Thursday, 30 June 2011

Another victim brings home the threat of knife crime

About 10 minutes walk away from where I’m writing this is Fellows Road, Belsize Park, north-west London where a man in his forties was reported stabbed just after 7pm yesterday evening.
The attack warranted less than a 40-word paragraph in today’s London Evening Standard. An online report said the victim was in a “stable condition” and that a man had been arrested in connection with the crime.
Of course I know nothing about the background to the stabbing – whether the men knew each other or if the violence was the result of a mugging. But it underlines knife crime is an ever-present threat in the capital.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Ronnie, Slash, Mick and me salute BB King

I was in good company when paying my respects to BB King in London last night. Ronnie Wood, Slash, and Mick Hucknall were there to jam with the blues legend. So too was Allman Brothers slide-guitar ace Derek Trucks and his blues singer wife Susan Tedeschi.
A sold-out Royal Albert Hall was a suitably regal setting to welcome the 85-year-old King of the Blues – and, sadly, perhaps make the capital’s farewell to one of the music’s recognised greats. There can’t be too many touring years left in him.
King played too little, sung even less preferring to talk to his adoring audience.
Musically he was at his best responding to the contributions of his guests. In snatches the unmistakeable BB King sound filled the auditorium as with The Thrill Is Gone.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Labour's lost chance to avoid pension strife

Back in 2006 BBC journalist Nick Robinson reported that a high level Labour government politician had told him that “it would be an absolute effing disaster if Gordon Brown was PM.”
Three years later John Hutton outed himself as Robinson’s source but saying he had since changed his mind.
As far as the country and the Labour Party are concerned, Hutton was right the first time.
Fast forward to today and now as Lord Hutton, he is the man charged by the Coalition to protect taxpayers from what Chancellor George Osborne has called the “unsustainable” rise in the cost of public sector pensions.
The first fruits of Hutton’s “root and branch examination” arrive on Thursday when 750,000 public service workers strike closing thousands of schools and state-run services in a 24 hour walkout.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Beyoncé and Dusty - unique musical talents

Given the sums at risk, there was little room for the organisers of this weekend’s Glastonbury Festival to take a chance with their top acts.
But the choice of Coldplay, U2, and Beyoncé headlining over the three nights diluted the anarchic spirit of rock and roll to a degree that Rolf Harris would have been more dangerous.
I tried to watch all three televised sets on the Pyramid stage but there was only one I made through to the end.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Caitlin Moran - How To Be Wrong On Abortion

Caitlin Moran's new book How To Be A Woman is earning sparkling reviews. The Times columnist has pleased both professional critics like the London Evening Standard’s David Sexton and Amazon’s amateurs.
Billed as rewriting The Female Eunuch from a barstool, her “part memoir, part rant” would seem to be delivering on its publisher’s description: “A new way of looking at feminism from one of our funniest writers.”
Clearly I’m not Moran’s target audience but I wouldn’t look askance at her book if it came my way. Germaine Greer is said to have been shocked by Moran’s frankness but I’m sure I’m made of sterner stuff.
But I know within its pages, Moran’s chapter on her abortion is likely to have me reaching for the sick bucket.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Murdoch, BSkyB, and the blow to media plurality

The creation of BSkyB is a magnificent achievement and deserves its success; real risks were taken along the way to its current dominance.
But the cause of media plurality – a cornerstone of British democracy – is about to suffer a serious setback.
Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt is expected shortly to give Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation empire the final approval to take 100 per cent control of the satellite broadcaster.
It will be the culmination of a long campaign, which will cost Murdoch more than his initial £7.8 billion offer and will oblige him to hive off Sky News.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Boris Johnson looks favourite to retain City Hall

If the political betting odds are to be believed the Tory’s Boris Johnson is a near dead-cert to remain London’s mayor after next spring’s election. According to Oddschecker.com the price of the shaggy-haired extrovert narrowed to 2-5 on this week.
Labour’s candidate Ken Livingstone – who will be campaigning to re-gain the mayoralty lost to Johnson in 2008 – has seen his price lengthen to 7-4 against. The LibDems are effectively non-runners in the race for City Hall.
The changing odds reflected the findings of the latest YouGov opinion poll of voting intentions in London. Labour extended its lead over the Tories to 19 points, while in contrast Boris has a 7 point advantage over Ken.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Going to Chelsea - two summer art shows

I set off for Pimlico this morning with the intention of popping into the undergraduate summer show at the Chelsea College of Art and Design before concentrating my time on the new exhibition nearby at Tate Britain, The Vorticists. In the event the reverse occurred.
The Tate show is fine but it is a history lesson. Chelsea’s warren of rooms over four buildings is packed with the work by optimistic, mostly young and very much alive artists. Many of whom were keeping careful watch over their degree projects and ready to enthusiastically talk about their work.
There was too much to see at one visit. Some pieces stay in the memory like Gurmit Kaur’s Inside Out – Umbilical Cord sculpture installation (above) and Biddy Hodgkinson’s mixed media on canvas abstracts.
But for the most part I have to admit to being a tad underwhelmed.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Dead cats drink no milk - 25 new sayings for today

WTF everything is abbreviations these days. They’re the undertakers of language; colour being the first casualty of brevity. There’s no opportunity to invent new sayings, proverbs, catchphrases, amusing put-downs. So here are 25 suggestions for the second decade of the 21st century to help illuminate our language. They might not have had Oscar Wilde LOL but I like them.

Empty as a Facebook user’s diary
Girls with the nicest legs tend to wear the shortest skirts
The smaller the fruit, the greater the taste
Age is no guarantee of wisdom
Today’s experts are tomorrow’s unemployed
It takes two to argue
God invented A & E to give atheists an idea of eternity
To oil the gate's hinges before you enter
May you pay off your student loan – a new wedding toast
Messy eaters make the best lovers
As worthless as a politician’s promise
The selfish are quick to accuse others of the fault
Pigeons dump on the wrong heads
When everything else fails there’s always a curry
A fart – nature’s ring tone
It never rains on a neighbour’s barbeque
Celebrity culture – a contradiction in terms
Dead cats drink no milk
Any son but mine – the general’s plan of attack
Look before you heave
A banker’s bonus – proof there is no justice
A banker’s bonus – proof some have no shame
As strong as a footballer’s marriage vows
Is Jane Austen one of the most widely read writers in English literature? Classic put-down
Twats tweet

Friday, 17 June 2011

Vancouver's shame - the Canucks riot as seen from London

O Canada. What sparked Vancouver’s riot on Wednesday, which followed the defeat of its Canucks ice hockey team to the Boston Bruins in the decisive seventh game of the Stanley Cup?
In a crazy four hours the city’s reputation as a tourist destination - earned with the successful staging of last year’s Winter Olympics - was trashed.
So much for Vancouver consistently topping the Economist Intelligence Unit’s annual poll of the world’s most liveable cities.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Ed-to-Ed - the battle for the Labour Party's soul

After months wasted contemplating their navels instead of calling the Coalition Government to account, Labour shadow ministers have begun to muscle their way on to the political news agenda.
Given the time it took to appoint a new leader to replace Gordon Brown (why is he still collecting an MPs salary?) and Ed Miliband’s subsequent vow of silence until a few days ago, it was easy to forget there was an official Opposition party.
But on the evidence this week, Labour is going to have to raise its game a long way before David Cameron will be losing any sleep.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

1 across - *rooster takes off at i newspaper

I buy the i newspaper – the neatly scaled down version of The Independent – loyally most days for one main reason. Its Five-clue Cryptic Crossword alone is worth the modest 20p cover price.
Today I completed the puzzle for the first time (hurrah) but I don’t know if my answers are the correct ones (boo).
The solution to the Page 11 crossword (five clues each with six word answers) was not to be found on Page 46 as promised.
It appeared instead upside down on Page 50. However unless I’ve slipped into a parallel universe the answers related to a different crossword. My sense of triumph evaporated.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Assisted suicide - no easy answers

Back on January 18th in my post Gay rights victory reflects path of social change, I concluded with the thought: “I won’t be here to see it but it makes me wonder where the law will stand 50 years from now on those burning issues of today currently for the most part illegal, – euthanasia, drug use, and prostitution.”
I should have been explicit where I was implicit in my belief that to some degree all three will become legal one day – given adequate safeguards.
This requirement – the seriously ill, drug users, and sex industry workers allowed to do what they wish with their own bodies free from external pressures – is, however much more easily said than done.
The reassessment was prompted by Sir Terry Pratchett’s BBC 2 documentary Choosing to Die last night.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Circumcision - ancient custom still today's heated debate

Hollywood star Russell Crowe has spent the last few days backing away from his tweet last week that infant circumcision is “barbaric and stupid.”
He recognised the comment - in response to a follower’s question - had left him open, albeit unfairly, to charges of anti-Semitism. Clearly the millennia-old subject remains highly contentious.
If a total ban on the procedure – or tradition or mutilation depending on your view - ever makes it on to a referendum anywhere in the US that indeed would be anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and the Evangelical Christians would be up in arms too.
All you need to know about circumcision is on this Wikipedia link. It highlights arguments for and against (such as health benefits versus psychological damage) are unproven. Emotion rather than reason stirs supporters and opponents alike.

Friday, 10 June 2011

MAD LOVE - an almost true story

You’ll know if it’s happened to you; mad love. When it strikes it’s the only adequate translation for the French L’Amour fou. All the more crazy, when, as in my case, it was unrequited.
I was in my early 50s, divorced, and living alone in a rented apartment in north London. To break the work-sleep-work cycle I signed up with an arts group for a course of Saturday guided visits to the capital’s galleries.
The possibility of meeting a woman of a similar age from among my fellow students added extra spice to my anticipation. And when we met up that first Saturday, now more than 10 years ago, there were indeed a number of suitable ‘candidates’ in the group. That was until I saw Lucy.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Contemplations on heel pain

My pleasure in long walks has had to be curtailed in the last few weeks because of an as yet undiagnosed pain in my left heel. I’ll find out from my doctor next week if the X-rays taken recently have revealed the cause and whether further tests are necessary. I don’t expect whatever treatment to be too onerous.
To date I’ve been lucky to escape the worse consequences of some of the potentially serious conditions I have collected.
My diabetes is controlled by diet, my glaucoma by eye drops, and my tinnitus, while at times irritating and accompanied by some loss of hearing, I can generally forget. Long may it continue.
You can see the pain in my heel – itself intermittent and only a bother when walking longer distances – has prompted an evaluation of my general state of health. I’m not usually given to such episodes of introspection.
But it hasn’t stopped there. I’ve woken up to issue of mobility faced by others.
The blind man with a stick tapping his way along the pavement, the old woman in an electric wheelchair were not invisible to me before. But now there’s a little reminder in my left heel that I’m surrounded by examples of every day heroism. Triumph over adversity.
It’s made me value my own good fortune and those I love and resolve to be more considerate as I go about my day.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Ed Miliband can have the last laugh but Labour's leader has got to get a grip now

It wasn’t so much Ed Miliband had a poor Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons today but rather he failed to give David Cameron the verbal hiding MPs and political commentators had been expecting.
Cameron came to the Dispatch Box well prepared and Miliband all but failed to land a telling blow despite having the Coalition’s U-turns on health and justice to aim for.
Does it matter? Probably not. PMQs – the weekly 30-minute knockabout which opens with six questions from the Opposition leader to the Prime Minister of the day – goes mostly unnoticed outside the Westminster village.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Sink the video pirates

Until this morning it was caution rather than honesty that had prevented my sampling the ill-gotten wares of video pirates.
I’ve never bought a dodgy DVD in a pub car-park because I’d heard stories of shaky camcordered cinema copies complete with bobbing audience heads. While my slow broadband connection and concern about being infected with a virus meant I’ve never downloaded a ‘free’ video from the internet.
I hereby resolve not to entertain these impure thoughts again. I recognise what I always knew – illegally copying videos is copyright theft and a criminal offence – but now I fully acknowledge the truth.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Cameron's wake-up call, "It's the NHS, stupid"

It speaks volumes about the degree the National Health Service is supported by the English regardless of their political persuasions. Alarm bells are ringing more loudly in Downing Street about the public’s resistance to Health secretary Andrew Lansley’s NHS ‘reforms’ than voters’ concern that George Osborne doesn’t have a Plan B to revive Britain’s sickly economy.
The Chancellor has bet the farm that growth will compensate for the jobs being lost in the public sector as he attacks the deficit. Early optimism has faded; the economy is barely the right side of recession, inflation is growing, consumer spending depressed, and the housing market stagnant outside London. Meanwhile the US, our major export destination, has its own economic woes.
There are calls for Osborne to re-think the pace of his spending cuts. But there doesn’t seem to be the same anxiety yet in the national consciousness about the economy as there is regarding the future of the NHS.

Friday, 3 June 2011

THE SWIMMING LESSON - a short story by GC (part 2)

Adrian seemed genuinely fascinated he had joined the fire service.
“You were brilliant at arithmetic,” he said.
“Fancy you remembering that. I’m a bit of a disappointment to my dad. He wanted me to be an accountant. Somehow it never worked out. I’m happy enough.”
“But burning buildings and all that?”
“All in a day’s work.” Mike was used to people wanting to hear about his job. It would have been easy to impress most listeners with the things he had seen. But he didn’t like to. Unless the eyes widening at his stories of rescued children and bodies fished from canals belonged to an impressionable girl, who thought it witty when he brushed her tights saying, “I’d climb up your ladder any time.”
But it was Adrian leaning across the gap that separated them to grip his knee and say, “You’re too modest, matey.”
Mike needed to change the subject. “What about yourself? Captain of everything. Tops in running, swimming, football. And teaching art?”
“My family moved so I could go to a decent secondary school. It had a really good Art master and I found I loved painting. I left the sport stuff behind. Art school and the rest followed – I’m good enough to teach but not enough to sell. All round I bet I’m a bigger disappointment to my father.”

Thursday, 2 June 2011

THE SWIMMING LESSON - a short story by GC

“I swear if there’s a woman in Bedford, some school tart you used to shag behind the bike sheds, don’t bother to come back. Don’t think I won’t find out either; I can smell them. There won’t be any ‘Donna, give me another chance’ this time.”
She went to the bedroom door and shouted, “Chrissy come up here and say goodbye to your dad.”
Mike Anderson grimaced but said nothing. He continued to pack the overnight bag that lay open on their bed.
She watched him for the slightest clue he was lying. She was reassured when he put pyjamas, dressing gown, and his slippers into the bag. Then she reasoned it could be a scam. He wouldn’t have packed a bottle of Champagne and a box of condoms in front of her.
Donna felt a strange sensation in her chest that she had almost forgotten. Love, she thought. This stupid, stupid man who she loved so much it hurt might be throwing away everything with some stolen one-night fling.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Bridget Fonda, celebrity culture, and me

Whatever happened to film actress Bridget Fonda – and – more importantly – why should I care? There are family and friends who have fallen under the GC radar, who don’t warrant as much consideration as I give La Fonda.
I fear celebrity culture has me in its thrall, trapped in that little part of Hell where ordinary people read Hello and care why Cheryl Cole has been dumped from The X Factor. It could be constant exposure to showbiz trivia has finally worn away my ability to judge the important from the inconsequential.
I can’t explain my curiosity about why Fonda – Hollywood aristocracy with Peter as father, Henry grandfather, and Jane her aunt – hasn’t made a movie in nearly a decade.