I Get What the BBC Is For Now

…it’s a job creation scheme for gold medal winning athletes from years ago. The Winter Olympics is a case in point. The main qualification seems to be respectable and middle-class rather than to know anything much about the sport. I’m used to people like Sue Barker and Gary Lineker presenting programmes and the likes of Steve Cram do a reasonable job presenting and Matthew Pinsent makes a relatively enthusiastic reporter but this Winter Olympics seems to have the medal winning presenters and reporters crossing the liminal zone into commentator and pundit territory. Therefore Matthew Pinsent has been volunteering his expertise on both curling and ice hockey. He’s a nice chap (I’ve even held one of his gold medals at a corporate event) but I wonder how much more he knows about these sports than any viewer who’s read the papers and watched a bit of it on television. I guess the BBC would argue that he has a unique insight into the psychologyof the medal winning athletes — but that argument is utterly self-defeating because if none of the audience thought they had an ability to try and imagine what it’s like to win gold then the viewing figures would probably be cut by about 95%.

Best Albums of the Last 30 Years?

‘My arse,’ as Jim Royle might say.

Radio Two listeners are having to pick the supposed best album of the last 30 years out of the motley list below. Maybe the list is selected from only the people who can be bothered to turn up to receive the award at the Brits? It’s difficult to imagine a bigger bunch of crap — who on earth shortlisted this rubbish? In many cases the album isn’t even the best that the artists concerned has made.

A Rush Of Blood To The Head – Coldplay: they might be a decent band if they got a singer. I thought ‘Viva la Vida’ was ok but most of Coldplay is pretentious whining — cock rock for middle-class students.

No AngelDido: this is actually a very good album and balances the pop influences of Rick Nowells (Stevie Nicks, Belinda Carlisle) with the trip-hop influences of her brother’s band Faithless. At least with names like Dido and Rollo, they had to admit they were posh — not kids off da street like most middle-class musicians. Because of inverted snobbery by middle-class music journalists the only people who were allowed to admit they liked Dido were those who had impeccably ‘street’ credentials — like Eninem, who knew a good tune when he heard one.

Diamond Life – Sade: this one is good too. It has the mark of a good album in that some of the non-single tracks are equally memorable as those that got in the charts. It’s got a lot of period charm.

Hopes And Fears – Keane: I don’t know anything about this one or Keane, in fact, apart from their song ‘Spiralling’ was ok.

What’s The Story Morning Glory – Oasis: a load of over-hyped, third-rate bombastic imitiations of Beatles tracks

No Jacket Required – Phil Collins: unbelievable — ‘Face Value’ was genuinely an album of its time with a single that has endured (even if the drumming gorilla didn’t save Cadbury’s). ‘No Jacket Required’ was loveable geezer Phil at his showbiz worst.

The Man Who – Travis: I’m the man who can’t remember anything about Travis, let alone their supposedly brilliant album

Rockferry – Duffy: OK but largely a throwback to the 60s in musical style — is imitating 40 year old music something that makes the best album of the last 40 years. At least it isn’t Amy Winehouse.

Urban Hymns – The Verve:I bought this on cd when it first came out, listened to it once and then never bothered again. Good opening tune but wasn’t it derived from the Rolling Stones?

Brothers In Arms – Dire Straits: like the Phil Collins selection, not their best album — they did some decent stuff a few years earlier but this is stadium formula bloat-rock.

Seems like whichever nerd put the shortlist together selected their favourite album (probably Keane or Travis) and then put it up against a load of other dross to ensure it wins — while milking Radio Two listeners for phone votes. It will be interesting to see how the women artists compare. I think anyone with any independent taste should organise a Rage Against the Machine campaign to make Dido’s ‘No Angel’ the top album of the last 30 years. It’s certainly the best there but that says everything about the competition.

I’ll try and think of my own list.

The First ‘Out’ Gay Rugby Player — They’ll All Be Taking Their Clothes Off Next

Apparently former Wales and British Lions rugby captain Gareth Thomas has outed himself as gay. According to the BBC he said “It’s pretty tough for me being the only international rugby player prepared to break the taboo. Statistically I can’t be the only one, but I’m not aware of any other gay player still in the game.” Good luck to him in having made this public as a player in “the toughest, most macho of male sports”.

In my experience rugby has such a bizarre, almost homo-erotic culture that it would likely provoke the most strange reactions in a genuinely gay player. It’s well known that rugby players like to get extremely drunk. This often culminates in clothing being removed and it’s quite common for a bunch of rugby players at the end of a night to be stark naked in the bar — usually but not exclusively in an all male environment. This seems to be a rite of passage. Not exactly related to nudity but on a scatalogical theme is that it’s also considered by the more extreme drinkers that someone hasn’t had a good night’s drinking unless they have drunk so much they’ve lost control of their bodily functions — vomiting and losing bladder control are a bit passé, the ultimate is to wake up in bed caked in one’s own fæces.

I used to live with (in the non-biblical sense) a member of the university rugby team. When on tour his teammates used to play a hilarious trick on any player who they spotted asleep. It was better if the slumbering student had his mouth open as the trick was that another team-mate would place his penis as far into the sleeper’s mouth as possible. The rest of the team would then wake the victim and laugh at his shock at what was resting on his lips. One of the team also had an ambition that he was well on the way to realising — to drink ‘a pint of piss from every county’. This meant that in the bar after the match a pint pot would be passed around the opposition, who would urinate in it until it was full. Our hero then downed the pint in one — to much enthusiastic applause.

I also lived with another club rugby player who went on a European tour with his club. He brought back the most strange set of holiday photos — he was quite lucky to get Boots to develop them. There was the obligatory tour photo of course — all thirty or so players (all male) stood in a familiar school photo tiered arrangement with the minor detail that none were wearing any clothing. Some had their modesty covered by the players in front but plenty of the team were happy to bear all. That’s probably fairly par for the course. What was most bizarre was their game of human skittles. This involved turning the bar into a bowling alley by piling up chairs and stolls at one end like skittles and then making a bowling lane along the length of the bar. This was lubricated with soapy water. The human skittle was then propelled down the makeshify bowling alley at the ‘skittles’ with the objective of knocking over as many as possible. Naturally, to avoid friction the human skittle himself had to be stark naked and was thrown face down as hard as possible by four teammates who grabbed each limb and swung him forward to gain momentum before releasing him down the alley. This was all captured on the photos in step-by-step detail and the skittle himself seemed quite pleased with his achievement.

This subculture would no doubt be of fascination to anthropologists practised, as it was, by red-blooded heterosexual males. No wonder Gareth Thomas went to great lengths (he got married) to keep his self-knowledge secret.

Boeing Has A Dream(liner) — Nightmare for BA

The infamously delayed Boeing 787 ‘Dreamliner’ actually got off the ground today — two and a half years late. This is a pretty good achievement seeing as one of the latest delays was caused by a fairly important structural flaw — apparently the part of the plane where the wings join on wasn’t strong enough. It wouldn’t have been much of a dreamflight if the wings had fallen off. According to the BBC, the wings managed to stay on for the duration of the test flight, although it landed earlier than schedule.

BA has 24 of the 787s on order but the papers have been speculating whether BA will even exist when they’re ready to be delivered — not because of more interminable Boeing delays but due to the death-wish that the management seem to want to inflict on the company. Willie Walsh seems to have backed himself into a corner — trying time-wasting wheezes like trying to sue the company over technicalities. He should look at the majority in favour of industrial action instead — 9 to 1. That can’t be blamed on militant union bosses — it’s the result of catastrophically bad management. This is no surprise when the company can’t decide whether it’s a low-cost airline that abolishes free food or an upmarket brand for the business and more discerning end of the market.

The BBC’s reporting of the strike has been woeful. They ask people who’ve booked holidays on BA what they think of the strike — what sort of response do they think they’re going to get? Yet the next item on the news is about Copenhagen and climate change. While there are people travelling over Christmas for necessary reasons there are an awful lot of the BA customers who are just jetting off for a sunny second (or third or fourth) holiday — so we’re expected to emote when Samantha and Toby can’t easily take their brats to the Caribbean for Christmas but then wring our hands over climate change? It seems like the editors of certain broadsheets are peeved that their own getaways are possibly being jeapordised — the Independent bizarrely wants the union to play down its huge majority for action.

Another inconsistency and hypocrisy is that the management of BA has the customers’ interests solely at heart — those nice men. Think who installed an abrasive chancer like Walsh into his position — the back-scratching clique of institutional shareholders like pension funds, stock market gamblers, hedge fund managers and so on. Exactly the bunch of economic micro short-termists whose judgement (along with Brown’s complacency) landed us the credit crunch. BA’s management has no-one’s interests at heart but global capital.

It’s a hugely irresponsible management that has had this strike ballot pending since the summer and seems more intent on provoking a showdown than resolving the underlying issues. They are a bunch of chancers and the union has hugely called their bluff by planning a strike of a length that would cripple the company. (For one thing, if all BA’s planes were grounded they would have no room for them, certainly at Heathrow.) The Daily Telegraph is considering if BA will be completely destroyed. It seems that Walsh is about to hand Branson and O’Leary a nice Christmas present.

How To Get Away With Outraging Public Decency

Easy in Brown’s Britain:

  1. Grovel to the judge like a dog
  2. Wear a a ‘smart grey suit, pink shirt and a blue-and-red striped military style tie’
  3. Come from a middle-class town like Macclesfield where mater and pater are likely to be rather rich enough to employ a decent defence lawyer for you
  4. Most importantly, blame everyone else but yourself especially ‘a culture of drinking too much’

The scumbag who urinated on the war memorial and wreaths could get himself a new career of advising other middle-class oiks from priveleged backgrounds about how easy it is to avoid taking personal responsibility for one’s actions.

He should have been locked up anyway for wearing ridiculously low-waisted jeans with shocking pink underwear protuding underneath — a mark of a complete and utter ‘merchant banker’ in any case. See the picture on the Sky site.

Pubs — The Preserve of the Middle-Class?

King William IV Speen
King William IV Speen

Today I drove through Southcourt in Aylesbury: a large, 1930s-60s housing estate which was originally almost all council housing. Such estates used to be bastions of working-class ale drinking but the smoking ban and the credit crunch have finished off two of the three pubs and the closest pub in the direction of the two centre is also shut. A pub that tried valiantly to keep going in the face of cheap supermarket beer and home-based entertainment like videos and Sky TV was the Steeplechase, which did some decent real ale at times. It has been boarded up for a year now and is a sad sight.

However, on the bright side, a report partly supported by CAMRA and publicised on the BBC website reported that cask ale was the only type of beer now with growing sales and partly because twice as many women enjoyed drinking it in the past couple of years. There was also a very interesting report on the Radio Four Food Programme about hops and their use in real ale — which gave an opportunity for Roger Protz to yet again claim that beer is far more interesting than wine. The brewer at Brewdog commented on his Punk IPA, which the female presenter found very tasty. (I love this beer and its weaker sister — Trashy Blonde — Brewdog are so non-pc they even make an 18% beer.)  The programme noted that the trend towards using more (and more assertive) hops started by US craft breweries and is now being adopted by ale brewers here. Such beers have to either have a high alcohol content to balance the bitterness or need to be drunk in much smaller quantities (such as thirds of pints) to be palatable.

The two themes above suggest that there’s a trend for both beer and pubs to lose their long-time association with the working man and instead to become the preserve of the middle-classes. A valid criticism of CAMRA is that while it has spectacularly succeeded in preserving real ale and increased the variety available, it has done so mainly for the benefit of a minority of beer snobs and tickers. Real ale is not the drink of the working man any more — that accolade was lost to lager a long time ago — the fact that real ale quality is dire in a large number of workaday, non-CAMRA-Good-Beer-Guide pubs might have a lot to do with this. However, it seems that these sort of workaday, average, unremarkable pubs are the ones that are suffering most at the moment and, as the cask report says, it’s the affluent real ale drinkers who are able to afford £3 a pint in the pub and don’t go for the £10 24 can Stella pack at Tesco as an alternative.

So perhaps the saviours of the English pub as we know it are the middle-classes, much as that might be an anathema to some of the more revolutionary founders of the real ale movement. The middle-class seem to have saved real ale and pubcos should perhaps target these high-spending, but demanding customers more. Another factor in the pub’s favour is brought to mind by having forty-something politicians paraded at the party conferences over the past couple of weeks: it seems the annoying, social-skills free nerds that inhabited student politics in the 80s are now making their bids to be the annoying, power-crazed nerds that run the country. But if that’s reflected in other walks of life there may be a silver lining in that the middle-class, especially Generation X who are entering middle-age, have very fond memories of the pub from their student days (mostly rose-tinted in terms of the amount they drank and time the spent there). Yet this almost sentimental attachment to the pub as a hub of student life might yet save the great British institution. The middle-classes might not be propping the bars up swilling ten pints of mild a night but they might be pretty solid campaigners to ensure that pubs are still there for people that do.

Crown, Sydenham, Oxfordshire
Crown, Sydenham, Oxfordshire

To illustrate the point there are a number of examples of local pubs being saved from closure by being bought by (presumably relatively wealthy) members of the local community and re-opened and run on a community basis. The Unicorn at Cublington and Crown at Sydenham, Oxon are good examples. I went tonight to a pub, the King William IV at Speen, that’s not owned by the community but run in a way that is designed to be community minded — to the extent of having a small room of a perfect sized for committee meetings. It also has an ice-cream parlour selling locally sourced ice-cream. A group of local charity volunteers were also enjoying the evening in the pub. These pubs aren’t, of course, exclusively full of middle-class people but they’ve benefited from the sort of activism that the middle-classes (and, dare I say it, CAMRA) have shown to be very successful.