Monday, December 31, 2007

Here I Stand, I Can Do No Other

Hats off to those tireless 'researchers' and their 'studies' for this piece of timely good news, which makes the tedious business of New Year's Resolutions a whole lot easier. This year I shall definitely stand a bit more, and will strive to increase my pottering levels. At last - a realistic goal.

The Year of the Potato

Before Appleyard breaks his silence again (like a long-legged fly, his mind moves upon silence...) to mark the turning of the year and unveil his eagerly-awaited predictions, I must just say that, here at NigeCorp, 2008 is and always will be the Year of the Potato (though, tragically, NigeCorp's capricious technology prevents me from surveying the wonders of the Potato Gallery). When the boughs of holly come down from the lavishly decked turbine halls, they will be replaced by wreaths and swags of interstrung potatoes, bouquets of potato flowers, tasteful arrangements of spuds in all their forms, from raw tuber to sizzling chips, steaming mash and crunchy crisp. A new anthem, devoted to the mighty potato, will be specially composed for the indefatigable workers' choir and orchestra. This - the Year of the Potato - will truly be a year to remember.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

I Break My Silence...

... but only to draw your attention to my article in The Sunday Times about what really happened in 2007.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Toys Of Peace

The Brownite state's quest to micromanage its 'citizens'' lives from womb to grave continues apace, impeded only by that same state's evident inability to micromanage a pissup in a brewery - for which we must be grateful indeed. Its latest pronouncement, for what it's worth (zilch), seems almost sensible: boys, it declares, should be a encouraged to play with weapons. Hurrah! Teaching 'professionals' are, of course, up in arms. Readers of Saki will sigh and recall this fine short story, which really says it all.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Something Big

Inevitably, minutes after my last post, Something Big happened - the messy and hideous murder of Benazir Bhutto. It was perhaps hardly surprising in itself (I was almost relieved she made it over the tarmac from her plane), but none the less shocking. Since then, the event has been buried under the usual mountain of verbiage, none of which seems actually to be making much sense of what happened, what it meant, and what is likely to happen next. Loosely deconstructed, the media's saturation coverage amounts to:
1. O dear.
2. O dear o lor.
3. Well this is a pretty pickle and no mistake.
4. Er...
At times like this, we Thought Experimenters need the wise words of Captain B, if he's around. Oh Captain, art thou sleeping down below? Tell us - whither Pakistan?

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Not The Kinks!?

Things are so quiet that even this looks like a story. If the Kinks do re-form, it will surely rank high among the most utterly pointless band reunions ever. Ray Davies's mojo may still be (up to a point) working, but the band long ago imploded with rare finality, and has been lost beyond recovery for decades. What would be the point? Or maybe this is just another Ray Davies prank...

Quiet Times For El Gordo

Well, how was it for you? Still going on for most of you, I daresay, but me I'm back at NigeCorp (where the halls are, I need hardly add, decked with boughs of holly tra-la-la-la-la, la-la la laaa, but there are few of my fellow myrmidons in evidence). I have the traditional Christmas legacy of a 'cold' (one of the most inadequate words in the English language, along with 'shy'). Over the break, it struck me, in the intervals when I was aware of the outside world, that this was a spectacularly uneventful Christmas in terms of 'news' - the BBC bulletins seemed positively desperate to dig up something that might pass as a 'story', usually falling back on sales in the shops and/or on the internet. Why, for several days, no confidential data was (were?) found to have gone missing - it was as quiet as that. Maybe Gordon (whom, in the wake of that big win on the Spanish lottery, I now think of as El Gordo) got his 'day off' after all. I dread to imagine what he did with it...
I reckon it's too early for the looks back and the looks forward - and I'll happily leave that side of things to Bryan. But here, as evidence of the man's uncanny sagacity and prescience, is the latest evidence (and almost the only vaguely interesting thing in the papers ) that Barak will win. This might even be a good thing - who knows?

Monday, December 24, 2007

Well, for myself, it is Christmas Eve as usual - i.e. my battered mind is reduced to one long shopping/to do list. I'll probably be off-blog for a couple of days too (though you never know). Meanwhile, this seasonal poem by R.S. ('Laughing Boy') Thomas swims into my mind. I'll leave you with it...


I choose white, but with
Red on it, like the snow
In winter with its few
Holly berries and the one

Robin, that is a fire
To warm by and like Christ
Comes to us in his weakness
But with a sharp song.

Happy Christmas!

The Christmas Break

It is, I am reliably informed, Christmas. I can't speak for Nige - nobody can, nobody ever could, a lot of men tried, a lot of men died - but I am tired and need to take a break from blogging. Thanks to all readers and commenters. I wish you the great good on which all the People of the Book agree - peace.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

A Happy Clappy Squirmalong

Picking up (belatedly) on yesterday's Emmylou And Atheism, I must report that the 'music' favoured by the happy-clappy brand - sadly the fastest growing and most vigorous - of Anglicanism can be enough to drive anyone into the arms of Dawkins. Yesterday I attended a wedding. A happy occasion and all that, and everything was going fine - nice work on organ and trumpet, well chosen Bible readings - when, suddenly, a guitar-drum-keyboard combo let rip with a medley of devotional songs of quite breathtaking fatuity, belted out in sub-pop style, to a rudimentary melody and still more rudimentary beat. In style and (alas) content, it was about on a par with a primary school singalong - and yet, alarmingly, instead of creating silent, squirming embarrassment (the preferred posture of the traditional Anglican), it was causing grown persons to assume a frankly daft facial expression, tilt their heads backwards and extend arms and hands in gestures of... hard to say quite what: abandon? Supplication? Either way, it was dsquieting, incongruous, and seemed to undermine everything about the rest of the service and its serious content. The trouble is that, to most of those gathered, it was almost certainly central. Which - had he been there (I didn't spot him) - would have confirmed all Dawkins's worst misgivings about Christianity. Shame. Tomorrow, DV, I shall be attending Midnight Mass at the ultra-high (thank G--) parish church.

On Bob and Cate

I decided to stop writing and talking about Bob Dylan after I ran into the esteemed, wise and saintly editor of The Sunday Times at the last Wembley Arena concert. This paragon of all human virtue asked me how many Dylan concerts I had attended. 'Three or four," I replied. The bronzed, gleaming demi-god looked startled. I realised he had assumed I was some kind of stalker and had been expecting an answer in the high hundreds. All that had actually happened was that, after Time Out of Mind, I had, in several articles, celebrated the return to form of this great artist. I was even on the cover of the magazine, photoshopped on to the Freewheelin' album as some kind of crazed gooseberry, rabidly molesting Bob and Suzy Rotolo.  Anyway, in deep disguise for fear that I might once again bump into that Man for All Seasons, that unique combination of Plato and Alexander, that editing colossus, I went to see Todd Haynes' I'm Not There. Here's a lucid and favourable review in case you don't know what's going on in this film. The main point is that the Dylan characters are never called Dylan and he is played by many different actors. I'm not sure what to say about the result. I hated it for about half an hour but then began to accept its brazen self-indulgence - how on earth would anybody who knew little or nothing of Dylan make sense of this? Three very good things saved the film. First, the songs were a well chosen string of Bob's best. Second, Cate Blanchett - I suspect she is currently the best movie actor in the world - was stupendous. Third, the sequence in which Dylan becomes Billy the Kid played by Richard Gere is strange, beautiful and true. Old Pat Garrett's almost recognition of the man he thought he had killed is wonderful. In the end, Todd Haynes resolves his hero's split personalities by interpreting them as a longing for an unattainable authenticity. It's not the whole story, but it's a good one. And, to be honest, it's better told in the six minutes of Blind Willie McTell than in the 135 minutes of I'm Not There. Anyway, boss, I've done Bobby, now I'm off to go through Cate's dustbins.

Edward O.Wilson

Today in The Sunday Times, I interview the wonderful Edward O.Wilson.  Is Richard Dawkins wrong about everything?

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Atheism and Emmylou

Anyway, that atheism stuff. Having been alternating between two rather demanding books - Dominic Sandbrook's Never Had It So Good and John Burnside's The Devil's Footprints - I turned to the television and stumbled upon an Emmylou Harris concert. For more than thirty years, Nige and I have worshipped this woman, the greatest female singer since Ella Fitzgerald. I heard her say something about religion being the poetry of the people. She then sang a gospel song that made all the hairs on my body stand on end, followed by two Parsons/Hillman masterpieces, Sin City and Wheels, which made me cry. When Keith Richards heard Sin City, he knew his friend Gram Parsons had left him far behind. The band was not right for Daniel Lanois' The Maker, the baptismal prayer that ends her album Spyboy and always makes my mouth go dry. It was perhaps as well; I couldn't have taken much more.
I suppose you could listen to Emmylou while maintaining a lively sense that God does not exist. But why bother? You see, what I really don't get about atheism is, what's the point?

Friday, December 21, 2007

All About Nige

After all this time Thought Experimenting, I've decided it's time to step out from behind the blogname and reveal something of myself - so here it is, the NIGEhomepage. I've even had it specially translated...

Le Pere Noel Est Une Ordure (according to the French)

This brilliantly translated Wikip├ędia entry (read it to the bottom - it gets worse) describes a 'black comedy' that is shown every Christmas in France and always attracts a devoted following. It must make a refreshing break from all those Ferndandel movies... In Sweden, it seems, an hour of Donald Duck - broadcast every Christmas Eve since 1959 - is enough to glue half the population to the TV screen. German festive highlights invariably include a 1980s adaptation of Little Lord Fauntleroy and lots of Roger Whittaker, who is huge in Germany (but has to learn every song phonetically as he has no German). So chin up, things could be worse - happy Christmas (and remember, turn off that telly)!

Queerer Than We Suppose

This is jolly cheering - or so it seems to me. The thought of all those beetles, in their countless species, hanging in there, come what may - and they look the business too. Much maligned, beetles. The scientist Haldane once remarked that about all we can know of God is that He has an 'inordinate fondness for beetles'. He also said, 'My own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.' There's a nice non-scientistic humility about that.
(The above title is a cynical ploy to ensure a high hit rate.)

Harman and the Sex Robots

Harriet Harman wishes to make paying for sex illegal. There are grey areas here. Does, for example, a nice dinner count? Perhaps the best way round the problem is to make paying for sex compulsory. At least we'd all know where we stood and stay-at-home housewives would feel they had a proper job. Whatever sex 'road map' we choose, it will be a temporary expedient. In a few years, robots will be available for sex. Some, my young friends tell me, already are.

No Predictions

You may remember my startlingly accurate predictions for 2007 - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. I was a bit premature on the Gordon Brown eating his own head business, but now, surely, the day is near. I was so uncannily on the ball that I have decided not to issue any forecasts this year as I feel that knowing exactly what was going to happen would suck all the fun out of 2008.  All I will say is it's a shocker and all is not what it seems in Guildford.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Miliband and the Royal Academy

My great friend, former Foreign Office grandee and Russian expert, George Walden, predicted the Russians would pull out of the Royal Academy Exhibition. Why? Because last Saturday David Miliband, our strange-looking Foreign Secretary, made a rooky diplomatic error - he muddled two separate issues. On his blog he wrote`;
'Many people are looking forward to the Russian Masterpieces exhibition coming to London next year. Rightly. But what on earth can the Russians think will be achieved by forcing the closure of British Council offices outside Moscow? It is illegal (against the 1963 Vienna Agreement), hurts Russians, and damages Russia's image abroad. There is even a debate about whether the Russian measures are MORE restrictive than those against the British Council in Burma and Iran. I hope the government will think again before January 1st.' 
Okay, Dave, listen carefully. If the RA show doesn't go ahead, it's your fault. The linkage made in your blog amounted to a deliberate challenge to the Russians and, though Putin may be Time's Person of the Year, we all know this is a gangster government. If you put one of a gangster's buddies in hospital, he'll put one of yours in the morgue. The trick is to outwit the gangster by not letting him make linkages. In this case you did it for him and also inspired headlines that suggested we might pull out of the exhibition. And, Dave, while we are on the subject, does it make sense for a Foreign Secretary to have a blog? A blog suggests you are going to go beyond the official line. But, as this case shows, you can't. And one final question, Dave. Are you or are you not a member of the most jejune and incompetent British administration of modern times?

Atheism and the Avoidance of the SBO

Idly scanning the incomparable Amanda for festive cheer, I came across this post. You don't have to read it - it's the usual under-informed nonsense - but this quote is worth considering - 'Atheists believe that humans are enough, that our lives are with something by themselves and that we have the power and freedom to invest value in ourselves and others'.  Well, actually, some atheists - most senior Nazis, Mao, Stalin - believed that the lives of hundreds of millions are worth nothing and that only the Party had freedom to invest value in people. The one thing the twentieth taught us with absolute certainty is that atheists are as likely to do evil as any other faith or cult. In fact, we shouldn't have needed the twentieth century to teach us this - it's staggeringly bleeding obvious (SBO). But the current wave of militant atheists - Dawkins and friends - are making a very handsome living out of denying the SBO. The reason is obvious. They could just say, 'God doesn't exist', but that wouldn't shift many books. So what they actually say is, 'The world would be a better place if people accepted that God doesn't exist'. This is the wishful thinking typical of any cult or ideology. What it really means is, 'The world would be a better place if everybody agreed with me'. So here's a Thought Experiments Christmas message and New Year resolution: Never forget the SBO.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Fairytale Of Broadcasting House (plus Parky)

Has anyone got a clue what is happening here? Can it really be that Radio 1 - the network whose biggest star is that model of decorum and decency Chris Moyles (and whose 'urban' spinoff, 1Xtra, is devoted to rap and such, er, outspoken genres) - genuinely decided that it had to censor the words 'slut' and 'faggot'? Or is it a stunt to remind us of the good old days when Radio 1 used to ban or censor pretty much everything? And what on earth is Tachell bleating about at the foot of the piece? Equal opportunities censorship, by the sound of it...
(By the way, that hideous image of Parkinson to the right of the piece reminds me that I was thinking of posting on the subject of his departure - but what's to say? First he was good, then he was showbizzy and so-so, then he was frankly awful, now he's gone. And so, one hopes, has the fawning, PR-friendly style of which he became the supreme exemplar).


Julie Burchill is an odd thing but a good one. A New Statesman piece I wrote almost exactly a decade ago explains. Her key virtue is that, even when wrong, she sees to the heart of the matter. In The Guardian today, she trashes Jeanette Winterson for being nasty about Tesco, which, says Burchill, is wonderful. As usual with Burchill, the piece fades badly - the end is devoid of any intellectual punch. But, as usual, she gets to the point. Winterson had spoken of wanting shops that offered 'passion, commitment - something more than a transaction.' To which Burchill responds, 'Maybe I'm lucky, but personally I find I get all the validation passion and commitment I need from my family, friends, religion and voluntary work; that I might go looking for proof of my worth over the wet fish counter seems quite eye-wateringly daft.' This is rhetorically brilliant. She is here calling the bluff of the clever and the smug. It is a given among the bienpensants that shopping for food must be a time-consuming quest for authenticity and self-actualisation. Prigs, who are really snobs, delight in saying this is what you must do, it is an act of religious observance. Burchill outflanks them all by claiming a much more serious list of authentic pursuits. After all, no matter how you tart it up, shopping is still just shopping. This is a perfect confrontation between incommensurable conceptions of authenticity. Burchill has, once again, seen to the heart of the matter and made me happy.

For Michael J.Fox

I don't often say this about movie/TV stars, but I've always had this suspicion that there's a touch of greatness about Michael J.Fox. I once tried to get an interview with him. It was either the wrong time or his people hated me. As I don't give copy approval, trade with my sentiments ('I'll be nice about him so I can get an interview with her.') or gush, I'm regarded as high risk by big time PRs. The greatness is partly about the work. He has dazzling timing and control. On TV - in Spin City and in a guest appearance on Scrubs - he was mesmerising, ironic, quick and subtly anarchic. But there's also something great about the way he's handled Parkinson's Disease - self-deprecating, funny and, for want to a better word, cool. All of this is just to draw your attention to this interview. There's an fast, associative rapidity about this man's mind which, somehow, suits his predicament. His line on tattoos is very sound - 'My tattoo is that I don't have a tattoo.'  - and his words about Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton - 'the level of glee and the level of viciousness' - are simply superb.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Jeff Appalled by Royal Succession Horror

Quick, rush over to Jeff's place. He's appalled - do you hear me? - appalled that the birth of a son to Earl and Countess of Wessex has bumped the Princess Royal down to tenth in line to the throne. 'The archaic law,' thunders Jeff, 'that suggests that every woman should be pushed aside in favour of a man when it comes to ascending the throne is obscene.' Blimey. But does Jeff grasp the full extent of the problem of the succession? For example, only 1207 people have to die suddenly for Charles Dobkin, son of Immaculada Dobkin to become King; if he dies, John, another son of Immaculada, gets the job; and, if he kicks the bucket, Anthony, Immaculada's third male sprog, will reign over us. One way or another, we could easily end up with a King Dobbo. I am not making this up. The awful thing is that even if 1345 people suddenly buy the farm, I still don't get a look-in. In that case we'll have Queen Franzsika, lovely daughter of Countess Friederike-Christiane of Castell-Castell. I can't help feeling I'm better qualified. 

Towards A Softer Scotland

Connoisseurs of that ultimate government absurdity, the ten-year plan, have been kept royally entertained by Gordie and his lads recently. Now the Scots (i.e. the ones still in Scotland) have joined in, with this gem. I look forward to reading in ten years' time of wee Kenny MacAskill, looking very relaxed in powder-blue cashmere, raising a glass of mineral water to toast the final extinction of the Scottish hard man... As they say in his country - Kenny, awa and boil yer heed.

The Books

Regulars might recall a post of mine, A Teacher Remembered - date 25 September (for some reason I can't link to it) - about the death of my old friend and teacher at a near-biblical age. Here's the coda. The other day, I went to his flat to have a rummage among his books and pick out a selection to remember him by. This was, of course, sad - the last visit I shall ever make to a place I had been regularly visiting for so many years - and yet it was no longer his home, his habitat (stage set, I should perhaps say, carefully and elegantly constructed). All that had made it his was gone or going, and only the shell remained - which in months will be another home altogether, framing another life. But the books - or a substantial remnant of them - were still there, and my rummage among them seemed the perfect legacy and the perfect tribute.
Some of his library seemed destined to end up among the sad unwanted - multi-volume Dumas, ditto De Quincey, minor Georgians, volumes of letters and diaries by obscure 18th-century figures (French and English), Pierre Loti, James Elroy Flecker (though I took a very handsome Hassan)... But there was much that, for me, was treasure - volumes by Edward Thomas, Saki, Sir Thomas Browne, a beautiful Emily Dickinson, Katherine Mansfield, Beddoes, Thomas Traherne. These were books that would carry his spirit down to me.
What will remain of us is books? Hardly - but with a person like him, they are a large part of what is left - of the shaping intellectual music that lingers in the minds of those who knew him, and no doubt will die with them. But it is something.

Money, Money, Water

Earnings from advertising on this site have soared to dizzy heights. Carefully extrapolating the trend apparent in my latest earnings statement, I think I can safely say that I shall be able to take up blogging full time in February 3247 without any undue decline in my standard of living. To celebrate this torrent of wealth, this cash cascade, I think Nige and I can afford to push the boat out with Christmas drinks at Claridge's. Two glasses of 420 Volcanic from their exciting new water menu would not, I think, be unduly extravagant.

Sunshine and Iowa

This is wonderful news for smokers. Sunlight helps prevent lung cancer. This means that all those smokers now forced to stand outside pubs and offices are, by being exposed to more sunlight, actually offsetting the adverse effects of their habit. Christmas has come early for aficionados of the weed - though it will be little consolation if they are also learner drivers. Somewhere in Iowa, a man is, as we speak, stealing their identities. What goes around, it has been wisely said, comes around.

John Pilger

I don't normally read John Pilger because I know I'm not going to discover anything by doing so. He is a writer for whom the world is known before it is encountered. He can, therefore, neither learn nor inform. That said, this article is such a fine piece of Pilgerism that it really has to be read. It has no substantial content other than the usual demand for action against everything. A few, dim students might be impressed. But it is the extraordinary madness of the thing that should be studied - not least because it makes one wonder why The Guardian feels justified in publishing such stuff. But I suppose he's box office and, as such, not subject to normal editorial standards of literacy and logic. In the first paragraph, for example, he says that Rupert Murdoch's empire is 'devoted to the promotion of war, conquest and human division' and that Britain is a 'murdochracy'. Hmmm, interesting, so convince me. But, no, Pilger drops that theme after the third sentence. He then issues a torrent of assertion about Blair-Brown illiberalism, much of which I actually agree with. But he destroys his case - for thinking people at least - by simply making a list in silly, Dave Spartish language. 'Britain is now a centralised single-ideology state, as secure in the grip of a superpower as any former eastern bloc country.' Again, hmmm, so we're as bad as Honecker's East Germany are we? But, again, no proper evidence or argument. Pilger has been spoiled by only ever preaching to the converted. All information that he absorbs is manipulated to stir the feelings of this paranoid, unthinking little band of neo-manicheans. He has become a parody both of the old left and of the worst kind of newspaper columnist. He  is, in every sense of the word, unbelievable... but also consolingly antique.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Conan Doyle Was Right. Almost.

Heartening news from the wilds of Papua - a Giant Rat, pygmy possum and who knows what else swim into the ken of an astounded science. I always enjoy these stories, as they put into perspective our arrogant assumptions about what we know of the world - never mind giant rats, there may well be large apes we've yet to discover - and what our powers of, in any sense, comprehending it, actually are. (The same arrogance, imho, that convinces us we are destroying the planet...) Better, though, this story almost confirms Conan Doyle's hunch that there's a Giant Rat of Sumatra out there (it's mentioned in a Sherlock Holmes story), not to mention the Lost World. A man of vision, Doyle.

More Narcissism

Lunching yesterday with, among others, the great David Starkey, I found myself becoming competitive. David is one of the great raconteurs, he can make opening a window seem like the most exciting and naughty thing that has ever happened. I'm not in his league, but a few glasses down the line, I started to compete on content - stories about John Wayne Bobbitt etc. I may as well have insisted on  a quick three-setter with Roger Federer - not that David played the game, he didn't need to. This vanity is a way of not living in the present, of failing to seize the moment. Listening to David would have been a lot more satisfying than listening to myself.  But desperately asserting oneself is the way we live now. Apparently 47 per cent of Americans have sought information about themselves via Google. This survey is completely ridiculous as the correct figure is 100 per cent. The low figure is caused by two factors: people don't like to admit to using the internet as a mirror and a large number of people have either very common names - John Smith (33 million results) - that only work if attached to a search term that draws specific attention to yourself, or they have very famous names. Imagine the Google-misery of being called Steve Jobs (16 million) or Britney Spears (61 million). (I assume that eminent British Buddhist, Bryan Appleyard, is above all this. In fact, I'm above it all now. I (87,000) only look myself up in Google Blog Search. Ordinary Google is too depressing as the headline 'Page of Misery: Bryan Appleyard, Wanker and Chief Cultural Critic' still comes up at number six. I have complained about this before, but did any of you come up with a solution? No.) People look themselves up on Google because vanity is a safe haven. Since Google provides, in theory, everything, it provides nothing. To be confronted with the blank search box is to be confronted with a featureless desert or ocean. Fearing death by thirst or drowning, we type in our own names as if planting a flag or marker buoy. The higher the technology, the lower the uses to which it is put. Anyway, if you ever get a chance to hear David Starkey in full anecdotal flow, seize it and forget yourself. And, at last, I've managed a long post - with a few exceptions, I've only been able to do short ones lately. The trick is to start writing without knowing what you are going to say.

Sunday, December 16, 2007


... but annoyingly gripping.


It will soon be Christmas and so everybody is in a filthy mood. We have decided, for example, to provoke war with Iran by sending in Chris de Burgh, a move specifically forbidden by the Geneva Convention. Meanwhile, Terry Eagleton says, 'I did not do this book about Jesus just to piss off Martin Amis.' Yeah, right. Creationists are planning a British theme part disproving evolution with the sole intention of melting Richard Dawkins. Fabulous Acapella  says he wants to restore national pride to the worst football team in the world. This is a clear attempt to provoke Wayne Rooney, who won't even mime the national anthem. And, finally, Mervyn King is provoking Hal by asking him to do something constructive. Guys, guys, it's Christmas. 

Saturday, December 15, 2007

That Diana Letter in Full

Darling Bryan,
Even though I am dead, I love your blog and I think everybody should read it all the time and post millions of comments.
Yours always,
PS For us, it was not to be. But we'll always have Ealing.

Bali and the Island of Time

Kyoto achieved nothing, Bali will achieve nothing - unless the agreement to stop deforestation is seriously implemented, which I doubt. The Americans seem to regard fighting carbon cuts as patriotism and the Europeans are lost in a bureaucratic wilderness. Everybody else is just ducking and diving. We are warring ants just before the farmer's boot comes down and crushes us all. Only a disaster that can unambiguously be shown to be caused by climate change will make any difference. And that won't happen because any such disaster could be claimed to have a multiplicity of causes. The emission of CO2 will thus continue to rise inexorably. There is a theory that we have not heard from intelligent life anywhere in the universe because advanced civilisations are lost, not in space but in time. Some life form attains high technology and the ability to communicate across interstellar distances. But this moment of communication is brief because there is an iron law that dictates that technological competence always brings destruction to the technologically competent. There may have been many advanced alien civilisations, but they are all isolated on tiny islands of time. On the basis of a sample of one, I think there's a lot to be said for this theory.

The Strange Ride of Albert Gristle

The news that Britain is to have its very own moon mission reminds me - for no very good reason - of one of the funniest of all Private Eye covers. Perhaps it is the fact that it features the Albert Memorial, an edifice which inspires in me an unhealthy fascination.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Ciao, Fabulous

Personally, I think it's great that somebody called Fabulous Acapella is going to manage the worst football team in the world. Some say he doesn't speak English. I see this as an advantage. Some say he is not as good looking as Jose Mourinho. Again an advantage. Some say he keeps winning things. Okay, this may be a disadvantage. But give the man a chance. He'll soon settle into the losing ways of our ludicrously overpaid, pissing and sex in public superstars. On the whole, a surprisingly sound choice by the buffoons of the FA.

New Jersey's Death Penalty

New Jersey has scrapped the death penalty, the first state to do so since the reinstatement of capital punishment by the Supreme Court in 1976. I have always been intuitively against the death penalty. But, I reasoned, this was little more than a visceral reaction and the Americans in particular have their reasons and their traditions. I became much less sympathetic after reviewing Scott Turow's excellent book on the subject. Basically, he showed, executions don't work and they distort the whole judicial system. Individuals may live by absolutes, but states cannot. New Jersey is wise to have grasped this. 

Hal, Tone and Barney

Can anybody come up with a credible explanation of Hal's decision to turn up late in Lisbon? He didn't want to sign 'in the public glare' says Tom Bower, but he did sign in the public glare. The TV cameras were on him as he was led through the debris of lunch to sign alone. By turning up late he multiplied the publicity effect and by signing late he compounded the humiliation.  Even brownies like John Kampfner are exasperated. In fact, of course, the only credible explanation is stark incompetence. Which is why politics is suddenly so interesting. And, meanwhile, Blair is showing him how it should be done in the incomparable Barney's latest vid. We are so blessed with our leaders. 'Dignified', that's the word I'm looking for.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Sage Words from Jeff

'Lord' Jeff stops me in my tracks again. He is advising us to go to Nicholas Nickleby at the Gielgud Theatre, a show in two parts. 'It's not compulsory,' says Jeff, 'to see both parts or even both on the same day, but you would be wise to see Part I before Part II - although that is perhaps stating the obvious.' Perhaps. But, then again, who knows?

Pratchett's Embuggerance

Being allergic to almost all fantasy literature, I am no fan of Terry Pratchett's books (though, from what little I've read, he seems a great deal less intolerable than the likes of Pullman and Tolkien). The way he has broken the news of his Alzheimer's, though, seems altogether admirable. I particularly like his description of the terminally grim prognosis as an 'embuggerance'. This is a fine word, and a fine spirit is behind it.

Prince Albert and the Gherkin

I am feeling a little Prince Albert this morning - dead but gilded. Last night's orgy of forgotten names was held in the tip of The Gherkin. I spent my time pretending to be Dr Eldon Tyrell in Blade Runner - a chess board in mid-game, the sinister, illuminated city at my feet and a dying replicant in the lift, about to kill me by sticking his thumbs in my eyes. Cinema can be such a consolation. I don't know what to feel about the building. Brilliantly, ingeniously done, it thrills but coldly. Everything was hard and shone and there was no colour. It felt too good for humans. Everybody talked about it, but not in recognition. The glass of the tip provided an eerie reflection of the party crowds below. I imagined the place empty and just the memory of a party preserved as an image in the glass. We seem to be building as yet incomprehensible monuments to our transhuman future. Albert would have done something uglier but more amiable. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A Romanian Christmas

With the 'festive feast' of Christmas TV looming, I think we should pause to admire the Romanians. Most popular show in Romania, Christmas after Christmas, is the footage of the Ceausescus' execution. That's what I call Christmas TV.

The Horror, The Horror...

This is certainly the scariest picture of the day. What kind of parents would leave their children in the same room as this sinister, swivel-eyed pair? Has Hal put his stick-on smile in the wrong place? And what on earth is Balls playing with (apart from the Schools Ministry and the future of the country)?

Behind the Bronze Doors

I am simply too busy this morning to blog. You may feel the need to comment on this. But, otherwise, I must hope that, behind the great bronze doors of NigeCorp, Nige is available.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Ken Dodd: Is It Just Me?

Here at NigeCorp, I find myself in an embattled, much mocked minority of one, for my assertion that Ken Dodd is just about the greatest live stand-up comic in the business. Having seen him in action, reducing an audience to laugh-racked putty in his hands, I'm afraid there was no other possible conclusion to reach - though I can quite understand that those who haven't had the experience would find it hard to believe. Can anyone out there back me up on this one, or does the whole world hate Doddy?

Listen to Radio 1. Now

I find myself in the strange position of listening to Radio 1. Strange because, in general, I don't and because poptastic 1 is currently being broadcast from the living room of a friend of mine - Clare Penate. Her son, Jack, is, deservedly a star - I wrote about him in the ST before he was famous - and Jo Whiley is doing a 'lounge tour'. I feel I should send round a delivery of a ton of gravel to disrupt things. It's what Elberry would do. 

But Listen to Radio 3 at 8am

... because they're doing The 48 At 8 - Bach's 48 Preludes and Fugues (The Well Tempered Clavier), one a day at 8 in the morning. Radio 3 has a habit of doing these beautiful, life-enhancing things...

Led Zep: Why Is Not Enough

Last night's Led Zep triumph, I'm sure, means something - it might even demonstrate that, when it comes to Led Zep, you can indeed go through the same river twice. I never cared for them - bombastic cock rock not being my thing - but I could appreciate that they were phenomenally good at what they did. And this reunion gig was, truly, a phenomenal success - beyond anything - maybe if the Stones had given up in 1980 then come back, they'd have topped it, but I can't imagine anything else that would (Elvis back from the dead?). Led Zep deserve credit for taking the event seriously and really giving it some wellie - two hours and more at full stretch, encores and all. Compare and contrast the much vaunted Velvet Underground reunion - a contemptuous, metronomic trudge through the back catalogue, then off to count the money. Also on the credit side, Robert Plant recently teamed up with Alison Krauss to make the wonderful CD, Raising Sand. Their voices come together to create something of rare beauty - much more than the sum of its parts - it seems to me it's one of the great pairings, in the tradition of Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris, and Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. I suspect, too, that long after the whole Led Zep hullabaloo dies down, people will be listening to Raising Sand in wonder...

40 is the New Dead

Every year I go to various Sunday Times Christmas parties and every year there are more people I have to avoid. This is not because they dislike me or I them, it is because I can't remember their names. I blame the sheer weight of time - not that my memory is going (sometimes I wish it would), rather the number of people I have met has increased to the point where I can only attach names to a small proportion in any given crowd. Perhaps it is also because I have an under-developed irrelevance filter. In party conversations, I tend to find myself fixated on ties, agonised expressions, architectural details, stony silences, dentistry, canapes, shoes, carpets - anything, in fact, but words and names. (This could, of course, mean that I have an exceptionally well-developed irrelevance filter.) But the upside of the weight of time is that there seems to come a moment when people like/tolerate/accept you more than they once did. This happens in your fifties. Perhaps it is because one is no longer seen as any kind of threat - or because nobody can remember one's name and they're just being desperately polite. I say this to encourage Iain Dale who is fretting about being 45. Trust me, Iain, it gets much better. In fact, I now see that around the age of 25 people go into a long decline. By the age of 40, they are, to all intents and purposes, dead. Sadly, nobody has the heart to tell them and they keep doing silly things like marketing, public relations, estate agency or remembering everybody's name. Then, miraculously, at 50 they spring back to life and start doing sensible things like trying to remember obscure Bob Dylan lyrics or turning round people's ties to read the label while being talked to at parties. Or perhaps that's just me.

Ponder Post 20: Led Zeppelin


Monday, December 10, 2007

Conrad Black

Poor old, weird old Conrad has gone down at last. I feel sorry for him. As with Robert Maxwell, the guilty parties are are those daft enough to invest in such a strange and absurd man. Having met both, I think I can safely say I wouldn't have lent either a tenner. They should have been no more than minor embarrassments at the business party. But both were identified at some point as 'buccaneering' businessmen, as if the word alone were enough to suspend normal judgment and allay suspicion. This confirmed their view of themselves as special, beyond the reach of the ordinary rules by which the rest of us live. It's strange how words can invent characters and, finally, destroy them. 

For Al Jazeera

Growing weary of our Panamanian canoeing inadequates and Ed 'Crazy name, crazy guy' Balls, I turned on Al Jazeera. First, I saw a highly intelligent assessment of the search for a malaria vaccine, then I saw a brilliantly-handled and eye-opening story about Chinese coal fires. Malaria kills about 3 million people a year and the coal fires account for 3 per cent of global CO2 emissions, more than the whole of the UK. I don't remember seeing anything on either of these things on Anglo-American news channels. So why are we going on about these damned canoeists and why are we going to build 7,000 offshore wind turbines when, for a lot less money, we could help the Chinese put out their coal fires and the South East Asians extinguish their peat fires? While we were doing that, we could build some excellent nuclear power plants and leave our coastline unsullied. We could also drag our TV news up to the standards of Al Jazeera. 

A Vision of Hell

Having stumbled on this horror vid, I am not sure I can blog further today.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Balls - Come-Bye!

Lord, how the heart sinks at the news that Chief Sod Ed Balls is hard at work on a 'Ten-Year Plan' for children. And we haven't had to wait ten years for him to finger the culprit responsible for the woes of the nation's children - advertising. Well it stands to reason, doesn't it? It's watching all those ads that 'robs them of their childhood' and turns them into primary school binge drinkers. So yes, it's yet more displacement activity (and hammering of easy targets) - anything rather than face the obvious fact that what 'robs children of their childhood' is family breakdown, or indeed family non-existence. Nothing to do with the price of booze or what's on TV, or whether wicked middle-class parents allow them to spend too much time with their computers, thereby undermining the heroic and spectacularly successful efforts of the state's schools and (ever expanding) nurseries.
Still, never mind eh? Here's a rare piece of cheering news from the world of television. ( Incidentally, the BBC version will be making one of its rare appearances over Christmas, but with ghastly Ben Fogle in place of the great Robin Page. Not the same.)

The Turner Prize and Nick Cohen

I didn't comment on the ludicrous award of The Turner Prize to Mark Wallinger's State Britain. This was primarily because I don't think the Turner is worth trashing any more. It has no artistic significance  - I don't know anybody who thinks it has - and simply exists as one more pointlessly eccentric, slightly shabby corner of British life like Jeffrey Archer or rich, elderly men who wear bright red corduroy trousers. The great Nick Cohen, the only sane man of the left, puts me to shame today by identifying the true significance of the Wallinger award. It is, he shows, a particularly egregious and exact example of la trahison des clercs. Precisely. There is nothing more to be said except that I wish I'd said it first.

Rizla Shock

Am I alone in being startled by the full page ad on the back of The Observer Music Monthly for Rizla, cigarette papers for the discerning? The slogan is 'Rizla. It's what you make of it.' Joints, that's what you make of it, funny fags. I remember the time when no freak left his pad without his shopping list of Rizla green - or red, according to taste - 20 Silk Cut and a couple of pounds of Cadbury's Dairy Milk  - or Fruit and Nut, according to taste. But I never expected Rizla to go legit in this alarming way.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Ponder Post 19: The Best Way to be Rich

The night club - if that is what it is - Movida has devised a £35,000 cocktail for Christmas.  The first buyer, Max Reigns, a 'property developer', was asked if he could think of a better used for the money and replied, 'It's about the same as a holiday, isn't it?' Meanwhile, Princess Michael of Kent has told an American - uuugh - who put his arm round her that , 'We don't do that.' Searching for a link for this, I discover that HRH has a web site. It makes Jeffrey Archer look like Soren Kierkegaard. Princess Michael - why is she called that? - is well known as the rudest, most snobbish member of the upper classes. This makes her, of course, a national treasure. But the ponder is: which is the better way of being rich - the Reigns way or the HRH way? I think I should be told.

My Forecast for the Big Fight

Round One: Floyd Mayweather dances out of his corner. Ricky Hatton hits him and Mayweather at once sues for aggravated assault. Hatton retires ugly. Manchester fans trash Vegas.


It's amazing to find that the surgical skills pioneered on my good friend John Wayne Bobbitt have become commonplace in Thailand. It's twelve years since I met John in Las Vegas. I was suffering from flu-like virus that I later discovered had proved fatal to others and assumed my high temperature was causing hallucinations. But then I woke up to discover it was all true.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Tom Waits and Me

Well today is, as it happens, my birthday. Here at NigeCorp, the traditional ox roast is getting under way, and the finest vintages are being brought up from the ancestral cellars. The workers are lined up in their best culluloid collars, hair slicked down, nervously fingering the rims of their doffed caps as they rehearse this year's birthday ode...
As historians will need no reminding, this day is also the anniversary of the regrettable Tumult of Thorn - but, more to the point, I share my birthday exactly (day and year) with the great Tom Waits. Our careers have followed slightly different paths, though, with enough booze and baccy on board, I can manage a passable (to me anyway) imitation. Happy birthday Tom! I am sure that, like me, you rejoice at being one year nearer to your narrow home...

How to Teach Poetry

Poetry is not being taught at all in British schools. This is the actual, as opposed to the stated, finding of an Ofsted report. This will make, for sensitive Thought Experimenters, grim reading. Perhaps the worst detail is the list of poems most likely to be taught in primary schools - Noyes, The Highwayman; Milligan, On the Ning, Nang, Nong; Carroll, Jabberwocky; Lear, The Owl and the Pusscat; Stevenson, From a Railway Carriage; de la Mare, The Listeners; Wright, The Magic Box; McGough, The Sound Collector; Dahl, Revolting Rhymes; Ahlberg Dog in the Playground.
Plainly the primary school teachers need incarcerating in special camps to be taught what poetry is. There they would have to learn by heart, Wordsworth, Daffodils; Shakespeare, the Phoenix and the Turtle; Stevens, The Rabbit as King of the Ghosts; Raleigh, The Passionate Man's Pilgrimage; Wyatt, They flee from me that sometime did me seek; Tennyson, Ulysses; Eliot: Song for Simeon; Pope, The Rape of the Lock;  Auden, Like a Vocation; Keats, Ode to Autumn. All are entirely appropriate for primary school children, provoking, as they do, wonder, awe and longing. 
While incarcerated, the teachers would also have to read and answer detailed questions on Kenneth Koch's Rose, Where Did You Get That Red?, the best book ever written on children and poetry. They would also have to write one thousand times, 'There is no such thing as children's poetry, there is only poetry.'

The Glorious Legacy of the People's Democratic Dome

Now, let me see, I wonder what implications this has for the Olympics. Cruelly, people have been saying that Blair will be remembered only for Iraq; I prefer to think he will be remembered for the Millennium Dome. That and not sacking Hal when he had the chance. 

Jeff and Amanda Aim High

And, while we are on the subject of great writers, the peerless 'Lord' Jeff has key'd some devastating insights into Othello. Not to be missed. Which made me wonder: what is Amanda up to? Oh, dear Lord, she's trying irony

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Hero, Knight, Mentalist

Pausing briefly to hail this hero of our time, I must return to a story from yesterday (which I couldn't remark on, as the legendary NigeCorp technology was going into meltdown every time I went near the blog). When the latest international table of educational ignominy was unveiled, showing how 'our' 15-year-olds have slumped ten places or so to somewhere below Estonia in the reading and 'rithmetic league, the relevant minister, one Jim Knight, described the results as 'pleasing'. Yes, pleasing. I have been pondering this, slack-jawed, ever since. What exactly would Knight find displeasing? Presumably the UK suddenly powering its way to the top of the table. As that ain't going to happen, I guess we'll never know...
My mind is also boggling gently at the news that the noted TV mentalist (and Purley resident) Derren Brown (he's in Wikipedia) listens EVERY day - and before EVERY performance - to Bach's Goldberg Variations. He seems to favour Murray Perahia's version. Me I'm a Glen Gould 1981 man. But anyway, this must tell us something about Bach, or Brown, or both - or quite possibly nothing, what do I know?

How to Give the Nobel to a Proper Writer

The famously assiduous Dave Lull sends me this article. Why does the Nobel Prize go to 'socially responsible' novelists rather than John Ashbery? Ange Mlinko explains why - he's too good. Nice essay with lovely quotes - 'only time will consent to have anything to do with us'.

SAD and the Life of Keith

I am sitting here bathed in an unearthly glow. Seen from the street, I appear to be a saint in ecstasy. Yes, I have bought an anti-SAD light, a Lumie to be exact. I don't on the whole think Seasonal Affective Disorder really qualifies as a disease, but, in these darkening days, I do feel the lack of light. It seems to work. I have been feeling very wide awake since I bought it. This is not entirely a good thing as it is compounding my famous sleep problems. But, since I feel wide awake, it doesn't seem to matter. There is something of the Keith Richards approach to life in this and, not being Keith, it is likely that, in the near future, I shall fall down and sleep for several months. Or die. So, if, suddenly, only Nige blogs, that's what has happened. 

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

For Elberry

I receive a warm email from Elberry. This contains the important news that he has recommenced posting on his blog . Go there at once. Elberry has also just finished reading Aliens. He seemed to like it a great deal. While working on this book I had myself hypnotised and, while in London, I saw a flying saucer in Norfolk. The wonders of Nikon optics recently allowed me to recreate exactly what I saw, exactly where I saw it. So, Elberry, here it is.

My Considered Reflections on Canoe Man

I'm not sure I have the energy to get a grip on this Canoe Man story. It's probably something cooked up by the Little Sods to distract attention from the woes of their boss, Hal. What I will say, however, is that my unusually dilatory colleagues do not yet appear to have asked the big question - what hat was he wearing when he 'vanished'? Thought Experimenters will recall the controversy about the correct hat to wear in a canoe/kayak. This is the sort of detail that brings a story to life, but, so far, no news from Panama or Hartlepool. Come to that, why Hartlepool? Nothing has ever happened in Hartlepool. If you say it three times, it doesn't even sound like a real place.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Death and Taxes

This is the dark day on which, in 1798, William Pitt the Younger, heroic drinker and youthful Prime Minister, introduced the first Income Tax to afflict the nation. It was a modest affair and, of course, presented as a one-off, never-again measure etc. Back then, Tax Freedom Day - the day when we can start working for ourselves - was probably about January 3rd; now it's moved into June. Such is the modern state - and under Brown it will only get worse...
Pitt's dying words were, of course, 'I think I could eat one of Bellamy's veal pies' (or 'My country! O my country!' according to choice). He didn't die on this day, but Bert Lahr, Benjamin Britten and Frank Zappa all did. And thus I have made this post match its title.

Time to Cry

The moment after I clicked on 'Publish Post' on my Shirley Hazzard piece, I felt a distinct pang of regret. It wasn't quite strong enough to make me rewrite and it certainly fell far short of the suicidal, middle-of-the-night, pillow-clutching, ohmygoddidIreallysaythat? moments that have dogged my career. But it was real enough. The pang-causing words were 'sobbed copiously'. Now, of course, I am a New Man and I must be seen to weep once in a while. But, for a moment, this felt, in this context, a little too much. In response, Johnny asked if I often 'blub over books' and I am afraid the answer is, 'Yes, often.' But I only blub over good books. When it comes to films, I'll tear up over any old crap. Odd that. Either way, I cry a lot, though more often about fiction than fact. This probably makes me some kind of psycho, it certainly makes me an embarrassment. Anyway, I'm a crier. I have come out and I feel better for it.  Join the club, guys. I suggest you start with Andrei Tarkovsky's film The Sacrifice. This produced my best ever sob, a real gem, a desperate, shuddering inhalation accompanied by a weird, high-pitched yelp. It was late at night in St Martin's Lane and I'm sure I heard applause.

Hamilton Does Blears Better Than Blears Does Blears

A 'Hazel Blears' for the purposes of my argument is the evasion of a question, typically on television or radio news. All politicians do this; normally one simply pays no attention. But a Blears evasion, for some reason, always catches my attention. Given that the whole point of evading a question is not to appear to be doing so, we are left with a curious paradox - Hazel Blears is really bad at doing a 'Hazel Blears'. Now, obviously, this brings me to the appearance of Lewis Hamilton on Top Gear. Clarko - nobody calls him that, but I do now - asked Hamilton about the season-long attempt by his team mate Fernando Alonso to destroy his career. Hamilton, naturally, did a 'Hazel Blears' and, here's the thing, he did it really well. In fact, he did it in the manner of Tony 'Come back, all is forgiven' Blair - a denial accompanied by a little laugh to indicate the denial was meaningless. Noticing this, I suddenly realised that this Hamilton boy is a player. Formula 1 drivers are usually as inhibited as business cards - and for the same reasons - but Hamilton was amazingly self-possessed. And then he did something that raised him in my estimation yet further. Clarko asked him what car he drove and he said some rather boring Mercedes diesel because it's all you need 'on the road'. That 'on the road' was a killer. It undermined at least 70 per cent of what Top Gear does by indicating that, to Hamilton, 'car' means a Formula 1 car, everything else is just a mode of transport. The abyss that opened up was deepened in the same show when Renault let Richard Hammond - Hammo? Not quite. - drive their F1 machine. He couldn't do it, in spite of the fact that he now has a haircut that makes him six inches taller. Anyway, Lewis Hamilton - I won't hear a word said against him.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Breaking News

Talking of politics, it's good to hear that the Sudanese government - having firmly declared it couldn't possibly intervene in a religious matter - has suddenly discovered new powers than enable it to issue an immediate pardon to the unfortunate teacher Gillian Gibbons and release her. It's almost as if they weren't being entirely straight with us, isn't it...

Shirley Hazzard

I wrote on 27th November that a short novel  - The Bay of Noon - I had read by Shirley Hazzard 'bears comparison with the sublime Marilynne'.  I have just finished The Great Fire. I say 'finished' rather too calmly - so overpowering was the book that it actually seemed possible I might not be able to read the last three pages. But I did and sobbed copiously. It left me with the absolute certainty that I am not good enough in almost every imaginable way. This is a good thing. I have advised Nige to take a couple of days off after completing it. Shirley Hazzard - the real thing.

A Lesson in Political Science for Gordon

Loyal readers of Thought Experiments will know that I saw it coming. Gordon Brown, I kept saying, is a Bad Thing. As, in power, his shortcomings became apparent, I noted how his supporters remained in denial.  Everybody had gone into counselling mode - 'Look, Gordon, this is what you must do to get over this.' This phase persists but is now rapidly being superseded by the 'face it, the guy's a write-off'  posture. People are beginning to think about Brown in the past tense and columnists who normally hedge their bets are simply tearing chunks out of the man - see Matthew d'Ancona and Andrew Rawnsley. The Rawnsley revelation about a Brown-Blair meeting is downright disturbing. In one version Brown stormed out saying, 'I'll get you over the peerages.' Blair was so shocked by his behaviour that he informed Gus O'Donnell, the cabinet secretary - whether to get it on the record or to beef up his own security and move his family to a secure location is not clear. But still there are people who persist in believing Brown can be remade into the man they thought he was. For these people I offer a brief lesson in political science. Most humans have spent their lives in political systems like that of Sudan or Syria - corrupt, tribal but, with luck, sufficiently incompetent to allow people to construct tolerable lives, though always at risk of the violent deaths of themselves and their families. Occasional outbreaks of a more civilised way of life - like ours now - are rare and cherishable.  Such idylls may appear to have some rational ideological content, like the foundational narrative of the US, but, in truth, they are the product of luck combined with the insights of a few good people. (Whether artists of genius are also required is an open question, though I hope so.) These people do not come up with theories, ideas or initiatives, they do not suffer from the illusion that they can improve things even further with bright ideas. They simply take the view that the important things is not to make matters worse - in a civilised society the downside is always a much greater risk than the upside because the downside is the default condition, the human norm. Modern politics requires that such people pretend to have bright ideas - 'I won't make things worse,' is not much of a slogan, though I'd vote for it. The important thing is that, once in power, they do as little as possible. Brown is not one of these people. He believes in bright ideas cooked up in rooms with his Little Sods. His supporters, meanwhile, persist in telling him to do more, in spite of the clear evidence that the more he does the worse he gets. He is, in short, dangerous, but, happily, he'll never now be elected.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Cravat News

Some while back, I posed the question: The Cravat - is it too late? As far as I recall, responses were desultory and negative. The cravat was going the way of spats and there was no saving it now. Well, it seems that judgment might have been premature. Watching Strictly Come Dancing last night (as everybody does - don't deny it), there was that fine young fellow Matt Di Angelo - a bit of a razor-dodger, but the glass of fashion and the mould of form - dancing a splendid tango while wearing... a cravat! Early days yet, but I think we are seeing the green shoots of a cravat recovery. You read it here first.

Young Carers

Full-time misanthrope though I am, it is, as they say, Christmas. So, under the seasonal circumstances, I feel I must insist that all readers of this blog donate thousands to The Sunday Times Young Carers Appeal. Caroline Scott's article explains why. The stories are suffocating and unbearable.

Sci-Fi and Me

In The Sunday Times - my defence of science fiction.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Evel Lives

So Evel Knievel is dead. The world is a smaller place. He was one of the world's great coma patients whose one fear, I seem to recall, was water. There are, as Dave Barry has taught us, few things more consoling than a guy willing to do futile, dangerous things. But, dry your tears, Evel's spirit lives on.

Smell Ads

Nicole Kidman advertises Chanel No 5, primarily on one of the most expensive TV ads ever made. This ad, made by Baz Luhrmann, is also, as I once pointed out at some length, one of the worst ever made. Now Kidman is suing the Telegraph over a claim in its diary that No 5 was not her favourite smell - the diarist claimed it was Jo Malone's White Jasmine and Mint. Odd that, I'd have had her down as a Guerlaine girl, but there you go. Smell ads are one of the more curious symptoms of Christmas. They are all, basically, exactly the same, whether flogging Stench by Calvin Armani or Emetic by Dolci & Boss. One always assumes that, come January, the entire population will be emitting exotic odours, but they never do. Perhaps they're saving them for a special occasion, like next Christmas. Personally, I find being given a smell offensive - my natural odour is so very fine and, anyway, I never know how much to put on. There's nothing worse than getting into a lift and realising you smell like an unwanted Christmas present that's been smashed with a hammer.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Sorry about the Boojum

In blogging the bowsprit gets mixed with the rudder sometimes and the Snark is invariably a Boojum, which is why this blog has been 'down' today. Now, however, it is 'up' and I am delighted to present the latest snatched photo of Nige, who is a Snark. You can tell by the plumage.

Chaplin Or Keaton?

On this day in 1913, Chaplin made his first movie - heck that was before even Mickey Rooney (and Mickey's still working, but then he is by common consent an emanation of Satan, so unlikely ever to die). Chaplin, of course, went on to become the most famous man in the world - perhaps the first truly world-famous man - but in recent decades his stock has fallen sharply, while Keaton's has risen spectacularly. Apart from my dear good friend Cheever, I don't think I know anyone who prefers Chaplin to Keaton - maybe there are hordes of you out there in the blogosphere? Keaton's emotional blankness seems somehow modern, while Chaplin's brilliantly executed slapstick lurches too often into cloying sentimentality for today's taste. Neither man, I suspect, actually raises many genuine laughs any more, but Keaton is mesmerically watchable and the kind of genius we can still connect with. Chaplin, I fear, isn't.
And while I'm on the subject of silent movies, isn't it a shame that what has come down to us is, overwhelmingly, comedy - precisely the genre that has dated most badly? Whenever I've seen one of those refurbished, re-scored 'lost' masterpieces that crop up occasionally (King Vidor's The Crowd, Stroheim's The Wedding March?), I' ve been stunned by the emotional power they still pack. We have, I suspect, a strangely skewed idea of silent cinema.

My Christmas Present to You

Oh wow! It's a PIN number - 3183. Go ahead! Shop! Go nuts! Actually it's not been my PIN number since yesterday morning. On Wednesday night I had dinner at Kensington Place. The waitress brought the strange, shoe-like thing for me to day. I tapped in 3183. Then a man came over. He apologised the waitress had put in the wrong sum. He ran off a bill for the remainder and I put in my PIN again. Leaving the restaurant, I noticed the amount of the first bill - £31.83, my PIN number. I'm sure this was a mistake - she had just given me the shoe when the money, not the PIN, should have been put it - but the next morning I ran down to the cash machine and changed the PIN on all my cards. Technology makes you dependent and then shows you the abyss.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Cat's Eye Reflections

Sad news about the cat's-eye reflector. This was one of those great British inventions hit upon by chance by a gifted amateur with a bright idea - which used to be the British way, and perhaps still is. It's gloriously simple, has lasted for more than 70 years - and will surely last a great deal longer, at least on minor roads - and it must have saved thousands of lives. Its inventor, the great Yorkshireman Percy Shaw, offered various accounts of what gave him his idea - but he felt the need for such an invention expecially acutely as he was in the habit of going out for 'a few beers' of an evening and was fed up with veering off the road on the way home. And so the rolling English drunkard made the safer English road.

Gillian Gibbons

When British Prime Ministers go abroad and a big story breaks at home, the press pack routinely use press conferences to ask awkward questions that have no connection with the foreign visit. The foreign leader looks embarrassed and uncomprehending. I like this. Last night on Newsnight an unpleasant Sudanese diplomat was defending the arrest of Gillian Gibbons. There was a discussion in which the diplomat exhibited infuriating, fatuous complacency and then it was over. Something was missing. On the principle of the awkward question asked at an inappropriate moment, Jeremy Paxman should have said, 'While we have you in the studio, when is your goverment going to stop colluding with the genocide in Darfur?' 

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

John 'Walking' Stewart

I like the sound of this fellow. Fancy being known (slightly) to posterity by the epithet 'Walking'...

Go, Fodor

Thanks to Simon Oakes for sending me this quite brilliant refutation of his critics by my hero, the Trampoline Man, Jerry Fodor. The Darwinian fundamentalists and their fellow travellers have been called, by Dawkins I think, the 'brights'. How nice to see them put in their place by somebody much much brighter.

Spooks Spoiler: Adam Carter to Save Harriet Harman

On the television news last night a right-wing splinter group took over a BBC chat show studio and, at gunpoint, demanded to know the truth about the Iranian bomb. Luckily their leader was killed by an MI5 agent, though he managed to put a bullet through the stomach of the Iranian diplomat whose wife had been having an affair with the MI5 agent. He said it was just work but everybody else thought it was love. On Newsnight Jeremy Paxman said the whole thing was a storm in a teacup. 
Meanwhile, on the spy show Spooks the British government was being brought down by a shadowy businessman from the north-east who had been pouring money into the Labour Party via a series of thickly accented local front-men who, cunningly, had been brainwashed into making no sense when they spoke. The whole thing is thought be a revenge attack by disgraced former leader Blair against disgraced leader Brown. MI5 agent Adam Carter was sent to Annapolis to kill Blair, but, though he is Middle East peace envoy, he wasn't there. Next week: Adam meets Cherie and sparks fly.