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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

I can play like this. I just don't feel like it.

Tomorrow I'm flying to Mali to interview Toumani Diabate. Maybe he's looking for a few pointers.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Shakespeare and football

"If you think about it, the culture of a country is dictated by what they learn in school. We in France have Descartes. His rationalism is the basis for all French thought and culture. In Italy you have Machiavelli, who is also about being rational and calculating. Here in England, maybe because they are an island, they are more war-like, more passionate. They view football as an old style duel, a fight to the death, come what may. When an Englishman goes into war that's it, he either comes back triumphant or he comes back dead."
That's Arsene Wenger talking about the English way of sport in Gianluca Vialli and Gabriele Marcotti's book "The Italian Job". It's the most illuminating thing I've read about sport and the national character in years. He could have gone a little further and pointed out that the key British writer is Shakespeare who saw things in terms of the battle between good and evil, vice and virtue, sincerity and duplicity. And generally ended up with a stage full of bodies. I look forward to hearing what Alan Shearer has to say about this.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

I know nothing about football but...

...I do know something about language.
Why are Croatia "technically better"? Does that mean they can pass the ball in a straight line and not give it away? Isn't that playing football? Why is it only in football that we talk about people being "technically better", as if it were some new, somehow suspect, dimension of play?
We don't talk about Australia being "technically better" at cricket. We don't say that South Africa are a "technically better" rugby team. We don't talk about Tiger Woods being a "technically better" golfer.
They're just better. Maybe a few people ought to get that into their head.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Word Weekly 28

Mark Ellen, David Hepworth, Matt Hall and Paul Du Noyer talk ukuleles once more, piano players who are only loved by their mothers, and why you should never roadie for Budgie.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Breaking down the build-up

Today is a day of some significance in European football.
It's the kind of day when Five Live and Sky Sports promise "we'll bring you all the build-up".
This phrase amuses me, suggesting as it does that the build-up is something that takes place and requires close watching rather than merely the thing that TV and radio uses to fill up the many hours during which nothing whatsoever is taking place.
Just as the amount of sport has increased so has the amount of time that broadcasters devote to getting us to feel tense about it. And when, as surely it will, it all comes crashing down, they will be the the first to say "are we getting this whole thing out of proportion"?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Death of a storyteller

Ira Levin, who died this week at the age of 78, was a great teller of tales that got under the contemporary skin. "Rosemary's Baby". "The Boys From Brazil" and "The Stepford Wives" were all made into big hit films. My favourite is his first book, "A Kiss Before Dying", which came out in 1954. It's only a slim volume. You could read it this weekend. You might not sleep though.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Architecture and morality

St Pancras International opens today. Every night this week BBC2 are running "The £800 Million Railway Station" which is about the transformation project. The chief architect Alastair Lansley wanders around the site pointing out to the construction people where they've failed to finish things properly. But the main problem, and the one that resulted in his weeping into his mobile phone, was the fact that the glass panels on the east side were two inches out of line. He went to another architect for sympathy. "I think I'll cut my throat," he said. He wasn't joking.
I think I'll go this morning and inspect.

Monday, November 12, 2007

A class act

This week I finally got round to watching the first series of "The Wire".
Once I'd decided that the only way I was going to make sure I didn't miss anything was by watching it with the sub-titles on, I found it the most absorbing TV I'd watched in a while.
Once you've accepted its liberating thesis that drug dealers are people too, you start to see how the narcotic economy functions. The dealers run the tower blocks ('though the men at the top make sure they are never caught in the same room as either the dope or the money and the people at the retail end are all kids) whence they remove tens of thousands of dollars every day, most of which comes straight from the government in welfare checks, and then launder it through legit businesses. It's the biggest inadvertent government subsidy in history.
And then there's the acting, which is uniformly marvellous, all the more so when you take into account that the men in this scene, Dominic West and Idris Elba, are both British.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Don't touch that dial

For most of the 90s I presented a show on GLR. I left before they could fire me or, worse, tell me what to play. It was mostly on Friday evenings and it had a select but devoted audience.
Just this afternoon I got an email from a woman. She and her husband used to listen devotedly and taped many of the programmes. And guess what? They still play them in the car whenever they're off to Wales for the weekend. One of these tapes ran out before they got the answer to the phone-in quiz. It was driving them mad. They had to know what the answer was.
The question was "what do all Motown records have in common?"
I think the answer was, they all fade at the end.
I suppose Gary Davies gets loads like this.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

How to make it in magazine journalism

Aim for the lowest person on the masthead whose title includes the word "editor," except for "contributing editor" which means "freelancer in jammies."
This piece on Valleywag.com is the kind of thing they should be teaching on magazine journalism courses. In fact, this is a magazine journalism course. How they fill up the rest of the time is beyond me.

The end of an old fruit

Last night's film on BBC Four, "George Melly's Last Stand", showed how the urge to perform is the last impulse to die. It followed the last few months of George Melly as he succumbed to double lung cancer and drifted in and out of dementia. Bedridden at home and unable to eat ("there's no room for any food in me"), he was nonetheless eager to play whatever gigs he could. There he was in a Travel Tavern somewhere on the A1 on his way to a sold-out gig in Newark. There again being carried down the fire escape at the back of the 100 Club in his wheel chair to play his last show. As shows, they weren't up to much. He couldn't wear the suits anymore and the voice was down to a reed but he still wanted to be wheeled on. The objective, he said, as ever was "to win them".
His wife Diana arranged for his old girlfriends to come and say goodbye to him. These were women who'd had affairs with him during their marriage. "I didn't think you'd recognise me," said Molly Parkin, dressed up like a medieval Archbishop.
There was some insight into what it's like to live with a legend. Not always fun. His children, who seemed remarkably sane, talked about how embarrassing it had been to have him as a father was when they were teenagers, what with him coming out as gay and bursting into song in the streets. His sister talked about how he'd been "such a big personality there was almost no room for anyone else."
Now he was shrinking there was almost a sense of relief.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Was it something I read?

So Angus Deayton is in trouble for uttering a lame and tasteless gag about Jimmy Savile and his mother on one of those TV programmes where smug tits sit behind desks and snipe at everyone they're unlikely to run into at Soho House.
But what makes the oranges and lemons of the mind spin and spin and spin is the fact that the line was in the script! It's one thing to say something regrettable in the heat of the moment. It's another to have a line tapped out by a hack, passed by a producer and then passed on to another hack who reads it off autocue and then invoices for a few thousand quid.
It's a whole other other thing to then censure the person who was daft enough to believe that it wouldn't come back to haunt him.
Dear God, TV can't go on like this.
And in Hollywood the writers have gone on strike and so Jay Leno and David Letterman go off the air rather than reveal how dull they are unless somebody's making and loading the bullets for them.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

I give you a great truth about movie-making

Suitcases carried by actors are clearly empty.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

An actual email I received this morning

Hi
I would like to start up my own magazine could you please give me some info.
Many Thanks
Luke

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The way we live now

We moved into our current house twenty years ago. The previous owner had lived in it for fifty years and not much had been done to it in that time. We lived in chaos for a while as we installed such luxuries as central heating, electrical wiring, a kitchen and a room in the roof. Twenty years later, all that work starts to come up for renewal around the same time. And let me tell you - paying for your second boiler is nothing like as much fun as paying for the first one. It costs more and the novelty isn't there anymore.
Anyway, over the last few months quite a few properties down our leafy suburban road have changed hands. People who are already retired or thinking about it have decided to take their profit and move to somewhere smaller. This means that the skips are dotting the road once more. Perfectly serviceable houses which have been refurbished during the last ten years are being gutted all over again as a younger generation of home makers move in, their imaginations inflamed by TV makeover shows and their way smoothed by twin incomes, and proceed to bring them up to the minimum standards they require. That means multiple bathrooms, fabulous kitchens, plasma screen TVs plumbed into artfully-lit recesses, gravel covering for the off-street parking and lots of decking. Just as we installed many things which the previous generation had managed to get by without, so they are introducing a whole new level of basic comfort and convenience.
I don't begrudge them any of it. It's just the way of the world. When we sell ours it will no doubt be bought by some go-getting young couple who'll wave our removal van off while muttering under their breath "how could they live like this?"