Friday, 31 December 2010

Katie and Alex - Place Your Bets

As 2010 draws to an end, a final blog for the year. Today we touch on the intellect and moral barometer of today's society. Sometimes it's good to reflect on how far we've come.

Bookmakers William Hill have just released their odds for the upcoming year, on the likelihood of celebrity couples staying together during 2011. Katie Price and someone called Alex Reid are favourites to split up, recently shortening from 5/2 to 7/4.

"Our punters seem quite convinced that Katie and Alex are on the rocky road to ruin - it seems as though the only way that this bet will be a loser is if they don't actually make it to 2011," chirped William Hill spokesman Joe Crilly.

Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel's relationship is also tipped to disintegrate at odds of 5/1; Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher, and Vernon Kay and Tess Daly are at 6/1 each. Strictly Come Dancing winners Kara Tointon and Artem Chigvintsev have been given 8/1, despite it being unclear as to whether they're yet in a relationship at all.

Lewis Hamilton and Nicole Scherzinger are at 10/1 to fold, but mysteriously, also 3/1 to tie the knot. Prince William and Kate Middleton, who apparently are to marry next April, have been given odds to split of 66/1, the same as David and Victoria Beckham.

You may or may not like these people. But don't you find the idea of betting on the longevity of their relationships a pretty tawdry one? What are William Hill thinking of - or are they just fulfilling a (gulp) customer requirement? Finally the conspiracy theory: how many celebrities actually court this sort of attention, or play up to it?

A happy new year to all my readers - see you on the other side.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Army Santa

Meet Corporal Andy Salisbury. He's twenty-eight, married, with two children: Mollie, four, and Neve, two. But this Christmas, like the last, Andy won't be at home.

Andy's an army chef, working for the Royal Logistics Corps. Right now, he's getting ready to help troops in Afghanistan experience a touch of the traditional home comforts of Christmas. Tomorrow he'll be making Christmas dinner for five thousand troops at Camp Bastion. With his colleagues across Helmand, Andy will be preparing some fifteen thousand mince pies, and three tonnes each of turkey and gammon.

Recently, Cpl Salisbury was interviewed by a local newspaper from his home town in Devon. He said: "Normally I'd be playing with my kids, and treating them by buying too many Christmas presents. I think what I'll miss most is that we've recently bought a house, and this would've been our first family Christmas there."

Unless you've served in the armed forces it's simply impossible to appreciate what our soldiers in Afganistan go through on a daily basis, let alone at Christmas. Let's take just a minute to hold them in our thoughts.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

2010: Britain's Defining Moments

Below are some of the major events which have affected Britain over the course of this year. A personal list to be sure; there are many other episodes and incidents which could have been included. Over the last few days I've been asking friends to put the list in order of importance; it's fun to see the variations. In no particular order, obviously, we have:

  • The royal engagement
  • Gordon Brown's "bigot" comment
  • Engerland knocked out of the World Cup by Germany
  • Tuition fees riots
  • Closure of UK air space because of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano
  • The first Coalition press conference
  • Glen Miliband becoming leader of the Labour Party
  • Engerland losing the 2018 World Cup bid
  • The Pope's visit
  • Cumbria's shootings
  • Tony Bliar facing the Iraq War Inquiry
  • George Osborne announcing huge spending cuts
  • Our harsh winter weather
  • The first televised political party leaders' debate
As for trends, the Pope's visit came in poorly; sport attracted much more interest. The bad weather, being current, was a strong performer but the royal wedding threatened to go negative, its very inclusion challenged more than once. And the winner? Iceland's disruptive volcano, even more memorable than Glen Miliband's unconvincing Labour leadership win.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Dancing On Snow

The 2011 line-up for ITV's show Dancing On Ice has been announced. Among those participating are ex-Coronation Street actor Steven Arnold, rapper Vanilla Ice, and Kerry Katona. Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean will put the competitors through their paces, while the show's judges will include Robin Cousins.

So what's the appeal to the viewing public? Of course, the judges are peerless; Jayne, Christopher and Robin have every possible technical credential for appearing in such a programme, should they wish to. It's harder to understand why the particular contestants were selected, and what their attraction is.

Jeff Brazier is MSN's 'celebrity blogger' and an ex-partner of Jade Goody. Uh-huh. Elen Rivas is best-known for once being the fiancee of footballer Frank Lampard. Ah yes. Two ex-Hollyoaks actors, a children's TV presenter. Chloe Madeley, daughter of Richard and Judy. Quite so.

If we must have shows like this, I'd prefer the contestants to be unknowns. It might, conceivably, be interesting to watch them develop over the series. Instead though, these programmes are sold to us on the ticket of celebrity participants, stars in whom we should be interested, talented people with pull. Let's take a look at one of them.

Kerry Katona is an English singer, actress, author and television presenter. So says Wikipedia. She was a member of pop trio Atomic Kitten, though she can't play a musical instrument and isn't a songwriter. Kerry's had a variety of children, starred in adverts for budget food chain Iceland, revealed her giblets to the world. She's developed a cocaine habit, and passed through assorted addiction rehab clinics. Kerry's also featured in a string of thought-provoking television programmes: My Fair Kerry, Britain's Sexiest, Kerry and Me.

But her real skill, and that of the people around her, is in capitalising on a succession of publicly-aired experiences in personal turmoil. Kerry's New Search For Love; Kerry's Diet Triumph/Nightmare; Kerry: I'm Clean Now. It's this wretched never-ending parade which, inexplicably, is absorbing
to thousands of people.

The one light in next year's show is soldier Johnson Beharry. In March 2005, Lance Corporal Beharry received the Victoria Cross for twice saving members of his unit from ambushes in Iraq. He's the first person outside the 'world of entertainment' or sport to take part in Dancing On Ice. Let's hope he trounces the show-biz no-marks.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Beer Revolution in Cornwall Brewery

A brewer based in Rock, just across from Padstow in Cornwall, has unveiled fifty-two unique food-based ales - one for every week of the year. Stuart Howe’s tipples include Shellfish Stout – made with oysters, cockles and mussels – the super-strength Barley Tikka Vindaloo, and the offal-based Heston’s Offal Strong Ale, which incorporates chicken liver, kidneys and lamb heart.

Also for your delectation is the super-strength 'Turbo Yeast Abomination From Hell', which packs something of a punch at 22 per cent proof.

‘I appreciate they won't suit everyone and some have been a disaster, but it’s been an interesting experiment,’ says Stuart, disarmingly. 'My favourite is probably a citrus fruit beer. I used seven different types of citrus peel as the flavour - there isn't very much of that one left.'

He added: 'I have a hallucinogenic beer with wormwood and other botanicals coming up in a few weeks. I'm really looking forward to that.'

Stuart's next ambition is to make beer using ‘blood plasma’, if he can find a hospital willing to give him some. Maybe after the NYE traditional celebrations have died down.

And Stuart, beware commercial predators - that's a thin stretch of water you've got there.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Charles and Camilla Go For A Ride

I’m not a fan of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles. Their unearned position and advantage brings me no joy. Unlike TV news presenters, I don’t go dewy-eyed whenever the subject comes up of ‘the royals’. But what bright spark decided to send Charles and Camilla off to the Royal Variety Show, via a violent student demonstration, in the back of a Rolls-Royce Phantom?

The Phantom was a gift to the Queen from Britain’s Car Association. Until recently it was her vehicle of choice, a high-top with a towering roof-line and enormous windows, painted in royal claret livery. Your average Rolls-Royce is around £250,000 but it’s thought the special model cost over £1 million, by the time all its security measures had been nailed on. It’s thirty-three years old, and has the antiquated, snooty styling of its time.

What a stupendous meeting in Regent Street. On the one hand, a multitude of students, agitators and police who’ve been tormenting each other all day. On the other, an unmistakable symbol of Britain’s highest privilege and rank. As it inched through the demonstrators, the ridiculous, inflammatory Phantom was pelted with bags of rubbish, bottles, traffic cones, barriers and paint.

Of course the royals shouldn’t be obliged to sneak around under cover, but surely these days a less ‘rub-your-face-in-it’ car would be more suitable. The Phantom is an absurd and unnecessary anachronism, out of touch with modern developments … oh, wait a minute …

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Police Go Clubbing

During the recent student protest at Westminster Abbey, undergraduate Alfie Meadows was allegedly hit by a truncheon-wielding police officer. He later underwent a three-hour operation to save his life. All told, over fifty people were injured during the demonstration.

Alfie, who's now on the mend, is studying philosophy. Here he is, to our left. Doesn't look like a weapon-carrier, or a man with a naughty dog, does he? More a committed person who feels strongly enough to go on the streets; in doing so, incidentally, he puts to shame today's internet keyboard-warrior brigade.

The rights and wrongs of student finances aren't for this blog, more the behaviour of the boys in blue. Among the students at the demonstration were professional agitators, there to damage property and assault the police. But the police weren't able to weed them out, or marshal the crowds without using violence against legitimate protesters.

This isn't the first time riot squad tactics have come into question. During the G20 demonstration in April 2009 the police managed to find the one innocent bystander not involved, and kill him.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Turkeys' Revenge

Bernard Matthews, founder of the huge company best-known for poultry farming and turkey products, has died. A multi-millionaire, much of his wealth came from such nutritious items as turkey twizzlers, and mechanically-recovered turkey-dinosaur-nuggets. His factories were severely criticised as havens for scavenging birds and rats, their turkey sheds filthy and linked with avian flu.

By an extraordinary quirk of fate, Matthews died on 25 November - in the United States this year, the date on which Thanksgiving fell.

Delicious irony.