Friday, 29 January 2010

Tony Blair - sorry seems to be hardest word

I feel deeply sorry for those bereaved parents at the Iraq inquiry yesterday both inside the hearing – who for the most part maintained a quiet dignity - and those protesting outside.
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair – gung-ho advocate of the 2003 conflict – who gave evidence for six hours failed to make time to express regret at their loss. They must have gone away even more convinced their children had given their lives to further politicians’ dubious aims in pursuit of an illegal war.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Andy Murray, mum Judy, and Charles Darwin

Watching Andy Murray secure his place in the Australian Open Final was painful today. Nothing to do with the performance of the talented young tennis player, who might just become the first British (he’s really a Scot) men’s Grand Slam winner in 74 years. No, I was reminded of the 900-word article I wrote on spec in the summer inspired by Murray’s Wimbledon performances – and failed to get published.
Back then – as today – I was fascinated by the involuntary gestures - grimaces, fist-shaking, groans, and cheers - displayed by the player, mum Judy, the spectators and sometimes me depending on whether he hit an ace or the net.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

On beauty

I can’t remember why a few years ago I bought a Penguin paperback called ‘The secret power of beauty’ by John Armstrong. The musings of aesthetics academics is not my standard bedtime reading. I might have made the purchase prompted by despair following a series of visits to contemporary art shows. (I’ll leave the mixed blessing of Charles Saatchi on the British art scene for another day).
What is beauty and why does it exert such influence? asked Armstrong. My short attention span meant the book quickly joined my expanding library of unread tomes.
However it was plucked from the pile recently as I sought the answer to why opera turns me into such a cry-baby.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Recovery - what recovery?

Prime minister Gordon Brown will need industrial scale smoke and mirrors to claim any real positives from today's economic news.
Better late than never official output figures show the UK economy has climbed out of recession - only just and subject to revision. Growth in the fourth quarter registered a bare 0.1 per cent but it meant we join other major economies back in the black. Yet but for the fillip from the national car scrappage scheme and a beat-the-VAT-rise in retail spending, the Government might have had egg all over its face with the publication of the data.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Blight of unpaid work for those who can afford it

Every parent wants to do the best they can for their children. But the practices of unpaid labour in the shape of internships and work experience current in London – and I suspect other major British cities – are unfair and unhealthy denying, as they do, the admission of fresh talent from outside a charmed circle. The corruption starts at the top.
Within the shadow of Big Ben hundreds of interns are doing thousands of hours of work for Members of Parliament of all political colours. According to union surveys most of these young people are unpaid and only a few get any support with their expenses.

Friday, 22 January 2010

If Lily Allen hangs up her basque

I have never laughed as much as half a lifetime ago in the cramped basement, which was the Comedy Store underneath the then Nell Gwynn strip club in London’s Soho. On stage was Keith Allen, Lily’s dad, completely naked but for a glove puppet held to preserve his modesty.
Allen talked to the puppet in the manner of a cheesy ventriloquist. When it was the dummy’s turn to reply, Allen raised the puppet to cover his lips exposing himself in all his full frontal glory.
That was the act. By the time the puppet had spoken for a third time the hysterical audience was gasping for air.
Allen has led a colourful showbiz career since then but I’m sure, like any proud parent, he is happy his success has been dwarfed by that of his daughter’s.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

The wit and wisdom of Dr. Samuel Johnson

When I was having a dig around for Dr. Johnson's famous quote about London (see my post 'London calling me home' 18/1/10) I came across a bunch of the old boy's observations, which still rise a smile 300-or so years on. Ten among the most famous I'm sharing with you today.

  • Marriage has many pains, but celibacy has no pleasures.
  • A fly, sir, may sting a stately horse and make him wince; but one is but an insect, and the other is a horse still.
  • Were it not for imagination a man would be as happy in arms of a chambermaid as of a duchess.
  • The triumph of hope over experience. (on hearing a man had remarried following the death of wife to whom he had been unhappily married).
  • Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.
  • A woman's preaching is like a dog's walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.
  • A cucumber should be well sliced, and dressed with pepper and vinegar, and then thrown out, as good for nothing.
  • When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.
  • There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern.
    And, of course,
  • When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.

  • Wednesday, 20 January 2010

    Sunday pub roast with Russell Brand

    Aside from fish and chip shops there are few English restaurants in London worth a light, that won't break the bank. But however adequate the chippie they are rarely places to dawdle.
    Forget pie and mash shops - they're a rarity and only tourists eat in city centre steak houses. This leaves cafes, which serve variations of the full English breakfast all day - the permutation of egg, sausage, bacon, and baked beans only varies past noon with the substitution of chips for toast in the menu. Even here the 'specials of the day' often reflect the foreign nationalities of their owners and are usually the best bet.

    Tuesday, 19 January 2010

    Haitian earthquake disaster

    It is a week since the horror of the earthquake destruction in Haiti. On the scale of disasters there has been nothing like it in modern history. The devastation is not the massive death toll alone. The heart of one of the world's poorest countries has been ripped out and Haiti will have to be rebuilt.
    Haiti is no stranger to violence, which makes it all the more important US and UN troops are on the ground helping to protect relief supplies.
    Donations are flooding in and it is a pity it requires the scale of Haiti's tragedy for the world community to find some sort of support for a common cause. The television pictures of Port-au-Prince laid waste prompts deeper reflections.
    It reminds us that despite man's impudence we have not tamed nature and would be do well to take the best care we can of the planet.
    The headlines from Haiti should make us thankful that the only natural hazards we have to face in our part of the world are snow-disrupted transport and icy pavements.
    Finally, it makes it very difficult - in my case impossible - to believe that there is any deity let alone one who cares for mankind.

    Monday, 18 January 2010

    London calling me home

    "Why, sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford." Dr. Samuel Johnson.(Boswell's Life of Johnson)
    Almost without fail when people learn I have retired they automatically assume I will now pursue some long-held ambition to travel. As though there is some sense in, at the same time as trying to calculate whether or not I'm destined to die in poverty, I should go and lavish my savings on horrendous journeys and rip-off hotels in countries where only the flies come free.

    Friday, 15 January 2010

    Happy families! The Windsors, Beckhams or Olivers?

    Today's question is: which celebrity family provides the best role model in modern Britain? It would be appropriate if it were the Royal Family. Apart from their constitutional position the Royals should justify their continuing existence by leading lives of exemplary decorum until being required to fetch up to open new gasworks, Parliament, and the like.
    Unfortunately the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh sired a pretty dysfunctional bunch never far from divorce or scandal and her grandsons Princes William and Harry, to be charitable, remain untested.

    Thursday, 14 January 2010

    The joy of Sherlock

    Guy Ritchie has done a fine job bringing Sherlock Holmes to a cinema near you. The screenplay, while beefed up into a action-comedy movie, has stayed faithful to the spirit of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famous consulting detective.
    Robert Downey Jr can act. His Chaplin in 1992 remains a stunning film and he doesn't disgrace the legend of Holmes in Ritchie's creation. For my money though Jeremy Brett, who took the lead role in 41 episodes of the The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes series made by Granada Television between 1984 and 1994, set the standard probably for all time.

    Wednesday, 13 January 2010

    65 today

    Sixty-five today and I launch this blog officially in a suitably cold and frosty London. If I make it, let's say, to 80 then I have already lived more than 80 per cent of my total life span. That should be a sombre thought but frankly I don't really give a stuff. It's not a case of being as old as you feel - I have felt the same way since about 25.

    Monday, 11 January 2010

    Stuck in the middle - UK General Election 2010

    By next June the Labour Government under Gordon Brown has to call a General Election in the UK. My vote has helped keep Labour in office ever since Brown's predecessor Tony Blair swept into Downing Street in 1997. I am already convinced nothing in the coming election campaign could persuade me to vote Labour again under the party's present leadership. The rebellion last week by two ex-ministers tantamount to an attempt to remove Brown failed from the off and, in any case, came much too late.