Happy holidays

alan

Today is the shortest day of the year. It was the darkest when you woke up, and it will be the darkest when you go to bed. Dark thoughts propagate in the darkness. I give you Alan the black cat, who was behind Door #18 of the Cats Protection advent calendar. No matter what ailed Alan before he was photographed by the charity – malnutrition, abandonment, cruelty – he’s better now. That’s empirical. Hold that thought.

I entered a shop that sells records at the weekend and purchased a CD, Skeleton Tree by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, the band’s sixteenth. It was always intended to be a stripped-back album about death, but the death of Cave’s 15-year-old son, Arthur, during its recording has clearly influenced some of the more improvised lyrics. When I bought it, the woman working behind the counter told me that the staff had put it on the shop’s PA when it was released in September and their manager begged them to take it off, as it was driving customers out of the shop. I can’t stop playing it.

nickcaveskeletontree-com

I had it on my headphones as I walked across Hungerford Bridge at around 7.30am this morning, on the shortest day, when London was a long way into the process of waking up, the sky fading from black to blue. It comforted me, oddly. This has been another year in which the prospect of spending much time in Central London, or indeed in any major city in Europe, has filled me with dread. The likelihood of being gunned down, or blown up, or deliberately run over, seems to be much higher than it has ever seemed before – and I’ve lived in London for 32 years, I ought to be immune to it by now! But … you go about your business – and most of my trips into Central London are for business – and beat those who seek to harm by not thinking about them. Think instead of Alan, and the profound way his life has been changed by kindness.

WordNewWord

Last night was one of the few guaranteed to bring warmth in my “more selective” social calendar: the annual Word Magazine (2003-2012) reunion, valiantly organised by Nige Tassell, who has much further to travel than most, and is someone I might not have met without Word. Numbers have dwindled since the first such gathering in a pub in Islington, but certain troopers tend to form a quorum: David Hepworth, Fraser Lewry, Andrew Harrison, Mark Hodkinson, John Naughton, Caroline Grimshaw, Steve Yates. It was an oasis of something more meaningful that the ubiquitous modern fallback “banter”: stories told, memories shared, a year of professional and personal updates, craft beer, pizza, winter coats, and all within the sound of the old Word offices. I have to venture that last night’s get-together had an almost imperceptible air of mortality about it – much talk of whether or not certain beloved musicians of the post-punk era had turned 60 yet; the sharing of employment anxieties; actual news of ailments. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world, of course.

Nobody is about to get out the violins for a bunch of media operatives, mostly self-employed, in their forties and fifties, bemoaning the paucity of opportunities in a business that once thrived on human interaction and having a desk, but is now run from home, and via email, if at all. (John still works for GQ and confirms that there are no shortage of people gainfully employed in the fashion magazine sector, and Radio Times, too, lines a lot of journalists, editors, designers and sub-editors up with lockable drawers and phone extensions in the cause of producing a content-heavy listings magazine, but a lot of the old certainties are falling away elsewhere.) It’s not just manual work that’s being taken over by machines. The machines have been decimating “old media” for years, and with it, the living human beings who once suckled at its colourful teat.

Version 2

I’ve spent a lot of the last two weeks using social media to promote an online auction for Cats Protection, wherein celebrities (and I use that category with caution, as one of them was me) donated customised “paw print” artwork and bids were bid via eBay. The scheme raised a cumulative £1,215 for injured, abandoned, mistreated and poorly cats and kittens: the Alans. (Black cats are a special case, as they are statistically less likely to be rehomed than more colourful cats because it’s harder to read their faces.) I was proud to play my part. The whole thing framed social media in a celestial light. But Twitter and Facebook are increasingly becoming distorted by hate. If 2016 can be said to be characterised by anything, it’s online bile.

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Lena Dunham, a provocative figure with a large audience for someone on HBO, said something inflammatory on her own podcast Women of the Hour on December 15 and the media seem to have discovered it. A fervent supporter of Planned Parenthood (under threat from Trump’s rabid misogynists working under the banner of family values, the sort that meant something under Eisenhower), Dunham said that she had never had an abortion but “wished she had.” Taken in a spirit of understanding and empathy, you can sort of see what she means. But it’s a bit like me saying I wish I’d worked down a Welsh coalmine so that I could more meaningfully offer my solidarity with miners. It sounds silly. And unnecessary. But what she said was that appearing at pro-choice events had implied to some that she, too, had experience of abortion, when in fact she didn’t. She wanted to make this case plain. But in saying she “wished” she’d had an abortion, they courted trouble. And she’s smart enough to know that it would be reported, and likely out of context.

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Glancing through social media this morning to track the story, and to track the outrage, most of it from women, much of it from anti-abortionists, I was dismayed, as ever, by the crudity of the dialogue. People made abortion jokes against her. They joked that she should have been aborted. They called her sitcom an abortion. They attacked her “clothing choices” (this came from a woman, naturally). They called her a “limousine liberal,” which seems to be the US equivalent of “champagne socialist”, and yes, I can see why. But what is just today’s passing storm of outrage reflects horribly on the state of discourse in the social media age. While some are raising money or awareness, others are calling people they’ve never met and will never meet insulting names. And then running away. (I used to observe this – that it’s like knocking on somebody’s front door and running away – but they don’t always run away any more, emboldened as they are by electoral affirmation.)

There is a lot to be concerned about in the world as it is today, rent asunder by military misadventure, religious extremism and the relentless grinding of humanity’s bones by capitalism. I can barely bring myself to read the newspapers or watch the news. But let’s go back to those cats and kittens. Thanks to Joey Essex and Danny Mac and Elaine Paige, money has been directly raised this Christmas for Cats Protection, an organisation reliant on volunteers and donations, and one among hundreds of equally deserving causes. It’s been another year whose atrocities are the names of the cities in which they were perpetrated: Aleppo, Berlin, Ankara, Brussels, Lahore, Istanbul, each briefly prefixed with the hashtag #PrayFor (tough luck expressing keystroke empathy if you don’t have a God to pray to). A presenter on the nightly Press Preview on Sky News struggles to establish what she keeps calling “the narrative” after the latest carve-up of human life. The “narrative” doesn’t change much from one execution to the next: pissed-off young man seeks to find meaning in a meaningless world using blunt instrument.

alan

’Tis the season to be jolly, but it’s harder than ever this year to block the “other stuff” out. Which is why I return to Alan the cat. He may have no teeth and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, but someone saw him, read his expression amid all that black fur, and took him in. Gather your loved ones around you, whether two-legged, four-legged, three-legged, one-legged or no-legged, and concentrate on what you can do. Unless you work for counter-terrorism, or are harbouring a disaffected young man on a hair trigger, you can’t stop the next terrorist attack, or indeed the next appointment of a women-hating, climate change-denying, Roe Vs. Wade-repealing nutcase to Trump’s cabinet, or the next Daily Express headline howling in the wind about Brexit. But you can be nice to those around you. And those you pass in the street. After all, if Nick Cave can process the unfathomably tragic loss of a 15-year-old son in an accident and turn that tragedy into beautiful music, as he has done, we must cling to the possibility that good can come of bad.

And there are the animals. Be nice to the animals.

 

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So here it is

TA133Not quite a Christmassy Telly Addict, but it’s the last one I’m doing before Christmas, so it’s the closest we’ll get, and I have reviewed the seasonal end of Louie on Fox, and C4’s Superscrimpers Christmas! Also, the superb Lucan on ITV, The British Comedy Awards on C4, and some more Gogglebox on C4. I’m almost worn out, and looking forward to watching loads of television over the next two weeks and not having to think about which clips to use and what pithy judgements to make.

A Telly Addict round up of 2013 will be up on December 30, I believe. Have a good one.

Watching me, watching you

TA129I’ve never claimed to be a trendsetter or a trailblazer or an early adopter with anything. I do not lead, I follow, for the most part. So I accept, on behalf of Telly Addict, that I am woefully late on Gogglebox, the C4 show whose second series is already partway through and to which I am a tardy convert. It sort of makes all of this redundant but I’ll soldier on: so, the mighty sociological experiment and armchair wisdom goldmine Gogglebox on C4; the final Poirot on ITV; more Sky Arts’ Portait Artist Of The Year; the return of Borgen to BBC4; the awful Killing Kennedy on the National Geographic Channel; The Newsroom on Sky Atlantic; Yonderland on Sky1; oh, and the Christmas adverts, which had to be done. (New producer/editor this week, so say hello to Tim.)

It’s beginning to feel a lot like

I welcome you through the fake doors of my Canadian ski lodge to a special Christmas Telly Addict, where I only consider festive, celebratory shows, including the twinkly finale of Strictly Come Dancing on BBC1 (the third most watched programme of 2011 after The Royal Wedding and the X-Factor final); the cloyingly sincere and irony-free Michael Bublé’s Home For Christmas on ITV1 (Michael Baublé, more like!); Little Crackers on Sky1, one of which I script-edited – the Shappi Khorsandi one – but in declaring an interest, I feel I can be trusted to impartially assess the rest of the series (it’s not as if I wrote it or anything glamorous like that); and finally, the BBC Christmas promo with David Jason and chums put together by computer and then apologised for by the BBC. Merry Christmas! And I hope you like my jumper! (Next week’s Telly Addict, which I’ve already recorded, will be a review of the year’s TV and should appear around midnight on December 30, I think.)

Now pay attention

On Wednesday night, I was delighted to be asked to host the FX Christmas Pub Quiz, an annual event staged by the FX channel, home – in this country, at one time or another – of The Wire, Generation Kill, True Blood, Sons Of Anarchy, Breaking Bad, Eastbound and Down, Nip/Tuck, Dexter and The Walking Dead. Teams from various publications – Guardian Guide, Shortlist, the Sun, Time Out, Sky magazine, What Satellite, Men’s Health – competed against teams from TV.com, Walker Media and HBO. (The team from Nuts didn’t turn up, sadly. Probably out masturbating somewhere.) It was a terrific night. Last year’s host was Reginald D Hunter, whose natural cool was, we must imagine, slightly undermined by being perched on a stool all night, trying to shout above the general din of media folk drinking free beer and champagne and dipping free crispy duck wraps in plum dipping sauce. I have no such cool to undermine, and really enjoyed trying to keep order, and treating in good spirit those lively souls who felt it was their job to shout out stupid answers. (“Dildo!”) Here are some of those media folk, including the team from the free magazine Shortlist, who won the quiz, for the third time, I believe, so well done to them. (In the spirit of their magazine, when the answer sheets were collected up at half time by FX adjudicators, Shortlist just left theirs lying around on the seats. Boom, boom!)

Anyway, I asked Chrystal from FX, who thanklessly compiled the quiz, if I could reproduce it here, just for fun. (The winning three teams got prizes and everything, but I am not FX.) It’s all based on what happened this year. Thanks to FX for the gig, especially Marc who made the introductions, and to all the media whores who came up to me afterwards and said nice things. It was held at the Book Club in the area of London many know as Old Street. I liked the venue. And they served amazing food. And created a mind-blowing chain of about 30 Jagerbombs on the bar afterwards; Chrystal was asked to ceremonially push over the first alcohol domino in the chain, and all of the shot glasses of Jagermeister plopped into the tumblers of Red Bull, ready to be downed by people who should know better. I have never seen such a thing in my life. I wish somebody had filmed it. Perhaps somebody did.

The quiz appears below this sappy posed picture of me with the FX “branding.”

The FX Christmas Pub Quiz 2010

1. Who replaced U2 at Glastonbury this year when Bono suffered a back injury?
2. The cast of Glee mostly dominated the UK charts with Don’t Stop Believing, but who sings the original?
3. Name the number 1 album in the UK which caused a stir this year after the band used a family photo found in a charity shop as the cover art?
4. … and the 2010 Mercury prize goes to?
5. What is the full title of the third Twilight film?
6. A somewhat true account behind the creation of Facebook, who directed The Social Network?
7. In addition to the US, Sex and the City 2 was primarily set in which country?
8. Who directed the American remake of Tomas Alfredson’s vampire story Let the Right One In?
9. It wasn’t such a happy day when which actor died aged 83 October of this year?
10. On January 8, Elvis Presley celebrated which birthday?
11. Whose sex text affair with a backing dancer was exposed when their other half discovered a secret phone?
12. Which pop star finally ended years of speculation by coming out as a “proud” and “fortunate” homosexual earlier this year?
13. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, the first episode of the three-part miniseries Sherlock was entitled what?
14. In January, who won the final ever series of Celebrity Big Brother?
15. Who stars alongside Matt Smith in the new Doctor Who series as his two companions Amy and Rory?
16. In chronological order which three TV channels aired Britain’s live series of party leader debates with David Cameron, Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg?
17. How many American viewers tuned into the premiere of Sarah Palin’s Alaska on the cable channel TLC?
18. The cast of which US sitcom performed two live performances to the East and West coasts as a one-off stunt?
19. Sarah Ferguson opened up on which US chat show following the hidden camera scandal that rocked Britain?
20. The Lost series finale aired simultaneously across 59 countries but what was the US’s transmission date?
21. Where was the 2010 Super Bowl held?
22. Which driver is the Formula One 2010 World Champion?
23. What country did Holland beat to make it to the Final of the football World Cup in South Africa?
24. Who won their third Golf Masters title this year?
25. Name the female protagonist in the Steig Larsson Millennium Trilogy?
26. Released in November, the memoir Decision Points follows whose life?
27. Controversy surrounded which fiction novel when plans for a big screen adaption invoked industrial protests this year?
28. Complete the title of this autobiography by Chris Evans: Memoirs of a _____
29. Who said: “I dabbled into witchcraft. I never joined a coven … I hung around people who were doing these things. I’m not making this stuff up.”
30. Who said – or Tweeted:”You are the chosen one dun dun dun”
31. Who said: “I feel sorry for straight men.”
32. Who said: “I’m no Tom Jones but I’m doing better than Nick Clegg.”
33. What technology was highly promoted during the Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas this year?
34. True or false: fish shrink in harsh winters?
35. What is Apple’s top selling app for the iPhone in 2010?
36. Facebook users in India were offered a chance to make themselves appear whiter online as part of a marketing campaign by which skincare company?
37. In which month was Haiti hit by the devastating Earthquake?
38. Nineteen people were killed in a stampede at which music festival this year?
39. What are the first five letters of the Icelandic volcano that brought Europe’s air travel to a halt?
40. Thirty-three miners were trapped in a 500 square feet passage, in temperatures of 97 degrees Fahrenheit. But how many days were they underground for?
41. What CCTV moment sparked international outrage and resulted in a fine of just £265? (I’ll accept the generally agreed name for the moment as it appears on YouTube, or the protagonist’s name.)
42. Following a recent high court battle, who is the owner of Liverpool FC?
43. Which US state introduced a law that would allow police to stop anyone who they think is an illegal immigrant?
44. In America, Proposition 19 claims to control, regulate and tax what?
45. A Florida-based produce company is looking to titillate the eye and the taste buds by offering a new red-coloured what to give a colourful crunch to salads and dips?
46. What was the name of the now deceased psychic Octopus who correctly predicted the World Cup winners?
47. A flock of which animal gathered in Mexico to form a giant version of itself? (Unless the pic was photoshopped!)
48. The largest gathering of people dressed as characters from The Wizard of Oz was achieved in which country this year? (Bonus point if you can name the town.)
49. My name is not my name, I’ve taught and rode and slain. Vampires are not my game. Themes of life and death with me remain. Who am I?
50. What religion is Homer Simpson? (I’ll accept either of two answers to this.)

I’ll print the answers next week. Don’t sent your answers to me, just have a go for your own amusement. Why not print the questions out, take them to a basement bar that is full of people shouting, and attempt them while drinking Tiger or champagne or Jagerbombs while staring at a giant picture of Dexter’s face. Then it’ll be just like you were there.