Heads Up



I haven’t blogged about my head for a while – and the main reason is it seems to be okay at the moment in terms of the depression. The meds are doing their job and this has been the first summer where there hasn’t been a big dip around the tail end of July for a long time. What I have noticed this week though is the anxiety is creeping in before my first proper week of lecturing/teaching at the college.

Friday was my first class and it went well, but then the gang at Altens are doing a different type of course and the majority want to learn. We got through a good amount of work and they were all really decent to work with so I was happy I got the initial one out of the way. This coming week I’ll be in the mix with most of my timetabled classes in front of me. I’m not overly concerned really but there is that part of your head    that puts little niggling questions at the front of your mind. It has been a couple of months since I was teaching full-time, but I am confident enough that I can do the job.

The main difference for me is that I have to get classes though all the hoops in half the time I did at school. The blocks are nineteen weeks and eighteen weeks long across the academic year so where I would normally be taking students up to the prelims, I now have to have completed units and that’s where those negative thoughts creep in. Also thinking about the volume of marking that will appear mid way through each of the blocks with reports and essays does seem to be slowly turning from molehill to mountain in my mind.

I know that everything will be fine and I’m deliberately keeping an open and positive mind on things so as to not get caught by the black dog I’ve avoided for about four months now, but I know I can have a domino reaction to things and before I know it everything is toppling over. It’s a tough one because the logical part of my head knows that I’ve always managed to get things done – even when my head was really testing me I got through it – but it’s human to doubt yourself at times and just now the internal “Anxious HQ” is starting to fire round memos to forewarn of the oncoming storm.

My focus has to be on the students and getting them through the necessary outcomes as they arise, use the knowledge and experience of my fantastic colleagues to anchor me if it gets rough, and ultimately remember that I am more than capable of doing the job in front of me. It’s easy to type it, another to do it – but I’m determined to stay in this sustained “up” of the last few months for as long as possible and not let these thoughts take over.


X-Factor vs. Strictly



As the leaves start to turn on the trees we start to turn on Saturday Night TV and this weekend and next sees the old rivalry of X Factor and Strictly begin for the tenth year.

When the two first started I, like most watched the trials and tribulations of twelve singers trying to find their way through to the final of a rollercoaster whilst having a journey. But that started to become hugely manipulative, used constructed reality and Simon Cowell became too big for his boots. The show became a secondary thing as the judges pushed to the forefront and the show became more about them than any of their artists. In my eyes the slim credibility the show had wasn’t just being lost, it was haemorrhaging it. Working weekends I rarely saw the show live and found I was fast forwarding huge chunks of the show to avoid the “novelty acts” and the “let’s laugh at the mentally ill” sections which became more important that finding a really good pop artist.

I know there is an appetite for this kind of TV and entertainment; from the travelling freak shows of centuries past to today’s circus of horrors online we can see these things whenever we want. For me the X-Factor crossed the line when they started to “use” these people for their own benefit. Mocking those who obviously have issues becomes bullying in my opinion when a multi-millionaire sits behind a desk laughing in their faces and the viewers are no better for watching it. That’s why The Voice was a better show for me as all the potential acts had talent in the first place – it might not have been as successful or popular, but at least it took the task fairly seriously.

The final nail in the coffin for me (more so than the on-going decision to give Louis Walsh airtime) was when Gary Barlow got involved but nothing changed. Rather than bring the show up in standards with the welcome disappearance of Cowell, the show dragged Barlow down to their level. I like and respect Gary’s work as both an artist and a songwriter. Despite questions of taste I must be recognised that he has achieved a lot in his career and has produced some of the UK’s best pop of recent decades.

A couple of years ago I had a weekend off and sat down to watch Strictly with Jill. Rather than being a ridiculing experience for those involved it was about learning a new skill, developing as a performer and the standard of the show was much higher. Live band who are excellent, a production team who put together a solid show and participants who genuinely work hard and take centre stage over the presenters or judges. Yes there are things that grate with Strictly too – Brucey (bless) is not up to the job any more and when Tess & Claudia present the show it’s much tighter and professional. Occasionally a contestant is booked for their novelty factor – Widdecombe & Sergeant come to mind – but then how many of us thought that about Lisa Riley and were proved very wrong when she showed how versatile a performer she actually was.

Whether it’s age or just that laughing at the mentally ill and pointing at the different and guffawing has become something which I don’t think should be tolerated anymore in a modern society, for me I’d rather watch people improve and learn a skill – show them at their best without being surrounded by a three-ring circus. We know that there have only been a handful of genuine successes from the X-Factor Leona Lewis, Olly Murs and JLS did well and One Direction are the biggest boy band around and I’m pleased for them, but only one of those acts won the show so it’s not actually doing it’s job is it? Strictly for me is the right combination of entertainment and developing talent so I won’t tune in to see the return of the Pantomime tonight, I’ll wait for the real talent next week.


Why are we more worried about the US than Syria?


Syria Cameron

Our MPs voted against joining the US and the French in a proposed military strike against the Syrian Regime. Were they right or is this our MPs overcompensating for the mistakes made about Iraq and Afghanistan?

My issue is not that we are not involved in a coordinated attack, but that other countries are effectively proposing a “strike” because of the chemical weapons. I have said for several months now that something had to be done. We know from all those who have spent time with Assad or know him hat he is not that strong a leader, despite holding out for the last two years in this civil war if pressed from an international angle many believe that he’d buckle. Russia and Iran would not come running to his defence as many predict because the Russians are not stupid enough to cross America at the moment and Iran are making big moves to reconcile differences across the middle east and with the US.

We appear as outsiders to have treated this as a wee skirmish on the periphery of our lives and the politicians have paid basic lip service to it – but to propose going in all guns blazing is not the answer – why is it we are either keeping these issues at arm’s length or going in at full force. The US, whether anyone likes it or not, is the power house of the world; it holds the strings and influence across the globe. With the right support for the opposition and a sensible support system this conflict could have been over long before Assad released the chemical weapon. The only positive this week is that people have finally woken up to the fact that we can no longer sit back on this issue.

While I’m disappointed that we won’t have an involvement in this, I’m pleased too that our politicians are finally realising that there are other options – unfortunately they voted those down as well. It seems to me as an observer from the outside many felt that they needed to be seen to do the right thing but weren’t quite sure what that actually was. The facts are simple – not complicated as we’re told by the politicians to make us feel inferior – ten of thousands of innocent civilians including huge numbers of children have been murdered in the last two years in a fight between a despised dictatorial figure and his people. Yes there are different groups with different interests, beliefs and opinions on the future of their country but the way things are going there won’t be a country left soon.

We had a chance and so do America and France to push the right way in this fight and help to free the people to make their own decisions with support and guidance from the international community. Look at Egypt and Libya – neither is perfect as we know from recent events – but there are changes, voices being heard and a real dialogue on the future of their country from within. We need to support and not “Strike” Syria. It’s no wonder it was voted down because if we have learnt nothing else in the last decade or so it’s that bombing the hell out of a country does not make anyone safer or us more popular. But to do nothing and just be spectators to one of the worst examples of civil war this century, even before the chemical attack which was truly abhorrent, is both inexcusable and regrettable.

We appear to be more concerned though that our relationship with America has been damaged by this vote, when all I think is that we’re effectively turning our backs on those people in Syria who are sitting waiting for someone to help them and we as a democracy have said it’s not our problem or fight. To bomb the country to pieces is wrong, but so is doing nothing. Our decision that it is “nothing to do with us” is a dangerous precedent and one that could leave many more Syrians in danger.

I just hope that the next steps taken by the international forces of the UN are measured, considered and reasonable – otherwise our politicians will be proved right.


Yes Jamie, our kids are lazy.


Jamie Oliver

Before i start, I happen to like Jamie Oliver. I know many people have an issue with his “do-gooder” image but I actually think he is using his celebrity to improve other’s lives so we shouldn’t be so quick to condemn him. But, and you knew there was a but, sometimes he opens his mouth without thinking.

He said that “young British people are “wet behind the ears” and European immigrants are “tougher” workers.” according to the BBC Website from an interview with Good Housekeeping magazine. He goes on to say that those in the catering industry have to put in up to between 80 and 100 hours a week and that our kids are too pampered by working to the European directive of 48 hours a week.

While some will be nodding in agreement, I would ask whether you “work to live” or “live to work” because forty eight hours is eight hours a day six days a week. There are few of us actually doing that so for Jamie to have a go at teenagers and young people in general is unfair. As a teacher/lecturer I often take work home to catch up on marking or I do prep in the evening to ensure my next day’s classes are ready to teach. At busy times of the year yes we work a lot more hours – but not every week regardless of the calendar.

This perpetual myth that all our teenagers and young people are work-shy and allergic to hard graft is a nasty media perpetuation which the right-wing media especially love to highlight. If you consider all the negative news stories about young people across the press and compare it to how many young people there actually are the percentage is tiny. Of course newspapers will print that three kids were caught joyriding or burning something down, but they fail to mention all the hardworking volunteers, those with full or part time Jobs, all the young folk who raise money for charity. To throw them all in together is no better than judging all old people in the same stereotype.

For me the work/life balance is very important. You get your three score and ten years on this planet if you are lucky and no-one gets a better ending to their story because they spent all the time in the office, workshop or kitchen. All those great moments with your partner and kids you are missing out on are not compensated for by working yourself hard and no-one gets to their death-bed to pronounce that they wish they’d spent more time at work. Our lives are fleeting in the grand scheme of things and while many do brilliant and essential work, there needs to be a sensible balance between the graft and the relaxation.

I’m not saying that there isn’t a place for longer hours in certain situations, but get some perspective on life and think what you’re missing out on by leaving the house at 6.30am and not coming home until 9pm each weekday.


Is a footballer really worth £86m?


Gareth Bale

Gareth Bale’s a very talented player and has risen up in estimation over the last three seasons but is a footballer – or anyone for that matter – worth £86m in the current economic climate?

If you consider the country that he is going to (if all the rumour is to be believed) is in a dangerous fiscal situation how do you think those not interested in football in Spain will feel about this kind of money being thrown around when people are struggling for the basics. In this country too it appears to be a move that will make those who don’t follow the game question the ethics and morals of a game that already has several questions on decency hanging over it.

We know that there will not be a cheque made out for the full amount to Tottenham if the sale goes ahead, instead it will be paid in smaller amounts over a few years or even involving a player swap as part of the deal – but even so when so many of the fans of Real Madrid and Spurs are struggling with bills, mortgages and the cost of living is it too extravagant a move to make? Many say that the value comes from the merchandise that the clubs sell with the bigger names and the increased gate receipts so the values are justifiable in business terms but I’d argue that football needs a bit of a reality check and needs to consider the image problem that it has and this adds to that negative image.

While football is big business there is a parallel in society with the divide between the “haves” and “have-nots” ever-widening. Looking at the English Premiership we know that the winner of this year’s league will most likely be Manchester United, Manchester City or Chelsea because of the money involved. They will be followed by Arsenal, Liverpool and Spurs most likely with the odd chance of one of the “smaller” teams causing a wee upset and sneaking into the top six.  While I still enjoy watching the odd game any connection that the working man or woman on the street used to have with these mega clubs is almost extinct. More so if you consider the lack of indigenous or even local players in the top flight sides. Look at the Man City vs. Newcastle game from last Monday – only three of the players on the pitch were English.

It’s this separation of the reality of the “man on the street” and the fantasy world where you can pick a figure out of the air to value a player that has made the game as good as it is for those in the top financial positions, but less of an emotional connection for you and I. When we see the Bales, Rooneys and Silvas of this world we can’t even aspire to be like them as their lives are almost fictional compared to ours. More money from these big clubs needs to go back into the grassroots projects to reach out to those in the shadow of the multi-million pound stadiums and bring them more benefit from this cash cow. Yes money has spoilt the game, but it’s eroded the passion for many long-standing fans too who cannot afford the season tickets or even to take the family on a day out to the match as they used to.

The terraces were once the place of respite for the working man on a Saturday Afternoon, now the executive boxes are the networking session for the businessmen on a Tuesday night.


Miley Cyrus – Really?


Miley Cyrus MTV

It’s one of those moments when you realise you are actually “too old for this sh*t”, child star loses plot and no one thinks to point out that i’s highly embarrassing for everyone involved.

Cyrus is not lacking in talent as she has a good voice but her latest in many recent antics does make you wonder who she is taking advice from and who she is surrounding herself with. While she is far from being the first to simulate sex in the world of pop – especially as part of an escape plan from the world of childhood fame – she needs to be taken to one side and reminded that there is a point where it stops being provocative and is just seedy.

The bigger issue again is that the fight for equality and the feminist argument is damaged by these types of publicity seeking efforts. Women in the music industry are fighting twice as hard to be recognised for their music rather than their image and the projected or perceived message from this can further damage and influence an already over sexualised youth. Girls today, more than ever, are being shown these sexualised images and at the same time we wonder why there is an issue with so many youngsters flashing flesh on social networks and sexting. If all the big pop stars of the day are constantly half naked and no-one questions it should we be surprised when teenage girls replicate it?

I don’t want to come across as a prude here but from Rihanna and Christina Aguilera on a family show like “X-Factor” gyrating and wearing very little to the likes of Britney kissing Madonna at a previous MTV awards these women are showing many vulnerable young girls – some of whom will be fans – that this is acceptable behaviour. Kids always try to emulate their heroes and that worries me with this current crop of pop stars. Then you have Robin Thicke – how apt – and his video of topless woman for no reason at all other than they know it will get internet hits and interest from young males. It’s almost as if we’ve regressed to the 1970s and the world of Robin Askwith films, this time “Confessions of a Pop Producer.”

When serious artists like Alicia Keys are being photographed with some flesh or cleavage showing it saddens me as she is a huge talent – we don’t expect male acts to do that, but somehow it’s okay to have all female artists in tight-fitting, flesh bearing clothes. Yes females in pop have always used their sexuality to sell records, I’m not disputing that and I get that it is part of the industry, but it saddens me that in an era of very strong and successful female singer songwriters so many of them feel the only way they will get their videos on TV or be able to further their career is to get on a giant casting couch and ask us to line up.


Why Kevin Spacey is wrong about TV


Kevin Spacey

“The audience wants control. They want freedom. If they want to binge – as they’ve been doing on House of Cards – then we should let them binge.” – Kevin Spacey

The first actor to deliver the prestigious McTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh Festival was Kevin Spacey and he said a lot that needed to be said – let the creative drive the output and not the suits behind the scenes; allow shows to build and develop instead of having to pitch with a pilot first; the risk of conservatism taking over the TV agenda are all strong and valid arguments. But we parted at the point where he talked about people being able to binge by getting all the episodes in one go from providers. Releasing all the episodes in one go might stop the illegal downloaders to a point, but on the other hand you are giving them access to your whole series in one go.

For me the joy of great TV is that it can do what film, books and the theatre can’t, what the Americans call the “Watercooler Moments”. When people gather together physically or online to chat about something they watched on the box the previous night. The episodic nature of a top quality television series not only allows audiences to build by word of mouth, but if done well can engage everyone in a conversation and feel invested in that show. The best example in recent months would be “Broadchurch” the wonderful Chris Chibnall series on ITV. By allowing characters to develop week on week as the truth about the murder of young Danny Latimer we invested in the show in a way we wouldn’t on DVD Boxset or all episodes on demand – it becomes the lost art of event TV.

I love DVD box sets and watched most of the early seasons of “24” that way, but event TV and the episodic is an important part of the medium. Another recent example would be the end of David Tennant’s reign as The Doctor where he started to regenerate at the end of the episode “The Stolen Earth” after being shot by a Dalek. The speculation, discussion and drama of it made it a great way to leave the audience on a cliff-hanger, the likes of which tend to be confined to the soap operas these days. A good cliff-hanger leaves the audience on the edge of their seats wanting the next episode, it follows from the tradition of the publications of the 19th century when writers like Dickens and Doyle wrote their now classic stories as weekly serials.

Too often these days we are spoon-fed everything and we take the things we’re shown for granted. I watch things on the iPlayer that I’ve missed and I download programmes from the Sky library but there is no substitute for that collective experience. “Who shot JR” from Dallas wouldn’t have worked if we could have watched the next episode immediately, we would never have been so upset when Chris Eccleston’s character was killed of so unexpectedly in Cracker and would we have enjoyed the final episode of Friends as much – or developed such an attachment to the characters – if we could have watched all 234 episodes in one go?

Yes there is a place for the binge viewer, it’s called a DVD Boxset where you can watch a whole series over a weekend. I like the fact that if we invest in our favourite shows we are rewarded by a long and fruitful relationship rather than a disappointing quickie.