Sunday, 28 February 2010

Mrs Wolfe's Sovereign Remedy

Given recent questions about the efficacy of homeopathic treatments, I thought this might be of interest. And of course the Winter Olympics are being, oh so interestingly (OK, I admit late-night curling is hypnotic), played out in Canada, which gives this added topicality. Bonus historical note: Captain Vancouver, founder of Vancouver, is buried in the graveyard of St Peter's Church, Petersham, in Surrey.

The USA is the Root of All Evil (as usual)

A clipping from The Guardian, May 25, 1957, which I came across among my mother's papers. Plus ca change, eh?

I Am Not A Robot by Marina & the Diamonds

My son took me to see her at Bush Hall last week. A star.

And here is my 250 word review. You can tell I'm smitten, can't you?

Marina & the Diamonds
Bush Hall, 23 February 2010

It is unlikely that Marina & the Diamonds will play a venue better suited to her particular qualities. The chandeliers of Bush Hall are put to shame by the twinkle of Marina’s frock and the swinging across the octaves of her baroque vocals. At the same time there is a quaint conservatism to the music. The rhythm section is diamond hard, with a young Simon Cowell lookalike beaming on bass (high up in the mix), and a drummer gurning and grinning his way through the 45 minute set. The keyboards swish opulent upon this no-nonsense ground, and Marina does whatever she likes on top of it all. Her vocal lines swoop and play, as her arms describe delightful shapes around her. Marina is, beyond all other things – singer or writer – a performer. In the rather wonderful (and Sparks-like) ‘Oh No’ all her dramatic proclivities are displayed. ‘Numb’, which she sings alone at the keyboard, demonstrates how wholly she can hold an audience. At the end of the song she sneezes twice. The poor girl has a frightful cold. How the hell, then, does she get all those notes out? She’s a trooper, that’s how. Marina & the Diamonds give us the intimacy of cabaret, the good humour of music hall and the thump of rock and roll. Above all she gives us a bona fide star of the future - a Shakira, a Catherine Zeta? Actually, her name’s Marina.

Friday, 26 February 2010

The Islamic Position on Homosexuality

"They said “what is the Islamic position [on homosexuality]?” And I told them. Put my name in the paper. The punishment is death."

- Abdullah Hakim Quick

Mr Quick is described as "a moderate Muslim". If that is indeed the case it is surely even more worrying than if he were an Islamofascist.

Mr Quick is currently lecturing in British universities, on muslims and the environment. What price David Irving on climate change?

Wales 20 France 26

Can we please stop doing this? Giving the opposition a 20 point start and then seeing if we can catch up in the second half. We should have beaten England and we should have beaten France - they were a shambles by the end. Mind you, so were we... But really, Shane Williams. 'Leg', as the young people say nowadays (it is pronounced 'ledge').

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Robert B. Parker, 1932-2010

My father, much to his puritanical disgust, but to the delight of his wife and son, used to receive regular unsolicited boxes of new books from Penguin. Mum and I would fall upon these as gifts from the gods. How good the smell, the feel. How crisp. How booky. In truth they usually tended to be a little disappointing (too many Pelicans perhaps) but on one occasion there was a sizeable number of green-backed crime novels. Three of these were by Robert B. Parker, the first three novels of his Spenser series, The Godwulf Manuscript (1973), God Save the Child (1974), and Mortal Stakes (1975). I don’t remember if I started there and then, but once I started reading, I read them all at once. And I have been reading Robert B. Parker ever since. And now the damn fool man has died.
Spenser was wisecracking but not really hard-boiled. Which is to say that there was never any sense of his being alienated in any way from the society in which he moved and lived. He was not Philip Marlowe. He had, after all, two terrific sidekicks: his friend Hawk, smooth, a killer, utterly loyal, ethically questionable, and Susan Silverman, smart, sexy, Jewish, to whom he was all but married. She it was who provided a kind of chorus. Through her we knew how good a man Spenser was. Spenser with an S oaf course, like Edmund Spenser, the Elizabethan poet and author of the chivalric epic, The Fairy Queen. Spenser is, in short, a knight, and never less than thoroughly chivalrous.
I used to save up my Spenser fix for aeroplanes or lonely hotel stays. I knew I would be in the best of hands. There was something in the warmth of this character, in the friendships that he had, which was utterly reassuring. He was also very good company.
So thank you very much, RBP. You made my life richer. RIP. Enjoy those heavenly doughnuts.

New York Times Obituary here.


The Pregnant Widow by Martin Amis

There is always, reading Martin Amis, the feeling that the author is trying hard to be Significant. It is this trying hard which cripples his novels. So, in The Pregnant Widow (the title itself is an indicator that this is to be a novel of ideas, especially given the surreptitious, even coy, subtitle, ‘Inside History’) he takes a story of a young man, Keith (Amis’s third Keith, I believe) and three girls (a sexless beauty, a plain brain and a religious sexual deviant) on holiday in Italy in 1970, and makes of it the entire history of the sexual revolution. There are plenty of other girls in the book, having sexual relations of one kind or another, and with the exception of the hero’s sister, they are all, including the girls on holiday, “aware of a kind of wave”. They bend, in other words, to the author’s will. That’s not what he means, of course. He means they are “inside history”
This is fine, except that it robs them of character. Perhaps Amis is indeed writing a modern morality play, in which the persons of the drama are simply representatives of abstract vices and virtues. Anyone who has read a morality play knows how deadly dull they are on the page. How they need to be enlivened by flesh and blood.
The Pregnant Widow is full of erudition and cleverness and little bits of history and the ravages of age: “Fifty’s nothing… Me, I’m as old as NATO. And it all works out. Your hams get skinnier – but that’s all right because your gut gets fatter. Your eyes get hotter – but that’s all right because your hands get colder (and you can soothe them with your frozen fingertips). Shrill or sudden noises are getting painfully sharper – but that’s all right, because you’re getting deafer. The hair on your head gets thinner – but that’s all right, because the hair in your nose and in your ears gets thicker. It all works out in the end.” As a riff on one of the ages of man, this is exemplary, but it is also a cruel reminder that this book, purporting to be about history, is actually an ageing man’s memory of a golden summer (it is spent in a castle in Calabria, and the hero, when not either fantasizing or having sex with one of these beautiful bewitching women is reading the whole of English literature, from Fielding to D.H. Lawrence – not that frightful then).
The thing is curiously misshapen, too. Keith’s desire to have carnal knowledge of the beauty dominate the first half of the book, and then she disappears, as does the narrative drive (Will he? Won’t he? Will she? Won’t she?) For the second half, in place of the beauty, the deviant is his concern. Following the holiday we are offered a long series of postscripts, a coda, which take us swiftly (1970-1974, 1975, 1976, 1977 - blimey, we’re thinking, he’s not going to do a chapter on every year up to 2009 is he? – 1978, 1979, 1980, 1982 (ah!), 1994 (phew!), 2003, 2009. Perhaps this acceleration of time is supposed to indicate how quickly the years pass as we grow older. It doesn’t matter though, because it all feels tacked on. The brainy girl and the beauty have more or less vanished. In the end even the deviant disappears, significantly, don’t you think, given her religious passions, to Salt Lake City.
Amis is so obviously talented a writer and so evidently a clever man, but why does he have to keep reminding us all the time? The book should be half the length, the author should butt out and the sexual revolution should be allowed to take place on its own. The cast iron law: show, don’t tell. Wonderful writer, lousy novelist.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010


I fancy the lily-whites again this year...
1871-72 to 2008-09

1. Manchester United 11
2. Arsenal 10
3. Tottenham Hotspur 8
4. Aston Villa 7
4. Liverpool 7
6. Blackburn Rovers 6
6. Newcastle United 6
8. Chelsea 5
8. Everton 5
8. The Wanderers 5
8. West Bromwich Albion 5

Friday, 19 February 2010

Sports Views and News

Tiger Woods
Please. Why does he have to apologise in public? (No, I am not that naive, but I hate how this reduces me to cynicism).

Champions League
Ronaldo is top scorer in the Champions League this year. Who is second top scorer? Rooney? No. Drogba? No. Torres? No. Micahel Owen? Yes. Pleae put him on the plane to SA Fabio.


I came across this today.

"...the particular characteristic of our own age is that no evidence is regarded as acceptable unless it is statistical, that is to say, that it is of a kind which can be expressed in numbers."

This was Goronwy Rees, writing on 'Violent Films' in 1972. If true then how much truer now. Indeed, the Labour Party and all its apparatchiks (the lumpen intelligentsia) has exercised power over the last thousand years on exactly this basis.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

The Caretaker by Harold Pinter

Terrific performance from Jonathan Pryce as Davies, but seeing this fairly soon after seeing Godot, it is plain how much in debt Pinter is. Substitute the papers in Sidcup for Godot, and the beetroot for a carrot...

Operation Mincemeat by Ben Macintyre

A more thoroughly enjoyable read it is hard to conceive. This is partly due of course to Mr Macintyre's sprightly, worldly style, but it is also due to the fact that he has recognized that this is a story full of brief lives of wonderful characters and has set about doing them justice. There is the treacherous Jewish aristocrat and communist spy (oh, and inventor of table-tennis) Ivor Montagu, and the suave judge, writer and MI5 operator, the Jewish artistocrat Ewen Montagu, his brother. There is a Jewish Nazi spymaster and a Nazi spymaster who hates Hitler. There are characters called Bentley Purchase, Charles Cholmondely, William Martin and Glyndwr Michael, only one of whom is fictional... Read it!

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Cardiff, 13 February 2010

To talk of a dream coming true is usually a lazy way of describing a pleasing event. Yesterday in Cardiff, however, there was something undoubtedly dream-like in Wales's victory over Scotland. There had been the usual frustrations over questionable refereeing (the satirical solicitor to my right speaking on behalf of the referee: "oh THERE's my yellow card - it was in my pocket ALL THE TIME"), and even more about the quality of Wales's handling, tackling, boots ("forgot your studs have you, Williams?") and general inability to stop Scotland scoring tries ("that's more tries than they've scored in the last four years put together!"). At half time the general feeling was that Wales could not possibly play as badly in the second half, and that Parks was having a good game. And Wales didn't. Richie Rees made an enormous difference, and the - albeit brief - appearance of the divinity that is Gethin Jenkins certainly raised the spirits. Rees passed quicker, flatter, with more urgency, as though there was a game to be won. Mr S. Williams made a marvellous catch to stop a Scottish try, while being borne down upon by an enormous Scottish lock and Lamont, hardly the type of the diminutive wing. Wales pressed and pressed. Dominant in the scrum, three attacking lineouts were given away, but the pressure on Scotland was maintained and points had to come. Wales won the second half by 22 points to 6.

Those last minutes. Byrne was through. How precisely he came down i did not see, but there was undoubtedly a Scottish body in the way. The shove for the line or the draw? We all settled for the draw. i sat down. They had to settle for the draw. So: 24 / 24. Kick off. Wales kept the ball alive. Jones kicked "Oh Christ! No!" And then there was Halfpenny. How in god's name had he got there without being 50 yards off side? Had he stayed in the Scottish half surreptitiously as they'd kicked off? It wasn't, in the event, Halfpenny who took the ball. And now everything is a blur. We are all standing, we are all screaming. This cannot possibly be. And as Williams rasises his hand BEFORE CROSSING THE LINE we are yelling, even in that moment, WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU PLAYING AT? TOUCH THE BALL DOWN, MAN! And then it is down, and everybody is hugging everybody else, and love and relief and living a dream is all mixed into one enormous sensation of body and heart and mind. I was actually breathless. It was almost as if I was inhabiting a different body. It was absolutely bloody fantastic. Sport - life? - does not get better than this.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Books Read 2010

Books read so far this year (i'll be coming back to this to update - if i remember)

LA REQUIEM by Robert Crais
ROUGH WEATHER by Robert B. Parker
THE WATCHMAN by Robert Crais
THE ANGLO FILES by Sarah Lyall
THE PREGNANT WIDOW by Martin Amis (23/2/10)
THE SUSPICIONS OF MR WHICHER by Kate Summerscale (11/3/10)
THE HAPPIEST DAYS by Cressida Connolly(17/3/10)
SOLAR by Ian McEwan (29/3/10)
61 HOURS by Lee Child (2/4/10)
THE DEATH OF IVAN ILYICH by Leo Tolstoy (4/4/10)
STIFF UPPER LIP, JEEVES by P. G. Wodehouse (6/4/10)
BROOKLYN by Colm Toibin (18/4/10)
THE SNOWS OF KILIMANJARO by Ernest Hemingway(April 2010)
RAIN by Don Paterson (10/5/10)
THE NOVEMBER CRIMINALS by Sam Munson (May 2010)
FLUSH AS MAY by P M Hubbard (3/6/10)
Short stories by Chekov, McGahern, Maxwell and Janowitz ((1/7/10)
NORMAN PODHORETZ by Thomas L. Jeffers
BABBITT by Sinclair Lewis
LUSTRUM by by Robert Harris
KNOTS & CROSSES by Ian Rankin (1/8/10)
MURPHY by Samuel Beckett
DEVIL MAY CARE by Sebastian Faulks as Ian Fleming
THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald (5/9/10)
THE SLAP by Christos Tsiolkas
THE TEMPEST by William Shakespeare
A DIARY OF THE LADY by Rachel Johnson
HUMAN CHAIN by Seamus Heaney
NEMESIS by Philip Roth
TROUBLES by J. G. Farrell
THE PROFESSIONAL by Robert B. Parker
RETURN TO KIVA by Jay Taylor
FREEDOM by Jonathan Franzen
THE FIRST RULE by Robert Crais
NOTHING TO ENVY by Barbara Demick (12/11/10)
JOURNEY'S END by R.C. Sheriff
ALONE IN BERLIN by Hans Fallada
THE GREEN MAN by Kingsley Amis (12/12/10)
THERE'S NO HOME by Alexander Baron

My Last Five Girlfriends

This film, based on Alain de Botton's Essays in Love, has been seven years in the making. My brother-in-law, Kit Line, has been on board as production designer since Julian Kemp first thought of making it. It is, needless to say, magnificent.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

A Glass of Wine by Andrew Motion

Exactly as the setting sun
clips the heel of the garden,

exactly as a pigeon
roosting tries to sing
and ends up moaning,

exactly as the ping
of someone's automatic carlock
dies into a flock
of tiny echo aftershocks,

a shapely hand of cloud
emerges from the crowd
of airy nothings that the wind allowed
to tumble over us all day
and points the way

towards its own decay,
but not before
a final sunlight-shudder pours
away across our garden floor

so steadily, so slow
it shows you everything you need to know
about this glass I'm holding out to you,

its white unblinking eye
enough to bear the whole weight of the sky.

from Public Property,
reprinted without permission of Faber & Faber