Wednesday, 28 November 2007

If politicians were more honest...

Just in case you're wondering why I've suddenly got all serious, this is a piece that I had to do for my course:

Tony Blair has been economical with the truth through fear of being branded “a nutter”.

In a BBC documentary due to be screened next Sunday, Blair alludes to the fact the true depth of his Christian faith had to be concealed so that the voting public would not lose their faith in him.

Alistair Campbell, Blair’s chief spin doctor for much of his reign as Prime Minister, once stepped in during an interview with Vanity Fair to cut Blair off as he began to answer a question about his religious beliefs.

“We don’t do God”, Campbell reminded him.

Our ex-Prime Minister points out in the documentary that it is acceptable in the US for politicians to talk about their religious convictions without people thinking “you’re a nutter”.

Is this because Americans are more accepting or is it because in America, that is what people want to hear?

It is a much more Christian country and a strong faith is surely a vote winner, particularly in Middle America.

When our leaders have a strong faith such as that shared by Bush and Blair, I want to know about it, particularly when it influences decisions.

Allegedly, in 2003, Bush said, “God told me to end the tyranny in Iraq”.

I have my doubts about this and wondered if “God” was actually Dick Cheney, whispering through the walls of the Oval Office.

Nonetheless, Bush’s faith was clearly a big influence in his decision making here.

Leaving religion aside, I am sure politicians have always said what people want to hear to an extent but currently that leaves us with the two main parties in this country, occupying the same middle ground, sharing policies and pretty much sitting on the fence.

This seems to be a result of Labour and the Tories trying to appeal to everybody, treading carefully and saying what they think the majority want to hear.

Any government in power is too scared to make brave decisions, which may be immediately unpopular but ultimately beneficial over a longer period because they are too focused on what will happen in the next election.

Take the drug laws for example – prescribing heroin on the NHS would solve countless problems, particularly in reducing crime associated with funding a heroin addiction.

Unfortunately, the tabloids would crucify a sensible policy like this and no government in their right mind would implement it because they would simply lose the public’s faith.

Admittedly I have hugely extrapolated Tony Blair’s unwillingness to be frank about his faith, to reflect the greater problem of politicians hiding their true colours.

But maybe if they were more open and passionate about what they really believed in, we in turn could have a political system to believe in.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Arcade Fire at Alexandra Palace 19/11/07

(NB. A student colleague of mine has been threatened with legal action over a comment he made in his blog. Following this, I should point out that the depiction of ticketmaster in this blog is for humorous purposes only and doesn't necessarily reflect how the company actually operates. Although their "handling fees" are extraordinarily high, so too are other ticket distribution companies and this probably reflects what a difficult and complicated process "ticket handling" is. phew.)

Last night, at Arcade Fire's gig in London, I scored a mighty victory against The Man... and accidentally stole free healthcare from some of the planet's poorest people.

The amount of money I've spent on "handling fees" for concert tickets in my time is really quite mind boggling.

A quick estimate shows that I've spent around £6 billion on these dastardly fees. (N.B. I added in a multiplication factor called, Hatred Of Money Grabbing Fuckwits - it turns out that this figure was quite large)

Managing Director of Ticketmaster, giving a motivational speech (I think)

As the rain lashed down upon one of North London's highest points, where Alexandra Palace sits and looks out across the city, I arrived ticketless to see one of my favourite bands.

Despite the concert selling out some time ago, I had read rumours that some more tickets were being released for sale on the door.

With this in mind, I looked to those bastions of good will, the touts (scalpers to any Americans out there) for some cut-price tickets.

Bearing in mind I could get face value entry to the venue through official sources, I thought they'd be up for giving me a good price.

They just lied to me though and said there weren't any tickets on the door, but how about a special price of £45?

I can't really blame them though as they do have families of snakes to feed. Probably.

Slightly worried that they were telling the truth (I can't help trusting gold-toothed criminals), I headed to the entrance to find out if I could still get a ticket from the box office.

Hallelujah! They still had them but I didn't have enough cash and they didn't accept cards.

I was directed past the ticket-collectors to a cash machine.

Once I had the well earned readies in my hand (thank you student loans), I turned around and realised I didn't need them anymore.

The astute among you will have noticed that I said they directed me past the ticket collectors to the cash machine - I was already inside!

I almost laughed at the woman in the cloakroom who took £4 from me to deposit my bag and coat.

An astonishing figure to look after my stuff for an hour and a half but much easier to swallow when you paid nothing to get in.

Seeing bands in massive venues is about as electric as the stone age.

I always get disappointed when I go to see a band that I really like and the soul-sapping enormodomes suck the life out of the performance.

After the first couple of songs last night, I was ready for that familiar, lifeless experience.

Win Butler, the lead singer of Arcade Fire, sarcastically told the audience he was blushing as a result of the adulation he was receiving from them.

His words echoed around the silent, cavernous hall.

Things seriously warmed up though and by the end I think the band were genuinely humbled by the audience reaction.

Butler said that the band wouldn't be playing in the UK for a long time and the gig certainly had an 'end-of-term' feel about it with what appeared to be roadies joining them on stage for the final song.

Hopefully they are taking time out to go and write the greatest album of all time.

A small pang of guilt came over me when Butler announced that a chunk of the ticket price was helping to give free health care to people in Haiti.

He sure knows how to kill a mood.

The ridiculous state of the transport links across North London meant that I had a long journey home in the pissing rain.

I don't know if it was the general euphoric glow from the gig, giving me rose-tinted judgment but I really enjoyed the packed train journey home.

Sardine tins don't even come close to describing it and all I can say is that the Japanese would have been proud.

Amid the faintings though, was some great banter.

Yes, English humans, from London of all places, were interacting with each other as if talking was about to be banned.

If commuter trains were that much fun, I'd move to Aberdeen and still come to University in London every morning.

Well maybe not Aberdeen.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Medical Journalism Awards

On Monday night, I attended the Medical Journalism Awards.

Being the only person at Westminster University doing medical journalism, I was invited by my tutor to come along on my own to gorge myself on canapes and free booze.

If you're wondering whether it's possible to "gorge" yourself on tiny canapes, I can confirm that yes, it is.

Without wanting to detract from the awards themselves, I learnt some valuable life skills on Monday, mostly revolving around eating canapes.

As I arrived, it was easy enough to get myself a glass of wine because they were given to us on the way in.

I found it equally easy to get my glass filled up when it was empty.

However, despite occasionally spotting distant plates of food, wafting among the guests like butterflies (butterflies that I wanted to eat, desperately), trying to actually get my hands on some grub felt like chasing rainbows (tasty rainbows - like skittles but not like skittles, more like burgers).

The main reason I was told to come along to the awards was so that I could 'network'.

My current situation was making this difficult as the mighty booze/food-scales-of-dignity were becoming alarmingly unbalanced due to an empty stomach.

Mild panic set in as it seemed that the food had dried up.

Looking around, all I could see were empty plates or dead, moldy, inedible butterflies if you prefer.

The booze kept coming.

Now, I know what you're thinking - "why don't you just stop drinking?"

Ok, good idea but ringing in my ears were Andrew Marr's words - "Journalism and alcohol go together like betting and racehorses".

Whether this was criticism of his profession or advice to aspiring hacks, I can't be certain but I thought it was best to play safe and get really pissed.

Anyway, just in time, loads more food started pouring into the elegant hall where the awards were held and this time I was ready to stop being polite and elbow my way to the nosh.

I think this took the edge off of my slurring and I could start talking to potential employers again.

Some thoroughly delightful people who had done the Medical Journalism course at Westminster were there and one of them was Ashley Mckimm, who started the website

He has already sent me an email offering me some work which is rather splendid.

It just made me think about the opportunities that this course offers, having seen what former students have gone on to do and also the chances I am already getting to write in professional publications.

If anyone comes across this blog after googling medical journalism or something, feel free to get in touch to ask me what the course is like.

It's a wonderful opportunity to do something completely different away from your medical school and even if you don't become a journalist, it will give you great writing and presentation skills which are invaluable to a doctor.

I'll try and write a little bit more about the great stuff we are doing on the course in the future.

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Super Furry Weekend

I hate blogs where people who aren't very interesting write about their boring lives.

Oh well, here goes:

My entertainment this weekend was pretty much curated by the Welsh band, Super Furry Animals.

I have had the pleasure of watching this band for quite some time now and I reckon I've probably notched up about 15 SFA gigs.

Sad isn't it.

In the past, these concerts have featured yeti's, power rangers, wrestlers and occasionally even musicians.

Friday night's gig at the Roundhouse in Camden was slightly more low-key, although the crowd were treated (subjected?) to an interlude featuring comedy-rappers, Goldie Lookin' Chain.

After the gig, I had a mildly unfortunate incident as a result of having booze clouded judgement.

TV and Radio's Richard Bacon was wandering the streets of Camden and having noticed him, I summoned all my tact and grace before pointing out, "you're that guy that used to be on TV"

I then made reference to what the tabloids would call, "his drugs shame".


On Saturday, the party continued as the Super Furry Animals hosted a warehouse party in Elephant and Castle.

There were DJ sets from some members of the band, including a particularly eclectic choice of records by lead singer, Gruff.

I think it's become a bit of a cliche to talk about eclecticism in music.

It's a lazy way of saying, "I'm not really sure what it was but I think it was good".

Ok, I'll have a bash at describing it:

- There was African tribal music - a staple surely, of any electic set.

- There was foot stomping folk of the variety that makes you dance like a buck-toothed hillbilly on a gallon of premium cider.

- There was a gentle, sing-a-long cover of a Super Furry Animals song which happens to be in Welsh (all Super Furry Animals fans are fluent in Welsh).

Techno DJ and producer, Andy Weatherall was also there to shake the cobwebs from our dancing shoes.

Despite a surplus of Super Furry hi-jinx, like any good junkie, I'm already thinking about my next hit.

I plan to spend my new year at this.