Monday 5th December

The snow made its first appearance of the year this weekend and despite the inconveniences of the last two years it was like welcoming an old friend back. It also provided the perfect contextual environment for listening to the new Kate Bush opus 50 Words For Snow as well as serving as a reminder that Xmas is around the corner. There is something about the first snow flurries which arouses the inner child hibernating inside most of us and it is only after it hangs around for weeks-like a dinner guest who hangs around after the liqueurs and brandies have been served ignoring their hosts yawns- that the old curmudgeonly cynic rises to the fore and becomes little more than an excuse for not doing anything other than complaining. So far the snow on the ground is making little difference to anything but it is only the beginning so there is probably a lot more to follow.

Perhaps the cold environment will make the two new arrivals at Edinburgh zoo feel a little more at home than the earache they had to endure in the form of a bagpipe reception yesterday. The two giant pandas Yang Guang and Tian Tian (translating as Sunshine and Sweetie-how very Ab Fab) on loan from China are the subject of much controversy. Apparently here in order to breed –the cold Scottish climate is ideal according to reports- animal welfare campaigners are insisting it is merely a commercial enterprise and it would seem they are right. Although it is costing upwards of £1m per year to house them- a ten year deal has been brokered- it is estimated their presence will boost visitors to the zoo by 70% and already 1,500 people applied for tickets to see them in 24 hours. Zoos will always be the subject of controversy and admittedly I generally full on the side of disapproval and agree with many of the animal rights activists. Then again they do afford many people to see animals they would normally be unable to encounter in a more natural habitat-for many reasons including financial considerations- and admittedly I will probably go against my principles and go to gawp at them. This is probably down to being introduced to the image of Dusty Springfield at a very early age and developing an unhealthy fascination for her heavily kholed, panda-eyed look that has never really abated. Alice Cooper has something to answer for also so there go my principles yet again.

Someone who insists he does stick to his principles- in his case by encouraging people to connect with each other in increasingly different ways- is Mark Zuckerberg who was the subject of a BBC2 documentary last night. Whilst the programme focussed on the idea that users of Facebook are unwittingly setting themselves up, by simply clicking the ‘like’ button, as advertising brands they like without their permission.  It was an interesting argument and when it was put to an executive he was seriously flummoxed and after much deliberation, wherein you could actually seeing the cogs of his mind visually moving, gave an unsatisfactory answer that, like a politician, didn’t really answer the question. Zuckerberg has created a worldwide phenomenon which has radically changed the way people communicate and for this he deserves the recognition he accumulates but despite the claims that Facebook is abusing their position by utilising the information they provide it must also be considered that people are volunteering this information more than willingly. In some cases a little too willingly as some of my news-feed attests with some ‘friends’ revealing every fart , belch  and bowel movement in real time whilst informing everyone what flavour of crisps they prefer as they carry out these functions. I really have no need- or interest really- in knowing whether certain people like to shop at Ocean Terminal or like ‘Shite Shirts’- just two examples which regularly appear in my ongoing constant news- but at some point they have felt compelled to let me know they like those things so their privacy has not been invaded it has just been shared which was the point initially. As I have said before if you don’t want anyone to know anything about you no-one is forcing you to share information in the first place and you are not obligated to use the service and can de-activate your account at anytime.

Now if only someone would de-activate the X Factor before next weeks long awaited final then I would be happy. I only say long awaited as it has taken an age to get here. Having been on our screens since September this means it takes up two nights every weekend for a third of the year and really acts as one long advert for Simon Cowell. Even the guest acts usually have some connection to this obnoxious mogul and make the advertising claims levelled at Facebook look like a cheap corner ad at the back of a magazine. Despite this I do feel the show has suffered without him at the helm as the bickering between the judges has overshadowed the whole debacle. Gaaary Baaaarlow is still obviously in recovery from his charisma by pass whilst the thing that calls itself a Tulisa has a wardrobe malfunction weekly- sack the stylist dear-and little knowledge of music even if she does know the industry inside out. Louis Walsh should have been put out to pasture years ago and is simply the biggest irritant on TV. The three finalists – Misha B probably the best of the acts went last night though not through her performances as her days were numbered weeks ago in a bitchy aside about bullying from Tulisa and Walsh that scuppered her chances-going through to next week possess little of X- Factor the programme claims it is trying to unearth. The Girl group are average at best, Amelia Lily screeches her way hysterically through everything with no vocal nuance apart from overkill whilst Marcus smiled his way through that paean to heterosexuality-despite being overtly gay-‘My Girl’ in a lachrymose way that even your grandmother would balk at. This surely is not a ‘perfect pop star’ (Walsh’s phrase constantly on repeat) or perfect anything apart from fodder for Saturday night variety shows and despite its delusions of grandeur this is what the X-Factor is really.

Perhaps the contestants should get a wake up call in the fact a posthumous Amy Winehouse album is released today. Here was a girl who did have talent, style and charisma and unfortunately it wasn’t enough to help her survive in the music industry. Maybe those contestants who claim they want fame so badly in those clips that are supposed to make us vote for them should spare a thought for this poor girl who expressed more talent in applying her false nails than they have mustered in three months of rehearsal, grooming and exposure. As for the record she left behind unfortunately it has a few good moments but ultimately it is not much cop really. Then again it never could be as Winehouse was a fleeting star who had to be captured briefly as she was always going to be impossible to harness. Much better to listen to the new Black Keys album which gives 21st century rock and roll a much needed shot of adrenaline in its arm what with its glam rock stomp, crunching guitars and mighty melodies.

Also this weekend I attended Electric Cafe at the Institute in Marchmont described as ambient sounds and visuals. Apparently this could be a regular event-monthly perhaps- and proved a successful concept on its debut. As someone who very rarely frequents the city centre on a Saturday night the idea of an event in a cafe/gallery is a worthwhile alternative and the crowd it attracted seemed to consist of those who have put their Saturday nights out-though not their attitudes or beliefs-behind them.

Here though is Winehouse  unplugged with no dancers ,pyrotechnic displays and little else apart from her raw talent encapsulated in ‘that’ voice.

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