Archive | February, 2013

Emperor’s new clothes or the ramblings of an ageing realist?

12 Feb

Tattoos, Jimmy Choo shoes, celebrity news…there’s nothing to choose between the extraordinary range of woolly things being pulled over our eyes and ears by various emperors parading naked along our high streets, invading our homes by TV and our minds by internet and blackberry.

When I stopped being passed my elder brother’s hand-me-downs and refused to wear his Dunlop green flash plimsolls, I became aware of a new and seductive devil in society – marketing. Dunlop and Fred Perry had competition from Adidas, Puma, Ralph Lauren, Slazenger…second hand became second rate overnight in the 1960s and the commercial gallop has continued unabated. Extraordinarily, though, prices have spiralled way beyond quality- the gap is extraordinary and we are all being happily duped. Chamapagne v Cava? Petrus premier cru at £600 per bottle v Tesco’s Malbec at £5.99? Chefs who pile tiny layers of food to make a mini-mound with upturned fish on the top and charge £40 for half a plateful. £400K for a bedsit in Clapham or Balham- what’s that about?

It’s a very sensitive subject but didn’t we all think that Jimmy Savile was a. Very odd, b. Very creepy, c. Very stupid and d. Completely incompetent? Rap music – particularly the stuff that issues invective and expletives in angry indecipherable volleys. What does David Beckham think he’s doing to his body? And why do so many men and women copy him, mutilating their bodies at huge expense? £60 to watch Fulham play for 90minutes? £200 to watch Mick Jagger strut his 70 year old stuff? John Terry earning £150,000 per week? Why are big schools, big hospitals, big police stations, big local authorities better than small ones? When I went to the private hospital for treatment on my verucca, I was surprised to find that the swish clinic/Holiday Inn lookalike was a fraction of the size of its gigantic NHS counterpart up the road. Private schools are 400 strong on average; the comp. near me me boasts 2,500. Hmm. Food for thought.

Well I suppose we have choice – don’t we? Trouble is our judgement has been blunted. We can no longer distinguish between reality and cloud cuckoo land. The booze-fuelled orgies in Faliraki are a common rite of passage for youngsters who have to be ‘up for anything’. Discretion and judgement are dirty spoilsport words. It’s all about empowerment and What the f**’s it got to do with you?

When we hold our children in our arms and watch them grow through early years and then arrive, rising 5, at their primary school – the first real ‘slap’ from the outside world – what do we wish for them? That they will become Jimmy Chooed, tattooed, drunken slappers or thugs with questionable moral compasses who will offshore bank account-it and tax avoid it if possible, lie barefacedly to get off speeding fines and have oral sex in the White House? Or would we rather that they kept on that path of love and wonderment which characterises so many of the pre-school cherubs. We humans are terribly flawed and we’ll never get away from our original sin. But hasn’t the gap between appearance and reality, order and chaos, perspective and madness widened just far enough to think that we are too often naked, dressed in those emperor’s new clothes racing towards some kind of armageddon – things fall apart the centre cannot hold and anarchy is loosed upon the world. If I believed in God I’d wonder what he’d make of the mess we’ve made of things. He’d take a quick shufty around and decide that his Second Coming wasn’t worth the bother.

Other dupe categories and characters include Bono, Fifty Shades of anything, Euro MPs and almost all that goes on in Brussels (at vast black-hole expense), Alex Salmond, the dog that won Britain’s got Talent, Tracy Emin’s bed, the BBC in Salford, man bags, shops that sell cheap booze but won’t open on Sundays, religion in general (but I do enjoy a good hymn), health and safety and CRB and compliance and regulation madness, speed bumps and cameras,….and I’ve barely started.

I’d advise that you settle down to watch the euphemistically named Pointless on BBC. You’ll feel better. It bucked me up after writing this yesterday.

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Strangers on a train (2)

6 Feb

There are some trains for which a first class ticket costs barely a farthing more than cattle (or ‘standard’) so why not go for it? And so here I was again at Manchester Picadilly, a couple of weeks on from my last visit, enjoying the delights of the Virgin first class lounge which sits, like a mobile TV studio above platform 1, with a view to die for…or from. I positioned myself as Gabby Logan did when overlooking the Olympic Park.

As I was settling in to my machine cappucino, iced water chaser and Wolf Hall, I noted my fellow loungees. Asian – Indian husband, wife, daughter. Well-behaved, quiet. Two smart 30+ladies, all business suits and laptop bags. Two younger men, one power-overcoated, the other thin grey suit, thin grey tie. Top buttons undone – both.

Thomas Cromwell’s wife, Liz,  had just passed away when a thought occurred. None of the noises off in the room were being spoken in English. I thought that I recognised Malayalam – the Keralan dialect – from the stern Indian father;  the smartie ladies were definitely French; the boys were bantering in a growly eastern european way, between iPadding, iPodding and playing with their androids. I cast my eyes over the seething mass of rush-hour Manchester.

And on to coach H, seat 05. The 18.55 under way. I turned pages. Cardinal Wolsey’s position getting dodgy and Thomas More serving notice that he’s a smarty-pants. I was restless, however, since my evening tastebuds were telling me that it was past wine-o’clock. Ears wandered. More strange sounds. Russian? And Chinesey? Certainly more French. Then the train manager intercommed. I think I caught Stockport, and Crew but missed Wilmslow and Milton Keynes. He spoke with the fast asian certainty that his passengers could understand every word. His voice was light and comforting and impenetrable. I have a lovely friend in Cochin with whom I have spent many hours of delightful whisky-laced conversation: he in the certain knowledge that I understand all his rapid-fire RP English; me in that exhilarating state of second-guessing and linguistic ‘catch-up’ where the game of jigsawing sentences or knowing grunts and gestures becomes an art. I didn’t get to meet the train manager. Pity.

Shortly a drinks trolley rattled in, prodded onward by a tall blond hunk of a young waiter – all Third Reich and noble bearing. A step behind was a gorgeous dark-and-olive waitress looking as if she’d just shoe-horned herself into her unform after jetting in from Mauritius or Hawaii or wherever else these visions are created. I waited for the language hit. From the mouth of Adonis came the uplifting harshness of South London –Looks like you could do with a stiff one, Sir – no word of a lie. What do you suggest? said I. Nothing better than the Cab. Sav, if you like a bit-o-red…and why not have it in the tumbler, y’never know how long the food’ll take. Well the deal was done and I was showered with undersized packed of pretzels and Tyrrels’ crisps. Bloody silly these piddling little packs. Barely get a mouthful. I was all agreement and gratitude.

Then he rumbled off and Aphrodite appeared with menu and pencil and when she opened her mouth out came Joanna Lumley, Moira Stewart and Fiona Bruce all rolled into one. Too shy to ask her where she hailed from, I restricted myself to mumbling my preference for the chicken and stuffing sandwich, fresh fruit and coffee later. And so I sank back into the arms of Hilary Mantel and the crimson warmth of the Cab Sav.

While my ear struggled with the sounds around me I was buoyed by the crisp and surprising clarity of my attendants. On delivery the sandwich turned out to be a white-Sunblested nightmare. The packaging sported an image of Nelson. I wouldn’t have advertised the Englishness of this product; the great admiral would have spat the thing out. Aphrodite was all apology and offered me another banana. Adonis reappeared near Milton Keynes to announce that I needed a double top-up to see me through to Euston. You’re very chirpy at 9pm on a Friday, I offered. Easy job,  I like people, got the weekend off. Well it’s easy if you smile, I said. You make it look easy. Well, Sir, the way I look at it is that life’s too bloody short, innit?

Too right.

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