Friday, 31 December 2010

We'll take a cup of kindness

Well, this is it. The final post of 2010. And what a year it's been. I hope this series of memory joggers has helped you reflect on the ups and downs of the last 12 months, and that not all the memories gave you a headache.

George Bush had his own troubling moment of reflection in November as he reflected on his eight years in the Oval Office. Strangely, it wasn't the economic meltdown, Hurricane Katrina, 9/11, an illegal war, corporate corruption or dubious election results that caused him sleepless nights. It was being called names by Kanye West. Still, at least he has a newfound empathy for Taylor Swift.

Speaking of music, Katy Perry, P!nk, Ke$ha and Lady Gaga plucked their pens from behind their ears and scribbled some inspiring songs to show their support for their gay fans. One person who was unable to contribute to this musical outpouring was Michael Jackson, although that didn't stop his canny record label from cobbling together an album from recordings of the King of Pop clearing his throat and practicing his scales.

Nadine Coyle also released her long-awaited debut album, but only on the shelves of Tesco. As a result, she shifted fewer units than a warehouse worker on long-term sick leave. Poor promotion was blamed for the project's failure, but ultimately, it came down to what her bandmate Cheryl repeatedly refers to as 'the likeability factor'. In that she didn't have any.

The celebrities were also out in force this November - another bunch of desperate 'stewing steak' stars tried to convince us they were still fillet, by gobbling down all manner of marsupial genitals in the Australian jungle. Hungry fans were also able to join in the fun of the Bushtucker Trial this time, thanks to the release of witchetty grub chocolates.

If you prefer your celebreality entertainment with fewer dry-heaving scenes, you could have tuned into Celebrity Coach Trip - a remarkable show which stretched the concept of celebrity to its illogical conclusion. Forget about BAFTAs, what everyone needed to see was Barry Chuckle sharing a beer bath with Ingrid Tarrant.

The Daily Mail continued its war on logic, tolerance and professional journalism, by writing an article warning its white readership that they're just fifty years away from being a minority. Less politically minded readers had to content themselves with a remarkable story investigating the science of celebrity. Its stunning conclusion: famous people mix with other famous people in expensive place. Mystery solved. There were also some handy hints on how to buy your wife the perfect Christmas gift. If you missed this incisive piece, here's the summary - listen.

The recession maintained its icy grip on the wallets of the nation, so David Cameron commissioned the Office of National Statistics to conduct a survey assessing how happy we all are. It's just a shame no-one has found a way to measure the happiness of Britain's turkeys, who had good reason to celebrate on Thanksgiving (for once) when Bernard Matthew finally bit the big Golden Drummer.

The True Clean Towel was also made available, promising to put a smile (and nothing else) on the faces of anyone with a phobia of letting their damp parts touch. The surprisingly graphic ad shocked and amused in equal measure, although if anyone does want a pair of balls rubbing in their face, I can recommend a number of clubs.

Finally, November was a month of shocking revelations, as Michael Moore received a long-awaited apology, Tomasz Schafernaker showed his casual side, and Hobbits were uncovered as a bunch of undersized white supremacists.

Which, rather neatly, brings us to December. As five inches of snow managed to bring the whole country to a standstill, we found ourselves under house arrest, much like Julian Assange. The Australian journalist was eventually released on bail to await extradition, having ironically found himself on the receiving end of a tactical intelligence leak.

Bernie Ecclestone showed his battered features in an ad for Hublot watches, making it the desirable timepiece for anyone who wants to be beaten and robbed in the street. In contrast, Nike became a much less desirable brand when the shoe manufacturer decided to sue a guy who mistakenly bought a fake pair of shoes on the internet.

A school in Memphis waged war on low-slung denim, by creating a wall of shame for slouchy students revealing a little too much underwear. And Disney tried to help out the kids by bringing in Britney Spears to teach the next generation of child stars about how to handle the pressures of fame. Which was a little like asking Katie Price for advice on getting the 'natural look'.

We endured the finals of the X-Factor and The Apprentice, both of which ended rather predictably, with winners that most viewers had picked out in the first couple of weeks. However, both shows did give us some fantastically entertaining highlights, thanks to the most objectionable contestants since Goebbels and Goering appeared on Double Dare with Peter Simon.

So here we are. It's December 31st, the Prosecco's chilling in the fridge, and many of my work colleagues are shivering in the cold by the banks of the Thames, waiting to trigger the fireworks. Whoever and wherever you are, I'd like to wish you a Happy New Year and thank you for spending some of your time on this blog. I hope you'll be back again in 2011.

Now, to play us out, here's a mash-up of 25 of the biggest hits of the year, courtesy of DJ Earworm (Warning: may contain traces of Ke$ha)...

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Forever Autumn

Welcome to the penultimate post of 2010. It's been a year of ups and downs, with more than a few sideways glances. And as we sweep up the remains of the decade, along with all the tattered wrapping paper and empty vodka bottles, there's time to take a quick look as what Autumn brought us, in addition to a skip-load of damp leaves.

The month of September got off to a great start for Peter Hitchens, who felt he'd finally identified the smoking gun that confirmed what he'd always suspected - that the BBC leans to the left. No-one had the heart to point out that the telling bulge in the corporation's corduroy slacks had given the game away years ago.

Elsewhere in the pages of the Daily Mail, the knives were drawn for Lady Gaga, Davina McCall and Chloe Mafia. The paper's ill-concealed misogyny spilled out all over the place, as these women were attacked for being too calculating (Our Lady of the Tenderloin), too liberal (Big Mutha) or too slutty (do I really need to point that one out?).

However, it was clear that the real enemy of our traditional British sensibilities, was the growing Islamification of this great nation, as evidenced by the pernicious spread of Halal McNuggets. It was clear, to the Mail at least, that although most people don't give a Towering Zinger about what they put in their mouths, they do care about which religiously associated slaughtering methods are being used in the abattoir.

Which leads me rather neatly onto 'Fuck You' - Cee Lo Green's chart-topping, foot-tapping, profanity spouting retro throwback. Although a radio friendly version was released (managing to squeeze an extra syllable into the title), it was the explicit version that really caught people's imagination. And it was just one of a number of fairly innocuous pop songs, spiced up with some dockyard language. In the past, singers have recommended gargling with warm, salty water before going onstage - these days they'd be more in need of soap and water.

The first few Christmas decorations were already popping up in certain stores, so naturally our thoughts turned to gifts - even though we planned to leave buying anything until the last minute, certain that our postal service wouldn't be impeded by any seasonal snowfall.

Answering the age-old question 'What do you buy for the man or woman who has everything?', we discovered a rare malt whisky distilled from diabetics' piss, a pearl necklace of sculpted silver semen, and a new women's magazine aimed at plus-size ladies.

The publishers' timing couldn't have been better, since women's body size continued to be a big issue. Christina Hendricks complained that dress designers were unable to provide her with suitable red carpet couture, thanks to her abundant figure. Used to dressing stick-thin waifs of indeterminate gender, it's no wonder the designers struggled to dress a woman with more curves than an alpine racetrack. Nonetheless, the media's obsession with post-baby weight loss continued, as celebrity mothers were damned if they did and damned if they didn't.

P0pvulture took a trip Stateside in October to take in the delights of New York and San Francisco, most of which came with a gargantuan side order of fries and dipping sauce. The people were friendly, the shop assistants helpful and the choices varied. In fact, it was only the high prices that reminded me of home.

Meanwhile, X-Factor rolled on, giving the UK a fantastic new supervillain to hate. Apparently, these days you can be branded Satan's emissary on Earth just for having curly hair and an over-inflated opinion of yourself. Lookout Mika, they'll be coming for you next.

The Jackass boys launched another assault on taste, decency and each other's genitals, this time in 3D. Apparently, the immersive nature of the technology makes you really feel like you're there. In this case, that means trapped in an airborne Portaloo.

Looking further afield, we followed closely the developments in Chile, as a major rescue effort was mounted to extract a number of miners trapped in a collapsed shaft. Thankfully, all the men were safely removed, although one found himself facing a different kind of jeopardy when both his wife and mistress turned up to celebrate his safe return.

Over in Spain, prostitutes were forced to wear high-vis jackets when working the rural roads - but struggled to accessorise their new outfits. And a different kind of sex scandal erupted in Italy, as children were removed from a prestigious school because of concerns about the sexiness of one of the teachers. You'd think the mothers of the children would be happy that their husbands finally showed an interest in attending parents' evening.

Concerned by a spate of gay suicides, Dan Savage launched the 'It gets Better' campaign, which saw a huge number of illustrious celebrities, and Ke$ha, create encouraging YouTube videos encouraging kids to rise above the bullies. Unfortunately, no-one pointed this out to Amanda Platell, who continued to churn out her own special brand of underwritten cruelty, directed at anyone who happened to catch her eye. Now, I'm reluctant to lower myself to her level, so I'll simply point out that she looks like a snow shovel coated in vaseline and leave it at that.

OK folks, tomorrow's the big one, as we count down the last two months of the decade. Please join me and we'll raise a celebratory glass of something to the year that once was.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Summer blogging, had me a blast

This epic feat of endurance rolls on, as we find ourselves remembering July, with the same kind of fond recollection usually reserved for our first bout of tonsillitis. 

As usual in the summer months, our attention was focused on Hollywood. But as another year of tedious and uninspired blockbusters rolled out, it was the action behind the scenes that really made us sit up and take notice. Mel Gibson was this year's big celebrity casualty, plunging into a downward spiral, like Lindsay Lohan, Vanessa Feltz and Michael Barrymore on a helter skelter. Christopher Nolan proudly unveiled Inception, despite its jittery studio worrying that it had blown $200 million on a film designed to make people think. 

Thankfully, the lowest common denominators were also well catered for, with Hugh Jackman offering a sweaty one-to-one workout, Robert Pattinson keeping people guessing about which bodily fluids he really likes to suck on, and Jeremy Boreing living up to his name, with a slate of films which depicted 'real American values'. And then there was the Human Centipede, a European arthouse horror movie which became the talk of dinner parties around the world (albeit after the chocolate souffles had been served). 

The Czech Republic saw a saucy calendar being released, showcasing its hottest female politicians in various states of undress. Critics were quick to point the finger that they were debasing their public roles by participating in the project; everyone else's hands were otherwise engaged. In the UK, we had to put up with Lembit Opik writing an impassioned defense of Phillip Coates, who had been arrested in Barnsley for riding a Segway on the road. Where's a cliff when you really need one?

The Scissor Sisters released their long-awaited third album, which sounded like a bunch of arse. Funnily enough, it looked like one too, with a cover that used a famous Mapplethorpe image of two snugly dressed buttocks. Speaking of which, Jedward continued their baffling recording careers even though they were dropped by their record label and injured on stage. 

Elsewhere in the deepest, darkest depths of the music industry, Katie Price managed to convince a record label that a sideline in singing was a good idea for the zeppelin-titted humility vacuum. She told the world that it was all in fun, a point that was missed by anyone with the misfortune to hear her output. Interestingly, her single's release coincided with a report on a baffling new trend called iDosing, as teenagers around the world started listening to 'repetitive drone-like music' in search of a non-pharmaceutical high. 

Innovation was also a big business in July. We had the Butch Bakery, which offered buttercream for blokes, beer served in the body of a dead squirrel, and a contraceptive with teeth. Now there's an episode of Dragons' Den I could actually sit through. 

The following month had its own fair share of clever products hitting the market, most notably the Brian Blessed edition of Tom Tom. Essentially the same old in-car navigation system, this software upgrade ensured that no-one would ever fall asleep at the wheel. We were also shown the wonders of Stashitware, the world's most voluminous pants, and the Lady Gaga Halloween costume range, which sadly debuted too soon to include the coldcut-couture she showed off at the MTV awards.

August was also the month when employees fought back, from the strippers who decided to protest outside a local church, to Steven Slater who gave an effective (and dramatic) demonstration of how to operate the emergency evacuation slide on a JetBlue aircraft. 

It was a case of better the devil you know for gay conservatives GOProud, who invited random hate generator Ann Coulter to give a speech at their annual conference. A decision that, in retrospect, seemed about as sensible as Lindy Chamberlain hiring a nanny from an ad in Dingo Weekly. But not all celebrities were as willing to grin and bear it for a paycheck - silver fox Anderson Cooper turned down a million dollars in exchange for dying his platinum barnet. 

When we weren't talking about the inevitable return of the X-Factor, we were speculating about the facts in the case of Gareth Williams, the MI5 agent who was found dead in his own suitcase. Rumours circulated that it was a bizarre sex game gone wrong, when it was more likely that he was just trying to avoid some of the gratuitous surcharges on a Ryanair flight. 

EastEnders courted its fair share of controversy this summer, as viewers complained about scenes of Phil Mitchell's descent into drug addiction. They complained that the show was too realistic, not exactly a familiar accusation for a programme in which Ian Beale has managed to marry three times. 

Lynne Rosenthal hit the headlines for not feeling the love in Starbucks, whilst Donald Duck was accused of feeling a little too much of it, when posing for a picture with one guest at the Magic Kingdom.  And finally, there was Pineapple Dance Studios, a show so gay it made Glee look like Match of the Day. 

All in all, it was a pretty good summer. 

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Reaching the half-way point

OK, so this countdown of the year is starting to feel like a bad idea, but I'm half cut on Fluffy Ducks, so let's soldier on and see if we can make it to the end of June

In May, Danny Dyer got into hot water for a misogynistic advice column, in which he told one magazine reader with a problematic ex-girlfriend to slash her face so that no-one else would want her. Donnie Osmond took a different approach, finding that the way to a woman's heart is through her vagina. Well, a rolled up poster of Donnie any way.

With the weather finally on the turn, it seemed as though everyone had sex on the brain. Westlife were promising their sexiest album yet (which admittedly wasn't much of a ambition), one enterprising young woman staged an online auction of her virginity (although it's not clear whether anyone sniped the highest bidder at the last moment), and a British Job Centre tried to recruit phone sex workers.

Sex was the last thing on Kevin Jonas' mind as he found himself occupying a separate bedroom to his new bride, thanks to his snoring. And anti-gay Christian activist George Rekers claimed that the young rent boy who accompanied him on his European trip was only there to carry the luggage.

Daniel Craig, Johnny Galecki and Chace Crawford found themselves fending off gay rumours, whereas the big outings of the month actually came as a genuine surprise - country singer Chely Wright and long-standing Sesame Street resident Bert.

Less surprising was the revelation that the Rolling Stones took drugs when writing music, which was a little like George Best admitting that he liked the odd tipple. This year's Eurovision also offered few surprises, once again displaying Europe's knack for key changes, glitter cannons and political back-stabbery.

Finally, May saw the end of two long-standing institutions - the Labour government and Lost. Both had spent years delighting, confusing and infuriating in equal measure, and both knew that it was time to go. In the end, it was the survivors of flight Oceanic 815 that were more likely to be missed.

As June rolled over the horizon, people seemed to be packing away the final traces of self-awareness like it was their winter wardrobe. Republican Aaron Schock denied being gay (and even announced he'd burned the outfit that caused people to speculate), Tara Reid lamented her party-girl reputation as she attempted to avoid spilling beer from a plastic cup, and Giles Coren typed furiously that he wasn't Mr Angry.

McDonalds shocked France with an ad that suggested gays might enjoy the occasional quarter pounder (who knew?) and Vermont Catholic magazine hit the news-stands with a surprising cover, showing a priest apparently offering a choirboy more than just his sacrament.

In the pop world, Beyonce complained that she was tired of the Single Ladies dance routine (despite Kanye west's vocal approval), and Katy Perry took time out from shooting whipped cream from her tits to moan about Lady Gaga's offensive videos.

Boris Johnson lamented the fact that The Wizarding World of Harry Potter had opened in Florida, suggesting somewhat erroneously that England could have done it better. I think someone needs to lay off the butterbeer before he opens his mouth. And Mad Men star January Jones was caught doing the walk of shame after a big night out.

David Cameron finally got his feet under the desk at Number 10, and was quick to send out invitations to Britain's most prominent gays for a damage limitation party. Speaking of which, the big story on everyone's lips in June was the terrible BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Big-hearted gays staged a sponsored oil wrestle to raise clean-up funds, Sarah Palin tweeted that we should all wait for God to intervene, and Kevin Costner invented a filtration system that he sold to the government. Well, it's not like he was busy filming that much-in-demand sequel to Dragonfly.

Finally, June saw the long awaited reveal and release of the world-conquering iPhone 4, although Carphone Warehouse decided that I hadn't waited quite long enough. But the less said about that, the better. Can anyone guess what months we'll be covering tomorrow?

Monday, 27 December 2010

The countdown continues

In case you missed yesterday's post, we're taking a look back at the events, people and tell-all-autobiographies that helped to shape 2010. If you don't like year-end reviews, check back here on New Year's Day for some fresh content. Otherwise, pretend you're like Guy Pearce, and join me in creating some new short term memories of the last 12 months.

March saw the arrival of a new kind of puritanism, as Florida offered tax breaks for family-friendly movies, Clearplay launched their automated film-censoring software, and a gay couple was controversially turned away from a British B&B by its Christian owners. Even a supposedly risqué photoshoot featuring a young Samantha Cameron turned out to be about as sexually incendiary as an Amish bonnet.

A different kind of traditionalism also made its presence felt/groped in Hollywood, as the producers of Pirates of the Caribbean announced that they only wanted to see actresses with all-natural treasures. At the same time, two gay teens made the headlines by being banned from their high school proms because of their proclivities.

Thankfully though, it wasn't all coyness and propriety in March, some people were still willing to spice up our lives with their bedroom antics. Fashion's most famous cadaver Karl Lagerfeld told the press he was proud to pay for rent boys, Donna Simpson told us all about fast food porn (people pay to watch her choke down 20 McNuggets), and even Darren Day was arrested due to his offensive weapon. Lonely gamers also discovered that they could rent a girl by the hour to accompany them in cyberspace while they played on their X-Boxes.

March also saw the arrival of Ke$ha, smeared in glitter gel and the remains of last night's burritos. It was clear from the start that she was out to steal Lady Gaga's crown, but our queen was too busy to take notice, as she proudly unveiled the Tarantino-influenced video to Telephone.

The differences between men and women were made more explicit for many, as adland delivered the world's first realistic commercial about periods, and Tyler Bowling showed the world his pearly penile papules (before regretting it and attempting to sue the TV network). Things were less clear in Brangelina's house, as it emerged that their daughter Shiloh has been displaying the signs of 'gender non-conformity'. But March was definitely the month for masculinity, as Tomasz Schafernaker revealed his warm front in Attitude magazine and one alpha male published his uber-butch vegan cookbook.

After the tedious traditionalism of March, April was refreshingly uninhibited. Christina Aguilera foreshadowed her recent X-Factor appearance by telling us that she was more sexual than ever, Ricky Martin revealed to the world what it had known for years about his vida loca, and even Archie and the gang got a new gay pal to hang out with at the beach. Sadly, the tolerance in Riverdale wasn't felt elsewhere in the States. David Archuleta got into a bit of a panic about being spotted in a gay bar and the right wingers compared homosexuality to having an amputee fetish.

People's hopes were temporarily raised when it was announced that Courtney Love was dead, until it turned out that Courtney herself had created the story to tell the world that she was 'killing off' that aspect of her life. In a similar vein, Britney tried to turn over a new leaf, by releasing unretouched pictures of herself from a recent magazine shoot, and Lindsay Lohan attempted to remind the world that she was more than a twenty-four year-old trainwreck, by taking on the role of Linda Lovelace in a biopic of the Deep Throat star.

It was a case of 'do as I say, not as I do' for two women who came to prominence in the 1980s. Madonna revealed that she struggles with her daughter Lourdes over her age-inappropriate wardrobe, despite the fact that she seemed to spend most of her early career dressed in scrunchies and lacy underwear. Mandy Smith also crawled out of the woodwork to lament the loss of innocence in today's youth, neatly sidestepping the fact that, as a teenager, she'd hooked up with a man old enough to be her chemistry teacher.

Controversy was everywhere in April, from the BBC irritating Doctor Who fans by running Graham Norton trailers over their favourite show, to Gisele and Tom Brady revealing plans for a 20,000 sq ft house that threatened to put half of California in the shade. However, public enemy number one was comedian Frankie Boyle, who shocked audiences with a string of jokes about people with Down's syndrome. At least he seems to have learned his lesson, and now studiously avoids offensive remarks.

While James Nguyen's astoundingly craptacular 'Birdemic' hit the big screen, Michael Bay was making plans to bring his explosive brand of bullshit to the small screen. And another popular TV show found itself courting a different kind of drama, as Nicollette Sheridan attempted to sue Desperate Housewives producer Marc Cherry for slapping her on-set. Interestingly, her claims were only marginally less believable than the usual plotlines on Wisteria Lane.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Yesterday once more

As Sandy Denny once sang, "Who knows where the time goes?" Maybe she also spent the Christmas holidays in a drunken fog, just outside of Sheffield. Either way, that's the reason that p0pvulture has been quieter than the output of Cheryl Cole's microphone for the last few days. But now we're up and running again, and counting down to the New Year.

So with that in mind, I thought it might be a good idea to review 2010 and take stock of the weird and wonderful things that the world of popular culture has thrown our way over the last 12 months. I've done my best to document it all, so now let's take a look back and see what went on. Well, if it's good enough for Clive James...

Hollywood was abuzz about two movies as 2010 kicked off. Avatar was packing them in, with its promise of eye-watering visuals and eye-straining 3D effects. Further exploring the technology's ability to damage eye-sight, the porn industry decided to take a leaf out of James Cameron's book, by applying an extra dimension to its own Pandora's box of tricks.

Cinemagoers always had the option of checking in with everyone's favourite detective instead, as Guy Ritchie shared his vision of the unique relationship between Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson. Unfortunately, many people found their mano-a-mano relationship to be a little too heavy on the mano, making it feel like a two-hour game of soggy biscuit.

Meanwhile, the Daily Mail was busy getting its bully on, taking potshots at the underdressed, the overdressed, and the wombling free. And it wasn't just the women who found themselves squirming under the spotlight, Cristiano Ronaldo's ad campaign for Armani underwear showed off his distinctive tackle.

Jennifer Love Hewitt spoke proudly about her confidence in using a glue-gun on her unmentionables, whereas Heidi Montage revealed the results of her extreme makeover, which were just, well, unmentionable. Lady Gaga inspired a whole bunch of video tributes, Taylor Momsen showed off a personality as dark and messy as the shit around her eyes, and Bear Grylls rinsed his out with a makeshift enema.

GMTV was also focused on cleaning house, as it turned the world's cosiest sofa into an ejector seat. As viewers placed bets on which presenters would face the axe, the show's hosts attempted to smile through their upset, much like Boyzone, who reformed for the world's most morbid pop video.

Rather predictably, February followed January like Kerry follows Jordan. And so we plunged head-first into the eighth and final season of 24, to see Jack Bauer working through more rubber hose than an out-of-town B&Q. Sadly, Jack's love of torture seemed to catch on, as a military man was found to have waterboarded his step-daughter in order to 'encourage' her to try harder in school. As an aside, she may also have confessed to an attempted plane hijacking in 2007.

Jack wasn't New York's only problem this year, as the race for the Governor's office saw a notorious Manhattan madam starting up her own campaign. In fact, February seemed to be all about the change of pace, as Dennis the Menace finally went soft, and the Pope turned wannabe DJ, with his recommendations for the best rock albums of all time. Even Desert Island Discs decided to change things up, by taking a more populist approach in selecting its guests. Listeners complained that this was the radio equivalent of mutton dressed as Spam.

But the most shocking image overhaul of the year took place on the golf course, as one of the world's most celebrated sportsmen showed an entirely different side to his personality. It turns out that countless women had enjoyed a Tiger in their tank, and as a result none of his former sponsors wanted to see Woods for the sleaze.

Ashley Cole didn't fare much better here in the UK, as he broke the heart of the Nation's Sweetheart by cheating on her with a bunch of BOGOF slappers. We all knew that he'd done it, because he didn't have the brains to cover his tracks. It probably didn't help matters that he'd sent a bunch of incriminating pictures and texts either.  If only he'd watched the highly publicised live episode of EastEnders, which finally revealed that Stacey was Archie's murderer - a secret that the show's producers had managed to keep for months.

Another long-suppressed secret from within the corporation's vaults finally saw the light of day, as it was revealed that the makers of Doctor Who occasionally used political subtexts in their storytelling. The Daily Mail was delighted that it had finally found the smoking gun sonic screwdriver it needed to prove the BBC's long-standing left-wing bias. Unfortunately, the rest of the world had simply rolled its eyes and moved onto the Sarah Jane Adventures.

But perhaps the most momentous event in February, was the first birthday of this blog. Although it sometimes feels like an albatross made of binary code and hyperlinks, it's actually grown into something I'm quite proud of. It's an outlet for my frustrations, and a forum for discussing the things that capture my imagination. And I'm thankful that I have a handful of committed readers who bother to check in every day. Tomorrow, March and April fall under the microscope.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

A bumpy landing

Apparently Christmas isn't just a time for wanton consumption, gluttony and liver abuse. According to Wikipedia it's also some kind of religious holiday (who knew?) when we're supposed to remember those less fortunate than ourselves.

So spare a thought for the people who'll be spending this December shivering in the cold, pressing their drippy noses at the window and gazing enviously at our plentiful feasts. People like Liz Jones, everyone's favourite professional victim and Mail columnist.

Despite pleading poverty several months ago (inspiring hundreds of old people to hand over their meagre pensions so that she could buy organic cat food) our intrepid journalist recently packed up her Vuitton luggage and headed off to Bolivia. How was she to know that while she was away, Britain would descend into wintery chaos.

The poor woman left her hotel in La Paz assuming that she had a relatively stress-free return flight ahead of her, only to find herself stranded in Schipol airport as Heathrow was all-but closed over the weekend. Displaying an ever-present flair for the dramatic, Liz describes the scene that met her in Amsterdam as being similar to that which might follow "a shipwreck or an earthquake". People were forced to change clothes in the terminal, breastfeed in public and, brace yourself, sleep "open-mouthed".

She couldn't understand the Tannoy or find her luggage, an experience that left her feeling like "the walking dead". By now, your eyes are probably blinking back hot tears, so I'll try to spare you some of the gory details of the experience which left Liz "stripped of [her] humanity". Suffice it to say, she found the airport staff unwelcoming and seemingly immune to her cries of "But all my Christmas presents are in the suitcase". It didn't help matters that her weather-appropriate boots were also packed away in her case, leaving her to tramp around a snowy airport in flip-flops.

Now, the churlish readers amongst you might chuckle at the utter lack of common sense it takes to fly back to the UK in late December wearing flimsy beach-wear. But Liz has never been over-endowed with any kind of capability for lateral thinking. Remember, she's the victim here.

And yet, even in the depths of despair, our kind-hearted correspondent was able to empathise with her fellow passengers. Having asked for information about arranging an alternative flight to the UK, Liz says "I was given a piece of paper by another mute employee; this had a phone number on it. (Anyone without a mobile – old ladies, nuns, the weak, the injured – were culled.)" Although, I'm sure that, if push came to shove, even Mother Teresa could have operated a payphone.

After a flight that involved waiting on the runway "for what seemed like the rest of my life" (if only), Liz found herself in Birmingham. It was here that Liz was able to get a lift with another passenger to heathrow. This good Samaritan's name, or the circumstances of his selfless offer? Fuck that - this is Liz's story; there's no room for bleeding-heart liberalism here.

Sadly, Heathrow was even worse than Schipol. Her car was buried under a 'mound' of snow, leaving her unable to unlock it. And the security staff were no use, even when Liz banged on the window of the closed airport and "mimed driving a car".

If you've gnawed your fingers down to the knuckles at this point, wondering whether Liz would ever get home to her hydrotherapy and macrobiotic pet sanctuary, don't worry - it gets better. Industrious to the last, our plucky heroine was able to fashion a makeshift snow shovel from a Pixie Lott CD, and finally made good her escape from the coldest Colditz of car parks.

But she doesn't blame the airport staff who were deaf to her need for unwarranted prioritisation. She understands that the reason they "stood, mute and uncomprehending, shoulders shrugging, staring into space" was because they were contemplating "the life they could have had". Nice touch.

Here's the thing. We all have bad customer experiences - times when we curse our rotten luck and wonder if things could possibly get any worse. Only to discover, moments later, that it already has. We even take to blogs, Twitter and facebook, to find a friendly ear and a sympathetic tut of understanding.

Liz's problem is that she doesn't understand the fundamental problem at the heart of her writing. Liz feels that, because her case was laden with gifts, the airport staff should have been more understanding. And although she relates the story of an elderly couple worried about missing their grandson's first Christmas, she still misses the point.

It's not that the staff don't care. It's that they can't. With tens of thousands of irritated, agitated would-be travellers descending on them, they have to adopt a degree of distance in order to get the job done. When you've heard one sob story, you've heard ten thousand of them.

At times of crisis, everyone has a horror story to share. Unfortunately, in Liz's world, hers is the only one that counts. In the end, she wasn't "stripped" of her humanity, she just discovered what it is to be part of it.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Total recall

"Have you seen that great new ad?"
"Which one?"
"You know, it's got the guy who used to be in that thing with the woman off the other thing."
"Hmmmm, that's not helping me. What's it about?"
"Well, they're in a bar, and he starts chatting her up, but she's not really interested."
"Oh, I know the one you mean. It's hilarious. What's it advertising again?"
"Haven't a clue. It's either a liqueur or an insurance comparison website."

And that's how advertising seems to work these days. The better the writing and acting gets, the harder it is to remember the brand that's being promoted. Back in the good old days, the ads may have been shit, but at least no-one ever mistook Nanette Newman for a Persil spokeswoman.

Nowadays, advertisers have to work so much harder to achieve any kind of message recall, so much so that they're having to find new ways of making their mark on ambivalent audiences. And a new cinema ad by BMW is doing just that, stopping short of wandering from screen to screen with a red hot branding iron and a ball-gag.

If you've ever looked at the sun (or Simon Cowell's teeth) for a little too long, you'll know only too well the sensation of having an image imprinted on your retina. And it's the same principle that's being employed in the new BMW ad, which leaves viewers with an 'after image' of the company's instantly recognisable logo.

Using a heavy-duty flash and a cardboard stencil to replicate the sensation of staring at an eclipse, the ad features motorbike racer Ruben Xaus inviting audiences to "Just close your eyes and look deep inside yourself. Maybe it’s your dream too. Close your eyes and you will see it. Close them now."

The dialogue might seem like the soundtrack to a particularly traumatic repressed memory, but thankfully, viewers are merely left with an impression of those three famous letters, rather than the image of an over-amorous uncle's crumpled lap.

Not everyone wants a residual image stamped on their eyeballs, which is why there are already concerns about the campaign's ethics. Nervous marketers are worried that the sudden flash might trigger epileptic seizures and leave them susceptible to litigious American consumers

People tend to be a little squeamish about their eyes, having been raised on old wives' tales about the blinding power of anything with more than 30 watts of brightness. And yet we've allowed our ears to be abused for years by unscrupulous advertisers with a heavy hand on the volume knob. 

So although the sudden flash of BMW might not be entirely appealing, I don't think we need to worry about a Day of the Triffids-style outbreak of mass-blindness just yet. But just in case, throw on your Ray-Bans before you press play...

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Oops, Disney did it again

Being a child star is a tough business. All that pressure and adulation from an early age, temptation at every corner, and parents who are more interested in your earning potential than homework and bedtime.

The latest casualty of the celebrity conveyor belt is Demi Lovato, star of 'Camp Rock', Disney's outdoorsy alternative to its 'High School Musical' franchise. Like many other Disney alumni, Demi's real-life exploits don't quite correlate with her house-of-mouse persona.

As far as the public were concerned, the raciest thing she'd ever done was perform close harmonies with the Jonas brothers. So everyone's Mouse ears pricked up when it was revealed six weeks ago that Demi had checked herself into rehab for 'emotional and physical' issues.

Given the nebulous explanation offered to the press, it's hardly surprising that speculation was rife about what could have triggered the breakdown. It didn't take too long to find a paper trail that looked an awful lot like a rolled up banknote, or the photos of Demi on her way to Miley Cyrus' birthday accidentally revealing some self-harm scars on her inner arm.

All of Demi's close friends rushed to the nearest paying journalists to reveal the gory details of her bad break-up with Joe Jonas (too much alliteration in that sentence). They described her as a tortured mess; a claim that was soon backed up when it emerged that Demi had punched one of her tour dancers and given her a black eye.

But the final straw was the one rumoured to spend most of its time up her nostril, as a Texan college student called Brian Payne told Life & Style magazine that Demi had coke-snorting skills that would put Lindsay Lohan to shame. He said "I just remember her doing it [cocaine] as if she had been doing it for a long time. It didn't seem like something new to her."

With her career in tatters while she's barely old enough to buy the alcohol she's so fond of "chugging straight from the bottle", and a rumoured sex tape on the horizon, it's clear that Demi needs all the help she can get.

But forget about therapists, psychologists and trained counsellors. Disney has decided that the best person to guide their ever-growing stable of pubescent cash cows is ex-Mousketeer Britney Spears. They figure that because she had a meltdown so epic that it affected oceanic currents, she's best placed to advise future starlets on how to avoid the pitfalls of fame.

According to one studio insider, "Justin [Timberlake] and Britney have been asked if they would like to come in and speak to their younger counterparts about the tribulations of being famous so young. The Disney bosses think that if they have people to look up to they might stay on the straight and narrow."

Failing that, Britney can at least give them tips on how to accessorise a shaven head or attack an SUV without damaging an umbrella. She may be stuck in rehab, but perhaps Demi has had a lucky escape. 

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Air heads

OK, we all know that piracy is a very bad thing. It funds terrorism (*allegedly), cuts into the earning potential of big Hollywood studios, and even prolonged the careers of Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley by three extra movies. 

Many people would argue that piracy is a victimless crime. So you download a hard-to-find album from a fileshare site - it's not like you're hurting anyone. Or is it?

We've all sat through those awful ads that are embedded onto DVDs warning us of the perils of piracy. Some compare it to stealing a car or a handbag. Others suggest that your friends will never speak to you again if you show them a shoddy copy of Die Hard 4 (as though decent picture quality could hope to improve that train-wreck of a movie). 

The record labels have been just as vociferous in clamping down on 'copyright theft'. Swedish torrent tracker Pirate Bay was famously shut down for enabling users to download music illegally. And countless music bloggers found their accounts frozen for sharing their favourite tracks online. 

So I guess it was only a matter of time before other industries followed suit and started pursuing pirates with all the tenacity of Kirstie Alley following a burger van. I'm just not sure they're going about it the right way. 

This time last year, the UK Border Agency seized a shipment of Nike trainers that were being imported from China. The shoes were counterfeit, and so Nike was notified of the case. It was obviously a major concern for the sportswear giant - imagine if the UK was flooded with knock-off shoes bearing their iconic swoosh logo. What if they were actually well made, and involved no child labour or sweatshops in their manufacture? Think of the damage to the brand. 

As a result, the Oregon-based business did what any company would do. They decided to sue the customers who claimed to have bought the shoes in good faith, assuming them to be the authentic article. Although the majority of cases were settled out of court, one unfortunate defendant found himself in front of a judge to argue his case. 

It turns out that E. Bateman's professed ignorance about the shoes' origins fell on deaf ears, as the judge explained: "Whether or not the defendant believed the goods were authentic is irrelevant to the question of trade mark infringement. Whether the goods are infringing goods or counterfeit goods is an objective question. The Defendant's state of mind does not matter. Equally the Defendant's state of mind is irrelavant to the question of importation."

Despite the judge's doubt about "whether the sledge hammer of these proceedings is necessary in order to crack this nut of this magnitude" Nike pushed on with the case and won. Thankfully, Bateman managed to avoid having to pay damages to the multi-billion-dollar brand. Instead, he had to promise never to infringe copyright again. But unless something is actually listed as a knock-off, how can any consumer buy with absolute confidence that Nike won't be knocking on their door with a writ? 

They could have gone after the manufacturers or the online retailer, but instead they chose to go after the customer who just wanted a new pair of trainers. Maybe something to think about next time you're browsing in Footlocker and see a cool new pair of Nikes. Just don't do it...

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

What not to do in an interview

Baggs is offering a 24/7 working week, by inventing a dog collar with GPS, so that your pets can be tracked when you're in Bermuda. Now he's telling his interviewer that he's a brand, and when pushed, softens that to "I think I might be". Oh, and he's a fish too. After last week's "field full of ponies" remark, it seems that he's working his way through the animal kingdom.

Joanna is now explaining what it means to own a cleaning company, making it sound like she just manages the rotas for a couple of Polish women. I know these segments are edited for highlights, but it basically looks like they walk in, get insulted, then walk out again. It's no wonder people are nervous about interviews if this is what the BBC wants people to believe about how the process works.

Stella's getting cross, having been told that she's "really just a very good PA". She grew up on Thamesmead, so the interviewer will be lucky if he leaves the room with both his knees intact.

Meanwhile, Joanna's admitting that there are people who "on paper, look a lot better than me". I'm sorry to be the one to break the news that the rule doesn't just apply on paper. Funnily enough, Lord Sugar is someone who does look good on paper. At least that's the only explanation I can think of to explain why a man was thrown out of Crawley Library last week for masturbating into a copy of Sugar's autobiography.

Oh dear, now Baggs' claim about being a fully licenced telecoms operator is being interrogated, in that it's complete bullshit. It probably didn't help matters that he stopped the interviewer mid-flow to ask him his name because he wasn't paying attention earlier.

He reckons he feels like he's "gone ten rounds with Mike Tyson". Now that's something I'd pay to view on Baggs' triple-play platform. Strangely, the experience doesn't seem to have dulled his confidence - "I don't think there's anyone out there like me..." he claims. There is, but only in repeats of The Office on Dave.

Now Alan's advisors are giving him the feedback, but it doesn't look like he's really paying attention. He keeps forgetting how to start his sentences. It's all carefully edited to keep the audiences guessing, like Paul and Stevie once sang, "there's good and bad, in everyone".

Margaret made a funny about Chris, suggesting that he sits at home masturbating over his academic certificates. Karren Brady's lips pursed at this, since she's obviously keen to invite the blue-eyed boy into her boardroom.

Now it's Stella's turn. They keep using words like 'solid' and 'dependable' to describe her, as though she's a golden labrador. They're a little put off by the fact that she's "wooden and corporate", but that's because she views personality as an unfortunate disability, like dyslexia.

Now it's Baggs-the-brand under the spotlight. Lots of positive comments - "he's a dreamer who doesn't sleep", but they're all concerned that he 'gilds the lily' a little too much. Which is a nice way of saying he lies through his teeth.

The candidates have now been invited back into the boardroom, where Chris' eyes are as sparkly blue as ever. It's funny that he always gets stick for being monotonous, when Stella sounds like air slowly leaking out of a bus tyre.

Best laugh of the week was hearing Lord Sugar describe his business as a "dynamic environment where we're starting new ventures from scratch." I'm sure the eleven people in the UK with an Amstrad email phone are eager to see what other great innovations Big Al has up his dynamic sleeves.

Stuart feels that the interviews were probing and hostile - just wait till he meets his adoring public. Lord Sugar has just told him that he's 'full of shit', making it officially the first sensible thing he's said all series. Now poor old Alan is feeling sick that he let lovely Liz go. Shock horror, Stuart was fired almost without any warning. Stuart's concerned that no-one has any understanding of "what he's really all about". Au contraire my lumpy-faced friend.

Having seen Stuart banished from the boardroom like an incontinent puppy, the other contestants are now churning out all the 'spearheading', 'rawness' and 'breaking barriers' cliches. It's all "speaking volumes" apparently. Joanna hasn't done enough, so she's next to go, and has given us some hot teary boardroom action.

Stella's through, Jamie's gone, and Chris is safe. Perhaps Lord Sugar is finally getting the hang of this hiring and firing nonsense.

More than one of you will be fired

It's time for everyone's favourite episode of The Apprentice. Sure, the advertising task is always good for a laugh, and last week's 'bag a bargain' episode was up to the concept's usual standard. But in terms of pure entertainment value, nothing can trump seeing our favourite characters put through their paces by Lord Sugar's bully-boy mates. And Margaret.

Like everything else in the show, it's not really grounded in any kind of reality, much like the contestants themselves. No-one in their right mind would conduct such an aggressively antagonistic interview. So consider it more a kind of karmic retribution; punishment for all those weeks of aggravation and irritation.

Suddenly, Lord Sugar's ridiculous decision to save Stuart Baggs ('the Brand') over large-eyed ingenue Liz Locke makes a little more sense. It's always best to save the most hateful candidate for the episode when they're torn apart like supporting characters in a Saw sequel.

Time for a quick check in with the five remaining hopeless hopefuls. Joanna claims that she's so much more than "...just a cleaner from Leicester". It remains to be seen what else she is. Jamie is dressed in a cheap suit and a red tie, whereas Chris is proud to look like John Major.

Stuart has got off to a great start, announcing "You've gotta show you've got the balls, and the minerals to do it." He obviously sees himself as cubic zirconia in the the rough. In typically arrogant style, he also announces that "Lord Sugar said he saw a little bit of himself in me." Funnily enough, so do I. But it's the tip of my left foot.

The interviews don't appear to be going well for Stuart - he went into a room to find Margaret Mountford making a special guest appearance. "Hello Margaret" he declared, to be met with that famous eyeroll, as she asked whether he'd typically greet an unknown interviewer on first name terms. Actually, I would, but Madge appears to be more comfortable with Miss Moutford. Pissy cow.

Joanna has breezed straight into her first interview unable to answer any questions about Lord Sugar's businesses. This comes up every single year, and yet time and time again the candidates don't even check Wikipedia to see which bits of his 'business empire' he's had to shave off and sell. "He sells computers and stuff" was her highly professional answer. I've never seen someone attempt to swallow their own face in shame before. That's one to tick off the bucket list.

Chris believes that he's a nationally revered scholar because he did well at his A-levels. Margaret's blue eyes glinted with delight at this, like a housecat spotting a mouse with a broken back.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Number ones and number twos

Matt Cardle has good reason to celebrate this week - not only has he bagged the title of 'X-Factor champion' for 2010, he's also on course to secure the coveted Christmas Number One slot this weekend. Having shifted over 112,000 copies of 'When We Collide' (the song's proper title 'Many of Horror' was presumably deemed to be festively inappropriate), he's taken the clear lead in the race to the top spot.

Trailing way behind him are his Saturday night duet partner Rihanna, and 'Surfin' Bird' by The Trashmen; this year's nominated anti-Cowell track. The latter is such an annoying earworm of a song it actually formed the basis for an entire episode of Family Guy.

Last year's X-Factor winner Joe McElderry was famously beaten by Rage Against The Machine, in a campaign designed to teach Simon Cowell a lesson in humility and foregone conclusions. Although the activists claimed a moral victory, it was a hollow one, since they relegated the well-respected rap metal band to a list that included Westlife, Bob The Builder and Mr. Blobby.

That's the fundamental flaw that lies at the heart of our obsession with the Christmas Number One. It's a dumping ground for novelty records and seasonal cheese, saying precisely nothing about the musical tastes of the nation. Or Christmas for that matter.

And yet, year after year, we're treated to another round of sleigh-bell-infused tracks, cynically composed to provide the soundtrack to a meal of dry turkey breast and over-boiled sprouts. Even the composers seem ashamed of their contribution to the genre, with the writer of the most successful Christmas record of the last 30 years apologising for his role.

In an interview last month, Bob Geldof admitted that he's embarrassed by 'Do They Know It's Christmas', despite the fact that three different versions of the song managed to hit the top spot. He says "I am responsible for two of the worst songs in history. One is Do They Know It's Christmas? and the other one is We Are The World. Any day soon, I will go to the supermarket, head to the meat counter and it will be playing. Every fucking Christmas." At least now he knows how the rest of the record-buying public feels.

Over in Bulgaria, they've taken a contrary approach, choosing instead to conduct a poll to find the most annoying Christmas song. Facing off some stiff competition, the eventual victor was Wham!'s Last Christmas, according to campaign website One voter even went so far as to blame the shortlisted songs for seasonal bouts of depression and suicide, although it's possible that he might have confused George Michael's festive composition with 'Club Tropicana'.

The great thing about Christmas records is that it doesn't really matter about how good or bad the songs are. Like fake trees, gaudy coloured lights and chronically unamusing cracker jokes, they're part of the indefinable magic of Christmas for a culture that long ago discarded the religious significance of the holiday. So with that in mind, here's my pick for the greatest Christmas song of all time. Happy Winterval one and all...

Sunday, 12 December 2010

And the winner is...

So, this is it. As usual it feels like this series of X-Factor has been running since Bouncer was in Neighbours. But the conclusion is finally within our grasp. Showing just how pointless this all is, Dermot tells us that we can pre-order the winner's single on the X-Factor website, despite the fact that we don't know who's won it yet.

Matt sounds great, he's been saving his voice for this one performance. So it's a shame that the song is so forgettable I'm struggling to remember it even as I'm hearing him perform it. It's 'Many of Horror' by Biffy Clyro, and it's been given a church bells and glitter cannon make-over.

It ended with Matt dropping to his knees and almost losing his microphone in the dry ice. Louis says it's a brilliant contemporary pop song, a sure sign he's never heard of it before. Dannii's eyes are glistening with tears, and Matt's tugging at his vocal chords like they're on the verge of bursting out of his neck. Watching Matt's best bits, it's easy to see why he's in the final - he's been far and away the most consistent contestant throughout this series, but he loses a couple of points for calling Dermot "bro".

Rebecca is up now, in a beautiful autumnal glittery gown, singing Distant Dreamer by Duffy. The sixties-style arrangement suits her perfectly, and although it's another forgettable tune, she's grabbing it with both hands and kneeing it right in the pods. Here comes the key change, light show and black-clad choir. I think the Liverpool lass could have just won it. One single solitary tear running down her cheek might seal the deal. And there it is.

Time for a quick visit to Liverpool to hear categorical proof that Scousers sound much better when they sing. Coleen Rooney is also on hand to make us long for the note-perfect presenting skills of Stacey Solomon.

After a big build up that made it seem as though we might get to see Leona Lewis, we're treated to another performance from Take That. They're doing The Flood, and it's just as unremarkable as it was when they performed it a few weeks ago. Robbie's as insufferably smug as ever, shouting out "X-Factor, come ooooooooon". He even wandered off the stage to go shake hands with the judges, like they'd been granted a Royal command performance. It's very odd that Leona has gone virtually unmentioned on this series, especially given how badly some of the winners have fared since her world-conquering triumph.

And that's it. The lines are closed, it's all over. Simon and Louis are discussing their Christmas plans, since the girls are busy with their acts. And the winner is...

Matt. Although I've been a fan all the way through the series, I can't help but feel a little disappointed. Rebecca showed so much class all the way through the show, and she runs the risk of becoming another Stacey - likeable and endearing, but unlikely to pick up a record deal. And listening to Matt's 'winner's song', I'm reminded of just how forgettably irrelevant it is.

So now, it's over to the caretaker to sweep up all that glitter. Thanks for sticking with it. I'm off to listen to Duffy.

From bard to verse

Hurrah, it's time to celebrate the state of mental health in the UK as we welcome the freaks and weirdos from the audition phase back to the stage. The producers cleverly chose Cee Lo Green's 'Fuck You' as the soundtrack to the recap footage, showing how much contempt they have for the people who make this show a success.

They've just hacked their way through 'Bad Romance' and it was as predictably awful as you'd expect. Chloe Mafia, everyone's favourite Wakefield hooker, got the starring role, despite looking as though she'd applied her lipstick with a damp mop. We were also treated to some 'hilarious' banter between Cheryl and Simon that doesn't bear repeating because my soul just died a little.

The lines have been closed so that we can kick someone off before hearing the final two winners' singles. This should be a foregone conclusion, but we mustn't underestimate the power of teenage girls with unlimited text plans.

Matt is safe, which is as it should be. And the second finalist is... Rebecca. Hallelujah, the public finally got it right. Could Cheryl be on the verge of an unprecedented hat trick? We'll know within the hour. From their first auditions I've wanted a Matt vs Rebecca showdown, so I'm genuinely delighted to see that the rest of the country is thinking along similar lines. Well done everyone - treat yourself to a celebratory drink or eleven.

Let's get serious

OK, that's enough introductory bullshit, it's time to do some singing. It's the boys, so let's give a warm welcome to Matt Cardle. Someone decided that lemon slacks were a good idea. This viewer remains unconvinced. He's singing Katy Perry's 'Firework', which even she struggles to perform live, and he's really straining to reach those notes with his sore throat. It's also becoming increasingly clear why he wears that little army cap so often - the local chemists have obviously run out of Rogaine.

Matt says "There's no real words to describe how it would feel to win" - so perhaps he should make some up. I'm sure Simon could help with that, given his love of the non-word 'misunderestimated'. There's an ad for L'Oreal's hair colour range featuring Cheryl Cole, finally answering the question "Why does Cheryl look like Ronald McDonald?" from earlier in the series.

Now it's time to hear from One Direction, for whom a more apt name would be Five Melodies. Simon has admitted that it wouldn't change his life if the boys won the X-Factor. Let's be honest, it'd barely change his evening. They're having a go at Torn by Natalie Imbruglia, and Zain got a whole line to himself, presumably because he was looking a little bored at the end of the line-up.

They're clapping now, although not really in time with one another. Make that two lines for Zain, who actually lowered his microphone before they'd finished singing. Once again Louis is on hand to point out that they're in the final - thanks for that, you irrelevant little Irish tit.

Cheryl introduces Rebecca as "the girl we've all taken to our hearts", despite the fact that she only had eyes for Cher. Of course, now she says she really wants Rebecca to win - better late than never. Rebecca's doing a sinister, slowed-down version of Sweet Dreams, although it quickly picks up into proper electro-thumper.

There's still no dancing, but perhaps her shoes are just really heavy. It's also quite a good arrangement, managing to make it sound contemporary, whilst also bringing out the soul elements of the song that were less obvious in the Eurythmics' original. I think Rebecca's finally in it to win it.

The finish line is in sight

So here we are again - another night, another couple of hours set aside to line Simon Cowell's pockets and speculate about the state of modern pop music. The good news is that at least we'll be spared any more awkward guest appearances by people attempting to steal the contestants' thunder. Try not to think about all the things you could do with the next two hours instead of watching this crap.

Time for a group sing-a-long, although they've got to do it live since, well, it's the final. As usual One Direction couldn't find the harmony with a metal detector and a treasure map, and Rebecca's choosing random notes to show that she could blow all five of them off the stage. Matt is still under the weather, so let's hope he pulls it together later.

Screeeeeeeeeaammmmm! It's Take That in the world's least surprising guest appearance ever - joining our finalists for a rousing chorus of Never Forget. It sounds pretty horrible because they're all over the place - with more random keys than a locksmith's back office. Unusually, Howard Donald is handling the lead vocals for Take That, inspiring Zain that he doesn't necessarily have to look forward to a lifelong career as a bookend.

Time for recaps of last night's 'excitement' - lots of up-the-nostril camera shots of Simon and Cheryl racing down the corridor for a sneaky smoke during the ad-break. Cheryl claims that thinking about how big One Direction could become is "literally mind-blowing" - although this is Cheryl's mind we're talking about, so not such a big deal. She also says "the fight is on" so the toilet attendants of London had best be on their guard...

Saturday, 11 December 2010

And finally...

Simon looks pretty pleased about introducing One Direction - there's only one guy that they could sing with apparently. Maybe someone who has previous form for rejoining a boyband perhaps? Let's keep our fingers crossed that he remembers his lines this time - Olly Murs isn't here this time to jog his memory.

Note to One Direction: the high notes are the bits where your voice is supposed to go up and take the tune with it. Robbie Williams, he's a hero to all of us apparently. And by the looks of things, he could be moonlighting as a Mel Gibson impersonator. It sounds as awful as you'd expect, so thank goodness the technical crew remembered to trigger the sparkles backstage, otherwise that would have just looked like a Scout leader trying to rouse his boys in a campfire sing-a-long.

"This is going to be a moment in time" warns Cheryl, portentously. Someone should point out that so is going to the toilet or picking up your dry-cleaning. Cher's doing her best rapping, dressed like the French maid duster from Beauty & the Beast. Will.I.Am is here and he's obviously brought a doctor's note to say he has to use Autotune for medical reasons. Cher's shouting along, and jumping up and down, and although it's a lukewarm mess, it's the only duet where the guest star and contestant seem to have any kind of connection.

So now it's time for a little drama, because there's still another half hour to go and we've had all eight performances. The recap shows just how badly Rebecca came off alongside Christina, holding her hand and gazing lovingly at the massive-lunged star. I almost wish she'd gone for a full-scale Alexandra Burke style meltdown instead, at least people would have a chance of remembering her.

Hurrah, it's guest star filler - so here's Rihanna in a stripy dressing gown and earrings she could hula hoop in. She keeps asking the audience 'What's my name?', surely she could just read Dermot's autocue. The dressing gown's gone and now she's dry humping around the stage in a bra and knickers. Just time for another quick plug of her forthcoming tour and she's gone, hopefully to run another strawberry rinse through that hair of hers.

Now it's Christina's turn - she's got a movie to plug, so here she is whoring it up on a cheap recreation of the Burlesque set. We're pushing the boundaries of wholesome family entertainment here, so let's be thankful that it's not Showgirls that she's promoting. Now she's standing on a chair with one high-heeled foot resting on the back - I just hope someone did a full health and safety audit first. This is live TV, so no sense taking unnecessary risks.

The performance is pretty good, but we're really at the outer limits of what constitutes a 'song'. Cue awkward interview with Dermot - she can't hear a thing, and he's asking questions to which he already knows the answers. So it's all a little pointless, except for the helpful pointer that the film's called 'Burlesque', in case the 300 references in the song didn't tip you off.

OK, now it gets serious. Someone's going home, time to find out who it is. Spoiler warning: don't read on if you haven't been watching. Although you're a sucker for punishment if you've read all this without seeing the show. Anyway, someone who isn't One Direction, Rebecca or Matt is leaving us tonight. If nothing else, at least Cher's time on the X-Factor has taught her how to draw on her eyebrows properly. See - every cloud and all that.

Dermot cheekily thanked her for not crying and being graceful (for a change). Let's see who he can piss off tomorrow night. Thanks for watching with me...

Bring on the celebrities

It's time for the celebrity duets. Here's Matt speaking in very oblique terms about "this person" as though the world and its uncle doesn't already know that Rihanna is going to be joining him onstage. The fact that he's singing a Rihanna song might also be a clue. He's struggling with some of the high notes, and sounds very reedy. So at least they'll be well matched.

To be honest, it's less of a duet and more a case of two people taking it in turns to sing bits of a song. I wonder whether they maybe had all of ten minutes to rehearse that. And Rihanna's dress was split so high you could see the tattoo on her neck.

Let's see if Rebecca and Christina Aguilera can do better. The problem is, Christina is a belter, and Rebecca's a slow burner - it'll be interesting to see if Aggie can reign it in sufficiently to let our Liverpool lass stand out. Rebecca's wearing a beautiful gown, ruined by the fact that she's topped it off with a weird shoulder thing that looks like she snatched it from an Incan drag queen.

Christina's growling like a junkyard dog, albeit one with an enormous pair of new boobs. Rebecca faded into the background there, like she was on hand to hold Christina's coat. And Christina just let the cat out of the bag about how much preparation time was involved in these duets - they only met today. So it's no surprise that they wandered off the stage looking like they hadn't yet learned each other's names.

Giving it 1000 percent

Wow - hats off to Simon. He hasn't just learned his group's names, he even knows their hometowns. Unless he's just reading off an autocue. He wouldn't cheat like that, would he? One Direction are taking their Justin Bieber tribute act on the road, visiting their respective schools and creating the kind of tweenage excitement normally reserved for Robert Pattinson's sparkle face. I've just realised that Harry's mum looks younger than me, making me officially 'too old for this shit'.

Zain went to HMV in Bradford, which was full of screaming girls with blue lips. I don't know whether this is a fashion statement or a sign of how cold Bradford in December can get. Simon's joined them for their evening gig, and he's still got that annoying habit of self-importantly starting every sentence with "I've got to say this..." and ending it with "seriously". And who would dare argue?

The boys are stumbling their way through Elton John's 'Your Song'. All the dramatic drum rolls in the world can't disguise the fact that their timing's off. And the harmonies aren't really coming together, they're barely even singing the lyrics at the same time, never mind the same tune. You know that slight delay you get when the TV's on in two different rooms, one terrestrial and one digital? Well it sounds a bit like that. Epic.

Louis has singled out Niall for the Irish vote. So fuck you Bradford and Doncaster. And Simon has credited the boys with giving it 1000 percent. If we were playing the X-Factor drinking game I'd already be shit-faced. On second thoughts, I wish I was. As we head into another break, Dermot tells us that "Cher will be on this stage" in a few minutes. I don't know why, but that sounds like a threat.

"Prepare to be entertained" grins Cheryl - I guess now is as good a time as any. Cher went to a primary school, which looked a little odd. I'm not used to seeing five year-olds rocking out to R&B mash-ups, perhaps Cher's not as edgy as she thinks.

She's started out on the judges' table, like an unruly child who's been freebasing the icing sugar. There's not much melody going on, and although she might be achingly contemporary, I can't see too many phone voters mashing their keypads in excitement at this.

Louis just told Cher "Hey, you're in the final." Because I'm sure that fact had escaped her notice. Dannii gave her a stern warning on how to conduct herself - i.e. don't go threatening the crew with teaspoons. Meanwhile, Simon has been borrowing Cheryl's script notes to tell Cher that she "smashed it". In Malvern, we're introduced to Cher's headteacher who apparently "knew this day would come". Either he's a soothsayer or his calender has a December 11th on it, same as mine.

Your weekend starts here

Hello and welcome to the live X-Factor blog. The indoor fireworks have been charged, function rooms around the country have been filled with rowdy crowds hopped up on WKD, and the judges are all here in their evening finery.

Dermot's doing his opening spiel and leaving those... awkward pauses... between bits of his script. First up, it's the final sixteen lip-synching badly to one of the most covered songs of all time - What A Feeling. Everyone sounds great, but that's because these vocals were obviously recorded weeks ago. I tell a lie - Cher's bit is live, because she sounds shouty and flat on her contractually obliged rap element.

Rebecca sounded fantastic singing something with more than 11 beats-per-minute, Matt less so, struggling with his lower register and the crushing embarrassment of covering Irene Cara on a Saturday evening TV show. And then there was One Direction, wearing an eclectic variety of neon pain splashes, like they came here straight from their weekend job at the B&Q mixing counter.

Lines are already open, before anyone's given a single performance, so here's Dermot to rattle through the numbers. I guess we're going to be hearing those numbers a few more times before the evening's out. Hurrah, it's an ad break already, so we can see what JLS and Jedward get up to when they're at home with a Wii.

Tonight's first performance will be by Matt - Dannii's introduction reminded us that he's a painter/decorator first, and a singer second. He's been home to Colchester wearing his favourite hat. I'm hoping that he's going to be confronted by an angry homeowner still waiting for a second coat in his extension. His dad's getting all choked up saying "I never gave up" - is that a knock at Matt's supposed laziness?

Matt's got his acoustic guitar out and he's strumming for his life, singing Dido's 'Here With Me'. He sounds fantastic, but then he always does when he takes a woman's song and 'makes it his own'. It's nice to hear this song performed by someone who can actually sing for a change. He's being supported by a troupe of violin players wearing spooky veils over their faces. Surely that must interfere with their playing? Wouldn't a pork-pie hat be more appropriate head-gear?

Dannii gave him a standing ovation, and Louis is stating that Matt absolutely has to be in the final. Dannii's thanked him for all his hard work, which must be the first time he's heard those words. Matt still seems to have a cold - he's coughing into his prayer hands. They just attempted a live link to Colchester, where excitable Queen of the Jungle Stacey Solomon managed to screech incoherently into a microphone, while the camera crew forgot to film what was happening. Ah, professionalism, you can't beat it.

Up next, it's Rebecca. She's from Liverpool you know. I hadn't realised, they kept that very quiet. She's still as dull but likeable as always, lots of tears and inspiring comments along the lines of "You can be whatever you want to be." Cheryl's loving the chance to see where Rebecca's 'come from', even though it's pretty much the same kind of background that she herself came from. Nice to know our Cheryl's still got her feet on the ground.

Rebecca's standing on giant hat box again - at least it gives her an excuse for not moving around. Her hair is enormous, which isn't her best look, but she sounds as good as always. The song is boring and tuneless, so let's allow ourselves to be distracted by the men who are slowly rotating her, like she's riding the world's slowest roundabout. Louis wants everyone in Liverpool to vote for Rebecca - can somebody replace his batteries please, because he just keeps repeating the same line? Unfortunate close-up on Rebecca there - she's so shiny, like they applied her make-up with floor-sander.

Colleen Rooney is in Liverpool screeching at a bunch of bemused-looking Scousers and showcasing her presenting skills. I think Joan Bakewell's job is safe for now.

Slot machines

There's an old saying that goes "You know you're getting older when the policemen start looking younger." But there's another sure sign that you're just moments away from filling your Costco trolley with crates of Werthers' Original.

It's when you start looking at the way young people dress and rolling your eyes at the youth of today. When I was growing up, it was the drainpipe jeans and gothy guyliner that was inspiring the ire of the older generation. Today however, the jeans are much baggier, so much so that teenagers seem to be struggling to keep them up at all.

These days, kids seem quite happy wandering the streets with their nether regions on display. For a while, it was the done thing to allow the waistband to peep over the top of one's jeans, affording a tantalising glimpse of that Calvin Klein logo. Not anymore - now it's more fashionable to show the world everything, right down to the leg holes.

Apparently, this trend for low-slung denim began in prisons, where inmates were forced to turn in their belts to avoid the suicide risk. As a consequence, having trousers halfway around your thighs was a way of showing your tough-guy credentials (not to mention your baby-making credentials). Although I always struggled to understand the logic of showing off one's private area in a predatory penitentiary environment. A bit like seasoning a raw steak and leaving it within reach of a hungry dog.

The saggy crotch is now a blight on every high street, as teenagers attempt to shuffle from shop to shop, with only their below-the-knee leg length providing any kind of mobility. Meanwhile, everyone else is treated to a display of their inseam, as well as  the efficacy of their laundry detergent on those 'ground in' stains.

Although many people are willing to shrug their shoulders and resign themselves to being the wrong side of the generation gap, others are determined not to take this falling lying down. In Memphis, one school has developed an innovative new dress code designed to name and shame the low-slung crowd.

Westside Middle School has implemented the 'Urkel Initiative', based on the annoying mid-nineties sitcom character Steve Urkel from Family Matters. Any Westside pupils found to be wearing their jeans a little too low are being forced to suffer the ultimate humiliation - an industrial strength wedgie, fastened around the waste with twist ties, and captured for posterity on the school's 'wall of shame'.

With their trousers pulled so high they could choke Simon Cowell, these sloppily dressed teens will think twice about showing the world their underwear. And it already sounds like the initiative is working, with the school reporting that it has "drastically cut the number of students who wear saggy pants or no belt".

As school Principal Bobby White explained, "What we wanted to do with our changing of the culture was to think of something that would stick with them, but not make it seem like they were being punished, and add a little humor all at the same time. You're not going to go to a job interview where I can see your underwear. You're not going to be hired. So we're just going to teach you right now." 

Now that's what I'd go to school for...

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Running out of ideas

Hollywood has never been known for its ability to generate original ideas, preferring instead to take inspiration from other sources and continually recycle and regurgitate its influences. Last year, it was felt that the bottom of the barrel had finally been scraped right through, with the news that several well-loved board games were next in line for the big screen treatment. Coming soon to a megaplex near you - Monopoly, Ouija and Battleship.

However, they sound like Oscar hopefuls compared with the latest well-loved property rumoured to be shuffling in-front of the cameras. Hot on the stacked heels of his remake of Arthur, goggle-eyed dandy Russell Brand is being lined up to star in the remake of BBC kids' comedy Rentaghost.

Described by Warner Bros as a "Beetlejuice-style afterlife feature comedy vehicle", the film will tell the story of the recently deceased Fred Mumford, who sets himself up in a business running a temp agency for the dead.

The original kids show followed the same loose template, although it's not the character of Mumford that most people remember. Instead, it's camp jester Timothy Claypole that seventies kids tend to recall, since he stuck with the show through its entire eight-year run. With his thin beard, annoying manner and form-fitting leggings, Claypole seems a much better match to Brand's distinctive talents than a down-at-heel businessman, but I'm sure the money men know what they're doing. 

So that just leaves us with the question of who else will be recruited to fill out the eclectic cast. Gillian McKeith is a shoo-in for Hazel McWitch (she just needs a tall hat) and Dobbin the Pantomime Horse could  offer up a lucrative new franchise for Sarah Jessica Parker following the demise of Sex and the City. As for the elderly neighbour, Mr Perkins, who's constantly being harassed by the Rentaghost staff, I think it's time for Andrew Sachs to come out of retirement. 

And then there's that memorable song - if U2 can revamp the Mission: Impossible theme, imagine what they could do with "If your mansion house needs haunting, just call... Rentaghost. We've got spooks and ghouls and freaks and fools... at Rentaghost."