Things that make me go hmmmm – and aarrgghh!

Yeah yeah yeah, been away for ages but now I’m back, baby, and you’re getting it with both barrels.

Because, quite frankly, in the words of the late, great Peter Finch in Network, I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore. And neither, quite frankly, should you.

So here are 3 things that have my blood boiling right now.

1. The privatisation of the Royal Mail

My Facebook status the day Vince Cable announced the Royal Mail is to be sold off read: “The privatisation of the Royal Mail is the dumbest of dumbass ideas from the dumbest government in Christendom. Once again an asset OWNED by us all is to be flogged off for peanuts. We learned nothing from the 80s.”

Will Hutton demolishes the Coalition rationale for the sell-off here. And it is as plain as the nose on George Osborne’s over-privileged face that ideology is the only driving force for this. And in a couple of years’ time when the price of a stamp is 5 or 6 times what it is today, when the universal service that guarantees 6-day delivery and collection even to the most remote parts of these islands has been dumped, when staff jobs have been decimated and new starts are on zero contract hours, when every money-making part of the business has been pimped to the nth degree – then and only then it seems will the majority of us waken from our slumber and say “bloody hell, how could we let this happen?”

Because we ARE letting it happen. Just as with the wholesale privatisation of the NHS in England, the Conservatives (and it’s their gig really, the LibDems are just along for the ride) are going much further than even their great idol Thatcher would have dared because there is no OPPOSITION. Not in Parliament, not in the streets, certainly not in the workplace.

Are we really going to let them get away with this?

2. Welfare reform and the BBC

Last Thursday night marked a new low for the BBC. Not content with wearing the softest of kid gloves when it comes to reporting or analysing Government policy (and providing a regular platform for UKIP, a party with a miniscule amount of voters and no MPs), Auntie hitched up her drawers and came over all righteous and indignant about welfare. Once upon a time we used to refer to this as social security, a term that explained better how a system of state payments helped keep an individual part of the fabric of society and provided security in times of need. Now we’ve not only imported the use of the term “welfare” from the US, we’ve also adopted their sneering regard for its recipients.

The first of 2 hours of jaw-dropping telly was The Great British Budget Menu, which addressed the emotive subject of food poverty by teaming 3 celebrity chefs with 3 people living on the tightest of budgets and had them compete to produce a meal for a celebrity judging panel. When you express its premise as starkly as that, it fair takes the breath away. How on earth did this get commissioned? And then broadcast at primetime? Human suffering as entertainment – go, Auntie.

Twitter was divided between the morally upright who passed judgment on the participants’ lifestyles and intelligence etc and their  inability to feed themselves and their families on fresh air and those who could not quite believe what they were seeing. Dozens of tweets sent me to the blogger A Girl Called Jack. Go read her blog for the reality of life on a budget or surviving (and that’s what it is for most) on welfare, when a food bank or a spoonful of pasta is all that stands between your child and starvation.

Divide and rule. It’s such a blatant trick that it’s actually laughable how well it’s working in modern, sophisticated 21st-century Britain

Having seen dozens of trailers for We All Pay Your Benefits – fronted  by The Apprentice pairing of Nick and Margaret for no obvious reason – I had resolved not to watch. This was supposedly an examination of the benefits system, pitting “hard-working taxpayers” (dear God, if I never see that phrase again, it will be too soon) against benefit recipients so the “strivers” could assess whether the “skivers” were getting too much dosh in their giros (yeah I know giros no longer exist but humour me). Again Twitter kept me fully abreast of developments without me having to fear for my blood pressure any longer.

Here we go again. Divide and rule. For centuries the UK ruling classes have  always managed to keep the great unwashed down by pitching them against each other. If you’ve got a little bit more than your neighbour, it’s in your best interests to keep your little bit more by ensuring they get a little bit less. It’s such a blatant trick that it’s actually laughable how well it’s working in modern, sophisticated 21st-century Britain. Hey, people, hard-working or not, we’re getting shafted again and the culprits are openly mocking you. Talk about hiding in plain sight.

3. The return of sexism (like it ever went away)

Judy Murray’s got a hatchet face. Cathy Jamieson MP is a “stupid woman”. Marion Bartoli is a great tennis player and Wimbledon champion but she’s no Sharapova and must therefore be diminished in our eyes. Andy Murray magnificently won Wimbledon but the 4 British women who had taken the title since Fred Perry in 1936 were wilfully ignored by many, most shamefully by the ludicrously sexist and increasingly pointless David Cameron. Do not adjust your sets, do not check your calendars. This really is 2013 and yet the attitudes are still resolutely Victorian.

Thank the lord then for Grace Dent and for Barbara Ellen and for everydaysexism,com among the many others for calling out the dinosaurs caught in their  time warp of misogyny and chauvinism. And I know it isn’t only women who are offended by this sort of crap because I hear and read enough from men who wish their peers would wise up. If your blood pressure can handle it, read this on Storify, a Twitter conversation between Guardian Comment is Free writer Ally Fogg and a man who really doesn’t like anyone who isn’t him.

Gotta love a Sunday rant. Anyway, today is July 14 – this is Bastille Day. For those who don’t know, this marks the day 224 years when the oppressed people of France rose up against a ruling elite to grab the justice and democracy long denied them #justsaying

Vive la revolution! Liberté, égalité, fraternité pour tout!



One moment in time

I have just emerged from a bubble. A televisual bubble. A sporting feast of a bubble. My name is Fran and I’m an Olympics-aholic.

Phew. London 2012 – you have been pretty damn fine.

Jess and Mo and Kath and Nicola and Greg and Alastair and Jade and Ben and Chris and Victoria and Luke and Ed and Charlotte and Andy.

And Tom and Becky and Zac and Lizzie and Christine … and on and on and on. It’s not an endless list but oh my, it’s a mightily impressive and heart-warming one.

Team GB’s gold, silver and bronze medallists have been an immense source of pride and joy, of punching-the-air and screaming excitement. And of  bucketloads of tears as they strove and strained and succeeded (and at times failed) over the last fortnight.

Every athlete has a back story that is the stuff of Hollywood and every single one of them is a magnificent example of what hard work and determination can do. And of how sport can be a tremendously unifying spectacle.

Better yet, they show us what we can achieve collectively, what our disparate and too often fractured society is still capable of when we have a common goal and the common good in mind.

I was going to dust off my soapbox and indulge myself in a rant about how politicians (ie Cameron and Boris the buffoon) should butt out of sport cos it’s something they knew heehaw about.

And how half-baked ideas about enforcing competitive sport in school is not how we will create the Olympic champions of the future but how sport, especially when you’re a kid, should be about fun and participation and learning how to win and lose with grace and showing respect to your team-mates and opponents.

I was going to talk about how even the Union flag, in my eyes too often a symbol of division and oppression, has suddenly become instead a symbol of togetherness but Musa Okwonga expresses it so much more eloquently than I ever could so go read him instead. And read his beautiful Olympic poem too and Carol Ann Duffy’s too.

Because it’s Sunday morning and I’m still on my Olympics high, that feel-good euphoria that began with Danny Boyle’s endearingly bonkers and hilarious opening ceremony.

(By the way. HM – who knew the old yin had a sense of humour? Even this avowed republican had respect for that little Bond cameo.)

There’s still the closing ceremony to come with its threats or perhaps promise of Chas n Dave performing.

And then what? Back to life, back to reality, I guess – recession and politics and child murders and the Euro and Syria, all of which has been continuing while our gaze has been elsewhere.

Hold on to this feeling, though. Bank these positive emotions in your mind.

And no matter how grim it gets, we will always have Jess and Mo and the rest of our wonderful sports women and men and the spine-tingling memories of a magical and enchanting two weeks.

PS The BBC rose superbly to the challenge of broadcasting every single moment of action – Debbie and I have had our own Olympics battle daily over the remote control to scroll constantly through those 25 dedicated HD channels. Presenters, commentators and expert pundits have been (in the main) superb – Clare Balding, Matt Baker and Jake Humphries, the hilariously dry Michael Johnson, Ian Thorpe and Gabby Logan among my personal favourites.

But oh dear, Gary Lineker. After a pedestrian Euro 2012 with the comfort of his old muckers around him, Lineker was shown up  as a very poor presenter, so far out of his depth that at times it was embarrassing.

PPS I love football and am as prone as the next fan to idolising those who can kick and head a ball well. But oh dear. Compare and contrast our spoiled and pampered footballers with the strength, integrity and dignity of so many of the athletes competing in London 2012. Time for football to remember it’s a sport, not simply a cash machine for young men and the idle rich.


Empty vessels …

I’m in seventh heaven right now with wall-to-wall coverage of Euro 2012. The first week of twice-nightly helpings of action from the group stages has been fantastic with barely a dull game and hunnerza goals.

What’s not to love?

I’ll tell you what’s not to love – the inanity, idiocy and overwhelming vacuousness of the commentators, that’s what.

Now, I know this is nothing new. For decades we’ve been irritated and irked by the guys (and they are always guys, the BBC’s Jacqui Oatley aside – and she’s nowhere to be seen in this tourney) with the mic.

But Euro 2012 has seen the commentary, punditry and analysis plumb new depths. BBC and ITV are equally culpable in assaulting our ears.

For obvious reasons, any commentary of an England game will generally have me climbing the walls within seconds – 1966 and all that. Like all non-England fans, I amuse myself by playing 1966 bingo and ticking off the clichés and patronisingly jingoistic remarks that invariably accompany the Three Lions and their media cheerleaders – you know the script, “England expects”, “the Premier League”, “Hand of God” etc etc.

However, what’s grinding my gears so much this time round is not the waffle and triteness of the commentary but the overwhelming negativity of everyone involved in the TV coverage.

And for me it reached its nadir yesterday with Craig Burley on ITV and Mark Lawrenson on the BBC.

Lawrenson, in fact, achieved what I would once have considered the impossible and actually made me cheer an England goal. Now, that is unforgivable.

I don’t know what Lawro’s problem is either, Theo

The job of a co-commentator is to offer analysis for the viewing public, to enlighten us as to the intricacies of the game from the point of view of someone who played at the highest level – he’s there to explain about formations and tactics, to analyse changes made by the manager and to add colour to the action that we see unfolding in front of us.

If only, if only.

For the last couple of seasons, Burley has been making the ears of ESPN viewers and 5Live listeners bleed with a relentless stream of cynical and snide comments about EVERY game he watches.

The man has nothing positive to say about the game that gave him a bloody good living as a player and is now providing him with a new career. Instead he offers only invective.

Why he’s used by TV and radio producers is beyond me because I cannot recall a single match in which he’s offered any kind of insight or refreshing view of a player or passage of play.

Burley’s other big bugbear is Celtic FC. He played for the club and was part of a team considered legends because they stopped Rangers doing 10 in a row in 1998. Despite that, Burley has nothing good to say about Celtic or any Celtic players and while he’s entitled to his opinion, his job as a match analyst is to be objective about what’s happening right here, right now.

Yesterday his agenda against Celtic was laughingly exposed during coverage of France-Ukraine. Discussing the French midfielder Yann M’Villa who plays his club football with Rennes, Burley claimed M’Vila had bossed Rennes’ Europe League game against Celtic, then sneered “not that that’s hard to do” before then going on to disparage Scottish teams’ performances in Europe.

M’Vila bossing the game all the way to an early bath

Ahem. M’Vila played for Rennes against Celtic in Glasgow. The French lost 3-1 and M’Vila was sent off. The second tie ended in a 1-1 draw in France with Rennes scoring through a comedy own goal by Celtic defender Cha du Ri. Not much evidence of bossing a game going on there, eh Craig?

See what I mean about adding nothing to a game while belittling the sport that made him? Craig Burley is an ignorant arse with zero charm, wit or intelligence. And I’d like him to go away and stop spoiling the game I love.

And now to Mr Lawrenson. Along with his equally negative Match of the Day buddy Alan Hansen, Lawrenson reduces even the most exciting match to coma-inducing dullness.

Like Burley, he has nothing positive to say about any player or goal or tackle or pass – he’s another who is happy to ridicule and belittle what has made him fabulously wealthy. They say empty vessels make the most noise – ain’t that the truth?

Last night Lawrenson had me apoplectic with rage while watching Sweden take on England. I’ve toned down my Anyone But England zeal since getting hitched to one of them* but was (quietly) cheering on Sweden.

Until Lawro – and isn’t that a pathetic nickname for a man in his 50s? – intervened as Theo Walcott came on. His bitter remarks about how Walcott was only there on reputation because of one game a few years ago was the nastiest thing I’ve ever heard from any pundit.

So when Walcott scored a cracking equaliser a couple of minutes later, I let out a roar and bellowed “get it right up ye, Mark Lawrenson!”.

I’m not proud of myself – that kind of language isn’t good in any company – and I’m even less proud of cheering a goal for them but that’s what Lawro provoked in me!

So here’s a suggestion for the blokes (and invariably it will be blokes) who hire these guys. How about using pundits or journalists who might actually like the game of football? Who might actually have something insightful and interesting to say about the matches they’re watching without resorting to tired and lazy clichés?

It’s radical, I know, but it just might work. Sky Sports’ relentless cheerleading and unbridled enthusiasm for football goes over the top in the other direction but there has to be a happy medium.

Check out the wonderfully entertaining podcasts posted weekly by our national newspapers and you’ll find a dozen guys (and gals) there who clearly love and know the game but aren’t afraid to ridicule or criticise when it’s called for.

For now the mute button is firmly on for the rest of Euro 2012 …

*NB this is irony, not racism. And even if it’s not irony, it’s xenophobia, not racism, right? And anyway it’s a joke!