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Bah, humbug, that Olympic opening ceremony was a mess

October 8th, 2012 No comments

Why I’m the curmudgeon over Danny Boyle’s Olympic distract-a-rama


It’s the internet, stoopid. And the crumbling of our brains. That, I’ve realised, is why I’m the blight at every enthusiastic mass-praising of Danny Boyle’s Olympics opening ceremony.

“Wasn’t it marvellous!” Brit-crowds crow. The gang was still burbling about it when I was in London last week. Mass adoration always irritates me. Unless I am the recipient.

But the lemming-like rush to declare it was such a fabulous event made me think of Leni Riefenstahl or Cecil B. De Mille and those grandiose cinematic extravaganzas which were calculated to make the poor schmuck in the cheap seats drop his popcorn.

Well, it was technically astonishing, and an awful lot went on. Then you’d expect at least those qualities for your £27 million.

However it was all over the place, and to my mind failed to fulfil three key requirements: was it a good piece of entertainment for the people in the Olympic Stadium?

Was it lucid and compelling for the vast television audience?

Did it act as an introduction to the great sporting event it was to usher in?

Taking the last first, the spectacular obviously meant to knock people’s socks off and be the memorable part of the evening. But the Olympics is about talented and dedicated athletes, not about directorial ego.

Was it lucid for a television audience? Probably more so than for the punters in the arena, who could only see bits and didn’t have the long-lens benefit of the cyber- and TV viewers.

But it was still very bitty – ooh, there’s Kenneth Branagh, now forget about him because the grass is all disappearing, there’s Tim Berners-Lee who invented the World Wide Web, now there are people on hospital beds and lots of dancing and finally, finally, it stops. It was a mass of ideas and half-ideas stuck together with verve, chutzpah and lots of money.

Had the theme been Berners-Lee’s incalculable gift to society (he’s a Brit after all) and that alone, it would have been clear, clean, and obviously afforded all sorts of spin-offs. You can get anything on the Internet, and a brilliant creative person like Danny Boyle could have chosen from a myriad possibilities. Choice, however, was not the keynote of the night, but rather a philosophy of throw everything in. And that does, in fact, mirror the effect of the internet on our lives, but no clear line was drawn between Berners-Lee’s fleeting appearance and the rest of the show. No, the ambition was bigger than that.

As Charlotte Higgins wrote in The Guardian, “it was bewildering enough, at times, to its domestic audience; abroad it must frequently have been plain incomprehensible.” (Although she went on to explain that it made sense to the British, saving for some stuffy Tories.)

It sounds a bit like the disdain for dreary old ‘facts’ that is being displayed by the Republican presidential campaign in the US. Lord, why should anyone be able to understand this fiesta? That would be commonplace and predictable.

The Olympics opening ceremony ritual has gotten out of hand, with the Greeks and the Chinese much to blame for their ludicrous shows that went on way too long and cost way too much. Maybe Rio will calm things down a little. Maybe.

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Privacy is one thing, but falsehood also threatens media reputation

September 17th, 2012 No comments

The fuss over the long-lens topless pictures of the Duchess of Cambridge re-stokes the smouldering fire over privacy and the press. But in the US a more simple, and equally shocking, issue is over the simplicity of facts, whether they are used in public discourse, and the responsibility of the media in reporting and repeating assertions which are obviously inaccurate or dubious. This piece from the New York Times discusses, in part, the astonishing casualness with which some parties in the current US election campaign are treating facts. That’s a topic worth returning to – in particular the euphemism of ‘misleading’ when applied to statements which also fulfil the description of falsehoods! The old journalistic saw of ‘balance’ is also tossed around.

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Naked Prince lacks common sense as well as clothes

August 24th, 2012 No comments

When did taking your clothes off in private become a capital offence? Angela thinks Harry is in the clear as well as in the buff

Prince Harry might not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, nor the most mature 28-year-old in Britain.

But then, look at his father – and I’m not talking Prince Charles here.

However, surely he is entitled to have fun with friends in private, as long as nobody gets hurt. And if his friends enjoy games of strip pool, whose business is it?

But the whole world, thanks to our ‘responsible’ media outlets as well as those characters categorized by Australian PM Julia Gillard as ‘the nutjobs on the internet’, has been privy to snaps of the prince enjoying himself in Las Vegas, and wearing….a watch.

A lot of  pompous stuff has been voiced about the prince’s responsibilities as a senior member of the royal family – ooh, only the other week he was the ranking royal at the Olympic Games closing ceremony. Granted, you might not like to think of the Queen au naturelle, or Prince Charles. But would that mean their credibility as a dignitary, a focus for national pride? Would that be forever dented if some media platforms had published photos of them in the nip?

For some, every time they see Harry on TV or wherever for the rest of his life, those blurry but genuine late-night shots will come to mind. And he doesn’t look too bad, quite fit, as proper for a young serviceman whose upbringing has featured every advantage – except a mother after the age of  13.

Harry’s only real failing in this silly affair is how he picks his friends.

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, the saying goes, but one of Harry’s group wasn’t listening to that voice in her head. She was listening to the much more hearty and confident one telling her she could make big money selling pictures of a naked prince, especially with an attractive lady somewhere in the frame.

The prince’s security staff have come in for some stick on why they didn’t leap in –perhaps rugby tackle the woman? Confiscate her phone, more likely.

And Harry will have to learn more sense than to invite randomers back to his hotel room for jolly japes. Get the boy married, to someone like Katie Price perhaps, and all this would stop…

But the brouhaha all returns to the ethical question, for the media, of whether public figures are entitled to a private life. If you can’t have a private life – or, like Boris Johnson, seem able to ride heedlessly, so to speak, through all embarrassing revelations – then you might go a little bit mad.

Max Mosley must have read the Harry coverage – and looked at the pictures – with interest. The Formula One millionaire continues to campaign against media intrusion after his success in suing the News of the World (remember that?) over whipping up a ‘Nazi sex orgy’ story about him.

But with the red-headed prince it’s fabulous gossip, delicious gossip, and plays to the fake prudery with which the tabloids, in particular, like to address their made-up world.


Links: OK, to be fair, here’s a link to James Hewitt denying he could be Harry’s father.

And here’s one to somebody seeing Lance Armstrong’s disgrace and Harry’s embarrassment as two ends of the same spectrum. Not sure that I get the point – or, in fact, Harry is particularly embarrassed!


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Too much misspeaking and you’ll be released

August 21st, 2012 No comments

Angela charts the trends in ‘newphemisms’

When Mississippi politician Todd Akin opened his mouth and let out a scandal, it took a hell storm of media and public ire to make him realize. The US Senate candidate had told a TV interviewer that it was less likely for victims of ‘legitimate rape’ (Akin’s term) to fall pregnant, because a woman’s body would ‘shut down’.

Whatever the crazed Southerner was trying to say, he soon found out that he had given enormous offence to a certain category of people – let’s just call them ‘women’.

So he took the line frequently heard by people whose real problem is that they leave the house in the morning…”I misspoke”.

His full explanation was: “In reviewing my off-the-cuff remarks, it’s clear that I misspoke in this interview, and it does not reflect the deep empathy I hold for the thousands of women who are raped and abused every year,”.

‘Misspoke’ has gained in popularity in recent years. For example, last May President Obama misspoke when he called a concentration camp in Poland a Polish, rather than a Nazi, ‘death camp’. The White House Press Office was quick to correct that one. But the President doesn’t make mistakes, he misspeaks.

Social media, the broadcast of the masses, gives everyone a chance to say something stupid in public, so reeling back in those unwise off-the-bat comments has become something of an art. Not art at a very high level, it is true. ‘With mature reflection I can now appreciate that I might have misspoken,” intones the politician or public official who has just declared that all women are whores or all Republicans wear terrible ties or four-year-olds should be allowed to drive cars.

What misspoke really means is “God, I’m stupid. Please ignore everything that comes out of my mouth (but vote for me anyway).”

It joins a growing list of new euphemisms, ‘newphemisms’ I like to call them, which are burrowing under the skin of 21st century language.

When announcing sackings from the beleaguered News Corp ‘digital-only’ newspaper, The Daily, in New York, the chief executive chose to say that ’50 people would be released’. As if they would joyfully greet the news that they were about to be freed – from the encumbrance of a salary.

‘Firing’ and ‘sacking’ have long been regarded as terms too distasteful to describe people being parted from their jobs. So ‘severance’, ‘retrenchment’, ‘redundancy’, came into use. But, once everybody had cottoned on to the fact that all they meant was firing and sacking, another emollient term had to be found.

And another usage related to those more, ahem, mature members of the community, is undergoing a painful and protracted birth. This morning I watched a short promotional film from a large international consultancy. The speaker was talking about “the end of the digital beginning”, and how everyone was going to be using tablets and smartphones and so on instead of reading poor old newspapers. He described how ways had to be found to ‘reach out to’ (so much reaching going on these days, there must be a terrible lot of muscle strain) and engaging ‘experienced consumers’. What he meant, of course, was older people, but he wasn’t going to be caught using a nasty term like ‘older’. Nobody wants to be older! Because, nestling in that is the three-letter obscenity, ‘old’.

Garrison Keillor, the US humorist describes his fictional Lake Wobegon as the place where ‘all the women were strong, all the men were good-looking and all the children were above average’. In that sort of scenario everyone over 35 is ‘experienced’, not middle-aged – or worse.

So we must all thrash through these newphemisms, peering intently into them to make out the real meaning. Just make sure you don’t mis-read, misinterpret, or miss the bus. Although perhaps you could tell the boss: “Sorry, I mis-arrived on time.”



P.S. And here’s a link to the whole Akin brouhaha.  The photo is nice – begging for a speech balloon to emanate from the soldier on the left who has been shocked out of peeling his orange by whatever Akin is saying – maybe that it is only in cases of ‘legitimate terrorism’ that people get hurt by a bomb?

And, indispensably, The Onion on what Akin really meant…,29256/


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Very, very simple guide to the Tour de France

July 17th, 2012 No comments

This is a public service for persons like myself who enjoy the beau paysage, the castles, the scenery, the quaint villages – oh, and all those amazing athletes in their pretty colours zooming along for 3,000 kilometres…


On the final rest day, I took a breather from watching those lithe bums en masse and the adorable scenery of la belle France, and attempted to work out what the hell is going on.

What is it?

The Tour de France is a very-big-deal cycling race that is held every summer, late June-July.

In France, yeah?

Mostly. They often dip into Spain and Italy because it’s Europe, man, there are countries wherever you look. One year they somehow or other included Ireland and have been to old enemy Angleterre three times – 1974, 1994 and 2007.

Cycling? Pedal-pushers?

It’s men only, for the same reasons (as far as I can make out) that the gentlemen’s singles at Wimbledon is men only: they’re goddam stronger than us, girls.


There are about  200, and these guys are part-man, part machine. They have to cycle a couple of hundred kilometres every day for three weeks, with just two rest days. They are professional cyclists, sponsored by big companies like Sky, which is in pole position this year. And they’re all in their twenties and thirties – the oldest guy to win, ever, was 36.


This is the really tricky bit. I have been surfing net for simple cycling sites (alliteration!) and listening to my husband’s patient explanations for years, and I’m still pretty hazy. However, I think this is right:

  • The overall winner is the guy who completes the course in the shortest time. He gets to ride through the last bit, the climax ride through Paris
  • The yellow jersey is given, each day, I am told! to the guy who has done the course in the quickest time at that stage. So it is cumulative – on day three, if Pierre Vitesse zooms through the 140 km in an hour, he will still not be the winner unless his times for the three days are still the lowest in the competition. The jersey winner gets to wear it all the next day. Isn’t that cute!
  • There is also a king of the mountains, who does the best time in the hilly bits (some of which are savage – think of cycling up the side of the new Shard building in London). This guy gets the spotted jersey.
  • There is also a junior winner, the best time under 25, who gets the white jersey (le maillot blanc – everything sounds better in French.)
  • There is also a green jersey, for the person who gets the most points for various speedy and good things done. Bit boring so that’s all you need to know.

Team Tactics

When you’re watching, you often wonder about the bunching of guys in the same team colours, and why their star rider is tucked away. It’s all strategy: like chess on bicycles, moving people here so they can advance somewhere else brilliant later. I don’t concern myself with this too much as I am admiring the chateaux – and the derrieres.

The Peloton

 This is the mass of riders – kind of like the lumpen proletariat of the Tour, only they are all aristocrats. There is a breakaway group of small speedsters, then the peloton. I don’t think they have a word for the laggards at the back – les aussi-courants?

 Most Famous T de F winner

For the general public it’s Lance Armstrong, the American who incredibly came back from having testicular cancer to win the Tour SEVEN TIMES (1999 to 2005). Unfortunately, his name has been linked with illegal drug use more recently. Some people do say that it would be impossible to ride the T de F without using some extraordinary substance, ie, it’s not actually humanly possible. It sure ain’t for ordinary mortals.

Big names

This year a British man, Bradley Wiggins, is looking good, riding for the Sky team. Early favorite Cadel Evans, the Aussie who won it last year, is beginning to catch up after a slowish start which wasn’t helped by some so-and-so throwing a packet of tacks all over the course.

This year’s finish

Will be on Sunday July 29, in Paris. This is the finishing-line cycle, and not as exciting to watch as the earlier days when they are sweating up mountains or gliding through beautiful villages.

And the money?

Fancy leaving this out the first time I uploaded! The total prize pool is around €2 million euros, and everyone gets something, even if only €400. The winner gets around half a million which they earn in blood, really. Again, the prize allocation stuff is complicated so here’s a link from some Kiwi experts

I would be very grateful if anyone cares to correct this very simple guide, written to help my own understanding, and with the thought that there are other vague-ohs out there like me. Thanks to John Sills, who helped me out with the yellow jersey! John is also omniscient – and passionate (seriously, correct use of word) – about pop music. He is at

In fact the Wikipedia entry is pretty good but too detailed if you don’t want to do a thesis on competitive cycling.

The official site is too much head-in-the-spokes for me – but there are pictures of the jerseys.

And here’s an interesting piece on the diet and general superhumanity of the Tour de France riders, from my friends at The Conversation website in Melbourne, Australia.

PS If anyone wants to read a pleasingly surreal account of man actually merging his atoms with that of a bicycle, there is the work of Irish genius Flann O’Brien, and The Third Policeman (although I don’t think the Tour de France ever gets a mention in this 1940s novel). 

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