Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Brown Bottles

Recently, Gordon Brown apologised for controversial emails sent by his aide, Damian McBride, as part of a plot to smear senior Conservative politicians. He had not known of McBride's initiative, despite sitting in the cubicle next to him at work.

Mr Brown's apology took the following form:

'I take full responsibility for what's happened. That's why the person responsible for what happened went immediately.'

A masterclass in doublespeak. Segue to Brown's recent YouTube appearance, where he reveals measures intended to alter rules on MPs' claims for second homes and expenses, and smiles at us. A gro-bag smile forced, devoid of spontaneity or sincerity, but which stimulates in return a grin of delight.

Interestingly, a YouGov survey taken a short time ago reveals Brown is now less trusted than notorious womaniser and cad Boris Johnson. The poll found more people have faith in the Mayor of London to keep his word than the Prime Minister. Cripes!

Monday, 27 April 2009

I Was Only Following Holy Orders

Pope Benedict XVI has recently upheld traditional Catholic teaching on artificial contraception. The Vatican has always opposed the use of condoms and other forms of birth control, and encourages sexual abstinence to fight the spread of STDs. The Pope made his remarks during a visit to Africa, a continent that desperately needs every effective method to combat the AIDS pandemic.

The Pope has also attacked gay unions, gay adoptions, abortion, IVF treatment and lesbians wanting to bear children, claiming the traditional family unit is 'under attack' by 'radical currents' worldwide. Yet despite the Vatican's best efforts, in several European countries gay unions are legal, including traditionally Catholic Spain, while Italy's centre left coalition has promised some form of recognition for unmarried couples. France allows all couples the right to civil unions, joint social security and inheritance rights. Britain too has introduced a law allowing gay people to formalise their relationships.

Critics of religeon accuse the church of losing touch with modern life. The Vatican is doing itself great harm by flying in the face of common sense, and irreversible social developments. Its policies have created ecumenical polarisation. More importantly, the Vatican is meddling in medical matters which are quite beyond its expertise, and is turning its back on large groups of society.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009


Recently I watched a film about King Arthur. It was a jumble of half-baked philosophy and pseudo-religeon, with lots of fighting. The leading lady turned out to be a seventh Dan in martial arts combined with edged-weapon combat. An American masquerading as a Pict, or 'Woad', was the flatpack antagonist who killed everyone he met, rather gratuitously I felt. The hero was tortured by paper-thin moral doubts and fears. Armies hacked at each other but sadly, reminded me of the massed ranks of gribbly orcs in LOTR. It was a terrible film, assuming it wasn't meant to be a spoof - a 'Blazing Arthur' type of thing.

If you want a good film, you must go back to the fifties and sixties. There, you'll find jaw-dropping American sci-fi and monster movies that really know how to entertain.
Who can forget the chilling effects in 'Robot Monster', made for $16,000 in four days. Or the intricate but masterly plot lines of 'The Brain From Planet Arous'. The courage of the all-American kid in 'Invaders from Mars' takes some beating while the daddy, 'Plan Nine From Outer Space', has the lot: wobbly sets, crazy aliens, toe-curling dialogue. These films are so bad, they're great. Watch them with a few chums, a bottle of wine and some snacks - you'll love the cinematic experience.

Here are a few suggestions to get you started. The list is as it occurred; it's difficult to put these films in order of merit.

Robot Monster (1953)
The Brain from Planet Arous (1957)
Invaders From Mars (1953)
Plan Nine From Outer Space (1959)
They Saved Hitler's Brain (1963)
Phantom From Space (1953)
The Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954)
Mars Needs Women (1966)
Attack Of The Fifty Foot Woman (1958)
I Married A Monster From Outer Space (1958)
The Thing From Another World (1951)

Happy viewing!

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Rag Week

I like reading newspapers. I enjoy The Times, and love it or hate it, The Sun is very good at what it does. But the Daily Mail, the Wail, is beyond me. Everything's going to turn out badly; threats to society abound, freaks will kill us, food is poisonous. For The Mail, nothing's better than scare stories, and ludicrous exaggerations about how awful it all is. Tragedy over triumph sells.

But just recently the Mail has surpassed itself, any remaining editorial honesty finally flatlined. In Britain, it's recently been campaigning against the HPV jab, the vaccine against infection associated with the development of cervical cancer, using its usual mix of sensationalism and horrific stories as 'facts' are 'revealed' over the alleged dangerous side-effects of the treatment. The Mail's strident voice insists no vaccination programme must ever, ever go ahead.

But at the same time, the Irish edition of The Mail has been crusading for the immediate introduction of the HPV jab countrywide, claiming that despite the Health Minister's recent shelving of a plan to do this, '... the Irish Daily Mail will not relent and will continue to urge the roll out of the vaccine.'

So we have the simultaneous printing of lurid scare stories in one country, and a pro bono publico campaign urging the nationwide launch of the treatment in another. The editorial stance is solely whatever will sell the most newspapers, the seriousness of the health issue simply set aside.

Add to this the foolishness of expressing such contrapuntal views in neighbouring countries, where thousands of people, all speaking - and reading - the same language, travel between the two every day. Did the Mail group believe no-one would pick this up?

Monday, 13 April 2009

Yum Yum

If you live in Cornwall you'll probably have tried a Cornish pasty. Many are inedible muck and too small, but some are divine. You have to really seek out the occasional good baker in order to get a top example.

Stick with traditional steak as your filling. Over the past few years, Lever Brothers principles have been applied to pasty marketing, and the choice of fillings has become wide but disgusting - chicken tikka, llama, spam. These are for the tourists and are best shunned.

In Falmouth town square, deep in the Cornish heartland, there's an excellent pasty emporium with good value, succulent pasties made on the premises. It's just the name ...

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Work Placements

For the last couple of weeks I've been working full-time in the real world. I spent the first week in Penzance at the offices of Cornish World magazine, and the second with the History Press, a book publisher based in Stroud.

These visits were made to satisfy the requirement of my MA for work experience in what we'll call the writing industry.
It was fantastic. I met two groups of lovely people who found the time and enthusiasm to make my stays interesting and demanding. I was encouraged to have a go at all sorts of activities: various types of writing, editing, image manipulation, electronic layout. I was made welcome at internal process and review meetings. I was given handouts on various parts of the publishing process, and on the accompanying marketing and sales techniques. I came away tired but very happy; both groups went out of their way to help me see as much as possible during my stays. It was tremendously worthwhile.

As I know from my previous working life, sometimes when students visit offices for work experience it's difficult to give them anything meaningful or interesting to do, mostly because of time constraints. But I wasn't dumped in a corner, left to my own devices, or given mundane stuff to do. I offered to make the tea, but more often than not it was made for me.

The most remarkable aspect of the last two weeks was the parallel between the processes and activities I experienced within the industry, and what I've been taught in the classroom. It was exciting and reassuring to find that correlation, which reflects very favourably on the the MA course content and the tutors at Falmouth.