2011 Notebook

From the late 90s I blogged frequently with various random observations and things I wanted to record. Pre-2003 material seems to have been lost on various early web platforms, and this sort of stuff went over to Twitter eventually, but I’ve gathered together the shorter WordPress blog posts in these annual roundups…

Album of the Year so far

Tuesday 8 February 2011

The Fake Album Art idea has been around in its current form for at least a couple of years now, but it never ceases to amuse, and it’s been enjoying a revival on Facebook recently, so the young people tell me. Anyway, I couldn’t start work today without having a go. I’d buy this, wouldn’t you? It’s Junctional Epidermolysis Bullosa Gravis’ tenth album in eighteen years, and although it’s a long way from the Glastonbury-headlining early years, Factors To A Happy Marriage deserves more widespread recognition than it’s likely to get in 2011. The single 74-minute instrumental chronicles Junctional’s stormy five-year relationship with his (now ex-) wife, the poet Joanna Barnsley, and will, I suspect, move many long-term fans to tears.
To make your own Fake Album, go to “explore the last seven days” on Flickr and copy the third image. Go to “Random Quotations” and copy the last four or five words of the very last quote of the page as your album title. Finally, go to a random Wikipedia article to get the name of your band.

Big upload speed increase from Virgin Media cable internet

Wednesday 23 February 2011

Nice: Virgin Media cable internet just gave us considerably faster upload speeds as part of the deal. This is quite useful, as I’m finding myself using DropBox more and more to backup and transfer stuff, and I can see that trend continuing. Anyway, just to show what’s happened, here’s the latest internet speed test from speedtest.net:

That was done mid-afternoon, so things should be towards the top end, before the children in the neighbourhood all get home from school and start wasting their time on YouTube. Here’s a test I did in the evening (ugh!) a few weeks ago:

…and here’s how it performed at its previous prime time, in the morning, just after we had the 50Mb broadband upgrade last year:

I think 42Mb/sec downloads and 4.8Mb/sec uploads during the day will keep me happy for a while to come, although Virgin Media are rolling out 100Mb/sec broadband as I write, and people in Ely apparently have it now, whereas there’s no date for Cambridge yet, and I’m not holding my breath for it to arrive before the end of the year.

TV Comedy Spin-off Books From The Eighties!

Sunday 13 March 2011

I just came across all of these in my loft, and it just made me think: why isn’t there a market for this sort of spin-off any more? Or is there no comedy cult enough to support this sort of thing? I guess they were all inspired by the Monty Python books of the 70s (I must track those down, even my loft doesn’t have those any longer). The “small ads” which padded out the books, always the best bits, live on in Private Eye at Christmas, I guess. Anyway, none of that will stop me from enjoying reading them one more time.
Not! The Nine O'Clock News (1980)
Not! The Nine O’Clock News (1980)
Not The Royal Wedding (1981)
Not The Royal Wedding (1981)
Not The General Election (1983)
Not The General Election (1983)
Bachelor Boys - The Young Ones Book (1984)
Bachelor Boys – The Young Ones Book (1984)
How To Be A Complete Bastard (1986)
How To Be A Complete Bastard (1986)
The Lavishly Tooled Smith & Jones Instant Coffee Table (1986)
The Lavishly Tooled Smith & Jones Instant Coffee Table (1986)
Janet Lives With Mel And Griff (1988)
Janet Lives With Mel And Griff (1988)

The Unthanks, Cambridge Junction 2, April 2011

Sunday 3 April 2011

Discussions of The Unthanks’ previous gig at the Shepherds Bush Empire loved the way the band made the large venue seem so intimate. At this one, they didn’t have to, because Cambridge’s Junction 2 isn’t that much bigger than some of the living rooms in the surrounding houses. It was a genuine treat to be so up close and personal. Whatever the size of venue though, few bands I’ve ever seen have this much of a hold over their audience and just sound so great. The audio quality was such that at times it sounded as if Rachel and Becky were whispering to you across a pillow. Beautiful.

The Unthanks performing Tom Waits’ No One Knows I’m Gone, Junction 2, Cambridge, 2 April 2011

Brit Floyd, Cambridge Corn Exchange, April 2011

Tuesday 19 April 2011

And so to the Corn Exchange for Cambridge’s almost annual dose of Pink Floyd tribute goodness. This year things have changed though; instead of the Australian Pink Floyd Show, tonight we see the second gig on the inaugural tour from a “new” band, launched as The British Pink Floyd Show but more recently settling on the name “Brit Floyd”.
Some of the band members – most notably front man Damian Darlington – have previously appeared in the “Australian” lineup, and long-time fans have every excuse for finding it all a bit confusing. But let’s not get hung up about this. These are tribute bands we’re talking about. And as with all tribute bands, the only thing which matters is: do they deliver a suitably authentic experience, now that we’ll never again see the band they’re paying tribute to live in concert?
Of course they do. What did you expect? The Australian Pink Floyd Show (and now Brit Floyd too) have always take the tribute act one giant step further by recreating the unique Pink Floyd stage show, with its memorable visuals. Couple that with a greatest-hits set list that you wouldn’t get from the real band even if they were touring/speaking/alive, and it’s a corkingly good night out for fans.
No, it’s not Dave Gilmour himself studiously picking out those guitar solos, or Roger Waters spitting out those grumpy lyrics (actually it looked more like Nick Clegg and Keith Allen up front). But we don’t come for the original artists; we come for an evening a bit like one with Pink Floyd, and we get it. The musicianship and vocal stylings are extraordinarily good, and more than adequate facsimiles for all but the real musos. In fact – as with most tribute bands – you get something closer to the original album versions than you probably would with the real band, who might well decide to wander off-piste into “live versions”, for better or for worse.
People come to Cambridge Corn Exchange from further afield than normal regional venues, because downstairs is usually standing, exactly as a rock gig should be. So it was a real disappointment when those who’d bought standing tickets were contacted before the gig to be told that “the promoter had decided” it would be seating throughout, and here were replacement seated tickets. I don’t know how many people sent them back, as was offered, but the venue was advertising the event heavily right up to the day, and it wasn’t quite full. Still, they did give us seats right down the front, which was an interesting experience.
There weren’t too many surprises in the set, from the opening “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” through to the “Run Like Hell” encore. We were given a handful of songs from every album from “Meddle” onwards (except the quietly-forgotten “Final Cut”) and I think the only song I’d not heard a tribute Floyd play before was “Pigs”, a relatively mediocre song which came over much better than I expected, once it got going, at least. Not a patch on “Sheep” though, which occupied the same pre-interval slot when I saw them once before, but which – sadly – didn’t get an airing tonight. “Echoes” was terrific, marred only by a stream of people coming back in late from the bar and finishing their conversations, and “Comfortably Numb” was – as ever – spectacular.
So the big question is probably “are Brit Floyd as good as The Australian Pink Floyd Show?” and on this showing, I’d have to say yes. Perhaps the only thing they need to work on is their stage presence and personality: “TAPFS” always seemed to be enjoying themselves, and even had a decent bit of banter between the songs. Brit Floyd were a lot more stiff, and need to chill out. People want great musicianship from the band, but they don’t want the whole thing to be too serious.

In Defence of the Olympic Tickets System

Friday 24 June 2011

Olympic Tickets email confirmation
One of the tasks which the organisers of the 2012 Olympics will have looked forward to the least will have been the ticket distribution. With demand inevitably set to outstrip supply, and in an age where everybody believes they have a “right” to whatever they want, the process was always going to generate world-class quantities of bad feeling. However, the whinging which has occupied so many acres of newsprint has been anything but Olympic standard, culminating in this pathetic piece by Allison Pearson in the Telegraph this week. The gist of that article was: “I applied for tickets to some low-profile sports and got them! What an awful job the organisers have done! I hate them, I hate them!”
This completely unhinged rant, widely derided in social media, actually asks the question: “How can three million first-round tickets have gone to just 700,000 people?” And the answer is, Allison, to do the maths. People bought tickets in fours. Can you imagine what the Polly Fillers of this world would have had to say if tickets had been sold singly? Some people did get more than one lot (including Allison Pearson), but that was probably because at least one of their successful applications was for a sport which didn’t sell out.
Yes, I was lucky enough to get something. Not the men’s 100m final or anything like that, but at least it’s something. I put it down to doing a bit of homework beforehand, and playing the game. Here’s how.
The most common complaint I hear (from people I respect) is that the system favoured people who could put many thousands of pounds in their bank account. I don’t believe that’s true. What many people aren’t admitting is that they wish they’d applied for a lot more tickets, because they now (and only now) realise they didn’t have much to lose.
Imagine that a ticket to an event cost £100, and four times the number of people applied as there were tickets available. So if you just put in for one event, you’d have a one-in-four chance of getting one. If you put in for two events, you’d have a 44% chance of getting one, and a 6% chance of getting two. If you put in for three events, you’d have a 58% chance of getting one, etc.
Now, the problem was that the organisers said you had to have the money in your bank account to cover the tickets you’d been allocated. And people said: “I can’t apply for more than X, because that’s the most money I can have in my bank account when they come to take it”. But they weren’t playing the odds. In the example above, supposing your limit was £200. If you took the attitude that you couldn’t put in for three tickets, because you couldn’t have £300 in your bank account, you were assuming that there was a chance of you being successful with all three allocations, and ending up with nothing because you couldn’t fund it. In reality, that was never going to happen. The chances of you being successful with three applications out of three, in the above example, are 1.5%. Yes, it would be infuriating if it happened, and you hit the jackpot with a massive success rate. Imagine then ending up with nothing! But that was never going to happen.
That’s why I put in for 15 events, at a cost of something like £8,000. Whether I could afford to pay for them or not is irrelevant, because there wasn’t enough money in my bank account to cover more than about 8, even if I’d been lucky enough to have got that many. But I worked out that the chances of getting more than 8 out of 15 were so tiny that it wasn’t a situation worth worrying about. Trust me, if I’d got the lot I’d have gone to my grave regretting that I didn’t raise the cash to have covered the allocation. It’s not as if it would have been hard to shift them on to friends and family. However, by putting in for 15 events, my chances of getting at least a couple were very strong. And so it proved. I could quite comfortably cover the cost of the tickets I ended up getting.
The other widely heard complaint is that the system seemed to have been set up to encourage people to apply for more tickets than they might have done otherwise. You don’t say. Guess what? Olympic Games don’t traditionally sell out, not even in the most sports-mad countries. One of the organisers’ highest priorities from the outset will have been to fill every grandstand, even at the lowest profile sports. Not because empty seats would look embarrassing, but because of the ammunition it would (rightly) give the people who don’t think that this country should be hosting the event anyway (and that’s another argument for which I might even have some sympathy). I have genuine respect for sales techniques which extract the maximum results by sheer ingenuity, where the 3G mobile spectrum auction remains the high water mark.
I dread to think what things would have been like if the Olympic tickets had been sold on some sort of “first-come first-served” basis. Apart from handing an unfair advantage to the quick-witted and computer-literate, the chance of the IT infrastructure being able to cope would have been about the same as my chance of getting tickets for the men’s 100m final. Which I’ll be watching, quite contentedly, on TV.

Virgin Media “Customer Service” lives up to its reputation

Tuesday 9 August 2011

STOP PRESS: Since writing this, I was contacted by Virgin Media’s “Social Media Team” and by the company’s “Head of Customer Experience”, which is impressive. They all expressed disappointment with the situation and amazingly, everything was fixed within 24 hours. Credit where it’s due then, but why can’t customers get good service in the first place, without having to complain?

I love my TV and broadband, and I’m happy to pay whatever it takes to get the best service out there. A few years ago, after a long run of exclusively using Cambridge Cable and its successor ntl, I switched my TV service to Sky, simply because (at the time) it was so much better technologically. But I stayed with the wonderful broadband service from ntl (now Virgin Media), so for the past 5 years I’ve had both companies’ products. And I’ve been able to observe that while they compete with each other technologically, they’re at opposite ends of the scale when it comes to customer service.
In principle, because of its ownership and many other aspects of what it does, I don’t like Sky/BSkyB. However, it’s absolutely superb at what it does. Virgin Media’s customer service and administration is such a shambles that I can’t imagine there’s any chance of it ever bringing its service up to that sort of standard. Sadly for Virgin Media, it must be impossible in such a large organisation to “start again”, which appears to be what’s needed.
Now, normally customer service isn’t that important to me. After all, I watch TV and use the internet every day, and only need admin or tech support once or twice a year, if that. But when you have a choice of two organisations, one offering almost faultless customer service and the other making you want to scream, you do have to start factoring it into the equation.
Following a recent house move I had the chance to reassess what services I would have. The new house was pre-wired for Virgin Media, and it’s clear that with the new TiVo box, the TV service has comfortably caught up with Sky. With 100Mb broadband on the cards, there was no way I’d have been changing that service to any other provider. So I decided to switch the TV and go to the complete TV/broadband/telephone bundle from Virgin Media.
The result? Not unexpectedly, technologically fine, administratively disastrous. I arranged the transfer and upgrade of services a few weeks in advance. There were warning signs. The price I was quoted seemed ridiculously cheap, so I got the member of staff (some poor wage slave in an Indian call centre) to read back what I’d ordered, and “hmm, that’s odd sir, the system doesn’t seem to have registered everything we’ve just discussed, does it?” We eventually got it sorted. I also asked if I could take my telephone number with me, only to be told “I don’t know”. Well, it’s rather important. “Could you ring back just before the move and we’ll be able to confirm that?” Well, you’ve rather got me over a barrel, haven’t you?
Enter the Geordies I rang back a few days before the move. I need to confirm that I can take my telephone number with me next week. “Hmm, I can’t really tell you sir”. Oh, I’m sure you can. How about finding someone who will? Ten minutes of listening to Tinie Tempah on hold, and a Geordie voice appears. This is clearly beyond the Indian Call Centre’s pay grade. “I’m just looking at your account Mr Rand”, says the very friendly voice, “and I don’t know what they’ve done, they’ve made a real hash of it, but you leave it with me, get on with your house move and your old number will be transferred with you. No problem!”
Four Days Later So we’re in the new house, surrounded by boxes, and the installation crew turn up from Virgin Media. Nice guys. They love all the prewiring in the house; everything’s set up in a couple of hours. The TiVo boxes look a bit daunting, but I’m sure they’ll run me through the basics. “Sorry we can’t tell you anything about these new TiVo boxes sir, we don’t know anything about them, but if you need any help, you can call customer service”. We exchange glances. It’s quite obvious to both of us that it would be easier for me to just work it out myself. “By the way, the HD services don’t work on one of the boxes either, but I’m sure customer services can sort that out for you too.” He might well have added “(Good luck with that)”.
“And here’s your phone number”. It’s one I’d never seen before.
Stay calm.
I ring India, later that day. Very apologetic. “I don’t know what’s happened sir, but there’s no reason why you can’t have your old number. It’ll take 24 hours or so, but I’ve filled in the form and is there anything else I can help you with?” No, please, just make sure it’s done.
A quick aside. Virgin Media’s automated answering system. You know, the one where they say: “we’re now going to give you five options…”. None of them usually seem to apply to what I want, and there’s no “any other queries” option, so I’ve just taken to selecting something vaguely close. After a couple of banks of these, you’re then asked: “please key in characters from your password”. But I have no idea what my password is. Why should I? There’s no way of saying “I don’t know”. At this point, some people would just give up in despair. Maybe that’s the idea. Maybe it saves on the number of callers they get. It turns out – according to one customer service person I spoke to – that it’s irrelevant, you can just key in anything. So what’s the point? Or at least, why don’t they tell you it doesn’t matter if you don’t know your password?
Two Days Later You guessed it. I dial my home phone number from my mobile, and still nothing. “We’re really sorry about this sir, I know the form has been filled in. You’ll have your number in 24 hours. Certainly if you don’t have it working in 48 hours, call us.” Well of course I will. But can you be sure it’ll work this time? After all, it’s the fourth time I’ve requested my number is transferred. “Absolutely sir! The form has been filled in!”. Blimey, this form must be magic.
One more aside. I called about the HD channels not appearing on one of my TiVo boxes. I explained it to the first person I got through to. They put me through to someone else. I’m beginning to get bored of Tinie Tempah, none of these transfers take less than two or three minutes on hold. The next person listens carefully to my problem (and don’t forget, every new person I speak to is asking for my customer reference, or password, or something). They say: “Ah, you’ll need TiVo support for that, I’ll pass you on”. Why couldn’t I have just hit a button at the beginning to choose TiVo support in the first place? But now I’m going “up a level” and I know what that means – India have declared. A pleasant Scots chap sorts me out (it takes 45 minutes of playing with the box, something the installers shouldn’t have left not working in the first place, but hey-ho). The Scots chap is clearly unhappy that I didn’t get a proper working system, or a proper demonstration of how the TiVo worked. You and me both, mate.
It reminds me of ten years ago when Virgin Media was still ntl, at a time when they didn’t acknowledge the existence of Apple Macs, but I had a problem with my Mac’s broadband connection. After being passed around, I was eventually put on to a specialist Mac support guy in Wales, who was just brilliant. What’s more, he acknowledged how hopeless ntl’s support was and said: “listen, here’s my direct line. Any problems, just come straight through”. Wow.
Three Days Later Oh come on, you didn’t think it’d end happily, did you? If it had, maybe I wouldn’t be needing the therapy of writing this. Still no home phone number. Back on to India. Very apologetic. “The form has been filled in”. Ah, the magic form again. Look, a whole series of people have assured me it would happen the next day, can I speak to someone who can actually get something done? I’m transferred eventually to a supervisor called ‘Neil’. I’m sure some Indian people have English names, but I’m dubious that’s his real one, somehow. Anyway, he sounds confident enough to be a genuine supervisor. I never lose my temper with bottom-rung operatives, it’s rarely their fault. But I feel I can be a little more forthright here. “All I can say is that the transfer of your number is in progress”, he says, “I can’t really offer any more than that. And it’ll be done in ten working days”.
Oh you’ve got to be kidding me.
Ten. TEN? But it was going to be done when I moved in. The third time I asked, it was going to be done “within 24 hours” of that. A few days later, the fourth time I asked, it was going to be done “within 48 hours” of that. Several days further on, it’s now going to be done “in 10 days”. I tell Neil that this is just not acceptable. He has a ponder, and says: “I tell you what, I can get that reduced to 5 days”. I think I’m supposed to be grateful. But I’m powerless. And that’s the most frustrating thing of all.
Now, I appreciate that not having people being able to ring you for a few weeks isn’t the worst thing in the world. It’s just that somehow, I knew this was going to happen. At almost every level, when you speak to Virgin Media customer support they’re apologetic. The operation clearly doesn’t work, from top to bottom. The foot soldiers in India are clearly hamstrung by the systems in front of them, and (being an overseas call centre) the problems they have in relating to their customers. When you get up a level, there are just constant sighs of exasperation with what’s going on elsewhere. It must be an awful place to work. But it’s just as bad for us as users. And it doesn’t have to be this way.
Later on, the phone rings, for the first time in days. Maybe a miracle has happened? Unfortunately not. “Hello, this is Virgin Media. If you join our mobile phone service, we can offer you a free Blackberry Curve…”
Most of this article was written while on hold to Virgin Media Customer Service. You still can’t call me on the number which I’ve had with them for years.
POSTSCRIPT As mentioned in the update at the top, after writing this, I was contacted by the Virgin Media “Social Media Team” (via Twitter and email) and by the company’s “Head of Customer Experience” (see comment below). Impressively, the telephone number situation was sorted in 24 hours, and I’m very grateful for this. It seems slightly churlish to raise the following question – but I must – which is “Why couldn’t normal customer service make this happen?” Clearly the capabilities are in place to expedite matters. Ten days to transfer a phone number indeed.
THE NEXT DAY “Dad”, comes the cry from downstairs, “Why is the telly not working?” I look at the screen. It says: “You have not subscribed to this channel”. Or indeed any channel, by the looks of things. Oh hang on, the broadband’s down too. Time for technical support. That’s one of the numbers I haven’t pressed on the menu over the past fortnight. “No problems reported in your area sir”, says Luke. “But it says here that you’ve been disconnected for non-payment of bills”.
I’m not sure how to explain speechlessness in print. They have my direct debit details. They’ve been taking money from me for years. Luke puts me through to a nice lady in accounts. “There’s nothing outstanding here”, she says. Indeed, that description could probably apply to most of your organisation, but thanks anyway. So what should I do? The nice lady offers to take the matter up with something called “Collections”. But we have to wait ten minutes to get put through to them. Mid-80s David Bowie to listen to today.
Apparently “Collections” says there was £3 outstanding, but couldn’t explain why it wasn’t “collected”. Clearly it’s easier to just switch customers off when there’s a glitch in the system. That always gets things moving. The nice lady says that it’ll all be sorted in a moment, “but it might take 24 hours to restore all of your services”. I refrain from losing my temper, reminding myself as always that it’s not her fault, it’s down to the lack of investment in systems which work, from people at board level. The trouble is, I’ll never have the chance to talk to one of them. I wish I could. It’d make me feel so much better.
So as I write, everything’s working. My advice to anyone using Virgin Media services, and whose systems are fine, is don’t move house. Indeed, don’t move a muscle. You might just get the service you want (as long as accounts doesn’t get involved).
AND THERE’S MORE Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water. A letter arrives, telling me that my services have been restricted (whatever that means) because of the unusual account expenditure taking place. I’m a bit concerned: many years ago, with ntl, I was sent a 10-page bill amounting to hundreds of pounds which was nothing to do with me – they actually had to send out an engineer to look at my set-top box to confirm it wasn’t. So I was worried that something like this had happened again, and immediately got on to accounts to find out what the unusual account expenditure was. “It’s only a standard letter”, I was informed, “and won’t affect your services; it’s just to let you know that we’ve noticed something out of the ordinary’s being charged to your account”. Sure, but I haven’t been spending anything unusual, so why the warning letter? The accounts lady peers into her screen (I have a nice mental image of Virgin Media’s call centres by now). “Well, there’s a couple of hundred pounds been spent from your account, which isn’t normal.”
I have a think. £200? We tried out an “On Demand” movie. That doesn’t account for the other £197 though. Oh hang on…
Is the “unusual expenditure” anything to do with the two TiVo boxes I’ve just had installed? “Ah yes, that’ll be it. Not sure why they sent you a letter in that case”. You don’t say. Does everyone upgrading their service get a letter warning them that they’ve been spending too much money, I wonder? Right, so that’s sorted. Are my services still “restricted” (whatever that means) then? “Would you like to talk to Collections about it?” No I blummin’ well wouldn’t. It’s been nice talking to you. Get your house in order (I add, silently).
UPDATE:I’ve closed comments on this article because I don’t want to become a clearing house for people with bad experiences of Virgin Media customer service, such as the examples below. Who knows, maybe by the time you read this, Virgin Media will have got the staff and system resources they need, and may be a paragon of customer service virtue.

Why you shouldn’t leave your passwords in your Will

Saturday 15 October 2011

So, there’s been much news coverage over the past few days concerning a survey which says 1 in 10 of us plans to leave online passwords in our will, although I’m not sure if that’s actually something which is physically happening or just a nice idea. The reasons include the sheer financial value of films, music and software, as well as the sentimental value of family snaps and videos, all of which are increasingly likely to be stored only online. But as a reader suggests in The Times today, this could be a disastrous thing to do. The letter points out: “Once probate has been granted, the will is open to public inspection” and therefore your passwords would be open to the world.
Now, when I go, I hope that the executors of my will have enough information to clear up my financial affairs. (That reminds me, I really should ensure there’s a way for them to access my online bank accounts and other important documents. If they can’t do so, they’ll have to go through the process of getting a hard copy of my death certificate to the banks, and it could take some time.) But I doubt they’ll do much more. All those hundreds of other online accounts, from GMail down to free memberships of websites I’ll never visit again even while I’m alive, will be allowed to quietly fall into disuse. My executors won’t bother to close them down, even if they could (can you even close and delete a GMail account?).
However, what happens if I publish my passwords in my will? Sure, the bank account details won’t be of use to anyone, because presumably by the time the details are made public, the accounts will have been closed (or let’s hope so). However, the world would have a free run at everything else. I’ve made a good attempt at allocating different passwords to everything I’ve ever subscribed to, but I’ll admit to having used some passwords more than once, and I know some people use the same password for everything. There’s a lot of mischief which might be caused if someone gets into my Twitter account, for example, and masquerades as me to people who don’t know I’m dead. And the thought of what might happen if strangers got into my GMail account, which already has 6Gb and 7 years’ worth of private correspondence in it, doesn’t bear thinking about. There are many examples online of people finding out a seemingly innocuous password belonging to someone else, and using that to get into a series of increasingly important accounts. What we need to do is document our user names and passwords somewhere, safely and separately, for our executors. But that place isn’t in a will.
It’s impossible to expect your executors to delete your online presence after you go. Don’t put their futures in potential difficulty by giving strangers even the slightest ability to exploit your absence.

My Top Ten Movies of 2011

Wednesday 14 December 2011

A fairly populist list as ever, but I’ve never been one for art house movies (not to be confused with the fabulous Arts Picturehouse) and I’ve certainly never been one to get all beard-strokingly pretentious about cinema. While researching this list, I found at least half a dozen movies which might have been contenders if only I’d got around to watching them. Oh well. These would make a great weekend’s viewing anyway.

Cineworld: run by robots who just don’t care

Friday 23 December 2011

Just got back from a showing of “Sherlock Holmes” (which was rather good, by the way) at Cambridge Cineworld. The talking point of the evening, however, was not the main movie, but a trailer shown beforehand for a quite dreadful-looking movie called “The Sitter”. The problem was that the trailer was in no way suitable for an audience containing 12 year olds, with more use of bad language in two minutes than would be allowed in an entire 12A movie, and some sexual references which were uncomfortable even for the adults in the audience. Now, if people want to make and watch movies like that, then fine, but the (presumably mistaken) showing of this trailer demonstrated why the cinema multiplex business is slowly killing itself. Mark Kermode would nod his head knowingly.
On heading out from the showing, the young manager was clearly waiting for us all, accompanied by our complaints. It turned out that he’d been besieged by angry cinemagoers all day, and could only offer the defence that “the computer says it’s a 12A trailer for a 12A film”. When we pointed out that “The Sitter” was actually a 15 movie, and showed him the BBFC website, he resorted to saying that “the computer says otherwise”. When we asked if he’d watched it, he said that he had (unsurprisingly, given the complaints he’d been getting), and we asked if he agreed that it was unsuitable. At this point, while not saying yes, he admitted: “We’re not able to stop the trailers even if we wanted to, they come direct from a satellite”. So whatever was being streamed to his screens, the human being in charge was unable to do anything about it, regardless of the distress – and at our showing, anger – being caused. It makes you weep.