Charlie Brooker’s Back!

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Great news! Charlie Brooker’s Weekly Wipe took to the air and reminded us of what we’ve missed for the last year or so since his last regular BBC4 series. Newswipe and Screenwipe were both fascinating TV in the way they dissected the two mediums and the new show combines these two aspects and allows him a free rein at his targets.

Now upgraded to BBC2 it is roughly the same successful format that we are used to. His analysis of the news is second to none in the UK – he knows that just mocking it is not enough but the engagement with the real issues behind it and how the media manipulates stories to create more news and shape the story is superb. With the ironic commentary or Barry Shitpeas and sweary shit stirrer Doug Stanhope this is a programme that should be shown to every Media class up and down the land to show how the media really works. Dealing with everything from Gun Crime in the US to Lance Armstrong (Hold on Brooker are you reading my blog and stealing for your show? At least give me a credit in…the credits!) he is able to mix the serious with the humorous effortlessly and make interesting and challenging points.

Alongside the TV work, Brooker’s column for the Guardian is one of the best around and deals with such a wide platform of issues in a funny, intelligent and at times emotive way. In both mediums he is not scared of the human interest aspect or to empathise with those involved in the stories. While he is at times cutting with his satirical view on news, he understands the need for its style and tone and rather than shout at it engages with it. This leaves the audience or reader to consider their own roles as much as the media producers manipulating the stories.

My only criticism with the new show is the need for the studio panel section. It doesn’t add anything to the format – in fact the opposite. I love both Susan Calman and Richard Osman, but this felt like a doff of the cap to the fact we were now on BBC2 and had to have a couple of famous faces to justify the move. The strength of he programme for me is Brooker himself and I felt that this diluted the show too much. Saying that it’s probably just because it’s new and we’re not used to it yet.

Either way it is great to have him back on screen. Welcome back Charlie.

JD

Blogging: One month in…

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Well I didn’t know if I’d still be blogging by this point, but 31 days later this New Year’s Resolution is still going strong and I’m enjoying it.

I was worried about putting everything in my head online for me and nearly 2000 others to see (thanks, I appreciate that you are reading this rubbish) but it has been cathartic for me. From venting anger to talking about things that I need to get out of my head, things I love to current affairs it’s been surprising to me that all this lives inside me. When I started I hoped that this would be a chance for me to document a heap of ideas to perhaps lead me to write something more substantial – I know everyone says that they have a book/play/script in them – but it has almost taken on a life of its own. I hear and read things and instead of just letting them pass I wonder if they’d make a good blog post or not, hopefully I’ll get better at making those decisions as I go.

I also thought that this would be a once a day task, but with my unusual head it has turned into a much bigger thing and I think this is post 94 already. The most difficult for me so far has been to write about my depression and how I deal with it. Seeing it in front of me rather just than in my head is strange and it’s something that I think will just become another strategy in learning to live with it. The easiest for me – and those that know me well will agree – are the rants which I love. I like letting rip at the annoyances in life; the banal, the frustrating and the absurd. I’m sure by a few months time I’ll be able to look back and track my moods by my posts.

The main joy I get is that nothing is pre-planned, it’s just a flow of consciousness and I don’t always know what I’m going to write when I sit down at the computer. I was worried I would suffer from “Blank page syndrome” where it’s tough to get started but hasn’t been the case – and that bodes well if I decide to write a longer piece of prose. What’s next? Don’t know, but I hope to keep this going and challenge myself to keep this up all year.

Thanks

JD

Bullshit Bingo

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Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls! Welcome to that most annoying of games we play at meetings and workshops, yes it’s Bullshit Bingo!

I hate corporate speak, pointless jargon and sound bites in meetings. For me it is used by those who don’t know how to connect properly with others or don’t actually understand the concepts but they hide behind these buzzwords just to look good rather than be good at their jobs. You would think that they would get the message when everyone around them is avoiding eye contact and glazing over as they speak – but no they see that as an invite to use it more because no one has called them on it.

I’m a big fan of plain English – say what you mean and mean what you say. Don’t bugger about, spit it out. Politicians use it to try to confuse us and hide the truth in amongst the verbal somersaults they perform; bosses use it to justify jobs and pay cuts; officials use it to hide ineffectual management of situations and we fall for it everytime. Why? Because we’re scared we’ll look stupid as the only one at the table who doesn’t understand what they are on about. Survey after survey tells us we all hate it yet it still exists to my bafflement. We need to say something, and soon.

I’m not advocating we dumb down language because a good vocabulary is a great thing to have (by the way I also think swearing means you have a wider vocab as you know and use words those prudes don’t) but I do expect official situations to be understandable and relatable. Is this too much to ask? I don’t believe it is – intelligence and corporate bullshit are not the same thing and never confuse the two. We all have to use technical language in our work and that’s fine but the pen pushers above us don’t use this, they have invented a language to justify their higher salaries, better offices and perks.

Next time someone starts “Blue Sky Thinking”, “Cascading” or “Thinking outside the Box” polite put your hand up and ask them what exactly they mean. If we all keep having to do this they’ll come unstuck trying to explain themselves and won’t make the same mistake again.

JD

Bye Bye Balotelli

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Last night his restaurant was surrounded by dozens of fans, paparazzi, flares were let off by fans and bottles were thrown at police who responded with tear gas to sort them out. Yes, the carnival that surrounds Mario Balotelli has moved back to Italy thankfully and away from these shores.

It’s silly season in the world of football as players are bought and sold for values that would confuse even the daftest of accountants. Balotelli has been sold by Manchester City for £19m and good riddance to him – I’m not just saying this as a Man Utd supporter but as someone who doesn’t want the country burnt down by the idiot. Mario set fireworks off in his bathroom for fireworks night in 2011 and obviously started a bit of a fire, when the fire brigade arrived he handed them the keys and drove off leaving them to their own devices. Then last year he stood in the streets of Manchester and handed out £50 notes to passers-by just because he could. I like fine an eccentric, but this guy just doesn’t have the intelligence that goes with being quirky.

On the other side of the coin you have David Beckham who has signed a 5 month deal with PSG and is donating all the wages to a local children’s charity a move that should be highly commended. It’s lazy to say he can afford it as these kinds of gestures are easy not to do, but it shows the measure of the man that he is willing to do that. I still believe that Beckham has something to offer a club and his experience and hard work will benefit any changing room. Putting aside any nonsense about his private life, he has been a great role model for young kids looking to get into football. He’s the first to training and the last to leave, his work ethic is commendable. While he has lost his temper on a couple of high profile occasions his positive attitude on the pitch is one that many younger player should aspire to.

By the close of the transfer window tonight we’ll see some last minute deals and rushed paperwork go through and big names swapping shirts. I hope teams sign a Beckham rather than a Balotelli.

JD

Doctor’s Half Century

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Doctor Who celebrates his half century anniversary this year and Mark Gatiss’s script for “An Adventure in Space and Time” will be filmed to mark the celebrations. David Bradley will play the part of William Hartnell the first Doctor in a dramatization of how the show came about. Having taught episodes of the newer series I’ve looked into the genesis of the show and it’s interesting how modern the process was.

The BBC did audience research to find out what kind of Saturday night show the public wanted to see and Doctor Who was the result of that. Most shows now go through these kinds of processes with focus groups and audience feedback and it produces bland and ineffectual TV, but in 1963 it produced one of the best-loved and longest running shows in British history. Who is like Bond and Holmes in that he exists beyond the programme and is a cultural icon as are many of his foes and associated items. You could walk up to people in the street with pictures of the Tardis, a Dalek and Tom Baker and most would be able to identify them even if they had never seen the show. There are few shows could achieve this.

My first TV memory is of Doctor who. It was the episode where Tom Baker turned into Peter Davison in 1981. As a three-year old this was weird and fascinating and obviously had a lasting effect on me as it fast became a must watch programme in my childhood. Because I hadn’t had the baggage of older generations for me Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy were all brilliant – one of the real highlights was the Five Doctors episode for the 20th anniversary and seeing these other Doctors was amazing and let me see the magic of the programme that the Doctor was more than just one personality or actor, he was a character that could last forever.

Many said the show had become jaded and a poor shadow of its former self but to a young lad with a big imagination even the worst stories were scary and fantastical. When it was axed in 1989 I was disappointed as I’d watched it religiously and now it was gone. Then there was the 1996 TV Movie and seeing Sylvester McCoy back in the Tardis was brilliant only for him to get shot and turn into Paul McGann. Although it didn’t feel like the Doctor to me I still enjoyed I and hoped my childhood show would be back regularly on my TV. I had to wait until 2005 to see that happen and I wasn’t sure about it – until a solo Dalek appeared opposite Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor and the spark was revived.

Although I was an 80s Doctor Who fan, it’s David Tennant’s incarnation of the Timelord that stands head and shoulders above the rest. I’d argue that he is the best actor to have taken the role and brought a liveliness, humour passion and depth to the character that we hadn’t seen before. “Midnight” shows what he as an actor is capable of and I was Russell T Davis’s best script. Even though he only appears in a few minutes of Steven Moffat’s “Blink” Tennant steals the show. Great episodes appeared like “Tooth & Claw”, “School Reunion”, “Human Nature/The Family of Blood”, “The Waters of Mars” and “The End of Time” all showed how great the character and the show are. For me I’ve been largely disappointed with Matt Smith’s tenure as I don’t think he has the range of Tennant, but more importantly Steven Moffat has been too interested in adding folklore into the Doctor’s past and over complicating storylines.

Saying that I’ll always watch it because its history and that connection with it will keep me there and now I’ve got Jake who wants to sit and watch it with me – seeing his wide-eyed wonder at Dinosaurs on spaceships or his first real experience with Daleks was priceless. Here’s to the next 50 years Doctor.

JD

Petrol – Pumping our wallets dry

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The Office of Fair Trading has declared that there is little to be done on the competition, market price or consumer prices. Apparently we have one of the cheapest fuel prices in Europe…before tax.

So there’s the issue – tax. 60% of the cost per litre at the pump is tax and VAT. If you think back to the fuel protests that hit the UK in 2000 people were angry that the price had gone over 70p per litre and now we face prices around double that. No one is taking to the streets now because we all just shrug our shoulders and say “Well, what can you do?” That’s the crux of the issue for me that we all rely on our cars so much these days, many refuse to take public transport because of the extortionate prices they charge so there is no real alternative. On First Bus in Aberdeen a single fare will cost you £2.40 so across a week return journeys make it £24 which is equivalent to my petrol use. Even the so-called saver tickets don’t shave much off that price. The never ending wait for the Bypass and the lack of a third crossing in Bridge of Don means that most petrol is wasted in traffic jams rather than genuine driving.

The following is from www.petrolprices.com and shows the breakdown of costs:

PetrolDiesel

We need a new model for this as it seems unfair that everyone is equally punished at the pumps while they still insist on putting up the price of car tax at the same time. There’s no answer but until we get decent alternatives to petrol & diesel we need to make sure that those at the bottom don’t get to a point where they can’t afford to fill their car to get to work. There are already reports of this happening in rural areas and there needs to be some kind of tax cut for those people at least. Or improve the public transport infrastructure. Or someone could invent the teleporter – or tube system like on Futurama! Then again we’ll all keep paying at the pumps and nothing will change.

The Black Dog Returns.

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Black Dog

My sleep pattern is off again and my brain isn’t working as it should so…black dog time it is then.

You’re not always sure if it is the depression coming on – I used to be sure because I felt the slow drop down in mood but with the new meds I’m not as aware as I used to be as they cover most of it. You want to hibernate away and not speak to anyone; lie in bed all day and not open your eyes; throw your piles of work on the floor and lock the door to stop any more coming your way. Everything is right at the front of your brain fighting for space and attention because your usual filters that stop the chaos aren’t working. The library is out of order and the books are all over the place. I don’t know how other people experience it; I’ve read accounts but it’s difficult to get the true feeling they are having and it’s tough to put into words here too.

I think the most difficult thing for me is to bite my tongue and keep my temper. I am getting better at it as time goes on and know how to channel it in different ways, but ultimately it’s just frustration at myself for not being able to work they way I want to. Not being able to pull the info I need or the example that’s normally so easy to use just vanishes and you find yourself standing in silence with your mouth open, nothing coming out and 30 pairs of eyes wondering if you are stuck on pause. Just now I’m trying to wrap up all the work for the seniors who have their prelims starting next week and it takes all my energy to stay on task and keep them focussed. Problems start when they start chatting to each other or asking questions that I’ve already answered –  I can feel the blood boiling in my veins and my mouth is ready to let rip, but it’s not their fault and I have to take a breath and remind myself that they are just kids and nervous about the exams too. Well they better be.

The lack of control you feel with your own mind is tough. You take your brain so much for granted that as soon as it hits this point you become nervous and worry about things that normally are insignificant. I don’t suffer as badly as many others do and I have so much sympathy for those who this chemical imbalance effectively cripples to the point where they can’t do anything. Also it’s a worrying stat that the most common killer of men under 40 is suicide and many of these are linked to depression or mental illness. It’s one of the questions the doctor asks when I’m in for my check up and the first couple of times I went I was shocked that they would think that of me, but understanding that many sufferers do self-harm and contemplate taking their own life because of a few missing chemicals in their head is scary. Thankfully I’ve not had an episode that has hit me like that. I hope I never will.

I’m lucky I can push myself on and have found coping strategies to get me through the darker phases. One thing for me is this blog allows me to throw ideas and thoughts out of my head onto the screen to clear space for the more important stuff. So be patient with me if I blog about it – I’m treating it as free therapy!

JD