Friday 28 August 2009

OFCOM - who leads the blind?

A while back, a TV comedy show called Moving Wallpaper, broadcast in the Friday night 'coming-in-pissed-from-the-pub' slot, had an episode with a transsexual character in it. This was an excuse for lots of Tranny Gags, which is just what people who've come in pissed from the pub like to watch, presumably. It was about as funny and subtle as Bernard Manning on Mogadon, and an uncannily familiar portrayal of workplace bigotry for those who've experienced it. At the time I characterised it as 'dumbfuckery', before reaching for the Basildon Bond and firing off a complaint to OFCOM.

Lots of other people complained too.

OFCOM grunted a bit, woke up briefly from their post-lunch snooze, and said petulantly that they could see nothing wrong with the programme.

Then they went back to sleep in front of the telly.

A few resolute types (thank you, Jo!) appealed against the judgement.

And the review of the judgement, written by Trevor Barnes, Senior Standards Manager at OFCOM, has now come out.

It's nothing much more than a rubber stamp for the previous judgement; there are some amusing bits, though.

I do not agree that the harassment or bullying of transsexual people is regarded by society as acceptable. Of course, parts of society may regrettably still have discriminatory attitudes. And discrimination still undoubtedly exists: one appellant forwarded a research paper detailing transgender and transsexual people's experience of inequality and discrimination between 1998 and 2005. But I note that employment legislation has been tightened in recent years to help protect transsexual and transgender people and now places an obligation on all employers for example to ensure that there is no bullying or harassment of, or discrimination against, employees on the basis of their sexuality or gender. There is no evidence in my view that the bullying or harassment of transgender people is regarded as acceptable.

.... thus speaks white, middle-class, Cambridge-eddicated, cisgendered Trevor Barnes, and let's face it, he should know. Much better, obviously, than the people who've seen discrimination in action, and for whom the Moving Wallpaper episode was little more than a catalogue of all-too-familiar bigotries, masquerading as humour. While he accepts that there has been naughtiness in the past, apparently it's no longer possible because the paperwork has been tightened up. I understand that Mr Barnes is a lawyer, and perhaps a respecter of What Is Written. It is possible that he even believes what he says there, though it is hardly flattering to his intelligence to think that he might. I doubt that he's had much experience of the gulf between what it says on pieces of paper, and how things are between people in the workplace.
Some of the appellants suggested that the programme would have been in breach of the Code if for example the Georgina character had not been a transsexual person but a membere if an ethnic minority or a Muslim, and the offensive remarks had been racist or otherwise discriminatory - and that therefore the programme also contravened the Code in the current case because the offensive language towards and treatment of Georgina was equally unacceptable. Whether a particular programme does or does not comply with the Code would of course depend on all the individual circumstances. But I do not agree that this argument is valid. In the context of a satirical comedy it could theoretically have been possible to have had a different type of character subjected to discriminatory treatment by Jonathan Pope and his colleagues and for this not to have breached the Code. The broadcaster however exercised its editorial freedom by choosing not to do so.
It would indeed be a bold television programme that introduced a Muslim character to be the butt of racist jokes and defended this treatment as satirical. And perhaps Moving Wallpaper are bold folk, ready to satirise bigotry wherever it rears its ugly head, etc etc, but sadly missing the opportunity to show how truly bold they are by exercising their editorial freedom by choosing not to do so.

And then again, maybe they're just tawdry populists out for a cheap laugh. It's much safer to Mock The Tranny, after all.

easy journeys to distant planets

It was a tawny owl calling that woke me up. AWAAKE! AWA-AAKE! I had been wrapped up in that two o'clock in the morning sort of sleep, but I know that owl, it spends a lot of time in the trees outside my window. I know exactly where I am, without having to think about it. I'm in the attic of the big house in South Wales, Ty Celyn, and it's some time in the early 1970s.

AWAKE! Some of the cocooning dissolves, and my senses are starting to tick off the landmarks of my personal geography. I'm in Bristol and it is now. Well, two in the morning, anyway.

I wonder if my earlier self felt my presence and shivered? -I was a bit afraid of things in the dark, back then.

It was funny being back there, and it would have been nice to stay for a bit and catch up with all the lost stuff, but you can't live in the past. As far as I know.

Wednesday 26 August 2009

more adventures in the book trade

hmmm, I'm sure one of these tools is supposed to extract cheques from bookshop owners...

Carrying on the japes from yesterday's episode, which left me waiting for a phone call that didn't come.

The next morning....

ring ring... ring ring...

"Hello, it's the Small Independent Bookshop. We've got a cheque for you."

"Oh, goodie! I'll pop round shortly"

"....and.... can you bring some more books? -we're down to our last one."

This is what we want to hear. I package up some more books and presently arrive at the shop.

"Hello! Here's your cheque."

She produces last weeks' invoice too.

"Oh," I say; "this cheque should be for the June invoice, not the one from last week."

"Oh, I'm sorry; I didn't know there was another one."

She pops off to the back of the shop. Unfortunately, the proprietor is ...about to go out to lunch with her mother.

"Treasure in store," as Prof Burrows used to say, brightly if not accurately, when I handed him my Anglo-Saxon essays....

Remember Michael Heseltine? -he effectively gave the official stamp of approval to delaying payments, back in 1996, when he admitted that he always held off payment of business debts until threatened by legal action.

I didn't need to learn the lesson that some, even many, people are dishonourable; I have seen 'nice' people stand by and do nothing when someone is being mistreated. Usually when that person was me, admittedly, which made it kind of memorable.

Tuesday 25 August 2009

confessions of a pedalling book pedlar

It was about time to get out there and make sure that All Good Bookshops were properly stocked with The Bristol Downs - A Natural History Year. So I got on my bike.

First stop was a Small Independent Bookshop. They'd got in touch with Geraldine last week saying that they urgently needed six more copies of the book, so her husband Keith had dropped some in from their collection. So all I needed to do was drop in an invoice and pick up the cheque for the previous invoice which... hadn't yet been paid...

The proprietor was there chatting with the person on the counter, as I arrived on my bike. But by the time I'd locked the bike and gone in, she was no longer there.

"I'm just dropping off this invoice for the books that you received," I said; "and there is still this outstanding invoice from the previous books..."

"I'll just go and see..." says the nice young man.

I wait.

"She's just about to go out for lunch with her daughter," he said; "It's A Level results day..."

I agree to come back on Monday.

On Monday she is about to go out to lunch with her mother.

I leave my mobile number.

It doesn't get used.

Catherine had said good things about a local card shop which had taken some copies of the book last year. So I went there too. It is in a pretty affluent suburb, where the 4x4s and people-carriers roam free, and it sells expensive trinkets and posh chocolate to the sort of people who like to give expensive trinkets and posh chocolate to other people to mark important waypoints through life. It is the sort of shop I have walked or cycled past for years, without really noticing it or wanting to go in.

I explain my mission to a rather worn-looking woman on the counter. She presses a bell on the wall, and a large woman appears, advancing in a little cloud of huffiness and puffiness.

"Do you have a seller's appointment?" she asks.

I admit that I do not.

I am far too busy to see you today," she says. "You may leave samples if you wish."

She huffs and puffs back through her door.

I decide that I do not wish.

Monday 24 August 2009

take a brake

Yet more tinkering with the car. I was out there grovelling under the wheel arch the other day, when Phil wandered by. He was spotless and dapper. I was greasy and speckled with road tar and gravel (they resurfaced the road not long back, and it's still sticky). He accused me of having the car as a hobby. I tried not to be offended.

It's a tricky one though. I have the car that I do have because I like it, and because I can fix it when it goes wrong, and as time goes by and I fix it more and more, I get to know it better and improve my ability to diagnose and fix problems. Which is very empowering. But I think on balance I'd prefer it to be perfect all the time. Or even slightly imperfect.

Which ain't going to happen, of course.

Latest trouble was a seized brake cylinder on the starboard forward wheel. There it is, look.

...which meant that, when I braked hard, the car would try to swing left.

It was quite useful, the other day, when I was driving through an underpass where the road curved round to the left ahead of me. A van appeared, going fast, on the wrong side of the road. I guess he thought it was a one-way system.

Much squealing of tyres and swerving. And in a moment it was all over apart from my thinking thoughts along the lines of "Blimey, I could be dead now, if I wasn't alive".

So I took the old brake cylinder off and put a new cylinder on, and bled the system through, and went off for a test drive. Because I'd rather be driving than fixing, really.

This is part of an underground fuel storage complex, which, during the war, was connected by pipe to London, stopping off at airfields on the way. There's lots of interesting old buildings around here; there was a heavy anti-aircraft battery here, too.

...and this is one of my favourite places for a Sunday afternoon walk. It's a hill near Clevedon, overlooking the Gordano valley on the one side and the Bristol Channel on the other.

There was a very late summer feeling about the place. The green was being strongly flavoured with browns, reds and purples. Loads of butterflies, bees and hoverflies were giving their attention to the marjoram which grows abundantly there.

And the hazel trees were busy with an extended family of long-tailed tits. A very extended family indeed. Maybe long-tailed tits are Catholics.

Saturday 22 August 2009

shadow of a woman

I'd rather saw my own arm off than play competitive sports, but it obviously floats some people's boats. Including Richard's.

He sent me a link to a piece about Caster Semenya, an athlete who is apparently obliged to take gender tests because she trains too hard and doesn't look classically feminine, or something.

It's by Germaine Greer, whom I try to like despite her apparent trajectory into Daft Old Batness... though I'm not trying that hard, these days.

Here's an odd quote from her little piece:

Nowadays we are all likely to meet people who think they are women, have women's names, and feminine clothes and lots of eyeshadow, who seem to us to be some kind of ghastly parody, though it isn't polite to say so. We pretend that all the people passing for female really are. Other delusions may be challenged, but not a man's delusion that he is female.

...which isn't a nice thing to say about Marlene Dietrich, I must say.

...oh, hang on a minute. She's banging on about Them Thar Pesky Trannies again, isn't she?

Here's the story of how Germaine Greer 'outed' a Fellow of Newnham College back in the 90s, if you haven't heard of it already.

I like the way that Germaine said how she liked Dr Padman as a person, but she objected to her on principle. Oh yes, been there, done that. People have objected to me, too, on principle. Funny feeling, let me tell you.

Take principles regularly. Prevents that thinking feeling.

Oh well, that'll do for the mo. Must go and put on my eye shadow. That or strip down and fix the seized brake cylinder on the Traveller, so that I can go bimbling over to Wales in pursuit of William and Dorothy Wordsworth. Now, where's me high heels?

Wednesday 19 August 2009

autumn drawing near

I've been trying to be more organised with the way I use my time. Well, it's never too late to try... I've finally finished the illustrations for The Coffee Thrush, which is waiting to be rushed to press just as soon as it's all formatted up. Here's a few of the newest pics. There's a slight hodgepodge of styles going on. Not sure if that's a good thing.
young blackbird

willow warbler songlistening to a song thrush

Tuesday 18 August 2009

on air

Geraldine and I went down to BCFM, Bristol's community radio station, to talk with Tom Bigwood about the Downs wildlife book. We got there very early, and had chance to talk with Tom while some music was playing. News had been breaking even as we had been sitting in the foyer of the radio station; a knifeman had been wandering around stabbing people, and there was much police activity. Apparently, he was arrested just down the road from the studio.

But we didn't let it get in the way of Spreading The Word. Geraldine mentioned that blackberries are in season on the Downs. I thought of mentioning the damsons, some of which are even now steeping in vodka in my kitchen; but hey, people don't need to know that. Some things need to be secret. Shhhhh.

Sunday 16 August 2009

out and about

Katie and I went off to East Prawle in Devon for a few days camping with some friends down there. And we did lots of outdoorsy stuff. It was very good fun, and good to get away from the electronics for a while; no computer, and of course no mobile...

The camping field is on a slope overlooking the sea, quite high up so that you get to see a lot of sea. I got up in the night and watched the navigation lights of the ships passing up and down the Channel, silent in the distance; the full moon descending in the western sky; the sweep of Start Point lighthouse, whose beams chased each other across the ridge to the east; one, two, three.... seven second pause.... one, two, three... a cock crowed, and I looked back and saw what had been creeping up on me, the dawn.

At one point there were four adults, a Katie, and two dogs (one large, one small) in the car; and the canoes on the roof too. I worried about our ability to stop in time if we met anyone, rumbling down the deep-banked single-track lanes... we survived, though. And I'm overhauling the brake system - new pads, new back drums; and I had to change a tie rod on the steering rack as the ball joint was all wobbly. Never a dull moment at Schloss Marland...

Monday 3 August 2009

bacon rolls, and calls

hot stuff at the Old Duke

It was Bristol's Harbour Festival this weekend, and I was helping out on the Bristol Books and Publishers bookstall in the scout hut (an old sailmakers' loft) on Redcliffe Wharf. Except that things were pretty quiet on the bookstall, and Betty in the kitchen was on her own and struggling to keep up with the teamaking. So I left Roy to the books and spent a few hours washing up, making tea, and frying bacon.

It was good fun; I like this sort of thing, where people treat you differently when you're offering them a service, and you get to see a side of them you wouldn't if you met on equal terms. Fortunately, they were mainly really nice. And surprised at the prices; several times people would offer more money than needed, and I would have to explain that 70p was the price for tea or coffee... though the chap who asked for something a bit posher was disappointed:

"'cino, please"


"Cappucino, please"

"Sorry, we just do coffee..."

Somewhere along the way I lost my mobile phone; it must have jumped out of my messenger bag as I cycled across the cobbled quay. This was a worry; I got home, and rang the mobile number just in case I'd left it at home.


Then we went down to the scout hut later, to pick up my books, and I checked under all the chairs and tables.


So I phoned Orange and reported the phone lost.

The next morning S pinged me on Instant Messenger. She'd received a phone call in the afternoon from someone who'd found the mobile, and called the last number on it, which was S's. She said that she was going to leave it at the Severn Shed, a bar on the harbourside.

S had tried all day to phone me, but she was using the hub phone number, and we don't usually use the hub phone, which was lying around with a flat battery. So she didn't get through.

I went down to the Severn Shed.

"Oh yes," said the manager. "It went into the lost property box."

He rummaged. He made a few phone calls. He was very helpful, but the phone had gone.

Saturday 1 August 2009

all hands to the pump

In which we learn, yet again, that sometimes you can get fixed on the wrong answer to a problem.

We've been flogging off our surplus tents on ebay, and buying kayaks, as Katie is now of an age to ardently want to paddle her own canoe. So Thursday had us trundling up the motorway to Gloucester to pick one up.

I'd changed the car's HT ignition coil the day before; but as we got near Gloucester, the engine started dying on us, and then picking up again. So we would swing in to the hard shoulder and wait for it to recover again, and so continued in fits and starts.

We got the canoe and tried it out on a stretch of the Stroudwater canal. It was dense with jenny-green-teeth, and ponged of sulphur dioxide. Which is odd, because although Stroud was one of the places where the industrial revolution started, the dark satanic mills have been adapted to more modern purposes than turning waterways into the foul-smelling, foamy sewers that they used to be when I were young.

We passed a moorhens' nest, right in the middle of the canal, rising neatly out of the green carpet like a citadel in the middle of an endless plain. Except that it had lots of little moorhens sitting on top.

As we continued in fits and starts along the A38 towards Bristol (I thought it would be a safer option than the motorway) I listened for the fuel pump, and indeed noticed that it would occasionally cut in with a frenzy of clicking.

I got the jack handle from the back of the car and gave it to Katie. "When the car slows down again, I want you to hit the bulkhead under the glove compartment," I said.

We went on. The engine faltered. "Hit it now!" I said, a little sharply.

She did.

The engine picked up straight away.

"There was no need to shout," said Katie in a Very Huffy tone.

And so we got home. And I took out the fuel pump, and took it to pieces, after reading up in the manual and even watching a Youtube video of How To Do It. You can get everything on the internet, apparently.

The points looked like this. There's a horrible ridge on the upper one.

This is what they looked like after I'd cleaned them up, with lots of whetstoning and emery papering. They probably could do with being replaced, but I needed the car working in a hurry.

Putting it back together...

And then I switched on the ignition and the pump chattered away furiously for ages.

And ages.

And eventually I primed it by sticking a hose on the pump's outlet orifice, and sucking furiously.

I got a mouthful of petrol. I gargled with mineral water, gobbing it promiscuously out onto the road; then I had a cup of tea, then a bottle of beer, by which time the mouth was starting to feel like we could still be friends.

And the pump was working fine.