problem with his sexuality, obviously. Apart from anything else, it was kind of blatantly obvious anyway. But I can't help wondering which of the male contestants the media will out next.
This fascination horrifies me. Absolutely horrifies me. But I can't stop watching the programme; I can't pull my eyes away. I am a rabbit caught in head lamps.
That's about the only thing that I can definitely say about art, following my summer trawling round the modern art galleries of the world. And all the entries in the Turner Prize last night made me feel something. In most cases, irritated. I guess that I would have to experience lights going on and off to really understand what it says about Void and Catharsis. Or it might be a load of shite. Who knows? Who can say? As her Madonna-ness says, it's all subjective.
If I were to buy 'lights going on and off', where would I put it?
Breath of fresh air for the evening was Zadie Smith. I've not read her book yet; I only know her by reputation, and by seeing interviews and reading a letter that she wrote to The Face. She comes across as hugely genuine in a programme that was full of posers, and I thought she was holding back from saying "well, it's all just crap, isn't it?". Which would have been terribly incorrect on the evening, but might have got her more press coverage than Madonna (looked fabulous, spoke with a degree of seriousness, threw in a random swear word).
The BBC's website describes it as a four letter outburst, by the way. Seems they can't count the number of letters properly.
Let herself down a bit. She was doing so well, as well. And she had to spoil it by putting in a rude word. I don't know what her intentions were, but the fact is that it's more memorable than the winning piece of art, and ensures that she's back on top of the controversial pile.
Why am I doing this?
I've not made a big fuss of December 1 before - why now? HIV has not had a huge effect on my life - although it's had some.
I guess there are two reasons. The first is that it affects 40 million people in the world. Most of these people are in so-called underdeveloped countries - large parts of Africa, India, Thailand, Cambodia. Places that people don't think about. People who can't get access to drugs because of western drug companies protecting their copyrights.
The second is the scar that it has left on society. The stigma of the early 'gay plague' accusations lingers, and there is still a substantial educated group of people who are using HIV as a tool to further a racist, homophobic, or other agenda. The fear and the ignorance persist.
Do you remember when Café Häg and de-caf were synonymous? When you knew that you had two choices of coffee: there was the nice stuff, that was made in a filter if you were posh, or out of a bag if you weren't, and there was the de-caf. That was always Café Häg.
It never had quite the ubiquity of Nescafé, or measured up to the sheer marketing genius of Shake'n'vac, and yet - somehow - it defined a generation. And do they miss it? Has it actually gone? We may never know.
Technically not actually true, as I don't pay my licence fee personally myself. But regardless. By showing such smut as last night's excellent Taboo, the BBC is denying me my right to watch television for fifty minutes, and I should get a rebate.
Balls. Blatant Balls. The BBC is a broadcaster, rather than a narrowcaster. I love the diversity it offers, even if I don't want to watch programs about buying holiday homes in the Algarve, or Australian soaps, or Paul Ross trying to win money from housewives. I am deprived the joy of watching the BBC for two hours or so each week, when Eastenders is on. I am offended by Songs of Praise. But I don't complain.
Maybe I should write letters of complaint, though. Overuse of the 'G' word...
We had our insurance consultation last night. The beginning was quite straightforward, but in the end we veered into the dark, seamy underside of life insurance... lifestyle questionnaires.
Many people won't be familiar with these. But if you're a gay couple trying to take out joint life insurance, you will be asked some fairly frank questions prior to being accepted for cover. I've been trying to find out what these questions might be; I expect them to be annoyingly intrusive.
The woman tasked with giving America a makeover has a hard job ahead of her.
To start with, she must consider the way that America is perceived - through its media, through its corporate culture, through its politics and foreign policy, through its shambolic electoral system. She must counter the myriad of stereotypes that exist - from the redneck to the uber-yuppie - all of which are true, and all of which can be pointed to as an example of a good thing or a bad thing in the make up of the US psyche.
One of the hardest problems that she will have to face is how to convey to the world at large that the all-pervasive Coke, MTV, Starbucks and so on are increasingly global brands driven by global demand. Expansion is driven almost as much by local demand for corporations to enter markets as by shareholders desire to see their bottom line improve.
America has achieved this enviable position through its size, and through its relatively developed nature, through being in the right phase of its growth at the right time.
So yesterday was a public holiday in Dublin. The 'October Bank Holiday'. I have no idea of the significance of this.
I do know that there is a Chinese festival around this time, though, so I took some time to make ghost money out of old newspapers, and burnt them in the fire escape as a tribute to something. Or maybe this is the time when I should have gone for a walk up a random hill.
My bank - that's my new bank, and not the Bank of Scotland which remains fantastic at this sort of thing - is complete crap when it comes to customer service.
I want to use their phone banking service. I'm sure that they issued me with a number for this, but it went missing in the post. So I need to get them to reissue it. With a normal bank, I could call up the branch, and someone at the branch would take my details and reissue the number. Not so with my current bank.
I call up the branch. I talk to the nice lady who answers the telephone. She puts me through to customer service. Setting aside the fact that the telephone should be answered by someone who can actually deal with an enquiry, I'm prepared to put up with one transfer of a phone call.
The problem is that she transfers me to an answering machine. The nice prerecorded lady promises me that if I leave a message I will be called back before the close of business. So I leave a message. And I don't get called back. Ever.
The first time I did this was to request my first ID number. Nobody called me back, but the number was issued. The next time was for the phone banking ID number. Nobody called me back and I haven't received the number. So this time was to enquire whether the number has been issued, and when. And of course, I got the machine, and no, I don't expect to get a call back.
Being charitable, I can almost see why they don't have someone managing the phones full time. Most of the calls will go to the phone line, and relatively few banking calls will come to the bank. But to fail to call anyone back is just rude.
Scott is the name of my toilet paper. Fairy is the name of my washing up liquid.
The last major state update I wrote was for Portland, Oregon. We then drove on to Seattle, a much shorter drive than the haul through Oregon, and spent a very relaxing couple of days with Bill and Jim. These guys are excellent hosts, and have annoyingly good taste in interiors. But I'm getting distracted here. I was going to write about hot puddles.
We had discussed various options for Sunday - a drive to various wine regions was dismissed relatively quickly as it involved basically sitting in a car all day, occasionally stopping for food, but without much chance to get to grips with any wine at any point. So a quick tour of parts of the olympic peninsula was proposed. So that's what we did.
On the way out of the door, someone mentioned that we might end up at hot springs, so we should bring suitable garmentry. So we did.
One ferry ride later, and one two-hour drive, it became clear that either through design or lack of a better idea, we were going to these hot springs. We got in to the national park. We drove up the narrow windy road. We parked in the car park with hundreds of rednecks. And then we walked. For an hour. In the blazing heat. With little shade. Almost entirely up hill. For an hour. (Mentioned twice for effect, you know).
And the hot springs were... different. The book described there as beiong six or seven of them, and we walked carefully past the early ones, full of families, past the scenic one with the entirely naked young man perched on the edge, up to a more secluded pair of pools. These were also occupied, but only by one guy. A friendly although troll-like gentleman in his fifties or sixties, bathing as mother nature intended. Following a brief excursion upwards, we decided that the troll pool was for us.
And then we get in to the ettiquette issues. I know that I look more dignified clothed than naked. But the troll was naked, and soon our hosts were naked. I knew that Mr Twinky wasn't going anywhere near the hot pools, so I had three choices. I could remain aloof, and just sit and watch. That would have seemed odd, possibly even insulting to our hosts. And anyway, I wanted to try the hot pools. I could slip into my swimming shorts. That probably don't fit me, and would seem oddly prudish. So I went for option three. Within a few minutes, I had joined the ranks of the naked puddle gnomes, sitting up to my waist in eighteen inches of tepid muddy sulphuric water.
It must have been a comical sight for Mr Twinky, watching four guys who really should have known better paddling in little more than puddles. In fact, he says it was all he could do to keep a straight face.
But the water was rejuvenating, if muddy. And after ten minutes of good clean sitting around doing nothing very much, Bill, Jim and I towelled off and got dressed again. Pausing only to see if the young man at the earlier pool was still there showing off his intimate charms, we set off back down the hill to the Landrover. Another hour. Then drove back to the ferry. Another two hours. Then got the ferry - a further hour - and got caught in traffic redirection from the Sunday afternoon baseball game.
All good clean fun really. But I think I still smell of sulphur.
Staying in JW Marriott has allowed us to observe children in their natural habitat; running around unsupervised. Of course, being a relatively decent hotel, we can observe better behaved children. The fusion child, standing beside the piano dancing and pretending to hit the keys while the pianist boldly ignores him. The girl in the dress that looks more like a maternity dress than anything else, her arms wide as she spins and spins and spins. The boy playing hide and seek with his sister. All with only the loosest of supervision.
Yesterday was ANZAC Day. I don't know enough about ANZAC Day to comment on this, really. I do know that it's a day of remembrance, a day of national pride. One of those days that breed a combination of confusion and respect, of regret and of embarrasment. And a day that didn't make news outside Australia.
A couple of years ago, Remembrance Sunday was spoiled for me by vulgar displays of nationalism. It ruined ideas of quiet contemplation for me. It turned the day into a celebration of winning. Not what it should be, really.
Better that a day of remembrance should dwindle and die, than it should become a celebration of overbearing nationalism.
This morning, someone said to me:
You know what you look like to me, with your good bag and your cheap shoes? You look like a rube. A well scrubbed, hustling rube with a little taste. Good nutrition has given you some length of bone, but you're not more than one generation from poor white trash, are you? And that accent you've tried so desparately to shed? Pure West Virginia. What's your father, dear? Is he a coal miner? Does he stink of the lamp? You know how quickly the boys found you... all those tedious sticky fumblings in the back seats of cars...while you could only dream of getting out... getting anywhere... getting all the way to the FBI.
I worry about the people we employ in Starbucks in this country.
Thinking of holding a tupperware party? Or an Ann Summers party? Why not combine the two? Sexy plastic boxes that double as night attire, designed to keep the man in your life fresh.
I don't understand ten year olds these days. I have nothing in common with them. They probably know the difference between 'e' and 'k' and how to avoid overdosing on either. They can probably use the word 'phat' and know what it means. On the other hand, I can drink wine and appreciate it. I can have more fun in bedrooms than 10 year olds. I can remember the Magic Roundabout with feelings of genuine nostalgia.
I take some consolation from the fact that although the younger generation can look back on my generation and learn from our mistakes, they will arrogantly ignore everything, and therefore miss out on a lot of good stuff.
I've been trying to write about this all day. I've changed some of the spelling, but the sentiments expressed in this are unchanged - and dangerously naïve.
There should be cultural diversity monitoring within all broadcasting companies making sure that producers, writers and directors are actively practising cultural diversity before programmes, where applicable, ever get to the screen. This will ensure that programmes, such as the fantasy "Gormenghast", where there was no cultural diveristy in any part of the programme, never get to our screens.
I'll admit that my reaction to this is skewed by the fact that I enjoyed Gormenghast, and I was impressed by the extent to which the production adhered to Peake's drawings. It would have been hard to move away from that without running the risk of claims of stereotyping or tokenism.
The danger is the phrase "where applicable". It would be unusual to see a production of Mansfield Park with a predominantly African-American cast, for instance, and I doubt that anyone would propose doing so (although a re-setting of the same plot in a different environment could be plausible and enjoyable). The context of Gormenghast is a fantasy world, where the only reference is Peake's drawings. Nonetheless it is a fantasy world that is definitely England. Look at the amount of flack received by Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves for its shoehorning of a "moor" into the plot.
On the other hand, maybe it's a sensible move. Maybe the UK should have more prime time news readers who don't have English as their first language. More homosexuality in financial journalism. Or a sit com about a family that just sits and watches television all day.
I wish that I didn't feel sorry for Thomas A Carder. Arguably, his mission to rate films in an objective manner is laudable, and indeed I have no problem with him doing so from a Christian viewpoint. Under his classification of 'impudence/hate' he includes 'use of the most foul of the foul words' and 'uses of three/four letter word vocabulary' - which are both exquisitely twisted turns of phrase, and 'facial piercing' which I find mildly surprising.
The problem is that by adopting a clinical rating system he is removing any idea of context, and that is dangerous in my view. Although I note that he can find justification for acts in Mary Poppins that he would mark down other films for. On the one hand this may seem like double standards. On the other hand, he applies the same criteria to Scary Movie as to The Tigger Movie, which is a bold, if doomed, philosophy.
The role of the consumer sector is to drive profits down. The role of the business sector is to lie and obfuscate to such an extent that the consumer sector believes that it has fulfilled its role. The role of professional bodies is to cut through all this crap.
Michael and Richard have got it bad at the moment, although not with each other. Both are in that crazy stage of the early days of something that might be a relationship, might be "the big one" but it's far too close to call and they're both afraid of seeming too needy. Is it love? Is it infatuation, twisted in to love by the need - the perceived need at any rate - to have someone to love, to hold squeeze tease and please?
Both have found something more than a one-night stand. They have someone worth hanging on to if only for that fact. But... I think that I've just realised that I don't believe in love at first sight. Love creeps up on you and suddenly whacks you over the head when you realise that the other person is more important to you than you realised. Love grows, and fills the gap that lies between dreams and reality. Love is a sickness, and its cure.
Coda: One man is apart from his lover and feels the gap in his life where his lover should be. Another man is apart from his lover and feels the fullness in his heart where his lover remains.
Live sex stage shows while Thai girls trained in the art of nothing very much try to entice you. Our girls will entice you with their artful conversation. Balls. Our girls will try to get you drunk so you don't bother them too much. Our girls will try to get you to buy them an overpriced smear of cola in the bottom of a tiny glass. Our girls will try to get as much money out of you as possible, with only one thing offered in return: themselves.
Willing, pliant, young flesh. The sort that you can't get at home. The sort that you don't want at home because the wife would get upset. They're so cheap, it's not like prostitution. Don't laugh. I've heard that.
Watch them, the twisted ballet of fat man in suit and slim woman in thong. The more he spends, the more he gets... 200 Baht here, a hand there, 400 Baht here, a gentle rubbing. A little more for a little more. The mechanics of trade. She's getting what she wants from him. She's the one in control. He is being used. And when he loses he wins. Mostly, he won't even realise that he's being used.
The tragedy of prostitution lies elsewhere, with the economies that create flesh tourism, the organised crime, annuity bribing and shameless profiteering. The women are the victim in this scenario. But so are their clients.
Bad Site, Great Writer; Grant Morrison has launched himself on to the web. Since his writing informs most of what I've written apart from being indirectly resposible for this web page, I thought I should mention it.
Interesting point from his bibliography is that he was in issue 2 of Near Myths, the comic that also gave me Bryan Talbot with the dawn of Luther Arkwright. Somewhere in a cupboard in Scotland I have my well thumbed copy of this doubtless priceless treasure. Or maybe not.
Consumer Terrorism is fun. There's no denying that. Poor quality of service should be rewarded with poor quality of consumer. It's poetic justice, and immensely satisfying.
Care is critical though. There are two things to remember when being a consumer terrorist. Know your target and keep things in proportion. A prime example is the mantra of 'do you want fries with that?' It's enormously tempting to reply with 'did I ask for fries?' but that achieves nothing. The McEmployee has only asked you the question because he is only obeying orders. Target instead Hamburger University or some other body of McEducation.
This is where proportion comes in. Do not find the marketoid responsible and napalm his wife. That's not in proportion to the poor service crime committed. Instead, write a nice letter. Don't escalate. Never escalate.
No deep conclusion to this thought.
What does it mean to be British? Books from Boots, and country lanes? Free speech, free passes, class distinction, democracy and proper drains?
I hope not.
There are strong elements of what I see as britishness that I admire. Diversity. Imagination. Tolerance. Compassion. Family Values. There are ugly sides too, though. Racism. Small mindedness. Bigotry. Hooliganism. Imperialism. Family Definition. Arrogance. Complancy. Nannyism. The Dome.
The way forward? I don't know, but embracing multiculturalism seems like a healthy step.
Ann Widdecombe is getting on my nerves this morning.
"But there are differences of emphasis - I would not go back to the days when homosexuality was illegal or when you stamped 'illegitimate' all over a baby's head if it was born out of wedlock, but I do want a preferred model and that is the issue.
"And as long as you have a preferred model then you can't afford things equal validity."
I want to sit her down in a room with a picture of three couples getting married. One would be a caucasian couple, one would be an asian couple, one would be a mixed race couple. I want to ask her to pick her preferred model. And that's just the most obvious example of the ridiculous bigotry that is enshrined in her statement.
On Monday of this week, I spent a couple of hours with Michael at the Tate Modern gallery of pretend art. The star of the gallery is undoubtedly the building. That said, the galleries are pretty impressive, with a huge range of modern art ranging from 'oh I quite like that' all the way down to 'isn't that just a pile of junk?'.
The problem is of course the sheer volume of work. I figured I would never be able to see all of it, so I did the approach where you let your eyes wander and focus on pieces that communicate with you in some way - either because they are particularly good, or because they are atrociously bad. Dali=Good, Matisse=Good, Rothko=Interesting but not for the right reasons.
My new theory about modern art (the "City of Death" theory) is that aesthetic is far less important than concept. Thus, the positioning of four mirrored cubes may be art, but the art is in the idea of doing it rather than the skill of execution. The next logical step therefore is to dispense with the physical manifestation of the idea and merely have art as idea, and that way we don't need to put it in galleries.
We can put it directly into minds.
Internet Customer Service boggles me. I submit a query via a website and it takes three weeks to get a reply. I complain about this speed of reply and I get a grovelling apology and an offer of compensation within three minutes. Wibbly wobbly world.
When I left the UK, Starbucks was something our colonial friends had access to, and it was unknown in the UK. Now there are five in Edinburgh, four in Glasgow, and more recently three in Hong Kong. The righteous are up in arms.
Is the Starbucks mermaid a corporate whore? Perhaps, but no more than I am. Corporate whores get big and fat by being good at what they do, and Starbucks makes a damn fine coffee, serves it in a pleasant environment with jolly good food at a reasonable price. The public in Asia want Starbucks because it represents the good things about Western decadence. A little piece of luxury.
It's a hard position to be put in. You're the market leader, and it means that you have to set an example. There are only so many dirty tricks that you can pull, because when you fall, you have further to fall. My company's been there in the early 90s, and it causes us problems to this day. Amazon looks like it will be next to shoot itself in the foot.
A large part of my job is to make sure that we're not shafting the customers. Other than the fact that I'm required to as a function of my profession, it's something I would do anyway. Big companies make money out of little people. The best way to protect that is to keep your nose clean.
Today I have learned two things. Firstly, I have learned that Harry Potter Takes Drugs, and in particular
To reach your goals in life like Harry Potter you need to know how to make drugs and take drugs in just the right way or else you are a "dunderhead" and will never succeed.
I'm largely in sympathy with some of the views of family friendly libraries, but to my mind they underestimate the minds of children. Not a clever thing to do, as any fule no.
Everybody hurts sometimes, and everybody hurts differently. I hate it when I see people I care about crying. I know the depths that human emotion can reach sometimes (in people who are less heartless than myself), but still I find watching tears awkward.
I don't have a problem with people crying in itself, but people don't like to be seen crying. It's like the tears are a sign of weakness, a sign of vulnerability, of losing that stiff upper lip that is the backbone of Englishness. People cry. Doing it in front of someone who cares about you is not a sign of weakness. It's a sign of being human.
I have a problem with rest rooms in Hong Kong. Mainly after lunch time, when the piss has almost dried on the seats and you can't it down without the thought that you will be soiling your haunches on someone else's splatterworks. Today, I think I have worked out why this happens. It's lack of education.
If you're brought up using squat toilets, these pedestal units must be very strange. So you climb up so that your feet are on the seat, squat, and perform as normal. Can't be good for your aim.
Now, my concern is that I know that people do this. I have no clear idea how I know this. I know that I don't watch other people (or if I do, I've blanked it out) and I'm fairly sure it has never been the subject of a documentary.
The strangest days start with insomnia, and the strangest weeks start with bulleted lists. Natch. This week should be no exception to any rule, and I feel the need to use new html tags.
But not to enjoy Nescafe.
OK, perhaps it's unfair to judge this particular book by its Enid Blyton cover. Maybe they're really a team of ruthless gangsters who are using the music as a front for their more sinister activities.
This is from the BBC. The question is - what sinister activities are the Corrs up to?
I'm sure that the right-thinking public could find out - and be entertained at the same time. Consider this proposition. Tie the Corrs to four chairs, dim the lights, and spot light them. They will either be intimidated or they will start singing. Let's assume that they are intimidated. So we have four intimidated irish musicians. Now get a heavyweight from the world of politics or entertainment - say Madeleine Albright or Jane Franchi to interview them, and indeed cross-examine them. Link their performance to royalties. Can't remember the name of Doreen Corr's favourite track... I'm sorry but your royalties go down 0.1%... Then, at the end, ask them what sinister activities they are planning. Give them a choice of four, let them phone friends, whatever... I know I wouldn't watch it.
Programming my mobile phone to play Axel F. On the cosmic scale, this is probably a meaningful thing.
Geth writes to me to say that :
I just did a back-of-the-envelope calculation, and have discovered a problem with the Annual Gathering. I reckon it clashes rather badly with the last edition of 'Big Brother'. So maybe I'll have to disappear halfway through the dessert course to find a telly to see who wins the prize.
Naturally, I don't care about this, but I am intrigued by the whole phenomena of shows like this. An interesting evolutionary step in television, although I think it's only a matter of time before it pervades all aspects of our media. In the same way that shows like America's Funniest Home Videos evolve naturally into America's Funniest Car Crashes and When Animals Attack, I fully expect to discover that the next wave of shows to include groups of people locked up together in a range of wacky and wacky situations... 10 people stuck in a pub (any british soap), or a prison (Cell Block H) or 10 world leaders locked in a room with Madeleine Albright. I could be on to something here.
The audience gets to vote who stays, who goes. In the case of the prison, they could also determine who gets brutally sexually abused by the guards. In the case of the Madeleine Albright Show, she could set them challenges, like identifying small countries based only on information about their religious beliefs, or their national boundaries, or their GDP. You could probably get that one sponsored by so many companies...