Thursday 29 April 2010

Enter stage Left

The doors were blue, the chairs were blue, the backdrop to the stage was blue – but people's views were red and and green. Welcome to the Hornsey and Wood Green hustings.

The signs of an intense drawn-out election battle were etched all over the five candidates as proceedings got underway. The incumbent Lynne Featherstone (Lib Dem), drooped into her chair as she stared into the distance, Richard Merrin (Cons) reaching for water as he made his first painfully croaky remarks, and Karen Jennings (Lab), exhausted but steely-eyed.

Peter McAskie and Stephane de Roche, The Green and Independent candidates, lifted the atmosphere by happily airing their views without the weight of expectation of becoming MPs.

The agenda was set entirely by the audience's questions. And these were provided on a range of matters by a left-leaning crowd from a constituency described by the Independent as “super-clever” (slight paraphrasing as I can't find the article).

On cue, an 18-year-old student stood up and described the cynicism of the Tories amongst his peer group. When Mr Merrin, who was given a rough ride throughout, possibly for his Cameronesque over-polished appearance and over-rehearsed public speaking style, said a vote for Labour was a vote for inequality, the young man hit back.

“Tell me why I should vote for you not why I shouldn't vote for others!”

“You're 18 right? Well, when I was 18...”

“Of course I'm 18, I wouldn't vote illegally.”

The cardboard African face masks on the walls, presumably made by local children, seemed to chuckle at this, and carried on chuckling when Ms Featherstone danced around the issue of a coalition government.

“We haven't ruled anything in - we haven't ruled anything out,” she said, before repeating Nick Clegg's bizarre claim that the party would work with “the man on the moon” if he backed their “agenda for change”.

This didn't quench the audience's thirst for an answer. “In one word would you support a coalition government led by David Cameron?” asked a feisty woman at the back. Ms Featherstone's answer started with “I can't answer that” and the rest of it was muffled by the groans and grumbles of discontent.

Most of the applause throughout the evening went to Ms Jennings, with Mr McAskie also drawing admiration for his in-depth knowledge of issues local and national.

“Karen's brought her fan club in tonight” a bitter Mr Merrin was heard saying to Ms Featherstone in the back of the room at the end of the event. Was this mini Tory-Lib Dem coalition a sign of things to come?

This audience will hope not.

Tuesday 27 April 2010

High Five for the soul

When you spend hours on end with the soul-destroying tasks of going through a pile of questionnaires and tallying up the ticks next to the 80 questions they each contain, keeping the mind busy is vital.

BBC Radio 5 Live have done enough to hurt me over the years – making it clear how dominant Everton were over Spurs in the 1995 FA Cup semi-final, producing a series of irritatingly memorable jingles, not taking me on as work experience when I could see the sharp blade of the recession swinging in my direction – but today they came up trumps.First up was TV critics raving about a La La Land, a BBC3-bound Sacha Baron Cohen style spoof interview programme. But nicer.

The writer and star Marc Wooton said he couldn't bring himself to make fun of his interviewees
without coming clean about being a comedian. This wouldn't get in the way of him being funny though, oh no.A clip from the show had Wooton as Brendal Allen, an aspiring 'documentary auteur' speaking to an old school film-maker about a great new idea – rather than filming sharks from above, why not use under-water cameras to see what they actually do? After saying seven times that this concept was not new, the old guy walked out.

Next on the line-up was Patrick Regan of the youth charity XLP who met David Cameron today. Regan spoke about how he spent time with young people who went to school in bullet-proof vests. He spoke about how it costs £165,000 a year to keep a young person in a secure unit. And he spoke about the cost of youth unemployment. He spoke positively but realistically, explaining how investment in education and youth services can save money down the line.

From the serious to the more trivial, next, with an inquisitive finger pointed in the direction of 'fullsome' and 'chronic' – two words we use every day, mostly incorrectly. Chronic means long-term rather than serious, fullsome means abundant, but in a bad way. A smart-arse listener suggested this segment of the show should be known as 'Catachresis Corner' as catachresis is the term for misuse of a word. An ever smarter-arse listener said dictionaries are wrong – we decide what a word means. On that note there was nowhere for this segment of the show to go really.

I tuned out slightly as talk turned to bin men earning £80k, something about the richest football club in the world running out of goalkeepers, and Nick Clegg talking about hung parliaments. Syntax came under the spotlight again as John Pienaar concluded Clegg either lied to Nicky Campbell or lied to Andrew Marr. Even Pienaar was confused, calling the Lib Dem leader Nicky.

My last morsel of attention was spent on, a site set up on behalf of a three-year meerkat looking for love. It worked, too, and no surprise with a profile like this:

I am a fun loving 3 year old Meerkat who has recently moved to Twinlakes Family Theme Park in Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire from sunny Devon.

Alert, dark eyed, inquisitive, free spirited lady with a good sense of humour who enjoys fine dining, digging and cosy nights in!

At this stage I thought it was probably best to turn over to Radio 1 for a bit.