Saturday, December 15, 2007

No such thing as a free lunch

It’s nearly time to say farewell to Wiltshire. It’s such a beautiful part of the country that I feel like a traitor, but let’s face it, we’re fair weather Wiltshirians and in just two weeks we’re out of here. As a young airman I spent the coldest winter of the last century just a few miles from here more than six decades ago - the camp’s entire plumbing system (with the fortunate exception of the cookhouse) froze solid and no-one washed for 10 days. It’s no place to spend a winter.
But, as you may recall from previous posts, we’ll have many happy memories of this county. We’ll miss the cottage, the cosy fireplace, country walks, the changing seasons, the pubs, the wild life, and above all the quiet – despite the occasional crunch of heavy artillery practising on Salisbury Plain.
Not all the memories will be happy ones: the Wiltshire Police, for example. We set off one day in late summer to meet with former father-in-law and dear step-mother-in-law in Winchester. We had a very pleasant lunch in that fascinating city with its beautiful cathedral – inspiration to Keats and Austen. (Did you know that Winchester is the home of England’s first library, cricket club, and lawn mower racing circuit? Neither did I.)
We had a very pleasant day before going our separate ways – they back to Spain and we to France. It was only marred about two weeks later when in the mail came a photo of the back of my car, with some numbers on the bottom saying I was accused of speeding in a 30mph zone, and if convicted could be fined up to £1000 or go to jail.
However, if I cared to give them £60 and take three points on my license, they would forget the whole thing.
I explained politely that, although I may have been distracted because I was on a strange, badly-signposted country road trying to find a cross-country route to Winchester, I would be surprised to have missed a speed limit sign,(adding the usual stuff: 50 years accident-free driving blah blah blah). They informed me that a speed limit sign is not necessary if the street lamp poles are closer together than 200 metres!
I resisted the temptation to point out that I don't normally carry a 200-metre tape measure, or to make the cheque payable to Winchester Police Revenue Enhancement Scam, but it probably wouldn’t have made a difference – they’re so awash with money that they haven’t bothered to present it yet. The most galling part of it all is that I’ve never seen Wiltshire Police doing anything that police are supposed to do. They’re probably too busy buying more cameras.
I'm sure we'll be back in the spring – but perhaps not in a Jag.

I've been quiet about Everton lately for fear of putting a jinx on them, but this headline from last week's Sunday Times says it all: ten games without defeat. It's out of date. It's now eleven.

5.15pm West Ham 0, Everton 2. Better make that twelve.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Remember Pearl Bailey

It's the day on which, on 1787, Delaware became the first state to ratify the Constitution. Did it call itself the United State?
The date also reminds me of a story Ronnie Scott used to tell about a Japanese racist who, every 7th December, attacked Pearl Bailey. Jazzmen can be funny. Humphrey Lyttelton, at 86, still chairs one of the funniest quiz shows on radio. Benny Green, who used often to play alongside Ronnie, said he knew an Indian cloakroom attendant named Mahatma Coat. Benny used to do a Sunday afternoon record programme, in which he was known to talk about my late brother Walter. That’s fame for you - I had a brother who was mentioned by Benny Green on a radio show. You can’t get much more famous than that: they’ll probably want me on I’m a Celebrity now. It was also Benny who said, bemoaning the disappearance of live jazz clubs, "Now is the winter of our discotheque". They're not writing them like that any more.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Reservoir Gods

After the success of Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion, which has spent many months in the best-seller lists and has elicited so far no fewer than 657 customer reviews on Amazon, I thought it might be a good idea to piggyback on his theme and write a book about dog worship: The Dog Delusion.
The thought came on after a few months in Nice, where it seems that every sweet old lady sitting opposite you on the bus has, peering from a basket on her knee, the face of a tiny ferret-like creature.
Doggy faces on the bus and doggy faeces in the streets. The dogs of Nice are the least continent in the continent. Paul Theroux got excited about them in Pillars of Hercules. The municipal powers place plastic bags and special containers in the streets so that the animal on one end of the lead can collect the droppings of the animal on the other. In some villages the residents hang brightly-painted brushes and shovels on their walls as a hint – but sadly too high for the dogs to reach.
There are many parallels between the two forms of worship: the anthropomorphism, or the way even some non-believers think there’s nothing wrong with belief because it gave us great works of art and, well, it doesn’t do anyone any harm. (Try telling that to someone in Belfast, Iraq or Palestine.)
I know this guy who’s a magazine editor. Lovely chap, but he is to dogs what I am to cheese, (as my cardiologist once wrote to my GP: "This man’s problem is that he is inordinately fond of cheese".)
Well this guy is inordinately fond of dogs. No matter how hard you try to divert his attention, conversations with him will inevitably get around to dogs. If they don’t, he brings the subject into focus with some subtle, oblique reference – like "Do you have a dog?"
He did it the other day. I said, "Why do you ask?"
He said, "It’s just that I find that people who like dogs tend to be nicer people than those who don’t".
I said, "I guess I fail then, I just don’t like them."
He frowned. So I said, "But Hitler did".
He’ll never plug my book now.

Last weekend Nice celebrated the return of the tram after 50 years’ absence. They called it a FĂȘte du Tramway and it was great fun. The “new” mode of transport was free for the weekend and – such is the public passion for freebies – packed. The streets were equally packed and there was a genuine air of celebration.
You bet there was – we’ve had four years of traffic chaos for this.