BBC BLOGS - Magazine Monitor

Archives for September 23, 2007 - September 29, 2007

Your Letters

15:38 UK time, Friday, 28 September 2007

Re Smoking drivers risk prosecution, which quotes the road safety minister thus: "If you're lighting up with one hand and have a fag in the other hand then obviously you've not got any hands on the wheel". Now I'm not a smoker, but I'm frankly worried about Jim Fitzpatrick's two-handed lighting-up technique. If you are lighting up with one hand and have a fag in the other hand, what have you got in your mouth?
Stuart Tyrrell, Rochdale, UK

If Jim Fitzpatrick thinks that you need to hold a cigarette in your hand to light it, is it possible that he has never smoked?
Catherine O, Maidenhead, UK

We are being urged to replace our old light bulbs with the energy-saving versions. China has been mass producing these at low-cost since 2001, but the EU deemed it necessary to impose huge import-tariffs until 2008. Put your money where your mouth is and let us buy these planet-saving devices.
James Barnes, Guildford

Re Bush hits out at 'brutal' Burma which says that "George W Bush has led international condemnation of Burma". Presuming that Mr Bush was neither the first person to condemn Burma nor the person for whom others were waiting before they did so themselves, who decides who, if anyone, leads in such situations?
Paul Clare, Nottingham

Why does Mark Damazer think that the shipping forecast is uniquely English? I love lying in bed listening to it and picturing myself at Malin Head when that particular place is mentioned - and glad I'm cosy and warm having stood there on many a blustery day. A spectacular place though - it is like the edge of the world.
Colette, Belfast

Wot? Only one toilet seat? Actually, if you check the auction catalogue, there's a pair of 'em - quite appropriate given the auction's in Toulouse, really...
Fred, Rotherham

London Plane trees at Heathrow Airport - how unexpected.
Ralph, Cumbria

Maybe Spot checks threat to NHS refers to a new security dog (Thursday letters)?
Chris, Kettering

Regarding the ice cream van in the Mongol Rally (Thursday letters), may I be the 319th person to look it up on Wikipedia and tell you that exceptions to the capacity rule "may be considered for vehicles of notable unusualness with high comedy value". So that's alright then.
Keith Edkins, Cambridge, England

It carried only one litre of ice-cream, clearly.
Michael Houghton, Tunbridge Wells, England

Am I the only one to notice the suspicious-looking smoking device in picture nine of An ice cream adventure?
Keith, Nuneaton

10 Things

14:58 UK time, Friday, 28 September 2007

Snippets from the week's news, sliced, diced and processed for your convenience.

1. Deep-voiced men have more children.
More details

2. Rangoon is now called Yangon - a renaming that dates from 1989, when Burma's rulers renamed the country Myanmar.
More details

3. Relocating crocodiles doesn't work - they come back.
More details

4. There is a monastery in every village in Burma.
More details

5. The going rate to emit a tonne of carbon is £11.36 according to the first auction to be held on a regulated exchange.
More details

6. Jack Straw has intervened in alleged crimes four times, apprehending a person on three occasions.
More details

7. On average a UK commuter travels the equivalent of two-and-a-half times around the globe over a full working career.
More details

8. Ants don’t die in a microwave - they find the cooler areas.

9. Tony Blair's first text message said "are" and his second said "This is amazing, you can do words and everything", according to Alastair Campbell.

10. A 23.8lb baby was born in the US in 1879, but it only survived 11 hours.
More details

Sources: 8 - Times (27 Sept); 9 - Times (27 Sept)

Seen 10 things? Send us a picture to use next week. Thanks to Josefa Vivancos for this week's picture of 10 Sally Lightfoot crabs in the Galapagos islands.

Paper Monitor

10:44 UK time, Friday, 28 September 2007

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

It's unusual to see anyone chuckling to themselves on public transport. But those who spotted that rarest of species on their commute this morning may well have sighted Paper Monitor itself.

The cause of this outbreak of muffled giggles? Why, the Times' People column (of course) with a snippet from the Labour conference. No, stick with us - it's a note left lying on the desk of the chairman, who decides which speaker to call during debates, that reads:

    Crime debate
    Westminster delegate - Chinese lady, yellow top MUST NOT BE CALLED bonkers speech about gun ownership.

"Westminster lady, do get in touch," adds People as an aside.

Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph muscles in on Daily Express territory. No, not Diana or Madeleine, but the weather. And not just the weather, but making a long-term prediction about an entire season: "WRAP UP FOR A COLDER WINTER."

This, surely, is skating on thin ice (so to speak) after earlier predictions of a hot hot hot summer proved to be so very very very unfounded.

While the Telegraph plays it relatively safe by confining the prediction to a brief on its front page, the Express gives it pride of place on page three alongside news of rhododendrons flowering seven months early. The paper quotes a Royal Horticultural Society expert guessing that the plants will also flower in April: "[T]here's such as wealth of nutrients in the soil that they have managed an extra appearance," he says.

This is down to the "barmy weather", the paper explains. But is it a good thing, or a bad thing?

Random stat

08:33 UK time, Friday, 28 September 2007

As many as 99% of the seeds in packets are dead, a report by Gardening Which? shows. The industry standard is for about 75% to germinate.

Your Letters

15:49 UK time, Thursday, 27 September 2007

Frankly, without seeing it next to a standard measure of giantism (Routemaster bus, Olympic sized swimming pool, blue whale, giant squid etc), its impossible to say whether the allegedly 'giant' baby is giant or not. Those might just be little scales mightn't they? We'd never know...
Sue Lee, London

Is it really such a slow news day that "David Beckham's father has a heart attack" needs to be listed as a "Top Story"?
Cheryl, Newmarket

Regarding random stat today. Children spend 17 minutes a day in meals? Surely we shouldn't really be eating our children?
Silas, London, UK

Well if some readers are confused about the Borrowers, how about Spot checks threat to NHS trusts? If we can't rely on the NHS when we have spots, what hope is there for complicated stuff?
Ed, London

Oh dear... why does the BBC feel it appropriate to refer not to "ex-footballer" John Barnes, but to "football hero" John Barnes. Perhaps fond memories of the Anfield Rap have clouded your correspondent's judgement.
Matthew, Wilmslow, UK

Regarding the ice-cream team who took part in the Mongol Rally "for vehicles with engines of one litre or less", how did they manage this in a rather larger-engined Ford Transit?
Rich Thomas, London

If Helen (Tuesday letters) was spending 14 hours a day on her dissertation, you'd think she'd have learned how to spell it. No wonder people complain about the poor literacy skills of graduates!
Rachel, London

So that's where my lost luggage went!
Fred, Rotherham

Paper Monitor

11:19 UK time, Thursday, 27 September 2007


A service highlighting the riches of the daily press?

Paper Monitor really is in a mood for some politics, as regular readers might be able to tell. Here are some more choice phrases from sketchwriters watching the conference conversation between Gordon Brown and Mariella Frostrup yesterday.

Simon Carr in the Independent: "He's not very sketch-friendly, Gordon... He really is a world-class bore. It's not clear how many people agree with this proposition, or how much of a drawback it might be. He is certainly very popular with his people in the hall, he has a moral vision, he wants the best for us all but for (I'd guess) 38 per cent of the population, watching concrete set will have more narrative interest than seeing him answers questions."

Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail: "Mr Cameron... might have made it all rather more suave and self-deprecating. He might at least have left women thinking, 'Hmmn, nice haircut.' Mr Brown just left them thinking, 'Zzzzzzz.'"

Ann Treneman in the Times: "It is an unlikely combination although... they are both sex symbols now. Mariella Frostrup because of her deep growly voice and flirtatious manner and Gordon Brown because of his deep growly voice and his plans for world economic reform."

Matthew Engel in the FT: "[Y]ou know who Mariella Frostrup is. She's the Swedish foreign minister, isn't she? That or the latest flavour from Ben & Jerry's... Mr Brown lapsed into blah-speak, clicked the cut and paste buttons inside his head and recited paragraphs from past speeches. Then Miss Frostrup switched to email questions. It is a little hard to imagine who sent these in, but I get emailed questions (if only from penis extension practitioners and the widows of Nigerian dictators) so presumably prime ministers get a few more."

Something all those selections have in common is that Paper Monitor has edited them for brevity and effect. This is not some new BBC scandal, since that editing has been signalled quite clearly by the use of ellipses marks. (Dot dot dot, in other words.)

But reading a Guardian story about what the former attorney general Lord Goldsmith is doing next, one comes upon this sentence. "In a statement, Martin Frederic Evans, presiding partner of the firm, said: 'His unique experience and reputation as one of the UK's most prominent... QCs, and as the top government law officer will be a distinctive asset to our international offering, both in Europe and globally."

Now those dots were not inserted by Paper Monitor. One assumes the Guardian put them in. But what if Mr Evans had paused for dramatic effect before saying what Lord Goldsmith was prominent at? How would that have been shown?

Punctuation experts, your answers via the comment form below please.

Random stat

10:15 UK time, Thursday, 27 September 2007

In a survey for Booktime, 18% of children spent just 17 minutes a day eating breakfast, lunch and dinner - the average for shared meals was 43 minutes a day.

Your Letters

16:13 UK time, Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Andie, Madrid

I was intrigued by the mention of the BBC Burmese section (in How To Say: Myanmar). Is there a section for every country or language in the world? And if so, can we scrap the UN please?
Sophie, London, UK

Now that the BBC has made a decision on how to refer to Burma (not Myanmar), maybe you could start referring to Cote d'Ivoire, not the Ivory Coast, as their government requested in 1985.
Mark Williams, Oxford

Re Girls Aloud set UK singles record. If they have just scored their 16th consecutive Top 10, and the previous record was 11, didn't they break the record four singles ago when they got their 12th?
Johnny Lyttle, Leeds, UK

Can I suggest tomorrow's random stat? 95% of women falsify answers in survey on criteria when seeking a mate.
Rory, Sutton Coldfield, UK

Paper Monitor

10:55 UK time, Wednesday, 26 September 2007

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

"IS THIS MADDIE?" asks the Sun.

"MADDY IN MOROCCO?" asks the Mirror.

"Could this be Maddie?" asks the Mail.

The same, literally overblown, smudged collection of pixels appears in the papers, despite their differing spellings. The Daily Express, for whom it's always Madeleine, not Maddy or Maddie, takes a different tack. "NOW A 'PHOTO' OF MADELEINE IN MOROCCO" it says, though surely the inverted commas should be around "Madeleine" rather than "photo".

The Sun is meanwhile much consumed with its campaign for a referendum on the EU treaty/constitution, and to make the case against the treaty it has pictures of great British icons, including Winston Churchill, the Queen, the Beatles, Bobby Moore, Lewis Hamilton and Jeremy Clarkson. Actually Clarkson is on a different page, but he does write that he wants a referendum so that he can vote in favour. That's right, in favour. "I like the idea of a giant European state tempering American stupidity and Chinese economic might," he writes.

Elsewhere, the ongoing hunt for a knockout phrase by a party conference sketch-writer continues. And the Guardian's Simon Hoggart doesn't do too badly. "The problem with Mr Miliband," he writes, "is his appearance. He looks like a Mr Potato Head. A small boy has obtained too small a potato, onto which he has put a pair of big ears, slapped on a black plastic hairpiece, and a mouth, which he struck on slantwise, because his mother is shouting that his tea's ready."

Perhaps that should teach us something about humour - that saying someone looks like a potato is funny, whereas sophisticated and pointed deconstructions of their political positions usually aren't.

Perhaps it also tells us something about Paper Monitor's own hypocrisy. For, while jokes about Ming Campbell's age made one wonder if it was acceptable in this day and age to make jokes purely about someone's seniority, where oh where is the tortured hand-wringing asking if it is still permissible to make jibes at someone purely because they have a head which looks like a potato? It's not to be seen, and Paper Monitor, for one, will be writing to the BBC to complain.

Footnote. Special attention was paid to this Guardian headline, if only because it made no sense first time round: "Balls to free exam watchdog to tackle dumbing down claims".

How to Say: Myanmar

09:37 UK time, Wednesday, 26 September 2007

An occasional guide to the words and names in the news from Martha Figueroa-Clark of the BBC Pronunciation Unit.

There is some variation in the pronunciation of Myanmar in English.

The following pronunciations are all attested in English pronouncing dictionaries:
MYAN-mar (stress on first syllable; 'my-' in the text spelling here represents the sound at the beginning of the English word 'mute', not -y as in 'cry')
my-uhn-MAR (-y as in 'cry'; pronounced as three syllables with main stress on final syllable)
MEE-uhn-mar, (stress on first syllable, -ee as in 'street'; -uh as in 'the'; -ar as in 'bar')
• and mi-AN-mar (stress on second syllable)

The BBC Pronunciation Unit recommendation is myan-MAR, based on the advice of native speakers of Burmese in the BBC Burmese Section.

(For a guide to our phonetic pronunciations, click here.)

Random stat

09:26 UK time, Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Just 5% of women say that good looks are the most important factor when choosing a mate, in a survey for the ettiqutte guide Debrett's, which also found that 63% said that good manners mattered most.

Your Letters

16:02 UK time, Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Was I the only one who, when spotting the headline "borrowers told to lie about wages" to immediately think of those little miniture people.
Jennifer Thompson, Bracknell, UK

So, borrowers are mis-stating their income? I didn't realise those little people could even GET jobs?!?
Mike Shepherd, Newcastle, UK

Regarding DVLA letter bomb woman 'shunned'. I cannot believe that we had not been told about Mr Gorringe's inability to play golf when the event occured. Poor man. Is he getting any kind of compensation for this? How about some kind of fund? I've never been very good at golf... do I get a cut?
Kevin Langley, Derby, UK

Martin, Stevenage (Monday's letters): The bored guy in the Radio 1 photo is Paul Gambaccini; the woman at the front is Annie Nightingale; the guy in the middle I think is Adrian Juste. I can't identify the one talking to John Peel and Mike Read is nowhere in sight.
Alison, Worthing, West Sussex

A third of students spend less than 20 hours a week on studying. A full-time course should be treated as the same length as a full time job. Say a student has 10 hours of timetabled lectures, tutorials etc per week. They must spend on average in a semester another 25 hours on reading, making notes, doing coursework, doing group work etc. The first couple of weeks of each semester, I did a couple of hours of work on top of lectures. When it came to do my final stages of the disertation, it was 14 hours of work everyday for 12 days! No wonder many students think university is a holiday camp.
Helen, Leicester

Whatever the motto is - I do sincerely hope that its the UK gets to decide - you know, one of those highly democratic, non-fraudulent text phone-ins.
Colin Grant, Leeds, UK

Why do most mottos sound like a cast from Harry Potter?
Nuno Aragao, Portugal

Whatever the motto is, it should be in Latin so no one understands it
Phil, Sheffield, UK

Lasciate ogni speranza voi che entrate
Darrell Binding, Leigh-on-Sea

1,000 mottos for the UK

13:30 UK time, Tuesday, 25 September 2007

bag_flag203.gifThe French have theirs, as do the Americans, the Swedes, the Samoans and dozens of other nationalities.

National mottos have been around almost as long as nation states, yet the UK has been characteristically demure about committing a spirited slogan to paper.

But is that about to change? Prime Minister Gordon Brown is so keen to assert his Britishness, the words "Britain" and "British" got 81 mentions in his speech to the Labour Party conference on Monday.

Last week, he was said to have welcomed a debate about a national motto after the Magazine's call for suggestions received a rousing response. The problem is, everyone has a different idea of what would work. So, in the interests of representing Britain in all its rich diversity, below, we present not 10, not 100 but 1,000+ of the best mottos for the UK, submitted by our readers.

Paper Monitor

11:59 UK time, Tuesday, 25 September 2007

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

It's often noted in Newspaperland these days that Saturday is the new Sunday. That is the trend for packing in as many supplements as the paperboy can carry (eg colour magazine, review, personal finance sections etc), which started with the Sunday press has spread to the Saturdays. Pick up a Saturday edition of the Guardian and, as well as the news section, you get myriad supplements including a glossy mag, and ones entitled Work, Money, Sport, Family, Review, not to mention the free CD/DVD/booklet/walking guide (delete as appropriate).

But does anyone really read all this stuff?

It's a question worth asking in light of the story about Guardian hack Leo Hickman which has been doing the rounds on radio, TV and in the papers in the past 24 hours.

Briefly, Hickman, who, as the Guardian's ethical agony aunt, normally tries to unravel the most carbon efficient way a reader can cart (the term is used literally) her family to the local farmers' market, had an interesting personal story to relate. With his wife in labour and midwives stuck in the London traffic, Hickman related in the Guardian's Family supplement of Saturday 15 September, how he had delivered his baby by taking directions over the phone.

It was a corker of a story, but remained untouched for more than a week, until yesterday, when it started cropping up on BBC radio and in the Evening Standard, a local London paper.

Today, Hickman's tale has even transcended old animosities held by the likes of the Sun (which gives it a full page) and the Daily Mail (which has run it this morning on its website) towards the lefty Guardian.

Clearly, bearing a grudge against a "pompous" organ of liberalness is one thing; depriving your readers of a dramatic and graphic human interest story is quite another.

But while both the Sun and the Mail note that Hickman is a journalist, neither deign to mention his employer by name.

Random stat

11:13 UK time, Tuesday, 25 September 2007

A third of all students in England study for fewer than 20 hours per week, according to a report by the Higher Education Policy Institute. The survey of 15,000 students found they averaged 26 hours of teaching and private study per week.

Your Letters

15:25 UK time, Monday, 24 September 2007

Well done for highlighting the exoneration of Robert Murat. His vilification in the press was a disgrace and only came about because they felt they had been made to look foolish by Huntley and didn't want to have it happen again. the tabloid press should be ashamed of their conduct, but no doubt they will attempt to sweep it under the carpet and pretend their character assassination of him never happened.
Ian C, Kent

Re Random Stat - hopefully the missing 6% use the train. Otherwise, I'm at a loss to explain why it's so crowded every day.
Rich, Bristol, UK

Regarding Random Stat : All the besuited gents and ladies on the train this morning were obviously tourists, I always suspected as much.
Bas, London

Re 10 Things and Gordon Brown breaking with prime ministerial "convention" to have a mobile phone - just how many of our prime ministers have even been in a position to refuse to have a mobile phone? You give the impression that Churchill was constantly texting his mates, and Gladstone sat in cabinet playing the latest Crazy Frog ringtone...
Nicky Stu, Highgate, London

How many of the DJs in the picture of the Radio 1 story can you name? So far I have Jimmy Saville, David Hamilton, Mike Read, Tony Blackburn, John Peel, Alan Freeman, Noel Edmonds, Ed Stewart and DLT. But who's the bored guy at the back?
Martin, Stevenage.

Re: Jail for 172mph Porsche motorist
Can someone please tell me what car the police were driving to enable them to catch him?
Stuart Allabush, Croydon

Paper Monitor

12:40 UK time, Monday, 24 September 2007

A service belatedly highlighting the riches of the daily press.

It was hardly a moment to compare with a sleepy Cherie peering round the door of Number 10 on 2 May, 1997.

But it was a reminder to Sarah Brown that her appearance is under greater scrutiny now she's moved nextdoor from Number 11.

A stroll along a blustery Bournemouth seafront prompted headlines of "HAIR COMES THE BREEZY MRS B" (Mirror) and "BAD HAIR DAY" (Daily Mail).

But she wasn't alone. With a finger astutely on the pulse of what makes its audience tick, the Mail had its guns firmly trained on several other famous women.

Helen Mirren had airbrushed her wrinkles from the front cover of her autobiography, the paper claimed, although its picture did little to support the theory.

Former tennis star Chris Evert had, it claimed, "chased" ex-golfer Greg Norman, and the wife of new Chelsea boss Avram Grant was "THE WEIRD ONE" for antics on her television show in Israel.

More weighty issues filled the first seven pages of the Sun, which began a campaign for a referendum on the EU treaty.

And to illustrate its intent, it neatly replicated the Dad's Army map to show Britain repelling the threat from the continent. But it will be hoping for more punch than Captain Mainwaring & Co.

Final mention should go to Robert Murat, who it is reported has been told by police he is no longer a suspect in the Madeleine McCann investigation.

The news of his exoneration was a down-page mention in papers today and over the weekend. He might today be considering the difference between those stories and the full pages previously devoted to implying his guilt, including one front page comparison to Ian Huntley.

Random Stat

09:44 UK time, Monday, 24 September 2007

Research found that 71% of all journeys to and from work in the UK are made by car, 11% by walking, 8% by bus, 3% by bicycle and 1% by motorbike. The study was done by the RAC Foundation.

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