Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Vintage TV - a little thought will go a long way

We thought they had it all – now baby boomers get own TV channel was a snotty headline in today’s The Independent newspaper. Reporter Jonathan Brown should be sent to bed without any supper even if he didn’t write the headline that tops his story about the arrival of Vintage TV in September.
His intro was a tongue-in-cheek take on how the over-fifties, who are supposed to be rolling in it – fat pensions supporting Umbrian farmhouse life styles – are now to get their own music-oriented television station.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Notice to Grapefruitcrazy readers

There will be a slight interruption to the usual five days a week service while my laptop is being repaired.
I couldn't but notice this morning that on my rare trip to Tottenham Court Road - London's electronics centre - that the only person who looked half-way happy was the red-faced wino sprawled outside of Goodge Street tube station.

Monday, 28 June 2010

In no particular order – 40 years ago

Forty years ago it was thought acceptable
To take oil out of the earth with no thought of developing alternative energy sources for future generations.
To pollute the environment with no expectation that it accelerated global warming.
To perpetrate casual racism, sexism, and homophobia.
To support the liberalisation of drink and drug controls without regard to serious health consequences.
To consume unrestricted amounts of sugar, salt, and processed food.
To replace our manufacturing industries with financial services.
To allow education standards in our schools to decline.
To fail to set proper examples for our children.
To expand a prison system that fails to rehabilitate offenders at the same time as neglecting to properly punish them.
To allow our political representatives to distance themselves from the people they are supposed to represent.
we should know better now.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Bromances, love, and the British male

A some point in the Sherlock Holmes’ annals Dr Watson suffers an injury and is touched by the great detective’s concern for his welfare. That’s it – apart from their protective actions in the presence of danger, the affection the men share for the other is unspoken. There’s no “I love you, man” moment.
Despite the regular supply of Hollywood ‘bromances’ or ‘buddy movies’, I would hazard a guess that instances of two heterosexual male Brits declaring love (albeit platonic) for each other are rare. Saving, of course, one was on his deathbed or both were very drunk and even then they are more likely to punch each other in the bicep.
Man-hugs seem to be on the way in but I can’t see us ever getting to the “I love you John”, “I love you Sherlock” stage. Nor should we. Not because it is unmanly but because easy declarations of love have already devalued the currency of the word enough.
The devotion the painter Joseph Severn showed the dying John Keats in accompanying the poet to Rome in 1820 and nursing him until his death went beyond loyalty. Severn spent most of the rest of his long life in Italy; preserved Keats’s memory; and earned the right to be buried along side the poet for all eternity. His love was unstated but was love for all that.
The times I’ve known I am in love are not in the throes of passion but when the object of my affection is away from me. There is a physical ache to be reunited – to be in each other’s presence and not necessarily pants for which the emotion is often confused.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

World Cup - inflamatory headlines should get a red card

Here we go again, Germany stands in England’s way in a major international soccer competition. Ahead of Sunday’s World Cup ‘sudden death’ tie, there will be plenty of opportunity for the British press to dust down its old bellicose clich├ęs. ‘War’ and ‘battle’ are headline writers staples as are tortuous puns but I would be surprised – and disappointed – if there were any serious name-calling.
We should have moved on from the days of 1966 when we beat Germany to win the World Cup and the next day T-shirts read “2 Worlds Wars and 1 World Cup”.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Can openers of the world unite; you have nothing to lose but your thumbs

There is only a matter of hours to go before the England v Slovenia soccer match. I’m writing today’s post now because depending on the World Cup result I’ll be too happy or despondent to do so afterwards.
I was going to write a post 'A 100 things you didn't know about the Large Hadron Collider' but because of time pressure I'm lauding my favourite piece of domestic equipment - the Culinare MagiCan. I’m impressed by the simple genius of its technology every time I open a tin, as we Brits say.
I was forced to invest in one after I received a nasty cut from a sardine tin I was trying lever open with a butterfly can opener. My new health regime had backfired its first time out.
There’s a whole history of can openers and no doubt there are collectors around the world. But what has caught my imagination surfing the web are the videos - more Dumbo than Rambo - of how to open a can without a proper opener.
There’s one showing how to open a tin with a spoon, which is almost guaranteed to take a thumb with it.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Osborne's brutal Budget to leave LibDems on the rack

George Osborne’s first Budget later today promises to be a bloody affair. For the first time LibDem members – not MPs because many have been bought off with Coalition jobs but the party outside Westminister – will see what they have signed up for. The price of government will be to contradict the spirit of their election manifesto.
The Chancellor has chosen to tackle the massive financial deficit bequeathed by Labour in such a brief time span that we face years of austerity like no other in peacetime.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Living with tinnitus - my story

I have two serious conditions, which thankfully don’t manifest any symptoms. For about 20 years I’ve been taking eye drops to counteract my glaucoma and for half that time I’ve had diabetes which to date is successfully being kept in check by diet.
In sharp contrast I have one ailment which is all symptoms but contains no serious threat yet was harder to adjust to – tinnitus.
A hearing specialist diagnosed it more than a decade ago. The ringing in my ears can best be described as a distant jet preparing for takeoff. I know from my reading that tinnitus can drive some sufferers to distraction.

Friday, 18 June 2010

The Incredible Shrinking Man - an appreciation

I love movies. One reason I don’t post more often about them is that there are plenty of first-rate sites on the web already publishing reviews and background information. In any case it would kill the enjoyment I’d had watching a film to then have to churn out a synopsis. It would smack of homework unless I was paid.
But my biggest reservation about discussing films is the danger I’d write something that might deter you from watching the movie itself, say, by giving away the plot.
There is one film in my list of the ‘Movies I can watch again and again’ on the right of this page, however, that is so overlooked that I’m showing its closing minutes in the video clip below to promote it.
The final monologue in The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) to my mind is the finest piece of writing in any science fiction movie – and perhaps any other.
Richard Matheson adapted his novel for the screen but as this Wikipedia link about the film explains the monologue was added by its director Jack Arnold.
This is a rare instance, I believe, where knowing the ending does not detract from the story of Scott Carey - played by Grant Williams - who begins to shrink when exposed to a combination of radioactivity and a pesticide.
The film works on every level – Carey’s mental deterioration as he loses height and his redemption at the film’s finale – even the special effects. About the only tacky aspect of the whole enterprise is its title.
SPOILER WARNING: this video clip shows the last minutes of a movie classic.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Come on England! Grapefruitcrazy salutes the beautiful game

Phew, with France’s World Cup future hanging by a thread and Spain losing to Switzerland, England’s draw with the USA last weekend looks a more decent result by the day.
I’m pretty confident England can get results against Algeria and Slovenia whoever’s in goal.
We have to top our group to avoid playing Germany (the tournament’s best looking team to date) in the next round. This, of course, assumes Germany topping its group.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Sunday morning joggers - reasons to be fearful

I’m beginning to feel guilty about young joggers – those in their twenties. Pounding pavements is going to store up all sorts of damage to knees and ankles a few decades down the line.
And for what reason? If your backside looks like two dogs fighting in a sack or your thighs are the size of doner kebab spits, wrapping them in Lycra isn’t going to help. If you want to look thinner, eat less.
You wouldn’t have caught your grandparents out jogging on a Sunday morning when they were your age. They would be struggling into consciousness after their Saturday night excess.
Your grandmother would probably be wondering how she could find her clothes without waking the snoring lump beside her, whose name she can’t remember, and whose bed she wouldn’t be sharing if the Tube ran a hour later.
Your grandfather would have had a fitful night clinging to a toilet bowl swearing he would never mix Scotch and Coke again even if it was the Beatles favourite drink.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Exile Piers Morgan - and other pleas

Launching this blog was intended, in part, to be cathartic – in the ‘purging the emotions’ sense of the word rather than the alternative meaning of ‘strongly laxative.’ But I have resisted the urge to regularly rant.
The role of grumpy old man lends itself to easy copy and cheap shots. But it would quickly become predictable and therefore boring.
More importantly such a jaundiced position wouldn’t accurately reflect my view of the world. Most mornings I don’t awake with a moan. However being reminded of Jean-Paul Sartre’s observation “Hell is other people” has prompted me to sound off today about my top 10 hates because it allows me to exclude war and pestilence but not Piers Morgan

1. I object to being buffeted by tall Tube travellers’ backpacks when I travel in the Rush Hour. Consequently weight restrictions should be introduced on the Underground because I don’t like being squashed by fat people either.

2. I can’t stand seeing dummies (pacifiers) in babies’ faces at any time but definitely not once they are walking. Police community support officers should be instructed to hand offending parents warnings that they risk harming their childrens' speech development as well as making them look silly.

3. Overly affectionate couples of all sexual persuasions should be discouraged from kissing in public. Couples over the age of 45 should be banned from holding hands.

4. Smelly food should not be consumed on any form of public transport.

5. Coughers should be ejected from cinemas and theatres and barred until they can provide medical evidence they are better.

6. Dog owners shouldn’t be allowed to walk their pets in local parks during the hours of daylight unless they are leashed – dogs and owners.

7. The UK television authorities should prohibit all food shows except those featuring Sophie Dahl. Top Gear should also be scrapped and replaced by Sophie Dahl repeats.

8. There should be spot fines for excessive use of the word “cool.”

9. Dentists should be required to refrain from asking patients how they are.

10. Piers Morgan has already enjoyed more than his fair share of luck and ability. President Obama should bestow American citizenship on the former Daily Mirror editor and then confiscate his passport. This still might not be enough to deny Morgan TV screen time in Britain.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Westminter - new faces, same old hypocrisy

The subject of hypocrisy in politics has raised its head again.* Two MPs who took the high moral ground in their successful election campaigns have been found wanting.
First LibDem David Laws felt obliged to step down from his key role at the Treasury when his expenses record was shown not to be as spotless as he boasted. And now Tory Caroline Nokes, who made the most of her Christian credentials, was exposed at the weekend as having had a hotel tryst with a man who wasn’t her husband.
Pretty trivial stuff in the scale of things. But as the electorate votes these people into office and then pays for them to stay there, we have a right to expect our elected representatives to mean what they say.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Remembering Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky

Peter Orlovsky, poet and Beat movement legend Allen Ginsberg’s long-time lover, died on May 30th, according to his obituary in The Times yesterday.
Reading Ginsberg’s Howl in the early 1960s was the single most important event in my literary education. It showed me there was no part of human experience closed to the artist.
I saw Ginsberg read four times in London before his death in 1997. The first was at the Royal Albert Hall in 1965 – and the last 30 years later when Paul McCartney was the surprise guest.
The time I remember most clearly, however, was at the Roundhouse in Chalk Farm in 1979.
Let’s suppose Ginsberg was reading an extract from the intense Kaddish – the long memorial poem to his mad mother Naomi. The audience sat silent, stunned by the raw emotion of his words. Perhaps it was the effort not to look foolish and weep, my throat dried, I couldn’t swallow and in fighting for breath I made a loud choking sound much to my embarrassment.
I had brought my copy of Kaddish with me. At the end of the evening as Ginsberg autographed it, like a gushing idiot, I apologised for my noise. The poet, who incidentally Norman Mailer had called “the bravest man in America” said he hadn’t heard it.
This I doubt because of an incident at an Institute of Contemporary Art reading I had witnessed some years earlier. Ginsberg had broken off mid-stanza to upbraid a member of the audience who was laughing in the wrong places.
Orlovsky – I don’t remember if he read – was sitting along side Ginsberg. I asked him to sign Kaddish too. This he did as you can see in the accompanying photograph below and is my most treasured literary possession.
I hadn’t noticed before that Ginsberg had dedicated the book to Orlovsky “in Paradise” along with the inscription “Taste my mouth in your ear.” It would be nice to think they are re-united.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

2.45am: nocturnal wanderings of the ageing mind

“What’s his name? What’s his name? Big ears and moustache. The dashing star of Gone With The Wind. There was Vivien Leigh who married Olivier. Leslie Howard – not to be confused with Robert Donat of Goodbye, Mr Chips who was different to Michael Redgrave in The Browning Version.
What was his name? Red Dust with Jean Harlow; Mutiny on the Bounty with Charles Laughton who directed The Night of the Hunter with Robert Mitchum; whose last film was with Marilyn Monroe in The Misfits.
What was his name? There was Scarlett O’Hara and Hattie McDaniel, the first African American to win an Oscar.
He starred with Sophia Loren but it wasn’t Houseboat – she was with Cary Grant who was in To Catch a Thief with Grace Kelly. Played a journalist in something with Doris Day. What was his name?
“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” Rhett Butler. Clark Gable, of course.
Clark Gable, Clark Gable. I mustn’t forget him again. It’ll be my PIN number next and then my name.
I’ll use his initials the same way store chain House of Fraser reminds me that Harrison Ford was the star of the Indiana Jones movies. Harvey Keitel is Hong Kong. Alliance & Leicester is Annie Lennox of the Eurythmics.
So Clark Gable could be another bank Cheltenham & Gloucester. Or ci-garette. Or Clark Kent, Superman who was played by – now what was his name?”

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Rude Britain rules - or a walk along the river

En route to a preview of Tate Britain’s latest show Rude Britannia: British Comic Art yesterday, I got off the Tube at Westminster station to walk along the river Thames to the gallery.
I saw for the first time how veteran peace campaigner Brian Haw had been joined by a motley collection of activists supporting a variety of causes – plus probably some who just fancied setting up home opposite the Houses of Parliament.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Alastair Campbell is right to question power of the Tory press

Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair's former spinmaster, has been doing the rounds promoting a new 'unexpurgated' edition of his diaries covering the birth of New Labour. I cannot fathom why any one should still be interested in what was a wasted opportunity to change the face of Britain. The BBC, in particular, still seems to be thrall to the man.
If a fraction of the stories about his behind-the-scenes involvement in the loss of Labour's moral compass - especially as it related to the illegal invasion of Iraq - are true, history will not treat him kindly.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Exclusive: the art work Charles Saatchi forgot

Newspeak: British Art Now, the exhibition "featuring some of the most exciting artists to have emerged in the UK in the last few years who are largely unknown in the wider art world" just opened in London's Saatchi Gallery should have a late addition to be truly representative.

Grapefruitcrazy
Untitled:Priceless 9.25am
Waterproof material, plastic, steel
23 x 6 x 3 cm

Grapefruitcrazy's work is heavily influenced by being caught in the rain as a young child. The instruction by his mother to always carry an umbrella had profound consequences on his world view. Untitled:Priceless indeed has all the outward appearance of an umbrella. Unlike Marcel Duchamp's urinal installation, GC's art trouve can provide the viewer with practical relief, as it does, from inclement weather. It can offer shade too - a clear reference to the debate on global warming. The piece operates on many levels. 'Priceless' because GC found the "umbrella" on a bus. 'Untitled' is an oblique reference to the work's missing cover. In a gender-sensitive world, the collapsible phallus will always remain incomplete until it is reunited with its sheath. Grapefruitcrazy says, "Picasso's sculpture has been a strong influence on my work, as has my desire to exploit the gullibility of both art collectors and critics."

Friday, 4 June 2010

THE COMMANDER - a short story by GC

“It’s Brian, to see Ingrid,” he said lips close to the entry-phone. The door to the house in the Soho mews opened and he climbed steep, narrow stairs. A big, middle-aged woman in baggy sweater and trousers showed him to a chair in a part-kitchen, part-waiting room. For a moment he panicked thinking that this might be her.
“Ingrid won’t be a minute. You make yourself comfy. Would you like a drink, love? No? Well, why don’t you take your coat off?”

Thursday, 3 June 2010

THE TEST - a short story by GC

After the phone call he told his boss he must have had a dodgy prawn sandwich at lunch and needed to go home.
He walked along the north bank of the Thames until he came to Cleopatra’s Needle, where close by he found an empty bench.

He opened his eyes when he became conscious of two people circling the bench before sitting down. He didn’t look at them directly but the knee next to his, in pale blue trousers, white socks, and brown shoes were unmistakably those of an American tourist.
The final proof was the big box of popcorn held in the man’s lap. But it wasn’t he that was eating. From the far side a large hand reached across the man, dived in to the box, grabbed at a handful of corn, and withdrew losing a quarter on the way.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

The men from the Pru to pay a high price for failure

Painful though it is for shareholders, the events that have led to Prudential’s takeover ambitions being shot down in flames are a gift to financial journalists of which I was one until a year ago.
The story is just the sort I savoured. The detail is complicated – and, as ever, is where the devil lives – but the broad outline is easy to grasp.
New chief executive Tidjane Thiam – backed by the insurance group’s chairman Harvey McGrath – wanted to buy the much bigger Asian life arm of AIG, the US insurer that would have gone under but for American government support.
The duo’s efforts to raise the £24 billion cash for the deal was dogged from the outset.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Tube boob - dark thoughts on the Northern Line

I had to travel on a crowded Tube during the morning rush hour into central London today. My destination was Moorfields Eye Hospital in Old Street for my half-yearly glaucoma check-up. Situation stable; keep taking the drops was the verdict. The turn-round at the hospital was so swift, that it was still standing room only on the train home.
It's only just over a year since I retired but I was dismayed that I had lost my street-smart skills required in ‘surviving’ rush hour journeys in London.