Once in a while it's nice to write about things that have pleased us, instead of being grumpy all the time. That's not to say that one's GQ (Grumpiness Quotient) has decreased in any way, and no doubt normal service will eventually be resumed. In the meantime, though ...
We think you'd like this website, which was brought to our attention by one of our regular readers, G*** M********, to whom many thanks. The Wildlife Ranger is certainly grumpy, often about the same things that upset us here at GOS. But he also takes the most wonderful, intimate wildlife pictures, so his website is an eccentric mixture of excellent photography, fascinating nature anecdotes and comment, and vicious diatribes.
That's not to say we agree with every single thing he says, of course, but we can certainly recommend him. His site is large, sprawling and offers hours of interesting reading. If only it would fit on our computer screen without the need to scroll back and forwards it would be perfect.
Our second recommendation is a television programme called "Pop Star to Opera Star" on ITV1. Hosted by Alan Titchmarsh and the inevitable Myleene Klass, and featuring singer and Barbie lookalike Katherine Jenkins, Meatloaf, Mexican opera star Rolando Villazon and, for some reason, Lawrence Llewelyn-Bowen as mentors and judges, it brings eight pop performers, Darius, Vanessa White from the Saturdays, one of the many Nolan Sisters, Danny Jones from McFly, Kym Marsh from Coronation Street, Marcella Detroit, Blur's Alex James and Jimmy Osmond into the rehearsal room to learn how to sing an operatic aria in public. In a familiar contest format, one will get chucked out each week by a combination of judges' verdicts and public phone-in.
Sounds ghastly, doesn't it? - ITV and the BBC locked into a furious fight to see which can produce the most stomach-churningly awful reality TV idea, applying to more and more fields of human endeavour a deeply flawed and pointless selection procedure based on the public's ignorance of the finer points of singing, dancing, skating or indeed of anything except advanced sofa-surfing and GNVQ dribbling.
And when the first programme began, one's fears began to be justified. For a start there was the introductory music which was taken from Verdi's Requiem. Which is not an opera.
Then there was the string of sound-bites with the contestants telling us how much they wanted it and how difficult they were finding it, and the judges saying how strict they had to be and how difficult it was, and the presenters explaining how the voting was going to work and how difficult it all was. Which it is, of course. Several times we heard that the contestants were finding themselves outside their comfort-zone. What is a comfort-zone, exactly? Some kind of lavatory?
But once the actual performances began, everything changed. Because boy, were these people good! Marcella Detroit of the group Shakespeare's Sister was magnificent and brought hi-octane tears to the eyes; Danny Jones has a real Italian undertone to his tenor and would make an excellent juvenile lead in light opera; Vanessa White has poor breath-control but just the hint of some beautiful top notes; Jimmy Osmond doesn't have a great voice to work with but isn't going to let that stop him; Ms.Nolan is mature, confident and competent, as is Kym Marsh. Only Alex James was disappointing, and he was quickly voted off.
It is, indeed, a major step for any singer to abandon the habits of a lifetime and begin to handle his or her voice in a new and potentially very embarrassing way. The television audience was carefully shielded from hearing anything remotely to do with actual vocal technique (in case it muddled their poor little brains, the gormless darlings) but the GOS has to declare an interest here and admit that in another life he is a musician and actually knows quite a lot about singing. The major new technique the female singers in particular had to embrace was to bring the top of the voice down, as "classical" singers do, whereas pop-style singing does exactly the opposite. That all the contestants managed the switch effectively, and did so in full view of the theatre audience and millions of viewers, was quite remarkable, and took great courage. What is even more satisfying is that they wanted to do it in the first place.
There have only been two editions so far, but hitherto the judging and voting has been pretty accurate. The judges' comments haven't been completely stupid either, and at some point every judge has managed to say something penetrating and relevant. I think they're limited to one intelligent thing a week.
Above all the programme showed us the joy that lies in discovering that almost anyone can, if they have the nerve, make that glorious full-voiced sound. Everything the producers did to cheapen and trivialise the event - and they did, they really did, even down to a ridiculously staged argument between the judges - was of no avail. It was the joy of singing that won, hands down.
And for us the best thing of all was that for once the theatre audience were given no opportunity to clap in mindless unison with the music. Oh, what joy. They were restricted to a brief, pointless, orchestrated cheer at some inappropriate moment in each song, and once or twice they didn't even have the nerve to interrupt the music as much as that.
If you missed it, you can catch up on ITV.com - if you can put up with the bleeding adverts. It helps if you like opera, of course.
And finally a brilliant idea from America.
You remember the Yank who took his new wife to Australia for their honeymoon, went scuba diving and drowned her for the insurance money? His name was Gabe Watson, and he has just 15 months of his manslaughter sentence to serve. The family of his dead bride, Tina, were understandably annoyed that the legal authorities in Queensland had allowed him to cut a deal and reduce his sentence.
Now the Attorney General of Alabama, one Troy King, has announced that he intends to have Watson arrested as soon as he is released from prison, shipped to the United States and arraigned for first-degree murder. If found guilty (now that's a no-brainer if ever I heard one) he could face the death sentence.
I am sure people all over the world will hold up their hands in horror at the idea that a man can be tried twice for the same crime. Parallels will be drawn with the other instances where America places its own legal demands above those of other countries - the dreadful case of Gary MacKinnon, for instance, the computer nerd who managed to get into the Pentagon's computers searching for evidence of flying saucers. The Americans were so furious that he had outwitted their own computer security that they want to extradite him and imprison him for sixty years.
Then there are the numerous instances of "extraordinary rendition" where the CIA seized foreign nationals on foreign soil and smuggled them either back to the States or to secret bases in other countries to torture them. If I'm honest, it beggars belief that our politicians can still prate about the "special relationship" we have with America. The Americans are bullies and crooks, and if we had an ounce of sense or common decency we'd cut them dead and bugger the consequences.
Still, that said, this idea from Alabama is rather cool. When someone commits a crime, why restrict yourselves to punishing him just the once? Why not do the job properly? He could serve five years in Parkhurst, then another five in a Turkish gaol, then another five rotting in a hole in China ...
Now that's what I call a deterrent. And think of the saving in prison places. The Conservatives have recently raised the spectre of prison ships to relieve the overcrowding in British gaols, caused mainly by the government creating a total of 3,605 new laws since it came to power, adding up to a new crime almost every day since Tony Blair walked into Downing Street in 1997. Prison hulks are a good idea, in our view; they served well enough in the 18th and 19th centuries and could do so again, provided they have HD television in every cell and a full complement of bars, restaurants, health spas and gymnasiums.
But the Alabama idea would save David Cameron the trouble and expense. And I suppose there would be a certain symmetry to the idea, wouldn't there? After all, both America and Australia were originally settled with the low-life from our prisons. And if each new country meant a fresh new trial, there would be a new dimension to the idea of plea-bargaining ... "OK, Fingers, you know you're going down for this one, so what's it going to be? Five years in Thailand followed by three in the Ukraine but with the possibility of a death sentence, or eleven years in Spain and/or Portugal but you're guaranteed to live? Or how about we cut you a sweet deal: the Trobriand Islands, where you might get just eighteen months in a palm-thatched hut, or they might eat your liver? It depends how lucky you feel, punk ....."
What a shame this idea hadn't caught on years ago. Just imagine the scene as the aircraft touches down in Malaga ...
"Good afternoon, Señor Fingers Malone. May I see your pasaporte, por favor? Do you have anything to declare, por cualquie ocasión? Any large sums of money, at all? .... Now, would you step this way, por favor? No, don't derange yourself, Mañuel will bring your luggage. He's from Barcelona. What's this you say? You're a free man because you've served your time? ... No, señor, not here you haven't ...." (Cue music and credits)
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