31 December, 2006

Live TV (or something close)

On 17 August, 1999, my flatmate and I went to BBC TV Centre in White City to appear on Backstage, a live early evening discussion programme shown on BBC Choice (the precursor to BBC Three). The beautiful host, Julia Bradbury, interviewed us about the films of Alfred Hitchcock, the subject of our book which had been published the previous month.

It wasn't our first TV appearance; earlier in the year, we'd done a quick interview for Carlton Digital (another channel that no longer exists), interviewed by a comedian who was best known as the face of Lee & Perrin's worcester sauce. But this one was at TV Centre, where they'd made the best TV in the world at one time. The gimmick for the show was that it had no set of its own but was broadcast from behind the scenes on whichever sets were available. I seem to recall we walked for what felt like miles within the famed BBC 'donut' before reaching a stage that had been dressed for a children's comedy show.

I'd been nervous about doing live TV again, knowing my habit of accidental Tourette's moments, so on the whole I think it went quite well. I even got away with saying that some of Hitchcock's films 'sucked and blowed at the same time', a line I'd stolen from Bart Simpson but only realised how rude it sounded the seconds after I'd said it on live TV.

Julia Bradbury made me blurt like a star-struck fan for the first time since I met Tom Baker in 1986. After the interview I babbled: 'I loved you on L!ve TV' (another defunct cable channel), and she said 'Oh, thankyou!'. Then I ruined it by saying 'Bet you're glad you left, though!' Thankfully she saw the funny side.... I think.

Oh, and she kept the copy of the book - which was okay, because the producer had said we couldn't show it and she ignored her and insisted it got onscreen for a hefty plug.

They sent us a video of it. It's sitting on my shelf. I might come back to this blog and add a screengrab... then again, I might not be quite so brave...

Too Lazy to Cook

Seriously, this is very boring, but writing it down has saved me from throttling someone.

It's a simple thing: you phone them up, tell them what you want and they bring you food. It can't be that difficult or else it wouldn't be the primary source of income for a great number of people for whom English is not a primary (or even secondary language).

I hesitated there before carrying on because any comment on immigration or even strong accents is knee-jerkingly interpreted as racism nowadays. I think it's a fair point that if you're working in a job that requires basic communication skills, one essential part of that is to be able to speak clearly and the other is to be able to listen to what's being said. It puzzles me that companies will employ people who will cost them money by getting orders wrong. I don't think we need return to the days when people felt the need to speak in 'Alexandra Palace' English and say things like 'I'm just connecting you, caller...' but when you can't understand what someone is saying because they're bored, underpaid, racing through the standard script and not making any effort to connect with the person on the other line, mistakes will happen.

Two weeks ago, my flatmate called our local Chinese for a delivery. Their food is very good and the fact that it sometimes takes up to an hour to get to us is just testament to how popular they are. However, after an hour and a half, we had to call them back to ask where the food was. 'He's on his way', the nice lady said.

20 minutes later, my phone rang and this voice mumbles: 'I'm at school. Where you?' No 'Hello, this is the man from the Chinese' or anything. I get a lot of wrong numbers because my number's similar to one for the local hospital, but that's a whole other thing. I eventually work out that he's the delivery man and I ask him where he is. 'I just said,' he shouts 'and I can't get in the school!' His accent's not Chinese, it sounds more like Portugese. By the time I work out that he's in the wrong road and trying to gain entry to an empty girls' school, he's jabbering away and shouting at me because I have the cheek to live at a different address to the one he's gone to. I try to explain where I am, or work out where he is but he just won't shut up. He's getting me angry and frustrated because, after all, we ordered the food two hours ago and if he's wasting time arguing about whether or not I live at the address he's gone to the food's going to get even colder by the time he accepts that I know where I live and heads over this way.

After I've made repeated attempts to get him to listen to my address properly, he just puts the phone down on me. I called the shop, explained the situation and told the nice lady that, much as we love their food - best in the area - waiting two hours for a cold meal and putting up with a nutter delivery man isn't worth the stress. Five minutes later, the man finally arrives, gives me a bag of cooling Chinese food, takes the money and leaves without a word of apology.

One of the reasons this place is so popular is that there are other Chinese take-aways, but few of them do delivery. This place seems to work their way through a lot of drivers and so it came as no surprise this week to see a new driver working there. The new guy is very polite and speaks very good English. He won't last. Why would he? If he has good enough English skills and owns a car, he's not going to want to be delivering food to ungrateful fatties like us for much longer.

Last night, we ordered pizza. The place we ordered from has a computerised ordering system. We know this because sometimes the person on the phone tries to tell us what our order is before we tell them - and sometimes we go along with that as it makes things easier and we know what we'll be getting. Last night however, the man on the phone simply wasn't listening. I worry about being patronising, but sometimes they push me to it. 'We'd also like an extra bottle of diet coke, please.'
'You want one bottle of diet coke... and another bottle of diet coke.'
'Yes, that's right.'
'So that's .... two bottles of diet coke.' 'Yes.'
'And a large pizza, on one side there is Hawaiian. On the other side there is Texas Barbecue. Plus garlic bread and chicken nuggets.'
'That's right.

Well, he got most of it to us okay, but we noticed that our starter of breaded reformed chicken pieces had somehow transformed into a box of potato wedges. I phoned up to complain and the man assured me that, despite being very busy, he'd get the replacement starter to us, and by the way, was it potato wedges that we wanted. No, I said, we've got potato wedges, we wanted chicken. Twenty minutes later, the delivery man comes by and hands me a box and refuses to accept the potato wedges. 'No, you keep 'em,' he says. When I got back up to our flat, I discovered that we now had two boxes of potato wedges. The man on the phone explained that they'd thought we had chicken bits and had wanted potato wedges, which made me a bit cross as I made him check the original order and it had said chicken on there. So, with apologies and a promise of a free medium pizza next time, he despatched another delivery man...

'Hello, you got my order wrong again. We wanted the chicken nuggets. We've had two boxes of potato wedges already and now we have a box of onion rings. Seriously, are you doing this to upset me?'

By the time the chicken things turned up, we'd finished our pizzas and lost our appetites. We also had three boxes of tepid food that we didn't want.

Still, we got to keep all the dips and we had a promise of a free large pizza next time.

Next time? Pah - they know we're weak.

30 December, 2006

A Bit of Politics

So, they've finally hanged Saddam Hussein, which might mean that news reporters stop copying the Americans in the way they pronounce his name. It was a deliberate policy of the Americans to pronounce his name with short vowels because (so some expert said a few years back) it means 'bastard' that way, whereas the pronunciation with the long vowels means 'honoured leader' or something.

Some woman's just been on the news and she began her insightful commentary by saying 'Since Saddam Hussein's passing...'. PASSING? You're on the news, not the parish mother's union. He's not a deceased elderly relative. He didn't PASS, he was executed. Talk like a grown-up, you soft cow.

And that's all I have to say on the matter.

29 December, 2006

Criminal Mastermind / Rainman

I've broken the law today and I've only been awake an hour. Yesterday I broke it about 20 times. I'm a recidivist.

Music download sites are, of course, evil and wrong but when the songs you want aren't readily available, or they're not available without having to spend £10 on nine other songs you don't want, they're the only option. I think my CD collection validates me to some extent; the music industry has had a lot of money from me in return for one song and I've supported iTunes as far as I can.

It's the mini-austist in me that fuels it all. I remember a song by an obscure 1980s artist and before you know it I'm rifling through their back catalogue. Have you heard Erasure's attempts at 'Video Killed the Radio Star', 'Rapture' or 'No GDM'? Do you want to? They're hard to find, but they're there nonetheless.

Then there was the sprint of Northern Soul, inspired by a short article in Mojo about Tami Lynn's 'I'm Gonna Run Away from You', a song that now features on compilation CDs I do for friends. And possibly the most Aspergers thing I've done in my life was deciding to find a copy of every UK Number One song ever. I spent a lot of time going trhogh my own CDs and buying individual songs from iTunes, which is fine when you're covering the 1960s but a bit soul-sapping when you're wading through more and more R 'unt' B crap. I resent spending money to fund the careers of Jay Z and Fiddy Cent, so sod 'im.

It's not all crimes and misdemeanours though. My search for The Associates' 'Club Country' led me to discover their gorgeous 'Take Me to the Girl' and the haunting 'Breakfast' and before you could sing 'I had a shower, then phoned my brother up / within the hour, I'll smash another cup' I'd ordered the complete Associates albums from Amazon.co.uk. New CD reissues with additional bonus tracks like their cover of David Bowie's 'Boys Keep Swinging' and their cheeky version of 'Heart of Glass' (another song that Erasure had a go at too).

Here are just a few other tracks I wouldn't have had it not been for the joys of the download:

  • 'London Girls' by Chas and Dave

  • 'The Man With The Child In His Eyes' by Hue and Cry

  • 'Be There' by Clive Griffin (who sang the 'finger of fudge' jingle when he was a kid!)

  • 'John Wayne Is Big Leggy' by Haysi Fantayzee (I already had 'Shiny Shiny')

  • 'Love Lies Lost' by Culture Club's Helen Terry

  • The full song from the theme to The Littlest Hobo

  • Nancy Sinatra's cover of the Beatles' 'Run for Your Life' (almost as good as her version of 'Day Tripper'

  • 'Cool Meditation' by Third World (who did 'Now That We Found Love')

  • 'Timeless Melody' by the La's (which made me buy the whole album

  • Blacklight (featuring Technoir)'s dance version of Killing Joke's 'Love Like Blood'

  • 'I've Been Wrong Before' - Cilla Black's greatest song, courtesy of George Martin

  • 'Michelangelo' by 23rd Turn-Off, another of the songs recommended in Paul Du Noyer's study of Liverpool music, Wondrous Place.

  • 'Machinery' by Sheena Easton

  • 'Twilight Cafe' by Susan Fassbender

  • ... and about five different versions of Barclay James Harvest's 'Mockingbird' recorded across 30 years

  • Every time I go to a certain Vauxhall-based club night, I tap song titles into my phone to look up later and it's been a useful way of discovering old songs I never knew and rediscovering songs I've forgotten. 'The Celtic Soul Brothers' by Dexy's Midnight Runners would have certainly slipped away otherwise - and 'Saturdays' by De La Soul, which uses a sample from Jackie Wilson's Northern Soul version of the Doors' 'Light My Fire', also covered by Will Young, Jose Feliciano and Amii Stewart - who also did Eddie Floyd's 'Knock on Wood'.

    Is it just a fascination for extended degrees of fascination, or should I see a doctor?

    Palavas in Pyjamas

    When I was a child, all I wanted was action figures and Doctor Who books. Not much has changed. I have a memory that I suspect is stolen: being upset because some generous relative or other had obviously asked my mum what I needed and rather than saying 'some of the rarer Ewoks' or 'Philip Hinchcliffe's novelisation of The Keys of Marinus' she'd said 'pyjamas'.

    It might have been my cousin who was upset, in which case it would have been my mum telling me about my cousin to teach me a vital lesson about being grateful for what we receive. That's how one uncle escaped seeing my tears of disappointment as he presented me with a game of Subbuteo for Christmas while every other member of my large extended family knew just how much I hated football. I invited my younger cousin John to join me on the other room to play it, then took forever to set it up so that I was saved from having to show that I didn't have a clue how the game worked when Aunty Betty told me to put it away because they were about to dish out the Christmas dinner.

    (I've just had to look up how to spell 'Subbuteo' and was surprised that I'd got it right first time. Actually, 'surprised' is putting too much emphasis on it.)

    It's possibly because David Tennant sported a lovely pair in last year's Doctor Who Christmas special, but this year I was dropping hints in various directions that pyjamas would be a good choice for me this Christmas. But Christmas Day came and went, and the ungrateful child who'd turned his nose up at World Cup Subbuteo was treated to a metaphorical lump of coal.

    Last night, my trustworthy flatmate and loyalest friend returned from a shopping trip. He'd bought himself a pair of slippers in an 'after-the-horse-has-bolted reaction to stubbing his toe the day before. He'd also bought something for me.

    They're navy-blue with light-blue-and-red dots. They're made of cotton. They have button flies so your knob doesn't flop out. They're the most perfect present ever, and I'm one very happy 35-year-old manchild.

    See, Uncle Lenny? The big, flashy box isn't always appropriate. Sometimes, pyjamas are exactly what you need.

    Me, happy in Pyjamas

    13 December, 2006

    Ch-ch-changes. Ish

    So, from January I have a new job. Farewell to online communities and hello TV and Radio archives. Okay, I'm a freak who gets excited about writing up metadata for archive streams of 1950s news reels about The Colonies. In February, I'll have been with this employer for five years on the one project, and while it's something I still very much love, I just don't have the energy to keep battling for resources that never come. Those problems still exist on the new job, but at least it's someone else's fight now.


    because of a lack of desk space with the new team, my new desk is going to be... my old one. I'll still be sitting with my old team at the same desk, but doing different work. I think I would have liked a complete fresh start, but it's a decent compromise, and hopefully by April they'll have moved into a bigger space and be able to welcome me with open arms. or at least a cuppa.

    03 December, 2006

    News, not quite as it happens

    Next to my desk at work is a small TV monitor so we can watch News 24 in case of major news stories. But because we work in an open-plan office, we have to keep the sound down. It means that sometimes we get the headlines from one story, with pictures from another, or sometimes the odd headline that just cracks us up.

    A few weeks ago, David Cameron tried to maul Tony Blair with a few terrier nips, some of his focus-grouped soundbites designed to hide the real policies of the Tories and give away the fact that they agree with labour most of the time. As BBC News 24 showed us the footage, the rolling headlines gave us this little gem:


    Of course, in the interests of balance, the headline was still there for the reverse shot of Blair:


    As debates go, it was a bit of a train crash for both sides. I'd imagine. I couldn't hear it.

    Sometimes, News TV offers up an unexpected treat, such as this expert on Climate Change (what we used to call 'the ozone's being fucked by big factories but my aerosol is getting the blame' in the old days). Fans of the TV sitcom Friends might remember one of Phoebe Buffay's old pseudonyms and get why I think this is so funny.


    This reminds me of one of a sketch from The Day Today in which Gerry Adams (played by Steve Coogan) was undermined by having to breathe in helium before delivering his speech. How clever to get a man called 'Felangi' to be a TV pundit on global warming. Makes us feel like it's not even happening, doesn't it?


    I have to be careful because, as I'm slowly discovering, the digital footprints we leave can come back to haunt us. It's how we trace bullies and monsters who use our forums to harrass and upset others as a means of gaining some form of personal validation. But it's also how people can follow me round the virtual world that I create around me.

    So I've just deleted a long paragraph about my work situation because I cant run the risk of it being stumbled upon by someone who uses the site I work on.

    I've been off a lot recently - two weeks of flu and then a week's leave that saw me visit my parents and extended family for the first time in months. The rest of the week has been spent slowly catching another cold, which is a bore. Last week, I learned third-hand that on my return to work, I'll probably be moving onto another project. It should be a superb move and one that I've been wanting for a long time. But I can't quite enjoy the chnge because of extenuating circumstances that I can't go into.

    Shortly before I went on leave, we received some very distressing news. One of our colleagues, Doug, died on Wednesday, 22 November. My former colleague Martin goes into great detail about why this is so upsetting in his own blog.

    It takes a lot of guts to work out which of your battles are worth fighting. When I return to work on Monday, I have a difficult decision to make. Or rather, I have a difficult decision to accept. And it involves a battle. It's one worth fighting, though it's not the one I imagined it would be. Just have to make sure I pick the right battle to fight, and fight it well.