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Tiananmen/Beijing massacre and all that…

Tiananmen/Beijing massacre and all that…

So it’s been twenty-five years since the mass shootings of civilians by soldiers from the Chinese Army. 25 years since I saw the strange footage on the news. 25 years since I was naively asked by my secondary school science teacher if I knew anyone in Beijing.

You’d have thought that having TV cameras and eyewitness accounts would be enough to ensure that some version of the truth would remain.

But no. The Chinese government doesn’t really talk about it, while keeping a very close eye on who goes into Tiananmen Square today. There’s a constant “disagreement” over whether those protesting were students hoping to change the way China worked, or counter-revolutionaries determined to overthrow the state. However, you’d have thought there was a general consensus that those protesting wanted to change *something*.

Unless you’re this Tumblr blogger, who asserts that the students were “resisting their country ‘modernizing’ in the age of Reagan, the godfather of neoliberalism”. Which is an explanation that seems to come so out-of-left-field for me, it beggars belief.

So much so that I had to blog about it, without actually having anything to say. Which is very bloggy, really.

What Google Photo Stories thinks happens on a Friday night in Great Britain…

What Google Photo Stories thinks happens on a Friday night in Great Britain…

Google are proudly trumpeting their new Stories feature, which basically automates the tiresome thing of organising your photos – assuming you’ve let Google+ upload all your photos to the cloud for you. And it’s a pretty nifty automatic feature.

Perhaps too automatic. Because left to its own devices, this is what it trumpeted as one of my more recent stories…

What Google+ Stories did with one of @almostwitty's photos What Google+ Stories did with one of @almostwitty’s photos
The most British thing of all…

The most British thing of all…

It’s sometimes joked or cited (especially by Buzzfeed) that this is the most British thing of all… Stephen Fry walking a corgi outside Buckingham Palace.

The most British thing? Stephen Fry walking a corgi outside Buckingham Palace The most British thing? Stephen Fry walking a corgi outside Buckingham Palace


Indeed, it is the most British thing of all, in the sense that they pretty much all originate from outside England.

Stephen Fry, is one of the finest examples of populist intellectualism that Britain has ever produced. His maternal grandparents were Hungarian Jews.

Buckingham Palace was re-modelled by King George  III. His grandfather was born in Germany.

The Union flag was probably made in China, and was created to celebrate the union of England and Scotland.

The corgi originates from Wales.

The road was possibly originally paved by the Romans.


Now, obviously, as the son of immigrants who nevertheless feels so British that I have to work at the British Broadcasting Corporation, I don’t see this as a bad thing in any way.

But if ever some pig-headed nationalists start saluting to this as a reason to keep immigrants out or to persecute “foreigners” in any way… well, they’re even more idiotic.

How big does an area of the UK have to be to equal the population of London?

How big does an area of the UK have to be to equal the population of London?

Quite big, it would seem.

Areas of the UK with as many people as London Areas of the UK with as many people as London
Everything* wrong with modern businesses in one moment

Everything* wrong with modern businesses in one moment

I was at my local Tesco’s lunch queue, patiently waiting with 30+ people ahead of me in a long snaking queue that goes right across the store. Then a little old lady walks up and down the queue, holding aloft one of those new Tesco tablets, going on about how they’re cheap as chips at £60 and great toys.

A few huge problems with what’s happening:

  • You already have 30+ customers waiting patiently to be served. Instead of trying to sell them something they’re NOT going to buy casually in their lunch hour, why not put your resources into serving your existing customers, before they get fed up of the queue and go somewhere else?
  • You can talk about the new Tesco tablet all you like – it’s NOT something people are going to casually buy while waiting to buy their sandwiches in their lunch hour.
  • The little old lady, bless her, has zero idea what a tablet is. She is obviously just repeating the selling points by rote

The list of failed big companies is littered with examples of where they went chasing after a new product, while in the process totally forgetting about or taking for granted their existing customer base (Blackberry etc.) Looks like Tesco are going the same way.


* Well, ok, not EVERYTHING wrong. There’s the fact that rampant consumerism is burning up what’s left of our planet’s resources while we’re simultaneously still in one of the worst economic recessions ever, while the 1% are still well-off… but hey ho.

The Pet Shop Boys, China and “Thursday”

The Pet Shop Boys, China and “Thursday”

The second-best latest Pet Shop Boys song, Thursday, has just had its video published. Which essentially consists of static footage of the Pet Shop Boys singing mocked up onto billboards in Shanghai.

While the venn diagram of people who love the Pet Shop Boys songs, critique videos and have a vague understanding of Chinese culture may well be just me and Ian Fenn, I would like to point out one (in my mind) flaw:

- There is no Thursday in China. Or Wednesday, Tuesday or Friday for that matter. (You just count days of the week in Chinese – or at least, I do. So when we say Thursday, the Chinese equivalent is “the fourth day”)

Also. Really? Gawping at Chinese billboards and Chinese urban people doing their thing? Aside from it being creatively lazy, didn’t everyone do that in the 1980s with Blade Runner? Why aren’t people bored of this by now?

The same argument goes for Skyfall, which has an entire section set in Shanghai for no real apparent reason other than it’s so “now”. Daniel Craig didn’t even shoot any scenes there…

However, let it be known that the song is many shades of awesome, and should be listened to, loved, and cherished. Although anyone who says that this song is better than Love Is A Bourgeouis Construct needs their ears examining… and why they didn’t make a video for it, is anyone’s guess…

Another random only-in-London moment…

Another random only-in-London moment…

I was outside my local food shop the other night when a woman came up to me and thrust £5 in my hand.

Alas, it was because she wanted me to go in and get her some organic chicken – with a strong emphasis on the word ORGANIC. She couldn’t go in as it would apparently mean tying her yapping dog up.

So being the nice chap that I am, I took her money, verified with her that the chicken was suitably organic, made my own purchases, and gave her her chicken on the way out. (How often do you get to say that?)

And as is always the way when one stranger in London reaches out to another, she had to justify and explain the whole thing. Apparently it was because her boyfriend had inconveniently invited someone round for dinner after a gym session, so she needed more meat. But then, she said, she was a veggie anyway… Why she didn’t tell her boyfriend to pick up something on the way home, I’m not sure.

The TARDIS can be a dangerous thing…

The TARDIS can be a dangerous thing…

TARDIS power isolator

After all, any device that, when blown up, destroys the universe should be treated with care.

So it’s very good to see the BBC are taking their responsibilities very seriously.

(Taken courtesy of the BBC, who invited me to a preview of their actual TARDIS studio tour, which you can now take in Cardiff till the end of August.)

Nostalgia is a dangerous thing

Nostalgia is a dangerous thing

A poster reminding BBC staff about the closure of BBC Television CentreAnyone who loves Britain’s televisual heritage will not have let the closure of BBC Television Centre go by without at least one sad thought of glorious days gone by, lamenting how the creative engine that kept the BBC going will now surely be lost, and how they will no longer find a home or see their friends and colleagues at the bar.

Forgive me for interrupting the nostalgia fest – and none of this is meant to dismiss the great work that went on there – but the two BBC chat’n’compilation programmes that look back at the great days of Television Centre have reminded me of one thing:

As a current BBC employee, there is no way I – or many people I know – would have even had a chance of a job there back in the 1970s. That’s not down to my skills or experience, but simply because my face would not have fit. The two programmes that looked back at Television Centre didn’t feature any non-white people on its various panels, and hardly any women compared to today’s television schedules. What, no room for Floella Benjamin or Lenny Henry on the comfy sofa?

To be fair, this in itself was symptomatic of 1960s/70s Britain, an era where any thought of diversity (by today’s definition) was a sci-fi dream as alien as anything from Doctor Who, but in the mass rose-tinted view of a simpler life where everyone was friends with everyone else, this seems to have been forgotten.

A similar delusion seems to have befallen some people as they realise our television heroes back then were as flawed as their British society counterparts. It’s apparently a shocking revelation in a new Doctor Who behind-the-scenes expose book (ironically written by the man who directed/produced one of the Television Centre tribute shows) that William Hartnell was racist, and senior members of the production team would sometimes use their oblique power of promise to extract sexual favours from fans.

Forgive me if I’m not shocked at the thought that a white British man in his 60s in the 1960s would not have been entirely comfortable with people from other races. Or that the casting couch phenomenon was alive and well in 1980s/90s Britain. As the Seventh Doctor once said in one of the spin-off novels: “Absolute power corrupts absolutely”.

None of this is written to denigrate the creative genius that created moments of joy and laughter for millions of people (or indeed the distress of those on the wrong end of the power equation), but let’s not pretend it didn’t happen. And isn’t happening now.

London – the world-class city where you can’t get a takeaway on a Saturday night

London – the world-class city where you can’t get a takeaway on a Saturday night

Disney characters starvingOne of the many many reasons for living in London is that it’s meant to be a world-class city, the place people flock to.

Well, I hope they don’t want a simple takeaway delivered on a Saturday night because it seems nigh on impossible.

Our first choice was Sufi – a Persian restaurant round the corner rated by Jessie J and Time Out, amongst others. We’ve ordered from there before without any problems, but of course that was on a weeknight. We called them tonight, to be told they don’t deliver on a Saturday night.

Next stop, another Persian restaurant called The Piano in Chiswick. We ordered it via Hungry House seemingly without a problem – thirty minutes later, with our hunger pangs getting ever more desperate, we get an email only to be told they rejected our order without any explanation as to why. I really should have checked the website earlier – they manage to spell Persian wrong on their homepage. Seriously.

Ditching the notion of such exotic cuisine as Persian altogether, we thought we’d retreat to the safety of Chinese food. So tried to call the Drunken Tiger restaurant (great name, amiright?) in Shepherds’ Bush. After five minutes of them not answering their phone, we gave up.

We finally resorted to the tried and tested Seven Stars takeaway round the corner – really, we should have stuck with them from the start, because they took our order without any problem and it’ll arrive in thirty minutes. Fingers crossed.

And now we’re starving and ready for bed at the same time. Not a great combo!