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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Out with the new and in with the old

Time and all other human constructs are really arbitrary, so why we should stop and take stock of our lives, make resolutions and generally review and sort things on this day every year is one of those mysteries. In a season of garish artificiality, it's just another self-delusion to think that somehow, magically, things will change. I know pretty much for certain that I won't change very much, despite any good intentions I have. Intentions they will remain - unstated and personal to me.

Some things will change, of course. I'm to become a father again. I know precisely what this will entail, my partner does not. That'll be fun. My three existing daughters will get a half-sibling and my complicated, modern family will acquire a slightly different dynamic again. In this regard, stuff whirls around me while I'm at the centre. For a professional communicator, I'm really very bad at talking about things and if I have regrets over the way things have gone in the last decade, they would largely be around how I have handled (or haven't handled) things. I don't think I would change anything, but I would have established a comms plan first and stuck to it.

I turn 50 this incoming year. Many of my closest friends are a decade behind me. Actually, the gap is closing in that the life experience you gain between 40 and 50 only really cements who you already are. When I'm out with my chums, we're already the oldest people out so my particular position in the age hierarchy isn't important. There's to be a party. I don't know if I'm to arrange this myself but on behalf of the organising committee - YOU'RE invited. Terms and conditions apply, of course - it will be somewhere on the North Coast of Northern Ireland sometime near the end of June and my guest room is already booked. Oh, and no gifts, strippers or shenanigans. Thank you.

As a younger man I made a fair bit of money writing screenplays for other people which were never filmed. I have inverted this trend in recent times by publishing my own scribblings and having no-one buy them. I'm hoping that with a proper push the new subKultur imprint will become properly established as a channel for some new writing and music - my own but chiefly others' - in 2012. I don't really care about not selling any stories but I do care about doing something I enjoy and failing. Better that than to sit and regret the things I should have done. It might be simply that I'm not good enough at writing or brazen enough at self-promotion. One of those things, at least, can be fixed.

One of the revelations of the year has been Twitter (find me = @carlpeter). Read recently something along the lines of Facebook being about people you knew but you wished you didn't and Twitter being about people you largely didn't know but you wished you did. I intend to remedy this next year and meet a few of you (you're all invited to my party, remember?!). Would be invidious to name the good folks I have 'met' electronically this way in recent times but the chat and support and just general banter has been a genuine pleasure and a bonus. There's an industrial amount of dross, boasting, snobby whining, polemic and general unpleasantness there too (some of it from me, naturally), but it's worth wading through it for the gems. To all of you contributing twittery goodness to my life, a sincere 'thank you'.

There has been a fair bit of pain and distress in the wider family this outgoing year too. I hope the 2012 brings some respite/relief or at least better strategies for dealing with that which can't be changed. Change itself is the only constant, however. I know I'm going to abandon at least one long-held principle next year but if there is a theme to 2012, it's to be that I will be more selfish or, less perjoratively, more self-reliant.

To conclude, next year I'm going back to some of the things I have already tried: fatherhood, writing, maybe another year of playing the bass in a rock n roll band. No new fresh horizons, no alarms and no surprises. It could be a good year :-)

Have a good one.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

It's a big building with patients, but that's not important right now ...

So Wednesday found me sitting glumly in A&E with my dear old mother. You might think that a Wednesday lunchtime would not be the busiest time for such a department but, on this occasion at least, you would be mistaken. It took well over an hour to get to see the triage nurse. We were there six hours in all, the last couple of them parked in the plaster room next to an elderly lady waiting to be taken back to her nursing home by ambulance. Mother was finally admitted to a surgical ward and I got to go home to sort things out.

You may not have had the misfortune to have to attend A&E. It's nothing like Casualty on the TV. There are no dashing doctors and nurses squeezing in hectic love-lives and intrigue between charging the paddles, intubating patients and setting up the machine that goes 'ping'. The A&E staff move in a determinedly measured way. I realise now that this is a tactic. Nobody wants to see medical staff rushing towards them.

But A&E is a kind of Hell. Every patient is, by definition, in extreme distress. All want the magical touch of the doctor or relief by drugs. To the individual patient, everybody else is a nuisance, an obstacle for the medics to negotiate before they get to them. The soundtrack is a symphony of despair - this Wednesday it was the hacking cough, the whimpering girl, the vomiting, the moaning man and the soft bleeping of the machines. But you zone all of this out. In your cubicle you are waiting for the approaching footsteps, the swish of the curtain to signify that the doctor has come at last. All you can do is wait and wait and wait.

As we waited and waited, and I got crosser and crosser about the staff's elastic interpretation of 'soon' and 'in a minute', I thought about the recent strikes and the vitriol poured on public sector workers and their so-called golden pensions. As the A&E staff managed a seemingly endless torrent of frightened and hurting humanity, it put the dispute into perspective for me. Next time you think you're having a shitty day because your boss spoke harshly to you, or your computer was a bit slow and crabby, imagine you're the one who has to tell mum that her daughter's appendix is probably bursting, or the one to mop up the blood and shit from the cubicle floor. Chances are you'll solve that problem that's giving you a headache. Chances are there will be people in A&E that can't be fixed. On a Friday or Saturday night A&E staff may well be attacked by drunk people with busted noses, the same people who will read their tabloid newspapers and have large and forcibly expressed opinions about public sector pensions. 'Those people', the ones they despise, will be the ones giving them pain relief at 3.40am on a Saturday morning. And then come back again the next day to do it all again.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The sun shines on the riotous

At the foot of this blog, I promise you I have the answer to social unrest.

Like a lot of comfortably-off middle class people I have had something to say about the recent riots in some English cities. I think there are many contributing factors to the unrest and none more important than another. There hasn't been much debate except between those on the right who want looters sent to prison camps (and beaten up when they get there) and those on the left who want to wish away social inequality by waving large wads of taxpayers' money towards a better life for everyone.

That's a trivialisation, I know. What else can you expect when most of us have forgotten how to question anything? This medium offers instant everything and the price for that seems to have been the ability to just stop and think for a moment. We're chatterati, tweet-stuffed stealers of opinion and so-called 'facts' with a diminishing ability to accept anything that jars with our own world view. We default to the wikipedia version of everything and retweet the 140 characters that align most closely with what we think we know. You can know a lot about everything without experiencing anything these days, and spread your opinion - as I am doing now - on the great and currently unregulated superhighway we have already come to take for granted.

So here is my summary of 'facts' that I have picked up about recent events. Do I believe any of them? It doesn't matter:
  1. The Metropolitan Police, for years, have been harsher on some sections of society than others.
  2. There is no society anyway, unless it's the Big Society that appears to be decent people taking it upon themselves to do the jobs of paid public servants.
  3. The 'media' speak at the people, not for them. The so-called social media is a dangerous and subversive channel that must be regulated.
  4. Tories are untrustworthy and dim toffs and socialists are profligate and blinkered do-gooders. Social democrats are well-meaning but straws in the political wind.
  5. Severe responses by the police generally prevent public disorder. Except in Northern Ireland.
  6. MPs looted huge sums of money from the taxpayer and the courts didn't work overtime to jail them.
  7. Bankers gambled billions away, caused a global economic crisis and still get bonuses.
  8. Our economy itself is based on traders buying and selling things that don't exist instead of having industries making good things that people want to buy and can buy at reasonable prices.
  9. There is a corporation in the USA that has more cash than the country itself and has based this on selling lifestyle gadgets cheaply assembled in China to consumers on the false promise that ownership improves the quality of your life somehow.
  10. Owning stuff is the only way to demonstrate your personal qualities. If you have nice stuff, it follows that you are a successful and decent person.
  11. Anything that cannot be seen, for real or posted on the interwebs, has no value.
  12. Greed is to be celebrated. Fame and respect is to be achieved at any cost, not earned.
  13. Benefit culture makes not working more attractive than working for a living. In any case, any jobs going have been taken by immigrants.
  14. People who are not white or black are Asian. English people are neither black nor Asian. Black people cannot be trusted. Asian people secretly or overtly sympathise with radical Islamic doctrine. White people are basically decent but, you know, there is a limit.
  15. To white people, centuries of European ebb and flow into the British Isles is not immigration.
  16. We're fighting two overseas wars and no-one really can understand why. It's either about freedom/democracy or securing cheap, privileged access to natural resources. Or both.
There are lots more, but my internet-fed information stomach is full. It has been electronically gastric-banded just like yours. If you have read this far without pausing to tweet something fabulously witty, well done.

And the answer to rioting? Heavy and sustained rain. The strongest-held political belief or the desire to go grab a free TV is no match for the British weather.


Saturday, July 30, 2011

Open letter to BBC Sport

The strength of feeling expressed in public forums by Formula One fans about the broadcast rights deal with Sky from 2012 indicates just how betrayed they feel by what is a significant reduction in the free to air coverage of the sport in the UK.

In summary, broadcast will be shared between Sky and BBC, with all weekend sessions on Sky and half the races and associated practice and qualifying sessions on the BBC. Those races not broadcast live on the BBC will be presented as a highlights package later on, in the way Match of the Day summarises Premier League football.

To watch a full season of live Formula One, a fan will have to take a subscription to Sky Sports at around £500 a year.

Maybe I'm not typical, but this has a profound effect on three generations of my family. I am a long time Formula One fan - not fanatical but I haven't missed a race unless under duress for nearly 20 years. The ITV coverage, while interrupted (German commercial tv, incidentally, carries the race in an onscreen window during ad breaks), was good but I welcomed the move back to BBC and the professionalism I hoped the Corporation could bring to the coverage. I was not disappointed. Race weekends have been special, particularly for the flyaway races. getting up at unreasonable hours, putting my McLaren merchandise on and enjoying the coverage has been an important part of my enjoyment of the sport. I cannot afford to attend races, I feel resentful that the implication is that 'true fans' would go to races or pay the Sky subscription. I am a fan, my status as fan is not for others to decide. My daughter, at 21, is in the middle of her studies at university. Her aim is to find employment in Formula One and all her studies and extra-curricular work is geared to this end. She writes free practice, qualifying and race reviews for her own website and race reports for a respected Formula One website. All of this relies on free access to the action as it happens, something she will no longer be able to afford from 2012. My mother, at 86, enjoys Formula One as much as we do. While not fanatical, she sits with us and has an engaged and knowledgeable enjoyment of the sport.

Not one of the three of us can afford the Sky subscription. As a fan, I would find it difficult to watch half the the races live and would have no intention of skulking around on the weekends that the BBC did not broadcast live hoping to avoid overhearing any results and spoiling my enjoyment of the spectacle.

So that's three committed viewers less, straight away.

Some questions:
  1. Why did BBC knowingly enter into a contract with the rights holders originally, knowing how much it would cost, only to withdraw from it with a year and a half to go on a 'cost savings' excuse?
  2. What, if any, consultation was there with any interested parties, viewer groups or fan fora about the proposed changes to the contract and any resulting broadcast proposals?
  3. From a viewer/licence payer's perspective, how on earth can the resulting mix of live coverage and highlights be considered an acceptable solution?
Questions the BBC will not be able to answer is to what extent did the rights holders engage with other free to air broadcasters? Did the BBC hold onto an clearly inferior offering in order to prevent another free to air broadcaster entering a contract?

The only winners here are Formula One Management and their investors. Sky will not inherit the BBC audience (100% non-uptake in this household), however professional their coverage.

Finally, the parallel with Premier League football is irrelevant and a distraction. I support Newcastle United but with a pay tv subscription I could not guarantee seeing my team play every Saturday, as there would be many matches competing for screen time. With Formula One my team is onscreen every race.

Formula One was an award-winning jewel in BBC Sports portfolio. The proposed output for fans - and the way it has been handled and reported, with none of the team (bar one quip) empowered to voice an opinion on air - has been a slap in the face for fans who are licence payers. The official response on the BBC complaints blog has been that 'some' fans have expressed opinions. Not from where I have been sitting. I have seen a high and sustained level of anger and disappointment which the BBC choose to ignore. If Barbara Slater is 'delighted' by this outcome, how come the good news wasn't even mentioned in the Hungary qualifying coverage? That's a rhetorical question, as it is clear the BBC did not anticipate the depth and sustained nature of the backlash and are now embarrassed by the outcome of their negotiations.

Shame on you BBC. Shame on you.

Peter Hough

Thursday, May 12, 2011


To my own credit (I think), I have tried to neither like nor dislike something because 'everyone else' likes or dislikes it. Fashion, for instance, is a mystery to me. Not just couture but fads of all kinds. I cannot find a way squaring that circle, of understanding how you can express your individuality by being the same as everyone else. Not that a shared enthusiasm for something is a bad thing. I am an almost lifelong Newcastle United supporter without even knowing why. I could - and maybe should - have chosen a more successful team.

Can't remember when I last bought a major item of clothing on a whim, haven't knowingly owned branded footwear for nearly thirty years. I know how tyrannous label nazism is, I have three daughters.

I know how we could debate endlessly the semiotics of branded goods, how brand values transfer and make lifestyle and status implications about their wearers/owners. I don't give a fuck about any of that. But as a human activity it bemuses me.

Human beings seem to crave acceptance. Acceptance springs from conspicuous ownership. This is the antithesis of individuality. I can't think of a single exceptional human being who has devoted themselves to a brand without being paid to do so.

And there's the heart of this little essay right there: 'exceptional'. How can anyone be satisfied by being part of the herd, by being one of the sheeple? As the old joke goes (and I first saw it in Hull University's rag mag Hullabaloo in 1972) 'eat shit, forty billion flies can't be wrong'. Maybe some kinds of shit are better than others, I don't know. But I ain't eating it.

Because blogging is a me-dium, I shall end my little rant as I began, by talking about me. If it comes down to a simple choice between being out of step with the herd or standing in a line outside a closed shop, waiting to buy some new thing that won't make a jot of difference to my life, I'll choose being out of step. I won't waste my time or resources trying to be like anyone else or trying to find comfort in the company of people like me. I don't need that validation. If punk rock taught me anything (irony of ironies - punk is painted as a movement/fashion/musical styling now) it's that you can only be oppressed and manipulated if you give your consent to it. I'm not suggesting my way is a better way. Just different.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Talk to the toe

I used to scoff at 'old' people who asserted confidently that pains in their arthritic joints presaged changes in weather.

Some years ago I crushed the bones in one big toe. I woke in the last night with a pain in that toe and today it snowed after a mild spell. This is not the first time my toe has predicted a change in weather. The lesson? Pay attention to what old people tell you. Some of it is useful.