Friday, 27 February 2009

Sign(s) of the times

I have, if I say so myself, a fairly keen eye for detail. I think it probably comes from doing a lot of work, over the years, in Presentation departments, where you're just in the habit of double and triple-checking details like Tape Numbers, Spool Numbers and the spelling and punctuation of captions.

This has served me well, but it can also be a bit of a curse. It's the signs, you see. The shop and office signs with glaring errors. Spot one somewhere on one of your regular routes and it starts to haunt you. Needling away at you every time you pass by.

What I don't understand is this: professionally made signs are fairly expensive. Wouldn't you, if you were commissioning something like a sign, ask someone to cast a second pair of eyes over the artwork?

Here in Soho, a couple of years back, a little coffee shop opened, under the sign (beautifully made in custom-moulded plastic) La Petit Cafe. The business quickly attracted a stream of visitors. Unfortunately, rather than purchasing coffee, most of them seemed to be coming in to inform the increasingly harassed proprietor that (a) La Petit would have an E on the end, but (b) Cafe is masculine in French so it should be Le anyway. I don't think he could stand anymore of this, so the business folded soon after.

This sign in West London always calls out to me...

and a recent stay in a Premier Inn revealed this delight...

I know, I know, it's not earth-shattering stuff but, mark my words, it represents yet another nail in the coffin of this once glorious Empire. The lid must be quite firmly fixed by now!

Friday, 20 February 2009

Dying on your Ar*e

I love the splendidly descriptive phrase Dying On Your Arse, when used to describe the agonies of a performer whose finest efforts at comedy/drama are being greeted in sullen and resentful silence by an unappreciative audience.

Seldom have I seen two arses more effectively died upon than those of James Corden and Matt Horne, as they attempted to co-host the 2009 Brit Awards with Kylie Minogue. These two came across as a pair of unfunny yobs, and such finely honed comedic gems as: "Cheer until you prolapse" or "scream til your nipples bleed" were accorded a tumbleweed reception in the hall.

It's not entirely the fault of Corden and Horne. Acquaintances with better tuned funny bones than me assure me that these are two of our foremost, cutting-edge, talents. For some reason, the producers of the Brits never seem to learn that anyone who tries to do comedy there always dies on their backside. There's a long history of it. The audience at that event consists of a small cluster of youthful pop fans, strategically placed within easy screaming distance of the stage, and tables filled with music industry execs and their guests, swapping gossip and necking industrial quantities of Vino Collapso. The youngsters just want the next band. The drinkers want the next bottle, a good chat and the next band. The bloke on stage doing knob jokes is always an irritating obstruction to the fulfillment of those desires.

Get the comedians off and get a decent presenter on! Or just let that nice Kylie get on with it on her own. She's well up to the task.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009


Meandering homewards the other day, I noted the presence of four uniformed members of our local Constabulary, lurking in a side turning, with a Speed Gun aimed at the traffic on the main road. It set me thinking. They'd chosen what seemed a strange location for a speed trap, just short of a busy, traffic-light-controlled, junction where the traffic stream splits between straight-on and a right-turn lane. Not much opportunity to exceed the 30mph limit there in daytime traffic conditions.

But this isn't really about catching, or deterring, speeding drivers, is it? It's about being seen to do something. We live in a box-ticking age, my friends, and this little exercise works roughly as follows:

  • Late at night, especially at weekends, this bit of road is sometimes used as a bit of a racetrack by the local Boy Racers, with their silly exhausts and thumping stereos.
  • Local residents get understandably narked about this and raise the issue with Councillors and the Residents' Association.
  • In due course, the concerns are relayed to the local Police Commander. "The residents of Bloggs Street are bothered by anti-social speeding drivers."
  • So, when the local cop-shop has a few spare officers on the day shift, they send them out with the speed gun to haunt a local road.
  • Result? They stop a few drivers and lecture them earnestly about the deadly danger of doing 32mph. Job done!

But hang on a minute....wasn't the original problem Boy Racers going Vroom Vroom late at night?

Maybe so, but the point is that (a) "we're doing what the community wants"; (b) a number of Fixed Penalty Notices have been issued; (c) it's much safer to send the officers onto the road in broad daylight; (d) the night shift are busy dealing with fights outside pubs & clubs; (e) by doing it in the daytime, we can invite the occasional local busybody to join us, parade about in a yellow jacket and play with the speed gun; (f) the people caught will mostly be local residents, so we'll be able to feed the local paper with patronising claptrap about how every motorist is a deadly sinner.

Many boxes duly ticked!

Meanwhile, on Friday night, the boy racers with their silly exhausts and thumping stereos will still practice their handbrake turns around that junction, and the local residents will still wonder why nothing's being done about their concerns.

Ho hum!
(lest you wonder ... No, they haven't got me. No sour grapes here. Just irritation at the waste of resources!)

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Anticipatory "News"

A great example, this morning, of how far the crafts of News and Spin seem to have wandered, arm in arm, down a silly path.

The story hitting the headlines this morning boils down to this:

The government's Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs "is expected" to recommend that Ecstasy should be downgraded from Class A to Class B. The Home Office has announced that it will reject any such recommendation.

In other words, one body has let it be known - either by leak or by Press Release - what its findings are, and the other has speculatively released word of what its reaction would be, if the first body were, indeed to say what it says it might. What a ridiculous game this is!

Of course, none of this bogus posturing will have any effect whatsoever on the propensity of British youth to get "off their face" on their chosen substance of a weekend.

I don't know which is more of a waste of time, this sort of cobblers or Police Officers handing out Fixed Penalty Notices and "Street Cautions" to lads with fragments of cannabis in their pockets.

Apparently, the anti-drugs strategy is working. Stand on the streets of Soho of an evening and see how apparent that seems!

Monday, 2 February 2009

Snow joke!

After my recent blast about doom-mongers cautioning against making journeys unless they are "really necessary", I am pleased to report that they have had ample opportunity to exercise their doom-mongering skills today, as parts of the UK have been hit by quite a substantial fall of snow. Unusually, the snow is even lying in the heart of town. This is very rare, as the heat of the densely built city centre normally ensures that any snow melts away very quickly.

Here's the view from my office window this morning
I made slow, but steady progress into town in my electric van. Here's how it looked when I arrived...

It's a standing joke, how badly London copes with snow. It always takes the transport systems by surprise, no matter how accurately forecast (and in this case the forecasters have got it just right) and the trains, tubes and buses just cannot cope. Today, Transport for London has suspended all bus services in London, because of the icy conditions, so hundreds of people have been standing, freezing, at bus stops, waiting for the bus that'll never come.

I must say one positive thing about my fellow road users. On my journey in this morning, not once was I overtaken by someone driving like an idiot. This is almost unheard of, and it goes a long way to restoring my faith in driving standards in the UK! Everyone was taking it slowly, leaving extra space between the cars, and the result was a slow but steady procession, rather than the usual rush-hour Stop-Start. So, for all the talk of chaos, my journey took precisely 10 minutes longer than usual! I am very lucky, though, to be able to drive in. For those reliant on public transport, today is really a write-off. All for a few inches of snow. Daft!

Meanwhile, at home, our cat took one look at the state of the ground outside and retreated to one of the warmest places in the house, atop the kitchen cupboard where the central heating boiler lives.... 8ft up in the air, warm and with a commanding view of the room below.

Not Daft!!