4 January 2008

"If God hadn't meant us to eat animals, he wouldn't have made them meat-flavoured!"

Notwithstanding actor availability/willingness, though discounting deceased actors or characters, natch... here are ten former characters of Coronation Street who should be brought back:-

1 - Hilda Ogden
2 - Spider Nugent
3 - Curly Watts
4 - Suzie Birchall
5 - Andy McDonald
6 - Shelley Unwin
7 - Karen Phillips
8 - Toyah Battersby
9 - Eddie Yeats
10 - Tanya Pooley (please)

And here are ten of the current characters who are now probably dispensible:-

1 - Ashley Peacock
2 - Claire Peacock
3 - Doreen Fenwick
4 - Maria Sutherland
5 - Molly Compton
6 - Bill Webster
7 - Carla Connor
8 - Kelly Crabtree
9 - Paul Clayton
10 - Janice Battersby

More earnestly, here's a short memo to the Granada whipcrackers for 2008:-

1 - Accept the sexuality of Sean and Marcus and make them act like a loving couple more. They were the only couple in the Rovers on New Year's Eve who weren't seen kissing.
2 - Get Dev a girlfriend.
3 - Give Simon Gregson one of those lifetime contracts currently owned by Bill Roache and Eileen Derbyshire.
4 - Make the characters in Audrey's salon actually look like they've had their hair done in some way when they turn up in the cafe later.
5 - Stop depicting newspaper reporters as absolute scumbags.
6 - Give David Platt a rest and some stability.
7 - Decide whether Kelly Crabtree actually has any purpose whatsoever other than to show her legs and wear luminous clothing.
8 - When Vera dies, let Jack grieve onscreen as much as possible and bring out Bill Tarmey's calibre.
9 - Keep Liz and Vernon together, but allow Jim to remain on the ether.
10 - Have something unpleasant and humiliating, but not fatal, happen to Blanche.

It's still the best drama and the best comedy on telly.

3 January 2008

Bomb bagged

Has an old World War II bomb ever gone off in peacetime?

I ask this because in an East Yorkshire village, the police and council have closed off a semi-major thoroughfare after the discovery of a device on New Year's Eve and may even extend to the M62. It will continue to keep nearby roads closed until at least Friday while they try to dispose safely of the bomb.

While I don't wish any ill-cheer on the good folk of the villages near Goole and Howden, I do wonder whether chances could be taken. After all, if it failed to go off upon landing in 1944, and has remained untouched and below earth for six decades since, what are the chances of it deciding to explode now, just because some unfortunate with a metal detector had nothing better to do on the final day of 2007? It has had all this time to rust, be enveloped in mud and other natural substances, and therefore maybe have its potential effect dulled.

But I'm no scientist. And yes, I don't think any person reading this is in doubt about that revelation... so educate me.

We don't do bomb scares in this part of the world very much. Hull was badly hit in the war - my grandma was bombed out three days before my mum was due to appear, hence her eventual birth in bloody Lincolnshire - but in peacetime there's been nothing. I don't wish to even remotely make light of the dangers and circumstances of finding bombs of any type in your locality, but I do wonder just how devastating an effect a bomb of this particular vintage could have if it did detonate.

A decade ago, Eddie Izzard made the point that in London, a bomb scare would not be a scare at all, just an inconvenient re-organisation of one's journey on the Underground ("A bomb? Oh drat, well, there's another Boots the chemist on Tottenham Court Road...").

World War II bombs always seem to follow the same line to me; bomb is found, entire county is brought to a standstill, disposal experts (wouldn't do their job, ever) come in and exercise a controlled explosion or take the bomb out of commission. Everyone says well done, rightly. But I'd be interested to learn just how potentially hazardous these ancient bombs are.

It's a British device, which landed in its resting place after two Halifax bombers collided in mid-air above this area of East Yorkshire during the war. A memorial stands in Eastrington, one of the affected villages.

Here's hoping for a safe and straightforward removal of the bomb.

2 January 2008

Off colour

In a Q&A he did for his club's matchday programme yesterday, Stoke City's deeply unlikeable manager Tony Pulis was asked the following question:

Which players take longest in the shower?

His answer:

All of the black lads...

Am I right in feeling a mite uncomfortable at this, or am I looking for a prejudice which doesn't exist? I genuinely don't know.

"Happy new... erm, happy birthday, honey!"

The Natural Blonde's birthday is January 1st.

This really is most inconvenient when it comes to the husband getting his greetings in the right order just after midnight, especially as he has to deliver them by phone from a nightclub stage having just done a loud countdown on the microphone to a club full of extremely boisterous partygoers.

Fortunately, I've had a few years now to get it right. The consequences of putting a mere calendar change ahead of a birthday are too gruesome for me to contemplate.

Happy New Year, anyway. Unless you were born (or married, or divorced, or passed your driving test...) on January 1st, in which case the salutation may need to be ordered differently... - I just need to hedge my bets, see.

31 December 2007

Kevin Greening 1962-2007

It really is always the good ones who go early.

Rest in peace, you supertalented fella.

30 December 2007

For services to Billy Connolly

"I hate it when people who have a good time get honoured."

A quotation from Michael Parkinson when he appeared on Room 101 fewer than ten years ago. He made the comment on, superficially at least, an admirable level during a general rant about the British class system, all within an attempt to banish the MCC to the chamber guarded by Paul Merton.

At the time, Parkinson had never been offered an honour. Since then, he has smugly and obsequiously accepted a CBE and, now, a knighthood.

I've always hated Michael Parkinson for his sycophancy, his humourlessness, his jealousy of other talk show formats, his unerring self-obsession and the mind-numbing tedium of his programmes (one of numerous nadirs came when he asked Tamzin Outhwaite: "Have you always been beautiful?"). Now I can add hypocrisy to that list.

Sir Michael Parkinson? It makes my teeth itch.

Dangerous dogs

The tale of the 13 month old boy being mauled to death by his family's Rottweiler is a heartbreaking one.

Rottweilers. What a dreadful breed of dog.

I'm sure there are plenty of "pet" Rottweilers out there who've never harmed a fly. But the issue here is that they could. And I don't mean a fly either; but an innocent, helpless child like this boy in Wakefield whose life has been snuffed out in the most agonising, merciless manner by this uncontrolled, raging animal.

Why do people buy Rottweilers? Protection of themselves and property? Fine, a good reason, but there are better dogs for that; dogs who won't force friends and tradesmen to stay away from your home; dogs who won't make fellow dog owners afraid to let their weaker, more docile breeds off their leads; dogs who won't potentially rip to shreds a young loved one because he or she is too young and undaunted by a cute animal who initially seems playful.

There were Rottweilers on my estate a few years ago. One lived in a bungalow round the corner, and was called Carla. She used to bark menacingly through the fence at anyone who passed, and if they had a dog, the noise was extremely threatening. However, she had an owner who kept up tight security, put ample space between her and everyone who didn't know how to handle her, and walked her off-peak on a steel lead and with muzzle.

The other two lived on the cul-de-sac opposite. These dogs were too walked late at night on reinforced leads. However, the similarity ends there. They lived in the garden, barked and fought all day, and belonged to a man who had enough tattoos, meatheaded expressions and extreme viewpoints (from my one conversation with him) to suggest that he didn't need any canine protection from a chihuahua, never mind a Rottweiler, yet he had two of these beasts loose and not disciplined in his garden. He also had a flimsy fence.

Twice I recall their escape - and the first time it happened was when Paddy, my beautiful old sheltie-corgi cross, wandered out the front door for his walk with me closely following him. Paddy was old, slow and streetwise, so he was allowed to walk up the pavement alone as I turned to lock the door.

The key never came out of my pocket.

There was a vicious bark and I turned round to see a large Rottweiler heading my way, closely followed by the puppy version of the second, who eventually would grow up into another venomous beast. I quickly re-opened the door and shut myself in as the bigger animal bounded a yard or two away from me.

Then I remembered Paddy.

I looked out of the window and saw my daft old pooch sniffing this Rottweiler's nose. They then did that circular tail-chasing routine before going off on a random exploration of something on the road. Paddy's natural canine charisma had saved his bacon, but the fact remained that two Rottweilers had escaped from their garden through what I'd noticed a few days earlier to be a fence which was rapidly becoming flimsier. And I still had to get Paddy back into the house without becoming a Rottweiler's supper.

Ten minutes went by and eventually the two Rottweilers crossed to the other end of the street. I opened the front door, beckoned Paddy and managed to usher him in. So now we were both ok, albeit he'd had to sacrifice his walk, which was important for an arthritic dog who needed to keep his legs active.

It was raining quite hard by now, and a woman came walking round our corner. Due to her hood and brolly, I didn't recognise her immediately, but the Rottweilers went straight at her. One jumped up, but she amazingly just continued to walk, ignoring them until she got to her door; a destination which allowed me to recognise her as my Scouse neighbour Pauline.

I saw her in the pub the following Sunday. She told me she'd never been so frightened in her life.

The dogs were eventually rounded up and the fence repaired.

It wasn't enough.

A few weeks later, I was walking home from the pub with a friend and was about 100 yards and one corner from my house when we heard, distantly but vividly, this shriek of horror from a man. We sussed out the vague direction it was coming from and ran; he sounded like he was being mugged. However, before we got much further we heard the harshest type of dog bark - the one of a mutt on the attack.

The two of us were both dog owners and knew what was going on - the Rottweilers had escaped again. We ran back to my friend's house - he lived closest - and got sticks and a couple of leads. We knocked on the door of the man with the secured Rottweiler and asked him to get his reinforced lead and help us. He did.

As we approached a cut-through where the noise of both man and dog was getting closer, the tattooed man was coming towards us, though not at us. He said his dogs had escaped. We didn't reply, just pursued the search. Eventually we found no dogs, but did find the victims - three of them. Three grown men had been overpowered by these two Rottweilers (the second one had by now grown rapidly into a strong, vicious, foaming-at-the-mouth adult) and had ripped their own clothes to escape the grip and get away. They'd returned with cricket bats and golf clubs and were hell bent on finding these animals and killing them. When they saw us, with leads and sticks, they came at us initially in the belief we were the owners, such was their anger and fright. We convinced them just in time. Then the search resumed - we didn't tell them we had seen the real owner go in another direction a few seconds earlier.

There was no sign of the dogs for the next half hour, and the barking stopped, so presumably the owner had got there first. Not long after, the dogs had gone - the barking from the garden had stopped when I walked Paddy past. The man himself also moved out of his house.

I can honestly say that Rottweilers absolutely petrify me. The ones brought up properly are fine by day, but they still have the potential to turn in situations where they misunderstand the threat and use their natural instinct to fight to the death. These two dogs attacked people in the village because an irresponsible owner had not secured them properly; this makes it unfair on the dogs, as for the most part it is bad ownership and slipshod habits which puts the public in danger of attack and the dogs, ultimately, in danger of destruction. While Rottweilers can be effective guard dogs without having a pop at the wrong person - Carla, who recently died of natural causes, was an example, though she still menaced us through her fence and would have had a pop if necessary - ultimately they are programmed to attack first and foremost. They are not worth the hassle, nor the risk.

I feel so much for the family of the baby boy in Wakefield, but I don't blame the dog. I blame the irresponsible idiot who thought a helpless baby and an animal easily capable of a ruthless killing were somehow compatible. I hope the book is thrown at them.

Rottweilers are a worthy breed; they show well, they look good and if put in the right environment by the right people, there is every chance that they will become adequate, life-enhancing dogs. But there will always be that risk element. The Government should make it a criminal offence to leave children under 16 with dogs classified under that 1991 Act as 'dangerous'.

And do you remember that Act? Kenneth Baker brought it in after a Rottweiler got little Ruksana Khan in Bradford and ripped her whole face away. A whole 16 years later and still such dogs are attacking tiny children because the owners aren't being monitored enough. That's a disgrace.