August 14, 2007

Agriculture Down Under

Should any of you be thinking British farmers are having it bad, what with foot and mouth, supermarket exploitation and a certain ex-employer of mine, spare a thought for the recent plight of our antipodean cousins:

I bet our farmers are glad they didn’t sign up for this single payment scheme.

This rancher narrowly avoided a nasty spot of foot in mouth disease.

August 13, 2007

Scotland to get regional news service (another one)?

Writing about web page

Scotland has always insisted on doing things its own way, bless it. Even before they got their own Parliament the education system was different from the rest of Britain’s. And animal welfare folks were clearly unhappy to consort with the royalists in the RSPCA when they created their own SSPCA.

As an Englishman with Scottish blood and a sense that we should all just get along, this type of thing irritates me. I was in the Highlands last week – sans internet, hence this belated blog. On Monday I was happily watching Newsnight when at 11 they suddenly went to “Newsnight Scotland”. ‘ckin ‘ell, I thought, as if they don’t get enough regional news in their regional news bulletins, they have to commandeer Newsnight too, with their pointless local stories.

My outrage promptly quadrupled when their main story somewhat ironically turned out to be a call by Alex Salmond for Scotland to take a bigger slice of the licence fee, set up its own broadcasting corporation and do its own news. This is a joke, right? Did he not do some basic research before he started mouthing off and actually watch the TV?

What possible use could there be for a Scots-only Six O’Clock News, followed by the exisiting Reporting Scotland? How could these extra resources possibly improve on Scotland’s current news provision, Newsnight Scotland and all? And where does the Scottish mafia that’s supposedly running the corporation fit into all this?

Scotland Minister David Cairns put it well:

Denying Scots access to the world’s most respected broadcaster by creating a parochial and narrow Scottish Broadcasting Corporation is a backward-looking proposal which will command little public support.

I don’t believe Salmond is thick enough to sincerely believe Scots really need a new news source. Tellingly, the First Minister wants Holyrood – under his control (just) since May, of course – to be in charge of the proposed “SBC”. Presumably, the idea would be to fill the headlines with pro-independence propaganda in the run-up to a referendum.

By all means, Mr Salmond, should the Scots vote for secession, you can go ahead and accessorise your tinpot dictatorship with an uncritical state TV station, but as long as you’re still part of Britain, you’re having the BBC.

August 01, 2007

Aldous Gore?

Follow-up to Meanwhile, on the San Diego Freeway, California… from Esprit de l'escalier

Our old friend Al Gore III has pleaded guilty to drug possession. As well as the usual substances beloved of the California Alpha-plus set – Valium, Vicodin, Marijuana – the former vice president’s inconvenient son was found with the hitherto fictional narcotic, Soma.

It’s good to see that the Gore family are so committed to a brave new world, but the question is: where can us Betas get some of those sweet, sweet pills?

July 29, 2007

The next BBC scandal: University Challenge

In recent weeks the 2008 London mayoral election has been shaping up to be a battle of the mavericks, with Boris Johnson’s decision to join the race. My pledge never to vote for the Tories suddenly looks like it will be sorely tested. The most right-wing person I know thinks Boris is a “fathead”, which is quite the endorsement.

However, the loveable tow-headed buffoon’s name isn’t on the ballot paper yet. The Tories are holding some kind of American-style primary and announced the shortlist of four last week. BoJo faces the wonderfully named unknowns Andrew Boff, Victoria Borwick and Warwick Lightfoot.

Coincidentally, it transpired this week that Warwick’s University Challenge team, who face their first opponents on August 20th on BBC2, contains one Howard Lightfoot. All eyes are on the embattled BBC and how they handle the starter questions. Too many “Warwick Lightfoot”s would somewhat compromise their impartiality.

Or is it a coincidence? We can’t rule out the possibility that a faction of Young Tories have infiltrated the team and are conducting some kind of dastardly anti-Boris plot.

July 28, 2007

Spotted: Health Secretary in South London supermarket

So there I am in Streatham Common Sainsbury’s: I’ve just finished piling my groceries on the conveyor belt and I notice a middle-aged couple one till down gazing with interest in my general direction. What are they so thrilled about, I think. The customer in front of me, a silver-haired gent to whom I’d hitherto paid scant attention, pays up and makes his way to the exit. Well fuck me if it isn’t the Right Honourable Alan Johnson MP!

I’m pretty damn sure it was him, though when I sought confirmation from the checkout girl she just nodded and smiled politely. I can only apologise to my readership for not realising sooner and engaging the Secretary of State for Health in some friendly and no doubt insightful political banter. I could even have helped pack his bags then casually asked for an internship. I just wasn’t on the ball. That’s the last time I go drinking the night before a major food shop.

I failed also to make, for the purposes of analysis, a mental note of the member for Hull West and Hessle’s shopping, except for one item: the oxymoronic Reduced Fat All-Butter Croissants. Semantics aside, it’s good to see he’s leading the country’s War on Obesity by example.

Sainsy B’s former chairman Lord Sainsbury was, of course, science minister until last year. I wonder if the shopping preferences of the rest of the Cabinet show similar loyalty.

I saw one of the above men today

July 21, 2007

Cannabis 'n' comedy

The recent confessions of Jacqui Smith and eight other figures in high office that they’ve smoked weed must have been a joint decision designed to draw much of the media’s attention away from some fairly unflattering crime statistics. They’re no dopes. (The latest addition to the Government’s token tokers is Harriet Harman; Warwick rumours suggest such activities run in the family.)

My top three headlines from the whole affair are:
Jacqui Baccy
Whitey-hall, and
Hash Brownites
(guess which one I made up)

Anyways, the ravages of the British summer left me stranded in Central London yesterday evening, so I joined a couple of mates to see some comedy. The Edinburgh Festival is about to start and for the first time in years I probably won’t be attending. Luckily anyone who’s anyone on the stand-up circuit is doing pre-Edinburgh warm-ups in the capital around now. My limited budget meant we were stuck with just anyone, so we ended up at the Queen’s Head in Soho, which offered 8 unknown acts for a fiver.

The good thing about the comics being up-and-coming is that when they get big, I can claim to wield media influence.

Firstly, these are the ones I wasn’t fussed about: compere Mike Manera, a cross between an evil Jonathan Ross and Bob Geldof if he’d eaten all of Africa’s food, annoyed me through his frequent use of the phrase “do you know what I mean?”. Richard Coughlan was basically trying to be Russell Brand. Nick Pettigrew had some fairly forgettable relationship-based material and James Cann was just forgettable.

Now the ones to look out for. Stuart Goldsmith (who’s playing the Fringe at the Gilded Balloon) is very original; surely one of very few comedians to feature existentialism and The Breakfast Club in their routine. Michael Fabbri (Pleasance Courtyard, August 17th) had a nice skit about the Virgin Mary’s hymen. Joe Wilkinson was good for a self-deprecating weirdo, although many of the laughs came from his “trying out new ideas from my notebook” conceit.

July 14, 2007

Maybe Ed Balls should have been Health Secretary

While compiling bulletins on the Government’s education policy yesterday, I was dawned on by this shock realisation:

Garth Marenghi as Rick Dagless, M.D. in hit TV series Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace

Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, Ed Balls MP

Esprit de l’escalier urges Mr Balls to consider using the slogan “Ed Balls – dream-weaver, visionary” in his next election campaign.

In other news, I’m sure “Wee” Dougie Alexander (the International Development Secretary) looks like someone too.

July 13, 2007

Tintin and the Quango

Writing about web page

This week’s “No Shit, Sherlock” award goes to the Commission for Racial Equality, who realised that George “Herge” Remi’s most controversial work, Tintin In The Congo (published 1930), is racist.

I’ve read neither Congo nor Tintin In The Land Of The Soviets but was well aware that both were a bit dodgy. What I didn’t realise was that the former is available in Borders, despite the CRE’s demand that they ban it.

Yes, with a startling level of bluster for a non-departmental public body, they said:

It beggars belief that in this day and age that any shop would think it acceptable to sell and display ‘Tintin In The Congo.’ The only place that it might be acceptable for this to be displayed would be in a museum, with a big sign saying ‘old fashioned, racist claptrap’.

A CRE spokesperson said that bookshops “ought to think very carefully about whether they ought to be selling and displaying [the book],” which depicts a Congo “where the ‘savage natives’ look like monkeys and talk like imbeciles”.

Now, I’m all for a tolerant, unprejudiced society, but whatever happened to free speech? Indeed, whatever happened to the encouragement of reading ignorant, colonialist propaganda in order to realise the folly of our forebears and, you know, have a good laugh at them?

Borders have removed the book from children’s sections, which is fair enough, but even before this brouhaha Congo, which apparently has only been available in its current form since 2005, came with a disclaimer addressing its potential offensiveness.

I seriously don’t understand the commission’s reasoning for their outburst. Do they actually believe a 77-year-old cartoon is capable of inciting racial hatred? It’s a little patronising. Well, I wouldn’t rule anything out before I’ve actually read the thing, but I like to think my liberal instincts are pretty robust.

No doubt sales of this curiosity will defy the rant and shoot up in the next few weeks (particularly at Borders). Meanwhile, if rumours are to be believed, the CRE are currently investigating the dubious racial stereotyping in Oliver Twist and Othello.

July 12, 2007

Exclusive: the new Harry Potter film reviewed

Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix
1 out of 5 stars

Thanks to my contacts in the film industry, I wangled a ticket to a preview of the new Harry Potter film, due for general release today.

The latest instalment of Middle America’s most burnable series of children’s novels to be filmed is the highly anticipated Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix.

It pains me to report that the effort is yet another in a long line of sequel-based turkeys the poor movie-going public has had to endure this summer (cf. Pirates 3, Spiderman 3, Shrek 3).

The film follows young Potter, a new graduate of Hogwarts, attempting to make a life for himself in the Real World. Unfortunately for him, there is little demand for wizardry amongst the muggles and he finds himself working in Burger King.

The film follows the usual slacker film cliches: Harry and Ron (who, thank to some very implausible reasoning, ends up working at the very same branch as Harry) devise various gross tricks to play on their mean boss Mort Voldeburg, they dream of getting out of the dump, and halfway in Harry cops off with the new hottie in the scene that famously had to be shot 30 times at that rascal Daniel Radcliffe’s request.

Eventually, a pheonix turns up at the restaurant and orders a Rodeo Burger, an obsolete menu item involving onion rings and BBQ sauce. Rather than tell the ashy bird to pick again, pal, Harry decides to embark on a quest in order to deliver exceptional customer service.

No matter how few people are going to see the film as a result of this review, I could not possibly spoil the ending for you. But overall the film is pitiful. There really is no excuse for the blatant product placement, the corporate endorsement of the reviled McJob, the laziness of the script, and the rampant anti-semitism. Wait for the DVD.

July 05, 2007

Meanwhile, on the San Diego Freeway, California…

Writing about web page

Al Gore’s son, the imaginatively named Al Gore III, is pulled over for doing 100mph in a Toyota Prius.

It’s nice to see that eco-warrior Gore is keeping his family on message motor-wise by having them drive low-emission hybrids (although I assume smoking weed beforehand wasn’t in the agreement).

Prior to this only Larry “we’re a special breed” David was giving Prius drivers any semblance of cool. So surely this is good news for Toyota (not to mention the planet): semi-electric cars can break the speed limit with the rest of them.

A Toyota Prius. Drug-addled son of former American Vice-President not pictured.

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