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?