...a blog by Richard Flowers

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Day 2578: TOYCHWUD: Sleeper


No giant chickens were harmed in the making of this production!

The second episode of the second season is a darker and in a lot of ways more predictable tale than "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" last week: For the first time Torchwood lives up to its "above the law" braggadocio when an attempted burglary leads to the team stumbling across an alien infiltrator, programmed to reconnoitre the Earth and prepare the way for invasion. And she has no idea.

In spite of the overtones of Guantanamo, this show could have been written any time in the last hundred years – just swap in "al Qaeda" or "the Commies" or "the Nazis" or "the Kaiser" or "the Yellow Peril" and the "ooooh, foreigners" metaphor works just the same. On the other hand, it doesn't patronise us, either: there's an old fashioned abuse of power story going on here too – Babylon Five, for example did it in "In the Shadow of Za'ha'dum" – but here no one takes the "but this is wrong" position; all of Team Torchwood are on board with Jack's approach, leaving us to make up our own moral minds. Even Ianto's comic teasing seems more concerned about the mess he might have to clean up than any violation of Beth's rights.

Actually, those comic moments are more evidence of the Ianto re-think that seems to be really working so far this season. It was also a good week for Gwen, who managed to do caring and empathetic while still being on-side, which almost makes her good cop (to Jack's bad cop) seem more sinister.

The show hangs on the strong central performance of Beth, convincing as the human woman in denial and chilling as the name, rank and serial number infiltrator. The side-step into whether she is or isn't "human" is more left as an exercise for the viewer than explored in depth but it does form a backbone for what is going on in much the way that it didn't in last year's in some senses similar "Cyberwoman". But this succeeds in making you care about the protagonists in a way that Chibnall's kitten-heeled horror really didn't, the episode really taking off at the point where Beth manages to kill – or at very least seriously maim – her partner. It somehow manages to connect the alien possession horror to the real world, something that the Lisa/Ianto relationship in "Cyberwoman" – with both of them working for a fantasy organisation – never did

The flaws where they come are more in the area of the plot. An invasion plan that relies on just five agents, all of them in the Cardiff area, and just happening upon the means of ending the world… it stretches the credulity a little. If they are such a small group, then they're a bit wasteful of their resources, just to make a couple of crude "suicide bomber" moments. But if there are many of them, and that’s what the closing "twist/threat" of "they're already here" seems to say, then why didn't they activate too? It smacks of an "ooh, scary" ending that's just not going to be followed up.

The prosthetic initially looks quite good when, nicely mixed with CG, it "opens up" from the arm. But where is that blade weapon supposed to have come from? The T1000 might be liquid metal and able to adopt any shape, but these are biological beings with their technology concealed inside an ordinary human frame. (Or is it all concealed behind magic force-fields?) And, to be fair, it does look a bit silly.

In many ways, though, this is what we expect an all-in-a-days-work episode of Torchwood to be like. They detect the aliens, they abuse due process and civil liberties, they exchange witty and sexually charged badinage and then finish by blowing the threat away. "Sleeper" does all of these things plus a few grace notes for the thinking viewer to latch onto. But it does do them with style, and that's so much better than anything equivalent from last year.

Next time… and Tosh said it was so difficult meeting interesting people. Tragic love across time and the usual end of the world in "To the last Man".

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Day 2584: Dither and Flip-Flops


General APOPLEXY grips the Conservatory Party once more on the news that they have comprehensively NEUTERED their attack over the Mr Peter Vain affair and lost themselves the chance to take pot shots at Postman Pat.

I'm referring, of course, to Mr Derek Con(servatory)way who has had to APOLOGISE to the House of Commons for finding a neat way around the Student Loan problems for his son (or indeed sons… or indeed sons and wife).

"It is a WITCH-HUNT!" says another of the witches!

Which must make Mr Balloon the WITCH-FINDER GENERAL!

"You're FIRED," he said, "LET'S BURN HIM!"

This leaves Mr Balloon without a line of attack on the Labour's money woes. Anything he cares to name will see Mr Frown knock him to the boundary with a straight bat:

"And they said I couldn't increase my majority over the Conservatories! You accuse us over some small… uhh… incompetences, but you've had to SACK one of your own MP's because he was… uhh… having it away with great sacks of my… uhh… taxpayers' wonga! That, Mr Speaker, is the difference between the Conservatories and the Labour: they're… uhh… crooked because they MEAN it whereas we are just… uhh… a bit RUBBISH… uhh… hang on…"

Mr Balloon's latest Flip-Flop, this Change of Mind to get "Tough on Crime; Tough on the Conservatories of Crime", has left Dave's Mate Mr "Mate of Dave" Robinson with egg on his face, after he explained earlier why Mr Balloon was going to chicken out of punishing Mr Con(servatory)way.

Obviously sacking him IS the RIGHT thing to do – if it had been someone working for Tesco or ASDA employing their kids to collect the trolleys, then handing out great big bonuses even when all the trolleys are still scattered around the far end of the car park, you can bet that the management would want to see their P45 printed pretty smartly! And Mr Balloon managed flip to the right conclusion after being wrong for only twenty-four hours – which is a record for him!

"There is no question of dither here," clarified Mr Balloon. "It's straightforward, Decisive Dave – yesterday I decisively decided to back Mr Con(servatory)way to the hilt; today I decided decisively to plunge my dagger into his back… to the hilt. Simple, no nonsense, diametrically opposed potions. That's my way, the new way, the Conservatory Way! (er, he's fired, by the way.)"

Friday, January 25, 2008

Day 2577: 'Ndividual Health Service


Mr Clogg has announced exciting new Health policies for the Liberal Democrats.

The aim is to enable people to take charge of their own health needs, rather than having some remote minister dictate to them what they will get.

The Health Service is a BRILLIANT thing: looking after the poorly is truly a mark of being civilised. But too often the bureaucracy put in place by the Labour leaves doctors and nurses struggling to meet Whitehall's targets instead of the needs of their patients.

It is time to put a stop to that by putting people back in change.

Key proposals begin with a Patient's Contract, that will give you a GUARANTEED maximum waiting time, and if the NHS cannot meet that time, then you will be able to go private.

People with long-term needs will be able to take control of the money that gets spent on their care, freeing them from dependence on the state and letting them make the decisions about what treatments serve them best.

And there will be a "Care Guarantee" for the elderly, backed up with two BILLION pounds of funding, for a personal care payment based on need not means testing.

There has been some comment that this guarantee is not as generous as the "Free Care for the Elderly" policy that the Liberal Democrats in Scotland implemented while they were in coalition government.

The Labour's Ivan (t to have My Cake and eat it) Lewis said:

"…frankly this amounts to a retreat and U-turn by Mr Clogg on previous Liberal Democrat policy which said that elderly people would get free care regardless of income."

Nice admission that it WAS us who got that done in Scotland, by the way.

But we have got to bite the bullet on this one. Mr Clogg had the BOTTLE to admit that it would be impossible to afford such a scheme – indeed, it has proved far more expensive in Scotland than budgeted – and it would be DISHONEST to promise something that we could not really do.

Instead we have come up with a costed and affordable proposal to tackle the tragedy of old people having to sell their homes and spend their life savings on care.

That didn't stop Mr Ivan saying:

"…the guarantee is not worth the paper it is written on."

Although, the paper it's written on is STILL worth more than the Labour's offer of, er, doing nothing.

Going further, the Liberal Democrats propose to deal with the scandal of the Labour's QUANGOCRACY, where they pick all of their UNACCOUNTABLE chums to serve on the local Primary Case Trusts. We would replace these with locally elected Health Boards.

We know from our community campaigning that nothing motivates people like a threat to their local hospital or doctors' services. So this would give people the chance to get involved and solve problems DIRECTLY through the Ballot Box.

And we would let people decide to spend more (or less!) on their local health needs, by giving them the power to add an extra slice to the level of their local income tax.

Ultimately, controlling the MONEY is what give people real POWER over outcomes, and that's why Mr Clogg has "got down to brass tax" (you might say!)

Now, you KNOW that that is going to mean different solutions, and different OUTCOMES, in different areas. But it ALSO means that people are going to have the power to CHANGE things if they don't like it.

The CRISIS of the NHS at the moment is not that it hasn't got the money or the drugs or the skills or the people. It is that everything is controlled from the MUDDLE in the MIDDLE and if they find a solution that works in one place, they IMPOSE it on everywhere else. Without thinking whether everywhere else wants or needs it.

The National Health Service was founded sixty years ago based on a LIBERAL ideal – freeing people from the burden of sickness.

Now it needs another Liberal ideal – freeing people from the burden of CENTRALISM – to see our NHS continue to flourish for another sixty years!

Day 2576: Actually, it IS the Economy, Stupid!


In THEORY the stock market works like this: extremely clever (and highly-paid) City chaps study a company, decide what future income they might get, work out how risky it is and then set a price based on how much money they would need to have now to get the same sort of interest. Other chaps guesstimate that it's worth a bit more, so they will buy. The market averages out the estimates of value and works out the right sort of price.

In PRACTICE it works like this: "Ooh look a fluffity little kitten!" "Arrrgh, arrgh; sell, Sell, SELL!"

An extremely clever analyst, yesterday
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So we get another STOMACH-CHURNING day on the stock markets with billions of (sort of imaginary) pounds disappearing out of the window. And occasional (less imaginary) City chaps also jumping out of the window.

Today's "fluffity kitten" was in actual fact the American Monkey-in-Chief, probably causing the panic by saying he was going to TAKE ACTION. (That's ALWAYS a cause for worry.)

Mr Shrub's announcement of an "emergency economic stimulus package" does TWO things.

First, it shouts from the rooftops: "This is an EMERGENCY!!!"

Second, it reveals that the Monkey-in-Chief's PLAN is… more tax cuts, at a time when the US government has never been in more debt.

Obviously that means more BORROWING, and – in the current climate of credit shortage – that means that the PLAN is to make the Credit Crunch crunch HARDER.

And, of course, tax cuts also mean a protracted WRANGLE between the Monkey and the Democrat-controlled House over the budget. Hardly the most PACEY of "emergency" action.

Clearly, someone had to take GENUINE emergency action to deal with the Monkey-in-Chief's emergency action, and so the Federal Reserve stepped in to throw money at the problem.

On the one fluffy foot, there is nothing like shocking the markets with an announcement in order to announce that you are making the biggest rate cut for 26 years for saying "PANIC NOW!"

On the other fluffy foot, it does seem to have worked.

And yet, of course, the FUNDAMENTAL problem is that there is just too much BORROWING, so is MORE borrowing by the US Government coupled with making it easier for people to borrow MORE, really really the solution?

Mr Frown is quick to reassure us that the British economy is in great SHAPE and we do not need to worry. After all, why worry about the world's largest consumer economy toppling over like a mortally wounded BRONTOSAURUS, especially when you are standing right next to it?!

Interest rates are LOW, inflation is LOW, unemployment is LOW: what could possibly go wrong? …as the Captain of the Titanic probably asked himself. Because judging how the voyage has been going is no excuse for not looking ahead to see what you're headed towards.

As Mr Vince "Strictly Liberal Democrat" Cable has been saying for some time, conditions in the BOILER ROOM suggest that we might not be as UNSINKABLE as the Prime Monster likes to pretend. Just like America, we have been holding off the "iceberg of recession" though consumer spending, fuelled largely by CREDIT. Rising house prices have given people the ILLUSION of magical ever growing pots of money under their houses which they can use to borrow bigger and bigger mortgages against. Which is fine so long as house prices DO continue to grow. Oh, and indeed, dear.

But it's not just the voters who've been running up a BIT OF A TAB, with Mr Frown achieving RECORD levels of government borrowing in December. Perhaps he was maxing out the credit cards for Christmas along with the rest of us.

Mr Frown's famous GOLDEN RULE is: the budget should balance over the course of the business cycle. Without getting too TECHNICAL, that means in the good year, you spend LESS than you take in tax so you can REPAY your government loans while things are going WELL. Then, when things start to go BADLY, you can borrow a bit more to TIDE you OVER.

Mr Frown has NOT done this.

He DID repay a lot of borrowing at the start of his ten years as Chancellor – he sold off the 3G licences and windfall-taxed the banks and raided the pensions in order to pay back the huge loans that Mr Fatty Clarke left him with.

That was GOOD.

But then he started to spend money like it was going out of fashion, so much that he was borrowing to meet the gap between tax receipts and spending even when the economy was booming. By FUDGING the start date of the "business cycle" (which you can do because no-one can agree on what a "business cycle" actually is) he managed to make it add up so that the big repayments at the start still cancelled out all the extra borrowing. Even though it's not supposed to work that way.

Which was BAD.

Now, he has left himself with not a lot of room to manoeuvre. Meaning he has to come over all MEAN to hardworking members of our public services like policepeople and, er, MPs.

Instead of controlling spending in the good years so that he can smooth the economy over the bad ones, he has EXAGGERATED how well things were doing by being MORE generous than he needed too, so he will have to slam on the brakes all the harder now, EXAGGERATING the impact of the slowdown as well.

Remember how DIFFICULT it was in the first years of the Labour, when they stuck to the ludicrously tiny spending plans that the Conservatories had made up so that it looked like the economy could work – the ones that the Conservatories themselves had no intention of sticking too? Remember that? Well he's going to have to do it all again now.

So here's a NEW GOLDEN RULE for Mr Frown: don't break the RULES and don't spend all the GOLD.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Day 2571: TOYCHWUD: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang


Sitting and watching the new series of Torchwood with my daddies, we are thrilled by the opening car-chase.

"Did you see a blowfish in a sports car?" asks heroic Gwen of a passing little old lady.

"That's a great opening line," says Daddy Alex.

The Torchwoodmobile drives off and the little old lady looks after them and says: "Bloody Torchwood!"

"No," says Daddy Richard. "THAT'S a great opening line!"

We are now eagerly (and nervously) anticipating episode two to see if this was an opening FLUKE or a genuine sign of having GOT IT RIGHT at the second attempt!

To keep you going until tonight, here is Daddy Richard's report on episode one:
So Russell "I Hate the T" Davies sits the creative team behind Torchwood season one down and says to them:

"Right, so I gave you a lovely, sexy leading man and you make him sulk for a year; I give you a lovely sexy leading lady and you make her have ugly, unpleasant sex with man who thinks the word "f***buddy" is an acceptable substitute for conversation with a lady; I give you a lovely exciting sexy secret base and you go and kill my pterodactyl. So sit quietly while I break your fingers, because I'm going to be doing the typing this year."

Because someone, and it's pretty certain that it's the mighty Russell, has taken this show in hand and shown them what it's supposed to be.

Sexy, outrageous, funny.

The biggest difference in John Barrowman when he was back on Doctor Who was to see him grinning – and thank goodness if he doesn't spend a lot of "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" grinning too. And even when he's not flashing those famous teeth – when he's locking lips with rival Time Agent Captain John, when he's shyly asking Ianto out on a proper date, even when he's giving the serious "I'm immortal" speech – he's clearly having fun at last.

What is interesting to see is the way that each of the other members of the team have also been rebooted in different ways, some subtly, some less so. Owen announces that he's over his womanising days (to the relief of an audience heartily sick of "ugly git sex") while Toshiko is abruptly much more confident, to the extent that she comes out with lines like: "Is no one going to say he's hot?" Gwen is much more focused and "in charge" to the extent that she had clearly taken it on herself to be team leader in Jack's absence. Ianto gets his lack of lines in the first series turned into a character trait: partly with him performing a series of comic head gestures; partly with him keeping his interjections to often witty one-liners while becoming unable to express himself when long sentences are required, when it matters.

In what is in many ways a revised Torchwood pilot, we get to see all the team members demonstrating their talents and their resilience in the face of a hostile intruder. Both Owen and Tosh show "in the field" application of their specialisms, be it medicine or technology. Gwen demonstrates leadership, courage and intelligent detective skills. And Ianto knows his way around an office. Oh, that was an unfair joke, he is clearly trying to be an apprentice Captain Jack, though not yet fully sure of himself as the opening standoff demonstrated. And as Gwen says, they just keep coming back stronger.

And to be fair it's a much better pilot than the one Russell wrote for them last year, even without pterodactyl. The music was familiar and yet more raw and grungy. The direction was sharper, more stylish, whether it was the swooping circles around Jack and John as they, er, engaged at the Bar Reunion, or the comic timing of team Torchwood's heads leaning in together in their big car. The actors seemed more involved with the drama.

Last year's "Everything Changes" had much potential but also set up a lot of the flaws that the series developed – too much darkness, too much team angst; not enough warmth, not enough laughs; too much Jack frowning; not enough characterisation for Tosh, none for Ianto; too much Owen getting his end away. The good stuff is there as well, but it wasn't what series one picked up on.

Still, the first series of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" had many of the same problems and they didn't get fixed until James Masters arrived at the start of series two. (Oh, you probably saw what I did there.)

Even if it's true that he phoned up and asked for the gig, it's an inspired piece of casting. Captain John: Captain Jack's equal and opposite, another rogue Time Agent (both now survivors of the destroyed Time Agency) who has a history with Jack but hasn't had the… opportunity to better himself that meeting the Doctor gave to our hero. Does any of this sound at all familiar? And then he goes and delivers – almost word for word – Roger Delgado's speech to Jon Pertwee in "The Doomsday Weapon" (that's the superior novel with the moral debates filled in of "Colony in Space", if you insist). We just knew that James was going to be back for more, after all they've already killed off one Master(s) in the last year. (Yes, you may groan.)

It's not difficult to say that he's playing Spike all over again, all jaunty, confident sexuality (even if it's Jack who's the immortal). But, as Alex says, who'd have thought that it would take Spike turning up to prove to this series that it doesn't have to be "Angel".

The plot is, thankfully, paper-thin – three McGuffins have washed up through the Hellmouth, sorry, Rift and threaten Cardiff's continued tranquillity. Golly gosh, Captain John wants to steal them for himself, who'd have thunk it. But it's all about getting there, not about where we're going, and he manages to spark off, bounce off or piss off all the regulars in his little game of hide and seek, before they turn the tables on him, to his rather charming surprise.

My dear fried Nick felt that the bomb-in-a-box twist was an intrusion of Chibnality into the story, but I have to say that explosion-ex-machina is also very Russell. It drives the next character moves, which is for John to put Gwen in peril so that the rest of the team will save him, and for Gwen simultaneously to take charge and go all self-sacrificey. And the resolution – ooh, it takes all of Torchwood combined to fix it – isn't half cheesy, but it is a good message for the series.

The other thing that James Marsters brings with him from Buffy is the ability to go into the past. No, not just time travel – though that may be possible as he, at least, has a presumably functioning Vortex Manipulator – but into that history with Jack, and into the Time Agency. The last scene rather obviously set up that there is some story to unfold over the season's arc – who is "Grey"? But also, more intriguingly, who could bring down the Time Agency? More broadly, who could bring down a time-active power? The obvious answer is only another time-active power – so who? Clearly this is "Torchwood" mirroring the Time War between the Time Lords and the Daleks. Of course, one Dalek – Dalek Caan – does still survive, so they have to remain a possibility.

(A possibility that opens fewer storylines did occur to me, which is that this is a reference to the Family of Blood. They did obtain a Time Agent's Vortex Manipulator in their pursuit of the Doctor, and they were bloody-minded enough to have brought down the Agency just to get hold of one. But that offers so few possibilities for story-telling that I think it’s unlikely to be the answer.)

And of course, in best RTD tradition, there is the "Make Lawrence Miles' Head Explode Moment of the Week": Captain John (aka The Master in this spin-off line) reveals to Jack "there are only seven of us left". Compare with Lawrence Miles' Eighth Doctor Adventure: "The Adventuress of Henrietta Street": The man in the blue rosette (aka The Master in this spin-off line) reveals to the Doctor "there are only four of us left".

Cue endless speculation about who are the seven/four? And if seven, is Blake one of them?

All in all, this is what we were expecting last year – adult, certainly (with all that mano-a-mano snogging, but not so much with the f-ing and blinding, Owen even using a "good grief" where an "f" would have gone last year), but Doctor Who to its beating heart.

So, as John might ask of Jack, can they keep it up?

Next time: oooh, that's a cool "trailer for the whole season like what Doctor Who does 'cos it gets a Christmas Special". Oh, sorry, forgot, next week, "spooky" detective time, in "Sleeper".

Of course, I have not seen this yet at all, because I am TOO LITTLE, but there is Torchwood for Tots on TONIGHT at 7pm, followed By Torchwood Moving Wallpaper, followed by episode two after bedtime. Happy watching!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Day 2575: Oh Carolina!


News from the United States of Amnesia*.

Michigan voters decided that the Republican contest was too much fun, and kept the whole circus alive by making Senator Mitt Mormony into the "Comeback Creep".

He has also picked up the Nevada caucus, with a huge 51% of Nevadans voting for the "please don't invade us, Utah" option.

But from South Carolina, where Mr Mormony was pressed into a humiliating fourth behind Fred Flintstone, rival Senator Mick Hucky-Mucky-Puppy delivered a STINGING rebuke to the Moron from Mass, saying "the following Replutocrats were real swell fellas: Senator Oven-Chip… that is all!"

What all of this means is that the Replutocrats are in more of a muddle than ever. The dividing lines in the party between the rich-as-Croesus faction and the lunatics-for-Jebus wing (as in President Bush's Brother, O Jebus Bush) are only getting worse.

The ultra-rich look increasingly like they are going to hold their noses and vote for superannuated war maniac Senator Oven-Chip; while Senator Mucky-puppy is out trying to appeal to the Jebus-ite tendency who, as I've said before, are mad keen for another folksy monomaniac, so long as he's not the current folksy monomaniac who, hard as this is to believe, isn't down with Mr God enough for them. Senator Mormony is probably going to fall between two stools by trying to wear both HATS – not easy, but at least he has TWO FACES to go with them.

(That joke, © Yes Prime Minister)

None of this is good news for the man famous for ranting at his staff, late starter Mr Rude-y Giuliani, one-time head guy in New York – I think that means they called him Don Giuliani, though now he is retired he must be Don Rulin'.

HE had hoped to be the one to pick up the anti-religious (aka "I'm Sane") votes but it seems Senator Oven-Chip may have beaten him to the punch, there. We'll have to see what happens in Florida to see if Don Rude-y can pull it back, or if he'll be swimming with the fishes.

Things are so much simpler for the Democrats now, where it has turned into a straight BITCH-FIGHT between Hillary-Billary and Barry O. And you don't need to be a fluffy toy to know which of those two is the b… est candidate. Ouch!

Bad week though for Senator John Edwards, whose cunning plan after Iowa – to hint that he might throw his weight behind Mr Oklambama – seems to have BACKFIRED spectacularly, with the voters in Nevada squeezing him out almost entirely. Far from positioning himself as kingmaker, and potential vice-presidential material, he seems to have made himself irrelevant in the eyes of most voters. Which, of course, he is.

Since last I wrote about this, Governor Richardson has dropped out of the race, seeing which way the wind was blowing and bowing out gracefully. I still wouldn't rule him out completely for the vice-president's ticket, though: Hillary-Billary seems to be picking up votes in two KEY Democrat constituencies: women, obviously, and also the Hispanic community who, traditionally, organise better but below the radar compared with the more vocal black constituency that are tending to support Mr Oklambama.

Next the Democrats follow the Replutocrats to South Carolina, and Mr Barry is hoping to do well which will help him bounce back, then everyone is off to Florida for Mickey-Mouse's vote before super-double-duper Tuesday in February really starts to sort things out.

Mr God Bless Amnesia*

*Where all Replutocrats are campaigning as the "pro-change, anti-Washington" guy and seem to have forgotten just exactly WHICH party is currently IN the White House! They've certainly forgotten to remember to invite the Monkey-in-Chief to any campaign functions!

Day 2574: Dither and Delay


People seem to have forgotten – in the face of the Prime Monster's now-you-see-it-now-you-don't General Election – that Mr Balloon spent last year working up a reputation as a FLIP-FLOP-FOP, with such masterpieces as being against and then for Grandma schools and for and then against Hugging of Hoodies.

He's now come out AGAINST the government's policy of supporting the Northern Rock, even though he was previously FOR it.

In Prime Monster's Questionable Time, he accused Mr Frown of "DITHER AND DELAY!" not once, but three times.

The Conservatory Policy on Northern Rock will be announced, er, sometime later this week.

The Liberal Democrats, as you know, have been calling for the Rock to be taken into temporary public ownership since November. This is not a "good" solution, because governments are NEVER any good at running businesses: the 1970s saw THAT theory tested to destruction. However, it does secure public control over the company's assets against which so very much of our money has been loaned.

Admittedly, this would see the shareholders lose out, which is a SHAME. Except some of the larger shareholders are Hedge Funds who jumped in AFTER the bank's share price crashed, buying up stock dirt cheap in the hope of making a killing if the Bank of England came to the rescue. Which it did.

Anyway, isn't the POINT of investing in shares that you get a better return in exchange for taking a RISK? If the government is going to guarantee you NO risk, then isn't that getting money for NOTHING – and at the taxpayers' expense! No, if you wanted a SAFE return, then you should have put the money in a bank… which, ironically, the government would NOT have promised to bail out if it got into trouble. There is something wrong with this system.

Speaking to "The Week in Politics" Mr John Deadwood, chair of the Conservatory review group for benefiting stinking rich city types said that the Conservatories would reject all forms of nationalisation. His solution, he said, was for the Bank of England to show a bit more banking common sense before handing out great big loans like this.

Which isn't a terribly PRACTICAL solution as the Bank has ALREADY given them the money. Mr Deadwood may be caught in a TIME LOOP but for the rest of us that decision has been and gone.

So, that's the Conservatories without a policy. No change there. What about the Labour?

Well, Chancellor Sooty has announced what he has been told to do by Mr Frown (speaking to him from India on his Virgin Mobile roaming tariff).

He's going to have Northern Rock issue government backed-bonds. That means that the stock market will buy some and maybe eventually all of the debt, paying back the taxpayer. Unless the bankrupt bank defaults on the loan, in which case the taxpayer picks the tab right back up again. Fortunately it is very rare for a bank not to be able to pay its debts, and the only recent example is the… oh dear.

Add to that, Chancellor Sooty is going to take a "shareholding" in the Rock so that the public can "benefit" should the bank recover and he'll insist on having a say in who goes on the Board of Directors. So, basically all the WORST aspects of nationalisation – government ministers tinkering in the boardroom; the taxpayer taking the risk of losses – without the advantage of actually securing the loan against something.

Still, at least – like the Conservatories – the Labour can claim to be BUTCH against NATIONALISATION. Even when it might be in everybody's interest.

Day 2573: Chinese Takeaway


From Tiananmen Square, that huge, implacable face stared out at us – yes it was Mr Huw Edwards doing a BBC News report, live from China as Mr Frown flew in to ask, very nicely, if we couldn't have some jobs please.

Chairman Frown
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There is a NEW formula, nowadays, for talking to the People's Republic of China – avoid all talk of PEOPLE. And anything to do with being a REPUBLIC. And don't call them CHINA either – it's Chung Kuo.

Anyway, apparently it is OKAY to talk about global warming – that way you can be mildly CRITICAL and they can say "ahh, but we are improving and anyway, you did all this first". What you MUST NOT do is mention human rights, because they are not interested and frankly they think we have got to be kidding anyway what with our record of Guantanamo Bay, Abu Grahib, rendition flights and Celine Dion.

President Sarcastic of France kept to this formula, and managed to flog a whole load of ATOMIC POWER STATIONS as a result. The Monkey-in-Chief went and talked to the Dalai Lama and since then the Chinese have CRUSHED HIS CURRENCY like a bird's nest in soup.

Great Britain, of course, has a LONG history of FRIENDSHIP with the region, going back to the Boxer Rebellion and the Opium Wars. Er… they probably won't remember that though, will they?

For us in the West, Human Rights in the Middle Kingdom remain a VEXED and COMPLICATED question. We cannot just IGNORE them as we have in the past and pretend that they are some poor country cousin, especially as they grow in POWER, both diplomatically and, perhaps more importantly, financially.

Because, although remaining "communist" in name – in fact the Communist Party has basically replaced the old Imperial Bureaucracy, a sort of bizarre feudal meritocracy-cum-corruptocracy – the truth is that the PRC government has changed its policies considerably since the 1970s, and particularly since the economic powerhouse that is Hong Kong was absorbed back into the Republic in 1999.

However, that financial success may in fact be the key, as a burgeoning middle class, with higher income levels and better, broader education may lead to more freedom of thought in the East just as it did – eventually – in the West.

Day 2572: Heathrow: Third Runway Latest


It's Not There Yet

Look, it's OKAY to make jokes about it since no-one got seriously hurt!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Day 2570: The Bongs of War aka They Think It's All Over

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and indeed Thursday:

Here is the News at Ten: Bong! We're scuppered!

It seems that ITVnone's new CGI Bongs – which we've managed to miss every night this week – were beaten by the BBC Ten O'Clock News on their first night

And on their second night.

And on their third night, by which point it was getting silly.

By the fourth night, no one cares anymore*, though the new news picks up a handsome lead in from the preceding drama (which comfortably beat the BBC's Fairy Tale). But they STILL didn't beat the Beeb for the news slot.

And tonight the BBC will take a win by DEFAULT what with ITVnone not thinking Friday's deserve proper news.

*as if they cared in the first place.

More importantly, a more SIGNIFICANT format war may be finally drawing to its close, with the announcement this month that Warner Bros. are dropping their support for the HD DVD, followed by the news in Variety that the last two Hollywood studios still backing HD DVD – Universal and, perhaps more importantly, Paramount with their still hugely powerful Star Trek franchise – are now pretty much released from their exclusive contracts.

Despite support remaining from the dear old BBC (and, er, naughty things) this looks like it may mean Blu-Ray wins by a FAIT ACOMPLIS.

Obviously, this is GOOD NEWS for me but less good for Daddy Richard who was just warming up to HD DVD's region free and better menu approach. Still, at least it means we can finally think about what new TELLY to get!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Day 2569: DOCTOR WHO: The Pirate Loop, by Mr Simon


Torchwood's back! So here's Daddy with some proper Doctor Who:

First, a confession. Simon is a friend. That's why my name is included in the acknowledgements, much undeserved. Beyond consultation on one or two little points of science and continuity I didn't contribute nearly so much at all, unlike Alex who proof-read, argued points extensively and is certainly responsible for placing the Chapter One cliff-hanger (which is therefore obviously the best).

And for some reason Alex was very nervous about how I was going to react to the finished book. Which really was quite silly.

Because, obviously, it's brilliant.

"Brilliant" is ever so very much the word of choice for the Tenth Doctor. Much as everything was "fantastic" for the Eccleston incarnation, Tennant is always boggling with delight and finding things "just brilliant". So when Martha finds it ridiculously funny to hear of the lost Starship Brilliant, we completely empathise with her. And so, after one of those – excuse me – brilliant openings where you come in at the end of a different adventure, Martha persuades the Doctor to take her to discover whatever happened to make it disappear.

Anyone still feeling depressed after the near total slaughter of the Starship Titanic at Christmas needs to go out and buy this book at once. While still managing to touch many of the same dark places, "The Pirate Loop" manages to finish with a triumphant success, rather than mere dispirited survival.

Sure, you're going to find yourself on board a wrecked Starship full of upper-class passengers, heroic-looking crew and dire peril, and sure there's going to be a TARDIS crash and hull breaches and dastardliness, but really this is nothing like Russell T Davies' Christmas disaster. Er movie.

A Pirate Loop is, in case you don't know, a Time Loop full of pirates. Oh, all right, it's also a single earring made of gold and worn so that if you end up dead your pirate mates can sell it to buy you a funeral, and there's a rather sly gag about them that probably deserves more prominence, but instead is just joyfully slipped in to get if you notice it.

And these pirates are, it goes without saying, Badgers. Oh, the discussions about homo sapiens sapiens meles meles meles we had. Personally, I say that since they're genetically engineered then they're human. Well, human-ish, anyway. Homo meliform Guerriensi, something like that. They're totally lovable; murderous, but totally loveable – basically naughty children who've never been taught any better and this is, at heart a book about how the Doctor gives them the chance to learn. And you can't knock a teaching exercise that relies on everlasting cheese and pineapple on sticks.

In many ways, Simon catches the spirit of Douglas Adams in a way that Russell's more conscious lift of "Starship Titanic" does not.

Rather than trying for Douggie Adams style jokes, in the way for example that Jonathan Morris has tried, it's about capturing the essence, the bouquet of Adams.

This is a book that is – and I mean this in entirely the best way – ineffably silly.

The ship's robots insist on being as polite as possible. The passengers, though posh, are charmingly alien – described as "family of Mr Tickle," you immediately know what they look like without any tedious comparison with some Earth animal (and in fact anything that looks like it comes from Earth in this book probably does, and it's a plot point). And there's that Time Loop that insists on tidying everything up. And on doing it discreetly. Even the view – of the Ogidi Galaxy – is vaguely Adams-esque.

But more than anything it's in the use of almost-but-not-entirely-implausible science that Simon catches this mood. It's almost impossible not to think of the Starship Brilliant's new reality-bending experimental drive system without expecting it to avoid all of that tedious mucking about in hyperspace. And the way that all these things interact to direct the way that the Time Loop works – because it is being directed by the polite ship it keeps bringing everyone back to life, but only when no one is looking – is an idea as (sorry again) brilliant as the Somebody Else's Problem field or the Babelfish.

One thing Alex talked me out of having a frothing fit over was interstitial scrambled egg. And you know, in this fictional environment I think I can live with it. There's an internal analogy: when the Starship Brilliant is damaged it is designed to fill up the gaps with strawberry jam; when the Time Vortex is damaged, it is designed to fill in the gaps with scrambled egg.

I suppose that it ought to be obvious, but increasing I think that the secret of writing a good BBC Doctor Who novel is to get the Doctor and Martha right. If you can read them off the page and it sounds like David Tennant and Freema Agyeman are talking inside your head then almost inevitably the rest will follow. Yet it is much harder to catch these multi-faceted characters than at first it appears: Martha is ironic but not world-weary, she likes to see the funny side but also expects responsibility, and she wants to make things better almost more than the Doctor does. Tennant's Doctor is really quite complicated, capable of naïve humour and great anger, and sometimes almost seems to have no conception of memory – a clever flag that there are so many things that he is trying not to remember. All of this comes over at different moments in "The Pirate Loop", and it still sounds like the right cadences of the actors' delivery.

The other main characters all come across well, though perhaps the human crew are – understandably – a little sketchy, while the passengers who aren't Mrs Wingsworth are virtually silhouettes. But Mrs Wingsworth is a gem, and the three hero badgers are all well-rounded and interesting and credible as intelligent fourteen-year-olds. Alex has told me several times that he now wants a series of adventures with Archie and Mrs Wingsworth as the Doctor's companions. In fact all of the badgers, once we get to see more of them, are equally real and well-written.

Combining creativity and daftness at this level is way beyond what the new series does, though ironically the Who that I am most reminded of is the Cartmel era's zany graphic-novel approach. In some ways this is closer to the intelligent script mixed with psychedelia of something like "The Happiness Patrol" than the BBC's current live-action cartoon. And it would work rather well as three 25-minute episodes too.

The first third of the book is full of charming whimsy, with Martha and the Doctor separated in separate time zones thanks to (a) aforementioned scrambled egg or (b) crashed into a time loop malarkey. This allows you to try and puzzle out what is going on by showing you the situation from two rather different perspectives. We are also introduced to most of the main cast: Gabriel the robot; Mrs Wingsworth representing the passengers; and the pirates, of whom only three have managed to get aboard – Dash, Joss and Archie. Humour, drama and irony are all generated by the duality of the Doctor and Martha's discoveries, but you couldn't keep that up forever, and thankfully Simon doesn't try, reuniting our heroes after what would make a gripping end to a first episode.

The centre of the book shifts to a new challenge as the Doctor urgently needs to get to the bridge and there we meet the crew of human beautiful people. I probably have to mention that names like Georgina Wet-Eleven are a bit more "Year Five Billion" than fortieth century*, but never mind that, because this is where the heart of the novel comes: our teenage pirates have started to learn manners. It should be pointed out that Mrs Wingsworth also comes to learn some of her flaws and strengths too, though mainly not until later – here she's still thinking she's superior to the badgers, in spite of some sly commentary from the Doctor. But the scenes on the bridge, where the badger pirates have clearly "turned good" are a joy. Particularly once the Doctor has taken the upper hand. And, most importantly, it's from one of the pirates, Archie, that the Doctor gets the really magnificently clever idea of what he's going to do next.

[* though I loved, absolutely loved that "pirates" gets treated as a motif of the year nearly 4000 – remember, we've already had "The Resurrection Casket" and "The Infinite Quest" playing the pirate card and set in this just-before-The-Daleks'-Master-Plan time zone.]

In the final part of the book, it appears that the Doctor has made one heck of a colossal blunder. This is the darkest, and most disturbing part of the story – reminiscent, with its time-twisting and saving people you were lead to believe were dead, of the third (and superior) Harry Potter (and the Prisoner of Azkaban, as if you didn't know). Embarrassingly, I must confess I didn't work it out until we were aboard the pirates' pirate ship. I won’t spoil all of the conclusion, though; only to say that for a story set in a Time Loop it is remarkably open-ended.

Mind you, I'm still not sure that mini-pizzas and blinis are one and the same thing!

Here's to the never-ending canapés.

Unashamedly: brilliant.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Day 2568: The Faces of Mr Balloon


Mr Balloon demands that Beige-Basted Bumbler Mr Peter Vain explain his £100,000 error or resign.

Mr Balloon says that penny-whistle pixie Mr Gideon Oboe has nothing to explain about his £500,000 error and we should move on.

Is the Conservatory leader REALLY such a DUNDERHEAD that he did not realise that these two stories would be conflated in every news summary for the rest of the day?

Day 2567: A Society Willing to Take Risks


"A Society Willing to Take Risks" was the phrase used by Councillor Cathy Bakewell in her response to the challenges and opportunities for the Liberal Democrats.

Wouldn't it be FANTASTIC to see that on a MANIFESTO? It would scare the PANTS off the other Parties! Fewer rules; less nannying: what WOULD they do?

We'd already heard from Mr Clogg, a good speech with a couple of "sharp intake of breath" moments from the audience. But you know all that, because it was in the news. What you REALLY want to know is how we go forwards from here.

And this was why we'd gone along to the Liberal Democrats' Mini Manifesto Conference, where we all got to take part, listen and contribute our own ideas back again. There were also a dozen parallel sessions to choose from, so we couldn't go to them all. (I decided to send my daddies along to hear about how to sell PR in the morning and to see Mr Brian and discuss policies for London in the afternoon.)

But the morning was very much given over to the "where do we go from here" question, and we were joined by two guests from outside the Party to give us an alternative perspective.

Mr Matthew Anaconda opened by referring us to this article in the Sunday Telegraph by Auntie Maude and Mr Steven Dorrell. (Though it is possible that this is something he's referred to before!)

It's an analysis that sees us as having SUPPLANTED the Conservatories as the voice of opposition to the Labour across Urban Britain; AND become the anti-Conservatory vote of choice in rural communities.

Crucially, it identifies the STRENGTHS of the Liberal Democrats as seen from the Conservatory perspective: authentic, credible, achievable policies in areas that matter to people coupled with sounding "as though [we] approve of the modern world, and are glad [we] are living in the 21st century. Too often their Conservative counterparts look and sound as though we regard the modern world as an aberration and look forward to the restoration of a lost golden age."

Similarly, went on Mr Anaconda, Dr Vince managed to define himself as the "voice of the public", the "normal person" puncturing the frothing hatred of the grudge match between Mr Frown and Mr Balloon.

The opportunity for the Liberals is to be the AUTHENTIC party: we mean it, and we're not being opportunist; we are listening to the public; and most of all we look like we can achieve it.

He suggests that our TONE needs to be pragmatic, and our POLITICS needs to be personal, about closing the GULF between the citizen as "consumer" and the public services as "provider". At the moment, he suggested, too many people are left to take what they are given by health services, police or schools while the rich operate the "politics of secession" and opt out of the system, often literally shutting themselves off behind walls and fences.

Mr Frown and Mr Balloon, he said, are LENINISTS. They are in favour of centralisation NOW, in order to achieve decentralisation LATER… maybe.

So, Mr Anaconda wants us to be the radical liberation front, making the public services more responsive in the way that we are used to from online and telephone direct companies, breaking up the state's monopoly of control in order to find opportunities for new providers to give a better service.

Now my thought is that this is all very well but it doesn't half sound like the "Producer Choice" idea that Mr Davros Birt brought to the BBC in the nineties. In this model, the BBC is the public service provider, contracting out the provision of actual services (in this case television programmes) to independent producers. It caused one heck of a fuss and ruined a lot of television for ages until Mr Greg Dyke came along and spent an awful lot of money putting it right. Now you need to ask yourself: does the BBC's current creative high come out of the pains (and the freedoms) of Producer Choice or out of what Mr Greg did to fix it?

After this we heard from Professor John Curtis, who is a top PSEPHOLOGIST or "Opinion Poll Dancer". According to him, in 2005 the Liberal Democrats showed that, against the popular belief, we COULD do well against an incumbent government of the LABOUR. He suggests THREE key ingredients: first, to be CLOSE enough to the government to appeal to the people who supported that government; second, to have a CRITIQUE of where that government has gone wrong; and third to have solutions that are DISTINCT to those on offer from the unprincipled principal opposition.

The Iraq War was of course the example that he gave: the Labour's supporters thought that it was WRONG, they saw that we said so too and that the Conservatories had backed the war. So voters chose to switch to the Liberal Democrats.

Although he did not spell it out, clearly Prof Curtis was hinting that our CURRENT position does NOT satisfy his three conditions. Mainly, I suspect, because shifty Mr Balloon has moved perceptions of the Conservatory position – on the environment, on taxation, on public services reform, on civil liberties – so that we no longer have that vital THIRD point, a policy distinct from the Opposition.

A limited Conservatory revival at the Labour's expense could actually be good for us – especially if a Hung Parliament is the outcome. But a Conservatory revival at OUR expense, which is what we have had in the last year, is always going to be BAD!

Looking to the future, Prof Curtis said that the Leadership election will probably have put many of our difficulties behind us, but that we need to recognise that in the meantime the Conservatories have got back into business in a BIG way, and that Iraq is now a dying issue.

But, that the issue of ECONOMIC COMPETENCE may be our new trump card. Take, for example, the Northern Rock issue – there we have a solid criticism of the government's failure, but our policy (short term nationalisation) is completely different to the Conservatories. And also, Master Gideon is a nincompoop.

Now, it is easy to see how this analysis ties into our developing narrative of being the ANTI-ESTABLISHMENT Party, the ones on the OUTSIDE of the Cosy Conservatory Consensus between Mr Balloon and the Labour government.

But, on the other fluffy foot, I think that Professor Curtis has limited himself to a rather BI-POLAR sort of thinking.

Liberalism is NOT just about hugging close to one or other of the OLD parties on the OLD left-right spectrum.

Liberalism, localism, is about putting decisions into the hands of people, and that is where we come back to our title: "A Society Willing to Take Risks". It IS a risk, because you will get different outcomes in different places. But it's also EMPOWERMENT and FREEDOM for those people. Without risk, our children are mollycoddled, our creativity is stunted and our enthusiasm is crushed. Centralisers like Mr Balloon and Mr Frown talk about a "postcode lottery" to try and FRIGHTEN you all into having every outcome THE SAME.

It wasn't until the END of the day that we heard the ANSWER: a LOTTERY is when you take your ticket and then have NO CHOICE but to take what you are given; LOCALISM is where you TAKE CHARGE, and rather than accepting what you are given, you DETERMINE what you end up with.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Day 2566: The Mayoral Debate: Soap and Flannel


Oh dear, a DREADFUL confession: we have been watching ITVnone, Britain's Tackiest TV channel.

It would be nice to say that it was ONLY to watch the debate between Mr Brian, our top quality candidate for Mayor of London, and that pair of ASBO-monkeys from the other parties.

But NO, we have been having a bit of a Ben Millar-fest too, with the return of schlocky Doctor Who wannabe "Primeval" and of course ITV's new Fourth Wall Bulldozer: "Moving Wallpaper/Echo Beach", hilarious in the way that Mr Sorkin's "Studio 60 on Sunset Strip" was meant to be (but wasn't).

"Studio 60" took most of the first episode to TEARFULLY remove the old producer of the show and woo in the series' real stars, Josh from The West Wing and the one from Friends who can act. "Moving Wallpaper" does this in ten seconds flat, and features the defenestrated ex-producer head butting a photograph of Mr Michael Grade and calling him a bas bad word! This wins hands down. Instantly every Dr Who fan in the land loves it (and that's even before the two Doctor Who references in the second episode).

And, of course, unlike "Studio 60", "Moving Wallpaper" actually has the BOTTLE to show us what all the fuss has been about. And wisely rather than the show-within-the-show being the bestest bestest wittiest wisest comedy in the whole of cuddle town, it's a ghastly soap who plot and characters have all been entirely derailed by the producer's megalomania. Wise, and also brave!

The TRULY terrible thing – among MANY terrible things – about the 9.30 soap "Echo Beach" was the nagging worry that Mr Grade had succeeded in commissioning ANOTHER turkey of similar magnitude to the last time anyone tried to mix SUNSHINE into a British soap opera – I mean of course "Eldorado", anagrammatically if unkindly remembered as a "Real Dodo" – and the only way to save the channel from going onto the rocks was to apply heavy IRONY.

British people, famously, do not like their soaps to be "happy". EastEnders and Consternation Street vie to bring gales of misery down upon their inhabitants in between the reigns of terror of the local murderers. (At one point, I tell you, there were more SERIAL KILLERS than GAY DADDIES living in Consternation Street!) Sunshine is UNNATURAL in this context. Usually, the only way around this is by application of wall-to-wall Australian accents. And obviously – even if Jason of Jason'n'kylie wasn't in it – this is why the model for "Echo Beach" is meant to be "Neighbours" (although so far the production standards are managing to make "Home and Away" look CLASSY and "Hollyoaks in the City" look like DRAMA). With the exception of Mr Hugo Speer and (perhaps astonishingly) Mr Jason himself, no one up to and including Tiffany can actually act (though she can tremble a lower lip with the best of them). What you are left with is a load of what my disgusting daddies insist on calling "totty" in not very many clothes.


But you cannot escape from the awfully impressive cleverness of placing GIGANTIC AIR-QUOTES around the whole edifice through the addition of "behind the scenes" show "Echo Beach Confidential". Er, "Moving Wallpaper".

With more laugh-out-loud moments in the first ten minutes than in "Studio 60's" first ten EPISODES (literally: three!) it centres around Mr Ben as "Jonathan Pope" the "producer" of ITV's new "hit" soap. In the first episode he crushes a little girl under a stack of lobster pots, spends the design budget on his own office so announces that the surf shack will have to be derelict, and puts Tiffany in the pink dress to avoid "diva tendencies". I thought he was VERY funny. But having seen the second episode – when he beats up a CUDDLY PANDA – I now realise that he is the UTTEREST BAST BAD WORD on television! (I am sorry, Mr Charlie Brooker, your crown has been taken.)

The "clever clever" part, of course, is to spot which bits of "Moving Wallpaper" will appear in the subsequent episode of "Echo Beach". Little girl, derelict surf shack, pink dress and panda all do.

Although pitched as a "comedy drama", "Moving Wallpaper" is a SATIRE – satirising television production itself, and just as mercilessly as, for example, "The Thick of It" skewers the government. That is why it appeals to "smart alecs" like my Daddies. Then they watch "Echo Beach" to play "spot the jokes" and feel quite clever about this. People who do not like that sort of too-clever-by-halfness can skip it and watch "Echo Beach" IRONY-FREE.

This, I believe, is called a "double whammy"!

For genuinely BAD television, then, you had to wait for later in the evening.

The Mayoral "debate" on ITV's "London Talking" (presumably they couldn't afford the more iconic "London Calling") was BAD in all the ways you EXPECT ITV to be bad: cheap set, dreadful format, Blue Peter presenter being patronising to the viewers in exactly the way that she wouldn't be when playing with terrapins.

Each candidate gets to make a little speech, then they get cross-examined by the other candidates, then they take questions from the floor (where everyone wears a handy badge so you know they are all party supporters and you only get questions from the OTHER two parties).

But rather than taking turns at each stage, what they did was have Mr Brian do all three stages and then Mr Mayor Ken do all three and then Bonkers Boris do all three. It meant that it was more like watching three JOB INTERVIEWS rather than generating any sense of DEBATE between the candidates. MY suspicion is that this is because they could only afford one LECTERN!

Mr Brian was jolly good, in spite of this format not playing to his strengths. To see how good he REALLY is, you want to see him CHAIRING a meeting and fielding questions, often with a dryly WITTY response and always with the facts and policies at his fingertips. It is JOLLY IMPRESSIVE.

In the studio, he was not able to set the audience ALIGHT in the way that the two seasoned hacks were. That is his strength and his weakness – he is an ordinary person, with extraordinary talents. And not a huge gob with legs attached. (Also hair, if Boris.)

His best moments were when facing the audience, as he was able to make a real connection with them, even if they were supporters of his rivals. Possibly a note to the other parties: if you want to try and trip Mr Brian up, maybe best not to try to "surprise" him with details of his police career – he really was really, really good at that job, you know, and he WILL have answers.

The other candidates, though, were bad, and in quite different ways. The Mr Mayor started with a very GOOD pitch – no, really – "if you think I've not improved London then don't vote for me". The problem was he was REALLY cross-patchy if anyone actually referred to his record – promises that haven't been met, opinions that have been switched. At one stage he was asked why he had said a mayor should only serve two terms and was now running for a third: "this will be the last job I do in politics," he said – well yes, Mr Ken… unless you change you mind AGAIN and do another one! Also, it SERIOUSLY isn't on to say that youth crime in the city is because those kids' PARENTS grew up under the Queen Maggie government. I mean, obviously, the answer is because they have grown up under a Thatcherite government TOO: the Thatcherite governments of Lord Blairimort. But since he's broken ANOTHER promise and rejoined the Labour, Mr Ken can't seem to say THAT any more.

Boris is all FOR blaming Lord Blairimort, but doesn't really have any ANSWERS as to what to do. Bus conductors… no, maybe not bus conductors, that was Mr Ken believing his own press releases… well maybe SOME bus conductors. He didn't half old school tie himself in knots. And while it seems the Labour's record is fair game, he didn't have a lot of defence of his OWN, particularly on the subject of race ("let's just move on," hmmm) and then Mr Ken fair bludgeoned him with his voting record: number of speeches in the House about London – none; number of debates about London attended – none; number of votes cast on motions about London – none; number of MENTIONS of London – n… oh, one actually, but in passing and about something else. Oops.

More subtle were Mr Brian's quick puncturing of Boris's ego: "Boris, you need to pay attention, I've already said all that!" was one; and another was replying to the assertion that if you needed experience then no one would ever stand: "But Boris, we ARE standing and we're trying to choose the BEST candidate." Terrifyingly, though, Mr Boris still thinks that he can run London the same way that he ran the Spectator.

The only "news" coverage to come out of the debate was the somewhat unedifying SPAT between Boris and Ken over teenage murders. "What are you going to do about these 27 murders in the last year?" thundered Boris. "I'll try to get more of the buggers next year," Mr Ken IN NO WAY REPLIED!

And it is a SHAME, because the Mayoral race needs people to be serious about London.

This election is an important one, one that concerns the lives of six or more million people and the governance of the world's TOP city. It deserves better coverage than some rubbish late-night slot on ITV.

What it needs is a big advertising campaign to get people watching and a prime-time slot for a huge audience and, and, and… and a "behind-the-scenes" show to show the drama and the comedy of the teams producing the mayoral run… now, hang on: there's an IDEA there!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Day 2565: Nuke Labour New Danger


The bright hope of the sixties that turned into a frightening nightmare relic of enormous expenses overruns and imminent danger of meltdown: it can only mean… fuchsia-finished old fraud, Mr Peter Vain!

Oh no, sorry it's the return of Nuclear Power.

What MOST turns me off the Nuclear Industry – yes, even MORE than the thought of becoming a GLOW-IN-THE-DARK toy! – is the way that their ADVOCATES cannot seem to control their TELLING of FIBS.

A typical one is the "you cannot rely on renewables – the wind doesn’t blow all the time" meme that they trot out.

It seems so SELF-EVIDENT, doesn't it? Sometimes the wind is blowing and sometimes it is not. And yet, it would really be ASTONISHINGLY UNLIKELY if the wind stopped EVERYWHERE at once. It is a case of making sure that you have windmill farms in SEVERAL places so that there are always some catching the breeze.

Though of course, there are parts of the country where the wind RARELY falls, particularly out at sea – funnily enough this is how SAILING SHIPS work and we seem to have found THOSE fairly reliable over the centuries.

Even MORE outrageous was the suggestion one of their mealy mouthed apologists offered on News 24: "oh well, Tidal Barrage only works twice a day".

Er, NO. It works as the tide goes in and then goes into reverse and works AGAIN as the tide goes out. ALL the way in and ALL the way out. And then all the way in and all the way out AGAIN (twice a day, you see).

A little learning is a DANGEROUS THING, said the Sainted Oscar, and you can see why: you think you know a LITTLE about something and then RADIOACTIVE MAN and chums come along and FOOL YOU!

They want you to believe that Nuclear has a TRACK RECORD – well yes, it has a track record of promising "energy too cheap to meter" and then delivering tons of deadly toxic waste that lasts forever and oops sorry no more cash, the government will have to clean it up. How can we POSSIBLY believe promises that the private sector will properly dispose of waste that will literally last longer than humans have been on this Earth?

And while we're at it, just what IS the annual carbon footprint of safely storing this crud? Because multiply THAT by a million years and factor it into your calculations before claiming that Nuclear Power is GREEN.

Meanwhile, the government is threatening to take away MP's right to vote on their own pay.

Typical NuLabour thinking: oh, some people do not like this thing; it must be up to US to order it changed!

It seems Ms Harriet Harpy does not believe that MPs can be TRUSTED with the responsibility.

Well, maybe they CAN and maybe they CAN'T but it is the VOTERS who get to decide on their MPs performances. The MPs are there to keep charge of the government, NOT the other way around, no matter what bossy Ms Harpy might think – and yes, they are NOT very good at it, are they. But just imagine how much worse they will be if their salary depends on being compliant with her.

Well, maybe they CAN and maybe they CAN'T but it is the VOTERS who get to decide on their MPs performances. The MPs are there to keep charge of the government, NOT the other way around, no matter what bossy Ms Harpy might think – and yes, they are NOT very good at it, are they. But just imagine how much worse they will be if their salary depends on being compliant with her.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Day 2564: Mr Clogg's First Day


Well, obviously Mr Clogg's first day was AGES ago now, and I was THERE – though we don't mention that now! And he's done LOADS of things since then, DRIVING THE AGENDA on subjects as diverse I.D.iot cards and Kenya.

But it would be unfair NOT to mention his debut at Prime Monster's Questionable Time.

I suspect that, for Mr Clogg, this was one of those less agreeable chores, like visiting an elderly, infirm relative who you don't know very well but who keeps on insisting on treating you as though you were five.

And speaking of Mr Frown, the Prime Monster welcomed Mr Clogg to his new job (with only a BIT of prompting from Mr Balloon), and said that there was always an open door for him:

"It's, uhh, the one hidden under the rug in my, uhh, study with the, uhh, spikes underneath," he inexplicably forgot to add.

Of course, Mr Frown's generosity to the leader of the "Liberal" Party – he DOES still seem incapable of saying the word "Democrats"; I wonder what he shall call the next President of Americaland? "Master," probably – his generosity, though, is quite telling, particularly when he obviously cannot bear to look at the Leader of the Opposition. Which is odd when you consider how much they have in common.

Mr Balloon too got in there with the LOVEBOMBING, though his QUIP that Mr Clogg is already moving away from him will have been MYSTIFYING to anyone not physically IN the Conservatory Leader's arcane club. So pretty typical for Mr Balloon's gags, then.

In fact, of course, Mr Clogg is merely sitting in the MIDDLE of the Liberal Democrats, the way that Mr Frown and Mr Balloon sit in the MIDDLE of their OWN front benches.

Mr Balloon's FIRST question was OBVIOUSLY a spoiler, hitting on I.D.iot cards – a Liberal Democrat HOT TOPIC and one that Mr Clogg has made central to this year's political agenda.
Sadly it was "Not Natural Tory Territory" and even Mr Frown noticed that Mr Balloon couldn't keep it up for his whole six questions.

As my Daddy Alex points out, Mr Balloon is increasingly likely to waste his questions by spluttering on for too long, trying to cover too many subjects, and generally being just too HYSTERICAL to be believed. According to Mr Balloon everything is in CRISIS and in imminent danger of ANARCHY and DESTRUCTION. It's not just the danger of being the little boy who cried "Wolf!"; if he gets much more worked up, he's going to POP something.

But Mr Balloon was OFF TARGET in more ways than one. He was WRONG too to guess that Mr Clogg would pick such an OBVIOUS target as the Prime Monster's plainly self-destructing I.D.iot cards scheme.

In contrast to the Etonian Punch and Judy Show, we had a sober, unflustered "bread and butter" performance from Mr Clogg, picking up on an issue that is topical and important to many people watching but NOT one typical chosen to make Liberal Democrats feel warm and fuzzy – it's the start of doing those things "outside of the Party's comfort zone".

Many people have also remarked upon Mr Steve Webb who popped in with a FOLLOW-UP question to Mr Clogg's pair. Watching on the telly, I also noticed the green jacket of Ms Susan Kramer-vs-Kramer bobbing up and down to attract the Speaker's glass eye. And, more importantly, almost no one else. I think that this DOES show a new STRATEGIC approach to PMQs from the Liberal Democrats. Acting as a TEAM, we can get three or even four questions "ON TOPIC" to the PM, then we stand a much improved chance of breaking through to the NEWS AGENDA. Which is good. PMQs is currently a pantomime, but if we behave seriously, and treat it seriously, then people will take us seriously.

And the response from the media and commentators was generally POSITIVE – and by that I include the Conservatory Trolls on who did their best to dismiss him. If he'd done BADLY you can BET that they would have made much hay of it; clearly they were left with literally nothing as all they could say.

You cannot be spectacular all the time. People at home just don't have the ENERGY for watching that. But you can be good, honest, hard-working and in touch with what the issues that concern your constituents are. Start as you mean to go on, Mr Clogg.

Day 2563: Personchester


Manchester (NOT the Capital of the State of New Hampshire; that is Concord (NOT the aeroplane; that is Concorde)), Manchester is the setting of one of the KEY episodes of Mr Aaron Sorkin's witty, intelligent, informative, ground breaking, all-American political soap-opera: "Coronation Street", er, "The Left Wing".

And this week, the Monkey-in-Chief flies to Palestine certainly seeming to think that HE'S starring in Season Seven.

"Heh heh heh: if that Bartlet fella can pull an Arab-Israeli peace deal out his ass in the last year, then I sure can!"

Unfortunately, this wasn't believable even when it was fiction!

And, unlike President Bartlet, the Monkey-in-Chief is fiction in a BAD way.

Still, if it is comedy-drama you want then look no further than Mr Sorkin's latest: "Studio Zogby on the Obama Strip" – it's a COMEDY of ERRORS. Yes, with everyone from the Windy-pendent newspaper to the candidate, Barry O himself, jumping the gun there were plenty of RED FACES on Wednesday when Hillary-Billary stole a last minute march on him.

Just as before, in Iowa, it really doesn't make much of a difference in actual SCORES – in fact, both Hillary-Billary AND Mr Oklabama go away from New Hampshire with nine delegates each (and John Edwards took the remaining four).

Nor, for that matter, does it "throw the contest wide open". Gee, it is now a close-run thing between last week's "Front Runner" and the week before's "Front Runner". Senator Edwards is (probably) running to be VP again, however bizarre and unlikely that might have seemed a year or even a month ago, and STILL no one else is in the running.

And anyone feigning surprise at Senator Oven-Chip doing well in "Live Free or Die" country is fooling no one, either.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Day 2562: Conservatories – we will make the Unemployed do Morris Dancing(*)


(*) Other forms of public humiliation also available.

Now Mr Balloon claims he can cure the sick and make the unemployed walk. Terms and conditions may apply.

I thought that Mr Balloon SUPPOSEDLY did not believe in making it HARDER for people to get benefits. After all, he FAMOUSLY wants to give ALL married couples a twenty quid bribe, regardless of whether they need or deserve it. Just for LOVE.

So, why does he want to give freely like a Liberal Conservatory with the one hand while going all NASTY PARTY and snatching back greedily with the other?

The answer is DEPRESSINGLY obvious: for the "new" Conservatory Party there are two kinds of people: NICE people and WORKERS SCROUNGERS.

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Nice people – defined by Mr Balloon as "people he thinks are nice people" – deserve the state to lavish largess upon them. For them, Britain ought to be a GREAT and WONDERFUL place of opportunity, with easy access to Grandma Schools and private hospitals and other nice stuff. If it ISN'T like that, then someone is to blame.

Workers Scroungers – defined by Mr Balloon as "all other proles" – deserve to GET the blame for bringing Britain down.

That is why this SCROOGE-LIKE miserliness is dressed up in talk of "Benefit Fraud". No one likes to think that they are being CHEATED. (And, goodness, the Conservatories are going to be cross about it when they realise what Mr Balloon has been doing to them!) So the word FRAUD is an easy short cut to saying that people claiming for incapacity are BAD. Even if most of them AREN'T.

(This, incidentally, is the same trick with language as the phrase "Bogus Asylum Seeker", designed to pollute the term "Asylum Seeker" – itself a cold, hard neologism for "refugee" – and to make it both a threat and an insult.)

Apparently there are 2.6 million people in Britain claiming Incapacity Benefit and Mr Balloon wants to get rid of 0.2 million of them – i.e. he wants one person in thirteen to be UNLUCKY.

Quite HOW Mr Balloon thinks he is going to test all 2.6 million people on Incapacity Benefit remains as bafflingly unexplained as most of Mr B's policy wheezes. Jumping through hoops is hard enough when you are FIT and WELL, so the last thing you need when you are feeling a bit ICKY is for Mr Balloon to come along to start prodding you with his podgy fingers.

What IS certain, though, that this would be an expensive and probably pointless exercise. Squeezing out a few people who aren't as depressed as they claimed, or whose backs aren't quite as crooked as they thought is NOT going to address the real problems of fraud, which are to do with organised criminal gangs and the theft of insecure data (usually from government databases).

Of course, the BIGGEST fraud has nothing to do with benefits at all – it is the import-export Missing Trader con trick or CAROUSEL FRAUD that costs literally BILLIONS OF POUNDS in VAT. But that's not SEXY and it doesn't come with an easily target group of BLAME-EES.

The truth is that we are a RICH country and we can EASILY AFFORD to look after the numbers of people who are not well enough to work. We do not need to throw them in the poor house or have them begging on the streets; we can give people a life of (some) dignity. This is CIVILISED. This is CHARITABLE.

(And we don't, on the whole, tick off OXFAM or SAVE THE CHILDREN for the fact that not every penny that goes into the collecting tin reaches the poor and needy without some being misspent or lost or eaten by HYENAS or stolen by corrupt governments, either!)

Certainly, there ARE some people who claim when they shouldn't; there are some people who "swing the lead". So what? If fewer than one in ten claimants are faking it – as Mr Balloon's target figure seems to suggest – then that does not seem too bad. Especially since it means that MORE than nine in ten people deserve and need the cash!

You cannot get rid of all fake claims, not EVER. You are a FIBBER if you say you can. What you have to do is say – HONESTLY – what level of losses you are willing to accept so that the money reaches those who do need it.

Of course, one of the reasons thought to be behind the large increase in claims for Incapacity Benefit is that the LAST Conservatory government made is SO MUCH HARDER to claim unemployment benefit. I beg your pardon, "Jobseekers' Allowance", since you can no longer be unemployed and can be MIND PROBED to make sure you are not wasting your life in front of Jeremy Kyle when you could be out interviewing for a post of deputy ladder holder (windows cleaning) third class.

You would not have thought there were THAT many "layabouts" still to SQUEEZE out of the system, but trust Mr Balloon to believe (with the fervency of true Thatchian) that he can find a few more lives to CRUSH.

In Mr Balloon's world, you are allowed to be unemployed for two years... IN THE WHOLE OF YOUR LIFE! Yes, that's right; it's not even just two continuous years – which frankly would still be pretty horrible – it's CUMULATIVE. And in today's busy, busy world of high staff turnover and little job security it could be all too easy to rack up those "frequent firing miles".

After that, if you don't want your benefits stopped, then you can be SOLD INTO SLAVERY! With one of a select group of companies, no doubt hand-picked by Mr Balloon, you will be expected to perform "community service". Possibly in a fetching uniform, no doubt marked out with yellow star or pink triangle as appropriate.

Or, of course, you can starve! (Remember, choice is GOOD in the New Conservatories.)

Mr Balloon says he wants to end the "something for nothing culture"; which is interesting, because he'll be paying those companies to DO the community service while they will in fact, not be paying minimum wage to their "unemployed" slaves.

So much for the nation being "a Caravan moving across the desert"; Mr Balloon isn't going to let you dawdle as he's keen to close the caravan park!

"Where is the dignity in sitting at home, dependent on the state, not having a job?" he asks.

Well, first and foremost: what business is it of yours anyway?

And second: what dignity there is is in that it is THEIR CHOICE, and who the good golly are YOU to take that dignity away?

On the whole, I am thankful that Mr Frown is this week stealing his policies - Encourage regular health “MoTs” tailored to individual patients’ needs, with wider access to screening and blood pressure and cholesterol tests – from the Liberal Democrats!

Day 2561: Mr Frown, the Bettabuys Prime Monster


Well, that is what he told Mr Andy Marmite:

"We can do Bettabuys Police; and we can do Bettabuys Nurses!"

"What about the Army?"

"We can do Bettabuys soldiers too!"

It's about the people working in our public services. Typically, the Prime Monster is trying to cut corners as he cuts costs, by nipping off to the made-up, lo-cost supermarket from Consternation Street!

Of course, he was BUTTERING them up with JAM tomorrow because he was also telling them that they weren't getting any jam TODAY.

Or in fact TOMORROW either under Mr Frown's new Three Year Plan plan.

Chancellor Sooty has been doing the colouring in on Mr Frown's new plan to fix public services pay rises in advance, and HE was on the The Today Programme trying to sell this as "a good thing".

Sooty's justification was that people will get: "certainty as to what the pay increase will be, not just this year, but next year and the year after".

But the thing is that fixing people's salaries like this actually increases their UN-certainty. You see, as it stands, people are ONLY uncertain about how inflation will affect the DIFFERENCE between prices and their salaries.

Costs can vary quite a bit – look at the large jumps in train fares and energy costs already this month. And on top of that there is the surge in mortgage and loan interest because of the Credit Crunch. (Which is why for most people, the relevant inflation rate is the RPI that INCLUDES interest rates, rather than the CPI, the one that Mr Frown quotes all the time, that does not.)

But they will ALSO have a pay rise which will, probably, reflect the inflation at the time. So even if prices are unexpectedly higher, there's a good chance that wages will be unexpectedly higher too.

In effect, the uncertainty about your salary CANCELS OUT some of the uncertainty about prices.

So if you FIX the salary rises in advance, then you are actually MORE uncertain, because unexpected changes in what things cost you will not be compensated for.

This is obviously similar to the problems facing people like pensioners who are on a fixed income (though of course THEY know that they will get a fixed increase of 0% each year for the next three years).

Or you could compare it to fixing your mortgage costs with a fixed rate loan.

You MIGHT think about taking out a fixed rate mortgage for a few years – but you know that that is a GAMBLE: you COULD save money if interest rates go up, but you will lose if they stay the same or go down, but then you might also think that the certainty about the payments is worth the risk of losing a bit of money on the interest. The thing is, it is YOUR gamble to take.

Here, Mr Frown is the one who is gambling – he bets that he can keep inflation DOWN – but he is expecting the public service employees to put their salaries on "32 Red" for him.

Or, to put it another way, over the last couple of years, inflation got a bit (a little bit) out of Mr Frown's preferred band. How happy would YOU be, taking him at his word that he has gotten inflation back under control and isn't going to lose it again?

Let us have a quick look at the NUMBERS.

Three years ago, January 2005, the Retail Price Index is 188.9 (compare with 2004: 183.1) and inflation is about 3.2%.

Mr Frown – who was Chancellor then (as he still is, now) – might offer you a, let us say, generous-seeming 3.3% pay rise every year for three years. (Generous when you bear in mind that TODAY he is currently only giving up a 1.9% rise for anyone he is responsible for paying.)

However, by November 2007 (the latest month for which the Office of National Statistics have figures) the RPI has increased to 209.7. That is an increase of about 14.5% in (nearly) three years, equivalent to about 4.7-and-a-half% a year each year.

As you can see, Mr Frown's hypothetical offer of 3.3% would have left you substantially worse off.

And that's just picking the figures for three years ago TODAY.

(Because it's not like Mr Frown has a record of picking the inflation figures from their lowest point in the year to base his GENEROSITY upon – ask any pensioner who got the INFAMOUS 75p rise! Ooh, look: it's Sooty!)

I may just be being a very fluffy elephant, but I am not certain that MY certainty is improved by the prospect of being a part of our Glorious Leader's plan to triple tractor production. Is yours?

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Day 2560: A Trip to Pantoland


Last Saturday actually, and Uncle Alan treated my daddies and me to a trip to the Old Vic, where Ms Sandy Topsywig presented us with the King's Magnificent Balls... and the all the rest of "Cinderella".

Meanwhile, while we were out, the recorder was recording the conclusion of the second series of Robbing Hoodie: a double-parter (or two episodes bunged together) of "A Good Day to Die" and another trip to a faraway land in "We Are (not in the third series of) Robin Hood".

Let me just say this: only one of these productions had CONVINCING BACKDROPS!

Cinders was a magnificent production, with some marvellous acting (and occasional stripping!) from a cast very familiar to watchers of TV's Doctor Who, featuring no less than Queen Victoria as the Fairy Godmother, Foon van Hoff as the Wicked Stepmother, Mr Phillips the Bursar as King Neville, and Alan Maria-from-Sarah-Jane's-Dad (known forevermore as "Sarah's Mum" – we know why!) as Prince Charming. Though to be fair, the biggest part in the show – and the tightest trousers – belonged to Mr Paul Keating as Buttons, who had previously played Seymour in "The Little Shop of Horrors". Daddy Alex took me to meet them all at the Stage Door afterwards, while Daddy Richard hid under a nearby car for some reason [R: shyness!].

The songs were very jolly, if occasionally a little difficult to make out all the words, with PARTICULAR favourites being the Ugly Sisters' duet "Ladygirls" and Prince Charming's number on how he hates parties. There was also a funny song from Cinderella, describing her perfect BOYFRIEND… and Buttons singing "mine's just the same". (Well, it's that sort of production.)

The script was probably not QUITE as witty as you would have expected it to be, coming as it did from the pen of Mr Stephen Fry – Ms Topsywig's aside (was it scripted?) after one of the DOOBLE-EST of ENTENDRES: "Oh, you can just hear the wit of Stephen Fry pouring through" The inclusion of several rather duff groaners (which often didn't even raise a groan) was perhaps a little misjudged, though the audience loved many of the more ERUDITE gags.

"I 'ave an 'eadache," says the wicked Stepmother at one point.

"Oh, take a couple of aspirants," replies Ms Topsywig.


Yes, all right, it took the audience a moment to get it too!

Funniest moment, it must be said however, was definitely not of Mr Fry's... see in a moment!

All the traditions of pantomime were there to be played with: hissable ugly sisters; audience participation (everyone shout "Cake!" whenever "Cake" is said on stage); a sing-a-long... with actions; a pantomime cow (yes, I KNOW there isn't a pantomime cow in "Cinderella"); a magical transformation; some of the kiddies invited up on stage...

Oohh, the kiddies on the stage. They say: never work with CHILDREN or ELEPHANTS! Two little girls from near the front ("how can you not know Fortnum & Masons?" asks Ms Topsywig, "I plucked you from the best seats!") were asked to come and help Buttons prepare lunch for the entire family. Out of the hamper comes chicken and eggs and pasta and gentleman's relish (Ms Topsywig made a joke about gentleman's relish being Buttons's favourite which went right over my fluffy head!).

"That's all a bit BORING," says Buttons, "what can we add to our food to make it taste better?"

"Sugar!" says little girl number one.

Audience howls with laughter.

"Riiiiight," says Buttons picking up the large SALT POT. "Well, here's my SUGAR SHAKER!"

"Oh, well recovered," says Ms Topsywig.

"And what else can we add?" asks Buttons, reaching for the Pepper Mill.


"Honey!" says little girl number two.

Audience dissolves into ANARCHY.

The role of Cinderella herself was played with SIMPERING GOODNESS by Madeleine Worrall. As Daddy Alex and Uncle Alan discussed, it is DIFFICULT these days, to believe in a character who is MEEK and VIRTUOUS. Daddy referred to the recent BBC adaptation of "Oliver Twit" where Oliver is not the saintly, prayerful little wuss of the book, but made over into a believable if modern cheeky scamp... thus making him just like all the other boys and leaving the viewer perplexed as to why he has so cataclysmic an effect on Nancy. For his Cinders, Mr Fry takes an entirely other approach, having her played exactly as good and true as ever, but with a Fairy Godmother who comments to the audience on just how SOPPY and WET Cinders is being.

The Fairy Godmother herself came jolly close to stealing the show (as did the singing MICE!) with her knowing winks and fourth-wall-shattering Mockney asides to the audience. "Heveryone's ha wonderin' 'ow we're goin' to do this!" she says as she stands over a ME-sized plastic pumpkin (i.e. large but not nearly large enough to be a carriage).

(No I won't spoil it!)

All that needs to be said is that it all ends happily: Prince Charming marries Cinderella; Buttons marries Dandini (well it's that sort of production); and the Narrator marries the Wicked Stepmother. For all of her huge moustache (in fact, Ms Topsywig performs the entire pantomime in Mr Stephen Fry) this means that, as Daddy Alex pointed out, we finish with three couples: two men, two women and two who are one of each. How happy-making is that?

Probably more than the conclusion of Robbing Hoodie. Last year, the Sheriff managed to round out the first season by committing High Treason in front of witnesses. How to top that? Well, how about shooting the King in the back with an arrow! Last year, they decided to kill off Lady Marion... and then raise her from the dead. How to top that? Well how about just killing her?

The first of the two episodes – which, despite the hundreds of mercenaries and the Sheriff, Guy and Marion actually visiting new locations, manages to LOOK like they were trying to save money by having Robin's Gang just hang out in a barn all week – is obviously there to resolve any unfinished plotlines through the power of TALKING. So, Alan a Dale makes up his mind to turn back to the Light Side; Little John is finally given some acting to do; and D'jaq and Will Scarlett decide that they are in LURVE. (That's not COMPLETELY out of left field: it's been hinted at before, though the idea of some sort of rivalry between Alan and Will over D'jaq has been tossed aside.) Much manages to get a lot of justifiable anger off his chest. (Speaking of chests, my Daddies were both MOST disappointed that Robin did not keep his promise that he would be getting his top off more this year than last – that would be in fact FEWER times than last year. When he took it off ONCE.) Finally, Robin confesses that he's not able to kill people because it was all just too TRAUMATIC what he saw in the Holy Land. Sigh: Paging Doctor COD! Paging Doctor COD!

Part the other sees everyone off to the local sandpit (and ooh, look they've all got nice sandy-beige combats on) for a game of Crusaders. It turns out that D'jaq is actually terribly well connected, and not at all in trouble for (a) not wearing a veil at all and (b) hanging around without a chaperone with a group of men not related to her. Still, Robin is chums with the King of England.

Richard Coeur d'Lion, though, has clearly been spending TOO MUCH TIME IN THE SUN, as his brain has melted. Shifty chum of the Sheriff, Nasir (ho ho a reference to "Robin of Timotee"), pretends to be a messenger from Saladin to arrange a meeting with King Melty-Brain. And good King Richard agrees to sally off on his todd into the desert to meet whoever turns up. Because Kings do that ALL the TIME! I mean there's leading from the front and there's sticking your fluffy nose in the blender to see what happens!

And THEN Nasty Nasir asks for a word in private. And, because OBVIOUSLY no one who works for Saladin could be an ASSASSIN, King Melty-Brain sends his bodyguards outside. So Nasir reveals that someone Richard really, really trusts will say they are coming to protect him but ACTUALLY they're the traitor... and King Melty-Brain BELIEVES him, without ANY checking up or wanting evidence or anything. And so he sentences Robin to death and stakes him out in the middle of the desert without so much as a nice hat.

(Which obviously is a GOOD argument against the Divine Right of Kings, and possibly some sort of DETENTION WITHOUT CHARGE metaphor – though they've been trying to get over that sort of thing this season.)

Quite simply, the Sheriff's plan RELIES upon the King abandoning all reason and doing exactly what the Sheriff wants... which the King then DOES – which makes you wonder why the Sheriff needs to kill him at all!

It doesn't get any better once Robin has been set free by a convenient chum and proved that the whole deal with Saladin was a COMPLETE FIB. Kingy goes off in hot pursuit of the Sheriff into a ruined town leading to the whole arrow in back thing I mentioned before.

With the King lying stricken, Sir Guy finally gets his chance to do his thing, only Marion goes and gets in his way and doesn't he just have to stab her all over again. Then everyone else turns up, so Guy misses his chance again and instead he and the Sheriff jump on a horse to do a runner, at which point two things ENTIRELY FAIL to HAPPEN. Firstly Robin ENTIRELY FAILS to go completely bonkers the way he did last time Marion was dead and so does not shoot them full of arrows at a hundred paces (despite earlier bragging that he could kill a man at a thousand paces). And second, Richard ENTIRELY FAILS to whistle up his great big army and send them to OBLITERATE the fu... gentlemen who came within centimetres of MURDERING HIM!

Now we all know that Sir Guy is DEFINITELY the best actor in Robbing Hoodie, particularly this year doing his whole "ooh, my loyalties are so divided" shtick, and also his "but really I really AM evil, bwah ha ha ha haaa" shtick, but Marion and D'jaq and Will were all the REST of the good actors. Well, D'jaq and Will, anyway… So it's a little DISTRESSING that they all seem to have said "We'll be staying in the Holy Land, ta, very much" (in Marion's case literally IN the Holy Land!).

Actually, Daddy Alex is VERY WORRIED that Marion might just come back from the dead AGAIN.

(The theory, from some people, behind this goes as follows: look, it is SO obvious that Guy's sword is stuck in the sand next to her rather than even TRYING to look like he's really got her, that maybe Guy was faking out the Sheriff again... and Robin and King Melty-Brain went along with it for a laugh and... then they buried her as a jape and... oh dear...)

Frankly it is all total CODSWALLOP. Having spent a lot of this year trying to put right the sort of things that they got so very wrong in year one, they go and blow it all with a great big lemon meringue pie of nonsense. With which they then flan the viewer in the face.

Last year, the conclusion was DREADFUL because it was all plot without consequences on top of a whole year of nothing mattering. This year, things HAVE mattered, events HAVE had consequences. The characters, particularly Sir Guy but also Marion and even, startlingly, Much have grown and changed for their experiences. There has even been a sense of an ongoing PLOT – the Sheriff's Black Knights gathering their forces and Robin trying to get the King to notice. But then they go and finish it with THIS!

Daddy Alex thinks that it's not as bad as last year: one turkey does not bring down the season. But I am not so sure! I think it it's MORE of a let down after it seemed that they were going to get it fight.

Seriously, seriously Sheriff Vasey cannot possibly expect to get away with this AGAIN.

"Oh, Prince John will protect him!" NO, no he won't – when Richard says "Execute Vasey" then John has to go along with it, or at the very least put the Sheriff somewhere in hiding and very much NOT back in charge in Nottingham Castle.

"You're revolting," says Marion (obviously before being deaded).

"No, a revolution is when the people rise up against their ruler. What I am doing is Coup-ing," coos the Sheriff in reply.

No, Sheriff, it's only a coup if you WIN – otherwise it's merely TREASON, and for that you get a nasty case of what Mr Charlie Brooker calls HEIGHT REDUCTION!

So that was this year's PANTOMIME. Where's the Sheriff? He's BEHIND you! Oh no he isn't! Oh yes he is! Oh good grief!

And anyway, didn't Doctor Who do this story more convincingly forty years ago?