Something huge happened this week. It didn't get many column inches compared to the latest celebrity wardrobe malfunction so perhaps you missed it. Two men from opposite sides of a very high, very long and very old fence put their personal feelings aside to discuss a better future for the people of Fenceland.

If you don't understand the Irish conflict, join the club; I know enough to keep my foreign mouth shut about it when I'm around Irish people. Take this start point and good luck.

Ian Paisley gets the merit award for making up the most ground the fastest. The **** is so hardline, the joke goes that he calls for a priest on his deathbed to convert to Catholicism because "better a dead Catholic than a dead Protestant". On Monday, nine years save a week since the Good Friday Agreement, he sat at the same table as Gerry Adams [imagine Amri Assad from the current series of 24, my American friends] for the greater good. I'm welling up just thinking about it.

Two Liner

"Who are you and how did you get in here?"
"I'm a locksmith and I'm a locksmith."

- Al Ruscio and Leslie Nielsen in Police Squad! (1982).


Product Review Section

In which Ford explains the workings of a Bambleweeny 57 Sub-Meson Brain and Arthur leaves a confused comment.

I've an economic collection of appliances at home. It eschews surround sound but it pleases me no end. Call me old fashioned but I like the sound coming from the direction of the picture. I've only got two ears anyway so stereo speakers work fine. Likewise, they can keep their H.D. and Blu-Ray: it's the old "whiter than white" soap powder routine and I'm not buying into it. The Sony Bravia ads are laughable: do they really expect us to buy a new television based on some pretty pictures when those pictures just looked as pretty as they did on the set we already own? It defies logic.

When I first viewed my apartment and saw the white walls, a little light switch went on in my brain. All credit to Phil and To-ne for planting the seed of an idea that germinated and now I watch everything blown up to 100 inches and there's no screen to pack up when I'm done. I can't recommend Projector Point enough and I'm downright chuffed at my decadence every time I switch on. Roll on Saturday and David Tennant's big head on my wall...

Dampening the party a little is my Sony SVR-S500 hard disk recorder which feels like it was rushed through testing. Some menus let you switch between them directly but others don't so you don't build up an intuitive feel for navigation. The E.P.G. updates noisily at 0300 daily and you can't change it to midday when you'd be out and not trying to sleep. Worse, you couldn't view a program's description until you selected it for recording (which is a bloomin' long-winded way of identifying repeats) until last week when I got an unexpected software update in the daily download and this bug is now fixed. I didn't even ask!


Reverse Perkology

SJ and I must have reputations as workaholics who don't, in fact, spend most of the week working from home because Head Office sent us both an expensive BlackBerry - hereafter "Strawberry" because the notion of paying more to recieve email on-the-go and outside of work hours when I'm really not that committed and I have a phone for emergencies is ridiculous to me. (Breathe.)

The week they arrived we got a memo to go easy on the expenses* for a while. Sweet irony. Boss Man is all up into being in touch all the time (though he is paid to feel that way) and he got jealous at my shiny new slice of technology compared to his black plastic brick. I told him he could put it on the desk near me in meetings and I'd make it look like mine belonged to him. He threw me out.

I've identified a colleague who goes to more meetings than me and I'm trying to pass the Strawberry off on her so I don't have to carry it around. I'll offer to reconfigure it for her and then work out how to do that.

For no particular reason other than she could, HK applied for membership at a cash-and-carry outlet for the whole office and eight cards arrived by return of post. They must need the business! But I need to go there and buy things within four weeks to activate my memberhsip, making it less of a perk and more of an unwanted bill.

*The last thing I want is to start a rumour that U.D.E. is in trouble and I'm some kind of corporate jinx. Just last week my office achieved its annual operating target with three months of selling still to do. We're tightening our belts to ensure we have a profitable year, which is the kind of forward thinking my last employer could have benefitted from (and that's so easy to say in full hindsight).


Note To Self About Configuring P2P Software

Listen, self: if eMule gives you a low I.D. (i.e. yellow icons instead of green) but you haven't changed any of your settings, fiddling around with those settings and getting frustrated about it is not going to fix the problem.

Do not get sidetracked by helpful suggestions in error messages. Do not mess around with Windows Firewall when it's already making exceptions for the relevant ports. Do not turn off worm script debugging in Norton because it worked for some Dutch guy on a message board.

Remember that you've been through this before, only those brain cells have since died off. Go to the set-up page for your router because you have a dynamic connection and it may have auto-assigned a new I.P. address if one of your laptops wasn't powered up at the start of your session. Change the final digit under Virtual Servers until it forwards ports 4660-4712 to the right computer. Or forward those ports to both of your computers all of the time and never go through this pain again!

Peacock Feathers

I had another inch of hair taken off the back. By Christmas I will be bald and also rich from not paying professionals to do what a friend can do in my kitchen in five minutes.

The conversation widened to include what we euphemistically call "personal grooming". According to my sources, men on the continent trim their body hair almost as much as women. And why not? In this day and age, do we actually need it? We have central heating, underwear and thermal clothing to protect us from the elements. I know plenty of bald men that didn't die of pneumonia yet.

We have showers and soap now too, negating the hygienic need for a mass of fur to keep out the dirt and bugs of the medieval battlefield. Hair is fast becoming the new appendix: I simply don't see the point in it any more except to attract a potential mate in our animal kingdom. Off with it! Or style it. It's the new law.


Music From Mars

Coincidentally, I started watching Life On Mars just as its star, John Simm, was announced as appearing in the new series of Doctor Who.

It's rumoured that either he or Derek Jacobi will play another Time Lord - possibly both the same one since they have a habit of regenerating into new actors. I'm excited. A youthful portrayal of The Master would be a fine nemesis for the current Doctor in the same way that Tobey Maguire and Topher Grace are cast well as opposites in Spider-Man 3. You can expect plenty of Doctor content here when he returns to my screen in ten days so let's concentrate on Mars for now.

It's a cop show with a surreal twist: D.I. Tyler is hit by a speeding car while listening to The Best Of Bowie on his iPod. When he wakes up he's inexplicably living in the 1970s, dealing with out-dated methods of policing and the social attitudes of the era. What stops it being just another Quantum Leap is the suggestion that Sam (Tyler, not Beckett) is actually in a coma from his accident and the people he meets "in the past" are facets of his own psyche trying to lead him back to a waking life in the year 2006.

Take a look at the lawman beating up the wrong guy
Wonder if he'll ever know he's in the best-selling show

- Life On Mars? by David Bowie (1971).

Because we're watching Sam's subjective coma experience and not something that purports to be reality, the station interior is lit and shot oddly and the dialogue is more fun than real life too: "It's 1973. Almost dinner time. I'm having Hoops!" There's the occasional anachronism when the budget falls short of the cost of retro-fitting the entire city of Manchester to look like it did three decades ago, but nothing so sloppy as the Wolverine comic in the opening flashback of The Departed!

The music of the period plays a prominent role in the drama - if Sam had been listening to Hungry Like The Wolf when he was hit, would he think he was living the 1980s now? My only real gripe is that the official soundtrack album contains only half of the music used in the series. Thankfully, I'm not the only one who feels this way and home-made compilations aren't subject to the same rights clearance issues...


Top Five Dumbed Down Docutainment Shows

Personally, I'm a fan of no-frills advertising but it don't half lead to some vulgar brand names, like If You Think This Is Butter I'll Smash Your Fucking Head In (or whatever that margarine is called).

In broadcasting, the theory is seemingly that your ch-average viewer, if he/she can actually read a newspaper, won't, so you'd better give your show the most descriptive title possible if you want to grab his/her attention before something shiny distracts him/her.

5. Who Do You Think You Are?
4. I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here!
3. Honey, We're Killing The Kids
2. Help! My Dog's As Fat As Me
1. £50 Says You'll Watch This

It's idiotic lowest-common-denominator stuff and it's everywhere.


Top Five Villains

They don't call me "Bandwagon Ford" for nothing.

5. Number 2 (The Prisoner)
It's usually a psychological battle and Number 2 often wins.
4. The Kingpin (Spider-Man and Daredevil comics)
New York mafia boss who can more than hold his own at close range.
3. Dracula
No particular screen portrayal - the concept of an enemy that can turn you into one of their own is enough. Vampires are the original Bodysnatchers, the original Borg.

2. Mojo Jojo (The Powerpuff Girls)
"The city of Townsville, I hate you. I do not enjoy the fact that three superhero female children take up residence in you. And by hurting me and forcing me to dwell in one of your correctional facilities, these mutant infant girls prevent me from obtaining political control of you."
1. Ralph Cifaretto (The Sopranos)
A real high point in the series' patchy run. Ralph was as nasty a piece of work as I've seen on film. His eventual demise had a satisfyingly humiliating quality to it, as if there was no way they'd allow someone so reprehensible to bow out with dignity: Tony beat him to death with the frying pan he was cooking with and Ralph's wig fell off for the first time. Take that for the horse! And another for the girlfriend you beat to death when she told you she was pregnant!

Identity Crisis

I remember watching Channel 4's first moments of transmission in (if memory serves) 1982... that music, and the logo forming out of those multi-coloured pieces. A quarter of a century later, the channel has a series of more sophisticated idents.

I love the ones with a moving camera where you don't see anything coherent until the scene aligns in just the right way (the one set in Tokyo is a good example of this). If you're seeing these for the first time then look for the big "4"!


Double Versatile Discs

Add up what I've rented from two D.V.D. clubs, what I've recorded, downloaded, and borrowed from friends, etc. and I have a big-ass pile of stuff to watch. It's starting to feel like a chore so I want to separate the must-sees from the turkeys below, save some precious time and get on with real chores like my overdue taxes.

Films: Walk The Line, 36 (French thriller), The Departed, Sky Blue (Korean animation), 28 Days Later, The Apartment, Changing Lanes.

Television: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, 24 (Season 6), The Book Group, Funland, Life On Mars, Family Guy (Season 4), Deadwood (Season 3).

But which is the chaff and which the wheat? Please help me decide.

The new series of Doctor Who starts in three weeks and video hosting websites continue to entertain with oddities like A Charlie Brown Christmas as voiced by the cast of Scrubs. I'm drowning, I tell you.


Top Five Coats

A man has reached a certain maturity when his taste in clothes no longer changes like the weather and he can amass enough of one type of clothing to write about his favourites...

5. The Damned Dirty Ape
An orange/tan leather jacket reminiscent of what the science monkey wore in the original Planet Of The Apes. It's a little tight around my middle and it's missing some buttons so I wear it open in the summer a lot.
4. The Captain America
A short leather biker jacket with red, white and blue stripes like Peter Fonda's in Easy Rider.
3. The Jack Bauer
A blue waterproof with "C.T.U." in big yellow letters on the back. This is a genuine 24 promotional item that was sent to an overseas broadcaster by Fox and somehow found its way into my hands in time for the rainy season.

2. Big Black
I was cold last Christmas, going outside to smoke all the time at my dad's place. So I picked up a heavy duty coat this winter. Depending what I wear with it, I can look like Johnny Cash or I can look like Harold Steptoe.
1. The Luke Skywalker
The day I discovered H&M did men's clothes too was a happy day in the House Of M. I bought a short brown canvas jacket with poppers and pockets on the arms that reminds me of the flight suit Luke wears when he meets Yoda in Empire. Mine's missing some buttons though.

I have way fewer than five pairs of shoes.


Short Cuts

Short Cuts is an good old movie by Robert Altman. It got me reading Raymond Carver. I just saw King Kong and it was as long but nowhere near as complex so my mind wandered because it wasn't occupied.

Alice took inches off my hair and cut it level for a recent business trip. Later that week I added some finishing touches in my hotel bathroom mirror. Last week I cut it more while I was high at home. I strongly recommend against such action though I think I got away with it! I'm aiming for this kind of thing but we're not there yet.

Britney Spears has shaved her head and written P.U.S.H. on her arm, which usually stands for Pray Until Something Happens... but in her case it could just as easily be Photograph Up-Skirt Here or Pills Undermine Sanity/Health. Like words? "Britney Spears" is an anagram of "Presbyterians".

Charlie Brooker and I celebrated our birthdays on Saturday - he with his friends and me with mine. Mine went to The Old Duke on King Street and the bar of Loch Fyne on Little King Street, then back to mine to play Guitar Hero for the third Saturday night in a row.

I drove past my exit on the motorway because I was listening to Melvyn Bragg's In Our Time on the radio. I did eight miles re-tracing my "steps". That was NOT a short cut.

Brad is a star for sharing the Tea Girls blog with me. It uses the phrase "at tea"! Bless it. (Safe for work and for kids too.)

Related paragraphs that develop a theme or idea will return shortly.