The other day, various news media carried the story that Ryanair, the world’s most controversial airline, was planning to charge fat people extra. Because that was, apparently, what its customers wanted. They’d been polling and everything.
Personally, I was surprised they hadn’t done it earlier. After all, they’ve already charged the physically disabled extra, so one more act of discrimination is hardly a surprise. It’s a small step, too, from charging per pound of luggage to charging per pound of flesh. I’ve never flown with them; and, because of policies like this, I’m never going to, so I don’t particularly care what they try to charge people. At least, until the day that other airlines start to think: “well, Ryanair can get away with it, why don’t we?”
What annoyed me, though, was the media’s reaction to what is, as yet, nothing more than a press release and a publicity stunt. The Guardian said as much in its article linked above; the rest of the media didn’t seem to care. BBC News was inviting people to phone in and text with their reactions; I wanted to say: “why are you giving them the publicity?” It’s nothing but cheap advertising for a firm who doesn’t really deserve it.
The band Camera Obscura are clearly going up in the world. I noted, a few months ago, that one of their songs had popped up on a Tesco advert. Never mind about that, though: today, they were on the front page of The Guardian, up above the masthead. Admittedly, only because a Guardian reader had written in with: why weren’t Camera Obscura listed in your recent “1000 albums to hear before you die”* list? It’s better than not being there at all, though.
True Camera Obscura fans, of course, will be spending next weeked at the Midland Railway Centre, in Derbyshire. Their bass player, Mr Gav “King of Partick” Dunbar, is doing a DJ set there, in a heated marquee at Butterley railway station. Now, to my mind, that’s how you judge you’re doing well. Never mind the Guardian front page; once you’ve got your marquee heated, you know you’re on the up and up.
* not to be confused with the entirely unrelated book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, of course.
About a year ago,* I wrote about local elections, and why I wasn’t going to bother voting. I didn’t think it was a particularly good post myself, but it was good enough for The Guardian to quote it, so more people probably read that post (or that part of that post) than anything else I’ve ever put on the site.
Well, this year, I’m going to vote anyway, even though I have no idea who the candidates are, or what they are standing for. In fact, I’m not really sure why at all, other than a vague feeling that, you know, really, I should make the most of my rights. As I said last year, though, we get the politicians we deserve. I might not have managed to set up the Symbolic Forest Party in the last twelve months, but I’m going to go out and vote for someone today, and then (if they get in) I’m going to see what they do. I’m going to keep an eye on them and see what good (or otherwise) my voting has actually done.
* in fact it was a year ago tomorrow – I used a bad Star Wars related pun in the post title
I was a little doubtful when I saw, on the front page of Friday’s Guardian, the tagline “Steam trains – the great aphrodisiac”. I do like trains, but I wouldn’t say that about them.
It turned out to be subeditor’s hyperbolae. The article, by a former director of British Rail, turned out to be about the radical romanticism of the steam engine. Eroticism was only briefly mentioned. I’m rather glad, to be honest. Train-into-tunnel might be a classic visual metaphor, but I don’t think very many people would say that the train itself is what gets them going. There are people out there who haven’t just had sex on the train, but can remember the numbers of the trains they’ve had sex on – but I somehow don’t think it was the train itself that was turning them on.*
What I do like about trains is what that article calls “the rigmarole of trains”. The ritual surrounding the railway. The little bits of peculiar terminology that you don’t get anywhere else.** The natural romanticism of rail travel, and the community feeling that can spring up around the line.
* but if it was – on balance, I think I’d rather not know!
** phrases like “not to be used outside possessions”, or “not to be loose or hump shunted”.
Tastes change as people grow up. Things you are a huge fan of will slowly fade away, and other things will come along to replace them. Your tastes will change, as you change.
Some of you might have heard of Alexis Petridis, rock and pop critic at The Guardian. I don’t always agree with what he writes, but I tend to pay attention. Because, back in about ’97 or ’98, Petridis was a semi-frequent contributor to Sinister, the mailing list for fans of Belle and Sebastian. I was only a lurker, but I remember his posts, on topics such as: do Belle and Sebastian sound better when you’re on drugs? And if so which ones?*
Since then, when Petridis has mentioned them in the Grauniad, you get the feeling that he doesn’t so much like what they’ve become. He doesn’t think much of devoted fans, but he still loves their early work. And I have to sympathise with that. I, too, used to be a devoted fan.
I’m still a bit of a fan. I’m still the sort of person who will go and buy a new single on its first day of release, for example, like I did yesterday. And then, I get it home, and find that I’m not really very interested in it any more. Compared to their old songs, it’s lost something. It’s brassy and polished, shiny and bland, the sort of track that has never been at all interesting or inspiring for me. Their sleeve designs get better and better,** as the music gets ever-more over-produced. The B-sides are better, but even so it’s not something that I would have bought if it were by any other band.
* No, really, this was something he wrote. The list archive doesn’t work nowadays, so I can’t link you to it; but I strongly remember reading it. I have no idea now if he was being serious or not.
** although I was disappointed to see that they are still crediting Patrick Doyle with helping with the sleeve photography. He’s someone else who was on Sinister, a few years later, one of those people who hero-worshipped Stuart Murdoch and would desperately and deliberately try to appear as twee, fey and indie as possible because he thought that was how a B&S fan should look.
According to this story in The Guardian, the government thinks that we shouldn’t be looking at websites that can show us how to kill ourselves. So, they want ISPs to stop us. Search engines should alter their results so that the first hit for “suicide” is The Samaritans. We shouldn’t be allowed to discuss ways to kill ourselves with each other.
This has all started because of two people, who met via the net, and killed themselves together. The Guardian is so concerned for our own safety that it won’t even tell you that they killed themselves by using charcoal to produce carbon monoxide. Careful. Now you know that – and you read it on the internet, too – you might go out and do something stupid.
The whole idea that people are more likely to kill themselves just because of the internet is very, very silly. People who want to kill themselves will do it unless they receive support or medical attention; the internet is just a scapegoat; and if it can persuade people to kill themselves in peaceful, non-disruptive ways, then so much the better.* The worrying thing, from my point of view, is the risk that this could be the thin end of the wedge. If the government can persuade ISPs to filter one topic, or can warp the results page for one search request, then they can do it for others. It doesn’t matter how well-meaning they are; they’ve crossed a line. The second time they want to do it, it might not be for such a well-meaning reason.
* Jumping in front of a train doesn’t just kill you, it will scar the driver for life too. Not to mention all the people who have to hose your fragmented remains off the track.
More from The Guardian: in the UK, an entire third of the 14-21 age group have started their own blog.
However, what that doesn’t say is that most of these blogs aren’t very interesting to outsiders; just pages of teenage gossip and bitching.* The Guardian has been over-hyping blogs for a while now, and “look, they’ve all got them!” really isn’t the important part of this story.
You’ll pick up on the important aspect of this, though, if you read the whole thing. It’s communication. The blogs the article mentions aren’t the big new revolution in publishing – they’re the big new revolution in Keeping In Touch. Most of the blogs on the internet now aren’t the sort of thing that the general public want to read. They’re online diaries to keep in touch with your friends, to tell them what you’ve been doing. The general public don’t read them, either – only the blogger’s friends do. In fact, they’re just the same as the traditional Personal Home Page of 1994 – the only difference is that they’re much easier to create.
* As opposed to this site, which is pages and pages of twentysomething gossip and bitching.
I’ve already written about the new design of The Guardian, and came across as pretty positive about it. Indeed, I am pretty positive about its design, as a whole. There is, though, one thing that’s a bit rubbish. The Thursday Technology section.
The old Thursday science and technology section was never wonderful. Apart from the wonderful Bad Science column, which, moved to Saturdays, survives, the science pages were always a bit spotty. There would usually be one good story, and I liked the format of pages 2 and 3,* but a lot of the content seemed to be lifted from Nature and New Scientist.** The computing pages weren’t great, but were probably better than what you’d expect from a general newspaper.
Now, though, the science pages (and jobs) seem to have evaporated aside from a single Saturday page. The old computing pages have been transformed into the new Technology section, on Berliner paper rather than tabloid. The problem is, though, the amount of content hasn’t changed; it’s just been stretched to fill the paper, leading to a very thin section. There’s a big front page article – today it was a rather good piece, actually, on learning to be a hacker – but the rest just seems to be games reviews and news about the latest mobile phones.
I’m hoping that it will improve over time. I was hoping that when I saw the first one, and I’m still hoping that it’s going to get better. And, one poor section per week isn’t going to stop me buying the paper. It’s a shame, though, because I’m sure they could be doing far, far better.
* similar, in fact, to the format of pages 2 and 3 in the new G2.
** which also comes out on a Thursday, of course. It took me a few years of reading the Guardian’s “Daedalus” column before I realised it seemed to be inspired by a column of the same name that ran in New Scientist for many years.
As I’ve been an avid Guardian reader for ten years or so – long enough to get very used to it, but not long enough to remember the old 1980s design – then of course I’m full of opinions on their new redesign. Or, at least, I was a week ago. I decided to hold off writing anything until I’d seen a full week of third sections; but now I’ve seen them all the novelty has gone, and I’ve settled back down to just reading the thing again.
The Guardian – sorry, I mean theguardian – hasn’t changed that much. It still has most of the same writers, even if they’ve shuffled round a bit. The additional sections haven’t changed much. It does feel, though, more like a magazine than a newspaper. It’s the combination of colours and fonts that does it; a full-colour newspaper on its own would still look like a newspaper, but there’s something about the fonts that makes me think of weekly trade magazines. The print and the paper is better than it used to be; but you don’t read a newspaper because you like its print quality.
I was slightly disappointed that, for all the talk about radicalism, theguardian backtracked so quickly on dropping Doonesbury. Yes, I like it, even though the jokes were drowned out by the soap opera years ago; however, I can still read it online. Maybe Doonesbury is their one sop to the style-conservatives: “no, we’re not going back to X, but we do listen – look, we brought back Doonesbury!” Personally, I was more disappointed about the death of Pass Notes: it was an old joke, but I still liked it.
I’m not going to stop reading theguardian, and I’m still going to read it on paper, not online. Newspapers change, and I’d think I’d rather have dramatic, sudden change than the slow drip of change you don’t realise. Besides, as I said at the start, now it’s been going for over a week I’m already used to it. The broadsheet Guardian is already history to me.