28.12.03

That film
The story's epic, the CG's magnificent (if not absolutely flawless - Legolas climbing up the Oliphaunt still looked too gamey), and the leads even remembered how to act again (don't tell me this is the same Elijah Wood as in The Two Towers, where even Treebeard made him look wooden).

Despite never having finished reading the book (yeah, I gave up halfway on my one and only attempt in my teens - go on, tell me I'm a bad man), so having nothing literary to judge the films by, I think Peter Jackson can be rather pleased with himself, don't you?

25.12.03

Staying up late to wrap while half-cut and watching The Producers. Waking up too early to do the whole gang present-opening thing (Pirates - yaar!). Bacon buttie breakfast while phoning Thomsk in Australia. Christmas Top of the Pops. The Queen's Speech (journalistic necessity rather than monarchist desire). Walk the dog. Gin and tonic. Turkey. Christmas pud. Fizz. Cab-Sauv. The immaculate Belleville Rendezvous. Washing up. The disappointment of discovering that Welsh television isn't showing Amelie. Intra-family sniping initiated by grandmother (saints lost rag with her long ago). Cooling off period. Beer. Shouting match between dad and kid brother. Blog.

Merry Christmas everyone!

23.12.03

Sexie
Did you know fire stations only have poles because in the days of horse-drawn engines the problematic ponies tried to get upstairs? Maybe.

Eddie Izzard last night was, in the words of one of his own shows, glorious. Although there was nothing memorably catchy on the scale of "Cake or death?", the man just knows how to make people laugh. And he can certainly carry off a pair of knee-length, leather, high-heeled boots. Repeat viewings of the DVD will certainly be required.

Sexie? You betcha.

Not sexie
Following the decision by the jury in the Washington sniper case to recommend life in jail for 18-year-old John Lee Malvo, families of the sniper victims expressed disappointment at the verdict.

Victoria Buchanan Snyder, brother of Sonny Buchanan, one of the 10 dead, said "I cannot say I am not disappointed, because I am disappointed."

"There cannot be another case more deserving of the death penalty," she went on, but concluded: "I respect the jury's decision."

Good to see the Christmas spirit being felt in Chesapeake. I'm sorry for Victoria's loss, as well as those of the other familes, but the death penalty really is the crudest, most primitive form of retribution. It's not justice, it's vengeance. Maybe one of these days the US will decide they've had enough of the killing. Maybe.

Adult content
Belle de Jour won the Guardian's specialist British Blog award. Ostensibly the diary of a London working girl, it's an incredibly good read. Salacious, certainly, but one of the best written blogs I've read in a while. If this woman isn't really writing professionally already, she should think about a change in career. If you can stand the sex (and it's not all she writes about), I'd definitely recommend it.

21.12.03

In the absence of any real inspiration, let's reflect on the new Christmas number one.

As soon as I heard Gary Jules was in the running with his rendition of Mad World, it was the one I wanted to win. Not because of any great attraction to the song or the artist, but because it's so undeniably glum - the antithesis of the cheesy festive spirit and quasi-religious bollocks that usually dominate the charts at this time of year. If there's never another Cliff Richard number one as long as I live, it'll still be too soon. And the fact that the Pop Idols' cover of Merry Christmas War Is Over (surely in the poorest possible taste) was kept as low as No 5 is heartening.

But now I'm a little sad The Darkness were beaten to the prize by the Donnie Darko song.

Ever since my teens I've had a great aversion to the squealing, screaming, big-haired rock that pervaded the 80s - Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Heart, Europe and, of course, Hanoi Rocks, you know the kind - so I was less than happy to see it being revived. Except now, of course, I get that The Darkness are being less than serious about the whole deal.

Of course, they still have the melodramatic wailing vocals, and my key grumble of too many guitars (How many is too many? It can actually be as few as one. The key is how it's used and its prominence in the mix). But the power of post-modern irony had won me over.

And correctly judging the gravity of the situation, Justin Hawkins, Darkness poodle-rocker-in-chief, wasn't exactly magnanimous in defeat:

"We've learnt from our experience that you don't have to build up an entire campaign over a year. All you have to do is do a cover version at the end of the year and you can gazump everyone."

I can't help but warm to him after that. Why should he be gracious when he's had such an honour snatched away at the last minute?

I don't really know why I still care about the charts and who gets top spot at Christmas. After all, I gave up regularly listening to music radio several years ago, and can't stand most of what makes it big these days. It's mostly targeted at 16 to 24-year-old girls - and hopefully most people would agree I'm not one of those. But the club-lite and R&B oriented bilge that occupies most of the Top 40 really does feel like a personal affront.

I'm still drawn to TV pop shows like CD:UK (for reasons exceeding, but not excluding, the delightful Cat) and can't help feeling greatly aggrieved about the botch job done on Top of the Pops. It's been turned into a bad clone of its ITV rival, but fronted by a young boy of seemingly limited talent and charisma. And where's the chart music? I may not like it, but I'll be damned if I'm going to be deprived of the chance to moan about it. To be honest, the show's been on a gradual slide ever since they ditched Legs & Co.

Please stop me if I'm sounding too old. Actually, on second thoughts, don't. I'm having far too much fun.

Blighty's yuletide chart-topper is, and always has been, a matter to be taken seriously - arguably more than anywhere else in the world.

To paraphrase the puppy people, a Christmas number one is for life, not just for, err, Christmas.

19.12.03

With a bolder and more cynical perspective on things, I've put my hand back in the biscuit barrel, and have pulled out what may well be a Christmas cracker. If this one comes off, it will have at least one very interesting story to tell. More as it happens...

17.12.03

So I was wrong. Huntley got two life sentences for murdering Holly and Jessica.

Still not sure it will stand up against an appeal, though. The prosecution failed to prove he murdered the two girls. Just because he admitted being responsible for their deaths, and everyone (including me) knows it was deliberate on Huntley's part, that doesn't make it a watertight case. And that, in my mind, makes the conviction legally unsafe, however just it undoubtedly is.

It's been a horrible and deeply emotional case for a great many people, whether directly involved or just following and experiencing it through the media - this episode, as with each of the (thankfully few) cases of child murder that seem to occur annually, seems to have touched a nerve commonly felt throuighout the country.

I'm sure the town of Soham just wants to get on with life now, but I don't think we've heard the last of Holly and Jessica...

14.12.03

Saddam arrested. And I'm at work. I love breaking news!!!

Some time later...
Oh, the wonder of a fast-moving story. Who could have thought the discovery of an Arabic pensioner could give me such an adrenaline rush?

Saddam's capture saw the office move from a dull, sleepy Sunday morning into full tilt on half staffing at a moment's notice - and, say it though I do, we kicked ass.

For all the days that are full of trials, interminable territorial disputes and reheated government initiatives, it's the times when something really happens that make this job worth doing. Being able to handle a story of global magnitude without losing one's cool is a real test of journalistic mettle - tracking the developments, reporting them accurately, coherently and speedily, and juggling live events while keeping the story up to date.

It's relatively rarely that we get the opportunity to follow such a big story from initial rumour, through healthy reports, to indisputable fact in the space of a couple of hours: the death of Princess Margaret was one such event I've been involved in; the 2001 General Election night; the start of the attacks on Afghanistan; and of course September 11 another, much larger occasion. Although all tragic on their own scale, professionally speaking they give a much bigger buzz than 100 appeal court rulings put together.

Of course, on the more sober side of things, this probably means another four years of Dubya. Although it's definitely a good thing to have trapped such a bad man, up until the former Iraqi president's capture I really thought Dean, Clark or whoever could be in with a chance, but now George has the Mother of All USPs, he's got the White House pretty much locked down. And there's no way Hillary will go up against him now either.

Mark tells me not to be so pessimistic, that securing Saddam can only lead to a more secure and stable Iraq. While he's right and admirable to be positive, I'm not so sure I agree. I think this will allow the US to get out without clearing up properly. And I'm not one of those people who only started hating Bush when he went to war - I've plenty more issues with the man.

(Mark and I also disagree on the Soham trial. I can see Huntley getting convicted of manslaughter, possibly only one count at that, because despite Huntley's admission that he was responsible for their deaths, the prosecution gave no solid evidence he killed those girls. In short, they didn't prove anything and there's still reasonable doubt. Mark, on the other hand, thinks Huntley's bang to rights under Section 2 of the 1957 Homicide Act - namely withholding medical assistance from someone in need. But Mark and I regularly disagree on the news - it's part of the fun of working there generally, and being friends with that man specifically.)

All said, this journalism thing ain't such a bad gig. I could make a career of it.

11.12.03

Thoughts I should really articulate
Jane and Thomas' cat really does nothing but eat - preferably my food. Never before have I encountered a cat with the balls to come and steal food out of your hand or off your plate. He just sidles up and takes it. And then goes and craps in the shower. Lovely. Remind me why I want my own cat...

Gordon Brown is a desperately dull man. An intelligent, seemingly shrewd, honest and principled man, but desperately boring all the same. Or maybe it's just his subject matter. Listening to the pre-Budget report yesterday I found myself wishing for a nailgun I could use to ram spears of metal into my skull, just to give me the sensation of being live. I have no head for economics, but surely they can't be meant to be interesting? Gordon's drone was seemingly infinite, leaving me to wonder whether I'd ever want to see him as prime minister. I think he'd swing the country a little back to the left - a Good Thing - but would he be able to inspire people? But I suppose we voted for a smooth-talking, charismatic media whore last time, and look where that got us.

Mark Byford will be my next boss. The Director General of the BBC, Greg Dyke, appointed him Deputy DG yesterday. Byford's a pedigree Beeb man, and Greg's probably just biding his time until his spiritual home at ITV reaches the promised land of a single, unified company after Carlton and Granada merge. By this time next year, I'm saying Roland will be back on the currently sinking ship. He's done good work for us, especially after the hell of the Birt years, but keeping ITV afloat will require a whole different bag of tricks.

Amateur Girlfriends Go Proskirt Agents by Xploding Plastics is a great album. Listen to it. Mad props to Robin for telling me to do the same.

That is all.

9.12.03

Before leaving for Australia, Thomas's girlfriend Jane pointed out the Christmas decorations, just in case I wanted to put them up. I have to say that although the thought was appreciated, she was wasting her breath.

It's not that I'm anti-Christmas - far from it. Despite it being for reasons completely separated from the festival's origins, Christmas is still a very important occasion for the whole family. Even Dad, who actually objects to it on both religious and consumerist grounds, still tends to go to a candle-lit church service (the only one of us who does) on Christmas morning and spend time, thought and money on gifts. My father's a man of fascinating contradictions.

No, the reason Jane needn't have told me is that if one's going to be the only person in a house, what's the point in decorating for Christmas? Two people or more, fine. But how much more joyful can tinsel and paper-chains make it if you're making the run-in to the holiday on your own? The big black cat I'm currently sharing with certainly isn't going to feel less festive for the lack of a tree. Indeed while the actual act of decking the halls with loved ones is great fun, flying solo only serves to remind you there's nobody there to help.

So at the risk of sounding like Ebenezer Scrooge, the decorations will be staying in their boxes until they have someone who can really appreciate them. I'll be seeking my yuletide cheer elsewhere.

5.12.03

Oh, how I've ached today.

Despite fighting my hoarder's nature in getting rid of more than 100 videos (either chucked or donated), two large bin liners full of unwanted clothes and farming out a box of books (lent and crossed), the amount of stuff I've acquired in my 31 years still alarms me. And all of it needed moving. In big, heavy boxes.

Although the actual process of moving out of Elgin Avenue was relatively painless, thanks to the sterling effort provided by Thomsk and Robin, the aftermath has been somewhat less pleasant. Bits of me I didn't know could hurt are reminding me of their existence.

Still, the day gave me two funny little moments to hang on to.

The first came just after Bobs had arrived with the van, and we were preparing to load. As if officially saying goodbye, my cherished King's Troop trotted by for their daily exercise with their cannon.

I'm no military man, but the regular encounter with this regiment of the Royal Horse Artillery has been one of my favourite things about living in W9 - beautiful beasts every one, they always made me run to the window when I heard the characteristic sound of scores of hooves on tarmac and the rattle of gun carriages. It's the kind of thing that really gives a place special memories and something that I'll definitely miss.

But on this occasion, something happened that I'd never previously witnessed: from the front of the convoy a bugle sounded and the whole lot stopped outside my front door. As the 40 or so horses and their riders held up the traffic on this significant thoroughfare, one animal was brought to the back of the line. Whether it was lame or had shed a shoe, I don't know, but the soldiers duly led it into the huge horse transport that always accompanies the procession, and brought out a substitute mount. Then with another blast on the bugle, the train set off again. A very special moment indeed.

Then some time later, while driving the van down the Uxbridge Road to the storage facility, something altogether more bizarre occurred. We'd been flipping through radio stations trying to find something good, and had landed on something playing music from 1984. One track ended, and then with no drivel from the DJ, 99 Red Balloons started playing.

(Anyone old enough to remember the original appearance of Nena's only significant hit will also probably share my memories of living with the bomb. There was a time, principally under Reagan and Thatcher, when nuclear war seemed a very real possibility. This song always reminds me of that fear, and makes me feel relieved that, even though those evil weapons still exist in their thousands, the threat of imminent annihilation is less obvious now. Even with the war on terror, would today's kids really comprehend what we had to live through?)

Anyway, the track gets going and Thomas and I suddenly realise where we are. Neither of us had heard the song for years before a few weeks ago. Funny thing is, where we were on that occasion was less than 50 yards from where we were this time. Weird.

So now I'm at Thomsk's flat at least until the New Year, bracing myself for another assault on the housing market. Although not that disappointed about losing the particular property, I do feel quite scarred by the debacle, and a little wary of the process.

What doesn't kill us makes us stronger, I know, but I need a little time out before I can really find my next home.

And one thing's for sure - I can't do that aching.

4.12.03

So this it how it ends.

For the past 1008 days this flat has been my home. No longer.

Goodbye Harrow brick road. Farewell Westbourne Park. Maida Vale studios - keep on rockin'. So long Pinky's. Adieu Le Cochonnet. Seeya Grand Union. And even though it's just around the corner, I never did get to visit the Institute of Psychoanalysis.

And to everyone else who's made these three years in West 9 so memorable - ta.

I thought I knew where I was leaving you for, but that's the way the cookie crumbles.

So I'm cast out onto the street, forced to move from spare bed to spare bed until I can once more find somewhere to call my own.

Until then, when I'm reunited with all my stuff (due to begin a sentence of unknown duration in HMP Self-Storage), this will have to be my home.

Don't touch that dial.

2.12.03

It looks like I've lost my biscuit. Some bastard came and stole it from under my nose.

It all revolves around honour and a loft.

I'd found this nice, two bed flat (there, I can say it!) in Finsbury Park (north London). It didn't scream at me, but it would be a good place to live. Good space, nice area, nice street, near good friends, good pubs and good restaurants. Crappy decor, but that's by the by. Nothing a lick of paint, a pair of curtains or a blind and a stripped floor can't fix. So I decide to make an offer.

The person selling is a guy called Rob, doctor by trade. He and his wife are asking 185k. I offer 180k. They say fine they'll take that, but for 185k (their asking price) I can get it with an extended leasehold and the large loft added to the property, on which Dr Rob is spending five grand. I says hmm.

They say they have another guy interested without the loft at 182k, coming at them through a different estate agency, but would still prefer the whole loft deal. I says fine, 185 with the loft.

This is all through my estate agent, remember. Rob and I never speak. It's all "Rob says this" and "Ben says that".

They say great we're good to go, give me 10 days to get my affairs in order, and the estate agents draw up the papers and inform our solicitors.

Fast forward a few days while I get details of my mortgage finalised and let Nightshift Ben loose on the world.

Then yesterday morning, the agent (guy called Milo, very chirpy) comes back to me saying the other guy has upped his offer to 183 without loft and lease, and Rob prefers that, for some reason. What do I want to do?

So I hums and haws a little, then go back and say, okay 184 without the loft and lease.

So I'm still a grand over this other guy.

Estate agent comes back to me in the afternoon and says no go. Says Rob's Japanese wife (who up until this point has played no part in the dialogue) has actually met this other prospective purchaser and liked him, says she feels honour bound to sell to him.

Seems like she doesn't have too much of this honour stuff to spare, though. She hasn't met me. so apparently doesn't care about keeping to the deal I've agreed with her husband.

Rob tells Milo he's totally under the thumb on this issue and doesn't have a say. The only way he'll be able to sell to me if is he gets divorced.

So while I'm offering more money than the other guy, and good to go right this minute cos I've done all my mortgage negotiation, I don't get a look in. All that effort from myself, my folks and Milo for nothing.

Milo fuming. Mum and Dad fuming. Me tired. Probably would fume and spit and snarl had I the energy, but don't. Feel unusually upbeat instead, in the mood for cheesy pop - the likes of S Club, Steps and Britney, plus a bit of Gomez and Bill Withers - and New York Super Fudge Chunk. Strange how I react to bad news.

We've gone back to them with their full asking price of 185, to see whether the wife's deep sense of honour can be bought for another grand, but it looks like it's back to square one.

Scuppered by London property's answer to Yoko Ono.

1.12.03

Before we get down to tonight's serious business, I'd like to address an issue raised by someone purporting to be In Charge: Shouldn't you be working instead of writing your blog?

Thank you for your concern, In Charge, but Ben is entitled to a one hour break during his 10 hour shift, and were you the person who's really in charge, you'd be keen that he take it. How he chooses to spend those 60 minutes is his concern. And no one's ever raised any concern over the quality of his work with him, especially not in what he does overnight.

I know Ben would hope that any dip in form would be brought to his attention as soon as it happened, so that he could redouble his efforts instantly. But as this hasn't happened, we have to assume it's all good.

So as far as I see it, everything's in order. Thanks all the same for your question.

Now Robin, writing from the jellied eel environs of the Australian Antichrist's doorstep, asks:

What does this 'New Year' hold in store? My own predictionary skills can only reach as far as foreseeing a high probability of seasonal air temperature change. I was wondering if your extensive knowledge of What Is Going On In The World could shed any light beyond that.

Well, Bobs, flattered though I am that you think such things are within my grasp, precognition can not be listed among the powers I possess. However, despite working on plans for my 2004 predictions (due to be unveiled in full at the end of the year, natch), I can give you a little insight into what I see happening in the year ahead.

* The US-led coalition will pull out of Iraq, handing over power to the country's indigenous interim government. Several members will subsequently be assassinated, as the country deteriorates into civil war. President Bush will decline to get involved in what he calls 'internal politics', fearful that US troops in bodybags will see him lose his job.

* Peter Jackson will orchestrate the destruction of the Hollywood sign in his remake of King Kong, after the imbeciles of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences once again fail to reward properly his work on the Lord of the Rings.

* The civilised world will see the writing on the wall when America's Democrats nominate a man with all the appeal of a rice cake to contest the Presidential election. Dubya will duly succeed where his father failed and win a second term in office. (I'd love to be wrong on this. Please rub my nose in it if I am.)

* England's footballers will fail to win Euro 2004, struggling to even get through the group stage in Portugal, before imploding in a flurry of egocentricity against an unfancied minor nation. Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich will be left with an awkward decision and the possibility of reneging on a deal, as he decides whether to replace championship-winning coach Claudio Ranieri with England failure Sven-Goran Eriksson.

* George W Bush will be involved in another comedy moment to go along with the pretzels, the Segway, and the Barney-dropping episode. Exactly what this will be, even I can't tell. But it will happen.

* The BBC will finally realise that Sir David Frost really isn't worth paying all that money to be fawning and unincisive every Sunday morning, when what they really want is intelligent, articulate conversation on current affairs.

* Ben will move into his new flat in Finsbury Park, and lots of people will come to see him. His love life might even finally start to look up.

I'll work on more as 2004 draws closer.

Oh, and Samantha, sorry about Tom Sizemore but trust me, it will be answered.

Until next time, my friends, keep asking questions.