Tuesday, 31 July 2012

All credit to Tom Daley as Twitter troll arrested

All credit to Tom Daley. It is now being reported the teenage troll arrested by police in connection with allegedly sending the young GB Olympic diver a series of malicious tweets had included threats to drown him.
Initially the arrest was presented by the media as a result of the alleged scummy suggestion Daley had let his late father down by failing to win a medal in the synchronised diving.
It raised questions about the freedom of speech.
However objectionable the suggestion, we don't want the twittersphere being policed on matters of opinion however vile.
But if threats to individuals are made, the police have to take the threat seriously even if actual danger is unlikely.
For his part Daley complained to his Twitter followers about the slur related to his father. He called the troll an "idiot", an understatement in my book.

Monday, 30 July 2012

If only all football matches were as pleasant as Wembley Stadium's Olympic games on Sunday

Giggsy on target
I'm happy to report on a very successful visit to Wembley Stadium yesterday to watch Olympics football.
My £60 ticket produced the best seat I've ever had at a football match - lower tier, exactly on the halfway line.
It provided two games Senegal v Uruguay and Team GB v UAE, the latter we won 3-1 with captain Ryan Giggs opening the scoring.
Access to the stadium from Wembley Park tube station was smooth; everyone in an official capacity guides, police, and security staff were efficient, cheerful, and helpful.
Yes, the food and drink was expensive as it always is at games. Those who hoped to pay with plastic were stymied. Olympics sponsor Visa insisted people could only use its card brand - but it developed a glitch. So it was cash only.
Most refreshing of all was the lighthearted spirit inside the stadium - complete with Mexican waves and bouncy balls.
An absence of aggressive fan behaviour, swearing, and obscene chants made this a safe place to take children - and many families took advantage to do so.
The childish booing of Uruguay striker - and more significantly Liverpool star - Luis Suarez every time he touched the ball was the only reminder of the cauldron of hate games can be.
National anthems were respected even if Giggsy forgot the words to his team's.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

BOA's plan to fill empty Games seats has merit

I'm glad the problem of empty seats at London Olympics venues is creating such a stir. Britain's sportsmen and women need all the support and inspiration they can get from a noisy home crowd. The British Olympic Association's suggestion that seats should only be allowed to remain unfilled for 30 minutes before being offered to fans has merit.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

If privileged bums can't fill Games seats give them to real Olympics fans

I have to put on record my admiration for Danny Boyle's Olympics opening ceremony extravaganza last night.
But it was disappointing to turn on the television today to see so many empty 'posh' seats at the swimming, tennis, and gymnastics arenas.
These are popular sports with armies of fans, who have been disappointed by being denied affordable seats at the London Games.
Lord Coe & Co have got to do some pretty swift arm-twisting of the corporates, who bought blocks of the best seats, to make sure there are privileged bums on them.
Olympic seat prices favoured the wealthy and it's an insult to competitors and sports fans if seats are empty.
I appreciate the organisers can't work miracles. They are obliged to reserve seats for the Olympic family - other sportsmen and women, officials, and the media - with no guarantee they'll show up.
But sponsors and other corporate customers must be encouraged to fill their allocations.
It may be too late to bus in fans - as the Chinese did faced with the same problem four years ago - but at the very least the upper tiers should be allowed to move closer to the action.
I can't believe there will be substantial no-shows for the athletics - it will be an international embarrassment if there are.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Teachers can learn lessons from the London Games

My November 2010 post Why London's 2012 Olympics logo is the worst in the history of the modern Games is clocking up the page views.
But while I don't take back a word, complaining is a national sport in Britain - Mitt Romney, please note.
It doesn't mean us Brits are anything other than excited by staging the Games and wholeheartedly desire its success.
The crowds that turned out across Great Britain to welcome the Olympic flame in the two-month-long relay reflects this enthusiasm.
Rather than just a regeneration of a depressed area of East London, I hope there will be a wider legacy of the Olympics for the country.
I accept there will be a stink if Team GB has a poor medal haul, as there will be in any country whose tally disappoints.
But most of the thousands of sportsmen and women who compete in the next weeks do so with no real expectation of a medal. The taking part is still important.
Somehow the idea has taken hold among the educational establishment that competition is bad for children whether academically or in sporting endeavour.
It was dispiriting when as a schoolboy I found classmates who were brighter or more sporty than myself.
This was an incentive for me to try harder - and if this proved impossible it provided a lesson for life. Make the most of the talents you have got.
It would have been an insult to all at school to 'lower the bar' so there are no losers.
Kids compete. The problem with 'level playing field' educators is they risk drowning childrens' spirit in the vain pursuit of fairness.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Give yourself a treat...

...and make sure you watch the TV broadcast of the Danny Boyle-directed £27 million Isles of Wonder opening ceremony for the London 2012 Olympic Games at 8pm GMT tomorrow.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Why I hope Kristen hasn't cheated on Robert

I know the UK's plummeting economic figures today are of much greater significance but I was more surprised this morning to read magazine allegations that Kristen Stewart had cheated on her Twilight co-star boyfriend Robert Pattinson.
To make matters worse her fling was said to be with her Snow White and the Huntsman film director Rupert Sanders, twice Stewart's age, married, and with two children.
I hope the story is a tissue of lies and the supposed incriminating photographs turn out to be fakes.
Not that I give a fig about the young couple. I've never seen a Pattinson movie and certainly not any of the Twilight series; Stewart I remember from a couple of child actor roles.
Where Pattinson and Stewart surfaced in my meagre knowledge of the world of celebrity was as a young couple, who had conducted their romance with discretion and pleasing modesty.
Having finally admitted they were an item, they seemed very much in love. No dramas, no drunken scenes.
In other words to dust down that over-exploited expression they were rare showbiz "role models."
Well, that's taken a caning today. It just about leaves Michael and Catherine as epitomes of fidelity.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

I know nothing about womens' fashion but...

Summer arrived today and by happy coincidence I had to go into town for a lunchtime drink to meet an old chum to discuss his proposed novel.
On the way from Green Park tube station, the heat, noise, and bustle was made tolerable by the sight of so many attractive women walking along Piccadilly.
Perhaps it's the dirty old man in me but I think the youngsters had it and that their older sisters had lost it.
Girls in their teens and twenties had the confidence of youth, a style in itself. Whatever they wore it was short, tight, and right.
Women in their thirties and beyond didn't know how to cope with the sun. Either they dressed too young in a self-conscious way or else as frumps in shapeless summer dresses and sandals.
They seemed to lack the elegance of older women in, say, Paris or Rome, who have a way of looking casual when the temperature rises that is probably achieved with lots of thought.
When abroad I have been struck by how much attention continental women pay their hairstyles. It's as though their hair is cut to suit their face and the shape of their heads.
In London the hair is dumped on womens' heads regardless of the suitability of the style. It doesn't matter much with youngsters whether wild like a hippy or cropped like a punk.
But get the hair right on an older woman and she's already half way to looking good.

Monday, 23 July 2012

GC gets the Alabama Shakes

Belatedly I've caught up with Alabama Shakes, the blues/soul/rock band fronted by Brittany Howard, who sings like the lovechild of Otis Redding and Janis Jopling.
They've attracted the attention of Jack White and done Letterman and over here Jools Holland; and have a wave-making debut album Boys & Girls.
Its Wikipedia entry charts the band's increasing popularity since its creation in 2009. The official video of Hold On tells all you need to know about Alabama Shakes' future trajectory.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Is Bradley Wiggins the greatest Brit sportsman in modern times?

Tour de France winner Wiggins
By becoming the first Brit to win the Tour de France in its 109-year history today, Bradley Wiggins must be considered to be one of the greatest British sportsmen in modern times.
The three week cycle race is the toughest test of endurance in the world.
But for my money Steve Redgrave has poll position to mix sporting metaphors.
He has won rowing gold medals in five consecutive Olympics and must be a shoo-in to light the cauldron at the Games's opening ceremony on Friday.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Friday, 20 July 2012

"Are you happy?" they asked. "Er..." I replied.

I was back in the Square Mile last night at a pub leaving party for a former colleague. Some there hadn't seen me for more than three years since my retirement from newspapers.
In the shifting dynamics of a party where everyone stood - in my book only wimps sit at drinks do's - I found myself in a corner with three women journalists of my acquaintance.
Having quickly established I wasn't in some new gainful employment, one asked the question that wouldn't have occurred to any of the men present.
"Are you happy?"
"Er..." I replied. "Well, no, I wouldn't go that far. Who is?"
"Content. How about content?" asked the second.
"Not really."
"You don't seem unhappy," said the third.
That's because I'm not. I cast around for a word that described my present state of mind.
"Engaged," I said. "Not maritally," I added hastily. "Engaged with life."
Until obliged to I had never thought about my state of mind. Choosing not to accept opiates - neither drugs nor religion - a constant state of happiness has always seemed unachievable to me.
Happiness is a fleeting condition to be enjoyed for the moment and I'm fortunate to say I've had many.
I don't know where the description "engaged" sprung from. But it sums up where I am at the age of 67. Life would be full of disappointments if happiness were the only desired goal.
I much prefer to be "engaged" - getting on with life and every now and again being caught unawares by, yes, happiness.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Victoria Pendleton documentary takes TV Gold

Victoria Pendleton: Cycling's Golden Girl on BBC TV last night ranks as among the best sports documentaries I've ever seen.
I viewed it again today on BBC iPlayer.
My interest in cycling was zero before the programme. But the trailer promoting the life story - both sporting and emotional - of a fit-looking Lycra clad young woman encouraged me enough to switch on at 9pm.
There's no doubt she is very attractive and more than worthy of being the cover girl of next month's Esquire.
But neither this nor even the fact she will be competing at the London Olympics to retain her Gold medal would normally have been enough to sustain my interest. 
But the documentary maker the multi-talented Daniel Gordon, while always sympathetic to Pendleton digs deep enough to discover what help make her tick and the will to win.
A pushy father, a challenging twin brother, the hard taskmaster trainers, and boyfriend Scott - a relationship which rocked the cycling establishment - are all revealed as components in Pendleton's success.
I wish her well in the Games and hope she can retire at  the top.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Brave Val Patterson sets the standard in obituaries

I was touched by the brave and funny obituary of Utah engineer Val Patterson, which he wrote himself before his death at the age of 59 on July 10th from throat cancer.
Talk about seizing the day, every line reflects a love of life.  It's no wonder he has set the internet humming.
The Salt Lake Tribune gives a good account of the story and provides links to Patterson's actual words and that of the Starks Funeral parlor's condolences website page, which has had many thousands of hits.
Patterson's motto was "anything for a laugh" and he entertains readers with some of the pranks and misdemeanours of his youth.
His one regret was the smoking that shortened his life and parted him from his beloved wife of 33 years, Mary Jane.
"He wanted to set a new standard on how obituaries should be written," she said and Patterson did just that.
Read his obit for yourself; you won't invest a more enriching few minutes all year.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Tony Blair should support the Chilcot Inquiry's bid to release his Bush papers for publication

Blair and Bush
News today that the publication of the 1 million word report of Sir John Chilcot's Iraq War inquiry will be delayed a year and might even run into 2014 isn't good for Tony Blair.
Britain's former Labour prime minister is itching to get back into public life. 'Friends' - cover for the man himself - suggest he believes he can help Ed Miliband kick David Cameron out of No. 10 in a 2015 General Election.
Blair's critics charge him with giving George Bush nod-and-a-wink support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq before it was put to either the Cabinet or the Commons; the 'dodgy' evidence justifying the attack being a parallel issue.
Sorry - especially to Jaffa - for my cock-up here yesterday. The rest of my lost post went on to say Blair's hide is tough enough to take the pounding he is likely to receive in the Inquiry's report and he cannot hope to return to public life in Britain until it's published. GC

Monday, 16 July 2012

Osborne's job is on the line but the Chancellor's safe for now

Cameron under pressure to sack his pal
The Tory press is gunning for George Osborne blaming the Chancellor's shambolic performance for the Coalition's poor standing.
A General Election tomorrow would see Labour back in office with leader Ed Miliband's reforms hardly begun. Questions about his leadership skills are dead and buried.
The Sun's veteran political commentator Trevor Kavanagh today calls for the Prime Minister to re-shuffle his pal out of No. 11.
Polling suggests that Osborne is the Tories' weakest link. But you dump your finance minister at your peril.
At home Osborne is slammed for his U-turn budget, his failure to introduce growth incentives at the same time as he wields the axe, and his permanent and insufferable smirk.
But his departure viewed from abroad would suggest Britain had gone soft on its determination to cut the deficit.
So I expect David Cameron to hang on to Osborne as long as he can in the hope the economy shows some signs of fluttering back into to life later this year.
But the Prime Minister is not in control of the ship of State buffeted in one direction by his rebellious backbenchers and in the other by unhappy LibDems.
The summer break couldn't come soon enough for the Tories; hostilities resume in the autumn conference season.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

"Jobsworth" was right to pull plug on Springsteen

Over night I must have joined the old farts' brigade. I woke to find I had turned more reactionary than both London mayor Boris Johnson and The Mail on Sunday.
They thought it wrong the plug had been pulled on Bruce Springsteen, during his duets with Paul McCartney towards the end of his concert in Hyde Park last night.
Springsteen and the E Street Band had been due to end their 3 hours+ performance at 10.15pm. Having sailed through the 10.30pm noise curfew agreed with neighbouring councils, the concert organiser turned off the power.
And quite right too was my first thought and I was surprised to find myself on the opposite side of the argument to bastions of the right.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Beckham's absence from Team GB football is wrong

Beckham holding a torch for Team GB
The closer I get to my trip to Wembley to watch Stuart Pearce's Team GB Olympics football side - two weeks tomorrow - the more I regret the manager's decision not to select David Beckham among the trio of oldsters.
I was resigned to the team falling outside of the medals but consoled myself with the thought that here was a chance to celebrate if not a football great then certainly a soccer legend.
Beckham is among the world's most famous sports stars, he had a key role in bringing the Games to London, and he's had a good season at LA Galaxy.
I know the ideals that saw the birth of the modern Games were put to rest when the rise of professional sportsmen and women replaced amateurs - and now it's the winning rather than taking part which is all.
But surely enough of the founding spirit must survive which recognises that Beckham is a decent man - a saint compared to Ryan Giggs, whose presence - on merit - would enrich Team GB not diminish it?
I know football fans much more passionate about the game than myself feel exactly the same way. Pearce shouldn't have let Beckham's name go forward if he intended to snub him.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Scarlett, I share your pain

I see Scarlett Johannson is reported as saying she's lost film roles because she's considered too sexy.
I can't say it's ever held me back.
Indeed here's a picture of me in bed.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

King's Cross - will demand match the opportunities?

I took a look at the development north of London's King's Cross railway station this afternoon. Already years under construction, with parts becoming accessible to the public, its ambition is becoming clearer.
It is the biggest undertaking - offices, shops, restaurants, residential, public spaces, and a university - in central London in 150 years.
Big enough to have its own postal district - N1C - the 8 million square feet project, which gained its main planning consent in 2006, still has a long way to go to completion.
It has a superb location but I wonder if demand will match the opportunities it presents given the gloomy economic climate is unlikely to lighten any time soon.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Getting Olympics tickets is only half the battle - getting inside the stadium might be even harder

My Olympic Games tickets arrived today - my son and I are going to watch football Team GB play UAE at Wembley Stadium on July 29th.
I had already started ringing the Games customer phoneline (with no luck) about their no-show.
So you'd imagine my worries were over. Not a bit of it following the "critical information" email - a few does and mostly don'ts" - I received later in the day.
It advises we arrive hours early to clear security and to expect to empty our pockets when we are checked through.
It's best if we bring no bags at all. Transport will be very busy and inside the ground only Visa cards and cash will be accepted for payment.
There's a long list of "prohibited and restricted items" from firearms (phew!) to bottles of liquids over 100ml capacity.
Large flags, rattles, flares, and musical instruments are banned, so it's not all bad. But you can't bring your own booze.
The warning seems to suggest if you bring a baby, security personnel reserve the right to taste a liquid if it's said to be breast milk.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

10 reasons why Tory MP Nick Boles should think again before bashing 'well-off' pensioners

Nick Boles
'Well-off' pensioners face being stripped of some or all of their additional State benefits after the 2015 General Election, if David Cameron's MP pal Nick Boles has his way.
Boles has his sights on free prescriptions, travel, the winter fuel allowance and free TV licences of the over-75s; and it is hard to make a case that wealthy OAPs should enjoy these extras.
But there are aspects of the law of unexpected consequences,  which MPs should consider before they jump on the granny-bashing bandwagon.

1. Means-testing the benefits sends out the wrong message, because it penalises those who have spent a lifetime saving for their old age.
2. On the subject of saving, pensioners are being punished by next-to-zero returns as a direct result of current interest rate policy. Labour's mismanagement, spendthrift borrowers and incompetent bankers have forced the Bank of England to artificially depress savings rates.
3. Means-testing is expensive and inefficient in its nature. It's a pity Boles isn't as concerned about those pensioners, who, for whatever reason, do not receive their full benefits entitlement.
4. Much will depend at what income level  OAPs are considered to be better off. Having established the principle, you can bet the screw would be tightened in future years.
5. Once again it will be the squeezed middle not millionaire pensioners who will feel the pain.
6. Different rules will apply in Scotland and Wales underlining the unfairness of the proposals.
7. Scrapping free prescriptions will deter some elderly from visiting their GPs leaving hospitals to intervene when illnesses become expensive emergencies.
8. Enforced belt-tightening on pensioners will leave them less money to spend in the high street.
9. It will also see them less able to help their children and grandchildren financially.
10. Boles should stop looking at well-off pensioners as a breed apart. When they die their wealth doesn't evaporate. It is distributed - with the State taking a chunk.
He would be well advised to have a look at the benefits, subsidies, and goldplated pensions that MPs continue to enjoy despite many of them being caught with their hands in the till in the expenses scandal.

Monday, 9 July 2012

A zebra crossing, a young boy, an old man - then and now

The Beatles crossing Abbey Road
I must have been around 10 years old when zebra (pedestrian) crossings were still a relatively new innovation.
I have a clear recollection using one to cross the road near the family home not far from London's Oxford Circus, the traffic having stopped to allow me to do so.
On reaching the far side an old man, a stranger, spoke to me. He lectured me briefly on the correct etiquette when using a zebra crossing; I should have acknowledged the motorist that had halted.
To this day, I always give a small wave of recognition just as the old man had suggested.
Fifty years on though we have lost something; I couldn't do the same as him in a similar situation.
I'd be arrested talking to small boys about anything; and told where to go by bigger ones if I advised them to deposit their rubbish in waste bins. I could be risking life and limb telling even bigger ones to take their feet off bus seats.
Pity really, don't you think?

Sunday, 8 July 2012

The dumbest thing I was ever told

A not-so-nice old lady once told me she believed the world's starving children owed their fate to misdeeds in former lives.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

The dumbest thing I ever said

OK, I was caught off-guard by her frankness but I shouldn't have replied to a woman colleague on being told of her breast cancer diagnosis: "I bet you could have done without that."

Friday, 6 July 2012

Who's to blame for Twitter's #bedofshame ?

I've heard of neither him or his reality TV show but according to The Sun there is an unpleasant sounding individual I won't bother to name, who has kicked off the #bedofshame Twitter trend.
The idea is that 'lads', like himself, distribute mobile phone pictures of their sleeping - and therefore non-consenting - one-night-stands on the social network.
The consequent backlash prompted a Twitter retreat on his part. But for me the same thought crossed my mind as frustrated me when I hit my twenties in the Swinging Sixties.
Why was it despite womens' liberation many remain keen to jump into bed after a few hours' acquaintance with men whom they should know will treat them badly?

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Boring, boring Wimbledon - or come on, Tim

It never occurred to me before just how boring Wimbledon fortnight is - and that's with Andy Murray still in the competition.
Or maybe that's how it's become or else, if you insist, how it's become for me.
The characters are gone from the game and their place, mostly, taken by assembly line East Europeans with names like a losing hand of Scrabble.
When I was a Fleet Street journalist I turned down many corporate invitations to a day out at the Championships. Sitting in the sun (or rain), looking from left to right and back again for hours on end seemed a high price to pay for strawberries and cream and a glass of Champagne.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Counting The Beats by Robert Graves

It was a toss-up today whether to write about the performance of Andy Murray or Bob Diamond; or something more important. So here is one of my favourite love poems. Make of it what you will; I know it has always spoken to me.

Counting The Beats by Robert Graves

You, love, and I,
(He whispers) you and I,
And if no more than only you and I
What care you or I?

Counting the beats,
Counting the slow heart beats,
The bleeding to death of time in slow heart beats,
Wakeful they lie.

Cloudless day,
Night, and a cloudless day;
Yet the huge storm will burst upon their heads one day
From a bitter sky.

Where shall we be,
(She whispers) where shall we be,
When death strikes home, O where then shall we be
Who were you and I?

Not there but here,
(He whispers) only here,
As we are, here, together, now and here,
Always you and I.

Counting the beats,
Counting the slow heart beats,
The bleeding to death of time in slow heart beats,
Wakeful they lie.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Diamond's exit will open a can of financial worms

Bob Diamond
As I wrote on Thursday, Barclays boss Bob Diamond was "living on borrowed time" so there is little to examine in his inevitable resignation other than to say it frees him up to be more frank when he goes to the Commons tomorrow.
As Guido Fawkes establishes today the ramifications of manipulating the key Libor interest rate downwards is much more explosive than pushing it upwards.
In the latter making a fast buck was the goal; but in the former the intention was to make the bank concerned - Barclays is unlikely to have been alone - appear more financially secure than it was.

Monday, 2 July 2012

What happened to our summer?

Last month turned out to be the wettest June on record and July has started no better.
But what really gets under my skin is the thought that the days are already getting shorter.
I'd be a big fan of Scottish independence if I thought it would free up England to change the clocks to our liking. What we need is GMT +2 in summer and GMT +1 in winter; the Scots have long resisted the idea.
Stepping into line with much of the continent would be a bonus but that doesn't matter much to me.
What I long for is lighter evenings. There are the practical benefits of energy saving with less necessity for artifical lighting and fewer road deaths.
Best of all, in my opinion, is that such a move would lift this country's spirits by making after-work hours more pleasant and fruitful.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Farewell Euro 2012 - GC has great hopes for the final

There's less than an hour to the kick-off of the Euro 2012 final. The group stages and the knock-out rounds have been a credit to the 'beautiful game' and the co-hosts Poland and Ukraine.
I'll be cheering on Italy. Spain is a great footballing side but sometimes its tippy-tappy possession can get tedious; although if only England had the skill to be equally dull.
An Italy victory would also underline that the ill-prepared, injury-hit England side did pretty well all things considered.
We took the Italians to penalties, when in the next round they defeated the Germans in 90 minutes.
So to have been eliminated by the ultimate winners will be no disgrace.
If Spain do win its team, however, will be worthy champions.
It's been a great competition, an advertisement for the game. I shall miss my regular dose of top class international football.
PS In the event winners Spain were magnificent; the team delivered a masterclass. Italy looked exhausted by its efforts to make the final but nobody could have lived with their opponents.