Friday, 28 November 2014

What has Christmas become?

Christmas is changing.  I don't think I really recognise it any more.  There are so many things that it wouldn't be Christmas without – but half of them have only come into being at all in the past five years (or so it seems)!

Today is Black Friday.  I don't really know what that is.  It's like the after Christmas sales – but, weirdly, before Christmas.  I remember people talking about it last year, and I'm pretty sure somebody died (really?! Somebody check that for me…), but before last year I'd never heard of it, and I'm still not sure where it came from.  There are so many sales, seasonal events, one-day brand events, or whatever, now that the really special occasion is when the products are full-price – most products spend more time on special offer than at full price, and shops should really give up the pretence and just admit that the 'reduced' prices are actually the real prices.  Whatever the price is, though, it's pretty unedifying to fight someone in a supermarket over who gets the last George Foreman Lean Mean Fat-Grilling Machine on the shelf.  What are you people thinking of?!  It's madness!

Christmas adverts have evolved until now there's an obligation to make an advert which doesn't just shamelessly flog worthless tat to Christmas shoppers but is practically a miniature motion picture with a raft of characters with complex backstories, an unexpected plot twist and an uplifting yet thoughtful moral message.  A few years back, adverts were just a thing which happened when you were watching TV – a good opportunity to get up and make a cup of coffee or find the cat.  Now, people eagerly await the smug, kitschy Christmas adverts the way they look forward to the next episode of their favourite television programmes.

For some reason, supermarkets have now entered into a competition to see who can stuff as many animals one inside the other.  The lower budget the supermarket, the more different animals they try to cram in there.  When I was growing up, you had your roast goose or your roast turkey, with potatoes, vegetables, gravy, whatever – these days, you can head down to your local Nisa Today and pick up a gorgeous roasted goat stuffed with a monkey stuffed with a turkey stuffed with a chicken stuffed with an otter stuffed with a partridge stuffed with a shrew (serves 4) for only a tenner.  I suppose the next step is to start doing the same thing with vegetables?  Roast potatoes stuffed with parsnips stuffed with carrots stuffed with sprouts stuffed with peas?

We don't even call it Christmas now, do we?  It's the holiday season – or, worse, the party season.  Y'see, we have to give the impression that the entire period of time after the end of the Bonfire Night celebrations up until the bitter, throbbing regrets of New Year's Day is one long string of end-to-end parties and social occasions – each filled to bursting with laughter, jollity, scintillating conversations, exciting sex, memories to cherish forever, and tiny little cocktail sausages which other people have touched.  The party season, where everyone always look incredible, and no one is ever unhappy.  Yeah, right!

Christmas used to be a time of worship – for those of a particular religious bent – or else a time to see family, catch up with old friends, relax, and enjoy yourself.  Recently it seems to have become a parade of saccharine clichés, each rooted in hollow, mindless consumerism instead of anything meaningful or personal.

The changes I've written about are all very, very recent.  But Tom Lehrer summed up the spirit of it all, long before 'Black Friday' or any of this other stuff existed:

Christmas!  What happened to you?

Friday, 21 November 2014

The political Richter Scale

UKIP are keen to tell us that there is a 'political earthquake' underway.  That the party is gathering momentum is not in doubt – but is it really an 'earthquake'?  No.

Last night saw Mark Reckless (re)elected as the MP for Rochester Strood, to become the second MP to be elected under the UKIP name.  His majority of close to three thousand over the Conservatives was comfortable, but not insurmountable for the Tories at a General Election, where polls show voters do tend to approach things slightly differently.  Nevertheless, it was a good victory for UKIP and they are quite understandably celebrating the result.

However, I don't believe this result is quite as momentous as the UKIP types on the news and on social media would have us believe.  Sure, it's a good result for them – but how earth-shattering really is it?

As in last month's by-election in Clacton, UKIP's candidate was a defector to the party from the Conservatives, and the incumbent MP in that seat.  Incumbency brings with it certain benefits, and when we look at other recent by-elections in Heywood & Middleton and in Newark – where UKIP have not been 'helped along' by the defection of a local MP already known to the people in the constituency – UKIP have polled fairly well, but not won the seat.  Really winning a seat is a different proposition from holding a seat (even under different party colours), and that is something UKIP are still yet to do.
What is certain, though, is that the General Election next year is looking set to be very interesting indeed!  It will be fascinating to see how UKIP fare with their 'homegrown' (for want of a better word) candidates – those dyed-in-the-wool 'Kippers who haven't crossed over from another party, taking with them a certain level of local support and a preexisting record of achievement in parliament which they can use on the campaign trail.

Personally, I think it's quite unlikely that we'll see any further defections to UKIP before the General Election.  So, when we come to May next year, UKIP candidates will stand or fall on their own merits – and although the party is on the rise, I don't think we will see the huge numbers of UKIP MPs some of their activists are hoping for.

My personal feeling is that they'll be extremely lucky to get into double figures with the number of seats they win.  That's a tremor, but is it truly an earthquake?  Not really.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Comment on this

Do you write comments on newspaper articles online?  You shouldn't.

I very rarely get comments on my Blog posts – and for that, I am very grateful.  The problem with online comments is that no one is listening, and everyone is talking; it is a world where people scream their opinions into the abyss with an obstinate certainty they would never display in real life – there is no persuading anyone of an alternate point-of-view because everyone's positions are already so entrenched, and ad hominem is the default approach for making any point.

No one can ever 'win' one of these arguments (read: shouting matches).  I don't think anybody is even trying to.  There are plenty of comments on this critique of Russell Brand's latest book by Michael Moynihan, most of which are pretty hostile – and yet there are precious few attempts logically to refute the arguments the author makes, and instead the commenters' points are almost all "you're jealous of him!" or "you're just a stooge of 'the establishment' anyway!"

I've lost count (OK, I was never really keeping count) of the number of times I've read an excellent article, followed by a bunch of moronic comments from people with no interest at all in debating the issues raised in the piece with an open mind.

So, let's all try to  restrain ourselves, and stop posting comments – the world will be a happier, nicer place for it.

Thursday, 6 November 2014


I've just watched the new John Lewis Christmas advert.  If you haven't seen it yet, here it is:

According to the response on my Facebook and Twitter feeds, people have actually been crying at this.  Genuinely shedding real life tears.  Can you believe that?  It's a television advert.  And you're crying at it?!  Pull yourselves together!  You'll find you get a lot less emotional watching it if you bear in mind that it's been cynically calculated to make you spend as much money as possible.

Even worse, however, is John Lewis' appropriation of Christmas.  This article in The Telegraph declares that "today sees the start of the countdown to Christmas: the launch of the John Lewis Christmas advert".  No, it doesn't.  We already have a 'countdown to Christmas' – it's called Advent, and it begins four Sundays before Christmas Day (this year, that's 30th November).  And with its traditions of lighting candles, singing songs and baking cakes, Advent is considerably more festive and more community-spirited than an unashamed attempt to squeeze more money out of consumers by tugging on their heartstrings.

I shall be expanding on this at a later time, but when my political party sweeps to power next May in a landslide election victory, our flagship policy will be to double corporation tax on any company who puts out a Christmas advert before the last week of November.  If John Lewis decide to pass that increase on to their customers, they may find their Christmas marketing campaign doesn't bring it quite so much profit any more.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Taylor Swift and Spotify

Taylor Swift has been much lauded for her decision to take all her music off the Spotify streaming service.  I can understand why she has, and why people think this was a good decision – but I worry that setting precedents for a music industry 'business model' is not such a good idea.

Comments like 'Taylor Swift is doing it right!' imply that other musicians, who have made different choices for their own music and their own careers, are doing it 'wrong'.  And that is not cool.  As I ruminated on Twitter earlier, one of the most exciting things about a career in music is the way everyone can do things their own way…

Off with his head!

Off with his head! they are screaming on the Norwich City football forums, like the Queen Of Hearts in Alice In Wonderland, following an embarrassing 4-0 defeat to Middlesborough last night.  As the blistering start to the season fades and gives way to the grit and slog of a 46-match campaign in the SkyBet Championship, more and more people are starting to espouse the view that manager Neil Adams should be let go.  The fools!

I have said before that Adams was not my first choice as a permanent manager, following relegation from the Premier League at the end of last season.  I stand by that.  But he's there now – and, at this stage, sacking him will almost certainly do more harm than good.

Far too many football fans see sacking the manager as a 'silver bullet' – an instant solution which will wipe away all the problems of a struggling club, as if they were never there.  It isn't.  It never has been, and it never will be.

(It is worth pointing out, at this stage, that Norwich are not a 'struggling club'.  We are seventh in the Championship, as things stand, and only four points off the top two clubs.  It is easy to throw around 'soundbite statistics' like only two wins in the last ten games; it's just as easy to express the same statistic as only three losses in the last ten games – either way, it's relatively meaningless.  It cannot be said firmly enough: this is not a crisis.)

Sacking the manager is, in many respects, the easy bit.  You tell him you don't want him any more, and he's gone – and, in doing so, you slake the disgruntled fans' baying for blood.  The tricky part is what happens next.  You have to appoint a new manager.  Who?

Who is there who's available, and not already at a club?  Who is there who's going to want to come and manage a Championship side like Norwich?  Who is there who's going to be a guaranteed step up from Adams (if the guy you get in next isn't going to be a guaranteed step up, what was the point of sacking the last guy, if the new one's not going to be any better?!)?

Nobody has any answers to these questions.  People don't consider the 'afterwards' – just as those who call for revolution don't have any coherent plan for what will replace the ancien régime.  All wrongs will be righted, 'come the revolution'.  How?  Nobody knows.  Managerial changes are messy, tumultuous upheavals, which have huge affects on a club; if you're going to put the club through that turmoil again, there had better be a bloody good plan for 'afterwards'!

As I have written before, the way to become an established Premier League club (which is, after all, the aim) is to have a long-term plan.  It is also worth stating, at this juncture, that stability is more important than timescale; that is to say, if promotion this season meant relegation again next season, whilst waiting for promotion until the season after next would more likely yield a prolonged stay in the Premier League, I would choose the latter every time – I want long-term success, not to become a 'yo-yo club'.  A managerial 'merry-go-round' is the opposite of all of this – it is a quick fix; it is short-term thinking; and it is very, very stupid.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

#TheApprentice observations

I have been watching the latest series of BBC businessdrama The Apprentice (now in its tenth year) with a growing sense of despair.  These candidates are, surely, the worst group of self-styled 'businessmen' and 'businesswomen' ever to grace Lord Sugar's Boardroom!  Everything which can go wrong has gone wrong, and I'm left wondering whether these sorry individuals are really the best and brightest business minds in the UK – if they are, we are all royally screwed.

That said, the floundering candidates are not the most frustrating thing about The Apprentice – that particular accolade falls to the show's star, Lord Sugar.  Brilliant business mind he may be, but the more I see of Lord Sugar the less I like him and the more convinced I become that I would never want to work in partnership with him.

It is easy – indeed, it is practically mandatory – to make fun of the Apprentice candidates for some of the ridiculous lines they come out with when they're trying to 'sell themselves' on camera.  The terminally verbose Steven Ugoalah (fired last week) described himself as 'perfect in every way' – and then went on to say 'I'm not arrogant, because everything I'm saying is all true'.  Wow.

It is telling, therefore that the worst thing you can do in the Boardroom, as a candidate on The Apprentice, is not to lose a task, lose money, or even attack another candidate personally, but to compare yourself to Lord Sugar.  This is the one thing which really makes Lord Sugar bristle.  'You're not like me.  Don't ever compare yourself to me!' he will snap.  Well, why not?  There's no doubt that Lord Sugar is a very successful man, but he's not so special and wonderful as to be completely unique!  Somebody is going to be like him - and, for all he knows, it could be one of these young wannabes sat across the table from him.

It is in moments such as this that Lord Sugar's own arrogance shows through.  He has little time for the candidates' bizarrely hyperbolic self-aggrandisement – and rightly so – but he is not immune to this puffed-up mindset either.  The irony is, of course, that he may be more mature, and more experienced – and he may have earnt those bragging rights, to an extent – but by putting himself on a pedestal in this manner, Lord Sugar reveals that he is actually quite a lot more like the candidates whose comparisons he abhors than he might like to admit.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Help! I was attacked by a road!

According to the Daily Telegraph, the 'most dangerous road in Britain' is a stretch of the A285 between Chichester and Petworth.

What a load of nonsense!

A road is not, in and of itself, 'dangerous' at all.  There is no such thing as a 'dangerous road'; there are only drivers who don't drive appropriately for the road, the weather conditions, the age of their tyres and brake pads, the visibility, the levels of traffic, and their own alertness – and, therefore, cause accidents.

Drivers are responsible for accidents, not roads!

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Bonfire Night, not Bonfire Week

Bonfire Night in the UK is on the 5th of November.  Remember?

Despite the rhyme that every schoolchild learns, to Remember, remember, the 5th of November, some people apparently find this very difficult.  Bonfire Night celebrations these days are often on the weekend closest to the 5th of November instead – which doesn't exactly scan so well in the rhyme, but at least ensures people are able to go out to a fireworks display and have a jolly good time all evening without the worry of having to get up early the next morning for work, school, or the invasion.

This year, the 5th of November is a Wednesday – which is about the worst day it can be.  It falls smack-bang in the middle of the so-called 'working week', meaning that the weekend before and the weekend after – and all the days in between – are considered fair game for Bonfire Night parties, community fireworks displays, and general Guy Fawkes-based hijinks.  As a result, Bonfire Night celebrations will drag on for anything up to nine days – terrifying cats, dogs, and gang members of a nervous disposition for miles around for over a week.

Well, bollocks to it, I say.  When I was at primary school, many moons ago, at the school in the village where I live, the then headteacher made it very clear that the school's fireworks display would always fall on November 5th, whatever day of the week that happened to be.  And if we turned up tired, grumpy and tinnitus-ridden at school the next morning as a result, we just had to cope.  Or, if we couldn't cope, not go to the fireworks display.

'Remember, remember, the seventh of November' has too many syllables!

I am more than happy for people to detonate miniature explosions in their back gardens, and set fire to their neighbours' sheds, for one night each year.  It's a tradition which marks a very important event in our nation's history.  However, when this is stretched out over a week, or a fortnight, or a month, it becomes a bloody nuisance.

Hold your Bonfire Night parties on 5th November, people, or don't hold them at all!  And if that date happens to fall on a day which, for whatever reason, is inconvenient for you – well, that's just tough.  If celebrating Bonfire Night means that much to you, make a note to make sure you keep the date free next year.