The thing is... - October 19, 2012

Confrontation in Blackpool between drinkers and police
Confrontation in Blackpool between drinkers and police
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999 far from a black and white issue

NOT since Anna Friel kissed baby-minder Margaret in an especially racy mid-90s episode of Brookside have I watched Channel 4 with such interest.

The 999: What’s Your Emergency? show is compulsive viewing, though not always for the right reasons.

For those who haven’t been tuning in, it is a fly on the wall documentary following the emergency services in Blackpool, to show what they have to deal with.

Regular viewers could be forgiven for long since coming to the conclusion that everyone in the town is a nutter.

Some are outraged, claiming it gives a deliberately misleading impression of Blackpool. Others say it’s an accurate portrayal, and that the camera doesn’t lie.

One thing is certain – anybody claiming there aren’t any problems in the resort is a liar.

Blackpool has some very deprived areas. There are some nasty, ill-disciplined kids and some folk do waddle to cash-points in their pyjamas at midnight to draw benefit money. But as I found out when I spent 48 hours living rough on the streets as part of a Gazette investigation last week, it isn’t always how it seems.

Like many, I thought homeless people were high on drink or drugs, and that was as far as my knowledge went. Some are of course, but many are not.

I spoke to one 16-year-old who had been thrown out by his mum. The reason? She’d got a new boyfriend who told her he would only move in “if the kid goes”. Astonishingly mum threw son out.

That is the kind of back-story many who turn to crime and live in squalor will have, yet the Channel 4 cameras don’t reflect any of that. It is all very black and white, a case of ‘look how bad these people are’.

Then there is what the programme doesn’t show, the stuff left on the cutting room floor.

TV execs are in the business of entertaining. They don’t want boring normal stuff, they want only the most outlandish footage.

Of the endless hours of filming there were no doubt countless examples of well-mannered youngsters and adults who did nothing of interest; ie. they behaved perfectly well. Unfortunately that makes for dreary TV so it is ignored.

That’s not to say Blackpool is fine and dandy. Every time I go in a bar I hold my breath slightly.

When I first moved to the area decade ago, I accidentally bumped into someone in a packed town centre club.

Ignoring my hasty apology, the bloke, about 6ft 2in and wearing a T-shirt that, unfortunately for me, demonstrated just how spectacularly big his muscles were, shoved me and then pulled back his arm as if to deliver a punch.

His friend stepped in and told him to calm down, which was lucky for me because I’ve never much fancied losing my nose.

A minor incident, which could have happened in any town, but there’s no doubt there is a slightly unsettling, violent undercurrent in the resort, especially at the weekend.

That won’t easily be solved but it is important to remember the bad are heavily outnumbered by the good. And one thing we can rest assured of courtesy of Channel 4 is that should trouble happen, we have some magnificent emergency services workers on hand to deal with it.


Kitchen telly is thin end of the wedge!

I HAVE long been a stickler for a non-technological, non-gadget way of life.

You won’t find iPads, Blu-Ray, Kindles or Bluetooth in my house. I’m not keen on the internet. I view Sky TV with suspicion. Owning a toaster is as close to cutting edge as I get.

All of the above is the influence of my dad. Well into the 1980s he refused to upgrade his black and white TV. “This colour malarkey is a passing fad,” he’d say. “It’ll soon die out”. He changed his mind only after the epic Dennis Taylor-Steve Davis snooker final of 1985, when he became so frustrated at not being able to tell the difference between the colour balls he made a frantic half-mile dash to a neighbour’s house midway through the climactic final frame.

Radio was his chosen medium. “There’s nothing you can’t see Steven,” he used to say – pausing for added effect – “in your imagination”.

Which is complete rubbish. I mean, I imagined for years Tim Henman would win Wimbledon.

My dad wouldn’t ever have Sky. Same goes for a mobile phone. He sulked for three months when my mum bought a microwave. When she recently arrived home with a dishwasher they almost divorced.

The bad news for my partner is I’m exactly the same, perhaps worse.

We moved into a house in St Annes a year ago and are still having arguments about televisions. We have one in the lounge. To me, that’s ample. Yet she wants more – one in the kitchen (kitchen? It’s where you peel vegetables, not watch Bargain Hunt), another in the bedroom. It’s a battle that’s lasted longer than Trafalgar, with only marginally less bloodshed.

It is pleasing therefore to discover research at Oxford University has revealed modern technology could pose “the greatest threat to humanity after climate change”.

Now I‘m not usually fond of anything that begins “researchers at a university”. It brings to mind a group of bearded students being paid to sit on their backsides for two years looking into something completely meaningless like – and this actually happened – the most efficient way to butter a piece of toast.

But in this case – as it backs my viewpoint – and seeing as it’s Oxford after all, I’m in favour.

The research says computer games, the internet, excessive telly and social networking sites like Twitter ‘may affect people’s ability to learn’. The argument is that parts of the brain honed by reading books and thinking about their content could be lost as people spend more time on computers.

So there. Proof. I may be technologically backward but at least my brain isn’t rotting.

Well, not until the missus inevitably gets her own way and we end up with a TV in the bath.


It’s all in a name... Chuck!

I NOTED while browsing a sports website the other day the Americans are still dissecting exactly how they managed to lose the Ryder Cup.

For those with no interest in golf, or an intense dislike of upper class men wearing Pringle sweaters and chuckling about shanks, Europe pulled off the greatest comeback in Ryder Cup history to defeat the opposition.

The top dogs of US golf are continuing to have meetings to examine what went wrong.

Forget it lads, I can tell you. It comes down to names.

The American team consisted of Keegan, Webb, Tiger, Bubba, Brandt. What the hell are parents on the other side of Atlantic thinking?

Meanwhile, the European side was full of solid choices like Ian, Peter, Paul, Lee. You know where you are with names like that – the result was never in doubt.

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