Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Illiteracy betrays a generation

I welcome the launch of the London Evening Standard’s Illiteracy In London campaign in today’s edition. The capital’s shocking literacy levels need regular exposure.
The inadequacies of both parents and schools mean every year we’re turning out illiterate and innumerate kids on to a hostile labour market. Jobless and with state benefits squeezed, society condemns them to a bleak future in which only crime and drug dependency can flourish.
Nearly half of all prisoners have a reading age of seven but there are worse statistics in the Evening Standard’s first report.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Tracey Emin tells it how it is at the Hayward

Tracey Emin is so self-absorbed it’s a wonder she hasn’t disappeared up her own vulva – the organ excessively exposed both in image and word in the artist’s retrospective Tracey Emin: Love Is What You Want which runs at London’s Hayward Gallery until August 29th.
The show doesn’t begin to answer whether Emin is any good. But then the question may be superfluous. The artist is a late 20th-early 21st century phenomenon. Her work is inseparable from her life and a mirror of the fucked up world in which we live. The exhibition is not to be missed.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Financial journalism faces a rocky future

I came away from a City event on Wednesday evening troubled about the future of financial journalism. The occasion was a party to celebrate the life of Nigel Whittaker, a much-respected business figure who died of cancer recently at the tragically young age of 62. His obituary in The Guardian gives a sense of a man whose ability, honesty and good humour was legendary.
Wishing to pay their respects the party had guests from all quarters of Nigel’s life – business leaders, politicians, PR people, and both print and broadcast financial journalists.
Now more than two years since I was inside a newspaper office, I had an opportunity to catch up on the ‘state of play’ of the job that had been mine for the previous thirty-five. It was bleak.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Hospitals should face criminal neglect charges when they fail elderly patients

It was deeply troubling to find that my local hospital London’s Royal Free Hampstead NHS Trust was judged to have failed to meet basic legal standards of dignity and nutrition for elderly patients.
The Care Quality Commission – part of whose remit is to oversee such matters – today published 12 reports as the first tranche of “an inspection programme which examines whether elderly people receive essential standards of care in 100 NHS hospitals throughout England.”
Half raised concerns – and three Worcestershire Acute Hospitals, The Ipswich Hospital, and the Royal Free could face enforcement action by the regulator if they don’t quickly improve.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Happy birthday, Bob - and welcome Mr President

While the British establishment and media fawn over the visit of President Obama (apparently it’s only back home he can’t walk on water), I choose to celebrate the life of another renowned American, Bob Dylan who was 70 yesterday.
Genius is such an overused word but in Dylan’s case it’s justified. A library of books has been written about the man and still he remains an enigma. So the best I can do is tell you why I’ll be your baby tonight is my favourite composition.
Across the unique breadth of his output, I've always had a soft spot for Dylan’s love songs. Not just the ones addressed to women (Lay, lady, lay) and his children (Forever young, probably Jakob Dylan), but some of his born-again offerings (Gotta serve somebody).
But his final track on the 1967 John Wesley Harding album I’ll be your baby tonight tops the lot. It’s unambiguously about the prospect of a one night stand. But unlike some other Dylan ‘love’ songs it lacks the urgency and hurt that can border on misogyny.
The song reeks of lust, moon/spoon humour, and an altogether, if fleeting, good time. No wonder it left its mark on my 22-year-old soul.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Je regrette mis-judging Edith Piaf's anthem

Inception, apart from being the most over-rated movie of last year, featured Edith Piaf’s anthem Non, je ne regrette rien on the soundtrack. Now I learn her song is the most requested by celebrities in BBC Radio’s long-running interview-record programme Desert Island Discs.
For non-French speakers I assume that it’s the title alone – and, of course, Piaf’s passionate rendition – that strikes such a deep chord.
Yet while appreciating the Little Sparrow’s gutsy performance, what I believed were the sentiments of the song have always left me cold.
Rather than a completely literal translation, let’s read the English title as “No, I’m not sorry for anything.” Can you really say that; would you want to? I know I can’t – and I don’t.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Dear Mr Obama about the Ryan Giggs affair...

Dear President Obama,
I hope you get a chance to enjoy a full English breakfast tomorrow now that you've arrived early in London. But apart from The Times I suggest you give our national newspapers a miss.
You’ll find that instead of analysing the prospects for your historic visit, developments in the injunction linked to the alleged affair between Manchester United’s Ryan Giggs and former Big Brother contestant Imogen Thomas command our front pages.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Not The End of The World

If Harold Camping, the 89-year-old guiding light of the evangelical Christian FamilyRadio.com movement is right, I’m never going to find out if I got lucky in the lottery for 2012 Olympic tickets. The world is going to end some time tomorrow.
It won’t, of course. As happened once before, Camping will say his calculations based on Bible study require a little more fine tuning.
Tomorrow’s prediction centres on his conclusion that it is 7,000 years to the day since Noah’s Flood. Apparently the Bible says this is the trigger for The Rapture or Judgement Day when the faithful rise to Heaven and the rest of us suffer earthquakes and other horrors until the destruction of the world on October 21st. By which time it won’t matter about the tickets for the Games.
Although I’m an atheist I respect others’ beliefs – and envy the comfort that the certainty religious faith brings them.
But even so I would be hard put to follow the teachings of a man such as Camping who dates the Creation at 11,013 BC and sees in the foundation of the State of Israel and the growth of Gay Pride ‘proof’ of the Bible’s prophecy that the end of the world is nigh.
But I think when I speak to my children on the phone tonight, I’ll remember to tell them I love them. Just in case.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Bashing Ken Clarke exposes Ed Miliband's flaws

You know the Labour Party is in trouble when it gets an endorsement from Rupert Murdoch’s right-wing The Sun newspaper as happened today.
“Labour is now tougher on crime than our Tory-led Government” thundered its leader column in support of its hysterical front page headline: “Clarke’s a danger to women…he must go”
The Clarke in question is the veteran MP, Justice minister Ken Clarke. On Wednesday he tied himself in knots on BBC radio attempting to apply his policy of “softer” sentencing to rape cases. The result was in trying to justify not all rapes are the same, he left himself open to the accusation he believed some were not serious.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

A plea to John Betjeman buffs

What is the “importunate band” towards the end of JB’s poem A Subaltern’s Love-song?
I’ve seen it suggested the love-sick young officer had accompanied Joan Hunter Dunn to the club dance with an engagement ring.
I, however, take it to mean the music from the dance invaded the couple’s car.
If I’m correct it adds immeasurably to the humour – and to my fevered brain the sauciness – of the final couplet, “We sat in the car-park till twenty to one/And now I’m engaged to Miss Joan Hunter Dunn.”

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

David Beckham - premier dad

David Beckham’s free-kick goal which completed LA Galaxy’s comprehensive win over Sporting Kansas City at the weekend was a beaut. It’s well to remember that behind all the show biz glamour that surrounds Brand Beckham (and now includes Victoria’s flourishing fashion business) there still lurks, on his day, a formidable soccer player.
Beckham has fallen from grace both on and off the field in his career but for a sports star that’s every move has been subject to media scrutiny for nearly 20 years, his misdemeanours have been few.
His best position is the one he holds now – Britain’s, perhaps the world’s, premier dad.

Monday, 16 May 2011

If the French press had done its job...

The IMF’s randy French chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn wore his reputation as a skirt-chaser or chaud lapin (hot rabbit) proudly. In France straying beyond the marital bedroom is no bar to high political office.
In London MPs, if they value their careers, have to ditch or marry their mistresses when caught with their trousers down.
But in Paris as in London - and New York, attempted rape is attempted rape. It is being said just the allegation that DSK sexually assaulted a hotel chambermaid in the Big Apple on Saturday has put paid to his ambition to stand against Nicolas Sarkozy in the French presidential elections next year.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Of Blogger, blogging, and bleached bones

Woe, woe, and thrice woe, Blogger – the blog publishing service owned by Google – that brings Grapefruitcrazy to the world had a wobbly yesterday. It was a case of now you see it – now you don’t for Thursday’s post Slutwalking comes to London. It disappeared along with new comments.
In an apology to its army of users around the globe, Blogger has since told us: “You can publish again, and in the coming hours posts and comments that were temporarily removed should be restored.” Hopefully yesterday’s post will rate a re-appearance before too long.
But I’ve been left with the blogger’s version of cold turkey. Not quite as addictive as Twitter – I can go to the bathroom without making a public announcement – but this blog, since its launch nearly 18 months ago, has become an essential part of my weekday routine. Its absence was deeply felt.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Slutwalking comes to London - comment

The SlutWalk protest movement comes to London on June 11th. The speed at which SlutWalking has spread across the world is a manifestation of Womens Lib in the internet age. As you may know the trigger was the ill-chosen advice by a Toronto cop to a student safety forum: “Women should avoid dressing like sluts to not be victimized.”
That was back in January. Thousands of women and many men were so appalled by the implication that women can invite assault by how they dres – and by the same token men cannot be expected to restrain their animal urges in the presence of female flesh – they took to the streets in the first SlutWalk in April.
Clearly the anger felt by women at the Canadian demo resonated with their sisters around the world. This link to the London group’s Facebook page speaks eloquently about the cause. “No means No”; “rape is never, ever OK”; and “Yes to fun, love, and respect.”

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Premier League should have played fair with FA Cup

It’s a pity Saturday’s FA Cup contest between Manchester City and Stoke at Wembley isn’t being accorded the respect tradition should have demanded for the final of the oldest football knock-out competition in the world.
Cup Final Day used to be a big deal without any distraction from other soccer matches. But this Saturday there will be a set of lunchtime Premiership games ahead of Wembley’s 3pm kick-off.
In one of these Manchester United play away to Blackburn Rovers where one point alone would be enough to secure the Red Devils the Premier League crown and a record 19 titles.
The shame is the Premier League didn’t think enough of the beautiful game’s history to switch all or at least its biggest matches to Sunday so as not to clash with the Cup Final.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Press watchdog backs liars' charter for MPs

The Press Complaints Commission has shot itself in both feet by supporting what is tantamount to a liars’ charter for politicians today.
In a further attack on Press freedom, Britain’s self-regulating PCC has ruled in favour of a LibDem complaint that leading figures in the party were targeted by undercover Daily Telegraph reporters posing as constituents at local surgeries - and secretly recorded criticising Coalition government policy.
It is bad enough that our judges have sided with the undeserving rich who are allowed super injunctions to hide their misdemeanours but now MPs are being guaranteed freedom from exposure should they choose to lie to constituents.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Doctor Who is a British cultural icon and deserves better

Belatedly I picked up that the new series of BBC’s long-running Doctor Who phenomena had created a media stir. Better late than never I made sure I watched the third episode The Curse of the Black Spot last Saturday to see what the fuss was about.
I still don’t know; but no longer care. If the poor excuse for family entertainment I witnessed was typical, the programme has come so far from the days when I was a fan to have only its title and the Tardis in common.
Save for guest appearances by supermodel Lily Cole wafting around as The Siren in her nightie and the ubiquitous Hugh Bonneville flashing his cutlass as a pirate captain, the show had nothing to recommend it.

Friday, 6 May 2011

London's 7/7 bombings - good overwhelms evil

Amid the horror of the slaughter of innocents in the July 7th 2005 London bombings on three Tube trains and a bus, there is much to be proud.
The inquest into the deaths of the bombers’ 52 victims, which concluded today, illustrated how ordinary people can be promoted by extraordinary events into heroes and heroines.
Passengers and their rescuers exhibited feats of astonishing courage. There is the continuing bravery of the survivors, who, even if they escaped grave injury will live with that day for the rest of their lives.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Jamie Oliver: an appreciation by a "reformed whore"

There is little chance my grown up children will get nostalgic about home cooking. Their diet included a lot of junk food until they were well into their teens.
And the fault was mine. I bought the weekly groceries and often prepared their school packed lunches given the division of chores with she who would become my ex-wife.
I know this because I had to overhaul my own eating habits about a dozen years ago when I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
So far I’ve managed to avoid medication by careful diet control. It’s meant abandoning much processed food and sugar-laden treats – just the sort of crap I was buying for the kids. Fortunately they saw the error of my ways in good time.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Songs that make the whole world think

David Cameron – Britain’s ‘Flashman’ prime minister can’t be all bad if Benny Hill’s Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West) is such a favourite ditty that he borrowed from the classic comedy song in Parliament today to accuse an Opposition MP of living in a “fairy dairy land.”
It set me thinking about the phrases – and often complete lines – I’ve incorporated from much-loved songs when my own imagination fails. Here are my top 10 in no particular order. You’ll see Blues masters are well represented.
Along side the songs I’ve put the artists who I associate most closely with the music – in some cases they are the writer too.

You can’t always get what you want. The Rolling Stones (song title)

I never promised you a rose garden. Lynn Anderson (Rose Garden)

You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. Bob Dylan (Subterranean Homesick Blues)

All you need is love. The Beatles (song title)

I look like a farmer but I’m a lover. Bo Diddley (You Can’t Judge A Book)

Chicks were born to give you fever. Peggy Lee (Fever)

You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone. Joni Mitchell (Big Yellow Taxi)

If you don’t help me darlin’, I’ll have to find myself somebody else. Sonny Boy Williamson (Help Me)

War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothin’. Edwin Starr (War)

Hurry home drops (on her face that trickled from her eye.) Chuck Berry (Memphis Tennessee)

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Democracy is safer with grumpy old journalists

There are many candidates in print media but when it comes to broadcasting there are just two BBC men who are widely recognised as Britain’s leading political interviewers – television’s Jeremy Paxman and radio’s John Humphrys.
They owe their reputations, in part, to their dogged determination to extract the truth from mendacious politicians – or that is the impression they often give. Paxman has denied his approach is “why is this lying bastard lying to me.”
But you can get a flavour of the man’s interviewing technique in the video clip at the end of this post where he grills ‘blond bombshell’ Boris Johnson about transport spending when the latter was standing in the London mayoral race – which he won despite Paxo’s kicking.
Broadcasters are expected to be even-handed despite their personal views – something that doesn’t trouble UK newspaper pundits; nor it would seem an increasingly partisan American media.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Royal Wedding afterthoughts - the view from London

The Royal Wedding was the cue for questions to be raised about the succession to the British throne after the Queen. Many Brits, including myself, would be quite happy to see a generation skipped with Prince Charles withdrawing in favour of William and Kate when the time comes.
Palace spin doctors are already whispering that tradition forbids such a possibility – and in any case this would not be the wish of son, William.
I wouldn’t put too high a store by the tradition argument. If, for example, the young couple’s first child is a girl the law will have to be amended to ensure she won’t rank below younger brothers in succession to the throne as is the case now. Public opinion in the 21st century will demand nothing less.