Wednesday, 16 May 2012

England squad makes everyone really happy

Despite a few spasms of fury over various social media, the entire country seemed to emit a collective and resigned 'meh' today as the England squad for 2012 was announced. It was like Roy Hodgson, seeing what a great state the country is in, decided to give everyone a sharp kick in the jingoes. Some of the players included in the 23-man squad, chiefly Terry, Lampard and Gerrard, carry such a weight of disappointment it's amazing they can lever themselves back up after tying their bootlaces.

The result is that it's hard not to want this England team to fail – and I say that as a genuine lover of the English football team. Year after year, tournament after tournament, I have screamed in vain at the desperate attempts of the 'golden generation' to compete with even mediocre national teams. Time and time again we've seen them fail to show any possessional nous in midfield, to the point where our only options are a hopeful Terry lump forward or a 40-yard Gerrard wunderpass that gets cut out by the first opposition player.

In future, the selection of the England team should be crowd-sourced, so we can finally come together as a nation of people that stand in pubs watching England fail and telling everyone they could do better. That way, Stewart Downing wouldn't have got within an easyJet flight of Poland and Ukraine this summer, and we'd be celebrating the inclusion of one of those very rare English players – one who can hold onto the ball in midfield, look up, take his time, hold up play, and then lay the ball off. No, not Paul Scholes (I wish), but Michael Carrick. His non-selection will haunt this England team.

To sum up: same old shit.

Poor sausage

What is it about traders slumped at their Bloomberg screens that makes me so happy? This one from the Guardian's live blog of the eurozone meltdown.


Saturday, 13 August 2011

Attribution fail

This bugs me. The Sydney Morning Herald ran a big story about the £7.5 billion house that never was, mentioning the golden superyacht Stuart Hughes claimed to have customised, but failed to properly credit the magazine that got the quotes that exposed the boat story as fake in the first place - Motor Boat & Yachting.

MBY does eventually get a mention (right down the bottom), but the paper says the sales manager of Baia Yachts was speaking to some website called Born Rich when he revealed the sham. No he wasn't. A look at the Born Rich story quickly reveals that they picked up the story from us and The Star, whose story is a cut and paste of ours.

The Sydney Morning Herald is a massive newspaper, getting lots of web traffic. MBY could have done with those referrals. It's a proper street fight out there trying to secure advertising at the moment, so anything that raises the magazine's profile or portrays us in a good light is gold dust.

Two mouse clicks is all it would have taken to find the source of the quotes.

Stuart Hughes speaks!

Finally, a word from the man himself. In a disarmingly friendly but short email sent last night, Stuart Hughes confirmed what we already knew: “The yacht and house don’t exist, not in gold anyway”.

The releases were issued to drive traffic to his website.

“We do a lot of promos because we also have a lower-end business, Goldstriker. So a lot of traffic helps these sales too,” he said.

Interestingly, he claimed that the world’s most expensive suit at £600,000 and Rolls Royce containing 120kg of gold (both mentioned below) were real, although he wasn’t able to offer any proof: “You have to take my word for this.”

“I’ve learned over the years there is no such thing as official, people just use it [the press releases], time to time,” he added.

So there you have it: Man issues press releases about fantastical products and world's press fails to pick up the phone to check if they exist.

I’ll have to find something else to obsess about now.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Stuart Hughes and the world's most expensive everything

I write this in the hope that in future journalists turn to Google upon receipt of press releases from a man called Stuart Hughes or his company Goldstriker. The right keywords just might lead them to this blog so they can join my legions of followers (six mostly coerced family members and friends) in discovering the truth about just one of this man's many extraordinary claims.

Let me take you back to the beginning…

Until a few weeks ago I had never heard of Stuart Hughes or his company Goldstriker International. But that was before I started seeing stories in national newspapers (The Sun, Daily Mail, Metro, The Independent) about a £3 billion, 100ft motor yacht called History Supreme. This thing was reported as being coated in 100,000kg of gold and platinum, studded with diamonds and having a T-Rex bone as a wall feature. It had been designed by Liverpudlian Stuart Hughes, the papers said, and sold to an "anonymous Malaysian businessman". Boats being my area, I was a little irked not to have received the original press release, and rushed to get some information about the boat. I emailed Stuart Hughes via his website, and got some hi-res photos of the boat sent to me from someone called Toni.

I set to work penning the first paragraph of a story I could post on my magazine's website, my initial journalistic instinct being to get the story online as soon as possible. But before reaching the end of the first sentence, something started to trouble me. I'm not sure if it was the images, which seemed, even to my untrained eye, to have been digitally manipulated (see below), or the claim that Stuart Hughes had managed to source 100,000kg (100 metric tons) of gold and stick it on a 100ft boat, but the longer I demurred, the more outrageous it all seemed to become. The result was the following story on our website, which outlined all our major concerns: The £3 billion golden superyacht: real or fake?




The following day I put a call into Baia Yachts in Italy, the builders of the Baia 100 that Stuart Hughes claimed to have customised, and they confirmed my doubts – the whole thing was bogus, as reported in the below story: £3 billion superyacht story confirmed as fake.

Companies like Baia Yachts, the makers of the Baia 100 Stuart Hughes claims to have customised, only build a handful of these yachts, so it's inconceivable that a senior figure like their sales manager (quoted in the second story) wouldn't know about a £3 billion custom job being sold to a Malaysian businessman. And why would he lie? Boatbuilders love to shout about one-off customisations. And if there was some kind of embargo on the release of the details, how could Stuart Hughes get away with posting so much information – and pictures! – on his website? The whole Malaysian businessman thing didn't stack up either, but that's all laid out in the first story above. As is the fact that packing this much weight into a shallow-draught 100ft hull is tantamount to suicide. Singapore's Straits Times followed up our story, with a bit more detail from Mr Borselli: $4.8b gold-plated yacht? It's a hoax.

I'm proud to say that as the second story above went live, MBY was the only news source on the planet disputing Mr Hughes's claims. Everyone had bought it – from UK nationals, to blogs, to foreign media taking the story as fact from the British papers (MSNBC, Toronto Sun, Ireland's The Journal, Australia's Daily Telegraph & news.com.au). It was big news in Malaysia, I understand – as it would be here if a Brit had dropped a few billion on a superyacht (Malaysia Star, Malaysian Insider). Abramovich's massive Eclipse only cost a few hundred million, after all. Big, big news. But a complete fabrication. A couple of news outlets around the world picked up our story, reporting the reporting – the same practice that led to so much of the media printing falsehoods in the first place (Asia One, MSN Malaysia, Business Insider, Malaysian Insider). It was all too late, though – the genie was out of the bottle and to many people around the world, the established truth was that there was a Malaysian businessman out there who'd just picked up the keys to his new £3 billion, golden toy.

But what was in all this for Stuart Hughes? I'm guessing to draw people to his website so he can hock gold-plated iPads and such (if he even does this – this website accuses him of marketing products that aren't his own). I would love to ask Mr Hughes directly, but all my efforts to speak to him have been fruitless. I've called him, emailed him, and even befriended him on Facebook to send him a message that way. Short of going to Liverpool and knocking on his door, there's nothing more I can do. But even that would be hard, since there's no address on his website, and I can't find record of a company called Stuart Hughes or Goldstriker at Companies House. His company just doesn't seem to exist. He could be a sole trader, of course, and therefore not required to register at Companies House, but even getting confirmation of this simple fact has proven impossible.

The worrying thing about all this is how many major league news outlets (albeit mostly non-broadsheet ones) reported the story faithfully from the original press release. It becomes very easy as a journalist to tell which stories have been written from a press release and not questioned (no unique quotes, figures, detail, etc...), and this was clearly the case with all the reporting done on the story in the UK. And then once it was committed to paper here, it became fact for all the foreign newspapers and websites seeking to cover the amazing story of the gold-plated superyacht. Churnalism, it's called, and it's written about often by the excellent journalism blog Fleet Street Blues, which also picked up on this particular story: Churnalism gold and the £3 billion superyacht reels in the nationals hook, line and sinker. When it comes to online journalism especially, there's definitely a certain quality sacrificed for hit-whoring, with page views often coming before accuracy.

Anyway, quite apart from the failings of modern mainstream media, since writing the stories above I have become a little obsessed with Stuart Hughes and his Goldstriker enterprise. Mainly because despite my repeated pestering about the boat story, a press release pinged into my inbox in early August, telling me about his customisation of the world's most expensive house!





At a secret location in Switzerland, this house apparently contains 200,000kg – yes, 200 metric tons – of gold and platinum. This guy can apparently source more gold than most central banks – 0.18% of all the gold ever mined, to be exact, and that's just for his yacht and house projects. The story didn't hit the UK nationals, but did make its fair share of blogs and overseas papers (The Pakistan Times; Wall Street Journal, which is a reblog of a reblog). There seems to be news editors all over the world ready to print this stuff without a phone call or email to verify its accuracy. It's completely insane, especially as the press releases are terrible – really, really terrible (above). The email sent about the house forgets an apostrophe in the first word of the first sentence – an absolute cardinal sin, and a big red flag for any half-decent hack. The pdf version on the exclusive-haus.ch website (now removed) isn't much better, and only sits a rung above gibberish.

Curious, I emailed Kevin Huber from ExclusiveHAUS. He said he had indeed approached Mr Hughes about adding gold and platinum elements to the house after seeing a number of golden iPods and such belonging to his friends. But rather than the house having been completed, as Mr Hughes claimed (after five years of work, no less), it remains firmly on the drawing board. And the 200,000kg of gold and platinum? More like 1,000kg, Mr Huber said: "Nobody would ever buy 200,000kg of gold for a house – that's for sure". When asked about the press release from Stuart Hughes, Mr Huber said: "Why he wrote that the house is already built we don't know. This is a big mistake and bad advertisement for our serious Swiss company. We are well-known for our high quality standards."

There are other small corners of the internet starting to raise doubts about Stuart Hughes's latest claims, inspired in part, I'm once again proud to say, by our stories: For $12.2 billion, a house made of gold and dinosaur bones? Always with the dinosaur bones. He claims to have embedded them in iPads as well.

His boasts about creating the "world's most expensive suit" have also been tested by Luxury products company Amosu, who did a bit of digging after "finding out the $4.8 billion yacht was a fake". I haven't looked into these claims, and can't vouch for Amosu's investigation, but it certainly fits a pattern of behaviour. But I doubt Stuart Hughes cares, because he got his name in the Telegraph and The Sun for the £600,000 suit story. He's been doing this for years, it seems, pumping out press releases about fabulous products that no one has sought to verify. Who knows? Perhaps everything up to the yacht and house stories was real – even the world's most expensive aquarium? I would look into it, but I've already spent way too much time on this.

But even if only half of this stuff was true, Stuart Hughes would be the busiest man on the planet – in the last month or two alone, he's supposed to have completed the world's most expensive yacht, the world's most expensive house and an £8.2 million, gold-plated, fully armoured Rolls Royce Phantom. Not bad for a company with only one distinguishable employee and no records at Companies House.






This car, by the way, apparently contains 120kg of solid gold, and was sold, you guessed it, to an "anonymous Middle Eastern businessman". The Roller was apparently produced in collaboration with a Swiss company called Eurocash AG. I know a few Swiss people – and they would be mortified by the spelling throughout that website. And doesn't it just look a bit amateurish – like someone found a bad website template online and kicked some poorly spelled content into it? It's like Stuart Hughes's website – just the wrong side of shady. If this guy is dealing with so many anonymous billionaires, wouldn't he have a much slicker online operation? And wouldn't outright lies like the following gem from the 'About Us' section of his Goldstriker website be purged: "3. All our images are real and not computer generated."

Then there are his marketing tools, which, apart from press releases, seem to consist solely of strange YouTube videos that anyone with a five-minute understanding of iMovie could produce – and with fewer star wipes.





They're produced by an outfit calling themselves Santa Barbara Arts TV. The man behind Santa Barbara Arts TV, or SBARTSTV for short, is Cliff Baldridge, who seems just a little obsessed with James Cameron, and who has, as far as I can tell, just six Facebook friends, two of whom are profiles belonging to Stuart Hughes. In one Facebook message I saw when Mr Hughes and I were briefly 'friends', Hughes refers to Baldridge as "the king of US media". I don't know – the king of US media...?



It certainly looks like he's speaking from a penthouse in Venice Beach... see 1:35.

None of it's right – the bad websites, the photoshopped images, the obvious fabrications, the weird YouTube videos... I feel like I'm the victim of some massive, global practical joke, and any minute someone's going to tap me on the shoulder and say: "Aha! Of course none of it was true, you moron. We were just messing with you."

But I don't think that's going to happen. The unpalatable truth is that the world's just full of rushed, repeat-as-required journalists who only have five minutes to question a press release before top and tailing the next one, desperate to post content or miss out on a few precious page views. I'm not sure where I wanted to go with all this, or even where I should direct my anger – but I know it's not at Stuart Hughes. The guy might somehow make a living by producing bogus press releases, but he's not holding a gun to the heads of the journalists blindly reproducing them.

It's been interesting for me to be so close to the lie and watch it spread through increasingly connected global media, infecting everyone, picking up authority with every newspaper, blog or Twitter feed it touches. Credibility through hit results. Soon the lie, like so many others that will never be exposed, becomes fact (so many news organisations can't be wrong, right?), with the original story drowning out subsequent follow-ups about it being wrong, because the correction is just never as sexy.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Monday, 7 February 2011

Virgin's ring extension

12/12/2009 - my last entry. I never was any good at commitment. The problem is finding things to write about, and then summoning the energy to type. But now my page views have smashed through the important 60 barrier, it's time to get back on the horse.

It's been an interesting 12 months since my last entry, but little has really enraged me quite like the company that inspired the below letter: Virgin Media. They do our phone and internet. It's not a choice, because despite only living an ambitious jog's length from Guildford, the only internet we can get that can handle the important things like porn video lectures and YouTube is provided by Virgin. We can get the phone service from anyone, but thought we'd package the two to save money. It didn't really work out, but when I think about the difficulty of switching to someone else I emit this noise: eeeeeeuuuuyhhhhhhhh.

So, Virgin. Their phone service is, I suppose, fine, except for one crucial thing... the phone only rings three or four times before going to voicemail. I tried to change this, by paying an extra £2 a month, but nothing happened. On Saturday, I broke before Lia's pestering and eventually picked up the phone to call them. This letter to the Virgin complaints team was the result...

I had a simple problem - I didn't know my Voicemail Plus passcode and I needed to extend the number of times my phone rung before it cut to voicemail, because, infuriatingly, my phone would only ring three or four times. I attempted to resolve this in December, and was told then that to make my phone ring more than three or four times, I needed to pay an extra £2 a month – quite a racket you have, Mr Branson.

I dutifully paid, being the corporate schmuck I am. I was told when paying in December that my ring-time would be extended. It wasn’t. Fast forward to today. I had been putting off ringing customer services because there’s only so many times you can be put on hold for 15 minutes without tearing your hair out – and I don’t have much to spare. Today, after the umpteenth missed phone call because of your crazy three-ring policy, I contacted customer services to get it extended.

Phone call 1: Was told to extend the ring time I needed to access my voicemail via 1571 and manually change it. Fair enough. I dialled 1571 and was asked for a passcode. I was never given a passcode.

Phone call 2: Endeavouring to discover my passcode I was put through to a seemingly helpful Scottish man. He told me my passcode was 2223. Fair enough. I dialled 1571 and entered 2223 – wrong.

Phone call 3: Getting angry, I rang again, and I ended up speaking to an Indian guy. Again, he very pleasantly told me my passcode was 4828 (last four digits of my phone number) and if that failed, 0000. Fair enough. I dialled 1571. Not only did 4828 prove to be wrong, but so did 0000.

Phone call 4: With beads of rage sweat snaking down my face, I called 150 again and ended up shouting down the phone to a poor Indian woman. She couldn’t help me and put me on hold for 15 minutes. Eventually someone from your technical team by the name of Chris picked up. I was obviously being a bit terse because he decided to cut me off.

Phone call 5: Honestly, I’m delirious by this stage. My Saturday is disappearing in a fog of confusion and rage. I’m helpless. I started laughing hysterically for no reason. My family is frightened of me. They can’t understand why Daddy is crying. I call 150 again and am put through to another Indian woman. I’m over anger by now. You’ve broken me Branson. Somehow the mixture of hold music and the oddly beautiful medley of Indian and Scottish voices has me just monosyllabically and monotonously answering the questions put to me. The woman listens to me, but says she needs to call my house phone to check the voicemail system. Fine, but to keep the conversation going she needs to call my mobile. This presents a problem - mobile phone reception where I live is terrible. If I agree to this course of action, I know she won’t get through and I won’t get a call back on my house phone. I’m not prepared to risk it, and tell her we can’t do the mobile thing. I’m clinging to her – she’s my liferaft. Fine, she says, and puts me on hold. Then she comes back on and says she can manually change the password. I say fine, and give her the four digits. On hold again. Eventually she comes back on and says the code has been changed. Halle-fucking-lujah. I dial 1571, enter the passcode. IT WORKS! I listen to the voicemail options presented to me, but none mention extending the ring time. I go through every. single. option. None work. Right.

Phone call 6: After more than 10 minutes on hold I find myself back in Britain and talking to a Scottish woman, who, again, seems very nice. She tells me I can change the ring-time through my voicemail system. I explain that I can’t. She puts me on hold. She comes back a few minutes later and tells me they’ve extended the ring time from their end, to a maximum of 10 rings. This change will take effect in 24 hours, she says.

There you have it. Six phone calls, one and a half hours, and finally an answer to my original query. A result, I think you’ll agree, and a fine example of human and corporate efficiency.

One thing, though – if I don’t have 10 rings in 24 hours, I’m buying a tent from B&Q and doing a Brian Haw on you Branson. I swear to god, I will camp outside your office day and night until I get my 10 rings. I WANT MY FUCKING RINGS.


Still waiting for a reply...

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Watch this video

The journalist obviously went looking for trouble, but still...

Journo gets stopped for taking pictures

The one thing in this life you can rely on is the stupidity of authority. If you're going to stop a photographer under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act, at least know the freaking rules.

Bankers and their bonuses

I’m in constant conflict over bankers’ bonuses. They’re undoubtedly the greatest scam ever perpetrated on the British public. To think that the same bankers that led us into the worst recession since the 1930s are making out like bandits this Christmas with massive bonuses – on top of their inflated salaries – inspires the kind of rage that, if bottled and weaponised, could melt faces at 100 yards. Their predatory short-termism and idiotic faith in highly complex financial instruments make them singularly undeserving of any financial reward. This is especially true of the tens of thousands of financiers whose jobs are only safe thanks to the enormous public investment in their firms. Battling for room in my reasoning, however, is the understanding that for the British public to redeem the billions pumped into the banks, we need talented bankers – and that disincentivising them by denying them bonuses might be counterproductive. Steering a course through this bipolar nightmare is tricky, but it’s clear to me the only reasonable course of action open to us is to bus some laid-off steelworkers from the North down to London every week and have them break the legs of every tenth banker they come across with a shovel. This should sate the public’s lust for banker blood and keep the pin-striped merchants of shit repaying us in as an efficient manner as possible. I can see no other solution.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Pulling no punches

I spent last night trawling YouTube for yuks as Lia was watching How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days and some other god-awful shit with Helen Hunt in it. What I came across has me chuckling as I write this. I have known of the acerbic Christopher Hitchens for some time, after buying one of his books a while back which put forward the case for prosecuting Henry Kissinger for war crimes for, amongst other things, his role in the illegal bombing of Cambodia during the Vietnam War. I have sort of followed his writing since then, the most recent standout example of which was the discovery that, yes, waterboarding does constitute torture. But it’s on the air that this acid-tongued commentator really brings a smile to my face. An example is this incredible deconstruction of Jerry Falwell’s legacy on CNN and Fox News, following the death of the fat old bigot in 2007. It’s worth watching these two videos in order, as he got the invite to go on the second show following the fallout from his appearance on the first. The sign-off line from Hitchens in the final clip is incredible. I don’t know if it’s his, but I’m stealing it – “If you gave him an enema you could bury him in a matchbox”. Genius.



Thursday, 12 November 2009

In bed with a monster!

It’s been almost a week since I wrote the below, and I’m starting to feel a big grubby. It could be because our boiler has packed up and I haven’t had a shower in a few days, but it’s more likely because by allying myself with Murdoch’s views on free online news content, I’m somehow pardoning some of the exceptional shit he produces. Take one Fox News, for instance. It’s become pretty trendy of late to harangue Fox over its editorial content, but there are two excellent reasons for this. Their names are Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly. Like some hideous stench emanating from the kitchen plughole whose source you can’t figure, these two have become part of everyday life, with vast audiences of mullets and yee-haws. To help me shake this uneasy feeling, here are some videos to remind us just why these two are such douches…

First up, we have Glenn:



And now Bill:



There are other, greater examples, many of which are featured on The Daily Show. But for some reason, we can't get clips from The Daily Show's website in the UK.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Thoughts on free content

You might think from the below comment about Rupert Murdoch that I am rabidly anti-News Corp and everything the Aussie media mogul stands for and produces. Well, I am… kinda. The credibility of this stance is undermined somewhat by the fact I regularly read the Times and subscribe to Sky, but until yesterday I could just about keep a handle on this confused morality. Now, though, I find myself not only enthusiastically giving Murdoch money, but agreeing with him on the biggest issue facing journalism today – whether content should be free. I say no, and so does Rupert.

In London, we’ve had two very high-profile free newspaper failures recently – thelondonpaper has been forced to close, and now the London Lite is being axed. Neither newspaper ever made a penny of profit, despite having a captive audience of around half a million every evening. The recession has hit advertising spend hard (I know this better than anyone, working as I do for a consumer magazine), but if you can’t turn a profit with the scale of readership these two titles had, then surely there is something seriously wrong with the free content model.

Online, it’s a similar story. My favourite news website, guardian.co.uk, gets huge traffic, but struggles to monetise it - and this is a situation repeated across the many excellent mainstream news websites out there. There do seem to be exceptions – the Huffington Post, for example – but even then incomes are extremely inconsistent. These websites also tend to be extremely partisan, and rely heavily on armies of unpaid writers and bloggers. They can’t offer the breadth of coverage of, say, a guardian.co.uk, because that would require a much more aggressive approach to newsgathering, which costs money.

The standard retort by free content zealots is that advertising spend will pick up come the end of the recession, and mainstream news – the dead tree press – is dying anyway. In the future people will get their news from on-the-spot bloggers and platforms like Twitter, they say. While I agree these have a part to play, they are notoriously unreliable, unaccountable and rarely offer attribution; in a word: untrustworthy.

Quality, rich and reliable content costs money – there is no getting away from it. With the proliferation of websites and only so much advertising cash to go around, the current model is unsustainable. And that’s not forgetting the ethical minefield that is relying solely on the money of third-party companies to produce a newspaper or website. Being beholden to advertisers, no matter if they share the politics of the website or paper, is no way to maintain a free and vibrant fourth estate.

So I’m with Rupert. If the websites I enjoy ask me to pay a reasonable yearly fee to read them then I’m happy to get out the credit card. It’s the responsible thing to do.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Rightful home

Great news for the Murdoch-hating, cricket-loving majority, the Ashes are going back to terrestrial TV the next time the series is played here - 2013. The Government has a list of sporting events - known colloquially as the "crown jewels" - that it protects from the grasping claws of pay TV merchants. Last year, the Ashes fell off this list after Rupert Murdoch signed a £300m deal with the ECB to broadcast the series this year and in 2013. So this news is not going to go down well after Rupert reads about it in The Sun, or The Times, or hears about it on Sky - Murdoch fiefdoms, all. The timing of this announcement also bears closer scrutiny. The Sun famously came out in support of David Cameron the day after Gordon Brown's headline speech at the recent Labour Party Conference. If memory serves, the massive headline was 'Labour's Lost It'. Just how much influence The Sun wields over the electorate is debatable, but the headline immediately becalmed Brown's latest fightback attempt. Our PM was so enraged he completely lost it in several interviews the following day. But beware the cornered beast. Labour has indeed lost it, but Gordo and his chums still have one or two weapons at their disposal, one of which is deciding which sporting events run on free-to-air TV...

Friday, 25 September 2009

“He’s a Muslim!”

Some of these people obviously travelled a long way to attend this rally, given the names of states on their T-shirts and other identifying markers – weird Montana Militia-like clothing, a Mid-Western girth and screeching Red State bias. So you’d think they’d at least come armed with even the most basic grasp of what constitutes socialism, fascism and Obama’s plan for healthcare. My absolute favourite moment is when some chubby woman drawls, “Are they going to be given land and power over the Government”, in reference to Tsars appointed by the Government to advise on various aspects of policy. Staggering really. It’s either that or the guy holding a massive “Joe Wilson for President” sign, who goes on to deny that he wants to see Joe Wilson become President. Actually scratch both those, the best bit is the sign that reads, “Bury Obamacare with Kennedy”. There’s nothing as rabid and irrational as a Republican on the losing side.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Idiot property company

Abacus Investment Management - I’ve had two phone calls from these jokers, trying to sell me land in Folkestone, on the promise of huge profits. The first phone call ended with one of their agents telling me to “be a man” after I refused their advances, and the second one – today – ended with the words, “Oh, so you’re quite closed minded then”. I have no idea how they came across my work number, but they keep asking about spread betting and my other “investments”. They sound like the worst kind of snake oil salesmen, and I hope their whole stinking operation collapses around their ankles. Aaaarrrrggghhhhh. This rage is so unsatisfactory.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Read me

Really good New Yorker article about the death penalty.

Trying to mix it with the kids, part 2

Yesterday was a write-off. I accomplished nothing. The older I get the longer it takes to process the excesses of the night before. At around 8pm, after taking enough painkillers to render me clinically dependent, I managed to remove myself from the couch and get some food. But the worst thing is that I was paying for an experience that I didn’t enjoy. I haven’t been to a proper nightclub for as long as I can remember, and all Saturday night’s trip to Fez Club in Putney did was remind me why this was. It was unbelievably crowded – claustrophobic, even. There were so many people on the dancefloor that no one was actually dancing, just shuffling from foot to foot and spilling their drinks all over my shoes. Occasionally some kid with a haircut would sidle over to some girl and grind desperately behind her until she either told him to fuck off or stuck her arse out in reciprocation. It was almost primal. It was like watching dogs sniff each others' arses – on a multicoloured dancefloor. As hard as I tried, and as drunk as I got, I couldn’t have a good time. It’s pretty poor, really. I’m only 31.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Trying to mix it with the kids

I went to a nightclub last night. It was fucking horrible. More on this breaking development later (when my hangover clears)...

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

The Ashes aftermath

Ahh, the sweet taste of victory. It doesn’t get better than beating Australia, even though I myself am Australian, was rejected British citizenship, and still have to stand in the ‘this could take all day queue’ at the airport with Japanese grandmothers and people still shaking from their first experience of air travel. What makes it even sweeter is that, statistically, we had no business winning that series. Historians looking back will wonder how we managed it given Australia’s ability to take more wickets and score more centuries. But what these headline stats fail to show is that in crucial periods of play, the Aussies choked harder than George Bush on a pretzel. This is why we can’t read all that much into this Ashes win, apart from the fact that Australia are now no longer in a league of their own. Yes, England were excellent when it was required, but several abject sessions from the Aussies mean the onus should be on their losing, rather than our winning, if that makes any sense. The real litmus test will come over the winter when we play the newly crowned number one in world cricket – South Africa. The Aussies, meanwhile, go to India in an attempt to stop their slide down the rankings. But before any of this happens, we have the needlessly long one-day series against Australia and the equally pointless ICC Champions Trophy. What’s that, you ask? Exactly. The touring party for South Africa will now include our second-best South African, Jonathan Trott. Bopara should also be given another run, but at no higher than five. Bell will also probably travel, since his first innings score of 72 at The Oval was made to look very good indeed by subsequent scores. That leaves Collingwood as the other big uncertainty. It’s hard not to love Colly – he’s all heart. But if he was exposed by the Aussies, he’ll be stripped naked by the much more fearsome South African attack. I think he’s probably shot as a Test batsman.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

England's future stands up



Yesterday Broad cut the heart out of Australia, today Trott banged a big nail in the coffin. Despite a show of guts from Watson and Katich at the start of Australia's second innings, surely the tourists are done. So barring a miracle, Strauss should be lifting the urn sometime late tomorrow or early Monday morning. Fred went out in typical big-hitting fashion, but he's been pretty anonymous in his final test. Interesting that it's been England's new generation making all the headlines - Trott, Broad and Swann. Long may it continue.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Correct human bevaviour

Many overland train carriages in the UK are now phone-free. This is small step forward for society. But to take a greater stride towards social cohesion and community togetherness, policymakers should immediately ban all talking on public transport. They can start with the Tube. Talking on the Tube is antisocial behaviour on a par with shitting on the pavement or spitting on a dog. No one wants to listen to two people hold a conversation on the Tube. It’s infuriating because you have no choice but to listen given the confines of a Tube carriage, and further, since you are forced to listen, you are without the benefit of context so everything said is completely meaningless. There is a distinct gender divide here. Women seem to have no problem with holding an animated personal conversation across a crowded Tube carriage. Men’s conversations, if forced to talk at all, are much more muted. The correct behaviour, of course, is to sit there in stoic silence, enduring the heat, smell and inane chatter while the veins in your temples throb away the heartbeats until your inevitable stroke. A hiccup can often occur when boarding a Tube carriage with a colleague or friend who doesn’t understand that talking on the Tube is wrong. The best way to avoid the awkward situation where you are forced to ignore your friend, or at least move slowly away and pretend they’re insane, is to have a quick chat beforehand and make very clear that there will be no talking until you’re out of the Tube and once again in daylight.

Don't drive with massive eyes

There’s a new government drug awareness ad on TV in the UK at the moment. It shows a bunch of kids on drugs driving around with massive eyes; the premise being that police will be able to spot if you’re stoned because your eyes are unnaturally large. First of all, bollocks. And secondly, this isn’t going to stop people smoking a joint and then driving a car, it’ll just lead to paranoid stoners driving while squinting. What’s more dangerous – kids driving stoned, or kids driving with their eyes closed?

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

A pragmatist’s take on fatherhood

If our political masters were serious about solving the problem of an ageing population, they’d start highlighting some of the amazing practical benefits of having children. A couple you learn pretty quickly: the ability to jump queues in a single bound, greater exposure to cartoons, and admiring glances from women in the supermarket when out shopping alone with baby. But one of the best things about having kids is the guilt-free leverage they offer you. You want me to come round on Saturday and help you move? You know I’d love to but Emma’s not been well. Bam. Sorry I fell asleep at my desk, Emma was up crying all night and I’m totally wiped. Bam. Advertising the more profound aspects of having kids is all well and good, but just tell people they can get out of heavy lifting and you’ll have a new generation of taxpayers before you know it.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Stop the madness

Picture the scene: you’re sitting in an office, and someone sneezes. Someone else offers them a ‘bless you’. Later in the day you sneeze, yet no one offers you a ‘bless you’. Is this the ultimate office snub? It’s this kind of ‘bless you’ politics that leads to people to gun ownership. It has to stop. It’s up there with not holding the lift and getting dirty looks for using the disabled toilet. YOU KNOW WHAT, IT’S MUCH ROOMIER IN THERE AND I DON’T LIKE THE OTHER TOILETS.

Back off football

And while I’m on the subject of cricket, I’d like to express my distress at the encroachment of football on the summer sport. Didn’t the Premiership just end? I like and follow football, but it’s never off the back pages. And it’s as dull as fuck anyway – only four teams can win it. It could be made twice as watchable and twice as interesting if there were salary caps, limits of foreign players, pure-capital ownership (which would end this ridiculous system where teams like Liverpool have to scramble for further bank financing to service their debt mountains), and an Aussie Rules-like transfer system where the bottom teams get the first pick of the best players. Naturally, this would need to be refined owing to the fact teams can be relegated and promoted, but something has to be done to break the oligopoly of Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool. Money is fast ruining (ruined?) football – the players cost too much, they definitely earn too much, and the fans pay too much.

It all comes down to this

The final Ashes Test starts on Thursday, and it’s pretty much the biggest thing to happen to sport since some bored Englishman started throwing a ball at a tree stump and decided to make a game of it. Hopefully the third day will be the most pivotal (nothing to do with having tickets, honest), when Australia are skittled for 100 chasing a massive first innings total from England. Perversely, England’s capitulation at Headingley was the best result for the series, setting up The Oval for a titanic battle of skill and nerve. Bragging rights for the next two years are at stake, which counts double when you have a family over-flowing with Australians. The inclusion of the South African Trott for England is not the best result for cricket. Undoubtedly the selectors believed his selection was justifiable as he had been in the squad previously, but the romantics will be left wondering what could have been had Ramprakash been given the nod. Even Robert Key would have been preferable to yet another South African that sought English citizenship after taking issue with South Africa’s selection policy. Of course, I’m totally prepared to recant the above if he scores lots of runs. In fact, I’d love to be left eating my words if it means England winning back the urn.

Monday, 3 August 2009

The problem with press week

The first week of every month means only one thing – mindless, repetitive reading. Something like 90 editorial pages must be scrutinised for the tiniest inconsistency or mistake. After a while your brain fails and you find yourself reading the same sentence over and over, until a little bit of drool escapes the corner of your mouth. The smudged ink making crazy patterns in the growing pool of saliva is often the only thing that can break the spell… that, or lunch. What such an incessant focus on grammar, syntax and editorial consistency does is ratchet up your intolerance for even the slightest error in the wider world. I have become a person that tuts audibly and rolls their eyes at the sight of a misplaced apostrophe on a shop sign. But the thing that makes me want to smash my car into a crowd of pedestrians on the off chance that one of them does this, is when lose is spelled with an extra ‘o’. It’d be worth the jail time.

Friday, 31 July 2009

What noise my mouth makes

In the tradition of noises summing up nicely a day's play at the cricket, I bring you this: "nnneeeeyahhhhhfuckoffpontingyoupigfacedtwatjimmyismygod."

Thursday, 30 July 2009

What noise my mouth makes

Today's England performance can be best summed up by the following noise: "bleeeeugck"

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Thoughts on the Third Test

The bookies have the Aussies as slight favourites going into tomorrow’s Third Test at Edgbaston. You certainly wouldn’t put it past Ponting and Co to come roaring back from 1-0 down, but this perception of Aussie superiority raises an interesting point about the mentality of the media and cricket fans in general. Few England fans, if they're honest, believe England should romp home in this series; we’ve all grown up watching England get thrashed, with the exception of 2005. Most of us, therefore, harbour this dark fear that somehow England have been let off in the series so far, and that all Australia have to do is slip into a higher gear for the summer to turn to ruin. It would be nice, just once, for someone of standing to say, with no doubt in their voice, that England deserve to be leaders in this series, and that we are the superior team. But we can’t. Like the bullied schoolboy who’s managed to get one over on his tormentor, we’re forever looking over our shoulder, awaiting the biggest slapdown in sporting history.