2017 week 46

November 19th, 2017

This week

  • Sounds Like Friday Night improves further.
  • Reggie Yates on guitar with Wah!.
  • "I could scarcely take my eyes off the screen as Anneka Rice, as personable as she is athletic, was sent haring off through the air and across the ground"
  • Coup in Zimbabwe
  • Australia: full of convicts, but not full of bigots.
  • Warm and wet midweek, cooler weekend, and do it all again next time.

2017 week 45

November 12th, 2017

This week…

  • Dennis and Gnasher worse than Sounds Like Friday Night.
  • Top of the Pops 1982 concludes, with my hits of the year.
  • Priti Little Liars and Johnson's Johnson move.
  • Cooling down, with a bracing weekend.

Sounds Like Friday Night

October 31st, 2017

A review of last Friday's show

Idea behind this sketch is safe, as derivative as they come. The execution was no better than OK…

They talk about Taylor Swift's new video, but commit the cardinal sin of not showing it. Don't tell us, show us!…

Something like seven minutes since the last song, a huge gap on a "music" show…

Initial thoughts? It's a work in progress. There's almost a narrative through the show, there's almost some good ideas with the inserts. We wanted to hear a music news bulletin, or something outside of this studio. They desperately need to mix up the bookings – all three acts were in a narrow area, rhythmic pop with a dash of soul.

We're reminded of very early CD:UK, when they had decent ideas but hadn't cracked the execution. It took CD:UK about four months to find its voice; Sounds Like Friday Night needs to improve by the end of the run.

That said… the problem might be that BBC1 runs to a slower pace. Pointless is a beat slower than The Chase. Tipping Point is a bit faster than The Boss. Can't Touch This was much slower than Cannonball!, and The X Factor moves faster than Strictly Come Dancing. Would it be such a surprise that Sounds Like Friday Night is just that bit slower?

2017 week 41

October 15th, 2017

This week:

  • Hareraiser, The Worst Computer Game Ever
  • "There's always a novelty record, every year," opines Bates, introducing the video for Save your love by Renee and Renato.
  • Seriously. They had a dispute over who moves the Play School clock.
  • Catalonia: a quantum of independence
  • Camila Cabello has a number one single, but Liam Gallagher's the best-selling album.
  • We've had a call from a viewer, who's worried that there's a hurricane on the way. Well, if you're reading, there is, so get prepared.

2017 week 40

October 8th, 2017

This week…

  • Radio 1 Vintage: more, please.
  • TOTP from December 1982, with a pointless record from Bucks Fizz.
  • They're dropping Es in Manchester.
  • Tom Petty's catalogue sells for the worst reasons.
  • Mostly cloudy, and similar for the week ahead.

Our Town

October 7th, 2017

Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester, 4 October

Our Town is a difficult play to do badly – if everyone knows their lines, it'll work. But it's a very difficult play to do well, and each of the audience will have their own idea of what "well" is.

This was a stylised performance. Audience and actors sit round tables, and later around the edge of the stage. They're on plastic chairs, as found in school halls and waiting rooms everywhere.

The cast use their natural accents, we have a token Yank as the Stage Manager, lots of Manchester-area, a Scouse, some RP. Standout actors: Youssef Kerkour is the Stage Manager, a role that has to command the stage and never overshadow it. Get this right and you're on the road to greatness. Patrick Elue and Norah Lopez Holden are the heroes of the play, the romance of George and Emily.

The Exchange is a theatre in the round, and it allows for lots of pacing around the stage. Lots of pacing around the stage. Unusually, the Exchange theatre stands in a greater hall, and can be circumnavigated from the outside. At one point, we see George running outside the hall, his shadow appearing on the canvas walls.

(More: The company got a lot right in this play, we concentrate on design flaws that stopped it from being even better)

The production misses the Scylla of schmaltz, but we found it sailed into the Charybdis of meh. "Take me back! Take me back!" emotes Emily, but it's not the emotional catharsis we're here for. There are enough distractions to jolt us out of our reverie, enough to concentrate on the mechanics and not the plot.

This blog doesn't make a habit of awarding "marks out of ten", or "stars". People concentrate on the score, not the content. That said, we don't quite see a path to four-stars out of five, unless there's a very generous piece of rounding from around three-and-a-half.

Overall, this take on Our Town hit the big notes. It got the whole faith in humanity, it emphasised the importance of small detail. Problems with design and staging meant it didn't pack the emotional whoomph we came for.

More United – more radical?

October 4th, 2017

Back on 21 September, a group of ten in a room above Cherry Reds in Birmingham city centre. It was very much a masculine-of-centre group, not representative of the membership. We're summing this under Chatham House rules: opinions will be attributed to an unnamed individual.

Discussion was dominated by four contributors. One was new to More United, and was hung up on the balance of power in Westminster. "We need to hold the balance of power," his persistant cry.

This blog believes that More United would be best to design structures that can last. If it builds processes around the present balanced parliament, there is a danger of setting bad practice in stone.

The contributor appeared to see supporting More United as a binary, in-or-out, proposition. This blog sees shades of belonging. Perhaps it might be helpful to have a "More United charter", analagous to Charter 88. Candidates could put their names to this set of values. We the people could ask dissenting candidates what value they don't support.

Would it be possible to make funding contingent on plugging More United? Well, yes, but how does one police this? If Wera Hobhouse mentions More United on Peston on Sunday and no-one watches, does it still count?

For this blog, and for other contributors, the best publicity is a concrete win. Pick something More United can mobilise towards, strain every effort to bring it about, and take ownership of the victory.

More United's assets are cash, people on the ground, digital campaigns, and general goodwill. At the moment, it feels like a motherhood-and-apple-pie group, a safe space that will threaten no-one. On reflection, maybe it needs to show steel, make waves on a controversial matter.

Fundamentally, we're worried about More United. This blog is involved to bring about change, to dismantle shit and rebuild a geniune democracy that might tempt us to remain. We're not convinced that our goals can be achieved within the Westminster straitjacket.

(A full write-up)

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2017 week 37

September 17th, 2017

This week:

  • Barney leaves Blue Peter.
  • From 1982: the death of Leonid Brezhnev, the debut of A Flock of Seagulls.
  • Sam Smith and The National have the big singles and albums.
  • A judicial coup in Catalonia.
  • Cold and showery, more to come.

When 4-0 reverses to 1-4, according to the NCAA

September 15th, 2017

There's been a lot of snark about how Southern California does not recognise its 2006 title game loss to Texas. "We don't do this in football," sniggers The Comeback.

Tell that to the NCAA, which requires history to be entirely re-written.

(More: We actually read the judgement and laws, in a way other "journalists" don't)

The net result is quite simple, and utterly confusing. There's no doubt that SCALF beat TEXAS four times in the past, and that TEXAS won on the field in 2006. But SCALF is bound to ignore that loss, they're required to pretend the game never happened. Their media guide correctly lists them as 4-0 in games they're allowed to count.

But TEXAS is not bound by any such injunction. It will count all five games against SCALF, including the 2006 win. Texas's media guide – for the same game, against the same opponent – says they're 1-4, the precise reverse of 4-0.

The fault here is with the NCAA, and its absurd desire to pretend that history can be re-written to fit later fashion. The NCAA has told SCALF to vacate its wins and its postseason competition. SCALF is following these orders exactly and precisely, to the letter.

The absurdity stems from the NCAA.

Song of the summer 2017

September 12th, 2017

Time to push the buttons and work out Northern Europe's Hit Song of Summer 2017.

(More: Positions 20-6 and a note on our methodology.)

05 attention  -  charlie puth
04 there's nothing holdin' me...  -  shawn mendes
03 2u f/justin bieber  -  david guetta

Charlie Puth did one better than Calvin Harris, pushing out his single at the end of April. It's remained in or around the top ten all summer, never quite hitting the A-list, but adding up lots of points each week. Shawn Mendes spent most of the summer at the weekly number 4, first below then above Guetta and Bieber. Yeah, three Justin Bieber songs in the top fourteen.

02 mama f/william singe  -  jonas blue

Remarkably close for places 4, 3, 2 – less than 3% covers the three tunes. For our money, this was the inescapable song of the summer. Bright and bubbly, but completely vapid.

01 despacito  -  luis fonsi / daddy yankee

But this was the best-charted song of the year, the Latin-tinged love song with something for everyone. Didn't do much for us, but it won by about 14% over the next three.

If you must combine the two Despacitae, then it wins by a mile, and Miley Cyrus's Malibu ranks at 21. That's another of our faves, and it might just be the summer song to come out of 2017.

2017 week 36

September 10th, 2017

This week

  • The limit of The Reunion (R4): Poland in the 1980s is too big for one show.
  • From 1982: surprise news for the Spanish Inquisition…
  • …Channel 4 launches with a repeat…
  • …and a full afternoon's continuity from Children's BBC1.
  • Taylor Swift the best-selling single, The Script have the number one album.
  • Birmingham's bin problem continues.
  • Sunny for the midweek, wet for the weekend, and no improvement before midweek.

Jerry Pournelle

September 9th, 2017

The death occurred yesterday of Jerry Pournelle.

The sci-fi author and journalist entered our life in 2000, when we stumbled across his daybook. This could be the answer to our writer's block, a less structured, more organic way to document things. Seventeen years later, we're still following the basic structure. Pournelle had a voice, and we thank him for helping find ours.

He leaves many acolytes, a special tip of the hat to Dave Farquhar. Jerry Pournelle also leaves a method of political thinking (belief in state control, orthogonal to belief in rational solutions) and an Iron Law of Bureaucracy.

Full article

When Edinburgh drops it

September 2nd, 2017

Our starter is this little conversation.

shinydh: I am genuinely interested in what happens when Philip dies, assuming he does so before Lizzie. We know Lizzie coverage will be smothering but Philip? His death would be a good litmus test for the reaction of British society and media in my opinion.

The_Arn: Probably similar to the Queen Mother I'd say.

shinydh: ...which would have been a heck of a lot more smothering a year earlier. If memory serves BBC explicitly dialled down those plans post-9/11.

Our contemporaneous notes recall that BBC1 gave over about three-and-a-half hours of breaking news and tributes. Opinion in BBC News sees this as an error. Roger Mosey, the head of news in 2002, said a better response would have been to put up a short (5 minute) obituary, repeat the news, give any fast-breaking reaction, and then go to a mid-length (15 minute) obituary. That basically buys the newsroom half an hour to line up guests and look serene.

The main change from 2002 is that all viewers have choice. If people want to watch BBC Dead Duke 24, it will be available. If they want to ignore it, many commercial channels will line up. Semi-major channels like ITV2 and E4 could well run without much change, except perhaps during the day of the funeral.

(More: Reflections on Liz Bowes-Lyon and Margaret Thatcher)

2017 week 34

August 27th, 2017

This week…

  • the BBC won't openly admit that it can help to bring about equality, but we'll take small successes where we can
  • From TOTP 1982: The lead singer looks like John Craven wearing a Dennis the Menace jumper, the backing girls are in schoolboys' uniform, and there's a blue parrot on drums. Well, that's fulfilled the surreal quota for the night.
  • Pink and Steven Wilson do the number one dance.
  • News! Five Flags Over Texas, and chart rigging hits the Young Adult book list.
  • Settled and sunny; it'll change, but not till after the bank holiday?!

How good was Yougov's election model?

August 25th, 2017

Duncan Stott asked if anyone has done a proper bit of research into Yougov's projection. "No" is the answer, even after this effort.

As we would expect, strong confidence in the two biggest parties, slightly weaker for the LD. Something of a hefty miss for the SNP and for UKIP.

The Yougov model seemed to cap the LD vote at about 35% in any constituency. This puts an artificial ceiling on their performance, and costs a number of seats.

Overall, Yougov met or exceeded a hypothesis that "2015 predicts 2017 exactly".

Error watch

Yougov called the wrong winner in only 48 seats. What caused the errors? Primarily, not being held by Con or Lab; Yougov was wrong in 21/67 such cases.

Three seats went from "Con likely" to "Lab gain". Colne Valley, Warwick and Leamington, Portsmouth South. All were marked by a great increase in the Labour vote – from the LD in Portsmouth, from not voting in the other seats.

Mansfield went in the opposite direction, from "Lab likely" to "Con gain".


From these initial investigations, we reckon Yougov worked well within the Butler model. They did well where the ConLab dominated discussion and votes. In a ConLab election, this was enough to look roughly right.

We're not convinced that they fully appreciated the swing from "No vote" to Labour. It is possible that this was corrected in later releases – we are working from the 2 June release, a week before the final score.

Yougov's performance in other areas was patchy, and we have no evidence on whether their model will work with three or more major parties.

Further research is needed.

2017 week 33

August 20th, 2017

This week:

  • Barney Harwood leaves Blue Peter.
  • From 1982: Tears For Fears debut on Top of the Pops, and it's the week to raise the Mary Rose.
  • A new Pink song is the top track, a seventeen-year-old Elvis Presley compilation tops the albums chart.
  • … and we look at women on top of the singles chart.
  • Why Sarah Champion was right, and why she had to go.
  • More rain this week, and next week, though it might be warm and wet for a bit, so do wrap up.

Not Dogs

August 15th, 2017

A fast food restaurant in Birmingham Bull Ring.

Hot dogs, but not as you know them. Instead of a piece of dead pig in the middle, they use a special Quorn sausage. Eight inches of non-meaty sausage, wrapped in a plain bun.

The good news: these sausages are a special order. Not the normal bland Quorn sausage, these have some spice and taste. Good news for vegans, as the range is entirely free of animal produce (assuming you don't put cheese on top…).

We got the version with caramelised onion, which proved an error. Fries were generous but a little soggy. The meal is just over £8. We have the glow from supporting a local business on ethical lines.

2017 week 32

August 13th, 2017

This week:

  • How we watched the athletics from Pickett's Lock New Ham.
  • From 1982: Culture Club and Bauhaus make classic Top of the Pops performances; shame BBC4 viewers were denied them.
  • Also from 1982: John Nott leaves the Conservative party conference, Saturday Superstore opens its doors, and Breakfast With Brisbane.
  • Despacito still the top single, Glen Campbell tops the album charts in the week of his death.
  • Red China sent both bickering boys to their rooms to think about what they've done.
  • Cool, with rain early in the week.

Ali CRONIN – Skins The Novel

August 12th, 2017

Postcards from the summer break between series 3 and 4.

Cronin has the characterisations down pat, but barely manages to recreate their voices.

2017 week 31

August 6th, 2017

This week…

  • Reflecting on the 1982 NCAA-ball coverage.
  • The worst dance ever from Top of the Pops 82 with all the DJs dancing. Gambo can move, the rest look like dads.
  • Does anyone remember the 1982 Puzzle Trail prize? "Seven pieces, all different, yet all the same."
  • Despacito still the number one single, Arcade Fire have the number one album.
  • Wet and a bit nippy; perhaps getting warmer next week.