Alice in Troll-land

Never one to shy away from the big issues, I thought I’d put the collapse of Europe to one side and instead concentrate on a mild spat between two journalists, one of which no-one had ever heard of before a couple of days ago.

In the blue corner: Giles Coren is a journalist for the Times.  He published a piece last weekend in which he worried about his young daughter’s safety and talked about how he yearned for a return to the comfy womb that was his Prep School.  He’s an entertaining writer.  As a newspaper columnist and one who revels in being provocative (mostly by the use of innuendo and mild ranting) and as one who is a regular user of Twitter, part of his raison d’etre is to stir up opinion, some of which will nod in sage support of him and some of which will inevitably violently disagree.  As someone who wrote a book entitled ‘anger management’, he’s clearly an irascible fellow and likes nothing more than a good old spat on Twitter.

In the red corner: a 23 year old journalist called Alice Vincent (she’s the non-famous one in this story) and hence information on her is limited.  Having read his article, she tweeted Giles with the following:

 “Columnists basing their opinions around their chldren. So yawn. Your column today is one step up from a mumsnet blogpost, @gilescoren”

Despite the use of the word ‘so’ in this context, which is irritating in itself, and the fact that she wrote a later tweet breaking up his name using an apostrophe (think Gile’s instead of Giles’), it’s actually rather a good put-down.  Coren clearly sees himself as something of an alpha male – the enfant terrible of the animal husbandry and allotment world, if you will.  Vincent manages to strike two blows – the first is the attack on Coren’s own journalistic integrity and the second is achieved by comparing him to something he would regard as total anathema.  However, she’s clearly struck a raw nerve, because Coren’s response demonstrated just how far the bile had risen:

“Go f*ck yourself, you barren old hag” 

It’s concise, pithy, straight to the point; everything we look for in quality journalism.  In fact, if one looks through Coren’s timeline, it’s littered with profanity and playground insults.  He seems to rather like it, and I guess that’s his prerogative; you certainly know what the risks are when you choose to insult the man with the tiny beard.  He has replied to a direct tweet from a woman he doesn’t know, in which she expressed a withering opinion on his latest article.  His response is less offensive in many ways, bearing in mind that it strikes nowhere near the heart and is offensive only in a very abstract manner.  The fact that she’s 23 means that she’s not old, it’s unsurprising that she’s childless (it would be more surprising if she were sprogged up) and though she’s no Venus de Milo, she’s far from being a hag.

The most boring aspect of the whole spat is the amount of guff that it’s generated on Twitter, with (according to Coren) around 85% of the Twitterati supporting him.  Supporting him in what?  The right to use rude words?  The right to take umbrage when his work is criticised? The right to have children and then talk vaguely about them in his column?  The fact of the matter is that Coren is just being Coren.  It’s what he does, it’s his USP.  He’s the gentleman farmer in the wax anorak who talks about provenance of asparagus one minute and calls someone a c*nt the next.  It’s what we middle-class folk love.  Alice Vincent is just a catty wannabe journalist who deserves all the abuse he chooses to give her.  And besides, she started it.  She should be happy that she’s got a rise from him and she should let his clumsy factually incorrect insults wash off her like rainwater from a fresh-picked beet.

Accusations of ‘Trolling’ seem a trifle overblown.  A troll (for those who don’t know) is someone who posts inflammatory messages in an online community, with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional response.  There’s no trolling to see here.  in fact, there’s nothing much to see here.  Move along please.

Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be

All that is formulaic does not have to be bad.  When sports teams hit on a winning formula either of personnel or tactics they would be foolish to move away from it.  And of course there’s something to be said for sticking to what you know (incidentally, I notice that Feeder have a new album out).  TV seems to work on a similar principle, namely that you should be inventive only until you stumble across something that people like, then you make sure to give them more of the same until they are sick of it.  For evidence, see Popstars, Popstars (the rivals), Pop Idol, American Idol, Fame Academy, The X factor, Britain’s got Talent.  The name changes, but generally the product stays the same.  Of course ITV are most guilty, but the BBC have to hold their hands up in at least two areas.  The first is the now-ubiquitous travel/cookery programme, many of which tend to focus on the British Isles in a sort of upmarket Man v Food manner, including vast quantities of whitecurrants, samphire and cob-nuts, whilst Giles Coren or the Hairy Bikers tell us what we should be eating more of, and isn’t it a shame how what used to be orchards is now a ring-road around Stoke.  The second is the nostalgia shows, and keen to live up to their name, the nostalgia shows have been away for a time but are now back with a vengence.

The BBC decided to go large on the nostalgia show around the year 2000 (a sensible time to look back), and spent every Saturday night with a programme entitled ‘I love 1970’ one week, followed by ‘I love 1971’ the following week.  The feeling was that they knew it was possible to cobble together an entire night’s TV on one of their two channels by simply showing repeats, as long as the repeats all happened to be from the same year.  The glue that held these programmes together took the form of various comedians and social commentators (wherever else would Stuart Maconie and Gina Yashere come together?) whose role was to exclaim ‘I can’t believe we all used to wear leg-warmers’ at the end of a clip where people wore leg-warmers, or ‘I can’t believe we all used to wear 3-foot high top-hats with mirrors on them’ when a clip of Slade was shown.

The popularity of these programmes was such that when the ‘I love 1970s’ series came to a close in late 2000, they simply wheeled out an ‘I love 1980s’ series.  This was followed by the ‘I love 1990s’ series.  It was more difficult to class the ‘I love 1999’ programme strictly as nostalgia, bearing in mind that the show aired in 2001.  I can’t believe I used to wear that?  Not really – clothes from 1999 made up the most fashionable items in my wardrobe at that time.

The Beeb have re-introduced the nostalgia again recently with a series called ‘The 70s’.  Apart from the fact that something from 1972 might turn up alongside something from 1976, rather than being separated by four Saturday nights, it doesn’t smack of anything original.  But people still seem keen to lap it up.  But who is actually allowed to feel nostalgic whilst watching kids bouncing on space-hoppers or riding Rayleigh Choppers?  Surely only those people that were bouncing on space-hoppers or riding Choppers at the time?  So anyone from the ages of about 5-15 in, say, 1976 can feel nostalgic, which means that only those people aged between 41 and 51 now really be experiencing a feeling of nostalgia, or at least a heightened sense of nostalgia.  These people are experiencing genuine nostalgia; they are whistfully remembering a time gone by, a happy time, a simpler time and a time about which they can say ‘I was there’.  I’m not nostalgic for space-hoppers because I never bounced on one, nor did I know anyone that did.  I’m no more nostalgic for those squidgy orange balls than I am for penny farthings or Arkwright’s spinning Jennys.

But nostalgia affects us all, and it seems that we’re able to feel nostalgic about the past, even if it wasn’t our past.  I watched a programme about George Formby last week, which included clips of many of his bawdy songs (most of which seemed to be about his penis, or his desire to spy on women through windows).  Yet by the end of the programme I was convinced that the London riots were pretty much a direct result of the decrease in the number of people playing the ukelele and that what this country needed was a mass-exodus to the Blackpool ballroom to listen to a load of George’s old music-hall classics.  I got rather carried away, as you can probably tell.  

We’re all keen to look back with rose-tinted spectacles, and tend to remember just how bad today is compared to the halcyon days of yesteryear.  Wattle and daub houses and rampant syphilis, that’s when times were truly great.  Mind you, things can be taken too far.  The Happy Mondays are back on tour.

Twitter ye not

Life needs to be full of little wins. Standing in just the right spot for the doors when the tube comes in; getting to the pub just after someone else has bought a large round; finishing your book just as the plane hits the tarmac (does that make me sound jet set?); eating round the cardomom pod in the pilau rice (middle class ftw). These little wins are what keeps us sane. One of the most comforting things in the world is getting into something before other people. It might be a film, a book or a band, but isn’t it a great feeling when you were definitely in on the ground floor, and the world has spent some time catching you up?

I feel a little like this about twitter. I certainly wasn’t the creator of twitter, and I’m pretty sure that there were lots of people keen on it well before me. But I’ve been happily tweeting for at least a couple of years now, and people have slowly been catching me up. Well, in rural Northamptonshire they have, anyway. I’m not sure that my tweets to followers ratio is anything to be proud of (5500:295 at last count), but that means they get about 20 each, which seems like a good reason to follow me; for the personal touch, as it were.

I like twitter. Far more than facebook. It’s very easy to stagnate on facebook, unless you’re at university, or just happen to meet lots of new people every week. Facebook is very immediately easy to get in to, unlike twitter, which is another reason I like tweeting more than ‘booking (?). Here are some reasons why I dislike facebook:

1. People who post 140 photos from one night out, most of which comprise over-exposed white faces with v-signs from strangers in the background, all captured in some carpeted bar/club with shots for a quid and wkd blues on special
2. People who do anything other than contact people or put photos up: farmville, aquaria, throwing snowballs at each other: cretins.
3. People who have whole personal conversations on each other’s wall, on topics as dull as who’s turn it is to buy milk
4. Any evidence that any any time, in any place, someone was having more fun than you

Here are some common barbs thrust at me for liking twitter:

1. It’s just like facebook, but only status updates
2. It’s only for people who like to think they’re friends with celebrities
3. General nerd noises whenever my phone comes out (even if it’s ringing), just in case I might be about to use it to tweet

I’m pretty sure that people who profess not to like it simply do not understand, and if they do, they haven’t the patience to see it through: you have to persevere with twitter, as there won’t be a mass of people who got there before you who have already friend requested you.

Twitter for me is simply an information store, and it’s a great way of filtering out the information that you do want from that which you don’t. It’s a bit like the Sunday papers. There’s always some adverts, some cruise pamphlets, something with Louie Spence on the cover and plenty of thin plastic, usually with a 1950s film for free. There’s also the business and jobs section, the money section and the ‘life’ section. You don’t want any of these, but you’ve still got them. With twitter, simply follow ‘news’ ‘sport’ ‘books’ etc and you’ve instantly removed that useless wadge from your life. You can follow bands you like – gigs often advertised first on twitter, or comedians – they might be funny, and give you a little lift in the morning. You’re also invited (with no questions asked) into a whole new community – the twitterati. Watching ‘take me out’ on your own on a saturday night, and have a pithy abusive aside to share with someone? – hashtag #takemeout and you have a whole new set of friends with which to pour scorn on the Northern lads and lasses.

Oh, and the Corens, Toby Young, Jason Gillespie, Jay Rayner, Dion Dublin and Bumble are all officially better friends of mine than they are of yours. If only Miss Daisy Frost would start following me…