Saturday, 12 May 2007

Shooting fish in a barrel

For the millionth time in a row, the stars of the Eurovision song contest are the stage set and the BBC voiceover from Terry Wogan. The only reason I ever watch the Eurovision is to listen to Terry gently rip the whole thing to shreds. I think I've managed to watch it every year since 2002, at least for the voting section, which is priceless for Terry's barely controlled sense of outrage over the way the phone voting is more like a map of how the next war in Europe will line up than any kind of musical judgment. That's some countries - with the richer ones the voting doesn't tell you who their friends are, it tells you who's cleaning their toilets.

He's not wrong, of course. If I was sitting down trying to draw the maps of a future Europe, I'd probably start with Eurovision voting patterns. Just for badness. It's not that I really think that Croatia and Serbia should be united with Greece, it's just it would serve them right.

The other thing is that I swear to God that the show is getting more decadent every year. It was always supposed to be some kind of lowest common denominator show, putting up kind of crap music which wouldn't bother anyone too much. The lowest common denominator is getting pretty damned low these days. The songs are lame as ever, but way too much of the costumes and the choreography seem to have been cooked up in the back room of one of those strip clubs which were an obligatory part of every American cop movie of the 1980s. And there have been way too many acts which left me wondering were they self hating gays, or taking the piss out of something I'm too straight to understand. That's Ukraine, for starters.

Luckily this year they've all been kind of overshadowed by the set. I imagine Finland could have put a man on the moon for what it cost to surround the the acts with enormous projection screens which could show anything at all that struck their fancy. Since the bands couldn't really have known just how much over the top ness would be at their disposal (there may not even be that many flat panels in all of Moldova for all I know), I found myself wondering, at a purely practical level, how they worked out what the backdrops ought to be. But they were good - generally better than the song.

Someone needs to tell me what the Germans are on. Last year, they sent a country and western band - this year it was the big band sound. Germany seems not to be very good at either of these things. You'd think sixty years of US occupation would have let some of it rub off, but apparently not.

As I write this we're at the voting stage and so we're running back through the songs - my word, they're as bad as I remember them from the first time. The up side is that showing the songs means we're spared having to listen to the Finnish presenters, who seem to have been hastily cloned from the couple of muppets they used last year. Maybe they ARE clones; perhaps the EBU keeps a blond idiot of each gender in an ice-box someplace and thaws them out every May to yell at the audience in something which is almost, but not quite colloquial English.

Which leads me to wonder half-heartedly why it is that everyone in show biz feels the need to pretend they're working in a call centre. The presenters always have a head set with with thumb sized boom mike. Why don't lapel mikes work any more? Did the man who had the recipe die? It wouldn't bother me except that they insist on making the spit shield flesh toned (in the same way that band-aids are flesh toned - the Eurovision's never had a black presenter so I've never seen whether they'd tailor the spit shield for one). So as the muppets bob their heads around, it's hard to shake the feeling that they each have curiously regular and quite enormous warts on their cheeks.

The Ukrainians just showed up again. I can't rule out the possibility that their lead singer is Kim Jong Il.

The interval act; well, not like the other children. A guy just shoved a lit fluorescent tube down his throat. I'm simultaneously impressed and disturbed. Though Lordi should have put us all on notice last year that Finland has a rich geek tradition. Flipside, I've just watched with my heart in my mouth as a trapeze artist working without a net jumped in and out of her trapeze in a series of moves which were sinuous, beautiful and absolutely terrifying. I was impressed as all hell, but would have been so much happier if I hadn't been thinking she was risking her spine at the very least. Mind you, maybe it's not as impressive unless there's a risk of maiming.

They've just introduced the EBU's executive supervisor, prompting me to wonder what he does the rest of the year. It's just too dispiriting to think that he might spend the other eleven months getting ready for this. There has to be something more important he does.

I got distracted from voting there by other stuff, but it's the same old same old, except less fun because they're trying to save time by letting the Hello Helsinki people call out only the top three results. So it's harder to get the sense of the patterns - and of course Terry hasn't had the chance to pick it apart much either which takes the fun out of things. However, all the Balkans are voting for each other; what WAS that war about? Obviously not music. Of course, it's not like the Eurovision is about music either.

In other shock news, the UK is stuffed again. No-one's voted for them yet, which seems just mean. It was a stupid song, but it was sort of fun and bouncy and plenty of votes have stuck to much worse songs. Ireland's only done a little better, but our song was lame beyond belief and didn't deserve to get much. Ah, late breaking news. For some reason, our colonial overlords just got seven votes from us. Why? Malta just gave them 12, but then who else were they going to give them to? Libya's not in and the Italians stopped playing years ago. I must look into why, one of these days when I've got literally nothing else to do.

And Serbia has won. Possibly because of bloc voting, possibly because it was sung in Serbo Croat and no-one knew what it was about. So this time next year, Belgrade. My word.

Of course, you can sing a soppy song and still be a Serb. As she made her way to the front to do her encore, the lead singer marked her joy by shaking her fist as though she'd just won the all-Balkan celebrity atrocity competition.

Ireland was completely stuffed. Serve us right.

Sunday, 6 May 2007

Maybe blogging is something that you do when you're bored

It's one theory.

I've been completely preoccupied recently by the need to prepare a Powerpoint presentation (Executive summary; if you've got a room full of bosses, why use bullet points when real bullets would be so much more efficient?) for what a younger man would still be able to call his career. It's not that it's consuming my every waking hour, more that when I found myself in front of a computer I felt I should be honing my presentation. That has now been honed to the point that it's invisible from edge-on and I have tasked the computer to scanning in old negatives.

Which is, my word, tedious. Set up the neg, check in preview that it's worth the trouble, hit scan. Scanning at optimum resolution takes about three minutes. So you can't really get up and go and do something else, and you can't really get it done very quickly either. Worthwhile, like all of these exercises, but boring and time consuming. It will probably take the rest of today. And then I will have a fairly complete set of my baby pictures scanned in, because from the look of it what I have is the negatives from my parents' old camera. Which are old black and white 6 by 6s, ridiculously rich in data. In principle, because the huge negatives of the 1950s and 1960s were behind unsophisticated fixed focus lenses and the pictures aren't as sharp as you'd expect with that big an image. Still fascinating to watch them spring into life on my computer screen.

Tuesday, 1 May 2007

Coincidence? I don't think so

Sunday, 20 April 2007; our beloved leader calls a general election at 10 in the morning
By lunch time the streets are festooned with plastic posters of even more plastic candidates, all tied up to lamp-posts with plastic cable ties.
I'd be the first to admit that I've dreamed of seeing some of these people hanging from lamp-posts but not like this.

Sunday, 20 April 2007; Aldi has special offers on branch loppers with extendable handles. For cutting through those hard to reach things overhead


That's for you to judge