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."