Wednesday, April 29, 2009
The media are driving me to distraction by whipping this whole issue up into a frenzy of panic and misinformation. Let's keep some perspective here folks! Firstly, if you're fit and healthy you'll almost certainly not be at serious risk. Secondly, face masks only work if you change them every day so issuing them is pretty much pointless. Thirdly, look at the figures.
You are far more likely to die on the roads than die of Swine Flu. In fact, 1.2 million of you will die on the roads in 2009, approximately 3300 in the UK and a staggering 42,700 in the USA among them. I bet you're not panicking about driving to work though are you?
155,000 people will die today of natural causes. Over 100 kids will die this year in the UK from televisions and other furniture falling on them and around 4000 people will be killed in accidents in the home. Saddest statistic of all is that, worldwide, 11 million children under five years old will die this year of entirely preventable illness. So as you sit there on your comfortable First World sofa reading the papers or watching irresponsible news broadcasts (I just know that Charlie Brooker's going to give them Hell on tonight's Newswipe), just think yourselves lucky. You live in a country with adequate medical facilities, and stockpiles of antibiotics and other drugs. Most of you (I assume if you have access to the web) have a roof over your head and are well fed.
So please ... stop worrying about the piggy flu and get on with your lives. I'm sorry if this blog post is a little depressing. But it does at least make the point that there are worse things to worry about.
Live for the day.
Monday, April 27, 2009
Friday, April 24, 2009
Tuesday saw me in Putney in the London Borough of Wandsworth. It's one of those boroughs that has areas of outstanding natural beauty but also areas of outrageously foul nastiness. Thankfully, I was visiting places somewhere between the two extremes and, towards the end of the day, was able to hang around by Putney Bridge where the river Thames boasts some lovely views, great pubs and restaurants and some nice walks. I rattled off a few photos of which two appear here.
Monday, April 20, 2009
Saturday, April 18, 2009
Chris Hale over at The Middenshire Chronicles produced a very funny list last year of words beginning with 'bl' pertaining to blogging. So I thought I'd gather in all of the Twitter terms (plus invent a few more for the sheer hell of it) and present you with the first ever Twictionary. Enjoy.
Twang - The expression of despair when Twitter goes wrong.
Twanker - A person who self-pleasures by #followfriday or retweeting themselves
Twat - Ashton Kutcher
Twecipe - A cooking recipe described in fewer than 140 characters.
Tweed - When you didn't Twiddle quickly enough.
Tweedledee - A tweeter who follows his/her followers.
Tweedledum - A tweeter that doesn't follow his/her followers.
Tweeze - An invitation to view a Twitpic (see me naked) which turns out to be a disappointment (fat bloke).
Twerp - Ashton Kutcher.
Twiddler - Taking your mobile phone or laptop into the lavatory in case you miss a tweet.
Twiddling - See Twiddler.
Tweitgeist - The feeling that everything relates to Twitter.
Twig - A false hairpiece worn to make your profile pic look younger, more virile or zany.
Twill - A last will and testament of 140 characters or fewer.
Twine - An alcoholic beverage you drink too much of when tweeting.
Twink - A gay tweeter.
Twinkle - Urinating while actually tweeting (see also Twiddle).
Twist - The result of drinking too much twine.
Twit - A very short tweet.
Twirl - A tweeting female.
Twitch - A tweeting female with an acid tongue.
Twinge - The naughty part of a tweeting female.
Twotimer - Someone holding a clandestine affair on Twitter (in front of millions).
Can you add to this list?
Since posting this, the lovely Aniya has pointed me in the direction of her own online Twittonary ... check it out. It's very good!
Friday, April 17, 2009
It all started when Ed Sapiera of the splendid steampunk band The Clockwork Quartet emailed me to say that my Wikipedia entry had been vandalised. So I went to have a look and, sure enough, the entire page had been altered to include lots of gay references, many of them quite funny but some verging on the homophobic. So I got it fixed and, to my knowledge, it's all better now. I suspect it was a revenge attack as, within the body of the vandalism, there was reference to Harold Shipman. About a year ago, I corrected a Wikipedia entry on Shipman in which a spurious tale was told about him implanting small plastic boats in victims' intestines. It was done to advertise a rather poor taste dance track on YouTube.
Okay whoever you are. We're quits now, okay? But your song is still rubbish.
But then, my excellent chum Chris Hale texted me to say that I had appeared as a page on something (uninventively) called Sexyclopedia. How and why I'm on there I have no idea. I can only assume that it was because, for an unknown number of days, I was a shining beacon of extreme gayness (gaiety?) on Wikipedia. Still, how great is that? I'm a sexual entry.
Of course, the other question is how Chris found this out.
I shan't pry.
This post begins with some wonderful musing by Mr David Mitchell and was inspired by my tiny segment on Radio 4 last night ... and the subsequent torrent of tweets I received on Twitter. Or should that be tworrents? Much of the discussion was about plain English and the need for clarity.
I agree with much of what David says on his Soapbox. We shouldn't all be getting hot under the collar about the use of myself and yourself. Nor should we be worried too much about the differences between less and fewer. Yes, there are differences and I know what they are. But does substituting one word for the other really make the message less clear? I don't think so. And as fewer people are using fewer these days, the less we'll hear it. Just as may and shall will probably be extinct around the same time as the Northern White Rhino.
I do care about spelling and punctuation, however. But not just because of some arbitrary and often contradictory rules of grammar that I was taught at school. It's because poor spelling and bad punctuation can alter the meaning of a sentence. And if that happens, the purpose of the sentence - to communicate - is lost. You may know this famous example:
An English professor wrote the words: "A woman without her man is nothing" and asked his students to punctuate it correctly.
All of the males in the class wrote: "A woman, without her man, is nothing."
All the females in the class wrote: "A woman: without her, man is nothing."
It's a silly example but it illustrates an important point. Punctuation was invented to replace some of the non-verbal parts of communication; the stops, the pauses, the intonations. It allows us to identify spoken words from reported speech and questions from statements. Without punctuation a sentence can be ambiguous. With bad punctuation it can be misleading. And yet the rules of punctuation - and there are very few of them really - are quite simple. We should all make the effort to learn them. Of course, we'll still make mistakes. I make many myself. But I'd like to think that most of what I write can be understood after just one reading.
Poor spelling can also change the meaning of a sentence although the impact isn't quite as heavy as poor punctuation. We can generally still understand a sentence evn if it's ritten wiv por speling. And the advent of computers and the internet has added an additional layer of difficulty for us Brits as the default variant of English is US English with its simplified spelling and errant Zs. But don't despair! Even American spelling is wholly comprehensible in the UK and, if I was a real language fascist (which I'm not), I would point out that words ending in 'ize' rather than 'ise' are more technically correct; pick up any university text book or grammar guide and it will support my outrageous claim. The use of 'ise' is a purely British affectation and a fairly modern (Victorian) one at that. It's certainly not worth popping an artery worrying about it.
The purpose of language - spoken or written - is to communicate. And if the message arrives in the form that the sender intended, the communication was successful. Which is why my real bugbear is not with spelling, or even punctuation, but with the unnecessary use of jargon and TLAs*. But that's a subject for another day and a much, much larger rant. Oh dear me, yes.
*TLAs - Three Letter Acronyms. Harf.
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Sunday, April 12, 2009
I was deeply offended by something on the BBC recently. It wasn't Clare Balding laying into a jockey's teeth, but this time with a cricket bat, or Frankie Boyle's 10 best jokes about the Queen's genitals, or even a repeat of Diana's funeral with an added laugh track. No, it was a new low. It was Hazel Blears, the communities secretary, eliciting a round of applause on Any Questions for suggesting that Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand should pay the BBC's "Sachsgate" Ofcom fine. The rest of the panel bravely agreed with her.
"Well, you would be offended by that!" you may be thinking. "You work in television and radio. I don't suppose you like the idea of having to foot the bill if something you say appals the nation!" That's true, but we live in the era of the subjective offendee and my complaint is just as valid as those made about jokes involving dead dogs by viewers who say their dog has recently died. As an insider, I can tell you that such opinions are deferred to by the post-Sachsgate BBC. Everything is scrutinised for potential offence by jumpy "compliance" staff who endure no professional setback if the comedy output ceases to be funny. They have the right to do this because they're ultimately responsible for what's broadcast - their organisation pays the Ofcom fine.
But it strikes me that, if I'm going to have to pay the fine, they no longer have the right to censor the content. And it's all academic anyway; if things continue as they are, TV comedies will only ever get fined for blandness. Let me try to fake some objectivity and seriously address Blears's suggestion, which has since been reiterated by Jack Straw and Tessa Jowell. She says it's unjust that the fine comes out of the licence fee, paid for by everyone, so instead the wrongdoers should pay.
There are only four problems I can instantly think of with this. First, this idea of a net cost to the licence fee payer is nonsense; Ross was suspended for three months, saving the BBC £1.5m, and Brand resigned, saving it £200,000 a year. So the licence fee payer is well up on the deal and Ross and Brand have each taken a greater hit than the corporation will.
Second, Blears defines the wrong-doers as only Ross and Brand and gives the BBC's producers and executives no share of the blame. This is grossly unfair. The offending segment was pre-recorded. As a sick comedian myself, I genuinely understand how they could improvise something that offensive in that context. But I cannot understand why the station chose to broadcast it. So the then channel controller, among others, is at least as much at fault. But she's not as rich, so suggesting she pays a massive fine is a less applausey route for Blears to take.
Third, Blears says that regulators' fines are supposed to hurt those responsible and that, in this instance, there was "no sense they're going to be hurt". I don't know whether the fine will hurt the BBC or whether it would particularly hurt Brand and Ross if they paid it, but how can she possibly think that the fallout from the whole business hasn't hurt that institution and those men? Barely a day goes by when the press doesn't pillory them as a result and the announcement of this fine has given it another splendid opportunity, as have Blears's remarks. Far from the arrogant, unaccountable elite that it's portrayed as, the BBC is now a quivering shell, rattling with neurotics. The only truth in her statement is that even losing £150,000 could barely make it more miserable.
And fourth, the law requires that the BBC pay the fine rather than individuals. This is not a law that Blears, Straw or Jowell has ever queried before. But they're willing to come out against it for a short-term popularity boost for a beleaguered government - for an egg-cup sized bailer on the Titanic, for one round of applause. That's what I really despise: the political opportunism. How long do these ministers imagine the friendships in the rabblerousing tabloids that they are so buying will last? And the price is high; they're supporting a campaign to associate the BBC, its comedians and producers - my whole profession - with all that is offensive, smug and self-serving; to encourage millions who are justifiably angry or afraid, who imagine a mugger in every hoodie, who fear for their jobs and houses or have lost both, to associate the causes of that fear and anger with entertainment and, of all things, the BBC.
The BBC is an institution of genius, one of the great achievements of the 20th century. It's famed for its news reporting, drama, comedy and documentaries; it provides the best radio stations and website on Earth. But there is a plot to destroy it; a plot to which Ross and Brand's childish remarks gave an unwitting but enormous boost; a plot led by people who say they support the BBC but not the licence fee, by people who find the word "fuck" more offensive than Holocaust denial. By its competitors.
The newspapers that take every opportunity to knock the corporation do so because they're in the same market and the BBC is the market leader. They can't dominate that market while the BBC exists in its current form because what they provide is so risibly inferior - the licence fee costs less than a daily tabloid newspaper. So they lobby for its destruction and whinge about the profit made by its commercial arm, BBC Worldwide, neglecting to mention how much money that saves the licence fee payer. Without the BBC, they'd make more money, even if the whole nation would be left comparatively uneducated, unentertained and uninformed. Their argument is the moral equivalent of private hospitals campaigning against the existence of the NHS. And last week, three members of a Labour government joined in.
I don't think that those ministers really want to damage or destroy the BBC, but they're willing to risk it on the outside chance of saving their political skins. I, for one, find that very difficult to forgive. But then I'm easily offended.
Absolutely spot on David. POliticians are hugely skilled at covering their own sleaze by pointing out the mistakes of others. But if you disagree and would rather have a bland, dull, non-edgy, homogenised BBC then make sure you buy your whingeing tabloid tomorrow.
If I see you, I'll point at you and call you a bad word.
Now I discover that even the animation is recycled too! Disney apparently has some kind of stock library of moves for its characters. Watch this amazing film:
What I want to know, however, is ... who spots these similarities? Is it the same people who work for Harry Hill's TV Burp?
P.s. A couple of people have told me that the video doesn't work on their machine (these rubbish PCs ...) so here's the direct link to the FHM site where it came from. And here's another I found on Youtube.
Friday, April 10, 2009
Now, that may seem like the most vainglorious and egotistical statement you'll read this Easter weekend ... but before you start tutting and frowning, let me explain.
Although technically it will be an autobiography, it isn't really about me. I will be the narrative device that allows the story to be told of a young, naive Cornish lad joining the police in London at the age of 18 and finding himself plunged into the chaos and madness that was the early 1980s.
WARNING! NAMES DROPPING!
This all started with John Lloyd. We were chatting after the filming of an episode of QI last year and, as often happens, the topic of discussion came round to the fact that I have been a police officer for nearly 30 years. As some of the funnier and more extraordinary stories came out, I found that I'd gathered a small crowd all eager to hear more. 'You really should write this stuff down', said John, 'Even if all you do is donate it to the British Library or pass it on to your kids'. The more I thought about this, the more I liked the idea. There's nothing at all special about me but, like any person who's lived for a few decades, I have many, many stories to tell. Any one of you reading this could fill a book with your life story and much of it would be fascinating to readers. Anyway, I thought I'd give it a go. And, handily, I used to be a diary keeper so I had a lot of material to work with.
Then, last week I met Kate Adie - the undisputed queen of UK journalism. Now, the last time I met Kate was in 1981 when I was a callow spotty youth in uniform. I was one of the first officers on scene at the IRA bombing of RAF Uxbridge and, while no one was seriously injured, the scene was one of confusion and mild panic as we searched the buildings for more devices and attempted to clear the area. Kate and her film crew soon arrived and set up in a suitably photogenic location in front of the gates (RAF Uxbridge was one of the bases of operation for the Battle of Britain and a trophy Spitfire is mounted by the gate as a memorial). I, meanwhile, was engaging in crowd control and was darting around in front of her camera. I imagine that Kate asked me to get out of shot several times but the first I heard was an exaperated 'Get out of the way big ears!'
I recounted this story to her on Tuesday. 'You shouted at me', I explained. 'Only shouted?' she said with a wry smile. After all, this is the lady who has ducked flying bullets in Sarajevo, who witnessed the atrocities in Tiananman Square and who once kneed an armed soldier in the cods in order to escape being arrested. Anyhow, we got to discussing the 1980s and she said (and I'm paraphrasing here), 'It's extraordinary how the passing of time affects people's memories. We hear all the time that we're living with the constant threat of terror these days ... but compared to the 1970s and 80s, things really aren't that bad. Back then we had bombs going off every few months, we had riots, we had a war raging in the South Atlantic and we had bloody and brutal industrial disputes. It was scary for us reporters but it must have been a nightmare for the police.' She too suggested that I should commit my memories to paper.
The final nudge came from comedian Sean Lock. He was telling me about a friend who spent a little time in prison but who is now completely reformed. 'Thing is, he's a really clever bloke', he explained, 'He talks really eloquently about his experiences and I wish I could persuade him to write it all down. You should do the same. I'd read it. I'd really like to read a smart, clever well-written book about what being a copper is like, not just some 'we kicked the door in and nicked the bastards' Sweeney clone.'
The very next day, I dug out my first embryonic attempts at an autobiography and I found myself laughing as I read. John, Kate and Sean were right. This stuff was worth passing on to others. Not because it involved me, but because the situations and characters I describe - all real - are just so damned extraordinary. So, loyal followers (that sounds so patronising doesn't it? Blame Blogger), I thought I'd give you a tiny sample of the work in progress. It may never be published I know, but I will write it as if it were going to be a book and then see what my agent can do with it. All I need now is a great title, something that encapsulates the main theme: a young, naive country boy thrown into what seemed at the time to be a warzone. Pig in the city? Oh, that's been done. Suggestions anyone? If I use one of them and I get it published, I'll credit you with the title.
Enjoy the extract!
“Happy New Year Ossiffer!”
“Oy! Tanesha! I found one we ain’t done yet!”
Thursday, April 09, 2009
Sunday, April 05, 2009
This part of the Thames has traditionally been the training ground for professional rowers and many an Olympic gold medal winner has sculled up and down the wide expenses of calm water between Henley and London. It was certainly where multi-medal winners Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent did most of their training as they were based at Henley Rowing Club. I just love how quiet it is. All you can hear is the gentle lapping against the banks, the honking of geese, the gentle chug of outboard motors and the slap of oar on water. Wonderful. The dogs think so too.
And remember Slinkachu's Little People in the City book I promoted a month or so ago? Here's a similar project by Vincent Bouserrez. Great stuff.