Friday, 29 April 2011

William and Kate give Britain a much-needed lift

Britain is a country beset by self-doubt. But for a good few hours today the nation was able to forget its troubles and join together to celebrate the Royal Wedding of our future king and queen, William and Catherine.
It has been a golden day that stretched from the kisses of the happy couple on the balcony of Buckingham Palace to the kiddies’ bouncy castle at the street party I attended - and from there around the world.
Tomorrow – no, Tuesday, let’s press the pause button a few days longer – the honeymoon will be well and truly over for the British people.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

William was right to bar Blair and Brown from his wedding

If the guests attending tomorrow’s Royal Wedding at Westminster Abbey had been selected on merit, the church would be half full. Dignitaries include a set of dictators or their representatives whose presence the Government has decided are necessary.
William and Kate’s personal list does include, after obligatory family members, those worthy of their invitation. Much of the rest reflects the circles in which the Royal couple move – the privileged, the odd rich cokehead, and pop culture lightweights.
Where William should be applauded is his determination to exclude former Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Wim Wenders' Pina dance movie takes 3D to a new dimension

The dance documentary Pina directed in 3D by Wim Wenders takes the use of the movie technology forward in an unexpected direction.
I sided with Francis Ford Coppola – director of The Godfather – in a post last year when he disagreed with James Cameron, who was still being lauded for Avatar, that 3D would become the standard not only in the cinema but for broadcast entertainment too.
Having just watched Pina, I realise for the first time 3D can be used subtly and in the hands of someone like the much-respected German director, the technology has only just begun to be exploited as an artistic medium.
Where I had been thinking re-makes of Ben-Hur in 3D, Brief Encounter might benefit from the treatment. When glasses are no longer required, I’d say Cameron will be proved right.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

BBC's Andrew Marr has only himself to blame for injunction spotlight

Andrew Marr, one of the BBC’s top political interviewers and all-round talking head, has dug himself a hole that threatens to cave in his career.
He cheated on his wife; the affair ended in 2003 by which time his lover had a child he believed was his. In 2008 he was granted a super-injunction silencing newspapers about his infidelity; intervention by the satirical magazine Private Eye managed to limit the order. The existence of an injunction could be reported but no more.
Until yesterday Marr was happy to use the courts to shield his personal life, while continuing to probe the motives and private lives of others.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Robin Williams and a small earthquake in Chile

Small earthquake in Chile. Not many dead entered UK journalistic legend circa 1930s as the “least significant headline” to appear in The Times – and came to extend to newspapers in general.
Left-wing journalist Claud Cockburn said this was his winning entry in a jokey contest held among newsroom chums when he was a sub-editor on The Thunderer.
Reference is still made to it today but no such headline has ever been found. Cockburn’s memory was at fault or, more likely, he aimed to amuse with an invented headline.
Today foreign deaths – however few – wouldn't be treated so lightly. But in Cockburn’s day the world was a much bigger place and Chile would have been classed an area so remote to be of little concern.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Reflections on NEJ and all that injunction jazz

Modesty isn’t this blog’s strongest suit. But I’d be kidding myself if I thought the 1,300 page views clocked up by my April 13th post Freedom of speech extends to sordid kiss-and-tells reflected an interest by Grapefruitcrazy readers in my views on the judiciary’s attempt to gag the Press.
The post was about the flood of injunctions gifting rich men anonymity for their infidelities, in particular a world famous actor.
He sheltered under the code name NEJ – the same protection was not extended to the prostitute in question, Helen Wood.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Britain is sinking in the Libyan quicksand

“We have got ourselves into a fine tangle,” Sir Max Hastings writes in today’s Daily Mail. Clearly he recognises this to be an understatement in a blistering analysis of where Britain stands since its decision to support the Libyan rebels against General Gaddafi.
Hastings – a distinguished journalist and military historian – is too much a gentleman to say, we are, in fact, in deep doo-doo.
David Cameron has committed the UK to back the weaker side in an Arab civil war for which we have now unwittingly assumed a political responsibility without the military means to secure its outcome.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Cameron's Royal Wedding fashion statement gaffe

It’s going to be Dress-down Friday for Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron at next week’s Royal Wedding. He’s breaking with tradition and wearing a lounge suit instead of tails to William and Kate’s nuptials.
It will be the first time a UK government leader has attended a Royal marriage ceremony in business attire rather than a morning suit.
Cameron wasn't always so adverse to dressing up - but more about that later.
The Westminster Abbey invitation allows male guests to wear either lounge suits or tails. Most of the foreign dignitaries can be expected to turn up in formal wear or national dress.
Cameron’s decision has nothing to do with striking a blow for equality but rather he doesn’t want to remind voters of his privileged origins ahead of council elections on May 5th.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

William and Kate - a last chance for the British monarchy

The approaching Royal Wedding has exposed Britain’s inherent snobbism. Never far from the surface, it doesn’t reflect well on a country still trying to find its way in the 21st century.
That one day the UK will have its first middle class Queen shouldn’t be remarkable. But Royal watchers and much else in the media are in a frenzy because Kate (now Catherine since she poshed up her name) Middleton has ‘umble folk as ancestors and her mum Carole was an air hostess before marrying well.
Kate and Prince William will make a handsome couple at the Westminster Abbey ceremony on April 29th – and should do a good job thereafter. And so they must.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Both AV camps take voters for fools

I used my postal ballot today to vote ‘No’ in the Alternative Vote referendum. My decision was not made any easier by leaflets from both camps in this morning’s post, which underestimated the intelligence of voters.
Celebrity endorsement took up most of one and iffy propositions the other.
I’m sure Joanna Lumley, Eddie Izzard, Colin Firth, Honor Blackman, Stephen Fry, and Benjamin Zephaniah mean well but I couldn’t give a damn that they are supporting a ‘Yes’ vote on May 5th.
The much glitzier ‘No’ literature undermined its case by claiming the cost of AV is £250 million, which is patently not true.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Private Eye - 50 years on and still hitting its targets

The ‘Private Eye test’ is the rule of thumb measure by which national newspaper reporters judge their own conduct. Well, it was two years ago and I’ve no reason to believe it has changed since when I retired.
Private Eye is a fortnightly satirical and current affairs magazine which has been going strong since 1961. The test is simply whether the journalist would be embarrassed if his or her words or actions appeared in the Eye.
The magazine’s 207,000 circulation includes rival hacks, politicians, PRs, and business people – and no reporter enjoys being ridiculed in front of such an audience. That they still do provides the Eye with plenty of fare for its Street of Shame section.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Before you go to Tate Modern's Joan Miro show...

The Joan Miro exhibition The Ladder of Escape, which opened at Tate Modern in London today, is a worthy successor to the art museum’s recent blockbuster Gauguin show and runs until September 11th.
The first major retrospective of the Spanish artist in the capital for nearly 50 years brings together more than 150 works including all five of his wall-size triptychs that have never been shown together before.
Miro’s unmistakeable style is likely to attract an audience larger than the usual art show regulars – always given that fans of the artist are prepared to pay an admission price of between £12.20 ($19.88) and £15.50 ($25.26).

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Freedom of speech extends to sordid kiss-and-tells

Kiss-and-tell stories are a disagreeable mainstay of red-top journalism in today’s Britain. They reflect badly on the parties involved but also on the public’s appetite for such tales, as well as the newspapers who barrel-scrape to feed it.
You can’t blame a famous actor – codename him NEJ – wanting to prevent an unsavoury dalliance with a prostitute – call her BDZ - splashed across the newspapers. Unless, of course, you believe it’s always open season on celebrities and that they have no privacy rights.
NEJ, who is married and a father, was only able to avoid shameful headlines by having the courts slap a temporary gagging order on the media at the weekend preventing him being named.
The terms of the injunction were relaxed today.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Tate Modern - take BP's money and run exhibitions

‘Green’ activists are planning a demonstration at Tate Modern in London this Sunday to protest at the art gallery’s 20-year sponsorship links with BP.
The intended sit-in is timed to mark the first anniversary of the explosion on the oil giant’s Deepwater Horizon platform, which killed 11 men and leaked millions of gallons of crude into the Gulf of Mexico.
The protestors’ anger would be better directed if they joined cause with Tate Modern to urge the Chinese government to release dissident artist Ai Weiwei, a symbol of the many the Beijing regime have been banging up for questioning its authority.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Fidelity isn't the only overrated virtue

O, for the certainties of youth. The older I get the less didactic I become; the greyer the boundaries between right and wrong. Take the A-to-Z of virtues, from ability to zealousness and everything in between. There are occasions when they can’t be trusted to provide a road map to navigate life’s highway. Probably you have your own views on overrated virtues. Here are a few examples of mine.

Fidelity is the No.1 quality demanded of partners in a relationship. But this wasn’t always so – the capacity to build a home in which to bring up children was considered of a higher order. Constant infidelity will ruin a marriage but it’s a pity these days one mistake has the explosive potential to destroy a family.
Generosity – yes, it’s better to give than receive. And over time the recipient comes to hate their benefactor and the giver comes to despise the recipient of their charity.
Honesty. Tell the truth to the parents of an ugly baby and you won’t be speaking to them very soon.
Humility is a blessed quality some share with the saints but it wouldn’t have got Winston Churchill very far.
Independence is an admirable attribute but taken to an extreme it becomes pig-headedness, as in the case of an elderly relative refusing help.
Loyalty is fine as long as it’s not blind but the 20:20 variety. The person, cause, country, or whatever that arouses such passion should be worthy of the devotion.
Perseverance is at the heart of every great discovery. But there’s also a lot to be said for the advice: “If at first you don’t succeed, try something else.”
Prudence. If you take risk-avoidance too far, you’d hardly ever step out of doors and then only with an umbrella.
Temperance in all things is a sensible way to live. But if you want to learn from your mistakes and have fun at the same time, a little bit of excess now and again should do the trick.
Tolerance is the essential element to get along with families, neighbours, other countries. But there are some things just so wrong that cultural or religious differences offer no defence.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Confidence wanes in Cameron and the Coalition

I hope Prime Minister David Cameron’s short break in Granada with wife Samantha has re-charged his batteries, because he is facing a deepening crisis in confidence in his leadership at a critical time back home.
The public spending cuts still, for the most part, only threaten – as exemplified by the Sure Start Children’s Centre petition delivered to Downing Street this week – but they will soon draw blood.
Yet some of the Coalition’s key policy initiatives (albeit they weren’t in either Tory or LibDem manifestos) are looking decidedly rocky.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Wayne Rooney, a role model? Bah! Humbug!

There is no greater nonsense generated by the celebrity-obsessed elements of British media which award role model status to individuals in the spotlight followed by swift condemnation when they take a tumble from their presumed pedestals.
I just don’t believe, as I saw written recently, that Wayne Rooney is a role model to millions of young people and should be setting a good example. What part do parents play in their children’s lives?
Role models never live up to their billing. When I was growing up the youthful Prince Charles was depicted as a template – respectful and adventurous – of good behaviour. Decades later he was eavesdropped contemplating being reincarnated as his mistress’s Tampax.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Intern row deflects from the real weakness in the Coalition's social mobility policy

The hypocrisy charges levelled against the Coalition for its social mobility initiative yesterday have been misplaced.
LibDem leader and deputy PM Nick Clegg provided critics with a rod for his own back when he included moves to counter the practise of unpaid internships - which favour the young of well-connected families - among other measures to improve social mobility.
Clegg was obliged to admit his early career was given a head-start in a manner that smacked of nepotism once removed.
Having acknowledged the unfairness of this branch of the Old Boy’s Network, the hypocrisy accusation doesn’t stand. Otherwise anyone who has seen the error of their ways from St. Augustine on down could be attacked on the same specious grounds.
No, the hollowness of the Coalition’s desire to improve the life chances of the young of disadvantaged families is, as Tory maverick David Davis expounded in PoliticsHome, exposed by its new education policies.
Social mobility in the UK is still rueing the destruction of grammar schools. Despite Tony Blair’s “education, education, education” promises social mobility under Labour, at best, stagnated.
Unhappily Michael Gove’s plans to open free schools will favour the children of the pushy middle class. As Davis points out the pupil premium will not redress the balance, while the size of tuition fees at the top universities will conspire against bright working class students.
Returning to the intern issue before closing, I attacked The blight of unpaid work for those who can afford it more than a year ago.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Viktor Frankl's 'Man's Search For Meaning' - an appreciation

It's unlikely to change your life but if you’re anything like me reading Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning will prompt you to think deeply on the most serious issues of human existence – love, suffering, and the importance of meaning.
The last of these Frankl considered a more relevant drive in shaping human behaviour than pleasure or power as espoused by his Austrian predecessors Freud and Adler respectively.
Frankl – who died at the age of 92 in 1997 – was an existential psychotherapist and therefore concerned with treating psychiatric patients. To that end he founded the school of Logotherapy, which flourishes today.
Frankl was developing his theories on the importance of meaning when his beliefs were put to the test in the direst circumstances. He survived the horror of three years in concentration camps including Auschwitz from 1942 until the end of the Second World War.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Wake up and vote 'No' to AV on May 5th

Invite comment on May 5th’s Alternative Vote referendum and you’re guaranteed to empty a pub, send guests home early at a dinner party, and probably clear the top deck of a bus such is the depth of apathy with which this country is weighing a major constitutional change.
I hesitate to say “reform” because I think a ‘Yes’ vote would be a mistake.
AV – in which voters have to rank election candidates in order of preference with the second choices etc of the one with the least votes being reallocated until a winner emerges with more 50 per cent – is a poor relation of proportional representation.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Today's special - the secret of healthy eating

An American nutritionist has saved my sanity. My eccentric eating habits turn out to be the best way of achieving just the right balance of healthy fats, carbs, vitamins, and those all-important anti-oxidants.
What I didn't know was that according to research by her Californian-based institute I'm also prolonging my life, encouraging hair growth (on my head), strengthening my bones, improving my eyesight and boosting my sex-drive.
How? By simply reversing the order of the food courses I consume. Whenever I eat at home alone I start with a coffee; after a while I'll usually have a piece of fruit, although sometimes it will be a more recognisable dessert such as cheesecake.
I'll wait until early pangs of hunger send me to the main course of my meal, say, a tuna salad but it could be a low-fat microwaveable pasta dish. And last thing at night a plate (or rather a cup) of soup to aid my digestion as I sleep.
This is a pattern of eating I developed over the years since my divorce - until now I never knew why.
Dr Flora Olip writing in the current edition of the Catalogue Of Nutrition explains, "The diet of our species took a U-turn for the worse when we ceased to be nomadic hunters and foragers to become farmers," she said. "My aim is to restore the proper order of food and drink consumption."
Crazy but it makes sense. The popularity of coffee shops - the beverage is a symbolic meal! Her theory also explains why the urge to snack is so strong. It may also explain why the same food eaten walking tastes better than that when consumed sitting down.
She is hoping to interest international cook and restaurant owner Jamie Oliver in opening the first of what will become a chain of Back to Front diners to put her ideas into practice.