TV News, Mystery Diners and Steve McQueen’s Car!

The Election.

The other day I watched the debate with Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn on channel 4 and one of the most shocking things was the outrageously rude interview technique of Jeremy Paxman. In fact, this wasn’t an interview but more of an interrogation. He harped on at Jeremy because of various things not in the labour manifesto yet are known to be things that he favours, like getting rid of the monarchy for instance. Mr Corbyn’s perfectly reasonable answer was that the manifesto was a document arrived at by democratic means and not he himself trying to dictate his ideas to the Labour Party but nevertheless, Mr Paxman continued to harp rudely on about it.

Mrs May also suffered because she was in the Leave camp prior to the EU Referendum and has ended up leading the country into Brexit. The Prime Minister went on to explain that Brexit was the result of the referendum so clearly she must follow the will of the people. Having said that, Brexiteer Boris Johnson would probably be the Prime Minister now had he not been stabbed in the back by the traitorous Michael Gove.

Mr Paxman’s attitude was nothing short of downright rude and reminded me of a conversation I had in a pub years ago when some drunken hooligan accosted me and demanded to know which team I supported? Jeremy Paxman, you have just gone right down in my estimation!

The Ford Cougar.

I mentioned last week that my lovely convertible had been damaged by a council van reversing into it. The council accepted blame and my car was promptly whisked away for repairs. In the meantime they offered me a hire car which I initially declined but then had to later accept because of the slow pace of my car repairs. I received a call from the hire company telling me the insurance company had asked them to provide me with a car and when did I want it dropping off?

Well, nice service I thought. We sorted out the details and then I asked what sort of a car would it be?

‘A Cougar,’ they replied.

‘A Cougar?’

‘Yes a Ford Cougar.’

Nice.

Now, I don’t know about you but I was under the mistaken impression that the car Steve McQueen drove in the movie Bullitt was a ford Cougar so for a few moments I had visions of myself bumping up and down the hilly streets of San Francisco, perhaps even cavorting with Jaqueline Bisset but no, things didn’t turn out that way. McQueen drove a Ford Mustang in Bullitt, a hunky looking car with a superb throaty roar. I do love those 60s/70s American motors!

Anyway, my car duly arrived and it was not a Cougar but a Kuga, one of the latest Ford models fitted with so many gadgets it made my rather lovely 2006 Renault look a little dated.

It was rather comfy and nice to drive and as I began the long journey to work I felt the faint idea for a blog post coming on. I worked it over in my mind a few times then thought it was time to jot it down somewhere. Not so easy when you’re driving but luckily I had my hand-held tape recorder. I reached over into the door shelf but couldn’t feel anything then I remembered. This was my hire car. The tape recorder was in my own car!

The News.

When you want to know what is going on in the world you probably do what I do: change to the news channel of your choice. I usually go to BBC news. I’ve always thought BBC news was pretty impartial and generally I think it is but when you did a little deeper I’m not so sure. Fracking for instance gets very little coverage. In Lancashire the County Council voted against having fracking in the county but then the Government overruled them, deciding it was OK. Numerous protests are going on in Lancashire against fracking which the evidence shows is not good for the environment but the BBC seems to have largely ignored that issue. Still, it’s the news media themselves that decide what is important and if you want to find out more about things outside of mainstream news, then we are lucky to have the internet as a secondary resource.

On a less serious note, I have a theory about news channels. Unless some really serious news breaks during the day the whole news programme for the day is decided pretty early on. For instance, if the news bosses decide that an upcoming speech by the Prime Minister is going to be pretty important, then early newscasts will make a point of mentioning the planned speech due at, for instance, eleven o’clock. At eleven o’clock the planned speech will be usually shown live and all subsequent news casts will highlight the speech.

One thing that I think happens is that at say eight AM, the news people will re-show the seven AM newscast, recorded earlier, while everyone heads off to the BBC canteen for breakfast. I can sort of imagine that in the canteen the top news readers and bosses will perhaps get waiter service at special tables while the others, the cameramen and sound guys will have to get a tray and queue up. After breakfast they will all have to be back at nine ready to take over from the video that we all think is live but really isn’t.

Mystery diners.

Maybe you’ve seen Mystery Diners on the Food Network channel on late night TV. I sometimes pop it on when I come in from a night shift and I get the impression that on American TV there are numerous advertising breaks. There must be unless Americans have a really low attention span because every few minutes the presenter will review the whole show. In case you haven’t seen it Charles Stiles, the owner of a company called Mystery Diners will, at your request, visit your restaurant to sort out your problems. He doesn’t do it like the foul-mouthed Gordon Ramsey, by shouting and swearing and insulting everyone (is he a relation of Jeremy Paxman at all?) but by installing hidden cameras in the restaurant and sending in undercover diners and fake new staff members to find out the root of the problem.

After five minutes he will give us the first review: Joe Smith has invited us into his Chicago diner to find out why takings have suddenly slumped . . OK, then we will be shown a few furtive shots of the suspect staff member, some secret camera shots from the kitchen and then Charles will click on to his radio and ask his undercover diner to go in and order the New York Deli Burger with the secret ingredient tomato sauce. Cue Charles to give us another review: Joe Smith has invited us into his Chicago diner to find out why takings have suddenly slumped  . . The mystery diner asks the waiter for the specials then mentions something that was seen on a hidden camera, a kebab that was not on the menu but was enhanced with the secret ingredient tomato sauce!

‘Could I have one of those?’ asks the diner. ‘Yes,’ says the waiter but the kebab is off menu and cash only.  The waiter furtively speaks with the chef and hey presto, the new kebab is served. Time for an update from Charles: Joe Smith has invited us into his Chicago diner to find out why takings have suddenly slumped !

Eventually the cash only kebab dealers are invited into the Mystery Diners’ control room and confronted with the video evidence. They are sacked and the restaurant is saved! The programme lasts less than 30 minutes on UK TV but I can imagine that in America it goes on for at least an hour. Chop out all the rehashing and you are probably left with about fifteen minutes!

Still, back in the UK I noticed a similar thing on shows like A Place in the Sun: Joe and Jennifer Smith are looking for a holiday home in sunny Spain. After a couple of possible homes the presenter reminds us that Joe and Jennifer Smith are looking for a holiday home in sunny Spain! Did she think we weren’t paying attention? Or was it that we were likely to forget this gripping scenario in the last 10 minutes? Who knows? Come to think of it, I did wonder what the Smiths were doing in Spain! Maybe they were looking for a holiday home!


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Aliens, Frank Sinatra, and Three Days in the Life of a Couch Potato

Day 1

In this technological age, one item in particular has come to the aid of the dedicated couch potato and that is the hard drive recorder. It’s a wonderful invention which enables the recording and playback of programmes at the touch of a button.

Last Sunday was my first day off and I had planned, unbeknown to my lovely lady Liz, a day of rest, self indulgence, and laziness, including Internet surfing and of course, TV watching.

She on the other hand had other ideas, in particular, a trip to the combination music and kite festival down on the beach. Anyway, all that went ok, the kites were flying well and the music was good. We went back home for some dinner and then it was time to get down to some TV viewing.

Now the Sunday lunch over ran a little making me late for my appointment with the German Grand Prix on Channel 4. Here, however, is where the hard drive recorder comes into its own because of one very simple fact: You can start watching the recorded programme even before it has finished! Technology; incredible isn’t it?

Anyway, The German Grand Prix from Hockenheim wasn’t a classic race but for an F1 fan like me it was well worth watching: Lewis Hamilton won and Nico Rosberg had a penalty but the real joy of watching the race just slightly behind the broadcast time is you can catch up by fast forwarding through the boring stuff from the drivers; “the team did a great job today in qually” and “I’d like to thank the guys back at the factory,” and so on. There is also the questions to the drivers which are well worth fast forwarding through: “You’re in second position on the grid, what can you do today?”
Not much of a record for a TV couch potato but I had big plans for day 2!

Day 2

Now day 2 promised much more TV watching than day 1. Liz was off to work round about twelve, leaving me time to check my e-mails, sort out a few social media updates plugging blog posts like this one, and then a whole afternoon of serious TV watching.

For starters I had Aliens, the sci-fi movie to watch, recorded from ITV 2 some weeks earlier. I have seen it before but some movies just get better over time. I do love the opening of Aliens: The music gradually fades in as we come across a lifeboat drifting through space. Yes, the lifeboat holds astronaut Ripley, sleeping soundly in suspended animation after her adventures in the previous movie, Alien. Ripley has been abandoned in space for 57 years and it turned out that this version was a director’s cut with a restored back story about Ripley’s daughter who we find has died recently as an old lady. The story gives an added poignancy to the film later on and we understand why Ripley is so passionate about rescuing the young girl ‘newt’ who we meet later in the film.

Time for a cuppa when we get to the adverts and then we follow Ripley through the committee meeting where it is revealed that the spacecraft Nostromo, which Ripley self-destructed, caused a loss of over 64 million adjusted dollars. Another committee member advises that LV426, the planet where the Nostromo landed was ‘a rock’ with no indigenous life forms. I can feel Ripley’s frustration when she says, “Did IQ levels just drop while I was away?” She tries to tell the group about a derelict alien vessel containing alien eggs but the meeting ends and Ripley’s story is not believed.

Now before Liz went to work she had left me a couple of jobs and the thought of them threatens my TV watching marathon so I decide to get them out of the way. One of them involved mowing the lawn so I put Aliens on pause and sorted out the mower and strimmer. I was actually immersed in my mowing when Liz popped back in and caught me doing a bit of grafting! This was great because she could see with her own eyes I’m not just sprawled on the couch watching TV! Result!

Anyway, job done and it’s time for some more TV. I fancy a change from Aliens so I finish off an episode of The Saint I watched part way through last week. A TV Diva is kidnapped but Simon Templar saves the day and rescues the lady. Nice to see these old TV shows from my school years still looking good and getting another airing on TV.

Time for a brew and a cheese sarnie, the Saint episode is deleted (that space on the hard drive is in constant demand!) and I’m ready for something more serious. I crank up a BBC 4 documentary about Frank Sinatra. I was planning to listen to it and simultaneously surf the net on my iPad but it’s so engrossing I have to put the pad down.

Six o’Clock and Liz is home and asking why am I not ready yet? Ready? Of course, we have a family meal planned for tonight. “Just about to get changed, love” I say quickly! (Phew!)

DAY 3

Day three and Liz is off to work at the usual time, twelve-ish. The breakfast pots are duly washed and the only cloud on the horizon is that I need to get some eggs and some milk in. Should I leave it until later or sort it now? Tell you what, time for a quick Saint episode (series record, I love that button on the recorder!) and a cuppa. The episode is one about the Saint receiving threats on his life and it’s a bit of a naff one with the back lot at Elstree or Pinewood trying desperately to look like swinging sixties London and wait a minute, isn’t that lady reporter played by the same lady who played the film actress diva in the last episode? The Saint, the more you watch it increasingly becomes like a little TV repertory company, with increasingly familiar faces, even in the bit parts. Anyway, I fast forward through most of it and then it’s off to the shops for the milk and eggs.

Sigourney Weaver as Ripley

Sigourney Weaver as Ripley

Back home and it’s time for some more Aliens. I don’t know about you but I tend to watch a lot of recorded films in two or more parts. I settle down with Aliens and the Slimy Carter Burke has enticed Ripley on a trip to LV426 with the tough hombres of the Space Marine Chore. They drop into orbit over the planet, now inhabited by terraformers with their atmosphere processors and Ripley, Burke and the marines awake from hibernation. I think for a moment that if LV426 is that far away enough for the crew to hibernate while travelling there, it isn’t that much of an emergency rescue mission but hey, what do I know? Later they arrive on the planet in a pretty exciting drop from the mother craft. The marines secure the area but then find that the Aliens have taken the humans into the atmosphere processor to use their bodies to hatch more of their creatures. Aliens is a sort of hybrid film; a sci-fi horror action movie, combining two or even three genres. The rest of the series was a little poor if you ask me but the first two in the series: Alien and Aliens, are classic cinema. Sigourney Weaver creates a memorable movie character in Ripley, tough and uncompromising, she is a sort of female John McClane. (Remember the Bruce Willis character from Die Hard?)

Anyway, time for the usual afternoon cheese sarnie and a brew and I settle down to watch the end of the Frank Sinatra documentary. I found it highly interesting as the film explored Sinatra’s relationships and associations and shows how the Kennedys dumped him, not wanting to be associated with him when his friendships with mafia figures became public. Later, in the eighties, Sinatra, a lifelong Democrat allied himself with republican Ronald Reagan.

A quick check of my e-mails and some more posts sorted on Twitter and Google+ and time for another cuppa. (Choccy biscuit? Don’t mind if I do!) Time to crank up Aliens again and this time the action heats up as Carter Burke decides Ripley knows too much and he locks her in the med lab with one of the alien parasites. It’s a pretty scary sequence. Ripley gets away but the Aliens are trying to break through into the complex. Why are the radar tracker signs showing the Aliens inside? Look at the roof, people!

Enough scary stuff for today. Liz comes in and asks “Is my dinner ready?” in a tone that suggests she doesn’t think it is. I need to think fast and quickly come up with: “Thought we might go to the Turkish Restaurant darlin’.”  “Well,” she says, “sounds nice, better get ready then.” As I leave to follow her I glance at myself in the mirror and hear myself saying: ‘Top TV couch potato? Steve, you are the man!’


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