Tagged: Opinions and Rants

World Book Night – and saving British libraries

Tonight is World Book Night. Originally dreamed up by Jamie Byng of the hugely successful Scottish independent publishers Canongate Books, and backed by an impressively long list of interesting and influential patrons (including JK Rowling, Nick Cave, Gil Scott-Heron, Margaret Atwood, Carol Ann Duffy and Antony Gormley, to name but a few), the aim of World Book Night is really quite simple – they want to get more people reading. And they intend to do this by giving away a million books.

Yes, I suspect it would be true to say that this event is extremely good publicity for the publishing houses involved, but, cynicism aside, if World Book Night does manage to succeed in its aim of encouraging people to read more than they already do (or don’t, as the case may be), then it will have done society a service.

Because the enjoyment of a truly good book is one of those small but significant joys of  human existence; a simple, lightweight and portable escape from everyday stresses, as well as an almost bottomless source of life-long learning. You can read about almost anything you could ever imagine (and a fair few things you probably couldn’t) – and you can read almost anywhere: in the bath, on the beach, waiting for the bus, on the loo, in bed, in the park, up a tree, on your sofa…

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Horrible Hollywood: The Bad Movie Debate (Finally) Returns, Part 2

(Part 2 of 2)

Note: this was originally intended to be just one post, but it got so ridiculously long that I decided to split it into two for ease of reading (and for the sake of my own sanity!). You can find Part 1 here.

Do you have a ‘guilty pleasure’ – a bad movie that you secretly (or not so secretly!) love?

I was amazed at how many of you admitted to having a guilty thing for cheesy rom-coms and/or bad action movies! I guess, for a lot of people, these kinds of movie represent an opportunity to turn your brain off for a while and just be entertained without having to think about it.

Naturally, it is a good thing when a movie makes you think or provokes debate (I remember coming out of the cinema having an argument with a friend about the ending of Se7en which lasted all the way home), but sometimes you just can’t face stretching your brain, and that’s when your guilty pleasure comes into play…

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More Election Propaganda – and the 2nd Leaders’ Debate

They (whoever they are) say that a week is a long time in politics. And this last week or so has indeed been both long and eventful – as far as the general election campaign is concerned anyway. Thursday night saw the second of three televised leaders’ debates, this time on foreign policy issues. To this observer at least, the debate seemed to be more fiery and bad-tempered than that of the week before.

Voices were raised, impatient interruptions were made, very little of any actual substance was said, and there was much less agreeing with Nick this time – David Cameron publicly accused a sneery Gordon Brown of scaremongering and being an out-and-out liar, and they both laid into Nick Clegg in a seemingly pointless effort to flatten ‘Cleggmania’ before it can become truly politically dangerous.

It is interesting to see Brown and Cameron (as well as certain parts of the media) so obviously threatened by a man previously as politically anonymous as Nick Clegg. Both Labour and the Tories always knew that this was going to be a close-run election campaign, but the (perhaps not entirely unexpected) emergence of the Liberal Democrats has got them rattled now – the fact that the old two-party system is now being blown wide open can easily be read as further proof that the electorate is heartily sick and tired of the current, broken political system.

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Leaders’ Debates – Part One

Well, that’s ninety minutes of my life I’ll never get back. Actually, it wasn’t as bad as I expected, and in some ways the perceived outcome was surprising (to me – a bit – anyway). This, the first televised debate of its kind in the UK, appears to have been some sort of attempt to engage the electorate in their own homes, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if a large proportion of the ITV-watching population simply reached for the remote at 8.30pm. I didn’t – for my sins – and this is what I thought…

Gordon Brown fared better than I expected, although I thought he looked worried and old – and his attempts at joking his way out of a hole fell a little flat to my ears. He handled the question on the economy with more knowledge and grace than David Cameron (all those years in the Treasury waiting for Tony Blair to begone are paying off now, eh Gordon?), but his weird little attempts at deferring to Nick Clegg were noticeable and rather amusing – “I agree with Nick” being the catchphrase of the night from Gordy. I get the impression that Downing Street may well be preparing for a hung parliament and are thus rather clumsily grooming Clegg because they suspect that he may end up in an important position in any resulting coalition government.

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RIP Malcolm McLaren

I’m surprisingly saddened to hear that Malcolm McLaren died this morning in New York at the age of only 64. I’d had no idea that he’d been fighting cancer for some time – it seems he took a sudden turn for the worse over the last few days. His family are naturally said to be devastated, and I send my sympathies to them.

They, and we, have lost a man who was always one of a kind, whatever you thought of him – and most people either loved him or hated him. Or both. Whatever your reaction, he was unique.

Despite the fact that he quite clearly wrote his own myth from day one and then arguably pinched much of Vivienne Westwood’s limelight for many years, as well as the basic truth that his self-importance often outweighed his actual importance to British music, I have always had a sneaking admiration for the old iconoclast and I believe that British music and culture will be lessened by his death.

As with so many people, music is central to my life and I love the energy and anger and fire and inspiration of punk – the genre with which McLaren was always most associated. However, and despite what Malcolm always used to say/think about his role in the process, that whole thing was evolving independently and would have exploded anyway – the first British punk single was, in fact, New Rose by The Damned, who had nothing to do with McLaren.

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Election Propaganda (Part III): And so it begins…

So it’s May 6th then. Now there’s a surprise.

In exactly a month’s time, the polling booths will be open and the British people will be casting their vote for a new/old government, but, finally, today Her Madge gave her consent to Gordon Brown dissolving Parliament – which means the election campaign really, actually, finally, officially starts now (despite the fact that some candidates have been at it for months already).

And what an exciting morning it’s been for all us armchair election followers!

Honestly.

I’m not entirely sure what was most (least?) thrilling about this morning’s frankly mindless media coverage. Forced by Freeview to choose between Sky or the BBC, the telly ended up being muted when my brain started dripping out of my ears. I did catch Gordon Brown’s thoroughly tedious speech – although I was slightly distracted by the phrase ‘as dull as ditchwater’ bouncing round what little brain I had left by this point.

Other media lowlights included David Cameron’s unpleasantly smug speech to the rapt party faithful, complete with its mysterious (hmm) omission of the same two words (“gay” and “straight”) which were so heavily emphasised in the draft version revealed yesterday.

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Election Propaganda (Part II)

With the election now widely assumed to be on May 6th, the campaign for Britain’s hearts and minds has really begun in earnest, although said campaign doesn’t seem to be working very well – that’ll be on all sides, but particularly on that of the current New Labour government – even before Tony Blair weighed in with his dubious backing of Brown.

For example, the recent budget (which may not even ever be fully implemented at this rate) can only be described as a prime example of New Labour desperation and a rather pathetic attempt at saving the government’s electoral skin. In fact, this governmental desperation is already at such levels that this year’s Guardian April Fool on Labour’s alleged new hard-man-vote-Labour-or-else election strategy actually came very close to being convincing. Scary.

And it’s only going to get worse. I had already received my first batch of election propaganda back in late February, and now, in early April, even more of this rubbish has started coming through my letter box at a steady rate – and the quality of it has got so bad that it would actually be hilarious if this election wasn’t so damn important.

Just like last time, the Tory propaganda was the first to arrive, complete with exactly the same set of slightly sinister photos of that identikit Tory blonde candidate we saw before. However, instead of their previous desperate attempts at politely begging the reader to vote Conservative, this time their desperation just seeps through the paper:

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50 Years of 1460s: Happy Birthday Doc Martens!

Tomorrow marks an anniversary that anyone who was ever a member of a teenage tribe should be celebrating. April 1st 2010 is the fiftieth birthday of the 1460 – the original and iconic eight-hole Doc Martens boot, so named for the date it first went into production:

Decades have come and gone, brands have exploded and then imploded, but the 1460 is still there, unique, individual, original. Anti-fashion defined in eight holes.

Of the many styles of DMs that are now available, it is these boots in particular which have become design classics, and which have also gathered a cult following among the many who have had the pleasure of owning a pair at some point in their lives (I, for one, wore out several much-loved pairs of 1460s in my teens and early twenties).

Beginning life as a practical, hard-wearing and popular footwear solution for workers, the 1460 soon became much more than that. Adopted by the burgeoning skinhead movement (which started out as non-racist – ska and rocksteady being their soundtracks of choice – and very style conscious), the 1460 style soon spread further afield.

According to the Dr Martens website, these simple, comfortable boots rapidly grew in popularity, and were to be found on the feet of any number of youth culture tribes (and, of course, the musicians they followed) over the next few decades:

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There’s a song playing on the radio…

Everyone has their favourite songs; they soundtrack our lives, they remind us of good times and good people, they make us smile and sing along and want to dance. Music has an intensely powerful emotional impact on our lives, whether it is the music we love and that makes us happy – or otherwise…

So, then, what about those songs you just can’t stand? What about those songs that make you dive across the room to turn the radio off? Those songs that make you wince and shudder and set your teeth on edge? Those songs you just hate?

Having read an interesting article in The Guardian on this very subject not so long ago, I asked the lovely people over at the Another Kind Of Mind Facebook page what their most hated songs were – and I got some interesting results.

It’s certainly pleasing to note that, as I have long suspected, I am by no means the only one who gets incandescent with rage over shit music; some of the responses I got from my readers simply dripped vitriol in the most fantastic fashion. There is clearly music out there that really, really pisses you lot off.

As you may have already guessed, the usual boy and girl band suspects are, of course, present and correct (anything by Robbie Williams or The Spice Girls etc), although I admit to doing a slight double take at an American friend’s suggestion of LFO’s Summer Girls, before realising he meant LFO the US boy band rather than LFO the legendary Warp Records signing and early-90s inventors of ‘bleep’ techno. My inner geek would have been devastated had he meant the latter!

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International Women’s Day 2010

Today is International Women’s Day; “a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future.”

First celebrated in 1911, IWD is as necessary now as it was then. In the early 20th century, women in many countries worldwide lacked the right to vote, the right to an equal education, equal employment rights, and often very basic reproductive rights and bodily autonomy –  all of these are things we would now consider to be basic human and civic rights for anyone, although many of these rights are still under threat for women.

But despite the fact that many of these women the world over are still disadvantaged, discriminated against and experience gender-based/sexual violence, much has been achieved since the first IWD, and much is still being achieved by the women’s movement and by individual women alike.  And that is indeed something to celebrate, as are the many remarkable and inspirational women who have left (or who are leaving) their mark on the world.

However, there is still much that can be and needs to be achieved by and for self-identified women everywhere. Commenting on a Facebook post of mine on the subject of IWD earlier, a sympathetic male friend wryly observed: “Yeah, but tomorrow it’s international men’s day again for the rest of the year!”

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