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Friday, January 30, 2009

The passing of the Bearded Wonder

Bill Frindall died today. If Test Match Special always had the character of a senior common room, with all the accumulated antipathy seething away 'neath the brittle surface of the bonhomie, Frindall played the head of the geography department who had been passed over for the deputy headship but nonetheless remained loyal.

His role was twofold: to keep the score and to suggest that it was about to rain. Now that the room temperature of sports coverage is so high and hysterical, we shall never again see anyone quite so pessimistic given access to a mike.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Falling into the "oop north" trap

I don't deliberately pick on the BBC website but this extract from Razia Iqbal's blog about meeting Alan Bennett caught my eye:
Watching the play, I found myself thinking about how successfully Bennett has mined his past and his upbringing, and how lovingly he has given voice to working class life and communities, without being either nostalgic or sentimental.
I've seen nearly everything Alan Bennett has written and I can't remember much that's concerned with what I would call "working class life and communities". I've seen lots of lower middle class characters with strong Yorkshire accents. I suppose it's all the same from Planet Shepherd's Bush, isn't it?

This just in - humanity still some way from perfection

In the course of a column in The Guardian about making absent fathers pay child support, Polly Toynbee writes:
The world is full of good men and good fathers - there just aren't enough of them to go round.
I haven't been able to concentrate since reading this. If there aren't enough good men to go around then it surely follows that there can't be enough good women to go round either. Which means there aren't enough good people to go round.

Now there's a column, surely?

So you think you can sort out the British car industry?

According to The Times, 86% of the cars bought in the UK last year were imported and 78% of the cars made here were exported. Solution by the weekend, please.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A bit of a do

If you need reminding what was lost when photo-journalism disappeared, have a look at these remarkable pictures that Life Magazine took around the Harlem funeral of Bill "Bo Jangles" Robinson in 1949.

She's got the whole world in her pram

Life is a good deal too short to keep up with all the domestic comings and goings in the world of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie but it's difficult to look at these pictures of them arriving at Narita airport in Tokyo with their six small children and not draw the conclusion that these kids are, on some level at least, accessories.

I don't doubt that, like many of us civilians, highly-paid superstars have strong parenting instincts. But to appear with so many children so quickly? Wouldn't such conspicuous procreation be better expressed in the traditional Hollywood way? What about buying a load of cars and helping the stricken auto industry? We know you can do things that us mere mortals can not but is there really a call to rub our noses in it this way?

When I look at pictures like this I like to play the mental game that I call Just Out Of Shot. In this case Just Out Of Shot must be at least three full-time nannies, a phalanx of wide wheel-base buggies, mum's make-up artist and hairdresser, dad's personal trainer and porters pushing along trollies piled high with their possessions.

Just the average nuclear family.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Frank Skinner minds his language

Frank Skinner's "Have I Got Bad Language For You?" report on last night's Panorama is worth seeing. I like the way he managed to look majestically unimpressed when talking to embarrassed defenders of TV profanity like Jana Bennett of the BBC and embarrassed critics of it like Charles Moore. Skinner has recently decided to reduce the amount of swearing in his act and found that it didn't in any way diminish the show's impact. I'm not surprised.

In real life swearing is, by its very nature, hard to justify. This doesn't mean we don't do it. I do it all the time in front of about a dozen people. I have known those people for a long time and I'm confident they're not offended by it. In broadcasting you can only justify it on the grounds of dramatic realism - though I fancy "Boys From The Black Stuff" and "Our Friends In The North" managed to convey a sense of real life without employing as much profanity as Gordon Ramsay needs to make an omelette.

Use it in humour and you're then in a position where you have to use it all the time. One "fuck" is never quite enough. You have to have an act peppered with "fucks" to maintain the tone. And whereas in a real life conversation you filter the profanities out, when you're just listening or watching each one seems to have greater than usual emphasis. The speakers are not swearing on your behalf. They're doing it at you. Al Murray, who's interviewed in this film, talks about comedy shows where the word has come down from on high to make it "edgier". I would take that to mean, can you make it less comfortable for some of the people watching? This is in the hope, usually false, that this will then make it more appealing to the section of the audience, usually younger, that we are trying to attract at the moment.

The one thing that swearing on TV can never claim to be is natural. This struck me recently when somebody swore on one of our Word Podcasts. I realised then that, with absolutely no regulatory framework, with an audience of consenting adults who had pulled the experience towards them rather than having it pushed into their living rooms, with a format that is designed to elicit the most intemperate reactions, we hardly ever swore. We did it but we did very sparingly and often prefaced it with "if you're in the car with the kids you might want to duck the volume here...." Just as you wouldn't swear on the bus in case you offended someone who was in hearing distance, we rarely swore in this context because, well, somebody might be listening.

Re: Panorama. What the bloody hell is Jeremy Vine doing at the beginning and end of that programme poncing around outside Television Centre? I hope my licence fee is not paying him for that.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Who writes the BBC website?

There's a sweet story on the BBC site about "folk singer" James Taylor buying a fan a new iPod after she had to give up her own in settlement of a cab fare. Near the bottom of the item it drops this brick, presumably sourced from Hackipedia:
Taylor is best known for penning the classics You've Got a Friend and How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You).
In actual fact the first one was by Carole King and the second by Holland-Dozier-Holland. Apart from that it's a sentence difficult to fault.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Suddenly, I'm all over the papers

A friend rang this afternoon to draw my attention to the fact that this blog has shown up in The Times today. Apart from the fact that I am delighted to be that close to Tina Fey, I don't know how to respond to publicity. When I began this blog it was only because I wanted to read my own thoughts written down. Then slowly a few other people overheard me muttering to myself and occasionally dropped in. Some of them felt moved to comment. That's as it should be. Blogs are best approached with either low expectations or no expectations at all.

I note that I occasionally stray "exhilaratingly close to grumpy old man territory". I have decided not to be discouraged by any such category reprimand. The fact it might be possible to assign somebody to a group of citizens does not, I've decided, make their views any less valid. I probably am a grumpy old man. Deal with it. Old gits have something to say, as does everyone else. I don't hold anyone's age against them. Nor should anyone else.

Friday, January 23, 2009

What happened to grime played through a hearing aid?

I don't want to tempt providence but I wonder what happened to that plague of young blokes playing music on their phones in public places that everybody was complaining about not long ago. What stuck in the craw was not so much the annoyance. It was the fact that so much annoyance was being caused in the name of so little pleasure. Anybody who could listen to music in those conditions didn't love the music so much as they loved irritating people. I haven't noticed it for the last couple of months. Am I alone?

Advertising not yet dead

Saw this massive cross-track poster last night at Tottenham Court Road. People waiting for the train were gawping at it, slack-jawed. It's for holidays in Canada. The copy is beautiful. "We're guessing this almost never happens in London."

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Calm down, dear, he's only a President

Of all the commentators pronouncing on what governments should do next, Matthew Parris of The Times is one of the few who has actually served in government, albeit not at a very grand level. Therefore he knows only too well what Barack Obama may be about to find out - that actions don't always change things and when they do it's often with unintended consequences.

Parris has a very good column today which looks at the unrealistic level of hope being invested this week in a nebulous vision of "change" and makes the point that "those who fan the flames of expectation run the danger of sowing, finally, the seeds of cynicism."

Thankfully the one person who doesn't seem drunk on his oratory is Obama himself.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The difficulty of disciplining footballers

The Guardian have a story about Robinho's walking out of Manchester City's training camp in Tenerife the other day. The first bit goes:
Robinho reacted to the collapse of Kaka's proposed £91m deal by packing his suitcase and arranging for a private jet to take him back to Brazil
I'm trying to picture this. Are we to believe that Robinho packed an overnight bag, arranged his bed so that it looked as if he was still sleeping, escaped from the hotel via the fire escape and took a cab to the airport where a jet was waiting to whisk him to Sao Paulo? But that doesn't strain credibility so much as the response of City's chairman to the incident.
However, Cook confirmed Robinho had not received consent to go, describing the player's behaviour as "very disappointing" and confirming that he would be fined.
How can you fine somebody who takes private jets on a whim? That's the problem. When it comes to discipline football clubs have no sticks but an unlimited supply of carrots. Bet they end up paying him more money to come back.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

He can talk, can't he?

Watched the Inauguration. Funny how they practice everything, cover every angle but the actual oath is not properly rehearsed. Anyway, he got through it. One of his qualities is he never looks embarrassed. I thought the speech was very good. Not as a piece of rhetoric but he delivered it like he meant it. And this was the best bit.
Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the fainthearted -- for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things -- some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor -- who have carried us up the long, rugged path toward prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.

For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.

Time and again, these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions -- that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.


The "for us" repetition works really well and obeys the power of three. And I love the reference to "standing pat" which happens to be in my favourite song lyric, Louis Armstrong's "St James Infirmary". Which goes:

Oh, when I die, please bury me
In my ten dollar Stetson hat;
Put a twenty-dollar gold piece on my watch chain
So my friends'll know I died standin' pat.

The only promise Obama can deliver on

Barack Obama reckons he smokes about eight cigarettes a day. That's what he told "Men's Health", anyway. If he's being as economical with the truth as most of us are when the doctor asks how much we drink, I'd say that means he actually smokes more than a dozen. I don't think it'll take much more than a week in his new job to have him up to twenty a day.

What I want to know is, where's he going to smoke them? My knowledge of White House layout is gleaned from a tour round the place back in the days when you could do such things and then close observation of Martin Sheen in "The West Wing". As far as I can work out there's a French window from the Oval Office that leads into a colonnade opening on to the garden. Out there at all times is a white-capped Marine (and no doubt all sorts of heavy artillery in the foliage). That's where The First Skiver will presumably step out. But who's he going to smoke with? Is he going to gather a group of White House malcontents around him, as is traditional in smoking sections? Washers-up from the White House kitchen? A bunch of interns talking about how pissed they got last night? And is somebody even now attaching one of those horrid ashtrays into the wall?

Clearly, he should give up. In fact he should make it part of his Inauguration Speech. "And I pledge to you, fellow Americans, that just as I ask you to work harder for less money, save more and volunteer in your local community, I will do my part by kicking this vile habit." After such a public declaration, this would be one decision he couldn't back down from.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Life grim according to 'arry

Further to my recent post about the strange twists and turns that the English language undergoes when in the hands of the football fraternity I see in The Times today that Harry Redknapp has Portsmouth "hanging on for grim life" near the end of yesterday's game at White Hart Lane.

This is a classic example of football fusion where two expressions from the same general region of the language - "hanging on like grim death" and "hanging on for dear life" - are put together to form a pantomime horse of an expression. i.e. one that performs none of the basic functions of the creature concerned but is good for a laugh.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Football is about to go too far, apparently

People say £100 million and £200,000 a week for Kaka would be a price too far. Fans can no longer relate to players. It's distorting the market. It's obscene. It's just too much.

Which makes me wonder, what would have been an acceptable amount? What would not have been obscene? £50 million and £100,000 a week? Would that have been within the range where we could still relate to players?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Everything old is new again. It also takes twice as long and costs twice as much

In the area around the Angel, Islington there are two kinds of pubs. There are the old working class boozers which are run for their regulars. Then there are the new pubs aimed at free-spending young people turning up after work. The latter are in the premises previously devoted to the former. To a certain extent they model themselves on a "Passport To Pimlico" version of an old neighbourhood public house. Lots of mirrors and aspidistras. Food on the blackboard. No carpets.

The customer experience in these places is often at odds with the note struck the decor. In the old working class pub you'd be served by a middle-aged woman who could fill the most complex order very quickly and would not need anything explaining to her twice. Nothing was perfect but it would all be there in double quick time. In the new pub on the other hand you will be served by someone who has been hired on the basis of their haircut. They will address you as if you were a personal friend and then take hours to bring a round of drinks to the bar, largely because they haven't mastered the computerised till and they want to be sure that you wanted Guinness rather than extra-cold Guinness. They are also generally in that age group between University and Real Life where they're Not Really Listening. Service is not as high on their agenda as image and they have that young person's belief that if it's less than first-rate you'll put up with it because complaining is so un-cool.

On my way to the Robert Capa exhibition at the Barbican this morning I stopped at a diner in Smithfield Market to get a snack. This was a newly opened place that advertised "Great British Grub". Inside it had been tricked out like some art director's version of Stanley Holloway's Pie and Mash shop. Black and white tiling and old Picture Post covers in frames. The food was fine. The customer base at that time of the morning was two gay couples and me. If this were a real working man's cafe of the kind I used to go in when I worked on the bins all five of us would probably have been regarded as interlopers.

Then something odd happened. Into this bourgeois fantasy of working class life wandered a painter and decorator. He had not come for the cultural tourism. He wanted a cup of coffee, a slice of toast with marmalade and a sausage sandwich to take out. The uniformed young woman serving, who was east European, was charming. Nonetheless you could see the cultural chasm yawning between her and the new customer. Her first step in filling his order was of course to painstakingly enter its components in the electronic till which was presumably connected to one in the kitchen. Then she made him a coffee. He asked for two sugars. She smiled and proffered two of those tubular sachets of sugar that are all the rage these days. He prised off the top of the polystyrene cup and painstakingly squeezed the sugar into the cup. By now he was clearly thinking, I should be back up my ladder by now. At this point a chef appeared from the kitchen. He was also east European. He consulted with the young waitress. She smiled at the customer and asked him whether he wanted the sausage inside the sandwich. Yes, he did. And did he want the marmalade on the toast? Yes, he did.

I paid and left because I had got to the point where I felt it was about to get embarrassing. I felt sorry for everyone involved. For the decorator who just wanted his breakfast quick. For the staff who were charged with delivering a dining experience that they had never encountered themselves. And also for the middle-aged working class English women who used to work in the actual caffs that thrived in this very area before it was taken over by design studios and advertising agencies. What's wrong with having The Thing rather than something designed to look like The Thing? If you go to France or Italy, for instance, you will have access to standard dining and snacking experiences. The brasserie. The espresso place with the zinc bar. They're there in every town. What you don't find is streets crammed with expensively refurbished premises offering - there is no alternative but to use this word - faux dining experiences imported from the recent past, experiences that leave people not knowing entirely where they stand and wondering whether they've been had. They say the serving of food is a performance. Or is that code for "we've doubled the price"?

Friday, January 16, 2009

"We're presently cruising at five feet..."

Nobody should doubt the professionalism, bravery and sang froid of Chesley Burnett Sullenberger III. I fancy that the first public words he will say are "I was doing my job", which is no more or less than the truth. He will probably also point out how lucky he was.

At the same time I think the word "hero" is best reserved for those who risk their lives when they don't have to. Your best guarantee of safety in the air is that if there's one person on board who wants to preserve his life even more than you want to preserve yours, it's the person driving.

Everywhere you go there's a slogan

Went to the new King's Cross yesterday to drop something off at The Guardian's splendid new HQ. The redevelopment of that area has been accompanied by energetic efforts to convince a sceptical public that London's grittiest area was about to become one of its most polished. A few years ago they put up posters all over the area with the slogan "King's Cross - Take Another Look". This was a grim joke on the people who had to look at some of its less salubrious aspects every day. (This weekend BBC Radio Four's Archive Hour is given over to Alan Dein's "Nations Of The Cross", his oral history of the area. Dein's stuff is always worth hearing.)

As development continues the slogans proliferate. All the smart new businesses down York Way have them. Their corporate aspirations are etched into the glass of their reception areas. They'll probably be able to afford to change them before they become an embarrassment. Walking back up the hill towards the Angel, every building seems to have some kind of inscription on it. The Edwardians chiselled it into the stone. "Drill Hall", "Boys", "Girls" or "Woodwork". The tower blocks erected in the 70s are named after politicians or birds but more prominent are the signs warning what will happen if you should venture in their precincts without either living there or being properly introduced. Everywhere you go there are inscrutable-looking keypads and entrycams, promising you that somebody is convinced you are up to no good.

The walls surrounding the girls school have been painted with somebody's idea of an educational mission statement: "Learn without limits. Create without limits. Perform without limits."

Thursday, January 15, 2009

It is ah not raining here also

On the phone (well, the Skype, actually) to my son in Sao Paulo last night around 7.45.
I said "Chelsea are playing Southend tonight."
He replied "It's been called off. Oh no, it's back on again." This from 6,000 miles and a couple of hours time difference away.
I can't get over how the death of distance has also killed small talk.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Run for your lives! The politicians are back from holiday!

Today's storm in a teacup about Baroness "Green Shoots" Vadera shows how infantile our politics has become. There'll be gales of hot air on both sides for 24 hours, which is about the attention span that Westminster prefers. Meanwhile the last set of initatives wither on the vine.

I still can't believe that a bunch of supposed grown-ups came up with that hare-brained VAT reduction scheme just a couple of months ago. I was reminded of it this morning when a manager of a chain of clothes shops was on the radio, pointing out, as an aside, that it had made no difference whatsoever to the amount of money coming in. What he would have no doubt added, had he had time, is that the amount of pointless administration it caused far outstripped any benefit it might have brought. I've been in shops where they've been quite honest about the fact that they hadn't bothered. Understandably.

I genuinely find it hard to believe that a bunch of barristers, business consultants, civil servants and professional politicians sat in a room and decided that reducing the rate from 17.5% to 15% was going to make any difference to the consumer. It seems perfectly emblematic of the way that because governments can't do anything to effect the big things (see yesterday's hysteria about social mobility, which has gotten worse despite the efforts of successive governments of different stripes), they fiddle endlessly with the small ones.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

BBC News expunges last traces of prejudice from our world. Greed believed to be next

Three items in a row on the BBC News just now. The first is about the Prince of Wales having to deny he is a "racist" because of something he once called an associate. The second was about football fans being in the dock for "racist and homophobic abuse" shouted in the direction of Sol Campbell. The third - this is in a row - is about the controversy over somebody publishing replica versions of 1930s newspapers in Germany, complete with Nazi propaganda.

Dumb and Dumberer

Yesterday I was recording something about Steely Dan for a Radio Four programme. Talking about the hook line of one of their tunes I described it, affectionately, as having "the dumbest" rhyme. The producer stopped the recording. Could I think of a word other than "dumbest"? They didn't much care for that at the BBC. It was "a compliance issue", apparently. Oh.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Match of The Day - where the English language goes to die

David Moyes has just been interviewed on MOTD. He's an intelligent, articulate man. In answer to a question about a chance Everton could have taken he replied, clear as a bell, "Yes. We could of." Is this a solecism or a barbarism? Either way it's increasingly the expression that people use. Does it not occur to them that of the two words they're using one is completely the wrong one?

The other one that puzzles me in football is "stonewall penalty". This has only appeared in the last few years. It must have started off as a "stone" penalty. "Stone" is the hipster adjective that denotes "utterly" and "unarguably", as in "stone fox" or "stone free". Once it was adopted even the linguistic vandals who comment on football couldn't work out what it meant and therefore it slowly morphed into "stonewall penalty" because at least that sounded like a football term.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

I have a new motto

First thing yesterday I was contacted by a producer from BBC World Service News. I responded straightaway. He came back. "Thanks for your prompt reply. A lot faster than Hamas."

That's going to be my "positioning statement", I think.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

What if Doomsday for the newspapers is the day after tomorrow?

If you work in print you ought to read this piece by Michael Hirschorn in The Atlantic. It poses the question "What if the New York Times were to close?" Not at some undefined point in the future but later this year. What if the owners proved to have too many debts, the revenues continued to plummet, there's no longer such a thing as credit and they could not count on Rupert Murdoch or Bill Gates or some other rich believer to bail them out? This won't mean much to British readers but for those who consider themselves sophisticated Americans it would be an epochal event. The nearest thing over here would be waking up one morning and finding that Radio Four had closed.

Meanwhile I learn that the share price of the company that publishes the Daily and Sunday Sport has gone down by 40% in the light of recent trading figures, a Russian billionaire is making enquiries about buying the Evening Standard and the collapse of Waterford Wedgwood is making the problems of The Independent that much more pressing. I'm not one of those people who finds the decline of the billionaires amusing. Like it or not the British press is kept afloat by very rich men with a sentimental attachment to the trade and the influence that goes with it. If it were left to hard headed investors the papers would have folded a few years ago. And nobody believes that anything but a fraction of this revenue can be migrated to other "platforms".

Just look at the so-called quality press in this country. You're probably thinking of titles you don't buy any more. Instead you access them on the web. Each of these is maintained either by a charity or the patronage of a billionaire. And billionaires aren't what they used to be. Hirschorn's piece suggests that we don't much care which brand is on the top of the story that we pull up on Google news. If a few of these brands disappear what will Google be bringing up? And how will we feel about it then?

And finally, one particular aspect of Hirschorn's Doomsday scenario should send a particular shiver down the collected spines of Clapham, Notting Hill and Stoke Newington:
It will also mean the end of a certain kind of quasi-bohemian urban existence for the thousands of smart middle-class writers, journalists, and public intellectuals who have, until now, lived semi-charmed kinds of lives of the mind.

Sport. It's great, isn't it?

Yesterday evening I was reminded why sport is such a rich source of entertainment. It's because it's the only area the PR people don't control with an iron hand. In any other branch of "the entertainment industry" (which is where former England cricketer Dominic Cork was placing it on Five Live last night) the Kevin Pietersen-Peter Moores squabble would have been solved behind closed doors. The extremes of embarrassment would have been spared with a large cheque and an emollient press release.

But this is sport in the age of 24-hour rolling news. It's an area where you blurt first, think later and your every word, gesture and thought is transmitted to the rest of the world within seconds. It seems that Pietersen's eventual flounce was the result of less than fulsome support in media coverage during the afternoon of the position he'd outlined in the morning.

You knew he was going to get into trouble in that job because he talked too quickly. In interviews - and he was always giving interviews - he babbled like an X-Factor contestant. This was an instructive contrast with Vaughan and Atherton. These are both cleverer men who nonetheless did their interviews in a drone designed to bring passing birdlife crashing, stunned with boredom, from above.

Last night I heard David Lloyd, Angus Fraser, Jonathan Agnew and Dominic Cork discussing his departure with that quickening excitement that steals over cricket folk when they can talk about something more than reverse swing and buses on the Camberwell New Road. They were all very good. Stripping away the thin covering of code from their remarks they seemed to be saying that KP's problem was that, when push came to shove, he's a bit of a dick.

Monday, January 05, 2009

The British way of life

Anthony Lane of The New Yorker is my favourite critic. In the course of a review of the new Tom Cruise film "Valkyrie", which features performances from the likes of Bill Nighy and Eddie Izzard, he fires off this gem:
"Character acting is, of course, one of the four things that the British still do supremely well, the others being soldiering, tailoring, and getting drunk in public..."
Lane's brilliant and he is British but I couldn't help thinking there must be something else in the national armoury. I haven't thought of anything thus far.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Saturday Night Fever 2008

This is my new favourite time of week. We've lit a fire, opened a bottle of something cheering, there is a smell of cooking and somebody on the radio is burbling about today's football. I get up to pull the curtains. As I do I see people who are either setting off for an evening out or in that peculiar state of tension that seems to hang around couples arriving at neighbours houses clutching a bottle of wine and some flowers. As I close the curtains I am suffused with that sense of pure well-being that can only be truly experienced by the person secure in the knowledge that he is NOT GOING OUT.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

New Year's Eve and wasted youth

Our drive home at two this morning took us through some of London's party zones. The people they used to call "revellers" staggered through the streets like survivors of a major terrorist incident. At a zebra crossing in Islington my wife, who was the designated driver, stopped because she wasn't sure whether a group of two couples were planning to cross the road or continue their canoodling. One of them lost his footing on the slope at the edge of the pavement. As he fell he took his girlfriend with him. She tottered backwards into the other couple who fell down hard. All four of them were then lying on the crossing like beetles on their backs, their puzzlement and apparent pain picked out perfectly in our headlights. As they righted themselves, which took at least thirty seconds, nobody giggled or looked embarrassed. When they were eventually standing and I had pointed out that one of the girls had left her handbag in the road, they didn't apologise either. "Drunk" doesn't begin to describe it.