The Snow In The Summer or So-So

Knowledge is liberation


Het onderwijs nog altijd een succesvolle emancipatiemachine is. Education is still a successful emancipation machine.

6 December 2020
The Weeknotes

This week...

2 December 2020
Beyond Words - John HUMPHRYS

Back in the mid-aughts, there was a fad for books like this. Nominally about language and communication, but reflecting more on society as a whole. Lynne Truss's "Eats, Shoots, and Leaves" is the defining text in this genre, Humphrys cannot bear to be beaten by a mere woman, and produced two volumes of his own: this is a follow-up to "Lost for Words".

Having imitated Truss in his earlier effort, Humphrys has no more abuses of grammar to discuss. He uses the way language changes ("your M&S", "lifestyle", "exceed expectations") as a peg to hold his rants against the way society change.

By the middle of the book, it's clear that Humphrys is a Grumpy Old Git, the sort of old fart who is comfortable in his own life and doesn't want anything in it to change. It's unthreatening food for the comfortable conservative, and that's Humphrys's entire schtick.

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11 November 2020
Should have stuck to the stationary catalogue

Revenge of a Princess (ITV, 9 and 10 Nov), the latest attempt to revisit the Diana-Bashir interview on its 25th anniversary. Follows the same format as Channel 4's doc a few weeks back: first half is memories of the wedding, and how they arranged the interview; then inside commentary from people who were there, and finally giving voice to Matt Wiessler's ongoing grouse about his treatment.

Again, the programme failed to substantiate its claims. We saw in the documents flashed on screen that another programme had been investigated as part of the BBC's internal investigation. Neither Channel 4 nor ITV has named this programme, so what gives?

Turns out the link is Penfolds.

Specifically, "Penfolds", a fictional company cited as giving money in the fake documents drawn up for Martin Bashir to present to Spencer. Penfolds was also in fake documents drawn up for Martin Bashir to present to Terry Venables, during an investigation into Venables' business dealings. It was generally accepted in 1996 that the documents about Venables were fakes, and potentially fraudulent

ITV didn't dig into this aspect of the story. Which is unfortunate, because we can believe that Bashir was spoken to, and Wiessler let go, primarily because of the Venables fakes, and not because of the ones shown to Spencer.

Back in 1996, the original story was a six-day wonder. We suspect its 2020 reincarnation will be just as unimportant.

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2 September 2020
Take your time away

In another place, we're asked, "What is the greatest misuse of time travel you have ever witnessed?"

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Our protagonists change history by doing A, then doing B. This does not produce the outcome they desire.

Our protagonists wish to undo their meddling, so reverse their change at A, then their change at B.

As any fool knows, time travel doesn't work like that: after reversing at A, they must go to B', which will be different from B.

Cursed Child is an adequate play (but nothing earth-shattering, and not worth the overinflated price of admission). The plot has even more holes than my sock drawer, and we preferred it in the original gothic novel, "My immortal" by Tara Gilesbie.

More: this blog's review from 2016.

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Why It's Still Kicking Off Everywhere - Paul MASON

Written in 2011 and 2012, Mason tries to find a linking thread between the Arab Spring and the western Occupy movement, via the collapse of democracy in Athens. Social media is his linking thread, a suggestion that both events were facilitated by the Blackberry and Twitter.

At the distance of almost a decade, it's clear that Mason's hope - that there would be a popular uprising against his reviled neoliberalism - hasn't been fulfilled. Some of the on-the-spot reporting has become outdated, almost comically.

We do have some positive takeaways: the more theoretical chapters on the social and economic causes, and on the history of 1848, are perhaps more relevant with hindsight. An application of these principles, when the people of Greece completely ignored the government, bears comparison with the pandemic of 2020.

Ultimately, though, Mason believes that social media and the network effect will only be used by forces of progress, and will only be used to advance social causes. That turned out well, and Mason doesn't give any useful thoughts on how to reintegrate the atomised bits that used to be a society.

Mason's book is relevant, at times engrossing, but it's no signpost to the future. Rather, treat this as a milestone, a record of where society was in 2011-12.

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19 June 2020
Travel times

Let's do a Top Six.

  1. Press Gang remembered, the massive impact of ITV's greatest 80s-90s drama.

  2. (And That's No Lie) is of course the only hit single to have its entire title in parentheses.

    We have two counterexamples to the Heaven 17 minor hit (which made the top 40 at number 52 in early 1985). From the Dust Junkys, (Nonstoperation) made number 47 in November 1997. And from Sigur Ros, the query-proof () reached number 72 in May 2003; the album of the same name had charted in November 2002.

  3. Simplifying board games: a starter pack for a full game.

  4. Geoffrey Alderman reflects on how he helped to change Sunday trading laws.

  5. All the music in The Young Ones series one. Over on Grange Hill Rewatch, I've tried to note every piece of incidental music they used between 1994 and 2002. Some excellent choices, some superb tunes, and The Verve.

  6. On a rail forum, it was asked,

    If all of the following factors bar one were equal for a given journey, at what 'value' of that one variable would you switch from favouring a rail journey with changes to one without?

    Price, overall journey time, reliability, proximity of stations to origin/destination, comfort, crowding/ease of getting a seat, reservations.

    This blog tries to assign a value to our leisure time, at roughly €20 per hour, door to door. Euston on the slow lines is about an hour longer than Euston on the fast lines, so needs to be about €20 cheaper from time...

    ...or slightly less considering comfort, because the Pendolini on the fast lines leave us slightly queasy. We'll take the slow line if it's perhaps €15 cheaper...

    We don't attach a price to reservations, and crowding is a function of the time of day. We do account for freebies, First Class on the Pendolini is €6 each way just for the space, plus the sticker price of any snacks and coffees - up to €15 if we use the lounge and grab a light meal and gin 'n' tonic.

    Changing trains is normally easy for us - we'll only consider it if we plan to lug a suitcase (no charge for same- or cross-platform changes, or where there's a lift. €3 otherwise. London Marylebone to Baker Street or Birmingham New Street to Moor Street is €6 because of length.)

    Weighing this against the actual prices, we'll take off-peak trains to Euston when our destination is around Euston, or better accessed from there: east London north of the Thames, on the Northern line, or served via London Bridge. We consider a First Class upgrade if the tickets are within £15 of the Second Class. All other destinations in London go via Marylebone.

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20 April 2020
Popular in early 2003

Everyone remembers Year 3000, Busted's big breakthrough track. Riffing off the film Back to the Footor, Busted tell of a world where people live under water. People only reproduce once every 200 years or so, because the interlocutor's great-great-great grand-daughter is still alive. And is "pretty fine". The whole song is irresistable pop, written with a sharp wit, and it's remembered as an absolute classic. Number 2.

(More: The entire careers of David Sneddon and Tatu, lots of discussion of the Eurovision Song Contest, and a huge piece of writing about Evanescence. Plus number ones from Christina Aguilera, Gareth Gates and The Kumars, Room 5, Busted, Tomcraft, but R Kelly.)

Fast food song by the Fast Food Rockers was everything you could want from a hit song. They had a credible origin story, having met at a hamburger 'n' hot dog convention in Folkestone. They had a striking visual image, day-glo uniforms with just a hint of latex.

And they had a catchy single. Based on a campfire song (we heard it through Scouts in the 1980s), it was familiar to millions. The band performed with a better sense of tune and timing than Jemini, and the lyric was the greatest since The Cheeky Girls.

A pizza hut
A pizza hut
Ken tuck in fried chicken and
A pizza hut

Mac donald!
Mac donald!
Ken tuck in fried chicken and
A pizza hut

Two weeks at number 2, and a follow-up graced the top ten. And then the Great British Public said "this joke's gone quite far enough". The album stayed resolutely on the shelves, and the group were dropped in early 2004.

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18 January 2020
Popular in late 2002

Not Quite as Popular covers the top five singles on the CIN chart. This episode covers the first half of 2002. We move at the same speed as Tom Ewing's Popular project, which explains the eighteen-month gap between installments.

July 2002 dawned with Elvis Presley still at number one. Red Hot Chili Peppers had been going almost as long, 19 years compared to Elvis's 22 year career. Formed in 1983, the Peppers broke through in California with Mother's Milk (1989) and here with Blood Sugar Sex Magik (1991). Even then, it took until 1994 for the album to become a serious success here.

Three albums later, By the way enters at number 2. It's the group's biggest UK hit single, and one of their best-known (second only to Under the bridge, we reckon). More melodic and instant than many RHCP tracks, it has some depths. Some, but not many.

(More: With number ones from Darius, Sugababes, Blazin' Squad, Atomic Kitten, Pink, Will Young, Las Ketchup, Nelly, DJ Sammy, Westlife, Christina Aguilera, Daniel Bedingfield, Eminem, Blue, and Girls Aloud. And with this blog's marks.)

The winner was Sound of the underground, credited to Girls Aloud. Louis Walsh had had the song kicking around for a couple of years. Reports at the time said it had been turned down by Samantha Mumba just weeks before, for the album that was retconned out of history. A dance song with sampled guitars, a catchy chorus, a winners' song that actually reflected life as the voting audience lived it. Waterman went for the granny phone vote; Walsh went for a long-lasting group. He won, of course, putting the song to the top for a full month.

History has been kind to Sound of the underground. It wasn't pioneering, the beats-and-guitars thing had been going around all year. But it did bring a very new sound to the most mainstream part of the mainstream, and that sound would shape pop music for the next few years. Number one for four weeks, and while greater talents have had Christmas chart-toppers since, there wouldn't be a better festive leader for many years.

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12 January 2020
The number one hits of 2019

Here are all of the songs to have spent at least one hour atop the Peartunes digital sales charts during 2019. From the perspective of the end of the year, we've ranked them on the open-ended Popular scale (average is 5½, 10 is outstanding, 1 is abysmal.)

79d23h TONES AND I - Dance monkey
The year's most dominant song - almost 20% of the year on top - for a catchy and demonstrative number with great depth. It'll be remembered in years to come. TEN POINTS!

(Not all of the songs are as good as this...)

00d07h TAYLOR SWIFT - Christmas tree farm
A tale of Taylor growing up on her farm. This is going to be a classic, not just because of who's made it. 8.

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31 Deceember 2019
"Blue Monday or not, never trust any song that has '88 after the title."

So wrote Tim Worthington in August. Now, Tim's hot on popular culture, we've a lot of respect for his warm and critical nostalgia. But does the implication hold: were all songs with an "88" at the end a bit dodgy?

We can test this with actual research. Cranking up the Big Database of Every Singles Chart Hit Ever, we find there were 15 hits ending in "88". They were, unsurprisingly, all released in 1988. Let's go through them one by one.

Alexander O'Neal - Fake '88
Released in three mixes; the "House" mix was seven minutes of Alexander struggling to be heard over a synthesised drum loop. The "Single" mix ("Short House" mix) was the same but truncated to four minutes by chopping the intro and not bothering with the extended mixout. The "Club" mix ("Hip Hop" on some pressings) was a bit longer. All mixes were by Keith Cohen and Steve Beltran, keeping the keyboard figure in the pre-chorus. The mixes don't add anything significant to Jam and Lewis's original from the previous year, but benefitted from O'Neal's raised profile to reach number 16.

(More: Fourteen more efforts: the good, the bad, and the template for a future Kylie release.)

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