I’ll admit it. Whenever I write an article I’m particularly proud of, I enjoy going on Twitter and yelling about it at the top of my voice. I don’t know whether that’s a particularly brilliant side of my personality, but it’s there. I’d be a bloody liar if I said I didn’t enjoy people telling me something I’ve written is good. TELL ME SOMETHING I’VE WRITTEN IS GOOD, DO IT.
And yet sometimes… that’s just not what I’m aiming for. Sometimes I write something I want to write, but I know most people who follow me on Twitter just aren’t going to be interested. Or sometimes I write mainly to work a few things out in my head, and if anyone else enjoys the piece, that’s a bonus. Or sometimes I just want to write something small – a piece which might be fun for a reader to come across randomly when browsing a site, but not something anyone would want to visit a site just to read.
When I first ran a blog – now stupidly deleted off the web, but partially available on The Wayback Machine – things were different. Social media was far less of a thing: people would see you had written a new piece through your RSS feed, or even – shock horror – just from visiting your site. Amazing. These days, very few people see any of my stuff unless I tweet about it, or somebody links to it on Facebook.
Some pieces don’t want to be tweeted about. Some pieces don’t want that attention foisted on them. Some things absolutely do not warrant me waving my arms around above it, yelling “Look at me!” Some pieces just want to exist… ready for the right people to stumble across them. That used to be so easy. Now, it isn’t. Social media is about yelling to get attention in a way that an RSS feed is not. These days, something has to be made a fuss about… or it disappears into the ether. And that’s a shame.
Ah, Sunday. Where the vast majority of my Twitter feed seems to want to sit around and read/watch/talk about telly. So in lieu of anything else new here, I thought I’d point you towards a load of articles and videos other people have done instead.
First off, we have some brilliant analysis of Robot Wars by Christopher Wickham. Fancy learning about a robot which was renamed between the BBC Choice showing, and its BBC Two repeat? Or what about a rigged trial round? Or, indeed, a rigged Grand Final? Or a bunch of other obscure trivia about the show? Most of the CONTROVERSIAL BITS discussed have associated YouTube links, and I highly recommend you don’t rush through them – sit back and watch the fights in full alongside the articles. It’s worth it. Even when it’s difficult to nail down exactly what happened, some of those fights look very strange indeed in the final edit.
Out of all of the above, perhaps the thing which blows my mind the most is the existence of Robot Wars Revealed – a 1998 BBC Choice behind-the-scenes spin-off series. It being the early days of digital television, hardly anyone saw it – and seemingly only one episode is in general circulation. It’s incredible how easily things can slip away; even programmes made in the last 20 years. What programmes are you watching now that in 2037 you’ll think “Oh, I wish I could see that again”, and be unable to?
When I’m not writing over here, you can find me over on Ganymede & Titan – the Red Dwarf fansite started in 1999 which is unaccountably still running. Having just published a brand new piece of mine over there today, it strikes me that over the past three years I seem to have accidentally written myself a little trilogy about the history, influences and themes of the show.
As they’re some of my better pieces, with a strong linking thread, if you feel like diving into my Red Dwarf writing you could probably do worse than check out the following. They do go into the show in a little more depth than “Dave Hollins was on the radio, and then it turned into Red Dwarf“.
History of a Joke (2015)
Tracing the history of a single joke Rob and Doug have used in various forms, right from their first solo radio show Cliché in 1981, to their novel Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers in 1989.
Hancock’s Half Hour: The Tycoon (2016)
A look at how the basic structure of the Red Dwarf episode Better Than Life was done by Hancock’s Half Hour thirty years earlier: even the supposedly science fiction element.
Better Than Reality (2017)
A brand new piece, which takes a look at how a single sketch in Cliché informed ideas that Red Dwarf would use time and time again – in Better Than Life, Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers, and beyond.
If any of my Red Dwarf writing interests you, give the above a go. They’re some of the best stuff about the show I’ve written over the past few years, so if you don’t like them then for fuck’s sake don’t hunt down any of my other shit.
Firstly, apologies for Chris Tarrant’s face there. He looks like a ghost that’s getting sucked off. Secondly: is that the 1989 ITV generic logo I spy there? Surely that look had long disappeared by the time WWTBAM was aired? The look I always remember associated with the show is the yellow and blue identity:
Clearly not, though the crossover was in fact very tight, just like your mum. The first episode of WWTBAM? was broadcast on the 4th September 1998; the blue and yellow ITV logo was launched on the 5th October 1998, just a month later.
It’s very easy to forget quite how long that 1989 generic logo survived; no way would I have said it was still being used on a network programme in 1998. In my head, the ITV of 1998 is very different to the ITV of 1989, as shown in this launch promo:
The appearance of this logo in WWTBAM? feels almost like a missing link. And an unpleasant reminder that yes, even the late 90s were a rather long time ago now. Shit.
To make us feel a little better about that, then, there is another reason why seeing this logo pop up is so surprising – and it speaks to how TV subtly rewrites itself. If you look at the Challenge repeat of the first episode of WWTBAM?, the section featuring the 1989 ITV logo is cut entirely. Not because of the logo itself – but simply because it’s on during the section where Chris Tarrant is asking for contestants for the show, and that wasn’t an appropriate thing to air in a repeat.
Understandable, and something needed to be done to this section to avoid misleading or confusing the viewer, but perhaps a little frustrating. As it is, a tiny slither of TV history is lost with this cut, and that’s somewhat unfortunate.
No wonder we lose track of this stuff so easily.
There are two people in this world: people who entirely understand why I would want to watch the very first episode of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? on YouTube, and those who don’t. ↩
Picture the scene. It’s the early 90s, and a tech op working for a commercial radio station (who shall remain nameless) has the joy of playing out Savile’s Travels to the eager listeners at home. Come out of the news, play a jingle, start the tape, listen to the output, and insert the local ads every so often. Job done.
Unfortunately, this means that this poor guy had to listen to hours upon hours of Jimmy Savile. And it didn’t take him long to realise a lot of the stuff a certain Mr. Savile said was… something fairly akin to gibberish. So when a new digital sampler arrived at the station, he decided to relieve his boredom and have some fun. The result is the most entertaining Jimmy Savile ever was in his entire career. Over 25 years later, perhaps this piece of audio only intended to internal hijinks deserves a wider audience.
Be warned, though. This does actually contain an awful lot of Jimmy Savile.
You may think the above was compiled from many different episodes of Savile’s Travels. I should leave you with one final fact, then: I’m afraid all the samples used come from a single episode of the programme.
Hey! You, over there! Ever wonder how moral you are? Don’t look at me like that. It’s a straightforward enough question, and easy enough to answer. Isn’t it? No?
Well, never fear. I have a BBC Micro program here which will tell you ALL you need to know. Published by Collins Soft in 1985, The Real You contains 16 tests to – and I quote the back of the packaging – “inspire you and challenge you to discover who you really are”. And one of those tests is simply titled: Morals.
The test consists of 50 questions, and I thought I’d run through some of the most interesting ones here. Feel free to download a copy and play along at home1, though the below gives you enough of a flavour, I feel.
“Which brings us to: Screw With Your Sleep. The Wraith of Insomnia will be your co-pilot on the Sea of Sadness. Her mere presence is unpleasant, but she also helps confuse the productive part of your brain which might look to navigate you toward the Islands of Happiness on the horizon. (More on that later.) A regular sleep cycle is a fragile thing and takes at least three days to establish. Be sure then to vary your bedtime, by several hours twice at week – at least. Even better: vary your wake time. Sleep in late, preferably very late, some – but not all – days. And tell yourself you are making up for sleep to feel like you’re doing something healthy, even though you feel terrible when you wake up early, and when you wake up late. Irregular sleep is another of the sea’s accelerating currents.
The more you vary your sleep, the harder regular sleep becomes, which makes your sleep more variable. To never sleep or wake at the same time naturally is the goal.”
Yeah, that does sound bad, and I get your clever reversal. Now, let me take you through my weekend.
In fact, I’ve actually been off work since Monday, which has been lovely. But just at the time when a lot of people are thinking about what to do with their days off, I’m gearing up for four 12-hour shifts at work. 7:30pm – 7:30am: going into work this Friday night, and coming off shift Tuesday morning.
So, what will I be doing? I work as a Playout Director, so when I get in I’ll take over transmitting TV shows for your primetime. I’ll do a bit of sport in the early hours, and then I’ll get to prepping tomorrow’s schedules. If there’s a problem with a programme that’s transmitting tomorrow afternoon, best we find out about it at 3am when there’s a chance of fixing it, instead of discoving the issue half an hour before broadcast.
In my job, I do many different kinds of awkward hours. Depending on my shift, I can end up starting work early in the morning, at lunchtime, mid-afternoon, or in the evening. In fact, the only time I’m never going to arrive at work is bang on 9am. Now, don’t get me wrong: I love my job. There are certain health risks associated with it, and planning your life can be fraught at times. But those are just things I have to deal with.
What I find frustrating though, is when people talk about the issues with irregular sleep patterns as though all anybody has to do is just “go to bed at a sensible time, man”. For me, that is just impossible. And let’s not forget: somebody has to do all these jobs, and many of those jobs are rather more important than mine. Somebody needs to make sure you have running water and electricity at all hours. Somebody needs to come and put out fires. And somebody – like my sister, a nurse – has to be around to pump you full of morphine and save your life.1 Regular sleep patterns are literally impossible for a great many people in the service industry. And I’m sick of being scolded and/or patronised for a job which if I didn’t do, somebody else would have to do instead.
Maybe it’s unfair to pin all of this on one seven minute video. This is a cumulation of things, and it just wandered into my life at exactly the wrong time. Still, let’s take another short section from it, and something else designed to cause misery:
“Make your bedroom your allroom. Live and work and play in the smallest radius you can.”
Some people literally have no choice but to live like this. In fact, I was one of those people until very recently. Lack of money is very much a thing these days. And all days. Forever.
The concept of the video is, of course, about turning typical self-help advice on its head in an attempt to get the point across in a more engaging way. But the advice it’s trying to get across is exactly the same as if you’d done the video straight. And the problem with all this advice is that it often assumes that you can create perfect circumstances for yourself. Hey, want to be happier? Live in a bigger house, and work 9-5! That’ll sort you out!
Anybody can paint a picture of a perfect life – or, in this case, a perfectly imperfect life. Advice on how to live better within the constraints society puts on us? That’s worth rather more.
Me and my sister have had many conversations about how similar our jobs are. On the other hand, if my channel falls off-air, nobody dies. ↩
Last week, The New York Times published this interview with Ev Williams, one of the people behind Blogger and Twitter. The interview has been endlessly dissected elsewhere, and I don’t have anything particular to add to that debate.
I simply want to focus on the opening paragraph of David Streitfeld’s article:
“Evan Williams is the guy who opened up Pandora’s box. Until he came along, people had few places to go with their overflowing emotions and wild opinions, other than writing a letter to the newspaper or haranguing the neighbors.”
Now, here’s the thing. This isn’t actually true, is it?
I mean, I don’t even need to give counter-examples tracing back through the years – online forums, Usenet, fanzines, etc. What I’m thinking of is something rather more basic, and rather more popular. It’s called talking to people. My living room often features “overflowing emotions”, and my local pub echoes with the sound of “wild opinions”. And I can’t believe an article in The New York Times has made it necessary for me to state this rather obvious fact.
Now, is there a point to be made about Ev’s work making it easier to reach a worldwide audience? Yes, of course there is, and the article brings this up in the very next paragraph. But that doesn’t stop the initial opening being a massive load of crap. There is no such qualifier in the section I quote above.
I must admit, I couldn’t figure out why anybody would actually write this. Luckily, the article answers this for us:
“The trouble with the internet, Mr. Williams says, is that it rewards extremes.”
Why write an article with a sensible opening, when you can write something attention-grabbing which blatantly isn’t true?
Ah, how time changes. Back in 2010, changing the name of this site from Transistorized to Dirty Feed only warranted a tweet, not a proper mention on here. In 2011, the same was true for a brand new design for the site. These days, however, I’m prone to long, rambling posts on the subject instead. Many apologies. On the other hand, I have been promising a redesign of this place for fucking years, so finally launching it deserves at least a little ceremony.
So, what’s new?
A responsive design
The old site was pretty unfriendly on mobile, and I’m not entirely sure it being designed in 2011 is much excuse. Finally, you can view the site on your phone without it being a pain in the arse. (Though knowledgeable people shouldn’t dig through my CSS too much. And beginners shouldn’t try to learn anything from it. In fact, nobody should go near it, ever.)
Speaking of categorisation, all the articles which aren’t quite as shit as the other ones are now to be found in one handy place.
I very nearly got rid of comments on the new site entirely1 – partly because some articles on here don’t really suit having comments at the bottom, and partly to get rid of the spam problem – but that seemed a blunt instrument considering comments can be really useful. So I’ve decided to take a more selective approach – articles where comments are useful will have comments open for a couple of months or so. Other pieces will never have comments open in the first place.
Have a mess around, and let me know of any issues you find – either on Twitter, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or in the comments below. The previous design rather stagnated – think of this one as a living, breathing thing, which will hopefully improve over time. It’s nowhere near perfect – and some articles from 2010-2013 aren’t fully converted to the new design yet – but hey, it’s a start.
Right, I’m off to watch every single episode of Come Back Mrs. Noah and attempt to extract something meaningful from the experience.
More exactly, I nearly got rid of being able to add new comments to the site. I never would have got rid of the old ones. ↩