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Things fall apart…

5 Feb

I was enjoying the birthday party of a female friend recently when a naked stallion of a waiter offered me a canapé. His appendage was swinging beneath a skimpy apron. Most of the women present were taking detours to check out his buttocks and pecs. This burlesque seemed to amuse – and in my case bemuse – the party goers without shrieks of outrage bouncing off the walls. Recent stuff leapt to mind : The Presidents’ Club; #Me Too, in black dresses; Payback time at the BBC; Jenny Murray in overdrive on Women’s Hour; F1 dolly-girls losing their jobs.

Strange times. ‘Seems’, madam. Nay it is. I know not ‘seems’. Hamlet’s response to his newly remarried mother suggests that he knows the truth of the tangled web of human motivation but, as his tale plays out it is his confusion, the wrecking of order, which deranges him.

We tread on eggshells these days, a false word here or there draws disapproving looks – and worse. The abuse and shaming of headteacher Neena Lall and the sacking of West Ham’s director of recruitment, Tony Henry are examples of how our little corner of the world is closing in on us. All our sayings and doings must be cleansed and sanitized by the right-on police from the sex-politics-race-religion gestapo which seeks to root out and stone any voice which counters its one-eyed, sanctimonious and febrile self-righteousness.

 

Much as I like to snort with derision at Colonel Blimp-Rees-Mogg, the jostling and condemnation which he suffered last week is part of a growing trend to silence those whose views don’t fit with a militant concensus. Brexit and Trump and the instabilities across the world have given way to an intolerance of which only a fraction is worthy. It’s right to want equality for men and women, it’s right to support religious tolerance – but the way in which the good fight is fought is as important as the cause.

That means understanding and tolerating context, history, old and young, culture, national identities, ethnicity, sex, race…the lot. The mildest of views are condemned on social media. Truth has become something to fear in some cases – or at least shy away from. If I say that the Welsh are more passionate about rugby than the English, I am likely to get away with it. If I pass comment  on different ethnic, cultural, sexually oriented or religious groups, my views can be deemed illegitimate and I will be attacked, abused and might lose my job. Eggshells indeed.

Hamlet’s confusion at seeing his mother leap into bed with his father’s murderer, scrambles his mind. His grasp of reality and the values of decency and love and honour with which he grew are blown apart. His world has become virtual where nothing is what it seems. Something catastrophic has to happen for order to be restored. A blood-letting.

The title of this little essay is Things Fall Apart, taken from W.B. Yeats’s famous poem, The Second Coming. Yeats speculates on what sort of world Jesus Christ would find if he chose to visit us for a second time. Written in 1919 in the aftermath of the First World War, the opening stanza seems prescient. In the post-truth age are we able to sort out the real from the unreal?

TURNING and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

 

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Darkest Hour…(Better luck this time)

16 Jan

My enjoyment of Gary Oldman’s brilliant Churchill, moodily navigating his way through the days which led up to Dunkirk was, as is regularly the case, diminished by cinema philistines. And in Epsom too!

The Odeon in Upper High Street – a stone’s throw from  the famed racecourse and a dose of salts – boasts machine-generated tickets and 8 super-screens. Popcorn and full-fat coke are dispensed by grim-looking students scraping their pennies so as to spend their summers as far from the Odeon as possible.

Large numbers poured into Screen 8. Far from silent, the hubbub of conversation and the dazzle of iphones suggested a cavernous wine bar. The trailers were already trailing. Why can’t people find their seats, settle and shut up? A toilet visit prior to entry would ensure comfort and the chance to silence the bloody mobile.

The couple next to us, circa 70, nattered and played with their phones as if they had been instructed that this was the very time and place to obsess with talk and twitter. Luckily they put a sock in it, for the most part, when the main feature started to roll.

Behind us a family – with kids too young to remember the crass errors of  Cameron, never mind the conciliatory chump that was Chamberlain – were set to cause further disturbance. Clearly smug parents were ticking the mind-improvement box and preparing their children for world domination. However learning to behave comes before learning to lead in my book.

Cinemas flog eats and drinks which have extraordinary decibel levels when opened and masticated or otherwise consumed. I need not list the snap, crackle and pop of sounds that cut through the inner ear of my calm. As the opening scenes lit up the screen, I was already a teeth-gnashing mess of ire; I knew that there was trouble ahead. Darkest hour indeed.

Joe Wright, the director, clearly felt that Oldman and Kristen Scott Thomas were likely to grab the headlines. He injected a range of camera tricks from aerial wizardry to close-ups to Oldman’s/Churchill’s nasal blackheads so as to persuade us that the director is worth his place on the credits.

Anthony McCarten’s screenplay is at its best in the in the tense war cabinet rooms with Churchill agonising whether to submit to Mussolini’s offer to broker a victory peace deal for Hitler. Halifax and Chamberlain push him to the brink of conceding. This tension – and the great speeches – are the real stuff of the film. The romantic scenes are distractions: meeting ‘real’ people on the tube; draining tumblers of scotch with the full English each morning while making world-changing decisions from his bed; the bullying-cum-flirtation with Lily James who plays his wet-behind-the-ears secretary. But it’s Hollywood-geared and Oscar-fashioned. And Oldman still steals the show – make no mistake.

I noted that the pathetic advice about phones and other nuisances arrived on screen immediately before the British Board of Film Classification Certificate heralding the main feature. Noooooo.

Put a sign at the front of the cinema which says: Turn your phones off now. No food or drink allowed in the auditorium but there will be a half-time comfort break (as in theatres). Silence in the cinema after taking your seats.

Sounds like I’m a bit of a Nazi (Nartzi) – or Naaaarsi as Churchill would have said.

Another reading year…

10 Jan

Here again my reading list for 2017. Fewer than previous years. I must have become distracted by the joy of world events. I still don’t get round to enough non-fiction but Martin Amis’s collection The Rub of Time is first on my list.

Friends of mine have done so well to publish in the last twelve months. I lag behind but 2018 may prove a watershed. Watch this space…

Books 2017

Fake news….tell the B.B.C. (Xmas thoughts no 1)

12 Dec

We are in the season of Goodwill to all Men (and Women) but I notice that the sport headlines this week have been about beer poured over Jimmy Anderson’s head by a chap called Ben Duckett and a fracas involving milk being thrown at Jose Mourinho after the Manchester derby. The BBC led on these items on all its sport bulletins for several days – including this morning when the memory of City’s 2-1 win had already faded into the tears provoked by Cheggers’s demise.

Never mind fake news, how about getting things in proportion? There is an initiative to teach what is and isn’t ‘fake’ to kids in school- because they are apparently exposed and vulnerable through their huge consumption of social media. When senior journalists and editors rail about lies and damned lies they ought to take a hard look at their own choices. Perspective, proportion, balance and integrity are all in short supply. The lowest common denominator becomes the highest common factor – sleaze, scandal and tale-telling to titillate.

The aforementioned James Anderson has pointed out that the story of 5 England cricketers visiting a sick cricket fan who is too ill to get to the upcoming test in Perth, got no coverage whatsoever. The frenzied paparazzi and the junkie journos from the mainstream media don’t hang out around hospitals, only bars and football tunnels, hoping for an ‘incident’.

The real fakery is distortion. Lies are lies in any language but the selection of a story and the hype it is given is a subtle way, over time, of grooming a nation into Daily Maildom. And the BBC are culpable.

Happy 80th Birthday Sir Bobby. My hero!

11 Oct

I knew from a very young age that the great Bobby Charlton and I shared something special: our birthday. Mid-1950s I developed an infant-school passion for Manchester United and in particular two players: Duncan Edwards and Bobby Charlton. The Munich air crash of February 1958 found this little seven year old lad devastated at the loss of so many young, talented lives. The colossus that was Big Dunc had perished and I clung to the hope that Bobby would play on and that Manchester United would rise, phoenix-like from the ashes. And so they did.

On my tenth birthday my mother brought in the traditional breakfast-in-bed tray, filled with cards to open. A rush before school as I recall. Half now and half later, she had said; but there’s a special one which you should open first. Imagining that it was my parents’ offering, I carelessly tore at the envelope. Steady, she said, you might want to keep this one. Curious, I slowed down and a boysy soccer birthday card was revealed and a handwritten letter fell out.

Dear Paul,

Your mother wrote to me recently telling me that you and I share a birthday and you are a great supporter of Manchester United. Well done! Have a very good birthday as I hope I shall.

With all good wishes,

Bobby Charlton

My excitement knew no bounds. The card and letter sit proudly in my scrapbook 56years on. Now Sir Bobby, my hero, is 80.

I have many sporting and other heroes but Bobby eclipses them all. As I write, a few days before the day, Theresa Maybe’s colleagues are busily deciding whether to stab her in the front or the back. Doubtless there are Cassiuses with lean and hungry looks, envious of the female Caesar. There may be an honorable Brutus in there; intending the best but sticking the knife in anyway. Certainly there will be more than one Mark Antony, playing an insidious longer game for power. It’s all rather unseemly and great but tawdry fodder for the obsessive Laura Kuenssberg and her Westminster media bubblegummers.

Today the media frenzy is feeding on the odious Harvey Weinstein. The BBC have placed this sleazy story above the rumble in Barcelona. Power corrupts, absolute power …etc

How elevating is it, then, to think of the unimpeachable Bobby. His extraordinary record-breaking career was characterised by peerless skill, power, grace, achievement and, crucially, humility. Every championship he and his teams could win in global football, he – and they – did.

Bobby played with a crazy gang of charismatic characters for club and country.  The flawed genius that was George Best; the electric Denis Law; the fiery Nobby Stiles. Then there were the giants of 60s soccer: Johnny Haynes, Jimmy Greaves, Gordon Banks and Bobby Moore. It was a time of heroes. The 1966 World Cup win was followed by Manchester United’s epic European Cup victory over Benfica in 1968. Sir Matt Busby, Bill Foulkes and Bobby, survivors of the crash ten years earlier, had beaten their demons and lifted the trophy that had long been a cherished dream.

This was all fairy-tale stuff for me growing up. Bobby was larger than life – all power, speed and grace – and yet his  combover, his understatement and shyness, his integrity all built a picture of a man humble in his greatness. He was cautioned once in his international career, in the infamous ’66 World Cup game against Argentina. His response to being tackled brutally was ‘…to get a little bit excited.’ England won, of course but perhaps Maradona’s hand of God evened up the score a few years later – in a way that Sir Bobby would never have countenanced.

Today Sir Bobby is 80. I have enjoyed sport all my life and the past 60 years Bobby has been a guiding light, my hero. I could not have wished for better. Thank you Sir and have a wonderful day.

A Labour of Love…

5 Oct

Will these hands ne’er be clean cried the guilt-ridden Lady Macbeth. I felt similarly yesterday lunchtime as the media-vultures fed on the coughing carcass of Mother Theresa and the National Rifle Association continued its murderously inexplicable defence of a madman’s right to buy an arsenal of weaponry great enough to arm a small nation.

Luckily we had tickets for a matinee performance of Labour of Love, a new play by James Graham, starring the ubiquitous Martin Freeman and Tamsin Greig. Govia-Thameslink (who run Southern) provided the unusual delight of a punctual service. So it was that, with time to kill, we managed coffee in St. Martin-in-the-Fields’ crypt prior to the performance. I sat on the gravestone of Angus Wacher and wondered if his 300year-old bones could ever have imagined a man sitting on his grave supping an Americano firing WatsApp messages across the globe.

On to the Noel Coward theatre in St. Martin’s Lane. Formerly the Albery, this is a charming little theatre built in 1903 as a companion space to Wyndham’s. Sybil Thorndike’s St. Joan and Gielgud’s, Hamlet were early triumphs, as was Coward’s first play I’ll Leave it to You. The 1930s saw its heyday and the large assortment of posters and billboards adorning the bars and staircases pay tribute to a great and varied theatrical history. Now a part of Cameron MacIntosh’s empire, it seems to have a steady income and, like the Royal Court is a testing ground for new plays as well as established hits.

Labour of Love is about the Labour Party, since the war and, most particularly, the last 27years. That is the span of employment for both the Blairite MP David Lyons (Freeman) and his long-suffering and idealistic agent Jean (Greig). The play opens, earlier this year (James Graham ever catching the zeitgeist) as the election results in the small Nottinghamshire constituency are about to be announced. Things don’t look good for David in this ex-mining, chippy, disappointed community. Despite Corbyn’s momentum, Freeman’s  David Lyons has lost his roar. Poignantly, very humorously and quite cleverly we track back in time. Digital, costume and set cleverness enable a scrolling back through the years to Thatcher, Kinnock,Major, Blair, Brown and the rest. The dialogue crackles with echoes of Yes, Minister, The Thick of It and, quite obviously, Much Ado bout Nothing. Greig (who only had two weeks to learn the quick-fire script) and Freeman bounce along, he playing a pragmatic straight man to her feisty, earthy, sad-black humour. It works wonderfully well.

As an exposure of Labour’s journey it seems a work in progress but for the casual observer it’s a brilliant, theatrical Gerald Scarfe of the last three decades for socialism in the UK.

Aspects of theatre-going which enhance the experience include my eschewing of alcohol lest I snore during the early exchanges. It was liberating to dance through the circle bar without a glance at the bubbles being proffered by the predatory barpersons. We took our seats in the balcony – surely the best balcony experience in London – audibility, vision and legroom – wow! I looked around. Hmm. At this matinee the majority were claiming their pensions. I hoped that the evening show might see a greater variety of punter. An aproned usher, more camp than a tent,  held up two identical cards: No photography. He was ignored by the grey brigade, too intent on snapping the Rococo ceiling or checking iphones for facebook stuff. In the gents’ loo an octogenarian was scrolling something with one hand while the other was handling a different tool.

Martin Freeman has very white teeth. Along with Jimmy Carr and other strange people he has seen fit to peroxide his gnashers to give the illusion of cleanliness. It gets in the way of authenticity at times. Even from row C of the balcony I was dazzled by his tombstones. Easy enough to escape the Bilbo Baggins thing or even Dr Watson. There’s still plenty of Tim (The Office) in there and he invests David Lyons MP with that vulnerability and pragmatism and humour.

Soho is just the ticket for a post-theatre meal. Teeming life, good food and wine and time to chat over what we had just seen. When I came to this morning the analysis of Theresa’s coughing has reached epidemic proportions (shame on you BBC) and some wanker was still prattling on about the right to bear arms and how we Brits didn’t understand, so butt out.

I reflected again on our Labour of Love the night before. I felt informed, entertained…and a little bit better about politicians…and life.

What’s a retrofit?

20 Sep

Retrofit was last week’s new word. I speculated that it could mean a spasm that someone has when wearing flared trousers. Then someone told me that it was the word for fitting sprinklers into buildings that might have been fitted in the first place. Well, why not just use the word ‘fit’? Adding retro adds blame, the finger-pointing of hindsight; the implication that budgets for social housing are pared to the bone. Hmm.

I caught Farridge at the European Parliament fulminating about how awful the Eurocrats were for not caving in to Cameron’s pleas for a better deal for the UK. He may have a glimmer of a point but why is he still there, taking his fat Eurosalary and expenses, when all the while he is avowedly anti-European? It beats me. I have a retrofit every time I catch the man on telly.

I noticed that Diane Abbot used the N-word t’other morning, explaining how she is regularly abused, I assume both on social media and in the street. Susanna Reid leapt to apologise to the vast numbers of children watching Diane Abbot at 7.15am; indeed she told Ms A that she should not use such language. Shortly afterwards the same Ms Reid, interviewing the great Dione Warwick, tried to turn the chatter about Ms Warwick’s charity concert to Witney Houston’s (a cousin of La Warwick) tragic life and death. The great dame put Ms Reid to the sword. ‘Why would you want to hurt me like that in an interview? I only came on to talk about my children’s charity.’ Cue Reid-squirming. Retroapology.

I thought that I would do something retro after the breakfast TV excitement and planned to catch a bus, a rural bus, into Cranbrook, my local town. The 9.37, to be precise. Well the no 5 to Maidstone (via Cranbrook) had broken down and, being in deepest darkest Kent, the next omnibus (notice the retrolingo) was just over an hour away. Reluctantly I got the car out and passed dozens of the senior bus-pass brigade shivering in the rain waiting for Godot and the no 5 that was never to appear. I know that Southern Rail commuters would have sympathy with the plight of countryfolk. I just wish our local MP, the Thunderbird Greg Clark, could manage some.

Moving on to more important matters than the Trumpmeister’s latest infinitive-splitting threat ‘to totally destroy’ North Korea, I find myself seeking solace and , yes, meaning, in matters more trivial. After golf yesterday me and my buddies were commenting on the well-judged volume of the music in the club bar. Mick Jagger was pumping out to our Satisfaction because we could hear ourselves speak. This is a rarity in many pubs, clubs and restaurants up and down the land. And yet we spend fortunes on booze and food, sitting or standing in crowded, littered venues, shouting conversation at eachother over the detritus of the previous customers’ lunch. If a table can be found in Café Nero or most Youngs pubs I go in, it invariable has a wonky leg to which bar-mat repair is urgently required so as to avoid precious spillage of an overpriced latte or pint of Special. This is all made worse if it is your date-night and you are sitting next to a Bose speaker, beneath arctic aircon and wrestling with a wobbly table on uneven floor. The chilly-shouty-wobbly experience comes in around £50 per head. Real retrovalue can be found by staying in and watching Not Going Out…geddit?

 

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