Archive for May, 2012

Questionable Time #29


questionable time 29 david dimbleby weasles ripped my flesh

Good morning Lemmings and a slight change of plan today thanks to some unforseen circumstances. You see the thing is that when I usually turn in on a Thursday night there tends to at least be some dull flicker of inspiration lurking in the recess of my mind of what line I’m going to take the next day but last night proved to be an exception to this rule. No, instead I went to bed with a head that was essentially a yawning vacuum of nothingness and 8 hours of sleep has done precisely zero to rectify this situation. I am without opinion, lost in a featureless desert of zilch and unsettled by the creative squalor caused by a poverty of ideas. And why would this be? I reckon that one or more of the following may to blame…

The show was just a bit… meh.

Come on, admit it: Deep down we all know that Question Time is basically panto with a slightly elevated reading age and what does every panto need? Goodies and baddies. Unfortunately there was no clear hero or villain amongst the political panelists (Peter Hain seemed happy to take it a little easy now that he’s resigned from the frontline while Marie Miller wisely decided to stick rigidly to her  brief and Leanne Wood just said Plaidy things that get Plaidy claps in Plaidy Wales) so I was banking on Kelvin MacKenzie and John O’Farrell to fill the Wicked Stepmother/Cinderella roles. Initially this seemed to go to plan as MacKenzie got all sweaty and ranty about this and that but I later found myself actually agreeing with him on the alcohol question and that makes him a rather ineffective Wicked Stepmother. Similarly, O’Farrell got to showcase some good lines but I always find it a little jarring when a 5th panelist has a clear party allegiance. I don’t mind it when they have clear views that may run in concordance with a particular party line but I find it hard to root for Cinderella when Cinderella is a fully paid up member of the Downtrodden Domestic Workers Union. It doesn’t exactly make for underdog status and underdogs are what good panto is all about. So yeah, there wasn’t much to be had from this bunch.

I pine for a Grexit…

I’ve found myself in an unhappy predicament over the last four years: I’ve boned up on economics, read a ton of books with complicated titles and have arrived at the inescapable conclusion that something big and nasty has to happen as the current system is just too knackered to stagger on much longer. Naturally I’m not overly keen on big and nasty events but I will say this: A full-on, pant-shitting crisis is looking increasingly preferable to going over the same old ground that we’ve done to death over the last four years. Seriously, I find myself consciously inviting disaster because I’m just so bored of going through the same charade of ‘yes, everything is totally buggered and no, no-one’s got a clue what to do about it’. So just hurry up Greece and do something spectacular because I can’t take the suspense any more. Default and default quickly otherwise Question Time is simply going to continue being Aren’t We All Glad We Didn’t Join The Euro Time and that does not good telly make.

Just what the hell happened to Brian May?

So QT has a shiny new website and this shiny new website has spent the last few days loudly proclaiming that Queen guitarist Brian May was going to be on the show this week (in fact it still does at the time of writing). This was something I was quite looking forward to as Brian May is an oddball of epic proportions and I considered it highly likely that he would say some very weird things about some very weird subject matters. However, the chief reason for my angst is that I spent way too much time on Wednesday night photoshopping his hair on to all the panelists’ heads (see Fig. 1) and I feel cheated by his non-attendance.

brian-may-question-time-hair-gif

Fig. 1

Yeah yeah yeah, I know what you’re thinking – ‘So what? It’s just a stupid .gif that looks like it was put together in a matter of minutes’ – but let me ask you this: Have you seen Brian May’s hair? Have you even the faintest idea of how difficult it is to cut all those absurd little tendrils of wiry craziness out? No? Well it’s a bloody nightmare and one that nearly pushed me over the edge (note to anyone who may be vaguely interested: The Colour Range tool is your friend). Consequently I was in a bad mood from the get go and spent most of the evening chuntering menacingly about how untrustworthy badger loving astrophysicists who collect Victorian stereophotographs are rather than watching the show with an eye to putting together something halfway decent the next day. Basically, it’s all Brian May’s fault.

Tl;dr

Hain: 5/10

Meh…

Miller: 5/10

Bleh…

Wood: 5/10

Feh…

MacKenzie: 5/10

Peh…

O’Farrell: 5/10

Geh…

The Crowd: 5/10

Pleh…

Brian May: 0/10

HAS STUPID HAIR

So there you go, not a great deal of fun to be had there and to add insult to injury there won’t be any Questionable Time next week either. No, I’m afraid that you’ll have to struggle on without me as I’m off to Berlin to see whether a man can survive on a purely wurst based diet for a week. That, and I also plan to indulge in a spot of Eurovision hooliganism. Come on Humperdink! This is our moment! Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of overwrought crooning!

In a couple of weeks Lemmings, in a couple of weeks…

Questionable Time #28


questionable time 28 david dimbleby nevermind

Good morning Lemmings and thank your lucky stars I’m writing this at all, tempted as I was to slack it off and park myself in front of the Leveson Inquiry all day. Yeah, I know it’s pretty sad that my idea of a good time is to watch in-depth legal proceedings but it’s the closest thing I have to ‘sport’ in my life. Still, let’s make the best we can of it, put on our Friday best and crank up the Questionable Time. Here’s what we learned:

 

Oldham always sets my teeth on edge.

There are some towns that know what they are about and once-upon-a-time this was the case for Oldham: It was about cotton. Sadly, it turned out that cotton is not the most faithful of suitors and since it upped-sticks for more distant shores Oldham has been left scratching its head about where it fits into the scheme of things – a predicament only made worse by the fact that the town in question is built on a series of demographic fault lines. Some of this is down to physical geography: Oldham finds itself caught between the heave of cosmopolitan Manchester to the west and ho of the provincial Pennines to the east but the main problem comes from the fact it contains two very distinct communities who’ve never quite managed to, well, make a proper go of it with each other. That these two entities have been rubbing uncomfortably up against each other is nothing new but it wasn’t so much of a problem when the cracks could be papered over with a plentiful supply of jobs. However the brutal truth is that there aren’t very many jobs in Oldham nor have there been for a very long time. Given the above, what could be more emotionally charged than a question about race and child abuse? I reached for my tin hat…

 

Thankfully it seems that – despite a few tense moments – cooler heads prevailed and rather than a spittle-flecked punch-up we actually saw quite a searching debate from the crowd last night. Sure, I nearly jumped behind the sofa when I heard the dread phrase ‘I’m not a racist but…’ and the incident with the vicar (note to vicars everywhere: Never use the words ‘lust’ and ‘children’ within 500 miles of each other) looked like it could have gone very sideways, very quickly but by and large things remained mostly civil. That’s a pretty good sign given that only three or four years ago you could guarantee to see at least one person making clear their intention to vote for the BNP. So well done Oldham, it’s still not an entirely comfortable thing to watch you guys trying to hash things out but it’s getting there. Keep it up.

 

I’m not entirely sure what Chris Bryant was up to.

I like Chris Bryant. He’s rhetorically athletic, does a good line in sincerity and frequently looks like he’s up to no good, all of which makes him a solid QT performer and out of all the political panelist he put in the best turn last night. However, there were a couple of flies in the ointment, one being that his balance got jiggered in the home straight when an otherwise innocuous looking member of the audience accused him of looking smug, the other being the weird tension between himself and Lord Oakeshott. Now I’m no political strategist but if I had been Bryant my game plan would have been pretty simple: Oakeshott is clearly not on board with this coalition business and it looks increasingly likely that he’s going to go outright rogue in the foreseeable future. Consequently all I have to do is make it easy for him to plant a knife squarely between the shoulders of government, sit back and enjoy the fireworks. As it happens, Oakeshott didn’t need any external encouragement to start getting busy with the sedition and while he merrily poured scorn on his notional partners in government all that Bryant really needed to do was lay down a bit of suppressing fire to aid him in this endeavour. But he didn’t. In fact, rather than lending him assistance towards their shared end Bryant took it upon himself to have a pop at Oakeshott who then retaliated in kind by bringing up the matter of Labour’s economic record. I don’t know, it may be that they just genuinely don’t like each other or that Labour really are hellbent on the humbling of the Lib Dems but I can’t help thinking that this was a bit of a tactical blunder and one which took the sheen off an otherwise polished performance. Still, at least Bryant can take solace in the fact that he’s escaped being photoshopped this week. He just makes it too easy. There’s no challenge when the source material is this good.

 

And the rest of them?

First off, Mary Beard totally gets how to do the 5th panelist thing and it’s not rocket science as to how she does it. It’s based around two key ingredients: Honesty and sticking to what you know. Granted, the honesty component is contingent on having a reasonable outlook on life (try as might I can’t exactly envisage a clamour for more honesty from David Starkey) but providing it looks like you believe what you’re saying, you’re half way there. However, honesty counts for nothing if the audience ever get wind of the fact that you may be trying to blag something you don’t really know about so it’s imperative that you pick your battles. Mary Beard does all of the above (‘I know nothing about economics but neither do you’) and it works brilliantly, especially when political panelists stray into her pet territory of Roman history (what were you doing Oakeshott?! Had you lost your mind?!). That, and looking like a female wizard doesn’t harm the cause either.

 

The same can’t really be said for Caroline Spelman who is unfortunately hobbled by her innate jauntiness (her picture on the pre-election Tory website is a masterclass in jaunt. See Fig. 1). Now I don’t have a problem with jaunt per se (in fact I’d go so far as to declare myself a fan of jaunt) but Spelman’s jaunt is a weird form of jaunt. It’s more muted than regular jaunt and seems to be a cover for the fact that she’s actually not sure of what to do in any given situation – like the chairperson of a village fête trying to explain away the rain. Still, at least she actually appeared to be awake unlike Peter Oborne who spent the first half of the show doing that scrunched-up eyes thing and taking us round the houses as he slowly spluttered into life. The word ‘Europe’ seemed to jolt him violently back into consciousness later on but his whole performance had this sort of juddering quality to it that I found to be quite unsettling. Oh, and the bit where Dimbers accused Spelman of being racist after she made fun of his tie? Yeah, that was nice.

caroline-spelman-projected-expectations-gif

Fig. 1

 

Tl;dr

Spelman: 4/10

(Likes the word) ‘Thrift’

 

Bryant: 6/10

(Looked a) Gift (horse in the mouth)

 

Oakeshott: 5/10

(Seemed rather) Miffed

 

Oborne: 5/10

Adrift

 

Beard: 7/10

Swift(ly carried the day)

 

The Crowd: 7/10

(Did much to up)Lift (me).

 

Aaaaaaaaand that’s that. As is intermittently customary here’s a quick reminder that you can follow Questionable Time on both Twitter and Facebook should ever feel inclined to do so. Now if you’ll excuse me I really must get down to some Levesoning. I know, I know… How can one man lead a life so packed with action and adventure? Well somehow he does.

 

Next week Lemmings, next week…

 

PS: Bonus photoshop! I made a card for Clintons (see Fig. 2)!

clintons cards sorry you've gone into administration

Fig. 2

Questionable Time #27


questionable time 27 david dimbleby che

Good morning Lemmings and pardon my yawns – I stayed up well beyond my bedtime last night, suckered in as I was by the local elections. Just in case you were wondering it wasn’t really the politics I was interested in (although watching Warsi stick her foot in it was pretty entertaining) as a trouncing for the coalition seemed like a foregone conclusion. No, instead it was graphs that did for me – or more precisely the combination of graphs and maps. It’s my kryptonite. Anyhoo, that’s about the long and short of that and you don’t come here to learn about my weird little psephological fetishes – at least I don’t think you do – so let’s get on with some Questionable Timing. Here’s what we learned.

Iain Duncan Smith’s face is incapable of lying.

I’ve noted in the past how IDS has this strange innocence about him but I don’t think I realised just how incapable he is of bluffing until last night. It’s his face: Those sad, sad eyes crowned as they are by those funny little demi-eyebrows. They’re like a direct line to whatever is going on inside that perplexing head of his. Now this in itself isn’t that remarkable as all politicians have certain tells (like that regal shade of crimson that David Cameron turns when he’s jolly angry about some jumped-up little chap on the opposite benches or that Cheshire Cat-like grin that Ed Balls does when he’s lying his face off) but the emotions that IDS’s face cannot but help to broadcast are remarkable because they give us a clue about how his mind operates. And how would that be? Well, from the evidence on display last night I can only conclude that he’s a man with an emotional repertoire that belongs to a different age or if we’re being more precise, the 1950’s.

Allow me to explain: When I was watching IDS last night his face did things that most faces do but the sentiments it conveyed were unique to the man in question. For example, he spent most of the first half of the show with his ‘eyebrows’ cocked down at the edges and up in the centre while his lips sucked in on themselves. If I saw this look on a generic face I would say that the person in question was ‘anxious’ or ‘apprehensive’. However, when IDS does it the word that pops into my head is ‘squiffy’. Similarly, when someone’s eyebrows reverse their polarity from their above state (so sides out, middle in) and their mouth sets into a scowl I tend to think that their owner is ‘angry’ or ‘pissed off’. Not with Duncan Smith, uh-uh… He looks ‘cross’.The list goes on: Regular person looks ‘happy’, IDS looks ‘gay’ (in the old-fashioned ‘My, isn’t this workhouse full of toiling urchins a gay sight to behold’). Regular person looks ‘odd’, IDS looks ‘skew-whiff’. Regular person looks ‘excited’, IDS looks ‘all aflutter’. You get the picture.

Anyway, the long and short of all this is that I can’t really give you an objective analysis of anything that he actually said because I was simply too entranced by watching the spirit of a Macmillan-era verger being channelled through the body of a 21st century cabinet minister. In fact, I’d like to go one further than that: I will never be able to give IDS an objective score because he’s just too bloody fascinating. As a consequence, he will no longer receive a numerical mark at the end of each report and will instead be assigned the punctuation mark that I think best describes the experience of watching him. Now here’s a .gif I made of him playing with an imaginary cube (see Fig. 1).

iain-duncan-smith-cube-gif

Fig. 1

I’ve finally realised that I don’t actually know what Harriet Harman does.

Have you ever had one of those weird moments when you’re thinking about someone you’ve known for years and realise that you don’t actually know what they do for a living? Well I had one of those with Harriet Harman last night. It’s not that she doesn’t do anything – she’s been a central figure in the Labour party for as long as I can remember and is regularly on our TV screens – but if push-came-to-shove and I was forced to cite an example of some specific action she was responsible for I’d be completely flummoxed. Given this startling realisation I took it upon myself to have a quick read up on her past appointments and with the exception of some rather solid pre-’97 shadow roles (as well as a brief period as Secretary of State for Social Security) all of her jobs in government have been a little, well, wanky. Take for example some of the following: Lord Privy Seal, Solicitor General and Labour Party Chair. All of these are roles which are undoubtedly important and have impressive sounding titles but they give us no clue as to what such a job actually entails. Similarly, when she’s found herself in positions with titles that let us know what they are actually about I still find that they are the ones that people really care don’t much for (lets face it, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport sounds about as profound as Minister for Interior Design, except when said minister may or may not have been up to his neck in shenanigans).

None of the above means to say that I have anything against Harman as I generally think she’s a pretty able performer and the fact that she inspires such loathing from the Daily Mail means that she must be doing something right, but I still can’t get past the fact that I’m unable to identify her purpose (an affliction also suffered by Frances Maude and John Prescott). Still, she’s not quite as bewildering as IDS so Harman can remain on the numerical scoring system… For now…

The Tories are rattled on the economy.

And well they may be given the events of the last two weeks. However, the really telling thing is not how they try to explain their approach to all matters fiscal but how they try to frame Labour’s. Over the past two years this has involved the relentless drum beat of ‘all you guys want to do is spend, spend, spend like lunatics’ but last night saw the emergence of a new line: Labour are ‘deficit controllers’. As to why they’re taking this line is a mystery to me as ‘deficit controller’ doesn’t actually sound that bad-a-thing (it’s hardly ‘J’accuse!’) but the fact that they’ve had to bin what was up until now a pretty successful stick to beat the Red Team with is interesting. I don’t know, maybe it was just that IDS was on some lone mission but I suspect it runs deeper than that. Watch this space Lemmings.

And the rest of ’em?

Ok, I’ll be honest, I couldn’t really get behind this episode. In its defence, the crowd were pretty sparky (I loved the grammar school boy of yore who had been sent 30 years into the future to defend the rights of ‘hard working people in the financial sector’) and the last 20 minutes on the economy had some decent stuff in but the following put the dampeners on it for me:

1: I grow weary of entrepreneurs equating every single problem in this world to the fact that the world is not friendly enough to entrepreneurs. Yeah, I get it… You guys think that making money is a pretty big deal but while I don’t know a lot of firemen, I’m pretty sure that they don’t equate every problem in this world to the existence of fire. Having said that, I’m inclined to let Theo Paphitis off the hook a little as he appears to be congenitally mischievous.

2 : Ming Campbell is still doing that thing where he looks really surprised to be on Question Time, almost as if he was supposed to be doing something else but got lost and just wandered into the studio.

3: Inclined as I am to agree with much of what Mark Serwotka has to say I just can’t help thinking that he sounds a little, well, smug.

All of which adds up to this:

Tl;dr

IDS: ~

(By) Jingo (he’s an odd puppy)

Harman: 5/10

(Would make quite a convincing) Flamingo (if spray painted pink and covered in feather).

Campbell: 5/10

(Is looking like the Lib Dems’) Ringo

Prophitis: 6/10

(Speaks the) Lingo (of money)

Serwotka: 5/10

(Probably likes to) Tingo

(Supplemental brackets: If you’ve never come across the word ‘Tingo’, please, please click the link… It’s possibly my favourite word ever, closely followed by this one)

The Crowd: 7/10

(May have had their babies stolen by) Dingo(s)?

So there you go, a so-so affair that was the start of a very long evening for poor old Dimbers. That’s it from me, I’m off to do the washing up and wonder why my better half has used an exclamation mark on the calendar where it says ‘Green Bin Day!’. I mean c’mon, I realise Green Bin Day doesn’t come around that often but is it really that exciting? I must get to the bottom of this.

Next week Lemmings, next week…


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