Thursday, 31 March 2011

Andrew Lloyd-Webber's impotency is a confession too far

I’m certain Lord Andrew Lloyd-Webber had the very best of intentions in volunteering that prostate cancer surgery has left him impotent.
In revealing his condition to Piers Morgan on the latter’s ITV1 Life Stories show next week, he will communicate to millions of men in similar circumstances that they are not alone – and that they should take heart and like him be glad to be alive.
However I think the composer’s total frankness has been misplaced. By all means talk about prostate cancer and the necessity for men to have regular checks, but to focus on the possible side effect of the treatment that worries men most isn’t going to encourage visits to the doctor.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

It's time to clean up the Commons weekly slanging match

The weekly Parliamentary knockabout that passes for Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) went too far today. The regular yah-boo-sucks cheers and jeers look infantile at the best of times.
But with our military at war on several fronts and the country facing savage spending cuts at home, the opportunity to question the PM should have been, more than ever, an occasion for rational debate.
What we got instead was the regular pantomime culminating in David Cameron, irritated by Ed Balls barracking, telling the shadow chancellor to “shut up and listen for once.”

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Gwynnie, forget Glee for a Grace Kelly biopic

Gwyneth Paltrow has just a few years left to play the movie role she was born for – the lead in the biopic of Grace Kelly, the American actress who quit Hollywood to marry Prince Rainier of Monaco in 1956.
I watched the Alfred Hitchcock-directed To Catch A Thief on television this afternoon, which stars Kelly and Cary Grant, for the umpteenth time. The witty, double-entendre laden script and the pleasing images of the South of France in the 1950s returned like an old friend.
But for the first time I was struck by the facial similarities of Kelly and Paltrow, who fortunately would be a sufficiently good actress to carry off the complex role, as long as a singing career doesn’t divert her since the success on Glee.

Monday, 28 March 2011

In fair Verona, where we lay our weekend break

BA cabin crew permitting, I hope to enjoy a long weekend with my son and daughter in Verona early in September.
In my February 14th post Venice or Verona? – that is the question I pondered which city in the Veneto region to base my break.
My choice reflects my cautious – alright, pessimistic – approach to holidays.
I have no expectations about Verona – in fact I only recently discovered its proximity to Venice in an Italian guide book. I know now it is famous for its ancient remains, open air operas, and the bronze statue of Juliet whose right breast you rub to be lucky in love. Much to the delight of its tourist board, Romeo and Juliet is set in Verona, as if you didn't know.
I anticipate much there will delight and little disappoint. I fear, on the other hand, that my hopes for Venice will not match my dreams.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Knickerless Nickleby - where next for the BBC after raunchy Women In Love?

Women In Heat would have been a more appropriate title for William Ivory’s adaptation of the classic D H Lawrence novel Women In Love on BBC 4 last night. The number of couplings, failed couplings – including one homosexual encounter – and some discrete masturbation (female) must have run into double figures. And this was only Part 1.
With Ken Russell’s movie still standing up well, it’s difficult to imagine the TV version would have got off the ground but for the 90 minute airtime included more heavy breathing than at a dogging convention.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Michael Yardy, the Black Dog, and me

News that England cricket all-rounder Michael Yardy is returning home from the World Cup suffering with depression gave me pause for thought this morning.
At the age of 66 I’ve been through my fair share of illnesses. Although I’m pretty fit day-to-day, some disorders like diabetes and glaucoma may not have run their course.
Thankfully only once have I ever been visited by what Winston Churchill called the Black Dog of depression. The feeling may have lasted just seconds but the experience was so consuming and debilitating that its memory is still vivid several years later.
It changed my whole perception of what depression may be. In an instant I became convinced that depression is an illness with its cause some complicated bio-chemical malfunction in the brain. Those affected need medical treatment; it is not something where they have only to “pull themselves together” or “get a grip”.
Geoffrey Boycott’s insensitive assessment of the ‘Yardy situation’ on radio this morning reflects the difficulty some have in empathising with those whose lives are blighted by depression.
Each case is different. As I recall at the time while I wasn’t “over the moon” neither was I “down in the dumps” – sorry, clich├ęs surface when I try to get a handle on mental states.
Suddenly I was overcome with the most devastating feeling of anxiety, despair, and loneliness like a punch in the stomach – so swift was its onset. Then it was gone leaving behind a nauseous sensation that slowly evaporated until I was back to my old self. It is something I pray never returns.
My sympathy goes out to Yardy and anyone battling depression - and I send my best wishes for their recovery.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Ken Clarke - the man, his music, his Budget nap

Ken Clarke has long been my favourite Tory politician. His reputation strengthened in my eyes today by appearing to fall asleep during George Osborne’s Budget Speech. The Justice Secretary’s people deny this ‘slur’ but Labour leader Ed Miliband said he had – and more importantly bookies Ladbrokes paid out at 16-1 to the 50 or so punters, who forecast 70-year-old Clarke would nod off.
Clarke’s public image – tubby, jolly, and a bit shambolic – makes a refreshing change from the cloned personality-challenged ‘suits’ that count for the new crop of Tory MPs.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Don't stop at sprinklers - how to pep up 10 sports

Let’s face it most sports could be made more exciting. Today Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone repeated his view that sprinkler systems could be introduced on F1 tracks, because intermittent rain provides the most entertaining races. Here are ways 10 sports could be jazzed up with the aid of a little fine-tuning starting with F1 itself.
1. Given the importance of tyre technology, F1 drivers should have to change their own tyres when they make pit stops.
2. Rowing is much more interesting in choppy water. So helicopters should hover, for example, over the Oxford and Cambridge crews during the next Boat Race.
3. Penalty shoot-outs provide the most tension in a soccer match. So games should start with the shoot-out. If there is no outright winner extra time is played and then 90 minutes.
4. Liven up tennis by scrapping the second serve – and the net.
5. Sixes are the best bit of cricket; so alternative overs should be bowled underarm.
6. Scrap drug testing in horse racing – not the horses but the jockeys. A spliff should help them relax before races.
7. Paula Radcliffe’s toilet break on her way to winning the 2005 London Marathon was the most dramatic incident in the history of the event. So the race route should include detours behind half a dozen trees to protect runners’ modesty.
8. Martial art contests should be staged in yakuza drinking dens to increase authenticity.
9. Shooting tournaments should be held in FBI-style cardboard villages with pop-up gangsters and innocent citizens.
10. Following the example of high jumpers other field events – long jump, javelin, the shot, and the pole vault – should be performed backwards.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Forget feminism - the good provider is due back

It wasn’t so long ago the highest compliment a woman could pay her husband was that “he is a good provider.”
Not that she wouldn’t also prefer her man to be good looking, great in bed, fun to be with, well-educated, and blessed with a developed sense of humour.
But the paramount requirement was his ability to put food on the table and roof over the heads of his wife and children.
The downside was that love could evaporate - but the mechanics continued to work as long as the family unit treated each other with respect.
These days when love goes, family breakdown often isn’t far behind. I wonder though in these financially straitened times whether that scenario isn’t about to be rewritten.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Woody Allen - a sort of appreciation

I will not be going to see Woody Allen’s new movie You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger, which opened today in London where the film is set. Reviews have been patchy; it might even be the best of Allen’s London location movies according to one critic although that isn’t saying much.
I’ll wait until Allen makes a film I think there will be a half-chance of enjoying.
I still haven’t recovered from my disappointment with Vicky Cristina Barcelona. This was supposed to be a return to form and instead was a tired demonstration of national stereotypes.
For someone of my age watching a poor Allen movie is doubly disturbing. Added to the waste of time and money is the painful reminder that our powers wane with age.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

SHOCK HORROR - the young are having less sex

The depiction of young people as sex-obsessed hedonists is good for television viewing figures and box office receipts but it is a media myth. They are, in fact, waiting longer on average before becoming sexually active.
Some 27 per cent of men and 29 per cent of women in the 15 to 24 years age group have never had sexual contact with another person, according to a recent report by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Such is the time lag with things statistical the period relates to 2006/08.
The delay doesn’t weaken the importance of the trend revealed by the survey. Back in 2002 the comparable figure was 22 per cent for both men and women.
While the National Health Statistics Report uses American respondents, I wouldn’t imagine the direction in the UK would be much different although the actual figures may be.
I’m too ancient to hazard any insights into the sex drives of the young. Perhaps the messages about disease and unwanted pregnancy are beginning to get home. But there are those that argue sex education does more harm than good.
It’s easier to say what’s not happening. The increased openness about sex, the ceaseless barrage of sexual images selling clothes and music to the young, and the access of internet porn do not seem to have brainwashed young people, thankfully. What do you think?

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Should lecturers be ordered to 'spy' on their students?

The BBC has got wind that Lord Carlile’s review of the Government’s Prevent strategy to combat violent extremism, which is expected in May, is likely to call for closer monitoring of university and college students by their lecturers.
If so Carlile can expect to be challenged on several fronts.
There is a fierce debate about the degree to which British campuses are being exposed to radicalisation by particularly, but not exclusively, Islamic extremists.
Let’s suppose such grooming is taking place either directly or via the internet. It doesn’t make any sense to alert vulnerable students that university staff is checking their behaviour and essays to establish whether they’re a potential terrorist.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Midsomer madness

When John Nettles gave his final performance as DCI Tom Barnaby in ITV’s long-running crime drama Midsomer Murders last month more than 7 million viewers tuned in. It was his last case in the fictional blood-soaked county. I was not among the audience.
From the off – perhaps right back at the start of the TV adaption of Caroline Graham’s murder mysteries in 1997 – some 251 corpses ago – I must have determined that the vanilla Englishness of the show was not to my taste.
Today Midsomer Murder’s producer Brian True-May finds himself suspended for honestly analysing what proved to be the success of the series.

Monday, 14 March 2011

The case for new nuclear power plants is damaged by Fukushima disaster

The whole world is watching – and praying – that Japanese technicians can surmount the threat of melt-down at the earthquake-affected Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plants. But even if the reactors are shutdown safely in the next few hours, the damage to the reputation of the worldwide nuclear industry is going to be felt for years to come.
With Chernobyl ‘retired’ to the history of the last century, the advocates of nuclear generated electricity appeared to be winning the argument especially in the fast-expanding economies of the East.
With Japan as its example, countries such as China and India, which also own little oil, have ambitious nuclear expansion plans. Inevitably these programmes will attract bad publicity in the wake of Fukushima but are unlikely to be revised given they have no viable alternative to nuclear power.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Noise can get under the toughest skin

You might think given Quentin Tarantino’s blood-soaked movies he would be made of sterner stuff. But the Oscar winning director is taking an LA neighbour to court alleging noise nuisance.
Goethe’s quote: “He is happiest, be he king or peasant, who finds peace in his home” is appropriated for the Pulp Fiction director’s lawsuit.
He complains he can’t hear himself think to write, because of the racket from macaws in an adjacent private bird menagerie.
The TMZ celebrity gossip website has the story – and the legal document, which is well worth a look. My sympathy is always with those who are troubled by noise whether that of neighbours, traffic, flight paths.
I lived in an apartment once where the tenants on the floor below kept a dog, which they left unattended locked indoors when they went to work. If I was home during the day I was disturbed by the dog’s unhappy bark for hours at a time – it sounded like a baby crying.
Thirty-five years later the experience was the inspiration for my short story The New Tenant.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

My name is Grapefruitcrazy and I'm a book addict

Until I ran out of space I’d trawl discount bookshops and buy what caught my eye in the expectation I might one day read my purchase. Not as much fiction as popular science, French cultural life, philosophy, healthy eating, etymology (especially slang), guide books and biographies.
It was comforting to know if the mood took me the book was always there waiting on my bookshelf. I use libraries but I like the satisfaction of possessing books – the sense of droit de seigneur as the pristine pages offer up inner secrets to their new owner, me. This is just as well given the number of libraries threatened to be swept away in the Tory spending cuts.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Charlie Sheen - America's unhealthy obssession

America’s obsession with Charlie Sheen’s apparent mental breakdown is as sick as the actor himself. It’s time for the nation to take a look at itself.
The fascination with his demons reveals an unsavoury prurience.
By continuing to ridicule a man who needs psychiatric help, journalists, talk show hosts, stand up comedians and the rest demean them. They are admittedly feeding the public’s unhealthy appetite for his salacious escapades.
The 2.3 million followers Sheen attracted since he joined Twitter at the beginning of the month are akin to rubberneckers at a traffic accident.
Perhaps you need the distance of the Atlantic to get a sense of perspective to see that enough is enough.
With his track record of misbehaviour, it is a wonder Sheen was able to hold down his Two and a Half Men role as long as he did. The blind eye CBS and Warner Bros. turned to his misconduct, while the bucks rolled in was central to the show’s current mess. Sheen needed help sooner – and the sack if he couldn’t or wouldn’t reform.
In the UK drink and drug addiction and cavorting with hookers may not destroy a showbiz reputation irretrievably as it once would. But however big a male star the hint they had even once been violent towards women would rightly set their career back years if not kill it stone dead. They couldn’t expect – or be allowed - to continue to lead a top TV comedy show.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Thoughts on a Regent's Park tragedy

A walk in the early spring sunshine in London’s Regent’s Park this morning brought an unexpected, poignant moment. I came across a memorial plaque set in front of a bandstand, which recalled a 30-year-old tragedy.
On July 20th 1982 an IRA time-bomb took the lives of seven Royal Green Jackets bandsmen. Two hours earlier a car bomb had ripped into a troop of Household Cavalry killing two mounted soldiers. I just about recall the horror of that day but it must bring daily heartache for the families of those who died.
Standing there in front of the plaque didn’t revive memories of the Troubles, or even the thought that decades later there are still those among us prepared to use terror in pursuit of political aims.
The emotion that swept over me was sadness that the lives of these young men was cut short (as I’ve discovered later) playing selections from the musical ‘Oliver’ to a lunchtime audience in one of London’s loveliest parks.
Walking home I valued all the more the signs of nature coming back to life – a simple pleasure denied to those that had lost their lives.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Daniel Craig in drag should be 007's last outing

All credit to movie star Daniel Craig for agreeing to transform from James Bond into drag to help publicise International Women’s Day tomorrow. The video Equals produced by female director Sam Taylor-Wood is in an undeniably good cause. The voice over by Judi Dench, who plays 007’s boss ‘M’ in the movie series, stresses the inequality and violence women suffer daily to an extent, however, which doesn’t allow men can have it tough too.
It adds to Craig’s portfolio of commendable performances even though he remains silent throughout. There has been one major lapse in his career though; if only he had left James Bond to Clive Owen, a British actor born to play the part.

Friday, 4 March 2011

China - the long march towards democracy

Hypocrisy has reached its zenith when you hear Western politicians say they have learnt the lesson of the current Middle East unrest – you shouldn’t prop up dictatorships in what will probably turn out a vain attempt to achieve stability.
Then in the next breath they cosy up to China, a country which annexed Tibet, permits no opposition to the ruling Communist Party, where internet traffic is rigorously controlled, and has a deplorable record on civil rights.
One day the hundreds of democracy protesters who died when tanks rolled into Tianamen Square in June 1989 will be celebrated in their own country as martyrs.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Paywalls - coming to news websites near you

The New York Times, arguably the world’s best quality newspaper judged by its dedication to proper staffing levels - its stories are not dependent on press agencies, bloggers, and rival media – is gearing up to launch a partial paywall for its online operation.
In London the paywall v. free access debate will intensify further when the Daily Telegraph takes the same metered (charges apply depending on usage) approach later this year.
I have divided loyalties on the issue. As a former national newspaper journalist it seems crazy to give content away free when print media is losing sales and ad revenue. I would make this a paysite if I could; most bloggers would.
On the other hand as a consumer I’m not going to cough up as long as I can get my online news of reasonably decent quality from a free source.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Howl the movie misses what made Allen Ginsberg great

I recalled how “Reading (Allen) Ginsberg’s Howl in the early 1960s was the single most important event in my literary education” in my June 11th post of last year. So I was always going to see James Franco play the Beat poet in Howl just as soon as I could – which was this afternoon.
The movie – directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman – takes as its core the 1957 obscenity trial of the poem’s publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Woven into the examination of witnesses is animation illustrating the wildness of the poem and its celebration of love and human weakness; passages read to an enthusiastic audience; an interview with a more mature Ginsberg; and flashbacks to the events in the poet’s life which led to Howl’s birth.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Has David Cameron caught Blair's Disease?

David Cameron may have caught Blair’s Disease. The symptoms are easy enough to spot – a British prime minister suffers delusions of power and feels compelled to commit his country to risky military adventures it doesn’t have the resources to fulfil.
Cameron came to office promising to put Britain’s interests first. But like Tony Blair before him, he has grown swiftly over-keen on rubbing shoulders with world leaders in a period of international crisis.
It is bizarre that at the same time 11,000 military personnel – including 5,000 in the RAF – are being cut, Cameron is touting the prospect of installing a no-fly zone over those parts of Libya still held by Colonel Gaddafi.