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.