Posts Tagged 'Benjamin Zephaniah'

Questionable Time #77


questionable time 77 david dimbleby

Good morning Lemmings and where do we find ourselves on the one week where I actually wanted QT to be in Scotland? Stranded in the flatlands of Lincolnshire, that’s bloody where. Still, considering this is possibly the first show in the current run where there’s been nary a mention of utility bills I shall suck this puddle of iniquitous happenstance up with good grace and go about my work without rancour. Alright, so there might be a little bit of rancour but that’s just par for the course. Off we go…

I don’t practice Santeria, I ain’t got no crystal ball…

…But if I was ever to need a conduit to the Land of the Dead it would be Anna Soubry who I’d turn to based entirely on the remarkable job she did last night in channelling the spirit of the late Margaret Thatcher. It was an eerie spectacle: Soubry, still smarting from her endearingly ramshackle tumble through the first question suddenly fell into a trance-like state as Farage was getting busy putting the frighteners about. Arguments and ill-tempered exchanges flourished with both panelists and audience taking umbrage with one another yet Soubry remained hunched in silence, eyes fixed on an invisible point in infinity. “Over to you, Anna Soubry” came the call and then a pause as her head slowly raised to reveal gaping black holes where eyes should have been before rotating through a full 360 degrees.

They come here to WORK. They come here to do JOBS”

A chill descended on the studio as that ominous, just-a-little-too-long pause at the start of each sentence, that crawling slow delivery, that emphatic emphasis on the last word started to fire off flickers of recognition in the minds of all those present. Wait a second… I know who that sounds like… It’s… Oh Jesus no… The Iron Lady has cheated death!

Alright, so that might have been a slight exaggeration as it was actually more like a plummy sounding woman trying to do an impression of a woman who went out of her way to sound very plummy but the similarities were unmistakable – uncanny even – and my suspicion is that this is what Anna Soubry does when she knows she’s in a tight spot: She shuts her eyes, clenches her fists as tight as she can and keeps repeating “What would Maggie do? What would Maggie do? What would Maggie do?” over and over until her inner-Thatcher comes and rescues her. Given that I’m not exactly a fan of the late-PM, you’d think I’d view this as an undesirable trait but in fact I’ve grown to quite like it because it’s like a self negating-prophesy. Think about it, what would Maggie do? Well, she definitely wouldn’t be asking anyone for advice because she’d already know with horrifying certainty exactly what it was she wanted to do in the first place. I also have to admit that weird as it was, Soubry’s little voodoo ceremony actually turned out rather well and that’s the thing about Soubry – although she quite often buggers things up on QT she has a knack of shambling through things in a pleasingly game sort of way… And that, dear Lemmings, is definitely not what Maggie would do.

I hear music when I see Emily Thornberry…

…Not celestial choirs or anything like that but there are two tracks that pop into my head when I see her. The first is Foghat’s Slow Ride and I hear this when she’s doing well – you know, like when her voice goes all buttery and everything she says sounds mellow and reasonable. The second song however is Screeching Weasel’s Breaking Point and I hear this whenever she starts to get grumpy – you know, like when she does the rolly eye thing and everything she says sounds sarky and sanctimonious. Happily for Emily I’m pleased to report that we had a full evening of Slow Ride – not least on account of the unspoken truce between Teams Red and Blue in the face of the Garish Yellow and Purple Team– but I won’t go quite as far in my praise as the author of this text I received during the show did (see Fig. 1).

Fig. 2

Fig. 2

All those wishing to chip into the Bet Against Uglymonkey Fund, please make yourselves known by way of the comments box.

Nigel’s playing for keepsies…

So we’ve all become quite accustomed to the cock-a-hoop/waggy-tailed/I-can’t-believe-I’m-getting-away-with-it Farage of late and that’s been a fun exercise in both mischief and farce, not least because no-one (except Michael Crick) has got hurt and it all just feels like mid-term tomfoolery. However all good things come to an end and it appears we are now stuck with a much more hard-headed, composed and actually rather steely Farage who’s up to his old tricks of selling crazy to Middle England (see Fig. 2). The most worrying bit is how well he managed to keep it all together last night – no getting carried away with it all, no talking himself into a corner – not to mention the fact that there was clearly a big appetite for the rather bitter dish he was serving. It was also probably his least fun appearance to date and I’m wondering how long that can be sustained – could we tolerate a ‘sensible’ Farage and everything that entails? I suspect not.

nigel farage the shining

Fig. 2

And the remainder?

I should tell Benjamin Zephaniah off for never really answering questions and trading in the vaguest of vagaries but who am I kidding? Like I could find it in my heart to go to town on clearly the nicest man in the whole world. As for Vicky Pryce, well what to make of her? She likes numbers – that was made pretty clear from the outset – and she also likes swallowing very hard mid-sentence. However, the bit that got me was the anecdote about the woman in the burqa eating an egg and how much that totally blew her mind. An egg! Eating it! In a burqa! Vicky Pryce: She’s seen things you wouldn’t believe…

Tl;dr

Soubry: 6/10

(Is very) Game

Thornberry: 7/10

(Deserves modest) Acclaim

Farage: 5/10

(Managed to) Blame (the EU for just about everything again)

Zephaniah: 6/10

(Did the) Same (things as he always does in the same lovely way)

Pryce: 5/10

(Did) Exclaim (much bewilderment at eggs and burqas)

The Crowd: 6/10

(Are fans of so-hot-right-now Californian trio) Haim

Well, that was right old school, what with the wall-to-wall talk on immigration. I guess it makes a change from gas bills though. Now, just so you know, I’m not going to be here next week but in a Questionable Time first I will have someone standing in for me. Her name’s Elizabeth, she’s the brains behind the consistently chucklesome Cones Hotline and she’ll be at the helm for next week’s nautical little jaunt to Pompey. Bud-a-bup-bup-bup-budda-budda-budda-bup (to the confused, that’s the theme from Blue Peter… It just felt appropriate…)!

Sort of next week Lemmings… Sort of…

Questionable Time #37


questionable time 37 david dimbleby grant shapps caroline flint zephaniah hair plus flag

Good morning Lemmings and welcome back to this, Our Hour of Reckoning. Should you have been lucky enough to remain unmolested by the collective gnashing of Blue Team teeth that was the Conservative Party Conference, let me bring you up to speed: It’s sink-or-swim, dog-eat-dog, kill-or-be-killed out there and if we’re not careful Johnny Bloody Foreigner is going to end up eating our lunch, breakfast and dinner. Happily though, you needn’t fear because Messrs. Cameron and Osborne have let it be known (via a rather charming Bad Cop With A Heart/Bad Cop routine) that they’ve got this all under control. It’s about striving and it’s about jolly well ensuring that the feckless poor stop getting paid for this silly breeding business. Most of all though, it’s about doing exactly the same thing that hasn’t worked for the last two years but doing it with a bit more gusto. As plans go, that sounds pretty watertight to me.

Anyway, how did the good people of Birmingham respond to this invitation to tragedy?

How indeed…

Grant Shapps is either very, very brave or just flat-out mad…

Oh happy day! Happy, happy day! In the three years I’ve been covering Question Time, one panelist has repeatedly stymied my attempts to draw a bead on him. You see, on paper Grant Shapps’ appearances have always been pretty solid. He does that whole bright-eyed and bushy-tailed thing that Nick Clegg used to before life had its way with him and not once can I recall him committing any screaming errors. However, there was always something niggling at me about Shapps, a nagging doubt telling me that he had something nasty in the woodshed that he’d rather not show us. Well now we know what’s been stowed away at the bottom of his garden and it’s not pretty: Grant Shapps has been making several names for himself through some – how shall I put it? – very iffy sounding business ventures. You can find a good run down of what’s come to light so far here but the short version is that Shapps has been engaged in some legal-yet-dicey sounding practices that don’t exactly have the invigorating whiff of propriety about them.

Now, should a veil of suspicion ever envelope my life, I’m guessing I’d probably hole up for a while, issue a few statements about how the allegations were pure claptrap and wait for things to blow over, but oh no… Not old Shappsy. No, he’s got a better idea: Why not put myself in front of a braying mob comprised of worked-up Brummies and political enemies? Yup, that sounds like a winner.

Luckily for Schappso the whole Michael Green line of attack was a bit of a busted flush as it didn’t get its own question and ended up being shoehorned in by Dimbers towards the back-end of the show. Naturally, it wasn’t an edifying spectacle, watching him try to laugh it all off whilst everyone else formed an orderly queue to have a pop, but it could have been worse. Much, much worse. This, however, is not to say that last night was in any sense a victory because it wasn’t. Far from it in fact. No, what happened was that the threat of the Michael Green question emerging was enough to put the zap on Shapps and what we got was an hour of the muted twitchiness that haunts a man who knows his fate all too well.

So what is to be done about it? Well, I’m no expert but if I was the Shappsarino, maybe I’d start thinking about knocking this whole ‘politician’ thing on the head. Ok, so for a while you looked like something new and shiny but that’s the problem with shiny new things: They tarnish easily. Don’t worry though… If it all goes completely pear-shaped we can tap up this guy I’ve heard about. He can turn $200 into $20,000. Michael Green, I think his name was…

I was genuinely looking forward to Caroline Flint being on…

Here she is, Ol’ Flinty McFlinterson, a panelist who has grown on me quite considerably over the years. Now I’ve been pretty hard on Flinters in the past, mainly based on the fact that she had a habit of getting into avoidable scraps that had a tendency to go very sideways very quickly, but what has always endeared her to me is that no matter how badly Ol’ Flinty got mauled, she’d always dust herself off, spit out a few broken teeth and then carry on as if she had nary a scratch on her. The other reason I was looking forward to her appearance was how self-evidently stoked she’s been to have first dibs on beasting Shapps – stoked to the point that she’d taken to winding him up on Twitter earlier in the week. ‘My,’ I thought, ‘how well this bodes’.

Alas, as mentioned earlier, the whole Shapps Shenanigans went off half cocked (partly because Flint had been so obviously dying to stick the boot in that she fluffed her lines) but the rest of her performance was solid. Ok, so she overplayed her hand a couple of times near the start and the Sword of Damocles hanging over Shapps’ made it a slightly uneven playing field but the message – that the Tories don’t care – was direct, effective and well received. On top of that, her bit on abortion was great and was also the moment when she finally found her pace. That’s the big tell with Flint, the pace. When she’s anxious or blagging the tempo goes up, but at that moment last night she was 100% on the level. And ‘on the level’ gets points…

I’m never sure which Simon Hughes we’ll be getting…

So come on then, which Simon Hughes is it this week? The self-loathing, long dark night of the soul Simon Hughes who can’t square the circle of trading principles for power, or the bloodied-but-unbowed, from my cold dead hands Simon Hughes who doggedly defends the foxhole of Social Democracy to the last round? Happily, it was mostly the latter, what with him getting all hot under the collar about Housing Benefit and having the odd to-do with Shapps , but there was still this sense that the last two years have really taken their toll. Don’t get me wrong, the resolve is clearly still there and he looked much better than some of his recent outings (there have been times when I’ve thought of ringing the Samaritans on his behalf) but I can’t help thinking that deep down, he’s flagging. Of all the Lib Dems, he’s had one of the most ideologically wrenching experiences with the coalition and bit-by-bit, it’s chipping away at him.

Still, he’s in better shape than I expected and that’s good because I’m really rather fond of Simon Hughes. Yeah, I know, he’s got the air of a man who’s out to atone for some unspecified thing that probably wasn’t his fault but I think he probably is a genuinely decent guy who’s in politics for the right reasons. And it’s not very often that I get to say that…

Lovely Benjamin is lovely…

I usually have a go at Benjamin Zephaniah because he’s always just so close to getting it right but never quite makes it. On the face of it, it’s all there: He’s a very gentle yet eloquent guy who knows about people and can convince them to listen to him. However, the problem in the past has always been that he’s rubbish at homework. So many times I’ve sat here going “Come on son! Get in there!” as he hits the nail on the head at the start of a question only to see him stall halfway through when he realises he hasn’t got much to follow-up with. We got a little bit of that tonight and there were instances where he was clearly playing for time, but by and large it was pretty good. I will say this though: His hair is a total nightmare to cut out in Photoshop.

I’m still very ‘meh’ about Cristina Odone…

Here’s the thing: I don’t actively dislike Cristina Odone. We have different views but at least she thinks them through. No, my problem With Cristina Odone is that I wouldn’t like to be stuck in a lift with her. Why? Because she just has this look she sometimes pulls that says very clearly ”This was your fault”. I can see it all so vividly now… Me and Cristina in the lift. A sudden jolt. It stops. Then… That look…

This was your fault”.

Nah. Sorry Cristina, but it just puts the jibblies up me. No shame in your QT performance though.

The Crowd.

Well, I gotta say that this wasn’t what I was expecting. I dunno, maybe I was all strung out on Shappsenfreude and got too greedy but I was hoping for a right bloodbath. That’s not to say it was bad because it wasn’t. The panel was mostly strong, the crowd were vocal and if I were the Tories, I would be more than a little concerned. However, the entirely-appropriate-yet-grimly-consensual nature of the first question sort of nixed the fight in everyone and that critical mass of anger/mischief that was needed to turn this into a great show was never really achieved. Still, kudos to the girl who was wearing half a dead peacock on each ear lobe. At least she tried…

Tl;dr

Shapps: 4/10

Cowed

Flint: 8/10

(Has reason to be) Proud

Hughes: 6/10

Ploughed (relentlessly on)

Zephaniah: 7/10

(Is) Allowed (around my house whenever he wants)

Odone: 5/10

(Can, at times, be) Loud

The Crowd: 6/10

(Live – on average – 61.4 miles away from) Stroud

So there you go… A nice, even spread of points for a fairly evenly spread show. Now I know what your thinking – ‘Where’s the other goddamn pshop?’. Well, I had a lovely (if slightly creepy) .gif of Tim Farron all set up and ready to go but as you may have noticed, he didn’t end up being on. However, what I do have is this rather saucy pin-up of Dimbers that should just fill the gap (see Fig. 1) and was rather fun to make. I don’t know why but there’s always a certain thrill to applying make-up to an old man’s face.

dimbleby pinup

Fig. 1

Right, it’s 3am, one of my eyes has decided that it no longer wants to remain open and the cats are demanding the sofa back. Time for me to go…

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Questionable Time #8


questionable time 8 david dimbleby big benMorning Lemmings and apologies in advance for my mind is somewhat fractured today. Why? Well mainly because I spent all last night turning my 32-bit Windows into the slightly more splendid 64-bit version whilst sharing my living room with a cat who simply loves jumping on my computer’s on/off button (a process that’s not dissimilar to defusing a bomb in the presence of a curious toddler). As a result my sleep has been tormented by visions of my precious data howling in pain whilst if I close my eyes all I see is a giant progress bar that seems to be going backwards. In short, I’m feeling a little febrile right now. With this in mind, let us make haste and sally forth to what was a pretty good episode of Question Time, coming as it was from the hallowed innards of the Palace of Westminster.

Right, first up we have Home Secretary Theresa May who has been on something of a QT journey in the past couple of years and one which has mainly displayed an upward trajectory. Prior to being in government, May was pretty much a QT disaster on legs and it almost seemed as if her mouth were less a functional organ and more a portal into a world composed entirely of nonsense (see Fig. 1). However, upon assuming the mantle of Home Secretary she regained some of her composure and a new-found calmness started to peek through, something that I must say caught me off guard a little. Sure, she didn’t stop dressing like an astronaut and her capacity to get very Tory, very quickly was still much in evidence, but overall everything just seemed to be a little more measured. So that was then, but what of now? Well, to tell you the truth I think something’s really rattled May and what we saw last night was actually quite a faltering performance, almost as if she were walking on stilts whilst trying very hard to make it look like she wasn’t. Ok, so she didn’t do badly on the pensions question and largely held her own in the areas where she’d been properly briefed but there was still this lingering tinge of panic that coloured her responses, almost as if her mind was constantly telling her ‘Shit! They’re onto me!’. Her encounters with Balls were fairly instructive on this front and while she did get some claps for a pretty tawdry recital of ‘The Nation’s Credit Card’ you could still see her brain going like the clappers, trying to identify the myriad of threats she perceived to be bearing down on her. So yes, something has put the frighteners on her and if I were to take a wild shot stab in the dark, I may venture that this summer’s complete breakdown of everything law and order related may have something to do with it. I know, it’s a crazy theory but there you go.

theresa-may-gif-woah

Fig. 1

Talking of Ed Balls, after watching him last night I found myself coming to the conclusion that he is the person I would least like to be my doctor. It’s not the fact that he has no medical training, nor that my partner has an inexplicable crush on him that puts me off, it’s just that his face is so innately implausible. Seriously, with that permanent Cheshire Cat grin he displays I really can’t fathom whether he’s flat-out lying to me or just a little pleased with himself and this doesn’t commend him to the role of my GP.  “The test results are back Mr. Loudribs!” I can hear him say, “Everything is fine!”.Oh my God, I must have cancer!” would be my response.

So yes, Balls is a slippery customer and as is par for his course he spent most of the show splitting hairs and sounding like a snake oil merchant. However, there was a brief moment in the middle of the show when he did something I’ve never witnessed before: He sounded like he was genuinely telling the truth. This occurred on the Europe question and following a dithering response from May he launched into a passionate and actually quite searing critique of the government’s position. This caused May to start lurching all over the place and, unable to help himself in the presence of a wounded foe, Balls lapsed back into his more familiar mode of point-scoring one-upmanship. But for a brief moment there, it did actual happen: I actually believed something that Ed Balls was saying. Either that, or the stress induced by reformatting my computer had finally sent me over the edge and the whole thing was an illusion conjured up by a brain that had lost its footing. I hope it’s the former, but I really can’t rule out the latter.

Our final party-political bod this week comes in the form of Shirley Williams and I must say how struck I was by the mellowness she displayed. Usually Shirley can be counted on to rhetorically bop various panelists on the nose whilst thundering away about something that sounds very worthy, but last night she seemed much more at peace with the world and tended to stay out of the bigger rucks. Having said that, she did at one point unilaterally call for the removal of Berlusconi, an act that doesn’t sit well under the heading ‘Mellow’ so I’m not overly concerned that she’s going to hang up her spurs any time soon.

All of which leaves us with our two civilians, Peter Hitchens and Benjamin Zephaniah. Now, I have a confession to make when it comes to Hitchens: I have a horrible feeling I might actually quite like the guy. Sure, our opinions couldn’t be further apart and he does have the capacity to freak me out (like when he said the biggest measure of wellbeing was “faith in God” whilst staring so intensely at the camera that I worried my TV would explode) but I need a Peter Hitchens in my life. I need him because I require a counterpoint to my opinions and he provides that whilst being slightly more tolerable than the likes Phillips and Heffer. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to charge off and join the Peter Hitchens Fan Club but I can co-exist with him quite happily, something which can’t be said for the bulk of his more rabid counterparts. Oh, and he does deserve an extra mark for his part in the magical little scene that unfolded when he declared that “the BBC don’t believe in God”.

Have a care, Hitchens” came Dimbers response.

Wonderful.

And what of Zaphaniah? Well, my fear was that his line would be a very ‘them and us’ sort of affair and there were times when his approach was a little too simplistic. However, he did have some good points in there and he made them well thanks to his generally pleasant manner. Ok, so he might not be up to speed on all the details and there’s only so many times you can invoke the name of “the people” before I get annoyed but he was never in any real danger of making a fool of himself and he generally came across as a pretty decent bloke who isn’t afraid to speak his mind.

Considering the above, it’s tempting to chalk this up as a bit of a damp squib of an episode as there were never any major fireworks and the questions failed to spark any incidents that held true drama, but there was plenty going on in the background that you could see from the corner of your eye. Granted, the audience weren’t the most exciting bunch (although I was into the young man who harangued Balls for making questionable gestures in the Commons) and the grand setting didn’t really live up to it’s billing but yes, I quietly enjoyed it.

Tl;dr

May: 4/10

Wobbled

Balls: 5/10

Cobbled (together any old rubbish to advance his agenda)

Williams: 6/10

Gobbled (too much Valium)

Hitchens: 6/10

Squabbled

Zephaniah: 6/10

Nobbled (May on a few occasions)

The Crowd: 5/10

Bobbled?

Right, that’s that done… I’m off to install the ten millionth update to my computer and get angry with drivers. My life: It’s a rollercoaster ride of action and adventure.

Next week Lemmings, next week…


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