19 December 2007

Good initial signs from "The Clegg"... sort of

Well, Nick Clegg won the Lib Dems leadership election - by a much narrower margin than the pundits expected - but as very few of the pundits are (I imagine) Liberal Democrat party members, what the hell would they know?

Clegg has the obvious drawback of looking like of a Dave Cameron clone, but having met him in person (something I can't say for Dave) he seems a reasonably nice guy. Early omens were good this morning when, on the ludicrously named "Radio 5 Live"(what, so no other radio station has live shows, then?) Clegg said he didn't believe in God. Finally a sane man at the top... pass the copy of Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion many of you probably received for Christmas last year (oh, the irony).

(Clegg then balanced his ticket somewhat by pointing out his wife was Catholic and his kids were being brought up Catholic. See, this is how the virus perpetuates itself... the Church insists on indoctrinating the kids before they are too old to know better. I'm sure we'd still get some religious nutters even if faith schools were abolished - but probably a lot less of them.)

Clegg has also brought in Brian Eno, of all people, as an adviser on "how to reach out beyond Westminster to people who don't get a say in politics." This could lead to some very interesting possibilities, e.g.:

  • keynote speeches at the next Lib Dem conference being filtered through Eno's synthesiser array to give the general effect of whalesong, or insects walking on formica.
  • policy being chosen on the basis of the 'Oblique Strategies' card deck.
All in all, then, some positive potential for 'Cleggie' and maybe there is also the opportunity for a remake of Last of the Summer Wine (maybe with Ming Campbell as 'Foggy')... but an ominous note was struck when Clegg's first policy idea on education - raising state school expenditure per pupil to the level of private schools - is a direct rip from Gordon Brown. We'll have to watch this space to see how it develops.

07 December 2007

Police pay - strike? It's a no-brainer

The police are pretty pissed off with their pay award not being backdated to September (at least in England and Wales - in Scotland the executive saved itself the hassle and backdated the new settlement).

It's 2.5% which ain't particularly generous to start off with, but 1.9% without the backdating, which is pretty damn low, if you ask me.

But the point of this post is not really to debate the rights and wrongs of the police but to point out that the Police Federation (a kind of 'trade union' for the police although it is not affiliated to the TUC) has been considering asking for the right to strike to be extended to the police.

What's to consider? Just go for it, guys. After all, who's going to arrest you for going on strike illegally? The police? Er... they're on strike. It seems to me these guys have the government over a barrel. All they need to do is think the logic through.

I guess they could send in the army to arrest the striking police officers... er, hang on, they're all in the Middle East. Goddamnit!

It's the biggest "no brainer" I've seen all year.

24 November 2007

Rock on Rudd

Initial exit polls suggest that little Johnnie Howard is goin' down in the Australian election.

Please god, make it so (said by a good atheist who nonetheless loves Patrick Stewart). Howard is, more than any other world leader apart from Bush, a cheap punk... a nasty little populist fascist who has introduced the most draconian labour laws you will find anywhere outside China and the United Arab Emirates, and backed the US's loony foreign policies to the hilt.

Also, at the 2003 World Cup final, when Australia gave one of the most gutsy performances I have ever seen in an international rugby match, and very nearly overturned the hot favourites, England, Howard was handing out the losers' medals to them and he was very nearly spitting on those poor bastards. It was a display of misanthropy and contempt on a grand scale... which made it obvious he was a cheap little wanker.

I know very little about Labor [sic]'s Kevin Rudd, but he can't be any worse than Howard. Also, there is a faint chance he might be related to AC/DC drummer Phil Rudd, and that would be worth voting for in itself. Rock on Rudd.

If anyone else has the misfortune to be awake at 7am on Saturday morning...

...I recommend that for a laugh, you tune into the Mo Dutta show on Radio 2. This guy basically is the real Alan Partridge. He's bringing the cack-handedness of local radio to the UK's most listened to radio station. It's amusingly crap, unlike, say, the Sarah Kennedy slot early mornings on weekdays, which is just a senile moron telling stories about her cats and slagging off various members of the community for no good reason. And she had the nerve to call mid-morning DJ Ken Bruce an "old fool"...

Terry Wogan is, by now, Radio 2's answer to Leonid Brezhnev (he's kept alive for public appearances but there's nobody home) and surely will be pensioned off soon. When that breakfast show slot becomes vacant I hope they give it to Mo Dutta. (A few years ago I'd have said "please give it to Noel Edmonds" but that was before Deal or No Deal took off.) Radi0 2 is worth very little unless it is utterly ludicrous. Jonathan Ross understands this very well (and walks off with a large slice of my licence fee money in the process. I should decide the allocation of resources... more programmes for Tony Benn and Leo Sayer, please.)

love-on ya.


21 November 2007

"You're dead you're f***ing dead"...

...as the guy with the balaclava on said in Nathan Barley.

In this case, it's directed at Steve McClaren.

Hal Berstram here, back on the sports desk for 1 night only. I've just watched probably the lamest England performance since the failure to qualify for 3 consecutive international tournaments in the mid-1970s.

These guys are paid huge amounts and they can't perform for shit. In that sense they are very, very similar to the directors of firms like Northern Rock and Paragon.

Welcome to 21st century UK market capitalism... a system where you get paid huge amounts for being rubbish.

The good thing about this is that McClaren will be history. Probably ex-Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McClaren could put out a better side. Maybe it's time to make the job into a big reality TV experiment. Just get a randomly picked punter to have a go... could they be any more duff?

It's lame, for sure. I'm going to Layer Road to watch Colchester on Saturday and I'm sure I'll find a better standard there. Onward and downward...

I've got a good idea - let's burn the Child Benefit database onto a CD and send it through the post.

Not a lot of time to post over the last few weeks but the extraordinary story of the missing Child Benefit data has jolted me into action.

For once, headlines from duff papers such as the Daily Mail make perfect sense - "mind-blowing incompetence".

The data include bank account details and various other sensitive info. They ere apparently put on CD by a junior HMRC operative in Newcastle, posted to London using a courier - not unrecorded Royal Mail delivery as some sources initially reported - and failed to arrive about 3 weeks ago.

AFAIK the data were not encrypted or even password protected in any way.

What the f***? Haven't these people even heard of secure FTP? Why the hell were the data being put in the post in the first place?

If it was just one person whose details had been compromised in this way it would be scandalous. But it's 25 million people - half the bloody country.

Brace yourselves for the paralysis of the banking system as justifiably concerned customers ring up to request changes of account details and query any anomalies - or perceived anomalies which appear on their statements. Which is just what we need in the current financial climate. Meanwhile the whole thing rather undermines the Government's campaign for greater vigilance to prevent ID fraud. Are people gonna bother to take precautions if government departments are this sloppy?

If this kind of story appeared in a political drama it would be criticised for being too unrealistic. Good luck getting out of this one, guys - the Tories will be having a field day.

08 November 2007

OK... Plan B

On second thoughts, I've decided the music scene is not interesting enough - in itself - to carry giroscope forward. I'd like to be able to say that it's this decision that explains why no post since 24 Oct, but actually it's because I'm damn lazy. That's right, I'm bone idle. Sorry about that.

But a compromise has been reached. giroscope - that which you all know and love - will continue as that unique blend of politics, comedy and Herb Alpert's mariachi trumpet sound that has captivated audiences since 1962 or thereabouts. I'm pleased to announce the imminent return of Seth B Ramal as political correspondent. Barney Ruddle is still out there on the farm cider, but on the off chance that he is sober enough to type, expect further occasional contributions. Hal Berstram has been downgraded to the status of 'typesetting automaton' after failing to come up with anything vaguely coherent during his sole tenure. As they said in both Aliens and Billericay, 'you had your chance, Gorman'.

Extra writers always welcome. I've been trying to entice 'Van Patten' to have a go in a PJ O'Rourke / Pat Buchanan 'alternative viewpoint' style but Van is having problems getting an internet connection that'll actually let him log on. The free market, eh?

Meanwhile a brand new 'brother blog' will detail the musical adventures, opinions and idiocies of a good musician friend of ours known to the masses as 'Brother Typewriter', currently residing in the where-is-the-next-song coming from file at the Burning Lodge. That will be set up late November/early December (even sooner if I pull my finger out). Watch these spaces.

S. B. R.

24 October 2007

F*** politics, This Is Music

Hello people,

Just to let you know that I have decided - for the moment - to abandon political commentary and focus on music. Because politics at the moment sucks. Big time. A plague on all their houses. Who cares who the new leader of the Lib Dems is or what Gordon Brown's latest sell-out will be? Do the politicians even care themselves?

Before signing off from politics entirely though I must recommend that you go out and buy Raj Patel's new book Stuffed and Starved and anything you can get your hands on by Carbon Trade Watch. These are the guys taking it forward - for all of us. And as soon as I can get my head together I'll be with them. But not yet... too busy in the studio.

More to follow soon.



15 October 2007

Fare Well Camp Bell

A sad day, in many ways, that Ming Campbell has resigned as leader of the Liberal Democrats.

I will miss his straight talking no-bullshit style (promised, but so far not delivered, by Gordon Brown) and wish him all the best. He never looked like Prime Minister material, but then neither did John Major, and he did the job for almost seven years... in any case, since when was there a realistic prospect of any Lib Dem leader becoming PM?

In the end, Campbell was done in by the media requirement for photogenic, identikit political leaders - politicians like reality TV stars. I have no doubt that Gordon Brown would have suffered exactly the same fate if he'd ascended to the Labour leadership after a long period of opposition, rather than being in the government for ten years beforehand. He's only been indulged so far as he's got previous form. And on the evidence of the last week's shenanigans, that might all be rapidly unravelling. But that is excitement for another post...

Now I'm not saying that Campbell was perfect - in many ways he was a one-man revivalist for the Michael Foot school of politics - the amiable old buffer zone... but then Foot was great too. Certainly infinitely preferable to Thatcher in '83.

Anyway, this raises the interesting question of who the Lib Dems will go for next... I think Nick Clegg would be their best bet. Certainly not Chris Huhne, who is an egotist to rival Robert Kilroy-Silk. And Vince Cable, while a great guy and an excellent Shadow Chancellor, works a lot better in that role than he would as leader. Most of the other alternatives are either too eccentric to be successful or too right-wing to be tolerable.

Anyway, the leadership contest offers a little consolation now that the election has been called off for at least 18 months.

06 October 2007


GB has bottled it...

Why do I feel the sudden urge to say "James Callaghan?" Gordon might very well rue this day when he's up against it in spring 2010 with time running out to go to the country.

Oh well.

04 October 2007

Post-Tory Conference polls out... now it's getting interesting...

Well, the Labour lead has definitely narrowed in the wake of the Tory conference... latest polls show:

YouGov (Channel 4 News) Lab 40, Con 36, LD 13
Populus (The Times) Lab 39, Con 36, LD 15
ICM (Guardian) Lab 38, Con 38, LD 16

Of course, 24 hours after they were saying an election was inevitable, all the papers, news sites, etc will now be saying that Brown will decide to call the whole thing off. If I were him I would still go for it, because it's more of a risk to hang on into next year. What about if the Brown 'bounce' disappears and he's facing a poll deficit during the whole of 2008 and 2009? He'll look like a right banana.

The way I see it, these polls are showing the absolute maximum popularity of the Conservatives, before any Labour counter-attack - just like the polls last weekend were showing the maximum popularity of Labour. In an election campaign the parties would no doubt settle down at a Labour lead of around 6 or 7 per cent. I can't actually remember an election campaign making a major difference to the relative popularity of the parties in my lifetime - people often cite 1992, but the actual problem there was that all the polls were way out of line because people didn't want to admit they'd vote Tory. A correction factor has been put into polling to control for this ever since and subsequent campaigns have been much more accurate.

I think Brown would be mental to call off now - he'll go into public folklore as a "bottler" and this could do him real damage in the long run. More later this week on why the Labour lead has narrowed - I don't think Dave's speech was good enough to do it by itself. Guardian Unlimited suggests that it was the announcement that the Inheritance Tax threshold would rise to £1 million under the Tories that produced the swing. If that's the case then IHT has taken on a political importance out of all proportion to the money it raises for the Exchequer. Maybe the Daily Express is gonna set the agenda for this election - which is very bad news. My view is that taxing inheritances is actually a lot more justifiable than taxing earned income, but more on that once we get into the campaign. If we get into the campaign...

01 October 2007

Dave and his party of dildos

Just came back from Blackpool where the Conservatives are currently holding their conference. Blackpool is one hell of a lame-ass town, but more on that soon - I'm still recovering from it.

Like the Labour conference last week, it was hard to get that worked up about this; the Tories are putting a brave face on it but the delegates I saw had the look of condemned men/women. Brown is walking away with the big prize and suddenly all Dave Cameron's careful work over the past two years looks very much in vain. A come-from-behind win for Dave in the forthcoming election is certainly possible - Ted Heath managed it in 1970 after being similarly written off by the pundits - but the electoral arithmetic still works against the Tories even after boundary changes. Dave would probably have to be 6 points in front to get an overall majority - he will likely start the campaign around 6 points behind. Even in 1992 (the election when the polls got it most wrong in recent times) they weren't out to that extent.

The new policy platform unveiled so far has offered thin pickings - George Osborne's pledge to raise the Inheritance Tax threshold to £1m will be popular but isn't going to swing many votes on its own, it's just not important enough an issue for the vast majority of people, despite the Daily Express's best efforts. Likewise cuts in stamp duty. The Conservatives still face a huge problem in trying to knit together the outputs from their six policy review groups into a coherent manifesto - it's not so much that the policies themselves will be incoherent, because Labour's 2005 manifesto (a model of vacuity if ever there was any) proved that you can win an election without having any policies. It's more that the whole rhetorical thrust of the two major policy reviews, Goldsmith/Gummer on 'quality of life' and John Redwood on 'competitiveness', are 180 degrees opposed to each other and that's a very large crack to paper over. Goldsmith and Gummer say - quite rightly - put the environment first, whereas Redwood says fly as many planes as possible and f*** the environment. How is Dave gonna square this off? Most likely he will fudge it somehow, but it's very hard to see a coherent policy platform emerging from these reviews at short notice.

And all the time there are senile senior figures sniping in the sidelines. This week's Spectator has a piece by Norman Tebbit lamenting the lack of 'popular' (i.e. quasi-fascist, in Tebbit-speak) policies among the Cameronite modernisers. Tebbit is now - or maybe always has been - so crazy that he thinks that all the Tories' current problems stem from Mrs Thatcher being 'conned' into joining the ERM by the 'Europhile Tories' who were apparently 'pulling strings behind the scenes.' Real reds-under-the-bed conspiracy theory stuff, and sad to see from a guy who once seemed pretty sharp, even if he was a complete wanker. Next we find Malcolm Rifkind saying 'a snap election would be an outrage' because governments with a working majority in the House of Commons should serve a full term. Presumably then Malc was saying the same thing in 1983 and 1987 when Maggie went to the country? She still had a full year left to run, after all. Also, isn't Malcolm's outburst rather at odds with Dave's insistence that Gordon call an election immediately when he became leader in June?

It's this kind of inconsistency that's going to make it surprisingly easy for Labour to fight the campaign. They just need to point to the endless selection of hypocrites, duffers and madmen in the ranks (and also some of them on the Tory front bench) and Dave's credibility will most likely evaporate. Of course, if the Tories wanted to do themselves and the country a favour there are several worthwhile and progressive points they could campaign on, for example:

  • the transformation of Britain into a low carbon economy, in line with the Goldsmith/Gummer blueprint, and constrasting strongly with Labour's rather faltering steps in this direction.
  • enshrining civil liberties and halting the steady drift towards a police state (which, of course, Mrs T started).
  • getting rid of the Stalinist 'target culture' in public services, substituting instead a reliance on competent and well-motivated professionals monitored by democratically elected oversight boards (or something like that anyway).
Sadly, whilst the Tory party is undoubtedly a more enlightened place than it was 2 years ago (and much credit to Dave for this), huge swathes of constituency organisations and the parliamentary Conservative party are still staffed by the most dreadful collection of quasi-fascist dildos imaginable (and I feel that I met a frightening selection of them at the Conference!) With raw material like this to start off with, Dave has always had his work cut out. And now that he seems to have lost his one trump card (good poll performance), there will be many, many Tories willing to kick the ladder out from under him should he deliver anything less than a hung parliament in the general election that will now almost certainly be held this November. It's gonna be emotional...

29 September 2007

Stop this I think it's silly - let's call an election instead.

Labour Party Conference report: Bournemouth was pretty dull, although the hotel was absolutely extraordinary. It was about 20 minutes' walk from the town centre and the dining room gave the impression that it had been designed (complete with corner bar area), decorated and fitted out in about 1971 and then left for 40 years. I mean this place made the decor in Fawlty Towers look modernistic. It should be listed immediately!
I found Gordon Brown's speech a bit lacklustre to be frank, but he got through on the astonishing advantage that derives from not being Tony Blair. The 'not Blair effect' will, in my view, carry Gordon and the Labour Party through the November election which now looks VERY likely, probably with a majority of around 100. After talking to a number of people, none of them very important or influential, at 'Conference' (where does the definite article disappear to at this time of year) I am convinced that an election will be called in the next fortnight. The only person who thought it was unlikely was The Guardian's Michael White, who told me to "remember Harold Wilson in 1970". A very valid point, but if I'd been quick-witted I'd have retorted with "remember Jim Callaghan in 1978." But I'm not quick-witted so I went "uh-huh."

The Jim Callaghan parallel deserves closer examination. Uncle Jim was widely expected to announce an election at the TUC Conference in September 1978 after a series of opinion polls showed Labour several points in front of the Tories for the first time in about 3 years. Instead he did a weird kind of music hall song about a guy who "can't get away to marry you today because my wife won't let me." I wish this was on Youtube: it's one of the truly bizarre moments of 20th century politics and makes Ming Campbell or Iain Duncan Smith look like Bill Clinton in terms of their communicative abilities. I think it is on the BBC site somewhere but I couldn't find the footage. If Callaghan hadn't suddenly decided to do an audition for Monty Python, who knows? He might have won an election and maybe we'd never have had the Thatcher government or any of the rest of the 80s b.s. that we all went through.

But that is A Long Time Ago, and Gordon unsurprisingly kept quiet about any electoral moves last week. He's probably waiting to see how "Dave Cameron's Conservatives" do this week in Blackpool. The general betting now is that the outcome of this conference will be somewhere between a meltdown and a controlled continuum implosion for Dave. The Tories will probably manage to stage-manage the conference set-pieces well enough - not hard when your delegates' average age is about 78 - but the fringe will be broiling. Dave has been under attack on so many fronts recently, e.g.:

  • extraordinary attack by George Osborne on the "ultra-modernisers" in central office (isn't George supposed to be one of those? Ah I see - he's actually a hard right winger just on the bandwagon to get into power. Sorry for being stupid.)
  • Norman Tebbit effectively saying "vote for Gordon". Tebbit is - and always has been - a wanker, but carries surprising traction amongst the (still surprisingly large) quasi-fascist electoral constituency in "middle England".
  • increasingly disastrous poll ratings (despite a weird dip at the end of August where it appeared the Tories were actually reeling Labour in).
My friend Chris Brooke has put the case for an early election very succintly and expertly on his blog and I can only agree with his analysis. I think Gordon should make hay while the sun shines. All kinds of shit could blow up in the Government's face between now and 2009. Also, Dave might decide to drop all this 'progressive' stuff and move to the hard right. The Tories with a genuinely charismatic photogenic leader (which Dave is, if he's anything at all) and some hard-right policies - authoritarian, anti-migration, anti-environment, one might say Redwoodite (or Bushite?) - might be a formidable force. But would Dave really drop everything he's been trying to do to the Tories over the last 2 years just to try to win an election? Probably yes - he's a politician, for crying out loud. But calling an election now would mean that he'd have to stick with his existing policy platform - which is confused, contradictory, and easily open to ridicule.

I'm looking forward to rolling giroscope into "election mode" any day now.

23 September 2007

Conference again... what a major league drag

Time for the Labour Conference once again, this time in Bournemouth, a town where everybody probably still goes home from the pub early to watch the Old Grey Whistle Test. It's "Wheelchairville, UK". Makes Eastbourne look dynamic.

Seth B. Ramal used to get excited about this kind of thing last year but times and priorities have changed. There is no longer the fun of being able to shout what a bastard swine Tony Blair is. Americans must have experienced the same vibe in 1974-76 when Richard Nixon was replaced by Gerald Ford... just not the same class of target to aim at. There is a lingering suspicion that Gordon Brown might just be a Nice Guy. And you don't walk down the street shouting about a nice guy (unless you're the guy my mate Tom once met in South Africa at a party who said, "I know what we'll do, we'll go and see Mark Thatcher. He lives down the road. Nice guy.

Dunno about you, but I always found it cool the way 'Nice Guy Eddie' in Reservoir Dogs was a complete and utter bastard. But we digress even more than usual...

It's a bummer I missed the Lib Dem conference in Brighton. I love Ming Campbell so much. There was a good article by Dominic Lawson in one of the broadsheets (the Telegraph maybe? Can't be bothered to Google it) saying that Campbell was one of the most underrated party leaders ever. Probably right, but is it possible to do anything else with Ming Campbell apart from underrate him? He could at least endorse tins of his namesake, Campbell's soup, for a higher profile. And I think Labour should launch "Gordon's Brown sauce". [Cue a lame, 30 years out of date joke about "HP Sauce" and consumer debt. If anyone gets that, I'll be amazed.]

Loved doin' the continuous updates from the Manchester conference last year but this year I'm staying in what is essentially a guest house and I think wi-fi is, frankly, UNlikely, so I'll promise nothing. Who will the special guest speaker this year be? I think it should be Dave Lee Travis. It is, after all, a seaside roadshow.

I just wish I could give a shit about party politics at the moment. But like Mr Spock in the Paramount car park that was pretending to be the planet Vulcan at the start of Star Trek - The Motion Picture, my destiny lies elsewhere. Still... a chance to drink glass after glass of unbelievably bad red wine at no expense should rarely be turned down. If you're down at the seaside too, maybe I'll see ya there. At least this time I have a secure zone pass (not like the Tory conference last year... which was an unmitigated disaster for all sorts of reasons. Anyway, "enough already". Keep it real!

14 September 2007

Northern Rock on a roll... downwards

Big financial story of the day is that Northern Rock has asked the Bank of England for an emergency loan - which is a pretty unusual event. When this happens it's normally a sign that a bank is close to going bust.

If I had had my eye on the ball over the summer I would have been covering the current financial crisis a lot more closely than I have done. The 'sub-prime' mortgage defaults and consequent rise in the price of credit have left a lot of financial institutions - across the world - with big holes in their balance sheets. On its own I don't think this crisis is big enough to collapse the system completely - the bad debts are large but they're not THAT large - but it will give rise to a very different feel in the financial markets. The days when economic "growth" could be generated merely by massively expanding the indebtedness of a company, through the expansion of private equity (or indeed the consumer sector, through a housing bubble) seem to be coming to an end, at least for now. Of course, capitalism as we know it relies on credit markets to drive growth; but what we've seen over the past five years or so is an unsustainable expansion of credit, driven by a combination of lax regulation and that combination of greed and desperation which is at the heart of the capitalist mindset. Chickens are now coming home to roost.

My hunch (and that's all it is as the real data are buried somewhere in company balance sheets - after all I had no idea Northern Rock was in trouble until today) is that the US and Europe are going to go into recession on the back of this - probably next year. Maybe now's a good time for Gordon to have a general election (although it's certainly possible to win an election in a recession - just ask John Major) as I don't think the economic data will look anywhere near as good six months from now.

Advice for savers with Northern Rock: don't worry. The govt won't let a major financial institution collapse and will just surreptitiously bail out the companies involved unless they're particularly small and reckless (Barings springs to mind). These guys have all read about what happened in the 1930s. Mervyn King's assurances that the Bank will not bail out dodgy investors are bullshit - almost like a UK version of Greenspan, how does this guy get such kudos whilst delivering about as much economic insight as Tommy Cooper? King knows that propensity to do dodgy deals is the only thing which drives the UK economy forward these days, reliant as it is on the financial sector. The more recklessness there is out there, the better UK plc does - until there's a crisis like this. Then the backhander comes into play, bailing out the big financial institutions - the ones you'd notice if they went bust. Who pays for this? Smaller borrowers (through higher interest rates.) i.e. anyone with a variable rate mortgage. Or small businesses with bank loans. Or people with bank loans... the little guy just got screwed once again. Welcome to what our American friends would call "Real World Economics 101". I like the sound of that.

I'm thinking very seriously about desigining and delivering a course in radical economics for the Workers Educational Association - a useful project for next year. I'll let you know.

07 September 2007

1 year old today...

And so giroscope stumbles into its second 12 months as of now. Sadly I missed the Chappel beer festival this time round but we are planning to go to Ipswich in a couple of weeks' time.

Not much to time to post for the tiem being as I'm mainly into making some music through an Immersion Composition Lodge at the moment. Anyone who enjoys writing and making music but doesn't get so much time to do it anymore should really check out this immersion composition malarkey. Initially I thought that it would involve playing guitar in a flotation tank, but no. In fact you have to write and record as many songs as possible in 24 hours. The aim is 20 songs but I don't know anyone who's managed that (actually probably Napalm Death would have managed it in about 20 minutes in the old days.) I'm coping with the restrictions by paring down my arrangements to basic heavy metal, and taking lyrical inspiration from Budgie and Grand Funk Railroad. More on this as it unfolds, but for now, Rock On.

In the meantime, here is another great blog for you, this time inspired by a friend's surname: saunders.blogspot.com

30 August 2007

Q: "Hal - where the f*** have you been?" A: "Failing to Kill Slugs".

Hello again after another (more than) 2 week layoff... so what have I been doing that's so important that I couldn't post for all that time?

failing with a beer trap.

I made the trap for the slugs that are really laying into the cabbages we are trying to grow over the winter. Filled a plastic container with some Quilmes Argentinian lager (it was all I had left over from the BBQ we had last week), and sunk it into the soil next to the cabbage patch. Result after 48 hours: a beer trap with two wasps, three beetles, one worm, and no slugs. The bastards are too clever for me. Luckily I have some other alternatives without resorting to chemicals - a border of crushed eggshells (easily available from most garden centres or you could indeed make your own if you eat enough eggs) works well. Note to self: use bitter, instead of lager, in the beer trap in future. Maybe these slugs are CAMRA members.

Never mind... courgettes and squashes are now doing very well and the slugs don't seem to go for them. More excitement from the garden to come in the autumn...

I'd like to say that was all I'd done for the last two weeks. But it would be a lie. I somehow like the idea of someone spending 2 weeks laying a beer trap and then failing miserably. The Lottery will probably give me money to make a film about it with some ex footballers.

Topical blog of the day: quilmes.blogspot.com

(Expect at least one of these with each post from now on. I am trying to find the most genuinely lame and useless blogs out there - and it seems to be surprisingly easy.)

15 August 2007

Apologies for this extended interruption to the service

Been no post here for almost 2 weeks which I'm well aware of.

This is mainly because I am going on holiday next week and I have so much crap to sort out before that. But I will make regular posts next week and beyond... you can count on that.

Also... it's a one man show from now on. I killed off Seth and Barney. I put an axe through their heads. I've got... tapes of some of it. Harold... I killed a lot of people. Perhaps, like "Horselover Fat" in Philip K Dick's Valis, they never really existed at all. Perhaps they were honest Tory MPs.

Never mind. Giroscope is now just Hal Berstram... in time for its 1st birthday.

For rock'n'roll, dope and frowning in the streets.

Piece and frakkin'. BEE LEAVE - don't sting me now.

Cheers all. Until the next shot of coherence, give yourself a laugh and try my new technique; rather than pushing 'next blog' to go to a random blog on Blogger, try inputting a well-know (or little known?) word into the browser, followed by 'blogspot.com'.

Some ones I tried today (with varying degrees of success):
Heavy Metal
Heavy Rock
New Labour
I Like It (possibly the weirdest one)
Space 1999 (weak)
Blakes Seven (possibly even weaker)
Cress (enthusiastic)

Try it... please report back if you find anything interesting.

31 July 2007

The Proms are great... shame about some of the audience

Went along to The Proms last week - although it's mainly rock'n'roll that is in the spotlight whenever music is discussed on giroscope, I'm partial to a bit of the old classical (most of it, anyway). Prom 18 was the one we went to - Delius's Song of Summer, Tippett's Triple Concerto and Vaughan Williams's Symphony No 5. All the pieces were great and well performed. The Delius and Vaughan Williams pieces were pastoral and quite approachable (an avant garde composer and contemporary of VW once dismissed him as 'cowpat music' but I do think that's very unfair). The Tippett was a much more '20th century' sounding piece - dissonant, challenging, not taking it lying down. As the reviews on the BBC site for this Prom show, some people in the audience found the juxtaposition of two different styles of composer too challenging to take. For example, here's a review by James Dixon:

First, Delius. A magical piece, which should by rights be a Proms staple. Then Tippett, and the problems began. I don't know if new Proms controller Roger Wright reads this page, or if anyone in contact with him does, but if so can I tactfully suggest such sharply juxtaposed programming has long outstayed its welcome. I have tolerated some pretty bizarre clashes in the past - Maderna and Tchaikovsky, Nancarrow and Bernstein - but this really was the worst yet. I am nearing 40. I have had time to work out roughly what I do and do not like. Having struggled with Tippett in the past, I decided to give him one last go, but like fellow critic 'Steve', I found the only pleasure came from the realisation I need never suffer this arid chaos again. I believe the majority of the audience felt likewise. The applause spoke of admiration for the soloists' technical accomplishment, but little else. Faces of bemused disappointment predominated in the bars during the interval. Genuinely catholic (schizophrenic?) musical personalities in the Rattle-Kenyon mode are very rare, and this policy of 'you can have your Beethoven when you've eaten up your nice Birtwistle' is patronizing in the extreme.

What's "patronizing in the extreme" is the suggestion that the Proms audience is too bone-headed to appreciate more than one style of classical composition on the same night. Why don't people like Mr Dixon and 'fellow critic Steve' go home and listen to Classic FM or their Haydn box sets if they don't want to hear something innovative? Who says Birtwhistle is the thing you have to sit through in order to listen to Beethoven? For me, it would probably be the other way round. Birtwhistle is certainly not an easy listen, but I'd rather stick my head in the washing machine than listen to an early Beethoven symphony. I would also advance the thesis that the washing machine has somewhat more musical merit than early Beethoven. And where the hell were these 'bemused faces in the bars during the interval'? I think it was only people who'd looked at the prices - £3.90 for a can of draughtflow Guiness ferchrissakes! Now that is the real outrage.

Four days earlier, the European premiere of Brett Dean's Vexation and Devotions, paired with Beethoven's 7th Symphony, attracted similar criticism on the BBC site. This is a fantastic piece which uses recorded messages from call centre phone lines - "your call is very important to us... please hold" juxtaposed with some harmonically challenging orchestral and choral lines to make a statement about the sheer insanity of modern living. The most amusing review I found wasn't even about the music - it was about the way the orchestra and conductor dressed:

Proms 13 and 14.Musicians' dress is not unimportant in the presentation of music at public performances. Sadly, the dreary black shirt and black tie of the BBC Symphony Orchestra detracted from their superb perfomance of Beethoven's 7th Symphony, - a situation made worse by the conductor, (David Robertson) with his lack of even a black tie to his casual black shirt. If his orchestra is made to dress properly in white shirt and tie, why can't he?

The Haydn concert the very next day saw the choir, orchestra and soloists superbly dressed in white tie for men, and black dresses for ladies, with the lady soloist in a beautiful concert gown, with a sparkling necklace. Oh dear, what did the conductor,(Sir Roger Norrington) wear? A crumpled black jacket buttoned up to the neck - (no tie of course) - which he immediately tore open three minutes into the concert. Most concert-goers expect a dress code befitting the grandeur of Classical music. Why do conductors arrogantly scorn the dress code of their musicians? What are they trying to tell us, and why should they be allowed to do so? While I'm at it, please put the BBC's magnificent Symphony Orchestra back again into formal evening dress with white tie and tails?

I give up, I really do. The Proms - Great concerts pretty much every time, but can someone do something about some of the audience?

22 July 2007

In praise of Paul Giamatti

Feeling a bit guilty about not posting anything for 10 days so let's go for two in one night. Irregular but prolific...

I always dig 'in praise of...' in The Guardian. This is a paragraph they have at the bottom of the comment column where the leader writer offers a good word in support of something - or someone - they think is worthy of such positive analysis. Partly I dig it because one of my friends writes some of them, and he did perhaps the greatest ever 'in praise of' - on the live Guilty Pleasures concert that BBC London DJ Sean Rowley put together at the Hackney Empire back in April.

Anyway, if I was in the lucky (unlucky?) position of having to write an 'in praise of', it would have to be the actor Paul Giamatti. I've watched one and a half films with him in the lead role this weekend - American Splendor, which a mate of mine was kind enough to lend me on DVD, and Sideways, which is currently on Film4, and he is absolutely brilliant in both of them, in completely different roles. This is the kind of versatility that all actors probably should be in command of, but sadly very few are. It's kind of weird that I've never noticed Giamatti in any movie before this - even though he's been in loads - but then I'm extremely unobservant, so that's probably it.

American Splendor deserves a blog post all of its own - and indeed there is a strong argument for setting up a 'reviews' site to allow me to write at greater length (and in a more structured manner) about some of the key films, records etc of the current and previous eras. The site would be very old skool - the sort of thing that was springing up on the web in 1995/96. If I get round to it it'll be a great project. But you should give Splendor a shot if you're looking for a genuinely off-beat and original film which is nonetheless very accessible. Fantastic stuff.

Sideways, based on the 60% or so of it that I've seen, is interesting because it's the first film I've seen which offers a detailed treatment of what it's like to be a wine buff. It's not a film about wine but the mechanics of wine tasting play a key role. It's obviously a key influence on that BBC documentary that featured Oz Clarke (the Paul Daniels of the wine world) and the guy from Top Gear - May? [can't remember his first name. Sorry but whenever I think about Top Gear I feel a strong urge to go out and purchase a rifle just to kill or maim Jeremy Clarkson. Then I remember that sadly, this isn't the USA.] The Clarke/May documentary was surprisingly good, mainly because Clarke was an unbelievable prat and May just wanted to drink some bloody wine. He couldn't stand Clarke's bullshit and he was right. If May was in charge of Top Gear rather than Clarkson and they made it a programme about what the best wine for drink-driving was, it might be worth watching. Just.

Anyway, Sideways has given me the idea for a nice little British movie which I'm sure I could get Lottery funding for. The plot would be quite similar to Sideways except that instead of California, we're in East Anglia, and instead of visiting vineyards, we're going to breweries and beer festivals. Best of all I already know about half a dozen people who would be perfectly cast for a film like this as they would essentially be playing themselves. How do I apply for Lottery money for such a project?

19 July 2007

Blowing back on politicians and dope

Another stage in the ongoing saga over politicians admitting they smoked dope at university a couple of days back... Jacqui Smith, Alistair Darling, even the notorious Opus Dei plant Ruth Kelly had been at it once upon a time.

Contrary to popular belief it was possible to go to uni in the 80s/90s and not smoke gear... based on my experience it just depended who you hung out with really. If you were with a reasonably relaxed crowd who weren't either people who never left the bar (the darts team?), postgrad South Africans who were never off the rugby pitch, or the square science students who used to pack their own lunch box to take to the lab every morning, there was normally a plentiful supply of drugs, both soft and indeed hard, available.

Even if you hung out with the smokers you could 'just...say...no' in the Patrick Bateman sense. One of my mates at uni - let's call him Thomas Jerome Newton on account of his David Bowie fixation - simply refused 'a toke' for 3 years straight. He just didn't want to know, and in retrospect, I salute his courage and indefagitibility. For TJN, it simply wasn't a part of The Good Life in the way that hard drinking, or sugar free Tab Clear (a well known soft drink of the time) was.

So it wasn't inevitable to end up with a spliff in your hand, but I must say it was extremely enjoyable. Which is why all these politicians saying "I smoked it... it was wrong... I regret it... I am a terminally boring asshole who would probably lose an election to ITV Digital's 'Monkey' [sadly missed!] under a fair electoral system" are taking out of their bottom.

Why can't we have a sensible conversation about cannabis use in this country (or most countries?) Why is the government looking into reclassifying dope from class C to class B?

We're told it's because super-skunk, or whatever hydroponic concoction is avaiable on the street, is 40 times stronger than the stuff these ministers were smoking in the 70s and 80s. Personally I can well believe that prolonged exposure to the really heavy stuff could be hazardous to mental health. But if alcohol was a banned substance (and I'm sure some ministers would love to ban it), we'd be having exactly the same conversation. There would be super-strength spirits, illegally distilled in labs, doing the rounds. They'd be several times stronger than the homebrew cider that ministers were drinking in the 70s and 80s, and we'd be looking to reclassify alcohol to class B...

The long and the short of it is that these bozos are too thick to realise that it is the illegality of marijuana which causes super-strength derivatives to be doing the rounds. If the stuff was licensed and produced on a commercial, quality-controlled basis, reasonably priced, no-one would bother with skunk (except maybe as a home growing project.) We'd be better off because we wouldn't have to live in fear of being charged by the police for smoking a plant which can be grown wild in any British garden. The government would secure a wodge of tax revenue. And the consumer would be guaranteed a quality product.

I just wish some politicians would have the guts to campaign for full legalisation. There may be some doing that in the Lib Dems or maybe on the libertarian right of the Tory party - I don't follow the debate closely enough to know - but we never seem to hear from them when the matter is discussed in the news.

With the debate over drugs as dumb and ludicrous as it is now, is it any wonder 40% of the population don't bother to vote?

13 July 2007

F*** the Queen

So the BBC edited some footage of a documentary in the wrong order to make it look like the Queen walked out of a photo session after she was asked to remove her tiara.

Who gives a damn? Documentaries are always edited in post-production. In any case whichever way the footage was edited, her majesty comes across as a complete cow - totally out of touch with reality. But what do we expect from someone who never had to do anything to get where they are, but is just there by accident of birth? The idea that the controller of BBC One should resign over this is totally ridiculous. If the BBC had any real balls it would tell the Queen to f*** off. But of course since being neutered in the wake of the Hutton Report, with the resignation of Greg Dyke, the only Director General in decades to fight openly on behalf of BBC workers and BBC viewers, it's been a shadow of its former self.

If the Queen had a shred of honesty and integrity she would resign immediately - as would anyone in a position authority who hasn't been democratically elected to it. Imagine it - a "Cut the Crap" day. All these unelected SOBs - monarchs, CEOs, religious leaders, Gordon Brown? All forced to ratify their positions via the popular vote.

Many people criticise the monarchy on the grounds that it's an overhang from a medieval, undemocratic age - which is true - but then we only live in a democratic age in a very limited sense. We get the opportunity to vote for bland corporate-friendly leaders every four or five years, local politicians who are indistinguishable from each other, and MEPs we never hear anything from. Meanwhile many of the most important decisions are taken by unelected international bodies like the WTO and the European Commission, and multinational corporations that no-one ever voted for. Sounds rather feudal to me. Maybe an absolute monarchy, or some other form of dictatorship is the most conducive form of government for capitalism. The Chinese government certainly thinks so.

I do not recognise the Queen as the legitimate head of state here, and if I was asked to attend a function at the Palace (very unlikely) I would write back saying so. I don't want to meet these people and I don't want to associate with them. They can piss off as far as I'm concerned. If only the BBC had the courage to use this incident to start a real debate on the future of the monarchy...

04 July 2007

Spin That Wheel - Blairites Get Real

Partly this is a post title I've been wanting to use for ages...

...but the thought has been increasingly occurring to me - isn't it great that we don't have Tony Blair on the box every day now?

It will obviously take several months before we can know whether Brown is really going to be able to win the next election - initial evidence suggests he can, but then initial evidence suggests that estate agents are trustworthy people who will Do The Right Thing by you. The poll bounce is interesting as it's something that was predicted to happen if Brown had managed to replace Blair at the height of party discontent over the post-Iraq fallout, in late 2003, but Brown didn't want to split the Labour party (the charitable interpretation), or he bottled it (my interpretation).

Since 2005, though, most of the opinion polling has suggested that there would be no 'Brown bounce' - in fact, if anything, Brown would go further behind.

This has proved completely wrong. Many of you will be sensible and wise enough not to take any notice of opinion polls - you will remember 1992, a few old stagers may even remember 1970. But for the weak-willed, obsessive and candy-starved among us they are bread and butter, the political equivalent of London Lite free newspaper. And it is highly amusing that Labour has gone 3-4 points in front on some polls.

BBC Political Research Editor David Cowling says in the aforelinked article:

I have yet to find anything Labour did between January and June this year that satisfactorily explains, to me at least, the eight point improvement in their standing on the NHS.

Er... Tony Blair getting the hell out of No 10 maybe?

It would show real balls, or indeed semi-recklessness, were Brown to exploit this poll bounce by going for an autumn 2007 election, with the Tories still having no real policy platform to speak of besides a commitment not to abolish grammar schools but they might build a new one in areas which already have them if people really really really want it. Or something...

Strangely enough, I think that going to the country early - by Spring 2008 - would be a good option for Brown. Because if the poll lead were to continue into, say, autumn 2008, it's quite possible Cameron might face a backroom coup of the type that did for Iain Duncan Smith back in '03. And if he did it's probable a hard-right challenger like David Davis could take over - and he might be harder to beat than Dave. Yes, I know the Tories failed twice on a hard-right agenda with Hague and then Howard, but it could be third time lucky. There may just be enough nutters worried about immigration/high taxation/overweaning government to vote in a Tory on a hard right extremist ticket'. Call it 'the Sarkozy Effect'. Or, perhaps we remember Britain, 1979? With enough nutters worried about immigration/high taxation/overweaning govt? As a friend's dad once said about Star Trek, "it could 'appen".

Just to get back to the title of this post as I've gone on long enough... there's been a refreshing lack of Blairite voices saying how bad a job Brown is doing, "we told you you'd miss Tony when he's gone", etc. Maybe "we're all Brownites now", as they say. But this is just some advice for the Blairites I know are hiding out there someplace (in the form of a 'free verse' poem:)

'spin that wheel - blaiRIGHTS get real'

by Seth B Ramal (with royalties donated to Technotronic).

**New for 6 July: battlestarred, URLed remix version** after worries about the impact of senseless profanities on pensioners, and remembering the Nixon tapes.

the wheel hath spun,
and yer man hath frakked the frak off
(as Malcolm Tucker would say.)

(as Nathan Barley would say:)
so keep your orifice backed up
jump-shift to blair MK2 - dave ca"MORON".
(which is where you sensible, friendly people should have been in the first place).

[Ah, that feels better now.]

27 June 2007

TB->GB: that Blake's Seven Series Three feeling

Today, when looking at Gordon Brown's first speech as PM, I had that Blake's Seven Series 3 feeling.

You know, the one where one of the two main characters has left the stage and suddenly it's a one man show.

Blair, like Blake, started off with the best of intentions, but many people died as a result of his actions. He believed it was worthwhile, in the pursuit of freedom and the war against terror (represented in the series by 'The Federation').

Meanwhile, Brown as Avon... brilliant, yet strangely aloof, ambitious but not a natural leader. However, Avon got better scripted lines than most of what I've heard from Brown... so far, at any rate.

David Miliband would make a good Orac.

Was Iain Duncan Smith Space Commander Travis?

And who is Servalan? Maybe Patricia Hewitt?

A more serious post on Brown when I don't have to work 16 hours a day to finish this bloody report I'm writing for work. That'll be in about two weeks, then...

(p.s. this post won't have made any sense to those of you not acquainted with Blake's Seven. In which case I can only recommend that you do get acquainted with it. In the meantime, "indulge me"...)

22 June 2007

"Classic Britannia"... another classic

I end up watching TV more Friday evenings than I'd like to admit, simply because the pubs in London are so damn busy on Friday nights that it's the last time you'd want to go out for a beer, and people we know locally in Essex never seem to be around on Fridays. Usually it's absolute cack, but BBC4 will often throw something exciting into the mix, and so it was with Classic Britannia. This was the first in a series of three hour-long programmes that look at classical music in Britain between 1945 and the present day. This one covered the period up to the early 60s and featured a lot of Benjamin Britten (whose work I know to some extent), William Walton (who I was clueless about), the tail end of Ralph Vaughn Williams's career (a Benny Voller favourite), and early works by Harrison Birtwhistle and Peter Maxwell Davies (reassuringly avant garde.) The surviving composers were all interviewed specially for the programme and this was combined with a lot of good archive footage including Britten's War Requiem (which I was lucky enough to pick up as a vinyl box set from a charity shop in Clacton last year), at its premiere in Coventry Cathedral in 1964. Anyway the programme was brilliant and follows hot on the heels of Jazz Britannia, Soul Britannia and Folk Britannia. All we need now is Barber Shop Britannia and we're done.

Seriously though, BBC4 is an oasis of quality programming in a sea of cack. Many people don't like the licence fee but I think just this channel on its own makes it worthwhile. Perhaps I'm an awful elitist? Who gives a f***. Benny V, you need to watch this program as soon as you can (I'm sure it'll be repeated. Nice Pink Floyd post by the way son. So what did happen to the Post War Dream?

See y'all down The Proms next month.

18 June 2007

Bemard Manning dead?

...it's a fucking disgrace.

I don't believe it for a second... it's been made up in a newsroom... by sick bastards.

Shove the paper back in their face and tell them to f*** off.

Posted by guest reporter Ted Maul, who is doing his best Hal impersonation.

14 June 2007

Hal goes AWOL, but the garden's doing great....

Barney with news on why the posts are so damn infrequent at the moment...

Greetings all, and if you're reading this as regularly as I think you are, I hope you're enjoying 2008. We've been a bit slack at giroscope of late... formula posts every week or so, a touch of the boxtickers about it all.

Partly it's because Hal has disappeared off the scene completely and we're worried about him. Since a rather random post on the topic of widescreen TV on 3rd June, Hal has not been seen on the web apart from a comment on a dilate.choonz post today. If the truth be told, Hal's never been happy with the role of a sports reporter, and yearns for the grit of the political coal-face once again. Anyway if you're reading this, Hal, do get in touch. We miss you...

So in the meantime what's Barney been up to? Gardening, mostly. We've got a good collection of stuff growing in the garden now: turnips, kohl-rabi, courgettes, squashes, onions, broad beans, beetroot, sweetcorn... all very exciting. I would have taken some pictures tonight but the heavens opened and the plants weren't in their best light so that's a project for the weekend. In the meantime, I've found a lot of good allotment blogs out there; I like the ones with the really bland titles like Dave's Allotment and Mike's Allotment best, as they seem to have the most exciting content. Suddenly, pictures of (for example) squashes being planted out start to look quite exciting when you're trying to do it yourself. Or maybe it's just me...

I must reserve a special mention for the compost heap which is going great. Got a very good mix of 'greens', 'browns' and 'activators' (nettle leaves), and the bin itself, which we made out of 4 pallets we got from some very kind neighbours who were doing their house up, is just brilliant. I'll post some pics of that as well. There are some good composting blogs out there - this one looks good, for example. But what we really need is a mechanism which takes old, abandoned blogs full of verbal rubbish and converts them into useful words and phrases you can insert into your blog to pep it up a bit. I've not seen such a device yet but I live in hope. Anyone got any ideas?

08 June 2007

"one"... everybody do the Chivers Chase

Join the fight to track down an elusive rail boss...

The Essex Chronicle is probably not the most exciting local paper in the country (in fact it's amazing how, in many people's eyes, putting the adjective 'local' in front of anything is enough to elicit sniggers and damnation in equal amounts. Think about it... local paper, local radio, local government, local shop for local people, local loop unbundling... you know you don't like any of 'em. A sad and sorry state of affairs...)

But the Chronicle is fairly good at pointing out the deficiencies with the ludicrously named 'one' railway... every months or so the crapness of the rail service provokes a headline. This time it was 'one hell of a train service' which is very similar to the giroscope post title from the last time I talked about this topic. I don't come back to it that often because it's too easy a target and nothing every really changes - the trains are always crowded, there aren't enough at peak times, they get slower and slower as more 'long term speed restrictions' are added in, and the fare increase is always more than CPI. The bastards just get more and more smug and unreachable. However my interest has been piqued by the sheer unreachability of new 'one' managing director Andrew Chivers.

Chivers took up his post in January and apparently agreed to meet a reporter from the Chronicle to discuss the inadequacies of the service. However, after this initial agreement in principle, requests for an interview date were never answered. At the start of April, the Chronicle's assistant editor wrote to Chivers personally requesting an interview. Several weeks later Chivers's PA called to say she was unaware of any previous interview requests but said it would be fine if a Chronicle reporter called to arrange an interview. He left 'numerous messages on her answerphone' over the next few weeks, none of which were returned. As the Chronicle reports,

more than six months after Mr Chivers took over, we are still chasing that elusive appointment.

Whilst the story is highly amusing, and an indictment of 'one', the aforementioned journalist and assistant editorChronicle seem to be unimaginative lame-asses - or maybe they're just on a tight budget. 'one''s address is at:

Olivers Yard
55 City Road
London EC1Y 1HQ

[These guys might not be able to run a train service but they can sure grab a fancy postcode, eh?]

All the reporters have to do is get on a train up to London (admittedly it's quite expensive and I don't know if regional journalism pays at all well) and take a newscrew from the local BBC or Anglia News with them (there is very rarely anything interesting on the local news here - for example, the headline one day was a piece about 'rats on the roundabout' at Ditchingam in Norfolk - I kid you not). Then do the most basic imitation of Michael Moore: go to reception, ask to speak to Andrew Chivers, and if he isn't there, blockade the entrance/exit for the day until the guy has to go home. (Best to turn up in the afternoon probably). For extra man/womanpower they could take some of the long suffering commuters with them. I'd certainly turn up. And voila! Instant headline story. I'm going to write to Watchdog with the story about Mr Chivers's reticence in any case - it will be highly amusing if it gets on TV.

I will also try writing to Chivers, although it's unlikely to do any good. I wrote to a previous managing director, Tim Clarke, a couple of years back. All I got was an identikit response from some poor bastard working in the 'customer services' (ahem) department which managed to be both patronising and incoherent at the same time. The only employee there who has ever responded to queries personally is Theo Steel, who was the 'Projects Director' (what on earth does he do I wonder?) but he is now retiring. I wish him all the best and it's probably a good time to leave. I wish I could... (i.e. stop commuting), and maybe I will. Just walk away from the f***er... I've got a dream about buying some land (like Gerry Rafferty said on Baker Street. But prices weren't as high relative to incomes in 1978, y'know.)

Anyway let's bombard this wanker Chivers with audio-visual assaults. Maybe it's time to do a Michael Moore on the bastard. I might take matters into my own capable hands. As Morrissey (and King Crimson) once said, "We'll let you know"...

p.s. I would have linked to the Essex Chronicle website for this story, but their write up of it was so pithy that I couldn't be bothered. Their site is bloody crap. Obviously they have no money for a decent web designer as well as train tickets!

p.s.2 - In the course of my research for this post I found an informative and entertaining blog about being annoyed about trains here.

p.s.3 I can't afford one of them yet and I would be crap at the games even if I could.

03 June 2007

Respect going out to people who can't use their widescreen TV properly

because Hal likes a laugh at the expense of people who are techno-illiterate...

Not being able to face a post on the Labour deputy leadership campaign due to its extreme dullness (oh, for the excitement of the 1981 campaign! Why can't Hilary Benn be more like Tony?) I had a choice between writing about recent gardening work I've been undertaking or a post that caught my eye on IDWID. This is the blog that the guy who does the Jammer's Reviews TV sci-fi reviews site does in his spare time (or maybe he does Jammer's Reviews in his spare time. But anyway they are complementary.) The post was about people who get the aspect ratio wrong on their widescreen TVs and display 'full screen' (4:3 aspect ratio) programmes using the full 16:9 ratio screen, which means everybody looks very fat. Anyway the post is a hilarious and cutting exposé of the widening gap between the capabilities of modern TV equipment and the audience's capacity to use them.

It's not all the audience's fault, however. Manufacturers and broadcasters have to shoulder some of the blame for the fact that there are a load of people watching 4:3 programmes in widescreen. One of the pins on a SCART cable (the standard audio-visual connector in Europe until high-definition came along) is designed to carry a signal which 'switches' the TV between 4:3 mode and 16:9 mode. This works OK provided that:

  1. the TV manufacturer has wired the SCART input to recognise the signal;
  2. the DVD/set-top box manufacturer has wired the SCART output to produce the signal;
  3. [for TV broadcasts] provided the broadcaster includes the signal to switch the aspect ratio as part of the programme broadcast data.
This is the set of conditions that needs to hold for the consumer to be able to enjoy the right aspect ratio on all TV programmes even if he/she is completely clueless. In practice, there's no consistency as to which manufacturers/broadcasters observe these standards. And so we're left with a situation where a lot of people are watching distorted fullscreen pictures on a widescreen telly.

I hate SCART anyway. The idea of a single, two way A/V connector seems good in principle but the manufacturers often don't implement it properly, a good quality SCART cable costs about fifty quid, and they fall out all the time. Part of the reason we had to get a new TV was that the SCART connectors stopped working on our previous one which was only 6 years old. OK, so it was an el cheapo 4:3 CRT set but so what? You shouldn't have to change your TV because the bloody input socket has stopped working! It's like Neil Young said - a "piece of crap." Anyway, that's all for now on the subject of people who can't use their TV, which I have pretty much exhausted - for now. Next stop'll probably be a gardening post from Barney Ruddle, 2007's answer to The Lawnmower Man.

29 May 2007

Cornwall report... Ruddle hits the farm cider... maybe it's time to buy a B&B?

Back after a 12 day break in Cornwall... 'twas strangely nice to be gone, with no internet access and not writing one of these posts every few days. I'll get back into it though... nothing worse than a blog with no entries for several weeks, or indeed months. Actually there are worse things than that... one of them is the episode of Newsnight I've just seen which featured all the candidates for the deputy leadership contest. Well, Jon Cruddas was pretty good. As was, perhaps surprisingly, Harriet Harman.

But I can't be bothered to talk about that now... maybe tomorrow. You can watch the deputy leadership debate on Newsnight here if you really want to.

2 things struck me in particular about Cornwall. One was how good farm cider is. Just the basic stuff you can get in a plastic bottle in some of the more adventurous off licences... or even from the farm itself if they're selling. I found "Hayes Farm Cider" particularly impressive, at around 7.4% abv.

The other was how nice it would be run a B&B down there. I've checked out the financial logistics of this and at current housing prices down there it's impossible unless we were to win the premium bonds jackpot or something. But to be able to say f*** off to travelling into work on a crowded tin box for 2 hours a day and the insanity of the nutters in London trying to shove a free paper in your face every five metres... that would be a real killer.

We're also getting quite into growing our own vegetables at the giroscope house in deepest Essex. Broad beans are doing particularly well at the moment and we are getting some kohl-rabi action as well. I'll probably post some pictures up later in the week. It would be good to be able to do this on a slightly bigger scale but the garden ain't that big and so we are rather limited here. But a little self-sufficiency is certainly better than none at all...

Anyway, enough escapist whimsy for one post-holiday comedown... time to get back in that f***ing tin box again and take my punishment like a clone. According to the guy in Star Wars Episode II the clones are very impressive, so I guess that's something. Now get on with your work.

18 May 2007

Taking a break from all your worries (incorporating blog review #20 or thereabouts...)

The plugged-in amongst you will spot that the title of this post is stolen from an episode from the last series of Battlestar which I haven't managed to see yet because it's on Murdochvision and no bloody way am I giving that bastard any of my wonga. EVER. I only ever read the Times if it's given to me free on a GNER train. And even then, it sucks. I read the Sun sometimes at my wife's nan's house, but then they have all the quality papers - the Sun, the Mirror, the Mail, the Princess Diana memorial circular.

But Murdoch-bashing is too easy and satisfying to make good copy... Anyway, the long and short of it is that the editors are off on holiday to Cornwall for a week and a bit, so there may well be no giroscope until May 29. Having said that, we'll have a laptop with us and I am assured that the wi-fi scene has percolated into the extreme south-west, so who knows? There could still be text-based adventure for you next week, fellow shipmates. In the meantime, can I thoroughly endorse this week's randomly chosen blog, Rainbow Pills.

"Rainbow Pils" with just one 'l' would be more promising (imagine: the wacky adventures of a barman at Yates's Wine Lodge with access to the beer lines and several litres of industrial dye... "that pint looks green!" Nah mate, it's just the weird lighting we got in here.) Instead we get a lot of detail about IKEA and a lot of stuff about not being able to sleep. All I can say is that if blogging apparatus had been around when I was 15 or whatever I'd have been far more shit than this. Such is life. See ya soon!

17 May 2007

John McDonnell = R5D4

"Well come on red, let's go!!"


Before they were hunted into hiding and near-extinction in the dark days of the New Labour empire, the fearless Jedi warriors of the Campaign Group controlled Labour politics. John McDonnell wanted to be their Obi-Wan Kenobi, returning from obscurity to mount a brave challenge to Gordon Brown's Darth Vader.

But instead, he secured only 29 nominations from his fellow Labour MPs - 16 short of the number required to get on the ballot - and he became the R5D4 of the Labour leadership campaign, shorting out with a bad motivator at the first hurdle.

I was going to carry this Star Wars - British politics analogy a lot further, but after noting the curious resemblance between Hazel Blears and Salacious Crumb, I was too distressed to continue...

Incidentally, in the course of research for this post, I discovered that R5D4 has his own fan site. There are some wonderful, kind souls on the internet, doing sterling work like this every day, catering for the hard luck cases of the golden age of film sci-fi. Respect goin' out to ya.

15 May 2007

This Is a Formica Table... Brown Is Its Colour

(with apologies to Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me fans. But we're going to have a lot of Gordon Brown post titles over the next six weeks and I thought I'd get the rubbish ones out of the way first.)

It's true... Gordon Brown did look a bit like a formica table when he delivered his opening shot in the Labour leadership 'campaign' on Friday. He was hiding behind the autocue and it was the classic slightly stilted Brown performance.

And thank hell it was stilted... something real for a change. We've had 10 years of a 'charismatic' and 'inspirational' Prime Minister, and look where it got us. Cynical, manipulated, betrayed and maybe damaged beyond repair. Brown was stressing substance over style, which is the same thing poor old Ming Campbell tries to do every week, but Brown somehow seems to do it with a lot more gravitas. And he is the low side of 85, which helps.

Ironically, of course, there was next to no concrete policy in that Friday speech. There have been a few ideas since then: 'eco-towns' (anybody got a definition of one of those?) and giving Parliament the right to decide whether to go to war or not (although of course they did vote in favour of Iraq, so it wouldn't have made any difference in that case.) It's still very thin pickings at the moment. But then we are only 5 days into the 'campaign' so best to wait and see.

I use the inverted commas round 'campaign' deliberately as it looks likely that John McDonnell, the Hugo Chavez of Hayes & Harlington (and coming from me that's a compliment), is not gonna get the 45 nominations from Labour MPs he needs to stand. Which is a shame, but it was always going to be a tough call to convert the present Parliamentary Labour Party to the socialist cause. You almost feel McDonnell would have a better chance mounting a leadership bid against Dave Cameron; certainly Ming Campbell's post is there for the taking. I think he should resign the Labour whip and convert to the Green Party (along with the 40 or so backers he will probably be able to get), which would deprive Labour of a majority. Then it would be time for a 'rainbow coalition' of Tories, Lib Dems, SNP, Plaid Cymru and Greens (plus whatever Northern Irish support they could muster), which would make life very interesting. And probably annoy Brown intensely!

Fortunately, it looks like Jon Cruddas is over the hump for the deputy leadership contest. Cruddas isn't quite as "out there" as McDonnell; talking 70s prog bands for a moment, if McDonnell is Magma - so prog he has his own language - then Cruddas is more like Supertramp; he can take it "outside" once in a while but he knows when to reel it back in, and crucially, he knows how to write a political hookline. Basically, JC's shtick is: the Labour party is dying on its feet and we need to haul some serious ass to get it back into a healthy state again. Which is a very powerful message, with resonance for a considerably broader spectrum than just the left. I don't know if Jon Cruddas can win, but he can certainly galvanise the contest and ask all the right questions.

Anyway enough vapid speculation for tonight - except to suggest that Jon Cruddas uses Supertramp's "Give a Little Bit" as his campaign song. and "McDonnell Cruddas", besides being a great name for a folk-rock band, sounds a bit like McDonnell-Douglas, the old American aerospace company. You know it makes sense...

09 May 2007

Watch out for Tony's last stand

Reports suggest that Tony Blair will announce a timetable for his resignation tomorrow at his constituency.

Personally I don't believe what "reports suggest" that often anymore, so I'm not hopeful. Possible options for what might happen tomorrow:

  1. Tony declares martial law, on the grounds that Gordon isn't up to the job. John Birt is brought in as commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Or maybe Peter Mandelson will be brought back from Brussels.
  2. Tony stays on as the puppet head of a national government with Dave Cameron as the right hand man (I floated this idea back in September)
  3. Tony walks into the spaceship and ascends to the heavens, a la Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
  4. Tony walks on water and ascends to heaven, a la "The Second Coming".
  5. It is revealed that for the past 24 years Tony has been an automaton controlled by Ming Campbell, who is actually "Ming the Merciless" from Flash Gordon.
  6. Someone blows up a secret transmitter and Tony and most of the New Labour cabinet are revealed to be hideous aliens (a la They Live).
  7. Someone blows up Tony.
  8. Tony announces he's decided to accept the vacant manager's job at Newcastle United.
  9. It is revealed that in a secret deal just before leaving office, Tony has sold the entire country to a private equity group headquartered in Dubai. The top 100 millionaires in the country are all given $2 billion of stock options each and told to work very hard. The rest of us are put on minimum wage and told to work even harder, or shipped out to Belarus if we complain. The CBI issues a statement saying "it's good for employment."
What's it gonna be then, Tony? My money's on something a bit violent - 6 or 7, or 1 if it turns nasty. Note the caption in the BBC article linked to above:

'Mr Blair will fire starting gun in leadership contest'

That suggests Tony will be the source of the violence. Maybe we should add:

10. Tony shoots Gordon (but how if he's not up in Sedgefield as well?) turns and grins smugly at the camera, says "OK, whatcha gonna do now, ya baz?"

Love it.

Where's Guido? Day One

Readers of the Guido Fawkes blog may have been following his series Where's Gordon? which followed the whereabouts (or otherwise) of Mr Brown through the recent General Election campaign and beyond.

Sadly, however, a surf to www.order-order.com as of 8pm, 9 May, reveals:

Not Found

Error 404

Have the New Labour web police got the bugger at last? Let's hope it's just a temporary outage. In the meantime you'll have to content yourself with Guido Fawkes 2.0.

Update @ 9pm: Guido's back. But he was down for about an hour, possibly more. I wonder what happened?

06 May 2007

Reflections on various polls

Not my best post title, but it's (reasonably) late and I'm severely lacking energy.

News has just come in that Sarkozy has just won the French presidential election. It may well turn out to be a moment similar to the election of Thatcher in 1979 in the UK, or Reagan in 1980 in the States, with similarly calamitous consequences. Then again the guy might just be a complete hick who fails to accomplish anything and is voted out at the first possible opportunity. His general demeanour reminds me of Jose Mourinho, which can't be a good thing at any time. It's too early to say yet - more on this one as it pans out. A shame about Segolene Royal, who seemed OK. But then we seem to be in a nasty, vicious phase in international politics where 'seeming OK' is the easiest way to lose an election. How else to explain how a small-minded bastard like John Howard in Australia, for example, can win about 4 times in a row?

Meanwhile, the post-mortem from the local elections for Labour continues. It's hilarious to hear Tony Blair going on the radio and saying it wasn't that bad a result. In huge swathes of England it was atrocious. For example, in my neck of the woods in Braintree the Tories went from 27 councillors to 42 out of a total of 60. I've no particular liking for the Conservatives - they are, as Hunter S Thompson said about the Republicans, "cheap greedy killers" - but Gordon Brown had better hope this is a 'kick Tony Blair out the door' result, a big mid-term protest, and once the electoral cycle swings round to 2009, things will improve. It's not clear that'll happen, though. I can't see that the economy's going to be doing much better 2 years from now and it might well be doing worse. All the polls asking how people will vote when Brown takes over from Blair show a shift away from Labour, not towards. And there seem to be very few 'big ideas' in the pipeline short of stopping the crazy dismantling of key public services in the name of 'reform'. Actually, just doing that - stopping Tony Blair's crazy sabotage programme - might be enough to win next time. That, plus the fact the electoral system is ridiculously biased against the Tories.

Of course the interesting thing is that who you vote for in local elections seems to make very little difference in terms of how the locality is run. A key case in point: fortnightly bin collections to encourage recycling. The Daily Mail is up in arms about this - as with everything else. Fair enough - in a well-functioning democracy, one might think that at election time, one party (or parties) would be saying "let's have fortnightly bin collections and charge you less council tax" and another party (or parties) would be saying "let's have weekly bin collections and charge you more". What you find instead is that there is no coherent pattern at all in terms of which councils have introduced fortnightly bin collections, which parties are backing them and which are pledging to reintroduce weekly ones. The Mail likes to blame fortnightly collections on Labour but Braintree council was already run by the Tories (with independent support) when they were introduced! All the election literature which came round (and only 2 parties bothered to, or could afford to, produce any) concentrated completely on national policies with no mention of local policy. I couldn't name a single local issue where I knew that the Tories in Braintree had an identifiably different policy from Labour - and I actually take the trouble to read this kind of stuff (most of the time). Is it any wonder people can't be bothered to vote except as far as it shows two fingers to Tony Blair?

02 May 2007

'Inland Empire': er...

Went to see David Lynch's latest effort, Inland Empire, last night, at just about the only London cinema that was still showing it. (It's been out for a long time but it takes me a while to get my act together to go to the cinema these days.)

It was great, but I'm not really sure why. Lynch's stuff has been getting progressively weirder and harder to follow for some time now. Lost Highway (1997) centred around a bizarre incident where the main protagonist became someone completely different about half way through and then switched back again at the end, plus a really scary guy who was able to break into your house and talk to you at a party at the same time.

Mulholland Drive (2001) had a reasonably coherent storyline for about the first two-thirds of the movie, then got extremely confusing in the last part, as the main character's names switched round. It was kind of like the first part of the movie was nested within the second part. Or something. There was also a scary guy in a back yard behind a diner with a blue box (not Doctor Who, though) and various other strangeness featuring Michael J Anderson who played the 'little man from another place' in Twin Peaks.

Inland Empire has some similarities to Mulholland Drive in that it's once again set in Hollywood and features an actress (this time Laura Dern). Justin Theroux, who was in Mulholland Drive, is in this one as well, although sadly he's minus the glasses which made him look a bit like my mate Foley last time. And Jeremy Irons is in there as well, playing a British film director. However this time round the ratio of 'normal' to 'weird' material, which was running at about 70:30 in Mulholland Drive, is now switched round - or maybe even further. I couldn't make head nor tail of more than about 20% of the film in plot terms. There's no point putting a warning about plot spoilers in a review like this (can this be considered a review?) as I couldn't fathom the plot, so it would be hard to spoil it. All I will say is: watch out for the human rabbits in their sitcom. There must be some significance there. And the match between the pattern on Laura Dern's dress and the carpet when she first enters the house with the orange front room.

Anyway I thought it was great, and the acting, soundtrack and camerawork were absolutely superb. I particularly like the 'shove the camera in people's face' style of dialogue shots that Lynch is going for on this one. It's quite possible he may have been influenced by Peep Show in his camera style. But it would be hard to get a lot more weird than this without viewers simply giving up, apart from the hard core who think the guy's a genius no matter what he does - or even if he does nothing. Maybe I'm one of those people, indeed. The film comes out on DVD in July and it may be an easier watch on that format as 3 hours on a cinema seat is a hard sell for anyone these days.

I wanted to sign off with a snappy bit of dialogue from the film but I can't remember any of it. Only the woman who played Sarah Palmer in Twin Peaks talking about a "f***ing brutal murder" at the start. That was good. The best bit of swearing in a film since the guy trying to buy a car off William H Macy called him "a f***ing liar" in Fargo. He had a bit part in Inland Empire as well (I mean William H Macy, not the guy who called him a liar.)

Best bit from the Wikipedia entry on the movie:

Lynch attempted to promote Dern's chances of an Academy Award for Best Actress nomination at the 2007 Academy Awards by campaigning with a live cow. Ultimately, she was not nominated for the award.

29 April 2007

Beats International - Dubya Be Good To Me

With apologies to Norman Cook...

Footage from last week, at a White House event for Malaria Awareness Day. Not the rebirth of the "robotics" dancing style, as Dubya seems to be trying for.

I would have posted this last week but the 'post to blog' function in Youtube seems to have gone haywire since Google took over Blogger, so I had to paste the html in manually.

27 April 2007

Great anti-binge drinking idea - let's prosecute parents for giving their kids a glass of wine!

Current top story (at the time of writing) on the BBC is that the charity Alcohol Concern has said that parents who give their kids alcohol in the home should be prosecuted.

I sometimes think that I'm living in a remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers where almost everyone else in the country has been replaced by a low-grade moron who just wants to sleepwalk into the police state (or indeed the police station). "Yes, I'll come quietly officer... it's a fair cop guv... I plead guilty to not treating my kids like toddlers and trying to explain to them what responsible drinking is."

A Mr Don Shenker from Alcohol Concern was made to look stupid on the BBC Breakfast News when he appeared alongside a rep from the British Beer and Pubs Association to argue the case. Even the anodyne BBC interviewer managed to destroy Shenker's arguments. There is no evidence showing a link between the incidence of children drinking with parents in the home and going on to binge drinking later in life. There is a statistical link between alcohol abuse as a kid and alcohol abuse later. But how many parents are binge drinking with their kids? Not many, I suspect.

And (as the beer and pub guy pointed out) without CCTV in every home and an army of snoops to police it (which I'm sure John Reid would love) there would be no way of enforcing Alcohol Concern's proposal anyway. Really, if they're that worried about the dangers of alcohol, why don't they go the whole hog and argue that it should be banned - that we should introduce Prohibition? I'm sure John Reid would like that too. He could argue for massively increased police and homeland security expenditure on the grounds that illegal bootleggers were funding terrorism. It's a 'win-win', as the policymakers like to say. So watch out for that one in the next Labour (or Tory) manifesto.

At times like this one longs for the honest, no-nonsense professional drinker; Oliver Reed, Peter Cook, George Best. Those guys' lifestyles had a drawback, which is that they're now dead. But there's no way they'd have gone for bullshit like the Alcohol Concern proposals. And I also think it's quite unlikely that their liking for alcohol was caused by their parents giving them a glass of wine with their dinner.