Monday, May 14th, 2012
To Blog, or not to Blog?
The political philosopher William Godwin writes ”Every man has a certain sphere of discretion which he has a right to expect shall not be infringed by his neighbours. This right flows from the very nature of man.”
William Godwin is noticeable by his absence on Twitter, which could be partly down to his reluctance to share his life as per his above philosophy or, as is more likely, because he is dead. He died in 1836, one hundred and fifty three years before the brave new world of Tim Berners-Lee’s internet began to poke its all-knowing nose into all corners of everyone’s business and told your neighbours exactly what you were up to in 140 characters or fewer.
Some years ago, when His Ubiquitous Majesty Stephen Fry began to ‘blog’ and ‘connect’ with the public I thought it was a bit weird. I thought he was forcibly dragging some of the vaguely attractive mystery away from showbiz, letting we mere mortals peer behind the curtain to where the Wizard of Oz stood picking his nose and scratching his arse, just like the rest of us.
I’m of an age where, when I was growing up, the veil was still firmly drawn across the mystique of celebrity. Oh, we were allowed a peek under it every now and again when, say, Madonna or Mohammad Ali appeared on Parkinson and, for a brief moment, the gruff Yorkshireman’s charm was a window to their soul, but this tantalizing glimpse at the real ‘them’ only added to their star status as their lives remained out of reach to we muggles mugging at the screen. (Not that I’m suggesting Madonna would have ever reached a veiny arm behind her scratched her arse on Parkinson by the way. Although given her ‘Book of Sex’ and her notorious crucifix/vibrator peccadilloes (peccadildos?) of the Confessions era, she certainly has no issues in the inhibition department. Ok, I concede that Madonna might be a bad example).
In those halcyon days then, chat show appearances were the only place where you’d get a hint of the real star, but it meant it was an ‘event’, a rare moment of reality. Now of course, if you want to know what Demi Moore is thinking at any given time you can simply follow her on twitter where not only will you find her innermost thoughts, but also a photo of her bending over in her knickers in her own bedroom. Muhammad Ali would never have done that. Not in Demi Moore’s knickers.
So, to blog, or not to blog? Do we know simply know too much about the lives of others? Shakespeare churned out plays and poems like a man possessed but if he’d had even half a decent broadbard connection he’d probably, like all writers with an internet, have become easily distracted and halfway through comparing her to a Summer’s Day would switched his iParchment on and, like a bearded Adrian Mole, have doubtless publically blogged the progress of his efforts to get fingers and tops with Anne Hathaway.
(When I was about 15 and first getting off with girls I remember meticulously documenting the various styles of knickers and bras worn by a girl at school called Carole who I got off with on a railway embankment in one long, hot Midlands summer of zoom lollies, 2 litre bottles of over-fizzy cider and fumbling. Back then it was For My Eyes Only, the stuff of private childhood diaries, but now in the modern world everyone’s diary, like the truth they hold, is out there. See, now I’m doing it. I’ve just blogged something that should never be blogged. Carole, if you’re reading this I apologise. I’m not a pervert or anything. I was just documenting our love. And using it as a wanking aid.)
Has blogging killed the discretion star? Who knows? Maybe, back in the 1980s, had it have been invented, I would have blogged about my embankment encounters with Carole rather than just write it in my diary and everyone would have known about her pants, rather than just me, her and the bemused high speed business men witnessing our summer romance from the windows of the newly appointed Inter City APT train that flashed past our embankment at 125mph. Is it a good thing that the brave new world wide web compels people to share their lives out loud, whether we like it or not?
That said, I guess it has always been thus. When man first learned to communicate he did it by etching drawings on cave walls, documenting his day by scrawling pictures of himself shoving a rudimentary spear through the neck of a caribou. It was, to all intents and purposes, a blog written in stone and his neighbour, who had been out all day doing much the same, couldn’t have cared less and probably only glanced at his friend’s rock blog once before never reading it again.
Conversely, the noted diarist Samuel Pepys’s foresighted documenting of a burning London taught us much about life at the time. Yet if he’d been on Facebook providing real time updates of what was happening, posting ink engravings of Pudding Lane on fire on tumblr and then excitedly ‘liking’ the fact that the fire was halting the spread of the Great Plague, then would his account have resonated through the centuries as it does today? Possibly not. Instead his ‘friend’ King Charles II would have just thrown a sheep at him and challenged him to a game of Farmville.
And lest we forget, the poignant story of Anne Frank was made all the more because her story was told in her own words, through her childhood writings addressed to ‘Kitty’ her diary, her innermost thoughts later touching the hearts of a post war world. But thank Christ she wasn’t on Twitter.
annefrank1 @kitty It is a wonder that I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical.
9.44 am 4 Aug 1944 from twitattic
annefrank1 @kitty Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.
9.45 am 4 Aug 1944 from twitattic
annefrank1 @kitty This annex is an ideal place to hide in. Out of sight up the stairs concealed behind the secret bookcase on the 3rd floor.
9.46 am 4 Aug 1944 from twitattic
annefrank1 Uh-oh. That wasn’t a DM was it?
9.48 am 4 Aug 1944 from twitattic
annefrank1 That went to everyone didn’t it?
9.48 am 4 Aug 1944 from twitattic
schutzstaffeloberscharführerKarlsilberbauer @annefrank1 Ja.
9.49 am 4 Aug 1944 from twitler
schutzstaffeloberscharführerKarlsilberbauer @annefrank1 See you in einer minuten mein fraulein.
9.49 am 4 Aug 1944 from twitler
annefrank1 @schutzstaffeloberscharführerKarlsilberbauer Bollocks.
9.50 am 4 Aug 1944 from twitattic
Monday, October 10th, 2011
Listen Against back on Radio 4 Nov 3rd
Some people on Twitter are asking “What the hell’s Listen Against?” so I thought I’d post some reviews of previous ‘seasons’ (as a git might call them) as explaining it in 140 characters could be tricky….
New series starts Thursday November 3rd St 6.30pm on BBC Radio 4…
If the real world becomes too much, try Listen Against (Radio 4, Tuesdays at 6.30pm). It is so funny it will rearrange everything. Last week the pipe carrying BBC Three exploded, polluting all programmes around it; the BBC expanded into pizza delivery (“We can’t leave it to the private sector…”); Gaby Roslin and Ed Stourton channelled to the centre of the Earth for Children in Need; the Dimblebys become News Brothers, a musical. Alice Arnold, Jon Holmes and company on Listen Against will brighten even the darkest evening.
Gillian Reynolds, The Daily Telegraph, 21st September 2010
Were the Monty Python team starting out today, they might conceivably come up with something like the utterly fabulous Listen Against, supposedly a news round-up with Alice Arnold in the studio and Jon Holmes reporting. It’s a glorious mixture of cannibalised cut-ups from the BBC’s current affairs output and segments featuring Beeb figures playing themselves (Ed Stourton and Gaby Roslin, for example, on a Children in Need expedition to the centre of the Earth).
Much of it is directed at the BBC itself, and the triumphant stand-out last week was a rolling report from the scene of what Arnold called a “broadcastastrophe”. “The pipe that pumps bad TV into the nation’s digiboxes” had burst, and “gallons of terrible programmes” were spilling out, contaminating all the decent stuff with BBC3 output. “Awful programmes are threatening wildlife,” said Holmes. “I saw a man trying to clean James Corden off a guillemot.”
The emergency services were throwing episodes of Dad’s Army down the shaft to try to stem the flow. And how much was escaping, Arnold inquired? “It’s estimated at up to 3,000 scraped barrels a day,” said Holmes.
Chris Maume, The Independent, 19th September 2010
Radio review: Listen Against
The Radio 4 spoof comedy returns to take a well-aimed satirical swoop at radio and television.
Written by Elisabeth Mahoney. The Guardian, 8th September 2010
What clever little sausages that Jon Holmes and his cutting crew are. Back for a third series of the show that cuts and re-edits radio and TV to great satirical effect, they turn their scatter guns on a range of targets, from David Mitchell and his takeover of all broadcasting to 24-hour rolling news coverage of a Jeremy Paxman on the rampage, randomly firing questions at passers-by. Joining in the joke and enjoying having the mickey taken out of them are John Humphrys, Jenni Murray and Richard Bacon. It’s like Feedback, but with more blood and guts!
Frances Lass, Radio Times, 7th September 2010
Very funny (and rather rude) pretend radio show, real extracts from actual broadcasts mashed up into fantasy fictional contexts (Jeremy Paxman running amok and being chased by the police, for example). Jenni Murray, Richard Bacon and John Humphrys appear as themselves but others (David Mitchell, Evan Davies, Steve Wright) are edited into parodies of themselves. Excellent cast, tight production, sharp scripts and a glorious capacity to make telling fun of radio’s daily excesses. The Robert Peston competition is a wow. Alice Arnold presents, perfectly.
Gillian Reynolds, The Daily Telegraph, 7th September 2010
R4′s Listen Against scripted flights of lunacy recalled the best of The Day Today. For the first time, a Satanist occupied the Today programme’s Thought for the Day slot, recalling the time he sacrificed a goat and drank its blood (‘That should give us all something to think about,’ he concluded), while Compton Pauncefoot, controller of BBC Animal Entertainment, was questioned about offensive messages left on John Cleese’s messaging service by the stars of Radio 2′s The Monkey and the Parrot Show. He told presenter Alice Arnold: “As a result of this outrage, Radio 2 is to be bulldozed to the ground and in its place we’re creating a spring meadow of quiet contemplation.”
Nick Smurthwaite, The Stage, 8th December 2008
In these hi-tech modern times you now, of course, have the added opportunity of catching up with radio programmes you have missed or want to listen to again via the stations’ websites. With so much on offer, Listen Against’s Alice Arnold and Jon Holmes decided the copious amounts of material could do with a bit of drastic editing – in other words, they hoped to present all the right snippets but not necessarily in the right order.
Thanks to some clever editing, there were some funny news items from the previous week’s radio, not least the contestant taking part in Ken Bruce’s Radio 2 Popmaster quiz, who had an interminable list of people he wanted to say hello to and the light entertainment meltdown when a laptop containing the subjects for the next 10,000 episodes of Just A Minute was lost.
Lisa Martland, The Stage, 24th November 2008
A second run for the deadpan comedy that’s like Feedback from a warped alternative universe. The show manages to mangle radio formats into unusual shapes before presenting them in an almost credible fashion, and as co-presenter Jon Holmes tells Radio Times, series two boasts: ‘Today introducing controversial waterboarding torture techniques to grill politicians; a gritty HBO remake of Gardeners’ Question Time in the style of The Wire; a fan convention for The Archers in Las Vegas; and Oliver Stone’s new radio drama Peston.” And tonight, after David Miliband’s successful ‘appearances’ in series one, an equally peculiar Ed Balls sounds off, while John Humphrys is replaced by a real pit bull. Newsreader and voice of gravitas Alice Arnold once again has the task of announcing all this with a straight face.
David Brown, The Radio Times, 18th November 2008
Tuesday, September 20th, 2011
wireless warning (from Sunday Times July 2008)
This week I saw a man wearing a T-Shirt that detected wireless hotspots and lit up whenever it entered one. Fortunately I was wearing a harness with a flamethrower attached to it that is designed to detect twats and it lights up whenever it encounters anyone with more computer interface leads than friends, so he won’t be bothering us anymore.
But it got me thinking. With all this modern technology that pours out of our internet cords, updating our lives with a never ending stream of binary sludge isn’t it time we stopped and wondered what’s happening to the air around us? For instance, what if it’s not coal or our Clarkson footprint that’s making bits of sky burst apart like the doom-mongers say? What if it’s the great big cloud of wireless that’s hanging round all over the place like a networked fart ? Think about it. It’s still new technology. We don’t know what it does yet. It might do nothing except sit there, but there’s always an outside chance it could gain sentient intelligence and start eating us like The Blob, but a Blob made out of wireless instead of a Blob of whatever The Blob was made out of.
It’s like when the microwave oven became de rigour. My parents got one sometime around 1983 and have only recently stopped eyeing it with suspicion on the grounds that me and my two sisters didn’t grow up with three mutant heads each and a single, shared, glowing spleen. It turned out not be all that dangerous. Well not if you used it properly. Ours was dangerous but that’s because when they went out I used to experiment with it; exploding eggs, light bulbs in cups of water that would glow with the ferocity of a pregnant sun – and to this day my sister still doesn’t know the real reason her Barbie went all melty. I told her it was because while she’d been at school, Barbie had opened the Ark of the Covenant.
More recently of course it was mobile phone masts that were going to smash our brains off. Then it was something else, I dunno, podcasts made of asbestos or something and parents worried that their child’s playground was too near to the site of a download or an mp3. Should we worry? Wireless used to mean the thing in the corner made of valves that had the Home Service coming crackling out of it but now we have to call that a radio and a wireless is something that lives in your house sending music and films invisibly through the furniture. I’ve just bought a new laptop and when I switched it on it instantly knew all about my wireless. It speaks to everything else in the house in friendlier terms than I speak to my neighbours. It never ceases to amaze me just how it all works, this marvellous futuristic technology. But the downside is that it’s made the air in my office smell funny. Kind of like electricity that’s on fire. And there isn’t a fire because I’ve looked. Plus the cat won’t go in there anymore. But the fact that I can move files from desktop to desktop through space and also look at the internet in the garden kind of outweighs all this.
I’ve got a safety plan though. My friend Andy has even fewer wires than I do so I’m going to wait and see what happens to him. Films, music, internet – all of it streams wirelessly through his house. He’s actually quite disappointed that no-one has yet found a way to stream food from the fridge directly to his stomach because then he wouldn’t have to leave his chair at all. He lives in hope. And if and when his face melts, I’ll be in my house, pulling some plugs out.
So is it safe or shall we one day wake up, peer hopelessly at our routers through milky, metallic eyes and rue the day we all went wireless? When the robots come, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Sunday, September 18th, 2011
The Da Vinci Codeshare (Jon’s piece in the Sunday Times 18th September 2011)
What’s the worst thing about flying? Apart from crashing, obviously. Allow me to make a pitch for the noble art of codesharing, where you buy a seat on one airline only to find that it’s actually a seat on a different airline because the two airlines have joined up in an ‘alliance’ which is something that they have specially created to make your journey worse.
Codeshare alliances, sayeth the airlines “are in the customer’s best interests, allowing greater access to cities and making connections simpler” but this is a lie. What they are, in fact, is a ruse dreamt up by noted airline advisory company Satan’s Consultancy Services , to save them time and money. (And anyone who says Satan doesn’t consult for airlines has clearly never been through Heathrow security.)
Recently I was booked onto a flight with British Airways, fully expecting, as I was booked on a flight with British Airways, that I would be travelling on a flight with British Airways. Silly me. How naive. No, despite having booked a flight with British Airways I was in fact travelling on a flight with American Airlines. Why? Because they were codesharing.
So what, you might say, a plane is a plane. Shut up, get on it, have a drink, watch a film and relax. Well I would but sadly, unlike BA (which I had booked) American (which I had not) were charging for drinks and had very little in the way of film, given there were no seatback screens anywhere to be seen, just a distant overhead monitor showing Jane Eyre with the brightness turned down.
How many international flights have you been on with no backseat screens recently? And who wants to drink Heineken, let alone pay four pounds per can for it? Thing is, if I’d wanted to fly American Airlines, I’d have booked American Airlines. That’s how life works. I don’t go into a shop wanting to buy trousers only to be told that today trousers are codesharing with skirts and thus I must leave the shop dressed as a transvestite. Why should we accept this nonsense? All I want is what I’ve paid for. You don’t book a meal at Heston Blumenthal’s restaurant, pop on your glad rags and lick your lips at the prospect of a Nitrogen Baked Snail Infused With A Smear Of Barium Gas only to find when you get there that on this particular evening The Fat Duck is codesharing with Nandos. You’d be angry and disappointed and rightly so.
“But I was looking forward to Heston’s signature Macerated Otter Liquefied with a Gash of Sulphuric Aspic.”
“I’m sorry we’ve only got chicken.”
“But I don’t want chicken.”
“Sorry, did I say chicken? I meant pork. Tonight the chicken is codesharing with pork. It’s in the customer’s best interests.”
No it isn’t. Why don’t we get what we pay for? Or, if we don’t, at the very least get some sort of partial refund? You pay for BA service yet receive an inferior AA service in its place. I mean, I don’t pay BT for 60 megabytes of “lightning fast” broadband and only get less than half a meg slowly meandering down my internet pipes do I? Alright, bad example, that’s exactly what I get, but that angry Sunday Times article can wait for another day. Hang on, the waiter’s back.
“Has Sir chosen a wine? ”
“Yes I’ll have the 1998 Chateau La Mission please.”
“I’m so sorry Sir, but tonight the Chateau La Mission is codesharing with Tizer.”
“I don’t want Tizer. I don’t like Tizer.”
“It’s nicer than Heineken.”
“True, but I still don’t want it.”
“I’m afraid Tizer is all that’s available Sir.”
“Well, I suppose at least it’ll be cheaper than the red.”
“Dear me no Sir. It may be not what you wanted or ordered but with codesharing you see, you still have to pay the original price of the thing you bought but cannot have. In this case that’s £550 for a can of Tizer.”
I wonder if anyone’s ever investigated the conspiracy theory that the real reason the 9/11 hijackers flew AA Flight 77 into the Pentagon is that they booked to fly with someone else, quite happily and without incident to Los Angeles but, when they found it was a codeshare with no seatback entertainment, drinks were four quid and Jane Eyre was on they just simply decided to end it all there and then.
As we got off the plane (a day late due to an American Airlines (who I had not booked with) cancelling my original flight) the pilot’s voice scratched and clicked over the PA.
“Thank you for flying with us ” he said. “We know you have a choice.”
Yes, except we don’t.
Monday, February 2nd, 2009
Blogged if i know
Hello. If you’ve clicked here then you’ll be looking for some kind of blog action I shouldn’t wonder. Well, I’ll post as and when I can and I look forward to sharing some cosy evenings with you all curled up together in front of some words.