Friday, 30 October 2009

More than skin deep

Last night Channel 4 broadcast the story of Katie Piper. Eighteen months ago she was a happy 23-year-old with a burgeoning career as a model and TV presenter.

All this changed in an instant when sulphuric acid was thrown in her face by an attacker. Last night's film documented the progress she has made since then, the incredible reconstructive surgery she's undergone and the steps she is taking to deal with life in the here and now.

I started off not really watching it - as usual there was something going on with the Internet that seemed more important at first - but then I started taking more and more attention. Here was a young woman that was beautiful - truly beautiful. And that beauty still shone out.

At the end of the show, as seems to be the norm with harrowing documentaries these days, Channel 4 invited viewers to call a number if they were affected by the content.

Bloody hell - you'd have to be in possession of a heart of stone to not be affected.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

The madness continues


Bless you!

That's now three years running I've made the same gag. It's almost a Heritage Joke. I'm sorry.

For those of you who don't know, NaBloPoMo stands for National Blog Posting Month. The Nation in question is the US, I think, but Blogs, Posting and Months are concepts that transfer quite well across the Atlantic so I think we can safely proceed on that basis.

The idea of NaBloPoMo was originally that bloggers would commit to writing on their blogs once a day for the whole of the month of November. Sounds easy, doesn't it? But it's not. It really isn't.

This will be the third year that I've taken part. And I'm more than a little concerned about the whole thing.

You see, one of the beauties of having a blog is the freedom to not update it every now and then. Those nights when the laptop stays unopened. When, quite frankly, you've spent enough time at work with qwerty and his friends, and you're buggered if you're going to do it - unpaid - in the evening. But NaBloPoMo forces you to put that aside. The physical act of writing is one thing, but I do myself no favours because I do insist on having something tangible on the blog, so I can't really get away with putting any old tut on here in November. I have to think about it.

In my first year of NaBloPoMo I was fresh-faced and new to the idea. I blundered through the whole thing like Bambi on ice. Year two saw me doing some serious preparation. I had a whole bunch of things thought out beforehand.

Year three sees me seriously banjaxed. I have nothing. But. But. I've neglected this blog for much of 2009. It's the end of November and I've only done about two posts a week for the year to date. This will not stand.

So, good reader, would you like to sit back and see what November has to bring? I'm not making any promises. It could get messy. But hopefully both of us will get something out of it.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Here's one I made earlier

I've been writing on this blog for over two years now, on and off. I know, I'm surprised, too. I've had shorter relationships with real people than with this collection of ones and zeroes.

At last count there were 317 posts here. 317 times I've thought of something to write (although in quite a few cases 'thought' is stretching the point a little). 317 times I've sat huddled over the screen, wrangling the words, summoning the sentences and attempting something vaguely alliterative with paragraphs.

But it occurs to me that a lot of readers - especially the ones that are coming here via Facebook or Twitter - only get to see the latest missive. I was much better in 2007, honest.

That's why I've added a little widget to the bottom of each post. It goes hunting through the blog and picks out three old posts for your amusement, delectation and entertainment. Go have a look. See what this place was like before it jumped the shark.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Say it isn't so

I thought my eyes were deceiving me at first. And my ears, too. Clearly they were playing tricks on my consciousness. Quite frankly it wouldn't be the first time my senses have ganged up on me, although typically a couple of pints of Heavy are an integral part of the equation.

But no, I was perfectly sober and at least nominally in charge of my senses. So what was it that was making me flabbergasted and discombobulated? (Other Dickensian words for 'freaked out' are available, please visit your normal stockist.)

There are Christmas ads on the telly. I'll say that again. There. Are. Christmas. Ads. On. The Tell...oh, never mind, you get the point. This is as wrong as a rucksack of moist elbows.

I always wondered when it would happen. When I would be That Guy Who Shouts At His Television. Who bangs on about Christmas Starting Way Too Early. And who uses Random Capitalisation In The Middle of sentences.

Well, apparently it has happened.

I'm seriously considering hibernation.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Words fail me

Those moral arbiters at the Daily Mail strike again.

Can't write any more, I'd get all ranty all over again. So I'll give you two more links instead.

This says it better than I can. Yay for Charlie Brooker.

"It's like gazing through a horrid little window into an awesome universe of pure blockheaded spite. Spiralling galaxies of ignorance roll majestically against a backdrop of what looks like dark prejudice, dotted hither and thither with winking stars of snide innuendo."
Press Complaints Commission website (caution - this is running slow today, for some reason).

Thursday, 15 October 2009

The sound of silence

The other weekend we were without broadband for the best part of three days. Our ISP had suffered some sort of technical problem that took out most of the postcode district.

By the first night offline we were like lost children.

I moped around the house, occasionally going upstairs to unplug the modem, count to 30 and plug it back in again. I had no idea whether this was meant to do anything, but it helped to pass the time. Katie was suffering from Bejewelled Blitz withdrawal symptoms.

"Don't that lot at VirginMedia realise I have high scores to defend? Bunch of jokers."
"I shall attempt to raise that nice Mr Branson on the telephone forthwith, my sweet..."
"You're taking the piss, aren't you?"

I did spend some time on the phone to the aforementioned VirginMedia, however the bearded one was not to be found. I did get to speak to someone claiming to be called Kevin (despite sounding suspiciously subcontinental) who, after asking me if I'd unplugged and re-plugged, confirmed that yes, indeed, my area of the city was essentially off the grid for the time being.

I sat, perplexed, my fingers missing their trackpad, and thought of all the news passing us by. All the blogs unread, the Facebook updates flitting by un-noted. All those tracks on Spotify I wasn't able to hear. What do you want me to do, VirginMedia, put a CD on? Are we in the Dark Ages or something?

It got serious. I even picked up a book at one point.

And it made me wonder. How soon it is that always-on high-speed internet access has become a utility? It's up there with electricity, water and mains gas. We never notice it, we just expect it to be there when we flick a switch. When did that happen?

I remember our first internet access back in nineteen-hundred-and-frozen-to-death. It was 56k dial-up, and we had to ask the computer to phone up a server somewhere down the road before it would let us join in this exciting new universe. We'd have to try for hours and sometimes if it was busy we wouldn't get on all night. I once spent three hours downloading one six-minute song. It wasn't even very good.

Blimey, I've turned into an old git. I've just re-read that last paragraph. I should by rights have typed it while sitting in a wing-backed armchair with antimacassars. But we take things for granted today. I remember when. We had it tough, y'know.

But you try telling the young people of today that...they won't believe you....

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Music in my pants

We need to lighten the mood a little after my recent ranting. While there's nothing I like more than a good rant, it's not a great spectator sport.

I could relieve the tension by crafting some finely observed comedy. Perhaps some biting yet hilarious satire that looks deep into the human spirit. Or I could do gags about underwear.

Yep, that's sorted then. However, you can join in too. This is what I want you to do:
  • Go grab your MP3 player, iPod or similar digital music system
  • Hit the random button
  • Place the words "in my pants" at the end of each song title that comes up
  • Repeat twenty times
Here are the results I got just now:
  1. Romeo in my pants - Basement Jaxx
  2. Afterglow in my pants - Genesis
  3. Keep On Moving in my pants - UB40
  4. Use Somebody in my pants - Kings of Leon
  5. Little Wonder in my pants - David Bowie
  6. Would I Lie to You in my pants - Whitesnake
  7. Two Thousand Years in my pants - The Who
  8. I Can Take You to the Sun in my pants - The Misunderstood
  9. Lay Down Your Head in my pants - Accidental Superhero
  10. Weird Fishes in my pants - Radiohead
  11. Highway Star in my pants - Deep Purple
  12. Stop in my pants - Pink Floyd
  13. Sweet Miracle in my pants - Rush
  14. The Golden Floor in my pants - Snow Patrol
  15. Lullaby in my pants - The Cure
  16. Everybody Knows You Cried Last Night in my pants - The Fratellis
  17. Smells Like Teen Spirit in my pants - The Moog Cookbook
  18. That's The Way in my pants - Led Zeppelin
  19. Virtual Insanity in my pants - Jamiroquai
  20. Anybody There in my pants - The Script

Yes, it's childish. Yes, I pinched the idea from somewhere else. And yes, you're probably casting around for your iPod even as you read this.

Your list can go in the comments. Think of it as your gift to me.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Inverted reality

The Daily Mail has annoyed me today.

I should add that this is pretty much the default position. I believe, at one level, that the Daily Mail exists to make reasonable people feel more logical and inclusive. Reading it is a deeply unpleasant experience, but once you've finished you can relax a little, knowing that in comparison to the people who generate its content, you're pretty much on a plane with Gandhi.

But what has the Mail (motto: "Give everyone their daily hate") done today? In common with other news outlets, they've reported on the recent suicide of Kevin McGee, ex-partner of Little Britain star Matt Lucas. A genuinely sad story, and one that perhaps needs a little sensitivity. Let's have a look at the headline, shall we?

Those inverted commas are doing a lot of heavy lifting in that sentence, aren't they? The truth of the matter is that Lucas and McGee had indeed been Civil Partners, having undergone the ceremony not long after it became legal in England a few years ago. In fact, the Daily mail acknowledges this too:

More inverted commas! The sub-editors were busy today, weren't they?

What do they signify, these errant punctuation points? They aim to belittle. It's their intention to ridicule, to resist. Never mind the fact that Civil Partnerships were a long-overdue development in this country, one that's been largely a success. There would have been nothing wrong in using words like partner - in fact I suspect some gay couples prefer the term. But no, let's use husband and marriage, then put them in inverted commas to make a point, shall we?

This is a typical Daily Mail tactic. There's something out there they don't like. And they don't think you, the reader, should like it either. But rather than heading for the debating floor, they'll poke and prod instead. A quick inverted comma or two works like an autocue for Outraged of Basildon. If we give you nudge here and a wink there, you'll get the message sure enough.

If you think I'm overplaying this, try reading out either of the two sentences above out loud, doing the 'air comma' gesture with your fingers either side of your head when you get to the words in question. Admit it, all of a sudden you've become a dick, haven't you?

I'll admit I might be a little sensitive as two years ago I was lucky enough to be at Brother Number 2's Civil Partnership ceremony. But there was no need for inverted commas there.

It's small-minded and unnecessary, especially given the nature of the story in question. Yet it's the sort of sneering attitude I've come to expect from the Mail. A 'quality newspaper' indeed.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Rendered incapable

The man with the clipboard is a long-held hero of mine. The individual who wanders about the workplace, clasping a clipboard and looking terribly officious. Sometimes he can keep this level of activity up for days.

No-one approaches him, no-one asks him what he's up to. Which is just as well, as he's actually doing the square root of bugger-all. The clipboard is a shield, deftly deflecting all suspicion. The hi-vis tabard is a variation on the theme; it shouts "Busy Person" while the wearer gently whispers "sloping off for a long lunch".

But I think I've found a modern day equivalent.

I was with a friend yesterday - we'll call him Phil, because that's his name - as he strove to edit something vaguely watchable for a film project I'm involved in. Call it video-wrangling if you like. Phil knows his dissolves from his crossfades and dealt with the foolish requests coming from Mike and me with infinite, Zen-like calm. A bit like Yoda, but with Adobe Premiere Pro instead of the Force.

There was the odd pause as his computer redrew the work he'd just edited, with the on-screen message "Please wait, rendering video". It was nothing too disruptive, just the odd few seconds here and there.

"That's nothing," said Phil, "when I was at college I did computer animation, but it was pretty much early days for the technology. To do three or four seconds of footage, your computer might have been rendering for hours."

Occasionally Phil and his colleagues would nip out to the pub rather than babysit the machinery. If ever they were caught by a lecturer, they could legitimately claim to be mid-project. "Just rendering," they'd say. "That's what we're doing. We're rendering."

The clipboard has a worthy replacement.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Two stories

Story One

A dozen or so miles from where I'm sitting right now is a place called Lydiate Ash. It's a hamlet, a small collection of houses between Birmingham and Bromsgrove and is actually more famous as being near the site of a motorway intersection. The M42 meets the M5 there, and there are some hefty A-roads going through it too.

As a result, you tend to go via Lydiate Ash (or more correctly, the Lydiate Ash junction) to get to a wide range of places to the south and west. This caused a degree of gentle leg-pulling when my father was alive.

For several years, whenever we told him we'd been somewhere, he would always seem to ask, "Did you go by Lydiate Ash to get there?" Wherever we'd travelled, sometimes if it was in the opposite direction, the same question. I don't think he was obsessed by Lydiate Ash; I suspect it was just that he'd used it himself and, as it was one of the few junctions that was named rather than numbered, it stuck in his mind.

But Katie and I found this amusing, so we'd often jump in to tell him we hadn't used Lydiate Ash when travelling to this place or that. This memorably included New York on one occasion. We said we'd save him the trouble. Then, when Dad mentioned he'd nipped down to the corner shop for the paper, we'd innocently ask him whether he'd gone through Lydiate Ash to get there. He'd just pull a face and tell us to stop being silly.

Harmless fun, but one of those things that are meaningful within families.

Story Two

This morning, my brothers, my mother and I went to scatter Dad's ashes. We picked a beauty spot on the edge of the city, a place where he'd taken us all as kids. He loved this place. It had been Mom's wish all the way since December, yet for various reasons it took us until today to fulfil it.

In the shade of a quiet copse, away from the main pathways, we found a place. Afterwards, we walked back to the car park, bracing against the wind under an overcast sky. Brother no. 2 and I diverted to look at an old monument we'd played on 30 years ago, while B#1 sat with Mom looking out over the city.

We went for a meal and toasted Dad's memory. Then we got into our cars to come home. I predictably decided to go my own way and got lost. I wasn't too familiar with that area of Birmingham, and in any case it had changed a lot since I was last there. Not wanting to go across town, I followed a sign for the motorway, but I was still unsure of my whereabouts.

Coming around a bend, things began to get familiar. I'd been here before, I'd just approached it from a different angle.

Lydiate Ash.

The sun broke through the clouds and I grinned.Although, if anyone had looked very closely, then I'd have had to admit to maybe having something in my eye.

Maybe there are certain places you always have to go through.


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