Monday, 31 October 2011

A show trial of Phillip Schofield – now!

If there was any real justice in the world, the people who pollute our living rooms with mainstream TV crap would face a court of law.

Their crimes are grave indeed – having through their relentless output desensitised and made stupid millions of people.

And that’s before we even start to consider the huge and sinful waste of creative resources and energy that is the television industry.

I would personally like to see presenters and producers of moronic offerings such as The Cube and X Factor (ITV1) put on trial for their blatant mass destruction of human brainpower.

Hopefully we could begin with a show trial of Phillip Schofield, the Prince of Blandness. How anyone can bear to watch such rubbish as The Cube is beyond me. I caught some of it last night. Adults in a big perspex cube trying to catch balls – and other such infantile japes. What’s the bloody point?

My viewing last night was restricted to a snatch of the dismal Cube and then most of Harry Hill’s TV Burp, which may have been a repeat. Generally, the Burp has been refreshingly counter-cultural – it’s main point being that 99 per cent of TV output is unbelievably stupid.

Last night’s show has some witty pokes at EastEnders’ Fat Pat and her coming on sexually to some hapless character whose face I vaguely remember from shite sitcoms in the ‘70s. Fat Pat on heat – now that’s what I call frightening.

But Hill’s show was never quite satirical enough about TV – perhaps it was never allowed to be …

Because the TV industry is so heavily committed to self-promotion, and to maintaining the myth that telly is an important, positive cultural force.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Why it's so hard to LIKE the BBC. NB Fergal Keane!

I try very hard to like the BBC – but the people who work for the corporation make that very difficult.

Take the newsreaders and presenters, for example…

From those stiffs on ‘Breakfast’ – Bill Turnbull and Sian Williams – to the dorks who front main BBC1 bulletins such as Kate Silverton; they all seem to have strawberries stuck up their arses.

And don't even get me started on Fergal Keane and his bleeding heart, liberal compassion industery reportage. Aaarrrggh!

I much prefer the more down-to-earth presentation style of Sky News, where the likes of Anna Botting and Stephen Dixon do a great job.

And I still occasionally watch ITV’s News at Ten - though it isn’t what it was in the good old days of Trevor McDonald and Reginald Bosanquet .

Elsewhere on the BBC, the output makes me want to rush to my en-suite vomitarium. I am certainly sick of the smug face of Sue Perkins crapping on about the baking of cakes – as if that was in any way important.

And tonight (5 October 2011) Perkins is to appear on some dull twaddle on BBC2 about “celebrities” walking in the “wild” … in Cornwall. I shan’t be watching.

What else? Well, I think all those tarts (gender neutral usage!) who front cookery shows on all channels should be bludgeoned in their beds.

But, like I say, I do try to like the BBC. I don’t want to be thought of as one of those mad, conservative types who are always spluttering about the BBC’s undoubted obsessions with gay sexuality and multiculturalism.

For the record, I have no problem with gay culture or ethnic minority cultures. I think our national culture is all the richer and more humorous for those elements. I just don’t like being preached at in middlebrow dramas such as Casualty and EastEnders.

I think the BBC is very good indeed at sitcoms. It has always knocked ITV into a cocked hat with those. ITV has only ever made ONE good sitcom –Shelley. The BBC has made loads – from old classics such as Till Death Us Do Part, to recent offerings such as the brilliant Outnumbered.

However, the best comedy show – as opposed to traditional 30-minute sitcom – is Harry Hill’s TV Burp, an ITV offering.

And the two best comedy dramas of contemporary times are also both ITV products – Benidorm and Doc Martin.

At heart, in terms of cultural identity, I'm still an ITV man - tinged perhaps with a Sky News sort of attitude.

Despite my best efforts, I simply can't bring myself to like the BBC. I think there is always an agenda with its people. They are, in the main, Guardian readers.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Sue Perkins, Catholicism, feminism and Glasgow

After watching the moronic Jedward messing up a kitchen floor in Celeb Big Brother, then a stale repeat called the Great British Bake Off with Sue Bloody Perkins (smugness and irritation personified – and consequently hugely in demand at BBC), I started to think that television really has NOTHING to offer any more. Nothing at all.

Then I remembered Family Guy on BBC3, but that’s too often repeated and is a US import anyway …

Next, along comes The Field of Blood – a crime drama set in Glasgow in 1982. OK, this was not a purely televisual creation. It's an adaptation of a novel, and the novel is, of course, an art form far superior to TV.

Now I like drama, and since reading the three Stieg Larsson novels earlier this year, I do also quite like crime fiction, particularly if there is a lot of psychology, moral philosophy and poetic language in it.

As for The Field of Blood (BBC1 Monday Aug 29), well I liked enough to want to watch the second part.

There is much that I like personally in this drama – not least the sweary, cynical humour of a traditional newspaper newsroom. I worked for many years as a reporter and a feature writer in such places, with their smoking, cussing, piss-taking humour etc. Frankly, I wish those days were back. Instead, news writing (and most other forms of writing) are dumbing down because writing is being de-professionalised as the internet era develops. Also culture generally has become horrible politically correct as the forces of Liberal Fascism have grown in confidence.

I also like The Field of Blood because it has Catholicism as a cultural backdrop. Catholicism is so often scoffed at by the liberal wasters who make 99 per cent of TV drama. But as someone who grew up in a Catholic culture I know how strong it is - and I predict the faith and its dolorous spirituality will make a comeback as times become progressively more testing for Western societies such as our own.

Another reason for this two-parter’s appeal – for me at least – is it’s setting in Glasgow. I like Glasgow. I lived there for a while when I was working as a reporter for a Scottish morning newspaper (the Press & Journal).

The Field of Blood has a feminist agenda. Drama cannot really get commissioned at the BBC these days unless it has a feminist theme, or a homosexual one, or a racial justice one, or an anti-Christian shtick. I’m OK about the feminist subtext of The Field of Blood, as it goes. I’m a supporter of men’s liberation, you see, so I am, of course, also a feminist.

Because if you are serious about making people free, you have to be serious about achieving freedom for both men and women equally.

At the heart of this story is a young woman from a Catholic family, Paddy (Patricia)Meehan. She is working in a newspaper office as a lowly ‘copy boy’ when she notices in a story about the grisly murder of a child a connection to her wider family.

There is a conflict between her passionate and correct belief that sometimes it is only journalists who can expose injustice – and the need of her kith and kin to protect themselves.

Procedurally, there were some weaknesses in The Field of Blood's portrayal of an old-style newsroom, and the casting was wrong, having far too many old and middle aged men in the newsroom. But the culture of such a newsroom was only slightly exaggerated. Overall, it was a fair enough stab, I thought.

This is a drama, after all – not real life.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

TV – random irritations and rampant egos of limited intelligence

Although there hasn’t really been a silly season news-wise this summer, there sure has been a load of rubbish in the popular media.

Television has become – as I predicted in the 1990s – the medium of preference for thick people. ‘The X Factor’ is back and so is ‘Celebrity Big Brother’, and, of course, the tabloid newspapers are all over them like a rash. Stupidity feeds on stupidity.

But the tabloid newspapers are also becoming, well, unfocused and unappealing as they seek to reposition themselves slightly upmarket following the phone-tapping scandal.

I can't imagine The Sun's readers giving a toss about all its VERY BORING articles about food by middle class former pop star Alex James. ‘Cheddar behaves very well in microwaves, particularly if you cut it into cubes first,’ he wrote for today’s paper. Really!

I'm a newspaper hack by trade, so the phrase SFW! instantly pops into my head whenever I see the former Blur bass player musing on matters culinary. SWF? So F*cking What?!

On the rare occasions when contemporary British TV tries to be clever, it can only manage smarmy and smart alecy. And in Edinburgh for the BBC recently, Sue Perkins interviewed two US comedians who, AMAZINGLY, were even more irritating than herself!

Does anyone at the BBC actually understand the people watching at home? Or are they all just trying to annoy everybody?

Regarding the 'revival' of Big Brother on C5, as is so often the case with celebrity shows, I recognise very few of the people as 'celebrities'. Sally Bercow, I do know about, and she is just about the only person in the house with any real eloquence or brain power. Her rampant ego, however, means any credit she earns for having reasonably sound mental faculties is negated.

As for Jedward, it seems that special provision has been made for the Irish lads, but on hearing them converse with other housemates, I can’t help wondering whether either of them is the full shilling.

When you consider what humanity has achieved, in the fields of art, philosophy, poetry, religion and the natural sciences, it is shameful to see the principal medium of our age, television, being so crammed with stupidity.

Increasingly, newspapers are like that too...

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Rough justice – the British State at its least attractive

It bitterly disappoints me that the response to the riots by the law enforcement and justice arms of England has been one of posturing, simplistic overreaction.

The jailing of two young men from Cheshire for four years for inciting disorder through Facebook is excessive and profoundly unjust.

I don't pretend to know anything substantial about the backgrounds of the men concerned, who are aged 21 and 22, but let's be clear they've been jailed for inciting a riot that never actually took place.

Could it be that they were simply silly young men, caught up in the dark excitement of the riots and in thrall to the unthinking, facile nature of digital communications networks? I think that probably is the case. I think that's the case for thousands, probably millions, of young people these days. It doesn't mean that two young men should be sentenced to jail with such unseemly haste.

We've seen courts sitting round the clock since the unrest started the weekend before last.

We've seen the cops involved in PR circuses, battering down the doors of suspected troublemakers in early morning raids - with TV news crews in attendance. There are dangers in this sort of operation. What if the cops get the address wrong and batter down the door of an elderly or infirm person, causing a fatal heart attack? It could happen.

Now, I do not condone violence at all. I have witnessed it over the years, of course, in street fights and pub brawls. Increasingly, I've noticed too that increasingly it is women as much as men who cause and are actively involved in pub brawls.

I have never been caught up in a riot. I have never experienced having my business or home or workplace wrecked by rampaging mobs. I'm sure that such scenes are, for most good people (i.e. the majority of people), frightening and profoundly depressing.

But justice should never be rushed, any more than it should be delayed. Rushing and delaying justice simply distorts and strains justice. Rushing for justice can sometimes destroy justice.

And in any case, I'm convinced what we are witnessing in the ramped up response to the riots by cops and the courts, isn't the pursuit of justice at all.

It is the pursuit of vengeance - something quite different, something very unattractive.

And there are disturbing signs that cops and courts are being goaded into going for vengeance by prattling politicians, including the Prime Minister.

Paradoxically, I think there was some 'justice' done recently - when David Cameron had to cut short his classic Posh Person from Central Casting's vacation in Tuscany because the streets of London were burning. Well, that made me laugh and it made me think ... both of which responses are good and better than rioting or looting.

That a modern state and a modern state's leader should be tough on transgressors and opportunistic thieves at a time of civil unrest is understandable; commendable even. We do need to teach people a lesson.

But that lesson must be one that makes offenders think about what they've done, and reflect on why what they have done is wrong. We must show them how people have suffered because of their selfish and violent actions.

What the state should not do is make people who have done something stupid at a time of collective madness feel like scapegoats; feel like people who can't turn their lives around; feel hated.

The tracking down of offenders needs to be done without heat and without the seeking of public relations advantage. It should be unflagging, certainly, but the punishments should not be excessive; not a knee-jerk response which will inevitably cause more resentment.

Don't sentence two young men to prison for four years for writing something stupid and opportunistic on Facebook. Save that sort of sentence for people convicted of mugging with a weapon or grievous bodily harm where the injury was not serious - as is normally the case when justice hasn't been distorted by political hysteria.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Uncomfortable truths about the ‘riots’

Quite a lot of teenage lads (and some girls) are genetically wired to kick off and to rob – for excitement and to acquire the “brands” they want for nowt.

That, simply put, is why there’s been so much copycat trouble in urban England in the last few nights since the Tottenham riots. Easy digital communications technology has also help spread the nasty behaviour.

What happened in Manchester, Liverpool, some parts of the Midlands, and in Birkenhead (near me!) in recent nights, isn’t really rioting at all. It is gleeful trouble-making, arson, thuggery, thieving and burglary, carried out by young people, many of whom are staggeringly thick, and some of whom are actually EVIL.

It has been both interesting and saddening to watch coverage of the trouble on Sky News. I’m afraid I simply can’t bear to watch the smug and the politically correct opining on the BBC News Channel.

I was particularly impressed by the contribution about the mayhem made on Sky News (Tuesday0 by crisis management expert Peter Power. The so-called riots, he said, were not politically motivated, and not a response to injustice. Rather he said they were forms of “very aggressive, late-night shopping”. Spot on.

And Mr Power rightly castigated another TV "expert" who wrongly evoked the name of American civil rights campaigner Martin Luther King in an attempt to explain (or excuse) the recent kick-offs in England.

Now, I’d argue that teenagers down through the centuries, have been gleefully disposed to join in all sorts of rebellion again authority.

But what’s changed now is that many more teenagers are inarticulate and poorly educated. You can hear it in the way they speak – and it’s not restricted to young people either, as there has been a systemic failure in education across several generations in the UK, and a coarsening of culture.

That some teenagers today are thicker than their counterparts in previous generations seems to me to be a self-evident truth. I feel sorry for these kids, really I do; being stupid isn’t a pleasant experience.

Even more worrying is that so many of today’s youngsters lack a moral compass. They have had very little moral training - the sort of instruction absolutely necessary for the formation of decent human society.

Moral training in our country traditionally comes from the Judaeo-Christian tradition – yes, the Ten Commandments and all that! For most people in England such instruction has traditionally been the responsibility of churches and of Christian parents – the passing on of immutable moral values. Now that function appears to be failing on a much larger scale than it has within my own lifetime (and I am aged 54).

Often now you hear the phrase “you don’t have to be religious to be a good person”. Perhaps, in some cases, that is true. But most people need rules and a firm teaching of the good options in life if they are to develop successfully as human beings capable of living socially.

Also, it is often parroted that a person can make their own choices about moral, religious and spiritual values – as if these were simply a matter of consumer choice! What a spectacularly erroneous view! Yet it gains a false credence in a society where worship of the self, consumer addiction, and a terrible and utterly wrong belief in human autonomy, are all encouraged.

This is serious stuff. I am talking about the proper transmission of human identity.

There is more at stakee for all of us than damaged property and stolen goods – bad and frightening though those transgressions are for those who suffer from them.

Friday, 5 August 2011

In-between the cruel laughs something is missing

Collapsing money markets, global strife and Corrie ruined ...

But never mind, because the British economy and our culture might yet be saved by the mighty export of the movie version of The Inbetweeners.

Then again, perhaps not…

I caught an episode of the larky, smutty schoolboy sitcom on C4 on Wednesday night, and, yes, I found myself tittering over it. But I was also slightly alarmed by the sexual content.

I’m no prude, but I was disturbed to see one of the characters, I think it was Simon (played by Joe Thomas), being given a hand job by a younger girl at a youth disco – while his mates watched! Simon then got beat up by a much younger boy. It was all a bit nasty, frankly.

I know the actors are actually older than the characters they play, but all the same, I felt very uncomfortable watching this.

What makes The Inbetweeners entertaining (for the most part) is that it is resolutely non-PC and it taps into the indolence and casual, piss-taking cruelty of your typical British teenage lad really rather well.

Also, the narrator, Will (played by Simon Bird) is a nerdy type and somewhat pretentious, and we all remember boys like him from our own schooldays. Will’s role really is very funny, particularly the running joke of his mum being thought of as “fit” by the other lads.

But where The Inbetweeners falls down is in its lack of humanity or any redeeming morality.

I’m serious. The very best of sitcoms always show their characters’ good sides, or let them do occasional acts of virtue or kindness, amid all the humour. You needs that because humour is essentially about hurt. We laugh because someone is hurting in a situation or they are embarrassed.

But a really great sitcom will leaven the relentless hurt and cruelty of comedy – and I’m glad to report that another show on Wednesday night did just that.

I refer to the consistently brilliant Not Going Out, and a repeat I saw on BBC1 where a confused old lady wanders into Lucy’s flat, causing all sorts of problems for Lee. But when he has a chance to, Lee does the right thing by the old lady, and invites here to a firework display.

The fact that the fireworks were awful was irrelevant. What mattered at that point – as we were laughing at dementia for God’s sake! – was that the main character did an act of kindness to a confused old person.

The show didn’t dwell on that kindness. It didn’t have to. But it was important to include it.

The Inbetweeners needs such leavening. It needs to be something more than merely nastily funny. As for the coming movie version leading Britain to an export-led recovery, well that was just my own cruel little joke.

Britcoms rarely make good films, and I think that will be the case this time. Sorry lads.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

An antidote to vapid modern culture

An antidote to rushed modern culture

I needed cheering up last night, so I watched half an old episode of Not Going Out on Dave then the whole of Lead Balloon on BBC2.

Amazingly, this worked! I tittered out loud at the antics of Lee Mack and co in NGO – as I usually do. A studio-based sitcom, it is packed with razor sharp gags, and Mack’s timing is spot on. The strength of the writing team (there are 12 scribblers credited) makes this the best show of its kind on TV. I’m glad it’s been re-commissioned.

I was entertained in a different, more sardonic manner by Lead Balloon, starring Jack Dee as struggling writer and comedian, Rick, who managed to stumble into a job as a holiday relief presenter on a TV shopping channel.

The lampooning of shopping channels, as the bland, worthless, soulless entities they are, was very slyly done – then hammered home in those stumbling conversations Rick regularly has with his surly East European maid and the supercilious restaurant owner – not to mention the scorn of Rick’s writing partner, Marty.

And as ever there was a neat reflection on the vapidity of contemporary youth as Rick chatted to his daughter and her jobless boyfriend.

I like the lack of energy and the slightly mournful tone of Lead Balloon. It stands as a sign of contradiction to all the mad rushing and flapping and over-communication of our era.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Wallies, fluffheads and Cheryl Cole

Some blonde fluffhead of a showbiz “reporter” on Sky News the other night told the viewers (all 30 of them!) that the latest Pirates of the Caribbean film was the “fourth in the trilogy” . Doh!

I’ve never really understood why female telly “journalists” think it appropriate to act all gooey and thick when they meet film actors. Though maybe the Sky bird last night wasn’t merely pretending...

All those red carpet premiere events really ought to be treated by journalists with sneering disdain for what they are – cynical marketing ploys which the actors find a bore to do.

That never seems to happen though. The media pack genuflect in the presence of actors. Why? An actor is just grown-ups without a proper job. They make money by dressing up and pretending – that’s hardly worthy of admiration.

Johnny Depp was struggling to stay awake the other night as he glad-handed the fans at the London premiere, though it was kind of him to make a fuss of a certain south London schoolgirl.

In my working life as a journalist (mainly spent in the senior and most effective branch of the profession – newspapers, of course!) I don’t recall ever covering a film premiere.

However, when I worked for ORACLE from 1987 to 1992 I had to attend many media launches of TV programme schedules.

At these bland events, journalists were expected to conduct reverential little interviews with various wallies from the world of light entertainment and TV dramas. Frankly, half the time I couldn’t be arsed, they bored the s**t out of me.

I was once harried by some press office harpy to interview Mike Smith about his new show. I forget what it was called. I remember her telling me for the third time that “Mike Smith is ready to be interviewed by you now.”

But I was far too busy fat-necking the free booze and buffet to interview him. I told the PR bird: “I have no intention of interviewing Mike Smith. I would rather stick needles in my eyes, frankly. Now would you kindly PISS OFF?!”

At those launches I did not care much for the sort of soft journalists from TV listings mags and women's periodicals sent to cover showbiz and light entertainment – the hagiography brigade. When each reel of trailers for the new season’s shows had finished playing, that lot used to clap and cheer – pathetic!

I preferred to yawn and sneer at the new shows, and write them up in my ORACLE pages for what they were – garbage, TV for thick people.

I was what the late Pope might call “a sign of contradiction” to all the yes-men and women and showbiz bumsuckers that surrounded me.

And I had some very high up admirers in the TV industry – not least Greg Dyke (a big cheese at ITV at the time) and the beautiful, intelligent and genuine presenter Lorraine Kelly.

P.S.Cheryl Cole’s got herself big hair like a 1970s US Prom Queen. All she’s done is prove what I’ve always suspected - that she’s a fluffhead.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Something profound in the age of digital dizziness

I’m thoroughly jaded by all the dizzy, ditzy digital communication flashing around the world – then along comes an event that's unchanging, dignified and profound …

Yes, voting in elections in this country is so VERY LOW TECH – and all the better for it. Just you, a booth, a bit of paper and a pen. Seemples! I indicated with an X who I want elected to the Death Star that is the Wirral Council (well, everything it touches crumbles and dies).

And then I put an X on the other question, some nonsense about changing the voting system which I, like most people, chose to interpret as this question: Do you approve / not approve of the irritating berk Nick Clegg? Now that’s what I call a no-brainer!

But I really ought to get with the beat, digitally speaking, because I need to set up my own personal website. Why? Well read on …

You see, I’m on this programme with the Brit Writers Awards to publish one of my novels. It’s called ‘The Wearons’ and it’s about extraterrestrials living in Liverpool. When a human being falls in love with one of the shape-shifting aliens all hell breaks out – and the history of the world takes an extraordinary turn. Along the way, lots of laughs and some out-of-the-world philosophy.

I’ve also got a novel nearly completed about office politics, sex, love and magic – called ‘Bad News for Butterflies’.

Then there are the drama scripts I’m working on, one for the Everyman in Liverpool. Well, a man’s got to have a creative outlet; otherwise one might spend all one’s spare time drinking red wine in Hell’s Waiting Room and other saloon bars in New Brighton.

In fact, I am deadly serious about the books and the plays (though I’m concentrating on the books just now).

And of course these days writers MUST have their own website, to promote themselves and their publications. A blog alone won't do.

So that’s what I’m trying to do. I’ve taken the first step, I’ve bought a domain. Now I need to set up my website, but I’m not sure I’m bright enough to do that by myself. I need to blag some help from tech-head friends. So far this help has not exactly landed on my doorstep and I feel confused and daunted by it all.

The fact is, I feel there is WAY too much information flashing around the world digitally – 99 per cent of it rubbish with very little editorial control.

Nonetheless (a very website unfriendly word) I do need to get myself a website.

And no, I won’t be calling it

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Forget TV and Royal Weddings, here's a slice of real life

I was asked to choose a public place or space, observe it and write about it – find the drama in it.

A Wetherspoon’s pub, I thought – refuge of the common man and woman.

I chose the one in Liscard, Wallasey – a place that’s literally at the end of a road to nowhere, on the northern tip of the Wirral Peninsula.

In theory, Spoons pubs should be good everywhere, selling decent ale and wine cheap and with food available from morning to 10pm-ish. In theory …

There is no juke box or piped or live music. Good. No darts board. Good. (Look this is only my opinion …)

And the Wallasey Spoons has attractive ochre and brown carpeting and lots of cosy booths and wood panelling.

But there's something unpleasantly industrialised about this chain of pubs. They’re too big – cavernous barns. The bar staff are usually young, and lacking in character.

And splattered across the walls and all the tables are big, garish menus and drinks posters. This promotional garbage ruins the atmosphere.

Then there are the customers ... I shamelessly listened in to people’s conversations and observed their movements and behaviour (because I’d been asked to, see * at the end) when I called in for a late lunch recently.

I ordered food and a glass wine of and gave the charmless barkeep my table number, as demanded, resisting the impulse to tell her: “I’m a free man not a number!”

I sat down. To my left four men in their fifties and sixties are being lairy. Roars of laughter, coarse cackles – quite cheering at first but it soon starts to grate.

Immediately in front of me, in a beige windcheater and wearing trainers, is an elderly guy sat on his own reading the Liverpool Echo. Reading it like an old person; methodically, page by page, not just flicking through.

In front of me, a couple in their early thirties, out with their baby. An air of sadness hangs over them. They seem to have had an argument. Their baby is placed right on the top of their table in its carrier thingie, surrounded by pint pots and empty crisp packets. Doesn’t seem quite right somehow,

To my right, a trio of local girls (judging by their Scouse-ish accents) yammering away non-stop. “She wouldn’t shurrup about it,” one of them says. “Why didn’t yer come to our party? Why, she kept sayin’. Was it because Jamie was there? F**king hell, I don’t even know who Jamie is. She’s mad, her.”

Behind them three youngish local people, two women and a bloke. With them is an older guy with a southern English estuary accent. He’s loud too. It’s an unattractive accent, in my view, jarring on me, winding me up. Suddenly he’s bellowing into his mobile: “Where are yer, babes? ‘Old up, I’ll cam ovah and see yer. Give us a capple of minutes, I’ll be there. Don’t move.” He makes his excuses and leaves.

My meal arrives – a very industrial curry. The nan bread is floppy, like it’s been microwaved, and the poppadoms, instead of being fried, have been grilled – nasty. The meal comes without the promised mango chutney. “Oh yeah," says the hurried and disinterested waitress. "I’ll get you some. I’ll be back in a minute."

Now a man, possibly mentally ill, has sat down on the table right next to me. He is staring at me and smiling, maybe leering. I don’t like this. I feel uncomfortable.

Then he starts sneezing. Really loud. He’s having a total sneezing jag. Now, I HATE sneezing! Sneezes are right at the top of my list of things that can't be tolerated, alongside wire coathangers and Phillip Schofield.

It’s getting ridiculous. I’m counting his sneezes. Twenty-four so far … twenty-five. Some of his snot must surely have gone onto my curry and into my drink. He’s sitting very close to me.

I can’t bear this any longer. I get up to go, leaving half of my meal and quite a bit of wine. Twenty-nine, thirty, thirty-one! Is he ever gonna stop?

The young women across from me are also leaving the pub, seemingly for the same reason. One of the girls says, “F**king hell, that guy’s sneezing for England.”

* I was asked to go to a public place, observe, and write it up – part of a play writing course I’m on at the Everyman in Liverpool.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Corrie’s 'tribute’ to my crazy place of abode

I wish Coronation Street would get back to what it does best – great character-driven philosophical comedy-drama, rather than the mad storylines of recent months.

The tension between Sally and Kevin is probably the only bit of action anchored in any sort of reality just now.

And Sally, in dissing Kevin so acidly recently, paid a sort of tribute to the marvellous town where I live, New Brighton – once the leading seaside resort in Northern England.

Sally suggested that Kevin move far, far away from her: “Australia, New Zealand - New Brighton would be good!”

If you come from North-West England, as I do, you do get a kick whenever your place of abode is mentioned in Corrie. I have often heard my home town of Wigan mentioned - usually witheringly as a place someone in trouble might run away to. Fair enough.

But until last night’s (Thu 14 Apr) episode, I don’t recall any character ever mentioning New Brighton, which in recent times has been a faded seaside resort perched on the northern tip of the Wirral peninsula. Most definitely on the road to nowhere – except perhaps perdition.

Well, for the past seven years I’ve lived in New Brighton, and I’m glad I chose to do so. The local people are fantastic characters, if a little unhinged.

And the place has a surreal, magic realism feel to it – ideal for me.

Years ago, New Brighton had a pier, a tower taller than Blackpool’s, regular services from the Mersey ferries, and an open air swimming pool that was the biggest in Europe.

Sadly, the features mentioned in the above paragraph are long gone, but there is still a theatre in New Brighton and it was recently rebuilt in spectacular style.

There’s also a Napoleonic fort on the beach. The sands are now very clean indeed. There’s still a funfair and other seaside attractions. And donkey rides have come back, thanks to my friend Tallulah Swells.

But - and this is truly remarkable – there is now underway a simply HUGE redevelopment of the seafront.

In one of the last major civic renewal programmes to be signed off in Britain before the recession struck home, New Brighton is getting – a new swimming pool and leisure complex, a cinema, a hotel, sailing centre for the marine lake, plus new bars and restaurant.

Best of all – and causing rapture in a Natural Born Pie-Eater such as me – we are also getting a new Morrison’s supermarket! (Morrison’s understand pies).

All things considered, New Brighton is way too good a place to banish a cheating little sh*t such as Kevin Webster to. Dump him in Australia, Sally!

But I digress. I hope Corrie returns to doing what it does best. What gives me some cause for hope is the arrival of that fine actress Stephanie Cole, playing the ogress mum of oddball Roy Cropper.

Will her character live up to the very high battleaxe standards Coronation Street has set over the years?

Ena, Blanche, Phyllis, and the one in the wheelchair whose name I have forgotten …

Monday, 7 March 2011

Brian Cox and science for thickies

“Nothing happens, and it goes on not happening forever.” A description of multi-channel television in the digital age?

No. Just one of the many bland phrases trotted out buy Professor Brian Cox in his new vehicle Wonders of the Universe (BBC2 Sunday).

Here’s another of his glib phrases … “We are the cosmos made conscious.” We being humanity, apparently.

This is a most clichéd documentary from the pop musician turned academic. I expected clichés, of course, as this is television, and television does nothing very well, and it uses words atrociously because it is obsessed with moving images.

I also expected clichés because the title of the series is itself a Big Fat Boring Cliché.

And while I’m on one, this is supposedly a programme about the ”wonders of the universe” so come on, show us those wonders!Hmmm.

Can’t do that, can you, telly wallies? Coz you haven’ really been out to explore the universe yet, let alone film it.

So what did they offer us instead? Loads of shots of Cox smiling winsomely and modelling anoraks etc in deserts, snowy wastelands and mountainsides as he tries to make sense of the vastness of … everything out of his reach.

Doesn’t really work, guys, I’m afraid …

Cox did try to explore the important issues, such as the arrow of time and entropy, but did he really have to build sandcastles in the desert to illustrate that? Of course not! This is science for dummies. It’s television.

Almost everything television touches it makes moronic. TV is no good at news, at drama, at art, at science.

And Cox’s idea of explaining the vastness of the universe is simply to keep repeating “billion, billion, billion, billion” etc. Or, on occasions, “trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion”. All right Brian, WE GET IT! No need to crap on so.

Ultimately, Cox explained, “the entire cosmos will die.” Indeed, he told us that is written into the laws of physics. It might sound a bit depressing, he suggested.

You’re not wrong there, Brian.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

'One of these nights ...'

Long drive home after arduous day at work. Arrival at my unspeakably messy flat in New Brighton. I needed a drink. Badly.

So I went across the road to Tallulah's bar, nice and quiet. Good. Large red wine, please. I was in a reflective mood.

But my meditations were drifting into sadness so I decided to do the crossword in my newspaper as a distraction. Tallulah's has very subdued lighting which changes colour slowly so reading the clues was difficult.

One clue particularly I was stuck on ... 12 down, "tilted window". Whatever could that be? I thought of "skylight", "louvered", even "Velux" but none of them fitted. So I pressed on with the rest of the clues.

My next glass of wine was in Hell's Waiting Room, which has better lighting. Still I couldn't find a solution to the clue "tilted window".

I stared and stared at it. Then I realised, my eyesight not being as good as it was, I had misread the clue ... 12 down "titled widow" is what it actually said. Straightaway I got the right word - "Dowager" and then went on to complete the whole puzzle.

The pub was quiet, but I didn't really want company at that point, so it was OK.

I started to mull over my so-called life - bit of a mistake that was.

I am solvent, just about; I am employed and not by a branch of the State (quite rare for a Merseyside resident); and I have known the love of three good women in my life so far ... one of those women being exceptional, extraordinary.

That's more than many men can claim. To know love is one of the things that makes a person truly human; to have lost love also does that, but not in a happy way. Sometimes we lose love and then find it again, which gives cause for hope.

Such thoughts were playing in my head as I drank red wine by myself on an empty stomach in Hell's Waiting Room last night - instead of going home for my supper like a sensible northern Englishman.

I left the pub briefly and went for a walk around the streets of central New Brighton. That didn't improve my mood. These are classic boulevards of broken dreams - for me, and for countless others.

Back to the pub, a third glass of red wine. I chatted briefly to Geoff, the nice ex-Army southerner, who invited me and to join him and his chum on a visit to nearby Peggy Gadfly's pub. I politely declined. I was not in the right frame of mind for a proper drinking session.

So I stayed in Hell's Waiting Room, calm but subdued, and wondered if I should join my pal Harry O'Potter at a pub up the road, just for a swift nightcap after the match. He'd gone there to watch the Gunners beat Barca. But I didn't really fancy the walk up the hill to where he was.

Then I started to text various friends in New Brighton to get them to come and join me at Hell's Waiting Room. The trouble is the pub is in a cool spot for mobile reception, so despite several attempts I just couldn't get the text messages sent.

No matter, I went home about 10.30pm, I think. It was too late for a proper supper so I just had tea and toast and watched an old episode of the sitcom "Not Going Out" on Dave. That cheered me up a bit. I stayed up for "Family Guy" but BBC3 were showing episodes they had shown only a few nights previously. I wish they wouldn't do that; it is unforgivably lazy scheduling.

Feeling not too bad, I went to bed at 11.50pm, said three Hail Mary's for causes dear to my heart, asked God and my Guardian Angel to look after me in any difficult times ahead, then I slept the sleep of the just...

... because I know, to use the words of Tupac Shakur, "God ain't finished with me yet."