I lasted 18 seconds… You can’t eat a fucking Social Mobility Action Plan, Mrs May… Poisoning the diplomatic atmosphere…GW: Dead…

Pulling strings: Nigel Farage commands the fish to rise from the waters. (Sky News)

“Even a second series of The Night Manager would suck less air out of the schedules.”

 I lasted 18 seconds

Forty or so years ago there used to be a pretty anodyne and harmless but highly rated family quiz on Sunday evening primetime TV. You tended to put it on in the suburban background in lieu of anything else, other than getting remorselessly pissed on gin, there being only one and a half channels to watch and no Netflix in those good old days.

From left: £4.2 million; £3.5 million. (BBC/ David Venni) Uncle Bogler (top): £ zero million. Oh well, next time.

All-singing, all-dancing, genial master of the catchphrase: “Alright, muh luvs?” “Nice to see you, to see you nice”, etcetera – (I never promised you a prose garden, btw) – Bruce Forsyth would get contestants to stuff a duvet blindfolded in under half a minute by the big counting-down studio clock, whatever, make fools of themselves, ask them some easy questions and they’d get a chance to go away happy with a pile of crap from the pound shop, items they’d memorized going around on a conveyor belt (“Cuddly toy!”), with a main prize usually of a small, silently rusting British Leyland car to astound an audience living on five quid a week, as one was.

National treasure, Sir Brucey twirled off for the last time into the wings last year, aged 180. (“Didn’t he do well?”) So now the BBC has revived his old show with the help of the rest of the Strictly Come Dancing “comedy” presentation team: usually quite funny comedienne hoping to go straight, Sue Perkins and her besty, Mel Gdrcie (Are you sure about the spelling? Ed.), lavishing a fortune bled from your £145.50 a year TV license fee on brightly colored sets, bizarre costumes, props and raising the heights of the TV Centre doorways for special guest Richard Osman to pass through.

Unfortunately money is not, and never has been, an adequate substitute for creative originality. You need more sparkly tat.

So, anyway, if you don’t know who Richard Osman is, ask his mother. A gameshow host, promoted from Assistant Gameshow Host (“the scores, please, Richard, and cut the smartypants ad-libbing!”) he supplements his daytime TV income from a show appropriately called Pointless!, where I think the idea is contestants start with points and have to lose them, by making frequent appearances on other gameshow hosts’ gameshows.

It’s nowadays impossible that an entertainment can be created just for the TV audience (controversy has already arisen over whether the studio audience lives in a can or just shares a strange laugh that breaks out for no obvious reason now and again); Osman appeared to be one of an entire panel of “celebrity” experts invited at great expense to sit next to the stage and comment on the performance of a fat lady spinning plates. I mention Osman so frequently, only because I do at least know who he is. He’s unmistakably tall.

Even a second series of The Night Manager would suck less air out of the schedules.

Within ten seconds I was already feeling as if I’d had a flannel full of Novichok stuffed in my face. Switching off Sue and Mel’s Generation Game moments later was purely an autonomic reflex before paralysis set in. Fortunately they’re only making two in the “series”, although I have my suspicions.

Disapproving of the product, a cheap cigarette brand made from the floor sweepings at Imperial Tobacco after the night shift had gone home, under duress I once wrote an ad campaign that was so deliberately far downmarket, I’d hoped it would never get up again. The normal response to a similar campaign might with luck just be 1.5%. My hideously garish, illiterate, insulting mailshot pulled 16%. I was the hero of the hour.

No-one ever got anywhere overestimating the tastes of a bussed-in British TV audience, either. I thought those people had gone extinct in the 1980s, but… Brexit?

Look forward then to an extended run, maybe as the nights start lengthening in the Autumn and the realities of our economic situation set in, a return to the 1980s will seem attractive. In a week or so, even hardened Guardian critics will be polishing up phrases like “all good family fun” so as not to seem out of touch with the zeitgeist.

Oh. They already are.

Floral wallpaper, anybody?

 

“It’s the grey skin, the pallor. It’s the pallor you really notice.”

You can’t eat a fucking Social Mobility Action Plan, Mrs May.

Four out of five head teachers are reporting growing signs of malnutrition and sickness among their pupils.

A report compiled with the Child Poverty Action Group, presented at the annual conference of the National Education Union in Brighton reveals that many schools are having to devote increasing time and resources, not to improving test results, but to social action programs to try to relieve the consequences of nine years of knuckleheaded, attritional Government cuts to welfare, universal child benefit, tax credits – creating adverse knock-on social deficits, such as massive reductions in local government safeguarding services.

Among measures they are having to take are:

  • Creating food banks and handing out food parcels
  • Teachers supplementing meagre ‘bread and margarine’ lunches out of their own pockets
  • Providing free uniforms and laundry facilities to keep homeless children looking clean
  • Staying open during holidays with volunteer teachers providing meals
  • Offering free debt counselling
  • Providing emergency loans to families.

One head from Nottingham noted:

“Monday morning is the worst. There are a number of families that we target that we know are going to be coming into school hungry. By the time it’s 9.30am they are tired. It’s the grey skin, the pallor. It’s the pallor you really notice.”

Another from Portsmouth, said there had been a four-fold increase in the number of children with child protection issues. “Every one of these issues has had something to do with the poverty that they live in. It’s neglect. It’s because they and their families don’t have enough money to provide food, heating or even bedding.”

Head teachers acknowledged that many of the parents of these starving children are working poor, who would be marginally better off on benefits.

The Department of Education has responded with the following:

(We want) “to create a country where everyone can go as far as their talents can take them. That’s why we launched our social mobility action plan, which sets out measures to close the attainment gap between disadvantaged students and their peers…”

Mmm, yummy. Nutritious action plan for lunch again.

Dear God, voters of Britain, when will you look up from your stupid fucking phones, instruments of social control, and throw these diseased incompetents on the bonfire of history? No civilized country should be managed like this in the 21st century.

How anyone could tolerate the continuance of this demented, morally bankrupt Tory government whose sole economic policy is, and has been for some time, to deliberately starve children of the food their brains need to “close the educational attainment gap”, is quite beyond me.

The sixth largest economy in the world and we cannot house, clothe or feed our people. Yet our crazy housing market adds two thousand paper millionaires to the heap each year. It’s obscene.

As is the brutal illogicality of spending millions on remedial action (as they claim to be doing. The evidence suggests they are lying) to “reduce child poverty” at the same time as depriving parents of the income they need to reduce child poverty.

No?

(Edited from a BBC News report, 02 April: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-43611527)

 

So who could help feed Britain’s 120 thousand homeless children, and why should they?

“British wealth rose to a record £12.8 trillion in June 2016” (Cityam.com, who genuinely have a banking correspondent called Jasper Jolly…)

“A quarter of all new UK wealth goes to millionaires” (Oxfam report). “A total of 3.6 million households in Britain held wealth of more than £1m by June 2016, up 29% in two years” (BBC, quoting Office for National Statistics.)

“With the number of millionaires on the up, the wealth of the top 10 per cent of households was five times that of the bottom half combined by the end of 2016.” (thisismoney.co.uk)

“The £2 million given to him to help buy a home in the capital includes payments of £28,000 a month to cover mortgage interest. These total £740,000 since he took the top job in the summer of 2015. He will keep any profit he makes on the swish apartment if he decides to sell or rent it out. In addition to interest payments, the Pru handed Wells £514,000 to cover stamp duty on his new home – enough to buy a £5 million property. Because the payment is a taxable benefit, he was given £330,000 to settle his bill with Revenue & Customs. The company paid £200,000 for his possessions to be shipped across the Atlantic. He was also given £178,000 for temporary accommodation while he was waiting for the purchase to complete. That takes the total he has received for housing costs to £1.96 million. On top of that, he received £37,000 last year to cover flights back to the US. Wells’s package came to £8.7 million last year, taking his total pay and bonuses since he became chief executive in June 2015 to £23.6 million.” (thisismoney.co.uk on the staggering remuneration package of the Prudential UK CEO, Mike Wells.)

Of course, he may give it all away to Britain’s legions of grey children. Who knows, stranger things have happened.

 

Poisoning the diplomatic atmosphere….

As diplomatic relations slip through the rabbit-hole into an Alice in Wonderland world of threats and conspiracy theories, many of them thrown up by the wily Russian who succeeded as ambassador to the UN, a predecessor whose autopsy following his sudden death a year ago has been marked Classified, the odd case of the Salisbury Poisoner continues to raise many apparently unanswerable questions.

The Pumpkin has asked many of these right from the beginning. It has been said, for instance, that novichok A232 is a virtually instantaneously acting nerve agent, whose lethality decays over time. Yet the Skripals apparently spent several hours having lunch in town after they were supposedly contaminated at home, before they were found unconscious on a park bench.

And they have both apparently survived; unlike a Russian banker and his secretary who were also poisoned with a novichok agent in Moscow in 1995 and died almost immediately. A tribute to the skills of the NHS, I expect.

If A232 decays to the point of non-lethality, then why is it that people in suits are still scraping around Salisbury weeks later looking for traces of it to decontaminate? What do they expect to find?

Who uses their front door handle to close the door behind them?

What was Skripal doing with two guinea-pigs in the house? (Dimwitted Plod apparently sealed-up the house, leaving the Skripals’ two cats and the guinea-pigs inside to die of thirst and starvation. One of the cats was eventually taken, barely alive, to Porton Down for examination for traces of nerve agent but had to be put down by a vet. The other has gone missing. This is surely a matter for the RSPCA?) I’ll repeat the question. Cats, okay, so James Bond – but what was Skripal doing with two guinea-pigs in the house?

Did he manufacture the A232 himself, for some other purpose? It can be done in your garage, apparently, following some simple instructions available from certain sources. See:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/apr/06/uk-us-case-file-russian-nerve-agent-shikhany-spy-poisoning

Many questions also remain, concerning the contaminated policeman, Detective Sergeant Bailey. It now appears a second, unnamed policeman was also treated in hospital. Why has he remained unnamed thus far, but not Bailey? Did Skripal have a security detail – or just a tail?

Where did they come into contact with the A232? If it was at the house, as was reported, then how did the police know to go there before the couple had been identified or a nerve agent had even been pinpointed as the cause of the Skripals’ distress? When in the timeline did that happen – as it’s not the most likely scenario?

If someone had searched the unconscious Skripal’s pockets and found an address, how were they not also contaminated?

If the nerve agent had been suspected before Sgt Bailey went to the house, why did he go there unprotected? Was Sgt Bailey indeed the “first responder” at the scene – a detective sergeant, called out to a report of two people who, witnesses say, looked like drunks or druggies on a park bench?

If he had been, then he surely would not have been the one to go straight to the house….  as he would have been too busy making reports at the scene. Did he already know who the Skripals were, and where they lived?

Was someone anticipating just this scenario?

Nothing adds up and I doubt it ever will. But if I were Yulia Skripal, I certainly would not want to go back to Moscow with Cousin Viktoria.

Just sayin’.

 

GW:

“The greatest declines were seen in west Antarctica. At eight of the ice sheet’s 65 biggest glaciers, the speed of retreat was more than five times the rate of deglaciation since the last ice age” – cpom.org.uk

With a current 4C 2m/surface temperature anomaly, Antarctica is now coming in for the scare story treatment as scientists find that most of the melting is going on unnoticed, UNDERNEATH the vast ice shelves and glaciers.

“The results could prompt an upward revision of sea-level rise projections.” – (UK Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling.)

Spring 2017

Dead

In April last year I’d already begun posting in amazement at the incredible outpouring of biomass I’d observed in our valley. The speed and volume of growth so early in the year were, in my view, unprecedented.

Climbers fighting for light, 2017.

Trees that would not normally crown before May were already densely and – for a change – healthily in leaf; wildflowers were blooming, the nearby playing fields covered in snowy mats of daisies; ground-cover and climbing plants fighting for light in the densely packed hedgerows and head-high clumps of already berrying brambles.

Just outside my studio, five years ago I planted perennial herbs. A border hedge of rosemary; oregano, that would be covered in bees, a clump of thyme. And a rather expensive, miniature ornamental Japanese acer.

They’re all dead.

As is most of a hebe I planted three years ago in the front garden; although a couple of other plantings seem healthy – a hydrangea labelled ‘hardy’ seems to be just that, coming into leaf. The early clematis Hendersonii is in flower…

But nothing much has come to life in the valley. I’m walking Hunzi along paths lined with dried-out, dead last-year’s vegetation, withered brambles, a few bearing stricken early leaf buds; here and there ivy, leaves turning brown at the tips, shrivelled berries; evergreens looking blasted and ever-brown; clumps of bleached grass; a few daisies, celandine and dandelions showing, but nothing like the riot of exuberance we had this time last year.

Spring 2018.

Evergreens turning brown.

Now, okay, admittedly it has been a colder winter, later than we’ve had for a while. But not nearly as cold or snowy here on the west coast as in the east. Cold and wet. And I haven’t seen any flying insects at all (no, a few midges came out yesterday with the sun and I was buzzed by a solitary foraging bee on our walk in the rain just now. It won’t find anything.) While the birds started nesting in February, I’m wondering what they’re getting to eat?

Then, I’m seeing too that these die-offs appear to be recent, and simultaneous, although the hardest frost was three weeks ago. It’s like Russia has sprayed everything overnight with weedkiller.

Is it something we’ve done?

USA: caught in a loop of the jetstream, Winter Storm Wilbur is dumping another foot of snow over the northern states, from the Rockies to the Great Lakes, as the song goes. It’s the fifth major winter storm event of the year, but it’s a double-whammy as a second front is also hitting the east coast, including New York. Too warm to settle for long, though.

“A powerful late-season atmospheric river is headed for central California late this week, with the potential to bring near-record rains for April … Intense rain rates on Friday night will pose a flood risk in the Sierra Nevada, where the runoff will be bolstered by rain-induced snowmelt. By Saturday, high winds and heavy rains will rake parts of western Oregon and Washington … ‘This is really an historic event …’ said Cliff Mass (University of Washington)”.

“Torrential rain, strong winds, lightning strikes and flash floods hit parts of Indiana and Illinois” on 3 April, Indianapolis recording its wettest ever April day. Local forecasts for Phoenix Az. are predicting the return of 100F, 39C temperatures next week – still early mid-April. Dangerous UV levels already being measured.

Canada: powerful winds knock down buildings in Ontario.

Meanwhile northern Europe and Russia have also seen extreme cold and heavy snow persisting well into spring. These huge pools of arctic air make the northern hemisphere look like Narnia, but elsewhere across Africa, the middle East, the SW US, Australia there are enough hotspots still to keep global temperatures marginally above the 1980-2011 average for March/April.

Bangladesh, Nepal: 7 killed in severe storms, massive hail smashes houses down.

Brazil: STILL raining intensively in many areas, flash floods, cities underwater in Goias province and elsewhere. In Mexico, an intense hailstorm reduces streets in Tlalpan to rivers of ice.

Argentina: “Over 50 people were evacuated and dozens of streets closed after flooding in Río Gallegos, Santa Cruz province. Local media reported that the city received 3 times the amount of rain it would normally see for the whole of April.”

Fiji: “At least 4 people (now 6) were killed and another was missing after Cyclone Josie caused severe flooding in the South Pacific island nation. Josie moved past the island of Vitu Levu from 31 March as a category 1 storm, bringing with it heavy rain and wind gusts up to 100 km/h.”

Vanuatu: flash floods destroy homes.

Indonesia: Devastating floods in Sumatra and Java.

Greece: “Several rivers in the Balkans have broken their banks over the last few days, causing flooding in parts of northern Greece, southeastern Bulgaria and northwestern Turkey.” Police are searching for a party of “about 15” migrants thought to be missing after trying to cross a swollen river.

UK: “Snow and heavy downpours closed roads and caused travel disruption throughout the holiday weekend of 31 March to 02 April … Emergency services were called to rescue at least 8 people trapped in flood waters. Up to 10cm (4ins) of snow blanketed areas of north England, north Wales and Scotland. At one point on 02 April there were 271 flood alerts in place…” Interestingly, GW noticed absolutely none of these events taking place locally from her eyrie in Wales. Sorry.

World: “Storms, floods and other extreme weather events are hitting cities much harder than scientists have predicted, said the head of a global network of cities tackling climate change.” According to Mark Watts, executive director of the C40 climate change alliance: “Almost every (C40 member) city is reporting extreme weather events that are off all the scale of previous experience, and ahead of all the modeling of climate change.”

Edited from reports: Boglington Post/ Floodlist/ Wunderground/ MrMBB333 website/ CEWN #107, #108/ Reuter

 

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Hinterland: projecting the Welsh culture abroad

21 July, 2016

Rhodri Talfan Davies

Director for BBC Wales

 

Dear Mr Talfan Davies

While not disagreeing entirely with your views on the lack of Welsh cultural projection (BBC News website, 21 July), given that you might be responsible for some of it, I should like to make two or so points.

Wales is a far more multicultural place now than it was when I arrived as an ‘economic migrant’ from London, via Gloucestershire, fifteen years ago (today, as it happens!). Sometimes it seems as though there are more natives of Birmingham here than there are of Wales; Polish and other languages are heard on the street, we have a new Bangladeshi community; while cars seem sadly to have replaced sheep as the most multitudinous of the non-human population.

I appreciate therefore the importance of celebrating, preserving and promoting the Welsh dimension through its cultural institutions – although that sounds possibly like a museum curator talking, but perhaps there is more of a need to accept change and celebrate diversity, projecting a more fluid social dynamic?

BBC Drama, especially on Radio 4, seems to go through patches where all the scripts seem to be about the minutiae of life in Pakistani families (corner-shops, honour killings), Irish or Scottish (heroin-related, or someone has come back depressed from Afghan) – and then from time to time Welsh, when one sometimes feels perhaps a little patronised by a certain forced comedic dimension.

Welsh characters are too often caricatured as, well, a bit helpless. I have myself acted the Welshman in several local dramatic productions because not enough Welsh male actors will put themselves forward to join in. We recently had to rewrite the script of a Dylan Thomas bio-drama because the only real Welsh actor we had to play him was six feet tall, whereas the giant of Welsh modern Lit. was only five feet five in his holey socks.

In a sense this mirrors the dilemma of ethnic diversity in drama in general: you want to cast black actors, but where are they? Fortunately there is now a growing pool to draw on, and perhaps the same will be said of Welsh actors the more success the Rhys Ifans’, Michael Sheens’ and so on enjoy internationally. But we have yet to celebrate a black, Chinese or east European Welsh actor, I think!

I feel too there is an element of defensiveness in a lot of what you and others have been saying for many years; and it is perhaps that which is preventing the wider promotion and presentation of Welsh culture, as it is so inbred in its nature. Wales punches indeed significantly above its size in terms of cultural celebrity; but those artists and performers all recognise that their success depends on them becoming, first and foremost, internationalist. Somewhere there needs to be a balance; and, more importantly, relevance in a busy world where so much ‘culture’ is vying for attention

Which brings me to Hinterland….

Apart from the obvious scheduling problems and apparent budget shortage (why can’t Tom have a proper detective car, a vintage Jaguar like Morse or a (Welsh!) TVR, a battered old Mk1 Land-Rover he obviously cherishes, rather than that humdrum Volvo?), I and many of my friends here feel that Hinterland presents a remorselessly negative picture of life (and death) in Ceredigion. Most of us watch it largely because we enjoy the continuity errors!

If you will pardon an anecdote, last year I came across the cast and crew filming around the marina. I stopped and asked Mari when the new series was coming out; she thought ‘maybe’ in the autumn. ‘And will it be as gloomy as the last?’ I asked, jokingly. ‘Probably gloomier’, she replied glumly. It was!

I have to say, despite it winning an international award, I feel Hinterland is derivative, inward-looking and lacking in plot variation, precisely because of its overly Welsh one-dimensionality: the brooding landscape, thinly populated by embittered loners setting fire to one another’s houses over ancient feuds, seems almost satirical. The characters don’t seem fully developed in comparison, say, with The Bridge or other Nordic noir dramas on which the mood and feel of Hinterland are clearly based; they seem emotionally stuck, with what are thinly doled-out (does ‘Lloyd’ even exist, off-set?),  cardboard-cutout back-stories.

The lack of a realistically diverse ethnic and cultural dimension portrayed in this teeming university town and seaside resort does not at all reflect the life we know. (Yes, you did have a couple of Polish girls in one episode, well done! I have yet to identify a single English or Scottish character, who make up fully a third of the population… and where are the endless traffic snarl-ups?) There is so much more richness of history, intrigue and event in Aberystwyth than your writers seem willing to mine for stories. Why not set an episode in our university? It is a real one, at least!

There is of course no reason the show should reflect real life, it is drama after all, but if you are going to complain about the lack of Welsh cultural projection outside Wales, one viewing of Hinterland would be enough to convince most people of its severe limitations.

What is stopping you making more accessible programmes for the outside world? Apart, that is, from Dr Who? I suspect it is in fact the paucity of subjects; the narrowness of the Welsh dimension, that is holding things back.

To be frank, Shetland is a more reliable series; more openly reflective seemingly of its island life, more rooted in its community yet open to the wider world; and is more intricately and densely plotted, better produced and more naturalistically written, with interesting, three-dimensional characters showing vitality and progression.

Hinterland by contrast is an unwelcome study in Welsh claustrophobia; introverted; stuck in its miseries*; under-cast, short on locations, short on plot and character development and trapped in its own narrow country lanes.

A national depression narrative…. How good an ambassador is that for Wales’ diverse culture, I wonder?

 

*’Miseries’ sounds like ‘miniseries’. An odd word you often come across in TV columns. It was honestly years before the penny dropped and I realised that the word meant ‘mini-series’. ‘Miniseries’ sounds ecclesiastical, perhaps from a prayer: ‘Lord, forgive them their miniseries’; a part of the Tridentine mass (Let us now proceed to the miniseries), or a description of some priestly vestments: ‘He appeared at the altar in fetching pink miniseries’….

The problem of proving a negative

Wot a whopper

So the Appeal Court has ruled that it’s okay to lie on an insurance claim about the circumstances the loss arose out of, so long as the claim is genuine and the lie doesn’t make a difference to the actual amount claimed.

It’s called a ‘collateral lie’.

I can’t comment on the legal side, the case was about some ship’s crew and a cargo loss they blamed on the weather when it was caused by something else not their fault; sometimes it’s easier just to lie than to have to explain.

I once had a claim rejected when the insurers argued that if the radio had not been in the car in the first place, and the car had not been locked, the kids doing drugs would not have had to smash the quarterlight to steal it.

There are lies, ‘collateral lies’, and there are profitable evasions.

But I do wonder if there isn’t a more general application here?

Is it okay in principle, for instance, for a politician ambitious for the highest office to tell people the double-lie, that they are spending £50 million a day on our annual subscription to Brussels, and he would spend the money instead on the health service?

It’s obviously okay to say that, when it’s clear they would have voted anyway to leave the European Union. It’s only a ‘collateral lie’.

Meanwhile, some of the collateral damage of Brexit is already emerging.

You remember we wanted to get our sovereignty back from Brussels? So yesterday, our world-leading semiconductor company, ARM was sold to an indebted ($100m overdrawn) Japanese entrepreneur for a notional £24 billion.

The post-Brexit-vote collapse of the pound against the yen made ARM a bargain. And Mrs May bravely hailed it as another sign of a brighter future for Britain outside the EU.

What, that we can flog-off our sovereignty instead to the highest foreign bidders, so they can profit from controlling our potentially hugely lucrative industrial research and development programmes in the future, that we never seem able to exploit ourselves because we are such a small country?

Already, British research scientists, universities and high-tech SME companies are reporting being frozen out of co-funded European projects, as being too toxic a risk for the investors.

Individual trade deals or not, it’s hard to see Japanese or Australian or US government funding being made available for British research projects in the way it has through the EU, without Britain surrendering control of our own world-beating technologies.

And we have had to give up our turn at the rotating Presidency of the EU next year, so have no chance to influence anything..

But don’t worry, at least Brussels isn’t calling the shots!

Cretins rule, ok?

 

The problem of proving a negative

An open letter to the UK-based, very funny American humorist and compulsive litter-picker, David Sedaris, on the danger of being too public-spirited.

Dear David Sedaris

I read about your litter-picking interview with Clare Balding.

So, I was standing in the queue for the butcher’s, as one did in those days in the People’s Republic of North Harrow, in the 1970s when lamb chops were on ration, watching two children tearing up paper and throwing it on the ground. I said to their grandmother, ‘who do you think is going to pick that up after you’ve gone?’ and she looked embarrassed and told the children to pick up the paper.

A younger version of the grandmother then came flying out of the shop, shouting at the children to put the paper back on the pavement because,‘you don’t know where it’s been!’ The grandmother explained that the man in the queue had complained that the children had dropped the litter. And the woman informed me furiously that if I didn’t piss off and mind my own business, she would fetch her husband to sort me out.

I’ve been a little less public-spirited since. But maybe not enough less.

20170524_125218The people who annoy me most are the ones who thoughtfully pick up their dog mess in a little bag, and then leave the bag lying on the footpath. There’s some kind of cognitive dissonance there. I’ve been guilty of it myself: on a circular route, I planned to pick up the bag on the way back as that’s the direction the village’s only public dog-litter bin lies in, only to be seduced into taking a different way home, forgetting all about the bag and its contents; forgetting where I had left the car parked.

I live on the edge of a seaside town, on a thunderous main road, where the houses shade into a flat, partly wooded heathland along the river valley. It’s littered with industrial buildings, goods yards, railway lines, cycle paths and sports grounds. Dogwalking territory, it’s also a place where people can go to celebrate the nearby supermarket, McDonalds and so on by liberally distributing their wrappers and cut-price cider cans in the undergrowth, smashing up the one park bench so regularly the council gave up repairing it and it’s no longer there.

Another sign of civic pride is the way people like to get exercise and fresh air by carrying whole bags of rubbish into the woods and abandoning them there, to rot and spill their contents among the bluebells.  When you can just put the bags outside your house and the council eventually will collect them, and when there is a public recycling centre a few hundred yards further along the footpath on the industrial estate, it seems perverse.

The river sometimes floods, and the trees growing along the bank are festooned with tattered plastic bags and old clothing washed downstream; there are stains and trails of litter running down the high bank above the river on the opposite side, under the ends of the gardens of the estate houses above.

Every few months, McDonalds or the supermarket holds a sponsored litter-pick, and you find all sorts of people busy filling bags. I always take the trouble to thank them politely, because while it occurs to me that I have nothing better to do on my thrice-daily walks with the dog around the exurban space that passes for our local park, than to pick up the litter myself and just stop being offended by it, somehow my brain fails to recall my good intentions the next time, and we go out unequipped either to pick the litter or to cut back the brambles growing over the footpath behind the sewage works; another pet project for which somebody else might eventually take responsibility.

Yesterday, however, things got more serious. Passing the town cricket club, with its signs asking people please not to walk their dogs in the private grounds, I observed a family: a youngish man in a baseball cap, calf-length shorts and hoodie, his partner, their toddler and a large black dog, larking about behind locked gates on the actual playing surface.

Some protective civic instinct made me raise my cellphone to take a picture for identification purposes, should it be needed. Stupid, really, as I’m not a member of the cricket club and people trespassing in their grounds really is none of my affair. If they don’t want people trespassing they should fix the fence.

But they were too far away to photograph clearly, so I gave up the attempt. As I walked on, I heard commotion behind, a man loudly shouting ‘fucking paedo!’ I didn’t connect, until I got home and within minutes two policemen were on the doorstep, wanting to know why I was going around photographing people’s children, because (while it was not illegal!) there had been complaints, and I had been followed home and was seen photographing children along the way.

Now, a sometime journalist, movie-maker and blogger, perhaps a trifle OCD, I’m an information gannet. I make photographic notes of all kinds of mildly uninteresting things I encounter, for all kinds of purposes. I take pictures of:

…my dog; my cat; the exuberant wildflowers along the river; interesting cloud formations; garish sunsets over the bay; storm-damage; flooded landscapes; unusual rocks and weird jellyfish stranded on the beach; of unidentified insects; my guitar collection, for sales purposes; of my house, ditto – I’ve been trying to sell for nearly four years but nobody is crazy enough to want to live here, and I’m seeing why.

I record my DIY projects and workplaces, essentially other people’s gardens, showing how effective I’ve been at restoring them in case anyone wants to talk about a job. I kept a documentary record of the restoration of a nearby stately home I was paid to look after for seven years; I record, too, the more valuable things I own, mostly guitars, for insurance purposes when I get burgled; important documents; local views: for instance, of my street at night, so I can complain about the harsh lighting keeping me awake.

I also photograph things by accident, like my own eye, as I’m not very good with ‘smart’ technology and didn’t realise for ages that the camera points both ways front and back. Besides, it’s a cheap phone and you can’t see the viewfinder screen in daylight. Some cameras are ‘point and shoot’, mine is more ‘point and hope’. And the buttons are situated just where they can sometimes turn on the camera all by themselves, I find it’s been videoing the inside of my pocket.

So some of my shots are interestingly abstract. I sometimes photograph the washing-up, for documentary interest. I once proposed an exhibition of my colourfully artistic shots of food residues on plates after a party, ketchup and picallilli, custard and cake crumbs…. I took a shot in evidence of my garden hedge the other day, as I feared from the sounds of chainsawing that my neighbour, who is from Birmingham, was attacking the other side and could possibly kill off the whole thing, and I might have to sue him.

I’ve even tried taking selfies, as for some reason people need to know from time to time what I look like; only I don’t look at all like my selfies, which show an elderly, bearded man with receding hair and baggy pouches beneath alcoholically bulging eyes, living alone with his familiars: a dog with strange amber eyes and a magic cat, his guitars; keeping himself to himself, an outsider tragically photographing his own face in a small cottage on a main road in the noise-polluted outskirts of a small town.

Just like a fucking paedo, in fact.

Only, he isn’t! There is absolutely no reason to suppose anything of the sort.

The one thing I never, ever photograph is other people’s children. Or even other people, except maybe sometimes far in the background, for scale (I have a photographic and movie degree. I know about shooting landscapes.) What might strike you most about the several albums of photographs I hold on my computer is how few people are depicted in them at all. I’m not really a people person.

You probably won’t even find pictures of my family, my ex-wife and grownup kids, my ninety-year-old mother. They take countless pictures of each other, their holidays, their dinner parties with friends, their table layouts, their graduation ceremonies, their weddings; they can email me if they want. I’m just trying to make sense of the world around. Collecting evidence.

But when some concerned parent in a baseball cap decides that, no, neither he, nor his partner, nor their large, black dog trespassing on a private cricket square could possibly be the subjects of an elderly weirdo pointing a cellphone at them from a hundred yards away; but concludes instead that he must have been focussing directly (a physical impossibility at that distance) with some sinister intent on their little princess, and calls the police, who turn up on the doorstep the minute he gets in, you lie there at night wondering what on earth proof you can offer, to prove a negative. No, I wasn’t? I didn’t? I don’t? See for yourself?

But someone says you did.

And is there now to be a campaign of vilification, graffiti on my door, my car trashed, petrol through the letterbox, a pitchfork village lynching? Will I be followed around by men in baseball caps, shouting abuse at me? Have I become ‘a person of interest’?

I showed the policeman my cellphone. Look, a picture of my dog. A pie I ate, for some reason. Wildflowers. The river. My car. My newly decorated living-room. No children!

And the policeman said, well, you might have another phone somewhere.

And asked me where I was born.

Pulling the Pork

Pages in category “British cooking television programmes”. The following 78 pages are in this category, out of 78 total. This list may not reflect recent changes … (Wikipedia listing on Google)

(Yes, 78 pages of cooking shows. It makes you sick!)

As the only TV shows I watch tend to be the news, international rugby matches, police procedurals and documentaries about parallel universes/who really built Stonehenge?, all of which enable me to shout furiously at the telly (much to Hunzi’s and the neighbours’ distress), I’m not very up on fashion trends in cooking.

How I have avoided the overwhelming swampiness of programmes featuring tense cake bakeoffs and nervous celebrity cheffing and the production of complex desserts using industrial gases and hairy bikers and epic-fail dinner parties and art critics making agreeable tours round Italy’s more expensive ristorantes in a posh hire-car, I don’t know.

It’s probably that I’d rather eat my own head boiled with Swede, than sit here for an hour watching some media-smoothie and his best mate scoffing delicious regional specialities in the eternal Calabrian sunshine, engaging agreeably in witty, unscripted badinage, while copping for massive expenses.

Hence, I have caught up with “Pulled Pork” rather late in the day.

And wished I hadn’t.

Eating “Pulled Pork” is rather like eating overcooked, frayed string dipped in Vaseline, to use an analogy. It’s the kind of pappy nappy-food you don’t really need teeth for – which is just as well, I suppose, as I haven’t any, at least none that meet conclusively in the middle.

When you do manage to chomp through a mouthful, however, you can spend many a happy hour trying to winkle the bits out of your denture, using a succession of increasingly enamel-unfriendly sharp implements.

“Pulled Pork” is  clearly one of those serendipitous discoveries beloved of marketers:

“Now, team, porkchop sales are falling off a cliff. Focus groups tell us they’re too retro for modern tastes. We’ve tried marketing just the fatty bits, but the consumer has seen through the old “Pork Belly” scam. So how are we going to segment this normally boring, meat-like commodity in order to get the housewife’s eyeballs on a profitable new market proposition for our revered client, the Porkmeat Marketing Council of Great Britain and Elsewhere?  Let’s blue-sky some thoughts. Yes, Torquil?”

“So, like, my partner Jocasta well overdid the pork roast on Sunday, while we were out playing tennis with our friends Dave and Sam the Cam, and, when I poked gloomily at a slice with my fork, it just, like, pulled apart, like a shreddy old skein of damp sheep’s wool. Come to think of it, that’s pretty much what it tasted like, too.”

“”Pulled Pork”? Terrific branding, Torq, have another Porsche!”

And so, with a decent bung to Mr Tesco, the aisle-end chiller cabinets have filled with Now Only £4! bargain-priced boxes of microwave-in-the-bag “Pulled Pork”, pre-slow-cooked for all Eternity in smoky barbecue flavour goo by Europe’s finest chefs at 30 deg. C. , so you don’t have to.

And I ask myself, what do all those millions of gluttonous viewers glued to glutinous Celebrity Oven-porn do with the reams of brilliant ideas and information they are absorbing, along with the microwave background radiation spewing from their fifty-inch TFT Smartscreens?

Why, like me, they rush out and buy Mr Morrison’s cook-chilled ready meals (now with extra subtracted unidentifiable chicken pieces in spicy bulky gluten gloop) and ‘wave them for three minutes during the commercial breaks.

Cooking? Like, duh, dudes. Cooking’s for Masterchefs.

I’ll just pull me some pork.

 

Postscriptum

Torodism

Speaking of cookery shows, how many people would you imagine having the same name, a very uncommon-sounding name, like ‘John Torode’?

I worked years ago at the London all-news (ha-ha! They used to get me to present music shows when they had no money to pay journalists. And I wasn’t invited to the 40th anniversary bash!) radio station, LBC. There was a journalist there called John Torode, who later became slightly well known on, I think, The Guardian newspaper, but then seems to have disappeared off the radar – much like myself.

So you can imagine my mild surprise/wild surmise, when he popped up as one of the heavily sceptical judges on Masterchef, only it wasn’t him but some random Australian namealike bearing no resemblance to the original.

Just saying.

Really, because I find there are several people posing on Facebook with my unusual family name, and they are not me,  or even related to me. I don’t even have an active Facebook account.

But who would know the difference?

 

 

 

Watching the Defectives #4

Two detectives. Edgy buddies. A detective and a possible witness. Junior/female colleague. The detective and his ex-wife – rebellious teenage son/daughter (led astray by drug dealers from the squat or other bad influences who might become suspects), who may or may not themselves be a witness but might know/be under the influence of, the robber/murderer. The flagging middle-aged detective and the faded nurse/schoolteacher he’s taken a fancy to and is hoping to get at least dinner with if not a tit-job off.

These characters get in the car and drive to the police station. To search a house. To a house where the killer lurks but unsuspected. Where the body is lying on the floor. To the teenager’s home where his mother will express contempt/hatred/residual tired love for the detective. To a very dark place (do they ever switch on the lights?). To the hospital. To the intended’s home. To follow the suspect. To find the deserted country cottage on the beach no-one previously knew about, that was on the location manager’s same list three episodes ago. To the place they’re going to search but don’t have a warrant. To the abandoned factory. To the scene of the crime.

They arrive at their destination and stop the car. Switch off the engine.

And at that point, they start to have a relevant conversation about the murder. The accident. Their lives. Their knowledge of the victim, the murderer, the murderer’s relatives, wives, colleagues and friends, the crime scene, the time of the murder, their significant past, the building, the likelihood of success/being killed, their mission…. Calling for back-up (‘No time! I’m going in! Cover me!’)

And meantime anyone else who might be an important source of information but who wouldn’t tell anyone what the problem was, or who has previously been fingered as a suspect, or whose character the audience has been wilfully lied-to about by the writers, is probably being slaughtered in the cutaways.

The question I have is simply this:

If they didn’t have a plan, hadn’t exchanged important information, didn’t know what was going on, who they were dealing with, called for back-up, counted the shots left in the ammo clip, then what the fuck have they been talking about all the time they’ve been driving in the car?

Another epic fail to tell my grandchildren about

Have you ever been so perfectly qualified to do a job that you almost expect not to get it?

I’ve just had a ‘better luck next time’ email from the BBC, who were not looking for a replacement anchor for Newsnight, or a new Director General.

They were looking for someone to be one of three people on-call with a key to open-up their local remote radio studio in the town where I live. How hard can that be?

Such a person would get a call a few hours in advance, whenever the programme producers needed to interview a long-distance guest on the news; greet the guest, provide hospitality and security, persuade them to switch off their phone, switch the microphone on, sit them in front of the mic, check they were hearing the right programme feed, make sure there was a line open to the control room 100 miles away, etc. (There was also a very occasional need to sit them instead in front of a TV camera, for which you needed to understand tricky terms like pan and tilt.) Full training was to be provided.

So, you had to live nearby, be available at odd times, be comfortable around not very technical broadcast equipment, have a hospitable manner even at six o’clock in the morning, be tactful and not let them smoke in the building – know when to call out the fire service – understand things about health and safety, maybe speak a bit of their strange language and be good in an emergency.

I sent them selected highlights from my CV.

Now semi-retired and looking for part-time work to keep me busy, but not too busy, I had spent nine years back-when, working in UK radio as an announcer, news writer, senior editor and producer – including nine months with a BBC local radio station on the breakfast shift, before I foolishly went off to a senior job in the commercial sector – often using self-operated technology.  I had interviewd politicians, authors, business leaders and showbiz personalities. I have a degree-level qualification in Film & TV, plus a few more years’ offline production experience, so I am, or used to be, thoroughly familiar with the milieu, as they say.  Apart from writing this and walking little Hunzi I have little else to occupy me for most of the year. And I live six minutes from the studio.

What then makes me possibly uniquely qualified among candidates to open a studio and greet guests, is that I have also spent seven years recently as a licensee, managing a £100-a-night guest house: booking, receiving and looking after guests, feeding and watering them, giving tours (it was an important historic house), hosting large wedding parties, business meetings and WI teas, maintaining a legal ‘duty of care’ obligation, writing management reports and being profit-responsible. And a while before, I’d owned my own small media business employing ten people (including women and even two French citizens) and was a member of the Institute of Directors, and the CBI, demonstrating massive levels of responsibility, inclusivity and acumen all -round.

All this was on my CV. Nowadays, I am semi-retired, but still fit and active. The questions I was asked at the interview, which seemed relaxed and informal, were all of the: ‘Can you think of any situations in which you have had to make decisions?’ variety, which are actually quite difficult to answer when you’ve done all the things I’ve done over 40 years. You’re tempted to answer, well, duh, what do you think? I’ve anchored election programmes… (Actually I started with, ‘well, I’ve been driving a car since I was 17…’)

‘Describe your attitude to diversity’ – so you’re going to confess to a prejudice against UKIP, black people generally and Muslims worst of all? I already have a part-time job at the University, where I work among people of all ages from all over the world. I’ve worked as the only man in all-women business environments. Of course I’m bloody diverse! But are they? I didn’t dare ask the question, how prejudiced were they going to be against the idea of an upper-middle-class, late-middle-aged, English-born, public-school educated, ex-BBC, able-bodied, heterosexual, white male agnostic holding a position of such power in the Welsh broadcast media? Surely, we are in the minority?

‘We are obviously looking for someone reliable. Can you give examples of how you might previously have demonstrated reliability?’ was the real doozer. Were these questions thought-up by a primary-school administrator? Sure, I had reliably delivered news bulletins on the hour for nine years! I’d managed a news operation with six journalists reporting to me, outputting 18 hours of news and current affairs shows a week! I’d been an exam invigilator for six years and never missed an exam. I’ve worked with a local drama group for the past five years and never missed a rehearsal. I last took a day off sick to undergo surgery in 2006…  I used to reliably forget to pick up my kids from the nursery after work…

As glib answer followed seemingly spurious question, I began to imagine I was missing the point somewhere. These people were professionals, in the business themselves. They knew I knew the job, it’s not rocket-science, they must have known the answers to all their scripted questions lay self-evidently in my CV and that the only point in asking them was to hear me answer them. Was I perhaps being a tad overconfident?

Then they sprang the trap.

I was led into the airless, windowless corner-cupboard that was the remote studio, and an A4-sized card of instructions was thrust into my hand. The test was to take the studio for a drive through a procedure I had not gone through for more than 30 years, in a strange environment. I had gotten less than halfway through reading how to set up the studio and which buttons I needed to press, and when to press them, before my interrogators came in and told me to start.

Everything went fine at first, despite the fact that the labelling on the buttons had worn off, forcing me to peer at them myopically, phoning Andrew in Master Control, getting the code to fire-up the line, until the stage where I had to dial-up the ISDN line itself, and one of the digits would not punch in.

Without having time to see properly how to clear the system, I tried three or four times, hoping not to show I was getting flustered. I could not see the LED display properly and had no idea why it would not connect. My brain was telling me, basically, that the system had been designed in the 1970s, which is typical of BBC Engineering policy where stuff trickles down to the regions; and could be a lot simplified with a little technology.

Why was a ‘9’ prefix necessary, for instance, when it could just be incorporated into the number? All the numbers had an obligatory ‘9’ prefix. Where else would you want to dial out to, other than a ‘9’? Why were there 25 different lines, when one would do, maybe with a couple spare? Why were we still even using ISDN when there was 100Mb fiber Broadband network available locally? Why hadn’t they shown me first, where the directory was, that you referred to when the engineer in the control room gave you the code to tell you which line to dial? Why did you need a code anyway? Why could the line not simply be activated from the control room at the other end, rather than from here?

‘Here’, said my interrogator, ‘let me have a go…’ It was basically game over, and I had lost. You try being 65, I thought, furiously, with the wrong reading glasses, and not see a better way of doing things while you’re fumbling with, basically, an antiquated system you’re going to be trained to use anyway. Had I been shown what to do even once, I would have known forever. I’m not stupid. But this was about your reaction to dealing with an emergency, and I’ve slowed down over the years, and I think too much.

Instead, hoping they’d understand sympathetically that people learn through their mistakes, I stupidly told them the story of how, many years ago, I’d once screwed-up a news opt-out doing just this exact same operation while working at the BBC in London….

So many stories. So many screw-ups.

So reliable.

Watching me watching you

I mean, how do they KNOW?

It always bothers me, that signoff. It’s usually a middle-aged white Welsh guy called Huw Edwards who is fronting the main national BBC 1 TV news at ten o’clock. When his 20 minutes’ segment of national and international news is up, he has to handover to a luscious news-floozie called Lucy-something in Cardiff, with huge, pleading eyes and a perfectly kissable pout.

If you knew who I mean, you’d buy shares in lipgloss.

At least, Huw hands over probably to several unseen desk-jockeys who will pick up off the back of the national and international news segment with a roundup of less expensive news from various regions of the country that have their own programme optouts. Lucy-something just happens to be the one propping up the studio table of the newsroom covering the part of the country where I am watching, the mini-kingdom of Wales.

And Huw always says something like: And now over to the news where YOU are. It’s sinister.

How the hell does he KNOW where I am?

Because I don’t have TV.

Which is to say, I have a TV set but it isn’t connected with an aerial or a dish. My eyes got so bad after years of squinting at burned-out CRT screens in low-rent publishing companies where I was a seriously underpaid copy editor that I can’t focus down on this, muh li’l bogl, using the 13.3-in screen of my tiny silver Asus lapbook notetop thing.

So I use a 37-in flatscreen TV as a monitor.

Then, we have the i-Player, one of a number of such services provided, presumably by service providers, where you can call-up old TV programmes on-demand and watch them online, or start and stop them at any point, even while they are still going out, provided you can put up with the frequent holdups while the digits are collecting themselves and the frustrating little circle whizzes round.

Sort-of – the selection is annoyingly limited.

So I would rather just watch stuff I am interested in, one-off documentaries about the Amazon and detective procedurals and suchlike, rather than swallow the main diet of cooking contests and followup programmes about how they made the cooking contest programmes and more programmes about how they decided who won the contests, provided by the TV companies.

Okay, so people laugh at me when I ask, somewhat indignantly, how the hell the BBC knows ‘where I am’, in order to feed me my very own regional news optout. Silly confused single elderly pensioned man, they say, you are IN the region! They are beaming the stuff at you from a regional transmitter! Everyone in the region gets the same regional stuff beaming at them! Don’t take it personally!

You are not listening.

You are probably too busy texting your mates to hear what I am saying.

I don’t get TV from a transmitter. I get the programmes down the phone line, on a nationwide broadband service that covers the whole country at the same time. Not separated by regions or distinguished by regional transmitters. Geddit?

So I repeat, how the hell do they KNOW ‘where I am’, in order to feed me lovely Lucy from Cardiff, not the news as it might be generated and splurged by Tim or Shakeela in London or Glasgow or Manchester or Norwich or Truro? How do they KNOW?

Is it the Surveillance State gone mad? Are the news community watching me watching them? Can they read my more lurid thoughts about delicious Lucy Lipgloss? Have they put tracking soft things on my system? Captured my IP? Misappropriated my URL?

Or is it a Cookie contest? Will they one day be able to send me my own news? (“Good evening. Today, not a lot happened again, where I am….”)

I need to be told. Wherever I am.

Postscriptum

If you think that’s weird, wait’ll you hear this!

I was checking my email Spam folder just now for any signs of reality. If a Spam looks as if it might be okay, with information of interest, I don’t open it. Instead I go to my old school chum, Harry Google, and ask him to find the actual webthing of the Spammer in question. If there is one, and it’s kosher, I’ll check out the offer, or whatever it was they wanted to talk to me about. It’s to avoid getting malware all over my li’l laptop.

So, I had three Spams today from something called Groupon. Basically in the space of about five minutes they offered me some deal vouchers, told me to hurry to redeem them and then told me they had expired.

Not the point. Get this.

I do a search on Groupon, and up at the top of page one on Google comes their main site, plus some subsidiary clickons headlining the availability of live offers – two of them from hotels just down the road from me. Where I am, in fact.

So now I only have to search for something and Google knows where I am and can target product offers directly at me on the Search page, without me even having to go to the supplier’s website to get some vouchers?

And half an hour later, Goddammit, I only get another Spam from Groupon, asking if I just enquired about them? And here are some more vouchers for stuff where you are… And they are in AMERICA!

Purlease! I’m getting out of here, local funeral parlour directors please note.