Sunday, August 31, 2008

On the Beach

To Anderby Creek; a hell of a big beach, with a big sky and a big (North) sea. The sun beamed but I somehow held off donning my trunks and jumping in. Maybe as well; there's a fair bit of oil in as well as under the sea in that part of the world. Was this the last day of summer?
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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Bradford Bitter

My mate from work John Millward has begun blogging. He claims he is overweight; he is not. But he is (by his own admission) into the bank for 250K, owns an apparently unsellable flat in Bradford, has a number of kids and is going cheerfully through a divorce. He writes well and his blog shows great promise! Visit it 'ere.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

My Gadget Hell

When I was a little boy all I wanted to do was own a pair of walkie talkies. Two way radios just seemed so drop-dead cool. This was a result of watching Daktari on TV. You may recall Daktari, if you're ancient. It was a show about vets in Africa looking after animals. They (the vets) had walkie talkies, and a cross eyed lion called Clarence. But I digress.

Anyway I never had a pair of walkie talkies, because the UK had highly restrictive radio transmission laws which were only relaxed in my twenties, at which time I had no particular desire to own any.

Fast forward if you will to last Saturday when I found myself in Battersea, where the Woolworths is closing down. And the little radios above were on sale for half price, a cool twenty quid. I lost my head and reader, I bought them. They are fab, with eight channels, which you can adjust, a little tone that tells you when the other chap is calling and even a stopwatch.

But now I'm thinking, what do I actually use these for?

Saturday, August 23, 2008


Ever since I've been in London, and I arrived here in 1995, there's been a plan to do something about Battersea Power Station. Some misguided individual bought the landmark in the 1980's and took the roof off. Now its a shell - but a listed shell. So it has to be preserved, and rightly since many Londoners are rather proud of it; and for a few Saturdays this month it's also been a tourist attraction with long lines snaking around the building for the privilege of signing a safety waiver and spending ten minutes inside.
That there's so much vacant land in the middle of London is an anomaly which developers are now seeking to address, and they'll show you the model in the visitors centre. The chimneys and high brick walls stay - infact they're the centre of a planned multi million pound housing, leisure and retail complex. Can't think it's a bad thing; the power station is a magnificent building and it's a scandal that it's been allowed to deteriorate to the state it's in. Click here for my photographic efforts.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Real/Not Real

I don't usually just post video but this is so marvellous I just had to go on about it. It proves what I have always believed, that Star Wars is infact a documentary.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

North and South

This week the political classes united to denounce a report from the Policy Exchange, said to be David Cameron's favourite think tank. The document, entitled 'Cities Unlimited' described northern cities as essentially washed up, claimed regeneration efforts had failed and suggested everyone put their belongings into carts and move to Oxford, Cambridge and an expanded London.

On the face of it this is, let's say, unhelpful on a number of levels and the Conservatives went out of their way to disassociate themselves from it. But the report was simply stating what I had to face up to in my own industry back in 1995; there was no future for me in Manchester and I had to bite the bullet, sell up and go to London to make things work. It hurt like hell to leave the North, but I wasn't on my own. London is full of people who've moved here from somewhere else and jobs are almost always at the bottom of their decision. Some of the people denouncing the report are my fellow travellers. In modern Britain people move about. They generally move from the North to the South. I wish it were not so, but that's the way it is.

Now the BBC is single handedly leading a regional revival with big (well advanced) plans for Salford which will restore serious production capability to the Northwest, which used to belong emotionally to Granada TV. But it has largely moved south, like me.

The BBC Daleks

I blogged earlier this month about these Daleks that have arrived at the BBC. There are now three of them in total, and now a pair of them have moved and are hanging about together in the foyer; that's a snap of them above.

There is a Tardis outside on the patio next to the horseshoe car park, but it is silent and there are no lights within.

I shall maintain a watching brief.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Hadrian's Exhibition

To the British Museum to see the Hadrian exhibition. It's great, although a bit pricey at £12. Took Helen and I about three quarters of an hour to wander round. Of course the rest of the museum is free, but lots of it was closed 'due to staff shortages'. I can pop in whenever it takes my fancy but if I'd come all the way from Murmansk I might be seriously dischuffed. At the end you're decanted into an enormous shop where you can buy a mug with a latin inscription on for fifteen quid. No thanks.

Hadrian comes over as a massive egotist. He had so many statues done they're still digging them up. He was also brutal in his repression of rebellions and today would be doubtless cooling his heel in the Hague waiting for a war crimes prosecution.

We were starved by the end of the afternoon so at Ms T's suggestion met up at the Giaconda Room off the Charing Cross Road, which is the nicest bistro I've been to for ages. £30 a head with wine and two courses with coffee and truffles. I had the rump steak which was a lovely bit of beef, fit for an emperor.

Friday, August 15, 2008


This week sees the release on DVD of one of my favourite British films, Naked. This was the film which launched David Thewlis's career in 1993, establishing him as a fine screen actor with international credentials. His performance as a Mancunian misanthrope quite rightly got him awards at Cannes but he was far too strong a cup of tea for the Oscars that year. (He was edged out by Tom Hanks for his performance in 'Forrest Gump'. Jesus.) The film was directed by Mike Leigh. It was his breakthrough as a film director although British audiences had known him for years as the man behind 'Abigail's Party'.

I've seen it twice, once at a cinema in Salford - no better place to see it - and once on a DVD (I think the Guardian gave it away and I madly lent it to someone). It's a kind of two hour post Thatcherite rant with a deeply disturbed Thewlis prowling London's underbelly. As with all Leigh's films the performances are created by improvisation, over hours, before the camera exposes an inch of film. Thewlis was nearly arrested after fighting 'in character' outside Leigh's office. He shoplifted, again 'in character', to provide props for the film. It is a difficult film to watch, and I would imagine it posed a massive headache for the people trying to market it. Thewlis himself admits his character took him over to a dangerous degree.

I'm going to buy the DVD but watching it now will be a bitter sweet experience. There's a superb performance by Katrin Cartlidge, at that time an up and coming British actress. She died tragically early, from emphysema and pneumonia, at the age of 41.

Here's a scene from the film with Thewlis at large with a security man in an empty office building. Hanks eat your heart out.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

This Summer Washout

I can't believe it's mid August. The Lido this morning was utterly freezing; it took me a whole length to get my breathing under control, and only a handful of others were braving it. Some of them were little kids. Somehow little children aren't as 'cold conscious' as we adults. I was chatting to my dad about this and he says I used to throw myself into the sea in Scotland as a small boy. How times change. I got out after twelve lengths this morning.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Daleks at the BBC

Confession time: I don't like the current series of Dr Who. I appreciate I'm the only person in the UK who thinks David Tennant is a bit wet. The show has massive ratings and everyone loves it. Part of the problem is the monsters. When I tune in I find they talk too much. They frequently have the Doctor at their mercy, but they always fumble it.

The exception is the Daleks, who rule. These days they can fly, but I find them frightening even in their original trundling manifestation. The grilles from which the satanic voice is heard, the metal finish, the gun and the cyclops sensor - they all spell evil to me even now.

Recently one arrived in reception in Television Centre. It just stood there and didn't say anything. You could stand next to it; Daleks stand as tall as me and if you think they're impressive on the telly you should try them in the flesh, as it were.

Then another one arrived, overnight, and they stood on either side of the door to the news area. But one day I came in to work and they'd disappeared.

This week I came in and found they'd relocated to the cafe area near the shop that sells Dads Army DVDs. And now there are three of them. What's going on?

Your Card In Their Hands

Is there anyone left who hasn't had their credit cards defrauded? I'm extremely careful with mine but recently used it all over the West Midlands when I was working there as a field producer. I used it to buy petrol and a couple of meals in a few places, and lo and behold, it was cloned and used to withdraw cash from a machine in the East of India. The bank stopped the card instantaneously but didn't bother to tell me. I only found out I was £600 down when I was trying to buy a rail ticket and Virgin's website rejected me. As crime it's all very civilised. I filled out a form and got a refund in a matter of days.

This morning it emerged that fraudsters have managed to insert sniffing technology in the card readers on shop counters - the ones you punch your number in while the shop worker politely averts his eyes. Petrol stations in the West Midlands are the focus of a police enquiry, funnily enough. My take on it is that we have nothing much to fear from the big retailers, but I may start paying cash for petrol.

Elite Squad

Can't get a film I went to see on Wednesday out of my head, Jose Padilha's Elite Squad. It's a Brazilian film which came out last year and is now getting a release here in Europe after it won a prize at the Berlin film festival.

The story, which is largely factual, concerns a squad of police officers who try to crack down on heavily armed drug dealers in Rio's favelas. But the entire enterprise is dogged by corruption and officially sanctioned brutality. Apart from being a powerful argument for never setting foot in Brazil it's ultimately a fairly nihilistic film. I won't spoil the ending but you won't be surprised to hear it's not jam packed with optimism and I left the cinema wondering what the point of its unrestrained depiction of violence was, save to appall and dispirit the viewer.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Chinese Revisionism

I was able to watch some of the Olympic opening ceremony while sat in our newsroom the other day. It was electrifying and the coverage of the games - we see a mix of BBC picture and core coverage from the Chinese hosts - has so far been utterly flawless. Underneath it all is a terrifying message for the Brits: Match this. If you can.
What the Chinese officials will probably see as 'unhelpful revisionism' has now taken hold with some comment about computer generated firework footage and the shocking admission that a little girl tasked with the trivial task of singing in front of billions of people was infact dubbed. But we shouldn't be fooled, the Chinese are setting the bar incredibly high and trying to busk a 2012 opening ceremony with Terry Wogan and Liberty X just isn't going to fly.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Marble Hill House

The weekend's book club picnic was in the best tradition of English lunches outdoors, held in a lovely park in the break between showers. The venue was an elegant monument to the fruits of adultery: the grounds of Marble Hill House in Twickenham.

It was built in the early years of the eighteenth century for Henrietta Howard, the Countess of Suffolk. Although born in genteel poverty Henrietta managed to shake off an inconvenient marriage and a badly timed child to become a key hanger-on at the court of the Electress of Hanover at Herrenhausen. This was an inspired tactical decision by Henrietta as the son of the Electress, George, was in pole position to become King of England. When he succeeded Henrietta saw to it that she became his son's mistress, and in time a grateful George II managed to bankroll the design and construction of Marble Hill Hall - apparently out of the sight of his wife.

Henrietta bought off her unfashionable husband and proceeded to hold glittering salons in Twickenham with the likes of writer Alexander Pope and our first Prime Minister Horace Walpole. And she lived to a ripe old age which shows you can get a long way in this world - and last a long time - by knowing the right sort of people.

Of course Henrietta lived in an age where monarchs and other leaders were expected to have mistresses. While people enjoyed a scandal then just as much as they do now, the moral climate is seemingly very different today as can be seen by the disgrace heaped on John Edwards at the weekend. It doesn't help that his wife is very ill, and he previously denounced Bill Clinton for having a mistress. But the lesson of Marble Hill House is that good architecture lends dignity to sexual frailty so maybe Mr Edwards should have thrown caution to the wind and built his girlfriend a mansion in the Hamptons.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

My Favourite General

In between long stressful shifts on the newsdesk and cooling swims in the pool I'm spending time reading up about one of this country's best army commanders, Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, and having a number of long held assumptions gathered from films etc shattered in the process.

Teetotal Monty was at his best when he did all his planning and went to bed early. He had made his dispositions, was comfortable that he had done so to to the best of his considerable ability, and appeared to sleep well - even though people would be killed the following day.

Monty was at his worst when like many celebrities, he began to believe in his own PR. He was good but not infallible. After he started to believe totally in his infallibility along came the dreadful adventure at Arnhem. Part of the problem was he couldn't admit that plans had to change when new circumstances came along unexpectedly.

Monty had no sense of 'otherness' to his troops. He had a system of Liason Officers who travelled everywhere, quizzed everyone, then reported directly to him about what was going on to the point where he was better informed than every other commander. He toured the lines, addressed all ranks from the top of his car and told them what he was doing; explaining to troops personally what his objectives were and what was expected of them.

In return he appeared to be bothered about their welfare, their food, their clothing and appeared to recognise how much the average infantryman cared about his own survival. They responded to him and he got the best out of them - even though they were a long way from home, poorly equipped when compared to the Wermacht and sometimes weren't even from his own country; he often found himself leading Poles, French and even Americans when there was a failure of leadership post D-Day.

My Dad, a corporal in WWII saw Monty on at least one occasion. This was a period when the majority of commanders were generally well behind the lines and within reach of a bar and a decent golf course. He broke the mould and brought himself and us victory in the process.