Tag Archives: television

Images from Nottingham National Kitchen, 16 June 2017

My national project to rediscover the public feeding schemes of 100 years ago hit the road again last Friday, when over 100 people in Nottingham were fed for free from a menu 100 years old. We had a jazz band, we had music hall numbers, we dressed up and danced and ate. And all in a stunning Victorian venue designed by renowned architect Watson Fothergill http://www.watsonfothergill.co.uk/

The idea is to highlight how social eating is superior to the basic food bank model and how we can learn a lot from how the government did things 100 years ago. So we fed 100 people food from 100 years ago, including period dishes ‘wet nelly’ and ‘trench cake’.

The local television coverage of the evening is accessible here: https://nottstv.com/programme/social-eating-experiment-takes-locals-back-world-war-one-19-06-17/

The point was to rediscover social eating in an area of nottingham (St Anne’s) with a high food bank dependency and a very diverse demographic. The event was held in the city’s Pakistan Community Centre and involved some fairly diverse groups of people including a choir for children with special needs. We teamed up with Marsha Smith of Super Kitchen and ‘Pulp Friction’ (a Nottingham-based charity for young adults with learning disabilities) and the floor was run by Hospitality guru Dr Clay Gransden, ensuring the night provided an opportunity for young adults with learning disabilities to learn transferable skills for the industry (front of house, table service etc).

The entire project has now been nominated for the Royal Historical Society’s Public History Award 2017 and so was judged on the evening by Professor John Tosh (Royal Historical Society).

All the below images are reproduced by kind permission of Richard Mowberry:


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The infantilisation of the Brexit debate

This morning I was listening to a radio debate around British membership of the European Union when one of the participants dropped a bombshell. We’d all heard the big news that, during the week, British Prime Minister David Cameron’s negotiations with his fellow European leaders had dragged on so long that breakfast was postponed, then lunch, then dinner. But now came the revelation that in the absence of formal dining what had ‘fuelled’ Cameron and his team during the tortuous process  was Haribo Fangtastics.

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For the uninitiated, Fangtastics are a chewy jelly snack manufactured by a German (yes, German) confectionery giant. A playground favourite, they take your tongue on a sensory journey from extreme sweetness to extreme sourness. And they pack a fizz, too. Perfect sugar hit to get you through Double Maths or, if you’re Mr Cameron, high powered political negotiations.

Fangtastics-gate illustrates the fact that, thus far, the debate around whether the United Kingdom will leave the European Union has been characterised by infantilised rhetoric.

By now, we’re used to this when it comes to politics. ‘It’s just too boring’ fret television and radio producers. As a solution you get programmes like BBC’s Daily Politics, all cheap graphics and smiles to break up the serious stuff. The Daily Politics duly delivered today: Cameron’s cabinet were crudely depicted as rival sets of football fans, with bobble hats and scarfs bearing either the words ‘IN’ or ‘OUT’ depending on their stance. Chortle.

Meanwhile, Nigel Farage – leading figure in the ‘out’ campaign – has in the last couple of weeks delivered rejoinders to Cameron of which a school bully would be proud. He first called him ‘a chicken’ over his trifling reforms to Britain’s conditions of EU membership. He then went further in deploying schoolboy taunts: Mr Cameron, Farage informed us, had secured but ‘tinsy winsy’ reforms.


Over on Sky News, anchor Dermot Murnaghan was busy reducing the debate to a matter of personalities. Boris Johnson versus David Cameron, Murnaghan told viewers, would be like ‘a superhero movie’, ‘like King Kong fighting Godzilla’. Sounds light? Well, this was actually taking the debate up a notch. The previous segment of the show had featured ‘in’ campaigner June Sarpong (she formerly noted for presenting shows about pop music on Channel 4 which brought with it tough interviews with the likes of Britney Spiers over what she eats for breakfast). June’s argument for staying in the EU seemed to be largely based on an image of ‘out’ campaigners Nigel Farage and George Galloway linking arms. She goaded the Tory ‘out’ campaigner sitting beside her in the Sky Newsroom with that classic argument that goes something like this: ‘Euuhhhhh! Look at the state of your friends’. Or, to directly quote Sarpong, ‘look at who you hang out with!’


What does all this suggest about the state of political rhetoric?

It speaks to the fact that the British negotiations over questions such as migrant benefits, sovereignty, movement of labour, law-making etc actualy turned out – unsurprisingly – to be slow and boring. Very boring.

Now, The News doesn’t like this. So even the most high-brow news magazine shows stooped to the tabloid. Thus on Thursday BBC Radio 4’s flagship morning politics show ‘Today’ wheeled out an excitable American commentator to spice things up. Suddenly a boring set of negotiations sounded like Superbowl showdown. ‘Cameron’s going in there on the offense’ he enthused ‘and how is Denmark going to respond?’ Pass the popcorn!

More worryingly, it shows that some of the profound consequences that will follow the British people’s decision on European have been reduced to the sound-bite and dumbed down to an alarming degree.

I would argue that this is part of a broader infantilisation at work in society. Young-ish people are penalised and neutered by house prices, age-geared benefit restrictions, the early debt burden of study, and austerity politics. They become infantilised, some living with mum and dad well into their thirties and forties (and beyond?) because there is little other option for them. They’re also spoon-fed a diet of computer games and superhero movies so that infantilisation has become masked beneath the new respectability of the 40 year old nerd.

Does the infantilisation of the debate around Brexit, with cartoonish and pop-friendly rhetoric, reflect this? I would discuss this further, but the X Factor has just come on the telly. Sorry. Have to go.






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Walter has got me thinking about Aunt Julia

There was a time when, if you wanted entertainment that differed from the Anglo-American mainstream, you had to take the following steps:

  1. Enter the video store – Blockbuster Video, or somewhere similar.
  2. Fight your way past the popcorn and chocolate and sweets they’d amass at the door.
  3. Search for ‘World Cinema’ or similarly titled shelf, usually at the back, in a darkened corner where only the customers wearing anoraks dwelt.
  4. Approach said shelf gingerly.
  5. Put up with glances from fellow customers and staff that implied a) “you’re a pretentious sod” or b) “Why’s he looking at subtitled movies? Weirdo.” or c) “What a sex case. He must be looking for pornography amongst the French flicks.”


Happily, such scenarios no longer occur. I am no longer in danger of being labelled ‘The Blockbuster Prowler’. The video store is no more.

To be clear, I don’t always make a bee-line for the foreign films. Don’t get me wrong now, I enjoy a good ol’ shoot-em-up as much as the next man. But there’s only so much Hollywood you can take. I’ve been researching the author Liam O’Flaherty recently, a reasonably famous yet under-appreciated Irish writer. Back in 1935 he wrote a book entitled Hollywood Cemetery based on his experience as a screenwriter there. As the title suggests, it explores the vacuity and money-driven emptiness that is Hollywood. I’m sure the same goes for the American movie industry today but, by all accounts, it’s 100 times worse. Sometimes it works, Hollywood, and more often it doesn’t. And when it doesn’t, it’s time to turn to the subtitled stuff.

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Now I’ve a decent command of Spanish and German, but I still struggle with fast-paced dialogue on screen if it’s not in English. So I am a fan of subtitles. And I’m not alone in this, apparently, judging by the cult success of Nordic Noir in the last few years.

Now there’s a great, free-to-view repository of foreign TV series to turn to on the long dark rainy January nights.

It’s called ‘Walter Presents’ and it’s accessible via Channel 4’s ‘All 4’ platform. who is Walter? Well, as you can find out right here – http://www.channel4.com/programmes/walter-presents/videos/all/meet-walter – he is a film boffin (pictured below) appointed by Channel 4 to source the best foreign language drama series for British audiences. I don’t know if he’s real, but he looks ginky enough to be, so we’ll assume he is.


So, the story goes that Walter trawls the televisual world looking for great stuff that’s not in English. You then access them (thanks Walter) via ‘All 4’.

So far, then, Walter’s provided for my viewing pleasure an Argentinian cop drama, Pure Evil; a French cop/football drama, Match Day, French political thriller Spin, and German historical drama Deutschland 83. There’s plenty more series up there on the website, but there are only so many hours in the day, you know.

I struggled with Pure Evil (Malicia in Spanish) because it appeared like a Latin American telenovella at times, it was that bad. The plot was totally one-dimensional and dreadfully implausible. Then I realised it’s meant to be a black comedy (or at least I hope it is). When you settle in to this realisation, it’s OK because then it’s clear why the lead character – a grumpy bald man-baby (below) – couldn’t solve a murder case if he had the combined assistance of Sherlock Holmes, Philip Marlowe, Miss Marple, Poirot and her off Murder She Wrote. He spends most of his time yelling in grief, anger and frustration, does the protagonist which, when you realise that Malicia is played for laughs, is quite funny, because he consequently resembles more and more an actual baby. He also seems to live in a book shop and sometimes a swimming pool. It’s an odd one, then, but oddly watchable.


Deutschland 83 has received a lot of media coverage and is the pick of the bunch, although its self-conscious efforts to incorporate every pop tune from the year 1983, every scrap of TV footage of political leaders, makes it a bit too obviously nostalgic.

The French efforts I’ve mentioned above, on the other hand, are poor.

Match Day again features a bunch of police who seem to inhabit a swimming pool-type building near the unceasingly grey and miserable northern French coast. They are investigating a stabbing at a football match. It’s pretty bleak and, when it comes down to it, pretty weak. Although, as I write this, I think I may be hatching my very own idea for a drama featuring police and swimming pools – some sort of underwater version of The Bill perhaps.

Don’t even get me started on Spin (below). I’ve only watched one episode so it’s unfair to judge, but the programme is already trying to convince me that spin doctors have a shred of integrity, loyalty, and even, unbelievably, nobility! Sorry, I just don’t think I can continue to watch stuff that is that wildly implausible even if it is full of Gallic kissing and shrugging.

All in all, though, this ‘Walter Presents’ is a good service. So much so that I’m sure they’ll start charging for you to view it soon, so you better watch ’em while you can.


My biggest problem is this, though: if you watch too many of these TV dramas your mind starts playing tricks on you.

I’m watching the French presidential candidate in Spin (above) and wondering how she went from being a humble East German housewife to a world political bruiser. Idiot! I’m mixing her up with the mum in Deutschland 83.

Then I’m watching Argentina’s most inept detective in Pure Evil and I’m wondering why he doesn’t just turn for assistance to his clever young female side-kick, the one who busted the paedophiles in the last episode. Trouble is, he can’t, because she is from a completely different series: Match Day.

It’s genuinely confusing if you over-watch these programmes, I’m warning you.

All of this got me thinking about the Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa (I can hear the cries of “pretentious” again). One of Vargas Llosa’s most famous reflections on his work is this: “the writer of fiction wishes to replace the world as it is with another one entirely.”

On that note, there’s a debate about whether some of Vargas Llosa’s (above) works modern at all; are they, instead, postmodern? And so is my confused reaction to these overlapping series a postmodern one?

To explain, the example of Vargas Llosa’s masterpiece Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter (1977):

Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter has been described as a postmodern book. Why? Because its light tone is deceptive and, crucially, it features an unreliable narrator.

The scriptwriter of the title is a virtuoso Bolivian writer of several different soap operas who creates so many rich characters and plots that, in the end, characters start appearing all over the place. As this genius gradually loses his marbles due to overwork, he starts mistakenly writing in characters from one soap opera into another.

Like a dead character from Eastenders suddenly turning up, alive and well, on Hollyoaks and next week appearing in Coronation Street.

This goes on until, eventually, they all have to be killed off in catastrophic and unbelievable mass killings. The only way the scriptwriter can resolve his mess is by making them all the victims of a devastating volcanic eruption, or such like, because only then can he start again with a clean slate.

I suppose this is a bit like when British pastoral favourite Emmerdale had that episode with a plane crash which enabled the writers to kill off about a dozen characters.

So, if you indulge in ‘Walter Presents’ and find yourself getting confused, don’t worry. Embrace it. For perhaps that is what Walter wants. Perhaps he wants us all to be good little postmodernists. In fact, is he even real, this ‘Walter’? Either way, he’s got me thinking of Aunt Julia.


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