Tuesday, March 31, 2009

today : wired

The BBC has finally got it's finger out and has started showing The Wire. It's funny, British TV just doesn't seem to be able to cope with the best of intelligent American TV. It never knows where to put it, especially with comedy but often with drama too. Seinfeld was bounced all over the place for years and never really got an audience here. Now the same fate has befallen Curb Your Enthusiasm - finding it is like finding a reliable stock option. The Wire found a place on the FX channel but was snuck out and got a pretty poor audience. ITV was pretty brave to buy Dexter but then couldn't decide what to do with it.

Which, in some ways is good, because we get to watch these things on DVD. Over the past couple of years critics have increasingly drooled over The Wire (I guess they got to see it) and there has been a groundswell of TV
aficionados lending each other box sets and setting up informal discussion groups.

Because for really great TV drama, it turns out that DVD is the absolute best medium. The West Wing - which I still nominate as the best network drama of all time, is 41 minutes per episode. Hardly any longer than a traditional BBC sitcom. it's hard to wait a week for such a small portion. But on DVD over 24 episodes it's a different story. You can watch episodes in chunks, or even treat a season as a holiday from real life and normal TV. Myself, I can do 14 hours straight - no problem and get through a season in a weekend.

But it's not only the flexibility of watching options that make DVD the best place to catch your drama fix. The best of TV has production values that are pretty much equal to film. In fact, the only difference seems to be the gratuitous use of expensive CGI in almost every movie released these days, as well as star salaries that make Fred Goodwin's pension look like parking change in the well of the car.

Who wants to watch broadcast TV when you can get 5.1 surround, digital picture beauty from a DVD? Tonight's episode one of The Wire
broadcast on BBC2 looked like an American TV series - a little too brightly coloured, a touch fuzzy round the edges, the sound compressed into a gluey, syrupy centred noise How ironic. TV that suffers from being broadcast on TV.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

today : missing words

Here is the full list of 200 words which the Local Government Association says should not be used by councils:



Area based
Area focused
Best Practice
Blue sky thinking
Can do culture

Capacity building
Cautiously welcome
Citizen empowerment
Cohesive communities


Community engagement
Core developments
Core Message
Core principles
Core Value
Democratic legitimacy
Democratic mandate
Direction of travel
Distorts spending priorities
Double devolution
Early Win
Engaging users
Evidence Base
External challenge
Flexibilities and Freedoms
Funding streams
Gateway review
Going forward
Good practice


Holistic governance
Horizon scanning
Improvement levers
Income streams
Innovative capacity

Joined up
Joint working
Level playing field
Management capacity
Meaningful consultation
Meaningful dialogue
Menu of Options
Network model

Partnership working
Peer challenge
Performance Network
Place shaping
Pooled budgets
Pooled resources
Pooled risk
Predictors of Beaconicity
Preventative services

Process driven
Provider vehicles
Quick hit
Quick win
Resource allocation
Revenue Streams
Risk based
Sector wise
Service users
Shared priority
Shell developments
Single conversations
Single point of contact
Social contracts
Social exclusion
Step change
Strategic priorities
Sustainable communities
Symposium ­­
Tested for Soundness
Thinking outside of the box
Third sector
Upward trend
Vision ­

There is a difference between cutting out managment bullshit and actually being frightened of language change and deciding to ban words just because some people might not understand them.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

today : shadow of the ripper

I am really looking forward to seeing the Channel 4 TV adaptation of David Peace's Riding novels. I recorded all three films ready for a marathon. They are great novels. Today I listened to a bunch of TV reviewers talking about it and each had their own comments to make about West Yorkshire, even though none of them were from there. One guy seemed to throw in his Yorkshire birth as a way of legitimising his opinion that the County in the 1970s was as unrelentingly grim as the novels and films depict. All the reviewers seemed gleeful that the fiction buttressed their stereotype of the North as some grimy and grey hinterland to the Capital.

Using this logic, LA was unrelentingly grim, violent, corrupt and sickening in the 1950s. I know this because the novels of James Ellroy tell me so. I mention Ellroy because Peace's techniques are similar. He uses real streets, places, events and people from history to create a fictional documentary of the the times he is writing about. People often used the phrase imagined history. And like Ellroy his focus is the underbelly of violence, perversion lawlessness and psychological dysfunction that exists in any city.

The streets in the Red Riding novels are my streets. I grew up in Leeds in the 1970s. The events portrayed in the novels happen on playing fields where I played, roads I walked down and places I knew. It was, of course, from a junior school child's point of view, hardly grim at all. Although Peace's books reflect closely the geography of my childhood, they have little to do with my experience. The stories he exploits for his fiction - the missing children, the corruption, the vice and vermin were, at most, occasional headlines reported on Look North, the BBC local news show.

But there is one aspect of the Red Riding Quadrilogy (why Channel 4 have decided not to adapt 1977 I don't know) that was part of my experience, as it was part of everyone's experience. For many years we lived in the shadow of the Ripper.
I still often drive past the place where Jacqueline Hill was killed. It's near my childhood home where my parents still live. I still go by the playing fields where Wilma McCann was found, past the school where Jayne MacDonald was a pupil. I still drive by Peter and Sonia's house in Heaton. It stands out because of its elevation from the street.

My friend Jane grew up on the same street as the Sutcliffe family and knew both Peter and his brother Trevor for most of her young life. Her time living in proximity could even have crossed over with Peters first crimes - the ones that Keith Helliwell believes were committed by him. The normal seeming 18 year old would walk with her to and from the pub or the shops. They'd cut through the woods. She has a kind of morbid obsession with serial killers, devouring books and watching TV shows. It's understandable. I, conversely don't have an obsession. Yet each time I drive past these places they exert a strange power.

Jacqueline Hill was killed on a patch of overgrown land off Alma Road in Headingley. It's behind the old Arndale shopping centre, about half a mile from the test cricket ground. I use the road as a short cut and also like it because of the elegant 1930s art deco style houses. From a very early age I always wanted to own one, but never got round to it. Like all the sites where the Ripper took his victims, it's unmarked and has returned to being just a patch of overgrown land. When the murder happened it was so physically close to my home and to some of the places I hung out that it was kind of exciting. Part of this was the fact that we drove past there on the way to the supermarket and saw the police cordons and the portable cabin used as a police incident room; then we returned home and saw the same scene on the telly. There's something about seeing familiar, but not famous things on the TV. Years later, David Jason as Inspector Frost sat on a bench in Leeds where I once clumsily kissed a girl. I found it thrilling seeing the bench, knowing that my own secret history was on the TV.

But superficial childish excitement was fleeting. It seemed that the whole city was gripped by horror. The local papers and TV news were saturated with only one story and there seemed to be only one topic of conversation. More than once I can remember listening to my female Primary school teachers discussing The Ripper as they stood supervising us in the playground.

The Ripper actually changed peoples' behaviour. Certainly, as a child I was made aware of risk: the notion that some people were simply bad. As 13 year olds we went to the school youth club, and there was an interesting sense of community. Even at 8 or 9 at night when the youth club closed, we would walk home together in groups. As boys we'd take a route that meant that every girl was accompanied to their door. It was probably an over-reaction, but I suspect I made better friends with many more girls at school because of it. Later, in sixth form, our gang was made up of the boys and girls who'd walked home together years before.

I can't remember what I age I was - probably 9 or 10, but stories about the murders led me to look up words like 'prostitute' 'mutilation' and 'semen' in the dictionary.

The Ripper introduced us all to the fact that outside our schools and gardens the city possessed another side.
But my one abiding memory of the time comes from when I was almost fifteen. . When it came to the start of fifth year at school we had a careers week. It was made up of talks and visits to local employers. My school was, socio-economically, not of the highest echelon, which meant we didn't get to visit the University or the civil service. For us it was pretty much factory work plus the the army for boys and nursing for girls. The one trip I signed up for was to visit the police. I had no interest in becoming a policeman, but having already been to the tannery that still stands at the bottom of Scott Hall Road, and was literally a dark stench-filled satanic mill, seemingly unchanged since the industrial revolution, I didn't really want to visit any more factories.

So a bunch of us headed off into town to visit Millgarth Police Station. It was Millgarth that appeared on the proper BBC news whenever it reported on the hunt for the Ripper. George Oldfield himself would stand outside giving interviews, his bloated, stress-reddened face skewed against the wind blowing down the Headrow. Sometimes the reports would show the inside of his drab, strip-lit office.

Everyone was givena safety talk which was aimed at girls, and was about not going out alone in case of getting hideously killed. We sat and I remember it being a mild day and we were over-dressed, having sensibly worn coats on a school trip. We were shown around a police car (everybody wanted to use the siren but we were inside the garage and only allowed to switch the blues on and off, which was pretty anticlimactic) and then given a talk about the police. It wasn't really much to do with joining the police, but the generic talk to youths about not getting into trouble and, as we all lived in the shadow of the Ripper, there was a special bit delivered by a WPC, again warning the girls not to go out alone and get murdered. We sweated and fidgeted our way through it all. Our teachers yawned.

That was more or less it, apart from on the way out. The inspector showing us around stopped us on a green-tiled corridor and said "There's one last thing I want to show you." He gestured and we went in through some double doors. I'd seen this place on the TV and it was talked about in news reports and interviews.

We were in The Ripper Room. I remember it being quite large - high ceilinged and maybe 40 feet by 30, about the size of a couple of classrooms at my school. One wall was lined with filing cabinets, and piled on top of them were more file boxes, teetering in shambolic towers. There were several desks, one or two occupied by detectives. All the desks were piled high. Overwhelmed with stacks of paper. The floor was littered with yet more piles of file boxes and lever arch folders. Even with only one or two people working in there, it was utterly chaotic.
The inspector pointed at the filing cabinets and told us that they contained records of cars and car journeys. The idea was to cross reference all the cars travelling between the red light districts of Leeds, Bradford, Halifax, Huddersfield and Manchester. There was mention of using a computer in London (this was when computers were extremely rare, room sized collections of cabinets with large spinning tape reels, and restricted to secret warehouses run by men in white coats).

He seemed proud of the Ripper Room, yet even I and my schoolfriends, at fifteen, could see that it was totally dysfunctional. The room actually gave off a feeling of hopeless panic. We could see the psychological trauma the inquiry was inflicting on the West Yorkshire police. The Ripper room was all anyone needed to work out that the search for Britain's most wanted man of all time was failing and entirely out of control.

On the way back to school, the bus went past Scott Hall playing fields, where Wilma McCann was dumped, past the street where Jayne McDonald had lived, past the places where the next victim could be found at anytime.

Friday, March 06, 2009

today : a sight for sore eyes

I am having yet another eye operation and will be unable to see properly for several days. Hence, yet another short break.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

today : I won't necessarily follow

Help! I can't seem to escape U2. Every time I switched on the TV in the past few days there they were, waffling on about their new record, or playing it. The BBC especially indulged them in the overkill. It appeared that they were on every show on every TV and radio channel, all day every day.

Now I don't hate U2 like some people. In fact I kind of like them. I saw them on the Joshua Tree and the Zoo TV tour, as well as a couple of times before they got stadium-y. They put on an excellent and impressive show and surely deserve to be as big as they are. In terms of musical adventure they are no
Radiohead but that's no crime. Yes, their brand of rock n roll is about as sexy as those textured fabricated tiles you get in corporate office ceilings but that doesn't bother me too much (although might help in the fact that I don't love them). I am not even exercised by their perceived piety and Bono's 'good works'. These seem to offend a lot of music purists and people who think that being rich automatically disbars anyone from having a genuine conscience. But on balance I think it's good that they dabble in social and political issues. They don't have to hold themselves up to accusations of hypocrisy.

The problem I have with U2 (and, to be honest, plenty of long lasting bands), is that I'm sick of their greatest hits. If I never heard 'One' again as long as I live then that would be a relief. The thing is, I could probably compile an album from their decades long output which would be brilliant. It would just not really contain any of the songs people wave lighters to at their gigs (or should that be mega-stadium events?).

The worst of these is 'Where the Streets Have No Name'. I hate that song so much. However, I do like
Redhill Mining Town. I hate Sunday Bloody Sunday, but think Party Girl is tremendous. I hate BAD but love Wire. I don't like One but am amenable to Miss Sarajevo. Are you getting the pattern here? With a couple of honourable exceptions (three actually namely The Unforgettable Fire, With or Without You and All I want is You) I can't stand U2 when they are at their most U2ish, but quite like them when they aren't being very U2ish at all, as in the examples below.