March 2003 Archives
March 28, 2003
I have a major interest in women's fashion.
Now, there's an incriminating statement. I feel that I should explain further. I have inherited from my father a keen interest in women's clothes on women. I just want to be clear about that. This means I read fashion magazines far more than my fiancee does and am more likely to suggest an afternoon in the clothes shops than she is. I enjoy men's clothes as well, but the relative lack of variety available makes them that bit less interesting.
There is a point to this, honest.
This observant eye for the latest in street fashion (as opposed to catwalk fashion, which is a rarified world that translates into the High Street in unpredictable ways) is further aggravated by working in London's Soho, which is painfully fashion conscious. It's almost impossible to avoid getting a sense of where fashion is going in any particular season. All the key trends for this spring are already on the street: the miniskirt, the rainbow colours and the returns of camouflage and military fabrics.
It's the last trend that I have a problem with. It's been a couple of years since camouflage was a major trend, back before the World Trade Center disaster, in fact. Now, when men and women in the armed forces of the UK, US, Poland, Australia and Iraq are fighting and dying in camouflage it make me uncomfortable seeing ordinary people wearing pseudo-military garb. It seems disrespectful, somehow, both of the people who are fighting and to the gravity of the politics behind the war. Yes, I know it seems odd to link such a trivial matter as fashion with something so important, but these small things do matter.
Whatever view you take of the war in Iraq, there's no doubt that military intervention is a serious issue. Don't trivialise it with your clothes.
You know, I've just realised what an insanely bad time this is to be starting a blog. I'm only weeks away from getting married and hence up to my eyes in work. Time for writing is amazingly thin on the ground. Never mind. You'll all appreciate me that much more when I get back.
March 26, 2003
You know, as a friend remarked last night while we sat drinking Diet Coke and watching cable TV, it's really easy to forget that things are happening in other parts of the world other than the middle east. The 24-hour news channels are almost entirely devoted to Iraq, as are the mainstream news bulletins. A significant part of both the BBC News site and all the daily papers are given over to the conflict.
Still, things are happening in other parts of the world and it would be remiss of us to ignore them. Take for example, Robert Mugabe, that very model of a good African despot. He's busy making speeches comparing himself to Hitler (I kid you not. Check the link above.) and then launching waves of violence on the opposition party. Nice guy. Hussain may be the dictator of choice at the moment, but he's far from the only complete bastard with his hands firmly on the reins, rifles and mobs of power.
March 24, 2003
Mum took this photo of us gardening, yesterday. Well, thanks a lot, Mum...
I have no idea how widely this is being reported in the US, so I thought I'd post it here:
ITN news journalist Terry Lloyd is dead, quite possible killed by "friendly fire" from US troops. He was ITN's longest-serving reporter and a veteran war-reporter to boot. Yes, it's a dangerous job. Yes, he was paid well for it. But what a stupid, futile way for one of our top TV reporters to die.
The National Union of Journalists reaction can be found here.
March 20, 2003
Two things make home working a really viable prospect for a mediocre hack like myself. The first is a good, robust broadband pipe into the flat. Check. The second is a work-supplied mobile phone. Check.
These two in combination mean that I'm just as accessible at home as I am in the office. If I could only teach a few of my colleagues to use AIM or MSN Messenger, I'd be completely sorted.
Two more things make home working a veritable pleasure. The first is a laptop. My ageing but still useful iBook fulfils that role admirably. The second is wireless networking, in this case Apple's Airport 802.11b solution. I've worked on the bed, on the sofa and in the study today.
What's more, I've been more productive than I would have been in the same period in the office. No doubt about it: my work rate is much increased here. One of the common arguments against home working in the need for the social interaction that the office offers. I'm not going to dispute that because I do like the creative buzz you get in the office, especially the open plan environment we have at EG.
However, the two are far from mutually exclusive. A day or so of home working a week suits me just fine, because it allows me to get so much more done in silence. This is the key element, I think. Creative work in general, and writing in particular, is a solitary pursuit both out of choice and necessity. Away from the bustle and interruptions of the office, I can get a 1,000 word feature done in a couple of hours, while it may take me the best part of a day in Wardour Street.
As broadband becomes more readily available, this really has to grow.
Waking up to the news that we're bombing Iraq (well, more than we usually do) is not exactly the best way to start the day. I have to stop using Radio 4 as my morning alarm. I cope with war news much better after coffee and toast.
March 19, 2003
This shouldn't be a surprise to anyone, though. Those in opposition to the prevalent policy of the day always shout louder than those in agreement with the government of the day. Equally, people tend to surround themselves with self-reinforcing (and justifying) groups of like-minded people. In essence, you surround yourself with people who think like you naturally, and then assume that everyone thinks like you, simply because that's your experience of the world. However, it shouldn't take long to realise that there are newspapers out there promoting views in opposition to your own. Here's a newsflash: those papers are selling and many of the readers agree with the views espoused.
I think it's fair to say that opinion is sharply divided in the UK over war. I also think it's fair to say that those opposed to it are not in the majority they assume they are.
However, I am heartened to see that both sides seem to respect Robin Cook for his stand, and look down on Claire Short for her display of abject cowardice. Politicians of principle are all too rare right now. I might not agree with you, Mr Cook, but I applaud your courage. Well done, sir.
March 18, 2003
Here's an interesting titbit from today's Snowmail, a useful little daily e-mail that Channel 4 news sends out every afternoon. This is from Lindsey Hilsum, their reporter in Baghdad.
I don't know the exact numbers, but I think about half the journalists have left so there are about 100 of us remaining. All the major British broadcasters - ITV, Channel 4 News, Channel 5 News, the BBC and Sky - have
stayed, whereas most American networks have gone. A small team from CBS (neither of them American nationals) remain, and CNN is here too.
Many European TV channels are sticking it out. I'm sure we'll all get to know each other very well in the coming days!
If you want real, on the ground reporting, turn to the British and European stations, folks.
Oh, and remember those brave reporters in your prayers. Our democracies would be much poorer if not for them.
March 17, 2003
For any Americans not paying attention, we've lost a cabinet minister from the government over the decision to abandon the UN route to disarmament. Oh, and he's making some serious political mileage out of it, too. This one's going to be running for a long time after the last bullet had been fired.
I don't know whether I should be delighted or horrified that the BBC is devoting resources to covering the World Pooh-Sticks Championship when we're on the brink of war. On the other hand, I am hugely amused that the Australians beat the Brits in the team event. Don't they always?
My brother, who is as right-wing and pro-war as you'd expect from a City of London worker, sent me a link to this animation [LINK NOW DEAD] last week. It's been stuck in my head ever since. There's no doubt that it's very well done, even if you disagree radically with its message. I'm just hoping that by sharing this, it'll leave my head at last.
93 and a bottle of whisky still puts a smile on his face. Now, there's something to aspire to.
March 14, 2003
It could be that this article is for Comic Relief. I do hope it isn't, though. The bitterness with which this Guardian journalist speaks about London seems too real, too heartfelt to be part of some money-raising stunt. If this is real, that man is a hero, voicing the real pain of Londoners everywhere. Even if it isn't, it's damn funny.
[EDIT] It's all true and genuine. Neil McIntosh has posted about it in The Guardian's Online Blog. I am so happy that it's genuine.
...is the sound of racial abuse and fist on flesh...? Far from proven yet, but probably not a good thing for the careers of the made-on-TV band. At least, I hope it isn't. If our society has fallen to the point where allegations of racially abusing someone is a sales-booster, then things are worse than I though.
March 12, 2003
There's nothing quite like journalists in a flap to make a cold-ridden Tuesday afternoon more enjoyable. The reason for this consternation in my office was simple: a NUJ flyer promoting the evening's chapel meeting. It had two items listed: update on the pay claim (hurrah!) and an update on the anti-war campaign (uh...).
Now, a sizeable proportion of the office are anti-war. Many of them went on the march a little while back. Not me, though. No. I'm more "anti-war, pro-the convincing threat of war" and just possibly "anti-whatever position Chirac is taking at any moment in time". The anti-war people were just as vocal as I in protesting about the inclusion of the "anti-war update" on the flyer. The NUJ rep's response was the standard one in this situation: "the NUJ has a political clause in its constitution and the conference has voted to affiliate to the Ant-War Coalition". That didn't come as a surprise to me, but it did to many of my colleagues.
I've been labouring in the trenches of union politics in one form or another for a decade now, since my love of student journalism got me sucked into NUS politics. I've done my bit to fight against the anti-democratic idiocies that the hard left seem to throw up with depressing frequency, "no platform for [insert demonised political group of the day]" being one major example. Through those years I've discovered that the basic problem is this: people like the idea of trade unions and collective bargaining, because it makes them feel that they can have some influence over their destiny and aren't just the employed playthings of corporate paymasters. This is, on the whole, a Good Thing. However, most people hold moderate political views and thus can't be bothered actually getting involved with the union. And so the extremists quite happily take control, elect themselves onto the national executive and then set about affiliating themselves to every passing leftist cause du jour that takes their fancy. (Note that I am not suggesting that the anti-war campaign is particularly leftist. It seems to be quite uniquely cross-spectrum in nature.)
It's only when matters of great import to a lot of people like, say, an impending war, that the majority of the membership notice that this is happening. That was the culture shock that washed across the office yesterday afternoon and which lead to some very heated debates in the chapel meeting. Journalists feel this more acutely than most because, no matter how biased we are in our private lives we need to maintain some measure of impartiality in our working roles. An NUJ banner on a demo does little for this industry's already shaky credibility with the general public.
In essence, this all comes back to the nature of our democracy. We are not a true democracy, we're a representative democracy. We only really get a say in the running of the country every four years, and many people have even failed to exercise that right. The turn-out at the last general election was very far from good.
This leads, very neatly, to the conclusion that the March, the Anti-War Campaign and the shock in the office yesterday are all manifestations of the same thing: the outrage we feel when we realise that our elected officials aren't doing what we want them to.
In the office context, that was anger that we, in our professional capacity, are being attached to a cause that we should not be seen to be allied with. Most NUJ members in the office feel that steps outside the bounds of what a union should do. In the wider context, perhaps the country is waking up to the fact that, if they don't participate in the political process, then politicians will do exactly what they want. The evidence right now is that we'll continue to re-elect them until they become so morally laughable that even the self-obsessed masses of the UK can't ignore it any longer.
March 11, 2003
So, the courts have ruled that forcing a man to wear a suit and tie while the women wear t-shirts and football tops is sex discrimination. Quite right, too. What gets me is that everyone seems to be reacting as if he's trying to win the right to dress down rather than equalise the balance between the sexes. The obviousl solution is for the JobCentre to tighten up their rules for women's clothing, rather than loosen those for men.
Yet, the simple fact that it's harder to define a code for women than the simple men's "shirt, suit and tie" means they run scared of the whole issue. Cowardly public sector management is half the problem with the UK right now.
As I sat on the train home last night, my ear was drawn to the chap sitting next to me. The moment he sat down, he pulled out his mobile phone and called a friend. He didn't stop talking for the whole of the 20 minute ride to Lewisham. You know what? I can't remember a single thing of significance he said. He just sat there and exchanged inanities with a friend over a pretty damn expensive and complicated piece of technological apparatus.
It sometimes seems that we invent ever increasing numbers of ways of communicating without really finding anything new to say. Over a million people are registered with Blogger, the tool I'm using to pull this together. How many of them are actively posting, I wonder, and how many of those are read by more than two or three people? Now, readership in itself is not something that I'm over concerned with. This blog is for me, not for you gentle reader. It's a way of giving myself a focused outlet for my thoughts. If people choose to read it, that's great. If not, well, that doesn't detract from my pleasure in shaping my own thoughts into coherent phrases.
Too many individual blogs are essentially newspaper columns without the editorial control that mass market media offers. They are points of ego, where the single writer's opinion is more important than anything else. The very reason for the blog existing is to express the blog writer's ideas to an audience. While the distribution medium is new, the content is not that far removed from a book or a newspaper column.
The more interesting question, to my mind, is "how many of these people actually have something to say?" How many of them have given thought to their audience and the type of things they'd like to hear on a regular basis? The friend of the guy on the train was clearly interested in what he had to say because he stayed on the line for over 20 minutes. That seems to have been a conversation for one, though, just as this blog is conceived as an audience of one: myself. Collaborative, themed blogs like Rock Scissors and Kingdom Come are far more interesting to me right now, allowing for both the posting of opinion and news and interaction between the writers and the audience. They become a mix of a magazine and an on-going conversation.
That, I think, is a genuinely new genre.
March 10, 2003
March 8, 2003
Words. Words in my brain. Words crawling into my brain through my eyes and servicing the hurgry maw of my imagination. Words bleeding out of my brain through my fingers, sucked away into a digital haven, where they nest and grow. Words ripped from their cyber womb and pressed into paper, tattooed there with ink and pressure and giant rollers. My head is a word anthill and I want it to be quiet.
I want pictures now. Sound would be good, too. No more words, not for a little while.
March 7, 2003
I had a wonderful meeting this morning. Well, to be honest, the meeting itself tended towards the mundane, but the venue was possibly my idea of heaven on earth: the London branch of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. I could spend the rest of my life, albeit a short and liver-damaged life, in the Society's tasting lounge.
But I digress, as I tend to do when whisky is involved.
One of the most telling moments for me was the fact that the man organising the event was 30 minutes late, thanks to Connex's less than sterling efforts at running a railway. By the time we got around to lunch (and whisky tasting - such is a journalist's lot), everyone was talking about the dire state of London's transport. Much is made of the fact that road traffic moves no faster in London today than it did back in the Victorian era. Fair enough. It's both true, and something which Ken Livingston, the mayor, is doing something to address through the congestion charging scheme. What is discussed less often is the disgusting state of the rest of our transport network.
The car issue, when you think about it, is a simple one. London was laid out and its street pattern largely set before the internal combustion engine was even a twinkle in the eye of the engineering community. London's streets are ill-equipped for cars at the best of time, and certainly not ready for 60% of the population to own one and attempt to use it in anger. (There is no other way to use a car in London. It is psychologically impossible to stay calm from one street to the next while navigating London's roads.)
The public transport issue is a more complicated one. After all, public subsidy has usually been available for infrastructure projects. There are hordes of Londoners who commute via public transport and their numbers grow year on year. The economics of infrastructure development seem to make a certain sense, both fiscally and logically. So, why have we had a total of three major public transport initiatives in the last 30 years: the Jubilee line and its extension and the Docklands Light Railway?
We need to look again at the Victorian era. It was those Empire-building Victorians that gave London much of its present infrastructure, including the railways, the early tube lines, the sewer system and even the Embankments. Now, you could argue that this was financed by the wealth that was pouring into the city from an growing Empire. True, but London has been a very wealthy city for a long time. So much so, in fact, that London's taxes subsidise much of the rest of the country. No, the crucial factor here was vision. The Victorians had both the vision and passion to bring forward great engineering projects and took great pride in the results. In the century since, we have lost track of that vision. Nowadays, great projects are treated with penny-pinching cynicism and are generally derided by the public when they are actually built. Canary Wharf at the end of the 80s and then the Dome at the end of the 90s are both good examples of that.
So, I'm advocating that most discredited things: a return to Victorian values. I'm not talking about morals and all those things that the Tory party banged on about in the mid-90s, but instead about the vision that turned London into one of the world's great cities. That vision created the infrastructure we rely on today. It's a credit to our ancestors of a century ago that it's lasted as long as it has, and the best memorial we can pay them is to give the city a second dose of Victorian Vision.
March 6, 2003
Over in LiveJournal Land, several of us are keeping journals of what we read through 2003. I'm going to push that a little bit further here by shoving up media reviews as I go. I used to do film and theatre reviewing for my student newspaper and it'll be nice to get back into the swing of it. (Note that I use the word "reviewing" and not "criticism". I know where the boundaries of the two lie, and I'm not aspiring to the latter just yet.
Alias vol. 2: Come Home
Brian Michael Bendis seems to be working from an interesting thesis in Alias, which has nothing to do with the TV series of the same name. He postulates that in the Marvel Universe there are superheroes, who are prone to being sucked into Secret Wars, dropped into the Negative Zone and battling strangely dressed foes above the streets of New York. Then there's pretty much everyone else, who watches that shit on their TV or reads about it in their papers. Bendis adds a third layer, that sits between the two. People with super powers, but who have never really made it into the superhero category or, if they did, didn't last very long. Now they live in the real world again, with occasional periods of overlap with the world of the superheroes. In a sense, the book is the spiritual successor of Kurk Busiek's Marvels.
The heroine of Alias is Jessica Jones, a reformed superhero who now eeks out a living as a rather seedy private eye. Come Home collects the third arc of the comic book, in which Jessica is hired to find a girl who has gone missing is a small town. The previous two arcs dealt with what happens when the real world impacts on the superheroic, and what happens when someone from the real world gets obsessed by super-powered characters. This story develops the theme by looking at how living in the Marvel Universe affects people living far, far away from the centre of the action.
As ever, Bendis's strength lies in his dialogue. He is one of the few writers in comics today who can make two ordinary people standing still and talking to each other riveting, and he is ably supported by Michael Gaydos, whose scratchy pencils give a grimy, harsh edge to the proceeds yet convey a wonderful range of facial expression. These two talents are well used in this detective tale set in small-town America.
Essentially, if you like the idea of a tale of very real, very ordinary people set in and around the madness of the Marvel milieu, with a harsh, gritty edge, you'll love this. Most of the drama derives from normal human relationships and the inevitable problems that occur. It's an exploration of love, bigotry and hope and has the finest dating scene published in recent comics history, only a handful of pages after a really nasty one-night stand.
Bendis is doing something really uninteresting and different with an established comics universe and I really can't praise this book enough.
X-Force: Famous, Mutant and Mortal
Like the Alias book, this recreation of X-Force is doing something very different within the established confines of the Marvel Universe. More of that in a moment. First, I'd like to coo over the presentation of this wonderful hardback book. I admit it:; I'm a complete bibliophile and the hardback collections that Marvel publishes are things of beauty. The printing makes both art and colouring shine and the extra features make what's already a good-value package even better. Mmmmm.
Milligan and Allred aim for stylised satire rather than the gritty realism of Bendis and Gaydos, giving us a tale of a celebrity mutant team whose wealth and fame is only marred by their brutally short life expectancy. In short, this is pretty much what a mutant super-team would probably end up as in the real world. Their missions are stage-managed for the camera, their exploits ruthlessly merchandised and their every move watched in fascination by the mass media.
It's clear that the authors are having a vest amount of fun with this book, taking pot shots at both the conventions of comics in general and the X-books in particular, as well as our media-obsessed culture. Plotlines play out with unexpected, cynical yet utterly convincing outcomes and characters perish with frightening frequency. In short, it takes the piss.
And then, all of a sudden, it sneaks up behind you and makes you care. By the end of this collection, you're starting to sympathise with these shallow, fame-obsessed characters. The disposable (literally) caricatures of the early chapters are replaced by characters we come to care about and understand, without ever losing the biting edge of the satire. It's a real page-turner this one, and only the necessity to get some sleep before work stopped me from reading the whole damn couple of hundred pages in one sitting.
Allred's art takes some getting used to, with its mix of retro 60s poses and modern minimalism. However, it does grow on you to the point where a single fill-in artist for a chapter seems to stick out like a sore thumb. Somehow the style of art matches the style of storytelling perfectly. Allred does a particularly disturbing set of intestines, for a start.
If you've never read an X-book in your life, then read this. It makes Grant Morrison's New X-Men look like late 90s Scott Lobell work.
March 5, 2003
There are, or so I read, those who claim that a journalist writing a weblog adds a certain respectability and cachet to the medium. They can't just be any hack who claims to be a journalist, of course. Being a journalist is much like being an actor. There are those who actually work in the profession and there are those who are "resting". Well, given that's I'm a full-time journalist and paid-up member of the NUJ, I should be sending another wave of cachet crashing across the weblogging community even as I type this. Somehow, I doubt that this will be the case.
You may not believe it, gentle reader, but there was a point to all that nonsense which is happily living in the above paragraph. It's by way of an introduction to me, Mr Adam Matthew John Tinworth, resident of Lewisham, London and elder son of Mr Roy John and Mrs Ann Patricia Tinworth. I'll be your host on this particular Blog until I run out of things to discuss or you run out of patience for my words.
I'm a 30-ish writer and journalist. I have an eclectic set of hobbies and interests which may or may not become relevant to these pages. Really, I'm going to use this to vent opinion and thoughts on current events and general philosophies of life, possibly with a somewhat humorous bent, but we'll see. I already have a Livejournal for the more mundane, day-to-day stuff, you see, and fancied doing something a little different. Let's see if it works.