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Month: March 2008

Being a freelance type, I know far too much about daytime television. I hate most of it and the personalities involved. If Lorne Spicer ever turned up on my doorstep asking to see what I’ve got in my attic, I’d show her the redundant and very heavy Sony Betamax machine that lives up there by dropping it on her head.

I thought Trisha Goddard was the worst person ever to appear on television, but then along comes Jeremy Kyle to set the bar so low that a rattlesnake couldn’t limbo-dance under it. ‘Jezza’ is very fond of telling the malcontents and, let’s not mince words, attention-seeking scum appearing on his show, that their behaviour would be unacceptable “where I come from”. Wherever it is, I wish he’d fuck off back there. And don’t get me started on the Cuprinol-dipped wide boy that is David ‘the Dame’ Dickinson.

Despite all of this, I find it impossible to dislike Bargain Hunt‘s bow-tied presenter Tim Wonnacott. I don’t make an appointment to view the show, but equally, if it’s on, I don’t throw macaroons at the screen. My lack of distaste for Wonnacott – who is, after all, just Dickinson with A levels – baffled me utterly until the other morning when the penny dropped. He is Basil Brush. Mode of dress, gap in front teeth, Terry-Thomas voice, all present and correct. And, of course, almost everyone loves Basil Brush.

UPDATE – 24/4/2008: the Betamax machine mentioned in this posting has now been disposed of at the Lowestoft recycling centre. Dropping it, and the remains of my two previous PCs, from a height of 15 feet onto a concrete floor was immensely satisfying. No flowers.

I saw a poster for a Pink Floyd tribute band earlier today, which bore a hell of an endorsement. “Possibly the best concert experience you will ever have”, it said. Who was responsible for this encomium? According to the poster, it was “The BBC”. Did the Corporation have a representative poll of its staff from the DG downwards, or are the band’s management parlaying up a doubtless heartfelt tribute from a Radio Shropshire work experience student? I think we should be told.

There must be something in the air. Shortly after The Urban Woo’s computer went sideways, my own 4 year-old laptop decided to switch itself off terminally. After establishing that the power supply was fine, I worked out it was a motherboard replacement job and decided that it’d be cheaper and easier in the long run to get a fully-guaranteed refurb machine. So I did, and although the product description said the lid was pink, the pictures online did not convey how neon pink it truly was. However, I am secure enough in my masculinity to use a pink laptop in public – yea, even in Humanities 2 at the British Library – my eyes daring anyone to laugh, especially when it was comfortably less than £300.

It came installed with Windows Vista, about which I’ve heard various nightmare stories, but I decided to test it out for myself before believing them. The actual experience of using the new OS was relatively painless, but it was practically impossible to make the new machine join my existing wireless network and talk to the desktop machine in my office. As the ability to write on one machine and save the document on the other is a massive boon, both in terms of backing stuff up and working on the sofa while watching telly, I decided that I’d set up a dual-boot Vista/XP system, allowing me to carry on as I had before without dismissing Vista entirely. Dual-boots hold no fear for me, as I’ve run XP and Ubuntu on my desktop machine for a while now, and am fairly good with backups, so if anything went wrong, it was a question of going back to the start and using the recovery disc.

After reading various sets of instructions very carefully, I began the installation, partitioning the hard drive, etc. A few minutes into the installation, the machine rebooted, and hung on the Intel splash screen. I rebooted again. I tried it with the recovery disc I’d been instructed to make by the machine’s manufacturers. Nothing happened. I turned to the desktop machine and searched for information on this make and model, finding that several attempting the same perfectly reasonable manoeuvre had been left with a machine that they couldn’t restore to default settings, no matter how hard they tried.

At this point, I swallowed something hard and jagged, and rang PC World’s ‘TechGuys’. I knew this was a pointless exercise, because, while I’m not Sir Tim Berners-Lee, I have a certain amount of experience with computers, and usually find that I end up telling the helpdesk person what to do. No, not like that. Anyway, after telling me to turn it off and then on again (no, really), and then to try the same manoeuvre while holding in the F8 key, to no avail, they decided I needed the official recovery discs. I said I had one that I’d made on the machine when it worked. Ah no, I was informed, the official ones were better, somehow. However, as I’d tried to install a foreign OS, I would not be entitled to free recovery discs. I would have to ring an 0870 number and pay £55 for the official stuff. Very politely, I told TechGuy #1 that I had an allergy to premium rate phone lines, that I wasn’t paying £55 for something that almost certainly wouldn’t make a blind bit of difference, and that I would sail this ship alone, somehow. My suspicion that the ‘official’ recovery discs wouldn’t be any better was confirmed when I loaded the home-brew recovery disc into my desktop machine and the boot process began without a hitch. It was the BIOS, the hard drive or the DVD drive.

The timing of the incident stank. There’s a major project that I’m way behind with, but every time I tried to concentrate on that, the pink panther kept distracting me. There had to be a way through, past, round or over this problem without spending a relative fortune. Logic prevailed when I tried opening the BIOS on boot-up. It just hung after recognising the hard drive, so it was a recognition or driver issue, but as I had no way of getting past that point to reinstall drivers, I was stumped. A chink of light broke through on one of the support forums. A chap in the same position as me had reformatted the laptop hard drive in his desktop machine and installed XP from there before slotting it back into the laptop, with great success. Worth a punt, I thought, but, on opening the laptop, I saw that the hard drive was a SATA job, and I knew my desktop machine was IDE only. How about a USB/SATA interface? Fine, but all the ones I found at first were dangerously close in price to the dreaded recovery discs. As the whole point of recovery discs is to rescue your machine, no matter how fecked the hard drive is, I concluded that it was beyond reason to expect me to work around this issue, and I called the TechGuys again. TechGuy #2 went through the same script and tried to sell me ‘official’ recovery discs, but admitted defeat when I said that the disc I’d made worked in another machine. It sounded like a hardware problem, and an exchange was the best option. I rang customer services, who, slightly to my surprise, arranged to pick the machine up and give me a replacement. Peace of mind almost restored, I went back to work.

However, a nagging doubt remained. What if I could never install another OS on this machine? Wouldn’t that be slightly limiting? In a fit of lateral thinking, I tried booting from the recovery disc with no hard drive present. I got past the splash screen to where I needed to be, but had no media in need of recovery. After another search on eBay, I found a SATA/IDE/OHMS/ATV/NTGB interface that practically allowed you to boil a kettle from a USB socket for under a tenner including post and packing. I ordered it, it arrived the next day, and enabled me to see that the laptop hard drive was functioning. I tried repartitioning and reformatting, but the laptop still couldn’t see the drive, and was about to give up again when I discovered a crucial piece of information. SATA drives are hot-swappable – meaning that you can plug them into an already-running machine. So, I started the recovery disc with the hard drive out, and when the boot process was well underway inserted it. 25 minutes later, I had the machine back to how it was when it had arrived 4 days earlier. I rang PC World to tell them that they could cancel the courier. The pink panther was back. I now know that XP doesn’t have any in-built support for SATA hard drives (hence the boot trouble), so I have to download some other McGuffin to make a successful installation possible. I don’t have the stomach for that just yet, though. In the mean time, I’m learning to live with Vista’s frankly shite networking, and have installed a dual boot of Ubuntu to show it who’s boss.

The first person to say ‘Buy a Mac’ wins a free kick in the front bottom.

I was determined to stay well out of the chain letter book meme thing currently infesting bloggery, but when a man as nice and good as Matthew Rudd asks one to step up to the plate, only a real churl could refuse. The idea is to turn to page 123 of the book you’re currently reading, count down three sentences, then reproduce the next five sentences. Five-Centres has made the whole thing more interesting by making people guess the book, so I’ll follow his template. Interestingly, I don’t think I’d guess this book from the following lines, but there are other passages elsewhere that would identify the author and title straight away:

Faithful Unto Death was in the assembly room, and I frequently had a chance to examine it. At nine on the dot, while we all stood in makeshift rows under the supervision of one of the mistresses, Miss Yates would make her entrance. ‘Good morning, everybody,’ she would say briskly, and we in our piping and ragged trebles, but with all the enthusiasm which children experience in fulfilling a ritual, would answer her in unison: ‘Good morning, Miss Yates.’ What then took place was some form of non-denominational prayers, for several of the pupils were Jewish or Catholic, followed by a hymn, usually ‘All things Bright and Beautiful’ accompanied by Miss Gibbons or Miss Edwards at the upright piano.

It was seldom however that this daily scenario went through without a hitch.”

If you want clues, it’s from one of the four massively entertaining volumes of autobiography written by a cultural all-rounder who died recently.

I now nominate James Masterton, Adam Macqueen and Richard Lewis.

I now own a David Hockney original. That’s it on the left, embodying the great artist’s current crusade against the absurdities of the nanny state. I can’t resist a good badge, and when I saw others at the Oldie of the Year awards yesterday wearing theirs, I quite shamelessly bounded up to him and asked if he had any left. Thankfully he did, and I shall now wear it with great pride.

He was there to receive the Gasper of the Year award for his vocal opposition to the smoking ban. I was there on the strength of my occasional modest contributions to the Oldie‘s pages, and, as ever, I was profoundly glad that I had been invited. How else would a herbert down from Lowestoft on a £6 apex super advance ticket get to flirt outrageously with the utterly wonderful Moira Stuart, be reduced to tears of laughter by the equally fab Kate Adie or sit six feet away from Peter O’Toole as he held forth on rugby and the US election? Or to witness Stanley Baxter slaying the whole room with the best, funniest acceptance speech I’ve heard in 10 years of attending the do.

However, the great thrill of my day occurred in the pub before the do, when Barry Cryer – who, after 10 years of bumping into each other at Oldie functions and on licensed premises, I’m lucky enough to regard as a friend – introduced me to David Nobbs. Comedy writers have been my heroes ever since I first learned to read programme credits, and there aren’t many who can match those two for quality and quantity of material. Baz doesn’t keep a blog, but David Nobbs does, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

As Brian Matthew’s Sounds of the Sixties is to my Saturday morning, so TV Burp is to Saturday teatime. It’s the only way I am ever likely to have any contact with, or knowledge of, BBC3’s Freaky Eaters, which has become one of Harry’s favourite Aunt Sallies (When Harry Hill Met Aunt Sally? Is Eunice Tubbs available? Commission x 13). Last night’s Burp featured a Freaky Eaters clip in which a woman who ate only bread, tinned spaghetti hoops and tomato soup threw her entire supply away, opening each tin and emptying it into the bin. Now, I know it wouldn’t have made for ‘great telly’ (ahem), but how much less wasteful and offensive it would have been to give the bread to the ducks and take all the tins to a local homeless shelter, or just hide them in the loft until harvest festival. Silly cow and silly fucking ‘documentary’ makers.

Listening to ‘your old mate’ Brian Matthew’s Sounds of the Sixties on the Light Programme, as is my Saturday morning wont, I realised that Heather Mills McCartney missed a trick in her abortive campaign to turn the world against her ex-husband. Now, I like Macca and find it extremely hard to believe that he ever showed Linda his hairy back hand. In this, I am far from alone, with the result that many now think of HMMcC as a lying psycho nutjob. If, however, she had said “Listen to ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’. A person who concocts such a dark, depraved fantasy is capable of anything. I rest my case”, it might well have worked. As Brian Matthew played it, I was reminded what a truly horrible little song it is, its twee bippety boppety nursery rhyme backing track masking the brutal toolkit homicide lyrics. Bugger ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds‘ being all about acid, or Charlie Manson claiming that everything he did was motivated by ‘Helter Skelter’. Did Peter Sutcliffe have a well-worn copy of Abbey Road?

As a fully paid-up geek, I love modern communications technology, but, like everything, it has a downside. Spam email is one of the less agreeable aspects of the whole shooting match, although filtering and a panoply of different email addresses for different purposes help keep its incursion into my busy, exciting life to a minimum. Sometimes, it can even be amusing, such as when some herbert claiming to be Peregrine Worsthorne tried to sell me penis extension surgery.

The other day, I started receiving spam that stood out from the herd of automated cock enhancers. For one thing, it arrived on an email address that I use exclusively for mailing lists, which never normally lets spam through. It also addressed me by name, which is something the auto-stuff never does. By an astonishing coincidence, the first message arrived less than 24 hours after a disagreement with an individual on a mailing list. Could this aggrieved person possibly have entered my name and email address into any number of bobbins self-help websites as revenge for our little set-to? As the person in question claims to be a mature professional with a young family (and a swift Google search supports the claims – the footprint many of us leave online scares me), I’d like to think they were above such antics, but the circumstantial evidence seems to point in that direction.

If so, what were they hoping to achieve? If it was to disrupt my life, they’ve failed. I have a couple more emails to divert to the trash folder each morning. Boo hoo. If it was to get back at me anonymously, they’ve failed, because they don’t seem to have covered their tracks very well. The only way they’ll have succeeded is if they wanted to leave me with the impression that they were a vindictive idiot, but I can’t bring myself to believe that anyone would actually want to be thought of as such.