Archive for January, 2014

Questionable Time #86


questionable time 86 david dimbleby ken clarke dancing

Good morning Lemmings and are you feeling it? Are you feeling the warming glow of economic recovery and the promise of a better future? No? Why ever not? Oh, that’s right, because we’re still in a January that’s refusing to end, the sky appears to be falling in and all your carefully laid plans for smoking heavily in cars full of children have just been kyboshed by the busy bodies in their ivory duck houses. Gah! Truly it is the cruellest month! Right – lets stop all this moping about and get on with it. Onwards, to a very IT-orientated Questionable Time…

 

I feel like I’m writing this on Ken Clarke…

Remember back in 2008-ish when netbooks were the next big thing? Well I was one of the suckers who bought the hype and here I am 6 years later, tearing my hair out at an uncooperative oblong of cat hair clogged keys, unresponsive scripts and a rebooting process that takes around half-an-hour. In fact, it’s not even like I have to do this as I have a perfectly good desktop that doesn’t feel the need to constantly play silly buggers and even my phone is now quicker (by a factor of several million) than this hunk of wanton awkwardness – yet every week I go through the same ritual of starting the damn thing up, waiting for it to complain about something, closing it down again and then screaming as some piece of irremovable bloatware demands to be updated. Why? Why do I do this to myself? Because despite (or maybe because) of all its failings, this machine has personality and not just any old personality. No, this netbook is in every respect – except form factor – the silicon-based equivalent of Ken Clarke.

 

Let’s start with the booting up process: I press the on button, it makes noises that suggest it doesn’t take kindly to being woken up before arriving in that weird netherworld between the login and the desktop – just like Ken in the opening shot. Icons slowly start materialising on the right hand side of the task bar and fire off little pop ups to herald their arrival: ‘Windows has detected that you tried to change tax settings and isn’t very pleased’ says one and you immediately double-click the Firefox icon in the hope of resolving this issue only to find that the system was nowhere ready for such a strenuous activity. The egg timer appears, everything freezes and more pop-ups demand attention:

 

‘Unidentified pundits detected. Searching for drivers’

 

‘You are running low on patience, please save all unsaved work’

 

‘You appear to be trying to be trying to connect with the general public – Please check your connectivity settings’.

 

Ahh! Enough already! Eventually though things start to settle and the browser window finally springs to life. You open a few tabs on foreign crims, fire off a few emails about dredging and start to feel that you are actually in control of things. But then you get cocky: You click a link about smoking in cars and it opens a new window with a massive Flash banner in it – it’s Emma Smurthwaite and she’s just done the old switcheroo on your point about lobbyists. It’s all too much to deal with, the keyboard becomes unresponsive and the screen turns blue. Good night and God bless.

 

So that’s my netbook and it’s also Ken Clarke – a tired yet functional collection of idiosyncracies that you can’t easily reformat but have grown to love in a very counter intuitive way.

 

MS Thornberry: The OS that could have been…

I was going to compare Emily Thornberry to one of those massive Acer lappies that came out around the time of Windows Vista’s release but then thought ‘No, that’s not entirely fair’ because Vista was just plain bad and Thornberry is at least half-way competent. However, there is one thing that she shares with Vista and that’s her innate capacity to rub people up the wrong way – like when she got hoist on her own petard by refusing to have a firm opinion on a case study of her own making. In fact, that was a pretty reasonable thing to do as the very point of the case study was to highlight how difficult it is to have a firm opinion on delicate judicial proceedings but that didn’t matter – something about the way she said it just riled the crowd and they gave her a right old booing. Actually, maybe she’s more Windows 8 – a technically ok bit of software that will never be loved because it took away our Taskbar. Ok, Windows 8 she is.

 

IBM Oakeshott…

There’s no way Matthew Oakeshott is anything other than a giant corporate mainframe, probably originally built in the 50’s and programmed using some arcane language (‘Social Democracy’ I think) that no-one knows how to code in any more. There he sits, relentlessly churning out data on why we should tax wealth and I hope he continues to do so until his magnetic tapes degrade to the point of unreadability for it is a worthy endeavour indeed.

 

HP Littlewood…

‘Drudgery’. That’s the word that always pops into my head when I see Mark Littlewood – drudgery like using a locked-down Dell or HP on a corporate network. Sure, it can sync calendars and book rooms anywhere in the building but what if I want to play a cheeky round of Solitaire at lunchtime, eh? No, it’s just all a little grown up and unsmiling for me thank you very much. Now then, where’s my proxy list?

 

iSmurthwaite…

So then, what’s this shiny new array of bells and whistles that have the crowd all a-clapping? Why it’s iSmurthwaite, the latest bleeding edge iteration of cloud based synergistic solutions for all your current affairs needs. Like all the other iDevices, iSmurthwaite has much to offer – like high performance and a snappy UI – but I can’t help thinking that we’re probably paying just a little over the odds in order to look cool when there are much more functional alternatives about. Maybe I’ll upgrade when Ken finally calls it a day.

 

Tl;dr

 

Clarke: 5/10

 

Crashed

 

Thornberry: 4/10

 

(Had hopes) Dashed

 

Oakeshott: 6/10

 

(Probably has a frighteningly small amount of Level 1) Cache (Memory)

 

Littlewood: 4/10

 

(Would look interesting with a) ‘Tache

 

Smurthwaite: 6/10

 

(Did) Clash (much with Ken)

 

The Crowd: 7/10

 

(Sounded like they’d been on the) Lash

 

 

…And so our story ends. Oh wait, no it doesn’t because I forgot to work in this week’s pshop. It’s Ken and he’s adopting his usual position in the Commons (see Fig. 1).

 

ken clarke sleeping

Fig. 1

Right that’s it from me expect to say go check and out this t-shirt I designed – it’s GTA Coalition and I’m more than a little stoked with it.

 

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Questionable Time #85


questionable time 85 david dimbleby loader aliens

Good morning Lemmings and hold on to your hats because there’s just too much excitement going on here. Dundee. Four panelists. Half a show on Scottish independence and a man who got slightly confused as to whether you really do get £500 pounds if you vote one way or another – it truly is a thrill-seekers manifesto. So brace yourselves for impact Lemmings, this is going to be one wild ride.

 

Did I say ‘wild ride’? I think I actually meant ‘a slightly more subdued rehash of every Scottish independence episode we’ve ever had’….

…You know the deal: The Yes camp paint a picture of the sunlit uplands awaiting a newly independent Scotland, the No camp retaliate with a bleak canvas of the fog drenched lowlands that lie in store for a mutinous Caledonia while both side’s fan clubs clap obediently on command and use the word ‘scaremongering’ a lot. Yup, pretty exciting stuff!

 

Still, at least there was a subtle variation to the formula as the usual question of ‘Will it be Salmond or will it be Sturgeon for the SNP’ was rendered moot by the debut appearance of John Swinney, head of all things monetary and economic in the Scottish Parliament. Now so far as I can tell, Swinney takes most of his cues from the classic Salmond playbook (which basically means promise everyone everything and move quickly when the details get irksome) and he mostly does ok on this front – except for one thing: He can’t do The Knowing Look.

 

To the uninitiated, the Knowing Look is the thing that makes Alex Salmond so special and it all seems so simple on paper – you make pledges that sound completely unobtainable but instead of just releasing them into the wild and hoping they make it to safety in one piece you send them on their way with a twinkle in your eye that says ‘I know. Everything I just said sounds completely mental but trust me, I’ve got this covered’ (and in fairness to Salmond he usually does have it covered – or at least partially clad). John Swinney’s problem is that despite having an air of general likability and making a decent fist of bigging up the positives in independence, he just looks a little skittish when the facts start getting awkward. Take the part when some of the questions regarding the White Paper were raised (i.e. where’s the money?): This is the sort of situation where Salmond flutters those ‘Trust me, this is so crazy it might just work’ eyelashes at the crowd and everyone ends up going along with it because it just feels right. Swinney on the other hand simply doesn’t have that magic and when things start getting tricky his eyes suddenly begin to dart about, the tempo increased and it all just felt a little – well – wrong. Was it a deal breaker? Not really but by the same token it wasn’t a case of unalloyed triumph either.

 

We nearly had a proper good fight in the No camp… Nearly…

So both Ruth Davidson and Kezia Dugdale managed to set their tribal differences aside in the face of a common foe (no doubt aided by the main recipient of political woe this week being the absent Lib Dems) but it was a close run thing and there was a split second where it looked like it could all go very wrong. The pretext was about the recovery and both were bashing away at their party lines until their eyes met briefly then locked together for just a little too long, each set inviting the other to come and have a go if they think they’re hard enough. Alas it came to nothing but I reckon it would have been a good scrap as they’re both able panelists who are more than capable of fighting their own corners. Personally, my money would be on Davidson as I imagine being a kickboxing lesbian Scottish Tory involves quite a lot of standing up for yourself but I wouldn’t rule Kezia out either: For a QT first-timer she did well and she’s got a clear height advantage over Davidson. Anyway, it’s a shame it never came to pass but should either panelist feel like they need to satisfy their honour in the arena of single combat, I will more than happily officiate.

 

A Nearly Fight and some darting eyes? Is that it? Please tell me this gets better…

It does, thanks largely to Jim Sillars and not just because I couldn’t quite tell if he does genuinely believe that money grows on trees. No, while the impassioned tales of imperial decline and the zero tosses given about the Lord Rennard case were happy little affairs, I liked watching Jim because it reminded me that we used to have people like him in England – you know, authentic, unabashed socialists for whom politics is less of a game and more of an ache that they feel in their bones. I guess we still have a few of them kicking about – Dennis Skinner springs to mind – but most were either co-opted or quietly shuffled out of the spotlight by a Labour party that was desperate to impress the cool kids and couldn’t abide the thought of its cranky old uncles turning up at the disco. On the evidence of last night the reverse is true in Scotland as not only was Jim a hit with the crowd, the panel also showed him a great level of deference when it would have been very easy to dismiss him as a pedlar of last century’s monkeyshine. I’m into that. I’m into that almost as much as I’m into how Jim’s face looks like a blissed-out version of Alan Sugar’s (see Fig. 1).

 

jim-sillars-alan-sugar-gif

Fig. 1

Tl;dr

Swinney: 5/10

Slim

 

Davidson: 6/10

Prim

 

Dugdale: 6/10

Vim

 

Sillars: 7/10

(Full to the) Brim (of old school socialist thunder)

 

The Crowd: 6/10

(Would really help with the rhyming process if they were all called either) Jim, Tim (or) Kim…

 

Alright, so it wasn’t quite as dreary as I made out in the intro but still, I can’t say I’m in a terrible hurry to watch another Scottish independence episode, particularly if they’re going to run with the 4-on-the-panel format. But hey, what do I know?

 

Right, Norwich next week and you’ll pleased to know that I’ll still be in the dark on all current affairs thanks to Celebrity Big Brother being extended. Oh, and while we’re on the subject of CBB, remember how I said last week that one of the male contestants would end up pregnant? Well Lee Ryan from Blue ended up lactating last week. A coincidence? I think not…

 

Next week Lemmings, next week…

 

 

Questionable Time #84


questionable-time-84-david-dimbleby-hannibal-lecte

Good morning Lemmings and welcome to the time of year when my grip on all things political gets even more tenuous than usual. ‘Even more tenuous?’ you say, ‘how is that even possible?’ to which I say ‘Oh, it’s very possible. Super possible in fact’ and then explain that because of the presence of Celebrity Big Brother, my usual Newsnight viewing has been replaced with what can only be described as a ‘beautiful atrocity’. And thus I am even more in the dark than usual but am I going to let this stop me pretending otherwise? Am I hell. To Durham…

Don’t do this to me Grant…

You know when you have that weird chemical reaction to someone where you take one look at them and think to yourself ‘I know exactly what you’re all about and I don’t like it one little bit’? I get that with Grant Shapps. In spades. Some of this is a product of what can only be described as his rather ‘colourful’ business career but if I’m honest with myself it runs deeper than that: It’s that face – that face that speaks of a hundred classmates dobbed in, a thousand tales told and a million ‘It wasn’t me!’s – it just cuts through me like a knife.

So, given the above, I guess it’s a dead cert that Shapps is going to walk away from this write-up with a paltry clutch of marks and a fair helping of ignominy right? Well, much though I’d love for that to happen I have to grudgingly confess that he actually did rather well and walked away from a Northern venue not only in one piece but also relatively unbruised. And how did he do that? With his usual combination of buzzwords (“hardworking people”, “the mess we inherited”, “GREECE!”) shoehorned into a boilerplate narrative and backed with a willingness to use his Shocked and Appalled face whenever the Red Team dare to call shenanigans on him. Somehow, this combination managed to offset that grin of his that just screams “I’M ON THE BLAG!” and he made it to the end of the show sitting relatively pretty, all of which strikes me as terribly upsetting.

No bother though… If there’s one thing that you can count on with Shapps it’s that the law of averages will eventually catch up with him. Well, either him or Michael Green…

Mary, Mary, quite single-minded and confrontational…

A game of two halves is to be had here: On the one hand Mary Creagh demonstrated that there’s a lot to be said for relentlessly hammering away with a very stern face and a belly full of molten lava – mainly because it looks like the sort of thing we think we want in an MP – and on this front she did very well. However, this approach is not without its downsides, the most obvious being that it also makes you look like the sort of person who you really wouldn’t want to spend too much time with because it would just be a bit of a grind. The parts where she tried to open with a joke was instructive on this front: She’d just finished a full-on frontal assault at the Blue Team’s position and kicked off the next question with a joke that was so neither here or nor there that I can’t even remember it. Anyway, it wasn’t the joke itself that was the problem, it was the sudden change in velocity from all-guns-blazing to laid-back-tracky-bottoms that made it look so unnatural and nearly sent her through the current-affairs windscreen. I know Mary, I know, you think you’re just giving us what we want but you’re not: You’re giving us what we think we want and being the feckless creatures we are what we think we want is entirely different from what we actually want. And what do we actually want? Politicians who we can imagine ourselves having a pint with. Just ask Nigel Farage.

Nice to see Tim Farron’s finally giving up pretending…

I must confess that it’s been rather fun watching Tim Farron’s transition from Grudging Cog in Coalition Wheel to Willfully Awkward Spanner in Works over the last couple of years and last night’s performance seemed to confirm that his metamorphosis is now complete: Tim can’t even be bothered going through the motions of pretending to get on with the Tories any more. No, instead we got a parade of pre-2010 LibDem touchstones all delivered in that pleasingly ordinary way that makes me want to have a pint with him. Alright, so it wouldn’t be a big night out. We’d probably share a packet of crisps and maybe think about a game of pool before silently reconsidering on account of the latent awkwardness of having only just met each other. The same goes with the taxi: I’m alright Tim, it would be out of your way and I fancy the walk. Yeah, you too… See you soon no doubt.

See Mary? That’s what we actually want.

I love the idea of John Sentamu…

…You know, the snappily dressed (see Fig. 1), dog collar cutting and York Minster camping instrument of divine intervention? That’s the John Sentamu I want to see and to a certain extent he does deliver, what with that mixture of obvious passion and wisened tone. However, it’s the content that lets it down because it’s all so bloody vague – even by CoE standards. Mind you he, did try to crack a joke at one point and you’d have to have a heart of stone not to be at least a little tickled by the spectacle of a bishop trying to crack a joke. With that in mind I hereby award him fair-to-middling marks.

john-sentamu-gif

Fig. 1

It was all going so well for JHB…

…Right up until the point she said “I agree with UKIP”. I just sort of zoned out after that and spent the remaining time wondering what was happening in Celebrity Big Brother. That’s a point, what has been happening in Celebrity Big Brother? Given everything that’s transpired so far I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re all pregnant by now, men included.

Tl:dr

Shapps: 6/10

Up

Creagh: 5/10

Down

Farron: 7/10

Left

Hartley-Brewer: 5/10

Right

Sentamu: 5/10

Down, Down Right, Right, Hard Punch

The Crowd: 5/10

Hardooken!

So there you go. Apologies for the lateness today… I’ve been rather distracted by some cyber-clowns and all the entailed hassle. Hopefully regular service will resume for the next instalment of Questionable Time.

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Questionable Time #83


questionable time 83 david dimbleby toes

Good morning Lemmings and assuming you and your homestead haven’t fallen victim to the Great Sogginess (it used to be called ‘Christmas’), welcome back to Questionable Time. So, where are we? What’s going on? Who are these people? Why is that bald man waving a credit card around and when did Lewisham became the QT equivalent of a squat party? Well, I’d be lying if I said I knew but let’s just pretend that I do and indulge in some wild speculation.

Letdown #1: It makes me sad when Nad isn’t that mad…

…Because there’s so much potential there that it just seems like a crying shame when she makes it through an hour without saying something completely beyond the pale. It’s also especially galling in this instance as her opening (complete with grumpy chunterings about how she had to go first) was so off the Blue Team’s message that she looked like a shoe-in for a meltdown. Proposed Tory plans for the welfare state? Codswallop and balderdash! The mansion tax? Bloody good idea! Whose side are you actually on Nad? I have no idea! Perhaps aware that this wasn’t the best way to curry favour with her colleagues she then tried to make up for it by appending the phrase “Vote Conservative!” to the back-end of every sentence she uttered in the immigration question but her new-found enthusiasm sounded a little odd next to content that might as well have been lifted straight from UKIP manifesto (and by ‘manifesto’ I actually mean a colouring book where the only available colour is white).

So that bade well right? She was on the Mel-P trajectory and all that was really needed was a final push in order to truly unleash the crazy. The problem was that the final push never came and in truth, it never does on QT because despite all the headlines and bluster Nadine is essentially quite normal. “Normal?” you say “The woman who ate sheep’s testicles in the jungle and wrote an official looking blog that later turned out to be “70% fiction”? This is normal now?”. Well, alright the testicles thing was pretty weird but if you look at her background she really is just a regular person with a clutch of fairly normal right-wing values who grew up in common-garden circumstances and held down a standard issue job. What makes her look odd is the company she keeps – the Blue Team don’t do ‘normal’ in the literal sense of the word so she always ends up looking like the oddest clam on the beach when in fact it’s actually the other way round.

Anyway, all this is by-the-by as the end result is still the same: Rather than going off the handle, Dorries sort of held it together in a somewhat tetchy fashion and made it to the end without incensing everyone in a ten-mile radius. Two miles maybe, but the full ten? Disappointingly, no.

Letdown #2: Norm is also normal.

So it turns out that Norman Baker – the Lib Dem’s conspiracy theorist in chief who inexplicably landed in the Home Office after poor old Jeremy Brown and his panda were told to vacate the premises for no good reason whatsoever – is in a band. My initial reaction to this discovery was along the lines of ‘please say it’s some widdly-widdly Rush-like space noodling outfit’ but again my hopes have been dashed. No, after spending an afternoon where I effectively doubled The Reform Club’s Youtube views it’s my sad duty to report that far from belonging to some avant-garde exercise in sounds that only dolphins can hear, Norm’s band are instead the sort of pub rock ensemble that requires the audience to wear waistcoats, make a fuss about real ale and trade anecdotes about how they once saw Van Morrision arguing with a bus stop (see Fig. 1).

norman baker geddy lee

Fig. 1

I bring this up because like Dorries, Baker should – what with his clutch of niche causes and nose for the untoward – be a QT star, yet his performance was so quietly mundane that you often struggled to remember that he was actually there. I guess I shouldn’t be too hard on him as his whole appointment to the Home Office does smack of an exercise in giving him enough rope to hang himself with but really Norm, a little more weird wouldn’t go amiss.

Paul Nuttall and Lewisham: A match made somewhere other than Heaven.

UKIP seemed to be on to a winner during the last run of QT: Put the frighteningly sane Dianne James on whenever it’s a southern based marginal, Nuttall for anything north of Stafford that’s near a motorway and Farage for all other occasions. It was working because Nuttall’s brand of ‘ordinary bloke saying what we’re all thinking’ works really well in those towns which would never in a million years vote Tory yet have also fallen spectacuarly out of love with the Red Team (your Blackburns, Darwins and Stokes). But the same trick doesn’t work when you transpose it to screamingly Right On and cosmopolitan Lewisham. No, you just end up looking like that weird guy who a friend brought to your birthday party and then promptly abandoned when he started shouting about Romanians. Hard luck Paul, back up the M6 you go…

Where’s this Chuka been all my life?

Another week, another chance for me to wheel out my standard charge sheet against Chuka Umunna – mainly that everything he says comes across as stilted, over-rehearsed and lacking any real fire – except that I’m not going to this week. Instead I’m going to give the him a gold star for acting like an actual human being with his response to the Mark Duggan question. It was great – thoughtful, considered and most of all genuine. True, this was his episode to throw away given just how bloody tribal the Lewisham crowd are and there were periods where he lapsed back into his default position of regurgitating the latest policy brief but I’m going let that slide if only because it was nice to see that he is capable of displaying tangible emotions rather than his regular schtick of rhetorical box ticking.

And the winner of Best Newcomer 2014 goes to…

…Susie Boniface, aka the Fleet Street Fox. Alright, so it’s not exactly a crowded field when it comes to dishing out that award but her factual ducks were presented in a tidy row, the delivery was firm without being self-righteous and she really did make Paul Nuttall look like a bit of a tit. Winner winner chicken dinner!

Tl;dr

Baker: (Sub)dued

4/10

Dorries: (Less) booed (than expected)

4/10

Umunna: (Judged the) Mood (just right)

7/10

Nuttall: (Is) Screwed (south of the Potteries)

4/10

Boniface: (Is clearly a) Shrewd (cookie)

8/10

The Crowd: (Spend most of their time in the) Nude?

5/10

And so our story ends but not before I have a slight dig at the crowd for giving the Biased BBC brigade enough ammunition to keep them in bitter sounding blog posts for the next year. Oh well. Can’t have it all I guess. Right, I’m off to quietly weep about how few people want to buy t-shirts in January. Seriously guys, buy t-shirts… They’ll be the only dry clothes you get until at least August.

Next week Lemmings, next week…


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