Thursday, 6 December 2012

Holding a mirror to newspaper readers - the truth about Leveson

One of the things that has amazed me of late has been the pious response of the general public with regards to the findings of the Leveson Inquiry. It was pretty clear that "celebrities" with hidden political agendas (not to mention a detachment from the real world) such as JK Rowling would immediately start complaining as soon as the recommendations were so much as questioned by David Cameron, but I actually thought that the Great British Public would have known better.
This is the same general public who, for many years, sprinted eagerly downstairs every Sunday morning to pluck their copy of The News of the World, keen to find out which ostensibly respectable politicians, actors, sportsmen and businessmen had slept with the latest runner up in X Factor, Big Brother or whatever nauseatingly and mindlessly inane reality show had just screened. Yes, they simply lapped it up - keen to feast on a double-page spread of journalistic dribble, glossy photos, micro sex-expert punditry columns and dubious-morality viewpoints. At no point did they question how the story had come about, whet here it was of any public consequence, whether they themselves (let alone the so-called journalists) were fit to judge the unfortunate subjects or whether they should have actually been focusing on digesting more important stories. Suddenly, due to the sudden revelation that a number of sensitive stories had been sourced using questionable means, the paper folded and the entire spectrum of British newspaper journalism is on its arse, waiting for a general enquiry to conclude before finding out if people are still willing to buy newspapers.
The point being, would they have cared if journalists had resorted to appalling measures to uncover Jimmy Saville's sex crimes ten years ago when he was still alive? Would they have cared if it had led to the arrest of terrorists and the prevention of mass murder? Of course not. It becomes a case of justifying the public interest in the story - or at least that is what we are led to believe. The real reason journalists push the boundaries of truth is to sell more newspapers - pure and simple. That being the case, it is down to the buying behaviour of the audience as to whether they are making a success of it. And that is the crux of the issue - British journalists have been using questionable measures for years and years to come up with tittle-tattle because newspaper buyers have bought into it and devoured their every word with relish. Never doubt the classic model of supply-demand.
This isn't about press ethics or an industry-wide standard of broadcast - it's bigger than that. It's about our appetite for "news" and how we define it to be. Our ridiculous appetite for tawdry reality shows demonstrates that we have no imagination and no ability to draw a line between worthwhile content and pointless drivel and trivia. No longer do we wish to know about great achievement or intelligent thought; about world-changing news or international developments. The sad truth is that we'd rather hear about how Ant N' Dec's live-in lover turned to cocaine after she found a cat stuck up her fucking tree.
Cameron is right to be nervous about imposing draconian regulations on the press. The press should be free to do their job. But what that job is needs to be dictated better by the British public and unfortunately I see no evidence of that changing just because some pampered celebrities deem it so...

Monday, 12 November 2012

The Banality of the Monday Morning M42 Odyssey

I would like to rant, rave, curse and more than likely swear at the journey I have to do every Monday morning from Kingswinford, through Stourbridge and Hagely, onto the M5 and then the M42, before reaching the relatively quiet platitude of the M40. Increasingly it seems every single week another 500,000 cars are added to the route at exactly the same time I leave, irrespective of the fact that I am leaving consistently earlier every single week. By the time I have bludgeoned my way onto the motorway, the benefits of a three-lane fast-moving highway have mysteriously evaporated into thin air, having been replaced by a solid mass of stationary traffic, akin to leaving a large concert at the NEC on a Saturday night.

Where do these people come from? Why are they added each week? Where in Hades are they going? Why is it that a disproportionate number of them see to break down, smash into each other or generally come to a grinding halt across, thus blocking all three lanes? What makes it worse is the fact that it is not a lack at a level playing field any longer. Getting out of bed 5 min earlier leaving the house 10 min earlier each week does not seem to have an effect. In fact it only results in me being more bad tempered and tired as a consequence. In fact, even if an earlier start resulted in a successful solution it can only go so far as there comes a point where there is no benefit in going to bed if one has to get up a mere hour later. No, I think the time has come for more drastic action. I am thinking about fixing a bulldozer scoop to the front of my vehicle to smash them all out of the way. Something similar to what Richard Burton David at the end of Where Eagles Dare when they were trying to get to the air field in time. I have also contemplated plugging the radio stations and sending out false messages but the entire M42 motorway system is gridlocked due to an accident so these drivers are dissuaded from accessing it in the first place. Being as none of them can drive properly it would probably be welcomed by the greater commuting community.

Which leads me onto a question… why is it that anyone is able to access the motorway and dry legally on the motorway having passed a test that never having taken motorway lessons?

Thursday, 25 October 2012

The Quests of the Silver Knight – Out Now!

 To celebrate the 597th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt (it’s worth doing every year, irrespective of the inconsequence of the number), I am pleased to announce that The Quests of the Silver Knight is now available on Lulu

“At that moment, there was another rustling, this time coming from the hedgerow nearest the wall. They both instinctively turned and, as they did so, their jaws dropped in horror at the sight that presented itself to them. Out of the swirling mists of the graveyard, between two of the ancient ivy strewn statues, came the bounding, vicious presence of an enormous black hellhound.”

It’s usually at this point that I would launch into a full synopsis of the plot and start to rant passionately about this instalment, however, before I do, I wanted to take the opportunity to state that many individuals have tried their hardest – be it directly or indirectly – over the past few years to discredit my work and stop me from publishing. The 477 pages here represents a crushing defeat to these people and, whilst I expect them to languish bitterly and plot for revenge, I cannot apologise for basking in the Agincourt-esque victory…

And onto the book itself…well, it has taken over four years of hard work to complete and is, in my own biased and naturally distorted view, the best publication I have released. We re-acquaint with Jack in the Autumn of 1455 and the novel takes us to the close of 1459 with the country still in the grip of a bitter dispute between the Houses of York and Lancaster.

More promotional activity to follow…so order now for Christmas!

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Give Pietersen Another Chance

At the beginning of the nineteen-nineties, the ECB decided (in its vast and infinite wisdom) to steer the good ship England away from a team of talented individuals, free to express their cricketing abilities with the support and backing of an enthusiastic coaching and management staff. Instead, they would drop players such as Botham, Gower and Lamb, pick steady plodders who would never question their methods and give leadership positions to the likes of Dexter, Illingworth and Stewart.

How the world laughed and how we cried. As teams such as Australia, Pakistan, South Africa and India grew stronger and blossomed, England spiralled into terminal decline, fuelled by the "in my day" approach of the grey coaches and selectors and the ever-changing and yet ever-failing rostrum of players.

Occasionally, in the midst of oceans of mediocrity, there would be a diamond such as a Ramprakash or Cork. However, no sooner had they suffered their first failure, they were criticised or dropped. Or both. Even the good players, such as Smith and Atherton were not allowed to flourish as they might otherwise have done in another team.

How quickly we forget the familiar sight of empty stadiums, of 600+ totals by the opposition, of series defeats, of players we'd never heard of being called up once and of the teletext failing to catch up with the latest England batting collapse.

It was through all of this that I started to grow apart from cricket. That isn't to say I wasn't interested anymore, but I just couldn't quite find the passion to continue playing. Indeed, most English sport during the late '90's was languishing in a fairly lamentable state, with the football team led by Keegan, the Olympians having failed in Atlanta and the rugby team still being rebuilt. Not a time of great motivation for people keen on participating in their chosen sport.

Somehow or other, things managed to change. Perhaps it was Fletcher, perhaps Hussein, or maybe Vaughan. Probably a combination of all three. But following the Ashes defeat in 2003 things changed and suddenly England got good again. They won matches, they won series, they became competitive and they started to impress. It wasn't just because they were a good team, with a good coach and captain, but also because they had good players. Trescothick, Flintoff, Jones and Harmison were all game changers and could destroy teams. Heads were turned and kids wanted to play cricket again. I started to play cricket again. But it was in 2005 that the sea-change was complete...

Following the test series win in South Africa, a young South African batsman who had moved to England to escape the politically-fuelled quota system walked out to a cacophony of abuse in a losing one-day international cause. Ignoring the horrific abuse of the crowd and the opposition, he produced three stunning hundreds, almost single-handedly stealing victory from certain defeat. It didn't stop there. Back home, he dismantled the Australian bowling attack firstly in the one dayers, then in the first Test at Lords, before a maiden century in the final Test to clinch the series. That 158 was one of the finest innings I have ever seen in any form or context of cricket. Immediately, thousands of kids had a new hero - a reason to come through the gates, pick up a bat or join a club.

Since his debut, Kevin Pietersen has scored over 7,000 runs at an average of nearly 50 with 21 hundreds. Moreover, his One-Day performances mean he has more international hundreds than any English batsman in history. He has transformed the batting lineup, winning games, emptying bars, and destroying opposition attacks. He has been, without a doubt, the finest English batsman since Hammond.

And yet, despite this huge contribution, what has he received back from the establishment? Constant criticism from the media. Nationalistic snipes from older "fans" and MCB members. Zero backing as captain. A disgraceful removal as captain by the ECB. A stubborn refusal by the ECB to negotiate over IPL participation. Snipes by former players over his "ego", despite his commitment and work ethic in training. Ridicule by jealous rivals and supposed fans. From the start of his international career to the present, he has had to suffer constantly and monstrously for his art, for no other reason than the lack of comfort with which his confidence and style sits with some armchair pundits in the UK raised on a diet of self-effacing under-achievers. First on the training pitch, last to leave, first to celebrate the achievements of his team mates, first to give his opinion on the teams’ performance, honest with his views and forthright in his passion for England. Why on earth would any Englishman hold a grudge against such as character?

And as I write this, it may all be over. Having contributed so highly for so long, the first time he has allowed his frustrations to get the better of him, the administrators have imposed a draconian punishment upon him, ignoring the provocation that preceded the events. How hypercritical and yet so typical that the people who want the game to flourish and who want the England cricket team to prosper have removed their best chance of doing so.

This situation should never have been allowed to happen. He should have been given a support structure to cope with the itinerary rather than essentially being punished for his selection in the IPL. He should have been given support within the dressing room. He should have been valued by his employers, rather than chastised like a child by the bigots who still run our game. If he texted according to the recent speculation then that was a mistake. However it was a mistake born from a long succession of events that combined to alienate and punish him rather than value and reward. I hope it can be resolved, I hope they can come to an agreement and I hope he can continue to be an aspiration and inspirational figure for the future generation of English batsmen.

Pietersen's involvement in the England cricket team marked the start of a long journey to being the number one team in the world and the week they dropped him saw us lose that spot. I hope to god they see sense and take him back but if they stay true to form then I shall say with great sadness "thanks for the memories."

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Postman Pat and his corporate image

Having spent over a quarter of a century watching Postman Pat, I was quite interested to retrospectively notice the Royal Mail notice of abandonment. Despite the show being a marketing vehicle for them, the link was dropped prior to one of the more recent series, with the Royal Mail spokesman saying the character no longer fitted in with the company's "corporate image." Since this time, Postman Pat became an employee of the fictional Special Delivery Service.

Having suffered at the hands of our local postmen over the past three years, I wonder what this Royal Mail “corporate image” represents? If it means no uniform lateness listening to music and infrequent delivery, then perhaps their decision is perfectly valid. After all, for over twenty years, Pat was smartly dressed punctual and diligent, whereas our usual postman is psychologically disturbed, climbs over walls, and often talks to himself whilst delivering often errantly speculating on the contents of the post. He was recently replaced by a younger guy, who was even more casually dressed, was listening to an iPod and hammered on the door, nearly smashing it down, when faced with the task of delivering a parcel. It is no wonder, in my eyes, that they are on the verge of going bust – Amazon are but one large company to have long since abandoned their “services”.

Having said all that, since his move into special delivery services, Pat's own standards have deteriorated spectacularly. He now sees it as his personal daily mission to do whatever it takes to deliver the latest item, but in doing so often compromises his professionalism by speculating as to the identity of the delivery, often taking it out of its packaging and sometimes even causing it damage due to his bumbling carelessness. In fact, in one particular episode from the 2008 series, he descended to new lows of incompetence. Tasked with delivering a toy rabbit to AJ's baby son (though he had no business in knowing what the package was in the first place) he somehow managed to allow it to be opened and then stolen by a pony, tossed into a bucket of strawberry ice cream and then dipped into a hanging basket. The lazy sod then had the cheek to announce that his "mission was complete"...frankly I would have had him sacked there and then.

In the age of the Internet, it was refreshing to be taken to Greendale of yesteryear...the new modern Pencaster is far too depressingly accurate. I might start to leave traps on my driveway…

Monday, 28 May 2012

1980's Children's TV

Do you remember the following children's television programes from the 1980's?

Chocablock (presenter driving around in a little yellow car)
Bricabrack (presented by Brian Cant)
Button Moon (if memory serves, rather old-fashioned)
Mr Benn (absolute classic)
King Rolo (I think this featured a little cartoon king – the rest is a blurry haze)
Bagpuss (no further explanation necessary)
Rub A Dub Tub (the best of the lot – Sunday morning cartoons and programs as part of TVAM)
Wide Awake Club (a mid-eighties successor to the above)
Postman Pat (still going, though sacked from the Royal Mail)
The Mr Men (nod to Arthur Lowe)
The Moomins (Eerie)
Pigeon Street (Long Distance Clara)
Super Ted (strangely depressing, though compelling)
Banana Man (as before…though nod to Bill Oddie)
Paddington Bear (gentle and reassuring)
Danger Mouse (the opposite of the above)
Thundercats (now we’re in broader territory)
He-Man (see above)
Inspector gadget (and again)

We then inevitable fall into the realm of “Grange Hill”, “Jim’ll fix it” and “Why Don’t You” and I’ll be one step away from nostalgic insanity.

I think I might try and create a Channel Four documentary on eighties children’s TV. I wouldn’t bother with a survey as it would only bring in other people’s rubbish (as you will be aware from my other blogs, I live in a world where I am a benevolent dictator and “know best”). Just a thought…

That said, feel free to comment with your own memories from this period…

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Trigger’s Broom – the deconstructed house

In the Only Fools and Horses episode Heroes and Villains, the simpleton Trigger wins an award for owning the same broom for 20 years. He reveals that it has had 17 new heads and 14 new handles, but insists it is still the same broom. This has given rise to the expression "Trigger's broom", or more properly known as the “Ship of Theseus” paradox); a paradox that raises the question of whether an object which has had all its component parts replaced remains fundamentally the same object.

I would apply that to our house. Fundamentally, we paid a substantial amount of money for a building that comprised of more than just bricks and mortar – it contained the collected sum of over fifty years of amended construction, improvement and DIY (though the latter could be questioned under the Trades Description Act). Over the last three years we have systematically ripped out, gutted and replaced certain elements and this process is set to continue for several more years until it is completed to our satisfaction. To date, we have a completely new dining room, lounge and soon-to-be bathroom. We have re-decorated the kitchen and two bedrooms. We have transformed the garage. We have re-sect the roof tiles, insulated and boarded the loft and had cavity wall insulation. The garden has been completely revamped and every door in the house has been replaced. There are plans to overhaul another bedroom, turn the loft into a den, decorate the hall and stairs, build a cloakroom, add a front canopy and replace the driveway. Will it be the same house?

One wonders what we would have paid for the piece of land and what we would have saved by just building the entire thing ourselves?

Thursday, 26 April 2012

The Quests of the Silver Knight – release date – Autumn 2012

It has taken some considerable time to conjure up a date for the simple reason that it has taken a considerable time to write and edit…but I can confirm that (all being well) the sequel to The Silver Knight will be released in time for Christmas.

It is a goody :)

More to follow...

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

What is the record for the longest period between holidays?

Answer… 3 years, 7 months
Reason… too many to mention
Impact… serious stress and a loss of humour
Remedy… a holiday
Success… yes...humour is returning
Summary… don’t leave it so long in future

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Iceberg – Right Ahead…the achievements of Dr. Robert Ballard and a personal reverie

One hundred years ago, the Titanic sank…twenty-seven years ago, it was found. I must have spent hours reading the pages of a book I had as a child called The Discovery of the "Titanic", an outstanding piece of work about…well an even more outstanding achievement. Dr Ballard really was, in my eyes, the modern day equivalent of Livingston and Columbus rolled into one – not to mention extraordinarily brave as you would not get me into a tiny submarine above land, let alone two miles below sea level!

I would love to sit here and create a full account of what happened and the countless books I have read on the disaster, the inquest and the years of research and discovery since, but I haven’t the time and it has already been done by more knowledgeable people than myself…however, it was the image above that really brought home the chilling horror of that night to me...

For more information there is
Wikipedia, or a dozen of informative sites. For me right here, I would like to condense years of personal interest into this dedication to the memories of all 1,517 people who lost their lives that night, from the boiler men trapped in the compartment as the iceberg hit, to the captain and crew; from the poor men, women and especially children of the lower classes, to those in the upper classes. The RMS Titanic has always been a fascinating story but the danger is that we lose sight of the tragedy – let us hope that over the next hundred years those who died are allowed to rest in peace without further disturbance to their graves at the bottom of the ocean.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

How much money must you have to “be an Aston Martin driver”?

I was thinking about this the other day whilst stuck at lights outside the dealership at Hagley. The cars cost upwards of £80,000 (and often nearer the £200k mark). You then have insurance, servicing and expensive parts, not to mention the cost of fuel. But also – you would want to be in a position to replace it every few years and cater for the unexpected …

Not to mention the fact that you can’t really park an Aston in front of a three bedroom semi – one would assume that you would have a reasonably expensive house…

By my reckoning, you would have to earn over £300k a year or be a multi-millionaire. Either one would be nice.

Monday, 26 March 2012

The Phony Alphabet

There is nothing more disheartening than stating your postcode, booking reference, or email address over the phone only for someone to request you deliver it using the phonetic alphabet. And then, when you ignore the request, they start to override you with its pointless gibberish…
‘So that’s alpha, whiskey, tango foxtrot…’
‘No it isn’t. It’s A, W, T, F…’

To those who believe that it helps clarify commonly-sounding letters, I would post the retort that it’s just a lazy get-out-clause for people who mumble or don’t listen. If we all tried speaking properly it wouldn’t be necessary. You tend to get ex-servicemen blathering on about its use in battle, but I’m sure the machine gun has useful credentials in open warfare but that doesn’t make it necessary for a quick phone call to purchase train tickets.

Moreover, why would you got to the trouble of learning the wretched thing when it takes more effort to pronounce multi-syllable words instead of single-syllable letters?
‘So that’s bravo…’
‘No – It’s B for bollocks.’

And who decided on the words anyway? What a stupid bloody array of things to choose!

(Yes, Im back...)

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Hiatus – My Winter Break

The un-abating gloom and dark, dank, wet, drizzly blanket of general sorrow and misery that has silently taken this country by the scruff of the neck since the autumn has finally done for me. It is currently almost impossible for me to find anything positive to write about and I am therefore going to hibernate this blog until further notice (probably the Spring but we’ll see). In the meantime, I’m going to record some music, edit my latest novel and generally try and be creative and positive in the midst of the shadows.

Hopefully then I’ll actually have something to say.

Bye for now.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

And a Happy New Year...

I realised, as I moped about the house on the eve of the return to work, the reason for the collective melancholy this time of year. It isn’t the fact that Christmas is over. It isn’t the dark, gloomy weather. It isn’t the lack of funds or the impending sense of effort required to get out of bed in the morning. The reason for the misery is simply that we have no choice.

The fact is that, as nice as Christmas is, we would inevitably become sick of over-eating and lounging about. But – and this is the important thing – if we were given the choice, we would return to normality at time and pace to serve ourselves on our own terms.

The flip side is, of course, that necessity is the mother of invention and freewill is the main reason why New Year’s Resolutions fail…still, I haven’t made one and I’m not about to either.

Bring on some cold, frosty weather to kill off the germs, a few decent nights’ sleep and all will be well regardless. Six correct numbers would help, too…