Wednesday, 15 May 2013

If I Ran Television (2)

Vicious: series one, programme six. 

Ian McKellen, Derek Jacobi and Sir Frances De La Tour sit on an ornate sofa. They each hold this episode's script.

De La Tour: I'm going to ACT the fuck out of this.

Jacobi: I'm going to act the fuck out of THIS. 

McKellen: I'M going to ACT the FUCK out of THIS!

The audience applauds wildly. 

Iwan Rheon enters, clutching a heavy claw hammer. In a frenzy, he uses it to smash in the heads of the three main actors. 

He opens a bottle of Nembutal, swallows them all, and lays down in front of the corpses. 

"If you read their diary, all will be explained", he murmurs. "PS Especially the latter part." 

He dies. 

If I Ran Television (1)

The Apprentice: series nine, programme one. 

A cold morning, Tilbury docks. Ten idiots are divided into two equal teams. Each team stands in front of a large shipping container. 

Lord Sugar strides towards them. 

"Your first task", he barks, "is inside these." 

The doors of the containers open. The contestants, eager to impress Lord Sugar, fight to get inside. Just as they realise the containers are empty, the doors swing closed, trapping them. 

A crane picks up each of the containers. The camera pulls back as the containers are swung out over the river, then dropped into the waters below. 

Lord Sugar looks into the camera. 

"They're all fired", he says. "Now here's some cartoons."

He walks away, brushing dirt from his hands. 

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

You Understand This Is Not About You, Don't You?

Anybody who works in retail – at least, anybody who works at the sharp end, the ‘client facing’ bit, the ‘dealing with actual people’ part – and they’ll tell you that one of the more fascinating parts of the job is The Regular Punter. I dare say that’s true enough for the average supermarket checkout worker, or the nice young lady who makes your latte in Starbucks when you pop in on the way to the office, but it’s especially true for those of us who toil in the more specialist arena.

Our regulars have a more intense relationship with us, as we are essentially their enablers. There’s a strange mix of condescension, respect and yes, possibly a little awe passing from them to us – regardless of the nature of our shop and regardless of their need for us to provide their weekly fix, we are, after all, just shop workers – and in all honesty it’s a two-way thing. We’ll smile and have a little chat and by all means we’ll get on fine with you, maybe even be glad to see you, but when it comes down to bare basics the driving force behind us is that we’re after your money.

Harsh? Maybe. True, though.

Having said that, we have Regular Punters who we adore. One of them phones us every time they’re on their way to the shop and asks us what we’d like from the Costa he passes on the way. Another  - who works in the film industry, as quite a few of our RPs do – always turns up like Rik Mayall’s Flashheart character, swinging his battered old Merc into the parking space outside, pushing his ever-present shades up into his wild mane as he strides through the door, barking “HI!” and at the same time shaking hands with anybody in reach, just like the old-time actor-manager that he isn’t. Then he’ll march around the shop demanding “HAVE I BOUGHT THIS? DID I BUY THIS LAST TIME?” while he picks up a huge pile of things. He’s a genuinely funny bloke. It doesn’t hurt that he’ll drop at least a hundred on every visit, but that’s almost a bonus given the fun I have when he’s in.

Other side of the coin? Well, there are the quiet ones, the bookish ones – and there’s nothing wrong with them, believe me – and the ones who know everything about this industry better than you do and quicker than you do and by jingo they’re going to make sure you know that they do.

And then there’s the weirdoes. There’s Stinky Steve. There’s Mad Rasta Jim (“I’m from Jamaica, mon! Mmmm, Irie!” he says from beneath his big rasta hat and from within his Jamaica trackies, despite being even whiter than I am and having a Surrey accent and no dreadlocks) (Actually, I tell a lie. He did have dreads, a big old mass of ‘em, but for one week only).  There’s Alfred, who has the biggest, most spectacular mutton-chop sideburns you’ve ever seen outside of The Victorian Illustrated Weekly Gentleman. There’s Jombo – yes, Jombo – who is a huge, shaking, sweating mass of a man, who spends his week collecting stray shopping trolleys for a large local supermarket and his Saturdays turning up at the shop fifteen minutes before closing and who suffers from… being odd. Jombo loves one character in particular and talks and talks and talks about him all the time. Jombo’s Dad came in with him once, and it turns out that Jombo’s Dad is equally enthusiastic about a fictional character, but in Dad’s case it’s Jesus. That was when we found out that Jombo actually is brain-damaged, which gives him an excuse none of our other customers have.

But as is always the case, there’s a downside. There are the ones who have to be… watched. There are the cocky kids who think it’d be an idea to try steaming the place (Hey kids! That’s why we have an entryphone system! If we don’t want you to, you can’t get in – and you can’t get out!) And then there’s the ones with – and let’s be as polite as we can here – somewhat lower personal standards than most.

No, sod it, let’s not be polite here. There are the ones who shamble about in shattered tracksuit bottoms and a t-shirt that saw better days before they were even born. There are those like Mikey, who carries around his own Linus-like cloud of fuggy, musty stink that fills the whole shop, getting into your clothes, getting under your skin, getting into your very flesh. Who stays for at least a hour, rooting through the cheap bins which are on the far side of the shop and so afford a little distance, but who then comes to the till to have a bit of a chat and then – and only then – reveals his secret weapon of chemical weapons-grade halitosis.

And the star of our show? There’s this one man; stinks – positively reeks – of stale pee despite outwardly looking clean to the point of shininess. Always wears a thick coat no matter what the weather. Wears it because that’s what he tries to tuck things under when you’re not looking. That’s your double threat, right there. A stinky bloke who’s also a shoplifter. But that’s not enough! If he was just a rancid-smelling tealeaf we’d simply kick him out with directions to the nearest soap and water. But the bastard actually spends money. Every time he comes in he drops a good sixty quid, which is lovely, but you’ve got no idea how much he’s sneaking under the macintosh. So you not only have to put up with the smell, you’ve also got to keep a sharp eye on him and that means staying within a couple of feet of the bugger without, y’know, making it too obvious what it is that you’re doing. Last time I drew the short straw and had to stand on guard duty, I had to go for a walk afterwards to get the pungency out of my lungs, and I speak as a man who used to have a deep love of Marlboro Red ciggies.

He came in today; we saw him coming down the road so we put the advance plan into operation. If we had to let him in, we could at least ameliorate the problem by taking pre-emptive action. Out came the air-freshener, both of us walking around the shop with our fingers clamped to the spray nozzle, clouds of chemically fragrant loveliness filling the workspace and our lungs.

I opened the door to let Mr Smelly in and had a pang of conscience. We couldn’t, surely, make it that obvious? So I said the first thing that came into my head: ‘Blimey! That was a lot of spray to kill one bloomin’ fly, eh?’ Then, as soon as he was gone, we got the sprays out and danced our chemical pas de deux again, because believe me, that bastard absolutely hummed

Monday, 8 April 2013


Buddy Rich died in April 1987, a marvellous drummer but allegedly a demanding, short-tempered, bullying man. There’s a story that goes round musician circles – I’m almost certain I heard it on Parkinson – that just after Rich died, his widow took a phone call at home.

“May I speak to Buddy Rich?” the caller asked.
“I’m sorry,” she replied. “Buddy Rich is dead.”
“Oh, I see.’

Ten minutes later, the phone rang again.

“May I speak to Buddy Rich?” the caller asked.
“I’m sorry,” his widow replied. “Buddy Rich is dead.”
“Oh, I see.’

Ten minutes later, the phone rang again.

“May I speak to Buddy Rich?” the caller asked.
“I’m sorry,” his widow replied. “Buddy Rich is dead.”
“Oh, I see.’

Ten minutes later, the phone rang again.

“May I speak to Buddy Rich?”
“I don’t know who you are but I’ve told you three times already: Buddy Rich is dead!”
“I know” said the caller. “It's just so good to hear it!”

And that’s the story that’s been stuck in my head all day today. So if you’ll excuse me, I’m going off to watch the news again. 

Sunday, 7 April 2013


There’s been a little bit of a fuss round here recently about pubs, or rather a pub. I say ‘round here’, it’s actually been in the next borough along. As Robert Elms once said, ‘There’s no decent pubs in Tottenham”. It was true back when he and Sade lived in a squat on the High Road and used a bucket as a lavatory, and it’s truer still today when there are not only no decent pubs in Tottenham, there are hardly any pubs full stop.

One borough along, a pub’s got into a bit of a ruckus because a couple took their young child along one afternoon, and then complained that other patrons were using a certain level of bad language within earshot. The pub manager’s response was immediate and direct; he banned children from the premises.

There have been objections raised that banning children prevents parents from enjoying a social afternoon with their friends. It doesn’t. It just prevents them from doing so in that particular pub. There are other pubs, child-friendly pubs that smile benevolently on small children, pubs may have a menu that offers kiddie meals, pubs with tables covered in paper tablecloths that can be drawn on using crayons that the pub happily hands out. But even these do not disguise the fact that if you take your children to the pub, you are a lousy parent. Yes you are. This is why.

Pubs – I’ll say this slowly (though you can read at whichever speed you wish) – are adult places. They are places where adults meet. This is made obvious by the facts that generally, only adults are allowed to enter them unaccompanied by another adult, and that their primary purpose is to sell a product whose sale is proscribed to those who are not adults. That product’s primary effect is to lower inhibitions; put the two together and you get adult people, who have adult vocabularies, becoming relaxed enough among other adult people that they begin to use adult language (and we may argue here about what constitutes ‘adult’ language but you know very well I mean swearing rather than obscurant polysyllabics). If you take a child to a pub it will hear swearing. If you leave a child in the middle of a busy road it will be hit by a car. If you dip a child in golden syrup it will be licked by passing dogs. Cause and effect. Simple as that.

As a sidebar here, let me just mention that a while ago I ran into, and arranged to have lunch with, somebody I’d not seen in twenty-five years. When we initially sat down, we were both consciously trying to behave like the grown-up, cultured, civilised people we wished to be seen as by the other, and as such we spoke in polite, grown-up terms. You know what these things are like, though; somebody drops a ‘blummin’, that’s followed by a ‘blimey’, and within about half an hour there’s f-words flying around like no tomorrow. If that happens at lunchtime in a coffee-house-stroke-bakery in Crouch End on nothing stronger than decaf and Eggs Benedict in the company of someone with whom you intend to be urbane, what on earth do you think it’s going to be like halfway through a session on the Krony with the loud, sweary mates you last saw four days ago?

Besides, what the hell are you doing in a pub with a child? What’s the nature of your activity there? Are you yourself having a drink? If you are – even if you’re only having one measly little glass of red, not even a proper sized one, just one of the little thimble-y glasses - then your children should be confiscated, because you are not a fit parent. Fit parents do not drink when they are in charge of their children, and they rarely drink even when they’re not in charge of their children, and do you know why that is? It’s because children cannot look after themselves, and after even the smallest amount of alcohol, neither can you. They need you to do it for them, and they need to you to do this every hour of every day for at least ten to twelve years. Probably longer. Children are fragile. They break easily. They need you, their parent, to look after them as though you were Mary Poppins and Superman and one of those plate-spinning fellas you used to get on Saturday evening variety shows all rolled into one, and if you don’t remember plate-spinners what the hell are you doing having children at your age anyway and you can’t be all those things, things that you really need to be, if you’re even the tiniest bit below your best.

Even if you’re not drinking alcohol yourself, everybody else in the pub is, unless it’s full of people as effortlessly joyless as you seem to be. You’re in a place full of people who are quite probably losing control of themselves, even if it’s happening slowly, even if they don’t mean to. They might not have the reaction time that they should. They might stumble. They may be holding bottles and glasses and maybe knives and forks which, innocently or otherwise, could cause a great deal of damage in an accident, an accident which is far more likely to happen when there’s alcohol involved than not. You want to bring your children into that environment so that you can have a nice social afternoon? Frankly, you’re a dick.

Another thing: I’m all in favour of teaching children to be aware of alcohol. I think there’s a great deal to be said for the French way of slowly introducing children to dilute wine with meals; it’s better than having them discover Strongbow in the park with their mates (one of Sondheim’s lesser-known works). But we don’t do that here. Not in public houses. Do it at home by all means. But, as mentioned earlier, we only allow public sale of alcohol to minors under certain conditions. Only with meals, only of certain products, only with adults. The reason for that is simple; we don’t want to see twelve-year-olds off their face on Stella. Drunk adults are ugly enough, but there’s absolutely nothing good about a drunken child. Alright, there’s quite a lot that’s funny about them, I’ll give you that, but after you’ve had that initial bellylaugh and start to think about the adverse consequences on the child’s mental and physical well-being, let alone the social conditions that led it to drinking high-alcohol lager, well, things get pretty serious pretty quickly.

Most importantly, if you complain about swearing in front of your child in a pub, I have to ask: who the hell do you think you are? What gives you the right to demand that I behave in a certain way in a space that is by its nature intended for adults? You don’t want little Florence to hear bad words? Cover her ears. If it’s warm out, take her out into the beer garden where she can run about and play and where she’s less likely to hear this terrible terrible corruption that spews like bile from the filthy men’s mouths.

Better still, take her out of the pub altogether. Take her to a cafĂ©. Take her to a soft play area. Take her anywhere you like but take her somewhere entirely different from where I am, because I am in an adult space paying adult money for adult pleasures and my enjoyment of those pleasures should not be reduced because you don’t want your child to hear a selection of syllables that you find offensive on their behalf.

Here’s what it boils down to: You had the child, you take the responsibility for it. It’s not up to me to do that, because I am not its parent. I’m not a monster and I won’t knowingly allow your child to come to any harm; in fact if I see any possibility of that I’ll do my best to prevent it, but I’m not going to do your job for you.  It’s your kid, and if it’s in a situation you disapprove of it’s your responsibility to remove the child from that situation. In return, I promise to keep to my end of the social compact and will not sit in a nursery school classroom holding a pint of Adnams and calling the Chancellor a cunt.

Ah, now look. You made me do a swear.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Hullo Clouds, Hullo Sky

We went to see that Cloud Atlas film last weekend, because we were both at a loose end and we’d both read the book so it seemed like a good idea.

I got a dirty, dirty mouth.
And a twenty-dollar wig.
When the BBFC certificate came up at the beginning, it warned that there was to be some ‘strong language (one very strong)’ so we decided to keep a watch out for that and point it out when we spotted it (it turned out to be Tom Hanks saying ‘cunt’ which doesn’t strike me as being particularly strong in a film made for grown-ups, but I have been informed that ladies tend to see it as the Swear Of Last Resort so I shall bow to their sensibilities while also pondering why it is that gentlemen have no equal antipathy to, I don’t know, ‘cock’ or ‘prick’ or ‘spamdagger’[1]).

The film does what films often do, which is to change the narrative structure of its source material in order to make it more suitable for the visual medium. In this case, the Russian Doll-like structure of the book has had the back of an axe taken to it, smashing it into tiny shards of narrative and strewing them all over. Which actually works, as this new structure means the viewer has to pay attention to which story strand is being focussed on at any given moment, rather than having the luxury of a fifteen to twenty minute section to get bored with. Events are moved around – one event in particular moves from the end of its original section in the book to the beginning of the film’s, and in doing so changes the entire texture of the sequences.

It is, in essence, a portmanteau film of the sort that were made back in the sixties and seventies, the kind of film where rather posh people on a train journey told each other rather interesting stories then found out they were all rather dead. If it is, it’s a portmanteau film as made by William Burroughs – cut up and slapped down again almost at random, but still retaining some form of shape.

There are a number of other liberties taken with the story tone; in the book, the Orison of Sonmi-451 sections read in a quiet, almost stately manner, whereas in the film they’re treated as Great Big Loud Science Fiction, with chases through the air and bright colours and you almost expect Kate Beckinsale to pop up. Jim Broadbent’s main section, The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish, by contrast, plays and looks very much like a 1970s Britcom movie, out of keeping with the book’s more restrained, genteel comedy.

And of course there’s the make-up. This has been mentioned in other places and it’s being mentioned here because it’s the weakest aspect of the film. The concept of having the same main players taking different roles is a good one; it underlines the theme of the book and puts it right up there on screen for even the dumbest viewer to see.

Love actually is all around
It’s further spotlit by the lingering close-ups of the comet-shaped birthmark that recurs throughout the different time periods shown, but the actors are the main vehicle for the idea. Unfortunately, the make-up doesn’t always work. The aging makeup in particular is awful – you wonder why Hugh Grant is hiding under a late period Jimmy Savile mask – but in general you spend just a little too long noticing the make-up rather than the actor, and a little too long noticing the actor under the make-up in an “oh, it’s him again!’ way, that you’re jolted out of the film. Sometimes, though, the disguise works – when Halle Berry turns up disguised as a middle-class white woman, I actually thought it was Madonna up there on screen, and that was as big a jolt as seeing Hugo Weaving in drag.
What? This isn't W.E.?

Now you may have got the idea that I didn’t like this film. And you’d be wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Not in a so-bad-it’s-good way, as I find bad films to be simply that: bad films, with no redemption to be had. Cloud Atlas is not a bad film. It’s really a pretty good film of a near-unfilmable novel. I’d read reviews that said it had an unnecessary third hour, and I sat there wondering when that third hour would appear, expecting the weight-shifting and bladder-straining that goes with an overlong film. They didn’t come. The film held me, never less than interested if not always entranced, for its full length, and I couldn’t say that about most films I see.

I suspect that time will be good to Cloud Atlas, that it will get good word-of-mouth (I’ve yet to meet anyone who’s seen it and didn’t enthuse about it, and that includes an acquaintance in the film industry who can usually be relied on to badmouth anything. And anybody. I like the fella.) and be watched repeatedly, either at the cinema or on DVD. I’m going to see it again in two days, something I haven’t done since I accidentally agreed to see Snakes On A Plane with two different people on consecutive days and couldn’t in all conscience let either party down.

Go and see it. Read the book, either prior to or after the film. Agree or disagree, love or hate, Cloud Atlas is at least an attempt by a big studio to make something other than bangy shouty blowy-up films, laboured scatological comedy films or pale wan teenage monster films, and for that at least it deserves your time.

Coming Soon: The Marxist Dialectic in Wreck-It Ralph

[1] I know why. I. Know. Why. Please don’t gang up on me. 


Well, I did something yesterday that I hadn’t done for a while, and that’s go to the pub on a Sunday afternoon to watch a football match that I had any interest in.

Pretty often I’ll while away a Sunday in some boozer or other, usually to have lunch because it’s easier to go out and buy a roast dinner, which is what you want on most Sundays but not every Sunday, than it is to buy meat and vegetables and get them all prepared up and cooked and then there’s the whole Yorkshire pudding thing because by god they’re a bastard to get right but buying them in just isn’t on.

But pretty often, when there’s football showing in wherever we’re having that roast dinner – and sometimes there is and sometimes there’s not, generally depending on how gastropubbish the place thinks it is. For instance the Queens in Crouch End is very very GPish, to the extent it calls half of itself itself a Dining Room and insists you eat in this Dining Room and not in the bar, which means you have to get up and walk from one part to the other to get more drinks in, which kind of negates the whole thing if you ask me – it’s a game I’m not really investing anything in. It’s neutral. No biggie.

Of course yesterday was different, as the game was the North London Derby and I’d said I’d go to a certain pub to watch it with an old mate I’d run into a few days beforehand, so that’s where I went, to this pub that I wouldn’t usually go to because as far as I’m concerned you go to a pub to either meet people before moving on somewhere else, or to eat because see paragraph 2 (above), or – and this is rare these days as I hardly drink at all except the odd glass of red with a meal that calls for it – to enjoy a good glass of beer. Proper beer, to be drunk in proper surroundings, to wit an atmosphere generated by not too large a number of people, having a nice time with their friends. No drunks, no shouting, nobody under thirty (possible reduction to twentyfive in the case of less excitable womenfolk) and no music (possible exemption for quiet jazz/country, preferably something already part of my own collection which, when played in said pub, comes as a pleasant surprise (also applies to supermarkets)).

Proper beer was not on sale, not even in bottles; mass-produced fizzy lager and nitro-kegged bitter was the choice, so I had a pint of Carlsberg which, by seven o’clock, had given me a nasty head and a distinct feel of being chemically attacked.

The right team won, as is only proper, and the universe is finally adjusting itself to its correct alignment, having been out of bonk for about fifty years.

However, upon returning home and having woken from a Probably The Worst Lager In The World-induced doze I found that, despite having no distinct memory of having done so, I had shouted very loudly and sung very lustily during the game, as had my old friend, the people near us, and everybody else on the left side of the pub (the right side being that side traditionally occupied by the Opposition).

And that is why, since last night, I have been unable to produce anything more than a rough deep growl with paintstripper overtones.