Friday, April 29, 2005

Election Blog (16)

I finally receive a leaflet from the Lib Dems, but only after I've already voted (by postal vote).
If this was general then it suggests a major cock-up on the vote-garnering front. In this village the average age is about 80 and many people will have asked for postal votes, if only because at the village hall/polling station parking space for zimmer frames is limited. Only Labour and Conservative literature will have reached them before they voted.
But alone of the three biggest parties, the Lib Dem leaflet features photos of the party leader (3) and a signed message from him. That seems to me another reason to vote for them. Both Labour and the Tories were too ashamed of their leaders to mention them on their leaflets.


Last night's Question Time with the party leaders was rather more lively than expected. Judged solely by the studio audience reaction, Charles Kennedy did best and seemed to have discovered a bit more steel and gravitas. Michael Howard's most startling revelation was that he would have invaded Iraq even if Saddam had made toy guns illegal and become President of Amnesty International (I exaggerate slightly).

But for Tony Blair, usually the great master of these situations, it was close to a disaster. Admittedly, he faced the most hostility with the most noisy boo-ing when he walked on. But for Campbell and the spin doctors it must have been agonising to watch all those close-ups of the sweat standing out on Blair's forehead.
At one point a droplet of sweat slowly ran down towards the corner of his left eye, riveting one's attention far more than what he was saying. Anyone else would have wiped away the sweat with their hand or hankie but poor Blair could not because pictures of that gesture would be on the front page of every newpaper - 'Blair Feels The Heat' or perhaps 'If You Can't Stand The Heat Get Out Of The Kitchen.' Watching Blair drink copious amounts of water which immediately oozed out of his face, it was difficult for those of a certain age not to think of Richard Nixon's 6 o'clock shadow in his debate with Kennedy which was thought to have cost him the Presidential election.

The other fascinating moment was when Blair was astonished to discover that many doctor's surgeries won't accept bookings more than 48 hours in advance because this makes it easier for them to meet Government targets. At my own surgery the maximum booking period is about ten days but it's still irritating if the doctor says come back in three weeks and you can't make another appointment before you leave the surgery.
It made Blair look damagingly out of touch and ignorant of the consequences of his own policies.

Someone has commented that they are 'electioned out'. I have some sympathy with this feeling because I usually watch or listen to between 3 and 4 hours of election coverage a day, in addition to reading newspaper coverage. Perhaps there's a helpline I could ring.
But to put the election coverage in perspective, it must still be far less than the coverage of events like the Olympics or the World Cup. As with those events, watching it is not compulsory. However an election, I would tentatively suggest, is rather more important in its consequences for people's lives.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Election Blog (15)

I've already asked if next Thursday night will have a 'Portillo Moment'. But will the campaign have a 'Sheffield Rally Moment'?
That was the Labour Party rally in the 1992 election which was perceived as a premature victory party a week before polling day and at which Kinnock punched the air and shouted 'We're Alright!' He was probably going to lose anyway but most people watching thought 'he's really blown it now'.

I always thought he shouted 'Well, all right!', not that it makes much difference. But with Kinnock it wasn't always easy to know what he was saying. In his famous Conference rant against Militant he talked about cold pickles. At least I think he did. I've watched that clip many times and still can't decipher that particular phrase. Maybe I'll write and ask him about both quotes. He used to be quite chummy with my father and, whatever his faults, was one of the most approachable and personally pleasant politicians we've ever had.

I don't think there's any risk of Labour making a mistake like the Sheffield Rally again. But it's funny how a small thing that seemed a good idea at the time can come to be regarded as a defining moment of a campaign.
I don't know how it played in America, but if one our leaders tried the John Kerry 'Reporting for duty' line complete with salute you'd be able to hear the sound of mass retching in New York and several million votes would instantly go down the pan.


Tonight on BBC1 we have the three party leaders appearing consecutively before the same studio audience.
My prediction is that the repeat of 'The Truth About Killer Squid', on C5 at the same time, will achieve astonishingly high ratings.
Some might say that you'll get more Truth if you opt for the Killer Squid than if you opt for the Killer Blair.
But this blog strongly deprecates that kind of cynicism about politics.

For petty, mindless racism, a comment made to a Guardian reporter by a voter in Goresbrook, East London, takes some beating. The man said he was walking his dog when a French-speaking African woman pointed his dog out to her little boy and said 'Chien, chien.' The man said to her 'No, it's a dog. We are in England!'
We must hope that he didn't go home and find Dionne Warwick on the radio singing 'Deja Vu'.

The real lesson of the Attorney General's leaked advice on the legality or otherwise of the Iraq War is a constitutional one.
Blair always says that this was independent and objective legal advice from the Government Law Officer. But the Attorney General is a political appointment (appointed by Blair) and a member of both the Cabinet and the House of Lords.
The traditional argument has been that this kind of overlapping of roles is more practical and effective than an absolute separation of powers. But can people really have confidence in the advice of a political appointee who owes his position and his substantial salary to the Prime Minister he is advising?
It's significant that the majority of experts in international law thought that the war was illegal, as did most of the Foreign Office's legal team. Indeed, one senior member of that team felt so strongly that she sacrificed her career and resigned.
It seems to me that we need to change the system so that legal advice to the Government is genuinely independent and transparent with the arguments and decisions of the lawyer or panel of lawyers published and presented to Parliament.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Misleading Monikers, Unless You're Called Monica

In my recent piece on things supposed to indicate that a man is gay I didn't mention that other absurdity: Christian names that are supposedly gay.
At one time Nigel and Trevor were regarded as gay names, at least by comedy writers. 'Nigel brought his friend Trevor to the party' was enough to get a laugh.

Julian has always been a gay name and not, I think, just because it was one of the names in Kenneth Williams' and Hugh Paddick's camp double act in Round the Horne.
Sebastian is another. It's the name of David Walliams' gay Prime Ministerial aide in Little Britain. But it was also the name of a Derek Jarman film and I think Saint Sebastian is supposed to be some kind of gay icon.

Any uncommon name like Cedric or Tarquin is likely to be regarded as gay. I once lied to a lesbian in a pub and told her my name was Tarquin. She was very drunk and for the rest of the evening called me 'Terrapin'. She said I needed to come out of my shell a bit more. (I made the last bit up. But I wish she had).

A quick bit of internet research tells me that Bruce and Roger are considered gay names in America. Whereas in Britain Bruce is the archetypal name of an aggressively heterosexual Australian and Roger is the basis for a thousand double entendres.
I also found that a conference in America last year had discussed papers on gay names although these focused on fictional names, nicknames and drag queen's names, which is rather different. One paper was called 'Drag Kings: Creating a Name in a More Socially Conscious Performance Space.' Do performance spaces have consciousness? And do we have Drag Kings in Britain? Presumably, women dressed as men. I haven't heard of any since the days of Music Hall but then I lead a sheltered life.

Christian names can be indicative of class and the form of the name used can be indicative of politics. I have a theory that Michael is Conservative, Mike is Labour and Mick is Communist or Socialist Workers Party.
But the idea that a name chosen by someone else, often before your gender let alone your sexuality is known, can proclaim to the world that you are gay is blatantly ludicrous yet seemingly widely believed.


In response to an impassioned plea from Peter (see Comments) I now add Quentin to my list.
In doing so, it's worth making the point that the presumed 'gayness' of a name will be reinforced if it's associated with a high profile, if untypical, gay man like the late Quentin Crisp. In the same way, Julian Clary will have done nothing to help restore 'Julian' to an orientationally-neutral status.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Potheads Foiled By Weed

Dipping into a programme on the 100 best children's TV programmes the other night was enjoyably nostalgic but also made me realise how few children's programmes I actually enjoyed. Talking to people over the years suggests this is not uncommon.
My grandmother always claimed that she wrote to the BBC to complain about Bill and Ben because it scared me. I have no memory of it scaring me and don't believe this. Seeing a clip confirmed my belief that I probably cried with frustration because that bloody Little Weed was always hanging around to stop Bill and Ben sleeping in the same flowerpot.

When I was a bit older, programmes for the under-12s were much scarier than today. And I'm not talking about Doctor Who, although this was about the same period as the first Dr Who series.
There were a number of series, not sci-fi but set in the real world and usually starring a young Terence Alexander, which used to terrify myself and my friend so much that we almost needed medication and therapy. I think one was called 'The Voice'. But, unlike today, I don't think there were any series set in the world of real children - just Billy Bunter, Just William and lashings of Enid Blyton.

Of course children's series have a problem with realism that adult dramas don't. Because of their target audience they're constrained in their subject matter and language so that even 'realistic' dramas like Grange Hill are probably not much closer to life in a real comprehensive than the world of Billy Bunter.
I once met an ex-Grange Hill cast member and put this view to him. He disagreed strongly and said that the school in Grange Hill was exactly like the real school he went to. I said he must have gone to a very unusual school where children never swore or talked about sex, at which point he went off in a huff - and a ruff and pink tights and pointy shoes (he was appearing in pantomime at the time).

The great divider was 'Blue Peter', and probably still is since amazingly it's still going. I hated it. As someone said to me recently, it was like you were still at school. But I was too old to have the alternative of ITV's Magpie which apparently was a bit racier - the Rolling Stones to the BBC's Beatles.

The big change today is the proliferation of digital children's channels which pump out wall-to-wall American series of mind-numbing banality. They must make a significant contribution to the Americanisation of our culture. Why else do British children now have 'sleepovers', some schools hold 'proms' (nothing to do with classical music) and some local authorities have renamed schools 'Junior Highs'?
OK, it's no big deal. Just another aspect of multiculturalism. But imagine if our kids were glued to Muslim television channels and started wearing burkas. The Daily Mail building would spontaneously combust.
Mind you, if it meant that Britain's teenagers gave up alcohol, the crime rate would drop like a stone.

Election Blog (14)

Michael Howard's pitch today was that he would rid Britain of the scourge of MRSA.
No, not Multi-Racial Socialist Arseholes, but the hospital 'superbug'.
But (oh joy!) he forgot to wash his hands before shaking hands with different patients so may well have contributed to the mortality rate without even biting anyone's neck.
When little things like that start happening in elections it's as though the word 'Loser' is written in the stars.
People working in hospitals have told me that the worst offenders for not washing their hands are the doctors. That's probably because many doctors think they are God and so incapable of spreading infection.


Gary Younge's Guardian article yesterday made some very good points on the immigration debate. In particular, the fact that you find the highest levels of racism in areas with the fewest immigrants.
In my own village, you rarely see a black or brown face unless you go into the single Indian takeway. Yet some of the most extreme racist comments I've heard in my life I've heard in Ye Olde Thatched Village Pub.
Another crucial point is that polls show that people usually over-estimate the immigrant population by three or four times. So people's opinions rest partly on a massive inaccuracy. It suits the Conservatives and the right-wing press that this should be the case.

Channel 4's programme last night by Peter Oborne was the best in their series of election programmes. It didn't reveal any single thing that political anoraks didn't know already but by pulling them all together into a coherent thesis it presented a chilling analysis of what he called 'the corruption of democracy.'
The parties formulate policies to appeal to less than a million voters in marginal constituencies who can decide the election. They then use sophisticated marketing techniques and software programs to target those voters. The policies and slogans of the main parties become almost indistinguishable.

Voters interviewed were unable to correctly identify which slogan belonged to which party and when shown lists of vacuous 'policies' from both parties, didn't disagree with any of them.
This is borne out by comparing the election leaflets I've received from Labour and the Conservatives. They seem to have both used the same template and there's hardly a hair's breadth between them.

Knowing about software programs like 'Mosaic' that are used to target voters (and consumers by major companies) is one thing. But to actually see them in action is truly chilling. They go beyond identifying particular postcodes and streets and actually colour-code individual houses. That's why sending different election material to different voters by the same party is now so common.
Marketing and politics have merged to an extent that few people have yet comprehended and principled politics and representative democracy are just a brief and quaint aberration from the last century.

Another theme in the Peter Oborne programme was the way political leaders are now insulated from meeting real voters in election campaigns.
I was fortunate to catch the end of the traditional, rowdy election public meetings in the sixties. Looking back, it seems more like 200 years ago.
I remember going to see Tony Benn speak at a local college. He was then a Cabinet Minister in Wilson's Government. There were no police, no security people, no party minders, just Anthony Wedgewood-Benn, as he was then known. He strolled to the front of the hall, pulled a table down to the top of the middle aisle and sat on the table swinging his legs. It was Benn's 'I'm just an ordinary bloke' act, 'who sits on tables and chats to people as though we were sitting in the pub.' I took an instant dislike to him which, although I agree with many of his views, has never really abated.
I also caught George Brown in a packed Town Hall, shouting and raving, probably half-pissed which he usually was when he wasn't totally legless, trading insults with dozens of hecklers. I think he was Foreign Secretary at the time. How very unlike our own dear Jack Straw.

Poor old Paxman has had some stick recently, from myself included. But when it comes to egomaniacal arrogance he can't hold a candle to Jonathan Dimbleby. I don't know why his series with the political leaders bothers with a studio audience. It obviously pains him to let an ordinary member of the public contribute and he does so as little as possible.
Meanwhile, his big brother David has the three party leaders on the same programme on Thursday. But the BBC is running highly misleading trailers for the programme. 'They've finally agreed!' they scream, suggesting that they'll be appearing and debating together, whereas they will actually be appearing consecutively and separately. It's not just politicians who try to con us.

Monday, April 25, 2005

How Not To Look Gay

A recent remark in my comment box about boys and men wearing shorts for swimming because Speedos are thought to be gay set me thinking about the many things in my lifetime that have been thought indicative of gayness.

What a nightmare it has been for many straight men, terrified that people might 'get the wrong idea'. Conversely, most gay men have never had to worry about being thought straight because, unless you were Quentin Crisp, that was the automatic assumption. I remember some gay activists 30 years ago wearing button badges that said 'How dare you assume I'm heterosexual.'

When homosexuality was illegal, gay men adopted one or two discreet dress codes to help them recognise each other. Apart from that, most of the following are ridiculous. Most of the older ones are at the beginning:

Wearing suede shoes.
Wearing a ring on the little finger of your left hand.
Having long hair.
Using after-shave.
Drinking lager.
Drinking a glass of wine in a pub.
Using a face flannel.
Wearing white socks.
Crossing your legs when sitting.
Carrying an umbrella.
Holding a cigarette between the first and second fingers of your hand (instead of between your fingers and thumb).
Striking a match away from you instead of towards you.
Wearing pink.
Being able to cook anything beyond a boiled egg.
Owning a Pet Shop Boys album.
Liking Shirley Bassey, Madonna or similar 'divas/icons'.

Anyone know any more?

Election Blog (13)

If that traditional piece of electoral wisdom - 'It's the economy, stupid' - is true then this election is over long before the fat lady sings or Peter Snow's swingometer swings. Yesterday's YouGov poll asked 'Which party do you trust to run the economy?'. The result:
Labour: 47%
Conservative: 29%

Whilst first-time voters may not find that remarkable, it's a complete reversal of prevailing opinion throughout my lifetime. And it may prove decisive on 5th May.
Economic mis-management can destroy people's lives and those who remember the negative equity and housing re-posessions of the eighties may be unwilling to take a risk. I bought my first house in 1979 with a mortgage I could just afford. Then Thatcher came to power and interest rates soared to 15% and I had to sell and jump off the property ladder. The effects for many other people were far more catastrophic.
This will undoubtedly affect the number of Labour deserters.

It's only a hunch but I suspect that many people will walk to the polling station with an intention to vote one way and then do something quite different in the polling booth. That may be because of the economy or it may happen because of a mental image of Michael Howard walking into Downing Street. If true, it does mean that the opinion polls may be even less reliable than usual.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

From Here To Eternity

Deep down I knew that I was never going to last the full two and a half hours of Gosford Park (on TV last night).
In the event I managed 45 minutes before I lost the will to live. If it was 45 minutes it must have been just longer than the opening credits.

When are film-makers going to realise that human life is finite and get a bloody move on?
45 minutes gone and virtually no story, plot development or narrative. Plus enough characters to fill several pages of a telephone directory. I felt I needed to be taking notes or drawing up some kind of family history chart.
But the screenwriter, Julian Fellowes, got an Oscar so what do I know?

Maybe I was supposed to say 'Never mind the length, feel those production values, look at that all-star cast, marvel at the historical detail.'
Sorry, chaps. I went to bed and had a surreal dream about a black cat. It was a lot more fun and probably means I'll win the Lottery this week.


Carol Thatcher, who claims to be a journalist, spoke on the radio about the 'fulsome' tributes to Sir John Mills.
'Fulsome' means complimentary or flattering to an excessive or nauseating degree. From the context, she clearly didn't mean this.

I accept that language evolves but the richness of our language is being destroyed by laziness. When people see a new word they can't be bothered to look it up in a dictionary. They make a guess at its meaning and then use it in that sense. Soon other people do the same. Eventually the dictionaries put their hands up and change the definition.
The OED already puts a footnote about the mis-usage of 'fulsome' although it hasn't yet changed its definition but it will do so eventually. It's already rolled over and changed the definition of 'jejune' because so many people guessed wrongly that it came from the French 'jeunes'.

Thank God mathematics and the sciences aren't governed by opinion polls. No bridge would ever be safe to cross, most aircraft would crash and no computers would work. If enough people say that 4 x 3 = 11, they don't change the textbooks.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Viva Espana!

It didn't take long for the new Pope to bare his fangs. The Vatican has condemned the Spanish Parliament for voting to legalise gay marriage. They have also urged Spanish Catholics who are public servants to refuse to implement the new law, which comes close to advocating civil disobedience.

The Spanish Socialist Party haven't pussyfooted around like our Labour Party and created a 'same but different' Civil Partnership ceremony. They've said that the institution of marriage will be the same and with the same benefits whether the couple are of opposite sexes or the same sex. And while they were at it, they included the right to adopt children.

Apparently, the Spanish Prime Minister, José Zapatero, wishes to create a secular State in Spain. This means that religious doctrines will not be enshrined in the laws of the country. It does not represent, as some try to suggest, an attack on religion, since people still have freedom of religious belief but are no longer able to impose those beliefs on, or proscribe the behaviour of, those who do not share them.

This Zapatero sounds a good chap. When Blair retires to a life of lucrative overseas lecture tours, let's kick Gordon Brown into touch and see if we can arrange a transfer deal with the Spanish to get Zapatero as leader of the Labour Party. After all, we've let them have Beckham so they must owe as one.

Election Blog (12)

Jeremy Paxman's final interview last night was with Michael Howard.
This was Howard's Neville Chamberlain interview. He kept reaching into his pocket and saying "I have a piece of paper!"
Well OK, he did it twice but that was twice too often and led a bemused Paxman to say "Another piece of paper! Where are all these pieces of paper coming from?" as though he was interviewing a famous conjuror.

It looked horribly amateurish and cheesy to use props in that way.
Moreover, it looked to the viewer as though his advisors had stuffed his pockets full of notes just before he went on air and said "Now Michael, if it gets rough on immigration, remember the Roy Jenkins quote is in your right pocket."
A bit like an over-protective mother stuffing bits of paper into a little boy's school jacket giving his name and address, his blood group and the fact he's allergic to penicillin.


I'd normally be ashamed of writing about a politician's appearance. But the panel of Radio Four's The News Quiz recently agreed that the Home Office Minister Hazel Blears is the wierdest looking woman in Britain and they were right.
She has staring eyes and a permanent pert, fixed smile. If you told her that her entire family had been bludgeoned to death by a psychopath, she would smile. A smile is her default facial expression. It's as though someone said 'Smile!' just before injecting a massive quantity of Botox.

Frankly, I'm not sure she's a real person. She looks to me like an atavar.
You'd initially be quite pleased with what you'd been able to create with computer technology. But then, on looking closer you'd realise it wasn't going to fool anybody. That would also explain why she often pops up on a television screen to be interviewed on Newsnight and other programmes when no other Minister is available, but rarely appears in person. The standard answers to the issue being discussed are coming from a computer disk at Labour Headquarters.

There's also an animatronic version of Hazel Blears that is sometimes installed on the Government front bench in the House of Commons. To be fair, it's as good as animatronics gets. But that means there's still that giveaway jerkiness of movement. In particular, the Parliamentary Blears constantly cocks her head to one side, like a sparrow sitting on a fence. I'm not sure whether this is down to a malfunctioning chip or because she was built by the same people that worked on a David Attenborough series on birds. We'll only know for sure if one day at Prime Minister's Questions she climbs onto Blair's shoulder and starts pecking at his ear.

I finally receive a leaflet from my Labour candidate. The delay might be because they quote a local nurse and, because health service staff are forbidden from making political statements, they've had to stick labels on every leaflet by hand saying that the nurse's views are not those of her employers. Oops.
Oddly, this political restriction, which also applies to thousands of local government staff, doesn't seem to apply to the police. London's Police Commissioner recently weighed in on identity cards and every television debate I've seen seems to feature lower rank police officers sounding off on Government policy.

Like the Conservative candidate's leaflet, it doesn't have a single photo of the party leader. The 2001 leaflet consisted of almost nothing else. Yet not so long ago we were told we had entered an era of Presidential, personality politics in which local candidates had been sidelined. Today, the leaders of both major parties seem to be regarded as a liability and been removed from most election material.

Unusually, the Labour leaflet tells us nothing about the candidate. We only know from the photos that she's a woman of indeterminate age who wears glasses.
Although the candidate rarely affects one's vote, it's usual to be told their occupation and marital status if nothing else.
Perhaps, like Hazel Blears, she's a CGI or animatronic politician. If she calls here, I'll poke her face with a biro or pinch her nose. If she just goes into an endless sound loop of 'supporting hardworking families.....forward not back.....supporting hardworking families......forward not back.......', then I'll know the truth.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Election Blog (11)

I think Jeremy Paxman had his collar felt after the Charles Kennedy interview. The one with Blair last night was firm but he didn't ask for detail's of Blair's doctor's latest medical assessment.

On Iraq, Blair said he never saw the Foreign Office legal team's opinion that the war was illegal (one of them resigned over this issue). We can't say this was a lie because we simply don't know. But we can say that it would be extraordinary if a Prime Minister did not see such advice. Of course, Blair, as a lawyer, often resorts to fine distinctions in these situations. Perhaps he didn't 'see' the advice but was simply told about it.

He suggested we read the Butler report because it had completely exonerated him. But when Paxman quoted Butler's damning indictment of Blair's style of Government, Blair blithely said that he didn't agree with it.

He again said he would serve a 'full term', a piece of nonsense I've referred to before. But Paxman didn't ask the obvious question: 'what do you mean by a full term? You can't stand down a few weeks before the next election.'

Paxman's question about Aids was a good one. 'Do you agree that condoms prevent the spread of AIDS? And will you say this to the Pope when you meet him?'
Blair did what he always does when he's bowled a googly or, for American readers, a question from the left field. He grinned from ear to ear as though Paxman had said 'Have you heard the one about the Pope, the Rabbi and the Ayatollah?' Naturally, he didn't answer such a bizarre and comic question.

It's not the fact that Blair smiles that irritates people. It's the use of the smile as a defence mechanism, the smile in inappropriate situations, the smile as weapon.
I'm always reminded of Shakespeare's Richard III: "I can smile, and murder whilst I smile."
The 100,000 dead in Iraq would appreciate the truth of that.


The bakers Warburtons are running a TV commercial for a new loaf that is identical to a wholemeal loaf - except that it is white.
Or WHY? Or even WHY???
The only explanation I can come up with is that they have identified a new niche market of wholefood racists.


A jeans manufacturer has a commercial for a new brand of jeans 'with anti-fit'. I was still struggling with this concept when I heard a woman fashion expert on the radio say "Of course, most clothes now are anti-fit".
What the hell is going on?

Do the chaps in Menswear now say "Would Sir like to try them on to make sure they don't fit?"
Do those same chaps no longer have to take inside leg measurements, which if you led a sheltered life could be the highlight of your week? For some of those old time shop assistants it was a labour of love and they would measure your inside leg even if you were only buying a tie.

Presumably anti-fit means tailors no longer have to ask if you dress to the left or the right. For mothers who took their sons to buy suits or trousers, briefing them on the correct way to answer that question was a greater challenge than explaining human reproduction.
When I was twelve and my mother bought me my first suit at Messrs Fosters, I fell instantly in love with the 16 year old apprentice tailor. As he guided me into the changing room he whispered "I'll come in and see how you look before your mother sees it." I stood there trembling with excitement until he entered and knelt down and tugged at the trousers and jacket and sleeves but mercifully stopped short of verifying whether I'd answered that tricky left/right question truthfully.
Behind my innocent face I was thinking that if I could persuade him the suit didn't fit it would have to be altered and that would lead to further intimate encounters in the changing room.
But that sodding suit fitted perfectly so I only ever glimpsed him again through the doorway as I loitered outside on my way to buy extra segments of track for my Hornby model railway.
I hesitate to call this a seminal experience because it wasn't in either sense of the word. But since it was so easy to retrieve from my long-term memory I suppose I should be grateful that it never led to an attraction to sex in cubicles.

I suppose 'anti-fit' also means you'll be a laughing stock if you take clothes back to Marks and Spencer for a refund on the grounds that they don't fit. "Hey Tracey, this bloke just said his jeans don't fit! And I was like 'Duh, look at the label, they're anti-fit.'"

Of course when you get to my age you have a wardrobe of clothes that no longer fit. But the joy of finding that you're suddenly the height of fashion is tempered by the fact that you can't wear the bloody things.
Even if you've been fortunate enough to retain the sleek style of an Afghan Hound, just an inch on the waist means your once favourite trousers feel like something devised by the Spanish Inquisition. Unless you're lucky enough to have access to a little old lady who will put gussets in for 50p a time and the occasional packet of Gypsy Creams. But they're literally a dying breed. There used to be one such in my village but she once provoked raised eyebrows and a lot of whispering when I met her in the newsagents and she said "Mr Lupin, when are you going to come round and collect your trousers?"

Fashion psychologists have said that the current fashion for baggy clothes among teenage boys is due to self-consciousness about their bodies. But that's something that has always occurred at puberty. So unless this generation are particularly sensitive, it doesn't explain why in the sixties and seventies we all walked around in jeans so tight that questions about dressing to the right or left would have been unnecessary.
Today, it even extends to a refusal to wear swimming trunks or speedos as they're now called. I was watching one of those life-swap programmes where a British family went to France. Their young son caused a huge scene at the school swimming lessons because he refused to wear speedos. Yet the French children all did so. So maybe this is a British or Anglo-American phenomenon. Actually, since most music and sports fashions - like skateboarding - associated with baggy clothing originate in America, let's say it's their fault. We blame them for most other things.
Don't blame it on the boogie. Blame it on the Yanks.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Election Blog (10)

'Excellent little poison darts of tart and pertinent observation'

- Troubled Diva

The problem with writing a blog is that it doesn't leave you much time for reading other blogs, so when I do I have to perform a rudimentary form of speed-reading. So when I first scanned Mike's comment on my election blogs (above) I thought he'd called me a poisonous tart. That may well be true of course, though few have ever stated it so bluntly.
But when I read it properly it conjured up an image of myself in Outer Samoa, sporting nothing but a fetching loin cloth and all aquiver. Sorry, I meant with a quiver full of poison darts to bring down any passing wildlife with lethal accuracy before returning to the tribe to engage in strange and primitive sexual rites that would make Saturday night at Heaven nightclub look like a vicarage tea party.
But enough of this, before someone with a PhD in Social Anthropology writes in to say that Samoans don't use poison darts.
(Don't bother. This is a blog, not a fucking scientific journal).


Good to see that the Monster Raving Loony Party is still going strong. They launched their manifesto yesterday. One of their key policies is not to try and join the Euro but instead to persuade the rest of Europe to join the pound. I thought that was rather good until I remembered that it's probably on the hidden agenda of either UKIP or Veritas. And we hardly need the Monster Raving Loonies when we've got Kilroy Silk's gang.

One of the Tory health policies is to pay half the cost if someone has an operation in the private sector. They manage to make this sound quite sensible and to the benefit of both patients and the NHS. The debates about it on television have been quite difficult to follow. So here's my simple, if not impartial, guide:

Let's say an operation costs £10,000 in the private sector. The Tories will pay £5,000 and you will pay £5,000.
Now let's take three different types of patient:

a) Someone with loads of money, possibly a multi-millionaire. They can pay the full cost without even noticing but the Tories hand them £5,000 of taxpayers' money.
The Tories justify this by saying that they've already paid for the NHS through their taxes but are now saving the NHS money by not using it.
It's a novel idea that if you don't use State services or benefits the Government owes you a credit. I've never needed Child Allowance or put a child through State schools, so I look forward to receiving a substantial cheque from the Treasury.

b) Someone who can just about scrape together £5,000 but not the full £10,000. This person gains because the Government will give them £5,000 to jump the NHS queue. They will do this using money that could have been invested in the NHS to reduce queues in the first place.

c) Someone who doesn't have £5,000. This person has to wait in the NHS queue. One of the reasons the queue is so long is that patients (a) and (b) are being operated on in the private sector with the help of taxpayers' money that could have been invested in reducing NHS waiting lists. Furthermore, they may be being operated on by an NHS surgeon who is earning extra money by working a few hours a week in the private sector, despite the fact that he or she has a long NHS waiting list and has been trained in a State Medical School at huge cost to the taxpayer.

I was thinking this morning that, 2 weeks into the election, I'd had only one election leaflet. But then a leaflet from my Conservative candidate dropped through the letterbox.
The slogan given greatest prominence is "Put more police on the streets and they'll catch more criminals. It's not rocket science, is it?"
No, it's complete nonsense. Plausible nonsense, but nonsense nonetheless. Research has shown that a policeman plodding the streets is likely to apprehend someone committing a crime only once every 8 years. And for their presence to act as a deterrent you'd have to post one permanently on every street corner in Britain.

There are 12 photographs of our Tory candidate but none of Michael Howard. The only well-known politician he's pictured with is Boris Johnson who, as everyone knows, is as mad as a goat - and seemingly as horny as a goat too. You'd hardly stick him on your election leaflet to promote family values.

But then I found my favourite picture. It shows a young teenage boy wearing a mask kneeling between the candidate and another man. Both the smiling men have a hand on his shoulder. Good grief! Has he decided to give us an unprecedently honest glimpse of his private life? Or did he email the wrong picture from his hard disk to the printers?
Then I read the caption: "Campaigning for action on crime".
Silly me! Everyone knows that teenage burglars wear pantomime Dick Turpin eye masks like the ones you get in Christmas crackers. Some of them probably also carry sacks marked SWAG. Which makes you wonder why the police don't catch more of them. If they're running round dressed like that, it's hardly rocket science, is it?

Catholic Rap

I was blogging on the day of the Pope's funeral and had the TV on quietly in the background. I was startled to hear someone say that the mass was being celebrated by a rap singer.
I knew the church was trying to stop the exodus of young people but rapping over the old bastard's coffin seemed a bit extreme.
I had, of course, misheard. The mass was being celebrated by Ratzinger, the artist now known as Pope Benedict the Sixteenth.

It was Ratzinger who said that homosexuality was an "objective disorder". This morning on the radio the Archbishop of Cardiff explained that this was "technical language", presumably like Microsoft Windows telling you that you've performed an "illegal operation", which doesn't mean you should hand yourself in at the nearest police station.
The Archbishop went on to reassure us that orientation was not a problem. The problem is "how we live out our sexuality", by which he meant if you're gay you must not live out your sexuality at all but remain celibate like the Catholic priesthood.

Ah, celibacy! Now that's what I'd call an objective disorder and a deviation from the natural.
Sex is one of the most powerful human drives. Indeed some scientists say it is the most powerful, more powerful than hunger. So to refrain from any sexual activity throughout one's life is about as natural as not eating. Personally, I go further and subscribe to the late Alex Comfort's view that sex is a pleasure in the same way that eating is a pleasure, in addition to being a biological necessity. But the church treats sex as a different order of pleasure and necessity, singling it out as a 'precious gift of God' which must be restricted and circumscribed to a degree that other gifts of God are not.

It's also a bit rich to ask the millions of homosexuals in the world to practice celibacy when so few Catholic priests manage to achieve this. The evidence for this assertion can only be anecdotal, apart from the recorded numbers of priests who leave the priesthood and marry. But I've known several Catholic seminarians and ex-seminarians in my life who have spoken openly to me on this subject. So I've heard about the levels of sexual activity in seminaries and the huge number of priests who have clandestine partners, either male or female. But many priests reconcile this with their vows by contending that celibacy does not mean abstaining from sex. It simply means not getting married and having children.
Nice one, Father!
Holy Mackeral! I may be objectively disordered but I've been celibate all my life!

In recent weeks we keep being told that there are one billion Catholics in the world.
That's 1,000,000,000.
Does anything strike you as odd about that figure?
Well, it's wonderfully round and precise for such a huge number.
You don't usually get that when you're dealing with astronomically large numbers. The earth doesn't rotate at 2,000 kilometres an hour. It's 1,670.
The Moon isn't 240,000 miles from Earth. It's 238,712.
So how do they arrive at that figure of one billion? The first source I found on Google just said that there are various criteria for determining membership but didn't elaborate. The most accurate criterion would obviously be those who attend mass regularly. But then I found some statistics published in the newspaper of the Holy See which reveal that the one billion figure (give or take a few hundred thousand) is based on the number of people baptised Catholics.
So you can take that figure with a bucketful of salt. In fact you can take it with the contents of all the salt mines on the planet and you'd still end up with a massive over-estimate.
It means that, as a baptised Catholic, I'm counted in that one billion who are supposedly rejoicing today at the election of the poisonous Ratzinger.
It's a cunning trick of the Catholic church that, so far as they are concerned, you can never leave it. If you're baptised as a non-reasoning infant, you're a Catholic for life.
If, at 14 or 16 or 21 you say "I have engaged in long study of the doctrines of Catholicism, together with those of other world religions and have read the writings of philosophers from Plato to Sartre and can no longer accept the validity of Catholic theology", or if you just say "You can stick all that bollocks up your arse, Father", you'll simply be called a 'lapsed Catholic' but still counted in the statistics as a Catholic until your dying day.
I'm surprised that New Labour haven't cottoned on to this one. They, like the Catholic church have suffered a massive loss of members. But if they counted everyone still alive who had ever joined the Labour Party they'd be the biggest political party in the history of the world.
You never know, it might even be a nice round number like 10 million.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Election Blog (9)

Will the 2005 election have a Portillo Moment?
For those with short memories and those in North Korea who recently tried to steal my PayPal details, this was when Tory Minister Michael Portillo was defeated by Labour's Stephen Twigg in the 1997 election.

It even gave its name to a book on the election: "Were You Still Up For Portillo?". When I bought a copy the woman in Waterstones launched into a long reminiscence about election night: how her husband had gone to bed while she sat up; how, when the Enfield result was declared and a then boyish-looking Stephen Twigg rolled his eyes heavenwards, she had run up the stairs shouting "Wake up! Wake up! Come downstairs! Portillo's been defeated!" She clutched my paperback to her chest and sighed with happiness at the memory.
I'm sure that James Henry would not have behaved in such an unprofessional manner when he worked at Waterstones (nor, for that matter, Henry James, had he done so) but it did illustrate how the Portillo moment had become a symbol of the Labour landslide.

At this election the main contenders for a Portillo Moment are members of the Conservative front bench and, if it happens, it's likely to be at the hands of the Lib Dems rather than Labour. Even Michael Howard is vulnerable, although I wouldn't put money on that one unless he really does bite someone's neck and drink their blood.

The one Labour Minister to watch is the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw. On paper he has a comfortable majority. But he has a large number of Muslims in his constituency and there's an intensive effort to unseat him. One group hasn't even bothered to put up a candidate but is going round the houses urging people to vote for anyone but Straw.
Some other Labour MPs with a lot of Muslim constituents are loudly boasting about how they voted against the war. But, of course, that's not a tactic open to Jack. As I said the other day, he stated on television on Sunday that the decision to invade was his, implying that Blair and Bush were helpless bystanders. This may be because, before he was an MP, Jack had a 'real' job in the unreal world of student politics, as President of the National Union of Students (a post also held by Charles 'Big Ears' Clarke).

I'm not predicting that Straw will be defeated but even a slim majority would be pretty sensational. Anyway, I'd be rather sorry to see him go. He's one of the most Pooteresque figures of this Government, blissfully unaware of his own ridiculousness.
If Blair is Bush's poodle, then Straw is the poodle's chihuahua.
There's an amusing story in Peter Stothard's inside book on Downing Street where Blair and Straw are setting off for the airport in a people carrier when Blair finds he's forgotten his glasses. Before the assorted aides and gophers can get their boots on, Jack is out of the vehicle and running back into Number 10 to search Blair's study, emerging a few minutes later triumphantly bearing His Master's Spectacles.
Sadly, Jack, the former student radical, has been less successful at finding his own testicles.


I've always been an admirer of Jeremy Paxman but his first big set-piece interview with Charles Kennedy was unnecessarily rude and aggressive.
To try and make Kennedy look stupid because he didn't know the detailed effects of a local income tax in individual constituencies off the top of his head was childish in the extreme.
Even more unforgiveable was the question: "Is your doctor happy with your lifestyle?" with its snide implication about drinking and smoking. Kennedy should really have pointed out that discussions with his doctor were confidential instead of giving a defensive reply about how much he's cut down on smoking.
I wait with interest to see tomorrow's interview with Blair. Will Paxman ask: "Prime Minister, if the birth of Leo was such a shock, what is it about family planning that you and Cherie don't understand? Did Cherie forget to take the pill or did the condom break?"

The more that ex-Liberal activist Peter Hain rants about liberal intellectuals criticising Labour on "the dinner table circuit", as he did in the Guardian again today, the less likely I am to vote Labour.
When did this pompous perma-tanned prat suddenly became a tribune of the working class?
In any case, I never go to dinner parties. They're my idea of hell.
Not that I get invited to any. Perhaps I've got bad table manners.
I'd certainly get a rocket for not knowing my linguini from my pesto. And if you've lived alone as long as I have you're quite likely to try and expectorate your melon pips into the waste paper basket on the other side of the room, not to mention carefree farting and belching on a scale that is bovine in its insouciance.

Thought For The Day

As they begin the process of choosing a new Pope, 115 Cardinals have been locked inside the Vatican.
Could someone do us all a favour and throw away the key?

Monday, April 18, 2005

The Shocking Truth About Crime

Last night's Panorama did a surprisingly good job of revealing the truth about crime in Britain. The truth is elusive because there are two principal measures: the British Crime Survey and crimes recorded by the police. When they differ, politicians quote whichever is most favourable to their argument at the time.

The bad news is that we have a higher level of crime per capita than most of our European neighbours and higher than America. However, perhaps that's not surprising given that we are more densely populated and more urbanised than most of those other countries.
The good news is that crime overall has been falling - quite sharply in the case of burglary, theft and car crime.

The fall in crime has little to do with the police or Government. Crime always falls in times of economic prosperity and low unemployment.
People's houses have become more secure and with consumer products like videos now so cheap it's simply not worth nicking them because you can't get a high price for them on the black market. Cars have also become more secure with the latest models that use computer chip security virtually impossible to steal.
So why do 'recorded crime' figures show an increase in some categories? It's partly because of changes to the recording procedures since Labour came to power.
All reports of a crime are counted, even if there's no evidence of a crime and the person has invented the story.
Low level, victimless crimes like being falling-down-drunk in the street weren't recorded but are now.
Crimes are now counted per victim. So if a bunch of yobs attack six other yobs, that's now six crimes where it used to be counted as one.
There may have been a slight rise in violent crime, although the police deny this, claiming it's accounted for by these changes in reporting methods.

The reporting of crime that does most to stoke up fear of crime is reporting of crime by the media. Nothing is ever placed in context. So we have a whole generation of children confined to their homes and driven to school despite the fact that the number of children murdered by strangers has hardly varied in the past 30 years. In a survey, some people put this figure as high as 300. In fact it's about 5 or 6 per year.

The real figures on crime are bad news for the Conservatives' scare-mongering election campaign. Or they would be if people were aware of them. But they're not going to believe Labour if they tell them because they don't believe any politicians and, with a few exceptions, the media aren't going to tell them. And if they did know the facts, how many people choose to base their lives and decisions on proven truths rather than irrational beliefs?
"I'm sorry, I don't believe that", people say when confronted with an uncomfortable but incontrovertible truth. I think a Pope once said something similar to Galileo.

Boring Academy Of F****** Tedious Awards

I cast one worthwhile vote last week - for Green Wing which won a BAFTA in the one category voted for by viewers. So James, who is one of the writers that their speech-maker forgot to thank (nothing new there, then), owes me 10 pence for the phone call and 40 pence for my time. The latter amount is because the BAFTA internet voting form wanted more information about me than I would normally reveal on a first date.

If you vote for a Channel 4 programme and one that probably qualifies for that dreaded soubriquet 'cult comedy' and it actually wins, then it's a bit like waking up on 6th May and finding Charles Kennedy in 10 Downing Street.
Sadly, that was almost the only joy of the evening.

This was the most lacklustre BAFTAs I can remember. For some reason the evening never achieved lift-off. I've never seen so many gags die the death. It didn't help that there were lots of shots of a stony-faced audience and at one point there was a loss of transmission which suggested the director had slit his wrists and pulled the plug.

Some very important awards were relegated to short clips of 'awards presented earlier'. These included an award for the admirable John Snow and Best Drama Series for the wonderful Shameless which were treated as though they were awards for Best Rostrum Cameraman and Best Second Assistant Director.

David Frost was awarded the Fellowship but failed to get the traditional 'stander' from the audience. He told some good but very old jokes, like your grandfather does at Christmas. But doing cock jokes about floppy discs is hardly cutting edge. The very youngest viewers were probably asking 'Daddy, what's a floppy disc?'.

Still, at least it came from the stage of my beloved Drury Lane, a stage that the young Willie Lupin once swept in front of a producer, director and choreographer who were sitting in the stalls. I remember thinking that if I were to dance with that broom while singing Broadway Baby the three of them might leap out of their seats shouting 'a star is born!' and I'd find myself starring in a West End musical.
But with my singing and dancing it was never going to happen. On the other hand, if I hadn't ignored the choreographer's hint in the pub that he wouldn't throw a blow job back in my face I might have gone down as the biggest overnight success story in musical theatre.

Note: I was going to put a picture of the BAFTA statue on this piece but I once had dealings with the lady who designed it. I don't wish to imply that she was difficult or temperamental but, if she's still alive, I'm sure she'd sue the arse off me. So instead, a screen-grab of the BAFTA award-winning Green Wing, now wowing them in America, New Zealand and other discerning countries, with a DVD available from all good retail outlets in the autumn and a new series next year.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Election Blog (8)

Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, on a TV programme today referred several times to his decision to invade Iraq. It was, he said, "the most difficult decision I have ever had to take".
I think Jack should ask the Health Secretary if he can be fast-tracked to a specialist in delusional thinking.


General Elections are the finest hour of our old friend the vox pop. They fill great chunks of television coverage of the election and contribute nothing to our understanding. To say this isn't intellectual snobbery about the views of 'ordinary people'. It's because these people who are stopped in the street are representative of nothing and nobody other than themselves. It only has some limited value if you question a sufficiently large number of people in an organised poll, usually at least 1,000.
One poor old man, coralled into being part of a panel for a live outside broadcast on television news, could only stammer "I'm not very good at this....." When this happens, the interviewer is free to ask the kind of leading questions that would not be allowed in any court and which no reputable polling company would ever use.

The Labour Party Political Broadcast on Michael Howard was technically 'negative campaigning' but I think in this case it was reasonable to focus on his record in Government and, unlike the Tory attacks on Blair, there was nothing personal about it.
When Howard first became party leader I thought what a great gift it was to Labour because this man has more baggage than a left luggage office. I couldn't believe the party had been stupid enough to elect someone responsible for policies like the Poll Tax and who had been one of the most hated politicians of the Thatcher and Major eras. That's why, despite the current dislike of Blair, his personal poll ratings are still far ahead of Howard's.

But if Michael Howard was anyone other than Michael Howard, one could almost feel sorry for him. After all, he and his party have almost nowhere to go in policy terms. They can't really attack Labour on the economy. They supported the Iraq War, ID cards, ASBOs and detention without trial, with just a bit of minor quibbling over the details of these policies. They try to be gay-friendly now but they are led by the man who introduced Section 28. They can't say too much about Europe because they're so divided on that subject.
They can't move much to the right of Labour without colliding with UKIP or the BNP. And they can't move much to the left of Labour without colliding with the Lib Dems and ceasing to be Conservatives at all.
So in that sense one could say that Blair has played a blinder by occupying what commentators call the 'centre ground' of politics. The problem for people like myself is that what is called the 'centre ground' is actually Tory territory. I'm pretty sure that if I were a Tory I would vote for Blair at this election, if only because of Labour's proven record on economic management. I suspect that many instinctive Conservatives may well do that. It may prove enough to balance the defections from Labour's 'beardie lefties'.

On the Labour Party website there's an interactive feature where you can type in a few details about yourself and they'll tell you their personal promises to you. I gave it a whirl. And lo, in less than a second there was a page saying "Our Personal Promises to Willie Lupin".
Alas, where the promises should have been there was some text saying "You have an error in your SQL syntax.......check the manual."
But I haven't got a bloody manual. And how dare they criticise my syntax. It may not be perfect but I'm sure it's a lot better than the average City Academy A Level student's.
So where my personal promises should be, there was just some meaningless jargon.
Just like the Labour manifesto, actually.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Election Blog (7)

Blair has stated again this week that he won't fight a fourth election but, if elected this time, he will serve a full term. It's this kind of constant, casual dishonesty that has destroyed trust in politicians. If Blair were honest and prepared to treat us as grown-ups he would say:-

'A full term is five years. To give time for the convoluted process of electing a new party leader and to give that leader time to bed in and establish himself with the electorate, I would have to resign as leader after about three years.
However, a convention has developed that elections are usually called after four years. So, on that basis, I would probably have to hand over to a successor after two years of the next Parliament.'


Something that has been largely ignored in Labour's manifesto is a proposal to encourage more boarding schools "as ways of helping the most disadvantaged children." No further detail is given. The manifesto is frustratingly short on detail.
I find it difficult to think of anything that would increase disadvantage more than being removed from your family and incarcerated in a boarding school. Of course, if you are in a severely dysfunctional or abusive family you'll be taken into care, either a residential home or a foster family, but that these days is a measure of last resort. But Labour are talking only about 'disadvantage', whatever that means.

Boarding schools not only remove children from family life but from growing up up in the wider community with all the potential for diverse social interaction that involves. Boarding schools magnify the problem of bullying and, where it exists, unlike day schools, there is no respite from it. It is 24 hours a day. And boarding schools have a well-known and disturbing record of sexual abuse, whether by staff or other pupils.
They are also a very expensive operation for the Government to undertake with taxpayers' money. The same Government that can't find the money to feed children adequately in existing State schools.

On City Academies, the manifesto says "their results are improving sharply." Nicely spun! As a report revealed recently, many of them have some of the worst results in the secondary sector.

Every secondary school will become an independent, specialist school. I'm not sure how this fits with their passion for 'choice'. What if I want a generalist, non-specialist school? And if they're all 'specialist' the term loses any meaning.

I was amazed to read that they plan to teach art and sport in every primary school. I thought art, in the widest sense of that term, was a staple of primary school life. (When I was eight and mischievously flicking paint at my paper, the teacher told me of a famous artist who employed this technique and instead of caning me encouraged me to continue and see what resulted. I was very flattered by this and held that teacher in well-deserved awe for the next two years. [Perhaps the artist was George Seurat? I'm sure one of you clever people will know] What we need is less jargon and more teachers like that one.)

I was equally astonished to read that by 2010 all children will get 2 hours PE or sports per week. I had no idea they didn't. (If only I'd artificially inseminated a lesbian years ago I wouldn't be in this state of ignorance about children's schooling).
When I was at secondary school in the sixties I'm sure we had at least four hours of compulsory PE/Sport a week. In my memory, we seem to have done little else.
Well, that's not strictly true. Because I suffered from nose bleeds I was banned from rugby and sometimes spent two hours on the edge of our distant playing field sitting in the back of the games teacher's Morris Minor with asthmatics and polio victims, playing cards and smoking. I also got myself banned from cricket for watching passing aeroplanes when fielding and spent summer afternoons behind the pavilion with other miscreants discussing matters of great import to 13 year olds like whether the penis ever gets stuck in the vagina and what one should do if it did.
Well, comrades, we've somehow got from the Labour manifesto to the mysteries of heterosexuality.
Would you like me to return to the manifesto pledges?
I thought not.

Stone The Crows

I was talking of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) the other day and there's no doubt that even low-level anti-social behaviour can be very irritating. I used to do my share of tutting when I saw that the yobs returning from the pub the night before had scattered the contents of the litter bins around and played football with the refuse sacks outside the houses leaving a trail of rubbish down the pavement.

Then one morning I got up at 5.30 am and looked out the window and caught the little bastards in the act. But it wasn't the youth of the village. It was crows.
The ringleader stood on top of the litter bin and threw the takeaway wrappers onto the ground so his mates could feast on cold chips and congealed Chicken Tikka Masala. A rather nauseating breakfast but I suppose if you're a crow it 's worthy of three Michelin stars.
Further down the street a single crow who preferred to eat alone was holding a black bin bag down with his foot while expertly slicing it open with his beak.

Crows are possibly the most intelligent of all birds and are capable of using tools so they're probably also capable of picking the lock on your car and eating the sweets in the glove compartment.
A study last year claimed that they might be as intelligent as the great apes and their brain size, in relative terms, is equal to that of a chimpanzee.
So with brain power that isn't far behind that of the local chavs they wreak havoc in the village street and it's the chavs that get the blame. No wonder they've got something to crow about.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Election Blog (6)

The Blair/Brown election broadcast by Anthony Minghella was beyond satire. Most people have looked for parallels with Minghella's film The English Patient. I think you have to look further back in his career to when he was script editor on Grange Hill because the petty squabbles, rivalries and jealousies between Blair and Brown are more redolent of school life.
It's the story of the intellectually gifted, rugby-playing Gordon taking Tony, the star of the Drama Group and front man of the school rock band, under his wing and helping him with his homework before standing aside so that Tony could become Head Boy. But then.........well you know the rest and I'm bored with this metaphor so let's move on to last night's Conservative broadcast..........

...........the Tories used a string of ordinary voters mouthing the Tory election slogans. They may well have been genuine voters but, given the nature of the film and the glossy way it was shot, they seemed more like those actors who wear white coats and pretend to be dentists in toothpaste commercials.
The woman who said she wanted controlled immigration just happened to be filmed walking along an empty beach. In one 2-second shot she was seen peering out to sea through one of those coin-in-the-slot telescopes that they put on promenades.
We will fight them on the beaches?
We know the Tories want 24-hour surveillance of our ports. But can they really be planning to form a new Home Guard to patrol the beaches of southern England?

"Are you sure that's not just Jim's fishing boat, Captain Mainwaring?"
"We can't be too careful, Wilson. That's probably what they want us to think. There could be several dozen asylum seekers inside those lobster pots."
"Oh really!"
"You can scoff, Wilson. You and your Manchester Guardian reading friends. Just remember we're here to protect the hard working families of Britain from hordes of foreigners running away from persecution and death. No backbone, these foreigners, Wilson. Threaten to cut their heads off with a sword and they're jumping into boats and heading for Walmington-on-Sea."
"They don't like their heads cut off, sir, the fuzzy-wuzzies! They don't like their heads cut off!"
"Shut up, Jones. Damn! This telescope's cut out. Anyone got another ten pence?"


Apparently the people at Labour Headquarters have nicknamed the attempt to win back the votes of those against the Iraq war 'Operation Beardie Leftie'.
This shows the infantile world of stereotypes that they inhabit. If you think back to the great anti-war march through London, the most striking thing about it was that it was a complete cross-section of society. A very cross cross-section actually. It included thousands of people who had never demonstrated before and I doubt that there were any more beards than in the population as a whole.
It's an indication of the default position from which political debate is conducted, that there are no equivalent shorthand phrases for people on the right. Or at least, I've just spent two minutes trying to think of one without success. The diminutive 'rightie' doesn't exist and whilst the media will frequently describe people as 'the left-wing MP', they rarely describe someone as 'the right-wing MP' unless they've been filmed goose-stepping down Whitehall in an SS uniform.

The Green Party manifesto is available only on the internet and not as a published hard copy. The latter, you see, would mean using paper and that's bad news for trees.
So that means their manifesto will be unavailable to - to take one example - millions of pensioners who are not on the internet.
Nor will it be available to anyone on the extreme fringes of environmentalism who lives in a hut in the woods with a wind-up generator and knits pullovers from vegetable peelings.
But don't computers use energy and don't they now pose a major recycling problem?
And if I read the Green manifesto on an internet-enabled mobile phone, aren't I contributing to the rash of radiation-emitting mobile phone masts and also risking giving myself a brain tumour?
It's all so confusing. I'd better go and hug the tree in my garden and see if I can work it out.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Election Blog (5)

The Conservative manifesto was launched yesterday and Michael Howard promises to address "the simple longings of the British people".
I didn't know that addressing my longings - simple or otherwise - was within the remit of Government. But I now know what commitments from my Conservative candidate will secure my vote:

A daily lunch of smoked salmon sandwiches, followed by some good sex.
A walk-on part in Coronation Street.
A strain of Lupins resistant to leaf rust.
A free blogging service that, unlike Blogger, never crashes.
A law to prevent the BBC showing more than one trailer between programmes.
A therapy that would stop me making lists.

What are your simple longings?


Congratulations to Charles Kennedy on his wee bairn. I was just surprised it was only one. When I saw his wife at the royal wedding she looked as though she had an entire kindergarten class in there and I feared she might not make it through the service. Playing Handel's Water Music seemed to be tempting fate.
But the naming of Ginger Junior has slightly shaken my resolve to vote Lib Dem.
Oh Charles, how could you?
Such a horrible, dated name and with such a hard sound.
And the most famous Donald of the last century was an animated duck.

Both major parties are committed to saving millions of pounds by cutting 'waste' and causing redundancies on a scale that makes the job losses at Longbridge seem insignificant. But history shows that the scope for such savings is always wildly exaggerated.

It doesn't help that the parties have a string of new initiatives to implement that will need staffing. For example, the Tories plan to open lots of new 'Turnaround Schools' to educate the thousands of pupils that they want expelled from mainstream schools for bad behaviour. Presumably they'll need another tier of schools (Turnaround and Put Your Hands Up Schools) for those expelled from the Turnaround Schools. In any event, it won't be cheap.

The inescapable fact is that you can't provide good quality frontline services without people to administer them. If someone starts a home-based business that becomes successful, the first employee that they recruit is likely to be someone to deal with 'administration', freeing them up to concentrate on delivery.
That's not to say there is no dead wood in public administration. But having worked in the public sector I know that there are lots of people working themselves into an early grave because of ill-thought out cuts in their organisation.

Is digital photo-editing going to claim its first election scalp?
The Tory candidate in Dorset South has been caught out changing the words on a placard he is holding in an election photo. I wonder if it's any worse than parties producing different leaflets for different wards in their constituencies - photos of them standing with smiling white families in white areas and with smiling Asian families in Asian areas. This kind of thing is widespread. And the Dorset candidate has said sorry, which is more than Blair has ever said for Iraq.

If I'm being uncharacteristically kind to this Tory it's because the photo currently on this blog is highly misleading. For a start, it's over 30 years old and it's also been through a process called 'solarisation' which I thought gave a Warhol-like effect.
Of course, preserving anonymity to protect me from people serving ASBOs was a prime consideration. This is achieved because all those years ago I looked like the ageing Woodrow Wyatt whereas today I look like the young Tom Cruise.
(That last sentence has been digitally enhanced).

Awaiting My Anti-Social Blogging Order

I was alarmed to see the many press reports about the man threatened with an ASBO (Anti-Social Behaviour Order) for making rude comments about the Pope on his website. I was even more concerned when I saw that he had merely written a spoof job advert for the post of Pope (the Bremner, Bird & Fortune programme did the same on Sunday) whereas last week I had accused the Pope of having blood on his hands.

I postponed consulting my solicitor when I remembered that Polly Toynbee had made equally trenchant comments in the Guardian and Peter at Naked Blog had also given his eloquent two penn'orth on the subject. I imagined the three of us being dragged through the courts along with all the youthful graffiti artists and hand brake turn specialists, having our keyboards confiscated and becoming nationally famous as the 'John Paul Three'.

In fact the ASBO threat is just part of a long-running feud between two rival village websites deep in Middle England. It's the stuff of sitcoms. It would make a wonderful subject for an up-dated Ever Decreasing Circles since Martin would cerainly now be running the community website and trying to close down any rival sites.

In one corner is the very anodyne and in the other is the 'rogue' site
The latter gentleman has chosen to mix the usual village news with a strongly anti-Tory line and a page of comments and often very crude jokes about things in the news so it's an incongruous mix of community website and blog.
This has enraged some people in the village who don't think comparing Michael Howard to Adolf Hitler or making jokes about Prince Charles' cock are very funny. And some of them, including Conservative councillors, have made serious attempts to have an ASBO served on him and hours of police time have been wasted.

It doesn't help that if you type 'Lyneham' into Google, the jokey website is the one that comes up first so perhaps his rival needs to tweak his metatags. As it happens, I own a domain name for my own village because I once intended to do a light-hearted, unofficial website about the place although I think I'd have gone easy on the cock jokes.
Although this chap's humour is a bit too close to a 12 year old's level for my taste, he's clearly having a ball and there's an issue of free speech involved here. So in the unlikely event that he did get an ASBO for the content of a website it would be the greatest threat to internet freedom that we've seen so far. It would also prove that ASBOs are one of the worst abuses of the legal system perpetrated by this Government.


Interesting snippet in the Radio Times about the man who takes calls from the public about Coronation Street. The most compaints they ever had was when Les Battersby ran over and killed a turkey (2,000 complaints).
When Richard Hillman was on his killing spree and beat poor Maxine to death with a baseball bat, hardly a peep.
Which raises the question: if these people believed Les had really killed a turkey, did they also think that Maxine had really had her skull caved in?
Worrying thought: these people have a vote in the coming election.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Election Blog (4)

It appears that Tony Blair is a serial bigamist. Not long ago he said his relationship with the public was like a marriage. In an election broadcast tonight (which I'll watch if I can find the sick bucket) he says his relationship with Gordon Brown is like a marriage. Meanwhile, he's already married to Cherie and also has a close same-sex relationship with an American called George.
No wonder he's looking so ill and exhausted. To make matters worse, Gordon hates his guts, George treats him like an Imperial Emperor's catamite and the British public are going through the drawers looking for the pre-nuptial agreement.

Last week Gordon Brown and John Prescott went campaigning in a branch of Argos.
This can only mean that Labour are chasing the Chav Vote.
John Prescott is of course pure chav already although the thought of him in trackies or a shell suit is not a pleasing image.
Turning the Fettes schoolboy Blair into a chav would be more challenging although I wouldn't bet against him trying. After all, he goes straight into Estuary English as soon as his arse makes contact with a daytime TV sofa.
However, you don't have to scratch the surface of Cherie very hard to find classic chavette. Or, as she's a Scouser, scally or scally-ette, if such a term exists.
So expect to see large hoop ear rings, her hair pulled back from her face and, dropped into election conversations, "Do I look like I'm bothered?" and "Are you disrespecting my family?". It should all be second nature because she must have spent a lot of her youth hanging around outside the chip shop, if only because her mother used to work in one.

There's a website and campaign called 'Backing Blair'. It's actually an anti-Blair campaign. Confused?
They say the name is 'satire'. No, it's not. It's bloody stupid. Not many people are going to look beyond a slogan. You won't find Sainsbury's using the slogan 'Boycott Sainsbury's' in the name of satire or irony.
It's one of many websites that try to provide a guide to tactical voting. My own constituency is described as a safe Labour seat. They suggest voting Conservative although it won't make any difference at all. Complete nonsense. My constituency was a Tory seat for a long period before 1997. And although the Labour majority isn't exactly wafer-thin, it's far from invulnerable to either a large Tory swing or a Liberal Democrat surge. Indeed, another tactical voting site,, predicts on the basis of current polls a dead heat here between Labour and Tories.
Tactical voting is a dangerous game, especially when based on dubious psephology.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Anyone For A Polo?

Notes On the Royal Wedding From Our Man On The Sofa with a Scotch Egg and a Six Pack of Budweiser

This royal wedding was like a Polo mint. It was a wedding with a hole in the middle. A huge hiatus between the civil ceremony and the service in the chapel.
For the guests, it must have been like a cricket match: lots of sitting around with nothing much happening.
You could have run several Grand Nationals across those rolling, empty acres of television time. But instead we had what seemed like hours of studio chat and ogling at the guests arriving at the chapel.

Dermot Murnaghan asked Richard E. Grant if he'd ever "seen Charles and Camilla in action." Not so long ago it would have been left to the viewer at home to snigger at this but the whole studio erupted in laughter. There's no respect these days.

Talking of which, there was some booing as the couple arrived at the Guildhall. A jazz band playing 'Congratulations' very loudly had been placed there to cover this eventuality. Penny Junor was deeply shocked. But if booing was good enough for Queen Victoria then it was good enough for Camilla.

David Frost arrived at the chapel in a grey morning suit and........white socks! I've always been told that white socks are a Fashion Crime, which is why I sometimes wear them. But Sir David, a vicar's son, should really know better.

Michael Howard was sporting a bright pink tie. Are you thinking what I'm thinking? Yes, it must be true. The Tories are chasing the votes of gay peepil.

We discovered that Rowan Atkinson does as much gurning in real life as when playing Mr Bean. Unless it's a spontaneous reaction of his facial muscles when cameras are around.

The chapel guests were provided with a Park and Ride service and ferried to the chapel in coaches. Dermor Murnaghan wondered if they were cracking open cans of beer and singing rugby songs. Only on Prince Harry's coach, Dermot.

Apparently St George's Chapel is technically known as a 'Royal Peculiar'. However peculiarity is a characteristic of all things Royal, not to say outright barminess.

Inside the chapel, Tony Blair had been placed in the choir, right next to the youngest choirboys, the reasoning being perhaps that he had got on terribly well with Little Ant and Dec last Saturday. Plus, if any of them started monkeying around, Cherie would say "Shut it, soft lad!" or possibly bite their heads off.

From the Royal stalls, Prince William blew a kiss to somebody. Will we ever find out who? Please God it wasn't one of his cousins or one of the choirboys. Mind you, unlike rival soaps, the Windsors haven't yet given us incest or paedophilia and they're rapidly running out of alternative storylines.

Forgiveness was a dominant theme of the service but this didn't extend to poor Fergie who, unlike her children, wasn't invited.

The leg of an unseen woman had a starring role as the service began. She'd dropped her hymn sheet in the aisle and desperately tried to retrieve it by extending her leg and kicking it with her foot, like Wayne Rooney dribbling through the six yard box in court shoes.

Rather tactlessly in the circumstances, The Archbishop used the phrase 'for richer, for poorer.'

The previous Archbishop, George Carey, read from the Book of Revelation. The Royal Family breathed a sigh of relief when this turned out not to be the one written by Andrew Morton.

There was a sung Russian Creed. It wasn't 'from each according to his means and to each according to his needs.' But it was easily the most beautiful few minutes of the entire day.

The final hymn was 'Praise, My Soul, The King of Heaven.' Or perhaps, if you're British Royalty 'Praise My Soul, The King of Heaven.' (Punctuation joke).

As Charles and Camilla walked back down the aisle women's heads bobbed up and down faster than an intern's in Clinton's White House.

The Queen couldn't have been back in her car and off - or orrff - any faster if she'd had a firework up the royal arse. But of course the Grand National was due to start soon.

Poor Camilla hasn't yet learned that you don't wave to the crowd with your bouquet as though you're trying to flag down a passing minicab in Balham High Street.

Close-ups from the overhead camera showed Camilla had a slightly low-cut dress which revealed a glimpse of wrinkled bosom looking, to my untutored eye, like an old man's scrotum.
But with Joan Rivers attending the reception, I can safely leave breasts and bollocks in her capable hands. Right now I could murder a cup of tea.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Polly On The Pope

Excellent article today by Polly Toynbee on the Pope. I'm glad it wasn't left to bloggers to put a different point of view.

ITV Lunchtime News today, to their great credit, led on the MG Rover collapse and the possible loss of up to 20,000 jobs in the Midlands.
BBC News, in contrast, were still on their knees in Rome twenty minutes into the bulletin.
And as you'd expect, the BBC's own Pontiff, John Simpson, was wheeled out to pontificate on the occasion. He and the Pope have something in common, of course. The Pope single-handedly brought down communism and John Simpson, you may recall, single-handedly liberated Kabul. Or not, as the case may be, in both cases.

DISAPPOINTING CORRECTIONS - 49 in an occasional series

Both from The Guardian, 7/4/05:

'In our coverage of the death of the Pope we reported "Then we saw a cloud of incense swirling up from the censor being swung by a deacon".
That would have been a censer.'
No, no. Strike a blow for freedom of expression and burn a censor.

'In a report from the Vatican...we said that the Swiss Guard stood beside the catafalque.....their "legs akimbo". Only arms can be akimbo.'
Try telling that to Joan Collins. Or indeed Camilla.