Thoughts 2.11 to 2.20

Thought 2.20: 18 July 2004: The music industry media channels, so much to answer for (well, some of them)

There is so much wrong with the music industry and the singles market, but do we blame the public for buying what's out there? Well, we can only partly do so, and the reason for this is simple: the music station and pop media masses only promoting certain records and only rotating certain videos, thereby granting them more exposure, and by the time the single has been released, everyone has heard it for weeks on end and thus buys the single and it's a triumph for the mass media over the actual tune, because it's stuck in your head. Not convinced? Then read this: what's most likely to be the number three single in the charts this week hasn't even been given a fair chance to go to number one as channels like The Hits haven't even put it on their play list, yet the two records most likely to be numbers one and two have had the video on strict rotation on their play list for weeks on end. Go figure.

The problem is manyfold, in that bands who are up and coming aren't necessarily getting an equal footing by not having their video played, meaning that they can only rely on the strength of the single to get them anywhere, and radio play. While of course this isn't a bad thing at all, it also means that any bands that have been marketed by any media company are of course getting the unfair advantage - all the time. It's like a monopoly of what is supposedly popular being force fed into the hearts and minds of the masses, and it is a real shame. Is what you hear on certain channels necessarily what the kids want, or is it what they're fed?

The singles chart for this reason is laughable these days - no band hardly ever makes a slow rise up the charts to the top based on the actual record, with high new entries proceeded by falls down the chart. There are of course solutions to this that would at least salvage the chart somewhat, first off not to play the video till about a week before release, thereby gathering interest in the single but not too much so that by the time it's been played for five weeks or so, it's had a good few weeks in the chart and making it up to the top steadily. And another solution would be that no matter who the band or artist is, the video at least gets some airplay in the week of release so that the public can judge for themselves whethere they like the song or not. Realistically it isn't going to happen, but at least these days you do have a choice of music channel, so if you find one not playing the music you'd like to hear - switch over. But in order to rescue the singles charts, the media moguls who own some of the music channels need to have a re-think. Do the public want what the public get?

Thought 2.19: 29 June 2004: Sven Will He Ever Learn?

So the dust has settled on England's 2004 campaign, and what have we learned? Well, I think we've learned nothing. We already knew that we were bobbins on penalty shoot outs, that we can't defend a cross, and that Beckham was off form badly (and realistically was so even before he came to the tournament, it has to be said) and we even knew to a point that Wayne Rooney was ready to do the business, and of that there was no doubt. However, serious questions need to be answered, and there's only one man that can answer them, and that's Sven-Göran Eriksson.

First off, lessons were not learned even during a single game. We defended a lead for far too long against France and eventually, despite a spirited performance, we were punished by Zidane as they constantly put us under pressure with the defence far too close to the goalkeeper for my liking. It was clear from then that against the top team defending a lead was not an option. So why against Portugal once we took the lead (and this was even before Rooney went off) did we decide to sit back and let the Portugese come at us? Even the likes of Alan Hansen and Ian Wright picked it up at half time saying we needed to push out and attack a bit more. So, second half comes along, and instead of making an attacking substitution and going for the second goal to kill the game off, what do we do? Bring a defensive midfielder on and try to protect the lead. How negative is that? Portugal, quite rightly, came at us, got a deserved equaliser and although we were robbed by a refereeing decision, that only clouds the fact that over the 120 minutes plus penalties we played far too defensive and only attacked once we'd gone behind, and ultimately that was our downfall, not attacking enough.

Second, was it me or did England seem far too reliant on Wayne Rooney? As soon as he went off against Portugal it was apparent that the confidence of not just the team, but Sven himself, went downhill, and we played really badly. You can't rely on one player to do the business, and despite Lampard, Campbell and Cole doing sterling work, they were the only other players to emerge with any credit during the tournament. It seemed that there was no impetus and no ideas from Sven as to what to do, resulting in hoofing the ball to Owen and Vassell. Well, considering their height, that's going to work isn't it? And not just that, he had no idea about what to do when clearly we were losing it in midfield, surely the way to go was to put a midfielder who could tackle but also attack a bit as well.

Third, why did he insist on playing David Beckham when it was clear that he wasn't at the top of his game or even possibly 100%? Maybe there was too much pressure on him with the press intrusion regarding his personal life (way out of order, that) or he was carrying an injury and didn't feel right somehow? But that can't disguise his lack of interest and passion during the Portugal game, which wasn't the Beckham that battles on, leads by example, and shows determination in an England shirt. Maybe the thing to do was to see how right he was mentally to play and take it from there, as during the tournament he played terribly by his own standards, and didn't just seem to do much apart from the odd assist, which in truth, anyone with a decent right foot could well have done. It just perplexed me and that's not good management when your captain doesn't seem interested or feels right in the game. Despite his poor form, I feel sorry for Beckham - he just seems to have got tired of the press on his back and feels like he has to defend himself all the time. Why can't Sven be more supportive here?

The thing is, Sven could have learnt these things and acted upon them. He didn't. Most of the substitutions were the wrong one to make, we only seemed to attack when going behind ot when the opposition had ten men, and it was just negative stuff in the main. Okay, so we could have been in the semis, but would that have disguised the underlying problems that we have with the current squad and that a fresh impetus is needed to keep the squad on their toes and so that they can't assume that they will be picked every time.

Two things he needs to do:

1 - Have a good chat with David Beckham and see if he feels mentally right to continue as captain at the moment. If he doesn't, then we have a ready made replacement in Sol Campbell, who did have a great tournament and, as a central defender, will be sure to shout and give instructions to the lads to really perform. And he leads by example too, which fans of both Tottenham and Arsenal will testify. Maybe allowing Beckham either to rest, or just do what he does well in the midfield, will allow him to regain the form and eventually the captaincy and take the pressure off him a bit.

2 - Be adventurous in selection. One glaring omission from the Euro 2004 squad was that of Shaun Wright-Phillips, who had an excellent season with Manchester City (despite their appalling league placing) and also scored ten goals from midfield, which is a good return in anyone's book. He's fast, has no fear (a la Rooney) and also has the right amount of passion and drive to really push forward, and can defend as well as attack, if need be. And being the old fashioned winger, he could certainly cause the opposition problems. Now you may think that I'm biased here, but don't take my word for it. Ask the likes of Thierry Henry and Arsene Wenger what they think of him and they'll tell you that they've admired his performances this season, and coming from a fellow legend pro and a manager who went through a whole season with his team unbeaten in the league, that's endorsement.

If he can get the team motivated to be more attack minded (and that's when we're at our best, it has to be said) for the World Cup qualifiers, then we may have a chance of qualifying. And against Wales and Northern Ireland, no motivation should be necessary really, which might work to our advantage. But Sven needs to admit his tactical shortcomings, and fast, or I fear for our footballing nation.

Thought 2.18: 26 June 2004: Udder disgrace!

As some of you may be aware, over the summer Manchester is holding a large public art exhibition by the name of Cow Parade, where local artists and such decorate fibre glass cows, which are then displayed in public places and spaces. At the end of the exhibit, they're all auctioned off for local charities so you can own one and do your bit at the same time. Excellent idea this, not just to have some culture in the city but also something accessible to young and old, and a gentle introduction to art for children that doesn't sound too posh or patronising.

Imagine my utter despair then when I walked around the city centre on Saturday only to discover that a fair few of the cows had been mistreated and vandalised by the general public and generally were not being respected as a work of art, but as another statue of sorts that the local idiots think they can do what the hell they like with. Even if you're not a fan of art per se, you should respect the exhibit and leave it for those who do like it. It makes you wonder no matter how much of an up and coming city Manchester is, that if the reputation's going to spread about damaging such culture in such a vandalistic way that will we get any more public art exhibitions?

The two cows in Albert Square had taken a battering, one of them had the plaque with the name stolen (makes you wonder why, really) and the other one, Cowmoonation Street, based on the characters of the famous TV soap opera, suffered with both damage by people trying to peel off the images stuck to the cow, or adding their own stickers and generally defacing it for their own end. One major annoyance was also seeing a right slapper (no other word for her) managing to put her cigarette out on the nose of the cow at the front. I really felt angered by that and just that single episode showed what work we have to do as Mancunians to keep up the repuation of being a good city to live in. I really am concerned that all we're going to get out of the exhibition is a lot of slagging off saying how uncaring we are, when in fact the ill informed uncaring minority are spoiling it for those who wish to have a cultural injection into their lives and appreciate the exhibits for what they are. Bah.

Thought 2.17: 14 June 2004: Blair on the Guillotine?

The kind people, sang Morrissey once, have a wonderful dream - Margaret on the guillotine. Such was the hatred of Thatcher in the 80s by many people that his song actually was relevant at the time. Someone basically needs to reword it completely and make it relevant to Tony Blair, particularly in light of the Council and European elections, where the voters have voted with their feet and in big time too. Not only are they disappointed with the council performance locally (even in their traditional stronghold in Manchester they're clinging on a bit, mainly because the Lib Dems are actually doing rather than saying where I live anyway) but they also see Britain's part in the Iraq War as something we shouldn't have got involved in and that we're going to be targeted more by terrorists because of it.

Were we misled? That's also a question the public are asking. Were there really weapons of mass destruction in Iraq at all, or was there scaremongering going on to make us fear what would happen if we didn't do anything? I suspect the latter: and a cover up led by Tony Blair himself. This single issue is going to prove his ultimate downfall, much as the Poll Tax was with Thatcher. The voters have spoken - the election results prove for themselves. The public don't trust Blair as Prime Minister. Full stop. They feel that they have been betrayed, deceived and also lied to, left right and centre.

When Labour were making a comeback in the early 1990s, John Smith was leader: and he was very no-nonsense and told it like it was. The public respected him, and his passing away was sad in that it could have been him as Prime Minister. As Blair has taken control, he's also taken leave of his senses and his overall persona of arrogance and at times insolence has told the British public he's in charge, and let's not forget it. That's not what a leader is about: a leader gets things done and doesn't necessarily hog the limelight at every opportunity. They also don't lie to the people either with many tales of spin, spin, spin and yet more spin doctoring at every opportunity. The back benchers within the party also have started to see him as a liability and not just that, they feel that they might not win the next General Election with him standing as their leader. Crisis? Yes. Should Blair go now? Yes. Without question. The public are not fools, and they're switching allegiances to people who speak for them both locally and nationally (I have, for a start) and they're sick of him. If Labour want to win the next Election, he has to go. Period.

Thought 2.16: 02 June 2004: Second Class Postal Voting

Well, it's the first ever postal vote in the UK, for the Local Council and the European Parliamentary Elections. Here in Manchester all Council seats are up for grab in what can only be described as a massive free-for-all, and then there's the opportunity to vote for one party to represent the North West in the European Parliament. Now in theory at least, the idea is that everyone receives the necessary documentation to fill in and post back to the address given by June 10th, so that everyone's vote will count, also meaning you don't have to find a polling station on election day. Well, that's the theory. But in practice? A complete shambles.

Okay, so I got my postal voting thing through the post relatively unscathed. But I consider myself a minority. In neighbouring Stockport, the printing firm there completely mucked up the ballot papers, so another firm had to step in and do them again, properly. And if you lived in Oldham, you ended up with some of Stockport's ballot papers. Quite simply puy: an embarrassment to say the least, and one that doesn't bode well if this scheme is tried again at some point. Add to that the delays in general in getting them posted out for the supposed 1st June deadline, and you can see that it's chaos looming.

If you get your ballot paper, then there's not only the fact you have to fill it in. No. You fill in the papers and put them in an envelope. You then have to get someone you know to witness to say that you've filled the form in (they can't see what you've voted for) and then put that form and the envelope inside another envelope, and send the whole lot off. Not meaning to sound horrible here, but there a lot of elderly people living alone, and some of them may bne too shy to ask the next door neighbour (or the counter clerk at the local post office, for example) to witness their form for them.

Why you can't just put your crosses on the form, sign the form to say it's yours, and then post it off is a mystery. Election fraud! They claim. However, with a story of someone in Oldham being arrested for collecting ballot papers for use for their own ends, that sort of thing defeats the object anyway. How will the council know if your witness' signature is genuine? What if the same witness signs forms for the rest of the family (perfectly allowable of course) - do they get accused of fraud then? Where do they draw the line? You start to wonder, and I certainly have. It's been a shambles from day one, and as the postal deadline for sending out forms has been missed, does this mean that we, the public, get longer to send them back? Or can we call the election null and void for the same reasons?

Yes, I've voted, but to be honest, I'd rather have a box that says "I don't like postal voting - please let's not do it again". I have a feeling the turnout will be low, and that means one thing: minority parties getting in and making an absolute mess of things even more than the big three parties might do. For the local Council elections at least, think about which party is actually active in your area and does things they promise, that's what I'd suggest.

Thought 2.15: 20 May 2004: Manchester's success is London's gain

The International Olympic Committee have finally decided the five nations to compete for the Olympics in 2012, and for Great Britain, London is one of those five cities who have a possibility of hosting the games. While I'm pleased at the possibility of such an event coming to this country, and hope that we do well and get it, I just hope those in London and those involved in the campaign owe Manchester a huge amount of thanks.

Think back a few years ago. London was due to host the 2005 World Athletics Championships, but after many discussions over building a stadium that never became reality, the IAAF decided that London could not host them and move them to another venue instead. As this was not too far before the Commonwealth Games in Manchester, the pressure really was on for Manchester to deliver the goods. The Southern-based press were mostly cynical and all hoping that Manchester fell on its face, but the likes of Ken Livingstone, Lord Mayor of London, backed Manchester and they even set up a banner by Piccadilly Station wishing us well. They knew that Manchester hosting an event so successfully would be a springboard for any future Olympic bid, no matter where it was going to be within the UK.

Fast forward to late July 2002, and the Games starts. Straight away it captures the public imagination and with the BBC backing it with quality coverage, it was soon evident that the Games were going to be really well hosted. Anyone that went to any of the events will tell you that everyone who volunteered and assisted to run all the events did a great job, and as a result, it was a massive success. Careful planning meant that the main stadium was to be converted to Manchester City's new home post-Games, and although this was agreed years before, such was the success of the athletics that a lot of athletes were up in arms about the track being torn up (note: there's now a 10,000 capacity athletics stadium right next door that used to be the practice track!) Other existing venues were used, and wherever possible, anything new was built to ultimately assist the local community and sports to help kick start them for future generations. It also involved a lot of urban regeneration, which London is planning in their bid with parts of East London. From an environmental point of view, it's also a good and sensible idea to do so.

The lessons learned from Manchester will ultimately help London, and clearly so far they've got their bidding process right, and it involves regeneration, jobs, and perhaps most crucially of all, a public transport strategy. Anyone who's travelled in London will appreciate how crucial this is. In Manchester, express shuttle buses to the stadium from the major car parks and the city centre meant that traffic flowed freely and everyone saw the events on time without any problems. In London, there are expanded plans but will ultimately achieve the same aim.

Now let's get all our backing behind London and let's see the UK get the 2012 Olympics, and if they do, I'm sure there are people within London who will appreciate what Manchester did.

Thought 2.14: 04 March 2004 - Water con!

As someone who does try to drink their supposed daily allocation of water a day, it really intrigued me to see that Coca-Cola had launched their own bottled water into the market in a very distinct blue bottle, going by the name of Dasani. However, what they forgot to tell us, the customer, was that in fact, it wasn't anything like any other bottled water.

You see, most of the bottled water out there comes from a natural spring, usually that has had some force of nature purify it, like the mineral stones which give mineral water its name. Having actually seen the spring in Buxton itself where the water originates from, it at least reassures me that it's actually the real thing that I'm getting and paying for, and I don't mind that. What I do mind though is when the source turns out to be tap water that you and I pay for with water rates, and that tap water is just taken through a series of purification processes. Read here for the full story.

Well, what a con that is! The UK has very high water standards and I know that I could take the water from any of my taps and drink it without any problems, and I pay my water rates each month and that it's included in the price. Maybe what I should do is get a few of those Brita filter things, put the tap water through it, bottle it and sell it as Manchester Spring or something. Those of you who remember the Only Fools and Horses episode where DelBoy came up with the idea of Peckham Spring will see that Coca-Cola's ruse is something along the same lines. Why don't they just admit it and put on their bottles "pure tap water" instead of "pure still water" and that would be more to the point. Ah, except the bottle of Dasani costs around 90p, around a 3000% increase in real terms. And it's the second most popular bottled water in the US, apparently. What does that say about Americans, I wonder?

Coca-Cola should just have admitted the con in the first place rather than it having to be leaked out. It looks bad on their part and also indirectly by purifying an already clean tap source (Kent's water passed 99.97% of all purity tests, incidentally) they're also trying to say that the UK's tap water isn't good enough. Well, that doesn't wash with me. I won't be buying it and I suggest that you don't either, and stick to a trusted brand like Buxton or Volvic where you know that (ironically as it's a Coca-Cola slogan) you can't beat the real thing.

Thought 2.13: 22 January 2004 - A little customer service goes a long way

In a day and age that people are supposedly customer focussed but don't actually deliver, it's refreshing to see an example of what customer service should be like. My massive thumbs up goes to the nice people who run Mantra Audio and deliver on all counts of customer service.

Early this week, I ordered myself a new belt and stylus for my turntable as both of them were a bit long in the tooth. I logged on to their website, found the bits I needed, went to the secure bit of the website (which not all online retailers do, so good that they do) and duly paid and so could sit back and wait for the postman to deliver.

I received an email from them the day after, basically saying that they were waiting delivery of the styluses as they were out of stock, but would I like my belt mailing now or when the stylus arrived. I replied and asked them to deliver the belt. Just the fact that as soon as someone had received my order in their office, someone actually contacted me and asked me about the order I'd made, well that made me feel very valued for a start. And, sure enough, the day after, the turntable belt arrived with a delivery note. And this is where the even nicer surprise came in. It stated that my card wouldn't be charged until the stylus went out for delivery. Now they didn't have to do that, I could have been charged for the belt now, but it's another sign of good service that until the order is complete, they don't wish to take my money.

All those little things add up, and I've always used them for the last few years to order replacement styli for the Audio Technica AT110E cartridge that I have in my turntable, and even if I change my turntable, I'll still use them for styli and such like. When you receive good service, you stay with them. It's not always price alone that always determines where you go sometimes, and if like me you love your vinyl, they're the people for you, no question. When you sometimes have bad experiences of customer services it's too easy to report. But the nice people out there don't always get the credit they deserve for their sterling work. Hope this redresses the balance a bit.

Thought 2.12: 16 December 2003 - The wall of silence and the "system" failure

I should warn you, this one's going to be a lengthy rant.

Earlier this month a burglary happened. Nothing unusual there, sadly. But this one has appalled and disgusted many people in my local area and beyond, and rightly so. The burglary happened at the home of 97 year old Evelyn Jackson, who at her age lived a normal independent life and was proud of it, and rightly so. Only it wasn't just a burglary. Evelyn was kicked, punched and beaten viciously. So viciously in fact that she later died in hospital of her injuries. For more information, please do read these BBC News pages and be disgusted yourself: Article 1 Article 2 Article 3 Article 4

The original burglary and attack featured on the local news and provoked intense reaction from people all over the North West, from gasps of disbelief to pure anger and upset that such a thing should be allowed to happen. Unfortunately, in the aftermath of the murder, there seems to be a wall of silence or fear in the local community that no one will come forward or no one who knows the person who did this appalling attack would be brave enough to say "enough is enough" and inform the police of who the person is. This doesn't help anyone but it's also a sign how bad society has become, that everyone lives in silence in that they can't express their feelings of disgust in a constructive way, by helping to catch the killer. The word of silence is effectively that it doesn't concern them as it didn't happen to their family, not only that but it's also mixed with a fear of reprisals if something is said. Such is the frail and fraught path that society today has led people to, that ignorance is bliss.

But does this also mean the wall of silence could be harbouring the killer? Most definitely. It might have been a member of a group of individuals who hang out together, and if they know anything, won't obviously put away someone who they may consider a friend. They should ask themselves this question: would a true friend kill? Somehow, I very much doubt it. No friend is worth having like that to be perfectly honest. But of course there is the wall of silence the killer might have put behind them and not even informed the friends of what went on, so nothing could be done if that's the case.

However, what is more worrying and what upsets a lot of people more is that if the killer is of a certain age, that the "system" of justice in this country will fail the true victims: not just Evelyn, but her family and friends. How often have you seen young offenders post-offence sent away on holiday or some rehablitation course, funded by us, the humble taxpayer, and then they'll be back in the community causing more trouble, knowing that they can seemingly get away with murder? The sort of softly softly approach by the "do-gooders" is all very well and good, but on the inner city streets, is that going to actually work? Of course it isn't. Some of them should get a grip on reality and realise that the only way to make crime less attractive is by making the punishment severe. Much more severe.

Isn't it ironic that in countries that have eally strict and harsh punishments for crime is that where crime is a fair bit lower? Doesn't that tell us something? Violence doesn't necessarily have to breed violence, and if you give the punishment enough of a fear factor, that alone is often enough to make think twice. Think about it: capital punishment is banished in schools, and what happens? School teachers around the country have to put up with all sorts of name calling, being attacked by unruly kids, and without any protection from any sort of fair and just system in its place. The kid gets a telling off from their parents (maybe) but they know nothing more is going to happen, so off they go again to do more damage to someone's life. In my secondary school when capital punishment was still an option, just the fear and the embarrassment caning would bring was enough to bring most children in line. If only a viable fear could be found that would make children behave, for example.

My take is this: if you're old enough to do the crime, you're old enough to do the time. Simple. Murder should mean life imprisonment and no less. These days, with DNA testing being that good, that it's often a lot more accurate to be able to correctly pinpoint the right person and have them sent down for their crimes. Not just that either, but at the same time it's got to be enough of a horrible prison to make it scary enough for someone not to want to go there. Even though I'm a believer in most human rights, if someone commits a crime and they're found to be guilty of such a crime, that's when their rights should stop. I'm fed up of those who namby pamby about and go "they've got rights even as prisoners". Utter rubbish. They're a criminal, they're scum of the community and should therefore be treated as such with minimal living conditions, confined cells, regular strict exercises from rock hard prison guards whom you don't mess with, and so on. Get the fear factor cranked up so it makes any crime less attractive, especially burglary and murder.

I can only hope the veritable scum who did this appalling crime is brought to justice and treated with the contempt that they deserve. Someone commented on the Manchester Evening News website that sometimes violence is the only language they understand, so just let the family of the deceased at them with unlimited baseball bats and give them a treat of his own medicine. While I don't condone that, such is the disgust at this appalling tragedy that the anger felt by us honest citizens shows how much "do-gooders" are letting them get away with an easy life, and how the "system" is currently doomed to failure.

Thought 2.11: 12 November 2003 - Greatest (s)Hits

Reissue, repackage, repackage, once sang Morrissey. And if that isn't true of this oh so fickle and oh so pathetic music industry at the moment then I don't know what is. I've lost count of the endless numbers of greatest hits compilations, some of which are re-releases from previous compilations with just a couple of extra songs tacked on to it, or another chance to plunder a different selection to last year's compilation depending on who was in the mood to collate the whole thing at the time. And it sucks. Really badly.

Think for a second how many times for example there's been a hits compilation by the likes of, say, David Bowie. Far too many to mention, which upsets the fans of his music who know the record company concerned is just going for the easy cash option and not instead seeing if he has any new material worth a new album release. Cynical marketing scam really just to make you dip your toes into an artist. And not just that either. There's hits compilations for bands that actually don't deserve them which is really galling. How can any band with say two or three albums released possibly have a greatest hits out? There's no point. Unless the band have split up or something and it's a final contractual-filling release, say the record company.

All these Christmas stocking fillers are doing in my eyes is stopping the industry support and develop real raw talent, that is out there, waiting to be heard by the masses who still appreciate a good tune, no matter who it's by. Instead of being the sheep, why not instead be the shepherd? Ask at the local HMV, ask the staff what they've been listening to lately (you'll find people who work in record shops usually have a discerning taste for new stuff) and what they can recommend from their own purchases, and maybe even have the courage to see if any fellow shoppers can hep you. Don't be afraid. Show the record companies how sick you are of compilation hits things and don't buy them. You never know. Enough people saying enough is enough might at least make them have a re-think.