Saturday, 26 November 2016

LIKE ENDLESS RAIN INTO A PAPER CUP


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 yourself a completely clear ground, with no reference points, and nothing on the horizon, your journey is going to be hellish.



Thankfully, with the way the English language is structured, with all its nouns, prepositions, and subordinate conjunctions, one thing can very easily follow the other, so off I went. What also helped is knowing that, if the mangled results can be presented in a nice way, all contained within paragraphs, it will, at least, be readable.



Having introduced the idea of streams of consciousness to myself, Beat Generation writers like Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs did come to mind, with Kerouac’s original draft of his novel “On the Road” being one continuous roll of paper, fed through a typewriter over the course of three weeks. There was also an academic paper, accepted last month for a US conference on atomic and nuclear physics, that was produced by Christoph Bartneck, an associate professor at a New Zealand university, by using the same auto-completion software I was using, to prove the conference was only looking to make money – the paper was accepted, but asked for an expensive attendance fee.



However, I knew I would be slowing myself down by referring to things I would have to check were correct later – thankfully, they were, and I could still use them.



I think my experiment was successful, but it may not extend beyond this first stage – I was left with far too much rubbish to sort through, with my phone, at one point, thinking I had launched “an investigation into sex,” which has already been successfully completed by other people. Building a good structure means you need to have a plan first, and that is where I feel happier. Perhaps my words work better when you can see the sweat and effort still dripping off them, I don’t know…

Monday, 21 November 2016

WHO SAYS A MISS WAS MADE TO KISS?


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 progressively puts more distance between them. “Perhaps I can understand that—the relationship that he had was not a good one for him,” Trump says.

From behind the camera, Morris asks, "If you could give Charles Foster Kane advice, what would you say to him?"

“Get a different woman.”


Trump also thought that people did not understand the meaning of the “Rosebud” sledge because that was the name used: “Perhaps if they came up with another word that meant the same thing, it wouldn't have worked… But Rosebud works."

Trump also spoke, in an interview with Mark Singer for “The New Yorker” magazine in 1997, about his favourite film being “Bloodsport,” a 1988 martial arts film starring Jean Claude Van Damme. However, he charged his son Eric with fast forwarding past the exposition and dialogue, to see just the action. “You want to write that Donald Trump was loving this ridiculous… movie, but are you willing to put in there that you were loving it, too?” Would his opinion have changed if he saw all of it?

Regardless of whether his words helped him become President-elect, so many of Donald Trump’s words, said over months, years, could have gone unsaid, and more people could have thought more of his words. However, the bleak museum of Twitter means we no longer have that option. “Publish and be damned,” the Duke of Wellington said in 1825, but online, posting your own words may bite you in the behind, sometimes immediately.


For Trump, his impulsive use of Twitter makes him a very easy figure to satirise, when what he says defy you to take them seriously. Calling “Saturday Night Live” a “totally one-sided, biased show,” he wanted equal time to respond. For Trump-mirror Alec Baldwin to point out the election is over, “there is no more equal time,” and that we must now respond to his actions as President, reveals a disconnect between the thoughts of a private man, that have to be replaced by the considered pronouncements of a public figure, for there must be no risk of conflating the two of them.

The farrago over “Hamilton,” a hip-musical about a Founding Father, turned very quickly from the booing of the Vice President-elect, Mike Pence, who was in the audience, over to Trump’s condemnation of the “overrated” musical’s cast for “harassing” Pence, in the same manner he berated protestors, “incited by the media,” before acknowledging they “have passion for our great country” – one wrong tweet, one moment too late. That Pence was the diplomat, stopping to listen to the cast’s impassioned speech, insisting later that he took on their message, while telling his son that the boos are “what freedom sounds like,” shows that his job as Vice President is to act as a “superego” for a man that never previously needed one.

(I love that Trump thinks the theatre “must always be a safe and special place,” a point not lost on Arthur Miller, writer of “Death of a Salesman,” or Abraham Lincoln, for that matter.)

Six months ago, I began “Dancing with the Gatekeepers” by talking about how Yoko Ono overrode the original reason for The Beatles being given their name, in favour of John Lennon’s joke remark about a dream, involving a man on a flaming pie. An underlying theme of life, to me at least, is to be careful when people impose their thoughts upon you, make sure to question their motives, and look for evidence.

Donald Trump will be President of the United States from 20th January 2017, and the weight of that office demands respect. However, the holder of that office cannot afford to be given the benefit of the doubt, especially when Trump has never appeared to need it before. He will be given the opportunity to govern in the way he sees fit, but he will be under constant scrutiny, for every single decision, for every public utterance, for the rest of his life...

Good luck to us all, whoever we are, wherever we are, whatever he does, whatever we do.

Friday, 18 November 2016

AND WE’LL KEEP ON FIGHTING ‘TIL THE END


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 of an obvious question, as the answer, for now, is still “yes.” “The Sun” still sells nearly 1.7 million copies a day, and the “Daily Mail” is just behind that. However, only ten years ago, they each sold nearly a million more than that. The “Daily Express” once claimed the biggest circulation in the world, at over five million copies, except that was in the 1930s – now, they can’t even scrape 400,000 but, unlike “The Sun,” “Mail” and most other papers, they don’t give copies away, competing the million-plus copies of the “Metro” sent out every morning.

Sales of newspapers essentially started to decline with the start of radio, its potential seen immediately as a threat. The General Strike of 1926 hobbled the print industry, even reducing “The Times” down to two sides of an A4 sheet, but radio, with a number of bulletins per day, still got the news out to people, and in a much more efficient way. Once the strike was over, the British Broadcasting Company received a Royal Charter to become a corporation, but newspaper companies managed to have bulletins restricted to evenings only, using only news supplied by them – the outbreak of the Second World War to put an end to that.

So, what of newspapers now? Shorn of the ability to break stories first, they can only rely on influence, either through investigations being reported on by wider media, such as the “Guardian” series on phone hacking, or through its journalists being called upon to speak on TV and radio news. Meanwhile, the preponderance of opinionated columnists, like Katie Hopkins, and the inevitable Twitter backlashes they inspire, is the nearest we get to experiencing that particularly American type of talk radio that never arose in the UK, because we still had newspapers for that point of view.

As much as the “Guardian” website implores me to help pay for its content, it has given it away for seventeen years now, and when advertising on a website that attracts nine million regular visitors can’t pay for the level of quality it has to maintain its brand, and the only other option is paying TWO QUID for the paper version, there may come a point where the concept of a “newspaper” may end. It all depends if you can convince people to pay for it online, which “The Times” had, although “The Sun” scrapped its paywall after lack of interest. Thankfully, I don’t need to work out the answer but, if enough people are reading online, they could save the money spent printing ink onto woodpulp.

Friday, 11 November 2016

WATCH OUT, BEADLE'S ABOUT


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 short-lived. He later helped organise the Bickershaw Festival in Wigan, in 1972, known to this day both for the bringing in acts like the Grateful Dead, Captain Beefheart, Hawkwind and The Kinks, and also for dissolving into a sea of mud.



·         Beadle’s first presenting job was on BBC Radio London, in 1974, for a programme about the Campaign for Real Ale, on whose executive committee he sat – earlier this year, its job declared done, the Campaign started considering whether to start saving pubs instead.



·         Beadle secured a job writing questions for the quiz show “Celebrity Squares” by sending samples to its host, Bob Monkhouse, who also wrote questions for the shows he presented – the two assumptions to be made are that the questions were of a high quality, and the decision to send them without the answers was entirely deliberate.



·         Much like Richard Osman’s role on “Pointless,” Beadle became the presenter of ITV’s audience participation show “Game for a Laugh” (1981-85) because the best person to put on the air was the one that describes the show the best, drawing the audience in the most.



·         “Game For A Laugh” was a mix of studio games and hidden camera stunts, the former adapted from the US game show “Truth or Consequences” – a town in New Mexico renamed itself after the show to attract it for a visit, and remains under this name to this day. The stunts were continued in “Beadle’s About” (1986-96), and joined by unintentional versions of the same in “You’ve Been Framed,” which began in 1990.



·         A short-lived, pre-YouTube showcase for videos made by the public, “Beadle’s Hot Shots,” received a video from future film director Edgar Wright (“Shaun of the Dead,” “Hot Fuzz,” “The World’s End”) – he was featured on the pilot, and worked as a researcher on the first series.  



·         Beadle’s ITV shows ended in 1997, after appearing on screen at least once every weekend for years. However, the books continued, series on radio and television continued, as well as an interesting Channel 5 quiz show, named “Win Beadle’s Money” – he only lost his appearance fee eight times out of 52 shows.



·         Jeremy Beadle raised an estimated £100 million for charity in his lifetime, including for the charities Children with Leukaemia, and for Reach, a charity to help children with hand or arm deficiencies, and their parents. That Beadle was among the first people with a disability to appear regularly on television, a stunted right hand resulting from having suffered from Poland Syndrome as a child, and to have that not be an issue for the entire time he was in the public eye, is as remarkable as Paralympics GB’s successes in London and Rio de Janeiro.



·         Anyone that causes a person, in this case a Janet Elford, from Dorset, to sincerely ask an “alien” if they want a cup of tea, deserves to be remembered.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

AN UMBRELLA ON FOUR WHEELS


Citroën 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, Citroën were producing prototypes and pre-production models as early as 1938 – most were destroyed before the Nazi invasion of France, but three were unearthed in a barn in 1995.


The intended customers were to be found across rural France, and an often-quoted set of rules the new car had to meet were formed, supported by surveys of up to ten thousand people: the 2CV had to power four people, carrying 50 kg of farm goods, at 30 mph, across muddy, unpaved roads. The most famous rule was it had to be able to carry eggs across a ploughed field, without breaking a single egg – just holding an egg in your hand is fraught with danger for some.

Right to the end of its production, the 2CV was the cheapest car on general sale, and this was the intention. Early prototypes had only one headlight and one brake light, giving the impression at night of only being a motorcycle, while a lack of door handles required the driver to lift a window to break into their own car – the first proper models on sale did have door handles, but then you couldn’t lock the doors.

Anything that could be removed to save weight would be done, to keep fuel consumption down, before war caused the price of the aluminium bodywork to skyrocket. However, the steel bodies produced could be repaired and replaced with a few bolts by practically anyone, and it soon became available in colours other than slate grey.


The 2CV engine was never built for speed – it could catch up with a moped, while later versions could reach 71 mph but, again, that was not the point. The specially-designed two-stroke engine did without an oil thermostat, radiator and drive belt, and placed an oil cooler just behind the engine fan, which had been bolted onto the crankshaft. This means that the engine ran most efficiently when you buried the accelerator pedal into the floor, and kept it there. It also meant the windscreen wipers worked at their best, as their being powered by the speedometer meant, as you drove more quickly, the faster they moved.

If you wanted to keep the engine from running too cold, in cold weather, Citroën provided a “muff” (their name) to block the grille. Furthermore, if you bought your 2CV in 1990, and couldn’t get your key ignition to start your car, you were still being provided with a starting handle.

For the unpaved French roads, independent suspension for all four wheels, the first radial tyres, front wheel drive, and a four-speed gearbox were innovations usually seen on more expensive cars – a four-wheel drive version, the Sahara, was also produced for a while, which put a second engine in the boot.

Safety and emissions standards eventually ended 2CV production, and the standards and regulations that now exist mean a similar car will not be made – here’s hoping that, when the next challenge is found, someone from Citroën gets there first.