Sunday, 28 February 2010

Leave the BBC alone

According to The Times, the BBC is to undertake a process of cutbacks in a move to re-size and surrender ground to commercial competitors. Apparently there will be a renewed focus on "quality over quantity", yet the axe will fall most notably on BBC 6 Music (a minority-interest digital radio station run on a shoestring) while Radio 1 will remain largely untouched. Talk about inconsistent. Also due for the chop is Asian Network (again a digital radio station servicing a niche audience) and the website will see substantial cutbacks in content and staff. This is no doubt the first step in a series of reforms that we can expect in the coming years (although possibly subject to who wins the election) to change the shape, scope and size of our national broadcaster.

It goes without saying that the BBC is a national treasure and we would be immensely poorer without it. Meanwhile, the voices that clamour the most for the scrapping or restructuring of the licence fee are the very same voices that would benefit most from doing so: the Murdoch press and media empire, the Daily Mail, commercial television and radio stations. The enemies of all that is good, in other words.

Do not listen to a word they say. The TV licence fee represents extraordinary value for money. For £142.50 a year (or 39p a day. 39p!!!) we get a uniquely comprehensive suite of television, radio and internet coverage. I would pay double this amount for Radio 4, Radio 5 and the website alone. In no other aspect of our lives do we get so much for such little expenditure. Yet there are those who would have us believe that this cost is extortionate. Lies! We get the best news service in the world (this is beyond argument and don't start yammering on about BBC 'bias' either - if anything the BBC is too impartial), innovative and intelligent radio, ground-breaking natural history programmes, first class comedy, drama and the amazing BBC website for less than the cost of a pint of milk. To be sure, the BBC also produces an awful lot of dross: EastEnders, Casualty, Top Gear, Radio 1, dreadful period dramas, etc, but they're catering for a lot of different tastes. Personally I'd rather eat my own teeth than watch or listen to any of the aforementioned, but that's just me.

You want to imagine life without the BBC? You’ll have an extra 39p a day at your disposal. What would you do with yours? Perhaps you could buy 39% of an issue of The Daily Telegraph? Television shows would be almost exclusively cheap, tawdry and aimed at the lowest common denominator (in other words, ITV). And the radio? Music will be provided by Absolute, Heart and Capital and if you want something more hard hitting and topical, well, there's always LBC.

George Orwell couldn't have come up with a more dystopian vision of the future for this country.

The BBC is one of the very few things that this country can still be very proud of, one that is internationally known for its quality of broadcasting. We tamper with this formula at our peril. It's not perfect, but it's the best there is. Now leave it alone.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Love in the time of the Cole era*

Mindless celebrity tittle-tattle is ultimately propelling our culture towards oblivion. The Roman Empire was destroyed from within by a prevailing decadence and complacency that ate through society like a cancer. A similar fate awaits us unless we can shake our addiction to the cult of "celebrity". The "news" that sub-standard pop tartlet Cheryl Cole and her idiot footballer husband Ashley are to end their marriage took up an awful lot of media space this week: television, the tabloids, even the so-called quality press devoted huge amounts of coverage to this non-event through reportage, comment and speculation. Tiresome beyond belief. (Also witness the farrago of opinion about meat head John Terry and the woman he has been putting his genitals into. Does it make him fit to be England captain? Blah blah blah.)

It's really very simple to summarise. Cheryl is a convicted thug who has contributed nothing at all of any worth or value to the world. From Girls Aloud to the X Factor to her risible solo career, she is responsible merely for her complicity in lowering standards in music. Ashley, meanwhile, is thicker than a mattress lasagne and as charming as an ulcer. Were it not for his ability to play football, he would be a sales assistant at Phones4U in Walthamstow. There is nothing to talk about here. Now let's move on.


* with apologies to Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Sunday, 21 February 2010

In praise of... Sundays

I never used to appreciate Sundays. Rather than considering them to be the second half of the weekend, I could think of them only as the precursor to Monday morning. The origins of my Sunday phobia stem from childhood. Sundays in the 80s were awful - instead of the Saturday morning fizz of children's television there was religious programming or something about farming and then Police 5 with Shaw Taylor. If you were lucky there'd be an episode of The Smurfs after that. Later on there was Bullseye, Antique's Roadshow or Last Of The Fucking Summer Wine to look forward to. Meanwhile the miners were on strike, nobody had any money, it was probably raining outside and the last thing you'd get to watch before being sent to bed would be That's Life with Esther Rantzen. Grim times.

Then for many years in my drinking and pub-frequenting days, Sunday became "Hangover Day". Lie in, cooked breakfast, coffee and a day on the sofa with the newspapers, roast dinner then lie in a vegetative state until going to bed, dreading work the next day.

These days Sundays are very different. Today started at 7am morning with my son (9 weeks old) announcing the fact that he was awake and wanted attention with his customary morning greeting. My new Sunday routine is typically to take him downstairs so Mrs Sane can catch up on some much needed sleep and Baby Sane and I get to spend some time together. I make a large cup of coffee (for me, not him), then we watch the Andrew Marr Show. It's a great way to start the day. Later on comes breakfast, radio on in the background, the papers (speaking of which, I got the relaunched Observer today... it's not that much different to the pre-launch Observer if you ask me - still dull as hell, even with the all the excitement about Gordon Brown the bruiser). The three of us spent the whole day at home and it was great. This is what Sundays should be about.

Sundays - no longer part of the axis of evil, but the second best day of the week.

Let's hear it for Sunday - words I never thought I would say.

Just like starting over

Just under five years ago I started a blog called Liberal Elite. Initially a co-venture with a friend of mine, it was intended to be an outlet for our opinions on (generally) current affairs and news, with a liberal slant. Liberal in the classical sense - not the corrupted definition that's prevalent in the US nor the limp and weedy, self-flagellating form of modern British "liberalism". I wrote a trenchant and over-confident "mission statement" for the blog setting out our, erm, vision. It was hugely tongue-in-cheek, arrogant even, but that was the point. The blog was intended to be irreverent, confrontational and dismissive of alternative view points. The original tag line summed this up: "Because you're wrong". What larks. What arrogance. I was a crazy young man with a dream.

Five years on I'm older, married, I've recently become a father. World weary and jaded, far less certain of my opinions (well, some of them), I don't think I could ever set out my stall with such gusto again. Saying that, perhaps I've lost focus because I'm not writing enough. Blogging is a great way to crystallise your opinions - often I wouldn't know exactly what I was going to say until the words came tumbling out. I'd then read it back and think "Ah, so that's my opinion then. I presume." Often those words were powered by strong coffee when I should have been working instead, mind. Ah, the heady days of 2005 and 2006.

So what's Mind Trumpet all about then? Well, I need an outlet to talk about whatever takes my fancy. The previous blogs - Liberal Elite especially - were too focussed on politics and world events and furious rants about religion, which was all great fun and no doubt there will be more of that to come on this site, but there's so many other things I feel I should also write about: being a dad, music, film, TV, my nascent interest in photography, books... whatever I'm experiencing basically.

So it's going to be a clean break with everything else I've ever written and I've come back to Blogger too. WordPress was pretty good, but I prefer the Blogger interface (although some new templates in the last five years wouldn't be asking too much would it?). Besides, the steady global takeover by Google continues apace - I might as well be part of it. Be on the winning side and all that.

So here we go, blog number four.