Friday, June 30, 2006

Warning: Rant Alert!

This kinda follows on from the Barcelona post below. But will go off at a tangent, as I am wont to do. You might want to skip this, to be honest.

This development of cities as playgrounds for the rich is happening everywhere I've been over the past ten years: Las Vegas, Tokyo, Paris, Edinburgh, Newcastle and of course, London. It's like there's some kind of conspiracy going on to deliberately exclude the only people who were actually prepared to live in city centres a decade or two ago. Home-owners coming back and kicking out the tenants - "thanks for looking after the place while we didn't want to live in it, but we're back now, so piss off".

When I was growing up in Newcastle, I took pictures of the quayside for my Photography 'A' Level and I'm glad I did. It has, unsurprisingly, completely changed and I'm not sure for the better to be honest. There used to be derelict warehouses which are now very expensive flats. There were fish markets, which are now bars. And what was the Baltic Flour Mill, is now an international arts centre.

I'm not complaining about the introduction of arts centres and bars where you don't get stabbed (as often), and it is great that the once derelict buildings are actually being used again. Again, I'm not suggesting that things were better when "I were a lad" or harking back (a la Heartbeat) for a time and place that never existed. What I'm complaining about is, why did we have to change areas that used to be used by businesses into expensive housing and bars that have a dress code?

Couldn't the city elders have thought, "you know what, the sort of businesses that used to use the area are gone, but our population is growing, so it would make sense for us to make those warehouses into social housing. Once people are living in the area, small businesses will be attracted into the area to serve the population. We will be happy as the increase in council tenants and new businesses will, in the long run, be financially prudent. The people will be so happy they will name streets after us, rather than us naming the streets after ourselves." Okay, so I made that last bit up, that would never happen. But the point remains.

This isn't exclusively about Newcastle, most of what I'm about to say would be perfectly applicable to the Docklands area of London. Or the quays of Exeter.

Why do the city council have to sell off their land to commercial companies in order to achieve the regeneration of an area? This leads to the regeneration of an area more often than not becoming a "gentrification" of an area. As the profit motive drives the prices of the completed property up, the make up of the area changes: there is a need to attract middle-class, high-income young couples who are the only people who can afford the property prices.

But how do you attract these DINKY (double income, no kids yet) couples into the previously run-down area? Push up business rates to extremely high levels to kill off any local shops or bars that have somehow managed to survive, thus removing any of their clientele, then knock down any empty buildings you don't want or need. Any shops that do come into the area then need to charge higher prices to their customers in order to make a profit, effectively stopping the old clientele from returning.

These (socially-)exclusive shops and bars attract more DINKY people into the area and other entertainment springs up to cater for the extra numbers. Other traditionally middle class pursuits arrive, such as theatres, classical music venues and art galleries. This then attracts more wealthy couples into the area, which attracts more restaurants and upmarket shops each hoping to compete by being more exclusive than their competitors. Without really trying too hard, the gentrification of the area becomes complete and the city leaders have achieved all this with the minimum of outlay.

But, and it's maybe a betrayal of my roots to even ask this question, what is so bad about the working class? Shouldn't central government, instead of promoting the idea of buying your own council house, be less concerned with short-term financial gains and actually planning how to maintain and improve social housing to the extent where many people wouldn't want to own their own home?

How did the Conservative government of the early 80's manage to persuade hundreds of thousands of people to buy their own house from their Local Authority, get themselves into mortgage-led debt and onto the consumerist treadmill where new and expensive is good? Why did millions of Britons buy shares in utility companies that they already owned (because they were previously state run) and make huge profits not for themselves, but for the banks and legal firms that oversaw the floatation?

By selling a lie.

By persuading people that the "free market" would allow them, by their own guile, to be financially better off. That they would no longer be at the bottom of the social ladder. That they would now have other people to look down on. And that actually havng the aspiration to look down on someone was "a good thing". But in order to do all of that, first of all you need to have a bank account. More specifically, you need a current account that won't pay you much interest, but will charge you a lot if you ever go into debt.

But you need to have a regular income into your bank's current account, not be paid cash directly by your employer - because you might spend it, you silly working class person. And as your big out-going is your mortgage and that's monthly, you should be paid monthly and not weekly - because if you got paid weekly, you might spend all your money each week and have nothing left for your mortgage. But of course, this will leave you a little short of cash about the middle of the month, so look, here's a credit card. Go on, spend on it, it's not real; it's plastic, it's flexible, it's your friend.

And then you're really fucked.

I will continue this tomorrow.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Barcelona - it'll be nice when it's finished.

I used to do that "joke" about London when I first moved down here, in reference to the amount of building work that's always going on. And I did it again when I was in Barcelona a couple of weeks ago.

I haven't been there for about 20 years, so obviously it's changed rather a lot. The Gaudi cathedral still isn't finished - maybe stop having a siesta and work on the interior when it gets too hot to work outside, just a suggestion - but what has happened to the East of the city is incredible.

"Incredible" in terms of how much they've knocked down, rebuilt and "regenerated", not in any architectural terms. Don't get me wrong, there's some delightful stuff on the seafront - including one arch that looks like a shoal of fish - but some of it is quite hideous. No, hideous is too strong a word. Dull. That's more like it.

And it's a double shame because they're knocking down fantastic traditional buildings - mainly housing - to build bland commercial units, mass housing projects and 4* hotels that could be from anywhere in the world. Something they wouldn't even consider doing in the Gothic quarter, Las Ramblas, or any of the old town. So why knock down the areas they have?

Maybe it was all owned by the city, and it was cheaper to develop there because all they had to do was kick out the people who rented and sell the land to developers who would build apartments those same people would never be able to afford to live in. Long sentence, sorry. I do that when an idea comes to me halfway through writing something else.

And it leads me to something else. Something I'm going to put in a separate post, or this is going to be epic.

Eamonn Holmes.

Why? Why is this man on television/radio/this planet? Are there producers who think "Hmm, we need someone to host this show who will definitely alienate most of the core audience... I know! Eamonn Holmes!"

Irritating, smug, supercilious - none of these words really do him justice. However, his finest moment - which I feel sums him up perfectly - came during his hosting of the National Lottery when, after a couple of the Fathers For Justice brigade stormed the set, he hid behind his co-presenter. His female co-presenter. His much smaller and thinner than he is, female co-presenter.

What a man!

At no point did he try to protect her, or any of the other people on the set, just his own sorry fat arse. And yet he isn't fired for being a complete and utter coward. Or for being a Manchester United fan. Which he does go on about at great length on his Radio5 show. So much so, in fact, that I've now stopped listening to Radio5 until either "Fighting Talk" (which was much better before Christian O'Connell left) or "The Rumour Mill" starts.

Now, me not listening doesn't sound like much distain, so let me elaborate. I usually listen to Radio5 from the second I wake up until the second I go to sleep. It's on in the car, it's on in the office, it's on in my kitchen. So for me not to listen for a couple of hours on a Saturday morning is quite a wrench.

That's how bad the "Eamonn Holmes Show" is.

It's not as if he's a good presenter and I just don't like him - he isn't. He often has no idea who the guest he's talking to is, or what they've done for them to be booked on his show. He patronises the public who call into the show, for not knowing the answers to questions he has written in front of him (and sometimes still gets wrong himself). And, most gallingly of all, for a man who presents a sports-related show, seems to know absoultely fuck all about any team other than Manchester United.

Right. That's more than enough time spent talking about him.

A Note About This Coming Weekend.

Not that exciting a post, just to let people who may be interested know where I'll be this weekend.

Going to Newcastle for work-related frivolity. Should be leaving London around 6am on Saturday and getting into Newcastle about 11am (honestly Mr Policeman, I won't be breaking the speed limit). Pottering around most of Saturday - and anyone who's in the area who knows me, please come and meet me for a drink for the England game, I'll be in The Bridge Inn in Annitsford.

Sunday I'm doing work stuff in and around Newcastle and Washington. Then on Monday I have the "delights" of Consett to look forward to before returning to London some point that day. I'll be back in the office on Tuesday and can be nudged in the usual fashion then.

As I warned, not an exciting post. Not even a rant. And I'll probably remove this when I'm back in London.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Tunes from the "good old days"

I used to go to Middlesex University. Well, technically, it was a Polytechnic when I started, but it was a University by the time I finished my degree, so I'm going to call it a University from hereon.

So. While at Middlesex University, there was a regular selection of events put on by our esteemed ENTS Department. One of those events was a disco called "Dom-One". The reasons behind the name are fairly straightforward, but dull, so just content yourself with knowing that. Anyhow, the Dom-One disco was, for many years, THE event to go to.

Despite the fact that it was on a Tuesday night. Despite the fact that it was at the Trent Park campus and the bus service finished before the event so you'd probably have to walk home. Despite the fact the DJs who played couldn't mix. Despite all this, it was brilliant.

Brilliant and crap. At once. The tunes were generally pop trash from the 60s, 70s and 80s with the odd standout indie anthem. And that leads me, finally, to the point of this post. I'm trying to put together a Dom-One style set list of tunes for a party and I want some suggestions of songs that I probably will have forgotten about. So avoid the obvious ones - Abba, Sister Sledge, Whigfield, Village People, REM, Grease OST etc - I want stuff like "Been Caught Stealing" by Jane's Addiction (not that one obviously, as I haven't forgotten it).

Stuff that I haven't heard since 1992, basically.

Once I'm happy with the running order of the songs (and I'm going for the full 8pm - 12am set) I'll post them, so you can recreate the "magic" in the comfort of your own lounge/bedroom/garden/head.

For the true experience though, turn your heating up to full (and turn a humidifier on full blast), shine a torch directly into your eyes (then turn it off then on again sporadically), have alcohol available (but be unable to get any) and rub a greased up pig against yourself whilst playing tunes you don't really like (but the person you fancy does, so you pretend to in the vague hope of having sex).

"Average Speed" Speed Cameras.

And before I rant, I haven't had a speeding ticket. And I appreciate that they're supposed to reduce accidents. So don't complain. I am aware of that. However, there's one set in particular that bother me: on the M1, between the M25 and Luton.

There is road-widening going on, so there's barriers up between lane one and two (Southbound) and two and overtaking lane (Northbound). Lane one Southbound is having work being done on it (I assume, having never seen anyone working on it) and the overtaking lane Northbound is where the third lane of Southbound traffic travels (the Northbound using the hard shoulder).

Okay, so that was a complicated description, but I felt the need to describe the situation and emphasise the following: there are barriers. Big metal barriers with concrete bases. Between the road crew I've never seen and the inner Southbound lane. Another - the central reservation - between lane two and what would be the overtaking lane Southbound. And another one between the Southbound traffic on the Northbound carriageway and the rest of the Northbound traffic.

Barriers. Not cones. Barriers.

So why exactly does there need to be an average speed limit camera?

I spent more time looking at my speedometer than I usually do on motorways, which means I was spending less time looking at the road in front of me, or in my mirrors to see where other traffic was. Which is hardly an improvement in safety for the road users, as I'm fairly sure I wasn't the only one keeping more of an eye than usual on my speed. Lots of drivers looking somewhere other than the road in front of them doesn't seem an ideal situation.

And did I mention the barriers? They would seem to be a fairly effective method of keeping the road crews safe, seeing as it's a similar method to the one they use to keep the Northbound traffic from ploughing head-on into the Southbound traffic. So why bother with the average speed cameras?

Apart from probably generating enough revenue in fines to pay for the cost of widening the road, how is safety being improved? This is a genuine question. I can't find anything on Google which demonstrates to me one way or the other how having an average speed camera on a motorway actually improves safety. Please post anything that would help me get a better grasp on this, because at the moment I cannot see the point of them.


Just tried to email them the following request.

"Would it be possible for you to stop using the Michael Owen advert? As a Newcastle fan it's annoying seeing him running around for you when he won't be doing that for us for quite some time.

Actually, how about not advertising on television at all? Try it for a couple of months and see if your profits go down."

But, according to their webform, "Your comments contained invalid characters. Valid characters are: any letter or number, space, the "#" character, dash, apostrophe, comma, or period." So I'm guessing that question marks aren't allowed. Which for a comments section surely shows a lack of forethought? Neither it seems are hard returns, which I've also removed.

I await a response.

Friday, June 23, 2006


That's 'I am not a lawyer', rather than, well, what you were probably thinking.

I read Slashdot every day and there's usually one or two stories on there each day that I find interesting. The one I read today that provoked the biggest response was one about a library manager - Michele Reutty - who, when asked by the police to provide her customer records, refused to do so until they had presented her with a warrant. They went and got the warrant and she gave them the information. So far, no story of any great interest.

Then the lawyers get involved and it all gets a bit political.

Ms Reutty has been completely unsupported by her boss, the Mayor Ron Jones, and has been told by borough labor lawyer Ellen Horn, who also represented the library trustees, that Reutty was 'more interested in protecting' her library than helping the police. 'It was an absolute misjudgment of the seriousness of the matter,' Horn said."

Hang the fuck on for a moment, and let's think this through shall we?

If Reutty had given the records to the police without them providing a warrant, then any criminal caught because of the information found would be perfectly entitled to say that the information was obtained illegally AND Reutty could be charged with breaking privacy rules. The police have no right to demand this sort of information from anyone unless they have a warrant. There is no misjudgement on Ms Reutty's behalf, it's due process.

Ellen Horn, who represents the library trustees remember, is now slating Reutty for following procedures. Reutty is, you grandstanding lawyer asshole, protecting the library from multiple claims from the registered members of said library about how their personal information is being given to anyone who demands to see it - contrary to the law and the library's own terms and conditions.

Slashdot has the email address of Ms Reutty - and I've sent her an email congratulating her on her actions. Unfortunately, there isn't one for Ellen Horn, who I would dearly love to send an email to.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Football, football, football.

It's never as good as you want it to be, is it? Unless, I suppose, you were an Argentina fan during their game against Serbia. But I'm an England fan (and a Newcastle United fan) so the game last night was doubly disappointing. Not only did we miss out on beating Sweden for the first time since 1968 - despite being ahead twice in the match - but it looks like we've lost Michael Owen for the rest of the World Cup. Worse still, according to reports on TV this morning, Newcastle may have lost him for the next 6 months.

Which means, that during the year 2006, Owen will have played for Newcastle for about 2hrs. I do hope we complain as much as Manchester United were planning on doing for any injury to Wayne Rooney. And while it would be lovely, I can't see us getting any compensation for this either. Which is a shame, as it's now obvious we'll have to buy a new striker (or get one on loan until January '07) and as there's a potential takeover bid in the offing there'll probably be less money available to get any players.

Not only do I see disappointment ahead for England (remember, if Holland win this evening and we do manage to beat Equador, we'll meet Argentina in the QF) but another season of woe for NUFC. We start in the Intertoto Cup in about a month with - and I'll just count them to be sure - one (yes, one) out-and-out striker. All hail Shola Ameobi. Suddenly, selling Michael Chopra to the Welsh doesn't seem such a good idea, does it? No Alan Shearer any more. Unlikely to be any Michael Owen for a while. And Luque is technically not a striker (as I think we established last season).

Personally, I'd quite like us to put a bid in for Ruud van Nistelrooy. Not that he's likely to be in the least bit interested. Or Zlatan Ibrahimovic - who must surely be looking to leave Juventus after the way their league win was tainted by the allegations of bribery and corruption. But then again, he's carrying an injury as well. Perhaps the ideal choice would be the man who didn't make it to the World Cup, but probably should have done: Jermaine Defoe.

It's not too late to call him up now, is it?


Tuesday, June 20, 2006

David Letterman is out of ideas.

While waiting for "The Daily Show" to start on More4 last night, I made the mistake of tuning in to the David Letterman show. Now, is it me, or did he used to be good? I know his style has been copied quite a lot most notably in the UK by Jonathan Ross (mainly on "The Last Resort" but it's cropping up again on "Friday Night with...") and recently by Paul O'Grady, but his schtick is starting to wear thin.

I find his interviews quite creepy (the one with Robert Duval last night was excruciating) but the thing that really irritated me was he seems to be stealing his ideas. "Will It Float?" seems to be based exclusively on "Will It Float or Will It Sink?" from Sky One's "Braniac". Basically, objects have their buoyancy questioned, then are dropped into water by scantily-clad females and either sink, or float. And that's it. That had about a three minute section on "The Letterman Show". Unbelievable.

How bad is your life when you start taking ideas from a programme hosted by Jon Tickle and Richard Hammond? I mean. Wow.

Oh, and just so you know, a boxed inflatable paddling pool (with a DVD player for some reason) will float in water.

ITV - why is it so shit?

Okay, before I start, a disclaimer: I don't work for, nor have I ever worked for, a broadcast company. So don't see this as being the complaints of someone who was rejected by ITV, as I wasn't.

With that out of the way, I do have to say, ITV irritates the crap out of me.

And it's not just the ad breaks - Channel 4 and five manage to get away with having them and not irritate me (with the exception of the Toucan sponsorship ads around CSI) - it's the programmes as well. It's those geniuses at ITV that have brought us the wonders of "Celebrity Love Island", "I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here!", "Celebrity Fat Club" (I'm spotting a "Celebrity" theme here), "Neighbours From Hell", "Holidays From Hell", "Honeymoons From Hell" (another theme spotted and noted) and "Britain's Best Backyard" (I kid you not).

I could also have listed "Heartbeat" but I felt this needed a special mention. "Heartbeat", a programme set in the 60's that's been on our screen for so long that if they'd been playing properly would now be set in the early 80's. A programme that hankers for a time and place that never existed and never will. Twee. Sickly. Trash. It's a Mills & Boon novel without the clever plot twist.

The other thing about ITV that riles me was when they moved the "News At Ten". It would, we were told, allow them to show movies without having a 30min break for the news just before the film got really exciting. What happened? They started films before the news at the earlier time, so there was still a 30min break. Then moved the news back. And then the film start times back.

So, why do I care about this? I could always stop watching.

In fact, were it not for the World Cup and the fact that some of the matches are on ITV, I wouldn't have even mentioned them. But they are so shit, I felt compelled to complain. Who thought Mick McCarthy would be a good co-commentator? What exactly does he know about football? And the main commentators aren't much better.  I swear I heard "and there's the equaliser" being shouted when the Americans put the ball in the net for the SECOND time. What game are you watching? You prick, you get paid to watch this game. I'm doing it for free and I know more of what's going on! Wankers.

What I hope, in fact what I pray happens, is that advertisers stop using ITV. Completely. And ITV has to stop making shit programmes. Forever.

This is my blog.

It will contain some stuff that I like.
And a surprising amount of stuff that I don't like.

I recently discovered that there's a lot of things that I dislike intently and I will detail these at great length here. My on-going email arguments with various companies will be posted here.  Pictures of fluffy kittens and stories about how sensitive I really am will NOT be posted here.

While I realise that this may make me come across as some kind of grumpy old man, at least this won't be full of heartfelt emotional nonsense. In fact, if anyone finds any heartfelt emotional nonsense on here, please feel free to contact me and I'll remove it.

Or argue with you about why you're wrong. Whichever.

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