Sunday, September 30, 2007

On Neuroscience and the Soul

Thanks, once again, to Frank Wilson, I review A Neuroscientist's Case for the Existence of the Soul today in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

John Carey and the Mindlessness of Ballet

John Carey says a very odd thing in his review of a biography of Rudolph Nureyev - 'Ballet is mindless compared to other arts - as mindless as, say, football - and this restricts what can be written about it.' It's odd because I don't know what he means by 'mindless'. A great deal of mind goes into football and an incredible amount, some of it quite lucid, can be written about it. Much more mind would seem to go into ballet and much more can be written, most of it very lucid, about it. Perhaps he means ballet provides a more visceral hit than most arts. But that isn't true either. All art has to be, to some extent, visceral to work at all. Perhaps he means ballet is very abstract. But some is and some isn't and, anyway, abstraction is easily written about. I give up. Can somebody tell me what Carey is on about? I only run into him about once every two years so a direct question is unlikely in the near future.

The Most Dangerous Place in the World Caption

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Notting Hill Years

I have been a bad blogger. The problem is the move. I shall never do it again. I shall be taken out of this flat in a box. The coffin will be picked up by Selfridge's and delivered to an old lady in Tooting who ordered four garden chairs. And - I may as well come clean - I now live in Notting Hill, though I have not yet filed for citizenship. Apparently I need a thorough knowledge of bad novels written within half a mile of the tube station. I am already getting used to avoiding the herds of wild estate agents that gallop and howl in the streets and the groovy couples maddened with indecision at the fish shop where they sell sea bass at £963 a kilo. But I shall adapt, though the Bayswater ageing rocker wardrobe will have to go. I am thinking neo-seventies - flares, suede jacket, silk scarf, that kind of thing. I can't get used to the food and I may have kleftiko shipped in from the Halepi, the excellent though eccentric Bayswater Greek patronised by Branson, Nige and others. Meanwhile, I shall watch out for Hugh Grant and report my first sighting here. But now I must go for my first language lesson.

The Napoleon Overcoat Caption

Friday, September 28, 2007


News from the crazy world of branding. Even in a world where we no longer expect the names of things to have any descriptive function whatsoever, this one is a bit of a shocker. Hard to imagine it slipping easily into the national discourse. 'What's on Dave tonight?' 'See Dave last night?'... But who knows? Maybe the BBC, inspired by this bold initiative, will rename BBC1 Keith. ITV might follow suit, renaming itself Wayne. Channel 4.? Hmm, tricky one....

Foaming Moore

'One needs a word,' intones Charles Moore, filling space in the Spectator, 'to describe the monotonously chirpy, conventionally iconoclastic, relentlessly informal tone of voice that is typical of the blog. Does the phrase 'blog-standard' already exist? If not, it should.' Good grief! While it's good (and quite surprising) to know that Moore has heard of blogs, one wonders, doesn't one, how many he's read. Clearly not this one, to which none of the above epithets could be applied by any stretch.
(By the way, Moore is a man who, by his own admission, likes to fill his mouth with toothpaste and lie underwater in his bath, foaming lightly. He nearly choked to death doing this once, but survived to tell the tale - in the Spectator of course.)

What Happened to Hank

'It's excellent being naked up on the Great Shepherd of Etive,' says Hank Wangford. I'd been wondering what happened to the great Hank, a man who, like Keith Richards, was turned on to country music by Gram Parsons. He is, it transpires, now the founder member of the Nude Mountaineering Society, having been 'drawn into the joys of trouserless peaking by the great George Mallory.' The attractions of naked mountain-climbing do not immediately strike me, but I am delighted they strike Hank, who is also Sam Hutt and, apparently, Boeing Duveen.

The Good Life with Kayak Caption

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Back to My Future

My mullet and Zapata moustache are now in place. I need to find some Brut - nothing, you will recall, beats the great smell of Brut - and Britt Ekland. I have some wicked flares, nine inch platforms, a purple suede jacket and a chest wig. I am, you see, moving into my seventies flat today.

I Am, At Last, Johnny Cash

My new Google Analytics stats have solved a mystery that had been troubling me for some time. My Ponder Post 10: Tattoos has continues daily to be my most hit page and is now certainly my most read post. Using GA, I have tracked one of the main sources of his anomaly - Folsom in California. Yes, that's Folsom as in Folsom Prison Blues by the late great Johnny Cash. Clearly the boys are exercised by my negative views of tattoos. I now like to think of myself as the Web 2.0 version of the Man in Black - selflessly entertaining the convicts. I intend to learn the guitar, develop a drug habit and put myself on YouTube. I already have a bad attitude and a black coat. 

The Migrants Caption

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


I have nothing to say about Burma except, perhaps, 'Go, monks.' But, of course, even that carries a burden of responsibility since the monks might be going to their death. I can say that I hope Orient Express have at last had the grace to stop taking bookings for The Governor's Residence in Yangon. Oh and why is it that Buddhist monks are so often the heroes? Perhaps they have not been exposed to Richard Dawkins.

Boombox For Sale?

Here's the perfect sound system for Bryan's new retro-styled apartment. It might go down a storm with the good citizens of Sale too, who knows?

The Biota Bite(s) Back - Again

News of a raft of new species in the jungles of Vietnam, and a happy rediscovery in Costa Rica should serve to remind us of our arrogance in assuming we have a reasonable idea either of how many species there are on Earth or of what's extinct and what isn't. We know almost nothing in these matters, but we're busy imposing a narrative of large-scale extinction, driven (of course) by climate change, which is driven (of course) by us. Things just aren't that simple out there in the jungle, and we just are not that important.

Sale - a Town of Taste

Sale (pop 52,294) is a wonderful place, the beauty spot on the scarred face of Greater Manchester. It has the Sale Water Park and the Waterside Arts Centre. In Sale's many cafes and bars late at night you can hear discussions of Heidegger's dasein, earnest analyses of late Beethoven and passionate refutations of Wittgenstein's private language argument. During the day, actors move among the shoppers reciting Wallace Stevens and Shakespeare and there is a daily performance of Bach's B Minor Mass just outside Marks & Spencer. Children of five are required to learn the whole of Hamlet by heart. A local statute prevents Jeffrey Archer from ever entering Sale. 
Of course, I've never been there but I have just switched over to Google Analytics for my site stats. This gives numbers of visitors from specific places and more people from Sale visit this site than from anywhere else except London and California. I have no idea why.
PS I have just discovered that, in Sale, the meanest flower that blows can give thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.

On Ties

Well, I guess none of us saw this one coming, though, suddenly, it seems inevitable. It's a site that provides videos of women teaching men how to tie their ties. They start with the Full Windsor. This is a vulgar, showy knot. Personally, I use the much more discreet Half Windsor. I can't quite lower myself to the basic schoolboy knot. On the other hand, I only wear a tie about twice a month -  the Lambeth Walk is my current favourite. I feel guilty about this. The world makes a little more sense when men wear ties. 

The Soft Toy Caption

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A Teacher Remembered

Yesterday I learned that an old friend - a very old friend, 98 years old in fact - had died. He taught me English - and much else along the way - at a suburban state grammar school in the 60s, and we had stayed friends ever since. Having gone suddenly blind in middle age, he continued - helped by a small army of readers - to be an extremely effective head of English and a brilliant, imaginative and inspirational classroom teacher. Happily, he took me - a stroppy bright spark at loggerheads with all other teachers - under his wing, presumably spotting potential. The result was that he changed my life, introducing me not only to English literature but to vast swathes of a wider culture of which, being from an unbookish and unintellectual background, I had been only dimly aware. He was fluent and well read in French and Italian, with a good knowledge of classical literature, not to mention music and art (he tried, and failed, to make a Wagnerian of me). He had taught in Switzerland before the Hitler War (as he always called it) and travelled widely in Europe until he was in his 80s. He introduced me to the glories of Venice, starting a lifelong love affair with that city. In later years, he would lull himself to sleep by taking virtual walks around La Serenissima - or by reciting Keats to himself. He had, of course, a vast amount of English poetry by heart, and reams of Shakespeare. In fact I never knew anyone with a deeper textual knowledge of Shakespeare - and his Shakespeare lessons had a lasting impact. To the end of his days, he would regularly be hailed by middle-aged men he didn't know from Adam, who, having got over the shock of finding the old boy still alive, would declare 'I'll never forget your King Lear lessons.' For myself, his greatest legacy was that he embodied the true meaning of education - not something you pick up at school and university and are done with, but a lifelong exploration, as natural as breathing, and ending only with the breath.
There is much more I could say about this remarkable man, but, this being the Thought Experiments blog, I would just pose this: Imagine if there were still state schools in this country that had such teachers in them. If any such still survive in the teaching profession, they will undoubtedly be in the public schools - but in the 50s and 60s teachers of similar range and gifts were, albeit not in great numbers, working in the state system. We grammar school oiks of that generation were indeed very lucky. Teachers of this quality touched many lives - far more than they knew - and the passing of any one of them hugely diminishes the world.

Brown the Unstoppable

Peter Mandelson and Alan Milburn both appeared on TV to back Gordon Brown. They both hate him. What does he have on them or what has he done to them? Meanwhile, the party hacks gave a standing ovation to the most right-wing speech given by any British politician in years. Apart from the lack of jokes, it was more Blair than Blair, full of vaporous 'inishyatives', feelbad stuff about immigrants and crime and feelgood stuff about Britain - barely a word on Iraq or Afghanistan of course.  If Brown had announced that the entire working class was to be rounded up and interned in special camps on the Isle of Wight, the dumb Labour faithful would still have balanced unsteadily on their hind legs to bay their approval. And now, of course, the dumb Tory faithful will vote for him because he seems to be several hundred miles to the right of Cameron and he has Margaret round to tea. He even did his speech in front of a blue wall. Is there no stopping this man?

The Gordon Brown Speech Caption

Monday, September 24, 2007

How Fast Must I Go?

This has come as something of a shock to your blogmeister. I was under the impression that the police with their speed cameras and stuff couldn't detect anything moving faster than 150mph. I had adjusted my driving habits accordingly. But, it seems, they can pick up cars doing 172 mph. I urgently need to know their top limit so that I can exceed it without fear of prosecution.

A Considered Response to the Death of Marcel Marceau

This blog cannot let the death of Marcel Marceau pass in (hehe) silence. In his personal life, he may well have been a blameless man, but I'm afraid that, for his services to the Art of Mime, he must pass eternity in the special circle of Hell reserved for practitioners of that 'art form'. Them's the rules - I don't make them up - he knew what he was doing. Was there ever a more ballsachingly tedious, infantile and annoying 'art form' than Mime? It might be bearable with a bit of audience participation - 'It's a pane of glass! No, a door! A high wind?' or even 'Spit it out man!' or 'What's the matter - cat got your tongue?' But no - no fun allowed - silent, awe-struck admiration is the rule. In honour of the great man, I propose a minute's very loud noise. Dustbin lids at the ready...

Nature Notes - At Last

I fear I have been neglecting my duties as the W.H. Hudson of Thought Experiments - but I haven't seen much of the outside world lately, what with one thing and another (and no I haven't been incarcerated). This is a pity, as it's always been my favourite time of year (at least when the sun's out) - it feels to me like the real turning of the year, the sadness of passing mingled with the tang of promise and new beginnings. (Nearly all the most important things in my life, such as it is, have happened at this time of year - including even the legendary First Meeting of Nige and Bryan, an encounter which lives in song and story, if not in my addled memory - but it was definitely this time of year.)
Anyway, though beautiful, this is a quiet time of year, when the birds (apart from the unstoppable robin) are making very little effort to serenade us. And it may, ominously, be quieter than usual, as this peculiarly unpleasant virus makes inroads. Why can't it target those big bastard scavengers I'm always going on about, instead of the songbirds? Nature, of course - helped on, ironically, by us bird lovers with our feeders and birdbaths. The Silent Spring, if it comes, might turn out to be the work not of evil chemicals companies but blameless friends of the feathered tribe. Yes, ironic.
However, here's a good news story from the world of birds - let's hear if for Miranda! I love the thought of the bells of Christchurch Cathedral ringing a godwit welcome.

The Wicker Man and the Seventies

I finally saw The Wicker Man - the 1973 version. I must have been distracted in the early seventies because I only became aware of this film in recent years when people started saying it was the greatest this or that. Well, it is good, but, as with all Anthony Schaffer plots, it's far too neat and tidy. For the real, bloody, shocking thing, see Michael Reeves' Witchfinder General. Wicker also looked quaint - even Britt Ekland's naked writhing had a naughty, seventies air about it. (Actually - another Effie moment here - it wasn't Britt, it was a body double.) This quaintness suggests to me that the current enthusiasm for the movie is an aspect of the seventies revival which seems to be taking place. Life on Mars explicitly portrayed the seventies as a more authentic, though more brutal, time. And now we have Tarantino making a grindhouse movie. There's also a lot of seventies-esque architecture and design around. And, to seal this argument, one of our leading trendsetters, style gurus and fashion statements - me - will move into a seventies flat later this week. I suspect this is all about nostalgia for a harder-edged, more vividly coloured time, a dangerous time but one which offered clearer identities. In the seventies, it was possible to know exactly who you were.

Ponder Post 13

When does it stop being a 'snap' election?

The Money Shrine Caption

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Prince Albert - The Truth

With the disabused blog community apparently still reeling from my Effie revelation, it is perhaps too early to hit you with another case of The One Thing Everybody Knows about a Famous Person Being Untrue - but here goes. The strange story of pierced Prince Albert and the ring worn in an unusual place is most probably the invention of this man, a character whose biog is one of the most bizarre I ever read...

Being in the Wrong List

I find myself incandescent with rage this morning because of this. My incandescence is not caused by the fact that I am seventeenth in this list but by the fact that I am in the list at all. This list is of media blogs. Media! Good grief! In what way, exactly, is this a media blog? I am in the media, of course. At a stretch, any blogger might claim as much. But I very seldom write about the media. Like the Westminster soap, the subject is just too staggeringly boring. Being in this list makes me sound as though I have become one of those indescribably sad types with curiously deformed hindquarters who have been condemned to spend their declining years analysing circulation figures and DVD promotions. In Japan they'd be called 'window men'. But this does make me wonder in what list this blog could be included. 'Elite' blogs? 'Cultivated' blogs? 'Fantastically Smart' blogs? 'Bored' blogs? 'Angry about Nothing in Particular' blogs? 'Too Clever by Half' blogs? 'Seldom read' blogs? 'Futile' blogs?

The Broken Bulb Wind Chime Caption

Saturday, September 22, 2007

More Tattoos

Readers of my Ponder Post 10: Tattoos? - every day it is still the most hit page on my site  - will know my feelings about 'body art' or 'potent emetic' as I think of it. Judge then of the damage done to my breakfast by this feature in The Guardian. I am consoled, however, by the line about Wayne Rooney's tattoo - 'A simple Celtic cross adorns the upper arm of the temperamental England and Man Utd footballer, accompanied by the name of his fiancee, retail specialist Coleen McLoughlin.' 'Simple', 'adorned' and 'retail specialist' - a lovely sentence, but perhaps I am too easily pleased.

Gray, the Boy David and Thatcher

John Gray has a superb article in the New Statesman about the problems of the boy David. I won't try to summarise. But there is one crucial insight to note. To Margaret Thatcher (and to Hayek), neo-liberalism would inspire a return to bourgeois, 'Victorian' values. In fact, her economic reforms had the reverse effect. They created a freewheeling, individualistic society. It is this that the boneheads on the Tory benches - and, I'm afraid, elsewhere - who dream of a return to 'Thatcherism' fail to grasp. In the treacherous, penny-farthing hells they call their minds, social Thatcherism is what she said it was; in fact it was the opposite. Thatcher was a great prime minister and her reforms have kept Labour in power. Thatcherism, however, is a failed creed.

The Guinness and Alarming Look Caption

Friday, September 21, 2007

More Politics

Here's the latest bizarre twist in Tory policy - it has been decreed that there will be no David Cameron rock at this year's conference. It is not, evidently, fit for purpose. So, if it's not to be rock, what should be the Cameronian Conference Confectionery? Humbugs (green)? Toffo?

Death of the Hedge Funds

One thing will be much better by February  - there will be fewer Lamborghinis in London. They are ugly, unwieldy cars and their drivers have 'tosser' stamped on their foreheads in letters of fire. There will be fewer because, as I was told by an investment manager the other night, the hedge funds are finished. They will carry on but not as remotely fashionable or exciting enterprises. The unravelling of this horrible industry - I include private equity operations -  is rapid and welcome. Welcome because life is always better without these destructive hot money, 'we've beaten the market' schemes and because hedge funders might be forced to do something useful like drive taxis. Perhaps, in the not too distant future, I shall even be able to eat at the Mirabelle again. 

More Politics, Much More

So the boy David is going to be looking for a new job on October 26th. Brown, it seems, is going to anounce his landslide victory on October 25th. I've always favoured February myself, but, I suppose, everything will be much worse by then, so even the famously cowardly Gordo might have to bite the October bullet. This, of course, means a lot of hacks and wonks running around thinking they're in The West Wing, thought it is, of course, The Thick of It.

The Chairs Caption

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Art and Life

I just heard a debate on Woman's Hour about whether art should be condemned on the basis of the artist's life. Here is the background story. Eric Gill seems to be the big problem. Gill, a catholic, sculpted the Stations of the Cross in Westminster Cathedral. But he indulged in paedophilia, bestiality and who nows what else? The first point to make here is that it's the paedophilia that matters. If Gill had merely had sex with animals or indulged in any other gross perversion, I suspect the issue would not have come up. Indeed, in the case of Caravaggio, a murderer, it very seldom comes up. But paedophilia is our age's one great blasphemy and, even beyond the grave, paedophiles must be persecuted.  But the idea of censoring art in response to the crimes - any crimes - of the artist is noxious and absurd. Orwell once asked if we would think any differently about Shakespeare if it was revealed he assaulted little girls on trains. The answer is that our feelings about Shakespeare the playwright should be unaffected. Unfortunately the thought process behind this seems to be too subtle for those people who just love banning things. Of course the art and the life interact, but this does not compromise the autonomy of the art. I have just been reading Emily Dickinson. It is essential to know something about the life if the poems are to be fully understood. But the poems still stand alone to be judged as poetry; it is, after all the poems and only the poems that make us wonder about the life. The whole point about art is that it transcends the artist; that's why and how it works, that's why we can understand great art that is centuries or millennia old. But the contemporary imagination is affronted by anything that transcends the contemporary. It is affronted, in particular, by beauty.

Meanwhile, In Another Universe...

Reassuring news - I think - on the parallel universes front. I've always found this notion - one of the very few in modern science that makes any kind of sense to me - strangely comforting, but that's probably because I don't actually understand it. Seems to me it must dent the old enemy, determinism - but does it? Perhaps someone out there in the blogosphere can throw some light on this...

No Way, Jose

We shall miss Jose Mourinho. Britain needs a gesticulating Johnny Foreigner with an apparently misspelt name and a comical way with the language. His one shortcoming was that he was mysteriously good-looking. This is usually a sign of criminality among foreigners. 
PS I hear on the television news that he had to go because he had 'lost the dressing room'. We face the appalling prospect of the Chelsea players have to change - perhaps even shower - on the pitch. 

The Abandoned Alien Lander Caption

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Blame the Cows

You can always rely on green propagandists and vegetarians for a good laugh. Put them together and - bingo! What's more, Paul McCartney's right behind it - perfect.

Une Grande Journee pour un Grand Fromage

I fear I might be too late with this, but it's a big day in the long, blameless, fulfilled - and so far entirely eventless - life of the maturing cheddar Wedginald, a webstar in a long-standing Warholian masterpiece. Today, his perfect repose will be rudely interrupted when a probe is inserted into him to see how he's coming along. I only hope we haven't missed it.
Ironically, this coincides with international Talk Like a Pirate Day - yes, it's come round again, me hearties. How about an international Misuse the Word 'Ironically' Day?


So now even Ming Crosby, the crooner turned leader of the Libdems, is more popular than the boy David, the school captain of St Cake's Academy for the Clinically Rich turned leader of the Tories. Gordon Brown is, of course, so popular that people routinely lick the ground on which he walks. What will happen to poor David? Ming is so old that his entourage always carry a collapsible coffin. Gordon will obviously flee to any country with which we don't have an extradition treaty. Paraguay is nice and a bit like Scotland. But, if Gordon calls a landslide victory in the near future, David will be out of his job and he still won't be old enough to vote. Looking on the bright side, I do hear he has a fine singing voice and, with a bit of application, might do quite well on The X-Factor. But my advice would be to take on the job of being an Antony Gormley statue. The hours are punishing but at least people like you.

The Cornered Man Caption

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Lost Server 2

Sadly - I don't mean this - the heartbroken, drunken, Northern Rock-depositing server finally took the honourable course of action, tied a southern rock round his neck and flung himself into the Thames just west of Hammersmith. I am now, cyberwonks tell me, on several different servers. This should mean fewer 'outages'. We shall see. Abnormal service will now be resumed.

Er, Look, Over Here, Big War

Okay, time for a little perspective here. Yes, I know about Northern Rock, I know about the McCanns, I am fully aware that Gordo's doing his Macavity act again and I am not ignorant of the fact that Jose seems to be having one of his turns. But has anybody noticed we are on the brink of a gigantic regional conflagration in the Middle East? Now, happy as I would be to see Iran deprived of its nukes, I am not at all happy about the people who would be doing the depriving. Israel does not currently have any serious leadership and the appalling idiot John 'Krusty the Klown' Bolton keeps appearing to tell us how it's got to be. I need CaptainB on this matter. Now.

Watch Them Die

My morbid brother draws this to my attention. Its most disturbing feature is that you can reset all the figures to zero and then wait with breathless anticipation for the first person to die of leprosy. I've been going for four minutes - none so far, but 127 have died of cardiovascular diseases. In the light of the information provided by this machine, it is surprising that, in the same period, there were only seven suicides. Eight minutes - the lepers are still hanging in there and dengue fever has yet to claim its first victim, three dead from war though.

The Yellow Binoculars Caption

The Lost Server

Sorry about that. The server's girlfriend left him and he went on the most horrific bender. He was found naked and chained to a lamp post in Tooting. He's back now but I think it would be kinder to have him put down.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Spurtle News

Here's a breakfast fit for an Appleyard - make a date for next year, Bryan, and don't forget to pack the large spurtle. But if you can't make it to the big one, there are always the invaluable Stoats Porridge Bars, a very present help in times of porridge hunger. Isn't that Cromer in the photo?

Cheap Wives Online

Need an under-age wife? Got some spare cash on your hands? Here's the answer to all your problems. In fact, it's a spoof which the divine Amanda finds disturbing. The spoofer is one John Ordover who seems to be an expert in viral marketing. The target of his satire is, I suppose, primitive religiosity in hick, flyover America. But, out on the coasts, that's the target of everybody's satire, so why bother? Anyway, it's well done and I think Halley N. is worth a proposal if only to find out why her bride price is so high at $99,995. You can have Cheyenne B. for a mere $5,995. Remember when proposing that your name is Cletus and you eat roadkill with grits or something like that.

The Secret of Sven-Thak

Well, there you go. In the course of watching Sven's plucky boys in blue hold the line against Martin O'Neill's dogged Midlanders, I noticed a shot of Thaksin Shinawatra's wife. Her head was covered in a mass of yellow fabric against the rain. A further shot gave me a clearer view and, in a flash, I understood the success of the Sven-Thak partnership. Mrs Thak and Nancy Dell'Olio clearly have everything in common.

The Wheelie Bin Caption

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Tips and Trains

Nige here. Apologies for my absence, in case anyone noticed - I was queuing outside Nothern Rock to open an account. Okay actually I wasn't, but the canny investor could probably do a lot worse - rates will go higher and higher, the company can't go under because the government can't afford to let it, and it will be bought up by Johnny Foreigner (who has a better grasp of money matters than we do in the Age of Gordon), which could mean bonuses all round for the half dozen account holders left standing. I'd also recommend buying NR shares - come on bloggers, fill your boots!
Meanwhile, predictable news on the double-decker train front. This was always one of those eminently sensible ideas that was never going to work over here. Whenever I travel on one, I think What a good idea, why don't they introduce these back in Britain? Then I begin to picture the scenes of chaos and carnage that would ensue on our uncivil, yob-dominated, low-security trains - two levels! with stairs!! - and realise just why. Anyway, it seems we're too big and fat - we'd get wedged on the stairs, sweating profusely. (But have we really grown an inch and a half in height since the 70s? Surely not...)

Madonna's Tongue

Forgive me, this is an experimental post. Ponder Post 10: Tattoos? has been my most hit page - by a wide margin - every day since September 6th. The referrer seems to be Google Images. This may be because I linked to GI instead of a just a web page. So I'm trying it again. I came up with the phrase 'Madonna's tongue' because 'Brad Pitt's elbow' yielded little of interest. This, of course, appeared. Let's see if I have another hit machine on my hands.

Ponder Post 12: Why Do the Tories Let Him Get Away With It?

It used to be said that there was only one way to beat Bobby Fischer - don't play him at chess. Once Steve Hilton, David Cameron's 'Director of Strategy', has been sacked, this wisdom should be tattooed on the forearm of every Tory party worker (they're very unattractive anyway, so the tattoos will make little difference). Gordon Brown is, in terms of pure politics, playing a blinder. Parading with Thatcher was his latest coup, a brilliant subversion of Cameron. The Tory response was to wheel out some goon called Rob Wilson who said it was all because Thatcher was frail and didn't really have a clue what was going on. In textbooks of political philosophy this is known as 'the complete flaming idiocy manoeuvre'. (Incidentally, the Cameron Rwandan jaunt in July is known as 'the you really should seek help' defence.) No, the way not to play Brown at chess is to play him on his record. His casino economy is responsible for our vulnerability to the current banking crisis - note that the only outing the wretched Alistair Darling is allowed is to cover up this mess - and there are countless other examples of his managerial incompetence. But, somehow, he always succeeds in evading these issues and, bewilderingly, the Tories always let him. Why?

Rowan the Resonant

My new pal, the Archbishop of Canterbury, gave an interview to the Telegraph. I draw your attention to this for two reasons. First, it has one of the flattest opening paragraphs I've ever read in a newspaper. Secondly, Williams, after four rather hesitant years in the job, has plainly decided to harden his public posture. I sympathise with the hesitancy - short of setting fire to it, it's hard to see how anybody could make the Church of England into a coherent entity. But his new, tougher position is better. He is, in fact, very bold - questioning our obsession with paedophilia, attacking ethnic cultural fragmentation, the X-Factor and even pushy, middle class parents. He has seen, I suspect, that there is more, not less, for the Church to say in a complacently secular society. I think it's time my other pal CaptainB stopped calling him the Beardy Weirdy.

The Story of My Life Caption

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Northern Rock

Just to say: only John Gapper in the FT gets this right. 

The Inappropriate Wallpaper Caption

The Peregrine

Years ago John Gray recommended The Peregrine by J.A.Baker, 'probably the only example,' he said, 'of shamanism in English literature.' Finally, I am reading it.  It is astounding. There is only one human character - Baker -and he spends the entire book following a pair of peregrines across a vast area of Essex farmland and coastline. This gives you the gist. What becomes clear is that Baker despises humans and loves these birds. Indeed, he wants to become a peregrine to the point where he sees himself and the birds as 'we' and humans as 'they' - 'We shun men. We hate their suddenly uplifted arms, the insanity of their flailing gestures, their erratic scissoring gait, their aimless stumbling ways, the tombstone whiteness of their faces.' Humans, he thinks, are too comfortable - 'Man might be more tolerable, less fractious and smug, if he had more to fear.' Baker was born in 1926, The Peregrine came out in 1968 and The Hill of Summer the following year. He is thought to have been a librarian, but the date of his death is unknown. This is said to be a mystery, but now I know it isn't. One night he became a tiercel peregrine and simply flew away.

Sock Solution Sensation

Nige and I frequently discuss socks, at length and in depth. It is a painful matter, littered with harrowing anecdotes. There were the socks I bought from T.M.Lewin, a nasty shop in Jermyn Street, which fell apart after the first wash and there was the near perfect pair from Issey Miyake, one of which immediately lost itself. Basically, we concluded, socks are never quite right; like academia, they are one of life's great disappointments. But, I can now announce to Nige and the world, the sock problem is solved. I have discovered the Muji 90 degree sock (they don't all have silly stripes, mine are black and grey). Based on the pioneering work of Czechoslovakian grandmothers, these beauties are constructed with an exact right angle. Why nobody previously thought of doing this I cannot imagine since, having studied my legs and feet closely, I have observed that they meet at an angle pretty close to 90 degrees. They slide on like a dream, they stay exactly in place and, so far, they have not lost themselves. At last I can clear my mind of the sock problem and turn my attention to world peace.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Caravan Caption

Ponder Post 11: Gushing

And, while I am in irritating women mode - gushing, what's that all about? I've been gushed at a lot in recent weeks. Let me say at once this is not because I am especially gushworthy, it just seems to be the way some women talk to men and, I assume, to each other. I've checked with other men and they all get it pretty frequently, so what follows is emphatically not vanity. Women I vaguely know or don't know at all come up to me and start pouring gush over me, my writing, my family, my flat, my life, my appearance, my wisdom, my wit, my charm, my cat... But, obviously, I don't have a cat. That's the point, all the gushing is either wrong or patently insincere. One woman recently gushed at length about some of the things I'd said in an ST article. Unfortunately, I'd said none of them. The falsity destroys the point of the gush. Regular gushees will know there is no point anyway since hardened gushers gush the same stuff at every man in the room. I am now seriously considering taking a small volume of verse with me everywhere. I shall whip it out and start reading intently the moment the gush starts. There are men gushers, but very, very few. So: why do women gush?

Amanda Among the Paedophiles

Further to my post mentioning Britney's bad vid, - now withdrawn from YouTube sadly - you might like to read Amanda's thoughts on the matter. Particularly amusing are the ensuing comments about paedophiles. They say Britney's fuller figure offends men with paedophile tendencies who preferred young, fresh Brit. I'm not sure how young a girl has to appear to qualify as paedophile fodder, but I'm pretty sure Britney prancing around in a school uniform was not a sexually neutral gesture. Amanda and her friends, if they really were the hard-line feminists they claim to be, would be directing their venom against the media's toying with paedophile fantasies, not against leering male predators. But I don't want to fall into the trap of taking Amanda Marcotte seriously. She is such a joy.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

GreenDave's New Release

Dave 'I can't believe it's not Tony' Cameron and the boys unveil their Quality of Life proposals today, including, predictably, new green taxes. Don't they get it? As I am always pointing out, the electorate's Green concerns amount to no more than a feelgood pseudo-religion, offering mild consolation through exhortation and the performance of various easy, low-cost rituals - the drive to the bottle bank, a 'low energy' light bulb or two. As soon as it starts hitting the cost and availability of holiday flights, or the price of keeping a car on the road, Johnny Voter will tell the well intentioned crusaders against climate change exactly where they get off. The thing is that almost nobody actually believes this stuff - not to the extent that they let it impinge on what they habitually do. It's rather like the many parents I've known who profess total opposition to selective education and yet move heaven and earth to get their children into the best selective schools. Ironically, I - a climate change sceptic (as alert blog-followers might have spotted) - have a minute 'carbon footprint' compared to many fervent believers. (I don't drive and haven't flown in two years, etc.) My question to them is - if you believe in this stuff, why don't you, in any significant way, act on your beliefs? (and don't bring up carbon offset or carbon trading - these are highly dubious propositions and the believers know it, or should do).


Small mystery of the modern world - What is this word Logistics that crops up everywhere, especially on the sides of lorries and vans? I know what Solutions means (i.e. absolutely nothing) - but Logistics? Maybe it means deliveries or removals... Anyway, I just saw the entertaining spectacle of a very long lorry, with Logistics written all along it, that had managed to get completely stuck on a tight corner, unable to move backward or forward, creating an impressive traffic tailback. How logistical was that?

For Jerry Fodor

I tell myself I stopped reading philosophy because I'd been there and done that. This isn't true. I'm just too busy which is, of course, just another word for idle. But in my (imminent) old age I intend to get to grips with Jerry Fodor. I've linked to one of his articles before. It's a gem - witty, charming and profound. I thought of this because I am reading a book which quotes Fodor saying perhaps there are things we can't explain about ourselves - "Perhaps we're just that kind of creature.' He says the same thing in the linked article - 'Why not just say some things are true about the world because that's the kind of world it is; there's nothing more to make of it. That sounds defeatist perhaps but it really isn't since, quite plausibly, it's the sort of thing that we'll have to say sooner or later...' He also says, 'To be sure, we can't prove that we are conscious; but that is hardly surprising since there is no more secure premise from which such a proof could proceed.' That last point is one I have been trying to get into the heads of various bone-headed scientists for fifteen years now - entirely without success. But the deep point - and it is partially concealed by Fodor's Mozartian lightness of touch - is that the explanatory power of science may be logically limited. Of course, the essential metaphysic of science says that this is impossible, that we have the power to think, as it were, superhumanly and to see all things from beyond our own narrow perspective. This is not being rude to science. It simply can't be done without this highly effective metaphysical assumption. (This is, incidentally, the right context in which to read Hawking's famous line about knowing the mind of God - he meant we should know as a god might.) Anyway, all I wanted to say was check out Fodor, as I intend to when I stop being so idle. Just on the basis of what little I've read, I can assure you he's a good thing, a very good thing.

The Aniseed Twist Caption

Not Quite the Worst Football Team in the World

Okay, okay, so the worst football team in the world is showing signs of life. There are two good reasons for this, both unnoticed by the football commentariat. The first is that Micah Richards plays for Manchester City and Sean Wright-Phillips used to play for Manchester City. The second is that Wayne Rooney and Frank Lampard weren't playing in either of the last two games. Neither, when playing for England, is any good; Rooney gives up on games if he doesn't feel they are going well after five minutes and Lampard spends his time fretting about the dismal sales of his book. Their attitudes drag the whole team down. Drop them for good, McLaren, I'll tell them if you're scared.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Just Say No

Here's a terrible warning about the perils of facial hair - or a good laugh, depending on how you look at it. Note the Full Beard Freestyle winner, with his re-creation of Tower Bridge. And what's Otto Schmid up to in the Imperial category? He's just drawn that moustache on - that can't be right.

The Dead Parrot Post

A sad tale from the world of science - alas, poor Alex... Or is it sad? Isn't there something more than a little worrying about a parrot with such gifts? Who knows what Alex and his kind might be capable of? Or what they make of us? Though Alex seems to have been an amiable cove...

Ethiopia to the Rescue

As Ethiopia, having very sensibly stuck to the old calendar, celebrates the Millennium - Happy New Millennium, guys! - a solution to the Olympics conundrum becomes appparent. London can pass the 2012 Games on to Ethiopia - this will look good, and the Ethiops will have till 2020 to get ready. Sorted.

The Summer in England Caption 2

On Not Going Metric

The survival of the pound and the pint is a curious outcome. Metrication was an issue that seemed deliberately designed to inflame British europhobia. Feelings were inflamed still further when the grocer Steve Thorburn went to trial for using imperial weights and then, in an inspired move, died, thus justifying the satisfyingly memorable term Metric Martyr, though there is no evidence his heart attack was actually caused by a kilogram. Since we now seem to have a man - Gunter Verheugen - whose job is to improve the EU's reputation among its members,  it was inevitable Brussels would back down and let us carry on with our quaint ways. I found it hard to care about this until I came across something called the UK Metric Association. These clowns describe themselves as 'campaigning for a single rational system of measurement'. It's the word 'campaigning' that gets me. There are people who think the metric system is worth a 'campaign' - all Steve Thorburn was campaigning for was freedom. The words 'get', 'a' and 'life' spring to mind. At a stroke the UKMA's web site, particularly it's superlatively dumb 'About' page,  has converted me. Aux armes, citoyens! Britain will not find peace until the last kilogram is drowned in the blood of the last metre!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Good News

The nation seems to be coming to its senses at last about the London Olympics. Meanwhile, last night's Dispatches (Channel 4) raised some uncomfortable questions about 'Seb' Coe's finances and the total meaninglessness of the original budget figure. It's not too late to hand the whole thing back to Paris. Or give Beijing a second go.

Tattoos 2: The Horror, the Horror

My insanely successful Ponder Post 10: Tattoos? has inspired me to find this marvellous site. It's called Bad Tattoos, but it's just tattoos to me. I find myself particularly drawn to this horror, one of Beckham's or Angelina's I imagine. 

Dissection, Decay and DNA

Here's a somewhat mind-boggling press release, which I pass on for what it's worth. Actually, I think they're on to something - certainly the public obsession with 'dissection, decay and DNA' (cf McCannorama). Forensic dramas on TV have reached all but unwatchable levels of gruesomeness - and this doesn't seem to be a problem with anyone (else). In the case of British dramas, there is of course none of the leavening of wit and warmth (and vastly superior scripting) that makes similar US shows watchable. At the same time, as is pointed out below, the real death of real people remains taboo. Is the forensic fascination just another way of dealing with the fear of death, in the absence of religious consolation?

University of Bath Press Office
Tuesday 11 September 2007
Celebrity corpses are taking centre stage, says academic
The corpses of James Brown, Anna Nicole Smith and Saddam Hussein were voyeuristic spectacles for a public greedy for a last look at celebrity lives, according to an academic speaking at the Death, dying & disposal conference organised by the University of Bath today (Friday 14 September).
Despite a lasting taboo over the 'everyday' dead of war and disaster, celebrity corpses have come to feed contemporary popular culture’s obsession with the cadaver of forensic investigation.
In 2006, this included:
The dead body of Anna Nicole Smith, Playboy model and reality TV star, which required 24 hour protection from the media in a Floridacoroner's freezer,and whose lurid sexualization constitutes 'corpse porn.'
The open casket of James Brown, godfather of soul, which 'performed' in a funeral stage show.
The execution of Saddam Hussein which was broadcast via YouTube within hours of his death.
Continued interest in the death of Princess Diana and photographs of her dead body.
A television documentary which claimed to feature the bones of Jesus, one of the first 'celebrity' corpses.
'Forensic investigation came to the fore in each of these prominent cases,' said Professor Jacque Lynn Foltyn from the National University, California (USA)
'Forensic science was used as an entertainment commodity as well as for legitimate reasons of establishing personal identity, paternity or maternity.
'It also fed popular culture's obsession with dissection, decay and DNA.
'These seemingly separate media events created a series of overlapping, sometimes preposterous, narratives about the disfigured, dissected and displayed remains of the famous, legendary and possibly divine.
'The celebrity corpse is a voyeuristic spectacle in the infotainment era.
'But whilst the public are greedy for a last look at celebrity corpses, there remains a taboo over the everyday human dead of war and disaster.
'Efforts to prevent the coffins of troops returning from Iraq being seen on television mean that we are more likely to see celebrity corpses than the caskets of dead soldiers.' 
The eighth international conference on Death, dying & disposal is organised by the Centre for Death & Society and ICIA at the Universityof Bathand takes place from 12-15 September 2007. More than 200 academics and practitioners from around the world will gather to discuss the latest research on issues relating to the social aspects of death and dying.

The Elastic Band Ball Caption

Overcome with indecision about what to do with my elastic band ball, I have taken to making moody portraits. It's a very good sitter once it stops bouncing. And, you will note, the postman has recently stopped using red bands.

The McCanns 2

I've watched the lunchtime McCann, the six o'clock McCann, Channel 4 McCann, the ten o'clock McCann, McCannnight, More4 McCann, Sky McCann, Fox McCann, Cable McCann Network and I'm considering giving Al-McCann a try, but, like everybody else, I still don't have a clue. In my last post I wondered if they'd been framed. Now I'm veering towards the alien abduction hypothesis. The McCanns being made suspects is, of course, the twist that had to happen. It gave the story what football commentators call 'fresh legs'. Now there seems no reason why it should ever end. I will, however, struggle to find other things to write about for The Sunday McCann.


I'm always intrigued when film projects go badly wrong. So much money and talent is involved in any big movie that one would expect gross error to be eliminated. The gross error in Joe Wright's film of Ian McEwan's novel Atonement is that it has the wrong director. Whatever else it is, Atonement is a great story but Wright is not interested in stories, he's interested in images and spectacle. The most egregious example is when our hero struggles up a sand-dune at Dunkirk - and how many time have you see this shot before? - suddenly sees thousands of men on the beaches. Then follows a tracking shot lasting several minutes and costing, I would guess, hundreds of thousands if not millions, showing what's going on among the soldiers. It's derivative, juvenile and nothing to do with Atonement. Think what Almodovar would have made of this moment. Maybe this doesn't matter. The film has received some good reviews. Sukhdev Sandhu in the Telegraph is ecstatic. But then the other intriguing thing about the film industry is the warped minds of film critics. Incidentally, all the stuff about the acting - especially Keira Knightley's - is nonsense. The only acting in the film happens in the last five minutes when Vanessa Redgrave appears and, in a sudden attack of good sense, Wright just points the camera at her. For the first time the story mattered.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Alien Abduction Caption

Amy, Britney, Pat, Dave and Crazy John

The McLaughlin Group (CNBC) is the only political discussion show I can bear to watch on television. This is, I admit, partly because of the crazy voice and mannerisms of John McLaughlin, but, primarily, it's because there's nothing like it on British television. When it comes to politics, we don't do pungent, articulate intelligence, we do Question Time. That said, I'm worried about John. Last night he said he'd been to England - they never call it Britain - and seen some poll or other that said Amy Winehouse was becoming more popular and the Royals less. These trends, he concluded, were linked; our affection for the tattooed lady was, somehow, a rebuke to the Royals. It's strange what people see when they come over here.  A more accurate insight into our way of life is provided by Dave Barry, but I'm not sure he'd be able to take on Pat Buchanan on TMG.
PS And, speaking of wrecked female pop stars with tattoos, here is one of the great, weird performances of our time. She looks like some freak who's just wandered on stage by accident.

The Quiz House

The house is in Bedford Park, Chiswick, it is where W.B.Yeats first met Maud Gonne in January 1889.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Pedro Almodovar

The Sunday Times link to my interview with Pedro Almodovar doesn't work so I've put the article directly on to my site.

The House Caption and Quiz

The troubling of whose life began in the house on the right? Nige, who knows everything, cannot participate.

Mugabe to Roth

It looks as if Zimbabwe is heading for the famine stage of its destruction by Robert Mugabe. This tragedy seems to confirm, all too bleakly, one's suspicions about the Dark Continent's inbuilt death wish - but doesn't it also make you wonder if much of the world (not only Africa) wasn't better off in the age of empires? I'm no historian, but haven't empires generally been pretty successful at maintaining peace and stability - the prerequisites for pretty much everything else. The Roman Empire under the Antonines, of course - and also, surely, the next great imperial heyday at the turn of the 20th century. It was peace at the expense of justice, perhaps - but which is ultimately more important or useful? In our age, we tend to favour justice over all. But peace is a prerequisite of justice too, isn't it?
This nostalgia for empire isn't a rightist phenomenon. Leaving aside the fact that British imperialism was very much a project of the enlighted, idealistic Left, there's also (for example) the eloquent and moving imperial nostalgia of the great writer Joseph Roth, very much a man of the Left, who had good reason to love and celebrate the Austro-Hungarian Empire under which he grew up. God knows the collapse of that empire - followed by the Soviet empire - caused enough grief. Anyone who hasn't read The Radetzky March really should.


Here's an idea for something to do of a Sunday afternoon. Looks like fun...

On the other hand...

the dogs are clearly up to something.

Meerkats - A False Alarm

This blog is ever alert to the threat pose to human civilisation by our feathered and furry friends. Reports earlier in the week that meerkats had learnt to take photographs and were on the verge of rendering mere human photographers redundant (they'll work for peanuts) have, happily, proved unfounded. Annie Liebovitz can sleep sound.

Fag Money For Mothers-to-Be. Capital.

Aiee - it has come to pass - Sunday morning and Bryan has not posted. Over to me then, I guess....

I see Gordon is going to give £200 of our money to mothers-to-be to get them to eat better. Sigh - here we go again. Okay, by Gordie's standards, £200 is not a lot of our money to be throwing away - and there's something to be said for encouraging breeding, even on this overcrowded island - but this, surely, is yet another example of that mix of nannyish hectoring and total ineffectiveness that has characterised this wretched government throughout its term. Will it make one iota of difference (for the better)? Of course not - apart from anything else, money is not the issue. People don't eat junk food because they can't afford proper food - which is actually cheaper. They eat junk food because (a) they like it, and (b) they don't give a stuff - in a welfare state, they've no reason to. These are both perfectly sensible positions, and no amount of simplistic state-inspired propaganda is likely to shift them. So that'll be another £200 to spend on fags, booze and junk food - thanks, Gordo. And by the way, the woman in the picture doesn't seem to have got the hang of it at all - you can't feed your baby directly from outside. You have to eat the stuff first.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Read Me on Almodovar or Matt Damon Gets It

I may not be in posting mode tomorrow morning so I must instruct you in advance to read my interview with Pedro Almodovar in The Sunday Times otherwise Matt Damon gets shot at Waterloo Station. My friends who operate Echelon will be checking on your browsing activity. (I can't help feeling they may have something to do with current developments in Portugal.) Almodovar is a name I still have trouble mastering. It reminds me of the great Benny Hill. He once said he knew how to spell Antonioni, he just didn't know when to stop.

Words and Wordmen

I vaguely heard some talk about favourite words on the radio earlier - it's a subject that keeps coming back. In one recent poll the popular favourite was Serendipity - good news(if too late) for Horace Walpole, who invented it. I love the title page of this site. There's a wordman if ever I saw one. Scanning the As, I see Asphodel's not taken - one of my favourites, tho I've never had occasion to use it. Someone once said that, if it wasn't for what it meant, Paraffin would be the most beautiful word in English. James Joyce, it seems, preferred Cuspidor. It's true, isn't it, that there are some words that do make you feel good - they just seem so right and solid and euphonious and that embody perfectly what they mean. A lot of practical, rather than pretty, words have this quality, I think. At which point my mind goes blank...

Proof of Pavarotti's Worldwide Reach

Among the many Pavarotti tributes, it was easy to miss this touching gesture by a fan somewhere in Afghanistan, who has dyed his beard in tribute to the big man. This latest video release is, however, in other respects disappointing.

The Childhood Superstition of Secularism

I find myself mildly libelled by Terry Sanderson of the National Secular Society. 'Not half as dishonest,' says Sanderson of John Humphrys' remark that the claim of militant atheists that believers know what they say is not true is dishonest, 'as the way Humphrys (or more likely Appleyard) is portraying it.' This is a professional slur implying I lied in my reporting of Humphry's words. Well, I didn't, I didn't even indicate sympathy. Sanderson also says - not libellously - that I am a 'notoriously superstition-driven journo'. Really? I am interested in superstitions, not least scientism, secularism and what Karl Popper called 'promissory materialism'. Indeed, I respect such superstitions. I am not subject to them myself, though, doubtless, I am afflicted by others. Sanderson says 'the establishment intelligentsia... have never been able to shake of their childhood indoctrination'. One wonders at the idea that belief/ superstition is an establishment attribute. One wonders further at the idea that there is some secular elite uniquely capable of shaking off childhood indoctrination. But then secular humanism was always an elitist faith, defined, primarily, by its dislike of humans.

The Elastic Band Ball Problem

As I am soon to move flat, I have a troubling problem - do I take my elastic band ball or not? It is about the size of a tennis ball. EBB afficianados will know that this means it uses a lot of rubber bands as they used to be called. They were all acquired from the complex packages I continually receive in the post. Bands thus acquired have a certain poignancy - some  people are so moved by this sub-species that they photograph them obsessively. In fact, rubber bands of all kinds have a strange power. The late Sir James Goldsmith was said to have a rubber band phobia. When he sued Private Eye, Richard Ingrams, the then editor, dropped bands all around the law courts. None of which helps me with my EBB problem. I may auction it or give it as a prize in a caption contest.
PS I did not cheat by using tin foil.
PPS Good grief, I am not alone.
PPPS There is an entire sub-culture.

Giant Birds 4: The Divers

Further evidence of the giantism in British birds that Nige and I have so brilliantly observed and analysed. When will the mainstream media wake up to this disturbing phenomenon?

The Fat Boat with Balls Caption

Friday, September 07, 2007

The McCanns

The publicity machines always backfires. The BBC news was treating their publicity-seeking with barely disguised scorn this evening. Have they been framed? Non-libellous speculation invited.

The Writing On The Wall

Well, here are some words - words of imperishable wisdom to boot: 'I wish all our wishes come true.' Got that? I took these words down verbatim from a marble plaque on a wall behind Gordon Brown, as seen on TV last night. The wall was the wall of a 'state of the art' (i.e. new) school building over which Oour Gordie was enthusing. Nice bit of marble it was too, and properly incised lettering, no expense spared. It was surrounded by similar plaques, all bearing similar vapid 'wishes', presumably the work of pupils (the words, that is, not the skilled stuff like letter-cutting). Literacy and numeracy may be at pre-1870 levels (or lower), but we have the finest schools in the world, thanks to 10 years of Labour government and masive expenditure of taxpayers' money. Stands to reason - at least it does to Gordy, who automatically equates big spending (sorry, 'investment') and new buildings with things getting better. In fact, when it comes to schools, it's probaly more true that the shabbier the buildings the higher the educational standards (certainly applies to my old school). Can anything that could truly be called education be taking place in a building festooned with such fatuous mini-mission statements? What's wrong with 'Abandon hope all ye who enter here'?

The Small Dogs in Football Shirts with 2p Coins Caption

It's Friday and I am tired of words. Pictures it will have to be.

China's Latest Sinister Export

The British Museum's forthcoming exhibition of figures from the Terracotta Army is set to break all blockbuster records - even Tutankhamun. Why? I cannot for the life of me see the attraction. These figures are remarkably naturalistic and no doubt represent an impressive technical feat- but they equally represent the extreme brutal megalomania of the First Emperor (Qin Shi Huangdi), the monster who created them. They are the products of terror rather than art - and surely the whole point of them is to see them en masse, rather than to gawp close-up at a few isolated specimens. What will they return us but a blank stare and a feeling of unease? Tutankhamun mania was understandable - the boy pharaoh's grave goods were beautiful as well as amazing. There is no beauty in these footsoldiers of a paranoiac's fantasy army.
However, they do have prankster appeal - let's hope someone does a Pablo Wendel.

The Falling Rocks Caption

This is an attempt to test Ian Russell to the limit.


I have tried and, so far, failed to find the interview I did with Pavarotti many years ago. It's perhaps as well, I don't think it was very good. His voice always gave me the impression of immense space and distance, an effect which, being musically illiterate, I cannot explain. Everybody else sounds as though they are singing, he sounds as though he is doing something quite different and better. He was, when we met, paralysingly self-conscious about his weight. He wrapped a huge silk shawl around himself when seated. The photographer, however, was determined to get the full physical scale of the man. So, outside in the garden, the two of them executed a curious dance as Pavarotti tried to hide behind the trees. It was this photographer who in a room at the Berkeley Hotel tried to talk Kirk Douglas into posing naked. Stifling laughter, I had to leave. Anyway, just to say I don't think I gave Pavarotti the interview he deserved. But I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now.
PS In fact, thinking about it, this is the best tribute to the man. It says everything there is to say about art.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

The Nelson Caption

A Good Thing?

Fred Thompson has joined the race for the White House. Is this a good thing? I only ask because I have a vague memory of the excellent Captain B speaking well of him. Plus of course I've watched too many episodes of Law & Order not to love the man.

Steve Fossett, Addict

So, the ludicrous Steve Fossett is still missing. So what? Why is it that people like this are presented - and even perceived - as heroes. Okay, they push themselves to their limits in various ways - so? They achieve no actual good, but are merely trying to prove something to themselves, and get a mighty blast of adrenalie, endorphins and adulation into the bargain. They are invariably complete egotists (thinking nothing of the spouses and families most of them seem to have acquired), entirely lacking in imagination and often driven by deep feelings of inadequacy. Risking their lives in pursuit of solitary and pointless self-gratification, are they are really any more 'heroic' than drug addicts?

Ponder Post 10: Tattoos?

So Angelina Jolie has some exciting new tattoos. The one across her upper back reads 'Know Your Rights'. Brad, I hear, plans to have one in the same place reading 'Know Your Obligations'. Angelina is not my type, but, even if she were, the moment she had her first tattoo she would have sunk beneath my radar. I find tattoos hideous, indeed, vomitous, but, now, everybody seems to have them. If I were still, as they say, 'out there', my social life would be massively circumscribed. 
'Oh you have a tattoo. I'll let myself out. Have a nice life and I hope it doesn't turn all hideous and blotchy when you get older. But nothing you can do about that is there? Still, chin up. Oh no, there's one there too.  Taxi!'
David Beckham's tattoos make him look like a lunatic who should be carrying a sandwich board down Oxford Street and Amy Winehouse's like a visually illiterate child's transfer collection - though I acknowledge that is the least of her problems. But for me, to be honest, even the slightest hint of a tattoo turns the whole person into an untouchable. And then there's the growing old problem. Tattoos age worse than Britney Spears - and, yep, she's got them too - and start to look like a serious, infectious disease at some point in the thirties. So the ponder is: tattoos, why?