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.