Newsline – 6th January 2012

Newsline – 6th January 2012.

To Our Friends At Reeves Corner

The now former Reeves Furniture building in Croydon

Ladbroke Productions (proud to be a Croydon business) would like to send our love and support to our friends at Reeves Furniture in Croydon. Last night, the beautiful building above, established in 1867, was burned to the ground by moronic evil looters and rioters. Reeves is a family business that all of us in Croydon are very proud of. The building and business was a real historic landmark, and we are devastated to see its destruction by mindless thugs. We would also like to send our support to all the residents and other businesses affected by the rioting last night. Such meaningless wanton destruction proves nothing but the idiocy of those who partake in it. Croydon, and all of London will stand strong and united against such violence. We look forward to the rebirth of Reeves Furniture.

And if you haven’t seen it yet, this is what Reeves Furniture looked like late last night!

Malta’s Buses – In Memorium

I’ve been to the island of Malta many times, and absolutely love the place.  And one of the best things about it are the canary-yellow buses that flock around the main fountain in Valletta and take you all over the island.  They are ancient and unique and full of life and personality.  And, as of this summer, they are all being scrapped to make way for horrible, impersonal, boring modern buses run not by owner-drivers, but by the monolithic corporation Arriva!  So, in memory of these beautiful and magical beasts, here is a poem I wrote about them some years back, as I stood by the fountain in Valletta, watching the flock go by:

BUSES by Neil Gardner

Like a flock of sun-gold flamingoes,

They swarm around the fountain now dry.

Some shiny new, others in death throes,

The journey may be hard but they’ll try.

All at once the flock takes wing and leaves,

As one they make haste and depart.

Squawking and screeching the sound weaves,

I watch, transfixed, full of heart.

Each one’s destination is different,

Yet the flock knows where to return.

To far off location the individuals are sent,

On a wing and a prayer, but no concern.

They’re back now, all yellow and noisy,

Surrounding me they nest and roost.

At night they lie warm, snug and cosy,

Before another day’s flock is let loose.

 

Here’s the link to the BBC News story:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/from_our_own_correspondent/9520210.stm

We’ll Miss You, Sarah-Jane

It is such a sad day…Elisabeth Sladen, our very own Sarah-Jane Smith, has passed away, aged 63.

She was an absolute hero of mine, an icon of my Doctor Who youth, a gorgeous, funny, vibrant, friendly, cheerful, intelligent and fabulous human being.

I feel incredibly honoured and fortunate enough to have worked with her producing her last four Sarah Jane Adventures audiobook adventures for AudioGo. Over two years we had some of the most fun in a studio I have ever had. And they are four of the productions I am most proud of. To hear Lis reading out my name as the producer was a moment that will resonate for me forever.

But what is more important is that Lis was a genuinely fantastic person…someone who cared passionately about her character, her work, her family, her friends and her colleagues. She was always as concerned for our time and wellbeing as her own.

The last time I saw her we swapped gifts…I got some signed SJA audiobooks (very much treasured items in our household) and she got a copy of “The Brightonomicon Audio Series” and “The Bumper Book of FICTS”. She told me later that the FICTS had given her a good laugh…now we are all aware of what she was going through, I hope that my ridiculous FICTS gave her some respite for just a few moments.

So we move on to a slightly colder world, without Lis or Sarah-Jane…but she’s still with us in our hearts and memories, and all those lovely shiny DVDs and Blu-Rays we can enjoy over and over again. But let me suggest this to you…once you’ve rewatched School Reunion, or the SJA series…grab yourself an SJA audiobook or three (or four, or five!) and head somewhere quiet and put your headphones on, and let Lis tell you some of her adventures herself…one-on-one. It’ll make you cry, but it’ll also make your heart sing with joy.

RIP Lis…you were, are and will always be, the greatest companion of them all!

Love, Neil, Tanja and all at Ladbroke Productions xxx

RECOMMENDED SJA AUDIOBOOKS FROM AUDIOGO:

  • The Shadow People
  • The White Wolf
  • Wraith World
  • The Deadly Download

PLUS OTHER GREAT SARAH-JANE AUDIOS FROM BIG FINISH!

Shave the Whales…then Save A Library!

Today in the UK is Save Libraries Day (check out the Twitter hashtag #savelibraries)…a day when across the country people of all ages, all classes, all ethnicities will politely and peacefully demonstrate to our Government just how much they want libraries to remain, and not be shut down.

The Politics – I understand the situation we are in financially.  I get that the Govt needs to save money to start paying off the debt.  I agree that, inevitably, this will affect us all in some way (although, as ever, it affects the minority rich far less than the majority poor and middle income).  I disagree though with the very Tory stance of cutting back key services and community resources in order to service the debt.  We can cut back Whitehall, cut back MP expenses, cut back Trident, cut back money flowing like a bleeding artery to the EU…and even cut back a small fraction of what goes on Overseas development.  All these cuts would not damage the access to core services for UK citizens…they would allow such services to continue.

The reality – libraries are seen by the political classes and snooty media spectators as something passe, chavvy, lower-class and 1970’s.  They appear to be a holdout of the socialist past, the state as nanny.  They may even be a drain on local funding where the money could be spent on other worthy needs.  All this is the reality, the way those in power, those in control of the media, those at the top of the pile would have us believe.  “Not enough people use them”, “In an electronic age less and less people want to read real books”, “Libraries are a luxury we can no longer afford”.  But the ACTUAL reality is that our libraries are one of the few remaining democratic, open and inclusive parts of our ailing society.  Their doors are open to all, they cater for as broad a spectrum as possible, and most importantly, they give access to books to those who cannot get access any other way.

Reading – Books are expensive.  E-books even more so.  I love books.  I relish books.  I have a fairly large collection (mostly SF, horror, Penguin editions and humour).  I own my own business and earn a decent wage.  But I can’t afford to buy many books.  I wander round Waterstones and gaze longingly at all the titles I would so dearly love to own.  But I can’t afford them!  E-books…another passion of mine, are woefully overpriced for a non-physical product.  Even though I own a Sony e-reader and an iPad, I still only own 10 e-books!  The publishing industry makes it tough for people to own books.  BUT…there is this wonderful, magical place near me, in Central Croydon, that LENDS ME BOOKS.  Our library actually allows me to borrow a book, read it and then return it, and take more books out afterwards.  Revolutionary…oh, hang on, no it’s not, it’s good sense.  Reading is a must for all of us…for life, work, education, enjoyment.  For children it is a gateway not only to learning but to self-discovery, to wider worlds, to aspiration and hope.  And, let’s be honest, there are some corking good stories out there!  But what if kids, and adults can no longer get access to books.  What then?  The Govt would have us believe kids can always get books from schools…possibly, but what about adults?  Oh, they can read them online, on an e-reader, or maybe with a free copy given away with a Sunday newspaper!  Right…so we want to leave access to great writing up to the hope that everyone will be online, or have an e-reader, or buy a middle-class over-sized Sunday paper?  REALLY?!

The Rant – Enough!  I don’t mind being thought of as wishy washy liberal minded.  I don’t mind being thought of as a self-serving creative.  The Govt can dismiss my beliefs on so many things because I don’t have kids, or Idon’t vote the right way, or I have a particular background.  But they need to sit up and start listening to the vox populi…we don’t want to see our libraries go.  We don’t want to see the death of lending.  We don’t want our kids and fellow adults unable to access books.  We don’t want access to books for the partially sighted or blind reduced to charitable status only. We WANT our libraries at the heart of our communities. We WANT our libraries to remain open, free to use and available to all.  We WANT you to understand that there may be lower footfall but it doesn’t mean lower interest.  Libraries, like forests, are part of the fabric of our country and we want them to stay.  If lower figures and niche useage were the be all and end all of any discussion then Radio 3 would have been shut down years ago, but it remains as a vital part of of cultural landscape.  By those rules, Westminster itself would be shut due to the less than impressive voting turnout.  You have NO MANDATE for this action.  The political classes DO NOT speak for the rest of us.  You represent us, you do not decided what we think, you LISTEN to us and then make the tough decisions.  So STOP NOW and look elsewhere for the paltry sums you need to save by this action.  Cut a few fat-cat paychecks in Westminster or on local councils.  Let’s have one less over-stuffed Quango.  Or, and here’s a radical idea…let’s cut 1% off the Overseas Aid budget for 1 year…that will solve a few home-grown crises!

Why I Love Libraries – as a kid I grew up in a working class family, struggling to become lower middle class.  My Dad worked all hours as an ambulanceman and later an ambulance manager.  My mum did part-time jobs.  We had a nice house and a decent enough lifestyle…but no fripperies or extras.  But I loved to read, and while Mum & Dad did their best, we didn’t have a ton of books at home…especially not the sort I wanted to read…scifi, horror, the classics, etc…  But about a mile away was a small local library, nestled next to the railway station.  On Saturday afternoons, often with my friend Matthew, I would head down there and grab a book from the shelf and read it, right there.  The librarian was always very nice and genuinely seemed pleased to have some kids quietly reading.  Over the years I read hundreds of books this way.  And with mum, we borrowed many more.  It was a road to self-education, to self-awareness, to creativity and adventure.  Much like LEGO allows a child to learn through play, library books allowed me to learn through reading, and at no cost!  My grandmother was a big user of her local library in Nuneaton…and as she grew older and her eyesight worsened she needed them more and more for the large print books, and the audiobooks, and eventually the Braille books.  When I was a teenager and about to leave school I used the big library in Bedford to help me with looking for work, researching jobs, getting online and attending courses on business and working.  When I first bought my flat and shared with my best friend, neither of us had much disposable income but we both loved to read, so we used Croydon Library a great deal.  When he died of a stroke in 2003, one of the very last things I had to do to tidy up his affairs was walk to the library and hand back the books he had borrowed…and how lovely and caring and sympathetic those librarians were when they heard the sad news.  I doubt whether I would be who I am today, do what I do today, without the libraries in my life.  I urge you to support the Save Libraries campaign…write to your MP, pop down to your local and show support, send a message to this Govt and say NO!  We all know cuts have to be made…but let’s cut the big cost items before we attack the little ones, eh?

We Am Da Champions – Huzzah!

Science Fiction on the radio…well on mainstream UK radio anyway…has all but disappeared over the past 20 years.  Whether it is due to uninspired commissioning, a lack of SF proposals, too many Hitch-hiker’s Guide knock offs, or something else entirely, the simple fact is SF radio is a rare beast.

Well, BBC Radio 4 changed that (for a mere week, but let’s not complain) last year with a Sci Fi season.  For this week of SF plays and progs, I directed and produced two Afternoon plays, “Cry Babies” by Kim Newman and “Mayflies” by Mike Maddox.  Both starred internationally renowned actors of some repute (Sir Derek Jacobi, anyone?!) and both garnered critical praise as well as being immensely popular with the listeners.

Sadly, since then, the BBC radio boffins seem to have gone off scifi and other than the top types at BBC Radio 7, there is little new radio scifi.

BUT WAIT!  What’s this?  On Friday evening in New York city, the Oscars(tm) of international radio took place in a plush hotel.  The New York Festival Awards are the very tippy-toppest of awards for our industry and pit your work against the work of luminaries and worthy types from across the globe.  Just to be nominated is an honour.  But guess what?  “Mayflies” was awarded the New York Bronze Award for Best Drama Special.  That makes our wee little scifi play the third bestest radio play in the world.  Whooeee!

(We also won the New York Bronze Award for Religious Programming for our documentary “Twin Sisters Two Faiths” – heartiest congrats to Anna and Adam for another gong for this superb bit of programming!)

And, as an important aside, “Cry Babies” by Kim Newman is nominated for the Tinniswood Award…so keep those fingers crossed!

So…scifi radio isn’t just popular with listeners and critics, but with those who know what they know and give out the awards.  I, for one, am extremely chuffed!  Congrats to Mike Maddox for writing such a superb play, kudos to Jeremy Paul Carroll for writing some stunning music, big hand claps to Simon Willey for recording and editing it together with me, and many thanks to the god who is Dirk Maggs for exec producing it and being my guiding light.  Here’s the cast:

  • Sir Derek Jacobi (everything…really!  Also, Doctor Who!)
  • Jason Isaacs (Harry Potter, West Wing, Event Horizon)
  • Catherine McCormack (Braveheart, 28 Weeks Later)
  • Danny Webb (Doctor Who, Valkyrie)
  • Sarah Douglas (Superman I & II, Conan The Destroyer)
  • Steven Cree (Cabaret, Dream Team, John Carter of Mars)

Scrap The Poor Quality Before You Scrap The Radio Set

So, the BBC and Commercial Radio have launched an ‘old-radio’ scrappage scheme in advance of the eventual analogue switch-off which may or (more likely) may never happen in the near-future.  Here’s the link to the full BBC News story:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/8693613.stm

I’m all for this, especially since most UK households have 5 or more analogue radio sets, and therefore the cost of replacing them like-for-like with DAB sets is cost-prohibitive.  I have an image in my mind of someone turning up at John Lewis with 10 analogue sets and demanding a free DAB set in return – how wonderful!

DAB radio sets are great, they do what they say on the tin.  You tune by name not frequency, you have more choice of stations and, if your DAB set allows it, you can do clever stuff like rewind and record.  Tech-tastic!

BUT…I’ve been a DAB listener since the very first sets came out, and while over those years, the technology built in to the sets has improved, and come down in price, what hasn’t changed is the general poor quality of the broadcasts.  DAB is advertised and sold to punters as the height of high-quality sound…CD-quality, etc…  I hate to be the one to tell you, but many radio stations do not even broadcast in stereo via DAB, and many of those that do don’t broadcast at 128kBps (CD-quality).  This is because of the amount of bandwidth that is allocated by the DAB network providers to each station.  Consider the BBC national networks…The main stations are well provided for with bandwidth as you would expect, but the ‘all-new’ services, those that are used to sell the concept of DAB e.g. Radio 7 is broadcast in mono.  Many commercial radio stations are not allocated a full 128kBps stereo bandwidth.  And be careful, because not all DAB radio sets have stereo speakers!

And then there is the issue of what stations you can receive on DAB.  Of course, all your favourite local and national stations are on there.  And then there are some new ones you’ve possibly never heard of.  These includes 80’s and rock and indie and classical and international stations.  Nearly all the music channels are mere ‘jukebox’ stations, a computer pumping out track after track with some pre-recorded DJ links thrown in.  However, some are truly excellent (may I direct you to Absolute 80s and Absolute Classic Rock?)  But beware of DAB’s promises…what if the BBC closes 6 Music and Asian Network?  We have already lost the finest example of original and popular programming when One Word Radio was unceremoniously shut down by Channel 4 Radio (which then failed to launch – why did Ofcom not require the relaunch of One Word, eh?).  DAB promises much, but the reality of running radio stations is that, eventually, you just get the same old stations you got on FM/AM.  Radio stations cost money to run, and there aren’t advertisers out there spending money on radio!

Now, don’t get me wrong…DAB is an inevitability (possibly!).  If any MPs grow the balls to pull the plug, we may actually switch over to full digital radio sometime in the next 10 years.  If we do, DAB coverage has to improve considerably, and PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE don’t buy a portable DAB player if you value your hearing – the DAB signal does not travel well, especially in large towns and cities.  DAB may not have all the static of FM/AM but it does have digital noise, which in extreme cases could cause hearing damage!

One aside…even though the UK developed and pushed DAB technology, we are now lagging behind the rest of the world.  The Govt. and UK radio have put so much into DAB v1 that they are reluctant to make the move to the much improved DAB v2, which offers better bandwidth useage and sound quality.  The rest of the world is looking to move to DAB v2, and manufacturers are moving in that direction.  But will the UK?  Oh no, because that would mean punters who have already bought sets would have to…wait for it…scrap them and replace with new sets!

So..DAB has certainly brought benefits, but it hasn’t brought a revolution.  It’s ANOTHER way to consume the UK’s generally great radio output…yet many people are now listening to radio via their Digital TV services.  The biggest hurdle for DAB, apart from the problems with living up to expectations and delivering on promises, is getting the sets in to cars.  DAB needs Ford and Toyota and others to put DAB car radios in their vehicles as the default.  But to do that the UK and Europe and Asia and the US need to be using the same DAB system, that way the cost of installing such sets drops significantly.

I doubt whether any MP will have the balls to switch off analogue radio, so this is possibly a moot argument.  But then, who knows?  I would never suggest you don’t buy DAB, some of the sets are superb with great additional technology and fantastic sound.  All I would say is think first before investing…and don’t believe the hype!

The Queen Is Dead…All Hail The Queen!

Another case of ridiculous knee-jerk reaction by BBC bosses has reared its ugly head…and once again it is because of a harmless joke about the Queen (bow, scrape head along floor, hand over all personal freedoms and await the mighty one’s permission to breathe!).  Here’s the story from the BBC website today:

BBC ‘sorry’ for WM presenter Queen death joke

The BBC has apologised after a radio presenter said the Queen had died.

(c) BBC

(c) BBC

Danny Kelly who works for BBC WM in the West Midlands, played the national anthem as he made the joke during his Birmingham-based afternoon show.

A BBC spokesman said it had been a reference to an item on one of his internet pages.

Mr Kelly will not present his show for the remainder of the week and a formal apology was made at the start of Tuesday’s show at 1400 BST.

A BBC spokesman said presenter Mollie Green would take over the afternoon show until next Tuesday.

The apology on BBC WM at the start of the programme said: “Yesterday afternoon Danny Kelly made an inappropriate remark about the Queen during his radio show here on BBC WM.

“The BBC apologises unreservedly for it.

“BBC WM takes these comments very seriously and due action has been taken.”

Earlier, a spokesman said the comment had been made during a “light-hearted piece about social media friends” and that it had been corrected on-air immediately after it was made.

Danny is a superb broadcaster, contributes across the BBC’s local and national networks, and has spent many years learning his art and perfecting his craft.  Why oh why does a simple joke about the Queen being dead, which was in context, and even (outrageously) apologised for on-air at the time, in any way requiring the removal of this talented individual from his post for a week?

We live in a Parliamentary Democracy, not a Monarchial Dictatorship. Why does the BBC insist on these disgusting punishments for gags about our Queen?  Where does it say in law, or even in broadcasting regulations (or the increasingly pointless BBC Royal Charter) that her Maj is sacrosanct? I understand issues of good taste, of potentially upsetting weak-willed and lilly-livered punters, even of the fear of the Daily Fail reaction.  So yes, require the presenter to apologise where necessary, but to remove them from air?!  Such punitive action smacks of institutionalised grovelling and pandering.

So come on BBC…grow a pair and start standing up for your talent.  The Queen is fair target for comedy.  And if you don’t want to risk such humour, then stop hiring talented, comedic presenters.  Then you can be like the iPods you so fear are taking away your audience!

Sick And Tired Of It All (Mini-Blogging)

So, lots of things have been bugging me of late, but instead of writing full-blown blog entries for each one, I’ve decided to emulate Oh! My Goddess and create Mini-Blogs (like Mini Goddesses – sorry non-anime fans, but it makes sense to anime freaks!).  Short, sharp, sweet comments on those things that have irked me.  You may agree or disagree, comment or ignore some, all or none of them…but here they come:

PETROL PRICES

So, we are now at £1.16.9p per litre for unleaded petrol.  WHAT THE F**K IS GOING ON?!?!  Much like the energy companies who hike gas & electricity prices but rarely cut them back again, the petrol companies claim that the prices go up because of fluctuations in oil prices.  These prices are from approx. 6 months ago.  But hang on…oil prices have been consistently dropping for over 6 months now.  Put that to them and they claim it is the tax increases, the VAT, the fuel surcharge, etc…  Yeah, fine, I get that because bankers screwed up, and we all went on a massive spending spree for a decade, that we now need more tax to pay off the debts…BUT…the baseline cost for oil has DECREASED, so the per litre cost SHOULD ALSO DECREASE.  But does it?  NO!  I am resigned to spending £50 at Sainsbury just to get their poxy 5p per litre off voucher!  Listen up petrol firms….STOP PROFITEERING YOU AMORAL THIEVING SCUM!  We are almost at £1.20 per litre…a revolution will soon follow and personally, alongside MPs, BBC management and chuggers, I think the petrol bosses will be first against the wall!

BBC CUTS THE FRIDAY PLAY ON R4

So…after many years of budget cut after budget cut after spending freeze after cost squeeze after budget cut, Radio 4 now announce that they are ‘decommissioning’ the Friday Play slot.  WHAT THE F**K IS GOING ON?!?!  I realise people love to attack the BBC as being over-large, lacking in quality and spending too much on fripperies…but please, the FRIDAY PLAY?  This is a bastion of hard-edged, socially and culturally important drama.  These plays fit no-where else on the BBC radio networks.  To cut the entire slot because yet again the network is being told to cut budgets?  I am sorry but I pay my licence fee for the BBC to MAKE PROGRAMMES AND BROADCAST THEM!  The massive cost of the rebuilding of BBC Broadcasting House in London (£1.56bn!) has proven that the BBC has no idea what its purpose is.  It is NOT there to invest in buildings and rebuildings and rerebuildings…damn it, BBC BH had only just been rebuilt before they ripped it down and started again!  And it is running way over time and over budget, meaning yet more is being spent on rent at Bush House and other locations for those departments that were supposed to move in to the new BH!!  And then they waste another £5m or so commissioning artwork for the new space when they could have BORROWED art from other public institutions and become a gallery space.  That £5m could have paid for many many radio dramas and features.  The cancellation of the Friday play is CULTURAL VANDALISM by people who should be protecting the BBC’s role of INVESTING IN UK PRODUCERS, WRITERS and ACTORS.  I am sickened and disgusted by this move, and the constant budget cutting from programme making.  BBC News could easily save millions by streamlining its outside broadcasting and reporting processes.  BBC TV could save millions by holding a moratorium on dramas/series based on cops/doctors/murders for one month.  Millions more could be saved by cutting back on the spend on flashy but pointless opening credit sequences (e.g. the F1 opening – 30-60secs of meaningless faff…we know we are watching F1, and there is no competition for coverage so why the OTT animated flashy opening?!), etc…  Maybe it is time for some resignations at the BBC…possibly at Radio 4, but certainly at upper management level.  They are failing in their core purpose!

PARENTS DRIVING KIDS TO/FROM SCHOOL

Ok…just what is it about parents and their kids in cars going to and from school?!  I am not a parent, but even if I were, I WOULD NOT drive them to and from school.  A caveat – this is about people living in towns/villages/cities – I understand countryside life can require different means due to the lack of public transport or distances involved. I just had to break my rule of not being on the road at 3pm as I had to do some business across town.  Driving back through the 3pm school-run (3pm!  When did schools close so damn early?) I almost had 5 crashes because of moronic parents collecting their dear little tykes.  2 near-misses were outside a school where the idiotic parents couldn’t park or pull out properly, or using indicators, or being patient!  The other 3 were in traffic, at roundabouts and at a junction…all three involved parents not paying attention to the road, looking everywhere but where they are driving, and generally adopting the attitude that they are their darling mini-me’s were the most important and valuable people on the road.  Well…SOD YOU ALL!!  I am sick of it.  The roads are so much nicer at half-term and holidays…why…BECAUSE YOU C***S AREN’T ON THE ROAD!  If I were in charge for a day I would make it ILLEGAL for parents to drive kids to/from school within towns.  Let them walk, ride a bike or take the bus.  In return I would invest in decent school bus services and street patrols.  Enough is enough…your kids need the exercise, it is good for them to mix and mingle while walking or taking the bus, they learn good life skills, you get another hour a day away from them to be doing something more useful to society such as working or inventing or writing or, well, anything but adding yet more pollution and congestion to the world.

SINGLE LIFE

OK, so I am no longer single, but I was for more than 7 years, and as we head in to yet another farce of an election, WHY ARE SINGLE PEOPLE NOT BEING TARGETED?! According to the ONS there is approx 7 million single people (12% of the population!) but in every political speech, paper, debate and news item all we hear about are HARD WORKING FAMILIES, blah blah blah.  Child tax credits, marriage tax allowance, this tax break, that tax break…we want YOU to be married!  The world MUST BE MADE BETTER for married people and those with children!  Well…I agree, I think the world should be made better for everyone who puts in a day’s work and pays their way.  BUT why does no-one think about single people?  They have ONE INCOME, and yet are taxed more than any other group!  The ONLY tax break for singletons is the Council Tax Single Person Allowance…this gives you a 25% discount on your CTax.  Sounds good, eh?  But think about it…if you are in a couple, with two incomes, sharing all your costs, then each person is only paying 50% of the CTax.  Therefore, a single person is paying 75% where one half of a couple is paying just 50%…the singleton pays 50% more than one half of a couple!!!  And single working people use less local and national social resources, yet pay the same in tax.  No party or politician stands up during the recession and says WE MUST LOOK AFTER THE HARD WORKING SINGLE PERSON.  Why the f**k not?!  Single people pay more for holidays, more for travel and more for general services as they cannot apply for any of the FAMILY DISCOUNTS!  Well, I am sick and tired of it…come on you 7 million singletons, make your voices heard!  Either that or 3.5 million move in with the other 3.5 million and claim a few benefits!

ZYNGA

Oh Zynga, I love your games on Facebook, and I for one know that I don’t have to click on the adverts that fund the games…therefore I have no problem about your business model.  I thank you for the fun.  I disagree totally with the accusations that you produce parasitic-gaming, because I am intelligent enough NOT TO CLICK ON THE F*****G ADVERTS!  Jeez..all these morons harping on about Zynga and their ‘evil’ intentions, their ‘snooping’ practices, the ‘intrusive’ advertising which leads you astray…JUST DON’T CLICK ON THE DAMN ADVERTS YOU OUTRAGEOUSLY STUPID BASTARDS!  The games are free to use so Zynga has to make money from elsewhere…like facebook, they take the chance to target you via advertising…but they AREN’T FORCING YOU TO BUY ANYTHING.  If you click on an advert then it is your responsibility not Zynga’s. Please please please stop bitching about this…either play the games or don’t play the games…it is your choice! HOWEVER, I will take Zynga to task over one thing…why don’t you reply to the perfectly reasonable error complaints of you many millions of users?  We love Farmville and Cafeworld, but there are flaws and bugs, and we take the time to report them to you, and discuss them on the Zynga forums…BUT YOU NEVER REPLY!  This is dragging your name through the mud and is doing you no favours.  please just pay someone to be the official voice of your organisation on the boards.

SPECIAL DELIVERY

So…the website for the UK post office says its Special Delivery service stops at 5pm each evening…but the branches say it is 4pm, or 4.30pm or 5.30pm.  WHAT TIME IS IT?!?!  I rely on SD to get my audiobook masters to the BBC, but I can never tell what time the cutoff for pickup is!  So for safety I stick with 4pm, but it really can’t be that hard can it?  And if a branch has to have a time different to the website advertised time, PLEASE PUT UP A F*****G SIGN!

UPDATE – Oh, and Special Delivery is meant to GUARANTEE delivery next day…so why has my delivery that went out yesterday NOT arrived today?  Oh…I have to call you and ask?  Oh, it was delayed in transit and will be dleivered tomorrow? Oh, the business is shut tomorrow so it will be Monday? Oh, so you can’t call me and tell me these things and leave it for me to be told by the recipient that it hasn’t arrived? Oh, so the service you provide has failed EPICALLY and yet now my client won’t receive the parcel in time for their deadline?  Hmmmm…thanks a f*****g lot…FAIL!

The Death of Common Sense

As you know, I have worked in UK radio for almost 20 years, in pretty much every capacity, from technician to presenter to producer to programmer.  Over those years I have been responsible for, and witnessed, some quite monumental cock-ups on-air (and off-air!).  Live radio has an inherent risk of cock-up.  it is what makes being on-air so exciting.  It is what is missing from 99% of TV, that elusive, electrifying near-fear of the cock-up.  When it almost happens you get shivers, you thank everyone and anyone that it was averted, you sit in the studio for hours afterwards in a state of nervous ecstasy.  When it DOES happen, then you have to get out of it.  Your brain either fries or goes in to overdrive.  9 times out of 10 you manage to get past the mistake and move on.  The listeners get a laugh but then move on with you.  and 9 times out of 10 no-one else at the radio station notices.  If the boss does hear it, or you come clean, the intelligent, experienced and clever programme controller works through the cock-up with you, you learn from the mistake and, possibly with a reprimand, you move on.  Rarely do you lose your job over it…because, and let us make this point in big capital letters…IT IS ONLY RADIO!!!  Sometimes, if the cock-up is sufficiently large, you might lose a shift, or be moved on to a less prominent programme.  And of course, if you break one of the cardinal rules of radio (swearing, blasphemy, losing advertisers’ money) you may well be fired.  But a sacking is a rare and, usually, well-considered move.

CLICK HERE TO READ THE ORIGINAL NEWS STORY

By now, if you follow the radio or entertainment news, you will have heard about the BRMB (Birmingham commercial radio station) presenter who was sacked because he cut short the Queen’s speech on Xmas day.  According to reports he had cocked-up his timing and the speech was going to over-run and he decided to cut it short.  He then, as a stand-up comedian as well as a radio presenter, made a poorly tought-through gag…he referred to the Queen’s speech as ‘boring’.  This resulted in the radio station receiving a small number of complaints from ‘offended’ listeners.  The presenter was then sacked.

Right – let us look at this in some uninformed detail:

[1]  BRMB as a commercial broadcaster decides to transmit the Queen’s Speech (presumably supplied via feed from IRN).  This is a little unusual for a commercial station, but fair enough.  The programme controller and head of music will then, you will hope, have programmed the hour so that the speech, always around 5 mins long, fitted in with room to spare…possibly including a spare music track the presenter could easily drop if things got a little tight?

[2] There were actually people tuned in to BRMB to hear the Queen’s speech rather than viewing it on the BBC, or listening via national networks.  Odd, but maybe they were travelling or were such die-hard BRMB fans that the thought of going elsewhere for a whole 5 minutes freaked them out to the point of apoplexy! We shall return to these people later…

[3] On the day, the presenter was aware that he was (a) doing the shitty shift at some ridiculously low rate of pay (no doubt) and that (b) traditionally very few people are tuned in.  That said, as a professional, and I presume, wanting to please the boss and maybe get better shifts in 2010, gave the show his all.  Bear in mind that this man is also a stand-up comedian and was no doubt hired because of his comedy talent and notoriety.  Having done many a Xmas day shift I know you get one of two things from the bosses – (a) a good heads-up about all they want and expect, the special items they have programmed in and the flexibility you have to throw in things like callers, jokes, Xmas jingles, change music tracks, etc… or (b) no communication at all and you are left to turn up and figure it out for yourself.  I don’t know what the case was here.  The experience of the station boss leads me to think it would have been the former, but who knows.  For something as seemingly important as the Queen’s speech I would have to assume that the presenter was at least told how and when to take the live feed.

[4] The hour of the Queen’s speech would have been programmed with music, jingles, adverts and news.  Since the speech is approx. 5 mins long, there would have been one less song that hour.  The presenter says he messed up his timings and had to cut the speech short, in order to stay on time.  THIS is where the cock-up happens.  There is nothing in an hour schedule that HAS to be on time except the news and if you are linking in to a network.  Now, in this case, the programme was being networked across several other radio stations (another cost-cutting lazy piece of modern radio programming) which would have put some pressure on the presenter IF he was having to back-time the end of this hour to hand over to another presenter from another station.  These hand-overs need to be done to the second or networks go somewhat awry.  If this was the case then I sympathise with the presenter…network timings are sacrosanct and it is drummed in to us that we HAVE to be spot on or the computers all go out of sync and the network collapses (one of those amusing little white lies engineers use to try to ensure they don’t get called on days off by panicking presenters!)  However, I believe the Queen’s speech was AFTER the start of an hour, not up to the end of one…so I do not think that this can be the explanation.  If the presenter thought he was going to miss an ad break or not have room for all the music then he was very much in error.  Ad breaks can be played late, music tracks can be dropped or cut short.  Even in network mode these are fairly simple ways to fix an over-running hour.  I am perplexed by just what he thought was so important that he choose to cut short the speech…very odd.  But no matter what, this was a cock-up, simple and that is that!

[5] EXCEPT…after cutting the speech short he quipped that it was ‘boring’.  Let me repeat that so terribly offensive word…BORING!  Oh dear, oh deary deary dear.  Ooops.  Can you hear the edges of our society starting to crumble? Listen, you can hear the screaming of children from middle-England.  There is a wailing and a gnashing of whitened teeth from the good burghers of the West Midlands!!  It seems from the reports that the presenter’s gag at the Monarch’s expense upset/annoyed/offended a handful of listeners who had nothing better to do with their Xmas holidays than to write in and complain.  I have to say at this point that I am a card-carrying Republican (not the US sort) and believe the Royal family are a leech on our country and have no place other than as a tourist attraction that should be sold off to Disney.  However, that said, I also believe that there is no reason to ever be offensive towards anyone.  But BORING?  Is boring an insult?  Maybe if you are a poet or a lecturer or a public speaker.  But calling the Queen, in fact the Queen’s speech, boring?  That is not, cannot be, nor ever will be an insult.  I am certain Her Majesty has taken worse blows to her ego over the years – she is married to Philip after all!  So he wasn’t sacked for being offensive to the Queen then, not really.  No sane or realistic boss would consider that a sacking offense (get it?!)  So why was he sacked?  Let’s go back to those listeners:

[6] A handful of BRMB listeners are tuned in on Xmas day and hear the Queen’s Speech (which is, let’s be fair here, overwhelmingly dull and of little relevance to about 90% of the population).  The speech is cut short and the presenter refers to it as being boring and then dives in to “10 Xmas hits, back to back, with no ads – that’s a BRMB guarantee!” or some such commercial radio nonsense.  These few people are so offended by this they put pen to paper, or font to email, or chisel to stone tablet possibly, and complain to the BRMB bosses.  WHAT ARE THEY THINKING?!?!  What is there to complain about?  I would understand if they complained solely about the cutting short of the speech.  Admittedly I am still confused why they have gone to BRMB to hear it, or why they can’t just use the BBC’s iPlayer, or the internet to watch the damn thing again later in the day.  But to purposefully complain about being offended by the word ‘boring’?!  I would hate to meet these people for fear of any word I use in passing offending their genteel easily damaged constitutions!  Are they all extras from Emma?!  For some reason they believe that THEIR offense is shared by the Queen but that Her Maj can’t stand up for herself, so they have to vent their upset and ire on her behalf.  Do these people use the Daily Mail to build papier-mache shrines to the Royal family and burn copies of David Icke books?  This is something of an over-reaction.  Let’s hope they never accidentally tune in to James Whale when he is calling for the abolition of the Monarchy…he’d be sacked (again) in a heartbeat!!  Now, if you think I may be over-reacting, understand this…the presenter has had death-threats because of this situation.  DEATH THREATS?  For one word?  Do we live in a free-speech democracy or should we all just give up and bow down before the vocal minority who espouse such hatred and violence?

[7] So, these ‘upstanding’ citizens complain to the BRMB bosses who, once they have removed their backbones, take immediate action and sack the presenter.  Here’s what they said:

David Lloyd, group programme and marketing director, said: “On Christmas Day, one of our presenters, Tom Binns, made some inappropriate comments surrounding the Queen’s speech. We do not condone what he said in any way; whether said in jest or not. We are making contact with the small number of listeners who were offended by Tom’s comments and have complained to us to convey our apologies, and have also apologised on air.”

OK, some questions:

  • WHAT is so inappropriate about the word ‘boring’?
  • Surely you do not need to condone his joke, but you can defend his right to make such a joke.
  • You say a SMALL number of listeners…why such an over-reaction then?
  • You have apologised on-air…Tom could have been asked to do the same and that could have been the end of it, why sack him?
  • WHO are you running scared from, it can’t be the Queen, is it the local press?

For me, this is another example of the way that broadcast media, especially radio, has been running scared and pandering to the vocal minority and the trash print media for the past 2-3 years.  Everything from Ross/Brand to guests swearing on-air…if just one person complains, or might complain, then the bosses go in to knee-jerk reaction mode.  Radio is an art form, an entertainment, a place of fun and education and information.  It is a place for comedians and broadcasters and poets and writers and performers and artists to learn, develop and master their craft.  As my first boss in radio kept telling us, RADIO IS ENTERTAINMENT.  Why will the bosses not grow a backbone and defend their talent?  If they don’t want the risk of live radio why not just programme it all into computers (as much of the overnight and weekend programming on your so-called local radio station is already)? What is the point of running a radio station if you always pander to the minority?

So…if I had been the boss, what would I have done?  First of all I would have ensured in advance that the hour in which the speech was being broadcast in was well-programmed and that I had gone through this with the presenter in fine detail, making sure he understood the importance of the speech and how to deal with it technically. (Of course, if I had been in charge we wouldn’t have been wasting the airtime on a pre-recorded speech by an anachronistic leech on society in the first place!) After the fact, had it happened, I would have required the presenter to apologise on-air AND to reply in person to each of the complainants. To his replies I would have added a note from the station apologising for the fact that the individuals had felt offended but defending the right of my talent to make jokes and be entertaining, explaining that a joke to many can sometimes be less than funny to some.  As the employer it is my responsibility to defend and protect my employees as far as possible.  And in this case, short of a demand from the Palace for his “‘ead to be chopped orf” I would defend my talent.  There was simply nothing inappropriate about the gag other than its timing and because the presenter chose to cut short the speech.  If he had built the gag into a link later in the show it would have been fine and I believe no complaints would have been made.

But he has been sacked, and once again the vocal minority win the day.  It is about time some of the old laws of the land were re-evaluated.  Blasphemy and ‘speaking out against the Queen’ have no place in a modern society.  If your monarch or religion are so fragile they can’t take a few jokes or counter-arguments then maybe you should consider the foundations on which these institutions are built.

And on a simpler note, let us try to define what is actually OFFENSIVE and what simply ANNOYS you and is counter to your point of view.  If you want to put the Royal Family up on a pedestal and bow before them, give away your freedom, your individuality and your right to be an equal, then go ahead.  But many others do not wish this.  Many are happy to have the Queen there, but do not see her as superior to themselves.  Others, like me, see the Royal family as a waste of money and resources, an elite who put themselves above the rest of us and expect us to see them as superior humans.  They are not, they are there due to history, war, politics, suspicious in-breeding and wealth (accumulated through OUR hard work, not theirs!)  Much like many politicians believe themselves to be worthy of superior status because of the  job they do, the Royals sit in a position of power only because we allow them to.  I am certain that they will continue to do so for the rest of my life…but it doesn’t mean that I have to show them any deference, protect them from any slings and arrows, and certainly not to pander to the ‘offence by proxy’ feelings of others who see them as some kind of rare and protected species.

Tom…if I were still running a radio station I would happily hire you.  As it is, if you have any ideas for radio docs, features, etc…gimme a call and let’s see what we can develop together.  Talent shouldn’t be punished for a cock-up.  But then again, it happened to James Whale, it happened to Nick Abbot, it happened to many others and they are all back on air, at other stations…stations with bosses who have backbones.  Maybe Tom should give Absolute Radio a call…

BBC News helps spread word of our new Radio 4 series

The following text and images come from the BBC News website, and talk about new findings revealed by the radio series “Inside The Bermuda Triangle” which was produced by my company, Ladbroke Productions for BBC Radio 4.  Amazingly this story has been read over 300,000 times and has been in the top 5 most read news stories in the world for the last day…exciting!  The link to the BBC news page is – http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/8248334.stm

You can hear the series every weekday from today (mon 14th Sept) until fri 25th Sept at 3.45pm on BBC Radio 4, or via the iPlayer.

Please check out the Ladbroke Productions website as well 🙂

Bermuda Triangle plane mystery ‘solved’

Map

Two of the so-called Bermuda Triangle’s most mysterious disappearances in the late 1940s may have been solved.

Scores of ships and planes are said to have vanished without trace over the decades in a vast triangular area of ocean with imaginary points in Bermuda, Florida and Puerto Rico.

But journalist Tom Mangold’s new examination for the BBC provides plausible explanations for the disappearance of two British commercial planes in the area, with the loss of 51 passengers and crew.

One plane probably suffered from catastrophic technical failure as a result of poor design, while the other is likely to have run out of fuel.

Sixty years ago, commercial flights from London to Bermuda were new and perilous. It would require a refuelling stop on the Azores before the 2,000-mile flight to Bermuda, which at that time was the longest non-stop commercial overseas flight in the world.

The planes would have been operating at the limit of their range. Today planes arriving at the tiny Atlantic island have sufficient reserve fuel to divert to the US East Coast 700 miles away, in case of emergency.

And the planes of the post-war era were far less reliable than today’s airliners.

British South American Airways (BSAA), which operated the route, had a grim safety record. In three years it had had 11 serious accidents and lost five planes with 73 passengers and 22 crew members killed.

Unsolved mystery

On 30 January 1948, a BSAA Avro Tudor IV plane disappeared without trace. Twenty-five passengers and a crew of six were on board The Star Tiger. No bodies or wreckage were found.

The official investigation into the disappearance concluded: “It may truly be said that no more baffling problem has ever been presented.

“What happened in this case will never be known and the fate of Star Tiger must remain an unsolved mystery.”

At 2,000 feet you’d be leaving very little altitude for manoeuvre – in any serious in-flight emergency the plane could have lost its height in seconds and gone into the sea
Eric Newton
Air accident investigator

But there are a number of clues in the official accident report that reveal the Star Tiger had encountered problems before it reached the Azores.

The aircraft’s heater was notoriously unreliable and had failed en route, and one of the compasses was found to be faulty.

Probably to keep the plane warmer, the pilot had decided to fly the whole transatlantic route very low, at 2,000 feet, burning fuel at a faster rate.

On approaching Bermuda, Star Tiger was a little off course and had been flying an hour later than planned.

In addition, the official Ministry of Civil Aviation report considered that the headwinds faced by Star Tiger may have been much stronger than those forecast. This would have caused the fuel to burn more quickly.

“Flying at 2,000 feet they would have used up much more fuel,” said Eric Newton, one of the Ministry of Civil Aviation’s most senior air accident investigators, who reviewed the scenario for the BBC.

“At 2,000 feet you’d be leaving very little altitude for manoeuvre. In any serious in-flight emergency they could have lost their height in seconds and gone into the sea.”

Whatever happened to the plane, it was sudden and catastrophic – there was no time to send an emergency signal.

American Navy Avenger planes - similar to the ones that disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle

Five US Navy planes disappeared in the triangle area in 1945

The Avro Tudor IV was a converted warplane that was eventually taken out of passenger service because of its poor safety record. Only BSAA continued to fly the aircraft.

Gordon Store was chief pilot and manager of operations at BSAA. In an interview with his local newspaper last November, he said he had no confidence in the Tudor’s engines.

“Its systems were hopeless… all the hydraulics, the air-conditioning equipment and the recycling fans were crammed together underneath the floor without any thought. There were fuel-burning heaters that would never work,” he said.

Second accident

Almost a year to the day after the disappearance of the Star Tiger, another Avro Tudor IV belonging to BSAA vanished between Bermuda and Jamaica.

Exactly one hour after departure from Bermuda on 17 January 1949, the pilot of the Star Ariel sent a routine communication of his position. But then the plane vanished without trace at 18,000 feet.

According to experts, this would have required a sudden catastrophe.

Again, no wreckage, debris or bodies were ever found.

Fuel starvation at that height was not plausible, the weather report had been good, and pilot error was ruled out.

The plane’s poor design may well have been to blame, according to Don Mackintosh, a former BSAA Tudor IV pilot. The cabin heater mounted underneath the floor where the co-pilot sat is his prime suspect.

My theory is that hydraulic vapour escaped from a leak, which got on to a hot heater and caused an explosion
Captain Peter Duffey

At the time, aircraft heater technology was still in its infancy.

“The heater bled aviation fuel on to a hot tube – and was also fairly close to the hydraulic pipes,” he says.

A pressure switch should have allowed the heater to operate when it was in the air but it was unreliable and was often deliberately short-circuited by staff, allowing the pilot manual control.

The switch prevented inflammable fuel from flowing, but if the heater was switched on manually, gas that may have collected could have ignited.

Captain Peter Duffey, a former BSAA pilot who went on to become a captain of British Airways Concorde, also believes that the proximity of the heater and the hydraulic pipes was significant.

“My theory is that hydraulic vapour escaped from a leak, which got on to a hot heater and caused an explosion,” he says.

Mr Newton’s report came to a similar conclusion: “If the heater had caught fire down below the floorboards then it could have developed to a catastrophic state before the crew knew anything about it.

“There was no automatic fire extinguisher to put it out like there is nowadays. There was no alarm where the heater was stored… so no-one would know, possibly until it was too late.”

The official accident investigation discovered that because of a communications error, search and rescue teams were not despatched until seven and a half hours later.

By then what was left of the plane and the bodies would have sunk.

The report on the disappearance of the first plane, the Star Tiger, said something which, because it could be easily misinterpreted, helped the accident achieve notoriety.

In a moment of philosophical conjecture, the investigators mused that maybe “some external cause may (have) overwhelm(ed) both man and machine”.

Those comments from sober-suited British civil servants opened the floodgates for conspiracy theorists, hack journalists and mischief makers, adding to the mystery of the Bermuda Triangle.

Inside The Bermuda Triangle – The Mysteries Solved is broadcast in 10 episodes on BBC Radio 4, starting on Monday 14 September at 1545 BST.

Don’t Deny The Right To Debate

This week, in the UK, the House of Lords (an anachronistic undemocratic institution that is about as relevant to modern life as the Royal Family!)  proved to me that it can, occassionally, be of some worth.  They held a debate about Assisted Suicide, with the aim to alter the law so that relatives and friends who assisted someone in organising their own death (i.e. travelling to Dignitas in Switzerland) would be immune from prosecution.

This was an incredibly important and worthy debate, with passionate speeches from all sides of the argument. It was eye-opening and educational, it offered glimpses into parts of the debate otherwise closed off, and most of all, it allowed for the issue to be aired publicly rather than behind government doors, or in the boardrooms of the NHS.

BUT, one Lord, Baroness Campbell, spoke about her belief that the Lords should not even be discussing the issue, that it should not be debated, that bringing such discussion into the public would frighten and worry vulnerable individuals who she believes would become victims of any such change in the law.  Now let me point out to those who do not know, that Baroness Campbell suffers from spinal muscular atrophy, is in a wheelchair and the disease is progressive.  I am a big fan of hers, and in awe of the commitment she puts in to making her position in the Lords, one of dignity and one of representation of the people.  Her argument against assisted suicide continues in today’s Daily Mail, and as ever, she writes eloquently and with passion and knowledge.

BUT, to call for a debate to be stopped? To say that an issue is too sensitive, too complicated, too emotive to be debated at the highest levels? To deny the right to debate, when you yourself are using that right to call for it’s removal?  If the only way you feel you can win an argument is to deny the right to argue, you really don’t have an argument to win.  That is the road to fascism, starting with emotional blackmail and ending in wholescale repression and the removal of freedom of speech.

Becuase she HAD the right to debate, around 15 of her Lords peers changed their view on the issue and supported her.  In the end the vote to change the law was defeated by a small but important margin.  Because of her passionate speech and experiences many more people now know a little bit more about the issue and can raise the level of debate up. 

I personally believe in the individual’s freedom to choose.  Be that about death, or life, or religion, or politics, or sexuality, or just music and movies.  So long as that choice affects only the individual…parents deciding a child’s religion is WRONG, governments deciding what sexuality is legal is WRONG, those of faith deciding who can live or die is WRONG.  I agree with Baroness Campbell that a right to death is riddled with dangers for the vulnerable, confused, depressed or easily misled.  It is open to family abuse and abuse by governments.  Any such right HAS to be tempered with rules and guidelines, an ability to police and a willingness to adapt.  BUT, to deny those who genuinely have made an informed and educated decision to end their lives, and whose family and/or friends choose, or are asked to assist them…well, this is simply WRONG.  Do not demonise those who know their own lives best.  Demonise those who would try to take life from others against their will.

But please, let us not allow the insidious errosion of of right to debate, our right to discuss, our right to argue.  At the heart of our democracy is the concept of debate.  Our laws are, for the most part, open to adaptation because of discussion and debate, within government and within the media.  And while discussion of emotive and complex issues such as assisted suicide can and will be frightening to some, it is always better to have the discussion in the light where it can be monitored than in the shadows where is will go unchecked.

Health & God

Click on image to read BBC News Online story

So some doctors and health staff want to be allowed to include faith as part of their treatment of patients in NHS hospitals.  Currently the Dept of Health guidelines say talking about faith (beyond praying for someone) could be misconstrued as prosletysing and be offensive.  Certain Atheist organisations argue it should not be allowed, although they recognise that if a patient asks for it, staff should be allowed to engage in faith based discussions.

I am an atheist, I find organised religion to be offensive to my worldview, but I do not have a problem with any individual who holds a faith…so long as they do not expect me, or anyone else to do as they do, or believe in what they believe in (since they refuse to consider my way of thinking!), and they refrain from causing harm through the pursuit of their faith.

But doctors and nurses offering faith alongside medicine…I feel I should be bothered, but in reality I am not.  I trust these highly trained individuals to know when and what is appropriate.  So long as they understand that ‘no means no’ when a patient or their family refuses any such faith-approach, I don’t see the problem.  Any staff member caught prosletysing would very quickly be reprimanded, and if it continued would find themselves disciplined.

Hospitals in the UK are very depressing and isolating places to be as a patient…and while the staff undoubtedly do their best to make us better again, there are many times when as the patient you feel left out of the human-equation, and become merely a problem for the staff to deal with.  If allowing those staff members who have faith to make it a small part of the way they work, I believe it could do wonders for the patient experience.

However, these same staff must be wary not to take offence if their faith is rebuked, if a patient is rude or demeaning to the approach…being a patient can leave you vulnerable and scared, and for many the thought of a person of faith invading your space and mind at such a time will be repellant.

One other thought occurs…don’t hospitals have chaplains and rabbis and immams on call to offer spiritual advice?  Would it not be better for the staff to defer to a more senior authority figure (since religion is all about authority and power and heirarchies)? And what if a patient is a pagan, a Satanist, or any other so-called ‘fringe’ religion?  Who deals with their spiritual needs?  How would a Christian doctor deal with a Satanist patient who asks for help and guidance?

I think I worry more for the staff and how bringing religion into their workplace may impact on them and their lives than I do the patients.

Or maybe keeping religion out of everything except churches, mosques and temples is the safest route?  It’s a tough question and one the Dept of Health will have to grapple with, and try to treat with a modicum of maturity and candour.  What worries me the most is that in this one issue we have healthcare, religion, freedom of speech, freedom to worship AND politics rolled into one…it could be a disaster in the making!

RIP MJ – news-ageddon

What is there to say when a legend of music dies so suddenly? Already his death is a merry-go-round of 24 hour news coverage, talking heads spouting hastily researched information, emergency obituary tapes being rolled out, and an incredible lack of sincerity from everyone in the news community!

Pop across to Twitter or Facebook and it is a very different matter. People sharing memories and thoughts, the most memorable messages of love and support, famous names chatting with Joe Bloggs about what has happened…it is all very real. No ratings chasing, no trying to find the biggest name to comment, no pointless phone interviews with so-called experts…just honest, open response.

I’ll be honest and say that I was never a big MJ fan…I was more a Prince kind of guy. But the music was mostly superb, the showmanship was second to none and the legend was, and will remain, unique. I’ll not miss his soap-opera later years, but I will miss the musicianship.

But now we will have to put up with a newsgathering war, in the same way we did with Diana and Jade. TV channels trying to outdo each other with helicopter shots of the crowds, the hospital, the cars, etc… Newspapers trying to fill the most number of pages, run the biggest special pull out editions, etc… It will be ghastly, demeaning, in poor taste, and the sort of thing that really gets journalists excited.

My advice is that if you want to really learn about the man, his music, his history, his fans and the real-world reaction to his death…pop over to Twitter, head across to Facebook, and see what REAL people are saying, and switch off the self-serving, ratings-chasing news channels and newspapers.

MJ – thanks for all the incredible music, now go be at peace and enjoy eternity. Peace and love.

A Phone For All Ages

So I read in today’s papers that there is a new mobile phone being released, designed for 4 year olds, called the Firefly.  A nice pink colour, with 5 simple buttons.  Not much different from some of the ‘idiot-phones’ available already for those whose minds can’t comprehend anything beyond calling and basic texting.  This doesn’t bother me.

What does bother me is the way all of the articles (possibly written by the same freelance reporter?) have described the phone as being ‘targetted’ or ‘aimed’ at 4 year olds.  The same articles also ask the oh-so-clever question “Does a 4 year old need a mobile phone?”.  And some even invoke the old trope “Children need to be children” (which in Simpsons-speak would translate as “Won’t somebody think of the children!”)

Let’s get this straight…the mobile phone is not targetted or aimed at 4 years olds, it is DESIGNED for 4 year olds.  There is no point in targetting a product at 4 year olds, THEY HAVE NO MONEY! Also, and this is a rather major also, 4 year olds CANNOT SIGN AIRTIME AGREEMENTS! You have to be over 18 to sign an agreement and have a bank account and credit rating.  Not many 4 year olds have this.

This phone is targetted at one group only…idiotic, gullible, moronic, selfish, lazy parents who will buy and use anything to avoid doing the job of a parent.  I have to ask…just WHERE do they think their 4 year old will be that they need to call them on a mobile to have a chat?  Why is the 4 year old not with the parent? And what sort of chat will they be having anyway?

Now, some unctuous parent will no doubt say “But Neil, we send our dearest little <insert name here> to playschool every day for xxx hours.  What if he/she/it needs to reach us in an emergency?”  Erm…won’t the playschool be doing that? And should, for whatever reason, the apocalypse occur at the playschool and your precious little mite is the only one left staggering forth from the burning building a la Die Hard, will they have the cognitive ability to [a] have their new pink playmobile phone with them, [b] know that now would be the time to call Mummy or Daddy for a chat, and [c] not be a gibbering wreck in the rubble crying their eyes out waiting for an adult to come rescue them?

I have no problem with the phone, or the phone’s manufacturers, they are merely responding to a growing trend for children to be ‘mobiled-up’!  There is some spurious factoid doing the rounds about how 6 year olds are staying up late at night having text-sessions – just what are they texting, it fascinates me…and if your little one HAS to have a mobile, just lock the damn thing so it can only call 999, Mum and Dad!

I have a problem with the parents who buy the damn things…parents have been inculcating their kids with nonsense since year dot (just consider religion!)  It would be nice to see a story in a year or two saying that the phone failed because parents simply wouldn’t buy it, but sadly anyone who has had the unfortunate experience of walking through Clapham, or Barnes, or Sloane Square, or a hundred other similar locales, will know that there is already a demographic of annoying parents just salivating at the thought of little Sebastian or Candice owning the latest mobile tech before any other child in the school district!  In the words of Dan Ashcroft, “The idiots are winning!”

What has really got my goat about this story is the terrible reporting of it.  Come on written press, dig a little deeper, write a little more carefully and stop with the headline grabbing misdirection.  Try a little journalism, and practice what you preach.  You’d be all over the BBC if they ran such an ill-conceived story! Consider more than the ‘Are mobiles safe’ old rope, and look deeper at why society deems mobiles for kids acceptable and required.  Is this yet more jumping at non-existent paedophile shadows? Has mobile telephony evolved into more than a tool for communication and become something much more sociologically fascinating? You could even ask why is the phone pink?  Why not yellow, or blue, or a variety of colours?  Good Dawkins, there is so much more to this story!

But I guess, like TV news coverage, the written press is less about investigative journalism than it is about sensationalism and repetition.  How sad.

Now, I wonder if Apple will release an iPhone 3GS Junior version…hmmm?

A plea – are you a parent of a toddler?  Please don’t buy your kid a phone.  Wait until they are at least 10 years old.  Buy them lots of Lego, or take them out at weekends, or teach them a musical instrument.  It is activity and fun children crave, NOT digital communications with text capabilities, 3G and WiFi and integrated bluetooth stereo connectivity!

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