Raging Against the World

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What’s So Wrong About #Twitrelief?

Today a new hashtag on Twitter: #twitrelief

If you look at the hashtag for this new Charity fundraiser from Comic Relief you’ll be surprised that there’s such animosity being raised. There are four basic views:

  1. This is for charity, I love these celebrities and you must too.
  2. This is a tacky idea and I’m expressing my opinion on it
  3. What is Twitrelief? I can’t be bothered to find out for myself, you do it for me, ok?
  4. I’m going to do a very poor joke about Celebrities giving me sexual relief. *Snorts with laughter at own joke*

The idea behind it is this: You bid on eBay for the celebrity you like and if you win they will follow you back on Twitter for 90 days. Some of the celebrities have sweetened the deal by adding extras, but this does not seem to be happening across the board.

So what’s really happening now is a war of words between those who support the idea unwaveringly and those who hate everything it stands for.

In the Pro camp the most repeated sentiment is: it’s for charity, just Shut The F*** Up. If you disagree then just keep your mouth shut.

This for me is problematical. I don’t believe that anything is fine in the name of Charity. To me this is a bad idea which although made with “the best intentions” doesn’t actually do as much as if the Celebrity just said “Hello, please Donate to Comic Relief”. It’s placing the ‘Celebrities’ (and some of them you would raise an eyebrow at) on a plinth creating, as some have said, a cultural apartheid.

You don’t have to stretch your imagination to see these famous people putting a barrier between Slebs and Plebs. There’s very much a “worship us, we’re better than you” ethos here, where they have realised capital can be made by making people pledge to them. We are superior to you because we have careers where we can be on television for up to 8 years. Give money and we just might talk to you! If you’re of a biblical wont, you may see this as making an offering to the gods. Thou shalt not worship craven idols.

But this is a limited 90-day offer. There’s no way of knowing if the celebrity will even read your tweets. You can be sure in the first week of winning that they’ll retweet a token amount just to prove that they are actively reading you. And then again in the last week too, just to show willing. The rest of the time they may not read you at all. They may even use filters so they don’t have to read what you say.

People follow celebrities just for a touch of glamour. Ordinary lives don’t involve going to parties with telly people, exchanging texts with other celebrities. The humdrum normality doesn’t involve, for us, late-night poker sessions and copious amounts of cocaine before trolling off to the Ivy to spend large amounts of money we ‘earned’ doing voiceovers on 30-second TV ads. We don’t all hang about backstage with the latest media-hyped band.

It’s just a dream we have. Maybe we could live that life too? Of course we can’t. We work in insurance or at Asda or perhaps we sell shoes in a high street shop.

Richard Curtis, the man behind Comic Relief doesn’t use twitter at all. But rest assured he’s going to create an account where he will follow his bidder (and presumably only his bidder). For 90 days. And then he’ll swan off never to return. This is what devoted attention your money will get you.

As I said, the Pro Camp are rallying behind a “it’s for Charity” approach. Well that’s a bit of a problem too. Say for instance 1000 people want Nick Frost (you know, the tubby guy from Spaced and Hot Fuzz) to follow them. They keep bidding, £1, £5, £20, £150, etc etc until someone wins for £1100. Brilliant, you think, £1100 to Comic Relief, what a wonderful thing!

Except is isn’t. By the time Comic Relief actually occurs the losing bidders have lost their enthusiasm. “I’ve done my bit, I can’t be bothered to give again.” While this may not be true in all cases, there will be some. Also, this £1100 bid doesn’t come from an ordinary person. The ordinary person cannot afford £1100 with their mortgages, household bills, monthly car payments, council tax, etc etc etc. The only people who will win the follow are those to whom £1100 is spare and can be bandied about willy-nilly.

If you totted up the losing bids the amount could vastly overshadow the £1100. If only the 1000th person wins, 999 bids which add up to a far larger amount have been lost. Someone suggested a raffle, which is a much fairer idea. And it’s so easy to do. All Comic Relief needs to do is set up a website, link it to Paypal and the money could be rolling in. It’s so easy to do and could be done an hour from now. Ask any website designer.

You can’t get a discussion of this on Twitter of course because the “it’s for charity!” people are shouting down any dissent. People are being called “c**ts” and “f**kwits” for daring to be so “mean-spirited” as to find fault with the feckless idea.

My advice to you is to not prop up the celebrities, don’t give them another reason to have an inflated ego. They’re not better than you. In many cases celebrities are very dull tweeters or don’t tweet enough because they are out having exciting lives. You want to do something for charity? Donate instead.

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Soldiering On

So late last night as I was catching up with my timeline the horrible news came in.  Nicholas Courtney, our solid dependable right-hand man to many Doctor Whos has died.

The Brigadier in full dress uniform.

Like many of my generation Doctor Who was not a programme which came along and we decided to watch one day, it had always been there.  From before we were born and it would live long after we died.  The show was ingrained in us, it was immortal.  My earliest memories are of Jon Pertwee regenerating into Tom Baker.  Not my earliest memories of Doctor Who, but my earliest memories.  How on earth I was even aware of Doctor Who and what regeneration was (I knew) at only 3 years old I have no idea.

But Nicholas Courtney was there.   He was there at the pivotal moment in history as a Doctor became another Doctor.  Twice.  Not many can lay claim to that.  And he would continue to be there for years to come.  Disappearing in 1975 to reappear in 1983 it never felt like he was away.  The Brigadier, or as he’s become known over the years – The Brig – is a stalwart.  He is… he was the oldest friend of the Doctor.  Assistants and Companions come and go, travelling and leaving, travelling and leaving.  The Brig was always there.  Even when he wasn’t.  If the Brig wasn’t in a story, it’s because he was at UNIT HQ or Geneva, he was never “not there”, just away from his desk.

Of course as the years went on this very British institution of a tv show which had regularly pulled in extremely respectable ratings was sidelined and denigrated by the powers that be at the BBC.  They hated it and did what they could to cancel it.  The first time they tried it was “resting” rather like a certain ex-parrot.  Everyone could see through this and thanks to a mystifyingly orchestrated campaign by the tabloid newspapers the public outcry forced them to recommission the series and pretend nothing had happened.

So the BBC got smart, they scheduled it against the big hitter of ITV, Coronation Street.  It had no chance.  The show’s popularity dwindled and the once giant loved show turned into a bit of a joke.  I couldn’t even begin to count the times the big lie was repeated about “wobbly sets”.  There were never wobbly sets.  But the damage was done, the show spiralled down until the BBC could cancel it with no fuss.

And in those wilderness years Doctor Who fandom held out.  Like the Resistance we held our ground and did everything we could to keep the show alive.  Books, CDs, Magazines, action figures, even audio stories from Bill Baggs’s BBV and later, Big Finish.  Fandom had many conventions, primarily in the UK but a strong presence in the USA too.  The stars of the show were always busy, always sought out.

People like Nicholas Courtney were given their due.  We realised their worth and hopefully these actors recognised the ongoing happy feelings we radiated towards them.

But I never realised the sheer scale of this until today.  Twitter has been talking all day about Mr Courtney’s passing.  It has trended in the UK and Worldwide for pretty much the entire day, a feat only equalled by the likes of Justin Bi*ber and Lady Gaga.  Reading the comments from those involved with the show and those of us who merely watched it has been astonishing.  Nicholas Courtney was loved by so many people.  His quiet modesty and affable demeanour has resonated with a far larger audience than many of us who lived through the dark days of the 90s could ever have imagined.

When the show came back in 2005 there was a definable schism between Old Who and New Who.  At first the show made no links with its former entity, many spoke of it as a reboot rather than a continuation.  By the time David Tennant came on board in 2006 the production team had loosened the strictures and the return or Sarah Jane Smith (and K9) opened the floodgates.  Suddenly “Old Who” was rebranded “Classic” Who in a rather worrying reminder of New Coke and Classic Coke, but it stuck.  The new fans who are only used to the whizz bang and whoosh of zippy, shiny, expensively neatly costumed actors were keeping their distance from the Classic series.  In time the persistent protestations of long-term fans that there was a vast untapped back catalogue tempted the young people into the past.  Amazingly, they enjoyed it!  Resistance was diminished and now the audience for the old stuff has grown.

The popularity of the Tennant era has done many wonderful things but if nothing else it has brought love back to the show.  In a written entry on Tom Baker’s website he states

Of all the characters in Doctor Who there is no doubt that he was the most loved by the fans for his wonderful portrayal of the rather pompous Brigadier.  “Five rounds rapid” was the line we all loved.

He is absolutely correct.  Tom Baker is not a young man himself and when he goes we will grieve for him too, but not in the same way.  Nicholas Courtney was a flawed vulnerable man, as can be heard from his very frank (and inexplicably deleted) autobiography, A Soldier in Time.  He talks about his difficulties with women and marriage, his distant unloving mother and his nervous breakdown during the filming of Terror of the Autons.  The late Barry Letts also gently touches on this incident in his autobiography.  In the years that followed things got better for Nicholas Courtney and by the time he died he was happily married and very popular with an enormous amount of people keen to befriend him.

We mourn him more deeply than we have mourned anyone involved with Doctor Who since perhaps Patrick Troughton.  The Brigadier was the Doctor’s Rock.  Steadfast, dependable and utterly decent.

Nicholas Courtney was our Rock for exactly the same reasons.  With his death another era closes forever.  We have lost our father figure.

Thanks to @tvcream for perhaps the most poignant image in the last 24 hours: Nicholas Courtney lost in his thoughts on the W7 bus between Crouch End and Finsbury Park.

Now, let’s remember why we love(d) him

Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart in a Glengarry.

As Sean Connery so memorably said…

I’m looking for a new job and have been applying all over the place.  I’ve wanted to move into I.T. for a long time, but I don’t have the qualifications.  I’m good with computers, I’ve built ’em and upgraded them and replaced parts, installed wi-fi networks n’ wired networks and everything.  I’m an analytically-minded person and will keep at a problem until I’ve solved it.

This week I was contacted by a firm called Careerjobsuk.com.  I received a call from a young guy who breezed through questions like an express train and he arranged to call me this morning at 10 for a telephone interview with a view to training in I.T. “which’ll be monitored by a trainer”.

So like that link, I too was phoned 30 minutes late and then asked if I’d be available at 11.  11:10 and the call comes through.  He told me he was doing 6 interviews and that there was one vacancy.  As though he was priming me for a “if you’re lucky you might win” thing you get from those free scratchcards where you always magically win.  He directed me to the careersuk.com website and breathlessly raced through the pages on the website while continually calling me “yourself” over and over (ugh).

Suddenly I became aware that rather than helping me get a career in I.T. he was actually trying to sell me something. So while he talked I googled to see if it was a scam and came across the certforums  page for them.

As the call progresses I become more and more certain it’s a scam. I wanted employment, not to start paying money out.
He puts me on hold to talk to his trainer about whether I’m suitable. Surprise surprise, I was!

He mentions a Barry McGregor and Sam Slack (“she’s a great girl”).  He asks for my credit card details to guarantee myself the placement and that I’d be getting lots of paperwork and emails, but he’s talking so fast and with such a thick London gangsta-youth accent that I could barely follow him.

All the while my spidey-senses are tingling.  This feels like a wrong ‘un.  He hears me hesitate about giving my credit card details and asks what’s wrong.

“It feels like a scam.”

SCAM??” and then he goes into a long prepared speech about how it can’t be a scam and that the call to my mobile “is probably costing them £79 as it is. If we were scamming you we’d ask for £2000!”

Utter nonsense, mobile calls aren’t that expensive.  He’s trying hard to convince me.  So hard to land me as a customer that I decide it’s not smelling right at all.  I follow my instincts and bail out.  I blurt out quickly that I don’t like the sound of it and hang up before he can try to talk me round.  Phew.  I feel much safer now.

And for those of you googling, his name on the email I got and the name he gave on the phone is Adam Conroy.

Make your own mind up, it might be a scam, it might not. It’s fishy though.

As Sean Connery so memorably said in Rising Sun (1993):

When something looks too good to be true, then it’s not true.

God is a Busy Man

And on the 8th Day God got up a bit late, mooched about the kitchen and decided to carry on with his redecoration of the Universe. 

Lucifer’s keeping an eye on Adam, poking him with a stick now and again to see how he responds to stimuli.  Good old Lucifer.  My favourite angel.

“So,” thought god, “what next?  It’s a lovely universe, all spotless and fresh.”

 True, the Earth was a bit gloopy, being made out of water, it probably needs a bit of thickening.  What better to solidify it than to fill it with something hot which’d bake the inside?  Lovely, hot molten rock, that works.  I can grab some from the dinosaur planet.  Those poor dinosaurs.  How was I supposed to know they would insist on eating the fruit from my banana tree?  I told them it wouldn’t agree with their constitutions but I turn my back for five minutes… 

All dead, God mused sadly.  Won’t make that mistake again.

And God did lift up the surface of the earth and sweep the bits of dinosaur world underneath

Simmer for 1 day, perfect.  Oh whoops, I forgot to pick the dinosaur bones out.  Ah well, never mind, it’ll all be underground, buried out of the way, that’ll do.  On the plus side, everything seems to be taking me an exact day to do!  I predict I shall have Adam flying about in a machine by day 14 at this rate!  He’d like that wouldn’t he?  Good little Adam.

And on the 9th Day God did question his angels for suggestions of additions to Adamworld.

  • More Adams!
  • Different temperatures in different places.
  • New food (not Manna)
  • More flapping things
  • Corporate Responsibility
  • More yapping things
  • Some way of knowing when the day was going to become the night
  • More shelves.

All good ideas!  I do love brainstorming with my angels.  Though someone’s taken one of the manna biscuits out of the pack before I did.  I don’t want to seem overly bossy, but I am the employer after all!  They’re only here because of me!  Lucifer has said he’d keep an eye out for future infractions.  Ah he’s a good lad, I don’t know what I’d do without him.

Anyway, I’ve decided to try out more yapping and flapping things and also this “different temperatures” thing.  Could be interesting.  OK, I’ll just do a bit of Adam-watching for a while.  Watch him scurrying around with that little dangly thing wobbling, it does make me laugh.  I do wish he’d stop playing with it though.  I put it there for my entertainment, not his.

Oops. Day 9 and I haven’t made anything yet.  I’d best get on with it. 

And later in the day…

I did create a prototype quadruped with a big horn, but Lucifer said it was basically the same as the horses.  He’s right of course.  I’d better knock up something quickly before the day’s over though, because night’ll be… oh, it’s night-time.  Tomorrow.  Tomorrow, I’ll come up with more creatures.

And on the 10th Day…

OK I’m bored with Adam now.  I thought it’d be a fun toy, but it’s not quite as interesting after the first few days.  Maybe some add-ons?  I quite like the idea of giving him a horn on his head.  I tried rolling some balls at him and he enjoyed that a lot, so that was nice.  I mean, I do like him, but there’s only so many times you can watch him sleep befre you want him to do something!  I’m tired of waking him up.

I made a horse with wings, but Lucifer says they’re too flighty (pardon my pun!) and would get out of the Eden horse enclosure too easily.  So I thought: how about a big fat bird?  If nothing else they’d be funny to watch!  Lucifer okayed that when I showed him the prototype.  I do value his judgement, it’s nice to have an objective eye.  Sometimes I feel too close to this project.

Oh!  Temperatures!  I nearly forgot to say!  I made the top and bottom bits of Adamworld cold.  I dropped Adam down there but he just collapsed and stopped moving so I put him back in Eden before anyone noticed.  He seems alright though, so no harm done.

What has happened to the News these days?

I grew up with the BBC.  In my upbringing you were either a BBC house or an ITV house.  You chose your allegiance and stuck to it loyally.  Magpie?  Ugh, no, Blue Peter.  Tiswas?  Give me Swap Shop any day. 

It was also the way with news.  You’d pick ITN or BBC News.  In those days of course it made no difference which side you chose to watch your news except the hour.  9 O’clock for BBC, News at Ten for ITV.  The content was equally impressive.  The reporters had facts and would make damn sure you got them.  The presenter would be very knowledgeable and could interview anyone with ruthless efficiency and counter any politician’s evasion.

As Channel 4 came along ITN would do their news too.  You now had three great newsgathering/reporting channels.  Quality reigned.

But that was the past.   ITN have been going downhill since Alastair Stewart became Trevor McDonald’s stand-in.  He’s been the tabloid champion of ITN ever since McDonald started resting on his laurels and accepting himself as a news titan.  McDonald, keen to retain his crown, stuck with ITN as they became more and more the British equivalent to Fox News.  A typical ITN broadcast consists of shouting about the things that will frighten their viewers.  Be afraid!  Everyone’s trying to harm you, says ITN.  Watch us and we’ll keep telling you what THEY are trying to do to YOU.  It’s the TV equivalent of the Daily Telegraph.

You could always rely on BBC News to remain unbending and unbiased.  So much so that throughout the 90s they were consistently under attack from the Conservative Government who wished that they’d just stop questioning everything they did.  Why was the BBC standing up to the Government instead of being a mouthpiece for propaganda?  Look, here’s John Gummer feeding his child a burger.  See?  The meat is safe, that’s why we set up this for the cameras!  Just do our oublicity for us!

But BBC news has finally crumbled.  A new style is dominating, where reporters are telling you what to think and using more and more tabloid style bullying against those it would once report on fairly.  It may be as a result of the strife under the previous Tory government where it seemed that their backs were against the wall and real trouble was about to happen.  They got away with it then, now they seem to be on the side of the current government.

The recent student protests in London have been a glaring example.  The first major day of protest saw police, for once, not being heavy-handed and oppressive.  They were performing rather wonderfully, the minimum of force used and no serious damage.  Some protesters got a bit out of hand as will always happen in these events, a very small group of protestors pushed, shoved and some minor punches thrown.  The police dealt with the strongest disrupters and left the main mass of peaceful protestors alone.

But as some large windows were smashed at Conservative Central Office, the BBC chose to hype the violence.  It would show what was happening live, two images side-by-side.  They captioned it “Live” so that you could see it was happening Now.  The casual viewer would be appalled at the disturbing behaviour of the students.

Until they paid attention and saw the same things happening again and again.  If you paid attention you’d notice that the things on the right-hand side of the screen were a continual loop of the violence footage.  The left-hand side was the Live footage, not both sides as they wished you to believe.

As it got dark it became obvious that the footage on the right, in broad daylight, couldn’t possibly be live footage and the caption was changed to be more honest.  But by then the damage was done.  People assumed the students had been rioting for hours instead of literally a bit of pushing and shoving.    A fire had been lit outside in the street, presumably to keep the students warm in the freezing November temperatures.  Students were burning their placards as the only source of flammable material they had.  Somewhere a big pink flare had gone off, visually very captivating.  

So the BBC used the flames and smoke to hype up what was going on.  ‘It’s a WAR ZONE!  It’s chaos and destruction!’ was the rhetoric of the reporters, despite the fact that if you looked closely the students were mostly standing still, perhaps a bit of surging now and again.  The end result was a few broken windows.  Not enough to justify outrage.

The ‘riots’ have continued over the following weeks.  The Police have reverted to type faced with attacks from politicians.  They have now taken to jostling the students and the new horror of Kettling has arrived.  What this means is penning students into a small area where they are not allowed to leave until late at night where the freezing December temperatures are meant to dampen their spirits until the News at Ten has finished for the night.

The BBC and ITN have again done the misleading editing footage trick, showing the horrible students being horrible to the lovely kind befuddled policemen.  If you watched the Rachel Maddow show in the US the only footage you saw was of a policeman being pulled from his horse and another with an arm in a sling.  This footage was ‘helpfully’ provided by ITN.  I’d be surprised if the other news channels in the US saw anything different.  It’s hype, pure and simple.

If you were on Twitter however, you’d see the other side.  People in the demonstrations telling you what’s really happening.  Talk of the police’s horse charge was vehemently denied by the Police.  Until the Youtube video showed up proving that a group of peaceful ‘kettled’ protestors being suddenly without warning, charged.  The police changed their story to ‘a gentle walk’ and the news media lapped it up like they lapped up George Bush’s ever-changing “why we invaded Iraq” rhetoric. 

In 1994, the radio show On The Hour transferred to the BBC 2 show The Day Today.  One of the more memorable sketches showed the presenter bullying a feckless charity fundraiser who’d got famous people to make pots of jam.  In it his tone changes to a bully, telling her how pathetic she is until she starts crying.  It seemed absurd at the time, but 16 years later we have a BBC news presenter bullying a disabled man suffering from cerebral palsy who’d been dragged from his horse by aggressive police.

Starting with the weasel-word “appear” to the disgraceful question asked at 2 minutes 11 seconds in this is an appalling treatment of an interviewee.

The police are about to wheel out water cannons against the next (pardon the pun) wave of protestors.  In a usage of water cannons in Germany a man’s eye was pushed out of it’s socket.  In another protest the water was laced with chemicals which made peoples’ skin peel.  Expect the news to treat the forthcoming usage as nothing more than a bit of a soak with some water, like a fun day out at Alton Towers.

We live in a world where the BBC News 24 channel will spend all day on the Michael Jackson funeral concert instead of reporting news.  This is dumbing down all of us and I hope you are appalled.

How to Create Chapter Points in an Audio File (Windows version)

So you’re an aspiring podcaster, you want to put out a shining product which’ll look professional and stand out from the crowd?

Or perhaps you’re tired of your iTunes library being cluttered up with files labelled “Track 1”, “Track 2” and so on.

Maybe you have a comedy album with each track labelled by content. It’s fine on an iPhone, but on an iPod it’s a hassle getting the tracks to play in the right order.

There is a solution. What you do is compile all the tracks into one large file with Chapter Points. Each Chapter Point will have the name of the chapter and if the artwork changes, then that changes on your device as it plays. It’s the format you see on Enhanced Podcasts. This is how it looks on a computer under iTunes:

On a Mac you’ve been able to fairly easily do this but the software to do it on a PC has been sadly absent. Until now.

With the Chapter and Verse program you can import a selection of tracks and manipulate them easily. Each track can have its own title and artwork.

But… and this is the best bit: If you already have each track named and labelled, it’ll pull these in for you. No need to manually type each one!

I’ll give you a step-by-step idea of how it goes:

If you have an entire side of an LP you can split the tracks with cue points. Here’s how I do it in Goldwave:

You can see the white lines on the audio which show where the cue points are for each track. Goldwave can then split them, automatically naming them as (in this case) 14 seperate tracks.

Working from iTunes now, I have my 14 tracks (Side 1) laid out as so:

Now we open the Chapter and Verse program and add our tracks. I’m an MP3 kind of a guy, I don’t go in for AAC but it’s a part of the process that they need to end up as m4b files so Chapter and Verse will use iTunes to convert them for you! You don’t have to do anything! (Though it’s advisable to go through the Update Settings option the first time you run Chapter and Verse or you might end up with 32kbps mono files like I did the first time. See dialogue box, there.) It’s important here to make sure all iPods/iPhones are unplugged.

When this is done you’ll see them lined up under the Input Files tab. If you want to switch to the Metadata tab you can make sure that the overall title for the file you’re about to make is that which you want. In my case I’ll change Loyal Apology (it takes the name from the first file) to Side One.

Switching to the Chapters tab you’ll see a box in the bottom-left corner that says Input Files. Switch that to <Metadata title> and you’ll see all your chapter titles as they were in iTunes!

If you want a different image per chapter, now’s the time to add it. When you’re satisfied with what you have (you can preview it at the top of the screen!) hit Build Audiobook and you’re done! It’ll even add the replacement file to iTunes for you.

All you have to do now is delete your 14 tracks and sync to your mp3 player. It couldn’t be simpler!

The site for downloading Chapter and Verse is here: it’s freeware, but if you like this product (and I’m sure you will) why not tip them a donation?

Twitter Twaddle

The internet has been much vaunted as providing real-time updates providing uncensored speech. To some extent it does that, but you have to actively seek out the information you require. And there are literally millions of blogs and sites out there, you can’t possibly check them all. It’s overwhelming.

Twitter has an alternate solution, you sit there and information comes to you. Anything you want to know is piped directly to you by people who are interested. Politics, inventions, news. In many cases by the time News appears on tv or radio (and even that is way ahead of the newspapers) you knew about it a long time earlier on Twitter. It’s Old News.

In many cases Twitter gives the truth about events in such a way that you become aware of how much the MediaTM lies to you. Nowhere was this more clear to me than the recent student protests in London. Even the BBC misled the public with the “Live” ident above the endless loop of what actual few moments of violence there was. But we got tweets from people actually there. They told us what actually was happening {present tense}.

But Twitter has its dumb side too. The people who want to pervert twitter to make it a “business tool” make me sad.

There are many benefits to Twitter, you can inform, debate, commentate on tv, just generally hang out with people far away…

…but then there’s the people who open accounts for their pets. I thought these were the lowest of the “i’m an idiot” end of the spectrum. Then today I found one even worse. They’ve created a twitter account for their two year-old son. I’m not making this up.

  • Oh mummy! Dearest! I have a present for you!”
  • “44444rfrrfrdrddfffftttyttyuyujjyjhmgthjhjytyjjyuyjyjtttttyghhyyty56y65564555tytytyytytytytjyyyuyu778uyytr44444444444t44fffffrrrrrrrrrrrrrr”
  • “cdfrededededdrre3455ghyyhgtweedccfrrfr4rrfrtffvrrfvrfvvfvfvffvvff”
  • “Watching close encounters now. BARRYYYYYYY!!!!!!”

…are just a few of the selection of gems put out by this child parent.

It has 26 followers! Who gets value from this stuff? These 26 people should be slapped, like a hysterical person.

[UPDATE] The mother has just tweeted to her child.  Aaaaaaargh.

I’ll Give it to You Straight Like a Pear Cider Made from 100% Pear

I’m a big fan of Stewart Lee. Of course I am, he’s a comedic genius.  I’ve got just about every radio and TV performance he’s done, including all the DVDs.  I’ve been aware of him since at least 1993 when he did (along with his comedy partner, Richard Herring) Fist of Fun on Radio 1, back when Radio 1 was experimenting with comedy at night.

Lee and Herring had already been working on radio for years beforehand, starting with Week Ending, the Radio 4 ‘satire’ show which they’d criticise with “Thank God it’s Satireday” when they wrote for the critically-acclaimed On the Hour.   The show would later transfer to TV as the critically-acclaimed The Day Today (although due to a dispute Lee and Herring would not be involved).

Next up they had their own series Lionel Nimrod’s Inexplicable World, loosely based on the sort of low-rent nonsense show you’d see on the cheaper specialist US tv channels, changing the name from Leonard Nimoy but keeping the sci-fi background of the presenter. Lionel was played by Tom Baker, giving a wry narration bookending each show with profound philosophy and recollections of his seedy past.  It could be claimed that Little Britain copied this idea, even employing the same actor.

Over the years Lee and Herring would get programme after programme on TV and Radio, almost always running for two series per show.  Lionel Nimrod, Radio 1 music shows, Fist of Fun on TV and arguably their best work, This Morning with Richard Not Judy.

After the second series ended they went their separate ways, an amicable split.  Each took their act to a professional level of stand-up, having already toured as a double act. Stewart Lee achieved national notoriety after the Jerry Springer: The Opera blasphemy debacle, gave up stand-up and became an arts reviewer, before eventually returning to stand up.   He’s carved out a niche as ‘the comedian’s comedian’, although he’s a man who gets mixed reviews.

“The worst comedian in Britain.  As funny as bubonic plague” – The Sun

“One of the best stand-up gigs I’ve witnessed in over 20 years.’  – Time Out

“He’s the most exciting comedian in the country, bar none” – The Times

“Surly, arrogant, laboured” – The Independent

“Interminable” – The Guardian

“One of the most intelligent and courageous comedians currently at work” – The Observer

‘The cleverest, funniest, most cliché-free comedian on the circuit.’  – Ricky Gervais

So when I got the chance to finally see him live on the 20th June 2009 I snapped it up with fervour.  I hadn’t really paid more attention as that was all I needed to know.  So I was even more thrilled that Richard Herring was also on the bill.  It was a benefit gig with a line-up of comedians to promote the Cardboard Citizens charity which helps to get homeless people into performing arts.

The Hackney Empire is a huge, plush place and was about 1/3rd full when we took our seats.  By the time the host, Jarred Christmas came out it was virtually full.  He was very funny, particularly biting about his disappointment with Transformers 2 which had just come out.

Also on the bill was Simon Amstell (who I hadn’t known was a stand-up, I just knew him as the pop interviewer from Channel 4) who was also very funny.  One of his stories was about him being unlucky in love (due to shyness) and how he tried to seduce a younger man who he thought was being given to him by the guy’s mother.  If you can see him, you should.

Richard Herring came on, very funny, mostly about sex (as he seems to do an awful lot of these days) and then the black hole of comedy which is Josie Long.  My high levels of buoyancy were then crushed as she did an interminable joke-free set with graphs – graphs! – and her oh-so-hilarious (no, not really) routine of Frankenstein’s monster booking a restaurant table.  Worse for me than my companion because I’d heard her do it once before and I knew how poor it was going to be, even as she commenced.  Eventually she left, not before time.  No really, not.

I think about now there was an intermission. Suddenly the place started to fill up.  People started appearing out of nowhere, standing at the back, sitting in the aisles, there was a tangible buzz of excitement.  Suddenly I realised that other people were as excited as me about what was about to happen.  It all went quiet and Jarred Christmas announced Stewart Lee.

And there he was, right in front of me.  My comedy hero.  He was real, no longer just a figure on TV.

He was spellbinding. Over the year my memory has faded but I recall a magnificent routine about Richard Hammond being the worst member of Top Gear. An interesting idea.  He told a tale about being at school with him, how he protected the younger boy from bullying and the horrible way Hammond had treated him in return.  I won’t spoil the punchline here.  Months later the newspapers went into a frenzy about this segment

He finished with a long routine about Magner’s Pear Cider.  If you’re a fan you know how he’ll relentlessly pick a subject apart until he’s destroyed its edifice, revealing the truth. He was mercilessly funny, finally finishing with a song.  The sight of a guitar at the back of the set throughout had filled me with dread, but Stewart (who had previously demonstrated his music abilities on the Simon Munnery radio show, 29 Minutes of Truth) played it well and sang with a soft melancholic voice.

Stewart Lee’s a divisive comedian. You either love him or don’t understand. During his set I was watching the audience’s reaction.  It was about 60/40 who got him and who was looking around puzzled.  Amusing to see how many people just didn’t understand.

Finally, a surprise for me was Brendon Burns, the Australian comedian.  He was the first comedian I’d ever seen live at a comedy club in Exeter many years ago. He was still as funny as ever, but my companion and I had to leave before he’d finished.

Altogether a great night out, despite the vacuum of humour which is Josie Long.  If you get the chance to see any of the others, you really should.

I was glad to have witnessed it, but wished I had had a camcorder to record the night. However, a large chunk of Stewart’s act was performed again in front of a Scottish audience on his latest DVD If You Prefer a Milder Comedian…

Please buy it, apart from a dodgy start with a bit of dry ice the DVD is hilarious and is as close as you can get to being there. Buy it, the more they sell the more they’ll make. You won’t regret it.

Other Voices

 

(Scroll down if you came here looking for the QR Code blog)

I just had the weirdest dream.

There was a group of us in a recording studio doing a Live broadcast of a radio play.  For some reason I was playing the role of James Robertson-Justice, playing a character and I was floundering badly with a very long speech.  My accent wavered horribly in-and-out, so badly as to be totally obvious.  So badly that at one point i could feel I had no faith or support from my fellow artistes. 

I had been preceded in the dialogue by an actress equally unable to do a passable facsimile of two famous female voices.

It was just the two of us ‘doing voices’ in this straight drama, but the whole thing was careering badly all over the place.  Eventually, less than 30 minutes into this live 2hr broadcast I stopped midway through this unviable dialogue, saying “it’s no good, I can’t do this” bringing the whole production to a violent halt with no support from the wholly absent Producer.  I could picture a tiny swathe of listeners across the land boggling at this sudden jolting halt as I continued voicing the ridiculousness of even attempting a 2hr live broadcast with Voices.  What were my employers Thinking?!!

I’d never even stated I could do a James Robertson-Justice voice.  Sure, I could, but only a few brief sentences, this thing was paragraphs of difficult hard-to-say dialogue.  I was uncomfortably aware that in order to  avoid a monotone that I would need to use inflection of my voice and this was what was dragging me out of the accent despite my attempts to remain there.

As the play ended horribly I was being harangued by another castmember, Harry Enfield, who too was ‘doing a voice’, but just the one and not of anybody recogniseable.  He had it easy.  He was known for his ability to do people, having had years on Spitting Image as well as playing many unique voices throughout his television career.

He refused to admit that it was an impossibly difficult bit of wordage despite me challenging him to try it himself.  It was obvious he knew I was right but he was not going to admit it!

My fellow castmembers were individually arguing loudly (not as a group rounding on one member) and eventually after a protracted shouting match… I woke up.

It’s the Future!

The chances are, you came here today (25th October 2010) via my Twitter avatar.  I have just stumbled across another person on twitter using a QR Code so had to investigate.

“What’s a QR code?” you say?

Well, this is…

 

Essentially it’s a glorified barcode.  Only it works much better than a barcode.  It scans in an instant, and you don’t need to keep wiggling the scanner to get it to read.

I first noticed one on a bottle of Pepsi Max but not knowing what it was called I couldn’t google it.  Eventually I came across the name, thought “oh, it’s just a different barcode” and thought no more about it.

And then today I saw @NewCurator retweeted on Twitter.  I saw the image and couldn’t resist running my iPhone’s “ScanLife” app over it to see what it was an image of.

Boy was I surprised.  The iPhone successfully scanned it and took me to his/her webpage!  Astonishing!  So of course I googled to see how I could make my own QR code and came across Kaywa.  And I was again blown away.  You can create a QR code of any text, URL or… PHONE NUMBER.  If you try to create a QR code of your own telephone number and scan it, your iPhone (other models of mobile phone are available) will call that number.  You read that right.

Instantly my mind reeled with the possibilities.  QR codes as avatars, t-shirts, badges… hell, I want my QR code on a business card.  Just scan it with your phone and call me instantly.  How cool is that?

But there’s other possibilities.  Check this out:

 

Make your own business cards.  Make badges, make t-shirts.  Hell, have it put on your mug at work!

It’s the future.  And it works.