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Sunday 15 May 2011


In light of the fact that it seems like the Scottish want to piss off and do their own thing, it seems like a good time to discuss the idea that maybe nobody really wants to be British.  As a warning, this article may contain obscenely reductive national stereotypes.

I have been wondering about this for a long time.  You often see it on forms, the old national identity question.  Do you consider yourself "British", or do you prefer to be considered English, Irish, Scottish or Welsh?  I tick the English box.  It annoys me when my American friends call me a "Brit".  And this is because I am not sure what being a Brit would actually entail, though admittedly, I do like being called a Brit better than being called European, because fuck that.  They use that to mean you're either a pervert or you're hairy.

David Mitchell wrote a column in the Observer today saying that he very much considers himself British, and believes that if Scotland secedes and there is no longer the same concept of Britain, his, and many other people's national identity will be gone forever.  David Mitchell's Observer column is a bit of a bugbear for me, because I like him, but I fucking hate that newspaper with a passion usually reserved for hating the Twilight saga.  Sunday newspapers are the worst ones anyway, with the horrible horrible supplements with their reviews of fucking frying pans and interviews with people off of Waterloo bastarding Road in them and no bloody news whatsoever, and a Sunday version of the Guardian, well, I'd rather climb into the lion enclosure at London Zoo wearing Lady Gaga's meat dress than read that, and I thought that dress was really unflattering.  Every Sunday though, Mitchell puts his little link on the bloody Twitter and I grudgingly go and have a look at the damn thing.  Sometimes I send him a pissy reply of the "look what you made me do!" variety - you know, the kind of thing wife beaters say after they've pushed a woman down the stairs.  If you want to see this first hand you can follow me at  That's what the Observer does to me.  It makes me want to hit people I am usually quite fond of with frying pans.  It's like Stella Artois for the eyes.

Anyway, he says that he feels British because his mother is Welsh and his father is of Scottish descent.  Which makes sense.  But then lots of people have all manner of crazy combinations going on in terms of their parentage, and there isn't even a name for the majority of those.  I know a bloke who is half German and half Iranian.  So he's Geranian I guess.  Then there's a guy who is half Kosovan and half Swedish, who I like to call Skosovanavian.  I used to be jealous of people with interesting sounding genealogy at school.  Those kids who'd be all like "oooh, I'm a quarter Dutch and one sixteenth Fijian" or whatever.  I was just bloody English.  It was almost as bad as being the only only child in the French lesson where they teach you how to talk about brothers and sisters, and having to pretend your dog is your sister just so you have something to say and don't fail...  Pets are not children, and you should not have to start pretending that they are until well into your thirties.

The thing is, Wales and Scotland are quite different countries in many respects.  Wales has its singing, and its rugby and its, I don't know, Torchwood, and Scotland has its heroin and its disgusting food and, er, kilts.  Welsh rarebit may contain some of the same ingredients as a battered, deep fried pizza, but I don't know anyone Welsh who would eat the latter.   They are not the same as each other, and they are not the same as England either, where we have a far lower ratio of ginger people to normal people and are theoretically reasonably good at football (we're not though).  Yes, they are close together and maybe more similar to each other than to their next nearest neighbours, the treacherous French, but so are Spain and Portugal and they don't have some collective name for themselves to give to half Spanish, half Portuguese kids.

The concept of Britain as a thing doesn't really take into account that none of the countries that make up Britain really, if we're entirely honest, like each other very much, either.

If England and Scotland both qualify for a World Cup, the English used to have Scotland as their second team by default, but we don't do that so much ever since the time in 2002 when we played Argentina and all those Scottish people supported them instead of us.  The Welsh and the English get on slightly better (in the land of colossal generalisations where this article lives) and I don't know what the Northern Irish think of us but Christine Bleakley seems to like Frank Lampard and he plays for England, so I reckon they must think we're pretty cool.

Still though, we're all different countries and I honestly believe we would all rather have our own teams in the Olympics to support and our own appalling entries in the fucking Eurovision retard song contest.  That aberration was on last night, and I watched it with a Welsh bloke and an American bloke.  Well, I say watched it, we sort of looked it up a bit while we were getting drunk and playing FIFA '11, where, like a bunch of 10 year olds, we re-enacted the FA Cup final, including the bits where Micah Richards and Mario Balotelli swore and Carlos Tevez hilariously put the lid of the trophy on top of his hideous head .  I just think it would have been more fun watching it together if Wales had had their own entry.  And come to think of it, America too.  I know they're not in Europe, but neither are Israel and they won it once with that ladyboy creature.  Poor Wales would probably end up in that regrettable situation Ireland used to find themselves in back in the nineties where they kept winning and having to host the damn thing, what with being good at the old singing and all.  Anyway, I digress.  My point is, I think people get more excited about supporting their own actual country's team or representative in a sport or competition than some kind of "Team GB".  Sure, those curling ladies were representing Britain, but they were, when all is said and done, Scottish, and therefore not from the same country as me.  Maybe that was why I didn't care, or maybe it was because I didn't know, at the time, what curling was, all I know is, come a World Cup I will quite merrily paint a St George's cross on my face and wave a flag around like a total chav, but there have never been any conditions under which I have felt entirely comfortable waving a union jack (yes, I know it is really called the union flag, but it's easier just to say the union jack for some reason, just like it's easier to call the BBC timelord guy Doctor Who and the monster with the bolts in its head Frankenstein even though you know those are wrong too.  It's just how it is.  Deal with it, pedants.)...  The St George's cross flag makes me feel like I'm supporting a football team, the union jack makes me feel like I'm on my way to some sort of BNP meeting or something to shout "don't unpack, you're going back" at the man who runs the kebab shop.  I don't know why that is.

It is for these reasons I think that the majority of people in the UK have a personal national identity that is affiliated not with Britain, but with the country or countries they and their family are actually from.  Of course you can have more than one, lots of people do, but the fact that some people are a combination of more than one home nationality does not explain what it is to be British or justify keeping things as they are if Scotland decides it isn't working out for them.  If you want a divorce, nobody is going to tell you to stay together for the kids, are they?


Wednesday 11 May 2011

Killjoy Cyberbullying Fears

Two posts in one night? Oh monsieur, with these Rocher you're really spoiling us!  Well, I can't go to the pub, since my wallet is probably in Glasgow.

Continuing the technology and social networking theme I seem to have inadvertently adopted this week with my coverage of the super-injunction leaks on Twitter and Microsoft's transparently desperate purchase of Skype, I have noticed that this thing I only found out about a few days ago has been attracting a bit of interest in the UK media.  Well, there was a brief thing about it in the Independent anyway, and that's good enough for me.

Formspring has apparently been popular among American teenagers for a few years now.  I only joined on Tuesday (, but I'm 28 and English so for my demographic I think that makes me an early adopter.  Oh yeah, I have my finger firmly on the pulse of the zeitgeist. Not that the zeitgeist has a pulse, being a ghost and all, but you know what I mean.  In fact, the proof of this is in the fact that despite there being 23 million people signed up to the service (which is more than Facebook's entire UK membership), when I searched for Facebook friends to connect with on Formspring only four people came up.  One was American, and one was a teenager (I groom teenagers on the Facebook.  It's just the way I roll.  Not really of course, he's my best mate's little brother).  I have a lot more than four Facebook friends.  Even my dad has more than that.  But only four are on Formspring.  

This suggests either that a lot of UK adults haven't heard of Formspring, or they have heard of it and gone "Balls to that for a game of soldiers".  I strongly feel that it is the former, and I will tell you for why.  English people are really fucking nosey.  

I used to work with a woman called Jo, who would routinely interrogate everybody every day about the minutiae of their lives.  You wouldn't eat a sandwich near Jo, because she would need to know what was in the sandwich, where you bought it, how much it cost, and whether it was "nice".  She was like the CID of banal things.  In all other respects she was very nice, but the fear that you might get waterboarded so that Jo might know what time you went to bed last night made the whole experience of working with her a bit "edgy" 

There are Jo types everywhere. I'm sure you know some. But if you go to the North, everybody is fucking like it.  When I lived in the North, I deduced that the legendary Northern "friendliness" was basically the product of some deep seated need to be right into everybody's business.  Someone in a pub might ask you where you lived.  In the South, it would be sufficient to just say the area, or kind of near the station or the university or the brothel or whatever, and then you could move on to talking about something else.  Do that in the North and I will bet you all the money I've made off of Google AdSense (which is 2p, because they keep advertising things based on the words I use, and I only write about things that nobody likes... And until Google develops an engine that understands irony it will ever be thus.  And they're too busy working on ways to make us live forever as concious data files to look at that.  To be honest, I would rather live forever than have AdSense that wasn't weird, so you crack on, you crazy autistic genii) that the next question will be "Which 'owse?".  

It's like some kind of Tourette's.  They don't need to know.  You're never going to see this person again, let alone invite them round for one of your candlelight suppers.  They're not going to judge you on it, because that is what a Southerner would do.  There is absolutely no reason for it.  But they bloody have to know.  This made conversations a bit boring, because you basically felt like you were filling in a loan application.  

Formspring is perfect for Jo, and everybody in Northern England, because it invites you to ask people anything you want.  You can even do it anonymously without being a member.  You could sit there in your 'owse in 'uddersfield with 25 million people to ask about boring shit.  Or, given you are given free rein to ask anything you could just ask all 25 million for their card number and PIN.  Throw enough shit at the wall and some of it will stick, my grifting friends.

The idea and the site, like Twitter (follow me at is very simple.  No apps, no sharing of things, basic profiles for users.  You just ask questions, answer questions, read other people's answers to questions by following them or searching, and if you enjoy someone's answer you click a button that says "Smile" which works like a "like" on Facebook.  

I can see a lot of uses for this beyond satisfying your need to know which flavour of Kellogg's Nutri Grain bar someone who sits across the office from you was eating this morning if you are mental.  Serious applications, like perhaps MPs using it to respond to constituents' questions, business applications, like maybe it could be used in place of a "queries" form on your company's website, or for market research, and stuff that would just be a really good laugh.

It's the stuff that would be a really good laugh that is concerning people.  Or at least the few people that know about it.  Or at least, someone at the Independent.

Apparently, people have been using the Formspring to engage in a spot of cyberbullying, and that is bad.  We don't want that here, it's really bad.  Keep it in America, where at least the kid that's getting cyberbullied can gun down their antagonists.  What are they going to do here, pelt them with scones? 

Obviously not, they would stab them, I was just playing up to my American readers there.

The thing is, I just don't buy it.  On Facebook you could bully someone in a way that could be quite destructive, due to the ability to share all kinds of content.  If you are handy with Photoshop or you have access to something that would be embarrassing to them like a very personal email or some spectacularly bad poetry they wrote (and is there any other kind, written by 14 year olds?), sure, you could humiliate them and even if they deleted their own profile so you couldn't harrass them directly, you can still share whatever you like about them with other people.  You know, if you were a bit of a dick.  Or they had it coming.

Formspring does not offer anywhere near as many opportunities to systematically destroy the weak and the ginger.  Sure, you could ask some mean questions.  But those questions will just appear in their inbox, and they can delete them if they don't want to respond and nobody else will ever see them.  You can't comment on people's answers either, you can just read them, so there is actually no way I can see of really bullying anyone beyond just harrassing them with nasty questions, and you can do that with anything, even email.  And we had that when I was at school and none of us killed ourselves.

I think more people should give it a try.  But only interesting people.  Because nobody, not even the most bullied of teenagers, is that grateful for any glimmer of attention that they will keep returning to answer questions about chocolate.

Train Companies...

...actually, not just train companies - bad customer service in general.

Today's rant, just as a bit of a change of pace, was inspired by something that actually happened to me today, rather than anything topical.  I don't usually do this kind of thing, but I reckon that if you can't relate to this theme then you live some kind of charmed life and your address is probably on Christmas Pudding Lane, where you live with your magical puppy that smells like the shampoo at a fancy gym and pisses tequila, because it is fucking ubiquitous.

I have to say, the events that transpired were triggered by me making a cock up.  Basically, I left my wallet on the train on the way to work.  Of course, I wouldn't have got my wallet out if the over zealous bloke who insists on checking your damn ticket (even though the station has ticket barriers, so either you have to have a ticket to get to the train, or you have spent enough time and effort masterminding a way of getting past the barriers without one that you have, in a fair world, earned the right to travel for free) hadn't come to distract me from reading about Nick Clegg and Fergie in the Metro just to check there was no chance of fining me a few grand.  Still, really, you know, mea culpa.   Hey, at least it was my wallet, not, I don't know, a memory stick with your personal details on it, but yes, I am an absent minded twat, and I did formerly work for the government so yes, they do hire the kind of person who could probably end up doing that.

I noticed it was gone when I went to get a cigarette out after getting off the train.  "Bollocks", I said.  Still though, I thought I would just be able to call the train company, get them to radio the guard (AKA "the bloke" I referred to earlier) and tell him to leave it with someone at my local, fairly large station when the train made it's way back through there.  No big deal.

So, at the office, I looked up the train company I thought operated the train.  Southern.  After explaining my situation to a lady with a horrible accent, I was informed that "we can only radio the guard in an emergency".  I proceeded to explain that I didn't actually want them to stop the fucking train, like they do when there is a fucking squirrel on the line or other such emergency scenario, I merely wished them to get a message to the guard.  No.  The guard's work is very important and he must not be distracted with helping people, lest he fuck up and cause havoc by say, not noticing that the guy whose ticket said Reigate stayed on the train all the way to Redhill, which should have cost him 30 pence more.   No.  Instead of having that five second conversation with the guard, the idiot woman instead opted to have a five minute conversation with me, explaining that the best thing to do is call their lost property office in Bristol (which accounted for the horrible accent) in three days as that is how long it takes for lost property to be "processed".  This gave me upsetting images in my head of my poor little wallet in some kind of Bristolian version of Auschwitz for wallets, phones and MP3 players, waiting to be "processed".  My poor little cards, even that Boots gift card I still had seven quid left on, being cut up by some awful jobsworth who talks like a farmer.  I explained that this "solution" would be far less convenient for everybody involved than my suggestion.  Even tried to appeal to her lazy nature by pointing out that my way also meant no paperwork.  But she was having none of it.  It was only after this lengthy exchange that she noticed that the train I had said I was on was not even operated by her company.

It seems two companies run up and down that route, and the one I was on was a First Great Western train.  Well, silly me for not fucking noticing the branding on the fucking train.  If only I had read the fucking safety poster or the free magazine with Stone-fucking-henge on the cover, then I would have realised I was on a First Great Western train, not a Southern train.  It's not as if it's all the fucking same or anything.  It's not as if I don't give a flying fuck about your fucking branding, I am just trying to get from the town I live in to the town I fucking work in and a train is just a fucking train...  At this point I began to feel I could method act the Michael Douglas character in a remake of Falling Down.

So I called First Great Western.  They were even less helpful, and the guy I spoke to seemed to have been in India.  I had said I had literally just left my wallet on one of their trains.  He asked me, when I said the time the train left from my station, if that was "in the morning or at night".  He didn't seem to have ever heard of Reading.  He told me to phone Network Rail and ask to speak to the station at which my train terminated.

Feeling a bit futile, I did that.  They put me through to a man who I think was called Craig (if he was, and you're ever at Gatwick Airport station and you see him, tell him I hate him) who was supposedly the Duty Manager.  This man was a wanksmith, and a master of the trade.  He said the train didn't get cleaned out at his station, it would go all the way back to Reading before that happened.  "Very well," said I, "transfer me to your counterpart at Reading".  I think I actually said something slightly angrier than that, but I didn't call him a cunt or anything so I was reining it in.  He said that he couldn't do that.  "Never mind," said I, "if you would be so kind as to give me his number I will call him myself".  

He said he didn't have it.  He only had an internal number.  Which, as we have established, he couldn't transfer me on. I asked if it would be on the internet.  He said he didn't have the internet.  I said that I did have the internet, I just wanted to know if the number would actually be on their site, or whether it would just be the number for customer bastarding services, who were the ones who had put me through to his worthless self in the first bastarding place, because evidently they didn't know where the train got cleaned, or that he was neither use nor ornament (three days in a row I've used that - there are just so many people for whom it is appropriate), or in fact anything that a customer might find fucking helpful.  He said he didn't know, but he reckoned it probably wasn't on there.  At this point I had gotten a bit sarcastic, much to the amusement of guys who sit near me at work.  But I still hadn't called him a cunt or anything.  He suggested that actually, what I should really do, is call the train company.  Normally I would have had a few suggestions for him about what he should really do, maybe something involving getting dragged behind one of his stupid fucking trains until he either dies or himself gets to fucking Reading, where the fucking train gets cleaned, whichever comes fucking first, but I was too shocked that he had even said such a thing.  "Are you trying to make me have some kind of stroke?" I asked him.  Then I hung up.

I gave up on getting my wallet back.  I cancelled my cards (had to speak to Santander - no article about bad customer service would be complete without a mention of good old Banco Bastardos! "I've lost my card". "OK, what is your card number?"), grieved for my lost seven pounds of Boots credit (now i will have to spend real money on boring old razors, damnit), and felt hungry because I couldn't buy any lunch, but it wasn't the end of the world.  

This is when it hit me.  It would have been better to have just done that in the first place - just written it off.  I would be in exactly the same position, but I would still be at my normal, manageable level of rage and frustration.  I wouldn't have wasted time, meaning I would have been further along with whatever thing it was I was doing at work (I'm not saying that that, in and of itself, would not have also been a waste of time, but you know what I mean).  

And this is the point of today's rant: it shouldn't be that way.  Even if they aren't able to give you any practical help, customer service people should make you feel like they are at least trying to help you, so even though you come away no better off you at least feel like everything that could reasonably be done to help you has been done and that someone out there cared just a little bit about your predicament.  You deserve that - you fund their company's continued existence (in the case of the train companies, because you have to, like some kind of uncapped "getting to the office" tax that they can arbitrarily make to be as much as they fucking like).

Honestly, look at any job advert for customer service representatives, or any other customer facing job come to think about it, and it will be asking for people with "good people skills", or even "a passion for excellent customer service". These qualities in humans must be as rare as rocking horse shit, because instead, these jobs seem to go almost exclusively to surly, arsey, lazy people who will not make themselves responsible for anything at all, or people who are just plain stupid.  When you deal with a good one, someone who actually seems to enjoy helping solve problems and is genuinely sorry when they can't, it feels great, whatever the outcome.  And I can guarantee that the people like that, the ones who are in the right fucking job, never go home and whine about how they get shouted at and called names all day.  Because no matter how much of a bastard you are, or how much the company has pissed you off, you don't call people like that names.  It would be like kicking a Guide Dog.

Tuesday 10 May 2011

Microsoft Buying Skype

OK, so this was actually only the second most interesting story I encountered on today's trawl through the news.

The most interesting was a little gem I found in a Metro I found on a train.  I am kind of fond of the Metro, apart from that bastarding Nemi cartoon.  What is the fucking point?  Just don't have a cartoon if it's going to be that ferociously shit.  As this phrase, borrowed from my mum, went down so well yesterday I am going to use it again: the Nemi cartoon is "neither use nor ornament".  Anyway, I digress.  The story was about how one of those fucking people who paints themselves silver and stands still near tourist attractions in London and for some reason think the world owes them a fucking living for doing absolutely nix, you know, one of those worthless codpieces, kicked the living crap out of another worthless codpiece, er, I mean, "street performer", for stealing his lucrative patch near the London Eye.  He got sent down for GBH with intent.  Apparently, tourists looked on "in horror" as a Bulgarian man dressed as a statue attempted to beat another Bulgarian man dressed as a statue to death. I bet they bloody didn't look on in horror.  If they did they are idiots.  The YouTube/videophone combination was invented for shit like that.  A mate of mine reckons he once saw a McDonalds employee dressed as Ronald McDonald beat the granny out of a drunk guy while he was queueing up to get a Big Mac, but nobody believes him because he didn't put it on the YouTube.  OK, so it supposedly happened in 1994, but that is no excuse.

Anyway, that brings us on to the less amusing but probably more important topic of Microsoft's $8.5 billion (which is 5 billion of her majesty's pounds or thereabouts) buyout of Skype, that thing that lets you talk to your bastard friends who have gone off travelling or moved to somewhere nicer than here for free.

For as much as they might say that it is a natural fit for them because it will integrate nicely with Outlook and, I don't know, proactively leverage some convergence synergies to create a new paradigm (they didn't actually say that, I nicked it from a PowerPoint presentation I will be giving tomorrow) this looks to me like a bid by Microsoft to look a bit more cool, because they are being left behind.

Back in the day, the big names in computer technology were Microsoft and IBM.  Microsoft won the day, back in the day, because IBM had this bizarre cultish thing going on where they would hire graduates with certain profiles, all the same, and turn them all into grey suited boring old IBM people, and Microsoft was a lot more cool.

Trouble is, now that the internet is used for everything, everywhere, by everyone, rather than just being logged onto for a bit in the evening to check your email, ask Jeeves about something and look at some pornographic stills that take 12 minutes each to download, the "cool" technology brands are the ones that have paved the way when it comes to how the internet is used now.  Web 2.0, essentially.  Which is apparently in the dictionary, even though I think that probably would require a redefinition of what a fucking word is, given that "Web 2.0" is two words. And one of them is a number.  This could lead to the number of words in the English language exploding to almost infinity as you would then logically have to include stuff like "Speed 2" as well...

Brands that people think are cool now include Google, who so monopolise the world of searching for everything that their name is now a verb, meaning "to search on the internet".  You don't say "he was slacking , off at work, he was just sat there Binging himself?" do you?  Or, "we'll win this pub quiz for sure, I'm going to Lycos all the answers on my iPhone"...  Facebook, which allows us to control the pop charts like sinister puppet masters, and find out whether our old classmates have ugly children.  Twitter, which I'm not entirely sure what the point of is, but which I bloody love (follow me at  I do sometimes, in my darker moments, suspect that the whole grand enterprise was developed by the British government to allow us to keep tabs on Stephen Fry, so we don't accidentally lose him again.  They know that without Stephen Fry a new dark age will fall on this nation, where all TV shows have to be about people called Kelly or Kerry or Katie who are orange.  Though to be honest they could just have done what they did with "the old Stephen Fry" Oscar Wilde and put him in prison if they're that worried he's going to run off.

According to a report I read yesterday (once again, in the Metro... I'm a bit broke this week) due to social networking four out of five people admit they have online friends they have never met who they feel as close to as their "real world" friends.  Ten years ago you'd never fucking admit to that...  That would be embarrassing.  Even online dating supposedly isn't considered that lame and desperate anymore.  Though, let's be honest, it still kind of is.  The internet is all about being social, sharing stuff, making connections.  Today I joined Formspring, which seems to be this thing where people can ask you any question they want, which I reckon could be a right laugh (if you have any for me, ask at - now is a good time because it's new and I want to play with it).  Could be the next big thing.  But probably won't because, truth be told, it's quite boring after ten minutes if nobody asks you anything interesting.  "Yes, I prefer cats to dogs." "Actually, I can take or leave Marmite." "My favourite dinosaur is the brachiosaurus"...

None of that has anything at all to do with Microsoft.  This is the point.  I am not even anti Microsoft.  In the PC or Mac argument I stand by Windows every time, even though that is not the trendy thing to do, but with each year that passes it gets just a little bit more embarrassing to say "actually, I er, prefer a PC"... And if I'm noticing that, surely they are too?

Thing is, although I use only Windows operating systems, outside of work I never use any Microsoft applications or services.  Microsoft is for Office, and Office is for using at "the fucking place"...  When I'm not at "the fucking place" I don't use anything of theirs.  Not IE, not Hotmail, not Bing, not whatever blogging thing it is they have, because unlike their business applications they are not the best available - Google's stuff is.  I have become just as smug and cuntish about the fact I use Chrome as the Apple wankers that used to piss me off so with their fucking Ocelot OS or whatever the hell it was called.

So yeah, Microsoft isn't cool because it's for work, which isn't cool.  But that's OK right, that's a pretty good niche to fill, every corporate computer in the world?  Well yeah.  But this is where Microsoft get a bit schizophrenic.

All of their advertising seems to be targetted very much at the home user market.  If I recall correctly, their current TV campaign involves scenarios such as a plain woman using her Windows PC to edit a photo of her boring looking family so it looks like her kids aren't ginger, or texting or something.  The catchphrase in these commercials is "to the cloud!"...  It's not what you want.  You want aspirational, not accessible.  Ooooh, if I use Windows, I will be like a woman with three kids who knows fuck all about computers but can still edit her fucking stupid fucking photo because Windows has the most patronising interface known to man and big Fisher Price buttons will tell me what I need to do and then make sure I'm sure with more big fucking Fisher Price looking buttons because I'm a fucking imbecile who is scared they will bring down the New York Stock Exchange by clicking on the wrong fucking thing in my picture editing software.  And "to the cloud" is the gayest catchphrase I've ever heard uttered outside of a 1960's Batman movie.  You can't even say it ironically.

For Microsoft to thrive they need to somehow change their image.  Either go totally corporate, ironically, like IBM, or get some useful offerings and lose the family friendly schmaltz and become cool again.  Maybe the buyout of Skype is supposed to be a step in the latter direction, given that Skype has millions of users all over the world, and that is why they have gambled by paying what looks like way over the odds.  70% of Skype was sold for $2 billion just two years ago, and given that its most popular service is offered for free, it will take some creativity to turn it into a big revenue generator (the same argument used to question why Twitter was valued high when it doesn't appear to do anything that would make money).   If it solves Microsoft's image problem, none of that should matter - they can afford it, much like Chelsea could afford to spend 50 million pounds on Torres in a bid to solve their "our strikers are really old now" problem.

Trouble is, I can't help expecting them to launch their Skype offering with an advertising campaign showing someone in England using a Skype video call to let their kids wave to their grandparents in Australia...  I can literally see it in my head.  Yeah, we know it can do that, and we know that's what most people will use it for, but for the love of fuck, show us something a bit more Minority Report looking and some people with lives that look interesting using the fucker!  

Monday 9 May 2011

Super-injunctions and Twitter

If you are a Twitter user, you have probably noticed that there are quite a lot of other Twitter users who are morons. Obviously you don't follow any of the morons, so you don't notice it most of the time, but if you ever click on one of the things that is "trending", or on some days, just look at the list of things that are trending, there is quite a lot of shit on there. Not shit like the shit I post, like when I get drunk and decide to type random Bruce Springsteen lyrics, but shit like - and these are just some examples I have plucked from what was trending at the time of writing:

@justinbieber stay strong Biebs. You can do better than get mad and lose your mind with those people. #killemwithkindness

Which was posted by someone calling themselves a "belieber" which sounds like some new kind of menace we really should be concerned about...

can i ask why is megan fox not in the new transformers ?! her and shia labeouf make a gorgeous couple !

Yeah. I think the bigger question is "Why is the new Transformers movie a thing that exists?" rather than why Megan Fox would not want to be involved with such a thing. You know, given that the last one was a total fucking abortion.

#5factsaboutmymom she made her own Dildoe

I assume the hashtag "5 facts about my mom" was trending because yesterday was Mother's Day in America, so American people, who call their mums moms wanted to pay tribute to their mothers - you know, just like we do here in fucking March. So why it is now trending in Birmingham (and why there is even an option to see what is trending in Birmingham in the main part of the interface) I cannot explain. But this guy, who looks to be from Newcastle, well, his "mom" is probably the type of lady contributing to the fact that "MILF" is also trending right now...

Now, hopefully that has established for anyone who doesn't use Twitter that it has been adopted by a large quantity of people who, as MY mom would say, are neither use nor ornament. You need to know that to understand the point I am now, finally going to get to.

Following the news that many, many, possibly all, celebrities have now got "super-injunctions" that prevent hookers, mistresses, rent boys and just about anyone else represented by Max Clifford from speaking out and ruining their carefully cultivated reputations as family men, general good eggs or heterosexuals. Personally I think it's great, because we no longer have to have our news peppered with horrible things like "I shagged Andrew Marr", and whenever you do see a story about a footballer and a hooker you can tell by the fact he hasn't taken out a super-injunction that it is all just an elaborate set up to cover up the fact he is as gay as a daisy. Yes Ashley Cole, we all worked it out a very long time ago. Also, prostitutes will no longer be all over the papers, causing the Daily Mail to become concerned that all of our girl children will decide "Juicy Jenni" was onto something and start hanging around sketchy Northern nightclubs in the hope of making a few quid out of sucking off Rio Ferdinand. Jesus, if we went on Rooney stories alone it might not just be the kids. It might be your nan as well.

Yes, the super-injunction is a good thing. Not because it protects the privacy of people in the public eye, but because it protects the public eye from stories about Andrew Marr's privates.

Still though, some people feel it is a right, possibly a constitutional right, maybe even a human right, to know whether, I don't know, Huw Edwards or Pete Waterman or that bloke that plays Ian Beale, has committed any form of indiscretion ever (disclaimer: I have no reason to believe any of the aforementioned people have taken out super-injunctions, nor am I claiming to have slept with any of them). The super-injunction deprives them of their fix of gossip about people nobody normal is remotely interested in (because all they do is present a daytime antiques show), and that's no fun! Sure, I can see why someone might be interested to know that someone extremely famous, like say, Tiger Woods, or David Beckham, or someone extremely unexpected, like John Major had been up to something juicy, but seriously, what kind of fucking weirdo cares that Jeremy Clarkson might have been photographed with Jemima Khan? I don't, and as you might have noticed, I bloody love Jeremy Clarkson.

But these very weirdos are the same morons I was on about earlier. When a canny Twitter user announced they were going to leak the names of loads of celebrities who had taken out super-injunctions, people who say "OMG" a lot were on it like, well, me on any rumour that Jose Mourinho might be coming back to Chelsea. At the time of someone else writing an article about this which I just read, they had 44,000 followers, despite the fact that most major news outlets (who are, rather ironically, informed of the details of super-injunctions so that they don't accidentally publish them - yeah, so no risk of leaks there then, you can definitely trust those guys not to get coked up and tell some random punter down the pub) are saying most of it isn't true anyway. But then they are always saying Tom Cruise is straight as well, so who the hell knows.

Some of the very best people to follow on Twitter are liars, but what on Earth is entertaining about reading a random list of names of not very exciting people who might have a super-injunction but probably don't.

Still, if you see Katie Price on the list at least then you'll know once and for all that it is total bollocks...

You can follow me on the Twitter if you should care to do so, at I don't out people very often... And I'm not a belieber.

Saturday 7 May 2011

Talent Shows... And People Who Cry at Them

So, my sources tell me that tonight Britain's Got Talent is on the television. I can only assume from the stuff they are saying on the Facebook and the Twitter (follow me at about how astonishingly moving it is, that this programme is a graphic and harrowing documentary about the genocide in Rwanda, Chinese orphanages, or those babies in Africa that get raped because it cures the AIDS (disclaimer - it doesn't).

Oh no, wait, it's not that at all is it? It's that show where people put ferrets down their trousers while David Hasslehoff watches.

The talent show genre is not a new thing. When I was a kid, it was all about Stars In Their Eyes (or, as morons would call it, "Stars In Your Eyes"... God I hate people who do that. See also "Sex In The City"... To be fair, I keep getting the name of that new sitcom Shit My Dad Says wrong and just calling it "Shit Nobody Laughs At", but that may not be quite so accidental. Honestly, a sitcom based on a Twitter feed? Seriously?) where that really tall beardy guy who might have been a paedophile (I think he was cleared of having done anything, but they still got Cat Deeley to do the kids' version instead of him...) welcomed people with mundane jobs (I remember one where a man worked in a factory that made tights, checking that the tights didn't have holes in them. Sounds like either the worst or the best job in the world, depending how "fetishy" you are) who would then be transformed to look "uncannily" like singers they fancied they could do a bit of an impression of. This very occasionally involved the use of blackface. Eventually, someone would win, and they would get some kind of trophy, and then they would kindly fuck off to wherever they came from (usually the Midlands), only to be heard of again if you were the kind of person who enjoys going on holiday to Butlins, where you could see them basking in the glory of their changed lives every night at 7 before the bingo. And that was good enough for them.

It all changed at the turn of the century (I like saying that when I mean 2001, it still kind of confuses people for a second...) with Popstars. Popstars featured a man called Nasty Nigel, who as the name suggests was a bit of a dick to everyone, and a bunch of people who wanted to be, well, pop stars. And they weren't 43 year old shop fitters from Wolverhampton who could do a mean turn as Chris de Burgh, they were young and fresh. And the winners didn't just get a trophy and a job as a redcoat in Bridgend, they got to actually be pop stars. Well, sort of - they got to be more like pop stars than other people are, but less than say, Blue or Atomic Kitten. Popstars was the first, so if you wanted to go back in time and stop Cheryl Cole from taking over the world, you would basically need to terminate this Nigel bloke.

Popstars was followed by Popstars: The Rivals, where a girl band and a boy band were formed. One of them was Girls Aloud who did very well despite having the shittest band name ever, and the other one was... Actually, I'm not even going to type their name, I'm going to let it bug you. Besides, what's the point, nobody is Googling them, not even their mums, so it won't help me any on the traffic front to speak of them here.

Then you had Pop Idol, which launched Gareth Gates and Michelle McManus (I resist the urge to make any "fat people" jokes involving the concept of launching Michelle McManus, but if you want to make any in your head, this would be the right point to do so). And it was here that the phenomenon of the sob story made its first significant appearance.

Gareth Gates had a bit of an affliction, which made the nation sympathise with him and root for him. Gareth Gates had a stutter. It only affected him when he spoke, and not when he sang, so really in a singing contest it was pretty irrelevant, but it was milked and milked and milked with endless footage of him trying to get a sentence out (it stopped just short of forcing the boy to say "I'm not the pheasant plucker, I'm the pheasant plucker's mate, and I'm only plucking pheasants 'cos the pheasant plucker's late" on live TV, but only by a small margin) until he won. He then got speech therapy, which cured him of said affliction, and shagged Jordan, which probably caused him to gain a few much more nasty ones.

I think it was at this point that it became absolutely compulsory for every contestant on the raft of shows that followed (X Factor, Britain's Got Talent) to have something a bit tragic about themselves if they were to stand a chance. OK, so not all of them were orphans, or had overcome leukaemia, because where are you going to find enough people like that with passable voices and who are prepared to shamelessly bang on about it on TV to make two seasons of the awful crap a year for the rest of time, but at the very least they would be a struggling single parent or someone who had been bullied at school or who had a horribly depressing job. I can only recall one contestant, a guy called Rhydian who was on the X Factor, who basically went on there and said " I am a happy, confident person with a good job, a nice family who are all alive, lots of friends, and quite a pleasant life" - I mean, he didn't literally say that, but you know what I mean... Everybody hated him and he went out, despite being one of the best, from a technical perspective, on the show. He didn't have the "ahhhh, bless" factor.

The rule seems to be that you either have to say you want to win to get your family out of crushing poverty, or dedicate each song you sing, even if it's Bat Out of Hell, to a deceased loved one.

I guess I'd pick Mewsley, my cat who died 12 years ago: "She was struck down in her prime, but she loved Toni Braxton and I'm sure she will be looking down on me in heaven where she lives with the angels... It's going to be hard to get through the song, but I'm going to try and be really brave and make her proud"... OK, so it doesn't sound that moving here, but you need to imagine the slight cracking of the voice and the brave, fighting back the tears smile.

Seriously, it would take a lot less than me and my dead cat to make the majority of viewers cry like one of those children you see looking up as their balloon drifts out of sight. Things that have made people, real people I actually know, well up on Britain's Got Talent this week have included "a kid dancing". A kid dancing is not fucking sad, is it? It could be sort of funny I suppose. Could even be impressive, if they are really good. But it's never sad. I asked for an explanation of exactly why people are bawling away in their droves and here is one response, as an exact quote:

"it's the emotional music that gets me. Lol and when you see someone like the kid tonight who has actually improved his physical condition through something he enjoys it's hard not to be a little overwhelmed with compassion and empathy"

What? So, the kid is fit and healthy and loves dancing? A fit, healthy, happy child? Yeah, still not really seeing the sad in there. As for being overwhelmed with compassion and empathy, I don't think a dancing kid on the telly would overwhelm me with anything. This person is obviously someone who flips between emotions quite easily though, given that there was a little "lol" in there for no discernible reason. Cries at children being happy, laughs at nothing. Probably mental.

I just don't get it. If I cried that easily I would be scared to leave the house in case I saw a particularly moving shop window display in Debenhams (perhaps where one of the mannequins had only one arm and three child mannequins to support with no male mannequin in sight) or a really sad queue at a bus stop... I certainly wouldn't be able to go to work because on the way to the station I sometimes see this cat that has a leg missing.

There were apparently a bunch of dog based acts as well, but those won't win, even if they do something really cool like make the dogs bite Amanda Holden's face off, because Simon Cowell hasn't yet figured out a way to make money out of dancing lurchers.