Saturday, June 30, 2007

Look at each other and go Blair

It didn't seem particularly fair that the core hypothesis being offered in the endless documentaries on the 'real' Tony Blair this week was 'Tony Blair, how utterly rubbish was he?'

Channel 4 ran a documentary about Blair's Children focussing on a child that'd been shot in a council estate. Honestly, is this representative of 'Blair's Children' (aside from the fact that Blair's Children are Euan, Nicky, Kathryn and Leo).

In the main, Britain under Tony Blair has been a good place; economically stable and reasonably prosperous. We're a nation that gets education, healthcare, a decent prospect of having a job, low inflation, cheap overseas holidays, pretty safe streets and in 2012 we will have the Olympic Games.

OK, some people have more than others, but that's always going to be the case and true equality is a a worthy, but unlikely prospect - which doesn't mean we should stop trying to achieve it, of course. If people living on the streets of Rio or in Baghdad, Dehli, or Kabul had the choice of living there or somewhere as stable and prosperous as Britain, I think they'd choose the latter ... we don't know we're born.

It's not been a perfect premiership; but I'd like to meet the person who hasn't made a mistake at work for ten years. After 10 years in any job there is a point where the world has moved on and you're left floundering. Which is probably what's happened to him in the last couple of years.

Sadly, one of his legacies will be Iraq; but he isn't responsible for the growth of radical Islamic thinking, that's been on the march for 30 years nor was he responsible for the election of George Bush. Our alignment on a global stage with the US goes back generations, and he knows he'd have been slaughtered for aligning with Europe on the issue. Yes, he could have had more conviction and listened to the people; but in reality he was pretty stymied in what he could do about it.

He's been on every TV channel every day for ten years, so over-exposure is an inevitability. He can't be anyone but who he is - have you tried talking or smiling differently, it's very hard, so when he smiles, it's not smarmy, it's him smiling. I think he's done OK, and think he should be respected for what he's done.

Thursday, June 28, 2007


I bought an Orange phone, then it got a crack in the screen and I had to go to war with the evil corporate machine to get it fixed. I fought valiantly and heroically to try and get them accept the blame, but without a receipt they wouldn't touch it.

Then I threatened them with Trading Standards and they relented, promising to have a look at it if I sent it back to their evil lair, victory was in my grasp.

And, then, well, I kind of forgot to send it to them. You see, I'm a bit lazy and really not the kind of person who holds a grudge for very long. For all the fire in my belly during a fight, it only takes a cup of tea and a biscuit to remove my steel.

Days, weeks and months slipped by and my position became untenable. I was given a repair number in February, but you can't send the handset in June with any credibility. I kind of gave up on the idea.

THEN, on Tuesday Emma was clearing out some paperwork and came across the receipt for the phone which was the crucible of the struggle between me and the beast. The one single reason that Orange shops wouldn't touch it.

The battle was back on. I could approach them again, exploit the weakness which was once my biggest foe - the fact that Orange shops and Orange online aren't linked. I could go to the shop, get it fixed and Orange online, with their February repair number, would never know. I resisted the temptation of preening myself whilst strutting topless up the High Street in celebration.

Then, on Wednesday, less than twenty-four hours later I remembered that my work phone was carrying my work Sim Card. I replaced my Orange Sim with it when I was in Poland so that work could pay for my calls home. I went to switch it back and went to my wallet where... the Orange Sim card was gone. And they're very small. And it could be anywhere between here and Cracow. And, well, bollocks.

So, the handset is broken through no fault of my own, and is probably worth about 10% of the total value of the phone and the Sim card, 90% of the value of the phone, is lost through totally my own fault. Except, of course, if my phone wasn't broken I wouldn't be switching Sim cards back and forth in the same handset. It appears that I am being buggered by the corporate beast and it is my own fault whilst not being my own fault at the same time, it's like being buggered twice through my own choice... which I realise for some would represent a party.

Bad week for technology in the house of Ruffles.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Sky'ed up in knots

Have you ever got on a roll with an argument, only to realise halfway through, you're in the wrong? This happened to me this weekend.

Our SKY box broke on Thursday, it's about 4 years old and way out of guarantee. Incidentally, the controller for our Freeview box upstairs has been hidden by Millie never to be found again. Televisually we're going back in time. Tomorrow I'm likely to turn on and observe the liquid sexual chemistry between Anne Diamond and Nick Owen on TV AM.

Something needed to be done, it was the perfect opportunity to reassess our televisual needs. Everyone raves about SKY+, so that seemed worth exploring, and we could probably live without SKY Movies. Well, I'm the customer, BT Vision and Virgin Media mean I'm in a position of considerable power. I decided I was going to get onto SKY and get myself a rollicking good deal. I looked on the website...

Option A was to upgrade to SKY+ at a cost of £159 with the whole package.

Option B was to remove the films and save about £5 a month.

I phoned them; with a head of steam, my negotiating skills and a competitive market they were sure to pull something out of the bag. I said, in my sternest voice, that I wasn't happy with the price being offered. What were they going to do about it? Not a lot, they said.

They could offer me Option C: SKY Motion, which allows you to watch SKY on more than one TV. This would knock the installation down to £99 but put £10 on the monthly subscription.

Option D: They could get my monthly subscription down to £20, but that was without any of the premium channels.

I walked away from the negotiations, because AH HA! I could always get our broken box fixed. The power was with me, for sure; they wouldn't want to lose my custom would they?

Once off the phone I worked it out; Option D wasn't much of an improvement on what I have now with a broken box, and Option C would cost me £120 a year more in subscriptions despite it being £60 less in installation. I could live without the benefit of Premiership football upstairs as well as down and we could get a new Freeview box for about £20.

Option B, dropping SKY Movies, would save about a fiver; but we probably watch a film or two a month, which still beats a Blockbuster rental DVD. So there was no point in dropping SKY Movies either.

Which left me with two options; fix the old box or upgrade to SKY+ for the extravagant price of £159. And then it dawned on me... to get the existing box fixed would be a minimum of £100. Which would be £100 to stand still. Which basically means Option A, is really only £59, the price of a cheap video, for a heap of new features. Really, the hideously priced SKY+ installation was not a bad deal after all.

Sheepishly I went back to SKY and ordered the new box.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Festival vibe

I really should get out of the habit of say that I'm not going to Glastonbury this year as my festival going days are some way behind me. One day I'd like to go back with Millie and experience a different Glastonbury, although I suspect its already very different to what I remember. When the hippies and crusties left with the traveller riot in 1990, the indie kids were its lifeblood, this was my time. That seems to have been taken over by 30-something professionals. James Blunt, James Morrison and Jamie Cullum would never have even made the site during my era.

Still, there are ways of enjoying its vibe when you're a lazy 30-something (as opposed to a deluded 30 something). Today I bought the Orbital Live at Glastonbury compilation and from the second I put it on I swear I could feel the dampness in the air and smell the poppers. Seriously.

Of course, Glastonbury is also now a TV event, and, when Jo Wiley isn't trying to be John Peel (Lauren Laverne is cooler and better), and they're not playing Just Jack as the intro music, it's pretty good. Arctic Monkeys were great on Friday, but until then I hadn't quite worked out why like them. I usually know why I like the music I like. I like Radiohead because they're the band I want to be... edgy, popular, from Oxford. I like hip hop because I like to imagine that I'm at the party Kid N Play throw in House Party. With the Arctic Monkeys I have little claim on them, Happy Mondays, Oasis, the Stone Roses all defined my generation whereas the Monkeys are defining the generation I tut at on the train when they put their feet on the seats and drop litter.

They sing about going down the pub and kicking around town and play groovy funky riffs. they play them hard and fast, but there's not much innovative or clever in what they do. It then came to me why I like them; they're basically the best school band ever.

Btw - this photo album thing is good isn't it?... I love the BBC.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Prize apart

The conference dinner and awards in Poland was a masterclass in the surreal. It was held in a castle some fifty minutes from the city centre. I was hoping for ramparts, but it was actually a mansion house built by a randy old bugger to house one of his mistresses – one of fifty shag pads he built throughout Poland, each one installed with an ensuite mistress.

For reasons unclear, the host chose a didactic style and rather than explain what was going on in the entertainment, chose to tell us what we were feeling. Therefore we were subject to a mechanistic dance of men shaving women’s legs, and of women dancing with a human head in a bucket, all without a word of introduction or explanation. However, when it came to the prize giving we were told that ‘this is an emotional moment for all of us’. A useful cue.

Two special awards were presented, again without real explanation. Firstly to the Polish (the main conference sponsor took a special version of the special award) and then to the Chinese. Nope, I didn’t get it either.

The main award took about an hour to present with each of the nine judging levels, eight judges and seven finalists being explained or called onto the stage in minute detail. Each finalist had a promotional video which was often a more generic TV advert than anything to do with the actual award contestant. Then there was a little vignette played out where the main judge searched his pockets pretending to have lost his envelope which he also did when presenting the Polish and Chinese awards earlier. Oh the hilarity.

With the envelope eventually found, the thirty-five people on stage and everyone checking their watches in gasping anticipation of the announcement, the host and main judge decided, in a pique of autism, to cut the proceedings to get everyone on stage more neatly arranged. Judges on the left, finalists on the right. In groups. Much confused shuffling and bowing ensued. A jazz band, which obscured most of the screen, played a groove in the background.

Eventually the announcement was made, and it was a major shock to hear the prize was shared between the growing economic superpower that it would be good to sidle up to: China and the host nation who had many influential dignitaries in attendance: Poland. Perhaps it was no irony that one of the graphics contained the typo ‘Price winners’; one speculates, what price the winners might have paid.

The evening closed with the serving of plates of what looked like entrĂ©es and a laser show with the loudest soundsystem I’ve ever heard. Nobody quite explained what the diplodocus or birthday cake had to do with the presentation, but at the time it seemed somehow wholly appropriate.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Crac'ked record

Dateline: Cracow

I’m here in Poland with work, which makes me an international business person. The purpose of my visit is an international conference. Cracow is beautiful, and not at all like I’d envisaged, but I’d rather be at home. Or here on holiday. Why people enjoy this I don’t know.

For all the platitudes about reaching beyond borders and nations meeting nations, in truth the nations stick together, the English keep it particularly tribal even though everyone else speaks English as the common language. When they’re feeling gregarious they will pass the time with the odd American or Australian but in truth, everyone stays with their own and scoffs at each other. It’s largely indistinguishable from International It’s a Knockout. I keep expecting to hear Stuart Hall screaming “LOOK AT THE FRENCH, LOOK AT THE FRENCH!”

Either that or a teenage party; for the uninitiated, like me, I shake hands with Olaf and Vladimir and they seem OK. Then you find that there’s some almighty fall out and that Dave didn’t like the way Olaf said something to Vladimir and that as a result Beatrice is crying in the toilet. For those who live in this world, it all seems terribly important; but it just appears to be a self perpetuating round of inconsequential bickering.

The conference had an opening ceremony; the only opening ceremony I’ve ever seen is at the Olympics, and that usually involves elfin imps dancing incomprehensibly to signify the development of youth or something. It wasn’t quite like that, but we had the local mayor, the main sponsor and Lech Walesa, plus a classical music recital which culminated in the playing of the wedding march. Everyone sat stoney-faced; did nobody see the absurdity of it all?

I’m only here for a couple of nights, giving me one whole day at the conference and the delight of the main conference dinner. Some of the English contingent, who flew out earlier, appear to be treating their trip like a stag weekend. So it should be interesting to see what happens at the dinner, apparently, it’s not unusual for the nations to sing their national songs… I think ours is going to be ‘You’re going to get your fucking heads kicked in’.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Party in the park

The Wireless festival, of which I now count myself a regular having attended Depeche Mode last year, New Order the year before and Faithless this year, delights and disgusts me in equal measure. Whilst the principle spirit of any festival is achieving some kind of 'connection' at Glastonbury its with your own inner spirit or something, at Wireless it's with your mobile phone brand.

Apart from the opportunity to bond with your O2 phone provider by texting for a "VIP" pass to their tent thing. You can walk along neat concreted pathways between various heavily sponsored areas, rather than through a bog of your own swill. Even the burgers are nice, the beer queue short and Spanx had a convenient and safe locker to store his rucksack. It is all very wrong.

But, it's convenient, it's within 30 minutes of all main stations out of town and it finishes at a reasonable time. Its like a lady choosing to discard her foxy lingerie for a pair of three pack big knickers because they're comfortable. You can't argue with the logic.

If Faithless were a football team, you'd say that in Maxi Jazz you've got a man up front who will guarantee you goals. They came on and snatched an early goal with 'Can't Get No Sleep', just before half time 'God Is A DJ' ensured victory. For most of the second half they defended deep and in numbers without really pressing their advantage home. In the final minute they broke away to slot home 'We Come 1'; flattering the score line a little.

I'd never seen Faithless before, but they look amazing on TV and when they're good, they're really good. But it wasn't quite the stellar experience I hoped it might be and it turns out that I don't know as many of their tunes as I thought.

Still, they've enough in their locker for you to go home happy and there's little better than pounding live music and a big crowd to get your spirits up. Even if it is Mark Ronson name dropping Amy Whinehouse and playing a series of anodyne covers.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Village People

Yesterday, because we were in the area, we went to designer retail outlet discount centre Bicester Village. We're in the area about once every eighteen months and will drop in with increasingly low expectations of what we might find.

Last time we were there I bought a pair of Camper shoes which turned out to be from a range called 'Twins'. Sadly these weren't identical twins, they were subtly, though noticeably different. At first, probably because I'd just spent fifty quid on odd shoes, I justified this as an appropriately quirky manifestation of my character. Eventually they simply became a pair of odd shoes; odd shoes are worn by Big Brother contestants and sixth form students trying to amplify their brittle teenage characters onto a thankless peer group. My odd shoes just slipped to the back of the cupboard, to become crushed by pairs of shoes which looked the same. A sort of shoe based Darwinism.

Not that Bicester Village is totally without value. If you are morbidly obese to the point that a barrage balloon is considered to pinch a little under the arms, or skeletal to the point that risks full multiple collapse of your internal organs as a result of your bowing pipecleaner bones, then you will indeed find some of the latest fashions at discounted rates. We saw a pair of wedge healed open toed sandals at LK Bennet which are the very height of fashion, but sadly much as we tried to jam them on, they were just too small for Millie's thirteen month old feet.

If you're within a normal size range - and for this I mean that you don't have feet so big that skis are unnecessary when wintering in Whistler, or that they appear to be mere stumps. If you are within this range the shopping is rather more hit or miss. Occasionally you will find a pair of well tailored trousers, but on pulling them off the rack you'll realise that there has been a scale embroidered picture of a cat having a vasectomy stitched onto the left thigh as a design flourish. In the Camper store, Emma found a pair of men's slip-on shoes which looked like they'd been made from a neon pink cauliflower. Someone, somewhere, drew a picture of that and someone somewhere said; 'we're going to sell millions of those'.

Apart from Japanese tourists, of which there are loads, the other noticeable tribe trawling the village are fashionistas who obviously subscribe to the concept of enhancing their persona by wearing designer gear. However, they don't appear to be able to actually afford any of it at regular price and buy exclusively from the Village's hideous discounted ranges. So next time you see someone in a baseball cap made from a Lion's mane, a coat with a silver picture of hippo eating a Wagon Wheel, a skirt which spins round and changes colour with variations in temperature and shoes with horns sticking out of them. Ask them if they found anything nice at Bicester Village that weekend.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007


As someone who has been on the receiving end of those ‘a child could have done it’ accusations regarding design work, I have some sympathy with the people who came up with the London 2012 logo.

Of course, theoretically, anyone with fingers can create an image. Rulers are useful for straight lines, compasses good for circles and curvy bits, and your itty bitty fingers are good for when you want to get all freestyle on yo’ hairy black ass.

But in the end someone has to make a decision about what it is they’re going to put on that bit of paper that encapsulates everything there is to say about London, Britain, Olympic-ses, and a whole heap more.

A true waste of money would have been something hideously conservative and corporate. Pretty much anyone with a copy of Quark or PhotoShop can produce a logo, and most will do it for some way under say, £250,000; so to spend £400,000 on something nondescript and vanilla would have been worse than being brave and taking a risk.

Where a good designer is worth his salt is in the thinking behind the logo – and how it might be applied and I trust whoever it was who came up with the thing has thought this through. In time we will, if not love it (how many logos do you truly love?); recognise it; which is ultimately what it should do.

Aside from the aesthetics, there’s been some criticism of the video that accompanies it. GMTV were screaming about the millions of epileptics who have been slain by the flashing lights and colouring. I don’t know, I’m not sure it’s quite been quite the cull they’re claiming, I mean, it appears to have taken its inspiration from the opening credits of Going Live and I don’t remember that being a problem.

Sunday, June 03, 2007


Periodically, Emma's sister brings around a bag full of old magazines for us to read. Mostly, it's Heat with the odd Now. We've had to odd Hello and OK but it would be misleading to say that this was the norm. They tend to travel around the house and find homes by the side of the bed, toilet and bath before, eventually, being thrown away.

Why? I don't know why, I have an MBA, am head of a marketing department; I'm in the higher tax bracket and I'm considering the benefits of buying a second property, I have a cleaner, I read books about Islamic militancy and spend £6000 a year on nursery fees. But I also need to read Heat to find out whether Lyndey Lohan has a fat arse this week.

In the latest batch we had a couple of copies of Cosmopolitan (there's always a rogue Glamour in there too). They were on the bed, so I picked one up to flick through it.

I came across a page which gave a minute by minute account of how to prepare for the hottest sex you've ever had. Apparently it only takes 12 minutes.

Each minute was detailed, so for your benefit, if you want to have mind blowing sex, and have less that quarter of an hour to get ready for it, make sure you... put naughty messages in his wallet, rummage your hand in his trouser pocket, put on a pair of satin knickers, do a salsa dance, have mutual oral sex (1 minute each, ladies should be wearing sheer knickers), watch a female friendly erotic film (or read a passage from an erotic novel... come on, come one, you don't have time to decide which), have a massage, snog like teenagers, play with your sex toy, eat something (can't remember what), do a strip tease and a sexy dance.

That was it, all that in 12 minutes - at least three dances and two pairs of knickers. Does anyone follow this advice? It must be like a game of It's A Sex Knockout, great preparation for sex? Great preparation for a cup of tea and copy of Heat more like.

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