Pride, Prejudice, anchovies and hairy omelettes…

31 01 2013

Austen“For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in turn?”

Jane Austen (1775-1817)

“It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife”

2388762-MJane Austen –‘Pride and Prejudice’ – (1813)

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that when one part of your life starts going okay, another fall spectacularly to pieces.”

Helen Fielding – ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’ – (1996)

200px-Pickering_-_Greatbatch_-_Jane_Austen_-_Pride_and_Prejudice_-_This_is_not_to_be_borne,_Miss_BennetIt is a truth universally acknowledged that ‘Pride and Prejudice’ is one of the best-loved novels in the English literature and its creator, Jane Austen, one of the most widely read authors.

This week marks the bicentenary of its publication, the second of the four major novels published in her lifetime, following her first release ‘Sense and Sensibility’ (1811) and preceding ‘Mansfield Park’ (1814) and ‘Emma’ (1816). Two further novels, ‘Northanger Abbey’ and ‘Persuasion’ were published posthumously in 1818, while another, ‘Sanditon’, remained unfinished at the time of her death.

Biographical information concerning Jane Austen is famously scarce. Although a prolific writer of letters, as few as 160 of around 3,000 she penned, remain. The vast majority were destroyed by her heirs, who in the half century after her death were responsible for memoirs that presented the author as a quiet and kindly figure.

She is for ever associated with rural Hampshire, where she was born into a family that lived on the lower fringes of the landed gentry (not unlike the Bennetts in ‘P&P’), her father being an Anglican clergyman who supplemented his income by farming and tutoring.

Jane, who contracted a recurrent form of typhus as a child which in later adulthood would be the cause of her demise, lived most of her life in relative obscurity, within the close confines of her family. She enjoyed an upbringing and education commensurate with her family’s standing in society. She was schooled, in the main, at home where she had access to a wide-ranging library, and developed the many skills expected of young ladies in the Georgian and Regency eras – drawing, needlework, music and dance amongst them.

download (1)She attended Sunday church with the family, while socialising revolved largely around receiving and visiting neighbours, and dances at the local assembly rooms. This is the world which Jane drew upon so assiduously for her writing.

It is believed that she lived in a home, with an easy and open atmosphere, in which conflicting  ideas of a political and social nature could be exchanged and where Jane’s, sometimes risqué early experiments with writing were  tolerated and encouraged.

We know that during the early 1800s Jane’s family moved to Bath. Amongst the places where they lived, was 4 Sydney Place. During this time, on Sunday after church, Jane would frequently promenade along the Royal Crescent, and at other times would no doubt have been a visitor at the famous Pump Rooms, and attended balls at the Assembly rooms. Although Bath tourism cashes in on the Austen connection, it is thought that Jane was unsettled by the upheaval of move from the family home, and her time in the Georgian city was largely unproductive

175px-Winchester_Cathedral_view_1It wasn’t until the Austen family returned to Hampshire, taking up residence at ‘Chawton House’, now the ‘Jane Austen’s House Museum’, where Jane lived for the last eight years of her life, her writing career began to take off.

It was here that she would die. Despite having received considerable acclaim as an author, during her lifetime, no mention was made of her books on the original memorial stone, when she was buried in the nave of Winchester Cathedral. However, by 1872 her fame had escalated to such an extent that it was considered that a brass plaque should be erected to rectify the situation

So what of her writing? Well here I have to hold my hand up and admit that despite Austen’s revered status amongst scholars, critics and an ever burgeoning world-wide ‘Janeite’ fan base, I’ve simply never had the pleasure.

George_Eliot_at_30_by_François_D'Albert_DuradeHer celebrated romantic fiction, set amongst the landed classes of Regency England, for all its realism and biting social commentary, has simply passed me by. During my literary A level studies, it had been another female novelist, by George, George Eliot that is, whose mighty tome ‘Middlemarch’, had demanded my attention. Magnificent though it is, by the time I’d waded through nigh on a thousand pages, I’d had my fill of the country house set and studies of 19th century provincial life…

But it’s never too late, and a couple of weeks ago, I decided that I really should redress the omission of Austen from my reading list. According to my Kindle I am currently 65% of the way through ‘P&P’, having just returned to it following a brief and humorous sojourn with Jeeves and Wooster – to ease the tedium and recharge the batteries for a final push.

I guess a large part of my problem is that I have taken an easy option of choosing to read Austen’s best known work. And although experiencing the story through its original narrative form is an altogether different proposition from watching the various film versions, and I do concede much of the written dialogue is pretty witty, there’s not much I don’t know about where the plot is headed.

pride_and_prejudiceIt’s my hunch that despite considerable angst and prevarication, handsome, brooding, aloof, but morally upright Fitzwilliam Darcy will overcome his rectitude and pride, while lively, attractive, opinionated Elizabeth Bennett will mend her tendency towards prejudice born out of first impressions and they’ll finally surrender to their love for each other and tie the matrimonal knot.

Excuse me if I’m wrong but that’s pretty much what happened to Colin Firth and  Jennifer Ehle in the benchmark 1995 BBC series, Keira Knightley (too stunning and sexy for Lizzie in my opinion) and Matthew MacFadyen in the latest (2005) film version, and even for, heaven’s sake, in the all singing all dancing, Bollywood meets Pemberley movie, ‘Bride and Prejudice’.

The characters and storyline are so familiar that chic-lit author Helen Fielding, famously drew on Austen for the opening line of ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’ and named her ‘true love’, Mark Darcy, played by Colin Firth in the film version – who else?

images (2)PD James, the highly regarded and much decorated crime writer, even saw fit to cross-pollinate her passion for Austen with the genre for which she is renowned and came up with  ‘Death Comes to  Pemberley’ a murder mystery set six years after Elizabeth and Darcy have been happily married together. I haven’t read it but understand it was very well received.

Dining with neighbours is a fairly common occurrence in Austen’s novels but, if ‘P&P’ is anything to go by, there is scant description of what was actually served up. But that didn’t stand in the way of Maggie Black and Deirdre le Faye when they came up with their ‘Jane Austen Cookbook’ – literally recipes inspired by her novels.

anchovies_wholeI’m not sure how familiar Jane Austen was with the kitchen, but the authors have clearly done their homework with regard to ingredients, and, interestingly, more than half the recipes call for anchovies – seldom seen these days other than in pizza toppings, but apparently used a great deal in Regency times to add saltiness to dishes.

I have been trying to undertake more of the cooking recently – an informal, off the record New Year resolution. Wednesday is my regular slot – Chris is continuing with her Italian course so I have time to mess around on the culinary front.

Yesterday, in celebration of the Austen anniversary, and the increasingly anonymous anchovy, I came up with a Nigel Slater ‘Observer Food Magazine’ recipe that had been hiding away in my cookery cuttings book.

NigelSlaterPoster-e1352129131503It went something like this:

Tomatoes with anchovy crumb crust:

Serve 4 as a main dish or 5/6 as an accompaniment…

  • 4 x tbsp olive oil
  • 1kg tomatoes
  • 6 x large spring onions
  • a handful of basil leaves
  • a handful of coriander leaves

For the crumb crust:

  • 150g of white bread
  • A handful of parsley leaves
  • 5 x anchovy fillets
  • Pre-heat the oven to 180˚C
  • Put the oil into a deep-sided frying pan over a moderate heat
  • Slice the spring onions and add to the warm oil
  • Cut the tomatoes in half – horizontally and add to the pan
  • Cover the pan with a lid
  • Leave the tomatoes & onions to cook for approx. 10 minutes – or until the tomatoes have softened, but are still holding their shape
  • Add the basil and coriander, with a grinding of black pepper, then remove from the heat and allow to sit for a few minutes, while preparing the crust
  • Blitz the bread in a food processor – to form soft coarse crumbs
  • Add the parsley, anchovies, and a little black pepper
  • Process briefly
  • Transfer the tomatoes and their cooking juices to an ovenproof dish
  • Scatter the crumb crust over the top
  • Bake for approx. 30 minutes until the tomatoes are sizzling and the crust is a deep gold.

I also diced and added a medium-sized aubergine, that needed using up, to the tomato/onion mix, and a mixed a generous portion of grated parmesan cheese into the crumb crust – it worked for me!

hairy-dieters-book-coverToday, Chris went for a pilates taster session. Fishing around for more brownie points, in the wake of last night’s Austentacious anchovy dish, I volunteered for catering duty once more. This time I knocked up a simple, low-calorie, ‘Hairy Dieters’ recipe from Dave Myers & Si King, two guys with whom I enjoy a palpable commonality – and before you ask, it’s more to do with scales than motorbikes!

Minted Pea and Feta Omelette:

Per serving:

  • 30g frozen peas
  • 40g feta cheese – drained
  • ½ tsp dried mint
  • 3 medium eggs
  • flaked sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • Place peas in a heatproof bowl and cover with just boiled water
  • Leave for 1 minute, and then drain, before returning to the bowl
  • Crumble the feta cheese on top
  • Sprinkle with mint
  • Season with black pepper
  • Break the eggs into a bowl and whisk
  • Season with salt and black pepper
  • Lightly oil a small non-stick frying pan
  • Place over a medium heat
  • Add the eggs
  • Cook the egg, constantly using a spatula to draw cooked egg from the edge towards the centre
  • When the egg is almost set, scatter the peas and feta over the omelette
  • Continue cooking until the egg is just set – approx. 3 minutes
  • Loosen the sides with a spatula and slide on to a warmed plate – folding it over

 And that, dear reader, is that…

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Midwinter musings from the Shire-tiddely-pom…

28 01 2013

snow‘The more it

SNOWS- tiddely-pom

The more it

GOES- tiddely-pom

On

Snowing

 

And nobody

KNOWS- tiddely-pom

How cold my toes-tiddely-pom

Are growing’

 

By Winnie the Pooh (with a little help from his friend – A.A. Milne)

 Monday 21st January:  ‘Blue Monday’

It has been calculated that the third Monday in January, ‘Blue Monday’, is officially the most depressing day of the year.

blueHow do we know? – Because psychologist, Cliff Arnall, told us so. His scientifically based assertion, first made in 2005, was determined using a complex formula. I’m pretty light on the detail, and I expect only Cliff can properly explain his bizarre equation, which factored in a whole lot of  stuff like: miserable weather, outstanding debt – with Christmas bills rolling in, post-Christmas anti-climax, broken New Year’s Resolutions, short daylight hours,  and low motivational levels, to name but a few.

All very clever but what’s the point? Naming the day as ‘depressing’ is somewhat of self-fulfilling and counter-productive surely? Well yes, but then we learn that the whole notion of discovering a single day when we are all, supposedly, at our lowest ebb was dreamt up by a travel company.

In his letter from the executive editor, Stefano Hatfield of the ipaper picked up on this, dismissing the concept of ‘Blue Monday’ as, ‘a fine example of pseudo-science subverted by marketers …so we can be sold remedies for ‘the blues’: sunny holidays and chocolate to name two.’  

Arnall’s get out response to those who question his claim, is that he is happy that it has stimulated debate around depression and that he is ‘encouraging people to refute the whole notion of there being a most depressing day.’ He wants us to use the day, ‘as a springboard to the things that really matter in life.’ 

They just might include holidays and chocolate…

Tuesday 22nd January: ‘Quartet’ falls flat…

downloadIt seems every Tuesday is ‘Supersaver Tuesday’ at Vue Cinemas. I only discovered this last week when Chris and I went to see ‘Les Mis’ – albeit on a Thursday. Anyhow, we are both now fully signed up members with cards to prove it, complete with a promotional code number.

Apparently there is also ‘Orange Wednesday’, a 2 for 1 ticket offer available to Orange mobile or broadband customers – which unfortunately we are not!

Yesterday we used our Supersaver 10% off cards for the first time, hoping that ‘Quartet’, based around life in a retirement home for classical musicians, might help lift the January blues.

Despite a fine cast, of veteran actors and musicians, director Dustin Hoffman’s, debut feature film, a drama comedy, is perfectly pleasant but eminently forgettable. Perhaps I’ve been spoilt by ‘The Life of Pi’ and ‘Les Mis’ – both outstanding cinematic experiences. In all honesty, this ninety minute BBC production (based on a West End stage play) didn’t warrant the  big screen treatment and would have been more at home in a cosy TV film format.

A simple, predictable, storyline based around the relationship between four retired opera singers, ably played by Pauline Collins (Cissy), Tom Courtenay (Reg), Billy Connolly (Wilf) and the obligatory Maggie Smith (Jean) – who is enjoying something of a renaissance since the emergence of Sunday evening period drama, Downton Abbey – and whether they will, or will not, reunite to top the bill at the annual fund-raising concert to celebrate Giuseppe Verdi’s birthday.

quartetTheatrical temperaments and old rivalries are eventually put to one side and, surprise, surprise, the show, directed by a splendidly eccentric Michael Gambon (Cedric), goes on.

Filmed in its entirety at the charming Hedsor House, in Buckinghamshire, and with added musical authenticity provided by professional musicians, ‘Quartet’ is easy on the eyes and ears. There is plenty of pathos but too little humour, although Billy Connolly raises the odd smile – nothing more.

While ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ (set in India, and also starring Dame Maggie – which I thoroughly enjoyed) a similarly bitter-sweet movie, built around issues of ageing and coming to terms with one’s twilight years, maintained a lively Bollywood tempo throughout, with enough humorous high notes to leave me feeling upbeat, ‘Quartet’, by contrast, was more pastoral largo, which left me feeling somewhat flat.

Wednesday 23rd January:  Bill Oddie – all of a twitter…

blue_tit_300_tcm9-139623_v2Flakes, as big as dinner plates, were tumbling out of the sky, as I carried out my Winterwatch duty – trudging to the top of the garden to feed our feathered friends. To quote Alfred Hitchcock (well Toby Jones playing Hitch – in recent TV film, ‘The Girl’) ‘’The Birds’ is coming’

And so they are. ‘Orchard House’ has become a regular winter haven for peckish visitors. I’ve been trying to do a tit-bit to help them through this recent cold snap but it ain’t ‘cheep’. They have already pecked their way through a 12.75 kg sack of wild bird seed – in just three weeks!

imagesNo wonder @Bill Oddie is tweeting, ‘break the ice, clear the snow, scatter the seed, hang up the fatballs. Garden alive with hungry birds. They need us now.’

A 2kg bag of Bill’s ‘Really Wild Bird Food’ is currently available, online, for a really wild £10.50 – and we are asked to believe that is a really wild reduction on the regular price of £18.81. While a small plastic seed feeder marketed under the Bill Oddie brand retails at £8.07, or if you’re feeling flush there is a top of the tree, 360mm metal model, for just £19.99!

goodies (1)‘Ecky thump’ It strikes me a bit ‘Oddie’ that the former ‘Goody’, now a high-profile ornithologist and wildlife presenter, has turned ‘Baddy’ by allowing his name to be used in marketing such grossly over- priced products. He deserves to get the bird. On yer ‘Trandem’ Bill, it doesn’t strike me as at all, ‘Goody goody yum yum’.

In true ‘Blue Peter’ style I have made my own large seed feeders out of recycled 2 litre green plastic bottles, fitted with a screw in adaptors costing about £2.50.

Thursday 24th January:  Russian red tape …

communist_ussr_russian_hammer_and_sickle_tie-p151665235024382367en71g_216I spent most of today failing to complete an online Russian visa application. We’ve recently booked Easyjet flights, on their new route to Moscow. No frills by Stelios hopefully a safer bet than Aeroflot! We’re not off until late March, but having secured budget accommodation, at the very Russian sounding ‘Capital House Hotel’, close to the Bolshoi Ballet and a gentle stroll from Red Square, allegedly, I thought it best to sort out the visas sooner, rather than later.

mcdonalds1It soon became apparent that despite perestroika, glasnost and the arrival of the golden arches in Pushkin’s Square, there is still plenty of red tape to cut through, and a hammer and sickle might come in handy.

Having read through the accompanying notes, the first stumbling block announced itself. Every application needs to be supported by a ‘letter of invitation’ or a ‘tourist confirmation document.’ These are readily available, varying, considerably, in cost between a range of internet providers – and I eventually managed to save a few roubles by tracking down a £14.00 per person deal.

???????????????????With tourist vouchers and confirmation numbers winging their way through cyber space – and in fairness they arrived by email within the promised 24 hour turn around, I started completing the visa application.

Everything was pretty straight forward until I hit the ‘recent travel’ section. Please indicate every country you have visited in the last ten years and your date of entry to that country. What?

That’s something of an undertaking! I started with existing visas and passport stamps – where the dates were often barely legible – and from their I had to resort to my electronic travel photograph albums, which luckily I had catalogued by year, together with scraps of information from various travel logs I had invariably started with good intentions but invariably aborted a few days into the journey!

So something of an ongoing process, but when I do finally complete and submit the aforementioned information, my application will need to be accompanied by a postal order (how old-fashioned – whoever uses those these days?) for a visa fee which will be only marginally cheaper than the return flight!

It’s enough to make a grumpy old man turn to vodka!

Friday 25th January:  Chocks away …

16862sUp at the crack of dawn, but my early morning drive across the Cotswolds was rewarded with beautiful winter wonderland vistas. And on arrival in Caversfield, the old Parade Ground was ankle-deep in snow as I helped Nicci move into her newly renovated, 1926, Grade 2 listed apartment – previously living quarters at RAF Bicester.

The 23 acre, former Oxfordshire Bomber Command base, once home to the Bristol Blenheim bomber, spitfire and mosquito, its red-brick architecture heavily influenced by the 1930s Garden City movement, is now a conservation site.

The beautifully landscaped Garden Quarter development is just 12 miles outside Oxford, and 48 minutes by train to Marylebone Station in London, with the popular Bicester Village retail park right on the doorstep. Having halved her daily commute to school, it is an ideal location for ‘Nic’ to take her first step on the property ladder.

So chocks away ‘gel’ and enjoy the flight old thing!

Saturday 26th January: Forest stung by Hornets…

snowDespite the big thaw being well under way in the Shire, there had been significant overnight snow around the north Nottinghamshire village of Papplewick, which caught me completely by surprise, causing no little embarrassment as I swung into Dad’s cul-de-sac and slowly ground to a halt, following a failed reverse  manoeuvre on to his drive. It took two men with big snow shovels several minutes to dig me out, before I was able to slide into a parking spot nearer  the somewhat clearer main road, ready for a slippery get away.

Meanwhile, in Nottingham itself, down by the riverside, the City Ground had received only a light dusting of snow which had been dissolved by the under-pitch heating. But it didn’t stop Forest slipping up against Championship promotion rivals Watford.

Matej_2847972They were stung three times by the Hornets, twice by Czech goal machine Matej Vydra. Incisive on the break and ruthless in their finishing, they made Forest look very ordinary. On this less than tricky showing, promotion is neither likely nor desirable for the Trees this season.

Despite playing three up front Forest looked heavy footed throughout and were never really at the races after going behind. A lack lustre showing saw them booed from the pitch and left Big Eck pulling no punches in his post-match assessment.

I’m sure he’s no quitter, but given such an uninspired display by what, on paper, looked a pretty decent side, the level of post-match abuse levelled at him on social networks, erratic recent behaviour by the owners and their apparent inability, up to this point, to make appropriate bids for the players he has identified as needed to strengthen squad, he must be feeling up against it on all fronts.

Given the current inconsistency of performance, irrespective of any 12th hour signings before the January transfer window slams shut, on Thursday, the best The Reds can hope for is a mid-table finish.

For me, the owners got it horribly wrong, switching to a new manager mid-race. I fear the old adage, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, will be levelled at them time and again between now and the end of the season.

 Sunday 27th January: Here we come a wassailing…

Wassailling ceremony - Clive's 27.01.2013It was up to the ankles in mud at Clive’s Fruit Farm – hardly living up to its Frost Fair billing, with adjacent lanes once again threatened by flood water, from a River Severn swollen by snow-melt.

There was a slippery ascent up through the orchard, in the wake of the Faithful City Morris Men, to the site of the traditional wassailing ceremony, in which the wassail tree is hung with pieces of toast, and anointed with cider, as the fruit trees are awakened and evil spirits frightened away by much banging and 150958_10152479288095113_1900707116_nshouting. The ancient pagan proceedings, with touches of Christianity thrown in for good measure, were concluded by three welly squelching circuits of a spitting bonfire – all good rustic fun to ensure a plentiful harvest of apples and pears next Autumn.

Earlier I had made haste to the newsagent to pick up everybody’s favourite red top – at least in the Aldridge family – as just two weeks into her new job, journalistic Gem had scooped her first ‘Sunday Mirror’ front-page splash, and an exclusive at that: ‘Fury at Ben (Kinsella)Killer Compo – cops forced to pay £20,000 over murder hunt raid.’

An amazing start to what I hope will be a long and successful career as newspaper journo, providing a warm and satisfying glow at the finish of just another midwinter week in the Shire – tiddely pom!





The East Midlands derby – Big Eck’s Reds growing in stature…

22 01 2013

sp-mcleish-getty“…it was a positive end to a difficult week.

The players showed tremendous character, and it was nice to stop Derby’s winning run.”

“I am pleased we got something from the game, but disappointed it was not three points.”

“I thought the referee had a terrific game, he showed all his experience. He didn’t bow down to all the noise from the home fans. That can be intimidating for referees.”

“I think these guys have a good chance of climbing further up the table but I would like to have an even better chance by adding new players.”

Alex McLeish – ‘Big Eck’ – (Nottingham Forest manager)

download (1)The chill factor was high, around Derby’s Pride Park Stadium, and old football pals, Clough and Taylor, were eyeing the fans’ arrival with icy stares, before the eagerly anticipated, early Saturday kick off. Despite significant snowfalls earlier in the week, under-soil heating would ensure the pitch was fit for play and an army of support staff had cleared the white stuff from the surrounding concourse and approach roads, ensuring supporter safety.

Derby were more than keen for the game to go ahead and why wouldn’t they be? The match was a 33,000 sell-out, the Rams were on a roll with three consecutive home wins, and victories in the last three East Midland derby encounters tucked under their belts.

As the countdown clocks ticked on, the gathering crowd was visibly thawing, fired with pre-match bravado. By the time the players emerged from the tunnel, the Pride Park cauldron was bubbling with expectation…

images (2)It had been another difficult week at Nottingham Forest, where club chairman Fawaz Al Hasawi continued to show his ruthless streak with three out of the blue sackings (notified by recorded delivery letter) hard on the heels of the Boxing Day dismissal of, previous manager, Sean O’Driscoll.

New man in charge of the team, Alex McLeish, seemed as bemused as everybody else at the multiple sackings of chief executive Mark Arthur, head of recruitment Keith Burt and club ambassador Frank Clark. But Big Eck, no stranger to off the pitch turmoil, had seen it all before and assured reporters the players would remain focused, ‘The world is still turning and they have to get on with it.’

Derby v NFFC - Champ- 19.01.13 - (1-1)It was therefore a relief to leave Pride Park with something to smile about, but that smile might have been broader. At the end of a hard-fought ninety minutes it finished all square, a 1-1 draw, but could have and should have been a Forest victory. They were the better team, played the better football, and had the better chances to win the game.

If either the first half effort from Simon Cox, that cannoned off the crossbar, substitute Dexter Blackstock’s downward header, from six yards out, that bounced up and over, or the Sharp turn and shot, late on, that whistled a whisker wide of post, had rippled the back of the net, Forest would have deservedly travelled back along the A52  with all three points, the Brian Clough Trophy and local bragging rights.

Derby had opened the brighter of the two East Midlands rivals, but Forest steadied themselves, after a nervy start, gradually easing their way into the game. After Cox rattled the Derby bar the visitors visibly grew in confidence playing, increasingly, on the front foot.

cohenIt was following a concerted period of Forest pressure that the ball fell invitingly to Chris Cohen. But as, Derby defender, Mark O’Brien shaped to block the anticipated volley, the Forest midfielder’s ‘fresh air shot’ unwittingly wrong footed him. The ball sat up nicely and Cohen was able to complete a composed finish, at the second time of asking.

It was a sweet moment for the Forest player in his 300th league game, since joining the Tricky Trees from Yeovil Town, and sixteen months after rupturing his cruciate ligament against Derby at the City Ground.

It looked as if a single goal would be enough, with Forest looking in complete control during the opening exchanges of the second half. That is until the diminutive Simon Gillett, normally so reliable when receiving and passing the ball on in difficult areas of the pitch, made a mistake that will haunt him for years to come.

jamie-ward_2456504bAs tireless Derby striker Conor Sammon, ever a chaser of lost causes, bore down on Forest’s holding midfielder he took one touch too many and was caught in possession. Sammon slipped the ball invitingly into the flight path of Jamie Ward, buzzing up on his shoulder, and the waspish winger stuck away Derby’s only clear-cut chance of the game, stinging Gillett for his uncharacteristic error.

At that point, I admit to fearing the worst. But Alex McLeish surprised me, with his bold changes, and rose considerably in my estimation. I was fully expecting a defensive substitution and an anxious final half as a rejuvenated Derby mounted a grandstand finish.

Instead, Big Eck introduced a third striker. Soon to be out of contract Dexter Blackstock, subject of  mischievous pre-match rumours about a likely bid from Derby, was thrown into the fray, and the powerful Guy Moussi brought into centre midfield, a like for like substitution for Gillett who was wobbling a little after his fatal mistake.

Subsequently it was Forest who pressed forward for the winner, the Rams defenders who were engaged in last-ditch defending, and the supporters in black and white willing referee Mark Clattenburg to blow the final whistle.

article_1d446006b0153cf4_1351455046_9j-4aaqskIt might not have been a great spectacle, local-derby matches rarely are, but it had been a full-blooded, high tempo affair, and Clattenburg, so often a  controversial official, on this occasion drew wisely on his Premiership experience, allowing the game to flow and keeping the lid on things. There were no ‘howlers’, no red cards and for the first time in the last five meetings between the sides both teams finished with a full complement of players.

How different from earlier in the season when an inexperienced, ‘fast-tracked’, referee, Robert Madley wilted in the pressure cooker City Ground atmosphere, allowing Derby to get away with illegal challenge after illegal challenge and then, having been conned by Derby captain Keogh into red-carding Dexter Blackstock for a spurious elbowing incident in an innocuous aerial challenge, allowed the game to spiral out of control.

downloadThe East Midlands derby is far more than just another local rivalry. Despite fairly tame beginnings, there is now a genuine hatred between supporters. The seeds of such intense animosity were sown as late as the 70’s when Brian Clough and Peter Taylor, having picked up the 1st Division Championship and taken Derby to a semi-final of the European Cup, walked out of the old Baseball Ground on a matter of principle. It wasn’t too long before Cloughy washed up on the banks of the Trent, albeit via a couple of short stays at Leeds and Brighton, and the rest as they say is history.

images (1)Reunited, Clough and Taylor, the dynamic duo, brought unprecedented success to the City Ground and a 1978 League title followed by back to back European Cup victories still sticks in the craw of Derby supporters.

In more recent years, the comings and goings of a string of players and managers who dared to cross the great divide, and in so doing kissed the badge of both clubs, has only served to add further fuel to the fire – one which continued to blaze even in Saturday’s sub-zero temperatures.

The bitter acrimony reached an all-time low last season when Forest, battling for Championship survival, visited Pride Park shortly after the untimely and tragic death of Chairman and lifelong Forest supporter Nigel Doughty, to be greeted by vitriolic chants (from a significant minority of Derby fans) of, ‘Where’s your chairman gone?’ and ‘You’re going down with your chairman!’

I have to say, on Saturday, I was ashamed of an equally distasteful Forest chant (referring to a recent tragic news story) ‘You sheep sh*gging b*stards kill your own kids.’  There should be absolutely no place in football banter for this type of sick ‘humour’.

But, to end on a brighter note, Alex McLeish won quite a few Forest fans over on Saturday. Big Eck needed a good performance from his team and a decent result, to indicate that he is beginning to get to grips with the job of challenging for a top six finish.

Gonzalo-Jara-Jamie-Ward-Derby-v-Nottingham-Fo_2888146His players delivered for him on most fronts and this performance suggests the Reds are a team starting to grow in stature. They looked well-balanced, played with greater width, using both flanks to better effect, and defended more resolutely. They posed a constant threat at corners and set pieces, and there were a number of encouraging performances, notably, Henri Lansbury in midfield, Gonzalo Jara at full-back and young goalkeeper Karl Darlow, who in only his second Championship outing seemed totally un-phased by the hostile atmosphere – in fact he seemed to relish it.

All very promising signs ahead of a must win home game next Saturday. Bring on the Hornets!





100 years of the bra – an uplifting celebration!

20 01 2013


Madonna+in+the+1990s“So Mary Phelps made the blueprint for one of the most successful items of clothing ever invented. She called her maid to bring her two hankies, some ribbon and a needle and thread …and voila! The over-the-shoulder boulder holder was born.”

Gemma Aldridge (features@sundaymirror.co.uk)

It is an ‘In the bleak midwinter’ kind of Sunday in our corner of the Shire. The chill factor is up, the pathways are paved with ice and the rooftops are laced with lingering snow.

tom jones 320x240Olde Upton on Severn may be known for its literary association with Henry Fielding’s bawdy 18th century 1167029529_originalromp ‘The History of Tom Jones’ (a scene is set in The White Lion Hotel – ‘a house of exceedingly good repute’) but today there is more of a Dickensian film-set feel about the place.

It is, therefore, somewhat ironic that the annual Frost Fair and Wassailing at Clive’s Fruit Farm has been postponed until next week, due to icy conditions!

I’ve just returned from a brisk trek into town, to pick up the papers, my usual ‘Sunday Observer’ with a copy of the ‘Sunday Mirror’ tucked inside – discretely hidden from public view. Pure snobbery I know, but I’m pretty sure I’m not alone!


press-card
I even felt the need to justify this deviation, from my normal Sunday reading habits, with the lady in the shop. Well, actually it was more an opportunity to exercise parental bragging rights. Because today, daughter number two, journalistic Gem, a graduate of the local Hanley Castle High School*, made her debut in the Mirror.

One_Canada_Square-pictureAfter two years making her mark as senior features writer at the weekly ‘Love It’  magazine, from a small office tucked above ‘Starbucks’ in old Holborn, she has been lured away to dizzier heights, the  22nd floor of 1 Canada Square – Canary Wharf.

It is a great career move and quite a nostalgic occasion for me. Sadly, I’m old enough to remember the ‘Sunday Mirror’ when it was under the ‘Sunday Pictorial’ banner (prior to re-branding 1963) and it was our Sabbath day paper of choice, during much of my youth.

imagesI was surprised, but pleased, to discover that  Andy Capp is still going strong. Evidently, some things never change.

Andy and his wife Flo were created by cartoonist Reg Smythe in 1957 to help boost ‘Mirror’ readership figures in the north. Smythe’s cartoon strip about the somewhat dysfunctional, bickering, but ultimately loving couple, was based around his own parents, and their working-class life up in Hartlepool.

Although Smythe died in 1998, and despite turning 55 last year, Andy continues to be a ‘Mirror’ ever present, and long may he continue.

My old Mum, who used to knock off  ‘the Mirror’ crossword as part of her daily routine would have been so proud to see her granddaughter’s by-line above today’s centre-page spread,‘100 Years of The Bra’ – ‘from 2 hankies and a ribbon to Katy’s cupcakes…’

It’s an altogether uplifting centenary celebration and just my cup of tea – a 36D cup that would be!

downloadAnd as is if the sight of everyone from Marilyn, through Raquel Welch, Madonna, and Eva Herzigova, to Kelly Brook, bursting out of their lacy, racy bras were not enough, to raise my somnolent Sunday spirits, there’s even a decent length report on yesterday’s East Midlands derby – ‘Chris Bliss – Cohen strikes after tough week at Forest’ – but more of the Championship ‘match of the day’ in a post to follow…

I seem to remember a 70’s advertising slogan, ‘If you really want to know look in The Mirror’. I guess I’ll be taking them up on that from here on in – well at least on a Sunday!

200px-RightHoJeeves100px-HanleyCastleHigh*Hanley Castle High School (formerly Hanley Castle Grammar School), one of the oldest in England (circa 1326), has a couple of noted connections with authors of well known literary works.

It features in ‘Right Ho Jeeves’, as Market Snodsbury Grammar School – attended by Bertie Wooster. There is an accurately drawn description of the old school hall (now a library). ‘Plum’ had an aunt who was wife to the vicar at Hanley Castle Church – just 60 metres from the school.

A more recent alumnus of ‘HCHS’ is celebrated author David Mitchell whose novel ‘Cloud Atlas’ was short-listed for the 2004 Booker Prize, now a recently released movie starring Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Susan Sarandon and Hugh Grant.

Life in, 1982, Hanley Castle, provided the inspiration and setting for his follow-up novel ‘Black Swan Green’ – ‘the sleepiest village in muddiest Worcestershire.’ 





Oh ‘Eck! Turbulent times on Trentside – again …

18 01 2013


nottingham post‘With wealthy Kuwaiti owners and a new manager in situ, who has promised a busy January, few clubs outside the big six in the top flight have attracted so many rumours over the past few weeks.

Alex McLeish jokes that there will come a point in the future when even he finds out about Forest’s latest signings on Twitter.

But while the Reds boss says it has been a whirlwind for him, since he was appointed at the end of December,   it is nothing compared to the storm of speculation his arrival prompted…’

this is Nottingham.co.uk – the Nottingham Evening Post (online) – January 11th 2013

As I’m sitting here watching snowflakes spiralling towards the ground my first concern is whether tomorrow’s big East Midlands clash, at ‘Prideless Park’, will go ahead. If so, given the local road conditions, will I be able to get there in time for the 1.00pm kick off. Hopefully an update on the local situation will be available later today.

A much bigger concern, however, is the current state of my club. The last time I opined my ‘Views from the Trent End (Upper)…’ was in early October.

downloadBorne along by a groundswell of enthusiasm following the Kuwaiti takeover and the appointment of Sean O’Driscoll as manager I wrote, “I’ve been hugely impressed and excited by how SO’D’s team is developing. It’s very much a case of evolution rather than revolution, focussed on laying strong foundations, instilling good habits, enabling player to take more responsibility for making on pitch decisions. It’s been largely entertaining too. Football played on the floor with good levels of precision and skill – which only bodes well for the future.”       

I should have known better. How naïve I was to think that the recent turbulent times on Trent-side were over.

th (1)Up until now I’ve kept my powder dry on recent comings and goings at the City Ground, over what has been a stormy four-week post-Christmas period. But on the eve of our return match with ‘Direby’ and a week away from a home encounter with Gianfranco Zola’s in form Watford /Udinese – in effect the pivotal point of our season, the time is right to speak out again.

images (9)December 26th, a festive City Ground, Yuletide joy abounds as the Tricky ‘Christmas’ Trees un-wrap Warnock’s Leeds, 4-2, to place themselves one point outside the play-off places. Reds supporters set off, homeward bound, full of good cheer, with a seasonal spring in their step, and SO’D, pleased with the second half stuffing and roasting of the visitors, completes his post-match interviews.

It’s a case of ding dong merrily on high, until Forest fans flushed with success hear the breaking sports news. Peace and joy to all men, except Sean O’Driscoll. The Al Hasawis have given their manager the Christmas sack – SO’D’s law!

The goalposts have shifted. The patient 3-5 year plan, announced following the take-over, has morphed into a more urgent one-year promotion plan and apparently the thoroughly decent and well liked SO’D is not the man! But Fawaz knows a man who can…

…Well Alex Ferguson knows a man who can and Fawaz seems to be star-struck in his presence – so enough said…

_65246314_65246313…No it’s not to be a hero’s return to unfinished business for ‘King Billy’(Davies), but everybody’s worst nightmare – Big Eck, who turned down the Al Hasawis when they came calling in August, but has had a change of heart. Cue twitters of internet laughter from Glasgow to Brum, where he is everybody’s favourite villain.

I’m willing to give anybody a chance but, oh ‘eck, another ginger, whose surname begins with ‘M’. They don’t have a great track record at the City Ground. Think Megson, McClaren – the wally with the brolly – and now McLeish!

If SO’D’s departure split public opinion, and I was firmly for him remaining – to be judged at the end of the season – then McLeish’s appointment was almost universally unpopular.

images (4)True, his CV is not all bad; in fact it was half decent at Rangers where he was in direct opposition to most Forest fans’ dream managerial appointment, City Ground  legend Martin O’Neil, who enjoyed a particularly successful spell with Celtic.

There was also a year in charge of the Scotland national side during which they narrowly failed to qualify for the Euro 2008 finals, despite an historic away win in Paris – defeating France 1-0 at the Parc des Princes.

But south of the border his record is moderate, at best.

A four-year stint at St Andrews, in the blue-nose half of the second city was something of a roller coaster ride, relegation from the top-tier, followed by an immediate return, a season of mid-table Premiership stability, and finally the sweet champagne moment of a Wembley, Carling Cup Final victory, against Arsenal, soured by a dramatic final day of the season drop into the Championship.

images (7)If that wasn’t a bitter enough pill for the Beau Brummies to swallow, Big Eck then swore his allegiance to the claret and blue half of the city. Castigated on both sides of the divide, and vilified by the Villa Park faithful for the baggage he brought with him – a perceived, negative style of play – it always seemed a recipe for disaster, and so it proved.

He kept Villa in the Premiership, by the skin of their teeth, but in so doing alienated the supporters and lost the confidence of the owners. He was shown the door, leaving as, statistically, their worst manager ever, with a win percentage of only 21.4%.

These are early days, but I have to say I’m pretty underwhelmed so far. He vehemently denies a liking for the long ball approach and says he would prefer to play a passing game, but with added steel at the back.

images (2)In his first three games, in charge from the technical area, Forest have conceded seven goals, three in the second half away at Blackburn, three in the second half in a home FA Cup 3rd round exit against lowly League 1 Oldham, and one against Peterborough. He did, however manage a first City Ground win against the Posh.

On the plus side he has displayed a degree of ‘no messing’ with regard to soon out of contract, wanting away, goalkeeper Lee Camp, dropping him from the first team and telling him to find a new club and go.

This has meant throwing young, 22-year-old, prospect Karl Darlow in at the deep end. Not a bad thing, if he is as good as the goalkeeping coach Paul Barron says, and I wish the lad all the best. I hope he grasps his chance with both hands. But where is the back-up? We were promised an experienced keeper would be on his way soon, but instead the Kuwaiti international keeper Khalid Al-Rashid has washed up and we’re now told there will be no further goalkeepers arriving. By all accounts he looks useful – but hardly ‘experienced’ in terms of Championship football.

reyesDespite promises that the squad would be strengthened, with quality not quantity, the only addition to the first team squad during the current transfer window has been the loan signing of Chilean international fullback, Gonzalo Jara Reyes, from West Bromwich Albion.

Bids have been tabled for Peterborough midfielder George Boyd and Birmingham winger Chris Burke and rebuffed as derisory. Both would be welcome additions, but it raises the question is  there as much money available for transfers as we are led to believe?

images (10)Since the appointment of McLeish, Fawaz Al Hasawi and his family have been subjected to rank Twitter abuse by a moronic minority. This is totally unacceptable. As the chairman has intimated, in response, he respects supporter’s opinions but key appointments are his to make and the money is his to spend, as he sees fit – “judge me at end of the season”. It’s a pity he didn’t have the patience to follow a similar line with regard to Sean O’Driscoll.

I have to say the more I hear about the chairman, the less I like what I’m hearing, and the more concerned I am becoming for my club. There seems to be a developing trend of saying one thing and meaning another, making out of the blue decisions and pronouncements, intolerance towards those behind the scenes who aren’t in total agreement with him, and a growing interference with player recruitment and team selection.

This week, chief executive Mark Arthur, head of recruitment Keith Burt, and club ambassador Frank Clark have all left without any explanation from Fawaz. It is rumoured that Arthur left of his own volition after Burt and Clark had been notified of their dismissals by special delivery letter and told to stay away from the players and the ground.

Arthur was not popular with many fans due to his leadership of the fabled ‘acquisitions committee’ and was held responsible for failure to recruit players that might have made a difference to King Billy’s promotion push, the manager’s subsequent departure, and the ill-fated arrival of Steve McClaren.

FOREST1_2454996bClark, however, is much revered – a popular member of the 1979 European Cup winning team, the only manager to enjoy any sort of Premiership and European success, post Brian Clough, and chairman of the club in the dark days following the untimely death of Nigel Doughty.

Following the Kuwaiti takeover it was Fawaz who said, “Mr Clark will remain with us and he will be ambassador to Nottingham Forest and he will be close by us at all the time. We really admire this man and respect him quite highly.”  So what has changed?

If he was to be dismissed, why wasn’t he told face to face and why has he been ordered to stay away from the ground – he’s a true supporter?

Fasawi’s recent ruthless actions might have been made with the best of intentions but, frankly, they appear cowardly and lack class. Forest may not have been very successful in recent years but as a club they have always been considered well run and held in high regard. Under the current ownership the good name and the future of Nottingham Forest is in the balance. I fear that we could become the next club under foreign ownership, to become a Football League laughing-stock!

I hope I am wrong and that the Al Hasawis are successful in bringing long overdue success back to the City Ground. In urging fans to get behind Big Eck and the team, Fawaz believes that  twelve more wins will see us into the play-offs, and he obviously fancies our chances.

imagesThe next four fixtures are crucial. ‘Direby’ away, and Zola’s ‘Hornets’ at home, I’ve already mentioned. They are followed by an away day at one of McLeish’s former clubs, Birmingham, and a trip to Ashton Gate, where a certain Sean O’Driscoll has just filled the vacant manager’s seat.

We could, of course, win them all and the promotion push would be up and running. It’s what every Forest fan is hoping for – but without any real conviction. Equally, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that we could lose the lot. In which case, how ironic if SO’D’s Bristol City side should call time on his former club’s challenge!

   





Over-hyped popular pap or misunderstood Miserables?

17 01 2013


images“Tom Hooper’s film is a colossal effort – after 158 minutes, you really have experienced something. It’s just not clear what”

Peter Bradsahaw – ‘The Guardian’

“…everything is sung through, tunelessly, a technique that sounds just like a particularly affected way of shouting.”

 “Unless you surrender yourself completely to the juggernaut, this Les Misérables is exhausting, if not infuriating (it made me bad-tempered for two days, a personal record.) It’s far too long…”

 David Sexton – ‘The Evening Standard’

“Popular doesn’t always mean pap – and a form which brings such pleasure and joy to so many deserves to be celebrated and treated to … informed critical scrutiny”

Lyn Gardner – ‘The Guardian /TheatreBlog’

downloadIt is said that the shortest correspondence in literary history was between Victor Hugo and his publisher Hurst and Blacket. It followed the publication of his 1862 novel (17 years in the making) ‘Les Misérables’. Hugo queried its reception with a single-character telegram, “?” and the reply came back, “!” – indicating its success.

Even so, it is unlikely the author could have imagined that, 150 years on, the title would be so universally known as to have entered common parlance, simply as ‘Lay Miz’.

Not too many will have read Hugo’s 1,300 page novel but almost everybody is familiar, to some extent, with the Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel  musical adaptation – one that recovered from modest beginnings and indifferent early reviews to become a theatrical phenomenon.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJust over 27 years on from its tepid, first night, reception in the West End over 60 million people, in more than 40 countries and in 20 different languages, have seen the much-loved stage show.

Sally Frith, from Gloucestershire, has seen it a mere 957 times! And perhaps that is exactly the sort of obsessive devotion from fans that cause certain of us to sneer. If you watched Sue Perkins ‘Climb Every Mountain’ – a Christmas special in search of the real Maria Von Trapp – then you will know exactly what I mean.

king's speechIn the wake of, ‘The Kings’s Speech’ director, Tom Hooper’s recently released movie version of ‘Les Mis’ a lively debate has sprung up between theatre/cinema critics. There are those such as the provocative David Sexton, of ‘The Evening Standard’, who castigate musicals as ‘innately idiotic’ and who disdainfully asks, ‘How can anyone who loves music enjoy musicals?’; while Lyn Barber of ‘The Guardian’ dismisses such  views as high-minded snobbery, born of ignorance, towards an art form that fills so many with joy.

It is a movie and genre that clearly divides opinion. While most reviews are mildly euphoric a significant minority are haughtily hostile.

Musicals are not normally my preferred cinema choice but, then again, I have seen sufficient good ones: ‘West Side Story’, ‘Cabaret’, ‘Evita’, ‘Chicago’, and yes – even ‘Grease’, not to subscribe to wholesale condemnation.

LesMisLogoI have watched ‘Les Mis’ on stage, albeit nearly twenty years ago. I recall it as a moderately enjoyable affair, but one that fell short of blowing my socks off. The somewhat faded memory I carried with me to the cinema, this week, was one of an earnest tale, played out on cleverly constructed sets, carried by a few decent tunes, reprised throughout, and occasionally interspersed with harmonious, uplifting outbursts from a flag waving chorus-line.

Let’s be fair, the storyline, set against a backdrop of events leading up to and including the Paris uprising of 1832, is hardly a bundle of laughs, and to a certain extent my previous synopsis held true with the movie version – but this time around I got a sense of what all the fuss is about. In keeping with Prisoner 24601, Jean Valjean, I had my Damascene moment, finding the whole 158 minutes compelling and thoroughly enjoyable. Well pretty much – it was perhaps ten minutes or so too long!

Although some may try, it is unfair, to compare the stage production with the film, they are separate entities and should be judged as such.

Some, such as ‘American Idol’ contestant Adam Lambert, have criticised the screen version of ‘Les Mis’ for its cast of ‘pretend singers’. It is true that the main characters are played by actors not best known for their singing. But this turns out to be strength, as any slight imperfections in their musicality are more than compensated for by the emotional intensity they bring to the performance. Far better, for me, than pitch perfect singing from ‘pretend actors’.

4ca474dd18db2f9f7bf5d4e667ed6faeOne of the much publicised features of this film is that all of the singing was done live on set, to give a raw and real feel, untempered by studio technology.

I admit to having had doubts on this score, particularly with regard to Russell Crowe, an actor whose work I admire – ‘A Beautiful Mind’ is well up on my list of all-time favourites. Of all the cast, his singing was always likely to come under the closest scrutiny, but he pulled off his role as, the morally uncompromising Inspector Javert, with considerable aplomb.

photoFellow Aussie Hugh Jackman is certainly no novice and his intense performance as Jean Valjean hits all the right notes, musically and dramatically – surely a strong candidate for an Academy Award.

Susan-Boyle---I-Dreamed-A-Dream-2009-Cd-Cover-22425Ann Hathaway as Fantine, who prostitutes herself, before dying of consumption, in order to pay for the welfare of her daughter Cosette , is excellent and totally nails ‘I dreamed a dream’ – in an emotional rendition that leaves ‘SuBo’s’ ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ version looking relatively lightweight.

Les_mis_hathaway

So good was Ann Hathaway’s performance that the only criticism being levelled at her is the perfect nature of her teeth!

Eddie Redmayne, last seen on the big screen in ‘My Week With Marilyn’– and in the BBC adaptation of ‘Birdsong’- proved ideally cast as the idealistic, lovelorn,  Marius, a student revolutionary besotted by the adult Cosette, sings surprisingly well. Although, apparently, it needed 21 takes before the poignant, ‘Empty Chairs at Empty Tables’ met  Tom Hooper’s satisfaction.

Les-Miserables-Samantha-Eddie_510x317I found Amanda Seyfried, as the adult Cosette – rescued from a childhood of mistreatment and misery in the ‘care’ of the Thénardiers, and having blossomed into the apple of her ‘adoptive papa’, Valjean’s eye – rather insipid in comparison to the attractive, sultry, Éponine played by the accomplished Samantha Barks.

A veteran of the stage show, her portrayal of unrequited love for Marius and subsequent, moving, death in his arms, on the barricades, left me inclined to think he chose the wrong woman!

article-2223269-15AEE006000005DC-268_634x521Much needed, intermittent, comic relief from the doom and gloom is provided by the rascally Thénardiers, a second-rate thief of an innkeeper and his unscrupulous wife – an inspired pairing of Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter. Their flamboyant ‘Master of the House’ and ‘Beggars at the Feast’ routines were high spots and I haven’t been able to get the foot-tapping melody out of my head since!

Back at the barricades for a finale reprise of ‘Do You Hear the People Sing?’, in the ghostly presence of  Fantine, Éponine and Valjean, all bound for Paradise, there was almost a tear in my eye – but only almost!

golden globeIt may not have been altogether uplifting, melancholy it certainly was, while, as a tale of redemption, it failed my old English teacher’s quality control test – “Did it leave you thinking ‘What a piece of work is a man?’But for all that it was pretty flawless as musical drama.

It would have been beyond Victor Hugo’s comprehension that his 19th century literary masterpiece, about the wretched poor of Paris, should enjoy such longevity, through its musical theatre and cinematic renaissance.

While it may remain popular pap to some, the movie is already a Golden Globe winner, in the Best Musical or Comedy category, and it has received 8 Academy Award nominations.

Watch this space…





Not so easy like a Sunday morning without Andrew Marr…

13 01 2013

download“Andrew Marr, renaissance man, polymath, wise commentator, painter, runner, brilliant cook – and ace editor. Get well soon. Needed in public life.”

Polly Toynbee (Journalist with ‘The Guardian’)

Ed-Miliband-One-Nation-Mental-Health-speech“On behalf of myself and everybody across politics I wish Andrew Marr a speedy recovery, all best wishes to him and his family.”  

Ed Miliband (Leader of the Labour Party) on today’s ‘Andrew Marr Show’.

_64791958_64791956It wasn’t quite the same today…

Something, or rather, someone was missing…

A man on a scooter, who weaves his way through sleepy London town to deliver the Sunday papers through my TV screen…

I’m nothing, if not a creature of habit. My Sunday morning routine consists of lounging in dressing gown and slippers, spooning cereal and sipping tea in front of the early a.m. BBC TV.

Walkers---Campaign-Launch-001First up is the 07.30am re-run of ‘Match of the Day’ – given I’m generally too tired, these days, to sit through the late Saturday night show.

At 9.00am it is usually time to exchange one set of oversized lugs for another; crisp munching Gary Lineker’s FA Cup handle-sized appendages replaced by the sticky out ears of journalist and political commentator Andrew Marr.

Andrew_Marr__responding_well_to_treatment__after_suffering_a_strokeThe Sunday morning ‘Andrew Marr Show’, an hour long weekly look at what’s happening in the world, a review of the  Sunday papers, and interviews with key newsmakers, is  one of my TV highlights of the week. But unfortunately, today, the former editor of ‘The Independent’ and political editor of the BBC News was missing – recovering from a serious stroke, suffered earlier this week.

As the news broke of his hospitalization, many high-profile names from the world of politics and media took to Twitter to wish the political news veteran, and host of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Start The Week’, a hasty recovery.

article-0-16E7DFC5000005DC-681_634x347Although conscious, responding to medication and making progress, it will be some time before Andrew is able to return to the TV studio, but the BBC insist the show will go on, with a number of leading  current affairs presenters lined up to take turns in  keeping his seat warm.

First up, today, with the unenviable task was James Landale, old Etonian contemporary of ‘Call Me Dave’ and ‘BJ’ (Mayor of London). The Deputy political editor for BBC News, sensed he was on a loser from the start, opening with, “It’d be much better if Andrew were here,” before demonstrating beyond doubt that Andrew Marr’s are exceedingly big shoes to fill.

paxman460Landale’s somewhat hectoring manner and continual interruptions, during the interview with Labour Party leader Ed Miliband, owed more to the late night, ‘Newsnight’, condescension of the ‘Paxo’ school of interviewing – stuff ‘em and roast ‘em –  rather than the more ‘easy like Sunday morning’ – coffee and croissants – style of Marr.

That isn’t to say that Marr’s courteous and deceptively easy, manner allows his interviewees to get away with anything. He is something of a smiling assassin, backing his political guests into corners with seemingly innocuous questions or feeding them enough rope to hang themselves.

vine-286Hopefully, next week, ‘Eggheads’ quizmaster Jeremy Vine, who presents his own BBC Radio 2 programme of news, views and popular music, will be more in tune with the ‘AM Show’ ethos.

Mad-Magazine-mad-on-cartoon-network-24503591-1024-768Andrew Marr may have been described as gangly, geeky and bearing passing resemblance to the face of ‘Mad’ magazine – perhaps one better suited to radio – but he is a charming, erudite, presenter with a wry sense of humour.

And, despite his 2010 Cheltenham Literature Festival, pronouncement that, “ (A) lot of bloggers seem to be socially inadequate, pimpled, single, slightly seedy, bald, cauliflower nosed young men  sitting in their mother’s basements and ranting. They are very angry people” – I don’t harbour any grudges.

I simply hope he is soon fully recovered and back on his Vespa, so that my lazy Sunday mornings can get back to normal.