Friday, 17 December 2010

An Englishman abroad

Mrs QO & I leave tomorrow to spend Christmas on Malta with a select band on her side of the family. This will be our third trip to this fascinating Mediterranean island. Everyone who was anyone in the 'invade and colonise' line has been through the place, leaving something behind; it's a fascinating mix of cultures. The Maltese language has Semitic roots, overlaid with much Arabic and Italian influence. The Maltese driver has lunatic roots, overlaid with much Italian influence. The island having been a British Protectorate, the theory is that one drives on the left, but this is honoured more in the breach than th'observance, frankly. Local wisdom is that one drives in the shade wherever possible, and if that disconcerts the oncoming Brit visitor, well, it's nothing personal. Road signs are misleading on the rare occasions they're there at all, roundabouts are just a way of using up concrete, and traffic lights can be out of action for years before repair. Nobody takes much notice of them, you see, so why bother rushing to do something about them?

The Maltese people are friendly and courteous, although two locals can exchange comments about the weather and sound as if a major ruck is about to kick off. The local brewery turns out worthy products, the sea is startlingly blue, the old buildings unearthly beautiful and Grand Harbour by night one of the most breathtaking views anywhere. I fell in love with the whole deal on our first visit, and am very glad to be going back.

Oh, and not to rub your noses in it, but the weather report from Malta this morning was 19 degrees and sunny. If you're feeling a tad jealous, it may help to know that we have to fly from Liverpool at Stupid o'clock on Sunday morning, so will be staying at a Travelodge in Widnes tomorrow night. Trust me, there are no grounds to feel jealous of us on that score...

Packing still remains to be done, so I shall sign off and wish everyone a very happy and peaceful Christmas.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010


It's Happy Blogiversary to me. Yes, one whole year of drivel smeared across this corner of t'internet. Only I must confess the actual date was yesterday, and I got distracted, faffing about elsewhere online. Oh well. That kind of suits the entire lack of discipline here at the Observatory.

To all those who have visited regularly - thank you very much, and please seek professional help without delay.

To all those who have found themselves here accidentally - hey, guys, that's Google for you. Don't blame me.

To the couple of visitors from the BBC domain who have appeared in the log over the last couple of days - I'm kind of sorry about the dorks reference, but not so sorry as to take it down. But I will if you change up your minds, how's that for a deal?

Monday, 13 December 2010

'Folkwaves' and why the BBC is managed by dorks

A slightly provocative title, yes. But I'm not happy.

For 25 years or so Folkwaves has been broadcast on East Midlands local radio. Its settled spot has been between 7-9pm on Monday nights, and although broadcast from BBC Radio Derby, the local BBC stations in Leicester, Lincoln and Nottingham carry it as well, thus reaching about a fifth of the country in geographic terms. It's also listened to by good numbers over t'internet. Mick Peat and Lester Simpson (above) are well known in this country and abroad as performers and promoters of folk music and are very effective communicators. The show doesn't just play music, it runs a gig guide that helps promote live events, club meetings and festivals.

Other 'specialist music' programmes appear in that slot throughout the week and go out to the whole region: country & western, Celtic, jazz. They too provide local event information, and all these shows are deeply rooted in the Midlands music communities, presented by people who really know what they're talking about.

The news that these shows are to be cancelled at the end of the year has gone down like a pint of milk offered to a Morris dancer. A Facebook page set up to protest the decision has been joined by over 800 in four days and the word is spreading. Many of us have e-mailed or phoned the BBC and some responses have been forthcoming.

The BBC have decided that 'specialist music' is "super-serving fans of a particular genre of music," to quote Simon Cornes, editor at BBC Radio Derby. "We feel it is part of our public service remit to now broadcast more accessible local radio into the evening."

Mr Cornes is, it seems, right on message. His regional boss, Stuart Thomas, had this to say:

"Although specialist music programmes like Folkwaves have been very popular with a loyal core of listeners, we feel that we now need to provide a programme that appeals to a wider number of licence fee payers in the East Midlands, especially as there are no longer any local or regional programmes available on commercial radio in the evenings."

Foxtrot Foxtrot Sierra.

Let's have a look at some of this. Is two hours a week 'super-serving' fans of a particular genre? Of course it bloody well isn't, even before we consider the fact that many of us listen to more than one of these 'specialist' programmes.

'More accessible local radio'. For the life of me, I have no idea what this means. In what way are these shows inaccessible? Do they pose problems for wheelchair users? Are they tricky to listen to if you live more than a mile from the bus-stop? Do they need a warning that people over 6' 5" may bang their heads? Sadly, I suppose we know fine well what the BBC means when it says 'accessible': football or bland playlist-approved muzak hosted by someone who looks up to Alan Partridge.

Moving on: 'we now need to provide a programme that appeals to a wider number of licence fee payers...' Why? You don't have to buy a licence to listen to BBC radio.

'... especially as there are no longer any local or regional programmes available on commercial radio in the evenings'

Yes, and you know why? Because local commercial radio in the evenings was crap. It was bloody awful. It's not too hot during the day, frankly, but the fact that it's died out in the evenings is a blessing and a mercy and a damn good argument for a free market. For the BBC to try and fill this gap with more of the same is analogous to the police getting worried that there are no fatal accidents any more at a particular road junction and going out to grease the tarmac.

I'm going to stop before I write myself into a real tantrum and say something regrettable. However, whether or not you're a folk music fan in the East Midlands, or a jazz fan, or a country & western fan, you may believe in the BBC's role to provide diversity, to strive for quality rather than mediocrity and to serve communities that may not necessarily be defined geographically. If you'd like to contact Stuart Thomas with your thoughts, I'm sure he'd be glad to hear from you:

Stuart Thomas
Head of Regional and Local Programmes
BBC, London Road, Nottingham, NG2 4UU!/stuartthomas

He'll be hearing from me.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

How not to do it


I have a deal of sympathy with those protesting over student fees. But this doesn't help.

The Countryside Alliance put 450,000-odd in the streets of London; they made their point effectively and marched silently past the Cenotaph. I should declare a disinterest at this point: I wasn't on that march, nor am I a CA supporter. But they evidently believed that if you're going to protest about something affecting your country, it's a good thing to observe a little respect for the memory of those who died to preserve for you the freedom to make your protest.

There are some things you don't have to go to university to learn.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Snow balls

There really has been a lot of nonsense talked about this refreshingly cool period we've been enjoying for the last 10 days or so. Some inadequates have complained about not being able to get to work merely because their car is buried in three feet of snow, there's no public transport and they have 20 miles to walk. Pffft, say I. This species would not now exist if we'd been so soft in earlier generations. The backbone has gone from us.

When the weather is like this, Mrs QO and I like nothing better than to turn off the central heating, throw open the windows, and remind ourselves how our ancestors lived. (I haven't specifically conferred with Mrs QO on this point, but I'm sure she would agree.) We relish an opportunity to huddle together for warmth, cooking a simple supper over a candle in a wine bottle, and chipping the frost from each other's eyebrows before going up to break the ice in the bath. This is the life, we say, peering at the computer screen through the freezing fog swirling around the house. We're honing our survival skills and toughening ourselves up to face whatever global warming can throw at us. Who cares about the Gulf Stream? Nasty foreign thing, we're fine by ourselves, thanks.

Yes indeed. Well, as I say, we like nothing better than all that, but tragically we have not been able to make such good advantage of the current climate. It seems that Mrs QO's bread will not rise, nor will my homebrew ferment, unless we keep the windows firmly closed and the heating on all day.

Ah well. We can't always have what we want.

Friday, 3 December 2010

The green belt doesn't go Red

Mixed feelings here at the Observatory about the failed World Cup bid. I'd have liked to see some of the matches take place in Nottingham, given the economic boost that would have resulted. But I will declare myself a NIMBY and say that I'm relieved that plans for a new stadium at Gamston now seem to be completely nixed.

Yes, I know, Gamston is a pretty tedious upper middle-class dormitory suburb that was Green Belt, and I remember it when it was green rather than BMW and Mercedes chic. The sins of the fathers... The remaining countryside between West Bridgford and Radcliffe isn't, perhaps, particularly beautiful, but it is a valuable wildlife haven and I walk the old footpaths around there several times a year. If a stadium were to be built there, the inevitable 'in fill' would take place and it wouldn't be long before there was no open land between the city and Radcliffe. I could accept that, provided that we'd made the most of the city itself, but there's an awful lot to do before we could say that we had. The Broadmarsh development seems to be stalled; the bold plans for the Eastside, for the north bank of the river between Trent Bridge and Colwick and for the old Boots site are all yet to make progress. It seems madness to me to take the easy option of developing greenfield sites outside the city while leaving scruffy, semi-derelict sites inside the town untouched.

Of course those inner-city sites have all sorts of problems attached, particularly the contamination at the old Boots site. That's why, after all the buildings were taken down several years ago, it's remained an open space, notable only for weeds. We will literally have to grasp the nettle, though, if this city is to be really proud of itself. It will take much longer, granted, but meaningful achievements do take time. Building a new stadium at Gamston as things stand would have been much like putting a daisy near a cowpat and saying everything was lovely.

Last comment. I'm sure the proposed stadium would have looked impressive if built. But if this was what was presented to FIFA (without a suitably large 'honorarium'), I'm not at all surprised the bid sank without trace. Crass or what?