Monday, 31 January 2011

Twitter ye not

Life needs to be full of little wins. Standing in just the right spot for the doors when the tube comes in; getting to the pub just after someone else has bought a large round; finishing your book just as the plane hits the tarmac (does that make me sound jet set?); eating round the cardomom pod in the pilau rice (middle class ftw). These little wins are what keeps us sane. One of the most comforting things in the world is getting into something before other people. It might be a film, a book or a band, but isn't it a great feeling when you were definitely in on the ground floor, and the world has spent some time catching you up?

I feel a little like this about twitter. I certainly wasn't the creator of twitter, and I'm pretty sure that there were lots of people keen on it well before me. But I've been happily tweeting for at least a couple of years now, and people have slowly been catching me up. Well, in rural Northamptonshire they have, anyway. I'm not sure that my tweets to followers ratio is anything to be proud of (5500:295 at last count), but that means they get about 20 each, which seems like a good reason to follow me; for the personal touch, as it were.

I like twitter. Far more than facebook. It's very easy to stagnate on facebook, unless you're at university, or just happen to meet lots of new people every week. Facebook is very immediately easy to get in to, unlike twitter, which is another reason I like tweeting more than 'booking (?). Here are some reasons why I dislike facebook:

1. People who post 140 photos from one night out, most of which comprise over-exposed white faces with v-signs from strangers in the background, all captured in some carpeted bar/club with shots for a quid and wkd blues on special
2. People who do anything other than contact people or put photos up: farmville, aquaria, throwing snowballs at each other: cretins.
3. People who have whole personal conversations on each other's wall, on topics as dull as who's turn it is to buy milk
4. Any evidence that any any time, in any place, someone was having more fun than you

Here are some common barbs thrust at me for liking twitter:

1. It's just like facebook, but only status updates
2. It's only for people who like to think they're friends with celebrities
3. General nerd noises whenever my phone comes out (even if it's ringing), just in case I might be about to use it to tweet

I'm pretty sure that people who profess not to like it simply do not understand, and if they do, they haven't the patience to see it through: you have to persevere with twitter, as there won't be a mass of people who got there before you who have already friend requested you.

Twitter for me is simply an information store, and it's a great way of filtering out the information that you do want from that which you don't. It's a bit like the Sunday papers. There's always some adverts, some cruise pamphlets, something with Louie Spence on the cover and plenty of thin plastic, usually with a 1950s film for free. There's also the business and jobs section, the money section and the 'life' section. You don't want any of these, but you've still got them. With twitter, simply follow 'news' 'sport' 'books' etc and you've instantly removed that useless wadge from your life. You can follow bands you like - gigs often advertised first on twitter, or comedians - they might be funny, and give you a little lift in the morning. You're also invited (with no questions asked) into a whole new community - the twitterati. Watching 'take me out' on your own on a saturday night, and have a pithy abusive aside to share with someone? - hashtag #takemeout and you have a whole new set of friends with which to pour scorn on the Northern lads and lasses.

Oh, and the Corens, Toby Young, Jason Gillespie, Jay Rayner, Dion Dublin and Bumble are all officially better friends of mine than they are of yours. If only Miss Daisy Frost would start following me...

Thursday, 27 January 2011

A touch of class

The author Joan Didion commented that 'I write to know what I think'. A great quote, and one that I use in lessons every so often. I write probably because I've never done much writing, and I'm pretty sure that I'll get better if I write more; there's some quality output in me somewhere, I'm sure of it. Maybe there's a novel? I'm always surprised to hear abou the percentage of novels that get rejected. Who's writing them all? I think I move in pretty intelligent circles, and textbooks aside, I hardly know anyone who's submitted a book to a publisher. My TV career (one appearance on 'eggheads') didn't really take off, so maybe it's as a writer of pithy modern blogs that I'll finally find my true vocation. I also write becasue it gives me a sense of achievement in the evening, and a night spent in front of the TV is generally a night wasted, unless I'm trundling through a disc full of 'Mad Men'. George Orwell had a pretty good idea of why he wrote, so much so in fact he wrote rather a famous essay on the very subject.

I don't even know what I'm going to write about now, but BBC2 seems to be running some kind of a 'class war' season, so that's inspiration enough. It can't be in doubt that we have a class system in this country, from the genuinely very posh at the top, and the very very poor at the bottom. The middle-classes are intriguing, but only in the sense that virtually everyone thinks they are in the middle-classes. Does lower-middle really move seamlessly into upper-working, like some sort of pyramidal feudal system from yesteryear? Does it matter what we class ourselves as, when it's how we treat and are treated by our peers that really matters?

I remember the last round of class documentaries (in one sense of the word), which was clumsily presented by John Prescott. He goaded a young Vicky Pollard, suggesting she was working class, when in fact she felt she was middle class. 'I've never worked; how can I be working class?' was her heartfelt riposte. Andrew Neill had a go last night, and his programme seemed to focus only on two things. One was spaded on very thickly - namely that he had come from humble beginnings, but had risen to the dizzy heights of hobnobbing with Diane Abbott and Michael Portillo. The scene where he returned to his old Primary School in his flash silver motor was as grusome as it was predictable. The other point (and the whole premise of the show) was that we used to have working class Parliamentarians (Major, Thatcher), and now we have an influx of posh boys (Cameron, Clegg - neither of whom are truly posh - more upper middle, if you will). One might have thought that such flimsy evidence wasn't really enough to justify an hour of TV, but Andrew managed to drag it out. The fact that people actually VOTED for each of these people in their millions seemed to have passed him by, and the fact that everyone (even the poor, and sub-middle) get a vote these days should ensure fairness on polling day. Far more interesting is to ask why people have been so turned off politics that so few actually turn out for a general election. Far more interesting would be to ask why so many of the population are overcome with apathy where politics is concerned. Probably not wise to ask, when you front a show about politics. If you want to shoo out the posh brigade (sorry, upper-middle brigade), just vote for someone else.

I take the point that many politicians have never really been anything other than politicians, or speech-writers for politicians (Wallace Milliband for example), but beyond that, the boring drone about class-divide sounds like something to churn out when no-one has any better ideas. I even saw a graphic this evening where a large saw cut the UK into North and South, emphasising the divide that only exists in the minds of people who want it to, giving them something to moan about. If Andrew Neill really wanted to see where the class divide is bypassed, he could come along to an old-fasioned British pub, and I'll get him a Hendrick's and cucumber...

Monday, 17 January 2011

Much ado about nothing-nothing

I listened to a piece by Tim Franks on radio 4 the other day about the 'language of sport'. I say I listened; actually I heard the title, then the first 30 seconds or so, and thought it sounded interesting. But then the real rigours of the morning took over, and the main thrust of the piece was lost in the need to make tea, to attempt to make the bathroom wall-mounted radio tune in to anything other than Moyles and Evans and to ponder the question of whether shaving in the bath really does save time.

I wonder if anyone defended the use of language in sport in this piece, for surely nothing produces as much inane conversation and commentary than sport, and football in particular. Much of the inanity is centred in the pub, both before and after games, and during if the match happens to be on live TV. However, as any man will know, your oldest friends are often those people that you can't really remember having a proper convrsation with, and therefore when you do get together, a solid moan about your respective football teams always helps to pass the time. It's also easy to make friends in the pub when the football is on the TV too; you simply walk up to the bar when you've just arrived, and catch the eye of the nearest chap:

Me: 'What's the score'
Them: 'One all'

...long pause...

Me: 'Good goals?'

And so you've made a new friend. It's actually almost a ritual, akin to getting in to a taxi and asking him if he's been busy that night. The ritual is obeyed, the conversation may flow...

The less defensible inanity comes in live commentary, and the pinnacle of inanity in the post-match interview. This is where the real language of sport descends into cliche. It also serves the public's insatiable appetite for all things round-ball related. If a shark stops swimming, it dies, and it's as if we feel the same fate awaits us unless we keep talking about football.

I'm certainly as irritable as the next person, and here are my four gear-grinding commentary irritations:
  • '1-0 down inside 5 minutes; it's the worst possible start'. No. It. Isn't.
  • 'A goal just before half time; what a great time to score'. No. It. Isn't.
  • Any time a challenge is referred to as a 'potential leg-breaker'
  • Anything with an inappropriate use of the word literally: 'he's literally dead on his feet', 'he's literally covered every blade of grass'...
And as for post-match interviews, if you ever hear a question that isn't rhetorical, and basically just an introduction for the huge headphone-wearing, large knot in tie-adorned footballer to finish the rest of the sentence, I'd like to hear about it.

'So, an 8-0 win, and you scored a double hat-trick', you must be pleased?'. Hmmmm, let me guess, but I bet the answer will start with 'obviously'.

If you fancy a chortle on the gloomiest day of the year, have a listen to the first 15 seconds of this: