Friday, 31 December 2010

Movie musings - 10 Grapefruitcrazy posts re-visited

1. The joy of Sherlock (link)
2. Alice in not quite so Wonderland (link)
3. Cat On A Hot Tin Roof - an appreciation (link)
4. The Third Man - movie magic that never dies (link)
5. 3D or not 3D, I have a suggestion (link)
6. 2.45am: nocturnal wanderings of the ageing mind (link)
7. Vanessa Paradis, the Wife of Bath, toothache, and me (link)
8. Angelina, Tom, and Cameron run and shoot and run some more (link)
9. Movies don't need to be long to be good (link)
10. 'Scream queen' Hazel Court - a British screen beauty (link)

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Creative minds - 10 Grapefruitcrazy posts re-visited

1. On beauty (link)
2. My favourite poem - Ode to Autumn (link)
3. Exclusive: the art work Charles Saatchi forgot (link)
4. The Madame Butterfly aria that places Puccini among the immortals (link)
5. I lost my Edinburgh Festival virginity over a long weekend... (link)
6. Ernest Hemingway - an appreciation (link)
7. Mozart magic - the boy wonder's Bassoon Concerto (link)
8. Gauguin at the Tate Modern - a must-see exhibition (link)
9. Gunga Din - an appreciation on National Poetry Day (link)
10. Of geeks and earthworms - in praise of knowledge (link)

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Sex matters - 10 Grapefruitcrazy posts re-visted

1. Men and sex (link)
2. Porn - protecting young minds (link)
3. Julie London - the sexiest singer ever (link)
4. Sunday morning joggers - reasons to be fearful (link)
5. Skins and Misfits and drugs and sex... (link)
6. SEX + BOOZE = ABORTION (link)
7. Satisfying sex, loose shoes and a warm bathroom (link)
8. Karen Owen's F**k List - the view from London (link)
9. What men want as much as sex in relationships (link)
10. Sex with the stars - what's in it for groupies (link)

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

London 'musts' - 10 Grapefruitcrazy posts re-visited

1. Sunday pub roast with Russell Brand. (link)
2. London's free museums - a nation's pride (link)
3. Come to Camden Market and meet the world (link)
4. The Notting Hill Carnival - Europe's biggest street party (link)
5. How to have a West End night out - and not break the bank (link)
6. GC meets Twickenham's Naked Ladies (link)
7. Primrose Hill - an appreciation (link)
8. How to make the most of your day out to St Paul's (link)
9. The Imperial War Museum and The Holocaust Exhibition (link)
10. Ten steps across Kensington Gardens (link)

Monday, 27 December 2010

People power - 10 Grapefruitcrazy posts re-visited

1. Penelope Cruz's charms
2. Bobby Moore - once met, never forgotten
3. Melvyn Bragg - an appreciation
4. Pin-up queen Pamela Green - an appreciation
5. Remembering Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky
6. The wit and wisdom of Dr. Samuel Johnson
7. Jimi Hendrix - his star still shines
8. Business leaders - the long and the short and the gross
9. Victoria Beckham - her fashion success leaves critics looking shabby
10. Philip Larkin, death, and French knickers

Friday, 24 December 2010

Put the baby Jesus back into Christmas

Britain is a pretty godless land. This is never clearer than at Christmas time. For more than a month now the approaching holiday season has dominated our high streets, press and television, and - no one can know but a reasonable surmise – everyone’s thinking.
All the planning has gone into celebrating a secular event not a religious one. Just as when I was young, families will be getting together and presents exchanged; the big difference is the story of the Nativity will not get a look in.
If my children were still at church schools or if I was a churchgoer myself, the birth of the baby Jesus would be relevant to the next few days. Popular culture seems, however, as if it would prefer to over look the story – perhaps in pursuit of misplaced political correctness.
Even though I’m an atheist, I believe the country is the poorer for erasing the spiritual significance of Christmas.
If this is hypocritical of me then so be it. I miss the carols, the stable, the manger, the shepherds, the three wise men, Mary, Joseph, and the hope that comes with a new birth.
Like any religion regrettable things have been done in the name of Christianity but I can’t see how anyone can take exception to the story of the Nativity.
The shame is these days a traditional Christmas is more likely to mean Santa Claus, Jingle Bells, pigging out, and falling asleep in front of the television.
I’m going to leave you with a favourite carol We Three Kings Of Orient Are. To finish I’d like to wish a very Merry Christmas to one and all.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

'Scream queen' Hazel Court - a British screen beauty

Britain has produced its fair share of screen beauties. Some like Vivien Leigh and Elizabeth Taylor became the very stuff of movie legend. Jean Simmons and Deborah Kerr were at the same time English roses and formidable actresses. Julie Christie was an icon of the Swinging Sixties.
Moving closer to today box offices cherish Catherine Zeta Jones and Kate Beckinsale even if they haven’t always found the scripts to match their talent. Keira Knightley isn’t afraid of a challenge whether the subject is costume drama, bounty hunting, or infidelity.
In the most recent crop beauty and ability come in the different shapes of Gemma Arterton and Emma Watson.
To their number I’d like to add Hazel Court, the flame-haired, emerald-eyed ‘scream queen’ who did her best work for horror movie director Roger Corman in The Raven, The Premature Burial, and above all the The Masque of the Red Death.
Court’s ample cleavage deserved a screen credit in its own right and back in the 1960s when I was a teenager it was as outrageous as the gory plots in her Edgar Allan Poe-inspired films. But Court was an established actress before she made her first fantasy movie in the 1950s.
Apart from her powerful physical presence, Court brought absolute belief to her roles. Acting opposite super-hams such as Peter Cushing in her work for Hammer and Vincent Price with Corman, any campness on her part would have sunk the movies under the weight of their own knowingness. As it is Masque is Corman’s masterpiece.
There is an appealing interview with Court on the Temple of Schlock website.
She died in the US at the age of 82 in 2008 having moved to America many years before. In researching these brief words I was pleased to find Court’s obituaries paid proper respect to her place in movie history and that a personal reminiscence remembered her with great affection for a life well spent.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Something about The Beatles and Abbey Road

It’s great news for all Beatles fans that the pedestrian crossing featured on the cover of the Fab Four’s 1969 album Abbey Road was designated a heritage site earlier today. It is the first time so-called Grade II status has been granted to anything other than a historic UK building.
My February 16th post Come together to celebrate The Beatles at Abbey Road focused on the importance of the North London recording studio - which is adjacent to the zebra crossing – and the central role it played in The Beatles story.
The BBC found tourists today delighted despite sub-zero temperatures to make a pilgrimage so they can follow in their heroes’ footsteps (even though the crossing has been moved a few metres from its original position).
The Beatles are as relevant as ever. This recent entry from the features section of the website of guitar kings Gibson.com names The Beatles as "the greatest band of all time" and awards the group premier ranking in its Revolutionary Hall of Fame.
My favourite track on the Abbey Road album is Something. It’s composed by George and was rated by John and Paul as the best song he ever wrote. Have a look too at the love song's promotional video below, which features the four with the women in their lives. Perhaps you’ll agree, it is a celebration of their lives yet sad to the point of tears knowing what was to follow.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Vince Cable's flirtation with high office has come to grief

What does a gobby, self-important minister have to do to get fired from the Coalition front bench? Vince Cable was already in the doghouse for telling two undercover Daily Telegraph reporters – Holly Watt and Laura Roberts, who had posed as giggly constituents - that if, pressed he could resign and bring down the Tory-LibDem government.
Cable should have been sacked when it was later revealed he’d also boasted he was “at war” with the Rupert Murdoch empire. His mind appeared already made up ahead of receiving the Ofcom watch dog’s advice on the media mogul’s plan to take control of BSkyB.
Party leaders David Cameron and Nick Clegg have been forced to grit their teeth and allow Cable to remain in his post as business secretary though relinquishing his role in the future of the BSkyB bid. Hardly anyone comes out of this mess with credit - least of all Cable.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Heathrow chaos - trying to keep a grip

It must be hell for the thousands of passengers marooned at Heathrow and I’m keeping my fingers crossed for my daughter who hopes to return from Spain to Gatwick tomorrow. But I am concerned that one of Britain’s national characteristics – self-denigration – is surfacing to no good purpose in response to the foul weather.
It is one thing to poke fun at ourselves in a self-effacing Hugh Grant sort of way but quite another to embark on a exercise of self-flagellation, because our transport system is unable to cope with the extreme conditions.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Buying haemorrhoid cream - and other pains in the neck

Having ceased full-time employment nearly two years ago, I now have the time to consider how fraught with embarrassment are even the most trivial of social encounters. As each day passes I’m becoming more sensitive to the shortcomings of my fellow human beings. Here are a selection.
1. If there’s one thing more disconcerting than queuing to buy haemorrhoid cream in a supermarket or pharmacy, it is standing behind a woman shopping for tampons. I don’t need to know she’s expecting or even on her period. It would be much better if women were allowed legally to shoplift their sanitary requirements - and men tend to their piles under the same legislation. Meanwhile anyone over 65 purchasing KY Jelly should have a street named after them.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Julian Assange - hero or villain?

I don’t think WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange walks on water. The hero worship he’s received in some quarters smacks of Leftie glee at the discomfort of the authorities rather than any genuine espousal of diplomatic transparency.
Let’s see some Chinese or Russian secrets exposed or those of any regime where dissident journalists put their lives on the line.
Some of the ambivalent attitude to Assange among both the public and media can be traced back to the rise of whistleblower WikiLeaks at the same time as the loss of trust in our governing establishment.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

John Pilger's The War You Don't See questions the illusion of a free press

For anyone who values the freedom of the press as one of the keystones of democracy, John Pilger’s documentary The War You Don’t See on ITV1 last night would have been disturbing. For someone such as me a journalist for more than 40 years, it was deeply troubling.
Pilger is a veteran investigative reporter with an anti-establishment agenda. He believes the West – especially the US – is on a constant war footing as a policy of controlling weaker countries and extracting their mineral wealth. It is as though there is a conspiracy between capitalist governments and their defence industries to forever re-cycle taxpayers’ money.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Crossing fingers the Bank of England is right on inflation

The Bank of England lost its reputation for infallibility long ago. Even before it was party to the near collapse of the UK banking system - along with the more culpable Treasury and Financial Services Authority - its forecasting ability had been called into doubt.
The founding remit of the Bank’s Monetary Policy Committee in 1997 was taming inflation when the incoming Labour government gave the MPC control over the setting of interest rates. Hindsight has shown this to have been a mistake; economic growth targets should have been incorporated into the ground rules.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Sex with the stars - what's in it for groupies?

Comedian Russell Brand has told The Big Issue magazine that at the height of his womanising often he had sex with different women daily – once as many as nine. I don’t suppose it matters that his record ‘conquest’ took place in Ireland.
Recently Simply Red’s Mick Hucknall apologised for his sexual waywardness in the 1980s, which saw him have sex with 3,000 women in a three year period.
I commented on what might drive men to have multiple sexual partners in my August 9th post Why would Peter Crouch cheat on Abbey Clancy?
Just as interesting as the motives of what drove Brand, Hucknall and other celebrity sex addicts are those of the legion of mostly anonymous young women eager to have sex with star names.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Charlie Gilmour - regretting your mistakes is part of being young

The words of contrition from Charlie Gilmour, the 21-year-old stepson of Pink Floyd guitarist David, who was caught on camera swinging on a Union Flag at the Cenotaph during yesterday’s student fees riot in London are probably not his own.
Someone who is so thick not to recognise Britain’s most revered war memorial – despite being a history student – is unlikely on his own to have come up with the apology, “Those who are commemorated by the Cenotaph died to protect the very freedoms that allow the people of Britain the right to protest.”
“Running along with a crowd of people who had just been violently repelled by the police, I got caught up in the spirit of the moment.”
He could have added, “I’m a spoiled rich kid who will never have to worry about the size of my Cambridge University tuition fees and yet aren’t bright enough to know my picture would be splashed across the country and would be quickly recognised.”

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Students fees - the LibDems jumped into bed with the Tories and were smothered

Whatever your position on university tuition fees, it is difficult to see why you would ever vote for a political party prepared to renege on a central plank of its election manifesto – a pledge to resist higher charges.
Even though it is more than four years away, the decision by the majority of LibDem MPs to back the Tories in pushing the increases through the Commons today will be a millstone around the party’s neck for the rest of this parliament. The LibDems got into bed with the Tories seduced by the prospect of ministerial office – and have been smothered.
The Coalition has failed to ‘sell’ its plan to raise the tuition charges ceiling to £9,000 a year. But I can’t see any great advantage coming to the Labour Party.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

L'homme de ma vie - a French rom-com treasure

Without going overboard, one of life’s small pleasures is to discover a movie you’ve never heard of and thoroughly enjoy. Such was the case with L’homme de ma vie (The man of my life) which I watched today.
I’d picked up the DVD at my library; other than registering that it was a French rom-com its director Jean Charles Tacchella meant little to me – and its female lead Maria de Medeiros hardly more. That’s Medeiros (above) in a clinch with Bruce Willis in a still from Pulp Fiction (I’ll explain why later).

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Hampstead's unique pubs - the heart of a London 'village'

I’ve seen Hampstead, the enclave of the well-heeled in north-west London, described as a “fascinating hill-top village” – in other words a must-see destination like Montmartre. But frankly any tourist on a tight schedule can give it a miss - unless they have a passion for English pubs.
The winding lanes that lead from Hampstead tube station are unusual but the cafés, restaurants, boutiques, and art galleries are of a good standard but not exceptional.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Remembering Formula 1 champion James Hunt

Two Radio 4 stalwarts James Naughtie and Andrew Marr stumbled over the surname of culture secretary Jeremy Hunt on air this morning re-naming the minister with the rhyming c-word. The boob by these broadcasting veterans seems to have greatly amused rather than outraged the British listening public including Hunt himself.
Its response underlines my post of April 20th regretting the decline of the c-word’s power to shock and that the expletive is headed the same way as the French con which now means no more than idiot.
However, such is the circles to be found in the windmills of GC’s mind that memories of another Hunt have come flooding back.

Friday, 3 December 2010

The best way for English football to shame Fifa

Now we know the bidding process for staging the 2018 World Cup was a stitch-up, the best way for English football to shame Fifa is to win the competition before too long.
In the light of our miserable showing in South Africa this summer, this is never going to happen until we develop a squad of exceptionally skilled players rather depend on one or two stars having a good tournament. Here are a few thoughts in no particular order how this might be achieved one day.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

World Cup - if we can't stage it, let's win it

I didn’t realise how much I wanted football’s World Cup to come to England in 2018 until our bid was voted into last place by Fifa executives in Zurich today.
On a comparative scale of emotions I was more depressed by this news than I was pleased by London winning the 2012 Olympics. Football is our national game – beach volleyball and synchronised-swimming isn’t.
Our final Fifa presentation couldn’t be faulted. David Cameron and Prince William did their stuff and it cannot be long before the third ‘lion’ David Beckham receives a knighthood for his services to football.
There was something fishy in the comprehensive manner our bid was rejected in the first round.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Frankie Boyle drowns in his Tramadol cesspit

Frankie Boyle’s Tramadol Nights on Channel 4 at 10pm yesterday lived up to the billing of its sponsor Foster’s lager as representing original comedy. A laugh-free 35 minutes of combined stand-up and sketches were certainly a new approach to the format.
The studio audience must have been tanked up before they arrived to mistake the Glaswegian’s flood of obscenities as humour.
The biggest laugh was off-stage. There was no preview material available for critics ostensibly because the show was said to be so topical. This excuse hardly seemed to square with long unfunny sketches based on piss-takes of Knight Rider, The Green Mile, and something to do with Brokeback Mountain.
Boyle’s stand-up patter could hardly be classed as up-to-the-minute either taking digs at the Pope’s visit to Britain, grunting tennis players, and George Michael’s traffic accident. Where was his take on rioting students, for example?
For the most part Boyle sought outrage with references to either sexually abused or dead children. I doubt if Calpol will be taking any more advertising slots in the show’s half-way spot.
Boyle’s unpardonable crime wasn’t that he was obscene and completely tasteless – he wasn’t funny. It was as though Bill Hicks had never lived or that Ricky Gervais hadn’t shown how there was laughter to be had in the darkest stand-up material.
There was a good sight gag where the panellists on the Iranian version of Loose Women were instantly hung. But it was all too soon back to Boyle.
Frankie on this performance, don’t think about giving up your night job.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Cheryl Cole - a role model for our times?

Cheryl Cole is reported to be in line for a £3 million payday when she joins the judges of the American version of The X Factor next year. Her successful pop career will receive a further boost when she moves across the Atlantic.
More than anyone the Girls Aloud singer epitomises the celebrity culture that grips Britain. Piers Morgan recently called Cole the most talked about woman in the country; lads’ mags vote her the world’s sexiest.
Cole has come a very long way from the Newcastle housing estate where she grew up. Ambition alone – fuelled by her natural beauty and modest musical talent – would have only taken her so far. What distinguishes Cole from the wannabes is that, either by luck or design, she has kept touch with her roots and her accent. She hasn’t attempted to airbrush out her difficult family background.
Her fans can identify with the Cheryl Cole story, which with its triumphs and setbacks is theirs written large.
She’s had brushes with the law and with death; been cheated on by a now ex-husband soccer star; and each week emotes on Britain’s most watched television show. The ‘people’ know her. They understand why she feels the need to change her hair colour or add a tattoo – they’ve been there themselves.
There is regular heart-searching in the popular press about Cole’s worthiness as a role model for today’s young. I know if my children were still at an impressionable age and the alternative was Kate Middleton, our future Queen – who has never had a proper job and life’s goal was to nab Prince William – I’d choose Cheryl Cole every time.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Eating out - GC's 10 top tips

1. Always be nice to restaurant staff – seek their advice when you order. Never be rude whatever the provocation. There’s too many ways these usually hard-working, underpaid people can be revenged – losing your coat, spitting in your soup etc.
2. Complain before you’re seated if you don’t like your table’s position. Some restaurants either want to put you in the window to make the place look popular or else try to get rid of their worst tables first. They won’t be surprised if you don’t want to sit opposite the toilets etc. Be prepared to leave if you're unhappy.
3. Make sure you’re given all the establishment’s menus. Some places are reluctant to advertise their cheaper menus which are aimed at regulars.
4. Often the shorter the menu, the more care in the quality and preparation of the food.
5. Think twice before calling for salt/pepper if there’s none on your table – it means the chef believes he/she knows best how to season your food.
6. The house wine should be a good bet.
7. Don’t be afraid to ask for tap water.
8. Check whether service is included on your bill.
9. Take your credit card receipt home with you.
10. If you can, check out the local restaurants the night before to see which are popular.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Other Men's Flowers stays in bloom - an appreciation of Lord Wavell's poetry selection

I’ve come across a gem of a poetry collection selected and annotated by Lord Wavell called Other Men’s Flowers. His choice is old school and eccentric - publication was an afterthought and so reflects the career soldier’s personality.
As befits a man of action, the poems for the most part are red-bloodied. Robert Browning and Rudyard Kipling are strongly represented with G K Chesterton and John Masefield in attendance. Wordsworth, Tennyson, and Milton don’t get a look in lacking, according to Wavell, human warmth and humour. Both of which mattered much to him.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

David Cameron's John Bercow 'dwarf' joke leaves PM looking Dopey.

David Cameron has shown poor judgement in continuing to deride Commons Speaker John Bercow’s modest stature. Cameron believes Bercow – though previously a Tory MP, he only took office with Labour support – is biased in favour of the Opposition.
At a Parliamentary Press Gallery lunch yesterday the Coalition leader repeated a joke said to have been made by health minister Simon Burns.
Following a traffic incident between their two cars, Bercow is said to have said, “I’m not happy” to which Burns replied, “Which one are you?” – a reference to Snow White’s Seven Dwarves.
I’m around the same height as Bercow – let’s say 5ft 6in – and take no exception to the wisecrack. Many would be happy to step into his size 6's. Bercow has carved a successful political career; his taller wife Sally is attractive if gabby; and despite his lack of inches he manages to keep getting in the Prime Minister's face.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Squeaky bum time for Ed Miliband

“In terms of policy, but not in terms of values, we start with a blank page,” Labour leader Ed Miliband told The Guardian last week. The obvious good sense of this position from a man whose party was slaughtered at the General Election and faces another five years in opposition has gone down like the proverbial lead balloon among those at every point of the political compass.
Press commentators from both the Right and Left see the bread stolen from their mouths – in other words they fear having nothing to sound off about.
Meanwhile the public want to see the Coalition government forced to justify its swingeing cuts. But this exposes Labour’s vulnerability.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

William, Kate and the Blue Meanies - reflections on the Royal Wedding

The announcement today that Prince William and Kate Middleton’s Royal Wedding will be on April 29th next year – and news of a Bank Holiday to mark the nuptials – will put the British monarchy under a close scrutiny not seen since the marriage of Charles and Camilla.
Respect for the Queen is pretty solid throughout the country. But for the most part indifference rules about the rest of the Royals, despite the noises on the fringe made by pro and anti-monarchists.
I date this disillusion from the melodrama that surrounded the life and death of Princess Diana. I might cross the road to see a Royal but I wouldn’t catch a bus.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Just how useful are restaurant review sites when it comes to finding a good curry?

Just how useful are restaurant review sites? Human nature being what it is you are more likely to contribute to a website if you’ve had a rubbish meal rather than a reasonable one. Whatever the verdict the evaluations can be years old, during which time the restaurant could have improved or deteriorated. Serious criticism may have prompted a change in the practices previously objected to.
You don’t have to be much of a gourmet, for example, to visit a top London curry restaurant – say, Benares, Bombay Brasserie, or The Cinnamon Club – spend a small fortune and have a great meal.
But in these straitened times value for money is an important factor in choosing where to eat. This is where review sites should make their mark always given that there is no substitute for the personal recommendation of family or friends.

Friday, 19 November 2010

THE NEW TENANT - a short story by GC

A noise woke Teddy Bigelow. 2am and Hattersley Court should have been wrapped in blissful silence. The apartment block was showing its age but its flats could honestly boast “peaceful seclusion yet walking distance of Archway tube” in any rental ad.
No dogs, no loud music, no noisy parties, and definitely no children. As chairman of the residents’ association he had no difficulty in imposing a ban on the latter even though it was not an actual clause in the letting agreement.
Yet he lay in bed listening to a disturbing noise much closer than the distant traffic.
It was penetrating rather than loud. Minutes of silence punctuated by seconds of a whine that was at first mechanical and then human. The source was as mysterious as the sound itself.
The bedrooms of the 20 apartments in the three storey building overlooked a small communal garden. There could be no other explanation than that the cause was close by.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

The funniest line in British screen comedy

To qualify as quintessentially the funniest line in British screen comedy it has to be chucklesome, aggressive, rude and a double entendre. The Carry On movies has them in abundance. But to my mind the best ever is found at the 2:45 point in the Doctor In Clover clip that heads this post.
It is delivered by comedian Arthur Haynes who died of a heart attack at the peak of his television popularity in 1966 at just 52.
Largely overlooked now, this British Film Institute ScreenOnLine link gives a flavour of the loss Haynes was to the world of comedy. The misanthropy of his television tramp character had echoes of Tony Hancock but in addition he was a one man warrior in the class war.
The movie, based on the Richard Gordon comic novel, was released in 1966 and is mainly a Leslie Phillips vehicle. But for me the exchange between hospital patient Tarquin Wendover (Arthur Haynes) and top consultant Sir Lancelot Spratt (James Robertson Justice) lifts the film out of the ordinary. Haynes’s screen time – repeating his combative personae - in the film is in the best traditions of comic acting.
At 2:45 Wendover is explaining to Spratt the cause of his back and chest pain is the result of an old war wound suffered while “bending down in the trenches prior to like leading my men over the top.”
Wendover: Suddenly, bang, off goes a grenade and a lump of shrapnel hits me right up the…
Spratt: Rectum?
Wendover: Well, it didn’t do 'em any good.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Why London's 2012 Olympics logo is the worst in the history of the modern Games

It’s three years since the logo for London’s 2012 Summer Olympics was unveiled by brand specialists Wolff Olins. I thought it was rubbish then – even more so now that it is beginning to appear commercially.
I’m no Mr Outrage. I’m not easily riled by such things. But I am a Londoner and I want our Games to impress the world and we're off to a 'false start'.
It’s much too late to do anything about it but it is clear the design company – and UK Olympic officials who gave the logo the green light – made a fundamental error in treating the Games as a brand that could be infinitely exploited.
The logo most closely resembles a broken swastika in the way that the year is the predominate theme. But 2012 is the least interesting aspect of the Games – it happens every four years. The Olympic rings are a constant. What changes is the location – yet the logo dismisses our capital city as almost an afterthought.
This is how the Wolff Olins website sees it.
“The emblem is 2012, an instantly recognizable symbol and a universal form – one already closely associated with the Games in London. It is unconventionally bold, deliberately spirited and unexpectedly dissonant, echoing London’s qualities of a modern, edgy city. Containing neither sporting images nor pictures of London landmarks, the emblem shows that the Games are more than London, more than sport. It is for everyone, regardless of age, culture and language. It is designed to be populated, to contain infills and images, so it is recognisable enough for everyone to feel and be part of London 2012.”
Complete tosh, of course. The reason why the logo is intended to be so flexible – for example there is no standard colour – is because it allows companies to incorporate it into their sponsorship advertising.
London’s presence is dismissed as an irritating necessity warranting a mere lower case mention.
If the design really cost £400,000 as has been suggested it was money wasted. The 2012 London Olympics logo is the worst ever in the history of the modern Games.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Congratulations but Kate Middleton is no role model for young women

Kate Middleton is no role model for young women in the 21st century. Attractive certainly, and from tonight’s television interview intelligent and charming, and probably decent too but she still hung on eight years while Prince William dithered over tying the knot.
Although well-educated, she never held down a job outside the family orbit all the time she faced being left on the shelf by her indecisive boyfriend.
The speculation is over and Catherine Middleton (as we are being encouraged to call the future Queen) is to marry her prince next year. Now it is too late for her to lead anything approaching a normal life.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Ten steps across Kensington Gardens

1. Exit Lancaster Gate tube station and enter Kensington Gardens by Marlborough Gate. The Italian Gardens in front of you have one of the finest sets of fountains to be found in London.
2. Close by is the Peter Pan statue. Its appeal is as immortal as the boy himself.
3. On the far side of The Long Water is the first of four temporary (until March 13th 2011) large mirror-like stainless steel installations by prominent artist Anish Kapoor. The other three are close by. The exhibition is titled Turning the World Upside Down.
4. A short detour into Hyde Park takes you to the Diana Princess of Wales memorial fountain.

Friday, 12 November 2010

How to avoid joining the Twitter Two

The Twitter community is learning the hard way what print journalists are taught from Day 1 – irony hardly ever works. The clear joke you hear inside your head is easily lost on the page and you run the risk of being taken literally. Especially so in a world where officials are not encouraged to think for themselves when judging whether a threat is real or ironic. More so if your wit is limited to 140 characters.
This has been the fate of two recent tweeters. Both were clearly joking from the off and yet found themselves in hot water.
Paul Chambers threatened to blow up an airport and Gareth Compton called for a Muslim journalist to be stoned to death. The law intervened raising freedom of speech issues.
The response has been partisan with Chambers winning support internationally, while Compton has been hung out to dry. I have sympathy for neither.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

The big question after the Millbank riot

When the young man who dropped a fire extinguisher from the roof of the besieged Tory HQ in London’s Millbank yesterday is caught, he should be charged with attempted murder. It is a miracle that today’s headlines are not leading with the death of one of the police officers or protesters who were just feet away from where the extinguisher landed.
The police are embarrassed they weren’t prepared for either the numbers who marched to show their opposition to higher university tuition fees or the strong possibility that a section, determined on mischief, might attack Millbank Tower.
Demonstrations and marches are likely to be a regular event around the UK next year, as the Coalition’s measures to rein in the deficit erode jobs and shrink the welfare state. The big question is whether yesterday’s riot is the forerunner of more episodes of serious civil unrest.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

If I could live my life all over again I still wouldn't be an international playboy

If I could live my life all over again I still wouldn’t be an international playboy. I couldn’t handle the paternity suits, the rich food, the ski injuries, yacht sickness, the constant partying to preserve my celebrity status, the plastic surgery, cocaine-destroyed nostrils and above all the obnoxious company of people just like me.
If nothing else I never had the money. There’s no point in losing sleep over those things beyond your control.
It becomes more problematical where I missed out on the pleasures I could afford. Take sky-diving. I can imagine the thrill practitioners must experience leaping into mid-air, tumbling through space, the rushing wind as the ground races towards you before your parachute opens. But with my fear of heights and death no amount of empathy would ever have persuaded me to take up the sport.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

What today's politicians can learn from Michael Foot

For all his faults – not least that he was a disastrous leader of the Labour Party in opposition – there is good reason to keep Michael Foot’s memory alive regardless of your politics.
I was one of many hundreds at the event Celebrating Michael Foot at the Lyric Theatre in London’s Shaftesbury Avenue last night. The great and the Left turned their thoughts to the grand old Parliamentarian who died in March at the age of 96.
Gordon Brown came in person as did Neil Kinnock and Roy Hattersley; Tony Blair – away fixing the Middle East – was represented by wife Cherie; while the new Labour leader Ed Miliband was busy changing his new son’s nappies so he sent his deputy Harriet Harman to deliver some platitudes.

Monday, 8 November 2010

What did we do before the internet?

What did we do before the internet? Being computer-less for nearly five days was akin to temporarily joining a monastic order. “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone,” Joni Mitchell once sung. I never really appreciated just how dependent I’d become on having access to the internet until now.
When my laptop died last week - later to be resurrected courtesy of a new hard drive - I was instantly ostracised by the rest of the world.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Note to Grapefruitcrazy readers

The timing of the resumption of service will depend on how quickly I can get my laptop repaired. GC

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

What men want as much as sex in relationships

Stephen Fry, a previous beacon of wit, charm, and intelligence has got himself into hot water for daring to broach the subject of female sexuality in gay lifestyle magazine Attitude.
He may or may not have said that women are not as hot on sex as men and see it as the price they pay for a relationship with a man.
Television polymath Fry, a gay man, is reported in the magazine as saying "If women liked sex as much as men, there would be straight cruising areas in the way there are gay cruising areas."
A frivolous response is to ask with whom heterosexual young men have been having one night stands when they go out on the pull?

Monday, 1 November 2010

Halloween puts the hex on Guy Fawkes Night

Guy Fawkes Night is one British tradition I am quite happy to see die a little every year. In many places where there is a celebration this Friday (Remember, remember the fifth of November/Gunpowder, treason, and plot), it will be called Bonfire or Fireworks Night. And quite right too. The burning of effigies is made none the more wholesome accompanied by jacket potatoes.
I don’t want to overstate the point. It’s more than 400 years since Catholic Fawkes and his fellow-conspirators failed to blow up King James I in support of their mistreated coreligionists - and has long since lost its historical significance.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Thriller writer Stephen Leather's masterclass

Thriller writer Stephen Leather has a score of books to his name and his sales have topped the 2 million mark. I read his breakthrough novel The Chinaman a while ago and saw at once he was a master of his craft. But the genre isn’t my particular cup of tea.
I’ve come to praise his generosity to aspiring writers - the popularity of his novels can speak for themselves.
If I hadn’t met Steve thirty years or so ago when he was still a financial reporter – and bumped into him a handful of times since – I would never had cause to seek out his website www.stephenleather.com
I would have been the poorer. For someone such as myself who is fascinated by the process of writing, I would have missed out on a first-rate insight into how a successful author goes about his business.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

I don’t get The X Factor or Strictly Come Dancing

I don’t get The X Factor or Strictly Come Dancing. It is a fault in my DNA. I must lack the gene that feeds on manufactured hysteria. As a consequence I’m beginning to feel like a stranger in my own country when I turn to the gossip pages in the popular press and online.
They are crammed full of stories – often sob stories – about people from the shows who I will have never heard of - apart from Cheryl Cole and Ann Widdecombe.
The X Factor has achieved television audiences that have topped 15 million and Strictly 10 million. There is a dearth of television entertainment that appeals across the generations and good luck to any show that brings families together.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Proposition 19 - the world is watching how California votes on drug reform next Tuesday

Next Tuesday California votes on Proposition 19 whether to allow people “21 years old or older to possess, cultivate, or transport marijuana for personal use.” Being many thousands of miles away I wouldn’t presume to encourage Californians in either direction.
The pros and cons are outlined in this link. In any case the latest polls show support for a ‘Yes’ vote is slipping, while even if it were passed possession would remain a crime under Federal law.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

10 things you already know about Christmas Day

1. Nobody should be alone the whole of Christmas Day. Where it is within your power to visit or better still invite such a person to your lunch, you should do so.
2. You will receive at least one present which although well meant will reveal how little the giver really knows about you.
3. Youngsters are an essential part for setting the Christmas mood, until they reach two when they become a nuisance. Their noise grows geometrically with increasing numbers.
4. An expensive toy will be rendered useless by the end of the day.
5. Lunch will be at least an hour behind schedule by which time you’ll wish you hadn’t scoffed so many nibbles.
6. There is unlikely to be more than an hour’s worth of decent television.
7. Some family resentment that has been bottled up all year will raise to the surface.
8. You will decline your guests’ offer to help wash up and then feel bitter you have been left with the chore.
9. At some point you’ll be reminded that the purpose of Christmas is to celebrate the Nativity and despair that its message has been lost when you watch the TV news.
10. You will resolve to do things differently next year.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Movies don't need to be long to be good

I haven’t seen a mainstream movie for a long time, which wouldn’t benefit from being trimmed by ten to twenty minutes or so. Perhaps it's something to do with seat prices – maybe movie makers think audiences will feel short-changed if they don’t get around two-hours and more for their pounds and dollars.
I read somewhere that the economics of book publishing favours the writing of doorstep-thick novels. The same seems to be happening to movies.
Of course some films will drag whatever their length – like Angelina Jolie’s Salt (100 minutes) and Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz’s Knight and Day (109 minutes).
This thought was brought home to me when catching up with the excellent Mexican gang movie Sin Nombre on DVD the other night. It said all it had to say in a taut 96 minutes.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Scrap GMT - and give Britain more daylight

From Norway and Sweden in the north to Italy and Spain in the south, Central European Time rules. This is Greenwich Mean Time plus 2 hours in the summer months and GMT plus 1 hour over the winter. It works for them and could for us in the UK, as it did in the war years.
We’ll get an extra hour in bed on the morning of Sunday October 31st – our clocks will have gone back an hour to GMT at 2am – but for the rest of the winter we’ll suffer increasingly shorter days.
This is what the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents has to say on the issue of reform in a press release under the headline Clocks go back and road accidents rise. “In the long term, RoSPA would like to see a change in the law so that evenings are lighter all year round. This could prevent around 450 deaths and serious injuries on Britain's roads each year.”
Labour ducked making a decision - the Coalition should have more backbone.
For the energy saving, international trading, and tourist industry advantages I refer you to my post of May 13th. There I focussed on the bliss of longer summer evenings that would be our lot if we embraced double summer time.
Intending no disrespect to Scotland’s farmers who understandably don’t fancy working many winter hours in the dark at the start of their day, the Scottish Parliament could exercise its independence and legislate its own time standards.
This would leave the rest of us to benefit from a change whose time is long overdue.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Cliff Richard's Move It - an appreciation

In the history of popular music there can be few milestones as undisputed as the fact that Move It by Cliff Richard and the Drifters was the first authentic home-grown British rock and roll record.
As John Lennon said, “before Cliff and the Shadows (as the band were soon to become) there was nothing.” Shakin’ All Over by Johnny Kidd and the Pirates is secure in second place and thereafter perhaps some Billy Fury material.
There were a few earlier British artists challenging US domination like Tommy Steele and particularly Lonnie Donegan but their songs originated in America.
Move It was written by Drifters’ guitarist Ian Samwell on the top of a double-decker bus on his way to rehearsals. It took off in August 1958; I was thirteen.
The song launched Cliff as the British Elvis but just five singles later came Living Doll and the boy next door replaced the moody, lip-curling teenager.
Many decades later Sir Cliff Richard, a monument to clean living, is still making music. But for me Cliff – devout Christian and friend of Tony Blair – will always be the surly rocker I saw at the Metropolitan Theatre, Edgware Road fifty years ago at my first live gig.
Cliff’s Move It still sounds good today but he would never have got away with the wonky teeth.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

George Osborne's Spending Review - death by a thousand cuts

You wouldn’t let George Osborne near a Samaritans’ switchboard. The man doesn’t do caring. There was no “I feel your grief” from the Chancellor as he unveiled nearly 500,000 job cuts in his Spending Review today. The pace he delivered his killer-blows bordered on the glib.
His opposite number Alan Johnson struck the more appropriate tone even though the massive deficit Osborne attacked was of New Labour’s making and its policy only differs on the timing and not the extent of the cuts.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Of geeks and earthworms - in praise of knowledge

I used to like to think I knew a little about a lot. As a reader of this blog you might agree.
But I take no credit arriving at this point after living 65 years, some 40 of which spent as a national newspaper journalist.
To be an instant expert is a key attribute for any self-respecting reporter. If he or she wrote only on their specialism, they wouldn’t last a day in the newsroom. This isn’t an excuse for amateurism – the practise of journalism is a democratic one. There is no place to hide. If you’re no good your own words will be used in evidence against you.
You can see over on the right hand side of this page the many topics I have entertained in the short life of this blog. I stand by every word but I’m the first to admit that none exhibits any great knowledge above the general.
I’m coming to the conclusion that I may have missed out on the pleasure of knowing a lot about a little. In other words the joy of being a complete geek, a bore, an expert – what you will – on at least one subject.

Monday, 18 October 2010

The best of Wayne Rooney's brains are in his feet....

The best of Wayne Rooney’s brains are in his feet. The Manchester United player’s smartest moves were teaming up with Coleen and allowing manager Sir Alex Ferguson to develop his talent to super soccer stardom. Foolishly he has strained both relationships.
Hopefully his marriage has survived kiss-and-tell revelations in the Sunday tabloids. Healing the rift with Ferguson might prove a taller order, even if Rooney achieves a return to the form that dropped off so spectacularly at the World Cup and since.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Goldilocks and the UK economy - the cuts have to be just right

A nationwide epidemic of finger-crossing is set to break out across Britain next week, as workers fear for the security of their jobs.
On Wednesday we learn just how savagely the Tory-LibDem coalition government intends taking an axe to the nation’s public service sector, as it gets to grips with the £149 billion deficit inherited from New Labour.
The knock-on damage to private business will be considerable – directly for those companies that supply the public sector and indirectly for those like retailers who suffer when shoppers tighten purse strings.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Why twenty-seven is a woman's ideal age

From a male perspective I suggest that 27 is the ideal age for a woman. She retains the vibrancy and beauty of her youth but with just enough experience to add insight into the ways of the world though not so much to dull her optimism.
Anna Karina – the Danish born film actress who was a muse of new wave movie director Jean-Luc Godard – was 27 when she made Anna, a French television musical in 1967.
The joie de vivre expressed in one of her songs in the show Roller Girl written by Serge Gainsbourg exemplifies what I mean.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Curry house blues are out of tune with today's diners

My last half-dozen visits to different curry restaurants across London have been distinctly underwhelming. My February 11th post In praise of curry reflected my life-long love affair with the Subcontinent’s national dish. So it pains me to say so.
I’m not a dyed-in-the-wool traditionalist. I don’t mourn the passing of flock wallpaper and Bombay duck (actually a small dried fish). But change – if that is what’s going on - shouldn’t start to erode what made curry houses so successful in the first place.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Andrew Marr gets it wrong in anti-blogging rant

Andrew Marr gave the blogging fraternity both barrels - and two fingers - when he addressed the Cheltenham Literature Festival this week.
“A lot of bloggers seem to be socially inadequate, pimpled, single, slightly seedy, bald, cauliflower-nosed young men sitting in their mother’s basements and ranting,” he said.
“The so-called citizen journalism is the spewings and rantings of very drunk people late at night,” he, well, ranted.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Karen Owen's F**k List - the view from London

The rumpus sparked by Duke University graduate Karen Owen’s 42-page PowerPoint mock thesis in which she details 13 booze-driven one-night-stands – names, photos, penis sizes, performance etc – with campus star athletes, seems to make too much allowance that she is a woman.
If An education beyond the classroom: excelling in the realm of horizontal academics had been written by a man and subsequently minutiae about the sex lives of 13 woman students had leaked across the internet, TV bulletins, and newspapers, the reaction to date would have been much more critical.
Men may boast about their conquests to their locker room buddies but there is no comparison to the way the privacy of Karen Owen’s “hook ups” has been shattered internationally.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Jimi Hendrix - his star still shines

I remember the shock and grief. I was crossing Old Compton Street in London’s Soho – it was already dark and raining – when I saw a newspaper placard that said Jimi Hendrix was dead. Forty years ago last month. He was just 27.
This afternoon I attended a gathering – seminar is too pompous – entitled Hendrix in London: yesterday and tomorrow. The venue was the Covent Garden Odeon – previously it had been the Saville Theatre owned by Beatles manager Brian Epstein where Jimi had played.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Gunga Din - an appreciation on National Poetry Day

Today being National Poetry Day has prompted me to look back across the years and conclude that Rudyard Kipling’s Gunga Din moves me more than any verse I have ever read.
I posted here on May 4th that John Keats' Ode to Autumn is my favourite poem and that remains the case. But ever since my first acquaintance with Gunga Din in my early twenties, I’ve never been able to read it all the way through without welling up.
My delayed introduction to Kipling was due to my dismissal of the man as a standard bearer for the British Empire. He was, but in my ignorant opinion I thought he was little else.
Later I was to discover his chilling condemnation of the First World War in which he lost his beloved son. In his poem My Boy Jack he wrote, “If any question why we died/Tell them, because our fathers lied.”

Norman Wisdom - a little man with a big heart


This video clip from Trouble in Store illustrates Norman Wisdom's clowning talent at its peak.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Gauguin at the Tate Modern - a must-see exhibition

Until my visit to the Paul Gauguin exhibition at the Tate Modern in London yesterday, I had always considered the painter a bit of a lightweight, whose reputation never matched French Impressionist contemporaries. An also-ran behind Van Gogh, Cezanne, and Manet. Something of a disreputable joke – the former stockbroker who deserted his family for the young flesh of Tahiti. But the exhibition Gauguin: Maker of Myth, which runs until January 16th, swiftly dispels any such notion and places the man at the forefront of the development of Modern Art. His influence is seen clearest in the work of Picasso and Matisse but he touched many others, Munch included.
Gauguin’s unique style whether painting the Breton countryside or Tahitian beauties evolved early – vivid colour, flat perspective, symbolism, ethnic art, inspiration from the sacred and mundane – and above all the ‘strangeness’ of his vision.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

From Norman Wisdom to Wilson Keppel and Betty

Sir Norman Wisdom’s death at the age of 95, yesterday evening, reminded me of the four names I had collected in an autograph book, lost more than 50 years ago. It had a red cover and its pages were various pastel shades.
There was Wisdom himself in pride of place. My mother and my seven or eight year old self had waited at the stage door of the London Palladium to collect the slapstick king’s autograph. His straight man Jerry Desmonde also went in the book on the same occasion.
I wish I could recall what prompted this expedition – when it came to knockabout I’m sure my taste was for the Three Stooges – and still is.
I had a schoolboy crush on child film star Mandy Miller. Once again conducted by my mother to an autograph signing, she’s there too.
The final name was that of Gordon Pirie. I had been having lunch in a greasy spoon with my father when we spotted the long distance runner dining. Perhaps I’d even seen him race – my father was an athletics fan and had taken me to meetings at White City.
I’ve surfed the internet to find a suitable video clip to accompany this post starting with Wisdom and then exploring British music hall via Max Wall before settling on sand dance variety act Wilson Keppel and Betty because it makes me smile. Sorry Norman, R.I.P.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Ryder Cup - a spoilsport's view of Europe's victory

Europe’s win over the USA in the Ryder Cup golf contest at Celtic Manor has left me for the most part unmoved. Golf is a particularly Monty Python sport in concept – chasing, as it does, small balls into only slightly larger holes with long sticks. Given the often tasteless clothes all that is needed are silly walks for the comparison to be complete.
For reasons I can’t fathom, I don’t feel the same antipathy towards snooker. Perhaps it’s a matter of size.
Golf might be fun to play with friends but to grow into a billion dollar spectator sport, the world has come to a strange point in its history.
There are, however, some aspects of the Ryder Cup, which warrant closer examination for the positive messages it communicates.
The tournament drips money in terms of sponsors, ticket admissions, and television audiences. But at its heart matches are played for pride and not prize money.
There are other sporting events contested on the same basis but few can count on drawing participants from the cream of their sport – therefore its richest players - and get them to eagerly compete for nothing.
The selection of pan-European teams to participate in the Ryder Cup – it was extended beyond Britain and Ireland in 1979 – was a significant milestone in opening up UK sport. Since then soccer with its large numbers of foreign players and managers has further reduced sporting xenophobia.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Reflections on a tragic death in Belsize Park

I am compelled to write about a tragic death at the top of my road in the early hours of Thursday morning. Any other subject would seem trivial by comparison.
A woman student from Singapore was a hit-and-run victim. Police believe she was dragged for many metres under the wheels of a lorry. Her body was found close to Belsize Park tube station in north-west London where I live.
The circumstances of her death are particularly heart-rending. She was just 20 and it was her birthday. Her name has yet to be revealed but her family have been informed.
Neighbours and local shopkeepers have spoken to me of nothing else today. Floral tributes have been laid by the side of the road.
I learnt of the tragedy from yesterday afternoon’s edition of the Evening Standard newspaper. Perhaps it was the proximity to my home but I have thought of little else since.
There is the fragility of life that can be so suddenly and violently snuffed out. There is the unfairness, which makes it so difficult to believe in a loving Creator.
One individual has taken away the life of another. But the lorry driver might not even know of the catastrophe that has been wrought.
There is the woman’s family a world away. They must have felt the unease all parents experience when their children venture from home and beyond their ability to protect. Being her birthday perhaps they had spoken in the hours before her life was taken. More than one life would have been destroyed yesterday.

It was later announced the victim was medical student Mingwei Tan, who was just about to begin her third year at Peterhouse College, Cambridge. My thoughts are with her family.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Mozart magic - the boy wonder's Bassoon Concerto


I don’t know my adagio from my lento but if there is a more beautiful piece of classical music than the second movement of Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto I would like to hear it.
The boy wonder wrote the piece at the age of just 18 in 1774. Sadly two Mozart concertos for the bassoon have been lost; this survives.
It must have been about 20 years ago when I first heard the concerto - or rather some of the slow second movement. Mozart's melody is sublime and the bassoon speaks with a human voice to the listener.
Perhaps it was a guest's choice on Desert Island Discs, because I wasn't in the habit of listening to classical music. I bought the recording the next day and I have been haunted by it ever since.
This link takes you to the programme notes produced by the Burgess Hill Symphony Orchestra, which admirably explains the structure of the concerto.
The video that tops this post is from a recording by the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra and the soloist is Donna Agrell.
I regret now my teenage rebellion, which resisted my late father's attempts to introduce me to classical music. But even my uncouth ears couldn't resist the voice of his favourite Kathleen Ferrier. Her What is life has been a pleasure for more than fifty years.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Ed Miliband blunders into Iraq minefield

New Labour leader Ed Miliband was wrong to condemn Britain’s role in the invasion of Iraq in the manner he did at yesterday’s party conference speech. I say this as one who supported the war up to the minute it became clear Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction were a fiction invented to allow George W Bush to finish what his father had started.
Miliband said, "I criticise nobody faced with making the toughest of decisions and I honour our troops who fought and died there, but I do believe that we were wrong. Wrong to take Britain to war.” This was mealy-mouthed by any measure.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Ed Miliband talks a good fight

Ed Miliband’s use of the phrase “new generation” ran into double figures in his first speech as Labour leader at the party’s conference today. The main thrust of his address to his immediate audience and to the country at large was that a clean break was being made with the previous Labour regimes of Iraq-stained Tony Blair and economy-tarnished Gordon Brown.

Monday, 27 September 2010

You know you're getting old when...

1. You can’t remember the last time you ran up stairs two steps at a time.
2. You have begun to slice dessert apples to make them easier to eat.
3. You use a magnifying glass to check the cooking instruction on food packets.
4. You use the subtitles function when watching television or DVDs.
5. You find spicy food starts to give you indigestion after a lifetime of curries.
6. You keep forgetting where you left your reminders list.
7. You are grateful getting to dawn without having to pee.
8. You discover the point of afternoon naps.
9. You complain jars are harder to open.
10. You find illnesses have become the main topic of conversation with your friends.

Friday, 24 September 2010

AN ACCIDENT WAITING TO HAPPEN - a short story by GC

The long queue for the Louvre began in a cloister. The shade it provided made the contrast of the hot sun beating down on the square and the glass pyramid even more intense.
The Englishman and the girl didn’t speak until they stepped from the comparative comfort of the shade into the hot sun. It would be twenty minutes at least before they would reach the head of the queue.
“It’s bloody hot,” the man said. “Your neck’s red from yesterday.”
“Believe me I know.”
“Then why wear a T-shirt? You need something with a collar and sleeves.”
“I didn’t want the hassle of changing when we go back to the hotel for our bags.”
“The train doesn’t leave for hours. You could have changed in the ladies.”
“Just forget it.”
“I worry about you.”
“Well, don’t.”

The heat seemed to bounce off the square making the pyramid shimmer as though preparing for lift-off. The queue had been stationary for a few minutes before she spoke again.
“Why are we spending our last morning sweating like pigs? It will be a scrum when we get inside?”
“You can’t do Paris without visiting the Louvre. You’re the art buff. We should have gone on Tuesday.”
“It’s closed Tuesday.”
“See you do know all about it.”
“Then please don’t say laddish things when we get inside.”
“Like what?”
“Venus de Milo – she looks ‘armless.”
He laughed. “You used to think that sort of thing funny.”
“I still could.”
He looked around. There was a German family in front of them. Behind an elderly American couple. The woman was using a map as a makeshift fan.
“Why can’t we go to the doll museum instead?” the girl said. “It’s not far.”
“Because.”
“Because what? Didn’t you have a doll? No, big boys don’t have dolls. What do they have? Action Man? A teddy bear? Didn’t you have a teddy bear?”
“Just leave it alone. You don’t even like dolls.”
“How do you know that? You don’t know everything about me. I’ve still got my Barbie somewhere.”
“Trish, just shut up about dolls. Please.”
“Don’t get your boxers in a twist.”
“It’s not funny. I don’t think it’s funny at all.”

The girl took a small bottle of Evian from her shoulder bag. She offered it first to the American woman who looked unsteady in the heat. “No, thank you, hon, we have our own,” the old lady said.
The Englishman shook his head and the girl took a long swig from the bottle of water.
“I took the tests,” she said, “and you promised you would.”
“It’s not that easy.”
“It is too. You must have been practising since you were twelve. I’ll come along and hold your hand and anything else?”
“It doesn’t help when you make jokes about it.”
“What are you so frightened about? Maybe the little buggers are a bit sluggish. I had a lazy eye once.”
The man retrieved a second bottle of water from the girl’s shoulder bag, took a drink, and replaced it.
“Why open the other bottle? Mine’s still half-full."
“Don’t know,” he shrugged.
“It’s just as well I’m not fussy what I put in my mouth.”
“There you go again.”
“For God’s sake, Nick, loosen up. It’s only a test.”
“Why aren’t you happy with me.”
“I am. I am.”
“Then let’s get married.”
“Smart young people like us with bags of knowledge about everything have accidents – and then they get married. It gives the Best Man something to nudge and wink about in his speech. We haven’t had an accident in over a year.”
He looked at his watch. There was still another five hours before they had to be at the Gare du Nord.
“I’ll get the test done. I will.”
“Look, Nick, you don’t have to. Really. I don’t mind. Either way it won’t make any difference to us. It would just be nice to know.”
“Yes, you're right, nice to know.”
“And make no difference. I swear, you do believe that?”
“Absolutely.”

They had been standing hand-in-hand in front of the Mona Lisa for a few minutes when the girl felt his grip tighten.

note. This short story stands no comparison but it did take its inspiration from Ernest Hemingway’s Hills Like White Elephants.GC

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Melvyn Bragg - an appreciation

Knowing how little you know about something is the first step in the acquisition of knowledge.
I listened mostly in complete bewilderment to the first in a new series of Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time on Radio 4 this morning. The discussion programme’s subject was imaginary numbers. It wasn’t so much highbrow as furrowed brow. I was lost within seconds but I stayed on for the full 45 minutes. Such is Bragg’s skill as a guide.
Underlying his work – and here I include his much missed television arts programme The South Bank Show – is the presumption his audience enjoy having their brains stretched.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Foot fetishism - a strange sole music

It’s foot fetishists rather than women’s feet that fascinate me. I can wax lyrical about most parts of the female anatomy. Not just the sit up and take notice bits but graceful arms, slender necks, cute knees, jewelled ear lobes and navels, dimpled chins, collar bones, shoulder blades, freckles, birth marks. But feet?
I love pretty feet. There’s nothing unclean about feet. At shared bath times in the increasingly distant past, my companion of the moment had having her toes sucked on the menu but invariably found it more ticklish than erotic – something it didn’t say in whatever sex manual I was reading at the time.
I include this intimate reminiscence to show I’m no enemy of the female foot.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Nick Clegg and David Cameron - joined at the hip for the next five years

Whatever the colour of your politics, if you live in the UK you should want to see a strong Labour party in the House of Commons. In the interests of democracy, it needs to be testing the (unelected) Conservative-LibDem coalition every step of the spending cuts to come.
This means Labour has to elect David Miliband as its new leader. Only he has the experience to stress-test Coalition policy – and the broad electoral appeal, which will be needed in five years time.
He can’t count on the Coalition falling apart before then. The speech of Nick Clegg, the LibDem leader, to his party conference yesterday pinpointed how he had provided what it had been lacking for 65 years – ministerial power.

Monday, 20 September 2010

British pubs - 10 tips to get the most from your visit

There can’t be any hard and fast rules about how to get the best out of a visit to a British pub. Their character can change hour-by-hour, day-by-day. A quiet nook at lunchtime can become a heaving beerfest at night; a Friday evening haunt for office workers celebrating the weekend can be a cosy, intimate bar 24 hours later.
But I do have 10 tips – admittedly personal and prejudiced though they are – which might help make your pub visit even more of a success. Here they are in no particular order:-

Friday, 17 September 2010

Read no further unless you have a strong stomach

Read no further unless you have a strong stomach. Today’s post regards my first overnight assignment as a young journalist when my body rebelled against the quantities of free booze I had greedily supped.
I was about 24 and had scraped a third in Sociology at a London Poly and was desperate for a job. I chased employment in personnel management and publishing however my preference was for journalism.
My politics was left of centre but I leapt at the offer of work on an industrial magazine attached to the CBI (a bosses’ confederation).
I got off to a good start. About the second week I was told to cover the conversion of a major steelworks in the north (I can’t remember where) from coal or ‘town’ gas to North Sea gas. Hardly Pulitzer Prize but suitable for a cub reporter.
The early start required that hacks journey up the night before. Details are hazy as I will explain later (there’s still time to check out of this) - I was probably drinking on the train and again at the evening meal.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Do you have a special romantic song?


Do young couples still have a special song, which they treasure through the years? Given Britain’s divorce rate Slap My Bitch Up might be more appropriate of the harmony to come.
My parents’ song was Billy Eckstine’s version of September Song, the video of which accompanies this post.
I’ve included a link to Frank Sinatra’s treatment, which incorporates the song’s lyrics on screen. His respect for the words, his phrasing is nothing short of magical.
The melancholy theme of September Song initially struck me as an odd choice of tune for a young couple as my parents would have been in the 1940s.
But it was wartime and I imagine living through the Blitz meant sudden death could visit them from the skies.
They must have had a heightened sense of the preciousness of life. Those of us now in the September of their lives should take heed of the song's sentiments.
The nearest thing my ex and I had to a special song was Leo Sayer’s When I need you. Back in the 1970s young love had got drunk together one lunchtime and bought the single on the way back to Passion Central.
It’s still a lovely song but in the light of events this link teams the Curly One with The Muppets.


Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Business leaders - the long and the short and the gross


We shall not see their like again – James Hanson, Arnold Weinstock, James Goldsmith, Tiny Rowland - kings of the business jungle who never blinked when eye-to-eye with City investors let alone their own boardrooms.
And probably a good thing too. They were indivisible from the British companies they ran and like politicians their careers, for the most part, ended in failure. They have all gone to face that Great Audit in the sky.
As a financial journalist for more than 30 years I got to meet these men when they were at the peaks of their empire building power. But none I could say was good company – they were too convinced of their own infallibility to engage with mere City reporters beyond the barest minimum.
Strangely I found the shorter the business leader the more fun he was.