Friday, February 27, 2009

A Legal Remedy

The media is in a spin about what to do about the bankers who drove their organisations into the ground but who then waltzed off with amazing pension deals. But m'learned friends already have the answer, the dreaded Bill or Act of Attainder. Used throughout English history, and apparently still existing in the Common Law framework, it enables the Government to execute people without trial and to take their estates into public ownership, leaving their families destitute.

It's a bit strong but I can see it going down well in some quarters.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Surreal is the right term for this experience

There's no doubt Twitter is changing journalism, but to my mind, only on certain types of story..and these are the mass event kind of stories when someone in the crowd of people involved and witnessing it starts tweeting.

And the cloud of tweeters range in on sources like @Nipp who was next to the tragic plane crash in Amsterdam this morning, and who finished the day with nearly nine hundred new followers and a line of interviews with news channels. As he said, surreal is the right term for this experience.

But twitter doesn't change all stories. I had a look for twitter coverage of the Financial Service Authority appearance in front of the Commons Treasury select committee this afternoon. It's pretty sparse, very partisan and tends to link to those 'old fashioned established news sources'. So for stories about one of the most interesting things to happen today it seems you still need a proper journalist.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Stephen Ten Years On

It's ten years since the publication of a pink covered book which altered British society. Infact the Macpherson report into the death of Stephen Lawrence still sits on my shelf. I came to know the Lawrence family quite well; I was the researcher on a World In Action which featured the case before the change of government brought the inquiry into being, and I met the family and their legal team during the hearings.

The sessions on the top floor of a sixties office block in Elephant and Castle, a number of which I attended for ITN, shocked me to the core and changed the way I view the situation of black people in our country forever. Previously I had absolutely no idea of the level of more or less open racism they were routinely experiencing from a supposedly modern police force. And I couldn't believe the open rudeness from some of the senior officers as they gave evidence under questioning from some of the lawyers. Quite apart from the revelation of monumental incompetence of the police probe into the Lawrence murder my abiding impression was one of utter arrogance brought humblingly to book.

Finally there were the climactic and near violent scenes as the young men named in connection with the killing were brought to give evidence. Monosyllabic answers brought outside by video screens inflamed the crowd. Sneers from them as they came down the ramp outside the shopping centre causing a near riot.

But among other things I'll remember the controlled dignity of Doreen and Neville, and how I admire the way in which Doreen in particular has never given up calmly pointing out that her son has been deprived of justice and remains in that position today.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Can you tell what it is yet?

I am not now - or ever have been - a member of the arty party. There was art at school, and I liked the flavour of the classroom where the teacher was based; it seemed a colourful and imaginative place in comparison to the dirty functionality of the rest of the buildings. I wasn't really part of what went on there. I didn't even do GCE Art O Level. Up until last night I'd never sat down seriously and drawn anything for over thirty years. And certainly nothing that was actually alive.

But these days I'm mates with one or two arty types. Aside from the people I know who write for a living there's Rikki and Louis, who are musicians. And now there's Will who is pretty serious about drawing and painting and has his own studio in the East End. The other day he asked me if I'd like to go to a 'life class'. I'm not one to turn down a challenge so last night I sat in the basement of a jazz bar clutching a pencil while a young woman took her clothes off.

There was nothing remotely erotic about it, which surprised me slightly. I looked at her, looked at the massive blank sheet of paper and was terrifyingly challenged for the next three hours. It was really hard work. Lines, shapes, textures. Where do you start? I couldn't do hands. Or feet. Proportionality seemed to elude me. Then there were all sort of tricky perspectives. Suddenly I was massively respectful of anyone who can transmit the complexity and subtlety of the human shape onto a canvas. Above is about the best I could manage. Afterwards I was knackered. Will and his mate Jonathan were pretty kind about my efforts, so I bought the drinks.
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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Why I am Fat

I promise this is the last time I'll blog about weight related stuff for a bit, but my eye was caught by This is Why You're Fat which is all wrong, but right in a terrible way. It's just pictures of terrifying American food with descriptions that boggle the imagination ie:

The Garbage Plate
A combination of either cheeseburger, hamburger, Italian sausages, steak, chicken, white or red hots, a grilled cheese sandwich, fried fish, or eggs, served on top of one or two of the following: home fries, fries, beans, and mac salad. The plate is adorned with optional mustard, onions or hot sauce.

I will move on now.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Mountain

I'm a blur of ache after an hour with A in the gym. It seems I have a stone to lose and he is demanding to see what I eat. I don't eat badly (it seems to me) but I'm strongly aware of giving in to fish and chips once in a while so I am stalling him.

Just like the last time several phrases of 'A's are haunting me.

"I am very worried about this (indicating the roll of fat around my belly); this is actually dangerous."

"The next ten minutes will seem like an hour" (adjusting the gradient and speed of the running treadmill).

"So you go swimming. Do you actually take it seriously?"

"If you don't stretch after you go running your muscles will contract and you'll end up walking around like an old man."

It seems I have a mountain to climb, but I'm serious about this (after the 'dangerous' remark I'm actually a bit frightened) so I have booked ten sessions. In the meantime I take great heart from an old friend who has conquered her own mountain in fine style, and writes bravely about it here.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

My Cat In The Towel Rack

Dylan In The Towel Rack

So I'm back from my run and seeking socks when I look up and my cat Dylan looks me in the eye. That was a bit of a shock; I'm accustomed to looking down at our cats rather than have them stare us out from eye level.
My question is not why he goes in the towel rack, as you can see it's warm and dim and so is the perfect place to purr away the day, more how the hell did he get up there?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Stuff In My Head

My head is full of banks and the image of four fantastically wealthy men lined up at a select committee hearing like naughty schoolboys in detention, and a figure heard in my headphones as I ran around the park this lunchtime: the average earning of bank employees - the ones out in the branches - is between 14 and 16k a year.

To take my mind off these crazy times I'm hitting the gym like never before but my newly hired personal trainer seems to be avoiding me. He did all the tests on me last Friday (at 7am!!) but now he's going off the idea. Perhaps he just doesn't like the size of the challenge. He says he could conceivably meet me this coming Thursday. But he hasn't texted me to confirm. So for motivation I have had to turn to the tweets of Chris Moyles who is trying to train for a celebrity trip to Kilimanjaro. They arrive in my twitter feed around three times a day (yes I have finally grasped Twitter). Disturbingly he seems to be training harder than I am. I cannot cannot cannot be more unfit than Chris Moyles, I will not allow it.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

For the second weekend on the run the cinema is packed out with people standing around on the stairs because there's no room in the bar or the cafe. The reason is twofold; the flicks is a cheap night out in uncertain times and the other being there's simply so many good films around at the moment.

The latest is Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona and while not being a return to the form that gave us Sleeper or Manhattan it's nonetheless a welcome improvement, particularly after the disaster that was Match Point - funny for all the wrong reasons.

The plot in VCB is that two American girls, Rebecca Hall and Scarlett Johansson are at large in Barcelona and get picked up by louche artist Javier Bardem. Various amusing and thought provoking love tangles result. It's all gently done, picturesquely shot at all the places you've been if you've visited Barcelona, orchestrated with a slightly intrusive Allenesque narrator. It's rolling along in a slightly traveloguey way when bang, Penelope Cruz arrives on screen and proceeds to act everyone else off it. She steals the film and she's worth the ticket money on her own.

It weighs in at just over ninety minutes. I don't mind long movies but I think it's significant that Allen, who must be one of modern cinema's most prolific directors, always manages to say what he needs to say in an hour and a half.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Radio Days

I love Radio not just as a medium but as a device to have in the house; and one of my most prized possessions is the radio pictured above, a (by modern standards) ancient Sony 2010 shortwave radio. It has sat on my bedside table since before the first Gulf war. It's my companion at night, often the provider of the last and first voice I hear at the end and beginning of each day.

It's tuned by default to BBC Radio 4, but frequently gets picked up and pointed at all manner of other radio stations. It can hear the fleet of aircraft flying overhead; a galaxy of radio stations from across the planet on shortwave; it can switch to a sideband setting and hear strange covert radio stations reading ciphers, number by number to (presumably) agents across the continents. The radio is a madly powerful thing to have to hand, if patience is in supply and curiosity is your thing.

I bought it before the first Gulf War to listen to the Middle East as it reported itself; I heard the Voice of Iran refer to Israel simply as 'the Zionist Entity' then tuned across to hear that country's Kol Radio refer to the Iraqi scud attacks ranging in on its territory.

The internet of course has changed everything, and now that I've got an internet radio the old Sony has had to move up a bit. The web version of the radio can receive easily and cleanly all those stations I used to really struggle to get. It's less romantic but so much more practical.

I was really upset this morning when my Sony refused to respond when I turned it on. I had a good fiddle with it, checked its power supply but it wasn't having any. Disconsolate I took it down to the hall for recycling, wondering if I could ever find another because Sony have long since stopped making them. Then on an impulse I plugged it back in and gave it a sharp rap on the speaker panel. Bingo! I'm (hopefully) back in business with it for another few years.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

One of the Problems...

...with trying to lose weight is - obviously - the number of distractions that living a life involving anything other than sitting locked in your room offers. For me having friends seem to equate to gross calorific intake, as last night when we went out with Ellen and Will to Bar de Marche. BDM is a sort of unofficial French embassy and your monkey of a correspondent surrendered cheesily to:

- Pate, with toast.

- Bread - with butter

- Steak. With frites.

- Creme Brulee, which Ellen ordered but then decided she didn't want.

For crying out loud I now eat other peoples left overs!

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

"You Won't Like This"

For some time my lack of resemblance to Daniel Craig and my marked similarity to a fat dwarf has been noted, joked about but tolerated by my friends. Being squat and overweight hasn't really held me back, but at 44 you have to decide what the future is going to be about. Do you 'Rage Rage Against the Dying of the Light'and murder yourself in the gym every day, or do you slip into comfy twee lardiness (and an early death?)

Reader, I have put aside fears over the usefulness of my pension arrangements and chosen the former path. I have lost five pounds since Christmas, and to help me lose the rest of my squalid bulk I went to the gym on Tuesday evening to meet my personal trainer. We will call him A. He wasn't what I expected.

I was expecting a sort of bouncy motivational bunny/human cross who was going to inspire me to cardiovascular heights. Instead A looked at my portly form with an unusual degree of scepticism. He made it clear he'd help me. But he thought I wouldn't last.

Several sentences of his haunt me two days later.

"You're not going to enjoy this."

"If you give me bollocks during a session I will tell you. I don't tolerate bollocks."

"Do you drink coffee?" (Yes. I LOVE coffee.) Sigh. "Oh dear"

"See this?" indicating a two litre bottle of water "Drink one of these a day." (I HATE water unadulterated by tasty toxins.)

For all his doomsaying A is an early riser. I have to meet him at 0700 Friday!

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Big Thaw

Feeling recovered from my night shifts to some degree I took myself off to the park to record the snow with my camera. It was all crisp under my wellies, but I sensed a thaw in the air. Apparently this will cause flooding, and so will constitute yet another excuse for the teachers not to bother turning up and the buses not to run. Buses ran in the Blitz! Who does TFL think they're kidding?

Monday, February 02, 2009

The Big Freeze

From 2009-02-02 Snow020209

I had it kicked (almost literally) into me at ITN that no TV news editor can under respond to a weather story. So it was all hands to the pumps when the Russian climate came calling to South and East England late last night, and with yours truly on the night shift.

Last night taught me two things: the internet has changed our journalism and infinitely for the better. I was getting tweets about where the snow was, a producer at Gatwick Airport conducted vox pops of frustrated passengers on her phone, and of course there was a pile of imagery and video from members of the public.

The other is the fragility of our planning when communications get disrupted; ultimately you cannot send a satellite truck anywhere if the engineer who drives it is stuck on a train near Sevenoaks. Which is where the lesson above comes in.

Update: By 1700 Monday the BBC had received over 24,000 stills of snow sent by the British public.

A Reporter's Life... not always a bowl of cherries. Nick Wallis, who works for London Tonight, writes a highly amusing blog. This week he's been dressing in an insulated suit and throwing himself in the Thames for some bonkers item or another.

"The boat goes back to the pontoon to drop off the cameraman, who is going to film me coming in, so I am totally abandoned, floating upstream (tide coming in) looking up at the clear blue sky and trying not to think about what I've just swallowed. I look around at the river and the houses and consider that this is a very strange situation to be in."


Sunday, February 01, 2009


There aren't many good films about journalism. People rave about 'The Front page' which I've seen in at least one of its forms, and on the stage, and then there's Citizen Kane which seems to be about hackery, money and sledging.

But for my money the best film about my business is 'All the President's Men' which makes drama and suspense from two men making phone calls and typing furiously then holding up newspapers and swearing, or shouting, or whatever. Hoffman and Redford capture the trainspotter nerdiness that propels the best journalists, but the best thing about the movie is that the villain - Nixon - only appears on televisions in the corner of rooms. The temptation to fictionalise some sort of showdown between the two hacks and the embittered paranoid President must have been overwhelming, but thank God the filmmakers didn't give in to it.

Nixon himself stalks us over thirty years since he left the White House lawn for the last time; maybe he'll always be a bogeyman to Hollywood's righteous liberals. Oliver Stone did a movie about him starring Anthony Hopkins which I liked but wasn't madly successful and I've got an odd DVD at home made in the seventies called 'Nixon the Final Days'. Now comes Frost/Nixon which is based on some interviews Sir David Frost did with Nixon a couple of years after he resigned.

It's a good film in many ways, based on a play by Peter Morgan. Liberties are taken; there's a sequence in the movie that makes my teeth grind when Frost abandons questions and just shows Nixon a short montage of nasty images from Cambodia accompanied by mournful music. The idea that anything as grossly non-inquisitorial as this happened in the taping sessions at Yerba Linda is ridiculous.

No midnight phone calls happened between the two men, although clever Morgan makes great drama out of imagining what might have passed between them if there had been. And the interviews themselves are freely paraphrased; in the film Nixon loses his temper under questioning from a rather cavalier Frost and then comes apart; but the transcripts reveal how, more interestingly, Frost brought foxy old Nixon to earth by tough quasi-legal forensic questioning.

It wasn't Hollywood. But it was Journalism, and to my mind Frost only came anywhere near being that good once more, when years later he interviewed the then Prime Minister Tony Blair about Iraq. It was a bit like watching a genial uncle slap a child under the Christmas tree.