Friday, February 27, 2009

blog round-up

Thought I'd provide a quick overview of bloggy things I've been looking at this week:

Debbie, of the lovely Kept In A Jar blog, is collecting shopping lists and storing them at a new location - Shopping List Hunt. Like Debbie, I've always been faintly fascinated by the lists I've found in shopping trolleys, or abandoned on bus seats - but they've never been quite interesting enough to collect. Debbie has solved that problem by drawing over them. This is a particularly good example.

More visual pleasure can be found over at, which Ben has alerted me to over at his Silent Words Speak Loudest blog. He's spotted an album covers game there which is well worth five minutes of your time; it's nothing like the usual, fairly boring routine - instead it's a series of videos, where album artwork is acted out by mime artists trained at the Paris Conservatory of Contemporary Mime and Interpretive Dance. Brilliant stuff - and bloody difficult. Link below:

Quietus Album Cover Mime quiz.

Elsewhere, my own social life has taken a kicking courtesy of my purchase of the first box set of The Wire. I know that everyone already knows this, and knew it long before me, but I can belatedly confirm that, yes, it's simply staggering. So all of a sudden I find myself throwing off invitations to the pub so that I can feast myself on another episode (or two). Brilliant stuff. And I'm also enjoying Being Human, BBC3's latest drama, and thinking that, despite my earlier misgivings, it might be the best thing on UK TV so far this year.

Over at her Breakfast In Bed blog, however, Rowan does not agree, and has abandoned the show, as well as her enthusiasm for TV in general. I've used the comments box to urge her to give it another try, and she has quite reasonably promised to hold me personally responsible should she do so and remain disappointed. Although fearful of her conclusion, I still think the show is worth a look - which is why, like Richard over at his Grey Area blog, I'm very happy to hear that a second series, comprising eight episodes, has been commissioned.

A couple of other things: there's an interesting post on the notion of 'home' over on Swiss Toni's Place. He writes:

"My wife informed me the other day that I would be on my own this weekend because she is going home. It's an odd turn of phrase, isn't it? We've lived together for something like eight years, and we've been in the same house together for a little over six of those years... and yet when she goes to visit her mum and dad in France, she says she's going home. She hasn't lived there for fifteen years or so, and it's not really the house that she grew up in, but it's still home; it was the place her parents were living when she moved out.

Home. I'm not really sure what that means. I was born in Northampton and my parents lived in the same house a few miles outside that town for something like thirty-four years before they moved last year. Does that mean I should consider Northampton my home town? Did I think of that old house as my home? Was I sorry when my parents moved down the road? Not really."
I've lived in Brighton for over ten years, on and off, and I now pretty much think of it as home - I certainly don't feel that I am a Londoner per se any more (except when fucking idiots like Boris Johnson get elected, and I feel suddenly fiercely protective of the place). That said, when I go to visit my parents - who now live in a house in which I have never lived - I still say that "I'm going home". It's odd. That said, when they finally moved out of the house that I'd grown up in, I didn't feel a sense of loss. So I think the notion of home, for me, is elastic. Anyway - take a look at Swiss Toni's post - there are some interesting responses in the comments, too.

Lastly, back at Silent Words Speak Loudest, Ben's written a very interesting review of Richard Herring's current - profoundly rude - stand-up tour. Extract follows - go and read the full thing. Ben asks:

"Is it simply a matter of deliberately pushing the boundaries of taste for cheap laughs, or is there something more going on? The latter, inevitably. As much as he discomforts the lily-livered and offends liberal sensibilities, he still elicits plenty of laughs and, crucially, at one point suggests he's performing comedy "just like Bernard Manning, but in a postmodern way - I know what I'm saying is wrong". Cue chuckles - but then the question that, for me, cuts to the quick: "But does that make it better - or much, much worse?" That seems to reveal the whole show to be a clever critique of the sort of comedy that pleads irony as a defence for saying the unsayable - albeit while at the same time effectively performing the same trick - as well as a robust challenge to audience attitudes and complacency: think for a moment what you're laughing about - you shouldn't be finding it funny."
Thanks as always to the many bloggers who keep me amused one day to the next...

Thursday, February 26, 2009

tube snap

I think there's probably a post to follow on the ethics of photographing strangers without their permission, but in the meantime - here's a sneaky shot taken on the tube last week. I don't think I quite managed to capture just how fascinating this guy's face was, but I had a go. There's something weary, and wily, and endearing, and severe about him, all at the same time. A wonderful face.

true love will find you in the end

Once upon a time, of course, Blur played on just about every TV show or awards ceremony going, and it got to the stage where I was so used to hearing them play live that it almost didn't feel special any more. But it's been nine years since they last played in public live, so any sense of fatigue or familiarity has long since abated.

Actually, scratch that, it's been something like nine hours since they last played in public together. This clip is terrible quality, but it brings me out in a million happy goosebumps, so I think it's still worth linking to (embedding is disabled, unfortunately).

Blur playing 'This Is A Low' at the NME Awards last night.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

moving with pride

Yesterday I accompanied Vic on a bit of flat-hunting, as she and Dan are about to move house and dragging themselves through the awful, frustrating process of haranguing letting agents into showing them suitable properties, and half the time ending up with something entirely inappropriate. Yesterday's contribution was actually rather lovely, a large, high, even two-bed in one of Brighton's nicest roads, and possessed of a wonderful, light lounge with a sea-view. Of course it had a single, bitter flaw - where it was ideal in every other respect, the bathroom was just hideous; a tiny, decrepit booth with a miniature hand-basin, 70s toilet and a shower-cubicle that seemed, somehow, to be leaning to one side.

I tried to make the best of it, romanced by the large bedrooms and the beautiful lounge.

"You won't find somewhere that has everything for the money you want to pay", I said. "There'll always be something - a small bedroom, a crap kitchen, an outdated bathroom. At least in this instance the rest of the flat is lovely. It may be worth it".

The words didn't sound quite right coming out of my mouth. The truth is that the shower room was just awful - the sort of thing you might expect to find in the backroom of a filling station alongside a motorway. It came down, Vic pointed out, to pride, as much as anything. What would so-and-so think, we wondered, thinking of a particularly discerning friend. If he wouldn't compromise, why should anyone?

I'm starting to feel really cosy in my flat - having moved in about six months ago and made the initial, perfunctory steps in home-making back then, I've rediscovered my home-making instincts recently. I don't want to live in a scruffy flat, like a student. This means I need to rein in my natural instinct towards hoarding junk, and try to rationalise my possessions. So this week I've been chucking things out, getting stuff sorted. And I've been doing other things too; pruning houseplants, arranging bookshelves, organising paperwork. When I was a bit younger I noted my general messiness with tolerant amusement - when I was a bit older, I thought, I'd be much more organised.

As it happens, I am more organised than I was as a student - but I'm aware that the transformation hasn't been automatic; I have had to discipline myself into becoming more methodical and ordered. Mostly, it's been pride that's motivated me. When I did move last year I upgraded from a studio, and did so because one night, lying in bed, I thought, "Why can't I have a dinner party? Why don't I have enough space? Other people do, so why don't I?". It was a sense of inadequacy, in part, which made me start looking.

There's a part of me that thinks that if the decision, yesterday, had been mine, I would have been bowled over by the bedrooms and said to myself, no, the bathroom doesn't matter, the rest would be adequate compensation. And I would have taken the flat. It would have been the wrong decision, I think, because it would have been an acceptance that I had to compromise on something that others wouldn't think of giving away.

Sometimes, just as you have to remind yourself to be organised, you have to remind yourself to be proud.

currently listening

I've just had a reminder from Lyndsey about just how slack I've been with blogging lately, and she's absolutely right - I've had various fallow periods over the years but I seem to be going through a particularly sticky patch at the moment. It's to do with time management and procrastination, rather than not having anything to write about, so I'm apparently going to have to re-learn the art of blogging, or rather find a way of getting back into the habit of it. Blogging works brilliantly as a habit, OK as a hobby, and terribly as a chore. So will try to reclimatise.

To get back under-way, here's a breakdown of current listening, complete with ropey youtube links where possible. Proper bloggin' to follow.

1. Peggy Sue - Alice In The Kitchen
2. Frida Hyvonen - Dirty Dancing
3. Stricken City - Lost Art (Tin Can Telephone mix)
4. Tom Tom Club - Genius Of Love
5. Diane Cluck - My Teacher Died
6. The Nextdoor Neighbors - The Werefolf Song
7. Jeff Lewis - North Korea: A Complete History of Communism pt 5
8. Harry Nilsson - Nilsson Schmilsson LP

Monday, February 09, 2009

emmy the great at the komedia, brighton

Having obsessed over her songs for a good year now, it was a real pleasure to finally see Emmy The Great play live in Brighton last week. In fact, having waited all this time, I saw her twice in a night as she played a short, good-spirited acoustic set at Resident Records as well as her headline show at the Komedia. At both venues she was outstanding; her delicate, beautiful songs are underscored by a dark imagination and a wonderful way with words. It makes seeing her a dual pleasure: on the surface, melodic and lovely; underneath – unsettling, moving. At Resident, deprived of a mic-stand, she asked a girl in the audience to hold her microphone for her, and stooped from the counter to provide spine-tingling takes on ‘First Love’, ‘The Hypnotist’s Son’ and ‘City Song’. For the latter, her final number, she conjured a moment of awed, shocked silence, as the closing lines rang oppressively round the shop: “they pulled a human from my waist / It had your mouth, it had your face / I would have kept it if I’d stayed”. As we walked away from the shop to grab a beer before her gig-proper, Dan posited that “she sounded like she could be Canadian”, which coming from him is the highest praise – even if she actually sounds like she comes from Primrose Hill.

At the Komedia – where myself, Dan and Sam met up with Lyndsey and a lovely friend of hers whose name I have predictably forgotten – the first act up was Younghusband, the three-piece fronted by Euan Hinshelwood, who plays guitar for Emmy. His songs are really good; hypnotic, mid-tempo indie somewhere between Teenage Fanclub and the Lemonheads, and songs about Woody Allen. Whereas on record the songs are delicately arranged, live Euan plays them in an agreeably straightforward, pure way, with little in the way of effects or complex playing. Once or twice he steps on a pedal and produces a minute or two of controlled, mannered grunge rock, but most of the subtleties derive from his winning way with a vocal melody. ‘Mass Kiss’ is a particular highlight. In a way, his refusal to crank the songs up, or cover them with ornaments, makes his songs less instantly impressive, less powerful than they might otherwise be. But the key is that the tunes stay with you, and that appears to be – and should be – quite enough.

Ex-lovers, on next, are a quite different proposition. Musically their sound is cut from a similar cloth – more hints of melodic US indie, as well as hints of C86, shoegaze and Postcard pop – but they go to lengths to create a busy, rich musical palette, most notably in their drummer’s varied, precise contribution and their lead guitarist’s ability to ring out gorgeous, descending guitar lines in the manner of a young Peter Buck. They’re at their best when they crank up the volume a bit and let go, and their worst when they’re too studious and considered. But I thought they were very promising indeed.

By the time Emmy took to the stage, myself and Lyndsey have allowed ourselves to get a bit over-excited, and an earlier conversation about how much we wanted to be friends with Emmy soon gives way to darker flights of fancy, and before long we are planning a fairly detailed sequence of events, which involve slinging Emmy into the boot of a car, and we are only brought to our senses by the fact that it suddenly becomes apparent that her family are sat right in front of us, doubtless listening in horror. Feeling a bit crazed, we accept that locking Emmy in the attic might not be the be best idea in the world, and sit in embarrassed silence waiting for her to play.

So, relieving us of our imaginations, she takes to the stage and opens with a gorgeous take on ‘We Almost Had A Baby’, which is one of her most tuneful songs and a marvellous dissection of a broken relationship, and the thought that it might have endured had a child been conceived (“and I will think of you now that we are apart / I put my hand across my gut / I plan to feed it with a heart “). So begins a sequence of songs which examine heartbreak, loss and the fall from innocence. ‘M.I.A’s depiction of a car-crash is enormously powerful, where Emmy notes that “you and me are still but the scenery moves / well why would it stop, just 'cos suddenly / there's one where there used to be two”, and the dismissal of religion in ‘Easter Parade’ is clear-sighted and pointed (“And underneath your pastures green / there's earth and there’s ash, and there’s bone / and there are things that disappear / into it and then they are gone”). The other side of her fiercely intelligent style, however, is that she’s funny, too – whether chatting easily between songs about her chances of winning the X Factor or singing, in ‘The Hypnotist’s Son’, “Every time that I think of you / I have to go to the toilet / can’t tell if this is love / or a stomach disorder.”

Musically, her band are spot-on. Other fans appear to be uneasy with the way that her songs are arranged on her album (First Love, out today), preferring her songs when her voice is accompanied only by her quiet guitar picking; but I think the full-band arrangements are both dazzlingly pretty and textbook exercises in restraint. At all times her songs remain the centrepiece, her voice clear and recognisable. My favourite song of the night is the gorgeous ‘Short Country Song’, which shows off Emmy’s talents so clearly. The song paints in delicate strokes the minutiae of a relationship, and closes with one of Emmy’s most beautiful, plaintive verses – one that isn’t, for once, clever, or complex, or wry – but simply heartfelt; the wonderful quality that Emmy, despite all this talk of lyrical skill, possesses in the greatest abundance.

And you say "Somewhere in my body
is a hole without an end"
And I say "Come and let me see it.
It is something I can mend."
And you say "Somewhere in my body
is a hole without an end"
And I say "Come and let me see it.
I can fill it up again."

Friday, February 06, 2009

assistant blog top ten records of 2008

It's taken me SO long to do this. Ben's just posted his top ten records of the year over on his Silent Words Speak Loudest blog, and I'm pleased he has because he's shamed me into finally posting mine.

Here you go - the ten best records of 2008, according to me. Buy them all.

10. CARL CRAIG - Sessions
It often looks tokenistic to include a hip hop or techno record in a list which is inevitably going to be dominated by indie rock acts, but there's no sense of Carl Craig's momentous collection of recent mixes being undeserving of a place in my top ten albums of the year. The sheer versatility, complexity and perfection of his mixes made this a delight - every song a slow-unfolding, spellbinding micro-symphony. And custom-built for dancing.

9. NEIL HALSTEAD - Oh, Mighty Engine
Funny that nearly twenty years ago I used to swoon to Halstead's lush guitar work with his first band, Slowdive, then lost track of him altogether - I wasn't a fan of Mojave 3 - before rediscovering him in 2008. Oh, Mighty Engine is an album I would have hated when I sixteen; it's a collection of lazy, quiet folk songs about surfing and wearing a beard. Summoning up echoes of Nick Drake and Syd Barrett, this album was my summer record of 2008.

No, I didn't escape this album eiher, and nor did I want to. In many ways there's something off-putting about how perfectly - and apparently effortlessly - Vampire Weekend composed this set of songs, but there's no denying that Oxford Comma, A Punk, Mansard Roof, Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa and The Kids Don't Stand A Chance were breezy mini-classics, focusing the tight songwriting of the early Strokes with the melodic ear of, er, Paul Simon. In the end, like pretty much everyone else, I simply couldn't resist.

7. PEGGY SUE - The Body Parts / The First Aid
Bit of a cheat this, as Brighton's Peggy Sue didn't release an album this year; but they did bring out two gorgeously packaged EPs for Broken Sound, which combined added up to nine new songs which stitched a gorgeous tapestry of sounds. Much of Peggy Sue's charm derives from the slapdash nature of their instrumentation and relaxed stage demeanour, but their recordings are surprisingly adept and considered, and the vocal interplay between Rosa Rex and Katy Klaw is deeply impressive. I saw them live a lot this year, and was teased by all of my friends for being transparently in love with them. Their confident, irreverent anti-folk is stripped down and raw, made sparkling by lyrical complexity and a lot of style.

6. FRIGHTENED RABBIT - The Midnight Organ Flight
Yet another slow-burner, I mistakenly identified Frightened Rabbit's second album as a tuneful, post-Elbow rock record on first listen, and filed it away unimpressed. Months later, I'm amazed I didn't hear the undercurrent of fury and passion that sweeps through this bitter, brilliant album. The loose, bass-less indie-rock still has fleeting moments of Elbow's majesty, but filtered through a vivid layer of noise and some amazing lyrics; better comparisons are perhaps Lou Barlow's battered, bruised Sebadoh and fellow Scots The Twilight Sad. Ace record.

5. STEPHEN MALKMUS - Real Emotional Trash
Pig Lib is still my favourite solo Malkmus record, but the critical consensus on Real Emotional Trash is impossible to dispute; Steve has made his most rounded, consistent album in over a decade. This glorious LP contains a heap of beautiful songs - notably 'Gardenia', as lovely as anything he's ever written - but it's really a collection of set pieces constructed for Malkmus to let loose his guitar on. Fans of his lackadaisical playing back in the day might on first listen be disappointed by the rounded, progressive licks he unleashes, but it's impossible not to admire his skill. Most importantly, however, the tunes shine through. For the first time in many years, Malkmus is not looking awkward or disaffected, but rather deeply comfortable in his own skin. So this is easily a top-five record, and I'm rapidly talking myself into placing it higher.

What an enthusiastic, colourful and unexpected contribution Thomas Tantrum made to 2008. Their debut album was a marvellously fizzy affair, powered by Megan Thomas's love-it-or-hate-it squeals, a host of tempo changes, and a bunch of buzzy, brilliant art rock songs which sounded like an explosion of Blondie, Sonic Youth and Blur. Lead single 'Shake It Shake It' sounded brilliant all year long, but 'Pshandy' and 'Why The English Are Rubbish' were the biggest treats.

3. LYKKE LI - Youth Novels
I seem, almost every year, to become interested in another Scandinavian singer who makes electro-pop, and yet no record of that ilk (except Bjork's Vespertine) ever stayed with me as long as this one. I first saw Lykke on Jools Holland, playing a mesmerising, stripped down take on 'Little Bit', but was put off buying her album as I imagined it diluted by layers of orchestration. When I eventually picked it up, I was delighted to find it not only full of brilliant, dark and sexy songs, but brilliantly, sparingly constructed - it contains swathes of juddering bass, periods of near silence and spare clicks, bells, off-screen sounds. The constant is Lykke Li's childlike, beguiling voice and her mesmeric self-belief. For the last two months of the year, I found it practically impossible to listen to anything but this fantastic collection of songs; it is a haunting, incredibly rewarding debut album. Really looking forward to hearing what she does next.

2. LAURA MARLING - Alas I Cannot Swim
I'd determined myself that I wouldn't use this space to wax on about Laura's age and how startlingly mature her first album is, but it's impossible to do it justice without noting with wonder the contrast between the youthfulness of its creator and the incredible depth of the songs which populate it. Credit must go to Charlie Fink, whose production is deeply lovely, but it's Marling's record - as complex, romantic and grown-up record as one could possibly desire, and simply chock-a-block full of wondrous songs. Marling's musical ear is superb, her ability to create soaring melodic hooks set against simple, evocative playing, and her lyrics are excellent. If I could only keep one song from every album released this year, it would be 'Your Only Doll', the best song on this terrific, super-consistent record.

1. THE WAVE PICTURES - Instant Coffee Baby
Easily my favourite record of the year. It took me ages to work out the order of the other albums in the top ten (and beyond) but this album's placing was apparent from the day I bought Instant Coffee Baby - it's easily the best record of the year. Given that the Wave Pics have been distributing their music on CD-r for years, it's perhaps a bit much to wax lyrical about how this is a 'debut album', but the fact remains that it came pretty much out of nowhere and contains a chastening lesson in the art of writing vibrant, heart-felt left-field pop. The musical reference points are perfectly straightforward - Hefner, Jonathan Richman and early Dire Straits - but Dave Tattersal's lyrics are what really set the album apart; he's a charming, playful, inventive lyricist, always taking gambles and playing with words, focusing on small events, observations and ideas. He brings the same good-humoured creativity to his lyric-writing as he does to his guitar solos; they're high-spirited, deeply intelligent and terrific fun.

Wave Pictures are my band of the year, and this is the best record of 2008.

Bands who released records that nearly made the list:
Brian Borchedt, Claro Intelecto, Color Cassette, Deerhunter, Desolation Wilderness, Dodos, Elbow, Grouper, High Places, Idle Tigers, Kail, Les Amazones De Guinee, M83, Max Tundra, Portishead, Robert Forster, Roots Manuva, School of Language, Shearwater, Talons, The Week That Was, Tony Allen, Toumani Diabate, Vivian Girls,

Bands who released records that I liked a lot:
The Acorn, Anni Rossi, Black Spade, Bon Iver, Breeders, Brighton MA, British Sea Power, Cause Co-Motion, Don Cavalli, Fleet Foxes, Frokost, Gable, Hercules & Love Affair, Hjaltalin, Hush Arbors, Let's Wrestle, Monkey, Mt Eerie, No Age, Noah & The Whale, Paavaharju, Port O'Brien, Seagull, Stanley Brinks, Walter Becker, Windsurf.

My Top ten of 2007:
1. Field Music - Tones of Town
2. The Good, the Bad and the Queen – s/t
3. Scout Niblett - This Fool Can Die Now
4. PJ Harvey – White Chalk
5. Jeff Lewis – 12 Crass Songs
6. Electrelane - No Shouts, No Calls
7. Burial - Untrue
8. Seabear – The Ghost That Carried Me Away
9. Dinosaur Jr - Beyond
10. Cribs – Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever

on carol thatcher

I am disgusted with the fashion in which the Queen has capitulated to the Golly-hating Nazis at the BBC. I used to admire the Queen till she started pushing the diversity agenda of the lefties, signed the Lisbon Treaty which gave over the country to EU control. The Queen took a coronation oath to serve her country but it seems now she serves herself and the Marxist Government! I urge everyone to complain to the BBC and Buck Palace. Carol Thatcher should not be fired over a private comment about a well-loved toy!
- Pat, Dublin, Ireland, 5/2/2009 22:48

If I write about Carol Thatcher and the fact that the Daily Mail are orchestrating yet another public campaign to influence the perception of, and activities of, the BBC, I know that I am just falling into a helpless trap; giving yet more oxygen to a spurious subject and allowing myself to become enraged by myopic prejudices which are, despite the amount of coverage they generate, largely on the wane.

So its ok for that Jo Brand to make jokes about women and their times of periods and the BBC consider it comedy to be broadcast, also Ross and his twisted idea of filth, but to use the word Golliwog is a sacking offence. I hope the tories when they get in purge the BBC of all the freaks who staff it-
Stephen H Print, Thailand, 5/2/2009 6:35

Yet at the same time it's incredibly hard not to be exercised - and incredibly frustrated - by the whole kerfuffle. The facts as they stand are reasonably straightforward. Carol Thatcher, in conversation with a number of colleagues in The Green Room after a recent appearance on BBC's One show, made a comparison between a black tennis player and a 'gollywog'. Several amongst the number present were upset at this remark, which they interpreted as racist, and the BBC, after failing to extract anything but a very half-hearted apology from Thatcher, decided to terminate her contract with the show.

So all those Enid Blyton books I grew up with will have to be edited now, since golliwog is soooooo offensive?
- nell, sydney, australia, 5/2/2009 5:16

Now, as the comments above demonstrate - which are taken from the Daily Mail website - the right-wing media are swinging behind Thatcher (and most importantly, against the hated BBC) by declaring this a victory for political correctness and a defeat for common sense. So far, so very predictable. Just as the Mail occupied a position of moral authority when it decided that Jonathan Ross (the personification of the vulgar, liberal Briton they deride) had gone too far in his merciless teasing of Andrew Sachs, now they decide that Thatcher has been a victim of the same, ultra-liberal forces. Never mind that Thatcher's comments were arguably much more offensive. In the minds of the Mail, there is no connection between Ross's offensive language and Thatcher's. Far more important is that they hate him, and are like her.

If political correctness means anything, it is that those that practice it believe it important to take care, when using language, not to gratuitously cause offence to others. Ross was scapegoated by the Mail because they considered his words gratuitous and offensive (as indeed they were). Yet nowhere in their coverage was any mention given to the fact that what they were in essence asking him to do was think about what he said and not say things likely to upset others; a classic argument for political correctness. Although their intentions were undoubtedly malicious, and borne out of a hatred of both Ross and the BBC, one couldn't help wondering if the Mail was at last becoming alive to the importance of not abusing, denigrating, offending others.

The Thatcher debacle proves they have learned nothing. Their argument is not for sensitivity, care, thoughtfulness and good manners, but rather for the promotion of their own, highly traditional, values, and the disavowel of any beliefs which contradict them. One can say whatever one likes, and offend whomever one likes, so long as one doesn't depart from little-England prejudices. That Thatcher's colleagues were offended by her words is deemed irrelevant. Much is made of the fact that the racist term was used 'in private conversation', but in fact it took place in the workplace, where no conversation can be considered truly private.

So - I admit that getting worked up about all the above is largely pointless. The Mail will continue to pursue it's agenda, and I will continue to either avoid it, or read it in a fury. What I think is relevant, however, and worthy of conversation, is the increasingly importance being afforded to public complaints and online petitions, and the way that media is able to manipulate stories by encouraging reader participation, and along the way turn minor stories which fit their agenda from trivia into headline news.

If I were asked to name one positive thing about the Daily Mail, I'd say that it's always been a good campaigning paper. It has the ability to flag up bellweather issues and make headway with them, and it's certainly the case that over the years it has been a powerful - if not always positive - lobbying tool. I admired it for its coverage of the murder of Stephen Lawrence and its decision to give away energy-saving lightbulbs to readers.

Nevetheless, its influence in the last six months has been deeply pernicious; by encouraging outrage and fermenting dissatisfaction with the BBC, it's whipping up a frenzy which actually puts the reputation and future of the corporation in some doubt. It's a deeply cynical move driven not purely by this simmering, inconsistent moral outrage, but by the fact that the paper's owners have a vested interest in the demise of its most significant media rival.

More broadly, I'm starting to worry that the Mail, with a reach which far outstretches most of its rivals, is using this sequence of media stories to try to encourage some kind of moral revival, akin almost to religious fundamentalism in the US. Its aims are not journalistic, or even strategic, but rather political - it's putting together a coalition of deeply conservative, disaffected readers (not limited to these shores) who are feeling bold enough to decry not just political correctness but the very notion of anti-racism.

I don't mean to say that the Mail is starting a political party, or stoking the fires of revolution, but just as the arrival of Tony Blair and the revitalised Labour Party turned the nation gently leftwards in the mid-90s, there seems a risk that the right is attempting a similar trick. Unless the Mail's petty concerns and prejudices are combated, there's a risk that this mini-moral revival will drag the country to the right - and that would be a disaster.

I am sick of forever walking on egg shells in case some wimp gets offended by something I inadvertently say or do that they chose to misinterpret so they can play the victim card. I cannot believe all the fuss over an innocent toy and it is a repeat of the Sootygate episode! Golliwogs are not illegal and are found in many homes and I for one still have my old Golliwog from childhood. What next? Will this petty. toy-obsessed Government appoint Golliwog inspectors to break down doors and confiscate all the Golliwogs and Sooties?
- Elaine Worthington, East Sussex, UK, 5/2/2009 21:24