25 Nov

Closing the Eurogamer Circle: Things I Regret After Nine Years of Blogging

I’ve had a couple of good day of blogging, which means that traffic will plummet today and I’ll be lucky if it crawls into triple figures. Yesterday was a particularly good day because it’s rare that the subject of a blog post comes to visit. I think the last person to do that was (WARNING: gratuitous name dropping ahead) Russell Mael of Sparks, who republished my Sparks comic strip on their Facebook page. That was also a good day .

Yesterday’s goodness was because Eurogamer’s Ian Higton responded to my caricature and post. I don’t feel quite as much the misanthrope when people seem to like what I do. Yet the visit made me realise that I’ve been blogging since January 2006 and that things have strangely come full circle.

It has come full circle because it was a reader of Eurogamer who  gave me my first seriously bad review way back in 2006. I began blogging in the January of that year. I’d set out with a simple plan. I thought if no bugger would read my novels, scripts, stories, or jokes, then I’d bloody well give them away to anybody who wanted them. I started writing fake news stories of that type which have since become hugely popular via The Onion and The Daily Mash. One of my first stories was about Gordon Ramsey being a captain in the territorial SAS and the UK’s bare knuckle champion. At some point, a dumb American lawyer found my blog and used it as evidence against Ramsey in an American courtroom. This led — and here’s the coincidence — to a discussion on the Eurogamer website in which readers wondered where this rumour began. One persistent soul  found my story and described my site as (here I have to paraphrase) ‘some shit blog which is supposed to be funny’. Took me a few weeks to walk that one off.

It’s been a long nine years. In that time, I’ve met some good people who have remained friends, good people who slid silently away. I’ve seen great bloggers give up and truly bad bloggers (and even worse human beings) become household names. I’ve done things which I’m prou to have done but I’ve also done quite a few things I really regret.

  • I regret writing a collection of pornographic short stories under a false name and then getting invited to Spain by a guy living with a prostitute.
  • I regret not moving to Spain to live as a prostitute.
  • I once fooled my hero, the great Clive James, into emailing me. That email still sits in my inbox, marked as important and in text as red as my face whenever I think about how shameful my trick was.
  • I had Robert Crumb send me a drawing he did for me (wonderful) but I never knew whether he was quite in on the joke.
  • Sending Jonathan Ross my original ‘Harvey Gimp: Masochist in a Yarris’ cartoon strip.
  • Putting any degree of effort into getting a reply from Jonathan Ross.
  • Never writing to Hunter S. Thompson. Never writing to Stanley Kubrick. These are my two big regrets.
  • I met Ralph Steadman in London (great) but probably made a bit of an arse of myself because he couldn’t understand my accent (bad).
  • Doing that Radio 4 interview. I hate my accent which makes people underestimate me. People think I’m an idiot because I sound so northern.
  • Writing a letter to the Emperor of Japan because a friend told me that I couldn’t write to the Emperor of Japan. The Emperor of Japan never replied despite it costing a fortune in postage.
  • Sending a poem to Alan Alda. Alan Alda was possibly the nicest guy with whom I played my letter game and I still feel bad that I probably pushed things a little too far into the ‘mildly deranged fan’ territory.
  • Not doing any promotion for my book out of a misguided sense of allowing Stan to retain his mystery but really covering up for the fact that I hate my voice and I’m introverted to the point of it being a mild form of autism.
  • Not keeping in touch with friends I made through the blog for reasons linked to number 12 but I didn’t realise it at the time.
  • Sending a letter to Chuck Barris, who probably didn’t like getting letters but felt obliged to send my postage back.
  • My letters to Alan Bennett. I love Alan Bennett and hate to think that he ever thought me an irritating man.
  • Getting paid for so little for everything I’ve ever done. I’ve drawn thousands of cartoons and written multiple millions of words over about 10 to 15 blogs, as well as unpublished books and short stories. The shocking thing to me is that I’ve never been paid for a single cartoon or comic strip. There are literally dozens upon dozens of common phrases that I can type into Google and see my cartoons appear in the top line of the search results. Even ‘Harry Potter naked’ brings up one of my pictures but nicked and posted on Uncyclopedia.
  • Being able to do nothing about one of my ebooks appearing on a piracy site two days after putting it on Amazon.
  • Pissing off people I like and not pissing off enough people I dislike.
  • Not being able to afford the price of stamps to carry on my letter writing. When each letter began to cost £1 for two second class stamps, it was literally throwing good money away.

It’s been a very strange journey yet the one thing that was my ambition when I started out and I’ve still not achieved. I’ve not had a single thing, written or drawn,  accepted by Private Eye. My sister, by contrast, has sent them quite a few tip offs about media stories they’d missed and which they subsequently used. It’s depressing. In fact, it’s more than depressing. It’s nine years.

Wiser men would have given up long before now.

 

24 Nov

Thanks Youtubers

Damn it to buggery. I accidentally clicked on the wrong button on my Youtube account and immediately swore that I’ll never again publish another thing to Youtube.

I have a very precarious relationship with the world out there. I assume that everything I do will meet with scorn, ridicule, or, at best, a mild degree of kind tolerance. I sometimes feel like those drunken hobos you occasionally see dancing in city centres when it’s close to Christmas. They’ll usually insert themselves into some busker’s act, attracting attention by doing a drunken jig. People stop and applaud and some even throw money but not because the hobo is a particularly good dancer. People take pity on the poor fool because he’s precisely that. Most days I feel like that drunken fool.

Clicking on my Youtube account led me to see the sorry figures attached to the videos I’ve uploaded in the past. The viewing figures are often in single figures, which has led me to vow to never do another. Worse still, my last video (which, I see that Youtube had broken and now won’t allow me to upload a fixed version), had a couple of down votes, despite my asking Youtube to not permit voting. Perhaps they were rabid UKIPers who hated the cartoon but I think it more likely to people who simply hate the sound of my voice as much as I hate the sound of my voice. Sod it. My voice isn’t a good voice. I thought a few videos would add a bit of variety to the blog but it’s clearly not worth the effort. In fact, tonight I’m wondering, as all bloggers periodically wonder, if blogging is ever worth the bloody effort.

24 Nov

The Things That Make Life Feel Better Awards… No. 1: @ianhigton

HigtonSunday was a strange day on the blog, with a tenfold increase in hits and subsequent comments. The lesson, I suppose, is to write only about football or things that engage the masses. Unfortunately, I’m at the mercy of this brain of mine and it’s rare that it’s in sync with what other people enjoy.

Yesterday also gave me reason to pause and reflect on how I’ve recently spent too much time condemning others. I’ve written more blog posts complaining about moronic things that annoy me than I have making recommendations about the better things that life affords. Beyond my programming and cartooning videos, the rare exceptions are a long piece I recently wrote about the novels of Joseph Conrad and a few profiles of cartoonists Ralph Steadman, Robert Crumb and B. Kliban.

It’s a new week so I thought I’d start with a new ‘regular’ feature. At least once a week, I’ll try to write something positive about the things that actually makes my days more tolerable.

My choice today is Eurogamer, which you might know (or at least surmise) is a website dedicated to video games and especially European video games. Actually, it is primarily UK based and I’ve been a loyal reader for over ten years. I’ve watched console launches and console deaths via Eurogamer. I’ve followed every controversy, bug hunt, and the reveal of every big new thing via Eurogamer.  I’ve gone through countless changes in staff, editor, and even format. I went from being amused by Ellie Gibson to learning about computer architectures with Richard Ledbetter and then enjoying the genuinely brilliant games journalism dripping from the pens of Oli Welsh and Robert ‘Bertie’ Purchese. Eurogamer is usually the first or second website I visit when I wake up every morning.

All that said: I’m not specifically naming Eurorgamer as my thing that makes my days more tolerable. No, my inaugural ‘Things That Make Life Feel Better’ award goes to @ianhigton.

And you probably won’t know him.

You might, however, be dimly aware that streaming live video gameplay is growing in popularity. Sites such as Twitch rose to prominence by providing live streams of people playing computer games. I wouldn’t recommend that you go and take a look or, if you do look, be sure to take a cross and a holy bible.  Without putting too fine a point on it, the people who usually stream live gameplay have made compacts with the devil to ensure that, in this life at least, they’re the world’s biggest arseholes. They’re usually precociously loud American teens who make video games as appealing as eating the raw nuts off a fruit bat deep in the jungles of New Guinea.

The most famous streamer is a Swede known to the Youtube generation as ‘pewdiepie’. If you can endure his streaming for long enough, perhaps you can figure out why he has over 32 million people following him on Youtube. (Clue: over 32 million idiots use Youtube.)

Pewdiepie’s real name is Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg but I’ll call him Kjellberg so I don’t add to his self-made myth. Other than the constant effing and jeffing (I enjoy a bit of creative swearing but his is just tedious), Kjellberg’s style involves every witless gesture and slang phrase you could cull from Generation Dumb. His single most enduring characteristic is his hair. I’m guessing that 31,000,000 of his 32,000,000 viewers are young girls who like hair. His appeal certainly can’t be based on his wits, intelligence, or his ability to play computer games of which he has none. Of hair, however, he is blessed. He has great hair.

The antidote to Kjellberg is Eurogamer’s Ian Higton who has the advantage of being English, older, funnier, and bearing absolutely no similarity to an arsehole. He also, thankfully, has less hair. He streams his stuff in the late afternoon and early evening, which is a perfect time for me because by then my brain is usually a little fried after a day’s work. I can usually stick his face in the corner of my left side monitor (which is actually an old TV converted to the cause) and the world suddenly doesn’t feel so dull or remote.

Now is probably the best time to catch up with this brave new world. The popularity of these amateur operations will only increase as viewers increasingly move away from the old media, very much symbolised by the rise of Sky TV where choice came hand-in-hand with increased cost, advertising, and less diversity. Personally speaking, I prefer something rough and intelligent over something polished but bland.

Take the case of a typical Higton stream. It begins roughly around 5pm, though it’s always a little late. You then hear the clattering of keys and sometimes a bit of mumbling before the man himself appears front and centre. He’s usually a bit dishevelled, the picture a bit blocky until it stabilises. What follows is entirely unscripted and there’s no real plan, so he’ll do a rambling opening, welcome the people leaving comments on his Youtube channel, before he starts to play some new game. That’s when things usually begin to go wrong. If he’s not struggling with his laptop, he’s struggling with some new game because — and here’s the key point — he’s not the world’s greatest video gamer. Example number one: he recently started a stream of the highly anticipated ‘Assassin’s Creed Unity’ by faceplanting from the very top of Notre Dame. Example two: Destiny multiplayer usually involves him dying a lot and blaming his video capture software. Example three: with one notable exception, his online Mario Kart sessions usually see him finish in the bottom quarter of the field and cursing his video capture software.

But that is the charm. He captures the very reason why video gaming is fun solo or with friends. It’s unscripted, occasionally silly, but it has variety and never makes you feel old or odd because you can’t defeat the enemy that Metro 2033 introduces in the library level and which are as rough as Patsy Kensit’s elbows and as mean as a ginger Spice Girl.

Since I’ve introduced friends to Higton’s stream, they’ve also become hooked and we often sit around at night rewatching older steams, still available via Youtube. I draw my cartoons to Higton dying in the background or crying in frustration when he’s overtaken on the last corner of a race. It’s fun, relaxing, and highly recommended. Follow him on Twitter, which is where you’ll usually find details of his next broadcast. Today, at 4.30pm, he’s playing Mini DayZ.

You can also find broadcasts on Platform32, his private streaming channel where things can turn a little more fruity.

Or simply stop by Eurogamer and make your days feel slightly better.

Now, was that positive enough?

As Pewdiepie would probably say: watch dis space bruders, yah know what a mint!

23 Nov

A Quick Letter to John W. Henry

Dear John,

Liverpool have lost again, this time to bottom of the table Queens Park Rangers. I hate to say that I’m glad but I hope it might hasten Brendan Rodger’s departure from the club.

As you might know, I’ve never liked Rodgers. I never wanted you to appoint him. Not because he didn’t play great football last year but simply because I don’t like the man. I don’t like his teeth, his tan, his way with words. I don’t like the way he treats his players, isolating those that fall out his favour. I don’t like the way he left his wife for a slimmer life with a flash car and flasher girlfriend, paid for with the generous salary you gave a man who simply impressed you with a powerpoint presentation.

I don’t like his ego, the fact that he doesn’t seem to recognise his mistakes. Any Liverpool fan could tell you where our mistakes lie. Balotelli oozes class but is clearly ineffective playing as a lone striker. Our midfield is weak with Gerrard, sadly, showing his age yet, I suspect, having far too much power in the changing room. Yet your man keeps substituting younger players with plenty of energy. Our defence is leaking goals but he refuses to bring in a specialist defending coach.

Not that I should care. We ditched Sky months ago and I know friends who have this week ditched Sky as well. It’s partly a money thing but it’s also because we’ve lost faith in Liverpool. I don’t want to watch Brendan Rodgers, who doesn’t represent the things I’ve always cherished about Liverpool. I’d rather watch us lose with a manager I trust than win with a man like Rodgers in charge. Perverse, I know, but the truth.

Yet, above my complaints, I still trust the owners. You’re doing a fantastic job at the club and I trust you to make the right decisions. I also hope you’ll recognise when you’ve made a wrong decision.

Get rid of Rodgers. Bring Rafa back. Give the man the chance under owners that won’t stand in his way. And if that means getting rid of people at the club who were hostile to Rafa, then get rid of them as well. It might have been another bad week for Liverpool  but this is your chance to put things right.

 

23 Nov

The Dave Whelan Generation

WiganBecause I’m so busy, I find very little time to read. It means I look for alternative ways to keep my brain fed with material and ideas. I’ve recently been scouring the web for material by the late Christopher Hitchens, which I’ve discovered is usually satisfyingly long and pretty deep. It’s how I’ve come to find myself thinking more about my own atheism, which has always been present in my life in a strong and conscious way but never to the extent that I actually gave the broader subject of atheism much notice. To me, atheism is just the most natural way to be. I never understood religion as a child and I believe I’ve been a firm atheist from the cradle. Nothing in my life has ever challenged that view. I’ve never seen a ghost or a UFO or had anything that strikes me as a moment of otherworldly magic. I would love there to be Gods and an afterlife and heaven and the ability to shoot firebolts from the ends of my fingertips or levitate through the power of my mind. I find religion interesting, have studied and enjoyed religious poetry, and I’d probably class ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’ as one of my favourite books. Yet my experience of the world has led me to believe that we’re chemical organisms in a world dominated by unyielding and generally inert physics. If our dreams and myths were reality, then the world would be so inherently unstable that it would have collapsed millennia ago. The fact that we have something that (just about) resembles a civilisation means that the world is probably without magic.

One of the cornerstones of atheism, for me at least, is the belief in tolerance in most things. I have a fairly rational view of the world and believe that people should be allowed to get on with their lives, making the kinds of mistakes that all people make. Rather than having a misguided faith in religious dogma, I believe in free speech to the extent that I’d rather hear things that offend people than live in a society where bad thoughts remain hidden until they fester into bad actions. People have the right to offend as much as they have the right to be offended but, until bad words promote bad actions, I’m very hesitant about doing much about them.

This, of course, has limits but my limits are probably more about my ‘gut’ instincts and the general practicalities of life, instead of any well reasoned argument. It’s more of a practical point that the hate sermons of radical religions deserve to be silenced. If we were to be entirely rational about them, we’d let them spew their bile. However, it seems sensible to cut off the generators of hate before they become something more serious.

Discounting the extreme cases, bad words should be allowed to exist and challenged with argument. People who incur our displeasure should be treated with sympathy, a degree of understanding, and then with a calm challenge by which we should hope to change their point of view. We are children of the enlightenment and, as such, we should be loyal to our rationalist ancestry. Of course, this rarely happens. A person says something which deviates by the smallest quantity from the views of the hegemony and they are immediately treated as a pariah, usually by the salivating prigs on social media. When Judy Finnigan made an intelligent point about rape a few months ago, she was widely attacked because she dared to think differently about an issue. We might say that Twitter has democratised speech but I prefer to think of it as democratising stupidly. Never have we lived in a society so dominated by the dumbest among us.

All of which leads me to the problems now faced by Dave Whelan.

Racism is one of those topics which seems to demand well rehearsed words. Newspapers such as The Guardian almost have a rulebook by which we’re all meant to abide. The thought police are particularly strong around the subject of race and very few of us do very well if we avoid running afoul of their ever changing guidelines. We live in an age when the good guys have to wear black and white is the new colour of evil.

It is naive, of course, to think that we can change centuries of thinking in a generation. Even more naive to think that it actually makes a difference and that our attitudes to night time and dark places might alter if we try to disassociate the colour black from negative connotations. However worthy their reasons, you cannot simply change the neural connections in our minds that easily and this especially true when those minds are older than others,

I live close enough to Wigan to know a little about Dave Whelan’s reputation. My parents knew him during the time of his life when he ran a market stall. He’s apparently one of life’s good guys and, as far as you can tell without knowing a person’s soul, without a hurtful bone in his body. No businessman in the local area has a better reputation, not only for the way he does business but for what he’s done for everybody in the local community. Dave Whelan is of that generation of northerners who are old fashioned and open to the point of being naively blunt. He’s honest, sometimes speaks too quickly and at too great a length, and clearly lacks the sophistication of Guardianistas in that he doesn’t keep up to date with the current politically correct vocabulary.

When I created the now-defunct ‘Whelan Speaks’ website which produced endless meaningless quotes, it was done in the spirit of fun. And there is an element of the comic about Dave Whelan. He talks too much and talks too readily to be taken seriously. He enjoys talking and clearly enjoys the attention of the press who indulge him because he’s always good for a quote.

Unfortunately, the following were some of his recent quotes:

If any Englishman said he has never called a Chinaman a chink he is lying. There is nothing bad about doing that. It is like calling the British Brits, or the Irish paddies.

The Jews don’t like losing money. Nobody likes losing money.

Do you think Jewish people chase money a little bit more than we do? I think they are very shrewd people.

I think Jewish people do chase money more than everybody else. I don’t think that’s offensive at all.

It’s telling the truth. Jewish people love money, English people love money; we all love money.

The first thing to say about the quotes is that it’s pretty obvious why Dave Whelan is now in trouble with the FA. The second thing to say is: is anybody genuinely surprised to hear these words from a man of Dave Whelan’s generation? I submit that the sensible way of looking at these quotes is to say that they’re very much those of an older generation and just perhaps you have to have an ear for these things to recognise a very common trope you often hear in these parts among that older generation.

This sound like an appeal to something that cannot be explained rationally but it is really more than that. Despite the older generation’s reputation for overt racism, I believe they were a far more tolerant generation. They were the ‘take people as I find them’ generation, quite different to today’s youth who make cheap value judgements based on anything from model of a person’s phone to the brand of shoe. Less materialistic than people of today, their generation had experienced the hardships of post-War England. They can often be blunt to the point of hurting a person but, at the same time, there is a genuine kindness behind the hard words. They don’t that the glib sentimentality of today, nor the equally glib expressions of outrage. My own mother can still make me wince with the things she says but in no way would I ever call her a cruel or callous, and certainly not a racist. She simply struggles to be modern. She doesn’t understand that the things she said in her youth are less acceptable these days, even when they’re said in a way that’s meant to be kind.

Perhaps it’s knowing Wigan people that makes me want to give Dave Whelan the benefit of the doubt. There is no place in the north west of England where you can find kinder people than Wigan. It’s a peculiar kindness, which you might attribute to being slow witted but is really a open approach to life.

It’s why I look at Whelan’s words and feel a stab of sympathy. He has fallen foul of his open character and his poor vocabulary but he is also trying to say, in the first case, that language changes, which is true. Northern men of Dave Whelan’s generation would have certainly said those words. The fact that he actually uses the offending words makes the point sound controversial but, bless the poor old bugger, he’s trying to sound non-discriminatory. His heart is in the right place, even if his mouth leads him astray.

It is more difficult to be sympathetic to his second point but only because he uses the offensive term ‘Jews’ and expresses his belief in a stereotype in ‘I think Jewish people do chase money more than everybody else’. However, to be more generous, I think the words around that show that he’s attempting to offer a slightly more elevated argument in favour of money.

Whelan’s greater crime, in my eyes, is offering a job to Malky Mackay, about whom you could not offer any form of defence. Why did Whelan make the appointment? Maybe it takes a truly kind person to make truly dumb mistakes. As far as his words are to be judged, they might be a little too outdated for our modern ears but we should be mature enough as a society to allow them to pass with only a mild tut of disapproval. To do otherwise is to show ourselves up as immature, hysterical, and without heart. If Dave Whelan really is one of the bad guys, then the world is in a very sorry state indeed.

22 Nov

Men Like Joe

joeLife’s rarely fair. Take the case of Mr. Daniel Ware: picked out of nowhere because a passerby shared a picture of his chez res on social media and before the ink is dry on his contract with The Sun he’s standing in front of the media as the representative of an entire class. He hadn’t asked to be judged and it would be wrong of anybody to try to understand his soul simply by looking at him.  So, let’s not make this about Mr. Daniel Ware who, according to his neighbours, is simply a ‘gentle giant’. I really don’t want to talk about Mr. Ware. I really don’t care about Mr. Ware.

Instead, let’s talk about people who look like Mr. Ware. I’m sure you won’t have to look very far.

In the early hours of yesterday, Emily Thornberry resigned from the shadow cabinet (or, according to some reports, she was sacked) because she had been resorting to stereotypes about the working classes. How dare she judge a man by the flag he waves… Or so the argument begins. There’s nothing wrong with people who are proud of their country and, if a man (not Mr. Ware, just a man who looks like Mr. Ware) just happens to drive a white van, then he’s one of many tens of thousands who take to our roads every day in vans painted white. Maybe they represent the national average in some obscure but meaningful way. Maybe, if you wanted to take a snapshot of Britain on the 21st November, 2014, you would come away with a portrait of a man who looks very much like Mr. Ware but, obviously, isn’t Mr. Ware. Let’s call this lookalike Joe Anybody. Joe looks just like Mr Ware and, lucky for us, has a very similar biography.

Fvlcsnap-2014-11-22-13h35m07s141or example, Joe just happens to sport a skinhead and have that fold of flesh at the back of his head that always makes me think of Grossberger in Stir Crazy. It makes me think of violence and warehouses late at night. Unlike Grossberger, Joe also sports a few tattoos. But there are probably thousands of men who are like Joe: heavily tattooed and also supporters of West Ham United. And just because Joe supports West Ham and has a skin head, it would be wrong to mention that English football hooliganism began with West Ham’s ‘Bovver Boys’ of the 1960s or that they were sympathisers of the National Front and characterised by their tattoos and skin heads.

Joe also reads The Sun but so do lots of men. They enjoy looking at the women with the big tits but lots of men enjoy looking at women with big tits. He deals in cars which is a legitimate business and great for the economy. The nation thrives because of wheeler dealers. And if he happens to enjoy climbing into a cage and beating other men up, he’s not breaking any laws. He simply needs to relax after a head day’s wheeling and dealing.

Critics of Emily Thornberry would say that none of this matters. And they’re right because clearly, none of this has anything to do with the real person Mr. Daniel Ware. Her tweet about him was reductive and crude.

However, had Emily Thornberry tweeted a picture of the house belonging to our entirely imaginary friend Joe, would we think that her stereotype was at all inaccurate?

Maybe the very worst thing you can say about Joe is that if you were casting a role for a brutish modern thug with far right sympathies, he would land the role on £120 quid a day and everything he can eat from catering. Perhaps if you were interested in modern British culture, you might also say that Joe is an example of a current and deeply troubling phenomenon. Men like Joe are the epitome of the new moronic Britain. They are the stuff of our most moronic TV, usually hosted by our favourite Joe lookalike, Ross Kemp, and with titles involving the words ‘hardest’, ‘meanest’, and ‘most dangerous’. They are familiar because they’re loutish and loud, muscle bound and steroid thick. They are the cretins who smash bottles on our high streets on a Friday night. You want to indulge in cheap stereotypes, then how about muscle vests, medallions, sovereign rings, ethnic tattoos, names of their numerous kids trailing up their vein-thick necks. How about pitbulls and rottweilers, broken noses, gold teeth, four by fours, road rage, gang culture, drug wars, English nationalism, football terraces, racism, hatred, violence, lad culture, pornography, rape…

Or perhaps there’s another story here. Perhaps we should be more worried at the way the media rushes to appoint a skin-head tattooed West Ham supporter who happens to be a cage fighter as the sole representative of the working classes.

Is this what we’ve come to as a nation?

The media are cowardly stepping around the story. We live in an age when it’s so easy to cause offence. Yet nobody asks if it’s right to cause offence. Maybe we need to go on the offensive against men like Joe because, if you met a man like Joe in the flesh, what would you really think?

And yet in asking this, I know I could be accused of being elitist and sneering towards the working classes. Perhaps I am but I think I have the right because I am pure bred working class. Men like Joe and Mr Ware are standing as proxy for me.

But let me be clear. I don’t mean that I’m working class in some kind of exotic way. I don’t ‘identify’ with the working classes because that’s a cool thing to do. I’m pretty well educated but I don’t have a middle class upbringing. I’m not suddenly finding a kitsch appeal in the working classes. I see myself as working class because I am working class. I am born of working class parents. My grandparents were all working class and one of them was a Lithuanian (or possibly Russian, there remains some confusion) immigrant whose parents fled the Bolshevik revolution. I live in a working class town, surrounded by working class people and everybody I meet each and every day is working class. And what might sound strange is that not all of them are inarticulate or lazy or socialist or angry or loud or violent or tasteless or dumb or any of the stereotypes that are routinely thrown our way. Not all of us keep the brown sauce on the dining room table or wear slippers to the corner shop or eat fish and chips every night before taking our teeth out in order to suck on a bottle of Newkie Brown. Not all of us have tattoos or skinheads or gold chains or enjoy cage fighting. Of course, there are some that do a few of these things and there are people I see every day who obviously do a great many of these things. However, the majority of the people I know would simply look at Joe and give the sniff we all give to men of that type. They’re the type we know only so well because the rarely whispered secret is that nobody hates the working classes more than the working classes. We know our ranks. We know our archetypes. We know the bad types.

They’re found in every neighbourhood and in every neighbourhood they express the same thoughts and feelings and communicate in the very same loud boorish ways. You don’t need a degree in sociology to identify them and you don’t need extensive research to reach the conclusion that the type is neither typical nor average. I live next door to a fine example of the breed. I hear the anger, the shouting, the arguments that spill out into the street. I see the money they have, the success they find in a world that rewards their type. There’s another up the road who looks the same, walks the same, and has exactly the same political outlook, the same hugely expensive 4×4. I could walk you to the homes of a dozen of their type and never lose sight of my own doorstep. In fact, from where I write this, I look out over a gym that is a second home to dozens upon dozens of men who all look like Joe. The town is filled with men who look like that. But are they typical? Can they represent us in any meaningful way?

This is what ultimately galls me about the coverage this story has been given this morning in the media. The most insulting part of this story isn’t the shadow minister’s tweet. It’s the Labour leadership and, in turn, the newspapers who would defend men like Joe and hold him up as something good and noble. The insult to the working classes is to say that we’re all somehow like that. And how bloody dare anybody equate me to a bald tattooed West Ham supporting white van driving cage fighter who drapes himself in the flag of St George.

Maybe — just maybe — Emily Thornberry’s tweet was succinct and meaningful. Maybe stereotypes exist not because they’re a lazy way of thinking about the world but because they’re a handy way to spot the modern archetypes that exist in the real world. Maybe Emily Thornberry’s tweet said something profound about England on the 21st November, 2014, a nation that abandoned boxing because it was simply too tame and took up cage fighting which is as repellent as it is bloody and brutal. The ultimate insult to the working classes is that we’re not having a debate about tattoos, and muscles, and the culture of macho violence and, ultimately, the kind of men who wave the flag. What does it say about British politics when a political party is happy to damage itself and disown its own over a slightly misguided tweet, simply in order to reach out to that kind of man?

21 Nov

Andrew Neil: The Best Thing On TV

Even Andrew Neil and my drawing what I thought was a good cartoon couldn’t prevent my falling asleep around 3AM. The by-election result should have been in by then but when Neil said ‘we’re now hearing 4AM’, I knew I couldn’t last. I knew Private Eye would reject my cartoon like they reject every other so five downbeat minutes later, I was in bed and sound asleep.

I love watching by-elections, though they always leave me with the familiar conclusion that politics is ruined by the politicians. Last night was no different. Everything was set up for a good four or five hours of political cuts and thrusts and knees to the groin. I’m always searching for TV to which there’s no obvious structure. I love to watch the free exchange of ideas presided over by a host who understands the nature of debate and allows it to breathe. In that sense, I also happen to think that Andrew Neil is the best thing on the TV at the moment. Where most top presenters have a calm ease about them, they are also generally without character and rarely stray from the autocue. The best examples of that are to be found on BBC News 24. Around 5pm each weekday night, they invite some interesting individual into the studio for an interview. Things are usually reaching the point where they’ve moved past the bland introductions and into some fascinating material. Just when you’re thinking it’s getting good enough to record and watch again, the blithering suit will cut off their guest mid anecdote and hand over to the weather or sport. And you sit there thinking: why, Christ, why? Why interrupt a fascinating interview for some pre-packaged news which you’ll hear five times in the next hour?

It’s to Andrew Neil’s credit that he rarely does that. Neil retains the rough edges of a true journalist. His jokes aren’t always slickly delivered. He might not always know which camera is on but, damn it, he owns his mistakes. It means that he’s best when he’s working solo, adlibbing with his guests, and ignoring the protestations of the studio manager to follow a line of argument. To watch Neil is to enjoy the unexpected or, in a sense, a debate that grows organically from the subject at hand. It’s just a shame that, last night, he was let down by his guests.

The coverage came in two parts. The first was the usual The Daily Politics, ruined by an appearance by the always irritating and precious Ekow Eshun. At one time, my favourite show on TV was the ‘Late Review’. It was sometimes hard gnarly TV that could annoy me as much as I loved it. Then Eschun became a regular and I’d start to turn it off before the introduction. I’d not seen Eschun on TV in a long time so I was prepared to give him a chance but I was making grim mutterings by the time Eshun had finished making a point about the misrepresentation of Africa in the Band Aid single. As an argument it was stretched and predictable and, thankfully, after a few uncertain words of support from Alan Johnson, Portillo and Neil tore into it leaving Eshun sounding like he almost doubted it too. There then followed a brief but fun mike failure, nicely ad libbed by Neil and Omid Djalili, before The Daily Politics moved into election coverage and it was here that the guests proved the point I keep making about Farage.

RecklessFarage is the political equivalent of Andrew Neil. He’s another who wouldn’t work well with autocue. He laughs and sometimes makes bad jokes. He doesn’t always have a good answer or a slick line of prepared patter to deflect difficult questions. In an age when politicians seem to be at the Mark Reckless end of the bland scale, Farage is the anti-politician who appeals to people who normally switch off when they hear the same old policy statements coming from the mouths of our professional politicians. In a sense, Farage’s greatest weapon is his sheer amateurish and we British love our amateurs. We’re a nation of amateur astronomers and amateur musicians, amateur engineers and amateur artists. Yet amateur doesn’t mean unskilled or lacking polish. If America has the American Dream, Britain has the British Amateur, those backyard enthusiasts who teach the world a lesson or two. Farage is the Trevor Baylis of Westminster like Andrew Neil is the James Dyson of BBC2.

Between Neil and Farage, I was hoping for an evening of edgy politics and occasional bad tempers. I didn’t stay awake to see if Andrew managed to interview Nige or managed to get under his skin. Instead, I stayed awake until 3AM listening to the likes of Iain Duncan Smith (still that annoying cough) trot out the usual glassy eyed arguments that appear at every by-election. Bad night for the government but a worse night for the opposition. The general election will be different. Protest votes. Yaddah. Yaddah. Yah…

Neil did his best but the show only really came alive when he was chatting with the correspondent at the count, Chris Mason, who displayed  his own brand of unscripted banter. Mason was the surprise of the evening. I could have watched five hours of just Mason and Neil but unfortunately there were studio guests and I fell asleep over my cartoon to the sound of a Tory spokesman attacking Labour on a trivial point of policy. I always say that I love politics but hate politicians. Perhaps I should amend that. I hate politicians but I love political journalists. You can keep your Strictly Come X Factors and Downton and Dec. Andrew Neil is the best thing on TV. I just wish we had a better calibre of politician to make his blood run hot.

 

20 Nov

Too Many Morons In The World

MoronIs it libellous to call somebody a moron? How about a tosser of the highest order? A ball wart on the tick bit scrotum of humanity? A dung-fed louse squashed on the shit-smeared heel of a dribbling eunuch too mentally slow to even zip up his own fly? The gnawing offspring of brain mites hatched in warped cranium of a scabietic circus freak known as Walter the Bat-Faced Boy?

The advantage of Google web traffic dropping off this week is the certainty that I can post this picture and make these comments without the moron who drives this car actually seeing this post. Not that I feel too bad about posting the picture or for my pointing out that the driver clearly shares a few too many genes with their current partner. I don’t even know why I’ve bothered to pixelate the number plate except I have some old fashioned notions or right and wrong. And who knows what forms of retribution a person might display when they have this level of cretinism?

Am I being unfair? I hope I am. Unfairness and words seem to be the only powers I have when not a single policeman, traffic warden or council official would be inclined to do anything about the arseholes who casually block our streets. Because, I can assure you that although this was the worst example of the kind I saw today, this photo is just one of a dozen I could have taken. I also know what response I’d receive if I made a complaint. The police say they ‘try to be sympathetic to drivers’ and it’s ‘really a council matter’. The council also try to be try to be ‘sympathetic to drivers’ and say it’s ‘a police matter’. In other words, both the police and council are full of pavement parkers and there but for the grace of a wide driveway go they.

I also know that I write from the ‘privileged’ position of not being a driver. I don’t drive and I’ve never wanted to drive. I always tell people ‘too expensive’ or ‘never had the chance’ but the truth is harder to explain. It’s hard to describe how I have enough trouble dealing with the world without finding my myself flying down a motorway and suddenly becoming hyper aware of my existence and experiencing some mode of existential panic. And when I’m miles away thinking of some of my usual nonsense, I am prone such moments. More prone, I would say, than your average meth drinker or weed junkie. I think it’s probably better if I’m not in control of a couple of tonne of steel and airbags when I suddenly begin to doubt reality.

Yet even though I don’t drive, I can honestly say with my hand on my heart that if I did have a car, I would never ever park it across the pavement. It’s that old fashioned morality, you see, along with the belief that you’d really have to be one of evolution’s greater regressions to lack the basic understand of how pavements work. Of course, these dimwits might argue that the road was too narrow to have cars parked on both sides of the street (true). They might argue that they have a right to park outside their own home (wrong). They might even say that somebody could just squeeze through (wrong), walk on the other side of the road (true), or even walk in the road (true). They might even say that this kind of parking doesn’t really affect people like me (almost true). But what special permission do they have that allows them to force the old and infirm into the road? What right do they have to make mothers with prams and infants stray into busy roads just so these lazy bastards don’t have to walk more than three feet to their car?

Anybody who walks any distance in the day knows the feeling of having to squeeze past cars, often pushing through overhanging bushes, of trying to dodge traffic should you have to venture out into the road… It’s even worse when there are (often) muddy grass verges to navigate before you even get to the road because some moron has parked their nose of their car in their drive, blocking the entire pavement and kerb.

I’m not so unfair as to say that I’d shoot every pavement parker on sight. I think they should face a judge of last appeal before they ever reach that stage. Let them have one, two, or even three warnings before we demonstrate how fast moving steel tipped objects can injure mere flesh and bone. But if these pavement parkers continue to act like the selfish arsehole they are, then their contributions to the greater good would not be missed. Perhaps we could just stand them in the middle of fast moving traffic and let them experience the fear that pedestrians feel when faced down by cars and trucks. Perhaps then we can cram just one crumb of understanding into their dense Neolithic skulls.

20 Nov

The Amazon Void

Buying from Amazon is beginning to feel like hard work. Not that I’m in the habit of buying things that often. I’m a rare online buyer and I’m also pretty conflicted about Amazon’s success.

Amazon is the elephant in the room of modern culture. It’s often discussed in relatively insignificant ways, a trunk here and a voluminous grey buttock there. Rarely is it discussed as the single most important arbiter of taste in the early twenty first century. Their influence is all encompassing in books, music, film and even TV. They change the ways that companies operate and even how we live our lives. I fear that ebooks will destroy quality book publishing. I despise their long tail business economics that encourage writers to sell their books for a penny.  I worry about the monopoly they have. I miss having local bookshops. I really miss the enormous Borders Books that used to be in Warrington and which I’d visit every couple of weeks for a long coffee and a mooch. I dislike the working conditions exposed by Panorama and by this morning’s Guardian. I dislike the way they now deliver on a Sunday and are helping to reshape our notions of the working week. With their new online TV service, they’re slowly moving into an area where they might even start to challenge Sky or even the BBC. Next they’ll be trying out drones, which might be the future but are a worrying development if the bloody things are going to start buzzing over our homes.

Really, there’s no end to how far Amazon will affect our lives and I think it’s only right to view them with some degree of cynicism.

Yet at the same time, like most people, I overlook all of that because they’re cheap and quick to deliver. It was also recently my birthday and I found myself the owner of an Amazon gift voucher. Despite my reservations about Amazon, I’d normally spend a couple of days browsing the site to find the best use of a voucher but I’d also been having problems with a USB hub I’d previously bought from Maplin, which was periodically disconnecting and doing all manner of crazy things that were annoying me on a daily basis. Having USB problems and an Amazon voucher came together in one of those moments when I didn’t think twice. I went straight to Amazon UK and bought myself an EasyAcc® USB 3.0 7 Port Charging and Data Hub. It arrived two days later and I haven’t looked back. If it’s possibly to have sexual feelings towards a USB hub then you might say that me and the hub have been more intimate than is good for a man who isn’t built to USB 3.0 standards. Not only is it built like a Russian tank but it charges my tablet quicker than Samsung’s official charger, at the same time as running half a dozen USB devices plugged into my PC.

The only problem is that Amazon now won’t stop emailing me asking me about the hub. They want me to review the hub. They want feedback on their delivery of the hub. They want feedback on their feedback.

I understand why they’re pestering me but I don’t understand what possible benefit they think I could get from writing a review. I know other people like to write reviews (to some it seems almost as sad a hobby as blogging) and I accept that I sometimes find their reviews helpful. In the spirit of the community, I suppose I should write a review. However, where’s the incentive? These companies won’t sneeze without charging us the honour of witnessing it but they’re happy to ask us to provide them with free content for their sites without even the smallest percentage discount off our next purchase.

It’s not just Amazon who do this. Banks charge us for the slightest mistake yet we can never charge them when they make a cock up. Train companies regularly hit us with charges which cannot be challenged. Catch a peak time train with a cheap day ticket and you’re lucky to get away with the skin on your back. However, when their service breaks down and you’re stuck waiting two hours on a cold station, we can’t do a damn thing. You can’t get one bit of extra data from a mobile phone operator without them charging you for it yet we’re supposed to sit down, devote time and energy to writing content for a website which earns the company billions?

Writing free content for one of the world’s richest companies seems like a stupendously dumb thing to do. Yet so many people do it and there, I suppose, is the Amazon genius. It’s the perfect business model.  They make the space that others fill. It’s the very opposite of being creative. Filling in blank spaces  is the hardest thing in the world to do with any degree of competence. I have enough trouble filling this blog each day. I’m not about to start filling the Amazon void.

18 Nov

A Nigel Farage Cartoon Containing Some 17th Century Vulgarity

Another cartoon rejected by Private Eye. The verse is from ‘A Satyr on Charles II’ by John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester. And, yes, they did use language like that back in the 1600s. Following it is a video of the drawing process along with my usual stream of consciousness waffling.

Rochester

17 Nov

Free Christmas Card For Anybody That Wants One

Polar

Superglued polar bears

Deflated

Labrador pelt

Seal

Baby seal (unclubbed)

If you’re anything like me (and, if you are, then I feel sorry for you) then you won’t be receiving many Christmas cards this year. I don’t have a large circle of friends and those few friends I do have know that I’m an old fashioned God fearing atheist. Yet that doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy sending cards. I’m one of those poor sods who actually makes his own cards which I send out and suspect people then think: bloody cheapskate, sending me this hand drawn cartoon when I wanted a mass produced Santa…

Noel

The Edmonds Sphincter

Immigrant

Immigrant labour

In previous years, I’ve adopted my Stan Madeley moustache and novelty sombrero to send cards to random celebrities. This year, however, I’m not sure what I’ll do, and that’s a special shame because a pile of cards have just landed on my doormat courtesy of the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

I’m not sure why the International Fund for Animal Welfare thought  I might want some Christmas cards. I suspect it’s their way of mocking my mild autism and low quota of friends. I’m even less sure why they think I might feel obliged to send them some money. It seems a rather presumptuous thing to do: send a person a product they’ve not asked for and then expect prompt payment for that product.

Robin

Plastic robin

I mentioned this to somebody this morning they thought it would only be right to stick the cards back into the prepaid envelope and return them to the International Fund for Animal Welfare. However, that seems like a lot of effort on my behalf when I didn’t actually want the bloody things in the first place. It’s like those bastards at Cleaneazy or those bigger bastards at Avon who stick catalogues through your letterbox and get shirty when you rip them up. ‘But that was my property!’ they protest. To which I reply: ‘the moment you stuck it through my letterbox, it became my property. Now bugger off and don’t do it again’.

Fancy

Elk hunter’s sweater

Have I mentioned that I find it hard to make friends?

So, sending the cards back would involve effort and the charity mob would surely just repackage the cards and then send them to another poor victim. I don’t want to feed this cycle of unwanted Christmas card sending.

So I have a dilemma.

Or I had a dilemma until I came up with a solution.

Dogs playing with their balls

Dog sniffing its balls

If you suspect that you’re going to be depressing light on Christmas cards this year or if you’d just like another Christmas card to the hundreds you’re bound to receive, then drop me an email. All I need is your name and address and you can leave the rest to me (stamp). I’ll personally sign each card with a name that might not be my own and then, time and inspiration permitting, I might even scribble some kind of cartoon onto the front cover. Failing that, I’ll simply deface the card in some darkly humorous way that amuses me but will ensure no Christian lingers long by your fireplace.

Cat

Stuffed cat

I only have ten cards so you might want to be quick if you want one of the more tasteful cards. If you want a particular card from the lousy selection on offer and displayed throughout this blog post, please indicate. The cards will be with you shortly or whenever I can get access to a post office or use a friend’s franking machine when they’re not looking.

16 Nov

Zero Choice in a Multichannel Age: Sky TV and the Decline of Culture

I watch very little TV and yet I find it strange to admit that given how much TV I watch in a week.

When I say I watch very little TV, I mean rarely do I tune into a TV channel and watch whatever they’re showing. Instead, I watch things I recorded a long time ago (and stored digitally) or I watch things I’ve nabbed from the internet, such as my current interest in the work of  the late Christopher Hitchens whose interviews and debates are readily available on Youtube and I highly recommend.

billcunninghamLast night, I had a chance to look over Netflix and found myself still awake at 4am after watching a double bill of excellent documentary films. The first was a sheer left-of-centre fluke that I would never have found myself watching had I not been randomly browsing through the Netflix catalogue. ‘ Bill Cunningham New York’ is about one of those people that makes life seem better simply because they exist. Cunningham is a street photographer working for the New York Times. His interest is fashion but not the rarefied fashion of the catwalks but the fashions of the street. Yet, if that sounds precious, then I should say that fashion usually ranks up alongside with New Age goat yoga in the list of subjects that interest me the least but I was pretty quickly captivated by Cunningham’s energy, his upbeat but edgy manner, and the sheer enthusiasm of the film which is about intelligent outsiders living in modern New York as much as it’s about glitz, ditz, and high heels. It’s a documentary I can’t recommend more highly. Cunningham is just a great human being and the kind of person that should be affixed to space probes as an example of the high watermark of our kind.

rintThe second film is only available via Netflix, it being a Netflix Original. It’s called ‘Print the Legend’ and documents the rise of the 3D printing business, particularly the rise of MakerBot. If, like me, you enjoy cutting edge technology and long films filled with great yet occasionally flawed characters, then you should give it a try. It’s also, sadly, going to be the closest I get to 3D printing technology in the next decade.

If you’ve not tried the month’s free trial over at Netflix, these two documentaries make it a compelling opportunity. And, no, I’m not getting paid to promote Netflix. This is a rare thing on the internet these days: an honest recommendation.

Perhaps it’s because mainstream cinema has become so juvenile (I find myself feeling weary with anything that comes from Stan Lee’s imagination) but, in the last few years, I’ve found myself increasingly drawn to the form of the long documentary. They seem to fill a gap in my life that normal TV no longer satisfies. Back when I had access to Sky, I’d often watch channels such as Discovery. At the beginning, they were great places to go and find long programmes about difficult or unusual things. You could watch a two hour documentary about something bone dry but interesting. They were the early days of satellite and cable and they were showing anything to fill the hours. Then things began to change. Channels that were previously happy to fill their schedule began to chase viewers. The documentary channels, previously dedicated to factual programming, perverted their terms and began to run programmes which weren’t at all factual. They were shows about hillbillies talking about alien abductions and effete men scaring housewives with tales of hauntings. They were shows about three toed ancient civilisations and space creatures helping the Egyptians to build the pyramids. They were shows that would make me throw the remote control across the room and mutter darkly about crystal banging idiots intruding where they weren’t wanted.

Once these abortions of programming were allowed, the factual channels also found they could run reality shows. They soon became crowded with scuff knuckled series about renovating hotrods. I look today (Sunday) and I see that the History Channel has devoted 12 solid hours of ‘Pawn Stars’ followed by ‘Storage Wars’. National Geographic is showing ‘Hitler’s Jurassic Monsters’ and then endless ‘Yukon Gold’. Animal Planet HD is showing a solid run of ‘America’s Cutest Pets’. Discovery itself is showing ‘Auction Hunters’, followed by ‘Yukon Men’, ‘Gold Divers’, two episodes of ‘How It’s Made’ (not a bad show but endlessly repeated), but then variously, ‘Trawler Wars’ (an endlessly repetitive show about fishing) and ‘Mystery Investigator: Olly Steeds’ who is today searching for Atlantis. Atlantis! F.F.S.

Like so many people I know, we recently ditched Sky after many years. When Sky started out in the UK, you might have paid anywhere between £10 and £30 per month for its channel line up of a few dozen channels. They now boast about 700 channels. Their most basic line up of channels is £21.50 a month but once you start down the Sky path, you quickly discover the only limit is your bank account. You need Sport channels? That’s an extra £24.50 a month. Movies? Just another £16.50. Want to watch any of those in HD? Just another £5. You want more than the basic line up of channels? Well, that’s £33 a month instead of the £21 but if you want one of the football club’s official channels, that’ s another £7. Before you know it, you’re blowing through £100 a month and because you’re blinded by all the choices they’re offering, you forget to ask yourself once simple question:

Are you actually going to watch any of this crap?

‘Choice’ is one of the great scams of our age. It was Thatcher and her cronies who told us that we should always have choice because choice produces healthy competition. In the long term, there might be a case for that argument in a few limited situations. However, the evidence of the last two decades makes me question the logic. When they opened up our local bus service to competition, about five or six companies fought for the business. We endured a decade when the local bus service was provided by some very questionable companies driving buses that were apparently built by ‘Death Trip Motors Inc’. We travelled around in anything from old holiday coaches to converted vans that rattled and fell apart at every pothole. That was the result of choice and competition. Yet soon the bigger companies began to buy out these smaller companies to the point where we now have two bus companies who effectively run a monopoly and charge upwards of £2.50 just to travel one stop. Unless you’re travelling across the county (also £2.50), you don’t use the buses  and the term local service begins to have a hollow ring when you can no longer afford to pay for local journeys. In other words: choice destroyed the local bus service which now caters to none but the few workers who have to pay the toll or pass holders who get free travel  funded by local government.

I do not doubt in the slightest that if it were not for the license fee, the very same would have happened to our TV. We’re promised choice but there is really very little real choice available on Sky. Often the choices are mutually exclusive. If you’re watching Nigerian TV  then you’re probably not going to be watching the Irish Channel. Is Fashion One going to appeal to the same people who enjoy Forces TV or Flava TV. Now we’re heading towards the rump end of the year, we’ve got Blissmas (Channel 376) showing nothing but Christmas rot, which is probably not going to appeal to audiences watching any one of the countless Muslim channels.  If you subscribe to LFCTV, you won’t be subscribing to MUTV. If you enjoy the Gay Dating channel, you probably don’t watch Babestation or any one of the endless pornographic channels where women flash their cleavage throughout the day.

The point I’m making is that unless you’re a Christian Irish-Nigerian homosexual hetrosexual who is currently serving in the armed forces and looking forward to Christmas when you’re hoping to get a Liverpool FC shirt to compliment your official Chelsea sex toy shaped like John Terry,  then you’re unlikely to look at your TV guide and be overwhelmed with choice.

Yet not only are the real world choices fewer than advertised, so much of the remaining programming is of such a lamentable quality that you’d be hard pressed to say it’s actually worth the money you spend. Those that complain that the license fee is actually a form of taxation are the same people who would happily turn our libraries into private enterprises and shrug their shoulders when the non-fiction section is ripped out in favour of a karaoke bar. They oppose the license fee on ideological grounds and not because they could deny that the BBC actually do produce (some) quality programmes that represents the best of our nation. Most of the few channels on Sky that provide quality programming are simply replaying much of the BBC back catalogue. Gold is a perfect example of that (though as if to disprove my point, today showing ‘Only Fools and Horses’ and ‘Allo Allo’). Dave is another, though when I now look, I see it’s also showing ‘Storage Hunters’ from 11.30am to 6pm.

To sum it up: 99% of the programming for which you are paying Sky exorbitant amounts of money is indistinguishable from bullock muck. And the very small fraction of programming which you enjoy in a month would not look as attractive if you were consciously aware that you were paying £2 – £10 an hour to enjoy it. I assume that most people who pay for the Sports package are really paying for the football, in which case, it’s probably cheaper to buy tickets and attend the games yourself than pay £25 a month to watch your team who, if you’re lucky to follow one of the bigger teams, might be televised once a month. Often, you’ll pay £25 a month and never actually turn over to the sports channels because you’re not interested in volleyball or American Football or yachting or any other of the lamentable sports they cover. Add in the cost of paying for sports channels during international breaks and the summer and the real price of following your team begins to look ridiculous.

Finally, if you do enjoy football, you also now face the competition of BT Sports. Choice might be a fascinating point of political theory but the reality is that poor football fans now have to pay two subscriptions to watch the matches which were, until recently, confined to one channel.

It’s blackmail yet so many of us succumb to it. Hell, even I succumbed for a long time. Now I watch very little live TV and I collect and treasure the things I know I’ll enjoy. I’m even slowly weaning myself off football, which just rots the soul as you see the excesses of these tattooed louts paraded in front of our eyes. Above all, I just try to avoid the marketing spin and the scream of the loud but banal. There’s some great TV out there if only you’re willing to look. Just look beyond the places where Sky precede everything with a pound sign.

15 Nov

Ed Miliband and the Kim Kardashian Factor

Ed Kardashian

And here’s my Not Safe For Work video and my spontaneous rant about Kim Kardashian’s arse, Dr Matt Taylor’s so called ‘sexist’ shirt, Ed Miliband’s leadership, culture, populism, art, and the lack of real debate around the Ched Evans story. Partway through the video, I repeat a section of video, so you’ not going mad if you think you’ve seen that before. In the final part of the video, I make comments about the Ched Evans story which I wouldn’t wish to be seen as a defense of Ched Evans. I merely ask why celebrity should have any bearing in our forming a decision in any kind of moral debate.

14 Nov

A Topical Ed Miliband Cartoon

New optimism this morning. Yesterday I installed a new plugin to this blog and it claims to track my RSS feed. I thought literally nobody picked up my feeds but now I see it’s even more popular that reading the site through a browser. Oh, I know many of the hits are bots working for news aggregators. I also know that simply because my stuff appears in people’s feed readers doesn’t mean they actually read my words. But it feels oddly better being unread by thousands of people that being visited by just a few hundred.

***

This morning I faced a mild dilemma. What do you do when SPAM isn’t SPAM? The Chinese are clearly a clever people and are adapting their tactics. I’ve been hit by their SPAM for months and I’ve been able to delete it all without hesitation. This morning, however, I found this comment waiting for me:

Love your full scenery shot~!
Welcome visit me back http://ecinfant.blogspot.hk/

The problem is that it’s not entirely SPAM. Whoever left it, looked at my post long enough to spot that I’d included a panorama shot of Sherdley Park in St Helens and, clearly, the people of Hong Kong trawl the web looking for panorama shot of Sherdley Park in St Helens… I’m not sure what I can do if the spammers start to read my blog. It’s my nightmare scenario.

***

As you can see, I don’t have much time to write so I’ve quickly narrated last night’s cartoon. It’s eight minutes of my usual nasal waffle (I always sound like I have a cold, which is probably to be expected because I do always seem to have a cold). Today’s brief rant is about UK politics and Nigel Farage and my difficulties with drawing Ed Miliband’s face.

Comet3

 

 

13 Nov

Trains, Trees, and Bloodlust

Children are brutish. I’d either forgotten this or it had never occurred to me before yesterday.

It was Wednesday afternoon and I found myself trudging across Sherdley Park, which Wikipedia would tell you is a 336 acre park in Sutton in St Helens. It’s probably the biggest park in the area and I know it from my childhood when we’d occasionally visit to look at the peacocks.

20141112_142000

It was late afternoon and the sun was already lying oblique to the land, throwing long searching shadows that had hurried me on towards the hospital where I was due to collect some important paperwork. I’d had a bad morning. For the third time in about a month, I’d discovered that the neighbour has not been passing on mail mistakenly delivered to their address. This is bad enough when the letter is a bill but far worse when the mail includes important hospital results. All week, my sister had been expecting a vital letter from a consultant and only when the letter was three days overdue did I think to check the only place we’d not yet checked: above the neighbour’s fireplace. Sure enough, our neighbour had kept the letter and hadn’t bothered to pass it on. It was why I found myself making the trip into St Helens so late in the day. It’s why my day had been so frantic, how I’d come to accidentally smash my bike lamp (now fixed thanks to superglue), discovered that my headphones (essential walking equipment) were bust (and are still bust). Without music and feeling generally pissed off with the world, I was trying to pass my time taking pictures of trees as I made the 25 minute walk.

20141112_142050

By the time, I was heading back, it was nearly three o’clock and the schools were emptying.

Sherdley Park sits beside Sutton Academy so it was unsurprising that I found myself surrounded by Sutton Academy students. In the modern climate, a man can’t take photographs when there are school kids within ten miles so I put away my camera and pushed on towards the dying sun and my imminent train home.

And then I saw a group of them. Well, I say ‘group’ when I mean a ‘gang’. It was a gang about 200 strong and the correct term is probably a ‘mob’. It was a mob gathered on the edge of the park for reasons that were unknown until I got closer and I heard the cheering. Then I saw the fists flying and flailing cuffs darting between the camera phones held aloft. It was an old fashioned schoolyard scrap and I hadn’t seen one of those in years. I confess: I smiled.

20141112_142257The path to the station led right past the crowd and I feared they might swell over and block my exit to the train. However, by the time I got close, the scrap came to an end when one lad broke away. He was a short brutish lout, probably raised on nothing but pig meat. He had the look of the typical schoolyard thug or typical in my experience of schoolyard thugs who always tended to look overweight, squashed features, short cropped hair topping off a look of malevolent evil.

He was cursing towards another lad who emerged from the crowd but I don’t know why. I’d passed on, aware of that my train was due. A moment later, three teachers ran past me and back towards towards the riot. Teaching is an insane business, not for the weak of heart. My own instinct would be to leave the two lads to duke it out but, I suppose, the teachers aren’t there to decide which fights are fair and which are simple bullying. Perhaps the punch-faced boy was the victim and not the instigator. I don’t know and I’ll never know.

20141112_150231Sitting on the platform five minutes later, I overheard all manner of rumour from the students waiting for the train. No doubt in some dark corner of the internet, videos are being posted and bloody noses posed for posterity. It’s a different kind of childhood and, I think, a sad one too. I was beaten up twice in my life and both times at school. Strangely, I wasn’t beaten up a third time. Not once I’d hit six feet and the thugs discovered that I knew karate. Yet I’d hate to think that footage of my childhood beatings still exist. I’m not sure how I would react had I been born into this generation where nothing passes into forgetful memory, when the youthful discovery of sex and violence are there for the word to see and to mock.

Yet the bullying isn’t the real reason I hated school. I hated school because school taught me nothing but prepared me for a life of subservience to a system. The very concept of a tie is anathema to me. What exactly is a tie? It’s the only item of clothing that doesn’t actually fulfill a utilitarian service. People might say it covers up buttons or fills in a gap but, really, it’s there to do nothing but indicate your subservience to a greater other. In the bright light of day, schools are supposed to be about personal development and bringing out your character and individuality. The truth rarely spoken is that schools — and I suppose I really speak about those in deeply working class areas — are really about destroying the individual, of taking away the rebellious streak, and preparing you for a life of 9 to 5 grind. Your school years really teach you how to wear a tie.

Last night, thinking all about this, I fired off an email to the school which was largely tongue in cheek but less largely, I suppose, a genuine expression of my relief that children are still unprogrammed, raw, occasionally bestial. Only a fool would prefer chaos to a civilisation but all great civilisations need a touch of madness. Last year, Jon Ronson wrote a hot blistering piece about hacking culture in America, a subtext of which was the correlation between crime and freedom.

Seeing the crowd calling for blood and excited by violence was a reminder that really that’s there within all of us. It is ugly and might hint towards the frightening truth that civilisation is merely a thin facade and extreme brutality is merely under the surface of the suburban bland. However, it’s also a reminder about freedom and how that’s something everybody really yearns for.

Anyway, I’m hopefully programming today. Here for posterity is my email to the school.

Dear Headmistress,

I assume you are used to hearing only bad things about your students so I thought it only right to drop you a quick note to say ‘well done’ when they prove themselves a credit to our community.

Like so many of the older generation, I’ve been occasionally cynical towards the youth of today. I’ve always assumed that they’re all ensconced pimple deep to their Gorilla glass, enjoying virtual worlds but otherwise too busy face-twittering their Google yahoos  to care a hoot about healthy living and the great outdoors. I don’t know about you but I say there’s neither a vice nor virtue you can find on the internet that you can’t also enjoy by climbing up a tree or looking down at the world from a high rocky ledge.

Imagine my surprise, therefore, when I was enjoying a bracing visit to Sherdley Park today (peacocks) and I noticed a sizable gathering of your youth also enjoying this ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’ (Keats). I say ‘sizable gathering’ when I should more accurately describe it as a ‘mob’, though I fear there are too many negative connotations attached to that word when I mean to say only positive things. There they were, upwards of two hundred in the field, enjoying nature in the gathering dusk. This, I thought to myself, is surely a sign that all is not ugly about modern youth. Watching them, I was reminded of the words of Fitzgerald who remarked that youth give off the ‘calories of virtue’. I thought pretty much the same when I heard one of your virtuous tykes shout words which will forever be etched in my memory. ‘Effing nail him!’ he cried or words to that effect and I believe even you, Ma’am, would forgive his use of the Anglo Saxon had you seen the look of wild enthusiasm in his eyes.

So, please, allow me to congratulate yourself and all the staff at the Sutton Academy for encouraging your wards to embrace traditional sports. I would never have thought that bare knuckle boxing would still be so popular with our youth but now I see that it’s still extremely popular at Sutton Academy! I’ve not seen a crowd so fuelled with bloodlust since I was lucky enough to see Ali fight Foreman in Zahire in 74. It was particularly encouraging to see that enthusiasm shared by the three members of staff I witnessed rushing out to get a ringside seat. One note of caution, however: I’m not sure men of their girth and age should be running quite so fast, particularly the one at the front who was a lovely mover and probably enjoys ballroom. If he popped a knee, what then? A promising dance career could end, just like that. [Snaps fingers] As for the one at the back (bearded, possible real ale drinker), it was an admirable effort but perhaps he should reconsider the wisdom of the hundred yard dash.

Finally, could you please pass on a ‘very well done’ to the two brawlers involved? It’s so good to see young people feeling passionate about their sport and the combatants were certainly bursting with passion when they were done, particularly the short brutish lout who looked like he’d been raised in a shed on nothing but pig meat. You should be proud of him. In my experience, such a high tolerance for pain will certainly earn him a career as a doorman, bouncer, or even a history teacher.

Again, thank you for restoring my faith in modern youth.

Faithfully,

12 Nov

No Cartoon

No cartoon today because I was quite pleased with the cartoon I drew last night. In a moment of dumb optimism, I posted it off to Private Eye along with two other of my recent cartoons, which means that I’m hopefully over the huge crushing self-loathing that lasted me nearly half a year and caused me to cartoon nothing. The three I’ve sent are all quite good. The first, from last night, is probably overdrawn and far too offensive for anybody to publish. That said: it’s probably in my top five of the cartoons I’ve ever drawn. The second is very minimal without even a title and, I think, it pretty strong. The third is my older style and a joke which isn’t too bad, even if the drawing isn’t the best. Usually it takes them a few days to reject them, at which point I’ll have enough material to fill the blog for three days.

In the meantime, the game moves on. Shuffleboard King now has a big new feature which I’m pretty pleased to have got working. It’s something that’s been commented out in the code for a long time because I could never figure out how to get a certain mechanism working. Last night I had a breakthrough and the new mode now works pretty well (albeit with a few very minor bugs that should be fixable). It’s currently at a very vanilla stage and I now need to jazz it up and make it more fun to play. However, version 1.1 of Shuffleboard King should be a major update. I’ve also ditched the old logo and created a really nice minimalist icon, to match new menus and dozens of other fixes.

09 Nov

Long Sunday

Sunday. I have a cartoon to post but I haven’t finished it. I have a long piece of nonsense to post but I haven’t finished it. I have made significant changes to Shuffleboard King but it’s not ready to be rolled out. I have dozens of jobs to do and I won’t have enough hours in the day to do half of them.

Worst of all: I have one enormous bug to fix and I have no idea how to fix it or what might even be causing it. Since the game mode I’ve introduce in the next update is for single player and is ‘against the clock’, I decided to implement some high score tables so players can track how well they’re doing in each of the levels. I programmed the high score routines, wrote a simple sorting algorithm for the scores, as well as a neat method of storing scores for each layout of table. Looks great when I run it on the PC. Then I build it for Android and no text appears on the highscore tables. Usually, this sort of thing is easy to fix. This time, I just can’t see the bug and I’m beginning to fear that it might be a bug in the build of Unity I’m using. That might mean I’ll have to upgrade my Unity to the latest version and that’s not something I want to do. Each time Unity updates, the developers fix certain bugs. That, you might think, is great. However, my game is working despite the bugs. If I update it to the lastest version now, I need to test the entire game again because there might be new bugs. Even worse, the parts of the code they’ve fixed might start to work correctly which is a problem if I’ve taken into account their bugs to make my code work correctly. If their code starts to work properly, my workarounds for their bugs might then become bugs in themselves…

Long Sunday. Lots to do.

08 Nov

Slow Day

I’ve been back blogging every day for nearly three weeks. Sometimes, it feels like I’m holding a one sided conversation with Google crawlbot. I write something and within seconds, the crawlbot arrives, scurries around the post, rips out the keywords, and disappears back to Google HQ where it buries my words in the trillions they have stored there. Other than that, very little traffic passes this way. Sometimes it’s hard to feel motivated.

So, today, it’s been a day away from the blog and away from the web. I watched Liverpool lose to Chelsea and then I watched two episodes of Gold Rush, which remains one of my favourite shows despite my knowing it’s heavily scripted and in spite of the levels of frustration I feel when I see people doing dumb things (ignoring Gene Cheeseman is always dumb).

However, my day has been largely been spent coding the game. I’ve added new menus and a new game mode which I think is probably the best so far. I have quite a bit more work to do before I even think about issuing a new update of the game.

07 Nov

The Evidence Against Ed Milliband

Let’s face facts: politics is a dumb game often played by even dumber people. We can try to dress up Westminster but pomp and finery really only get us so far. Wrap ermine around an arsehole and you don’t reduce its essential arseholeiness. Politics is the art of egregious manipulation; it is pandering to our lowest motivations, whether that’s putting more money in our pockets or keeping more foreigners out. Politicians who don’t play that game and aim high will usually fall the lowest. Few politicians have fallen in the public’s estimation further and more quickly than Nick Clegg, yet there are not many politicians who have put their country before their better political calculations. A stable government at the time of the last election might have been best for the country and even the wider financial system but it has destroyed the Lib Dems for a generation. Is that fair? Hell no. Political life is rarely fair.

Ed MilibandAnd so we come to Ed Miliband. Ed Miliband is probably a nice guy. Safe, dependable, and with brains to succeed. He’s not been terrible as Labour Party leader but neither has he lit many bonfires. He’s obviously not the new Blair but, if anybody wanted the new Blair, they’d slap some tan on the old one. Nor is Ed the new Neil Kinnock, who lacked many of Ed’s virtues but had a certain fiery passion and was LOUD. VERY LOUD. No, if one word damns Ed Miliband it is the word ‘nice’. He’s been a very nice Labour leader.

Because I think that politics is essentially a dumb game, I have myself a big dumb theory about general elections. It’s not insightful. It’s not complicated. Unlike many, I’m not actually cynical about politics or even politicians. Politics is only as dumb as the populace it’s trying to manipulate and my big dumb theory is really an expression of my utter cynicism towards the general public who don’t really care about politicians, don’t have strong opinions about the main parties, and look like they’re going to reject them in even great numbers by voting for UKIP.

Despite my thinking that politics is dumb, I am fascinated by the game. I read and listen to all the pundits who talk about swings to the left and the right, the mood of the electorate, and the financial situation of floating voters. I hear all kinds of theories about why certain parties do better in the north and why the mood of the nation changes based on the time of the year, the number of royal babies on the way, and even the length of women’s dresses. Yet I’ve found nothing that beats my big dumb theory.

My big dumb theory is this: General Elections are always won by the better looking party leader.

You might frown at that but I’m not claiming that all our Prime Ministers have been stunningly good looking. I’m merely saying that, compared to their opponent, the better looking candidate always wins. Good looking doesn’t always mean more handsome. Character has much to do with it. You will not win an election if you have a silly sounding voice unless your opponent has an even sillier sounding voice. John Major’s voice looked like it was going to lose him the 1992 general election until Neil Kinnock stood up and started to shout ‘alright!’ and then the public realised which silly sounding voice sounded the least annoying and least likely to leave them with a four-year-long headache.

The ugliness of polticiansI’ve produced the graphic on the right to make my point. Not only are our Prime Ministers getting progressively better looking but you’ll see that we have to go back to the early 1970s to find a genuinely close ugliness contest between Heath and Wilson. In 1974, we had two general elections when the British public really couldn’t decide which one of them was better looking.

If my theory is correct, David Cameron will walk the next election simply based on his looks. The reason is pretty obvious. Small things matter when the percentages are close. Historically, parties have always battled hard for the remaining percentage points to sway an election and something as apparently trivial as the leader’s face, character, manner, and voice can make enough of a difference. The key, I think, is to ask cartoonists who they’d least like to draw. Nick Clegg is as fiendishly difficult to caricature as Miliband is easy. Handsome but bland faces are  always harder to draw than unique and interesting faces. And because of that, I think Miliband is doomed. He has a unique and interesting face.

Let me be clear: despite everything I’ve just said, I like Ed Miliband. Given a choice of sitting down and having lunch with either man, I’d always choose Miliband over Cameron. I think he’s intelligent, compassionate, and a good speaker. He is everything that the Labour Party should want in a leader. However, he does have physical flaws which the British public simply won’t look beyond. Is it cruel to comment on his hair, the bend in his nose, his deepset eyes, his lips, his teeth, or his adenoidal voice? Yes it is. But politics is a cruel bastard of a game and as Twitter constantly proves, people are not so enlightened that they won’t mock somebody for their looks. As Kenneth Clarke put it this morning: ‘ I have to say I’m afraid I share the judgment of the majority of the public about whether [Miliband] looks like a potential prime minister.”

It’s also worth remembering that it was the Unions who voted for Miliband. MPs and party members had voted for David, not Ed. It was a huge miscalculation. David Miliband was a guest on The Colbert Report over in America a few nights ago and he demonstrated why he’d have walked the next election. Unfortunately, brother Ed is Labour’s William Hague. Hague was always destined to become Prime Minister. He had the brains and political acumen to rise to that position, except Fate had also bitch slapped him into oblivion with a billiard shine and banjo twang of a voice.

So, it’s no surprise that Miliband might face a leadership challenge. Sadly, I think it needs to happen. Much as I like Ed Miliband, I think Labour need to have a leader to make the next election honest. The polls don’t matter, even at this late stage. In the heat of battle, with Cameron, Miliband, Clegg and Farage, lined up on stage, Cameron will undoubtedly emerge the winner. I’m sure of it. Change the faces, however, and I think things will be different. Labour are actually blessed by quite a good looking front bench. Some could breeze through the next election. Given a couple of good months in the job, Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham, or even (here’s a crazy idea) Tristram Hunt would make politics interesting again and they might actually save us from the prospect of UKIP holding the reins of power in this country. This really isn’t about the snide comments made about one good man’s looks. This is about saving us from a truly terrifying prospect of seeing Nigel Farage as our new Deputy Prime Minister and, unfortunately, my big dumb theory has no reassuring data to assure us that ugly men can never become the power behind the throne.

06 Nov

The Eighth Level of the Modern Hell: App Marketers

It’s only three days since I launched my game, Shuffleboard King (I think I might have mentioned it), and it has already introduced me to a new level of hell: shysters touting for business.

Dante originally reserved the eighth circle of hell for all manner of scammers but I think even he’d be surprised at how quickly these marketing types pounce in a global electronic age.  The eighth circle must have broadband or something. This evening, I received my eleventh email and the most brazen of the lot. I suppose that means they’re great at their jobs but, I have to say, it’s a rattish job to be great at. They even sent me a gaudily produced price sheet of services they provide. It was the length of a novella and ranged from Press Releases ($49), Twitter campaigns ($99), all the way up to the ‘Top 25 Media Package’ for the entirely reasonable price of $4999. There are some interesting services in the mix. Improving my icon could cost me $49 and I can apparently buy 4000 Android reviews for only $1699. 220 Android reviews with ratings works out at $965 and a Expensive Youtube trailer would cost me $899.

It’s eye watering stuff. The top package is like a smorgasbord of black hat operations, including 2400 forum posts and mass mailings to the 100000 people in their database. In other words, I can pay somebody to spam forums and email accounts with information about Shuffleboard King.

Normally, at this point, I would say something like: I don’t know what’s more depressing, that services like this exist or that people actually make use such services. However, I know what’s more depressing and it’s not the fact that people still dream.

Everybody writing a game or app is a dreamer of sorts and dreamers make excellent victims. Yet sometimes if feels like there are more rats than dreamers.

The truth, of course, is that there is no magic. A person could spend $4999 promoting a game or app and they’d still be damn lucky to get back one percent in sales or ad revenue. The only people winning at the sharks circling the Play Store. They taste new blood in the water and greedily eye the naive game developers setting out thinking that a fortune is waiting for them. Only there isn’t a fortune. There are only more predators, waiting to drag them into deeper waters.

I entered into this expecting nothing and nothing will change that. I’m writing my game because I enjoy writing a game I enjoy playing. I hope other people will enjoy playing it and I hope people will email me, tell me interesting things, make me laugh, and make me feel generally better about the world. That’s why I do it.

So, if you’re reading this and think you might be able to help me with a SEO campaign or help boost the profile of my game: please don’t waste your time. I accept that Shuffleboard King will remain largely unplayed and generally ignored. I hope it’s a good game that will get better but it’s success won’t rest on my being dumb enough to fall for the clever words of people who, next year, could be selling bunks on Mars like, last year, they were selling us pyramid schemes. Dear marketing types: go back to where you good looking people have perfect teeth, big smiles, perky tits, and razor pressed suits. My teeth aren’t great, I smile but only at the wrong things, my tits need work, and unless you count old fading jeans, t shirts, and hopelessly overlarge sweaters, I don’t own a suit. Please don’t email. Don’t read my blog. Don’t come back. This bandwidth is reserved for real people.

 

 

06 Nov

What is the Point of Contactless Payments?

What is the point of contactless payments? I’ve tried them dozens of times now and I keep swearing that I won’t try them again because every time I do try them, exactly the same thing happens. Today I found myself staring at a payment doodad which proudly advertised ‘contactless payments’. I’d had a bit of time with my SAD lamp this morning so I was probably feeling unduly optimistic about the world. I was in (prepare yourself for a shock) a good mood, so I thought: ‘come on then! Let’s have a go of this little beauty!’

So when the checkout woman said ‘That’s £1.25′, I waved my card over the contactless portion of the doodad.

The woman stared blankly ahead.

I waved my card again.

‘Pop your card in when you’re ready, love,’ she said.

‘I’m going contactless,’ I answered, possibly with a sensual erotic sway about my hips, a certain come hither look in my eye.

‘Oh,’ she said. ‘Wait a mo… I have to do something…’

She fiddled with the terminal a moment. ‘Hmm…’ she muttered as she fiddled. Seconds passed. Then more seconds.

I waited.

‘Ah, here we go. Okay.’

I waved my card. Four lights turned green. All was great with the world.

Except, going contactless had taken me about half a minute longer than sticking in my card and doing it the ‘old fashioned’ way.

So, again, what exactly is the point of contactless payments? The simpler things apparently get, the harder life becomes.

***

It’s like Vodafone. They’d suspended by family plan because I was a day late topping up my phone. I topped up Monday. They re-enabled the plan Tuesday and it still wasn’t working yesterday when I contacted Tim. Tim, who was probably Indian and not called Tim, said he’d fixed it however after I’d finished speaking with Tim, my phone wouldn’t make calls out. This morning I contacted Vodafone and managed to speak to a nice Scottish lady. She said all my friends and family need to pull out their sim cards and wait half an hour. This we did. I popped mine back in my phone and tried to ring a friend. It worked!

So out I went. Half an hour later, I needed to ring home.

‘Sorry, you’ve not enough credit on your phone’ said the annoying Vodafone woman who I’m sure used to voice those annoying Christmas ads for Woolworths. Only, now I do have credit on the phone because the nice Scottish lady had given me £1. But that’s not the point, I paid £5 three days ago so I wouldn’t have to need credit. So now I have to try to contact Tim, whose probably Indian and not called Tim, so he can put me through the nice Scottish woman.

Christ. Let me get back to my lamp… My mood needs topping up.

 

06 Nov

A Day of Shuffleboard King

Today I intend to blog more but less. A few short posts that nobody reads rather than one that nobody reads. I think it will suit my brain since today I’ll be pulled in every direction, when my mind only wants to work on the game.

WScreenshot_2ednesday was a rare day which I managed to entirely devote to improving things on Shuffleboard King. I coded all day and night but, looking back, it doesn’t feel like I added a great deal. It’s odd but adding things that are small and user friendly can take much longer than implementing things that are big and game changing. The game runs on a loop, which means that the same code executes every fraction of a second. Adding features that don’t interrupt the running of that loop are easy. Adding a dialog box to help the user means bringing everything to a halt and that can be tedious. Saying that, I added a shot counter message, which works well and was a good suggestion by a player.

I’ve also added a few other features that people have been suggested and, late on, I started work on a new game mode, which proves my point about the differences of big and small since I got it working about 2AM. My intention now is to have features which are enabled on a version of the game which people can buy for a paltry sum. There’ll be no micro transitions or in-app purchases. Just an old fashioned choice on the Play Store of either playing the free version or pay a little and getting a lot more.

Having said all that, after yesterday’s hard work, I’ve also broken a different part of the game than I was working on. How it happened, I have no idea since these things are mean to be isolated from each other. However, it has happened and I’ll probably spend the entire day figuring out why.

 

05 Nov

Tim and Twinkle

So, here I am, talking to ‘Tim’.

Tim is one of Vodafone’s helpful online chat chaps you get through to when you want help and I needed help. I’d stupidly forgot to put £5 on my phone over the weekend and my ‘family’ package had been suspended. So first thing Monday, I’d put a fiver on my phone, which Vodafone subsequently took off me before they texted me to say they’d reactivated the service. Except every time I now try to ring a member of my group, I get the annoying patronising Vodafone woman saying ‘Sorry, you’ve not got enough credit to make that call’.

‘Well, of course, I don’t have enough credit!’ I scream.’I hate mobile phones and I don’t put more credit on my phone for precisely the reason that, if I did have credit, you’d have just charged me 50p to make a call I assumed was free.’

That’s how I came to contact Tim and here is our illuminating exchange in all its dull glory.

Vodafone

Is it only me who suspects that ‘Tim’ isn’t really Tim’s name? Would a Tim totally miss my attempt to lighten the mood? Why did Tim take me so literally? Would a Tim really mangle the language in such a peculiar way? ‘For account verification purpose’! ‘Have a lovely day ahead’! ‘It was really a pleasure chatting with you at this point of time’!

People call Tim usually use slang, produce typos, or just have plain bad speeling. But this is different. This suggests to me that Tim is actually Indian and Tim is part of the huge shift in global economics which has seen many of these support jobs move east. Could Tim be one of those unfortunate souls who are now asked to deal with members of the British public whilst having a very bad understand of the British public’s peculiar ways and humour?

Now, that’s not the reason I’m writing this. I’m not angry with Tim. I liked Tim. The reason I’m writing this is because Vodafone clearly think that I might be offended if Tim gave me his real name. It’s like they’re calling me a racist simply because I’m a member of the British public. It’s like walking into a shop, seeing a shopkeeper of clearly Indian lineage, and asking his name. If he paused, looked at you carefully and then said ‘my name is Barry’, you would assume either that he couldn’t remember his name or that he was wary about telling you his name lest you launch into some racist rant. Of course, Barry’s name might be Barry, like Tim’s name might be Tim, but this isn’t the first time this has happened to me this week. I was dealing with a webhost via email and it was pretty obvious that the person on the other end wasn’t really called ‘Twinkle’.

Twinkle does not sound like somebody who fixes things when your web server goes down. The fact that shortly after talking to Twinkle, somebody from India began checking my site, suggests that my old web host had also moved their support to India.

What annoys me isn’t so much that they’ve done that (though, incidentally, it does annoy me because their cheapness often means I get a crap service) but that they’re being so sneaky about it. Of course, these companies would argue that giving their staff Western names makes it easier for us to communicate but I think it’s something else. They know that we suspect and they also know that we don’t approve. So now we’re talking to poor unfortunate buggers who have to pretend to be Tims and Twinkles.

Anyway, I think I’ll have to contact Tim again. He’s reactivated my phone in that specific meaning of the word ‘reactivated’ which also means ‘killed’. I now can’t make or receive calls. This time perhaps I should ask his real name.