Sunday 14 September 2008

From the Antipodes to Wall Street, via Wessex

14st 2lb; 3.0 units of alcohol yesterday; 1,240; virtually New Zealand.

I decided to JFDI when I woke at 6.30 this morning, having had the six hours sleep I know I require. So I put a match to the carefully laid fire in my study and got stuck into some dull but necessary paperwork. Around 8 a.m. the little Skype symbol on my computer started dancing up and down, and I decided not to ignore it for once. So I found myself sitting at my desk in my dressing gown, conversing via video link with a bloke sitting in his dressing gown at a desk in New Zealand. It wasn’t a pretty sight for either of us, and he soon came up with the plausible suggestion that we should switch to audio-only mode, as sending the pictures was slowing down our connection. Phew. In total he must have devoted a couple of hours to explaining how my Mac actually worked, and directing me to downloads that would make it work even better. Which was most kind and helpful of him. And, from my point of view, much the most useful thing I accomplished all day.

The evening turned out to be rather depressing. For a start, it hardly raised the spirits to note that it was now pitch dark before 8 p.m. Then the BBC’s new adaptation of Tess of the d’Urbervilles was hardly a laugh a minute, though I suppose no-one in their right mind who had ever read any Thomas Hardy would actually expect it to raise even a hint of a smile. It must be 35 years since I read the book, and certain scenes still stick in the mind, though very few of them seemed to feature in tonight’s opening episode, apart from the initial encounter between drunken Pa Durbeyfield and the local vicar. It all looked very pretty, but they must surely have made extensive use of computer animation to excise unpleasant and inauthentic features of the contemporary Dorset landscape, assuming of course that the bloody thing was actually filmed there at all. I have no recollection of reading about girls in improbably clean white frocks dancing around a mildly phallic standing stone on a clifftop, which seemed to be the principal leisure activity in the area. It looked more like The Wicker Man than Tess of the d’Urbervilles to me, and I kept expecting the camera to cut to Edward Woodward in a cage, screaming. That might have been an improvement, now I come to think of it.

Then there was the news, with The Honourable Robert Peston gleefully announcing the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Can there ever have been anyone in the history of broadcasting who has derived more obvious pleasure from the delivery of bad news? He clearly wanted to make our flesh creep, but for me he does that anyway just through his cringe-making and scarcely credible lack of skill before a camera. When I was a PR man, we used to send clients for something called media training before they were grilled on the box about why they were closing factories or killing consumers with their dodgy products. It usually did some good. But presumably the powers-that-be have tried that with their Business Editor, and it has not worked. Perhaps indeed he has had so much of it that he has developed a resistance to it, like one of those hospital superbugs that laughs off even the most powerful antibiotics. The only good thing to be said for him – apart from the fact that he is absolutely terrific at landing important scoops, which is no small asset in a journalist – is that he provides living proof that, in some areas at least, the BBC is prepared to look beyond such shallow things as physical beauty, a winning smile and clear diction when deciding who is qualified to deliver the news to us poor saps who are compelled to pay for its services.

Though, if given the choice of replacing Peston with slightly less-up-to-date business news read off a Reuters terminal by a lisping Page Three girl, I must confess that I would want to think long and hard before casting my vote. And it might well come down to whether or not she was wearing the top half of her bikini.

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