Snooker’s recent decline in popularity has been both dramatic and, for fans of the sport at least, concerning. The 1985 World Championship final had over 18.5 million viewers – most of them watching it to its famous finish, beyond midnight – whereas just 2.3 million people watched last year’s final. The recent controversy surrounding match-fixing allegations has only contributed to the feeling that the sport has reached a pitiful nadir, in need of much revitalisation.
It was with this in mind that I was intrigued to watch yesterday’s ‘Power Snooker’ event on TV (yes, I watched all eight hours of it – don’t judge me). Basically snooker’s equivalent of Twenty20 cricket, it’s an innovative re-working of the traditional game: players compete for points, not frames, in frantic 30-minute matches; there’s a 20-second time-limit for shots, with a 20-point penalty for exceeding time; there are only nine reds on the table, rather than the normal 15; one of the reds is marked differently, and potting it triggers a chaotic two-minute power-play in which all points are doubled; century breaks gain extra bonus points. Throw in loud music, bright lights, an increasingly raucous audience and some gratuitous hotties, and you’ve got yourself a pretty entertaining event.
Actually, the audience probably deserves a second mention. From cheering – inexplicably – every time the brown ball was potted, to screaming ‘cheat’ whenever the rest was used, to chanting “Ding Junhui, my lord, Ding Junhui!” to the tune of kum-ba-yah, they were brilliantly hilarious and made the event what it was.
It’s certainly not one for the purists, but if it restores some interest in the wider sport, the purists won’t be complaining. After all, it’s not intended to replace the longer format of the game – indeed, quite the opposite. It’s hoped that people who get into the sport via the shorter, faster form will come to appreciate the longer version, too. That’s certainly how it’s worked in cricket – test match attendances have increased, not decreased, since the arrival of Twenty20.
Yesterday’s event was won – predictably – by Ronnie O’Sullivan, who was simply sublime on what was an awkwardly fast table, but all the players seemed to enjoy themselves. It’s a seriously exciting addition to the sport. I hope the event will happen again; I intend to be there.
October 31, 2010 Politics Comments Off
So, in an attempt – I assume – to be funny but cutting, Harriet Harman yesterday described Danny Alexander as a “ginger rodent”. Now, I’m not going to get all sanctimonious about the insult – I do think it’s an immature way to talk about a fellow politician (and, as Mark Pack points out, somewhat goes against Ed Miliband’s plea that we “start having a grownup debate in this country”) but I’m no fan of political correctness and I’m the first person to enjoy a joke at other people’s expense. It would be hypocritical of me to be appalled at what she said. But there are two big differences between me and Harriet Harman (actually, there are more than two differences between us, but that isn’t my point).
Firstly, no-one cares about what I say. I can be as offensive as I like (although I am invariably not) and the only people who will hear are the people around me. Harriet Harman cracking such a gag is front-page news. Cue masses of red-headed kids being subjected to extra bullying when they go into school tomorrow. It’s not big, it’s not clever and it’s not funny.
Secondly, I’m not a former equalities minister, the person responsible for inflicting arcane, doctrinaire equality legislation on struggling businesses, and all-round equality enthusiast. One can only imagine the uproar if a fellow politician called her a ‘silly bint’ – which she is. Such hypocrisy from Harman probably shouldn’t surprise us. This is the woman who enthusiastically applauded Ed Miliband when he condemned the Iraq War last month, despite having voted in favour of it herself. This is the woman who sent her son to a grammar school despite publicly attacking, erm, grammar schools. This is the woman who insisted that Labour should use all-women shortlists, until her husband (not a woman) needed a seat. This is the woman who drove into a parked car while chatting on her mobile phone (something she, as Solicitor General, had outlawed in 2005) before refusing to stop and exchange details with the owner of the other car, allegedly shouting out of the window “I’m Harriet Harman, you know where you can get me!”.
Rarely has there been a politician who, with an arrogant and haughty sense of entitlement, so regularly seems to have told the electorate “Do as I say, not as I do.”
Forgive me for the continued blogging inactivity. Having waited patiently massively impatiently all week for our new router from TalkTalk, we gave them a call yesterday to see where it had got to. To cut a dull story short, they seem to have forgotten to send it, so we’re still internet-less. Brilliantly, they asked (regarding the broken one) if we’d tried turning it off and turning it on again. My flatmate – whose mood in such situations isn’t much more temperate than mine – nearly gave himself a hernia in response, but it did remind me of one of my favourite comedies…
Anyway, they claim they’re going to send the router out by special delivery (I assume the ‘special’ part of the delivery will involve them actually sending it this time) so proper blogging may resume soon. In the meantime, I’ve ventured into the pub (martyrdom’s tough) to steal the wifi and share my thoughts on Harriet Harman and snooker. See the next couple of posts…
October 25, 2010 News Comments Off
I’m irritatingly without Internet at a time when I seem to have loads of thoughts I’d like to share. Blogging on the iPhone seems to be about as user-friendly as Teletext, so if TalkTalk would like to hurry up with my new router, I’d be much obliged (and it would save me having to write another angry consumer letter akin to the PC World one).
All that said, I can’t not mention the ridiculous, scandalous, dangerous, cretinously irresponsible decision by the Fire Brigades Union to strike on Bonfire Night, in a couple of weeks. To ignore their duties and to risk people’s lives, for the sake of their employment squabbles, massively damages their reputation as heroically brave men and women. I’m staggered that anyone within the union thinks that this action will gain the support of the public that it so badly needs in order to be successful.
This strike threat, more so than any of the others we’ve seen in recent weeks, should – must – prompt the coalition to look into stronger laws concerning strike action. This country should not, and must not, be held to ransom by selfish, greedy, egoistic union chiefs.
October 22, 2010 Politics Comments Off
Something’s been bugging me since Wednesday’s Comprehensive Spending Review (by which I mean ‘It’s not been bugging me at all, but I thought I’d mention it anyway’). Who told Danny Alexander to hide? Let me explain, with the help of the images below. During the early stages of George Osborne’s speech, Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, was sat to the right, as we saw it, with Nick Clegg one space further along. Then, as seen in the second and third images below, a note got passed onto the front bench and along to Alexander. He opened it, read it and immediately shuffled along, behind Osborne, with Clegg, who had also read the note, taking his space. Alexander then spent the remainder of the speech hidden behind Osborne – to the extent that Osborne pretty much sat in his lap when he’d finished.
What was going on? Did someone want to limit the ‘reputational damage’ to the Lib Dems by only having one of them on display? Was it decided that Nick Clegg, deputy Prime Minister and Lib Dem leader, should be more prominent in the picture? Was Clegg hidden from the picture on non-widescreen televisions? Was Alexander too much of an unknown to be seen next to the chancellor in what was probably politically historic footage? I’d pay good money (the cost of a pint) to find out.
October 21, 2010 Any other business Comments Off
In the week that the Defence Review warned of the increasing threat of cyber terrorism, I was hugely relieved to accidentally discover that my iPhone is ready and prepared for the inevitable texts on the topic when it all kicks off…
Today’s Comprehensive Spending Review was notable for the extent to which London was spared from the most savage of cuts. This comes just weeks after Boris threatened to quit as mayor if London didn’t receive the necessary funding for its biggest projects. There’s no way that Ken Livingstone could have had such an influence on the treasury’s decisions. An editorial in today’s London Evening Standard praises Boris for this “genuine achievement”:
There is no part of the country that will not feel the impact of the spending review but London has done better than many expected.
The Mayor, Boris Johnson, has managed to secure a reprieve for both Crossrail and for Tube upgrades, a genuine achievement: elsewhere, big capital projects of this kind have been slashed. This vindicates Mr Johnson’s argument in 2008 that he was the man best placed to fight for London in Whitehall: the Coalition may have been more receptive to Mr Johnson’s arguments since he is, as a Tory, one of their own. And certainly he has argued the capital’s case eloquently.
There are other areas in which London has done well too: the science research centre has been protected; so too have the extensions to Tate Modern and the British Museum. The principle of free access to museums is preserved. M25 widening will continue. Mr Johnson’s argument, and this paper’s, has always been that London is the engine for the UK’s economy and cannot be starved of investment. Whatever the hardships in lost jobs and benefit cuts — and increases to fares and the congestion charge — the capital will at least have the investment to bounce back.
We can expect this victory for Boris – and ergo his ability to influence governmental policy – to be mentioned repeatedly throughout the 2012 mayoralty campaign.
October 20, 2010 Politics Comments Off
I’ve followed the Comprehensive Spending Review commentary today with huge interest. As painful as it will be, I genuinely believe that the approach that the coalition is taking will prove, in the future, to have been the correct one. No country should be spending more on interest payments each year than it is on education, and for Labour to suggest otherwise is nothing short of scandalous.
That said, it may interest you to know that I’ve decided to apply Labour’s economic approach to my personal finances. I feel it is incumbent upon me – as a loyal, patriotic citizen – to help my country spend its way out of this economic downturn. I’m off to the pub.
Dear PC World,
It was with some horror that I discovered on-line that you were selling the laptop I wanted at a considerably cheaper price than anywhere else I had looked. Please be in no doubt – I strongly considered paying the extra cash and going elsewhere, but my beer-fund just couldn’t take the hit. I also considered buying the laptop on-line, but I have zero reserves of patience. Thus, I had the misfortune of having to enter one of your stores on Saturday. As ever, it was an experience not incomparable to my vision of hell.
I headed, directly and with purpose, to the ‘Laptop’ section of the store and promptly found the machine I wanted. Having had a quick look at it and confirmed that it had all the things I needed – screen, keyboard, on/off button – I began the thankless task of finding a member of staff to serve me. I discovered one lad (incidentally, why are all your staff – and I mean ALL your staff – confused-looking 15 year olds?) who seemed to be doing very little, but he apparently “only deals with televisions” which didn’t entirely explain why he was loitering around the mouse mats. I then found another member of staff who was as brilliantly polite as he was massively unhelpful, as he uttered the unforgettable words “I’m terribly sorry, sir, I don’t know the first thing about PCs.” My suggestion that this was a strange lack of knowledge for someone working in PC World was met with a blank and somewhat startled look.
Finally, I stumbled across a staff member (who, incidentally, was a spitting image of that lad Kevin off Home Alone) who, he assured me, did have knowledge of computers and would be able to serve me. Unfortunately, my woes did not end there. This lad was, with no exaggeration or cruelty meant, the single most idiotic, inarticulate and gormless person I’ve ever met. When he offered to show me some alternative models, I at least assumed he would try to persuade me to part with extra cash. Not a bit of it. Whilst I suppose I should admire his honesty and thoughtfulness, his suggestion that I should “have a look at some cheaper ones?” still confuses me now. Indeed, I remember being not entirely convinced that he was definitely a member of staff, and not instead just some child dressed up in a PC World uniform.
Anyway, having convinced him that I definitely wanted the laptop I’d chosen, he then apparently remembered he was a salesman and began the standard ploy of trying to sell me hundreds of pounds worth of extras. I was interested in none of them, to his general confusion. When I declined the latest version of Microsoft Office he looked surprised, when I declined anti-virus software he looked shocked, when I declined the extended warranty cover, he looked like he was going to have some sort of breakdown. When the credit card machine stopped working, he seemed close to tears. As, indeed, was I.
After what genuinely seemed like hours, I eventually left the store with my purchase, brain drained, nerves frazzled, and headed straight for the pub. Yes, PC World, your gormless, dim-witted, man-child employee drove me to an afternoon of Hoegaarden. And I’ll have you know, that stuff’s £4.20 a pint. I look forward to receiving a cheque for £16.80, as a matter of urgency – you have my name and address (the exchange of which was near incomprehensible: “What’s your initial, please?” “J.” “How do you spell that? J-A-Y?”).
That you manage to operate as a profit-making business is nothing short of a water-into-wine-esque miracle.
There’s a cracking story over at Harry’s Place which suggests that Ken Livingstone has – intentionally or otherwise – just quit the Labour Party. He’s been campaigning for an independent, non-Labour candidate in the Tower Hamlets mayoral election. The independent candidate is a guy called Lutfur Rahman (see pic below), who was deselected as Labour’s candidate over serious conduct allegations. Ken’s said to think that it was a “big mistake” to remove him.
Anyway, the background is actually irrelevant. According to Harry’s Place, Chapter 2, Rule A(4)(b) of the Labour Party Rules (there’s some bedtime reading for you) states:
“A member of the party who joins and/or supports a political organisation other than an official Labour group or other unit of the party, or supports any candidate who stands against an official Labour candidate, or publicly declares their intent to stand against a Labour candidate, shall automatically be ineligible to be or remain a party member….”
This means, whether he likes it or not, Ken has automatically rendered himself ineligible to be or remain a party member. As such, he is also ineligible to be their mayoral candidate. Taken quite literally – and it remains to be seen how strictly the rules are enforced – Labour needs to re-open nominations and find someone else to take on Boris. Stand by, Oona King.
[EDIT: read more about it on the BBC.]