Friday, 31 December 2010

New Year's Honours List 2010

So another year, another New Year's Honours List without my name on it.  Does anyone know how they decide these things?

Do they start with a list of categories, and then fill them with people?  'Cos if they do, there are some mighty odd categories.  "Services to cricket".  "Services to helping small children cross roads".  "Services to the distribution of milk".  But there's no "Services to snarky blogging", so you can't have one, WhyNotSmile. We don't care how much you did, how much you made us laugh, how much effort you put in to watching The Apprentice and then being sarcastic about it, that award is not on our list so you get NOTHING, although we may, at some point in the future, re-examine our extensive constitution and give due thought to recommending for consideration the addition of a category into which there is a small chance you will fall.   This is what we might call the "Virtual Methodist" approach to giving awards.

Or do they start with people who deserve awards and then make up categories for them?  Like you do for small children.  "Oh, that is the most... umm... colourful picture I have seen today!  What's it meant to be?"

Anyway, for a while now I've been meaning to compile a list of blogs I've started following, and decided I might as well kill two birds with one stone and post it as my New Year's Honours List.  I've left out all the 'Big Blogs' I follow, like Cake Wrecks and It's Lovely, I'll Take It, because we all know they're hilarious.

Services To Ulster Scots
This has to go to "1690 and all thon", a splendid foray into all things Pratestant, and chief organiser of the campaign to get Ballyhalbert made into the 2015 City of Culture.  Even though Ballyhalbert is right next to Ballysmile, and Ballysmile is better.  But still.  We'd get passing trade.

Services to Unpronounceable Blog Names
Not actually a new blog, but Zoomtard has moved over to what, in my head, I pronounce as Cream Tea, although it's some sort of Irish name and I should probably not be displaying my ignorance.  Anyway, I'm giving him an award so he can't get cross about it.

Services To Maths
I very much like New Math, which uses equations to explain how life works.

Services to Pretty Pictures
In much the same sort of vein, Information is Beautiful is a very splendid way of showing how things are.

Services to Funniness
Bresker is always good for a laugh.  Also he sent me a link to a thing, but I haven't listened to it yet.  But thanks.

Services to Always Being Quite Interesting
A friend recommended Tcsoko, which is another one I can't pronounce (in my head: Tea - Costco), and which is quite good.

So there you have it, and if your name's not there, it's not because I don't love you, it's just because I did this quite quickly and mainly wanted to mention blogs that aren't in my blog roll (must update that), and possibly also because you didn't give me an award.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

The Apprentice 2010: The Final

I'm doing this from memory, as I'm at home and The Parents are insisting on watching the weather, as The Sister has to go to The Boyfriend's this afternoon.  So I can't have The Apprentice on the background, in case we miss something.

Anyway, this week was The Final, with Stella and Chris, and it was so obvious that Stella would win that the main entertainment was always going to be seeing how many ways they could try to make it look like Chris was doing better in the task, and in having Mel back.

We started off, of course, with Sports Personality of the Year, which seemed to over-run so interminably, that had The Apprentice come on and they announced that we were all just going to watch Chris watching paint dry for the episode, we'd have been over-excited.  In the event, we start with our finalists getting up and answering the phone, Stella chirping excitedly and Chris looking ravishing in his dressing gown.  I'll say this for him, he can carry off nightwear.

The task itself is to come up with a new alcoholic beverage, and make it and market it and so on.  It's The Germinator Redux, basically.  Splendid.  In time-honoured fashion, the previous contestants are brought back, although, interestingly, not all of them.  No sign of Baggs, Laura, Dan, Raleigh, Joy or Sandeesh, but we do have Mel (yaaay!), Paloma, Joanna, Jamie, Liz, Christopher, Alex (yay!) and Shibby.  We begin by picking teams.  Chris has a sudden upturn of fortune, and gets first pick.  He opts for Jamie.  Stella's first choice is Joanna.

We end up with: Chris in charge of Jamie, Liz, Alex (? Alex?  You choose Alex over... well, over Paloma and Shibby... ok then) and Shibby; Stella in charge of Joanna, Christopher, Melissa, and Paloma (nice quiet team that, then).  Thankfully, we've ditched that Apollo/Synergy nonsense.

They have 3 days or something.

Day 1: Decide what they're making.  Well, you'd think, at least.  They begin with a bit of "let's all forget about being mean to each other in the boardroom" and then launch into talking alcohol.  Alex thinks mojitos are where it's at.  For dear sakes, Alex, even I've heard of mojitos, they can't be that on-trend.  Liz suggests adding gooseberry, but Alex points out that pomegranate is the fruit de jour. Right.  Stella's off to do market research - you know, that bit where they talk to people who think their idea's resoundingly dreadful, and then they take all the negative points and cram them together to get the final product?  Yeah, that bit.

Chris wants to call his drink something British, like 'crumpets'.  He also doesn't want it to be a weird colour.  It's important you remember this point, as we'll be revisiting it presently.  Stella's going for some kind of bourbon, and they decide it should be blue, for the following non-reasons:

1) Then they can call it "summink like "Blue Bourbon", know 'ot ah meeen?"
2) "Blue means you're happy, dunnit?" according to Joanna.  "No, it means sad" say the others.  "Oh, yeah, blue's like gay innit" corrects Joanna.

Oh holy goose, they're visiting marketing professionals, who are all too man to carry a brightly coloured drink, so that knocks the blue on the head.  Chris has a great idea for a frosted bottle with a clear drink inside (again, please note, a clear drink).  He thinks if they add three fruits to it (we seem to have abandoned deciding between gooseberry and pomegranate), then they could call it 'cubed'.  You know what, that's not great, but it's actually not appalling.  But then they talk to a man in a liquor shop, and he doesn't like the idea of it.

In a fit of inspiration, Stella comes up with "Urbon" as her drink name, knocking back Joanna's idea of "Young Heritage"; Chris has dumped Cubed and come up instead with Trinity.  Alex suggests Trio.  That's a chocolate biscuit.  They want to call it whatever Italian is for '3', but no one can count above 2.  They're dangerously close to being right back to "OctiClean".

Meanwhile, the drinks have to be made.  Mel and Christopher sup shots thoughtfully. Liz and Shibby try out the pomegranate stuff, and it's fairly foul, so they dye it bright pink.  Heh.  Shame Chris is, at that moment, naming the stuff "Prism", owing to its purity and clarity and how a nice clear prism would look really cool on the shelf.  They tell Chris about it being pink, and he's so annoyed that the edges of his mouth go up a little bit.  He's all worried he's going to lose because of this, but I don't think he need worry - there are plenty more things going against him.

They design their bottles (Prism = something you could take out a gladiator with; Urbon = one of those bottles you get really, really, really extra-virgin olive oil in), and then have to get clearance from the ad people so they can start filming in the morning.  The rules of alcohol advertising are essentially that you're not allowed to make it look like the drink is in any way associated with fun, sex, having a good time, or anything other than complete and utter sodding misery.  But don't worry, these people used an octopus to fail to sell a cleaning product, so I imagine we'll be thinking outside of all societal norms.  Oh, wait, no... Chris is basically planning on showing a guy using Prism to get a girl paralytic and then have his mediocre way with her.  Back to the drawing board then.

Next morning, it all gets more cheery when the samples arrive.  They don't look dreadful, so everyone's relieved.

Day 2's task is to shoot adverts.  Chris manages to get landed with an actor who is absolutely incapable of getting ice into a glass without also scattering it all over South East England, and ends up spending most of the day trying to film that, leaving himself having to film the remaining 90% of the advert in half an hour.  It is supposed to consist of 3 people walking into a room, looking happy, but since he has hired the worst actors in the world, it turns out more like 3 reject Blue Peter presenters escaping some kind of Ritalin-antidote trial.

Stella's lot are equally bad, and have even less raw material to work from.  The script is this:
2 girls in a bar, with Christopher Farrell slouching on the end of it
2 guys come in
Guy (to girls): What would you like to drink?
Girl: We'll have Urbons please
Guy (to the barman): 4 Urbons please.
If this is how pulling works, I think I've realised why I'm single.

It remains only to write and practice their pitches.  Stella gets Paloma to help, and Paloma comes up with a lot of marketing nonsense.  During the run-through, the girls realise they haven't had a good squabble in a while, and start making up for lost time.  Christopher sits there looking like he'd rather be in Afghanistan, to get a bit of peace.  Chris delivers his pitch to his team, who are beyond looking interested.  Jamie takes him aside and has a wee word, so Chris ends up looking like a man who's not very good at pitching trying to look like he's good at pitching.

The Industry Experts arrive, and then Lord Shugagh appears.  Chris comes on stage with some more escapees from the anti-Ritalin thing and then quickly slows the pace when he opens his mouth.  He talks a bit, we have a snark at the advert, and we're done.  The Industry Experts are worried about the weapon potential of a pointy-pointy bottle with alocohol in, but Chris isn't that bothered since children aren't likely to get their hands on it.  Yeah, 'cos all the bar fights I've ever seen involved 5-year-olds.

Next door, more manic dancing, and then Stella appears and sounds like she knows what she's talking about.  We watch the advert, and I almost want a glass.  There's some discussion about whether the drink is for men or women, and then about whether people who live in the country will want to drink something called something that sounds like Urban.  Stella says if she wins she'll move to the country and drink Urbon there, which puts the final straw in the coffin.

Back to the boardroom, where everyone thinks their project manager was wonderful fab brilliant; Alex would hire every single person in the room if only he had a successful business and wasn't a completely unemployed communications manager.  Something of a change of tune for someone who, not 6 weeks ago, was well up for seeing both their skinny asses fired forthwith.  Stella and Chris both get in trouble for sending other people to make the actual product, since taste is the main point of the whole endeavour, even though from this point onwards no one mentions how it tastes ever again.  Shibby points out that you drink with your eyes, or something.

Everyone out, quick chat with Nick and Karren, back in and STELLA WINS!


So that's that, and no doubt we'll do it all again next year.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Weather-related Questions

Here's a thing I don't understand.  Let's say the forecast for today has minimum temperature -10 and maximum -5.  Then tomorrow the forecast has minimum -3 and maximum -1 (it doesn't, by the way, before you all get the sun screen out).  How does that work?  What happens at midnight?  How does it go from -5 to -3 in the blink of an eye?

Also, how come, if today's minimum temperature is -5, it is currently -10?

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Crisis Resolved

So I did a bit of blasting with a hairdryer, fiddling with pipes etc., and then went outside and tipped a kettle of boiling water over the pipe.  It make alarming crackling noises, which was probably the ice melting, and then the sink began to drain freely.  Phew.

Thanks to Wesley and 1690 an' all thon for the advice.

So now I have to try to stop it from icing up again.  Here are my plans:
1. Stop the dripping tap.  Now, I can't actually stop it dripping, but I figure if I catch the drips in the washing up bowl and then tip them all down at once, that'll be ok - it's just when they're little drips they freeze more easily.

2. Construct some kind of lagging device to keep the outside pipe warm.

You see, what I'm worried about is if I go home for Christmas and then it ices up and the washing basin overflows all over the floor.  I'm trying to think up some kind of device which would catch the drips and then periodically tip them all out into the sink, but I can't.

The Latest Domestic Crisis

You'll remember the Q&B Saga. We all thought it was finished, but the snow has revealed otherwise.  Technically, it's not entirely their fault, but they started it.

When they were planning the kitchen, the process involved moving the sink a little to the left.  This seemed fine, but when it came to be executed, the washing machine ended up covering the stopcock thing that you use to turn the water off.  "Meh." I thought, "It's not like I'd know what to do with it anyway".

Fast forward a couple of years, and the tap starts dripping.  At first, it's quite a small drip, and then gradually, it gets bigger, until, two years later, it's really Quite Something.  I have a washer, but I can't change it until the water is switched off at the mains, and I can't do that because the stopcock is behind the washing machine (this is where the thing about whose fault it all is gets a little fuzzy, as it may be merely opportune that I can blame them for hiding a stopcock I don't know how to use anyway).

Then it snows and gets very cold.  So the drips are quite small, which means that they freeze quite easily; there are also quite a lot of them, and therefore they eventually club together and block the pipe out of the sink.  So, to summarise, the outlet pipe from the sink is frozen and the sink won't drain.

I'm on my own, as The Sister got laser eyes in yesterday and had to stay at The Boyfriend's overnight to make up for it.  There is a reasonable chance that it makes no difference whether she's here or not, of course.

Also, the bathroom light switch has stopped working.  I think the spring has broken.  It's stuck at off, which means I have to pee in the dark, but at least it's better on account of The Planet and so on.

So I need someone who could come and unblock the pipe and change the washer in the tap and fix the light, but as it's only 3 sleeps till Christmas, I can't be bothered thinking about it.  Also I have lots of work to finish before then.

So my main question is whether there is any danger in leaving the pipe frozen.  I suppose the difficulty is that it may have burst, and then thaw when I'm not here, but since I think it's frozen outside, that may not be a problem.  Also, it's not like it's a mains pipe, so there'd only be the water that's actually in it.  It wouldn't flood the whole house.

And all of this leaves out the question of whether there's enough anti-freeze in the car.  It was done in January, and I'm told it should last 2 years, so I think it's ok.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

The Apprentice 2010: The Interview Week

I'm the sort of person who gets asked for help by people trying to fill in job applications.  I'm not sure why, as it's something I'm resoundingly hopeless at (I have this awful fear of accidentally telling lies and then ending up out of my depth in a job, and therefore refuse to put down anything beyond "I'm fairly smart and quite like reading").  I'm also, I think, not that great at interviews, although I have, several times, been offered a job on the strength of the 15 minutes of blushing, sweating and stammering which filled the time until I could flee.  I sometimes worry about the job offers I receive.  Most of the time, I wouldn't employ me, based on my interview performance.

Anyway, this is all by way of introduction to this week's episode, for herein we see our 5 remaining candidates (Jo, Jamie, Stella, Chris and Hairbaggs) being forced to sweat it out and tell the actual truth about their abilities (so far, in order, we have seen the ability to flog 10000 packets of honk-flavoured crisps to a single German guy, an impressive knowledge of facts about mass-murderers, being Quite Good at taking charge of a team of boys, lots of mediocre, and a not-entirely-dreadful Terminator impersonation).

We start off with shots of them all in bed (different beds, it's not Big Brother), and a quick glimpse of Hairbaggs' tootsies.  They're all getting nervous, but the cars will be here in half an hour to take them to Viglen, or Vigilen, or Vilgen, or something.  They all have a good laugh at Jamie's tie, and off we go.  While they're in the cars, we hear more about why they should all get the job, and the music switches, appropriately, to something a bit more doom-and-gloom.

They reach Viglen and stand half way up the stairs, awaiting Lord Shugagh's arrival in the elevator (I think the elevator must be like the one in Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, which can go anywhere, because no matter where they are, he always seems to arrive by elevator), while Nick and Karren watch from above.

The 4 people who have been charged with whittling us down from 5 to 2 are Claude (Grumpy Cop), Alan (Bad Cop), Bordan (not a cop) and the Blessed Margaret Mountford.  Please pause for a small bow of the head.

Obviously the one we've been waiting to see is Hairbaggs (and I think it's fair to say that the producers are as keen on a train wreck as the next person, given that they let him get this far), but the others throw up a few gems as well.

Sitting in front of Mount Margaretford, Jamie dares to smirk slightly.  She flicks through his CV and starts reading extracts:
"The question asked 'What's the most interesting thing about you?' and you put 'I owned a porche and a house and a big load of stuff* before the age of 25, and I have a third nipple'..." (Jamie laughs) "...and then two pages further on 'What's the worst lie you've ever told?' - 'That I have a third nipple'."  By the end, she's distinctly snarling, and yet Jamie goes on smirking.
Margaret: "  Is that supposed to be funny? Think of a word that applies to that"
Jamie (suddenly serious): "Stupid"
Margaret: "Puerile"
(* slight paraphrase)

He tells the sob story about how his parents didn't push him, and that's why he got pants grades at GCSE.
Bordan interrogates him about his playing fast-and-lose with the definition of 'selling', since he hasn't actually 'sold' things as such for quite some time.  Jamie blames it all on his ass of a business partner and also the recession, and Cyprus.

Stella's not going down without a fight, and immediately disagrees with Alan, who wonders why she's having a change of career.  Claude calls her a 'very very good PA' and she nearly decks him.  And... that's about it.

Bordan starts by asking what job Joanna thinks she's applying for.  "Do you mean, wot duz Lord Shugah do in this Vig-i-len?" "Viglen" "Oh, yeah, Viglen".  She stammers something about selling computers to schools, and other than that doesn't have the faintest idea, much like the rest of us.
Claude's a bit cross with her for letting her cleaning business be enough to 'get by', instead of being a megalomaniac big corporation, and she looks like she might cry.

Chris has claimed to be a "revered and outstanding Theology scholar", and impresses himself even more because he's not even remotely religious.  Margaret pokes a bit, and we establish that he means he's done all right in A-Level RE, and sometimes talks God after a few drinks.
Claude is more concerned that Chris changed courses at university, and that he thinks you have to be a lawyer if you do law, and then he did politics and didn't become a politician, and then become an investment banker and gave it up after 9 months, and is therefore obviously a quitter.  It's all a bit ridiculous - how many of us don't know someone who changed course at university once they realised the variations in the number of lectures for different courses, and discovered the student union?

Stuart seems to alienate the interviewers as quickly as he did the rest of the nation.  On walking into the room and seeing Margaret, his little face lights up. "Margaret!" he exclaims, only to be flattened immediately for his impertinence. Undaunted, he goes on to tell her about a thing he has invented that she can stick to her cat when it goes to Bermuda, or something.  She does not look impressed, but he says he'll work 24/7 and give 110%, without irony.
Alan gets straight in there: "You're not very nice, are you?".  He then goes on to list all the ways in which Hairbaggs is not very nice, and it is lengthy.  Baggs explains how he is a character of integrity, which seems something of a contradiction when he's just admitted falsely announcing to the newspapers that a rival company has gone bust, but then he gives an example: if he's up for promotion, against 3 other people, he'll tell the boss how rubbish the other 3 are.  Ah, THAT definition of integrity.  Alan's face is like a bulldog's bum chewing a lemon-and-poo-flavoured wasp.
The conversation with Claude cannot be easily summarised, so here it is:
Claude: 'I'm Stuart Baggs the Brand'... what on earth are you talking about?
Claude: You're a 21 year-old kid, you're not a brand.
Baggs: a brand is... err...
Claude: Don't tell me what a brand is. You are not a brand.
Baggs: I think I might be
Claude: Why does someone as successful as you want to work for Lord Sugar?
Baggs: At the moment I'm a big fish in a small pond
Claude: You're not.  You're not a big fish.  You're not even a fish.
Bordan asks about Baggs' 'fully licenced' telecoms company, which turns out to be a broadband provider.  He does have a licence, much in the way I have a TV Licence; i.e. bought from the Post Office.  There's a little light-hearted banter about how much they love technology, and then Bordan sticks the knife in again and makes Baggs admit he's been lying.

At some point in the above, I got confused about who was Claude and who was Alan, by the way.

Back to the boardroom, where the interviewers give Lord Shugagh the rundown, while the candidates wait outside and look nervous (if I was the mysterious Hand Who Answers The Phone And Sends Them In, I'd have suggested a game of Pictionary, I think).  They all liked Joanna; thought Chris was monotonous;  found Jamie a bit dull and full of cliches (we see a snippet of him going on about being a key cog in a wheel, and making no sense whatever); worried about Stella being corporate and good at admin (because those are things you'd run a mile from in business); and had a good slagging off of Stuart's ponciness.  Then Bordan reveals the Big Lie About The Telecommunications Company, and that Baggs has nothing Karren couldn't get.  Ooooh.  Things have turned against the Hairbaggs.

So they all get trekked back in to the boardroom.  We talk about Chris' academic record, and his obsession therewith, and then there's a bit more about why he dropped out of law.  Oh, shut up about that, nobody cares.  Something else about Stella being all corporate.  Blah blah blah.  Onto Joanna, and a bit more about her not being a megalomaniac and expanding her cleaning business to take over the world.  Jamie has another whine about his business partner doing no work.  It feels like one of those moments where a small child comes up to you and starts on about how another kid took the lorry off him, and you just can't really bring yourself to wade in and sort it out, but he's only 2 and can't do it himself.

On to Stuart, who admits the process was tough.  He then lies again about the licence.  AND GETS FIRED!  Even more gloriously, Lord Shugagh actually loses it a little bit, and shouts at him.

Two more to go, and, to cut a long story short, it's Joanna and Jamie who get the chop.  He's nice to Joanna, who cries, and not quite so nice to Jamie, who's still smirking.

So the final, tonight, is Stella vs Chris, with everyone else back to help.  Hurrah!  My money's on Stella, but I'm not without hope that Melissa and/or Baggs will somehow clinch it.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

A Helpful Guide

In case anyone's thinking of giving me sweets for Christmas, I made a list of my favourites:

Small Bars:
1. Dairy Milk
2. Anything FairTrade
3. Galaxy
4. Regular milk chocolate
5. Mint chocolate (After Eights etc.)

Selection Boxes:
1. Cadbury's
2. Mars
3. Nestle

Roses etc.
1. Roses
2. Quality Street
3. Miniature Heros
4. General mixture of chocolates
5. Celebrations

I'm not saying you have to buy me sweets, I'm just saying.  And of course, any sweets are appreciated.

Christmas Song!

Do you think, if we tried really hard, we could get this to number one for Sunday?

Because I think we should try.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

The Apprentice 2010: Week 10

This is going to a be a lightning-quick tour of last week's events, because I just haven't had the time.  Also, I'm doing this from memory, rather than watching it all again.

So they get hauled to a bus station at the skrake of dawn, and told that this week's task is to organise bus tours of London.  Heh.  Some of them look like they've never been on a bus in their lives, nor spoken with anyone who's been on a bus, but they smile gamely as the teams are swapped again.  On one side we have Liz (the leader), Stella and Stuart, and on the other, Jamie, Chris and Joanna (with either Jamie or Joanna as leader, I forget which).  Clearly Lord Shugagh is liking his New Plan to always put his 2 least favourite people on opposing teams, so that he's pretty much guaranteed to be able to fire one of them, and surely we'll be saying farewell to the Baggs or Mediocre Chris tonight, no?

Step 1 is to plan the tours, a process which both teams spend a good 30 seconds on.  Liz's lot decide tourists are gagging for a Cockney Tour, while Jamie and co opt for 'Ghosts and Ghouls'.  There's some kind of deal to be made with a tourist centre; whichever team gives the better offer gets to sell their tickets through the tourist place, thus guaranteeing more sales, you'd think.  Baggs goes in and offers them 25% of the price of all the tickets they sell; they point out that generally it would be around 35%, so they'll wait to see what the other team offers.  Chris goes in and basically offers them everything he owns, including various internal organs, and they hastily agree.  Just in time, as it happens, since Joanna, on getting wind of the deal, heads straight down there to explain how it was all a mistake and really they didn't mean to offer so much and is there any chance Chris could have at least one kidney back, and Tourist Centre girl laughs at her.

Up to this point, Joanna and Jamie had been busily engaged in the most polite argument I've come across, which went something like:
Joanna: moan moan honk honk moan
Jamie: You're annoying me, shut up
Joanna: Jamie! I have never been spoken to like that by a man, you're scaring me!

Meanwhile Stella swots up on her apples and pears, while Liz and Stuart are researching possible locations for their Cockney tour.  Too late, they realise that their chosen area of London is, essentially, a building site.  Fortunately, there's a jellied eels seller, with a quaint-looking stall, so, clearly, he's going to be the highlight.  Liz asks him to 'up the cockney' a bit, and a customer nearly decks her. 

And so to the day of the tours, which can apparently only take place if our Young Hopefuls are dressed like failed extras from an Easyjet ad.  Each team splits the responsibilities: 2 people to sell tickets, and 1 to lead the tour.  First the ticket sellers: Stuart and Liz on one team, and Joanna and Chris on the other.  Joanna and Chris have the advantage that the tourist place are selling for them, but Baggs is not to be outdone, and stands right outside the door telling everyone how crap the other team's tour is, until the tourist centre girl comes out and tells him what he's doing is illegal.  He tells her to call the police, which, unfortunately, she does not.  Baggs skulks off to tag Joanna instead.  Every time she sells a ticket, he runs up to the customer and yells 'Their tour is rubbish, our tour is 4 quid cheaper than theirs and theirs is rubbish and ours is 4 quid cheaper!'.  Eventually this leads to a mediocre face-off with Chris, who tells Stuart to f-off.  Stuart tells Chris to punch him, which, unfortunately, he does not.  That's twice in 2 minutes the nation's hopes have been dashed.

On the buses, things are going equally well.  Jamie is leading his lot around places where Sweeny Todd murdered people, describing the deaths in such grisly detail that several people are close to collapsing.  He informs them that 'the Thames is the second biggest river in London', but, quite properly, does not follow up with the name of the actual biggest, because no one would want to know that.  He also imparts the information that Big Ben is '12 diameters wide', causing a young swotty student-looking type to visibly quiver.  However, things take off a bit when he leads the upper deck in a reasonably energetic rendition of 'London's Burning'.

Cut to Stella, who's on a bus with 8 people who are politely, if impassively, observing her singing 'Knees Up Mother Brown'.  She manages to get lost on the way to the jellied eel man, miss Downing Street and the Cenotaph, and end up trying to pass off a random piece of graffitti as 'a Banksy, maybe'.  To which the woman next to her replies 'no it isn't'.

Back in the boardroom, it's a hard one to call - it looks like Chris-Joanna-Jamie may have had more passengers, but then they've promised Nick's soul to the tourist place and that might cost them.  Some too-ing and fro-ing about how Baggs charged too much (£35 a ticket or something insane) and Chris was a bit dim in the tourist place, and eventually it's announced: Chris-Jamie-Joanna have won!  Hurrah!  Baggs to leave!

And then there's some kind of glitch in the matrix, because when Liz, Stella and Baggs get called back in, something odd happens.  Liz and Stella defend themselves in the usual way "I'm dead good, me", and Baggs comes off with some tripe "Hiring me will be a gamble, but I sold yo-yos in school and my parents only ever gave me a tenner and nothing else ever" and somehow, for reasons we will never know, Liz gets fired.


Yes.  Liz.

One can only assume that they figure that since Baggs got this far, they might as well milk it and throw him into the interview round, which happens this week.  And you have to admit it'll be unmissable.

Friday, 3 December 2010

The Apprentice 2010: Week 9

Apparently I was wrong last week when I said that this week's task was the one where they have to sell miscellaneous tat to unsuspecting members of the public (I was thinking of the one which, last year, brought us Nooral and a skeleton); rather, this is the one where they have to buy miscellaneous tat from unsuspecting members of the public.

They really don't give an ass any more, as evidenced by taking a year and a day to answer the phone (Stella eventually gets down the stairs, wrapped in towelling; Jamie sits up in bad and looks all handsome, and the rest of them swear loudly).  In the half an hour which they allegedly have to get ready, they manage to tong hair, moan about being tired, and do the ironing.  Off to London's Financial District, where they form an orderly line to await Lord Shugah arising slowly through the floor, like some sort of inverted Angel Gabriel.

The task, as we've said, is to buy all the items on a supplied list as cheaply as possible.  They have 10 hours; if they don't get back in time, they get penalised, and if they miss any items they get penalised.  The ones who spend the least, win.  We're back to girls and boys this week, which mercifully means that either Baggs or Laura has to go; no more jammy being on the winning team - this week, Lord Shugah is on the ball.

Jamie and Liz are in charge.  The boys basically explode in a fury of racing around the streets trying to buy anything they can lay their hands on, while the girls stay back at base with their list and their phones and their Yellow Pages, and Plan.  Not well, of course ('What's our strategy?' 'I think we need to figure out where we can buy these things'), but enough that they know what they're looking for.

Jamie is desperate to prove he's not a twit, so he tells the boys they're to aim for 70% off, make up whatever stories they want, and 'negotiate their bloody bottoms off'.  He then sends Chris and Stuart off for half the things, and goes on the hunt for the other half himself.  There's a fabulous moment when he walks into a shop looking for a 'tikka, 22-carat gold', not knowing what it is, and the salesman says 'Yes, that's not a problem... what's a tikka?'.  Now THAT, my friends, is a sales technique.

Stuart and Chris are trying to buy a Blue Book, which they suss out really quickly is a rare American magazine, and they start sniffing round bookshops, where the owners do a lot of teeth-sucking and slow shaking of heads because they've never heard of it.  Meanwhile, the girls figure out that a Blue Book is actually a taxi driver's manual, and nab one from a taxi driver school for 50 quid by telling the guy in the shop that his mate said he'd look after them.  Jamie's having no luck with figuring out what a tikka is, whereas Laura and Stella have Googled it or something and picked one up for £160, having gone into the shop saying 'You have the item and we have the money', which even I know is a crap negotiation technique.  Eventually, however, Jamie strikes gold, and wanders into a jeweller's looking sad because he wants a tikka so much and they are trying to charge him so much money, and isn't it so so sad, and lo! he gets it for £135.  The jeweller's now homeless and starving, like, but never mind.

Stuart and Chris have evidently taken Jamie's command to 'have a story ready' too seriously, and now that they have worked out what a Blue Book actually is, they go to a bookshop and try to haggle.  Chris comes up with some crap about his brother doing a taxi driver exam on Monday but being unable to study for it because Chris borrowed his Blue Book and left it in Nottingham or something... Please consider this for a moment.  Consider that this is a regular shop, and 2 guys in suits have walked in, and one is claiming that he borrowed his brother's taxi driver exam books (? What? Why?!) and then managed to leave them in Nottingham (??!?); these 2 guys are accompanied by Karren with 2 arrs, who you'd imagine they would at least recognise as being off the telly, and a camera crew.  Presumably he imagines it's some kind of candid camera show or something, because he gives them the first discount ever in the history of Blue Book sales, as long as they give a pound to charity.

The basic gist of happenings is thus:
> the girls are fairly rubbish at negotiating.  They hair around Knightsbridge trying to buy truffles from Gordon Ramsey (well, Stella tries, while Laura sits next to her and shreds the Yellow Pages with her laser eye glare, because she thinks it's a stupid idea but doesn't like to say so); they eventually manage to buy 50g of truffles (cost: £2000 per kilo) for £200 and an agreement to come back to the restaurant for dinner some time.
> Jamie is very good at negotiating, but feck useless with common sense; he manages to spend half the afternoon being unable to buy 4 metres of kitchen worktop.
> Stuart and Chris are lying gets, and not even good at it.  Trying to buy tartan, they wander into a Scottish shop and Chris spins some complex yarn about needing the tartan cheap because he has to go to a Scottish wedding next week and he wants to take the tartan for his nan's birthday present.  What?

There's a last-minute dash back to the boardroom, with Liz almost stabbing a pensioner for not being able to write fast enough, Chris begging embarrassingly ('I have no money and I really need truffles'), Stuart racing up the stairs and almost landing on Jamie's knee, and the girls being late and incurring a fine.  In their wake is a collection of robbed, deperate shopkeepers, vaguely hoping that they'll be on tv.

Then it gets interesting: the boys only got 7 out of the 10 items but made it back on time, whereas the girls got all of them but were back late.  This means that the girls get a £50 fine, and the boys are charged as if they had bought the 3 missed items at list price plus something I miss.  The girls explain their planning technique and their route around the various items, and it's all very P5 project.  The boys explain that they ran around with fire in their bellies telling lies.

The girls have spent (including their fine) £1094.40, where the boys have spent (including £500 of fines) £1020.50.  Heck, says everyone.  Jamie witters on about the kitchen worktop again, and then the boys get sent to Paris, to gad about in berets on the Champs Elysees.

Back to the boardroom for the girls, and bizarrely, they all seem to have turned on Stella who, ok, was wick at negotiating, but no more so than anyone else.  Lord Shugah makes some sexist comments about how they'd be better at buying handbags and shoes than computer chips, and then they all turn on Stella again, for being 'too corporate'.  Obviously Laura's going, if only Liz has the wit to bring her back in, which she does.  Stella comes too, so that they can snark at her some more.

It turns out that Liz and Laura can't stand Stella, which is quite exciting.  Also, Laura's 22 and has never had to scream, and reminds everyone that she was a shambles as project manager.  Stella and Liz blame each other for the whole truffles fiasco, and then Laura snipes at Stella again.

Obviously Laura goes, although not before Lord Shugah gives Stella a good fright by pretending he's going to fire her.  Back at the house, they're all snarking about Stella (mysteriously, the boys are back from their weekend in France).  When Liz and Stella come back, Liz complains that Stella was mean about her in the boardroom, and announces that Laura will be missed.  They all agree.  Gulp.

So there are 3 weeks left.  Next week is the final team task, then there are the interviews (please let Stuart get to the interview stage, pleeeeease), and then the final.  It is time to begin predicting.  Obviously it depends a bit on who's on which team, but I suspect that next week will see the end of Jamie (or maybe Stuart), and that the final could be Liz and Chris.  Anyone else?

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

The Apprentice 2010: Week 8

After episodes entitled things like 'Selling to trade', this week's offering is called 'Crisps'.  We begin with the review of Sandeesh & Co and the Great Downhill Skiing Disaster-fest, complete with Stuart being an irritating twerp.  Jamie answers the phone and is told they're to pack for a 2-day foreign trip, with clothes for all weathers.  Stuart reckons Lord Shugah is sending them to a war zone.  Ah, yes, the famous 'Illegal Arms Trade' task.  Having said that, even if it's not a war zone to begin with, it will be once Laura-the-moan-pants, Jamie-the-whinger and Joanna-the-foghorn get there.

It turns out to be Germany.  "I 'ate the Geemins" says Christopher, to kick off the casual racism.  They have to flog them crisps, coming up with some decent flavours, making them, and then shipping over to Hamburg to flog them.  On team Baggs-MoanPants-Stella-Joanna, it seems they're fighting to be in charge, apart from Baggs, who's knackered from last week.  Baggs thinks Stella should be in charge so that if they lose she'll get sacked, showing a reckless disregard for both self-awareness and common sense.  On Chris-Christopher-Liz-Jamie, Chris gets put in charge, confident he'll do a good, if monotone, job.

So they need to come up with crisp flavours.  Chris & Co are going for traditional German, such as sausage, bratwurst and goulash, in a 'bringing the mountain to Mohammed and also bringing the Hungarian mountain while you're at it' move.  Stuart's lot (for he is talking non-stop) realise that there's no point in pretending not to be British, and are going for pot roast flavour, sausage and eggs, and CURRY CURRY CURRY honks Joanna over everyone else.

Joanna, Stuart, Christopher and Jamie go to Hamburg, while the rest stay behind to make crisps.  They practice some German on the way: Baggs can count to 20 (which is approximately the number of seconds I give it until Joanna punches him in the face), while Christopher practices chat-up lines on Jamie.  Once they get there, it's all 'Guten Tag' and 'Danke schon' from Jamie and Christopher (who ditch each other to fall in love with curry wurst), while Baggs is doing a lot of 'Das ist Wunderbar', 'Cheeps cheeps' and 'Ja, ja'.

Joanna is pleased to find the Germans love curry chips, and then that a survey of one proves they love shepherds' pie and fish & chips, even if, when she says 'would you like to see them flavours in crisps?' he says 'no'.  She and Baggs decide sausage is the way forward, so they go to look at some sausages in a sausage place.  The man is telling them what the sausages are.  'White sausage' he says, pointing.  "I've got one of those" says Baggs, and the nation delicately heaves.  Then she phones Stella and honks CURRY CURRY CURRY again.  Unfortunately, Stella and Laura have already started making crisps, and are using flavours I don't quite catch.  I'm fairly sure one of them is cheese and paprika, and the others sounded like variations on toothpaste and orange juice.

They make a shed-load of these things, so now they have to set up meetings with people who might want to buy them.  Christopher and Stuart phone around and speak a lot of English with German accents.   It's all very Fallen Madonna Wiz Ze Big Boobies.  Stuart decides to call himself 'Herr Baggs', and thinks he must sound stupid to the Germans.  Not just the Germans, Hairbags, not just the Germans.

Christopher phones a hotel to make an appointment, and is offered 9am or 1pm; he choses 9am and then gets sidelined by Jamie, who fancies a night on the rip, and changes it to 1pm, allowing Joanna and Hairbags to steal the 9am.  Dun-dun-DUN.  Having ditched the Baggs, Joanna takes Stella to the appoinment, and some bags of crisps.  The beef and something one is liked; the cheese and paprika one 'will increase bar sales'.  At this point, Joanna does some kind of magic.  She wants him to place an order for 6 months. The guy wants to place an order for 3 months.  Joanna splits the difference and suggests 12 months.  The guy opts for 6 months.  It's like that thing last year when your woman sold all those people-shaped sleeping bags, and the country could only do a collective head-tilt, and slightly frown.

Hairbags and Laura are meeting a chap called Mike Sandwich.  Heh.  Hairbags has told Laura not to speak too fast; they go in and he says something like 'Ich heise Stuart und das ist mein colleague Laura (*Laura: Gut Tag*)'.  Herr Sandwich (there's an image) looks blank and then clicks. "You're speaking in German?".  Then Laura says "asimsureyoureawarethemarkethaschangedandweknowthatthehandcookedgourmetnaturalcrispmarketisthenextbigthing" and some other things, and Herr sandwich looks blank again.  He's not fond of the crisps, either.  Hairbags tells her off afterwards, and she huffs.  She doesn't know what else she could have done.  Hint: talk at a normal person speed.

Christopher and Jamie hawk door-to-door for a bit, unsuccessfully.  For some reason, one guy thinks they're called 'Funny Chips', and also that they're stinkin'.  Then they try to flog them to a girl who has no authority to do anything more than butter bagels, and probably can't even buy a bar of soap for the toilets with company money, never mind a truckload of currywurst potato snacks.

Hairbags and Laura are meant to go to a big meeting, but Stella (who's their project manager) gets there before them, and Laura throws the strop of the decade.  We're not talking a bit of a huff.  We're talking yak yak yak poor me load of bollocks yak yak yak *falls out of the cab and loses a shoe* (ha ha ha ha ha!).  She hopes they lose the task, so they can SLAP IT UP STELLA.

Chris and Liz go to the meeting that would have been at 9am except that Christopher changed it, and the guy can't buy anything because he bought so much from Joanna and Stella earlier, but they try grovelling, and that earns them a telling off.  To rub salt into the wound, Stella and Joanna then go to the place with the bagel butter girl, speak to the manager instead, and get a big order.

Back to Blighty, and the board room.  In they go, and Nick immediately grasses on Hairbags and tells Lord Shugagh that he declared himself knackered.  Everyone snickers.  Laura gets a telling off for speaking like a rapid-fire machine gun.  Jamie's all proud that bagel girl liked the crisps.  The orders are in, and Stella's lot have made €19327, while Chris and co have made €17995.  Stella, Laura and Joanna get to go shopping with Baggs in tow, which is surely a fate worse than just losing and being booted out; the others can relax in the Cafe Auf Loserness, safe in the knowledge that they're not in the same room as Baggs and Laura.

Back in the boardroom, and the whole 9am-1pm appointment thing rears its head, causing Chris to do his 'glaring' face, and Jamie to try to 'recall it in his brain', and eventually recollecting that 'the early word catches the birm'.  Chris introduces us to his 'shocked' monotone.  He's bringing Christopher and Jamie back in, because of the appointment fiasco.  A bit more monotone from Chris - "I'm not a loser, at the end of the day... Well, obviously I am in terms of the numbers which you have".  Christopher is accused of being too nice and working too hard and getting on too well with people, but points out that he went to Germany even though he doesn't particularly like going to Germany.  Jamie says how great he is, so Lord Shugagh asks him what his sparks of brilliance have been, and he does some waffling about how skilled he has been in going from being 24 to being 28.

Long and short, they're all a bit wick at this business lark, and Chris has now lost about 28 tasks in a row, and Jamie is getting worse by the week, but Christopher's too nice, so HE'S FIRED.

Next week is the flogging random tat to whoever will buy it task, which is always fabulous.

Monday, 29 November 2010

A Delay In Processing

This week's Apprentice round-up has been delayed, due to unforeseen circumstances, including (but not limited to) me having too much work to do, me having to many other things to do and the snow.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

The WhyNotSmile Guide To Explaining Santa To Small Children

It has come to my attention that parents out there are struggling with one of the basic tasks of parenthood: explaining Santa to children.  Now, WhyNotSmile is not a parent, but this need not get in the way of dishing out advice, for I hear that there is nothing parents like more than non-parents explaining how to bring up their offspring.

The first important thing about Santa is to decide on your basic approach.  Are you going to go along with it, in which case you will need to get your story straight?  Or are you going to be straight with the kiddies and tell them up front that it's all a fantastical tale, albeit built upon the legend of an actual person, dreamt up generations ago to add a sparkle of magic and wonder to childhood, but which has now been consumed almost entirely by the corporate machine with the aim of bleeding parents dry because they have a misplaced sense of guilt at not spending enough time with their children?  The latter is the favoured approach of many who do not wish their children to confuse Santa with religion, for reasons which just got a little fuzzier.

If you decide to opt for the latter approach, it's all quite simple: you tell your child there is no Santa, and you get to take credit for all the presents on Christmas morning.  However, it is important to beware of the pitfalls: namely, that there is a hefty risk of turning your child into the smug little twerp who tells all the other kids that Santa's not real, and then punches them all in the face.  Try to sidestep that if you can.   Also, there will still be a lot of Santa in your child's life, and you have to figure out how to explain that, without your child feeling that you're depriving them of the glorious truth and then converting to some kind of fat-red-guy cult as an act of teenage rebellion in 10 years' time.

The former approach, of course, is the road more travelled, and we shall devote the rest of our time to it this evening.  There are 2 things you need to get straightened out in your own head: the basic, widely-accepted facts, and the lies you're going to tell to answer the questions your child will dream up.

First, the facts.  For those whose memory of what Santa is all about is a little fuzzy, he is a jovial chap who lives in a wooden hut at the North Pole, or Lapland (in all honesty, I'm still not completely clear on whether Lapland is an actual real place.  It's a bit like the way I still have to pause for thought when someone asks whether unicorns exist).  Anyway, Santa is married to Mrs Claus, although she appears to serve no purpose suitable for small children (can I make a suggestion?  I think she should cover the administration of the lists.  Can we start that?).  Santa has 12 reindeer, who can fly and pull a sled.  He is assisted by numerous elves.

For most of the year, Santa and the elves make toys; on Christmas eve, the toys are loaded into his sled, which is then flown around the world by the reindeer, to the homes of children who have been good all year.  At each home, Santa climbs down the chimney (although exceptions can be made for homes with no chimney, apartment blocks and the like, as Santa has a magic key which allows him to open front doors all around the world).  Once he gets inside, he leaves presents of choice for the children, in stockings which have been carefully placed, generally at the foot of the beds or along the mantlepiece.  It is accepted that a small snack will have been left for Santa; this usually consists of a mince pie or shortbread, and a glass of milk or mulled wine, possibly with a carrot for the reindeer.

So much for the basic facts of the matter.

This works well as far as it goes, but once a child reaches the age of around 4, they begin to question the perceived wisdom of the tale, and start to ask awkward questions (or at least, most of them do.  I fell for it, hook, line and sinker, until dangerously close to puberty).  The trick is to answer these questions confidently.  Herein, I provide a range of sample answers; of course, every child is different, and your own may come up with further difficulties - please feel free to leave additional questions in the comments, and I will endeavour to reply.

1. What about the Santa in the shopping centre?  Is he the real Santa?  Well, yes, if you only ever take your child to one shopping centre.  Children do not have a terribly good sense of continuity, so Santas at craft fairs, community groups and so on can be explained away as Santa on an outing.  However, if they see him permanently ensconced in several shopping centres, they will become suspicious, at which point you may have to admit that that's not actually the real Santa.

2. Who is he if he's not Santa?  He's Santa's helper.  Santa employs a range of helpers to go out and about to meet boys and girls in the run up to Christmas, because he's very busy making toys.  That's why you have to give him a list of what you want for Christmas - Santa will remember, but his helpers may not be quite so good, and in any case, they need the list to pass on to the elves, who are notoriously forgetful, and would make all the wrong toys otherwise.

3. Will I only get toys if I've been good all year?  What about the lizard incident?  Santa may be willing to overlook misdemeanours if they happened pre-Halloween.  The processing takes a while though, so if you misbehave any time after mid-December, expect a sack of coal on Christmas morning.

4. How do they make enough toys for all the children in the world?  Most children do not have the manic consumerist attitude of those in the West, and will be happy with an orange.  Think about that, child.

5. How does Santa get round everywhere in the world?  There's no point in trying to be over-scientific.  It's magic.  Also, the time zones mean he actually has 2 days to cover the globe.

6. Why does Santa use the same wrapping paper as Mummy?  Because Mummy fecked up.  Seriously, don't do this.

7. Why, when you spend most of the year telling me to be wary of strangers, do you force me to be led by 2 elves to sit on the lap of a large scary man, even against my clearly strong objections?  Because I've paid £7.50 for this, and they don't do refunds, and I promised Granny a copy of the photo.

8. Isn't mid-December a little late to submit the list?  If they've been making toys all year, surely a last-minute rush on Gordon The Gophers could tip the system into chaos.   Ummm.... yes.  That's why there are so many adverts on TV in the autumn; it is an attempt to brainwash children into wanting whatever the elves have a surfeit of.

9. Why does Santa give the neighbours new bikes every year, when I only get chocolate coins and a packet of colouring pencils? He's annoyed with you for asking stupid questions.  Life is unfair.  Live with it.

I trust this helps.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

The Apprentice 2010: Week 7

So this week is the DVD task The what? The DVD task. I don't remember that one. Yes, I think it might be new. Oh.  We begin with the usual bum bum BUM bum - bum bum BUMbum - bum-bum-be-dum-dum bum-bum-be-dum-dum, 'tough economic times', 'job interview from hell', 'brightest business prospects', 'steady Eddies', 'cautious Carols' etc etc etc., quick overview of the fiasco thus far, 'bunch of bladdy amateurs', and then a reminder of last week's slow, painful, car crash.

This week, it's Laura who answers the phone and starts the frenzy.  They've to go to Pinewood Studios, which Sandeesh thinks is a furniture store, making Laura go all wide-eyed and gasp 'do you think we're making furniture?'.  Even I know Pinewood Studios is a place where they make films.  Meanwhile Stella asks Chris how many tasks he's won.  "Two".  Bit mean there, Stella, but we quite like it.

Standing in front of the biggest blue screen in Europe (oooOOOOOOOOooooh), they're told they need to sell the 'big screen experience' to the general public.  Basically, what this is, they get a 'background film', and then they go to shopping centres and film people acting like they're in the film, and then mash the two together and flog the people a DVD of themselves in the film.  Trust me, it'll become clearer as we continue.  Sandeesh and Chris swap places with Joanna and Stella; Stuart is in charge of his team (Laura, Joanna and Stella), and Sandeesh is in charge of her lot (Chris, Christopher, Jamie and Liz).  It's hard to see how it could go wrong.

Step 1: decide what the movie will be about.  They have 3 movies each - 2 are chosen from an archive, and then they need to make one themselves.  Stuart is immediately obnoxious.
  Stuart: "We'll take a vote on it.  Hands up for waterskiing.  Hands up for waterski - LAURA! - HANDS UP FOR WATERSKIING!! - yes or no? - THAT'S HALF UP!"
  Laura: "I think police chase".
  Stuart: "You think police chase?  Well SAY THAT THEN".
  Laura: "Ok, police chase".

Over Chez Sandeesh, it's a lot quieter, as they stare at films of people underwater, but without the people.

Having chosen their films from the archive, they now have to each add one of their own.  Jamie thinks they should make one of skiing, because that means he gets to go skiing for a while.  Never mind that there's a limit to how good a film you're going to be able to make in an indoor ski centre.  Also, they're targetting kids, because kids love pretending to ski.

Stuart is targetting the adults, though, because that way he gets to decide they want motor racing, and go to Brands Hatch.  Joanna likes the fair.  Stella thinks they should think things through, but Stuart can't be arsed, and has to be true to himself.  Nick is 'trembling with irritation', but Stuart is pleased that 'every decision has panned out to be right'.

From each team, one lot go off to learn how to make the DVDs and practice belly dancing very, very uncomfortably.

Stuart and Laura go to Brands Hatch, where Laura is immediately sidelined while Stuart tells the nation he has a fancy car - I miss the details, because it's all letters and numbers like C78 and MLP24.  Stuart is having to rein in his 'extreme masculinity', but thankfully is only on the planet for 'a certain number of years'.  Laura is filming, and Stuart is driving.  And driving.  And driving.  He does about 600 laps, while Laura stands at the side of the track with a camera and chequered flag, and looks very very slightly more narked with each passing hour.

Christopher and Jamie, meanwhile, go skiing in Milton Keynes.  To make it more fun for kids, they then dress as penguins, so the film now consists of a bit of normal skiing, and then more normal skiing, but this time with a large velour penguin weaving in and out, and then the penguin falling over and his head coming off.

Laura finally manages to bring Stuart to a halt, whereupon he announces that they really need to aim this experience at kids, rather than adults, which is probably a good thing (because there's a limit to the number of adults who will stand in a shopping centre and pretend to drive a car, and that limit is zero), but a little late in the day.

Liz and Sandeesh do some careful working out of how many DVDs they'll need (eventually going for 110, despite the fact that, even at maximum capacity, they can only burn 88 of them); Stuart says random numbers and then winges about having to make a decision.

For reasons presumably clear in her own head, Sandeesh now decides that all the people who learned how to make the DVDs should teach the others (Jamie and Christopher, who were away skiing at the time) how to make the DVDs, and then the people who originally knew how to make the DVDs should go and sell.

Joanna asks whether £15 is a bit much to pay for a film of your kid pretending to drive a car, but Stuart knows it's just because he's so great and she doesn't share his vision.  Any other questions?  No?  Good.

And so, the doors of the shopping center (where they're selling this experience) are flung open, and Joanna is wearing butterfly wings.  Their stand is quite good, though - they have a toy car, so the kids can be filmed driving in the car, pretending to race against the cars in the background, they win, and then they get a chocolate medal.  In the back room, Stuart and Stella are in charge of producing videos.   Technically, Stella is producing them, and Stuart is in charge of 'quality control'.  Stuart is astounded by Stella's organisation (i.e. writing things down), as he keeps everything in his head, presumably where it is safely padded by all his ego.

Back to Sandeesh, who's still explaining to Jamie and Christopher how to make the DVDs, even though it's taking up an hour of what might otherwise be selling time.  Jamie whinges a bit.  Anyway, it turns out that even when they do open, no one is all that bothered, so maybe it didn't matter.  Jamie whinges a bit more.

Stuart, however, is selling so much that he decides to put the price up - the old law of 'supply and demand' has not passed him by.  This would be fine, except that they also put the price up for people who have already filmed their DVD, and are just waiting for it to be made.  So, they came to the stall, were told it was £10, let their kid film it, got a receipt for £10, came back half an hour later to pick it up, and were told they had to pay £15.  I'm fairly sure this is not legal.

Anyhoo, they've made an even more monumental feck-up than that, having managed to produce the DVDs in such a way that several children appear on each one.  So you get your DVD of your kid in his little racing car, and then you get home to show it to Granny, and as she watches, some other kid appears, out of the blue.  This will not be good for Granny.  Thankfully, Stuart solves it by knocking half off the price.  I'd be reasonably sure that you can't sell people DVDs of other people's children, even if you sell them cheaper.

At Sandeesh's place, it's all very quiet, even after she's knocked prices down, so Liz takes a sneaky peek at the other team's stand and immediately steals all their ideas.  One thing in their favour is that people are actually picking up their DVDs, whereas over with Stuart and Co, there's a large pile of unclaimed ones.  Stuart is pretty sure that, if the actual owners don't turn up, 'no one else is going to buy them'.  Yes, Stuart, I'd say that's about right.  Maybe you should have asked for a deposit?  Just saying.  Because otherwise you've basically just entertained someone else's kids for free for 10 minutes.

Anyway, trading over, and into the boardroom.  How was Stuart as a team leader? *silence* We relive Stuart's driving experience, and then he boasts about his goodwill in charging people the agreed price,  rather than forcing them to hand over an arbitrary amount plucked out of the vast, ego-filled space that is Stuart's head.  Stella gets all passive-agressive while Stuart basically provides her with the ammunition.

Sandeesh's team think she was quite good, but then there's some wittering about how they didn't get started until an hour after the place opened.  Jamie is pleased at how well he fulfilled 'the most crucial role', and with being able to give 'excellent feedback'.

Stuart's lot have made £262.50; Sandeesh and co have made £222.97, and are declared losers.  Now, I think this is unfair, since Stuart has just sold films of children to other children's parents, but rules is rules, and off they go to taste champagne.  Stuart thinks it tastes like anti-freeze, tacky boy.

In the Cafe De Doom, Jamie reminds everyone how perfect he was, even if everyone else thinks he was a whingy get; Liz is so gutted 'it actually hurts', which seems a bit over the top.  Anyway, they all agree that someone has to go home, so at least they've demonstrated a basic comprehension of the rules.

Back to the boardroom to snipe about who was or was not in charge of costing, why they bought too many DVDs, why they dropped their prices instead of just making better DVDs, and whether Jamie was really the most amazing fabulous team member ever ('yes', according to him), and why he had done so much whingeing and depressing everyone else.  He overdoes it a bit, and if Sandeesh brings him in, there's a good chance he'll go, but... no.  She's bringing in Chris and Liz, which is like entering a marathon and choosing Paula Radcliffe as your opponent, when you could have had WhynotSmile.  Well, maybe not quite, but, you know, choosing someone who can clearly run better than you.  You enter a marathon, you want the WhyNotSmiles of this world up against you; you go into the Apprentice boardroom, of the presently available options, you want Jamie.

Needless to say, there's the obligatory cursory questioning of what Chris and Liz did wrong, which is basically 'not a whole lot', and then Sandeesh gets fired.

Back in the house, Stella points out that it was a good thing Sandeesh's team made so many mistakes, because otherwise her own team would've been sunk, and then sneaks a little sneer at Stuart.

Next week, we're off to Germany, for sprechen sie Deutsch, sauerkraut, and a bit of casual racism.  Can't wait.

15 Songs

Virtual Methodist has thrown down the gauntlet and requested us all to declare the first 15 songs that come up on our iPods when we play on shuffle.

Here are mine:
1. Don't Stop Believin' - Journey
2. How Great Is Our God - Worship Ireland
3. Love is Free - Sheryl Crow
4. When I Was Lost - New Irish Choir & Orchestra
5. Town Called malice - The Jam
6. Girls In Their Summer Clothes - Bruce Springsteen
7. My Troubled Soul - from some Christian CD
8. Oh For A Thousand Tongues - New Irish Choir & Orchestra
9. Love is Noise - The Verve
10. Don't Stop Me Now - Queen
11. Ireland's Call
12. Galway Girl - Steve Earle & Sharon Shannon
13. American Pie - Don McLean
14. It Is Well - New Irish Choir & Orchestra
15. Hallelujah - Jeff Buckley

So there we have it.  Feel free to add your own in the comments.

There is another gauntlet, which has been thrown down on The Facebook, and is something to do with authors.  I shall return to it presently.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

The Apprentice 2010: Episode 6

We have to assume that Stuart Baggs The Brand was not lying when he said that everything he touches turns to 'sold', as the phone which he answered not 2 weeks ago appears to have vanished, ensuring that Lord Shugah has to turn up at the house himself.  Half seven, and they're all in their jammies, apart from Stella, who's fully dressed.

There's a good deal of panic as word spreads, and probably for good reason, as Lord Shugagh is in the sitting room playing Cut The Rope on his iPhone, and looking a bit impatient. Stuart Baggs The Brand remains calm, but turns up in socks and shorts.

So, they've to make a marketing campaign for a cleaning project, and they've to appoint team leaders who haven't been in charge yet.  Now, Jo owns a cleaning company, so that's going to come back to haunt her; the other team is mercilessly without merit, and therefore might just be ok.  Or not.  Because Alex has a background in advertising.

If Alex was an apple pie, the apples inside would be orange, apparently.

So Alex gets put in charge of Chris, Sandeesh, Laura and Stuart Baggs The Brand, a team so doomed to fail that I might as well be up front and tell you right now that they lose.  But with style, so stay with me.

On the other team, Christopher is put in charge and is bringing the killer instinct of a Royal Marine into his business.  Gulp.

They have to think up some colours for the bottle, an advertising campaign, and a general marketing approach.

At Christopher & Co., Stella thinks cleaning makes you all happy and passionate, which sounds naff, but in retrospect might have had more legs than what they ultimately come up with, rather ironically.

Alex & Co come up with 'Swipe' which is ok, and then Chris comes up with 'Germinate', which Alex (rather wisely) hates.  Laura and Alex come up with 'Helping Hand', which is so mediocre even Chris laughs at it.

Christopher and Stella head off to the poshest Mother & Toddler group in the country.  It's all cupcakes and metallic balloons and nice clean children in co-ordinating outfits.  One of the mums comes up with the idea of 'octopus', as she needs more arms.  They love it.  They absolutely love it.  It's The One.  It's The Idea.  Never mind that it's a bit rubbish.

Stuart Baggs, Sandeesh and Chris are off to a more normal parent and toddler group, although it only appears to have about 3 toys, which is a bit sad.  Chris asks what they think of 'Germinator', and they hate it.  They love 'Helping Hand' though.  Weirdos.  They also think the bottle should be yellow.

Alex and Laura are in the supermarket, looking at bottles of cleaning stuff.  Laura suggests they could call it 'Blitz', which I think is quite good, but Alex thinks old people might not like it, but are all dead anyway, or something. They end up back on Germinator, because Chris has thought up an advert and Stuart can do a good Terminator impression.

And so to the designers.  'Octo-Kleen' looks quite good, like an actual thing you'd buy.  'Germ-o-nator' looks like something you'd kill rats with, which is weird because it has a picture of a child on the bottle.  And also it has to be kept out of reach of children.  Which is particularly unfortunate, since their advert involves a child using it.

And so to the recording studio, where Stuart is doing impressions of germs ('influenza is cockney'), while Laura whines that she hasn't been utilised enough, and the sound guy contemplates beating Stuart to death with his headphones.

Meanwhile, Christopher's team are creating the most appalling, creepy, hideous piece of footage ever to come out of the television age.  It's so bad, I'm not even going to describe it.  This is one of those episodes you just have to watch.  To summarize, wife is dismayed at mess of house, husband sits on sofa, she dresses as an octopus and uses Octo-Kleen to clean faster (because she now has so many hands), before joining him on the sofa, for a night of what can only be imagined as pure agony.  Nick is appalled.

Chris is directing the Germinator advert.  Does anyone know what the adverb for 'mediocre' is?  Because it would a useful term to have in one's vocabulary to describe the way Chris does things.  Anyway, small boy with toxic chemicals does well, and otherwise it's all quite mediocre.

Finally, they have to pitch to industry experts.  Laura knows what she's talking about, and comes up with a decent pitch, which Alex then hands to Sandeesh to do, because yet again, she hasn't really done anything.  Laura thinks it's a bit rubbish, because it is, to be honest.  She whines some more.

At the agency, there are actual people who actually really know what they're talking about.  This should be fun.  Sandeesh goes first, with Germ-o-nator.  She pitches quite well, in the end.  Then they watch the advert.  One of the industry people asks how funny they think the ad is, and Chris says he's watched it, like, 20 times, and has peed his pants every time.  Stop, Chris.  Stop. Now.

Next, Octi-Kleen, where 8 hands are better than 2.  Jamie says men don't want a night of fun in a dirty house.  Women find it hard to keep up with these demands.  So Octi-Kleen is great.  They watch the ad and cringe in unison.

Feedback to Lord Shugagh; basically, they all hated them both.  They say things like 'travesty' and 'distasteful'.

In the boardroom, we're forced to watch the adverts again.  Lord Shugagh points out that they're both basically rubbish.  And the advertising people thought they were both basically rubbish.  Christopher's team are told that 'technically, they haven't lost', because Lord Shugagh quite likes the octopus.  They don't get much of a treat, though, as they're shipped off to a dodgy looking karaoke den to sing 'We Are The Champions' really badly while wearing cowboy hats.

In the losers' cafe, Alex asks for feedback, and they all stare at him and sip more tea (from, and I hadn't noticed this before, polystyrene cups.  What kind of cafe is this?).  In the boardroom, Alex is all up for 'discussing this further with Lord Sugar', which is good, since Lord Sugar is well up for discussing how crap they were.  There's an argument about whether the mums said the bottle should be yellow (they did, but whether the information was passed on is lost to the cutting room floor).

They snipe some more, Sandeesh looks fed up and Laura whines a bit.  Alex waffles.  Then he says Sandeesh was great, and he's bringing her and Chris back into the boardroom.

Out they go and in they come.  Alex is told he didn't manage well, and points out that he manages people all the time, which doesn't help.  Chris and Alex yell at each other for a while.  It's a weird combination of mediocre and mental.

Sandeesh gets sent back to the house by Lord Sugar, because Alex was stupid to bring her back in.  Then Alex gets fired, but 'with regret'.  Anyway, Alex doesn't need Lord Shugagh, he says in the taxi home.

Back in the house, Laura is saying "I know everyone's shocked I'm here, which is really obvious, so thanks, but anyway...".  It's all very passive agressive.

Time to start making predictions, I think.  Currently, my hypothetical money's on Stella or Liz to win, with Jamie and Christopher as outsiders.

Next week they have to sell big screen experiences to the general public; I do not know why, possibly because they haven't sold it to me yet.  Someone meticulous gets fired, so I'm thinking Christopher.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

The Apprentice 2010: Episode 5

I very much apologise for the lateness of this Apprentice update.  I've been busy.  Working.  And tidying.  And so on.  I will try not to do it again, but to be honest, I wouldn't hold your breath.  I'm on my own at home this week, as The Sister is staying at The Boyfriend's Parents' house to mind the animals and provide general security services while they're away.  This could speed up the blogging, slow it down, or have no measurable effect - we shall find out soon enough.  Also, I'm toying with writing a post on Matters Spiritual, and would like a brief consensus on whether this is allowed.  I may ignore the consensus, if I don't like it, of course.  Just saying.

Anyway, this week it's Stella who picks up the phone, fully dressed in business suit at 6.30am, or whatever time we're supposed to believe it is.  They're to meet Lord Shugagh someplace I don't catch, and bring their overnight bags.  They all get excited that maybe the overnight bags mean they're going to Paris or Milan, as they all do every time they're told to bring overnight bags, even though it turns out every time that they're going to Bristol. Or, in this case, Manchester.

Long story short: they have to visit some fashion designers, choose 2 to represent, take the clothes to Manchester, and spend a day there selling them.  Stuart Baggs The Brand thinks fashion is like magic beans, but pointless, so since it would clearly be ridiculous, if amusing, to put all the boys on one team, they get mixed up again, so we now have: Synergy (yes, we're still on that, apparently), led by Liz, featuring Joanna, Stella, Jamie and Christopher; and Appollo, led by the terrifying Paloma, and featuring Laura, plus all the people you wouldn't want on your team for the fashion task: Alex, Stuart Baggs The Brand, Sandeesh and Chris.  There's a better than average chance of bloodshed this week, I think we can agree.

Paloma wants to suss out the fashionistas on her team, and identifies Laura and Sandeesh.  The chaps are more circumspect, but thankfully Alex is a 'retail guru', so we know he's going to be part of a monumental feck-up at least.  He was taught retailing by a 'very famous professor of retail'.

On the other team, Jamie admits that his wife buys his clothes, and Nick sneers at him.

As well as being a retail guru, Alex used to work in the Trafford Centre, so is able to pick out the prime promotional area.  So now we know what the monumental feck-up will be.

Off to the fashion designers.  On the way, Jamie sagely points out that Manchester is a good couple of years behind London, as you can't get into a club there without shoes.

Paloma is talking to a girl with crazy hair and big glasses.  She looks like Penny Crayon, and describes her clothes as 'future primitive'.  Both teams go to speak with 'Liquorice', but take different approaches: Liz's lot are all big eyes and gasps and 'oh I can't believe how affordable it is'; Paloma, Sandeesh and Chris opt to stare like corpses.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, the designer wants the first team to sell her things, since they appear to have a pulse.  Never mind though; Paloma and co head off to see a place where they sell recycled clothing, consisting of such garments as a dress made of ties, hooded suits, and an outfit which appears to be made entirely from cuffs.

So Liz and co have a vintage line and the sparkly Liquorice stuff; Paloma has some cheap stuff and the recycled gear.  Concern is growing over Alex's prime promotional spot, which Paloma has realised is millions of miles from their shop.  Stuart thinks the recycled range is more for tramps.

No sense worrying though, as it's Day 2, and the shops need to be set up.  Alex dispenses a lot of advice, being a retail guru and all.  Paloma gets really narked with him, and they squabble a bit.  Particularly irritating is the fact that he points out you can't see the clothes from outside the shop, so it looks empty, and you have to admit he has a point.

Meanwhile, Liz is prancing around in a dress, instead of opening her store.

Chris is sleezing over a woman who tried on the tie dress.

Liz, who has finally raised the shutters, is running around barefoot, but not selling much, so she sticks Stella in the window, where she stands looking awkward and waving.  Nick disapproves.  Although he thinks it would be ok in Amsterdam.

Alex is leaning in the doorway, being useless at bringing people in to the shop.  Every now and then, he whips out a dress and yells 'Do. You. Like. This. Dress?' at passers by.  He comes up with a cunning plan of saying Aleesha Dixon's inside, which is vetoed by Sandeesh, because it's a lie.  Then he comes up with an actual cunning plan, and they make an advert to be shown in the cafe in the shopping centre.  Which is quite clever, and, in my opinion, makes up for the prime promotional spot being 10 minutes' walk away.  Cleverer than Paloma, who tells guys in hooded suits that they look 'smokin'.  Unbelievably, Chris flogs the tie dress.

At 5 o'clock, Joanna's brain clicks into gear: "Is there anything like a marketing strategy we could put into place?".  So they knock off 20%, and Joanna goes outside the shop and starts yelling at people about 'ow nice the cloves all is.

It's hard to tell how it's gone, so off we go to the boardroom to find out.  It's all quite tame: a rehashing of the Stella-in-the-window thing, and more on Alex being a retail guru and having worked in the Trafford Centre (doing what?  We never find out).  Liz's lot have won by £500, and are off to the races.

The other lot head off to the cafe, where it quickly becomes clear that Paloma has Alex in her sights.  This is despite the main problem being that they had the wrong product in the recycled clothing, because Paloma and co failed to get the sparkly stuff, because Paloma and co looked like zombies when they went to see it.

Back in the boardroom, and Sandeesh says a full sentence for the first time.  That must be her quota of words for the episode used up, as she then reverts to the big eyes.  Paloma is bringing Alex back into the boardroom, but everyone else was great, so she decides to short-circuit the entire premise of the show and bring Sandeesh back in too, as she's not a good candidate generally.  Which is kind of Lord Shugagh's job, as he points out.

So you think Paloma's safe: Lord Shugagh doesn't seem to like Sandeesh anyway, and Alex is a bit of a muppet, but on the You're Fired show afterwards, they provide an excellent summary of where Paloma went wrong.  She has basically taken the two candidates with Bambi eyes, and now proceeds to start clubbing them to death.  To summarise, Paloma gets fired for being obnoxious, despite being seated between the two people who can most reasonably be labelled incompetent.  Being placed third out of those three is reason enough to be sacked, in my book.

I've kind of gone off Alex a bit again.  He has a bit of a creepy laugh.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

The Apprentice 2010: Week 4

The episode begins with our friend Stuart Baggs The Brand answering the phone, presumably immediately changing it to 'sold'. They have about 30 seconds or so to get up, dressed, and to the Science Museum, where they are introduced to this week's task, which is the one where they take wick inventions and try to flog them to shops.

The teams get swapped round again, but I don't care.

Weirdly, and with cavalier lack of self-awareness, Melissa is gagging to be in charge of her team, but so is Jamie.  Mel has all the relevant experience, such as it is, and Jamie has none, so they vote for Jamie, because they're not complete fools.  Mel looks all disappointed.  On the other team, Chris Bates is put in charge.  Yawn.

And so to the inventions, which are truly insane.  A helmet thing that allegedly reduces fine lines, and definitely makes you look like you're being melted.  A thing that shrieks every time you dare to slouch.  An exercise thing made almost entirely from elastic bands.  A t-shirt equivalent of suck-your-tummy-in-granny-pants (£50 a pop).  A spade with 2 handles, which appears to be the gardening equivalent of chopsticks.  A water-saving shower head (actually not insane, but lets Stuart Baggs the Twit do his David Brent impersonation).  And finally, a baby grow which changes colour when you blast your baby with a hairdryer.

Both teams want the baby grow, but Stuart Baggs the Brand was obnoxious to the inventor woman, so she chooses the other team, which is Chris Bates'.  They end up with:
Jamie's team: spade and shower head
Chris' team: baby grow and t-shirt

Pitch one, and Jamie and Mel are in Debenhams, who don't sell spades or shower heads.  Mel thinks they should start though.  Really thinks they should start.  Really thinks it would be a great idea.  Seriously, Debenhams people, just open a spade and shower head department, it will be quicker and easier.

Pitch two, and Chris, Alex and Liz are in Debenhams.  The t-shirt is all well and good, but it costs £50, which is a rip off.  Liz has more success with the baby grow; Alex insists it will be all over the news and on breakfast tv.

I can't quite understand why I dislike the baby grow (the stated objective is to allow parents to monitor their baby's temperature), but I think my reasons include:
1. You'd need at least 10 of them, and they cost £25 each.  Because, let's face it, how many parents are going to sleep well the night they put the baby down in a regular baby grow instead of the magic temperature reading baby grow?
2. You have to be looking at the baby to see whether the baby grow has changed colour.  With this restriction, I cannot think of any circumstance in which a thermometer would not be as easy, and more accurate.
3. I distrust clothes that change colour.  It does not seem natural.
4. I am not convinced it would survive washing and ironing.

Alex Epstein has gone all encouraging, though, and I like him more.

But now we hit a snag: Jamie wants to pitch tomorrow, but Mel thinks it's because he's too stupid to see how great she would be at doing it.  She has a very strong skill set, she says.  We have yet to see it, of course.

Anyway, on Day 2 (because 2 meetings with Debenhams seemed to take up all of Day 1), they have an appointment with B&Q, and they can also set up any other meetings they want.

Melissa is pitching to a plumbing wholesaler in Leamington Spa.    It is unfortunate that the demonstration thing has picked up an airlock in its travels, and can only manage a dribble of water.  Stuart starts biting it.  This does not help, and they don't want to buy it.  But Mel really wants them to buy it, because she's driven all the way from London, but they don't want to buy it, but Mel really thinks it could do well for them, but they really are not interested... this goes on for a bit.

On the other team, Paloma, Sandeesh and Laura are trying to flog the t-shirt in what appears to be a range of gay sex shops.  They do ok initially, but then it all breaks into a screaming match about orders and exclusivity, right on the doorstep of the shop.  Nick hovers in the background, one eye on the girls, and one eye on the range of rubber goods in the shop behind him.  The upshot of it all is that they give some guy an exclusive deal, only to phone Chris and be told that they can't do that.  Well, that solves the row about who gets credit for the deal, then.

Over at B&Q, Jamie, Jo and Christopher are bigging up the shower head, and their own grand ambitions, and how they're all ears.  The other half of their team (Stuart, Stella and Mel) are all over the moon because they forced half a dozen shower heads onto a bloke in a shop.

And so to the boardroom, where both teams have actually done quite well, and could, potentially, not make complete prats of themselves.  Fortunately, Stella, Mel and Stuart have fecked up by selling the shower too cheap; meanwhile, Laura, Sandeesh and Paloma get a ticking off for the Big Row, which is now known as the Battle of Old Compton Street.

The numbers come next: Apollo (Chris' lot) got £76,518.80 of orders, while Synergy (Jamie & Co) got £122,225.95, or thereabouts.  Flip.  Gasp.  Synergy head off to a spa, while Apollo are off to the Cafe de Doom to stare blankly at each other, and then bicker a bit.  Melissa's vocabulary gets all inventive; she claims there was no room for manouverment in her pitches.

In the boardroom, Lord Shugah tells them that Mel, Stella and Stuart only brought in £800, and that is crapski.  Stuart blames Melissa, and she turns on him for getting an airlock in the shower thing, and then Karren says that the people in the shop though Melissa was really annoying, which comes as a surprise to Melissa, at least.  Stella admits that she didn't know how much the stuff she was selling was meant to cost.

So who's coming back in with Jamie?  Please let it be Mel and someone.  Please let it be Mel and someone.  Please... YES!  It's Mel and Stuart Baggs The Brand.  They go outside and Melissa sulks.  They come back in, and Jamie gets told off for leaning on the table.  Melissa complains that Jamie gave her no feedback, and didn't help her learn.  Jamie says she's like a firework that goes crazy, and she says she's not like a firework that goes crazy, at least not in her analysization.  Melissa is trying to be a poor little lamb, while maintaining her professionality.  She has a bag of potential skills.  Not actual skills, note.  She calls Lord Shugah 'Sir Lord', which I quite like.

Stuart claims he should stay in because:
1) He's 21
2) He'd like some of Lord Shugah's massive resources (snigger)
3) He's really good at selling yo-yos in the playground

A tough choice.

But since Melissa's been so obviously hopeless, she gets firedicated.

We then see the finest Apprentice exit EVER.  After a brief pause where we wonder if she's going to stage a sit-in, Melissa storms out, glancing back over her shoulder to say 'Well done for ganging up on me.  Horrible people'.  She won't accept the standard fake hug from Jamie, and tells him 'I have nothing to say to either of you.  Save your skin and come out of my face.'  In the taxi, she is more level-headed: 'Karmically, they will be retributed.  The universe speaks louder than I do.'

Flicking over to 'You're Fired', because that's bound to be fabulous, we discover that Melissa has, in the year since this was filmed, got rid of the glasses and become a long-ish haired brunette.  She looks totally different.  You wouldn't recognise her.  Which is probably best.

Complicated Things Made Simple

Here's a thing which recently struck me as odd.  Why does no one ever seem to know when the clocks change?  It's the same every year - last Saturday/Sunday in October.  It is not complicated.

When I was young, I got the impression that it was something to like 37 days after the sighting of the first unicorn in a forest north of Narnia.  I was quite surprised to learn that it's really not that hard.

Friday, 29 October 2010

The WhyNotSmile Guide To Halloween Costumes

Now WhyNotSmile is not one for parties and dressing up and all of that, but nevertheless is a surprising wealth of opinion when it comes to creating a good costume for Halloween.  It feels appropriate to share this now, for many of you will be going to Halloween parties this weekend, and WhyNotSmile does not want you to look like idiots.

So, here are my top tips for a good Halloween costume:

1) Consider the long term.  It's all very well to walk in and have everyone gasp in awe at your outfit, but there will come a point in the evening when you wish to participate.  A cousin of mine once went to a fancy dress party as a bunch of grapes, by sticking balloons all over herself, which was rather ingenious, but she couldn't sit down all night. You may wish to try your costume beforehand, by performing the following activities: sitting, eating, relieving yourself, and standing within speaking distance of other people.

2) Don't go too obtuse.  No matter what your costume, there'll always be someone who can read the wrong sort of thing into it, and you don't want everyone secretly thinking you came as something rude.  Better to be obviously a ghost, than have people think you're dressed as poo.

3) It is not good to make your costume, or any part of it, from food.

4) It is best to be unique, but there are certain acceptable duplicates; it is quite ok for a Halloween party to have more than one ghost, witch or Wonderwoman.

5) Home-made costumes are better than bought ones, but there are 2 bands of acceptable effort: lots of effort, and no effort.  Basically, the chart of effort vs impressiveness is U-shaped.  Lots of effort = attention to detail, secure fastenings and a convicing outfit.  No effort = bedsheet ghost.  Either is fine, although you won't win best costume for the ghost.  What's NOT fine is a half-assed attempt at Daffy Duck.

6) Ensure everything is securely fastened.  Do not leave a trail of glitter all over the floor if you ever want to be invited back.  Equally, and I cannot emphasise this enough, make sure your costume won't fall off.

7) Know your limitations.  It is fine to concoct some kind of costume which allows you to appear to take your head off and spout blood everywhere, but you can really only get away with it twice in one evening, unless guest turnover is quite high.  Do not keep repeating your trick all evening, as it will become tedious.

8) Do not go as any of the following: yourself, someone who couldn't be bothered to dress up, a normal person, someone dressed as yourself, or you at work.  Those are all stupid.

I trust this helps.

Monday, 25 October 2010

I Am Not Laughing, And I Want To Be Very Clear On That

I have a dilemma.  Long-term readers will know that here at WhyNotSmile, there is a morbid fascination with all things Richard Dawkins.  The enthusiasm has waned of late, because there's only so long you can listen to him, let's face it, but it has been piqued again with the news that it's all gone a bit, as we might say, 'tits up' over at

First of all, a few months ago, there was a Whole Big Thing when the website forum got shut down all unexpected-like, and people's accounts got deleted and posts were removed and all sorts of things which you wouldn't have entirely expected from a 'free-thinking oasis'.  There were all kinds of outrage, which seemed to surprise The Prof no end, as he had presumably not heard of 'the internet' and didn't know that it's basic raison d'etre is to allow all the twits and psychos of the day to come aboard and spout abuse at anyone who's fool enough to pay attention, and at many who aren't.

Now it has been announced that Dawkins is taking his web guy to court because web guy has been embezzelling funds from the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.

So the dilemma is this: on the one hand, since the internet seems not to have picked up on it yet, I have a reasonable chance of getting Quite High On Google if I blog about it, and I could use the publicity.  On the other hand, it is bad to steal things and it seems a tad spiteful to take the rip out of it.


Hang on, he basically called us all terrorists in his book.  Sod it.  Let the rip-taking commence.

First of all, the story is rather odd.  The basic facts are that web guy Josh Timonen was hired in 2007 by Richard Dawkins to build and maintain his website; for this he was paid $278,750 (approximately £177,000) in 3.5 years.  The website involved a shop, from which one could buy t-shirts with big 'A's on them, and some DVDs of Dawkins spouting off; the money from this was to go to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (introduced here).  Then there was the thing about the forum, which appears to be incidental, and then in May they had a big row and fell out and now Dawkins is trying to sue ole Josh because he has allegedly fiddled the books and slipped 90% of takings into his own pocket.  Josh, of course, denies this.

This raises various questions:

1. Why on this earth was Josh being paid £50,000 per year to run what is an embarrasment of a website?  I'm not even referring to the content, which comes from Dawkins, and is what it is - you have to work with what you're given, let's face it.  I refer to everything else, which gives the site an aura of 'built by a colourblind 12-year-old with little time, patience or skill'.

2. Why did no one notice that they seemed to be selling an awful lot of t-shirts for the $30,000 dollars the site was bringing in?  I mean, if you have a heap of t-shirts in the office, and then it disappears, and the bloke who sold them is handing you some magic beans and telling you the site's 'just scraping by', you would think you'd start to wonder.

Naturally, atheists are in a (very earnest) frenzy over it all (see here, for instance), mainly in a gloating kind of way because they'd all fallen out with him over the forum thing, but also in a slightly alarmist 'think of the ammunition the theists will think they have now' kind of way.  One commenter was betting that the Vatican are peeing themselves laughing, which I think rather over-estimates the Vatican's interest in Richard Dawkins and his doings.  But if you live in a world where everyone believes that every theist believes that every theist is morally superior to every atheist, you can see why they'd be concerned.

In any case, you have to have a certain amount of sympathy for all sides.  Dawkins, for clearly not taking enough interest in how things were going, and Josh, for having the stupidity to get caught when he'd only embezzled about half a million dollars.  He should take some tips from these guys; say what you like about Christians, but when they go all immoral, they do it in style.