Aspirational trousers

So, this is how it works in the era of influencer marketing in the engagement economy. Some elder bloggers – who I trust aren’t in the pocket of Big Trouser – blat about Huit Denim, which is a nice brand of trousers made in Wales. Later, I, in possession of some money and in want of something to conceal my legs, remembered this and bought some.

The most echt artisanal trousers are surely made of selvedge denim. Whereas many mass-market trouser merchants sell stonewashed jeans in various states of distress1, Huit and others revolutionarily offer actual brand new clothes and invite you to distress them yourself. The most committed disgusting raw denim users will forego washing their jeans for months at a time, in favour of putting them in the freezer, to make the distress as personalised as possible. Perhaps this is a case of the IKEA effect, “a cognitive bias in which consumers place a disproportionately high value on products they partially created”.2

I didn’t buy that sort of trouser – too predictable. Instead, a high-tech blend of stretchy fabric. Slightly tight – a style once favoured by Tony Blair – but no one has the courage to tell me to my face that my kecks make me look like a war criminal, so it’s OK. “Great to ride your bike into work, it’s quick drying, but in the office they just look like a great black jean,” blethers the marketing copy, which is quite right.

Months later, it seemed time to expand the trouser collection with something different: cheap, flappy and made of cotton. Summertime trousers. But disaster struck: on practically their first outing, I trousered my mobile phone, before nonchalantly sitting down near some aphsalt … you can guess what happened next. The trousers had seemed cheap, but the shallow pockets quickly made it a false economy. It’s a modern parable.

I kept a lookout for aspirational garb. Of course, I’m abreast of the exciting New York “underground fashion label for nerds” Outlierthere’s a long Wired article that probably isn’t worth reading – but, the last time I considered it, shipping a military-inspired poncho across the pond just didn’t seem worth it.3 Instead, doesn’t someone make something similar in this country, I thought.

Someone suggested Finisterre, whose products are slightly targeted at people who surf. I’ve never surfed, but I can speak favourably about the slightly itchy short-sleeved woollen base layer, and nice socks, that I bought. Also, some trousers, which were the wrong size (my fault) but the return process was wonderfully hassle-free. Their commitment to sustainability isn’t bullshit, which is nice.

The last trousers I bought were from the venture capital–backed corporate stooges Spoke. Again with the technical fabric aimed at bicyclists – less stretchy and a bit more water-repellent than the stuff of the Huit jeans, but – let me be clear – still not so water-repellent that actual waterproof trousers aren’t needed on top in the rain. They’re innovative trousers, with a fold-out reflective bit, and an extra zipped pocket inside the right-hand side pockets. The one snag is literally snagging one’s hand on that pocket’s zip (after leaving the zip unzipped and forgetting about it) – but such is the agony and ecstasy of high-quality trousers.

  1. Adding a message to your trousers: in the 2011 BBC Three documentary Secrets of the Superbrands: Fashion – which contains lines like “That says ‘crankshafts’ in Japanese. That’s amazing isn’t it?” – children’s presenter Alex Riley went to India to meet a “philosopher of denim” whose vocation is using power tools, bleach etc to fuck up trousers.

  2. See also: the (disproven) theory that instant cake mixes “sold poorly until one food company decided to require the addition of a fresh egg to their product”.

  3. Maybe I will change my mind. Cotton Bureau’s “Blank” T-shirts are the best T-shirts I’ve worn in all my years of wearing T-shirts – well worth the hassle of international shipping.

‘Can someone explain why BBC One is covered in CSS?’

The BBC has a pair of new bespoke typefaces, Reith Sans and Reith Serif. They’re quite nice.

I’m surprised that no private media organisations have “slammed” the “feckless corporation” for “staggering waste” over this. Or even just taken the piss out of some of the language in the Global Experience Language guidelines, which can be an open goal sometimes. Of course, some say they could have made do with something free from Google. The BBC behemoth must be cut down to size! Actually, the BBC expects to save money compared to licensing off-the-peg typefaces like Gill Sans – so there.

So far, only BBC Sport is using the new fonts. BBC Weather isn’t, despite having been mucked around with1 more recently. We’ll just have to wait.

Searching Twitter for stuff about that, I found something completely different:

Anyone know what causes this? Only on @BBCOne and @BBCTwo. Can't seem to get it to go away. Looks like code of some type.

— David Jones (@schnuckster) 19 February 2018


CSS is love, CSS is life.

On a more serious note, can someone explain why BBC 1 is covered in CSS?

— Adam Brown (@ouchadam) 26 February 2018

The fuck.

The pictures show some minified cascading style sheets, obscuring an FA Cup match, Only Connect, and some other programme a week later. Let me be clear: this is not one of the quite interesting usual examples of source code in TV and films. This isn’t supposed to relate to the plot of the fifth round of the FA Cup. This is, surely, a bug.

Some of the styles in there mention Reith Sans, so we can assume the CSS was written by the BBC. The big flat screen in the bottom image has a Panasonic logo on it, and the other user says he has a Panasonic Blu-ray player which seems to be implicated. It’s known that these modern smart TVs all use bastardised web browsers so cross-platform experiences can be more easily shovelled across platforms. I guess there’s a missing </style> tag somewhere. Apart from that, I have no idea.

It’s an accurate observation that incident reports can be well-written and useful. I would be fascinated to read an incident report about whatever’s happened here.

Update: I missed this other tweet:

Some very unusual HTML / CSS style code appearing across the screen on @BBC channels on @FreeviewTV on @panasonic TV.

— Jonny McGuigan (@jonnymcguigan) 26 January 2018

To which a reply suggests the issue is fixed by a downloadable software update … which is thin gruel to anyone without an internet connection, or who hasn’t bothered to connect their television set to the internet.

Somehow I also missed the coverage in the Grimsby Telegraph: The strange Matrix-style coding suddenly appearing on TV sets - and how to fix it. Here’s a forum thread about the phenomenon. a516digital says the problem lies with the BBC’s new HbbTV service – HbbTV being a European standard for “hybrid digital TV”.

  1. “People aren’t happy with the BBC’s big weather redesign” is the most predictable headline. Oh dear. But one crumb of compensation: the northern bit of the landmass now looks proportionately bigger, to the delight of people who live there.

Is a robot DJ working for Morrisons the person with the best music taste in the country?

The beleaguered supermarket Morrisons has attracted attention – well, my attention – by actually playing bearable music in its shops.1 It’s not even just Van Morrison, Morrissey, and, uh, Maurice Gibb.

I don’t know why this re-occurred to be the other day, but it did. I remember one particular occasion when I even used my mobile telephone to, well, I believe the verb is “to Shazam”.

It was in the Acomb branch, I remember. My Google Play Sound Search history suggests that it was A Long Time by Mayer Hawthorne, and it was in June 2015. I can’t find a record of a card transaction in my bank account, but it’s a safe bet that I bought some potato fardels.

Cool story, bro.

Well, serendipitiously, the Co-op’s must-read newsletter just linked to this, from 2015, by Ava Szajna-Hopgood at Gizmodo UK: The Person With the Best Music Taste in the Country is a Robot DJ Working for Morrisons. So now we know.

  1. I should also single out Norwich Bus Station for praise in this regard. Well done, Norwich Bus Station.

CHEAPER to fly to SPAIN?

The Daily Mail reports:

Two friends living in Newcastle and Birmingham met up in Malaga because it was cheaper to fly to SPAIN than getting the train to see each other

The Sun:

Two pals living in Newcastle and Birmingham flew to Malaga for a catch up because it was £25 CHEAPER than a UK train

I could list all the other august publications that have picked up the story: the Daily Star, Metro, indy100,, the Mirror and the Telegraph. Oh, I have done now. Well done to the sort of PR agency responsible – excellent work! (I think the Mail’s piece might be the best, because they’ve gone to the effort of making an annotated map.)

From all that journalism, you’d think it were cheaper to fly to Spain than to get a train from Newcastle to Birmingham. But is it?

Certainly, you can fly to Malaga from Birmingham and Newcastle as cheaply as the press releases suggest: £75.27 for the two return journeys, apparently. Airlines’ crazy yield management pricing means you do have to be cunning and flexible about when you travel – if you need to go somewhere at a peak time, you’ll have to pay a lot more – and you have to studiously avoid accidentally reserving a seat or buying travel insurance on the Ryanair website – but maybe that’s OK.

But is going by train really that expensive? I cynically assumed the £105 price quoted must apply to a stupid walk-up “anytime” ticket. If you book in advance – which is a bit fiddly, but no harder than jumping through hoops to get a cheap flight – it’s much cheaper, right? Actually, no: the cheapest return fare I could find from Newcastle to Birmingham was indeed £105.80 for two inflexible advance singles.

If you have a railcard, the cost drops to £69.80. But that’s no help if you’re travelling alone and are neither “senior”, nor disabled, nor in the armed forces, nor aged 16–25. Even if the conventionally attractive 27-year-old Newcastle resident had bought a three-year 16–25 railcard on the day before her 24th birthday, she’d now be too old to use it.

So here I am with egg on my face. I’d hoped to expose some lazy and inaccurate journalism, but actually Viscount Rothermere was telling the truth.

But, but, but – what about buses?

You can go on a Megabus coach between Newcastle and Birmingham for about £7 each way. If you’re offended by the garish colours and the mascot who looks like Dara Ó Briain, there are National Express coaches, too (but they’re more expensive). The journey takes a long time, but because only one person needs to do it – in contrast to two people flying to Spain – it works out at the same number of person-hours. And I’ve charitably not considered the time spent waiting around in airports.

There’s also the small matter of carbon dioxide. I’ve included some back-of-a-fag-packet numbers in this table. They’re a bit less dramatic than the person on Twitter’s – I think the distances he used are based on trains going as the crow flies, which they don’t – but the differences are still clear.

 Flights to MalagaTrain to BirminghamCoach to B’ham
Travel time6 hours × 2 people6½ hours × 1 person12 hours × 1 person

So it’s complicated. Megabus is definitely a competitive option, but doesn’t make for a very glamorous newspaper article. It is a bit nuts and surprising that flying to Spain isn’t such a bad idea.

Of course, the Brexit effect means flying to Spain will probably become more costly and difficult – and the bus will become relatively more attractive. Thanks in part to some lies written on the side of a bus.


You could be forgiven for thinking people’s responses to planning applications tended to consist of nimbyistic complaints about onshore wind turbines. But no – see the many great objections to a beleaguered retail park’s plans to chop down some trees. My favourite:

I do not believe the poor performance of retail outlets is due to trees. I disagree with destroying what little is left of habitats for animals and wildlife to ‘improve views’. I can tell you why I dont shop at Clifton Moor. Its because its hard to get to if you dont have a car & because internet shopping is now my main way to shop. You can chop down as many trees as you like. Everyone will still shop with Amazon. You will simply attract dislike and become unpopular. Please keep the trees. Thankyou

Yes! Via York Stories (qv).


Peter Mandelson’s yoghurt

From Mandelson: The Real PM? (2010):

Sam Wollaston, the Guardian:

It’s the yoghurt pot moment that stands out in Storyville: Mandelson – The Real PM? (BBC4). Peter Mandelson has finished his yoghurt, after spilling a spot on his tie (“how annoying”), now he wants rid of the empty pot and the spoon. So he holds it up until someone called Marie takes it from him. He’s not handing it to her, there’s no “would you mind?”. Both would be too much effort on his part. He simply holds it up in the air, like Julius Caesar. And then when she takes it, he gives her a withering lizardy look as well. Poor Marie, she probably thought she was getting into politics, but it’s turning out to be more about yoghurt pot removal. She’s going to have to run the spoon under the tap too, to rinse away any residue of Mandy-lick. Does he have a forked tongue I wonder – is that what caused the spillage?

Rachel Cooke, the New Statesman:

I could watch him eat yoghurt all day; a stoat devours a field mouse with less menace.

Michael Hogan, the Telegraph:

[Mark] Gatiss mimes Mandelson spooning yogurt into his mouth. “There’s this lovely old clip where he’s eating a yogurt and drops a bit on his tie. He looks down at it and says, ‘Oh,’ holding out the yogurt pot with a monarch’s expectation, just knowing someone will appear to take it. Such a fascinating character.”

(Gatiss mentions it again in an interview in the Independent.)

What is it about Mandelson and yoghurt? There is another story, from 2008, which the Daily Mail has. A bit like what John Selwyn Gummer’s daughter did with some beef, Mandelson “gulped a glass of Chinese yoghurt” to show confidence in Chinese dairy products after a food safety incident. “I shall continue drinking my favourite milk product, which I enjoy and which does not make me nervous.” Ten days later, Mandelson just so happened to become poorly with kidney stones, which might or might not have been caused by his lactose-based stunt.

From ‘Tom’s Midnight Garden’ (1999)

You may read in bed for ten minutes. No longer.

Oh, and if you need to use the convenience, remember… it isn’t shameful for a young man to sit. It’s quieter that way.

I’ll try to keep that in mind.

Sound advice. (Like the difference between a dish-cloth and a tea-cloth, something I’d dimly remembered for years but wasn’t sure of the source of, might even have thought I’d entirely imagined, if it wasn’t for one of those legally dubious online subtitle repositories – so hooray for them.)


After some bungling by the Associated Press, journalists Andrew McGill and Caitlin Dewey made @she_not_he, “a bot politely correcting Twitter users who misgender Caitlyn Jenner”. Dewey explains:

“Misgendering,” as this practice is known is the LGBT community, isn’t just a style error in violation of AP’s own rules – it’s a stubborn, long-time hurdle to transgender acceptance and equality, a fundamental refusal to afford those people even basic grammatical dignity.

Being ignorant, I’m still not quite sure who Jenner is, but clearly the aims of the bot are good and so well done to McGill and Dewey. People are tweeting (often horribly) erroneous tweets, and the robot is tweeting corrections back at them.

Like Caitlyn Jenner, FIFA’s Sepp Blatter has been in the news recently, but for entirely different reasons, and news organisations are encountering a somewhat more trivial pitfall. Here is an addendum to a New York Times article:

Because of an editing error, an earlier version of a headline with this article misstated the name FIFA’s president goes by. He is Sepp Blatter, not Seth.

Now, let me be clear: misstating Sepp Blatter’s name is not a long-standing hurdle to any kind of acceptance or equality, and there’s nothing to suggest he’s being afforded less dignity than he’s due. But still, I took the @she_not_he source code and made @sepp_not_seth, an unimaginative remix that even uses the same fun onomatopoeias (“Breeepbeep!”, “Beepbopbeep!”, “~ROBOT CLANKING NOISE~”). So now, when people tweet about “Seth Blatter”, they get corrected by something with Blatter’s smiling face and nice scarf:

.@instakaytor Beepbopbeep! It's Sepp, not Seth.

— Sepp not Seth (@sepp_not_seth) June 3, 2015

A cep

It turns out that tweets calling Blatter “Seth” are much less frequent than tweets calling Jenner “he”, or even misspellings of “Caitlyn”. That makes this bot’s workload much lighter, and the nature of the tweets makes all sorts of “false positive” less of a problem. I could look for other misspellings, like “Cep” and “Platter”, but too many of those are in fact deliberate, hilarious mushroom- or crockery-based puns which are hard for computers to identify.

The responses to the corrections have been fine – certainly more positive than those to @she_not_he. Some have said thank you, and some have quietly deleted their tweets (making it look like the bot was replying to thin air), but no one has dared try to argue back that “Seth” was in fact correct. I like to think people been helped by being spared the potential embarrassment of repeating the mistake somewhere else.

But it’s really not going to change the world – and although @she_not_he won’t really either, at least it’s aiming more in that direction.

Of course many more bots like this already exist, or might exist in the future. One correcting the charming mistaking of “pedantry” for “pendantry” would be quite profound. Better, the comedian Richard Herring’s heroic work every International Women’s Day – informing oafs that International Men’s Day does also exist after all (it’s in November) – could be made much easier. That one is a particularly good balance between being hard to argue with and being something to do with equality, but perhaps part of what it makes it so noble is the sheer effort of replying by hand. I’ve simply achieved something a bit pointless, and lazily automated it, using a tool I didn’t even write – but never mind.

Sandwich board

(Or: “Fuss Islands Retail Park”.)

Months have passed since the beleaguered supermarket chain Morrisons did a capital wheeze, projecting a picture of a baguette between the wingtips of the Angel of the North. Interestingly, it wasn’t the first time it’d had ideas about a tall structure in the north of England.

In 2007, work was underway to turn the site of an old refuse “destructor into a retail park. One prominent relic of the site’s previous use was to remain: a grade II listed octagonal chimney…

Naturally, such a development necessarily entails lots of planning applications – and, wonderfully, the poorly scanned evidence of this is available online. So we can read the planning application entitled “Display of externally illuminated individual letters to south face of chimney”. It’s not a classic of the form, there’s no gloriously stiffly written literature to read (there often is), but there is a drawing.


The status of the application is “application refused” and the sternly critical “delegated report” is available to read – a small sop to fans of that prose style.

I’m heartened that brave development control officers are there, ready to stop big corporates pissing on pieces of industrial heritage. A small part of me wonders what it would have looked like, but the local newpspaper has a mock-up.

Having a big chimney next to one’s supermarket still comes with some advantages, a certain gravitas, whether or not one is permitted to strap a logo to it. “It’s now known to many as ‘Morrisons Chimney’, perhaps giving the erroneous impression that the supermarket recently built alongside incorporates a very large fireplace.” They could have projected a baguette onto it.

Also, a man flew an unmanned aerial vehicle around the chimney, and there’s a video. The pictures are frankly a bit disappointingly lousy – shaky and pasty-faced – but for heaven’s sake he flew a consumer-grade remote-controlled miniature aircraft, with a tiny video camera on it, in the sky. Isn’t that impressive?