Thursday, 29 September 2011

Facing facts

Scientists have a pretty tough time of it. Despite dedicating their lives to the betterment of society, in certain parts of the world they’re still depicted as godless heretics. Even now, in 2011, climate change experts in the U.S. are being treated to the same hostility that greeted Galileo’s initial observation that the horizon looked a bit bendy.

Thankfully, although the voices of ignorance might be growing ever louder, it’s comforting to see that humanity’s basic hunger for knowledge and understanding continues unabated. My grasp of science may have faded shortly after growing copper sulphate crystals on a coffee-stirrer, but I still salute the brave men and women in white coats willing to spend decades painstakingly unlocking the mysteries of the world around us, and capturing it all on a dog-eared clipboard.

The key to engaging the wider world in scientific debate lies in conducting experiments that the lay-person might understand. Or better still, give a single solitary shit about. So it’s heartening to note that two pleb-friendly experiments are currently underway in order to prove once and for all, whether two popular hypotheses have any scientific viability.

Take the ‘Infinite Monkey’ theorem for example. It’s long been used as an explanation of probability, stating that if given an infinite amount of time, a room full of monkeys with typewriters would eventually type out the entire works of Shakespeare, purely by accident. An addendum to the theory posits that, if given just twenty minutes and fag break, they could crank out the next couple of Katie Price paperbacks. And to be fair, it’s a fuck of a sight cheaper than paying a ghost-writer.

Obviously, infinity is a tricky thing to simulate in a lab, especially where time is concerned. So the experiment currently taking place involves virtual monkeys and hypothetical typewriters. Replicating the behaviour of millions of touch-typing simians, this particular software programme bashes out random sequences of letters, then compares the output to the works of Shakespeare to identify any correlation. According to the brainiacs, the experiment has already successfully produced a little-known Shakespeare poem called ‘A Lover’s Complaint’. If I remember my English Literature A-Level correctly, the poem begins: “Will you please stop fucking typing and turn the light out.”

But that’s not all. In a classic case of glass-half-full reporting, the scientists claim that the android apes have already recreated 99.99 per cent of Shakespeare’s work. The only catch is that they haven’t been typed in order, which kind of defeats the purpose of the experiment. I mean, by that reasoning, I could argue that I wrote the shooting scripts for the second and third seasons of The Wire. Just not in the order they were filmed or broadcast.

The sweet postscript to all this ridiculousness, is that a similar experiment took place several years ago in Paignton Zoo. Although on a much smaller scale than its binary equivalent, this version did at least involve real live monkeys and an actual typewriter. Sadly, the observers noted that “Not only did the monkeys produce nothing but five pages consisting largely of the letter S, they began by attacking the keyboard with a stone, then proceeded to urinate and defecate on it." It's like peering through the window of Melanie Phillips' study.

Another popular concept currently undergoing some form of live testing is the ‘Six Degrees’ theory. Most people’s knowledge of this particular concept stems from the movie buffs’ preferred drinking game: “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”. If you’ve never heard of it, please give my regards to the village elders. Everyone else already knows that the game challenges players to connect the loose-footed actor to anyone else in the Hollywood pantheon, in six moves or less.

What most people don’t know, is that the phrase was originally coined in 1967, by a Harvard sociologist called Stanley Milgram, who sent 300 letters to randomly selected people in Omaha, instructing them to try and forward the message to a stockbroker in Boston. Armed only with the recipient’s basic details, participants were expected to send the letter on to someone who might be ‘closer’ to the target than they were. As it happens, twenty per cent of the letters successfully reached their target in an average of six moves. This led Milgram to conclude that most of us are connected to pretty much anyone else on the planet via just six degrees of separation.

Given the way Facebook has transformed our social connections and opened up dialogue between people around the world, Yahoo’s research department is keen to replicate the original test using the social network’s 750 million users. Called ‘The Small World Experiment’ this exercise will test Milgram’s original hypothesis using a voluntary combination of test subjects and ‘target persons’.

Although it’s a smart idea, and will no doubt turn up some interesting results, the experiment is likely to be marred by the widespread issue of Facebook fatigue. We’ve all got friends who feel the need to post ridiculous chain letter status updates on a regular basis. You know the sort – shouty uppercase statements that usually reveal more about your acquaintances’ latent racism than you really wanted to know.

As much as I’d like the experiment to be an unqualified success, I have a horrible feeling that people who're desperate for a little attention will start fabricating their own letters and attempting to convince their networks to pass it on. Rather than trying to prove how well connected we all are in this age of social networking, maybe a more interesting study would investigate how many of us actually want to be. As for me, if anyone sends me the message and wonders why I didn’t immediately forward it, I’ll just tell them a monkey shat on my laptop. 

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

All About Steve

“I’m here ‘cos I’ve always wanted to be famous.” So said Frankie Cocozza, the rats’-nest-sex-pest who, last week, bagged himself a coveted invitation to Gary Barlow’s gaff. Unlike those contestants who try to convince us that “it’s all about the music”, Frankie is pretty honest about his aspirations. Having already tattooed seven (undemanding) conquests on his buttock, he won’t rest until he’s so famous that his arsehole is covered in more scribbled names than a Middlesbrough bus shelter. 

And then there’s Kitty – needy, desperate, borderline psychotic Kitty. Owner of an undeniably powerful voice, and a face like Daryl Hannah checking her reflection in a camping kettle, Kitty’s pulling out all the stops to make sure she gets noticed. In the process, she’s providing viewers with fond memories of Katie Waissel, in the same way that veterans might reflect wistfully on those happy days in the Mekong delta.

Shockingly, one face we won’t be seeing anymore is Goldie Cheung. Goldie caused a scandal earlier this week when she sensationally quit the show, fearful of becoming national joke. Perhaps if she’d tried plundering James Corden’s back catalogue, instead of Tina Turner's, there'd be no fear of anyone laughing. Either way, Louis Walsh is upset to have lost one of his favourite novelty acts – after all, he’s the kind of man who’d stand and stare in wonderment at a Big Mouth Billy Bass.

The rest of the final 32 line-up reads like a ‘greatest hits’ of previous X-Factors. Divas, belters and boybands, all the usual suspects. There’s even a twunt in a hat for anyone who can’t wait for Olly Murs on the Xtra-Factor. I’m sure the excitement of being whisked away to a glamorous location has got them all abuzz – even Louis’ groups have dodged a bullet, as they narrowly escape being bundled onto a Ryanair flight to Dublin. I just hope that someone's reminding them to keep their feet on the ground, even as they're preparing for take-off. And I can't think of a more effective advisor than Steve Brookstein, the original X-Factor champ. 

We’re all familiar with the concept of the ungracious loser, but Steve’s something else entirely – the bitter winner. He’s been to the belly of the beast and lived to tell the tale. And it's one he's currently weaving in his exclusive column for London24. Steve’s ‘hero’s journey’ rivals those of the literary legends. He’s Faust, having made a deal with the devil, in exchange for his soul. He’s Icarus, having flown to close to the sun, only for his wings to melt spectacularly in the heat. And he’s Benny off Top Cat, just because, well, he looks exactly like Benny off Top Cat.

Steve’s not one to mince his words when it comes to the Dark Prince of Botox. Still fuming at the fact that Simon’s label dropped him after just eight months, when he refused to record another album of covers, he believes that it’s his mission in life to convince the world that Cowell is only interested in making money and couldn’t give a shit about the music. Outfuckingrageous. The man who got Robson and Jerome to number one, doesn’t care about artistry? Next he’ll be telling us that David Gest might have had a little work done.

Steve believes that Simon’s circus is “killing music”, a claim given extra veracity by his own willingness to release as cover of ‘Against All Odds’ as his winner’s song. That was a kick in the ribs right there. So scarred is he by his experiences, that he’s planning a tell-all book tentatively entitled X Factor Nightmares: The Manipulations. The Greed. The Deceptions. In the meantime, he’s got a regular column in which to take a big chomp out of the hand that, for a while at least, fed him.

At first glance, Steve appears to have mellowed with age, even commenting “it’s ok. I must remind myself that it’s just a TV show…” as though he'd forgotten why there were a bunch of cameras watching him perform during his time on the X-Factor. His real beef now isn’t with the show itself, but with a culture that rewards the untalented contestants, in particular lamenting the failure of Lloyd Wade to make it to the finals back in the first series. 

Steve is full of praise for Lloyd, who he says “had that natural soul timbre like that of the late Solomon Burke.” Pretty big complement, I’m sure you’ll agree, especially for a man who on occasion seems to piss Bitter Lemon. A few sentences later, Steve speculates “I suspected that Lloyd wasn’t chosen because we were both soul singers and we would have taken votes from each other.” I used to a know a girl who was great at paying herself compliments like that – in one breath she’d remind us that “My mother is a very beautiful woman”, only to surreptitiously mention “Everyone says I look just like my mother” a few minutes later.

Apparently, the real singers fall by the wayside, as their more photogenic counterparts capture the production team’s imagination: “Pop music isn’t about singers. Well, Cowell’s pop music isn’t. It’s about manufacturing and selling sex and by all accounts it will be sexed up even more.” Try telling that to Jedward and Susan Boyle, both of whom have all the appeal of a Greggs pasty full of DNA swabs.

It’s not all bad news though. Steve promises unsuccessful contestants John Wilding and Emma Wright that “if they can keep the faith they will enjoy a life long career doing something they love and doing it well. Take it from me winning is overrated.” That’s it guys – keep practicing and don’t let the fuckers grind you down, because one day, you too could be playing to an empty Costa Coffee.

Hopefully, Steve will one day find the peace he needs. Perhaps when he realizes that he won a TV talent show, and not the secret formula for music industry longevity, he’ll be able to move on. You can slate the ruthless A&R men all you like, but as loathsome as you may find them, they know what they’re doing. They test the markets, study the sales demographics and conduct the focus groups. If they decide that your time is up, they’re not doing it to be cunts. They’ve just realized that a short shelf life isn’t limited to soft cheese. And if you keep complaining about the machine that gave you a shot at the top, you just sound like a man caught cheating, who blames his wife for the fact that he can’t keep his cock in his pants.

At least Steve has found a creative outlet for his frustrations. His predecessor, Michelle McManus, had to settle for an appearance on You Are What You Eat to sustain her time in the public eye. Times may be tough for Brookstein, but at least he's not been reduced to shitting Gillian McKeith's Tupperware. Yet.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Seeing red

It’s the last taboo. Say it under your breath, and don’t let anyone hear. “Ginger”. Every other minority has had their day in the sun, but not the gingers. Although that’s partly because they’d fry like Christopher Lee. 

For some reason, it’s still OK to take a pop at our freckled friends. Maybe they need a few more redheaded representatives in positions of power. Look around – we’re not exactly over endowed with copper-topped role models. Nicole Kidman, once the world’s most famous ginge, soon ironed out the crimp and took to the bleach as soon as her bearding days were over.

They’ve been the butt of jokes for years, treated as second class citizens because of their vaguely transparent eyelashes, and now even scientists are getting in on the act. Shockingly, the director of a Danish sperm bank has been telling the press that he has no need for ginger spangle.

Apparently, supply far outstrips demand, which at least confirms the long-held belief that jaffas are indeed more juicy. But sadly, according to Ole Schou, "I do not think you chose a redhead, unless the partner - for example, the sterile male - has red hair, or because the lone woman has a preference for redheads. And that's perhaps not so many, especially in the latter case." So it’s sad that when it comes to choosing baby gravy, no-one’s interest in fuck a l’orange.

But have no fear, my carrotty comrades, there’s a ray of sunshine on the horizon – so I hope you’re wearing a high SPF. One place where a pint of red-top is just what the milkman ordered, is Ireland.

Schou told Danish newspaper Ekstrabladet that it sells like ‘hot cakes’ in the Emerald Isle. I guess that makes sense – there’ll always be a need for ginger-haired women to dance on hills in ads for the Irish tourist board, or pull pints in those Scrotey McKnacker theme pubs. They need to ensure that there are enough of both, in order to satisfy the hordes of American tourists who make a pilgrimage across the Atlantic every year, determined to ‘connect with their heritage’ because they once carpooled with a guy called Patrick.

You know, all of this unpleasantness could have been avoided if Lady Gaga had just remembered to include redheads in her anthem of universal acceptance - “Rejoice and love yourself today, ‘cos baby you were born this way.” Everyone else got a shout-out, even the ‘cholas’ and ‘Lebanese’. Then again, she can be forgiven for this tragic omission, since everyone knows that nothing rhymes with ‘orange’.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

You have been watching...

I’ll be honest. I was a little wary when I first got the invitation. A chance to go behind the scenes of arguably the most influential TV show of the noughties? Count me in. Except that, well, Big Brother doesn’t hold quite the same appeal as it used to. In all fairness, few programmes even make it to their twelfth year. And they certainly don’t manage to leave an indelible decade-long imprint on the public consciousness. But there it is, still taking pride of place in the schedules, like a stubborn red wine spill that no amount of Vanish will shift.

During the show’s first few years I was an unapologetic fan. Pulled in by the promise of lesbian nuns and manipulative city boys with bad skin, I loved the social experiment angle, and marveled at how its canny producers could make compelling TV out of a cockney tripping over a coffee table, or a bald law student throwing up on a kiddie’s roundabout. Then something changed. The contestants became self-aware, like Skynet all over again. Only instead of waging a machine-led war on humanity, they lined up to debase themselves in front of an increasingly disbelieving audience. By the time Kinga went into the garden and redefined the term ‘box of wine’, audience tolerance was decidedly on the wane.

Big Brother’s popularity was always predicated on its ability to fuel those all-important water cooler conversations. So as audience numbers dipped, loyal viewers found fewer and fewer people to talk about it with. The water went unsipped, and the housemates faded into obscurity, even before they’d left the compound.

So here we are in year twelve, and I’m standing in the cold at Elstree, waiting to meet Jamie East – creator of Holy Moly and co-host of Big Brother’s Bit On The Side – who’ll be my guide for the evening. The show is now a flagship title on Five, and has undergone something of a makeover during its defection. Most notably, we now get constant reminders of the contestants’ names flashing up on screen whenever they appear, in case we’re suffering from anterograde amnesia. It’s like watching Memento restaged as a reality show.

Having sorted out guest passes and a chaperone, we surrender our mobile phones and enter the compound. The first thing that catches my eye is a yellow sign over the main door that reads “Warning, demolition in progress.” I’m unsure as to whether it refers to construction work on the set, or what’s happening to the housemates’ reputations as they dress as chickens and try not to shit themselves. As we enter the gloom of the camera run which circumnavigates the entire set, I find my voice has dropped to a barely audible whisper. I’m petrified of saying or doing anything that will alert the housemates to our presence. Which seems a little unnecessary, given that the entire floor is creakier than an orgy with the cast of Last of the Summer Wine. With the hushed tones, labyrinthine corridors and men standing in corners watching other people with focused intensity, it’s like visiting a Berlin darkroom. Or so I’m told.

Jamie’s used to being in here, and confidently throws open a black drape to reveal Aaron and Faye on a special date. I discover later that this was a prize for Faye successfully completing a secret task called ‘Diss and Kiss’. Staring through the window at the awkward couple who are clueless about our voyeuristic interest, we realise that their date has been catered by Nandos. And by the looks of things, the Macho Peas aren’t a hit. In fact, they’ve been placed on the floor at the side of the table. See folks - the devil’s in the details.

Leaving the happy couple to their rapidly cooling dinner, we move around to the main part of the house. Each time Jamie sweeps open another drape to reveal the brightly lit space beyond, I keep expecting to see a penguin swimming past the window. Or at least the pale-faced kid from Salem’s Lot. I’m immediately struck by how small the house is – on TV it makes the Raiders of the Lost Ark warehouse look pokey, but in real life it’s more like a student bedsit. And to say that the housemates have been in there less than a fortnight, it’s already a dump. Fingers crossed that Shake ‘n’ Vac is working on an Agent Orange special edition.

The rest of the housemates are eating a home-cooked meal, and bizarrely, I can smell it. As inconsequential as these details might seem, it's a powerful reminder that the characters I’m watching through the window are real people living their lives. We’ve been standing here for five minutes and Jamie tells me that he often finds himself staring transfixed at nothing in particular. Suddenly, I notice that Heaven is looking directly at me, and she doesn’t look happy. Admittedly, she never looks happy, but she seems really pissed off that I’m watching her. And then I’m back in the room, realizing that she’s just watching herself in the mirror. I don’t know whether to be relieved, or disappointed that I haven’t spent more time in police interrogation rooms.

Once our circuit is complete, Jamie invites me to look around the main production office. Countless screens are relaying camera feeds from every corner of the house, and the producers are seemingly oblivious to the action taking place. Then again, maybe two blondes giving each other half-hearted pedicures doesn’t qualify as must-see TV. In the corner is the Big Brother booth, the sound-proofed office where producers address the house as the big guy himself. I notice a series of ‘How To’ guides on the wall, to help them counsel the housemates through any problems they’re encountering. Number one appears to be ‘constipation’, which I can totally understand. Although most of the Big Brother experience wouldn’t faze me, going about my ablutions in a room with a CCTV camera (even one pointing away from me) would have me corked like a French vintage. And if I managed to survive the whole series, forget about Senokot, they’d have to saw me in half.

Later on, after watching a block rehearsal of Bit On The Side and sharing a beer with Terry Christian, I’m invited to join the studio audience for the show’s live recording. The rest of the crowd seems to be regulars here, and scream with excitement when first evictee Tashie enters the studio to take her place on the panel. It’s strange that they could be so thrilled to see someone who, ten weeks previously, could have been serving them in Domino’s Pizza. Tashie’s come dressed to impress, in a pair of denim shorts so tiny that, when she bends over in front of me for a bell-ringing task, I can see bogeys.

As the show progresses, I suddenly realize three things in rapid succession. Firstly, leather jackets and hot studio lights make for an uncomfortable mix. Secondly, I can’t whoop. The studio managers might encourage the audience to go crazy, but the best I can manage is a half-hearted lip-synch, letting my fellow fans make all the noise. And finally, Big Brother has got its hooks in me. Here we go again…

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Mo' Better Blues

Ever since The Sopranos showed just what could be achieved with a weekly TV show, the standard of drama coming out of the States has been nothing short of miraculous. The schedules might be littered with asinine reality shows and celebrity reboots of long-past-their-prime formats, but there's still enough quality broadcasting to warrant turning on the idiot box every now and then.

One of the benefits of this ongoing renaissance is the fact that TV shows are able to attract top-drawer talent, rather than having to scrape the bottom of the B-list barrel. As well as film actors willing to commit to a multi-season contract, well-loved stars of yesteryear are also being coaxed out of semi-anonymity to headline new shows. The latest example is New York-based police drama Blue Bloods. Created by a pair of Sopranos alumni, and aired on Sky Atlantic earlier this year, the multi-generational story of the Reagan family (who are as conservative as their name would imply), was the breakout hit of 2011 and is released on DVD this Monday

In spite of the show's slick production values and the compelling conspiracy at the heart of its debut season, the biggest draw is Tom Selleck, who plays the patriarch of an extended family of flat foots and lawyers. Looking back now, it's easy to forget that Selleck narrowly missed out on an A-list film career, having originally been cast as Indiana Jones. Unfortunately, he was already committed to speeding a red Ferrari around Hawaii in a series of UHF-bothering shirts, leaving Spielberg to look elsewhere for his whip-snapper. 

So seeing Selleck back on the small screen after all this time feels like a homecoming of sorts. Unlike the glib private investigator of yesteryear, Frank Reagan demands gravtias and authenticity. Thankfully, the one thing both characters do have in common is that big, lustrous moustache. A true icon of pop culture history, the 'tache hasn't aged a day in over 30 years, and it still boasts bristles so thick they could scrub the front steps of a Manchester terrace. The space under Tom's nose is a prime piece of facial real estate - the kind that women want to get lost in, and men want to catch soup in.

Over the years, other pretenders to the throne have come and gone, but none have ever laid claim to Selleck's rightful title as the King of face-fuzz. So in honour of his second coming, let's pay tribute to the mo's that came so close.

Ned Flanders

The surprising manliness of Homer Simpson's perpetually feminised neighbour has been a long-running joke in Springfield. Although this was only made explicit when we first saw the rippling yellow abs that lurk beneath his natty green sweater, the clues were always there. After all, that upturned segment of Terry's chocolate Orange that keeps his nostrils warm is a sure sign of virility. He may scream like a girl, but he trims and combs like a man.

Burt Reynolds

It's hard to believe, but for a few years Burt Reynolds was the biggest star in Hollywood. Then again, we're talking about a bunch of films that managed to position Sally Field as a sex symbol. Despite an on-screen personality that would make Robbie Williams look like the model of humility, Reynolds scored hit after hit, with little more than a giant cowboy hat and full-bodied porntache to his name. By rights, he should have been limited to roles involving him turning up at the homes of sexually frustrated housewives in a pair of loose-fitting overalls and offering to unclog their pipes.

Wilf Lunn

A comic inventor familiar to anyone who grew up on kids' TV in the mid-eighties, Wilf boasted a spectacularly curly waxed masterpiece that added to his 'mad inventor' persona. Unfortunately, since only master villains have twirly moustaches, it's likely that the hapless creations he presented on Jigsaw were designed to misdirect the authorities from the true nature of his research - a gruesome eugenics experiment intended to clone the terrifying Noseybonk.

John Waters

The celebrated 'Pope of Trash' has done for moustaches what Fred West did for patios, being the first to admit that his own pencil-thin lipliner makes him look like a paedophile. But what he doesn't realise is that he's also inspired the eyebrow stylings of a generation of X-Factor hopefuls.

Mr Bronson

Stalking the corridors of Grange Hill like a ginger F├╝hrer, Mr Bronson struck cold, clammy fear into the hearts of a generation. When Danny Kendall's body turned up in Bronson's car, his untimely demise was blamed on a neurological disorder. But rumours persist that the young grafitti enthusiast had, in fact, unwittingly caught sight of Maurice's naked top lip. Seven days later, he was dead. Forget about your lank-haired Japanese tweens, this is one character you don't want to see clambering out of the gogglebox.

Wilford Brimley

Star of The Thing, Cocoon and The Firm, Wilford Brimley is part man, part walrus and all moustache. His distinctive grey handlebar looks not unlike a past-its-best croissant, and is perhaps the most chameleonic of all the flavour savours featured here. With a twitch of his whiskers, Brimley could convey the warmth and wisdom of a kindly grandfather, or the gruff intensity of a brutal killer. Still, you have to question the wisdom of hiring a man with that much facial hair to eat oatmeal for a long-running Quaker Oats campaign. He must have been rinsing porridge out of it for weeks.

The Chuckle Brothers

The funniest thing to come out of Rotherham since back-fat, these moustachioed mirthsters have been hitting each other with ladders for 25 years. Having originally started out as the Chucklehounds, doing the same lazy slapstick but in giant dog costumes, their hairy top lips demanded a turn in the spotlight. So off came the spaniels' ears, and out came the trimming scissors. It's widely believed that the lads' taches are the source of all their comic powers, like Samson's ponytail, so the shaving foam is kept safely out of reach.

Sean Connery

Sean's been showing off a distinguished grey piece for several decades now (and I don't mean the lovely Micheline). But his furry philtrum wasn't always so well-regarded, particularly in John Boorman's pretentious Wizard of Oz retelling 'Zardoz'. In much the same way that a well sculpted set of obliques might direct the eye groinwards, Sean's spectacular whiskers appeared to be pointing straight down to the bulging red nappy that passed for a costume. Remarkably this was not a look that caught on, which in the era of loon pants, is quite an achievement.

Peter Griffin in McStroke

The latter seasons of Family Guy have been decidedly hit and miss, but one recent episode which temporarily restored the show to its former glory saw Peter Griffin growing a spectacular handle-bar moustache. Decked out in three kinds of denim, Peter tells his family that "My moustache tells people that there is a ninety percent chance that I am poorly educated, that I keep upscale porn magazines out in the open, and that I listen to the Little River Ban with giant headphones." Can't argue with that kind of logic.


Experts would argue that moustaches should have a good density and a rugged, slightly military quality, in order to effectively convey the masculinity of the wearer. Cyril Blake, on the other hand, demonstrated what can go wrong when an insipid outcropping of hair is partnered with an equally weak top lip. In retrospect, Blakey was something of a hero, attempting to protect the dolly birds of Luxton from two remorseless sex pests. Unfortunately, no-one ever saw past his weaselly lip situation, meaning he was forever dismissed as an ineffectual bureaucrat.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang Sing Song

Next year James Bond turns fifty and, to be fair, he’s looking pretty good for it. He can still take out an army of henchmen, defuse a nuclear detonator and identify a cheeky vintage Bordeaux, even with his Walther PPK crammed into an unforgiving pair of turquoise budgie smugglers.

That’s what we love about James Bond. Whereas some film franchises suffer from their over reliance on ‘formula’, we tend to feel cheated if a bond film doesn’t feature a debonair villain, three exotic locations and some kind of man-eating animal (piranhas, sharks, alligators, Denise Richards). Perhaps the most comforting element of the entire series, however, is the Bond theme song. Bold, brassy and about a subtle as a wedgie from Brian Blessed, the best examples rise above their contrived origins and flavour-of-the-month vocalists, to stand the test of time as classics of film music.

Everyone has their own special memories of the Bond theme. We’ve all enjoyed a Christmas Day afternoon, stuffed with turkey, listening to Lulu coming to a “glittering end”, as silhouetted women dived naked from the barrel of golden gun. Unfortunately, this is one area of the well-loved series that seems to be getting weaker with every new instalment. Just as the Craig-era directors attempted to revitalise the format with a gritty, hard-edged style, the songs’ composers seemed to be working to a similar brief. Another Way to Die, by Jack White and Alicia Keys, had all the aural appeal of four minutes listening to Paul Shane fart into a wet football sock.

Over the years, the franchise has danced dangerously close to self-parody. So it’s a good bet that those big, bombastic themes, with their overblown horn sections, have forever been consigned to annals of history, along with hand-drawn animation and Steve Guttenberg. But over the years, Bond has given us some timeless musical moments and it would be foolish to overlook the heritage of the series. With the news that beefy balladeer Adele may soon be belting out a theme song of her own, there’s a glimmer of hope that we may once again enjoy a proper Bond theme, right down to the torturous non-sequiteur reference to the film’s title in its lyrics.

To get us in the mood, here are my favourite five Bond theme songs – feel free to disagree and suggest your own.

Matt Monro - From Russia With Love

As the second film in the series, certain elements of what was to become the Bond ‘formula’ began to make their presence known. One of these was the notion of a theme song – although it wasn’t until Goldfinger that the title song would play over the opening credits. Matt Monro’s ballad about a pointless return trip to Moscow had to make do with appearing on a radio fifteen minutes into the film, before getting a full airing once Rosa Klebb had kicked her last shin. Lyrically, it’s almost entirely meaningless – an issue that many subsequent songwriters would struggle with. Given the franchise’s penchant for preposterous titles, it’s enough to give any self-respecting lyricist an aneurysm. Despite all this, it’s a powerful song, and my top tip if you ever find yourself coerced into any kind of karaoke activity. Just be sure to save enough breath for that last "looooooooove" - the ‘singing bus driver’ could hold a note from Putney to Plaistow.

Louis Armstrong - We Have All The Time In The World

1969 gave Cubby Broccoli the opportunity to shake and stir things up a bit. Sean Connery had temporarily surrendered his licence to kill, leaving the portly producer with something of a casting headache. By choosing a handsome but largely inanimate plank of three-ply, Eon made it clear that this was a different kind of Bond. Taking this logic one step further, they also decided to do away with the opening theme song which, by now, was now a well-established component of the series’ ongoing success. It didn’t help matters that even Lesley Bricusse was struggling to fit the title ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ into a workable lyric. So out went the theme song, and in came Hal David and John Barry to compose the classic Louis Armstrong ballad. Although it was considered a flop at the time, the gentle optimism of the song, coupled with a masterclass in distinctive delivery, is now a bona fide classic and one of the few Bond themes you wouldn’t be embarrassed to admit owning. The fact that it's the soundtrack to a film that ends with the hero's wife being shot before she even makes it to the honeymoon suite, gives it an extra sting in the tail.

Carly Simon - Nobody Does It Better

Carly Simon was the perfect choice for mid-70s Bond. Only four years into the role, Roger Moore’s portrayal of the suave super spy was so tongue-in-cheek he was in danger of giving himself a mouth ulcer, and his self-awareness must have inspired Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager's straight-faced sarcasm. Superficially, one could argue that the song is a straight-forward declaration of love for the world’s best lover. But then, why would the studio choose Carly Simon of all people to sing it? Carly, after all, was most famous for a blistering take-down of an ex who loved nothing more than to watch himself gavotte.

Duran Duran - A View To A Kill

If you were to poll every Bond fan in the world for their favourite episode, it's unlikely that AVTAK would be troubling the top of the league. Badly paced, disjointed and incoherent, it’s coming to something when the high-point of your movie is Grace Jones feverishly pumping a mine cart full of explosives. By 1985 Roger was looking pretty long in the tooth, to the point that the producers were deploying rear projection and stunt doubles for anything that required more than a light jog. Ever the pro, Moore was at least willing to do his own love scenes, but the sight of a decrepit man in a safari suit attempting to pull up to Grace's bumper was a little like watching your granddad trying to mount a well-polished sideboard. And yet, despite the film’s inherent craptitude, the theme song’s a blinder. Full of mid-eighties thump, and boasting a seductive LeBon vocal, this is one of Duran Duran’s finest songs. In my mind, it’s also one of the least dated soundtrack entries to emerge from that dark era in music history.

KD Lang - Surrender

A number of songs were submitted to accompany Pierce Brosnan's second outing as Bond, with Sheryl Crow's unlistenably scratchy Tomorrow Never Dies being the eventual victor. However, the producers made an egregious error by overlooking this masterpiece by David Arnold, who also composed the film's score. Bond doesn't have a the best track record with lesbians - the last time he had a sapphic encounter, he converted her with a roll in the hay and left a bunch of comely pilots without a leader. So maybe it's no surprise that kd lang failed to make the cut, although she did at least get the runner's up slot over the end credits. But it just seems such a waste, since the song is an absolute belter. With a gloriously OTT arrangement that could give DSB DVT, kd channels the awesome lung-power of Tiger Bay's finest herself, nailing the melodrama as well as the melody. Adele, I hope you're taking notes.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Here, there be dragons

Why do people watch Dragons’ Den? Is it because we’re fascinated about the machinations of modern business, and want to see how the big money investments are made? Or is the show just like You’ve Been Framed for anyone who has to make presentations for a living?

If you’ve ever had to stand in front of an intimidating panel of decision makers, with only an 80-slide PowerPoint deck and a cheap Next suit between you and appointment at Jobcentre Plus, it’s heartening to see how badly other people pitch their ideas. You keep hoping that they’re going to trip on their way up the stairs, and end up with the leg of a flip-chart stuck in their armpit. £200 for every clip shown.

Or maybe we love it because it gives us an insight into how some the UK's most powerful businessmen and women really operate. They may want us to think that they eat their lunch off the naked bodies of nubile young serving wenches, but the reality is that they're as hopelessly uncoordinated as the rest of us. Hilary revealed that she went from running a hundred million pound business to not being able to put her own pyjamas on, after suffering a stroke. But as tonight’s outfit can attest, she heroically overcame that particular setback.

It may be attempting to portray the hardships of life at the cutting edge of business, but it still treats its audience as if they're as stupid as the idiots who turn up to pitch a pair of clockwork socks. I know that not everyone who owns a TV is a high-flyer in the city. But are we all so far removed from the world of pin-striped business that we need an explanation of what just happened, after every line of dialogue? Here's how it goes:

Wannabe Entrepreneur (let's call him Dave): "Basically, I'm looking for £100,000 in exchange for a 20% share in my business."
Theo Paphitis: "I'm not sure you've got your numbers right."
Evan Davis: "Theo is concerned that Dave hasn't got the numbers in order."
Theo Paphitis: "Because of that, I'm out. Deborah?"
Evan Davis: "Theo is out. Now it's up to Deborah to help Dave raise the £100,00 he needs."
Deborah Meaden: "Have you safety tested the product?"
Dave: "Yes."
Evan Davis: "Deborah discovers that Dave has had the product safety tested."

The perpetual feedback loop goes on and on, until your mind starts to collapse in on itself. For a similar sensation, try watching The Prisoner of Azkaban and listening to Stephen Fry’s audiobook at the same time.

As for the contestants, this week's would-be entrepreneurs are a fairly agreeable lot. We have Nick, Richard and Sebastian, who've invented an automated pint-pouring device to help bar staff multitask. Hilary helpfully points out that “I’ve been in and out of pubs all my life.” My parents had a name for women like her.

Next up is a woman who's developed an interactive crime scene workshop to engage schoolkids in the world of science. The Dragons gamely dress up in the white forensics kit and attempt to figure out what crime has been committed. Once again, Hilary's wardrobe is in the frame.

Bola, from Kent, has devised a rubber-tipped pair of tweezers to take snot from babies. Personally, I prefer candy, but hey-ho. If you've ever lamented the fact that primetime TV doesn't spend nearly enough time debating the safety issues around solid and semi-solid mucus extraction, you clearly missed a treat with tonight's show.

As the programme progresses, one thing becomes increasingly clear. There's a weird sexual undercurrent running through tonight's instalment. After Bola's rubber tipped apparatus, we see a double-ended plastic dog toy (that seems to appeal to Deborah and Hilary more than the guys) and a therapeutic rehabilitation swing that could keep Sting tumescent for days. To be honest, it's not the best investment prospect - when the inventor is asked if she's ever run a business, the kindly 71 year-old answers "I used to milk a cow before school." Tying all this latent sexuality together is the creepy spectre of Evan Davis, by all accounts a popular figure on the edgier side of London’s gay life. Davies prowls around the basement of the warehouse, protecting his masters’ lair and sending in the fresh meat, like Renfield with a Prince Albert.

It’s not all sex though. Along the way, we're also treated to a low-fat snack range created by the man who invented Cup-A-Soup croutons, and a man who makes wooden motorbikes for kids who're too young to pedal. Stirring stuff.

Hunched over in a pair of ridiculous shoulder-pads that make her look as though she's attempting to extricate herself from a DFS sofa, Hilary's clearly the star of the show. Barking questions like Vera Duckworth trying on a Cleopatra fancy dress costume, Hilary has freshened up the show's format with her blunt northern charm. 

But why stop there? After six years on the air, it’s all starting to feel a bit stale and predictable. The ridiculous set design doesn’t help matters – all those shots of industrial staircases, knackered brickwork and clanking chains would be more at home in a Saw sequel. In fact, maybe that’s how they can refresh the concept. Next time, on Dragons’ Den, our plucky inventors wake-up to find that they’ve been drugged and handcuffed to a giant carousel, with a shotgun pointing at them. As the roundabout begins to turn, they have forty five seconds to make their pitch. The person with the best pitch walks away with fifty grand of start-up money and a face that’s still attached to their head. Now that’s a show I’d happily Sky+.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Sounds good to me

This has been a big month for Sonos. After six years of quietly transforming the way people enjoy, share and rediscover their music collections, they've finally passed a major milestone. As they put it - they're now playing music in a million rooms around the world.

OK, so compared with Apple's terrifying expansion and gradual domination of humanity's gadget obsession, a million units is pretty small potatoes. But Sonos has never seemed to be about scoring record sales or laying waste to the home stereo market - they just enjoy making great products that people love. They're the gadget equivalent of the small family-run restaurant that you have to book two weeks in advance. The kind that turns down the offer of larger premises because they worry that they wouldn't be able to offer the same level of service if they had three times as many covers.

When Sonos first launched, critics applauded the system's ease-of-use and Apple-worthy user interface, arguing that if you were going to kit out your home with wireless music, you might as well go for the best-in-class. The drawback, as with most things, was the prohibitive pricing. When I took the plunge in 2006 after some extensive home renovations, a three-room starter kit set me back just short of two grand. Since then, the range has expanded gradually, offering ever more affordable options. Now the S5 (with built-in speakers) and its underweight sibling, the Play:3, mean that there's no need for buying any speakers and cables. Even with integrated speakers, the sound is rich, clear and can fill a room like Michelle McManus in a photo-booth.

Aside from the product innovations, and regular software updates that beam wirelessly to the various units, Sonos also won plenty of goodwill when they launched their iPhone, iPad and Android controller apps. Whereas other electronics company might understandably charge for a piece of software that effectively negates the need for their proprietary controller unit, Sonos gave it away for free. So now, when we have a friends over, anyone with a smartphone can simply download the app and start commandeering the music.

Sonos is the perfect solution for a party - it's like pass-the-parcel meets the world's greatest jukebox. Pour the drinks, get round the table and take it in turns to add a track to the playlist. The only groundrules are that no-one's allowed to jump the queue or remove someone else's choice. If your collection is as broad and eclectic as mine, you'll be amazed at the random choices other people will make. This summer, we went from R.E.M to Lady Gaga to E.L.O, via Bugsy Malone and Bert Kampfert. You won't find that kind of tracklisting on Now 78.

Of course, there are other, more affordable wireless music systems out there. But with limited functionality and overly fussy designs, nothing really comes close to the simplicity of Sonos. Seven weeks ago, when Apple released their OS Lion update, Sonos suddenly stopped working. To cut a long and desperately tedious story short, Apple decided to change the file sharing permissions in their new operating system. And since Sonos takes the files directly from your hard drive (assuming you're not using a Network Attached Storage device), this meant that the entire system was locked out of the music folder.

As the technicians were busy working on a fix, the company was regularly in contact to apologise profusely for the inconvenience and give an idea of when the problem would be solved. It's not that I was completely without music, since last year Sonos finally launched its collaboration with Spotify. So that's several million tracks still readily available at the touch of a... well, a touchscreen. 

Don't get me wrong, I love Spotify. But those seven weeks in my own personal audio wilderness made me realise that, of all the ridiculous gadgets and gizmos I own, Sonos is the only one I couldn't live without. I know, I know - #whitepeoplesproblems. Even so, what gadget could you never be without?

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Doing it for the kids

Spare a thought for all those women out there, whose own lives have amounted to little more than some jeans with an elasticated waist and a kitchen cupboard full of Kraft macaroni & cheese. Facing a life of lower middle-class drudgery and the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes in their forties, they project all their frustrations and unfulfilled ambition onto their children. And thanks to shows like 'Toddlers and Tiaras', we get to rubberneck at the inevitable car crash.

Since the reality show first launched a couple of years ago, it's proved highly contentious - provoking fierce debate about whether or not it's appropriate to slather make-up all over kids who are so young they still require an afternoon nap. The parents, however, remain utterly oblivious to the offence they're causing, even as they stuff a fake pair of tits and some arse padding into their four year-old's sequinned dress.

A couple of weeks ago, Lindsay Jackson found herself in the firing line for giving her daughter a Dolly Parton makeover, which she laughed off by saying “It’s really funny when she comes out on stage they think it’s hysterical. They realize not only is she Dolly but she has the added enhancements just like Dolly has.” 

But Lindsay deserves a mother of the year award, compared with Wendy Dickey's pre-school atrocity - dressing her daughter as Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. Nothing says 'the innocence of childhood' like seeing a three year-old girl strutting around the stage dressed as a hooker, in a pair of black patent fuck-me-boots and midriff-baring two-piece.

Apparently little Paisley (that's not a name, it's a wallpaper pattern) was unaware of the character she was playing, but the same probably can't be said for the creepy trouser twitchers in the audience. According to an interview with TMZ, Wendy seemed more disappointed that TV channel TLC had edited out the "classy" outfit Paisely wore to represent Vivien's post-makeover look. I hate to be the one to break it to her, but there's nothing classy about a whore in posh frock.

Sounding more than a little defensive, Wendy argues that "I'm raising my child just as well as any mother does ... I take my kid to church every week ... at least I'm not forcing them into sports and getting my child injured like some parents. People need to look at their own family and what they're doing. I don't know why people are focusing so much on pageant moms when there's much more harmful things people are letting their children do!"

You know what? That's good enough for me. I'm convinced. Sending your kid to soccer practice IS worse than teaching your three year-old to charge fifty for a facial. So sign me up for Team Paisley. And while we're at it, let's brainstorm a few other classic film characters that can be adapted into costumes, before Paisley turns four and it all starts to go downhill.

Catherine Tramell

"She's evil! She's brilliant!", but she's also cute as a button when played by talented young Paisley Dickey. A confident walk, a skin tight white dress and no inhibitions, are all she needs to get that judging panel hot and flustered. Taking her cue from Sharon Stone's manipulative murderess, Paisley could chew on a chocolate cigarette or give the boys a flash of her day nappy. And if there's a talent segment, she can just have a crack at ice sculpting.

Iris "Easy" Steensma

Paisley's already demonstrated that, although she's a new face on the pageant circuit, she knows her way around the world's oldest profession. So Wendy missed a trick, so to speak, by not picking out a much younger streetwalker for her daughter to emulate. Jodie Foster was only fourteen when she played 12 year-old Iris, and it didn't do her any harm. A floppy hat and some red high heels should be enough to convince the judges that Paisley's worth shooting the president for.

Alex Forrest

She will not be ignored, especially if she takes to the stage wrapped in a bedsheet, with dramatically slashed wrists. As she does her twirl on the catwalk, Paisley just needs to show off a little crazy. That way, there's no chance that anyone will be able to deny their fatal attraction to this crimp-haired little bobby dazzler.

Cristal Connors

Las Vegas' premier Showgirl has been there, done that and worn the wet t-shirt. She knows that "There's always someone younger and hungrier coming down the stairs after you" so Paisley had better start vajazzling her lower half unless she wants to be upstaged by a fetus in a bikini. Humour's a great way to win over an audience, so maybe she could do a comedy skit where she eats Doggie Chow. Failing that, she can flick champagne at the judges and tell 'em it's holy water.

Jenny from the Human Centipede

When you're up on that catwalk, you need to be able to express yourself without words. With the aid of a couple of dolls, wrapped in strategically placed bandages, Paisley will have to convey the horror of being forcefed a hot load of feces with just the turn of an immaculately plucked eyebrow. It might be a bit of a stretch, but it's the best way of standing out from the competition.

The pace of pageant life is relentless, so there's no time to waste. Get little Paisley into hair and make-up. Or better yet, get her into care.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Daddy's Little Girl

The Emerald Isle is getting all hot and flustered about the shocking news that former Miss World and quintessential ‘girl next door’ Rosanna Davison is planning to pose for Playboy. No doubt encouraged by the ‘six-figure’ sum she scored for gig, Rosanna is pretty sanguine about it, telling the press “When I am old and wrinkly I will have shots like these to look back on. It will be as tasteful as possible. I want it to be classy." That’s the sound of Razzle’s editors kicking themselves at the missed opportunity – at least I hope that’s what they’re doing.

The Irish Independent is cautiously supportive of Rosanna’s enterprising venture, although clearly concerned by the thought that some hot-shot photographer is going to deflower their Irish rose. “Playboy means sex”, they warn sternly, like a Catholic School nun trying to teach sex education without mentioning any unmentionables, “It is generally full-frontal, occasionally air-brushed nudity”.

Rosanna’s also happy to report that she has the full support of her boyfriend and her family. Although let's hope she doesn't make too big a deal out of the fact, for fear of flagging up who her dad happens to be. No-one wants to relax into a multi-page pictorial feature, only to be reminded of Chris De Burgh and his Tender Hands. No matter how teasingly she poses, there’s always the danger that fans reading the magazine too closely might just catch a glimpse of Chris in her comely features. Moments later, their brain will be picturing her showing off a set of eyebrows that could help Andy Serkis get into character.

That's the problem with the progeny of famous people - all that nepotism does a body good, but if you catch them from the wrong angle, you're suddenly reminded of their unattractive genetic heritage. With this in mind, let’s take a look at some of other apples that have fallen worryingly close to the family tree.

Liv Tyler

According to legend, Liv Tyler spent the first decade of her life completely unaware of her rock star heritage. Her mother, ex-Playboy Playmate Bebe Buell, told her than she was Todd Rungren's daughter, only for Liv to spot a distinctive family resemblance when she met Steven Tyler's other daughter. In fact, the similarities are unmistakable, from the pale complexion and long dark hair, to a mouth that could bite Robert Shaw in half. Steven may be a rock god, with the power to even make American Idol watchable again, but let's be honest - the dude looks like a lady. And despite her winsome appeal, Liv looks a lot like the dude.

Miley Cyrus

Flighty, feisty, and about as classy as a Pot Noodle full of fag-ends, Miley's grown up fast. A couple of years ago she was still a glitter-spangled product of the House of Mouse. Now, at the grand old age of nineteen, she's like the world-weary stripper who has to show the new girl the ropes. Repeatedly scandalising Middle America with her age-inappropriate raunch, Miley is determined to follow in Britney Spears' lolloping footsteps. Disney clearly forgot to reset this one’s neural net processor when she rolled off the production line. The problem is, her Dad's never too far away - so you might just be enjoying some quality time together when Billy Ray pops his head round the door, leaving you with an achy, breaky boner.

Kate Hudson

Despite showing early promise, with an Oscar nod for her role as fucked up groupie Penny Lane in Almost Famous, Kate Hudson has squandered whatever goodwill she accumulated by appearing in a relentless onslaught of mediocre rom-coms. The female equivalent of Matthew McConaghey, there’s no role too underwritten, or female stereotype too offensive, for Kate to turn her hand to. She also seems perfectly happy to play up the genetic similarities to her mother, which would be fine if she had even a trace of Goldie Hawn’s appeal. Instead, all she inherited was a sunken smile, bulging cheeks and hair that’s less “just been fucked” and more “had to use the dog’s brush”.

Lily Collins

The rising star of next year's retelling of Snow White, opposite Julia Roberts, Lily Collins is smart, beautiful and talented. In her relatively short career she's already been a magazine correspondent, a model and a TV reporter, with many celeb-spotters rightly picking her out as the next big thing. There's just one tiny catch - she sends Father's Day cards to Phil Fucking Collins. If you can handle the idea of making awkward small talk with the stroppy, bald tax dodger, fill your boots. My hope is that something happens on the way to heaven, you change your mind and get the last bus home. Missed again? think yourself lucky.

Petra Ecclestone

Chalk this one up to good fortune - Petra inherited her mother’s striking looks and her Dad’s property portfolio. Just imagine if it had gone the other way. Billionaire Bernie might be worth a few bob, but standing on the arm of his statuesque wife, he tends to look like Sooty in a Mr Majeika wig. Don't be fooled by Petra's current photogenic appearance, Bernie's DNA is going to have to make an appearance at some point. And let’s face it, unless you’re carrying Perseus’ reflective shield, you don’t want to be around when that day comes.

Monday, 5 September 2011

George shot first

Start your watches, the countdown has begun. There's less than a week to go until George Lucas’ magnum opus finally makes its long-awaited high-def debut. No doubt somewhere in the world, a group of young men who think that personal hygiene is optional rather than mandatory, are lining up in their sleeping bags outside a Best Buy, so they can get their callused hands on the first box sets. 

Lots of movies have, over the years, attained some kind of cult status. But whereas most are happy to define ‘cult’ as ‘building up a dedicated following over the years after an inauspicious first run’, Star Wars takes the concept to extremes. That unnamed galaxy far, far away has inspired the kind of feverish dedication that would make the Branch Davidians appear lax and non-committal.

Lucas may have conceived his series of space operas as being, y’know, for kids, but some people have taken their love of lightsabers, little green men(tors) and complex familial wrangling to the next level. I’m talking about the ones who list Jedi as their official religion on census forms, or respond to flirtatious talk about their six-inch purple-headed warrior by whipping out their Boba Fett action figure. They're the fanboys who took to the web en masse in 1997 to decry the CGI-enhanced rerelease of the original trilogy with the claim “George Lucas raped my childhood.” Meanwhile, all over the world, creepy uncles gave a collective sigh of relief that a new suspect had entered the frame. 

With the entire six-part series now buffed and polished like Simon Cowell’s veneers, expectations are high that new generations will finally get to discover Star Wars in all its sparkly glory – the way it was meant to be seen. Except not exactly, since ol’ Silver Beard still can’t resist dipping back in to make a few more cosmetic changes. It’s like trying to eat in a restaurant, with the chef hovering over your shoulder and continually throwing random herbs onto your plate.
You’d think that, if Lucas really wanted to improve things, the special effects would be the least of his worries. He might want to go back and beef up some of the shocking dialogue – as Harrison Ford famously told the plaid-shirted auteur on the set of the original film: "You can type this shit, George, but you sure can't say it.". Or why not add in a few extra female characters, so that the revelation of Luke and Leia’s family connection comes as less of a surprise? The only other woman of note in Return of the Jedi was Admiral Ackbar’s assistant, and she was Aunt Beru’s age if she was a day.

But no, like a magpie entranced by a scrunched up piece of chewing gum foil, Lucas is transfixed by the possibilities of computer generated enhancement. Thirty four years on, Star Wars has been under the knife more often than Jocelyn Wildenstein. And it’s starting to look just as dog-eared (or cat-faced - take your pick).

First time around, George expanded Mos Eisley and Cloud
City, threw in an early cameo for Jabba the Hutt, and over-egged the vagina dentata subtext of the Sarlacc pit. Then, when the series hit DVD, he had another go and replaced Sebastian Shaw’s ghost with Hayden Christensen – rendering the luckless young actor even more two dimensional than usual. For the latest release, we get blinking ewoks (rather than ‘fucking ewoks’ as most people refer to them) and a new CGI Yoda, to replace the second-rate puppet that nodded its rubber head in The Phantom Menace.

Of course, I can grumble about these cosmetic enhancements until I’m blue and tentacled in the face. But ultimately, this is George's baby and if he wants to pierce its ears, who are we to judge? Music artists do this all the time, remixing and remastering their back catalogues, ever conscious of the fact that, as Leonardo da Vinci once said, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” If you insist on keeping your childhood memories intact, hold onto those knackered old VHS tapes and enjoy them the way they looked when you first discovered them. Otherwise, shut the fuck up and hand over your hard-earned.

That would be fine if weren't for the fact that it's not such a long, long time ago that George was a vocal critic of those who insist on updating classic films. 
Speaking before Congress in 1988, George had some tough words for “People who alter or destroy works of art and our cultural heritage for profit or as an exercise of power.” A number of sites have picked up on the irony of Lucas’ outspoken condemnation of revisionist film restoration, particularly the bit where he warned “Attention should be paid to the interest of those who are yet unborn, who should be able to see this generation as it saw itself, and the past generation as it saw itself.”

Maybe George is a big hypocrite. Maybe he needs the cash. Either way, it’s his film series so he can do what he wants with it. Like filming techniques and special effects technology, opinions change over time. Which leaves us with a simple choice – to buy or not to buy. That is the question.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Your shit don't stink

If you really want to understand the rich diversity of modern society, just take a look at people's toilet habits. There are some who are so comfortable with evacuating their bowels that they're happy to announce to the world that they're off for a shit, with a newspaper neatly rolled up and tucked into their armpit. Others are so mortified by the laying cable at work, they're willing to endure an afternoon of stomach cramps in order to hold it in until they get home. And then there are the hygiene obsessives - they're the ones who insist on using those flushable toilet seat covers.

But it turns out that there's another sub-category of toiler-goer - the ones who pretend that their body's only by-product is a light floral fragrance. They're the ones who've managed to turn a product which sounds like a bad Saturday Night Live sketch into a runaway success. Described on its packaging as "The before-you-go Toilet Conditioner", YouGoGirl promises to "mask embarrassing odours, dampen sounds and eliminate splash". Unfortunately, it can't actually mask the sound of you dropping your guts, but at least passers-by won't be able to determine the amount of mass in transit from any telltale audio.

Despite its ridiculously upbeat name, which repurposes Oprah's empowering chant in a way she never imagined, YouGoGirl thrives on the fears and inhibitions of its target audience. For them, its biodegradable, phosphate-free formula enables them to produce the kind of delightful log that Martha Stewart could fish out and dress up as a Christmas table decoration.

In a profile on, YouGoGirl's inventor claims that he "wants to be as ubiquitous as toilet paper", envisaging a future where every woman's handbag contains a puce packet of his poo-cloaking powder. Although it was originally designed as a gender-neutral solution, early testing showed that women were most interested in disguising their ablutions. According to Rob Bobinski, men are much more comfortable with their pan-clogging proficiency: "You can't say men enjoy the smell, but they're kind of proud of it. Women aren't. It makes sense to go after the people who are most interested..."

So how does it work? The short video demonstration, which thankfully only covers the prep and omits the follow-through, shows how a simple sprinkle in the pan fills the toilet with a soft foam to gently catch your output and mask the stink with its own light perfume. Presumably, women are much less concerned with leaving traces of white powder in a toilet stall, than they are with letting anyone think that they've got a fully functioning digestive tract.

Bizarrely, despite their hang ups, these same women are more than happy to tell their friends and family about how Bobinski's innovative product is number one for number twos. The official website offers up countless gushing testimonials: "I have kept the photo on phone and showed at least 3 ladies so far. It's a great girl conversation piece. And of course we all think it's awesome."

If you're wondering why women get to have all the fun, don't worry, a masculine version called 'GottaGo' is coming soon. The official website explains: "Men benefit greatly when it comes to splash reduction, research also shows that when men have a target while standing and 'going' their aim improves greatly and the splash from within the toilet that lands all over the bowl, rim and floor is dramatically reduced, if not eliminated. So get your man to use YGG and you'll clean a whole lot less. Just tell him it's fun, like writing his name in the snow!" But why stop there? You could give the kids a carrot and few lumps of coal and they can play in the pan for hours. It's so hygienic they won't even need mittens.