...a blog by Richard Flowers

Monday, December 31, 2007

Day 2539: We Love the Mister Majesterium


The Golden Compass is, of course, a COMPLETE MISNOMER. Before changing it to "His Dark Materials", Mr Philip Pullman started off calling his whole Trilogy "The Golden Compasses" referring to the Freemasonic tools for measuring as seen here wielded by Mr God in Mr William Blake's "The Ancient of Days".

Divine Tool
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Unfortunately, the American Publisher... you know, this sounds awfully like those URBAN MYTHS about "James Bond: Licence to Kill" being not called "Licence Revoked" because American test audiences didn't know what "Revoked" meant, and that's not true at all… Anyway, allegedly, the American publisher MISUNDERSTOOD and thought that the alethiometer was a Golden Compass, as in the magnetic device for finding north rather than compassES as in the tools for describing circles (celestial or otherwise).

Bearing this in mind, it is almost COMICAL the way that at EVERY mention of the alethiometer EVERYONE keeps repeating the phase, "your Golden Compass" (as if heroine Lyra might have forgotten) to reinforce that this IS the right meaning, it is it is it IS!

Having said all that, of course, it is more STYLISTICALLY appealing for the trilogy to be "The Golden Compass", "The Subtle Knife" and "The Amber Spyglass", making each title a tool, in fact a tool of navigation (if you know what the Knife is for) that humans use to describe and explore their world and overcome the ignorance represented by submission to the Authority. "Northern Lights" is more difficult to connect to the other two titles, and indeed to the story as presented.

Oh, and as with the book, what the alethiometer (your Golden Compass!) actually is and how it works is left as an "I'll explain later". For this movie, it is treated as a magic answers machine, an oracle that only Lyra can read, providing her mystic visions in sparkly gold dust. Or Dust.

But for this movie, "The Golden Compass" is REALLY the latest go at a "big fantasy franchise™" successor to the world conquering "The Lord of the Rings". After the lamentably UNCUDDLY "The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe" and the uninspiringly FLAT "The Dark is Rising" all hopes are pinned to Mr Philip Pullman's anti-Christ's fairy story (© all Catholic newspapers).

Let's face it, though; this was NO "Lord of the Rings". Apparently it's not done as well as hoped in cinemas – no, not because of the Catholic boycott, but just because it's not really all that good.

On the plus side, it has the very definition of a stellar cast (Mr James Bond, no less – also that tall woman who does Brain Training) and comes with the pedigree of New Line Cinema, the makers of "The Lord of the Rings". The bad news, though, is that the source material is not – as it was for Prof Tolkien – an exercise in WORLD BUILDING but in philosophical BLIND MANS BUFF. This means that pictures do not add to the building of the world so much as they take away from the thinking about the word.

Actually this is pretty much the SAME problem that Narnia had. There is was all cold and mechanical without the warm and friendly INDOCTRINATION of Uncle Clive's narration; here all is big and dumb action set pieces without the clever-clever ideas engine of Mr Philip's voice.

Where this scores over Narnia is that, while much of the plot lies on the shoulders of child actors, there are at least enough grown ups to give some stature to the show. Ms Nicole Kidman, from her first appearance, drips gold dust onto the screen. Occasionally literally. Mr Daniel is wonderfully heroic in a role – daddy Alex says – written as "Dad of Bond". Particularly the scene where he gets to do the opening of "The Spy Who Loved Me" in the snow. And a triptych of CLASSY Character Actors add menace to the Magesterium: Mr Christopher "Prince of Darkness" Lee, Mr Edward "I killed Sapphire and Steel, you know" de Souza and very much the most for Lord Derek "I AM the MASTER" Jacobi.

As junior heroine Lyra – with her own Kate Bush song, no less, though Kate is on drippy form falling short of her Wuthering Heights – is Dakota Blue Richards. (Like Joss Wheadon's Firefly, the actors' names sound MORE made up than the characters!) She is… okay. Not actually bad, but somehow not as engaging as the kids from Harry Potter (who WERE five films ago rather more ropey than this). But she's greatly helped by a CGI soul beastie who interacts with her throughout.

Spelling out that the daemons are NOT a Doctor Who adventure but in fact people's souls in the – beg pardon – soul-crushing opening info-dump voice over is one of the big departures. Rather than guiding you to work it all out, the film just drops it on you flat – which kills your interest in UNDERSTANDING. Of course, the difference between being TOLD WHAT TO THINK and WORKING THINGS OUT is one of the differences that the book is trying to make you grasp!

The OTHER major change is – like "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" dumping the conclusion into the next movie. This makes for a soft as soap happy ending whereas the book climaxes with a VERY SHOCKING re-appraisal of something you thought you knew. Anyone who sees the movie and then gets the second book to see what happens next is going to be completely confused. Mind you, the second book starts off with a whole new plotline in a totally different place – namely our universe (probably) – so it's fairly boggling anyway.

Dumbing down a convoluted and intellectual story to fit into a movie format is always going to strip away a lot of material. But with all of the religious protests, you'd be surprised how much of the religious critique REMAINS.

Of course, you'd have to be a BLIND WATCHMAKER not to spot that the Magisterium is the Catholic Church reworked by Ken Adam – the mile high St Paul's Cathedral sort of gives that game away. But a kernel of the concept of WHY they are BAD is still there – other than that OBVIOUSLY they are all English Character Actors so they MUST be the baddies, this is Hollywood, after all (they might as well be labelled "The Empire" for all that they fly about in Zeppelins not Star Destroyers). Mrs Coulter spells it out: the Magisterium is there to do the thinking for people who it doesn't trust to think for themselves. Her little science project in the North does horrible damage to children but it's – in the Magisterium's warped view – for their own good.

We're a long way into "God Delusion" territory here: My friend Professor Richard says: "for good people to do evil it takes a religion."

Much of the subtext about growing up is there too: soul-daemons taking a permanent form at (never mention the "P" word) early teenage; and the mysterious substance Dust being equated in a way that is both wrong and right with "Original Sin".

Of course there are also CGI Polar Bears galore and that might get in the way of realising there is a bit more to this than an ordinary popcorn flick. Okay, so one of them is voiced by Dame Ian McKellen (and another by Lovejoy). You do have to feel a BIT sorry for old Gandalf, relegated to trying to make noble Iorek SOUND noble.

The film is filled with incident and races from place to place – from Oxford to a visually stunning London to Norway to the Kingdom of the Ice Bears to the Bolvanger Research Institute. It's all a bit too much really, because like the early Harry Potter movies (which also tried to do EVERY darned page) the effects may be stunning and the action frantic but you never really get a moment to think about what's going on or to care for the characters. Quick, race off to the next Polar Bear fight!

So, in spite of everyone being very good at what they do, you just can't turn the complex, organic development of characters and relationships that intertwine with a thoughtful plot about discovery of what all of these metaphors mean into 114 minutes of Bear on Bear action.

It might be somehow against the spirit of Mr Pullman's work, but… go read the good BOOK.
By some careful posting, er, I mean an enormous coincidence, this is my six-hundred-and-sixty-sixth diary!

Day 2553: Four Lib Dem Leaders


Is anyone else getting tired of the "third leader in two years" meme?

Mr Clogg, continuing the work of Captain Paddy, Mr Cheeky Charlie and Sir Mr the Merciless, is obviously the FOURTH elected Liberal Democrat Leader since the party was FOUNDED in 1988.

In that time, the Labour have had, er, FOUR leaders: Mr Kinnock-knock, Saint John of Smith, Lord Blairimort and of course Prime Monster Frown.

In that time, the Conservatories have actually had SIX leaders: Queen Maggie, Mr Major Minor, Mr Vague, Mr Ian Drunken-Swerve, Mr Something-of-the-Night and now Mr Balloon.

So we know who're worst at keeping their head, don't we.

Also, slight suggestion to Mr Something-of-the-Night: if you truly think that the Liberal Democrats are always trying to be all things to all people – as you repeated in the political review of the year show on Saturday morning – what does that mean you think of your successor and party leader Mr Balloon who is just GAGGING to have a "progressive consensus" with us? Do you think he's a wannabe all-things-to-all-people or just a SUCKER?

Day 2541: It takes on to know one


"Systemic", there's a word. We're hearing it a lot at the moment, because clearly someone inside the Conservatory Party has decided to use it as their HOT BUTTON keyword to try and make the Labour sleaze/incompetence/petty minded evil look WORSE than Conservatory sleaze/incompetence/petty minded evil, because the labour are SYSTEMIC at it.

Which is how Mr Major Minor, famous nowadays for his time on the bnoard of Bin Laden front company The Carlisle Group, manages to get away with lecturing the Labour on sleaze.

Day 2540: Mr Balloon Makes Us an Offer we CAN refuse


When Darth Vader chops your fluffy foot off and then says: "Luke, I AM a Liberal Conservatory!" then, OF COURSE you're going to look at this a little ASKANCE.

Likewise, when the considerably-less-butch-than-Darth-Vader Mr Balloon asserts that he wants us to "join him and rule the galaxy together", we are going to start counting out fluffy feet!

Well done to Mr Cheeky Charlie Kennedy for rejecting the offer of a pact with the DARK SIDE!

Here is a thought Mr Balloon: for the last thirty years the Liberal Democrats have been the "leading voice in British politics for an exciting agenda of decentralisation and political reform"; perhaps we don't WANT to play follow-my-leader to the Conservatories! If you REALLY believe that Political Parties "should work together in those areas where they agree" then you would admit to where YOU agree with US.

Day 2551: DOCTOR WHO: Voyage of the Dames

Boxing Day:

Another year, another collection of famous faces making fools of themselves as Mr David waves his magic screwdriver around and rattles off the exposition nineteen to the dozen. But enough about the end of "Extras"…

Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without Daddy reviewing an hour of Doctor Who, a tradition that's as old as the hills. At least, any hills that have been thrown up in the last three years, and yet it seems like it's been with us forever. As the attached Doctor Who Confidential told us at some length apparently without conveying any other information at all.
You can almost hear Russell T Davies saying to himself "this year I shall write against the cliché" as he sat down to write a story that doesn't just kill off the heroine, but sacrifices decent people with casual abandon and allows the bastard not only to survive but to survive and remain a money-loving bastard.

Traditionally, you'd expect sympathetic (but guilty of deception) Mr Copper to be the "sacrificial lamb" with investor Rixton getting a (possibly ironic) comeuppance, while the others manage to survive. In fact, the reverse happens.

Of course, this just leaves Russell writing the anti-clich̩: almost as predictable. It quickly becomes very obvious that Kylie's Astrid has to die as she bluntly spells out how absolutely perfect she'd be as a companion Рblonde, shared wanderlust, love of the alien no matter how mundane, blonde, no one at home to miss her, recently unemployed, did I mention blonde? The foreknowledge that Kylie is not doing the fourth series only makes it more obvious.

More startling, shocking even, are the deaths of Marvin and Foon. Marvin in particular just comes right out of nowhere, as he falls into the engine shaft with no warning either on screen or from the plot. It makes for tragic and melodramatic watching out of all proportion to the frothy Christmas disaster movie story as we agonise with his desolated wife Foon, and then realise just in advance of her doing it, what she is about to do too.

And include the self-sacrifice of plucky cyborg Bannakaffalatta – the ever re-employable Jimmy Vee – and that one set-piece crossing the chasm wipes out fully half the Titanic's survivors.

It is a huge scene, a much more impossible peril than anything else the survivors face in their escape attempt, before or after. Structurally, that unbalances things a little – though not so much as the way the TARDIS/taxi chase unbalanced "The Runaway Bride" by doing the best scene in the first twenty minutes.

Don't let me give you the idea that I thought "Voyage of the Damned" was bad, though. There is much festive fun to be had here. The opening is nicely paced, with a nice comic turn from Bernard Cribbens (who looks to be more significant from the Coming Soon trail at the end), a sly reference to the last two years specials and an introduction to Astrid and the rest of our potential survivors – all of whom score points in the "deserves to live" stakes by chasing after the Doctor when he is detained and trying to defend him. Which is handy, because that's why they do live. For a bit, anyway. The build-up to the crash itself is nicely done, with escalating tension matching up on the Bridge, in the "space" shots and down on deck with the Doctor.

Similarly, the climactic confrontation on Deck 31 is also fast and fraught with the right energy from Tennant and Max, with an especially fine moment for the Doctor when he's literally lost everyone he cares about and he's still damn well going to save the Earth.

Points deducted for the "Silver Nemesis"-like role for Her Britannic Majesty and comedy corgi, though.

There's rather too much of "The Robots of Death" in the mix for it not to have any of the Asimov-esque commentary on why robots can't kill humans (as spotted by Adam, oldest of the Fear Forecasters); the Host clearly can, their programming is just to obey orders, so why in that case reference a more interesting story about robots.

Villainous Max, though excellently played by George Costigan and a deliciously grisly piece of design, is alongside Cyber-loon John Lumic yet another villain-in-a-wheelchair. I'm not suggesting this is disability prejudice; just that should – say – the creator of the Daleks turn up, his USP may have worn a little thin. And exactly why is Max aboard anyway? Wouldn't it be safer – indestructible box notwithstanding – to skip straight to Pen Haxsico 2 (where the ladies are so fond of… metal) and let the ship take the fall without him?

Also, someone needs to explain to television writers the difference between a debit card and a credit card. It seems to be a common mistake, as we've seen it again recently. When Mr Copper waves his credit card at the end and says he's got a million pounds on it, we must presume he means a credit limit of a million. Unless he's already red-lined it to the Max (sorry). But it's a credit card – even if he spends his million, he'll have to pay it back. What the story is really trying to tell him is that it's a debit card or a bank card drawing on a bank account with a million pounds in funds. You wonder if this is why productions go horribly over budget.

And the traditional "gay agenda" moment, is this year awarded to the nod that "cyborgs can marry now!".

Kylie – oddly not looking like Kylie; it must be the wig – is in fact rather lovely in the role of Astrid Peth, sweet for her rather direct approach and it clearly appeals to the Doctor. Though she does appear to be the only waitress on the Starship Titanic. Russell Tovey is also very charming (and easy on the eye) as Midshipman Alonso Frame. Though the most kudos (okay, Tennant aside) has to go to magnificent Geoffrey Palmer as Captain Hardaker who dooms the Titanic: he ought to be a monster – about to murder two-thousand people and potentially six billion more below – but he does it with such sadness that you end up sympathising with the dying old man doing it for his family.

The thing about that "Extras" skit – apart from asking has Ricky Gervais actually seen the series since the Eighties – is how come Russell, who is so careful about everything connected with Doctor Who allowed it to go out looking like a bad bit of French and Saunders or Victoria Wood dressed as Crayola? Or was Gervais just taking an uncalled for swipe at Peter Kay in "Love & Monsters"?

Back in the real world, Doctor who gets twice the ratings of "Extras"; half of the people watching television on Christmas Night chose to watch this, and they'll never have seen Doctor Who looking so good. The visual effects, the interiors, the Doctor in a sharp DJ. It pushes the envelope, certainly, going for colour and humour and the odd mass homicide. Russell has said he wants to eschew the emotional darkness of the recent run of stories ("Human Nature", "Blink" and "Last of the Time Lords"), but that certainly doesn't happen here, with the death of a companion and corporate expenses for a motive.

This isn't what anyone would expect for Christmas – and that must mean they are doing something right!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Day 2550: Fluffy Christmas, Everyone!

Christmas Day:

On the FIRST day of Christmas, my Daddies gave to ME...


Ho ho ho!
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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Day 2545: Once, Twice, Three Times a Lady…


Continuing his efforts to be GENDER BALANCE to the FORCE by eliminating all of the Jedi… er… Mr James "Anakin" Graham has tagged me with an MEME.

Mr Anakin also expresses some DOUBT as to MY fluffy gender. Honestly, young master padwan: James Bond, DVDs and Cars – how many CLUES do you NEED!?!?!?

It says here that I have to encourage everyone to go and nonimate bloggers on the Gender Balance Awards page. GO! Nonimate! Right, done that.

Now I have to nonimate three lady bloggers myself. Well THAT is EASY – how can I nonimate anyone OTHER than my EXCELLENT cohorts from our interview panels?

So, first, Ms Mary who is not only bright and charming but also has the most gumption of all of us, being the one who got out there and got elected. And also also has the support of an ELEPHANT of her very own, whose name is ETHELRED – and HE has a special badge just like me!

Second, the loverly Ms Alix, regent to the People's Republic of Mortimer who's natural whimsy and graceful off-kilter stance CUNNINGLY conceal a keen and insightful analysis. Plus, she likes CUDDLES!

And third, obviously in the interest of BALANCE, Mr James himself. Doubt MY gender will you, lady?

Though if I'm doing this properly, obviously Ms Linda wins that third nonimation for vim, vigour and vitality. Also, there are not many people who are big enough to take even the kindest meant of constructive criticism; Ms Linda DID, becoming MUCH more positive in the second half of the Leadership contest. Good for her!

It seems I'm also supposed to name three ladies I should like to see blogging. That is QUITE tricky, but I think I must settle on Mrs the Queen (One's YouTube account does not count, your Britanic Madge); Fenella Ffiorag from Chorlton and the Wheelies; and Ms Alisha Dixon if only to see if she will be dancing with Mr Vince again nest year!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Day 2544: The Pat of Power


Oh, all right, so you all want to know the REAL story behind my headline yesterday. Well here is how it happened:

"Is this a tradition?" asked Mr Clogg, as we got out the STICKY BUNS.

"Well… it's been a tradition for all of four interviews," explained Daddy Alex. "Perhaps we owe Sir Mr the Merciless a dozen doughnuts!"

"And is HE a tradition too?" asked Mr Nick, his hand coming down UNFORTUNATELY just as I turned to offer him a JAMMY DOUGHNUT.

"Oh dear," he said, "I am inappropriately handling the elephant?"

No Mr Nick, it was FINE. You hadn't got jam and sugar all over you yet!

at least this isn't going to be the sort of GOSSIP that gets into the national press… er

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Day 2543: Nick Clegg: His Hand on My Bottom


Today it is CONGRATULATIONS to Mr Clogg on being elected as the NEW leader of the Liberal Democrats, with the difficult task of building on the work of Mr Power Cable.

And you can be sure we've chosen the right man for the job!

At the end of his busy day, Mr Nick made a special effort to find the time to answer a few questions from me and my friends Ms Alix, Ms Linda, Mr James and of course Daddy Alex, slotting us in between Mr Paxo and the ITN News. I bet THEY didn't give him a doughnut, though!

He's the boss!
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I know, you are all dying to know how he came to lay hands on my fluffy behind… but first some serious questions.

I started by asking him if he'd seen that Liberal Democrat Voice had been asking people to suggest how to spend his first one-hundred days. Perhaps it was a bit of a TRICK QUESTION, but I asked if this a hundred days business wasn't a bit SILLY and shouldn't we be thinking more about the THOUSAND days until the next General Elections?

Mr Nick did not fall into my TRAP – he was not going to be COMPLACENT. He said he wouldn't put a time on it, but he was aware that there was a window, a NARROW window of opportunity when the new leader of the third party could get to speak to people without the CYNICISM and PRECONCEIVED OPINIONS of the media getting in the way. Mind you Mr Paxo had already had a good go at him!

Was he nervous about the prospect of Prime Monster's Questionable Time, then?

No, not really – in fact he was looking forward to it, if just to get it out of the way. He thinks that politics ought to be broader than just half-an-hour of school-ground bullying in the House of Commons, but he knows that he's going to have to stand up for the Party, that he's got to carry our hopes into the battle. And he realises that sometimes he's going to make mistakes: quite rightly he wasn't going to apologise for that – he's in this for the long run, though.

Because what he really wants is to get beyond this INFANTILE approach to politics and get back to what real people really want.

Ms Alix then floated Mr Balloon – we want to go out there and really tell people that Mr Nick ISN'T any kind of version of Mr Balloon: what three things could he suggest we push to get that message across?

First, Mr Nick made one thing clear: he doesn't take seriously AT ALL Mr Balloon's offers of a "progressive consensus". A CYNICAL MANOEUVRE, he called it. How CAN you take the Conservatories seriously? Mr Balloon is ALL PR: his green ideas are environmentalism without action, his immigration policy is pretty new adjectives, but the same old agenda; he wants to talk internationalism while pulling up the drawbridge to Europe.

Daddy Richard ducked in with a suggestion: couldn't we call his bluff and ask him – if he's supposed to be a "liberal" which are the seats where he will he be standing down his candidates in our favour?

We'll be taking care of Mr Balloon soon, promised Mr Clogg: if it's not me it will be someone very senior challenging him, because it's time to show how VAPID he is.

Where IS the meat? What, for example, does Conservative decentralisation MEAN? We are the only political party that wants to devolve power over raising MONEY to local government. And without control of the money, not a lot else is very meaningful. And the Conservatories have nothing to say, and are never likely to have anything to say, about giving control away like that.

Second, Mr Nick is COMPLETELY RELAXED about comparisons between him and Mr Balloon, because as he says the DIFFERENCES are more instructive than the SIMILARITIES.

Sure, they are both MEN, and of about the same AGE, but look ate what propelled them into politics. Mr Nick's political ideals were formed at the time of Queen Maggie, he reminded us, the time of "no such thing as society" and he reacted AGAINST that bleak and heartless dogma and has struggled against it ever since. Mr Balloon JOINED that Conservatory Party!

Third, Mr Nick's ambition is for the Liberal Democrats to be a power to change politics FOR people; he has no ambition to be an annex to the Conservatory Consensus of Mr Balloon's Conservatories OR Mr Frown's Labour.

[and now, a break: more questions after I've had a sit down and a sticky bun]

Today's result was tighter than anyone imagined, but I like to see that as a ringing endorsement of BOTH candidates and a recognition that we want them UNITED! For unlike the Labour or Conservatories, this leaves us with an EMBARRASSMENT of RICHES at the top of the party, with Mr Nick strongly hinting that he will have a top job for Mr Huhney-Monster alongside Mr Power Cable as well as famous faces like Mr Charles, Captain Paddy and Sir Mr the Merciless.

Our questions and answers with Mr Clogg are set to continue – he made that clear too. Perhaps that's the most important thing that we learnt today: he REALLY MEANS IT when he says he wasn’t to do politics in a new way, and he has the ENERGY and the ENTHUSIASM to carry it through.

Good Luck, Mr Nick, my Leader! We will be back to see how you do!

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Day 2356: No Balls Games


Only a Party so UNCONTROLLABLY in love with the ideas of CENTRALISATION and NANNY KNOW BEST could possibly come up with the idea of a National Play Strategy.

And only one living in COMPLETE DENIAL could forget that they themselves continued the Conservatories' policy of SELLING OFF THE SCHOOL PLAYING FIELDS!

(Yes, I know THEY STARTED IT – what is this: the playground? Oh... so it is.)

Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats have discovered that SNEAKY Councils are using LOOPHOLES in planning law to get around the Government's restrictions on the sell-off of playing fields.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Day 2535: Ms Bleary is Planning Something


The Labour first demanded a change to planning laws after the Public Inquiry into Terminal Five at Heathrow dragged on for four years.

SIX years later, the highly polished Labour machine has arrived at some ideas.

Mr Frown's CHICKEN-HEADED Secretary of State for Wrecking Communities and Overruling Local Government, Ms Hazel Bleary, came to the Commons with Proposals to simplify the donation of bungs to the Labour Party.

Chirpy Ms Bleary insists in her insistent way that "the public will have not one but three chance to have a say" in new planning applications. Well, having a SAY all very well, but do we have any POWER?

People are all too familiar with the Labour's idea of "having a say". It means: they say when we can speak and then they say why they're not going to listen.

Under Ms Bleary's weary proposals, local involvement is to be swept aside. Ministers – who ALWAYS know best from their seat in Whitehall – are to set the National Strategy. Decisions are to be made by a new QUANGO, described as an "independent body", but actually an appointed talking shop. Developers are to be legally required to "consult" with local people – as opposed to legally requiring the local people's PERMISSION. I have to wonder if "consultation" is permitted to finish with the developer saying. "Thank you for what you have to say. I disagree with all of it. Now, please depart in the BIBLICAL FASHION."

At the moment, planning is in the hands of ACCOUNTABLE (ish) local politicians. And yes, our local government leaves a lot to be desired, often having fallen into the hands of a single party for many years (often, by an AMAZING coincidence, the Labour's hands!) and become a self-interested CLIQUE. But at least those people are up in front of their community for re-election every few years, and have to look them in the eye even more frequently in councillors' surgeries.

The answer to the problem is NOT yet another committee appointed by Ms Bleary from her closest millionaire developer chums. It is to give proper power BACK to the local communities that she is supposed to be responsible for. That means proper fair votes to shake up the tired councils, and proper fair local tax – and control of the local business rates – to give them the power to make the decisions that they have been elected to do.

Day 2534: Coast


Excellent News! The Government has agreed to the building of thousands of new windmill farms to really make use of the offshore winds.

People say: "but this will change our coast FOREVER!"

Yes, true – but the alternative is to allow GLOBAL WARMING to melt the icecaps, raise the sea level by twenty metres and change the coast forever ANYWAY!

Day 2533: Gesture Politics


As Sir Sidney Ruff-Diamond once said to the Khasi of Khalabar: "There's another fine old British Gesture..."

I think that Mr President Mugabe of Zimbabwe is a bit horrid and you would have to go a long way to find anyone who wouldn't agree with that idea – probably as far as AFRICA where it seems that the leaders of neighbouring states like South Africa are the last people still sticking up for him.

But here is the thing: EVIL DICTATORS don't give a STUFF what soft toys think of them. Action, not hollow gestures, is what gets them to change.

So, the Arch-bullock of York, Dr John Senta-moo protests by taking the scissors to his dog collar and saying that he won't wear one until Mr Mugabe is gone. Well, big fluffy deal. How is that going to affect Mr Mugabe? Will he even notice?

Instead, why not refuse to take communion with any of your African bishop chums who support Mr Mugabe? Or say that you'll give a tenth of your diocesan salary to feeding the starving Zimbabweans until he's gone? Or just say that you'll stand outside the South African Embassy every day and PRAY LOUDLY that they shall cease to back the Zanu PF regime?

So, Mr Frown boycotts the EU/Africa talks because the Africans refuse to turn up unless Europe allows Zimbabwe in and Europe capitulated. Does this affect Mr Mugabe at all? Or does Mr Frown make US look silly and petty and, worst of all, make Mr Mugabe look like the big man.

Well, we can hardly condemn our European friends given that Great Britain turned up anyway, merely sans figurehead. A PERSONAL boycott by the Prime Monster is MEANINGLESS if he's just going to send Ms Baroness Aimless along to represent him.

If you are THAT serious about it, then DO NOT SEND A DELEGATION AT ALL! Or if, as is CLEARLY the case, you DO think that the going to the junket is more important than making a stand over Zimbabwean death and destruction, then just don't insult them by pretending that you care. Mr Mugabe gets to swan about in Europe – where the law says that he OUGHT to be arrested – and rub our noses in it. By his hollow boycott, Mr Frown shows his usual flair for PR DISASTER.

If the UK had said "NO, we will not attend this" then very probably we would have achieved nothing but being left out in the cold – but maybe, maybe doing the right thing would have persuaded some of our European allies to do so too. And if we can persuade enough people to take a stand then THAT is action that the dictatorship in Zimbabwe WILL notice.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Day 2532: More Moredick


INHERITANCE has been much in the news ever since Master Gideon convinced the Press and the Labour that giving a bung to millionaires was a MASTERSTROKE. But is it REALLY right that you should be able to get huge pots of wealth and power just because of who your DAD is?

Isn’t the idea of inherited wealth just CORRUPTING on its own?

For instance, consider Mr Jammy Moredick, son of the Emperor of the Airwaves, Mr Roger Stavro Moredick, who is set to inherit the Evil Empire.

With his recent admission
that he DECIDES which Party his papers back, people really OUGHT to be worried by the amount of UNTRAMMELLED power that Mr Moredick (snr) has at his command, even BEFORE he starts his DYNASTIC AMBITIONS.

You MIGHT argue that Mr Jammy really IS the best qualified person for the job because of the UNIQUE lifetime of training and education in the experience of his father that he has been given. Or you might say that a domineering parent has warped his whole life. It is all very well, trying to see that your kids have the best start in the world, but should you REALLY be using them to build a MONUMENT to YOURSELF?

Doesn’t it seem that the EXPECTATION of getting OODLES of LOOT can make people greedy or lazy or selfish? Consider the case that the papers are calling “The Ultimate Chinese Takeaway”.

An old lady chose to leave all of her money to her favourite restaurant and, instead of ACCEPTING her wishes, her relatives go to court and try to get the will changed posthumously. In this case, inheritance is clearly NOT about the rights of the departed matriarch to spend her cash as she chooses – much less about cherishing her dying wishes! It's all about the kids wanting the WONGA, and stuff what grandma cared about. Perhaps they would have been BETTER PEOPLE if they hadn't spent a lifetime being told (by the likes of Master Gideon) that they DESERVED to get their claws into their ancestor's money.

Day 2531: Is 42 really the answer?


Much has already been said about the Home Secretary, Ms Jacqui Spliff's, inability to stop picking at the scab that is detention without charges, rather than listening to the CONSENSUS of opinion that 28 days is MORE THAN LONG ENOUGH!

Many have suggested that she has picked the number "forty-two" from the pages of the book by Mr Douglas Adams about the "Hitch-hikers' Guide to the Galaxy".

Actually, the BIGGER surprise is that she did not pick the number "one-thousand-nine-hundred and eighty-four" from the book by Mr Eric Blair about "New Labour Farm".

When organising a POLICE STATE, it is COMPLETELY wise to p… alienate off the POLICE?

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Day 2530: Missing Canoeist – New Photo!


The mystery man who recently went to the police claiming that he has NO MEMORY of the last DECADE may have been involved in a FRAUD on the Public.

Despite claims that his partner – who has now left the country – wished him dead, they have been seen together identified in this new photographic evidence.

The moving finger…
Posted by Picasa

Mr Frown was described as "without a paddle".

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Day 2529: Chappy Chanukah


Best wishes to all Jewish Chums for the eight day festival of Chanukah.

Apparently this is to commemorate a MIRACLE where the lamps for the re-dedication of the Great Temple in Jerusalem were kept burning for eight whole days even though Jehovah, always the joker, had placed Judea in the one bit of the Middle East that doesn't have any oil.

Or, as the Chief Rabbi put it during his Fart for the Day, it is a celebration of the victory of monotheism over the Hellenistic tradition that gave us democracy, science, literature and the enlightenment. Er.

Mr Jonathan Socks – for it is he – was using his bully pulpit to call on all good people to stick up for the FINE old British TRADITIONS of Christianity.

I think that this is jolly SPORTING from a leading member of a community who probably remember those "fine old English customs of Christianity" as including the pogroms, persecution and finally expulsion that saw no Jewish people AT ALL allowed in England between 1290 and 1655 (when no less a religious maniac than Mr Oliver Cromwell allowed them back in).

But, of course, this is just Mr Socks backing up a co-monotheist in their INSISTENCE that Great Britain must celebrate Christianity.

Yes, this is the debate organised Conservatory MP Mr Mark Pilchard to warn us about the growing threat of "Christianophobia".

Conservatory OUTCRY about the ABANDONMENT of Christianity is another FINE ENGLISH TRADITION. Two-hundred-and-fifty years ago, for example, the Conservatories were up in arms about Liberals-in-Whigs religious toleration and the "1753 Jewish Naturalization Act". I'm sure Dr Socks wishes he'd been there to support them then.

Goodness, if the Conservatories are RIGHT, another quarter of a Millennium being abandonned like that and Christianity might even WOBBLE slightly!

Christianophobia – give me strength

Of course ALL words are "made up" at some point. This one has clearly been made up from the word: "Islamophobia" which itself is made up to sound like the word "Homophobia".

"Homophobia" is to gay people what "Racism" is to black and brown people and "Sexism" is to lady people. It means an unreasonable PREJUDICE where people with more POWER use it to harm and disadvantage people – usually a minority – with less power.

It is OBVIOUSLY made up that way because "Gayism" sounds SILLY and a bit RUDE!

Oh, and possibly because people often think that HATE for the unalike is based on FEAR of the unalike. "Bullies are always COWARDS," as the Fine Old TRADITIONAL English saying, goes. Besides, it is probably EMPOWERING for someone on the receiving end of being OPPRESSED to think that the bully might be a bit AFRAID.

Unfortunately the "-phobia" bit often leads some people who ARE homophobic to think they are oh so VERY CLEVER for saying: "I am not homophobic – I do not FEAR gay daddies, for I can beat them up!"

Homophobia, however, is a PREJUDICE and NOT a fear.

Muslim people in this country are also a minority, and also often come in for ABUSE. This is probably why they have APPROPRIATED the "-phobia" bit for themselves, and created the word "Islamophobic".

The fact that SOME people use Islam as an excuse to be very, very HOMOPHOBIC indeed, does not appear to have struck them as an IRONY!

Anyway, as I am sure we have discussed before, there are some Christians who are very, very nice, and there are some who cannot walk past a cross without climbing up on it and crying: "oh, oh, oh, I'm so being oppressed!"

If people have a PHOBIA about Christianity, it is probably a very REAL FEAR, brought about by the last thousand years of Christians rampaging around the place conducting pogroms, persecutions and expulsions. And that's when they weren't burning random people to death for WITCHCRAFT.

That is not to say that people cannot be prejudiced against Christians! I know that I certainly jump to conclusions the moment I hear someone going on about how they worship some Middle Eastern dead bloke. "Oh, here we go…" I often think. That is very wrong!

But what I am NOT doing, is doing anyone down over their belief. Oh no! I am hardly in a POSITION to do anyone down, am I? I do not have any SPECIAL RIGHTS – like free appearances on Fart for the Day, or compulsory religious assembly for pushing my Militant Atheist Baby Elephant ideas on anybody! I do not get a free seat in the House of Lords Club – no matter HOW MUCH I WANT ONE! – just for NOT believing in a special friend. I am not a member of the SELECT band who get to protest against gay daddies while standing outside of Parliament when it is ILLEGAL for everybody else.

Christianity is NOT in decline because of ATHEISTS or SECULARISTS or even HOMOSEXUALISTS.

Christianity is in decline because what organised religions need to enthuse their followers is MISERY. If you are starving hungry in the middle of a war zone and likely to catch bubonic plague and bleed to at death any moment then a bit of mindless hymn singing and some togetherness is probably just what you need to cheer you up.

If you are BULLIED into the pews with the threat of FIERY RETRIBUTION… followed, allegedly by MORE fiery retribution in the hereafter… then going to church and looking sharp about it are probably top of your to do list.

But if you are happy, peaceful, well fed and free to make your own mind up then, well I'm sorry but you've probably just got better things to do with your time.

And shouting and squealing and just generally UPSETTING folks isn't going to convince a whole load of people to turn up at your SOCIAL CLUB.

Traditions Shmaditions

Anyway, I thought that most REAL British Traditions – legendary stories like Robin Hood and King Arthur – actually have their roots in PRE-Christian mythologies (for all that they have bolted-on Christian trappings like Friar Tuck and the Grail story). King Arthur is, as you probably know, tied up with DRUID MAGIC and the stories of Merlin and Vortigern and Dragons and Fey. Robin Hood was a rebel AGAINST the invading Normans with their new-fangled Divine Right of Kings all backed up by the Roman Church.

Herne the Hunter, the Queen of the May, the Green Man, John Wayland Smith, Morris Dancing, burning people in a giant wicker Edwood Woodwood, er, maybe not that last one. These are the traditions of ENGLAND-LAND.

May Day, Halloween, even the Winter Solstice that Christians decided to sit Mr Jesus birthday on top of – where does that YULE LOG fit into that baby/manger story, then? – all our REALLY ancient traditions and they haven't got a LOT to do with Christianity beyond generally being co-opted.

No one is REALLY sure what the TRADITIONAL religion of Britain was like before the Romans invaded, since it was mostly wiped out by THEM. But we think that there was a lot of LEARNING involved, and it certainly seems to have encouraged the study of ASTRONOMY, if all those big stones on Salisbury Plain are anything to go by. The Christian Church took a LOT of catching up on THAT front, as I've no doubt you remember.

In fact so much of Britain's "tradition" is missing that Professor Tolkien FAMOUSLY had to go around making it all up again – Hobbits and all – because it irritated him that we DIDN'T have a grand myth cycle the way the Nazis had Wagner. Er, or something like that. And it was STILL a whole lot better than the scheme that his chum Clive came up with then went and spoiled with a whole lot of Christianity he stuck in.

Actually, the REALLY real tradition of Great Britain is just to be a bit EMBARRASSED about the whole "religion" thing. It is like Sainted™ Princess Diana's FUNERAL – everyone remembers what happened and now thinks that maybe we got a bit CARRIED AWAY in the moment. And we'd rather not be reminded of it anymore.

Britain DID have some rather nasty religios wars and we did all get a bit carried away. But we actually worked out that being a bit embarrassed about it all stopped us being a whole lot WORSE.

And funnily enough, that served us rather WELL.

Now, I suggest we all go and have some jolly dreidel fun! Shalom!

Friday, December 07, 2007

Day 2526: DOCTOR WHO: Wetworld

Saturday Wibbly-Wobbly Void Beyond Time:

This is a terrific book. The setting, Planet Sunday, is an interesting alien world that feels like a different place. The cast, colonists who have already survived one catastrophe, feel like real people with different feelings and plans. There is a mystery about the planet that is genuinely intriguing and the explanation pleasingly unexpected. And there is a monster that really feels like a threat.

The book opens with the Doctor once again landing the TARDIS in the wrong time and place and promptly ditching his ship (and Martha!) into the tentacle infested swamp.

With the image on the cover it would suggest "The Power of Kroll" even if we hadn't just got that far through the "Key to Time" boxset. Fortunately this story does everything right where Kroll got everything wrong, and no one has to paint John Abinari green to give the proceedings any dignity.

The mystery concerns the local alien species (yes, alright, strictly the humans are the aliens and the locals are the locals), dubbed "otters" with what the Doctor thinks is disgusting un-imagination. The revelation of why they appear to be getting smarter, overturning the assumptions that the humans have made all along and tying into the big threat is really very clever. The book also makes unexpected use of the TARDIS powers of translation. It does all make it hard not to think of the otters as the Pakhars that Gary Russell first came up with for "Legacy (of Peladon)". The Doctor seems never to have seen them before, though, so they can't be the same.

Exactly what the alien "tentacle'd thing" is up to, how it is doing it, and why this makes it Bad is all very well thought through as well. It's a good beastie – like a lot of this world, described in almost gleeful biological detail – combining several tropes: the lurking monster gets added to body-horror zombies and crossed with the "it came from outer space" thing. Its own self-image, of a planet held in the grip of tentacles, is both brutally poetic and also reminiscent of the old posters for the War of the Worlds TV series. The philosophy of the show is deeply ingrained here: life is not just an end in itself; it is worthwhile only for what you do with it. Whether it's the Cybermen or the Time Lords, the Doctor has always been one to say: "but what's it for?"

Mark Michalowski writes well for the Doctor, and for Martha, catching both his cheeky "I really am as clever as I think I am" charm and her insecurities. But more importantly everyone else feels like a character too.

The apparently obligatory teenager character is far more real than any of the other child characters that have been foisted on the book range so far: her opening chapter perfectly capturing frustration and resignation over her misfortunate name: Mom and Pop Kane really didn't think before naming their daughter Candice. It woos you into her world view, what she's doing here on this colony world and why she's a "loner" character who prefers going exploring to hanging around with the adults.

Then there's the charming older woman zoologist, Professor Ty Benson, the sort of woman who used to turn up every few stories for the fifth Doctor or, in the guise of Evelyn, works so well with the sixth. For much of the story she gets to be surrogate companion, hanging around with the Doctor and asking the questions, Martha having been rendered unconscious in that opening.

This feels like a real history, even though it is set in the future. The ugly compromises that the colonists have made – the Doctor's mix of joy at their adventurousness and scorn when he learns they've been using a "cheap and dirty" nuclear reactor – all feel very human, and also like they are of a part with the future history stories that we saw mainly in the Jon Pertwee era.

This is the sort of book that the Doctor Who series on television deserves. It has all the action and the emotional connection that the television version has, and you can really begin to imagine how the Mill and Millennium Effects would set to work doing the special visuals.

And there are even bad-spelling in Morse Code jokes. Who could ask for more?

Day 2513: DOCTOR WHO: Sick Building

Sunday Wibbly-Wobbly Void Beyond Time:

Daddy's time-travelling review continues…

This is a half-decent read. By which I mean that about halfway in it suddenly becomes almost decent. The opening chapters take far too long to get anywhere and the ending – which can only be described as "Fury from the Deep" crossed with "Aliens of London" – leaves a lot to be desired, but somewhere in the middle there are some good chapters that find the Doctor, Martha, some recent acquaintances and their robot furniture all trapped and trying to escape from the titular building. More of this would have been better.

The premise of the book is that a hideous unstoppable planet-devouring space monster, the Voracious Craw, has come to Tiermann's World – population three – and the Doctor and Martha have nipped in to warn the inhabitants that their Dream Home is next on the menu.

There are a lot of very interesting ideas going on here.

The Craw itself is interesting, showing a grasp of scale that is often overlooked in sci-fi: it's the size of a country, so it will destroy the planet – or at least eat the entire surface – but it will also take time to get around to doing it all. It's quite rare to see something that falls in between human-sized and instant planetary destruction. It also, in spite of the dramatic cover art, looks nothing like a giant sandworm. Someone's been reading too much Dune.

On the other hand, the cover depiction of the Dream Home – a melange of buildings from, it seems, the Lloyds Building to Norman Bates House on the Hill – looks more interesting than the one described in the text which is virtually all underground. Its one above surface story would have been reflected in the mooted title of "The Wicked Bungalow" (apparently vetoed by Russell T Davis himself on the grounds that it would damage the brand, though I can't see why myself).

The House is supposedly the very last word in luxury, and that ought to be an interesting idea too. How would a "perfect" home work and adapt itself to its inhabitants? And what would it do for the Doctor or Martha?

Tiermann himself is a vain genius who made a fortune from the invention of "servo-furnishings" and then turned his back on humanity, retreating to his self-designed Dream Home and dragging his wife and son along into exile with him. Mrs Tiermann has retreated into herself, living a life of pill popping and sighs. Their son has been raised without any human contact at all. On the face of it, these ought to be interesting people too.

And finally there are Tiermann's great creations: the servo-furnishings. It's a great made-up word, and you wonder what it would mean in practice.

What it means in the book is just robots. There's some confusion, possibly in the writing, as to just how anthropomorphic the robots are, as they are often described with eyes, heads, hands and legs. Fair enough for a robot butler, less so for a robot sun-lounger. To its credit, the book treats them, quite properly, as just differently shaped people. Two of them, Barbara and Toaster, join the Doctor's little gang for a while, and they have something approaching personalities, but the others are all sadly a bit… functional.

And this is the problem with most of the other interesting ideas: they aren't – and this is surprising for Paul Magrs who likes to toy with his food – explored. They are just there to do what it says on the tin.

So Professor Tiermann is a shouty monomaniac. We spend so much time setting up his backstory that we never have time to see what he's really like as a person. His wife is so wan she fades into the background. And the son… has a bit of a crush on Martha that goes nowhere.

The most interesting idea ought to be the Voracious Craw, but it's just a bigger badder predator. The Doctor describes the Craw as "thick" because its brain – the size of a Volkswagon Beetle – is tiny compared to its body. Well, yes, but that's still a brain the size of a Volkswagon Beetle, which is a lot more brain by volume than even the Doctor has got unless his head is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. I realise that the allusion is to the dinosaurs, but the dinosaurs that had tiny brains really did have tiny brains – smaller than our human ones. That's just not the case here. The Craw should be think in spite of its brain size, not because its body is proportionately much, much bigger.

(Anyway, the real problem is that anything that big would suffer severe communications problems along its nervous system; basically, it would need a whole lot of subsidiary brains to handle things locally)

With the Craw supposedly bearing down on them, and heavily foreshadowed that its very presence sends electronics crazy, it's obvious where all this is going.

But it takes forever to get there. There's a nature ramble though the snowy forests of Tiermann's World. Then the Doctor picks a fight with Tiermann, which admittedly is the sort of thing the Doctor often does, but usually to try and distract a villain from their plans of conquest, not to annoy a man he's trying to persuade to escape. Having done so, he tries to sneak out of the Dream Home, resulting in damage to the shields and an irate Tiermann banishing him to the lower levels. That's where the discarded servo-furnishings go and where the Doctor meet Barbara and Toaster. Again, an interesting idea: how do you deal with sentient furniture once you're done with it? And how does the furniture feel about it. Except we never even think to explore it. Instead he is introduced to the house's master computer, the Domovi, who allows him to return to the surface. Tiermann has a rant about how he's going to leave the Domovi behind at which point, finally, we get to what we all expected and the house turns against them.

The good chapters, then, are the ones where the Doctor and his disparate gang struggle to escape the various attempts by the Domovi to make them stay and play happy families forever. These are enlivened by Douglas Adams-esque imagery, as household robots, be it the butler/drinks cabinet or the kitchen staff or the flying vacuum cleaners, all take different pot shots. The underground rooms of the Dream House also remember the chocolate factory of Willy Wonker in their bizarre whimsy: the perils of the zero gravity dust room, particularly spring to mind.

In fact, they all manage to escape rather too quickly. It seems like the most interesting and inventive part of the story unfortunately just ran out. The conclusion, leading to a rather obvious double-cross, and a "twist" reveal about Mrs T that… well, it's only surprising in as far as it doesn't go the whole hog and say she was a robot all along.

And then the Doctor works out a way to stop the unstoppable Craw.

The peril is good and the ideas are there, but it's all treated just so lackadaisically. The plot has a beginning, a lot of exposition, an exciting middle and then an end. Perhaps it's strange, but I think it could have benefited from a much less linear structure – starting with the Doctor and Martha already in the house.

A great many living people die – admittedly most of them are robots, but the book is at some pains to suggest that they count as people too. On the whole, you are left with the feeling that the Doctor could have helped a great deal more if he'd landed the TARDIS right at the Dream Home rather than half a day's walk away. The delay that this causes, and the further delay caused by his unnecessary spat with Professor Tiermann cost a lot of people their lives, for all that he waxes lyrical about having saved the real inhabitants of the planet – the flora and fauna that ironically even the taken-for-granted servo-furnishings have been taking for granted.

There was a good novella in here somewhere, but this is overstuffed with padding to fill out the page count. One of those circumstances when less would have been more.

Day 2512: DOCTOR WHO: Time Crash

Saturday Wibbly-Wobbly Void Beyond Time:

Yes, it is time for some more TIME TRAVEL.

What with Mr Clogg carrying me away into Britain's Liberal Future, and Mr Vince leading me on, I have gotten a BIT ahead of myself over the last few weeks and missed WHOLE DAYS of diaries.

Nevertheless, as part of my ongoing MISSION to do my diary for every single day, I have stuffed Daddy Richard into a trans-dimensional letter-box and posted him back through time.

i.e. here is his review of the Children in Need Doctor Who special…
There is more than a hint of the fanboy about "Time Crash".

A couple of years ago (remembering that last year, their contribution was the rather marvellous concert at the Millennium Centre), Doctor Who did its bit with a ten-minute short for the BBC's annual telethon "Children in Need".

Made just on the series' one standing set – the TARDIS console room – with just the two leads and some stock music and effects, it was a little bridge between the cliffhanging ending of "The Parting of the Ways" and the forthcoming Christmas Special, "The Christmas Invasion" – the first episode to be shown on Christmas Day ever, (oh, all right, second ever if you're really, really going to make us remember "The Feast of Steven").

"Pudsey Cutaway", picking up exactly where the cliffhanger left off, could have been the pre-title sequence of "The Christmas Invasion". In a lot of ways it was exactly what the fans expected the pre-title sequence would be, especially all of those fans who remembered Tom Baker regenerating into Peter Davison again in the pre-title sequence of "Castrovalva".

Of course, as it turned out this was Russell T Davies' bang-up-to-the-minute proper television drama version so of course it didn't do what the fans were expecting and instead had the TARDIS spectacularly crash into Jackie Tyler's bins. Obvious, really.

The first Children in Need scene is, in a lot of ways, actually an extension to the end of the "Parting of the Ways" rather than to the beginning of "The Christmas Invasion": it is backward-looking, answering Rose's questions about what has just happened, rather than forward-looking to the adventure to come. Typically of a Russell T Davies scene, it addresses the emotional issues, rather than the plot. In plot terms, all it really does is cancel Barcelona and dial up Earth, December 24th.

So, why am I wittering on about it?

Well, in spite of the superfluity of its story, and the occasionally ropey production – especially if you are watching the early version accidentally released on the Series Two boxset – that emotion, natural to the characters on screen, makes it feel like a proper part of the whole "story" of Doctor Who.

There is emotion in "Time Crash", but it feels much more like the emotion of the actors and writer and producers involved: it is a loving homage to Peter Davison and his time as the Doctor, the changes that were wrought at that time that – listen up, those of you who despise nineteen-eighties Who – form the foundation of the current Doctor and the current series.

It is brilliantly played and shot, and who couldn't warm to the interplay between Doctors five and ten, but it still feels much more like a really, really good fan video than a natural part of the ongoing series.

Let me be clear, this short thoroughly deserves to be indulged in its self-indulgence. It is a treat to see Peter D back in action, he's a wonderful character actor these days, well on his way to becoming the Patrick Troughton de nos jours. That's probably why he's playing the fifth Doctor in rather the same way that the Mighty Trout played the second when he came back for multi-Doctor stories ("The Three Doctors", "The Five Doctors" and "The Two Doctors", if you need to be told). This is a caricature of the fifth Doctor, a cartoon version, who comically exaggerates the cross-patch-y-ness that he sometimes exhibited (usually when provoked by his gaggle of teenaged companions). Although Doctor Ten waxes lyrical about how it felt good to let himself be young when he was Doctor Five, a lot of the Davison Doctor's better scenes come from the fact that he was – even then – an old man in a younger body. Certainly that was the way that Christopher Bidmead conceived him, and arguably Bidmead writes better for the fifth Doctor than anyone who isn't Robert Holmes or Christopher Priest. The fifth Doctor's frustration usually arose from people no longer taking him seriously even though he clearly knew the answers – here he gets annoyed with his own future incarnation because he appears to be too short-sighted (metaphorically – the glasses, it turns out, are for effect) to realise who (or "Who") is staring him in the face. Remembering "The Five Doctors", this isn't the same fifth Doctor who took his earlier selves with infinite patience… even if he plainly couldn't? wait to be rid of them all.

Oddly, it would appear, Steven Moffat can toss in the continuity references more subtley when he is playing for laughs – as in his "The Curse of Fatal Death" for the other telethon, "Comic Relief" – than when he is aiming for sincerity.

There's more than a touch of fanboy in some of the points he chooses. In such a short scene you've really got to want it to mention the Zeiton Crystals (see "Vengeance on Varos"). But spouting an explanation ("shorting out the time differential" – take a bow "Mawdryn Undead") for Mr Davison's greyer, chubbier appearance – by extension post-facto-justifying those "old" old Doctors in the other team-up tales – is just drawing unnecessary attention to the fact that the actor has got older when the character shouldn't have. To be honest, if that sort of question bugs you, how do you cope with the TARDIS being bigger in the studio than the outside is on location?

It would also seem to be a televised "justification" for all of those Missing, Past Doctor and Audio adventures set in the infamous "gaps that aren't there", being as it is placed between moments in the last scene of "Last of the Time Lords". Egregious previous examples include "Byzantium!" (inserted into "The Romans" between the opening TARDIS crash and the next scene in a Roman villa) and "Salvation" (inserted into the last scene of "The Massacre" to try and tidy up Dodo's otherwise somewhat muddled arrival).

If you hadn't got the message by now, the fifth Doctor then mistakes the tenth for a member of L.I.'n'D.A. ("Love & Monsters", the rather more subtle – yes, even with the Absorbaloff – examination of Doctor Who fandom). And of course, the fifth Doctor is quite right, as it turns out that Ten is a fan. He even says so: "You were my Doctor", is Tennant speaking to us as a fan and not the Doctor. This is where "Time Crash" tips over from story and into nostalgia.

But it was a lovely moment to see, when Peter met David, even if it was like seeing them on stage together at Tennant's first convention (will be): a treasure, but not canon.

And in plot terms, all it really does is cancel the TARDIS forcefield of indestructibility and explain just how that big boat came crashing in through the wall. In fact, it's more of a reminder that the Doctor has just had to rebuild his ship after the Master turned it into a Paradox Machine and after the Doctor himself fused the time co-ordinates (permanently, he said, but hello 1912, so we guess not). To be fair, I'd somehow overlooked all these reasons for the Doctor's timeship to be especially vulnerable at that point, so kudos for that.

Oh, and it appears that there is a rather nicer RMS Titanic CGI'd for "The Voyage of the Damned" than the one that we were treated to in "Last of the Time Lords". Mind you, neither is a patch on Farmageddon's "Flight of the Darned" Concorde.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Day 2527: Teddy Teacher is Freed


Mind you, having said all that about BAD Councillors from the Labour and the Conservatories, I should take a moment to say WELL DONE to the two PEERS from the Labour and the Conservatories who managed to get Ms Gillian Gibbons out of gaol and subsequently out of Sudan.

Day 2525: Miranda Grell and Rik Willis: an apology… would be nice


We can all be a bit PARTISAN sometimes when it comes to defending one of our own. But sometimes, it seems, that the Conservatories (blue OR red) go quite a bit BEYOND reasonable doubt and into the land of wilful ignorance when it comes to sticking up for their, shall we say, "less than pure" associates.

Let's take a couple of recent cases, where Councillors have been caught bang to rights saying the sort of things they really shouldn't oughta: for the Labour, twice-convicted liar Ms Miranda Grell; and for the (other) Conservatories, white-supremacist supporter Mr Rik Willis.

Mr Rik has previously demonstrated that cannot resist mouthing off, usually about funerals. His past form includes praise for Mr August Pinochet, the dead dictator of Chile; and expressing gladness at the departure of Mr Tedward Heath, one time Conservatory Prime Monster. Tasteful.

This time, he crawled out of the woodwork in order to post on (now a Wholly Owned subsidiary of ConservatoryHome) singing the praises of the late and otherwise unlamented Mr Ian Smith, white minority ruler of the country then known as Rhodesia.

In Mr Balloon's SHINY and NEW Conservatory Party, this is supposed to be a THING OF THE PAST. Most Conservatories should and would be HORRIFIED and REVOLTED by these sort of statements. Or so you would HOPE.

So it is almost MORE depressing to see instead the postings of massed Conservatories rushing to his defence.

Rather than accepting that Mr Willis ought to take responsibility for shooting his own mouth off, the Conservatories want to try to shift the blame onto Liberal Democrat posters – calling for them to be BANNED from the site! – just for spotting this and saying that it was WRONG!

Apparently LAUDING dead racists is merely a private opinion but, goodness, COMPLAINING that supporting racists is a BIT OFF well, that's just BEYOND THE PALE!

Nor do SEMANTIC arguments that Apartheid was only the name of that policy when it was carried out in South Africa really help the case for the defence. If you have to play with WORDS to get him off, you really in you heart have to realise that he was GUILTY.

Their last response is to claim that it doesn't count because anyway Mr Willis specifically condemned Apartheid as "indefensible".

This of course is NOT true – Mr Willis did not SPECIFICALLY condemn Apartheid; in fact that condemnation had to be practically wrung out of him!

Councillor Rik's first posts was at 9.53 pm (post #126) and although he pops back with such BON MOTs as "Smith was a benign and successful leader" (post #148) and "…another 10-20 years of "colonial rule" could have enabled those territories to have properly prepared for independence…" (post #196), it is not until 12.57am (post #270), a mere THREE HOURS LATER, that he finally admits that Apartheid WAS "indefensible". Though he then tries to defend it with the remarks:

"However it needs to be seen in the context of a successful first world economy faced with a growing third world majority on its doorstep"

"…even under apartheid over 3 million black people moved TO South Africa from neighbouring black ruled states because they wanted to benefit from the opportunity and jobs it provided to them"
It HARDLY seems that a RINGING condemnation of the Rhodesian whites-only government policy was at the FOREFRONT of Mr Willis's mind, does it?

The point is that the Smith regime in not-yet-Zimbabwe was BAD, REGARDLESS of just how appallingly awful the Mugabe regime has turned out to be.

The GOOD NEWS though is that, even in the Conservatory Party, Mr Willis is a DINOSAUR. (Huge MOUTH; tiny BRAIN!) Most Conservatories these days would at least STOP and THINK before saying this sort of thing. There might be too many who still BELIEVE it but at least these days it gives them pause, and fewer of them have the ARROGANCE of a Mr Willis, believing that they have the god-given right to their opinions and no one else is allowed to be appalled.

He has his supporters, who want free speech for him but specifically try to shut his critics up. But with their no platform for anti-racists platform they're just… KOOKY.

SADLY, it almost seems that the OPPOSITE is true in the Labour, where it is the THRUSTING young ZEALOTS who believe that they can say and do anything so long as it is "for the cause".

This is where we come to Ms Grell, who spread horrid lies about her opponent so much that he had to flee from his home. She has resigned from the Labour and quit her job working for the Mayor's deputy (who only suspended her when she was found guilty the first time).

But she still seems UNAPOLOGETIC about being found guilty. Twice. And never mind the HARM that she done.

Ms Grell was TIPPED as a RISING STAR and received strong backing from the Labour, not just her local party but MPs like Mr Harry Cohen and TV's Diane Abbott. Not to mention the ONLINE supporters, some of who seem more REGRETFUL that people are linking to the least presentable of their posts on the issue than that a person's life has been ruined.

Apparently, it is a SMEAR to call someone an APOLOGIST – perhaps because the Labour never APOLOGISE! I have LOOKED UP the word apologist and it means "one who makes a defence in speech or writing…"

I am PUZZLED as to what you would call THIS
"Ms Grell seems to have EITHER been convicted on the basis of demonstrably partisan hearsay of various very serious smears rehearsed in the piece. OR she has been convicted of saying her opponent was gay and getting his lover's age wrong."
…if it's not some kind of DEFENCE.

But I have probably linked to the wrong post. How REGRETTABLE.

Of course the Labour Party first promised to fund Ms Grell's appeal before abruptly reneging on the deal on the eve of her return appearance in court. In many ways this is even WORSE than just backing her to the hilt, as they left the demented woman in the LURCH having effectively EGGED her ON. Who's to say that she might not have come to her senses if the Party hadn't made her a rash and ultimately unfulfilled cash offer.

In Birmingham – if the allegations are true – the Labour has been behaving EVEN WORSE and the Director of Public Prosecutions is to investigate claims that another case (also hinging on whether or not the Labour won by SMEARING their opponents) was DERAILED by WITNESS INTIMIDATION.

Could it be true? It is all too reminiscent of the tactics the Labour used in the Sedgefield By-election.

Recently, we were listening to the Westminster Hour (Mr Clogg was on) and afterwards they turned to their "panel" of MPs for a review of the week. It was Mr (Un) Ed (ifying) Vaizey for the Conservatories and Ms Wibbly Thornberry for the Labour. The Liberal Democrats (and the Scottish Nasties and the Welsh Nasties and anyone else) were represented by… oh.

"Do you agree with Liberal Democrat acting leader Vince Cable when…"

"No!" jumped in Mr Vaizey.

"Neither do I!" agreed Ms Wibbly.

And then they GIGGLED like a pair of SLITHEEN.

Did they have any excuse for behaving like babies? No. The PROBLEM is that in our RIGGED political system, there is no one in a position to send them to the NAUGHTY STEP.

There are BAD EGGS in all parties – we all know that, we all hope that they get found out and get got rid of.

But the Labour and the Conservatories still believe that they have a RIGHT to RULE: how else to you explain the way they immediately MAKE EXCUSES when one of their own gets caught red handed; how else to you explain Mr Vaizey and Ms Thornberry's giggling – they think that they can do EXACTLY as they please.

OBVIOUSLY the Liberal Democrats exist to prove them WRONG.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Day 2528: Lessons in Leadership: Millennium Elephant talks to Dr Vince Cable MP


Sharp, witty, incisive, charming and sometimes startlingly frank but (thankfully!) not "the greatest leader we never had" (©all newspapers): my friends and I followed up our interviews with Mr Clogg and Mr Huhney-Monster by talking to the man who has the job – and the headlines – that they want: Dr Vince "Power" Cable.

He's clearly having the time of his life: a few weeks in the big spotlight but with no pressure to get elected.

His answers were direct and to the point, shorter than either of the leadership rivals but without the burning passion they both possess.

Economics Guru
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Mr Vince's time at the top could have been OVERSHADOWED by the Leadership Contest, but in fact, as he admitted himself, it has been thoroughly UNDER-shadowed. With the exception of the Sunday Spat, it has been such a polite and well-mannered contest, between two candidates whose opinions on policy barely differ, that editors have played UP his role instead. A boring contest, Mr Jonny asked? Well, handy for me, sparkled Mr Vince.

Although we – and he – steered away from talking directly about his successor, whoever that turns out to be, Mr Vince did have several HINTS for him or her. Well him or him, actually.

The FIRST lesson is that we need to be a bit more AUDACIOUS a bit more BOISTEROUS in order to get heard. Mr Jonny asked about the "Stalin to Mr Bean" quip that has caught the National mood – sometimes we are too POLITE, said Mr Vince, and sometimes we need to cut through to the language of ordinary people. He said that the thing that has touched him the most is going down the pub and hearing people using the Mr Bean line in ordinary conversation.

But wasn't it just the same as the "Punch and Judy" politics of image that did for Sir Mr the Merciless? No, said Mr Vince, because it goes to the issue of PERFORMANCE, and – particularly when Mr Frown has tried to claim the mantel of Mr Competent – it IS fair comment.

It is, said Mr Vince, just plain wrong to criticise someone JUST because they are old… or black... or female or a gay daddy or anything else.

Citizen Alix of that froody land the Republic of Mortimer asks, incidentally, why "Mr Bean" is a worse insult than "Stalin".

I think that it is not WORSE, but it IS more politically DAMAGING.

Mr Stalin was EVIL but he was also STRONG, and that is GOOD for Mr Frown because some people LIKE that in a leader MORE than the more noble qualities like FLUFFINESS and FLAPPY EARS. But Mr Bean is a BUFFOON – and that is NOT good for Mr Frown's position because who wants a buffoon as Prime Monster? (Apart from the over ambitions Mr Buff Hoon, of course.)

I am going to go back to Mr Ian Hislop's old analysis of Queen Maggie: the satirists never managed to score a hit on her by describing her as a DESPOTIC MONSTER because secretly quite a lot of people actually LIKED the idea of her as a cast iron tyrant; it was only when they started to portray her as POTTY that her metaphorical wheels started to come off.

Speaking of POTTY, Mr Paul asked about Mr Frown, if he was, as Mr Alistair Henchman once described him, psychologically flawed, or just plain unlucky. "INTELLECTUALLY flawed", was Mr Vince's answer – after firmly setting the record straight that he and Mr Frown were not "old friends". For one thing, they'd been on different sides of SCOTLAND: Mr Vince having at one time been a councillor for the Labour in Glasgow, when Mr Frown was a particularly PRECOCIOUS Rector of Edinburgh University.

But Mr Frown's FLAW arises from a deep and unshakable belief in the power of government to DO things. Desperately BAD ideas like Tax Credits arise from the ENLIGHTENED idea to try and do some GOOD, give help to the most needy through a scheme of NEGATIVE taxation. Except, Mr Frown was DAFT to believe that the civil service or the taxmen were ever going to be able to pull something like this off: it's simply not in the CULTURE of a bureaucracy to have the delicacy of touch required in cases that vary from individual to individual.

Though of course, in a sense Mr Frown was always DOOMED, since he arrived at the FAG END of the Labour's decade in office with the air THICK with CHICKENS returning home for BEDTIME.

Mr Jonathan asked if there was a secret to success at Prime Monster's Questionable Time. No secret, said Mr Power Cable, in part it's down the right areas coming up, but in part it is down to practice – asking questions in the House for many years, though unreported, has given Mr Vince the experience and confidence to know how to do it. That's a little modest, of course, since even MIGHTY Sir Mr the Merciless famously faltered at his first Questionable Time, and left an unfortunate impression that lingered in the minds of press and public.

That was Mr Power Cable's SECOND lesson: the new Leader has to get off to a good start.

But the THIRD and perhaps CRUCIAL lesson came from Daddy Alex's QUESTION: tell us, in a sentence, what makes the Liberal Democrats different. Mr Vince's answer told us why he is a GOOD leader but not a GREAT one: he referred us to the range of Liberal Democrat policies, where we have clear differences from the Conservatories and the Labour.

I remember that Mr Clogg – who has talked about the need for a NARRATIVE – said that if it was policies that win elections, we'd have been in power since 1945. And Mr Huhney-Monster did have a direct answer for this question: yes, it might have been the first thing he said in the contest – "A greener, fairer Britain with people in charge" – but then the narrative really SHOULD be the first thing that to be said!

Every one of our MPS should have, indeed NEEDS to have an answer to this question. But the Party Leader needs to BE the answer to this question.

Other interviewers talked POLICY, and obviously several had a TREASURY bias: Mr James asked about INHERITANCE TAX – shouldn’t we be more different form the Conservatory Consensus? Ms Alix asked about Heathrow Airport and how to avoid a Government stitch up. Ms Linda asked about debt and what more should be done to get people out of the trap. Mr Jonny asked about our policy of accepting, broadly, the general level of taxation whatever it happens to be and wondered if we shouldn't be more BOLD in declaring what WE think it should be. And Mr James (again) asked about multi-culturalism, on which Mr Vince ahs written a pamphlet – he is a great pamphleteer, you should know.

On IHT: Mr Vince explained that our policy is REDISTRIBUTIVE – paying for a rise in the threshold by catching more gifts in the "potentially exempt transfer" or PET net. Essentially our plan is to make it work BETTER to get the rich people paying more and the average suburban home out of Inheritance Tax altogether. It's a shame that this comes across as a rather dry and dusty difference, when we could be piping it up MORE.

On Heathrow: the battle is by no means lost, said Mr Vince. The Government USED to be able to play the "it's the national interest and they are only N.I.M.B.Y.s" card. But now the environmental case is stronger and the environmental movement more organised. It is true that the Government has a RECORD on pushing these sort of plans through – Mr Vince referred in passing to their plans for STEALTH nuclear reactors. But they also need to change the planning laws, and that means getting the change through the rebels in the Commons and their lordships in the House of Lords Club. There's a chance, a reasonable chance, of it being blocked.

On debt: he welcomed the Government coming to financial education, although admittedly about ten years too late. Meanwhile, Mr Vince insists on the need to pool data on debt, including the data on STUDENT DEBTS, which the Government is STRANGELY COY about revealing. With 85% of all debt being MORTGAGE debt, naturally it is vital to address the issue of the RUNAWAY housing market. But mainly, Mr Vince felt that the banks should be run as UTILITIES – like the water company – and not like CASINOS. They need to be regulated like utilities and offer a return like utilities. After all, the bank is just there to pipe the money to your hole in the wall machine.

On the level of taxation: Mr Vince was STARTLINGLY frank: if we asked the party about which way to move the level of tax, a lot would say HIGHER and another lot would say LOWER. When we had a policy for what he called a "tiny, tiny tax rise" we managed to label ourselves a "high tax party". More importantly, talking about the overall LEVEL of tax interferes with our message of reforming the SYSTEM of tax to make it FAIRER. This I think is a GOOD point, but like the Inheritance Tax one, needs to be communicated better.

This sparked further questions! Ms Alix followed up by commenting on the media COLLUSION with the Conservatories in portraying their TINKERING with Inheritance Tax and Capital Gains tax as in any way IMPORTANT. As opposed to the taxes that have a REAL impact on most people, basic rate Income Tax and, of course, the COUNCIL TAX.

We need to keep repeating our message on local taxation, was Mr Vince's prescription. WE need to convince people that our plan is (a) practical and (b) stands a chance of being implemented.

Mr Paul jumped in saying that we lost Newbury and Guildford to the Conservatories when they took our local income tax numbers and used them to frighten people.

It was always going to be difficult to defend seats that we took from the Conservatories at their lowest ebb, admitted Mr Vince, and perhaps Mr Charles' defence of the tax rate didn't ENTIRELY help on that front. But the plans are better now. In any change to make tax fairer, there WILL be some losers as well as winners but the rate at which people will pay more is much higher, above incomes of seventy thousands of pounds.

On multi-culturalism: Mr Vince challenged Mr James' assertion that we need to CALM THINGS DOWN! In a proper democracy, he said, you should EXPECT some pretty vigorous opinions. And so there was no mistake, he stressed that it WILL get nasty sometimes – the more free and open a society is, then you will see some people saying some pretty EXTREME things. We should AIM for a society where people are free to say things that offend.

And that is why, said Mr Vince, Dr Evan was QUITE RIGHT to go to Oxford to TAKE ON the odious Irving and Griffen, rather than to shout them down.

More BROADLY, he rejected the idea that we should reduce SOCIAL problems to false CULTURAL stereotypes. There are Indian, Pakistani, Chinese and other immigrant communities that have done very well; equally there are some white working class areas with deeply entrenched problems. The right answer is to target help where it is needed based ON need, not on colour or creed.

Mr James also invited Mr Vince to diss his Conservatory opposite number, young Master Gideon Oboe. Mr Vince did not rise to the bait. He's politically smart, he said, like his chum Mr Balloon, Gideon is a "sharp cookie". Of course neither of them have had a proper job, and Gideon doesn't seem to have a proper understanding of economics. Mr Vince's impression is that they're not taken that seriously.

And he's been totally OPPORTUNISTIC opposing the abolition of CGT taper relief (the so-called 80% tax rise) – the Conservatories having OPPOSED the creation of the relief too. At the moment, though, the media think that the Conservatories can do no wrong: it's DIFFICULT not to look good with that kind of "wind in your sails". Not a heavyweight, then, but do not UNDERESTIMATE Mr Oboe's political skills.

Both of my daddies asked about Mr Vince's JOB PROSPECTS. Daddy Alex asked about the Deputy Leadership, shouldn't it have a democratic mandate like the leader (especially since BOTH the two most recent Deputies have taken over); shouldn't it have a broader portfolio to get another Lib Dem voice in the media? And daddy wondered which of his two jobs Mr Vince would give up. Daddy Richard wondered what OTHER job Mr Vince might like to do if NOT the Treasury.

The IMPLICIT idea BEHIND these questions was this: we are only going to have ONE party leader at the end of the month – wouldn't it be a VERY good idea for the OTHER candidate to have a VERY top job. And, basically, Mr Vince is sitting on TWO of them.

Interestingly, Mr Vince's answers were much the same, and clearly he doesn't want to give up the Treasury. Telling Daddy Richard that he has a broad range of experience and would be happy to serve, he avoided picking any particular area that might have suited his fancy, and instead pointed out that he has built up a – thoroughly DESERVED – reputation as treasury spokesperson and it would be a shame and a waste to throw that away. Equally, though, he made clear to Daddy Alex that being Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats isn't worth a bucket of spit, when we have to work hard enough as it is to get the LEADER some media time, and anyway, the Party President and Party Chairperson both have the sort of wide-ranging job that daddy described – the Deputy Leader NEEDS a high profile "day job" to be able to lever some attention.

He's right and he's wrong, really. The title "Deputy" may not be worth much on its own, but it does depend on how you use it too. Given the title, someone with ELBOWS could still use it as a way to batter down the odd media door.

And the democratic issues might be worth looking at more too. The idea at the moment is that the Deputy Leader is "just an insurance policy" in case the Leader falls under a bus. (With or without a PEARL-HANDLED REVOLVER sticking out of his back.) So this makes it "okay" that he or she is chosen by the Parliamentary Party as the best person to fill in.

In saying that the Party membership ALREADY had a direct say in electing the Leader AND the President, I think that Mr Vince came DANGEROUSLY CLOSE to saying "don't you have ENOUGH democracy?" Hello: Liberal DEMOCRATS here!

Personally, I think that there is a more PRACTICAL reason for not holding a Deputy Leader ballot party-wide and it's this: either you do it SEPARATELY from the Leadership election, and double the costs, OR you do it at the same time and lose some of the media impact that the Party might generate through CONFUSION.

Does that kind of REALPOLITIC outweigh the obvious goodness of just LETTING our member have a say? Don't ask me; I am just a fluffy elephant!

Mr Vince answered questions a lot faster than either Mr Huhney-Monster or Mr Clogg so, in spite of there being eight of us this time instead of six, and in spite of Mr Vince having to dash off to VOTE a couple of times, we still managed to get a LOT MORE questions in. We even entered a sort of QUICK FIRE round towards the end where everyone was getting more into the swing of things, particularly around the tax issue.

We finished with a more LIGHT-HEARTED question from Ms Linda: should he get his WISH and appear on "Strictly Come Dancing", who would be his partner? You will probably find it CHARMING, but it is also quite interesting that it was for LOYALTY and LOVELINESS that he picked his Treasury CO-STAR, Ms Julia "Worth Her Weight In" Goldsworthy.

Loyal and Lovely are two good words to sum up Mr Vince too.

Follow my leader!
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Afterwards, Mr Vince said that he would be happy to talk to us again! Hmmm... this has given me an IDEA…