Friday, 30 July 2010

Love on the picket line

The world’s greatest 20-year-old unpublished poet in the spring of 1965 decided that a temporary job at Foyles bookshop in London’s Charing Cross Road would nourish his muse until he started his sociology degree that September.
It was hell. Eccentric owner Christina Foyle hadn’t changed working practices in the store for 30 years. I was sent to work in the international sales department.
I had to tour the warren-like store (much modernised since) searching the shelves for books to be despatched abroad. The assistants had no incentive to help; being short, I remember the shelves as being tall.
The only redeeming feature of the workday was mixing with young people from around the world whom Christina employed because she could pay peanuts and fire on a whim.
I fell for a German girl. I’ll call her Madelena. Her actual name is long forgotten. She had “green and gold-flecked eyes” or so I described in one of the many poems I wrote about her in the seclusion of my bedroom when I arrived home each night.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

The citizen's right to choose - keystone of a fair society

“Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are among the inalienable rights of man enshrined in the American Declaration of Independence. Succinct as they already are, they can be further distilled down to the concept of choice.
Choice as applied to ideologies was at the heart of capitalism’s economic triumph over communism - and much of what now constitutes modern society is decided at the boundaries of choice.
I may not murder my neighbour however disagreeable nor drive through a red light and I have to pay taxes.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Do you need to get out more? Test yourself with Grapefruitcrazy's exclusive survey.

1. Do you check the next day’s TV schedules?
2. Have you stopped setting your alarm?
3. Are there days when you’re not washed/dressed by 10am?
4. Are you relieved when it rains?
5. Do you eat food straight out of its original packaging?
6. Are you spending more than two hours a day surfing the Internet?
7. Have you become more sensitive to your neighbours’ noise?
8. Do you get a sense of achievement squeezing your blackheads?
9. If you had a time machine would you rather go back than forward?
10. Do you prefer to watch movies on the television rather than in the cinema?
11. Do you drive/use public transport less than three times a week?
12. Do you drink alcohol more often alone than in company?
13. Do you think members of the opposite sex are too thick to appreciate your virtues?
14. Likewise do you consider those in your age group as too old to fancy?
15. Are you starting to hear voices?
16. Are they telling you spiders from Mars are really among us?
17. Have you recently added an aluminium foil lining to your balaclava?
18. Has it worked?
19. Are you thinking about standing for political office?
20. Do you like Marmite?

ANALYSIS: If you are under 60 and answered YES to 5 or more questions you should consider getting a life. If you are over 60 and answered YES to 5 or more you do need to get out more. If you are over 60 and answered YES to 15 or more you should definitely stay in preferably in a secure environment.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Vanessa Paradis, the Wife of Bath, toothache, and me

Never go to a movie with a toothache; it will change your whole perception of the film. I had some hours to kill yesterday before my dentist could see me. So I went to my local multiplex. where I found the French rom-com Heartbreaker (L’Arnacoeur) about to start.
Thanks to the charm of its leads Romaine Duris and Johnny Depp’s other half Vanessa Paradis – and the dazzling scenery around Monte Carlo – it’s a good few notches above standard US fare.
The story is something about con man Duris being employed to break up Paradis’s intended marriage with the inevitable conclusion; the pain in my jaw made it difficult to get closely engaged in the plot.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Philip Larkin, death, and French knickers

“I hope I die before I get old,” wrote the 20-year-old Pete Townsend when The Who’s My Generation was talking about my generation. But none of us really subscribed to a “live fast, die young” philosophy. Everyone I knew who didn’t reach their minimum three score and ten was, as they say, cruelly cut short in their prime.
I won’t visit the subject of death often in this blog because the poet Philip Larkin said all there was to say in his Aubade which I link to here.
For a poem, which takes its title from evoking the dawn, its bleakness is almost unbearable. Life staggers on until it stops. Religion offers Larkin no comfort in the inevitability of death. He cannot shake free the dread of dying and being dead.
I promised myself not to refer to Aubade - probably Larkin’s last great poem before his own death in 1985 - until I could see a way that wouldn’t drown the post in a pool of despair.
Today I think I’ve cracked it in a way of which Larkin might have approved given his taste for spanking porn. My Google search revealed that Aubade is also the name of a seductive French lingerie designer.
Its 2010 calendar is very much of the living and chases away thoughts of our ultimate fate speaking as it does to men and women who still have warm blood in their veins.
My illustration from the calendar for November was chosen in acknowledgement of what might even cheer up Larkin.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Katy Perry, Marianne Faithfull, and me

The Katy Perry tribute video is hot stuff at the foot of this post. The humour she invests in her performances suggests she must have had some British in her even before she met Russell Brand.
But undeniably sexy, her skimpy costumes and raunchy poses veer more to the cartoon than the sensual. A beautiful and talented woman, the longevity of her career might be better served with the thought that less can be more.
I remember it was around the mid-Sixties and I had a tough school holiday job working in a warehouse. I arrived late one morning to find my four full-time co-workers studying a picture in an awed silence.
It was a music paper and the object of their wonder was a full-page colour picture of Marianne Faithfull. She was sitting demurely in a long dress under a tree.
The folk singer’s beauty found these rough and ready men stumbling for the words to express their desire. Eventually one said, “I’d crawl a mile over broken glass for that.” The rest of us could only agree.
I doubt in similar circumstances today Katy Perry would provoke the same yearning. But all would agree Russell Brand is a very lucky man.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

The Coalition's mixed messages on Afghanistan is the real blunder

Clegg blunders into Iraq minefield declared the page 3 lead in today’s The Times. Let’s leave aside the unpleasant, clich├ęd headline that equates the dangers faced by our troops in that dangerous land with a Westminster gaffe.
I agree with Nick. His blunder – in the Alice in Wonderland world of politics - was to tell the truth. Standing in for David Cameron at Prime Minister’s Questions in the Commons yesterday, the deputy Coalition leader called the invasion of Iraq “illegal.”

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Friendship - the bonds that free us

A few beers, more laughs and a curry last night with a handful of guys I’ve known since school days – that makes 50 years - has inspired me to write about friendship this morning.
As is often said you can’t choose your relatives but you can your friends. But I have no idea what binds some friendships for life, while others fade with time.
With my bunch – about the only association I, quite a private person outside of this blog, have ever belonged to – it is easier to count what doesn’t tie us together.
It’s not geographic proximity, nor politics, religion and certainly not shared interests. There are different one-to-one dynamics within the group but I would suggest overall there isn’t the close emotional support that women friends are supposed to enjoy.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Give your writing authority: Grapefruitcrazy's Top 10 Tips

Take any piece of prose you've come across from a personal blog post to a technical magazine article and by the second paragraph your attention has started to flag - and by the third it's gone altogether. Here you will find 10 tips to help avoid the same reaction to anything you write.
It may be that in this busy world your subconscious intellect had recognised that what you read lacked authority and had urged you to move on in the quest of more engaging content. If you stop and analyse the writer's weakness you could learn from his or her mistake the next time you open a new blank document.
In the same way you wouldn't put your health in the hands of an unqualified doctor, readers need to know that they are investing their attention to good purpose. This isn't just a case of writers listing their qualifications.
I've been a national newspaper journalist for 35 years, the last eight as a financial editor. But I have always been conscious that each article I wrote had to impress readers with its own merits. Over time I developed a number of techniques, which I would pass on to new staff members. Here are some of my tips, which should add authority to your words:-

Monday, 19 July 2010

Skins and Misfits and drugs and sex and...

The recent acquisition of a Freeview set-top box has fuelled my addiction to frequent programme hopping. I live alone; it’s my television and I’ll watch what I want to.
It was bad enough with just five channels but now there are so many more, I can’t watch a show for 10 minutes and, however much I’m enjoying it, I’ll flick through the EPG to see if there’s anything better.
This is my convoluted and probably embarrassed explanation of why I should have dipped into recent episodes of teen dramas Skins and Misfits. I’ve no idea who the characters are or the plotlines. But both depict young people engaging in copious drug taking, binge drinking, swearing, and sex.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Boris Johnson - paternity riddle mustn't divert London's mayor.

Even an habitual attention seeker like London mayor Boris Johnson cannot enjoy the current media spotlight on his love life. The Daily Mail has gone as far as it can to link him to the parentage of the lovechild daughter of socialite Helen Macintyre.
The newspaper should be in hot water, if not with Johnson’s lawyers, then with the Press Complaints Commission for publishing a picture of the infant in an effort to add a “who’s the daddy?” edge to its story.
We need a strong mayor to stand up for London in the coming spending cuts and Boris mustn't be diverted by this latest furore.
Out of hours the position of Johnson’s zipper has no bearing on his ability to do his day job and should be of no concern other than to himself, Mrs Johnson, and perhaps any posh totty vulnerable to a heady cocktail of charm and danger.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

St Andrews Open - the four-day yawn

I know now how excruciating it must have been for people who had no interest in soccer to have spent the four weeks of the World Cup. The Open Championship at St Andrews is only a few hours old and I’m already wondering how I can avoid all mention of the four-day event when I open a newspaper or turn on the radio or television.
I’ve never played the game but I imagine it can be pleasant to go for a walk with a few friends spoiled only by the necessity to chase small balls with long sticks around the countryside.
That there is a television audience for golf competitions is mystifying but the thought that many thousands of people will brave the weather to follow the players around St Andrews is incomprehensible.
With bogeys and birdies, the language of the nursery is at least appropriate to the sport. The prize money and sponsorship deals that golf attracts are, however, very grown up. It’s a pity that so much time, effort, and cash cannot find a better cause.
You know that you’ve abandoned rules of reason when the paisley pattern trousers of golfer John Daly are a major talking point.
And then there’s Tiger Woods, apparently now reformed and repentant. But at his sulky worst it was difficult to think of a world No.1 sports star that had so many advantages from birth and yet turned out to be such a poor role model.
On the golf course his spitting, swearing, and equipment abuse was a clue to how he might be conducting his home life. He remains however the biggest attraction in golf, which just about says it all.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Dreams - cymbals that clash in the night

A consequence of my ceasing full-time employment – I still can’t get used to the idea that I’ve retired or worse I’m a pensioner (even though I am) – is that on average I must be getting an hour or two’s extra sleep a night. Instead of being woken from a deep slumber by my alarm clock, I awake naturally. As a consequence I remember the dreams that visit me in the period of light sleep before full consciousness.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Peter Mandelson nails New Labour's coffin

I’ve been following the serialisation of Lord Peter Mandelson’s memoirs in The Times The Third Man with a growing sense of disbelief.
It looks like for much of the last 13 years the government of Britain was led by men and women who lacked a moral compass and placed their own survival over the best interests of the country.
At its rotten heart was the continuing grudge felt by Gordon Brown that Tony Blair had edged him out of the Prime Minister’s job.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Common room sadists who disgraced the teaching profession

There has been a lot of discussion recently about how difficult it is to tackle under-performing teachers, which has prompted my own recollections.
My primary school days in the West End area of central London are over half a century old but I still remember one teacher in particular – a Mrs Thorpe – with gratitude for her patience and persistence.
Without her I would have never passed my 11-plus exam and made it to a grammar school. It was here though that I encountered a handful of teachers who should have never been let near a classroom.
None could teach. Their inability bred an anger that manifested itself in varying degrees of physical assaults on the boys in their charge.

Friday, 9 July 2010

The British Museum - its many strengths and a few weaknesses

This morning I visited The British Museum and for the first time came away pleased I’d made the effort.
I still found the Great Court, which circles the old Reading Room, uninviting. There is something about the dimensions of this entrance zone, which is intimidating. About the only positive is that it so big you hardly notice the large number of visitors.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

New Labour - same old mess

As to be expected Labour’s procedure for electing a new leader in time for late September’s party conference is already deemed a mess and ripe for a re-think.
By all accounts the long series of regional hustings, which the five candidates are expected to attend, are a joke and have something of the Dragon’s Den approach to intellectual debate about them. Give us your worldview in a couple of minutes and then answer a few questions.
One candidate Andy Burnham – who stands no chance – is already complaining about being the target of a “malicious” briefing with the finger of suspicion (since denied) pointing towards the rival camp of Ed Balls – another no-hoper as is Diane Abbott.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Five years on from the 7/7 London bombings

I will never forget the events of July 7th 2005 in London. Today is the fifth anniversary of the bomb attacks on morning rush hour travellers that led to the biggest single loss of life in the capital since the Blitz.
Hundreds were injured and it is still difficult to comprehend that among the 56 dead, four suicide bombers were British Muslims. Tony Blair should have held a detailed public inquiry into the roots of the outrage. But then he might have been forced to admit that the UK’s foreign policy played a part in the radicalising of the terrorists.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Are Facebook fans saddos?

Somehow the BBC’s under-construction 2012 Olympics microsite slipped out on to the Internet. Under the ‘Follow Us’ widget box some bright spark had written the following ‘jokey’ holding copy – You can also become a saddo on Facebook.
The story on the excellent The Media Blog earlier this week was picked up and circulated prompting the to-be-expected outrage of Facebook users.
Now I don’t concur with the web production member – if he or she held on to their job – that Facebook users are by definition saddos. But I can see how the uncharitable could hold such a view where it is used to excess.
I joined Facebook about 18 months ago as part of an attempt to launch a new career as a freelance business journalist. I never really mastered the finer details and have only contributed twice in that time plus a couple of messages.
I collected perhaps 20 Friends (people who I knew already) – the majority of whom to my mind use this social media to good effect. But there are a couple though – maybe three - who seem addicted to the process.
Intelligent people whom I always considered led full lives. Yet they’re up there every time I log on sharing the minutiae of their day bar their bowel movements.
So who’s the saddo? Them with the egotistical belief their friends are fascinated with their every thought or me in splendid isolation who prefers to lecture a mostly disinterested world behind a pseudonym.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Marvin Gaye - an appreciation

I Heard It Through The Grapevine by Marvin Gaye is three minutes and a bit of pure magic. When I first heard the song I thought it was the finest recording of popular music ever and nothing has come along in the intervening 42 years to cause me to change my mind.
With songs like Grapevine and later What's Going On and Sexual Healing, Gaye brought a deeper dimension to soul music that was truly spiritual.
Gaye's life was beset by demons some of his own making and there is an inevitability about the shooting by his own father when he was 44 years old.
The death of duet partner Tammi Terrell seems to have prompted his decline. She collapsed in his arms on stage at the height of their success. Terrell was suffering from the brain tumour that led to her death several years later at just 24.
The two were not lovers but the delight they took in each other's presence is clear from the video of Ain't No Mountain High Enough which accompanies this post.
Today's crop of duet performances - often a girl singer with a male rap artist - look as though the two never met before they took to the stage.
Gaye and Terrell glow with fun and life made all the more poignant, as you watch, by the tragedies to come.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Sun tans - today's burning issue

It seems to me that at long last the message is getting home to people that it pays to avoid over exposure to the sun. It must be the fear of skin cancer that has tipped the balance because the pain of sunburn used to be the price you risked for acquiring a “nice tan.”
During the current hot spell I see more people wearing hats and in the parks hugging the shade offered by trees. There are fewer simmering in the sun's full glare.
Children in buggies likewise seem better protected. The recent case of a negligent mother allowing her young baby to suffer serious burns while on Brighton beach hit the headlines – and the next day London’s prams were wrapped in protective towels and blankets.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Confessions of a half-hearted freeloader - or Arsenal, Lucian Freud, clean toilets and me

Watching some of Andy Murray’s progress into the Wimbledon semi-finals on television yesterday, I was reminded of the many times I turned down corporate hospitality invitations to visit the home of tennis in the fortnight.
I was very picky about whose VIP treatment I accepted or - more often than not – rejected when I was a financial journalist.