Monday, 4 July 2011

The best psychology lesson I've ever had

Ever had someone trying to wind you up? There's way of dealing with it. Most of you already know how to correctly react. I only learnt in my early 20s. I share this story, as I still come across folk who fly off the handle whenever they're goaded.

Back in the era of grunge, indie and Britpop™ when I frequented a local nightclub for its alternative nights, I pretty much resembled Neil from The Young Ones. This wasn't an issue for the crowd I hung around with, who were pretty much mandated to wear Kurt Cobain tribute shirts and mosh/dance/rave about to the sounds of Rage Against The Machine/Kinks/Chemical Brothers.

You could paint your face fluorescent green and wander in there wearing a fishnet smock, just as long as you weren't a 'townie'. Townies, a tracksuit-clad fag-end-sucking bumfluff-moustache-sporting social group, were pretty much our social nemeses. I suppose these days, the terminology used for such folk would be "chavs", a term I'm not proud to cite here, as it tends to make people (wrongly) think I'm anti-working class. But, hey, we hated townies and townies hated us.

Goodness knows what label we actually were. We didn't quite have a label as such, and have never really craved such a thing. In any case, we were a diaspora of eclectic social circles. Some of us were fairly gothic/industrial, others were hardcore metallers. The BritPop crew - who would happily wave their forearms with their elbow seemingly attached their hips when dancing to Shed Seven or Longpigs - were fairly adept at doing their own thing, to the point where they formed their own club nights at other venues. (At its peak, they had separate themed nights that could cater for genres such as film/TV themes and retro-hammond-organ funk.)

Oh, and I must give an honourable mention to a contingent of villagers would always bop around to rap-metal, with dreadlocks proudly on display. Bless you, Irchy Boys.

With cheap beer and a playlist that ranged from Megadeth to Elastica, the Alternative Night on Wednesdays at the long-gone Network in Wellingborough town centre, attracted all sorts. I particularly remember on my first night there, a savage looking bullet-belted metaller with the phrase 'I EAT CHRISTIANS FOR BREAKFAST' scrawled in Tipp-Ex over a ripped black t-shirt.

In the eyes of the townies, we were "grebos", "grungers" or "moshers". All of us. Even the quirky suited-to-the-nines Mod chap who would would calmly trot along to the Small Faces.

Yes, some of us, in our Nirvana smiley face t-shirts, German Army jackets, striped tights and Doc Martens, did conform to the stereotype.

We viewed the townies as trouble-makers. This is actually a fairly irrational condemnation, as I've been friends with such people, and really have no justification for smearing them all like that, although we did use the term specifically for the ones who did go out of their way to cause a bit of aggravation.

So, with the pubs shutting at half eleven and low price beer on offer, Network would occasionally attract the type of people who certainly didn't want to come along for Ned's Atomic Dustbin or Kingmaker. (Can't say I'd blame them for the latter.)

I spent much of the 1990s walking round with long hair, and came into two types of grief. Trying to dry it on a winter's morning (I remember it froze one day when walking to work) and of course, townies. I was a "fucking hippy", "poof", "headbanger" and sometimes all three, despite the presence of a Prodigy t-shirt, and, on the odd occasion, a girl who fell for my charms.

Looking like that, you had to develop a thick skin, and also to beware of provocation. On a number of occasions, a dozen or so future-Jeremy-Kyle-Show-loyalty-card-holders would pop in, get beered up, and try and start fights with the clientele. In particular, Karl was a target of their jibes. He was a tall thin guy who would regularly be plastered in eyeliner of all colours, with an outrageous flamboyant hairstyle that leave your retinas working overtime.

One 'grebo-bating' incident sticks out in my mind for the way it was dealt with. Gary, a guy who had recently been hanging out with us, had fairly long blonde hair, and was sitting in a quiet corner of the club. To be fair, Gary wasn't exactly a textbook definition of a Kerrang reader. Other than his long locks, nothing distinguished him from being particularly "alternative". In fact, he had confided in me that he loved R&B. Most of the time he was after a rather sexy black-bobbed girl who would writhe around to Nine Inch Nails and Sheep On Drugs, decked out in the kind of plastic skirts you'd see in sex shops. He feigned an interest in industrial music whenever he was chatting to her, and didn't really succeed.

Back to the story and three knuckle-dragging reprobates, all decked out in JJB Sports' finest, were trying to goad him. I remember Gary just calmly rolling up a cigarette while these yobs mocked his hair, loudly vocalising their false assumptions on his sexuality.

Gary just looked up slowly and... blew them a kiss, smiling as he did so.

All hell broke loose, with the goader-in-chief picking up an ashtray hurling it at Gary, which was the cue for nightclub security to rugby tackle them to the ground and escort them out of the premises, as we all pointed and laughed.

I'm no stranger to being insulted, and with the rise of social media, there's all kind of opportunities to do such things to me. What Gary did there, was a valuble lesson to me, as I felt, that had I been in his position, I'd have probably ended up having a war of words, or more likely, cowering away in the corner hoping they'd go away.

There's plenty of examples in my past where I've reacted badly to someone provoking me. I cringe at these memories.

Looking back on what Gary did was awesome. Not getting angry at the situation - which is what the instigators wanted. Bonus points for handing out a reaction they weren't expecting, and the star prize for getting them dropped in the shit.

There will always be comments designed to make me spew out anger, and that's exactly what the author intends. Question the motives of anyone aiming something unpleasant at you, otherwise you'll end up swallowing their bait. They'll be chomping on the popcorn as you dance to their tune.

So, with Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and whatever flavour-of-the-month website comes next, look out for the Annoyance Seed planted in front of you. I know this is screamingly obviously to the bulk of my friends, but you'd be surprised at the sheer gullibility of people out there who let themselves get wound up by digital goading.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

My MP3 complaint to Tesco Entertainment

Dear Technology People Still Stuck In The 1990s,

I've shopped at tescoentertainment.com to get an MP3 for the first time. It's an experience I'd compare to touching an electric fence - you're curious but you'd never try it again.

What I have seen tonight has been astonishingly shocking. I've bought MP3s from many websites, and always found the process quite easy. This evening my jaw dropped lower than the dignity of an ITV2 reality television star, because your download process has to be the most backward and needlessly complex system I've seen. I've worked in computing for 20 years, I've issued guidelines on usability and have designed ecommerce systems from the groun up, and frankly, whoever designed your diabolical user-torturing system shouldn't be trusted with an abacus.

I understand the need to record an email address, password, credit card details and billing address. I don't understand why you enforce us to install a separate program to download the MP3s. One that insists on us using Windows, so it's a good job I wasn't using my iMac or a Linux partition at the time. It also wants Microsoft's laughably-bad Silverlight platform on our PCs, along with .NET framework 3.5. What's wrong with simply delivering the MP3 through my web browser? That's what it is made for, and other MP3 vendors do exactly that.

The amount of mouse-clicks I've had to do to get my download would instigate RSI in a caffeine-swilling woodpecker. The time taken to obtain this 8.57 MB file - despite being on a ~5Mbps broadband connection - is needlessly long thanks to your ridiculous end-user software demands. Quite frankly, I reckon I'd have done a direct download of the file off a 33.6kps dial-up modem in half the time.

Is there any need for a company in the 21st Century to act with such disrespect for tech-savvy customers? I battled my way through this because I'm fairly proficient with computers, but I fear the average customer would simply give up. You're not exactly going to keep Steve Jobs awake at night with your clumsy cumbersome MP3 store.

I have seen another Internet service doggedly insist on its users having separate programs and a razor-thin choice of operating systems. It was AOL, and that was in 1996. These days they exist as a punchline to a joke.

Sort yourselves out.

Peter Thomas.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

50 Things More Gothic And Respectable Than Twilight

  1. Rentaghost
  2. A child shining a torch upwards onto their face
  3. Derek Acorah
  4. The Trap Door
  5. Long-forgotten ITV Saturday morning show Ghost Train
  6. An actual ghost train
  7. A lolly stick with "What do ghosts eat for dinner? Spookhetti!" printed on it.
  8. A werewolf glove from a joke shop
  9. The Groovy Ghoulies
  10. Shakespear's Sister
  11. A pair of novelty plastic Halloween fangs from ASDA, 9p
  12. The Amityville Horror and the seven diabolical sequels that followed
  13. The Demon Headmaster
  14. Babylon Zoo
  15. Count Duckula
  16. Secretly keeping your hand hidden behind a door or desk and then making it 'strangle' you as if it's someone else's hand
  17. The Monster Mash
  18. Covering yourself in toilet roll as a cheap mummy costume for Halloween
  19. A rubber bat on a piece of elastic
  20. The Sarah-Jane Adventures
  21. In comic strips, where the main character has an angel and an devil version of himself that give good/evil advice
  22. Plan 9 From Outer Space
  23. That ancient trick where you make your thumb appear detached from your hand
  24. The skeleton baddies in arcade game Golden Axe
  25. Ghostbusters 2
  26. In The Night Garden
  27. The joke "Why didn't the skeleton attend the ball? Because he had nobody to go with"
  28. Evil Michael Knight
  29. Cyndi Lauper
  30. The flaming skulls in Sega arcade game Wonder Boy
  31. Keith Harris & Orville's Messy Monsters game
  32. Any October 31st editions of Whizzer and Chips
  33. Alan Partridge's 'abstract zombie'
  34. The Munsters
  35. Meat Loaf
  36. Caspar the Friendly Ghost
  37. That one from Bananarama dressed as a devil in their video for Venus
  38. The drama segment 'Dark Towers' from BBC Schools programme Look & Read
  39. Dr and the Medics
  40. Shiver and Shake comic
  41. Carry On Screaming
  42. Spray-on cobwebs
  43. Any bored 6 year old girl dressed as a witch for a carnival
  44. TNA wrestler Daffney
  45. Grotbags the witch from Emu's World
  46. Red-and-black striped tights
  47. A badly-rendered drawing of an Iron Maiden album cover on a school exercise book, made by that greasy-haired kid who smells of marzipan
  48. Those novelty eyes-on-springs glasses
  49. Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde
  50. Abbott & Costello meet Frankenstein

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Wellingborough MP Peter Bone can't handle web critics

Enjoying your internet connection? Like browsing the web? You've been let down.

"You can be punished for the actions of a friend or even a neighbour who has used your Internet connection." - OpenRightsGroup on the Digital Economy Bill.

"Essentially translating as “We can, via the secretary of state for business, take down any website we don’t like simply by citing a connection to some form of copyright infringement” - Jamie Thompson on the Digital Economy Bill.

The UK is ready to get China-style censorship of the internet, with the forthcoming Digital Economy Act that was voted in against the tens of thousands of wishes expressed by ordinary computer users. A despicable collection of MPs voted in favour of online censorship.

Politicians are a breed of people who have a lowly reputation, wedged somewhere between a orphanage arsonist and a commercial radio DJ. With the shameless expenses scandal, and a national economy so broken not even Cash Converters would accept it, there appears to be no hope for MPs trying to prove they share the same DNA as us.

It's no wonder that over half the population would rather vote on Big Brother or whatever Simon-Cowell-fronted sneer-fest is running at the moment. If you're in the company of friends and mention that you take an interest in politics, you may as well have sprayed concentrated halitosis in their faces.

There's simply no interest in Parliament these days, and I think the MPs rather like that. With the heavily articulate wordings of proposed laws, the endless exchange of statistics and monotone speeches, it's no surprise Joe Sixpack doesn't tune in.

Besides, when have you had a politician actually LISTEN to you? They don't do that, do they?

Recently, the Digital Economy Bill was proposed by the Labour government to impose censorship on UK internet services, all in the name of "reducing piracy". Unsurprisingly, it didn't take long to realise that the bill had been lobbied for by the BPI - the UK's record industry. In fact, large portions of this censorship law had been written by the BPI.

We know the record industry is angered at the millions of MP3s available illegally on the internet, and have pushed an anti-piracy agenda so heavily that they ignore the bigger picture - why piracy occurs in the first place.

Digital files are easy to copy and distribute, they cost almost next-to-nothing, they don't take up physical space and are theoretically infinite in supply. Compared to the physical product (such as a CD or vinyl record), there's a lot of convenience.

Yet the record industries still persist in selling their downloads at equivalent prices to the CD. They get a bigger margin, refusing to pass on any of the cost savings to the consumer.

Let's not forget the record industry tried to ban MP3 players back in 1999, so I don't have sympathy for the wailing dinosaurs. Imagine if they got their way! We know they spent most of the noughties coming up with rival formats, all of them were cumbersome and highly restrictive. No wonder they failed!

However, one small victory for the record industry is that Peter Mandelson recently holidayed with record boss David Geffen. And just by pure "coincidence", Mandelson later decided to put forward a law forcing all UK ISPs to regulate what you look at online, in the interests of copyright.

Those of you who've read this blog will know how I exposed Lily Allen for her copyright-infringement, along with Lily's response to me falling flat on its face.

Well, last week I discovered that Peter Mandelson has followed in Lily's footsteps as a copyright hypocrite. Again, I reported the story to techdirt.com, who are always keen to showcase the "do as I say, not as I do" arrogance of politicians and musicians who insist copyright should be stronger, despite masses of economic studies showing that lighter copyright laws benefit both publishers, creators and consumers alike.

My local MP is Peter Bone from the Conservative Party. In the run up to the Digital Economy Bill being debated (and I use that term loosely), various online compaigns were set up encouraging us to contact our local MP.

Thanks to the wonderful TheyWorkForYou.com website, it's easy to write a letter to Peter Bone. As my friends know, I'm not exactly a fan of the Conservatives, but I did vote Tory in protest at Labour's support of the ongoing illegal and unethical wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. There you have it, I'm admitting to having voted Tory. (Well, in the ward I lived in at the time, it was just Labour vs Conservative, no other options.)

I confess to having not known much about Peter before. I do recall my friend Kat Fiction a few years back, stating her shock at how the Tories prepared an election leaflet for Mr Bone, using the fact he resembled then-England-manager Sven Goran-Eriksson as a positive campaign point.

Oh hang on, there is something quite disturbing about Peter Bone. He opposed the minimum wage, and continues to oppose it. Such was his conviction that Peter Bone paid just 87p-an-hour to one of his workers back in 1995. "The minimum wage would condemn hundreds of thousands to the dole queue", he was quoted as saying.

However, when it comes to Peter Bone employing his wife, he thinks she deserves £40,000 a year.

So, should I have anything to do with this hypocritical charlatan? Something else stirred the memory banks. Drinking buddy Richard Lockwood wrote to to ask why the MP supported the laughable bunkum known as 'homeopathy', which would clearly be a waste of NHS money. The reply he got back from Peter Bone was, er, minimal to say the least.

Still, I felt so strongly about the Digital Economy Bill (and still do), that I decided to write to Peter Bone and see where it would take me. It wouldn't matter if I didn't like the man, what would matter is him speaking against it. After all, a lot of businesses in Wellingborough do depend on an open web to do commerce. I'm affected by any such changes, being a local web-designer, web-programmer and SEO consultant.

A look at Peter Bone's voting record shows some signs of a soul. He wanted an investigation into the Iraq war, voted against the government's draconian 'anti-terror' laws and is heavily against ID cards. Pretty commendable, I have to say.

However, with his stance against gay equal rights, he shows himself up as an embarrassing social dinosaur, no better than the US politicians who denied civil rights for black people. The Conservatives try to position themselves as a modern party, but the homophobia isn't far away.

Still, I announced my intention to write to Peter Bone, urging him to vote against the Digital Economy Bill, and a few of my friends followed my lead. I even got a reply:

One of my key roles as your representative in Parliament is to listen to my constituents and campaign on your behalf - in fact, this is the whole philosophy behind my "Listening to Wellingborough and Rushden" campaign.

You have raised an important issue and I have accordingly forwarded it onto the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport so that the government can fully take your opinions into account. I have also requested a response from the Department and I will, of course, forward on to you any that I may receive.

Sounding very nice indeed. Unfortunately, Peter Bone could not be bothered to turn up to the second reading of the bill. Actually, to be fair, 95% of MPs - our so-called 'public servants' - also could not be bothered to attend this essentially important debate.

And thus, we entered the next step as the technically-illiterate MPs present outnumbered those who actually understood the importance of a free internet for the UK's economy.

Yeah, cheers Peter Bone. Well done for your apathy. Well done for ignoring such an important issue. Obviously sitting in a £15k-a-year rented flat paid for by us taxpayers was a much better option?

I wrote back, airing my disappointments on his lack of action, and my intentions to blog about his failure to represent his constituents' views. His response:

Thank you for your e-mail. You will know that I have one of the best voting
records of any Conservative Member of Parliament and my attendance in the
House of Commons is second to none. You will also know that I fully support
the Conservative Party on the Digital Economy Bill. I am sure you will also
appreciate that sometimes Members of Parliament have to be in their
constituency and not in the Palace of Westminster. Unfortunately, Members
of Parliament are not able to be in two places at once.

With regards to your attack on me for being anti-gay-rights, you are
entitled to your opinion, but it is not correct. You may be interested to
hear that I was recently voted by Liberal Democratic Voice to be one of the
62 most Liberal non-Lib Dem MPs.

The "you are entitled to your opinion" statement is such a poor cop-out. A terrible cliche that is a verbal white flag. It signifies the fear of his old-fashioned views being held up to rationality.

In a similar fashion, he states that he supports the Bill (Conservatives back it) yet will not even dare discuss why he supports it.

I'd like to put it to this pauper-wage-loving technically-illiterate gay-despising taxpayer-money-wasting waste-of-space that he dare not enter into any debate, because he knows he will lose. He's backing whatever the Conservative Party say, because that's his easy career - claiming huge expenses from hard working people, denying them rights, imposing censorship and wishing he could cut their wages to a fraction of what they are.

Naturally, I won't be voting for this knowledge-lacking tosswit, and since his views have been spread via Facebook, other locals agree...

"I'm not voting for that useless twat, who didn't have the honesty to admit, on his first reply that he had no intention of voting against the bill."

"it is HIS JOB to be entitled to MY opinion. So the oily, lazy waste of space can drop dead."

"I've emailed him 6 times. Had 3 responses, two of which were pretty much stock letters and the third was a little more detailed, but boiled down to "I'll be talking to the secretary of state about it". My question was explicitly about his behaviour, nothing to do with the government or anyone else.

Now, my understanding is that an MP is supposed to represent their constituents. Ignoring them is not representation.... See more

I want him gone, unless he learns to
1) Read
2) Turn up on debates that matter instead of the pointless ones that just bump up his numbers"


"make all the candidates in a constituency work as a waiter in a 'Frankie n Bennys' for a month....whoever gets the most tips in that time obviously has the right work ethic and becomes the MP.....shimples!!"

"if they could be in two places at once they'd be claiming expenses for both"


To conclude, I've just realised why Peter Bone is in favour of a law that censors the web.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

If you are a UK music fan, follow these instructions

Anybody who has ever gritted their teeth at the third play of a tedious James Blunt song during their working day will know how feeble commercial radio is for those who value music with passion, soul and sincerity.

If you're a fan of heavy rock, drum 'n' bass, punk, indie, reggae, ska, hard dance, electronica, funky house, Northern soul, blues, metal, etc, you will be all too familiar with the agony of Groundhog FM - the nightmare that is some witless local DJ churning out the same old tracks you heard yesterday, in between double-glazing adverts and his own 'in the newspapers today...' spiel.

The fact these charismaphobes are allowed near a microphone and feel no shame in inflicting the likes of Phil Collins, Dido and Bon Jovi on an entire county surely must be in breach of the Geneva Convention.

I'm no music snob, I do actually like plenty of mainstream music, quite a lot of it new. I admire the production behind Girls Aloud, I appreciate the simplistic exuberance of the Black Eyed Peas, and the punchy sound of Lily Allen.

However, there are times when the Clash's 'I Fought The Law' needs to be pelted out full blast. Times when the severely underrated M.I.A. should be on the airwaves, times when some full-on skanking from Toots And The Maytals can brighten an evening, and times when a long-forgotten Elastica track can stick a smile on your face.

To satisfy such desires, I've always recommended BBC 6 Music, a station that plays tracks that other broadcasters don't touch. From Craig Charles' Funk Show to the heart-warming surreal musings of Adam and Joe, with the wit and whimsy of Andrew Collins, this station is a pure gem, a rare showcase for esoteric tuneage.

You may not have heard of it (until recently) as it's stuck in the wastelands of DAB. According to the BBC's own surveys, the station has a mere 20% awareness among adults. I was surprised it was as high as that, as the Beeb have never done a good job of promoting 6music.

In the news today of course, BBC director general Mark Thompson has announced his intention to axe BBC 6 Music along with BBC Asian Network. The timing of which has to be brought into question, as a Conservative government is likely to be established soon. It seems like a sacrificial lamb offering.

Also, the BBC are continually blasted by the right-wing press for their dominance in mainstream media. The criticism is a curious parodox which is rarely questioned. One line is "you're doing too well, you're harming the business of your commercial rivals", and the other line is "incredibly low ratings, it should be axed". The idiots who spew out this bile, from the likes of bigot Richard Littlejohn and the ironically-surnamed Jon Gaunt, do so without acknowledging their own spectacular broadcasting failures.

Naturally, music lovers are starting petitions, Facebook groups, and even a flashmob to prevent the closure of 6music.

Whilst these are all very well and good, nothing can be going to the Powers That Be. In this case, the BBC Trust. The news may scream "BBC axes radio stations", but actually it's only a proposal there is time to save it.

Please e-mail the BBC Trust at srconsultation@bbc.co.uk to air your support of BBC 6music. Without significant recognition of this quality station, we could lose it at the end of 2011. BBC Trust chairman Sir Michael Lyons has admitted if "there's massive public concern that we need to take account of then we will go back to the director general to rethink the strategy before it's approved".

If an e-mail is inconvenient for you to write, you can always submit your views in the online consultation from the BBC Trust, all listeners and viewers invited to take part before 25th May, that also goes for the e-mails.

With that, I reproduce below the e-mail I sent.
Edit: As my friend Nic says in the comments to this blog entry, don't copy-and-paste this, just let it inspire you. Organisations don't look fondly on lots of people sending the same thing in!:

Dear BBC Trust,

I'm stunned at the proposals to close down digital radio stations 6music and Asian Network. The Director General believes 6music is competing too closely with commercial offerings and is too expensive to run, yet nothing could be further from the truth.

Within your established national portfolio of stations, 6music is easily the most unique. The intelligence, passion and eclectic choices in music - past and current - makes 6music an astonishing and well loved arena for people whose tastes are simply not served by any competing broadcaster.

The same cannot be said for many of your other digital services. BBC Three is currently a poor performer that's in the shadow of E4 and ITV2. Shows such as 'Joe Swash: I Believe In Ghosts' and 'My Man Boobs And Me' are cheap tawdry tabloid fare which has little appeal to its target audience.

I've also never understood why the BBC dedicate two channels for children's television. I'm not questioning the quality of CBBC or CBeebies, which are a breath of fresh air in comparison to commercial rivals' offerings (simply toy adverts masquerading as cartoons), yet I feel you could preserve costs by placing the pre-school output (CBeebies) during times when the usual CBBC audience are supposed to be attending school. The extra bandwidth saved could be used for a second HD service.

Of course, my issue is with the plans to decimate your digital radio services under the questionable notion that there's a feeling of overreaching into areas that are normally the preserve of commercial radio.

The irony is that your analogue-based stations have long been on commercial radio's doorsteps.

Global's Heart are moving in to mirror Radio 2, and judging by significant audience increases, it's up to the Beeb to make the next move. Radio 3 of course has a distinct commercial competitor in Classic FM, its popularity eclipsing your offering. Radio 5 thankfully outdoes the rather downmarket talkSPORT, but both chase the same audience.

BBC 6music costs just £9 million a year to run. Out of the TV License fee income of £4.6 billion, I would say that represents extremely good value for money. I only wish I could say the same for BBC Three, costing £115 million a year, with very few 'hits' to date.

The nearest commercial station to 6music? I feel embarrassed at even mentioning Xfm or Absolute Radio, two stations that play token 'alternative and indie' songs in daytime only if they've become big chart breakthroughs. They're usually overplayed and when it's a new band, it's just their one song they'll play.

Xfm's commitments to the listener are laughable. DJs have been made redundant in favour of an automated playlist that is narrow, safe and repetitive. It's no surprise that such DJs - Lauren Laverne, Shaun Keaveney, Guy Garvey, Adam and Joe, Stephen Merchant, etc - have found homes at 6music and have offered better shows as a result.

Absolute Radio's diet of soft rock and anthemic pop, with a prohibition on dance and hip-hop, is an anathema to the tastes of 6music listeners. There is simply no room for esoteric choices in obscure music when commercial interests have to be served.

Mark Thompson also states "low audience awareness" for 6music, yet this is down to the lack of promotion the station gets. BBC 1Xtra is continuously plugged on Radio 1 throughout the day, yet 6music (which has massive crossover appeal with Radio 1 listeners) is never mentioned. I'm not surprised at low figures.

If the cuts are allowed to go ahead, it would not just make a mockery of the BBC's public service commitments, it also devalues DAB as a platform, something which the BBC have been pioneers in introducing to the UK.

Need I remind you that commercial ventures with DAB have been predictable failures? On the television side of things, I'm sure we're familiar on how Granada and Carlton spectacularly let down all those who bought ON Digital/ITV Digital boxes, and it to the BBC's credit that it founded Freeview, which is now a highly acclaimed platform, serving as the most popular method of digital television for UK viewers.

With so much simulcasting of existing analogue stations, DAB is not a highly attractive offering, yet the BBC have done well to provide 1Xtra, 5Live, 6Music, Radio 7 and Asian Network. In wide swathes of provincial Britain, these are the only stations setting the platform apart from standard FM/AM radio. You have made DAB viable for me, in spite of commercial broadcasters fleeing the platform.

For the BBC's continued survival, it is important to support low-cost services which have a passionate audience. It's unquestionable value for the license payer and is true commitment to underserved audiences. I could not think of anything more 'BBC-esque' than what 6music does.

More people listen to 6music than buy the Times newspaper. Even with the station treated like a red-headed stepchild by the Corporation, its listener figures are actually commendable.

The BBC wisely paid tribute when John Peel died, a man whose ethos is represented by 6music. Why undo all that work by closing down a station due to questionable political pressure from vendetta-based campaigns run by press barons who wish the BBC quashed so they can monopolise the market for news?

I know this is going to be one of many thousands of emails sent to you on the subject of 6music, which simply reinforces why the station should be kept and hopefully, promoted!

Yours faithfully

Peter Thomas.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

The avoidable downfall of a town centre pub

Running a pub must be a right laugh, eh? You're the life and soul of the party, you're at the heart of the action, you're the hub of everyone's social life.

Well, no. Having known several people who have managed (and continue to manage) pubs, it's actually a hard job. You start several hours before the pub is even open, scrubbing away at the detretrius of the previous night, and then you're onto way past midnight. Granted, it looks like fun, but being a bar manager is not for me. Especially when you consider over 50 pubs a week are closing down in the UK. Added to that, the life behind the bar contains risks like fights breaking out, mardy customers and increased supermarket competition. I'm grateful for sitting at a desk 40 hours a week, and I take my hat off to long-suffering bar staff.

Which makes it a bit tricky to tackle the story of how a Wellingborough town centre pub threw away every opportunity that appears like commercial suicide. I really do not want to appear like I'm mocking their failure, yet I feel compelled to detail the catastrosphic details of this pub's brief biography. The irony is that I never entered the place during its brief spell of activity, yet what I write here can be confirmed by friends, customers, ex-workers, Facebook screen-grabs, video and photographic evidence.

I doubt I could run a pub for anything more than a week, but when you hear how badly Woodies Retro Bar performed, I reckon I'd have converted it into a mecca of decadance. Let this posting serve as a warning to others on how NOT to run a pub.

Woodies opened on the 4th December 2009, on Wellingborough's Silver Street, part of the main pub crawl circuit. The venue's previous role was as a branch of the Litten Tree pub chain from the now bankrupt Laurel Pub Company. Imagine an overpriced Wetherspoons, and you get the picture. With the huge space in the venue (originally built as a TSB bank), the place served as a quasi-nightclub in the early Noughties, and was tremendously successful, taking many customers away from Wellingborough's only major nightclub, Bar Life.


Eventually, the rot set in. Violence can be a regular occurence of any provincial night-club, and the Litten Tree's attempts to stop the scraps were beyond farcical, with a few occasions where security staff got involved in the rucks. With the place changing door staff on an almost monthly basis due to the violent problems, and regular fights on the dancefloor, the pub went far beyond what most drinkers see as acceptable. Airport-style security was installed at the door, with each punter being searched by a metal detecting wand, having to empty out their wallets before entry. A police car and ambulance parked outside would be an ensured sight most weekends, so much so that any blue-light vehicle blaring a siren would be referred to as a 'Litten Tree taxi'. With the parent company collapsing, it saw to the end of the dismal pub, having earnt its 'Litter Tray' nickname.

Having sat dank and dark, daubed with whitewash and an optimistic estate agent's sign for around two years, it was optimism that greeted the news on the re-opening, as Woodies Retro Bar.

Landlady Karlee Edmunds told the local paper: "...we are confident that a retro concept is just what Wellingborough town centre needs. ...we will immediately start to fit out the premises with the theme being a '70s discotheque. We are planning a very kitsch interior with mannequins, including Austin Powers".

So far, so tacky. But you can't blame her, as there have been bar chains built on retro concepts, such as 'Flares' for the 1970s and 'Reflex' for the 1980s. (Actually, when the time is right, I'll trademark 'Common People' and 'Rehab' for the 1990s and Noughties respectively.)

What became a worry was that Karlee had taken over an existing Wellingborough pub and caused it demise three times over. A few years ago, Around Town in Cambridge Street was given to Karlee and her friend Debbie to run. It wasn't long before the place began resemble the Marie Celeste, and so they opted for a rebrand...


Urban Knights was the result, sounding more like an album title from a short-lived r'n'b boy band. As you can see from the tacky lettering, it brought forth all the charm of a diarrhea-filled skip. Stripper nights were part of the 'delights' on offer.

It didn't survive long in this incarnation, quickly morphing into Charlie Dee's. Sadly I have no pic to show you, but the glossy sign was in a nice 1930s New York art-deco font, and admittedly added a touch of class over what previously stood there. The schedule made mention of live rock bands and addition of an afternoon grill showed promise. Alas, these were axed within a matter of weeks, and the place soon fell back into the same routine, with the stripper nights returning. Pubs with hot food offerings tend to do well on a busy circuit or a main road, none of which Charlie Dee's played host to.

Unsurprisingly, Charlie Dee's closed its doors in 2009, with Karlee and Debbie quitting the venue. (It's since re-opened under new management as Bailey's.)

This brings us back to Woodie's Retro Bar, described by the Northants Evening Telegraph "a bar for the over-25s, and it has already employed 12 members of staff" back in October 2009.

An over-25s bar in Wellingborough? Very ambitious, and quite daring. It obviously cuts out a significant amount of clientele, yet could be attractive to a wide audience who would prefer familiar music and less of the testosterone-fuelled argy-bargy seen in a typical club. But by November, the management had already decided to scale back this parameter by taking the age limit to just 21...


Ironically, some of the bar staff were aged under 21. Yet deputy manager Matt Armstrong (himself aged 20) stated on Facebook that it would still retain the right kind of crowd. Well, he did so with far less tact than that...


I witnessed the opening night. As I've stated earlier, I've never entered Woodies, but while out on a pub crawl we walked past the place, playing thumping house music (not exactly 1970s) while two teenaged girls were standing outside having a cigarette break. To give it its due, it was fairly crowded.

However, I was later told by those who went, that the bar only had one till with no change available. It was a case of "exact fare only", as they say on the buses. To put the icing on the cake, a fight broke out, instigated by one of the security staff, which cleared the dance floor. This was intepreted as a minor incident on the bar's official Facebook wall...

Woodies dealt with their critics using Facebook in a belligerent manner...

...and bare-faced optimism...

Yet it wouldn't quash the criticism...

Woodies continued with their mocking tone, not realising it was building up massive hubris...

So, sneering at their kebab shop neighbours for being the Wellingborough branch of Fight Club, eh? Bear that in mind. Meanwhile, a change of age limit policy...


So much for keeping the "riff raff out". And then, we learn that despite their previous slating of the kebab shop, it turns out they are "friends", thanks to them supplying bottles of coke...

Barmen Shane Geraghty and Matt Armstrong continued to insult the customer elsewhere on Facebook, with talk of violence and a smattering of homophobia...

So, when you have your deputy manager publicly stating "guys like that need a fuckin kick in the face", do you continue to employ him? Woodies certainly did.

Come to think of it, there's also public evidence of Matt Armstrong supporting a racist organisation...

As you can see, BNP supporter Matt Armstrong continued to be employed by Woodies right up to the end. Still, it's not like this guy was in a hive of activity, as the decline of Woodies became apparent...

By this time, it was common to see Woodies play host to roughly 2-3 people every Saturday in the daytime. The pub itself could fit in 200, yet it was virtually empty, having failed to capitalise on its opening week.


What could be putting people off?..


Still, at least Matt Armstrong could rely on his heavyweight intellect, a feat proclaimed by, er, himself...


Woodies continued with its consistent policy of being inconsistent...


To play house, garage and dubstep in a so-called 'retro' bar is like serving up rare steaks in a vegan restaurant. A clearly dumb move. Even when situated within a pub themed around dance/r'n'b music (Urban Knights), this plan didn't work.

What's even dumber is charging £3 for admission when all other pubs are free to enter. Let's not forget this takes place on 2nd January, a time when the vast majority of punters have spent the last of their disposable income on New Year's Eve. As you can tell by the comments, the night was a flop.

So what new ideas did Karlee Edmunds have to turn around this ailing joint?


Yes, it's back to the strippers. Observe how there's two separate nights, one for lads to ogle a couple of classy female strippers, and one for ladies to salivate over two hunks. Although for £2.50 a throw, I guess I'm being generous with the terms of "classy" and "hunk". Still, Woodies believes in equal opportunities.

In spite of previous failures with stripper events, staff were hyped up beyond the realms of all rational optimism...


As you can see, barman Shane is reasonably sceptical of the event's expected success. Matt is ambiguous yet ludicrously optimistic. However, with the pub continuing to be about as popular as a bacon sandwich in a mosque, management decided to lay someone off. I bet you can guess who that would be...

Classy and professional, huh? Shane took it in his stride, and brought an alleged under-age drinking incident to the public's attention...

Naturally, the "extreemly (sic) intelligent" Matt Armstrong has something to say about this allegation...
So, one worker feuding with an ex-worker, threatening to kick his head in. Not the first time Matt has spewed out his violent tendencies. Remember all this is going on in the comments area of a message posted by the Woodies Retro Bar Facebook account.

A further comment from Shane shines the light on what Karlee and Debbie promised their 12 bar staff when Woodies opened...


And it continues with Matt, who actually calls for a fight at Woodies...
In case the subtlety has been lost, Matt states exactly how he is going to beat up his former colleague...
Thankfully Shane gets the 'conversation' back on track, and with him no longer on the Woodies payroll, he's able to post some home-truths about how badly the pub is doing...

Back to the proposed stripper events, and the Woodies Facebook account continued pasting the two stripper adverts continuously, sometimes three times in one day, just in case you weren't aware. They even reduced the tickets to £1 each during the last week of January. The stripper events got a total of 43 mentions, yet didn't exactly go down well with their Facebook friends...

Hmm, jealous of someone stripping in Woodies at Poundland prices?


By late January, I had heard on the grapevine that their barrels were starting to run out. It wasn't long before they resembled a 1980s Soviet Russian supermarket...

There is an unconfirmed rumour of someone going in there, asking for two pints of Stella. The barman apparently stated how they were unable to offer it on draught. The customer said to use the bottles in the fridge.

According to the rumour, the barman pours several bottles into the two pint glasses, and says "that'll be £12 please", basing it on the cost of the bottles. Twelve quid!? Common sense would dictate that you'd charge the customer the same price as a draught pint. Should there be any wonder why this pub failed?

This past Thursday, I was informed of the pub's closure...

A quick real-life glimpse on the door to confirm...


Yes, that familiar message, "closed for refurb". Seen frequently on businesses that end up being closed permanently, such as the Old Swan nearby, which died after hedging its bets on ladies' nights.

Let's not forget that the Woodies venue was actually done up back in October and November in time for its opening, so why the sudden need for a refurb? There's already cynics out there on the Woodies Facebook wall...

So, just a "refurb", right? That's the official line, and the pub wouldn't contradict itself? Well, take a look at this explanation on their Facebook profile...

It doesn't seem likely that Woodies will ever resurface. I could be wrong, and that's why there's a comments box at the bottom of this post.

Bear in mind that the location for Woodies is on a main stretch of the town centre circuit. At night, there's a buzz of people all heading down towards the Horseshoe Inn and/or Bar Life. Woodies is situated in a position where the Star Bar and Wetherspoon's Red Well act as 'feeder' pubs, yet once news of the fights and dismal atmosphere spready quickly, people actively avoided Woodies.

One Wellingborough Pubwatch report I've heard was that the venue had a total of 19 customers on one weekend night. Ten people were in there, as they left, nine people headed in. That was their entire custom that night. This was a typical audience for the venue.

Having no seating didn't help. Being painted in the colour scheme of a Wacky Warehouse didn't help. The constant spamming on Facebook of their doomed-to-fail stripper nights didn't help. In short, I'm not sure how you could deliberately run a worse pub than this. I have considered that it might actually be a taxloss.

For now, I think I'll leave the last words to the BNP-supporting violence-threatening deputy manager Matt Armstrong, a man whose intelligence is eclipsed many times over by his optimism...

Saturday, 17 October 2009

The strange, lonely and troubling death of Jan Moir's career

The news of the death of Jan Moir's integrity was hardly shocking. The ridicule of yet another Daily Mail article in recent days just adds to the pointlessness of the bigotd newspaper.

Through the recent travails and sad of the Daily Mail's deeply ficticious cancer vaccine reports, readers know to expect the least of this despicable extreme right-wing rag - particularly if the so-called journalists are incapable of offering an appropriate apololgy.

There are hundreds of sick-minded Daily Mail contributors, from both past and present.

Richard Littlejohn, Melanie Phllips, Peter Hitchens, Julie Burchill, Norman Tebbit, we all know who they are. And we are not being ghoulish to anticipate, or to be mentally braced for, their bad end: a long night, a mysterious stranger, we can herald a sudden death.

In the morning, Jan Moir's apology has already turned cold, as her feigned sympathies reach out to touch an icy celebrity shoulder. It is not exactly a new storyline, is it?

In fact, it is rather depressingly familiar. But somehow we should always expect it of the Daily Mail. No sincere apologies. Not even from Paul Dacre.

In the witch-hunting environs of Associated Newspapers, Jan Moir is one of many hypocritical writers. Her raison d'etre at the Mail stable is to be the token Glenda Slagg...

"What is this I see before me? Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it mad old Madge auditioning for a role in Curse Of The Mummy's Tomb - The Viagra Years? Whatever it is, I do wish it would disappear. Now.

Just like the birds that flew into the US Airways plane over New York last week, Madonna is beginning to smell distinctly of cooked goose.

Hardly a week goes by without some tragic new photographs of the half-naked 50-year-old being unleashed upon the long-suffering public."

- Jan Moir, 22nd Jan 2009, Daily Mail.


"Isn't she [Madonna] looking marvellous? Give or take a bulging vein or two.
...
And the older she gets, the more I admire mad Madge, despite the ever-present Kabbalah weirdness and general preposterousness.

At an age when many women are happy to take a nap with their cats or plant hollyhocks of an evening, she is out there shaking her bot in big girl pants and not giving a damn.

She runs her business and lives her life exactly as she pleases. She is properly awesome."

- Jan Moir, 21st Aug 2009, Daily Mail.

Moir came out as a bigot in 2009 after discovering that thousands of internet users planned to submit complaints to the PCC on her sickening homophobic article in the Daily Mail newspaper.

Although she was effectively smoked out of the closet, she has been hailed by a tiny handful of Mail readers as a champion of gay-bashing.

At this time, Moir is worried that the revelations might end her career as a columnist, and she received an overwhelmingly hostile response from thousands of people worldwide, some of them being Stephen Gately fans, some of them having no time for Boyzone or any other boy band, yet united in a comdemnation of disgustingly inaccurate homophobic articles from a past-it harpy.

Based on the homophobic and factually questionable Daily Mail article by Jan Moir, 17th Oct 2009.
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1220756/A-strange-lonely-troubling-death--.html