Thoughts 4.01 to 4.10

Thought 4.10: 20 January 2007: The Beginning of the End of Reality Television

I am sure that despite everyone's best efforts to avoid the press and media coverage this week, you can't help but have noticed the simmering row brewing during the week over the latest Celebrity Big Brother. As readers know, I'm not a fan of reality shows in television - they're cheap, exploitative and are just there to try and be somewhat controversial and earn ratings, and in the shows featuring celebrities, put there by their agents to raise their status from Z-lister to something a bit potentialy higher than that. But still.

I have to say that although I've not watched any of the current series, last night I did see the interview after Jade Goody had been evicted. For me, it was a perfect opportunity for Davina McCall to not only grill her, but fry her and roast her about the way that she had manipulated other housemates and got them to periodically bully Shipla Shetty. And just from the combination of clips put together which they showed Jade, it would be clear to anyone watching that at the very least it was symptomatic bullying, and could be interpreted by some people as threatening and racist behaviour.

This country has no place for people like that, I'd like to think on the whole the UK is a fair and tolerant society and that generally speaking, we all get on and respect one another, even if our views, manners, ways and religions can be different. We're all people - and it's the person that you are that should be respected. What was going on in the house was clearly anything but that. As a victim of bullying myself when I was younger it was very easy to see all the signs of what was going on - even some of the housemates themselves noticed it. It made me feel uncomfortable knowing that this was being broadcast to the nation and that people could misinterpret the behaviour of the likes of Jade as being acceptable.

If there had have been a crowd at the eviction last night (it was widely reported that no crowd would be there) I think Jade wouldn't have got out alive. And good riddance to her, I say. She made her name by the same show, and now she's lived and died by the same sword. Ironic, isn't it? But in a way also it goes to show that she should never have been famous in the first place. At the same time though the fact that Endemol or Channel 4 didn't step in when the public at whole were racking complaints at both Channel 4 and Ofcom, the industry regulator, shows a blatant disregard for the feelings of the public - the consumers who watch the television in the first place. And it's that disregard that Ofcom need to look at and really punish Channel 4 for.

In a way, some good will come out of this. The plug will hopefully be pulled on Big Brother for good (not least from the sponsors who've already withdrawn their support this series due to the controversy), confining it to the bin of television history. It's run its course now. It's not fresh, it's not innovative, it's just cheap and (now clearly) nasty. And if that happens, you can be sure that it will be a sign for television executives that all of a sudden the whole reality bubble is eventually going to burst and that we, the public, want to have something more entertaining, intelligent and dramatic to watch that actually relies on the right ingredients rather than the wrong ones.

So what next? Well, over the next year or so, changes will happen and be afoot. The public will vote with their feet and decide to turn off all forms of reality shows as the reality (sic) sets in and shows them that they've all been taken for a ride with the Andy Warhol theory that anyone can be famous for fifteen minutes, and that these shows are just pandering to that theory to give everyone watching a sense of false hope and belief. It's a myth folks, don't be taken in. And good riddance to all the reality shows.

Thought 4.09: 05 January 2007: Debt Free Or Just Inviting Financial Ruin?

As you may have seen on the television recently, there's lots of adverts for companies who can claim to help you clear your debts and loans with some little known piece of Government legislation that allows you to write off 75% of your debts and then pay off the rest and be debt-free in five years and have no hassle from your creditors, no bankruptcy proceedings etc.

Now is it me, or are these sort of adverts giving out the wrong signal? Clearly the fact that you can be over £15,000 in debt and arrange to clear these off and have some of it written off is only going to give people an incentive to over spend money like it's no tomorrow, and then of course consult one of these companies when things go really bad. And if the piece of Government legislation is so little known, then why does every single similar company refer to that same piece of legislation?

For me, someone who is quite financially astute, I'd never dream of going into debt for more than I can afford. I've always been that way and I'm ready in case the worst comes to the worst. I certainly wouldn't want the stress and anxiety of debt hanging over me. And yet these adverts are just pandering to those who've overdone it to say "yeah, we can do this scheme, be debt free in five years and then start spending again and getting into more debt". Clearly not enough is explained about the consequences for the individual or the fact that it should only be used as a last resort to avoid bankruptcy - and that's actually what it is.

The timing of all of these companies is something that the advertising watchdog should also look at. It's just after Christmas (a time when people can overspend, admittedly) and it's pandering to those very people whom shouldn't be tempted by such advertising, and that's a bad thing in my eyes. It's also the fact that nothing much is really told about the legislation as such only that it's a five year agreement with your creditors writing off what you can't afford during that time. What the adverts don't tell you is even after the five years you're still actually entitled to pay off your creditors if you can afford any amounts at that point too, so it's not as simple as it's made out to be.

I'm not the only one who thinks these companies are wrong, but also not giving out the true facts with their advertisments. As such they shouldn't be on prime time television promising something that's just as irresponsible as some of the people who overdo it and get into debt in the first place.

Thought 4.08: 03 January 2007: Music Zone RIP?

As you may have read in the news today, the retailer Music Zone, known pretty well for the fact it stocks CDs and DVDs at a price normally cheaper than its main High Street rivals, has gone into administration. You can read here for further information. At the moment, the stores are still trading, but it could of course be the death knell for a success story born by one man who used to trade in Longsight Market in Manchester and saw business grow from there. Particularly taking on the big two in terms of music retailing was (and still is) a brave move, but certainly business in the Manchester branch was usually brisk.

There's many reasons why things like this could happen, but suffice to say that there's so many other ways of getting your music these days - and not just downloads either. You can of course use online retailers like Amazon or Play, but the biggest source of competition, in terms of chart albums at least, has been from the buying powers of the supermarkets such as Tesco or Asda, where anything that looks like it will chart is bought in bulk and at discount. Of course this is great for the consumer who's seen the average price of a CD album plummet to what should have been reasonable levels many years ago.

However, Music Zone has always been competitive in terms of pricing, but what seems to put people off shopping in there is that it used to concentrate on stocking a good selection of music at a good price and didn't need big signs or slogans to do so. Over the last few months their advertising campaigns have been fronting all their shop windows, meaning that you can't see how busy it is inside or what is actually available as a new release tio purchase. Add to that their campaigns are sideswiping at their High Street rivals and it just seems like bad marketing to me.

In Manchester at least, Music Zone had stiff competition. There's a massive HMV, a branch of Fopp (which has a great selection at not much cost) opened a couple of years back, and now of course Virgin is back in Manchester Arndale too. All of those stores, and this is crucial, have much more selection of what's out there than Music Zone does, and that's probably one of its problems. Yes, it stocks stuff cheap, but not enough of it. Also, the crucial thing is that all the High Street retailers I've mentioned also have an online arm. Music Zone did try one a few years ago (indeed I ordered a couple of CDs from it) but for some reason they discontinued that. Certainly having their own online presence would have helped considerably, because orders may have come in online as well as the impulsive buys in store, and that's a big thing nowadays in order to keep the retailing kicking in nicely.

I'll be sad to see it go, but ultimately it's a case of moving with the times, and I don't think Music Zone did. A lesson to all retailers - go with the flow and be sure to have everything available as everyone else in your chosen field does - or fall behind.

Thought 4.07: 28 November 2006: When Is A Competition Not A Competition?

Simple answer: when it's a TV show quiz phone-in!

What started out as one small TV quiz channel offering big prizes with completely illogical answers to questions (particularly the "add all the numbers" type ones on ftn's Quiz Night Live for example) has completely descended over the last year into one almighty rip off, and even hitting the mainstream. For example, if you want to win money on Channel 4's "Deal or No Deal" you can enter over the web or ring this premium rate phone line to enter. Now what it does mention in between each break is that not all callers will be successful in leaving their details with a chance of winning, and you would be charged a whacking amount regardless if you get through or not. Is it me, or is that a complete and utter rip-off?

Other TV quiz channels such as ITV Play have been under investigation for some time now, and in my view with perfectly good reason. The fact that you're not guaranteed to get through means instant money for the promoter and the channel concerned, which clearly in my view is not being spent on programming. (No wonder ITV have paid so much money to nick Michael Grade off the BBC.) What's also more concerning is that clearly these "quizzes" appear to have little or no regulation, and as such anyone could theoretically keep ringing and ringing till they get through, and be charged for each call made, and run up a big phone bill.

When you consider ICSTIS (the phone premium services regulator), Ofcom (the communications regulator) and the Gambling Commission are all looking into what clearly is a con, you have to wonder just how these channels can operate with any form of conscience knowing that they are conning the general public. Okay, so someone does get through and win. Does that actually make it any better? Of course it doesn't. It's infallible logic to assume that for every successful caller that there's not millions of others out there who have tried and failed to get through and waste 75p upwards in doing so.

One of the heads of Sky Bet has called for such phone-ins to be regulated under the same rules as gambling, and indeed be classified as a lottery. I for one think that this is the right way forward, because at least then there would be some regulation needed and that there'd be a more strict code of conduct. As it stands right now there's too many of these channels which draw people in and get them hooked, particularly if you haven't got much money and you want to try and escape the poverty trap by entering such a phone-in thing.

Actually, we the public could do something - and with masses of us doing so, it would work. Simply boycott the channels, don't ring up and then see what would happen to their profits in the meantime. Seriously. Imagine if no one rang up Deal or No Deal and you'd leave Noel Edmonds embarrassed that no one rang in? Now that would be television gold to say the least. I think too that although competitions on the television are at least something on most major daytime shows, at least on those you have a chance of actually winning something and you're asked to leave your details, so at least you've entered and know the right answer. Even better, why not just have it like in the old days where you sent your entry in on a postcard and one gets drawn? At least then you have the same chance as everybody else instead of ringing up a £1 minute phone line countless times and racking up a massive bill.

So ITV: I would suggest you clean up your act, as ITV Play is one massive con. Channel 4 need to do the same with Deal or No Deal. And as for all those other satellite quiz channels, one message. You're all a con, and you know you are. Why not just admit it rather than keep people hanging on for the fruitless chance of not winning due to your obscure rules and questions that make no logical sense whatsoever and are completely unregulated?

Thought 4.06: 26 November 2006: The X Factor Is The Death Of Real Music

As much as many people like the X Factor, I don't like it much. I only watch it if I have to, or if there's absolutely bog all else on television and I can laugh at this week's karaoke efforts. Indeed I only keep up with who's gone out this week to be in the loop when it comes to conversation. The truth is, that all these short of shows do is something much much more damaging in my eyes, and that's signalling the death of real music and real musicians.

To cite an example, I was watching the Frank Sidebottom show on Channel M the other night, and on there was Johnny Bramwell from acclaimed Manchester band I Am Kloot. He did a solo acoustic song, which was just fantastic. It conveyed real emotion, warmth and passion and at the same time had some lovely guitars to boot. And this was just him on his own. One man and a guitar. Yet all that talent shone through and it was infinitely better than anything any X Factor contestant was going to throw up. And yet how will the record sales of I Am Kloot compare to anything of the winner of X Factor? It absolutely pales into insignificance to be honest. And that upsets me.

If you're a real musician, it must be heartily frustrating to see all these youngsters (and the odd one not so young) try and ruin an old classic without any thought or consideration. I mean, it's not even a talent contest for crying out loud - it's a karaoke contest! Where's the originality? Where's the song writing? Where's the brand new material on show? Answer: nowehere. None of it exists. At least when Chico from last year's show performed his own song Chico Time he had the balls to write it himself, which made a change from the norm, but of course he was lambasted for it.

What the hell do Simon Cowell and Louis Walsh know anyway? I mean, Louis is to blame for Westlife (say no more) and Simon had the Telebubbies single under his management. Yeah, er, great. Regardless of their talent for spotting a good voice and also someone who has the looks to be successful for all the sad people buying their work, is it really a state of today's society that there's so many people desparate for success that they'll queue in their thousands to appear on such a show and indeed pander to whatever Louis and Simon say? Okay, so there's hard work in singing and keeping in the competition. But starting a band, getting good people to work with, playing real concerts and not miming, building up your own fan base, and so on - isn't that so much more rewarding than actually just doing karaoke in ITV for many weeks until you win? It does make me wonder.

In short, while the public watch in their millions and are force fed the absolute tripe that X Factor and similar shows throw up, there's many a musician out there who've written some great songs that struggle on a day by day basis. The sort of people I'd rather go and see, and hang out with, and enjoy what they do. As the Jam infamously sang in Going Underground "The public wants what the public gets" and while the public watch X Factor and don't switch off, the success will carry on and we'll all be fed the usual rubbish that's out there rather than have someone with a guitar, a piano, whatever, bringing you some rather gorgeous music instead that's had thought, intelligence and passion put into it.

Instead of watching The X Factor next Saturday, do something else. Dig out that CD you've not played for a bit and play some great tunes on a good rig. In fact, go to your local record shop Saturday, check the new music section and see what tickles your fancy. Ask your record shop employee to play it back for you (if they want your money they will) and see what you make of it, then purchase it, take it home, turn the television off, and put that on at full blast instead. You will be so glad you did. And you'll be supporting someone who's actually working hard for a living, not just Cowell and Walsh's puppets.

Thought 4.05: 01 November 2006: Time To Derail The Train Thugs

For those of you who don't live in the Manchester area, you may wish to have a read of this news article. To put it succinctly, some kids decided they thought it would be fun to smash off a safety rail near a train station, and then leave it across the tracks so that the train would hit it at high speed and possibly cause an accident. As it was although the train windscreen was smashed it was at least able to limp back to Piccadilly where everyone could get off safely. But it could have been a lot worse to say the least.

Where the track is is quite elevated from the ground, with steep banks either side of the rail tracks. Now, if a derailment occurred there, there could have been a possibility of the train going completely off the rails, down one of these steep banks and either landing in someone's back garden, or even worse, hitting someone's house from the back on. When you think about that, and think about the potential fatalities that could have happened from such a derailment, it only begs you to ask many questions. So I'm going to ask them because I feel particularly angered by this incident:

Where are the parents and why don't they care? For a start, the incident happened most likely when the kids were off at half term holiday. Although admittedly the parents can't watch their kids twenty four hours a day and keep track of them all the time, nonetheless you'd think that they'd at least give their children a bit of common sense training and a realisation that in the real world things to happen for a reason, and there's such a thing as action and consequences. The train suffered an estimated £20,000 of damage. If the kids are caught, make them and the parents pay the money for the damage, or even better, give the kids a sentence for attempted murder and lock the parents up with them for a short time for failing to supervise their kids. Someone has to take responsibility and in my view, if you're old enough to do the crime, you're also old enough do the time as well.

Why did the kids need to do it? Surely there has to be something better to do in life than hang around railway stations and cause vandalism and damage. And the lack of money or things to do isn't a good enough answer in my eyes. What's to stop them, if they have a cycle each, having a good day out with their mates on a good bike ride somewhere and hanging out that way? What's also to stop them doing what many people do as kids, just chill out at a friend's house with some good tunes or the latest Playstation 2 / Xbox 360 game? It just makes me wonder if the attention span of our children today are such that it takes something as potentially devastating as causing vandalism and mayhem to be able to get any excitement out of life these days.

What would have happened if an accident occured? I wonder if there had been any fatalities caused by this incident if it'd have more widespread coverage. After all, the news these days seems to be obsessed by death and murder, and it shouldn't be. Nonetheless such incidents such as this should be mentioned somewhere and frowned upon by the public at large. And indeed if an accident occured and there were deaths, that would have technically been murder too, and I'm sure even more so that the local community would have come out even more in force and basically tracked down the evil scum that did this in the first place. As it is, because nothing as such happened, people are more ready to accept it. But we shouldn't. We shouldn't tolerate any such bad behaviour!

Why will the courts let us down? Even if they're caught, there'll be some social services do-gooder who'll basically plead their case and say that there was nothing for them to do, how the local council is failing them etc etc, without realising the true fact that they're vandals. Pure and simple. Even then the courts will probably let them off for diminished responsibility beacause they're so young. No, no no! It's so wrong. Do them. Do them for as long a sentence as possible. Show the local community that such behaviour will not be tolerated. Throw the book (and indeed the sentence) at them. Justice needs to be done, and done fairly and in a right way, not in a softly softly approach. I'm sick of that. It's not a deterrent to get a slap on the wrist. Being put behind bars in the most foul and putrid place should be however.

I can only hope that the scum who did this get caught, and get sentenced, and when they do, the media report it, shame them, and also prove that behaviour like this will no longer be tolerated by everyone, not just people like me who are heartily sick of the way that there's no respect from a fair number of children towards adults and the community anymore.

Thought 4.04: 18 September 2006: Time To Re-Regulate!

Over the last few weeks there's been increasing competition from rival bus companies on certain bus routes within Manchester, so that at one point traffic in the city centre has been ground to a standstill simply because both companies want to hog the same stop with their buses in order to get the passengers from the other company. I'll not name names, but they know who they are and they know that their aims are only done on the most profitable of the bus routes within Manchester.

Suffice to say this is not the picture painted when most of the UK's bus services were deregulated twenty years ago. Deregulation promised improvements to services, running when they were needed at a time to suit the passenger and not the profit, and indeed for money to be spent improving services that weren't going into the city centre. And has that happened? Well, as a traveller in Manchester for some thirty plus years, the answer is a most definite no.

For a start, on one bus route, it can depend on the time of day you're catching the bus to know which operator is operating the bus. This of course means that if you would like a weekly ticket some of the operators offer, and they don't cover your route in the evening, the only choice is by buying a ticket for all buses for a week, which can be in truth quite expensive, and also until recently difficult to get hold of without visiting a major bus station. And how do you get there if you actually need the pass, I ask you? Anyway, one bus route near me is run by three different operators during the week and at certain times, and particularly on a Sunday where it's pretty nightmarish, to be brutally honest.

Then there's the fares. I can appreciate the increases in wages, fuel costs, and indeed the nice new buses (although the new Stagecoach fleet's engines smell like stale urine - check them out if you don't believe me) but in order for public transport to be, well, public, it has to be affordable - for all. Whilst the national move for free travel at off peak hours for the over 60s is a big step in the right direction, but a loss for the bus companies, (hence their hefty fare increases this month to cover this loss - don't believe any other bull they tell you) it's only because of a national agreement that it went through. And even then I've seen people over 60 with a valid pass being charged after 9-30am - on a Saturday of all days! That's utterly pathetic. What I'm yet to see is stabilisation of fares that are fair for all and not just so if you buy a weekly ticket from one of the big companies.

In London, regulation actually works really well. The fares are simple to understand and so minimal delays for the drivers, the day tickets are available almost anywhere so that makes life easier too, and generally because one ticket suits all, it's easier to get around because you're not having to plan your journey so much around the fact that your ticket by x company might not be valid on y route. Granted, part of that is subsidised by council tax, but in case you didn't know, the Manchester transport executives that run services in the area already get similar subsidies from the council tax to help fund some essential services - mostly evenings and Sundays. Also, the tender for a route tends to be much more strict in that one operator runs the route alone - and becuase of regulation it doesn't matter which route it is per se - it's all paid for out of a central pot. This not only promotes fairness but also means that new routes can be developed where need arises.

We so badly need regulation in Manchester, and I for one would vote yes for it if it ever came to public debate and decision. If Manchester is to be a truly world renowned city then transport and getting around has to be simple, efficient and value for money. And because of the private ethic of profits before passengers (and I challenge the likes of First and Stagecoach to prove otherwise) there's clearly a rush on certain services and non-existancy on others. This is what needs to change. The public would like services that run when they should, and also know that tickets are simple to buy and use, and that they're all in a uniform colour - maybe orange as that used to be SELNEC's colour back in the 1970s - which identifies them much more clearly.

Every other major city in Europe employs a similar system to London. They do in Paris, and their system works really well. They do in Copenhagen too, and that works without problems. So why can't we do it? Regulation is the way forward and if done right, like it is in London, will encourage people to get back on the buses and leave the car behind, something this city badly needs.

Thought 4.03: 14 July 2006: The Buzz Of Buying Music In The Real Non-Online World

I've been thinking a lot lately about how so many people download music now, and indeed what effect this has had on the charts and indeed on the likes of music in general.

Indeed, programmes like Top of the Pops are now considered end of life and out of date simply because people want more than a chart run down with bands playing their latest hits, and that in terms of music television, people are spoilt for choice with umpteen other music channels and those that incessantly play videos of the songs up to eight weeks before release - so by the time it comes out on download and/or CD, people are already a little bored.

But back to my mode of thought: are you necessarily getting everything you really want with a download, and is it just because of the convenience that we're all becoming a nation of people looking at screens waiting for the latest track to automatically synchronise with their iPod or other portable device so that they don't have to do anything more with it other than press a few buttons or a few mouse clicks to get their instant entertainment fix?

Well let's get a few things clear here and now: compared to listening to a CD or vinyl album on a decent hifi system, there's several problems I feel which just don't make it feel the same for me, and they are:

Sadly, I can't believe people are happy with just having everything downloaded and then playing them on inferior equipment. It frustrates me. It even frustrates hi-fi speaker manufacturers who are coming up with iPod docks that at least have decent speakers to make that player sound better - I saw a lot of them when at the Hi-fi show in Bristol a few months ago.

It frustrates me even more that for some the convenience outweighs any possible enjoyment that they might get out of the whole listening to music experience. This doesn't just apply to listening either, but this actually applies to purchasing music as well. Okay, so online often you do get what you want, and you don't have to get the whole album and all that, but there's something just so wholesome about walking into a record shop, hunting down something you've just wanted to purchase, and then that feeling of happiness as you find what you want, take it home, play it and just enjoy that whole experience. I'm probably in a minority for that these days, but I can take an example a few weeks ago. HMV Manchester were playing the Howling Bells album, and I had an idea who it was but wasn't sure - but I liked it. One enquiry later and I knew what it was. One minute later and I'd found the relevant section. One minute afterwards the CD was in my hand and ready to buy. One hour later I'd got home and excitedly opened the sellophane on the CD. One day later and it was something that I'd glad I'd done.

There's also the hunt for rarer stuff that I enjoy too. I've lost count of the number of occasions I've been generally browsing in Vinyl Exchange and found a CD or vinyl album that I've been after, and it's either been an original release or something that's hard to find, and at not that much expense either. Cue one happy bunny after a half hour of relaxing searching, listening to the shop's playlist and enjoying myself being on the hunt for what I want. It might sound old fashioned, but there's something in that which I take great joy out of - and it makes the finding even more rewarding because you've tracked down what you really want most of all. Sometimes it just happens when you're looking for something else in the racks - and you don't get that online, it's a bit more cold calculated when you're on the hunt, you know?

Ultimately, it frustrates me that equipment is also the source of downloads just not matching a well mastered CD, SACD or DVD-Audio disc. Being a bit of an audiophile on the quiet, I've embraced the DVD-Audio format, and when you listen to that compared to an original CD release and especially a download, it just makes the download experience seem very flat and pointless at times. Even listening to a CD just sounds a lot more pure and open in terms of audio quality and in the right atmosphere and sound field, just can't be matched. I don't feel like moshing around the room when listening to a Skunk Anansie MP3 on my PC that I've done from a CD, but if I play the CD, that's it - I'm off on one and rocking. It's just so much more enjoyable, you know.

What's even more annoying is that people spend a couple of hundred pounds on their portable music device. Sure, it's convenient and all, but for that amount you could very easily visit a hi-fi shop and purchase a good quality CD player, amplifier, speakers and some cables for that amount. And the latter would also last you a lot longer as well in terms of robustness and sound quality, not to mention reliability and in some cases endless frustrating battery changes or recharges (ask any first generation iPod owner about the battery and watch their clenched teeth). In fact most people start that way and then develop their systems further with other add-ons, which is what I did many years ago. Now I've got a really nice rig, and it's not the top top hi-fi system ever, but certainly listening to CDs through my bi-wired Mission m73s just sounds so lovely.

So, while I appeciate the convenience of downloads, there's a whole lot missing musically that you just don't get in terms of experience. I urge you to take a CD down to your local hi-fi retailer, hear the difference and use your money wisely - then go and buy some nice new CDs to play with to test the rig out. You'll be so glad you did.

Thought 4.02: 24 May 2006: Individuality - More Than A State of Someone Else's Mind

I was having a think today and one of the thoughts that entered my mind is how often people judge you as a person without realising that they're making rash generalisation into what their perception of you is. After all, people only generally see you if they pass you in the street, if you're with friends or a partner in that situation, or they may know you because they're a work colleague and you tend to share more about yourself with those people. But how often do you feel judged because you may have spoken an opinion about something that you feel strongly about, and how often is it that judgement becomes infectious and that you're having to defend yourself for the actions or words?

I often felt frustrated like that, and still do, because being a person, and being you, is all about you. Simple as. Not because of any expectations of how someone wants you to be, or how they'd like you to be either. I am sure you out there may have had situations where a partner has tried to change you (and if you're not, you're lucky, good on you) or where you've walked past someone and they've tutted in your direction, stuff like that. Are we, the human race, so wanting to put someone in a pigeonhole because it fits our own comfortable little world in which we live in, or does it need a kick in the proverbials because we're all sick of being labelled or tarnished with the same brush?

Look at recent world events. Anyone these days who says they are English also tends to think it's with shame, because of our country's involvement in Iraq. Okay, so democratically Parliament was elected and so they made the decision, but does that mean that as an individual we accept this status quo? Damn bloody right we don't. We speak out, we protest democratically, we make our views heard and we tell it like it is. And that's what makes the beauty of being an individual. I'd hate to be abroad and have someone spit vitriol in my direction because of a decision our Prime Minister made which had nothing to do with me. After all, most of us now detest him for his constant spin and lies about various decisions that have been made, and it's that mistrust that echoes throughout the country at the moment. It's no longer a case of who do you trust, but who do you least mistrust.

I hate being judged. I'd like people to think that I am me and me alone, not be pigeonholed into the likes of IT geek, music officionado, hi-fi and techno geek, sad old middle aged Morrissey fan, emotional to the core, all that sort of thing. That would be much better. I don't judge back either. One of my best friends would probably have pre-judging worse than me because of various reasons, but does that affect the people he cares about and who care about him? No, because true friends see the person beyond anything else, and it's the person that makes you who you are.

So next time you're out there and you see something, instead of judging a person, think about it. Maybe see if the way they dress, the way they act, the way they feel, is all part of their persona. There's often deeper rooted reasons than you might think and being that person is the individuality that we all are. We're all individual people, we're all different and that's a good thing in my eyes. After all, wouldn't it be totally and utterly boring if we all thought the same, felt the same and acted the same? Let that be a lesson you learn after watching those Cybermen on Doctor Who the other night. The human body and emotions are a powerful thing as part of that individuality, and one we often lose sight of in ourselves.

Thought 4.01: 11 May 2006: Feed The Goat a Deserved Testimonial

Now there's not often that I am so wishing for something to happen in life. However, this Saturday just gone, one of the nicest people in football played his final game, capping off his career with a League One title win with his club Southend United. But why should that matter to me? After all, I am a Manchester City fan. Well, it does matter when you realise that the player I'm talking about is one Shaun Goater, a true City hero and legend to boot.

Saturday's events at Roots Hall showed how much pleasure and happiness he gave football supporters over the years. By a twist of fate, Southend played Bristol City (one of Shaun's former clubs) and so the Bristol fans could be there to wish him well. Added to that, Southend very graciously gave a few hundred Man City fans a chance to be there too and to cheer him on for the very last time, a gesture that proved to be an excellent and inspired move for all concerned.

By all accounts, the game wasn't anything to write home about, but as Shaun was substituted with a few minutes to go so that he could get a reception, all four sides of the ground in unison stood up to applaud and cheer the man. A long substitution it turned out to be, but one that I am sure will stay in the memory of everyone there and for us City fans, a fitting tribute. Southend then scored, won 1-0 and clinched the title, and as the title was being paraded around the ground with the players doing a lap of honour, the Bristol City fans stayed graciously to cheer, and everyone just enjoyed themselves. All through the game the Man City fans helped generate a great atmosphere throughout, with plenty of chants and songs too.

For three sets of fans to be there and unanimously wish him well in Bermuda in his retirement, it said it all. Over the years Shaun had given plenty of good memories to the teams he played for, and especially at Manchester City, those were wonderful ones. He scored vital goals in the 1998-99 season to get us to the playoffs and got the important semifinal winner against Wigan, and in the 1999-2000 promotion campaign, it was he who got the vital equaliser against Blackburn that set us on our way back to the promised land of the Premiership. It was no irony that with him injured a fair bit during 2000-01 that we went down again, but the 2001-02 campaign was something else: Shaun scored 32 goals that year, the first City player to score that many for a long time.

But it was in his and City's final season at Maine Road that he wrote himself into the hearts of every City fan. After coming off the bench to get a last gasp equaliser against Blackburn at home, November 9th came and it was the old enemy United, in the last ever derby at our old ground. Shaun played a blinder, in true City chant tradition The Goat was fed, and was he hungry? You bet. The way he chased down Gary Neville for a hopeless cause, got the ball and slotted it past Fabian Barthez, and Neville's reaction afterwards, was fantastic, and the way he dinked the ball over the keeper for the third, latching on to an excellent ball by Eyal Berkovic, said it all for me. It was also his 100th goal for City, that one, and the passion with which he celebrated was more than enough for even the most cynical of City fans to have been won over.

And not just content with that, at Old Trafford he comes off the bench with minutes to go, and a mere nine seconds after coming on (a Premiership record) he headed the ball into the corner of the United net and it was pure joy and pandemonium. Indeed, in the pub I was brave enough to watch the game in, you could see the fear from the United fans as The Goat came on, knowing his prowess, and then the pure hugs and celebrations with fellow fans after he scored, that was magic. A feeling you don't often get in football, and one which made me so proud to be a blue.

I had the fortune to meet him a few weeks later at one of the City fan roadshows. The amount of chants for him and the queue of people wanting his autograph or a picture taken with him said everything about him, and he took time out for everyone and didn't mind. And when asked questions, he was eloquent in his answers, displaying a warm friendly attitude that by all accounts was the same at Southend this season. I'm sure Shrimpers fans out there feel the same way.

When he announced he was leaving City, no one held it against him - it was clear that he wanted to enjoy his football and due to Kevin Keegan giving him hardly any opportunity to do so, he knew he needed to go elsewhere. Although a move to Reading proved sour after Alan Pardew left for West Ham and replacement manager Steve Coppell not rating him, and a short loan spell at Coventry, Southend manager Steve Tilson talked him out of retirement for one final season, to give Southend a good footing to League One where they'd won promotion.

Shaun didn't just help them: he was an influence too. It was no surpise when he said at the start of the season that their striker Freddy Eastwood would score lots of goals (he ended up getting 23) and saw the potential in him. Freddy nicknamed Shaun his "Dad" as The Goat happily helped him develop his game and was a mentor to him, and I'm sure he taught Freddy the meaning of the word loyalty as Freddy said at the end of the season he wanted to stay and repay Southend's loyalty in him. If that's down to The Goat, then I'm sure that just even more shows why he's held in such high regard.

Such a player as Shaun Goater doesn't happen often in this modern day and age, and for that we salute him. It's about time that he had a testimonial game he deserves, at the City of Manchester Stadium, with Southend as the opponents (the friendship gained between both sets of fans is all down to The Goat, I'm sure) - and with the proceeds going to promote grass roots football in Bermuda. Be like me, and sign the official petition. Do it. Now. If you're a true fan of football.