December, 2006

Lawson Way

Christmas Lights in Lawson Way, Sheringham
Every year, the residents of Lawson Way in Sheringham, Norfolk, put ever more elaborate Christmas light displays on in their small cul-de-sac.
See more pictures of their “tasteful” street here.


Madness at Wembley Arena
Baggy Trousers was one of the first pop songs that really made an impact on me back in 1980 or so. I learnt all the words from Smash Hits (or maybe Number One). But I don’t think I’ve seen Madness live before… until last night. Wembley Arena was a heaving throng (far fewer seats than at Springsteen a few weeks ago), with lots of moshing up front.
I managed to smuggle my camera in – well actually it was spotted in my bag and I was told to deposit it with reception. I seemed to get lost on the way. I also inadvertantly brought in a hip flask (dropped into the lining of my coat at the last moment), and the worst thing you can take to a gig – the single thing that all concert venues ban. Yes – a bottle of water brazenly sitting there on display on the side of my bag. I think the security guard was more worried about the camera.
Anyway, more samizdat photos on Flickr.

Saturday Night Telly

So I had the misfortune to be sniffly with a cold in front of the TV on Saturday night, and having watched Strictly Come Dancing, and Robin Hood, I was not going to join the mindless masses by watching the X-Factor final.
My main problem with these programmes is that none of the songs is original, so I feel that I’m just watching some kind of karaoke programme. Karaoke itself is great fun, but it’s not great television. I realise I’m in the minority with this.
And I certainly don’t want to watch Frank Sinatra karaoke as performed by a thirteen year old.
So instead I got to see the first of a new series of National Lottery In It To Win It, presented by Dale Winton.
What in God’s name have we done to deserve this?
First of all we should get to the contestants. These days, I get the feeling that show like Who Wants To Be A Millionaire are peopled solely by professional quiz enterers. From what I’ve read following the fallout of the “cheating Major”, to get on the show you have to phone multiple times to increase your chances of being picked. And practising with your own button arrangement for “fastest finger first” is de rigueur. In any case, it always seems that one in every two editions is a celebrity one, so there’s not much opportunity for the public at large. Over on Countdown you get wordsmiths, whilst on Deal or No Deal you get people who seem to believe that there’s a skill in picking random boxes. These are also people who seem to be able to spend three weeks at a time holed up in a Bristol hotel.
Which brings us back to In It To Win It. There’s obviously a very careful screening process in operation here. Anyone with an IQ above, say, 50, is removed from possible inclusion. What you’re left with is the dregs of society – the people who have to think twice about whether or not Paris is the capital of France. OK, so this question didn’t actually come up, but two contestants between them came up with Paris as being the European capital city that has the Tiber running through it.
I know that Private Eye runs a fortnightly Dumb Britain column, but I despair when I see contestants having trouble over the kind of questions that a GCSE student should comfortably be able to answer. I’m really not trying to blow my own trumpet, but I got *every* answer correct.
The producers have also evidently primed contestants to take us through their “thinking” so that we get something to listen to as they umm and ahh over their choice. Even if they know 100% that Kevin Spacey played Lex Luthor in Superman Returns, you have to ‘explain your workings’. The reason is that there are so few questions being asked that the show would be over in no time.
There’s also the pointlessness of Dale asking if he should “accept that answer” after every answer is given. It’s a feeble “is that you final answer” variant from Millionaire, except that there’s some merit to it if any of the questions were actually hard.
I’m not sure whether it’s a great act from Dale, or whether he really doesn’t know many answers himself, but quite how he’s able to keep a straight face when a contestant gets an answer specatacularly wrong I don’t know. Occassionally you see Tarrant on Millionaire practically splutter if a contestant leaps into a wrong answer early on. “Are you sure?” he’ll ask.
But it would be quite nice if, when asked which is the red planet, and the contestant dismisses Jupiter as not being it, because it’s “the one with rings” that somebody might correct this.
I suppose I should thank my lucky stars that there’s not a phone-in element to the show. And I only blame myself for not turning over and watching One Man And His Dog or something (It’s not still presented by that loon who’s a member of the UKIP is it?).

Socially Networked Alleged Criminals

In a 21st century socially networked world, what’s the first thing that any budding journalist should do when they hear about someone being arrested for a crime?
Yes – it’s check out whether they have a Myspace page. And I guess you could go on to find out whether they’ve got any photos on Flickr or who they went to school with on Friends Reunited.
Obviously, we don’t know who’s innocent or guilty yet, but I guess that forensic trails are online as much as offline these days.

I Suppose *Someone* Has To Go Out With Them

Wasn’t this the most disappointing news of the weekend?
Yesterday evening Five Live aired Fighting Talk: Any Other Business as a kind of broadcast pilot for a current affairs spin-off of the sports show. There’s another episode next Sunday. Richard Bacon did a good job hosting it, and alongside him were Stewart Lee, Rod Liddle and someone whose name I’ve forgotten. Over in the States was The Daily Show’s John Oliver, and when Bacon mentioned the Lembit Opik MP story, Oliver knew nothing about it, and actually seemed slightly distressed that a hitherto “good” MP like Opik had strayed.
By the way, did it sound like Stewart Lee really was pissed off that Oliver had got The Daily Show gig after both he and Richard Bacon had also gone for it?

Copyright Extension

I wrote at length about the Gower Review the other day, and in particular the section related to music copyright extension. Towards the end I noted that an advert had been published in the FT listing the names of 3,500 – 4,000 people who were in favour of the extension.
If you don’t read Boing Boing, or get overwhelmed by the volume and skip bits, you may have missed that some of signatories of the petition are actually dead. More at ORG.

Ed Reardon Returns

I make no apology for mentioning Ed Reardon’s Week once again. Two reasons to mention it this week:
1) The third series starts on Friday morning at 11.30am on BBC Radio 4 with an episode called The Name-Check. Listen live, or listen again!
2) BBC Radio 7 is repeating the first series on Monday evenings at 10.30pm (and again at 3.30am on Tuesday mornings if you’re having trouble getting to sleep) starting this week. Listen again to the first episode on the website starting with Monday’s episode – The Swim.
Incidentally, I evidentally talk about Ed Reardon more than most, as links to this website follow just behind the BBC and Amazon if Google “Ed Reardon”.

Sports Personality of the Year

Or SPOTY to its friends, if it still has any.
If you care at all about this award, you’ll know that Zara Phillips won on Sunday night. She achieved a lot, and was in my top three, although wasn’t my favourite. There’s obviously a suspicion that the fact that she’s 11th in line to throne may have influenced a few voters out there, and although she did enormously well, her horse does deserve half the award in a sport that is by its very nature, enormously elitist.
But can I direct you to the fallout over on the BBC Sports Editors’ blog, where there are some very unhappy people. There are always going to be sports that are overlooked, and by upping the shortlist to ten this year, the BBC went some way to including some minority sports on the list – although respondents on that site can name plenty more still overlooked. However, there are some shortcomings with upping the shortlist to ten. The whole Sports Personality of the Year show lasted two hours, so if three minutes was allocated to each contestant, that’d be a quarter of the show. Add in a few reminders of the numbers to call and you’re left with not much time to do a review.
There are two obvious things that come out of this:
1) Not every contestant was treated fairly. Zara Phillips for example, got an on-stage interview and clip package of her achievements this year. Beth Tweddle got demonstrate her sport. Joe Calzaghe and Ricky Hatton got lumped together in “boxing”. Nicole Cooke had a brief interview at her seat that seemed too concentrate on what it’s like falling off her bike. Monty Panesar was profiled moments before the lines closed.
2) The review aspect of the show has been diminished. I think that the show was originally called Sports Review of the Year or something similar, because the awards were a marginal part of the overall reminder of the sporting year which was largely highlights of what has gone on. This element seems to have been lessened and the awards aspect gradually increased with awards (admittedly worthy) to unsung heroes or the Helen Rollason Award. Add together a few fun items and you’re really pushed to fit everything into two hours.
SPOTY is always going to be biased towards sports and athletes that people know rather than necessarily the most worthy winners, but I’d suggest that in it’s current guise it’s not even a fair vote. As some of the commenters on the Sports Editors’ Blog mention, even on X Factor everyone gets to sing a song first before the lines are opened for voting. On SPOTY, the lines were open from the start and so even though the end of the show has higher audience figures than the start, anyone who “goes first” with a full interview is likely to do better in the vote than those who get a brief Adrian Chiles interview towards the end; you’ve had 100 minutes to know about Zara Phillip’s achievements, and perhaps 10 minutes to learn of Nicole Cooke’s.
I suggest that in future the nominees are gone through in the first half an hour, and the second part of the show is dominated by a review of the year with incidental awards along the way to the other winners. You can keep reminding people of the numbers to text/phone in, but that way it’s all fair.
Getting a big audience along in the NEC was a good improvement to the show, and perhaps the BBC felt that it needed to put on a show for those in the audience? But we do need more clips.
I’m still uneasy about David Walliams picking up a Special Award at the event – a couple of nights before he and Matt Lucas no doubt pick up a pile of British Comedy Awards. Yes, he did something that most people couldn’t and achieved a very fine time, raising a lot of money for charity along the way, but it still isn’t really sport any more than me completing the London Marathon is. Perhaps if I can raise a million quid and get myself a primetime comedy programme, I might be in with a shout. I’ll laugh if he gets a special award at the Comedy Awards too!
What all this probably highlights is that there isn’t really a really worthy sports award in the UK that’s awarded across all the disciplines. Individual sports are undoubtedly well catered for, and there are international awards of varying statures. But what I’d like to see is some kind of British Sports Awards voted for by a jury of journalists or coaches that crosses all sports, but takes the popularity element out of the equation that always affects the SPOTY awards. When the various European Footballer of Year awards are made by foreign sports papers, we know that the judges are knowledgable journalists and suchlike who have little vested interest in just voting for, say, David Beckham because he’s not showbiz shy and appears in a million ads.
Most award ceremonies are money making concerns (the BBC’s aside), so this wouldn’t be an impossible thing to put together.