Monday, 30 November 2009

Christmas working

We are fast approaching Christmas again, which is obviously for many a fantastic occasion, but for me is largely ruined by one word; Asda.

Having worked there for slightly too long now, the Christmas period is the one that fills me the most with dread, because the negative aspects of the job are largely ten times more evident during this period; customers complaining, being unable to move down aisles to do the job due to the sheer number of people, customers who leave their trolleys at 90 degree angles to the shelving, people asking for things that have labels on saying 'we are out of this product'. The list goes on indefinitely.

This is often compounded by endless shifts, freezing temperatures and constant weariness.

I will say though, that occasionally blitz spirit amongst colleagues at this time of year is enough to make up for it. We go through the hell together, spew our bile over lunch breaks, and brave the cold 7am starts in unison.

So for you out there who hate the process of going to the supermarket over Christmas time, spare us a thought. Try and treat us with a little more respect this time around. You never know, we might not deliberately send you to the other end of the store looking for goose fat as punishment.

FA Cup

I am generally left pretty uninspired by the FA Cup these days. The constant barrage of clich├ęs and generally dull insipid games has worn me down. This is not helped by Sunderland's pretty dire displays in the competition over recent years, but the competition feels pretty lifeless to me in its current state.

I vote that we shake it up a bit. For starters, using the method of organising the Dutch Cup ties, force the higher ranked side to play away from home, so the smaller clubs get not only an advantage, but also valuable money from gate receipts.

Secondly, how about seeding the draw so we avoid the dreaded all Premier League ties? I refuse to get excited about seeing West Ham play Arsenal when they meet twice a year anyway in games that both would probably consider more important.

Both of these elements would make for more inspiring ties, instead of having to generate false excitement over the largely falsified 'magic of the Cup' nonsense that we hear every year.

Sunday Night Football

Another cracking late finish last night to Sunday Night Football, with the Ravens beating the Steelers on an overtime field goal. Watching the Steelers lose is always great, but the nature of the last frenetic minutes of regulation time, where penalties moved the ball back and forth as if the turf was being tilted on a seesaw was gripping viewing. If you could stay up until 5am that is, which I just about managed.

The Vikings moved to 10-1 by comfortably beating division rivals Chicago in the Metrodome. I am certainly not one to count their chickens before they've hatched, but I can smell playoff football in the air, and that has me greatly excited.

Robert Webb

And last but not least, on a completely random note, I watched the Robert Webb 'My life in verse' episode reasonably recently on the recommendation of a friend. It was great viewing, as this following clip will hopefully demonstrate, and showed a darker side to Webb than many fans of the brilliant Peep Show will recognise. Unfortunately it is no longer available on iplayer, so this poor quality video will have to attempt to do justice to a high quality programme:

Saturday, 21 November 2009

The Thick of It - Series Two continued

It seems that I have given the Thick of It a fair amount of time now to come back and impress me after my last less than enthusiastic review of the opening episodes of series 2.

I was preparing to write up an even more savage review this time around, but Saturday's episode brought me slightly back into a more favourable standpoint with the programme.

The show has fundamentally changed, and it is perhaps no longer wise to compare it to the first series and subsequent specials. It is now a comedy loosely hanging on to threads of being a plausible government satire, whereas the earlier episodes had the feel of a documentary set inside the corridors of power that happened to be unwittingly hilarious.

The most obvious example of this are the two central characters, the minister Nicola Murray, and Malcolm Tucker. Murray panics in an hysterical and not particularly amusing way whenever the inevitable disastrous event of the episode occurs, completely the opposite of the awkward shuffle and smile of her predecessor Hugh Abbott.

Meanwhile, Tucker's reputation precedes him. His character is now laughably one-dimensional, a swearing super computer fired into the plot at random moments when the pace is flagging. It wouldn't feel inappropriate to have a laughter track after Tucker's rants, as it feels as if this is the way the show is headed increasingly frequently.

However despite this, the show does still make for compelling watching. So whilst I am sad that the potential of the premise of the original concept, a serious political satire that was built around dark humour is now lost to us, the more mainstreamed comedy we are left with is still of high quality.

The last episode set within the confines of BBC Radio 5 Live was scripted perfectly, largely because it hinted at the older format, Malcolm's impact was minimised, the radio show was exactly as the real thing plays out (Richard Bacon's 'acting' was impeccable), and all of the events felt as if they could realistically happen in the real world and weren't overly exaggerated.

I'll therefore try to watch the rest of the series with a less critical eye.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Henry and video replay

Having been an advocate for video replays in football since the idea was first suggested, I always feel slightly angered when something initiates widespread cries from across the sport for it to be used, when these self same papers and commentators have cast doubt in it before.

This happened last night at the Stade de France, with Thierry Henry's handball allowing William Gallas to score a goal that gave France a 2-1 aggregate win in their World Cup playoff against Ireland.

There are simply no reasons for not having video replay in football. The idea that it would slow the pace of the game is nonsense. The video replay in rugby league or American football simply becomes part of the action and drama itself. And it is not as if football is never slowed by constant play acting, cynical time wasting or unnecessary substitutions either.

Those that complain that only the top levels of football would be able to afford to have it used also have no leg to stand on. Hawk-Eye in tennis and cricket may only be used in the big international or domestic tournaments, but it doesn't mean that your local club has to have it, and it certainly doesn't detract from the venue as a result.

Many claim that this controversy is what makes football the great talking point it is, but I would far rather have conversations on the more interesting side of the game; great players and great matches, not on whether a player has cheated to help his team to victory.

Equally there are those old conservative types who say, well if it is introduced, where does it end. Do we replay classically disputed ties, such as Maradona's hand of god game, which is a point so flippant that it hardly bears dealing with.

The problem is however, that it is these old conservative types who are running the game. Look at any sports newspaper today, or any independent football website and try to find one that isn't leading with Henry's handball on the front page. Now look at Fifa's, the world body, and organisation whose competition Henry will be starring in next year:

The story doesn't even make the top articles on the page. When we find a match report, it is not Henry whose name is emblazoned in the headline, but Gallas. Did this handball happen? Did we all imagine it?

Hidden away in the text we find this simple mention:

The story is the same whenever some other similar controversy arises that puts Fifa in a bad light. They simply pretend it hasn't happened.

What hope is there for world football?

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Mild irritant. May be corrosive to brain.

I have just seen one of my favourite hate figures on television once again, the unbearably cheerful 'Gavin from Autoglass', who has once again reminded me to get that pesky chip in my windscreen seen to before I drive through one of those 40 feet deep craters he seems to encounter on a surprisingly frequent basis on his Barratt Homes Estate road, and shatter it.

Gavin joins the as yet unnamed 'redhead' on a generic mobile phone advert, where, for reasons largely unsaid or non-existent, said redhead feels the need to organise a party for like minded, apparently oppressed redheads in order to feel better about themselves. To do this, they travel to the notoriously tolerant (!) Moscow to celebrate.

And, because it is a redhead party, where other races, creeds and colours are, one imagines, shunned and ignored, the music they choose is, wait for it, Simply Red.

Between casually vomiting out the window and shouting at the television during this advert, I managed to flick the channel over, just in time to see Gavin appear again.

Jacqui Janes

I am already feeling numbed towards Jacqui Janes, which is a terrible thing to say about someone who has lost a son in Afghanistan. However I just can't help but feel sympathy in the current situation towards the Prime Minister, who has after all, at least written his letters by hand to relatives of those lost, rather than impersonally typing them. Spelling mistakes are regrettable, but that is all they are, mistakes, not any evidence of intended insult or lack of caring.

There is something unbearably awkward about her attacks on the PM, especially the recorded phone call this last Sunday which Janes escalated into an argument with Brown. This is surely not the right approach to having a reasoned debate over equipment issues for soldiers, but it must also be appreciated that reason must be hard to summon in times of such personal grief.

You know something is wrong however, when even on The Sun's website comments are offering sympathy for Brown. I am sure that if someone close to me died in similar circumstances the last thing I would want to do is drag his or her name through the media for what appears to be, or could be mistaken for, an orchestrated attack on the Prime Minister.

Monday, 2 November 2009


And lo, it came to pass. Brett Favre returned to his old stomping ground Green Bay in a Vikings uniform in an event so ridiculously hyped that it blew a hole somewhere out in space.

Fox Sports decided it would be worthwhile having a camera focused on the quarterback for the entire duration of the game for reasons largely unclear to anyone else. They also happily showed endless loops of Favre emerging from the tunnel prior to the game as if he was enduring an unfortunate groundhog day episode in his mind.

The Fox commentators also did a useful job in contradiction, one minute musing that the Favre media storm may finally and thankfully be dying down, only to show the montage again 20 seconds later.

As a Vikings fan I am hopeful that the conclusion of yesterday's game marks the end of the media circus surrounding Favre, a circle that began with frankly embarrassing 'I'm retiring'/'I'm not retiring' fiasco following his 2007 season with Green Bay.

In the end it was a game that turned from being a blow-out win for the visitors, to the Packers coming within 5 points in the 4th quarter and leaving myself peering at my internet stream considering some form of self-harm at the prospect of throwing it away.

Thankfully Favre and Peterson righted the ship and in the end the Vikes won with a comfortable score of 38-26. It takes Minnesota to 7-1 and has fans, including myself, dreaming of something beyond a wild-card playoff game.

The NFL is horrifically unpredictable (except when the Lions are playing it seems) but the remaining season schedule looks reasonable, a trip to division rival Bears seeming to pose the most danger.

I always feel as if is fitting reward for five years of support I have given to the team, and then I remember that there are such things as fans of Detroit, Oakland and St Louis in this world whose suffering looks set to continue.

It doesn't stop me from feeling incredibly optimistic about the team's prospects for this season however, and if the purple and gold are anywhere near Florida next February 7th I will be unseasonably chirpy. Bring it on.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

The Thick of It - Series Two

I'm trying to decide whether this series of The Thick of It is living up to my admittedly high expectations yet.

In my opinion it is, alongside Generation Kill, one of the best shows we currently have on television at the moment. The first episode of the new series (BBC 2, Saturdays) left me slightly underwhelmed, as did the opening to the second, yet I couldn't quite put my finger on why this was the case.

This feeling partly stems from having watched the spin-off film 'In The Loop', which I didn't like nearly as much as I had expected to. The script felt too linear, the chaos too overplayed, and the characters, such as the geeky US government aide, seemed slightly too wacky to be plausible. Simply put, I didn't feel the show worked as well in film format.

Part of the key to the first series was the understated nature of the characters, and the contrast in pace between moments of utter listlessness and crazed frenzy.

The danger of the film, and the manner in which the second series started, is that The Thick of It could go too far down the path of slapstick humour. Moments such as Glenn smoothing his hair nervously before rushing in to meet the new female minister sat strangely out of place with how the first series played out.

The hapless Hugh Abbott will certainly be missed, as there was something still always completely human about him, despite the ridiculous nature of the situations he found himself in. The relationship between Abbott and Glenn was also fascinating to watch develop, and this will sadly be absent from the new series.

It also occasionally feels as if the reputation of Malcolm Tucker precedes him, and that each tirade must be more filled with swearing than the last for it to make it into the script. Tucker's best episodes were actually the two hour-long specials where we saw signs that he was cracking under the strain for the first time, and his subsequent attempts to wrestle back control of the situation.

However it must be said that towards the conclusion of the second episode I felt myself warming to the show again. Moments such as Malcolm reminding a Guardian writer of his 'wandering hands', and the mini-fit thrown in the car after hearing of the minister's latest error still make for great entertainment. A reappearance of curmudgeonly Tory MP Peter Mannion and PM Special Advisor Julius Nicholson will go a long way to winning me back completely.