Thursday, 28 October 2010

The Apprentice: Melissa Cohen

It's a compelling, can't-tear-yourself-away TV horror story. You are an intelligent person. You watch documentaries and animal programmes. Your television is never left on in the background. But The Apprentice has you in thrall.

This series, with a couple of exceptions the candidates for Lord Sugar's favours are especially odious; absurd posturing, paper-thin skill sets and ghastly, coached self-praise. Because they're so unattractive, the viewer looks forward to their downfall. Generally it doesn't really matter which one is fired.

But last night we watched the exit of quite the worst-behaved contender yet. Over the last few weeks Melissa Cohen has horrified us with non-stop aggression. She could start a fight in an empty room, yet feels she's a great team player. We know this because she tells us.

Self-promotion is Melissa's 'core skill', as she'd probably put it. Throughout the series her only real contribution, apart from arguing with colleagues, has been talking herself up. Occasionally she's made ill-judged lunges toward responsibility, but has then quickly retreated to the background.

Melissa also liked to treat vocabulary as a linguistic Rubik's Cube. This gave rise to her very own words: 'comfortability', 'conversate', 'manoeuverments', and without a trace of irony, 'my professionality'. Idiotic and self-possessed, or really rather endearing and fragile? You decide.

After Melissa was fired, she wouldn't shake hands with the two other nominees. She felt she'd been ganged up on. Why could that possibly have been?

Business is all about grace under pressure. You've got a lot to learn, baby.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Rooney vs Ferguson 2

Should I stay or should I go? To the relief of weeping millions across the globe, Wayne Rooney has changed his er mind and will remain at Manchester United. A simple contract negotiation carried almost to the brink by his agent, probably. Did he ever really intend to leave?

Rooney's signed a five-year contract for an undisclosed wage thought to be as much as a whopping £250,000 per week. Worldwide, only Messi and Ronaldo are in the same league. The news comes as Britain faces big job losses, as well as cutbacks in public services and welfare benefits; some have criticised the size of Rooney's pay packet. These jealous people should simply have tried harder at school.

Due to injury though, Rooney's not actually able to play for a few weeks. He's told his adoring fanbase, "I certainly can't wait to pull on the red shirt." Presumably a shirt formerly belonging to Alex Ferguson.

But Ferguson has at least kept his man, saying: "I'm delighted Wayne's agreed to stay." Rooney replied: "I said on Wednesday the manager's a genius and it's his belief and support that convinced me to stay." All chums again then. Rooney is the first of Ferguson's players to get the better of him, good to see of course, but a real indication of Spud's power.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Rooney vs Ferguson 1

He's off. No more badge-kissing, at least for Manchester United; the spud-faced kid from Liverpool's backstreets is leaving. Wayne Rooney has to think of his future. Perhaps the Light Blues across the city will buy him. Chelsea also have oodles of money. Or maybe a foreign club will come in, presumably from a land where English is widely spoken. Otherwise, Wayne will have no friends.

But for me it's not Rooney who's of interest in this story. I don't mind who he plays for. It's more about Manchester United's manager, Alex Ferguson. Fergie.

For years, Ferguson has come across as a dour controlling bully who, if his face is anything to go by, drinks whisky in more than generous measures. He's fallen out with the BBC, refused post-match interviews, instead putting acolytes before the cameras. Ferguson's rants
over refereeing decisions easily top other managers' post-match moans. And any dissent from his players, even big stars, down the road they go: Beckham, Stam, van Nistelrooy.

We also have 'Fergie Minutes'. This is extra time allegedly added to games Manchester Utd aren't winning, forced on hapless, pressured officials by Ferguson's belligerent presence at the touch-line, demanding just a few more seconds for another attack, another goal.

So it was a pleasant experience to watch the Old Trafford manager on television, bewildered and disappointed, as he announced Rooney's decision. He was quick to deny they'd fallen out, saying, "We are as bemused as anyone can be, we can't understand why he would want to leave." Ferguson said the "door is still open" for Rooney to stay, but admitted feeling dumbfounded when he learned of the player's desire to go.

Clearly, United's chief asset has shaken his unlovable boss, who signed him from Everton in August 2004. And if Rooney does leave, his former club will scoop a small fortune. Everton have a sell-on clause in his contract; they will get 25% of any sum over the £27m United paid for him. A good outcome for Toffees boss David Moyes, who seems a thoroughly decent chap.

Margaret Thatcher 'Not Dead'

Baroness Thatcher has been admitted to hospital. The much-loved 85-year-old former Conservative Prime Minister entered the private Cromwell Hospital in west London yesterday for precautionary tests, as she'd been feeling 'groggy'. Outside the hospital huge crowds waited in torrential rain, anxious for news of the revered control-freak's progress.

According to son Mark, Baroness Thatcher is likely to stay in for a couple of days. But who can really say? It's well-known that sadly, her faculties are now much diminished. To the disappointment of millions she no longer speaks in public.

Thatcher (in hospital bed): "I used to be Prime Minister you know, dear."

Nurse: Of course you did Margaret. Now, arms up."

Cameron's Defence Cuts

Yesterday, David Cameron announced the defence cuts facing Britain's armed forces. Military missions such as the Falklands campaign will be a thing of the past. Britain will never be able to fight another war alone.

Over 17,000 military personnel will go. The expectation is that 15,000 jobs will be axed when Britain withdraws from Afganistan. Not a great show of thanks for the military's work there.

For the future Britain will become highly dependent on allies, who can afford things Britain can't. This is passed off as the benefit of interoperability. In particular, apparently France has agreed make available its aircraft carriers Vichy and Mers-el-Kebir to work with the Royal Navy. The situation's come about because Britain is about to scrap flagship HMS Ark Royal and probably Illustrious, and will spend two years without any carriers at all.

Cameron can't take all the credit for this remarkable turn of events. A “bilateral carrier group interoperability initiative” was proposed back in March 2008 by French president Nicolas Sarkozy, during discussions with Gordon Brown in London. The Ministry of Defence susbsequently described the talks as "aspirational". Whatever would Nelson have said?

But the British Navy will eventually receive two replacement flat-tops of its own. The first will arrive by 2016 if the timetable is to be believed, the second by 2019 when the first will be mothballed. This bizarre plan is felt cheaper than amending the programme in any way, or axing it.

That said, there's no great rush to get the new carriers into service, which will suit the dead hand of MOD's procurement arm. Fixed-wing aircraft won't be available until 2020. For the decade to come, Britain will have no carrier strike capability.

Because next year, the Navy's Harrier jump-jet carrier-borne fleet will be scrapped. These aircraft have been praised worldwide, developed and exported successfully, and are combat-proven. They're also less expensive than the Tornado, which is being retained. When in turn the Tornado shuffles off, it will be replaced by the Typhoon, another RAF type. Royal Air Force 1, Royal Navy 0.

Aircraft carriers without jets; who came up with that? Hard-drinking Defence Secretary Liam Fox, who's warned the cuts will be made "ruthlessly and without shentiment."
But Admiral Lord West, the former First Sea Lord, said last night it would be "nonsensical" to scrap the Harriers before their replacements were delivered.

When it finally arrives, the new carrier jet force will consist of just forty Joint Strike Fighters rather than the 130 previously stated. The JSF is currently under development by an international team - like the Typhoon, which was completed years late.

The RAF's Nimrod MRA4 maritime patrol aircraft is also a casualty of the cuts, but a deserved one. Lumbering and shockingly overspent, the project to upgrade the old aeroplane has finally been put to sleep. The updated aircraft would have come into service nine years late. How's that for benchmark management? Both MOD and BAE Systems should hang their heads in shame.

A decision over the Trident replacement programme has been put off. In five years' time, when it's planned the dusty file will be re-opened, Britain's defence budget will be so small the nuclear deterrent may slip away once and for all. Is this the secret hope of some Coalition members?

Fall-out caused by the announcement has been international. America's blonde bombshell Secretary of State has hinted that because of the cuts, the 'special relationship' between Britain and the USA may come under strain. But never fear. David Cameron has reassured Barack Obama Britain will remain "a first-rate military power." The Falkland Islanders' views have yet to be heard.

Cameron's also cheered us with news that recently, Nicolas Sarkozy has moved to "engage more with NATO." France is in the throes of rejoining NATO after forty years of self-imposed exile.
For a putative military partner this seems a good thing. Then again, maybe Sarkozy's broke too.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Prince Philip: Bon Mots

As he approaches his nineties, in some ways the Duke of Edinburgh is doing OK. He's still quite healthy and agile for a man of his advanced years, his eye for the ladies remains active, he continues to blast away for fun at animals and birds.

But sadly, these days Prince Philip seems to speak less in public. Maybe the Queen has finally curbed his propensity for verbal gaffes; at last, perhaps, his aides have reined him in. Throughout his public life Philip's offensive remarks have been portrayed by the obsequious media as 'unfortunate blunders' and 'attempts to reach the ordinary people'. He's provided entertainment for millions, cheered the nation with lofty, thoughtless insults scattered among those obliged to meet him. Here are a few of the Prince's priceless witticisms over the years:
  • He angered deaf people during a visit to the Welsh Assembly. While he was with a group from the British Deaf Association who were standing near a band, he pointed to the musicians and said: "Deaf? If you are near there, no wonder you are deaf."

  • In 1996 he caused an outcry among gun law reformers when he said: "There's no evidence that people who use weapons for sport are any more dangerous than people who use golf clubs or tennis rackets or cricket bats."

  • He told a Briton he met in Hungary during 1993: "You can't have been here that long - you haven't got a pot belly."

  • In 1995 he asked a Scottish driving instructor: "How do you keep the natives off the booze long enough to pass the test?"

  • The Prince enraged local people in Lockerbie during a visit to the town in 1993. He said to a man who lived in a road where eleven people had been killed by wreckage from the Pan Am jumbo jet: "People usually say that after a fire it's water damage that's the worst. We are still trying to dry out Windsor Castle."

  • During a Royal visit to China in 1986 he described Peking as "ghastly" and told British students: "If you stay here much longer you'll all be slitty-eyed."

  • He said of Canada: "We don't come here for our health. We can think of other ways of enjoying ourselves."

  • At the height of the recession in 1981 he said: "Everybody was saying we must have more leisure. Now they're complaining they're unemployed."

  • In 1966 he provoked outrage by saying: "British women can't cook."

  • Commenting on stress counselling for servicemen in a TV documentary on the 50th Anniversary of D-Day, he said: "It was part of the fortunes of war. We didn't have counsellors rushing around every time somebody let off a gun, asking `are you all right - are you sure you don't have a ghastly problem?'. You just got on with it."

The Duke of Edinburgh, a Great Use of Public Money: Discuss.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Jeremy Kyle: TV To Be Ashamed Of

Recently, a guest on TV's Jeremy Kyle Show hit the presenter in the head with a heavy envelope containing DNA test results which proved he was the father of his girlfriend's baby. Hurled from behind with great force, the envelope's edge caught Kyle around the ear.

Clearly shaken, Kyle turned to confront his guest who threatened to "knock him out." Two bouncers stepped in to calm the situation before it escalated, unfortunately.

The man, named only as Kev, and his girlfriend Elana appeared on an episode called, "Will our relationship survive two lie detector tests and a DNA test." Not included were tests such as general knowledge.

To find suitable guests for his programme, Kyle drives to run-down areas in an ice-cream van full of crack. He parks outside Pound Shops and Cash Converters, laying nets and handing out tickets and drugs. Two weeks later, presto - on one side of the studio a group of fat ugly people, all related and all sleeping with each other; on the other a baying, prurient audience. Kyle stands between them taking the piss and generally, nobody gets it. But every so often it can be a risky business for the pint-sized personality which is why, just out of shot, the bodyguards are on call to protect him. That, and the added dramatic effect if they have to act.

Really, even ITV should be ashamed. The whole purpose of the Jeremy Kyle Show is to present a morbid and depressing succession of dysfunctional people who are in some kind of turmoil. The programme titillates viewers who have nothing better to do with their afternoons than to sit and watch a human form of bear-baiting, which inexplicably goes under the guise of entertainment.