Doctor … Who?

April 24, 2011

It’s impossible to be British and have no idea what Doctor Who is. Even if you don’t watch it, you’re aware of it and know that exists and has done so for as long as anyone remembers. Everyone is born with innate knowledge of the programme. Without doubt, it is one of the greatest shows ever made, which can be proven simply by how long it has been running. Alright, there have been breaks, but I think they were probably necessary. Now a new generation can love it.

When Elisabeth Sladen died this week, I sort of went into shock and refused to believe it. The outpouring of grief on Twitter and Tumblr for one person was astonishing. She trended across the world and everyone had something to say about it. I’ve never seen such love for one person shared across the Internet. Even when, say, Michael Jackson died. We cared, but not like this.

This shows how much the show has touched the lives of people of all ages and backgrounds, that glamorous lady who travelled with the Doctor for many years, aiding and abetting him in his adventures, and not just standing around shrieking. She was a heroine and laid the foundations for the sort of companions the Doctor has had recently – Rose, Martha, Donna, Amy. These are women who will put their life on the line to save the Doctor rather than standing about helplessly waiting to be rescued.

All this brings me to last night’s beautifully shot, beautifully written and beautifully performed episode The Impossible Astronaut. Current show runner Steven Moffat has proved himself time and time again as being a writer of incredible ability. The fact that we know his name says enough – how many screenwriters can you name? Not many, I’d wager.

His special talent seems to be taking very common, trivial fears and bumping them up to eleven, or even providing a scary twist on something completely mundane. So, thanks to him, the population is now scared of gas masks, ticking clocks, statues, blinking, the dark and shadows, as well as making us wary to look behind ourselves or even out of the corner of our eyes.

The man is a genius of his time, and the job is helped wonderfully by the excellent cast currently in play. Arthur Darvill is the sweet, vulnerable, put-upon Rory who makes your heart melt whenever he ends up doing something he doesn’t want to do. Alex Kingston is the indomitable River Song, a mysterious woman who keeps escaping from prison (although we don’t know why she’s there) and later becomes a professor. Her storyline is amazing as it runs backwards from the Doctor’s – we know how her story ends before she does, giving every meeting with her a hint of sadness.

Then there’s Karen Gillan, the beautiful, stubborn Amy Pond, a creature so beautiful and … OK, OK, I’ll stop. Amy is a wonderful creation for the series, a headstrong young woman who knows the meaning of patience and longed for adventure from her sleepy duck-free English village.

And finally Matt Smith, the Doctor himself and, quite probably, the greatest Doctor ever. Maybe that’s too much of an overstatement, I’ve not seen much of the original series but of the three we’ve had since the reboot, he might just be my favourite. That’s not to say I didn’t love Eccleston or Tennant, I did, but I just feel Smith’s Doctor is a more … Doctor-y Doctor.

Eccleston’s Doctor was born in war; he was a veteran of a great war and suffering with guilt at what he had done to end it. He blustered around the universe like a soldier, and picked up Rose like he was trying to learn to love again. Tennant’s Doctor was cheeky and clever and handsome, and smacked of being the hero of a romantic comedy. He was the Casanova of the cosmos, brave and fearsome, but chipper and looking for fun … perhaps a little arrogant, as well as tired and beginning to suffer from the effects of loneliness and losing Rose, his true love.

But then Smith’s Doctor – that’s what the Doctor should be. The youngest and the oldest Doctor at the same time, a scatter-brained professor flying through the universe with little concept of how to deal with women and genius overlaid with insanity. A man who enjoys tweed and bow ties, but also fezzes and climbing down chimneys.

The show is not just for children, it is a masterpiece of modern broadcasting and always has been. Sure, the costumes, locations and special effects have improved no end, the stories remain compelling, gripping, exciting, scary and fantastic.

Long live the Doctor, and long live Doctor Who!


Three Short Stories

April 3, 2011

1. Grapevine

You’ll never guess what I heard! No, wait, I mean it! I shouldn’t even really be gossiping about it but I had to tell someone. Do you remember Pete? You know, Pete thingy? The one who was going out with Tina but they broke up when she slept with his brother? You must remember! Think back, it was huge news like, last month. No, two months ago. I don’t know. Yeah?

No, well anyway, you remember his mate Duncan? Oh you must know! You’d know him if you saw him – he’s the one who got really wasted at Anne’s eighteenth? Jumped on the table and declared himself King of the Lesbians? Long hair? Anyway, never mind him, it’s his brother, Josh. You have to remember Josh! That’s right, the one who spent last Hallowe’en making eyes at you and your pumpkin costume. Totally hot.

Anyway, yeah, you’ll never guess what happened! He was out driving with his girlfriend Becky – you must know Becky – and anyway, what they’re saying is that he swerved to avoid a deer and crashed and he’s dead. At least, I think he’s dead. He might just be in a coma. Either way, not good news. I mean, can you imagine if he was dead?

Who did I hear this from? Well, you know Barry’s dad’s a policeman? Yes you do, remember, he was the one who arrested your sister that time for pissing up against the clock tower! PC Rogers, that’s the one. Yeah, I know he’s an arse, but he told Barry who told Katie who told Emily who told me that he’d had to go to the scene of an accident and see if it was actually an accident or something. But it must’ve been because it’s not like anyone wanted Josh dead.

No, wait, he can’t be dead because Georgina said her mum said she was looking after some guy from our year on her ward. Obviously she can’t reveal who it is, but it’s obvious isn’t it? It’s obviously Josh. Becky? Nah, Becky’s OK. She’s back home or in hospital or something. I think she’s getting therapy.

Is her name even Becky? It’s something with B… I don’t know, I’ve never spoken to her. Wasn’t she that weird one who always used to sniff loudly during Psychology classes? God, she was so annoying! Wish she’d copped it, eh? No, sorry, that’s bad taste isn’t it? I didn’t mean it.

Actually, come to think of it I think Josh must’ve died because I heard Hannah talking about someone’s funeral and saying he was so young. She must’ve been talking about Josh. What do you mean you don’t know Hannah? She’s the one with the dirty blonde hair, always smells of dog? I guess maybe she was talking about a dog. If one of them had died young she might’ve been upset. People do have funerals for their pets now don’t they? Anyway, yeah, so maybe Josh is alive then. Or maybe he never had the crash, you know how these rumours get around. I don’t know why people enjoy them so much – they’re hurtful you know.

Come on, let’s get some lunch and I’ll tell you what I heard about Francesca. Oh, you must know her…

2. Painter

With Josh gone, I don’t know what to do anymore. I know we were together for just eleven months, but it felt so right. I guess it always feels right at the beginning – if it didn’t, you wouldn’t press on. Art is my final class of the day but I’m not really with it. We’re supposed to be painting the still life in front of us – a mish-mash of fabrics, fruit, stuffed birds and the top half of a mannequin – but my mind isn’t on it. Everyone has made some progress but I still have a pure white canvas staring back at me.

I pick up a paintbrush and continue to think about Josh. It’s been a week now. I had a few days off school for it but because I’m not family or anything, I can’t get compassionate leave or anything. I’ve just got to press on. It’s hard to think of him laughing and joking now I’ve seen him with his blood and brains smeared across the front of his car. My leg still twinges a bit from where it was caught under the dashboard, but it’s not severely damaged.

Then, an image flashes into my head. I picture Josh as he was when he turned up for our first date, dressed in a blue cashmere sweater, clutching a large sunflower, his soft fringe falling sexily over his right eye. That’s the image I want to keep of him. I pick up a pencil and begin to sketch it onto the canvas.

The bright colours sum Josh up. I don’t think I ever saw him wear plain black, or just a white t-shirt. There was always a pattern or a splash of colour. I sketch in his hair as Samantha, our well-meaning but dotty teacher, walks past.

“That’s not exactly what’s in front of you, Becky,” she says. But I don’t care. I pretend not to hear her and she seems to understand. Everyone knows the story, of course. I get the impression that other people are trying to look at what I’m drawing now, guessing that it’s Josh. I dip my paintbrush in the blue and begin colouring in his jumper.

Fifteen minutes later, the bell rings and everyone scuffles for the exit. I don’t get up and simply continue to paint. He’s beginning to take shape. Samantha and I are the only ones left in the classroom. I can see that she wants to leave.

“You can go,” I say, our roles momentarily reversed. “I’ll lock up and take the keys to reception when I leave.” Samantha looks worried but her features soften and she nods gently, placing the keys on her desk.

“It’ll be OK, Becky,” she says quietly. “Take your time, and I’m always here if you need someone to talk to.”

“Thank you,” I say, but I don’t look up or stop painting. I’m in the zone and I want to focus. She leaves and the door clicks quietly behind her. I decide I will stay until I have completely finished. I don’t leave things half done, the way Josh left our relationship, even though it wasn’t his fault. I feel my stomach twinge. I hate it when she kicks.

3. Deceased

Dying hurts, and don’t let anyone tell you any different. People bang on about how, “Oh, he died peacefully in his sleep” and shit like that but don’t believe a word of it. OK, my death was violent anyway – nothing prepares you for being catapulted through a windscreen – but I’ve spoken to people up here who’ve died in their sleep and apparently it’s no less painful. It’s something to do with the soul having to be ripped from the body – “ripped” being the key word here.

On the whole though, once you’ve gone through that, it’s actually quite peaceful. I thought I’d be worrying non-stop about the people I’ve left behind but as it turns out, I’m not. That’s not to sound selfish, it’s just that once I’m up here, there’s nothing I can do about them. Well, OK, so I can help one person, but you don’t get any choice in the matter.

Everyone’s a guardian angel up here, see. You die, you cover someone’s back until the time they’re destined to die, making sure they don’t pop it first. Every time you’ve stuck a fork in a toaster or stepped out in front of a car or choked on a Quality Street, it’s been your guardian angel whose made sure it didn’t kill you. You have a date of death stamped on you from birth and you can’t change it, save for bargaining with the Grim Reaper, who I’ve met and is actually a top guy with a keen interest in botany and chess.

However, because of all the latest advances in technology, you don’t need to watch over your assignment constantly. The computer just beeps when danger is approaching and you swoop in and sort it out. The rest of the time you can spend watching what’s going on in the world. You can even see things from the past – I’ve watched George Bush have a shoe thrown at him nearly seventeen hundred times now. It never gets old – it’s like a great big heavenly YouTube.

I’ve also been keeping a close eye on my family and the things going on in my old school. There’s the usual gossip bandying about the common room and corridors. Someone has hung black paper chains up through common room. It’s all for me. It’s enough to give a guy an ego.

I’ve also been watching Becky. It’s her I feel the most sorry for – she had to see my dead body and I hate that I’ve caused her years of untold pain and horror because of it. It’s not something you can ever get over. I remember seeing my granddad’s body after he died – there’s something so unnatural about that. But I’ve seen him since I died – he was part of my welcoming committee – and it turns out he’s happy here. He’s taken up judo.

All in all, death isn’t as bad as they make out. The pain is momentary and worth it for what comes after. I know I will be united with everyone else very soon. It’s worth noting too that revenge is sweet even after death, and I happen to know that that gossipy cow who was spreading all the rumours about Becky and me will be dead before the year is out. Long live death!

A Media Disaster

March 18, 2011

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to Earth, Japan falls apart. It’s been fascinating, and not always in a good way. It feels like a film. You see the footage on TV and sort of hope that it turns out to be CGI and a banner will come up in a minute announcing a new film coming Summer 2011. But it never does.

There are 20,000 people, two trains and a ship missing, among much else. They’ll never be recovered. It genuinely is the biggest tragedy in recent memory and not something I can comprehend really.

And then we’ve got the nuclear power plants that threaten a meltdown. There are people there who gallantly stayed behind to help control it and these people are receiving more radiation a day than a nuclear engineer receives in his or her entire career. Now that is altruistic heroism. The Japanese are a proud people, doing whatever they can to help their country.

In fact, I read an interesting piece the other day that says in Japan, the stores are not being looted. There is no looting at all coming on from this, or at least, so little that it is negligible to the news and even the media can’t hype it. Many reasons have been thrown about for this, but it usually comes back to the fact that the Japanese are a proud, dignified people. They love their country and for them, the nation comes first.

This isn’t so present across the rest of the world. The hurricane of New Orleans and the floods of England in 2007, for example, led to a spate of thefts from abandoned shops. This is because the attitude of these countries (and others) is one of loving the country, but the self comes first. For the Japanese, such an idea is abhorrent.

I must commend the media on brilliant coverage of the disaster, really bringing it all into our homes. The footage is astounding and this is not something that should be ignored by the rest of the world – this was history in the making, a real game-changer for Japan. It’s not every day that the entire Pacific Rim gets evacuated.

However, the footage is waning, the stories are becoming fewer and as the clean-up operation begins (although I don’t know how – where do you put all the debris?) we will hear less and less of Japan. By the end of next week, the media will have forgotten completely.

This is not uncommon. Think of how the Egyptian riots, the Australian storm and the New Zealand earthquake dominated our screens for days and then, as soon as the worst was over, they vanished and we were back to looking at footage of teenage yobs and David Beckham.

I’m not suggesting that we have to keep focussing on the entire clean-up operations of these countries, and I can appreciate that the news wants to be full of action, and a flood is more dramatic than people building houses. But it would be nice if we could see what was happening next. Currently, it looks like as soon as the disaster proper is over, everything is hunky dory and the reporters leave, but what really happens next? Has Australia recovered? Is Christchurch being rebuilt? What sort of state is Tunisia in now?

The media has many problems, but since there are now channels dedicated to 24 hour news coverage, most of which is completely banal, it might be worth injecting some of the time to the state of the world after the mess comes about.

Just a thought.

The Global Village

February 24, 2011

In the Ray Bradbury short story The Meadow, there is a brilliant spiel about the smallness of the world. A character is walking around a film set, where different world cities back onto others on different soundstages – you walk through a door in one and pop out onto another. The character tries to explain to a man who wants to destroy them, that the whole thing is connected, thus:

 “… you got Boston joined to Trinidad … part of Trinidad poking out of Lisbon, part of Lisbon leaning on Alexandria, Alexandria tacked onto Shanghai, and a lot of little pegs and nails in between, like Chattanooga, Oshkosh, Oslo, Sweet Water, Soissons, Beirut, Bombay, and Port Arthur. You shoot a man in New York and he stumbles forward and drops dead in Athens. You take a political bribe in Chicago and somebody in London goes to jail. You hang a Negro man in Alabama and the people of Hungary have to bury him. The dead Jews of Poland clutter the streets of Sydney, Portland, and Tokyo. You push a knife into a man’s stomach in Berlin and it comes out the back of a farmer in Memphis.”

This week, my faith in humanity blossomed somewhat as, for a change, we stopped being American or British or Spanish or Italian or Libyan or Australian or Egyptian or Chilean. Like the people in that short story, we saw the world for the small place that it is, and realised that we have to look at the bigger picture and perhaps even if we cannot do anything about the problems in other countries, we at least can let them know that they are not forgotten, prove that we do care.

In New Zealand, one of the country’s worst earthquakes of modern times shook the ground, killing at least ninety-eight people. The USA and UK wasted little time in sending out search and rescue teams to help with finding survivors and beginning the clean-up operation, which will include working out what to do with the many destroyed buildings, including the beautiful Christchurch Cathedral.

Meanwhile, in northern Africa, things took a turn for the worse. In Tunisia, we cheered as the protestors won, and then again as after eighteen days and 350 dead, Egypt too managed to get rid of their tyrannical dictator. So Libya thought it would have a go.

In just two days, over 400 people were dead, shot with bullets so large they literally rip people apart. While the Western governments remained worryingly silent, the Internet came into its own. My usual haunts, in particular including Tumblr and, of course, Twitter, were full of outrage, of passing on important messages, of people refusing to keep quiet and spreading every last detail they found out.

Perhaps we’re doing nothing to help – indeed, I don’t know what help we can give to Libya – but there was something so wonderful about the whole thing. Like I said, we stopped looking at ourselves as being defined by our nations and looked at ourselves as humans. They suffered and we tried to feel their pain, although we would never be able to.

Recently, I’ve begun to feel that the world is crumbling down around my ears. All great empires end … perhaps the Human Empire, the global village, has finally begun to lose it.

The invention of the Internet is, I feel, mostly to “blame” for this feeling that we are part of something bigger. We can now connect to anyone else on the planet and these countries are closer now than they have ever been. Sadly, with every village comes village idiots, and our global village is no different.

I have seen messages of hate online, messages from people with no sympathy and no understanding and, I would presume from this, no education. One springs to mind of people who had left comments on a blog about the Australian flooding. They were Americans, telling the Australians to “get over it”, and that the threats of terrorism their country faced were far greater than the suffering of their (supposedly) allied country. Disgusting.

In some cases, the media, too, is full of village idiots. While people are being blown apart in Libya, there are some websites dedicating their time to Justin Bieber’s haircut. Do you get that? In the choice between dedicating their headlines to genocide or the fact that a teenager got a haircut, they’ve gone with that ever relevant topic: HAIR GROWS, THIS GUY HAS FOUND A WAY TO STOP IT!

In all of this, the politicians seem to remain idiotic too. I know there is nothing they can do personally to step in and stop Libyan military killing the civilians, or indeed stop earthquakes in New Zealand, but let’s look at the facts. They were quite happy to stumble into a war with Iraq when a dictator was ruling over there, but Tunisia? Libya? Egypt? Not a thing. In fact, these are supposedly some of our allies – our former colonies. Why did we not feel it appropriate to try and save these people?

Am I being cynical or is it because these people pose an actual threat? After all, have we seen any evidence of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction yet, after all these years? Did that war not all begin around the same time that Osama bin Laden organised the 9/11 attacks? Let’s not forget that Saddam had nothing to do with that? Or is the whole thing, dare I say, about oil and resources? Iraq has a lot of oil, but Osama’s Pakistan does not, so what was the point of invading them? So is the same true of north Africa? Maybe Tunisia, Libya and Egypt had nothing for us to take, so we had nothing to gain from helping the oppressed people of these countries. (I’ve just done a bit of research for once – Libya does have oil, but Italy takes most of it, while the UK and USA don’t take much).

It seems hard to deny these days that every country appears to be facing breaking point, with the world’s economy in tatters and protests across the world every other week. Even factors beyond our control – earthquakes, hurricanes, floods – seem to be worsening, almost as if Mother Nature herself has had enough and wants us gone. We cannot be expected to help everyone all the time we keep viewing ourselves as different.

Those being killed in Libya, those suffering in New Zealand, those celebrating in Egypt and those clearing up after the floods in Australia. They are us. They are not some other species, they are humans like me and you and David Cameron and Barack Obama, and the world needs to start working together if it has any hope of getting out of the next century, let alone the next millennium, because the world is now so small that everything we do resonates in every corner of the globe.

The quotation I used to open this blog continues, and I shall use that continuation to end:

 “It’s all so close, so very close. That’s why we have peace here. We’re all so crowded that there has got to be peace, or nothing would be left! One fire would destroy all of us, no matter who started it, for what reason. So all of the people, the memories, whatever you will call them, that are here, have settled down, and this is their world, a good world, a fine world.”

Maybe we all need to think about that a little more and begin to work together, no matter how hard that might look for now. It is not an impossible dream. It is possible if we just learn a little respect.

Another failure of a week at the Jobcentre, and I was finally bumped up against one of those stories in the news that has never really been anything to do with me.

“Has anyone spoken to you about this?” said my ‘advisor’. He handed me a sheet of paper and I said wearily, “No. No one’s told me anything.”

“Well, this is part of a volunteering scheme that…”

I interrupted him. “Is this Cameron’s Big Society thing?”

“Er … yes.”

Effectively, what I’m being asked to do here is go off and offer my services to a library or a care home, but quite how I am supposed to live on the grand total of £0.00 a week for that, I fail to understand.

So, the Big Society! What is it?

Um, well, I’m not sure really. See, the thing is, none of us seem completely clear on what the Big Society involves. As far as I can tell, it is mostly about Cameron selling off the post offices, libraries, care homes and other public services to the public themselves. That way, the government no longer has to pay for them, or indeed deal with any complaints about how they are run.

But let’s be honest, are any of you going to have a whip round with me so we can buy a library? No, of course you aren’t. And even if you are, it is only because you have more money than sense, or at least have somehow found a job that requires little of you for a lot of money, so you can spend the rest of the time running the library. You can’t live off the wage of a volunteer.

Politicians. There are some people who get a lot of money for doing very little. We’re here facing one of the worst recessions in history and yet all of these politicians have somehow got the time to write newspaper columns, churn out books about economic collapse, make television appearances, go on endless holidays to sunnier climes and even appear on Strictly Come Dancing. Well, at least that last one wasn’t the Business Secretary or someone we need working all the time!

Oh, no, wait…

I really cannot understand the cuts and taxes the government are implementing to save the country, as everything they do just seems to be done from the wrong angle. It helps them, but not us, the people they are supposed to be helping.

Take tuition fees, for example. They’ve raised them now to a maximum of £9000 a year, and in the next breath, Cameron turned round and said he wanted more people from lower-income families to attend university. But why? Universities are already turning people away, so surely you don’t need any more people going, especially those who will struggle even more with the enormous debt behind them. Where is the logic in any of this?

I believe that politicians are going into the job for the wrong reasons, and the primary reason is – kerching – money! If they really cared about helping everyone, making a difference, doing good for the country and saving the economy, why don’t they all take, say, a fifty per cent pay cut? Maybe even seventy per cent. Or maybe they should be paid on what they actually achieve. Remove all their bonuses and expenses and they can live on a smaller wage.

Or if they are going to be paid such huge amounts, then they must be forced to attend parliament, since whenever you see Prime Minister’s Questions, there’s only ever about five of them in there. We should be able to hold them to account if they go against their word on something. Once they start helping us like they keep telling us they want to, then we might actually be some help as well. And standing on a podium and telling us that they understand the hardships is not good enough, because they don’t.

I know that no one knows how to run the world, but those in government seem to think they’ve got some idea, so it’s about time they proved it. And the Big Society is not the way forward.

Welcome to Dystopia

January 30, 2011

Last year, as no doubt you remember, the students woke up, got organised and set about destroying London. This seemed the sensible option and would get everyone else to treat them like they were responsible grown-ups. The guy who threw the fire extinguisher from the roof has been jailed, which I support. Alright, it didn’t hit anyone and no damage was done, but it wasn’t exactly the most sensible course of action was it?

That fire extinguisher hitting the ground was the moment at which the public realised it had gone too far. People who want to go to university are supposed to be intelligent, and I don’t have much faith in the intelligence of someone who thinks throwing heavy objects from a tall building into a crowd of people below is a smart idea.

But anyway, I’m not really here to talk about that, or the fact that graduates are increasingly becoming the jobless ones, or indeed that in some parts of the country youth employment is up to 20%, something I’m very aware of as I have just lost my job.

I’m now a statistic.

Still, I’m not here to mope, I’m here to talk about Africa. In Tunisia last week, riots and protests broke out and the government fell to be replaced with another. And this week, Egypt decided that it hadn’t been on the news for a while and did the same thing. More interesting, in an unprecedented move, the country shut down its Internet and SMS services. The country is effectively in lockdown. It might as well not exist in this modern, tech-centred world.

It does mean though that journalists in the field have the advantage now, as no one in Egypt can tweet or blog about what’s going on, they have to speak to journalists directly to get their voices heard out of the country.

As we were watching the riot footage and I casually awaited the collapse of the Pyramids (my knowledge of modern Egypt is very minimal, so I’m staying old school), my father said, “That’ll be us next.”

“Really? Do we get a go?” I said.

“Well, this is all about people being pissed off with the politicians,” he nodded. “And that’s pretty much the state we’re in.”

Do I really think that anarchy is coming to Britain, a country that currently considers it anarchy to refuse a cup of tea? I don’t know, and I don’t want to speculate. Except I do and it will! We’ve seen a taster of what can be done – and that was just the students, a group known for their laziness and drunkenness (if the stereotype holds). What would the rest of us do?

Don’t forget, Britain once owned a quarter of the world – the desire to conquer runs deep within our veins and I don’t imagine it’ll take much more for anarchy to set in.

This country is in a terrible state, you can’t deny that. The high street is on its last legs, the economy remains screwed, education is preposterously expensive and don’t even get me started on the price of petrol. Still, the government has decided that money is better spent importing pandas to Edinburgh, building Olympic stadiums to knock them down again in 2013, and reintroducing the Great Bustard to Britain.

Now don’t get me wrong, the Olympics is an important cultural event but we can’t really afford to host it right now, so why not swallow our pride (a deeply un-English concept) and give it to someone who can. I also support breeding programmes of rare animals, but I don’t support spending billions on getting Edinburgh a tourism boost when it is already a very touristy place. And the Great Bustard is an impressive looking bird, but do we need them back in England right now?

The government need to wake up because right now I’ve given up reading dystopian novels – I’m living in one. And it all seems like it’s going to take a turn for the worse again soon. Cameron, Clegg and the rest have time to try and appease the public. We all knew that economic recovery would be hard, but they’re cutting and taxing in all the wrong places. Ask celebrities to contribute from their fortunes. If the politicians really want to show they care, they could all take a 50% or more pay cut, prove they aren’t doing it for the money. Coming on stage and telling us they understand how we feel isn’t enough, because they don’t.

So come on Cameron, you haven’t got long. Cheer us up or before long the business in Tunisia and Egypt will look like a scuffle on the playground.

I’m not ready to spend the rest of my life in a George Orwell novel.


Finally, if you haven’t been watching 10 O’clock Live, you should start. Whoever thought putting David Mitchell, Charlie Brooker, Jimmy Carr and Lauren Laverne in a room together deserves a medal. Mitchell has proved himself to be even more intelligent than we thought and an excellent interviewer, unafraid of asking the difficult questions. Brooker spits more venom than a quiver of cobras. Carr is the master of the over-the-line one-liner – for some reason I find them acceptable from him but not from Frankie Boyle. And Laverne does a good job at keeping them all under control and making sarcastic commentary.

Thursday, Channel 4, 10pm. Do it.

A Weighty Issue

January 16, 2011

Apologies for my long absence. What with the flu and work and wine I have been too busy to write anything but I am now back and ready to get going again. I hope you all had a lovely Christmas and New Year and have looked back on 2010 with whatever emotions it deserved and are now ready to press on.

And so my first topic of the year is obesity. Or, rather, one very obese man in particular.

Paul Mason, the former fattest man in Britain, has decided to sue the National Health Service (NHS) for letting him get too fat. At his heaviest, he weighed nearly 70 stone (980lb) but thanks to gastric band surgery (paid for by the taxpayer, of course), he now weighs a comparatively dainty 37 stone (518lb).

According to the news reports, he sought help in 1996 when he reached 30 stone (420lb) but his doctor told him to exercise more. Then, when he reached 64 stone (896lb), he was referred to a dietician instead of, as he requested, an eating disorder specialist.

Mason claims that he will use any compensation to help other obese people lose weight, which all sounds very charitable, but is merely a ruse to make us think he’s a nice person – and I don’t deny that he is, I don’t know him – that is the victim in this whole scenario.

The thing is; how can he now blame the NHS for his gargantuan size? Alright, they didn’t get him an eating disorder specialist, but since he was already heavier than Crete (roughly), can they really be blamed for his lifestyle? He was told in 1996 to exercise more, advice he clearly ignored, and instead returned to bed to eat 20,000 calories a day – ten times the recommended daily intake for an average man.

I’ve always been lucky that despite eating a lot of crap food over the years, I’ve managed to remain relatively slim. Not as slim as I once was, but my BMI is spot on apparently, so obviously something’s gone right (for once). But if I was to put on a bit of weight and found I had to buy size 36 jeans or something, I’d start to notice that I was getting bigger, at which point I would do something about it.

Mason let himself reach 30 stone before deciding that he was too big, and when the doctor didn’t prescribe a magic pill for him to reach his ideal weight, he ignored him and continued eating to more than double his size. Doctors can be blamed for a number of things – leaving a rubber glove inside your body during surgery, for example – but unless the doctors were coming round to Mason’s house and force-feeding him, then you cannot claim they are responsible.

What was the NHS supposed to do? Send round someone to stick their fingers down his throat after every bingeing session?

I’m not here to tell people how to live – if you enjoy eating then good for you, eat away. But if you are going to eat so that you reach preposterous sizes, you are not allowed to complain about your size and bemoan the fact that you are fat. You are the one eating it, no one else is to blame, so if you’re going to gorge daily on the same amount the whole of Tunisia gets through in a week, then you have to deal with the consequences and understand that you’re unlikely to be on America’s Next Top Model.

What gets me is, that after a certain weight, Mason was unable to move, confined to his bed, which meant that someone was bringing him food and casually taking part on his ritual to destroy his body. Personally speaking, if I saw someone I loved doing this to themselves, and it was me who was supposed to be bringing them food, I wouldn’t be able to do it. If they really want it, they’ll have to get up and get it themselves. And if they’ve fattened themselves up to the point that they’re as mobile as the Empire State Building then tough luck for them.

This whole “blame culture” seems very American and I do not like that it is leaking over into this country. For some reason, no one is capable to taking responsibility anymore, so everything is someone else’s fault, even if it quite clearly isn’t. People are possibly unable to see the damage they are doing to themselves, and when they realise what they’ve done, they can’t bring themselves to believe that they would hurt themselves in such a way.

Mason should have listened to his doctor and started exercising more or eating less junk, if he wanted to lose weight. How did he think continuing to eat would help matters? I don’t understand how someone can let themselves get to such a size without realising halfway to that point, “I probably should lose some weight now.” And since everyone wants something for nothing and the problem solved yesterday, that usually now means a gastric band operation, or severe liposuction, or any manner of surgery that means they won’t have to lift a dumbbell and can go right back to stuffing their faces with Big Macs as soon as it’s over.

At which point they start the whole sorry process again, all the while professing that it isn’t their fault. As a basic rule, if you can be seen on Google Earth from any distance other than street level, it might be time to start thinking about dieting.

I hope that Paul Mason loses his case, because if he wins, he’s teaching people that it’s OK to pass the buck on your own failings, and also, it will open the floodgates for everyone else to claim it’s the NHS’s fault they have lung cancer (because no one told them to stop smoking) or liver failure (because an NHS representative didn’t get all the pubs to replace their beer with a non-alcoholic substitute).

Maybe your glands and genes play a small part, but not much. If you’re that fat, it’s your own fault and you can’t blame anyone else for it.

Merry Christmas

December 24, 2010

A merry Christmas to all of my readers, whether you know me or you’ve just stumbled across me over the last year. As our time after the noughties continues, I wish you all a merry Christmas and a healthy and happy new year.

Children Raising Children

December 18, 2010

It takes all sorts, and today, according to the paper, it takes a few more. I have just read the story of April Webster and Nathan Fishbourne who, at just fourteen years old, have become the youngest parents in Britain. Obviously, as I wouldn’t be talking about it on my blog if not, but, I have some problems with this.

Let’s start first at what two thirteen-year-olds were doing having sex to get to this point of them holding this dubious record. Personally, I didn’t even kiss anyone until I was sixteen. Late bloomer? No, I don’t think so – most of my friends clock in around a similar age. And, granted, everyone loses their virginity at their own pace but at thirteen, I wouldn’t have known the first thing about sex.

I can’t get myself into the mind of these children (they might be parents, but they are still children) who thought that it was something they should do. Maybe they felt they had to. Apparently Nathan used a condom once, didn’t like it, so they stopped using protection. So let’s thank god that the government has plugged extra money and emphasis onto sex education at younger ages since everyone’s clearly paying attention.

Look, different strokes for different folks, I get that, but personally I feel that fourteen is far too young to be having sex. Besides, isn’t sex under the age of sixteen illegal? Or is it fine when it’s between two children?

I don’t believe that two fourteen-year-olds, no matter how mature they may seem, are at all capable of raising a child when they haven’t finished being raised themselves. What annoys me most, perhaps, is that their parents are so accepting and supportive of the situation.

Things have moved on but, let’s be honest, in some places they haven’t moved on as much as others, and the new grandparents will be stuck with the social stigma of how they let their children have sex. I know parents can’t physically stop you, but what about education? Were Nathan and April at all aware of the potential consequences of their actions?

Nathan’s parents, at least, had the decency to be angry at their son (at first at least) and tell him that he’d been stupid and irresponsible, but now they seem to love the idea. April’s parents, on the other hand, seem really chuffed.

Maybe I’m a little old-fashioned on this front, but I don’t believe it is possible to be a good parent at such a young age. I mean, you can do everything you can think of for the child in theory, but how are they going to pay for the new addition without hand outs from their parents or draining more money from the taxpayer?

Like I said, you can’t stop people having sex but you can get them to wise up. If two thirteen-year-olds do decide to have sex then fine, but they should be responsible. If Nathan didn’t like condoms, then April should have refused to have sex with him, or perhaps gone on the pill. They both appear like doting parents now but do you remember how fickle you were at fourteen? Tomorrow’s next big thing was very quickly yesterday’s junk. But having a baby isn’t a novelty, it is for life, and I just don’t think that’s something many of these teenage mothers grasp.

I always think that this kind of thing isn’t fair, to anyone involved. The baby may not be raised in a secure environment and the child-parents have thrown away any chance of a normal teenage life. Nights out in the park or drunken parties aren’t possible when you’re responsible for a young child.

I’m not saying it can’t work, because it can. I just think that at fourteen, it is practically impossible to be able to raise a child better than if you had waited ten years or so.

I wish April, Nathan and Jamie good luck and I hope that they can make this a success. I do however hope that this doesn’t make other children sit up and go, “Hey, that looks like fun.”

Enjoy your childhood while you can and never be in a rush to grow up.

Home is Where the Hart Is

December 4, 2010

Has everyone reading this seen Miranda on BBC2? If you have, you are a sensible human being. If you haven’t, what is the point of you?

OK, OK, that’s harsh of me but if you haven’t seen it, check it out in BBC iPlayer or on TV this Monday because it is genuinely one of the funniest things that has ever existed. I know that comedy is subjective – I can’t stand The Mighty Boosh and love Eddie Izzard, for example, and I know people who are the opposite of me in that respect – but Miranda is just hilarious, which is mostly down to the star, Miranda Hart.

The basic premise of the sitcom is that Miranda (a much-exaggerated version of the real one) is a single woman in her thirties who owns a joke shop which she runs with her best friend Stevie. Miranda is a constant source of embarrassment to herself and her mother and she has never found a way to fit into the world, not least because she’s over six feet tall and gets mistaken for a man a little too often.

She’s also in love with the chef at her local restaurant, Gary, who loves her back, but they are too shy to try anything. In amongst this there is also Miranda’s overbearing mother who is desperate to marry her daughter off, Clive the owner of Gary’s restaurant who can’t keep his nose out of everyone’s business, and Miranda’s old school friend Tilly who refers to Miranda as “Queen Kong”.

The show seems to have divided the critics and the public quite strongly, with some people (me included) who think it is the best thing since the toaster, and some thinking that it is old-fashioned, ridiculous and simple, thereby, I feel, completely missing the point of it. The world seems to expect sitcoms to be filmed away from a live studio audience, with characters talking about sex and drugs all the time, swearing to be funny and trying to be so clever you miss the jokes because you’re too busy trying to get the subtle one from five minutes ago.

And that’s fine. I enjoy a lot of sitcoms like that – “alternative comedy”, they call it. But you can’t have alternative comedy without having the mainstream and I think that’s what a lot of comedians and others fear – Miranda does not care if she is a mainstream performer. She wants to be mainstream! As such, the show works because there is very little like it around anymore and it harkens back wonderfully to the times of Are You Being Served? and the like, complete with the actors waving to the camera during the credits.

In the hands of many others, a show like this wouldn’t work but Miranda Hart is, without question, funny. Everything about her is hilarious.  Whenever I see her on any TV programme, she is consistently charming, funny and seemingly very friendly. I would liken her to Eric Morecambe, Tommy Cooper and Victoria Wood who were (or in the case of Victoria, still is) capable of bringing an audience to tears often with just one line or even a look.

The show throws away the all-to-common stereotype of the present age that suggests that any woman who is still single in her thirties is lonely and sad and desperate for a man, but Miranda subverts that by giving us a woman who is genuinely happy with her own company. Obviously she’d like a little more – most of us do, that’s just human nature – but she’s fine for now drawing faces on fruit and doing karaoke with a vacuum cleaner. She’s mad, but we all feel like that some days. She is a character that you can’t help but love – you just want to be around her for two reasons. The first is that she’s always happy and would brighten your day too, and the second is because you’re never going to be the embarrassing one when Miranda is there to trip up, fall over or drop whatever she’s holding.

Alright, some of the jokes you can see coming a mile off, but so what? She falls over and off things a lot too, but what does that matter? That form of comedy did Britain pretty well for decades. Fawlty Towers, Dad’s Army, The Good Life – that is what Miranda should be being compared to. You shouldn’t try and compare it to, say, Peep Show which, while an incredible sitcom in its own right (although I was slightly less impressed by season six and am dubious about the just started season seven), is nothing like Miranda. There is nothing like Miranda out there right now.

Likewise, you can’t compare it to The Office, which is another different kettle of fish. You can’t even compare America’s version to the original anymore, so why bother trying with anything else? Miranda is timeless in the way those seventies sitcoms were and I hope that people stop thinking of it as a guilty pleasure.

It may have just a handful of sets, it may be filmed in front of an audience and it may be predictable but thanks to Ms Hart’s amazing comedic skills – the sort that can’t be learnt, can only be dealt out at birth – it should stand the test of time and should be an essential addition to the collection of any comedy connoisseur.