Sunday 27 September 2015

Seven Years and Not Counting

It’s with sadness that I announce that this blog post, the one which you have just started reading, is the final addition to The Blog of Stuart.

D'you want to know a secret?

A few weeks into this website’s life, I was already regretting the name and URL I had gifted it. But I was already too invested in it to give up. Plus, it formed part of my BTEC in IT, so I had to keep it going. It’s safe to say, I’m the only one in my class who even kept it up this long. Most barely made it past their first short upload.

I’ve looked after it for 7 years now, and, as a result, has formed a massive part of my life. I would honestly not be where I am now without it. I’m not even sure I would have noted how much I like to write without it.
Courtesy of Chris Parsons
(Click to enlarge)
I’ve documented a large portion of my life on here. Everything from the years I spent as a desperate single to a learner driver, university student and an unemployed graduate. I’ve covered it all, and you’ve shared it all with me; whether you liked it or not.

I’ve received all different types of feedback too. It’s included my head teacher discussing it at a presentation evening in front of my cohort. And everything else from lovely and sincere comments to people who have taken the time to email so I know how much they hate me. It’s all pretty incredible really.

And although my blog hasn’t gone viral, I still think it’s been quite successful. Much more so than it probably ever deserved. I've been averaging about 1,000 hits a month, for years. A lot of which are from irrelevant Google searches from a huge array of countries across the world, which amount to zero engagement… But still.

So I should have probably worked on the marketing of it slightly better, and actually offered them something other than throwing my extraneous opinion at them. There’s enough of them on the Internet after all.

I worked out what my voice should be in my second year of University. What I should have to make me different to all the other bleating on the Internet. That sparked the creation of the blog, and dissertation project, The Misanthrope’s Guide to London. Even though it had little success on the Internet, I got brilliant feedback from people who took the time to read it. People were enjoying it.

So it is that vein where my next project will go.

I’m not a fan of change, so that’s why it has taken me this long to bring The Blog of Stuart to a close.

I’ve been saying for a few years that I wanted to shake off the shackles of Blogspot and begin my own website and start afresh.

However, over the past few months, I’ve begun formulating what my next move will be. I’ve just been too scared to buy the webspace. This has meant I’ve been stuck in a circle I’m finally attempting to break. I didn’t want to produce more content for a website I would soon be closing but didn’t want to move from its comforting embrace.

That’s why I have written this. It’s my resignation letter, so to speak. I’ve informed you of my intention, and now I can’t go back for fear of embarrassment.

I now own a plot web space, and I've begun constructing the site. This is how it's coming along...
My new website is called The Misanthrope. It should feel like a news website, in terms of its look and content. However, don’t expect it be serious. The Misanthrope voice will prevail.
I will be venturing into multi-media blogging as well. I have some video editing software, and I have a number of ideas, so we shall see. I may not even make it past the first video for fear of hating myself just a little bit more.

Although I am excited to be starting my new project soon, I am very sad that I am finally saying goodbye. This blog has been a good friend to me and helped me out a lot.
I gave this website as an example of writing when I applied to Universities. I got multiple offers, so it can’t have put them off that much. It’s interesting to read blogs I’ve written before and after University to see my progression.

Anyway, I then used this blog as an example of writing when applying for jobs. Numerous times I’ve sat and watched a prospective boss reading my website on the other side of a desk and seen a wry smirk appear, and it's flattering. It was particularly interesting when one, from London, read my Misanthrope’s Guide to London blog. And okay, it did take me a while to get a job…

But I had two jobs for a period of time. One was working in a shop, where I had to interact with people. I didn't really like it because you’re not allowed to argue back with them, you have to be nice and smile. I can feel my throat tightening every time. Regardless, I very recently left this job thanks to getting more hours at my other, better, job...

The other job involves writing. And I’m allowed to be funny, so long as I also engage the reader in such a way, they want to stay on the website, and hopefully spend their money.
I’m getting paid to write blogs; how awesome is that? And I can’t see how else that would have happened without this blog.

But as I start a new chapter in my life, which involves the increase of my bank balance, it seems right to move to pastures new. After all, I can call myself a professional writer now, so I need to put this aside and start producing content one might expect from a professional…

Yeah, the thought of that is pretty funny.

But I can try, right?

So that’s it. These are my final words.

I don’t want to draw this out any longer.
Courtesy of Chris Parsons
(Click to enlarge)
Consider this blog closed. Out of service. Bereft of life. An ex-blog. Gone off to meet the big server in the sky and pushing up the virtual daisies.

Toodles m’deary’s.

Wednesday 2 September 2015

The Comedy Recession

Carol Burnett said back in the 1950's that 'Comedy is tragedy plus time'. That is perhaps one of the best-known quotes about the construction of comedy, and it is an accurate observation. A quick look at some of the most popular sitcoms of all time suggests this is the case. No wonder Victor Meldrew is a misanthrope; he's had his house burnt down, been buried in the garden, had his foot encased in concrete, all before eventually being killed after being hit by a car.

However, British sitcoms are currently in crisis. The closest we get to tragedy in the modern era is cringe-worthy embarrassment. A sequence of events where the main characters find themselves in a series of ridiculous and surreal situations, causing the viewer to bury their head in their hands. For example, The Inbetweeners has four characters who all get themselves into equally awkward situations, whether it's throwing up over a child, or a clumsy attempt at losing their virginity. If we saw this in our real lives, I'm doubtful we'd be stood there' loling'.

I grew up when Richard Curtis and Ben Elton were the rulers of TV comedy. I watched Mr Bean, Blackadder and The Vicar of Dibley. Smart, witty and believable characters, who have depth. However, even Ben Elton struggles to write funny in the modern climate, with the funniest thing about his last sitcom The Wright Way being the reaction on Twitter.

Graham Lineham is perhaps the current ruler of the comedy crown jewels, with his many hits such as Black Books, Father Ted and The IT Crowd. He creates numerous strong characters, who allow him to have several storylines through one episode, making it engaging.

However, my ultimate proof of us living in a dark age of comedy is Mrs Brown's Boys, Derek and anything on BBC3. I am perhaps in the minority of disliking the former, but a show which can be shown in North Korea with the title "Everything That is Wrong with Europe and The Rest of The World", is surely not something to be proud of?

And the Ricky Gervais 'comedy' creation Derek, actually fails to be funny. It's sincere and well made, with many poignant moments. Gervais tried so hard to not be offensive, that he forgot to write any actual jokes.  BBC3 is just a channel for writers to echo the same, tired stereotypes of young people talkin' lyk dis, wearing hoodies, and being high or drunk.

Humour is, of course, subjective. However, when we look back over the past five years in 20 years time, what are we going to remember as the best comedy of the time? There are no comedies to be proud of. I fail to see anything currently on TV, that will one day feature on a Channel 5 list of the 50 best sitcoms at Christmas 2035. Apart from maybe Mrs Brown's Boys. Is that really what we want for our legacy? Comedy at the moment is an unfunny tragedy. 

Tuesday 9 June 2015

FFS, Collaborations DO Work

Months ago I heard about Franz Ferdinand and Sparks (FFS) joining forces, and I was excited and worried. I wasn't surprised as I was aware that Franz were big fans of the brothers. However, when two of your favourite bands get together, it does create internal turmoil. Half of you cannot wait to hear what exceptional music they produce together, but the other half worries you've already built them up too much, and it could end up being a musical flop. Then they released a short video on YouTube called The Domino Effect, which was an excerpt of the song 'The Power Couple', with an amusing video. I was relieved.

It works because they are all clever and nerdy about music. It's odd that a 'young' indie band from Glasgow can create such sweet music with a keyboarding duo from LA, who have been around for 40+ years; but they have. What they have done, is improved upon each other's work. Franz Ferdinand have now lost their seriousness and have embraced satirical whimsy. The Sparks are now exploring with even more sounds. This is what they've produced.

Johnny Delusional: An obsessional love song about someone punching above their weight, something most people can emphasis with, which sounds a lot like how pop used to sound years ago. The music video is mind-bendingly interesting and funny, but that might be partly because I always enjoy looking at Ron. It is however, a perfect metaphor for their album, as you don't know what's coming next. 

Call Girl: This has Franz in its roots, but can't help but think it sounds similar to when Duran Duran reunited and made an album 9 years ago, with the electro, pop-rock showing through. Very clever lyrics, with the title insinuating its about a prostitute, but actually subverts that for another awkward love song. "Why won't you call, girl".

Dictator's Son: A very urgent song from Russell, which is very much a Sparks song, with its satirical lyrics. But improved upon with the vocals from Alex, giving it another interesting level, and the influence of drums.

Little Guy From The Suburbs: A stripped back song, with both singers donning deep voices, giving it a very different feel to the previous songs. It's creepy, and I think even a bit Bowie-esque. It's a nice opportunity to take a breath from the outlandishness. Very good acting in their voices, and you can feel your mood take a drop with them.

Police Encounters: A very art-pop song in sound, as usual from Franz, but laced with lyrics one could easily recognise as Sparks, about having sex with a policeman's wife. Lovely.

Save Me From Myself: Sparks through and through. It has the mix of keyboard sounds, and it tells a story in both the lyrics and the music. However, because of that, it perhaps gets a bit lost on the album. However, bravo to Alex for trying to keep up with Russell's voice as it travels up and down.

So Desu Ne: There are so many disco synths and other effects you almost imagine you're wearing florescent clothing. Probably not much Franz in this song, but I do like the lyrics “Check your blood pressure, Gonna eat your beans and eat your leisure”. It's catchy, it's different, and what more do you want?

The Man Without A Tan: The opening notes put me in mind of The Cure's Love Cats, and that feeling is echoed through the song. This is a great example of both their influences coming together; Sparks with their lyrics, and Franz with their instrument. There are a lot of elements, but they work together. There's rock, pop, 80's, and a few orchestral moments just to give it an artistic flourish.

Things I Won't Get: A lovely list of the things they want, but can't have, and it is a beautiful song that puts a smile on my face. It's just very innocent, where it's not overloaded with music, and you actually get a sense of what they're like. Plus, their harmonies are sweet.

The Power Couple: Those opening notes are the first any of us heard from the 'super group', and this is not how I thought the song would feel. I like the two singing at each other, and it sounds like two different things colliding together. It is a great song, with a hint of the two groups, and a touch of Nick Cave. I've also noted how it sounds like a song called 'A Gory Demise' from Creature Feature, mainly due to its rhythmic, regimental beat.

Collaborations Don't Work: This is the best song on the album. If you want a song that has the sounds of both groups in it, then this is it. It's a brilliantly clever song, with their two sounds warring against each other, with each singer taking swipes at the other. It's a very witty song in concept, musically and lyrically. It's an operetta. Lyrics such as "I don’t need your patronising, I don’t need your agonising" are lovely, if you know what I mean? However, they come together to prove that collaborations do work, and create a glorious union for the end of the song.

Piss Off: As a misanthrope, I always wanted a song like this. Coming after Collaborations Don't Work, it's almost as if they're telling people who didn't think this union would work, to piss off. It's a jolly song, were you can imagine everyone cheering the words 'Piss off!'. The lyrics are sophisticated and acerbic, and the music is top-notch; it's another example of how they have come together. Again, they're great at acting, and the anger gleams through their voices. I love singing along myself. It would be a great point end to the album, but I got the deluxe version, so then they have to come crawling back for an encore.

So Many Bridges: A song which sounds like the mental turmoil of an agonised person, but despite its repeated message, it's a catchy song, and it has got very good lyrics. I do very much like the jazz elements, which have again been mixed with a retro pop vibe. It does slightly put me in mind of Eurythmics, but I'm still not sure why.

King Of The Song: This is a song I could imagine on either a Sparks album or a Franz Ferdinand one, which signifies a job well done. Again, another song free of too many sounds, and a very good example of how to do a pop song well, but then made just that bit more fun.

Look At Me: I like the progression in this song, and I do love Alex's voice in it as well. It has satirical lyrics, where it is essentially begging someone to look at them, in a swipe at modern times. There is again a very 80's feel to this song, which goes well with the twang of the bass.

A Violent Death: I thought the fourth song was creepy, but it sounds quite delightful compared to this. The spoken words by Alex makes it sound like an excerpt from thriller movie, with a brilliant score behind it, featuring a nice mix of piano and keyboard. It makes you uneasy. It's unlike anything I've heard before, and I just love that.

It doesn't happen often, but you can tell listening to the album that they really had fun making it, which shines through. It's nice to listen to a collection of songs, and know that they focused more on enjoying themselves than anything else. It's unexpected and delightful, and you have no way of knowing what sound is coming next in the song, let alone what they next song will be like.

They should be very proud, and it's a shame that it has taken 10 years for this beautiful music to have been made, since the ideas conception. I would hope for more in the future, but I think that's unlikely. I will just continue to enjoy it, and I will treasure the album for many years.

Thursday 26 March 2015

How Does One Say 'Fracas'?

Over the past few weeks, this has been one of the main questions that everyone is asking: How do you pronounce 'Fracas'? Essentially, is the 's' silent or not? Well, I've looked into this, and like normal, it depends on whether you speak properly (English), or if you're one of those people (American) from the country which regularly bastardizes the English language. In English, it's silent, and in American, it's said completely wrong.

While we're discussing 'fracas', let's look into what brought this issue to the nation's attention. There was an incident in a workplace, which involved one member of staff verbally and physically attacking another, leading to the suspension of an employee. Only, it wasn't that simple because it involved Jeremy Clarkson; like most incidents seem to these days.

We heard a few weeks back that he had a verbal and physical disagreement with a producer, when he noticed a lack of food after a day filming. Clarkson was suspended, and a lot of news outlets spent too much of their time being obsessed with this. A local Kent newspaper found a local angle for this new story, due to part of the last aired episode being filmed in the county. It then went on to refer to an incident where someone working in a pub was glassed in the face, as a 'fracas'.
Anyway, this then led to over a million people signing a petition to reinstate him; showing that people care a lot more about an over-paid, over-zealous individual, than they do about having a functioning health system. And now, he's sacked.

The news that he was sacked came yesterday afternoon, not long before the news that someone had left One Direction. I was out, and by the time I got home and read the news, all the good jokes had already been used on Twitter. I was distraught.
But were they right to sack him? That's the question a lot of people have been asking since. Firstly, everyone can see that the BBC were never going to come out of this well. They either sacked him, and lost their biggest star (and biggest money maker), and risk losing their most globally-popular franchise. OR, they allow someone, regardless of status, to get away with bullying in the workplace, and allow another celebrity to get away with what they want.
Whether it was the right choice will never be agreed, but one has to admire the BBC for the decision they took. It shows that they have a conscience, and didn't allow commercial interests to blur that. The Tweet Rupert Murdoch made after this news, shows that he would have made the other choice, and therefore is probably agreed to be the wrong one too.

I think, or at least I hope, that no-one is condoning bullying or violence of any kind. Yet, Clarkson was on a final warning, when he then hit someone, and now he is sacked. That sequence of events makes complete sense; he committed a sackable offence. However, a lot of people find this unreasonable. I really like him and the show, but I still agree with this decision; even if I am completely surprised that they actually made this decision.

Twitter is full of people blindly supporting Clarkson, and saying dreadful things about the producer, Oisin Tymon. But remember, Clarkson reported the offence himself. It has been found that Clarkson verbally abused the producer for over 20 minutes, before beginning a 30 second round of physical abuse on him, which only ended after one of the other presenters broke it up. This happened in a hotel, in front of guests, and led to Tymon having to take himself to A&E. And now, he is the latest victim of Twitter trolling.
@m_maclennan Read more on V.Point here.
So what does the future hold? Well, if looking back at the Jonathan Ross fiasco a few years back proves anything, Clarkson will already be receiving offers from ITV, Channel 4, Sky, and probably even Netflix, to go over to them and help produce a car program which will rival Top Gear. After all, look at all the cooking and baking shows that exist of TV... Yet, I can only think of two other motoring programs. I think Top Gear are due some real competition as, after all, a lot of people watch Top Gear for the characters, and not really for the cars.

And what will become of Top Gear? It existed before Clarkson, and it will exist after. They say they will keep Hammond and May, but I think that will be a mistake. They need to completely start from scratch, and distance themselves from the reign of Jeremy. We all know that one of the new presenters will be female, because that is how the BBC fix most things these days. But Chris Evans is the favourite so far. However, my money is on Guy Martin, and I think he would be the best man for the job. From what I've watched of him, his personality and interests are a perfect match; especially if they do keep the other two presenters.

So overall, the decision has been made, and there is no need to dwell on it any longer. Perhaps the BBC could/should have gone about this very differently, and perhaps tried to resolve this internally? Let's just move on and see where the future of motoring programs go. But please, can we stop comparing this to the BBC's handling of Jimmy Saville? It's an ignorant comparison, which trivialises what was atrocious and incomparable situation. Also, can we just let Oisin Tymon try to carry on his life and career in peace? And finally, can we just let Jeremy Clarkson have some warm food next time he asks?

Friday 13 February 2015

Apologising to Companies

I think most of us will agree that social media is a great addition to our lives. Thousands of people moan about television programs in unison, discuss a common love, or try to make their mundane life sound a lot more exciting. For companies, it's a brilliant tool, as it allows them to connect with their customers individually, and making themselves seem a lot more human than they otherwise did.

However, for companies, it is also something which allows their customers to rant at them directly, about a personal gripe they have. I've done this many-a-time. I've moaned to BT about their customer service, and how long they made me wait to be connected up to their service. I've got employees of a local The Range store in trouble, for closing early without reason. Over Christmas, I told UberSocial that I had grown weary of their in-app advertising, and was therefore uninstalling them. Yesterday, I told my bank that their website was spam-ridden.

What was I to think? I had spent the morning perusing social media without issue. Then, as soon as I went onto their website, I was swamped by spam advertisement, which meant whatever I clicked on, I was taken to unwanted websites. I refreshed, and the website had been blocked. So, I took to social media, and told them my thoughts.

While I waited for a reply, I did some investigation. Google started coming up with unusual results. I then tried Halifax and Nationwide websites, and they too seemed to be infected. Then I went onto this blog. This too was 'infected'. So, the same hackers who had targeted the big banking websites, were also infiltrating my little blog, in the corner of the internet. That seemed slightly implausible, and the likelihood was that the issue was actually me end. Then Lloyds Bank Tweeted me back, trying to resolve my issue. I had to grovel.

Never before have I apologised to a company, and it never actually occurred to me that I ever would. It's a strange result of this immediate and social world we live in. Thanks to social media, we can call a company up on its mistakes. But we can be wrong too, and thus, incidents like this happen. Thankfully, they were good about the charade, and I went quiet.
It turned out that malware had sneaked its way onto my computer, and had proceeded to spread itself about. It's called Positive Finds, and when I downloaded something a few days earlier, it was obviously sellotaped onto it. However, it wasn't just as simple as uninstalling the program, and it was corrupting the system restore. A quick Google, on an uninfected device, told me that it was stubborn, and I needed to install something to remove it. So, I took to my laptop again, typed in the link, and pressed download.

The clever malware had over-ridden my choice, and proceeded to download something else. Thankfully, I noticed in time. So, after some considerable effort trying find a work-around, I finally did it. Internet Explorer was safe. Google Chrome though, was still infected, and the malware was hidden somewhere amongst the program files. An uninstall and reinstall later, and now I'm finally free.

After a little bit of research, it's an interesting piece of malware. Its purpose isn't to steal your money, or to destroy your personal files. It is purely to make itself money. Every time one of the advertisements is clicked, it is paid money by the recipient of the extra visitor. For example, BET123 are paying them money, to get their website more views. But, of course, they are also paid money to send people to a link, which automatically downloads a virus. I was attacked by four Trojans.

Social media is a beautiful baby of the Internet. The Internet has resulted in a lot of good since its' own conception. However, the Internet is getting a more dangerous place to reside, as we are all aware. Only a few weeks ago, I was on a council website, and when I downloaded a seemingly safe file, I again had a Trojan hurtling towards me. It's worrying, and incredibly scary. Both my parents and girlfriend have been victims of ransom viruses, which try to blackmail you into giving money. This only going to get worse.

So, what are my final thoughts? Be careful what you download, and think everything through before you start to mouth-off at worldwide, corporate company.

Don’t have nightmares.

Tuesday 3 February 2015

Mark Watson - Flaws

In 2011 I went and saw Mark Watson live. You can read the review here if you want. I loved it. He was a break from the normal stand-up. Most will have a lesser-known stand up perform half an hour of material, before an interval and then the main event. The comedian then slips off, comes back on stage, and then disappears after receiving a few more laughs. Mark Watson does none of that, and it's brilliant. One could be mistaken for thinking he has no clue what is going on; but I think it's more a demonstration that he knows better than most comedians, what is happening.

On Sunday, I went and saw him again at The Gulbenkian, Canterbury, and it was very much a similar format to when I saw him on his 'Request Routes' tour. Not much has changed, apart from having slightly more facial hair, being spectacleless, and less Welsh.

'Flaws' has no definable beginning. Last time he began by speaking to the audience via typing on a laptop screen. This time he came on stage and began jogging on a treadmill, of which a microphone stand placed conveniently in front. This, as he put it, was his warm up. He chatted to the audience, and made general observations about the audience for nearly 10 minutes. He then walked off stage before immediately reappearing and commencing the show.

He is incredibly endearing, and it's hard to not fall in love with him, just a little bit. His body language is always relaxed, and does everything he can to break down the barrier between him and his audience, such as holding the microphone low. Another technique, and perhaps a more sinister one, is looking up members of the audience on Twitter. The amount he knew one member of the audience, such as televisual habits and pets, is a scary reminder of the times we live.

As always, his comedy comes from his real life. To reuse a sentence from my last review of Watson, 'He is very much the raconteur'. However, unlike last time, this was much more personal. In this tour, unsurprisingly, he talks about the flaws which have obviously, over the past year or so, made themselves apparent to him. He shows that there is a faint line between comedy and tragedy, as his main topics for discussion cover his reliance on drink ("If only there was a word like workaholic that describes drinking too much alcohol"), and hating, and losing confidence in, his own work. It then made me look at his 2011 tour in a different, darker, and unexpected light, as the veil was lifted.

But don't be thinking that this is a serious and dark show, because it is quite the opposite. He is refreshingly honest, but perhaps only showing the funny side of his problems. It is isn't until afterwards that you actually realise how frank he was. At the time, it is incredibly funny. Particularly when he opens up about his breaking point, which was at a Thomas the Tank Engine film premier with his toddler.

In a unique twist, he recreates the moment for the audience, for a quick moment of audience participation, props and music. You sit there in awe of what nightmare he has created in just a few moments, and it had the audience in fits of laughter. However, like always with a Canterbury audience, it's hard work for a comedian to get the audience to participate.

The show consists of a lot more than just chronicling his despair from the past year or so, as many of those themes are broken up by tangents about songs, his 'personal' relationship with Madonna, and irritation at Keep Calm merchandise. It is put together beautifully. And unlike a lot comedy shows, it has final message, which is quite enlightening and optimistic; "Being human is bloody hard" but, to paraphrase, we can find comfort in remembering that we're better than cats and worms. And then after checking the time with an audience member like he seems to always do, he did his usual self-promotional admin before leaving the stage.

I certainly hope I get the opportunity to see him next time he tours (not that he has even finished this tour yet), as I find real joy in seeing him live. He has become like a friend, and I probably know more about him than I do most of my friends. The one qualm with this show was that, despite still consisting of over 90 minutes of material, it didn't feel long enough. And if that's the only negative point I can think of, then it isn't bad going.

The last stand up show I went to see was at The O2, and coming back to this few-hundred seater, I appreciate it's intimacy a lot more. Comedy just isn't the same in those places and you can never beat a small, local theatre. And if you can see a brilliant comedian like Mark Watson at one, then you can't wish for anything better.

Thursday 8 January 2015

The Stuart Awards 2014

We're now a week into 2015, and for many, 2014 is just a distant memory. However, despite having nothing better to do, I've only just found the time to sit down and decide who to give the following awards to.

2014 was quite a year, wasn't it? A lot of news happened. Hacking got big this year, and it helped us to see lots of private naked pictures of celebrities, and gave an apparently terrible film, a lot of press. The world became panicked by Ebola, and threatened by ISIS/ISIL/IS. Our phones started appearing on our wrists, as well as the decision by Windows to skip 9, and start developing version 10 of their operating software. This year, we also learned that Tesco cannot count, just like they couldn't tell the difference between a horse and a cow in 2013.

So, let's see what I felt in my infinite wisdom was deserving of praise, in my 7th awards ceremony.

Most Annoying Song of the Year: It's a song which is supposed to empower women everywhere, by singing loudly about the size of their bum, as well as sexual prowess and consent. It is essentially the female version of Blurred Lines. The song Bang Bang - Jessie J, Ariana Grande, and Nicki Minaj goes one step further by repeating the words 'Bang bang…' over, and over, again, just to make sure it's the last thing you hear before you go to sleep, like a horrendous lullaby.

Over-Played Song of the Year: Of course, I could just Let It Go, Let It Go, but I can't. It's everywhere. If 2014 is going to be remembered by one thing, it's going be Let It Go - Idina Menzel, and Olaf.

Guilty Pleasure of the Year: It may have taken four albums, but I have finally become able to enjoy One Direction. Their single this year, Steal My Girl, is a very catchy and mature-sounding song (despite them not understanding that women are not objects to be owned), and is one of my favourite songs of the year. Sorry.

Song of the Year: This was actually a difficult one to award, but I've decided on Thinking Out Loud - Ed Sheeran. It's a very beautiful song that was destined to be a hit.

Album of the Year: So Maroon 5 released an album this year that was very good, so that would normally be my go-to winner. But this year, I couldn't. I've opted instead for Christina Perri - Head or Heart as it is a great album, where every song is very good, and as a complete package, it's a winner.

Union of the Year - Last year McBusted announced that two bands would become one, but it was in 2014 when they toured and wrote an album, and both were a lot of fun, taking me back to when I was 11 years old.

Drama of the Year: It's easy to forget (and I nearly did), but we were only a few hours into 2014 when the latest series of Sherlock made its way onto our television screens. Great intrigue, and plot twists that were carried out beautifully. I WANT MORE!

Series of the Year. I'm yet to watch the first series, but this year's Peaky Blinders was absolutely brilliant. As I have said in a previous blog post, it had great acting and a story that others would be jealous of. No doubt, it's a winner. I just need to get hold of the first series now. I would normally give this award to Doctor Who, and Capaldi triumphed as one of the strongest Doctor Who's yet, but it's good to mix things up.

Sitcom of the Year: I don't think we had a particularly rich year for TV Comedy during 2014. Others will disagree. But I didn't find the 'funniest' sitcoms of year, funny. However, it has been saved over the past few weeks. I only discovered the first series of The Wrong Mans over the past month or so, and I thought it a great example. It was a perfect mix between drama and comedy. Over Christmas, they had two hour-long specials which rounded off the whole affair nicely, with an even more gripping story full of jeopardy.

Film of the Year: I never think of myself as much of a film buff, but every year when I look back at the films I have seen, I surprise myself, and again, I had a few contenders. However, I decided Dawn of the Planet of the Apes to be my winner. It's horrifying, because you can't help but think 'WHAT IF?' Anyway, it has a great story, has an interesting viewpoint on society, and you can never fully decide whether to root for the humans or the apes…

Children's Film of the Year: I say 'Children's' loosely, because I believe it's a fine example of a good, funny, and entertaining film. But alas, The Lego Movie was very good, and it was something I could relate to completely, and enjoyed massively because of its use of parody as well.

Death of the Year: Nothing can beat the huge outpouring of genuine sorrow at the news of hearing Robin Williams had tragically killed himself. I don't think I have, or ever will, witness such a reaction to the death of a celebrity. It's clear to see how much he was, and still is, loved by audiences across the globe.

Bum of the Year: There have been many reported sightings of the large object, and Kim Kardashian's Rear is probably more famous than herself. Whether you've seen it photoshopped or as nature intended, she's still quite an arse.

'Who Cares' of the Year: Justin Bieber. Just, who cares anymore?

Scare of the Year: New outlets across the Western world have done a fine job in spreading panic amongst people who are incredibly unlikely to contract the virus, Ebola. It took a long time for them to seemingly realise it's existence in Africa, but as soon as an American got it, widespread panic ensued; despite it being mostly concentrated to just three countries.

News Coverage of the Year: The story about the missing Malaysian flight, MH370, is a story which has had the whole world gripped. Despite the fact that everyone quickly became a expert regarding aviation, there was a lot of news coverage which spoke in depth, and helped us to gain an understanding.

Surprise of the Year: UKIP. I didn't expect the year they had, and I don't suppose they did either. They're quiet incredible, but not necessarily for good reasons.

Meal of the Year: Last year saw George Osbourne eating a burger. This year, we had Ed Milliband eating a bacon sandwich.

Bandwagon of the Year: Everyone now hates the Immigrants even more. Let's blame everything on them and tell exactly where Europe can stick them.

Thing I Don't Understand of the Year: Phones. Companies are simultaneously making phones bigger, and smaller. At the same time as being able to buy a phone which you can wear like a watch, you can buy phones that are so big they don't fit in your pocket, and you fear answering it too quickly in case you knock yourself out.

Charity Disguised as Selflessness of the Year: The Ice Bucket Challenge was very popular online, and I am pleased that no-one volunteered me to do it. It was one of those things, just like the #NoMakeUpSelfie, that people did just to make themselves look good in front of all their friends on Facebook.

Obsession of the Year: The film Frozen has picked up its second award from this blog. I just cannot Let It Go, Let It Gooo. I like the film, but I just not sure it is deserving of all the hype it has garnered.

And there you have it, the 2014 awards have come to an end. 2015 is already looking to be a busy year, what with both a Royal baby from Wills and Kate, and a 'Cumberbaby' from Benedict, expected. Free Speech is also looking to be a hot topic, and it will be a politically-interesting year, as we see who will be Prime Minister from May onwards.

Maybe we will meet again this time next year, and do this whole pointless charade again. However, until then, I hope your 2015 has been, and continues to be, a great year. And if not, just Let It Go...

Friday 28 November 2014

An In-depth Moan About Specific Issues with Television Programs

We now live in an age where we have 3D, HD, curved, smart televisions that understand voice and hand commands, and do everything apart from ordering you a takeaway in time to watch your favourite program. Therefore, it could be considered that we're in the golden age of televisual viewing. The quality of picture and sound that the television can emit is exemplary. However, I can't help but feel that the one thing that lets it down, are the actual programs on the television.

It would now be easy for me to then list off the garbage that is actually on the television. Everyone does that; and I've done it many times before. The Real Celebrity Chef Apprentices' Made in Essex Factor, or whatever these faux reality/talent shows are called, come to mind. It would also be easy for me to berate how tediously repetitive, formulaic and idiotic the shows, their content, and their viewers, are. How producers plan 'real' lives to be entertaining viewing. Or how they carefully pick contestants that viewers will hate, that are unfit for purpose, or one's that will bicker to the end of time.

No, that isn't where I was going with this. I mean the actual quality and approach to producing and airing programs.

Let's take Peaky Blinders as my first example. Fantastic series, and please consider this as me riding on the bandwagon of everyone saying so. It is gripping. It is gritty. It has jeopardy. It is has fantastic characters (and a marvellous bunch of actors), who have interesting back stories, and all hold integral roles in how the main story plays out. And it has a brilliant soundtrack of songs that are used to beautifully match the feel of specific scenes, and the series as a whole. Having only seen the second series, I can easily say it is one of the best things that have been on the box over the past five years.
BUT, they mumble so much. Whoever was in charge of recording the voices, did a shocking job. I have the TV volume turned right up, and I still have to really concentrate to understand what they're saying. I would watch with subtitles on if I didn't think it detracted from the series.

This is a problem which I'm finding with a lot of television. I have the TV turned up so I can hear what is being said, and then the adverts start and I have to quickly fumble for the remote so the volume doesn't perforate my eardrums. Why does everyone have to mumble? Can they not just turn the sound up on the actual program? I'm only 22. I feel really sorry for anyone over 80 trying to watch television.

Let's take Coronation Street as my second example, but this is an issue which exists in other programs. Background noise; I bloody hate it. I have a decent set of speakers  plugged into the back of my TV, and they produce good surround sound. So if a character is watching television, whilst having a conversation with someone else, all I can hear is the noise from their TV, and it's highly distracting.
Switch to another house, and they're doing their washing. It has absolutely nothing to do with the story, but they have insisted on putting a washing machine noise in the background. I'm now sat, ears pricked up, wondering what is making that whirring noise in my flat. I know they're trying to authenticate real life, but that is perhaps one step too far.

If you're lucky enough to be watching a drama with no sound issues, then chances are you can't see what is actually happening. Producers don't understand that a dark drama doesn't literally mean making the picture dark. Peaky Blinders is one example, and most drama series set in the Victorian period or during the war suffer the same. There must be a compromise between authenticating life before the 100 watt bulbs and being able to actually see.
However, Sherlock is a good example of being dark. The first series was terrible. As soon as anything happens at night in Sherlock, I might as well be watching an audio book. It has no excuse either. London is a brightly-lit city. I understand all about using the senses to emulate how emotionally dark the scene might be, but I just wish they would tone it down; well, up, surely…?
And not that I have actually watched it myself, but from the clips I have seen of The Missing on BBC 1 seems to have been shot with an Instagram filter. Everything has that blueish-green tint to it. That isn't how life actually is! Well, not until they invent contact lenses that will give the normal drudgery of life that unappealing hue; if they haven't already.

So, let's assume you've found a program which you can hear and see clearly, free from anything which actually detracts from the episode. Brilliant. Expect the chances are, you already know everything that is to happen, and therefore taking away any possible sense of intrigue or peril. The trailers for programs are far too revealing, and continuity announcers say too much. I understand the desire to draw the potential viewer in, and a way of doing that is by briefly showing the best moments from the upcoming show.
The biggest recent offender, is the Doctor Who series finale. During the first episode of the two-parter, there were lots of very clever and subtle hints towards who the enemy was. 'Ah, I recognise that design… Where have I seen that before?' is what I could have been saying if I hadn't been told the week before.  At the end of the episode, there was the big reveal. That would have been a great moment, full of suspense and intrigue, if only I didn't already know it was the Cybermen. I had worked so hard to avoid all the season spoilers that existed on the Internet, content with my own guesses, to have the BBC ruin it for me instead.

Maybe continuity announcers have to reveal as much as they do, purely so the viewer can get a gist of what they're missing through inadequate sound and picture?

Monday 6 October 2014

Lee Evans @ The O2 Arena

I've seen many things at different arenas over the past few years, and enjoyed them all thoroughly. However, I have always been sceptical of comedy in them. I've seen countless comedians in small venues, and loved the atmosphere that resides in those places. There is an intimacy between the comedian and their audience, which makes you feel comfortable and adds to the enjoyment. That was always going to be impossible to emulate in a 20,000 seat arena. However, comedy shows in arenas are hugely popular now, so I have always been intrigued.
On Saturday 4th October, I went to the O2 Arena, with the other half and friends, to see Lee Evans. These are tickets I had to buy 18 months in advance, in the hope that one of us didn't die, fall out, emigrate, or more likely, be busy on the day. It's quite a commitment to make, and a price to pay. I'm used to paying £10 to see comedians in a 300 seat theatre, brought a few months in advance. This is a different experience.

However, it was a great evening. He was gloriously funny, with a sweaty glint on his forehead. We laughed throughout, and all ended the evening with sore throats and aching bellies. The couple in front of us commented on how hard and loud my other half was laughing; luckily, she described it as 'infectious' rather than 'irritating'.

It was Lee Evans as you would expect. Lots of physical comedy accompanied by sound effects, and many fantastic observations about the many aspects of life, which had the audience laughing and cheering. If you like his previous stuff, then this is more of the same. And to think he did two and a half hours of stand up, and it was almost all new material, that is just as good as anything else he's done before, is quite impressive.

The interesting thing will be watching the DVD, as he almost self-edited it while he was performing. Jokes about Peter Andre and Katie Price he admitted crossed a line, but my favourite joke of the night was about Rolf Harris. He isn't a comedian who tends to do anything topical, but he can do it brilliantly; even if he cuts the evidence out of his DVD.

Despite completely enjoyed it (and don't get me wrong, I don't regret going in the slightest), my fears were met and I ended up watching the majority of it on the big screens, instead of actually looking at him on stage. It makes you ponder the purpose of being there, as opposed to just buying the DVD a few months later. But the atmosphere was brilliant, and it was heart warming to watch him on stage, receiving the huge round of applause, and still seeing him so humble. And at the end, he seemed to be genuinely grateful.

Of course, he ended on a self-penned song like he has on his last few tours. They're not funny, but again an example of how sincere he is, and always tend to be a beautiful song for his wife. He also performed his visualisation of the lyrics to Bohemian Rhapsody, which is perhaps one of the things he is most famous for now. It is a great example of his ability to do physical comedy brilliantly, much like Norman Wisdom (Not an original observation, but still one I agree with).

Overall, it was a brilliant experience, and Lee Evans is perhaps one of the best comedians around, in terms of his dedication, talent, and just general personality. He is much loved, and I cannot wait to get the DVD to watch again.
I never for one second doubted it would not be the case, as just over a year ago, we saw him live in the West End performing in the play Barking in Essex, in which he was an absolute joy to watch.

However, whether I would go to an arena again to watch a comedian, I'm more doubtful of. I stick to my belief of comedy being better in a theatre.

P.S. Below is a video of Lee Evan performing Bohemian Rhapsody. Enjoy.

Monday 29 September 2014

The Sexennial Anniversary

I had an interview last week, and I was showing them this blog. The boss was scrolling down the page, and he skimmed over my blog post for my five year anniversary. In it, I state my all-time word count. "213,436 words…" he says. "Wow, that's a lot."

And you know what, it bloody is. It's astonishing. But I wonder if it is time well spent. Every one of those words represents time I could have spent doing something of more value, instead of being sat alone in a room, in my own little world. It's not a very sociable hobby, and not very lucrative. However, I say that in the full knowledge that many of today's youth make a living from playing a fool on YouTube, or giving repetitive fashion advice on a blog. For some reason, there just isn't much money in writing self-indulgent misanthropy, written just for the purpose of procrastinating from other things.

Notice that since I finished University in May, my blog production has decreased. That's because I have had nothing better to be doing. I thrive at writing blogs when I have other stuff to do. I am currently in the middle of retraining my brain to be able to write even when my schedule is empty. Like this morning.

But anyway, I can feel my fingers digressing. My blog was six years old on Saturday. Six years. That's (including this), 214  posts overall; 17 of which were over the past year, and marking a continued decline in my yearly production. However, that now equals  227,670 words taking up invaluable space on the Internet. And if you think it's sad that I've put this much effort into something I get little in return for, then you won't want to know that I find these statistics incredibly interesting.

My most read blogs all tend to be my reviews this year, where I show off about all the musicals I've seen, gigs I've attended, films I've watched, and CD's I've brought. No-one seems particularly interested in my trails of thought, but alas, I shall continue.

However, that is possibly in part because most of my attention over the past year, has been directed at my newest project: A Misanthrope's Guide to London. Surprisingly, that blog seems to be gaining a lot of popularity in the USA, so I would like to apologise for any American's who's opinion of London have decreased. BUT, that could mean less American tourists in London, and that can only be considered a positive.

Almost every one of them I've met, matches the American tourist stereotype. They wear bright yellow jackets, shorts, fishing hats, and invite you to come stay with them, despite the fact you've only spent a few minutes in their company. Have you seen the Harry and Paul sketch of the two American tourists? That is a perfect impression of a very distant relative of mine, and his wife. Granted, they're Canadian, but they live in Las Vegas. I have a draw full of lapel pins from different states, which they showered upon everyone they met.

Anyway, I'm now looking for a new project. I have two ideas; both with misanthropy at their heart. Do I start a sequel, which I alluded to in my last post, called 'A Misanthrope's Guide to Folkestone & Hythe'? Or perhaps a general one for Kent? Or an English one? Or, do I start a mock news website? The Misanthrope Times perhaps? I don't know. And that's where the issue lies. I want to put my focus into a new website. Start completely afresh.

I said this a few years ago, and I'm still here, but I, again, think it's nearing a time to retire from this blog, and to let it share it's memories with anyone who stumbles upon it after putting in an obscure Google search. I shall move on and try to rear a new project into maturity; one which would be bigger, better, and not still include old blog posts with shameful grammar, spelling and with no real purpose.

But it's hard. I love this blog; apart from the web address which I chose when I was sixteen. So, I need help moving on with my life, but I just can't decide where to focus my misanthropy.

What are your thoughts? A Misanthrope's Guide to Somewhere New? Or The Misanthrope Times?

It's your decision; should you care. I value your opinion, even if you don't value mine.