Monday, December 26, 2005

A list of favourites for 2005

Book of 2005: Nick Hornby's "A Long Way Down".
Hornby at his finest, without a doubt. A tale of human ineptidude and depression. Written like nobody else does. Or could.
Song of 2005: Gwen Stefani, "Hollaback Girl".
6 months on, and I'm not tired of it yet. Tacky genius. Still genius though.
Album of 2005: Depeche Mode, "Playing The Angel".
Dickhead of 2005: Pete Doherty, and with him the hordes of British press who -as per usual- managed a u-turn. From saint to sinner, whereas he'd simply always been a tosser.
Club of 2005: Club Bohemia, Islington, London.
I stumbled into it as I played a gig there with My Marilyn. Amazing place. I just hope it doesn't get too popular. It's still at its "best-kept-secret" kind of stage.
TV programme of 2005: Lost, Channel 4.
Years and years since it'd gotten all obsessed with a TV-series. It really is gripping. Tough for those who missed it cos it's gone to far too pick it up now!!!
Comedy of 2005: Extras, BBC2.
10/10. Dead-pan humour, cringeworthy to the extreme and very very funny. Ricky Gervais can wag the fingers to "that difficult second album". Second best: Worst Week of My Life. It makes you feel lucky...
Film of 2005: The Assassination of Richard Nixon.
Sean Penn deserves an Oscar. Absolutely outstanding. A grim tale of realism like you wouldn't think they'd still make in the 21st Century. In Hollywood. And in the US.
Actor of 2005: David Tennant.
Blackpool, Casanova, Secret Smiles and Dr Who. And that's just for starters.
Overrated band of 2005: Kaiser Chiefs.
They won't last. Just wait and see. There's only as many songs you can write with a crescendo of Ooooooooooooooooooh Ooooooooooooooooooooh Ooooooooooooooooh.
Underrated band of 2005: The Tears.
I thought that Bernard Butler and Brett Anderson came back in fine style. Obviously the press aren't ready. They need at least 15 years for their usual "revival" binge. And the 90s wait next in the queue.
Gig of 2005: Live 8.
Like it or not, it was massive. If only "The Chosen Ones" Bono and Geldof weren't so saint-like...
(Bad) event of the year: The London bombings (for the UK).
It tastes even worse when it hits home. Literally.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Tie the knot for Elton John

Give Caesar what's Caesar's, the old saying decrees. Normally the run-up to Christmas is stacked with vacuum jollity formulas. This time, though, we approach the festive season in the knowledge that this government (for once) deserves its credit for making the UK a fairer place.

This week the Gay Partnership Scheme comes into effect in Great Britain and Northern Ireland with thousands of civil ceremonies. After decades of struggle, at last, same-sex couples will enjoy the same rights for matters of inheritance, pensions provision, life assurance and maintenance where children are involved. The Scheme also provides next of kin rights for couples, such as in their dealings with hospitals.

Lots of organisations, what I refer to as "the religious freaks", continue to oppose the Bill as they preach their sheer hatred for homosexuality in the abstract name of God, whatever happened to christian compassion. Yet, praise goes to Rabbis with the Liberal Jewish tradition as they have publicly said they will conduct services for gay couples.

One thing for sure. Today those dark, seemingly interminable, days of Section 28, Norman Tebbit and Margaret Thatcher seem a touch more distant. We won't hold a candle for them.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Say no!

You’d normally think of people in poverty being single mums on council estates or a rented bed sit.

It’s a textbook case for the definition of stereotype. Department of Work and Pensions figures for 2005 clearly demonstrate how the largest category of people in poverty is that of homeowners, especially young first-time buyers.

The entire lending system in this country is going mad. People are offered credit cards after credit cards and loans after loans as they’re already in debt, while a new phenomenon is also setting in: the first generation of student loans zombies. Cue a dysfunctional housing system and we’re in for an explosive combination.

Official figures have shown that mortgage repossession orders during the past three months in England and Wales are skyrocketing: up 66% on a year ago! The figures show the total number of homeowners being taken to court by lenders pursuing mortgage debt rose 55% to nearly 30,000. That really is an appalling lot of people and it should make the news headlines. Except that the poor little sods called bank shareholders wouldn't be so happy about it.

Now according to some, blaming the lenders or the government is a lame exercise: people must take responsibility for their own actions rather than blame others and learn how to say no when the 14th credit card or umpteenth loan is being offered to you by an overenthusiastic Trish over the phone. Easily said, more so if you’re the “loaded” type. But how can you say no when you've gotta make ends meet and your mortgage or rent absorb all of your income?

There was a time when renting a council property was not considered the trampy plunge of today. Yet with the old Tory wish now fully into shape and social housing literally an under-funded, clogged up, and decaying last-resort, what are the other options?

The above-mentioned inflated private rents or living with parents before finding a place on the much touted property ladder. After all, isn’t it all so glamorous, with a Sarah Beeny here and a Phil Spencer there? Property Ladders and Location Locations? So, with mortgages being dished out left-right-and-centre, people enter the misleading path of their dream: “owning an asset”. Nevermind they may not be able to afford it, at worst, or may have no disposable income left, at best. And in the meantime banks and lenders make the fattest fortunes.

This government has preferred to encourage individuals to borrow instead, to fuel consumer spending and the economy. As the consumer credit levels reach their maximum, the harsh reality of this error is starting to show the cracks.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Depeche Mode, Playing the Angel


From Basildon to the world

Funny how tides turn. Twelve months, and from being the most mocked and ridiculed decade of all, the 80s have risen to perennial source of inspiration. Everybody from Girls Aloud and Gwen Stefani to The Bravery, The Killers et al., are drawing fashion tips, leggings, drum clips and stage posture from the era of new romantics and Rubik’s cube. One wonders whether this revivalist hangover may have hauled Depeche Mode out of early retirement and solo projects. Wouldn’t it be great if the former boys from Basildon gave it one more go to show The Bravery& co. how it should be done?

Their last few outings had been increasingly guitar-based, a fine display of scratchy electro rock-ism, with the entire Songs of Faith and Devotion and Ultra popping up by right in everybody’s best-of-the-90s list. This time, Playing the Angel is superb, vintage-Depeche Mode. More Depeche Mode than they’d ever been. Martin Gore, Dave Gahan and Andy Fletcher rummage through their formative years to settle a few scores. Side-A could easily be the best part of a “I Heart the 80s” compilation, except more mature, clipped, with robotic, dark disco grooves and infectious melodies. Gahan sounds more inspired than ever, the way he uses his vocals stretch to new territories as he nails down killer hook after killer hook. “John the Revelator” is simply addictive. A second go at the theme of “Blasphemous Rumours”, only this time they expose jihadism: “By claiming God - As his holy right - He’s stealing a God - From the Israelites – Stealing a God - From the Muslim too”. One can only hope they won’t have to do a Salman Rushdie and live in hiding for the next 10 years. “A Pain That I’m Used To”, “Suffer Well” and single “Precious” also inhabit groove-a-rama, shedding light to where Nine Inch Nails started while showing Killers and Bravery a lesson or two. If club-DJs meant business then you’d have shaken your botty to their beat on a dancefloor already. A haunting quality characterises the second part of the album with a nod or two at Bowie’s Berlin years, “V-2 Schneider” and all that wonderfully inspired icy business. Just check out “Damaged People”, for instance and you get why Depeche Mode doing a Bowie is refined grub.

Count how many bands can claim this level of magnitude in their third decade. Forget “Enjoy the Silence” and “Personal Jesus” for once; Depeche Mode are happening now.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The case of wine descriptions

I've always thought that most wine description are just extremely annoying. Muscular wines, feminine wines, cheeky wines, full of characters and zippy freshness. An exercise in idiocy.

This is what they write on the Oddbins price list for Winter 2005 to promote a Bonny Doon 'Cardinal Zin' 2003:

"Imagine running through a jungle, bare chested, taking a massive handful of ripe, juicy forest berry fruits and stuffing them all at once into your mouth, feel the sticky juices running down your arms and face, the berry pulp sliding sensually down your chest and the explosion of flavour in your mouth. Got it? Buy it".

And then check this one out: an Argentinian Tempranillo: "Aromas of forest fruit make way for hints of coffee and tobacco. The palate is medium bodied fresh and funky with red currant and cherry flavours plus touches of crunchy herbs and earth on the finish".

A wine that tastes of coffee, tobacco, currant, cherry, herbs and earth? As if. Enjoy.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Miserable staff

Sunday openings, pathetic holiday allowances, abuse from customers and demanding bosses are hardly gonna create a motivated and customer-focused workforce.

Today, UK papers report the findings of a recent survey: it is now official that UK shop workers are the sulkiest, most unhelpful and least courteous of all species.

Anybody with enough sensibility to get off their moral (or social) high horse or unlucky enough to take up a job in "customer care" (pushing till buttons, call centre person, shop assistant, bar person etc), would easily understand the motivations behind such a vulgar picture.

Amongst EU countries, the pressure shop workers are under in the UK is unique. Sunday and bank holiday (remember them?) openings, pathetic holiday allowances, abuse from customers and bosses hawking over any visit to the loo are hardly gonna create a motivated and customer-focused workforce.

An army of young shop assistants watch over as managers fatten their salaries on a monthly basis and the gap between meagre minimum wage and bosses' bonuses widen. Soaring profits are the imperative and the short term way to achieve them is a stripped down workforce slogging over increasingly long hours. It's hardly a surprise when business hours extend as quick as lunch breaks shrink, yet dysfunctional rotas and more time at work only mean bad decisions and reduction in quality.

Unionisation amongst shop workers is practically non-existent and the mantra that "the customer is always right" is none other than a one-fold weapon against underpaid and unmotivated shop staff. Not very often, in fact, you'll find high maintenance customers directing their moans against management and mid-management as an overworked teenage girl handling a till with a queue of 14 customers huffing and puffing is far too easy a target for customer complaints.

The next time you find yourself being so vociferous against a lone barman rushing off his feet as he pours pints against the clock or you patronise a shop assistant with an odious "cheer up mate" think twice. You may have been fortunate enough to avoid work on the wrong side of "customer services".

Monday, November 21, 2005

Eat like you speak (part 2)

Still wondering what the hell music reviewers are on about? See if this sheds any light:

[…]Vauxhall swapped the lumpen rockabilly glam of Your Arsenal for a dreamlike album of eerie Morphean textures suffused with a Chatterton-like half-spirit of jubilant exhaustion.
(Andrew Male on Mojo, June 2004)

But keep an open mind, cleanse your aural palette with a David Gray/James Blunt sorbet and you just might find your self going ga-ga for douchebag rock.
(Craig McLean, album review on The Word, November 2005)

Tracing the vector that commenced with 2002’s Intelligence And Sacrifice, Futurist further strips away the armour-plated junglism of Empire’s 90s output in favour of dense metallic punk embellished with Nic Endo’s digital percussion.
(Louis Pattison, new albums reviews, Uncut June 2005)

Like an artificially grown crystal, every Autechre track has a unique molecular arrangement determining its overall shape, density and degree of rigidity. Underpinning pulses of hip hop and breakbeats, even electronic clubs are pummelled in brutal stress-tests. The duo tax the syntax of musical language.
(Rob Young, new albums reviews, Uncut June 2005)

Hanging out more with people may be a solution...

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Recruitment campaign for free

The more White House and Pentagon deny allegations, the more it’s a sign that the truth is coming to light.

In 2004 they frantically denied charges of torturing Iraqi prisoners only for TV channels to be inundated of unmistakeable evidence to the contrary. Last spring, Newsweek was threatened with libel actions for reporting about American soldiers soiling religious books and being blasphemous towards symbols of Islam. Two weeks later US Army top cadres hummed and hawed before conceding that it was true- some of their troops had been peeing over copies of the Quran. Cue last week's international hoo-ha over a dossier concerning the US Army's deployment of white phosphorous (a lethal chemical weapon) in Iraq.

Mess notwithstanding, the American papers had their lips collectively sealed while their British colleagues didn't fare much better: it took them days to announce the news and still nipped it in the bud pretty much straightaway. Presumably it didn't quite go along with the increasingly clumsy propaganda of a liberated Iraq.

After 48 hours of pathetic denial, in the end the Pentagon came clean and confirmed that they had indeed used white phosphorous in the battle of Falluja. Never had the trite notion of clamping down on Saddam’s chemical weapons seemed a less likely justification for war. Fair enough, many were in good faith as they backed the war. Yet what else is needed for them to register how na├»ve (at best) their stance has been along? What do you expect when an administration like Bush’s is left to deal with a task like that?

As Iraq shows no sign of stabilising and US soldiers piss on the Quran, torture prisoners and cluelessly preside over the slaughter of tens of thousands of civilians, we can only sigh at the simultaneous thought of Al-Quaeda toasting over the most successful recruitment campaign of their history. And they didn't even have to spend a penny on it.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Turnstiles that make them hostile

Time for UEFA to ban Turkish teams?

The deeds of British hooliganism from the 1970s up until Euro2000 are well documented. It's a sad fact that Brits become socially inept when in the throes of alcohol, and in as much as it’s typical of ‘geezer-culture’ to cowardly play down the disgrace that hooliganism represents (and how much it lets down the perception of the country abroad), this time the complaint about double standards isn't far-fetched.

On Wednesday night Istanbul was the venue of World Cup play-off Turkey-Switzerland. Turkey lost and the appalling scenes at the end of the match have been shown all around the world with players, stewards and supporters alike embarking upon a depressing free-for-all of violence.

Now, the 1985 Heysel tragedy is etched in my brain as little short of a childhood trauma. I was only a kid infatuated with football and as I tuned in to watch Juventus vs Liverpool, the European Cup Final, it suddenly clicked that people can get murdered because of football. On that occasion, English teams were deservedly handed a five-years ban and it’s about time -and only fair- that Turkey now receive similar treatment. Yet the leniency that the Turkish FA has encountered over the years, blind eye after blind eye, would suggest that UEFA may be run by a bunch of cyclopes.

Every time Turkey is host to an international match, the levels of intimidation on and off the pitch reach obnoxious heights.

Three examples spring to mind. A number of Italian shops in Turkey were attacked or burnt down as Juventus travelled to play Galatasary in the 1998 Champions League. And who doesn’t remember the death of two Leeds supporters in Istanbul in April 2000, or the incidents following England playing in Turkey in 2004?

While Swiss players were hospitalised following last Wednesday’s clashes, this is what a Turkish player, Hamit Altintop, was reported as saying to the press: “You need to know we have a very different mentality. We are more emotional when we lose. We cannot lose". How very true, how very sad.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Eat like you speak (or write)

You may hold the belief that music reviews are intended to help you out in your quest for a decent CD. Think again. Take a look at this selection:

Dave Allen’s bass lines crammed into airless pockets, Andy Gill’s guitar spewing slate-grey fireworks. During ‘Ether’, [Jon King] drops to the floor and crawls around like a bug – a clown loose in the Politburo.
(Louis Pattison, gig review, Uncut Dec 2005)

Their fractured chamber-folk dotted with freakish Pentecostal choirals and bursts of hectic rock-skronk.
(Louis Pattison, album review, Uncut Dec 2005)

‘The Pink Ink’ charges along like a caffeine-chugging Half Man Half Biscuit, Chapple’s squawked, comi-cryptic lyrics shadowed by ragged back-room serenades.
(Louis Pattison, album reviews, Uncut Dec 2005)

This year’s full Howling Hex LP All Night Fox, found ex-Royal Trux man Neil Hagerty on stellar form, asphalting rolling highways of Beefheartian avant-boogie that concealed motorik and funk beneath a bristly Hicksville exterior.
(Louis Pattison, album reviews, Uncut Dec 2005)

The delightfully lackadaisical sisters follow it with a second French-language release of what should term their anti-career. Accompanied by Arcasian-sounding accordions, banjos and fiddles, their warm harmonies, beguiling melodies and front-parlour informality still sound magnificent.
(Nigel Williamson, album reviews, Uncut Mar 2005)

More of those abstruse gems each week!

The repeat of La Haine

The usual litany of blaming “the government” and lack of infrastructures is all too easy. The ongoing riots in France are the bleak reminder of what happens two or three generations down the line after mass-importing cheap labour. And it’s not at all just a French problem. The 2001 riots in Bradford and Oldham, as well as the recent mayhem in Birmingham stem from the same mistake made in the Fifties and Sixties that involved cheap-labour based solutions to the problems of ailing industry.

Importing masses of people who only came for the money leads to entire generations (often millions) of people who wouldn’t care less about assimilating let alone liking their host society. Couple it with physiological levels of ignorance and racism and it becomes a recipe for trouble. When the economic-boom fades, the jobs go and the children of the original immigrants cannot get (decent) work, the mess we’ve seen in the banlieu of Paris follows.

Many politicians would tell you that today's globalised economy makes such course of action inevitable, but it's false. Countries like Canada or Australia have long adopted a much more sensible attitude. Those who wish to come in must demonstrate they possess a skill that is specifically needed and that it so in specific fields. Also, financial and investing criteria are extremely strict.

The result is that those who are prepared to go through the hassle and scrutiny of the admission process are not only the most genuine aspirers but also the true lovers and admirers of their place of destination. The economic justifications for mass-immigration are at best meagre. Industries that need cheap labour to survive should just follow the natural course of the market and wither if they cannot adapt to the labour market that already exists. Solving problems with mass immigration may seem the thing to do in the short term but later on become a recipe for disaster.

Friday, October 28, 2005

I predict another riot

Why scrapping faith schools funding could help social cohesion.

I always slag him off, but this time Tony Blair did well to firmly condemn the hideous remarks of the Iranian President. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a godsend to the American neo-cons. By saying stuff like "Israel should be wiped off the map" the creep is simply giving ammunition to his reciprocals the other side of the world.

On to another note (but not far off), the Birmingham riots of the last few days are a sad reminder of how increasingly segregated society is getting. 7/7 made matters worse, and if you were left in any doubt just take a look at some of the leaflets that are circulating around Birmingham these days (i.e. the appalling "islamic jihad against the blacks").

Racial relations are deteriorating. You'd think a responsible government would then try and promote schools where from day one all kids get together irrespective of religion or race. Wrong. In its new White Paper on education, the government introduces the expansion of faith schools.

But multi-culturalism interpreted as a licence to ghettoise simply encourages further divisions along religious and ethnic patterns, exactly the opposite of what is needed. Instead of backing what is effectively more religious segregation by law, the government should promote interaction amongst kids from all backgrounds. Faith schools should be abolished.

Drink but don't smoke

Now work this one out. While it introduces 24-hour drinking, the government is embarking upon an anti-smoking crusade that gets England in line with recent bans in Ireland and Scotland.

On one side, a prescriptive prohibition: smoking is bad for your health and for the public in general so "don't do it!", the law slams. On the other hand, if people are drinking more and more (with health as well as public order issues on the table) the solution is one that will let the leary ones booze around the clock.

One wonders what exactly is wrong with having both smoking and non-smoking area in pubs. Wouldn't that be the most balanced solution, one that takes into account both sides of the argument? In the meantime you're left with the most puzzling comparison between such heavy-handed approach and the new idiotic drinking laws...

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Hangover from power- A review of David Blunkett, A Very Social Secretary

This is a country where the Prime Minister gets re-elected in spite of lying to go to war, while a member of his Cabinet loses his job because of an affair.

Those in a position of power like to suggest that we live in a democracy where there’s freedom to voice opinions. It is part of the unwritten rules of human interaction. And yet you think for a minute and the word “bollocks” spring to mind.

Most of the British population remain against the Iraq war in some form or other. Nevertheless, neither the press nor the balance of power at Westminster are reflective of the country’s views, given that two parties out of three (and three-quarters of MPs) voted pro-war. The same applies to tuition fees or privatisations. A study found that 60% of the UK population would favour renationalising British Rail (which, incidentally, given the hideous subsidies that private rail operators have been enjoying, would save the tax payer £80 million ). Yet, aside from a handful of maverick MPs, to expect a parliamentary majority to favour anything like it is wishful thinking.

There is an immense list of issues where British citizens aren't represented. Even when the high-ranks of the BBC are in attrition with this control freak of a Prime Minister they end up losing their job (i.e. Greg Dyke over the Andrew Gilligan scandal). The result is a media class that prefers focusing on trivialities.

It is in this frame of mind that many may have approached the film David Blunkett, A Very Social Secretary, one of the jewels in the crown of More4 manic promotional campaign. At last a chance – you’d think- to watch one of the most arrogant and powerful politicians being lambasted on TV. At the very least you’d expect Blunkett’s lawyers to be up in arms, given how focused the comedy is on his life’s most cringeworthy aspects.

The former Home Secretary’s very own personality, love-life and social skills are thorn to pieces in front of a potentially huge audience. Ridicule is there aplenty, along with the depiction of the hypocrisy and brutality of Downing Street’s media machine. And yes, as you watch A Very Social Secretary you almost feel a hint of guilt for holding the view that you live in a country where democracy and transparency are viewed with contempt.

And yet…And yet…you may want to reconsider. How much Blunkett is just a pawn within no.10’s obsession for manipulation is evident as the film goes on: there he is, the blind, common man, used and championed for his bit-of-rough qualities when he’s needed yet ruthlessly ditched as soon as his sexual antics threaten to corrupt Tony Blair’s self-righteous bliss. There's no doubt left about who's the easy target and who's the one that really matters.

So perhaps when critics suggest that if David Blunkett is to be attacked it should be so for policy reasons -and not about how amusing the idea of a blind person having sex is- they’re a little ingenuous. In a country where the Prime Minister gets re-elected in spite of waging war based on a pack of lies while a member of his Cabinet loses his job because of an affair, I’m afraid A Very Social Secretary is as far as the slate will be allowed to stretch. Let’s cherish the rare opportunity...

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Desperate for an "X-Factor"

Someone has decided on your behalf that the artistic and individual development of bands and singers is so not 21st century.

I had the misfortune to watch bits of ITV's X-Factor in the last couple of weeks and it’s even more depressing than I thought. Not even my lowest expectations were prepared to find it so misrepresentative of the type of people who are actually interested in “doing” music in this country.

Aside from the fact that the contestants are not allowed to introduce their own material, the overly hammed up production of the auditions makes you rummage around for a bucket nearby. Songwriting skills? Different genres? Erm...What are they... The producers will probably patronise you by saying that the public will find it too complex, nevermind the fact that nowadays under the guise of “rock” music you can push extremely accessible and commercial products (think Gwen Stefani, Pink, The Killers and many others).

No-one’s suggesting a context that involves experimental 23 minutes progressive rock or pipes from the Andes. But the fact remains that the X-Factor' s minimum common denominator is as trite as follows:

- If you’re a white male you’ll be a Ronan Keating/Gareth Gates/Rick Astley replica, rugged boyband look, gel in your hair, TopMan casual clothes and the most inoffensive disposition;
- If you’re a black male you’ll be a bland Lemar/Craig David type with the usual mock-soulful vibrato singing style. Also obviously attired with a nod to TopMan casual section;
- If you’re a white female you’ll adopt a bit of a Britney Spears stage persona.
- If you’re a black female you’ll instead sing, look and act like a Jamelia.

It truly is as tame as it sounds.

Simon Cowell, and the money-making circus behind X-Factor and his sister programmes wouldn’t care less about investing in new talents. Not one dime. A hit-single on the trail of their incessantly promoted TV-circus is what they’re after and sure they’ll get it in no time at all. The zillions spent on marketing the X-Factor must reap a quick profit. Someone has decided on your behalf that the artistic and individual development of bands and singers is so not 21st century.

The author Anthony Sampson once wrote that “television [has been] trivialised by a new profession of ‘celebs’ who were famous for being famous rather than for real achievements”. There you are.

The rise and rise of David Cameron

Some commentators argue that the pendulum is swinging again as, for the first time in years, the Conservative Party is managing to attract some serious media attention.

But scratch beneath the surface and you find that the swing is merely apparent. The media and the financial powers of the UK have decided that the likeable David Cameron would do.

He’s as bland as the pre-97 Tony Blair and, personally, he has no specific policy whatsoever. His modernising credentials for the Tories are purely presentational and who can blame him, given that with today’s bullying media you’d rather be a David Blunkett (at least you’re guaranteed a film) than to look and sound like Ian Duncan Smith. Aside from the sickening spins and lies coming from Alistair Cambell, Tony Blair’s pact with Rupert Murdoch, allowing him to extend his commercial grip in return for his political support (i.e. The Sun), is a prime example.

Sure, Cameron looks certainly less intimidating than the hardliners David Davis or Liam Fox, but what policies will go through under his government? Much the same as what happened under Blair: expect earpiece-instructions from the City, more inconsequential privatisations, a skip and a hop at the Americans' order and even further stifling of social mobility. A study from the Higher Education Funding Council found that in the 21st century you’re more likely to remain within your parents’ income brackets than you were in 1970. Has Cameron got any specific agenda to revert the trend?

The only lesson the *real* establishment of this country has learnt since the conflicting days of Margaret Thatcher is the importance of dressing up a right-wing agenda. Hence the need for a humane, persuasive, evangelical prime minister. Simply look at Cameron’s speech: “We should be attractive, compassionate, relevant and modern”.

Wow…would you disagree with that? Which politician would want to be unattractive, ruthless, irrelevant and old-fashioned? And more: “We should be well-balanced and improve the quality of life not just for the few, but for the many”. Oh dear me…Blair may be feeling as if he was taking a look in the mirror. Given the premises, his lapdogs may be getting in panic mode soon.

All you can expect is more attempts to smear Cameron’s alleged party-animal-past. The only detail that would probably make him more interesting.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Pink is the thread

A review of Broken Flowers

2003’s Lost in Translation captivated critics and reviewers alike with its paced soul-searching while many others -can you blame them- found it dull and directionless. Even though Jim Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers is almost as sluggish, at least to great degree it shuns the emotional snobbery of Lost in Translation. The comparison between the two films is nonetheless inevitable, not least for Bill Murray starring again as a similarly detached, phlegmatic and introverted middle-aged character.

Don Johnston (Murray) is a wealthy, solitary man. Right when his own sentimental choices seem to confine him to perpetual bachelorism, he receives a shock in the form of an anonymous pink letter: for the past 15 years he’s been the oblivious father of a child. With help from his eccentric neighbour Winston (Jeffrey Wright), a detective-story fan, all Don can do is to draw up a clumsy list of ex-girlfriends and follow the pink thread.

Besides a cameo from a rejuvenated Sharon Stone, the search is bound to open more than a can of worms, including ex-girlfriends who make a resolute point of confining the old casanova back to a buried past. The way each character is disclosed a little at a time is possibly one of the best charms of this gentle film, as it is left to the audience to find what may have once been the unlikely bond between Murray and each of his exes. How love can be so passionate and then implode in a forgotten dust of distant grudges is one of life's bitterest ironies.

But it’s the final scrambles that are soaked with meaning. You can almost feel Don's pain and loneliness when the past displays all its elusiveness. The obvious truth is spelt out in all its poignancy: time is merciless, the past has gone and given that no-one’s ever gonna grasp the future, all that’s left is the void of the present.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Taller than a seven-inch stiletto

A review of Kinky Boots

Nevermind the soppy feel-good factor, you can’t help but leave the cinema with both thumbs up after watching this latest addition to the same UK breed that spawned Brassed Off, The Full Monty and a few others. Although the suspicion that the troubled prodigal son will come up with something heroic is there from the start, the Northampton-based storyline makes up for pleasant entertainment.

Kinky Boots is about an unlikely hero, Charlie Price (Joel Edgerton), who unexpectedly inherits a family shoe-factory with a proud tradition but about to go bust nonetheless.

The background is grimly realistic, given that for the last twenty years UK manufacturing has been facing intense clobbering from cheaper imports. Amongst a fanfare of drama and cross-sex antics, the only way to salvage fifteen jobs and a man's dreams turns out to be the search for a niche market. And what a niche market it is: Charlie stumbles upon drag queen Lola (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and here’s where the story takes off. With a backdrop soaked with homophobic prejudice and provincial mentality (“this is not London”, Charlie often chastises his new cross-dressing ally- oh Midlands, so much to answer for…), Lola comes forth as the last glimpse of hope: a self-appointed footwear designer on a painfully emotional mission to show what makes indeed a real man.

Sexy heels for transvestites - and a modern fairy tale that takes you from Northampton to Milan’s fashion shows via Soho dingy cabaret clubs - become the key to avoid redundancy and emotional disaster. Add an evil, unsympathetic and self-centred girlfriend to the recipe and Kinky Boots makes for a potential hit at the box office. Edgerton and Ejiofor are superb in their respective roles that sees them both juggling with family pressure and society conventions.

It is refreshing to see for once our UK screens not portraying the safe yet clown-esque parody of gayness that too often makes up for cheap entertainment (think the abysmal Queer Eye for The Straight Guy). Kinky Boots has some grit in it, showing that there’s more to it than a seven-inch stiletto and at times it even manages to convey the cruelty and aggravation that homosexuals still have to put up with in this country. Only last week, Clapham Common’s shocking homophobic murder of Jody Dobrowski was a bleak reminder of a real world that is still behind in spite of entertainment chimps a-la “Nadia from Big Brother”.

Full marks to Kinky Boots.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Watch That Man, Australia

Stop John Howard and the sinister WorkChoices

Few would normally think of Australia in political terms. It’s the country of cricket (for those who can stomach it), beautiful nature, kangaroos and walkabouts, Kylie’s songs and Neighbours plots, Natalie Imbruglia’s looks and INXS, and the list goes on.

This time a boomerang hits downunder as a far more sinister name grabs the headlines: John Howard. It is with preoccupation that we watch their ultra neo-conservative Prime Minister conjuring up a fast-track return to the 19th century days of no worker protection, illegal unionisation and the creepy mantra of “take the job or take the sack”. Will it happen here next? Maybe with the neo-cons in the US paving the way for the Tories of the future?

Note the manipulative spin of John Howard’s “WorkChoices” legislation. He’s spending $100m (yes, you read correctly, a hundred million) of taxpayers’ money to back a massive advertising campaign saying that it will be good and it will be fair. But if Australians believe him at the next elections in 2007 then they’ll only have themselves to blame.

Because in actual facts Australian workers will have bugger all to choose as their employers will engage on a downward race to reduce welfare measures and slim down statutory agreements. Only 5 stipulations will be protected by Government law: annual leave, personal leave, unpaid parental leave, maximum ordinary hours and minimum wage. The rest will be a matter between you and your employer.

Dinner breaks, consecutive hours, pension schemes, redundancy packages, workplace accidents, paid parental leave, public holidays, unfair dismissal, and so forth are all at risk of being wiped out. Workers will have little to no say at all as they negotiate their contracts alone with their boss. Young people in search of first employment will be left to their own device in bargaining with all-powerful companies who will tell them that competition is fierce. And no, don’t think that you may look to your Trade Union for contractual bargaining or support because you’ll be disappointed.

In fact, the Howard government doesn’t stop there: Australian unions are going to be made redundant. Under “WorkChoices” legislation, employers will find it much easier to take court actions against those who strike so if you’re already struggling to pay your bills it’s unlikely you’d take the risk of paying enormous court damages to your employers for a walkout. Any court evidence of commercial damage would bankrupt ordinary workers. Also, unions’ access to the workplace will also be severely restricted and de-registering encouraged.

Yet what does Prime Minister John Howard come up with? “Go to another employer who will pay you better”. Oh yeah, sure. If a company tells you that if you want to work for them then there’ll be no breaks, no paid parental leave, no rules on dismissal, no cap on consecutive hours and no protection of any sort then Howard makes it plain: pack your stuff and look for work elsewhere.

Does this man seriously think that companies will voluntarily surtax themselves to provide benevolent awards to their employees while their competitors don't? What happens if that becomes the norm? What will take place is that bad contracts will become routine, people desperate for work will gradually settle for anything and the exploitation will start all over again, just like it was in the 19th century.

Of course Howard cites the usual plethora of world competitiveness, Australia having to avoid the unemployment route and “unleashing a new burst of productivity growth to secure our future prosperity”. Yet this is by far the most extraordinary attack to workers’ rights in history, taken to a level that not even those business-bashing paladins of unionism, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher had ever dreamt of.

If Australia is going to compete with China, India and low-wage economies then you can be sure that return to Dickensian times will be a disastrous strategy.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

At last! Life beyond Big Brothers!

Lost and the dream of a Casual Employee Academy on TV

The success of television series Lost is consolation for those who had resigned themselves to an entertainment industry increasingly confined to weak storylines, effortless plots, one-fold characters, and more and more dumbness. And that is happening in America, home of the recent success of top-of-the-bland Desperate Housewives and Sex & the City, easy, straightforward fodder to a public that is always presumed undemanding and with an extremely unsophisticated mind.

Lost
is showing instead that we’re not all brain-dead: it is possible to produce extremely commercial television together with some intensity and an astonishing level of character development. That also brings some fresh air to the UK audience. In this country, even the sociologist of Big Brother 1 was deemed too clever and sophisticated and was duly done away with lest the product end up being too boring!

So in a world dominated by Big Brothers, X-Factor, Celebrity Island and the lot branded as “reality-TV” (How about a Temping Idol or Casual Employee Academy…get the audience to decide who gets a permanent contract, so much for “reality-TV”!) you’d wonder how the premise of strangers stuck on a desert island could possibly sustain a weekly series. And yet creators J.J.Abrams and Damon Lindelof came up with an intriguingly textured concept that is proving a bestseller on both sides of the Atlantic.

For the first time in a generation of TV series (Twin Peaks now a distant memory), all characters appear as if they actually hailed from this world instead of having that monotonously superficial out-of-this-world gloss typical of US-generated TV entertainment. This time there’s so much room for subjectivity, so many layers and emotional components that you get right into it from the word go. In Lost it doesn’t matter if Jack & co. originate from Wall Street or Beverly Hills: each single character can barely shake off their deep flaws and insecurities, whether it’s their cryptic past they’re concealing, their inscrutable psyche or childhood fuck-ups.

And the success of Lost is to be attributed to a straightforward factor: we all find ourselves stranded with emotional baggage throwbacks and memories you’re trying to leave behind. You try and find yourself again, it’d be more like crashing into a desert island.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Louder Than Bombs

You arrange a night out for three and one is invariably gonna be left out of the chat. Music has to be played and it has to be played very loud, the imperative seems.

An ordinary Saturday night with friends. A nice conversation, plentiful of silliness and a few drinks. In most UK cities this seemingly simple course of events can bang against insormountable complications. Notably the wall of decibels that most pubs and public places offer on an evening out. No, it isn't my mum writing, or some old bachelor living in a hut in the Orkney Islands. I myself play in a band, regularly blow our PA speakers at rehearsals, and totally endorse club culture (with legitimate preferences, of course). But it's not gigs or nightclubs we're talking about. Clubs are loud, sometimes extremely so by definition but that's why they were there in the first place so if it's a chat you're looking for, then it's you who's picked the wrong setting.

I'm talking about anywhere else in England. The dominant assumption is that friends have absolutely jack to discuss and chat about therefore ultra-loud music is needed to fill the void. I can list tons of places visited in the recent past...bowling alleys where families or mates expect a "fun evening out" as they try and figure out the score by screaming at the other's ears in an attempt to elude the wall of r'n'b blasted out of loudspeakers. Or the time where we picked a pretty-looking-but-not-so-Italian restaurant on a date only to be greeted by an office party complete with DJs and karaoke thwarting any plans for a cosy evening, inflicting their insane decibles to the rest of helplessly silent diners.

Or most shops, whether high street or not, whether it's clothes, shoes or showergel you're after. You start wondering which marketing research ever suggested that a bombardment of run-of-the-mill garage music is the customer's choice of ear-torture as they push their trolley around the thumping aisles.

And then there's the pubs. That really infuriates me. Mimicked and copied in every country, you'd think of English pubs as an intimate venue for people and friends to socialise in front of a few drinks. And yes, background music is by all means welcome. No-one's saying that public places should have the atmosphere of a graveyard. But a comparative look on any bar in Ireland, Scotland or continental Europe would remind you of the contemporary plight of the English pub. The picture is all too familiar: super-mega-loud music, overenthusiastic DJs daydreaming of a slot at an Ibiza nightclub as they inflict their frustrated club-DJ ambitions on a non-existent dancefloor; decibels aplenty and the serious impossibility of a conversation that involves more than strictly two people. You arrange a night out for three and one is invariably gonna be left out of the chat. Music has to be played and it has to be played very loud, the imperative seems.

A couple of years back I seriously damaged my vocal chords because of a work night out. The tormentors were at a late night bar called "Reflex", a naff 80s themed "pub" where half the volume would have been enough to bring about permanent damage to the punters' eardrums and throats. I wish I could express in writing how loud the place was. Music was seriously blasting out, way more than any club I'd been to in my life. So any attempt to human interaction was effectively nipped in the bud, not least because of the fumes of alcohol (which was at least our informed choice), as it would result in incomprehension. Even the most innocent "WHAT-IS-THE-TIME?" would be invariably met by a puzzled face and lip-reading suggesting some kind of "S-O-R-R-Y?" as the frustrated response.
For over 9 months i had serious troubles singing with a voice that was nothing short of hoarse and husky, as the doctors repeated i had strained my vocal chords.

Some people ascribe the loud music frenzy to the imperative of selling more alcohol. The idea is that the less people talk, the more they drink and the more they spend on drinks. The cynic in me is inclined to believe that this is another reflection of the English society dumbing down as one would suggest that the public gets what the public wants. And yet it isn't easy to desert en-masse those appalling megaloud drinking dens. Quiet pubs exist, but in the era of hypercool, DJ-rama and permayoung you have to do some serious groundwork to find them. I'm in search of allies.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Do they seriously do cocaine in the fashion industry???

Shock. Horror. The tabloids and advertisement industry have discovered that cocaine is used backstage at fashion shows. What will they think of next? Although the quantities of cocaine must have been copious for Kate Moss to decide to hang around with a moron the calibre of Pete Doherty, the word hypocrisy springs to mind as the crucifixtion of what was until the other day 'the' fashion icon goes on incessantly. The day tabloids stop their front-page glorification and giggles at the junkie-antics of the Pete Doherties of this world will never come too soon.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Top-up fees. Forking out £3,000

Chances are that the recruits of the past 8 or 9 years have degrees for jobs that in the past would have simply required apprenticeships, GCSEs or A-Levels.

Right when every analyst insists that this country is getting overridden with "virtual money", loans, credit cards and mortgages, the government insures that extra chunks of citizens begin their working life with a mini-mortgage to buy out their "education".

The actual reasons behind tuition fees rising up to £3,000 are a miserable lie. Blair tells us that "the debt will be a good investment as graduates tend to secure better paid jobs"...Yet he doesn’t tell you that his judgement is deliberately based on the pre-1990s situation.

In fact, if we just consider the intake of graduates of the last 10 to 15 years, the percentage of those who end up earning significantly better decreases dramatically. Unlike 20 years ago, a degree no longer automatically guarantees a better start in working life (with a few exceptions, Oxbridge or a select type of courses).

The notion of getting 50% of people into Higher Education sounds great and, as per usual, Blair ensures it follows a misleading narrative. In her book An Honourable Deception, former Cabinet-member Clare Short explains that, since the 90s, the number of people going to University has consistently increased anyway, making the government’s fuss over the 50% target the more inexplicable.

More pressing, instead, is the quality that comes with it. How many graduates from '97 (the year tuition fees were brought in) onwards have been scrambling through casual jobs, low-pay, call centres and the lot? Just look at where you work. Chances are that the recruits of the past 8 or 9 years have degrees for jobs that in the past would have simply required apprenticeships, GCSEs or A-Levels.

So why is it NOT progressive to say that, given the congested state of University and the sharp devaluation of degrees, an apprenticeship system should be reinvented? And that doesn’t mean to say "we need more plumbers", for god's sake.

Many would rather have less people in Higher Education, provided that the selection was much stricter and based on merit – and not ability to pay- so that University would be truly affordable for those who really deserve a place. As it now stands, ridiculously easy access has turned Universities into degree factories.

It is true that for more people within the lowest income bracket University will now be free. Yet the greatest proportion of students will always come from lower-middle class and middle-class families and the burden on them will be too bad, especially those with more children.

Some people object to the idea of paying tax to finance free higher education: "why should people who don't go to University pay for those middle-class spoilt brats who do?"...

But if that becomes the yardstick of society then where do you draw the line? One may argue that they don't have kids and don’t intend to have any...why should their tax go towards childcare or primary schools? Similarly, those who don’t eat sweets may wonder why they should finance dentists’ bills on behalf of the greedy bastards who do. Or how about non-smokers seeing a chunk of their NHS tax wasted on smokers and related diseases? And you can go on forever. Do you honestly fancy a society that works that way?

Whatever your stance on the subject, given that New Labour so blatantly did the opposite of what they had promised in their 2001 manifesto, the next time Blair comes preaching about people getting disillusioned and apathetic, please do blow a raspberry.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

why this

The idea of having my own blog has been teasing me for a while. So i thought i'd give it a go my HTML ignorance not withstanding. Nevertheless, now i'm gonna need a little while to sort out how to make this look decent. So bear with me. This is a test. After that my verbal diarrohea will swamp the blog. Hasta luego.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Live 8. Do Razorlight give a toss?

Waste of time or amazing success? The biggest concert of 2005 analysed.

Many of those who were too young to figure out exactly what happened with Live Aid twenty years ago presumably sat down, like myself, in front of the telly so that they could soak up its 2005 version Live 8.

I admit the appeal was broadly enhanced by the significance of Pink Floyd reforming, a band that throughout my teens I found extremely fascinating, especially their lyrics and the first 'guitar-hero' i ever understood and fell in love with, David Gilmour.

Anyway, you may have noticed how Live 8 got lambasted left, right and centre. I ask to the hordes of cynics, what harm could the shows possibly do? Ok, the message was very diluted. Geldof cosying up a bit too much to the Blairs of this world was a bit frustrating, to say the least. You may argue no-one was blamed specifically aside from an abstract concept of poverty…Yes, all true. But rock pop acts were never gonna save the world, and I don’t think many would want them to either, certainly not Robbie Williams or Snoopy Dogg.

As a matter of fact, Live 8 put Africa on top of the agenda again. G.W. Bush will no doubt shrug it off, Blair will always have a good word for everything while doing nothing about it, but at least the issue will not go away without a fight. And I’m afraid that could only happen through the means of a huge pop concert, and a fairly indefinite and de-politicised message. But consider the alternative, for a minute. The usual G8 that sees most of the world in oblivion, presumably in the belief that G8 is some sort of boy band that reform each year…Or perhaps the usual handful of anarchists and idealists clashing with heavy handed police and no-one else would ever care and good bye, see you at the next G8.

One thing though. Throughout Live8 I hoped in vain for Bob Geldof and the others to mention least ONCE the urgent need for our countries to STOP selling weapons to Third World regimes. It would have been such a strong, distinct message. Yet no-one had the balls to denounce the arm-trade scandal, a business that is always conveniently underplayed as it suits both crooked African dictatorship and our own corrupt and hypocritical Western governments.

Only in 2003 taxpayers money ensured that the “ethical” UK Government could host a very expensive arm-fair in London were lucrative contracts were signed with a number of ruthless dictators from Africa and elsewhere. And then, systematically, we hear reports that those same weapons are used to carry out genocides and breach human rights. But no-one cares, no-one knows and what a chance to make that loud and clear Bob Geldof missed.

I wasn’t expecting the likes of Razorlight or the abysmal Pete Doherty –god help him- to make a stand on the subject, of course as they’re still oblivious to the difference between shit and clay, but until the problem is tackled, and people finally realise who they’re voting in to represent us and carry out that sort of rubbish, then Africa will always remained stifled within poverty, war, dictatorship, repression and famine.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Straight, Boy George

A review of his new autobiography

I've always been a huge admirer of Boy George. Brave, stylish, opinionated and skilful enough to reinvent himself a few times. Yet this time you can't help but think that he's hit his own low, Alan Partridge moment.

The first two chapters are none other than tacky self-celebratory huff-and-puff-and-what-a-chore-being-a-celebrity-is. "I'm a celebrity this, i'm a celebrity that". The foreword itself, by his co-author, is actually hilarious. You'd almost expect the book to climax with some orgasmic "of course I'm not Jesus, I'm only Boy George".

Particularly ridiculous is how confused and contradictory Boy George seems this time. "I don't care about money". Two lines later: "I hate DJing for gay clubs, coz they don't like to pay you".

While he's busy lashing out against everything and everyone (and I mean everyone) he's ever come across in his entire life, he even finds time to slag off poor old Peter Tatchell (someone who's probably done more for gay rights in this country than anyone else, chip-on-his-shoulders George should remember) alleging that the guy cares about human rights simply as a cover-up for being a frustrated embittered unhappy human being. Basically, according to Boy George, a happy night out and a shag for Peter Tatchell would do and he'd stop bothering us all with those petty boring things, human rights in Zimbabwe, gay people stoned to death in Jamaica, etc. That's the lowest point of the book, andI guarantee contenders were there aplenty.

Oh and you also find out that Boy George really has it in for George Michael. In a catty, obsessed, bitchy fashion. The issue of how George Michael came out seems to bother him particularly. You'd think Boy George loses sleep over it. Except that after two entire chapters on the subject he concludes, "I don't really care about it". Maybe a return to the charts could do him some good?

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Populistic morphine and the tragedy of 7/7

The psychopathic attacks on London on 7 July 2005 are proving even more depressing as they offered the tragic background for yet another veil of political propaganda. I understand a sacrosanct need to boost morale and show that the country is hanging on, yet the people are being already injected with populistic morphine so that they don’t question much why some creepy psychos are planting bombs under their feet. And –I say this loud and clear- questioning your Prime Minister’s lies doesn’t mean ONE bit harbouring any sympathy for those cowardly freaks who plant indiscriminate bombs on London public transport. Nothing, no cause, no religion, no abstract notion of virgins in heaven can even begin to explain or justify such deliberate atrocities.

That cleared, let’s get to the point.
First off, yes, of course Londoners showed great dignity, resolve and resilience (with the rescue services deserving particular praise). That’s the formula that press and politicians alike are now routinely using when they talk about those bombs. They repeatedly mention The-British-Determination and The-Spirit-of-the-Blitz so that they don’t have to dig one inch further beneath the surface to examine the situation. Erm…didn’t the citizens of New York also react with great determination? The Madrid ones? Wouldn’t they all? Doesn’t human nature prove its altruistic and helpful side in such tragic situations whether it’s America, Europe or Indonesia? So I scratch my head and humbly ask....What exactly would entail reacting to those bombs without dignity and resolve?

I’ve come to the sorry conclusion that in spite of the fanfare surrounding The-Spirit-of the-Blitz and Our-English-Bravery and no-one-would-react-as-well-as-we-did and We-Brits-are-Hard-to-Scare, England really has an incredibly supine attitude to those who really pull the strings.

Because if really there was some serious resolve Prime Minister Tony Blair would be sent home with a resounding kick up his arse and he would be so now.
Since 2002 he’s used the set phrase that “we are going to war in Iraq to increase our national security” amidst millions of people warning him that instead he would bring war scenes into our own home soil. The UK very own intelligence services issued a warning that the threat of terrorism would increase significantly. Nevertheless, the brave English people voted Blair in to push them around for a third term even though the virtual reality he’d created to justify the (multi-billion taxpayers-funded) carnage called Iraq war has long since been unmasked as a shameless pack of lies (WMDs, etc).
With a few, notable exceptions (facing public hanging, like George Galloway), only in the UK a charlatan like Home Secretary Charles Clarke could get away with declaring on Newsnight that the Madrid bombing had no connection with the war in Iraq! Unbelievable. Such a patent manipulation of reality was told on live television, as he spluttered that Spain had not really taken part in the war! And Jeremy Paxman there nodding, no journalist there to point out to Clarke that loads of Spaniards had indeed lost their lives fighting in Iraq and that the motives behind the horrendous Madrid bombings were clear. That didn’t matter, let’s talk about the The-Spirit-of-the-Blitz instead, the ideological glue that needs evoking when it’s most convenient.

Tony Blair outdid them all by insisting that again, the London bombs would have happened anyway irrespective of Iraq, a mantra that he will have to repeat from now on to save his backside. His line of thinking could have come straight from a Kafka novel. Instead it was aired on the Today programme where Blair said (you guessed it, unchallenged) that even Russia, a country which opposed the war, suffers at the hand of Islamic terrorism, omitting to say one little detail, Russia gets terrorist attacks in connection with something totally different, namely its internal politics with Chechnya. Blair obviously knows that he is creating his own virtual reality once again. How can he get away with such bullshit? Well, he got away with it for three consecutive elections. The British people seem placid enough not to mind being repeatedly told drivel. Now in every other democracy such ruling classes would have been pilloried for lying yet AGAIN to the populace coming up with that type of deliberate porkies. They’d seriously have to face up to their own inept lies. In Spain, after the Madrid bombing, their Prime Minister was sent packing with very little ceremony. He’d lied in the face of a bloody tragedy, he’d treated the population as a bunch of idiots and off he goes with the sack…

No, in the UK, the patriotic rhetoric and cheap populism comes first, whether it’s the Queen, Diana’s funeral, the 1966 World Cup, the Olympics-we-do-them-better-then-them-frogs or bombs planted in the heart of London. Don’t question. Don’t ask why. Just mention the broken record of The-Spirit-of the-Blitz and it’ll all go away. No-one (very very few) to say “ok, granted, those terrorists really are a bunch of nutters (and I hope they agonise very soon), but…hold on a second…besides that, didn’t Blair promise us safety?”
No-one saying that never mind it’s four years since September the 11th, our Prime Minister hasn’t got the SLIGHTEST CLUE where the threat is coming from. Are they “homegrown”? Are they not? Are they suicide bombers? Not? How many of them? Will they strike again? Nothing. Not the hint of a clue. The police, bless them, talk about keeping all options open, the translation for “we haven’t got a clue”. Four years ago Blair declared “war against terrorism” and he proceeded to waste a zillion pounds on Iraq, we still don’t quite know why… (because Saddam was a dictator? Sure, and how about Saudi Arabia, Burma, Thailand, Pakistan, North Korea, Zimbabwe, and list goes on ad infinitum?). And in any case, it’s not as if Iraq turned out to be a success for Blair. It is still a big mess where random bombs explode on a daily basis like they did in London on Thursday except that our media have grown accustomed to it.
But that is trivial, isn’t it? Don’t you dare mention that in times like these or they’ll tell you in grandiose biblical terms that “you’re dripping your tongue into a pool of blood”. Go on, British-resolve, now it’s time to seriously show up.

Monday, July 04, 2005

A Long Way Down, Nick Hornby

A review of his fantastic new novel

Nick Hornby’s new novel, A Long Way Down, is his absolute finest yet and that’s considering the fantastic standard of work he’s produced so far. Well, it says it all when the characters of a fiction become your best mates for the entire duration of your read. And when you give up any social life to read more, and more, until you finish! Ok, granted that also implies extreme sadness on the part of the reader (alright, point taken), but also a fantastic prose on behalf of the writer. Nick Hornby flows with no frills, and his books feel as if it was your own soul to speak.

A Long Way Down begins dramatically, with four people randomly bumping into one another on top of a tower block, North London's main suicide spot, on New Year’s Eve.

Martin is a failed breakfast TV presenter, a perma-tanned has-been who's had enough of scandal, failure and meaningless shagging about in the quest of...nobody knows exactly. Maureen is a lonely middle-aged woman in the throes of catholic guilt about her disabled son. Jess is basically a spoilt-brat with deep behavioural problem and a punk-ish look and she's just been dumped for the umpteenth time. JJ is a musician from the US. He's just hit 30 and his band packed it in for good and the prospect of being a pizza man when for years he'd been dreaming of being a rockstar is just too much to bear.

Those characters look like they have nothing in common, and it all may seem light-hearted for a second. Wrong. What follows thereafter is a journey into life, depression, failure and the meaning of everything, with enough depth, wit, humour and intensity to leave you in amazement.

Martin, Maureen, Jess and JJ are likely to turn into your best friends for the entire duration of your reading, each of them hitting well-hidden spots. Hornby is at his best when he blends in ordinariness and colloquialism along with the most comprehensive soul-searching that contemporary literature can offer. It’s as if Hornby and his characters manage to articulate what you’ve always wanted but never quite managed to talk about.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

About this site

- What is "Hagley Road to Ladywood"?

Hagley Road to Ladywood was originally a song written in 2004 by a now defunct independent Birmingham band. It was intended as a tribute to the city and, in particular, the Ladywood/Five Ways/Spring Hill area- basically along the no.8 bus route. The song title inspired this blog.

The initial intention was to have a Birmingham-based blog. Fairly soon though, we got into other topics of interests, mainly to do with the media and contemporary British culture and society.

In summer 2008, the blog turned into more of a full-time adventure and took other collaborators on board. We also started writing about politics, TV, crime, life in other countries, music, etc. Our readership grew and the scope was widened, but the name Hagley Road to Ladywood stuck.

- What's Hagley Road to Ladywood about?

Lost causes, mainly.

One thing I've got to say though. When I was at University I began to suspect that the left will never be able to preach past the converted. Most of my lecturers were self-professed 'socialists' or 'leftists' but to say their language was inaccessible is the understatement of the century. We read valuable books but I will not forget that I often had to spend ten minutes trying to decipher long paragraphs and twisted concepts. And though it was never openly said, the assumption was that the more cryptic our essays and the arsier the words, the better.

Fast forward to the real world, and you can see how the right-wing (and their media) have New Labour (and the country in general) wrapped around their little finger. For the right, the battle for 'the hearts and minds' is more like a stroll down the park. The Sun, the Mail or the Express shout loud and people understand them. Governments are desperate to appear in tune with them. With some laudable exceptions, the only alternative to their bilefeast is some columnists in the Guardian or the Independent churning out figures and economic variables that only the very few can understand.

My generation is plagued by apathy. You mention the word politics and people retch. Yet two seconds later they will moan about their jobs, low pay, high rent and debt. And then they'll talk about Big Brother and I'm A Celebrity. Because to most of them, politics and current affairs are instantly associated with elitist, incomprehensible, arsy stuff that is locked in an ivory tower. Most feel more at ease with Heat magazine, or a pair of tits from The Sun or the Daily Star smiling at them. And in the meantime those gutter stories about immigrants and 'leftie' councils are digested and interiorised. Every day, for instance, the Sun speaks to three million people.

This is where progressive politics and the liberal left are failing. They should be talking to people and their daily issues, instead of putting them off. And it's a shame that even a number of potentially valuable blogs on the 'liberal left' are often guilty of indulging in self-masturbatory language.

While it may take generations to change all of the above, we can at least do our bit to start reversing the trend. Hagley Road to Ladywood will try to dissect the media and read current affairs in a language that is open and accessible to all. Ultimately, the challenge is to explain why having your brain hypnotised by a diet of shitty tabloids and gutter television programmes is, above all, against your own self-interest.

- How can I contact you?

Just e-mail us here.