Archive: alcohol

This is an accompanying article to my contribution on this week’s episode of The Pod Delusion. You can listen below.

This week, Freeview has had one of its occasional retuning events. As new channels come and old channels go, the channel list becomes increasingly messy until the point where the powers-that-be decide enough is enough and it’s time to bring some organisation to it.

This sort of thing is a necessary evil of the digital era. But I feel sorry for those, particularly older, people who are used to setting up their television once when they buy it, then making do with two and a half channels for the rest of their lives.

A couple of weeks ago in the first episode of The Pod Delusion, James O’Malley spoke about the bonkers-sounding Conspiracy Channel. Sadly, I do not have Sky, so have been unable to sample its delights for myself. I must rely on humble Freeview for my post analogue switch-off telly fix.

Freeview brings a wealth of choice that simply did not exist on analogue terrestrial television. That is of course a good thing, and I personally cannot imagine going back to making do with the five analogue channels. But there is an element of truth to that Fry & Laurie sketch, where a dining Government minister is dumped on by the waiter with a “choice” of cutlery which turns out to be countless plastic coffee stirrers.

At the same time as this week’s big retune, the long-awaited launch of Quest, the new channel from Discovery, has taken place. Its original launch had already been long delayed and finally aborted at the last minute several months ago.

While a channel that promises something resembling quality struggled to get off the ground, there has been no shortage of utter crud getting airtime on Freeview. In fact, I struggled to think of any half-decent channels that had launched recently. So I decided to look it up, and see what changes had been made to Freeview over the previous year.

  • 10 September — Smile TV 2 (a mucky Babestation-style channel; closed on 19 March)
  • January — Rocks & Co (shopping channel)
  • 8 January — SuperCasino (roulette channel)
  • 8 January — NetPlay TV (broadcasting shopping programmes or infomercials)
  • 15 January — CNN International — 4 hours per day
  • 22 January — Dave+1
  • 2 February — Russia Today — 2 hours per day
  • 3 February — DirectGov (text service)
  • 12 March — Partyland
  • 1 April — Gems TV — 5 hours per day
  • 5 April — CNN increases hours to 7 hours per day, 2 hours of which is SuperCasino
  • 1 May — Gems TV closed down
  • 13 May — Smile TV 2 relaunched — 5 hours per day
  • 14 May — Quest — 14 hours per day — launch aborted!
  • 20 May — Virgin 1 goes 24 hours per day
  • 20 May — Virgin 1+1 — 12 hours per day
  • 23 May — Film4 extends hours
  • 1 July — Create & Craft (shopping channel) launches — 5 hours per day
  • 4 July — Russia Today gets second slot — 2 hours per day
  • 15 July — Big Deal (quiz channel) launches — 7 hours per day
  • 27 August — Price-drop tv returns
  • 27 August — Smile TV 3
  • 27 August — Babestation
  • 30 September — Quest launched

So a couple of channels — Film4 and Virgin 1 — have extended their hours. A couple of news channels have been able to find scraps of space here and there. I say news channels, though in the case of Russia Today, propaganda may be a more accurate description. These channels broadcast at quite obscure hours. It is certainly an interesting spin on the concept of “24 hour news”.

Beyond that, the vast majority of new Freeview channels are pure trash. There are two new “+1″ channels, replaying exactly what was broadcast on a channel an hour ago. By my reckoning, there are now at least five such channels on Freeview, which doesn’t seem like the best use of limited bandwidth.

Beyond that, there is a collection of shopping channels, gambling channels, quiz channels and adult channels. Frankly, this is the sort of stuff you expect at the arse end of the darkest nooks of the Sky EPG. I am not quite sure this is what they had in mind when the digital revolution was promised.

The Babestation channels have long been a fixture on Sky. But their presence on Freeview is relatively novel. They are interesting for the fact that it hasn’t taken long for four of them to crop up. It is surprising because their appeal seems rather limited to me.

If you have never seen it (er, not that I’m an expert, of course), basically the format is quite simple. A few glamour models who couldn’t present their way out of a paper bag sit on a couch trying to encourage people to phone in for a mucky chit-chat.

Once someone with more money than sense takes the bait, the microphone is switched off, and some cheap-sounding music is turned up. The women proceeds to talk dirty on the phone — without the viewer being able to hear a word. They sort of wriggle around on the couch in a way that I assume is supposed to look sexy, but it really just makes them look vaguely like they need the toilet.

In short, it is the modern-day equivalent of the dodgy services advertised on business cards left in piss-stained telephone boxes, only with the beady eye of Ofcom overseeing proceedings. There is nothing extreme in the slightest about these channels. You wonder what goes through the mind of people who would sooner pay through the nose to sample such services when you could quite easily find more enticing free porn on the internet.

Up until this week’s retune, the positioning of one of these channels — Partyland — in the channel list was certainly interesting. It was channel number 50, but with no channels occupying numbers 51-69, the next channel up was CBBC. Even though the broadcasting hours do not clash, I can imagine plenty of children just pressing the down button on their remote and coming across a strange new channel promising a party land. It certainly would provide a more eye-popping rite of passage than accidentally stumbling across the frilly knickers section of the Argos catalogue.

It remains to be seen whether these channels remain a long-term fixture on the Freeview platform. One trashy genre which sadly appears to have stood the test of time is quiz channels. These late-night televisual travesties are hypnotically awful. A slightly desperate presenter will appear to engage you in a stare-out competition while goading you into answering questions with non-existent answers.

Even though they still live on, such quiz channels are not quite as prevalent as they used to be. They were a major victim of the collapse in trust that broadcasters faced a couple of years ago. Into the vacuum came the gambling channels.

It’s noted that this sort of programming tends to be on late at night, especially at the weekend. In other words, they are aimed squarely at the post-pub market.

The morals are pretty dubious. The clear idea is to target people whose judgement has been impaired by their alcoholic consumption, goading people into phoning premium rate phone lines when they perhaps shouldn’t. In the case of the gambling channels, it could be said that they intend to capture a particular section of the population that may have problems with addiction.

This is not quite the vision of digital television that was sold to the public. It is funny how most of the extra “choice” that has been brought into our living rooms revolves around extracting large amounts of cash from our wallets.

I had a great time yesterday at the Edinburgh Twestival, an opportunity to meet other local users of Twitter while at the same time raising money for charity: water.

A comment I heard a lot from other people was that the event wasn’t quite what they expected. It certainly wasn’t a total geekfest as some may have expected. BBC Scotland’s tweeter noted the friendly atmosphere in an article about EdTwestival on the BBC News website. It felt a bit like a gig really — just one where people were staring into their iPhones a lot.

The venue was a bit odd. It was somewhat posher than I was expecting, and I was rather peeved that only expensive beers appeared to be available. I can tell you it was the first time I’ve ever paid £4 for a pint. I know Edinburgh is supposed to be expensive, but phweesh! I’ll have to stay on 99p Deuchars at Wetherspoons for a while to balance things out a bit.

The main action was happening in a room which appeared to be the outside on the inside. Or something. I only realised we were “outside” when I saw people smoking. There is an experience I’ve not had since 2006. The strange environment also prompted many to note how cold it was. A toasty atmosphere, but a cool temperature.

Meanwhile, I had trouble finding my way around. I was rather desperate for the toilet. I hadn’t been since I left my house at around half past three, having spent the couple of hours since I arrived at Edinburgh in deep discussion with a new acquaintance in a coffee house. I was becoming rather anxious to dispense with it.

So I started to wander around looking for the toilets. But they were nowhere to be seen. I consulted the floor plan, where I immediately found toilets on the second floor. So to the second floor I went, but when I arrived there I couldn’t see any signs to show me where to look after number 1. So I did what any sane person would do: stumble around until finding something that vaguely looked like a toilet.

I thought I had struck gold when I came across a door that had “GENTLEMEN” written on it (although it’s usually better not to dabble in the gold stuff in the toilet). Sadly, life is not so simple. As I reached for the door a person asked me where I was going. “Toilet,” I grunted rather impolitely, as I was rapidly running out of time. I was then asked something about an interview. I can’t remember exactly what my response was. Probably something like, “I don’t know, just let me take a piss.”

Suspicions grew further when there was no lock on the door. And there was a shower in the room. Had I begun to lay a yellow cable in someone’s en suite bathroom?

Possibly. I don’t know. While my Austin Powers-style jet was in full flow, I gradually realised what had happened. The room was being used by one of the sponsors (I forget which) of the Twestival for filming interviews. When I say “the room”, obviously I don’t mean the toilet itself. The room containing the toilet. That would have been really weird, though things were awkward enough as they were.

So when I came out I apologised profusely and to be fair the least I could do was go through the interview. Thankfully it wasn’t too bad, although I am now cringing at some of the answers I gave.

So that is a warning to you. If you see me on some website somewhere looking a bit flustered and awkwardly answering questions about my Twitter habits, it was my post-tinkle chit chat. Someone please warn me if it turns up somewhere.

That mishap aside, though, I had a great time at the Edinburgh Twestival. I met some cool people. It’s quite unusual to be recognised by the Twitter username on my name badge rather than something more traditional such as my face. I had a great chat with @Sarabian who recognised the name doctorvee not from Twitter but from this blog — specifically my posts about Woolworths.

There was also much fundraising fun to be had. Sadly, the raffle threatened to descend into farce when all of the tickets drawn were orange 3XX — whoops!

There was an auction where some of the items went for some rather low amounts, especially given it was for charity. Obviously everyone was saving up for the British Grand Prix tickets, which went for £300! Well out of my price range unfortunately. I sent a tongue-in-cheek tweet about it.

One of the coolest things about the EdTwestival was a projection which displayed all tweets mentioning #EdTwestival. Otherwise, I was locked out of the Twitter world. My phone is a bit of a relic so it was SMS only for me. But I saw my brother’s reply to my tweet about the British GP auction on the projector! That was a nice moment.

There was some good music from Peter Gregson, Plum and Epic26 — all new acts to me, and fun to discover. Unfortunately, the power went down while Epic26 were playing, and by that time I had to run for my train.

I also had to cut short conversations with @Sarabian and @happyseaurchin. Sorry guys! That’s the miserly First Scotrail for you though.

Overall, Edinburgh Twestival raised over £3,500 for charity: water. Not bad at all! And well above what the tweegies in the west raised. Which is what counts. Right? ;)

I’d love for there to be another Edinburgh Twestival soon. It was a great evening. Hopefully by the next time I will have improved my mingling skills. And I won’t take a slash in the wrong toilet.

At work, we are given a choice between working on Boxing Day or working on the 2 January. I have always opted to take 2 January off, even though I tend not to drink much on Hogmanay — certainly not enough for me still to be hungover two days later. Sure enough, this year I have no plans to see in the new year with a bang.

(Even if I did, I probably wouldn’t be able to attend, as I’ve been hit by some winter disease that has taken it right out of me. Yesterday I was sent home from work, and when I got home I went straight to bed and accidentally fell asleep. This was at around 16:30. I stayed asleep more or less right through until 08:30 this morning. I feel better today, but still in no form to celebrate properly.)

Nonetheless, it feels right to work on Boxing Day rather than 2 January, even though I couldn’t articulate a reason why. I don’t know if this is some kind of subconscious Scottish patriotism, the day being recognised as a holiday in few other countries. Maybe it’s just because it’s later, and I want to save it up to enjoy (time discounting wouldn’t be much of a factor, as I filled in the form months ago). Or maybe it just indicates a preference for New Year as a holiday over Christmas.

It has to be said, Hogmanay is pretty naff. To be frank, we could do without the twee BBC Scotland fiddle-me-dee extravaganza. Only an Excuse? ceased to be funny about a decade ago, and lost all relevance to me as I lost interest in football. The other side is not much better, as if the BBC thought that making us suffer most Fridays of the year with Jools Holland on the box wasn’t enough.

But there is still something special about Hogmanay. I think it stems from my memories of it as a child. It was more or less the only day of the year when I was allowed to stay up late. For a nightowl like me, it was amazing. And sometimes I even got an extra special tipple with which to see in the new year: Irn Bru.

Mind you, it’s not as if childhood memories of Christmas are exactly dire. But I think it is easier to fall out of love with Christmas as you become an adult. Gleefully receiving presents makes way for having to give presents. Your eyes are opened to the stress everyone puts themselves under. People get hung up on creating the perfect Christmas, which I would have said rather ruins the mood, which is supposed to be cheerful.

Some people are forced to spend Christmas with family members that they don’t like, and possibly don’t even see for the rest of the year. For some, Christmas Day is a day of dreary, dreaded routine.

Perhaps most importantly, Christmas brings with it a whole suite of naffness. Tacky tinsel, Christmas cards with garish depictions of Santa Claus, and a list of terrible Christmas songs as long as your arm.

Despite the twee TV, our attitude towards New Year is much simpler. You go out with your pals, get blootered and take two days to recover. And perhaps most importantly, there are no bad Paul McCartney songs about New Year. Awesome.

So happy new year everyone! Thanks for sticking with the blog through the dry patches. I might make it my new year’s resolution to update more often. Then again, that was my resolution last year as well…

One of the Radiophonic Workshop’s most famous composers, Delia Derbyshire, left in the early 1970s partly in dismay at the increasing popularity of synthesisers. Disillusioned with the state of electronic music, she soon stopped composing music altogether, only returning to the scene briefly for a couple of years just before her death in 2001.

In recent times, Delia Derbyshire has probably attracted more attention than any other Radiophonic Workshop composer. But during her life it can’t have felt like that. One story often told is that of her application to work as an engineer at Decca, only to be rejected because Decca did not employ women in their studios.

Meanwhile, she received no official credit for realising perhaps the most famous piece of electronic music in the world, the Doctor Who theme tune. It was her job to convert Ron Grainer’s ideas into an electronic composition, and the result stunned Grainer so much that he insisted that Derbyshire share the credit. The BBC wouldn’t allow it.

But while recognition of her talent largely deserted her during her life, today people are well aware of her important contributions to the development of electronic music. There is a near obsessive clamour for any Delia Derbyshire material that can be unearthed.

Earlier this year a library record called Electrosonic was reissued on CD. Along with Li De la Russe (the pseudonym sometimes used by Delia Derbyshire outside of her BBC work), music on the record was also composed Nikki St. George (fellow Radiophonic Workshop composer Brian Hodgson) and Don Harper — not that you’d know it from most references to the album that I have come across. All retailers are listing it as being by Delia Derbyshire. Quibble aside though, there are some real gems on this album, with my favourite track being the delightfully eccentric ‘The Wizard’s Laboratory’.

Tantalisingly, it was revealed this year that 267 tapes from Delia Derbyshire’s attic have been unearthed. There is a promise to “make the archive available to everyone who wants to hear it”.

Appetites have been whetted by the publication on the BBC website of some of the unearthed recordings. Among them is a spellbinding piece of music that sounds quite like a contemporary experimental techno track. Orbital’s Paul Hartnoll noted, “That could be coming out next week on Warp Records.” Amazing for a recording that is almost certainly around forty years old. Nonetheless, Delia Derbyshire comes across as dismissive on the recording itself, saying, “forget about this — it’s for interest only.”

Doctor Who at the Radiophonic Workshop Volume 1 Meanwhile, a couple of CDs of music from Doctor Who were re-released this year. Delia Derbyshire, of course, provided the theme tune(s), though little in the way of effects or incidental music. Most of that was provided by Brian Hodgson, whose works make up the bulk of Doctor Who at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop: Volume 1: The Early Years 1963-1969. For the most part, this disc is less musical, though no less enjoyable for it.

On Volume 2: New Beginnings 1970-1980, the centrepiece is the series of music created by Malcolm Clarke on the “Delaware” synthesiser in which he specialised. This was the first time the Radiophonic Workshop “officially” created music for the series. The result is quite extraordinary — a set of stabbing, piercing, esoteric electronics that sound like the output of someone working in an extra dimension. It’s all the more amazing considering how weedy the Delaware version of the Doctor Who theme sounds.

Doctor Who at the Radiophonic Workshop Volume 2 The sleevenotes describe it as “undoubtedly some of the most uncompromising electronic music ever to feature in mainstream popular entertainment.” It is certainly hard to imagine today’s Doctor Who featuring such adventurous music.

The album is completed by the inclusion of Peter Howell’s 1980 version of the Doctor Who theme — a nod to a new era that is more fully examined in volumes 3 and 4 (not yet re-released). Of all the tweaks and alternate versions of the legendary theme, Howell’s is probably the most successful with the exception of Delia Derbyshire’s original.

Also re-released this year were old compilations The Radiophonic Workshop and BBC Radiophonic Music, the legendary “pink album”.

The John Baker Tapes Volume 1 But among my favourite Radiophonic Workshop-related treats released this year were two CDs comprised of music by John Baker. His brother, the broadcaster Richard Anthony Baker, owned several reels of tapes containing rare John Baker music going back as far as the 1960s. Fearing that these historical tapes would otherwise have been consigned to the dustbin, Richard Baker passed the tapes on so that they could be painstakingly restored. The two volumes of The John Baker Tapes were released on Trunk Records this year.

John Baker was in fact trained as a jazz musician, but ended up in the BBC Radiophonic Workshop as a result of his interest in tape effects. In the words of Radiophonic Workshop archivist Mark Ayres, he could “make musique concrète swing”. A couple of common themes to his music is the twanging sound of a ruler being transformed into some exotic kind of guitar, and inventive uses of glass bottles.

Working there from 1963 until 1974, John Baker became one of the Workshop’s most prolific composers. But in addition to his work for the BBC, he earned about three times as much making music for commercials and suchlike. All the while he was using complex tape manipulation techniques, the main avenue of electronic music exploration prior to the widespread availability of the synthesiser.

The workload began to take its toll, and John Baker became dependent on alcohol. The BBC persevered with him for a few years, but he was eventually dismissed in 1974, partly because his music had also become weirder and less popular. Like Delia Derbyshire, he made very little music after leaving the Radiophonic Workshop.

The John Baker Tapes Volume 2 Volume 1 of The John Baker Tapes focuses on his work for the Radiophonic Workshop, while volume 2 contains his other work. In addition to his delightful music, there are some wonderful behind-the-scenes gems. You hear John Baker describing the process behind how he made two of his pieces. Volume 2 is peppered with strange electronic experiments that were done at home, along with some wonderful recordings of his jazz piano playing.

The disc concludes with his obituary as broadcast by Richard Anthony Baker on BBC Radio 5 Live’s Brief Lives. More touching, though, is the obituary he wrote for the sleevenotes, which you can also read online. The CDs also come with rare photographs of John Baker and notes for each track. The CDs are both exquisitely packaged, with a beautiful 1960s-influenced design.

One CD I’m waiting to get my hands on is Oramics, a collection of music by the pioneering co-founder of the Radiophonic Workshop, Daphne Oram. I can hardly wait to hear it.

Radiophonic Workshop resources

I also got a lot of the information contained in these two posts from an edition of the Stuart Maconie’s Freak Zone podcast, ‘FreakZone: 26/10/08 The Radiophonic Workshop Special’. It’s not available from the BBC any more, but if you can find it elsewhere I highly recommend it.

I am rather confused by Jeff’s post on the SNP’s new proposals designed to curb anti-social drinking. He says that the SNP’s approach is radical and is proof that the SNP is not just populist. But when you look at the proposals, they are a who’s who of reactionary measures that could well have been lifted straight out of a cliché-ridden Daily Excess editorial.

Let’s look at the list as laid out by Jeff.

  • Raise the limit for purchasing alcohol in off-licenses to 21

    Well right away this is about as populist as policies get. Blame it on the yoof. The media loves to do it, and the politicians love to throw around these age limits. They get to look “tough” by passing some draconian legislation that adversely affects someone. And who better to do this to than the youth, who do not vote in high numbers because they are already so disenchanted? SNP wins by looking tough without losing any votes.

    Besides that, what is this age limit supposed to achieve? We all know that these age limits are about as workable as a chocolate kettle. Given that there is currently an age limit of 18 and under-18s still find it easy enough to get their hands on alcohol, what makes anyone think that raising the limit by a few years will improve the situation any?

    There is nothing to suggest that raising that limit to 21 will make it any more difficult for rowdy youths to get their hands on alcohol. And why should perfectly law-abiding 18-20 year olds who intend to drink alcohol responsibly be prohibited from doing so?

    The fact is that those youths who really want to get alcohol will just nick it from their dad’s cabinet. Or their friend’s dad’s cabinet. Or their uncle’s cabinet. Or anywhere they can get it from. That is assuming they haven’t just got someone else who is above 21 to buy it for them, as Scottish Tory Boy points out.

    Congratulations SNP — you have made it almost impossible for law-abiding drinkers to get their hands on alcohol, whereas the rowdy contingent are encouraged into behaving even more rowdily.

    And if you want people to act like adults, it’s probably not the best idea to treat them like kids.

  • Reprice drinks to a minimum of 35p per unit of alcohol

    You want a continental “café-style” drinking culture? Then raising the price of alcohol is the last thing you should do.

    Why is that then? Well, increasing the price of alcohol will mean it will make little sense to just have one or two drinks with a meal. It will be too expensive for little return. If alcohol costs three or four times more than coffee, no-one will drink it like coffee. Instead, people will use alcohol by saving up their money for a big night out. The result? More binge drinking.

    Jeff says that the SNP’s policies are remarkably similar to those of Sweden. He is correct. Jeff also says that “I can easily imagine [they] don’t have the same alcohol-dependency and vandal culture that we have here.” Unfortunately, Jeff hasn’t done his research because Scandinavia — where alcohol is much more expensive than it is here — has a notorious binge drinking problem.

    Nor is the USA exactly a haven of responsible drinking. Has he never heard of the American phenomenon of “spring break”? These North American events are legendary for their excessive binge drinking and rowdy behaviour. Nor do I think of Australia as one of the most sober nations in the world!

    Clearly, simply raising the price of alcohol won’t encourage people to stop binge drinking. In fact, if anything, it will have the opposite effect.

  • Have dedicated [alcohol] checkouts in some of the larger supermarkets

    I’m not exactly sure what this idea is supposed to achieve. Jeff says it is to create an “inconvenience of having to go for a separate checkout to buy alcohol.” But what does it mean? Walking a few yards? If people will have already travel all the way to the supermarket, having them walk to a different checkout is hardly going to put anyone off.

    And think about the scenario. You’ve got some irresponsible people who only go to the supermarket to buy some bottles. They just go to the alcohol checkout, pay for their goods and then saunter off to the park to cause some fuss. Then you’ve got the responsible drinkers who want to enjoy a few glasses with their meals. These people are genuinely inconvenienced, as they have to go to the checkout twice — once to pay for their food, and another time to pay for their alcohol.

    Yet again, the responsible drinkers are punished whereas the troublemakers hardly bat an eyelid. Yet another sloppy policy.

  • Increase of financial support for alcohol prevention, treatment and support services

    No complaints here. This seems sensible enough to me.

This is not to say that there is not a problem with irresponsible binge-drinking and rowdy neds in the streets. Jeff rightly notes that Scotland has a problem and it’s not good enough just to sit there and let it continue. The point is that these measures will do absolutely nothing to curb binge drinking. If anything, they will exacerbate the problems while making life difficult for the majority who drink sensibly.

Unfortunately — as we see from governments of all shades time and again — the temptation for a government faced with a problem is just to do something, anything. Preferably sounding tough. Then declare the problem solved. No matter whether the solution is well thought-through or planned out.

I have never really got into student life. Despite the fact that I hate summer, I love the holiday aspect of it. This is not because I am a lazy bum, because in my opinion I have actually been quite busy this summer. And the busiest bit (two weeks in Cumbernauld) was the bit I enjoyed the most.

Ever since I started at university I have noticed a pattern. The first Christmas after starting university felt amazing. I couldn’t work out why, but I just went along with it. After all, you oughtn’t worry about feeling good. Then, between Christmas and New Year it hit me again: I realised that I would have to go back to university in a couple of weeks.

Since then, every university holiday has felt the same. It’s not just having time off. Like I said, I am just as busy when I am away from university, just doing different stuff. But just not having to be there is such a weight off my mind. I must really hate university.

At this time of year a lot of people ask me if I’m looking forward to going back to university. The answer, “Actually, I’m dreading it,” is mostly met with confusion. It’s a bit like the “how are you” conversations. You’re not actually allowed to say what you actually feel about university. Student life is meant to be amazing — the best years of your life. I have spent them depressively gazing at my feet.

Student life is way overrated if you ask me. Maybe part of it is down to the fact that I still live at home, so I don’t get to sample much in the way of student life. I don’t get the fun bits. I just get the work. Plus three hours of commuting hell every single day. I don’t get to do all the cool things students do, whatever they are.

But even if I lived in Edinburgh I doubt I would be into it much. Student culture is probably one of the biggest stains on humanity. When it doesn’t involve getting horrendously drunk for the most tenuous of reasons, it seems to be about “ironically” watching Neighbours, “ironically” saying “retrooo” at anything that is vaguely more old-fashioned than an iPod Touch and “ironically” being a total and utter twat.

Plus, for a section of society that is meant to be well-educated and open minded, students are an incredibly reactionary bunch. You meet extremists of all sorts — right- as well as left-wing. I find myself wandering around going, “Where are all the reasonable people?” I can’t remember the last time I heard a student say, “On the one hand… On the other hand.” [Insert obligatory dig at excessive bansturbators People & Planet here.]

All-in-all, it is enough to make me want to “ironically” reach for the nearest gun and “ironically” shoot myself so that I could go to “ironic” hell, because that might be a little bit more pleasant than a university campus.

This year, the dread came a bit earlier than previous years. It came over me like a massive black cloud on a visit to Edinburgh a month or so back. I used to quite like Edinburgh, but now it just reminds me of university dread. On top of all of the usual stuff, I have to contend with a couple of factors that are making me more scared of this year than usual.

First there is the dissertation. Because of my unexpectedly busy summer, I have not done as much preparation over the summer as I would have liked. The deadline is March, but still. I have not come much further forward since April. And next week I have to meet my Director of Studies who is the same person as my Dissertation Supervisor. Meep.

Then there is the fact that I have still not worked out what the hell I am going to do once I have finished university. Given that this is my final year, I had better think of something quickly.

The thing about careers is, you really need to have a good idea of what you want to do from a young age. If you haven’t worked it out by the time you’re about 15, I reckon you are screwed (like me). I used to say to people, “It’s a bit worrying, I don’t know what I’m going to do once I leave education.” Invariably people said, “It doesn’t matter. Nobody really knows what they want to do. You still have plenty of time to think of something.”

This is bullcrap. I found this out the hard way by actually believing it. The thing is, the advice stays like that until you reach the age of about 20. At which point the general advice becomes, “Well you should have decided before then, shouldn’t you!” True, but unhelpful. And then you are stuck with it, all set for a life spent wandering around like a headless chicken.

So given that I have to think up a profession quick-smart, I am going to have to attend every Careers Service event under the sun this year. To have this on top of the dissertation, I have a feeling it’s going to be a pretty tough year.

It’s looking pretty unanimous on the ‘more personal posts’ front. The score is 8–0 at the moment. You nosy bastards! I’m currently facing up to the fact that the real reason I stopped posting ‘personal’ posts was because I’ve realised that I’m actually a bit rubbish, and writing about myself only reveals a bit more of my rubbishness each time. Which probably isn’t a very good idea.

The score on the other question is currently 6–2 in favour of keeping F1 posts here. I came up with a good name if I were to set up a separate F1 blog, although now that I’ve said it’s good I’ve only built up your expectations which would make it a disappoinment. I would call it vee8. Maybe a bit too obscure if you’re not a big F1 fan, and you just know that they would let teams use V10 engines again as soon as I started the blog.

Turnout is high, currently running at a massive eight votes. You’ve excelled yourselves. I’ll keep the polls up for a bit longer, but to be honest it looks as though the result is settled. So here’s one of those boring posts about my life that I promised.

I can’t believe that this is the last week of my summer. University holidays are meant to be long. They are really really long if you look at it on a calendar for instance. And last year’s felt really long, but that’s mostly because I spent all of my time either sitting on my bum or making a general nuisance of myself.

This year, though, I set myself a few goals. I know this is very target setterish, but it had to be done — partly to get myself in shape for life, and partly to keep me busy (staying busy makes me happier). I started taking driving lessons, which was quite good at first because it gave me a reason to get up in the morning. Then I got a job and I lost all interest in the driving lessons!

In a lot of ways I think this summer has been very successful — in terms of reaching some of my goals and so on. In other ways it wasn’t so successful. I mean, I never did all those summery things such as going out to the local scum-club. I think we are getting too sensible as we grow up.

I couldn’t reach all of my goals, mostly because I haven’t had the time! I know, it’s incredible — I’ve hardly been able to keep on top of time this summer. It was all so very different last year.

While we’re on time management, I was sad to see that the Political Teenager has gone on hiatus for the following reason:

Now I am starting University, I will not have time for long winded posts and rants.

This is a bit surprising to me. I’ve always wondered why you don’t find more students writing blogs (I’m not counting those of the LiveJournal type here). It’s not as if students don’t have shedloads of spare time. And in my experience students seem to divide their spare time approximately as follows:

  • 40% boozing it up
  • 30% “ironically” watching Neighbours
  • 20% on MyFaceBeboJournal
  • 10% forcing everybody within a 20 mile radius to use Fairtrade goods whenever possible
  • 9% pretending to be in poverty
  • ¾% being unable to add up to 100 and making ridiculous, mostly fictitious lists with little bearing on anything
  • ¼% studying

Surely more of them can squeeze in a bit of blogging? After all, they are always banging on about how politically aware they are.

Sitting here, I think that going back to Uni might give me more time to blog. I really do dread going back to Uni, especially what with it being 3rd year and all. It is going to be hard work. But at least I’ll be in some form of a routine. I’ll always have a few hours of spare time at the end of every day; ample time to get some blogging in.

I’ll also finally be able to listen to all those podcasts that I’ve been stashing away, never to be listened to. There’ll be plenty of time on the train for that. And reading all those economics books that I somehow never found the time to read.

The thing about this summer is that I’ve just been arranging lots of things without thinking about whether I really have the time to do it, simply because I’ve been so eager to keep myself busy. I’ve actually had to strike things off my list because I’ve got so much to do this week. For instance, my driving theory test is on Thursday. Thursday morning indeed. Why oh why did I book it for that time?!

I said I couldn’t believe that this was my last week of summer, but technically that was last week. This week is freshers week, and all the cool kids are out having fun. Here I am getting pale in front of a computer. Oh well.

Anyway, I’ve got to go through to Edinburgh to matriculate this week. Regular readers will know that commuting to Edinburgh involves roughly a three hour round trip for me. This week I’ve got to go through to Edinburgh to write a time when I can meet my Director of Studies on a piece of paper. Then I’ve got to go back and meet him at that time. Six hours of my life wasted on bureaucracy! Aargh!

And then once I’ve got work on Saturday out of the way I’ll just have a teeny weeny bit of time left to get rested and make sure I’m all set to start University. Do I have enough pens? I don’t know. Did I clear out my folder from last year? Can’t remember. Have I done any preparatory reading? Of course not. I need to get my hair cut, my shoes have chosen this week to wear out, and I really ought to buy myself a jacket that doesn’t make me far too hot whenever Edinburgh doesn’t happen to be an ice cube.

If any lecturer makes some smart-arse remark about how we should all be fully refreshed after the summer, it truly will be the end.

Sounds like a dream drug, one that can mimic the effects of alcohol but with no risk of a hangover (via Digg). But I agree with the detractors who say that it would be a complete nightmare. The hangover is your body’s way of telling you that you overdid it last night.

You know when you’re at a party, it gets to a certain stage where people stop being happy and everybody just gets pissed off with each other. That’s because everybody becomes an absolute tosser when they’re drunk.

Imagine if people could be as much of a tosser as a drunkard, but without the fear of a hangover to keep them in check. You’d have to deal with tossers 24 hours a day instead of just on weekend nights. I would spend the rest of my life rambling on and on about my Theory of Radiohead to somebody who is trying their best not to doze off. No thank you.

I can’t say that, on Saturday 7th January 2006, I am surprised that Charles Kennedy has resigned. Earlier on in the week I would have been. It seemed as though there were a few MPs who were unhappy with Charles Kennedy’s leadership, but that he did have the support of ‘grass roots’ members. It certainly seemed that way from reading a lot of Lib Dem blogs. Even with Vince Cable’s letter that signed by half of his front bench, it seemed as though the ordinary members still wanted Kennedy to go on.

But that all seemed to change with Charles Kennedy’s coincident announcements that he had a drink problem, and that there would be a leadership election (and the following Newsnight poll that suggested that half of his MPs had lost confidence in him). Overnight, Lib Dem bloggers seemed to change their mind completely.

(Update: Please see the comments, where James Graham clarifies the the reasons why he changed his mind.)

Since Thursday the fact that Charles Kennedy had a drink problem has been described as a “badly-kept secret”, which isn’t really the case. As Nick Robinson pointed out on his blog, it was a bit of an open secret that he maybe sometimes had a bit more to drink than was wise. But the idea that it was a medical problem and that he was undergoing treatment was certainly a surprise.

At first I wasn’t too sure what to make of it. The fact that the announcement was coupled with a leadership contest made me feel that the issue over whether or not he was fit to lead the party in his condition would be resolved easily enough by Lib Dem members.

As the night wore on, though, it became clear that holding a leadership contest simply wasn’t enough. Front-running contenders all refused to throw their hat into the ring, having previously promised that they would not stand against Kennedy. Yet it was clear that the parliamentary party had lost confidence in Kennedy and that change was needed.

He was going to spend the weekend with his family. But the inevitability of his resignation presumably led him to get it over and done with today. I was surprised when I heard that he had an announcement to make — but it was no surprise that that announcement was that he would not stand in the forthcoming leadership election.

I have no idea whether or not Kennedy’s drink problem affected his ability to do the job — I don’t know anything like enough about the issue. If you believe what you hear, though, it has been the cause of him missing particular engagements. And there have also been concerns about his over all performance, and that this may well have been affected by his drinking.

I read that some MPs once cornered him in his office to get Kennedy to admit that he was drinking too much. So, although I doubt that Kennedy’s drink problem is the real reason why MPs wanted him out (undoubtedly some MPs are thinking about their careers here), I would like to think that part of it all was a real concern about Kennedy’s health. Do I still trust MPs too much?

But now the Lib Dems need to think about the future. Nosemonkey thinks they’re fucked. I was not so sure. But then I was watching BBC News 24 and they read out a whole load of emails — and every single one of them criticised the Lib Dems for, as they saw it, stabbing Charles Kennedy in the back. But, although leadership crises like this never play well with the public in the short term, I don’t see this being a big issue at the next election, for instance.

In the long term, getting rid of Charles Kennedy won’t have been a problem. Whether or not you think Charles Kennedy was a successful leader of the Liberal Democrats depends, of course, on how you define success. You can say that no third party has had as much representation in the House of Commons since the 1920s. But on the other hand you can see last year’s election as a massive open goal (because of Iraq and the illiberal nature of both of the other major parties) that the Lib Dems failed to capitalise on. Remember the ‘decapitation strategy’? It completely failed.

I don’t really subscribe to the latter view. At the time of the election, I felt as though the Lib Dems did just about as well as you could expect under the circumstances (ie. the grossly warped electoral system). Furthermore, Charles Kennedy seemed to appeal to an awful lot of voters. Mind you, a lot of that appeal may have disappeared on Thursday — he had turned into a liar, and it is difficult to have a liar leading a party which is trying to capitalise on the lack of trust in Tony Blair.

As a Lib Dem supporter / voter (but not member) I don’t have any major issues with Charles Kennedy no longer being leader of the Lib Dems. But they must choose the right leader. Electing, say, Mark Oaten as their new leader would be a disaster: we would then have three Tony Blairs, which is exactly what we don’t need at the moment. Simon Hughes, although I am sure he is a nice enough person, does seem a little bit weird. The only other really notable Lib Dem is Lembit Öpik, but he plays the Boris Johnson role in the Lib Dems.

However, it seems most likely that Menzies Campbell is going to be the new leader, which, despite what Guido may say, I think will be excellent. The Lib Dems face a tough time ahead. They must tackle an electoral system that is grossly biased in favour of Labour, and a rejuvenated Conservative party that is trying to plonk its arse on the centre ground, towards Lib Dem territory (albeit rather unconvincingly).

I think Menzies Campbell would be the perfect person to lead the Lib Dems through that. But his age means that he can’t stay in power for a decade like many Liberal leaders have done — so those voting for Campbell will have to keep one eye on the new generation of Lib Dem MPs.

Update: Tim Worstall has an interesting post. One party worker apparently reckons that Charles Kennedy has been an alcoholic since before he became leader.

Brits shop online while drunk and naked. Heh! (Via.)