Saturday, 31 October 2009

Halloween, Helloween... the festival of the dead

I refer, of course, to the 1990’s Euro-speed metal band as much as I do the true horrors of Halloween.

There was a time when the 31st of October meant Samhain or All Saints Day... that was before the Americans took over...

Please, whether you are adult or child, do refrain from visiting my house. Trick or treat, you will be rapidly turned away!

Sunday, 25 October 2009

The 594th Anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt

As dawn rose on the morning of Friday October 25th 1415, some 594 years ago to this very day, a small number of tired, bedraggled, rain-sodden and dysentery ravaged English soldiers made their way to a clearing at the bottom of a slope in northern France, near the River Somme. They had spent the past weeks attempting to flee from the pursuing French cavalry, only to have been trapped near to the tiny village of Agincourt. There above them stood an insurmountable host, led by princes and dukes and numbering them in their tens of thousands. Most were upon horseback, their lavish armour glinting as they surveyed the rabble gathered before them. The result, it seemed, was inevitable; however, if they had known that by the end of the day their side would be decimated; captured or killed by the English army, they would have probably fled there and then.

The English victory at Agincourt (of which you can read an account in The Silver Knight) has gone down in folklore and rightly so. Of all the battles of the Hundred Years War, it is the one that really captures the imagination and was probably solely responsible for our perpetual love of an underdog. How is it, then, that we so frequently fail to acknowledge and celebrate it as part of our culture? With our scant supply of public holidays in England (are there to be no benefits from our inane membership of the EU?), I would have thought Agincourt to be a perfect opportunity to add another bank holiday to our lives. It was an English and Welsh fuelled victory, against the odds, against the French and in the midst of the Middle Ages – all the right ingredients. Furthermore, it lies almost equidistant between the August Bank Holiday and Christmas, which would break up the often grey and miserable stretch of autumn with a cause of patriotic celebration...

Of course, these thoughts are rhetorical, for I am fully aware of the reason Agincourt is never considered worthy of the purpose of celebration. Four years ago, we enjoyed a variety of entertainment as we celebrated the bi-centennial anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar. One particular event comprised of a re-enactment of the naval battle at sea (I believe it took place on the Channel but I may be mistaken). However, at the last moment, our beloved leaders decided that it would be problematic if the staged event took place under the guise of “Britain verses France” as it would offend France if they lost. Never mind the fact that they lost the original battle and had actually started the conflict under the direction of Napoleon, it simply wouldn’t do. So, we were subjected to Blue verses Red...

Hotdog, as the American in Fawlty Towers would say, but never mind, I shall not grow bitter. Let me simply suggest that we lose our retrospective guilt (there is nothing to feel guilty about – it took place over half a millennia ago, we were out numbered and we won handsomely), celebrate the fact that today is Sunday, for most a day of rest, so eat, drink and be merry. Your ancestors earned it.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

England Injuries

There must be something about supporting England in any sport – you never get to see the first choice line up. Take rugby for instance. With the news that Sheridan and Vickery will be out for over three months, Martin Johnson could almost name an entire first and second choice line up of crocks! How on earth are we supposed to compete?

Too much sport, too much money, too many games.

When I started playing rugby (many years ago now), the England team would be drinking on the way to the game! Never mind Danny Cipriani being fined and dropped for being spotted outside a nightclub at 1am, if that had been fifteen years ago, he’s have been fined for not downing ten pints of brandy out of a hat...

The trouble with professionalism in sport is that you are ultimately dealing with people’s bodies – and people are not machines. There is a limit and that limit needs to be recognised.

Of course, it isn’t helped by the fact that they have to wear skin tight shirts – its interesting seeing how twenty stone props manage to grip each others shirts in the rain – no wonder so many scrums collapse, but still...

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

iTunes...why does it have to be so complicated?

I am, of course, talking about their database and the way they store files as the front end is easy enough. My problems tend to arise when I try to import something other than an album cd – the current example being one of the Harry Potter audiobooks as read by Stephen Fry. For an odd reason, some audiobooks and disks port across with little difficulty, assigning the artist, disk, track and composer with consistency and logic; whilst others have their tracks sprayed around with careless abandon, causing hours of work re-assigning their path and fields of data so that I have a fighting chance of being able to find them when using my iPod.

Since when did technology become such a burden? Apple, of course, would place the blame with Microsoft, but that doesn’t help, as I have a PC and cannot afford (nor would I wish to) transfer all my computing activity to a Mac at present.

Dread and confound it and them.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Top Tips...

I was trawling through some old copies of Viz the other day and caught sight of their “Top Tips” section. Obviously I had so share some of these with you...

1. RYANAIR passengers. These days they let ALL passengers off the planes, thus eliminating the need to all clamber to the front the second the aircraft lands.

2. STATELY home owners. Sprinkle pepper into the helmets of suits of armour so as any intruders who hide in them when being chased will give themselves away by sneezing just after you walk past.

3. BBC sport newsreaders. Save time by not reporting on the progress of Andy Murray in tennis tournaments. I have yet to meet any member of the public who likes the miserable sod.

4. BBC sports newsreaders. Actually, on second thoughts, could you report on Andy Murray when he gets knocked out of a tournament, as this cheers me up immensely, as it does most people I know.

5. MOBILE party DJs. Having trouble getting nervous guests up and dancing? Try petulantly demanding "What's wrong with you?", and calling them all "boring". That should do the trick.

6. TAME budgies and parrots easily by replacing their grit with iron filings. By holding a large magnet, they will sit happily on your hand for hours.

7. HOMEOWNERS. When selling your house, replace your furniture with children's tables and chairs, and use a dwarf estate agent. Instantly, your house will seem more roomy than it actually is.

8. OIL companies. Avoid having the general public pointing the global warming finger at you by putting some pictures of trees and flowers on your websites and adverts.

9. FLATMATES. Take a picture of yourself naked and looking surprised and pin it on your bathroom door. That way if anyone bursts in on you they won't get a shocking surprise.

10. ELDERLY drivers. Pressing the pedal on your right will make your car go a little faster. Forget all that rubbish about suffocating at speeds above 15mph, it was all a myth.

11. OBESE Radio 1 breakfast DJs. Why not discuss with your colleagues on air how you intend to spend your £600k salary? Your listener demographic of 16-25 year-old van drivers, warehouse workers and sixth-formers will really appreciate the insight..

Worthy advice!

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Toffs and Commoners in Politics

So much seems to be made at present about class – specifically concerning how the Tories are “Toffs” who can’t relate to the average working man. For starters, I don’t believe that there is such as thing as an “average working man” – the days of the three tier class system are gone (see my guide to the new classes in society for more on this). I would also be interested to see if the term "toff" is any less offensive than calling the likes of John Prescott a "serf."

But the real point is that no politicians really represent the populace in the sense that the media are driving at, especially the ones who think they do - they are never likely to. For me, there is no point in David Cameron bothering to hide the fact that he drinks champagne. There are plenty of Labour politicians who drink champagne. Plenty of socialists for that matter. Also, there are plenty of politicians who drink tea. Who cares? Who cares if a politician comes from the gutters or from a stately home? Indeed, who cares if they are gay, or black, or married with children? What if they enjoy dressing up in women’s clothing at weekends? I couldn’t care less!

If Gordon Brown was revealed to enjoy lavish swingers parties in the headlines tomorrow, it would not change my opinion of his credentials as a political leader one iota. For me, politicians are there to run the country efficiently and effectively – pure and simple. To those who are trying to be something they are not - don't bother! And to those who want to castigate privileged people simply for being privileged, please just grow up...

N.B Before I get any complaints, I would like to state categorically that I am not suggesting for a moment that Mr Brown has any such tendencies...

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Anyone can now comment on my blog...

It's only fair. It's only right. So, if you absolutely love reading my thoughts and views then, even if you don't have a Google Account, you can say so - there is no need to log in.

Alternatively, if you hate and despite my every sentence, then now is your chance to tell me, without having to overcome the hurdles of bureaucracy!

I am nothing if not giving...

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Why I hate reality television

This one was always going to make the blog – it was just a question of when! Of late, I’ve a had a number of different discussions with a number of people concerning reality programmes, which has led to much ridiculing of my absolute abhorrence of any of these things...

You see, I don’t care if Z Factor clashes with Strictly Come Dancing because I hate them both. Celebrity Love Island to me is just a place to stick the dregs of society. I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here is the worst of the bunch and the less said about Big Brother, the better. The funny thing is that I have actually tuned in during a couple of series of Big Brother – the first being the year Jade Goody was in the house (not the racism one – her very first appearance) and the second the year a transsexual won it (I can’t recall the exact year).

In both cases, my reasons for watching snippets were largely attributed to a mixture of boredom and emptiness. The Jade series happened to be during my time in London, whereby I would arrive home from work and have to find suitable forms of entertainment, given the fact that I had no close friends in the vicinity (I lived in Tooting, which is really the absolute dregs of civilisation), very little money, no computer and no inclination to travel anywhere due to the horrendous traffic. Suddenly, the vacuous antics of Kate thingy, obsessive Alex and thick Jade became my chosen means of light entertainment. Bit of a damning indictment of my predicament, wasn’t it! I decided then, that I would never again wish away time or occupy myself with such pap and, with the exception of some occasional late night forays into a later series during bouts of insomnia, I have quite ably fulfilled that obligation without any difficulty.

Big Brother, however, is simply one of a plethora of such programmes and it is fair to say that I ignore them all. I shall cut to the chase and outline the reasons for this as follows:

1. The rise of the celebrity. I’ll be perfectly honest here and state categorically that I blame Tony Blair for this. Throughout the twentieth century, we enjoyed the rise of the “star.” The star was someone (male or female) who had achieved excellence in their field. Typically, in the early part of the century, they would be American and a sportsperson (baseballer, footballer or the like), singer, politician or film star. However, this became a global phenomenon and, by the seventies, shows such as Michael Parkinson’s, were full of the leading talents in a variety of areas. Mohamed Ali, Billy Connolly, Peter Ustinov and Orson Wells were amongst his most memorable guests and were true examples of what made a “star.” In other words, they were people who had achieved excellence and through their talent and dedication, had become famous. Fame was therefore of value. It was an aspirational quality and was very often linked to charisma as well as ability.
However, for all their talents, all we knew of these people was of their excellence, ability and achievements. Sometimes, we would learn of their thoughts and experiences via chat shows. But we would never be taken deep into their world – that was not only off-limits, but not of any interest to anyone... Now, skip forward to 1997 and that momentous general election in which John Major’s grey, seedy government were voted out in favour of everybody’s best mate, Tony. The problem that Blair had toiled with for a number of years, was the image of the Labour party. They were seen as devout socialists, grim, northern politicians with no grasp of the realities of modern life. He himself, suddenly became a guitar-wielding, football supporting “everyday bloke” who began to court the support of indie bands such as Oasis, Sleeper and Blur. A wave began to spread in which young people, perhaps bored by the common notion of politics, took an interest in “New Labour.” And so it was that, on entering the front hall of 10 Downing Street, Blair brought with him such political visionaries as Noel Gallagher, David Beckham and George Michael. All part of “Cool Britannia.”

Gibberish, I know. To think that the stoic British people could possibly be fooled by such a transparent stunt... oh, but they were. They bough it hook, line and sinker, so much so that they voted him in again. Twice in fact! By the time he scuttled away from Westminster as the foundations of his party began to buckle under the strain of bloated incompetence in 2007, the damage was done. Celebrity was here to stay. We were obsessed with fame. Fame over substance. Heat magazine, OK and Hello were the judges of virtue. If you were six foot, blonde and had a chest the size of a light aircraft, you were in. If you were an inarticulate footballer, with the brain the size of a pea and no charisma, so long as you were attractive, you were in. In fact, you were not only in, but you would be encouraged to promote the Labour Party itself! Suddenly, the “body” of stardom had been removed – the need to have proved oneself in a field had evaporated in favour of a quick rise to celebrity status. This was all part of Blair’s plan of course – to try and encourage more “normal” people to the upper-echelons of society. To try and ensure that amongst the rich and famous, the working class were in full abundance. Nice idea, but we already had a structure in place to achieve this. Of my earlier mentions, both Mohamed Ali and Billy Connolly were from humble origins. In fact, their mettle was fuller because of it. Because their rise had been tumultuous and hard-fought, they were right and ready for fame. Compare that with the five minute fame generated by Big Brother. Or the undignified attempts at clawing back halcyon days by the pitiful contestants in I’m A Celebrity... or worst still, those celebrities who simply appear everywhere in a desperate, feeble bid to prove that they have something to offer the world, oh really they do... Jodie Marsh anyone? Why do we need to know about a celebrity’s political affiliation? It will only ever be driven by ignorance or personal bias and let’s face it, does it make a difference to the lives of Noel Gallagher or David Beckham what party is in power?

2. The celebration of nothing. What are these people actually doing in these programmes? What are people watching them do? Nothing – that’s what! Eating bugs, bickering incessantly, moaning about being hungry, twittering on in the diary room, breaking down in tears every time their agent texts them to tell them their publishers have pulled the plug on their fifteenth biography. And so it goes on. The British public are sitting, watching absolutely nothing and enjoying it.

3. Laziness. Lazy marketing, lazy endorsements, lazy people, lazy everything. These programmes take little thought to produce, are cheap to broadcast and make shed loads of money. It is more than annoying and frankly quite insulting that television bosses think so little of us as a populace that such output is what we deserve (particularly when the licence fee is so high, but we will save that one for another day). Terrestrial television has, in my opinion, taken a huge leap backwards in the last decade due to the practice of reality tv and has plunged our propensity to be entertained into regressive development.

4. The destruction of art, culture and intelligence. This is where I really get irritated! Our minds are being filled full of trash and it is turning everyone into zombies. What happened to the BBC’s motif to inform, educate and entertain? What happened to Channel Four’s notion of alternative broadcasting? And as for ITV – it really is the dregs of a channel! The X Factor, to me, is the epitome of this malaise. To coin Hamlet, “There is something rotten in the state of entertainment.” As a lover of music, I despise Simon Cowell. I loathe his self-righteous, gibberish and quite meaningless views on music. I also loathe his fellow judges, who are usually people of absolutely no talent or ability themselves – Danni Minogue, Sharon Osbourne, Louis thingy and some footballer’s wife or other. None of them are remotely qualified to judge music. But then again, what are they judging? RUBBISH! The contestants are largely speaking, timewasters, down-and-outs, karaoke singers, or children whose grandparents have told them they can sing simply in order to give them some self-esteem so that they stop sniffing glue. The audience are worse still – encouraging this shambles of a Victorian freak show with inane applause and an appetite for premium line phone votes. They are, in essence, the same dross shifted from the Jeremy Kyle studio next door. Finally, we have (and I am not being exclusive to X Factor now), the usual suspects. Those presenters who only seem capable of hosting this junk. Ant and Dec. Davina McCall. Talentless people who have profited immeasurably from Blair’s Britain.

Can you imagine if the Beatles or the Stones had taken to the X Factor stage? What about Jimi Hendrix turning up only to be told he couldn’t sing or that his clothes were rubbish? Bono being told to lose the glasses and drop the attitude. Ian Anderson told he needed some fake tan and his teeth whitened... Heaven knows what their reaction would have been in Slash or the late, great Dimebag Darrell walked in on them... The most offensive thing, though, is the notion of “art by democracy,” and this is where I get infuriated. The idea that if enough people vote for something, it makes it the best. “The winner of X Factor is...” “And now, the 100 greatest singles ever...” Ridiculous. Art should not be democratic – it should be completely fascist! Beauty is the in eye of the beholder and the artist should only ever serve their own objectives. Did Leonardo Da Vinci paint the Mona Lisa to win a competition? Did Charles Dickens write novels to win votes? Did Led Zeppelin compose Physical Graffiti to get to number one? NO! The popularity of art is a by-product related to a variety of factors, but the essence of art is the creative process that necessitates its formulation. Let everyone put their output there for all to see. Let people offer their (own) opions, yes. Just dont create a "list" or a "winner." Winners are for sport and business, not music and film. But what does that matter when Simon Cowell has his way?

So there you have it and now you know!