December, 2005

Happy New Year From The RMT’s Bob Crow

Yes, while Crow suns himself in Egypt, anyone who has to cross London to get to or from a New Year’s Party is out of luck. You might be able to use a train, and there are always buses, but the strike goes on.
I’m pretty reasonable about strikes. If I think the union’s have a cause, then, yes, they have the right to strike. But deliberately targeting vast swathes of Londoners on one of our holidays is mean spirited in the extreme. I want to hear Crow’s explanation.
Read more on Going Underground, and be sure to read some of the comments which lead to blogs from London Underground employees who are pretty pissed at Crow’s actions too.
And I bet Nat West are pretty pleased. It’s completely kiboshed their sponsorship of free travel today.

Dinner For One

Thanks to Slate for another story on the strangest televisual New Year’s tradition I’ve yet to hear about. Dinner For One is a sketch performed in English by two English actors that, since its first broadcast in 1963, has been repeated as part of the festivities pretty much every year across Germany and much of Scandinavea. Indeed countries as far afield as South Africa and Australia watch it if the Slate article is to be believed.
I’d heard about this film quite a lot, but since it’s never been shown here, and I really didn’t feel like stumping up for an import DVD of an eleven minute sketch, I’ve never seen it. But now thanks to the power of Google Video, I can at last watch it. (Incidentally, does anyone know how the likes of Google Video or Ifilm get around the fact that many of their free videos have copyright music playing over the top of them? Somebody’s going to get hit by a big bill at some point aren’t they? Surely they can’t just say that it’s the uploader’s fault, since they’re actually hosting the videos as oppposed to just linking to them).
I shan’t “spoil” Dinner For One for you, mainly because Google Video hasn’t finished buffering at time of writing, so I haven’t seen the sketch myself yet.

Studio 69


This is the fist Annika Bengtzon book published in the UK, but might actually be the second or third in publishing order in Sweden. Whichever way around, it’s the first in chronological order.
Anyway, junior reporter Annikia is introduced in this book working for a fictional Stockholm evening newspaper. She gets randomly assigned to a murder victim discovered in a park, and keeps at it, digging up new information. At the same time, there’s a political connection, and a radio programme, Studio 69, is reporting the same case with its own agenda.
Marklund, according to the publishers’ blurb on the cover, is a working Swedish journalist, and if Swedish newspapers are really put together in the manner described in both this book and Paradise, then I worry for them. I realise that British law is a lot more restrictive in what can and cannot be said in regard to an ongoing investigation that other countries, but there’s something of a free-for-all in Sweden according to this.
I also detect that Marklund is no great fan of Swedish state television. In a prologue, seemingly written for the international readership, Marklund explains that only relatively recently has the broadcast media been given a commercial competitor. This hasn’t come too soon for Marklund (or her protagonist). I note that in the acknowledgments, it’s producers from TV4 that get the credit rather than state television.
Overall, an interesting book. Annika’s a little too highly strung for my liking, but she’s in a male dominated world, and as an outsider, it’s hard to know what kind of obstacles women have had to overcome professionally in Sweden.

Snow

Well the snow did arrive. Just not enough.
And I’ve got to say that I’ve been a bit diasppointed by the sales this year. I think the best bargain I’ve had was picking up number 1 of Movie Musicals to get West Side Story for £2.99. And note that it is in full anamorphic widescreen rather than the 4:3 it says on the box.
Actually, I did get Robert Fisk’s The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East for half price in Borders, but even the book sales were profoundly disappointing. If you don’t want books by John Peel, Sharon Osbourne, Nigel Slater, Jamie Oliver, Trinny and Susannah or Alan Bennett, then forget it.
I’ve been belatedly reading a bit of the Christmas double (or is it treble) issue of the New Statesman (and yes, I really did accidentally pick it up thinking I was getting New Scientist, with my eyes only reading as far as “New”), and it’s worth it for a couple of things. Most surprisingly, Steve Lowe and Alan McArthur authors of “Is It Me Or Is Everything Shit?”, a book I wouldn’t have given more than a nano-second’s glance in the bulging Christmas “humour” section of the bookshop, make quite a good fist of moaning about Christmas. Best is “News about the high street” which makes the excellent point that while a couple of weeks ago, we were all being told how important it was to save for the future, we now have to take an interest in how well the shops are doing and how much cash they’re raking in during the sales. On TV, Next manages its usual free airtime by simply opening branches at the ridiculous hour of 5am. What a great job it must be working as an assistant for them. In the meantime, IKEA gives away a couple of free beds, and their new Milton Keynes branch gets a full three minute ad…, sorry, “feature” on the local BBC news.
The other thing to look out for in the New Statesman, is Mushrooms of Freedom, a new short story by Andrey Kurkov author of several previous novels that I’ve enjoyed.

Ed Reardon’s Week


First of all, if you haven’t already heard it, dash over right now to the BBC Radio Player and listen to last Wednesday’s first episode of the second series of Ed Reardon’s Week.
Ed Reardon is quite the funniest creation I’ve heard (or seen) in some time; a writer by trade, although he has trouble making ends meet. He did once write an episode of Tenko, and had his first novel made into a blockbuster film by his friend Jaz. But now times are tough, and in between writing books to order like Pet Peeves or Jane Seymour’s Household Hints, he’s struggling to turn in scripts for Holby City, or write The Old Lock Keeper’s column for his local free newspaper.
This book is basically the first series of the Radio 4 comedy. Quite why Radio 4 insisted on broadcasting it at 11.30am rather than the somewhat better 6.30pm slot is a question I don’t entirely understand. It’ll certainly get a 6.30pm repeat, but it deserves the bigger audience from the outset.
Ed is a fantastic creation, lovingly crafted. He lives with his cat, Elgar, and has a family from a previous marriage that seems a little estranged. He plays in a jazz band with his old mucker Jaz, even though he’s insanely jealous of the big-time director who bastardised his novel for a movie tear-jerker.
Sadly BBC Audio haven’t seen fit to release the first series on CD, so you’ll, er, just have to find someone who might have some mp3s if you want to hear the first series.
And in the meantime, get listening to the second series – Wednesdays at 11.30am, Radio 4.

Happy Christmas

If you’re west of somewhere in mid-Atlantic, then it’s already Christmas.
If you’re east of that point and somewhere north of Mexico and south of Canada, then it’s not quite yet Happy Holidays. Unless you’re Target, in which case you wished it was more Happy Christmas than Happy Holidays.
To me it’s Christmas. But that’s another debate for another time. I know someone who doesn’t truly think Christmas is arriving unitl the “Holidays are coming” Coca-Cola lorries appear on TV (and, by the way, the radio ad version is truly awful).
Now where’s that snow?

Horses in London

The most serene image of the day was one that faced me on Great Marlborough Street at 7.30 this morning – a line of horses trotting past.
I think it must have been the Household Cavalry or something, but it’s really strange seeing so many horses in central London.
Where’s a digital camera when you need one?

Intelligent Design – Not So Intelligent

(OK, that headline’s a little misleading) [Update: I’ve completely changed my mind – that headline is utterly correct] Thank goodness the news has come through that in Dover, Pennsylvania schools cannot teach “Intelligent Design” because it’s really just Creationism.
Hey, I’ve no problem if people want to believe the world was made in seven days. Just like I’ve no problem if people want to believe the earth’s flat. Just don’t go teaching your daft ideas to kids. Simple.
[Update: You’ve got to read the judge’s decision in full (PDF). It’s lucid and packs a powerful punch taking apart the pro-ID lobby limb by limb. “ID is not a science…[it is]…grounded in theology”]

Shopping on Oxford Street

One of the most stupid things you can do at this time of year is go shopping on Oxford Street. I mean, why would you decide, at this time of year, to go out into the heaving throngs to go shopping in the run-up to Christmas?
Here are some random thoughts – good and bad – that come from a couple of recent excursions in pursuit of Christmas gifts…

  • Visit London won’t thank me, but there are far too many tourists
  • since when have the Salvation Army started playing Careless Whisper by Wham?
  • why would someone in Pret A Manger, on spotting a single long queue separating out into each till as a place becomes available, think that he could just walk to the front?
  • does anyone ever go into the Gizmondo shop?
  • “Sinners & Winners” guy has a new PA – not a megaphone any longer
  • I wouldn’t want to work on the Evening Standard pitch near “Sinners & Winners” guy
  • Argos is a complete bunfight at the collection point
  • why does anyone buy any of the tat that’s sold as gadgets in clothes shops, eg shower radios from Next?
  • none of the clothes shops had the gadget I was after, and I did look
  • all those gadgets will be available at half price in less than seven days’ time
  • as you go higher and higher into Hamleys, the queues to pay for your stuff get shorter and shorter
  • wrapping paper is called “gift wrap” everywhere
  • several people a day must get killed literally walking in front of buses – does everyone know that Oxford Street isn’t actually pedestrianised?
  • no matter how busy it gets in the run up before Christmas, there’ll still be sales assistants ready to pounce as you enter, far too eager to grab you in mobile phone shops
  • lots of sales have already started
  • the sales start early every year
  • those dodgy “auction” shops have reappeared after a long absence
  • the Apple Store is a no-go zone with queues stretching nearly to the door
  • the same stuff is available for the same price with far shorter queues in John Lewis
  • I was stupid enough to leave my shopping until this week, so I deserve everything I get