Archive | June, 2012

Volte-face? You cannot be serious!

26 Jun

It worries me that, increasingly I seem to adopt views which, all too quickly, I change for their exact opposite. My political, social and even moral  core is in meltdown – or at least here today and weirdly changed tomorrow. Take Euro 2012. Just a few days on from spitting vitriol about our national game and lauding the gladiatorial-yet- sportsmanlike delights of top tennis, I am once again drawn by the multi-passing Spaniards,  Pirlo the peerless and the unavoidably admirable Krauts.   Even the host-god Andrei Shevchenko set my pulse racing before the Madeiran strutmeister Ronaldo took the wind out of the Ukrainian sails. The best four make up the semis.

Nalbandian hastened my VF along with the BBC’s near-prurient desire for Sue Barker to stick a microphone up Nalby’s nose so he could make a non-apology for kicking without due care and attention. We all make mistakes was the morally-relative message. Tell that to blood-stained officials everywhere. So I’m back on soccer and off Wimbledon. Hey waitaminnit that nice British girl Heather Watson has just, thrillingly beaten a Czech on Centre Court. We may never hear of her again but savour the back pages for just one day.

What else is on my list of fickle VFs? I appear to be an avid monarchist, judging by my recent appearances at the Derby and on the Mall. I went to church last Sunday and enjoyed the whole affair, even mouthing the Lord’s Prayer – albeit just a little self-consciously. But I’m a signed up member of the Dawkins and Grayling society? Further – I have painted all the doors outside doors at home. B and Q first, then sanding, priming, glossing, followed by a concerted gardening effort. I have had an MOT with my GP. I’ve had alternating opinions throughout June on education: academies, Gove’s  ‘O’ Levels, selection, courswork, private schools, the IB and much more.

I am an avowed mysoginist when it comes to modern literature -I ‘m not that fond of Jane Austen either. So why have I read Arundhati Roy, Anita Shreeve and P D James in the last couple of months – and enjoyed them? The last play I went to was written by a woman and the last 3 CDs (yes, I know, dinosaur) I bought were Adele 21, Dolly Parton’s Greatest Hits and something by Katie Melua. I’m exaggerating a fraction but you get the point. I don’t know what I think about anything any more. Worse, I seem not to care very much as long as people behave well in public.

Having banged on about the dearth of good public manners, I was disarmed this morning when a young girl (8 or 9) held a door open for me and rejoined my thanks with a ”You’re welcome.’ No hint of sarcasm either. She had a strong hint of Glaswegian in her voice. Another prejudice squashed. I did some gardening and enjoyed it. I went to a pub and didn’t. I had a conversation with a cold-caller and he seemed not to try to sell me anything. Strange times.

There is a good deal of ‘perceived wisdom’ out there. What we should do and say and think given a set of recognisable circumstances. Some of this wisdom is underwritten by law but the conforming pressure exerted by powerful groups in society becomes pernicious when our thoughts are scrambled by undue influence. From what to let your 5 year watch on TV to WMDs, we are led blindly by a perverse conformity. And the older and wiser we get, the more we struggle with what we really think.

It’s good to change opinions – do it whenever you are moved to do so. It’s a sign that you are reviewing a set of thoughts and beliefs in the light of new information or just a change of heart. A volte-face can reveal an intelligent humility but not if dishonestly delivered. Ed Miliband’s trumpeted admission that New Labour got it wrong on immigration would have been a worthy reversal if espoused in office rather than opposition. I have a great buddy who invariably brings furious debates to a convulsive conclusion by raising a white flag and lamenting,”If you’re going to present me with really good reasons why my point of view is invalid, I’ll have to back down!” Would that the boys in Westminster could manage that sort of emotional intelligence.

Back to Wimbledon. I rarely buy strawberries but they’re in the fridge right now. I want: Andy to have his back massaged by Virginia Wade; Brits to fail, as ever, gloriously; Tim Henman to be caught swearing at Sue Barker; Boris Becker to get a shave and look his age; Maria Sharapova to wear a muzzle; Roger Federer to go all the way because he really is poetry in motion. Most of all though, I need the brilliant analysis of John McEnroe to make eloquent sense of the big matches. And sun. Too much to ask? You cannot be serious!

Who let the dogs out? Who? Who?

26 Jun

I acknowledge the influence of Martin Amis’s latest offering for the canon –  Lionel Asbo – a visceral, gruesome morality tale of extreme Chavism. The reception has oscillated between sycophancy and disappointment, which is pretty much what the exile in New York is used to. Both  he and his amoral thug-hero Lionel are beyond the reach of ordinary mortals.

Amis patronisingly subtitles the grubby tale ‘State of England’ – as if we wouldn’t geddit. Lionel is a viscious, small-time gangster who lets no-one have peace – least of all himself – unless he is banged up in the ‘Scrubs’. His nephew, Des is a half-caste, academic, renaissance goody-two shoes save for the minor blemish of having had regular sex with his gran, Li’s mum. Li and Des. Ego and id? When Des proclaims a fondness for poetry Li wearily whines “….I despair of you sometimes. Why aren’t you out smashing windows?”

The narrative crackles along but it’s a path that doesn’t surprise once the set-up is established. Li has Des’s schoolmate Rory ‘topped’ for being another granny conquest and Asbo is able to shift a gear when he wins £140million on the Lotto. Amis now shifts into celebrity anti-culture and fires obvious and entertaining bullets at as many aspects of our broken society as he can manage in 276 pages. It’s funny, it’s disturbing but it’s also just a tad boring.

We get the ‘joke’ – although it’s hard to discern why Amis insists on his knowingly ‘clever’ but also often impenetrable tricks of language, grammar, syntax. I’m not keen on speech, dialogue, mediaspeak and soundites being italicised. Some ‘Li -speak’ is phonetic, some not; some dumbed down – some surprisingly eloquent.I’m happier with the more obvious. Lionel is a megabucks moron whose story is a graphic slide-show of the perversions of England 2012. But we have heard this before, haven’t we- and in slightly more digestible form such as Little Britain, Kevin and Perry, Keith Richard’s autobiography and  Eastenders. Last night’s Traffic Cops on BBC1 was more real and hardly less frightening.

For Amis’s fictional slides,  each jpeg has a recognisable heading: Rooney, Tabloids, Bankers, tax dodgers, PR men and smart-arse accountants, Jordan, Simon Cowell, cheap booze, cheap sex, underage sex, drugs galore, dogs with studded collars (fed on Tabasco), corrupt politicians, insufferable families, brutal shouting-matches, high-rise benefit fraud, immigration, education, toilet values as far as the eye can see, love, hate, language, violence….And in 2102, money buys you more and more of it all.

It’s an easy disconcerting read. But I didn’t really care if upstanding Des’s secret incest was discovered or not. I didn’t much care if the lovechild Cilla was mauled to death by Jek and Jak, the Tabasco-crazed dogs. The narrative had beaten me up so much that I was desensitised by the time I came to Lionel’s best-man speech, pages 76-79, delivered shortly after the bride had been gang-banged by hotel kitchen staff.  ‘With her fucking trousseau up round her waist and her fucking knickers down round her shins and her great big fat arse in the air…’ This signalled a family riot, untold damage, hospitalisation aplenty,  various custodial sentences…but the marriage remained intact with Gina prostituting herself to Lionel, once he’d been released.

Her husband Marlon took the money and kept schtum. Martin Amis should probably do the same.

Euro 2012. I’m a voyeur, not a fan.

14 Jun

I have watched a great deal of the coverage so far. Let’s zero in on the micro and extrapolate – Portugal v Denmark, last night. The 3 – 2 scoreline bespeaks a a 5 goal thriller, a treat for the fans. The truth of it? Another 90+ minutes of much of what sport shouldn’t be. Cheap fouls, cheap shots, players writhing feigning injury; more officials getting more wrong and Sepp disdaining techno-help; tattoed millionaires spitting venom and disrespect – and of course some sublime moments of skill, athleticism and drama.

Wrapping a cloak around the action, the unlikely trio of accented armchair experts – Keane, Martinez and Carragher. I never much liked Carra but his spitting scouse intelligence rasps across. Don’t get in a fight with Keane – he’s scary. Marinez is a Latin joy. All three say the same thing over and over – and repeat it for each match. Then the Alans and Clarence (how bright is he for a footballer?) say just the same on the other side. Adrian shades it over Gary as the anchor but he’s beginning to look bored and has the rather pathetic ‘When will they let me back on the One Show?’  look about him.

Back to the soccer. Is it only me who thinks that the spirit of sportsmanship in soccer died some time ago – when Bobby Charlton last shook hands on a pitch with Franz Beckenbauer and there was real warmth between two heroic professionals? Or was it later when Diego’s ‘Hand of God’ unapologetically showed us all that cheating is OK. When Thierry did something similar it had become ‘part and parcel’ of the game. We have been sleepwalking into showbiz. Football is now indistiguishable from I’m a Celebrity…and we really do need to get out of there. Fair play has been eclipsed by cheating because the public like controversy. It spices up the takeaway on Saturday nights. We are all culpable but it’s all about money in the end. The media; the various associations from FIFA down; the commercial billion-pound winners.

There is no doubt that Ronaldo in full flight is a sight to behold; contrast the 118cap-servant of Danish soccer Denis Rommedahl, hamstrung, limping off to end his international career. Truth is , though, that I watch avidly because I want to hear the mangling of tenses that Andy Townsend manages in his Crystal Palace speak; I need to swear at some diving cheat who trips over his own tattoos; I like seeing Gabby make an embarrassing 5 minute transmission about the WAGs arriving. I can soak up any amount of this crap but it’s tacky entertainment, not sport.

Is the patient beyond help and should we switch off the ventilator and go about our business? Here’s what might metamorphose me from voyeur back to fan – and it’s only the start.

1. Reduce all TV coverage of soccer so that broadcasts may only last an additional 10 minutes before/after matches. That would clip the wings of Hansen et al.

2. Any player requiring on-filed trainer attention should not be allowed back on the pitch for 5 minutes (at least). Prima Donnas watch out.

3. Technology should be introduced forthwith for a range of incidents, not just offside or goal-line controversy. On-field appeals considered.

4. All managers should sit in the stand. No team official allowed out of the dugout seats.

5. Players should be made to sit and have a sarni with eachother after all matches. Beer optional.

6. Any fan or any group of fans, causing any trouble for any reason should be castrated (assuming they are male)- or similar.

7. All managers should watch clips of Gentleman Roy Hodgson as part of their training for post match magnanimity.

This could go on couldn’t it? I’ll see the Euros out as voyeur. The spirit of sport flickers so weakly and with Sepp still in charge…’Some people are on the pitch. They think it’s all over…’


That Was the Week that Was.

13 Jun

Ned Sherrin’s easy-read autobiography, which runs to nearly 500 pages of TV, radio and theatre name-dropping from the second part of the last century, has reminded me of the satirical frisson that the ground-breaking TW3 gave us when it hit the screens in the early 1960s. Those who grew up post baby-boom have seen the cutting edge of satire dissipated by the air-time challenges of reality shows, nights at the Apollo, and the meteorites of goggle-box giggling Norton, Fry and Wossy. The legacy crumbs of Frost, Levin, Rushton, Millie Martin, Ken Cope, Bird and Fortune et al are spread far and wide – their collective is impotent. Humphreys and Paxman, Rory’s imitations and Have I got News For You hardly constitute the full frontal assaults on our political consciousness of an hour of TW3 each Saturday night, 50 years ago.

I had forgotten that Ned had conceived and produced the show and, subsequently graced various media with his wit and incisive intelligence. Loose Ends saw him out six years ago and, like John Peel, his voice lives on in the heads of avid radio devotees. This recent read and the aforementioned show made me ponder on the Week that Was, Jubilee.

It began with the Derby. The sun shone and Epsom Downs is free. Dodgy burger and Lager; a terrifying inverted ride at the funfair; the tattooed rubbing sholders with posh frocks and champers; the ground- shakes as silks and hooves thunder past; check the big screens to see the replay of Camelot’s charge to victory. Oh yes and spot Queenie in her stand smiling benevolently on all she surveys. So far so good.

Day 2. Rain. Great decision to watch the ‘Pageant’ at home. The BBC let us down didn’t they? How boring was it; how inane? I still like Sophie Rayworth though. The Queen still smiled (through gritted teeth) on all she surveyed. Prince Phillip’s jaunty dance to the Hornpipe finally did for his bladder. Arguably he went to a better place for the rest of the holiday.

Monday 4th June. I played golf . Good weather, good choice..and I won. Back in time to settle in  for the Concert Royale. Actually fun! Cliff still pratting about and all celebs in good voice save for the hapless Cheryl who can’t sing a note. Charlie boy makes us smile and cheer for Dad in his private room. ER smiled on all she surveyed but had the sense to arrive halfway through. Lip-reading I noticed her saying,” I wished I’d bloody well arrived late yesterday.”

By this stage in the proceedings I had spotted that Camilla likes cosying up to her Her Majesty – she’s always within curtseying distance. Brown specks all over her nose. Harry’s always making little boysy jokes and trying to make Kate snigger inappropriately. William tends to be more worried these days – weight of responsibilities and all that. In particular, contemplating how to manage the imminent comb-over must take quite a lot out of him. Still he seems to be eating Kate’s left-overs at breakfast, so when she eventually falls pregnant he’ll be the one eating for two.

Tuesday we took to London and joined the throng having watched the St. Paul’s thing at home. Glad we did this because Huw and Simon finally gave us gravitas, language and historical perspective. Not too much to ask. Even scurrilous Sharma on ITV did a fair turn. Matt Baker please stay in your One Show and Countryfile boxes. The Mall was friendly, packed chaos. Couldn’t see a thing until the Red Arrows did their thing. Not enough screens around, thought I. Never got near a sight of the balcony party. No matter really. Union Jacks, multi-racial and multi-national bonhomie abounded. The Ship and Shovel at Charing Cross still serving top beer. All was right with the world. And the Queen smiled on all she surveyed all day but she must have been glad to kick off her shoes when she came in from the balcony.

What would Frost and co have made of all this on TW3? One thing is sure. The Queen was watching or surveying then, and still is today.



Posh behaviour.

13 Jun

Laura Wade’s leftie black comedy, Posh, is an obvious must for all who need their contempt for Oxbridge and Public Schooly drinkie silliness, fed and watered. The Osbo-Cam clan can enjoy it nearly as much but will suffer regular squirms at the moral decay implied beneath the hooray-Henry jokes. The scene is well-trodden territory. A snooty Oxford dining club – The Riot – populated by stuck-up more-money-than-sense clever dicks, meet in a gastro-pub for a no-holds barred dinner where drunkenness and damage are the least that is expected. This gives rise to an incessant and engaging torrent of piss-taking of the Posh. Naturally  the boys are unaware of how their achingly funny arrogance is received by we plebs in the audience. Indeed Wade’s major point is that, in their superiority, they don’t actually care.

On the one hand this is a romp but the update from its first run at the Royal Court has ensured that the nod at our Government is now both pointed and sustained. Privilege begets privilege. The darkness builds but Wade cleverly tones down the tub-thumping by making the cast burst into regular rap-style singing interludes which are both hilarious and brilliantly performed.

On the obvious level this is a party that gets out of hand – a sexual assalt and GBH are the booze-fuelled result. But Wade wants us to get into the minds of these posh boys and show them as dangerously odd, from another planet,   in comparison with the hapless landlord and his daughter – the man and woman in the street. Us, that is. There are attempts to balance the writing – the bright Greek boy who hopes his new money will buy him pedigree; the gawky godson who is going out with a comprehensive schoolgirl whose desperation to be president is cringemaking; the current president who appears to be the voice of sanity and suavity but crumbles when real moral authority is needed.

I doubt that Laura Wade intended the wider point that we all like being in clubs and that for all its silly garb and arrogant excess, the Riot club represents the need that all of us have to belong. The political point – and here Wade strikes the same chords as David Hare and that great Left wing TV dramatist, Trevor Griffiths – is that power goes with privilege. The seat of power remained firmly in the hands of the haves, not the have-nots as we plebs left the theatre.

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