Archive for July, 2008

The bitch is back

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Joan Collins as Alexis Carrington in Dynasty, courtesy of a screengrab by Brian Byrne

Joan Collins’s latest dispatch from her base in St Tropez, where she keeps her finger on the pulse of British society, has appeared in The Spectator magazine, the journal for people who think society is going to the dogs because of indiscipline among the poor. I would attempt a parody of her views, except she seems to have beaten me to it.

“There’s something dreadfully Mugabe-ish about Gordon Brown’s attitude towards the ordinary citizens of Britain,” Joan writes. “He seems to care not one jot that we are all finding day-to-day living more and more horrible, with the rising prices of goods, fuel and transport, unfair taxes and rocketing mortgages. Thousands of pensioners – the same people who got us through the Second World War – are practically starving while the portals are wide open for every foreign immigrant who arrives and immediately collects massive benefits such as housing, health and maternity care.”

She goes on to note that she knows of two Eastern European girls who have become pregnant upon arrival in Britain and are now living a “relatively comfortable life” on housing benefit.

Where to start? Robert Mugabe’s principal political tactic – appealing to nationalist sympathies to justify attacks on people deemed to be outsiders – bears a closer resemblance to Joan Collins’s politics than those of Gordon Brown. Her idea that pensioners (who, contrary to her assertion, are mostly too young to have fought in the Second World War*) are suffering as a consequence of immigration policy is a classic nationalist false correlation. The two are connected only in the sense that both are a burden on the public purse – a link so tenuous that you could use the same argument to blame the plight of chicken farmers on the RAF, or the road death toll on Olympic athletes.

Joan also betrays the source of her information and opinions. Only a Daily Mail reader believes that you can live a comfortable life on housing benefit. Is it too much to hope that she was spoofing herself?

* The vast majority of Britons of pensionable age (about 80 per cent) would have been 16 or younger at the end of the War, so although many lived through it, it is not true to say that they contributed to the War effort.

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Smoke and mirrors

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Smokers are fighting back, claims Forest, the pro-cancer lobby “voice and friend of the smoker”. The ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces is, they say, ruining lives of people who should have the right to choose.

I was once on their side. Sure, smoking kills, nastily, and is poisonous and smelly in a way that would make other habits like, say, kipper curing or taxidermy a bad choice for a pub-based activity. But it had become normal behaviour, and to legislate against it was to interfere with one’s freedom to harm oneself provided it doesn’t unduly affect others.

Then, as the ban came into force, I realised that there is nothing normal about a smoky atmosphere. I was no more imposing my will upon smokers by enjoying a smoke-free environment than they had been imposing their will on me amid a cancerous fog.

I had accepted smoking because although it made everything slightly less pleasant, it was too abstract and too normalised to allow me to complain about it without resembling a health fascist.

Now the boot is on the other foot, and smokers who whinge about their predicament sound like hopeless addicts whose social lives have been ruined by their own bloody-minded inability to go outside occasionally. Forest, in a press release noting the social impact of the smoking ban, gives voice to a 37-year-old engineer whose lament is hard to read without hearing maudlin violins in the background.

“Prior to the ban I was a regular pub goer and member of a local pub pool team. All of that has ended. I now visit the pub around once or twice a month at best. Prior to the ban I only ever drank alcohol in the pub. Now we buy in a couple of boxes every time we visit the supermarket and have even invested in a drinks cooler.”

Hardship indeed, but if his need to smoke is so severe that it prevents him from playing pool then hopefully the ban will help him to put his life in perspective. He goes on to say that the ban has driven him to contemplate hosting a number of barbecues. Not exactly a dystopian future, is it?

One smoker I met regarded the ban as the first curtailment of civil liberties that would inevitably lead to a banning of all pleasurable activity including, he said ominously, drinking. It’s a bogus comparison because harmful as drinking can be, it is not bad in moderation and does not directly harm others in excess unless it is combined with violence or driving, which can be punished in their own right.

Is it the tip of the iceberg, as he suggested? I suspect that it is, less frighteningly, the entire iceberg.

Head in hands hold ’em

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

I have a confession to make. No, I haven’t watched Cliffhanger again. It’s this: I quite like televised poker. I like watching familiar characters testing their nerves against one another, playing the odds and having to cope with high-stakes success and failure. But none of these is a winning argument. You could say the same about watching Formula One racing, a spectator sport so rich in techie knowledge and so sparse in incident that you may as well be watching Stephen Hawking reading The Silmarillion.

I like the deathless commentary and, in particular, Jesse May, a host so out of place in a jacket and tie that he might conceivably have gotten his break in television in an advertisement for PG Tips.

I know that I’m in bad company with TV poker because the advert breaks are so ghastly. There are endless pleas to send text messages to “girls in your area”, for example, but the most nauseating advert is one for pkr, an online poker video game. The voiceover, which accompanies footage of electronic poker players posturing like gang members in West Side Story, is so densely packed with jargon that anyone who said it in real life would be sent home to watch a Formula One qualifying session. “I’ve come in over the top of pot-sized raises with middle pair, bluffed under the gun with four runners behind me, folded pocket kings on a hunch,” the polygonal man says. “I’ve survived bad beats, sick draws and cold decks, and I’ve lived through fields of thousands to make the final table. Here I come.”

I despair. These guys are giving geeks a bad name.

Blank canvassing

Tuesday, July 8, 2008
Tenuous 08 Nominations

I’d be highly surprised if the four people who read this blog regularly have enough voting power to deliver me victory, but here we go all the same. I have been nominated (on a rather long shortlist) for the Tenuous Connection awards – the contest for the most tenuous connection to a celebrity. My entry, as detailed at the bottom of this earlier post, is a mightily underwhelming brush with Suzi Quattro, whose purchase of more than £10,000 worth of wine in the Wapping branch of Oddbins immediately before my £100-odd spree made the staff regard me as somewhat inconsequential. Tenuous, I think you’ll agree. Anyhow, if you would like to vote for me, then click on the big brown icon up there and write “I vote for le poulet noir” or similar in the comments box at the bottom of that page. Go on. I’m nicer than David Davis.