Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Pub Crisis

From Kent Walk

Hundreds of the country's pubs are closing every year, infact one industry expert now puts the closure rate at around fifty a week. If like me you enjoy a pint and think pubs constitute a vital part of our social fabric this is depressing news indeed.

Some, like Anthony Worrall Thompson, are calling for the smoking ban to be lifted from pubs but this problem is not so simple. The Pubco contracts which force franchised landlords to sell beer at an unfeasibly high price is also to blame for some of this crisis, and the tax environment for alcohol generally here is madly high.

The Government has known about the pub meltdown for a while and yet doesn't move, maybe eyeing the cost of late night disruption in town centres and reasoning that as alcohol is a poison perhaps drinking less of it would be good for the population and the pressure on the NHS budget.

Whatever, I don't think the smoking ban should be removed. It's a pleasure to return from a night at one of our remaining pubs and not have to consign all your clothes to the washing machine.

UPDATE Over dinner tonight I was taken to task over claiming that the tax environment for alcohol is madly high. According to research done for the brewers we tax our beer higher than the vast majority of Europe, trailing only Finland and Ireland.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Bodyguard of Lies

Last November an American journalist working for the New York Times was kidnapped by the Taliban. David Rohde was staring death in the face and his employers asked media organisations not to say anything about it. They reasoned that Rohde's release price would rise if his plight was publicised, and the fuss would hinder negotiations for his freedom. They even got Wikipedia on side, altering the way it showed Rohde's reporting record, but this didn't stop an anonymous user from Florida from trying to amend the site to show the journalist's imprisonment.

Rohde escaped by climbing over a wall earlier this month, and now we can have the debate about the rightness of the cover up. Me I support it, and feel that wikipedia user in Florida was a priggish menace. The NYT piece about this quandary is here.

Sunday, June 28, 2009


From France0609

I haven't blogged for a while partly because I've been on a fabulous holiday in the Dordogne, where I scandalously failed to visit the recreation of the cave paintings at Lascaux. Instead of paying a reverential visit to see man's first attempts at a visual reproduction of his animal friends and foes we sat enjoying the peace at the house in the countryside we'd rented, and occasionally jumping in the pool to cool off. Ms T and I rather fell for the place and we're promising a ourselves a return trip - although maybe we won't drive the 700 miles next time, given the number of handy airports we found out about when we got down there. Never mind, Rachel and J stood the rigours of my driving with great fortitude.

We did stir ourselves a bit, wandering around Perigueux where there's a superb little military museum. It's one of those charming places with the accent on show rather than tell, lovingly tended and full of interesting stuff from a massive variety of conflicts. One exhibit simply a map of Algeria with little flags and a book - did you serve in Algeria? asked a notice. Please sign here and plant your flag; and a lot of people had. Then suddenly in one case, bringing me up short, the terrifying uniforms worn by residents of the town who had found themselves inmates at Ravensbruck concentration camp.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Bete's New Book

I should start by declaring an interest. I’ve been a reader of Stan Cattermole’s since he started his blog and have ceaselessly promoted him here and to my friends. I’m even on the list of supporters at the back of this new book. And I’m so pleased he’s made it into print; his writing deserves recognition and some money. The paradoxical problem with the internet of course, is that even excellent things like his blog ‘Bete De Jour’ are free, thus producing a problem for the purveyors of excellent things. But while it doesn’t seem to me to be cheating to take the best of your blog posts and repackage them as the basis for a book I don’t know wether this one really works.

Bete De Jour – as a blog - is pretty exciting writing if you like laughter and honesty with your laptop and coffee. Over the months Stan has faced up manfully to a humungous weight problem, an alleged lack of looks and a grim poverty of sexual opportunity. His posts deal with a wealth of other problems which are met head on in an often hilarious and always highly compelling way. A lot happens. He discovers some truths about his parents, I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say his love life enjoys something of a renaissance, and he moves house. So this book which uses the blogging as a springboard for a bigger narrative isn’t a thriller. Think suburban earthquakes.

And for his friends and readers – the net often merges the two groups and at one point this works in Stan’s life to an extreme degree - there’s a return of old favourites. The brilliantly written scrabble match in Burnley is here and some of his terrifying early sexual encounters make their terrifying re-appearance. There’s a lot of additional material about his appalling childhood. Being by his own description ‘ugly’ is just the start of his problems.(I have no idea if he is, incidentally. Stan doesn’t favour us with pictures) Some of his schoolfriends are so cruel they ought to be had up at the Hague. He goes to a reunion. It is as difficult as you’d imagine.

Because he writes so unsparingly, and it’s usually funny, this book just escapes being a misery memoir. But just occasionally I found my self thinking, come on Stan, hit back. Get a little wicked. Don’t be afraid to give in to the Dark Side, I shouted inwardly, because by God he takes a hell of a lot of stick in this book. Bad luck seems to follow him around. His close friends become ill very frequently. Don’t get too attached to his cat. It’s all a bit grim, at points. And that’s one of the reasons why it doesn’t completely gel; I want a fightback.

I also want more themes somehow or maybe even a bit of suspense which you don’t get when you’ve been cruising his blog, so maybe that’s my fault. He’s added a lot more into this than just transcribing his blog posts, yet there’s a sense of the book being a stitched together series of episodes rather than a narrative flow. Maybe I’m being pernickety.

That being said, Stan changes his life in many positive ways, which is a big thing and a good read, particularly if you’re a newcomer. And don’t get me wrong, this is a strong debut from a man with a considerable webby following. He does write almost suspiciously well. Could this be a fascinating experiment by someone much better known? I can’t rid myself of this thought. I’m like that though.

Anyway do buy this book, a man who writes like this – whoever he is - deserves lunch. But for all his accomplishments, both in his life and in the way Mr C has documented it, it still feels a bit more of a blog thing, than a book thing.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Blogging Matters

"Sadly, my time in Sicily has not been all good. It started out wonderfully, however, and everything was going great, until halfway through my second night, a couple of people with whom I had been getting on really enormously well turned on me, swore at me viciously, pushed me away and left me drunk and weeping in the middle of the night, in the middle of a strange town, without even the name of the hotel where we were staying"

Bete De Jour, a self professed ugly man who writes like an angel, has a book out! Added to this excitement he has ended up in Italy, where he falls out with people and sits mournfully in churches. This is what blogging is all about!

Lido Decisions

To the Lido for more of that swimming habit I get at this time of year. Summer is really here now and this morning is cool but sunlit so I still take my wetsuit. The decision to do this is less than obvious because I'm not sure which is better for swimming; should it be 'wetsuit mode' which is like being held in the water by a kind of giant buoyant rubber fist but which definitely creates more drag as I swim..or should I go trunks only which, even with the warmer water temperature (19.5 C this morning) is a big shock to the system and makes me work a bit harder to stay afloat?

Sweating up and down the pool I notice a group of kids arrive from one of the local schools. I'd reckon them to be about eight years old. They are accompanied by five teachers/assistants and a yellow tee shirted instructor. They spend some time being told about the pool, at some length. The minutes tick by and I start to wonder what it is that anyone needs to be told about the concept of a swimming pool. Then they get changed into their togs and then they do that thing which drives me up the wall, ie just stand shouting, splashing each other and throwing a ball around.

The staff just stand there on the side and laughably, one of them tells off a child for screaming. You get in here lady, I think, and see if you don't scream. Looking at the teachers, and I admit I am in a greenhouse stonethrowing here, one or two of them could use some exercise. After a bit the kids get out. Nobody has taught them a single thing about swimming. Is this Health and Safety or something? Because surely the real risk to a child's health is not to be taught to swim.

** Hat tip to the Brockwell Lido website for the lovely vintage picture featured above..