Archive for June, 2014

An ode to The Daily Mash

Monday, June 30th, 2014 | Thoughts

Some people have claimed that the reason cults find it so difficult to get a grip in Britain is because we do not take anything seriously. Any topic, no matter how serious, is turned into a sarcastic joke. For example, here are some people mocking the deaths of tens of millions of people:


I am not suggesting this is in any way a bad thing. It is a very positive force that sheds light on serious issues, as well as being side-splittingly funny.

Similarly, any public house on a weekend will be full of people exchanging jokes about Madeleine McCann, Jimmy Savile and the Irish potato famine. The best ones get them all into the same joke. Americans may have to wait decades for a topic to become funny, but if you are British, I bet the first Michael Jackson joke arrived in your inbox before his body was even cold.

When I was a growing up, I used to read The Onion. You could even get the print version in my local Borders (remember Borders? Back in’t day…). Some of their stories were hit, others were miss. Their headline Microsoft Patents Ones, Zeroes still makes me chuckle.

It still is funny, and usually worth a read.

However, its power simply cannot match that of The Daily Mash. I started reading Mash while I was still working at Buzz, which must have been two or three ago now. That is a long time to be consistently funny. But they manage it. If anything, they are getting funnier.

Far from knocking out a few good headlines a week, The Daily Mash produces five brilliant headlines a day. I despair working out what I should retweet and what I should post on Facebook, because everything is worthy of it. Even its least amusing headline is generally far more worthy of such attention that the current bollocks being put out by BuzzFeed.

Of course satire has long been a British art form. Spitting Image, Private Eye, Monster Raving Loony Party, Mock The Week, Brass Eye and Boris Johnson represent just a tiny handful examples that I could pick out from an ocean of possibilities. John Oliver is currently turning into a US export. Nor is Mash the only people in the game: NewsThumb, NewsBiscuit and others produce excellent headlines as well.

But few have refined the art as well as The Daily Mash. For their contribution, I am grateful.

Lord of the Flies

Sunday, June 29th, 2014 | Books

I had a lot of optimism when I started reading Lord of the Flies. I was hoping for a fascinating exploration of the dark side of human nature through the story of what would happen if a group of boys found themselves alone on an uninhabited island. A primitive, savage society arranged around its leader, the lord of the flies.

However, it turns turns out that the lord of the flies is just a pig’s head on a stick.

Still, at least I know never to reveal that my childhood nickname was “piggy”. So it was not a complete waste of ten hours of my life, even if the author, William Golding, somewhat missed the point.

Lord of the Flies

House prices and the free market

Saturday, June 28th, 2014 | Religion & Politics, Thoughts

Recently a new report by Shelter suggested that 80% of homes were unaffordable to most families. Government intervention on this issue has failed us. Perhaps it is time for a free market solution?

Firstly, the government’s “Help to Buy” scheme is not helpful. It allows people to take 95% mortgages by allowing the banks to make less risky mortgages and the government paying the rest. The problem with this is that it allows people to buy homes they can’t afford.

The example of the Help to Buy website shows the government adding in £20,000 to the £5,000 deposit the buyer has, thus allowing them to buy a £200,000 house. But they cannot afford a £200,000 house. Based on the deposit they are putting up they can afford a £40,000 house. However, state intervention then allows everyone to charge £200,000 and have buyers for them, thus house prices go up to way beyond what they should be.

Secondly, the banks are willing to take large risks on mortgages because they know the government will bail them out if they get into trouble. Thus they can take huge risks, get rich when times are good and make the tax payer pay when times are bad. Who wouldn’t do that?

The government should stop doing things to make this huge prices affordable and actually do the opposite – making them unaffordable! Thus the free market would then bring prices down.

This, not propping up unaffordable house prices, is where state intervention would be useful. In order for the free market to function effectively you need to ensure there is liquidity in the market. This can be achieved by making sitting on second homes unaffordable.

Leeds City Council has already taken steps to do this. They have revoked council tax discount on empty properties and after two years you even may a premium of an extra 50% (you pay 150% of the normal council bill) to encourage you to sell it. Similarly, as I wrote about in 2012, you could just ban people from buying second homes.

Ending the state-sponsored propping up of house prices and introducing further measures to add liquidity to the housing market could then allow the free market to bring house prices down to a reasonable level.

Obviously this is a topic that most people will have an opinion on, so I would love to hear why I am wrong (on which I expect there will be some good arguments).

Freezing hell

Friday, June 27th, 2014 | Life


Tuesday was not a good day. For a start, I have a mouth ulcer at the moment which means eating anything is painful.

Then, when I got home from work, I found that something had tripped all the electric plugs in my flat. Because of the way that the flat is wired up, this meant I lost my fridge and freezer too. As a result they had both risen in temperature and the food inside was ruined. It all had to be thrown away; cost of replacement, just over £100.

Worse, I then had to make a manic attempt to eat all the Ben & Jerry’s. This was both unsuccessful due to the quantity of Ben & Jerry’s that had been in my freezer and painful due to a combination of my ulcer and stomach pains, probably from eating too much Ben & Jerry’s.

On Luis Suarez and biting other players

Thursday, June 26th, 2014 | Sport, Thoughts

If you watched the Uruguay Italy game this week, you probably saw Luis Suarez take a bite out of one of the Italian players Giorgio Chiellini.

So far, Suarez has not come out and admitted it, but the video evidence and bite marks that can be seen on Chiellini are pretty damning.

I am not in favour of lifetime bans because I think there should always be some element of rehabilitation in a sentence. Indeed, this is probably the most important part. To ban someone permanently removes any opportunity for this to be achieved. I don’t think FIFA have this power anyway, but if they did, they must be left wondering what to do.

This is not the first time Suarez has bitten someone. He received a seven match ban in 2007 for biting Otman Bakkal and a ten match ban last year for biting Branislav Ivanovic. He also received a ban and a fine in 2011 for racially abusing Patrice Evra.

He is also a cheat. In 2010 Ghana were about to score the winning goal to become the first ever African nation to reach a World Cup semi-final. That is until Suarez punched the ball off the line. Ghana earned a penalty for what would have been a certain goal but unfortunately missed. You could argue that if Uruguay had any sportsmanship, they wouldn’t have attempted to save it.

Given all of this then, it is hard to make a case that Suarez should receive anything other than a lengthy ban, and possibly criminal prosecution.

Leeds Restaurant Guide, 3rd Edition

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014 | Books, News

I am pleased to announce the publication of the 3rd edition of the guide. The new edition features 11 brand new reviews and updates to an additional 6. We have also cleared out the 22 that have closed down so far this year (compared to just 2 removed when we published the second edition).


  • Around the World in 80 Beers
  • Chickando’s
  • Colazione
  • Lemongrass
  • Peachy Keens
  • Roxy Ballroom
  • Sabor Latino
  • Souvlaki
  • Tapped
  • The Angel
  • Wasabi


  • Ciao Bella
  • Piccolino
  • Primo Ristorante
  • Prezzo
  • Red Hot World Buffet
  • YO! Sushi

On the demise of Wendy House

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014 | Thoughts

Last Saturday we went to Wendy House. It recently celebrated it’s 16th birthday and a message went out from the organisers saying “we hope to be here in another 16 years!”. I am not convinced it will be though.

It was a good night. It went as a group of friends and had a good time. For proof, see this low quality photo of Hugh looking ambivalent.


Wendy House itself though, is a a shadow of its former self.

The rise and fall

I first attended Wendy House eight years ago. It was magic. They had three rooms. Stylus played alternative and 80s, Mine hosted the Mutate room (EBM) and Bat Coda (now Pulse) hosted an indie room. They were all full. Not Fruity full, but pretty full (for context, Fruity is the big Friday night student cheese event).

If my memory serves me correctly, which it probably doesn’t, Mine had a capacity of around 500. Pulse had about 350 and Stylus could hold thousands. Therefore if I was to estimate attendance I would put it at over 2,000.

Slowly, as the years have gone on, this has drained away. First they closed the indie room and moved Mutate into the smaller bar. Then they started closing some of the area in Stylus. Now even Mutate has gone and they are down to a single room. Furthermore they do not even run in the summer any more. For a second year, there will be no event in July, August or September, and they missed March this year too.

It is not hard to see why. Last Saturday was empty. There were maybe 200-300 people there, a tenth of what it might have been at its peak. You could actually get served at the bar and get space on the dance floor.


Worse, it was full of people in casual clothing. I was somewhat dressed up, but I think if I had gone full on dressed up I would have actually felt conspicuous because of the lack of other people in full costume.

What went wrong?

Some people have suggested that the students are to blame. They are not around over the summer, hence why nobody was there. This does not explain the long term decline in attendance though, nor do I think it is a significant contribution.

Firstly, in my experience, a lot of the students that went to Wendy House did not go home for the summer. That is really a first year thing, after that people have a house in Leeds and hang around to see their friends. Secondly, a lot of the patrons are not students. The summer never seemed to have a huge affect on attendance back in the day.

Perhaps a better explanation is the decline of the alternative community. When I was a kid, there was a big crowd of goths outside the Corn Exchange every weekend. Then they renovated the Corn Exchange, kicked all the alternative shops out and told the goth kids to go away. Later their lead tenant went bust. But that is a whole different rant.

The point is, you do not see that as much anymore. Much like the pensions pot crisis, there is a lack of young goths to replace the old retiring goths. Perhaps time has run out.

Bucking the trend

It is also worth nothing that Wendy House has actually done really well to get this far.

Alternative nights have never been popular. When I first started clubbing in Leeds there was Bar Phono and another alternative club. They both closed. Then Subculture opened. And closed. Rock Of Ages used to be based at the Union, now it is upstairs in the Library which, as James points out, is where nights go to die. Halo’s indie night suffered a similar fate. Basically all alternative nights everywhere are unpopular. Even the legendary Jilly’s Rockworld (Manchester) has gone.

The fact that Wendy House has survived this long really is to its credit.

Scaling down

Unfortunately, as it has begun to shrink, it is possible that it has hastened its own decline. Take the music they played in Mutate for example. I just do not want to listen to it. It just is not music. Take a listen to this:

It is just annoying. When they closed Mutate they merged it into the main room. This did not really keep anyone happy. Those that preferred Stylus were suddenly frightened and upset by them actually changing the playlist, while those who had spent their time in Mutate were unlikely to find enough songs on the playlist to keep them interested.


Wendy House is still a night worth visiting. The music is still good. However, on Saturday it felt just like a regular run-of-the-mill alternative night. Not the magic night that it once used to be.

With them taking a break this summer, and the low turn-out this week, who knows if they will return. But here is to hoping.

Here are some old photos to make us all feel better…

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Carpet Remnant World

Monday, June 23rd, 2014 | Distractions, Reviews

Stewart Lee’s 2012 show was entitled “Carpet Remnant World”. I’ve just watched it, and I have to say I was disappointed.

In November, Dominic Cavendish wrote an article in The Telegraph about why he walked out of Stewart Lee’s show. His complaint was that Lee spent too much time insulting his audience. He’s right. The first 10 minutes straight of Carpet Remnant World were essentially dedicated to Lee discussing the contempt he holds his audience in.

I’ve seen Stewart Lee live several times and he does make a lot of jokes like that. At first they were funny. Now they’re old, and increasingly offensive. He parrots out the same joke over and over again until people like Cavendish, and indeed even me, someone who considers myself a big Stewart Lee fan, are fed up and bored.

That is not to say there wasn’t a lot of good material. I particularly liked the bit where he said “dog” in a funny voice. However, a lot of his material is feeling increasingly tired.


It is definitely time to rename the Redskins

Sunday, June 22nd, 2014 | Religion & Politics

Recently, the US Patent office revoked some of the patents owned by the Washington Redskins because their name was offensive to Native Americans.

This follows on from a long campaign against the american football team to change their name because it is incredibly racist. Earlier this year the National Congress of American Indians launched a new advert to bring the point home.

Of course, it is not really like the point needs to be brought home. It’s obvious. There is simply no way this can be viewed as anything but offensive:


For example, what happens when you take out one derogatory term for a group of people and put another one in:


As if anyone would stand for that! It’s time for a name change.

What should they change it to? I’m angling for the Washington Filibusterers.

Never felt better

Saturday, June 21st, 2014 | Religion & Politics

If Stephen Hawking were British, he would be dead. That is what one critic of Obamacare said.

You can probably safely assume then that the author did not consult the latest World Health Organisation rankings of the world’s healthcare systems. It was getting increasingly out of date, with the latest rankings being published in 2010. However, even back then it could be seen that Britain ranked a reasonable 18th while the United States could only manage 37th, equal with Costa Rica.

However, a new study by The Commonwealth Fund has ranked the NHS at the top.

It is quite a selective list. No Spain or Italy for example, both who ranked excellently in WHO’s 2000 report, along with many very small nations such as San Marino that arguably do not count. But does include a health selection of systems including France (the 2000 first place) and Sweden and Norway that you would expect to do very well in all things quality of life.

In fact Britain does so well that it comes first in every category but three – equity (joint second), timeliness (third) and healthy lifestyles (tenth).

Healthcare compared

Click for a larger view.

Not everyone agrees with the report though. The Euro Health Consumer Index (EHCI) produce rankings also and their 2013 report puts Britain a lot further down the list.

EHCI 2013

Click for a larger view.

However, as I will almost certainly lead a happy life in the belief that I do have the best healthcare in the world, I’m going to choose to believe the former. Go NHS!