The Boomerang Effect of Technology. Or how the more they throw stuff away, the more it hits you in the back of the head.

I was rummaging in the attic the other day, and I found one of these.

I got it in a goodie bag as a prize for sitting through an awards ceremony without starting a food fight.  Goodie bags are the awards equivalent of toddler smilies on fridgies: patronising, yes, but by God they work.

The last time I tried to use this digital radio it sounded like John Humphrys was being strangled by his own stomach lining, so it was quickly consigned to the Big Box of Crap.  Hey ho, I thought, as I dusted it off; it’s been ten years since I switched this thing on; surely technology has moved on?  I mean, thanks to all those accommodating churches and primary schools, you’re never more than thirty feet from a transmitter mast…

So I tried it again, and this time John Humphrys sounded like he was coughing up one of his lungs, which didn’t sound quite so terminal, so I suppose it was an improvement of a kind.  Given the march of technology, I think it will be the early 22nd century before you can listen to a whole interview with Kenneth Clarke before he starts to sound like Zelda’s son from ‘Terrahawks’.

Back into the Big Box of Crap it went, next to the larger digital radio which proved to be as incoherent as an ITV football pundit.  Back to listening to my clear-sounding no-frills analogue radio, at least that will never let me down.

Famous last words alert!

Be quiet, old man, and use your huge whiskery ears to listen to this message from the FUTURE.  Analogue is dead and digital radio is NOW, so it is decreed.  Just like digital television; that white-hot cutting edge technology that can take an axe to your favourite programme and chop it into screaming pixels at the first gust of wind, and allows you to toast the chimes of new year about twenty minutes after everybody else.

I’m not sure when rubbish technology got to be made compulsory.  They didn’t confiscate all our cars in 1984 and force us to scuttle around in Sinclair C5s, so I don’t know why it’s the case now.

Ha!  I’m only fooling with you.  Of course I know why it’s the case now.  It’s the cash-hungry politicians of course, lured by the siren songs of huge-breasted men in ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ t-shirts, telling them (and us) that the Next Big Thing is so good, that we won’t need the Last Big Thing any more.  Kindle signified the end of print, and the internet killed television.  And it’s true.  How do I know?  I read it in a paper, and saw a programme about it on the telly.

It’s not just politicians that share in this conspiracy; the evil empire of Curry’s keeps shoving us down technological paths we’ve shown no enthusiasm for, and to make sure we get with the program they take away what we had before so we’ve no choice but to consume more metal boxes that don’t quite work when we get them home.   How apt that they’re using ‘Star Wars’ for their advertisments now;  surely it must have been Curry’s that sold the Emperor the same crappy Death Star twice over in seven years.  I bet he wanted a nice plain doughnut shaped space station that would last a bit.

'Tell your grandad they just don't make them anymore, sir.'

They push us in a direction, and it’s always circular, round and back to the same thing we sort-of owned before but slightly worse; lowering our expectations so that we get excited by the journey back to where we were.  I remember getting terribly thrilled when I bought a recordable DVD player only to sheepishly remember that I was perfectly able to record television programmes in the 80s; the introduction of DVDs had forced me to drop the habit.  It’s like hiding a stick behind your back before throwing it to a dog.

DOG THINKS: Yay!  A stick!  We’ve got a stick!  I love sticks!

(Owner hides stick behind back)

DOG THINKS: You know what this walk needs?  Something to add a bit of fun and excitement.

(Owner produces stick from behind back)

DOG THINKS:  My dog, what’s that?  Is that what I think it is?  They’ve finally developed the  i-stick 2.0!  I hear that you can actually retrieve it AFTER you’ve had it thrown for you!

Remember the lies they threw at us?  How digital radio would feel like Chris Moyles was there with you, playing records in your own room (okay, that was more of a threat), how CDs were completely and utterly indestructible, and would  play ‘Dire Straits’ even after being smeared with Nutella and fired into the heart of a supernova?   How digital television would provide us with some kind of choice about what to watch, and not 83 channels of strange orange ladies flogging us stuff (yes, I’m looking at you QVC and Babestation)?  Lies, all lies.  The promises are all broken, all that’s left is stuttering and a big ‘ERR’.

Here is a perfect example of circular innovation.  In the 80s I used to listen to a cassette radio in my kitchen, a tinny little thing playing tinny little tunes.  I recorded the bits on the radio between Jimmy Savile’s incontinent waffle, and made my own playlist.  And then came the ‘better’ radio (which broke), the CD player (which couldn’t record), the MP3 (which no-one bothered to make discs for), and now for convenience sake I just put my i-phone on; a tinny little thing playing tinny little tunes – with my own playlist.

Round and round we go, in all areas of our life.  Things are lost just so we can find them again.  Swanky new bottled water (with a hint of fruit) tastes like the weak orange juice we used to get in cold village halls in the 70s; 3D Movies are the latest thing, unless you’re over forty and have a memory (I’m sure ‘The Artist’ Oscar will probably usher in a new wave of cutting edge silent black-and-white movie technology.  WORDS THAT APPEAR ON THE SCREEN AS THEIR MOUTHS OPEN! etc).  Greece will suddenly get excited by the idea of having their own currency.  Call it the drachma, why don’t you?

Twitter and Facebook keep de-evolving into prehistoric versions of themselves, so they can have the power to gift their bits back to us.  It would be like an evil worldwide version of George Lucas, were it not that George Lucas has already got to the metaphor first, cornering the market in being an evil worldwide version of himself.

And so it goes on.   The Boomerang effect.  They’ll chuck away what you’re using now and hit you with the same thing in the back of the head, and get you to pay for the privilege like red-eyed junkies.  And it bloody well works.  I’d certainly pay real money to have hotmail back without sodding skydrive.  I suppose nuclear weaponry is the ultimate circular innovation; use this most AMAZINGLY sophisticated device once, and hey presto!  We all start appreciating pencils and cutlery and fire again.

And what’s the betting Curry’s will stop stocking spoons, and tell you there’s no demand for them anymore…

A local branch of Curry's, yesterday.


Tony Blair’s dancing men.

Watching the excellent ‘Borgen’ last night reminded me of this…

The dance of Spin Doctors is a wondrous thing to watch; one of the most beautiful and terrifying things in the world, like killer whales fellating each other on icebergs, or silverback gorillas cuddling David Attenborough.

I’ve only ever seen it once close up.  I wish I’d brought my camera.  Or a net.

A few years back, Tony Blair had agreed to appear in a sketch for ‘Children in Need’, involving another version of himself, or to be more precise, Jon Culshaw in a wig.  As head writers for ‘Dead Ringers’ we were charged with writing a sketch showing, for the very first time, the two faces of Tony Blair (ahem).

I can’t remember the details of the sketch, but I’m sure it was going to be a frightfully fun wheeze where Blair would meet Blair, there would be some jokes about how to work out which one of the two was fake (ahem), the VT would end and we’d cut straight to some Estate Agents freezing their knackers off in a Cardiff football stadium and waggling a huge cheque, or something.

The Prime Minister’s office said that Blair was up for anything.  Anything, right chaps?  After all, it was for charity, and ver lickle children, dontcha know.

Another Tony Blair, yesterday.

We wrote a sketch, foolishly, naively, taking them at their word.  Now don’t get me wrong; we didn’t have Blair humping the body of John Smith while dressed in a Thatcherite hair-helmet and pearls, or anything like that.  We weren’t eejits and we wanted this to happen just as much as anyone – for ver lickle children, you understand.

The sketch was, by and large, respectful of the office of the Prime Minister; with one or two slightly cheeky lines that we thought would be the basis of negotiation.

And we were right.  The ‘up for anything’ pledge vanished as swiftly and as silently as a commitment to ban advertising in sport, and then the negotiations started.  This had to be taken out, that gag wasn’t acceptable, no to this joke, no to that joke…blah blah blah.  Or, if you’d rather, Blair Blair Blair.

We made the changes and sent it back.

Then there was an explosion of outrage from number ten!


Someone had LEAKED the fact that TB was going to be on CIN!

They raged.  They ranted.  They made poor Pudsey’s ears burn.  How dare the Bolshevik Broadcasting Corporation do this!  Deal off, old boy!  Not doing it now!  Not playing!  And that was it.  We were left on the floor trying to put our stuffing back in.

Now here’s the thing: I’m certain the ‘Children in Need’ office didn’t leak it.  The CIN people are the most honest, diligent, dedicated people you could find, and if there’s a condition of secrecy, they’d ruddy well keep it secret.  They’d kept far bigger secrets than this, and there has never been any leaking from them – apart from this incident, strangely enough.

We, on the other hand, weren’t the most honest, diligent, dedicated people you find, but why would we leak the fact that Tony Blair was on Children In Need, when we’re in the process of writing a sketch that would work MUCH MUCH better if the fact that Tony Blair on Children in Need was a big, big surprise?

Of course there was a third possibility; another bunch of people who could have leaked it, and of course we realised when, after the project was pronounced deader than Harriet Harman’s eyes, they came back to us three days later with an ‘all right then, we’ve had a think, and even though you’ve been very naughty, we’ll do it, but this time we’ll do it right, and this time YOU’LL do it right’.

We realised we were being played; there seemed a distinct whiff that some well-groomed haircut had sat down at a mahogany desk, and thought silkily to himself, as he played with a silver letter opener with his long manicured fingers: ‘Okay.  So if we leak it, we get publicity for being nice for ver lickle children, we blame someone else so we don’t look crass in advertising the fact, and blame the EVIL BBC so we get leverage in the forthcoming negotiations of how brilliant Tony is going to look in this sketch.’

It felt like we’d got on a tube for a nice ride to somewhere fun, but found ourselves sitting on someone else’s discarded McDonald’s wrappers.  This was not our world.  This was not the dance we expected to dance; we didn’t have this problem when Adrian Chiles came on the show, for crying out loud…

So we danced the dance, and did our rewrites and then thought, once again, foolishly and naively, that this was the end of the matter.  And it was.

…Until the day of the recording.

Because Spin Doctors love to dance, and the music hadn’t stopped just yet.

The day of the recording was a complete ambush.  Jon Culshaw turned up on the set, only to find that Blair’s spin-doctors had ‘had a bit of a think’ and had written THEIR OWN sketch, to be performed instead of ours.

Of course Jon stood his corner.  Not only had he not rehearsed this sketch, stuffed into his hands with a nanosecond’s notice, he had a huge loyalty to the Dead Ringers team and the writers, and resented the way the whole thing had been handled.  Did these number ten functionaries think they were comedians all of a sudden? (ahem)  So up brewed a fight, an argument so synthetic you could have served it up to me in 1978 instead of Bird’s angel delight and Puffa Puffa Rice, and I would have choked on the E numbers.

And in amidst this artificial spat strode Tony Blair, the peacemaker in chief.


He was very charming, and he didn’t know what this was all about, and was sure there was some sort of mistake somewhere, and he was sure that he could sort something out.  And they did.

Of course, to create a ‘third way’, both sketches got discarded, and replaced with a little bit of nothingness, and then Blair went on to do the speech he wanted to make all along, with Jon standing on the sidelines.  To Jon’s enormous credit he didn’t take it lying down, and kept spontaneously interrupting the speech with helpful ‘coaching tips’ for the real Blair, telling the Prime Minister when to say ‘in a very real sense’.

It was the funniest thing about the piece, in a very real sense.

So that’s how they dealt with one charity sketch.  God knows how they behaved when they came across anything resembling a policy.  No one begrudges a political party a means to present themselves in the right light; but using spin-doctors as a political tool is like using a tin opener to stir soup.  They have only one job; and they approach that job the same way every time.  They brief against, they run whispering campaigns, they find leverage, they ambush, they trample over everything in their rush to create the ‘right’ image, and leave behind them a fine inedible paste which you would only feed to toddlers.

They dance.