Monday, December 22, 2008

End of the year

"Who stole 2008?" asks one of my friends on her Facebook profile today and I feel the same way. The year has shot past and has left me only a couple of wrinkles to remember it by. This month I feel I'm just hanging on till we get Christmas over (I'm working) and Ms T and I can go off to Wales for a bit of a break.
The reason I've not been blogging is partly the work schedule, which seems to have been heavy recently, but also trips to Manchester to see my old man who is resolutely not a silver surfer.
It could be the shortness of the days but I also feel I have little to say, or even less than usual. The endless stream of bad economic headlines is getting to me; they say forty seven percent of us know someone who's lost their job in the downturn and one senses there's worse to come.
I don't know about you, but for me this Christmas is a question of getting out there, getting the presents in, downing the mulled wine and hoping - or praying - for the best.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The End of Woolworths

Wending home after a heavy night - it must have been at least 11pm - I saw the metal grilles had been left open at the door to Woolworths. The scene inside was pretty depressing (above).
Lots of speculation among us locals as to what this shop will become when the end finally arrives; Tesco and Sainsburys both said to be keen on what is, after all, a massive retail space on one of the busiest high streets in the country. Let's hope the staff get new jobs soon.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Winter Living

The other day Ms T announced that she quite liked the weather like it is at the moment and I found myself agreeing. Everybody moans, and sometimes they're right, but really the winter here in the UK really isn't that bad; there are many compensations. It's crisply cold and there's quite a good deal of sharp low-angled sunlight that's been making a run in the park a real pleasure.

I like the contrast between outside and inside too; the chill on your skin being replaced with a glow when you go indoors. And drinking is especially pleasant in winter with red wines coming into their own and decently brewed ales going down nicely. Ms T starts doing hearty food; last night it was meatballs, yum. I hope it gets a couple of degrees lower and we get some snow out in the country coinciding with a day off - I reckon a winter walk would be fantastic and get yours truly off the sofa properly...

Friday, December 05, 2008

Do You Sing To Your Cat?

I've recently noticed that I've begun singing to my cats, Dylan and Hendrix. They ambush me on the way to the shower first thing because they want to be fed, and now I realise I am singing to them in response.

It's more a sort of rap, but delivered like a white middle aged Jay Z.

It goes:

"Da Pussy

Da Pussy

Da Pussy-Cat"

(repeat to taste)

It elicits no visible response from the cats, but I seem to need to do it nonetheless. Does anyone else do this kind of thing? What are your cat song lyrics?

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Great Lives

I'm too tired to blog properly, yes, I'm on nightshifts once again. Instead allow me to quote from one of my favourite blogs, Skidmore's Island. Skidmore is a former hack who's just been diagnosed with cancer. But he argues that having beaten diabetes and alcoholism he should now go for the triple. In the meantime he tells great stories so go and look. I quote this one so you get the idea.

This chap rang me up and asked if I wrote biographies for people. I said “Only rich people” and he said “That is OK; I am rich.”

That is how I found a dear chum Captain William Higgin.

When I got to know him better and heard something of his life I said, “You must have got through a fortune.” “Three to be exact,” he told me proudly,

He was one of the finest game shots of his generation. His game diaries, kept since the age of eleven, show a total of 357,000 birds and vermin destroyed. Not recorded was the Dornier bomber he shot down on his family estate at Puddington, Cheshire, or the two sacred peacocks he downed in India, which almost got him lynched by angry villagers.

He shot the Dornier bomber as it came in very low on its run to the iron works at Queensferry. He recalled: “It was quite an easy shot and the next day Western Command in Chester confirmed it had come down.”

The peacocks he shot in India while on safari. He was saved from the wrath of angry tribesmen by their Head Man, a Cambridge graduate, who smuggled him out of the village at night.

His shooting career almost ended when as a 19 year old company commander in the 5th Baluch (Jacob’s Rifles) Regiment, King George V’s Own, a bullet whistled past his ear on morning parade. It had been fired by a deranged sepoy.

Bill’s dilemma was that if he reported him to the CO, the sepoy would have been shot. He had to think of an alternative. He noticed the man was wearing a marksman’s badge and ordered another sepoy to rip it off as a punishment. He said, “If you missed me at that range you are clearly wearing it under false pretences.” He felt justified when six months later the sepoy won the Military Medal.

Fighting on the North West Frontier was conducted in a gentlemanly way. If a sepoy was shot or a village became obstreperous it was given a warning that on an appointed day the Indian Air Force would bomb it. On that day the villagers would scatter into the mountains, the Air Force would come over and drop a few bombs. Not many casualties and very little blood letting.

Posted to the Burmese jungle in World War 2, he was struck down with polio and it took ten days to get him to hospital. He told me: “I warned my soldiers I would shoot anyone I found drinking water from a pond. Then twenty-four hours later like a bloody fool I drank from one.”

After a year in hospital, disguising his polio limp he was back on duty in India as ADC to an Army Commander, Sir Henry Finnis. Subsequently he was Pandit Nehru’s warder when Nehru was imprisoned by the British.

He remembered: ”I looked after Nehru for six months and he didn’t address a single word to me. Can’t blame him. He was kept in appalling conditions, literally in a cage built onto a shed like a dog kennel where he slept.”

After the war Bill ran three farms, in Cheshire, North Wales and Shropshire, but still managed to shoot five days a week. Then two years before we met, suddenly he couldn’t lift a gun. After 69 years the legacy of the polio had returned. Refusing to be defeated, he hired a beater to carry him on shoots and hold his shoulder whilst he shot.

The biography we wrote together “Koi Hai” was published the day he went into hospital. He died two days later; a few hours after I had presented him with his first royalty cheque, which I had framed.

His ancestors included the Restoration rakehell 2nd Duke of Buckingham, who killed the Earl of Shrewsbury in a duel whilst the Countess looked on, and a Pendle Witch.

You can't beat this can you? Click here for Skidmore, digital raconteur supreme.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

What You Have Missed

I've now been offline at home for weeks so this blog has missed out on a number of tedious posts that I would have written had BT allowed it. For the benefit of God Alone Knows Who I shall now summarise these in an easily digestible form.

- The new wifi router is arriving this weekend. This is a replacement for the one that broke, which was replaced last week. But the Parcelforce driver left it on the porch doorstep in full view of the street, so it was stolen. If the credit crunch has any positive element at all please can it be to put human beings back in charge and so strip out these kind of costs from businesses? I have no doubt the reason why the wifi router was left on the step was because a computer had designed a schedule for the driver that was unmeetable save by Superman.

- The Saatchi exhibition of Chinese modern art. Fun and thought provoking in equal measure the highlight is in the basement; a group of eerily accurately recreated old men in wheelchairs aimlessly moving to and fro and bumping gently into each other. I don't really get modern art but this was fab, indeed I shall post up pics of it. When I get online at home, that is.

- Renaissance Faces at the National Gallery. Crowded and hot though it was, still a great exhibition of some of the world's best paintings, some of them with an amazingly contemporary look given they were painted around 1460. But the best exhibit was a bust of a ten year old Henry VIII, which looked exactly as demonic as he later turned out to be.

- The moral courage required to not go and see the relentlessly hyped new James Bond film. But if Five Live's film critic Mark Kermode graciously takes the time to personally tell you that it's not very good, is it not then ridiculous to pay money to see it?

- Meeting General Sir Mike Jackson and the feminist writer Naomi Woolf at the same party. But you shouldn't namedrop should you? Oops, I just have.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

In the Shadow of The Bomb

One of the weird things about being alive in 2008 is that people don't seem to fear the Bomb anymore. When I was a teenager in Cheadle I sued to have nightmares about it, and just to make sure you had the right amount of fatalism there were films like 'Threads' which made you feel that you absolutely didn't want to survive if the bomb ever did get dropped. I nearly joined CND, but then worried I'd be blacklisted by the BBC, so I decided to be an anxious bystander.

But people seem to be cool about fission devices now. I can't remember the last time I discussed nuclear weapons with anyone. Folk seem to have forgotten they exist. They're just not brought up in polite society.

But exist they do, and can I have been alone in being transfixed by an adaptation on BBC Radio 4 on Saturday night of Nevil Shute's novel 'On the Beach'. In Shute's story the world has engaged in a nuclear conflagration and everyone is dead - except the Aussies, who people presumably forgot to press the button on. But the levels of radiation are rising and even in Brisbane people are going to die within a matter of months. Then, from Seattle, a radio signal is heard and a US Navy submarine sets out on a desperate mission. I listened to it on the way home , then sat there in the street as it finished. It's here for seven days, but then the recording reaches it's own half life and dies away.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


One consequence of not having net access at home is that I'm actually making use of my Lovefilm account. One of the seminal films I've suddenly caught up with is a film called Festen, made in the nineties by a group of Scandinavians who were sick of effect heavy flicks like 'Godzilla' (which came out at roughly the same time).

You've probably seen Festen, but thirteen years after it first saw the light of day I was shocked and thrilled by it. It's about a man celebrating his sixtieth birthday in a big hotel in Roskilde. Half way through the dinner one of his sons gets up and denounces his dad for sexually abusing him. How can you not watch the rest of it?

Shot on a tiny DV camera, albeit backed up by a professional sound rig, the 'Dogme' rules the filmmakers cooked up forbade artificial lights and any special effects. Infact so fanatic were they about these self imposed restrictions they felt guilty for closing the curtains to simulate nightfall. The actors bought and paid for their own clothes, and did their own ironing and makeup.

The effect is to strip down the filmmaking of all the fat, leaving you with a searing script and superb performances. It gets a little bit lost during the night time sequences (no lights allowed) so the climactic fight sequence looks like wrestling in a barrel, but overall I was transfixed.

So I'm off to the Lovefilm site to order up some more of these things. Just as soon as I get back online properly, that is.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Netless in SW2

The amber light carries the dread message; line fault so no internet in the hendohome.And it will take a week to repair which is changing my life in a number of ways.
- I'm writing this in a cafe, so leading to increased human interaction and tasty calorific intake. Mmmm, skinny latte.
- Run gets done earlier when on days off, since there is no netty distraction.
- Newspapers are bought and read.
- Ditto books.
- Increased levels of people being rung up.
- Less blogging.

The repairman comes next Monday. Mixed blessing?

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Not About the BBC

I haven't managed to post anything for a few days, partly because it's been insanely busy but in main because it's been hard to think about anything other than the sorry business involving Messrs Brand and Ross. And if you're in my position, ie a relatively junior one, you have to be careful what you say about all this in public. Indeed most things have been said about it that can actually be said, and this morning we have the fullest expression of the row with Peter Hitchens, writing in the Mail on Sunday, likening the BBC to a cancer.

If I thought any significant proportion of the country believed that was true I'd resign first thing Monday. Paradoxically maybe, I find comfort from the sheer numbers of people complaining. If the BBC wasn't important to people they wouldn't bother. I think what annoyed people was that the indecent broadcast happened in their name, as does all the work the BBC does. If Aunty can draw lessons from this mess she could emerge the stronger.

There has been precious little to laugh about the last few days, but I giggled when I saw McCain on Saturday Night Live . Can you imagine a British Prime Minister doing this?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Suffering or Shopping

For several years now I've travelled to work through one of the UK's hugest building sites; above is the view out of one of the Beeb's buildings at dawn one morning a couple of years ago. I get to work at Television Centre at around seven but even then the area always throbs with activity as an army of construction workers and shop dressers troop from the White City tube station into the massive Westfield site. The shopping centre boasts two new stations as well as the revamped Shepherds Bush tube, a massive bus station, and hundreds of shops and restaurants. It's been awesome to watch it take shape, this enormous modern retail palace rising out of wasteland. Now, tantalisingly for those of us suffering BBC catering, it is within days of being opened. It's a sort of enormous corporate two fingers to the forces of downturn, and even amid the brickbats from the lefty carpers from the Telegraph who wonder why it couldn't have been a hospital or a school, I have to respect the developers ballsy attitude. They want us to shop our way out of this economic misery. It might work. Or it might be a soulless bonkers monument to what the PM calls 'the Age of Irresponsibility'.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Time Out Walk Book 2 Number 15

With my man flu on the wane it was out to Coulsdon for a Sunday afternoon country walk. Coulsdon is within the M25 and half of London seemed to get off the train and start the walk with us. I think it was because you could have a lie-in and still start at a decent time. The halfway pub, The Fox on Coulsdon Common, was big enough for everyone who wanted a drink and stocked Bombardier bitter with decent fish and chips, so no complaint there.
The weather was windy but mild; leaves were falling but not golden yet. Took a few minutes to look at the medieval Chaldon Church which has an amazing mural painted by a monk in the 1100's (above). It depicts dodgy businessmen being toasted in hell by cat-headed devils. I wonder how big the bonuses were in the Dark Ages.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Price of Success

The photo (by Penny Bradfield) shows a 28 year old Italian author who's written a runaway bestseller and whose film is a contender for an Oscar. Life should be peachy, but Roberto Saviano is living a nightmare instead. The problem is that his book 'Gomorrah' is about the mafia. These are not the gentlemanly goombahs in nice suits as depicted by Coppola or the Jersey mob as shown by HBO. This is the real thing and they are very pissed off about the way they come over. I went to see the film this afternoon and I can see why.

Shot in a gritty documentary style the movie cuts between the lives of several people caught up in the Cosa Nostra. Several of them come to bad and tragic ends. Others are utterly compromised. The manner in which the mob's tendrils extend into every aspect of business is superbly depicted. There is no glamour in the film; its vision of life around the mob comes over as sordid in the extreme.

Anyway Roberto Saviano got it so bang-on the local family in Naples has decided that he's to be murdered by Christmas. The result is he spends all his time with Carabinieri in a series of ever shifting hiding places and is now planning to leave the country.

"The fuck with success," Roberto told La Republicca this week "I want a life. I want a home. I want to fall in love. I want to [be able to] drink a beer in public, go to a bookshop and choose a book after browsing the back cover. I want to go for a walk, enjoy the sun, walk in the rain and see my mother without fear - and without frightening her - I'm only 28 years old, for fuck's sake."

I urge everyone to go and see this brave and remarkable film.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Defeated by Rothko

To the Tate Modern to look at the Rothko exhibition. It's been a huge hit but I genuinely have no idea how to react to these monoliths of diffused colour. They don't engage the front part of my brain so much as the primal back half. They warm me or alienate me or absorb me. People seem dwarfed by the canvases; moving up close to see the textures between the great blocks of colour and then retiring to the middle of the enormous rooms to sit down and regard them from a safe distance. I'm exhausted by the end. I have no idea what you're supposed to take away from these terrifying things. Maybe I needed the audio tour.

Obama in Pictures

Found on a digital trawl through the web while waiting to recover from a cold, I found these extraordinary and moving pictures of Barack Obama on the campaign trail. They remind me so strongly of JFK and Jackie in the early sixties it's untrue. They're taken by Callie Shell of Time magazine who's been following the man for the best part of two years. Design or accident, they're well worth a look.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Rochester, Not Heathcliff

Some months ago, in an interview with the New Statesman the Prime Minister revealed that he saw himself as Emily Bronte's Heathcliff. Could Mr Brown have been confusing his figures from Victorian literature? For in this morning's Mail, in an extraordinary piece by Allison Pearson, the clear suggestion is made by the writer that Gordon Brown is losing what remains of his vision. Which would make him Charlotte Bronte's 'dark pillar' - Rochester - not the ASBOable Heathcliffe. And an increasingly fascinating figure in this massive crisis.

How To Spend It

A bizarre day in which I realise I'm obsessed by the FTSE 100 is followed by a mad night in which the US Presidential Election is relegated to a second story as the developed world peers into the financial abyss. Deep into my shift and craving some relief I turn to the full set of papers delivered to the newsdesk seeking for any other story other than the money meltdown. But amidst the financial carnage I find the FT has issued a colourful supplement entitled 'How To Spend It - The Bonus Issue' jampacked full of advertising for watches costing £1500 and pictures of wealthy looking models exiting Learjets while sporting suits costing my entire monthly salary. Laughing bitterly I turn to the Telegraph property section (surely an anachronism now?) to find a piece about buying orchards and a promotional offer of treehouses. The adjustment to austerity is not yet complete.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Fin De Siecle?

Lunch with an old friend who works in Canary Wharf. There may well be a crisis here but people don't seem to be panicking. Not so much 'brother can you spare a dime' as 'sister is there a table at Smolensky's?' (There wasn't) Driven underground to a burger joint we discussed the events of the last few days. The Lehman's collapse had created 'a weird atmosphere' he confided, but people were making the best of things. And that does seem to be the collective feeling in London; out last night in the West End crowds of people standing with drinks outside the pubs, hardly a table to be had at some restaurants; this recession, while existing in every technical sense, hasn't hit the capital's streets just yet.
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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Death at Broadcasting House

To Broadcasting House to watch the film 'Death at Broadcasting House' which was screened as part of the BBC's arts and music festival. Considering the budget - £16,ooo- and the time it was made - 1934 - the movie is really pretty good. And it was only an hour and ten minutes long; I like brevity in a movie.

After the film there followed a hilarious discussion chaired by Radio 5L's film critic Mark Kermode. There were lots of funny stories about BH that I'd never heard before. It seems that at one point BH had a special chapel studio - which was consecrated - to host religious broadcasting. Apparently it had to be re-consecrated after two members of staff were discovered in flagrante delicto behind the organ.

Stories too about a tunnel used during the war which linked BH to the Langham hotel across the road, and the tube system. Fascinating, but I have no idea if it's true.

The chief architect of the multi million pound redesign, Mark Hines, turned up to publicise his book, which he then had to sell from a van parked outside 'because of competition rules'.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Denis's Do

Arrived in Belfast to discover half the newsroom had made the trip from London to say goodbye to the corporation's much loved Ireland Correspondent Denis Murray, who's retiring this year. Perhaps unsuprisingly it was the best BBC do I've ever attended. A lot of people are going to miss him, not least the audience for whom he made the country's difficult politics comprehensible.
The drink flowed and the stories with it. To say Denis is a peerless raconteur doesn't do justice to the man; he gave a blisteringly funny speech as he accepted his present from the cheering throng.
One of the biggest laughs was for a story he told about the Catholic peer, the late Lord Fitt, who like many key Northern Ireland politicians spent lots of time on aeroplanes to and from London and Brussels. Arriving at the airport late one evening for the last flight he found only one seat on the aircraft was available, the jumpseat in the cockpit. Halfway through the journey the SDLP peer emerges to go the loo - to encounter his political adversary the Rev Dr Ian Paisley, sat in Row 1.
"Don't worry Ian" says Fitt "I've left it on autopilot."
Don't be a stranger Denis.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Heathrow. Not actually that Bad.

I love air travel. Yes, you read right, I love going on aeroplanes to faraway places. I think it's exciting, not ordinary in any way, that you can climb into a jet propelled pressurised tube and travel in a couple of hours distances it would have taken month to traverse just three generations ago. My Dad will celebrate his ninetieth birthday in a couple of months, God willing. When he was born air travel was achieved in things made of fabric and wire. In a few minutes I'm getting on a 737 to Belfast, which is a routine part of my life and a lot of other peoples. I honestly feel privileged to be able to do this. The process is made all the bitter-sweeter by the knowledge that future generations may not be able to fly so easily.
Now I'm sitting ina nice cafe, sipping latte and blogging, overlooking a runway where the planes are landing sixty seconds apart. T1 is not all that bad. A few less stupid shops and some nicer areas to sit would be very welcome but compared to say Dalaman, or Miami International, Heathrow is OK. Not as nice as Bangkok or as terrifyingly efficient as Hong Kong, but OK, really.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Strictly Dancing Exclusive

On many a morning at around 7 I pass the massive doors to TC1, the studio they use for Strictly Come Dancing. This time they were open and there it was, the set for the big Saturday show under construction. Not the greatest of shots, but the hour was an early one. I have no further inside information but I reckon Don Warrington could well be bowing out come the weekend. And Andrew Castle has no cause for complacency either.

The Lido is Closed

The Lido has closed for another year. Even though the weather has been mediocre the swimming there has been superb. As Tricky Skills remarks in his blog it's been possible to use the pool for actual training and I think I've been there most days in June, July and August. Some people are still up for it, even in October but even Tricky admits it's now so cold it's actually causing him to hallucinate. Another seven months before it reopens - perhaps it's time to consider buying a wetsuit so I can be there first day and not die in the attempt.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Time Out Walk Liphook to Haslemere

From Sussex Walk 290908

Time Out Walk: Number 6 from Book 1
Donkeys perceived: 2
Horses fussed over: 23
Pubs ensconced within: 1
Distance: Ten lovely miles

Maybe the last decent day of the autumn saw Ms T and I head for Liphook on the train, then walk in a big circuit lasting ten miles, pausing only to have a drink and lunch in the Red Lion in Fernhurst. The talk from the table behind us was all about 'those poor people with mortgages' which gives you a clue to the income bracket enjoyed by the locals. But we saw virtually nobody on the entire trek, just some horses, two donkeys and a man clearing undergrowth from a country lane. The sun shone through the trees, an occasional helicopter flew over.

Returned to find the world economy in meltdown, again. The Dow has fallen 600 points. I was going to go on the wagon, decided instead to pour myself a large scotch. It could be a long week.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

All that Jazz

A gloriously sunny Friday afternoon so, it was down to the Photographers Gallery near Piccadilly with Rachel for a look at a fabulous set of pictures showcasing Soho in the fifties and early sixties. A gloriously sordid set of prints (which you can get a taste of on the gallery's website) showcasing the musicians, strippers and punters from a fabulous looking era in the capital's history. Plainly a massive raucous party was in progress, held under the nose of an austere and disapproving post-war Britain. We need a party like that now. Perhaps there is one, but I have not been invited.
I went home after a good lunch and drank three glasses of red wine, so effectively jettisoning the prgress I'd been making with my diet. Ah well, onwards and upwards.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Strictly Decompressing

Spent today adjusting to the fact that sunshine and a beach won't be featuring in my life for the forseeable future. Fortunately there are compensations:

- Strictly Come Dancing has started , and Enid (our superb cat sitter) recorded the episodes we missed. I was going to review it but TV Dinners does it so much better, so rendering my effort pointless.

- Our cats. I kind of missed the little tykes. There was a cat at our hotel called Banjuk but he scratched me.

- Radio. Bunged on the Today programme on the way home from the airport and heard one of Norman 'Storming' Smith's politics two ways. These go out on the show most mornings at around 0630, and if you like politics they're about the best three minutes you can spend. This one summarised the Brown/Milliband position with great clarity and I felt bang up to date.

But I have some weight to lose. 13 stone 1 pound is too heavy for me, so it's no drinking for the forseeable and it's back to running and weight watchers points tomorrow. There can be no sin without retribution.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Thoughts While Delayed At Dalaman Airport

I write to you, dear reader, from Dalaman Airport where we've been delayed for five hours in the middle of Monday night. Actually if this is all the XL disaster puts us through we will have got off lightly. But where else in Turkey, (an otherwise cheap and hospitable place) is beer five pounds a bottle, the staff shouty and the temperature nastily high well after dark? People sit crowded into underlit catrering areas subjected to pumping Turkish pop music. Screens in the lounge play episodes of 'Holby' to glassy eyed travellers. Dalaman airport is exploitative of its captive British travellers to a blatant and wicked degree. It's worse than BAA in that the UK operation, while charging stupid prices, does deliver a small degree of quality. But I shall be glad to be home which is a shame because we've had a lovely holiday.

Looking at the net I have to wonder what we're flying back to; the credit crunch which won't stop biting, one less High Street bank than there was when we left, the country in a funk.....but there is one bright spot on the horizon. The new series of Strictly Come Dancing has begun. Come on John Sergeant!

UPDATE: At home after a night from travel hell I discover that the head of XL bought a 800K house in his daughters names just a few weeks before his business went under - in cash, with what he says is 'family money'. Now Phil Wyatt intends to get back in the airline industry. Do me, the dumped XL staff, and the rest of us at Dalaman last night a favour Mr Wyatt: stay out of the flying business.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Reading List

Holidays are great for many many reasons, but I love being in Turkey because reading for pleasure, at a proper pace, becomes do-able again. So here's the holiday reading list, some details and links to be added later when I get more time.
Hard Times, by you know who. I hate Dickens because of his riotous sentimentality and his inability to write women as real people; as Woody Allen once joked his wife divorced him because he put her under a pedestal, and CD does the same. But it bounced along and had some good characters and you can't despise a book that features a dog called Merrylegs.
The Last Days of Newgate by Andrew Pepper. Recommended by Rachel of North London, it's a Victorian thriller with tinges of sordid realism, murder and melodrama. Beautifully done, go buy (or just borrow it off me). Also the Suspicions of Mr Whicher, which is a kind of factual accompaniment to the first two books, a shrewd and beautifully researched book about a real Victorian murder which happened in Road, near Bath.
I like taking big books about Hollywood in the suitcase and this years was Lee Server's superbly written autobiography of one of tinseltown's original hardmen, Robert Mitchum 'Baby I don't Care'. It's brilliantly done with a massive pile of anecdotes featuring everyone from Howard Hughes to Frank Sinatra. It seems you were nobody in Hollywood unless Mitchum had either hit you or taken you to bed.
Then Down River, which is overwritten nonsense from the Richard and Judy booklist. Everyone on this holiday thinks it's great but frankly it's deeply missable, and now I'm re-reading Dumas's Three Musketeers, which I didn't give proper time to the first time around, and I'm very much enjoying the second time about.
I did think I'd start my own book this holiday but the pool has got in the way. Shame that.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Curse of Hendo

For years it's been a standing joke that disasters occur when I'm on my holidays. My loved ones call it 'The Curse of Hendo'.It asserted itself in 1997 when myself and Chris were on a trip round the Southern states of America. We got back to the room to discover a live image of an underpass in Paris on CNN. I spent the rest of my holiday wondering whether to come home, and driving poor Chris bonkers in the meantime. This pattern, maybe coincidental, maybe not, repeats itself. 9/11 was the day after Ms T and I arrived in California. Northern Rock collapsed the day after I unrolled my towel at the poolside in Southern Turkey. A trip to Italy was marked by a nasty rail disaster.
This is a curse which is refining its aim, edging closer to me as it replicates. This year we flew out on XL airways only for it to collapse by the end of that same week. As if for punctuation Lehmann brothers fell apart yesterday, and HBOS shares, which I have a decent wedge of, fell some thirty percent.
In future I'll post up when I'm going and you can take your place in the nearest bunker.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Victorian Unpleasantness

Found this on my travels, a cleverly done Murder Map of London in 1888 from The Times archive. As today, the victorian media covers the crime in code. A doctor is found guilty of murdering a patient 'who was not in the condition she thought she was in'. She died what must have been an excruciating death from peritonitus after what looks a lot like a botched and unnecessary abortion. Dark materials.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

How Parking Enforcement Works

Since the Post Office closed my local office I've had to drive to Camberwell to pick up the parcels they can't be bothered delivering. There's the doorway to the office on the right hand side of the picture. Just visible behind the cars on the left of the picture is a man from Southwark council wearing a tabard. If you stop next to the office to pick up your parcel he gives you a parking ticket. Smart eh! Don't worry about what happens if he walks off. The council have installed a cctv camera on a pole just visible on the left of the picture, and presumably that arranges for fines in his absence. 

Top Five Worst Retail Experiences

The news that Dixons/Curry's are fairing badly in the economic downturn gave me a certain kind of guilty satisfaction, for I have sworn never to buy anything from them again. I don't like to see anyone lose their jobs but they get easily the top placing in my top five nasty retail places to avoid list.

1. Dixons/Currys. Hard to see the wood for all the trees when it comes to this dreadful store that's been on our High Streets for too long. Can it be the untrained staff who generally know less than you do about the stock? That's if they don't ignore you, like they do in Brixton's branch. Or could it be the high prices of said stock, which is often outdated. Or the way they try and flog you insurance for the thing when you've bought it, as if your consumer rights don't exist? Gah!

2. Woolworths. Controversial this, but I think this sad and shabby store is on the skids and the staff and customers both seem to sense it. Brixton's is a disgrace. The muzak is an assault on the customer, the staff don't really want to know and you can't wait to leave, never mind buy anything.

3. Ryanair. I can't top Bete De Jour on this, so won't try. But I won't use them if there's any kind of choice. They make me feel like a number, not a free man.

4. Starbucks. That people will mutely pay these prices for a cup of coffee and a sit-down lends weight to the idea that British consumers are moronic dumb cattle that pay anything for anything. I've heard they're not doing too well either.

5. Almost any British hotel. Overpriced, frequently sloppy in their sense of customer service and a calculated insult to foreigners. The usual experience is uncleared tables, food trays in corridors and a sense of being housed on a remand wing. I exempt the Hotel Du Vin and Malmaison chain from this though by God, you pay through the nose for the pleasant experience they generally offer.

I've got all the way through this and not mentioned KFC or McDonalds. Maybe this should be a top ten.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Citeh, The Future

If twenty four hours is a long time in Politics how much longer is it in Football? The last thirty six have seen Manchester City's fortunes apparently transformed and I'm only one of the thousands of Blues wondering what the next few weeks could contain, not to mention the January transfer window.

The Abu Dhabi royal family's acquisition of this blue and mancunian bit of English football will change the game across Europe. The going rate for a top class striker is now thirty one million quid, as of last night when United had to reportedly up their bid for Berbatov to stop City hijacking the deal. In January, if the reports in are to be believed (and they broke the takeover story in the first place), that price could have inflated to a hundred and fifty million quid with a another poaching effort, this time aimed at Ronaldo . This kind of money is beyond even Russian oligarchs. It's all incredibly exciting, and if you've watched them struggle season after season, rather gratifying.

You can see the attraction of football as a place to put money. But with players costing hundreds of millions can it really be seen as an investment opportunity? There's something about this which defies logic. If this continues I'll have to start turning up to games again, which will be another problem: I'm used to the troughs, not the peaks. Citeh is about suffering, not cruising. It just won't be the same.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

On the Beach

To Anderby Creek; a hell of a big beach, with a big sky and a big (North) sea. The sun beamed but I somehow held off donning my trunks and jumping in. Maybe as well; there's a fair bit of oil in as well as under the sea in that part of the world. Was this the last day of summer?
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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Bradford Bitter

My mate from work John Millward has begun blogging. He claims he is overweight; he is not. But he is (by his own admission) into the bank for 250K, owns an apparently unsellable flat in Bradford, has a number of kids and is going cheerfully through a divorce. He writes well and his blog shows great promise! Visit it 'ere.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

My Gadget Hell

When I was a little boy all I wanted to do was own a pair of walkie talkies. Two way radios just seemed so drop-dead cool. This was a result of watching Daktari on TV. You may recall Daktari, if you're ancient. It was a show about vets in Africa looking after animals. They (the vets) had walkie talkies, and a cross eyed lion called Clarence. But I digress.

Anyway I never had a pair of walkie talkies, because the UK had highly restrictive radio transmission laws which were only relaxed in my twenties, at which time I had no particular desire to own any.

Fast forward if you will to last Saturday when I found myself in Battersea, where the Woolworths is closing down. And the little radios above were on sale for half price, a cool twenty quid. I lost my head and reader, I bought them. They are fab, with eight channels, which you can adjust, a little tone that tells you when the other chap is calling and even a stopwatch.

But now I'm thinking, what do I actually use these for?

Saturday, August 23, 2008


Ever since I've been in London, and I arrived here in 1995, there's been a plan to do something about Battersea Power Station. Some misguided individual bought the landmark in the 1980's and took the roof off. Now its a shell - but a listed shell. So it has to be preserved, and rightly since many Londoners are rather proud of it; and for a few Saturdays this month it's also been a tourist attraction with long lines snaking around the building for the privilege of signing a safety waiver and spending ten minutes inside.
That there's so much vacant land in the middle of London is an anomaly which developers are now seeking to address, and they'll show you the model in the visitors centre. The chimneys and high brick walls stay - infact they're the centre of a planned multi million pound housing, leisure and retail complex. Can't think it's a bad thing; the power station is a magnificent building and it's a scandal that it's been allowed to deteriorate to the state it's in. Click here for my photographic efforts.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Real/Not Real

I don't usually just post video but this is so marvellous I just had to go on about it. It proves what I have always believed, that Star Wars is infact a documentary.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

North and South

This week the political classes united to denounce a report from the Policy Exchange, said to be David Cameron's favourite think tank. The document, entitled 'Cities Unlimited' described northern cities as essentially washed up, claimed regeneration efforts had failed and suggested everyone put their belongings into carts and move to Oxford, Cambridge and an expanded London.

On the face of it this is, let's say, unhelpful on a number of levels and the Conservatives went out of their way to disassociate themselves from it. But the report was simply stating what I had to face up to in my own industry back in 1995; there was no future for me in Manchester and I had to bite the bullet, sell up and go to London to make things work. It hurt like hell to leave the North, but I wasn't on my own. London is full of people who've moved here from somewhere else and jobs are almost always at the bottom of their decision. Some of the people denouncing the report are my fellow travellers. In modern Britain people move about. They generally move from the North to the South. I wish it were not so, but that's the way it is.

Now the BBC is single handedly leading a regional revival with big (well advanced) plans for Salford which will restore serious production capability to the Northwest, which used to belong emotionally to Granada TV. But it has largely moved south, like me.

The BBC Daleks

I blogged earlier this month about these Daleks that have arrived at the BBC. There are now three of them in total, and now a pair of them have moved and are hanging about together in the foyer; that's a snap of them above.

There is a Tardis outside on the patio next to the horseshoe car park, but it is silent and there are no lights within.

I shall maintain a watching brief.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Hadrian's Exhibition

To the British Museum to see the Hadrian exhibition. It's great, although a bit pricey at £12. Took Helen and I about three quarters of an hour to wander round. Of course the rest of the museum is free, but lots of it was closed 'due to staff shortages'. I can pop in whenever it takes my fancy but if I'd come all the way from Murmansk I might be seriously dischuffed. At the end you're decanted into an enormous shop where you can buy a mug with a latin inscription on for fifteen quid. No thanks.

Hadrian comes over as a massive egotist. He had so many statues done they're still digging them up. He was also brutal in his repression of rebellions and today would be doubtless cooling his heel in the Hague waiting for a war crimes prosecution.

We were starved by the end of the afternoon so at Ms T's suggestion met up at the Giaconda Room off the Charing Cross Road, which is the nicest bistro I've been to for ages. £30 a head with wine and two courses with coffee and truffles. I had the rump steak which was a lovely bit of beef, fit for an emperor.

Friday, August 15, 2008


This week sees the release on DVD of one of my favourite British films, Naked. This was the film which launched David Thewlis's career in 1993, establishing him as a fine screen actor with international credentials. His performance as a Mancunian misanthrope quite rightly got him awards at Cannes but he was far too strong a cup of tea for the Oscars that year. (He was edged out by Tom Hanks for his performance in 'Forrest Gump'. Jesus.) The film was directed by Mike Leigh. It was his breakthrough as a film director although British audiences had known him for years as the man behind 'Abigail's Party'.

I've seen it twice, once at a cinema in Salford - no better place to see it - and once on a DVD (I think the Guardian gave it away and I madly lent it to someone). It's a kind of two hour post Thatcherite rant with a deeply disturbed Thewlis prowling London's underbelly. As with all Leigh's films the performances are created by improvisation, over hours, before the camera exposes an inch of film. Thewlis was nearly arrested after fighting 'in character' outside Leigh's office. He shoplifted, again 'in character', to provide props for the film. It is a difficult film to watch, and I would imagine it posed a massive headache for the people trying to market it. Thewlis himself admits his character took him over to a dangerous degree.

I'm going to buy the DVD but watching it now will be a bitter sweet experience. There's a superb performance by Katrin Cartlidge, at that time an up and coming British actress. She died tragically early, from emphysema and pneumonia, at the age of 41.

Here's a scene from the film with Thewlis at large with a security man in an empty office building. Hanks eat your heart out.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

This Summer Washout

I can't believe it's mid August. The Lido this morning was utterly freezing; it took me a whole length to get my breathing under control, and only a handful of others were braving it. Some of them were little kids. Somehow little children aren't as 'cold conscious' as we adults. I was chatting to my dad about this and he says I used to throw myself into the sea in Scotland as a small boy. How times change. I got out after twelve lengths this morning.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Daleks at the BBC

Confession time: I don't like the current series of Dr Who. I appreciate I'm the only person in the UK who thinks David Tennant is a bit wet. The show has massive ratings and everyone loves it. Part of the problem is the monsters. When I tune in I find they talk too much. They frequently have the Doctor at their mercy, but they always fumble it.

The exception is the Daleks, who rule. These days they can fly, but I find them frightening even in their original trundling manifestation. The grilles from which the satanic voice is heard, the metal finish, the gun and the cyclops sensor - they all spell evil to me even now.

Recently one arrived in reception in Television Centre. It just stood there and didn't say anything. You could stand next to it; Daleks stand as tall as me and if you think they're impressive on the telly you should try them in the flesh, as it were.

Then another one arrived, overnight, and they stood on either side of the door to the news area. But one day I came in to work and they'd disappeared.

This week I came in and found they'd relocated to the cafe area near the shop that sells Dads Army DVDs. And now there are three of them. What's going on?

Your Card In Their Hands

Is there anyone left who hasn't had their credit cards defrauded? I'm extremely careful with mine but recently used it all over the West Midlands when I was working there as a field producer. I used it to buy petrol and a couple of meals in a few places, and lo and behold, it was cloned and used to withdraw cash from a machine in the East of India. The bank stopped the card instantaneously but didn't bother to tell me. I only found out I was £600 down when I was trying to buy a rail ticket and Virgin's website rejected me. As crime it's all very civilised. I filled out a form and got a refund in a matter of days.

This morning it emerged that fraudsters have managed to insert sniffing technology in the card readers on shop counters - the ones you punch your number in while the shop worker politely averts his eyes. Petrol stations in the West Midlands are the focus of a police enquiry, funnily enough. My take on it is that we have nothing much to fear from the big retailers, but I may start paying cash for petrol.

Elite Squad

Can't get a film I went to see on Wednesday out of my head, Jose Padilha's Elite Squad. It's a Brazilian film which came out last year and is now getting a release here in Europe after it won a prize at the Berlin film festival.

The story, which is largely factual, concerns a squad of police officers who try to crack down on heavily armed drug dealers in Rio's favelas. But the entire enterprise is dogged by corruption and officially sanctioned brutality. Apart from being a powerful argument for never setting foot in Brazil it's ultimately a fairly nihilistic film. I won't spoil the ending but you won't be surprised to hear it's not jam packed with optimism and I left the cinema wondering what the point of its unrestrained depiction of violence was, save to appall and dispirit the viewer.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Chinese Revisionism

I was able to watch some of the Olympic opening ceremony while sat in our newsroom the other day. It was electrifying and the coverage of the games - we see a mix of BBC picture and core coverage from the Chinese hosts - has so far been utterly flawless. Underneath it all is a terrifying message for the Brits: Match this. If you can.
What the Chinese officials will probably see as 'unhelpful revisionism' has now taken hold with some comment about computer generated firework footage and the shocking admission that a little girl tasked with the trivial task of singing in front of billions of people was infact dubbed. But we shouldn't be fooled, the Chinese are setting the bar incredibly high and trying to busk a 2012 opening ceremony with Terry Wogan and Liberty X just isn't going to fly.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Marble Hill House

The weekend's book club picnic was in the best tradition of English lunches outdoors, held in a lovely park in the break between showers. The venue was an elegant monument to the fruits of adultery: the grounds of Marble Hill House in Twickenham.

It was built in the early years of the eighteenth century for Henrietta Howard, the Countess of Suffolk. Although born in genteel poverty Henrietta managed to shake off an inconvenient marriage and a badly timed child to become a key hanger-on at the court of the Electress of Hanover at Herrenhausen. This was an inspired tactical decision by Henrietta as the son of the Electress, George, was in pole position to become King of England. When he succeeded Henrietta saw to it that she became his son's mistress, and in time a grateful George II managed to bankroll the design and construction of Marble Hill Hall - apparently out of the sight of his wife.

Henrietta bought off her unfashionable husband and proceeded to hold glittering salons in Twickenham with the likes of writer Alexander Pope and our first Prime Minister Horace Walpole. And she lived to a ripe old age which shows you can get a long way in this world - and last a long time - by knowing the right sort of people.

Of course Henrietta lived in an age where monarchs and other leaders were expected to have mistresses. While people enjoyed a scandal then just as much as they do now, the moral climate is seemingly very different today as can be seen by the disgrace heaped on John Edwards at the weekend. It doesn't help that his wife is very ill, and he previously denounced Bill Clinton for having a mistress. But the lesson of Marble Hill House is that good architecture lends dignity to sexual frailty so maybe Mr Edwards should have thrown caution to the wind and built his girlfriend a mansion in the Hamptons.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

My Favourite General

In between long stressful shifts on the newsdesk and cooling swims in the pool I'm spending time reading up about one of this country's best army commanders, Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, and having a number of long held assumptions gathered from films etc shattered in the process.

Teetotal Monty was at his best when he did all his planning and went to bed early. He had made his dispositions, was comfortable that he had done so to to the best of his considerable ability, and appeared to sleep well - even though people would be killed the following day.

Monty was at his worst when like many celebrities, he began to believe in his own PR. He was good but not infallible. After he started to believe totally in his infallibility along came the dreadful adventure at Arnhem. Part of the problem was he couldn't admit that plans had to change when new circumstances came along unexpectedly.

Monty had no sense of 'otherness' to his troops. He had a system of Liason Officers who travelled everywhere, quizzed everyone, then reported directly to him about what was going on to the point where he was better informed than every other commander. He toured the lines, addressed all ranks from the top of his car and told them what he was doing; explaining to troops personally what his objectives were and what was expected of them.

In return he appeared to be bothered about their welfare, their food, their clothing and appeared to recognise how much the average infantryman cared about his own survival. They responded to him and he got the best out of them - even though they were a long way from home, poorly equipped when compared to the Wermacht and sometimes weren't even from his own country; he often found himself leading Poles, French and even Americans when there was a failure of leadership post D-Day.

My Dad, a corporal in WWII saw Monty on at least one occasion. This was a period when the majority of commanders were generally well behind the lines and within reach of a bar and a decent golf course. He broke the mould and brought himself and us victory in the process.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Cats and Spiders

Summer has arrived and the sun has turned London into an oven. When not in the airconned newsroom the only Brixton based relief is either to head for the Lido or sit very quietly in the garden nursing a cool beer and turning over the pages of a book.
But even the garden has distractions. I can't help abandoning my biography of General Montgomery to watch our cats, who interact with the garden in a completely different way from one another. Hendrix (above), has decided that he rules the garden from the comfort of a wicker chair while his brother Dylan approaches the lawn with all the caution and watchfulness of a Maoist guerilla in the swamp. Occasionally, as if to prove a point, one or other will climb the pear tree. But on the whole Hendrix remains aloof and motionless while Dylan stalks around the grass, ears pivoting, in order that he misses nothing. A spider (they seem both big and numerous this year) embarks on a mad web building mission above the decking before settling in the middle of its trap to wait for airborne dinner.

Friday, July 25, 2008

In Praise of Eddie Mair

Eddie Mair has always been a forensically lethal interviewer, but he exceeded even his usual high standards on PM yesterday. The interviewee was the usually unflappable Tom Crone, who runs legal affairs for the News of The World. Anyone who's interested in broadcast journalism, or who teaches it, should take note of these ten minutes of broadcasting. Eddie's polite dissection is masterful and he keeps control of the discussion in the face of determined attempts by Crone to move it off sensitive areas. Is Mair now the best interviewer at the BBC? Go here, use the listen again button for Thursday's show, the interview is the lead item.

Shami Chakrabhati

The director of the Human Rights group Liberty is Shami Chakrabati, a tenacious and dedicated woman who appears a very great deal on the media. Now, like the Queen, she has crossed from simply being a well known personality into the realm of being so ubiquitous, so much a part of the British mental furniture, that she appears in people's dreams. But what can Bete De Jour's dream of Shami and her Ukelele portend for the future of the campaign against 42 days?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Music To Drive to Lidl To

We were ahead of the pack as far as the low cost German supermarket Lidl goes. Ms T and I were shopping there long before the credit crunch propelled the distressed bankers of the Telegraph set to the cheerful if utilitarian blue and yellow sign of no frills shopping. I don't know why anyone bothers with Sainsburys. Lidl has fifty seven types of super sausage and you can do a weekly shop for the two of you for 50 quid.

For me the best bit of the supermarket, be it the Streatham or Brixton branch is the middle aisle, which is like a sort of 'bring and buy stall meet the forces of Globalisation' affair. Drill sets. Scuba Diving equipment. Digital temperature gauges. MP3 players of indeterminate manufacture. It's all there, sometimes, in the middle aisle of Lidl.

The other day I drove there; you've got to really, the shopping weighs a ton once Ms T has rifled the cheese fridge; and decided to play Carla Bruni's new album on the CD. I'll admit to being somewhat captured by Ms Bruni. She is a bright spot of light in the dark shenanigans of European politics. Sadly, the album is pants. It's a kind of melodic breathing which was in vogue sometime around 1971, although in fairness it is done in three languages. She rattles through a couple of standards, a song which sound suspiciously like Sir Paul Macca's 'For No-One' and some other dittys which are in French and therefore probably rude. I can't in all honesty recommend it, and can't help noting it charted this week at No 53.

Monday, July 21, 2008


I'd always entertained fond thoughts of growing a beard, but I never had until last week. This was because of one reason, and one reason alone; that women frequently say they are repulsed by men who have them. I didn't want to end up alone and spurned, living in a small mountain shack, my only function being to provide a moving target for youths throwing stones, so my chin stayed clean shaven.

But last week I was on loadsanight shifts, and I simply didn't bother to shave. By the weekend I was an embryonic beardie, nothing really obvious, but it was very much on the way. Various reactions ranged from Ms T being unwilling to be 'facially intimate' and Mrs Magpie describing me as 'a Ray Mears lookalike'. I was inspired a bit by seeing pictures of Henry VIII and other beardies at the National Portrait Gallery; if a beard was cool for a renaissance prince it ought to be OK for a Hendo.

You become almost a different man with a beard, I found. A bit devil-may-care. A tad rakish. Insouciant. I even found my barbecuing was a bit more confident. Shaving? What a bore. Yes, maybe I could be more of a man with a beard.
And this was backed up by researchers; the internet site which lauds beards cites researchers from Harvard: "the male beard communicates an heroic image of the independent, sturdy, and resourceful pioneer, ready, willing and able to do manly things." Hurrah for beards!
But by Sunday it was itching like fury, so I shaved it off.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Lambeth Country Show

Lambeth is not in the country. That is the point of the show; urbanites like me can learn the finer points of ferret racing...


UPDATE: There's no point in reviewing the show when Tricky Skills does it so well...

Thursday, July 17, 2008

I think it's him

To the National Portrait Gallery in London with Helen, arriving at 10 to beat the rush. We needn't have bothered; there's a distinct lack of tourists in town at the moment. A couple of schools arrived mid morning to swell the numbers. Adolescent boys played on the escalator to the Ondaatje wing, which is where my favourite portrait, the 'Chandos' picture of Shakespeare hangs in the gloom with the rest of the Elizabethans.

There's some doubt, I've read, that it's him. But I think it is. The dark eyes regard the viewer with a certain forbearance. You sense the mind at work behind the slightly mocking half smile. And there's the earring; a rakish actor, in full creative and poetic flow, takes a precious afternoon to sit for the painter. I get the feeling it's one afternoon only. It's just head and shoulders, and there's no scenery behind the subject. He was a pretty busy man when all's said and done.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Lido 1 Night Shifts 0

Regular readers/sufferers here will know of my deep antipathy towards night shifts, involving as they do, the imposition of a semi permanent state of knackeredness. Today being a case in point; I simply could not sleep after my shift.

Home at 8.20

Woke at 1000

Went back to sleep maybe 1015.

Woke at 1215.

Got Up. (Big mistake this; wandered about eyes on stalks, made chicken sandwich sorted out the firewall on the PC)

Went back to bed at 3.15.

Got up at 4. The sun was shining through a gap in the curtains.

Went to the Lido at 4.30 and jumped in the pool.

Got out at 5 feeling very strange indeed.

Went back to bed at 5.45.

Got up at 6.50, had tea.

At 8pm, went to work.

The one saving grace was the swimming, the sun on the water, the sheer rush of it. It was cold but after the afternoon heat, a relief to get in and do the lengths. Maybe nights aren't so bad...

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Archers Again

'The Archers' this week gave us another Golden Radio Moment (c) when the satanic infant George fell into Neil Carter's pig sty. He was shocked but unhurt, sadly.

I worked up at BBC Birmingham recently, in the brand new Mailbox building. You pass 'The Archers' studio on a landing on the way into the newsroom. It has a big window so you can see the equipment and control booth, but when they record they draw down big blinds so you can't see the actors. I'm glad about that as I have specific visual images of many of the cast nurtured over twenty five years. They include:

Joe Grundy: Almost indescribably hairy, red faced, hook nosed and illegally smelly.

Matt: Sideburns and bad breath.

Jennifer: Dark shoulder length hair and a martyred expression.

Shula: Dark shorter hair but the same martyred expression as Jennifer.

Lillian: Silverish bob, blue eyes and the foxy manner that's made her the favourite character at Hendo Towers.

Clarrie: Traditionally built (see Alexander McCall Smith), and yes, rosy cheeks.

George: Blond hair, tiny, with a tiny '666' tattooed somewhere only a professional exorcist can find it.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Train Again

"You've got the wrong train."
The Virgin train worker was insistent.
I'd got on at Stockport and the door had shut behind me.
"I can't open the door now..." she said. "It's automatic."
She looked a bit worried.
"This goes to Euston?" I asked. I had terrible visions of Reading, or something.
"That's right," she explained "but this goes the long way round. Would you like a coffee?"
I brightened.
I'm not bothered about spending an extra half hour on the train these days. Infact if they install wifi on the Pendolinos I might move in permanently and claim asylum or something.*

*Richard Branson paid me no money for this blog entry.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Folkestone Surprise

Perhaps its having lived in Morecambe for a year as a student, but I tend to think of English seaside resorts as delightfully tacky and edifyingly depressing. Several fairly cast iron laws come into operation as you approach these places.

Almost all do a great line in faded Victorian grandeur. They'll generally have boasted an amusement park or pier, but it's equally likely to have burnt down in mysterious circumstances.
You'll encounter many rather young looking mothers wheeling their babes. You'll see postcards depicting the town in its heyday, invariably several decades ago, showing huge crowds watching people dive off boards, or dance with feathers. The same pictures will show great weather, but there will be none while you are there. You will hear lots of Girls Aloud, but the artist you'll be reminded of is George Formby.

Well all these laws are broken at Folkestone, which Ms T, Rachel and I visited last Friday on our way to France. It's currently hosting it's 'Triennial' arts festival, which is basically an excuse to wander about and look at modern art hosted in or on people's shops, or on the promenades. There are metal installations of discarded baby clothes by Tracey Emin (this works superbly - poignant and slightly disturbing), and other work by famous people, including a thirty minute long film of a fishing boat which plays upstairs in the town's library. There are 'murmuring benches' where you sit and gaze at the distant French coastline while listening to letters written by WW1 soldiers to their sweethearts.

It's all rather brilliant, and we had a pleasant lunch into the bargain. The weather was superb and I wished I'd brought my trunks but the lucky townspeople were spared.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Cafe Society

There can't be many civilised ways to turn 44, but sitting in a cafe in a sunlit Wimereaux is definitely one of them. Cafes are completely different in France, you buy your coffee and nobody hassles you again.
The sun blasts down and the entire character of the resort is transformed; hundreds of people actually swimming in the Channel! Scary.
I've slipped away for an hour while Ms T and Rachel hit the market. Beside me two prosperous looking Brits discuss the situation.
"Brown's had it all stacked against him".
"I think what we need is a change of Government."
"We need confidence restored."
"Something should be done about inheritance tax."