Stray Thoughts Archive (16-18)

No. 16 - From Cambrensis issue 62, December, 2004

* 'Product' is a word that should send your bullshit detector spinning. Once it was used for soap- powder and door hinges. Now it's used, deliberately and self-consciously, by loan sharks, Iraq 'security' companies, claims companies, advertising agencies, and their dubious like.

* Sometimes 'product' is attached to a genuine article in a slimy way. A spokesman for the milk marketing industry, seeking to justify the 18p or so mark-up on a litre of milk, tried to say that it was the genuine cost of turning the milk from farmers into the 'product' seen on supermarket shelves.

* Have you noticed how 'The Coalition' became the 'The American-led Coalition' and is now becoming 'the American-dominated Coalition'? A fruitless attempt at easing guilt by dissociation?

* If you have a suitably warped sense of humour, you can have a lot of fun just by watching the captions on the BBC News. On 26 May, there were two special delights: 'NHS Patient' and 'Former Football Hooligan'. Aren't most of us? I'm not talking about the latter, please note.

* There was a wonderful statistic the other day: 49 people a year in the service industries die from passive smoking. Isn't it great how statisticians can work with such pinpoint accuracy?

* Obesity is all the Government's fault. Doesn't individual responsibility count for anything?

* I was lucky enough to see some of the transit of Venus at the University of Glamorgan. I didn't stay till the end, seeing the later stages on TV in the excitable Adam Hart-Davies's programme. At least, I planned to see the later stages. They showed the third contact, but the fourth had to make way for an edition of the perma-tanned David Dickenson's ridiculous programme Bargain Hunt.

* How low can you go? I read that Liz Fuller gave the news that she'd 'dumped' Paul McKenna to the viewers (presumably that is in the plural) of Auction World channel before she said anything to McKenna. I'm glad to say that I'd never heard of Fuller, McKenna, or this TV channel before.

* Chris Williams tells me that The Bookseller reports that the prizes for the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for comic writing are champagne, a complete set of Everyman Wodehouse novels and a local pig named in honour of the author. Now there's an incentive for Cambrensis writers.

* I saw a copy of The Poems of Rowan Williams in my local WH Smug. Although he is the Archbishop of Canterbury and the collection was on the long-list for Book of the Year, it was on the 'Local Walks, Guides and Books' shelf instead of the nearby poetry section.

* Cartoon in Private Eye, mother to rounding, very young, daughter: 'I'm so pleased you're pregnant, I thought it was childhood obesity'.

* Paul Foot is dead. Let's hope that quality investigative journalism doesn't die with him.

* There is a state-sponsored effort to 'modernise' the German language, including substituting 'ss' for 'ß'. What's it got to do with the Governnment? Do you remember the disastrous attempt to teach through a phonetic alphabet here?

* Dubya, reported in the Daily Mail: 'Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our people, and neither do we.'

* No wonder Jennifer Senior wrote an article in the New Yorker magazine seriously arguing for independence for the Big Apple.

* Heard on TV, someone speaking from the London Stock Exchange: 'Two years ago we exposed ourselves to the Futures markets. That was a mistake.' You bet it was.

No. 17 - From Cambrensis issue 63, March, 2005

* What's your favourite sports cliché? 'Sick as a parrot' now seems to be just a joke, but you still hear 'over the moon', 'Not at the races' and 'truly awesome', or even a simple 'unbelievable' are possibly the current favourites. When I hear that Australian import 'a big ask', I always think of anatomy. The one I like best is probably 'we're on a learning curve'.

* 'Save up to 30% on car insurance!' 'Save up to £199 on car insurance!' How can they possibly calculate that? Is the Advertising Standards Authority sleeping?

* 'Interviewing' is really plumbing the depths on TV. Think of the gasping athletes - 'Where did it all go wrong in that final?'- 'Pant! Pant!' Or if you have a strong stomach, the obscene interrogations of bereaved parents - 'How do feel about losing your only child in this terrible accident, Mrs. X?'- 'Sob!'. What's next? The quizzing of dying earthquake victims? 'How does it feel to lose your arms and legs, Mr. Y?' - '...' This isn't news. It's a prurient media at its worst.

* A trend I have noticed is for the link between subscription and publication to be more overt. Some magazines even operate a 'subscribers only' policy. There always has been a link (Arthur puts it as subscriptions = survival) but I don't think it should be as direct and blatant as this.

* Another trend is for editors to seek out the Great God of Publicity. Boris Johnson seems to have trouble controlling two parts of his anatomy - his mouth and a thankfully concealed organ. The IoS used to be a good newspaper until Janet Street-Walker became editor. Her (fortunately) final act was to use it as a vehicle for shameless self-promotion, as with her appearance on I'm a Nonentity - Get Me Out of Here. I hope Arthur doesn't take it into his head to do naughty things in some jungle.

* In 1979, a TV series on family history was fronted by Gordon Honeycombe, a well-known newscaster who had a genuine interest in the subject. Twenty-five years on another genealogy programme has to be focused on the likes of David Baddiel and Jeremy Clarkson.

* Did you know that 'Hoon', as in Geoff Hoon, is Oz slang for 'lout' and worse?

* The newpapers made much of a survey comparing 2004 favourably with 1954. I remember the fifties (just, honestly) and would subscribe to the view that most of us are better off materially, environmentally, and in some ways cognitively now. But in the fifties we were also less paranoid and more assured that we were going forward. The past was neither better nor worse, just different. As LP Hartley said 'the past is a foreign country: they do things differently there'. We should not look at that country through dark shades any more than we should look at it through rose-tinted glasses.

* Apologies for calling Joan Collins a 'has been'. I meant to say a 'never was'.

* Misheard on the radio: 'a consortium of creditor nations' as 'a consortium of predator nations'. By a strange coincidence they were talking about Iraq.

* Roundyhouse has proved me wrong. When it started after a visit to Ireland, I thought that it would be a short-lived enthusiasm. Now it's entering its sixth year. Well done, Byron Beynon, Phil Carradice, Sally Roberts Jones, Brian Smith and Alexandra Trowbridge-Matthews.

* Even the Daily Telegraph will eventually recognise the advantages of the now-fashionable 'compact' size. Have you noticed how the 'quality' newspapers avoid the description 'tabloid' to avoid associations with the comic-book gutter press? I hope that in this case it's only size that counts.

* In a letter to the Telegraph, Tim Healey asks: 'Where does the Swiss beach volleyball team practise?'

No. 18 - From Cambrensis issue 64, June, 2005

* In 1869, Matthew Arnold defined a Philistine as someone who saw money as the measure of everything. In 2004, Tessa Jowell published a paper called The Value of Culture.

* The Seventh Quarry (Peter Thabit Jones, Poetry) and 7th Quark (Alex Keegan, Fiction) are the names of two new magazines. Ah, well.

* Keith Flett, that indefatigable letter-writer, asks the IoS: 'What socialist has an affair with someone who has a nanny?'

* And in a letter to The Guardian, David Rainford wonders 'if Robert Kilroy-Silk thought of the name Veritas while drinking a bottle of vino'.

* The person who beheaded the waxwork of Becks in the Tussaud's Nativity display clearly did not appreciate the post-irony. But Blair, Dubya and Prince Philip as The Three Wise Men?

* From the Government White Paper on Public Health: 'This will encompass integrated strategy to develop a joint planning and commissioning strategy; integrated processes to involve health professional in utilising the common assessment framework [etc.] Had enough? Or too much?

* General clichés have a shorter shelf-life than the sporting ones I highlighted in the last Stray Thoughts. With a bit of luck 'no brainer', 'political big hitter' and the awful-sounding 'gobsmacked' will be past their sell-by date by the time you read this. They probably already are.

* Or maybe they could be tweaked and recycled? How about 'brainsmacked', 'political no hitter' and 'big gob'. Hold on: haven't I heard the last one before somewhere?

* I saw The Peoples' Champion, Esther Rancid, on one of those appalling 'no fee'd, all greed' legal claims advertisements the other day. Let's hope that her fee for selling the little that's left of her reputation was appropriately tiny.

* Joan Smith, of the IoS, urges us to take a balanced view about the demeaning appearance of Germaine Greer in Big Brother. She says: 'all she's done is appear in a crap TV show, not rob a bank or napalm children'. Quite right. And her withdrawal in a huff now gives her about as much credibility as Clare Short achieved after her dithering withdrawal from the cabinet over Iraq.

* Rabid Sikhs protest outside a theatre in Birmingham. Rabid Christians try to stop the BBC screening Jerry Springer - The Opera. What's next - bringing back the inquisition? Not quite, but the proposed religious censorship laws would be a small step along the way.

* Robert Nisbet tells me that in preparation for a workshop, he was typing out Wordsworth's sonnet 'It is a beauteous evening ...' When he got to the line "Dear Child! Dear Girl! that walkest with me here" the PC immediately popped up the advice, "Looks like you're writing a letter".

* The TV recruitment campaign for teachers is coming in for some stick because of the too-rosy picture it paints. Maybe it does, but the ad. is only one factor that potential candidates for what should be a rewarding vocation would consider. And, before you ask, I've never been a teacher.

* ITN is under financial pressure. The BBC news is under political pressure. Not good signs for democracy.

* For a refreshing change from the tame mainstream press try SEReN (PO Box 661, Wrexham, LL11 1QU; not the Bridgend publishers). Typical front page headline - 'Is this what they call freedom? Labour attacks democracy to, er, defend democracy'.


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