Friday, 23 December 2011

GC signs off 2011 with B. B.'s Back Door Santa

B. B. King's Back Door Santa sets just the right festive tone for my last post of 2011. It's spiritual message is in keeping with the moral tone to which this cultural blog aspires. I'd like to wish readers a Merry Christmas and will see you back in what I hope will be a Happy New Year for one and all. GC

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Last Night - a belated appreciation of the Keira Knightley movie

I picked up the DVD of the movie Last Night at my local charity store. This is the first time I’ve found anything worthwhile to view in the bargain box.
But I can see why the copy's previous owner might want to dump the film – and why the movie was for the most part poorly received when it was released last year.
Certificate 12, it could appear lightweight to a redbloodied film like the earlier Closer, which was a similar four-hander about relationships.
There is little plot. Set in New York, Keira Knightley bumps into an old flame visiting from France, Guillaume Canet, while her husband played by Sam Worthington is out of town on business with a work colleague, the seductive Eva Mendes.
Yes, in intercutting the night the young couple spend apart, there is an element of will they/won’t they be unfaithful to the other. But director Massy Tadjedin has big ambitions for a 90 minutes movie which looks like it was shot – in 2008 – on a cheapish budget.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

The FA is right to kick out player racism but what about the poison chanted on the terraces?

Racism has a long and inglorious history in English football. The time for its eradication is long overdue.
The courts will have to decide in the New Year on the allegation that Chelsea and England’s captain John Terry racially abused QPR’s Anton Ferdinand at the teams’ match in October.
If he’s found guilty it will leave the Football Association with the mother of all decisions. It will have to consider a similar draconian punishment to that it has just dealt Liverpool’s Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez – an 8-match ban and a £40,000 fine – having found him guilty of much the same offence.
This time Manchester United’s Senegalese-born French defender Patrice Evra was the alleged target of racial abuse at a game also back in October.Their confrontation is pictured above.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

The Art of Stand-Up sets Bob Hope in a class of his own

A first rate documentary The Art of Stand-Up by Alan Yentob on BBC 1 last night, as part of the Imagine arts series, has set me thinking about my comedy likes and dislikes.
You can watch the programme here on BBC iPlayer and this post has to be completed in time to allow me to watch the second part later tonight.
Happily Yentob’s approach was not didactic which was just as well because no two comedians among those he interviewed about stand-up agreed with the other.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Sex and the Krankies - Fan Dabi not so Dozi

Of all people the Krankies have been reminiscing about their colourful sexual past – enjoying marathon sessions, al fresco sex, and the swinging scene of thirty years ago.
They were confessing all on BBC Radio Scotland at the weekend to drum up publicity for their winter season pantomime in Glasgow.
The Krankies – Scots-born Ian Tough and wife Janette were at the height of their children’s television fame in the 1970s and 1980s.
She would dress as naughty schoolboy Wee Jimmy and Ian played his/her father.
It seemed pretty weird even back then and has been a byword for tackiness ever since - always allowing they were a children’s act (catchphrase Fan Dabi Dozi) and kids loved them.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Christopher Hitchens - GC pays tribute to a unique talent

I’m daunted by the flood of fitting tributes today to author, thinker, wit, polemicist, drinker, and smoker Christopher Hitchens who died of throat cancer yesterday at the age of 62. So here are a few thoughts of what Hitchens, the enemy of all bullshit, meant to me.
Foremost, in his book Orwell’s Victory, he showed that despite the attempts of some iconoclasts George Orwell remains “impressive, uncompromised, and right” among British writers. A man who defended Orwell so passionately had to be on the side of the angels.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Labour should dump Ed Miliband - but it won't

Most attention today will focus on how badly the LibDems fare in West London’s Feltham & Heston by-election; the party could come fourth behind the Tories and UKIP in the safe Labour seat.
But Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, badly in need of some positive news after severe opinion poll setbacks, will be praying for a convincing win to bolster his party’s fragile morale.
Since taking office Miliband has always trailed Tory PM David Cameron in personal popularity. This didn’t matter too much while Labour had a comfortable lead over the Tories in voting intentions but the latest polling suggests the party has drawn level with Labour – or even ahead.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Second thoughts on Big Man's Scotrail rough justice

Anyone who doubts patience with antisocial behaviour is on the wane in Britain should check out the internet comments the hit YouTube video Scotrail No Ticket has attracted.
There’s more to the story but basically a sweary albeit weedy teenager refused to leave a train when failing to present the right ticket to an elderly conductor. The situation was resolved by Big Man, a burly passenger, bundling the youth off the train to the applause of the compartment.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Strange bedfellows - the French Left hate Brussels accord as much as David Cameron

David Cameron isn’t the only one categorically opposed to the recent Brussels summit treaty, which saw every EU member apart from Britain agree on closer financial restraints such as the enforced capping of budget deficits.
According to the latest opinion polls, if he stands again Nicolas Sarkozy will get his derriere kicked by his socialist opponent in next May’s final round of the French presidential elections.
Francois Hollande has gone on record saying he will aim to renegotiate the treaty if elected.
In a RTL radio interview he said (Ed Miliband, please note) the agreement dooms Europe to years of austerity budgets and reductions in social services.
The European Central Bank should have been obliged to take action to relieve the crisis rather than continue standing on the sidelines, he told listeners.
Hollande added steps should be taken to stimulate growth rather than cut budgets. None of this would play well with Germany’s Angela Merkel and may not be deliverable even if Sarkozy is ousted.
Although he is the personification of Gallic confidence, Sarkozy has it all to do to remain in office.
The Brussels accord put him centre stage and he must hope his role as international statesman played well to the electorate back home. But rather than winning plaudits Sarkozy has been criticised for being in Merkel's pocket.
It would be ironic if the French socialists remove right-wing Cameron’s bête noire.

Monday, 12 December 2011

No contest - Marilyn Monroe v. Lindsay Lohan in the buff

Lindsay Lohan, the celebrity gossip magnet was ill-advised to shed her clothes for a Marilyn Monroe-inspired Playboy spread. The pictures leaked on to the internet forcing their early release by the magazine.
Some sorts of parallels between the women’s troubled histories were drawn but all that was achieved was to again underline that Monroe remains in a league of her own nearly 50 years after her death.
Playboy tried to plug the leak but you may still be able to find the Lohan shoot on Google - or else the superior session with Monroe's favourite snapper Bert Stern for New York Magazine in 2008.
If it's been taken down think any busty airbrushed girl in a wig completely lacking the fun and sensuality of the original iconic picture.
Monroe’s nude picture (see above) was reproduced in the 1953 launch edition of Playboy magazine having been first published in a pinup calendar several years before.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Cameron's veto - preserving British sovereignty is a price worth paying

Although I don’t share the glee of Tory right-wingers, I can’t see prime minister David Cameron had any other option in Brussels but to veto EU-wide treaty changes, which would have weakened the influence of the City of London and, in time, led to an accelerating erosion of British sovereignty.
Even so it was disturbing to wake up this morning to find myself in the same camp as triumphant little Englanders like former tabloid editor Kelvin MacKenzie.
He told the Financial Times: “I am dancing with joy. Despite what’s going to happen in the future, and there will be terrible, terrible moments for us, we are an island nation, a warrior nation, and we’re best off alone.”
It’s true; the rest of Europe doesn’t get us.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Fond memories of The Fiend Who Walked the West

The Fiend Who Walked The West was the first X-film I saw – that was back in 1958; I was thirteen. The film in today’s certification is closest to an 18 (or NC-17 in the US) although fifty years ago you had to be over 16 to see an X-rated movie.*
My father ‘smuggled’ me into the cinema wearing his overcoat. I often accompanied my dad to the movies.
He must have got tired of the diet of quality – often foreign language – movies we viewed together for him to have chosen The Fiend as my introduction into grown-up films.
Perhaps he reasoned that a western – albeit a violent one – would be safer territory for a father and son than a film that might have sexual content.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Thumbs up - Happy Birthday texting

I came to mobile phones late and therefore SMS (text messaging) even later and predictive texting later still.
At this rate I’ll never make it to a Blackberry or iPhone.
This is no hardship – I’m at the stage in life where no data is so urgent it can't wait until I boot up my laptop. In any case I doubt I have the patience to master any mobile gizmos more complicated than my current £10 bog standard Nokia, which is sans camera.
According to this Daily Mail online story today texting was launched by a Brit 19 years ago this week. I can’t confirm the accuracy of the article. But I was a Fleet Street city reporter at the start of mobile phones, which in the UK began with the birth of Vodafone.
I can confirm that mobile phone companies were completely unprepared for the popularity of texting.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Have you ever been short-changed?

Perhaps I’m imagining the danger but the older I get the more I find myself wary of being short-changed while out shopping.
It happened again today in a local supermarket. My change - I prefer to pay cash rather than plastic on sums under 10 quid – was £1 short.
I think it was a deliberate fiddle because the checkout girl gave me the wrong amount from coins she had at the side of the till rather than in it. Grudgingly she gave me my correct money
There are a number of conclusions to be drawn which reflect as much on me as my alleged fraudster, albeit a minor league one.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror reflects on the mob and the individual in the internet age

The National Anthem – the first of Charlie Brooker’s three-part Black Mirror series, which I take to be a dark satire on how the impact of the digital age changes the position of the individual in society – broadcast on Channel 4 last night deserves its positive reviews.
Michael Hogan in the Daily Telegraph of all places was full of praise for Brooker’s “dementedly brilliant idea” – the pressure on Rory Kinnear’s British prime minister Michael Callow to meet a bizarre ransom demand that he have televised sex with a pig to spare the life of a young royal, Princess Susannah.
YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, camera-phones, and rolling television news all play a part in preventing the Establishment imposing a D-notice blackout on her kidnapping, which would have been effective in a pre-internet media world.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Come to Britain and enjoy free entry to our national museums while you can

Come to Britain and enjoy free entry to our national museums while you can. Yesterday was the 10th anniversary of one of Labour’s better ideas in government – the dropping of museum charges in exchange for increased state funding.
In London this meant, in particular, the South Kensington museums – the Natural History (pictured), Science, and V & A - joined existing institutions such as the National Gallery, Tate, and British Museum in not charging.
It’s meant museum attendance has more than doubled across the UK in the last 10 years. A boon to our tourist industry, overseas visitors are attracted to these shores by the notion they will only be asked to make voluntary contributions when enjoying our major museums.
The worrying note in yesterday’s celebrations was the concern expressed that the economic climate is so severe funding restraints might require museums to introduce entry charges.
Special exhibitions are already prohibitively expensive; it would be a blow to the cultural life of the UK if our national museums were to start charging.
Our museums are in contrast to say, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Louvre in Paris, and the Vatican Museum in Rome all of which levy significant admission prices.
As culture secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “Our free museums and galleries ensure that culture is for everyone.” Long may it remain so.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Jeremy Clarkson 'execution' row reflects UK's humour reserves running on empty

The thousands who complained to the BBC about Jeremy Clarkson’s remarks on yesterday’s The One Show that public service strikers should be shot are almost as big oafs as the Top Gear presenter himself.
The country seems to have suffered a major humour by-pass all round.
Clarkson – in a clumsy, unfunny jest - gave his best impression of an outraged Daily Telegraph reader. In going over the top (his stock in trade), there are deluded types who, for reasons known only to themselves if we exclude stupidity, took Clarkson at his word.
The man’s apology was too slow in coming; he is, after all, paid handsomely by the public service BBC. But when he did, he asked for his words to be judged in context. Clarkson has a point.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

The PM's wrong to rubbish the public service strike

For a former PR man prime minister David Cameron showed poor judgement in portraying today’s strike by public service workers in defence of their pension rights as “something like a damp squib.”
He missed the chance to appear statesmanlike opting instead for Tory-boy adversarial.
Cameron's assessment made during PMQs in the Commons was patently wrong. Strikes and rallies were nationwide and supported by millions of public sector staff including those who were driven to take industrial action for the first time in living memory if not in the history of their unions.
Cameron’s dismissive comment will rile and make it that much easier to strike next time round if a compromise over pension ‘reforms’ cannot be found. It won’t be received well either by parents.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

STRIKE - public service unions need to work on their communication skills

As many as 2 million public service workers could go on strike tomorrow. They oppose the Government’s proposed pension ‘reforms’ which they say mean having to pay more in contributions, work longer, and receive a reduced income in retirement.
One opinion poll suggests 61 per cent of the public supports the one day walkout. The cause of health workers and teachers is always going to get a sympathetic hearing, at least at first.
But it’s unlikely given the likely disruption in schools, hospitals, and airports and much else that backing for industrial action will remain so solid if strikes become a regular event.
Both sides have embarked propaganda campaigns in support of their case but they have generated more heat than light.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Hot stuff - Tina Turner and David Bowie's Tonight duet

The evident pleasure Tina Turner and David Bowie take in each other’s performance was rumoured to have begun hours before they sang together on March 23rd 1985 during the English leg of her Private Dancer tour.
Bowie was a surprise guest to duet with Turner at the NEC Arena, Birmingham on the song Tonight, which he had co-written with Iggy Pop.
At around the 3:15 mark in the video clip below, amateur lip readers suggest Bowie whispers “My cock still hurts.” Whatever he does say as they slow-dance elicits a roar of laughter from Turner.
Whether or not their tenderness is genuinely post-coital, their duet oozes sexiness –and manages to be meaningful and tuneful all at the same time.
For all the raunch, naked flesh, and single entendres displayed by today’s music artists led by Rihanna & Co, they’re not close to the heat generated by Turner and Bowie what is now nearly 30 years ago.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Birthday poems to my children

It's my son's 28th birthday tomorrow. By coincidence earlier today I came across a copy of a poem dedicated to him, which I wrote in a greetings card for his 16th birthday. Here it is.

To my son on his 16th birthday
Where were you while
your cheeks whiskered
your legs haired
your arms muscled
your reason bettered?

Where were you while
you grew tall and true
where were you?
In my heart.

Being an equal opportunity parent, a few years later I repeated the exercise for my daughter.

To my daughter on her 16th birthday

Child grown to woman and ever still my child,
I greet your 16th birthday.

From the moment you squeezed into the world,
I have always loved you.

Years from now when we are apart,
You will cross the road,
And feel me reach for your hand.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

It's a bad day when tabloids need Piers Morgan to make the case for popular journalism

So Piers Morgan, former editor of red-tops the News of the World and the Daily Mirror is to be called to give evidence to the Leveson Inquiry into press ethics.
His knowledge of phone hacking will be undoubted focus of close scrutiny.
To date although Morgan, now with CNN, is on record admitting phone hacking was prevalent during his days in Fleet Street, no one has been able to challenge his assertion it never happened knowingly on his own watch.
It’s unlikely that will change when he is questioned under oath at the Inquiry. Morgan has vigorously argued his innocence and in the continuing absence of ‘smoking gun’ evidence, his defence is likely to remain bulletproof.
Whether we choose to believe his answers on hacking or not, his testimony cannot come too soon for me.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Will the 'swinging' Tenerife couple shed their anonymity?

Let’s play newspaper news editors.
The Daily Mail – along with others – is carrying for what any newsroom – tabloid or broadsheet – is a cracking ‘Brits abroad’ story.
A British husband and wife are making love in the public stairwell of the building of their Tenerife holiday flat when she topples over the banister.
The woman is saved from serious harm by catching her leg in the railings of the stairwell though she sustains a broken ankle.
Several elements appeal. The fact the woman is 49 is as saucy as that she was left dangling in the nude.
Agency stories about roistering British youngsters on holiday - ranging from flashing in front of outraged locals to drunkenly falling to their death - are common.
It’s much more unusual for a middle-aged couple to be found in flagrante – and married to each other.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

A Christmas wish - peace on earth (and in our stores)

I should be used to it by now. But each year I find myself surprised and irritated how early the Christmas season is exploited by retailers. Christmas ranges seem to have been on sale since late summer.
I can live with the offence to the eye and the cynical exploitation of what is after all a religious festival. If only it could be done quietly.
What really appals me is yuletide piped music in stores and supermarkets from early November.
Prisoners of war are protected – or else they should be – from torture by persistent, discordant noise under the Geneva Convention. The same courtesy should be extended to shoppers until, at least, a fortnight before Christmas.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Leveson Inquiry - Hugh Grant sticks knife in the Press but it's the Dowlers' evidence that really wounds

It was bad timing the parents of murdered teenager Milly Dowler gave evidence to the Leveson Inquiry into press ethics just hours ahead of Hugh Grant.
Their case against press malpractice in general and the hacking of their daughter's mobile phone in particularly is much stronger than that of Grant’s but inevitably attention will focus on the film star.
Grant’s first aim was to settle old scores with the Associated Newspapers titles Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday. For the first time a newspaper group other than News International has been forced centre stage in the hacking furore with, it has to be said, as yet, little firm evidence.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Nigel Farage's attack on Germany's euro ambitions may be unfair but the UKIP leader knows which buttons to push

Britain has never been as united in its scepticism of closer integration with Europe; certainly since the launch of the eurozone perhaps the EU itself.
Recent events in Greece and Italy where governments have crumbled only to be replaced by German-approved technocrats has put back the cause of British europhiles by, at least, a generation.
No governing party let alone a coalition can now envisage closer ties with Brussels without being forced to make good the promise of a referendum. I would suggest that with the nation on alert to any loss of sovereignty even modest constitutional change may be difficult to push through.
So who speaks for Britain on Europe?

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Nick Hewer - Lord Sugar's right hand man will sweeten Countdown

So Nick Hewer, Lord Sugar’s right hand man on The Apprentice, is going to host Channel 4’s Countdown quiz show from January.
I’ve no doubt Hewer will deliver the polished, professional performance that has been the hallmark of his working career.
It must be nearly 30 years ago that I met Hewer first; he in the capacity of PR man to Sugar’s Amstrad electronics company and me as a financial journalist.
Sugar was just as cantankerous back then as he is now. It was Hewer’s job to smooth feathers, show the world the best side of his boss’s businesses, which were not without their ups and downs.
Hewer was a model public relations man; he knew his stuff and I can’t recall ever being sent the wrong way by him on a story.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

GC offers some advice to the jobless young - and wishes it were more

George Osborne’s Autumn Statement on November 29th must contain new initiatives from the Chancellor to promote youth employment.
The 2.6 million jobless total was bad enough but today’s news that unemployment among Britain’s 16 to 24-year-olds now stretched to beyond 1 million – more than 1 in 5 – was truly shocking. There is a danger of creating a lost generation that never acquires the work habit.
I’m thankful my children, now in their late 20s, missed the double whammy that is blighting the lives of the current generation of students – higher tuition fees and no jobs when they graduate.
Rather than waffle on about the unfairness of it all, I’d like to reprise those posts where I addressed the issue of young job seekers – and offered a few tips.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

How not to make a fortune from stamp collecting

I have no emotional attachment to the stamp collection I put together as a child nearly 60 years ago. I can barely remember being interested in the hobby.
But the prospect of one day turning the stamps into cash appealed, and, once an adult, I took care they followed whenever I moved house.
My three battered albums containing perhaps up to 200 stamps from around world surfaced recently during a bit of a clear out. Now seemed a good time to make good on the dream.
The website of philatelists Stanley Gibbons advertises consultations with its valuation experts at a refundable £20 if the stamps for consideration generate a sale.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Fun and the Games - a Londoner's view of the 2012 Olympics

I’m starting to regret London won the bid to stage the 2012 Olympics. It wouldn’t matter quite so much if I’d been successful in applying for tickets. But I got zilch.
So all I have to look forward to this summer are the crowds, the traffic disruption and now it would seem a possible terrorist threat, remote though it is.
So deprived of the pleasure of actually going to an event, I’ll be watching the Games on television with the rest of the world. It’s not as though I live in the east of the city, which will benefit from the legacy of the Olympics.
It might be the ideal time to take a holiday and watch the events in a beach bar somewhere in the Med.
I hope Great Britain gets a respectable haul of medals. The way our economy is shaping spirits will be in sore need of a morale booster come the Games.
But from the viewpoint of a foreign visitor who has got Olympic tickets, I would be already hopping up and down in anticipation.
You’ll have the joy of watching the world’s finest sportsmen and women compete. The rest of the time even if you don’t venture outside the capital, you won’t want for diversion.
London’s got it all. History, culture, pageantry, shopping, multi-cultural cuisine, a vibrant nightlife, theatres, cinemas, clubs, bars, pubs. You might find Londoners like me a little grumpy but we will be proud if the 2012 Games are a resounding success. I still think the logo sucks.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Praise be that Britain never joined the eurozone

Democracy is the biggest casualty in the breathing space bail outs of Greece and Italy, as the eurozone installs Europhile technocrats to push through its austerity demands. Britons should give regular thanks for their country's narrow escape from membership of the single currency.
Economic life is tough enough now but at least we have been spared having to pass round a desperate begging bowl, which would have been our fate had we ever joined the euro.
The Bank of England wouldn’t have been free to slash interest rates and print money. Together with George Osborne, at least giving the illusion he is serious about tackling borrowing, we’ve preserved our AAA credit rating.
The 'safe haven' front page headline in today’s Financial Times is mis-leading - our plight is just less worse than some others. But we are indeed in a far better place than had we joined the euro.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Tom Watson over cooks James Murdoch grilling

The Commons culture select committee had one task in recalling News Corp boss James Murdoch today – to show whether he had earlier misled members about the degree to which he was aware of widespread phone hacking at the News of the World. It failed.
He denied the accuracy of incriminating testimony of two former NoW executives, which without a ‘smoking gun’ leaves the committee to decide on one man’s word against those of two others.
If Murdoch’s version of events is accepted, he is guilty of monumental incompetence in not questioning why the newspaper was shelling out millions of pounds in hush money to hacking targets.
Having failed to nail Murdoch, committee firebrand the Labour MP Tom Watson exposed the weakness of his case by resorting to personal abuse.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

The rights and wrongs of Fifa's poppy ban

I wear a poppy at this time of year joining millions of Brits in honouring our war dead and hoping in a small way to help the work of the British Legion.
Fifa’s original ban on England’s soccer team wearing a poppy on their shirts when they play Spain at Wembley in Saturday’s friendly was wrongheaded.
The poppy isn't a political symbol and therefore should never have been placed on the banned list of what footballers may wear at internationals.
But Fifa did have a case that in allowing the poppy, other nations might use the decision to press their own claims for special treatment.
The change of heart to permit the poppy to be worn on our players' black arm bands, while welcome makes the organisation look more foolish than it already does.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Remembering Frazier v. Bugner, London 1973

I was sorry to learn of the death of Joe Frazier yesterday. The former world heavyweight boxing champion lost his final fight to liver cancer at the relatively young age of 67.
I was in the Earls Court crowd the night Frazier beat Joe Bugner on points in July 1973; my first and only big fight.
I had ethical objections to prize fighting; any event in which the object is to knock your opponent unconscious doesn’t deserve to be called a sport.
But they weren’t strong enough to prevent me following the career of Muhammad Ali (he, let it not be forgotten, who was put on the canvas by our own Henry Cooper).
Ali had a wide, rebellious appeal among us young people at the time, even those that would otherwise espouse non-violence in response to the Vietnam War.
Frazier had beaten Ali – the first man to do so – in the ‘Fight of the Century’ in 1971 (pictured above).

Monday, 7 November 2011

Deaf as this blog post - another judge attracts GC's attention

Given the torrent of abusive comment which the fairly lightweight story attracted, I must be one of the few people in the country who feels some sympathy for Jamie Tabor.
He’s the judge sitting in Gloucester Crown Court the other day who thought he heard a defendant giving his occupation as “burglar” when he had actually replied “ground worker” (whatever that is).
It’s not clear from the Daily Mail report whether Tabor is a touch deaf or if he had difficulty deciphering the accused’s thick Mancunian accent.
If it were the former then I would have sympathy for his plight even if he had a bathroom mat on his head at the time. I have specific hearing problems primarily related to pitch.
I have had my ears checked on several occasions and have been told what I knew already that women’s voices are harder for me to hear than men’s.

Friday, 4 November 2011

I bet Judge William Adams was beaten as a child

There may be no other way of convincing a toddler not to run in the road or bite a new baby brother or sister than a smack on the back of the hand or leg. It might produce a short lived flood of tears but the amount of force used should be the very minimum to make the point.
I can’t actually remember applying this punishment to my now grown up children. But I must have done because I can’t think how else you get life and death messages across to a young child after reasoning with them has failed.
Beyond that point I’ve never given the ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’ philosophy house room. To this day I think it is positively sick that until relatively recently British teachers were free to thrash other people’s children.
These thoughts come to mind after reading about the videoed leather belt beating US family court judge William Adams gave his daughter Hillary when she was 16 back in 2004.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

We need to talk about Tilda Swinton

We Need To Talk About Kevin, the award winning and critically acclaimed adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s novel directed by Lynne Ramsay and starring Tilda Swinton in an Oscar worthy performance, is a hard-going near-two hours in the cinema for all that.
The misery is relentless as Swinton tries to fathom how her teenage son could grow up to commit a massacre at his high school. This isn’t a spoiler – the carnage is soon evident in a film that abounds in too many flashbacks.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Roll on Christmas - we need some festive cheer

Christmas lines seem to have been in the stores for months but I suppose the official switching on of Oxford Street’s festive lights by The Saturday’s girl band yesterday marks the ‘official’ opening of the yuletide season for Londoners.
Almost as traditional used to be complaints that Christmas was starting earlier and earlier in the high street. But this time round, though still only early November, there doesn’t seem to be as many objections as is usual.
I put this down to the dearth of good news both at home and internationally, which has made 2011 a year to forget. So much so that having Christmas on the horizon will be a welcome diversion to many.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Occupy protesters should take a leaf from the Tea Party book

As a Brit I didn’t need to understand all the intricacies of American politics to appreciate the wisdom of a recent comment column in The New Yorker magazine and draw conclusions relevant to the Occupy London Stock Exchange protest which is causing so much grief for St Paul’s Cathedral.
Hendrik Hertzberg draws important parallels with the Occupy Wall Street and Tea Party protest movements even though they are at opposite ends of the left/right spectrum.
“Both arose on the political fringe, more or less spontaneously, in response to the financial crisis and its economic consequences. Neither has authoritative leaders or a formal hierarchical structure,” writes Hertzberg.
The big difference is that the Tea Party has “never doubted the efficacy of elections.”

Monday, 31 October 2011

It's time Jeanette Winterson let her cruel mother rest in peace

If the abuse suffered by Jeanette Winterson as a child at the hands of her adoptive religious zealot mother Constance some forty and more years ago happened today, it would most likely prompt the intervention of social services and possibly the police.
Twenty-five years ago Winterson launched her literary career with the novel Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit employing a good deal of her personal journey from her mother’s oppression.
Now Winterson has published a memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (Constance’s question directed at her daughter’s sexuality), the first section of which looks at the real life events behind the writing of Orange.

Friday, 28 October 2011

John Humphrys maps out the difficult path to welfare reform

If you want a primer on the issues facing the Coalition as it takes an axe to Britain’s benefits bill, you cannot do better than watch last night’s BBC 2 documentary The future state of welfare on iPlayer.
So this isn’t so much a review as an invitation to view.
Broadcasting veteran John Humphrys makes an unflinching analysis of the distance we’ve travelled in 70 years since Sir William Beveridge’s report paved the way to end the evils of want, disease, ignorance, squalor – and idleness.
Somewhere along the way the last of these guiding principles became corrupted and a culture of dependency was born.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Eurozone crisis - beware the Chinese bearing gifts

China has a role to play in the bailout of the Eurozone but on its past cautious record its contribution will not be a game changer. Any democracy movement worth the name would be crushed, but the country’s leaders are wary of being seen bailing out Europeans, while millions of its own people face extreme hardship.
One reason why the Chinese are such dedicated savers is because the state provides little support for its ill and old.
Even so the gradual spread of Beijing’s overseas investments beyond the US to Europe is one further sign of the shift of influence from the old to the new economies.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Thomas Gainsborough’s The Painter’s Daughters Chasing a Butterfly - an appreciation

It’s been some years now since I’ve had the pleasure of visiting the National Gallery in London and seeing Thomas Gainsborough’s The Painter’s Daughters Chasing a Butterfly.
Perhaps I’ve just been unlucky. Although I visit the gallery frequently to enjoy the treasures of one of the world’s greatest collections of Western Art, my favourite painting has been missing, being lent or cleaned or whatever.
Turner, Picasso, Rembrandt, there are many artists that rank higher in my enthusiasm than Gainsborough. But there is no single painting I love more than his one that heads this post.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Occupy protesters have lost the moral high ground

My grudging respect for the Occupy London Stock Exchange campaigners has all but dissolved on learning most of the tents that have forced St Paul’s Cathedral to close its doors are unoccupied at night.
The claim by the police, which I haven’t seen denied, means by regularly returning home for a shower and a warm bed – perhaps while holding down a job too – the protesters have missed out the bit about suffering for their cause.
It’s no wonder the happy campers are talking about sitting tight until Christmas and beyond, while the Cathedral and local businesses see their revenues evaporate.

Monday, 24 October 2011

"Change now" - the empty slogan of the Occupy protesters

It’s a great shame the Occupy London Stock Exchange protesters’ first action to emulate their Occupy Wall Street brothers and sisters has been to cause the closure of St Paul’s Cathedral.
I went to see for myself yesterday and clearly health and safety issues made necessary what the Luftwaffe failed to do – namely close the doors of Wren’s great masterpiece to the public indefinitely.
In so doing the Cathedral is denied entrance monies that support its upkeep. The Church authorities did the Christian thing and originally welcomed a small number of tents on to its privately owned property around the church when the protesters failed to ‘occupy’ the nearby London Stock Exchange.
There are now hundreds of tents – and a fresh site has opened in Finsbury Square, which is even closer to the heart of the financial district in London’s Square Mile.

Friday, 21 October 2011

What's your earliest memory?

Scanning the headlines seeking inspiration for today’s post, my brain has recoiled at the blood and mayhem that is dominating the news around the world. I rarely escape to cute mode so forgive this indulgence; it won't become a habit. But I am much taken with the video of these cot-bound twins.
It puts me in mind of what I think is my earliest memory.

I don’t have very good recall, for which most of the time I’m thankful. I don’t store away bad experiences, at least, consciously.
But my poor memory made it impossible to learn a play script or put together a stand-up comedy routine if I ever had a mind to tread the boards.
I digress. And my earliest memory? I think it’s a cot – I assume mine - with a broken removable bar. I hope I had the same sense of adventure as the toddler in the video.
What’s your earliest memory?

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Reflections on a mislaid Freedom Pass

“You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” So sang Joni Mitchell in Big Yellow Taxi all those years ago. Her words came back to me as I searched frantically for my Older Persons Freedom Pass earlier this week. Familiarity meant I had taken for granted what is a major money saving asset.
It was bad enough that I had to pay over £6 for a Tube into central London and back again just the once. But the prospect of paying for many such journeys until I received a replacement from my local council was a miserable one.
Fortunately on my return, I discovered that rather than accidentally throwing the pass away as I had feared, it was sitting in a jacket pocket in my wardrobe waiting to be reunited with its relieved owner.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Eggheads are not all they are cracked up to be

I heard a lecture entitled Late Work given by Professor Peter Brooks under the auspices of the British Academy at the Royal Society in London yesterday evening.
What with the Prof himself, a distinguished panel, and erudite observations from the large audience, it was probably the most intellectually charged event I’ve ever attended. Much of what transpired went over my head.
Unfortunately my abiding memory will be surprise at how many brainy people can have such poor hygiene standards - but more of that later.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

NHS: voters will hold David Cameron to account in 2015

The next General Election in the UK will be held on May 7th 2015 barring exceptional circumstances like successful no confidence votes in the House of Commons.
Tory strategy had been aimed at securing sufficient economic recovery by then to be able to drop the party’s dependence on the LibDems to remain in office.
But with growth flat-lining and the international outlook bleak, it’s likely prime minister David Cameron and his chancellor George Osborne may have to go to the country with the British economy still in the doldrums.
It will then be a contest in which voters will be assailed by Tory statistics showing recovery is just around the corner, while Labour will insist the government has failed and should be kicked out.

Monday, 17 October 2011

On junk, memories, failed novels, girlie bars, and Concorde

In anticipation of moving house – though nothing’s been signed yet – I spent a lot of today getting rid of stuff that somehow has been following me around for years.
I delivered a lot of books I’ll never read again to the local charity shop. It took longer to summon up the resolve to dump failed literary efforts of more than 20 years ago.
Abandoned novels written in longhand in old-fashioned ledgers and consigned to a battered suitcase and lodged in a cupboard, they’ve joined some ancient electrical equipment in my apartment block’s communal dustbins.
Having taken the detritus of my life including ancient income tax returns, cancelled shares, and other odds and sods in addition to literary output dating from my teenage years from my bachelor flat on to my marital home and then my divorcee’ s studio, there’s a lot to chuck out.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Tate Modern's Gerhard Richter show does justice to a great artist

If Germany’s Gerhard Richter isn’t the world’s greatest living artist, I’d like to know who is? Until his death in the summer us Brits bestowed the title on our own Lucian Freud.
But this was a piece of pretty harmless jingoism. I’d say any one room in the recently opened Richter retrospective at Tate Modern is equal in impact to much of Freud’s entire output.
Once Freud found his unmistakable studio based style - a Francis Bacon-influenced focus on human flesh – he stuck to it.
Not so Richter. Coinciding with the artist’s 80th birthday, Gerhard Richter: Panorama is a major exhibition that charts significant moments of his remarkable career in the wide subject matter and variety of styles – both representational and abstract – he mastered in a career spanning nearly five decades.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

How far should schools go in aiding the police in identifying young rioters?

My local free sheet the excellent Camden New Journal is leading this week’s edition with a story, which raises a moral issue that has left me in two minds.
Two local schools have been assisting police in identifying pupils caught on CCTV in the August riots in London.
One head teacher said his school was “duty bound” to assist the police, while the other couldn’t be reached to comment on the "hot potato" decision to actively support the investigation.
So far four teenagers face charges in the wake of the schools’ help. Of course this doesn’t make them guilty. But if found so, there are serious consequences over and above receiving a criminal record.
Stiff prison sentences have been handed out regardless of the youth of the offenders. A not necessarily short, sharp lesson might push an already wayward child into a life of crime.
The question is “What has the higher priority, a school’s duty of care to its pupils or to society at large?”

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Unequal Britain - the £265k garage and the dole queue

You know the world’s gone mad when you see a bog standard garage go up for sale at more than a quarter of a million quid. No more than 15 minutes walk from where I live someone is looking for £265,000 from the sale of theirs.
The location is in Belsize Village – arguably the best part of Belsize Park, a generally prosperous area of north-west London. But the 18’ x 8’ garage itself, as the picture above shows, is nothing special.
I’ve no idea if the vendor will get his or her price but the estate agent handling the deal thinks it is worth a try.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Of EuroMillionaire Dave's HATE tattoo

I have no rational explanation for my prejudice against the owners of visible tattoos. That is tattoos that would normally only be exposed on a beach – or, if you’re a woman, visible when wearing clothes suited to a night out.
It’s different if you’re David Beckham or in showbiz but if you’re in, say, my queue at the supermarket I will interpret the tattoo on your hand as saying “I don’t want a proper job and a decent career.”
If you have a tattoo on your face that says to me you don’t want a proper job and a decent career, ever.

Friday, 7 October 2011

BBC staff have been failed by their bosses

When us Brits used to boast we had the best television in the world, we meant the BBC. That claim went down the toilet about the same time it had become obvious we didn’t have the best national health service either.
The plan to axe 2,000 jobs at the BBC in response to a frozen license fee is a cruel blow.
Nearly a third facing redundancy over the next five years are working in BBC News. The quality of television journalism is certain to suffer and with it the democratic process. That both left and right complain about BBC bias is a tribute to its general impartiality.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

R.I.P Steve Jobs - GC pays his respects to a true visionary

There are already many fine tributes being paid Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, who lost his long fight against cancer yesterday.
New York mayor Michael Bloomberg is right to link Jobs name with those of Edison and Einstein. He changed the way we live and showed how the application of advanced technology can be applied to the everyday in computing, communication and entertainment.
The Jobs story, which saw him ousted from the company only to stage a triumphant return years later, is the stuff of business legends. His vision extended to spotting the potential of Pixar to change movie animation. He bought the company for $10 million in 1986.
Good design was part of the Jobs success formula from the original computers to Macs, iPods, iPhones, and iPads.
Back in 1985 Jobs said in an interview: “The most compelling reason for most people to buy a computer for the home will be to link it to a nationwide communications network. We're just in the beginning stages of what will be a truly remarkable breakthrough for most people - as remarkable as the telephone.”
He was a true visionary and will be much missed.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Boris Johnson's head-to-head with Paxo is only a taste of the battles to come

If you’ve never seen London’s mayor Boris Johnson in full flight you must watch his encounter with Newsnight frontman Jeremy Paxman on BBC2 television last night. Even if you’re familiar with Johnson’s studied eccentricity and missed it, their extraordinary verbal fisticuffs is must-see viewing.
Although Labour leads nationally in opinion polls, the party’s candidate Ken Livingstone is going to have his work cut out beating the Tory blond bombshell at the mayoral election next May.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Kirsten Dunst saves von Trier's Melancholia from catastrophe

The end of the world couldn’t come a moment too soon for me in Lars von Trier’s new movie Melancholia, which I saw this afternoon.
Opinion about the film, which deservedly won the best actress award for its star Kirsten Dunst at Cannes this year, has split the critics.
Melancholia is so stupendous, imaginative, weird, and outlandish that it rearranges the contents of your soul,” wrote Nigel Andrews of the Financial Times.
But I’m with Philip French of The Observer, who found “The movie is heavy, though without weight or gravitas – a solipsistic, narcissistic, inhuman affair.”

Monday, 3 October 2011

George Osborne's brass neck will rile voters

Chancellor George Osborne badly missed the mood of the nation in his speech at the Tory party conference in Manchester today.
In the knowledge his analysis of the dangers facing the British economy would be compressed into a 15 second sound bite in news bulletins, he repeated the phrase “Together we will weather the storm” more-or-less four times to get his main theme across to the public.
This is a variant of the “We are all in this together” mantra he has been repeating since before the General Election. He riled many last time round, who questioned how Osborne, a multi-millionaire and former Bullingdon Club member, had the gall to include himself among those facing hard times.