Thursday, June 30, 2005

Calendrical Crap

Today, yet again, I heard someone say 'It's the 21st century' in the belief that this supported their opinion on something.
For the previous 100 years people said 'It's the 20th century, for God's sake' to clinch an argument.
It's quite likely that people used to say:
'I can't believe you're still hunting and gathering. It's the year 2068BC, for God's sake. Have you never heard of agriculture and domesticated animals?'
'What does 'BC' stand for?'
'Search me.'

The stupidity of this becomes clearer if you shorten the timescale:
'What do you mean you still believe in Marxism? You said that at breakfast. This is 7.30 in the evening.'

What does chronology have to do with truth or morality? Sweet F.A.
Indeed, one could go further and say that calendars and time itself are man-made concepts and have no intrinsic meaning whatsoever, never mind a relative or contextual one.

I suppose this constant citing of the current century derives from a view of 'progress' as an historical continuum, one of the features of the Whig view of history.
One seldom hears the century quoted in a contrasting context: 'The Government are locking people up without trial, but that must be all right because this is the 21st century.'
But you will probably hear: 'I can't believe that, in the 21st century, the Government are locking people up without trial.'

So the next time that someone you're arguing with says 'But this is the 21st century!' try one of these responses:

If I want to know what century it is I'll ask a policeman.
I'm so glad you've mastered the new Gregorian calendar.
My great aunt used to suffer from ingrowing toenails.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Ex-Minister In Golf Course Plus Fours Shock Horror

There must be limits to the horrors one subjects oneself to in the interests of blogging. It is, after all, an unpaid activity and meant to be a pleasurable one.
Yet recently I have watched Anne Robinson on television and made a close textual analysis of the song Honey. So, despite the best of intentions, I didn't manage to watch Ann Widdecombe's new programme last night.
I said, in the words of Mr Meatloaf, 'but I won't do THAT.'

This is an agony aunt style of programme, although Ms Widdecombe's contract specifically excludes sexual problems. An eminently sensible exclusion because the sight of Ms Widdecombe closing her eyes tightly, as she always does when she speaks, and trying to get her mouth round 'premature ejaculation' would breach every guideline on taste and decency. And probably put the youth of Britain off sex for life, although she would probably regard that as a great achievement.

What I said at the beginning was only 98% true. For I did see a few minutes of the programme, in which she tried to reconcile a woman to her husband spending too much time on the golf course.
Perhaps it's just me, but this doesn't grab your attention to quite the same extent as Jerry Springer with the man who married his cousin's transvestite horse.
It did give us some deeply disturbing footage of Ann Widdecombe in plus-fours scurrying around a golf course like a giant, genetically modified rodent.

The wife in this case, who had foolishly taken the security chain off the door and allowed Ann to invade her living room, turned to the camera afterwards and said "She's not the full ticket, is she?"
There's not much you can add to that.
Except to explain to overseas readers that Ann Widdecombe is a right-wing Conservative politician who early in life bought a Supersaver Awayday from the rest of the human race and is yet to make the return journey.
And to note that one day Ken Clarke will become leader of the Conservative Party by default because all the other comedy weirdos will have disappeared to pursue lucrative television careers.


I know The Bill has a voracious appetite for actors and that many actors would starve if it weren't for bit parts in The Bill.
An old friend of mine turned up in it recently as an alcoholic tramp. Then again, he might now be an alcoholic tramp who just happened to wander into shot and was left in to provide gritty realism.
But I think the casting directors should exercise a little more care.

Coronation Street's resident detective, who only recently banged up poor Mrs Harris for a crime she didn't commit, has turned up in The Bill as a criminal supergrass.
To add to the confusion, one of The Bill's detectives said she used to know him in Manchester. So I immediately decided that he'd been sent down to London's Sun Hill from Weatherfield on an undercover operation and I was soon engrossed in a plot that bore no relation to the one the writer had written.

I believe The Bill has an '18 month rule'; that's the time that must elapse before an actor can appear in The Bill again. But for the easily confused they should have a similar rule for actors transferring or moonlighting from other soaps.
It must be especially disorientating for the many people who think soap characters are real people. How did they ever get their heads round Barry Grant from Brookside popping up in The Bill and having an affair with one of the Nolan Sisters?

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Media Round Up

Sometimes one feels that political correspondents should get out of the Westminster hothouse and inhale the oxygen of reality.

Simon Heffer in The Spectator wants William Hague as the next Conservative leader. One of the reasons is that "he has a persona to which the public has warmed."
They have warmed to his persona when he chairs Have I Got News For You and he takes the piss out of himself and the disaster of his last spell as Tory leader. The British like nothing better than an oddball loser with a self-deprecating sense of humour. It doesn't mean they want him as Prime Minister.

Then on Sunday, Alan Watkins in The Independent (I used to read him as a teenager so he must be about 90 now) writes that Boris Johnson "is one of the most popular politicians in the country."
No, Mr Watkins. He's one of the most popular comic characters in the country. Almost nobody wants him running the bloody country. For Christ's sake, most people wouldn't trust Boris to post a letter for them.
'Oh crikey, I'm awfully sorry, I think I wrote the agenda for the Spectator editorial meeting on the back of the on.....I put it in my gosh.....must have fallen out my Bermuda shorts when I was jogging.......we could go to Holland Park and look for it......there wasn't a postal order in it, was there......some little oik will have nicked it.......crikey......awfully bad luck and all that......'


Meanwhile, Christina Odone in The Observer bemoaned the credulity and gullibility of so many people today and their readiness to believe in all kinds of irrational tosh. Quite right too.
But hang on. Isn't Ms Odone one of the country's leading lay Catholics and a former Editor of The Tablet? So she believes in.......all kinds of irrational tosh.

The religious right tend to believe that the road to Hell is lined with the godless scumbags who control our media. So it's worth reading yesterday's Media Guardian article* on the Christians who currently sit at the top of the BBC and Channel 4 and control many of our national papers.
But there doesn't seem to be much reason for secularists to get in a panic. For most of them take the same line as Andy Duncan, boss of C4: "when I say my religious beliefs influence my judgements, this doesn't mean they determine which programmes to show or not to show."
Phew, that's a relief. It meant that last week C4 viewers could enjoy a repeat of Animal Passions, which included a woman who had sex with her labrador.

For there's one thing you can always be sure of with Christian capitalists. When there's a conflict, Mammon will always triumph over God. And there will always be a convenient verse from the Book Of Contradictions to justify it. "Render unto Caesar.....etc". Yawn.

In the same article, the current Editor of The Tablet, Catherine Pepinster. was greatly cheered by the "incredible interest" in the death of the Pope, an event charted minute by minute on the 24 hour news channels.
Er, slight logical error here, Ms PepsiMinster. Commonly known as post hoc ergo propter hoc. You are assuming that the latter (24 hour coverage) was a response to the former (incredible interest). The reality is that people across the land were tearing their hair out in frustration and the BBC received hundreds of complaints about the excessive coverage. It was a frustration and anger that was well chronicled in this and thousands of other blogs around the world.
*Note: I think you have to register to read Media Guardian on the web. But it's free and there's some good stuff, including perceptive articles on advertising.

On last week's Question Time, a member of the audience said that the Government wouldn't dare stop people in prisons from smoking. "That's not true!" said Peter Hain, the Minister for Tanning Parlours.
This is what happens in Governments' third terms. Ministers become smug, lazy and complacent. The proposed legislation on banning smoking in enclosed public places does specifically exclude prisons.

It means that prisoners will lose the right of everyone else to vote in an election. But they will gain the right, denied to everyone else, to smoke in an enclosed place. I bet most of them will be more than happy with that.
The other interesting consequence might be that if you were sent to prison for persistently flouting the smoking ban or refusing to pay the fine, you would gain the right to do the very thing for which you had been sentenced to prison.
It's rather as though, if the Michael Jackson verdict had gone the other way, he would have been allowed to sleep with the Prison Governor's son.

Finally, some words of wisdom from David Beckham. (No, that's not a typo):
"I think I have lost a lot of my gay fans to Welsh rugby star Gavin Henson. It is a shame as I really love them."
Don't worry, David. I Googled for young Henson and he looks to me like a hamster who's got his balls caught in his spinning wheel.
And that hairstyle is so last century.
We still love you, David, if only because if we accidentally wandered into the dressing room you'd never say "Who are you looking at?" and punch us in the mouth.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Pink Power

There were probably quite a few gay men and women who bought the Independent on Sunday yesterday for its 'Pink List' of the 101 most powerful gay men and women in Britain.
In one sense it's as absurd as publishing a list of the most powerful ginger people in Britain (actually, it wouldn't surprise me if someone has already done that), but we are where we are. Sexuality, like skin colour, remains an 'issue' and we are curious about the private lives of the famous.

Spotting the Gay has always been a popular game, not least for gay people themselves. It reminds me of the sketches in Goodness Gracious Me, where the Indian father claims everyone from the Queen downwards as Indian. For stigmatised minorities it gives reassurance to see people like themselves who are talented, rich and famous. In my youth it was mainly long-dead writers and poets. Today, with greater openness, young gay people have many more contemporary role models.

But citing high-profile gay people never really worked as a way of gaining acceptance for yourself. Famous people are by definition 'other', separated from ordinary life, and people tended to say 'yes, of course, a lot of famous writers and actors are gay but that doesn't make it right.'

Another problem was that drawing attention to famous and powerful gay people always fuelled one of the favourite obsessions of the homophobic: that there is a sinister 'gay conspiracy' dedicated to destroying heterosexuality and traditional families and 'corrupting' the nation's youth. Since every gay person on the planet sprang from a heterosexual union, it's difficult to see why gay people would wish to stamp out heterosexuality.
It was as recently as Labour's first term in office that the Sun splashed a front page on the gay conspiracy that was running Britain. And that was even before Peter Mandelson was outed. They later apologised for this nonsense.

One merit of the Independent's list is that, as well as all the expected names from show business, there's a good spread of occupations, including top civil servants, a judge, the athlete Rob Newton, a Royal Navy Lieutenant Commander, an Ambassador, police chief Brian Paddick, and Sir Michael Bishop, Chairman of BMI. None of which should surprise anyone, although it probably will.

I doubt if the number of gay people in any particular occupation varies by more than one or two percentage points from the number of gay people in the population as a whole. Contrary to popular belief, most actors, hairdressers and ballet dancers are straight. We simply don't share any characteristics other than our sexuality, any more than straight people do.
Arguably the greatest poet of the last century, who happened to be gay, was a shambolic, scruffy man who pissed in the sink and never changed his underpants and almost certainly couldn't dance. I refer to the late W.H. Auden.

It would be interesting, and possibly more educational, for the Independent to publish a list of the 101 least powerful gay people in Britain. The ones who drive the buses and trains, empty your dustbins, stack the shelves in Sainsbury's, stamp your library books, teach your children, sell you your newspaper or are unemployed. For these are the ordinary people that I have mostly encountered amongst the thousands of gay people I have met over the past 40 years. And not forgetting the young rent boys who sell their bodies because, even in this sexually tolerant New Jerusalem, their parents, who are happy to watch Julian Clary (no 39 in the list) hosting the Lottery show, have kicked their queer son out into the street.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Rom Con

I am almost wholly unfamiliar with the oeuvre of Richard Curtis. Apart from seeing bits of the Vicar of Dibley, my knowledge of his more substantial work (contender for Inappropriate Adjective of The Year) comes at secondhand. But last night I watched the first half hour of his television film The Girl in the Café. That I watched any of it was down to the presence of Bill Nighy and if human life weren't finite I might well have watched all of it and been sufficiently entertained not to fall into a coma.

I admire Bill Nighy as much as the next person but in this film Bill Nighy was playing Bill Nighy. Maybe he thought he'd do it himself before Rory Bremner starts doing him. But somebody should have told him to tone it down a bit.
The scene with him leaving the café and wondering whether to return to speak again to the girl almost developed into a stand-alone short film. One could imagine it as piece of video art at Tate Modern: Man Leaving Café.
He's a terrific actor and it's wonderful watching all that pocket-patting, tie-straightening, hair-slicking and eye-darting. But just because he can do it so well doesn't mean that directors shouldn't rein him in a bit.

I switched on again about 45 minutes later and, although Bill Nighy and the girl were now lying a foot apart in a double bed, he was still behaving like a 14 year old whose mother's best friend has come on to him at the summer barbecue after drinking too much Chardonnay. Apparently Curtis's male characters always behave like this and I can see that Hugh Grant is perfect casting for such roles. But it seemed all wrong for the wolfish Nighy who one assumes would reach first base with a woman before the rest of the boys had got their boots on.

I believe that Curtis's films are very popular in America, which must reinforce a lot of false stereotypes about British males and their relationships with women. In the real world, British males start having sex earlier than anywhere else in Europe.
Of course, that may be because they don't notice that while they've been stammering and patting their breast pocket and straightening their tie, their girlfriends have removed their trousers.

I can see the appeal of Curtis's 'romcoms', even if, on the evidence of last night, they seem more a like a 'romcon'. There's no reason to get worked up into a fit of snobbish indignation about them. But whilst a water ice is a perfectly pleasant thing, it's supposed to be a palate refresher between courses. Consumed as a main course, you'll soon be wishing you'd had something more substantial.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Some Saturday Silliness

The AOL portal is the closest I get to the tabloid style of writing and usually I don't read it. But my eye was caught by a Wizard Name Generator, linked to promotion for the new Harry Potter book.
The Wizard name it generated for me was Salvador Sparkle. I was really quite pleased with this. Maybe it was the association with Monsieur Dali, whose posters decorated many a bedsitter in my youth. If I ever start visiting chat rooms again, that's the name I shall use. Donkeydick always seemed rather in your face and a touch immodest, which is probably why I never used it.
I did once go into a chat room using the name Heat Seeking Missile, purely for the pleasure of seeing the caption come up 'Heat Seeking Missile has entered the room.' Nobody spoke to me. They were probably all taking cover until the all-clear of 'Heat Seeking Missile has left the room' appeared on the screen.
I really can be very childish.

Sometimes I think I'm living my life backwards. Give it a few years and I'll be ringing people's doorbells and running away. Yesterday I caught myself looking longingly at a children's Water Bomb Kit that was by the checkout in the supermarket. I wonder if the kit tells you how many water bombs you can fire before you get an Anti-Social Behaviour Order?
Well it's got to be better than that pathetic, milksop stuff in 'the nation's favourite poem': when I'm old I shall wear purple......go out in my slippers in the rain.
Yeah right, Grandma. Wearing purple? Wearing slippers in the rain? That is so shocking. Not.

Me, I'm going to sit in the tree outside the library and fire water bombs at the Tory Chairman of the Parish Council and at that woman who put a note through my letterbox asking me not to park my car outside her house, especially as I never cleaned its windows.
And I'm going to collect used condoms from the layby by the woods and put them through the door of that woman who told me she never gives to AIDS charities because they're all bloody queers.
And I'm going to join the Silver Threads Club, go on their Mystery Tour, get pissed, hijack the coach's PA system and read extracts from the Vagina Monologues and the Derek and Clive dialogues.
And I'm going to take out a subscription to Gay News in the name and address of the Chairman of the local Evangelical Alliance.
And I'm going to enter a float in the Village Carnival that re-creates the orgy scene in Derek Jarman's film Jubilee.

Then again, it's all a bit too much like hard work. So I might just wear beige cardigans with gravy stains down the front and take my library books back late and run away without paying the fine.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Go To Work On This Book

Fay Weldon's punningly titled Auto Da Fay is an exceptionally fine autobiography. I do hope she writes a second volume that covers her life after she became famous.

I often skip the early chapters of autobiographies because it's the subject I'm interested in, not their great-grandfather and his passion for trout fishing. In this case I didn't, because Fay Weldon's account of her early life in New Zealand is fascinating and because some of her family mixed with that rather odd collection of early 20th century intellectuals that included H.G.Wells and Bernard Shaw.
The combination of sexual libertarianism and hypocrisy manifested by some of those people is breathtaking. They believed in the 'Life Force' which actually meant shagging like there was no tomorrow. H.G. Wells was thrown out of the Fabian Society for sleeping with so many of the other members' daughters. But this freedom did not extend to their wives who were expected to take illegitimate children into the family and bring them up as their own.
It reminds me of that oft-quoted remote tribe, one of whose rites of passage was for the teenage boys to perform oral sex on the men. The social anthropologists who recorded this made no value judgements. But many others have pointed out that male-dominated societies have a remarkable knack of dreaming up belief systems that just happen to give the men the maximum amount of sexual pleasure.

Weldon says that Bernard Shaw never slept with his wife, though whether he slept with other people's isn't stated. I've read elsewhere that Baden-Powell on his honeymoon slept alone in a sleeping bag on the hotel balcony. However, since he had children, he must have forced himself to do the deed at some point. Closed his eyes and thought of woggles, I shouldn't wonder.
Someone else who never slept with his wife was Fay Weldon's first husband. She married him for purely mercenary reasons because she was a single mother with no means of support. He was a respectable headmaster and pillar of the local masons. It's possible the poor man was put off sex as a child because his mother tied his hands together every night for six months after she caught him masturbating.

In this section of the book, Weldon switches to the third person to distance herself from the completely alien person that she became for a brief period of her life. It provides a fascinating, alternative perspective on respectable, middle class domestic life in the 1950s, in the same way that Joe Orton's Diaries give an alternative take on life in the sixties.

Weldon's husband at one point suggested that some of his friends could be invited round to attend to her sexual needs but she declined this offer. He also enthusiastically encouraged her in her plan to become a nightclub hostess and she duly went to work in a clip joint off Piccadilly. But she upset her co-workers by having sex for free instead of charging the clients.

In her later career as an advertising copywriter, Weldon is famous for her slogan 'Go To Work On An Egg.' Simple and memorable, it's a classic of the craft. And unlike many of today's examples the double meaning is instantly grasped and free of any obscure or sexual references.
But her proposal for a Smirnoff vodka campaign, that it 'makes you drunk faster', was a little too honest and never used.

Beautifully written, the book records a rather unconventional, disjointed life with unflinching honesty and her essential goodness and intelligence shines through every paragraph. If I followed the silly practice of the arts supplements in awarding stars, I'd unhesitatingly give it five.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Builders' Songbook

Oh dear. I've had to come in from the garden again.
Not the heat or the insects this time.
The usual tranquillity of what I grandly and misleadingly call the Lower Terrace is being disturbed by builders working on a nearby house.

It's not so much the banging and crashing. Nor the tanned, half-naked bodies that keep insinuating themselves into my peripheral vision as I try to read The Guardian.
No, it's that other thing that builders do. They sing single lines from many different songs. It's like flicking the tuning dial through dozens of Classic Gold radio stations and catching short fragments of lyrics.

'You are the sunshine of my life..........the minute she walked in the room..........and I was only 24 hours from woman, no cry..........I like to ride my bicycle..........never gonna give you though your heart is breaking..........'

You'll have gathered that most of these particular builders have long since progressed from the foundation stone of youth and are balancing precariously on the rickety scaffolding of the male menopause.

"Do you do requests?" I shouted with ill-concealed sarcasm.
"What do you want, squire?"
"Shut the fuck up".

I didn't really of course.
I don't have a death wish.
And the youngest member of the gang has the surly look of a chav with a grievance. And a chav who works out at the local gym.
That said, it's undeniable that his tool belt - worn slightly off the hip - really suits him.

The Wisdom of Cropper

I once wrote here about the way the word 'issue' has infested our language like some vicious verbal cuckoo.
And I noted how a woman at Thames Water said to me, when I was reporting a leak, "so do you have issues inside your house?" The water was actually issuing in the street but that wasn't what she meant.

Last night that wonderful Coronation Street character Roy Cropper, played by, and to a great extent created by the genius of, David Neilson, took issue with the word 'issue'.
This was duly noted by the Guardian's Nancy Banks-Smith [readers should bow their heads when reading her name or make that Ali G gesture and say 'Respect'].
Here's what she said:

"These aren't issues. They are things that have gone wrong," James Naughtie protested to Dawn Primarolo, the Paymaster General, on Today (Radio 4). She issued away, regardless. May I draw the minister's attention to Roy Cropper's thoughts last night on this very subject. "Issues is, I believe, the current code word, though what's wrong with difficulties or problems I've no idea." This is the sort of thing you get on Coronation Street and nowhere else.

If there are ever days when you don't have time to read my blog and Nancy Banks-Smith, just read Nancy. You probably would anyway if you have an ounce of judgement. The poor woman tried to retire years ago but after sackloads of letters she was persuaded to change her mind. When she finally shuffles off her mortal coil, Guardian readers will settle for nothing less than a full State funeral.

Sumac Stunners

Time for another Willie Tip in our cut-out-and-keep gardening series.
Don't waste money on expensive, exotic patio plants like bamboo. If you have a sumac tree or know someone who does, the young shoots make wonderful container plants.
I have about eight of these dotted around my garden. If I were being pretentious I'd say they form a leitmotif.
Sumacs are regarded as sacred trees by the North American Indians, who make medicines from many parts of the plant.
It's also used as an ingredient in Arabic cooking. The seeds can be crushed to make a spice, although I've never tried this.

Here's what you do. Dig out one of the young shoots from around the base of a sumac tree. Stand it in a bucket of water for 24 hours. Then plant it in a container of compost. It doesn't have to be a particularly large container. One of my largest specimens is in less than a foot of soil.
For a couple of weeks or so the shoot will appear to be dead. But keep it watered and eventually it will revive and flourish. Give them a liquid feed in the spring and keep them watered in dry weather.

Although quite common trees across Europe, the Mediterranean, North America and North Africa, many people are unfamiliar with them and visitors to your garden will think they're something rare and exotic. Be sure to do a Google search for sumacs so you can impress people with the many fascinating facts about these trees, or perhaps bore them to death as I did a neighbour recently.

The second picture from the top shows one placed to partially conceal and to soften the hard contours of a small shed.
The bottom picture shows the large parent tree, still with a few of last year's spiky flowers because I'm too old to climb trees and remove them.


I have to admit to a floral faux pas.
Remember a previous Willie Tip about using old towels to line hanging baskets? Well in two of them I've planted bush lobelia instead of trailing lobelia. This means those old bath towels which have had such an intimate acquaintance with Willie Lupin's ageing yet vestigially nubile body will be exposed for the rest of the summer.
It's not really my fault though. I was convinced that the local shop had put the wrong labels on their lobelia.
"I don't want bush", I said to them.
"Nothing new there, then", somebody muttered.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Cartwheeling To Absurdity

A school in Dorset has banned girls from wearing skirts. They must now always wear trousers. The Headteacher said this is "to give girls the same opportunity as boys for a safe, active and healthy lifestyle, while maintaining their modesty."
Apparently, when the press asked for a translation of this gibberish, it was so that girls would be able to turn cartwheels in the playground without showing their knickers.

It wasn't long ago that a school on Tyneside banned girls from wearing trousers.
I don't know whether this was because the boys complained that when the girls turned cartwheels they couldn't see their knickers. But one girl, who was unhappy at having to wear a skirt in the bitter north-east winters, took the school to court. I think she won her case on the grounds of sex discrimination. (I haven't checked. I'm a blogger not a journalist. If you want research as well as opinion you'll have to pay for it).

The first question is why parents should be happy to entrust their children to the bunch of looney tunes who run our schools. Now that so many decisions have been devolved to schools themselves, some of the cut-price autocrats who run them can make rules about clothing, varying and contradictory around the country, that the Taliban could only dream of.

The second question is whether, at this school that bans skirts, a Scottish boy could wear a kilt and argue that to prevent him doing so would be racial discrimination. No doubt it would be argued that Scottishness is a nationality, not a race. Or not even that since Scots have 'British' nationality. Yet many local authorities give grants to Irish Dancing groups on the grounds that they are an ethnic minority.
So my advice to young Hamish would be to give it a go, if only to give that mad minger of a Headmistress a run for her money. But if it's true that Scotsmen wear nothing under the kilt, make sure you don't turn any cartwheels or toss your caber in the playground.

The third question is whether boys today would be overly aroused by a glimpse of knicker. Surely not. Not if they watch late night television or ever survey the erotic smorgasbord available on the internet.

The fourth, and possibly most pertinent, question is whether young girls today ever turn cartwheels. I can't speak with absolute authority on this because I don't hang around school playgrounds. But my impression is that they are more likely to stand around with a family pack of prawn cocktail crisps, texting Sharon about how fit that Kane in Year Six is.
And that 50% of them are so obese that if they were ever to put their hands to the ground you'd need an industrial winch to lift them up again.
And that most of them are so full of saturated fats, sugar, monosodium glutamate, salt and additives that if they attempted a cartwheel the rush of blood to their heads would probably put them in a coma for a week.

I certainly never see girls turning cartwheels in the street, just as I never see them playing Hopscotch or bowling wooden hoops as they run along the cobbles in their clogs, clutching a handful of farthings to buy some bacon bits and pease pudding for their father's tea when he gets home from t'pit.
I do sometimes see them sitting on the wall outside the chip shop, swigging cans of cider and saying "who are you calling a slag?" and "ignore him, Tracey, that Darren's a f*****g wanker."
But maybe those same girls will acquire a passion for gymnastics once they reach puberty. And also a proper concern for the preservation of their modesty which, as the Headteacher of the Dorset school says, can only be ensured by the wearing of trousers at all times, just in case you feel a cartwheel coming on.

He's Back

You may remember I posted this photo of Peter the Frog a short time ago. He re-appeared in my garden this afternoon.
Amazingly, he sat still while I gave him a shower with the hosepipe.
He soaked up at least a gallon of Thames Water's finest. Yes, I know the reservoirs are running dry. But the bastards are charging me £20 a month for the stuff that falls from the heavens. And with the temperature around 90F my amphibian friend deserved it.
I think he wanted another photo taken. This internet fame has gone to his head.
Next thing you know he'll have an agent and be appearing on Celebrity Frog Island.

Thought For The Day

The nights are drawing in.

Me, Mahler and MI6

Mahler's 9th Symphony always reminds me of the News of the World. More specifically, their old strapline 'all of human life is here'. Certainly, all of my life is contained in that music. That's why it means so much to me.
I first heard it on the radio when I was about 14. Mahler became very fashionable in the sixties so I thought I'd give it a try.
It blew me away. A crude slang phrase but I can't think of a better one. I decided to play it while writing this piece but I'll have to turn it off because I can't see the keyboard through the tears. Familiarity has never diminished its power to move me, even though almost nothing makes me cry these days. Perhaps it's a 'conditioned response'. I prefer to think it's the terrifying yet uplifting experience of seeing your entire life pass before you without the usual prerequisite of actually drowning. That couldn't have been true when I was 14 so maybe it was intimations of the joy and the pain and, ultimately, mortality that lay ahead.

After hearing it on the radio I saved up my pocket money and set off to the music shop in my provincial town to buy the record.
The man in the record department regarded classical music as an exclusive club of which he was the self-appointed membership secretary. He asked me if I wanted the Bruno Walter version. I said I just wanted the Mahler version, so we got off on the wrong foot.
Things got even worse when I let slip that we only had a mono record player. Stereo was not very common in those days and quite expensive. He gave me a long lecture about the absurdity of somebody claiming an interest in serious music who didn't own a stereophonic gramophone. My father held this man in contempt after hearing him say at the interval at a concert "the timpani were half a beat late coming in during the Third Movement".
But, although feeling as chastened and humiliated as a 14 year old who has tried to buy condoms at the chemist, I went home clutching my expensive boxed set of Mahler's 9th and sometimes played it in my bedroom on moonlit nights when I wasn't playing Love Me Do or Like A Rolling Stone.

Many years later in London a friend told me that he liked Mahler so I lent him my now rather scratchy LPs of the 9th.
This friend had always been rather eccentric but one day he came to my flat late at night in a state of great agitation and said that MI6 were following him everywhere. "They're outside in the street now", he said.
Stupidly, I got up and looked out the window and said I couldn't see anyone.
"Of course you can't", he said. "They're secret agents. They're masters of disguise."
Shortly after this he left the country, presumably with MI6, MI5 and possibly the M4 Traffic Police in hot pursuit. This was a great relief to me until I realised that Mahler had gone with him.

Twelve years passed. Twelve long Mahler-less years. Twelve years of Rondo-Burleske, lived very much allegro and al dente, or is that something else?
Then, living in Newcastle, I saw a poster for Mahler's 9th at the City Hall and bought a ticket. I've never liked attending concerts because I always find myself studying the shoes of the First Violins. But I closed my eyes and the magic began to happen. Then, at the end of the second movement a man in front turned to his friend and said "What do you think of it so far?"
"Well, it's good for a laugh", his friend replied.
I haven't been to a concert since.

A few years ago I finally bought the 9th on CD - Claudio Abbado and the Berlin Philharmonic. Amazon didn't interrogate me about the quality of my CD player and, so far as I know, the timpani's timing is correct to a nano-second.
I've said little about the music because I know almost nothing about music. But it's music characterised by polyphony and montage, by things happening on different levels simultaneously with 'samples' of waltzes, folk tunes and operatic melodies overlaid on top of the main themes.
Do you see where I'm going with this? It anticipates contemporary techniques used in club dance music (which I also love), in which different tracks are super-imposed.
More than genius. Revolutionary genius, 100 years ahead of his time.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to put the CD back on and cry like a baby.
You can scoff all you like. It's my CD and I'll cry if I want to.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Winning Formulas

People complain that reality TV shows are becoming too repetitive. But what about reality itself?
The recent floods in Yorkshire were lamentably derivative and showed a complete failure of creative imagination.
It's a total waste of money shooting new flood footage because it's indistinguishable from any previous flood footage. The same is true of the news scripts. Helicopters are always scrambled (just as snow ploughs are always out in force), there's always a big clear up operation underway and insurers face a massive pay out.

Animals always feature prominently. On this angle the Yorkshire floods had three ducks in a row. Well, not literally. Rescuing ducks from a flood would be a disgraceful waste of resources by the emergency services.
But there were cattle, sheep and dogs. The canine angle, so vital to a flood, was covered with a thoroughness that some might find excessive: an entire kennels was reported to have been washed away. In this case, the storyliners had forgotten the golden rule that less is more. A single mutt winched to safety from a rooftop and re-united with its tearful owner will always have more impact than some kind of canine holocaust.

Another curious thing is that floods only happen in places with caravan parks. Have you ever seen a flood on television that didn't include images of caravans floating across the fields? The alternative explanation is that this green and pleasant land is entirely covered with trailer parks. This seems unlikely but it would explain why Trisha always has a ready supply of trailer park persons to dispute paternity issues on her television show.


On Sunday night before Coronation Street I caught the end of the Formula One coverage and gathered that between the beginning and the end there had been almost nothing. Apparently a problem with the tyres had left ITV broadcasting hours of nothing much happening - to some of us barely distinguishable from normal Formula One coverage.

I am now praying that Health and Safety officers in south west London will discover some hitherto unknown but potentially fatal risk in grass tennis courts. Or find that that Robinson's Barley Water has been made with genetically modified barley that causes women to develop masculine characteristics. On second thoughts.........

Returning to the motor racing, Jim Rosenthal said this could be the end of Formula One. But this could be a great opportunity because, let's face it, Formula One has shall I put it?......rather formulaic. Not that that's ever been a problem for Casualty. But noisy cars going round in circles was never going to reach out beyond its core audience.
How, in God's name, could it be expected to appeal to those ladies who, at eight o'clock on a Sunday evening, sit down with a glass of sweet sherry to snuggle up in the comfort blanket of Heartbeat or Where The Heart Is?

So, if this is really the end of Formula One, maybe it's time to try Formulas Two, Three or Four?
Personally, I'd go straight to Formula Six.
This would involve teams of hooded twockers being pursued round the track by the cast of The Bill (Tony Stamp in the area car, of course) and that nice young policeman from Heartbeat on his 1960s motorbike and sidecar, with a soundtrack of The Bachelors greatest hits. Stuart Hall would replace Jim Rosenthal as commentator, viewing figures would soar and ITV would sell masses of advertising to Yorkshire Tea, Hovis, and Quality Street.
Everyone's a winner.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Monday's Musings

Maurice Saatchi graciously spared the time to honour Today listeners with his thoughts on political philosophy. At one point he patronisingly said to the interviewer Sarah Montague, who is no fool, "Have I lost you?"
Here is one of his startling insights that will have them re-writing the politics textbooks:
"Elections are intellectual battles and the winner is the one with the best case."
If you put 'Discuss' after that you could use it as a question in a politics exam. But probably only at Key Stage 1 because it's such transparent nonsense.
Labour must be delighted that a top Tory adviser is dispensing advice from the Olympian heights of Cloud Cuckoo Land.
Of course, Lord Saatchi was one of the masterminds behind the Tories' recent triumphant election campaign.
Maybe he was responsible for that intellectual battlecry 'Are you thinking what we're thinking?'
Or did he get that one from Aristotle?


It was interesting to hear the new Archbishop of York talking about being stopped by the police. Talking from personal experience.
He's black, you see.
As a curate he was stopped seven times for no apparent reason, apart from the obvious one.
As Bishop of Stepney he was stopped late at night in his car. The policeman was very rude to him. But then when the policeman saw the dog collar he smiled and said 'Whoops!'

It was also good to hear the new Archbishop condemning homophobia but sad that like so many clerics he cannot see that insisting that homosexuality is inherently sinful is a green light to homophobes and a justification, intentional or not, for homophobia.
Interviewed on C4 News, his message to gay men and women seemed to be: 'Hey guys, it's no big deal. We're all sinners. Homosexuality is just another sin like adultery.'
If, like many gay men, I were in a loving, faithful, long-term relationship I'd find that pretty galling. If you're going to be damned anyway, even for being faithful, you might as well have a bit on the side.

I learn from Victoria Coren in the Observer that, had Michael Jackson been found guilty, Radio 2 were going to ban his music. Why just Radio 2? Do BBC listener profiles include attitudes to under-age sex for the different channels?
On the broader point of banning his music, Coren cites some rather tame analogies from the world of literature, though strangely doesn't mention Lewis Carroll. She might have done better to mention some of the examples I quoted here recently of 'age-inappropriate' relationships by pop stars - people like Elvis Presley, Little Richard and Bill Wyman's relationship with the 13 year old Mandy Smith.
Of course, none of these people were convicted of any crime. If they had been, would the BBC ban their music? Have they banned Gary Glitter records since his conviction? Have they banned records that were produced by Jonathan King? I think that, after his problem with internet pornography, Pete Townsend was put on the Sex Offenders' Register. Have they banned records by The Who?
Once you start down this road of banning music, literature or anything else because of the private life or opinions of the artist, where do you stop?

Tangentially related to this, there must be many intensely homophobic, maybe Evangelical Christian, gentlemen and their good lady wives who enjoy listening to their old LPs of Cole Porter or Ivor Novello. Or like an evening at the theatre to see a revival of one of those safe, respectable, middle-class plays by Terence Rattigan.

But the need to separate the person from their profession goes beyond the arts.
There are many gay doctors. I knew quite a few at university. So if I need to cheer myself up I remind myself that every day somewhere in Britain a raging homophobe is dropping his underpants in front of a gay doctor.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Sorry Al, Stick It Up Your Fresco

I have to be honest. I'm really not an al fresco kind of person.
I've spent the last two sweltering days going into the garden, coming indoors, into the garden, back a video tape being endlessly replayed.

This is the garden I spend hours making attractive so I can sit in it during the summer. Yet I know from 50 years' experience that I won't ever sit in it for more than 15 minutes without stomping bad-temperedly indoors because it's too hot, it's too windy, there are too many flies, the heat's given me a headache, I can hear next door's radio.......
......talking of which a neighbour today - after that increasingly rare thing, a neighbourly chat - switched his radio from the usual pop station to Classic FM and Elgar filled the air. Perhaps I struck him as an Elgar type of person. Not sure how I feel about that. Or maybe something more subtle was going on and he was saying that, even after our little chat, I remained an Enigma.

Then there's the chore of having to slap suntan lotion on to the few parts of my body that I expose to the sun.
If God had wanted me to coat my skin in oils and lotions, he'd have made me a woman. Most women seem to do it 365 days a year.
Many women I've worked with, after returning from the toilet, would stand at their desks for five minutes rubbing moisturiser into their hands and arms. They looked as though they were preparing for a session on a Costa Brava beach. I suppose this ritual took so long because if the lotion wasn't fully absorbed into the skin they'd be walking around with dozens of Post-It Notes and Mr Skidmore's Memo on Performance Targets adhering to their upper bodies, like a peripatetic notice board.
But why do they do it? Is women's skin biologically different from men's so that it needs this constant basting? Or is it because men of the heterosexual persuasion are more attracted to a moist woman? I think I've heard men speak in those terms but I'm not sure it had anything to do with cosmetic products and I'm not going to go there.

Then there's the horror of eating outdoors. I have no intention of sharing my food with hordes of disease-bearing insects. If God had intended us to eat outdoors he wouldn't have put caves on the planet.
Even a simple cup of tea outdoors can be fraught with danger. I can't tell you how many times I've been relaxing in the garden with Kant's Critique of Pure Reason and almost swallowed a dead fly or wasp floating on the surface of my Darjeeling.

So until the sun begins to sink below the mobile phone mast and the bells start pealing from the church steeple (which, come to think of it, is now the mobile phone mast) I shall sit here basking in the gentle glow of my flat screen monitor, safe from entomological predations, unmoisturised, but as cool as a scrotum in a kilt.

I had a small win on the Sainsbury's lottery today. Never heard of it? Well, it pays out more often than Camelot.
If their grocery delivery is late they give you a ten pound voucher. So as 11 o'clock approached I was counting down the seconds (there's not much excitement in my life these days). 5,4,3,2,1,.....YES!!!

Admittedly, I'd had to pay a group of boys in hoodies £5 to let down the tyres on the Sainsbury's van but I was still £5 in profit.
I suppose it was poetic justice or karma or something that I didn't get my Toulouse sausages. The delivery boy asked me if I would accept Sicilian. I replied that I never argued with Sicilians in case they were mafiosi.
'You look after yourself' he said as he left, but clearly thought it was much too late for that.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Honeysuckle and Roses

Today I wrote my first Country and Western song:

A tribute to Mr Bobby Goldsboro and his legendary ballad Honey

They climb the fence
So bright and strong
Like Honey in bloom
But now she's gone
Oh, Honey

She planted them, just like that twig
And like our love, they grew so big
I guess the dew on every leaf
Is like the teardrops of my grief
Oh, Honey

She often laughed, she often cried
Especially when the puppy died
Forgot to feed it, but I guess she tried
Oh, Honey

And then one day I wrote that song
And she got mad
Yes, I was wrong
Oh, Honey

She said I made her sound so thick
If she were a rose
Then I was a prick
Oh, Honey

She said I'm not a Stepford Wife
It's time I got a friggin' life
Her words went through me like a knife
Oh, Honey

She sneered at my song, my drooping twig
Said this is where I start to live
She took the car, I felt it hard
She even took my credit card
Oh, Honey

I guess she wasn't quite so dumb
She left me broke, a homeless bum
And there's one song I never hum
When honeysuckle and roses come.
©Willie Lupin
All enquiries to Retch Records
Today's blog was sponsored by Kweasy-Kalme®
Fast, effective relief for nausea and vomiting.

Saturday Snippets

With the Borethon of Wimbledon almost upon us, the BBC has had to restrict the showing of a trailer for the tournament after complaints that it was frightening children.
Well bugger me in Barnsley! (© Jonathan Harvey).
If they can make tennis scary then surely they are also capable of making it interesting.
And if terrifying tennis has arrived, how long before watching paint dry becomes an extreme sport?
But my aversion to posh ping-pong is a blessing on these summer evenings.
It means I can linger over my dry martinis and canapés on the South Terrace, watching the sun set over the council houses and listening to the soothing cooing of the wood pigeon and the distant chatter of the chavs outside the Co-op, without having to rush in to a stuffy Pink Drawing Room to watch grunting Amazonian women, elderly men who sit in a baby's high chair and call everyone 'love', and young boys who can sprint faster than a junior baseball team leaving a Neverland sleepover.

Did anyone believe that a jury could possibly convict Gary Lineker in the recent libel case? I haven't read the full transcript of the trial but I assume the judge was obliged to tell the jury:

"You must focus on the facts of this case and banish from your minds the ineffable niceness of the defendant.
Some of you may have seen the defendant on your televisions presenting programmes about Association Football and been captivated, as is my wife I regret to say, by his boyish charm and his undeniable knowledge of the game which he himself served with such distinction. Who can forget his penalty save against Turkey in the 1966 World Cup Final?
But forget it you must, members of the jury. And much else besides.

I must remind you that when Mr Arthur Smith in his well-known stage drama said that even Mr Lineker's farts were probably perfumed, this was a comic invention, albeit in execrable taste. Even if Defence Counsel had called expert witnesses to substantiate this assertion, it could not and should not have any influence on your consideration of the facts in this case.

It is true that a fellow judge once drew the attention of a jury to the 'fragrance' of a witness, one Mary Archer. It would, however, be totally inappropriate to speak in such terms of a male defendant and - a fortiori - one who has been a distinguished exponent of a rugged, manly sport.
One characterised by the clash of sweaty male bodies, the mingled aromas of vapour-rub and pheremones, the mud-caked thighs, the tangle of arms and legs in goal mouth scrambles, the group hugs and bodies piling onto prostrate bodies when a young striker, running with the speed and grace of a gazelle, has penetrated a tight back four to score, followed by hearty carousing in a communal bath, the foaming waters swirling round the toned, young, naked, male bodies, so redolent of Roman times......the paintings of Alma Tadema....... that film with Kirk Douglas........could the Clerk pass me a glass of water.......the jury will retire...... I shall lie down."

I'm not sure that Alan Duncan did himself much good by appearing on Ann Robinson's new Friday night topical pot-pourri on BBC1. This particular pot-pourri smells mostly of desperation. Plus an unpleasant whiff of effluent as in the previous week's remorseless attacks on Cherie Blair, not for anything she's said or done but for the way she looks.

The interview with Alan Duncan focussed almost entirely on the fact that he was gay and naturally included the observation that if he became Prime Minister he would be able to give Downing Street's interior design a makeover.

Much was made of the fact that, in the unlikely event that he became Tory leader, then he could become the first gay Prime Minister. It would probably be truer to say that he would be the first openly gay Prime Minister. I'm sure I've read speculation that Spencer Perceval was gay. But he was also the only Prime Minister to be assassinated, so that's not a comfortable precedent for Duncan.

Ted Heath was, and is, a 'confirmed bachelor' but that doesn't necessarily make him gay, although many people made that assumption.
In the 1970s I watched trade unionists marching through London chanting 'Heath is a poof'. In these more enlightened times they might possibly have chanted 'We strongly oppose your Statutory Incomes Policy but your sexuality is not an issue.'
Or possibly not.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Motes and Beams

The Chief God-Botherer, Rowan Williams, has broken his customary silence to attack the media. There's much wrong with the media but the bearded one might do better to forget about the messenger and do something about some of the messages that issue from his own church. The redemptive power of hatred, and all that. Or is it the redemptive power of love? You could have fooled me.

Or if he wants to contribute his two penn'orth, or forty pieces of silver, to public debate he could have said a liitle more about the slaughter of the innocents in Iraq - by all three of them, Saddam, George and Tony.
You may remember that he did a Today interview with John Humphreys in which Iraq was off limits. Humphreys ignored this and asked him about it. Williams expressed some mild criticism of the war. Then the producer cut that part of the interview and Humphreys went ballistic and listeners heard him shouting in the background just after the recorded interview ended. Williams then said he didn't mind being asked about the war. So, if I remember correctly, after this strange pantomime we learned indirectly that Williams found the war 'difficult to justify', or similar mealy-mouthed words.

While 100,000 corpses in Iraq produced this tepid reaction, the failings of the western media get the bardic one in a right old bait. His opaque prose makes it difficult to work out exactly what he's saying. Until he gets to the internet. Then he really lets rip in plain English. ".........Unwelcome truth and prompt rebuttal are characteristic; as are paranoid fantasy, self-indulgent nonsense and dangerous bigotry."
'Fantasy', 'nonsense' and 'dangerous bigotry'? Motes and beams, my dear Archbishop. Not to mention 'pots' and 'kettles'.

He is here talking about 'internet journalism'. Quite what he means by that I'm not sure. Most of the journalism on the internet is print journalism recycled through the major newspaper sites. Maybe he means blogging, assuming he knows what that is. Certainly a lot of blogging is a form of journalism but without the commercial, editorial or proprietorial pressures. What's this post if not an 'opinion piece'? And the freedom and democracy of the internet means that whilst our press is overwhelmingly right of centre, left-wing bloggers like myself can correct the balance slightly even if individually our readers are only in the hundreds.

The other feature of journalism through blogging that Williams should welcome is that the comment system gives instant feedback and a conversation betwen author and readers. It's difficult for the traditional media to do this because the numbers involved are too great. The few times I've emailed Guardian writers they've always sent brief replies but some of their columns provoke hundreds of emails and they couldn't possibly engage in a debate with so many people.

It's probably absurd to expect the head of an essentially authoritarian organisation to welcome a mostly unregulated medium like the internet.
And he seems blind to the rich irony of much that he says. Like criticising journalists for being part of an 'elite'. To which non-elite group does this resident of Lambeth Palace and member of the House of Lords think he belongs for God's sake?

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Thursday's Trivia

For those who share my antipathy to Bill Oddie (and I know there's at least one) I am compelled to issue an urgent Oddie Red Alert.
There's a total of 4 hours 20 minutes of the little bugger on BBC2 today.
Surely this must be a breach of at least one of OFCOM's broadcasting codes?


I still can't believe this is true but apparently the BBC is getting Graham Norton, who they paid squillions of pounds to defect from Channel 4, to read out viewers' letters on Points of View in the wasteland of Sunday afternoons.
So let's get this right. You spend millions of licence payers' money to poach an outrageous, gay, late-night TV performer who says f**k and c***t and discusses vibrators with cabinet ministers, you leave him twiddling his thumbs for months, then give him a crap dance competition at Saturday teatime and then, in a masterstoke of matching performer to programme, you get him to read letters from the Home Counties green ink brigade.
What do you need to be a BBC executive? Shit for brains, as they say in my village.

Another gem from St Bob's gob was his appeal to owners of flat-bed trucks to drive up the M1 and pick up dozens of G8 protestors.
This was a novel re-working of a phrase Bob often used in his younger days: 'I suppose a truck's out of the question?'
It is of course highly dangerous and illegal to ride up the motorway on the back of a flat-bed truck.
Or to travel in any vehicle, other than a coach, without a seat belt.
I once travelled in the back of a van and the girl driving made me lie flat on the floor to prevent any passing police seeing me.
I hasten to add that we weren't engaged in any criminal activity. She was just giving me a lift and her girlfiend, although dressed like a commando, refused to give me the passenger seat and lie in the back in case it made her combat trousers dirty. Which proves you can take the heterosexual out of the woman but you can't take the woman out of the lesbian.

Like most things, 'being broke' is a relative concept. Never more so than when applied to Michael Jackson.
If you're sitting on several hundred acres of Californian real estate, co-own the Beatles back catalogue and have a steady income from record sales and royalties from the songs you wrote yourself, I wouldn't fancy your chances on getting Income Support.

At a recent press conference, Blair was asked about some comments by Peter Mandelson. "I haven't read Peter's speech so I can't comment on that" he said.
This is one of those evasion tactics that so pisses people off with politicians. It leads to this kind of thing:

John Humphreys: Prime Minister, the former Minister Ronald Runt said in a speech that you wouldn't recognise the truth if it was served to you at the River Café with a side salad of rocket and balsamic vinegar.
PM: Well I haven't read Ronald's speech so I can't comment.
Humphreys: Later in the same speech he describes you, and I quote, as a 'lying scumbag'.
PM: As I said, I haven't read the speech.
Humphreys: But those are direct quotes from Mr Runt.
PM: I haven't read the whole speech so I don't know the context in which those remarks were made.
Humphreys: 'A mendacious, monkey-brained leader with a meretricious, money-grabbing wife', he says, just to give you a little more context.
PM: Look, I've known Ron for over twenty years and he's someone who expresses himself forcefully. But, you know, hard-working families aren't interested in personalities but in record low interest rates, low inflation and millions of new jobs created.
Humphreys: But isn't it damaging when someone who's known you for twenty years describes you in those terms?
PM: I haven't read the full speech so I can't comment on that.
Humphreys: Thank you, Prime Minister.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

The Joy of Herbs

I was almost too upset to blog today because one of the majestic foxgloves that I hadn't staked snapped in half in the heavy rain.
To avoid a repetition of this horticultural tragedy I've just been out and driven in more stakes than you'd see in a Dracula film. Cursing and hammering in the storm, you'd only have needed Panavision and a thunder soundtrack to mistake me for Vincent Price.
While I recover, let's consider less troublesome plants.

Herbs are grown for their flavour and scent and I always forget the amount of colour they bring to the garden in early summer when annual plants are still finding their feet. Herbs are very good patio plants and most of mine are in pots. In some cases, like mint and sage, this is to stop them running rampant. Most of them are very resilient so they won't suffer if you forget to water them, although mint in pots tends to droop in dry spells. A man who runs a herb farm told me he hadn't watered his plants in 30 years.

From the top: chives, which you can never have enough of. Well, I can't. I'd probably sprinkle them on top of a trifle if I ate trifles.

Then thyme. Can't remember which variety this is but it flowers well.

Finally, sage.
These flowers are very popular with bees although sage honey sounds rather revolting.
We're always told that attracting bees to your garden makes you a hero of environmentalism. But they're the bane of my life. Every time I water or put stakes in they're buzzing round me, resenting my intrusion. They're not usually aggressive but then how overtly aggressive do you need to be if you're swaggering around with a poison-filled hypodermic at the ready? I hate the little bastards.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Turbo-Gob Bob

I'm no great fan of the free market but if people want to sell and buy Geldof's free concert tickets on Ebay then surely that's between them and their consciences.

The saintly one has just appeared on the news encouraging hackers to attack the Ebay website and bring its whole operation crashing down.
Isn't it a criminal offence to incite others to commit a criminal act?

Over to you, Crown Prosecution Service.
It's been at least 24 hours since we had a big celebrity trial and both old and new media need something to get us through the summer.

Anarchist, My Arse

Still on the theme of our so-called 'quality' newspapers' failure to check facts, a profile of Bill Oddie in The Observer says he was "one of very few celebrities to refuse the red book treatment on This Is Your Life." Not true. He gave Michael Aspel a severe ear-bashing but then did the show with bad grace, which was much worse than not doing it all.
Anne Kirkbride from Coronation Street did This Is Your Life in the depths of clinical depression. She claims to have been so heavily medicated that she doesn't remember it. Yet you'd never have known it when watching.
That's one reason why I don't much like Bill Oddie. His voice may be another factor but if it is then I'm ashamed of myself. In any event it means that Germaine Greer's statement that "everybody loves Bill" is also factually incorrect, even if I'm the only person in Britain who doesn't.

The Observer profile also contained one of the funniest sentences I've read this week: "today Oddie is still a scruffy anarchist.......while grudgingly accepting a real OBE for his conservational work."
Yeah, right. It must be a real pisser when you're an anarchist and you're forced to get suited and booted and go schlepping down to Buck House to get the Order of the British Empire and bow to the Queen and make small talk over the champagne.
"As Proudhon said, Ma'am, property is theft. Nice gardens, though. Was that a shag I saw down by your lake?"
"I'm so sorry. I've told Harry to be more discreet. The Mayor of Tunbridge Wells slipped on a condom at one's last Garden Party."

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Sunday Shorts

Richard Ingrams, in his Observer column, reminds us that Tony Blair said less than a month ago that even if the French voted no in a referendum, we would still have one. "That is a government promise".
Last week we were told we would not have a referendum.
Is this one of the fastest u-turns in political history?
To paraphrase what Gordon Brown allegedly said 'How can we ever trust another word that he says?'


Despite the clouds lowering about our house - I had to put the Big Light on at 4 o'clock to consume my muffins and Earl Grey - it must be summer because Saturday night television is a desert.
Last night I found myself watching Casualty. Although it's my second favourite hospital comedy after Green Wing, I don't often watch it now. I used to enjoy counting how many times Charlie scratched his head but we only glimpsed him once last night. Perhaps he was in one of the cubicles being treated for head lice.
It didn't prove much of a diversion from this week's blogging since it included a story about underage sex. A father had almost killed a 32 year old man for having sex with his daughter who was 4 months short of her 16th birthday. 'I'm not sure how I'd have reacted in the same situation', said the consultant soothingly, implying the possibility that even someone of his God-like intelligence might have been moved to commit attempted murder. If a week is a long time in politics, then months or weeks are an eternity where the age of consent is concerned, effecting a sudden and miraculous conversion from perversion to legality. But rather than revisit the subject let's recall an old joke:
A woman finds her husband sitting sobbing and asks him what's wrong. "Remember when I got you pregnant when you were 15?" he says. "And your father said he wouldn't go to the police if I agreed to marry you when you were 16."
"But that was 10 years ago", she says. "Why are you crying?"
"Because today's the day I would have been freed from prison."


I hate that new expression 'a senior moment'. And it's of dubious relevance to myself because I'm still many years from being a senior citizen and being statutorily obliged to attend Tea Dances, listen to Daniel O'Donnell albums and ask the checkout woman to count the right money from my outstretched, palsied palms.
Nevertheless, I must confess that today I came within a hair's breadth of spraying shaving cream under my arms instead of deodorant. If I hadn't noticed in the nick of time I might have had to go into denial about the neuro-failure and follow it through by shaving my armpits, donning a figure-hugging sequined dress and doing Shirley Bassey impressions at the local gay bar on a Saturday night.
Not that I've ever been a cross dresser, although I get pretty angry and swear a lot when I can't find my socks.


A woman called Grace Dent writes a column about soaps in the Guardian's Saturday Guide. Yesterday, writing about Coronation Street, she said that Danny Baldwin is Mike Baldwin's son. He is not. He is Mike Baldwin's nephew.
Similarly, Guardian TV critics have twice said that The Bill's Gabriel Kent is the son of June Ackland. He is not. All the other characters think he is but he invented this story and in one episode June met her real son.
I once complained to the Readers' Editor about this latter error (in a green, 20 point, comic sans font, naturally) but no correction appeared.
The Readers' Editor never even acknowledges emails, not even if you tell him that you have a collection of Second World War pistols and know where his children go to school.
But these particular errors annoy me out of all proportion to their importance, even more than when The Guardian said that Tony Blair went to Cambridge University.
If they want someone to write about television soaps who actually watches the bloody things, then I'm available. Whether they could afford me is another matter.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Whatever Happened To Pipes And Slippers?

I can't get my head round the marketing of rock albums as Father's Day presents.
Last year there was a commercial that showed middle-aged Dads playing air guitar and headbanging to Meatloaf.
(By the way, does anyone know what it was that Mr Meatloaf wouldn't do for love? He always struck me as an unconventional cove for whom few things would be off-limits).
This year the main TV commercial is for more Meatloaf and other rock ballads that your Dad can play at 100 decibels in the car as he goes to pick Mum up from the Women's Institute Bring and Buy Sale.
This is wrong, wrong, wrong.
It's a crime against Nature and the natural order of things.
It's like your Dad inviting you to join him at a midnight dogging session at the local country park.
Well, not quite but it's well on the way.

In my day your Dad was someone who hovered in the doorway when you were watching Top of The Pops and said things like: 'Look at the state of that!' and 'Is that a boy or a girl?' and 'They're all on drugs!'
Once, when I told my father that there was a report in Melody Maker that Sonny (of Sonny and Cher) had collapsed on stage, he said: 'Thank God for that. Let's hope it's nothing trivial.' I said I hoped that he would confess that to Father O'Flaherty on Friday night because it was probably a mortal sin and then played 'I Got You Babe' very loudly while he was trying to check his football pools coupon.

On Father's Day you bought your father a Glen Miller LP, or some Rodgers and Hammerstein or if he was a bit more of a swinger (in the best sense of the word) a James Last LP.
Today, many teenagers are into retro-rock and pop so presumably they sit down with their fathers and sing along to The Who and the Stones. Probably the Sex Pistols too. Never mind the Bollocks, what about the Generation Gap?
No wonder the poor little sods are prowling the streets in hoodies with 8 inch blades and half a pound of crack in their pockets.

Meet my new friend.
Yesterday I moved a plant pot and he jumped out at me, putting me within a whisker of needing ventricular defibrillation. There are about three times as many rats as people in this village so any sudden movements or rustlings in the garden always have me fearing the worst.
But I love frogs and this one was happy to pose for a picture before hopping off. And yes, I did hum 'Crazy Frog' (still at No 1) at him. Well you'd have to, wouldn't you?

I've decided to call him 'Peter'.
Only because 'Freddy' is such a cliché name for a frog and there's already too much alliteration in this blog.
I'm just going out to tell him he's on the internet and also now in the Google image library. He might become the most famous frog in the world after Crazy Frog and Jacques Chirac.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Basket Case

Mrs Trellis from North Wales emails:

Dear Mr Hollyhock,

I greatly enjoy your Naked Blog. The pictures of Foxgloves were lovely.
Could you do a regular embroidery column?

In response, here is the first in our series of Willie Tips for all you gardeners:

From a distance the hanging basket container (above) looks like one of those fibre ones you buy at garden centres.
But if you look closer (below), it's actually an old towel.

Lay the towel in the basket, place a saucer in the base and carefully cut round the top edge of the basket with scissors.
The towelling retains the moisture and holds the soil more effectively than moss. Unlike moss it may last for several years.
You can also use old pullovers or any other wool/cotton material.
This will appeal equally to those who are into recycling and those who just like saving money.
If you are using trailing plants they will obscure the lining by mid-summer.
Even so, when you root around at the back of the airing cupboard for torn towels you might want to avoid bright pink ones. Although they'll brighten up your patio the neighbours might think you're making some kind of personal statement.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Who Let The Dogs Out?

A man researching dogs' names in Hull has discovered the first case of a dog called 'Asbo' (Anti Social Behaviour Order).
It's a very good name for a dog, as is any short name ending in 'O'. My own dog was called 'Cato' after the philosopher (I can be a bit poncy like that sometimes).
But when I named her (she was female despite her male name) it never occurred to me that it was also the name of Clouseau's sidekick or servant in the Pink Panther films. So when I was looking for her in the park and shouting "Cato, where are you.....I know you're there", passers-by would say: "That's a really crap Clouseau impression."

My dog had a terrific crush on a dog called Sebastian. I thought Sebastian had too many syllables for a dog's name but she was in love so to her it was the most beautiful name in the world.
One day the pair of them ran to the other side of the field where they were in view but out of reach and did the deed. Frankly, it was all very sudden. They didn't know each other very well and had never so much as shared a bowl of Pedigree Chum but with only the briefest and most cursory foreplay, Sebastian was going at it like a turbocharged piston. I was a little disappointed that Cato had sacrificed her virginity so eagerly. Dog-rough, some might say.

What do you do while your dogs are copulating? If you're two Englishmen you stand around and talk about the weather in a rather embarrassed way and pretend that nothing untoward is happening. After all, voyeurism is somewhat distasteful even where animals are concerned - unless your name is David Attenborough.
Eventually, our dogs returned as blasé as if they'd just been chasing sticks and no longer much interested in each other. I asked Cato if she wanted a cigarette. Sebastian's owner was a rather humourless man and gave me a very strange look but he did graciously pay for her to have the doggy equivalent of the morning after pill.
I felt a bit bad about not letting nature take its course but I talked it through with her and she seemed to understand that it was for the best, what with her being a single mother and everything and that I couldn't be responsible for the offspring of her sluttish and irresponsible behaviour.
If it were today she'd probably be given an ASBO.
In fact, a dog has already been given an ASBO somewhere in Britain. Obviously they had to serve it on the owner but that was only because the court officials wouldn't accept a paw print instead of a signature.

More Parish Notices

Peter at Naked Blog has said that he no longer wishes to link to my blog because of our disagreement over the age of consent which was conducted in my comment box.
Should I reciprocate and remove my link to him? Or would that make me look equally childish?
Actually, judging by his past behaviour to websites he doesn't like, I may well get a solicitor's letter demanding that I remove the link. Or be served with an ASBO (Anti Social Blogging Order).

Should I even be writing about this because:
a) Peter might think that I give a fuck
b) It gives him more of the attention that he so loves
c) It may confirm some people's view that all gay men are drama queens. That may be true of Peter but I don't believe it's true of myself.

There are people on my sidebar who I disagree with strongly on some issues. But I like their blogs and the personalities that shine through the writing and we usually rub along quite amicably.
Peter mistook my robust argument for what he called 'cheap aggression' - or deliberately chose to do so.
True, I could have just said "We'll have to agree to disagree on this one, old chap." Or I could have decorated my disagreement with lots of 'with the greatest respect' and 'in my humble opinion' and 'if you don't mind me saying so'.
I once did that in an argument with Mo Mowlam and she said "Fuck off. We're not in a law court. Just say what you think and cut all the crap."

Many of you are readers of both blogs. Any views?

The Joy Of Gardening

That title could just as appropriately be The Pain of Gardening. But by mid-June, when the hard post-winter work is done and the annuals are all planted, you can begin to enjoy the fruits of your labours. Or the flowers of your labours in my case since I grow neither fruits nor vegetables.
Gardening, like walking, is a very natural form of exercise, unlike jogging or working out at the gym. And we've been seriously cultivating plants since at least the Neolithic Revolution, although admittedly that's only the other day in the life of the planet.
There's an elemental, atavistic pleasure in working with the soil. This is as low-tech as you can get in a relentlessly hi-tech age.

It's not an original thing to say, but growing plants from seed is to witness a small miracle. Working with the basic elements that allow life to exist on this planet, a lifeless husk that has sat in a packet for months or years springs to life and becomes something of astonishing beauty that supports myriad other forms of life. And you're reminded that it was the co-existence of particular elements within a very narrow temperature range that made this a living planet, unlike those in our immediate vicinity in this tiny corner of the cosmos.
Gardening is also an activity that runs counter to the spirit of the times because it's a long-term project in an age of instant everything. You Can't Hurry Love sang The Supremes. And you can't hurry nature either. Like Eartha Kitt's Englishman, nature takes its time.

Take my Foxgloves. Well no, keep your thieving hands off them! I grew them from seed two years ago. They started life indoors, were then potted up and eventually planted out. But it has taken a full two years since I first tore open the seed packet for them to flower. As these pictures show, it was worth the wait.
As woodland plants, Foxgloves are one of the few flowering plants that thrive in shade, even total shade, which is why I put them in a section of garden where a high wall and a large tree mostly obscure the sun.
For those with more than a passing interest in such things, these are a traditional variety called Glittering Prizes and grow to a height of 5 feet. Messrs Thompson and Morgan, official seed suppliers to Lupin Towers, will part with a packet of seeds for a paltry sum of money.

The flowers have large blotched throats which are even more striking on the paler varieties of flower.

They look good at the back of the border, mingling with Lupins, Delphiniums and other tall plants.

Bees love them and disappear completely inside the long throats of the flowers - especially if a strange man is pointing a Fuji Finepix at them.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Parish Notices

I have now corrected the typo 'missages' in the last paragraph of my last post. I think the unfamiliar experience of writing about women's bodies had a deleterious effect on my spelling.

Yesterday someone posted an anonymous comment saying they loved me to bits for a beautiful post. I couldn't find which old post they put it on. I checked the few that I was vain enough to think that someone might consider beautiful but without success. When Blogger emails you comments it doesn't tell you which post they're on. Anyway, thank you to that person. I'm glad you liked whatever it was.

That's all.
I hate Ricky Gervais even more now for getting me on to these topics. I'm getting too old for heated debates. I've had it up to here with teenagers, vaginas, cocks and consent laws. It's beginning to make me quite nauseous.
Tomorrow I might write about my garden with some pretty pictures.
Oh God, Alan Titchmarsh is always on about the sexiness of gardening.
You see - sex is everywhere.
Except when you fancy a bit.

Let's Talk About Girls

Warning: this post includes frank discussion of sexuality, including heterosexuality.

If you've ploughed through all the comments on my last post and are thinking 'enough already!', you'd best skip this post and come back when things lighten up a bit.
One aspect I touched on in my replies was the greater concern that a patriarchal society has for the protection of teenage boys than of girls. I believe this attitude in a male-dominated society is due to a combination of misogyny and homophobia. Girls didn't get much of a mention in the previous discussions so let me redress the balance here.

Let's start with lesbian teenagers. They too suffer prejudice and bullying. One young girl killed herself quite recently as a consequence of this. But neither society nor the law are too concerned about what they do with their bodies. After all, you can't have 'real sex' if no cocks are involved, can you? Nevertheless, many straight men love watching young girls pretending to be lesbians on late night television porn channels.

Society is a little more protective of straight teenage girls but appearances can be deceptive. There's a worryingly high incidence of rape of teenage girls by teenage boys with group rape increasingly common. But convictions in those cases that come to court are low. Of course, proving rape beyond reasonable doubt where there is no corroborating evidence nor witnesses is notoriously difficult.
But all too often the victim will have her character and behaviour comprehensively rubbished while her attackers sit in their smart suits looking as though butter wouldn't melt in their mouths and the court will take account of their otherwise good character, their GCSEs, the fact that youthful high spirits sometimes get out of hand and that they genuinely thought she was 'up for it'.

The sexualisation of girls now starts well before puberty with adult fashions marketed at 10 year olds, including padded fake bras. Although many small boys now dress like mini-teenagers in baseball caps or hoodies I don't think there's the same attempt to present them as objects of desire or, for example, give them fake chest hair.

Like most gay men, most of my socialising has of necessity been done with straight men. So I know that sexual comments about quite young girls are considered acceptable so long as they're someone else's daughter and your wife's not around. I'm also aware that school uniforms figure prominently in heterosexual porn.
An apparently acceptable gag in Ali G's feature film had him tied to railings by a rival gang with his pants round his ankles but worried that passers-by weren't seeing him at his best. Then a group of young girls in school uniforms walk by and he immediately gets an erection. Now rewind the film and replace Ali G with a gay man and replace the schoolgirls with schoolboys. Would audiences think that just good, clean 'gross-out' fun? Would it get past the censors? Is the Pope a raving homophobe?

Which brings me neatly to society's very different attitude to the sexual protection of teenage boys. There's something of a contradiction here because on the one hand teenage boys are now demonised for their anti-social aggression and heterosexual promiscuity whilst on the other hand they are poor, vulnerable, sexually-confused creatures who must be protected from the power and potential allure of another male's penis.
Those who opposed an equal age of consent seemed convinced that otherwise heterosexual, and probably homophobic, teenage boys could easily be persuaded to submit to penetrative sex, particularly if the approach came fom a fat, balding middle-aged man. Of course, in the rare cases where it's forced sex that is rape and consent laws don't come into it.
Many otherwise sensible parents buy into this myth to a degree that they probably wouldn't with their daughters.

The conventional position is that vaginal sex is natural whilst anal sex is unnatural, painful and dangerous. Nobody, of course, should ever be pressurised into either if they don't want to. But it's worth exploring this in more detail because I don't think the distinction is quite so clear-cut or reflects a straight/gay divide.
Although a subject outside my experience, I understand that first penetrative sex for girls is not always the most pleasurable of experiences. And AIDS and other infections can be as much a consequence of straight sex as of gay sex. Indeed, STDs have reached epidemic proportions among young heterosexuals.
Now, apparently, teenage girls are increasingly pressured into allowing anal sex by their teenage boyfriends. One reason for this, I assume, is that it's an activity promoted by the heterosexual porn industry, whose products teenage boys now have easy access to through the internet. Another reason may be that it eliminates the risk of pregnancy or the need to wear a condom.
To demonstrate how 'mainstream' this has become I'll cite Ali G again, who often boasts of doing it with his girlfriend, even while constantly sneering at 'batty boys'. I've also seen Frank Skinner joke about it on television and football fans used to chant at David Beckham 'does Victoria take it up the arse?' (I wouldn't like to have to explain that to my 10 year old child at a football match.)
Not that this is a new adoption by heterosexuals of something that is considered uniquely disgusting when practised by homosexuals. It used to be known as the 'Italian Vice' back in the days when Italian Catholics followed the Church's teaching on contraception and wanted a way round it.

I'm not sure how keen teenage girls are on anal sex. I get the impression that many of them are not exactly gagging for it, unlike the women in porn films but those are being rewarded with rather more than a McDonalds meal or a necklace from Argos.
Men, of course, have an erogenous zone in that region but I'm not sure that women do. If they don't, then surely it's even worse to perform an act where only one partner is getting any pleasure and the other might be getting only pain?
But I suppose they're just expected to do what women have always had to do - close their eyes and think of England. Because these are girls' bottoms not boys' bottoms we're talking about. Front bottom, back bottom, a girl's got to satisfy her man. She loves it really. She was probably gagging for it. She's a slag. He's a stud. That's how it's always been. That's how it still is all too often.

And so it is that in considering the mixed messages and double standards surrounding the age of consent issue, a middle-aged gay man has discovered feminism.
I'm with you on this one, sisters.
If you'll have me.