BBC Sounds: Error 404

Now, I know I’m not the target market so my opinions are irrelevant, but christ: have you heard the state of Forest 404 on the iPlayer? (Yes, you can get it on the BBC Radio iPlayer, so you don’t need to suffer the Sounds interface. Yet. But they’re coming for you.)

The BBC. Who the fuck is in charge these days? Clearly there’s a little bit of existential panic going on. The core audience is dying off and the replenishers aren’t arriving in sufficient numbers. There’s a proper demographic dip in the numbers of 18-24 year olds at the moment, I’m given to understand. Because if these people don’t start making use of the BBC, they’ll shrug their shoulders when the Murdochs and the Mails come for it. And how do you persuade a generation who have easy access to digitised versions of almost everything all of the time to listen to the radio?

Forest 404 is somebody’s idea of how to do that. And it’s worth unpacking to understand what a complete shitshow it is. But again: I’m not the target market, so emoji shrug or something.

Let’s start with the killer irony of how I heard about it. The only two BBC podcasts I listen to are In Our Time, hosted by the 108-year-old Melvyn Bragg; and Fortunately, co-hosted by Jane Garvey and Fi Glover, who are 108 years old collectively. So the BBC is promoting this patronising radio dreck at 108 year old listeners like myself. Which raises the question: are they really trying to attract a younger audience, or do they just want to be seen to be trying to do so? Is it, in other words, a box-ticking exercise? The answer to that question, reader, will probably not surprise you.

So what is Forest 404? Welp. It’s a “soundscape”, it’s a “drama”, it’s a “documentary”. It caters for the short attention span by having short episodes (the first is 25 minutes, the second 22, the third 19, so it goes); and it caters to the assumed/perceived ignorance of its listeners by interspersing episodes with exposition (designated with a T, which presumably stands for Thickoes), which patronisingly explain the background/premise and with “uninterrupted” sounds from the episodes (designated S for Seriously?). These mini-documentaries and soundscape excerpts are short (5-10 minutes) and remind me of the bits of filler at the end of David Attenborough documentaries, where they explain how they faked captured footage of snakes giving birth to polar bears or whatever.

I put scare quotes around “uninterrupted” above because, seriously? Because of course each chunk of audio gives the BBC a chance to put in some branding, “BBC Sounds…” and a patronising voice over explaining what it is you’re about to hear. 

Even more hilariously, the voice for “BBC Sounds” is different to the one you hear at the beginning of everything else from BBC Radio these days. It’s hard to explain how fucking stupid this is, but here goes. When you start an episode of, say, In Our Time, you hear an obviously young, female voice, which says, “BBC Sounds. Music, radio, podcasts.” Clearly the voice of a Bright Young Thing, probably someone younger than me would know who it is. Anyway, this is BBC Marketing at its best worst, because of course it’s just sonic wallpaper, and I literally just now had to start an episode of Fortunately so I could hear the exact words she says. Because although I’ve already heard it and been irritated by it 150 times, I couldn’t have told you the actual content of the message. Noise.

So that’s stupid level number one, the typical kind of thing you’d expect from the marketing monkeys. But. Forest 404 is meant to be “dark” and “edgy”, and so they use a different, young, female voice to say those exact same words. If the first voice sounds like a nice girl from the Home Counties who went to Oxford and that, the Forest voice sounds, ahem, more “urban”, and most definitely sounds actually fucking bored with the words she’s saying. So, um, like, yah, we know this is shit, yah, and completely cheese on toast, but, like, hey, we’ve got to do it, right, so we do it, but we’re really, like, yah, subversive about it, and make it obvious, yah, that we know it’s, like, complete shit.

Fuck.

So then you get into the actual, you know, content, and what is it? It’s another one of those, excuse me, *emoji yawn*, dark dystopian visions of, ya know, how horrible the world might be if the horrible world we live in got a little bit worse than it is now, as if that were even possible. So it’s an all-urban, high-rise, “fast times” future in which knowledge of the world as it used to be (“Slow times”) has been deliberately forgotten in order to keep the population anaesthetised and compliant.

Honestly, the doublethink going on here. (Talking of dystopias.) Because the marketing monkeys are all about “fast times” aren’t they? With their unironic rebranding of the slow times “Radio” as “Sounds”, and the insistence of repeating the anodyne, meaningless, marketing message at the beginning and end of every fucking programme. And then you’re trying to sell me on a terrifying future vision of dystopian Britain where people have their minds wiped if they display curiosity? All the while ignoring the real threat we face, which is that if there are no rain forests left, there are no people to left to live in an urban dystopia.

And behind all this, behind all this wank, is the true commitment of the BBC to this kind of youth marketing. It’s a box-ticker, sure enough. Because the edgy dystopian drama has a cast of precisely two. And all the other characters are merely referred to using reported speech. So you’ve got a little bit of sound mixing going on, and two voices telling a story. And then the whole lot gets padded out with explainers because – and you may have to back up here, possibly go up into orbit so you can see the size of it from space – the contempt for the target audience is so huge that they feel the need to offer a commentary after every episode because they don’t think we have the intelligence to understand what’s going on.

An absolute triumph. You can hear them, in the future, when the licence fee is being abolished: “Well, we tried.”

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Night traveler

I’m not keen on catching sight of my fellow travelers on the channel tunnel. I don’t like to see people in their road clothes, their scuffs, their baggies, their trackies, their onesies. Their pyjamas. I think you should have standards when it comes to presenting yourself in public. And that bombed out roadtrip look upsets me: it reminds me that many other road users are as tired as I am, that we’re all reacting 30% more slowly. You see people parked beneath the signs saying “double-decker” and “single-decker”, trying to work out what it all means. Coming out of a service station that serves both directions on the autoroute and slamming on the brakes: wait, which way?

At the beginning of my continental driving career, back when I could do the whole twelve hour drive and not get out of the car with seized knees and swollen ankles, I tried to arrange crossings so that we could maximise daylight. Like many, I’m not keen on driving at night. My night vision is poor, and I am very afraid of falling asleep at the wheel. We’d cross around six, then make the 6½ hour drive (8 hours with breaks) across France with the sun mostly in the sky. Now the kids are older, or now the kids don’t even come with us sometimes, we sometimes do the drive with just a single, short, stop. It’s brutal, cruel, inhuman. Even worse, we now tend to do it overnight. This came about mainly because we bought Frequent Traveler tickets, and if you want to avoid the surcharge, you end up getting on a train at two o’clock in the morning.

My anxiety before these trips is now almost overwhelming. A hollow feeling in my chest before setting out; a feeling that I don’t even want to go; continual flashbacks to those moments when things have gone wrong. I was especially worried this time that it would rain and I would experience those moments of blind terror when trying to overtake trucks throwing up tsunamis of spray.

The other reason for these night crossings, the channel tunnel shuttle gradually got more and more popular. If you travel at peak times, you encounter long waits, gridlocked access roads, jammed up car parks, interminable waits for passport control.

We were early adopters of the tunnel. It was more expensive than the ferry, but much quicker, and (dealmaker) there was no seasickness on my part. But in those early days, before the rolling stock looked shagged out and before the toilets were totally borked, it was relatively quiet, feeling almost exclusive (except we were there). Then two or three things happened to change that.

The first is pure guesswork, but I suspect the price of the train and the price of the ferry converged. There were a few shaky years for the Tunnel, when the company was being bailed out by banks, when they got aggressive with the fare prices. These days? Not so much, I think, but a lot of people, once they’ve tried it, don’t want to go back.

The second thing that happened was an enormous increase in the number of Eastern Europeans using the service. When you are driving all the way back to Poland to visit relatives at Christmas, then the time-saving presented by the Eurotunnel is significant. I suppose there are equal numbers of people who choose the ferry precisely because you get a couple of hours to shut your eyes? Anyway, there were noticeably more Eastern Europeans on the service once those countries joined the EU, especially if you happened to be in the single-decker train with the vans and the coaches.

The third thing was that, after the initial honeymoon period, traveling with the budget airlines became intolerable for many. We took Easyjet to Basel or the South a couple of times ourselves, to save on the driving. But it’s so horrible, and got worse, which is before you get to the horrorshow of Ryanair, and I think a lot of people opted to drive rather than face the ritual humiliation of those buses in the sky. That accounts for the mix of people you started to see at the increasingly crowded terminal.

There was hardly anybody there. No Eastern Europeans, especially. No skiers.

All of which is a longwinded way of saying that, for the past several years, the channel tunnel terminal has been busy almost round-the-clock. You walk into the building at midnight and it’s crowded, and there are cars snaking around the nightmare of a car park, queueing, often too early and out of turn, for passport control.

Until this time, that is. In what I can only assume is a Brexit-related development, we crossed today from a very quiet terminal, passing straight onto a train with no delays, no waiting, no frustration. There was hardly anybody there. No Eastern Europeans, especially. No skiers.

And the first hundred kilometres on the autoroute were similarly quiet. We passed through the night on cruise control, only rarely overtaking a truck. I sometimes saw a car’s headlights carving through the darkness off in the countryside. It wasn’t until we passed the junction with the A2 from Belgium that we started to see other cars in significant numbers: Belgian cars. Very few Brits. We saw a couple of coachloads of school trippers at the one service station we stopped at, but that was it. So, this time, there I saw nobody in a onesie, no kids in pyjamas. It was a ghost terminal.

Anecdotally, a lot of people seem to have been told it would be unwise to travel at this time. The perfect storm of strikes and gilets jaunes and Brexit, it seems. Perhaps some thought that if they left the UK this weekend, they’d be refused entry after April 12. Who knows? Fear, uncertainty, and doubt stalk the land.

Fantasy Brexit What If…?

I dared to suggest to a friend the other day that this whole Brexit fiasco might be part of some Cunning Plan.

What if, I said, what if you wanted to give the appearance of trying to fulfil the outcome of the referendum whilst at the same time undermining it at every turn? So that in the end, the clock would run down, the options would disappear one by one, and all that would remain would be, um, remain?

What would that look like?

If you were so cunning and so machiavellian that you could drive nails into the coffin of Brexit one by one by appearing to be so incompetent and hapless that everybody thought you were just useless: what would that look like?

Please, Br’er Fox, don’t fling me into that briar patch!

So this is my happy place: it really would have to look like this, wouldn’t it? You couldn’t just cancel Brexit and say the referendum was corrupted by lies and dirty money and bad actors, and anyway people didn’t even know what they were voting for. You couldn’t do that. You’d have to pretend to be going along with it until, whoops, we appear to have totally fucked this up. Let’s revoke, let’s remain, let’s have another vote without Cambridge Analytica, without Russian troll farms, without lies on buses, without dirty billionaire money, without Tony Blair putting people off.

Netshits

When I stand back and take a good look at it, I cannot honestly say that Netflix is worth the money to pay for it full-time. Obviously, there’s enough on the service to keep you busy for a few months, binge-watching the good stuff. But then, what are you missing out on if you unsubscribe after that process?

Netflix’s strategy is to invest heavily in original content so that, even if the back catalogue stuff goes away, there’s still a core of the good stuff. With Warner and Disney about to launch their own streaming services, Netflix had better have its own original content. But is any of it much cop?

At the moment, I mainly watch Star Trek: Discovery on Netflix. In the US, this is on CBS All Access, so it’s not even part of their main market. Now, Disco is excellent, and even the not-great episodes are better than the not-great episodes of, say, Star Trek The Next Generation. But, without this, there really hasn’t been anything new from Netflix that I rate. And since Disco isn’t actually from Netflix, I wonder, really, about their taste, and their commissioning process.

Here’s a list of things I recently rated as thumbs-down, because I was sick of them appearing in my feed (I hoped it would make a difference):

  • After Life (can’t stand Ricky Gervais, never have, never will)
  • The Umbrella Academy (yawn to this whole genre)
  • Turn Up Charlie (nope)
  • The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann (nope)
  • IO (awful, boring, grim)
  • Sex Education (nope)
  • Black Mirror: Bandersnatch (yawn etc.)
  • Pine Gap (terrible tripe from Australia)
  • Nightflyers (horrible tripe)
  • Always a Witch (risible tripe from Columbia)
  • Northern Rescue (boff)
  • Dirty John (even though I listened to the podcast, it’s a hard pass)
  • The Order (sub-Magicians tripe)
  • Love, Death, and Robots (yawn)

Secret City (Another Australian series – watched Season 1, fell into a coma part-way through Season 2 and abandoned)

I could go on. You get the picture. The problem here is not that, now and again, Netflix misses the mark. All of these programmes and films have appeared over the last couple of months. And there has been nothing inbetween to get on the “thumbs up” list. They’re all different varieties of terrible. Some of them are terrible because they’re not to my taste; others are just objectively bad.

Pine Gap loses you halfway through the first episode, when it becomes clear that this show consists of people talking to each other, very seriously, in rooms. It’s also Exposition Central, “As you know.” And (as a final nail in its coffin) any show that involves “computers” is dull from the off. 

Nightflyers, based on a George R R Martin property, is a grim, violent science fictioner that starts with death and viscera and goes on from there. If not exactly Game of Thrones in space, it wishes it was, and so it has all of the gore but none of the lore, as it were. Game of Thrones actually spends time, at the beginning, to introduce you to a cast of characters and make you care about them before it starts killing them off. But Nightflyers was just undiluted nastiness.

I have to conclude that those in charge of commissioning have poor taste. Turn Up Charlie was reviewed badly. Hollywood Reporter said it might almost have had potential, but creative decisions were made to focus on the absolute worst characters. Similarly, the documentary about Madeleine McCann was slated by reviewers for its fundamental tastelessness. And as a Netflix subscriber, you have to watch yourself: because they know who watches, for how long, and how often in a way that no television network before them ever did. So I’m cautious, even, about hate-watching, because what does their algorithm care what emotional state I’m in, as long as I’m watching.

I regret sitting through Bandersnatch, which I hated every moment of, because I’m just one more viewer, albeit one who didn’t explore all the possible permutations.

But the dilemma I face is this. Sure, I could cancel as soon as the latest series of Disco finishes, but then I’d be depriving my kids of the trashy shit they watch on their devices. So I’d feel bad about it: but the question is, how bad?

Personal Top 30 – part 4

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

15. Wayward and Weary – Tift Merritt. This is one I keep coming back to. It’s already one of my Top 25 most played tracks in iTunes. It’s a 2008 single and is by now quite an obscure one in Tift Merritt’s back catalogue. I can picture her on the stage at a small venue in Buckingham, rocking back and forth at the grand piano and pumping on the foot pedal. The video I’ve posted before, of Ms Merritt playing the song alone in a studio, misses out on the heartbeat of the song, and the lead guitar playing in the spaces left by the vocal. So the video below is just the audio (4 views on YouTube!), but is the track as released.

Those gigs in Buckingham were special. The venue was a converted church, and the acoustics were so good that she came back several times and even recorded a live album there. We took the kids. They were very young, but it was such a great experience for them to see some proper live music. We sat on the balcony and looked down, and I remember the youngest peering through the balusters. Tift Merritt is tiny. Her voice is huge. She strums her guitar so aggressively that she wore a hole in it.

Another time, we tried to see her in Oxford – with an actual band. This was it! I was finally going to see her with a backing band. But, turns out, it was an age-restricted venue because you had to go through a bar to get to it. Or something. When I went back to the same venue a couple of years later, they’d moved the entrance so you didn’t have to go in via the pub. Fucksake. We stood outside in the early evening, debating what to do. Four tickets, wasted. For a moment, I was all for abandoning the kids in a coffee shop. But I wouldn’t really have done that, would I?

14. That’s Where It’s At – Sam Cooke. Another one from my most-played Top 25. This 1964 single only managed the upper reaches of the Hot 100, but it has grown in stature with the years, I think. I relate this in my mind to that final chorus on the Allison Moorer song (at number 22 on this list). It’s the way the vocal and backing vocal are slightly out of synch. I guess you’d call it swing. My daughter’s great insight about Sam Cooke is that he is all the evidence you need to understand that songs aren’t poems. Cooke’s smooth, mellifluous voice can do wonders with the most unpromising material. Listen to him sing “It’s All Right” or “We’re Having a Party” and you understand that the most pedestrian lyrics become poetry when performed by a master vocalist. My personal favourite is this: the almost conversational hesitations, stumbles, improvisations, snatching at the words at times, weaving in and out of the simplistic backing vocals and droning horns. The only problem with this is that it’s only 150 seconds long, which isn’t a problem at all.

Sixty-five people have “thumbs-downed” this record on YouTube. What the living fuck is wrong with people? I mean, just the existence of a thumbs down on YouTube is one of the worst things in the world, but then you give people that option and they click it. What? Who? Racists? Cretinous know-nothing racists who apparently like to suck joy out of the world. I don’t care if it’s not to your taste, whatever. But don’t click the fucking button. These are the kind of people who would keep administering an electric shock to an obviously suffering person on the other side of the glass in one of those psychological experiments. People without a shred of empathy.

13. Left My Woman – The Wild Feathers. Another one from the recently-discovered vocal harmony country rock group. I like the audience sing-a-long in this 2014 track. What’s not to like about a band who swaps between vocalists, you know, like The Band on The Weight? 21 people have disliked this video on YouTube.

12. Sad City – Trick Pony featuring Darius Rucker. It really is a little bit sad when you buy a record and then over the months and years distil your listening down to just one track. For whatever reason I didn’t ever warm to Trick Pony, although I remember radio’s Eddie Mair once saying how much he liked them. This song, however, this I love. It’s from their 2005 album R.I.D.E. and features a guest vocal from none other than Darius Rucker, the solo artist who used to be the lead singer of Hootie and the Blowfish. In fact, he recorded this vocal three years before releasing his own debut country album, so I guess it’s a significant moment in his career. Nobody has disliked this one yet.

I miss Eddie Mair. Walked away from the BBC, another talent whose goodwill was burned through by dumb management decisions. I hope he still likes Trick Pony and still occasionally listens to this one.

11. On To Something Good – Ashley Monroe. Another one from Ms Monroe’s 2015 second album. This is a more uptempo number, the poppy debut single from The Blade. I love that country music is such a broad church. This is really just a very good pop record, but there’s no mistaking where her voice comes from, and that slide guitar is unmistakably country. 

And so, we approach the top 10.

Tappety-tap-tap: Corbyn

Brexit, yesterday

I haven’t really written much about Corbyn. I dared to dream back in 2015, but he’s really been a bit of a let down. At this stage of my life I’m X times bitten X2 times shy. I’m not prepared to invest hopes and dreams in a political party or its leader. A party, especially, that is made up of so many competing and non-compatible interests. Now, that’s true of the Conservative party and others too, of course it is. And it was never more starkly revealed than in the surprise pulled by the “yellow book” liberals when they got into coalition power and revealed themselves to be, um, neoliberals. By which I mean, not perceptively different from Tories.

I actually briefly joined the Labour Party but became almost immediately disillusioned when I was excluded from the leadership vote as an arriviste. Oh, well. I would never really want to belong to a party that would have me as a member, would I?

The Labour party under Blair took us into Iraq and lied to us about why. And we’re still dealing with the fallout and the radicalised generation from that. Under Brown, they bailed out the banks who then gratefully altered the narrative so that the financial crisis became the fault of the Labour government that had rescued them. And lo, the last 10 years of hell came to pass. Schools, hospitals, the sick and the disabled: all paying for the mistakes of the bankers, who can afford private schools for their kids, private health care for their families, and ferry themselves around in great big cars tearing up the streets that we all paid for.

And in a way, of course, it was the Labour party’s fault. Because they didn’t do enough to change the fundamental underpinnings of our society, which may have been showing restraint—but no such restraint has been shown by the last three governments, who have dismantled our social support structures and are now blithely escorting us into the unknown Brexit black hole. The 2008 crisis happened because, over ten years of government with a huge majority, the Labour party did nothing to increase oversight or regulation. And we still have private schools. People’s private school fees are still being funded by offshore accounts. Nobody who has any money is paying any fucking tax. Nobody is doing a thing to reduce CO2 emissions. Blair’s government “banned fox hunting”, but people are still chasing animals through the woods and across the fields with dogs, so it doesn’t seem to have worked.

And as if they hadn’t massively let us all down, Blair and Campbell and Mandelson are still hanging around, being given column inches by the Guardian, and acting like they know best.

I tried joining the Green Party for a while, but the Green Party is not really a national political party, it’s a series of loosely related local groups. And I honestly couldn’t be bothered to go to meetings.

Why? Fundamentally, I have a problem with activists. I just don’t like being around those kind of people. It’s not that they are wild-eyed and unhinged. It’s more that they’re both bureaucratic and dogmatic. They run things the way they run things. They have fixed opinions. And in this way, all political parties are the same. And therein lies the reason why nothing ever changes: because all political parties, underneath the surface, are running the same old clockwork.

And so to Corbyn whose response to everything is the same low-key muttering. Who treats Brexit like some giant multi-dimensional game of Ludo. You can tell they want a complete clusterfuck so they stand a chance of winning an election. Because notwithstanding the shit show currently playing in Westminster, they’re only level with the Tories in the polls. Level. With Theresa May’s Tories. Corbyn is supported by a cohort of activists who have a certain reputation. They try to shut down dissent. They reportedly get abusive: I mean, we’ve all called someone a fascist, but there’s something exceptional about our socially networked world, where people get to pile in with their pitchforks and everything, that crosses a line. And, there’s this problem with anti-semitism. Now, it probably is a media hatchet job: when Corbyn won, such things were inevitable. But it’s also like a crack in the facade, a vulnerability: the media have chipped away at it, because there does seem to be something going on, when particular MPs are targeted for abuse, and people spread dog-whistle conspiracy theories Zionism. It seems perfectly legitimate to be supportive of the Palestinian people and their plight, but you don’t have to bandy the Z word about.

In the end, I don’t think Corbyn is a saviour. And I don’t believe, even after the last election, that he can bring Labour back into power. And if he did, I’m not sure he’d effectively run this country. He seems a bit wet to me. Like Michael Foot back in the 80s, he’s too vulnerable to the satirists and the newspapers and the Today presenters and the tappety-tap-tap of people like me. And I don’t trust the movement. And I know he’s happy for Brexit to happen, as previously discussed. In the end, he’ll face the same interference from MI5 that any left-wing government would face, and he’d be blocked at every turn by the City and the CBI, or whatever.

Everything feels hopeless at the moment. I was forced, this week, to go to the Post Office and pay £5.50 for an international driving permit that looks like a wartime ration book. I actually asked, at the counter, for a “1950s driving permit, please.” Which is about right, because we’re being launched back in time to the era of blue passports and cardboard and rubber stamps. And I was also forced to check the expiration date on my current passport, because in date will no longer enough. You will/may need at least 6 months of validity. Britain is like Sideshow Bob stepping on the rakes, endlessly. We are self-harming, throwing our toys onto the bonfire, lusting after turnips. And Corbyn is looking at his Ludo board from all the different angles and pondering his next roll of the dice.

Space. Forced.

BBC Sounds, yesterday

I’ve been struggling for podcasts lately, perhaps because my AirPods make it so convenient to listen at times when I might otherwise not be able to, and so they run out — especially towards the end of the week. For example, I find AirPods quite comfortable to wear in bed, and so I’ll often hear a podcast to the end instead of reading in bed (I can’t do both, obvs).

It’s a weird feeling, to choose sound over reading at night, which is a life-long habit. You feel oddly guilty, but at the same time, there have been times of late I’ve been too tired. And my love of the short story, the science fiction story in particular, has taken a dive of late. I’m currently reading a Le Carré, which is okay, but the chapters are really long, which is not conducive to bedtime reading when tired.

Anyway, lack of podcasts means turning to the BBC and seeing what they have, which can be pretty desperate stuff. Obviously, I’m avoiding the horrid Sounds app and I’m sticking to iPlayer Radio while I can*. In my grumpy middle age I’ve decided that most BBC comedy isn’t funny, so I tend to avoid panel shows unless I’m really desperate. I like Mark Steel’s stuff, and John Finnemore, but the News Quiz and the Now Show can do one, far as I’m concerned.

Most of what I go for is drama, but even then I’m very picky. I’ve never enjoyed “issue-based” radio drama, and I hate those ripped-from-the-headlines ones too. Perusing the current listing under the Drama category, and you’ll see something based on the playwright’s “real life experiences”, which is a turn-off. And then there’s an interminable series of plays “set in the Staffordshire potteries”. I listened to some Big Finish Doctor Whos, if only to remind myself what a shit Doctor Colin Baker was. And I’ve listened to some readings and some literary adaptations, though I often don’t get to the end. Iris Murdoch’s The Sea, The Sea, for example, I didn’t finish. Every single character was just so horrible, I wonder why anyone would read this nonsense. Where’s the pleasure in this? I don’t get it. Daphne Du Maurier’s The Years Between was good, though.

But this is a tale of two Sci-Fis. On the one hand, Stephen Baxter’s Voyage (first broadcast in 1999), a kind of alternative history in which instead of the Shuttle programme, NASA went to Mars. Being adapted from work by a proper science fiction writer, it ended up being quite good, notwithstanding some less than convincing American accents. (Often, I find that the least convincing Americans on the radio are the actual Americans.) On the other hand: Charles Chilton’s Space Force, from the mid-1980s, a kind of redux version of his earlier Journey into Space. Chilton was a radio all-rounder; being unkind, you’d call him a hack. And listening to this stuff is as close as you’re going to get to the kind of Hugh Walters juvenile science fiction of the 1950s and 1960s, exemplified by Blast off at Woomera and Destination Mars.

Now, one might forgive Chilton’s 1950s Journey into Space, but this 1985-era reboot had no excuse to be as silly. Space Force is science fiction written by someone who likes the idea of it but appears never to have read any. The absolute worst sin committed by the writer was to include an audience proxy character who appeared to have left school at 14 and skipped all his science lessons while he was there. The character of Chipper, played by Nicky Henson, is supposed to be the communications officer, but doesn’t seem to understand how radio works. One plot point is that he hears voices in his head. The first time this happens, he’s surprised to discover that nobody else can hear them. The second and third and fourth and fifth times it happens, he’s also surprised to discover that nobody can hear them. In fact, he’s incapable of learning that he is the only person who hears these voices, and so we get his hysteria/surprise over and over again. In the final episode of six, he hears a voice in his head, and says aloud, “Who’s that?” Jesus Christ. Chipper has somehow qualified for the astronaut programme in spite of having no scientific knowledge and in spite of having no temperament for it: he panics at the slightest provocation (think Corporal Jones in Dad’s Army) and has to be sedated whenever things get hairy.

It’s not just that it’s stupid, but that it’s so stupid. It’s a hate listen is what it is.

*As to BBC Sounds, you just know there was a meeting at some point in which someone pointed out that the BBC’s audio broadcasting was no longer, strictly, what Marconi called radio. It’s not even radio, really, is it? You can hear them say. Why do we call it radio when it’s not even?

And so they reached for the 1970s slang term for “cool music” after which the absolute worst of the British music press was named: Sounds.

Shudder.

A more prosaically descriptive “BBC Streaming Audio” would have been better. BBC Stuff That You Listen To With What Are Called Ears. But “BBC Sounds” is the Orwellian future of listening to the world’s worst DJ wittering into your ears forever.

More thoughts on the gilets jaunes

On this trip to France we actually saw real gilets jaunes protestors – on two different roundabouts. We also saw some kind of placeholder gilet jaunes at another roundabout, though these weren’t real people but hi-vis vests draped over human shaped objects. Scarecrow gilets jaunes, maybe.

Another phenomenon, bubbling under the last time we were here but now evident everywhere, is that every speed camera has either been burnt out or wrapped in black plastic. All the familiar places, where you know people are going to slow down, the familiar yellow or grey box has been scorched and melted or simply wrapped in black cling film. Oddly, people are still slowing down for these zombie cameras, so 🤷🏼‍♂️.

As I argued before, regardless of the state of the economy, unemployment, under-employment, etc, the protest against fuel taxes which started all this was the wrong cause. Sure, Macron’s neoliberalism is bad for working people, but these yellow vested ones are probably the ones who voted for his out-of-nowhere “new party” in the first place. Read the small print. And then go and inconvenience some rich people.

But French bad driving habits is an ingrained sickness that is as much a part of the national scofflaw character as a fondness for baguette and lunch at noon. There is no reasoning with them over speeding, and they don’t even have the sobering levels of congestion that we have in the UK to cure them of this love affair with the car.

But I’m a little (a lot) cynical about the vandalism of speed cameras. Sure, it’s a way of sticking it to the man, but it’s also a way to drive as fast as you want without pesky consequences.

(Anyway, all France has to do now is kick back and wait for jobs to trickle back across the channel as companies seek frictionless access to the European Single Market.)

Some people drive around with a convenient gilet jaune on the dashboard of their car. This is supposed to be a way of showing solidarity but is more like a sop to the protestors so they don’t harass you. Others hang them from trees outside their houses. I think it’s dangerously close to hanging out a certain kind of flag so that people wearing a certain colour shirt don’t kick the shit out of you. I mean, what’s the bloody difference between a yellow vest and a brown shirt? I do not feel the warm glow of support for these protestors. It all feels a little right wing to me. I mean, this is a protest with a uniform (albeit a lame one), and these protests against fuel taxes and speeding are also libertarian, Clarkson-like, causes. Underneath it all there might a need for social justice, progressive taxation and equality, but unfortunately, the iconography of this protest has all the appearance of climate change denialists demanding to live their polluting lives without interference.

Flickr mircl

A while ago, I wrote an extended post about how I was locked out of my original Flickr account. You can read it here.

What was especially galling about the whole thing was that, even though I’d started a new Flickr account to continue my use of the service, I never did use it very enthusiastically or regularly. That was because it made me unhappy every time I visited the site, just to know that my old account had been languishing there since September 2013.

And, oh, how those not-very-good 2013 Fleetwood Mac photos came to bug me, as the last things I posted in that account.

WELL.

New owners Smugmug have been emailing me over the past couple of months, informing me that I was about to lose my “Pro” privileges as they limit free accounts to 1000 uploads. So I tried, one last time, to email technical support and get some help.

And this time, I didn’t get a Yahoo robot, but an actual human being, who looked at the situation, clearly saw the match between (a) the two different accounts and (b) the email address attached to the locked account; and also (c) looked at my screen grab of all the corrupted Yahoo log-ins (dating from the 2013 hack of the service); and decided to help me out.

Reader, I’m back in.

I was so happy about this that I immediately paid for a “Pro” account for one year, so I could start uploading things again.

So for the past couple of days, I’ve been uploading pictures taken since 2013 into the once-dormant account. I’ve reached the end of 2014, the year I bought my little GM1 system camera. (I noticed also that I’d set the date and time wrong on that camera, so there were a lot more 2014 pictures than it initially appeared.) A lot of these had previously been uploaded into the sad secondary account, but I want everything in one place.

And it’s been fun, looking back at those far off days of 2014, the year of the heavy snow fall in France, the year of my youngest in braces and my oldest out of them. I will always be happy about my kids’ confident smiles. I tend to shoot candids, not a fan of the look people get on their faces when they’re posing, although there are a few portraits on there. I used to have quite the eye, but lack of practice means that I take fairly dull photos these days.

Flickr is still Flickr, of course. It’s slow at times, flaky, unreliable, with an awkward app experience. But the good news is that I long ago ceased to interact with others on the platform, and I don’t feel the need to comment or keep checking activity. Poignantly, the last ever comment on this account was, “Why you stop posting?” A question I couldn’t answer, because I was locked out.

How the internet ruined everything


The news that Tesco is to close its fresh food counters is just another sign that we don’t even want to have nice things. You can’t really blame the internet for people not wanting to queue up and ask for a slice of that pork pie thing with egg in the middle, or exactly 175g of mince, or three sausages and six anchovies. The metric system maybe? After all, a lot of people probably know what 2oz of cheese looks like but don’t know how to ask for it in grams. But it’s a symptom all the same that when offered the choice between convenience and service we’ll pick convenience every time. Of course it doesn’t help matters when the tappety-tap-tap of people paid to have opinions spreads its jism all over the comment pages and convinces someone somewhere for five minutes that, no, indeed, fresh food counters and customer service are rubbish and of course we won’t miss them. Like we don’t miss the milkman and milk in glass bottles, do we?

(Let’s set aside the ironic lack of self awareness of someone who writes for a newspaper in 2019 telling us about something they won’t miss when it’s gone.)

Which brings us onto the things that the internet really did ruin. While I can barely remember that time I asked for anchovies at the deli counter in Waitrose, the last time I bought a newspaper is an even dimmer memory. I never did quite understand why newspapers and magazines even started giving away their content for free on the internet. It was a collective insanity that cost them dear. They swallowed some canard about how information wants to be free and nobody listened to the little boy in the crowd who shouted that it was just a fucking metaphor.

So while the presses still rolled, and the newspaper groups still paid for staff and offices and newsprint, and even as they cannibalised their own advertising revenue with online content, they were caught off balance when people without expensive printworks and distribution networks to support came along and undercut them by not even paying the idiots who wrote their content. Because, turns out, the logical corollary of information wants to be free is writers don’t want to be paid.

So there went the printing jobs, and the journalism jobs, and what a hilarious trick that was: suddenly any idiot could be a writer or a photographer, but nobody was getting paid. And now even low-overhead outlets like Vice, Buzzfeed and Huffington Post are laying off staff.  Meanwhile, others are in administration. There’s no there there. Nothing is real. Strawberry Fields forever.

 And then there was a mad scrabble to pivot to video and podcasts and promote your shouldn’t-be-free content on social networks and look how that turned out. It goes without saying that instead of liberating us, the internet ruined politics too. It wasn’t as if we were well served, politically, by old media, but new media didn’t help at all. It just said, hold my pint.

The thing about most news content is, usually the headline is enough for most people, so putting the headline on Twitter was a good way of reducing your readership. And Twitter or Facebook can make money off your content, but you can’t.

And all those podcasts, I love them, I absolutely do, but at the same time, all the podcast adverts are just a list of ways in which the internet is setting out to ruin everything. Go to the mattresses! So let’s kill off the mattress retailers, and the opticians, the clothes retailers, the grocers, and in a final ironic twist, let’s kill off independent web designers. Use Squarespace for all your needs. Put those pixel pushers on the dole.

But as much as nobody loves shopping for mattresses, there’s a whole ecosystem there isn’t there? You go to the retail park to buy a mattress, and you might pop into the electronics store, or the pet supply place, or Halfords, whatever. But if you’re no longer going to buy a mattress, everybody else is screwed. Do Amazon sell tyres? Of course they fucking do.

Which, talking of which, brings us to Amazon’s Evil Empire, and how we all chose to kill off book stores and record stores and all the other stores where people might work reasonable hours for reasonable pay and get a staff discount and have a bit of a laugh with their colleagues. First they killed the Net Book Agreement, which okay, was a bit of a cartel, but it wasn’t as if there weren’t discount bookshops with remaindered titles. It was a system and it worked. And it was like milk from the milkman. You paid a bit more but somehow we still had a society.

I’m probably the most guilty person when it comes to using Amazon instead of retail stores. I mean, when I needed a petrol cap for the strimmer in France, I ordered it from Amazon instead of trying a local stockist, just because I knew the local stockist would probably be hopeless. But what are we going to do when Amazon has killed everything, has an effective monopoly, and pulls the trigger on raising prices so they can turn a profit? 

I once ordered a car online, that’s how guilty I am.

And I’d do it again, probably, because car salespeople are horrible, aren’t they? And so are journalists, aren’t they? I mean, a lot of them work(ed) for Murdoch and the Daily Mail etc. What kind of shitty human being do you have to be to work for the Daily Mail? There are all kinds of categories of people it’s easy to avoid by shopping online.

All that’ll be left on the high street will be the coffee shops, and when all the other shops have gone, they’ll have to go too, because the footfall will be gone.

And it’ll be the internet wot dunnit, and everything will be a little bit (or a lot) worse, and we’ll complain about it, but we did it to ourselves.

*Takes cardboard packaging out to the recycling bin*