Monday, May 30, 2005

Caught In The Act (and the hat)

Many a true word is spoken in jest: a little while back, writing about the hysteria over hoodies and baseball caps, I said:
"As it happens, I wore a baseball cap this morning because it was raining - a cheeky little number in virginal white. I was most disappointed that the woman in the Co-op didn't press the panic button and have me escorted from the premises."

Well, would you Adam and Eve it? Yesterday I found that the Co-op have banned baseball caps. According to the sign, this is for 'security reasons'.
It's clearly not because people wearing them are more likely to be criminals. A large number of the middle-aged and elderly men in this village wear them, as do many women.
Presumably it's because they can conceal people's faces from the CCTV. But so can many other items of headwear.
To prove the point I had a good poke around in my tallboy and found what I think is called a fisherman's hat. Not that I've ever been fishing although I once attracted the attentions of a drunken old trout in the saloon of the Rod and Mullet.
But as this still from the Co-op's security camera - showing me weighing up how many Scotch eggs I can stuff down my trousers - proves, the hat conceals as much of my upper face as a baseball cap.
"My client was adjusting his surgical support when a number of Scotch eggs rolled off the top shelf and fell into his trousers. I shall be calling as a witness Darren Spinks who will confirm that he had overfilled the said shelf after the manager told him, and I quote, "we need to shift those Scotch eggs before the bloody things start hatching."

I think I shall write to the Co-op and ask them if they will also be banning Muslim women in burkas, the nuns from the local convent and old Mrs Kelly who is sometimes wearing a black veil after attending the Stations of the Cross at St Judes.
This isn't just nonsense on stilts. It's nonsense doing an Irish jig on the top of Canary Wharf Tower.


I've read many strange things about the Royal Family but none stranger than what Alexander Chancellor wrote in Saturday's Guardian.
When he arrived at the Palace for a dinner, a footman insisted that he went immediately to the lavatory, even though he didn't want to. The reason was that some guests in the presence of the Queen lose control of their bladders which makes a terrible mess on the expensive carpets.
One is left wondering what the Queen does or says when this happens.
"Oh come on, Philip's jokes aren't that funny"?
I suppose you could always blame it on one of the corgis.

Another strange thing that Chancellor says is that the Queen is a 'gay icon' like Judy Garland or Marlene Dietrich. Really?
Admittedly, I have problems with the whole concept of gay icons. If you like men why would you turn women into icons? It doesn't make sense. Do lesbians have male icons? I've never heard that they do. Certainly those I've met who were on the provisional wing of the feminist/lesbian movement would knee you in the balls at the very suggestion.

Anway, if Chancellor is right it does mean that when we republicans have kicked the whole dysfunctional bunch of in-bred spongers into touch and turned Buck House into a museum of the history of the working class, Elizabeth Windsor can supplement her old age pension by sticking on some slap and singing I Will Survive down at The Black Cap in Camden on Friday nights.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

At The Third Stroke

The other day the television mind-bender Derren Brown said that some people are able to guess the correct time - or rather know the time - without looking at a clock. I think I am one of those people.
Last night I went to bed soon after 10.30 and read a book. (That habit once got me into trouble in an indirect way. A Geordie bus driver, captivated by my southern charm, had designs on me that weren't entirely honourable. "What do you do in bed?" he said. [Geordies don't beat around the bush, not that bush was uppermost in his mind at the time]. Always unable to distinguish between situations where frivolity is acceptable and those where it is not, I replied "Well sometimes I read a book and sometimes I listen to Today In Parliament." His exact reply would be incomprehensible to most of my readers but it included the words 'divn't' (don't), 'teake' and 'piss' and something about putting my spectacles where I'd never find them. Awfully foolish of me really. I might never have had to pay a fare again on the bus route to Spital Tongues. Yes, that's a real place in Newcastle not a Geordie term for French kissing).

Anyway, I was in bed reading my book and facing away from the clock and eventually thought 'I'd better go to sleep now. It's almost midnight.' Then I thought 'How do I know that? I haven't looked at the clock. It could be 11.30 or 12.45.' I actually wanted to be wrong but when I looked at the clock it was two minutes to midnight.
I can also often guess the time fairly accurately when I wake up. That's less impressive because there are many subliminal clues like the amount of light in the room, the amount of birdsong or the level of background traffic noise. Our brains are always processing all that sensory input without us being aware of it, like your computer doing mysterious 'background tasks' and finding that SMBDSM.Exe has a pathological hatred for Serif Photoplus which necessitates shutting down your computer and wiping everything you wrote that day.

Gosh, what a spooky old thing I am. Bet you're glad that there's miles of cabling and dozens of servers between us.
Because, you know, I think I sometimes telepathically transmit my own internal time signal to other people. Often when I'm talking to people they'll suddenly say "Good heavens, is that the time? I really must be going."

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Young, Gifted And Criminalised

Here's another reason why I don't envy the young but without yesterday's misty-eyed reverie about dodgy, pre-pubescent daydreams on the dodgems. You can read today's post without getting your hands sticky with candyfloss.

Back in the sixties I read a lot of predictions, both fictional and 'scientific', about how life would be in what is now 20 odd years ago, 1984. Penguin produced two books on the subject which I've still got somewhere. Everyone agreed that machines would do all the work, including housework, and we would all have more leisure than we knew what to do with.
Let's all do a collective hollow laugh.

The 'Big Brother' state was more often explored by fiction writers, including E.M. Forster long before Orwell. But I don't think anyone predicted that in the 21st century being young would be a crime.
You think I exaggerate? Well read this from yesterday's Guardian.
It's not ASBOs this time though God knows, they're bad enough. It's the blanket curfews imposed in some towns and cities which are now the subject of an appeal by a boy in Richmond, Surrey.
If you haven't time to read the article, these mean that anyone under 16 who is on the street after 9 pm is picked up by the police and taken to their parents' home, regardless of whether they've committed any crime. Visiting a friend's house, going to the cinema, going to the chip shop are all impossible unless accompanied by your parents.

This is the worst abuse of state power in modern British history. The world's oldest 'liberal democracy', and a Labour Government, has introduced an authoritarian measure that restricts and punishes an entire age group and a measure that would even raise eyebrows in a tyrannical banana republic.
Even without a Human Rights Act, this legislation breaches every principle of natural justice and the rule of law.
Would it be acceptable to forcibly remove law-abiding people from the streets simply because they were Black, Muslim, Jewish or Gay?
So why is it acceptable to do it to people on the basis of age, some of whom may be only one week short of the age at which they can legally marry?


Meanwhile, the first ASBO (Anti-Social Behaviour Order) has been given which, among other things, prevents a youth from wearing either a hoodie or a baseball cap.
The nature of ASBOs is such that, if he breached the order, he would go to prison.
To make it clear: he would go to prison for wearing a baseball cap.
Some of you may have a deep dislike of the ubiquitous baseball cap. I can understand that. Myself, I'm none too keen on people wearing check shirts, Barbours and green wellies who talk in loud, braying voices and drive Tamsin and Beccy to the gymkhana in a green Range Rover. But on balance I think I'd stop short of sticking them in the slammer for 5 years.
That, by the way, is the maximum sentence for breaching an ASBO, even though the offence itself may carry a non-custodial sentence.
The justification usually given is that hoodies and caps make it impossible to identify people on CCTV footage. But Ken Clarke's Fedora hat would have the same effect. And I'm sure my large black umbrella has hidden my face from many cameras on the streets.
It's clear that the youth in question was a menace in his neighbourhood and the criminal justice system had to deal with his behaviour. But for God's sake focus on the behaviour. Criminalising items of clothing just makes the law a laughing stock.


My elderly father was in a state of shock today that the posh yobs who invaded the House of Commons were given a conditional discharge. The inferences are so obvious and have already been made by others - if they'd been working class yobs in hoodies, if they'd been Muslim demonstators, etc, etc......
It certainly proves that the £20,000 a year to send a kid to Eton may not buy academic distinction if he's a thick little bastard but it might be a worthwhile investment if he later runs amok in the Mother of Parliaments.


One of the frequent bouts of hand-wringing this week about teenage pregnancies.
So let's remember that it was only a few months ago that the then Home Secretary, David Blunkett, was very publicly trying to prove that he was the father of two of the children of a woman who was someone else's wife.
And a few years before that two successful lawyers, one of whom is the Prime Minister, told the world that their fourth child was totally unexpected and competely unplanned.
What is it about either birth control or abstinence that these people don't understand?

Friday, May 27, 2005

Dionysus On The Dodgems, With A Quiff

I don't envy the young. Youth is greatly over-rated.
If you're wise you only remember the good times and blank out everything else......
always being broke......the agony of unrequited love......the terrible hangovers..........the self-consciousness......the phase of hating your parents......feeling guilty because you hate your parents......feeling guilty because you don't feel guilty for hating your parents......

But the past few days when I've been blogging I've looked out the window and seen a small boy walk past with a radio-controlled car. The small car is ten yards in front of him and he walks behind with his remote control oblivious to the world.
And I envy him.
I envy the disproportionate pleasure that children derive from such small things.
And I think about scooters - the kind you stand on and propel yourself along with one foot. Is there anything more ridiculous than a scooter? Yet how I loved my first scooter.

Most of all I think of funfairs. Between the ages of ten and thirteen I couldn't get enough of them. Not the 'theme park' kind but the travelling fairs that came to a local field for a few days.
They used to pitch camp about two miles from our house. Sometimes I went with my best friend and sometimes alone. Hard to imagine ten year olds today being given such freedom.
I would often stay all day even though the rides were incredibly expensive. A single go on the dodgem cars was a whole week's pocket money. But I didn't particularly go for the rides. I loved the atmosphere, the sheer tacky, gaudy, exuberance of it all. The mingled smells of hot dogs, candyfloss and the oil from the whirring generators. The loudspeakers blaring out Frank Ifield - I Remember You - and Bobby Vee - The Night Has A Thousand Eyes.
It appealed to the Dionysian side of my nature and drew me like a moth to a flame.

When I'd spent my last shilling I would still wander around for hours drinking in every sight, sound and smell, like a drunk who becomes suddenly fascinated by the night sky.
I'd lean on the rail of the Dodgems and stare enviously at the fairground youths who worked on them, nimbly leaping from car to car as sparks flashed above their heads and young girls screamed above the clash of metal against metal. Lucky outsiders who lived their lives in this heavenly cacophony of noise and music and emotional release, oozing raw sexuality in their torn jeans and oil-stained T shirts.
Sometimes one of them would jump on the back of your dodgem car and reach over and steer it for you, their warm breath on your neck and their greasy hands brushing against yours on the sweaty steering wheel and you were pleased and proud that they'd hitched a ride on your car even if people thought you were unable to steer it properly.

Then you walked around looking for coins that people had dropped in the grass to get another three shillings for another go and this time you'd wedge your dodgem in a corner and pretend you couldn't steer and the boy with the Brylcreemed quiff would come swinging from the poles of adjoining cars, his tattooed arms would reach over your shoulders, his cigarette ash fall into your lap like stardust, the car's contact pole would sparkle and crackle with electricity and a scratchy Elvis would be singing 'Take my hand, take my whole life too, cause I can't help falling in love with you.'

But I was only ten years old. The testosterone hadn't yet kicked like a mule. And it wasn't yet 1963, the year that Philip Larkin said sexual intercourse was invented.
So, as dusk fell, I ambled slowly home to the everyday world of convention and respectability and my parents asked me if I'd had a good time.
"Yes", I said, "I won this goldfish."

Getting Wood In The Woods

Clever and amusing piece by David Hadley (Louise In The Woods) which anyone who writes will enjoy. I should warn you that it involves a heterosexual scenario. But remember that these people didn't choose their sexuality and some of the greatest writers and artists have been heterosexual. (Although ironically many of the greatest heterosexual love songs were written by gay men).

There's a reference in David Hadley's piece to over-use of adverbs being a sign of bad writing. However, adverbs and adjectives are the foundations - and flying buttresses - of pornography and erotica. I first realised this when I read Joe Orton's Diaries. They include some explicit descriptions of his sexual exploits. If you get the book from the library it will conveniently fall open at those pages.
When I read those passages I was struck by the fact that, although explicit, there was nothing erotic or pornographic about them, nothing to get the juices flowing. Then I realised it was because they were clinical, factual accounts, mostly lacking the throbbing, pulsating, descriptive power of adjectives and adverbs.

The other thing that David's piece reminded me of was cyber-roleplay. When I first got the internet I explored a lot of strange things I'd heard about and did things simply because I could. (I once listened to the police radios in New York which for some inexplicable reason are streamed on the internet. A cop found some gloves in the back of a stolen car but they didn't fit him so he put them back. The excitement was too much for me).

Cyber-roleplay can be sexual or non-sexual and even the sexual variety can be so subtle and under-stated that it could be published in an old-fashioned women's magazine. In essence, it's two people in character improvising a story.
The reason that David's piece reminded me of this is that I once 'cyber-ed' with someone who constantly put stage directions and footnotes in brackets during the dialogue, so I started doing the same. The text began to read like a school edition of Shakespeare with lots of explanations and background information. This chap would step out of character and put: (good plot device!) or: (interesting sub-text there!). This convinced me that he was an English student. Eventually I asked him and he was.

It was a fascinating exercise in co-operative, improvised story-telling and by sheer chance I'd hit on someone intelligent and skilful enough to do it well. But it was a story without an ending. Although we pursued our dialogue two or three times, he put so much detail into the story that our two characters never got beyond sitting down to have a cup of coffee and in the real world dawn would be breaking while he was still wittering parenthetically about sub-texts.

Somewhere in cyberspace they're still sitting there drinking black coffee because his character had run out of milk and the shops were closed. Perhaps my character caught the last bus home because his character had started singing along to a Bobby Goldsboro album. Or maybe his character went down on bended knee and asked my character to become his Civil Partner. Alas, I shall never know.


I'm not very punctilious about putting links in my blog. It's sheer laziness. I'm sorry.
But here's a link to the In Our Time website that I wrote about recently. The favourite philosopher poll is quite good fun. They've asked some famous people to nominate their favourite philosopher. I thought Terry Wogan might have gone for Bobby Goldsboro and his seminal anti-theist treatise 'God didn't make the little green apples.'
(OK, I know the premise of the song is that God did make the little green apples, and the stomach-churning country singers who sing about them, but that would spoil my little joke.)
But Terry plumps for Marcus Aurelius. I'm sure Radio 2 listeners request his Meditations all the time.
I wouldn't know. I've never listened to Radio 2.
The day I do I'll start putting my affairs in order and typing out my funeral service.
Incidentally, In Our Time was one of the first BBC programmes you could download to your iPod.
So if you see a youth in a hoodie walking down the street with his earplugs in and a furrowed brow and he suddenly says "No, that was Wittgenstein, you wanker!", you'll know that he's listening to In Our Time.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

I Didn't Say That!

OK, I'll admit that sex rears its head in this blog rather more often than it does in the Lupin household these days. But usually either humorously or in the course of a rigorously intellectual argument about the cultural context of sexuality in post-modern society.
And my pseudonym 'Willie' is a literary reference not an anatomical one. (That will be lost on my American readers; think dick, guys. Some of you probably do that too often already, but that's another story).

But when I look at my referrals from Google searches I seem to be single-handedly responsible for the moral degeneracy of western society.
It's truly horrifying that I'm No 4 on Google for 'Christopher Robin and Alice'.
In the early days of this blog I qouted Sir John Waller's scurrilous parody of A.A. Milne's rhyme in which Christopher Robin is portrayed as a rent boy. So now there's the risk that a child Googling for that text will hand their teacher a version that includes the line "Christopher Robin is waiting for trade."
Oh, the shame of it.

Last week someone came across me after searching for 'teenage boys in speedos or underwear.'
Well, Jonathan King has just been released from prison.
This week I was first port of call for someone looking for 'Ronaldo completely naked'. I'm guessing that they were looking for something more visual than my observations on the FA Cup Final. In any case, if Ronaldo naked were within my gift I could think of better things to do with him than put him in my blog.

Then there was 'use of vaseline in the bathroom'. Do you think that was Wayne in Watford who is doing one of Gordon Brown's Modern Apprenticeships in plumbing? I hope so because it was in the context of plumbing that I mentioned it, with only the merest soupcon of sexual sub-text.

Why don't these people put commas round their search phrases and get Google to look for the exact phrase? Because I swear to God I never wrote this stuff and, in the words of the song, 'it's not me you're looking for'.
I resent the fact that this blog, which aspires to the highest moral and intellectual standards, is being served up by those boys in the Googleplex to every fetishist with access to the internet and a box of Kleenex.
I'm almost inclined to ask m'learned friends if I could sue Google for defamation of character.
Now, of course, by repeating those phrases, I'll move even higher up the wanking ranking.

So finally, let me make it clear to the person who is searching for an 'orgasm chair' that I have never written about such an item of furniture and had no idea that such existed.
Mind you, I will sneak a quick look in the Argos catalogue.
Knowing my luck, it will probably be self-assembly when DIY is the very thing one is trying to avoid.
And I won't be able to follow the instructions or it will be missing a screw (which is why one bought the bloody thing in the first place) and every time I sit on it the damned thing will say it's got a headache.

We apologise to our more pedantic readers for the absence of a cedilla on the word 'soupcon'. But do you really think I've got time to write this drivel and go the Windows Character Map to look for French accents? Stupid bloody language anyway.
It only appears here to give a misleading patina of bilingualism to my blog. In truth, I'm not bi- anything.

Football, Philosophy and Underage Sex

How one's heart sinks when a major football match is shown on ITV, as last night's European Championship Final was. Not content with commercial breaks before the match and at half-time, they squeezed in more during the opening ceremony and a load more between the final whistle and the start of extra time, the latter being a dreadful intrusion on the drama of this extraordinary match.

Then there's the fact that ITV football is fronted by a woman which seems a crime against the natural order of things. Maybe it's partly that this particular woman doesn't do it very well and is only able to talk in the most superficial generalities about the football itself. Last night she even managed to say that the match was being played in Milan before quickly correcting herself. There was an odd exchange were Terry Venables said how handsome one of the Milan players had been as a young man and the anchor woman giggled and said that in her view he still was. Somehow I can't imagine a similar exchange between Gary Lineker and Alan Hansen over on the BBC.

Sexist? Moi? No, I just think that the ideal presenter for television football is someone like Gary Lineker who has played football at the highest level and can chair a discussion with expertise and humour. If that rules out women football presenters, tough. Life's a bitch, ladies. Get over it. There are still a few lifestyle programmes left for you that haven't been taken over by the monstrous regiment of television queer guys.


My God, Melvyn Bragg was in a tetchy mood this morning on In Our Time on Radio 4. Bears with sore heads are fluffy bundles of bonhomie in comparison.
In Our Time is the most uncompromisingly intellectual programme on Radio 4, in which Melv chairs a discussion on scientific, philosophical and historical ideas with a bunch of academics. It's like a university tutorial conducted not by the Professor but by a stroppy student.
This morning it was the French Revolution and Melvyn got very annoyed with an American historian. "Far too much detail!", he yelled at her, "we've got to do this my way or it's not going to work."
I felt quite sorry for the woman until she used the hideous word 'problematize'. Sadly, Melvyn let this pass without putting her over his knee and spanking her.

I doubt that any other speech radio station would ever broadcast such a programme and one has to commend the Beeb for that. But I've never learned anything from it that I couldn't have discovered in more succint and understandable terms from twenty minutes' Googling.
The programme's now running a poll to find people's favourite philosopher. I was pleased to find Bertrand Russell, one of my teenage heroes, among the suggestions. He wrote many books of 'popular philosophy' which are easy to sneer at but anyone who could make philosophy interesting to a 14 year old boy gets my vote.
I'm reminded of the time that Steve Coogan as Alan Partridge interviewed a contemporary French philosopher. The Frenchman challenged Alan Partridge to name a modern philosopher. There was a very long pause before Partridge said triumphantly 'Peter Ustinov.'

Priscilla Presley is all over the airwaves at the moment, promoting a book or film or something about her early life with Elvis.
I heard her say yesterday that when their relationship began she was 14 and Elvis was 24. That's not so unusual in the history of rock and roll.
Jerry Lee Lewis married his underage cousin.
Bill Wyman of The Rolling Stones began his relationship with Mandy Smith when she was just 13.
Then there are all the stories of rock stars' liaisons with legions of underage groupies.
'It goes with the territory' seems to be the attitude.

But is there a whiff of double standards here? Today many people are prosecuted for underage sex that occurred thirty or more years ago as a result of a combination of police trawling operations and the compensation culture. Perhaps if they were famous singers they would just be described as having had colourful and unconventional sex lives.
Then, of course, there are the allegations against Michael Jackson and, in Britain, the conviction and jailing of Jonathan King. These last two cases raise the question of whether even people in the pop industry are judged differently if the objects of their affections are boys rather than girls.
Two British pop stars who did fall foul of the law were Gary Glitter and Pete Townsend. In both these cases it was for looking at pornography rather than actually having underage sex.
Of course, it may be that Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and Bill Wyman didn't have sex with their underage partners until they reached the age of consent. Or if the three of them had lived in Spain it wouldn't have been a problem because there the age of consent is 12.
It's all very confusing. Anything to do with sex usually is. Doubly so when celebrity is involved.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Tuesday Trifles

Grazing in someone else's comment box I was reminded of an aspect of today's Bullshit Industry that I'd mercifully forgotten. It's the practice of installing those framed 'inspirational' posters in workplaces, with titles like 'Teamwork', 'Focus', 'Challenge', etc.

A large organisation I worked for bought hundreds of the bloody things, at God knows what cost, and a man was sent to install several of them in my own workplace.
Now it's not often that I 'go off on one', as they say, but I said that he would put them on the wall over my dead body. He said they were to inspire the staff. I replied that unless he removed them from the premises immediately I would be inspired to locate his prostate with his Phillips screwdriver.

The poor man was worried about his incomplete worksheet so I rang Human Resources (who are neither human nor resourceful), the originators of this nonsense, and told them that we were neither a junior school nor workers in the old Soviet Union and that as a taxpayer I resented this waste of money, for this was a public sector organisation. I added that Human Resources could have our share of these infantile and aesthetically offensive posters and that if they were thus doubly inspired they might get off their fat arses and do something useful for once.
Leading business experts would agree that this was probably a bad career move.


The trial is taking place of the upper class wasters who invaded the Commons chamber to protest against the ban on hunting.
Old Etonian, Luke Tomlinson, who lives on his parents' Gloucestershire estate and hunts with the Beaufort, has been excused from court tomorrow because he is playing in a polo match.
I wonder what kind of prior engagement would get a yob in a hoodie excused from a court appearance?

Mention of the Beaufort Hunt above reminds me of the time my parents and I went to look round Badminton House, home of the Duke of Beaufort.
In one of the rooms my father started a conversation with one of the elderly ladies who were standing sentinel to make sure that the hoi polloi didn't walk off with the silverware. He congratulated her on finding herself an undemanding retirement job.
"Nice, cushy little number to have when you're on the countdown", he said.
She smiled icily and fiddled with her pearls. She was the Duchess of Beaufort.

My father is famous for these kind of faux pas, partly because he is very deaf.
He was once introduced to the Editor of the local newspaper but only heard the words 'local newspaper'. He told the startled journalist that it was the worst rag he had ever had the misfortune to read and proceeded to list every mistake and misprint that had appeared over the last thirty years.

'Circus Legend' Billy Smart Jr has died. It's astonishing now to recall that the BBC used to frequently broadcast Billy Smart's circus live to audiences of 22 million.
As a child I was scarred by an encounter with Billy Smart Senior. On television and in the press he was always portrayed as a jolly, cigar-smoking, avuncular figure who loved children and animals.
When his circus came to town I went to walk round the menagerie with my dog. Suddenly I came face to face with the huge figure of Billy Smart. He took the cigar from his mouth and shouted "Oi! Get that bloody dog out of here!" I turned and ran. I was only ten and in those days 'bloody' was almost as strong as 'fuck'.
It was an early lesson that image and reality are two different things.
I decided not to run away and join the circus. If I'd known my seven times table I might even have become an accountant instead.

Monday, May 23, 2005

He Ain't Nothin But A Hound Dog

Over at Naked Blog people have been suggesting unintentionally rude song lyrics, a game that children of all ages can play.
In an uncharacteristic attack of lateral thinking this made me wonder about unintentionally funny song lyrics.
At the moment I can think of only one but it's the one that would always be top of my list. It comes from one of the most nauseating songs ever written: Honey by Bobby Goldsboro.

This wretched song used to be on most pub juke boxes at one time and, unfortunately, got played a great deal - usually I think by women, many of whom have a defective gene when it comes to distinguishing between genuine pathos and toe-curling sentimental bilge.
One could easily nominate the entire lyric in the Unintentionally Funny Category but the line that always made me choke on my beer was "and I surprised her with a puppy."
This always conjured up the following scenario:

"Just one more push, Sweetie."
"My name's Honey."
"One more heave then, Honey."
"There you's beautiful!"
"Is it a boy or a girl?"
"'s a puppy."
"I always knew he was dog rough but this is ridiculous."

Any songs that paint the wrong pictures in your head or make you laugh when you're supposed to be weeping?
(Nothing by Jimmy Webb please. However justified, I shall delete it and you will rot in Hell).

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Waiter, There's A Man In My Bed

If, as Graham Norton said, the Irish regard Father Ted as a rather amusing documentary, then anyone who has stayed in as many hotels as I have regards Fawlty Towers in much the same way.
This thought was prompted by James' recent blogs about his stays in hotels while he and his fellow writers put the finishing touches to the next series of Green Wing. That's a pleasing thought, by the way. Many of us are gagging for it. And quite looking forward to the next series of Green Wing too.

I once checked into an English seaside hotel and had the following conversation with the receptionist:
Me: I have a room booked. Third floor, with a sea view.
Receptionist: Ah yes. (handing me the keys) The lift's on your left. Your room's on the second floor.
Me: But I was told when I booked it was on the third floor.
Receptionist: No. The second floor. But it does have a sea view.
Me: Oh. Hang on, it says on the keys Room 318. That suggests to me that the room is on the third floor.
Receptionist (irritated and indignant): Well yes. It's on the third floor up. But it's the second floor from the top.

The old saying that if you wish to eat well in England you should eat breakfast three times a day is not always true. At one hotel I started to tuck into my Full English Breakfast when I noticed that the bacon was not just undercooked but virtually raw. I looked around the dining room and saw other people having whispered conversations about their bacon before pushing it to the sides of their plates. This being England, nobody said anything to the staff. But when the waitress came to collect my plate I said, by way of explanation and in suitably apologetic tones, "I'm sorry, I couldn't eat my bacon. I don't think it had been cooked."
The waitress gave me a 'who do you think you are' look and said angrily: "I know. Nobody else could eat their bacon this morning either."

One of the most potentially embarrassing experiences I was unaware of until told about it the next day. Although my real name is not much more common in England than Lupin, a man with both the same surname and Christian name as myself checked into the hotel where I was staying. He arrived very late at night. The Night Porter found the name in the book and took him to my room. Because it was late he decided to go straight to bed. He undressed and lifted the duvet to reveal what in other circumstances might have been the pleasing and seductive sight of myself asleep in my Y Fronts.
Perhaps fortunately, I had spent the evening in the hotel bar and was enjoying if not the sleep of the just then certainly the sleep of the pissed. I may have murmured 'Not tonight, I'm too tired" but remained blissfully unaware of this close encounter with my namesake until the staff had to explain the giggling that greeted my appearance in the lobby the next morning.
I like to think that he paraphrased the old joke and said "There's a man in my bed!"
"Keep your voice down, Sir, or they'll all be wanting one."

I had a different kind of lucky escape when I stayed in one of Manchester's most famous hotels. I've never put my shoes outside the room at night because I don't like the thought of someone else cleaning my shoes. This isn't because I'm a virtuoso with the Cherry Blossom but because I have a pathetic ideological aversion to people carrying out servile, personal chores on my behalf. I know this is stupid and would mean that all the shoe shine boys would starve to death and that any houseboy I employed would lead the life of Riley, watching Trisha and Neighbours all day while I slaved over a hot ironing board. But I can't help myself.
On this occasion it was fortuitous. When eating my breakfast the next morning I watched a succession of businessmen in expensive suits enter the dining room in their stockinged feet. Some Mancunian scally had got into the hotel during the night and stolen all the shoes from outside the bedrooms.
I stetched my legs out into the gangway, wiggled my Oxford brogues and smiled smugly. Somewhere in the bowels of the hotel an underpaid skivvy had passed an unusually restful night and for someone in Manchester Father Christmas had arrived early bearing dozens of pairs of expensive and highly saleable shoes.

Don't Cry For Me, Ronaldo

Although watching the Cup Final as a neutral, I found myself wanting Arsenal to win. And as the match went on and Manchester United outplayed them I had a gut feeling that they would do so. Because football's a funny old game, Brian, especially when it's a game of four halves as this one was.

Man of the Match was the Arsenal goalkeeper. Apart from his penalty save at the end, the most decisive save was when he ran out to intercept Giggs. If he'd stayed on his line Giggs would probably have scored. He made his decision quickly and early but it was still risky. He only just made it to the ball and there was always the risk that he might foul Giggs and create a penalty. I thought it was a classic piece of decisive and courageous goalkeeping.

Runner-up was Ronaldo. As always, his long, skinny legs swirled and twisted like spaghetti in fast-boiling water. He couldn't have run down the wing any faster if the whole of Manchester's gay village had been chasing him. I suspect that for many gay men Ronaldo gives a whole new meaning to 'up for the Cup'.
I noticed that in the wall to block a free kick whilst other players put both hands over their genitals, Ronaldo puts one hand there and the other hand over his face as though he can't quite decide which is his finest asset. Mind you, there wouldn't be much point in Rooney protecting his face. You could fire lumps of concrete at it for 90 minutes and nobody would notice the difference.
The Guardian predicted that Ronaldo was the player most likely to cry if his team lost. They were right. He sat on the pitch and cried like a baby. I wonder what the Portuguese is for 'big girl's blouse'? Not that the phrase was on my lips. I just wanted to give him a Kleenex and say it's only a game and look on the bright side, your acne seems to have cleared up.

In third place as Man of the Match was the referee. Everyone said he would be a disaster and that the pitch would soon resemble Friday night in Faluja. But he was firm and decisive and did it with a smile. His only fault was verbosity. His little chats with players went on so long they could easily have added 15 minutes to injury time. And, as Gary Lineker pointed out, he even felt the need to explain to the Captains how to toss. (Don't worry, I'm not going to go there).

In fourth place, I suppose, is Wayne Rooney. Hugely gifted but in my view too temperamentally flawed to be a truly great player. But he managed to keep his temper in check today although the camera caught him giving the referee some serious verbal at one point. He could have been saying "a Fundamentally Flawed decision, Mr Styles", but somehow I don't think so. I shouted "Wind your ugly neck in, doss radge!" at him. I've just learned 'doss radge' from Chav Gav in Scotland via Naked Blog and was glad of the chance to test drive it. It's wonderfully rude and rolls off the tongue beautifully.

The afternoon ended on a decidedly camp note. Not only were a lot of men in shorts holding hands and kissing each other, which was wholly to be expected, but there were red and white party poppers (no, not those kind of poppers) and the loudspeakers were blaring out the Pet Shop Boys' Go West. No, really. Of all the songs in all the world.....
Was it because of the presence of so many footballing gay icons like Ronaldo, Alan Smith and Ryan Giggs? I know the last is hairy enough to be in a PG Tips commercial but chacun son truc as Thierry Henri might say.
Or was it because the Guest of Honour was Prince Michael of Kent whose father had an affair with Noel Coward and was the Queen's funny uncle. As it happens My Funny Uncle is also a Pet Shop Boys track but playing that might have been rubbing Prince Michael's nose in it. As it was, the poor man looked as out of place as John Motson at a gang bang.

Anyway, well done the Gunners. I used to often walk past their ground after spending the night at a friend's flat. I used to score more often in those days. So that's something I have in common with the Manchester United team.

Respect (3)

The new craze of 'Happy Slapping' involves attacking strangers in public places and video-ing the event on mobile phones. The footage can then be shared on the internet. Unfortunately, it often goes beyond slapping and some people have been seriously injured.
This craze has had a lot of publicity but that carries the risk of even more imitative crimes. The Tonight programme did a 'special' on the subject. It was broadcast at the later time of 10 pm, presumably because, as everyone knows, teenagers are asleep in bed by that time. Ha, ha.

Is it too glib and facile to suggest that kids raised on a diet of synthetic violence in movies, cartoons and computer games may not appreciate that even just an unexpected slap from a stranger can, in real life, be pretty traumatic for the victim?
Maybe. But we shouldn't dismiss it as a contributory factor.
Of undoubted relevance are the corporations, advertisers and television companies that I was criticising yesterday.

A few years ago there were some notorious television commercials for Tango which involved people being slapped around the head. They were eventually withdrawn but not before a number of children had been seriously injured. In view of the name 'Happy Slapping', I can't help wondering if their influence still persists.
There have also been a number of programmes aimed at the teenage market which feature dangerous stunts and pranks, sometimes dangerous only to the practitioners but sometimes involving tricks played on strangers. Of course they always carry the 'don't try this at home' warning but, not surprisingly, that hasn't stopped a lot of kids jumping out of first floor windows or setting fire to their own hair. Injured children.....devestated parents.....but what the hell, some people have made a lot of money from the television rights and DVD sales.

One youth interviewed on television conceded that it might be rather unpleasant for a person on a bus to be slapped or punched by a group of teenagers. But, he said, you have to admit it's very funny.
To understand the baffling workings of the teenage mind and the apparent absence of any trace of empathy we have to turn to neuroscience.
Recent findings show that emotional maturity - as opposed to rational maturity - is not reached until the very late teens or early twenties. A television science programme showed one of the most extraordinary experiments I have ever seen. Teenagers were shown a series of photos of different facial expressions with people registering joy, anger, fear, etc., and asked to identify these different emotions. There was nothing ambiguous about any of these photos yet the teenagers mostly got them completely wrong.
Ah, you might think, they were taking the piss and winding up the researchers. But at the time the teenagers were undergoing an MRI brain scan. When compared with adult subjects, the parts of the brain that recognise and interpret emotions were not lighting up in the teenagers when they were shown the photos.
The implications of this are hugely significant to our understanding of teenage behaviour and how we manage it. For those teenagers who scream "I hate you, you f***ing bitch" at their mothers it's probably no big deal and they are probably oblivious to the traumatic effect on the parent.

I believe that one of the challenges for those who work with children and teenagers who behave badly is finding ways of creating empathy and identification with their victims, given that these responses have not yet fully developed in their brains.
It also has implications for public policy.
It's time our society looked at the bigger picture: the influence of the media and a manufactured, profit-driven youth culture, the effects of a fragmented, age-divided society and crucially relevant knowledge from the fields of psychology and neuroscience.
Mouthing platitudes about 'respect' is simply not enough.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Respect (2)

Young people have behaved badly and been seen as a problem since we were living in caves. And some of us remember in more recent times the wringing of hands over Teddy Boys and the Mods and Rockers. The latter used to have pitched battles in the streets.
But I concede that a minority of young people behave worse than they did in my own youth. Whether they behave worse than in earlier periods such as Victorian times I couldn't say.
There's no lack of theories about the reasons for this, including bad parenting, the education system and poor diets crammed with additives.
But I wonder if it's a coincidence that it has coincided with the period in which young people have become one of capitalism's most lucrative cash cows.

My generation has seen the evolution of youth culture from the beginning. 'Teenager' was a relatively new word when we hit our teens. Pop music was also relatively new but music specifically targeted at pre-teens ('bubblegum pop') hadn't yet been invented. Jeans existed, although many middle class parents wouldn't let their children wear them, but today's youth fashion industry hadn't yet developed. There certainly weren't bras marketed at pre-pubescent girls.
More significantly perhaps, youth pubs didn't exist. I would date the first pub in my hometown that set out to attract young drinkers to around 1967/68. Clubbing hadn't been invented either so if you wanted a late drink the best you could do was go home and raid your parents' drinks cabinet and play Radio Luxembourg very quietly on the radio so you didn't wake your parents up.

Market-driven segmentation of the generations is compounded by advertisers' promotion and celebration of stereotypes - laddishness and girlie-ness. But this doesn't stop with youth or with the advertisers. How often does a news item about over-50s show footage of a tea dance? And what proportion of us over-50s ever go within spitting distance of a bloody tea dance?
And how many times has a news item about the problem of youth been accompanied by that ancient footage of a boy on a bike smashing the window of a van? If that little bastard got repeat fees he wouldn't need to steal or work for the rest of his life.

There's an old saying that it takes an entire village to bring up a child. Today it's lucky if parents, both working long hours to pay for two cars and an overseas holiday, have the time to bring up a child. Many babes in arms are dumped in nurseries every day. Some nurseries now have webcams so the parents can watch them from their office computer to make sure they're not being ill-treated by low-paid, under-trained staff.

As for interaction with other adults outside of the school or home, forget it.
My father is of a generation for whom it was normal to chat to children in the street. Not today, when children are warned that every adult is a potential murderer or molester. My father still does it but is sometimes hurt and bewildered when the children hurry silently away.
I recently saw a lady in her eighties, on a zimmer frame, speak to a young boy on his way to school. He bowed his head and walked away. She banged her zimmer frame on the pavement and shouted after him "you miserable little sod!" I know why he did it but I could also understand her exasperation.

For teenagers, leisure activities are more segregated than ever before whether through disco pubs or holidays in Ibiza that are marketed on heavy drinking and sex.
That doesn't mean that my generation didn't go to pubs or get drunk. We knew the ones where the landlord was more interested in profits than in checking the age of his customers. But because all pubs were mixed ages there was always the likelihood that we were observed by teachers or friends of our parents and this was a restraining factor.

Today's more all-encompassing and compartmentalised youth culture is very much the creation of the music, entertainment, fashion and drinks industries who are making billions from young people, many of whom have high disposable incomes in a period of relative affluence.
And the attitude of the corporate world to their youthful consumers is characterised by as much respect as the relationship between a prostitute and client.

The youth market is the Holy Grail of advertisers, television and the press. The same media that demonise the young are feeding them mind-numbing pap and fighting to get their hands on every last pound in the pockets of their baggy jeans. And if that means an increasingly crass sexualisation of popular culture and persuading them to pour even more lager and Bacardi Breezers down their throats, never mind the teenage pregnancies, the STDs or the vomit in the streets - look at the rising share price.

The Government, meanwhile, does its bit to keep the Youth Menace in the headlines and criminalise an entire generation, despite the fact that most types of youth crime have been falling. One of the few exceptions is alcohol-related crime which clogs up our hospitals and police stations every weekend evening, with alcohol-related deaths far outnumbering those from other drugs.
The Government's response is to introduce 24-hour drinking and relax the criteria for planning permission for new pubs. The Government, of course, will never take on the private sector with the relish that it attacks the public sector and gets more revenue from alcohol sales than all the drug dealers in Britain could ever dream of.

Respect, as many young people now assert, is a two-way street. And respect never grew out of a cash nexus. They're growing up in a world where they're not just fodder for the post-industrial economy - the dark satanic call centres and the 24-hour retail sector. They're also milch cows for an aggressive and unprincipled leisure industry.

And they're growing up in a world where a capitalist with £2 million to spare can get his name over a City Academy and, if he's a Christian Capitalist, can tear up 2,000 years of science and teach Creationism. Or if he's got half that amount to spare he can buy a children's home and line his pockets with taxpayer's money from the local authority. If he prefers a less hands-on involvement, he could just get a good return on his shares in a company that runs private prisons and young offenders' institutions.

Now there's a thought. You could buy the respect that comes from having your name over a gleaming new City Academy and replace that investment with the profits from your shares in the drinks industry and your shares in the prisons that incarcerate the youths who get expelled from the Academy and punch a policeman after too many lagers on a Friday night.
Clever old capitalism.
If the social consequences weren't so disastrous you could almost respect it.

Buttering Up The Royals

What single thing would most improve the quality of my life, you ask.
Well OK, you don't give a f**k.
I'd be quite worried if you did.
But I'll tell you anyway: a year round supply of Jersey Royal New Potatoes.
They're now at all good food retailers and I shall spend the next few weeks shovelling as many as possible of the little beauties down my voracious yet discerning gob.

Although rather pricey when they first appear, you don't need to spend much on their accompaniment because they're always going to be the star on the plate. They're best with cold meat, even the humble but satisfying corned beef. Or a tin of red salmon - often on 'two for one' offer: who says there's no such thing as a free lunch?

Boil them with a little mint and check them after about 20 minutes. Serve them with chopped chives freshly cut from the garden (or parsley, or both) and lashings of butter. Add even more butter at the table. Just a few weeks of this butter binge shouldn't give you a coronary but, if it does, what a way to go.
You can also make awesome potato salads. After chopping the cooked potatoes, toss them in French dressing. Or lemon dressing in my case, because I'm allergic to vinegar. (Remember that if you take me to the chippie after our romantic evening in the snug at the Rod and Mullet). Then add the mayonnaise and chopped chives and parsley. Make several pounds (oh, all right, kilos) at once because it will keep in the fridge for several days. The vinegar or lemon acts as a preservative. You can use chopped spring onions instead of chives if you don't have a significant other with whom you are planning some post-prandial tongue action.

I have to admit that Jersey Royals don't seem to taste quite so good as they used to. But that perception, real or illusory, usually means you're getting old.
In the unlikely event that I found myself in a threesome with David Beckham and Amir Khan I'd probably complain that it wasn't as good as those wanks behind the bike sheds in 1962.


You have to admire the PR people at Bluewater Shopping Centre. Having got millions of pounds worth of free publicity for their ban on hoodies and baseball caps they now have the audacity to issue another press release saying how much their trade has increased since the ban. And the BBC read this out on the news without comment.
At least James Naughtie on the Today programme had the sense to ask whether the increase in visitors might have something to do with all the publicity they'd generated. The number of people who'd never heard of Bluewater before must surely exceed those who had longed to go there but were terrified of seeing a youth in a baseball cap.

As it happens, I wore a baseball cap this morning because it was raining - a cheeky little number in virginal white. I was most disappointed that the woman in the Co-op didn't press the panic button and have me escorted from the premises. I'd already been working on some designs for my banner - FIGHT THE FASHION FASCISTS, on a Burberry background.
I'll try again tomorrow in a hoodie.


Referring to Kylie as "that bloody woman", as I did in Peter's comment box, was probably a little insensitive in the present circumstances. It probably came from my reaction to her music. But I do feel that the coverage of her illness is grossly disproportionate. If she'd been killed in a car crash I'd expect that to be number 2 or 3 in the running order on the news, depending on what else was happening. But first item on news bulletins for an early diagnosis of breast cancer?
If Kylie snuffs it, will normal television programmes be suspended and will there be a national Three Minute Silence? We'll soon be having one of those if someone's guinea pig dies.
It's indicative of a trend in society in recent years and it's interesting that Peter makes a comparison with the death of Diana.
We are living in an atomised society in which people can lie dead for weeks in their houses before anyone notices there's a rather unpleasant smell, yet there's a mass outpouring of grief over a celebrity that few of us have met and whose music and career millions of us are indifferent to.
I'd say the world's gone mad, but saying that is another sign of old age.

PS: yesterday's comments on Naked Blog are worth reading for the robust exchange of views on George Galloway. It was only when confronted with the loathing so many on the left feel for him that I discovered how much there was to admire in the doughty old demagogue.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005


On the eve of the election the film Ali G In Da House was shown on TV. I rather enjoyed it, despite not being a fan of "gross out" comedies nor being in the target age group. Elected as an MP, Ali G has a lot to say in the House of Commons about 'respect'.
And yesterday, back in the real world, there was Her Majesty talking about respect in the Queen's Speech (in so far as the State Opening of Parliament has anything to do with the real world). Her Grumpiness didn't do that sign with her fingers that Ali G does although Philip was probably itching to do a rather different sign with his fingers as he listened to Blair's programme for his third term.

One has to question whether Blair is the right person to talk about respect and the need to fight violence and thuggery on our streets. Respect is not the first word that springs to mind when one considers the massacre of thousands of men, women and children in Iraq.
'Oh, that's different', many would say. If different=much worse, well yes it is.
'That's different' is the cry of parents and authority figures throughout the ages. Like the father who tells his son to stay off drugs while himself smoking forty a day and getting rat-arsed in the pub several nights a week.

Of course the nation's respect for Blair must have soared when he and Cherie gave an eve of election interview to The Sun in which they boasted about their five times a night sex life, sounding for all the world like a chav and chavette sitting on the wall outside your local corner shop.
Ali G would certainly have been mightily impressed.

Test Post

This is a test.
Problems with Blogger.

Problem now seems to be resolved.
Bet you wish all my posts were this succint.

Thought my entire opus had been wiped. In which case I was going to stop blogging and get my life back.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Stardust Keeps Falling On My Head

The trouble with putting yourself about in other people's comment boxes is that you sometimes use material that you'd be glad of on days when you have Blogger's Block. Yesterday I put something on Anchored Nomad - one of my favourite blogs in the known universe - which I'd like to repeat here and enlarge upon while it's fresh in my mind. The topic was tenuous links to celebrities.

I once owned an umbrella which had been used in a play by Vincent Price when he was appearing in the West End. It was surplus to requirements when the play ended and a friend who worked in that theatre gave it to me. It was a perfectly ordinary black umbrella with a wooden handle, slightly bent I think, which is probably why my friend thought of me as a suitable recipient.
At work one day I happened to mention my umbrella's previous illustrious owner, whereupon the entire office rose from their desks and went to the cloakroom where they stood silently staring at my umbrella. I'm not sure what they expected it to do; possibly to turn into a vampire bat and bite the General Manager on the neck. But at that moment I understood the extraordinary power of celebrity.

I think Vincent Price's wife, the wonderful Coral Browne, was in that same play. One day the friend who gave me the umbrella mentioned to her that he and his boyfriend were going to some kind of gay and lesbian bring and buy sale on a Saturday morning. "How wonderful, darling!" she said and insisted on accompanying them. I know it doesn't sound very exciting but this was the early seventies and Heaven nightclub wasn't even a gleam in Richard Branson's eye.
Apart from her acting ability, Coral Browne was known for her outrageous wit.
Ned Sherrin was once asked to meet a young friend of his parents who was visiting London from South Africa and took him to a restaurant. Coral Browne was at a nearby table. As she left she greeted Ned and then, looking at the very good-looking young man, said "I see you've got the trip wires out again at Waterloo."
Another well-known tale is about the first night of Peter Brook's Oedipus. At the end of the play a giant golden phallus was unveiled. Coral Browne turned to her companion in the stalls and said loudly: "Nobody we know, darling."

Despite her colourful language, which may have owed something to her Australian origins, she was a devout Catholic. The two things come together in my favourite story. She was standing outside Brompton Oratory after Sunday Communion when an actor came up to her with gossip about who was sleeping with someone else's wife. She stopped him in his tracks with: "I don't want to hear this filth. Not with me standing here in a state of fucking grace."


Patrick Allen was a famous television actor in the late sixties. His was also the last voice that millions of people would have heard in the event of a nuclear attack because he did the voice-over for a film to be broadcast after the three minute warning.
He was once in a pub where I was drinking and neither my friend nor I could think of his name. "I'll go and ask him", said my friend.
"No, you can't do that", I said, "we'll think of his name in a minute."
But, under the pretext of going to the loo, my friend interrupted Patrick Allen's conversation with a fellow actor and said "Excuse me..."
Patrick Allen smiled. His star was already on the wane and he was obviously pleased that his companion would see how he still couldn't go for a drink without fans asking for his autograph.
"What's your name?" my friend said.
The smile froze on Patrick Allen's lips and he spat out his name through clenched teeth.
"Yeah, that's it", said my friend, "we vaguely recognised you but we couldn't think why and couldn't think of your name. Cheers."
I watched this exchange through my fingers, squirming with embarrasment.
"Nice bloke", said my friend when he returned, "he was really pleased we recognised him."
It was my friend's social skills and perceptiveness that had first attracted me to him.

I don't normally approach actors in public places. This is partly because if you've worked in any branch of show business it's a convention that you never behave in a starstruck manner or start asking people for autographs.
However I did once speak to James Bolam in a pub after I'd had rather too many drinks. At that time he was chiefly known for The Likely Lads but I'd recently seen him give a great performance in Simon Gray's play Butley. I decided that telling him my high opinion of his performance would make all those years at drama school and playing bit parts worthwhile.
It helped that I was on nodding terms with the actress he was talking to, so I clumsily barged in and saw him cringe at the expected reference to The Likely Lads. He certainly brightened when he found I wanted to talk about Butley and said the usual thing about it being easy to give a good performance when you've got a good script.
But I still break out in a sweat when I recall that conversation or even see James Bolam on television because it's dreadfullly arrogant to think that your opinion is of any consequence to someone who is already an established and successful actor.
Are there any other occupations on which strangers heap fulsome and unsolicited praise?
Do we accost people in pubs and say:
"I just wanted to tell you how much I admire the way you drive the No 49 bus. Your lane discipline is impeccable. And the way you left your cab to help Mrs Hawkins with her shopping trolley last Monday was a tour de force."

"Thank you. When I started on the 16B I never dreamed that one day I'd be on the 49. But when you've got a route like that it makes it seem easy. And of course the passengers on the 49 have been wonderful. Standing room only, even on Wednesday afternoons. But it was the great Reg Higgins who taught me everything I know in this business. He was a legend on the 26A. Reg's technique with a pre-selection gearbox was like poetry. And his 'Move along inside' was powerful yet oddly understated with a subtle erotic sub-text."

"Before I go, could you just sign my off-peak travelcard?"

Before I stop this name-dropping fest, time for just one more. I once arrived early at a theatrical party and took my glass of wine over to the only other person in the room who turned out to be Harry H. Corbett.
We exchanged a few pleasantries but I'd grown up with Steptoe and Son and was slightly in awe of this man who had loomed so large in my childhood television viewing. (Steptoe and Son was so huge that Harold Wilson tried to have it re-scheduled on polling day because he thought it would stop Labour voters going to the polling stations).
We stood and gazed out the window of the theatre bar. Just outside the window was a huge illuminated neon sign that said: HARRY H CORBETT. It was evidently on a timeswitch because as the clock struck midnight the sign went dark.
Harry nudged me and said "Look! They've switched my bloody name off!" He stood and stared morosely into his glass of wine and then said in a tone that was very reminiscent of the downcast Harold Steptoe: "The fame doesn't last long, does it?"
He was more right than he knew. It wasn't very long after that he died - famous, typecast, but never having had time to fulfil his early promise as one of the greatest actors of his generation.
Note: the umbrella pictured is not the umbrella referred to in the text.
No umbrellas were harmed in the making of this blog post.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Two-Faced Turncoat

I was writing about politicians' accents in my last post and Peter wondered yesterday whether Patricia Hewitt (new Health Secretary) has been using Margaret Thatcher's voice coach. Hewitt's native accent is Australian although you'd never guess it to hear her now and she does now have the same slow, condescending delivery as Thatcher. God, she's a scary woman. I'd only find her not scary if I was holding a double-barrelled shotgun and shouting 'traitorous bitch' at her.

Not sure I should have written that last sentence. People are banged up in Belmarsh for less. But that brings me to one of the reasons I despise Hewitt. She used to run Liberty, an organisation I belonged to in the old days when it was called the National Council For Civil Liberties. Yet she now sits happily in a Cabinet that has introduced detention without trial and other civil rights violations, with more to come in the third term.

Way back at the Labour Conference of 1980, Hewitt, as delegate from St Pancras North, made an impassioned plea for a Labour Government to implement the socialist policies voted for by the Labour Conference instead of ripping them up and pursuing centrist or right wing policies determined by the leadership.

Three years later when Roy Hattersley and Neil Kinnock were rivals for the party leadership she wrote each of them an identical letter of support that included the phrase 'when you win' and asking to become their Press Secretary. She duly became Kinnock's Press Secretary.
That episode reminds me of Matthew Paris's famous joke that the reason there are so few women in politics is that it takes too long to make up two faces.


The newspapers are full of something called Sudoku. I have no idea what this is. Please don't write and tell me. I have no more wish to know than I have to understand the female orgasm.
But as someone with a lifelong aversion to numbers I have no wish to find my paper full of grids and numerals. Let's hope it soon goes away.

I was going to say that I can just about manage Bingo. But then I remembered that I was almost lynched in a large Northern Working Mens' Club for wrongly shouting House! It turned out I'd been marking the wrong card.
Just as Basil Fawlty apologised for Manuel by saying 'He's from Barcelona', my hosts explained to several hundred angry West Yorkshire folk 'He's from the South.' I was thus spared from being locked in a pigeon loft with a plate of mushy peas for the rest of the night. But I was so shaken and humiliated by the experience that I haven't played Bingo since.

Just had my first glimpse of the BBC's new virtual reality weather graphics. They finally get away from those arbitrary weather regions of which the sun and the clouds were never aware. This was a particular problem if you lived at the intersection of several regions. But now you can see much more precisely where rain is expected to fall.

I just hope that the excitement isn't too much for the weatherman Daniel Corbett. He makes Ian McCaskill of fond memory seem positively sane and provides some of the best entertainment on television. He's like an enthusiastic but mad geography teacher. I don't know what he's 'on' but I wish I could get some of it. Watch out for the ludicrous bits of folksy colour that he adds to the forecasts. One day, forecasting sun in the south, he said 'you could maybe visit your Granny in Brighton'.
'But I don't have a Granny in Brighton!' I heard myself say.
I'm sure that one day his head will explode, making a horrible mess of the weather map. It may well happen when he gets to use the new computer graphics to show a mini tornado over Daventry.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Neither Fish Nor Vowel

So Kenneth Clarke may throw his hat into the ring for the Tory leadership....again.
And have you seen the hats he wears? Not the hats of someone who wants to melt into the background. It will need to be a pretty big ring.

I've always regarded Clarke as an amiable buffoon who made same terrible cock-ups during his ministerial career. In his defence it's always said that he's a paid-up member of the human race, with his liking for beer and cigars and interests outside politics like jazz and flogging cigarettes to Third World countries. This impression is somehat undermined by the discovery that he decided to become an MP at the age of seven. But politics would certainly be more fun with him as Opposition Leader and if the MPs elected him the neanderthal Tories in the shires would be seriously pissed off.

However, I'm not sure it would win the Tories many more votes, partly because of the Speech Factor. A LibDem MP drew attention to this the other day when she said that if they made David Davis leader they would at least have someone who spoke like a normal person. She was right.
Ever since the last toff leader - Alec Douglas-Home - the Tories have had leaders who spoke with the most extraordinary accents.
This is because they've been people from working class or middle class backgrounds who scrambled up the class ladder via grammar school and Oxbridge and adjusted their speech to suit the milieu of the old, traditional ruling class in which they hoped to prosper.
Unfortunately it never quite worked.
Probably the most successful was Ted Heath, the carpenter's son who never married and got crucified by the miners, although even his accent was pretty strange.
The least successful was William Hague because the Yorkshire twang kept breaking through and he sounded like somebody who was being garrotted.
Thatcher went further than most in having her voice lowered by a professional voice coach. But in moments of stress she would lapse into Lincolnshire dialect, most famously when she screamed 'frit' at the Labour benches in the Commons.
Duncan Smith had the least contrived accent but was afflicted by a stress-induced frog in his throat.
Poor Michael Howard was the most mocked for his accent and will probably always be remembered for 'peepil' and 'skoo-ell'.

Ken Clarke's distinctive diction is quite an achievement for someone whose father was a collier electrician in the Nottinghamshire coalfields but it's hardly the voice of the average bloke in the pub that Clarke is supposed to epitomise.
But at least the Tory Boys (and Thatcher) have been consistent in their pretensions.
Unlike Phoney Tony who, in addition to being two-faced like most politicians, has been two-voiced as well, always able to drop his consonants as effortlessly as he dropped the socialist policies on which he first stood for Parliament.

Sir Ian Gives Us His Mel

We must be about halfway through Sir Ian McKellen's stint in Coronation Street, and what a joy it has been.
McKellen plays a pretentious, third-rate (or even tenth-rate) novelist, Mel Hutchwright, author of Hard Grinding which has been read by the Street's Book Club. (As is depressingly usual, some viewers have been trying to buy the non-existent book at bookshops).

The intriguing thing is that whilst McKellen squeezes every drop of juice out of this wonderful comic part he also underplays it. I suppose that's why he's one of the elder statesmen of British theatre. One of the ways he achieves the element of understatement is by usually talking quietly. But - and this is the clever bit - because you sometimes have to strain to catch the nonsense that he spouts, he focuses attention on himself as effectively as he would with a roaring Falstaffian interpretation that many lesser actors would have gone for.

McKellen's character reminds me of a man I sometimes met in a pub many years ago who claimed to be a writer. So far as anyone knew he had never written anything more taxing than a shopping list but, peering over his half-rimmed spectacles, he would sigh and shake his head and explain that he'd had writer's block for the past twenty years.
He would then quote from letters he'd received that very week from different eminent writers who were suffering from the same affliction. He never explained how he came to be the confidante of these literary giants nor how, despite their writer's block, they were publishing best-selling novels every year while he was condemned to waste his prodigious talents by spending twenty years in the Dog and Duck boring the bollocks of people.

The greatest delight of this year's Soap Awards was the special award given to Coronation Street writer John Stevenson. I've mentioned (Sir) John Stevenson (hint for the next Honours List) here before. The most gifted of the Street's writers, and with the most recognisable 'voice', he has written almost 450 episodes. That's over 200 hours of television drama.
Although I think he's also written a few one-off dramas, he's mostly stuck with Corrie for which viewers should be very grateful. There's probably a lesson in that. If you're brilliant at something, there's no need to regard it as a stepping-stone to something that's regarded as more worthy or prestigious.


I watched three episodes of Father Ted on E4 the other night and noticed that the writers do something that may be unique in comedy writing (let me know of any other examples). They sometimes do self-referential gags about the process of comedy writing itself.

The most obvious example was the episode where Ted and Dougal are watching a television comedy that is an exact replica of Father Ted itself but without realising that they're watching a mirror image of their own characters and lives.

But I saw two more subtle examples the other night. Firstly, Ted tells Dougal he feels like a character in a movie. Dougal says he's never seen it and Ted replies: "Not many people have. That's why it was a bad reference."
The second one is even more extraordinary because they start a plot line and then reject it in front of our eyes.
A woman leaves a baby on their doorstep. Then she takes it away again saying that she's got the wrong house. Ted then muses to Dougal on how funny it might have been if they'd had to bring up the baby themselves and all the jolly japes they'd have had in the process. Then, on reflection, he says it wouldn't have really been that funny and we return to the actual plot of the episode.
I gasped when I realised what they'd just done there. I'd completely missed it on the first viewing. It proves that the best TV comedies often have hidden depths.
One day I'll write about the sub-text of Keeping Up Appearances.
Unless you beg me not to.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Dressed To Kill

WARNING: Readers of a nervous disposition should avert their eyes from today's image.

A large shopping centre has banned people wearing hoodies or baseball caps. It seems these items are associated with criminality and are intimidating to respectable citizens going about their lawful business of contributing to Britain's one trillion pounds' worth of personal debt.

Now my late mother often wore a hooded anorak in order to protect herself from a sudden shower. But I don't recall her ever mugging any fellow oldies in the Post Office pensions queue.
On the occasions in my life when I've been struck or threatened with violence (I have that effect on some people), none of my assailants was wearing either a hoodie or a baseball cap.
I sometimes wear a baseball cap myself to protect my skull on hot summer days. I only do this in the privacy of my own garden. That's for aesthetic reasons (like most middle-aged men I look a prat in a baseball cap), not because my appearance on the street would have my fellow villagers running for cover.
But I hardly need to labour the point. I credit my readers with more sense than that.

So let's consider John Prescott. I know you don't want to but it's relevant to the story.
He said this morning that he fully supported the shopping centre's policy. This is the same John Prescott who punched and wrestled with a man with a mullet who had thrown an egg at him in the 2001 election. I'm sure Mr Prescott was wearing a smart dark suit at the time of his punch-up.
Maybe people with mullets should be banned from all public areas. They obviously have a propensity to throw eggs at people.
And - you won't believe this - bruiser Prescott, who didn't think twice about taking on a beefy, mullet-wearing Welshman, admitted on the radio that he had felt intimidated by some youths wearing hoods. Apparently they had tried to provoke him at a motorway service station. One of them was even carrying a video camera to record the altercation.
Are you thinking what I'm thinking? Sounds very much like a sting to get the mullet-wrestler on the front of a tabloid. But it hadn't occurred to Prescott that even youths as intellectually challenged as himself might think twice about picking a fight with a Deputy Prime Minister who was surrounded by bodyguards in a busy motorway service station.

But if this policy of sartorial criminality catches on, where will it end?
What about those people on horseback who wear red coats, a clear sign of intent to commit what is now a criminal activity?
And if we broaden it to giving public offence, what about the 20 stone people who waddle around in tight shorts or cellulite-hugging lycra? Or the old men I've seen in the village library in the summer wearing very short shorts the better to display their varicose-veined, lily-white legs? I've sometimes had to skip lunch after seeing that.

So leave da boyz in da hoods alone. (Sorry. That little sally into the argot de la rue was ill-advised).
Is the nation that watched with bemused equanimity the glorious flowering of punk fashion in the seventies now crapping itself at the sight of a hooded anorak? That's what I'm talking about. (There I go again).
In olden days a glimpse of a teddy boy's tasselled shoe was rather shocking. He had a flick-knife down his sock as surely as night followed day.
Except that in most cases he didn't. U get me? (Damn. Time for my afternoon nap.)
That's all I'm saying.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Televisual Child Abuse

A new genre of television is threatening to elbow out the lifestyle and property programmes: children and teenagers with behavioural problems.
Blame The Parents.....The House of Tiny Tearaways.....Brat Camp.....Bad Behaviour.....Families Behaving Badly.....and so on.
I've glimpsed some of these and not seen others at all but I've seen enough to convince me that, even with full parental consent, they are an indefensible invasion of children's privacy and a form of child abuse.
The producers will claim thay are educational and show parents how to deal with difficult children. They are actually the worst kind of voyeuristic entertainment and exploit the most vulnerable who are too young to give informed consent. For all television is entertainment, even 'serious' programmes like Newsnight or Horizon.

Let's put this in context with the following observations:
It's a principle of our criminal justice system that children under 16 remain anonymous in most cases.
Many European countries, though not Britain, do not allow children to appear in television commercials.
Tony Blair fiercely protects his children's privacy (except at election time of course), slapping an injunction on a former nanny and refusing to say if Leo had an innoculation.
At the height of the paedophilia hysteria, many schools banned parents from bringing cameras to school plays and sports events.
Yet now we have children with behavioural problems being filmed 24 hours a day and broadcast to millions of viewers on primetime television.

A sickening variation is a new BBC programme where well-behaved children have to recruit a new partner for their single parent. Equally exploitative in its own way, all you need to know is that animated stardust is periodically sprinkled across the screen.

Bad Behaviour, which started on Channel 4 last night, uses the common formula of an expert who advises parents on coping strategies. Last night's programme was undeniably intriguing, if only because it lacked the 'class angle' of inviting us to spy on the strange lives of the underclass. The family was a mother, stepfather and six riotous boys. They were a middle-class and reasonably affluent family and both parents were committed Christians. The mother's second husband was revealed to her in a dream which she said was a vision from God. If true, this suggests that the Almighty has far too much time on his hands.
The most shocking thing in the programme was not the behaviour of the children but the mother's remark that, without the intervention of the 'expert', at least two of her sons would have had to be found alternative accommodation, by which I assume she meant a foster family or children's home. I don't underestimate the nightmare of badly-behaved children but this was fighting and swearing, not criminal activity or drug addiction. That this devout woman could contemplate banishing two of her six sons to the uncertain fate of being brought up by strangers took my breath away.

The family sat down at a table to eat their dinner, preceded by a full Grace in which they thanked God, Jesus and the rest of the mob for their Turkey Twizzlers. Later on, the 11 year old boy told his mother to 'Fuck off, you bitch.' When she told him not to swear he said, in an hilarious piece of role reversal, 'Well, you've got to learn. You shouldn't speak when other people are speaking.' He was in close-up at the time and, trouper that he was, he wasn't going to disappoint.
An older boy refused to go to school and barricaded himself in his room. When his mother had left the house, one of the production team knocked on the door and he instantly opened it with a broad grin on his face and showed the viewers how he built the barricade.

It's probably not too far-fetched to say that children brought up with television have a good understanding of how the medium works and of what makes 'good television'.
And you don't have to be a psychologist or self-styled expert to know that children addicted to bad behaviour want to be the centre of attention in the family. Having a camera crew film every tantrum for weeks on end must be like all their Christmases coming at once. (Few of these shows use hidden filming and sometimes the children give sly grins into the camera like those yobs in the street who wave to the CCTV cameras.)
So one has the ludicrous situation where the 'expert' is telling the parents to remain politely indifferent and not to react, while a cameraman, sound man and director are running round the house to capture every punch and expletive. It wouldn't surprise me if they do the odd re-take. I know how many re-takes I've had to do just doing a plain TV interview because the sound level was wrong or the lighting wasn't right.

One of the mysteries of the age is why people are so ready to reveal the most intimate secrets of their lives to television cameras. If they are adults, fair enough. But for young children to have their family home invaded and their behaviour displayed to relatives, school friends and millions of unknown people is a form of child abuse that society should not tolerate.
Some people will scream 'nanny State' but the Government should have the guts to get its Children's Minister to sit down with OFCOM, the TV regulator, and put a stop to anyone under 16 having their private family lives turned into prime time entertainment.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Third World Britain

At the weekend my father, who is 92, decided to travel to Liverpool for a school reunion. Liverpool is not much more than 200 miles from where we live. In some large countries people travel that distance for pre-dinner drinks with friends. His mistake was to make the journey by train.
The outward journey took 6 hours. But that was fast compared to the return journey which took about 11 hours. The reasons included being given incorrect details when he booked, engineering work which meant trains were replaced by buses and being put on the wrong train by a rail worker and finding himself en route to Southampton.
Needless to say, nobody told him when he booked that trains would be replaced by buses. At Liverpool he was told he would have to take a 3 hour bus journey to Birmingham. When he protested, they sent him instead by train to South Wales, followed by a circuitous route with many changes back towards our corner of middle England.
On this marathon 11 hour return trip he was unable to buy any food. He did buy one small mug of tea for 98 pence which was undrinkable.
On the day of the VE celebrations he found himself sitting on a God-forsaken rural railway station for an hour and asked a rail worker how it was that during the war hundreds of thousands of troops were efficiently moved around the country by train but in 2005 a 200 mile journey was taking 11 hours.

Whilst I don't want to deter any overseas readers from visiting our country, it's only fair to tell you that my father's experience was not unusual and that our rail fares are on average three times higher than those of our European neighbours.
And do you get a partial refund if you buy an expensive rail ticket and are put on a bus instead? Don't be silly! Would you get a refund if you booked a hire car and were given a bicycle? Er.....yes, I suppose you would. Bad example.
You see, the railway company's contract is only to take you to your destination and at no pre-determined timescale. So they can put you in a pony and trap, a barouche or, if you've a got a first class ticket, a sedan chair carried by a team of Iranian asylum seekers. In no case will you have any cause for complaint. It's up to you whether you rejoice in the glories of a privatised transport system in the fourth biggest economy in the world or kick yourself for believing all that guff on the British Tourist Authority website.

Election Blog (21) - Final Round Up

I've now woken up after replacing the lost sleep on election night. Yes, but what about the other three days, you ask? Well, I have very thick bedroom curtains and didn't set the alarm. (Old wartime music hall joke which I'm really too young to remember). Anyway, here's some brief final comments.

First, the TV coverage:
I started election night with Sky News where a young woman was speaking from a helicopter. There were more choppers in this election than at a lumberjacks' convention. "We're above the sky over Sunderland!", she shouted.
I'm no astrophysicist but if she were above the sky it must have been the first helicopter to go into space, in which case she might have been expected to see the asteroid that was about to smash into Labour's majority. But in fact the Sky helicopter was about to pursue white vans through the streets as they took the ballot boxes from polling stations to the count. Why? I've no idea, unless it was to persuade the non-political that this was some kind of game show.

I spent the rest of the night with BBC1 although the programme was rather shambolic and David Dimbleby is definitely past it, frequently making irritating slips of the tongue. Of course we knew that when he said 'Labour' he meant 'Conservative' and when he peered distractedly over his glasses at the banks of monitors in his desk we hoped that Matron would soon arrive to put him to bed before he tried to interview Clement Attlee.

The worst howler came the following day when an academic from Manchester was asked about the Tory succession. They might, he said, opt for a younger leader and then struggled to think of any names, eventually settling on the odious Tim Collins, the only problem being that Tim Collins had lost his seat the night before. Don't study politics at Manchester.


One of Blair's early comments on the result was that the British people had voted for a Labour Government but with a smaller majority. This was the first untruth of his new administration.
Firstly, only one in five of the electorate had voted Labour.
Secondly, he was making the common conceptual error of speaking of the 'British People' as a concrete rather than an abstract noun with the implication that millions of voters had acted as a single individual might - deciding on a desired outcome and voting to bring that about. Whilst it is true that the result was what many people wanted (although millions did not), it was a purely contingent result of millions of individual votes.

There's an old saying that Oppositions don't win elections, Governments have to lose them. That was proved true again, with the small but significant difference that the Opposition didn't win and the Government is still there.
Obviously this was because the Government had an unusually massive majority to start with. It was also the result of a resurgent third party. But in other circumstances with a strong Opposition and an attractive Opposition leader, the Government, with only a 36% share of the vote, would have been defeated.

The Conservatives were also big losers, hardly increasing their share of the vote and gaining seats only because of the Lib Dems.
The election also leaves the Lib Dems with a big problem because it exposed their claim that they are neither right nor left but 'progressive' as the nonsense it is. Everyone knows that on most issues they are to the left of Labour and that's why they gained Labour seats but struggled to win any Tory ones. Logically, this means that Labour is the party they must aspire to replace, not the Conservatives.
The great problem with replacing either of them is that both main parties have a remarkably stubborn core vote especially amongst the elderly who always vote but always for the same party, in the same way that they always buy Typhoo tea - because they always have and it saves thinking.

Since the election, the most vivid proof of Blair's poor judgement and failure to learn from his mistakes is bringing Blunkett back into the Cabinet. There are many reasons why this is a mistake but the over-riding one has nothing to do with the nanny's visa. The real reason that Blunkett should never hold public office again is that as Education Secretary he wasted millions of pounds on a half-baked scheme for an internet university. Try perpetrating an expensive fiasco like that in any other public sector post and see if you ever work again. It's a kick in the teeth for anyone who voted Labour and consoled themselves that at least this most sickeningly arrogant, authoritarian and publicity-crazed politician was no longer in Government.

Against all expectations, my readership increased during these election blogs. But now it's time for their ceremonial dissolution and the ancient ritual of sending the ballot box logo to the recycle bin.
Thank you for joining me on my battlebus. Now it's back to the usual Mystery Tours through the prejudices and passions of one Middle England psyche. Window seats usually available on the day.