Happy World Vegetarian Day

Sometimes I write for other publications. Sometimes those articles are so far wide of the mark that nobody wants them. I just had trouble being nice and sincere that day but I had fun writing, so here it is.

Happy World Vegetarian Day. Did you get lots of cards? You got a pumpkin – well that’s just wizard. On this day of all days, it seems only appropriate to discuss the increasing number of vegetable-based issues.

It can’t be easy being a vegetarian. Not only does the lifestyle preclude you from sampling too many foods, but it seems that the world just doesn’t want to include you in other pursuits.

Take dating for example. It seems an omnivore couldn’t possibly have anything in common with a vegetarian. For a start they smell different and probably don’t have social skills. More than likely they have conventions beyond the understanding of most normal people. Has anyone ever actually seen a vegan? Maybe they only come out at night. Which is why it must be so heartbreaking that their last chance of procreation could be gone.

The Guardian reported that supposedly vegetarian-based dating website Veggiedates was to be taken down due to the fact that the majority of its clients were meat eaters. How embarrassing. Imagine turning up expecting a cucumber and getting a big juicy steak instead. The error came about because the site shared a database with several other sating sites. In their defence, Veggiedates never said that they were exclusively for friends of living animals. However, the effect is like signing up for a swingers website to find it’s populated with nuns.

So with no way of meeting each other, this means that vegetarians could die out within a generation. But they’re still people. They have needs and everything. So where are they supposed to turn to sate their human desires? That’s right: the sex industry.

However, while vegetarians have always been able to appreciate the aesthetic qualities of dancing girls, they haven’t been able to munch on the meat-based snacks these establishments provide. Well all that’s changing thanks to the world’s first vegan strip clubThe Caso Diablo – in the hippy town of Portland, Oregon. Not only do patrons have the chance to enjoy the excellent range of vegan treats but also animal-free girls. At least half the dancers at the club are vegans too and only remove clothes from sustainable sources, so you can pay a girl to dance naked for money without feeling any kind of moral dilemma.

Animal rights really have been taken to the next level. The sex industry can really feel proud of itself and if it’s a success perhaps it will become something far more commonplace. Society is defined by how it treats those less fortunate. Strip clubs really are leading the way.

So today we salute the vegetarians (the vegans can wait until World Vegan Day next month). Perhaps one day they will find the equality they so rightly deserve and be able to enjoy all things in life, from dating each other without fear of trickery, to enjoy strippers and maybe even one day get the vote.

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Stephen Craigan: Motherwell legend

STV Local asked me to write a blog about Motherwell Captain Stephen Craigan’s testimonial.  Here are my thoughts for anyone who is interested. 

For some players a football club is just somewhere they work, for others it’s a stepping stone to better things. For Stephen Craigan, Motherwell is home. The Northern Irishman first turned out in claret and amber in 1997. He took a three year break to help Partick Thistle win back to back promotions but since his return to Fir Park in 2003, he has become a Motherwell legend. It is with great pleasure that the Motherwell fans can pay tribute to their captain with his testimonial against Partick Thistle.

Legend is an overused word but Craigan lives and breathes Motherwell. He should be every fan’s dream player. No doubt there have been opportunities to move on to other clubs but he has seen enough to realise that the grass isn’t always greener. It’s rare in any job for someone to show such loyalty but in the ever changing world of football Craigan has shown real commitment. In his 351 appearances so far he has fought for every ball, gone in for every tackle and shown himself to be a true leader.

You only needed to watch him score his Scottish Cup semi-final goal at Hampden last April to see how much pride he has for the club. His reaction was a wonder to see. In that moment he was living every fan’s dream and he knew it. No one deserved that moment of glory more. That was one of the great highs. There have been some terrible lows as well but overall as and player and a man he has shown great consistency.

Craigan returned to Motherwell under the stewardship of Terry Butcher. Despite being aged just 26 he was one of the senior members of the team in the more frugal era following administration. He has always led by example. Over the years he has partnered a great number of players at the back from David Partridge initially to youngsters Brian Mclean and Mark Reynolds to his current partner Shaun Hutchinson. He has mentored these players through games and helped them develop from youth players into first team regulars.

It is incredible that a player can stay so settled when he has played under so many managers. In his second spell at Fir Park the number 5 has played under Terry Butcher, Maurice Malpas, Mark McGhee, Jim Gannon, Craig Brown and now Stuart McCall. That just one of these men omitted him from the regular starting line-up says it all about the qualities others see in him.

These traits have gained him international recognition. First capped at Thistle he went on to establish himself as a Northern Ireland regular while at Motherwell becoming our most capped player by some distance, with a sensational 54 caps.

In recent years Craigan has become a regular media pundit and has always represents his views with intelligence and dignity. In the often negative spotlight of the Scottish media, Craigan is a fantastic ambassador for Motherwell Football Club.

Playing Partick Thistle is hardly a glamour tie for a man who has given so much. It is however a fitting fixture and sums up his career perfectly – keeping things simple and to the point. These are the only two professional clubs for which Craigan has played. Anyone who knows the Scottish game will want to pay tribute to one of its great defensive exponents. While the attendance won’t be earth shattering, those who do turn out will do so with a great deal of respect and affection.

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Cool things # 1: The Desert Island Discs Archive

You’re a young funky person aren’t you? People still say funky right?  Well if you are you’re bound to love BBC Radio 4.  And if you love Radio 4 then you must love Desert Island Discs.    It’s the world’s second longest running radio programme you know.  Every week a worthy guest is asked to select the 8 discs that shaped their lives while the excellent Kirsty Young gets them to reveal the story of their lives.  They get to pick a book of their choice and a luxury item before being cast away with their sounds.  For years it wasn’t available to download or even in the age of iplayer as a listen again due to rights issues.  Happily they have been solved and the podcast has been available for general consumption since 2009.

But now there’s more.  There’s a whole  castaway archive.  Archives are cool – they’re all dusty and have that weird smell.  Over 500 episodes of the long running show are featured there going right back to 1998 to either download on itunes or listen to via iplayer.  These feature a wide range of guests from Rolf Harris to David Mitchell, Emma Thomson to Lord Sebastian Coe and in time more will be added.  You can also see all the guests and music choices made by guests going right back to the very beginning.  It’s a fantastic resource and should provide a master class in interview technique as well as hours of entertainment.

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Could the Absolute Radio Network challenge BBC dominance ?

Commercial radio is a tricky business.  As long as people keep listening then you can play the same tracks over and over as well and count the money.  Taking any creative risks is a dangerous business.  Ultimately it’s not a creative business. That’s why the BBC exists.  While the BBC produces original content catering to most tastes then the commercials can sit back and make easy money with phone competitions and whatever repeated cycle of niche music they choose to play.

However the BBC needs competition.  What it does it does extremely well but radio is such a rich medium it is a tragedy that outside of community radio there is little experimentation into drama, documentary or even panel show formats.  At one point it looked as though Britain’s alternative public service broadcaster with Channel 4  Radio set to be the next big thing  in the digital market place but financial troubles put those plans on indefinite hold.

So it’s left to the commercial stations to create original content.  The most obvious contributor is Absolute Radio, the only mainstream music national commercial.  Since re-branding  from it’s previous Virgin moniker, Absolute has widely expanded both it’s playlist and it’s content.  The DAB revolution has also allowed the station to buy many more slots on this digital platform to host individual stations covering niche content from the 80s to the naughties as well as a Classic Rock channel and the now seemingly obligatory Extra station.

These digital stations perform the role of jukeboxes with occasional interjections of generic DJs but this has allowed the flagship station to diversify.

Rock ‘N’ Roll football was first introduced under the ownership of Chris Evans back in the days of Virgin Radio.  This mix of score updates and music proved to be a refreshing take on sports coverage and fitted the somewhat male orientated station identity.  For the first time this year the station gained rights live English Premiership football bringing in established names  Jim Proudfoot to commentate and Ian Wright to shout during the phone in.

In terms of comedy output the station has made the rather unoriginal move of bringing in comedians to present shows in the form or Frank Skinner and Dave Gorman for weekend mornings.  In Skinner they have found a someone who seems to be at the top of their game and he is perfectly complimented by his co-hosts in up and coming comedian Gareth Richards and deputy editor of InStyle magazine Emily Dean.   During the 2010 World Cup the station also offered original comedy podcasts with Skinner and his sometime comedy partner offering their thoughts from South Africa.  The station may not be offering sitcoms or satire yet but these are small steps in the right direction.

In terms of documentary the station has occasional but rather good features with Excess All Areas strand which looked into the the rock and roll lifestyles of famous bands.  There are also occasional specials such as the fantastic Live Aid 25 documentary with contributions from all the major players.  These may still play well to the core audience but are significant breaks away from just playing music.

Content is nothing without ratings.   Even with the expanded playlist, improved programming and heavy promotional campaigns Absolute has failed to make the same impact as the Virgin brand.  Ratings have declined leading to speculation of the owners selling the station.   Hopefully the ratings will stabilise and the network will continue to take risks.  The UK broadcast industry needs some variety and competition as we move deeper into the digital age.  Without competition radio becomes an unwieldy and irritating ipod with the songs you don’t want to hear interrupted by inane chatter.

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Brand Never Mind the Buzzcocks to be shown

Remember 2008? It was such and innocent time.  Radio presenters could phone up anyone they liked and comedy pop quiz Never Mind the Buzzcocks had a permanent host with a silly haircut in Simon Amstell. Oh how things have changed.  For series 22 of the panel show team captain Bill Bailey had departed due to scheduling conflicts so instead of appointing a full time replacement the show featured a series of guest captains including one Russell Brand.

This made perfect sense of course. Not only was Mr. Brand a popular comedian but also a BBC Radio 2 DJ. That’s really where the problems begin. Who needs a reminder? Well you can find all the details of the Sachsgate scandal here. Finally it seems after more than two years the furore has died down enough for this to be shown.  The other guests are singer Rachel Stevens, comedian Greg Davies, hip hop artist Sway and chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.  There surely won’t be any contentious moments. The last thing anyone at the BBC wants to do is offend.

Never Mind the Buzzcocks airs Wednesday at 10pm on BBC2.

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Opinion: Does QI really need to be supersized?

Sometimes the director’s cut of a movie restores a masterpiece to it’s rightful form.  In other cases it becomes a bloated mess when the original cut was too long anyway.  In their wisdom BBC producers have decided to extend some of their comedy output, most notably QI and Have I Got News for You .

 

The logic behind this is sound.  These shows are recorded in front of a live audience over a period of several hours providing directors and editors with hours of footage from which to select a consistently amusing 30 minutes of comedy.  As viewers have the chance to watch the original version of the show at any time on BBC iplayer the repeat can be justified with the extras when, in the case of the panel  they air on their spiritual home of BBC 2.  It’s an extra treat for all those viewers with the patience to wait.

Is it really though?  These shows were never designed to be extended.  You could of course argue that the 30 minute timeslot is arbitrary but of course the recordings of these shows were always designed to fill that slot.  Have I Got News For You in particular has been on the air for twenty years now  and the producers will know exactly what they need from a recording.

This means that rounds usually considered too weak for broadcast now get an airing.  Do we really want to see four panellists struggling to identify the odd one out?  Of course there is also great pleasure in seeing how smoothly each host handles the situation and these extended editions provide plenty of opportunity to show them screwing up reading from an auto-cue.  The pre-credits sequences often show panellists amusing the audience before recording begins.  These additions might be accused of destroying the magic of television but since this is a panel show and not high art they can be forgiven.

QI XL flows much more naturally.  As each round is an additional question it is often difficult to determine what is the additional material, although if Stephen Fry is playing professor while the panel are making few contributions but sitting quietly interested it probably didn’t make it to the main show.  Still at least the extended versions make the points make more sense.

The extended versions are of course just another way of repacking unused footage.  It is perhaps better to have an extended version of a show like Russell Howard’s Good News rather than the clips plus extras editions that happen after every five original episodes of Howard’s other show, Mock the Week .  Even footage not used in that is those shows get’s a “Too Hot for TV” DVD release and perhaps that really means not funny enough for TV.

In tight times for the BBC it is only right that they get value for their money but with more compilations due over the Christmas period the BBC shouldn’t forget those who matter – the audience.  There is a risk with repeats and highlights of over saturating the market and alienating the viewers.  Fans of any show want new content but would always take quality over quantity.  If that means fewer and perhaps even shorter episodes then so be it.

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Huw Wheldon Lecture Deemed Insignificant by BBC

Sexy scientist Professor Bryan Cox delivered this years Royal Television Society Huw Wheldon lecture. His topic was the difficulty of bringing science to television.

How appropriate then that it is being screened on BBC 2 at 11.20pm across the country and 12.20pm in Scotland. Clearly with all the quality programming jamming up the schedules there is barely room to hear from one of our top minds and most appealing television presenters.

Who needs a schedule anyway? The lecture will remain on iplayer for the next week of so.

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