Posts Tagged 'David Aaronovitch'

Questionable Time #91


questionable time 91 david dimbleby north by north west

Good morning Lemmings and boy-oh-boy do we have a lot to cover today, so much so that I’m not even sure where to start. How about starting at the start? That would be a good start indeed so that’s what I’m going to do: Starting… at the start. Watch me start Lemmings, watch me start!

 

The Cold War is back in town…

…And boy have I missed it because, truth be told, I wasn’t getting on very well with the post-Soviet world. Sure, it was nice that we were ‘winning’ and could invade whoever the hell we wanted under the shakiest of pretexts but it was a complicated, random world that was very difficult to make sense of and didn’t have the cosy certainty that the Cold War possessed (the sort of end-of-the-world certainty that led my dad to fill the cellar with cans of tuna in case the balloon ever went up. He never had a tin opener down there though so the slow death of my family would have been a case-study in absurdity). Anyway, it seems that Putin’s decided that the game is back on and in a weird way I find this all rather comforting as it’s a world I understand and that fits together in my head (bearing in mind that this is the sort of head that reads atlases on the toilet and occasionally draws little arrows on them to signify hypothetical invasion routes). It also seems to fit together rather well in the heads of Michael Heseltine, David Aaronovitch and Alexander Nekrassov, the three panelists who really went to town on this subject.

 

For Aaronovitch, this couldn’t be more black and white: Putin’s up to no good, the Crimea vote will be rigged (at least he’s 95% sure it will be) and to do nothing is not an option. ‘Fair point’ I say, but wait, what’s this? Nekrassov’s got a juicy little counter in about how NATO has been more than a little underhand in its eastward expansion and anyway, this was a coup, not a revolution. Hmmm, also a fair point. What say you, recently-defrosted-cold-warrior Michael Heseltine?

 

‘Bollocks to the details, we’re not doing anything because we can’t’

 

And he’s right: There isn’t a great deal we can do because this isn’t some far-flung sandy place on the fringes of the world, this is a top-ranking nuclear power that happens to keep Europe’s lights on and as galling as it may be, that’s just the way life is. No well-meaning yet essentially empty ‘heads around the table’ platitudes a la Reeves and Hughes, no morally certain chest pounding a la Aaronovitch and Nekrassov, no just sitting there looking like a cat a la Platell, just a very straightforward ‘Life sucks kiddo, suck it up’. It was one of the very rare times on QT I actually felt like I was being treated like an adult and more power to Tarzan for that.

 

A pleasing interlude…

So that was a satisfying, meaty chunk of muscular debate and what followed with the Stephen Lawrence question was also quite heartening with thoughtful response all round (especially from Hughes and the audience) – except from Amanda Platell. Instead, she chose to address the questioner as ”a beautiful black man” before embarking on less-than-subtle eulogy to the Daily Mail (“my paper”) and Paul Dacre (“my editor”). Alas and to absolutely no one’s surprise these shenanigans came to an abrupt end when Dimbers told her to shut up and my attention swiftly moved on to the Scottish lass who claimed that she had chased her attacker to a police station only to find no-one was there. Her general demeanour left me in no doubt that this claim was 100% true and that her attacker was probably running to the police station for fear of their own safety.

 

And then suddenly…

…Everything went mental. Out of nowhere came a question on immigration and the tone was set to ‘febrile’ the minute the original questioner stated that Barking was now “the most terrible place on Earth to live”. Well, that was it – the pro-immigration section of the audience start working up a sustained chunter but it was the anti camp who kept catching the camera. Most notable of these was the bloke who started off on how he didn’t receive rejection letters when he applied for jobs any more and implied that it was probably the fault of immigrants. Understandably, this didn’t go down too well with the majority of the audience but was he going to take any notice of them? Was he hell. No, instead he just carried on going, this time blaming immigrants for not letting him have a house until it finally dawned on him that he might just have made a massive tit of himself. The solution? To grab his coat and leave the studio on the pretext of finding “somewhere to live”. It was surreal, a little bit frightening (although not frightening enough to dissuade the next audience member from describing immigration as an “invasion” and comparing it to the situation in the Crimea) and probably a QT first.

 

And how did the panel deal with this? Not badly actually. There were attempts made to reason with the man but I suspect that ‘reason’ was the last thing this guy was in the market for and anyway, it’s not like he stuck around to see what they would come up with. That just left Reeves (who somehow managed to go through the entire show without being referred to as ‘Liz Kendall’ – see Fig. 1) and Heseltine to have a minor to-do over Labour’s past immigration policy whilst Aaronovitch did most of the legwork for the pro camp and Hughes tried to split the difference but couldn’t quite carry it through. One thing we can be sure of though is that Barking certainly lives up to its name: It was all totally Barking mad.

rachel-reeves-liz-kendall-gif

Fig. 1

 

Tl;dr

 

Heseltine: 7/10

(Still has great) Hair

 

Reeves: 6/10

(Is every)Where (at the moment)

 

Hughes: 6/10

(Is neither) Here (nor) There

 

Aaronovitch: 7/10

Doctrinaire

 

Nekrassov: 5/10

(Knows much about Red) Square

 

Platell: 5/10

(Feels the need to) Share (her love of the Daily Mail)

 

The Audience: 7/10

(Did well not to) Swear.

 

Well, there you go – a dramatic little number with enough geopolitics to keep me drawing little arrows on my atlas and an audience member crazy enough to fill 300 words. Trust me, that doesn’t happen very often. Right, that’s me done. If you’ll need me I’ll be upstairs… With my atlas…

 

Next week Lemmings, next week…

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Questionable Time #69


questionable time 69 david dimbleby getting married

Good morning Lemmings and welcome back from the 2nd Silly Season That Never Was. That’s right, much like last years kyboshing of the pleasingly trivial under a wave of riots we have yet again had to forgo our annual dose of sharks off Cornwall/pets with bus passes/octogenarians skateboarding as August’s news went from ‘Becalmed’ to ‘Totally Mental’ courtesy of one Mr. Assad. So anyway, what better way to pick through the fallout like abandoned newborns, fumbling our way through the thinning light of Autumn than with a spot of Questionable Time? Actually, there’s probably plenty of better ways but since I’ve been off for a couple of months and have forgotten how to write you’ll just have to figure that one out yourselves. Right, let’s get back into the swing of this.

 

Chuka really has to stop thinking…

Regular readers will know that there are two things about Umunna that I bang on about relentlessly: The first is how ridiculously good-looking he is while the second is just a general perplexion as to how this otherwise seemingly perfect package never manages to add up to the sum of its parts. We’ll get back to the first point later but right now I want to focus on what it is that keeps me from getting giddy over Chuka.

 

As things go last night was a particularly choice moment to be the Red Team’s meat puppet as the two big issues of the day – Syria and Royal Mail – both saw them on the right side of public opinion and by quite hefty margins. Add in to this that the whole Royal Mail deal is in his remit then this starts to look like a milk run: Just get as much canvas up the mast as possible and then sit back as the crowd sweep you on to glorious victory. What could be easier? Technically speaking this is exactly what Umunna did and barring a few bothersome squalls thrown up by Greening and Aaranovitch it was mostly plain sailing. However, it didn’t feel like a victory and I suspect there are two reasons for this: Latency and authenticity, both of which are related.

 

Let’s start with the latency: This refers to that near-imperceptible pause that Chuka always does before launching into a set piece. It’s so short as to be barely noticeable but once you’ve clocked it it’s impossible to ignore and it ended up really bothering me last night. Why? Because it was particularly prevalent when he was trying to play the Indignant Card. Take for example Greening’s rather low blow about his house and family. Now, if you really wanted to be properly indignant about that you’d probably just tell her to shut up but Chuka went for the high ground instead and why not? After all, that’s where the big claps are. The problem is with that nano-pause: It’s like a little click that tells you that his mental filter is going like the clappers, desperately trying to prune out anything that may sound off message and that pretty much sinks the whole indignation play because to be indignant is to be so angry that you simply aren’t capable of keeping a lid on it.

 

All of which leads us to the second problem: Authenticity. You can look the part, have the right back story and say the right words but unless those words truly feel like they’re coming from the gut people simply won’t believe it. Umunna has all the above but he’s still so utterly ruled by his head that what should be a three-piece suite is little more than a very good-looking sofa and a couple of armchairs.

 

And what of his good looks? Well, I ran a little pshop experiment earlier this week to see if I could make him ugly. Annoyingly, he remains vaguely beautiful throughout (see Fig. 1).

chuka-umunna-ugly-gif

Fig. 1

 

One of these days Greening is going to snap…

If it wasn’t hard enough being a fairly ordinary person who went to an ordinary school and had an ordinary job before joining a party that abhors ordinary people Justine Greening also has to contend with being somewhat accident prone (see Dimbers’ malevolent jibe about missing the vote) and this combined pressure is beginning to tell. You can see it in the way she sits – rigid and not too far away from the brace-for-impact position – as well as that hint of annoyance that she only just manages to keep in check. Give it time Lemmings. It may not be tomorrow, it may not be next week but at some point in the not too distant future I can see Greening just totally losing it and flipping out. Hopefully Chuka will be around to pick up some pointers on how to be authentically indignant.

 

Two out of three remaining panelists couldn’t give less of a toss…

In further contrast to Umunna’s overly-stroked chin we now come to a couple of people who seem to have crossed some mid-life Rubicon and are now revelling in their off-the-hookness. The first is Caroline Lucas who since jacking in the role as Green Party leader has been having a gay old time getting arrested and breaking parliamentary dress code while the second is David Aaranovitch – a man seemingly hellbent on refuting everything his younger self stood for in a fug of grumpy crotchetiness. Anyway, this whole devil-may-care outlook works for the pair of them and what we ended up with was a lively and well argued debate on the Syrian question that reminded me that QT does occasionally do what it says it says on the tin. No such luck though for Colleen Graffy– an important sounding person who sounds like she’s got important sounding things to do – as I’m pretty sure that everyone mentally tuned her out as the words “former so-and-so for the Bush administration” were uttered. There are some things you just don’t want on your CV.

 

Tl;dr

 

Umunna: 5/10

Thinky

 

Greening: 5/10

Blinky

 

Lucas: 8/10

Pinky

 

Aaronovitch: 7/10

Brinky

 

LondGraffy: 4/10

Sinky

 

The Crowd: 5/10

Stinky?

 

Well, that’s that: A passable warm-up momentarily enhanced by a man with a gothic mansion of a hairdo bellowing “A RECOVERY FOR WHOM?!?!”. For whom indeed sir… Anyway, it’s nice to be back and should you fancy a go yourself Questionable Time is currently on the lookout for guest writers. However, if thankless toil is not your cup of tea then feel free to busy yourself by looking at pretty pictures of misheard lyrics or buying one of these magnificent creations. Hey, a boy’s got to eat ok?

 

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Questionable Time #25


Good morning Lemmings and welcome to a very non-standard Questionable Time. Non-standard why? Well, I usually have a pretty set process for covering QT that involves settling down on the sofa at half-10 with a note pad in the hope of garnering enough material to cobble together something vaguely informative for the next day. This week though I have no such notes. And why don’t I have any notes? Well dear Lemmings, I have no notes because this time I was physically there. Yup, Operation-Blag-My-Way-Into-The Audience actually came good. Here’s what I learned:

The prospect of being on Question Time can seriously mess with your week.

Seeing how Operation-Blag-My-Way-Into-The-Audience has fallen flat on its face many-a-time in the past I decided to ditch the usual approach of going through the official channels and took it upon myself (with some able aiding and abetting from my brother) to get in touch with the production team itself. After a slightly nerve-wracking conversation with a producer I managed to secure a ticket and for a split second there I experienced the thrill of triumph. ‘Yes!’ thought I, ‘My hour has come! I’ve bloody won!’. However, that intoxicating whiff of victory was quickly dispelled as a new and ominous truth began to make itself known. ‘Oh Jesus, that means I’ve got to ask something’. That’s when things started going sideways.

The Question Time application process works like this: You apply and if you’re lucky enough to get through you will receive an invitation which states that you have to email the production team a question tout suite. The problem in this case was that despite being something of a news junkie, I could not think of a single issue in the last two weeks that has aroused even the faintest flicker of interest in me. I mean seriously, it was as if the news had simply decided not to bother turning up to work and editors across the nation were reduced to covering the sinking of the Titanic for the ten billionth time. Anyway, this complete and utter dearth of workable material combined with the fact that two years of covering QT has made me a little irrational about appearing on the show led me to get my knickers in a right old twist. I had to find something – anything – in the news that week (and the producers are quite insistent that your question must relate to an event that’s very fresh) that I had even a smidgen of an opinion on in order to have a shot at a question… Yet for the life of me I couldn’t find one.

So it was that my week was pretty much one of being glued to my phone and praying that the Spanish economy would collapse in the most spectacular of fashions, taking with it the entire Eurozone and plunging the world into a dark new epoch of chaos and woe. As it happens, that didn’t quite to come to pass and nor did my efforts to feign interest in the Abu Qatada (Qatada-Shmada!) case bear much fruit. I was stuck and for some reason being stuck really steamed my bean. Eventually Thursday arrived and I dejectedly handed in a question relating to something that happened three weeks ago. Defeat had been cruelly snatched from the jaws of victory. Loudribs had been vanquished by the news cycle. Irrelevance had become me. Or had it?

If the Question Time team had been manning the Titanic, the evacuation would have been slick as you like.

The upside of flunking the question test was that for the first time all day I stopped feeling nervous and could actually enjoy watching how an episode is put together. In many ways it’s like a well-heeled version of Gladiators as a room full of self-evidently confident and opinionated people are expertly herded through a logistical obstacle course. First there’s the security check, then the brief lull as everyone arrives before you have a warm up with Dimbers (who in real life comes across very much like an Uncle Bulgaria who’s developed a taste for brandy) and are corralled into the studio. Anthropologists would have a field day at that point as the spectacle of a mass of overly polite people all trying to scramble their way to the front of the line is truly something to behold. Yet somehow it all works and it’s to the production team’s credit that the whole process seems so effortless. That however is just a taster as the really bizarre bit is about to happen: The dummy panel.

In order to get the sound, lighting and cameras all sorted out they ask for members of the audience to volunteer to sit on the panel and to have a debate with the crowd. You thought politicians were odd on the show? Yeah, well audience members can out-odd them by a considerable margin, particularly if they have views on the fringes of the political spectrum as one gentlemen did. Another guy who wasn’t on the panel but put in his two-penneth worth anyway provoked some very sharp intakes of breath as he opined on “the gays” and “the things they get up to in the bedroom”. Anyhoo, that rather surreal turn of events went on for quite some time before a producer arrived and read out the names of the people who would be asking the questions. At that point my new-found aura of serenity evaporated in the blink of eye.

‘Oh shit. They just called my name’.

I’d love to tell you what actually happened on the show but I was too busy clutching a piece of paper in a sweaty death grip to take any notice.

Once your name is called out you have to stand up for a minute so that the cameras can find you and then you are taken backstage for the briefest of briefings. The long and short of it is thus: The very first question will not be filmed but will serve to warm up the panel and the audience. After that it will go straight into recording and when Dimbers calls your name you read out your question in a prompt manner whilst preparing for him to come back to you at the end of the topic.

At that point you are returned to your seat, the panel arrive and things get under way. It is also the point at which your whole world becomes exclusively focused on the printout of your question.

‘Oh crap oh crap oh crap is the Bradford Spring an unseasonable OH MY GOD WHAT ARE THESE WORDS I DON’T EVEN!’

Yeah, that’s sort of what was going through my head and for all I know they could have been debating whether fish have the right to get married for the first 15 minutes. Happily though the words did manage to leave my mouth in reasonably good order when my name was called but that was by no means the end of my silent meltdown. Oh no, then you have another desperate 10 minutes of trying to figure out just what in the hell you’re going to say next. As it happens, Dimbers never did come back to me, the danger passed and I spent the next 40 minutes feeling like my jammies had been rustled in the most profound way – which led to another weird phenomenon…

It matters who you are sitting next to.

My immediate neighbour on the night was a very jaunty and engaging guy named Jonathan who had an absolutely infectious enthusiasm for what was occurring in front of us. Given my somewhat shell-shocked state and the fact that I was no longer capable of independent thought I found myself becoming nothing less than a human extension of Jonathan’s will. If he clapped, I clapped. If he grinned and nodded, I grinned and nodded. Whatever he said, I agreed with wholeheartedly. Luckily for me, Jonathan doesn’t appear to be a howling mad extremist and to the best of my knowledge I didn’t give my involuntary endorsement to bringing back the birch/sending Qatada to the Moon/replacing the Cabinet with a Facebook group.

If you think being on the show is weird watching it back an hour later AND following the #bbcqt feed will blow your head clean off.

So I survived the show and then scurried home in a somewhat agitated, hungry and dehydrated state (the dehydration was my fault. Fear of needing a wee in the middle of the show had led me to forgo fluids for a frankly ludicrous period of time). Given how late the recording had gone on I literally got through the door just as it was about to start and never really got a second to collect my thoughts. So there we were, myself and my better half, the show starts and there I am! My phone starts making all sorts of noises as friends start texting. Then I ask my question and the camera cuts back to me for a response shot and all I can think is ‘JESUS CHRIST WHY DO I KEEP LICKING MY LIPS SO MUCH? I LOOK LIKE A TONGUE PERVERT!’. Then my phone goes absolutely mental and I check Twitter to see what’s going on. People, it turns out, have opinions about my beard and quite diverse opinions at that. And then I realise what I’m doing: I’m sitting in my front room, watching me an hour ago whilst simultaneously watching what a bunch of strangers think about my beard. It was at that point that my brain gave in and conceded that I had in fact become stuck in the Matrix.

And the show itself?

It was bloody good. Tim Farron is now totally my favourite person in the whole wide world, the venom between Galloway and Aaronovitch was both very real and very visceral, Warsi wasn’t bad and I am now forced to admit that yes, I do have a weird and slightly uncomfortable crush on the Labour Party’s Appropriate Adult, Yvette Cooper (I think it’s her long neck. See Fig. 1). In some ways it was a shame that I was too distracted to really pick up on any of the real substance but if you were in the market for political theatre last night, you got it in spades.

yvette-cooper-david-dimbleby-long-neck-gif

So there you go, that’s how my little adventure into the real-life world of Question Time went and I must say that it was a pretty grand experience. No scores this week as my head’s just a little too mangled to spend half an hour searching an online rhyming dictionary but rest assured that no-one would have scored below 6, such was the calibre of the panel. Anyway, thanks for reading and normal service will resume next week.

Next week Lemmings, next week…


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