Friday, January 30, 2009
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
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?
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?
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
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
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
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
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
Thursday, January 22, 2009
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
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 BrazilI'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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
Sunday, January 11, 2009
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
Thursday, January 08, 2009
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.
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
"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.