Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Keep It Light Enough To Travel

It was the perfect Proper Chap's Night In on Wednesday evening. Top Gear and Three Men Go To New England on Beeb2 followed by Simon Nye's Armstrong and Miller vehicle Felix and Murdo on Channel Four. That, in anyone's language dear blog reader, added up to a pretty sharp trio of yer actual quality British entertainment. Add in a nice bowl of spicy oxtail soup (yer actual Keith Telly Topping is having some minor dental issues at the moment, the details of which, trust me, you don't need to know) and a couple of glasses of Bailey's with ice and you have a very civilised night at yer actual Stately Telly Topping Manor. So, let's start off with something which is guaranteed to put a scowl on every hippy Communist Gruniad reader's miserable, sour boat-race. Cos, let's face it, that's always a good thing. Some say that he's a scourge of political correctness (and some, far more accurately, say that he plays a character who is and loads of Gruniad readers can't tell the sodding difference). Some say he's a tormentor of Mexicans, cyclists, lorry drivers, striking public sector workers and Germans. Some - arsehole louse-scum from the Gruniad and the Daily Scum Mail, mainly - reckon he's a danger to Western Civilisation, responsible for all the evils in the world and should be jailed, deported, shot in front of his family or have his pubic hair pulled out - one at a time - by tweezers. All we know is that now, apparently, he's a God. Last month, in India, it was widely reported - by various scum tabloid lice - that Jeremy Clarkson had been 'mistaken for an incarnation of the divine.' Mistaken, by whom, they didn't say.
'Yes, and these are the same reports that claim I've had Botox,' noted Jezza's co-presenter Richard Hammond (the short one). 'I have to say I can't possibly look upon Jeremy as a God.' No. Too much nasal hair, surely? Nevertheless in India, where Jezza, The Hamster and James May ventured to film Top Gear's 2011 Christmas special, they were the subject of genuine Beatlemania-style fan worship. Top Gear is broadcast into more than twenty five million homes across the subcontinent. That's a lot of viewers: 'And, most of them turned out to greet us,' Hammond told the Radio Times. As ever, the trio were up to mischief. 'We wanted to do our bit to strengthen trade relations between Britain and India,' Hammond claims, despite the Prime Minister's pleading that they not go. 'So we took it upon ourselves to demonstrate what a powerful nation Great Britain is by showcasing famous British brands.' With Jezza at the wheel of a Jaguar XJS, Captain Slow driving a beautiful Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow and The Hamster in a Mini Cooper, the most unconventional trade delegation in British economic history took two weeks to drive thirteen hundred miles, visiting some of India's major cities and most majestic scenery. 'The people everywhere were incredibly warm, but the roads are unbelievably dangerous,' says Hammond. 'It appears you can drive on either side of the road, regardless of what direction you're going in. It's absolutely terrifying.' More dangerous than the roads is the standard of Indian driving. 'People in India are extremely knowledgeable about cars. The problem is when they get in them they become lunatic. There's plenty of overtaking, often with two cars overtaking at the same time. But Mumbai was the worst. The traffic jams during the day were crazy. So we couldn't work out why we were told not to drive at night. But it transpires it's because nobody bothers to use their lights. So there are lorries hurtling towards you on your side of the road without lights.' Hammond also revealed that this year's special contained a new ingredient – emotion. 'We experienced some powerful moments,' he says. 'At one point we were playing cricket with the locals and were bringing the cars into it. It started off as a joke but then the whole thing became moving because the locals are so endearing. India gets to you. It's why we left thinking it was the most bonkers yet wonderful place we'd ever been to.'
The episode itself was, as usual with the Top Gear specials, beautifully shot and directed, featuring staggering travelogue imagery. Plus a fantastic sitar, sarod, tambura and tabla-based rāga soundtrack (and a really spectacularly awful cover of 'Hey Jude' from the reformed Top Gear Band). And lots of smutty schoolboy jokes. I mean, lots of them. Enough to keep yer average Gruniad Morning Star louse happily whinging to their hearts content for days afterwards. Yer actual Keith Telly Topping loved The Hill Climb Challenge. ('And then, the police arrived ... But, only so that they could have a go!') And, the train journey to Jaipur. And the Mexican flag joke. And, the cooking for the ambassadorial trade reception, the Genesis jokes and, especially, the drive through the Himalayas. 'That's going to stay with me forever,' noted Hammond at the sight of one breathtaking view. Plus, the motorsport cricket match with the local kids which was, genuinely, moving. But, most of all, yer actual Keith Telly Topping loved this.
Yes, it is puerile, but what the hell? It's also funny. Top Gear in a nutshell. Something which scowling, sour-faced Rachel Tarley in the Daily Scum Mail's sister paper, the Metro, completely failed to acknowledge in her po-faced and wholly worthless review of the episode. One imagines the Gruniad will probably find something else to whinge about. After all, there's a 'y' in the day. That's if they're not too busy wittering on about pandas. See below.
Then there was the second part of the latest Rhys-Jones, McGrath and Ó Briain 'messing about in boats' malarkey, Three Men Go To New England.
Funnier - and also, rather more touching - than the opening episode the highlight was, undoubtedly, Dara's gridiron kicking exploits. Or, you know, lack of them. And the final ten minutes and the entry into New York harbour was, as with the end of Top Gear, really rather moving.
Finally, Felix and Murdo. In which Ben and Xander, as if any proof were actually needed, reminded us that they're not just very good comedy actors (we knew that already from The Armstrong & Miller Show, Primeval, Death in Paradise, Skellig, Doctor Who et al) but also the heirs to Fry and Laurie's crown as the best comedy double act this country has produced in years. Mitchell and Webb? Mention them not.
Dumbing down on TV, dear blog reader? It's a vexed subject but yer actual Keith Telly Topping usually poo-pahs such rank nonsense and concludes that claims about this are nine-times-out-of-ten nought but the fevered imaginings of a variety of snooty sods trying to show how clever they are by suggesting that other people, you know, aren't. However, it needs to be said, whoever's bright idea it was to have Stacey Solomon on Celebrity Mastermind was, basically, asking for trouble.
For everyone that missed Stephen Fry's appearance on I've Never Watched Star Wars on Tuesday, night here's proof that - for a couple of days, at least - 'the much-loved actor, screenwriter, author, presenter, comedian, scholar and sage' (according to the Radio Times anyway) did, actually, get himself an ear-stud for the Jo Brand-presented programme! Tragically, it didn't last due to some reshoots on the second Sherlock Holmes movie (in which Stephen plays Mycroft). But, it was fun while it lasted. And also, painful, I imagine.
Speaking of which, don't forget ... He is coming.
Author, wit and social commentator Will Self has said that we all must take the blame for phone-hacking and other unsavoury practices by the media. In a column written for BBC News, the novelist claimed that there are larger concerns raised by the Leveson Inquiry than 'ostensible issue of privacy. It is these wider waves of amoral sepsis pulsing through the body politic that should concern us more, these and the still more fulminating malignancy of our own appetite for scandals of all sorts, but the more lurid the better,' Self argued. 'When it comes to the phone-hacking disease and its hysterical sequelae we are, indeed, all to blame.' He continued: 'This is Andy Warhol's future, where, courtesy of reality television and talent competitions, everyone can be famous for fifteen minutes because the idea that renown should follow from substantive achievement has been completely abandoned. The trouble is that we are no longer a free people. Instead, addicted to prurient titillation and apathetic to the point of nihilism, the entire sweep of our recent history proclaims us to be a nation that knows the price of everything - especially our houses - and the value of nothing.' Yeah. That sounds about right.

So, according to some utter berk at the Gruniad Morning Star the BBC has 'caused outrage' by choosing a panda as one of its twelve women of 2011. 'Caused outrage' with whom, Shiv Malik - the author of this disgraceful piece of odious nonsense - doesn't actually make clear at first. He leaves his readers with the assumption that it's somebody who actually matters until several paragraphs into his ridiculous non-story when the truth suddenly becomes apparent. The selection of Tian Tian was made by the BBC magazine for its Faces of the Year 2011 and published on Wednesday. It included a page for both a dozen female and male personalities for each month. The men's page included the likes of actor Colin Firth, prospective Republic presidential nominee Herman Cain and Scum of the World journalist spotty Paul McMullan for his whistleblowing role in the phone-hacking scandal. Then we get to the crux of the matter as Malik finally coughs up the phlegm behind this piece of rubbish. 'Twitter users also complained that rather than being selected for their achievements one in four selected women included those involved in marriages, such as Pippa Middleton, Charlene Wittstock who married Prince Albert of Monaco, and the Spanish billionaire the Duchess of Alba.' Ah. Yes. So, it turns out this 'outrage' which, it is being claimed, the BBC has caused is something on Twitter. Twitter of course, as previously discussed on this blog, appears to be the only thing that matters to lazy wanker Gruniad journalists like Malik who, apparently, can't be bothered to get off their arses and find quotes from real people whilst they're sipping their Frappucinos. Instead, they just go on Twitter and steal some reactions from there to justify the tone of a particular agenda-driven article. As though, again, Twitter is now The Sole Arbiter of All Things In Life. Freelance journalist Bob Chaundy, whose name appears at the bottom of the BBC's webpage, agreed it was 'an odd choice' but denied that he had made the selection. He told the Gruniad Morning Star, a sick anti-BBC agenda painted an inch thick all over this ludicrous excuse from an article, that the selection was 'put together by BBC editors' and that he only 'wrote up their choices.' Speaking from home, Chaundy added that the choice was supposed to be eclectic and light-hearted. 'When you do faces of the year it's not like Time faces of the year. They've picked slightly offbeat people. It's not David Attenborough or Barack Obama,' he explained. Responding to the 'debacle' - again, Malik's words, not anybody that actually matters - Chaundy tweeted: 'I didn't choose the BBC women faces of the year subjects, just wrote them. Two black eyes from wife though. Pandamonium! [sic]' Somehow, this odious piece of nothing then attempted to fold in the 'BBC's failure to nominate a woman for the Sports Personality of the Year award.' Which, of course, wasn't 'the BBC's failure' at all since that particular list was compiled for the BBC by editors and journalists at a variety of national newspapers and magazines. So, not only is this article outrageously tawdry and based on less than nothing it's although more than a touch mendacious as well. Speaking about the BBC's faces of the year, the Labour MP Stella Creasy said that the broadcaster had a long way to go when it comes to representing women. 'Whilst we all love a good panda story, in a year when Christine Lagarde became head of the IMF, or Helle Thorning-Schmidt became prime minister of Denmark or even the sad death of Amy Winehouse, its frustrating the BBC couldn't think of twelve human female faces who have made the news this year.' What's even more frustrating, this blogger would suggest - particularly for the voters of Walthamstow who put Stella into parliament - is that, seemingly, she hasn't got anything better to do with her time than to waste it on nonsense like this. In response, the BBC - rather wearily, one suspects - said that it was not the first time that animals (or, indeed, their cartoon representations) had been chosen for the women's or men's pages. 'Including Sweetie as one for the annual headline-makers was a light-hearted addition to the list, and this isn't the first time it has featured a non-human. In 2009, Benson the Carp, a much-caught giant fish, was August's entry on the male list and last year Peppa the Pig was on the female list for April [2010],' the BBC said. Sadly, the BBC didn't go on to ask Malik, 'why don't you make your New Year's resolution for 2012 to try and become a real journalist?' They didn't say that, dear blog reader, because the BBC is, collectively, far too polite to respond to such arrant and rank stupidity in the manner which it thoroughly deserves. But I'm not. Just as a matter of pure disinterest, Mr Malik's two stories prior to this disgrace were, as it happens, a couple of pieces of real honest-to-God reportage on the subject of the dreadful murder of the young Indian student Anuj Bidve in Salford on Boxing Day. Well-researched, sympatheticly phrased and containing enough evidence to suggest that when he puts his mind to it, this bloke can really write. And, not a single quote solicited from Twitter in the entire thing. From that, to this piece of faeces about pandas and feigned 'outrage' in less than twenty four hours. You should be sodding-well ashamed of yourself Shiv.

A jumbo shrimp is causing big worries about the future of the Gulf of Mexico's ecosystem. The Asian tiger prawn, a foot-long crustacean with a voracious appetite and a proclivity for disease, has invaded the Northern Gulf, threatening prized native species, from crabs and oysters to smaller brown and white shrimp reports suggest. Though no one is quite sure what the ecological impact will be, that hasn't stopped scientists from speculating that 'a tiger prawn takeover' could ruin nature's balance and turn a healthy, diverse marine habitat into one dominated by a single invasive species. Of course, that's not certain but, why be balanced when you can pitch a desperate worst-case-scenario to scare the buggering bejesus out of people? 'It has the potential to be real ugly,' said Leslie Hartman, Matagorda Bay ecoystem leader for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. 'But we just don't know.' The tiger prawns from the western Pacific - which can grow up to thirteen inches long - have been spreading along the Gulf Coast since 2006, but their numbers really took off this year. Shrimpers pulled one from Texas waters for the first time in June. In all, three tiger prawns have been found in Aransas Bay, one in Sabine Lake near the Louisiana border and one in Gulf waters about seventy miles from Freeport, according to the Texas Sea Grant program. Marine scientists will conduct genetic studies on the shrimp to determine their origin. Hartman said they will need at least sixty prawns for an accurate analysis. Some speculate that the Gulf invasion began with an accidental release of farmed prawns in South Carolina in 1988. Another theory is that the prawns may have escaped from flooded industrial shrimp ponds in the Caribbean Sea during recent hurricanes. The threat underscores concerns about large-scale fish farming, also known as aquaculture, in the Gulf. The federal government opened the waters to fish farms in 2009 despite fears from environmental and fishing interests over how to protect wild stocks. Disease normally would exist in relatively low levels in fish around the Gulf but can run rampant in densely packed fish farms. Tiger prawns are a known carrier of at least sixteen viruses, such as white spot, which can be lethal to shrimp. The Gulf policy calls for only native species to be farmed, but it does not have the force of law, said George Leonard, who leads the Ocean Conservancy's aquaculture program. 'We need to be really, really cautious,' Leonard said. 'There has to be rules and regulations.' Texas allows industrial-scale shrimp ponds, but requires permits for the cultivation of non-native species. No one in the state is farming tiger prawns, said Tony Reisinger, a marine and coastal resources expert for the Texas Sea Grant program. Marine scientists have yet to find any juvenile tiger prawns in Texas waters, a sign that the species is breeding. It is a difficult assignment because they look similar to native white shrimp at a young age. Tiger prawns weigh more than a half-pound and have distinctive black and white stripes on the tail. They eat the same types of food as native shrimp species, but also prey on their smaller cousins, as well as crabs and young oysters. 'It's a large, competitive species,' Reisinger said. They're also really, really tasty.

For the latest Keith Telly Topping's 33 of the Day a little masterpiece from The Be Good Tanyas, specifically for all the chaps that want to go a-travellin'.