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Showing posts from 2016

THE HOPES AND FEARS OF ALL THE YEARS

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I stopped looking back on 2016 about three months ago, when I stopped keeping a regular diary. I like to keep a diary, because I like to have a sense of my own history. Just as everyone uses (and should use) history to make sense of their present, a diary is something I can use to keep track of how I think, what I make of events as they occur, and to trip myself up when I realise I could have approached things in a better way. I had stopped keeping a diary because the events of this year became a bit, well, overwhelming, as I am sure it did for many. Numerous reviews of the year centred on the political world events – Brexit, Trump, increasing nationalism, Syria – and the deaths of people who were not done with life, like George Michael and Carrie Fisher, to name only two from just the last week. There is sense of, “I’ll come back to this later” – needing that bit of distance, to have the right perspective of things, before you can start to make sense of them. What you can

HAPPY BIRTHDAY DEAR INSERT NAME

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One of the few songs to which everyone knows the words, “Happy Birthday to You” is a song we are seemingly stuck with now, being a very quick and easy way to mark a moment in time, and which can be sung in exactly the same way no matter how much you like or dislike the person to which you are singing. The song began as “Good Morning to All,” written by two teacher sisters, Mildred and Patty Hill (yes, it took two people), to be sung in class at the beginning of the school day. The “Happy Birthday” appeared organically when people wanted to use the tune for other things, and were eventually written down – the piano arrangement, with extra verse (“How old are you now?”), credited to two further people, was published in 1935, over forty years after the Hills published their original. The song entered the hands of music publishers Warner Chappell Music in 1988, who enforced their copyright to charge millions of dollars in royalty payments. To make it clear, yes, you can use “Ha

AND WE’RE SENDING OUR LOVE DOWN THE WELL

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Allow yourself to feel incredibly old and terrified for a moment – TWENTY-SEVEN years ago today, the first episode of “The Simpsons” was broadcast on American television. This means there are people who born since the show began, that now have their own children. In Britain, for those not willing to pay for Sky TV, the BBC began showing “The Simpsons” in November 1996, at just the right time for the teenage me. For years, I dutifully taped every episode I came across, laughing at its subversive humour, marvelling at its feature film-scale storylines, and identifying with its fully rounded characters. For the record, my favourite episodes of the series came early in its run, like Lisa winning an essay contest and uncovering political corruption in “Mr Lisa Goes to Washington,” the awful musical “Streetcar!” in “A Streetcar Named Marge,” and the disaster movie plot of “Marge versus the Monorail.” There was once a time where no show could do the two things the “The Simpsons” cou

OTHER LISTINGS MAGAZINES ARE AVAILABLE

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Saying you have done something week in, week out, for twenty years, is usually restricted to essential tasks, such as breathing, eating and sleeping - and yet, when I bought the latest Christmas issue last Monday, I have now bought the “Radio Times” every week, without fail, for twenty years. In an online age, you would have thought that having to go somewhere to buy a magazine, to tell you what programmes are on the television and radio, would be something that died out a while ago, but there was not much of an internet back in 1996, and broadcasters were only starting to open their own websites. As recently as 1991, programme listings were actually regulated in the UK: BBC TV and radio was covered by the self-styled “RT,” owned and published by the BBC, while ITV, Channel 4 and the rest were in the “TV Times” - if you wanted the full picture, you had to buy both magazines. For this reason, the “RT” sold its advertising for more than any other magazine, and continues to do i

GLORY DAYS, WELL THEY’LL PASS YOU BY

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Everything I am about to tell you happened before nine o’clock this morning. I had arrived at work a good hour before my day was due to start, so I could go through my usual warm-up process – reading through e-mails, stretching, continuing to wake up. Meanwhile, two of my managers were talking about the latest of their Christmas dinner out from the previous night. One manager then told the other about a faux pas they had apparently perpetrated, where they had referred to putting something away as stuffing it in their “glory hole.” This admission had already started waves of laughter, of both recognition and embarrassment. Sitting across from the conversation, I had missed the cause of the laughter. One manager looked to me, and said I didn’t want to know what they were talking about, like I had stumbled across an awkward situation, while the other, who had made the faux pas, walked to my desk to explain, clearly still wanting to get the issue off their chest. They started

TAKE THAT LOOK OFF YOUR FACE

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When I last created a CV, I knew I had to use the correct font. I chose Futura, a precursor to Gill Sans, which is clear and easy to read, especially when any human resources person may scan it for only a few seconds before making a decision. If I chose the wrong font, any split second of confusion in the reader could have threatened my future career prospects. So, when I come across forms at work that use COMIC SANS, that a company has asked us to fill in, and which could be used in a court of law, you do question the decisions made by both the designer, and by those that said, “yes, that looks OK.” The company concerned does not use these anymore, so they must have realised what the forms look like. Comic Sans exists to look child-like, but its misuse has made it look childish. Designed for Microsoft Bob, a 1994 program to make navigating screens easier for novice computer users, it was intended to solve the problem of having a cartoon dog having speech bubbles that used Ti

LIKE ENDLESS RAIN INTO A PAPER CUP

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Earlier this week, I tried to find a computer programme that allowed me to turn speech into text, while I spoke. Thankfully, entering notes on my phone allows me to do this, but this all came from an idle thought about writing in a stream of consciousness style, hoping the mere act of continuing to talk might yield something that could be useful in one of these screeds, rather than go through a week-long bout of perspiration, trying to think of a subject that could be both informative and entertaining. However, once I started to do it, I started feeling like this may not work. What you are reading here is, in fact, a VERY, VERY heavily edited version of my talking, to myself, about trying to talk about streams of consciousness, as if layers of reality, like layers of rocks over millions of years, were bearing down on my brain. You may feel that you are free when you can say anything you like, but when you have set yourself a task to be as free as possible, before giving yours

WHO SAYS A MISS WAS MADE TO KISS?

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I refrained from writing about Donald John Trump two weeks ago, when the US Presidential election race finally ended, because the prevailing mood in the United States was too raw, and too polarising, to make light of the situation, and no-one from the land of Brexit can realistically make light of political problems elsewhere. However, comedy is described as tragedy plus time, and Trump is described alternately as Charles Foster Kane and Biff Tannen, despite winning a Golden Raspberry Award for Best Supporting Actor in the 1990 Bo Derek film “Ghosts Can’t Do It,” where he played himself. The comparisons with “Citizen Kane” endure, especially when Trump was asked about it, in 2002, by the documentary maker Errol Morris, for an unfinished film. Trump recognised the theme of wealth not being everything, and how it isolates you from people. However, the subsequent focus on his comments is regarding the montage of scenes between Kane and his first wife, over a breakfast table that

AND WE’LL KEEP ON FIGHTING ‘TIL THE END

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Well, my original intention of writing about newspapers is to excoriate how they assume their way of reflecting the United Kingdom fits the national character, how they second-guess the thoughts of reactions of their audience, before prescribing what they should think, and how they berate those who do not have the same ways they do, calling them “champagne socialists,” “the establishment,” or “Bremoaners” (the last one is particularly annoying, as if only a few people voted to stay in the European Union). However, that is what most people think about newspapers, including many who still buy them – thankfully, they have other features and pull-out sections about less contentious stuff, particularly at the weekend, when we have more time to read them. The bigger question that came out of my preparation for this display of putting one word in front of the other, having not bought my usual Saturday copy of “The Times” recently, is: “does anyone still buy newspapers?” It is a bit

WATCH OUT, BEADLE'S ABOUT

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If there was ever a patron saint for this site, it would be someone that built an extension to their house contain their personal library of over twenty thousand books. There was a time when facts, even trivia, were the result of hard-thought searches, and Jeremy Beadle (1948-2008), writer of many trivia and quiz books, wanted to be the British equivalent of Robert Ripley, he of the “Believe It or Not!” series of cartoon strips, TV shows and museums. However, Beadle’s engaging personality made him the face of a series of TV programmes that proved the viewers at home were as entertaining as the people they watched. Now you have the Laurie Holloway’s infuriatingly catchy theme tune for “Beadle’s About” in your head, it is fitting to form a picture of Jeremy Beadle through a series of “did you knows”: ·          Through a number of jobs, from taxi driver to tour guide, Beadle became editor of a Manchester version of the listings magazine “Time Out,” which was ultimately sho

AN UMBRELLA ON FOUR WHEELS

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Citro ë n are justifiably proud of the 2CV, made from 1948 to 1990, as its company website shows [http://www.citroen.co.uk/about-citroen/our-brand/citroen-2cv]. The car got France back on the road after the Second World War, becoming as iconic as the original Volkswagen Beetle, and its outward simplicity belies the sheer lengths made to engineer a car that, for all intents and purposes, had to be like no other. However, “The Tin Snail” is also known for being very slow, having a 0-60 mph time of “eventually,” and having been introduced at a time when “crumple zones” were usually found inside the driver, which the 2CV solved by designing the front of the chassis to fold up in a crash. Examining the 2CV was makes clear why it cannot be judged against most cars, its own agenda being very different. Despite its introduction in the same year as the Morris Minor, Citro ën were producing prototypes and pre-production models as early as 1938 – most were destroyed before the Nazi inva

SHAVE AND A HAIRCUT

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Everybody must know “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” back to front by now – for me, it was the first film I remember seeing in a cinema, and was watched every day once it arrived on home video. Therefore, we can all picture the scene where Doctor Doom walks into the Cloverleaf tram station bar, looking for Roger, who has been hidden in a back room by Eddie Valiant. Doom then starts tapping out a rhythm on the wall, knowing all too well that a “toon” cannot leave it unanswered. With his final attempt at tapping the rhythm out, Doom utters the phrase most often spoken in time with it: “shave and a haircut…” Roger, unable to take it, explodes through the wall, yelling in answer, “two bits!” For me, that was the first time I really became aware of a rhythm that is so ubiquitous, it isn’t clear who made it up in the first place – Wikipedia places an early use of the phrase in a song from 1899, Charles Hale’s “At a Darktown Cakewalk,” while the phrase may have been established by

THE SUN ALWAYS SHINES ON TV

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At 9.30am on Saturday 27 th August 2016, following the Rio Olympics and Paralympics, ITV “switched off” their channels for an hour, affecting around a million viewers, supporting a Team GB effort to get people outside and be active, rather than watch another episode of “Murder, She Wrote.” I am usually out the house by that time on a Saturday morning anyway but, at least, I was already doing what Team GB hoped for, even if my bracing walk was only to the shops. ITV’s hour of non-broadcasting is usually what you expect the BBC to do, given their years of being the go-to point when there is a national event, especially when ITV plan to keep us rooted to the living room sofa by building new sets in Salford for “Coronation Street.” In late 2017, the soap opera will broadcast for six episodes a week, complementing the six episodes of “Emmerdale,” five of “Hollyoaks,” “Doctors,””Neighbours” and “Home and Away,” and four of “EastEnders” – that is a lot of time spent watching nearly-pe

GET HIGH, GET TALL, YEAH WE’RE LIGHTER THAN AIR

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I am not really qualified to talk about alcoholic drinks, as I only drink them every so often, and usually just to get the point of what the drink maker was intending – a half-pint of Guinness, a Pimm’s and Lemonade, and that’s about it. I certainly don’t understand the desire of some to get intentionally drunk, let alone those who think thrusting a condition of being less inhibited upon yourself makes you more able to be creative – one drink usually leaves me prepared for a good night’s sleep. However, I can still talk about the history of Special Brew, both venerated and berated as the stereotypical British “tramp fuel,” without drinking it. It is a strong pilsner beer, usually found only in cans, and was first brewed in tribute to Sir Winston Churchill – appropriately enough, a new Five Pound note will survive being dunked in a can of Special Brew, and presumably also a glass of it, but the image of the drink in the UK means Special Brew is not often pictured as being drunk