Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Trusting Them

To the City where my colleague Adrian Monck held a debate to promote his book 'Can You Trust the Media?'. The audience was filled with hacks who attacked Adrian for his cynicism. His book apparently suggests that the entire concept of trustworthy media was invented by the owners of printing presses in order to promote their wicked plans to sell tracts of 'journalism' to the masses along with pots of Yoghurt.
Andrew Gilligan, who if the Mayor of London is changed tomorrow can definitely claim a big degree of responsibility, was there and disagreed strongly with the author. Inevitably Gilligan's own journalism came under attack from his fellow panellist the Guardian columnist Yasmin Alibhi Brown who felt he really shouldn't have published Lee Jaspar's naughty e-mails.
It was all immensely entertaining. I am not clear about Adrians' arguments though, so I bought a copy and he thoughtfully signed it. He is a good egg, as my Dad would say.
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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

On The Roof

I'm loving the new series of 'The Reunion' on Radio 4, which this week brought together several men who'd been present at the Strangeways Riot in 1990. I can't believe it was so long ago. I was a reporter for Radio Manchester at the time; it was the biggest story I'd ever been involved in covering.

I remember the day it started really clearly; it was just at this time of year, a really warm Sunday and there was a feeling of Summer in the air. I'd been walking in Lyme Park which lies to the South of Manchester and as we drove homewards we heard there'd been a 'disturbance' at Manchester's Prison.

It was a lot more than a disturbance. I went into work that evening for a late shift and ended up doing 2 ways for radio stations calling from all over the world. The BBC is on Oxford Road, but you could see the glow in the sky from all the arc lights shining at the jail. I also seem to remember parts of the building were on fire. The 'disturbance' lasted twenty odd days, and developed into a social protest about prison conditions. Crowds gathered while men on the roof gave speeches, which the authorities drowned out with sirens. Occasionally there'd be music; I recall some guys dancing on the tiles to Snap's 'I've got the Power', which seemed rather appropriate since the Home Office was clearly at a loss. Later there were big changes in prisons nationally as a result of Lord Woolf's report into the causes of the trouble.

The producer tracked down Paul Taylor who had been one of the ringleaders. I'd watched him on the roof, been fascinated, and then attended his trial, but never heard him in interview before. He was articulate and genuinely sorrowful for the harm people had come to, but unrepentant for the most part about the things he'd led others to do. It's a brilliant programme and it's here.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Giving Up - Day 1

A's assertion that we 'social' drinkers are infact addicts (see previous post) has got me thinking. So from today I'm giving up for a few weeks. I'll aim for three, since that's the period she says it takes to break the spell. I'm sure it'll do me good. These first couple of days will be easy because I'm on nights. The next few less so, one suspects.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Interesting Things

I've been in Manchester and computerless for some days, and so non blogging. On my travels I have heard a number of interesting things from interesting people, and I relay these to you, dear reader, in no particular order.

- T, who runs a business operating in several countries with a multi million pound turnover, says property is facing an abyss and housebuyers in the UK can look forward to price drops of thirty percent.

- J, who is a GP and makes a shedload, has sold his house and is renting. He agrees with T.

- T also says we can expect eighteen months of low pound-euro exchange rates, but the pound will recover because currency markets are cyclical.

- A, who came for dinner last night and brought two bottles of a very good red, told me she thinks we are all addicted to alcohol, in a 'low level' way. But it only takes three weeks to quit.

Is a new age of austerity upon us?

Friday, April 18, 2008

Taking the Plunge

I have today ordered one of these, an Asus E900.

So what? I hear you ask.

This thing, retailing for much less than an averge lappie and running with the completely free Linux Operating system, is forcing a number of software and hardware giants to have a bit of a rethink.

I can't wait for this paperback sized piece of gadgetness to arrive. Mid May, they tell me.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Flawed Fleming

There's a media brouhaha on about James Bond at the moment because we're about to hit his creator's centenary. There's a big Bond exhibition on at the Imperial War museum launching this week, which in a place full of mementoes of real heroism and sacrifice features Daniel Craig's shirt from the remake of Casino Royale, complete with fake bloodstains.

As a teen I loved Ian Fleming's books but for all their pace and thrills they don't fit in with our politically correct world and I wonder how Sebastian Faulks, who's writing a new one, is going to make Bond relevant. Fleming had travelled and read widely which give his books a kind of man of the world effect. That's seductive if you're sixteen and your average holiday is spent in the Lake District.

Reading him now though, the prose feels close to dated self parody and a pretty chauvinist effort at that. I pick up Live and Let Die, his thirteenth and last Bond effort. James is operating in New York's Harlem district populated by 'negroes' many of whom are in fear of a 'grey faced' and all powerful 'Mr Big' who trades on the superstitious magic of 'voodoo'..

“Bond's nostrils flared slightly. He longed to get in there after him. He felt strong and compact and confident. The evening awaited him, to be opened and read, page by page, word by word.”


Sunday, April 13, 2008

Inside Belmarsh

Down the Thames near Woolwich, rarely visited by most people and not really known about by the majority of British citizens, is a state-of-the-art jail and court complex called Belmarsh. I got to know it in the nineties where I attended the court hearings of one or two IRA men, but these days the terrorists held there are the alleged 'players' in various radical Islamist plots; some convicted, others on long stretches of remand time waiting for trial.

What goes on inside there is in some ways pretty vital to the security of the UK. When the IRA and loyalist groups were incarcerated in the H blocks in the Maze prison near Belfast the terrorists ran the jail rather than the authorities, and the place was a mix of veterans home and idealogical training unit. It would be very bad news indeed if the same thing happened in Belmarsh.

This morning in the Sunday Times Rachel interviews a man who spent time there while infact being innocent of offences, but whose brother was a key figure at the infamous Finsbury Park mosque where so much radicalisation took place. What's clear from her article is that the game has changed since the early part of this decade, that there's now a growing counterweight to radicalisation among young British Muslim men, and infact there are many grounds for optimism in the current situation. If there was a 7/7 again 'perhaps thirty percent' of those held in Belmarsh might celebrate, which is a world away from the solid nature of the Maze. It's a well written unsensationalist piece of reporting, and it is on the net here.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Politics, Faster but less Fun

Over the years I've been lucky enough to do all too short stints in the Westminster bits of various news outlets. It was always great fun. Most if not all journalists love gossip and Millbank, the block opposite the Houses of Westminster, is Gossip Central.

But now, apparently, the gossip has moved onto people's lappies and Blackberries and the bars are empty. If you want to be plugged in to the latest moves among our leaders it's sites like 'Politics Home' edited by Andrew Rawnsley which are the way ahead.

It was launched this week, and I have to say I like it - a lot. It's quite user friendly, offers a great avenue to all the best columns and blog entries, and has a section of stories in the middle 'green box' which show all the latest developments.

My only complaint is that while linking to everyone else's excellent stuff it doesn't showcase its own very well. But it's only a 'beta'.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008


She told me and Ms T over a drink last week*, but now she's blogged about it I can add my condolences to the long line Rachel is doubtless receiving over the collapse of her publishers. Naturally they went under with no sign of the royalties they owed her.

She is a woman of great courage who I'm now proud to number among my friends, a remarkable writer and I have no doubt she'll get another contract for her forthcoming second book. She is indomitable, unstoppable, and I must close now lest I receive an OBN from Private Eye.

*Several drinks. And Toulouse sausages.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

British Newseum

Washington is about to open a museum for news - a newseum. I thought it was an April fools when I heard about it, but no, it is serious - they're opening a museum to journalism. There's cases of old front pages, a news helicopter is suspended from the roof and there's several bits of the Berlin Wall (although the idea that 'journalism' was responsible for its demolition is at best arguable).
The last place journalism belongs is a museum. It's only history's first draft, as Philip Graham once observed. But I'm open to suggestions as to what should be in the UK Newseum, which I plan to open shortly in my shed in Herne Hill.
Key exhibits will be:
- The Hitler Diaries.
- A full scale reproduction of 'El Vino's where you can order a drink in the company of actors recreating boozy hacks from the Daily Express midway through a four hour lunchbreak.
- Nigel Dempster's typewriter.
- Showcased front pages of the 'Today' newspaper.
- A chequebook.
(Thats enough Newseum exhibits - ed)

Friday, April 04, 2008

Wandering About in London

Having a day off and having arranged to meet Ms T and friends I headed into London a little early and turned myself into a tourist. I tried to do some of the things they do. I walked up from Victoria, a bit hungry, and had a rather unpleasant club sandwich at a pub called the Albert next to the 'Ministry of Justice'.
I tried to get into Westminster Abbey like countless others, willing to pay a tenner, only to be told that it was closed due to a wreath laying ceremony for the Chilean Navy. Westminster Cathedral was also closed for security reasons due to a speech planned much later on by Tony Blair.
Parliament looked unwelcoming to visitors; I have rarely seen so many machine guns and CCTV cameras in such a small space, and the lines of the building at ground level are now concealed by solid black gates to protect against truck bombs.
I went into the park and took a couple of pictures of the river; everything was flat and grey. Wandering up Whitehall other tourists were engaged in fruitless conversation with the coppers at the gates of Downing Street.
"No" said the policeman "I don't think anyone is ever allowed in there". It was possible to see a couple of limousines parked in the road, but that was all.
I pushed on past the tacky overpriced shops (memory card for fifteen quid anyone?) and dodgy looking pubs to Trafalgar Square. Thousands of tourists - literally - were here, sitting on the steps. The pigeons seem to have returned too.
I got on a bus, which didn't move thanks to roadworks on Regent Street, so got off and kept walking to Oxford Street. Lots has been written about how one of what should be one of Europe's best shopping venues is tiring of body and draining of spirit, so I won't bore you here. Finally crashed out at the top of John Lewis, where a latte costs £2,10.
Why do visitors come here?


Wednesday, April 02, 2008

But Who Is He?

For a few weeks now I've been reading Bete De Jour's blog. Bete is supposed to be a very overweight and (he says) ugly chap whose lovelife is a non starter and who very much wants to lose some weight and get his life back.
To say the blog is masterfully written is an understatement; I've paid good money to read far worse writing than this - you'll laugh out loud at his latest post which is about visiting Newcastle and playing scrabble with a couple of pensioners.
But my problem (ianasmuch as I care, which I don't really) is that it's now getting too good and I'm thinking, he's just got to be a pro.
He reads a lot like Irvine Welsh or maybe William Leith when he was writing some of his profoundly uncomfortable self revelatory stuff in the Independent way back in the day. There's also a companion blog, which seems to be by a friend of his who has MS. But which I rather suspect is also a creation of Bete's, who lives a very incident filled life. He also says he goes running in Brockwell Park, well, I go running there and I never see anyone who looks remotely like he says he looks.
Real or Fiction, Pro 'slumming it on the net' or not, I can't recommend it enough.

Shoot Your Phone

I'm a total gadget freak, and I can forgive most defects from them. Most phones and computers have something to recommend them - I am a nerd, and proud of it. Some devices though are just perverse and these I cannot countenance. I have a Nokia N70 at home which drops calls randomly and has the interface from hell, courtesy of Orange - it takes me five minutes just to save a number, and won't let me text someone unless I've put them in the contacts directory first. The chip's desperately underpowered and it takes five minutes to boot it from cold. I harbour dark thoughts about the end it will meet when its contract expires, since it would be way too cruel to inflict it on anyone else. And I'm getting some ideas from Wired's new competition in which readers suggest gadget-murders.