13 February 2009

They loved it really

It's been ages since the dogs have featured on here, so when we decided to brave the wretched snow yesterday and go for a run, I took the camera along. This is my favourite pic...

... because it sums up the Basset personality entirely. Bentley and Penny, to the left, sport that "I know I look sad but I'm actually having enormous fun, honest" look which is symbolic of the breed, while Ruby is equally symbolic by steadfastly choosing to ignore my plea for her to look at the camera, despite my biscuit bribery efforts, because she'd found something far too interesting to nuzzle from beneath the white blanket to bother about her daddy.

Meanwhile Boris, masked and looking slightly fed up, managed to pee on a snowman during our run round the field. This wouldn't be anything abnormal, only a child was still building the snowman at the time.

12 February 2009

108 and onwards

I'm utterly bored of old footballers doing all they can to devalue David Beckham's achievement of equalling their old mucker Bobby Moore's record of 108 caps for an England outfield player. Moore's pals have, pretty much as one, denounced Beckham's tally because "only" 99 of these appearances for his country were from a starting role, with the other nine - including the all-important leveller against Spain last night - coming as a substitute.

Moore won his 108 caps between 1962 and 1973 and was never once a substitute, nor was he ever substituted. That's good. He did, of course, lift the World Cup as captain in 1966 too - a fact even the biggest non-footballists in the world (a chunk of whom are linked to this blog) won't have missed in the nigh on 43 years to have passed since.

Nobody is trying to claim that Beckham is in some way worthier than Bobby Moore just because he has equalled his record and will almost certainly break it when England play Slovakia in a World Cup qualifier next month. But too many crusty old guard figures, from the playing fraternity and the press box, are trying to find a way to preserve Moore's attainment by actively talking down Beckham as both player and human being.

Moore died in 1993 and football worldwide rightly mourns him to this day. Yet presumably were he alive today, he'd fulfil the portrait of the man of honesty, honour and integrity which those who knew him paint, and therefore upon Beckham equalling his tally he'd have said: "Well done, David." Moore's apologists try to enhance the man's perfect image further by tarnishing Beckham's, though while Beckham's use as a player, at the age of almost 34, to the England cause can be widely debated, his attributes as a man and a patriot can scarcely be questioned. He's a proud Englishman, a decade married, devoted to his three sons and still as determined to achieve things in his life despite a colossal bank balance that nobody reading this could ever imagine.

He went to America because he was told by that berk Steve McClaren that his England career was over, so it was time to do something fresh that a man of his stature could achieve. However, when Fabio Capello came in and slowly restored him to the squad, Beckham began looking for a higher class of football to cement that place and so now is on the verge of joining AC Milan full-time after looking terrific in a loan spell. Yet the same people who criticised him for taking the American bucks and looking for an easy retirement are now having a pop at him for trying to revive his international chances with a return to a high calibre European league. They should give the lad a break.

The argument about substitutions is a misnomer too. Moore was skipper for almost all of his international career and therefore if fit, played. It was as straightforward as that. Plus, for some time until the late 60s substitutions were not allowed in competitive international football and only rarely used in friendly internationals. Had the opportunity to use subs been available, there's no doubt that Jimmy Greaves and possibly one more player would have come on in extra time in 1966.

The old boys can't claim some kind of high-ground by saying their game was without substitutes while also complaining, at the time, that many FA Cup finals of the 1950s and 1960s were ruined as spectacles because someone suffered a serious injury during the game, seriously diminishing their team's chances because they either stayed on the pitch in agony (and/or out of position) or went off, leaving ten team-mates to battle it out as there were no subs.

Beckham has plenty of detractors but he has always put playing for England ahead of absolutely everything else and to that end, he is more similar to Moore than any of Moore's chums would dare claim. He wants to be one of England's greatest ever players and there's no reason why we shouldn't regard him as such. Nothing will take away Moore's achievements, so let's just stop being so snooty and offer Beckham our congratulations.

11 February 2009

"The only way to face Monday morning, is to listen to Sunday night..."

Sunday nights on Radio 1 in the early 1990s underwent a major revamp when John Peel, who utterly hated the slot, was given his weekdays back and Gary Davies was handed three extra hours of weekend airtime.

Davies had come off his decade-defining Bit In The Middle (later reincarnated as Let's Do Lunch with little discernible difference in the content) before Johnny Beerling agreed to his request to become the main man of the Radio 1 weekend so he could do other stuff during the week.

To this end, he was given the weekend breakfast shows from 7-10am ("let me hear you say it - wo-oh wo-oh!") which were refreshingly appealing. Not needing to adapt the slightly jumpy persona of the lunchtime programme, in these days before webcams you could almost see him relax, and the music was largely extremely good. But having been on both early shifts, the most unusual part of this repositioning of one of Radio 1's staple acts was the second Sunday slot afforded to him.

For one jock to be on twice in the same day as a matter of routine was unheard of. Bruno Brookes was the predecessor on weekend breakfast (lots of mock-arguing with Liz Kershaw and trying to sell her to lorry drivers) but for the most part this didn't coincide with his spell on the chart show later on Sundays. Later Mark Goodier would be - technically - on twice a day, albeit there was only a news-sized half hour gap between the appalling Mega Hits and the dependable Evening Session. So to see the name of Gary Davies on the schedule twice - from 7am and from 10pm - was pretty much a first.

The other innovation was that Davies wasn't given a producer. All Radio 1 shows had individual producers, as they do now, who chose the music, liaised with the presenter as far as ideas and spots were concerned and generally motivated the jock to stay on their toes and deliver the best performance they could each time they faded up the mic. Not here. Beerling gave Davies carte blanche as far as the three hours was concerned to play what he liked. The remit, essentially, was to play stuff that was good, familiar and varied, with a few current songs chucked in. In the Radio Times, it said in bold 10pm: Gary Davies on the Sunday evening Radio 1 schedule, then Producer: Gary Davies in tiny lettering underneath.

So at 10pm, after what was usually a slightly forced handover with Annie Nightingale on the request show, the programme would begin. The main theme, used only at the very beginning and the very end of broadcast, was a gentle string-based instrumental on which some sex-line girl was heard to say "Okay, let's do it..." in a sensual manner. Davies would then get 20 seconds or so to spiel about how it was "the end of the weekend and for the next three hours, it's all about the music". The theme would be donutted, as a second "Okay, let's do it..." brought it to an end (I really hope it was on Sonifex cart, this theme) and then ... the first record.

Usually the first three songs were back to back (and while that was a given on commercial radio it was completely unheard of on Radio 1) and they'd be of a similar style and era - for example, some late 60s Englishness via guitar courtesy of Honky Tonk Women, Bad Moon Rising and Til The End Of The Day or some gleeful 80s synthpop courtesy of Mad World, Quiet Life and Reap The Wild Wind. One link later, and a high-value A-list song would then be played, followed by something older which was either by the same artist (again a new thing for Radio 1, unless it was within some form of Two Of A Kind feature) or something blatantly connected to the artist or the title of the song. As good as the music was, such programming traits meant you spent some of the listening time trying to predict what was coming next.

Anyway, the other main feature of the first hour was Lots Of Love, which was carried over from lunchtimes and was the renamed but barely changed successor to the original Sloppy Bit. With the Sunday night version, Davies would read out listener letters (and he used to get loads - and I doubt he ever had to make any up, and yes, I once had one read out by him but I'm telling you nothing else, though I don't think she lives in Tavistock any more...) over a looped version of the love theme from Dances With Wolves which was, on reflection, absolutely ideal for this feature. Davies' own mildly Americanised tone (though he had become more grown-up sounding on this slot by now) seemed to complement both the material he was reading and the music over which he was reading it and it worked so damned well. The music didn't fade out, it had a definite ending and therefore he had to shuffle the letters and time his reading so the last one, the one which contained the request he had picked out, was completed as the last note of the theme sounded. Then it was into Chocolate Girl, or After The Love Has Gone or Vision Of Love. Through 1991 a lot of people asked for Bryan Adams as he continued to strangle the charts, but Davies only played it once during the 16-week period of death, and went for the six-minute version with the drawn out instrumental fade. Invariably there would be two love songs prior to the 10.30 news, probably with Brian Deacon, and then back to the music.

The show continued in this manner through the 11pm hour too, but between midnight and 1am two different musical interludes would come in. As if to not alienate those people listening alone and unloved (which sounds like a Jo Brand gag about evil late-night continuity announcers), Davies introduced I'm Not In Love, an alternative feature to Lots Of Love which basically allowed correspondence from the unattached listener. A long instrumental version of the music which made his specialised jingles was used as background - no effort to loop the 18-note piano interlude of the 10cc song was made - prior to a record with an unrequited or loner's theme. I'm sure he probably played 10cc after one such round of letters, but I can't remember.

Then to the end of the programme he went with his Bedtime Sequence. I absolutely loved this. Three, or maybe four, songs all with an artist in common. I remember him playing Cry, I'm Mandy Fly Me and Bridge To Your Heart - he had the nerve to end the show with Wax! Others in similar vain would include, for example, Little Bird, Lily Was Here and Love Is A Stranger, or Sussudio, Word Of Mouth and Tonight Tonight Tonight. You get the idea. Alternatively, the three songs would have an identical word in their titles, so you'd get Golden Years, Golden Brown and Silence Is Golden, for example. A closing theme and a handover to Claire Sturgess later, and it was over.

This was a total rebrand of the Davies shtick. He concentrated on the music and proved, via his role as producer as well as host, that he knew his stuff and wasn't one of those irksome 80s DJs for whom the music was only there for when he needed to go outside for a fag, even though that's how he often came across when doing his over-filled lunchtime show. When he was Bannisterised at the end of 1993, he took the programme to Virgin Radio, where the medium wave band and the commercials meant some of the star quality had been irretrievably removed, never to return. He didn't last long there.

As a teenager who was beginning to learn about producing and presenting radio programmes, this Sunday night show did more for my regressive knowledge of music than any other, an enthusiasm which remains to this day. Davies used to - often correctly - get a lot of brickbats hurled his way when he was on the daily schedule, but when he switched to weekends he noticeably grew up and the day he left Radio 1 was much sadder than maybe it had once threatened to be.

10 February 2009

"And weekends perfectly nice..."

Sister of Mercy by the Thompson Twins, proof that sometimes it is possible to draw a fourth single from a very good album - Into The Gap - without tarnishing that album at all.

My earliest memory of the Thompson Twins was watching them on Kenny Everett's programme (they were doing Love On Your Side, a 1983 hit, so was that when he was on the BBC or ITV?) and then I remember enjoying the childish quirkiness of We Are Detective, a song which I now think is dreadful.

The it became blurry and a tad confusing. The Now! albums didn't help here, as the chronology of the Into The Gap singles was all askew. The graceful Hold Me Now was on the second volume, then the sparky You Take Me Up appeared on the third, thereby missing the less inspiring Doctor! Doctor! altogether, it seemed. Fine - this wasn't unusual. But then on the fourth volume, Doctor! Doctor! was there. As an 11 year old I couldn't fathom why such a basic continuity gaffe had been made - I suppose the grown-up assumption is that there weren't enough clearances available for records which were in the charts up to the point of release, so they had to go back in time a bit.

Then along came Sister Of Mercy. This was a much bleaker, darker effort compared to all the previous singles - no shanty accordions or soundbitten cries for medical assistance here - which referred to marital stress, boredom and murder. Tom Bailey, with that utterly fantastic carrot-coloured mop and tie-on ponytail (that bloke from A Flock Of Seagulls has nothing on this barnet), sat at a baby grand, all earnest, delivering this dramatic, initially unaccompanied, tale of pity and intimidation. And what a fantastic voice he had.

The song is great, as it showcased the musicality of the band while still chucking in those simple synth hooks after each verse line once the instruments had kicked in. And while the becapped Alannah Currie was a fine lyricist, her instrumental skills were always somehow questioned, so we get plenty of that xylophone plinking sound which she would later adapt into a fearsome bluebottle-swatting style whenever called upon to mime the song.

As for Joe Leeway, his simple bass playing was overshadowed by his effort to demonstrate that his voice was on the choral backing vocals, despite the over-effeminate falsetto which even the Gibbs would have struggled to reach.

This was the last really good single from the Thompson Twins (did anybody really like Don't Mess With Dr Dream?), and as I recall, it stuck at #11 for an eternity. They were colossal in America, shifting a gigantic quantity of records which far outplayed their slightly second-string status in the UK. The refusal of Bailey and Currie to acknowledge that they were a couple until long after the question had ceased to be asked probably didn't help, as far more attention was paid, dishearteningly, to this are-they aren't-they existence than it ever was to the music. Maybe they didn't want Leeway to be seen as some kind of piggy-in-the-middle.

Then there was the tiresome dig-in-the-ribs guff about their name. Yes, there were three of them. Yes, none of them were twins. Yes, none of them were called Thompson. Get over it. It's a name. You didn't spend hours wondering if Paul McCartney et al were being chased by coleopterists every day, did you?

9 February 2009

Slut of nonsense

This story about the schoolgirl whose skirt was too short has, I'm almost ashamed to say, made me laugh.

The reason? If kids don't take a blind bit of notice when parents and teachers try to enforce school rules on them in the correct way - ie, telling them to via their own natural authority - then a spot of insulting in front of the other kids is as good a way as any to do it.

This girl, aged just 13, had been told countless times to stop rolling her skirt up to show off more leg. She ignored the instruction, presumably thanks to the dangerous knowledge that schoolchildren have today of their 'rights' and that the tendency today for modern parents to blindly support their child, even when they are blatantly flouting school regulations, rather than give them the bollocking they deserve.

Okay, so wearing a skirt too short is hardly comparable a felony to daubing the C-word on the deputy headmaster's office door in indelible paint, which is what one lad in my year did. He was heavily punished. The other 15 year olds in the building laughed a lot. But it's a rule, like any other. Rules are there for a reason, and teachers are there to uphold the school rules so that disruption of lessons is minimised. A girl with a skirt too short holds up the entire learning process because every hormonal lad is staring at her legs rather than their textbooks, and every girl is jealously sniping to her friend that this leggy, 'developed' teenager is in fact something rather more sinister (ie, something they really want to be but haven't the nerve or the build to carry off). Not ideal for a crucial 50-minute lesson in which the atomic numbers of the inert gases have to be learned.

The teacher said, in desperation, that this girl looked like a 'slut' and that the shortened skirt 'does not do much for your cellulite'.

Awesome. Yet this teacher is being castigated. Okay, maybe it was unprofessional, but any school which kicks out a pupil, even temporarily, because she is showing too much thigh will be widely criticised for being so petty, so a short, sharp shock - even a verbal one - is good in the long term. Cruel to be kind. And let's face it, there'll be girls in her class who are saying the same thing and I bet they're not punished for it, even though it would be classed as bullying. So why punish the teacher?

In the national newspapers, this girl now has banner headlines and extreme close-up shots of her legs thanks to a supposed birthmark which the teacher seemingly mistook for cellulite. Those photos make the press look just perverted, frankly - the kind of thing which Private Eye likes to pillory with the word 'fruity'. If this girl is as mature as she hopes her clothing habits suggest, then she won't need counselling or pity or compensation; she'll just roll her skirt back to where it should be and get on with her life, as when she's 16 she'll have ample chance to show her legs off, should she so wish. It's up to parents to make sure their kids don't flout the rules and if they fail, don't blame an exasperated teacher for going overboard to try to make up for their failings.

The mother bleats: "Teachers should be giving children confidence for their future lives, not speaking to them in such a despicable way."

True. But prior to this teacher's comments, the teenager will have been instructed by other staff members to roll down her skirt. She has ignored this or, at the very least, done as she's told within eyeshot, then pulled the skirt back up again in the bogs when the same teacher was then out of the equation. The school told her parents, but they have steadfastly failed to instil any discipline into their child.

And this is where we get to. A teacher facing internal discipline, a parent whingeing about such beastly treatment of her perfect daughter and way too much of a 13 year old girl's legs in the national press. Well done everybody. Great work all round.