Monday, 28 June 2010

Roll Out the Barrel.

Nothing stings harder than an 8-bit barrel.
Barrels. The ultimate videogame staple, from Doom to Donkey Kong. But have they become a by-product of lazy design or should they remain a vital component?

Well, barrels are fairly abundant in real life, so why shouldn't they be represented? Any outdoor stroll (where I come from at least) will yield one or more of these abandoned sentinels and, quite frankly, they beg to be interacted with. Be honest with yourself, have you ever not been in the company of a barrel, (not biscuit or beer, silly, but one of those fifty-five gallon jobbies) without feeling an irrepressible urge to whack it with the heel of your shoe or hoy a brick to see what sound it makes? And does it not unfailingly produce a deep, satisfying toll, to dredge up all kinds of race memories from the deepest caves of the tribal psyche?

It's a fact that barrels in videogames always make the same sound. But they don't in real life do they? It varies between a 'dong' or a 'clong' or 'clang' or even 'dung', always with that protracted, 'GGG...' on the end, though, in THX-quality reverb. Experts say this is likely to be a result of its contents - the viscosity and volume of liquid, for example, or the degree of decomposition of the unwanted kittens or dead prostitute within. Which leads to a secondary instinct that invariably kicks in once you've established what sound it makes. You know it's almost always going to be some kind of disgraceful substance. After all, very few people use barrels to store Objets D'art in do they? But you can't resist a peek and a niff anyway, if only to provide your companions with some light relief at your comedy gurning or spasmodic death-jerks from chemical inhalation.

Barnet's oil drum formation team could only manage
a disappointing sixth this year.
A chance encounter with a lone barrel in a field then - does that not fill man and boy alive with a marvellous sensation of serendipity? How about a clutch of 'em, huddled round like tin druids worshipping nature; metallic celebrants of the thing they can never be - truly alive.

But before we meander off into that whole other universe of pretend sorcerors and golden footpaths, I guarantee you that, after some funny-coloured mushrooms, a big outdoor poo and several hours perfecting 'Let Your Yeah Be Yeah' with a couple of rocks or (where I come from) the grisly remains of a runaway's scapula on this improvised drum-kit, you will rush straight home, drag a posse of unemployed Dudley suburbanites out of bed and form a gash reggae-fusion ensemble on the spot.

That's my specific 'beef' then. Not with the incendiariness or otherwise of barrels; not with their existence per se, but with the lack of tympanic variety these receptacles impart when pushed, shot or hit in the game world. No, they either crumple ineffectually, explode one by one with a pleasing chain reaction or do nothing at all.

Games are all about realising your dreams. Piloting a vehicle is simple and requires no training. All martial arts women wear revealing clothes and have great bodies, Most guards forget you unsuccessfully tried to strangle them after walking around for 20 seconds. So it's not unreasonable, is it, to expect to be confident of smacking a bunch of barrels around (not the ones coloured a vivid red, of course, or carrying the appropriate toxic symbol) and attaining some sort of rhythm approaching either a Ska classic or tellies being dropped randomly into an empty council skip. Something like that.

With the possible exception of Banging trash can lids for an hour then, there can be few things more solidly entertaining than barrels, I think we've just become a bit blase about them. Wait till they're gone, though. You watch, it'll be like Jade Goody and Woolworths. What was christmas like this year, eh? Turgid.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

The Parp Station

Of course. Of course.

When we were quite young, my two brothers and I shared a bedroom. I remember once, the wallpaper being stripped off in readiness for decorating. In the meantime, we were allowed to graffito upon the bare walls unpunished. Oddly though as with most things in life, without any guilty thrill to nurture, the novelty began to wear off. Until, that is, second eldest Steve (I'm the eldest) hit upon the idea of the pioneering 'parp underground'.

It started life as a large-ish circle with 'Parp Station' written in the centre. Mum was surprised and pleased to find us asking for seconds of ribs and boiled green cabbage, spinach and broad beans. But of course, by the time beddy-byes came around, our bellies were fermenting with unreleased flatulence. Upon retiring, 'up the wooden hills to Bedfordshire', with a saintly peck from ma and pa, we would proceed directly to the Parp Station, where we then took turns to drop our jimmies and splay our buttocks to the cool wall. The acoustics of this unpapered room, together with the sheer range of ringpiece harmonics exploitable by the 'washboard' effect of the wall's rough surface led to some legendary performances.

Andy, youngest and most 'sopranic' of guffers could manage long, wondrous harmonica riffs on some nights, with vegetative aroma for accompaniment. By twisting this way and that, even a kind of rectal 'wah-wah' trombone effect could be achieved. You can only imagine the amount of laughter-restraining headboard biting (in the most innocent sense possible) that went on as we tried to conceal our new-found hobby. Often, long into the night we could be heard stifling giggles at the recollection of some anal snatch of improvised jazz, or a virtuoso bass overture by yours truly. It's fair to say that, by morning, our innards felt vacuum-packed by all the sustained effort of expelling air in the name of entertainment.

Sniff up lady. That's Green Eggs and Ham.
Next day, while we replenished our instruments, so to speak, with as many pulses and legumes as recessive 70s Britain would allow, we reviewed the fruits of our labour with gourmet sniffing sessions of the (by now bustling and industrious) 'Parp Station'. "You can still smell it!" - "That's mine, right there," and "Eww, someone's followed through on that bit" could no doubt be heard in muffled tones through our bedroom door. Thankfully it was the school holidays. Mum and dad were at work and younger sister Michelle was probably busy biroing "I luv Michul Kilburn" on the foreheads of her dollies.

The only problem was that these unique aromas could not be separated for individual accolades and there were arguments as to whose the most pungent and long-lasting might be. So that very day, the chewed bit of pencil was retrieved and the Parp Station duly expanded. In came such edifications as 'Parpadilly' and 'Parpham Junction' and... ooh, I dunno, 'You-stunk station'. You get the idea. We became the station masters of our own platforms, and took great care of them, in the way an obsessive Jobsworth might nurture his beat, or an assiduous Neanderthal his own crude daubing in a sweaty cave.

There were no TVs in bedrooms those days; not even so much as a wireless radio, so the parp underground soon occupied the entire wall. There were elaborate switchbacks and embankments, viaducts and level crossings. Steve wasn't playing games now; a fire of creativity burned, Da Vinci-like, within his seven-year-old mind. Before long, we had a full-on magnum opus on our hands.

Oh, the delight! The sheer anticipation! The thumping rush of footfalls up the stairs as we waited anxiously for Andy, the sprout scout and cauliflower commander to herald the news. Then, that after-dinner stampede, casual upheaval of subbuteo pitch and careless paraplegy of Action men as we crammed into our carriages for the nightly commute on the parp underground.

They were heady days, but in spite of our most ardent pleas the decorating finally had to be done. To cover all that fine artistry with Super bloody Fresco. The agony!

Take your 'easy hang' and shove it.
Fast forward at least a dozen years and I'm helping to decorate that same room, now a spare room. The brothers have gone their separate ways, to work and forage for themselves, our infant shenanigans quite forgotten. That first uncovering of the faded legend: 'Parp Station' and imaginary waft of residual stink rising from its centre splits my face wide with pleasure. Not so imaginary, actually. Damned if there isn't a faint musk of methane there. Damned if I can't hear some plangent, oboesque refrain of "Parpsody in Blue" wafting on the breeze, causing a tear of nostalgia to spring to my eye. Ahh, those special nights of butterbeans, broccoli and woodwind hilarity. Why did we have to grow up?

Then mum comes in and says, "Telly's on the blink again. What did we ever do before eh?"

What indeed.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Once You Pop...

The Pringle knows not "no"
It doesn't dwell on reason
To eat just one, in some locales
Is classified as treason.

The Pringle knows not "subtle"
It's shape is built for sexing
Your stomach, through the tongue and mouth
With flavoured maltodextrin.

The Pringle knows not "sparing"
It demands to be demolished
In starchy stacks of fifty high
Till dieting is abolished.

The Pringle knows not "friendship"
It's a dehydrated potato
Of reconstituted wheat starch
To your Clouseau, it is Cato.

The Pringle knows not "ulcer"
It scoffs at indigestion
With yeast and monoglycerides
And the power of suggestion.

The Pringle knows not "mercy"
              (Or "rehab" or "remission")
                                 A whole that's greater than its parts
                                 Defines the word "addiction".

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Dicking About. The Xbox Generation.

My article below was originally published on Daily Rodent.

Wouldn't have to do this if me shoes weren't
wrapped round a telegraph wire.
Sometimes I look at my two lads and worry. In this supervised world of soft corners and paedo power, they are in danger of missing out hugely on the time-honoured pursuit of all adolescent boys – Dicking About. You see, when you and I were young, Dicking About was de rigueur. You didn’t think about it, you just did it. Something deep in the boychild hindbrain got stimulated by seeing how many pebbles the Walkden to Southport train could crush before it came off the rails (not that it ever did, officer) or whether that dense ball of hawthorn twigs high above could be investigated for eggs before mummy Magpie came back and got all Tippi Hedren on your ass.

Looking back now, with our minds fixed on PEPs rather than Pepsi, its hard to shoehorn the adult psyche back into that mindset. Innocuous premises, executed with fastidious intensity. I mean, you’d go to lengths involving ropes, pulleys, blueprints, the underwear of a smaller boy. Whatever it took to dam up that brook, because, well, the babbling son of a gun had it coming. You and a posse of like-minded pygmies could spend hours – days – pursuing these profitless schemes. And you never ran short of ideas. Around a matchbox fire, someone would say: “I heard you can catapult a person twenty feet by springing back a small tree, pegging it to the ground and lying on top of it. They did it in the olden days for laughs.” Boom, simple as that. A prime Dickabout project for mapping out the air-miles to A&E if ever there was one.

But what of now? Is the Dicking About gene recessive? Maybe this digital generation has moved on? After all, there’s Sky, laptops, iPods and any number of pretty reasons not to go out. You don’t have to sense the incredulity, it is writ large in your child’s saucer eyes as they search for the hidden meaning behind your words. "Outside? Wh-why would I want to go there?" So you might be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that Dicking About is a dead science. So History channel, dude. So Antiques Roadshow.

Well no, actually. If you really feel the need to televisualise, its more Brainiacs with a bit of Blue Peter thrown in. But what does any of this have to do with gaming, you ask? Well, the social landscape may well have changed, but on Sunday in 2010 I discovered that Dicking About is still a reassuring part of adolescenthood. It pleases me ridiculously that it lives on, an inalienable by-product of youth and curiosity, a process of our fascination with picking up something mundane and turning it over in our hands, not just wanting to better it, but having the endless patience to do so. To indulge our monkey-mind before it gets taken over by sex and drugs and sausage rolls. To embrace the uncomplicated essence of just ‘doing shit’ for no good reason and with no secure outcome.

Put that high-powered rifle down and come and get your tea.
The Xbox is whirring, and Adam is playing the farmhouse multiplayer map of Call of Duty 4 with two friends. What I am seeing warms me on this otherwise unremarkable Sabbath and I'm transported back to those endless summer school holiday days in Little Hulton. Of jam butties in greaseproof paper and warm tapwater, flavoured with a sub-atomic taint of what pop was left in the bottle. I am a small boy again in Madam's Wood, the woods of my youth. The song ‘Lovin’ You’ by Minnie Ripperton is playing on someone’s tiny transistor radio. It is bee-sting hot and we are Dicking About. There’s a rumour of an owl’s nest, trellis-high on the east side of an old people’s home in Peel Hall, former site of the Hulton family stately home. Three planets have aligned for our pleasure: climbing, bird’s nesting and trespassing. Ivy will provide handholds for our skinny frames and semi-lucid old dears will shriek in part horror, part routine-breaking welcome when our heads finally breach the wrought-iron veranda they are sunning themselves upon. We will scramble down in a panicky slide, collecting splinters, rashes, a police caution, (old fashioned clip around the ear, naturally) but no eggs. Hardly matters.

Adam is doing the equivalent with his Xbox mates. Scaling the barn wall via broken vertical planks and crumbly footholds. “Get out of the way,” he sniggers to the lad in front, who is either snagged on a nail or stuck in the scenery. ‘What are they doing?’ I wonder, over the top of the Sunday paper. What’s so familiar about it? Nothing to do with the game mechanic, no attempt to follow any route of scoring or skill. Just trying to get to places you’re not supposed to go.

Finally, one of them makes it onto the roof of the adjacent pillbox, inaccessible by any means other than the luck and persistence of a triple jumper on cherryade. “I’m up!” he whoops.

They throw celebratory ‘nades at each other. Then the next map loads, and a new challenge of exactness is mounted. Onto the rotor of a broken chopper and into the crawlspace of a ruined conning tower. I smell nettles and nostalgia, the mossy, shinbeef feel of clambered-over bricks as we emerge from the darkness of Madam's Wood, into the blazing sun of ‘76. A phantom, photic sneeze shoots out the preceding memory. My initial thoughts had been along the lines of ‘ekeing every scrap of playability from games, long after completion.’ But that wasn’t quite right. With the same everlasting patience I had left years behind and forgotten, they were Dicking About. The tools may have changed, but it was still a generation spanner.

Oddly comforted, I go upstairs and Scott is balancing Halo’s Master chief on a giant golf ball, which he then tries to wobble around an elaborate assault course, cheered on by his headsetted mates. I suddenly want to climb a tree so badly it hurts. Pity my back is dodgier than pesto.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Bollocks to Alton Towers

Being a roller coaster addict in Britain is practically the same as having a fetish for queueing. In fact, bargain hunters probably have it a lot easier. At least Selfridges' automatic doors don't jam every five minutes, leaving crowds of oddly compliant people with their faces pressed against the glass. At least British Home Stores don't proclaim, in optimistic neon: "30 minutes from this point" when they really mean "we haven't got the symbol for infinity so we'll plump for this arbitrary number instead. Have fun growing old." There'd be riots outside Next if they tried to pull that one.

What do you mean I'm not tall enough?

But queue riders? C'est la vie. Ah well. Let's go for a four quid hotdog and come back later. In theme park world, later means never. Queue times don't go down, they go up, just like petrol prices. The park opens at 10am and three minutes later the queue for their newest attraction, Th13teen, is 60 minutes.

A seasoned park-goer chooses his time carefully. Saturday is usually a no-no, but this one comes at the end of half-term holidays, when skint families, having already undergone their ordeal of 'fun' have learnt their yearly lesson. It's world cup Saturday too, and England are playing later. Stay-at-home dads will refuse to budge from their laz-e-boy recliners, having already tethered a Nuremberg rally's worth of flags to the front of their houses and procured a wife-beating volume of beer. Theme park, y'say kids? Sod off. This is me time. Unfortunately we underestimate the number of non-patriots with too much money. The park isn't packed but it's busy, with teenagers, old folk and single mums, offsetting the absence of fathers as though holding a mirror to society.

Disheartened by the early setback, we make our way to the adjacent coaster, Rita, former Queen of Speed, deposed somewhere between the conversion rates from kilometres to miles per hour one assumes, but still a nippy, if short-winded opener. This queue time bodes quite well. Fifteen minutes, practically the blink of an eye in thrillseeker terms, and it's all over in forty-nine seconds, but there's time for another go, as the sheep are still fixated with Th13teen, a ride that the guy next to me on Rita confirmed was 'not worth the queue time.' "It doesn't live up to the hype," he affirms, and the comments below that youtube link seem to bear it out.

In any case, you daren't stray too far from a good queue time, because it's unlikely to get any better than this. But Air beckons. It really is a special ride. Gentle in adrenaline terms, but inspiring in the sense that it really feels like a flight, mainly due to your 'Superman' horizontal seat position. Have a gander if you've never seen it before.

The queue time is 60 minutes, but there's a way of circumventing that. The Single Rider line means you don't get to go together. They will lump you in wherever there's an odd seat, maximising ride capacity and in theory reducing queue times. But that was before the fast track pass. It's clear Alton Towers want you to stump up extra dosh on top of the entry fee, and Single Riders, handy space-fillers of yore, are now looked on almost as freeloaders, and with a sort of withering disdain.

As we join the line there's even a notice to the effect: "Single Riders - if you are queueing at this point you will probably have to wait longer than the normal queue. We advise you to join the normal queue" The thing is, there are only about twenty people in front of us. Granted, they won't get on as quickly as the regular riders at the same point, but suggesting an hour's wait smacks a little of "why don't you buy a fast pass instead you cheapskate?" So we dismiss it as an idle marketing threat.

Our worst suspicions are confirmed, though, as we shuffle closer to the holding pen, feeling ever more like fresh meat at the Bangkok Hilton than paying guests. Every ten to fifteen minutes a gloomy tannoy voice declaims: "Ten more single riders," and the victims are despatched down the tunnel to await their fate.

Meanwhile the line to our immediate left - the fast track line - streams steadily forward, their golden ticket holders given salutory winks or flirty smiles then sent on their way. The third queue, to the far left, is the regular line. It is clear we are pleb central here, persona non grata. Twenty minutes later we are next in line for the amphipheatre loading area, but a nasal bird with no regard for speaker volume in enclosed areas blares out: "Air is experiencing technical difficulties..." We groan as the ride undergoes a few empty test runs. Then it seems to start moving again. Only ten minutes of delay, and we are at the front of the single rider line. Alright, it's been thirty-five minutes in total, but we are so close we can smell it, or that could have just been the stag party in furry animal costumes at the side of us. Not the most advisable attire in this heat.

Ten more minutes crawl by, then two of the single riders who were despatched twenty minutes ago come shambling back up the ramp. "We've had enough. They're giving priority to everyone else, while we hang about like lemons." The gate assistant makes a desultory attempt to placate them, but they are not angry, just saddened. "Just let us out, darlin'." Seconds later we are discouraged further when the breakdown bird plays her recording of doom. The ride has broken down, yet again. "Sod this," I sigh, and we finally admit defeat and decamp.

Now fair enough. If you're prepared to shell out for the privilege of fast track on the best rides, then why shouldn't you?

Fast track to poverty.
But here's the actual cost of that privilege, a staggering extra £80 per person on top of the entry fee (£38) and parking (£5) for the 'privilege' of not queueing upwards of an hour, and more usually two or three in peak times, for multiple goes on the good rides. That, for me, puts it well out of the realms of family entertainment and more into "ahh well, it's only a tank of gas for the Cessna" territory. Their preferred parking (close to the entrance) has also gone up from an already pricey tenner to a staggering £15, again putting it into the exclusive preserve of people who tether their yachts at Monaco.

Nemesis fares better. Twenty minutes on the single rider queue, although the suggested time is an hour. Sneery pass politics haven't reached here yet, or the ride isn't as popular as it once was. Whatever the reason, we aren't about to look a gift coaster in the mouth. The afternoon improves considerably when we consult the notices and see that Oblivion's wait time is 0 Minutes. Naturally, we are sceptical, but make our way over there anyway. It could be that the park is emptying so people can get home for the footy. There's a good reason for the lack of delay, though. The ride has broken down.

Here's how Disney fastpasses work. And they're free. Yes, that's free. Included in the entry fee. Will cost you nada. Nowt. They work pretty well too, and I can say that from experience. Five years of visits worth. As my dear wife observed, "The combined cost of entry, parking and a platinum pass for one day at Alton Towers would buy you a three-park 14-day ticket at Universal, Orlando, with change left over for a pupil-dilating slush puppie.

No shit sherlock.

Of course parks have to make a living, I just feel that they're doing it at the expense of families. If you're of the same opinion, you might be interested in the Merlin annual pass, that we usually procure through Tesco clubcard vouchers. That way we can factor in our rides per visit, rather than vice-versa, without tipping too much of our cash into their grabbing coffers. Plus it's good for all those other parks too, whose rides are hopefully better maintained.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Old Age and Treachery.

Some sort of generational sideswipe livened up the otherwise nondescript Glamour Awards this week, when a curmudgeonly Patrick Stewart upbraided presenter James Corden for his slovenly behaviour during recipient's speeches.

Perhaps only the two gentlemen concerned knew what it was really about, but if any deeper luvvie subtext exists, no matter how cringeworthy (for that was undoubtedly the outcome) I wouldn't mind taking a stab at it.

Ever since poor Andrew Sachs stood up to be cunted, the gardening gloves have been off concerning the lack of respect shown the older celebrity generation by the younger upstarts (pretty much mirroring the cosmos as a whole). Battle lines are more easily drawn on these principles now, and I can well remember feeling a heartfelt pang of "good for you, Manuel" when Sachsgate finally blew up in the prankster's faces. That'll teach 'em.

So it's really about art imitating life again, but because this is showbiz, the essentials are more grandiose, the grievances loftier and their enactment far more Machiavellian. All with, of course, a wide-angle helping of audience participation, because that's what it's all about really, isn't it darlings?

Except it didn't quite happen that way here. From that initial position of squirmy banter, the thespian masks soon slipped and something a bit less cosy emerged. It quickly escalated the way I imagine a playground fight would if one of the participants was a fully grown, school-of-life hard knock while the other was just a little fat kid.

But Corden, in fairness, stood his ground, albeit shakily. Recent experience had no doubt taught him that when an old un turns nasty under the spotlight, it's like trying to win a knife fight in a phone box. Subliminally he knows at this point that it's pretty much about damage limitation. One false move and it's the celebrity deadpile. Bang goes the World Cup number one and all the self-deprecating cash-in ads for Slimfast.

Sadly Stewart's fading grey matter failed to capitalise on this neon signpost, in much the same way that an elderly motorist might miss a red light, or a trucker's airhorn and 3000 watt lightshow as they pooter blithely up the M6 the wrong way. "I can see your belly, from way back there," comes the sonorous barb, and you can just imagine Connery and Douglas, Nicholson and Rooney (Mickey, not Wayne) groaning into their Ovaltines.

So I suspect the altercation came off far more suavely in Stewart's mind than it did under the footlights, but then that is the nature of improvisation, a venture perhaps better left ungained without script or direction, or perhaps, as in Sach's case, the benefit of several days hindsight and a shitload of media support.

For Corden, who can do very little wrong of late, this will be one of a few career-defining moments, albeit the sort that in ordinary pleb life finds its way onto Outtake TV or Youtube. That ill-advised go on a fraying tree swing, the pratfall on a wedding dance floor that continues to endear jolly fat folk to the public long after their type two diabetes has kicked in and confined them to carob snacks and sponge baths. Better this though surely than the wilful on-screen baiting of some half-blind old dog, tempted, via frisbee-like misdirection, into the freezing depths of a filthy canal.

Old scores then, we learned, are better settled in that Sachsian, poker-faced mould of "I'll see your hip-swivelling shagboast and raise you a trembly avowal of dwindling standards." That's how old folk micro-manage their faded power, Patrick, but instead you threw out the passive baby with the aggressive bathwater. It was, to paraphrase the sneery young, an 'Epic Fail'.

All that said, I believe there's mileage in this. I would personally love to see the two ends of this spectrum meet again, in organised bouts of shoutier, less formal match-ups.

So how about a semi-delirious Eastwood, for example, shambling at a teary but defiant Shia Lebouef, rasping "Teach you some, respect sonny. The way we did in my day. With a belt buckle."

Or Paul Newman suddenly snapping at some inane quip in the middle of a charity dinner and stoving Jack Black's skull in with a pool ball in a sock? What do you think?

As Erasure and Brando both said: Give a little respect.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Nice work if you can get it.

NICE - the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, an acronym which has superfluous left-wing sinkhole written all over it, is calling for minimum pricing on alcohol. The devil that's previously made work for the idle hands of smokers and old people for being burdens on the health system, has found a new target - or perhaps more accurately, reoriented its sights on a different area of the same target.

So if alcohol does become expensive, in the way of, say, cigarettes and fuel, will the put-upon masses actually consume less? I suspect not, but maybe we should examine why people consume more now. We know that alcohol is cheaper than ever these days, but is that the real reason people are slugging it back like Fanta?

In a society where we work such long hours in such cynical conditions (especially since the recession) in order to fuel our consumerist obligations to the Lord God Economy, it's clearly tempting to wash away the drudgery of that hell with a bottle of plonk or cans of Stella from their glorious loss-leader of two for ones and three for a tenner.

But we already know what happened when cigarettes went to six quid a pack, a huge black market sprang up, with even unhealthier cancer sticks from the Eastern bloc taking up the shortfall. Customs and excise are currently spending millions trying to cut it out. Nice save, there.

Similarly, when the price of diesel rocketed a while back, people began to steal it, from other people's cars, from garages, and from farmers, resulting in crime and death for at least one poor agriculturist. Isn't all this starting to sound a bit familiar?

And let's face it - if supermarkets are so keen to support this policy, it's for one reason only, because it will bolster their profits skyward in the confidence a competitor can't undercut, something they don't have now and base whole strategies around luring and keeping customers with. And let's be honest - if they cared that much about the effects of drinking and its burden on the NHS, they certainly wouldn't be stocking products like this:-

Hello Tesco. Catching them young, I see.

Nor emblazoning the booze aisles with England flags and associated product placement propaganda.

A Radio 4 piece about on Tuesday 8th June. (Listen again here) addressed to same issue to little firm conclusion. Unsurprisingly, Landlords and ladies are in favour of minimum pricing on alcohol (because it brings their trade gap down and will encourage more people to drink in pubs) and supermarkets as we said aren't too bothered about it either, for the reasons above.

So what's the real issue behind this? Whose beef is it? Wait a minute, government trying to save money, you  say. In more debt than we first thought, you say? NHS ring-fenced against cuts in order to win election, you say?

You smokers who like a drink and were recipients of a similar lambasting last time. You seriously didn't believe it would end with your quitting did you? How naive.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

World Cup Fever

This was originally written for Euro 2008 but never does a grumpy observation travel half so well.

The hype is here now, and there's no less than 36 England flags on my modest cul-de-sac street of perhaps ten houses. But to be honest I'm going to take a sabbatical from that sweaty mixture of high anticipation and lager-fuelled collywobbles. To pacing the floor between each tie, wondering if the hapless defence will grow some balls this time, or the manager make an actual, real-life, fer-god's-sakes telling substitution for once.

But, more likely, come the time, I'll get sucked into the media hype when, after the inevitable opening 0-0 draw against eleven well-organised part-timers from Sawkerland, our team of squeaky-bummed chancers manage to beat one of those shruggy, ball-stroking former French colonists with a last-minute, scrambled toe-poke by our apoplectic heifer, ripped to the freckled tits on Tizer and Nytol. Cue exotic celebration, giving unique insight into their preparation for the tie as eleven overpaid wankers simulate guzzling Sambuca in a lap-dancing bar.


Then more nail-biting while they speculate about the bloody weather of all things affecting our chances of progression. Adrian Chiles: "It is very, VERY, hot down here. Our boys will certainly need to take on a lot of water if they are to survive this very, very hot heat."

So, here we are, somehow running around the equator in woollen romper suits, while those savvy continentals have damp cloths and factor infinity. I bet they've even marked the pitch with sunblock. Phew what a scorcher. Unfair, really, what with everyone else being so acclimatised and never having to play in cold weather or rain like what we do. Fuck off Scandinavia, you don't count.

Thinking about it we are the fat, asthmatic kid of football. The one who either vomits a pile of undigested marshmallow twists (flumps, aren't they called?) on the sidelines after two charges down the wing or has to go home with a headache because he forgot to take his jumper off and bring a damp cloth to suck on.


Monday, 7 June 2010

Radio Gaga.

Odd this. Course there was that Cumbria thing last week. Very sad, then the guy who killed the prostitutes a bit before that. As a result, Corrie had a week off (storyline involving guy going ape with a gun) and Eastenders had to stretch out the climax of a plot (wafer thin to begin with if you arx me) of a guy who had been killing prostitutes.

But what has this to do with radio? Well it seems that Radio 4 ignored the groundswell of anathema at their peril, by broadcasting a play on Thursday called Six Impossible Things which received 66 complaints because the main character had a gun, robbed a bank and shot two people dead.

Now granted, I haven't had an acquaintance or family member gunned down lately or have ever been on nodding terms with a transient Tom that got offed either, but I was listening to that play and, even though we'd already been deluged with wall-to-wall coverage of the shootings for 48 hours (including some creative use of google maps to retrace the blood-drenched steps of the gunman's 44-mile spree), didn't think to associate it negatively with that event. For one thing, it was more a play about mind control than an actual nutter running loose. Nice, psychological piece, lovely use of music and effects. Highly recommended, in fact. Best one I've heard for a while. Unfortunately, you can't get it on Listen Again because it's been taken off there too.

Course the Corrie gun rampage goes ahead tonight, and Eastenders has a slightly revised plot conclusion that is probably not going to involve ladies of the night now, but will nonetheless still air during the course of this week. I mean, how soon is too soon? What other programmes should have been 'rested' from our screens in deference to the terrible events? How about Emmerdale? - That's set in the countryside and I'm sure I saw a shotgun in one episode. Broken over someone's arm, yeah, but for how long? What about "Loose Women" - bit of an insult to the families of those poor lasses who got killed isn't it? Why not give those cackling, cellulite beeatches a week off? Hell, a month, a year!

So who's to judge? The telly companies, it would appear, so long as it doesn't whack the schedules too far out. All of which (and this is probably stating the obvious) calls it out for the flimsy, arse-covering, watchdog mollifying exercise that it is. Now Radio 4 have had to grovel out an apology for not anticipating the offense it caused to 66 people who were probably only listening cause Corrie and Eastenders weren't on.

Ironically Radio 4s interviews with victims' family members was the most sensitive, unsensationalist reporting of the lot. Quite moving to hear some fairly sanguine attitudes too, especially the young lass who refused to focus on the killer, insisting they would honour and celebrate the life of her dad who'd died instead.