Rare Replay

Over the Easter weekend, BBC Radio Merseyside broadcast a two-hour special: An Accent Exceedingly Rare: A Love Letter to Liverpool.

This special programme, recorded live at St George’s Hall in March to celebrate the station’s 50th anniversary, and its recent Freedom of the City award.

I stumbled across the broadcast by accident, listening to the radio while having tea with my parents on Monday evening. It seems to have gone out on Good Friday and Easter Monday without much fanfare, which is a shame, as it’s an amazingly ambitious piece of broadcasting. There’s live music, poetry readings, drama pieces performed by Ricky Tomlinson and Pauline Daniels, and — for the broadcasting anoraks — some old jingles and readings of internal memos fished out of the archives.

Old logo of BBC Radio Merseyside (95.8VHF Stereo/1485kHz)

Local radio often gets sneered at for being parochial and uninteresting. This programme may be parochial (I imagine most of the references will go over the heads of people from outside Liverpool), but it was absolutely wonderful to listen to.

It’s also a demonstration of the incredible ability of the BBC, in spite of all its flaws, to do something special when it wants to. Commercial rivals like to attack BBC radio as being unfair competition, but this programme was the sort of thing that Radio City or Capital FM would never do – for one thing, it doesn’t involve playing the same 20 records over and over again.

Listen to An Accent Exceedingly Rare: A Love Letter to Liverpool on iPlayer (available until 30 April)

Simon Says

I’ve been mocked in the past, because of my penchant for LGBT cinema. Pretty much every film I’ve gone out to watch in the past year or so has been gay-themed in some way, to the point where I’m starting to think I should watch a Fast and Furious film just to even things up a bit.

It helps that over the last couple of years we have been truly spoiled by a run of excellent gay films – including Holding the Man, Beach Rats, God’s Own Country, Tom of Finland, Handsome Devil, Moonlight, The Pass and Call Me By Your Name. We’re also lucky to have, in Liverpool, the FACT Picturehouse, which regularly screens these films in partnership with Liverpool Pride, offering the opportunity to watch on the big screen, rather than waiting for the films to come out on DVD or streaming services.

DVD cover of "Another Gay Movie" showing main cast

This “gay first policy” extends to my DVD collection too. If there are shirtless guys kissing, or an artfully filmed gay sex scene (one which is essential to the plot, of course), it’s sure to make it onto my shelf, regardless of quality – alongside Beautiful Thing and Christopher and his Kind, I also have dubious quality productions like Another Gay Movie. I’m decluttering at the moment, and I’d get rid of the latter film if I could, but the church bring and buy sale didn’t want it for some reason.

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The long, good, Friday

Picture of Degree Ceremonies booklet and ticket

Back in November/December I wrote about my experiences of the Open University after I received my final degree classification (First Class Honours, not that I’m bragging).

It seems only appropriate to bring you part three in the trilogy, by blogging about my graduation ceremony.

(As an aside, I notice there have only been three blog posts in the five months between those and this one. Gah, sorry everyone. I will try to blog more frequently in future.)

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Aw, Jeez

I can’t quite remember when I first discovered Frasier. I think it was around 1997, when Paramount Comedy started running it five nights a week at 10pm. I stumbled across it one evening while trying to read Mailbox, and quickly became hooked on the show.

I’ll go as far as to say that Frasier is the greatest comedy series ever made. The writing was certainly a cut above most other shows on the air at the time, and the quality of the material was lifted still further by an amazing cast, especially David Hyde Pierce as Niles.

With such a strong cast, it might be easy to overlook John Mahoney as Martin Crane, the retired police officer forced to move in with Frasier, the intellectual son he never quite understood. Over the course of eleven years, Martin’s strained relationship with his sons, and his tendency to puncture their pompousness, provided much comedy gold. There were also some moments of extraordinary pathos amidst the high farce.

I’ve been thinking about the show a lot over the past 24 hours, since hearing the news that John Mahoney passed away on Sunday. There’s not many celebrity deaths that affect me, but this one got me, and I stayed up far too late on Monday evening watching old Frasier clips on YouTube.

I’m very pleased to see Mahoney’s colleagues lining up to say what a good man he was. Frasier writer Joe Keenan was quick to pay tribute, and fellow writer Ken Levine posted a lovely memorial on his blog.

Mahoney had a long career (although he only started acting professionally in his late 30s) with many critically acclaimed performances on stage, film and television. But to me he’ll always be Marty Crane, sitting on his broken Lay-Z-Boy with a can of Ballantine’s.

Discovery Channel

Space. The final frontier.

These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise Discovery. Its continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds using made-up science. To seek out new life and exploit it for our needs.

To boldly go all over the existing continuity.

USS Discovery in space

It’s just over two years since CBS announced the launch of a new Star Trek series – the first since the final TNG spinoff, Enterprise, limped off the air in 2005. The excitement I felt at seeing Star Trek back on TV was tempered by worries that the new series’ creators would get it “wrong”. I felt the same way I imagine Doctor Who fans felt when that show’s return was announced.

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Tweety Seventeen

As the end of 2017 approaches, my general feeling has been that the year has been unbearably shit. The news has been dominated by terrorism, tragedy, and the feeling that the worst people in the world are currently running things.

In need of some light relief, I dug through my Twitter archive from the past year, and unearthed a collection of the good things that happened to me. So, as an antidote to all the awfulness that seemed to be everywhere this year, here is my year in Tweets.

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The University Challenge

I’ve just booked my place at a degree ceremony and arranged the hire of my robes. I’m at the end of my Open University study journey, so here is a summary of it, condensed into one (still too long) post.

The first year of study was gentle enough. Module TU100, “My digital life” was an introductory course, intended to cover a broad range of topics including rudimentary programming, ubiquitous computing and the internet. The highlight was the SenseBoard, a little device containing various sensors (motion, temperature, light) which could be connected to your computer and programmed using Sense, a programming environment “based on” (i.e. the same as) Scratch.

TU100 was intended to get complete beginners “up to speed” so many more experienced computer geeks, like myself, found it quite easy. Indeed, after slacking off midway through the course, I got way behind and had to do one of the assignments without having read any of the previous chapters of course material. I somehow managed to score 99%. Ahem.

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Hope in University

Before reading the rest of this post, you need to play this jingle to set the mood:

Back in the summer of 2011, I was feeling miserable. I was stuck in a dead-end job with no real prospects. Turns out, you need qualifications for a decent career, and for various complicated reasons, I had left school with only GCSEs to my name.

People kept telling me I was “good with computers”. To be honest, I knew this already; my teenage years had been spent cooped up in my bedroom, knocking one out (a BASIC program) night after night.

But how to translate my hobbyist know-how into a piece of paper that I could show to employers? A look back at my tweets from the time shows what I was thinking of:-

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Culture, Clubbed

UK: “Brexit means Brexit”
EU: “OK, you can’t be in the Capital of Culture contest any more.”
UK: “Wah, not like that!”

The website Politico had a minor scoop on its hands this morning, after it got hold of a leaked letter from the European Commission stating that the UK can no longer be part of European Capital of Culture.

What is amazing is how so many reputable news organisations (and Sky News) happily went along with the meme that rapidly developed on Twitter, implying this was a pure act of spite by the European Commission.

The above tweet is rather disingenuous. The rules are perfectly clear: to host the festivities, a country must be in the EU, or part of the EEA/EFTA, or be a candidate for membership. The “outside the EU” countries that have previously hosted have all met those requirements.

I will concede that the timing of the EC’s letter is poor, coming after the five potential host cities spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on bids. However, the UK government did warn last year that Brexit may have an impact on the bids. And given the reckless way the UK has been pursuing its exit, determined to take the UK out of any organisation with the letters E-U-R-O in its name, it can’t be too surprising that the European Commission have pulled the plug. Better now than in 2019 when even more money has been spent, I suppose.

Liverpool, of course, was the last (possibly ever) European Capital of Culture in the UK. I remember the joy I felt listening to the radio when the announcement was made in 2003. Five years later, I was shivering in the crowd outside St George’s Hall to watch the opening ceremony. Giant spiders, Paul McCartney playing Anfield, The MTV Europe Music Awards and many more events, large and small, contributed to a wonderful year.

Small wonder that studies after the event put the benefit to the local region at £750 million, not to mention the boost to the city’s image. It made a refreshing change to see camera crews in the city who were not doing yet another report on social deprivation. The benefits are still being felt nearly 10 years later.

On a personal level, the boost to my own opinion of my home town was incalculable. The received wisdom was that you had to move away from Liverpool to be a success at anything. That changed for me after 2008. Suddenly, it felt like anything was possible in this city (except Everton winning a title).

Thanks to myopic, shortsighted attitudes, no other city will receive that same boost to its economy and cultural life. It’s a sad indicator of what this country will lose by turning its back on Europe.

I do want to write a longer post on Brexit at some point. I need to get to the point where I can think about it without becoming angry and tearful, so you may be waiting some time.

I heard Today, today, oh boy

Radio 4’s Today programme turned 60 today and decided to hold a special programme of self-congratulation. Unfortunately they decided to invite Michael Gove on, and that’s where it all went wrong.

Asked to describe his previous experiences of being interviewed on the programme, Gove responded thus:

What is especially horrible is that fellow panellist Neil Kinnock chimed in with his own “joke”, and the studio audience responded with laughter and applause.

Gove has apologised, but this seems to be a problem with so many areas of public life right now. On an issue which has caused distress and affected the lives of many people, the men in suits can all yuck it up and treat it as a joke. To them, this is all just another game. It’s awful.

Today is 60 years old – so maybe it’s time for it to be retired?