Thursday, March 31, 2005

Je Suis Desolé

Mike has kindly pointed out that it was Chirac not Mitterand that the Queen entertained at Windsor to celebrate the Entente Cordiale. It's always difficult to distinguish between these Frenchmen with their Gallic shrugs, garlic breath and white-tipped Gauloises. However, the clue I missed in this case was that Mitterand is dead and knocking back Pernod and singing je ne regrette rien in some ethereal bistro.

In case anyone thinks the above remarks are un peu 'racist', I should say that when I worked for and with the French we hurled these kind of comments at each other all day long without anyone taking offence.
"It's bad enough that we had to win the war for you without me answering your phone", I would say. "Fucking roast beef!" they would shout back. This ability to tease each other in a good humoured way endeared me to the French as did their ability to laugh at themselves as much as the English do. And I have to say that the constant histrionics and tantrums made a French workplace much more fun than the repressed emotions and silent back-stabbing of an English office.

As mentioned in the Windsor Castle TV programme, when Chirac attended the State Banquet at Windsor Castle, the Waterloo Room was re-named the Music Room for the evening. By coincidence, I was reading a book at the time which revealed that when Victoria and Albert entertained Napoleon III at Windsor the Waterloo Room was also temporarily renamed - on that occasion they called it the Portrait Gallery. However, on that occasion, instead of importing a West End musical to the Castle, Victoria whisked him off to a performance of Fidelio. She recorded in her diary her glee that, just as they were about to set off, the Emperor upset a cup of coffee over his cocked hat. Presumably, if his cocked hat hadn't been in his lap he would have spilt it over his cock which would have amused the Queen even more.
Oh dear, I've managed to squeeze a cock joke out of a serious piece of historical trivia. What am I like?


I've decided that the expression 'God love him' is even more sickeningly patronising than the ubiquitous 'Bless!'
If I catch anyone saying 'Ah, God love him' about me I shall tie them to the Blarney Stone and beat their brains out with a shillelagh.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Sun Sets On Scrotum Burgers?

Jamie Oliver's series on school meals seems to have had more impact than any programme since Cathy Come Home. The Government's provision of a limited amount of more money is welcome.
But there's an elephant in the room that almost nobody is mentioning. It's the profits being made from school dinners by the private companies that are contracted to supply them. It's profit margins that have been a major factor in driving down quality and serving what Jamie memorably called 'scrotum burgers', by which I don't think he meant a kind of nut cutlet. If only the Government would accept that there are areas of life like health and education that should be ring-fenced from the market and the profit motive.
And why can't the Government be honest and say that they're responding to a brilliant and revealing television series instead of pretending that it's entirely coincidental and that they were always committed to this policy?
And why do so many people think that calling for Jamie Oliver to be knighted is a more appropriate response than meeting his demands for more money in full which, unless I'm mistaken, would give him more pleasure.
And (that's enough ands - Ed) let nobody argue that we can't afford the money to stop poisoning our children. So far we've spent nearly £5 BILLION in Iraq.


The documentary on Windsor Castle shown over the weekend started from the premise that of all the Queen's homes this was her favourite, the one she regarded as 'Home', her very own 52 Acacia Avenue, albeit without the need to ever wash her nets or mop the kitchen floor.
Strange that. Over the years I've read exactly the same statement about Balmoral and Sandringham.
Similarly, one reads claims that the Queen is secretly quite 'left wing' or alternatively that, like her mother, she's slightly to the right of Adolf. I think the latter is nearer the truth because the only time in 50 years that the Queen was caught uttering a political opinion was in a previous royal documentary where she was chatting to Ronald Reagan. The Queen was heard to say "welfare payments have bankrupted all the democracies." To say this was a bit rich would be an understatement, coming as it did from a woman whose family receive welfare payments of millions from the taxpayer.

Charlie Brooker in The Guardian wrote one of his trademark pieces of bovver boot journalism about the Windsor programme so there's no point me trying to compete with him. Younger readers might like to know that 40 years ago, in the unlikely event that such a piece had been published, it would have created a national uproar with calls for him to be horse-whipped. There's not much in it that I would disagree with although I think I'd stop short of hoping that Windsor Castle burns down again. American tourists have got to go somewhere.

The documentary focused on a State Banquet for President Mitterand. Such royal banquets feature in the book by Janet Jones, wife of the former Leader of the House of Lords, that I've been quoting recently. (I'll review it properly when I can be arsed). She mentions one banquet at Buck House where ladybirds flew out of the elaborate floral displays and settled on the tablecloth and on the men's white shirts. Another oddity was that, because the royal family were often short of women, Janet Jones was sometimes required to become an honorary royal and process into dinner on the arm of Angus Ogilvy or another junior royal, revert to commoner status for the meal, and then join the royal procession out of the room towards the coffee and Ferrero Rocher. One feels quite sorry for our politicians and their wives that they have to suffer all this nonsense in their busy lives.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Sunday Joint

The capacity of politicians to convince themselves that everyone else is stupid and will believe any garbage they tell them never ceases to amaze me.
A small but breathtaking example was in yesterday's Guardian feature on Alan Milburn.

It's always mentioned that Milburn once ran a left-wing bookshop in Newcastle - as far as I know, the only thing he ever ran before he ran the NHS. I visited this shop a few times in the eighties. It was a very poky little place in a street that I think also boasted both a pawn shop and a porn shop. The bookshop was called Days of Hope and as all the cuttings on Milburn reveal, it was nicknamed Haze of Dope - a rather neat Geordie Spoonerism.
But in the Guardian interview, Milburn claims that this nickname referred to 'dopiness' in the sense of 'stupidity' rather than being a reference to drugs.
Yeah right, Alan.
Just how fucking stupid, or doped up, do you think we'd have to be to believe that one?

So, Farewell Then, Sunny Jim

The death has occurred of Jim Callaghan, a farmer from East Sussex. In the late seventies he moonlighted as Prime Minister - a dirty job but someone had to do it.
Sunny Jim was a ruthless, right-wing, trade unionist Labour politician. He spent so much of his life in smoke-filled rooms that, if passive smoking was as dangerous as we are told, he should never have lived to the age of 93.
But there was also a homespun quality to Callaghan. Homespun and resolutely unspun. It's a measure of what has happened to our politics that we can look back now and regard the avuncular Callaghan as a paragon of honesty and integrity.
Not that there was no spinning or cynicism back in 1979. In the election of that year there was a photo-opportunity of Callaghan coming out of church holding hands with his grand-daughters. On a Private Eye cover, one of the little girls is saying "I didn't know you believed in God, Grandad." Callaghan is replying "Once every five years I do."

Today, when the conventional wisdom is that university is essential to your future success, even if it's only a degree in Stationery Procurement in the Public Sector, it's useful to note that Callaghan left school at 14 yet became the only person in British political history to hold every great office of State.
Callaghan's low point was singing 'There I was, waiting at the church' in his Labour Conference speech. Silly old fool, everyone thought. Yet there was something endearing about it - like an aged uncle emarrassing everyone at a family occasion.
The greatest injustice done to him was the quote 'Crisis, what crisis?' in the so-called Winter of Discontent. He never said those words. It was that old newspaper trick of using single inverted commas, safe in the knowledge that most readers wouldn't know this meant it was a paraphrase. What Callaghan actually said was that the media were over-hyping the public sector strikes and I think he was right. I remember there being lots of uncollected bin bags in the streets but it wasn't The End of Civilisation As We Know It. Far worse, but also more fun, were the fuel strikes and 3-day weeks under Ted Heath when we worked in our offices by candlelight like a scene from a Dickens novel.

Blair has been spouting predictable platitudes about Callaghan's death. Yet in 1997 it wasn't the generally consensual Labour politician Callaghan that Blair invited to tea at Downing Street to give him advice but Margaret Thatcher, the most right-wing and socially-divisive Conservative politician of the last century.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Go Figure 2

(These titles are a shameless attempt to cosy up to my American readers. But it's a dangerous game. At this rate I'll be saying "Do the math" without an 's'.)

How rude of me to start parenthetically. Anyway, I've just watched England thrash Northern Ireland 4-0 in the World Cup qualifier. It was even more blissful if you forgot they were playing a crap team and pretended that N.Ireland were Argentina.
If you're thinking 'he must be talking about soccer', then you never watch football. And if you're thinking 'does he mean Association Football?' there's even less hope for you.
Are there any other sports that have more than one name, one for those who follow them and one for those who don't? ('Boring shit' for 'cricket' doesn't count).

Joe Cole was Man of the Match. However in his post-match interview he said:
"Old Trafford's a big pitch, so we knew they were going to tire."
I had always assumed that all league and international pitches were the same size. If not, then this is most unfair. So if you'll excuse me I'm now going to write a strong letter to FIFA.

Go Figure

After hundreds of years of Parliamentary law-making, there are now around 8,000 laws on the statute book.
An astonishing 1,000 of those have been passed since Labour came to power in 1997.


A Biblical scholar said on the radio yesterday that Christ was born on 7th April, 30AD.
With Doctor Who returning to TV today, one has to ask if JC and not William Hartnell was the original Doctor, since he was apparently born 30 years after his own death. Or am I missing something?

It's often pointed out that immigrants make a net contribution to the British economy. But buried in Simon Hoggart's sketch in yesterday's Guardian was the evidence of the Governor of the Bank of England that immigration is responsible for our very low inflation rate. Specifically, immigration is responsible for low wage inflation because immigrants take the low paid jobs that British people won't. The Governor can't understand why the Government doesn't just open the so-called floodgates. If they did, we might even achieve the Holy Grail of zero inflation.
So if you 'go for an Indian' this weekend or have to go to Mr Patel's shop for a pint of milk on Easter Sunday, remember to say thank you for keeping our cost of living down.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Good Friday Reflections

This morning my father phones me to say that the Catholics are carrying a large wooden cross through the village. Although a practising Catholic himself he appears to think this is the height of absurdity. He says they should be passing my house in a few minutes and wants me look out my window and have a good laugh.
I spend ten minutes peering round my nets (really must wash me nets this Bank Holiday) but all I see are dozens of people hastening towards the supermarket to give thanks for Double Chocolate Gateau at half price and Buy One Get One Free on peperoni pizzas.
The only vaguely Biblical scene is a stoning taking place outside the Co-op. But it's only a bunch of chavs throwing pebbles at the newspaper recycling container.
The Catholics must have taken a different route. Typical. Devious fucking Papists.

Years ago when I was living elsewhere I parked my car on the pavement one Good Friday morning and ran a cable out from the house so I could Hoover the inside of the car. As I was Hoovering the back seats I looked out the rear window and saw the parish priest in full vestments approaching, leading a rather scruffy-looking donkey. He was followed by a line of choirboys in full voice.
He stopped and glared at me through the car window. I put my head down and carried on Hoovering. Because of the noisy obstacle I presented, the Vicar was forced into the road, exposing his ass to the perils of the oncoming traffic, whilst the line of choirboys had to bifurcate with half passing on the offside of the car and the other half on the nearside where they tripped over the Hoover.
Sneaking a glance through the side windows of the car I saw that most of the choirboys had succumbed to an attack of the giggles. Some had pressed their hymn books over their faces and others were grinning delightedly at me through the car window. Strangulated Hosannas and shrieks of laughter rang out in the suburban street as the Vicar, oblivious to the chaos behind him, disappeared into the distance, still singing lustily and unaware that his backing group were falling around clutching their stomachs like a crowd of drunks at pub chucking-out time.

Suffer not the little bastards to fall over my Hoover, I thought. And then those grinning pre-pubescent faces transformed into the image of the Laughing Buddha and I thought that if we couldn't have a religion of laughter, then a world with less religion and more laughter would be no bad thing.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Fastest Milk Float In The West

Another quick nugget from the diaries of Janet Jones, the wife of Ivor Richard.
When Jim Callaghan was Foreign Secretary he was woken early in the morning and summoned to the Foreign Office because Turkey had invaded Cyprus. His Government driver was too far away to collect him so he went out into the deserted street and flagged down a passing milk float. The milkman managed to squeeze him in between the gold top and the semi-skimmed and drove him to the Foreign Office on his milk float.

OK, one more, a glimpse of Thatcher in her dotage, now competely bonkers. At a dinner she is opposite the Duke of Edinburgh and displays a novel line in opening a conversation. She bellows across the table "I am very worried about the price of gold!" When this doesn't work, she follows up with the extraordinary assertion that if you draw a line from north to south, just east of India, there are no religions east of that line. The Duke and other guests recited a list of religions east of her imaginary line - rather pointlessly, I should think, because even when she was relatively sane she never let facts get in the way of her beliefs.

Any new visitors should not be deterred from commenting if they see lots of deleted comments on my blog.
Like several other blogs, I am the victim of nonsensical and abusive comments from one individual. I hope he soon seeks medical help. Until then all I can do is delete them as quickly as possible. All sane and genuine comments are very welcome.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Golden Thread of Gobbledegook

Both Gordon Brown and David Blunkett have been talking about patriotism and Britishness. The latter had an article on the subject in the Guardian last week. It was mostly unmitigated poppycock, balderdash and bollocks. To give you a flavour he talked of "a golden thread twining through our history of common endeavour in villages, towns and cities - of men and women united as neighbours and citizens by needs and common purposes, by a sense of duty and of fair play."

When politicians, or anyone else, start spouting metaphysical nonsense about golden threads you should be on your guard. And to make a cheap personal point, fair play didn't characterise either Blunkett's term as Home Secretary or his conduct of his personal life.

Blunkett spoke approvingly of Brown's assertion that our maritime tradition and the fact that we are an island have made us remarkably outward-looking and open. What??!! What fucking island are these people living on? What planet are they living on? Are they unfamiliar with the term 'insular'? Have they not noticed the majority British attitude towards Europe and towards foreigners?

On radio last week Blunkett added to his definition of Britishness the assertion that we are 'sports-mad'. This again is nonsense. There are millions of people like me with minimal or zero interest in sport. Anyone who doubts this should look at the viewing figures for sport on television. Why did ITV have to axe their early evening football programme after just a few weeks? More people visit theatres each year than visit football matches.

As many people have pointed out, if you start claiming things like tolerance and fair play as distinctively British qualities then the logical implication is that other nationalities lack them and that leads you straight down the road of an indisputably British characteristic of smug superiority. Next stop, racism.

With an election coming up it will become apparent that if patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, then it's the first refuge of a politician. I am almost totally devoid of patriotism, although that doesn't mean I'm not a scoundrel on other grounds. But I used to walk past the Edith Cavell monument at Trafalgar Square every day and I prefer the far more challenging and noble aspiration inscribed there: "Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness for anyone."

I regard myself as a human being, full stop. That I am 'British' is just an accident of birth, not something I take pride in. There are things I like about living here. For all its faults, The Guardian. For all its even greater faults, the BBC. I love the English countryside, particularly my own corner of it. But if I lived in Switzerland, I'd love the mountains so it's simply a case of liking the familiar. And I've repeatedly found over the years that things I thought were quintessentially 'English' or 'British' were no such thing.
Take one small example. The TV comedy 'Keeping Up Appearances' seems uniquely British in its depiction of class and snobbery. Yet it has been sold to countries around the world. I believe it is huge in Botswana. It was so popular in India, with Hyacinth Bouquet such a recognisable character, that they've now made their own Indian version of the programme. This, I admit, astonished me. But the conclusion to draw is that if other countries share our faults and an ability to laugh at them, then they almost certainly share our positive qualities too.

However, if I may for once adopt a more 'typically' Middle English voice, there are many countries that do not manifest the casual rudeness that characterises everyday life in this country across all classes and all occupations. Not that I want shop assistants to say 'Have a nice day'. (It was the American S.J. Perelman who once snapped at a New York taxi driver "I'll have whatever kind of day I want") but it would be nice if they could bring themselves to reply to a simple 'Good morning'.
But maybe they've wriggled free of Blunkett's twining Golden Thread that unites us as neighbours and citizens in our common endeavour.

Only In Britain

When John Major was Prime Minister the woman who ran Chequers followed a strict routine. One evening John Major was watching television at 10 o'clock in the evening when this woman walked in and switched off the television because it was time to shut the house down for the night.
I found this story in the published diaries of the wife of Ivor Richard who was Blair's first Leader of the House of Lords. Apparently Major protested that he was quite capable of turning the TV off himself but I infer from this that he didn't complain about the general principle of being told to go to bed.
I can't imagine the political leader of any other country being treated in such a way.
Although the book doesn't make it clear, I gather this woman - the wonderfully named Miss Uff - was an employee of the National Trust. This is all too believable. She had probably graduated from being one of those National Trust ladies who sit in the rooms of grand houses and look at you as though you've come to steal the silver.
It seems the great and the good who made up the Chequers Trustees spent much time discussing the problem of what to do about Miss Uff. They no doubt feared that if she switched off the TV when the Blairs were watching News at Ten Cherie might pin her to the wall and in her best Scouse call her a stuck-up no mark.

I'll return to this book which anyone but a political anorak would find extremely tedious. Indeed, a lot of it is extremely tedious. But it does give some interesting insights. Most political diaries are written by politicians themselves but this one records the daily political tittle-tattle told to a wife over the dinner table and is therefore more revealing.

Friday, March 18, 2005

The Genius of Steve Bell

A wonderful cartoon by Steve Bell on Wednesday on the subject of Cardinal O'Connor raising abortion as an election issue. I won't infringe copyright by reproducing it here so use the link. I don't usually scrutinise the details of Bell's cartoons which are broad brush and in your face. But with this one I only gradually noticed that O'Connor was squeezing Blair's balls, that Blair's toes were curling up in pain and that Howard's headgear was actually a bat.

One of my other favourite Bell cartoons is from 2001 when Blair tried to remove Gwyneth Dunwoody from the Chair of the Select Committee on Transport. Here he took his inspiration from early movies with Blair as the villain strapping Dunwoody to a railway line. Bell combines incredible imagination and intelligence with extreme coarseness, so here Blair is calling Dunwoody a "train loving bitch."

The other Bell cartoon that will stay with me for the rest of my life appeared at the time of the Dunblane school massacre. (I can't link because I don't think it's on the Guardian website).
How can you do a cartoon about a tragedy like Dunblane? Well Steve Bell did. And for me and many others it was the only time during that dreadful tragedy that we actually shed tears. If I saw it now I would cry. If I pictured it in my mind I would cry. And I don't cry easily.
Briefly, it showed a row of young children sitting on a school stage. The curtain was falling and only their lower legs and feet were visible. Some of the poignancy came from the detail of the drawing of their socks and shoes. This was an event that television could report but not show. We saw smiling family portraits of some of the dead children but somehow Bell's drawing of their legs and feet dangling from standard wooden school chairs made them more real. It's ironic that what I regard as the masterpiece of someone who daily makes us laugh should have been a drawing that made so many people cry.

I mentioned recently that Ofsted had said the behaviour of school pupils had become more "challenging". This new euphemism, which is becoming as ubiquitous as all those fucking "issues", appeared again this week. Stephen Twigg, Schools Minister, said that some City Academies had produced "challenging exam results". So had these beacons of excellence on which the Government are spending £5 Billion produced results that challenged other schools to keep up with them? No, of course not. They were terrible results.
It might help the cause of education if politicians and indeed teachers started speaking plain English. Leave it to the kids to have their own private language where 'gay' means 'boring' and 'wicked' means 'good'.
And if I hear the phrase "hard working families" again I'll throw a brick at the television. This must be the first time that both main parties have adopted the same catch phrase.
Before I leave language issues about which I have issues, when I had a problem with my water supply a woman in a call centre said to me: "So are you saying that you have issues in your house?" I wanted to say "Yes, but I've put traps down" but experience has taught me that it's inadvisable to use humour or sarcasm on the poor benighted bastards who work in call centres.
The Archbishop's Blessing of Charles and Camilla is to be televised. I must order the Bollinger and some upmarket nibbles and decorate the living room with bunting.
So two people who for years were going at it like rabbits behind the backs of their respective partners will get the blessing of the Anglican Church. But any clergyman who blesses the union of a same sex couple when the new Civil Partnership ceremonies begin in December will be told to publicly repent like the Episcopal Church in America.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

It's For You

My previous post reminded me of other distressing experiences with technology. In theory, telephones shouldn't be much of a problem but even they now come with all kinds of bells and whistles. Yeah, yeah, they've always had bells but you know what I mean.

One day I was expecting an important call (this was before I had a mobile) so I rang my home telephone from a public call box and keyed into my messaging service to see if anyone had phoned. Then I went for a few drinks with friends.
When I got home late that night I dialled 1471 to see if anyone had called. They had and I was given their number.
I dialled the number and it rang for a very long time.
Well, it would.
It was a city centre phone box.
The same phone box that I'd called from earlier.
Eventually, a passing yob answered the phone.
"You called me earlier", I said.
"No I never", he replied.
"Yes you did", I persisted. "You called me at 20.04 but you didn't leave a message. I'm just returning your call."
"You're a fucking nutter, mate", he said and slammed the phone down.
When the penny finally dropped ( as they used to in old-fashioned phone boxes when you pressed button B) I became concerned that he might not have been entirely wrong.

Is Anybody Here?

You're invisible now,
You've got no secrets to conceal.
- Like A Rolling Stone, Bob Dylan

I blog, therefore I am. Or so I used to say to myself.
Don't bet on it, matey.
Today I was plunged into a deep ontological crisis.
It all started so well. The weather was milder, the sun was shining and I had a £5 supermarket voucher in my pocket. To say I had a spring in my step would be over-egging the pudding but I might well have done if I'd been wearing what I believe are known as 'trainers' rather than Oxford brogues.

I approached the grotto of gastronomic delights that is Somerfield's emporium and the electronic doors failed to open. This has happened to me before. Several times.
I walked backwards and forwards in front of them repeatedly as though someone were pressing the rewind button on a video machine, but to no avail.
Then I jumped up and down in front of the sensor, waving my arms in the air, like someone who had just won a week in Ibiza on a television game show.
A passing neighbour said "Alright?", his expression indicating that I definitely wasn't and would soon be moving to somewhere with 24 hour room service by men in white coats.
A friend of mine, a priest, used to say that when God closes a door he always leaves a window open. Well I've got news for him. Somerfield doesn't have any windows. So you've screwed up big time there, Omniscient One.
Then another customer came along and you know what? Those fucking doors slid open immediately.

I wandered the supermarket aisles like the ghost of a Victorian mill worker, wondering what you buy for someone who doesn't actually exist.
What the hell is going on?
Am I just a figment of other people's collective imaginations?
Am I someone else's imaginary friend?
Have I spent so long in the cyber world that the corporeal world no longer recognises me as existing?
Is anybody here?
Who, if anyone, is writing this?

If you're reading this it means Blogger has recognised my password and that may give me sufficient confidence in my existence to return later and write what I intended to today before a sliding door's sensor shattered my customary solipsism into a thousand tiny pieces.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

What I Did While I Wasn't Blogging

Bugger all, really.
I changed the sheets on the bed before social services took me into care to protect me from myself.
I de-fluffed the tumble drier. That was last Friday's project, gratifyingly completed before Jenni Murray's dulcet tones introduced Woman's Hour. As a regular listener, I now know a vast amount about how women's bodies work, or sometimes don't work, from puberty to the menopause and beyond.
Knowledge which is of no value to me whatsoever. It seems such a waste. I used to drive a car without knowing how it worked. This is like having a detailed knowledge of the internal combustion engine without driving a car.

On Saturday I emptied the vacuum cleaner. Before Clever Dick Dyson had his Eureka Moment, you only replaced the bag on your cleaner about once a year. Now you have to empty these bagless models after almost every bloody shake'n'vac round your living room. I don't consider that progress in today's time-poor lifestyles. As if that weren't bad enough, my machine has all kinds of pre-motor and post-motor filters which have to be cleaned or washed or replaced at great expense. Time to make the Eubank the must-have retro-gadget of the new century.

On Sunday I made a Bread Pudding. Not to be confused with Bread and Butter Pudding which is a different kettle of fish entirely. In fact I'd rather eat a kettle of raw fish than eat a Bread and Butter Pudding. But Bread Pudding is the food of the gods. The reason I hadn't made one for several years is that I become addicted to them and end up making one every day. They're slightly easier to make than a cake and lend themselves to endless improvisation in terms of what you add to them. I once compared Bread Pudding recipes with a supermarket check-out lady before realising that I'd turned into one of those infuriating old gits who holds up the rest of the queue. The full spectrum of human nature could be detected in those whispered "Oh, for fuck's sake"s and "Aaah, he probably doesn't get out much."

On Sunday evening I derived great pleasure from a small, whirring, battery-operated device. Personally, I would hold James Dyson in much higher esteem if he had invented the nasal hair trimmer. It can also be used on your ears. That's how I came to buy one, after nearly slicing my ear lobe off with a pair of nail scissors.
It has often been remarked that one of God's evil little jokes (or would be if He existed) is that when hair stops growing on the top of your head it begins sprouting from your ears and nostrils. Just as you can tell a horse's age by inspecting its teeth, you can tell a man's age by close scrutiny of his nostrils and ear cavities, though you shouldn't try this on a bald bloke with a pit bull terrier who just happens to be standing next to you in the pub. Anyway, I long ago vowed that my otherwise youthful looks would not be undermined by people glimpsing a miniature Kew Gardens colonising my nose and ears. At £9.99 (batteries not included) this single concession to vanity comes cheap.

But hair removal for me is only from the neck upwards. Not that I'd tell you if it were otherwise. I once saw Elton John announce on prime time television that he shaves his balls. And it struck me as odd that a man who was exercised enough by the absence of hair to sew a dead cat to his skull should be assiduously removing the hair from what, in this instance and with a nod to the spirit of the times, one might call his Civil Partnership Tackle.
But now I'm just rambling.
No, hang on. I must be blogging again!

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

21st Century Pooter. Sort Of.

The bad news is that last night saw the last episode of the current series of Shameless. The good news is that there will be a third series. So we have new series of both Shameless and Green Wing to look forward to next year. A good reason to keep body and soul together or else be reincarnated as a flat screen television with Dolby stereo.

Amazingly, last night's episode had a parallel with The Diary of a Nobody, the book from which I take my nom de plume. Like Charles Pooter, Frank Gallaher and his wife went to the Mayor's Ball. Frank stole the raffle ticket which got him the invite from a lady whose husband had just been decapitated by a police van. When his son protested at this deception, Frank said "It's for a couple. What's she going to do? Take his head?"
Very sick and very funny.

Pooter's evening at London's Mansion House was marred by he and Carrie falling over on the dance floor. Frank's behaviour at the Mayor's Party in Manchester was far more outrageous. We know this because the Mayor arranged for a car to take them home. "Was it a limousine?" someone asked. "No, it was a police car."

There were several unbleeped c**ts* in this episode. Well done, Channel 4. Hope this reflects a change of policy. I thought they were likely to get more complaints about a small dog being tied in a sack and thrown in the canal. However, the dog later turned up in the pub, shook the water from its coat and seemed to be asking what the next game was.
Tourette's sufferer Marty has had a bigger role in this series and I'd like to see Jack Deam get a Best Supporting Actor BAFTA for it. It was a bit risky making this apalling condition a subject of humour but people with Tourette's are not all hostile to it. One person on a message board said it almost made having Tourette's seem cool and it has probably increased understanding of the condition. There was an hilarious episode where Marty was taught to substitute innocuous expressions in his outbursts, such as "Spongecake!" instead of "Spunkface!" Fortunately for viewers this didn't work for very long.

Last night's final episode was written by the series' creator Paul Abbott. Only he would have dared to end it with the cast singing Jerusalem (a karaoke version) and get away with it. On paper, the plot was as bonkers as most Abbott plots but nobody can make you suspend disbelief like he can. I'm going to miss those Tuesday night rollercoaster rides through the Chatsworth Estate. Nothing else on television moves at such a pace.

*I've used asterisks only to avoid being blocked by firewalls. And also possibly parental controls, since some parents still insist on treating children like children.


The Invaluable Insights of the Vox Pop

Heard on Radio 4:

Interviewer: Have you ever asked for a pay rise?
Man In Street: Yes
Interviewer: And why did you ask for a pay rise?
Man In Street: Because I thought I was underpaid.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Monday Media Section

Both Channel 5 and Channel 4 are pumping out programmes on the Royal Family at a tremendous rate at the moment. It's easy to see why. They consist entirely of old clips interspersed with a few talking heads and a slightly sarcastic commentary. Programmes don't come much cheaper to make and they're guaranteed respectable audiences.

Last night's "Prince Edward: The Showbiz Years" (C4) had little that was new but reminded us that he has the Windsor gene that makes him prone to arrogance and petulance if he doesn't get his own way.
I hadn't realised that the reason that the Royal It's A Knockout was such a disaster was that he rounded on the press afterwards for not showing enough enthusiasm. For a Royal this is more stupid than being rude to waiters. The latter can only piss in your soup once. The press will do so metaphorically for the next 20 years.

His other mistake was to deny he was gay. The press had mostly ignored this suspicion but once he mentioned it, if only to deny it, the floodgates were open. The widespread belief that he was gay was based almost entirely on his passion for the theatre. This was extremely silly.
I can now make an exclusive revelation. But you better sit down and take some deep breaths. I worked in the West End theatre for several years and I can reveal that the overwhelming majority of people who work in the theatre are heterosexual. Some of them are even very homophobic although it's considered bad form to show it.

Of course, like millions of people, Edward may have been 'a bit gay' or 'AC/DC' as people used to say. But the tabloid press and a lot of their readers can't cope with complexity.
If he was, or is, that could also be down to his genetic inheritance. It was said of the Queen's Uncle George that nobody of either sex was safe with him in the back of a taxi and he had an affair with Noel Coward. To a Windsor, dear Noel probably seemed like rough trade.
A promiscuous drug addict, this troublesome royal was killed in a mysterious plane crash in Scotland. Now who does that remind you of?


Another cut and paste job was last nights C4 programme on controversial television. It gave quite a lot of airtime to the people who complain. What a weird bunch! It wouldn't have surprised you to discover that they were all being played by Paul Whitehouse. My favourite is the chap who succeeded Mary Whitehouse who looks and sounds exactly as you would expect him to. Showed a clip of gay sex that was removed from Footballers' Wives he said: "Men behaving like dogs!" This was one of two possible comments from the Complainer's Phrase Book, the other being "Even dogs don't behave like that!" They're contadictory but when you're a screwed-up, evangelical moralist you can have your cake and eat it.

The programme listed the three most complained about programmes on British television. What they all have in common is that those who tried to ban them are too stupid to grasp subtle distinctions - or even distinctions spelt out in ten foot high flashing neon letters.
At No 3 was Derren Brown's fake sèance which sought to show the trickery used by Victorian clairvoyants. Although the programme showed the special effects being engineered by a woman in a trailer outside the room, the complainers insisted that Derren had conjured up Satan.
At No 2 was the Chris Morris masterpiece, the Brass Eye Special on Paedophilia. Almost as worrying as paedophilia itself is the revelation that there are so many people who are so stupid that they cannot see the difference between laughing at paedophilia and laughing at the hysterical media coverage of the subject. It was the latter that Morris was satirising. Happily, the television regulator grasped this and censured Channel 4 only for failing to give a sufficiently strong warning before the programme.
At No 1 was the recent broadcast of Jerry Springer, The Opera, partly because this was subject to a highly organised campaign by Christian groups. Again, there was a subtle distinction here that was only apparent if you actually watched the programme and had brain cells in double figures. The 'Jesus' character in Act Two is NOT Jesus. He's a Springer guest from Act One who takes the role of Jesus in a fantasy dream sequence.
As someone commented the last time I wrote on this subject, part of the explanation is that some people deliberately choose to be offended and won't let the evidence get in the way of a satisfying bout of moral outrage.

Further evidence of the nutters who live on the extreme fringes of Christianity came today in a Woman's Hour interview with the father of one of the murdered Soham girls. Pressed to reveal the nature of the hate mail that the grieving parents received he said that a recurrent theme was that they got what they deserved for letting their children go out to play on the Sabbath.
If I sat at this keyboard for the next week I wouldn't be able to think of an adequate comment on that.

I mentioned long ago that I had some minor involvement with an ill-fated West End musical that included one of the first examples of full-frontal female nudity on the London stage. It didn't attract any Christian protests although there were sometimes unseemly tussles in the stalls over opera glasses.
However, it slipped my mind that the young Lynda Bellingham who got her kit off in the cause of Art (literally - the musical was about Toulouse-Lautrec) went on to become that iconic figure of middle class, middle England life, the Oxo Mum, in the commercials which ran for 16 years.
So one of the odder episodes in my life is that eight times a week I was confronted with a naked Oxo Mum. Stark bollock naked, or whatever the female equivalent is.
Flaunting what Jo Brand memorably called "the velvet Tardis".
What do you say to the Oxo Mum when she's naked?
Let's get ready to crumble?

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Our Youth Correspondent Writes:

Contrary to most media reports, the High Court this week did not declare a general right to wear a Muslim dress to school. It said that the school in this case had not followed the correct procedure. They would have been entitled to reach the same decision providing they had given due weight to the girl's religious beliefs. That's very different from the hysterical, and in some cases racist, coverage in the press.

The best solution would be to abolish school uniforms completely. I believe many other countries manage perfectly well without them.
The principal argument for uniforms is that they create sartorial equality and mask differences of class and wealth. As school kids say now: Yeah, right!
It's well known that an Englishman can precisely identify someone's position in the class structure the moment that person opens their mouth. Appearance is another key identifier. But the idea that school uniforms prevent this is nonsense.
At my Grammar School we all wore the same uniform. But the kids from wealthier, middle class families usually looked as though they had stepped out of the pages of a catalogue. Some of them looked so immaculate that you suspected their mothers had even ironed their underpants. They usually had pristine and polished satchels and a comprehensive range of pens, pencils and compasses carefully arranged in different compartments of a wooden pencil case. Their hair was always the optimum length and beautifully groomed. Their shoes were highly polished and their sports kit was laundered and ironed after every game and probably sprayed with eau de cologne. As someone once said of Gary Lineker, even their farts were probably perfumed.
The kids from poorer families wore exactly the same clothes but often looked as though they'd been dragged through a hedge backwards. Their shoes were scuffed, their blazers torn and combs were something that only girls used.

I'm generalising wildly here. One very scruffy boy was from a middle class family but his parents were very arty and what was then called 'bohemian'. But my point is that the uniform didn't fool anyone. It certainly didn't fool the teachers, some of whom clearly thought that the presence of kids from a council estate at a grammar school meant something had gone wrong with the selection procedure.

I don't know why I bothered writing all the above.
The simple fact is that I hate uniforms.
Uniforms are a tool of fascist oppression, man.
So if any kids read this blog, burn your school uniform!
I know it's not as much fun as burning the school down but you can get into some really serious shit for that and the wankers will only put you into temporary portakabins while they build a new one.
So start by burning your uniforms. You're free individuals, not the Nazi Fucking Youth Movement.

Shipman vs Blair: No Contest

A paragraph from an article in The Guardian by Steven Rose (03.03.05) is worth sharing. He's talking about the Home Office's interest in using brain imaging to identify serial killers before they kill. This is because the Holy Grail of current penal policy is to lock people up before they commit crimes rather than afterwards. The new powers of detention under the terrorism laws could provide a convenient framework for this.

"There are serial killers and serial killers, and I do not anticipate that Tony Blair will be asked to undergo an fMRI scan to determine whether a brain abnormality was responsible for his participation in the killing of 100,000 Iraqui civilians. Being evil is perhaps to be defined as killing more than 10 but less than 500 people? Below that level, you may be a psychopath, or have understandable motives. Above it, you are a statesman, unless you are on the wrong side, in which case you are a genocidal tyrant."

'Ah, but that's different!" people will say, because we've been conditioned to accept a dual morality for hundreds of years. That's the great problem with nation states, or more specifically the governments which rule them. They claim the right to engage in activities that are illegal for the people that inhabit the nation state. This goes beyond killing and includes such things as torture and spying on people.
However there are some eccentric people like me who have never accepted this two-tier morality. That is why I sometimes refer to Blair as a child murderer. He is also, of course, an adult murderer, a baby murderer and a murderer of pregnant women.

I am not an absolute pacifist in that I believe one has a right to use violence in the most extreme cases of self-defence (which does not include shooting burglars in the back). A nation state can claim the same right. Nobody, not even Blair, is now able to claim that the mass killings in Iraq were done in self-defence. I don't believe that was ever the raison d'etre for the war, but that's another story.

So can an end (removing a tyrant) justify the means?
The problem with that argument lies in the nature of modern warfare. When war was confined to soldiers fighting on a battlefield, often with national leaders or monarchs at their head, that was very different from the 'shock and awe' of aerial bombing which kills and maims thousands of civilians.
We were told, you may remember, that American weaponry was so advanced that it could be precisely targeted and avoid so-called 'collateral damage'. This was, of course, complete nonsense. And consider how few American and British soldiers were killed in Iraq compared to the numbers of Iraqui civilians killed. Some military personnel can kill hundreds of people by simply pressing a button on a submarine hundreds of miles away.
The Battle of Agincourt it isn't. But the political spin presents it as though it were. The pre-war rallying speech of one British commander to his troops was even compared to the pre-battle speech of Shakespeare's Henry V and George Bush, that well-known Shakespearean scholar, pinned it on the wall in the Oval Office.

The reason that Harold Shipman and not Tony Blair holds the title of Britain's biggest mass murderer is that most people are happy to accept a dual morality and willing to compartmentalise their moral judgements, a position that is sanctioned by most leaders of the Christian religions. Curiously, it is those of us who reject such an illogical and perverse morality who are regarded as at best ridiculous or at worst extremists or even complete nutters.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Ding Dong

The Avon Lady called last night. Or rather she pushed a catalogue through the letter box. This means she'll probably ring the bell tonight in the middle of Coronation Street. The very night that blood runs down the cobbles of the Street. She's unlikely to get an answer.

I didn't know that Avon Ladies still existed. I thought such people now worked for the Anne Summers empire and held parties in their homes where the ladies of suburban middle England drank Asti Spumante and giggled behind the net curtains over crotchless panties and turbocharged vibrators. (Christ, that will get me into a lot of Google searches).

The Avon catalogue makes interesting reading for those amused by the pseudo-scientific nonsense of the cosmetics industry. There's Hydrofirming Bio6 night cream which immediately increases the skin's moisture levels by over 185%! Only a fiver. It would be cheaper to stick your head in a bucket of water. This claim is based on a clinical study of 20 women. Not the biggest sample ever used in the history of science.
Then there's Retroactive+ which I at first mistook for an HIV retroviral drug. It is, of course, much cleverer than those. It has wrinkle radar! It can detect and prevent wrinkles before they've even appeared! So even if you don't have wrinkles and maybe will never have wrinkles they'll still relieve you of £15 for 50ml. Brilliant. These people could sell condoms to eunuchs.

God, life must be so complicated if you're a woman. How the hell do you choose from the Planet Spa range which unlocks the secrets of the planet?
Is it the function of cosmetics to unlock the secrets of the planet? You might just be going clubbing in Luton and hoping for some tongue action with Dale who works in Argos and is well fit, not visiting the CERN particle accelerator in Switzerland.
How do you know if you're a Secrets of India, South Pacific or African Shea type of person? And if you go for the Dead Sea range I'd say you've got problems.
Whereas men only need to buy the occasional can of Lynx deodorant for those days when they have what the Australians call an 'English shower'. You spray a heavy cloud of deodorant into the room and then run through it.

All right, I did once buy some mascara. Back in the eighties I grew a moustache. I was unemployed at the time and it gave me something to do. But nature played a cruel trick on me. The moustache didn't match my hair colour. My hair (in all locations) is brown. The moustache was ginger.
Ginger, for fuck's sake! Some rogue gene was taking the piss.
Anyway, I trimmed it very small, hoping people wouldn't notice. For younger people it was a George Benson moustache. To older people I looked like a wartime spiv who sidled up to young ladies and said "Pssst.....want to buy some nylons?"

Then two gay friends of mine said I could easily solve the problem by applying some brown mascara to it. Lots of men did that, they assured me. So I went to Woolworths (I wasn't going to confront one of those painted battleaxes in House of Fraser) and bought some brown mascara. I bought several other manly items I didn't need as well, rather like a schoolboy buying condoms for the first time.
Back in the crepuscular gloom of my Tyneside flat, the result seemed satisfactory. I set off clubbing in a confident mood, now colour co-ordinated in both the sartorial and follicular departments.

At first everything was fine. But as the evening wore on and the High Energy beat got louder and the club hotter, the mascara began to run.
MacArthur Park was melting in the dark..... all the sweet brown mascara running down my chin.
Tainted Love, sang Mark Almond. Tainted fucking moustache, I thought.
I wondered if by any chance the DJ had any Mahler on his playlist. I was Dirk Bogarde with sweat and make-up running down his face as Tadzio disappeared into the waves.
Except I wasn't.
I was leaning on the bar in a Tyneside club dabbing at my face with a handkerchief and in the mirror behind the bar I could see the strip of ginger fungus re-emerging on my upper lip. If I saw those two stupid queens who told me to use mascara they'd be dead meat.
The next day I shaved it off.
And if there's a Ding-Dong tonight from that Avon Lady she can stick her mascara where the sun doesn't shine.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

The Strawberry Tunnel of Love

I've been ruminating some more on that Archers gay kiss in the strawberry tunnel.
OK, I should be applying my limited brain power to the situation in Iraq and our Government's attack on civil liberties. But hey (that 'hey' is for my American readers), everyone needs some light relief occasionally. Isn't that what they offer in massage parlours? Or is that 'hand relief'? That's the trouble with leading a sheltered life. You can trip over the terminology. You don't always know your arse from your argot. And no, I won't write 'ass' for my American friends. I love you dearly but the Atlantic is there for a reason you know.

Language is becoming weirder by the day. This week I heard a politician say that some people had difficulty getting on to the housing ladder because they lacked sufficient liquidity. I think he meant they didn't have enough money to buy a fucking house. Then there was the Ofsted report that said schools had experienced an increase in 'challenging behaviour' from their pupils. To me, this means a boy in double English saying "Sir, I bet you can't name all the characters in Pride and Prejudice in order of their appearance." Teachers love those kind of challenges. If Ofsted meant, as they did, that more of the little bastards are swearing and spitting at them and sometimes punching their lights out then why not say so?

Where the hell was I? Did I come in this room to look for my glasses?
Ah yes, hammy radio actors pretending to kiss in a strawberry tunnel.
It strikes me that this scenario was very clever of the Archers producers. I may be wrong, but I think that strawberry tunnels are only about 18 inches high. It follows that, in order to kiss, the two rampant Ambridge males would have to enter the tunnel from opposite ends and crawl towards each other on their stomachs. They'd crush a lot of strawberries (dreadful waste) and their red-stained shirts would make it look as though they'd done ten rounds with the Ambridge bull. But they wouldn't be able to do anything other than kiss. This would probably be enough to prevent elderly ladies in middle England swooning face-down into their Marks and Spencer Shepherds Pies.

Furthermore, for those who hadn't seen the press coverage, the ambiguity of radio sound effects could conjure up any one of the three mental images I referred to yesterday. Forget Empson's Seven Types of Ambiguity. This was three types of oral from one kind of aural. And, as people always say, the pictures are better on radio. Especially where mouths and strawberries are involved.

Talking of strawberries, Jamie's Dinners last night featured a small boy coming face to face with a strawberry for the first time and spitting it out in disgust. (With links like that I really should be on radio myself).
This hugely entertaining series has turned out to be an investigative documentary in disguise. I knew that school dinners now included junk food but I didn't know they consisted of nothing else.

The most shocking fact in last night's programme was that special constipation clinics have been set up for young children, some of whom go as long as six weeks without going to the toilet. This is because they eat nothing but refined, fibreless rubbish. Meanwhile, as research has repeatedly shown, the additives in this junk have a terrible effect on their behaviour. And we haven't even mentioned obesity yet. A recent study said that children in south London would be the first generation to die before their parents.

The Government's weak response is to shelter behind their mantra of 'choice' and put parents on bodies that make decisions about school meals, many of whom are the same parents that feed their children this crap at home.
Er, would this be the same Government that has restricted the right of parents to slap their children (rightly) and told parents not to smoke in front of children (rightly)? But it's all right to shovel noxious, un-nutritious, poisonous pap down their innocent throats and, if you don't, the state will do so when they go to school.
Joined-up Government? My arse.

And my arse is pretty much where you came in.
Well-rounded then, if a little flabby in places. But hey, you're not paying for this stuff. Frankly, you couldn't afford me anyway.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Vintage Genius

There's some value in multi-channel television after all. UK Gold are showing the 1961 Hancock series (7pm weeknights). This was the first solo series he did and includes the famous episodes that most people remember him by like The Blood Donor and The Radio Ham. The first, shown yesterday, was the brilliant and groundbreaking episode with Hancock alone in his Earls Court bedsitter for the entire episode.

But it's funny how your memory plays tricks on you. I would have betted a lot of money that the Bertrand Russell book he was reading (he got stuck on page one for several hours) was A History of Western Philosophy. In fact it was Human Knowledge. I'd also forgotten some of the small touches like the fact that nestling amongst the Russell and Camus books on the table was what in those days passed for a pornographic magazine.
What I hadn't forgotten but still marvel at was Hancock's celebrated timing. One of his directors said that he couldn't mis-time a line even if he tried. I don't believe any actor, never mind comic, has ever had his genius for timing a line to the nanosecond.

Self-referential comedies about the medium itself are now ten a penny but last night's Hancock - The Bowmans - must be one of the earliest examples of the genre. Hancock is an actor in a radio soap based on The Archers. In fact it pretty much is The Archers. They even used the Archers signature tune. It's a surprisingly satirical piece for over 40 years ago. I've never been able to take The Archers seriously since.

The Radio Ham, showing tonight, shows a now forgotten technology that, pre-internet, enabled people to talk to others around the world, although it was confined to a handful of anoraks with tons of radio equipment in their spare room. At one point Hancock is extolling the wonders of this new communications technology and comes out with a line that must surely strike a chord with some internet users today: "I've got friends all over the world!........[pause]........none in this country, but all over the world."

I previously wrote about Hancock on Monday 3rd January 2005.


Disappointing Corrections: No 45 in an occasional series

From The Guardian, 2nd March: " In previewing last night's radio programme about the murderer David Atkinson.......we said that Atkinson picked up his victim in Ambridge. We meant to say Cambridge."

Wish it had been Ambridge and that he'd killed the whole bloody lot of them.
[For our listeners on the World Service, Ambridge is the fictional setting of the radio soap The Archers. To be fair, after 150 years they recently featured their first gay kiss which took place in a strawberry tunnel. However the nature of radio means it's very difficult to distinguish between a kiss and a blow job - or, for that matter, somebody eating a strawberry in a tunnel.]

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Protecting Blair's Arse

Oh dear. If Al Quaeda doesn't get us, Bird Flu will.
Think I might as well have another cigarette.
If you'd told me 30 years ago that in my lifetime we'd have detention without trial on the orders of a politician I would have assumed that Britain was going to have a totalitarian government of the right. This has always been more likely to happen than an authoritarian government of the left, given the British people's conservative instincts. But this 'Labour' Government is now laying down a framework that could be embraced joyously by any future government of the right. By which I mean even further right than this lot.

Blair was saying again yesterday that people would blame him if a terrorist attack occurred and they thought he hadn't done enough to prevent it. So it all boils down to sacrificing fundamental liberties and the rule of law in order to protect Blair's back.
Although I don't have unqualified belief in the good sense of the public I think most people understand that no amount of legislation can ever protect you against people who don't mind being caught or dying for their cause. That's the big difference with the IRA terrorists of an earlier period. I think they would only blame the Government if - as happened in America before 9/11 - they found they had turned a blind eye to something like suspects taking flying lessons.
And, as someone says in a letter to The Guardian today, if despite these measures we still have a terrorist attack, what further measures will the Government resort to then?