The Obscurer

Category: Obscurer Awards

The Obscurer Awards 2010

Let’s rattle through these shall we?

  • Single – I’m pretty poor at getting into new music, but I like to think that I get there in the end. My occasional listens to either 6Music or Radcliffe and Maconie on Radio 2 tend to do the trick and top me up, and that was the case with Fleet Foxes’ Mykonos which I stumbled upon at the start of Adam & Joe one Saturday, and which was handily the first song they’d played that day and so instantly re-accessible via listen again for a week. Seven days later I was still humming it incessantly and so decided to buy their splendid album. Mykonos is a swooping, swooning piece of timeless folky-beauty that feels like it could have been written in any era but which fortunately for us was written in the current one, and hopefully the Fleet Foxes can build on their impressive start at give us more of the same in future.
  • Album – Doves also got off to an impressive start in their career, but after a bit of a stumble with their patchy second album they returned to top form with 2004’s Some Cities and continued last year with Kingdom Of Rust. The title track was an early single and suggested that the new album would be Doves-by-numbers; certainly the boys aren’t exactly branching off in a different direction here, they’re staying comfortably in their comfort zone, but personally Doves-by-numbers suits me down to the ground. So many good songs that it’s hard to pick out individual highs, although if I had to pick one stand-out track it would be the stunning 10:03, one to turn up loud and which I would love to see them play live.
  • Book – Tim Winton’s Breath, or breathe as I keep pronouncing it, was a book that Simon Mayo’s book panel were so effusive in praise of that I snapped it up the minute I saw the paperback version in the shops. It’s a very easy read, drawing you in from the first page as the narrator recounts a period in his teens when he and his mate, both of whom would spend their days engaged in risky stunts, are befriended by a local surfer, and the book follows the trio as they push their skills to the limit as they compete against the waves, themselves and each other. Friendship is severely tested by events, jealousies and the surfer Sando’s girlfriend, and throughout there is a tone that tells you it isn’t going to end with everyone happily sharing a beer together. While reading this book it owns you completely and the quality of the writing is simply wonderful; surfing, like skiing, is something I think of as being for other people, but Winton’s descriptions make you understand the exhilaration you must feel when catching a big wave. An exquisite work; the only problem is that it’s so good that I’m reluctant to give his other books a go as I fear I’ll be disappointed.
  • Film – Bolt is a sort of animated anthropomorphic Truman Show where the eponymous dog believes he has super powers, when in fact he stars in a television programme about a hero dog. Cocooned in his fantasy world he breaks out when he thinks that his owner – and TV show co-star – is in danger, but once in the real world he gradually realises that things are not what they seem. In many ways it is a retread of some earlier Pixar themes; Bolt, like Buzz Lightyear, has to get accustomed to the fact that he is not what he had assumed he was, the cat Mittens knows what it is like to get left behind as children grow up, like Jesse in Toy Story 2, and so on. There are better animated films about but it’s all mildly diverting, and the only film I saw in the cinema last year. Hold on, though; wasn’t Bolt released in 2008? Oh bugger. But I think I only watched it in 2009. Does that count? I dunno. Oh forget it.
  • Sport – I’ve already mentioned the First Ashes test at Cardiff, and I’ll stick with that for my sporting moment; a perfect example of Test Cricket, as tense a sporting occasion as I can imagine, and the antithesis of the supposedly more exciting Twenty20 as, on the fifth day, England’s last two batsmen, unconcerned with actually scoring runs, were instead hell-bent on just hanging on to their wickets as the final overs ticked away. Unforgettable, yet something that England seemed to be making a habit of in the recent tour of South Africa.
  • TV – The funniest TV moment of the years has to have been on Noel’s HQ, with Noel Edmonds completely losing it on national television (albeit on a Sky 1 programme that no-one watches). It looks like an appalling show, one designed to take each spurious pile of cack from the tabloid agenda to make it appear that Britain is going to the dogs regardless of any real evidence, and to uncritically present such bollocks as fact in front of a baying mob. Specifically, on this clip Noel featured the story of an injured soldier who had been denied planning permission for his family to build a new adapted home for him on their land. There may be something in their complaint, although the local authority did say they were happy to speak with the family to try to resolve the problem; what really seemed to get Edmonds’ goat through was a council spokesman’s refusal to appear on Noel’s HQ because it was what he described as an “entertainment show”, a statement that drove Edmonds into a fit of apoplexy while the audience for this programme dedicated to keen investigative journalism booed and waved those massive foam hands in the air, just like we used to see on World In Action and Weekend World Gladiators and Robot Wars in their pomp. What an oaf. (For genuinely good television, I really enjoyed Red Riding, The Street and the Doctor Who special The Waters Of Mars.)
  • Radio – I’ve never read John Irving’s A Prayer For Owen Meany, although I’ve always fancied it. So when Radio 4 adapted it for The Afternoon Play early in 2009 I decided to save myself the bother and to listen to its five parts. It was a brilliant and moving production; the always excellent Toby Jones was excellent as Owen and the typically dreadful Henry Goodman was excellent as the narrator John, as we entered the world of their peculiar friendship which endures despite an incident in which Owen hits a baseball which strikes and kills John’s mother, and which assists Owen in thinking that his life is part of some divine plan. Owen is also beset by a recurring dream in which he believes he knows the time and some of the circumstances of his own death, but not the where or why other than that it will be part of God’s plan. An ominous inevitability then hovers over the piece until the final act and the full picture is revealed, at which I shed some tears for a few minutes before packing my daughter in her pram and left to collect my son from school, drying my eyes as I did.
  • Blog – Although I had read a few of his posts before, 2009 was the year I really began to read Anton Vowl’s Enemies Of Reason regularly. Anton specialises in taking some old toss from a newspaper and ripping it to shreds, exposing it for the duplicitous, disingenuous or outright deceitful load of nonsense that it is. It would be easy to criticise this as shooting fish in a barrel as we all know how bad the papers are, but Anton is a hugely likeable writer and finds endless variation in describing the papers’ failings, often finding just the right words in doing so. And it is all done with the most honourable of intentions; it doesn’t take much to show the Daily Mail up for the hateful rag it is, but Anton stresses how he doesn’t just hate the Mail, he would like it to thrive and be good, and seems genuinely sad that it isn’t, a magnanimous attitude which has affected my own views on our actually-existing media. He is also something of an evangelist for the idea that, while many journalists may often look down their noses at “mere bloggers”, in fact the best bloggers have nothing to learn from and much to teach their professional counterparts, and Anton himself is a great advert for that line of thought. Recently Anton stated he would be branching out a little more, covering issues other than the media’s decline, and that is certainly a journey I will follow him on.
  • Castle – Although I’ve been to Falmouth a few times – munching on a pasty in The Waterman pub overlooking the harbour, estuary and St Mawes is a regular treat – we’d never been to Pendennis Castle, but we remedied it last summer. Our trip coincided with the August Bank Holiday and it was an exceptional event; just £20 bought our family entry to two jousts, a juggler, a performance of medieval music and the finest falconry display I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a few. Oh, and the small matter of having the run of Pendennis Castle itself, of course, with its many rooms and ramparts and staircases, all great fun for an inquisitive six- and two-year old and their aging dad lagging behind. Extraordinary value for money, so much so that we’ve decided to join English Heritage as a result (which, along with our existing membership of the National Trust means that there aren’t many old wrecks left in the country that we haven’t got covered, and I think we more or less own Stonehenge and its immediate vicinity outright).

Right, that’s that. I don’t think I’ll bother with this crap next year. But then I say that every year.

The Obscurer Awards 2009

After last year’s Obscurer Awards I received a polite email from an inquisitive PR researcher enquiring into the nature of the awards and asking if I would like them to be included in their listings publication. For this to happen they would need a little more information: When are the awards announced? For how long have they been going? How much media attention do they get? Could I provide the names, numbers and email addresses of an events organiser, a pr contact and for somebody who deals with sponsorship queries? Are any sponsors involved and if not, is this something I would be interested in?

I didn’t have the heart to respond, but to pre-empt any similar enquiries this year the answers are: sometime after New Year, when I can be arsed to get around to it; this is the fifth year I have managed to be bothered with this self-imposed chore; I get upwards of 3 page views a day, and although FeedBurner suggest I have around 30 reader I’m sure they pluck that figure from mid-air; my hard-working, conscientious and megalomaniacal character means I alone am the events organiser, pr contact, sponsorship director and brew maker; and since ditching Google AdSense a while back I currently receive no sponsorship, although I am receptive to any offers involving Chunky KitKats.

And so to business.

  • Single – “You don’t really care for music do you?” squawked Alexandra Burke as her massacred version of the classic “Hallelujah” was trebucheted into the Christmas Number 1 slot. She was referring to herself in the second person as she did so, no doubt, and in trying to inject as much emotion as she could into the song she inadvertently bled it dry, leaving a truly beautiful and powerful song an ugly cadaver on the slab. She’s not alone. It’s a commonly held view that the music charts are more about business than music these days, but I can’t agree, mainly because I barely notice what goes on in the charts anymore. There was a time when I avidly sought out and snapped up new tunes, when I felt passionate about music, where I would regularly be seen leaving HMV with an armful of vinyl. Nowadays music must sneak up and catch me unawares. I’ll take a liking to a song used to advertise the forthcoming BBC drama season, say, or that features in the background of a scene on TV, or which I overhear in a pub, and via a Google search and a trip on YouTube I discover that I like Arcade Fire, The Fratellis or The Magic Numbers. It shouldn’t be this way, but it is. And last year not much sneaking up on me was done. I’m perhaps overlooking a load of great music, but the only thing that really took my fancy was The Last Shadow Puppets’ “The Age Of The Understatement, a cracking song that was almost a manifesto for their album of the same name, leaving you in no doubt that you were going to get a recording choc-full of ’60s style film-theme type songs with swooping strings and stuff. The song has been criticised as being a rip-off of Muse’s “Knights of Cydonia”, but I personally think it’s better (and all the better for not being called “Knights of Cydonia”) and while the album itself is a bit formulaic, if a formula works who cares? In fact, around five tracks into the album I do kind of go “alright, I’ve got the idea now” and I lose interest, but there are no such concerns when listening to a single, and The Last Shadow Puppets is a worthy side project while we await the next Arctic Monkeys release.
  • Album – I was confused when Radcliffe and Maconie started pushing the Elbow song “Grounds For Divorce” on their Radio 2 show. Sure, it was a fine enough song, but wasn’t it bound to be a one off? I’d heard Elbow before and dismissed them as playing a sort of sub-Coldplay mush. But I was wrong (I was confusing them with Athlete, I think). The follow-up single “One Day Like This” was just fantastic, a glorious, swooning epic of a song, and at my wife’s bidding we bought the album The Seldom Seen Kid while on holiday in Caernarfon. It was a particularly fine time to obtain such an atmospheric album, and I think I will always associate the opening notes of “Starlings” with our first listening to the album in the car on the coast road back to Llandudno, driving in the lashing rain, past the crashing waves and through those tunnels hacked out of the rock. As such “The Seldom Seen Kid” joins a select group of what are to me instantly evocative recordings, such as the first Stone Roses LP, where the opening of “I Wanna Be Adored” always transports me back to that snowy day when I bought the vinyl in Leeds. Back to “The Seldom Seen Kid”, though, where there are a positive welter of standout tracks with an uncanny ability to move; “The Loneliness Of A Tower Crane Driver” effortlessly evokes a feeling of floating on high within its first few opening chords, while on “Bones Of You” the marriage of characteristically poetic lyrics, crashing syncopation and sudden mood swings has the power to takes you away from wherever you are to wherever you want to be. I know I’m far from alone in recommending this record – it’s won the Mercury Award for one thing – but it was a pleasant surprise to find an album of such depth so late in the day, and when I wasn’t really looking.

    Another thing. Elsewhere, I believe Oasis released an album? I did hear the first single from it and I thought it sounded so workaday at to beggar belief. It’s not that it was bad, just very average; but so average that I began to call into question my avid youthful devotion to the band. Were their earlier songs really any better, or just different, less familiar sounding? I can’t be sure. Perhaps they were always pretty average, it’s just that they purveyed the right brand of averageness that caught my interest and the mood of the times. Whatever; they can’t take away my many happy memories of those early days, even if in the end they appear like that proverbial oasis, the kind that ultimately turns out to be a mirage.
  • Book – Among the books I read last year I think only one was actually published in 2008, that being William Sutcliffe’s “Whatever Makes You Happy”, and it is a solid work, a return to the more comic style with which he made his name after the deadly serious (and excellent) “Bad Attitude”, and as with all of his novels it is well worth a look. I also began reading and enjoying Jasper Fforde’s “Thursday Next” books, wonderfully silly and inventive crime novels set in the 1980’s, but an alternative 1980’s where the Crimean War is still being fought, Wales is an independent republic and the hero is a detective who investigates the kidnapping of characters from classic works of fiction. Fforde’s first book was a great fun read once I’d finally got around to finishing Hayek’s “The Road To Serfdom”. Hayek’s book somewhat surprised me, actually; it is often quoted as a sort of Libertarian handbook that shows how any minor move towards socialism can only be the thin end of a slippery wedge towards totalitarianism. In fact the book provides loads of examples of what Hayek considers justifiable state intervention but which many a Libertarians could consider state intrusion, and much of what he says is in fact little more than statements of the bleeding obvious, albeit statements that probably weren’t bleeding obvious and which needed saying back in the 1940s. As someone who considers himself to be broadly “of the left”, but who never understood why controlling the commanding heights of the economy was considered a good idea, there is much to agree with here; where Hayek fails in my mind is in too lazily conflating mild socialism or social democracy with collectivisation, and in predicting that restricting economic freedoms through, for example, nationalisation, would lead to dictatorship, which we all now know didn’t happen. A good book, but one I feel is very much of its time. My favourite book, however, was Paul Auster’s “The Invention Of Solitude, in particular the first part of that work entitled “Portrait Of An Invisible Man”. In it Auster ruminates on his father, as he engages with the task of sorting out his father’s affairs following his death. While some books are great to dive into and race through, here you want to read it slowly, to take everything in, to savour every word. The turn of phrase, the way Auster pulls out just the right word, it’s like reading a masterclass in creative writing. Sometimes, when reading a book, I may feel that, with a good headwind, I could write something nearly as well. With Auster you know you can never even come close, such is his genius. In one interview reprinted in “The Red Notebook” Auster talks of how “whenever I complete a book, I’m filled with a feeling of immense disgust and disappointment. It’s almost a physical collapse. I’m so disappointed by my feeble efforts that I can’t believe I’ve actually spent so much time and accomplished so little. It takes years before I’m able to accept what I’ve done – to realize that this was the best I could do. But I never like to look at the things I’ve written. The past is the past, and there’s nothing I can do about it any more.” If this is true, and the books on the page are a shadow of the books in his head, then I shudder to think how good those imagined books really are.
  • Film – Once more, this category is a complete waste of time. Last year, however, I did at least watch one film at the cinema, and so, by default, the best film of the year is Easy Virtue. It was alright; an adaptation of a Noel Coward play set in a stately home in the ’30s, wouldyoubelieveit. Decent acting, a decent script, it nicely filled the gap between a trip to The Black Bull in Coniston and our tea at The Angel in Bowness during a brief weekend in the Lakes without the kids. It’s a BBC Film, so will probably be on telly in a few months, so watch it if you like.
  • Sport – The Olympics, and the strangely competent performance of the UK team, probably dominated this year of sport. From a personal point of view, City becoming the richest football club in the world – or at least, the football club with the richest owners – sticks in the mind, as does the reaction from some to the effect that “how dare City think that they can just gatecrash the Premier League’s top table by spending loads of money just like the teams currently at the top have done I mean don’t they know their place”, and the widespread schadenfreude that we have so far failed to set the world alight (I can sympathise with many of the concerns expressed about too much money ruining the game; just not when they are made by United and Chelsea fans.) But the sporting moment that really made me sit bolt upright was at the tail-end of 2008 watching “The Big Fat Quiz Of The Year” on Channel 4 which featured an interview with Steve Mclaren on Dutch TV. In case you missed it it’s all there, with the Dutch interviewer speaking perfect English to a Steve McLaren who inexplicably starts talking in a cod-Dutch accent. Okay, you may say, he’s been in Holland for a little while and perhaps he’s picked that up a bit of the accent, and perhaps when it looks like he’s grasping for the English equivalent to a Dutch word he’s really speaking slowly to assist the Dutch interviewer. But why speak in pidgin English as in “Liverpool or Arsenal…I thought maybe one of them we would draw”. Why say “we are, what you call, underdogs?” as if he is a Dutchman using an unfamiliar British phrase in the presence of a Briton. It’s a very odd performance; the Steve McLaren roadshow rumbles inexplicably on.
  • TV – “Outnumbered” made me laugh, “Little Dorrit” kept me gripped following a slow start, “Simon Schama’s American Future” educated me and “Doctor Who” remained essential viewing, even if the ratio of brilliant to below-par episodes seems to be increasing. But in common with others it was Frank Cottrell Boyce’sGod On Trial that stands out for me. I missed it at first showing, as an annoying three-way clash on the telly confounded even my Humax PVR, but for once I was grateful for my daughter’s wayward sleeping habits as I was downstairs comforting her when the repeat came on the Sign Zone. As it was, then, I watched the whole thing over the shoulder of the person doing the sign language, but it didn’t seem to blunt its power. It is very much an old school television play, of the sort we used to get weekly on Play For Today but which are now few and far between. Largely set in a single room in Auschwitz, the play is based on a true story of a group of Jewish prisoners who decided to judge whether or not God was guilty of having broken his covenant with the Jewish people. The talent-packed cast features many stirring performances as the two sides of the argument are probed and pulled apart, but throughout it all there is a sense of anticipation as Antony Sher’s character sits silently taking it all in, until he finally speaks, so bringing his devastating analysis to the situation. Overall it iss an all too rare example of what television can do.

    Two other things. In 2008 television lost two very different characters in Jeremy Beadle and Geoffrey Perkins. Among his huge contribution to television comedy, I will mainly remember Perkins as the co-writer of “Norbert Smith – A Life”, the fake documentary starring Harry Enfield as the eponymous actor reminiscing with Melvin Bragg over his long and varied career. I’ve mentioned before that I feel it was Enfield’s finest hour, and shockingly that post is one of only a handful of sites listed when you Google “Keep Your Hair On Daddio”, the others being Wikipedia and IMDB. “Norbert Smith” is also unavailable to buy on DVD, and even a VHS copy will set you back £25 on Amazon (although I still have my copy taped off Channel 4). This is frankly a disgraceful situation, and one that should be sorted out immediately in Geoffrey Perkins’s memory.

    Jeremy Beadle had a lesser effect on my TV viewing, but I applaud him for a particular edition of “Chain Letters” he hosted back in, oh, 1987 or something, that I watched with my Mum one afternoon. In one round, one of the three contestants was given a four letter word – say “cone” – and asked to change one letter to make another word. The contestant had to say which letter of “cone” he wanted to change and the other two had to guess what the new word would be. The premise was simple enough; change the letter that gives you the most options to make different words; the more words you can make, the more words your opponents have to choose from, the less likely they will be able to guess the word you have chosen. In “cone”, then, it would make sense to change the “c”, since that means you have the option to choose “bone”, “done”, “gone”, “hone” and so on, a huge set of words to pick from, and the odds on your opponents guessing the same word are somewhat slim. What you definitely don’t want to do is to change a vowel, as usually that means you will only be able to change it to another vowel, so giving you a maximum of four other words to pick from, and so increasing your opponents’ chances of guessing to a healthy 25%. Anyway, in this particular episode, and against all common sense, the contestant proudly announced that he wanted to change the “o”. My Mum’s jaw dropped, I just stared in disbelief. Eh!? What?! Unless “cene” and “cune” are words (and my spellchecker is telling me they aren’t) then the contestant could only chose to change the “o” to “a” for “cane” or to “i” for “cine”; two options only, giving his opponents a 50% chance of guessing correctly. But it was Beadle’s reaction that was a peach. “I don’t believe it!” he spat contemptuously, all professional bonhomie forgotten. In the event, one of the other contestants went for “cane”, one went for “cine”, and Beadle composed himself to commiserate with the ill-fated fool and politely explained to him where he had gone wrong. But Beadle’s initial reaction was a refreshing one, a rude reaction for sure but one that spoke of a very human fallibility, the sort of thing even then you felt would have been edited out and which definitely would nowadays, to preserve that unreality that it seems is so essential on TV. For allowing us that uncharacteristic glance behind the curtain – and for that alone – I thank and think kindly of Beadle.
  • Radio – This year’s award goes to Radio 4, all of it. Well, most of it. I had been a regular listener to Radio 5 Live – it was certainly my default station – but after two consecutive days of listening to the moronic imbecilic ravings of utter ignoramuses being given both airtime and credence by Victoria Derbyshire on her mid-morning phone-in show I questioned what the hell I was doing and decided to make a list of all the things that were still worth listening to on the station. When I’d finished the list read “Simon Mayo…” and that was it. Why, then, was I still listening to 5 Live? As it happened I was already aware of some of the fine programmes to be found over on Radio 4, having swapped “Drive” for “PM” and “Breakfast” for “Today” some time ago, but I was somewhat scared about making that final decisive switch, to cross that particular Rubicon; because what happens if you switch on Radio 4 and it is in the middle of some boring play, or broadcasting a tedious documentary about Parmesan cheese? But since taking the plunge and dropping the increment from 5 to 4 I haven’t looked back and my fears have proven unfounded; many of those plays are excellent, for example, and the half hours devoted to Parmesan cheese, sea salt or cider on “The Food Programme” are a pure joy. In fact, since making the leap I’ve discovered that the very eclectic sense of the unknown, the fact that you often don’t know quite what is coming next, is part of the appeal of the station. Sure, there are some pretty hit-and-miss comedies, but even then the World Service is only a click away on a digital radio, and put together these two radio stations seem to be making a lone rearguard action in the face of an increasingly pathetic and tabloidesque media (Channel 4 News’s utter capitulation here by increasingly engaging in brainless, headline-hogging fuckwittery has meant I have also stopped watching it in the last year).

    The BBC in general and BBC radio in particular was under the cosh last year of course, yet rather than complain about Nicky Campbell’s 5 Live Breakfast debacle being extended by an hour people seemed instead to get worked up by the Ross / Brand affair, wherein an extended joke went badly wrong, but where ultimately the only legitimately offended party sought an apology that was duly issued and accepted. For me the continued idiocy of the media’s collective outrage over the affair shows just how valuable the BBC still is, despite its many fault. However, a mischievous part of me has decided that I would like to join those who want to see the corporation abolished; to give me time to read more books, to shut the whining yaps of the Mail et al on at least one subject, and so I can have a laugh as the existing commercial media outlets suddenly have to compete for that dwindling pool of advertising revenue with a newly privatised BBC. Then let’s see how good an idea scrapping the licence fee seems to them.
  • Blog – One happy by-product of the Ross / Brand affair was that in suspending Jonathan Ross from his Saturday morning Radio 2 show I began to listen to Adam and Joe on 6 Music instead. What has that got to do with blogs? Well, not much really, other than to say that last year I finally “got” blogs audio equivalent, podcasts. I could never really see the point of them before, but when Andrew Collins and Richard Herring started putting one out early last year, as a fan of the pair I decided to give it a go. Loyally I would still say that the weekly Collings and Herrin podcast is my favourite, being exactly 1 hour, 6 minute and 36 second of humorous and explicit musings on the newspapers, homeopathy, the Mitford sisters and Richard’s curious sexual proclivities; but since losing my podcasting cherry I have also enjoyed Stephen Fry’s more irregularly published podgrams, where he talks on all manner of subjects usually by way of mentioning Oscar Wilde, and the aforementioned Adam and Joe’s weekly effort which is the edited highlights of their 6 Music show minus the music, and which always has me in absolute stitches. The Mark Kermode film podcast is also great if I get waylaid and miss his Friday appearance on the Simon Mayo show, and my son has taken to the CBeebies Best Bits effort with gusto. The result is that I now see a point to the iTunes store (subscribing to podcasts there seems to be the easiest way to stay up to date and ensure you never miss an episode) and I have single-handedly given a boost to the consumer electronics industry by buying an iPod shuffle for the car (rather than continually having to borrow my wife’s) and a Pure Evoke Flow internet radio for the home, to simply listen to both podcasts and those many fine Listen Again programmes from Radio 4.
  • Castle – And finally a new category this year, since my son is of an age when he often wants to visit castles; or rather visiting castles is one of the things we have decided to do with him since he enjoyed Edinburgh Castle so much the year before last. This year we’ve visited Conwy and Caernarfon, wandered outside Durham (which was closed for university graduations) and driven past Pembroke. I’m sure there have been others, but I can’t think of them just now. The view of Conwy Castle as you approach it is particularly spectacular and memorable, but overall I think Caernarfon takes the prize; its great hexagonal towers hugely impressive from the outside, and while inside it is at first strikingly similar to Conwy there is far more exploring to do, with great fun to be had climbing up towers, along walls and across bridges. Shame we never saw Barnaby Bear, though. Caernarfon itself is a crackingly picturesque walled town and we’ll definitely be back, though hopefully in better weather than the constant drizzle we endured last year.

The Obscurer Awards 2008

Firstly, my apologies if this site is intermittently running slow for you; I have looked into the problem and have narrowed it down to being something to do with computers. If you find it annoying then pity me, because all my WordPress admin stuff is running just as slowly. Hopefully it will resolve itself in time, but for now my only option seems to be to grin and bear it.

Secondly, welcome to the contractual obligation that is the Obscurer Awards. When I first did one of these, some three years ago, it seemed like a great idea. By last year is had become more like a chore, but something inside me still makes me want to write this rubbish, even if no-one wants to read it, so I will just try not to waffle on quite as much this time around, although I will probably fail in that endeavour. Any road up, here we go.

  • Single – Arctic Monkeys/Brianstorm. For me the year’s best single should be more than just a good song, but something you hear all over the place and that is not simply the latest track released from an already familiar album. This makes picking my favourite single tricky as I hardly ever listen to chart music. My largest dose of the stuff comes around May when I tend to go on holiday someplace that has a pitiful medium-wave reception and I end up listening to more Radio 1 than I would choose. Fortunately last year my holiday in Cornwall more-or-less coincided with the release of the Arctic Monkey single that preceded their 2nd album Favourite Worst Nightmare, so there was much singing along in the car to Brianstorm as we pootled to Praa Sands and Mousehole. And a very fine thing it is too; not as good, perhaps, as their more recent single Teddy Picker, but a muscular number all the same that dispelled any understandable fears that the Monkeys would be a flash in the pan. Meanwhile, Brianstorm’s evil twin was Jamie T’s Sheila, which I heard far too many times on my holiday; a painful number sung in the sort of mockney drone you associate with an alumnus of Reed’s School. But hopefully I won’t have to endure that crap ever again.
  • Album – Radiohead/In Rainbows. This is a far easier category to award, as there were a number of good albums out last year. The aforementioned Arctic Monkeys LP showed a nice developing sound, while Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible, if lacking the other worldly brilliance of their debut Funeral, was still an excellent collection of songs; but I think Radiohead’s album pips them all. I have already covered In Rainbows in some depth here, so suffice it to say that a few months on I can now put names to all the tracks and I am still listening to it regularly. Christmas also brought the £40 discbox featuring a second CD with six further tracks, all of which could easily have made it onto the album proper. They really have spoiled us this time.
  • Book – Magnus Mills/Explorers Of The New Century. When I finally, finally finished the Mao biography, I began a new regime of trying to read at least a chapter of a book a day in order to make inroads into my reading backlog, and it has been a great success. Of everything I have read Magnus Mills’ latest novel stands out. Written in his usual spare style, and in a tone reminiscent of his novel Three To See The King, it was great to be back in Mills’ strange and unsettling world as we discover the story of two groups of adventurers setting off with their packs and mules to see who can first reach the Agreed Furthest Point. Wonderfully bizarre as usual, it comes as a shock around three-quarters of the way in as the truth about the mules hits you like a thunderbolt, and the whole piece becomes that bit darker. Stiff competition, but I think this slim tome is Mills’ best novel yet.
  • Film – Pan’s Labyrinth. Every year I apologise for not having seen any of the previous year’s films, and this year is no exception. So I’m going to cheat by picking a film that was actually released right at the end of December 2006, which is as near as dammit last year, give or take, so I’m having it. Anyway. The story of a young girl who escapes into a fantasy land to get away from the cruel reality of her life with her stepfather, an army captain whose job it is to crush the resistance in the early years of Franco’s Spain, Pan’s Labyrinth manages to be both magical and brutal, a stunning tale that is visually magnificent, and which stays in the memory for days after you have seen it.
  • Sport – Manchester United vs Chelsea: FA Cup Final. Commonly regarded as the worst FA Cup Final for some years, the reason I have picked it as my sporting highlight is because of what it represents. In the lead up to the match all the talk in the media was about how epic the match would be, with the nation’s two top sides battling it out at the new Wembley. I personally wasn’t that bothered; what with United and Chelsea having so dominated the league all season I had no enthusiasm for the game. Little did I realise I was not alone. I was in Sennen on the day, and decided to pop to catch the last 10 minutes of the game at the Old Success pub; coincidently, I had watched some of the previous year’s final at the same pub. On that occasion the place was choc-a-bloc with people watching Liverpool defeat West Ham; this time the place was deserted, apart from a couple of blokes and the barman. Not exactly scientific I know, but for me it seems a striking example of how football’s trend towards monopoly means that the sport seems to be losing its way and its grip on the imagination, even while the media, clubs and FA continually talk it up.
  • TV – Frontline: Afghanistan. Much as I may moan that the telly is shit, I still end up with loads of stuff on my PVR that I have to wade through, and at this time of year as I try to pick a favourite I realise just how much good stuff there is amongst the dross. I should say a special thank you to In The Night Garden and Pokoyo, the Calpol and Calprofen of children’s television, for their hypnotic effect on my daughter, who can go from screaming teether to compliant angel in a blink of an eye the moment they come on. Elsewhere I enjoyed Channel 4’s anniversary, re-showing A Very British Coup and Dennis Potter’s interview with Melvyn Bragg; Flight Of the Conchords deserves praise for being the best new comedy show in ages; Screenwipe and TV Burp still beautifully mock the medium that feeds them; and Doctor Who continued its erratic but generally fine form – I thought the Christmas special was crap, but one episode in particular, Blink, was the best bit of drama all year (and which, if you read this in time, you can watch tonight at 7pm on BBC3; failing that, you can borrow my son’s DVD.) But for me the stand out piece of work was Vaughan Smith’s film for Newsnight as he was embedded with 12 Brigade of the Grenadier Guards in Afghanistan as they went on an operation with the new Afghan army in Helmand province. Newsnight’s films can be quite hit and miss, coming as they do from a variety of sources, and I had no expectations when I started watching the film, but I was soon gripped as I witnessed what the troops out there have to deal with. It was humbling stuff; and you can watch the whole 16-minute film here.
  • Radio – Radcliffe And Maconie. Mark Kermode’s demolition of Pirates Of The Carribean 3 on Simon Mayo’s show is one highlight of last year, but the combination of Mark Radcliffe and Stuart Maconie on Radio 2 has given me a great listening alternative between 8 and 10 of a weeknight. I don’t know how they came together, and in fact they often aren’t together as one of them may be on holiday or covering another show, but either way they are always good value. A highlight for me would have to be the serendipitous moment when I turned on the radio just as they started playing Madder Rose’s Beautiful John, a song I hadn’t heard for years but still love, made all the more special for Mark’s admission that he only played it because he stumbled upon the LP while clearing out his records. It jogged his memory, and in turn mine, as it took me back to when I first heard the song, at a time when I would alternate between Craig Cash on KFM and Mark Radcliffe’s old evening show on Radio 1. So that’s rather neat, isn’t it?
  • Blog – Chase Me, Ladies, I’m In The Cavalry. Late to the party as ever, Chase Me Ladies was just one of the many blogs that I had heard about but never read, until I came across it one day and realised what I had been missing. Harry Hutton has a wonderfully wry sense of humour and each brief and pithy post is a joy; what’s bloody typical is that since I have become a reader he posts less and less frequently, but when he does it is well worth the wait.

The Obscurer Awards 2007

Well, here we are in the third year for the awards they said, and hoped, would never last. But who are “they”? What is it with those shadowy “they” people that “they” feel “they” have the authority to foist “their” opinions upon “others”? If you ask “me”, “they” have a lot to answer for. But did “you” ask “me”? Who are “you” anyway? And who am “I” in the first place?

Oh let’s just get on with it.

  • Single – Muse/Supermassive Black Hole. My wife and I engage in an amusing dance (amusing for whom I wonder?) each time we get in the car. When it is my turn I find the stereo set to Radio 1 and change it over to Radio 5; when my wife gets in the car she changes it back to Radio 1. When we are both in the car Radio 5 usually wins, because I drive more often and am far less tolerant of others’ choices than is my wife. Occasionally, however, Radio 1 wins out, usually when I am too tired to care, or when my intolerance of Radio 1 is trumped by my intolerance of a specific Radio 5 presenter (let’s call him Nicky Campbell for the sake of argument). In the middle of last year, on those odd occasions when Radio 1 did survive past a few seconds I would usually hear Muse’s Supermassive Black Hole, and as such it was almost the permanent soundtrack to my Radio 1 listening. And it is a great song. I have always liked Muse, been impressed by the way each track manages to eek out some variety from the basic formula of fiddly guitar riffs and falsetto singing. This song though is a bit different; less serious than the norm, more playful, even slightly sensual, the lyrics on a more simple human level than the usual hogwash they churn out, with a low down and grinding guitar line. Always more a band to be admired than take to your heart, this song suggested a change was in the offing. In fact, the subsequent album proved largely to be business as usual. Can you really love a band with tracks entitled “Map Of The Problematique”, “Exo-Politics” and “Knights Of Cydonia”? I can’t. But I still like this song.
  • Album – Arctic Monkeys/Whatever People Say I am, That’s What I’m Not. This was going to be a tricky category. Razorlight’s eponymous album was listenable, Divine Comedy’s below-par, Thom Yorke’s was great at first but interest soon paled (definitely one you need to be in the mood for) and Badly Drawn Boy’s was a slow grower, but I’m still not wholly sold on it. Then I just thought I’d check when the Arctic Monkeys’ album was released, and when I saw the CD said © 2006 I realised we had a winner. The true test I think is that I am still whacking the CD onto my stereo or selecting the appropriate file on my MP3 player now, a year after it was released. I came late to the Monkeys; I don’t keep my finger on the musical pulse, as you can tell, and it was my Radio 1 listening wife who insisted I check them out because she was sure they were my kind of thing. She was right, again. I loved the singles, but wasn’t quite prepared for the whole album, wondering if it would all be much of a noisy, samey muchness. In the event there is a surprising subtlety and difference in the arrangements for what is to all intents a basic 4-piece band, but as I often find is the case it’s the lyrics that turn an artist from being great into fucking awesome. The subject matter of the songs on the album vary, but many are wistful and poetic paeans to late-teens nightlife, of sticky carpets and kebab splattered street, but containing a knowledgeable and knowing ambivalence. The lyrics at times may be reminiscent of Morrissey, but are unmistakably in Alex Turner’s own voice; and one it will be fascinating to see develop over time.
  • Book – Jung Chang & Jon Halliday/Mao: The Untold Story. God I’m rubbish at reading these days, as anyone who keeps tabs on the “Reading” section on my sidebar can testify; I think I only read a handful of books last year, and they were mainly clustered around my holidays. So what book should I pick as my choice of the year? Well, obviously, the one that sounds most impressive, and which of course seems to reflect on my huge intellect. Mao is just such a book (even if I haven’t quite finished it yet). But it is good; in fact it is a great read, and that surprised me. So much has been written of Hitler and Stalin, but I knew very little of Mao. He seemed a far more elusive figure of which I knew only minor details; he had a seemingly benign smile, published a red book, and was the sponsor of death on an historic scale. Vague. I did know enough to be astonished that there are still rebels about the globe who term themselves Maoist in this day and age, and I wanted to know more. Mao has certainly filled in the gaps and is relentless in covering its subject. What surprised me, though is how it is such a rattling good read; the writing style is fluid and engaging and drag you in like a novel. It is pretty much a straight chronology of Mao’s life, but in travelling through history it uses one of my favourite techniques (as often used by novelist Paul Auster) in continually referring back to the future and showing how things would in fact turn out. The book is not without its faults however. It is unremittingly one sided, it makes no attempt to portray Mao as anything but a monster pretty much from birth, and it seems that when presented with a choice of showing Mao in a bad light, or portraying him as pure evil, it always takes the latter path. However, if you accept that it is a purely subjective account, albeit one with stacks of research to back it up, then you won’t go far wrong.
  • Film – Ice Age 2. Last year I said I doubted I would get the chance to go the cinema again, and so this category was in effect defunct. Well, in fact, I saw two! Ice Age and Cars! Cars was fine (I am a huge fan of all Pixar’s work) but for me Ice Age had the edge, if for no other reason than because of the great short sketches featuring the squirrel-creature-thing chasing an acorn over the ice. I can’t really say much more than that. Sorry.
  • Sport – Manchester City v Porto. I have vowed several times never to go to any more pre-season friendlies. The last time I promised myself was after the inaugural Thomas Cook trophy match against Barcelona, also the first game played at the City Of Manchester Stadium. So I was never going to go to this year’s instalment of the “trophy”; until my parents said they were going and wanted to take my son. So how could I not go to his first City match? And I was a proud as punch when the teams ran out and my son, decked in his away kit chanted “City City City” with no clear idea of what he was doing. He actually seemed quite interested for the first 20 minutes before his attention started to drift, a good 10 minutes after I had already seen enough, along with many others in the crowd. The match was every bit as poor as expected, but still; a momentous day for me, and a lifetime of pain ahead for him.
  • TV – Jonathan Ross. I could say that something like the wonderful Planet Earth was this years highlight, but for me David Cameron’s appearance on Jonathan Ross show sticks in the memory; not so much for the interview itself (where Cameron came across quite well I thought; still buggered if I’ll vote for him mind) as for the aftermath. I watched the interview, was vaguely amused, and thought nothing more of it. Then, on Sunday morning I watched the paper review on Andrew Marr and discovered not for the first or last time that the press had lost their heads completely and were seemingly appalled by Ross’s crude line of questioning regarding Cameron’s, er, youthful feelings for Margaret Thatcher. Now it is certainly not a pretty image, but I don’t think that is what was being objected to. That the matter was still being discussed a week later on Question Time and This Week is something I found more surprising than perhaps I should. Still, seeing out-of-touch morons getting their knickers in a twist proved once more to be a rich source of amusement, and so scoops the award.
  • Radio – Simon Mayo. I used to hate Simon Mayo. No, hate is too strong a word; I just ignored his Radio 1 show, and turned over whenever he popped up on Saturday evening TV on one of his various unsuccessful attempts at light entertainment. Particularly painful, I remember, were his appearances on Top Of The Pops when he would introduce each artist with a painfully jokey remark; but then I stopped watching TOTP. When he moved to Radio 5 my heart sank, especially when I actually listened to his show and heard dreadful features like a Celebrity Quiz slot (I remember listening to one featuring Hale or Pace of “Hale and Pace”) and asking each guest what they would do if they were King for a day (Jeremy Clarkeson, for example; you can imagine how fun that was to listen to). But gradually he dropped that nonsense and against all odds got down to being a fine presenter and interviewer and quite an engaging character. His chats with film critic Mark Kermode each Friday are a weekly highlight. On The Culture Show Kermode is revered as some sort of movie guru; on Simon Mayo’s show the pairs’ mocking banter reveals Kermode more as an unwitting object of ridicule, as befits anyone who honestly thinks The Exorcist is the best film of all time . I don’t mean to be cruel to Kermode, he is likeable and highly entertaining, but I would never take his opinion on any film seriously. Kermode’s appearances, along with the weekly sports, books and tv panels and Mayo’s intelligent and informed style of interviewing, make his show my favourite on the radio; on my days off I usually try and time it so I am washing the pots when his show is on, and there can surely be no higher praise.
  • Blog – Stumbling & Mumbling. Consistently the blog I look forward to reading most when I check Bloglines (after yours, of course) is Chris Dillow’s Stumbling And Mumbling. Chris usually writes about 2-3 beautifully concise posts a day, a good average somewhere between the crazily prolific Tim Worstall with his 15 daily posts and that idle git The Obscurer who manages sometimes 2 a month if he can be arsed. Chris specialises in writing about economics from a left-wing, pro-free markets perspective; put another way he generally writes common sense reflecting on a recent piece of research, often raising matters no one else bothers with. Sometimes he floats questions as if thinking aloud, unsure himself what the answer is; at other times he is dogmatic, sure of himself and most of all right, as in his numerous attacks on the creed of managerialism; occasionally I don’t have a clue what he is talking about, as in his posts on the stock market; and from time to time the posts seem a valid excuse for a photo of a pretty lady, which is fair enough. Most of all he is informative and entertaining, and who can resist a blog with a post entitled “Monty Panesar And Market Failure” and where not only does the post itself justify the title, but actually makes an interesting point?

The Obscurer Awards 2006

Welcome once again to this historic 1920’s ex-council semi, and more specifically to the prestigious “Pantry Room”. Until early 2003 this room languished as just a storage space for the hoover, the ironing board and last Christmas’s wrapping paper; but a sympathetic renovation that year saw it transformed into the computer room for the new PC. Since August 2004 it has become the home of The Obscurer, and tonight it is the venue for the second annual Obscurer Awards!

(APPLAUSE)

And so without further ado, let us announce the winners.

  • Best Single – Razorlight/Somewhere Else. It is quite unusual for me to buy singles, but I bought this one in part because this song wasn’t included on Razorlight’s so-so debut album “Up All Night” (one of those records where you find when you buy it that you know all the good tracks already, although it has grown on me since). Great start to the song with chiming oriental bells, then a strummed acoustic guitar reminiscent of The Beatles “Things We Said Today”, and then the song builds, quietly at first as it tells it’s odd tale of boy meets girl, then gradually growing in volume and intensity as Johnny Borrell’s singing becomes more frantic and raw, throwing out lines of poetic guff about “catching the sparks that flew from your heels” until the song gallops to its conclusion. Just over three minutes of pure pop, the way it should be.
  • Best Album – Doves/Some Cities. A fantastic return to form from fellow blues Doves after their previous album “The Last Broadcast” saw them treading water to some extent. This time round rather than get too complicated and write “Lost Souls III” they have developed a far more subtle and simplistic sound, but all the more innovative and sophisticated for all that. It also must have earned them a fortune from its use as background music all over the place, so you probably know half the stuff here even if you don’t realise it. You’ll know you know “Black and White Town”, the first single from the album that hits the ground running sounding like the bastard child of “Lust For Life” and “Heatwave” and was an early contender for single of the year, but the rest of the album is more than a match for it. And it sounds like an album too; I enjoyed Kaiser Chiefs “Employment” (Blur, if they’d been inspired by Freddie and The Dreamers rather than The Kinks) and Gorrilaz “Demon Days” (Blur, but armed with a Casio VL-tone), but they do seem like just a collection of individual songs; on “Some Cities” tracks perfectly flow into one another like they are part of some divine running order, and when listening to the whole thing from beginning to end you feel you are getting more than the sum of its parts, as is the case with the best albums. Standout tracks for me are “Almost Forgot Myself”, “One Of These Days” and “Someday Soon”; best title of a track is “Shadows Of Salford”, because it must be inspired by mishearing the line “shadows of sulphur” from Beck’s song “Lazy Flies” from “Mutations“, as I do every time I listen to that song.
    A worthy mention also for The Boo Radleys “Find A Way Out”, sadly not a new album but a fine greatest hits package nonetheless. I was a fan of the band from 1991 when their second EP inspired a trainspotterish devotion in me; they were one of those bands that could do no wrong in my eyes. When they briefly hit it big with “Wake Up Boo!” I was delighted they had developed from minor shoegazers to (almost) pop chart-toppers; when they responded to that success by coming out with the raucous anti-pop of “C’mon Kids” (their finest album) I again dutifully agreed with the path they were taking. “Find A Way Out” has clearly been compiled by someone who knew what they were doing; it includes the obvious singles, but also the finest album and b-side tracks, as well a few songs even I don’t have (a version of “Tomorrow” from Bugsy Malone for Gods sake!). It should find a space in everyone’s record collection.
  • Best Book – David Clayton/Kinkladze: The Perfect 10. Some of the biggest names in literary fiction brought out novels last year. I bought “Saturday” by Ian McEwan, “Never Let Me Go” by Kazou Ishiguro and “Arthur and George” by Julian Barnes. Didn’t read them though. Fingers crossed I will deal with them when I go to Cornwall in May (although Ishiguro’s “When We Were Orphans” went with me on about three holidays before I finally dealt with it, and wished I hadn’t bothered. He’s on a final warning). So last years “Best Novel” award has been re-titled as “Best Book”, but unless you have a special interest in the subject then you probably won’t want to read my choice anyway. On the other hand if you were one of the troops of Man City fans who questioned their sexuality during the three years Georgi Kinladze starred for the club (I know lads who sent him Valentines cards) then this book is for you, and me. It isn’t the best written of books by any stretch of the imagination; I can see why the author thought it necessary to include a brief history of Georgia in the book, but it is clichéd and needn’t be there. Similarly, the section on Georgi’s early life and times reads more like a school creative writing exercise than part of a published work (“not long after they returned home (from hospital when Gio was born), incredibly, Georgi began crawling” – bollocks he did. “As soon as he could stand up on his own, Robizon (Gio’s father) rolled a football to the infant and the two year old Georgi trapped it with his left foot” – no he didn’t. And you’re saying he crawled immediately but only stood up at two? “Georgi was also a very good arm wrestler, and whenever the kids in the street would challenge him, Georgi was always the best.” – don’t you mean bestest in the world ever ever?) But once we get Kinky to City either David Clayton’s writing improves or I just don’t care anymore as we re-live all those memorable moments; that first game against Spurs when the new signing with the unpronounceable name seemingly had the ball glued to his foot, until he passed it perfectly with a nonchalant flick; the Southampton goal when the whole of Maine Road seemed to crowd under that stands to watch it again on telly at half time; those other classic goals against Middlesbrough in the league and West Ham in the cup; and the sight of him trudging off the pitch at the Britannia Stadium in Stoke as we went our separate ways, Gio to Ajax, City to the second division. I think that Clayton is mostly spot on with his observations, although he does avoid the fact that many City fans (though not me) were questioning his contributions towards the end, saying he was a luxury when we needed battlers (as if football isn’t intended as a spectator sport). He is also an effective apologist for Kinky’s latter days; arguing that his Ajax career (where he was bought as a replacement for Jari Litmanen) was scuppered first when Litmanen stayed and then when the manager who bought him left; and how his time at Derby was hugely hampered by injury (though he still won a player of the year award) then fucked up good and proper by the outstanding work of some of his many agents. As a Kinkladze fan I am inclined to unquestioningly believe this as being an accurate account of Kinky’s difficulties, but Clayton doesn’t gloss over the infuriating way Gio’s career has turned out, a tragic case of potential unfulfilled, and I think there is enough in “Kinkladze: The Perfect 10” to interest any football fan.
  • Best Film – I haven’t been to the cinema at all this year. After last years default win for Fahrenheit 9/11 I think this category is pretty much defunct.
  • Best Sporting Moment – 2nd Ashes Test, Edgbaston. Liverpool’s jammy victory in the European Cup was looking good as the most remarkable sporting moment of the year, until the England cricket team started acting up. After the expected defeat in the first test at Lords (another tradition fucked up for no good reason; Lords should always be the second test), the clever money was on an Ashes whitewash to Australia. Sure, perhaps England could be a match for the Aussies in a few years time, after the retirement of Warne and McGrath, but not just yet. And it was McGrath’s intervention before the game had even started that helped swing the match England’s way when he stood on a loose cricket ball while warming up, so ruling himself out of the game; I showed my disappointment at the news the only way I knew, by punching the air repeatedly. England batted first and seemed to treat it as if it was a one-day game scoring a ridiculous 407 all out on the first day, playing Australia at their own game; it was particularly great to see Flintoff and Pietersen together at the crease and getting good scores, twatting the ball all over the shop. In reply Australia made 308, Warne memorably giving his wicket away hilariously by charging down the pitch to Giles, missing with his slog and being clean bowled. England, then, were in the unlikely position of having a first innings lead, but made a poor start to their second innings as wickets tumbled to Lee and Warne and you could see it all slipping away; that is until Flintoff arrived and crashed a rapid 73 off 86 balls, an absurd way to play considering the state of play in the game but it did the trick, and assisted by Simon Jones for the last wicket stand they gave England something to bowl at. Australia made a decent start to their second innings and gradually began to eat into their target, but dropped wickets along the way. It was looking delicately poised, but when Harmison bowled Clarke with the last ball of the third day it looked like England had just about done enough; Australia needed 108 to win with just 2 wickets left and many (though not me!) were already talking of England having levelled the series. In the event the fourth day of play on Sunday was excruciating; while my son watched Cbeebies I listened to the radio as Australia calmly rattled towards England’s total. It was the pace as much as anything that depressed; they scored runs at a steady clip and slowly it began to look inevitable that they would win. Hopes were raised when Warne trod on his stumps for 42, but last wicket pair Lee and Kasprowicz carried on where Warne and Lee had left off, advancing relentlessly towards their target. When my son graciously fell asleep I watched the closing stages on Channel 4 and I was resigned to defeat, watching the TV screen through my fingers as Australia moved within 2 runs of England’s score, thoroughly depressed as I just couldn’t see how England would ever get into such a good position against the Aussies again. I knew the old cliché that we only needed one good ball to win the game but it didn’t look like coming as Australia barely put a foot wrong until Kaspowicz “gloved” the ball high in the air for Geraint Jones to take the catch (for once) and I danced and leapt about the living room, whooping and hollering, looking like a complete knob, whole my son continued to sleep on the settee.
  • Best TV Moment – Casanova. I was looking forward to watching Archangel one Saturday; scripted by Ian Le Frenais and Dick Clements, based on a Robert Harris novel a friend had recommended (but which I hadn’t read), it looked like it couldn’t fail. It was all action but totally unengaging, and after half an hour I was fast asleep. It was so bad that the following day I approached “Casanova” with caution, wondering if I could ever find any interest in TV drama again. Five minutes in and “Casanova” changed all that; it was simply fantastic. The script and dialogue from Russell T Davies sparkled, the performances from all were inspired, the whole look and feel of the production was top notch. There wasn’t a lull through all 3 episodes but the highlight must be the final scene when Edith (Rose Byrne) speaks to the old Casanova (Peter O’Toole) on his deathbed. The emotions unfurled as love and death crash headlong into one another in the scene were so powerful that I cried like a baby, great big sobs that caused my shoulders to heave and I burbled “this is ridiculous” as I smeared great wells of tears from my eyes. Now I’m not immune from having a good cry occasionally, “It’s a Wonderful Life” is my all time favourite film, but nothing has ever affected me quite like that. It was a remarkable end to a remarkable serial.
  • Best Radio Moment – Jonathan Ross on Radio 2. I only really instituted the radio award last year to commemorate the end of Mark and Lard’s Radio 1 show; long term I think this one may go the way of the Film award. I can’t think of a specific radio moment, but this year has seen me listen fairly regularly to Jonathan Ross’s Saturday show on Radio 2. I had meant to listen to it for ages, but three Saturday mornings on the trot spent driving long distances in the car (going to holiday in Perthshire and then the Lakes) meant I had the chance to get a bit of serious radio listening done, and it is a habit I have managed to continue at home. Ross is definitely at his best on radio; while his TV chat show can get a bit irritating and feels staged, everything seems far more natural on radio and the whole show flows better, as if he doesn’t have to try too hard. He also has fewer “celebrity” guests on radio, so the people he does interview are usually all the more interesting as a result. Can you imagine him talking to David Gedge on the telly, or to Nancy Dell’Olio on radio? No, neither can I. I know which I prefer.
  • Best Blog Post – The Sharpener/From the Office of Sleazy Intelligence. A new category this year, by a blogger I don’t often read but should (Jamie K) from a group blog I do always read (The Sharpener). This is just an inspired piece of creative writing, as the author imagines a life of espionage in dubious service of these fair isles, engaged in “double crosses, triple thinks and quadruple bluffs”. What do you want to do with your life? Jamie seems to hanker after being a rumpled and sordid Noel Coward figure in a Graham Greene novel; if he never manages it then I hope he can be content with being a fantastic writer.