29 January 2007

Feeling Jaded

I think I'm probably supposed to hate Jade, whose recent public transformation from Idiot-Next-Door to racist antichrist was documented on Big Brother. But I don't want to play the game of judging her guilty of Hatecrime based upon selectively edited coverage from a TV show desperate for ratings. However, I am confident enough to say she is a twit.

The people who have accused her of being a moron are missing the point. Of course she is. She's the People's Moron. How we laughed when she asked if chick peas were made from chicken and how we cried when she broke up with her boyfriend in the pages of OK! magazine. And how horrified everyone was when she displays an unsophisticated understanding of someone from India - from the woman who thought East Anglia was a separate country.

On a TV format designed to celebrate and immortalise troglodyte behaviour, grousing about Big Brother contestants is the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in the glass. It's like complaining that Maureen from Driving School can't drive.

26 January 2007

The Pooper Scoop

Not before time, a tabloid journalist has been sent to prison. Sadly not for anything more important that sourcing his "scoops" from illegal wire taps upon the Royal household. He didn't quite show the same respect for the law that the News Of The World likes to expect of others, according to his Brief: "Whilst of course appreciating that what he was doing was improper, unethical and reprehensible, Mr Goodman did not know it amounted to a criminal offence."

Such a succinct career summary is, of course, a badge of honour for members of the Fourth Estate. However, he does somewhat blot his copy book for claiming to be "a man of the highest integrity" who had "departed from a lifetime of high standards". Which begs the question: what, then, was he doing working for the News of the World?

25 January 2007

What do they know of England?

The media is often keen to point out, gleefully, how bad we are at many things in the UK. Whether it's the worst hospitals, lowest skills, highest teen pregnancies or inability to take penalty kicks, we suck. And to cap it all we're now not even any good at the one thing we should beat the world at: being British. We're so bad at it, apparently, that we need to be taught about it at school:


However, I would argue that, in fact, we're too good at being British. For example, today I was eating lunch at a pub near my work. It is a pub that has a lot of "character". This means the staff do what they like to the customers and everyone is supposed to enjoy the dingy interior, bad service and grumpy staff, only pausing to grumble about it for five hours after they leave the place. At the table behind me, the surly waitress tipped oyster juice an American customer and muttered an apology in the manner of a railway guard announcing a late train.

To everyone's mortal embarrassment, the American lady followed the waitress into the kitchen loudly demanding a meaningful apology and redress. The sense of shock and wonder in the hearts of the British patrons was palpable, and probably a sneaking admiration that made them wish they could do That Sort Of Thing without guilt.

I don't think it is lessons in Britishness that we need. A few crammer courses in Americanness would do wonders for national morale.

16 January 2007

Another last place Finnish?

This week sees the start of build up for the 2007 Eurovision Song contest, to be held in Finland in May. Recent UK performances have proved disappointing - and there are several reasons why. Some say it is due to the clustering of friendly states who all vote for each other (Baltics, Balkans etc), which guarantees that the UK, with no natural constituency, will never again triumph. Others suggest that it reflects a wider political unpopularity in recent years across the continent, giving other countries an annual chance to express contempt for UK foreign policy. And a third theory holds that it is because recent British performances, without exception, have proved to be as entertaining as finding a dog poo in your slippers.

So there is a certain frisson of excitement generated by the rumour that Morrissey is considering throwing his hat into the ring for 2007, as the UK attempts to "up the ante on the calibre of artists" as the only realistic chance of winning. But this surely is to miss the point on at least two counts.

First - it suggests that, somehow, the contest matters, as a source of national pride. We may have experienced some truly desperate sports results recently, at a national level, but surely our self esteem is not so low that we look for self-belief in the musical equivalent of a morris dancing competition? If it were a contest based upon actual popularity of real artists, as expressed in a meaningful way, such as, say, music sales, the UK would be unbeatable every year. It is a celebration of the paucity of musical talent that arises when creativity receives some sort of official sanction - pop music by committee. Worse, it is pop music by 25 different committees.

Second - the point about Eurovision is not to impress other countries with your talent, but to confuse them with bizarre, esoteric performances to see who can create the biggest laugh. The biggest sensations of recent years have not been performances by serious artists but Israeli transvestites or last year's winners, the truly bizarre metal-meets-the-dressing-up-box nonsense that was Lordi. Where would that leave the likes of Morrissey, warbling tunes about his lost talent? Nul points, I suspect, despite his sold-out European Tour dates.

03 January 2007

If you love somebody, set them free...

Headline spotted this week in the Salt Lake Tribune:

"Utah risks loosing its best teachers"

No doubt the Tribune's sub-editors are also victims of this trend - what with all the worst teachers choosing to remain in Utah. Or should that be chosing to remain?


02 January 2007

The Life of Thomas

Last night I watched a documentary about the controversy surrounding Monty Python's 1979 film The Life of Brian. It is, of course, the story of the greatest sense of humour failure by members of organised religion since the Spanish Inquisition. I have always wondered not just how certain self-aggrandising theologians could condemn the film without watching it, but why they would want to. I think it takes a certain schooling in the ways, practices and beliefs of a religion in order to really get the most out of the film. Those who watch it in the hope of a scabrous attack on the life of Christ will be the most disappointed.

Probably the most depressing thing about the programme was what wasn't in the film: the fact that, were the same film to be made today, it is almost certain it would not be able to get general cinematic release - at least not without blood being spilled on either a small or large scale. Thirty years ago the worst we had to fear was Malcolm Muggeridge getting his hairshirt-lined Y-fronts in a twist. Now, much like the middle ages, there is a very real fear of death.

At what point did we let the hard-of-thinking dictate what was acceptable for people to profess? Having conquered more or less every sexual taboo in the name of art, it seems the oldest and most obvious target for restricting the development of the human mind has somehow managed to protect itself using the oldest and most obvious methods.

There is, of course, a time and place for religious fundamentalism. It's called the 17th century. If they are still looking for candidates for the empty fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square, then I'd like to nominate Thomas Paine. Then visitors to Britain could see what all those forgotten Generals, immortalised as statues, were fighting to defend.


The subject of drinking water filtration for domestic consumption is not something that tends to take up a lot of my day. Although I have noted the insufferably smug advertising - models acting the part of ecstatic citizens who succeed thanks to the purity of their water - I have avoided investing in a water filter jug for the fridge. This is for the same reason that I haven't covered my car with foam sponge for extra protection in the event of a traffic accident.

But the other day in Tesco my attention was drawn to the market-leading brand in this field (or should that be pool?), when I spotted a box of water filter cartridges called The BRITA Classic. Suddenly a window was opened in my mind - for all these years I had assumed these products merely claimed to purify an already 99.9% pure product. Now, it seemed to offer something of a choice to match each customer's "lifestyle", and sent my mind racing with the commercial possibilities. The existence of a Classic range implied to me a whole world of different purifications, each to suit your mood: why not try water With A Hint Of Mint? Maybe Strawberry or Chocolate for the kids? And just for Grandma: The BRITA Empire - Water with a hint of gin and quinine, to bring those memories of Nagpur flooding back.

Imagine my disappointment when I visited BRITA's website to discover The Classic exists only to stand apart from its sister product: The BRITA Maxtra, which has 20% limescale reduction. This presumably is because users of The Classic like that little extra taste of limescale in their water - Water With A Hint Of Lime, perhaps?

I was pleased to note their website also published the recipe for a cup of tea, which visitors no doubt find extremely helpful.