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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner

Matthew d'Ancona's programme on Radio Four about the nature of Britishness was interesting – if not quite as enthralling as The Men Who Fell To Earth, a brilliant documentary about military parachuting that came later this morning – but the more I'm asked whether I feel British or English or European the more I think of myself as a citizen of another nation altogether – London.

I was born in Yorkshire but I've lived in London since 1968. My children have all been born and brought up in London. They think of themselves as Londoners and so do I. It's not that strange now, is it? Before there was a place called Italy people called themselves Florentines or Neopolitans. I wonder whether the world's going back that way.

In the time I've lived in the city London has undergone a historic transformation. One third of the people living in London were born overseas. Just think about that. One third *born* overseas. That's not counting the number of people whose immediate forebears came from overseas or the people, like me, who were born elsewhere in the UK. That doesn't disturb me at at all. In fact I think it's reason for rejoicing. This must mean that we are heading for the almost unique situation of living in a city populated by families who all somehow chose to be here.

I don't make any claim for London as some sort of rainbow community and, like all Londoners, I am sufficiently aware of its shortcomings to raise my eyes to heaven when a provincial visitor squashed into a tube carriage exclaims "Gosh, I couldn't do this every day!" but I identify with the place increasingly strongly. On 7/7 my dominant emotion, apart from compassion for the dead and maimed, was outrage that a bunch of misanthropic twats from mono-cultural streets in Leeds should let off bombs on tube carriages and buses in London, a place they knew nothing about. If they had done they would have known it was the one place on earth apart from New York where they were most likely to have slaughtered a representative sampling of the population of the earth.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Prudence, meet Frugality

I've been reading a biography of Benjamin Franklin. In 1775 the American colonies had defied the British government and were embarked on a war with the foremost military power in the world. It was more likely to go wrong than otherwise. On one side was the prospect of defeat and ruin. On the other was the prospect of risking ruin in the process of avoiding defeat. Franklin wrote the following in a letter to his son.
For my own Part tho I am for the most prudent Parsimony of the public Treasury am not terrified by the Expense of this War should it continue ever so long. A little more Frugality or a little more Industry in Individuals will with Ease defray it. Suppose it a 100,000 a month or 1,200,000 a year. If 500,000 Families will each spend a Shilling a Week less or earn a Shilling a Week more or if they will spend Sixpence a Week less and earn Sixpence a Week more they may pay the whole Sum without otherwise feeling it. Forbearing to drink Tea saves three fourths of the money and 500,000 Women doing each Threepence Worth of Spinning or Knitting in a Week will pay the rest. I wish nevertheless most earnestly for Peace this war being a truly unnatural and mischievous one but we have nothing to expect from Submission but Slavery and Contempt. I am ever Your affectionate Father BF

Nothing about quantitative easing there.

I know it's only a film but...

In my ceaseless quest to stay abreast of the latest things happening in movies, last night I watched a film called "The Devil Wears Prada", which purports to be set in the world of high-end magazines. I know it's an eclair of a film but nonetheless I have to take issue with:
* the notion that anyone would get an interview for a job at a top magazine without having at least heard of it
* the idea that the editor arrives at the office after everyone else
* the wholly misleading hint that there are any magazine writers as implausibly handsome and poised as Simon Baker
* the fiction that the person designing the jacket for the new Harry Potter book gets the manuscript as well - oh, and copies it as a favour
* having made a success of her job the heroine leaves for - just hold my sides a second - a newspaper.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

What it costs at "the pictures"

The Young Victoria is as good as a film about people writing letters to each other can be. Even if it were Citizen Kane I'd be spending most of its running time thinking about how much I'd just shelled out for four adults (two of them being sixteen) to get in.
I know these are West End prices but still. God knows what it would have cost if I'd taken the "premium" option.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

In defence of the three day week

In the face of declining revenues, the New York Times has imposed a 5% pay reduction on its staff. In recognition of this they have given them ten extra days off as compensation. I'm sure people will take it. There can't be many other places that Times staffers can go. They aren't the only employer who are introducing some form of reduced working hours. These moves are being presented as desperate measures for desperate times. Maybe they're a harbinger of something more permanent.

Thirty years ago people speculated that the working week would get shorter and everybody would have something called "leisure time". What actually happened was the people with high status jobs devoted more time to work - not because they needed to but because they liked it that way. I think for a lot of people "busy-ness" is a pose. We talk about our increasingly busy lives as if they're a function of the modern consumer society. They're not. Compared to a peasant farmer we're all dossing. If we're so all-fired busy how have we managed to find time to watch TV or play with Google Street View or blog? One of the great achievements of "The Office" was that it hinted that office politics fill the vacuum that used to be occupied by productive work.

The greater truth is we always find time to do the things we want to do. In the current climate a lot of people are going to find that they can do what they have to do in far less time. It won't make anyone richer but it might make us better off. The shorter, more intensive working week may be here to stay.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

All TV is kids TV

TV is obsessed with the time constraint. When there isn't one they make one up. When Anekka Rice used to build village halls it was always against some spurious clock. We grew to expect that. Though why in last night's Baroque! From St Peter's To St Paul's Waldemar Januszczak had to pretend that he was going to see how many Wren churches he could get round in fifteen minutes I'm not quite clear. They managed about five before he came puffing back into shot. Now none of the TV crews I've worked with could shoot that many locations in that time so they must have been a particularly swift team. I do hope they weren't indulging in exaggeration. I would have been just as happy if he'd stood there and said "there are twenty Wren churches within a mile of where I've standing". I think I could take that thought on board.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Teach them Betjeman, not Bebo

A friend has just come back from Costa Rica and tells me that if you climb the highest mountain you can see the Pacific in one direction and the Atlantic in the other. That stirring thought stirred something in me; dim memories of the line "upon a peak in Darien" and reading some history about one of the great European explorers who, I learn from a Colombian I recently had dinner with, are known locally as "pirates". When I got home I settled it with the help of Google. The line is Keats:
Or like stout Cortez, when with eagle eyes
He star'd at the Pacific - and all his men
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise -
Silent, upon a peak in Darien

Further reading indicates that it was Balboa, not Cortes, who climbed the peak and first caught sight of the Pacific, a moment in the history of exploration which is staggering and kind of funny at the same time. The poem is "On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer" which is inspired by a literary experience of looking at the world through fresh eyes.
Nuggets like this, from which the implications glint in lots of different directions, are the things I remember most fondly from my school days when we would get the teacher off the point and it didn't matter whether we were doing history, geography, literature, politics or philosophy. I learned more in those interludes than I did in the regular lessons. It also instilled the only valuable thing an education can instill - curiosity.
My teacher friends all agree that the National Curriculum has made tangents like this impossible. I'm not encouraged by today's announcement that the primary curriculum is to be revised to make pupils familiar with internet tools like Google and Twitter. I have a feeling that tools like these are at their most effective when they're filling the gaps left by traditional education and I find it hard to imagine primary teachers showing an eight-year-old how to use Facebook (which by then will have been supplanted.) Maybe they should take the time they're planning to devote to Twitter and use it to read a poem to them.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

It's a press release. It's the opposite of news.

EMI have announced some personnel change at the top of the organisation which involved the elevation of someone called Cory and, more interestingly, this curious statement:
EMI Music CEO, Elio Leoni-Sceti, said: “Cory is a highly talented executive with a passion for music and a unique technology-based skillset. He will help us deliver our goal of leveraging the power of digital across our business, particularly in the key areas of consumer understanding and analytics, content creation and digital marketing in order to strengthen the relationship and interaction between our artists and their fans."
Now I have a degree in bullshit and have worked around the media and music businesses for thirty years and I cannot begin to hazard even the vaguest guess at what he actually means by those words. Then it struck me. It's not supposed to mean anything. It's a bunch of clich├ęs rounded up yesterday by some corporate flack, roughly rearranged so that to a passing space traveller it just about resembles a sentence and then given to the boss to sign. The boss will have said 'you reckon this is OK?' and sent it out to various news oulets who will all have cut and pasted it on to their sites. The people it's really aimed at, the people who work within EMI, will probably be combing it right now for meaningful omissions.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The view from behind the scrum

Watching England play Scotland at Twickenham from a seat behind the try line you realise how we're short-changed by TV's pursuit of the ball to the exclusion of everything else. The side-on shot means that on TV runners from deep suddenly appear out of nowhere like actors bursting out of wardrobes. With the view from behind you can see the overlaps, the decoy runners, the obstruction of the chasing tackler and all the elaborate chess moves required to get a yard of space for a ball carrier. You can also see how wide the pitch is, which made Ugo Monye's dash from one wing to another to stop Thom Evans all the more remarkable. I wonder whether with TV's getting bigger we'll eventually see some kind of split screen with simultaneous shots from different angles. Or is that one of those things that the mind can't process?

Friday, March 20, 2009

If a man is tired of London....

Took this today at the Building Centre just off Tottenham Court Road. It's a model of the city including recent and proposed planning submissions. Worth popping in to have a look at.

And ye shall know them by their small ads

Whereas the colour spreads of advertising at the front of the book express the aspirations of a magazine's readers, it's the small ads tucked away at the back that tell you what they're really like. Small advertisers, usually selling products you can only buy mail order, only advertise in places where they definitely get response. One of Smash Hits' biggest advertisers in the early 80s was Danilo, who would sell you a bum-flap or a pair of two tone shoes. This was in the days when such things were not available in the average high street. They wouldn't have been paying the rate if they weren't making enough profit to make it worthwhile.

Post-internet the small ad is a threatened species but in certain places it hangs on. The back pages of the New Yorker are full of products aimed apparently at the Niles Cranes of the Eastern Seaboard; highly-educated, Anglophile and apparently yearning for a more genteel life. There's Precision Hangers - "the dimple-free hanger solution", Upton - "purveyor of the world's finest teas", Mark Mormar, a biographer "who will tell your story when you're gone", John Christian, who will research and then produce your own family crest for $709 and, most poignantly, the Pavillion at McLean Hospital which promises "unparalleled psychiatric evaluation and treatment". All ads speak to the readership. But only with the small ads can you be certain somebody's responding.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

It's more important than that

Last night I finally watched "Friday Night Lights", the drama about inter-school football in Texas. I haven't seen anything that depicts quite so well how different the Americans are. The whole notion of school sports being that important is alien to us and, I imagine, to most other nations as well. No matter how seriously a school or college game may be taken here there is still somebody at some level prepared to remind us that it's only a game and that what really matters is education. Here, on the other hand, they play the final at the Astrodome and it's televised.

In the world of Permian High School and the community of Odessa, Texas, there is only one thing that matters and that's "winning State". Billy Bob Thornton plays the highly-paid coach dealing with a bunch of senior High School kids. They're allegedly seventeen. They don't look it but then again all sportsmen look older than they are because of the strain on their faces. "You've got two more quarters. Most of you will never play the game again in the rest of your lives," he says in the big scene. (It's here.) That makes you think. Maybe American rhetoric is studded with football metaphors because it's associated with a time of life when the world was full of possibilities. At the end of the film they stand in the car park and say goodbye to each other, resigned to the fact that nothing can ever be this important again.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Getting used to a small portions world

According to the Guardian, "Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle started poorly with just one million viewers" the other night. By whose lights is that "poor"? Considering that he's not a household name and there had been no big press campaign, I think the fact that a million people watched him indicates that inertia remains the greatest force in determining the size of a TV audience. It's simple mathematical fact that as media options increase, the number of people choosing any one option must become smaller all the time. TV has more trouble than most coming to terms with this because it still feels somehow entitled to command our attention.

One of the most interesting representatives of the modest tendency in entertainment is Moby who many years ago said that in the future there would be less millionaire rock stars. He's posted (via the Lefsetz letter) about his new album. "I like the idea of humble and reasonable metrics for determining the success of a record," he says and admits, "for even one person to make the effort to listen to music that I’ve made is pretty remarkable, and I need to be humble and respectful in the face of that." I'm sure his record company aren't keen on him saying that but it's true.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

University challenge

We wake to the shock news that university chancellors want an increase in students' tuition fees. Obviously, if the BBC had bothered putting the same question to every other service provider in the UK, they would have said the same thing. Here, in case government is paying attention, is how I would deal with the problem. Agree to the increase on the condition that university courses are shorter and more intensive. That might mean a two-year course with four terms a year and no increased cost to the student. The universities will either adopt this solution or go strangely quiet, as they do when anything is proposed that might upset the academic lifestyle.

Monday, March 16, 2009

How sports coverage parted company with sport

Since reading What Sport Tells Us About Life and talking to its author Ed Smith a few weeks ago I've become increasingly fascinated by the contrast between what happens in sport and what hacks say happens in sport; between the events – which are generally, as Smith described them to me, "chaos upon chaos" – and the narrative imposed on those events by commentators and journalists.

Last week ITV's Andy Townsend hailed Manchester United's four-nil victory at Fulham with the words "well, they're so far ahead of everybody else, they must be wondering who can give them a game." He'd already forgotten the previous Sunday when an under-strength Manchester United were held to a goal-less draw for 120 minutes by an under-strength Spurs team. I was at that game and found it hard to see any resemblance between the events – desultory stalemate with defences on top – and the narrative in the paper, which turned out to be something to do with iPods. This was the first time I'd seen a penalty shoot out live. Without the overheated commentary provided by television it's about as gripping – and as much to do with sport – as drawing straws on the halfway line.

I wonder what Townsend had to say about this Saturday's game when the same Manchester United got beaten four-one at home. You can say that's the wonderful unpredictability of sport. You could also say, that's the irrelevance of people like Andy Townsend. And it's not just him. The same applies to the most sage wordsmith cranking out 2,000 words for the broadsheets. None of them can bear to say what every fan mutters to himself every week. It could go either way.

Something similar happened this weekend with England rugby. In the past week the commentariat were united in the view that England were slow, unadventurous, ill-disciplined, borderline-hopeless. They stopped short of saying that there should be another regime change. They were saving that one for Monday morning. In the event they didn't get to write that story because, in the most one-sided contest in recent Six Nations history, England unexpectedly beat France 34-10. If they'd examined recent events before building their narrative they would have seen that England's defeats in this year's tournaments had been by small margins, they had scored more tries than anyone else and they had not conceded a try when they had fifteen men on the field. So the sensible analysis, and one held by all their opposing managers, was 'misfiring but might come good'. What kind of story is that?

All the firmly-held opinions of two weeks ago look ridiculous today. England have won, Manchester United are having a crisis-ette and Liverpool are daring to dream. But people like Ferguson and Johnson and Benitez know that's it got nothing to do with what anyone writes in the papers or says on the wireless. It's not the tide of history. It's not payback for what somebody said at a press conference. It's not part of the long wave of a continuing story. It's the bounce of a ball, the timing of a pass, the foothold that doesn't give way, Michael Essien's fortuitous mis-kick yesterday, somebody reaching out to nudge the unforgiving moment, that makes the difference between this victory and that defeat. Before the game yesterday the BBC were asking Martin Johnson if he thought his pack could out-muscle the French. He gave the only honest answer which is, "we'll see".

That's not what they wanted to hear. I told Ed Smith what Danny Blanchflower had said when he was asked who was going to win. "I don't know," he said. "That's why they're playing the game." I asked him if that was the most banal thing ever said about sport or the most profound. He thought it was the latter. So do I.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The alarming rise in the number of things people can't live without

According to the financial wisdom of the moment, "it's only when the tide goes out that you can see who's swimming naked". I'm not sure about that. Sometimes you never get to see. Whenever my children would come home talking about how much wealthier other people were I'd always quote my father who would say, you never know how well-off people are, you only know how much money they spend. He first said that to me when I was about eight and I returned from tea with a school friend saying "They're so rich. They've got two TVs and a dog." There's your nineteen-fifties, right there.

Wealth is even harder to assess nowadays when credit, cheap or otherwise, is regarded as a human right. Everybody knows that they have to cut back. That should mean working out what things they couldn't do without. But in the last ten years that threshold of comfort seems to have been raised dramatically. My parents considered a washing machine a necessity and a TV a luxury. They would be shocked at the things many people regard as standard today. People on presumably average earnings have things even I would consider luxuries: plasma-screen TVs, Sky subscriptions, Premiership season tickets, top of the range phones, expensive foreign holidays, gym memberships and cars designed for amusement as much as transportation. The issue doesn't seem to be wealth so much as expectation.

We had dinner recently with friends living in a lovely house that won't be worth what they paid for it for quite a while, if ever. We were talking, as middle-aged, middle-class people do right now, about the prospects for our university-age children. While we all know about tuition fees, student rents and the impossibility of getting on the housing ladder, we are also aware that people born in the last twenty-five years have grown up with mobile phones, designer beers, night clubs, jeans that come in at three figures and a couple of trips abroad a year. Luxuries like these, which were once the preserve of the rich, are now, thanks to credit, available to everyone who wants them and is prepared to live with debt. The underlying cause of the current malaise is the dramatic growth in the number of people who can do just that.

When I was in my twenties none of those things had been invented so they weren't options. That was a blessing. I didn't take a taxi until I was thirty. When I left college and got a job I had no expectation that life would suddenly become any better. That's not the case anymore. I meet people in their mid-twenties now whose education and background and media consumption has led them to believe that life ought to be a bit better than it has turned out to be. Everybody who works in the media can reel off the stories of the work experience person who quit after a few days because "this isn't what I thought I'd be doing." It could be that the ideal preparation for a life in the professions formerly known as glamorous was an upbringing of unrelieved dullness. Well, it's too late to get that back.

We are where we are. You're not going to have soup kitchens and bread lines. You're not going to turn Jonathan Ross's audience into Wilfred Pickles's audience. A lot of people, the young and the burgeoning section of the population who still think like the young, may cut down on the luxuries. On the other hand, because they don't regard them as luxuries so much as the possessions that define who they are, they may just extend their credit in order to hang on to them. It's perfectly possible that they might get through this unpleasantness without making more than token cutbacks. They will simply extend the amount of their loans and the term of their payback and comfort themselves with the thought that "something will turn up". After all, it's only what the government are doing.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

From the sublime to the ridiculous, a bunch of things that interested me this week

  • Barry Schwartz in a presentation at TED says we should be worrying less about rules and more about the development of what he calls "practical wisdom".
  • Simon Jenkins in the Guardian arguing that the fashion for blaming the current unpleasantness on Margaret Thatcher entails a complete ignorance of the facts. "British history is getting like Soviet history under the commissars, a prisoner of the world view of its partisans."
  • Rod Liddle in The Spectator moves the Myerson business up several gears, saying that she belongs to the generation born in 1960 "who take but will not give".
  • And my son sent this video of a dog having a bad dream.

Friday, March 13, 2009

OK magazine turns the "merge pictures" command into a publishing strategy

Times are tough at the magazine stand and there are some pretty desperate publishers out there, none more so than the people behind Richard Desmond's OK. The picture magazine seems to have decided that if they can't get the right shot then, hey, they can always bake their own. The UK edition has apologised for Photoshopping two completely separate shots of Cheryl Cole and Victoria Beckham together over a "quote" which actually came from "a friend of".
The U.S. version has been even busier with Jennifer Aniston digitally put in the arms of her alleged boyfriend and even the children of Tom Cruise and Angelina Jolie finding themselves paired off digitally. Of course anybody who's taken Desmond's shilling must expect that he's going to do this kind of thing but nonetheless it is quite breathtaking in its contempt for the intelligence of the readers. You wouldn't be entirely surprised if this is part of the "negotiation" leading towards the acquisition of the genuine article, if that's the appropriate expression.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Why Television Match Officials are not going to make sport any better

Last night's sport underlines that it's no use relying on what commentators lump under the word "technology" to ensure the better adjudication of games. The Test series between England and the West Indies has been played under a referral system whereby batsmen and bowlers could ask for a certain number of decisions to be reviewed by an official watching TV pictures of the incident. Human nature and professional sport being what they are, by the time it came down to the last nail-biting hour they had used up all their "lives". At the same time the umpires in the middle had, like rugby union referees, been increasingly happy to abdicate their responsibility to make decisions on the spot to some bloke in the pavillion, at great cost to their own personal authority.

Meanwhile over in Turin Drogba's shot clearly crossed the line and was smuggled out by a Juventus goalkeeper whose embarrassment was evident to everyone apart from the referee and the linesman. Both of them were in a tearing hurry to resume the game and must have thanked the Almighty when Chelsea scored seconds later. Maybe there is a case for "goal line technology" but it's not as strong as the case for officials who are a bit stronger than those at Juventus. All the gismos in the world aren't going to make football any fairer or prove that beneath that pile of bodies a try has been scored. It's not science. It's sport. You do not ask sporting officials to establish the truth. You hire them to ensure something called "fair play", which is a different thing altogether.

And the reason that there are so many controversial incidents in football is because all footballers cheat instinctively. Managers have the gall to criticise a ref for unfairness and at the same time send out eleven players with direct instructions to deceive that same person. If professional football was run using a referral system it wouldn't be long before you would have lawyers on the bench, games were being held up as a matter of course and the man in the middle was happily letting somebody else be the arbiter. TV would love it, of course, but it wouldn't make the game any fairer.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Myerson saga and the lives of others

The Daily Mail have been enjoying themselves all this past week at the expense of Julie Myerson and her book about her skunk-hound son. That's to be expected. Successful, photogenic, liberal, well-paid members of the chattering classes must expect that when something goes wrong with their lives the defenders of the great unlettered will rush to put the boot in.

But I bet her husband Jonathan Myerson wasn't expecting the reception he got from the visitors to the Guardian site when he published his own defence of the family's right to publish the story. The viciousness of some of the responses here seems to come from the same streak of English envy that runs through the Mail like bacteria through cheese. Everybody's entitled to their view on whether the Myersons were right to go public about their problems with their eldest son. But anyone who has lived with even the most biddable teenagers knows full well what hurt they can cause and should thus refrain from commenting on how trying the boy might have been in this particular case. In summary the attitude of the Guardian readers seems to be "ten years of intensive skunk use never did me any harm and anyway what do you expect if you write for the posh papers?"

Still find it hard to believe that Schadenfreude isn't an English word.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Looking after the pennies

This week's Analysis on Radio Four has more pertinent things to say about the current malaise than any number of Robert Peston reports. It's titled, a little lumpily, "The Threat Of Thrift" and it wonders whether we are likely to meet hard times as my parents (or your grandparents) might have done or whether we need to have things put in a new context. It exposes the way that governments from both wings spent like sailors while claiming to practise the housekeeping of the corner shop and the manse. It has interesting things to say about how cheap credit took the waiting out of wanting and in the process changed us as people. That's the big question to me. What are the chances of deferred gratification making a comeback?

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Two likely lads advertise their availability

Tom and Shaun are two final year design students at the Lincoln School of Art. They've just spent a week working in a shop window to advertise their imminent availability.

While I have no jobs to offer them I can only hope that the initiative they have demonstrated by doing this will bring them some work. (Spelling could do with some improvement though, chaps.)

Saturday, March 07, 2009

There is nothing quite as entertaining as a really bad review

A few weeks ago I'd never heard of "Watchmen". It says a lot about the hysteria that accompanies new releases nowadays that already I don't wish to hear of it again. I feel like this about the U2 album as well and I haven't heard that either. If I do see "Watchmen" it will be by accident. I concluded that superhero films had nothing to say to me not long ago when I accidentally watched *The Dark Knight*. I found it surprisingly boring for something so expensive and busy, managing the rare trick of being simultaneously leaden and empty. And what the fuss is about Heath Ledger's performance I fail to see.

My favourite critic Anthony Lane sets about Watchmen in The New Yorker. Not since Clive James described Arnold Schwarznegger as resembling "a condom full of walnuts" has one review packed quite so many zingers. (Actually, while you're at it, you could read Germaine Greer's savaging of Baz Luhrmann's "Australia".) In reference to an earlier film of Alan Moore's work, he says it was "not quite as enjoyable as tripping over barbed wire and falling nose first into a nettle patch". He describes Billy Crudup in this one as looking "like a porn star left overnight in a meat locker". He's not completely negative about it, allowing that the opening credit sequence is "easily the highlight of the film".

There's something about a thunderingly negative review that makes it the most exhilarating of reading experiences. It might be as effective as taking a peashooter to a steam engine but the sound of that pea pinging off steel is nonetheless strangely warming. This particularly applies with huge blockbuster films because it helps to remind us that the bigger they are, the more likely it is that they are also absurd.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Ronaldo: a face only a mother could love

Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo and Newcastle's Steven Taylor had one of those bust-ups in the tunnel last night. According to Five Live it went like this:
Ronaldo: You're a terrible player.
Taylor: You're very ugly.
I love this. Obviously Taylor must have briefly entertained the idea of shooting back with "so are you" or "my dad's a policeman" but something told him that the reference to Ronaldo's "face of Crimewatch" physical appearance might just hit him where he lives.
I like to think that had it been me I would have had the presence of mind to say "I shall pass over your physical appearance. Suffice to say that you, sir, are a very talented but remarkably charmless individual that even hardcore Manchester United fans find curiously difficult to love".

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Arena: it's the economy, stupid

The closure of magazines is inevitably accompanied by two kinds of commentaries. Those, generally written by people who have never read the magazine, seeking to prove that its passing says something about wider society. Then there are others, written by people who worked for the title, seeking to pretend that it all happened because those in power didn't take notice of their advice. A classic example of the latter attempts to explain the closure of men's magazine Arena on Media Guardian. I texted a man who used to have management responsibility for the magazine to tell him about it. "He says it's the nipples," I said. "No, it's the overheads," he retorted.

Arena had been limping along for the best part of ten years, squeezed between GQ's superior ability to sell upmarket advertising and FHM's greater popularity. It was also increasingly burdened by its inherited belief that it had to do everything in a Business Class fashion. When EMAP bought Wagadon they didn't want Arena but had to take it. Since then it has gone from one repositioning to another. EMAP and then Bauer wouldn't entertain any offers to sell it. They managed to find licensees to publish it overseas, which can't have made closing it any easier. The last copy I saw had Danny Cipriani on the cover. It appeared just as he was dropped by England.

Arena was the first men's magazine of the modern era but that alone doesn't guarantee anyone's survival. As they say in the Wild West, pioneers are often dead men with arrows in their backs.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Strangers on a train

I came back from Wembley on Sunday in a Tube carriage packed with disappointed Spurs fans plus one Man Utd fan. Because he was ten pints drunk and could not entertain a thought without giving it tongue, we learned all about him. He was forty-eight, he'd been in prison, he was a Londoner but he assured us if you cut him he bled Manyoo. He sang a poisonous song about Liverpudlians as if he was being controversial. It's all a bit lost on Londoners to whom all northerners are much of a muchness. He was the kind of sociopath who swore a lot and then asked the retired lady in his immediate vicinity if she minded. He probably thought this gave him a rough sort of charm. It didn't really.

When he saw the police at one station he slurred "Look at the fucking Dibbles" and then started singing "Harry Roberts is our friend" under his breath. I presume he was referring to Officer Dibble, who used to police the alley occupied by Top Cat, and Harry Roberts, the career criminal who murdered three policemen in Acton. The strange thing is that "Top Cat" dates from 1961 and Roberts' crimes took place in 1966. What kind of person dispenses insults that require footnotes?