Leftwards... and Upwards?

Guest post from Phil Nicholson. Normal service will be resumed soon. Note that these are not the opinions of this blog as a whole. Both myself and my father are broadly of the liberal left. However, as pointed out in this guest post, sometimes certain individuals on the left believe in that slightly fateful adage "my enemies enemy is my friend".

Venezuela's President Chavez has described the British presence on the Falkands Islands as a hark-back to empire. But he makes no attack on French possessions in the Caribbean or French Guiana (quite close to his own country), nor on various Spanish territories, of which the Canaries are the best known. So there is an element of Venezuelan self-interest at work here: Venezuela needs to keep what friends it has, while hopefully acquiring more in Latin America. The UK of course can be written off as a Chavez supporter because of its close relationship with the US (not reciprocated, unfortunately, by Obama's neutral stance on the Falklands issue). So it would be a mistake for the UK centre and left, which normally support Chavez, to take up a pro-Argentinian position as many blundered into in the 1980s. Nevertheless the charge of "colonialism" should be addressed head-on and not simply dismissed.

The history of the Falklands is similar to many island territories in the "new world" where there have been competing claims of sovereignty by Britain, Spain and France since discovery. Although the islands appeared on Spanish maps in the 1520s, the first recorded landing was by John Davis, English explorer, in 1594. But the UK's claim should not be based on such a chequered history but on a very simple and modern concept: the right of self-determination. Ironically, it is the threat from Argentina which keeps the Falklands a colony instead of opting for independence.

The UK should take a far more active role in the Falklands case. We should take out large adverts in South American newspapers explaining that the UK's presence in the Falklands is entirely at the democratic wish of its inhabitants and that if anything it is Argentina's desires which are colonialist. We should also point out to Argentina that its stance means that it is likely to lose out on refining and port facilities in the coming oil development.To Venezuela we should point out that self-determination was exactly the rallying call of Simon Bolivar, on whose principles Chavez claims to base his own regime.

Like Butter Wouldn't Melt in HIS Mouth?

I just got off the phone to a couple of friends and one of them (indirectly) reminded me of something I meant to do about a fortnight ago. Namely, I had to get a DVD. So, off I trotted down to my nearby Fopp and bought it. The same Fopp shop that the episode 3 opener of "Limmy's Show" was filmed in, fact fans. Anyway, here's the DVD wot I got.

I make special mention of this, because the man himself sent me a rather lovely "Thank you" email back in August, because he asked people to review it on the Amazon site and then email him to tell him. Seeing as I'd seen the series when it was on telly, I thought I was perfectly well-qualified to do it. This is the Amazon review I wrote. You can click on screengrab below to expand it.

Tomorrow, incidentally, I'm doing something a bit different with this blog. I'm having a guest blog entry from my father, who has written something very interesting about President Chavez (not one of this blog's comedy entries then), so that'll be a nepotistic break for all of you lovelies that read my blog.

I'm off to have a bit of a hoot at my Serafinowicz DVD just now. Have a good evening, each and every one of you!

Toby Or Not Toby

Look at that blog entry title, eh? Bloody hell, I admit that's a dreadful title. I'm really not making any effort these days. It's a pithily, poorly-written, pun-tastic blog entry title. It's a bit like what Toby Young himself would write these days. After Toby's weirdly homoerotic call-to-arms for Rod Liddle's (now failed) appointment for editor of The Independent, I wasn't sure how much more complacent his writing could become. After all, that article on Liddle seemed to rest on two salient points. Firstly, Liddle can spout on about anything he wants, because his supposed journalistic opinion can fall under the pretension of being "free speech" rather than just poorly-written graffiti on a wall about "goat curry". The second salient point rests on Toby Young getting hot-under-the-collar at watching Liddle plastering himself all over his girlfriend in a BBC Green Room and those antics showing him up to be an 'iconoclast', rather than just an exhibitionist, unkempt Womble.

But his writing surely did take a further plunge today, when he moaned about... sorry, I'm trying not to laugh here... other journalists cyber-bullying him for an ill-timed article on fashion designer, Alexander McQueen. At the moment, it seems dangerously trendy for 'opinion column' journalists to kick the memories of someone recently bereaved, particularly if the dead person happens to be gay. The Press Complaints Commission (PCC) have recently pardoned Daily Mail journalist Jan Moir, who started this whole trend up, so expect more crocks of offensive shit in the print press anytime soon. Anyway, after a rather poorly-written article on Alexander McQueen, Toby got what was no more than a bit of ridicule, particularly from Times journalist, Caitlin Moran. This is taking into account some of the nastier pieces of journalism that Toby Young has written in the past. Sorry, Toby, I'm not buying any of this. You're known to dish it out yourself, so you should be able to take it as well.

Before you say I'm an apologist for McQueen or say I'm defending mischievous behaviour on Twitter, I felt at the time that a provocative article or opinion about McQueen was definitely something that could have been written. Sadly, Toby, you weren't the fellow who came up with it. Joan Smith, of The Independent, wrote it. I did give a sharp intake of breath when Joan questioned the plaudits that had been thrown toward McQueen, barely 24 hours after the man died. But funnily enough, after reading her article, I felt I understood Alexander McQueen better, warts and all. Isn't that what a good journalist does? You can write provocatively, so long as you've got the evidence to back it up and entertain the opposing arguments. In other words, Joan Smith didn't get a bashing on Twitter or elsewhere, because her points were articulately and intelligently made.

Before Toby Young deploys the argument that Smith wouldn't get the same treatment as he would, because Smith is part of the 'liberal' chattering classes, Toby should also remember that AA Gill got a similar roasting on Twitter for his idiotic column on shooting a baboon. Gill's article wasn't a provocatively written piece, it was just wanting to cause an outcry for controversy's sake. An outcry, I suspect, similar to the one Toby was probably secretly predicting and wanting anyway, so he could have the bare-bones material to write another poorly-constructed article to warrant his pay cheque.

Incidentally, I know I'm on thin ice with this blog entry, particularly as my previous blog article recounts an encounter with a rather mischievous and drunken Caitlin Moran in a Soho pub. I got a bit of a ribbing off her, mainly because I'd played a prank on a friend of mine. At no point did I then run off home and write a bleating, put-upon blog entry about it. But then the 'private individual' flamed for being cheeky to Stephen Fry (as referred to in Toby Young's article) didn't do that either. Neither of us 'private individuals' have moaned about it, because we deserved the ribbing. Why can't a Spectator journalist shut his trap and behave like a man about it all, when us supposed 'liberals' can do it?

Doctor Who - New Series Trailer

Oh my word! Here's the new trailer for the "Doctor Who" series that's due to launch around about Easter. Matt Smith and Karen Gillan, you've already warmed my heart on a cold February day.

Please note that the BBC is encouraging the embedding of the above video in blogs, so long as I agree to their terms and conditions. So, spread the word and stick this in your blog, because this looks (to use an old Eccleston "Doctor Who" word) fantastic.

iThink, Therefore iPhone

There's a drip attached to my wrist. It's keeping me alive. It kept me alive while I was in London. It guided me to safety, it found my friends and it helped me decipher an unrecognised haunting melody. It warmed me with familiar songs on my favourite mix tape, it helped me find a sheltering inn and it allowed a renowned journalist to send a dirty message to a pal of mine, with attached photo of herself. I thought this blog post would be about the flashpub event that I attended and, to some degree, it is. However, it's also about the little companion in my pocket, the iPhone, that helped me through the entire weekend and for that I simultaneously thank it and hate it. In that sense, this blog post is more perfectly suited to the Luddite web developer persona of my Twitter username, particularly as I will conclude that such dependence on the iPhone is not a good thing.

From the moment that I landed in England's capital city, jumping on a Tube train to Kings Cross brought with it the first puzzle. Even though I knew the name of my hotel and the accompanying address, I was overcome by the sheer number of damned hotels at Kings Cross. Asking for directions and the people of London were typically helpful, while the cabbies were particularly vocal in showing off "The Knowledge". However, the problem was simply one of similarity. Often, individuals would point to the hotel they thought I meant, so I'd variously get pointed to "Premier Lodge Kings Cross", "Holiday Lodge Kings Cross", "Kings Cross Premier Inn" or, indeed, any permutation of a bunch of words that could conceivably lead me to what I was actually looking for - namely, "The Kings Cross Holiday Inn Hotel (Premier)". In the end, I held up my iPhone and chose an augmented reality application called Layar. This then meant I could look through the lens of my camera and have a grid superimposed on the street in front of me, showing the location of hotels all around me as blue blobs and identifying them all by name. So far, so Tron. The solution of finding my hotel then consisted in walking slowly down Kings Cross Road, staring through the iPhone viewfinder toward the big blue blob marked with my chosen hotel name and avoid looking like a lost tourist. More to the point, I had to really try not to look like a lost tourist  bumping off London pedestrians like a drunk Daddy Longlegs, holding an expensive piece of Apple-branded machinery out in front of me in full view of everyone.

By the time I arrived at my hotel room, the high-tech arsing around had made me feel high-handedly blasé. Stupid of me, as I had to immediately meet up with a female friend and fellow tweeter that I'd never actually seen in real life till now. I ended up rushing out after spending too much time trying to make myself look presentable, something that was ridiculous in hindsight. I was meeting a lady that had admired the cut and gib of my blown 140 character verbal chunks (vice versa, me with her), not for any surface appearances. My fellow tweeter had also confessed to having a black eye due to a gin-fuelled excursion involving a police car and a pavement. She had told me that I could, more or less, turn up looking like Fred West after he'd emptied his bins and she wouldn't have minded. How did I manage to meet her so quickly, if she was in Soho and I was at Kings Cross? Well, considering how unfailingly smug I was with the iPrick, I probably thought I could teleport at that point. However, I downloaded the London Underground iPhone app, which immediately told me the quickest route I could take to meet the damsel-on-Dean-Street and it meant getting to Oxford Street Tube station. My iPhone also helpfully pointed out that I should walk east down Oxford Street once I got off the train.

So, once I leapt out of the station, I did what any smug bellend with an Apple penis extension would do. Rather than check the skyline, I whipped out the Compass iPhone app that duly pointed me east. What an absolute cunt I must have looked to everyone. In my slight defence, I was in a hurry. Even still though, it is only a slight defence. After a few minutes, I turned a corner and saw a proper 3D, honest-to-goodness, non-virtual version of my fellow tweeter, RoxanneLaWin. It's always properly unnerving, but simultaneously exciting to meet a tweeter for the first time. It's happened once before, when I finally met deadlyredhead in a theatre foyer and she made a first impression on me by showing me the fart application on her iPhone (told you the iPhone was the underlying theme to this entire blog entry). RoxanneLaWin made her first impression on me by doing what any self-respecting human being could do to a lost soul in London. She hugged me. Quite apart from it being a good strong squeeze, it made me realise that virtual interaction really does have its limits. Plus, get the iPhone violins out (and there'll be an app for that, I don't doubt), it made me realise that I hadn't been given a hug in ages.

This then leads neatly onto the flashpub scenario itself, because the main reason it was organised was to finally meet all these people in the flesh. And, again, the iPhone came into action again. Quite apart from using the Tweeps function (which geographically seeks out marked tweets), we were made aware of where the flashpub event was taking place by a slyly placed tweet from none other than the highly mischievous Times journalist (and sometime TV presenter), Caitlin Moran. "We're upstairs!". So, we jumped up the stairs and joined the conglomerate of charmers there. That's really no exaggeration, either. Every single one was utterly charming, even "swearmonger-in-chief" Ian Martin. Special mention should be made to one tweeter from Birmingham, who very nearly didn't make it, due to excessive shyness - and the lovely lady, the aptly-named tweeter ihavecake, who brought with her... wait for it... cakes! And, my goodness, what cakes!?! My tastebuds have still not fallen out of love with me because of that encounter.

I should really single out Caitlin too, as she formed the unexpected role of acting as a useful beacon (and hostess) for the flashpub event, as her familiar face (from being in the public eye) marked out the group as being the correct gathering. If she hadn't been there, RoxanneLaWin and myself would genuinely have not found the group! Caitlin also casually brought up the next example of my iPhone being a domineering tool throughout the weekend. After I told her that a male friend of mine (who will remain nameless) couldn't attend the flashpub event, she took my iPhone and sent him a personalised text message, full of empathy and sensitivity: "Hello, it's Caitlin here, come and join us in the pub, we're pissed and talking about cocks!". And just for good measure, she got me to take a murky photo of her and attach it to the lovingly crafted text message, just to prove it wasn't just me winding him up. Plus, it would be remiss of me not to mention that a friend of Ms Moran's and Ms Martin's, writer David Quantick, made a surprise appearance later and I was able to buy him a whisky for his work on one of my favourite comedy TV programmes, "Brass Eye" (and "The Day Today"), as well as enjoying a natter with him.

Anyway, after a blissful night, talking to an elegant array of intelligent and lovely people, I appear to have made a few new friends. I hope to see them all again in the non-virtual world real soon. Preferably a world where I didn't need to rely on my iPhone every second. Quite apart from all of the above uses, it also got me to the airport in time (the Underground Tube app "pushes" notifications of train delays); it identified a song in a cafe that I'd wanted for ages but didn't know the title; plus it played a Spotify song compilation that I'd assembled while I was running around England's capital city. Here's the deal, though. Apple's iPhone may be the bees knees for useful apps, but every single one of them that you buy in Apple's App Store breaks web standards. None of them are cross-platform and none of them can be ported to non-Apple phones. Although a recent Apple acolyte (I'm typing this on my lovely MacBook), I'm certainly not part of the Steve Jobs religion. Sure, Apple's designs run along the "nothing useless can be truly beautiful" principle of William Morris, but the non-portability of iPhone apps is a monopolistic nod to vendor lock-in - something Microsoft is routinely guilty of. I don't want to have an Apple-branded syringe constantly taped to my arm, particularly as the group of smart and sassy real-life tweeters were a timely reminder that technology has its limits and can never replace witty chat, fine wine and good beer.

Here are the lovely people I managed to natter with on the #flashpub Twitter event. Please follow them, because they're all brilliant! I wish I'd managed to talk to everyone there, so sorry if I never managed. Oh, and here's the Spotify compilation I made while I was down in London.

A Business or Pleasure Trip?

P.S. This is a first draft, with no pretty pictures or pretty grammar. I'll tidy it all up when I get back from "that London".

I'm going to London, but I'm not sure whether it's a business trip or pleasure trip. It's probably a little bit of the former, some of the latter and also a fair chunk of the old self-discovery flung in there as well. Or, to put it another way, it's a "let's do something really baffling just for the heck of it and then see what happens". But there'll hopefully be a blog entry that'll follow, inspired by the latter, as part of this trip involves the somewhat romantic notion of the flashmob. You remember the flashmob, don't you? It was a Noughties thing. The decade that's just been and gone. Hence, now that the Noughties is no more, the wonderment of the flashmob has been tempered somewhat and what we have in it's place is the far more mundane "flashpub". Or "guzzlemob".

This "flashpub" was dreamt up in a combination of inspiration and boredom by Ian Martin, one of the erstwhile scribes of "The Thick Of It". He's perhaps mainly famous for his profanity-imbued kisses upon the scripts, hence his unofficial job title of "swearing consultant". Part of the inspiration is because there's an awful lot of tittle-tattle on Twitter, but not an awful lot of physical movement apart from the punching and tapping of keyboards. How about, he suggests, getting a lot of the tittle-tattle-Twitterers away from the virtual world and get them interacting in the 3D real world of a drinking establishment? In that way, it's very possible that as well as swapping fun anecdotes and the usual Twitter tidbits, we do it in the luxury of getting increasingly inebriated in each others' company. In fact, it's almost a nostalgic throwback to the time when people used to meet up in the pub for a drink and a chat anyway, before the real world became full of muggers and murderers and we all decided to hide at home, playing with our machines.

Anyway, here's the plan.

  • Arrive at Stansted airport at approximately half-eleven in the morning.
  • Travel to my hotel and arrive at half twelve - it's the 4 star hotel at 1 Kings Cross. It's got a sauna. And a swimming pool. Although it's maybe doubtful that I'll use either. Except as a possible hangover cure. Oh, slash that, yup, I'll definitely be using them.
  •  Grab a bit of lunch. First appointment of the day, meeting a charming BBC friend of mine.
  • It'll now be about 2.15pm. Dump my stuff in hotel room and then head down the road toward Dean Street, near Old Compton Road. Destination? The Crown and Two Chairmen.
  • En route, also meet my second appointment. She's a fellow tweeter (RoxanneLaWin), blogger and raconteur. And Goth. We'll get along like the virtual Siamese twins we've found ourselves to be. And if we don't get along, I've been reliably informed that gin will help us through.
  • At about 3.15-3.30pm, meet a (probably sozzled) Ian Martin. Also likely to meet a (almost certainly sozzled) Caitlin Moran. I suspect she's another one who'll write about this flashpub event. The main difference between her writing about it and me writing about it? She gets paid by The Times to do it.
  • Mingle expertly with a large number of tweeters. In the real world, no less. This is the bit that should go relatively smoothly. We're all interested in the same things, natter about the same stuff online and, in the real world, are not limited by 140 characters per breath.
  • Probably eat a donner kebab at about half-seven. The level of inebriation will be in direct correlation to the amount of kebab I eat, so hopefully it'll just be an eighth of one, as I'll be slightly merry. If I actually finish an entire donner kebab, we're talking about sending me back to the hotel in a Cockney Cab service before I pass out of alcohol poisoning.
  • 8pm. Depending on how rowdy Mr Martin is, this'll either be a pub conversation that'll involve Tony Blair at the Chilcot Iraq war inquiry or it will involve him shouting abuse at Vinnie Jones on "Celebrity Big Brother" screened on a pub telly (he's a Lady Sovereign fan, you see).
  • About midnight. End up in my hotel room with the ceiling spinning.
  • Wake up. Have a sauna. Have a croissant. Leave London.

I mention this plan in some detail because, if I put this on a public blog and I then get killed, there will be a forensic trail. For example, I could get killed by serial killer tweeters. Or, alternatively (and more likely), I land in London when the terror alert is at the "severe level" and Tony Blair is in full terrorist target sights at the Chilcot inquiry. In the resultant explosion, police won't need to check dental records of the charred figure about to bite a mouthful of donner kebab in The Crown and Two Chairmen. Oh dear, I've just had a thought. To think that my final few moments could be during a Noughties flashback flashmob in the company of a proud swearing consultant, a drunk Times journalist and a load of tweeters in sudden close physical proximity.

Blue Monday Is Gone

As you may have noticed, you have might have felt a bit down yesterday. I know I certainly did - a pipe conveniently decided to burst its stupid contents all over my bathroom floor yesterday. Supposedly, there's a scientific formula for the day being so unrelentingly selfish toward the human race. This same formula is reportedly responsible for my watery disaster yesterday, as well as the final steps toward some random person's divorce, everyone losing at a ballot to see Tony Blair hung, drawn and quartered at the Iraq Chilcot inquiry and (surely the worst thing) Lady Sovereign being evicted from the Big Brother house. Here's a typical article about the formula of Blue Monday.

Anyway, this blog entry is no more than an excuse in foisting a Spotify compilation in your direction. Hopefully, by playing this again and again, you'll never think about the terribleness of the beginning of this week.

Oh, and if you haven't got Spotify? Then for goodness sake, send me a tweet (@LudditeWebDev) and I'll send you a Spotify invite. All welcome.

Blue Monday Spotify playlist.

Life Found On Mars

We have 2010 to look forward to and, as per usual, there are various events predicted to happen this year, not to mention the next decade. Key amongst those predictions is one that I'm rather fond of, namely the discovery of life on Mars. As this Daily Mirror article points out, it's sounding like there are melted water lakes up there. Where there's water, there's a strong possibility of life. I wouldn't like to bet that the Martian lifeforms will turn out to be little green men though. Far more likely that it'll be something like microbes or (at best) a form of sludgey alien algae sitting in the icy water. It also got me thinking as to how the beloved British press would cover it, once the official announcement is made by NASA. So, I slipped into a parallel timestream where this has already happened, took a few shots and then came back and published them on this blog entry. Ain't I clever?

First up, The Independent were predictably dry in their coverage.

I scanned the shelves at the other titles. The Guardian took a predictably woolly and liberal perspective, hand-wringing over the lack of rights for the Mars aliens.


Meanwhile, The Daily Mail ran with a familiar theme for its readers.

The Sun went with a sly, cheeky headline, presumably in homage to the "Life On Mars" television series and un-PC fictional character, Gene Hunt.

Mysteriously, The Daily Express didn't cover the Mars story, until a couple of days later.

As for The Daily Star, they didn't appear to give a shit about the significance of life on other planets or the philosophical implications of such a notion, till a whole week later.


You can gather that this parallel Universe isn't much different from our own, apart from NASA being a little bit ahead in gathering intelligence data on our neighbouring planet.

This first blog post of 2010 was inspired by Anton Vowl's "Enemies of Reason" blog. If you've never read it, what's the matter with you? Go read it now if you've never heard of it, as it contained possibly the best blog article of 2009, as well as containing one of the funniest articles of last year.