Monthly Archives: July 2013

Puns, Plot Points and Puppets: A Guide to Spoofing

This week I finally got round to watching A Touch of Cloth, which has been on my DVD shelf since approximately the dawn of time. It’s a film-length parody of TV crime dramas, written by Daniel Maier and Charlie Brooker (he of Screen Wipe, 10 O’Clock Live, angry-ranting-about-a-variety-of-subjects and punching-well-above-his-weight-by-marrying-Konnie-Huq fame) and the cast includes John Hannah (hilarious in The Mummy, heartbreaking in Four Weddings and a Funeral), Suranne Jones (Scott and Bailey, plus two different programme with David Tennant – well played), Navin Chowdhry and Adrian Bower (Kurt and Brian from Teachers) and Julian Rhind-Tutt (understated hero/sometimes obnoxious jerk Dr Macartney from Green Wing).

Given the afore-mentioned cast and crew, I was quite looking forward to watching A Touch of Cloth – especially as I still get pangs of sadness that Kurt and Brian are no more – and it didn’t disappoint. As well as the near-destruction of the fourth wall over the course of the show, elements of hilarity included WPC Cardboard Cut-Out, the various jokes that popped up in the background (such as a hospital sign directing you to the ‘Shayne Ward’) and the increasingly painful puns on the hero’s name, DCI Jack Cloth (“Thanks to you, the entire department is losing face, Cloth”). Perhaps my favourite moment was DC Asap Qureshi (Chowdhry) welcoming Cloth to the crime scene and Doing Exposition:

Victim’s name is Aidan Matthew Hawkchurch, successful chef, 39 years old, six foot, 180 pounds, got his own TV show, now in its fourth season, been married for thirteen years, all in a row, lives in this house, estimated resell value £1.9 million, desirable catchment area, would suit professional couple or recently murdered man, black front door, entrance hall, Orla Kiely stem print mat, recommended retail price £29.99, six-peg coat hook, price unknown, walnut frame mirror, purchased 2006, grieving widow Claire Hawkchurch, 37, GSOH, Sagittarius, 34C.

This tickled me because obvious and unnecessary exposition is one of my pet peeves in crime dramas, with the various incarnations of CSI being the biggest offenders. Apparently, Jim Brass from the original series is known in the fanbase as “Captain Exposition”, while this blogger lists cheesy exposition as one of the reasons she despises Horatio Caine from CSI Miami (a view with which I have some sympathy) – but at least it makes sense that these guys would know the facts and need to tell them to someone else. In contrast, the worst examples of ‘Here’s what’s happening, viewers’ come when characters are giving information to people who would already know it, and especially when the viewer’s already worked it out anyway. Check out this absurd exchange from CSI Miami, in which two characters are talking about a crashed car:

A: “There’s damage here in the quarter panel and bumper.”
B: “She did impact at over 60 miles per hour. It could have happened then.”
A: “Well, there’s also paint transfer. [Ah! So there was another car that ran her off the road!] Now, it could be incidental, or it could be road rage.” [And therefore another car that ran her off the road. Maybe sample the paint and find out who it was?]
B: “We need to get these paint samples to Trace, have them analyzed. [That’s what I said.] Every paint has a distinct signature, so…” [Yes, so you can find it who it was that ran her off the road.]
A: “We find the collision car, we find a witness.” [Or whoever it was that ran her off the road.]
B: “That’s right. Or a murder suspect.” [I KNOW!]

And they always take themselves so seriously, too. This is apparently one of the reasons why Brooker and Maier decided to spoof crime dramas rather than murder mysteries, because the latter are already, as Brooker put it in an interview, pretty much parodies of themselves: the focus is on tea and cakes and village fêtes, and the actual murder barely comes into it. Other programmes with a light touch would presumably also be pretty hard to parody. Take Neighbours – sure, there are all sorts of ridiculous elements to Neighbours that are just begging to made fun of, but Neighbours does that itself. This week, for example, Toadie, Sonya and Susan invoke the soap trope that two people talking in the kitchen can’t be heard by anyone in the living room, despite the fact that the latter is about six feet away with a paper-thin interior wall between them; but Toadie and Sonya keep having to pause the argument whenever they go to the fridge because that end of the kitchen is in Susan’s eye-line. You get the feeling, with Neighbours, that everyone involved recognises the absurdity of the programme and tries to make it work for them, not against them.

A good spoof, on the other hand, takes an earnest programme and makes it nonsensical. Look Around You did a bang-up job of doing this to educational science programmes in its two series of non-stop lies and gibberish. The presenters (Robert Popper, Josie D’Arby, Peter Serafinowicz and the now deservedly ubiquitous Olivia Colman) play it absolutely straight as they tell us interesting facts about the world around us: the largest number is 45,000,000,000, ghosts can’t whistle, and baby birds are called ‘bees’. The Office did the same thing: yes, workplace documentaries will usually fixate on the office oddballs, who really do exist and are often more than a bit strange – but they’re not generally quite so strange as to start an office singsong during a corporate training session or entertain their colleagues with mimes of being shot by a sniper. This is why it’s so difficult to parody talent shows – you’re already watching a dog dance in front of an audience of people apparently brainwashed to cheer and boo exactly on cue. Where can you go with that?

And it’s in this context that Family Tree, which started last week on BBC 2, isn’t quite hitting the mark. The programme is based on the format of genealogy programmes like Who Do You Think You Are and it has a number of mockumentary features, such as characters talking to the camera as if being interviewed and lines of dialogue that imitate the pauses and stumbles of real speech. Perhaps it’s a bit unfair to class it as a parody (many sources simply refer to it as a sitcom), but, come on, it’s written by Christopher Guest, co-creator of officially the best mockumentary that has ever existed, This Is Spinal Tap, so I was expecting some gold-standard piss-takery: people bursting into tears at the slightest mention of sadness in an ancestor’s life, a long-lost relative who turns out to have been a human taxidermist or the person who draws the faces on Jelly Babies – you know the kind of thing. And yet… Family Tree is just not that stupid: the only amusing occupation uncovered so far is a man who was the back end of a pantomime horse. And the single truly surreal element is the main character’s sister, who due to some traumatic past event talks through a monkey puppet – she’s played by Nina Conti, so the ventriloquism is pretty spot on, but it isn’t really spoofing any particular element of genealogy shows, which makes it weird in an aimless way.

The monkey-puppet aspect also doesn’t really fit the tone of the rest of the programme, which is mainly down-to-earth and quite sweet. Chris O’Dowd is lovely as the main character Tom Chadwick, doing his trademark stunned-disbelief face at his sister and the other slightly eccentric characters around him, including a blind date who thinks that the dinosaurs are still alive – this scene was actually pretty funny. Not that there’s not really anything wrong with a pleasant and (dare I say it) watchable show that raises the occasional laugh and also works in some bittersweet moments – the moment at the end of the second episode when a camp theatre manager reveals something unexpected about Tom’s great-grandfather is one example. I suspect that I will grow to care about the characters and get interested in what Tom finds out next. But so far, Family Tree is definitely not turned up to 11 – it’s a seven or eight at best.

So when it comes to parodies, I suppose what I really want is out-and-out stupidity: subtle-as-a-brick puns, knowing absurdity, recognisable archetypes grotesquely metamorphosed into insane caricatures. I want David Brent, DCI Anne Oldman (get it?), Synthesizer Patel, Nigel Tufnell. I don’t want subtlety and nuance – I want in-your-face proof that something, somewhere is being mocked. Proof, reader.

No, And You Lose Five Points

University Challenge is back this week, and quiz-heads across the land rejoice! For the next thirty-seven weeks (yes, it really is that long), we can spend our Monday nights wracking our brains for every scrap of knowledge we’ve ever had, searching for the next Gail Trimble or Alex Guttenplan, marvelling at universities that didn’t exist this time last year, jumping out of our chairs in celebration when we get an answer right and gaping vacantly at the screen when we don’t even understand the question. More importantly, we can once again balance precariously on that wafer-thin tightrope between harmless nerdy fun and intellectual snobbery.

University Challenge is a quiz show that steadfastly refuses to dumb down. There’s no chitchat about what contestants do for a living (since they’re all, by definition, students, this would get pretty repetitive) and no attempts to dress it up with technology and flashing lights. Instead, pretty much every episode will be full to the brim of questions about Shakespeare, British history, quantum physics, medicine and of course classical music, except of course on those rare occasions when Jeremy Paxman puts us and the contestants off our strides by announcing, “You’re going to hear a piece of popular music…” And it’s Paxman who can barely disguise his withering scorn when a contestant fails to know all the words to every poem in Keats’ oeuvre or the correct formula for turning lead into gold – or indeed when they get their King Williams mixed up.

Contrast Victoria Coren Mitchell on Only Connect (which rather pleasingly shows on BBC4 just after University Challenge on BBC2). When a contestant makes a booboo on Only Connect, they’re assuaged by Victoria’s winning smile and the refrain “Now this is a nasty little question…” – any mockery is directed at the show itself, the audience, or Victoria’s drinking problem*. Also, the contestants have amusing (and/or vomit-inducing) team names: the Wordsmiths, the Gourmands, the Corpuscles (who all went to Corpus Christi College, Oxford – you see what they did there), the Brit Poppers, the Francophiles (who didn’t speak French), the Pool Sharks, and of course the Cat Lovers (see ‘vomit-inducing’). Mind you, that’s not to say that Only Connect is an easy ride: most of the questions are mind-bendingly difficult, and, in perhaps the most deliberately obtuse move by any quiz show ever, contestants choose which question to answer from a series of Egyptian hieroglyphs.

There’s none of that sort of nonsense in Pointless, the third in the King of Quiz Shows trifecta. Here, contestants are given a topic and simply have to think of as many answers as possible that fit – the twist being that if no one else has thought of it, you get more (or rather, fewer) points. Unlike University Challenge and Only Connect, Pointless does spend a bit of time talking to the contestants, but this is forgivable because it often turns into an excuse for the two hosts, Alexander Armstrong and Richard Osman, to talk to each other – and that’s something I would watch an entire hour of on its own. Plus, Pointless is the only one of the three where you can actually win money (as opposed to self-esteem, glory, bragging rights for the next three hundred years and so on), which means that the final round is usually edge-of-seat stuff.

So University Challenge, Only Connect and Pointless are in some ways very different shows, but they do share some traits that set them above The Weakest Link, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and all the others.

First, they have a lot of questions. (Hold on, this is less idiotic than it sounds.) University Challenge is question after question for half an hour; Only Connect has slightly more jokes but each round is basically one elongated brain workout; and Pointless, although it has small talk, does some of that during the rounds so you can be thinking about the questions in the meantime – also, it’s 45 minutes long so you get extra question time for your money. This is a distinct improvement over Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, where most of the time elapses in Chris Tarrant asking contestants whether they’re sure about their answer, Mastermind, where half the programme is used up on specialist subjects that no one apart from the contestant knows anything about, or Eggheads, which is substantially more about tactics than it is about actually knowing anything. I watch quiz shows to practise being clever, not to watch other people trying to size each other up. Stop it.

What's fourth in the sequence?

What’s fourth in the sequence?

Also, the best quiz shows have a range of questions. It’s true that University Challenge is mostly pretty highbrow (see Shakespeare / British history / classical music above), but it does sometimes throw in a pop culture reference when you’re not expecting it: this week, for example, one of the picture rounds consisted of naming the cocktails drunk by the characters in Mad Men. Pointless, too, is very good about mixing it up – sometimes you’ll get a question about past winners of Britain’s Got Talent, sometimes you’ll have to translate from Latin. (Should I be concerned that I did miserably of the former and aced the latter?) And Only Connect is the absolute best at this. Yes, you have to know about computer programming and DNA sequencing and mathematical functions, but you also have to know about Mario Kart and… well, I won’t tell you – you can work it out for yourself.

Perhaps as a result of the eclecticism of the subjects, all three programmes also get a lot of mileage out of wild stabs in the dark. The connections between the clues on Only Connect are consistently baffling, which leads to regular refrains of “Um, they’re all books written by a man?” and “Are they all words in English?” In University Challenge, a safe bet with any question involving the words ‘x’, ‘y’, ‘equals’, ‘function’ and ‘to power of’ is usually 0 or 1, but there are other times when you just have to come up with something; for example, when asked, “The names Cheesemongers, Cherry-pickers, Bob’s Own, the Emperor’s Chambermaids and the Immortals have been used for which groups of men?”, a student from UMIST went with… yep. But the best answers by far are given on Pointless. Ignoring for a moment the episode where at least three of the contestants didn’t know that a mallard was a duck or the one where no one guessed that ‘estómago’ was the Spanish word for ‘stomach’ – on one occasion, the question ‘Who was Anne Hathaway’s famous husband?’ was answered with the impressively literal ‘Man Hathaway’. (The actual answer is William Shakespeare, in case you were wondering.)

Of course, on Pointless Alexander Armstrong will also have a go at the questions; usually this shows off his impressive knowledge of more or less everything, but once or twice it’s led to a teensy weensy mistake – such as the spelling round in which his ‘Word that ends in –ind’ was ‘Penfriend’. Awkward.

But actually, that answer (and Richard Osman’s subsequent reference to the incident as ‘Friendgate’) is exactly the kind of reason I like Pointless, Only Connect and University Challenge: they’re friendly shows. Xander and Richard make jokes, take the piss out of each other, and are genuinely pleased when contestants win the money; Victoria Coren Mitchell is chirpy and enthusiastic and always looks impressed when the teams unravel a particularly tough clue. Even Jeremy Paxman is grudgingly respectful of contestants who know their stuff, and it’s not uncommon to see him smile along with laughter from the teams. All of them are a world away from The Weakest Link, where contestants are actively encouraged to gang up on each other, or Eggheads, where the eponymous Eggheads seem out to prevent anyone else from getting the slightest shred of glory. I don’t want to see that – I want to see normal people getting to be on TV for a day and having a jolly nice time.

Oh, and I also enjoy feeling like a smart-arse. Eye of Horus for me, please, Victoria.


*I’m pretty sure she doesn’t actually have a drinking problem. Wouldn’t want to start a rumour.

Rhod Gilbert and Tartan Do Not Mix

Blog 04 Tartan

‘Dubious’ is putting it kindly.

Last month, BBC2 showed a programme called Spinning a Yarn: The Dubious History of Scottish Tartan. It promised to explore “tartan’s murky past and colourful present, taking in the Englishmen who forged a guide to clan tartans, Walter Scott’s tartan pageant of 1822 and the 21st-century Scottish Register of Tartans”. What’s not to love?

Now some of you may be thinking, “What? I didn’t hear about that!” The reason for this is that, sadly, this gem was unavailable to 90% of the British population because it was showing on BBC2 Scotland. The very existence of a BBC2 channel specifically for those living north of the border may come as a mild surprise to those living in England, though Welsh and Northern Irish TV viewers may be less bewildered, since they too have their own regional versions of BBC channels; plus Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own versions of ITV (STV and UTV respectively) and Wales didn’t show the usual version of Channel 4 as standard until 2010. What’s more, all three non-English UK countries each have an additional channel that shows programmes in their respective minority languages: BBC Alba for Gaelic programmes in Scotland, S4C for Welsh programmes in Wales, and TG4 for Irish in Northern Ireland.

Extinct? Yes. Having it large? Yes.

Extinct? Yes. Having it large? Yes.

Now in many ways this is a Good Thing. First, regional TV channels mean regional news. This applies to regions of England as well, of course: everyone gets the big stories, of course, but it’s always a delight to hear, for the last few minutes of the programme, the particular eccentric exploits going on in your own personal part of the world. Without regional news programming, for example, those living in Oxfordshire would have no idea that models of a dinosaur and a dodo are taking a holiday from the University Museum of Natural History and popping up in shops in Oxford city centre. Likewise, the residents of North-West Wales would never have discovered that the British Sub-Aqua Club was having an underwater party near Holyhead, while people in Foyle and the West of Northern Ireland would have no idea that a rare dolphin’s body had been discovered two miles from the sea in Country Donegal. Regional stories bring the news closer to home – plus they tend to be more uplifting than what’s going with bankers, the NHS or Syria (apart from the dolphin story, obviously).

It’s also great that there are opportunities for minority language programming. The movements to keep traditional British languages alive and thriving are perhaps viewed with some scepticism in Anglophone quarters: for example, some time ago a professor of Sociology from the University of Reading has argued that “the Welsh language will, should and must die out” (the last sixteen years, it should be noted, have failed to fulfill her prophecy). But neither Welsh nor the other still-spoken Celtic languages are dead yet (that’s sort of the definition): 562,000 people speak Welsh, 58,600 speak Gaelic and 167,500 speak Irish (in Northern Ireland). Though the percentage of those speaking it as their first language is small, to many others, learning the language of their parents or grandparents is an essential part of learning about their heritage and identity. So the fact that British TV has room for languages other than English is definitely a positive.

Top: Irish yacht. Bottom: English yacht.

Top: Irish yacht. Bottom: English yacht.

Plus, having regional channels means that you get programmes of what one might call ‘special interest’. Take Spinning a Yarn, for example – it’s unlikely that a set of broadcasters operating entirely out of London would ever have come up with such an idea, let alone developed it into an hour-long programme. Nor, probably, would they have commissioned The Legenderrys, a fantastically-named documentary about a (London)Derry lad setting sail with “16 total strangers” on a round-the-world yacht race, shown in Northern Ireland as a three-part series. Neither of these topics – fabrics or yacht racing – is one I personally am particularly interested in, but there are obviously people who are, and, with regional programming, they can make the most of that interest.

They can, that is, provided they live in the correct constituent country – and that is the major problem with BBC1 Scotland, UTV and the rest. Implicit in the notion of regional programming is that certain programmes can only be interesting to certain viewers, based on those viewers’ nationality. Tartan is obviously an enthralling topic for Scottish people, but it is a Scottish topic, and therefore it only needs to be available to Scottish viewers – heaven forbid it should be attractive to viewers in Portsmouth, Newcastle, Swansea or Armagh. Often, the assumption appears to be that Scottish (or Welsh or Northern Irish) issues are simply not worth paying attention to if you live anywhere else.

Rhod Gilbert: a disconcerting Scout Master in any country.

Rhod Gilbert: a disconcerting Scout Master in any country.

And this is sometimes taken to absurd levels. The new series of Rhod Gilbert’s Work Experience finished last week on BBC1 Wales – not available on the BBC in England, Scotland or Northern Ireland. I wasn’t privy to the discussion that preceded the decision to broadcast it on a Wales-only channel, but I can only imagine that a programme presented by a Welsh comedian, set in a series of Welsh towns, was judged just too damn Welsh for the population at large. Never mind that Gilbert is an internationally known comedian, and that the jobs he’s trying out (this series, he’s been a wedding planner, a scout master, a tour guide and a male model) are pretty universal: you can only watch him mooch around making gruff, cynical, hilarious comments about everything he encounters if you live in Wales. I hesitate to use the word ‘ghettoisation’ – but it’s kind of like ghettoisation, isn’t it? Especially since the standard, non-specific versions of BBC and ITV are the English ones. Apparently programmes about English people are more universally interesting than programmes about Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish people.

To an extent, of course, this is becoming less of an issue as TV channels become accessible in different ways. People with satellite TV can get all the regional channels as standard options, and most programmes are available online through the various catch-up players (though I was cruelly rejected by ITV Player when trying to access one of the early episodes of Broadchurch because I was in the STV region); so if there’s a regional programme you really want to watch, you can probably find it somewhere. That’s assuming you’ve heard of it at all, given that most people don’t spend hours trawling through the listings for regional channels other than their own in order to find programmes they might have missed.

On the other hand, maybe it’s best that regional programmes stay regional and don’t stray across the borders. After all, there’s always the risk that you might learn about the invention of a talking cigarette packet in Stirling or a horse stuck in a bog in Shropshire – and why would you be interested in that?

On Your Marks, Set, Match

The true meaning of sport

The true meaning of sport

It’s that time of year again. Get out your pristine white-and-red jerseys and your bike leathers, adorn yourselves with big hats and offensively oversized sunglasses, make some room in your stomach for strawberries and cream and cucumber sandwiches: SPORT IS COMING. Wimbledon is well into its second week, the Tour de France has been going for several days, the rugby’s just finished, the Ashes starts next week and the Open the week after (that’s golf, as it turns out), and the Athletics World Championships are coming in August.

Now, as befits one who blogs about sitting in front of a screen for several hours a day, I’m not big on going out and being active. If strongly coerced I can hit a ping-pong ball across a table, but the thought of pumping weights or running up a hill three times before breakfast is genuinely abhorrent to me. So compared to the agony of doing sport, you would think that watching it would be an improvement. And it is, to a certain extent. I’m usually amenable to a bit of tennis, cycling or gymnastics, and I even watched some of the Olympics last year (mainly the opening ceremony, but, you know – I made an effort). I was there (i.e. watching on TV) for the longest tennis match in history, for Wiggins winning the Tour, for Michael Owen’s World Cup hat-trick, for Mo Farrah’s Olympic gold, and for the idiot in the Boat Race. I was there, man. I know.

Actually, I think the reason that I was content to watch some of these big events was that they were big events. The Olympics, the World Cup, Wimbledon and the Tour are each a couple of weeks long: they pop up, get everyone excited for a few days, and leave you alone for the rest of the year. Hell, the Boat Race is only on for a couple of hours every 365 days – it’s compact and brief, which is something I very much admire in a sport.

Blog 03 Henman Hill

Loyal British tennis fans

Of course, it also helps if there’s a bit of patriotism involved. As I write, Wimbledon is in full swing and Andy Murray is hanging on in there, while the mighty Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer have fallen (though by the time this is published on Thursday, who knows?). It’s quite pleasant to sit at home with a nice cuppa and watch the people on Henman Hill* cheering Murray on as he does his best to bring it home for the Brits. Likewise the Tour: Sir Bradley isn’t in it this year and Geraint Thomas is looking a bit shaky after the almighty crash during the opening stage, but we can still cross our fingers that Chris Froome will come out in yellow. And as for the Olympics – we bloody loved it, didn’t we? I did my best to be cynical in the run-up, but there’s no denying that it really was a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Blog 03 Andy Ashford

Pictured: pro athlete

And once-in-a-lifetime is absolutely fine by me. A few weeks each summer where the TV schedules go a bit mad, and instead of getting comedians and actors on my screen I get ripped people in Lycra – I can easily watch a bit of that and then switch to box sets of The IT Crowd and The X-Files for a few weeks. What really bugs me is when sport seeps into my everyday television life, when it’s there, taunting me, day in, day out. This is particularly galling when it’s some activity that’s not even a real sport: darts, snooker, etc. (Note to dartists, snookerers and the like: if you can play it with a pint in one hand, it’s not a sport.)

Take the news. I have never watched a news programme that didn’t have an integrated sports section, often with a special presenter. Why? Why do they do this? Yes, I understand that, to many people, sport is important. I may not agree with what these people enjoy, but I fully support their right to enjoy it. What bugs me is that many of them seem to assume that everyone else enjoys it too. A special news segment on weather, yes – very few people are unaffected by weather. But sport? Sport is, after all, a hobby – why not special segments on other hobbies, like books or TV or food? I would definitely watch the news more if the last five minutes was dedicated to the latest book releases, or recently-commissioned British drama, or the most up-to-date way to cook an egg, rather than to who’s just kicked a ball into a net.

I understand (well, I don’t understand as such, but I am aware of the fact) that people like to follow their teams and so on: that they have an interest in the continuing progression of the Premier League or county cricket or what-have-you. But I have an interest in the continuing progression of, say, David Tennant’s career. Personally, I’d like a cheerful presenter to pop up near the end of the news and say, “Thanks, Bill. Well, the main story today is the retirement of Sir Bruce Forsyth from Strictly Come Dancing, where he has been manager ever since the programme’s inauguration. Colleagues were today calling Sir Bruce, who led his team to victory in the National Television Awards in both 2008 and 2013, “the most mousatchioed man ever to have presented a major-league dancing programme”. In situation comedy, Miranda has been commissioned for a fourth series, although we understand that the line-up will be slightly different from its previous appearances, with Miranda’s mum relegated to the bench and the funny anonymous customer from episode 3.5 in her place up front. Finally, in satire, Alexander Armstrong has received his twenty-third cap for Have I Got News for You. Now over to Brad for the weather.”**

I'm not sure I've got this quite right.

I’m not sure I’ve got this quite right.

Now I very much enjoyed that little news report, but then I did write it. Which makes me wonder whether I could be wrong about all of this (impossible as that seems). Maybe I am the only person in the country who doesn’t need to hear about birdies and googlies and hairpins every time I turn on the TV. Maybe I’m the only person who’s put out when a beloved TV programme is moved or cancelled because of a sporting fixture that I care less than nothing about (case in point: Rhod Gilbert’s Work Experience, which disappeared the week before last because Italy were playing Japan in the Confederations Cup which I’ve never even heard of). But I’m sure there must be others. I’m sure we could club together and start a petition to have the sports section of the news replaced by something better: arts and entertainment, hobbies and crafts, archaeological discoveries, Internet memes, you know the sort of thing. Together, maybe, just maybe, we can change the world.

And now I really must be going: the cycling’s on.


*I don’t like the new name ‘Murray Mount’. It sounds like something from the British Kama Sutra (and what a fine text that would be).

**At the time of writing, none of these things has yet come to pass. But you just wait.