Wednesday, December 27, 2006

It's Chriiissstmmaaasss! # 6 - I resort to laziness and write a 'best of' list

It's Christmastime and I've decided to be as lazy as the "professional" media and fall back on the end of year list. It's the kind of thinking you can pretty much do whilst sitting in front of the TV, in the pub (even though I almost never go to pubs), in the car or simply laying down.

The 'conventional media is full of these thrown together best and worst lists. So I offer mine. It's a best things of the year, according to me.

1. The bit in The Sun goes Down by The Arctic Monkeys where the guitars drop out and the verse is sung over just bass and drums for a few bars. It's a perfect example of rock dynamics and the rest of the song is pretty good too.

2. My Birthday meal in October. It was splendid - even a tiny shard of crabshell that almost shattered a tooth couldn't spoil it.

3. The 7 foot sunflower that I grew from a seed.

4. Spike Lee's film When the Levees Broke.

5. 12 Stops and Home by The Feeling.

6. The entrancingly sexy woman in a very sexy dress whom I saw in a pub in July.

7. Radio 5's show Up All Night, notably the World Football phone-in on a Friday morning.

8. Maxi Rodriguez's goal in the world cup.

9. Children of Beslan (which was actually in 2005 but I watched it again)

10. Seeing myself in print and thinking that what I'd written was pretty good.

11. The evening of June 19th.

Monday, December 18, 2006

It's Chriiissstmmaaasss! # 5 - I sympathise with the neglected

unfairly neglected

For TV viewers in Britain there is a dead hour on Sunday. It occurs after the footie has finished and before the gentle fish-out-of-water comedy dramas begin. It is the slot that is pretty much targetted at pensioners. Therefore we have yawnsome fare such as Antiques Roadshow, 'nice' safe celebrities like Alan Titchmarsh and Patricia Routledge making appeals for charities, Last of the Summer Wine and the daddy of all public service broadcasting - Songs of Praise.

Today I watched S.O.P. Well, I didn't actually pay attention, but it was on in the background with the sound off, whilst I check out the schedules on the 700 different cable channels.

For some reason it got me thinking about Christmas carols, because there's always a carol concert on on Christmas Eve, and then a televised midnight mass that nobody watches. The carol concert reminds of when I used to sing in the choir when I was a boy. I always enjoyed it I was a good singer and was quite often gven the lead. Unfotunately, genetic necessity intervened and my voice broke. Overnight, what once was the sound of an chirruping angel became the sound of an unoiled derailleur.

Two carols always stood out for me. The first is O little Town Of Bethlehem. For some reason everytime I hear it I am filled with dread. I don't know why, from a very early age, it inspired in me more fear than hope, but it does. So I don't like that one.

The other carol that I always disliked was The Holly and The Ivy. The reason is that it's just so bloody unfair to the Ivy. It gets second billing in the title yet when it comes to it is criminally neglected. Throughout all 53 verses of the song The Holly gets all the attention. It's 'the Holly this and the holly that' and 'the holly has this and the holly has that' and you're waiting and waiting for the ivy to get a turn and it never does. It annoys me so much, like desperately witing for Santa and then finding that he just forgot to visit your house. Why did whoever wrote it even mention the Ivy in the title if they were going to simply ignore it for the whole of the lyric? The disappointment and sense of injustice when I hear this song is similar to that which I felt when I discovered that Alfred Hitchcock didn't actually write any of the Alfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators stories.

I am suggesting a politically correct revision of the Holly and The Ivy in which the Ivy is not vicitmised by being neglected to the point where it has to ring Shrubline to complain.

Friday, December 15, 2006

It's Chriiissstmmaaasss! # 4 - & I hear music

Its Christmas and everywhere I go I am accosted by Christmas music. I do have a problem with it. Since when was 'A Spaceman Came Travelling' by Chris De Burgh a Christmas song?

The issue I do have is that there are some marvellous Christmas tunes around that never get played. Why don't shops put on The Phil Spector Christmas Album or, even better, Mary Margaret O' Hara's Christmas EP. Instead we get the same maybe 15 songs over and over. Stop The Cavalry by Jona Lewie, Stay Another Day by East Seventeen ( which is another not really a Christmas song at all, just a repetitive and rather boring pop song with some added slighbells and bell sounds. It kind of reminds me of when Blue Rondo a la Turk-lite pop band Modern Romance released a special 'Christmas mix' of their most famous hit The Best Years of Our Lives which featured a short intro of sleigh bells followed by the normal song) and various banal offerrings from the likes of Mariah Carey.

So I walking around Asda (part of the Walmart family) the other evening. It was pretty late - almost midnight, yet Asda (POTWF) radio was still playing over the tannoy and inbetween telling me that I could get four mince-pies for a pound, the hospital radio -quality DJ suddenly shut up and played Fairytale of New York.

The thing is : Fairytale of New York isn't just the best Christmas song of all time, but arguably just the best song of time. In fact I resent the fact that people only consider it a Christmas song and play it to death for one month of the year. Songs that good should be played rarely - so powerful is their effect that they are like very strong drugs. And as, ironically, Shane MacGowan has proven throughout his life, the more strong intoxicants you take the more diluted their effects are and the more blase you are about said effects. Not that I buy into that drunken Oirish poet myth that follows him around. Like all addicts I reckon his work (and dental health) could be even better if he could keep himself straight.

But the fact remains that Fairytale of New York is like all the other great MacGowan songs like Rainy Night in Soho or Aislynn or loads of others, in that it has a melody that seems like it was plucked out of the air rather than written, and evocative, bruised romantic lyrics that sum up in very simple universal terms the precarious nature of the human condition. I could write several thousand words about how beautiful this song is, but let's just leave it at that : it's a beautiful song.

Which is why, for a moment, I stopped in Asda (part of the Walmart family), just near the condiments, ketchup and salad dressings, as the pure beauty of the song struck me. There is something in the loveliness of Kirsty MacColl's vocal too - a lightness that reinforces the irony of the words. And then there's the fact that this is her legacy - and the fact that Christmas is, when it all comes down, about children and childish things. And she died heroically protecting hers. It is all slightly too much to hear over an echoing tannoy.

Passing shoppers must've wondered why this odd bloke was standing by the condiments, ketchup and the salad dressings, just across the from margarine, butter and cooking fats, wiping away what looked like a small tear.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

today : we are all profilers and detectives now

The thing about the Suffolk serial murders is that they are the first British post-CSI, post Cracker murders. Yesterday, when the gruesome find of two bodies hit the news, we had journalists asking the police why, given that the first bodies were dumped in water in order to lessen the effectiveness of modern forensics, were these two bodies left on open ground? Was this because the serial killer was moving into the over-confident, chaotic stage of his spree?

The thing is, everyone knows all about serial killers through endless films, books and TV shows. Since Silence of the Lambs serial killers have been a staple of popular culture, as well as the profilers and forensic investigators that chase and catch them. We have all seen a million autopsies and know in great detail the contribution made by bones, blood maggots, dna residues, carpet fibres and bodily fluids to the detecting process. Why ask Quantico to provide a profile. You could ask any old lady walking down the street. We are all profilers and detectives.

I have my own theory. The police are being almost too cooperative with the media. We know that the cops always hold back crucial details and information as part of a cunning plan to draw out the killer and throw the press of the trail. I get the feeling that the cops might catch this guy in pretty quick time

I certainly hope so.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

It's Chriiissstmmaaasss! # 3 - My Christmas cheer deserts me.

My neighbours are strange. To the right side of my little house I have had two neighbours in recent years, both of which I would consider friends. I know their names, we stop to chat, do each other the odd favour and get on very well. On the left side, with one honourable exception, I have had six neighbours who have been the opposite. The honourable exception were a nice couple who moved after six months.

I sometimes wonder if it is down to me - that somehow I am an unpleasant neighbour. But actually, no. I am the person who says good morning if I happen to be going out the door at the same time as the neighbours. I'm the person who says hello when I see them at the local shops. I am considerate about parking, don't make a lot of noise (even though the walls are really pretty thick I always turn down the TV after 10-30 at night and only play music at certain times of the day) and generally make an effort to be at, the very least, inoffensive. Yet the five neighbours I have had on the left side have been a hard nut to crack. When I moved in the neighbours were a young couple. I soon found out that, even through the thick walls, I could hear their shouting and violence. It seemed that the guy was beating the girl fairly regularly. I wanted to intervene and did, inasmuch as I called the police a few times and spoke to the domestic violence unit. They told me they were logging the incidents so that when the girl eventually complained they had some history. I did carry on saying 'good morning' and what-not, but both neighbours acknowledged me and then put their heads down and got into the car. They probably were in that peculiar situation where they were embarrassed about what was happening in their house and didn't want to face anyone who might know. Eventually, thankfully, she threw him out. A few weeks later he returned, drunk and furious, broke into the house by smashing the back kitchen window and proceeded to attack her. This time when I called the police I reported an attack in progress and they came and arrested him. Not long after she moved away and I'm okay that she didn't thank me for possibly saving her life. After all she was having a pretty horrid time. The day after the attack her parents came to help fix the window and I had a short conversation with her Mum in which we discussed our relief at the bastard boyfriend's arrest, even though we didn't actually say it in so many words.

All the other people who've lived to my left have been studiedly uncommunicative and insular. Last year another young couple moved in. I am fine if people want to keep themselves to themselves but on the day they moved in, I was coming back from the shops and had a few bags to unpack from the car. So there was a decent amount of time where they were unpacking a removal van and I was unpacking a car. I said hello and they actually said nothing back. They simply ignored me. I figured I wouldn't take offence at this so continued to be polite and friendly. Yet they continued to ignore me completely. I would arrive home at the same time as one or other of them and make some kind of empty overture. Cold out today, hello, must get in out of the rain - that kind of thing. There was no response. They didn't turn away in a huff, it was just as if they didn't know that responding was an option. This meant that they looked through me as if I wasn't there. I felt like walking up to them and waving in their faces like you do to check if someone you have blindfolded can actually see through the blindfold. After a while I gave up.

Which leads me to the subject of my post. Which is Christmas spirit. I am all for it. But yesterday mine deserted me somewhat. A few days ago I was upstairs working when there was a knock at the door. I hobbled downstairs to find a parcel delivery guy. He asked me if I would sign for a parcel for next door and make sure they got it.
"I'll put a note through their letter box telling them it's with you," he said.
"Sure," I said, which meant that he presented me with a large box. I signed his electronic signing thingy. The box was pretty big an unwieldy. Later that evening when I thought my left hand neighbours (I don't know how many of them there are - I DO know that one of them runs heavily upstairs several times a day) were in, I braved the wind and drizzle and took it round.
"I took this parcel for you earlier," I said to the guy, handing it over.
"Yeah," he said, neutrally, taking it off me and then closing the door in my face.

Two days later, much the same thing happened. This time I received two parcels. Smaller, but MORE parcels. I dutifully and neighbourly-ly signed for them and, later in the evening, went next door to drop them off. This time the woman opened the door.
"You had some more parcels delivered today," I said, handing them over. She was more talkative.
"Yeah, we got the note. We decided to get all our stuff on the internet this Christmas. It's easier." This was the most words I'd heard her speak in seven months. However, as she shut the door on me and went inside to run heavily up the stairs, I couldn't help feeling that she was a couple of words short.

Yesterday I was just on my way out and actually heading for the door when there was a knock. It was yet another parcel delivery guy.
"Can you take some parcels for next door?" He asked chirpily.
"No, sorry," I said, and was immediately gripped by guilt over the fact that both my neighbourly and my Christmas cheer had deserted me.
"Oh," he said, standing forlornly in the rain.
"The thing is," I said, "Is that I am not a bad person. Only they've decided to do all their Christmas shopping online and keep getting parcels delivered. Twice this week I've taken parcels for them and they haven't bothered to come round and get them from me. They just waited for me to take them round for them. And then when I took them round they never said thanks or even treated me as if I was doing them any kind of a favour. It was like they just expected me to be their personal parcel delivery depot. And they told me they were expecting all their gifts delivered this year. Yet they never thought to mention that it might be happening and say "Oh, by the way, I've got some parcels coming this week. Would you mind taking them in for me if I'm not here?' because I would do that, except they actually never even say hello or comment on the weather or anything so they'd never get that far. And what sort of person gets all their stuff online and then has it delivered to their house while they're out at work all day? Surely a sensible person would have it delivered to work so they can collect it themselves and then they can be sure they got it. So, even though I'm not a bad neighbour and it's Christmas I'm not taking their parcels any more. They can collect them from the depot."

"Okay," the increasingly cold and wet parcel guy said, "I'll try across the street."

Friday, December 08, 2006

It's Chriiiissstmaaasss! #2 The truth about nuts

It's Christmas and the supermarkets are jammed with food that we don't see for the rest of the year. My question is : If mince pies are that bloody nice then why are they only wheeled out for one month a year? If Turkeys and Cranberry sauce are so tasty and delicious then why only eat them once a year?

And nuts. Let's face it: nuts are made of wood, and eating them is about as much fun as eating wood. Brazil nuts are the worst. They are even coated in varnish fercrissake! Somewhere in Brazil there is a man giggling to himself as he saws the knobs off old mahogany chests of drawers and puts them into red plastic nets to sell to the gullible British come December. There's an awful lot of coffee in Brazil. That's because they keep all the decent brazilian stuff for themselves like coffee, sunny weather, football, bossa nova, girls on Ipanema beach in very small bikinis, and Fernanda Lima.

I don't know this for a fact, but I imagine Brazil nuts and the Christmas nut tradition stems from austere British wartime, when people were sold nuts as some kind of exotic treat to keep them happy in the face of death, depression and rationaing. Did nobody question why the apparently desirable, exotic and delicious nuts were available in such large quantities? i.e. that nobody else in the world wanted them because they are made of wood. They were probably cheap to import too, because, as (de facto) wood, they could be used for ballast.

Everyone complains that they put on loads of weight over the Christmas period. Well, perhaps this wouldn't happen if they didn't reflexively and, like ravenous squirrels, continuously munch on the bloody nuts that everyone feels they need to put out in little bowls over every spare flat surface of their homes. Because, by the way, the other ingredient contained in nuts, apart from wood, is FAT!

There is no point in disguising them anymore by mixing them with raisins. You cannot hide them. There is a reason why, historically, nuts have become synonymous with madness. You know I am right. Eating wood IS madness. The whole thing actually smacks of Milo Minderbinder's chocolate covered cotton.

today : It's chriiiissstmaaasss! #1 I watch films

Because it's coming up to Christmas, it is time for TV channels to show all of their Christmas movies as much as possible. The problem for them is that movies rights are so spread out these days that they struggle to come up with the one big Christmas movie event for everyone to watch. In recent years the BBC has shown both Titanic and Jurassic Park. The only problem is that by the time they appeared on Christmas day, everyone had already seen them about 100 times. I think this year's 'event movie is the little seen first Harry Potter film.

One thing that video, DVD and now movie channels has brought us is the ability to watch things again and again. In the olden days people who saw films several times were considered somewhat eccentric. In one of his plays Alan Bennett jokes about some woman in Leeds who'd seen The Sound of Music 55 times. These days she would be outstripped by almost any young child who has seen Cars or Toy Story or whatever WAY more than that, even before they've reached school age.

So I watched Love Actually again last night. I must have seen it about six or seven times now. I don't know why. Actually I do. When it first appeared on cable it was on heavy rotation and each time I flicked onto it I began watching and then watched it through to the end. Even little old selective me ends up doing this quite a lot. It sort of becomes a film-studies activity and even whilst I know there are probably better things to do with my time, I can't help feeling a little like Marty Scorsese in his screening room obsessively trying to watch every film ever made so I can then make documentaries about them.

The thing about Love Actually is that it is an excellent and fascinating piece of work that I think has been under-rated because it has an optimistic theme in a time when anything serious and feted has to be dark, edgy and downbeat. It kind of manages to jam what amounts to 8 different films into one, and switches wildly between froth, odd psycho-drama, hand-wringing relationship study, sketch comedy. light romantic comedy, slight straight romance, kids' movie, light satire and Christmas movie. Each time I watch it I become more and more interested in how it actually manages to work rather than appear as hideous mess. I am not sure who edited it but they did a brilliant job. Somehow the rhythms of each storyline are maintained, even though the film switches between the stories in a seemingly random way. The Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson story of a fading marriage is given long scenes where the actors can breathe and show off. After all Rickman and Thompson are two of the best, and she in particular as she gets older is quite brilliant at portraying the woman who is holding it all together whilst falling apart inside. Conversely the scenes with Laura Linney feature an equally serious and downbeat storyline yet is configured in short scenes.

The fact is that, for a 'romance' it is closer to Short Cuts or Magnolia than it is to Notting Hill. The secret is to watch it without the sound. Take away the rather syrupy musical montages and you have a character montage movie that skillfully creates its characters ,scenarios and stories in an economic and richly satisfying way.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

today : I declare "geef me eten!", and acquire a Polish soul-mate

For reasons that aren't at all sinister but are complicated to explain, I made a new friend this week. Megi is Polish but is actually from The Netherlands. The reason we became friends is that we both have Catch 22 pretty much at the top of our favourite books list (just as an aside I have noticed a move amongst young people to converge the words best and favourite in recent years. If I was a language maven it would annoy me...okay, it does annoy me...but because it makes one of these useful words that I find valuable redundant. But with a chin-stroking David Crystal-like detached interest I find this interesting. That kids will refer to something as my best football team or my best pop group or my best trainers says something about the idea of quality in the current cultural climate. Is this some kind of sign that notions of good and bad and best and worst as relative concepts has finally taken hold, not just amongst academics and cultural commentators but among everyone. Is it something to do with the 'MYwhatever' idea? The notion that what YOU choose and consume is the most important thing in the world, regardless of any previously agreed objective notions of quality).

Anyway, the odd thing is that Megi and I both agree on our favourite scene from our favourite book. In amongst all the wonderful detail, the unbearable death of Snowden, the comic death of Kid Sampson, the old Italian guy in the brothel, the chocloate covered cotton or Clevinger disappearing into a cloud, our favourite scene (also Robert X Cringley's, it seems) is when Major ________ DeCoverley breaks the loyalty oath frenzy by demanding "Gimme Eat!"

How cool is that?* That a Polish girl who's actually from in Holland who reads Catch 22 in what is, effectively, her third language (or if we treat English English and American English as different languages rather than variations on a single language - her FOURTH language), has a favourite scene in an 800 page novel that is same as mine. This was discovered by accident too. It wasn't one of those things where people just agree with each other to be more appealing.

This, basically supports my theory that people are simply not unique, and that the more we find out about genetics, the less unique we will become. In fact, I kind of think that geneticists might put the final kaibosh on the myth that as individuals we are unique and special once and for all, which in turn will have rather serious implications for Myspace, My Favourites, My Media Library and 'My best trainers'. I reccommend that someone copyright OurSpace as a brand name immediately for long term gain.

*there is also the issue, which we discussed, about how Europeans are frequently better at speaking and understanding English than the English. The English (Trevor Brooking, par example) are rubbish at other peoples' languages.

today's unsung cultural icon is...

(as voiced by the peerless Terry Scott)

Friday, November 24, 2006

today : I enter the murky world of international espionage

The last days and death of Alexander Litvinenko have been sad. Anyone dying is, really. But the media furore has been typical of lots of stories recently that have displayed similarities.

Earlier this week the assassination of Pierre Gemayel was reported as
'prominent critic of Syria assassinated'. The implication placed inside the headline being that it was the Syrians wot did it. That might well be the case, but I doubt the journalists and newsreader reporting this could provide evidence and sources to back up this assumption.

Similarly, Mr Litvinenko's condition was described as a definite case of poisoning by Thalium. I am reading between the lines here and thinking that Thalium poisoning is a traditional KGB way of offing people, and that someone, somewhere has either planted the story or made assumptions that almost immediately became the truth. It now turns out that it wasn't Thalium, but something else. And actually don't we have a coroner to decide the cause of death in this country? A connection was instantly made to the murder of Anna Politkovskaya. In fact, it appears most of the information surrounding this case was provided by Litvinenko's friends, and eagerly gobbled up by the media, who palpably became excited to be reporting on what feels like a real life episode of Spooks or 24. The media became desperate to run with the story. Spies and shady assassinations are so glamorous ( and for some reason the Sushi bar connections adds something to this glamour. I am guessing it is a Sushi bar know well by journalists, making them feel closer to the story). All the while acting surprised that an ex-KGB officer has ended up dead. I always thought that possible death was something you signed up to when you joined a spy service.

But as yet there is no evidence that Litvinenko was killed by the FSB, neither is there hard evidence that Putin's cronies offed Anna Politkovskaya.

I am not saying that neither might not turn out to be true. But nobody questions the motives of figures such as Boris Berezovsky, another Russian exile, or former Chechen commander Akhmed Zakayev - who all seem reasonably high profile and plugged into the network of media that are reporting the story. Who is investigating their agenda? We know from watching TV and films that not everybody is as they seem. Murk can obfuscate both ways (and almost invariably does). I'm not saying these people are operating on a shady agenda, only wondering if this question has been asked.

24 hour news has created an instant tabloid approach to news reporting. Misbah Rana was kidnapped by her father to be forced into marriage until proved otherwise, MMR causes autism until proved otherwise, Litvinenko was killed by the FSB using Thalium until proved otherwise (Gregory House, of course, would have found out what it really was). In the old days such things were pursued by the Insight team or on TV the World in Action or Panorama team. These days Newsnight might task someone to unpick the murky threads of such a story and separate the real truths from the myths, assumptions, insider briefings and gossip. Weeks, months or sometimes years went by whilst committed and professional journalists found the meat and potatoes of a story and then wrote about it. 24 hour news is Turkey Twizzlers and instant mash by comparison.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

today : I've been expecting you...

Okay, It seems that there is a new James Bond film out. I know this for two reasons. Firstly I read a review. Secondly, every media outlet had been swamped with Bond TV shows, Bond articles, Bond documentaries, Bond countdown lists and even Bond news items (yes, that's news. even the BBC these days has a showbiz story on their main news bulletins. The world really has gone to hell in a handcart).

It happens often. Especially on TV. I am okay with those 'on the set with' promo shows, interviews at the premiere and a little kerfuffle (even using the Bond theme as an excuse to post a photo of the devastating Eva Green on your blog, see above). What annoys me is that TV schedulers seem to think that because a Bond film (or The Davinci Code or some other film) appears in the cinema, we are all desperate to watch a 2 hour documentary on Bond theme songs, keen to watch Thunderball for the nine-hundredth time, itching to observe discussions of Dalton vs Connery vs Moore vs Brosnan and generally be so utterly swamped with Bond themed programming that having a tea party with some visitors from the KGB seems like a pleasant option.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

today : I know what time it is

Whoever it is who decides these things has decided to replace the voice of the speaking clock. They ran an open competition and people volunteered and auditioned for this unpaid but rather quaint and unique position in Britain's cultural life and history.

I can't say I've followed the competition colsely, but if you watch the TV and listen to the radio you can't quite avoid it. And, of course the woman who won has a plummy middle class received pronounciation kind of voice. It's okay, but the in-charge people have totally missed a trick by playing it ultra-safe.

Here was an opportunity to make a statement. My own thought was that they should have had lots of speaking clock people. Out of 18,000 people who volunteered, surely there must have ben 12, or 52 or 365 who could have done the job perfectly well? The fact remains that this chosen 'voice of authority' is a conservative choice.

Britons have a range of spectacular and fascinating accents amongst them. Replacing the speaking clock was an opportunity to reflect the country as a whole. I suggest that 52, or 365 different people with a range of accents, rotating over the days and weeks, would have been a more interesting, radical and reflective choice.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Today : I am still waiting for lift-off


Oh dear, I am still waiting for studio 60 to start happening and yet again I was disappointed. Nothing happened. Last weeks episode was a rerun of the West Wing story about the guy who wrote to Roosevelt in 1937. This weeks was basically a re-run of those intermittent (and mainly interminable two-part) fish-out-of-water episodes of the West Wing, specifically the ones where Josh, Toby and Donna get stuck in the country and get all annoyed about how goddam slow everything is and their Blackberrys (or is it Blackberries?) won't gte a signal. Or the one where Josh and Toby go to bail out the judge on his antiquing trip and, shock horror, argue about missing an exit, playiong out the roles of husband and wife in the car. Or any one of the ones where people sit on planes and chat a lot.

Studio 60 added to these well worn themes : long periods of silence where people said nothing, slo-o-o-o-w panning shots that I guess were designed to show us the slo-o-o-o-wness of life in the country and John Goodman reprising his more intelligent than he appears speaker of the house persona. Annoying slo-ow RyCoodery slide guitar denoting the slow-ow RyCooderiness of the country. Characters flitted in and out of short scenes that added up to nothing in particular and just when a scene featuring nutso Jordan and her attractive kookiness sparked my interest, we were moved on to another shot of someone not talking, not being kooky, or not being anything really. And I can't remember a single memorable line, even the unmemorably memorable ones.

Perhaps the problem is me. Perhaps another story about - fercrissakes! - blasphemy or the press jumping on those neatly polarised American views about gay marriage say nothing to me about my-y life - living as I do in a country where the most mainstream of our entertainment has blasphemy, swearing, sexual innuendo and also just plain sex aplenty, as well as our real life having gay marriage. Aaron Sorkin should come over here and do his writing. He'd have no problems crticising the government, writing explicit pan-sexual love-scenes and making his characters swear and cuss as much as he likes. In fact on British TV, thankfully, all the above are more or less compulsory.

Yet again I go back to the fact that making a comedy is a world away from running the, well, the world. What is Studio 60 saying apart from the fact that the glamorous and highly paid world of TV is such damned hard, stressful and demanding work? It's all those audiences and advertisers and legal folk. They are just so annoying. Whine!

Because as we know, it is this stress and daily grind that inspires rich young entertainment executives, writers and perfomers to shovel industrial amounts of cocaine up their noses, and not the fact that they have more money than brain cells and can't find anything else to do for fun than follow the crowd.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

today : I remember a forgotten man

This news has kind of slipped by unnoticed. In fact, when the story started to emerge a few days ago it said a lot that the journalists reporting it didn't attach the rider to it - that the conviction of Stefan Kiszko for the murder of Lesley Molseed was a shameful example of the system framing someone based on stereotypes. Perhaps they didn't even remember. Stefan Kiszko was disabled, suffering from XYY syndrome, a condition that can lead to developmental difficulties. Basically the prosecuting authorities found a man-child type - an unsocialised, problematic individual who seemed like he might be the kind to commit such a crime. And then they fitted him up.
I remember the day Kiszko got out. He was interviewed on TV saying that he would like to resume a normal life and perhaps get married. Prison had led him to suffer mental health issues and he never receieved an apology from the police or the autorities. He died aged 41, 18 months after his release. The official report on how the miscarriage occurred was never published.

Because this story was local to me and was perhaps covered more extensively than throughout the rest of the country the pathetic image of Kiszko and his mother upon his release has stayed with me. I thought about him when I myself was maliciously accused of a crime earlier this year. Luckily, despite the best efforts of the police, they couldn't build a case against me because there was no evidence (I must add the crime I was accused of was totally minor compared to Kiszko's). However, I still thought of him whilst a copper was telling lies to my face about evidence he said he had and treating me like a piece of crap.

I hope that this time the real killer of Lesley Molseed has been found and will be brought to justice. I can't imagine the police would arrest and charge someone without a pretty cast iron case already in place. I also hope that the authorities remember how, collectively, they destroyed the life of an innocent man in order to be seen to get a result.

this weeks scary and unhinged person AND crackers pop person is...

Genesis P. Orridge

today : I look into my crystal ball

I have revised my opinion of what will happen in the midterms tomorrow. Fact is, we need to learn from history. And history dictates that recently The Republicans (especially Bush & Rove pictured above) have a strange habit of winning elections that they just don't look like winning. I am suspicious. Perhaps they won't get the kicking that they deserve.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

today: I look forward to the GOP getting a spanking

I am really looking forward to the Republican party being spanked in the mid-terms. I imagine that the feeling for anti-Bush Americans is similar to the feeling we in Britain had in 1997 when we knew the Tories were going to get blitzed in the General Election.

However, I've been reading and hearing lots of chatter about Hilary and Barak over the past few weeks. I do hope that the Democrats and their supporters do not see that Congressional elections on the back of a war and a pervy scandal as some kind of victory. The fact is that any party in charge when stuff like this is happening is going to get spanked in the next election that comes along. Public reaction will get the voters out because there is something to be angry about. Remember : people vote against rather than for.

My worry is that the Democrat party, who seem to be ineffably stupid when it comes to making sensible electoral decisions, will do exactly what they did in 2000 - begin to believe that the Prez election in 2 years is already won. I don't doubt that there will be a time for a female prez and a black prez, but if they nominate either Hilary or Barak (or a 'dream ticket' containing them both) they will lose because HIlary's history and gender and Barak Obama's race and inexperience will give some people reasons to vote against them. In some ways it's a shame but what the Dems need to do is to choose the the least offensive, most 'acceptable' candidate. This, if they read their history is the other one of the only two ways to defeat a rabidly ideology driven government. The other is, of course to put them up against a wall and shoot the bastards! However, CNN would have trouble reporting that one.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Today : I accuse Tony Blair of being a bloody idiot.

Dear Tony,

Along with any loads of your colleagues, much of the press and plenty of the 'intelligentsia' you have joined the call for a debate about religion and culture and such prescient points of discussion as 'should Muslim women be banned from wearing veils and headscarves.?'

You bloody idiot. There is no debate. The debate is over. We are supposed to be a country that enjoys the kind of freedoms that you are so keen on helping the US promote abroad. You are also, as a leader, supposed to be able to weigh up the issues and see some sense.

The result of the debate, as you obviously missed it, was : Muslim women can wear what the hell they like. They can pray to whomever they like, they can talk to whomever they like and they are also perfectly capable of doing whichever job they choose, whatever they are wearing.

Just for the record, Christians, Pagans, Atheists and everyone else are also free to do all of these things. France was just wrong to ban headscarves and veils in schools. Why are you allowing legitimacy to the racist xenophobes who are using every opportunity to attack Muslims? Why have you not sacked the 'race relations' minister who declared that a teacher wearing a veil denies students their education? Where have your balls gone?

Yours in annoyance

S. Dog esq.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

this weeks crackers pop personality is...

Howard Jones's friend - the completely pointless mime artist. Or as the Germans say, more appositely Pantomime Tanzer.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

today : I admit to my secret addiction

My name is Saltydog, and I am an addict.

I have kept this addiction secret for several years. It's okay, I can handle it. It hasn't got any worse over time. But the moment has come to admit my addiction and begin to embrace it. The fact is, I am a fan of reality TV.

RTV is much maligned. The 'critics' still treat it all as not as serious as 'serious' TV - the traditional stuff that critics like, like unfunny comedies, stuffy, long winded documentaries with high brow topics and 'hard-hitting' drama. RTV is lumped in with soaps, game shows, comedies with jokes rather than ironic commentaries on the nature of humour and it's relationship to the social fabric of an increasingly fragmented society, and melodrama as fodder for the uneducated, non-Media Studies degree qualified masses.

But lots of RTV is fun and entertaining, and in the best cases touching and intelligent. What I am addicted to is the simplicity of the narratives. Person wants to be a singer - person achieves their impossible dream, person with two left feet becomes, against all the odds, an accomplished dancer, naughty child turns into good child. Done well these shows can be quite compelling.

My favourites are the redemption shows. Once I watch one, I often find myself rooting for the characters and wanting, sometimes, desperately, them to to succeed. Recently I have watched Bad Lads Army, That'll Teach em, Evacuation, Ballet-hoo, Beauty and The Geek, and several others. The Saturday Night Reality season is upon us. X factor goes head to head with Strictly Come Dancing. SCD wins, and it wins because they realise that the story is the thing. Each Saturday show is accompanied by a daily dose - a half hour show that follows the couples behind the scenes and explores all the facets of their training, tantrums and triumphs. By the end of the run, you feel that you kind of know these remote celebrities. And d'you know what? The ones that do well are just normal people who work hard.

The best reality shoe for me is Brat Camp. Unruly and out of control teenagers are taken to a camp in the middle of Utah and retrained by hard work, self reliance and asceticism. It's kind of like Transcendentalist training for the terminally delinquent. As a school teacher I recognise the delinquents. They are just like the ones I deal with everyday. And the show captures the experience that teachers have. Over the course of just a few episodes you begin to see that underneath the horrid brattish exteriors are scared children. In the classroom you know you have cracked it with a certain student when you can get a joke, a smile or a secret out of them. Pace Herman, the damaged boy whom after making my life hell for several months with his disruptive and abusive antics, came and asked me advice about how to stop his brother from bullying him and stealing his stuff. I couldn't help really, but the ice was broken. I told him to ask for a lock on his room door - and he was grateful for this simple advice that anyone could have given. It gave him a little control over his life. Or Lottie, the aggressive, mouthy handful of a girl who was gradually destroying everyones' patience and in three years slipped from the top end of achievement to the very bottom. During one particularly nasty shouting fit (she shouting at me, for what I forget) I told her she was pretty when she smiled. That appears to be all that was needed, someone to say something nice about her. As with Grace, she was suffering from step-child syndrome - her father was gone and the new dad had his own daughter to dote over. Lottie just needed some positive attention from an adult - any adult. After that things went on the up for me and Lottie. Within a few weeks she was shushing the class for me and even finishing the odd piece of writing. I saw Lottie the other day, walking down the street scowling. It made me laugh as I drove past

Brat Camp manages to show this journey. We see hardened aggressive teenagers melt a little and grow younger (like Jennie Greavie from series 2 pictured above). It's always a front, a crust grown over pain and low self esteem. The latest series widens the story. Parents accompany their unruly brats and. even though I've only seen episode 1, it is pretty clear that the parents are possibly even more problematic than the kids.

The reality shows that I can't handle are the ones that set out to humiliate or to behave like a freakshow. Big Brother, for example, grows ever more prurient and charmless. It also has no story. The characters don't develop. Essentially they are characters in search of an author. They are basically made to do nothing apart from the occasional task designed to strip away their dignity. They say that drama is real life with the boring bits cut out, Big Brother is like real life with the interesting bits cut out.

Like taking bad drugs.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

today's scary and totally unhinged person is...

Screamin' Jay Hawkins

today : I watch the new Cracker

Be warned. This little sliver of writing contains possible spoilers, especially if you are American (or living therein).

It was nice to see Robbie Coltrane back on TV as Cracker. And even though the latest one-off story wasn't nearly as dire as the Hong Kong one-off from 1997, neither was it close to the quality of the originals.

Whilst everything was in place - Coltrane, MsGovern and Antonia Bird reunited, a killer with plausible motives, a political edge. Fitz at the gaming table and arguing with his (now married with children) son, embarrasing himself whilst too well oiled and putting the pieces together satisfactorily, it had a hole in the middle.

The original Cracker was driven by the energy of tension between Fitz's chaotic personal life, beset by demons and difficulties and the disturbed. violent nature of the crimes. And both the glue that tied these two elements together and the conduit that facilitated a plausible free-flow between them was Panhandle. In the early episodes Cracker not only cracked The Train Killer, Sean and Tina, Albie et al but, crucially, Penhaligan herself. Their close workiong relationship and subsequent affaire was the hidden dynamo behind the plot and character dynamics throughout the original shows. It fed the tensions of the squad room, where Panhandle was jealously regarded by the other detectives (notably Jimmy) and Fitz caused out-and-out resentment through his intimacy with her. And it contributed to the familial crises that engulfed Fitz. He had two reasons to escape into work and the main one was Panhandle. He also could use his relationship with her to avoid dealing with his problems with Judith.

Waching the originals again , it is striking that Geraldine Somerville's perfomance is subtle and terrific. She and Coltrane pinged dialogue off each other and her tough/vulnerable persona was superbly portrayed. The latest film was accompanied by a DVD style extra - The Making of Cracker. Interviews, a potted history of the show, Coltrane, Ecclestone, McGovern, Lorcan Cranitch. But no Somerville. It was like somehow she was excised from the exercise. Even during the interviews she was barely mentioned. It was odd - like Take That without Robbie.

Even with Somerville's absence, if the latest episode somehow becomes a series the producers would do well to remember that Fitz needs a Panhandle-style character, as well as other adversaries like Jimmy to really make him fire. The detectives in the 2006 version were unmemorable cyphers. In fact. the whole show would have been better done over maybe three hours to give the setting and context space to breathe and develop.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

today : I watch some more TV about TV

I like Ricky Gervais. He's a likeable guy. But, like almost everyone in the world these days, he is a victim of hype. The Office was an enjoyable comedy. But not the best of all time so many people seem to believe (Colplay's latest album is good, I think, in the same way). It was too cynical and downbeat. And that, of course, is the reason why it was so critically feted - it matched the fashionable obsession with downbeatness and darkness that makes critics wet their pants.

The problem with it was the same problem that crops up in Extras - Gervais's follow-up. The characters are not likeable enough. The classic characters of British pathos comedy were plucky failures. Mainwaring and his pomposity which masked the small-mindedness of the provinical bank manager, was always undercut by the dapper cynicism of Wilson or the puppy-like impetuousness of Pike. Fawlty was not a full-blown monster, but a full-blown frustrated failure. The same goes for the Steptoes, The Hi-de-Hi yellowcoats, Hancock, Martyn Bryce and Margot Leadbetter. Even when they were at their most petty we could see flashes of stoic self-awareness. They were, at their heart, sympathetic because they knew what they were.

The closest thing to Gervais's comedy of embarrassment is Larry David's 'Larry David' character. Yet even he is sympathetic in some respects. He causes endless, painful trouble for himself by often doing what we all want to do - stand up to or simply reject the fakery of social rules. 'Larry' refuses to be bullied by etiquette. Yet he is loyal to his friends, successful at his work and loving to his wife. he has redeeming features.

In Extras, Andy and Maggie are terminally self-obsessed, terminally thick AND terminally socially dyslexic. Andy's agent is a moron with no redeeming features and most everyone else in the world of TV and film is vain, stupid, narcissistic and generally appalling. In the latest episode of Extras Maggie casually tells the glamorous wife of a dwarf actor the disparaging remarks that Andy, her best friend, has made about them. In the previous episode when Andy gets Maggie to pretend to be a fan in order to impress another woman, Maggie's stupidity is predictable and amusing. She gives the game away accidentally. Yet blithe indiscretion is not an endearing trait. This is not the stuff you accidentally tell. The plot creaks.

Creaking is also heard loudly when Andy's agent and Barry from Eastenders refuse to disbelieve the tabloids regarding Andy's incident in the restaurant. This just doesn't ring true - that even the most idiotic people cannot draw a simple line between their own previous experience and current events. Then when, unbeknownst to Andy, the agent appears on Richard and Judy trying to defend Andy but behaving in the most politically incorrect way imaginable, the creak becomes a snap. Too late - the plot becomes contrived, almost as if it was fitted around the appearance of Richard and Judy and the desperation of everyone in TV to get in on the act. It reminded me of The Player, where whole scenes were built around Hollywood types performing self deprecating cameos to the detriment of the film itself.

As with Studio 60, I am wary of the fact that the show is TV about TV. The show purports to undermine the cult of the celebrity by portraying real celebs as shallow, pointless fools. Yet its very basis lies in a perpetuation of the celebrity culture it claims to deride. And I don't feel sorry for any of the characters. They are losers just like Martin or Mainwaring or Hancock, yet they are losers because they are superficial tossers at heart, rather than heroic failures struggling gamely through the shit that life has served them.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Friday, September 29, 2006

today : I watch TV about TV

I'm a little woried about Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Two episodes in and I am not loving it.

Expectations were high. This was Aaron Sorkin given his head after a few years in the wilderness. The best writer of dialogue working in TV produces a new 50 minute show. Hurrah!

Yet when episode 1 dropped I wasn't smitten as I was with The West Wing. I am always suspicious of TV about TV. They say write what you know, but it is a world that I can't identify with.

I guess the first episode needed to set the scene and introduce us to new characters, the best of which seems to be Jordan Mcdeere, as played by the likeable and often under-rated Amanda Peet. But the second was a little flat, I thought.

I can't help thinking that I don't really care about ratings, I don't really care about the effect cocaine has on entertainment people. I don't care about actors dating writers. And didn't Sorkin already write Sports Night? I just get the feeling that with SN cancelled before its time, he wanted another crack at it. And given his standing after the WW, he was given it.

Episode 2 didn't show enough signs of life. I can't fault most of the main cast. Josh...I mean Bradely Whitford is highly watchable in anything (even as the horrid boyfriend in 'A Night On The Town'), and I feel that Matthew Perry is also an under-rated actor (is the casting director a secret fan of The Whole Nine Yards, I wonder?). He has gone two whole episodes of S60 without once pullling a comedy face, giving all in all a quiet, actorly performance, rather than his usual likeably zany pratfalling efforts. After the tension between Josh and Donna, the tension between Matt and Harriet is a bit of a squib. If two characters are in love with each other but not together, you ned to get the feeling that they could jump each others' bones at any moment. Sarah Paulson's Harriet is just too floaty and vacant to make this work so far.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

today : i've been busy

...too busy to actually post anything up here for more than a week. how time flies. by the way I haven't been the Busy in the picture - that would be impossible cos she's, like a totally different person to me.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

today : I get kind of stuck

So here I am, sitting halfway up the stairs. But unlike Kermit the Frog or the little mouse with clogs on, just now, I don't have a choice. I feel a little faint and sweat is rolling from my forehead and down my face. My impetus is to throw a fist at the wall but that would be stupid. I'm going to need my hand and arm any minute now.

After about ten minutes I give it another go. I wipe my perspiring palm on the leg of my shorts, and reaching up to the handrail I get a grip. The handrail creaks as I strain to drag myself up another step.

I'm suffering what could be called a shopping injury. Because I need new shoes at an alarming rate (this is not some kind of Candace Bushnell need of new shoes, this is the fact that my twisted and deformed feet need new shoes every six weeks or so. The strange way my weight and balance works means two things : I more or less require shoes in order to remain upright and even the strongest shoes cannot put up with the unusual loads they are asked to bear. They quickly become misshapen and as twisted as my feet. Once they start to go they are useless. They begin to look like they have been chewed by some monstrous jaw and even to put them on causes me excruciating pain) I had been shoe shopping.

Shoe shopping It's a drag. The taking on and off of different pairs of shoes over a short period of time is not my main idea of fun. One the whole I would rather be relaxing in a jacuzzi with the charming failed-Maria Siobhan, or something. To put my feet into even one pair of shoes that doesn't fit is a guarantee of what I call payback pain. Several pairs and I know the payback will become exponential. Yet it has to be done. A boy needs shoes.

What I did next was, admittedly, pretty stupid. I went to visit a friend to collect a heavy box she was saving for me. I insisted on carrying it down the stairs. With my year-long right ankle cartilage injury and my propensity for easy foot injuries this was not a good idea. Trying to carry the box and go downstairs whilst trying to remain standing proved a little too much for me. The payback pain was starting to kick in and my feet were not responding to messages from my brain. I slipped. Here it gets confusing. My right foot and ankle is traditionally my 'good side'. However, since the injury my left side is my good side. Neither is good really. I just have to walk on whichever foot is least painful that day. My left foot slid over the edge of the step and bumped down two more steps. This twisted my right foot and ankle and both my knees. All of which are pretty fragile even when I am doing something less strenuous than slipping on stairs (like laying down, or relaxing in a jacuzzi with Dr Cameron , or something).

After extricating myself from the precarious contortion I loaded the box into the car and went home. I took off my shoes and relaxed, watching TV. But then I need the toilet. Getting off the sofa....well, I couldn't really. Both my feet were dead. My ankles were screaming like someone was attacking them with a drill and my knees were howling their swollen, strained distress. Nothing worked. I ended up on the carpet from where I began my worm-like journey upstairs.

At the bottom of the stairs I endeavoured to sit on the third step and use the wall and handrail to hoist myself upright. This, I managed, but only for long enough to get me to the fourth step. Then I made for the fifth by trying to boost myself with my feet whilst hoisting myself with my arms. It's hard to describe the confluence of pain this caused. I broke out in a sweat and began to feel a little queasy. Again. I managed three more steps.

Which is where we came in.

These are the moments that people don't see. These are the moments that I don't allow people to see

today : I too am shocked and appalled

The news comes to us that Autistic children have a raw deal at school. Apparently the way they are treated is shocking and appalling. Which is true, and all very well.

In my teaching career I have had to teach pupils who have autism across the whole spectrum. I have also taught kids with Downs Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, Deafness, Blindness, Nanosomia, Tourettes syndrome, Osteogenesis Imperfecta, Progeria, cancer, sufferers of sexual abuse, sufferers of violent physical abuse, stammering and many and various other conditions and diseases and causes of emotional and social difficulties.

The fact is that the system lets almost all of these people down, often to a hideous degree.

For me the jury is out on whether 'inclusion' is the way to go for children with special needs. All I know is that in its current state it is not working. Years ago, on arrival in the classroom on my first day at work, I encountered a young girl who had a pretty severe visual impairment problem. She was also extremely shy and unconfident. She was the sweetest little thing, underweight, undersized and dressed in obvious cast-offs. She was almost Dickensian. I did nothing to help her; apart from the usual stuff you might try with a shy kid in trying to boost their confidence. However, during my teacher training I had become really interested in literacy and language development and had read up quite a bit on the causes of illiteracy. At age 11, Grace was more or less unable to read or write. As well as teaching her in my English class I was also her form teacher, so it was my responsibility to look after her in school. She struggled.

Over the course of that year I read up more and more on my subject and when I encountered something I didn't previously know about I made sure I read up on it. (more difficult in those days in which I only had a 13,300 modem and the internets were not so well developed). I knew there was something behind Grace's problems and checked her files. She was nominated as Special Needs but the information was vague. Basically she had been flagged as shy, illiterate and a bit slow.

I still did nothing. After all I was busy first year teacher and there was someone paid well in my school to be in charge of Special Needs provision. But one day it struck me what the problem might be. Grace had national health spectacles of the sort that have been around for long enough that Morrissey and Jarvis Cocker could wear them ironically and iconically, and when broken are often fixed with an elastoplast. I myself had some as a child. They came in four colours. Black or tortoiseshell for boys and powder blue or pink for girls. Grace's were the powder blue model. They suited her, in the fact that they added to her waif-like quality. But they were extremely old fashioned and, in fact, far too small for her face.

In morning registration Grace sat right at the front, almost on my desk. One day we were chatting as usual about TV and what-not until I noticed she wasn't wearing her glasses. The conversation moved on. They'd been lost or mislaid. I asked how she managed without them. I know one or two people who simply cannot cope without theirs - walking into walls and such. I also know people who hardly need them at all and can cope perfectly without them.

"I think I can see better," Grace said.

Turns out that Grace actually was the Cinderella. Her mother remarried and the stepsister got all the attention. Grace was more or less treated as an inconvenience. Her older stepsister was also at the school and was well dressed and self-possessed to the point of being a bully. The disparity between the way the two girls were treated was unbelievable.

Grace couldn't read because she couldn't see. She'd had her cute blue glasses since she visited the optician aged six, two years pre-stepsister. She had never been back. Her Mum insisted she wore her glasses and, desperate for attention and praise, Grace complied, even though she knew they actually hindered her sight.

I went to the Special Needs co-ordinator with this information. Grace needed an eye-test and also some remedial reading help. She could also benefit from encouragement into social activities away from her family. My concerns were noted but nothing happened apart from me allowing Grace to take off her glasses in my lessons and sit near the front so she could make out the blackboard.

I wish I could claim some special credit. However my discovery of Grace's problems was purely an accident of chance. She developed a bond with me - probably because she lacked a sympathetic adult in her life. I found her cute hopelessness appealing and was an enthusiastic new teacher, keen to 'make a difference'.

But Grace's inability to see, never mind her awful home life, was not picked up for at least three years. She was relegated to the ranks of the nice but stupid. Written off at aged 9 or 10. The system simply failed to help her.

What happened to her I don't know. I wish that, ten years later, I could say that she turned out to be a gifted student and managed to break away from her family to make a success of her life. But I left the school before I could make sure any real action was taken to help the girl and someone else took over.

As I said, it was just chance really. I try to be conscientious and make myself aware of special needs. But in amongst the other time pressures of a high school teacher it is hard. Each of the illnesses and disabilities I listed at the start of this post are ones I have learned about by looking them up for myself. No formal training was ever offered to me in recognising or dealing with special need children. And I'm someone who tries to care.

One of my most successful students was Bobby, a boy with Cerebral Palsy. His physical co-ordination was awful and again it meant he was relegated to the ranks of the nice but stupid. I found him some pens that he could hold and control. The school baulked at paying for them and another teacher took them off him because their ink was black and she insisted on blue. Bobby took technology, and had a dedicated and caring assistant with him to help him with physical tasks. The technology teacher had some notion that 'tough love' would somehow improve him. This teacher barred the assistant from helping him with physical tasks such as using scissors or drawing plans. I have an idea that this guy had good intentions and his methods probably worked with the terminally feckless. But they were totally one-dimensional. He seemed to think that barking and harrying would somehow cure Bobby's co-ordinational ineptitude. What it did do was make him cry, for which (in a boys' school) he was then branded a wimp and a quitter. Knowing the teacher involved I have my doubts as to whether he would have listened to specific training and advice about how to best help a cerebral palsy student. But we will never find out because such training did not exist.

Each time I encounter someone with a problem, illness or disability I am acutely aware of the fact that the entire system has simply not geared itself to providing for them. The system, full of individuals with good intentions, muddles through; and inclusion looks increasingly like another trendy, well intentioned but ill-though out and under-resourced policy wonk's wet dream.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

this weeks old footballer is...

...Imre Varadi

today : I discover that sorry is the hardest word to hear.

I went shopping yesterday. On the way out of my house I watched someone park a car across the street. Now, my street is extremely narrow with terraced houses on each side. We have to park half way onto the pavement for the roadway to be accessible and there are never enough spaces for everyone who lives here to park on their own street. By dint of politics we are also the only street in our area not to have residents only permit parking. We are close to some shops and the shop owners want it. I imagine they lobby the council.

It can be annoying that people park outside my door and that sometimes I cannot even park on my own street. Given my disability means that walking hurts, it is especially difficult for me to accept (I have an neighbour who is a wheelchair user - she has a great big parking bay painted on the road outside her house with the word DISABLED written across it, but people just ignore it and park there anyway) What is really annoying is the fact that people often don't really park. They abandon their cars somewhere near the edge of the road. There is one car in particular - A Saab. Whomever drives it parks it outside my house almost daily. It seems that if I go out at all, when I arrive back this ugly black SAAB is parked outside my door. And this person is one of those drivers who neatly parks their car, but they make sure it is exactly in the middle of a gap large enough for two, or even three cars. I watched her do just this - carefully moving her Saab forward and reverse a few times in order to place it exactly in the middle of a space large enough for a couple of Cadillacs, and intervened.

"Excuse me," I said politely. "I know the person who lives there is due back in a few minutes. Would you mind just moving your car a up a little closer, then they can park when they arrive?"

The woman stared at me as if I was speaking Venusian. Her look was strange. It wasn't as if she was giving me a 'fuck off I don't care, who the hell are you? look" - the type you might get if you point out to a teenager that vomiting sickly smelling alcopops at the bus stop isn't necessarily an act laden with decorum. No, her look was one of total incomprehension, as if I was actually speaking Venusian. Yet it was also deliberate. My friend Badgeman tells me that people, when they feel challenged and know they are in the wrong, will often just pretend you aren't there. This woman did not ignore me. But neither did she speak.

"Am I speaking Venusian?" I said to her as she walked away to her office.

On my way out, I stopped at the local supermarket to get some cash. Unusually in Englandshire, I drive an automatic car. In supermarket car-parks and other places where it is wise to go slow this is an advantage. I can travel around at 3 MPH without even touching the throttle.

Turning carefully round a 90-degree curve in the road, suddenly I heard a shout. 'Use your fucking indicator for fuck's sake!'. I turned to look out of the open window and there was a housewife type lady with a tartan shopping trolley. As I caught her eye she said. "Why don't you learn to drive you dickhead!"

"What happened?" I asked, genuinely bemused at her anger and insistence that I should have used my indicator whilst turning around a junctionless L-shaped corner on a one-way road.

"You didn't bother to indicate. You nearly fucking killed me."

Ignoring the fact that she had come from behind me, and was about 8 yards away from the car, as well as apparently thinking that walking out into a road was a safe and sensible thing to do, I apologised. She seemed so upset and I didn't like to think that I'd caused it, however tangentially.

"If I did anything wrong I'm sorry," I said, literally holding my hands up (on reflection I had done nothing wrong, but as elderly relatives told me endlessly when I was but a young scamp, an apology costs nothing).

The woman approached the window of the car.
"Sorry isn't fucking good enough," she snarled. I was momentarily stunned. Whatever I did or did not do was hardly worth describing as a mistake, yet her response was akin to me being a mass murderer.

Which leads to my point. What can you do if an apology isn't good enough - even for the most minor infraction? What can you do when people are so viciously angry that there is no way you can settle a misunderstanding, or convince them of either your innocence or your remorse?

I'm thinking I might write to the Pope to ask his advice.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

today : With some help from an old friend I punish a completely selfish bastard

The other day I ran into Badgeman. He was furtively hiding behind the queue for the cash machine at my local supermarket as I cam eout with my bag of shopping. It had been a while since I'd seen the mysterious crusader and Disabled Parking Space vigilante. He was talking on his Badgephone and we didn't speak, but we acknowledged each other by eye contact and Badgeman made a slight gesture - towards a green Toyota parked nearby. I went over to look at it.

It was a badgeless green Toyota, parked on a disabled spot. I glanced over my shoulder at Badgeman, whereupon he raised an impercetible eyebrow and flicked his eyes left. I followed his signal and saw where he was guiding me. A traffic warden was stood talking to a middle aged couple, his back to the car park.

"Excuse me," I said. The warden turned around. "There's a green Toyota over there parked on a disable spot without a badge," I said. The wardens eyes lit up and he already had his ticket book brandished as he followed me towards the Toyota.
"For some reason I've caught seven this week," he said "You are the second person in an hour to point out a car on this spot. There must be someone watching the spot and tipping people off." he laughed.
"What will you do?" I asked.
The warden looked up from his pad where he was writing something. In a swift move worthy of a martial artist he produced one of those sticky pouches from his pocket, then placed the now-written ticket into it, before slapping it on the windscreen of the Toyota with a flourish.
"That ticket is a forty quid fine," he said, "Let's hope it does the trick."
"Yes," I said, hardly able to disguise my glee at being instrumental in punishing the owner of the green Toyota for being a totally selfish bastard and, probably, a complete arsehole too.
"Thanks for the tip," the warden said as I turned to head off. I glanced back towards the cashpoint queue. Badgeman had finished his phone call and discreetly saluted me before disappearing into the shadows by the trolley park.

Monday, September 11, 2006

today : Rather surprisingly, I discuss golf .

The unfettered glee with which the golfing establishment greeted Michelle Wie's 'defeat' at The European Open in Switzerland was pretty pathetic, I think.

Wie appeared alongside men on the European tour for the first time. And do you know what? She didn't win. In fact she came dead last. I am not a particular golf fan, but know that she was a whole three shots behind any of the men and had to pack her bags and slunk home to Hawaii. Obviously she is a crap golfer, and by extension all women golfers are rubbish. In fact they are so rubbish that we don't even let them play on the proper courses. They have to have their own little joke courses - complete with helter-skelters, windmills and little bridges with gnomes on them.

Yet the gleeful journalists and the pompous administrators who've declared that she shouldn't be allowed to play again are conveniently forgetting two things. Since when does anyone in their debut really win, or even do well? Of course, occasionally sports people do. But I can't think of a job where your first day or two at work is a breeze. Also, by the way, just as an aside, she is SIXTEEN YEARS OLD.

She had a bad day, and admitted as much. She is a little out of form. She had an essay to do for her sophomore History class as well as practising her putting. What's a girl to do?

In every golf tournament there are those - even the top golfers - who have a mare and it is glossed over. 'It wasn't Woosie's day today'. People miss the cut all the time. English golfer Justin Rose joined the tour after a pretty good British Open showing as an 18 year old amateur and took 40 attempts to make a cut, coming last several times. There was a touch of criticism, but only after his 20th missed cut. Eventually when he did well, all the correspondants and commentators said : "I knew he had it in him". John Daley (who is the sort of Steve Earle of golf) has been allowed to be a blubbery alcoholic for years now with complete impunity.

Michelle even got criticised for being too sexy. It's pretty complex. In order to criticise her then you kind of have to admit that she is sixteen years old AND sexy. A dodgy admission to make from a group of older men in Pringle sweaters who are not averse to the odd trophy wife. It must be pretty threatening for them. Maybe that adds to their deperation to pull her down.

The fact remains that she is a remarkable sportsperson. To be only three shots away from a professional field at sixteen years old would be a pretty stunning achievement if she were playing in a womens' tournament. To do this against a mens' field is almost unbelievable.