away for christmas

With Internet access limited over the Christmas period, this blog is more of a signpost in the middle of a snowy road. Or slushy street corner, whichever.

Have a very Happy Christmas one and all of my readers πŸ™‚

Music

So, what do I think you should be listening to then? Well, Hey Zeus for one. Go seek, they made the Deaf Institute go all wobbly and melty inside. Like one of those Lintl chocolates, just made from indie rather than Swiss sweat.

Sparrow and The Workshop are so darn lovely I expect they donate puppies to local charities before each gig. Or, I dunno, have sex. A lot.

And Fuck Buttons. I mean, honestly, come on.

Twitter

I know, I know, it’s Twitter, and by next Summer it’ll all be over. Unless thousands of England fans want to live-tweet the World Cup? No? Just me?

I recommend you follow LOADS of people. Go seek some. BinaryDad too. He makes coffee splurt from my nose at work. Senor Bongo is another one, oh yes. And from Preston[e] There’s at least three.

Blogs

Again, far too many to list here. But Tory Bear, Devil’s Kitchen and LibDemVoice are three to start with.

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Rage against the X-Factor

Iron Maiden did it. But then again, so did Bob The Builder. And moreover as much as it can be accepted that some damn good pop songs have come from the race to get to Christmas Number One – that oh so British tradition – how many times can a person actually listen to “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day” before blood begins to seep through the ears?

Invariably associated with novelty songs and faded celebrity, the nature of Christmas Number One has changed over recent years. Yes, it is still more to do with different PR companies attempting to race each others fax machines, although in more cases than not, the same companies can often be involved in the race even if the media-led rivalry appears a genuine battle between different groups.

It’s always been about the chart place rather than the music, of course. Well, unless you actually really like “Merry Xmas Everybody”. Try hearing it in the middle of June. Go on, put it on Spotify in August, then see how good it is to sing “Here’s to the future now…..” in the middle of Aldi. At least the reality TV explosion has, in a strange round-a-bout fashion, attempted to make the focus of the chart battle actual songs…

This year’s battle is between yet another winner of the X-Factor, and Rage Against The Machine. Older readers may recall the battle in 2000, when Bob The Builder outsold Eminem to take the “top spot” of Number One at Christmas way back then. It was a similar media-led event; both records were hyped to the hills one everything from BBC Breakfast News to questions in the House of Commons. In the end, Bob beat Eminem and the world didn’t end.

Cliff Richard is the man whose rule over the Christmas charts was once without question, although this has all come to end once he played his best (and most cynical) card to date; putting the Lord’s Prayer to the tune of “Auld Lang Syne” reeks of Cowell-level commercial interests. Barmy and brilliant, the evangelical community bought it up by the Ark-load.

This year, the X-Factor winner has one of the weakest ever “winner’s songs”, in “The Climb”. It sounds like a parody record. Indeed I have known worse Eurovision records than “The Climb”, and that includes the Swiss entry from 1994. And the Luxembourg entry from 1989. And for that matter, the Hungarian entry from 1995. While hundreds of thousands of “The Climb” have been bought and downloaded, many hundreds of thousands more of “Killing in the Name Of…” have been purchased in retaliation. This could be the most “credible” song to hit number 1 at Christmas since the 2003 surprise winner “Mad World” from Donnie Darko. Before that, we’re looking at the absolute classic “Saviour’s Day” from 1990. No, I mean it. One of the best songs ever written, and I’m not a Christian. Come on – the melody, the lyrical flow, the lyrics….No? Just me…?

Maybe, just maybe, the race for Christmas Number One really has been a joke on the entire British nation. No other country does it. Not even the Americans, and by-and-large, Americans are mental. Whatever makes Britain turn into month-long chart speculators I do not know; it really cannot be just about the songs that make it. It must be about the spirit of the underdog, wanting the one-hit-wonders and no-hit-makers to have their little place in music history. There’s always be a little place in my heart for the commercial radio weather girls who find themselves as a new entry at number 124, or the one-time big star reduced to hoiking her Christmas single around every daytime sofa-show for the one big chance of a top-30 “comeback”.

I fully support the “Rage Against The X-Factor”. If Lordi can win Eurovision, and if Iron Maiden can themselves get “Bring Your Daughter…” to Christmas Number One, then the time has come for another national two-fingered salute to the expected and the assumed. Let us remember that Joe from the X-Factor has an entire life-time to churn out (or have churned out on his behalf) endless Westlife covers. This is the one chance for the sidelined, the leftfield, the alternative, the angry, the sagging-jeans-while-holding-a-skateboard, all of them, to unite against the manufactured schlop of reality TV.

And if anyone else points out that both Rage… and Joe are on the same record label, I may go cuckoo-bananas…It’s Christmas. Live a little…

In no particular order…

As expected, Tony Blair has scribbled all over the newsgrids in place for January and his questioning at the Iraq War Inquiry. The former prime minister told renowned investigative journalist Fern Britton that had he known about the lack of WMDs in Iraq at the time of the Parliamentary vote on any proposed Iraq invasion, “other justifications” would have been sourced and used. This is the infamously grey area barely above the level of lying so favoured by the political class: the world of “known unknowns” and suppressed legal advice and other such curtains drawn to hide the facts.

The media have not done themselves any favours against claims of “dumbing down” in recent months, not least in their coverage of the Iraq Inquiry. With barely any headline news, it has become pretty much established fact that the war had its genesis years prior to the World Trade Centre attacks, that “regime change” was far above any other justification for invasion, and George W. Bush did not necessarily require the firm handshakes or solemn prayers of Tony Blair before sending American troops into battle. How the media will cover Blair’s actual questioning in front of Chilcott will be interesting now the “big admission” has been so subtly placed into the public arena “a month early”.

The bigger story for both BBC News and Sky News this past week has been Tiger Woods’ “moment of madness”. Interestingly, BBC News placed Blair above Woods in the running order only after placing them the other way around for most of the day. Sky News was still preferring Woods to Blair at first thing this morning. It is quite the unfathomable thing that the pulling out of British troops from Iraq and subsequent uncovered allegations surrounding the war have had barely anything like the media coverage at the time of the invasion. Is it boredom on the part of the news teams? Focus Group feedback?

As I potted down to Tesco this morning for a croissant and the NonLeague Paper, I noticed each and every tabloid front page was covered self-generated X-Factor press releases and speculation. The stars may not be the best or most talented – and anyway, why do I care now Stacy has gone – but the genius of Simon Cowell to ensure his empire strikes at the top of every office coffee break, breakfast table banter and indeed chart rundown shows no sign of being reduced. That he is considering taking the X-Factor model into some kind of international Eurovision-style festival of amateur talent should come as no surprise and as a warning to anyone who would prefer a return to the days when the ability to sing came above the ability to manipulate an audience to telephone vote for you.

It’s Christmas early-pay-day-week. And I’ve yet to start any Christmas shopping. I’m playing “Christmas chicken”, it’s a bloke thing. In any case, there’s every chance that financial pressures will tighten so why not wait until every scarf, chocolate box and voucher is available at cheapness for the right to say the purchasing was genuinely all in the spirit of Goodwill?

Yep, I’m convinced. More convinced than by Blair, I’ll say that….

UEFAVision

You could see Sepp Blatter’s hands more obviously than Thierry Henry’s. With the less than able assistance of a bewilderingly lost Charlize Theron and the copper from ‘Allo ‘Allo, the draw for next year’s World Cup Finals dragged on for longer than the Eurovision Song Contest. It contained more rules and regulations than those used to ensure the daily running of the Large Hadron Collider.

On the Saturday after the tedious ping-pong ball extraction, The Guardian had a proposal. Mix the idea behind the UN Security Council with FIFA’s intention to represent the whole world in football, to invent in time for the Brazil World Cup a far wider and larger contest. In short, give automatic qualification spots to the best teams in the world rankings, to give “smaller” associations a better chance of getting to the finals. I say “smaller”, even when South Africa 2012 includes New Zealand and Slovakia, under achievers both.

On a world-wide basis, I cannot see this laudable suggestion being adopted. To be fair, FIFA really are not on the look-out to create an actual international footballing event, hence the urgency with which they sought to keep France and Portugal in the Finals in the closing stages of the European qualifying section.

However there are merits to changing the way international football competitions are organised, starting with the qualifying stages. I do wonder how frustrating it must be for a young boy waking up on the eve of his thirteenth birthday to the news from his parents that he is, sadly and tragically, a resident of the Faroe Islands and therefore will never witness decent football at any level throughout his entire life.

If this “Security Council” plan is to move forward, let us start small. UEFA will soon begin the qualification for Poland/Ukraine 2012. Rather than continue along the formulaic route of putting small and micro-nations into the same qualifying groups as England, France, or whichever other high achievers, could it be too much to ask for than a little out-of-the-box consideration? Give the smaller associations – Andorra, San Marino, Cyprus, Norn Iron, Luxembourg and so on – their own dedicated qualifying group with at least two guaranteed places in the Finals. On a world-wide context, such “small” countries as India, Pakistan, and Canada, and as such “obscure” states as Palestine, Israel, and Iraq, find it almost impossible to make it to the top table of FIFA’s corporate feast of football and merchandise. Maybe it is fluffy and idealistic to want an internationalist perspective, but given the aims of both FIFA and UEFA, why not allow more countries the chance to play competitive football at a higher level than they may otherwise have achieved?

Fading memories of Zaire and THAT free kick, or Kuwait and THAT half-time malaise, should ensure any future aims to help the smaller countries can be untarnished by such botherations as actual FACTS. And anyway, it would mean smaller television draws and no comedy Frenchman presenter.

Big fan of the Saturdays

Unless a repressed memory of offering fisticuffs to the widest tighthead prop in Orrell has yet to move to the centre of my mind, I think that’s all the flashbacks from last night sorted. Good old fashioned Saturday, then. The paper, a brew, Soccer Saturday, and fathoming out what it is about the side of shampoo bottles that makes them such decent reading material while needing-to-do-what-needs-to-be-done-after-a-night-on-the-real-ale. Oh come on, I’m not spelling it out.

But yes, here is the old friend reunion. Mr Hangover. And like fingerprints, hangovers are unique, and can be used to link anyone with a crime scene. Like giving a group of strangers the impression I was dancing because of certain medications. Or maybe as a consequence of not taking necessary medications. Or drinking Corona.

Saturday mornings have long been my favoured day of rest. No more family home routines, of ‘big shops’ of legend and Going Live! and Des Lynam on Grandstand. Or the High School routine of bopping around town for endless hours on end, which on some occasions meant hanging outside the covered market topping up cans of cherry coke with vodka hidden in a paper bag. Classy lad, I was, at times.

And now it’s the morning for looking at BT Bills with a sense of bemusement and confusion, of aiming kitchen cleaner at ovens with the cap unmoved and wondering why nothing is coming out. For Sundays are the days of dust chasing and sock drawer sorting and washing-pile fathoming. Champion the Sabbath, I say. Listen to the Now Show repeat on Radio 4 (except when Mitch Benn is on. When he starts, flick to 5Live. I don’t like Mitch Benn. At all. I may have said this earlier while giving it to the warbling Joe ). Slump on the sofa with the Guardian and a brew. Draw up rough proposals on how BBC schedulers would be able to adequately promote live coverage of New Zealand’s World Cup match against Paraguay.

Not a time for thinking, much, Saturday. Unless you have something constructive to do, like get married or somesuch. Finding your way to Blackburn for whatever reason, as was the case with three Scouse-accented lads on the train this morning. “Ere, y’are, this must be Preston, like; it looks like Sunderland, ay, blud?”, as one of them commented.

Saturdays can be the ace day of the week, the cool brother, the decent teacher, that cheeky tap-in goal from the guy who has been hitherto the subject of every negative chant from rail platform to the stands. If Monday is the nightmare to top all – the RBS banker of the week, if you will – then let Saturday be the perfect dream. Well, unless that dream is broken by the piercing shrill of the mobile phone at 7am and the female voice of reason reminding you about the wedding later that day…

Vote for Songs, Vote for Change

Someone have a word with Simon Cowell. If he of the high-trousers wants an international X-Factor, he’s better off saving his money. There already exists a multi-national amateur singing contest, it’s called Eurovision and at almost 60 it’s had ten-times the life span of most talent show careers.

But…all the same, Cowell knows when he’s onto a winner. Not that the “final 4” in the current run of the X-Factor is exactly over running with talent. The main prize has rarely been given to someone who deserves it (see, for that matter, most talent shows, namely Eurovision and the fancy dress contest at a hotel in Split back in 1991. I’m not bitter but damn it, all the winners did was wrap themselves in out-of-date Beano comics……)

Sorry, back to the X-Factor. The apparent favourite is Daryl, who has the satisfied arrogance of a libel lawyer with an ability to add extra long notes to the end of everything he sings like some form of computer character “special move”. He’s up against a one-time contestant on Deal Or No Deal, called Olly Murs, who has been forced to warble the same old selections from The Greatest Copyright Free Swing and Blues Album…Ever! while being talked about as “one of the lads”. When he was made to perform (and/or murder) George Michael’s “Fastlove” in a tight shirt and AIDS awareness ribbon I wonder exactly what had happened to the “one of the lads” demographic. Maybe Simon had been off that week. He often is.

A squat gnome-faced 12 year old called Joe, who should have never been allowed near a microphone on pain of death, has been consistently voted through despite the (very) annoying habit of turning every song into a theatrical pastiche. You know Mitch Benn? You know how everything Mitch Benn does is a) unfunny, and b) forced, and c) unfunny and forced and annoying and unfunny? Joe is RIGHT up there with the forced, annoying, unfunny Mitch Benn. He’s likely to win. It’s just not right. If Simon Callow wants a winner – and it’s likely he doesn’t really give two-hoots now there’s the opportunity to reinvent the Eurovision wheel – then Stacy “Essex girl who actually lives in the London Borough of Dagenham but why ruin a USP” Soloman is the one on whom a fiver should be placed at the bookies.

Okay, Stacy does sound like an over polished Hazel Dean, but compared with the other three – Mr Arrogant Warbler, Mr Ambiguous, Mr Mitch Benn – she’s the only one who has a singing voice worth hearing more than once. Just.

Voting for any of these potential one-hit wonders is not something I am likely to do, all that said. My real focus is on actual voting and actual democracy, with long-term consequences and all that stuff. I am annoyed to the highest limits with the news that chicken-scared Labour MPs are attempting to force Gordon Brown into rushing changes to the Westminster voting system through Parliament to trap the Conservatives into looking like “status quo stick-in-the-muds”. In short, Labour MPs who may well lose their seats in 2010 (and so they should) hope that switching to AV will a) keep them in a cushy job for a few more years, and b) stuff the Tories ever ruling with a working majority ever again.

As a liberal, a democrat, and a Liberal Democrat, my life-long dream has been to see the introduction of a fairer voting system for Westminster. AV is not my first choice by any stretch. I would much prefer STV. But of course, STV means Labour are not likely to keep the big bad Tories out of office. And for some robotic ultra-loyal Labour MPs, they would rather keep their careers nice and feather lined (so hence this cynical attempt to force through a Tory blocking measure before March 28th), than actually deal with the inadequacies of the FPTP system.

Using “politics as usual” techniques to suggest “politics is really changing” is the lowest form of Westminster game playing. It’s little wonder Yes, Minister and Thick Of It make me cringe so much; they are so much like the real goings on inside the corridors of power they may as well be broadcast as news.

It’s enough to make me give up on politics all together and become a talent show judge.