Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Panel Beaters

So the BBC is determinedly flying the flag for women’s rights. It is going to outlaw all-male comedy panel shows.

Instead of a boorish line-up of testosterone heavy, self-opinionated satirists we’re going to have some women thrown into the mix. Proper women. Not Lilly Savage or Dame Edna. But real bona fide women. Comediennes.

I’m sure this new stance has nothing at all to do with the recent slash and burn effect of Operation Yewtree on the BBC’s standing as a noble bastion for equality and fairness. This is something that has bugged the BBC for a long time; it’s something they have always wanted to address and by golly they are finally going to do it.

Move over David Mitchell and Dara O’Briain – here come the girls.

And I think this is fine. This is a good move.

Except a few writers / journalists / commentators have asked the question: are women going to be asked to appear on these shows because they are funny or because they are women? If it’s the latter then is gender equality really being served?

But, the thing is, how does one judge “funniness”? How is it determined and measured? Because, to be honest, a lot of the male contestants on these unspecified panel shows don’t strike me as being particularly funny at all. Ross Noble, Johnny Vegas, et al leave me cold. So were they invited to be contestants because they were funny or just because they were men and “big TV names”?

Because aren’t there possibly more male big TV names than female big TV names in the first place simply because showbusiness, like every other industry, is traditionally weighted in favour of unthinkingly promoting male talent over female talent every chance it gets?

My point is, if nobody is asking “are they funny” of the male contestants before inviting them onto a panel show then should it be seen as a deal breaker for a comedienne? Why is the question even being asked? If they are professional comediennes, making money and a career out of performing their own comedy routines, surely that is the only prerequisite answered?

Humour is subjective. There is no way to benchmark it. At the end of the day these shows are simply star vehicles; there are a means of exposure for up-and-coming and established artists. And if women are being under-represented then that is wrong and it needs addressing.

Are they funny?

We viewers at home should have the right and the opportunity to judge for ourselves. All-male panel shows deny everybody that opportunity.

Case rests.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Jackson 5

Amid all the news stories of rain battered Britain and Scottish and English politicians squabbling over the Queen’s head it was nice to come across something so completely ridiculous it could only have happened in France.

It seems that the French courts, that eternal bastion of sanity and commonsense, have decided to award 5 Michael Jackson fans (is this all of them?) a symbolic payment of 1 Euro each to recompense them for the “emotional damage” caused when Michael Jackson’s pet quack, Conrad Murray, caused his master’s death by blowpiping one too many anaesthetic pills down Mr Jackson’s falsetto oesophagus. Apparently a total of 34 Michael Jackson fans (OK, that must surely be all of them?) had actually sued Murray but the Orleans Court ruled that only 5 of them had sufficiently evidenced proven emotional suffering to deserve a pay-out. Presumably the other 29 were considered legally insensate to their own irrelevant sense of grief or were – shock horror – considered to be merely cashing in on the fact that they happened to own an original beaten up copy of Off The Wall.

Apparently the 5 successful claimants had proven their case “with the help of witness statements and medical certificates." Basically their friends and GPs had signed an affidavit to the effect that these people were “deeply sad”.

Their lawyer, Emmanuel Ludot, said: "As far as I know this is the first time in the world that the notion of emotional damage in connection with a pop star has been recognised."

It is clear to me that this is going to set a dangerous precedent - one that I mean to take every advantage of.

Personally I would like to sue Michael Jackson (or rather his estate) for having to watch him leg-snap his way through an utterly cringe-making performance of Earth Song during some UK award ceremony a few years back. The fact I can’t even remember the name of the ceremony is testament to how upset I am about it all. This is what happens when you suffer true emotional trauma. Your mind buries things and tries to forget. But I am haunted by waking dreams of Michael "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles" Jackson hugging lots of children whose dress code appears to be “impoverished chic” and only the Messianic appearance of Jarvis Cocker ever brings the nightmare to an end.

I’d also like to sue Michael Jackson for the entire Bad album because, well, it was very very bad but I daresay they’ll use the old “does what it says on the tin” argument against me and, yeah, I’d have to admit I probably should have seen it coming. Caveat emptor and all that.

But I’m now wondering if I could perhaps throw this compensation thing even wider. I mean, why stop at pop stars? I’d like to sue Dave Lee Travis for describing himself as “cuddly not predatory” in his recent Operation Yewtree court case because, regardless of the fact that they’ve cleared his name, I just found that statement bone-squirmingly creepy. It emotionally damaged me for at least half an hour. That’s got to be worth 50 pence of anybody’s money. Not to mention the cost of bringing the whole thing to court.

I’d also like to sue Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer because I have never found them funny and as a consequence I feel inadequate when around those who evidently do. I’d like to sue Hugh Fearnley-Whttingstall for putting me off my dinner whenever he’s on the telly; Louie Spence for making me wish I had immediate access to a firearm and a clear line of sight; Katie Price for making me feel that actually, against all the odds and my every testosterone fuelled instinct, breasts can be too big; Eamonn Holmes for filling me with so much murderous bile I could actually conceive that one day it might be justifiable to commit global genocide if it guaranteed his individual demise and, finally, the guy who works in the newsagents around the corner from where I work who sits with his paunch pushed up so close to the till drawer he has to scoop my change out of his duodenum whenever I buy a Mars bar, I’m telling you it just doesn’t taste the same after pocketing those too-warm coins.

All I need is Emmanuel Ludot’s email address. Unless, of course, he reads this post first and then pre-emptively sues me for the future emotional damage I’m about to cause him.


I’ll just bung a pound into the kitty now, shall I, and have done with it?

Sunday, February 09, 2014


100% true: in a recent episode of Jedward's Big Adventure on CBBC the following dialogue took place between the Jedward monkeys:

Jedward 1: "Yo bro, you're goin' down like the sunrise!"

Jedward 2: "Oh yeah? Well the sun ain't even out today 'cos it's too cloudy!"

It's saying something when even my 6 year old son turns to me and proclaims, "Word up, pater, but I swear to God the British Broadcasting Corporation is dumbing down kid's television."

And it got me to thinking that perhaps the Jedward twins are like a viral idiocy genome that is slowly spreading across the UK via HD cable signals, deliberately targeting and infecting our kids and corrupting their synapses so that in a mere generation's time George W Bush will be seen via the readjusted lens of History as a politician of Einsteinian proportions. The Jedwards are a virus. A virus with the big-eyed baby seal look of a stranded three-legged puppy dog and the asexual physiognomy of a Ken Barbie doll. They appear to be so harmless we just don't bother to defend ourselves. They are the perfect storm.

The only effective vaccine is a potentially lethal dose of cynicism. It's either cure society or kill yourself. Compared to the alternative that has to be a win-win.

Preamble over, onto the main thrust of this post. What if the Jedward virus started to manifest itself in other entertainment settings? Movies and the like?

Imagine The Twilight Saga (and I accept I may have lost most of my readership right here) with Bella Swan perpetually mooning over Jedward Cullen and his inability to consummate their relationship. I say "inability" not "refusal" out of some half-assed outdated Christian belief system where having sex out of wedlock leads to eternal damnation (and the production of children whose innocent state is revered in Christianity as a virtue worth emulating). No. The Jedwards can't have sex because (a) they are not sexually mature enough (both physically and mentally) and (b) they can't stay focused long enough to maintain even a half-mast erection.

Jedward 1: "Oh Bella, you make me feel all tingly down below, girlfriend."

Jedward 2: "Me too, boyfriend. She's a hottie, ain't she?"

Jedward 1: "Oh she is boyfriend. But who's gonna go first because if we both do it at the same time it'll be like doing it with ourselves and it'll all be gross and stuff and our mammy said we shouldn't do that again because it'll be like masturbating with ourselves but worse 'cos it'll be like you doing it to me as me and me doing it to you as you and I'll end up with all your warts and hairy palms like joke monster gloves."

Jedward 2: "Ooh I just love joke monster gloves. Let's go get some! We could play a joke on Bella and pretend we're wolves or something and then pounce on her in the forest and really screw with her already questionable emotional state..."

Or what about Jedward Scissorhands: our poor Jedward twins are artificially created in a weird Walt Disney Frankenstein experiment out in the American sticks but their creator dies before he can finish making their hands (and their brains). So our hapless boys fashion hands for themselves out of scissors and knives and other equipment they find lying around in a gentleman's barbershop and become known as Jedward Scissorhands. Unfortunately they are so stupid they can't even get jobs as letter-openers in a Home For Paraplegics and so starve to death because I really don't want to mess with my fragile psyche by thinking up a happy ending for them.

Or finally ('cos I'm already scraping the barrel here) they morph into a weird living dichotomy of Edward Woodward and become Jedward Woodward, The Equalizer. They decided to live a life helping the little people (you and me, as opposed to Leprechauns) and with that in mind put an advert in the local paper: "Odds against you? Need help? Call the Equalizer. 212 555 4200". Only the newspaper they put the advert in is The Bet and they soon find themselves receiving death threats from all the irate gamblers who have lost fortunes based on the boys' sage advice to bet against "the sun rising tomorrow 'cos it's just too damned cloudy."

And breathe.

Bile vented.

Thank you for listening.

Thursday, February 06, 2014


The older I get the more I realize how easy it is to drop the reins of one’s life. To just let them go and allow them to drop to the floor where they can be picked up by absolutely anybody or even nobody at all. Suddenly the stagecoach on which you are riding – the stagecoach which is you – is not heading in the direction you had thought it was or the direction in which you had intended. Worse, you realize you had no real sense of direction at all and now you are looking around wondering where the hell you are. You just know you are not in the place – the vision of Utopia – that you were holding in your mind as your ultimate destination and you have no idea of how to get there.

I’m starting to see that a passive nature often leads to a passive act of self-betrayal.

When I was a kid I had a very definite vision of what I was going to do when I grew up; of what I wanted to be. Initially it was a crimefighter. A superhero. The world can’t have too many of those and fighting evil seemed a perfectly legitimate way to spend one’s time. Note I say “spend one’s time” and not “earn a living”. Receiving monetary recompense for my future acts of derring-do didn’t ever occur to me. My motives were pure. This was just something I wanted to do and my vision was completely unsullied by any transactions of filthy lucre. Dosh wasn’t the important thing. What I wanted to do was.

Such wisdom in one so young.

As I got older I had a Father Christmas moment. That horrible epiphany that you get when you realize something you have long believed in and held dear is, in fact, an abject impossibility and not a little stupid for all its inherent idealism.

Crimefighting wasn’t going to work. Han Solo was unlikely to want to join my crimefighting gang and the government were unlikely to allow me unfettered access to an unlicensed lightsaber even if the science bods had been able to create one.

So I settled on writing. Being an author; a novelist. Through my teens and twenties this was transmuted into poet and now, later, older, it has reverted back to author.

Don’t get me wrong. I do consider myself a writer. I’ve written novels, scripts, articles, poetry, radio plays and joke letters. I suppose I am an author.

But I don’t consider myself to be leading an author’s life. Whatever that is.

When I was younger the vision I had of this author’s life didn’t entail daily battles against exhaustion, futility, frustration, despair, ennui or the many other vagaries of a 9 to 5 job. The vagaries of making a living that get in the way of the life we are trying to lead.

I daresay the life I have now is most definitely a real, genuine author’s life. My teenage vision was well wide of the true mark. That Father Christmas moment is damned necessary if any of us are to engage with reality and function properly as adults.

But I can’t help thinking that my younger, purer, infant vision was infinitely wiser: it is the choice of doing that is the most important thing, not the remuneration and how you achieve it.

Because it is the moment you reach out for that tightly bundled fistful of dollars that you drop the reins and the stagecoach that is you takes a lurch for the worst and, terrifyingly, speeds up.

It is the moment you pocket that cash that you find you have lost your way.

Sunday, February 02, 2014


The wife brought it up the other day. Just dropped it into the conversation like a self-cleaning grenade.

"Why don't we get a cleaner?"

A what?

I confess I initially recoiled. Who the hell had she killed? This is what comes of waving a handgun around in the back of the car with the safety catch left off. One speed bump and boom. Death by hair trigger and then you have to spend the rest of the day being nice to Harvey Keitel while he picks some dude's brains out of your furry dice. And no, that is not a euphemism for oral pleasure.

Turns out the wife actually meant get a cleaner. A Mrs Overall. A Mrs Doyle.

A skivvy.

Someone to come and do for us (though that still sounds a bit Pulp Fiction-esque to me).

The wife's argument is thus: she and I both work full time, when we have any free time we are battling a constant malaise of exhaustion that raising kids prevents you from ever giving in to so you keep pushing and pushing yourself with the end result that your effectiveness as a careerist / parent / homeowner shrivels down into a depressing spiral of endlessly diminishing returns.

Now I'm not saying that our home deserves to feature on a Channel 4 documentary fronted by the spectacularly fronted Jasmine Harman (though she's more than welcome to rifle through my Tallboy any time she likes) but, you know, sometimes things get left. For a few weeks. And I put it to you that having water cress growing out of your draining board is not a look that will entice Nigella Lawson around for an evening meal. And that's even before she negotiates the sometimes tacky floor of the bathroom on her way to powder her nose.

We do our best but our best isn't good enough. Our best certainly isn't up to the 1950's ideal that my Nan and mum embodied when I was growing up. But, of course, looking after the home was and is a full time job in itself (especially when you throw young kids and cats into the mix) and they lived in an age where a woman having a career and going out to work full-time was unusual and, outrageously from the modern perspective, a bit of a talking point. Neither of them worked full-time in the career sense. Though in terms of labouring to maintain a spotlessly clean home they never bloody stopped.

So. We - Karen and I - are considering hiring a skivvy.

I feel surprisingly ambivalent about it.

My first reaction was kind of an inverse snobbery borne of my thick overlay of working class ideals and a deep sense of class embarrassment: what the hell would my friends say? What would my mother say? My second reaction was to begrudge the money: are we really going to give away hard earned moolah to someone else so they can come into our home and do the jobs that we would and could do (albeit haphazardly) for free? My third was the English Man defending his castle stance: have some grubby faced dole-ite invading our home, pocketing our loose change and hijacking our wifi when we're not looking?

Was my wife utterly mad?

But as the idea has lain with me and snuggled up softly, gently pushed sugar kisses into my ear and raised its eyebrows suggestively I have started to see the positives.

(a) More free time and energy to do the things we really want to do. (b) A more hygienic, more healthy standard of living that the wife and I, the kids and even the cats would benefit from. (c) Someone who can scrub the bloodstains out of the backseat of the car for a lot less tin than Harvey Keitel asks for.

We shall ask for references naturally and have to think carefully about keeping any kind of monetary temptation out of view. My wife will be at home on the days the cleaner comes round. And my Lego sanctuary... er... "office" will be out of bounds to uninitiated duster-wielding hands.

With those provisos in place, I am slowly coming round to the idea.

So hello, Upper Middle Class.

Who knew that a slightly grubby lifestyle would lead so effortlessly to upwards mobility?