Monday, 28 February 2011

Cole and Rooney expose the flaw at the heart of English football

Are England soccer stars at best more ill-disciplined and at worst more brutish than their foreign-born counterparts playing in the Premier League? If the headline reads Football ace in hotel sex scandal or Soccer star in bar brawl the chances are that he will have been UK born.
OK, this is an impression; I don’t make a habit of collating players’ misdemeanours. But even allowing for the greater number of home grown team members, a proportionately larger number of bad-boys seem to be British.
Tomorrow sees one of the biggest club games of the English season – Chelsea v. Manchester United at Stamford Bridge.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Ricky Gervais - King of Comedy

Only an act of God can unseat Ricky Gervais as the King of Comedy, which would be a supreme irony given the British comedian’s rabid atheism.
The co-writer of The Office and Extras – and much else with Stephen Merchant – was on form today with some tongue-in-cheek suggestions for the opening duologue of James Franco and Anne Hathaway at the coming Oscars ceremony this weekend. Here is their response.
Gervais’s took no prisoners in his own introduction at the Golden Globe Awards last month – a clip of which can be found at the end of this post. Franco and Hathaway are going to be a whole lot prettier but safe and bland on Sunday – which is Gervais’s point.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

How safe is Nick Clegg's job?

There must be something about the position of deputy prime minister that brings out the buffoon in politicians. John Prescott – Labour’s man of the people now in the House of Lords and currently shamelessly advertising car insurance – could be relied on to foul up. Now the same expectation has passed to the Coalition’s No. 2, Nick Clegg.
The LibDem leader – who will be linked forever with the U-turn on university fees in the same way Tony Blair’s albatross is the invasion of Iraq – is living up to the image of the political lightweight painted by his detractors.
He compounded the error of taking his family this week on a half-term Swiss skiing trip with the Middle East in turmoil - and Cameron out of the country - by joking he had forgotten he was supposed to be in charge.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Decadent pints, love, and Nature Boy

There is something deliciously decadent about drinking on a weekday afternoon in a near-empty central London pub, while the rest of the world hurries by. After a lifetime of snatched lunches, it is one of the pleasures of retirement to be able to give proper time to that extra pint or two.
Today was such an occasion. We didn’t get drunk but definitely mellow.
The more relaxed, the greater our insights into life’s mysteries. As my chum finished his pint, he made an observation which just about paraphrased the chorus of Nat King Cole’s version of Nature Boy.
He had never heard of Eden Ahbez’s 1948 song but its message is eternal.
“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn/Is just to love and be loved in return”
A hippy ahead of his time, the strange story of Ahbez (or rather eden ahbez; he believed only God and Infinity should be capitalised) – is told succinctly in this Space Age Pop Music link. Cole’s performance follows after the turn.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Girl on girl - Cristina Odone and Jacqui Smith

It's difficult to determine which is the more appalling woman - former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith or Daily Telegraph journalist and blogger Cristina Odone.
Smith (left) is fronting a Radio 5 Live documentary Porn Again about the pornography industry on March 3rd. You'll remember that her husband Richard Timney was revealed to have charged two adult pay-per-view movies to the taxpayer.
This was part of a much larger expenses scandal which swept Smith from office two years ago, although now she's blaming sexism for the scrutiny and exposure.
The programme has set the fur flying. "Jacqui Smith is using her husband's porn habit to kick-start her broadcasting career. How revolting" heads Odone's post today.

Monday, 21 February 2011

What happened to the world's best health service?

Tonight on Channel 4 at 8pm TV reporter Mark Sparrow reveals The Truth About Hospital Food. It is his photograph that heads this post and is one example, he says, of the “disgusting” meals served in hospitals which are leaving patients “malnourished.” Their food is bad enough but if you have an elderly relative in hospital you can’t be certain that they are being fed it.
Health Service ombudsman Ann Abraham last week published a damning report on her investigation into complaints about the care of older people in the NHS.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Barclays protesters - on the fringes of a popular cause

Tomorrow Barclays bank branches around the country are going to be targeted by UK Uncut, the direct action group opposed to the Coalition government’s cuts. Its latest plan aims to invade bank branches and turn them into community units which face closure like libraries and a mothers’ breakfast club.
I hope no one proposes to put childrens’ safety at risk, as there is always a chance of things turning nasty.
Generally, I don’t approve of ‘stunts’ to further political aims – usually they achieve nothing, promote disorder, and divert police resources. My dilemma is UK Uncut has a point.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Lara Logan's assault reveals human beings at their worst

The “brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating” suffered by CBS correspondent Lara Logan when she became separated from her news crew by a frenzied mob of more than 200 people in Cairo’s Tahrir Square last Friday has stirred up some of the most partisan reporting and vituperative online comment I can remember.
Only the women and soldiers that came to her rescue emerge with any credit - and, of course, Logan herself.
The animals that perpetrated the violence on a defenceless woman are not the only examples of human beings at their worst.
The way the attack on Logan has been viewed through a prism of bias to support personal prejudices in the media and blogosphere has been loathsome. Each ‘analysis’ has inspired vitriolic counter-arguments.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Thank you, Grammys for introducing Esperanza

Sunday’s Grammys did me a favour – I would have never heard of Best New Artist winner Esperanza Spalding otherwise. The beautiful and talented jazz singer and bassist beat fellow-nominees Justin Bieber (much to the fury of the legion of his young fans), Drake, and British contenders Florence & The Machine, and Mumford and Sons to the award.
I've just spent a pleasant afternoon catching up with Spalding’s music. The lovely Little Fly which heads this post is a worthy addition to my video clips I rate category. There can’t be any other Grammy recipient who can claim an 18th century English poet and artist as their lyricist. Spalding’s interpretation of William Blake’s poem The Fly is from her album Chamber Music Society. Her third and was released last summer.
"It was really focused on composition and the intimacy of classical music and jazz-improvised music, and to me, that seems like it would be received by a smaller audience, yet there it is with a nomination on such a broad field," she modestly told the AP wire service ahead of the Grammys ceremony.
PS. I've just watched Mick Jagger and Bob Dylan on the Grammys highlights TV show. Wow - with Arsenal beating Barcelona - what an evening.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Turner dominates Tate Britain's new Watercolour show

Tate Britain’s latest blockbuster exhibition Watercolour opens officially tomorrow and runs until August 21st. It promises to be a crowd-pleaser even if apparently, or so the Tate hints, the public love this art form for all the wrong reasons.
Watercolour is the most democratic of art mediums. Relative to oils, the paint is cheap, easily portable, and can be applied to paper rather than canvas. In its purest form, it is unforgiving; mistakes can’t be painted over.
It provides proud parents with their infant’s first daubs and for grandparents a hobby later in life. I would have liked to have seen some recognition given to amateurs. This is, after all, an exhibition about a painting technique rather than famous artists.
It must pain the exhibition’s main curator Alison Smith that Prince Charles is the UK’s best known living watercolour painter.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Venice or Verona? - that is the question

There is such a thing as too much information when it comes to researching a holiday. I’ve been promising myself a trip to Venice for as long as I can remember. 2011 should be the year. If I wait too much longer my desire, wallet, or knees might give out.
But after a dispiriting afternoon surfing the internet, I wonder why I’ve yearned to visit the Italian city considered by some – in the summer, at least – hot, smelly, overcrowded, and poorly served by expensive bars and restaurants.
Fortunately I’ve travelled widely enough to know that if I’d followed the internet prejudices of gobby travellers I would have missed more pleasures than disasters.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Hurrah for the Egyptian people

I salute the courage of the Egyptian people. The citizens of Cairo have good reason to celebrate. After 18 days of protest refusing to yield to threats and actual violence, they have forced the country’s hated dictator Hosni Mubarak from office.
So far the Egyptian army – whose leaders are a privileged class with vested interests to defend - have exhibited admirable restraint. The hope is this continues so free democratic elections can be held.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

It's no wonder health experts condemn teen sex show

Let’s pretend you’re the mother of a 16 year old daughter who comes to you in tears. She has just broken up with her first serious boyfriend, because he thinks she’s not adventurous enough in bed. What do you do? At the very least my guess is you’d say: “Good riddance, darling, wait for a boy who loves you for who you are.”
I doubt if you’d emulate Katie May’s mother who accompanied her daughter in front of the cameras of The Joy of Teen Sex show televised last night to investigate the face-to-face alternatives to the missionary position.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Closing libraries - a genteel book burning

The meeting of concerned library users at my local town hall last night in Camden, north-west London, was a depressing affair. I expressed my fears about how the Coalition Government’s spending cuts threaten the country’s lending library movement in my January 19th post.
Although yesterday’s event turned on occasion into a protest meeting, it had been called to discuss the alternative ways the council’s library budget could be stripped of more than £1 million. To that end a councillor and two appropriate council administrators were present to answer questions, or, more accurately, apologise for the inevitability of cuts in library branch numbers or opening hours or both once a consultation survey is completed.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

The joy of guilty literary pleasures

Struggling through three years of a pointless sociology degree in the 1960s destroyed my enthusiasm for most literature. It was my misfortune to study the subject when it was masquerading as a science supported by the most turgid text books known to man. It was an aversion therapy that ‘cured’ me of reading anything longer than a newspaper article – especially novels.
I had hoped on retirement I would re-kindle an appetite for reading novels, which had been a passion in my years before college. I reasoned I should ease myself back slowly as I sought to resume reading for pleasure after a gap of 30 years.
My early forays were successful. I commenced on the journey of re-discovery with dear Sherlock Holmes and old favorites A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of the Four. This prompted me towards more substantial tomes – Emma and Great Expectations – which I knew well enough about but had never actually read. These too were a success.
Life was too short, I reasoned, to catch up on all the missed classics, while contemporary fiction was too expensive to buy in bookshops. So I left it to chance and my local library to provide me with a supply of modern British authors.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Meeting Amanda Holden

I was sorry to read that Amanda Holden, the Britain’s Got Talent judge, has lost the baby son she was expecting with husband Chris Hughes seven months into her pregnancy.
It would have been about 1995 when I found myself sat next to her at a business dinner. I formed such a high opinion of Holden by the end of the evening that I’ve followed her career with interest ever since.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Women are still the weaker sex in the workplace

It seems women remain the weaker sex even when they are in the firing line. Two legal cases this week have underlined just how resistant public attitudes are to attempts to introduce equal treatment of the sexes in the workplace.
In one a 40 year old male shop assistant alleged he was sexually harassed by a 68 year old female colleague, because she had slapped his bottom on several occasions. In another a female health worker was fighting a “gross misconduct” claim. She had been sacked for making a sexual quip while straddling a naked male patient, who was suffering an epileptic fit and required to be held still for an injection.
For me the rights and wrongs of either case are not as intriguing as the online reaction to them from the public. For the most part, both women received support; the argument being that but for political correctness neither case would have come to court.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Reflections on Never Let Me Go

The screen adaption of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel Never Let Me Go is released in the UK in a few days time. But I’ve heard so much about the movie I thought it had already come and gone. It was only some of the advance publicity, which focused on interviews with the author over the last few days that alerted me the film had yet to hit British cinemas.
Perhaps budget restraints have meant the necessity for the movie’s slow roll out. The novel was published in 2005; shooting started in April 2009; the film was shown at festivals last summer; and released in the US in the autumn.
Its stars Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, and Keira Knightley – and director Mark Romanek – have banged the drum for the film repeatedly over the best part of nine months.
There can be few people in the UK who see the movie not already aware of the twist (which I won't reveal here). Clearly those that have read the book will not be deterred but the element of surprise would have been welcomed by those such as me who haven’t read it.
I understand although set in a dystopian England, the movie isn’t an out-and-out Logan’s Run for our time but rather a melancholic celebration of love and humanity. But it would have been nice to have come to the film with an open mind rather than have the thought floating around in my head that some reviewers have asked – why don’t our heroes resist their fate?

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Deficit denial leaves Ed Balls on the ropes

It’s disappointing to find that new shadow Chancellor Ed Balls has hardly warmed the seat left vacant by Alan Johnson and he is already trying to re-write New Labour history – or, more plainly, telling porkies.
Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show last weekend he boldly denied that as Gordon Brown’s man at the Treasury he oversaw a structural deficit before the recession struck.
He told Marr: “I don't think we had a structural deficit at all in that period (before the recession).” To support his claim, Balls argued that “We had a deficit, but we were covering that with investment.” This was smoke and mirrors intended to confuse – either there was a deficit or there wasn’t.
A quick look at Table 2.3 in New Labour’s 2008 Pre-Budget Report shows general government net borrowing on a Maastricht basis recorded a 3.1 per cent deficit for 2007-8.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

On losing my virginity and saving the world

Both losing my virginity and helping save the world from nuclear destruction seemed a good way to spend Easter weekend 1962. I hadn’t long turned 17 and each mattered as much as the other.
The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament’s Aldermaston march – from the Berkshire-based Atomic Weapons Research Establishment to London – was certain to provide opportunities towards achieving the twin objectives.
How hard could it be – 52 miles over three days? My school friend Harry’s father drove us to Aldermaston in what seemed only minutes. The details are a bit vague now but I think we dropped our sleeping bags off on a specified coach to be collected at our first over night stop under a marquee in Reading. Much else I recall in painful detail.