Friday, June 30, 2006
When reminded of this fact in an interview this morning, the England captain, David Beckham, was moved to hitherto unattained flights of oratory: ‘What’s past is in the past at the end of the day’, he said. ‘We’re quietly confident.’ (Personally I think it’s time we reminded them that it was us who kicked Napoleon out of their country.)
Speaking of clichés, have you noticed it with weather forecasters? ‘Spits and spots’ of rain, showers ‘few and far between’ - they’re given a bag of clichés before they go on camera to see how many they can squeeze into the forecast. (The French ones are the same.)
Don’t you hate words that stick together
Like chocolate biscuits in hot weather?
Those adjectives which, I submit
Are stuck with nouns they should have quit.
Are all tones dulcet, mercies tender?
All reapers grim and hopes all slender?
Got to go now to see if Argentina beats Germany. We play the winner - if we beat Portugal that is.
Thursday, June 29, 2006
1. I’m from the Inland Revenue and I’m here to help you;
2. Of course I’ll still respect you in the morning; and
3. The press have blown this out of all proportion.
The last is a quote from Andrew Murray, the Scottish tennis player famous for saying he would support any team playing against England in the World Cup. (E-mail on his website: ‘Andy, I won’t mind your supporting every team playing against England if you won’t mind my supporting everyone playing against you at Wimbledon’.) Not only has the McWhimp, who walked off the court tonight in his game against Julien Benneteau (plural of Beneton?) saying he’d had enough – which is not only unsporting but illegal - not withdrawn his remark, but he played today in a sweatband bearing the Scottish flag.
That’s cool - as everyone knows, I bear no animosity against the McMafia. I’m happy for them to enjoy the benefits of membership of the United Kingdom without accepting any of the responsibilities.
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
Tim Henman is out of Wimbledon - and it's only day two. A bit tough to find yourself – in the second round - up against the world champion; winner of the last two Wimbledon championships; who has won his last 42 matches on grass. They did a vox pop around the people on ‘Henman Hill’ afterwards and poor Tim was universally written off as not being quick/young/hungry/good enough. Well no, it was not entirely universal: one voice – an American one – pointed out that this guy had given immense pleasure as a top class player for ten years. ‘Trouble is’, he said, ‘you don’t know what you had till it’s gone’. (Might make a good song title.)
In response to many comments – well, one – on a recent post, I thought I might do another cemetery thing. The main reason is that Friday is the nintieth anniversary of the beginning of the battle of the Somme in World War I. The objective originally was to distract the Germans to relieve the pressure on the French at Verdun, but, typical of most WWI battles, it was a monumental screw-up, and equally typically it was the poor Tommies that took the shit. They were sent over the top to occupy German trenches that they were told would be empty – but weren’t. But they went over anyway, into a wall of machine-gun and mortar fire, and 20,000 of them were killed on day one. They kept marching and dying until November, when it was decided that they didn’t need to distract the Germans any more and the battle was called off.
I haven’t been to all the cemeteries yet - there are more than 200 of them. You don't know what you had till it's gone.
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
Am reading a book recommended by friend Ed, which has a chapter on cemeteries. Not the sort of thing you normally see in travel books – in fact it’s my first encounter with anyone else who likes them. It's part of why we do, I guess: if everyone did, they’d be full of live people and not the calm retreats they are. Another odd thing is that the author, James Salter, likes many of the cemeteries that I like.
But our favourite is the Père Lachaise in Paris: it really is the Rolls Royce of cemeteries: an island of calm in the whirlpool of traffic that rushes around it. All the cultures are represented – cast includes Oscar Wilde, Sarah Bernhardt, Chopin, Voltaire, Bellini and Jim Morrison - as is a whole gamut of architecture – Gothic, Baroque, Arts Nouveau and Deco. (How to distinguish between the last two: early - twirly; later - straighter.) It’s not an age thing: I made my first visit in 1952, when some of today’s residents – like Yves Montand and Simone Signoret – weren’t even dead yet. (Appropriately, Montand’s defunct neighbour is Edith Piaf – one of his earlier loves.)
He was a great performer but not a nice man. Once when we were having coffee in his favourite haunt, the Colombe d’Or in St. Paul de Vence, I asked him if he would do an introduction on a documentary I was doing about the village. Certainly, he says. How much? I ask. Don’t even mention it, he says - anything I can do for St. Paul is a pleasure for me. But when the script is agreed and the sound and camera crews assembled he says no – if I do it for you everyone will want me to. So forgive me if I am less than convinced when I hear him sing the Song of the Resistance.
Ah yes, about the Père Lachaise. It’s the best value in Paris: this much talent would cost a fortune if they were alive. There’s even a New Orleans jazzman: Mezz Mezzrow. But my favourite tomb is that of Gertrude Stein. After the flamboyance of the French mausoleums, here is a simple slab of Provençal granite bearing her details in a valiant attempt at English. On the reverse are those of Alice B. Toklas, and at the base of the stone lie the disintegrating remains of a single rose, its petals faded and grimy and much of its colour now transferred to the stone, but still discernible as having once been red.
Sunday, June 25, 2006
I still had a xenophobic inclination to assume that the bad referees were the foreign Johnnies. Only in Italy, I thought, can the directors of the major clubs tell the Football Association which refs they wanted for which games.
But sadly, the first referee to be sent home for incompetence in this World Cup was Graham Poll, the English ref. who failed to send off the Croatian defender Simunic in the game against Australia. (For the benefit of the uninitiated, a player can be sent off – shown a red card - for maliciously dangerous play, or given a yellow card for committing an offence of a somewhat more polite but potentially equally dangerous nature. A second yellow card means you get sent off for a Second Bookable Offence [SBO]. Poll unfortunately issued Simunic with an SBO, but did not send him off until he had committed a theoretically impossible third, or TBO.)
One might have thought that one of the functions of the two linesmen might be to prevent such a lapse, and that poor Mr Poll might reasonably have passed some of the responsibility to them – or even to the Fourth Official (American) with whom he was in permanent telephonic contact - who also failed to count the Czech’s earlier misdemeanours. But no, he took his punishment like a man. Poll galloped, and is now on his way home, banned for life from refereeing World Cup matches.
But ‘life’ sentences mean as little in football as they do in the criminal justice system, and my guess is that the blazered buffoons in the FA will forget Poll’s sins as readily as he forgot Simunic’s, and that, before long, he’ll be back issuing multi- coloured cards as if he were a croupier at Caesar’s Palace.
All we can hope for is that in tomorrow’s knock-out game against Ecuador, England’s footballers will be better than its referees.
Friday, June 23, 2006
"Angry French fans have put their national team up for sale on eBay after a lacklustre World Cup performance. Les Bleus have only managed two draws so far, against Switzerland and South Korea, and are in danger of an early exit. They must beat Togo in Cologne on Friday to have any chance of qualifying for the knockout stage.”
It was Ladies Day at Royal Ascot today, the day on which the wearing of fancy hats is compulsory – for the women, that is, not the horses - which also means that, since Windsor is directly between Ascot and London, the town has been jammed with traffic – mostly of the Rolls, Bentley and stretch-limo variety. Nothing so common as a Jaguar.
It has also been Ladies Week for the DG and me, spent (when not visiting DG's son's hospital) visiting my daughter in a hospital which does surgery of the kind we men don’t understand in wards where the patients walk about like sailors on a turbulent sea.
Visiting our kids in their respective hospitals has enabled us to savour our famous National Health Service – a beacon of social welfare in 1945 which has rather fallen behind the rest of the world in recent years. The main problem seems to be beaurocracy: the excessive number of Chiefs relative to Indians. (Couldn't use the politically correct term because the expression would not have made sense. Try it.)
One of the patients in my daughter’s ward was calling for help because she was in pain and needed to turn over but was all tangled up in tubes. So daughter gets out of bed and interrupts the nurses’ conversation to tell them that one of their patients is in need of assistance. They tell her to mind her own business.
The hospital was even more busy than usual because two of the operating theatres were out of action because of air conditioning failures, and the only other A & E hospital in the area was closed because the roads around it were blocked by traffic - because it was Ladies Day.
The other A & E hospital stands in Ascot High Street.
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
Japan had a big win over the weekend. At a meeting held on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts while the rest of the world was watching football, they persuaded those well-known conservationists, Cambodia, Guatemala and the Marshall Islands to join the International Whaling Committee. Then, by offering lavish ‘aid’ packages to a number of smaller Caribbean and African countries, the Japanese were able to pass by 33 votes to 32 a vote for the resumption of whale hunting.
Now I don’t claim to be an authority on whale conservation, and do not normally get over-sentimental about consuming animal flesh, but some of the arguments of the pro-whalers have a distinct note of mendacity: such as the one that says whales eat smaller fish which, if not eaten by whales, would otherwise survive to reduce world hunger. They do not say how the poor and hungry would access the fish saved by the mass killing of whales.
I have to wonder why a country whose ships have already killed 823 whales in a year in the pursuit of ‘whale research’, is prepared to lavish even more money in persuading nations who have no whales to decriminalise their slaughter so that they can go after them in earnest. As Ishmael put it, ‘from hell’s heart I stab at thee’.
One could even have the sceptical thought that they may not have the whales’ best interests at heart.
Friday, June 16, 2006
Whom we play in the quarter finals depends on a number of factors, but I think it comes out at either Germany or Equador. We will by then be in the ‘sudden death’ part of the competition – if you lose you’re out.
Enough about football – let’s discuss bananas. A shop in Sydney, Australia, has a sign in the window which reads ‘No bananas kept on the premises overnight’. Sound like the beginning of a joke? It’s no joke. Because of serious storms in its banana-growing regions, the crop has failed, and the cost of the phallic fruit has increased twenty-fold. So instead of putting your £100 in the stock market and ending up with £90, you could have had £2,000-worth of rotting bananas.
Do you get a wrenching feeling in the pit of your stomach when you get a message headed, "Introducing a simpler (or ‘safer’, or ‘more efficient’ or ‘beneficial’– you get the idea) policy", from a big organisation – or is it just me? Do you, like me, wonder who will reap these benefits? Today’s e-mail from British Airways is headed ‘Introducing a simpler baggage policy’. Flashing red lights – what is it going to cost me?
You will be pleased to learn that henceforth, in order to comply with ‘health and safety recommendations’, you will be charged excess baggage on every checked-in bag not included in the (unspecified - depends how much you paid for your ticket) 'free' baggage allowance, and that the maximum weight of said bag will be reduced.
But there's good news too: you will be allowed to carry two pieces of luggage on board – provided they are within certain measurement and weight limits. (To be fair, no efficiency or health and safety benefits are claimed for this procedure.)
The e-mail ends with a logo and the words:
‘In association with Samsonite’.
Thursday, June 15, 2006
But all this is secondary today, for this is R-day. Will Rooney’s broken metatarsal (the bone connected to the foot-bone at one end and the toe-bone at the other) have recovered enough for him to play in our match against Trinidad and Tobago tonight? A few days ago the England coach was saying ‘Absolut’ in that dyspeptic Swedish way of his – but a new element has come into the problem. It’s the threat that, should the metatarsal fail him in this game, or some naughty Trinidadian step on his foot, thus leaving him unable to start next football season, Manchester United will sue the pants off the English Football Association. And, since neither Man U’s American owners, nor their Scottish coach, nor Sven Gali, our Swedish manager, (who quits at the end of this World Cup tournament anyway) could give a stuff whether England win or not, there’s a strong possibility that the Roon might not play. And the following game is against – Sweden. Talk about divided loyalties!
On paper, England should win easily, and if we do we are certain to qualify for Round Two - but we have a special skill at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
In the Queens Club tennis, our Tim (Henman) won his singles, but sadly, the Scot-who-supports-any-football-team-playing-against-England lost. Pretty good day then.
Fingers - and metatarsals - crossed at 5pm UK time this evening for the trials of Nuremburg. Altogether now, to the tune of Washington Post: ‘Engerland, Engerland, Engerland…
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
I'm beginning to feel like an impostor and am wondering if I should change my handle - it’s a bit misleading. But ‘windsorwriter’ doesn't have quite the same aura. We haven’t forsaken the azure coast but have more important things going on here right now.
(If anyone wants to read about my favourite Riviera town, it should be in next month’s France Today - but check on the net before you buy.)
There’s a strange noise not being heard in London: Big Ben is not audibly marking the ¼ hours. The famous chimes are mute. Never send to know for whom the bell tolls. It doesn’t toll for anyone.
‘Essential maintenance’ they’re saying, but my sceptical side says ‘is this true - or is it part of some fiendish French plot aimed at attracting tourist dollars to France?' And, if it is true, what does it say about British workmanship? That they don’t make things as well as they used to, that's what. God, they’ve only tolled for 150 years – they're probably still be under warranty.
I hope they’ll take the opportunity to bring them up to date – a change would be in order in the light of technological progress since 1858. Like, chimes, OK – but with vibes, on slow motor. How about, say Milt Jackson doing Django, or Gary Burton with General Mojo’s Well-laid Plans? (You call that up-to-date? I hear my children say.)
But of course they – whoever ‘they’ are – won’t do anything of the kind. ‘We’ve got to consider the tourists’, King Ken will say. 'They like Big Ben - hours and quarters.'
Paris considers the tourists – considers them all the time – but it doesn’t stop them from building a pyramid-shaped greenhouse in the middle of the historic Louvre, gift-wrapping the Pont Neuf – or having a roving jazz band at a tennis tournament.
The excuse for this trip was tennis. Roger Federer (Swiss) played Rafael Nadal (Spanish) for the French Open championship, played on the sort of gravel we use for garden paths. Federer does not like this surface, and even though he won the first set 6-1, youth won out over age in the end. Well, you can’t expect to be still at your peak when you’re 24.
But it was good to see that style and guile have come back into tennis, and to see every inch of the court being used. I never liked the ‘serve-and-volley’ game, that used only the few inches behind the base line, and whose rallies were only three shots long. But then I also wasn’t tall enough for it, so it could be sour grapes. Trophy presented by Stefan Edberg – whom I last saw winning the NY Open in ’91.
Up early next morning for Eurostar then straight from Waterloo station to take advantage of son’s present: a day at London’s Queens Club, the Wimbledon warm-up tournament – this time played – of course - on pristine, manicured grass. Don't wish to sound anti-progress but the game is called lawn tennis. A moment of nationalistic joy watching our unseeded Tim (Henman) beating Andre Agassi (with Agassi getting more vocal support from the crowd than Tim – what can this mean? That we are becoming outnumbered?) A promising newcomer called Monfils. An interesting men’s doubles duo pairing French star Grosjean with Scottish prodigy Andy Murray – how do they communicate? - the latter of whom I find it hard to support vocally because he refuses (despite the fact that Scotland failed to qualify) to support the footballers of England (the country in which he gains much of his living) in the World Cup.
We had worried we might not be able to catch England's opening match - against Paraguay - in Paris on Saturday afternoon. As it turned out it would have been impossible to avoid it!
Home late Monday suffering from travelfatigue, sunstroke and tennis exhaustion – and happily so. Only hope your weekend was this good.
Friday, June 09, 2006
Domestic Goddess (aka DG) calls me a cynic – I prefer sceptic even though the OED says they mean the same. Our equivalent of the FDA – called NICE – just approved a drug quicker than they ever did before. This is the scenario: woman wants drug. National Health Service (NHS) says it’s not approved, and it’s too expensive anyway (over £100M or $180M from the already strapped NHS budget). Woman says she will sell her house if necessary to buy the drug. And suddenly, Presto! -
1. patient can afford to threaten legal action
2. eminent surgeons appear on TV saying how effective it has proved in the US, (Guess they just happened to be in London on vacation)
3. networks miraculously have footage of product, with manufacturer’s logo discreetly displayed,
4. NICE approves drug,
5. NHS says of course they can afford it. Cue product footage again.
Another triumph for PR.
And I’m a cynic? Well at least I didn’t take advantage of it by buying manufacturer’s stock.
Here at home we are very close to a serious medical problem and, as a last resort, are trying to get surgeons to prescribe experimental treatment, but without success. Would some drug company’s PR Dept help? We wouldn’t try – cancer of the tongue isn’t a big enough market.
Thursday, June 08, 2006
I have friends who would say, quite rightly, ‘Is that all you’ve got to worry about?’ Well not exactly, it’s just to illustrate my point, which is – I think - planning is for wimps.
The world waits – well England, which is the same thing - breath baited (whatever that means) for news of Wayne Rooney’s metatarsal. Will he, won’t he, play in the World Cup – or will the wicked witches of the North say he’s unfit because they don’t want their £27M player out of action for next season?
Rooney left Everton to go to Manchester because the Blues couldn’t afford to pay him the money that, in these inflationary times, he was worth. It is important to remind the world that in the last few matches before Rooney left them, Everton were abysmal. They only started to win again after he left – and they finished in the Champions League.
MORAL: If a team is totally reliant on one star, it isn’t a team. A team is eleven guys working for each other – not one star and ten satellites. (All right, I know stars don’t have satellites, but hell, it’s a metaphor.
PS Rooney flew to and from Manchester today from the team camp in Germany for a scan on said metatarsal – by private jet. Our government says the Queen has to fly on commercial aircraft because private aircraft are considered elitist.
Wednesday, June 07, 2006
Well, maybe one or two: outstanding was one by an American named David Bodanis about a book called Passionate Minds, about Voltaire and his girlfriend, Emilie du Chatelet. Great talk, but the book won’t be out in the US until October and Amazon UK won’t give a date, which is a bit of a cheat. A book festival is surely about available books, not future ones.
Another was by Alan Plater, playwright, novelist, jazz freak and freakily funny. He squeezes jazz into all his plays, no matter how tangentially – one of my favourites is called The Beiderbecke Trilogy, in which, although I’ve seen it twice, I still can’t find anything to do with the great Bix except possibly the incidental music. Alan was a big mate of the late great Ronnie Scott, and I suspect wrote much of his stuff. (Example: a dyslexic Japanese who every 7th December attacks Pearl Bailey.)
An increasing problem with Hay is its size: it gets bigger every year, and now the speakers, instead of mingling as they used to, are cloistered like Trappist monks or rock stars. Two years ago we met Bill Clinton for free: this year the only way you could get to see Al Gore was to pay £35 ($50) – and he was only a VP. We abstained, but he was a sell-out anyway. (Then the shysters had the nerve to charge a fiver to watch him on CCTV.)
When just leaving for Hay, I get this incredible piece of news – that my book on the French Riviera is about to go paperback. Wow! This never happened to me before. I’m not even sure what it means, except that presumably the hardback sold well – and, more importantly, that my commission rate goes down.
I also finished the amazing ‘Liverpool’ book that CJ gave me and which inspired last week’s posts. ‘Amazing’ because the author’s life story continued to mirror my own: born in Walton, Liverpool, lived through the Blitz, went to Alsop’s, joined RAF and was posted to an RAF station at Padgate, a small village in the north. (I won’t say what happened next in case CJ wants to read the book himself, but I can say that the author and I were eventually surgically separated.)
What’s even more odd is that when, (as parents do), I took CJ to college, his campus happened to be at – dramatic pause – Padgate. And on precisely the same spot on which my – and the author’s - old RAF station had once stood. Weird, no?
Sunday, June 04, 2006
I know I said I’d do Windsor this week, but I’m still in wind-down mode from Hay. As usual it was massively stimulating and as usual it rained most of the time – it’s the price you pay for all that mountain greenery and lamb chops. Because London has a drought and there’s a hose ban in force, we’re not allowed to wash our cars, so I took hoses and cloths to Hay with the intention of washing it with Welsh water, of which there's no shortage. But by the time we got there I had collected so much mud that I chickened out and decided to keep the car mud-encrusted as a badge of good citizenship.
A problem with Wales is that, having never been a victim of wetback migrants clambering across Offa's Dike, they have a limited range of surnames. (They should do like Sweden did when they found they had too many Jensens and Larsens: they paid people to change their names to exotic ones like Smith and Jones.) We went to the local library one day to see if we could get on the net and the nice lady said ‘What name?’ When I gave it she smiled patiently and said ‘Everyone in Wales is called Jones, including me. Perhaps if you could give me a little more information?’
Even in Wales, language nationalism thrives. Road signs have to be bi-lingual, which means you’re still trying to understand them as you crash. (‘Ah yes, I see,’ you say from the blood-soaked wreckage, ‘so ARAF meant “slow down”. And what’s Welsh for ‘intensive care?’)
It’s very important. too, in case of urgent need, that you know that the men’s room is labelled ‘DYNION’ and the women’s ‘MERCHED’. The Welsh, being rather Puritan, tend to deal harshly with transgressors, the minimum sentence being four hours of the Treorchy Male Voice Choir singing selections of Rugby songs. (Tip for travellers: a good way to avoid unwittingly committing this offence is to note carefully which genders go in and out of which doors.*) Welsh language signage is a fairly recent phenomenon – it appears only in modern signs. If the sign is hewn in stone and reads ‘These almshouses were built in 1765 to house poor and indigent widows of the town’, it appears only in English.
Another unique feature of life in Hay is its temperamental mobile 'phone reception. The only spot with reasonably reliable reception is the central car park next to the Municipal Merched and Dynion. Unfortunately it is not easy to park there because it's full of carloads of people with mobiles stuck to their ears.
* - beware of transvestites!
Friday, June 02, 2006
Although now the standard of cuisine is as good and varied as anywhere else in the world – and often better - some dishes are traditionally Liverpudlian: scouse is the most famous – see 'Language' – another is the ubiquitous butty or sandwich. Being highly portable, butties are popular with kids and are usually filled with further calories such as sugar, conny-onny or lemon curd. Those seeking the ultimate in carbo-hydrate concentration prefer the chip butty.
The story of the great international pop music phenomenon that was John, Paul, George and Ringo is too well-known to need repetition here. Ever since the 60s, when four young lads emerged from a Liverpool cellar to take over the world of popular music and occupy five of the American top ten, the city has had a reputation for pushing the frontiers of new music. It is less well-known as the birthplace of Sir Simon Rattle, one of the world's leading orchestral music conductors, and George Melly, a jazz singer whose fame predates even the Beatles.
That's about it. Next week - Windsor.
Thursday, June 01, 2006
There's only one: football. The city is football-mad, and is the home of the two greatest football teams in the world: Everton and Everton Reserves*. Everton is a founder-member of the Football Association. There is another team called Liverpool, a mere 114-year-old Johnny-come-lately which has had some success. Everton wear blue, Liverpool red, and the first question a scouser asks when he encounters another is which team he supports. This determines their future relationship.
Unlike many large European cities, the rivalry, although deep-rooted and tribal, is friendly and untinged by race or religion: there is no geographic allegiance because the clubs' grounds are only a few hundred yards apart. Everton's (Goodison Park), and Liverpool's (Anfield) are on opposite sides of Stanley Park.
Everton's nickname is the 'Toffeemen', after Everton Mint Toffees, the manufacturers of which, for publicity purposes, used to throw their jaw-breaking product into the crowd at Everton home games. Liverpool are called, unimaginatively, 'The Reds'.
* I jest of course, having grudgingly to admit that Liverpool have been the more successful in recent years, and have won five FA Cups and 18 league titles to Everton's five FA Cups and only nine league titles.