Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Enough Is Enough

Yer actual Keith Telly Topping has been a deeply unhappy chap these last three months dear blog reader. You may have noticed this from the general whining and, overall, stroppy and discombobulated tone of the last couple of bloggerisationism updates. Sorry 'bout that, dear blog reader. A stupid, at the time seemingly innocuous, back injury occasioned by this blogger tripping over his own feet on the Stately Telly Topping Manor stairs whilst taking some rubbish out to the bins was diagnosed - remotely - by this blogger's medical staff as a simple torn muscle around the third vertebrae which, with rest and some industrial strength pain-killers would, eventually, put itself right. Except that, as of the time of writing, it hasn't. Not in the eleven weeks since The Incident occurred and, seemingly, not for the foreseeable future. Keith Telly Topping remains, sad to report, in more-or-less constant pain and, for the most part, immobilised and house-bound - this blogger is able to limp to the local supermarket and post office and back about once a week but, that's the limit of Keith Telly Topping's athletic activities at present. Some days are, admittedly, better than others and there are even odd moments - usually when he's just taken some codeine and is in bed, asleep - this blogger is even able to convince himself there is some light at the end of the tunnel (and that it isn't, as Half Man Half Biscuit once suggested, the light of an oncoming train). Work have been, this blogger is keen to note, broadly speaking patient and sympathetic about this lengthy absence. But, earlier this week, this blogger surrendered to the inevitable and offered his resignation in the knowledge that there is currently no end in sight to his enforced lay off. It's an age-old truism, dear blog reader, but it really is an ill wind that blows no one any good.
Anyway, the odd bout of tetchiness concerning the manifest unfairness life aside, this blogger remains determined to get his shit together, learn to walk properly again and, generally, shake himself from his pain-induced lethargy and depression which has made him like a bear with a sore arse to be around these last three months. It is, perhaps, somewhat fortunate the enforced social isolationism of this coronavirus malarkey has meant that apart from the Stately Telly Topping Manor postman and the check-out ladies at Aldi, this blogger has barely had any contact with any persons alive or dead during the entire period. Not a view you'll see voiced by many people in these strange and troubled times, dear blog reader, but this blogger likes being different.
In other Stately Telly Topping Manor-related news, this blogger is delighted to report that Freddie the Stately Telly Topping Manor freezer whose arrival three weeks ago was noted in the last From The North bloggerisationism update has been working well. And, over the course of two or three limps to local supermarkets, that fact has enabled this blogger to, if not fill Freddie up then, at least, make a start on giving him something to actually freeze. Which is nice.
Plus, of course dear blog reader, this blogger has really deserved all of these ...
Lordy mama, yes indeedy. If there is but one thing that this blogger is still able to do well, dear blog reader, it's pick up the phone to one or other of the takeaways local to Stately Telly Topping Manor and do the 'it's for delivery' thing. What can this blogger say in his own defence, dear blog reader? He would leave this place and limp along to the chip-oil for his daily exercise if he could. He would, but he's got this really bad back, see ... Catch-twenty two, if you will. Fine boo, that. Pretty poor movie adaptation, though.
Which, as if by design - which it actually was - brings us too ...
(Hey, this blogger doesn't just throw these things together, you know. Even when he is in pain ...)

The Bridge. This blogger had quite forgotten just how remarkable the first series of the Swedish/Danish crime drama was. Until good old BBC4 dug it out for a highly timely repeat.
Line Of Duty. Ditto. Bless the cotton socks of the person that invented iPlayer. Where, all five series of Jed Mercurio's masterpiece are currently available.
Prodigal Son. This was the first occasion in some considerable time that this blogger has watched all twenty episodes of a series, got to the end and then gone back and watched it all over again. This blogger still stands by the flaws which he alluded to in the last From The North update but, there's something properly intriguing about Prodigal Son. Speculating on how much coffee Michael Sheen had been drinking on an average morning on set, mainly.
Derren Brown: Twenty Years Of Mind Control. A combination of documentary, greatest hits clip-show and live prestidigitation, this celebration of the (self-deprecating) 'national treasure' demonstrated all of the techniques which From The North favourite Dazzling Dezza has used since he first appeared on our screens in 2000; misdirection, cold-reading, auto-suggestion, showmanship, illusionism, 'a health and safety nightmare' and effortless charm. It also featured this blogger's favourite line on TV this year so far - 'You are live on Channel Four so please swear as much as you like!' And, also, his second favourite: 'I have never met them, it's live and there's a plague, what could possibly go wrong?' Plus some smear of no importance at the Gruniad Morning Star felt compelled to have a whinge about it. So, on general principle, that's merely one more reason to love Twenty Years Of Mind Control the mostest, baby.
Mortimer & Whitehouse Gone Fishing. Because relaxation is good for bad backs. Apparently. And so is laughter.
Dave Gorman's Modern Life Is Goodish. And, whilst we're blessing the cotton sock of whomsoever invented iPlayer, the chap - or lady-chap - behind UKTVPlay also deserves a jolly good pat on the back.
The general outputs of BBC4, Sky Arts, Yesterday, Sky Nature, Crime+Investigation, Eden, PBS America and Sky Documentaries. Because TV in which you might - dangerously - learn something is never a bad thing; whatever the average scum tabloid may opine to the contrary.
The X Files.
Little Birds.
Qi. The - shortened - R series has now concluded but it was really good to see From The North favourite The Extremely Righteous Benjamin Zephaniah appearing in the final episode.
Doctor Phibes Rises Again. 'Every time we build a better mousetrap, Phibes has built a better mouse!'
The Be-Atles' (A Popular Beat Combo Of The 1960s, You Might've Heard Of Them) Anthology.
The Godfather, Part II.
The Sopranos.
And, of course, Would I Lie To You? Because, you know, some things never change.
And, because the trailers for all three have been cropping up about every five minutes on the various Sky channels, this blogger is rather looking forward to Lovecraft Country, I Hate Suzy and Two Weeks To Live.
On a somewhat related theme, this whole lockdown malarkey enforced due to the plague (not to mention back injuries and all that) have, reportedly, brought about a surge - that's a surge - in TV watching and online streaming. This is according to the media watchdog - and politically-appointed quango, elected by no one - Ofcom. Or, in the case of this blogger, just watching roughly the same amount of telly as he did before all this crap started. Swings and roundabouts, innit? Ofcom's annual study into UK media habits (to which this blogger did contribute) suggested adults - many stuck indoors - spent forty per cent of their waking hours in front of a screen, on average. What they do for the other sixty per cent of the time, they don't say. Probably contemplating the inherently ludicrous nature of existence, or something. Time spent on subscription streaming services also doubled during April. Though, not in Stately Telly Topping Manor, they didn't. At the height of lockdown, adults spent an average of six hours and twenty five minutes each day viewing ... stuff. Pfft. Lightweights. Screen time overall was up almost a third (thirty one per cent) on last year. People watched streaming services, such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+, for one hour eleven minutes per day and twelve million punters joined a service that they hadn't used previously. Three million of these viewers had never subscribed to any service before. The majority signed up to Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, although Disney+ overtook Now TV as the third most popular paid-for streaming platform in the UK. Older viewers - yes, dear blog reader, just like yer actual Keith Telly Topping - who typically watch more traditional broadcast TV, increased their use of streaming platforms, too. One third of fifty five to sixty four year-olds and fifteen per cent of people aged over sixty five used subscription services in the early weeks of lockdown. The study, entitled Media Nations 2020, suggested that as lockdown measures eased towards the end of June, the uplift in streaming services held firm - seventy one per cent up on the same time last year. This figure also included people viewing more non-broadcast content on platforms like YouTube and gaming sites. And, more than half of UK adults (fifty five per cent) with new streaming subscriptions said that they will keep them and spend the same amount of time watching streamed content in future. However in July, Netflix warned investors that subscriber growth will inevitably slow, after it it added more than ten million subscribers in the previous three months, bringing the total of new subscribers to twenty six million in 2020. In contrast, Netflix saw twenty eight million new subscribers for the whole of 2019. 'Growth is slowing as consumers get through the initial shock of coronavirus and social restrictions,' the company said. As for the public service broadcasters - BBC, ITV, Channel Four and Channel Five - they achieved their highest combined monthly share of broadcast TV viewing (fifty nine per cent) in more than six years in March, as people turned to trusted news services for daily updates on the virus. The BBC was, by a distance, the most popular source of news and information about Covid-Nineteen - used by eighty two per cent of adults during the first weeks of lockdown. Of course, in the age of information overload, our attention is the most precious resource for all broadcasters. These days we tend to devote ever more of it to screens. And that was before lockdown. The surge in screen viewing through the pandemic is - genuinely - extraordinary, if somewhat understandable. Cos, you know, what else are you gonna do if you're stuck in your drum all day, every day? Contemplating the inherently ludicrous nature of existence is only entertaining for so long. It is important to remember, also, that many of the companies or services that have turned us into screen addicts didn't exist a decade ago. Sadly for Britain's commercial broadcasters, all these eyeballs haven't turned into revenue, as advertising is in sharp retreat, for now at least. Before lockdown, the creative industries were growing several times faster than the rest of the economy, albeit powered by US companies. Never mind 'Eat Out To Help Out'; might 'Tune In To Help Out' be a slogan to boost Britain's path out of a deep and dark recession? Broadcasters' video-on demand services also received a boost in lockdown. Dramas Normal People and Killing Eve - both of which will feature strongly in From The North's end-of-year 'Best Of' list - helped BBC iPlayer attract a record five hundred and seventy million programme requests in May 2020 - seventy two per cent higher than in the equivalent month in 2019. Channel Four's on-demand service, All Four, generated thirty per cent more views among sixteen to thirty four year olds - suffering from severe Hollyoaks-withdrawal, probably - in the first two weeks of lockdown compared with the same period in 2019. And viewers spent eighty two per cent more time year-on-year watching ITV Hub. However, the boost to PSBs' linear audiences was short-lived as coronavirus interrupted production on soaps including EastEnders, Coronation Street and Emmerdale, as well as major sporting events like the Olympics and the Premier League and entertainment broadcasts such as the Glastonbury Festival. By the end of June and with lockdown easing, the amount of time viewers spent watching traditional broadcast content fell forty four minutes to three hours and two minutes per day. Except in Stately Telly Topping Manor where it remained considerably higher than that. Broadcast TV viewing is now comparably lower than it was in 2014 to 2017, although it remains eleven per cent higher than this time last year.
And, so to the - by now traditional - From The North 'death corner'. The singer and actor Trini Lopez has died aged eighty three, after contracting Covid-Nineteen, at hospital in Rancho Mirage, California. As well as starring in the 1967 second world war action movie The Dirty Dozen, Lopez scored a transatlantic hit with 'If I Had A Hammer' and designed a pair of sought-after guitar models for Gibson. Trinidad Lopez III was born in Dallas, to Mexican parents. His father was also an actor and singer. Trini's life changed after his father bought him a twelve dollar black Gibson acoustic from a pawn shop when he was fourteen. His father taught him to play the instrument, which led the teenage Lopez to perform in Dallas nightclubs with his first band - including The Vegas Club, owned by Jack Ruby - that usually didn't allow Mexican-American patrons. Buddy Holly saw Lopez at a nightclub in Wichita Falls and introduced him to Norman Petty, his producer in Clovis, New Mexico. Holly died in a plane crash six months later and Lopez briefly replaced him as singer of The Crickets. Trini shuttled between various record contracts for several of years but he earned a nightclub residency at PJ's in Los Angeles, where he was heard by Frank Sinatra, who signed him to his new label, Reprise. Trini's debut LP was recorded live at PJ's in 1963, featuring a range of songs that drew from US folk, rock'n'roll and traditional Mexican songcraft, including covers of Ray Charles's' What'd I Say?', Woody Guthrie's 'This Land Is Your Land' and a raucous 'La Bamba'. His version of Pete Seeger's 'If I Had a Hammer' outstripped the success of an earlier hit version by Peter, Paul and Mary, reaching the top three in the US, number four in the UK and number one in thirty six other countries; the LP sold over a million copies. Lopez had further US hits with 'Kansas City', 'Michael', 'Get Along Without Ya Now', 'Sally Was A Good Old Girl' and 'Lemon Tree', while 'I'm Comin' Home Cindy' was a minor UK hit in 1966. He had success in the Spanish-language market with The Latin Album. A rare Latino in the rock and folk world of the time, he would speak often of resisting pressure from record company executives to change his name and presumably appeal more to white audiences. Lopez received a Grammy nomination for best new artist of 1963 and by early 1964 he was so in demand that he and The Be-Atles (a popular beat combo of the 1960s, you might've heard of them) were co-headliners with Sylvie Vartan during an eighteen-day engagement at the Olympia Theatre in Paris. It was just before The Be-Atles were due to travel to the US, appear on The Ed Sullivan Show and, consequently, upend the careers of Lopez and countless others. 'The French newspapers would say "Bravo Trini Lopez! Who are The Beatles?"' Lopez later said in an interview. 'The last night we were there, reporters came to my dressing room. And they said "Mister Lopez, The Beatles are leaving tomorrow for New York. Do you think they’ll be a hit?" I said "I don’t think so."' So, good singer, decent actor, crap fortune teller. At the peak of his popularity Trini was asked by guitar manufacturer Gibson to design two models, The Trini Lopez Standard and The Lopez Deluxe, owners of which include Dave Grohl and Noel Gallagher. In the mid-1960s he was releasing as many as five LPs a year, though that slowed in the 1970s. While he continued performing, he released very little music until 2000, when he began recording again. He also starred in a self-titled TV variety show in 1969, which was part of a short, but interesting, acting career. His most famous role was as Pedro Jimenez in 1967's The Dirty Dozen, starring alongside Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson, Telly Savales, Donald Sutherland and many others. Lopez crossed over into acting, appearing in the comedy The Phynx and credits on television's Adam-Twelve. His nephew, Trini Martinez, was the drummer for the Dallas indie-rock band Bedhead.
Since the last bloggerisationism update, England snatched a riveting three-wicket victory from the jaws of defeat against Pakistan in the first test at Emirates Old Trafford thanks to a daring partnership between Chris Woakes and Jos Buttler. Chasing two hundred and seventy seven on a snakepit of a pitch, England looked all but beaten at one hundred and seventeen for five, only for Woakes and Buttler to counter-attack in a partnership of one hundred and thirty nine runs. Buttler was LBW reverse-sweeping Yasir Shah for seventy five with twenty one still required and the second new ball due. The promoted Stuart Broad took England to within four runs of victory, which Woakes got from an outside edge to end the match eighty four not out. It was Woakes who said on Friday night that England would draw on their experience of recent unlikely victories and this latest success followed the drama of the World Cup final and the Headingley Ashes test of 2019. Not only were they second favourites for most of the test, but conceded a one hundred and seven-run first-innings lead after errors in the field, poor tactics and a top-order collapse. They gradually battled back over the final two days, yet it was only when Buttler and Woakes were together that Pakistan's energy was replaced by trepidation.
     This was a classic finish to a gripping test, one that in another time would have had an empty Emirates Old Trafford bouncing. England were rightly criticised for their performance over the first two days - wicketkeeper Buttler's reprieves which allowed Shan Masood to make one hundred and fifty six, captain Joe Root's odd tactics and some really poor batting. But the way they battled in the second half of their first innings was brave, their bowling in Pakistan's second innings was tenacious and the match-winning Buttler and Woakes partnership was truly nerveless. They made light of a surface that was turning, spitting and rearing to help England to the second highest run-chase completed to win a test in Manchester. It was fitting that Woakes, so often an unsung hero, hit the winning runs, celebrating with a roar that echoed around the empty stadium. Buttler famously has an irreverent slogan written on the handle of his bat. It is an approach that served him well in a situation where he may have been playing for his place after the earlier keeping errors and a lean run with the bat. What made the sixth-wicket stand all the more remarkable was what had gone before. England had lost three for twenty after Naseem Shah got one to lift at Root, Yasir's fizzing googly took the glove of Ben Stokes and Ollie Pope had absolutely no chance in the face of an unplayable lifter from Shaheen Afridi. Buttler and Woakes decided that attack was the best form of defence. Buttler went after leg-spinner Yasir with drives, sweeps and reverse-sweeps. Woakes slapped the pace bowlers through the covers. The fifty partnership came in forty nine balls. Pakistan retreated and the pitch went to sleep. The previously metronomic Mohammad Abbas was ineffective. The strokeplay gave way to steady accumulation, tension rising as the scoring slowed. Buttler freed the shackles by heaving Shadab Khan for six, but was out in the following over. Broad swiped seven useful runs before his was out, then Woakes' edge to third man sealed an unlikely victory in the glorious Saturday evening sunshine. Pakistan had been in control for so long thanks to their determined first-innings batting, relentless bowling and enthusiasm in the field. The tourists showed togetherness throughout, their reserve players making noise from the balcony of the hotel which overlooks the ground. They took the initiative at the start of the day, extending their lead by thirty two runs in sixteen chaotic deliveries that concluded with the fall of the final two wickets. But Pakistan immediately seemed intimidated by Buttler. The field spread, pressure was released and runs were much easier to come by. Captain Azhar Ali burned his reviews in desperation before Yasir struck late to remove Buttler and Broad. Pakistan buzzed and chatted to the end, but ultimately lost a match that they should have won.
What a difference a week makes, however. The issue of bad light in test cricket 'needs to be addressed' according to Joe Root after bad light and rain utterly ruined the drawn second test at the Ageas Bowl, with only a day and a half's play possible across the entire match. Root said authorities should consider using a brighter red ball, bringing forward the start time, not being so rigid with when lunch and tea are taken and improving floodlights at test grounds. 'It is something that needs looking at higher up the chain,' he said. 'It is way above my pay grade but there are different things that may be able to be trialled to see if there are other ways we could do things in this country to avoid similar scenarios. It has been a huge talking point but it needs to be addressed somewhere somehow.' England reached one hundred and ten for four in reply to Pakistan's two hundred and thirty six before Root and Azhar Ali agreed on a draw which preserved the hosts' one-nil lead in the three-match series. Zak Crawley made fifty three and Dom Sibley thirty two but fell in consecutive Mohammad Abbas overs. Ollie Pope was out fifteen minutes before the close. The test was the ninth shortest in England in terms of balls bowled, although it was only the third draw in the past forty three tests in the UK. Only 134.3 overs - less than a day and a half's play - were possible in the match, the shortest test in England since 1987. Root said 'we've got protect the game as much as possible,' adding: 'You don't want to drastically change the game too much for potentially only an hour's bad light in a five-day game.' Under ICC regulations, umpires can take the players off for bad light when they deem it to be 'dangerous or unreasonable' to continue. The officials were criticised in Southampton, particularly on the first two days when play was stopped despite the light not seeming either dangerous or unreasonable or anything even remotely like it. Root, who said he did not blame the umpires, added: 'We are all for playing but don't want anyone getting injured or hurt because of light or wet ground.' Azhar said: 'It's tough. A spectator, outside the ground, will obviously want to see the game being played, but umpires and the other authorities will want to put player safety first because they are the ones under pressure and the ones who have to do it in the middle. I think they are doing a great job.' Frustrations have been voiced that there has not been more play - when the entire third day was lost there was a two-hour period when it felt like there could have been some action. For what it's worth, this blogger thought the umpires were a sodding disgrace throughout.
Anyway, dear blog reader, that concludes another - necessary - From The North bloggerisationism update, featuring all of the usual bollocks but, as ever, if not free then, at the very least, cheap. Stay safe and, if at all possible, do try to avoid tripping over your own feet and wrecking yourself. Take it from this blogger, life is much easier if don't do that.