Thursday, 31 May 2012

There's fresh hope for civilisation when...

  • the toast lands butter-side up
  • you find you can still squeeze into last summer's shorts
  • the blood test nurse finds a vein at the first attempt
  • your bus/train arrives when it should
  • the sniffy/whiffy passenger gets off at the next stop
  • the shouty mobile phone user gets cut off
  • you know the right answer the TV contestant gets wrong
  • you enjoy a television movie you haven't seen before
  • you have a good night's sleep
  • and dump in the morning

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

The Coalition's pasty-tax U-turn invites more than ridicule

The Government's pasty-tax U-turn - George Osborne's Budget has taken the Coalition's record of policy retreats to a whole new level - is receiving much deserved ridicule in the Square Mile, as the above chart reprinted from today's City A.M. financial newspaper illustrates.
Not so funny is the increasing loss of confidence in the Government's competence. Voters will not forgive those that imposed the pain of austerity but were clueless about how to restore the nation's fortunes.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Simply about Marks & Spencer past and present

The re-launched Simply M & S
In recent days Marks & Spencer has re-launched its Simply M & S value food range. No shame there; Waitrose kicked off the discount trend a few years ago and every other supermarket chain followed its lead.
But for me seeing the company's recent newspaper advert boasting - among other offers - that it was selling chopped tomatoes as  cheap as 69p a can reminded me how far the company fell off its pedestal.
Forty or so years ago M & S was considered as almost the eighth Wonder of the World. A visit to a store was close to the top of every tourists' itinerary such was the excellence of its clothing and food.
The opening of the first M & S in Paris was treated as the retail equivalent of the Moon landing.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Racism must be confronted head-on at Euro 2012

An Iraq war protester managed to evade heavy security measures at the Law Courts today to launch himself at Tony Blair, as the former British prime minister was giving evidence to the Leveson Inquiry.
So I don't see much chance of Uefa and the Polish and Ukrainian authorities preventing racist outrages by whole gangs of far-Right football hooligans during the forthcoming Euro 2012 contest.
Policing stadiums will be tough enough but providing 24-hour protection to travelling supporters is a tall order.
Former England captain Sol Campbell tells BBC TV's Panorama programme, English fans should stay home - and the families of black soccer stars Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are doing just that.
Campbell says Poland and Ukraine should never have been awarded the competition in the first place.
But that would have been tantamount to saying rather than tackle racism wherever it raises its ugly head, we should skirt round it.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Dear old Union Jack, it's good to have you back

I'm delighted to see Union Jack flags and bunting making an appearance in my neighbourhood ahead of the Queen's Jubilee celebrations next weekend.
I know historically the flag is associated with Empire and the atrocities committed in its name but the Union Jack is the flag of my childhood.
For all its complexity (which way is up?) it looks like it was designed by a child - and I can remembering trying to draw it in crayon.
It's colourful - in the Sixties it was almost psychedelic.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Memo to self: it's fat thumbs syndrome not senility

Panic. I tried to erase all the stored messages on my land line telephone this morning and managed, somehow, to turn off the answer-phone function.
I'd set the phone up several years before, hadn't tinkered with it since; the instruction manual was long gone - and I couldn't fathom how to restore my recorded message inviting callers "to leave their number."
The same predicament at 30 would have merely irritated me. I've done plenty of more stupid things in my life without worrying about the deteriorating quality of my grey cells.
But now 67, failing to master re-programming my phone, in my frustration, seemed like a sure sign of approaching senility.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Count corner kicks to avoid penalty shoot-outs

Drogba's penalty shoots down Bayern
Football matches which are decided by penalty shoot-outs were a "tragedy", according to Fifa's president Sepp Blatter.
Today he asked  Franz Beckenbauer, who heads Fifa's football task force charged with considering rule changes, to look at alternatives to shoot-outs.
The German football veteran is well-placed for the task; he's honorary president of Bayern Munich, the team which lost the Champions League final on penalties to Chelsea last weekend.
I rather enjoy penalty shoot-outs if 30 minutes of extra time haven't broken a tied result. But I can see the drawbacks.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Leveson Inquiry digs a bigger hole for Jeremy Hunt

It gets worse. Now it appears Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt sent David Cameron a memo supporting News International's acquisition of BSkyB just weeks before the Prime Minister appointed him to replace Vince Cable to oversee the bid.
There was a lot of other potentially comprising evidence unveiled by the Leveson Inquiry today.
I say potentially because innocent until proven guilty, Hunt must be given a chance to have his say at Leveson. His grilling can't come soon enough.
Hunt will be fighting to hang on to his job and perhaps his career in politics.
The judgement of the Prime Minister - the man who gave Andy Coulson a second chance - is back under the microscope.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

"Idiot" Balls must sharpen up his act not his tongue

"muttering idiot"
The pity is Labour supporters think Ed Balls scored a bulls-eye when he forced David Cameron to lose his temper at Prime Minister's Questions today when, in fact, he shot himself in the foot.
Irritated at constant sniping by the Shadow Chancellor, the PM called him a "muttering idiot" and was obliged by the Speaker to withdraw the insult.
The idea is if you goad Cameron enough, he will drop his guard and reveal his true bully-boy Flashman tendencies.
It doesn't work. In the exchange Cameron's short fuse made him look human and Balls the schoolboy.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Thoughts on Primrose Hill, William Blake, George Harrison, and unborn grandchildren

Today seemed like the first hot, sunny day in more than six months. There was no better way to spend the afternoon than on Primrose Hill close to my home in north-west London.
I entered the park and strolled to its summit to look for the umpteenth time at one of the best panoramas the capital has to offer.
The viewpoint is in the process of being smartened up. It has been slightly extended and new seating installed. A semi-circle of stone blocks divides the flat gravel area from the beginning of the grassy descent of the hill.
I arrived to find a mason just completing the carving of the name of the poet, artist, and mystic who drew inspiration from the hill, William Blake, into the stone.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Facebook - great company, greedy IPO

Facebook's shares today fell below last week's $38 IPO level and $104 billion valuation - a retreat a little too swift for comfort.
There may be technical factors at play here related to the flotation, and a rally - in the short term, at least - is on the cards.
But the drop supports the case of those who say Mark Zuckerberg's social network company came to market overpriced, perhaps proving massively so in the long run.
You don't need to be a retired financial journalist such as myself to wonder at the decision of Facebook's advisers to seek a valuation higher than that of established companies such as Amazon, American Express, McDonald's, and Walt Disney.
The ambitious price tag means the company must accelerate its profit making potential rather than aim for steady year-on-year growth.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

When did the soul handshake get a grip?


I must have missed it. When did the soul handshake take over from the traditional one? The soul form - I guess you could describe it as one hand clapping against another person's hand - was the exclusive form of greeting in use throughout Chelsea's glorious claim on the Champions League title yesterday.
Not just player to player but player to dignitaries, officials, and Roman A, the happy owner.
I don't mind but if it's the new etiquette we need to be told.
The Queen is touring Britain ahead of the Jubilee celebration. What if I were to bump into her and there was an embarrassing flapping as we decided how to shake hands?

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Can history man Cruddas shape Labour's future?

Dagenham MP Jon Cruddas has had reasonably a good press this week following his acceptance of Ed Miliband's offer to take charge of Labour's policy review.
This Guardian article focuses on the man's strengths. A Labour history academic, he can bring intellectual depth to a party, which currently finds itself short of gravitas among its younger intake of MPs.
But you can have too many grey cells in politics. For example, this admission by Cruddas in a recent speech: "What interests me is not policy as such; rather the search for political sentiment, voice and language; of general definition within a national story. Less 'The Spirit Level,' more 'What is England'." Chancellor George Osborne ridiculed this waffle in the Commons.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Why I won't be reading Fifty Shades of Grey

I doubt if I shall ever get round to reading the controversial S & M bestseller Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James.
I couldn't get beyond the first few chapters of Story of O forty years ago, apparently a much better book.
It's not that I'm prudish; let consenting adults seek pleasure wherever they can find it.
But I believe any sexual activity that can draw blood isn't healthy - physically and mentally - for its participants at either end of the whip; nor for those that enjoy reading about it.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Second thoughts on Lord Sugar and The Apprentice

Lord Sugar
I stopped watching the UK version of The Apprentice fronted by Lord Sugar after the first series in 2005.
As a financial journalist at the time I knew the show had very little relevance to the world of business.
But my real problem was with Sugar himself. Many years before I met him regularly while covering his Amstrad electronics company.
I wondered if Sugar was the right man for the programme. His business career was a mixture of hits and misses with the bulk of his fortune made in property.
Most of all I didn't approve of his "You're fired" antics.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

GC considers why millions more will buy a newspaper this Saturday rather than Sunday

Roy Greenslade, the London Evening Standard's media commentator, takes an inconclusive look today at why Saturday editions of our national newspapers outsell Monday to Fridays' and, particularly, by a wide margin exceed Sunday circulations.
Towards the end of his article he tells readers: "If you have reached this point and now think: “This guy really hasn’t a clue as to why two million fewer copies of papers are sold on a Sunday than a Saturday,” you’d be absolutely correct."
I'm one of the many who has stopped buying a Sunday newspaper after more than 40 years in favour of a Saturday paper for a half-dozen of the following reasons:-

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Twitter takes flight where Facebook can only stroll

My tentative step opening a Facebook account a couple of years ago was an unmitigated disaster from the off.
It didn't provide any help in what proved to be a short lived attempt to get a new career in freelance journalism off the ground.
But worse, I found a number of 'friends' - let's say acquaintances but I did know them previously - turned out to be at heart boring, self-centred 'wankers' rather than the interesting people they seemed at a distance.
I had little expectation joining Twitter this month - maybe it was me who became the recently announced 10 millionth UK active user - would be any more inspiring.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Press influence - readers aren't dummies

"I am not hugely persuaded that newspapers urging their readers to vote one way or another actually makes as much difference as they think. Had that been the determining factor in 2010, David Cameron would have won by a landslide."
Alastair Campbell today in his second witness statement to the Leveson inquiry.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

A neutral's caution about Manchester City's glory

We are the Champions
The dramatic nature of Manchester City's injury time victory over QPR this afternoon to snatch the Premier League championship from Manchester United on goal difference is the stuff of footballing legends.
Supporters are justifiably ecstatic that the long wait for the title is over.
But as a neutral I can't but wonder at how close City was to throwing away the opportunity to stuff United.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Doing nothing for the Jubilee, no Olympic tickets, why don't I care?

I feel like I'm letting the side down. The Jubilee celebrations are just weeks away and the London Olympics is soon after. Yet I've got nothing planned, my diary empty.
I can't get to grips with which Jubilee events to attend and my attempts to get Olympics football tickets have flopped.
It didn't seem so  pathetic when the weather was miserable but today the sun is shining for the first time in what must be three weeks. If I'm worried at all it's that I've lost my capacity for boredom.
For me being bored has never been a cause for concern. Indeed I've always considered it a necessary prerequisite for action. But now I don't feel bored when I should. "That old rocking chair's gonna get me."
13/5/12 PS. Ignore the above. This morning I got some Wembley TEAM GB tickets and had a good pub lunch at The Mitre in Lancaster Gate followed by a family walk through Kensingston Gardens to the Serpentine Gallery. What could be nicer?

Friday, 11 May 2012

Why are same-sex marriages such a controversial issue?

Civil partners: Elton and David
Although not being a person of faith, I like to think I'm broad minded enough to appreciate both sides of an argument on religious issues.
My atheism leads me usually to favour the 'liberal' cause in a dispute if there is one - but I'm not didactic knowing how deep can be the beliefs of good people.
Whether it's abortion, married priests, women bishops, or halal and kosher slaughter of animals, I can see the pros and cons.
But I just can't understand why same-sex marriage is such a contentious issue - more so in the US especially now President Obama has backed gay marriage - but it's a hot potato on this side of the Atlantic too.
The gay scene in London is a parallel world to mine; it doesn't bother me so why should I worry about it?

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Michael Gove's surprising attack on private school privilege

  •  The sheer scale, the breadth and the depth, of private school dominance of our society points to a deep problem in our country - one we all acknowledge but have still failed to tackle with anything like the radicalism required.
  • Those who are born poor are more likely to stay poor and those who inherit privilege are more likely to pass on privilege in England than in any comparable country.
  • How will we know if we've succeeded - well success may be decided by events far beyond this parliament - will we, for example, ever see a comprehensive boy or girl ever edit the Guardian? Perhaps not in my lifetime…
Few keynote speeches live up to their billing but the one made by Education minister Michael Gove today at a conference of private school heads at Brighton College deserves the title.
The above quotes are just a sample of a thought-provoking speech, which you should read in full here.
He trains his guns on vested interests such as unions and councils but he doesn't spare those who command the heights in politics, the law, universities, business, media, and entertainment thanks to their privileged private school education.
Gove's dig at the Guardian is prompted by the fact the UK's leading left of centre broadsheet has been edited by ex-public schoolboys for the past 60 years.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

How do I break my Amazon addiction?

Shopping on Amazon is habit-forming. It's not that I'm buying more things but rather I'm going online more often to shop in preference to a trip to the high street.
Price and convenience compensate for the time it takes for the goods to arrive.
This month I've bought a Dimplex heater and camera accessories on Amazon. And today I ordered a travel book. I feel guilty. Not enough to stop but guilty all the same that I'm in thrall to this faceless behemoth.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Failing fat cat directors should be denied their cream

Andrew Moss
I'm heartened by the latest outbreak of shareholder power.
Today's resignation of Andrew Moss, chief executive of the Aviva insurance group, looks a blow for investors everywhere challenging the reward-for-failure ethos that permeates the Square Mile.
There have been similar stirrings elsewhere in the City and abroad, which suggests Aviva isn't a special case.
It's time for David Cameron to make shareholder votes legally enforceable in the Queen's Speech - giving teeth to what until now have been toothless AGM and EGM protests.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Amusing to dream - a Fleet St nightmare to live

Sleep: Salvador Dali
I dream fairly regularly. If it's just before waking in the moments after my alarm clock bleeps, I wake sometimes remembering fragments. Mostly my subconscious deals in mundane anxiety situations.
This morning's episode made me chuckle because it summed up a position I found myself in a number of times as a journalist.
I was standing in front of an authority figure seated at his desk - perhaps an editor, certainly my superior. He may or may not have had The Financial Times open in front of him.
"Why didn't we have this story?" he demanded of one of the most serious offences in newspapers, as grave as it was unavoidable.
In my early days as a journalist I found myself dealing with under-employed editorial executives, who seemed to have no other job than scouring rivals' newspapers finding stories I had missed.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Financial markets present President Hollande with his first challenge

Francois Hollande
To date financial markets have been pretty sanguine about the prospect of France gaining its first Socialist president in 17 years in Francois Hollande.
Now that his second round victory has been secured, the first test comes just hours from now when markets re-open in the Far East.
I would be surprised if there is any rush to dump French government bonds and bank shares.
The prevailing wisdom is France's problems like much of the Eurozone are so complex that for all his rhetoric Hollande has little room to distance himself from Mrs Merkel's austerity programme to save the euro.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Next stop Number 10 for Boris Johnson?

Hold tight
Looking at press comment today about Boris Johnson's retaining the London mayoralty for the Tories, I see broad strands of agreement across the political spectrum.
There is recognition of the scale of the blond wonder's achievement. To have pulled off any sized victory, as the rest of the capital swung towards Labour, was nothing short of dazzling.
Johnson was fortunate in Labour's poor choice of opponent but let's no dwell on Ken Livingstone's shortcomings now that thankfully he is history.
The word that keeps surfacing to describe the Mayor's appeal is "authenticity". Whether its actually genuine or stage managed, Londoners warm to Johnson's "what you see is what you get" public persona.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Hands up: the women who don't shave their armpits

Emer O'Toole on This Morning
Without having anything sensible to add to the already exhaustive debate in the wake of the council and London mayoral elections, I'm grateful for this diversion from the MailOnline website.
I was struck - as were readers whose comments totalled more than 500 at the last count - by the story of Dublin graduate student Emer O'Toole.
She featured on ITV's This Morning show today. O'Toole has created a stir owing her 15 minutes to the fact she hadn't shaved her armpits for the past 18 months.
It begs a half-dozen important questions - we should be told.
1. Why do women shave their pits?
2. Wouldn't men soon get used to the idea if women threw away their lady razors?
3. Do nuns shave their pits?
4. How about Julia Roberts these days?
5. Are there any classical paintings/statues where female subjects reveal armpit hair?
6. OK, Emer's forest is a bit rampant; but surely a neatly sculpted pit could be sexy?

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Viva the University of the Third Age!

I'm mightily impressed by the University of the Third Age movement, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year.
There are 840 U3As in the country and count 275,000 members, who are mostly retired people. There is no formal teaching as such.
Each is independently run and at their heart are volunteer, unpaid co-ordinators who lead study groups on an alphabet of subjects.
Or nearly. My local has classes that range from Art Appreciation to Yoga. It calls itself the U3A in London, because it was the first in the capital - there are more now - and is based at old Hampstead Town Hall.
I joined last week and have yet to decide which of a 160 study groups to join. But on the basis of two brief introductory visits, the expression "You're only as old a you feel" has taken on a whole new meaning.
With the shining example of fellow-members who wear their years so lightly my 70th birthday in 2015 now seems more a cause for celebration than despair.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Thank me, damn you - a modern London street cry

It's not that Londoners are more polite to foreign visitors than the inhabitants of major cities famous for their impatience like New York or Paris, it's just that we show our irritation in a particularly snotty English way. Tourists to the capital might even mistake it for politeness.
Take the fleeting one-sided exchange I had with a fellow-shopper in my local supermarket yesterday.
It's mid-way through a re-fit and temporarily the aisles have been narrowed. As I passed a man in his thirties, he muttered "Welcome."
Instantly I recognised the scenario. I had offended him and he was being sarcastic. He had allowed me to proceed, perhaps in deference to my age, at a point where only one person at a time could pass
I had been blind to what he considered a mark of good manners. He had expected me to say "Thank you."
(And so I would have done if my attention hadn't been elsewhere). He would have responded with "You're welcome." Instead by blanking him, he had treated me, once we had passed, with the heavily ironic contraction "Welcome."
How do I know this? I've been guilty of the same buttoned-up anger usually when going unrecognised for holding a door open.
Tomorrow the meaning of life. 

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Murdoch's malign grip is broken - any good will be interred with his bones

Rupert Murdoch has been declared "not a fit person" to run a major international company in the Commons culture, media and sport select committee's damning report on the roles of the media magnate and son James in the News of the World phone hacking scandal.
The Murdoch era has had a malign influence on British life; its newspapers intimidating politicians, corrupting police, and all the while spewing bile. And that's before turning a wilfully blind eye to phone hacking allegations.
But it's not hard to see the viewpoint of the dissenting Tories on the committee. As MP Louise Mensch said the fitness amedment on Murdoch was "stuck in on the basis of no evidence presented to the committee whatsoever."