25 Things You Didn't Know About Me - The Abridged Version

Right, I've had a stomach virus in the last 3 days, so I've not been able to do much writing for the blog. In fact, I've not had much time to do anything apart from let my guts indulge in some soft-mittened fisticuffs in the depths of my intestines (which, incidentally, is a lot more uncomfortable than it sounds, even if it does sound like an exercise in "kicking off" in a Glasgow pub, while asking for a pint of warm milk). So, I'm just going to rehash some old material I wrote as part of one of those ludicrous Facebook "share some interesting facts about yourself with your friends" fun 'n' games. I've had to "anonymise" (is that even a word? it's a Nicholson neologism now) some of the acquaintances in it for a world wide web community, so enjoy.

1) I wrote the music for the Pearl & Dean adverts in the 1970s. This should've netted me a small fortune in royalties, but I couldn't think of any lyrics. As a result, I violated the contract and I don't make a penny out of those adverts. I still wince whenever I hear, "Baaaah bah, baaaah bah, ba ba ba..." in my local cinema.
2) I bought the only 4-wheeled Reliant Robin.
3) An anagram of Christopher Philip Nicholson is "Shh, Cliche Nihilist Porno Prop".
4) I have the sexual magnetism of a lion on heat, but the sexual performance of a depressed trombone.
5) My mate, Casual Egoist, keeps expecting us to have a fistfight in the near future. What he doesn't know is that we've already had the fight and I knocked him into the future.
6) Priscilla Presley doesn't actually exist and I was the man who proved it.
7) I had a sex change operation when I was 14, but then got bored and changed back again when I was 17. Apparently, I was the only person to have done this. Unless you count the bloke that changed six times.
8) One of my best friends is my complete opposite. Hairy Insomniac is a short, hairy, married Scottish nationalist white honky and has been with the same woman nearly his whole life. I'm a tall, wiry half-n****r who actually hates the Scottish and can barely nail down an Ikea wardrobe, let alone a steady relationship with a woman.
9) Political correctness is something I'm vaguely aware of, but only nod to briefly.
10) I'd like to be reincarnated as Tori Amos's piano stool.
11) I'm not a bad man, but I wouldn't say I'm a good man.
12) One of my best new friends is a lovely lady called Bailey's Belle. We knew each other in school, but not that well - so it's nice that we're close friends now. However, any time I've ever gone out drinking with her, I end up with more and more extravagant injuries. I'm half-expecting to lose a major limb the next time I go to the pub with her.
13) I'm an atheist fundamentalist. I set fire to Watchtower magazine whenever it makes disparaging remarks or does fatuous cartoons about Richard Dawkins.
14) I once hacked the internet in the 1990s. The internet is only one line of code, I still don't know what the fuss is about.
15) Lots of rock stars sold their soul to the Devil. On the one occasion that the transaction was reversed, the Devil sold his soul to Lemmy from "Motorhead". I negotiated the contract.
16) I used to think I was gay, until I was told it was a sexual orientation, not a state of mind. I still thought I was gay, until another friend of mine told me that having sex with yourself doesn't count. After a third time of thinking I was gay, Peter Tatchell told me to stop calling him. I'm now straight, but only by default.
17) I once fell asleep while driving my car, only to dream that I was driving the same car. I woke up, just as I parked my car in the drive. I then walked into my front door without opening it, banged my head and required stitching.
18) During Summer, I suffer an obscure form of Tourettes Syndrome, where I sing the swear words in operatic arias.
19) I once stole a Thunderball scratchcard off Mystic Meg, during the one time in her life when she 'used powers for evil'. I won £20,000, but lost it immediately as it happened to be the one day when David Blaine had 'turned bad' as well, and he levitated the cash onto the Statue of Liberty as part of a 'street magic' TV series. The bearded, monotonous-voiced cunt.
20) I was actress Dawn Steele's first 'leading man' in a play. She asked me if I could see her as a successful actress whilst I was driving her around the Campsie Hills. I told her I could see a future where she'd star in a couple of Sunday night serials ('the televisual equivalent of a log fire, mug of cocoa and comfy slippers'), co-star with two former Doctor Whos and would be beaten in a TV singing contest by someone in "Eastenders".
21) I was in an arranged marriage. It had been arranged by John Williams, written by Debussy and sung by Sarah Brightman.
22) My favourite word is 'plinth'. I like it, because I invented it.
23) I once wrote a journalistic piece for The Guardian, which coincidentally was the first article in said newspaper that didn't have a misprint. Polly Toynbee hailed it as a 'new era in print history' for the beleagured lefty liberal broadsheet.
24) My catchphrase is: "What are you doing in that big cardboard box?". It didn't catch on.
25) I might have lied in some of these 25 "facts".

Chris Nicholson realises he didn't make all of the references to his friends completely anonymous. But Dawn has an agent now and she can go through the usual channels of litigation. The stuff about the drive around the Campsie Hills is true enough though.

What A Bunch Of Cults

My New Year resolution was to join a cult. Preferably an entertaining one. Why? Well, the world's a bit fucked at the moment and it looks like it's going to end. By one of many ways, one of which is the terrifyingly dull one of banks boring us to death with new credit agreements (e.g. small print saying "There ain't any, so we're going to climb into a cardboard box in the loft and hibernate with full pension, until the lovely Sun of capitalism is shining - in the meantime, enjoy the Ice Age"). Money has always been the new church altar in these Godless times and I admit to praying regularly every Sunday, blind faith pounding in my heart as I turn to view the miracle that never happens - namely winning the Thunderball lottery. But even money and credit is evaporating, destroying yet another deity. It's also not coincidental that TV schedules have been packed with post-apocalyptic visions of Mother Earth ("Survivors", "Dead Set", even "Doctor Who" kiddy spin-off  "The Sarah Jane Adventures" - oh and they're resurrecting "Day of the Triffids" with lots of big star names). All the visions have one thing in common; we're all fucked and the atheists got it right. I recognise a fecking zeitgeist when I see one and I don't need Sunday colour supplements to tell me. So, like a shopping mall, there'll now be a dazzling array of new cults appearing on the shelves near you.

My personal favourite is the Raelians. In summary, they follow their leader, Rael (rael, sorry, real name Claude Vorilhon, a former racing car driver), who met an alien near a volcano who told him that humans were a genetic experiment by the Elohim, of which the alien was one. Call me old-fasioned, but I think this alien was blowing its own trumpet a bit. As a potted autobiography of a species, it's a little bit on the boastful side.

Plus, as aliens go, the description would have it filed away in a police report as the worst case of confabulation - in one case, Rael described the alien as having pale green skin, four foot high and having almond eyes; while in another case, Rael said the alien would've been barely noticed walking down a high street in Japan. My guess is that it might have been a high-spirited, short Japanese tourist with too many gadgets - kudos to him for starting Rael on his way in gathering together a sizeable group of 40,000 followers. He must be really pissed off that he isn't seeing any of the royalties. Rael, by the way, had to move away from his native France to the USA, because the French authorities weren't sure about having such a cult on their shores. The USA love cults - they elected one for the last 8 years (okay, that's enough playing on a word with one consonant difference from another word).

I went to a cult meeting of their's a few years ago, along with a kindred of open-minded responsible adult friends. It would be a fascinatiing sociological analysis of a closed hermetically-sealed microcosm of society with a singular obsession. Oh fuck it, okay, we were going to go along to a meeting to have a jolly good laugh at them! We were the Scooby Gang and, at worst, we were going to run away , Hannah-Barbera sound effect at the ready, at the slightest hint of the word 'conversion'. At best, we were going to rush Rael on stage, pull his face-mask off and reveal him to be Keith Harris, while Orville quacked behind him, "If it wasn't for you darned kids, we'd be ruling the world now!".

"A fiver", my pal Sam says, "for seeing a cult leader called Rael? That's a bargain, it beats most comedy performances in the Edinburgh Fringe!". Sam, and his fabulously cool Dad, were fixtures at the Fringe festival Pleasance hang-out. Sam could smell comedy gold a mile off. As a starting-point litmus test, he was a God-send (or, Elohim-send, so to speak).

Big Bearded Rob thought it was good value for money too - mind you, this is the bloke who used to buy several tins of Asda Basic Range meatballs for his weekly lunch, which were cheaper than the dog food in the same range. Again, he was a fantastic thermometer measuring pennies-to-minutes of family entertainment.

And my other pal, Big Nosed Barry, was happy to bring his camera along. He loves to catch a moment on camera, like this photo - of a drunken Rob being dragged away from stand-up comedian Richard Herring, after the always unwelcome inebriated contribution for funny writing, "Awright, you're a comic, ain't you? I've got a good joke for you...". Big Nosed Barry's good at catching moments like this, things to be treasured with friends and family. Amplitudinous stonkered cunt that he is (shite, there's no photo - I'll put it up on this blog soon).

So, we arrived in the spendid confines of the Sheraton Hotel in Edinburgh. We were quickly shown through to a specific suite by a gaggle of baffled hotel staff - presumably they knew what to look out for; a bunch of giggling, socially-retarded, hairy-arsed software developers that should be rightly locked-up at home, setting up Linux networking solutions. After we signed ourselves in, our first port of observation were the bouncers. Bouncers. As in, real proper, huge, ebony-skinned bouncers. The type that you see in hyper-reality movies like "Last Action Hero", as opposed to vomit-stained-pavement Glasgow pub bouncers. And just to continue in that hyper-reality, we saw some Raelians scattered on the stage like proper cult leaders.

Not cult representatives who jump about on couches on Oprah Winfrey TV shows, but people dressed like Marlon Brando in that first scene out of "Superman" (I wish I was making this up, I really am not).

We then had the powerpoint presentations by posh female leader scientist of the Raelians. She told us about the science of reproduction and put up lots of slides. It sounded like science, it looked like science, it was pontificated by a scientist-like person. It used words like 'genetics', 'cloning' and 'Clonaid' (the company that was funded by the Raelians). However, if the subject matter was written by Noel Fielding and acted out as Vince Noir in full-spangled "Mighty Boosh" silver suit, I would've believed it more than the silvery Raelian lady scientist witterings. Without any recourse to marijuana either. 

Big Bearded Rob agreed and walked out, during this slide ("Evolution vs religion"), and ostentatiously shouting the phrase, "This is bollocks". This is a shame, because he missed out a chance to gaze on the main act, "Oasis" Rael, after "Shed Seven" lady scientist. There's no way he could've seen photographs of Rael later either, because of what Big Nosed Barry was asked, nay, ordered to do next. "Don't take pictures of His Holiness, " demanded one of the hulking bouncers, slapping a loin joint of a hand down on Barry's shoulder. Barry, understandably, put the camera down.

Another reason Rob chose the wrong moment at walking out was because he missed Rael's glowing paen to masturbation, something that Rob has professed to being a great fan of when drunk. I thought it would've been a true Road to Damascus vision for him. It would certainly explain why the Raelians find monkeys so funny, as they do a fair amount of audacious bishop-bashing when the moment grabs them. If that wasn't enough for Rob, the reference to Intelligent Design's contribution to nature, by creating glowing pink rabbits, was surely a masterstroke and one that would aid the fight against world hunger.

Okay, it was the slide before this one and Big Nosed Barry was desperately trying to snap a shot before Hyper-reality Bouncer grabbed him by the shoulder again. But honestly, there was a Powerpoint picture of some glowing pink rabbits. Honest. How come NO-ONE believes me?!? I think it illustrated, with New Age fluency, how genetic engineering could save our future (it involved cloned humans and downloads/uploads or something into the soulless clone - don't ask me about such expert stuff, I'm only a software developer).

I thought it was a strangely compelling argument. Well, not the argument itself, but the importance of faith in being a part of a faith-based organisation. I mean, how come Scientology is respected? Is it because that bloke L Ron H wrote a few best-selling novels? Actually, screw it - all that stuff about loaves, fishes and burning bushes from mainstream Christianity sounds considerably less believable than a French bloke bumping into a well-spoken alien after a few laps around the Grand Prix. And then there's Rael himself. He seems a pleasant enough bloke, with a polite manner. Okay, as a British citizen, I regard any Frenchman that can speak English as polite for our snooty-nosed Gallic cousins. But you get the point, plus he didn't seem as hard-nosed and out for conversion as the thrusting superficial and dull proponents of Scientology. As an example, Rael's got a considerably more interesting biography than Scientologist spokesman Tom Cruise. Check it out; singer, songwriter, racing car driver and Messenger of Elohim. I'd be proud of that sparkling line on my curriculum vitae. Plus, reading his early biography, he had a singing career based on Jacques Brel.

Well, I, for one, would legitimately like to worship the Brel-influenced Scott Walker in some form of spiritual ceremony, but I understand he doesn't particularly like the attention (or, indeed, the more mundane and perfectly innocent stalking). If Scott doesn't want to be the new Messiah, I'll just have to settle for second-best in the form of another Brel singer with avant garde pretensions. Plus, you need only hear Scott Walker and Rael speak and you realise that they both hear the same weird 'blocks of symphonic sound' in their heads. Probably.

Incidentally, and as a post-script to all this, one of my friends, Anti-Hippy, was extremely annoyed that he hadn't known about this meeting. He says he would've been grilling them on every point of their culture and religion, in typical Goth Victor Meldrew, which is his style. In some respects, I think Rob's "bollocks" exit sounds like it would've been ultimately (and poetically) more polite. As a cult, they're not a suicide one - or preaching a particularly nasty message. Supposedly, they're just wanting an excuse for wanking each other off (whilst dressed in spangly Superman white suits) in the spirit of organised religious cults. None of the journalists present, incidentally, asked any particularly heated questions, with the possible exception of "Are you SURE you want to do that to those poor bunnies?". As religions go, in the supermarket sweep of unfounded beliefs, it ranks pretty high in "Compare A Religion" dot com.

Just don't freeze me cryogenically and wake me up in 200 years time, in time to see Keith Harris gazing benignly at me.

Update: My pal, Sam, has reminded me that it was the Sheraton hotel and not the Caledonian Hotel. Presumably, he reminded me, in case I was sued by the proprietors of the Caledonian for daring to suggest they'd host such a nutty event. I've also stuck the rest of the slides below. I love the fact that, supposedly intelligent humans (who are in contact with aliens and our destiny) notwithstanding, they still forgot to turn the spellchecker on for some of the Powerpoint presentation.


Chris Nicholson would like it to be known that he has no intention of starting his own cult. It's bad enough that this blog is building up a disturbing 'following'.

If I'm Mixed Race, How Come I Dance Like A White Guy?

Hey, everyone! Did you read my last blog entry? 2009 is a brand new start for me and I found out that I'd got a brand new spanking job to go with it, literally in the last week of 2008. The sense of joy at this Christmas present can perhaps be understood by the abject misery I'd faced in my previous job and the unexpected unemployment of October, November and December. It was a real two-fingered salute to 2008, a year of financial collapse and, perhaps poignantly, a two-fingered salute to a few people who would've been quite happy to see me fail for desperately superficial reasons. These reasons have come flooding into my frontal lobe again recently, mainly due to Carol Thatcher's rather clumsy apologies over her "golliwog" comment, made a few days ago on "The Wright Stuff".

Yes, the two are linked - and before I go on, I'll go on the record and say I quite like Carol Thatcher (although the less said about her geographically challenged, thick-as-pig-shit brother, the better - and, as for her mother, she needs her own blog entry for why I think she's a boorish vampiric vandal of Britain). But, I do realise why Carol's caused offence - it's a shame, because I'm libertarian at heart. Freedom of expression is something I believe in. But my problem isn't that she set out to make an offensive remark or even use racially-charged taboo words. It's not even with her failure to make an honest-to-goodness, gosh, hocky-sticks apology (which Boris Johnson, in similar red-cheeked huffing-puffing majesty, is known to do with frequent amusing regularity). No, the reason I found her behaviour crude is because of that slick-palmed, creepy over-familiarity someone like her occasionally exhibits; the assumption that she knows a group of people well enough that she can say what she wants; and then is incredulous when some other people perceive their personal space invaded. I guess it's racism of sorts; lacking the wisdom of social interaction. As an example that is nothing to do with racism, but everything to do with offence, I fucking adore swearing me. But I tend to do it raucously with close pals, not in the hushed silence of a group of Catholic Nuns praying.

I've had a multifaceted relationship with racism throughout my life. It's not something I perceive to encounter very much, but perhaps I should pay more attention. For a start, I've noticed close friends cringing on my behalf in social scenarios when some 'borderline' comments are made by some stranger professing to understand my 'culture' - something I usually miss, because I'm often not a member of that culture in the first place. Worse, this can cover a multitude of 'Scottish/UK non-conformist qualities', such as my skin colour, my English accent (of sorts; it slips around on an almost John Barrowmanesque journey), my religion, my sexual orientation, my music taste* or which sports team I support. Just for the record, I suppose I regard myself as a UK resident, living in Scotland and justifiably proud to be living here, as I was born and raised here. But I'm not a nationalist (either British or Scottish). Oh, and a little digging around in my family tree will see blood that is a mix of Spanish, African Carribean, English, Scottish (Isle of Skye), Chinese and Canadian. Any trips visiting British National Party (BNP) rallies in either Tower Hamlets or Yorkshire will probably involve four different types of shit kicked out of me. Five, if you include the Scottish.

However, before this turns into a straightforward attack on BNP ignorance, my encounters with barely-concealed antipathy of 'difference' goes way wider. It touches upon, for example, why I've (finally) got a job in Glasgow - but never managed to get one before, despite me living in the damned city for almost a quarter century. Don't try and convince me that it was innocent whenever I was asked at the end of every interview about which football team I supported. It bore only a sideways glance at kicking a ball around (Celtic or Rangers notwithstanding, is there a Glasgow footie team that atheists like me can support?). It also gave me a distinctly queasy sensation during interviews when I decided to say I wasn't interested in football at all; this usually meant the (always heterosexual male) interviewer's darting eyes would betray a panic of me 'not being one of the lads' or me having a 'sexually ambiguous orientation'. Oh, we're near the end of this paragraph and I've also failed to point out the hulking great elephant in the room. I was explicitly told that my English accent would be a barrier to getting jobs in Glasgow (despite the aforementioned Barrowmanishness of said accent).

My paranoia was understandably heightened during my unemployment recently, particularly after a decade of continuous employment, during which I always ran into 'social embarrassment' scenarios of the above two paragraphs. When the BNP membership list came tumbling out of the internet ether at the beginning of November, right in the middle of my unemployed phase, I scoured the list. I noticed a disturbing number of people living in my postcode, as well as seeing a name that appeared congruent with an ex-manager of mine who'd displayed a baseless immediate dislike of me (and, apparently, baseless no more?). Could the reason for all those failed job outcomes be the same reason that haunted me over a decade ago? Desperate times certainly lead to a more closed communities, that's well documented. British jobs for the British, ain't that what Gordon Brown endorsed? As an extra added twist for a Scottish-born Prime Minister, the nation that I was born in would probably want Scottish jobs for Scottish people; in other words, the Scottish archetype. White (or, more accurately for Scotland, cyan). Scottish accent. Dour. Dependable. Likes football. Heterosexual in a very obvious way, and not a threat. One of the lads! Like a slight madman, I started consulting the BNP membership list after every failed interview I had! After all, I surmised, if someone on that list looked like a previous manager I had, surely anyone could be on there?

Oh, and now that I've mentioned I'm libertarian, but understandably wary of BNP members (for personal skin-deep reason), it shouldn't surprise anyone that I support their right to uncensored free speech. Even if that is a right to say they want me out of their sight. Or for me to keep my eyes off their white blue-collar jobs. Democracy, particularly in these internet-savvy times, tends to throw up diametrically opposite parties to the BNP that will protect my interests anyway. And, of course, the police will protect me in the likelihood of BNP harrassment - unless my police friends happen to hate liberal, pussy-footed Guardian readers. Oh...

On that subject, I ended up having an interesting discussion with a friend from school, who now serves in the Army. You'd think that an army soldier would disagree with a wet lefty liberal like me. And you'd be right... just not in the way you'd stereotypically think. Broadly, it was pro-censorship vs anti-censorship, particularly in light of a fellow unit officer being found to be on the BNP membership list. I've already voiced anti-censorship for the BNP (or, indeed, for anyone who might have 'controversial' views in UK society). However, my soldier friend made it quite clear that allowing the BNP to have inflammatory opinions would hamper his job in protecting British people and he made it explicitly clear that he counted me amongst them. His upbringing was the same as mine, in a state school that had a rich heritage of Scots with Pakistani, Chinese, Indian, African American and French backgrounds; in other words, his job hinged on him being not just concerned about the 'enemy', but equally protective of British citizens - no matter what their colour. More intriguingly, he also argued that it wasn't the business of anyone in the Army to belong to any political party, mainly because it involves swearing allegiance to the Crown (and the currently sitting government). So, as an example, an Army Officer with paid-up membership of the Labour Party (or New Labour) might not be a problem now, but should there be a Conservative government elected in future, you have the problem of an Army officer perceived as no longer being loyal to the government. The nutshell summary of this whole paragraph is that he was disgusted that a fellow officer could be a member of the BNP, or, indeed, a member of any political party.

All of this I knew in November, which made me feel slightly more secure with it all, even in the midst of my interviews and anxiety of not being Scottish or British enough. I even had a perceived boost to my job prospects. A day before a job interview, for a job I was certain was mine for the taking, Barack Hussein Obama got voted President of the United States of America. The first Black president of USA? Actually, no he isn't. Hands off, you gangsta rappers and African Americans - he's mixed race! He's my golliwog President, not yours! However, 48 hours later, he was a mixed-race President Elect that still never helped me get that sodding job, as I walked out of my prospective new office, utterly disheartened and rejected. Except, while I attempted to jump a Lothian Bus on the way home in the heavy spattering rain of the rapidly approaching night, I laughed raucously at something that had happened a full year before. It's a story that has turned into something of an internet apocryphal story, not owned by anyone. So, I'm claiming it back for me and my pals...

In November 2007, I decided to go and have a quiet drink on a Friday night with my friend, Big Kenny. It was the end of harrowing working week. Seeing as we were of a sufficiently braindead state of mind, we decided to just go to the nearest pub - in other words, a pub full of suits. Full of respectable finance types. Scrub that. A pub full of finance slags in suits who had successfully hidden the impending bank crisis. Anyway, Big Kenny warned me that two pisshead mates of ours were in Edinburgh that weekend, down from Inverness. They were in town, mainly to sample the delights of some scantily-clad female Philosophy students, trying to plug a gap in their student loans, by lapdancing on their clumsily inebriated erections. With that in mind, we glanced nervously at the door of this 'faux posh' wine bar, while we downed our pints and tried to block out the invariable shitness of our working weeks. However, after about three particularly stale beers, our two pisshead mates staggered in. Promptly, they announced loudly, in loud, ciggie-hoarsed voices, "Yaay, guys! We've just been to a fucking ace titty bar! And I got a lapdance off this gorgeous Negro woman...". At which point, we had to stop them in their tracks, before the wine bar bouncers threw them out. "You can't say Negro in front of Chris," protested Kenny nobly, "he's part Black!". Quick as a flash (and still in the same loud volume), pisshead mate claimed reasonably, "Yeah, I know, man, that's why I never said nigger!".

The resulting crash of me hitting the floor, while I laughed uncontrollably for a full seven minutes, was probably a sight to behold. I couldn't work out what I found funnier; the speed of my pisshead mate's delivery, when he'd drunk a brewery's worth of Tennent's industrial strength piss; or the shocked look of approximately forty Standard Life/Royal Bank Of Scotland employee WASP suits. Of course, if any of those strangers had patted me on the shoulder and repeated the joke, with a faux Thatcher-like familiarity, I would've said, "That's offensive, don't you think? Considering you don't know me?"

I don't think they got the joke. I don't think Carol Thatcher would get the joke either.

* I quite like reggae, some hip-hop and grime, but I dislike most rap. I like a fair few skinny white boy guitar bands, but dislike 'new MOR' such as Keane. I can't stand music that speeds along at 400bpm and you need to be off your tits on drugs before you can 'truly get it'.

Chris Nicholson is terrified that this blog entry's reference to 'nigger', 'Obama' and the 'BNP' will line him up with some rather extremist Google searches.

A Bite of 2009

Mercifully, I'm back in 2009 and already delighted that 2008 has gasped its last, which was easily the worst out of any year I've had on this planet. Yes, that even includes 1987, when I had the ubiquitous unrecquited teenage crush; my 14th birthday fell on Black Monday; acid house/Rick Astley were in full dissonant diarrhea mode; and watching Doctor Who equalled an evening around the TARDIS console with Bonnie Langford (by the way, has any sad Whovian noticed that her penultimate episode is episode 666 on IMDB? Just me then). Oh, and just to prove the 1987 parallel, 2008 had full-blown rickrolling as the tortuous deja vu soundtrack to the crisis of faith in my last career; a career that I've thankfully ditched (more of that in another blog entry, however). 

2009 has started with a brand new job, a brand new location and, yes, another New Year Resolution of a weekly update to this blog. Admittedly almost broken, but I can blame the lack of a proper internet connection and trying to get a permanant roof over my head since the beginning of November. But I'm back with a vengeance. For future posts, I'm looking to witter about Twitter (annoyingly, the mainstream Press appeared to have finally caught up with the Twitter phenomenon, just as I was writing the article); ask Carol Thatcher why I can't dance if I'm half-black (no, really); and mention the time during The Wilderness Years when I attended an alien-worshipping cult (with photos included).

Until then, it's nice to be back...

Toothless Bulldog

Here we go again: resignations at a television company because a section of the population believes it's the true voice of decent Britain for the decent British (represented by The Daily Mail). And, pathetically, they smelt blood - and they bit - and they got the blood they wanted and the heads rolled (latest count is four: Russell Brand, Radio 2 head Lesley Douglas and, rather sadly, Jonathan Ross's testicles, if what Jeremy Vine is speculating is true). The dog had got particularly incensed, when Russell Brand wrote his own suicide note by reminding us of the Daily Mail's earlier history of being sympathetic to the views of Hitler and Britain's black-shirted Oswald Moseley.

The Mail hasn't been able to maul its usual targets. Moaning about nationalisation, like they did with the Northern Rock hysteria of last year, is currently not the done thing to do. The return of Keynesianism to try and clean up the mess that Milton Friedman, Reagan and Thatcher left behind means we're all fans of taking control of mad money men now. It means instead of relying on unfettered money markets magicking up credit from nowhere, we'll have to go back to... oh, I don't know... actually making things and selling them - be that cars, wind farms, comedy TV/radio programmes or baking cakes. Immigrants? No, that's a bit difficult, as the laws have just been tightened again. I know, dreams up Paul Dacre, we haven't had a go at the Beeb for a while - let's dig up a week-old radio recording and get properly morally indignant. Finally, after ages sitting decrepit next to the roaring fire of Great British Sterling, the old British Bulldog licked its jowels and decided to give Russell Brand a rancourous mauling. Over some tasteless phone call he made on a post-watershed Radio 2 broadcast on a Saturday night that most Mail readers never would've listened to in the first place.

Is this a generational thing, as both sides of the media argue? Well, Germaine Greer (at pensionable age) managed to upstage both panels on last night's Buzzcocks episode. Meanwhile, Janet Street Porter (or Janet Street Pensioner, as Gordon Ramsay lovingly calls her) gets increasingly grumpier with age and often "out-fucks" her companion chef.

Oh, and I can guarantee you that a certain Tom Baker (in his mid 70s) is going to give a truly barking performance on "Have I Got News For You" tonight, not sparing a wide-eyed moment to shock somebody somewhere. Have you heard his ad libbing on the "Little Britain" voice-overs? Even Messrs Walliams and Lucas have looked on, slack-jawed in amazement. By no means is it common currency nowadays. Spike Milligan decided to shut Prince Charles up, with a swift telling off at his grovelling behaviour and left his final sickest joke on his tombstone ("I told you I was ill" engraved lovingly). There was also Peter Cook's ability to still casually shock people, pretty much till the day he died. Oh, and then there's Andrew Sachs, who was quite happy to appear on Brand's show. That poor old man was bullied. Yes, bullied by a bunch of journalists who really missed the point. Sachs, Brand and Ross had all sorted it out amongst themselves, way before the media storm a whole damned week later (Noel Gallagher references this as a very English row). Sachs, in case anyone has forgotten, is friends with John Cleese - this is the man who hilariously (and very shockingly) delivered this eulogy to his dead pal, Graham Chapman, at the memorial service. I think Mr Sachs is perfectly fine with edgy comedy - he appeared in "Fawlty Towers", for goodness sake.

But there's this quick straw poll here, right? There are interviews with people queuing up for Alan Titchmarsh. And here, an interview with people queuing up for the aforementioned Buzzcocks show. Surely the difference is age, right? Well, my parents (in their 60s) grew up with Monty Python and, later, The Young Ones. As a family, we all guffawed at "Five Go Mad In Dorset" on the opening night of Channel 4. They both like Brand and Ross, albeit they thought that the phone call to Sachs rather tasteless and, more to the point, not particularly funny.

So, my argument is that it's a cultural difference - people who never even noticed the 1960s counter-culture. I was going to stop short of wide generalisations or categorising the majority of people who complained about the 'moral decline of society' (note that it's not really about Brand or Ross anymore). But having read some of the complaints posted on the BBC website, they appear to have shoved me into a category. Some of which is flattering, admittedly - I didn't realise I was the 'youth of today', seeing as I'm 35 (God, my parents will be really flattered). So, seeing as I am the delinquent yoof that they've labelled me, I'm rather childishly going to do the same and categorise the complainants, as I'm fed up of these people saying that they're a part of society that promotes 'decency' and I'm not (as part of my last job, I fought for other peoples' employment rights - I think that makes me pretty 'decent').

I imagine they're of the commuter belt variety, people whose entire existence is only along a motorway from a suburb or small town to the office and are invariably middle class. "Outraged of Suburbia" as I like to call them. Suspicious eyes darting around watching respectable black families moving into their neighbourhood, watching their local golf club now letting in working-class people and appalled at that nice Nessum Dora song sung by football fans. They also wonder why that lovely 10 year-old Charlotte Church turned into such a lager lout, conveniently missing out the fact that she chose to 'branch out' her musical career and appeal to different audiences. And, now, since their lovely bank jobs are looking increasingly insecure and they feel like they might (gasp) actually face some of the daily horrors that others face during a recession, they react in the only way they can. They shout out in the void, like thousands of Mary Whitehouses, spurred on by the Daily Mail. But, unlike the Festival of Light, they can just scream down their broadbands. It had such a pervasive effect that it even affected the BBC's message boards on David Tennant quitting "Doctor Who", when a lot of the same people moaning about the Brand/Ross/Sachs story spilled onto the comments section with "I hope the PC brigade don't force a black or gay Doctor on us!". In which case, they'll be pretty disappointed with the front-runners list.

Unfortunately, it really isn't about a silly phone call anymore. It's about a population wanting to enforce a new era of Puritanism on the U.K. "It's moral decline that got us into this mess!" they shout. Actually, no, it's free market economics that got us here. And seeing as how we're all going to be skint for the forseeable future, I think a lot of us are going to have to tighten our belts and stay in and watch telly a lot. Which means I don't want to be watching wall-to-wall "Last of the Summer Wine", "Crufts" and the "Chelsea Flower Show".

I'm not in the market for being force-fed "Heartbeat", of a magical non-existent Green England from the 1950s (in case anyone has forgotten, that was an era of 'moral decline', with B & Bs and their "No Irish, Blacks or dogs" signs bleakly sellotaped to the windows). I'd rather my escapism was fantastic, edgy and off-the-wall. I want to laugh and be thrilled, while being rooted in the black reality of the hard times. I'm not wanting to completely avoid reality in the way that "Mondeo Man" and "4x4 Woman" have been doing since the 1960s.

So. More "Mock The Week" (which the Mail have sighted as their next target), dark drama and mind-boggling documentaries, please Mr Beeb. There's room for both the pastel shades of Alan Titchmarsh's jumper and the jet-black humour of Frankie Boyle. That's what the watershed is for, as well as the channel changer and off-switch on the remote control. After all (as the Mail readers always say), I pay my license fee too.

Thieving Bastard

God, sometimes I hate technology. A slight problem when I work in the whole field of information communications. My very first blog entry admitted as much, saying that I'd procrastinated over even writing a blog for a couple of years. Surely I can just tell people about my slightly baffling life by telling them in the office or the pub? Or, God forbid, the phone? Except I hate the bloody phone too. Yes, fellow readers, I think I can confidently tell you that I was one of the last people to get a mobile phone in my techno-geek group - in 2001. And that was only because I had become a self-employed I.T. limited company and the contracts I was dealing with at the time refused to deal with me, unless I got a mobile phone. If only I'd followed my instincts back in 2001, when the first time I purchased a mobile phone, the entire situation ended in disaster, none of which was my design. It was almost as if the Universe, there and then, was throwing a number of distinct random events at me to tell me, "Seriously, this I.T. career mullarkey that you're embarking on - it's going to give you a lot of misery and it won't be till, say, 2008, that you'll realise!". Believe it or not, gentle blog reader, this is the first part of a blog and I'm leading up to something major in my life for the second part - but, in true cliffhanger style, you'll have to wait till next week for that. So, for the time being (and some who have known me for a while will remember it), here's a flashback to March 2001...

After about a year of people chastising and coercing me into getting a mobile phone, I eventually relented and went out and got one. To dull down the grudging feeling I had when I got it, I decided to go and see a stylist. Well, it's what women do when they're feeling a bit under the weather and I am, to all intents and purposes, just a big girl. I also strode into Marks & Spencer to get some clothes. Lightly shimmering Spring t-shirts to be exact. Told you I was just a big girl.

Anyway, I walked into "The Link" and muttered something about not wanting to use a mobile very much, but needing to be contactable anywhere. The bloke there was very helpful, considering he was coming down with a really bad flu and looked like he was going to collapse. Poor guy probably ended up having a worse day than I did.

So, I got a nice shiny Nokia phone and a cool leather cover. Asked whether or not I wanted insurance on it, I pondered for a few minutes and then decided it would be a good idea. This turned out to be one of the most perceptive decisions I'd made ever. After I'd hastily stuffed the mobile phone and various paraphernalia into my M&S bag, I walked towards Murdo Macleans, a hairdresser that apparently specialises in giving whole new looks to their customers rather than just cutting peoples' hair and trusting to luck that it might look better.

Deciding that my ludicrous, fluffy and slightly Goth effeminate hairdo could do with a new 'macho' look, I strode in and greeted the tall, stunning blonde standing in the hairdressers and asked if she wouldn't mind chopping off all extraneous hairs on my body.

After I'd been slapped by the blonde customer after talking to her that way, rather than an actual hairdresser, I was seated in front of a mirror. While studying the sullen expression on the handsome bloke looking back at me in the reflection, the hairdresser asked me whether or not I wanted my coat and my M & S bag hung up somewhere. "Yeah," I muttered (my face was still stinging), "and my bag has a mobile phone in it that I've just bought." "I see, " purred the pouting hair-puller, "in that case, I will store your bag and coat in this cupboard here, so no-one can touch it."

My various accoutrements were swiftly packed away in the cupboard and, within minutes, I had a number of shapely femme fatales coaxing my hairdo into a variety of interesting shapes. Asked what had motivated me to get my hair restyled, I countered with, "My best friend, Sarah, is sick of seeing me single and told me at New Year that if I got a new hairstyle, I'd almost certainly pull in nightclubs." I neglected to mention, of course, that I had all the pulling power, social magnetism and chat-up lines of a three-day-old tuna sandwich and a new hairstyle would only merely, to coin a colloquialism, succeed in polishing a turd.

"Still," preened the purring sex-pot of a stylist, "it's nice to have a friend like that. I assume she's then going to take you out and help you buy a whole new wardrobe". "No," I said, "she did that on New Year's Day". Just as well... us software developers have the collective style of a teenage warthog that "doesn't know what girls are". Continuing this thread of conversation, the hairdresser enthusiastically said something about how it was good to be able to trust people, particularly in this day and age of shifty characters and 'bunny-boilers' (her words, I'll quickly add).


Meanwhile, next to the cupboard, and in parallel with the thread of conversation above, there was a shifty character getting his hair cut. He had evidently eavesdropped on my conversation about storing valuables in said cupboard. After his twisted little gnarled head had been shorn, he creeped up to said cupboard and walked out with the bag, cool as a cucumber.

"... and you really can't trust anyone these days, " said the hairdresser with a flourish, finishing my hairstyle off with evident bravado. At which point, I got up out of my chair, went to the cupboard, took my coat off the rack and went to look for my M & S bag. Instead, I found a couple of batteries and a note saying, "Mobile phone not included". I made that last bit up. I had a feeling pitched somewhere between despair and admiration. I'd realised that the cunning robbing bastard had calmly eavesdropped in on my entire conversation and had already allowed the cogs in his thieving weasel brain to whirl around as soon as he heard me start the haircut chat with the never-less-than-ambiguous line, "Yeah, and my bag has a mobile phone in it that I've just bought".

After calling in on an incredulous staff at "The Link" ("Sir, to my knowledge, I've never known of anybody who has had their mobile phone stolen half an hour after they'd bought it"), I called into a nearby police station where the WPC could scarcely keep herself from falling off her chair from laughing.

"Did you get insurance for it?" she asked.

"Yeah, " I replied, "but the insurance form was stolen as well".

I also suddenly realised that the insurance form had a number of personal details on it, including my bank details. There was also a receipt for the mobile phone and a receipt for the t-shirts (remember them?), both of which had my Switch card number on it. Together, these could be used to buy things over the phone and internet. As a result, I ended up having to cancel my bank Switch card as well. Still, on a positive note, the staff at Murdo MacLeans felt sorry for me and gave me the haircut for free.

Courtroom Reality

It's a curious twist of fate and it seems prescient that I've just been talking about "Big Brother", "The Verdict" and courtrooms. A week after I wrote my last blog post about the dangers of "Big Brother" and about a particular school colleague being a contestant, said ex-contestant, Shahbaz, is suing the producers of the TV show. After my unease at the current state of reality television and seeing someone I knew going in and suffering terribly, perhaps this is poetic justice?

Only it isn't. I've never advocated a lack of personal responsibility being given free reign, nor was I completely letting the 'theatrical puppet show pulling all the strings' completely off the hook either. The fact that litigation is going ahead is a good thing. Like I said in my last blog entry, "Big Brother" stimulated debate about a number of topics, with particular reference to casual racism. Therefore, "Big Brother" should be a strong entity in it's own right to stimulate a debate about itself and the nature of reality television. Trouble is, I'm not sure Shahbaz's is the strongest case at all. There exists other reality television casualties, where the causal link of that person's distress/breakdown/depression/fill-in-other-debilitating-condition can be far strongly correlated to an appearance on the television show. There's a fair amount of legal print in any "Big Brother" contract that devolves all responsibility to the contestant.

The first point is cause-and-effect. Shahbaz had mental problems before the show and faked his psychological suitability. Oh, and I remember him in the school playground in both primary and secondary dressed... um... fairly unconventionally. And behaving fairly unconventionally. Plus, his twenty intervening years after leaving school and arriving in the "Big Brother" house don't really support him too well - most of Glasgow's West End (a fairly liberal, studenty section of the city I should add) had pegged him as mentally unstable - or 'a bit doolally' to use Glaswegian slang. He has some of my sympathy, don't get me wrong - check my last blog entry for that. But if we want "Big Brother" and other extreme examples of reality TV to be tried in a court of law, we really need an example of someone who was sane to begin with and then (within the bounds of probable causes) became a gibbering nervous breakdown after the gameshow experience.

The second point is the law itself. How much of the small print in contestant contracts hold up in a court of law? How much are contestants really properly prepared? How much counselling is received prior and after the experience? After digging around, I found a (non-Channel 4) internet discussion forum on "Big Brother" and, in particular, the psychological impact on contestants. There were several contributions to the discussion thread about the small-print in contestant contracts and how this fitted into a legal framework, as well as changes to the audition process in later (more extreme) series of "Big Brother".

It's all fascinating stuff and made all the more intriguing when two of the forum members contributing to the discussion were two former contestants, Cameron Stout (fourth series winner) and Marco Sabba (fifth series). There appeared to be some agreement on the change of audition process, specifically the amount of psychological screening and the emphasis on character flaws. From my own point of interest, there's been news items on show psychologists quitting during the seventh series, so the evidence certainly seems to point to 'encouraging abnormality'. As well as discussing the differences in audition process between the different series, Marco now has a Law degree and could substantially question some of the small-print in contracts - and, in particular, the company's small clause on negligence. If screening and the 'Talk of Doom' (an anti-pep talk monologue on the worse that could happen) have all been reduced, then the negligence bit of the contract could be raised within a legal setting.

The third point is one I've come up with. I've already mentioned the dangers of editing on reality TV shows. I'll now dig out the old sociological theory of 'labelling'.

It's a theory that was popular in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but even now it has been referenced when explaining repeat criminals' behaviour, as well as the sense of self that mentally ill people use for themselves. The important part of the theory is the self-fulfilling prophecy; once society labels you as some easily categorizable stereotype, you're more likely to behave like that stereotype. In a modern mass-media saturated new century that didn't exist in the 1970s, I think that theory deserves to be resurrected again. If you've been forced into a TV producer's vision, edited within bite-sized morsels on TV and then spat out in front of a newspaper media only too eager to perpetuate the TV show character, that's it. That's you. Once you're out in the real world, you're now the stereotype that you were labelled with in the house. You're not even a soap opera character - only the stupidest couch potato would think the actor in "Eastenders" is the real person. But reality TV, that's gotta be real, right? Labelling might be seen as slightly out-of-date these days, but it's valid if there's an extreme - and you don't get more extreme than the 'labelling' one receives in the "Big Brother" edit facility. Marco Sabba even references labelling theory in this article, so I've probably been pre-empted on the "Big Brother" labelling idea being my own then. More to the point, we're in the danger zone of audiences objectifying other human beings again through use of this labelling and so we're back in the territory I mentioned in my last blog entry (namely Milgram). So, if Shahbaz does successfully take the producers of "Big Brother" to court, I suppose he could draw on everything I've just talked about in this article to muster a defence.

Hey, let's televise the whole court hearing!

Spitting Image

I dipped into "Big Brother" for the third time this series on Friday and saw a fairly bubbly girl called Rebecca 'evicted'. She seemed like a harmless individual, so why did the public pick up a phone and vote her out? I then saw her being interviewed again, on one of the companion shows ("Big Brother's Little Brother") and discovered why - the presenter, George Lamb, pulled her up for bullying and showed her video evidence of other contestants fairly traumatised by it. Rebecca didn't appear to give a shit. Why the heck did Davina McCall give her such an easy ride on Friday, when she had subjected previous contestants with a slightly more rigorous interview? They were giggling together like sisters! But then Davina is trying to treat it as a light entertainment gameshow. And herein lies the dichotomy of the series and why I tried avoiding it this year (quite apart from the fact it eats up your Summer if you become addicted to it) - what's the payoff between when something is entertainment and when the people involved are victimised? There's a very real danger, if we stand idly by, for it to turn into the "Big Brother" episode of "Doctor Who"...

My second encounter with "Big Brother" was after it predictably ended up in the newspapers - all of the newspapers. Another few weeks into Summer, another scandal in the reality TV series "Big Brother", you would be amazed at how unsurprised I am. We can now add the rather vile spectacle of one contestant spitting in another contestant's face to the list of other unpleasant incidents that have occurred in that reality TV stronghold (gangland threats/racist remarks/racist bullying sparking an international incident/a fight night that was broken up by security). Predictably, but correctly, the shock spread as far and wide as press articles (in as varied publications as TV Scoop, The Guardian, the Scottish Daily Record, The Times, The People and, last but not least, The Spoof), to blogs by comedian Ricky Gervais, former BB contestant Aisleyne Horgan-Wallace and journalist Grace Dent. Meanwhile, the Australian version is axed and, in India, extremes in reality TV have been reached. I've thankfully avoided "Big Brother" this year and keep up-to-date with it via the occasional read of the aforementioned blogs - particularly Grace Dent's usual annual episodic masterpiece, this time from Channel 4 itself. Although that hasn't stopped me getting swallowed by the granddaddy of reality TV in previous years (specifically, the third and the seventh series, about which more later). It's reached the stage where something else needed to be done with the dead horse other than flogging it. My only other encounter this year with "Big Brother" was an episode of "The Culture Show" which invited previous BB contestants to discuss George Orwell's '1984' novel and apply it to their previous experiences. This was a genuinely interesting concept helped by the chosen ex-housemates being the intelligent, articulate ones (e.g. no Charley Uchea - instead, it featured Derek Laud, Nick Bateman and, not coincidentally getting another mention in this blog entry, Aisleyne Horgan-Wallace). But going by the fact that I preferred watching that episode of "The Culture Show" to the current series of "Big Brother" (ironically, its timeslot clashed with "Big Brother" on Channel 4), I'm beginning to think the whole edifice of reality TV probably needs examined quite seriously. Before reality TV and celebrity culture, now symbiotically linked, eats itself.

Firstly, is reality TV and, specifically, "Big Brother", really that terrible for society? According to this poll, people think it's only slightly better than the bomb and marginally worse than capital punishment. Nice to know we've got this in perspective. Jade Goody and her mother are slightly worse than Hiroshima. Rebecca Loos wanking off a pig on television is only slightly better than the hanging of Ruth Ellis.

My immediate knee-jerk reaction to reality TV before seeing this poll was that it was a dangerous addiction and possibly the antithesis of all that was beautiful - bear in mind I'd lost my life to two Summers that could've been spent frolicking in some sunlit house, full of wine, women and whipped cream (think an early episode of "Skins", but replace the teenagers with thirtysomethings trying not to dance to Duran Duran). Then I remembered one of the best TV programmes of last year was The Verdict - a reality TV series (Michael Portillo's verdict of The Verdict here). One of my must-sees every week is The F Word (and, before that, Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares). You can't really spin it any other way - that's reality TV as well. Frequently informative and often quite funny, but still reality TV. You could hardly call it a documentary.

So, is it "Big Brother" itself that used to be alive and kicking, but is now a shadow of it's former self? It being the granddaddy of them all, it was also the first to feature the concept of 'reality TV as gameshow'. Is this the source of it's current problems now? Certainly, it can't have helped that the basis of gameshows based on 'phone-in' voting is itself under attack. During one period last year, it was becoming almost dangerously trendy for a TV company to be taken to the cleaners by OFCOM for phone vote rigging; Ant & Dec, The X Factor, Richard & Judy, late night ITV quiz shows such as The Mint (although, considering most people are inebriated when they call in that last show, I don't think they needed to con viewers - most of them were conning themselves). Because of the scale of these phone vote scandals, it's been generally forgotten that one of the first major phone vote 'scandals' was "Big Brother" itself - although admittedly not for rigging votes per se, but rather for a 'plot twist'. Channel 4 and Endemol shot themselves in the foot when they were perceived to have changed their own rules by allowing the audience to vote previously ejected contestants back in to the "Big Brother" compound again. This was in the seventh series, but since the halcyon days of the third and fourth series, there were already suspicions that viewers were having less and less control over the 'gameshow' and it was becoming more like a game of masturbatory chess for the producers ('let's make our very own celebrity and mae Celebrity Big Brother series 5'). This was not necessarily true, but viewers perceptions were being changed, as the 'social experiment' level playing field became a producers' idiot celeb maker. What the heck is a social experiment anyway?

As a social psychology experiment, "Big Brother" made a pretty good stab at it in the first couple of series - even with the gameshow element intact. In fact, it even added a generated frisson, as what the viewer perceived from outside the social experiment was vastly different to those within the experiment itself. That first series had the exceedingly charming Nick Bateman perceived as just that, while the outside world had already christened him "Nasty Nick" and this was before his famous 'dirty trick' was discovered. But certainly by the third series, "Big Brother" was no longer the experiment; it was rapidly becoming the poster boy for Heat magazine. Plus, by the seventh series, any social psychology experiment that starts resembling Milgram experiments are in danger of breaking ethics (namely, voting people back in that are threatening other contestants; the equivalent of handing the audience an 'electric shock generator' to the gameshow participants). Yes, I know if I invoke Milgram, I come dangerously close to destroying my criticisms of "Big Brother" via Godwin's Law. Real psychology studies were scrutinised heavily by ethics committees in the 1950s and 1960s and changed a lot as a result. If the law put restrictions on such experiments in the name of science, why is reality television breaking the same rules in the name of entertainment? The objectification of contestants that took hold in later series was something that

I got badly affected by, particularly as I had the personal misfortune of witnessing an old school colleague going in and realised that he wasn't best mentally prepared for it (and this confirmed it). Within 10 minutes, I was screwing my heels into the floor and then had to switch off. A week later, I was scarcely surprised at the headlines claiming he was going to kill himself on the television. Rather alarmingly, a lot of people around me were clamouring for him to do it. Like old Milgram was more or less claiming, humans can quickly objectify people - particularly if they're shouting out in pain for acceptance from the inside of a box. Never let it be forgotten that 'seeking fame' is the 21st century embodiment of that most basic of human emotions; wanting to be accepted.

Okay, the argument goes, it's no longer a social psychology experiment, it's a survival of the fittest. It involves seeing people going through a series of endurance tests to bring out either their best or worst qualities (see previous paragraph about contestants threatening other contestants, plus The Daily Record's appalled reaction to Spitgate). Meanwhile, we can't really vote with any level of confidence, due to previous vote scandals. But, hey, it's something that you can have a flutter on, isn't it? You can lay bets on which housemate will be the next evicted and who is likely to be the winner - that introduces an element of studying the audience psychology, right? The trouble is, this isn't the Grand National, it's not a level playing field. As demonstrated in Charlie Brooker's microcosm of reality TV here, housemates can be rather viciously misrepresented.

Plus, a housemate can be the nicest person possible, such as Aisleyne (a winners campaign for Aisleyne here) and have 'dirty tricks' arbitrarily thrown at them by the producers for the purposes of spicing up televisual entertainment (Machiavellian score revealed, audition tapes shown to the house, throwing psychotic ex-housemates in Milgram-like, etc). Plus, rather alarmingly, even without dirty tricks, there's audience projection to think about as well, helped along by dodgy editing. "I don't like her because she gave someone a nasty look/I don't like her because she looks like she could be bitchy" while the VT editing giving those audience insecurities a nicy, shiny sharp edge. Several contestants have been misrepresented in the past, but Aisleyne is quite a good textbook example of this. I remember spending a Sunday cleaning my flat, with the 'live feed' on in the background,  as my own social experiment. I was curious to see how the 'highlights' show would be edited from the raw footage. What I saw on the feed was Aisleyne patiently being Agony Auntie to five other contestants, both as individuals and while they were doing a group choreography task. At the same time, she did the cooking and fed them a Sunday roast that she cooked herself; a multi-tasking Superwoman, if ever I saw one. I'm not sure what I expected when the 'highlights' show came on, but I certainly didn't foresee them portraying her as an isolated and cantankerous individual, which is indeed what the producers did. I was thankfully not the only one to have picked up on this, as Grace Dent references odd editing in this episode, as well as in another one (here and here). Journalist and cultural commentator, Paul Morley, tackled Endemol producer, Sharon Powers, for blatantly editing Aisleyne to look bad and Sharon didn't defend herself too well - so, from the horse's mouth, it's looking like a level playing field for all involved ain't going to happen.

After all that, what else does "Big Brother" offer to the viewer? A common argument for retaining the series is that it's a 'mirror to society'. This is perhaps the last refuge argument and one which I'm simultaneously sickened by and strangely in agreement with. The last celebrity series infamously started an international incident, when India realised that one of their Bollywood idols was being bullied by four stunning paragons of British bulldog boorishness, with future PM Gordon Brown being dragged into the scandal. Cut through the flash of the headline news and we got various serious discussions on the nature of racism being made in the companion TV shows (Paul Morley articulately described here how the 'mirror to society' is good, even if the means as to how we got there were horrific). Stunningly, a lot of people didn't really understand what racism actually was and that there could be degrees of it; plus, more importantly, there's always a context. Not exactly rocket science, but you'd be surprised at how many of the British public think racism is just about thugs shouting 'black bastard'. From something quite vile, "Big Brother" did surprisingly start becoming a force for good, as it forced a debate on an important societal issue, normally one that is glossed over in most media outlets. I should add that I do think the "granddaddy of reality TV" should continue to exist in some way, as the 'mirror to society' means we can also see genuinely interesting individuals on TV that couldn't be seen in any other format. As well as obviously including Aisleyne, Tourette's sufferer Pete Bennett has to be added to that list (other personal favourites are Dan Bryan, "Science" and Anna Nolan). But perhaps before someone is seriously harmed, a better 'mirror to society' would be the reality TV series I mentioned earlier; "The Verdict". Because most reality TV, and specifically "Big Brother", is not reality. It doesn't approximate anything that we do in our day-to-day lives, so any feeling of a 'soap opera' is fake anyway. Admittedly, "The Verdict" is based upon the human artifice of a courtroom, but it's a bit of artifice that most humans will be involved with in some way and it's a real situation. It's not a TV studio house with artificial tasks. Rather more interesting is that personality, conflict and violent difference of opinion (not to mention good old bitching) will still make an appearance in a reality version of "Twelve Angry Men". The sprinkling of celebrity adds the morphine for the Heat reader. There's a juicy crime in there. Plus, you get to learn something - and not in a patronisingly prescriptive way, because societal taboos get to be discussed naturally as part of a 'criminal case', rather than being forced by a diplomatic incident. Surely that's a better way to engage the viewer with reality TV than morbidly staring at a screen while someone has their face spat into?

Oh, just as an addendum, in case my criticisms on reality TV are perceived as cultural snobbery. One of the earlier forays into reality TV was Channel 4's "After Dark". It only struck me when I watched "The Culture Show" episode with the former "Big Brother" contestants. In the late 1980s, we watched (or a tiny minority of guffawing Guardian readers watched) large personalities being chucked into a room and seeing how their opinions played out. All of the chattering classes giggled at Oliver Reed wrestling a feminist writer to the ground. I rest my case that "reality TV" is for the so-called-proles. We're all guilty in the UK, regardless of colour, class or creed.

You can take the girl out of Glasgow...

Sharleen Spiteri Vs Paris Hilton

Since I've started writing this blog, it may have escaped some readers notice that I'm actually Glaswegian. Admittedly, someone who doesn't fit the prototypical Glasgow model; I have skin that is glowingly Mediterranean in origin, as opposed to white-turning-cyan. I've been told I speak a 'bit posh, ya bam'. But I'm totally proud of the city that produced Billy Connolly, deep-fried Mars Bars and several imaginative ways of claiming incapacity benefit. Nowadays, being Glaswegian is also tremendously trendy, particularly with the exposure of such respected artistes as John Hannah, David Tennant, Robert Carlyle and Robbie Coltrane; not to mention that it's produced such phenomenal contemporary bands like Franz Ferdinand, Mogwai, The Fratellis, Primal Scream and (the soon-to-be-ubiquitous, trust me) Glasvegas. It seems odd, therefore, to mention a fellow Glaswegian from a not particularly trendy band.

But Sharleen Spiteri from MOR band, Texas - oh my goodness, my opinion just rocketed of you. You may be the original pin-up girl for Mondeo Man (short dictionary description here). But my heart totally pounded with civic pride when I saw this classic description of an 'encounter' with that most pointless waste of flesh in the 21st century, Paris Hilton. Your new solo single out today sounds pretty good too. The thing that amuses me about this clip is that the audience's reaction is always premature, because there's always far more to come...


Rugby: Scotland vs France

I'm part-Scots, it speaks volumes about this match that I groaned in the first minute and was almost sobbing after 15 minutes.

I know it's an ancient British tradition that men and women, up and down the land, shout obscenities and advice at athletes that are at the very pinnacle of physical health and mental prowess, while we drink beer and balance snacks of cholesterol on beer bellies. But, I mean, honestly... are Scotland the only nation that can be the bookies favourites to win and still muff it up?

It also speaks volumes that, as a patriot, I've started placing money on games where I bet on the other team (I've only done it twice before, which is probably twice too many), so at least when Scotland lose, I have the consolation prize of William Hill handing me money. Oh dear...

I actually texted my dear friend, Buddhist Cop (for those new to my blog, I refer to my friends with 'nicknames', so as not to broadcast their identity to a global web community) and told her, about three quarters into the game, that I envied her religious faith. She could at least pray for a miracle and have hope. I'm atheist, so all I could do was watch a bunch of Scotsmen do really good individual impersonations of Charlie Chaplin. I'm supposed to be trying to get her tickets for the England Vs Scotland match in March. I'll get her two, but I'm not going with her - she can grab someone else to go along. Watching horror movies on TV is bad enough for me, watching a full-blown massacre on a pitch in front of me would be too much. I do realise that "the problem with English rugby is the England team" as my friend Antihippy told me. But I'm really not favouring the Scots after that travesty. Blimey.

I also have the added dissatisfaction that newly elected right-wing fucker, Sarkozy, has a tailor-made wedding present. Sob.