Saturday, April 17, 2010

Sod it, I'm going to talk politics

I know I've got that self-imposed ban that I only break on rare occasions, but it's general election time, so I'll just get it all out of the way tonight and then go back to my usual drivel. But I've got to write something, just to remind you all that I've been voting Lib Dem since long before it was cool. I don't know, all you bandwagon-jumpers, I suppose it's my fault for being such a famous celebrity and role model for the people of Britain, but you don't really have to copy everything I do.

Also, I characterised this constituency on Wednesday as "going to be a fairly comfortable Conservative win with Labour second" (I wasn't breaking the no-politics-talk rule there, that was a blog entry about daleks), and of course a week is a long time in politics if there's a nationwide shift in public perception of the third party on the Thursday night, so I thought I'd better post something new in case my prediction turns out to be wildly wrong and everyone laughs at me.

Because I was in the barber's today, traditionally always the best place to pick up on the mood of the local populace, and the word on the street of Broxtowe is unquestionably "Be nice if the Lib Dems did win, be a change at least". And this excellent local-politics blog's (somewhat unscientific) poll is predicting an absolute landslide for David Watts, last week's popular-local-councillor-running-for-parliament-as-a-formality-in-a-constituency-the-Lib-Dems-never-get-many-votes-in, this week's MP-in-waiting. He seems to have taken all the "don't like Labour so I suppose I'll have to vote Tory" contingent, and (more impressively) reduced the ever-popular "a plague on them all" vote down to minimal levels! I think once all the silliness has settled down it's still the Conservative candidate's seat to lose, but it's probably fair to say that it's become a genuine three-horse race now, which is awesome. Last time round I was living in a safe Labour seat (it's not safe any more, thanks to Margaret Beckett's tireless work at shooting herself in the foot repeatedly over the last few years, but it was then), and before that I spent my formative years in eternally Conservative Lincolnshire, so I've never voted in a general election that was actually a contest before.

There's also the horrible possibility that I might vote for the candidate and/or party that wins the election - that's never happened to me before, and I'll feel terribly guilty when it inevitably all goes wrong. But I really do like the public mood at the moment - that "if only people believed the Lib Dems could win, they'd win two-thirds of the constituencies in the country" barrier they've been banging on about for years actually does seem to have been broken. Get Rupert Murdoch on board and Nick Clegg is the new PM. I hadn't realised the people whose opinions make the difference were quite so desperate for a new straw to clutch at, but I'm pleasantly surprised.

In the interests of keeping all my election-themed babblings safely confined in one blog post, here's the comment I threw into Sam's blog after Thursday's debate:

I thought it was excellent! A very British spin on the American tradition, with three confident, articulate party leaders putting across their points in a sensible way with only a minimum of squabbling. We all know really that they'd all make perfectly capable PMs, but it's good to see that actually come across for once. The non-applauding audience was an excellent idea, it raised the whole debate to a more calm and intellectual level.

Gordon Brown tried to play to the audience early on with his cracks about posters and Lord Ashcroft, but when he realised it wasn't going to work like that, he switched tracks very smoothly. Nick Clegg apparently was declared the winners in the insta-polls afterwards, which is no big surprise, but I would have marked him down for repeating himself more than the others did and for apparently struggling to remember Lib Dem policy on the care homes question ("I think we all need to work together on this one", followed by a confused mumble about what his party's ideas were). He did score the biggest victory of the night with the right for people to sack (or, as Brown carefully said every time, "recall") their MPs, reducing Gordon to unconvincingly whining "I support it..." at the end. David Cameron stood out less than the other two, somehow, he never seemed to get his message across convincingly.

The ending was probably Brown's biggest victory - I suspect the hand-shaking, baby-kissing with the audience was against the rules, but it really caught the others off-balance and left them looking like they were thinking "What, we're supposed to talk to the commoners now?"

I'm looking forward to the rest of the debates! I think Gordon and Dave will go after Nick more fiercely next time - Gordon had clearly prepared answers to all the Conservative policies but not the Lib Dem ones, and Dave tried to stick to the usual policy of acting as if there are only two parties, which isn't really going to work when there are three people on the stage given equal soapbox time...

And finally, since it's the 21st century, I thought I'd look and see what the candidates' websites look like. A website that makes a party or a person look like they know what they're doing wins a lot of votes nowadays.

Which is a bit unfortunate, because The Broxtowe Liberal Democrats website is awful! It looks like it was designed by a pair of twelve-year-olds as a school project. The site was designed back in the long-gone days of last week when the general election was of no real importance to the Lib Dems - the front page highlights their success in council elections, but you have to scroll down the page to find a picture of David Watts and a tiny-font note that he's the party's parliamentary candidate. Clicking around the site you can eventually find the link to his personal website, but that too hasn't been updated for a long time. His "blog" contains his "weekly news" from February 12th and a promise to post it every week from then on. His writing style is not good, there are typos and plenty of missing apostrophes. And you all know how I despise misused apostrophes.

So let's go to The Broxtowe Conservative website instead. Will the stereotype of Tories being better educated prevail over the stereotype of Tories being computer-illiterate? More or less, yes. A big picture of candidate Anna Soubry as soon as you click onto the website (she was a local TV news reporter in her younger days and still knows how to strike the pose) and the site looks smooth, polished and professional. Except for the phrase "After 13 years in power, Labours' legacy is...", right there on the home page. Aaaaaaaaargh. How difficult IS it to find someone who can write the English language and ask them to check these things? There's also a box saying "Anna's blog" with no clickable link. I can't find anything that could be described as a blog, anywhere on the website. But it does look stylish. And she promises to claim minimal expenses, which is an improvement on the one tatty leaflet I've had in the post from her, in which she basically asserted "I'm extremely wealthy, so I can be trusted" without making any specific promise about money.

By contrast, our sitting MP, Dr Nick Palmer, has sent out whole rainforests' worth of newsletters, spending vast fortunes on conveying the message that he hasn't got as much money as the Conservatives. Let's see what The Broxtowe Labour website looks like. The phrase that comes to mind is my dear departed father's "Looks like a bucket o' muck to me..." It's also awful, but in a different way to the Lib Dem one. That one looks amateurish and lazy, this one looks like it was created by people who don't really know what the internet is, or what you can do with it. It looks like the kind of website that people were creating in the mid-1990s. But at least all the punctuation is correct. And the latest blog update is as recent as last Thursday. The content is the Labour-spin-doctor-ordered line that he's been doggedly pursuing for months - I don't mind admitting that this man gets on my nerves something chronic, however much it damages the neutral tone I've been trying to hit throughout this blog. I think I'd better stop now. The end, all the politics out of my system, blog-wise, until election night. And even then I'll probably blog about Thundercats instead.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Thomas Rivers invented the orchard house

Groovily, they're showing "The Victorian Kitchen Garden" on "Yesterday" (the TV channel that used to be UKTV History). My dad used to love that programme. He had them all on video, along with a huge number of programmes about steam trains. Wonderful person though he was, he really did love boring things on TV.

Actually, though, it's really quite fun to hear elderly gardener Harry Dodson demonstrating how Victorians kept the earwigs off their peaches. I might have to tape it myself.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

So many words

As I think I've moaned once or twice before, the most difficult part of organising a memory competition is writing the "historic dates" - short, snappy descriptions of a ficticious historical event. And entirely thanks to Hannes keeping on breaking the world record, I have to provide 142 of them for the Cambridge event. It drains a fellow's creativity.

Also, I need some translation help. I'm all sorted for Swedes, but I would be eternally grateful to any native speakers of German or Danish who could volunteer to translate 142 short phrases and 140 random words. Possibly Ukrainian speakers, too, if there are any such people among my readership, but Taras hasn't told me yet what language he wants. Please drop me an email if you wouldn't mind helping out. Otherwise I'll just ask one of the Germans who I know will do it if I really beg. And start pestering all the Danes I'm vaguely acquainted with. It's fun being a competition organiser.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Why would anyone vote for a dalek?

You just know they'd be dishonest about their expense claims. But despite this, the Radio Times cover this week has decided to celebrate the upcoming general election and the upcoming dalek appearance on Saturday's Doctor Who (alongside, apparently, Winston Churchill played by an actor who doesn't resemble him even slightly) by proclaiming "Vote Dalek!" (again - they did exactly the same thing in 2005) and having three different variant covers with a red, blue or gold dalek.

The funny thing is that I haven't seen a single gold dalek cover in the shops around here. Did RT proportionately represent them in smaller quantities, or are they just the most popular? Or have they cleverly distributed the different colour schemes according to the latest opinion polls in each constituency? I live in a seat that's going to be a fairly comfortable Conservative win with Labour second, and the Co-op down the road had four blue and two red daleks on the shelf. It's a real puzzler, and it's probably a good thing that I've vowed never to buy RT again, since they've made it 'bigger and better' by stopping listing all the programmes that I like to watch.

So let's talk about a different kind of campaigning instead. I got a great leaflet through my letterbox today, advertising STAYwarm hot water heating systems (yes, it's written "STAYwarm" as if to claim that while other heaters might make you temporarily warm, this is the only one with a permanent effect). The blurb starts "We all accept that fuel price increases have reached a frightening level and will continue to spiral upwards. Once, we had no choice but to accept this. NOT ANYMORE. At last you can take control and have a say in your fuel prices. Why be held to ransom by Foreign owned energy companies?"

I just love the bold, underlined, capitalised word 'foreign'. Obviously they're hoping for a reaction along the lines of 'My God, I'm giving money to foreigners! I must give this implicitly British company all my money instead, quick!'

Actually, they probably will get a lot of reactions like that around here. That's why the blue daleks are going to win this election...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Sorry for the shortage of bloggery lately

But I went to bed early last night, and I think I'm going to do the same today. Didn't get enough sleep at the weekend. See you all when I wake up.

Sunday, April 11, 2010


I found the 1973 Broons book on the Sunday book stall on the High Road today, for only a pound. Not that anybody would call that a real bargain - it's in a condition that any dealer would class as 'poor', before ordering you to get it out of their sight and stop wasting their time, it's falling apart at the seams and several of the pages have been carefully but only partially coloured in with felt tip pens, probably by someone whose name starts with J (I can't make out the name, but he/she was apparently presented the book, with all her love and four kisses, by Phyllis). J saw fit to give all the female characters, including the Bairn, bright blue eyeshadow and bright red lipstick.

Still, I don't care about the condition of the book or the garish makeup on the characters, I just like the stories. And, well, they're okay. Unexceptional, maybe, but the Broons are always fun to read, even the late-sixties-early-seventies ones reprinted in this volume. The funny thing is spotting which ones have been decimalised and which ones haven't - after original artist Dudley Watkins died in 1969, they reprinted old 1950s strips for a few years until they found a new permanent artist and started up all-new adventures again (well, as all-new as the Broons ever gets, anyway; they did keep up the much-loved tradition of using the same three plotlines over and over and over again forever). But during this reprint period, Britain switched to decimal currency, and so the reprinted strips after 1971 had all references to shillings replaced with new pence - taking inflation into account, too, so 'a bob' in the originals generally became '10p', and a half-crown was changed to 50p (sometimes they even re-drew the coin to make it heptagonal, which was a nice touch). But this book I've bought today doesn't follow through this logic, and just grabs the usual random selection of strips from the last few years to compile. So about half of them use decimal currency and half of them don't. It's a bit jarring.

Some of these reprints also redrew the more glaring anachronisms - I suspect the bus in this one was a tram when it first saw print. But I'm mostly posting it here so I can remind myself not to exclaim "Help! It's a Chinaman!" at the next memory championship. It's not really very polite.