Belfast Telegraph

Stop whinging Charlie and ring the changes like Phone Shop Idol

By Jane Graham

We are always telling ourselves how adorable we are for being a nation of whingers. Complaining is often cited as a quintessential native trait, as long as we do it after the fact, behind the perpetrator's back, and without risking confrontation.

Victor Meldrew, Alf Garnett, Steptoe, Morrissey - how we love characters who hate everyone else. Grumpy Old Men, Grumpy Old Women; how we revel in hearing famous people roll out a list of the things that annoy them.

The decline in services and products, the annoying quirks of public transport users, the disrespectful behaviour of different generations; we miserablists can't get enough of them.

We all enjoy our own particular bugbears. Mine is the persistent, smug drone of people whining. I'm afraid the charm of the casual misanthropy which characterises so many of our curtain-twitching pass-remarkable easily peeved taxi drivers, bus queuers and radio phone-in callers escapes me.

Although we insist it's all done with humour - because don't we also have the best sense of humour in the world? - our consistent disenchantment reeks of genuine disappointment.

Perhaps of a bitter nation which once ruled the waves and controlled vast territories across the globe, now reduced to playing a bit part on a discredited European stage, where we are represented by an intellectually lightweight pudge-faced garden gnome called Dave.

So, I found the BBC's hour-long complainathon on 5 Live this week distinctly unedifying. It also got a bit dark. That loveable old curmudgeon, Enniskillen-born ex-Corrie actor Charlie Lawson, came on to tell Nicky Campbell that he'd been listening and was now, like a prickling tiger, "pacing around the living room of my bungalow".

Charlie, too, had his bugbears. One was people talking on phones on the quiet carriage, which he liked to combat with threats to "throw your phone out the window", or by lighting a cigarette and blowing dirty smoke in the villains' faces. Two wrongs don't always make a right, noted an unnerved Campbell. "I mean, who the hell do they think they are?" raged Lawson, gathering steam, before admitting that yes, ha, ha, he had been spoken to by an official for "intimidating" passengers. Exposing the thin line between grumpiness and menace - what are we like.

Looking to wind down, I watched BBC 2's Phone Shop Idol later the same day. I expected to get a few laughs watching chancers trying to make us overpay for phone contracts compete for a national customer service award like it actually meant something.

And there was certainly a shade of light entertainer/office boss David Brent to some of the contenders, who saw their role as not only offering advice about the latest iPhone, but also cheering up the public with a cheeky smile, an impromptu high-five, even a brief outbreak of dance.

There was nothing to love about the frosty little people judging the sparkle in the finalists' sales chatter ("There's no joy," said a fish-lipped superior, spying on knackered young Jonny trying to sell a mediocre smartphone to a sour-faced customer).

But, as I watched the hopefuls fight to maintain their optimism, squeezing satisfaction from the tiniest of victories, my superciliousness turned to admiration.

In a land where the unamused and irritated are self-appointed kings, there remains a breed who refuse to capitulate to the complaining culture, who work hard to stay positive in the face of a hundred down-turned mouths (and, I hope, a fair few deeply patronising broadsheet reviews).

Whoever wins Phone Shop Idol, I hope it brings them great happiness. One thing's for sure - the plaudits will last much longer than those bestowed upon the winner of The X Factor.

Palin and Trump are clever, but scary

Footage of Sarah Palin's demonic rant in support of Donald Trump's bid to become US President went viral this week.

Twitter, Facebook and numerous print and screen journalists had fun replaying moments of high-pitched, almost unintelligible screeching about kicking Isis' ass and Right-wing clingin' on to "our guns".

Yes, it was funny. It was also scary. The educated middle class can scorn as much as they like; she and Trump aren't talking to them.

The folks on the ranch down the hill are sucking up this stuff with a hearty "Yes ma'am!". Presenting herself and Trump as free-thinking anti-Establishment libertarians isn't stoopid, it's pretty darned clever.

TV's real winners ignored at awards

As this week's National Television Awards clarified, my tastes don't always converge with the public's. The Great British Bake Off, Eastenders, Poldark - none of them float my boat.

Wolf Hall, one of the best shows of the last decade, wasn't even nominated, which is ludicrous. Perhaps ITV doesn't credit its audience with the patience for a historical drama.

I hope War and Pace doesn't suffer the same fate next year. This week's episode was quite sublime; Paul Dano's performance of a man full of joy over his handsome friend's success with a beautiful girl, while he hid his own heartbreak over loss of the same woman, was spellbinding.

Belfast Telegraph

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