Thursday, 20 September 2012

Olympic Memories

Remember DraMattics has moved, so if you want to check out all my musings on the Olympics head here:

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

The First Night of the Proms

Guess what I am back!! I know shocking isn’t it? But before you get too engrossed a little public service announcement – DraMattics is moving website, to a brand new much more exciting (hopefully) blog and layout. All the old posts, and this brand new one are there already so click now and head over to:

If you’ve signed up to the e-mail alerts I am afraid you will need to resign up on the new website else you won’t get them. The next couple of posts will appear on both websites to give you a chance to move over, but then after that I shall not be updating this site. So please abandon ship now into the life raft of the new website!!
Next up I need to apologise for my lack of blogging, over recent months, it’s been a busy stressful time. Incidentally if anyone knows what a mid-life crisis feels like please do get in touch. But I appear to be back in my right mind, so it’s on with the blogging:
I am a slut, I am. I’ve betrayed you. I have. I’ve been blogging to other people behind your back. I’m sorry but I had to say it. The secret was killing me. I hope you can forgive me and we can move on. Ok so you want to know the sordid details of my betrayal before you judge, well read on…
The other week a link appeared in my Twitter feed (look at me modern technology – down with the kids), from The Royal Albert Hall inviting bloggers who’d never been to the BBC Proms to win free tickets to the event simply by blogging about the experience. To be honest I wasn’t really sure about whether I was that bothered about the Proms, but knowing that I communicate far better through blogging than actually talking to real human beings I thought why not give it a go. The entry conditions were so simple, that even a lazy a**e like me who keeps putting off blogging, actually managed to get round to doing it. All I had to do was send two lines on why I should go to the Proms and an article I’d previously written. So I e-mailed with a line basically saying “I don’t think the Proms are for me”, and my article on how awful it is being single at a wedding.
Don’t laugh, I’ve even got to be a best man this year.  
Reasoning I’d almost certainly scared off the organisers, I was surprised as you to find out that I’d actually won. Yes I had to go to the Proms and review one of their performances for the Royal Albert Hall website. Like a proper journalist(ish). In fact my blog was so popular with the massive Royal Albert Hall community, that I’ve got a whole two likes and no comments. So there you go my new bloggees don’t love me so I’ve come crawling back. But if you want to laugh in the non-event of my new found blogger fame-dom, then check out this link:
Or alternatively, you may want to read the full uncut, director’s edition of my blog (apparently my submission was too long – really? Me blog for too long?), then read on. Enjoy…
My name is Matt and I’m a Prom Virgin. If from that sentence your first thought is that this is a diary of an 18-year old American girl, trying to get off with a guy called Chad at the end of school dance, then I’m afraid you’ve got the wrong idea. I am of course referring to having never been to the celebration of classical music that is the annual BBC Proms.
I’m not really sure why I haven’t been to the Proms before, I guess I’ve just never thought they’d be for me. I imagine the Proms is a bit like Opera, but with less Viking horns, less people singing about wanting Cornettos, and no one who looks like they’re going to try and persuade me to Go Compare my car insurance. And without wishing to be rude, I always imagine that people who go to the Proms are quite posh, called Giles, wear burgundy cardigans and watch The Antiques Roadshow. And despite having a slightly unnatural love of all things Fiona Bruce, I’ve never really seen myself falling into that category. However having recently surprised myself about how enthusiastic a Union Flag waiver I can be at the Olympics, I thought why not see if I can carry on my nationalistic arm flapping at the Proms. This is where we come to our first snag, Union Flag waving only occurs at The Last Night of the Proms. Turn up any other night doing that, and whilst I’m sure you may not get turned away you will look like an over enthusiastic member of the BNP. I clearly had a lot to learn, so it was time to head to the Royal Albert Hall and see what the Proms were really like.
I was worried that turning up to my first Prom would make me feel a bit like a fish out of water. I’m the kind of person who if invited to a posh do, feels distinctly awkward. It’s as if my invitation was an accident and I spend the entire event panicking that I will break something expensive. The good news on this front is that there is no dress code for the Proms, the majority of the audience was on the smart side of casual, and I certainly didn’t stick out like a sore thumb in t-shirt and jeans. Saying that you can go too casual. If you are lucky enough to own your very own fluorescent lime green mankini, the Proms may not be the night for it. The other reassuring sign, about the level of class allowed in, was that on entering the Royal Albert Hall I found they actually sold those large bags of Cadbury’s Giant Chocolate Buttons at the kiosk – a tiny part of me had worried it would be pheasant and truffles all the way!!
Even the most architecturally snobby person, can’t fail to be impressed by the interior of the Royal Albert Hall, I have been before, but the grand roof and impressive stage still take your breath away. There’s a variety of seating options from high up in the rafters, where you need binoculars to see what’s going on, all the way down to the excellent stall seats (where I was lucky enough to be sat) through to possibly the politest mosh pit in the world. Yes standing tickets are available for the Proms, though if you are worried I think it’s unlikely any of the orchestra are likely to be crowd surfing anytime soon! And the good news with standing room tickets is that you won’t be alone if you choose to sit or even lie down during the Prom, though there were a large number of audience members who commendably manage the herculean task of standing through the whole event.
Culture experience or no culture experience, I certainly couldn’t have managed that. A word of warning here if you are lucky enough to be sat in the stalls, be cautious that the chairs do revolve slightly to let people get past you. I didn’t realise this, and nearly had as Miranda-esque moment as I span off into a nearby Prom couple enjoying their ice creams.
The concert I’d been asked to review was Concert No. 69 (no sniggering at the back please), entitled “Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra – Messian & Mahler”. Call me a cultural philistine, but I’ll be honest I had no idea what any of that meant. I know!! What can I say; I was clearly off the day we did that at school. Saying that, it may well be worth doing a little bit of research prior to your visit to the Proms if you are a novice. Unless you’re happy to stump up for a programme there isn’t any information on what you are actually hearing. In fact bar an announcement regarding turning off mobile phones, nothing in the performance was actually spoken, which is a slightly odd experience in itself. We can only hope Jim Davidson decides to bring this format to his act sooner rather than later. I found that simply checking the BBC Radio 3 listings for the Proms, gave me a good enough brief guide to what I was going to be hearing. So if nothing else I’d suggest you head there. Obviously in the real world you may have had some input into choosing which Prom you go to, rather than having a random set of tickets land in your hand (like I did), but if a friend does take you along for example, I’d recommend taking five minute trip of Google to keep yourself informed (that five minutes doesn’t include time spent procrastinating and internet shopping, whilst your meant to be looking!).
If like me, your experience to date of live musical performances consists of watching odd episodes of The X Factor and an unloved VHS of the Spice Girls 1997 tour that you’re not quite sure why you own, then one of the striking things about the Proms is it isn’t a visual experience. Don’t get me wrong the sight of a full orchestra on the stage of Royal Albert Hall is certainly an impressive sight.  But once you’ve taken that in there’s no other on stage movement really, there’s certainly no dancing troupes and no epileptic-inducing pyrotechnic displays. Though it definitely was amusing to see one member of the orchestra produce a large mallet to sound one of the notes (I am not sure I was supposed to find that funny)! But whilst your eyes may not feel that taxed, your ears will be treated to a full audial spectacle. The music is amazing, and sounds brilliant in the domed hall. In fact you could be forgiven for just closing your eyes and allowing the music to wash over you, it’s evocative nature taking your imagination to any number of places. Though I am not totally convinced that, that’s the reason some of the more elderly Prom goers had their eyes closed!
Concert 69, performed by the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, consisted of an initial 31 minute performance of Messiaen's 1964 memorial to the dead of the two world wars – an understandably somber piece. This was followed by an interval and then an 85 minute performance of Mahler's Sixth Symphony, a rousing piece of music (yes I did look this up, I am not that cultured). Each of these performances, is interspersed with a number of tiny breaks, where I wasn’t quite sure if you were supposed to clap or not. I felt I should, but wanted to wait for someone else to start instead – perhaps everyone in the hall was in fact waiting for someone else to start, and the orchestra just thought we were a really rude audience!! Either way these short breaks, are noticeably used for a good cough as everyone finally succumbs to that irresistible urge that annoyingly occurred about one second into the performance, where they desperately needed to cough up the contents of their throat. It sounds a bit like being in a hall of people trying to perform the world’s largest synchronized sickie phone-in to the office. As a newbie I’d be prepared for this, as it can be unintentionally funny, to the unwarned.
So after an evening of Prom-ing (is that even a word?), what did I think? Well visiting the Proms is definitely a great spectacle and an experience worth seeing and hearing at least once in your life. The musical performances are absolutely amazing. I was pleasantly surprised that the event didn’t feel as aloof as I’d perhaps unfairly expected. Personally, however, I think that this specific Prom possibly wasn’t the most accessible for a complete newcomer and to be honest the 85 minute second piece was a little too long for my tastes, interests and comfort of my bottom (Just a cultural note – I do appreciate that, that was the length of the piece and it can’t be abridged for the convenience of my posterior!). That said, I do think that choosing your first Prom appropriately is important. Perhaps using the guidance of a friend who knows more about it, or even starting with one of the more themed Proms, I believe would certainly lead to a good fun night out for a newcomer, and potentially engross you into the whole experience. I certainly think you have nothing to lose by giving it a go, and if they’ll let me in the Royal Albert Hall they certainly won’t throw you out for looking out of place. Who knows before long you could be attending every Prom in the next season, just promise me that you won’t eat too many of those Giant Chocolate Buttons!

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

You Can with the Dukan

Apologies if you’ve had the misfortune of speaking to me in the last couple of months, because I have officially turned into one of those people. Yeah I’ve started doing a “fad” diet and it is now all I can talk about, all I can tell you is what I can eat, what I am going to eat, how much weight I’ve lost, how much weight I have to lose and how regular my bowels are. Though in fairness I always talk about how regular my bowels are so you probably haven’t noticed the difference! So far I’ve managed to keep diet talk off this blog, but no more I must break free and speak my mind, as I have nothing else to talk about. Though I am hoping that I will contain all the diet talk in one blog-sized burst and not bore you incessantly for weeks to come. But apologies if this article does read like a copy of Woman’s Own.

Google any fad diet and you’ll find articles about how it does work, how it doesn’t work, how it will give you cancer and how it is responsible for the death of Diana, Princess of Wales – but then that’s your own fault for reading the Daily Express’ website. The diet I chose to embark upon is called the Dukan diet, named after it’s French creator Dr Dukan, and not chosen for some clever alliterative pun such as the one I have used to name this blog entry. Though that is helpful.
I embarked on the Dukan lifestyle, as he likes to refer it (lifestyle being that you can now only talk about dieting and annoy waiters by asking for special things from the menu), after seeing a colleague at work follow the same plan and rapidly disappear in front of my very eyes. Now I know I am hardly obese (don’t disagree that’s rude). I haven’t had to be taken to London Zoo’s elephant house to be weighed, I don’t have to be positioned correctly on a plane in order to keep the plane aerodynamic nor do I need to be hoisted out of a Piccadilly line carriage chair at the end of my daily commute. Though sadly that last statement is only true because I live on the Northern line. However, I have noticed a little bit of tummy, an annoying bit that even with a token amount of exercise and broadly healthy eating won’t go away. Every now and again it occasionally grows, at Christmas or bingey weekends, like a plant you occasionally get round to watering. Given enough time and slices of cake my tummy was sure to develop its own postcode if left unchecked. And with the recent 30th anniversary celebrations of my birth I felt now was the time to get in check before middle-aged spread, like a virulent fungal infection, took hold. Also I’ve never really felt comfortable being topless anywhere, I don’t look obese but if I lie down people have mistaken my belly for a speed hump. When I tend to get changed for swimming I find myself holding a towel around at nipple height to cover my modesty, like a pregnant women. But enough was enough, no more would I be ashamed of my body it was time for a change.

This is the book I’ve been using:

It looks lovely and fluffy on the outside, but the inside is like the culinary edition of Mein Kampf a strict list of rules and regulations that need to be adhered to in order to achieve weight loss. Dr Dukan takes great pleasure in reminding you every step of the way that even one false move will result in you being a fat bastard.

I’ll give you a quick overview of how the diet works, but on a serious note (for once) if you are following any weight loss plan make sure you do it sensibly and check you are following all the rules. Don’t just follow some half-baked summary some idiot has written on a blog – get what I mean? Good, now I’ve finished being your disapproving mother I can get on.
Dukan is primarily a high protein diet, by feeding your body just protein it’s forced to raid its fat stores to supplement your carbohydrate and sugar deficiency – like a crooked builder raiding a pensioner’s bank account. The diet is broken up into phases, Phase 1 is called The Attack Phase, this doesn’t involve any attacking, unless you actually unleash the pent up rage you will find quickly builds up against Dr Dukan when you’ve been following the diet for any length of time. In Phase 1 you can only eat lean proteins (poultry, lean beef or ham, fish, eggs etc.), 0% fat dairy products (skimmed milk, yoghurts, cottage cheese etc.) and a few selected condiments, and that is it. Drinks can only be coffee or tea (skimmed milk and sweetener only), non-fruit based diet fizzy drinks, water and skimmed milk. Sounds about as an appetising as a bowl of sawdust!

Here’s a typical meal from Dukan Day 1:

Personally I don’t find anything on that list actually disgusting. The main problem, I found, is what your tummy craves that it can’t have rather than having to eat horrid things. Though saying that mention “cottage cheese” enough and bystanders do seem to have a terrible affliction where they spontaneously projectile vomit in your face. And I soon learnt that bringing prawns into the office was about as welcome, with my colleagues, as if I’d brought a plague of locusts in, or turned up for the day with the rotting corpse of Bernard Manning.

Another delightful meal was this one, which I arranged into the shape of a bearded face simply to add some excitement to dinner:

During Phase 1 you can eat as much of the above foods as you like, but only them. This is a rapid weight loss phase, I lost 2kgs (4lbs) in just three days, this weight lost I suspect was almost entirely made up of taste buds jumping off my tongue in a bid to kill themselves. However this phase is only a temporary phase, up to a week and then you have to move to Phase 2, or you will die (possibly – almost certainly from taste boredom).

I found Day 1 of the Phase 1 wasn’t too bad, I was detoxing from the 40kgs of birthday cake I gorged on the day before. By Day 2 I wanted to kill people, slowly and painfully. Day 2 was awful and there was lots of grumpiness (apologies to those in the office that day). By Day 4 the worst was over my stomach surrendered even if now again I would start hallucinating about chocolate and pizza.
The Dukan book helpfully provides some recipes for this stage to turn the bland range of foods into a selection of bland meals.

Unfortunately the quantities in the book are absolutely mad, the very first recipe is for a selection of salmon voul-a-vents (without any pastry!), that serve 50. Fifty!!! I am not organising a f**king Dukan dinner party, why would I want 50 of the bloody things. It’s as if Dukan himself knows that anyone on the diet would have to instantly form some kind of group therapy organisation to get through it, and of course there’d need to be catering.

I made one recipe in this phase, this was these Mint Mousses:

It was primarily fat-free fromage frais, mixed with sweetener, green food colouring and peppermint flavouring. And tasted like you’d accidentally inhaled the contents of a dentist’s hoover bag. It had the consistency and flavour of what you spit out of your mouth when brushing your teeth. No matter how bored I was of fat free vanilla yoghurts I never became so bored that I had a second one of these, and most of the contents of the above photo went in the bin (except the ramekins which have to be destroyed).

There was a depressing point in Phase 1 where I started getting jealous of what I was feeding the plants!

After a few days you advance to Phase 2 – The Cruise Phase. In order to stop your gastric system completely collapsing, Phase 2 alternates the protein days from Phase 1 with days where you can add in most vegetables and a few more condiments. As long as you do the same number of protein days as protein and veg days you’re fine, so you can do this in any combination you like. Given that protein and veg days are a little easy to do when eating with friends or being cooked for by other people, I tended to mix up the pattern to get the protein and veg days to fall favourably.
By the time you get to Phase 2 you’ll be craving a lettuce leaf, your body will want anything to add to its restricted menu. I had a particular lust for cherry tomatoes that was happily filled in Phase 2. I found the protein & veg days so much more tolerable than the protein only days.

At this point the Dukan book happily provides some top tips to get you through the challenging times. First tip is that it’s really easy to order off a restaurant menu on Phase 2. Just choose something like salmon or an omelette or a salad and avoid dessert. Dukan is lying. It’s bloody impossible to find any menus you can eat anything off. I looked through five before going out for a meal with friends, pretty much every salad required four things to be taken off – breadsticks, oil, cheese, avocado etc. By the time I’d gone through all those changes with any waitress she’d already start lining up a massive turd to drop into my dinner. I found that the simplest thing to order, in terms of least changes, was to go to Pizza Express and order the Goat’s Cheese Salad – without any Goat’s Cheese. Which is about as exciting as rushing out and buying a brand new games console, without buying any games for it.

His next top tip, is if you wish to avoid the embarrassment of explaining to family members your new diet. Then just dip pieces of chicken in your boiled egg instead of toast soldiers, they’ll never know. Really?! How much does Dukan think toast and cooked chicken look the same? Or how far away does he think family members sit at the breakfast table? Is there about 100 meters distance between the chairs in his dining room, strategically placed so no one can clearly identify the foods going into their fellow diner’s mouths? Of course your family will notice, they probably won’t mention it in front of you. Mainly because they’ll be discussing the fact that you madly started dipping bits of chicken in your boiled egg, behind your back for fear that any moment you’re going to crack and start killing them. Even if your family did fall for your rouse, and believed the chicken you were dipping in your egg was toast, that’s the only “secret” meal Dukan recommends. After how many meals of just boiled eggs and toast do you think your family will think you’ve gone bloody mad anyway?

Another problem is Dukan isn’t really very portable. Eating on the move doesn’t really work as meats and dairy products aren’t really that travel friendly. Recently I went on a week filming with work, where I was on the road all day and found that while the crew were sitting eating lunch in a pub I was sat in the van in the pub car park eating luke warm vanilla yogurt and fish sticks. A more tragic site could not be imagined, well not without the death of a well-loved family pet or the cancellation of The Apprentice or something.

That said Dukan is an effective diet, after the first month I lost an impressive 7kgs (15lbs), and a large number of invites to dinners out – which for the social reclusive like me, can only be a good thing! I’ve tried a couple of Dukan’s other recipes namely the Iced Chocolate Souffl√© and the Tofu Choc Cream, and they’re ok. Don’t get me wrong they’re not amazing chocolate desserts, if you went to Hotel Chocolait and got those, you’d piss in the shop assistant’s face in disgust. But when your taste buds are crying out for variation and new flavours they seem to do the job. If you’re wondering how they can be on the list, they’re primarily made with zero fat fromage frais, egg whites and a low fat cocoa powder. In fact the whole dessert is so low fat, it’s like the anti-matter version of Vanessa Feltz, put them in the same room and the resultant explosion will destroy of all BBC London Radio station. Which isn’t necessarily the worst idea ever?

After 50 days I lost a total of 11 kgs (or 24 lbs) and reached my final target weight, a healthy slim
Matty not afraid to bare his new svelte chest – though don’t worry I won’t be doing it in the office or on the Underground or anything. From my experience Dukan worked for me, if you can put up with the tough rules, and the taste boredom oh and the bad breath – ketosis takes hold in the first week and if you don’t use regular mouth wash your breath could be used to cut through steel. I’m now in Stage 3: Consolidation, where I start introducing normal foods again slowly, so I don’t balloon up instantly like the deployment of a car airbag. I am allowed things like cheese and bread again, which when you’ve not had anything tasty for 50 days is amazing:

Most excitingly I can have two “Celebration Meals” a week where I can eat anything I like – as long as I don’t go silly with quantities.

For my first free choice meal I had this:

Followed by this:

Wooooooooooooooooooooooooooo! Finally I’ll be back to a normal diet after this phase, and hopefully I’ll never need to write another blog about tedious dieting. And if you’re lucky you’ll never need to read another blog about tedious dieting!

Sadly, for you, I’m off filming in a glamorous and secret location for the next week so no blogs for a little while but I will be back soon!

Monday, 11 June 2012

I’m Not a Football Fan Get Me Out of Here

This weekend saw the start of the Footbally Eurovision World Cup Thingy (see I can talk expertly on subjects I don’t know about), as Europe gets very excited to see who will win Football trophies when they exclude all the good South American teams who would win them otherwise.
Previously on this blog I have talked at great length about how I don’t hate Football, but generally find it easier to say you do to get out of arguments:

Anyway with England’s first game tonight, against France (see I know stuff), you may find that you are forced to watch the game against your will, even if you are supposed to be working. For some reason you’re allowed time off work to watch England play, but not to watch Cash in the Attic – it hardly seems fair. If you do find yourself in this football watching predicament, here’s some my top survival guide to how to get through the game:

1)      Don’t at any point say “It’s Only a Game” – yes, of course it is only a game. But the average football watcher won’t take kindly to you pointing out the one thing they’ve been looking forward to for the last two years, in their otherwise tedious life, is only a game. It’s shattering the illusion, like telling small children the tooth fairy isn’t real (though arguably less important).

2)      If possible avoid watching in a pub. Traditionally football fans prefer the pub environment for games, despite the fact that at home or in the office, you can usually have a chair, drink and actually be able to see the screen. Still the fans will attempt to take you to a pub, where you are only allowed to order drinks during half-time and there’s enough testosterone in the room that it’s a miracle people aren’t asphyxiated.
3)      Spend time enjoying seeing your normal friends behave oddly. Perfectly rational people you know, become perfectly irrational watching football at the best of times. When England play all bets are off. People you’ve known for years will start screaming, swearing and generally behaving madly towards people they’ve never ever met on the screen. During last World Cup I heard a perfectly a normal neighbour of mine shout “Lampard, you c**t!” at the screen before apologising to his wife and kids, by saying “Sorry, but he is a c**t!”. As an added bonus here, you can enjoying the irony of seeing out of shape, un-athletic friends who probably would have heart failure kicking a ball, shout at people in far better health than they are at how bad they are at football. I always laugh, though remember Rule 1, laugh internally!
4)      Organise a sweepstake. You might not care about football in the slightest, or about who wins the European Championship. But join an office sweepstake and find yourself swept up in the excitement of all simply because of the promise of being able to win cash. I can find myself cheering for even the most obscure of European nations for the promise of thirty-two quid should I win. Discretion on when to cheer on, may be required if your team is playing England – though you will find it hard to not radiate a glow of smugness should your team knock England out.

5)      A good trick if you’re fed up of people moaning that you know nothing about football is to memorise a few key facts from a newspaper pull-out. With luck someone will ask you your opinion in an attempt to mock you, and you can reply with the correct answer and wipe that smug look of their face. I’ll never forget the time I picked up the clich√© “The Spanish team never perform as well as they should on paper”, which I regurgitated when asked on this particular team’s success. Until this point I believed the phrase “jaw-dropping” was metaphorical. It isn’t!

6)      Why not set yourself your own spotting challenge to see how many companies have inappropriately and sometimes appalling crudely high-jacked the nation’s support of England in a desperate bid to flog more of their unrelated products. This year, this has become a bit harder as the Olympics has stolen the thunder of the European Championship. Although this does add the bonus game of seeing how cunningly some products who haven’t paid the Olympics for sponsorship have cleverly embodied the spirit of the Olympics without using the word Olympics. And now I’ve mentioned “OIympics” three times in one sentence Sebastian Coe will be coming round my house to smash in my kneecaps.
7)      If all the above tips don’t save you, you can always team up with a similarly unimpressed friend and spend the entire game discussing the most banal of vaguely related football things. If you are going to be made to watch the football against your will, then get your own back, by discussing which team has the nicest socks, which player you think most needs a hug, and which team the person in black is playing for. If you want to go for extra bonus annoying points, start asking football watchers what the rules are, or confound them by trying to get them to explain to you the offside rule in five thousand words or less.

8)      Despite all evidence to the contrary England fans will convince themselves that this is England’s year, this year England will sweep to victory and “football will come home”. It won’t, but this won’t stop England’s fans. I realise optimism to me is a stranger, but this is taking optimism to a whole new cultish level. The fans will charge in regardless, like a hedgehog convinced it can stop that thirty-tonne approaching juggernaut. And when England inevitably crash out, our England fans will be just as crushed as our metaphorical hedgehog. At this point you should avoid all attempts to reason with them, there will be more tears than at an onion chopping convention, England shirts will be burnt in the street, and the St George’s Cross bunting and flags will suddenly feel about as appropriate as a Gary Glitter poster in Mothercare. Best thing you can do here is hide. Statements such as “Don’t worry there’s always the World Cup in 2014” will simply earn you a punch.

9)      And if none of these things work, escape while you can. As long as you don’t want to go to a pub you’ll be surprised how deserted the streets are during an England game. You can get so much done without the tedium of others, shopping, commuting, getting your haircut – there won’t even be a queue at the Post Office!
Hopefully this guide will prove of some use, and if not don’t worry it will all be over within a fortnight. And very decently England will almost certainly have finished at least a week before this deadline!

Oh and of course good luck for tonight England!

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Where's the Jubi-Glee?

In case you’ve managed to miss all media outlets for the last few weeks, you may have seen all the bunting and incorrectly deduced that the BNP have swept to power and Lenny Henry has been put to death. Don’t worry that hasn’t happened, it was just the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Though having seen his performance at the concert I can’t guarantee the safety of Lenny Henry.

Yep the Queen has been reigning for 60 years, and as nice touch the flotilla organisers managed to orchestrate the weather so that everyone appreciated what raining for 60 years felt like. Unfortunately the double bank holiday allowed Fearne Cotton to escape from her maximum security prison. Not only was she seen displaying a jubilee-themed sickbag to Paloma Faith, but she also interviewed some World War II veteran’s. If surviving terrible armed conflict wasn’t enough, these people were then forced to endure an interview with the human form of stale candyfloss. All of them remarkably grateful Hitler had never deployed such weapons of evil back in the 40s. We also saw John Barrowman discussing the bells on the Queen’s barge and Anneka Rice watching some people painting some awful pictures of the Queen – only to see them destroyed by the typhoon force rain, in what can only be described as a merciful act of God. Based on this last paragraph you may think I didn’t watch the coverage of the Jubilee on the television and I made all that up. If only…

Televisual coverage aside, the main problem for me with the Diamond Jubilee is that it’s another opportunity for “organised fun” or by that I mean forced fun. I have no problem with the monarchy, Queen, Jubilee or anyone who wants to celebrate it. But like all socially retarded people, I’m never quite sure what to do at these events that are designated “fun”. I get the sense that I should be having fun, and that I should be enjoying myself. Yet I can’t work out how I’m supposed to enjoy the event, and what I am supposed to be doing. For instance, if I went to the river pageant, what am I supposed to do? It’s nice to see all the boats, but I’d be crammed in with a million other people trying to do the same, briefly glimpsing the boats as they sailed past. A bit like being crammed on the Victoria Line trying to crank your neck to see the station sign through the window. Logically it seems a lot more sensible to watch it on television. Apparently you are supposed to “soak up the atmosphere”, what the hell does that mean? And how do I do that? Was I off sick the day they taught this skill at school? Judging by the bedraggled spectators on the TV coverage, some people had done a very effective job of soaking up the atmosphere – but I don’t think that’s what people mean.

I am coming to the conclusion that “soaking up the atmosphere” simply means daytime drinking. All these events are just an excuse to not feel like an alcoholic when you’ve cracked open a bottle of bubbly at ten to eleven in the morning. Here again I’m left out, because I’m not really a big drinker. I know what you’re thinking “with a face like that, how can he not be constantly drinking in a bid to distort the hideous image his brain sees every time he looks in the mirror?” but no I take the hit, I just don’t drink very much – and have got used to my own hideous visage. So where is the fun, for those who aren’t pi**ed.
There are lots of other events like this that I don’t get the point of, New Year, St Patrick’s Day, even just a general night out clubbing. They are supposed to be the most fun you can ever have, but essentially they just consist of me not having fun, watching people who are having fun. And not having fun, while watching people having fun is probably the least fun thing of all. I just don’t get why they’re having fun – it can’t just be the drinking.

At least Christmas, they tell you what to do, there’s the cards, the decorations, the meal, the family row and the becoming obese because you really felt your family of 4 needed 16 tubes of Pringles. Ut most of these national events don’t come with instructions on how to have fun,. I’m never sure what I’m supposed to do, and instead it leaves me feeling rather empty.
Gay Pride is another one of these, I realise technically not a national event – unless you consider me a citizen of Homotopia. Essentially Gay Pride is where gay people all meet up and have a big celebration of the fact they are gay. They do these festivals in every major city up and down the country, even Hull, who knew there was anything to be proud of in Hull? I’m usually dragged to at least one of these events a year, I have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing. People appear to be having fun in all sorts of ways I simply cannot comprehend. All I know is that as a gay man this is supposed to be the most fun day of my life. It isn’t. There’s some kind of parade full of floats of gay men. I’m worried that these parades are actually Julian Clary’s attempt to recreate the Hitler Youth movement, but at least at this point I get what I’m supposed to do – stand there and watch. But then the rest of the day sort of seems to be hanging out in parks or gardens drinking, sort of like being in a very big pub without any tables, chairs, roofs or way of getting easily served – you know all the good things about pubs. Instead you have to be introduced to friends of friends of friends, who you don’t really want to meet and pretend to them you’re having the best day of your life ever – because “we’re soaking up the atmosphere”. I just don’t understand, what I am supposed to be doing?

With all this in mind, I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to be doing for the Jubilee either. At least the Queen was privy to some kind of instructions. I toyed with going down to the river, but that seemed awfully sociable. I was invited to completely ignore the event at a barbecue, but that felt wrong, I felt I should be celebrating the Jubilee. So instead I just sat on my arse and watched it on the telly, a pathetic attempt to be involved in a national celebration of fun. And then was shown news footage up and down the country of all kinds of people having fun. Fun I wasn’t having, fun at street parties and on The Mall and in pubs. I didn’t understand why what they were doing was fun, but they were having fun. They didn’t show any blokes sitting at home, not really having fun because they didn’t know how to join in did they?

Oh well, Olympics coming soon. Didn’t get any tickets for that… Probably just watch it on telly…Whilst everyone else has fun.
P.S. Due to Facebook's incompetence you may have missed last week's blog all about my trip to the USA if so why not click on "Born in the UK" under the May 2012 for double Matty misery!

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Born in the UK

In a desperate bid to try and make money from my blogs and retire in a sunshine paradise with a harem of prostitutes all coated in mint chocolate chip ice cream, here’s my attempt to become a travel writer. Enjoy.

Back in April I was lucky enough to go on a work trip to the United States of America, this was only my second visit to our trans-Atlantic friends. My first visit was back on the 9th of September 2001, and so I was pleased that this visit didn’t happen to coincide with any acts of international terrorism. Which has trips abroad go, is always a plus. Before you get too jealous of my amazing trip, here’s a photo from the rooftop of my hotel, which as you can see is terrible, yes this truly was an awful trip:

America sort of tricks you into thinking it isn’t really abroad. We’re so used to American culture in our films, television and brands, combined with the similarity of language, that you could be forgiven for thinking initially it will be no different to home. However America isn’t a mirror of Britain, more Britain painted in a cubist style – there’s the odd element of familiarity in a veneer of confusion. A bit like when you walk in a designer clothes store, there appears to be familiar looking shapes of clothes, but for some unknown reason they’ve been displayed in a pile of straw on a load of broken computer equipment sprayed with purple poster paint (it’s artistic I’m told).

The main thing that struck me about America is the scale on which everything is done. And I’m not just talking about people’s waistlines before you misinterpret for comedy effect, though by this point you’ve probably started added in your own jokes just to keep yourself from slitting your wrists in this barren wasteland bereft of humour. Try sitting opposite me at work, if you want to know true tedium. Everything in America is done on a huge scale, where in London land and space has to be conserved to such an extent that I spent my entire university career folded away in the space occupied by an edition of travel Yaztee. In America space is abundant, why have terraced houses when you can put a kilometre of space between each building? Even in smaller towns and suburbs large buildings dominated the skyline, only dwarfed by the humungous advertising hoardings. It’s if the latest movies have sponsored the very sky itself, to be honest I wouldn’t be surprised if I’d seen clouds formed in the shape of the McDonald’s golden arches wafting across the horizon.

I went to the post office in order to purchase a stamp so I could send a postcard to my mother – being that she’s unable to distinguish the difference between a work trip and a holiday, the primary difference being the former does not provide any time to visit post offices to send postcards. Even the post office is a hugely crafted multi-story building:

In Britain this kind of building would be reserved only for the town’s mayor, and only then if they’d fiddled the public accounts to get it built. For comparison here’s the Post Office in Clapham:

It’s not quite the same is it?

The same principal of course applies to American food, the food is lovely but the concept of portion control couldn’t be less American if it was daubed in a Taliban flag and burnt live on Fox News. Why have a Lasagne for one, when you can have on the size of a double bed. You could quite easily slip between the layers of pasta sheets and have 40 winks in a nice tomato base. America is probably the only nation whose lasagne is available in a 13.5 tog rating. The average American breakfast, in the hotel I was staying at, required the lifetime’s work of several chickens and the death of an extended family of pigs. Looking for a light option, I thought I’d try out the pancakes with banana choice on the menu. This will be light. I was wrong.

It was less a stack of pancakes more a skyscraper, each pancake could have been an individual storey, and I was tempted to install an elevator through the centre (look at me with the American lingo!). In fact here’s the same picture but with an average-sized human shown to scale:

Although of course that said, some types of food are always welcome in extra large scale:

I was in Los Angeles, apparently the most westerly major city in the world. There you go fact fans impress your mates down the pub with that gem, I would but I have no mates and the idea of socialising appals me.

Of course the major attraction of Los Angeles is the Hollywood sign, and here’s some photos I took of it, which to you will be at least 3% more exciting than seeing any other photo you’ve seen of it anywhere else. Why? Because I took it, I was there.

And to prove that I am vaguely intellectual here’s the famous Griffith’s Observatory:

And to destroy any respect I gained from that last sentence, I’ll tell you that the observatory is very exciting because it featured in an episode of Star Trek: Voyager (hashtag geek).

Another key site of Hollywood is Hollywood Boulevard:

I wasn’t really sure what I was expecting Hollywood Boulevard to look like, I think I imagined it would be a gold plated street with impressive marble film studios all along it. And in fairness some bits are like that, well maybe not gold-plated. But there are few plush looking film studios, swanky hotels and amazing restaurants. However large sections are stars just outside tatty souvenir shops and rundown cafes.

It’s a bit like the first time you visit Oxford Street expecting it to be a glittery shopping paradise, only to be disappointed to discover that amongst the big department stores there’s an Officer’s Club and a Sports Direct. It somehow lets the whole thing down. Though on Hollywood Boulevard, you can have the indignity of being the film star whose name happens to be outside the newsagent with the filthy, broken windows. I am guessing that would only happen if you weren’t a very good film star. I suppose the Oxford Street equivalent would be writing Shane Ritchie’s name on the pavement outside Primark with a blue aerosol spray can.

While we are talking about Hollywood Boulevard, I should give a mention to the amazing Cirque du Soliel which I saw in the Kodak Theatre (after fighting my way through a number of street entertainers wearing suspiciously bad costumes, such as Darth Vader in a blue cloak – presumably because the factory reject costume was so much cheaper). The Cirque du Soliel performance was absolutely amazing, well at least I imagine it was. Problem was I’d worked through the previous night and only had three hours sleep, so as soon I sat down in a darkened theatre my eyelids dropped faster than Katie Price’s underwear. Still I imagine it was really good. If you’re ever in Los Angeles I urge you to go sleep through it.

And with that I think covered every single aspect of the fifty states of America, you can’t possibly have any more questions. Though I should imagine reading this blog you’ll soon be expecting to me get my own travel blog. I for one and am all for the prospect of free trips. Like all good travel writers I will sign off with a summation line encapsulating the whole American experience. “If you like America, go to America.”

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

At Least There's Somewhere Now to Keep the Brooms

This week please indulge me on a topic that is both close to my heart and has kept me clothed and fed for seven years, as I discuss my passion for children’s television – that’s my passion for children’s TELEVISION you dirty minded selective readers.

The BBC Trust, if that’s not an oxymoron (I personally find it difficult to find trust in anyone who puts Homes Under the Hammer on our television screens), have completed their latest Putting Quality First spending review. Putting Quality First is nothing to do with ensuring that Snog, Marry or Avoid? is in the latest possible scheduling slot, but in making sure that as the BBC tries to save money it puts its quality programmes first.
The main nugget of news that hit the headlines last week when this broke, was the decision to move children’s programming off BBC One and BBC Two, keeping it all on the CBBC and CBeebies channels. There’s a good logic to this decision, by the time the changes are made every television in the country will have access to the children’s channels, the vast majority of kid viewers already use CBBC and CBeebies. And critically the children’s department loses no funding, in fact by not having to provide content for the former terrestrial channels it has more money to spend on its main channels.

This decision has come under a lot of fire, from those who believe this is some kind of snub to children, that this somehow is a sad day for the children of the nation. Actually it isn’t. Children’s programmes in the afternoon on BBC One are traditional in your childhood, because then that was the only option for children’s programming – we didn’t have dozens of 24 hour children’s channels, we didn’t have DVDs and an endless supply of on demand programming. To children today the end of children’s programmes on BBC One means a little less choice in quite a busy programming landscape. Kids aren’t going to get lost and not find the CBBC and CBeebies channels, they’re more across remote controls than the average adult! For the majority of today’s children the concept of four channels is something studied in history alongside the Vikings and the Romans. In actual fact the terrestrial channels to children are the odd channels, channels that sometimes show news, sometimes kids’ programmes, sometimes entertainment and sadly sometimes Dickenson’s Real Deal.
All that said the decision is a little sad, but I am acutely aware it is sad as it represents the end of something I held in high esteem as a child, a tradition for my childhood not today’s children! Yes a sad, but logical decision. It’s a bit like the death of an elderly relative, it’s sad but you know logic is saying you can now sell their house and make lots of money.
For many people of my generation, a lasting memory of their childhood will be children’s programmes on BBC One (or ITV) in the afternoons, my incarnation being The Broom Cupboard, and the big Saturday morning shows – Going Live and Live & Kicking being the ones I most remember. And to me as a child, there was something special about those programmes being on BBC One, it was saying this is the time for kids. Afternoons were the kids’ version of the evening primetime, and Saturday mornings the big entertainment extravaganza mirroring Saturday nights. And the fact these were on the primary channels was part of the draw.

Of course such nostalgia doesn’t concern today’s kids, and it’s important than children’s television evolves for today’s kids – not old f**ts like myself. I’d love to be making massive Saturday morning children’s shows like Live & Kicking, but today’s children don’t want them. The idea of sitting in front of three hours of Saturday morning television is as arcane to them as sending in an answer on the back of a postcard. Kids today are busy, they can’t give up their precious time to watch several hours of a phone-in with Judi Dench and Phillip Schofield laugh his way through a cookery item with his puppet sidekick. And in fairness if they did want to see that, they could just watch This Morning – apologies to Holly Willoughby.

However it still seems fitting to mark the passing of the children’s afternoons on BBC One for us children of the eighties! To do that, I’d like to have a quick nostalgic trip through some of my favourite children’s programmes of my time. The shows that made up the gaps between Phillip Schofield, Andy Crane, Andi Peters, Toby Anstis, Simon Parkin, Phillipa Forestter, Edd the Duck, Gordon the Gopher, Wilson the Butler and many more I’ve probably forgotten. So here is a non-exhaustive look at some great children’s telly shows!

Maid Marian & Her Merry Men – Essentially Blackadder for children, apparently this remains the most expensive children’s programme ever made in the UK. The 22½ residents of the muddy village of Worksop (an early Glastonbury) are protected from King John’s temper tantrums (modelled on myself after I’ve missed an edition of The Apprentice) by a cowardly Robin Hood.

Blue Peter – Everyone has a different generation of Blue Peter they remember, your parents probably remember Lulu pooing on the studio floor (the elephant not the singer) during a time when Blue Peter was presented by wholesome forty-somethings. Nowadays the presenters are so young, that the current ones are actual foetuses that would show you how to make a model of Tracey Island out of the placenta and the umbilical cord, if it weren’t the fact that they’re too young to remember Thunderbirds. My generation was Mark Curry – when he was busy knocking the heads of LEGO men and not dying a death on Catchphrase; Anthea Turner – between getting blown up in an explosion, and becoming annoying; John Leslie – before he allegedly starting showing the ladies “something he made earlier” whether they wanted to see it or not; and Caron Keating – who it’s very hard to write anything funny about.

The Girl from Tomorrow and Escape from Jupiter – Nowadays we’re used to American imports dominating our schedules, but these were two excellent Australian sci-fi dramas. The Girl from Tomorrow, which centred around a girl from the year 3000 who chose to travel back in time to the year 1990 (presumably to be niche, as everyone else was going back to 2000). Her time machine being the Crystal Dome stolen from Richard O’Brian. Escape from Jupiter featured an unlikely group of children (led by a ginger kid - controversial) escaping from a mining colony on Jupiter’s moon Io. I remember being particularly annoyed when an episode was taken off air to cut to a newsflash announcing Margaret Thatcher’s resignation ahead of a leadership challenge. I’m sure as an adult I’d be much more tolerant now if a programme I was enjoying was taken off-air to go to David Cameron doing something.

In my mind the special effects were better as a child than they appear now!

Newsround Newsround has been, and continues to be, an amazing show for kids. I regret not appreciating it more as a child, and making it an appointment to view. The show’s never shied away from explaining the complex issues of quite an unpleasant world to younger viewers. A few years ago explaining the suicide of a CBBC presenter.

Around the World with Willy FogAround the World Willy Fogg was the cartoon serialisation of the Jules Verne novel Eighty Days Around the World, with one minor plot point – Willy Fog was a lion and the world was populated by animals. This excellent cartoon, conveyed the excellence of the story, whilst including the fun and excitement required to keep it suitable for kids. Although the cartoon never did explain why no one ever complained about Fog smelling – despite the fact he wore the same suit for eighty days, nor why Transfer had a disco ball for an eye, or why the Governor of the Bank of England was allowed to gamble away all his wealth (fortunately today’s politicians could never be that irresponsible). I remember sending off for a song sheet with all the words to the theme song, from then broom cupboard presenter Andy Crane. Ahh how easily I was pleased back then.

I’m sure there’s many other highlights you remember. So here’s to the end of CBBC on BBC One. Whilst I totally understand the decision, the kids of today probably don’t realise the significance of the change. I for one will be a little sad at the passing of an institution of my childhood, that later went on to inspire what I laughably refer to as “proper” job and career!

And whilst I’ve sung the praises of programmes past, it goes without saying that today’s children programmes still feature some excellent content, particularly the programmes I’ve produced! As a final note I would like to say that all the programmes made and shown by my current employer and any future employers are excellent and well worth watching by children and adult alike – especially if you own a Barb box.