Month: July 2011

BBC trust


Previously on 'Another Damn Blog': I wrote to the BBC to complain about a minor matter??of them getting telephone numbers deliberately wrong on-screen.

I know this is a petty point, but it's one that annoys me. And, as I said at the time, "[i]f the BBC can get its own telephone number wrong, can they be trusted to make a documentary without cutting such basic corners?"

The reply came from BBC Complaints and seemed to be deliberately trying to prove my point. It said that they put numbers up on screen incorrectly because they were easier to remember that way. Bollocks. What a load of cobblers. I wrote back, saying that I didn't mind the brush-off, but did mind them actually lying to me. If they weren't lying, then they would produce the research that the BBC had done that showed people could remember telephone numbers more easily when they were wrong than when they were right. After all, they must've have done that??research??to come up with that answer.

But, I warned darkly, if they'd done no??research??and this reply was just a lie, it was time for them to 'fess up or I would prove the lie by requesting a copy of the research myself. BBC Complaints never replied. So I had to carry through with my threat and I made a formal Freedom of Information Act request to see the research — warning the FoI department that they wouldn't find any but that two could play at the timewasting game.

BBC FoI came back to me: they could find no evidence whatsoever that the BBC had commissioned or received any research on the formatting of telephone numbers on screen or elsewhere. In other words, the guy at BBC Complaints had lied his little socks off to make me go away. As I say, I wouldn't mind a brush-off, but this default that now exists in the UK of telling a lie, no matter how implausible, rather than just telling the truth has to stop.

I first had an organisation tell me an obvious and implausible lie a few years ago. After being very ill and having the NHS strangely reluctant to treat me (indeed, receiving open hostility from some staff) I sought a copy of my hospital notes. Lovely: as correspondance was passed between departments, I was referred to on multiple occasions as "this homosexual". As in "this homosexual first presented to me on…" and "I would like to refer this homosexual to you for further tests" and the like. This, clearly, would not do. So I complained to the chief executive of the hospital. Here comes the whopping great porker: he wrote back and said this was normal practice for all patients and they were all referred to that way in notes. Yeah, right. Do you even believe for a moment that your notes, assuming you're straight, say anywhere, anywhere at all, "this heterosexual presented to me on…"? Uh huh.

I went to the then-Healthcare Commission about this and they gave the hospital a mighty slapping down because of it. The chief executive had to write to apologise to me personally, the writers of "this homosexual" had to attend special courses in not writing "this homosexual" in notes, and the Trust had to employ a 'Diversity Officer' (no, me neither) to make sure this never happened again. But nobody had to apologise for the great fat lie the chief exec told me in his first reply. It was seen as entirely acceptable to try to make me go away by lying to me. It isn't.

A similar, if less outrageous in its detail, thing happened last month when a WHSmith employee told me a barefaced lie to my face rather than admit a mistake had been made. As I say, it seems to have become the default in British society, at least in larger organisations, to tell lies rather than deal with consequences.

For the BBC, this initial lie isn't going to go away. Today I've written to the BBC Trust, what was the governors, to ask them if they agree with me that trust in the BBC is important and lying to stakeholders undermines that trust. I'm expecting the BBC Trust to give me the brush-off and I won't mind that. I just hope they don't take the opportunity to lie to me at the same time.

Friday morning Public Information Film porn

For younger readers, let me explain what's happening here: those fitted carpets and laminate floors you live with are new things. For most of my life, houses had??linoleum??or tiles on the floor and, in more important rooms, a nice rug that, if you were barefoot, you'd aim to land on quickly on winter mornings. Rugs of the time didn't come with anti-slip rubber underneath, even doormats. Instead, they were hessian-backed, just like the mats on a??helter-skelter. You see where this is going.

In the 1970s, if advertising is anything to go by, women were all lazy cows who did nothing at all during the day, so men with voices that implied gravitas would call through and give them pointless make-work to do. Things like sewing torn clothes and scrubbing the bath with Vim, anything to make the ladies less indolent between the husband leaving for work and them putting the dinner on while wearing their best clothes. Included in the list of Things Women Must Do was polishing the linoleum and/or the tiles to get them sparkling, so that the children, dog and husband could then immediately get them dirty again and the woman could look vexed but then smile knowingly and reach for the Flash.

This leads to this PIF, and the state doing battle with SC Johnson and other purveyors of floor polish to idle females. The poor loves: one minute a man from capitalism with a deep voice was telling women to get down on their knees and polish the floor until it shines (with a 'Ziiiing!' noise), the next a man from the state with a deep voice was telling women that if they did so, the next person to walk into their hall would die horribly and it would be all their fault because they'd been warned and hadn't listened because they were waiting for part two of 'Crown Court' to start.

So this is why we did away with lino and tiles and got fitted carpets and laminate floors and the like: capitalism could stop selling floor polish to women and switch to selling more profitable things like gin to them instead, and the state could stop warning women about the horrors of floor polishing and instead print posters warning women they should be drinking less gin. The upside, of course, is that women can now spend the day completely rat-arsed, so that's win-win.

Pass the pie


I am queen of the leftovers. Following last year’s experiment of living on World War II rations, I’ve become terrified of throwing anything edible away. This is A Good Thing and we should all be terrified of waste: in the west, we throw away enough food each year to eradicate food shortages in the whole of Africa. To us, food is a delicious but disposable plaything. To a truly terrifying number of people in the world, food is something you hope your children will have this week.

The waste paranoia is also helpful because we potentially generate a lot of it. The ball-and-chain is makes a specific point of not wanting to know what goes on in abattoirs. I do know and I know very well. He’s a meat-eater. I’ve been a vegetarian since c1989.

This means each meal I cook is really two-meals-with-a-lot-in-common. There’s very little I can’t produce a vegetarian-main-item replacement for his meat-main-item, but our meals can diverge quite considerably at times. Add to that the habit of the supermarkets of not selling logically sized portions of ingredients (you can get a fat-laden ready meal for one, but try getting a single portion of mince and a small bag of old potatoes) and you have a recipe for there being too much in each meal to eat in one day.

As long as you’re creative, and I try to be, serving the same meal for three days running isn’t as dull as it sounds. Take my pie (please!): third day, third different meal.

I had to make two pies, one with vegemince and one with minced-up cow anus. Any pie you make is rarely going to be small enough for one sitting. So this is day three of the two pies.

The first day was the pie served with roast vegetables. The second was the pie with chipshop chips, The third, today, is pie and mash. The only thing they really have in common is the lashings of gravy, and everyone loves gravy so it doesn’t count.

The roast veg is a speciality of my mum’s that I’ve imported. Take virtually any veg you’ve got laying about, plus a good handful of mushrooms, cut them up large, put them in a baking tray and add a glug of oil, salt, pepper, Maggi and/or Aromat if you can get it (curse you, Morrisons) and some mixed herbs and bake in a medium oven for 20 minutes. Reserve the leftover juices at the bottom (add them to your instant gravy and pretend you made the gravy from scratch – nobody will ever doubt you). Courgettes, tomatoes, celery, peppers – all good roasted.

I don’t need to tell you how wonderful chipshop chips in gravy are.

For the mash, a good potato, peeled and boiled, drain, add a stick of garlic butter, add freshly grated nutmeg if you like, add some double cream if you’re feeling adventurous, and mash well.

Now for the pie itself.

Chop an onion and fry it off until soft. Add the mince and fry that off until brown (no need with vegemince). Add gravy granules or powder to soak up the fat. Add Guinness or Riggwelter to dilute the gravy granules. Leave it to simmer. Peel and boil some potatoes. Line a pie tin with bought pastry.

Yeah, I know, but I make terrible, terrible pastry, heavy, glutenous crap pastry. So just buy the ready-rolled chilled stuff.

Line a pie tin with pastry. Take the parboiled potatoes off the heat and let them cool (or cool them under the tap). Put a layer of mince on the bottom. Slice a potato and layer it over the mince. Keep doing this until the pie dish is full of mince and potato layers. Finish with a mince layer. Top the pie with the remaining pastry (if there’s not enough, cheat like I did and make a lattice pie, coz you were always going to do that).

Brush the top with milk, put the pie in the oven and cook on a medium heat for about half an hour. It’s done when the pie is golden on top.

To reheat the leftovers the next day, cover the pie with foil and put it back in a medium oven for half an hour again.

I’m telling you all this, by the way, because I’m experimenting, using my Apple wireless keyboard attached to my iPhone, ready for my holiday in Italy in September, where I intend to blog you all rigid from Turin for a week. So now you know.

Tuesday morning car porn

I love this advert. Great music, some light comedy, a quick flash of almost-racism and at the end a big list of the car brands of my youth. All this from a state-owned corporation, British Leyland, which couldn't make a decent quality car that people wanted to buy for love nor money.

The yearbook mystery

Here’s a little thing I put together for Transdiffusion’s MediaBlog.

No Blacks, no Irish, no gays, no dogs


I'm lucky in my who I have for my friends. Of course, friends are largely self-selecting, in the 'real-life' definition of friendship, but we all have friends we don't like; luckily I know a bunch of people in real life that I adore; thanks to the virtual worlds of Facebook and Twitter, I keep in touch with them in a way that previous generations couldn't imagine.

My friend Tanya is particularly????bercool; I would say that, since I agree with every word she has ever said and she seems to agree with every thought that has dribbled out of my mouth. But it's true beyond that: she is actually????bercool. Her retweets of stuff she has found interesting are always fascinating. This evening, she spotted that Labour's John McDonnell had gone??ballistic??at a pernicious new policy from the Equalities??Commission.

The Equalities Commission as first founded didn't sound that promising. The plan in the dying days of the last Labour government was to make discrimination of any sort out-and-out illegal.??Experience??has shown that once you've made the outward signs of discrimination illegal, the core at the centre begins to die as well. The Equalities Commission would replace the agencies set up decades ago under the Race Relations Act and the Equal Pay Act, plus take on the responsibility for policing the Disability Discrimination Act and, finally, the anti-homophobia provisions of the Equalities Act itself. But the core of the Commission was to be the Commission for Racial Equality, a body reviled by the right ("they banned our fun Minstrel Show that hurt nobody!") and unpopular with the left (it never seemed to do anything about the people complaining, who we all thought needed urgent reeducation). Worse, there is, or is perceived to be, a racial division when it comes to homosexuality and female equality. Actually, it's a hell of a lot more complex than that (it's a racial/sexual/class/education/experience/understanding division, which is more like a shattered mirror than a simple Black-White chasm). But the perception was that a CRE-dominated Equalities Commission would have very little to offer women and gays.

Well, shut up: the Equalities Commission was dogged in its??pursuit??of equality for all. The Equality Act had set up an instant problem: it bowed to nobody, no race, creed or belief, in saying that everybody was equal. The Equalities Commission followed the spirit of the Act. Soon we were hearing in horrified tones about couples turning up a B&Bs to be sent away again for not fitting the ideals the owners held; the Equalities Commission was first up to intervene. Yay!

But the horror stories didn't go away. The newspapers, vastly dominated by the Right, took the line that it was a terrible thing that people who booked a wedding or a hotel room or a gondola and were told to fuck off should have an organisation – a Government Agency spending Precious Taxpayers' Money – that they could turn to. Even though their cherished principles of capitalism should have told the owners to bite down on the bile and accept the damn money. But the law was on our side: you do not have the right to turn someone away from your service because you don't like the look of some aspect of them.

Since this bothers the Daily Mail, it now bothers 'Dave' Cameron and his new 'socially liberal' Conservative party. As they're in government and under the Mail's cosh, it bothers the previously socially liberal Liberals too. A line must be drawn somewhere between what people claim to fundamentally believe in and the right not to be discriminated against. The subject must be looked at again and the line redrawn. Alas, alas, the Equalities Commission has gone away and thought about this and come back with the idea that the line must be drawn to favour those who believe in discrimination, not those who are most likely to be discriminated against.

From now, if you want to discriminate against someone, if you want to make them feel belittled and small and worthless, the Equalities Commission and this unholy 'progressive' government want to be on your side. After all, it's your choice who you rent a room to. It's up to you if you want to draw a public salary but turn away subhumans who want to do sick things like marry. It's your??gondola, you should choose who sails in it.

I have a t-shirt shop. I sell slogan t-shirts to anybody. Not Black people, of course. I happen to think Black people are wrong. There's something about Black people being an affront to my god somewhere in the book I believe in. If a Black person orders a t-shirt, I turn them down and return their worthless cash. I fundamentally believe in this. It's something my god has told me, personally, that I should do. Black people are sub-humans and should go away. I also don't sell my t-shirts to Jewish people, because some other people who believe in the book I believe in don't like them; and I have a Jewish heritage; but you can't choose your family but you can choose to be a Jew. I won't sell my t-shirts to unmarried women either – sluts – and I'll only sell to married ones where their husbands approve and say so clearly. Because this book I believe in says so. No, I can't point to the exact place it says these things; but yes, I can point to places in the very same book where it says the exact opposite. Also, the book was written several thousand years ago.??

But still: I have a right to believe in the parts of this book that agree with me and ignore the other parts where the lead character, the one I act in the name of at all times, says he loathes people like me. Because he doesn't *really*. I know. Because I've read my book.


This video, like most REM videos, is a??fascinating??watch. However, if you've never heard the song before (and what's wrong with you?) listen to it with your eyes closed first and tell me what it makes you remember. It's an odd song, because for most people it tells a different autobiographical story. You may never have been skinny dipping at night, but I'm sure you've got some memory from adolescence with the same hint of danger-mixed-with-pleasure the song seems to be??describing.

The band themselves are split as to what it means, with lead singer Michael Stipe saying that it's autobiographical in places but mostly just made up while other members recall memories of the early days of the group getting together – but not the same memories as each other.

For me, the song seems to be about boys. That first flush of adolescence when I first noticed other boys, when I first realised that whatever was going to happen as I grew up, other boys were going to feature quite prominently in life. That time as a teenager when life seemed full of??possibilities??and the promise of sex, rather than mortgages and cleaning the lav and thinking that a trip to B&Q makes a lovely thing to do as a couple of a Sunday. This song brings it back to me: the sight of male flesh; the smell of being outdoors at night; the taste of cheap ciggies and cheaper cider; the sound of other boys breathing while asleep; the feeling of being touched for the first time.

Pretty good for 4 minutes 23 seconds of American songwriting.

Friday morning train porn again

More excellent marketing from British Rail: why face the hell of the airport or stress of the motorway when you can sit back and relax on a comfortable, speedy Intercity 125?

This is probably British Rail's most famous advertising campaign, appearing in a couple of versions (originally ending 'British Rail', the advert was still in use as Sectorisation came along and BR dissolved its regions in favour of 'Sectors' – Provincial, Intercity, London and South East and Freight, hence the 'Intercity' tag line with only a little double-headed arrow). Like much of British Rail's marketing, it now produces a smile of recognition and warmth, not least for presenting the inside of the Mk III coaches so well. They've been refurbished since??privatisation, with view-blocking high seats (in case there's an accident – it'd be better if you're killed instantly by hitting your face on the seat than slightly more slowly by being thrown into the carriage) that no longer coincide with the windows (who wants to look out of the window when travelling when you could be reading the dire on-board advertising magazine) and a reduction in legroom (because, hey, we need to see if all modes of travel can give you a deep-vein??thrombosis).

Nevertheless, despite the shysters who now run the railways, the central part of the advert remains true: there's no better way of travelling than by train.

What might have been

Lesbian, gay and trans kids get a very raw deal. Children are positively??mediaeval??in the pleasure they take from taunting other children, especially ones that seem 'different' in some way. Grown-ups are often no better: the reason that so many homeless kids are LGBT is not because we're unstable as people, but because loving, ordinary parents would rather throw a child out to sleep rough than accept that they are different. The reason we suffer more mental illness than average society is not because being LGBT causes mental illness but because of the rejection and hate received at the hands of the organisations other people would turn to for help – churches, charities, even the state.??

When I was growing, the state, in the shape of the Tories, feared that people like me were "being taught" that we had an "inalienable right to be gay" and that this was wrong. They passed evil, homophobic legislation that they still haven't properly apologised for, banning the "promotion" (read: discussion) of homosexuality in schools. Hundreds of gay children took their lives in that period. And I've got news for Tories who still worry that people believe they have an??inalienable right to be gay: we do.

These attitudes are slowly changing. But very very slowly. Too slowly. A couple of organisations try to do practical things to change this. Diversity Role Models??is sending ordinary, happy LGBT people into schools – primary and secondary – to challenge homophobic behaviour and to offer a route out of hell from those homophobia affects, simply by standing in front of a class and saying: look at me – I'm you. I'm normal. I'm happy.

At the other end, cleaning up the damage society's attitudes can do, are the Albert Kennedy Trust. Albert was triple-cursed: gay; abandoned by his own family; and, at 16, as the state is wont to do, tipped out of a children's home to live on the streets. He died running away from the mob that was trying to give him a beating.

There but for the grace of fate goes any LGBT child. The video above is part of their "AKT NOW" campaign to remind us all, gay, straight and everything in between, that this happens and it must be stopped. The stars are all famous celebrities who happen to be gay and happen not to have had their lives ruined – or ended – senselessly because of it.

I defy you not to be moved.