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Two months in and ITV's attempt at prime time Saturday night football has failed miserably. Why? Firstly, the timing. Some have suggested that the target audience are out at that time. In my opinion, the majority are in fact still in, getting ready for their night out and would indeed watch it given some quality (see below). The real audience problem is with the 25+ male, with a partner or family who (quite reasonably) want to watch something together rather than giving up the sofa to the beautiful game. Maybe ITV's move to a later slot will work, but they will need some sweeping changes to win back the ex-Match of the Day viewers. I am among many who find The Premiership almost unwatchable due to the length and frequency of advert breaks. No doubt some make the effort to video it and fast-wind through the breaks; the same people presumably wind on through the 'expert analysis' from the unbearably smug McCoist and Venables double act. As for Andy Townsend's 'tactics truck', well, frankly I feel sorry for him. Verdict: a lot of work to do.
A cynical reviewer might take the constant references to America in Frank McCourt's "Angela's Ashes" as a bow to the US buyer; I prefer to think that his birth in New York really did have that big an effect on his childhood. "Ashes" is the story of McCourt's 'miserable Irish Catholic childhood' in Limerick, the deaths of his siblings, his schooling and entering into the world of work as a telegraph runner. Written as a first person narrative, without the aid of any speech marks, it can occasionally be hard to follow. That said, the reader is given a real insight into the pain - a pain often heightened by the naivety of youth - that Frank suffered. He also reminds us of many of the questions we had in our own childhoods, in trying to understand the complex workings of the adult world. Well worth a read.
Before writing of my experience with Ryanair, I should emphasise it is limited to one route - three return journeys from Bristol to Dublin. That said, I have spoken to others who have had similar, excellent journeys elsewhere. Only two of the six flights were delayed, and then by less than an hour. The airline strongly encourages travellers to book direct with them over the internet. The value can be exceptional, with certain flights available for around ten pounds sterling. To get the best deals you have to be flexible, and on return journeys normally have to stay at your destination two nights or more. Flying can often be a sensible alternative to car, bus or train. Many people are sceptical about how they can afford to virtually give away the tickets, and the answer is simple: Ryanair gets a share of money made by people booking rental cars or hotels at their destination. If they meet your requirements, go ahead and book - if not, just take the cheap flights! Of course by paying less there are limitations. Your ticket is non-transferable, non-refundable so you lose out if you can't travel for any reason. The cabins are more cramped than on more expensive airlines and if you buy snacks or drinks on board you pay through the nose. However, since Ryanair currently fly only to European destinations you can probably manage without. In summary, as a flexible tourist you can get some excellent deals for holidays or short breaks. Take a look at their website and you may get a pleasant surprise.
As a student - and therefore, by definition, an alcoholic on a budget :-) - much time and effort has been put into finding the cheapest and most efficient ways of getting alcohol into the system, preferably minimising hangovers at the same time! At present the drink of choice is White Lightning Cider. It is available from most supermarkets and many smaller stores at varying prices but if you shop around you should find a three liter bottle for under £3. This is actually marked as 2 liters with 50% extra free, but it's been like that since I can remember! At 7.5% abv, that's a heck of a lot cheaper per unit alcohol than anything else I've been able to find. As it happens, it doesn't taste too bad either! It might be a little dry for those used to more popular brands of cider (Strongbow springs to mind) but I find it most acceptable. Students take note!
On a recent supermarket trip I was examining the drinks section, looking for a reasonably cheap cider. The stock was running low, and many brands were out of stock, but quite a few bottles of Dry Blackthorn were left. That evening I found out why. The colour (a dark brown) is enough to put you off before even tasting it. Let it, because after taking a sip you'll want to pour the whole bottle down the sink! Imagine every horrible medicine you took as a kid mixed into one, and this is worse. I imagine there must be some people out there who enjoy this - either gluttons for punishment or who have had their tastebuds removed, I assume - because presumably it keeps selling. I can't recommend this to my worst enemy, because I'd get murdered afterwards.
The premise of the Digiguide system is simple: a computerised version of the Radio Times/TV Times/other listings magazines are available. You download the (small) Windows program and then, at fortnightly intervals, log onto the internet to download the listings for the channels you have elected to view. Once downloaded you have a choice of viewing options. You have a 'planner' view, showing all selected channels in a timeline format across the screen, or a 'Daily' view which shows individual channels in a format similar to a normal listings magazine. The planner view is the more useful, as you can see all your couch potato options simultaneously. Not only that, but you can colour-code types of programme (eg Drama, Sit-com, Film) making your favourite genres easier to pick out. If you have specific shows you enjoy you can make them 'favourites', adding them to your 'What's on View', your personal daily selection. You can also set an alarm to remind you before a programme starts. One great feature of Digiguide is the 'Smart Search'. You can set up 'standing orders' which automatically highlight (and add to What's On) listings including specific text. For example, if you are a big fan of Jodie Foster you can be automatically notified of any film in which she stars. Initially Digiguide is downloaded for free as a trial version, but after a few weeks you are barred from viewing the summaries of each programme. The cost to enable this is a mere £4.99 for one year (less than 10p a week!) and is definitely worth it. All in all, Digiguide is a cheaper option than buying a weekly magazine and has the benefit of only showing the channels you have or are interested in. This, plus the search facilities, make it a five star utility.
When Brian Sibley was given the opportunity to write a radio play of JRR Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings his reaction must have been one of - in equal measure - excitement and panic. The three volume epic is without doubt one of the classic fantasy novels of all time but, well, it's a three volume epic! Even with thirteen hours of Radio 4 airtime to play with, a lot was going to have to be cut. Some diehards will be miffed by the dropping of 'minor' characters such as Tom Bombadil, but it must be remembered that to dramatise the entire book 'uncut' would have been totally impractical; it will be interesting to see how the three upcoming films deal with the problem. So leaving that aside, what do we have? Firstly, probably one of the most impressive casts ever assembled for a radio play: Ian Holm as Frodo, Michael Hordern's Gandalf, Peter Woodthorpe's slimy, creepy Gollum/Smeagol, and the wonderfully talented late John Le Mesurier as Bilbo are just some of the excellent actors involved. The language of Middle Earth is complex, and there are probably as many pronunciations of names especially as there are readers of LotR. Christopher Tolkien, son of JRR, assisted with this and indeed this dramatisation has probably played a big part in 'defining' the dialect. Music also plays a big part, and is especially well composed and sung. It cannot be denied that a complex plot such as that found in LotR can be tricky to follow, even in a cut down format. This is not light listening, especially if you haven't read the book. Also, the nature of a fantasy beast is the contrast in sound levels - from soft whispers to crashes and screams. My advice, therefore, is to put time aside especially to listen, rather than doing other things simultaneously as you might with other audio books or the radio. You won't regret it! So, what's the catch? There's only one: the price. At £50 for the tapes or 75 big ones for a CD version, this doesn't come cheap, but there are far worse places to put your hard earned cash - I've lost count of the number of times I've listened all the way through.
When they dished out the locations for US cities, Las Vegas wasn't at the back of the queue - it didn't even bother turning up! In the desolate desert of southern Nevada, with a few small hills thrown in, this city should by rights have nothing worth writing about. What it does have, though, is the State of Nevada's gambling laws, which mean that it has probably the greatest concentration of casinos west of Monte Carlo. And as a result, an incredible visitor turnover through the airport and the freeway from Los Angeles. If you drive into the city you come out of the desert into the frankly depressing suburbs, but can't miss the massive hotels off to one side of the interstate. I suggest that you find your accomodation (you MUST stay overnight to get the full experience!), have a meal, and then drive down 'The Strip' once it gets dark. As you pass hotel/casino after casino/hotel, you can't help but gasp: not only at how bright it all is, but just how TACKY!!!! Theme hotels, from Circus Circus to New York New York, abound, all in equally bad taste... Then leave the car and wander through the casinos. If, like me, gambling isn't really your thing, drop a few quarters into the machines and move on, laughing at the intensity of American visitors staring at their screens. Grab a drink, watch the 'volcano' and 'pirate battle' outside and, sometime in the early hours, head back to your hotel. Las Vegas isn't really a place for the kids, but if you have them head for Circus Circus: plenty of entertainment aimed at minors (under 21, remember). In the morning, for some light relief, drive a few miles out to the Hoover Dam and the massive recreation area created by it. The huge (and I mean HUGE) lake, stuck in the middle of the desert, is a sight to behold. Nice to visit, but you would NOT want to live there!
I first visited the Grand Canyon some ten years ago, but recently went back with some friends who had no idea what to expect. We drove to the first lookout and guided them, eyes closed, to the edge. The look in their eyes when they saw it spoke volumes - which was good, because they didn't say anything for long minutes. That's the thing with the Grand Canyon: it is just really, really BIG. Big on a scale that we can't imagine from natural features in the UK. I can't describe it, and photos won't do it justice. It is one of those few things that everyone has to see at some point in their life. Cut by the Colorado River through the high desert of Arizona, thousands of meters deep and over two hundred miles long, the National Park covers the length of the canyon and much of the land to either side. Most of the facilities are based on the South Rim, which is more accessible. You can visit the North Rim as well, but to visit both involves a very long journey around, and it is closed due to snow in winter. It is possible to walk to the bottom of the canyon, but this involves camping overnight and booking well in advance. Whilst a great experience, I wouldn't recommend this on a first visit unless you are an experienced hiker. You can however make a day hike down the side of the upper canyon, at the base of which is a wide plain before you reach the much narrower lower canyon. This I would highly recommend to anyone. This is a year-round attraction, but the best time to visit is in early spring when there is still snow on the ground. It won't be unpleasantly hot, there will be fewer tourists, and you can feel the incredible increase in temperature as you descend a little way down. Camp if you can: the charges for staying in hotel accomodation are horrendous. It is possible to stay outside the Park, but it is a long way to any large towns or cities, so it will seriously shorten your stay. If you are ever within a thousand miles of the Grand Canyon. I promise you, you will have a memory to last forever.
Having lost a great deal of their live sport in the last four years, the BBC desperately needed to make a good job of their coverage of the Sydney Olympics, and to their great credit they did. Normally the blanket live coverage necessary causes the scheduling people nightmares as all other programming has to be shoved aside for a fortnight. Though not great for viewing figures, the live action has mostly been in the small hours and everything finished by mid-day. Though the BBC had an afternoon show with further recorded coverage and an evening highlights show, it meant that few compromises had to be made. It would be very easy to focus exclusively on British competitors but, though naturally covering all our people well, the Beeb spent much air time showing obscure events featuring other countries. One of the great things about the Olympics is that we can all enjoy sports as varied as boxing, fencing, baseball and judo, as well as the more mainstream athletics, rowing and swimming. The team of commentators and presenters assembled had been superb, with the right mixture of professional broadcasters and ex-sports people. Particular credit must be given to John Inverdale, a superb presenter regularly working through the Aussie late night show, and Roger Black, who, if I didn't know better, I would believe to be a long-time TV presenter and not an ex-athlete. I do have one question though? Why did the presenters in the stadium have to use those giant hand-held microphones all the time? They were in a fixed area, on-screen for minutes at a time. Surely they could have used the standard clip-on microphones? Maybe I'm wrong, but it bugged me! In general, though, Well Done BBC!!!
Alex Ferguson is without any shadow of a doubt the most successful football manager of the last twenty years, and 'Managing My Life' chronicles his career, first as a distinctly average player and then as an increasingly impressive manager. This book is required reading for anyone interested in football today, since no-one can ignore the man's influence on the game. Unfortunately, though interesting, it is not particularly well written. In my opinion one can get a good idea of the ability of an autobiographer from the number of times he uses the words 'I' and 'my', and Ferguson uses them more than most: I did this, I did that, my view was the other. Parts of the later chapters smack of arrogance: 'We had to be satisfied with a draw against...', 'I knew that [a player] was good enough [even though he had a bad game]', and so forth - he rarely acknowledges that on the day the other side was better than Manchester United! He is also unreasonably scathing about the press and pundits when they criticise him, given that he plays to them so much when successful. Any United fan, indeed any football fan, will find the book interesting, but I wouldn't call it a pleasurable book to read.
There is a growing trend amongst still playing footballers to write (or have ghost-written) their autobiographies. Often these players are in their mid-twenties and have done nothing with their life but play in matches for club and country, with the result that the book consists of chapter after chapter reading 'We played so and so next, I scored a goal and the gaffer was very pleased'. There have been some pleasant exceptions however, and 'Addicted' is one of these. There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, Adams is a good deal older than many well known players, which gives him that much more to write about! More importantly, though, Adams is obviously a highly intelligent man who is trying to make some serious points to his readers. His story is not just one of football, but of human weakness. The descriptions of his falling into alcoholism are moving, all the more so because the reader realises that anyone, not just those with celebrity status, are vulnerable. Adams does point out that footballers are particularly susceptible, having the bad combination of a lot of money and a great deal of spare time, but he makes it clear that anyone could fall foul of this disease. On a happier note, Adams also chronicles his highly successful career with Arsenal and England. As a captain and defender, he gives a better insight into the modern game than many others have managed to do, and his book holds interest all the way through. 'Addicted' is a well-written book that will interest those with even a mild knowledge of football.
At the start of the 2000/2001 season Paul Jones was replaced in goal by Neil Moss after a shaky start. However, he regained his place and was an ever present for the remainder of the season. Jones, ex-farmer and current Welsh International first choice goalie, was the first choice for all of the previous season until he was injured playing for his country. Moss came in and acquitted himself extremely well, so much so that many fans were surprised when 'Jonah' came back in for the first game this season. No-one questions Jones' ability at shot-stopping: in this he is amongst the best in the Premiership. He is also an exceptional penalty-saver. His downfall is in his problems with crosses, whether from corners or open play; he tends to come for the ball, flap wildly, and then as often as not rely on his defenders to clear up afterwards. Rumours abounded, probably not totally unfounded, that the players have little confidence in Jones because of this - and certainly the fans were having nervous breakdowns every time the ball is crossed into the penalty area. His distribution also left much to be desired, and a reliance on left-footed kicking (unconvincing in itself) has led to one or two defensive disasters. Neil Moss's main problem, on the other hand, is hardly his own fault: he is one of the most vertically challenged 'keepers in the top flight. That said, he seems to be much more convincing dealing with crosses and long balls, and his speed of the line is wonderful. Whilst not anything like so good at saving shots, his judgment tends to reduce the number he needs to make anyway. His communication with defenders is also excellent. After an excellent end to last season, 'Jonah' is undoubtedly the first choice; however Moss can only improve with experience and is a more than capable backup.
I have a great respect for Tony Adams. His problems with alcohol are well documented, but he has dealt with these well and moved on, and has managed to avoid some of the scandalous press coverage which dogged earlier seasons at Arsenal. The classic old-fashioned centre-half, Adams relys on intelligence, strength and physical presence rather than pace - but his ability to read the game more than makes up for his lack of speed. He has spent his entire career at Arsenal, making his way through from the youth system, and has long been a favourite amongst fans. Whilst a superb defender, he is also a wonderful captain for club and country. He claims to be a private person away from football, but on the pitch he is ever the extrovert, controlling his team-mates and giving out occasional rollickings more in the style of a goalkeeper. In the last season, some Arsenal fans have begun wondering how long he can continue - he isn't getting any younger and seems prone to injury. But given recent performances in the Champions' League, he has a lot more to give in his last season before retirement.
The Arsenal stadium may have the facilities of more modern stadia, nor perhaps is it large enough - but there is no question that the close atmosphere is helping Arsenal in the European matches this season. Playing Champions League matches at Wembley was all very well in theory, but the performances in the UEFA Cup on returning to Highbury proved how much of an advantage being at home can be. It is just a shame that the atmosphere can't be brought over into league matches - for the 'less important' matches the stadium often seems like a morgue with away supporters easily outsinging the home fans. Externally, Highbury is one of the most attractive stadia in the Premiership - particularly the main entrance - and parts are listed. Walking around the ground is a rather surreal experience, the ground side of the roads alternating between terraced housing (mostly converted now to offices or similar) and entrance/exit areas, but this only adds to the character. Once inside the ground you find a strange combination of old and new. The stands themselves are old, though adapted for seating since the Taylor Report, in stark contrast to the jumbo screens and security boxes in corners of the ground. Facilities for the disabled are also limited (though this can be expected in an old stadium) and wheelchairs have to be wheeled around pitchside. Public transport to the ground is probably the best of any ground in the country - the Arsenal underground station is directly opposite the ground and is ideal for arriving fans. After the match it can be quicker to make the short walk to Finsbury Park however, since the queues at the Arsenal station are huge. A number of buses also run near the ground. Arsenal have plans in the pipeline for a new ground, not too far away. Perhaps this will be necessary to allow many more fans to see the team, but most supporters will be unhappy about any move. And besides, how many football grounds h ave a movie named after them?