Friday, 14 December 2012

The JonaBlog Awards 2012

And so another year draws to a close.  As is customary, the end-of-year award ceremony season is in full swing.  If this wasn't enough this is closely followed by the start-of-year awards season.  Not to be outdone, I thought I'd hold my own, as a way of honouring some of my moments of the year.*

(*actually as a lame framework for holding together a random collection of rambling thoughts)

The Amazing Award for General Amazingness

The London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games - as I've written about here before - were, quite simply a triumph.  I won't go into too much detail on this as there's little that hasn't been said already.  But two things stick in my mind.  Firstly, about how incredible the opening ceremony was.  After looking like we'd be watching a nightmare realisation of John Major's vision of Britain for four hours it turned into a stunning display of British music, history and culture that seemed to keep all but insane Tory MPs happy.  In years to come it'll be looked upon as a key moment in our history and studied in the same way as classic texts are now.  The other thing that was amazing was how so many people who were uninterested in sport suddenly became gripped by the whole thing.  On a personal note, after seven years of defending the idea of hosting the games in the face of so much cynicism, it was quite refreshing (if not wholly surprising) to see the majority of people finally quit moaning and get on board with the idea.

The "Wow, That's Incredible" Award

For my birthday this year I got an iPad, but this was driven pretty much entirely by the existence of one app: djay.  The link will explain all, but in a nutshell it turns the screen into a pair of frighteningly realistic turntables from which you can mix tunes to your heart's content.  And it isn't even Fatboy Slim-style transitions that you need to do - just the ability to cue another track without cutting the previous one off or ending up with a huge gap between two tracks is a huge leap forward from simply using an iTunes playlist to play music.  I'd downloaded the iPhone version which is fun in itself but does require some rather dainty finger work.  The iPad version really does the idea justice and really appeals to the frustrated wannabe-local-radio-DJ that lurks within me.  It's also insanely good value for money when you consider how much the real-life kit would cost.  It's looking we will be using it to provide the music at our wedding reception with our good friend James kindly doing the honours, although the only thing stopping me doing it myself is that I will apparently have more important things to concentrate on that day.  And just when you thought it couldn't get any better, what's the latest development?  vjay

The DLT Award
What everyone forgets about Dave Lee Travis famously resigning on air from Radio 1 (or ONNNE EFFF EMMM as it was insisting on us calling it at this point) is that is lasted for about a minute at the very end of a three hour show.  The reputation this incident has acquired over the years would be unfair were the man himself not thoroughly deserving of it, but nevertheless whenever someone even approaches this method of leaving an on-air job it is described as "doing a DLT".  When Mark Goodier finally left Radio 1 some nine years after the DLT incident he began his final words by mimicking Travis, saying "things have been changing at this station...and they're petty good", instantly providing clear blue water between the two presenters despite both essentially being directed to the door for getting on a bit.  But this year there was finally an episode that lived up to the reputation.  Danny Baker found out shortly before going on air one Thursday that his BBC London show would not be continuing past the end of the year, as part of the cutbacks at BBC Local Radio that will lead to certain shows being shared between regions.  He then proceeded to rant about the decision for the entire two-hour show.

I don't doubt that Baker is an incredible broadcaster, and that he deserved better treatment than to find out the information second-hand, particularly after his cancer treatment.  But the BBC is having to make some painful decisions as a result of the freeze on the licence fee and he isn't the first to lose his job, he won't be the last and unlike many who will do so is in a good position to have other options post-BBC London.  The programme was a difficult listen.  Whilst you obviously sympathise with his position, that sympathy evaporates pretty quickly when you get a 120-minute barrage of ego about how it's the best show on the air and continual ridicule of the proposed focus on local news - surely the logical thing for a local radio station to do.  And of the decision itself?  If you're going to have BBC London's afternoon output shared with neighbouring regions in the South East, the last thing you want to do is give it to a self-styled loud-mouthed Londoner.  It wasn't his finest hour, but at least we can now regard 2012 as the year DLT's reputation was restored.  Oh, hang on...

The "Eurgh" Award

For anyone aged about 25 upwards, the Jimmy Savile saga probably ruined a little bit of your childhood - although, to put things in perspective, it sounds like he was an expert in ruining people's childhoods.  What amazed me was quite how he got away with it, seemingly with so many people aware at least of rumours of what was going on.  I admit to being completely naive over the whole thing, swallowing that classic story (bolstered by the Louis Theroux documentary) that no-one quite lived up to his mother in his eyes.  One of my favourite shows of my childhood, This Morning With Richard Not Judy, repeated one of the most lurid allegations right at the start of one 1999 episode (below) which must have gone straight over my head, although even Richard Herring now claims to have no memory of it.  An infamous bit of my former student TV station's archive is an 1992 sketch called Jim'll Sodomise You, and during my time there we all had a giggle about the title but I don't think any of us really paid that much attention to the general gist of the piece.  It really does seem to have been the worst kept secret in showbusiness.

The Surprisingly Sad Moment Award

Analogue switch-off had been mooted for nearly fifteen years, but when the moment came, what was the focus?  The end of that method of transmission?  The fact that every home is now by default "multi-channel"?  Nope.  Good old Ceefax finally getting the chop stole all the headlines and Twitter chatter in mid-October in a blaze of nostalgia about the days when it was what the internet is now - where you went to get information on demand.  But it also marked the end for the overnight Pages from Ceefax filler on BBC Two.  It's fair to say that it wasn't the most exciting thing the channel ever transmitted, and in the last decade or so has only been shown when the Learning Zone was playing truant and BBC One had nicked News 24 for itself.  But it soldiered on throughout the noughties as Ceefax itself fell out of daily use, and even once analogue started being switched off region-by-region.  By the end it was nothing short of astonishing that such a low-tech and outdated filler was still being used by a mainstream channel, but in many ways that was its charm.  The final airing was in the early hours of Monday 22nd October and had a number of nice touches such as being introduced over the stripy "2" ident from when Ceefax was first aired on the channel, and featured a verbal tribute paid by veteran continuity announcer Dean Lydiate.  But how did it end?  A selection of best bits?  Resolution of outstanding plot lines?  A huge cliffhanger?  In the end, a presumably half-asleep BBC techie punched in page numbers to form a form of countdown in the last ten minutes.  Accompanied by a cracking tune first used in the 1970s, the final Ceefax pages faded away to be replaced by special farewell caption (below).  And at that moment you realise how it had accompanied you over the years: waiting for it to finish and Children's BBC to start, catching snatches of it on the timer when taping GCSE Bitesize, to viewing it slightly worse for wear when coming in from a night out.  Truly the end of an era.

The J&K Whose Early Relationship Was Most Frighteningly Similar to Jonathan and Kate's Early Relationship Award

Josie and Kingsley from Fresh Meat.  You can guess the rest yourselves.


The "Phew, That Was Close" Award

Virgin Trains have just begun a 23-month extension to their West Coast franchise, after being told back in the summer that it was being awarded to First Group instead.  After it became clear that government did their calculations on the back of a fag packet the decision was put on hold, and now Virgin have been given an extension whilst the Deparment for Transport work out what the hell to do next.  Regardless of the franchise cockup, it's fantastic news that Virgin are retaining the route.  Virgin seem to be the marmite of the railways - you either love them or hate them.  What's amazing is that there do seem to be a considerable number of people that do love them and were disappointed by the franchise decision, so they must be doing something right.  Having used them for the last seven years to visit relatives in the north west I can agree that they are.  The services are usually prompt, the trains are great, the staff friendly and the first class service is the best in the country.  First Group do not inspire anything like the same level of customer loyalty despite being spread out across the UK like a rash, nor do they make any effort to.  We have had a lucky escape.

I had a first class coach to myself back in June. Not bad for £32.

The "There Goes Another Bit of my Childhood" Award

December 4th saw the publication of the final issue of The Dandy, on the day of its 75th anniversary.  With sales apparently at 7,000 a week it seems amazing it staggered on for so long, but now it faces a "digital future" - places your bets now on how long that will last.  I'm 28, and during my time reading The Dandy and The Beano in the early/mid-1990s it already felt like I was one of very few of my peer group who read them, so the death has been a long and painful one.  The distribution can't have helped.  By the end it only seemed to be carried by large branches of WH Smith, and the newsagent I managed by fluke to pick up the last edition from said that they normally don't get any copies, but had been sent two of the final issue - one of which he'd kept for himself, the other I'd nabbed within hours of the shop opening.  The content itself is somewhat bizarre, with much of the artwork rather eccentric compared to the heyday, and full of odd in-jokes (Korky The Cat is appparently still bitter about being forced off the cover by Desperate Dan forty years ago, rivalling Ted Heath for holding a grudge).  But towards the end you get a real sense of the end of an era, with all the characters joining Paul McCartney for a singalong.  Just as The Dandy and The Beano pushed back boundaries in the post-war years by publishing a diet of mischief and cartoons, so today's kids are looking for something new.  There's no point force-feeding them something just because their parents and grandparents read it, in the same way as they themselves shunned the tedious "adventure stories for boys"-type larks that were commonplace before the heyday of the comics.   

The Cockup of the Year Award

Apple Maps.  I'm not even going to go there as you know the story.  But full credit to Tim Cook for admitting that there had been a balls-up and allowing the replacement Google Maps app onto the App Store. At the end of the day they swapped a good product for an inferior one in order to piss off a competitor, and for most people it is a daily reality that they will use a variety of products and services from a number of compettiors rather than doing the geek think of only ever using Apple or Google or whatever.  Take muggins here as an example.  At home I have a Windows laptop, an iPhone and an iPad and use Google's Blogger and YouTube.  At work it's no different: our technology division has decided the company will use Macbooks, but with Google Mail and Drive.  But guess what?  We still have Microsoft Office too.  This kind of approach isn't in any way a contradiction and I would put money on being the reality for most, but you hear precious little about it from technology journalists who seem convinced one company will eventually emerge victorious.

Not staged at all

The "Oh God There's Not Long To Go Now" Award

When I started writing this blog, in April 2011 I was pretty sure that I'd be proposing to my girlfriend in the near future.  I even thought it'd be a good running joke to make every blog title a reference to that and see if anyone noticed, but I only did that once and then realised it was a terrible idea.  The piece I wrote after Kate and I got engaged is somewhat incredibly one of the most read articles on this blog, so I can only presume most of my Facebook friends and Twitter followers never bother clicking on the rubbish I write when I'm not having a life-changing event.  But somehow it's now been a year and a half since I popped the question and we're just four months away from IT ACTUALLY HAPPENING!  I'm sure I'll write more about it nearer the time so I'll keep this brief.  I.  Cannot.  Wait.

Have a great Christmas and I hope you enjoy 2013 as much as we intend to!