Sunday, December 31, 2006

Take this tip from me

Where do you stand on tipping? I go through this confidence crisis whenever I go from the States, where it’s completely out of hand, to France, where I think it’s fairly orderly and sensible (except I hate paying to use public loos.) The UK is somewhere between the two, so you never know where you are. I think a tip is for a service above the normal call of duty and not for someone doing the job he’s paid for. Why should I pay the wages of restaurant staff, hotel flunkies, taxi-door openers and room cleaners? It seems demeaning for both tipper and tippee - no one ever gave me a tip.
I muse on this after a dinner in a pub in Newbury. Tipping-wise, pub eating presents special problems because they’re not restaurants and they’re not MacDonald’s. You do go up to the bar, you order and pay for your food, you collect your drinks and you take them to the table that you have selected. The only element of ‘service’ is when some youngster on the statutory minimum wage comes out and says, ‘Lamb chops?’ You say ‘Here’, and he or she plonks them down in front of you. It’s nice and casual, and infinitely better than some poncey restaurant. But tipworthy? In my book, only if he or she takes your wet coat and hangs it up, or finds you some freshly-made Sauce Bearnaise or puts your grandchild in a high chair.
But to Newbury: we called into a pub called The Swan on our way home from Tesco’s (that’s a possessive – short for Tesco’s supermarket). The manager, an Aussie, is clearly trying to ponce it up into a ‘restaurant’ – but it’s a pub. Usual procedure: belly up to bar, order and pay for wine and food, carry wine, glasses, condiments, napkins and cutlery to table, wait for food. And wait. Eventually girl delivers a plate of food and we eat. The food is quite good.
As we’re walking to the car, I realise I didn’t leave anything for the ‘waitress’. I ask spouse if she left anything. She says not. I was hesitating, wondering if I should go back and leave some token payment, when the pub door opens, a distinctly Aussie voice shouts – no, screams – ‘Fucking freaks!’, and the door slams shut.
Thus not only did this plonker ensure that we would never go near his pub again, but he prevented his girl from getting a tip – and he got himself blogged. Not bad for two words.

We had the last lunch of the year at Le Carpaccio on Villefranche port, sun glinting off the water - loup grillée fresh from the Med, service unfussy but impeccable – and included. How could you not leave a tip?

Happy old year folks and thanks for reading - and good blogging in 2007.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Robin's nest

From rainy, squally London to sunny Villefranche - 90 minutes. Sadly, it's only for a week as the DG is doing Henry Fonda duty next week. But we'll be back as soon as she's saved a few innocent men from the gallows.

No one would have noticed if their plane had not overshot the runway in Miami, but now it’s out.
Those famous free-loaders, the Blair family, have spurned Sir Cliff Richards’s humble Barbadian pad in favour of the altogether fancier Miami mansion of Robin Gibb, the falsetto BeeGee. They sponge off pop celebs because they can repay the debt at no personal cost. (The cadging couple have been reluctant to reveal the names of guests entertained at Chequers at taxpayers’ expense. When told he must tell, Blair said he would reveal all before the end of the year. Now he says he meant the end of the financial year - April 5 - by which time he'll be on his way out.)
Mrs Gibb – seen with Robin yesterday at Heathrow, presumably on the way to join their distinguished guests - said that the Blairs were not paying for the privilege, but this was hurriedly denied by Number 10. They didn’t say how much - just the odd peerage or knighthood I guess – plus a minor adjustment to the copyright laws.
Now that the secret is out, watch for the photo op with Tony and Robin in duet. (Tone, the hole goes at the front.)
Where to next year? Well, Bono just got an honorary knighthood, and - oh my god - he lives in Villefranche!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

A demain, Villefranche

Not really a year to remember, 2006 – in fact a year best forgotten. Everton didn’t win the FA Cup, or the Premiership, or the Scottish Cup, or Sports Personality of the Year – and they didn’t even qualify for the World Conkers Finals. (they wouldn’t stoop to.)
From a national point of view things were no better: the ignominious departure from the World Cup in Germany was probably the worst part – or is that würst? Then this morning, beaten by the Aussies at their National Sport – Pommie-bashing. I may have mentioned the infamous Oz predilection for triumphalism. Having won the Ashes series, instead of letting our guys go home for New Year, their two best bowlers have postponed their retirement until after the Sydney game – not for the joy of a nail-biting game of international cricket, but in order not to miss one single opportunity to humiliate the Poms. It’s a bit like Mohammed Ali knocking out Foreman, and being allowed, nay, encouraged, to play bouncy castles on his lifeless body. Hence I was not surprised to receive the following gloat from an Oz friend:

FOR SALE: one double-decker, open top red bus, rarely used and no anticipated use for next 15 years, Apply to England Cricket Board, or English Rugby Union.

On the Personal front 2006 could hardly have been worse, but there's a little ray of sunshine to end on. You know how you sometimes don’t know how much you love someone or something until you almost lose it or them? Well, after spending a lot of time – and money – this autumn trying to sell our little piece of heaven in the south, it took only two showings to prospective buyers for us to realise we couldn’t possibly let it go.
So see you tomorrow, Villefranche!

Here's hoping 2007 is a great one for all of us. Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

I can see it in your eyes, Fernando

I once met a guy in the States who told me that he had had a wonderful vacation in London - 'and we never saw fog once'. He had clearly expected those gas-lit scenes captioned 'London, 1888' that used to open Jack-the-Ripper movies, but which have rarely been seen since the Clean Air Act of 1948. But this week they were back - a freak high pressure system has kept the whole country under a Dickensian blanket for four days.
British Airways has cancelled, on average, more than 200 flights a day. (Only the less profitable ones, that is – not the long-haul flights, which seem to land and take off without problems.)
So more than 40 years after they proudly demonstrated completely blind take-off and land capability, almost every domestic flight and many short-haul ones have been cancelled and people who thought they were on their way to the sun for Christmas are shivering in tents outside the airport.
The reason, say BA and BAA, (aka ABBA) is that LHR is already working at over 98% of capacity, so the slightest disruption throws it into chaos. You know what’s coming, don’t you? Yes, you’ve got it – we need a new runway!
The DG suggests that the whole shambles could be about getting approval for Runway Three and crushing those sentimental Luddites who don’t want to see their 1,000-year-old church bulldozed. (See Getting the Pip.)
A number of observations tend to support this hypothesis:
1. The Spanish-owned monopoly is claiming that 50,000 jobs will be lost if they don’t get another runway (- and all those aircraft will go and pollute some other country?)
2. Madrid flights have been only slightly affected – they’re flying 747’s on the Madrid run to help clear clear the backlog.
3. Without any sign of the fog lifting, BA promised yesterday that all flights will be flying normally after mid-day today. How could they know that?
4. BA’s CEO is Willie Walsh. (See October 6 re diminutive first names.)
Strangely, ABBA say that the main reason for the chaos is that reduced visibility causes more congestion for aircraft on the ground. (How does a third runway help this?)

Glad I’m not a cynic.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

If all else fails, read instructions

The new – well, nearly new - car has a SATNAV system. We didn’t know how it worked so the salesman demonstrated by keying in our home post code. Wow! We were directed to our humble without a single mistake – which was impressive but not very useful, since we already know where we live.
Then we were invited for lunch to a house in the wilds of the Hampshire countryside. ‘No need to tell us where you live’, we said smugly. ‘Just give us the postcode. We’ve got SATNAV’.
We followed its directions to the letter, and then, on a muddy country lane barely wide enough for a scooter, with tall hedges on both sides and not a signpost or building in sight, the SATNAV lady said, ‘You have reached your destination. The SATNAV system is closing down’. We had overlooked the fact that rural postcodes tend to cover larger acreages than urban ones. While our own postcode covers 41 houses, theirs seemed to take in the counties of Hampshire, Wiltshire and most of Dorset.
We found them eventually - very late and with the nearly-new machine covered in cow manure – by the traditional method of knocking on doors.
But we sure got home all right.

You've been Warned: the Antipodean triumphalists are in full chorus today. One says 'Ashes' means Another Sad Horrific English Series. Not very good but typical of the general level. Slightly better was: Q. What is the height of optimism? A. An English batsman applying sunscreen. And the fat bowler announced his retirement from test cricket saying that he only stayed on this long to see the English beaten. May he get lost in Hampshire next summer.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Getting the pip

A little background for those wanting to know the history of the Ashes.
Sorry you asked?

I never cease to be amazed at the lack of PR sense of our Royals (especially the one who runs a PR company). Then there’s Princess Anne, who treats the media with disdain until she wants her daughter to win the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award.
I have a bit of a problem with the Queen’s granddaughter winning this award. OK, I'll accept ‘BBC’ and even ‘of the Year’, but whether 3-day eventing is a ‘Sport’, or Zara Philips a ‘Personality’, I’m not so sure. Certainly not if her acceptance speech is anything to go by. Quote: ‘People asked if I’d prepared a speech. I was – like – no. […] This is amazing – it’s amazing to be here among these amazing sports people.’
After all, it wasn’t as though she had been unlikely to win it: they couldn’t have given it to a footballer after our pathetic showing in the World Cup; or the international rugby team, which has lost 8 of its last 9 games, or a cricketer after – you get the point. But don't you think, for someone who presumably had the benefit of an expensive private education and access to a whole stable of speech-writers, that the ability to pack three ‘amazings’ into a 30-word oration, is, well - amazing?

About four miles from here is a village with the unfortunate name of Poyle, which in the Berkshire accent is a homophone of the popular name for haemorrhoids but a lot easier to spell. In Poyle there’s an orchard dedicated to Richard Cox. He was a retired brewer, and a dabbler - someone who grows apple trees from pips - and he had the distinction of discovering the wonderful Cox’s Orange Pippin.
Richard lived in Poyle, and it was in his own garden that the first Cox's was grown around 1825. As a tribute, the seats in the orchard are placed to spell out his name – this is the ‘O’. (Good job he wasn’t called Fearnley-Whittingstall or there’d be no room left for the apple trees.)

Why am I blogging Richard Cox? Well, Richard was buried in the churchyard of St. Mary the Virgin, in the nearby village of Harmondsworth. This church was built in 1067, the year after the Norman conquest, which means that in 61 years' time it will be 1000 years old.
Except that it won’t if the British Airports Authority gets its way – and it usually does. St. Mary’s and the whole village are scheduled to be bulldozed to make way for yet another runway for Heathrow airport. But surely, you say, BAA would not dig up poor Richard and flatten St. Mary's and 700 homes, just to create yet more noise and pollution? Don’t they care anything for our heritage? Well no actually, because BAA, despite its name, is Spanish. It is the wholly owned subsidiary of Grupo Ferrovial, who, I am sure, don’t give a Cox's Orange Pippin for thousand-year-old churches, pollution or greenhouse gasses.
There's an on-line petition against the whole Heathrow expansion project. I don't suppose it will do any good - but you never know until you try.

O what a tangled web we weave

when first we practise to deceive. Did you ever tell a very minor lie that haunts you for years? I used to go to this dentist in Gerrard’s Cross. Charming man and very good dentist – if a bit vague. He once said to me, ‘You know Mrs Graham?’, and I, feeling that I should, said ‘yes’. What harm could there be in that? He said something bland about her and that was that – or so I thought.
It was a long course of treatment, and every time I went to the dentist he would talk about Mrs Graham – she was ‘old Mrs Graham' by then. Should I have said ‘I’ve no idea who you’re talking about’ – and been branded a serial liar? I used to have to psych myself up before each visit – not to withstand the pain, but not to laugh when he got on to Mrs Graham.
It lingered on from ‘Mrs G’s very sick, I have to do home visits now’ to the inevitable ‘Mrs Graham died last Sunday’ – and never once could I comment, or admit I had lied.
But I did learn a lesson – never lie to your dentist.

Remember the saga of the eye appointment? For those who missed the previous instalments: read Monday 11, when Ted was told that because King Edward VII Hospital is on the ‘Choose and Book' system, he could not book with King Edward directly – he must use ‘Choose and Book’. ‘But the system is not operational yet so ring later in the week.’
I ring Friday. ‘We don’t book that hospital, they maintain their own booking system. You must book directly with them’.
Me: ‘But you told me on Monday that I could not book directly with them’.
Ros, the Choose-and-Book booker: ‘Your doctor should have told you.’
Me: ‘But why did you tell me the opposite?’
Ros: ‘Your GP should have told you’.
Me: Then wouldn't it be a good idea if someone told the GPs?
This, I would remind you, is not the eye surgery – this is just to get an appointment to talk about it.
Now, I have great news. I just rang the hospital and got the earliest available appointment: March 12 (but don’t bank on it).

We lost the Ashes. We didn’t just lose them, we handed them to the Aussies as a present. The triumphant e-mails will begin at any second. They’re into triumphalism, the Aussies – especially over the Poms. The Kiwis will be the same if they ever win a cricket match. It seems we planted a sport and reaped national pride.
I remember when an Ossie folk group won a top UK music award: a belligerent Oz accosted me in a north London pub and said ‘See, we even beat you in your own song awards.’ ‘That’s right’, I said, ‘Is that why they call it “We live in a World of our Own”'?
But fair dos – we were pretty bad and they were very good – and, as with the football, we made some basic mistakes. It just wasn’t professional to send the team home on holiday when they should have gone to Aussie for some practice on Oz wickets; then we left out our best spinner because the third best might make more runs – which he didn’t. And above all, we should know better, living in a climate which has rain every ten minutes, than to play against a country where it rains every ten years.
And let’s face it, no one in the world can play against Shane Warne at his best - or even at his worst. Like they say – it’s not over until the fat bowler spins.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Ronnie Scott’s: Jazz Mecca

In the days when my job took me just about everywhere, I applied myself diligently to the study of -- jazz clubs. From LA to Latvia, I spent my nights listening to jazz and my days appearing at work late and bleary-eyed. I collected them the way some people collect stamps. I was a jazz philatelist: Blues Alley in Washington DC, Birdland in NYC, Fat Tuesday’s in New Orleans, Bel-luna in Barcelona, Le Petit Journal in Paris, Jazzland in Vienna… And the best of them all, for the 40 years since I first became a member; and the place where my ashes will be scattered (preferably when there’s no-one in it) is – I hope this doesn’t sound too nationalistic - Ronnie Scott’s.

Ronnie Scott was a jazz musician – a tenor sax player raised as Ronald Schatt in the East End of London. For the decade or so after the end of WWII, when all sorts of exciting things were happening in jazz in the US, a dispute between the American and British musicians’ unions prevented American musicians from playing in the UK, so we Brits had to listen to Billy Cotton or AFN Munich-Stuttgart while the Messiahs of modern jazz changed planes at Heathrow on their way to Paris. So that he could hear what was going on in New York, Ronnie got a job playing dance music on the Atlantic liners so that he could hang out in Manhattan listening to the likes of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis.

In 1959 he came ashore and, together with fellow tenor saxophonist Pete King, he opened his own Jazz Club, Ronnie Scott’s, in London's Soho. In between leading his own band – the Jazz Couriers, touring and sessioning with big bands - he presented the artists at the club and during sound checks entertained with an inimitable brand of cynical humour: ‘…try the food here – fifty million flies can’t be wrong’.*
(Many jazzmen become funny writers: the likes of George Melly, Wally Fawkes, Humphrey Lyttelton and Benny Green – who lamented the decline of live music caused by electronic sound with the words ‘Now is the winter of our discoteque’.)
At first his intention was to provide a place where British jazz musicians could jam, but when the American Federation of Musicians lifted the ban on American musicians performing in the U.K., Pete and Ronnie started to present not only the best of British jazz musicians, but the cream of modern US and continental jazz.
They ran the club brilliantly for forty years until, ten years ago this month, Ronnie died. About the worst thing that can happen to saxophone players are teeth problems, and when Ronnie had to have tooth implant surgery, the pain, depression and inability to work led him to indulge in a cocktail of brandy and sleeping tablets. In his distress, he ‘phoned a girlfriend in New York and left a message on her answering machine which, had she received it, might have saved his life – but she was out of town and didn’t hear it until after he was dead. The verdict of the inquest was ‘death by misadventure’.
Ronnie Scott introduced a lot of people to jazz, and many others – including me - to mind-blowing musical experiences too numerous to list here.
One of his favourite lines now has special poignancy: ‘You’re very quiet tonight. Shall we all join hands and see if we can contact the living?’
Belated thanks Ronnie.

* Another of Ronnie's was that of a dyslexic Japanese who, every December 7, attacked Pearl Bailey.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Ghost town

What’s Gaelic for ‘politically correct’? During the sixties a few Irish and Welsh language activists began climbing signposts at dead of night and blackening out English – or English-sounding – place names. It was no problem if you wanted to get to Llangollen, but a blacked-out Radnor or Walton would be replaced by a jumble of consonants that you couldn’t read, let alone pronounce. In Wrexham (North Wales), one of these activists was caught and sent up for trial by the local magistrates court. He proclaimed loudly that he insisted on being tried in the Welsh language. One of the magistrates later told me that they immediately agreed to try him in Welsh, but after a few minutes the defendant had to admit that he could not understand a word of what was going on and asked to be tried in English. In Wales the fad has more or less died out, and today the signage is still in both languages.
In Ireland also, many of the activists were just that – they did not speak the Gaelic - but then the politicians got hold of it. In 1970 the Minister for the Environment ordered the removal of all English-language signposts. He was promptly ignored by the Local Authorities and the old black and white bilingual signs remained. So in March 2005, Minister O’ Cuiv (Cullen in English, I’m told) brought in the ‘Place Names Order’, forbidding the use of the English version of a place name.

All at once, the lovely seaside town on the Kerry coast formerly known as Dingle disappeared from sight. Today it is signposted solely as An Daingean. The townspeople are about to hold a vote on the matter, and the democratic majority are expected to plump for ‘Dingle’ – but the minister has said that the outcome of the vote is irrelevant - An Daingean it will be.
By far the most important industry of Dingle - I think I just broke the law – is tourism. So if you’re looking to spend your pounds, dollars or euros there, I’m afraid it has - like Brigadoon – disappeared in the mist. I hope someone finds it again.

Pain is relative to how closely it touches you. I’m sure there are philosophical papers on this, but I’ve only just thought about it. There could even be a formula for its seriousness. I’m not a mathematician, but it might look something like s=p/d2, where s is the seriousness, p is the pain level, and d is one’s distance from the location of the pain inflicted. Thus the further you are away from the location of the pain, the less serious it is. It’s human nature: if distance were not a factor we would barely be able to live with ourselves. The formula would explain why someone being tortured in Guantanamo, or losing a child to an agonising disease, can be as nothing compared with our own split finger-nail. It can explain the illegal invasion of Iraq, how we can bear to watch children dying of AIDS in Zimbabwe, and also why footballers kick the ball out so that the opponent they have just maimed for life can receive medical attention.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Catch 08456088888

Another gem from our National Health Service (well at least it’s National – two out of three ain’t bad). A week ago my GP referred me to an eye specialist. ‘It’s all computerised now,’ he says. ‘It’s called the “Choose and Book” system. Here is your reference number and password. You can now book the appointment on the internet.’ I try to do so, but after I’ve keyed in the reference and password, it says I can’t book an appointment on the internet – I must phone the above number.
I call the number. After the usual ID and security questions, a lady says, ‘Have you tried to book on the internet?’ I say I have. ‘Ah, she says, ‘then I can’t book you in within the next 30 minutes. Ring back later.’
I call back today. ‘The “Choose and Book” system isn’t working yet,’ she says. ‘Try later in the week.’
I say, ‘But can’t I call the hospital, the way I did for the other eye?’ ‘Oh no,’ she says, ‘they’re on the “Choose and Book” system now’.

I have been known to complain about unimaginative headline writers, but I have to admit that the best title often comes long after the story. I once did a piece about a walk across Paris from west to east that started on the Pont du Bir Hakeim. I titled the article 'Paris á Pied', (a bit pedestrian, you say?), which the magazine accepted. It wasn’t until years later that I saw the movie that opens with Marlon Brando meeting the girl on that same Bir Hakeim bridge, and realised that I should have called it ‘The Last Mango in Paris’.
I seem to think either of headlines that I’ve no story for, or stories I can’t headline, which is why I liked the one in The Sun (it’s origin is also claimed by the Glasgow Herald), when Aberdeen’s lowly Caledonian Thistle football team beat the mighty Glasgow Celtic – Scottish League leaders by miles: ‘Super Cally go Ballistic, Celtic are Atrocious’. Or what about the recent George Lang piece in the NYT about a visit to Hungary: ‘Nobody knows the Truffles I’ve seen’? Gotta go now – got to do a story about pear schnapps addiction to go with the title: ‘Intravenous Williams’.

When we were in Santiago not long after Pinochet had been extradited to Chile, I asked a number of people if they thought he should or would face trial. They all said there was no point – best that he be forgotten and die in peace. It sounded a surprisingly forgiving attitude at the time, or maybe they wanted to avoid creating a martyr. Either way it seems they were right. He will not get the state funeral that he and his supporters wanted - and it’s not his, but Salvador Allende’s statue that stands outside the presidential palace in which, on Chile’s own ‘9/11’, he was killed.
(The CIA admits it knew about the coup in advance, but ‘played no direct role’ in the execution - neither do they claim to have made any attempt to stop it. Like in the airline schedules that call a flight ‘direct’ even if it makes three stops, ‘direct’ is a subjective word.)

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Never mind the quality, check the volume

It's an ill wind... Windsor’s nice, but the weather’s bad and getting worse. Can you believe a tornado, not in the Gulf of Mexico but in London? At least in the Caribbean you’ve got sunshine between the tornados or tornadoes. (It’s bright and sunny today, Sunday, which is a lesson: in England you have to post quickly before the weather changes.) But still, we have enough memories of NYC to keep us going until our next trip. Some great food: we tend to make for Little Italy – no point in considering French – where the most memorable meal was at Lunella on Mulberry Street, real Italian, with no attempt to substitute quantity for quality – and the worst, at a Korean place called Won Jo on W.32nd that Time Out describes as ‘first-class’, but where the reverse was the case. Quantity - overwhelming!
Also enjoyed the Metropolitan, (their sandwiches are as bad as the National's - you have to suffer for art) where we managed to see the ‘Americans in Paris’ event that we'd missed in London, plus what seemed like about 1% of the permanent collection. What’s striking is the number of benefactors – both private and corporate – who’ve donated or bequeathed works. Unlike our own system of government ‘support’ where funds are allocated by a group of philistine politicians - who have just told the arts organisations to plan for ongoing budget reductions of 7% a year. Why? To help pay for the Olympic Games in 2012, of course.
One more whine then I have to go. Last May I took issue with a well-known UK journalist who said that US television news reporting was infinitely better than that in UK, but I retracted when he claimed better and more up-to-date knowledge than mine. Sorry Bryan, I’m still a big fan, but I would now like to retract the retraction. After six days of watching stale news, (the week-old Litvinenko story was just beginning to attract posthumous attention because someone had thought of a terrorist angle) with its ‘London, England’ parochialism, presented by pretty but puerile celebrity anchors, 'news for grown-ups' on the Beeb was a welcome relief.
One of the things I like to do in the USA is to browse the magazine racks: for fun - DownBeat, Jazz Times etc - and as possible markets. There's one called ‘The Writer’, which calls itself ‘The essential resource for writers since 1887’. Its January 2007 issue (in November?) carries on its cover in 3cm-high capitals the words ’99 WORDS OR LESS’. Doesn’t exactly fill you with confidence.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

‘We’ll have Manhattan…

…the Bronx and Staten Island too’. A few hours in NYC and you get song fatigue: almost every street and building strikes a chord. All the great songsters lived there: ‘Every street’s a boulevard in old New York’; ‘…you'll love the people you meet/ on Mulberry Street’; ‘…on the avenue I’m taking you to, Forty-second Street’; ‘…what street/ compares with Mott Street?’. The Waldorf, where Cole Porter’s Steinway stands in the lobby as if waiting, the Algonquin, where ‘April in Paris’ was written – and so on.

Calling Big Apple Greeters sounds a pretty naff thing to do, especially if you claim to know the town, but what better way for people to get to know a neighbourhood – sorry, neighborhood (why do they remove the ‘u’ for simplicity but leave the ‘neigh’?) – than to have natives introduce visitors to their own nayborhoods? It’s a simple but great idea.

Eileen is the ultimate New Yorker - a local of Greenwich Village, and an enthusiast.
It was cold – but not cold enough to deter the Washington Square chessnuts.

We could have seen The Producers 25 miles from here, in London, but somehow NYC seemed more appropriate. Terrific production: great songs, (Brooks once said his poetic inspiration was W. S. Gilbert , of Gilbert and Sullivan, and it shows) and script, played – or overplayed – to perfection. Even the old lines – the camp Carmen Ghia doing the ‘Walk this Way’ joke – get laughs.

We’ll be back when it warms up a bit, ‘though we wouldn’t like to have missed all the Christmas stuff – even pushed my way through the mob to snap Macy’s windows:

Tesco latest: I didn’t have time to send that indignant letter to Mr T. before we left – which is just as well. Two messages on the answerphone: one asking if I would re-enter the order and one saying please ignore the previous call. But then a man called Stuart rang from Dundee. I didn’t even mind being dragged from jet-lagged torpor because he apologised for the problems and said that if I cared to re-enter the order, they would deduct 25% from the cost, plus a further goodwill deduction. (I know I should have pointed out that the Gigondas that was £34 a case when I ordered it is now £54, but I was overcome with gratitude.) How did he know? Did he read my bog?
Who knows - anyway, the booze will be delivered after all and if you come by you’re sure to find a wee drop of bubbly (cooking, of course). And stuff Calais.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

What, no huddled masses?

What's happened to the US Immigration service? Why is everyone so polite? Instead of spending three hours herded into an oversize chicken coop at 100 degrees and being yelled at by enormous security guards ('Get behind the yellow line!') with disciplinary hardware strewn about their ample waists, we are greeted by smartly-dressed cheer-leaders who use words like 'please' and 'you're welcome'.

Peter Ustinov once said that there used to be a question on the landing card asking foreign arrivals, 'Do you intend to participate in abnormal sexual practices?' His reply, he said, was, 'Sole purpose of visit'

Today's questions reflect the general permissiveness of society and ask less intrusive questions. One is: 'Have you ever been or are you now involved in espionage or sabotage; or in terrorist activities; or genocide; or between 1933 and 1945 were involved, in any way, in persecutions associated with Nazi Germany or its allies?'

Tough one.