Saturday, 30 June 2012

The two Johns and a blistering video exposing the greed of investment bankers

Stick with this glorious piss-take of investment banking - and the greed and heartlessness of its practioners - by the two Johns, Bird and Fortune at the height of the last financial crisis.
Nothing has changed in the Square Mile since it was first broadcast apart from the Government in power - and now we can add actual deceit to the guilt.

Friday, 29 June 2012

45 years ago GC fell among thieves and it still hurts

On reading the story about how a bus-load of police arrested a large gang of Romanian three-card-trick con men on Westminister Bridge recently, you might reasonably ask how members of the public allow themselves to be such mugs in the first place.
Well I would if I hadn't lost a week's wages to similar street tricksters. It still hurts and I can remember every second even though it was more than 45 years ago.
In a side street off Charing Cross Road I stopped to watch a small crowd gathered around the 'dealer' who was shuffling three cards face down on an upended cardboard box inviting the 'watchers' to Find the Lady (the Queen).

Thursday, 28 June 2012

How long can Barclays boss Diamond keep his job?

Diamond isn't forever
I never thought it possible a new banking scandal could come along that would dwarf the subprime mortgages debacle, the collapse of Lehman Brothers, and the nationalisation of Northern Rock rolled into one.
But news that Barclays had been fined £290 million for manipulating the key Libor interest rate does just that.
Where the motive forces were once the toxic blend of greed and incomptence, one must now add criminal deceit. The prospect is that the bank was not alone.
Barclays boss Bob Diamond is living on borrowed time. Opinion is growing which will sweep him from the bank's boardroom. "Nothing to do with me, guv," is a defence, which won't placate his critics regardless of whether it is justified or not.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

The one about six senior citizens, two double beds, and Las Vegas

I like the story of the three couples - senior citizens and friends since childhood - who regularly holiday together.
This year they decided to be more adventurous. Rather than their usual Spanish villa, they flew to Las Vegas.
Disappointingly after the long flight, when they got to their hotel they discovered a mistake over dates meant their three rooms were booked from the next day.
"I'm sorry," said the girl at the reception desk, "there are four conventions in town and all we have left for tonight are two double rooms. I could ring round but I expect everywhere will be full."
"Let's take the two rooms," said Bob's wife Gladys. "American beds are enormous; for one night we girls can squeeze up together - and the boys can do the same in their room."
And so it was decided. A quick shower and change of clothes and the six friends headed off into the night.
They dined and wined, gambled, took in a show, danced, and wined some more. Exhausted but ecstatic they arrived back at their hotel. The men and women went to their separate rooms.
As luck would have it Bob found himself in the middle of the bed sandwiched between his pals - and unable to sleep. "Are either of you blokes awake?" he whispered.
"Me," said Barry.
"Sorry, mate," said Bob, "I've got to climb over you and get dressed. I don't know what this town does to a person but I've got a hard-on you could cut glass. Things haven't been great in that department for years and I'll never forgive myself if I don't go and find Gladys."
"I'd better come with you," said Barry, "it's me you're holding."

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Fuel tax U-turn points to car crash economy

The Daily Telegraph has counted 32 Coalition Government U-turns. Correction: 33 after today's announcement scrapping August's 3p fuel duty hike.
This latest retreat seems to have caught out the Tory supporters, who were busily defending the increase including the Government's Whip's Office.
The scary part of this woolly approach to budget finance is that George Osborne thought fit to boast the postponement was a boon to families.
Perhaps the Chancellor would care to explain how our lives are enriched by the prospect of not paying extra tax?
Maybe he should have proposed making the increase 6p - and then when axing it we could thank him for twice the benefit.

Monday, 25 June 2012

England football fans are hurting

I've been surprised by the quantity of do-do England football fans have dumped on the national team in the wake of its quarter finals defeat on penalties to Italy at Euro 2012 last night; at least as far as phone-in callers are concerned.
Admittedly this isn't a fair cross-section of opinion; usually you only take the trouble to phone a radio station if you have a particular beef. The same fans were predicting we'd struggle to get out of the knock-out stages.
It would have been an injustice if Italy had gone home - and we've avoided the risk of being humiliated by the Germans on Thursday.
The pity is we had a 20 minute or so spell at the beginning of the game when we held the ball and were passing it well. And that was it; for the rest of the time we were hanging on.
So much depended on a flash of magic from Wayne Rooney but it didn't happen. In the end John Terry was my man of England's match.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

The Show RCA 2012 rescued for GC by its Kensington exhibits

Contuse: Jane Hunt (photo: Matthew Booth)
Having taken so strongly against the Battersea arm of the Royal College of Art's student summer show, I feel bound to admit how much I enjoyed today's visit to the Show RCA 2012 exhibition in Kensington Gore.
To me relevance is key in Art whether of the senses or the material world. I found little in Battersea to admire among what are broadly Fine Art programmes. The extra space afforded by the site seems to have engendered isolation from the world outside.
The opposite was true in the design-led Kensington show.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Roy Hodgson has already proved he's the right man to manage England

Roy Hodgson
Euro 2012 is turning out a delight. Sometimes calling football "the beautiful game" is said ironically. But to date the contest hosted by Poland and Ukraine has passed all expectations in the quality of football and the general absence of scandal on and off the park.
Making it all the better from an English perspective has been the national side topping its group and making it into the quarter finals.
Even if we're knocked out by Italy tomorrow, the team will have acquitted itself well given the low expectations prior to the start of the competition.
Roy Hodgson has already proved he was the right man for the England manager's job despite the doubters including, I have to admit, myself.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Cameron will rue taking moral high ground on tax

Given his PR background David Cameron should have known better than commit the elementary gaffe of a sound-bite condemnation that will haunt the Prime Minister until his last day at No. 10.
By criticising comedian Jimmy Carr's now-repudiated tax avoidance scheme and their ilk as being "morally wrong" he has opened Pandora's Box. It is now open season on hunt the tax cheat; if Carr is castigated then it would be hypocrisy not to chastise similar 'offenders'.
Tax efficient schemes or legal dodges, call them what you will, are so widespread the likelihood is that some Tory Party backers - and probably among the millionaire members of the Front Bench itself - perhaps Cameron's own blue-bloodied family have exploited money-saving tax loopholes.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Show RCA 2012 - Battersea's underpowered station

My trip to the Royal College of Art student summer show in Battersea today was an altogether depressing affair.
I'm untutored in art other than an interest that is already 50 years old. I'll admit to a preference for painting (abstract or realist, it's a broad church) and little enthusiasm for video.
I approach each art work with I like to think an open mind hoping to be moved but ready to settle for being engaged. You're free to disagree with this assessment.
In Battersea I visited four sites and toured the photography, printing making, and sculpture sections without finding anything to make me dally. So too the poor-cousin painting entries. Only the design area had any vibe.
Perhaps the fault is mine; but I suggest the error is elsewhere. If the inflated price tags of the works are a guide, the students enjoy massive egos. So they don't deserve any benefit of the doubt that they are just starting out.
There are questions I'd like to ask their teachers.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

"Let me be a burden on my children" says Roger McGough - and GC agrees

I'm grateful to my sister, who in response to my Father's Day post on Sunday reminded me of the following poem by the ever-excellent Roger McGough. 


O Lord, let me be a burden on my children
For long they've been a burden upon me.
May they fetch and carry, clean and scrub
And do so cheerfully.

Let them take it in turns at putting me up
Nice sunny rooms at the top of the stairs
With a walk-in bath and lift installed
At great expense.....Theirs.

Insurance against the body-blows of time
Isn't that what having children's all about?
To bring them up knowing that they owe you
And can't contract out?

What is money for but to spend on their schooling?
Designer clothes, mindless hobbies, usual stuff.
Then as soon as they're earning, off they go
Well, enough's enough.

It's been a blessing watching them develop
The parental pride we felt as each one grew.
But Lord, let me be a burden on my children
And on my children's children too.
© Roger McGough

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Breadline Britain - Guardian investigation highlights the threat of poverty faced by millions in work and not on benefit

I was reminded of Thoreau's famous observation: "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation" when reading The Guardian's series on Breadline Britain.
It highlighted a large section of British society, who are in work and not receiving State support, yet have an income that  doesn't match their necessary outgoings.
This is nothing to do with the "squeezed middle" - this is about the threat millions of people face of genuine poverty. This is about salaries being frozen while the cost of living relentlessly rises. The data is incontrovertible.
It suggests the obsession of Tories like Iain Duncan Smith focused on getting "benefit scroungers" into employment misses the much greater danger to society.
PS. Today's report on school children going hungry is deeply disturbing. Come on Miliband, speak up.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Wishing Jack Osbourne all the best to "adapt and overcome" his MS challenge

Jack Osbourne
I've been thinking all day why I've been so struck by the news Jack Osbourne, Ozzy and Sharon's son, has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
I know he is one of many and that he will receive the best medical care; so it's something more than the dreadful disease itself.
I had watched only a handful of  episodes of the family reality show when he was a teenager and, later, even fewer of his own extreme sports series Adrenaline Junkie.
But such is the nature of celebrity culture that even on this brief acquaintance I formed an impression of a man whom I rather liked.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Spicy reflections on Father's Day

I'm in reflective mood after enjoying a Father's Day lunch with my two middle-to-late twenties children.
When did they first become such pleasant company - OK, once they put away their smart phones?
It seems like only yesterday they'd complain if they had to walk to the corner; and then only with the promise of plain food like chicken nuggets or hamburgers.
Today required a long stroll to reach an excellent curry restaurant - of their choice - and they paid. Perfect.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Andrew Neil has the best of Iannucci-Campbell row

I see I'm not the only one surprised satirist Armando Iannucci accepted an OBE in the Queen's Birthday Honour's. The man behind The Thick Of It has taken some stick from Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair's spinner-in-chief and the inspration for the comedy show's foulmouthed Malcolm Tucker.
Here's some of the Twitter exchange in The Guardian's online story.
Alistair Campbell: @ campbellclaret So @ AIannucci OBE joins the Establishment he claims to deride. Malcom Tucker and I do not approve of honours system
Armando Iannucci: @ AIannucci It's probably more Establishment to order your army to march into other countries for no reason. Swings and roundabouts
Alistair Campbell: @ campbellclaret you see, your wit a bit tired and blunt already. Three little letters can have more impact than you realise. Tut Tut
Armando Iannucci: @ AIannucci WMD
Iannucci argued it would have been bad manners to have refused the award.
But I agree with Andrew Neil who tweeted, The Guardian reports, "Why would somebody who constantly parades their anti-establishment credentials accept such a bauble?" ...adding that he believed journalists should also never accept honours "from people we are supposed to be holding to account".

Friday, 15 June 2012

Peter Hitchens: a talent to provoke

Peter Hitchens, The Mail on Sunday columnist, was trending on Twitter long after the close of BBC 1's Question Time last night.
Hitchens had lived up to his ultra conservative reputation and attracted a shower of liberal criticism.
The tweets backed fellow-panellist Emily Thornberry, Labour's shadow Attorney General, who accused Hitchens of suggesting single parent families on benefit were synonymous with problem families.
He denied the charge. Judge for yourself on this link.
I have seen Hitchens close up having worked on the same newspaper as him nearly 15 years ago*.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

I can't tell a lie - The Washington is the ideal local

I popped into The Washington pub, Englands Lane, Belsize Park for a quick pint this afternoon.
More than 40 years ago it was a scruffy boozer where student friends would play Clapton-inspired blues gigs once a week.
It's still a popular watering hole if a little shaky on geography claiming to be in Hampstead.
There's a full menu where once the bill of fare didn't run beyond crisps. Should you just want a sandwich they are of the focaccia and ciabatta variety. But its pretentious lapses are forgivable.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

GC's curbed enthusiasm for Michael Frayn's Skios

I have now read Michael Frayn's farcical Skios - the subject of a recent GC post - and I'm prompted to add a postscript.
In Up the Amazon - or what's a bookloving pensioner to do? I worried at my own disloyalty to local bookshops by buying a copy of the novel half-price at £8 from Amazon.
Call me tight-fisted but I would now be feeling more guilty had I enjoyed the book - a hectic catalogue of mistaken identity - more.
In my book, the novel, an intricate weaving of switched suitcases, lost passports, national stereotyping, failing mobile phones, frustrated passion and a couple of laugh out loud moments, is still a good 7 out of 10.
I don't consider the read time wasted but I wondered at some of the superlative endorsements on the Skios dust jacket.
I checked on one of them. "Michael Frayn must have the subtlest mind ever applied to the writing of farce," wrote Michael Billington in The Guardian.
I found it attached to a review of the revival of Frayn's hit play Noises Off rather anything to do with Skios.
I'm too polite to point this out to the author when I attend his star turn at this year's Primrose Hill Lectures in a few weeks.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Gay marriage: the Church must recognise times change

Although now an atheist I continued to have a soft spot for the Church of England for many years. I went to a C. of E. primary school as did both of my children and I have nothing but praise for how we were taught - including religious instruction.
I  liked the kindly, all-embracing brand of Christianity to be found in the schools and their parish churches.
So it was difficult for me to understand in later years the dogged resistance to women holding high office in the Church.
Now it is downright impossible for me to sympathise with the ferocious opposition by Anglican conservatives to the Government's plan to legalise same-sex marriages.

Monday, 11 June 2012

On googling Madonnas' breasts

It would be nice to think the recent surge in page views internationally of my April 23rd post Some nipples are better than others at MailOnline is belated recognition of the excellence of my examination of media double-standards. Unfortunately, I know better.
At the weekend Madonna caused a stir by flashing a nipple at her Istanbul concert and the curious have been googling for sight of the event ever since - despite nudity being a regular feature of the Queen of Pop's career.
My Some nipples post has been showing up in searches because it included an unrelated nude picture of the ageless star.
I hope Leonardo's serene Madonna Litta will receive similar attention with more spiritually uplifting results.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Internet trolls ridiculed by comedian Isabel Fay

I've just caught up with comedian Isabel Fay's clever video Thank You Hater! ridiculing internet trolls, cyberbullies, whatever you want to call the mindless barrel scrapings, who share the mistaken belief they can spew their bile in the cowardly expectation they will always preserve their anonymity.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Win, lose, or draw the England team must be a credit to our nation.

Three Euro 2012 matches in + the last 20 minutes of Germany v Portugal have been adverts for the beautiful game.
Being a natural born Englishman I'm steeled for disappointment from our national team, which opens its campaign against France on Monday afternoon.
The French had an even worse World Cup in South Africa than us but somehow have managed to rebuild their team to the extent a draw is probably the best we can hope for - and reaching the later rounds of the knockout stages an absolute triumph.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Grapefruitcrazy prepares for a Summer of sport

With Euro 2012 kicking off in a few hours and less than 50 days until the London Olympics, I anticipate I'll be spending less time on my daily posts. No bad thing you may think given the power of Twitter with 140 characters or less.
I'm not sports mad. But these days sports stories provide a welcome escape from real news, which is usually dreadful whether it's the latest massacre in Syria or the Spanish economy on a knife edge or some natural disaster in between.
With sport, I've always been impressed by those who can do what I can't. Not so much now but when I was working I got to meet many sports men and women, both professional and amateur; and enjoyed the experience.
They exude a confidence that perhaps comes from testing the limits of their physical ability. What you see is what you get. So much better than those more intellectually-inclined - and insecure.
When it comes to fans, of course, I condemn the thuggish among them. But there is a legion of enthusiasts who are passionate, knowledgeable, articulate, and loyal - qualities which are often in short supply elsewhere in society.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

How misguided planners tore the heart out of Deptford High Steet: BBC 2's anger-inducing opener

If you missed it on BBC 2 last night catch up with The Secret History of Our Streets. The first episode about Deptford High Street left me seething with anger. 
The area called 'the Oxford Street of South London' at the time Charles Booth was mapping the distribution of social classes in 1886, had its heart ripped out in the 1970s.
To say Greater London Council planners were misguided is to be charitable. They look like social rather than civil engineers guilty of class snobbery believing they knew what was best for working class communities.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Up the Amazon - or what's a bookloving pensioner to do?

I'm happy, no, relieved to give a plug to the Charing Cross Road Festival on Saturday June 30th.
The Oxford Street end of the road is blighted by the Crossrail development and its bookshops, music stores, and other retail outlets are losing sales in the disruption.
The Charing Cross Road area is a microcosm of London's cultural strength sort of twixt Soho and Covent Garden and includes Denmark Street, our Tin Pan Alley.
For me it's primarily associated with books. I even had a short lived student job at Foyles bookshop, which I immortalised in my post Love on the picket line

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Ten moments from the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Concert

    Gary and Cheryl
  • Cheryl Cole's duet with Gary Barlow was more than adequate; she didn't deserve over-the-top criticism.
  • Robbie Williams was fine but he benefited from most people's ignorance of Bobby Darin's version of Mack the Knife.
  • Talking of knives, it's time Tom Jones dropped Delilah - an anthem to domestic violence - from his big occasion repertoire.
  • It's a pity Paul McCartney's Live and Let Die is the only one of his songs considered worthy of the fireworks treatment.
  • There should have been only one James Bond theme in the concert - Shirley Bassey's Diamonds Are Forever.
  • Rob Brydon should never have accepted the gig.
  • Grace Jones and her hula hoop added some much needed madness apart from Madness itself on top of Buck House.
  • Kylie Minogue is well on her way to becoming a national treasure even though she's Australian.
  • Rolf Harris should have been allowed to complete Two Little Boys.
  • Production values were high; the Buck House projection was clever; but the BBC shouldn't have run the credits over the fireworks finale.

Monday, 4 June 2012

The Proclaimers and Matt Lucas put me in a spin

The Proclaimers, the Scots twins Craig and Charlie Reid, have a great video to accompany a great song Spinning Around in the Air, the first single from Like Comedy, the pair's latest album.
Matt Lucas, the Little Britain star, in his music video directorial debut, has the Reids in drag playing old ladies at a wild Golden Wedding party.
No, I couldn't hear all the lyrics either; a good reason to listen to the song again here.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

The BBC wrecks Thames Diamond Jubilee coverage

My jingoism yesterday about no one doing ceremonial occasions better than the Brits proved a bit misplaced.
The Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant was alright; the foul weather literally cast a long shadow over the day. It would have been nice to have watched the 'surprise' fly-past finale.
The bigger disappointment was the BBC's poor production of the event. Here, once again, the rain proved a dampener but they weren't reporting under fire. It's London where there's always a chance it's going to rain.
The celebration wasn't thought through properly. Stephen Fry found the Beeb's coverage "deeply embarrassing" - other critical tweets can be found at #bbcjubilee.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Sailing into history - the Thames Jubilee Pageant

Say what you like about the Brits, you have to concede nobody does ceremonial occasions better than us. If you don't believe me watch some of the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant - to celebrate the Queen's 60-year reign - tomorrow afternoon. A thousand-strong flotilla will sail into the history books.

Friday, 1 June 2012

"God save the Queen," says GC

On the eve of the four-day celebration of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, it's fair to say Her Majesty is by far the most popular of the Royals.
You would have to be the most extreme republican to believe abolishing the British monarchy would be worth the constitutional turmoil, time, and money.
The public holds politicians in low esteem and a titular president would be no different.
Prince Charles, heir to the throne, however, will never be viewed with the same affection as his mother. Indifference is the best he can hope for. His shabby treatment of Princess Diana made that certain.