Monday, December 15, 2008

God Bless Us, Every One

Five months since putting anything on here – it’s a damned disgrace. And when I do decide to come back it’s inspired by another TV programme…

Disappointingly, Eoghan Quigg’s failure to win the final of The X-Factor this weekend didn’t result in civil disorder in his native Northern Ireland. Based on the carefully orchestrated teen hysteria which met the Quiglet when he went home for a visit last week, his relegation to third place in the competition should at least have resulted in a burning car or two.

After all, apart from drinking, urban violence is what the Northern Irish do best, and it’s a shame to let something like that just fade into the background, especially when you’ve got what is, compared with some of the previous reasons for burning down the neighbourhood, a perfectly serviceable excuse.

Let’s hope the recession will result in enough unemployment, poverty and subsequent boredom and bad temper to get Ulster’s disaffected youth back out on the streets where it belongs. I bet there are literally dozens of policemen in Derry these days who’ve never had even a piece of paving stone thrown at them, never mind a petrol bomb. Bunch of pansies.

The most interesting thing about The X-Factor is, of course, the procession of self-deluding lunatics we’re invited to laugh at in the first few episodes, as the programme consistently produces finalists who are merely third-rate versions of Mariah Carey or Westlife. This year’s winner was kicked off the show three years ago for not being good enough, and guess what? She still isn’t.

Quigg was, inexplicably, tagged as “cute” throughout the show, despite looking like the result of a hideous but fruitful sexual encounter between Dickens's Tiny Tim and a ventriloquist’s dummy. The programme supplied him with a vocal coach, but not, tragically, with someone who could teach him to smile like a real boy. Never mind, despite the bronze medal, Quigg has probably got a bright enough future, as long as he’s happy with his name coming just in front of the words “now appearing in Puss In Boots at the Alhambra Theatre, Leicester.”

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


This may be the wrong place to recommend a TV programme, and I have to confess that I've only watched one out of the first three episodes, but I have to mention this piece of truly awful dross for (at least) two reasons.

The whole sorry enterprise is about a quartet of unconventional, wisecracking, maverick archaeologists who shout a lot and have adventures, and if your instinctive response to that is to make sure the safety's off and there's a round in the chamber, then you're pretty much on the right track. It's the same gut reaction as that early encounter with the sado-masochistic albino assassin monk in the Dan Brown thing. You expect the worst, and that's precisely what you get.

Anyway, here's why you should still watch it. Firstly, Bonekickers is, quite possibly, the most laughably dreadful "drama series" the BBC has ever commissioned, and should be required viewing for anyone contemplating writing a screenplay, in terms of "under no circumstances do it ANYTHING like this unless you want to be laughed at".

We're talking serious bad here; plot lines, dialogue, characterisation, casting, lighting, editing, special effects, background music - all completely atrocious. If Bonekickers isn't in the "Dire Warning" section of every film studies course in the country within a couple of years, then I'm not a bald, portly Irishman with a bad attitude. And I am.

Secondly, while I'm not often a supporter of the "so bad it's almost good" school, d'you know, it almost is. After flinching and rubbing my eyes in disbelief a few times during the first five minutes I started to snort and giggle quietly to myself, a response I maintained for the rest of the show. I shall be watching the rest of the series, because, having found a programme that can make me laugh out loud after spending all day writing press releases about plasterboard I'm not going to turn my back on it.

On a scale of one to ten, Bonekickers is off the scale. In both directions.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Hill District

We’re off for a week’s holiday in the Lake District. For the benefit of my one regular American visitor (and here I’m using “regular” in the sense of “reasonably frequent” rather than “average”, because Bob’s from Iowa, and who the hell knows what’s average for Iowa?) I should explain that the Lake District is a district in England where there are a lot of lakes.

And hills. It could quite justifiably be called the Hill District. But it isn’t, so let’s not waste any more time on that one. What most people do when on holiday in the Lake District is climb the hills and look down at the lakes, unless they can’t be bothered, in which case they sit by the lakes and look up at the hills.

Of course, if you actually live and work in the Lake District it’s likely that you ignore the hills and lakes and just complain that it rains all the time, which it does. Hence the lakes. And the clever name.

Anyway, it’s a place I love. If you can handle slightly demanding hill walking (the kind of walking where you might have to use your hands occasionally – the guidebooks call it a “scramble”) it’s quiet and still, and the air tastes like spring water, and there’s nowhere on the planet I’d rather be.

Back In The Swamp

It seems that the only time I post anything on here these days is to apologise for not posting anything on here, and now I’m doing it again. But today’s a little different.

It’s exactly a year ago today that I gave up my job as a corporate lickspittle and decided to wander the earth having adventures. Like Caine from Kung Fu, but a bit chubbier and a lot less Chinese. To date I'm still in Surrey, which is perhaps not that impressive, although Redhill is certainly the sort of place where you can have adventures. Just not the kind you'd want.

It’s been an oddly fragmented twelve months, and I’m still not making a living out of writing or music as I’d hoped, but I’ve been back to college and gained a formal journalism qualification. I’ve had news stories, reviews and feature articles published in several papers and magazines. I’ve interviewed music journalists, trauma victims, comedians, and the Climate Change Director of Greenpeace in Europe, which is pretty grown-up by my standards.

I’ve discovered that, to my surprise, I’m better at writing news than features, and better at both of those things than subbing, which, as a natural pedant, I thought I’d be good at. I also procrastinate like crazy unless faced with a deadline.

My mother died in December, which is something I’m still getting used to. I’m shamelessly trying to figure out how to get an article out of the event. She’d be proud of me for that. I’m also, as a result, an Irish landlord – like most Irish landlords, of course, I live in England.

Even though I’m determined to make a living out of creative stuff, at the back of my mind I’ve always thought, if the worst came to the worst, I could go back into a finance role. Last week I offered to help someone with an Excel spreadsheet. Spreadsheets were my life for fifteen years, up until I left Nortel Networks last year, and I consider myself an expert. I tried to explain how to do this advanced thing. I couldn’t remember.

So that’s it. Once your gills have gone you can never go back in the swamp.

Friday, February 08, 2008

God Only Knows

I’ve spent some time in the company of Christians recently, and, although they’re pretty annoying they’re probably less likely to try to murder you than the other annoying people in Redhill who aren’t Christians.

By and large they seem to be nice people, as long as you ignore the fact that they’re all a bit nuts.

Now, I’m an agnostic. That’s not me being wishy-washy, it’s just an admission that there’s a lot of stuff I don’t understand. If I contemplate the mysteries of the Universe I just don’t understand how stuff works.

The Christians I’ve met seem to understand how stuff works, at least to their own satisfaction. Up to a point.

Then I ask why God fucks us around so much. “Ah, say the Christians. You wouldn’t understand.”

So that’s why I’ve decided to just not understand on my own and cut out the not understanding bit that involves God.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Blowing Goats

It’s just been announced that the Royal Navy has stopped using goats in decompression experiments, which will come as a surprise to those who didn’t know they’d been doing it in the first place. Which was pretty much everybody, I should think.

In a press release which encourages the response “WHAT??!!”, or, indeed, “NO!!”, it’s claimed that goats were chosen because “their skulls are a similar shape to those of humans”. Now those are goats I don’t want to see. In fact, I don’t even want to think about them. My dreams are weird enough already.

It wasn’t all bad news for the animals. “They were never placed under water and they were not alone. Other goats were in there too," a defence official said yesterday, in a badly misjudged attempt at sounding reassuring.

Apparently the hapless creatures suffered brain damage, amongst other unpleasant effects. Presumably the difficulty in assessing whether a British sailor had suffered brain damage or not was the major barrier to using humans in the experiments.

Friday, February 01, 2008

For some reason they’ve stopped selling chipmunks in the pet shop across the road from where I live. I have a strange fixation with chipmunks – they’re quite cute, but they have an odd reptilian slitheriness which I find repellent but oddly hypnotic.

They're like squirrels. But worse. I used to go and stare at them until I began to feel worried and then go home, which was interesting. I miss them.

But there’s a lot more weird stuff out there to capture my imagination. “It is the first new species of giant elephant shrew to be discovered in more than 126 years" says Galen Rathbun of the California Academy of Sciences, referring to his latest discovery, and I, for one, will not be taking the time to argue with him.

It’s in Tanzania, which means I’m unlike to get a look at a real one, but at least the BBC have photographs.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Watch Them Burn...

Our family carbon footprint is probably that of an overfed yeti with Himalayan toe-bloat and we don’t yet run one of those hybrid cars which are made out of wattle and run on lentils or something, but Sooz and I do our best when it comes to recycling.

The local council pick up garden refuse, paper and cans every week. I’m constantly embarrassed by the number of beer cans. “Good party?” ask our neighbours. “Uhh, yes. Yes, party, right. Ahem.” I mutter, looking shifty.

I’ve taken to holding back the empty dog food tins so that I can put them in a layer on top of the Budweiser empties, but as the neighbourhood knows that we have only a terrier small enough to use a cat flap, it’s pretty obvious that I’m hiding something.

Anyway, that’s not the point. The point is that, while the council collect the cans, we have to take glass and plastic bottles to the recycling centre ourselves.

Glass is okay. I don’t have a problem with glass, apart from the tiny broken shards that sometimes creep into the box and lacerate my best bass-playing finger when I’m not paying attention.

Wine bottles are great. They’re a reminder of gentle, drunken evenings with friends. Their very greenness is pleasing to the eye, particularly when the sun’s shining through them. And when you force them through the rubber grommetty things there’s a gorgeous suspended moment and then a satisfying crash. "I love the sound of breaking glass", as Nick Lowe once put it. And who doesn’t?

It’s the plastic bottles I can’t abide. There’s something fat and smug and insolent and yet insubstantial about them. They bounce out of the crate because they’ve been stacked too high, and anyway you should know better than to try to stack them because they don’t weigh anything.

They make an irritating flubbery bonking sound as they hit the floor, and you want to kill them by stamping but you don’t because it will do no good and that makes you insane with rage.

One day I’m going to follow them all the way to the place where they recycle them in the hope that I can watch them burn.

Friday, January 18, 2008


According to The Daily Mail, Britney Spears may have multiple personalities. Which comes a surprise to those of us who thought she didn't even have one.

Troubled Times

These are troubled times for people of my demographic/socio-economic group/IQ level. The coked-up lunatics responsible – if that’s the word – for commissioning TV shows continue to plumb the depths by encouraging us to gorge on human suffering in all its forms.

Actually “human suffering” is a misnomer, because the hollow-eyed, publicity-starved freaks on reality shows don’t really feel pain like the rest of us. They use the gallons of endorphins they produce at the thought of getting their horrid, gurning faces on the box for five minutes to deaden the sensation of having their genitalia torn off by carnivorous wombats, or whatever piece of humiliation the producers come up with.

Celebrity Rehab is not the worst, or even the latest of these shows, just the last one I’ve heard of. I don’t care about the “people” on this show any more than the rest of them, but, fuck me, how can you make, or watch, a programme about somebody going cold turkey, live on TV?

I don’t necessarily subscribe to the “slippery slope” theory, but surely Cancer Kid's Chemo Camp can only be weeks away from hitting our screens. I know I don’t have to watch this stuff, and I don’t, but I know it’s out there. It’s like a colourless, odourless gas seeping out of the TV and rotting my very soul, in the same way that finding my daughter’s copy of Heat magazine under a pile of newspapers in the living-room explains why I’ve had a vague feeling of guilt, shame and nausea for the last few days.

Anyway, I reckon the next reality show will be called Cure My Obese Leprous Baby Or We Blind The Puppy, You Smack-Head Celebrity Plastic Surgeon On An Island.

Or something.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

I So Knew It

I told you they were tricky little bastards.

But chipmunks would be worse if they weren't all behind bars.