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Everything Everywhere? More like I WANT IT NOW!!!

This week a Twitter user took on a big corporation and won. One man, @Terry_Finnegan,  whipped up a storm against big brand @EE, who had back tracked on the “money can’t buy” prize of Glastonbury tickets that he’d won and made them look SMALL.

Or …

This week Twitter user @Terry_Finnegan found a loophole in a competition and used the current appetite for David vs Goliath stoning of big corporations to his advantage to secure a prize to which he was not entitled.

It’s a lesson in the power of social media. It’s a fantastic channel to reach young people with money to spend. It’s also a tool that can easily spiral out of control in the wrong (or maybe the right) hands.

Glastonbury’s mobile media partner, Everything Everywhere, ran a cute little competition – offering 10 pairs of Glasto tickets to winners of a Twitter competition. The ten winners were picked. As far as I can gather, some of these winners came via Facebook. Ouch. Not Twitter only then. To appease the (not really kicking off at all) masses, @EE sent a tweet out to five more entrants telling them to get in touch as five more prizes had been awarded and winners should contact them to see what they’d won.

This prize was £400 in Ticketmaster vouchers. Amazing. I’ll take that. Oh, except …. the prize these five had narrowly missed out on was a pair of tickets to Glastonbury – the Holy Grail of festivals. Now there was no suggestion of Glasto tickets in the tweet that was sent out but you can’t blame people for getting their hopes up. Every time the awesome West End Show ‘Book of Mormon’ retweets me (they even posted a photo of my cat one day!) I’m waiting for the direct message offering me tickets … but no, the Glasto tickets had run out.

Not good enough for one Twitter user. Terry saw the tweet, presumably replied only to be told his prize was a lowly £400 of vouchers (that’s 4 tickets to Book of Mormon with change to buy a souvenier magical “love” frog in case you were wondering) and then he decided to unleash hell. He saw it as a crusade against Corporate Britain. I saw it as a foot-stamping temper tantrum straight out of Nursery School.

I think initially Terry had genuinely misread the tweet and decided he had a top five prize. As reality dawned he didn’t back down or shut up like most people would – he did his research and found a loophole. The competition was for TWITTER users. As some of the winners had actually come via FACEBOOK, he was actually top ten so #GiveTerryhisGlastotickets was born …

The clue however is in the wording. @EE had said that entries must be submitted via Twitter, not that it was a “Twitter only” competition. So no, it wasn’t clear. But equally no, he hadn’t won.

Us Glasto fans are a determined bunch. We sit on computers and phones hitting refresh and redial for hours on ticket day, resale day, look out for random secret resales and enter every single competition in the hopes of getting that elusive golden ticket to what is frankly the best 5 days of anybody’s year. So why, if the Ts&Cs were misleading or wrong, was Terry the only “winner” to kick off? Why didn’t the other four feel equally aggrieved? Probably because it was a tenuous (aka not real) complaint.

The Ts&Cs also said a prize of equivalent value could be offered so actually no “laws” were broken even if you do accept the Twitter loophole.

I’m all for sticking it to the big corporations who try to screw us little guys over. But in this case, @EE only backed down because Terry managed to whip up a sense of injustice and outrage that threatened to cause them reputational damage. That’s not fair and that opens the floodgates for all sorts of disgruntled customers to abuse the whole “customer is always right” cliche. Terry’s original statement was a bold one – @EE were refusing to honour prizes – a tasty bandwagon for a lot of people who can’t be arsed to read a little deeper.

So eventually @EE miraculously “found” five more tickets for their runners up.

Since then, Terry has been tweeting his massive excitement about going to Glasto. On one level I’m delighted for him – in the way that I’m delighted for anybody who gets a ticket against all odds at the last minute. It must be an amazing feeling. But on the other level, it’s totally against the rather magical “spirit of Glastonbury” – something for me that implies honesty, truthfulness, consideration, humility, empathy … it’s a place where everybody behaves a little bit more nicely towards the people around them. It’s not somewhere to turn up in a T-shirt with a slogan shouting out that you “BEAT THE BIG CORPORATES”. If I was Terry I may well have been tempted to try my luck with the loophole but, having “won”, I like to think I’d have said thank you, let it lie and concentrated on the big issues of carrying alcohol on trolleys and whether the Mumfords will perform or not (God willing …) – instead there has been a stream of bravado, retweeting congratulations on being a PROPER LAD and nothing that makes me want to share a cider with Terry ten days from now.

That said, after all this fuss, I hope you have a good festival Terry and I hope some of the amazing people you will meet in ten days have an influence on you. Failing that – I hope your phone blows up in the @EE re-charge tent and you camp next to a group of even bigger LADS than you think you are …

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I Believe! The Mormons are here!

A musical about African missionaries trying to convert villagers living under the rule of an oppressive dictator and the threats of female circumcision, AIDS and dysentery doesn’t exactly sound like a laugh-a-minute theatrical experience – more like the sort of up its own arse worthy angst-fest you might find in a free show at the Edinburgh Festival, being performed in the back room of a pub to a couple of confused tourists and a student sleeping off his hangover from the night before.

Oh ye of little faith. The Book of Mormon is the best show I have seen in YEARS.

A massive Broadway hit, the show has just said “hello” to London, and is now into its second week of previews before formally opening on 21st March. Having picked up on the buzz around the show during a trip to New York in 2011, I booked a couple of tickets for the London previews as soon as they went on sale. Smart move. The show is now virtually sold out until the end of the current booking period (August 2013).

Before seeing the show, I had listened to the Broadway cast recording a few times. The music parodies a number of musical styles, with one song, ‘You and Me (but mostly me)’ very obviously borrowing from fellow Broadway sensation, Wicked! There are hints of plenty of other shows and styles but none of this detracts from what is a brilliant original score in classic musical tradition.

As a fan of ‘South Park’ and somebody who finds swearing funny (yes, I know. It’s not big or clever. But it’s FUNNY so indulge me), I had a lot of love for the more outrageous songs on the cast recording. ‘Lion King’ homage ‘Hasa Diga Eebowai’ and ‘Joseph Smith, American Moses’ in particular contain language that you probably don’t want to have to explain to your mum. Before seeing the show, my juvenile little brain knew these would be highlights.

And yes they were, but they weren’t the stand-out highlights. These came from some of the other songs that, while they are catchy and entertaining on a CD, really come into their own with the absolutely fantastic choreography and staging that goes with them. The opening number is slick and very funny and sets the tone for the show. A song and dance number involving a group of tap dancing Mormon missionaries brings the house down. And Act Two’s ‘Spooky Mormon Hell Dream’ has so much going on that I think I’d have to see the show at least another three times to properly take it all in.

The two leading roles are currently played by actors who have previously performed in the US tour (and in the case of Jared Gertner, also on Broadway). They are slick, polished and hilarious. The UK cast who join them on stage are every bit as impressive – West End regular, Alexia Khadime (Wicked!, Lion King) plays Nabulungi and has a stand out ballad extolling the virtues of Salt Lake City (Sal Tlay Ka Siti), her promised land.

The principal roles are to die for but this is definitely a strong ensemble show – Mormons, villagers and warlord henchmen are all clearly loving every minute of it.

If I had to offer any sort of criticism, it would be to suggest that perhaps the orchestra was slightly overpowering at times, so the sound balance needs a bit of attention, and I did feel that Gavin Creel (Elder Price) was ever so slightly straining on some of his top notes. But given the sheer brilliance of the rest of his performance, and the show in general, these do not need to be forgiven as they are points so minor that they become irrelevant when you look at the bigger picture.

In the interval, the bar was absolutely heaving and it took me the majority of the break to cross it to get to the merchandise stand (a wise plan – if I’d waited until after the show I’d probably still be queuing now, such was the demand). The bar staff said they didn’t think they’d ever taken so much money. The audience was full of people who already knew the show – so the atmosphere had the same sort of excited anticipation you’d expect to feel in Rome when they announce the next Pope. Probably. It’s rare that the announcement that a show will start in one minute gets a cheer. But this is the kind of crowd that was there for Mormon’s first Saturday night in London.

We sat in the middle of the Circle and I can’t help but feel we had a better view than some seats in the Stalls. It’s a busy stage with so much going on that looking down on it gives you a fantastic vantage point to take it all in. I’m sure some people will swear that the only place to see the show is from the Stalls seats. This is something I’m going to have to find out for myself as it gives me a perfect excuse to go again.

If you are easily offended by use of bad language and controversial subject matter then this isn’t the show for you. If you have an open mind and are prepared to look beyond the shocks on the surface, then this is a show with real heart, an uplifting message and some of the best direction I’ve seen in ages. Two days later and I’m still grinning as if I’ve just been baptised for the very first time.

Book a ticket. But make sure you leave one for me.

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Crispy Luck

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Crisp-free February was HARD. Not just hard, I actually sort of failed. As my ban was on “crisps and savoury snacks” I definitely failed. I ate three nuts in a public house environment. In other words, savoury snacks. The fact that it is only three is a testament to my stubborn refusal to back down on anything. I had one coated peanut last Saturday and two chilli nuts on Tuesday. Given my total obsession with crisps and ability to inhale family bags within five minutes, I’m still going to put this one down as a success.

Today is 1st March and I had crisps with my lunch. There are also LOADS of crisps in our kitchen left over from a meeting. If I don’t eat them, they’ll be binned. Can you imagine? All those gorgeous salty, savoury, greasy delights being chucked away. Of COURSE I’ve had a few of aforementioned salty pleasures (fnar). I’m only human. And I did resist all of the chocolate that’s also sitting in the kitchen. You see, in February I massively over-compensated for my crisp-free existance by hitting the sweets and chocolate like I’ve never done before.

So … in a change to the advertised programme, this month I’m giving up chocolate and sweets. OK, so the truth is I forgot I was meant to be doing spicy foods and bought some chilli pasta sauce and a huge block of chilli cheese, so it’d be wasteful not to eat it, right? Also, it’s winter. Also, the savoury snacks I did consume during February were chilli coated which proves I am completely addicted.

Is this my first failure? Well only if I don’t “do” a month off the spices at some point. And I reckon it’ll be a lot more “do-able” in summer.

Right … chocolate free Easter it is!

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Along Roll We Merrily

I had thought about writing this review backwards. For about a nano-second. Then I realized it isn’t a remotely original idea and also it makes me sound like Yoda.

‘Merrily We Roll Along’, which has been playing to huge critical and public acclaim at London’s Menier Chocolate Factory, is one of my favourite musicals. I’ve seen it three times and never been disappointed. This is surprising as the original production bombed when it opened on Broadway in 1981. It’s a difficult one to “get right”. And this production has definitely got it right.

The story of three friends starts as they are hitting 40 – and barely restraining themselves from hitting each other. As the show progresses we go back in time – bitter alcoholic Mary transforms into a fresh faced, teetotal aspiring novelist. Charley and Frank become best friends, hoping they might become the next Rodgers and Hammerstein. Or something like that.

The casting was perfect – the central trio of Frank, Charley and Mary played to perfection by Mark Umbers, Damian Humbley and Jenna Russell respectively. I’ve always wanted to play Mary – she is a brilliantly witty and flawed character – so watching Russell’s portrayal was like a masterclass just in case I ever get the chance.

The part of Gussie has been given greater focus than in previous productions I’ve seen, played with full on diva fabulousness by Josefina Gabrielle. But it was Frank’s first wife, Beth, played by Clare Foster, who made the biggest impact from the supporting cast – I have never heard such raw emotion in the show’s most powerful song, ‘Not a Day Goes By’. I remember seeing her playing a supporting role in Avenue Q and wishing she had more to do. Well, now she does and she does a great job with what must be one of the hardest parts in the show – only joining the action halfway through.

I would struggle to pick a weakness in the entire cast – perhaps the cute kid playing Frank’s son could have been a bit less, well, less cute. But that’s just me. I hate kids. What I love is an intelligent Sondheim show being directed in such a way that it is completely accessible to its audience.

Now hurry up and close your well deserved West End transfer so I can apply for the performance rights.

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2013 – the year of abstinence

What are your hopes for 2013?

What is your New Year’s resolution?

What are you giving up for lent?

Well … would I look shallow if I wished to be young, rich, beautiful and thin in 2013? Should I be wishing for world peace and a cure for cancer? Both are equally unattainable so how about a bit of both?

My New Year’s resolution is to be young, rich, beautiful and thin.

I gave up giving things up for lent when I realised that as a lapsed catholic, if I’m not molesting choir boys and preaching homophobic venom, I don’t have to give up chocolate for 40 days and 40 nights to compensate.

But let’s go back to young, beautiful, rich and thin. Can I do anything about that? Clearly inventing time travel isn’t an option but I could probably knock off a few years with a slightly healthier attitude to life. And that healthier attitude could also save me money, make me thinner and more attractive … and I could even throw in a bit of “giving things up” as well.

And this is where the “Year of Abstinence” begins. I do like a challenge. And this year I have decided to give up one thing every month, for a month. It was suggested that I do two months for each thing but frankly that sounded too complicated. So, here’s my year and what I’ll be doing without. I’m hoping I’ll be able to see what really has an impact on my health and well being. Over the years I’ve been told most things are bad for me, only to be told they’re absolutely fine a few weeks later. So I’m going to test a few theories for myself and see what I can cut out for my greater good.

With no further ado … I’ll be a-doing without:

January – ALL alcohol. No brainer. Sober January has been on the agenda for a few years now, but this time I’m not going to live my usual reclusive lifestyle and actually go out and have a life. You can also sponsor me for this one at Just Giving. I’m taking part in the Dryathlon for Cancer Research UK. Give money. It’s a fantastic and essential cause.

February – Crisps. This will be the hardest, hence me picking it for the shortest month (don’t worry, there’s more to come). I reckon if I gave up crisps I’d be thin overnight.

March – Spicy Food. Note – this does NOT include my birthday. I’m not that mad. I get a pass for that. But why spicy food? Bit of a strange one really isn’t it, amongst all the usual “bad” things? Well, I eat way too much food that has chillis in it … I’m pretty sure they’re not good for my skin or for digestion. So let’s see how I do without them …

April – Meat. Reckon this will be pretty easy. I won’t just be giving up meat, I’ll be exploring interesting veggie options. Fresh ones, not ready meals.

May – Sweets and chocolate. I thought about doing these separately but it’s too easy as I just don’t have a massively sweet tooth. I reckon this will be the easiest month. And it’ll also stop me picking at crap in the office just because it’s there.

June – Caffeine. I may give myself a get out clause that doesn’t include holidays in this abstinence as I might have a craving for a cup of tea at Glastonbury … this also means a massive cut down on sugar and dairy as well. I can do Glasto without Jagerbombs though, right?

July – Wine. Should be quite straight forward. It’s summer. I can drink cider. But still a challenge as I do love a large pinot or 12.

August – Social Media. Not something that affects me physically but I wonder if I can survive a month without constantly checking Facebook and Twitter. This blog doesn’t count by the way. Mentally, it’ll be liberating, if I can get few the first few days …

September – Bread. I eat way too much bread. Let’s see if I can cut it out before we get properly into the soup season.

October – Cheese. I love cheese. And of course this also rules out pizzas. Shit. I haven’t thought this through at all …

November – Crisps, sweets and chocolate, aka – snacks! Let’s step things up a bit and see if I can live without all the traditional bad things.

December – Abstinence. You seriously thought I’d deprive myself during the holiday season?

This will all probably go horribly wrong but at this moment (1st January with a hacking cough and hangover) it seems like a good idea. Let’s DO this.

I’ll be blogging my progress – nobody cares but me but it’ll keep me amused.

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Leaving Facebook

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I bloody love Facebook. It’s the first thing I check in the morning and the last thing I check at night. I love to “like”, to add friends, to share, to tag, to comment and to update my status. Probably a little bit too often for comfort.

I also use Facebook for work – as part of my job involves responsibility for social media, so I understand its benefits for a brand as well as for sharing what you’ve had for dinner and that you “need a hug”.

But not everybody shares my love of over-sharing. Some people have an account but can’t access it often. Some people just don’t “do” technology. And some people actively avoid having a profile. OK, I admit I find that a bit weird but each to their own.

Around half of the UK population has a Facebook account. For somebody like me, for whom it is an integral part of daily life, that seems fairly low. For somebody who hasn’t jumped on board the social media “revolution”, it’s probably quite reassuring.

So why is it that increasingly people are only communicating through this one channel?

  • Drinks on Friday night? Send a FB message.
  • New show to promote? Sell tickets via FB.
  • Having a party and want to invite people? Set up a FB event.

Get the picture? But what about the 50% of the population who don’t use it? Are they not welcome just because they choose to use email, telephones, face-to-face conversation?

So, to see just how much it impacts on my life I’m going to try to break the addiction and step away from the Book of Face. At the moment I have at least 3 event invitations that haven’t been communicated in any other way, excluding a lot of people who no doubt would have loved to have gone. I’m voluntarily going to join the “excluded” and see if anybody picks up the phone, sends me a text, an email, makes actual eye contact (shudder).

I have a feeling I won’t last the weekend but in theory it’s an interesting experiment …

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Too much doubt

On Wednesday 21 September, the US State of Georgia will execute a potentially innocent man. Troy Davis was convicted in 1991 of the murder of an off-duty Georgia police officer, Mark MacPhail. For the last 20 years he has sat on Death Row. His execution has been scheduled four times now – with a last minute stay granted for the last three. Can you even begin to imagine how that must feel?

I am completely opposed to the death penalty in any circumstances. Nobody has the right to take a human life – whether that is shooting a police officer, stabbing a pensioner for their savings, delivering a fatal blow to a rival gang member – or strapping somebody down to a gurney and pumping them full of a lethal cocktail of drugs. This is not the Old Testament where justice is dished out “an eye for an eye”.

Putting aside my personal views, the dealth penalty is legal in some US states. But my understanding is that there must be no doubt of guilt. In the case of Troy Davis, there is so much doubt and so little evidence that the fact that we have got to this stage in a civilised society just doesn’t seem possible.

Seven of nine witnesses have retracted their statements; one of the two remaining witnesses is actually a key suspect in the case; there is no forensic evidence; no murder weapon has been found; jurors have come forward to say that they have completely changed their minds given this information.

Yet, for some reason, the State of Georgia has not for a moment wavered from a conviction that Troy’s conviction was the right verdict. I have no idea why. Is it because the state supports the death penalty so to grant clemency to Troy and show sanity would lose votes? Is it because the victim’s relatives have been vocal in demaning Troy’s death for their own peace of mind? Is it racism? Is it a stubborn refusal to admit a mistake?

Whatever it is, it is wrong. While there is the slightest doubt, you cannot take a life. You just can’t. For Troy to be executed tomorrow is absolutely unthinkable, but this injustice is totally in the hands of people who should have seen the sense and the truth and the possibility of innocence years ago.

Amnesty International is asking for clemency for Troy. I understand why at this late stage this has to be the plea but really he should be acquitted as there is not enough evidence to convict him.  The officer’s death was a tragedy and the offender should be brought to justice. But by killing the wrong man, there is no justice. No closure. No peace. How much worse will it be for the victim’s family if further on down the line they learn that the wrong man died.

But what can we do? We can fight to the very end. Visit Amnesty’s website and take a few minutes to add your voice to the global reaction – it may take a miracle to stop this tragedy but miracles can happen.

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