All entries for Sunday 15 October 2006

October 15, 2006

A Novel… in 90 seconds.

I’ve always fancied the idea of writing a book, just so long as I can take the credit without doing any of the work. So here’s my first – and probably last – novel, which I’ve condensed into a couple of hundred words to save you and me the bother of writing/reading it. Do let me know if I’ve inadvertantly stolen it from someone else.

Act 1
Man, aged about 30, living in London, 1997. Everything’s fine and rosy, but some things jar slightly. Traffic lights don’t look quite the same. People have mobile phone implants. You know, the usual. Reader suspects that this is some parallel version of 1997 (mammoth hints are dropped when Charles and Diana celebrate their anniversary together). Man gets himself into something he shouldn’t be in (walking in on some lame-ass drug deal or football bung). Reader is very sympathetic (following several chapters which have portrayed him as a thoroughly decent bloke who they’d quite like as a husband/son/father). Something-he-shouldn’t-be-in gets played out for 50-60 pages before he is summarily executed at the hands of some thoroughly unpleasant people. End of Act One.

Act 2
Man, aged about 30, living in Scarborough, 2032. Man has been playing an online-based ‘virtual life’ for the past three years and his death in the ‘game’ means he is booted out and returned to the real, offline world. Things have – you guessed it – changed significantly for the worse in those three years, with family members dying, North Korea finally having blown up the Eastern Hemisphere and climate change having progressed so quickly that it’s now on the downward-side of the curve, quickly approaching 57 degrees below zero. Majority of act chronicles his attempts to deal with this new world he inhabits. Act closes with him stealing someone else’s identity in order to be able to start again as a new player in his online game.

Act 3
Man, aged about 27, living in London, 1994. Said man finds that virtual world is unfortunately realistic and while he was happy in Act 1, his new life turns out to be thoroughly shite. Spends 20-30 pages pondering the fact that what life deals you is pretty much down to luck and realises that he has to choose between dying again (and going back to real world full of ‘real’ problems) or making the most of what his virtual self has. I’ve not quite decided which he should do yet.

Pile of toss, eh? Glad I didn’t waste a year turning it into a 500-page tome of crap.

P.S. If I turn out to have a rubbish sense of whether this is any good or not, I’m claiming full copyright on it. Don’t even try it!

The Welsh Assembly… bit of a mess?

Offering critical opinions of a quintessentially Welsh landmark such as the Welsh Assembly is not without risk for an Englishman living in Cardiff. But [welsh joke deleted for fear of my life] so I’m not afraid…

Yesterday the Assembly building missed out in the Stirling Prize, Britain’s most prestigious award for architecture. I’m ambivalent about whether it should have won – the Madrid airport which took the prize (it was eligible because it was designed by Brits) is attractive on the inside but looks like a long car production line from the outside, so perhaps wasn’t the obvious choice.

But having visited today, I think there’s a few problems with the Assembly building, some of which were architectural and some which were not.

Interior of the Welsh Assembly buildingFirst impression is the security box which has been added on to the front so they can make sure you’ve not bought anything English in (luckily my recording device which set the machines off was made in Norway). It’s necessary but doesn’t feel like it was part of the original plans as it’s a bit of a sore thumb.

The chamber itself is very nicely-designed, but it feels like they were tight with fitting it out. The desks and chairs look like they’ll need replacing in a year’s time, and even the carpet looks a bit temporary. Notably once they upgrade their computers you can bet the new ones won’t fit in the same space.

And then there’s the architectural bit. The roof is basically falling apart. Above the chamber is a funnel leading to daylight that isn’t entirely different from that in the Reichstag in Germany (also British-designed). The key difference is that the Assembly’s ceiling is made mostly of wood rather than glass. Shaped wood.

Wood that’s been bent into curves. Only trouble is some of the wood’s snapped because it would much rather be straight, and the bits between the wood (which looks like the stuff on top of garden sheds) is poking out of the holes.

Quite frankly it’s a bit of a mess.

A Guardian article yesterday went back to previous winners of the Stirling Prize and asked how practical the buildings were (especially the Peckham library built on the fourth floor, making it problematic for the elderly).

Sadly the Assembly looks as if it might join the long list of architectually magnificent buildings which after six months hadn’t quite lived up to practical expectations, even if it does look impressive.

P.S. Just so the Welsh don’t feel like I’m picking on them, remember that the Millennium Dome’s roof kept getting holes in it when it was opened, so we’re just as inept as you are.

BBC's move to Salford is nonsense

The Beeb is planning a £400m move to Salford, Manchester, moving departments like Sport and Childrens’ TV out of London. But they’re only doing it to try and convince the government they need more money, and this week they threatened to pull out of the move if they’re not given an above-inflation rise in the licence fee. The broadcasting minister, Shaun Woodward, said pulling out would “damage [the BBC’s] standing with the public”.

But this is nonsense. They couldn’t really care less whether programmes are commissioned from London or the North Pole. They wouldn’t notice the difference. Improvements have been made in recent years because more dramas especially have been filmed and produced in the North and the regions. Many were commissioned from London. But did anyone complain? No.

There are good reasons to move departments out of London. Office space in the capital (and of course, wages) are unnecessarily high. Excepting news and current affairs, there’s no good reason to be situated in the capital. And regeneration of Salford is a fantastic idea, with the plans for the site looking incredible.

Salford Quays plans

But let’s not get carried away like Shaun Woodward. The move won’t greatly benefit the public and won’t really be noticed on screen. There will be small economic pay-offs for the local area and jobs will be created. But it’s not exactly equivalent to finding a huge oil reserve under the Manchester Ship Canal.

The reality is that it’s a political move, designed to promote the BBC as earnestly public-service-minded in time for the renewal of its Royal Charter. So far it’s worked, but realistically the move to Salford has always been exaggerated, a bargaining chip in the BBC’s political game. If Mr Woodward didn’t realise this, he’s being quite naive.

And what should the BBC do? Well, if they wanted to save money then they shouldn’t move from one to metropolis to another. They should just pitch up in a field or disused airfield and start from scratch.

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