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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Finally Elton gets someone he can't fire

Having greatly appreciated the glimpse of the home life of Elton John vouchsafed in "Tantrums And Tiaras" I wonder about Elton John and David Furnish adopting a baby. That's nothing to do with their sexual orientation, wealth or, certainly in Elton's case, age.

From what I could see in the film Elton lives surrounded by more delicate, expensive, sharp edged and potentially hurtful objets than you'd be likely to find outside of Harrod's furniture department. He has so many precious photographs in his Atlanta place that he needs a full time curator to take care of them. When he goes on holiday he takes a tennis pro with him. He is accompanied everywhere by a wardrobe capacious enough to offer three separate drawers devoted to sunglasses.

The introduction of a mewling infant into this temple of self is going to be interesting at the very least. Elton is one of the world's great record collectors. We must assume he has a copy of the Loudon Wainwright song "Be Careful There's A Baby In The House" and has taken its last verse to heart:

"Be careful there's a baby in the house,
And a baby is better than smart
It can waddle through all the stuff you do
Never mind your big head start"

Friday, December 24, 2010

Have we got enough bitter lemon?

Mum and Dad weren't big drinkers. However I remember that in the run-up to Christmas every effort was made to ensure that we were as well stocked with different varieties of alcohol as we were with food. Dad would wonder whether he needed to buy a fresh bottle of Cinzano while Mum checked that there was enough Lamb's Navy Rum to splash over the Christmas pudding. Then they would order a wide array of "splits", the small bottles of Schweppes Ginger ale or Indian Tonic that would be needed to administer drinks to everyone's requirements. They were terrified that somebody would ask for a Gin & It or Whisky Mac which they might not be able to provide.

Nobody caters like that any more, do they? I've just done our booze audit. We've got champagne, fizz, white, red and beer. Anyone who isn't happy with that can, quite frankly, whistle. Funny how while we've been growing fussier about food we've become less fussy about drink.

Happy Christmas.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

I don't want to spoil the party so I'll go

It was the office party yesterday. It started with a very pleasant lunch. I left about four, exhausted by holding conversations at high volume and starting to feel the tell-tale effects of what an old colleague used to call "wine poisoning". I dozed on the bus home and was in bed before ten. Obviously the younger members of the firm were still partying at five this morning. This hasn't stopped them getting in for nine o'clock this morning, which is admirable.

Age is the dawning anticipation of consequences. At the age of 18 you're too focussed on the pleasure to think about the consequences. At my age you think of the consequences before you think of the pleasure. The minute you think about the consequences you leave, a decision you very rarely regret. If you're worried that you might not be able to exercise your judgement when the time comes then you order a cab to arrive at an appointed time. If you're paying for it yourself you take it.

You never regret it.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Anthony Howard and Brian Hanrahan

This weekend brought news of the deaths of two prominent journalists. In his long career Anthony Howard was the editor of the New Statesman and The Listener and a deputy editor of the Observer. I knew him best from TV. Ever since I can remember he was the bloke they brought on to late night politics programmes to comment on the latest plots at Westminster. Inevitably dressed in a pinstripe suit with a spotted tie and a decent collar he looked as if he’d come straight from dinner at Rules. He talked like a mandarin out of a John Le CarrĂ© novel. He spoke the esperanto of Whitehall fluently. What I came to value most was the fact that, unlike most political journalists, his experience went back before Margaret Thatcher. He could draw parallels between what was going on at the moment and the careers of RAB Butler or Reg Prentice. He must have spent his life reading political biographies. The New Statesman’s tribute to him includes his recommendations from this year. I shall follow them up.

The death of Brian Hanrahan was announced this morning. Hanrahan was one of those BBC lifers whose quiet professionalism built the corporation’s reputation. He is best known for having said “I counted them all out and I counted them back again” as the Harriers left the aircraft carrier during the Falklands War. I know him as the bloke who lived round the corner from me. We used to take the same bus occasionally. I often thought about engaging him in conversation but you don't, do you? Don’t exactly know what I would have said. Now he’s dead at 61.

Condolences to the families of both.

Friday, December 17, 2010

You're always more popular when you're past it

I’ve been reading about this year’s reunion of Suede. The band, who were a going concern between 1992 and 2003, announced at the beginning of 2010 that they were getting together for just one show. This was so successful it turned into a full tour, much of it in far bigger venues than they would have played back in “their era”.

The excited reception they’ve been given by their fans, many of them now in their forties, reminds me of the way that 60s heroes like Eric Clapton and Neil Young became far more popular in their middle age, when they were past it, than they were in the first flush of their creativity. When Neil Young was writing “After The Gold Rush” he would have been lucky to sell out Hammersmith Odeon. When he was putting out “Fork In The Road” he was headlining Glastonbury.

This is because the market gets bigger all the time and you can’t achieve mega-fame if you’re only appealing to one generation. Time means your original constituency is joined by later generations of heritage kids, the people who weren’t on board first time round and the people who want to see you because you’ve finally achieved legend status. Add in the fact that a middle-aged audience has more money to spend and less entertainment options and you’ve got the reason why Suede ended up at the O2 and acts like Take That sail blithely on into middle age.

But there’s another factor. It’s not just the scale of the reception. It’s also the fervour of the reception. No crowd is quite as passionate as a middle-aged crowd celebrating what used to be before it’s too late.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Now that we don't have to buy them we're all newspaper readers

I tweeted a recommendation of a very good column by the Daily Mail's Martin Samuel. Somebody tweeted back that, "while I never read the Daily Mail", the column was very good. Which can only mean that he read it and therefore it's not strictly true to say that he "never reads the Daily Mail".

It strikes me that these days it's as anachronistic to describe yourself as a militant non-reader of a particular title as it is to call yourself a reader of another one. Being a reader of a newspaper in the old fashioned sense implied buying a newspaper at the station on the way to work and then reading it in public in such a way that it advertised something of your social status or world view.

Now that the newspapers have done us the enormous favour of giving away all their content for free we have no need to announce ourselves as a reader of one or another. Instead we go merrily clicking over the wide savannah of the internet oblivious to the jurisdictions we may be crossing. There's strong evidence to suggest that the Daily Mail website became the most popular site in Britain because it is patronised equally by people who would describe themselves as "readers" as "non-readers". What both groups have in common is they read it.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Kindle's making me read more

Having had my Kindle for a month now I can confirm that it makes you read a lot more. That's not novelty so much as convenience. It's thin enough to carry in a jacket-pocket. This means that you can take it out, not just on trains or in normal commuting situations, but also when standing outside a shop waiting for the GLW or queueing for the Channel Tunnel. If you've done things right it's kept your place and so there's no scanning back and forth to see where you'd got up to. At the bottom of the page is a percentage reading, showing how far you've got in the book, which provides a spur all of its own. I might set the book aside at 39% but I'm more likely to wait until I've read 40%. Of course you can do the same things less scientifically with a traditional book. But I probably wouldn't.

Friday, December 10, 2010

People who miss deadlines

It is a golden rule of publishing that the higher the frequency of the title the more efficient is the magazine. Weekly magazines are easy to work on because the workflow is steady. It has to be. If they stopped pedalling the bicycle would fall over. Monthlies are less efficient because each month starts with a week of idle pondering and ends with a week of frantic production. Quarterlies are so inefficiently produced you may as well do each one with an entirely new staff.

When it comes to individual contributors the golden rule is that the busiest people are always the first to file their copy. The promptest will deliver the night before the work is due. The tardiest will get in touch before the end of the deadline day and try to negotiate a postponement. You’re almost embarrassed to talk to them because they’re not ashamed to ask.

The very best people are never ill, elsewhere or detained on family business. If they are they don’t tell you about it. They know that when you say Friday you mean it. They don’t see it as a starting point for negotiation.

Lateness is clearly a state of mind, though what exactly it denotes is not easy to explain. There’s certainly an element of arrogance about it. The late contributor always assumes that other people’s promptness has made their own lateness less of a problem. It also seems to show a terrible lack of confidence. It’s like bands who spend years in the studio. That’s because they like making records but can’t bear finishing them. When they finish them they know they will be judged. They don’t like that one little bit.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Have Americans tourists got quieter and have we got noisier?

The noisy American tourist used to be a staple of British comedy in the 50s and 60s. Garlanded with cameras worn over noisy Hawaiian shirts, he was generally called Hank or Elmer and smoked a cigar. But the thing that got the British goat, and supplied the tension that led to the comedy, was that he talked so loud you couldn't avoid hearing him. The thing everyone agreed on was that Americans were all mouth. This was taken to be the expression of their new-found economic virility.

Last night I took a number of trains into the West End, which is doubly busy in the pre-Christmas period. On one train were four American university students, presumably over here as part of their course. They talked quietly and their demeanor was, if anything, faintly apologetic. It struck me that I hadn't heard a noisy American in London in ages. You can attribute that to the reduced amount of tourism from that part of the world and the fact that the last ten years have made Americans acutely aware that their nationality can make them a target, but it's certainly happened.

On the other hand, while the visiting Americans have got quieter and more polite an increasing number of Brits seem incapable of recognising that not everyone who's sharing the public space with them wants to hear everything they have to say and consequently talk louder and, though they probably don't realise it, more aggressively than ever. And in most cases they have pitifully little to shout about.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

You don't think they decided that today, do you?

I've sat on company boards for the last twenty-five years and I've never seen one occasion when a serious vote was taken without the chairman either: a) being pretty certain of the outcome or; b) having already prepared some means of deferring the decision if it looked like it might go the other way. All the important board meetings I've been involved with were preceded by quiet consultations during which likely outcomes were rehearsed and discussed. The idea that such an experienced bureaucrat as Sepp Blatter would go into a meeting like today's choice of World Cup venues without having a fair idea of how it was likely to turn out is a bit far-fetched for me.