Friday, July 24, 2009

Thanks to the bin lid stapled to the front of schloss Barfe, I've been watching the German TV repeats of 1970s editions of Top of the Pops. On the editions they've shown, 3 presenters have been in charge: Toe Knee Black Burn, Noel Edmonds and James Savile (then just an OBE - his KCSG had yet to materialise). Of these, I've met Blackburn and Edmonds. My encounter with Blackburn was brief (he'd just won Oldie of the Year, and I had sidled up to congratulate him), but , as you'd expect, very pleasant. Others who know him far better have supported my initial impression that he is exactly as he seems - a thoroughly nice bloke.

Then there's Noel. At one time, I thought he was great. I was always more a Tiswas fan than a Swap Shopper, but I caught enough of Noel, Maggie, Keith, etc in the ad breaks to be aware of his work. His Radio 1 weekend shows were the real source of delight to this smutty-minded pre-pubescent lad, especially the interventions from announcer Brian Perkins as Perkins the butler. I particularly recall the pair of them musing on the what each BBC radio network would call nasal mucus. Radio 1 was "snot", Radio 4 was "mucus", but Radio 2 was a more vexed issue. After much thought, Perkins replied "On balance, sir, I suspect that Radio 2 would be 'gribbly'.". Unfortunately, during the lost years when I thought all mainstream entertainment was shite, possibly evil, I came to regard Mr Tidybeard as something of a pariah. When Victor Lewis-Smith compiled the following 'Honest Obituary', I cheered:

When he retreated from television, I cheered again. Years later, though, as I began to research Turned Out Nice Again, I saw him being interviewed on a show called Who Killed Saturday Night TV, and felt very sorry for him, because he'd clearly been shafted by the production team, who had set out to present him as a risible, pathetic figure. They failed. Then, in the mass of excellent viewing material given to me by friends and associates for research purposes, I found a couple of editions of the Late, Late Breakfast Show. You know what? They were ace, largely because of the likeability and professionalism of the presenter. I bumped into him briefly at a book launch, explained what I was doing and begged for an interview. He said yes. Meeting him at his office, he was charm personified and also a crackingly good interviewee. Nothing was off limits - the Michael Lush business clearly still affected him deeply, but he talked very openly about the incident, and the difference between blame and responsibility.

Near the end of the interview, he said that he was delighted to be away from telly. Example: He'd been asked to appear on Five's reality show The Farm, the sole point of which was to show townie celebs floundering in a bucolic idyll. There was something they hadn't realised about Noel: "I own a fucking farm. What would I want to be on The Farm for? I’ve got a farm. I know what cowshit looks like". If it looks like he's angry and bitter there, I should point out that this section of the recording is covered in gales of laughter - his and mine. I have no doubt that his delight at being off telly was sincere at that point, but that Deal or No Deal was the ultimate offer he couldn't refuse. Quite right too. It's a compelling enough game in abstract, but without someone as good as Noel building the atmosphere perfectly, it's not an hour's worth of TV. So, Noel Edmonds - one of the good guys? Hell, yes.

Which leaves Sir James Savile, who has been the subject of much innuendo and rumour about his private life. Men in pubs, who claim to have friends of friends of friends who work on The Sun, wink and say, with confidence, that "it'll all come out when he's gone". Now, I've had a theory about Savile for years. I'm convinced that what will emerge when he's gone is that he has led a completely blameless life, but that he just never minded appearing a bit weird. It'll all come out that there was nothing to come out.
I'm not sure what's got into me of late, but my natural tendency towards procrastination has given way to a 'let's do the show right here' attitude. As a result, numerous tasks I've been putting off for years (no exaggeration) have been despatched with alarming speed. Best of all, it isn't displacement activity. I've been doing my proper authorial-type work too.

Example: In the autumn of 2006, a biblical downpour (on the day of Don Lusher's memorial service, as it happens - had I a canoe, I could have ridden the rapids down to the station that morning) exposed the shortcomings of our bathroom roof/ceiling. Removing a section of damp, crumbling plasterboard with alarming ease - it had the consistency of cheesecake - I was able to fix the holes in the felt with a can of Thompson's Instant Repair, and bung up a fresh bit of plasterboard across the gap. However, for the last 3 years, I've been looking at the gaps between the edge of the plasterboard and the wall and saying to myself "I must fill that in and paint over it". Reader, I filled it, shortly after repainting the front door, sorting out the bookshelves in my study and putting new hinges on the pull-down flap of the cupboard by the kitchen door so that it opens and closes properly for the first time in months. All were relatively tiny, easily-achievable things that had acquired a significance out of all proportion by being put off for so long. It's not all backlog, either. The decision that the larder door would benefit from a bolt, fitted well out of reach of small persons who had taken to using the kitchen as a potato bowling alley, was followed immediately by the fitting of said bolt. That the bolt in question had been bought to be fitted to a door in my previous house shows how far we've come. I never got around to fitting it, stuffed it in a drawer still in its shrink wrap and transported it over 100 miles when we moved here 7 years ago.

Then there was the enormously satisfying business of downloading a bit of software that identifies duplicate files on your computer for safe deletion. I've cleared my hard drives of several gigabytes of superfluous old toot. If only one could download something like that for analogue life. Something that, Mary Poppins-style, sorts piles of papers when you whistle. "This is the manual for something you no longer own, but this is your birth certificate. This is a cherished letter from your deceased grandmother, this is a press release for something now obsolete that was utterly useless even when it was launched". That sort of thing.

I'm sure this burst of industry won't last, but I'm enjoying it while it does.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Phew, someone's posted a slightly-less-than-glowing Amazon review of Where Have All the Good Times Gone? I can't find fault with anything that the reviewer says. It was my first book and I tended to throw in everything bar the kitchen sink. Five years after it came out, even I find it a bit heavy-going. So yes, lots of trees, not enough wood (Hur hur). That said, the 'confusing rapidity' with which business names are introduced and dropped was semi-deliberate, reflecting the confusing rapidity with which it happened in the industry.

So, own up, is the reviewer a reader of this blog or the real Mr G Reaper? It's a bit too much of a coincidence for it to be a random punter.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sheltering from a thunderstorm in Currys the other day, I found myself laughing heartily at the price of everything (£10 for a ruddy USB cable - if I weren't already tripping over spare leads that came free with USB devices, I'd be starting, and almost certainly ending, my search in Poundland) and trying to resist interrupting the clueless saleswoman who had just told a middle-aged couple that you had to buy a laptop with Vista Professional to get the software that played DVDs.

This led me to think about the vast number of people who shell out for software, despite there being legal free alternatives that are as good, if not better. I used to be one. I used Microsoft Office 2000, and dutifully paid an annual subscription for Norton Internet Security. For the last few years, however, I've been an OpenOffice kind of guy, with AVG Free, Malwarebytes and the firewall in my router taking care of the nasties that might infest my IT infrastructure given half a chance. If it weren't for a few work-related things that need to be done in a Microsoft operating system, I'd be using the Ubuntu side of my dual-boot installation for the majority of tasks.

Why do so many computer users ignore the wealth of good free software that's out there? Are they suspicious of its provenance? Does the act of paying for something give it some kind of imprimatur? Perhaps, but that's assuming that everybody's using commercial software that they did actually pay for, and not a cracked copy off a torrent site. If they realised that they could get stuff that did the same job for free without bootlegging it, would they?