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.

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Highlights of Indochina…

13 05 2012

‘Care for Culture: Travel with respect to locally practised customs and beliefs. Accept alternative ways of thinking and of doing things; embrace and find intrigue in the differences that define a culture. After all, the world would be a boring place if we all did the same things and thought the same way.’

Travel Indochina: ‘Tread Lightly – A Guide to Responsible Travel’  (extract)

Our 13 day tour was officially called ‘Highlights of Indochina’. Fracnk, our tour leader, referred to it as, ‘the rock star tour, 3 countries in 12 days,’ – Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.

The itinerary was pretty much full on, but there were a couple of down-time sessions in laid back Laos, and an afternoon by the pool in Siem Reap – after a 04.45 start to catch the sunrise at Angkor Wat. Oh and the cruise around Halong Bay was fairly leisurely too.

There are so many memories, but I guess my overall top 5 highlights would be:

Luang Prabang: in its entirety, an absolute architectural gem, surrounded by mountainous forests and situated at the confluence of the Khan and Mekong Rivers, and in the words of the Lonely Planet guide (Vietnam, Cambodia Laos & the Greater Mekong), ‘a tonic for the soul’. Of all the places, we visited, the one to which I would return.

The Temples of Angkor: representing six hundred years (802-1432) of Khmer civilisation – one of Asia’s greatest kingdoms.

Halong Bay: mysterious and majestic, 1600 limestone islands and karsts, shrouded in mist, rising from the waters of the Gulf of Tonkin.

The Mekong Delta: taking a boat along the southern reaches of the mighty Mekong River, exploring its narrow canals and marvelling at the lives of the local people.

Hanoi: the vibrant and historical capital city of Vietnam with its French Colonial architecture and broad tree-lined boulevards, cheek by jowl with the pulsating Old Quarter, a warren of narrow streets, bubbling with commerce and teeming with life.    

Highlights of Vietnam     

Ho Chi Minh City (still ‘Saigon’ to the locals):

Crossing the road: If Saigon had a symbol it would be the motorbike. There are 6 million swarming along the broad boulevards and buzzing around the narrow back streets. Crossing the road is an art form. Stride out confidently, walk slowly but purposefully, and the traffic will just flow around you. It actually happens – but it takes a leap of faith the first time you try it.

Dong Khoi (formerly Rue Catinat): Our first port of call, after checking in, was the Caravelle Hotel, home to the renowned rooftop ‘Saigon Saigon’ bar, which affords a wonderful view along Dong Khoi. We sipped on our first, ice-cold, Saigon Special beer, gazing down on the  beautifully baroque municipal theatre, past the historic Continental Hotel (setting for much of the action in Graham Greene’s, 1950s novel, ‘The Quiet American’ & a film location for the movie, starring Michael Caine) and on up to the red brick, neo-Romanesque, Notre Dame Cathedral.

‘Pho 2000’: Slurping through, our first, pho (pronounced ‘fur’). Noodle soup, fit for a former US President -Bill Clinton, once stopped by for a steaming bowl, and this humble establishment has been dining out on that ever since.   

War Remnants Museum: A disturbing account of the atrocities committed by US Forces during the Vietnam War. Graphic photographs of the horrors of war, as seen through the lenses of the world’s photo-press, and a reminder of the ongoing suffering for those born with defects caused by US use of the ‘Agent Orange’ defoliant.   

The Majestic Hotel: Marvelling at the marbled lobby, with chandeliers and stained glass skylight of this 1925 landmark, one of SE Asia’s classic colonial hotels, and sharing a pizza on the balcony, overlooking the Mekong River.

Out & about around Ho Chi Minh City:

Cu Chi: This district northwest of HCMC, strategically important to the communists, being located at the end of the Ho Chi Minh Trail supply route, played a key role in the winning of the Vietnam War. The Viet Cong created a spider’s web of secret, interconnecting tunnels, (extending to three levels underground and stretching over 250km) linking Cu Chi to the outskirts of Saigon.    

The Cao Dai pagoda: Gaudily  decorated home to a bizarrely unique sect, founded in Tay Ninh Province in 1926. It is the ultimate compromise in religion, fusing together, elements of Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. Cao Dai philosophy allows humans with particular talents or achievements to be accorded ‘deity’ status. These include multi-talented French writer, artist, and political activist, Victor Hugo, – author of ‘Les Misérables’, and ‘Hanoi Jane’, Hollywood Actress and anti – Vietnam War campaigner Jane Fonda. Forever ‘Barbarella’ to me!      

Elephant Ear Fish: A local speciality, freshly caught, and served for lunch on the palm shaded banks of a Mekong Delta waterway.    

Hanoi:

Temple of Literature: A historical seat of learning, Hanoi’s first university – dating back to 1070 – now dedicated to Confucian worship.

‘Uncle Ho’:  The man in khaki, father of modern Vietnam, remains an inspirational figure for many.

He eschewed the grand colonial style Presidential Palace for a humble house on stilts, now part of the Ho Chi Minh complex, which also includes an informative museum dedicated to his life, and the giant marble mausoleum where his body resides in death. Overseen by white uniformed guards, located on Ba Dinh Square, it was built on the site from which he read Vietnam’s Declaration of Independence, on 2nd September 1945.

The One Pillar Pagoda:  A picturesque iconic national symbol, designed to represent a lotus blossom, perched, above a small pond, on a single concrete pillar. It was originally built, in 1049, by King Ly Thai Thong to thank Buddha for gifting him a son.

Hoa Lo Prison: Known as the ‘Hanoi Hilton’, to US POWs, its name means ‘fiery furnace’. On display is the flying suit of US POW, former presidential candidate, John McCain, who later served as US ambassador to Vietnam! Our tour of the grim cells and museum, featuring a French guillotine (frequently use in the early 1900s) was enlightened by a delightful party of curious, chatty school children – same the world over!  

Temple of the Jade Mound: Situated on a tiny islet at the north end of the tranquil Hoan Kiem Lake, it is reached by crossing a bright red bridge. Just a couple of hundred yards away from the gateway is the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre, which showcases the age-old art of water puppetry. Some of our group were less than impressed by the 40 minute show, with traditional music and choral accompaniment, but I enjoyed it!                   

Out and about around Hanoi:

Patient, persistent, enterprising and industrious people: Chris was politely approached by an observant young man brandishing a small tube of super glue. The sole on one of her comfortable old sandals was, ever so slightly, beginning to come away. Chris declined his offer of running repairs for, ‘Just one dollar’. Sometime later, after trudging around the old quarter we pulled into a bar for liquid refreshment. Chris looked up from her beer to see a familiar, imploring face waving his tube of ‘UHU’. He had trailed us, at a distance, for about 40 minutes, to make another sales pitch. She couldn’t resist a second time.    

Fields full of conical hats: Busy workers bent double, farming rice and market garden produce, using traditional labour intensive methods of cultivation – assisted by the occasional water buffalo.

Coracle taxis: Being rowed around a, Halong Bay, floating village, in a Vietnamese coracle, fashioned with interwoven bamboo. We stopped off at a floating school, equipped by an Australian charity – oh yes, and a floating gift shop!  

Highlights of Laos

Luang Prabang

The Alms ceremony: Rising at 5.30 am to watch saffron robed Buddhist monks file through the streets, following this, centuries old ritual, collecting alms from the local people.

Phu Si: Climbing the steps to the golden stupa on the 100m high summit, for a stunning 360˚panorama.  

Wat Xieng Thong: Luang Pabang’s most magnificent temple, with its tiered roofs sweeping low to the ground, and glittering ‘Tree of Life’ mosaic.        

Petanque:  Watching the locals for a few pointers, before taking part in a game ourselves, beside the Wat Pha Bat Tai riverside temple. And then gazing across the mighty Mekong, as the sun faded away. 

Exploring Lao Cuisine: An interactive class at the Tamarind Restaurant Cooking School, preparing our evening meal, using traditional Lao techniques, such as steaming fish in banana leaves and stuffing lemongrass with minced chicken, spring onions, garlic and coriander.

Lao Beer: Large, chilled bottles of refreshing lager beer – probably the best in Indochina!

Out and about around Luang Prabang:

Pak Ou Caves: A leisurely Mekong boat trip, up river, to the mysterious ‘cave of a thousand Buddhas’, where in accordance with  ancient tradition, locals still continue to add, annually, to a huge repository of statues, of all sizes – many are centuries old.   

Kuang Si Falls: A many tiered waterfall, in a beautiful setting, surrounded by thick jungle vegetation, around 32km from LP. Chris found time to cool off by taking a dip in the turquoise waters of one of a series of natural pools.  

Highlights of Cambodia

Sunrise at Angkor Wat:  Rising at 4.30 am for a pre-dawn tuk-tuk to the eastern entrance, silently creeping through the temple, by torch-light, before watching the sunrise, gradually illuminating its fabled towers, mirrored in the waters of an ancient reflective pool – truly spellbinding.    

Bayon Temple: A cluster of conical towers, 54 in total, with a staggering 216 gigantic stone faces of Avolokiteshvara (the Buddha of Compassion), purportedly bearing an uncanny likeness to King Jayavarman VII, in a state of peaceful meditation.  

Tah Prohm: An atmospheric jungle enveloped temple, its crumbling galleries and pillars entwined by gigantic roots, still looking much as it did in the 1850s when it was ‘rediscovered’ by French explorer Henri Mouhot. It is now familiar to cinema goers, the world over, through the adventures of the seductive ‘Lara Croft: Tomb Raider’.      

Banteay Srei: A less visited, outlying temple, known as the ‘Citadel of Women’, small in scale but with wonderfully ornate sandstone carvings – an absolute jewel in the Angkor crown.  

Akira’s story: A quite remarkable tale, told through the informative landmine museum, close by to Banteay Srei temple. As a child, the orphaned Akira was forced to fight for the Khmer Rouge, before switching sides to the Vietnamese army. After laying land-mines, throughout the war, when peace finally came to Cambodia, he set out to ‘right his wrongs’ by working as a de-miner for the UN.    

Les Artisans d’Angkor silk farm: An informative visit, explaining the entire silk making process, from the life cycle of the silkworm right through to the gift-shop – stocked with expensive high quality products.   

Sundown in Siem Reap: Escaping the heat, relaxing in a big cane chair, sipping Angelina Jolie’s favourite ‘Tomb Raider’ cocktail (Cointreau, lime & soda) on the pavement terrace of the old colonial ‘Red Piano’, or enjoying an Angkor Beer on the balcony of the ‘Foreign Correspondents’ Club’, before tucking into curried fish, ‘amok’, at the ‘Amok Restaurant’, in the passage to the old market.   

Wonderful memories, of our Highlights of Indochina experience, that already seem a lifetime away!

 

 

 





This week’s winners and losers…

6 05 2012

BoJo – on being appointed Mayor of London:

On being re-elected – ‘We survived the rain, the BBC, the Budget and the endorsement of David Cameron’

On becoming Prime Minister – ‘My chances of becoming PM are about as good as finding Elvis on Mars, or my being reincarnated as an olive.’

On how to vote ‘Voting Tory will cause your wife to have bigger breasts and increase your chances of owning a BMW M3.’

  

Roy Hodgson – on being appointed England Manager:  

‘Dealing with the mass media has been part of my life, not one I’ve shied away from. But my forte, and what I want to do, is coach footballers; prepare, build and improve football teams. If I’m going to be vulnerable or lacking in any area, it might be that I don’t have a thick enough skin to deal with you guys (the press)’     

 

Following my SE Asia sojourn, it’s high time I got back into the blogging groove…

We touched down at Heathrow, just over a week ago, having returned from an amazing, thirteen-day, whistle-stop, ‘Highlights of Indochina’ tour, through Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.

Following a nineteen hour return journey, from Siem Reap, we arrived home to experience, at first hand, the much publicised border control delays – just about clearing passport control within the 45 minute maximum waiting time.

Back in the Shire, we were greeted by brooding, slate grey skies and a lawn which resembled the paddy fields we had left behind in SE Asia. Pretty much incessant rain during our time away, has barely abated since our return, making a predictable mockery of the official, drought status, afforded to much of the country, just prior to our departure.

I know how the argument goes, wrong type of rain, wrong time, wrong place – it’s just like leaves on the track! What about improving the infrastructure – building a few more reservoirs and fixing a few leaks in the mains distribution system?  

Unfortunately clear blue skies and temperatures of 40˚C are already a fading memory. 

But, despite the damp dismal days, it’s been an interesting and busy week with one or two noteworthy events raising a wry smile or two.    

In the world of politics, local elections have produced a mid-term anti-austerity backlash against the coalition government, and a second term as London Mayor for one Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, aka BoJo, who survived the endorsement of ‘Call me Dave’, bucking the national trend.

Passed his sell by date, ‘Red Ken’ Livingstone, failed to withstand a media battering and sadly exited, left, a life in politics, spanning over 40 years, to spend more time with his newts.          

It was an extremely close run mayoral election that turned out to be more about personality than policy, and one which Labour might have won with a candidate that carried less baggage than Ken.

It was interesting, but hardly surprising, that the electorates in Birmingham, Manchester, Nottingham and Coventry (traditionally all part of Labour’s heartland) rejected Cameron’s call for a mayor in every major city. 

I still don’t feel comfortable declaring Thursday’s results a great electoral comeback by Labour. Even I would concede it was more a case of votes against the coalition and that there is still a long way to go in winning back public confidence before the 2015 general election. 

However what the results have done is secure Ed Miliband as leader of the opposition, which many Labour supporters will see as a negative rather than positive. Although, egg splattered, Ed thought it was a cracking result, even he conceded it was just a start. There is no doubting his honour and sincerity, but he lacks the clarity and sure-footedness of  brother, David, who packs a much bigger punch. I fear the wrong Miliband is in charge.      

All parties should be concerned at such nationwide apathy. A turn out of 31% is disgraceful, no matter how disillusioned people may feel about politics and politicians. A silent majority of 69% is not a healthy state of affairs and in effect only serves to encourage those in power to continue doing as they please, with impunity.

 In the sporting press, the appointment of England’s new football manager caught out most pundits. He might not drop his aitches, like ‘Arry, but as ‘The Sun’ cruelly pointed out, ‘Woy’ has a speech impediment of his own.   

As we know all too well, the Murdoch press, like to get their way. The red top had thrown its full support behind media friendly, Spurs manager, Redknapp, as the next man to pick up the poisoned chalice. But to the FA’s credit they were not intimidated, and following a rigorous appointment process, opted for, the mild-mannered, school masterly, ‘Baggies’ boss, Roy Hodgson. 

Like the playground bully who doesn’t get his way, ‘The Sun’ typically, and unfairly, hit back by immediately ridiculing the FA’s new man.

In my opinion the FA have made a good choice and are to be congratulated. I never thought ‘Arry was right for the job and, to be honest, his performance as Spurs manager has been pretty tame since the speculation, surrounding the England position, kicked off.

Hodgson’s C.V. stands head and shoulders above any other English manager in the Premier League. He has European experience, both at club and international level. He even got the Swiss to 3rd in the world, for heaven’s sake!   

His record, with limited resources, at Fulham and West Brom, cannot be faulted. Yes, there was a glitch at Anfield, where to my mind he was pretty shabbily treated, essentially for failing to be ‘King Kenny’.  

I hope the media and England football fans will, moderate their expectations and give Hodgson the backing he deserves. Although unlikely, it would be lovely if England could spring a surprise at this summer’s Euros. In which case ‘The Sun’ would, surely, have to acknowledge, ‘It’s Woy Wot Won It‘    

Watching yesterday’s FA Cup final, it did cross my mind that if ponderous Liverpool had persevered with Hodgson, there might have been a better brand of football on display from the men in Red – we’ll never know.   

Certainly, in my opinion, Liverpool under Dalglish, have failed miserably, with both their on the field performances, and off the field behaviour – a legendary club brought into unseemly disrepute over the Suarez saga. Kenny’s crown is beginning to look tarnished and distinctly wobbly.   

Yesterday his team certainly weren’t at the races for much of the game.

There was a time when the FA Cup final used to be the undisputed televised sporting occasion of the year. Sadly what was a jewel in the English football crown, has lost its sparkle in recent years.

Times move on, and a domestic knock out cup competition, with a history that was once the envy of the footballing world, is now no more than second-rate, a shadow of its former self.        

At half time in yesterday’s tepid tea time affair, I came very close to switching from ITV’s lacklustre coverage, to ‘Come Dine with Me’ –  which just shows how uninspiring the first 45 minutes had been.    

But the 11 million viewers (undoubtedly, ‘the Cup’ still has a nostalgic allure for many) who stuck with it were eventually rewarded. Chelsea at 2-0 up, after Drogba’s customary Wembley Final goal (four in four) switched off. Liverpool’s last throw of the dice pitched on their over-priced, under-performing striker, Andy Carroll. For one Twitter wag, Carroll galloping into the fray evoked memories of the famous White Horse Final of 1923! 

But the Geordie with the ponytail, seen by many, as more of a cart-horse than thoroughbred, transformed the game and for the final twenty minutes we actually had a spectacle worthy of the occasion.

It was quite alarming, how a Chelsea defence that had been untroubled for over an hour, suddenly buckled, under Carroll’s physical presence. The big man showed deceptively quick feet, in the face of some appallingly pedestrian defending by former England captain John Terry (Roy Hodgson take note) before powering a left foot shot into the roof of the net – game on!

As Liverpool rained yet another long ball into the Chelsea box, Carroll found acres of space to climb and head powerfully towards the top corner. His goal-bound effort had equaliser written all over it, but as it clipped the underside of the bar, Chelsea keeper Cech somehow clawed the ball away before it had entirely crossed the line.

At least that was the linesman’s take on it, and one which, thankfully, appeared to be upheld by countless TV replays. But surely this was another clear example of the case for goal-line technology.  

For sure it was the defining moment of the game, and the single piece of action which will linger long in the memory. ‘Chelski’ deserved their fourth FA Cup win, in six seasons, under the Wembley Arch, picking up a trophy for delighted, caretaker manager, Roberto Di Matteo. But they have far bigger fish to fry, in Munich, in a fortnight’s time.                             

Elsewhere this week, I was invited by the North Worcestershire Rotary Club to give a presentation on the work of VSO, and my recent placement in Rwanda. It was surprisingly well received, and not only have I received a welcome cheque for VSO funds, but also there is a distinct possibility that the Club’s International Committee might become involved in raising further money, for a specific project, involving the two Rwandan schools I worked with – so a pretty successful night!

 

On the music front, I attended Wednesday’s opening gig of this year’s Cheltenham Jazz Festival. Legendary, Grammy Award winning, song-smith Steve Winwood, former guitar/keyboard and vocalist with the Spencer Davis Group, Blind Faith and Traffic, was in fine form rocking the colourful Festival Big Top with his current group of highly talented musicians.

I look forward to returning on Monday, when Paloma Faith closes this year’s event, with a world exclusive, performed with the Guy Barker Orchestra, showcasing previously unheard material from her follow-up album to, ‘Do You Want the Truth or Something Beautiful?’.          

 

                     

 





The Bradford Spring – Big Brother is watching you…

30 03 2012

 The thoughts of ‘Gorgeous George’: 

‘…the disappearance of the Soviet Union is the biggest catastrophe of my life – if there was a Soviet Union today, we would not be… plunging into a new war in the Middle East, and the US would not be rampaging around the globe.’ – George Galloway on Iraq

‘Sir I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability’ – Galloway to Saddam Hussein 

‘…Not at all. I had three goals and all of them were met….to raise a significant amount of money for Palestinian refugees…to use my fee to employ two new members of staff in my constituency office…to take my existence and the Respect party to a wider and bigger public…’ – Galloway on whether ‘Celebrity Big Brother‘ was a mistake.

 ‘…the most sensational result in British by-election history.’ – Galloway on the ‘Bradford Spring’

‘Labour has been hit by a tidal wave in a seat it held for many decades in a city it dominated for 100 years…’ – Galloway on his former Party – Labour

You couldn’t have written the script.

Following a post budget week in which the press and TV media had become so obsessed with ‘Granny tax’, ‘Pasty-Gate’, Pay for View meetings with the PM, and the growing mayhem at Britain’s petrol pumps, they were well and truly caught on the wrong foot by the emergence of the biggest story of all.

They had been so eaten up by the plight of the poor pasty, following the announcement that VAT will be slapped on a staple, hearty, food for millions. And then there were,‘Call me Dave’,Cameron’s sound-bites, announcing himself as a card-carrying pasty lover who will be affected along with the rest of us – ‘I’m a pasty eater myself. I go to Cornwall on holiday. I love a hot pasty’. Well he distinctly remembers buying one, once anyway, from the West Cornwall Pasty Company on Leeds Station – an outlet that closed in 2007.

They had been so fuelled up by petrol pump panic buying, following Cabinet Minister Francis Maude’s ill-timed advice to be prepared for the, still to be announced, petrol tank drivers’ strike. And we were all too busy queuing, topping up as soon as the gauge dipped below ¾ full (or ¼ empty), and – to hell with the fire hazard – filling our jerrycans for good measure.     

No one saw it coming.

Nobody noticed, the former celebrity ‘cat’ from the Big Brother house, Gorgeous George Galloway, pussy footing his way through the Bradford West by-election, licking his lips and preening his whiskers in anticipation of the, cat that got the cream, photo-calls, and the grudging ‘Respect’ from his political opponents, that would herald his return to Westminster, with a 10,000 (that is ten thousand) vote majority!          

By-elections, notoriously, throw up unexpected results but not too many foresaw the scale of this upset, in what was considered a safe Labour seat, and at the back-end of a difficult week for the Coalition, in which Labour had extended their lead in the opinion polls.

So the Respect Party politician who was once dubbed ‘the honourable member for Baghdad Central’, following his contact with Saddam Hussein, is now the honourable member, for what many of its inhabitants refer to as ‘the forgotten city’, Bradford (West).

While Galloway basked in his glorious ‘Bradford Spring’, Labour MP, Toby Perkins summed the situation up as follows: ‘They’d seen him on Big Brother. They wanted him on their streets and now they’ve got it, and let’s hope he lives up to the promise that he’s made to them and actually delivers…which hasn’t always been the experience of constituents.’

One thing is for certain ‘Gorgeous George’ is nobody’s fool, and he can certainly talk the talk. Whether the born again parliamentarian can walk the walk, in his adopted constituency, is another story – only time will tell.

Bill Bryson once remarked, ‘Bradford’s role in life is to make every place in the world look better by comparison.’

There is little doubt that Galloway’s presence will help raise the profile of a city with an image that suffered badly at the hands of the recent, so-called, ‘ground-breaking’, Channel 4 documentary ‘Make Bradford British’. Judging by which, he will certainly have his work cut out to unify its multi-cultural population.   

However, what Galloway’s success does highlight is the enormity of the general public’s current dissatisfaction with all three mainstream parties, and how worryingly ineffective Labour has been, in opposition, with the Coalition government at its lowest ebb since May 2010.   





A lazy kind of Sunday: ‘That was the year that was’ 1962…

6 02 2012

‘The Sunday Times Magazine’…

‘My God this is going to be a disaster’

Roy Thompson (1894-1976): Canadian owner of the ‘ST’ when the world’s first newspaper colour magazine was launched – February 4th 1962.

‘Heart of Class …you’re still fresh after 50 years…’

Debbie Harry  (1945 – ): American singer songwriter, lead singer with seventies new wave rock band Blondie, in the Anniversary Issue – February 5th 2012. 

It was a busy kind of Saturday. It was an Oxford flat viewing kind of day (the first of many I suspect) with Nicci and an estate agent, full of schoolboy charm!

But on the plus side it was also pub lunch kind of day, a succulent steak and Stilton pie with a pint of ‘Old Hooky’ (from the nearby Hook Norton Brewery – ‘where progress is measured in pints’) at the splendid 17th century ‘White Hart’ pub, in Headington.

It was also a quick ‘getaway’ kind of day, escaping back to ‘the Shire’, across the Cotswolds, just ahead of forecast heavy snow fall.  

It was a lazy kind of Sunday.  It should have been a  morning drive up to ‘Pride Park’, for a lunch time East Midlands clash between the ‘Trickless Trees’  and ‘the Sheep’, kind of day. But the aforementioned snow intervened and a welcome early postponement changed the tone of the day.

It was now a snuggle down with hot bagels (dripping with butter and homemade marmalade) and a steaming cafetière, kind of day; a surround yourself with Sunday papers, listen to England’s Testing times in sunny middle eastern climes, and catch up with the opening weekend of the 6 Nations Rugby, kind of day.

But first, being  fresh out of coffee and in need of a paper it was a trudge into Upton, over snow-covered fields and across the marina bridge, below which a pair of swans were skating on decidedly thin ice, kind of day.

My paper of choice had already sold out – ‘The suppliers only delivered half a dozen, they couldn’t have thought it was an ‘Observer’ kind of day’ – so I settled for the Sunday Times (usually far too many sections for my liking).

As I finally settled down to reading, I found it was  a quite by chance kind of day. Tucked inside the paper was a 50th Anniversary Issue of The Sunday Times Magazine, and it was quickly turning into a nostalgic 1960s kind of day…   

The Sunday Times colour supplement magazine was the world’s first – published on the Feb 4th 1962.

It was born on the eve of the Swinging Sixties, a period of unprecedented social change. Top quality photo journalism was at its core but it was more than a photo magazine, quickly gaining a reputation for its incisive copy on contemporary news and issues.

Over the last 50 years, Sunday Times Magazine covers have provided countless iconic images, redolent of their time.

English model and actress Jean Shrimpton appeared on the very first cover, photographed by her then boyfriend  David Bailey, a pair of emerging talents who epitomised the ‘London swings…’  culture of high fashion, celebrity and chic.  

The Anniversary colour supplement looked back at key events it has covered over the last 50 years, and  how life has changed (or not) since that first issue 1962.

In February 1962 I was a nine-year old school boy (9 yrs and 8 months to be precise) and little did I know, at the time,  that I was about to spend my formative early teenage years in what was to become the most exciting and revolutionary decade in British 20th century history.    

What follows is a slice of life circa 1962, just before sixties began to really swing  – 50 items of trivia, news and events that summarise the year the ‘ST Magazine’ had its genesis. It might mean something to those of  ‘my generation’ but diddly-squat to my kids, and one day, even less to theirs!

In 1962 it was a very fine year, a  year of…        

1                     Hair curlers: no self respecting girl could be seen out on a Friday or Saturday night without first setting her hair in rollers 

2                     Green Shield stamp albums : an early customer loyalty scheme, trading stamps were issued with everything from groceries to petrol, and completed  albums could be exchanged for  electric irons, drills, carriage clocks…  

3                    £ s d : there were still 12 pennies in a shilling and 20 shillings in a pound, and if you received a birthday card with a ten shilling note enclosed, you were a king!   

4                    Ladybird books:  pocket-sized hardbacks for children with a distinctive ladybird logo, priced half a crown (or 2/6), covered  stoneage to space race

5                      Black & white television: with just two channels, BBC and ITV

6                      ‘Dixon of Dock Green’: ‘Evening all!’ – Jack Warner, an old-fashioned beat bobby, was immensely popular but soon to be over taken by…

7                     ‘Z Cars’:  a  gritty cutting edge police drama launched by the BBC,starring a youthful Brian Blessed as PC Fancy Smith  

8                     ‘The Black & White Minstrel Show’: despite its distasteful blacked up faces, a popular weekly light musical entertainment show  

9                     ‘Steptoe and Son’: an early BBC sit com about cockney rag and bone men – the talk of the playground when old man Steptoe used his false teeth to extract pickled onions from a jar!  

10                  ‘The Archers’ : ‘an everyday story of country folk’ on the BBC Home Service, every bit as  popular then as now!

11                   ‘The Navy Lark’: a flag-ship comedy on the BBC Light Programme,  full of eccentrics and innuendo – starring Jon Pertwee and Ronnie Barker amongst others  

12                   Harold MacMillan: Britain was still essentially conservative, with both a lower and upper case C, and ‘Super Mac’ told us we had never had it so good!

13                   Blackpool: was still the time-honoured seaside resort of choice for many but…

14                  Package holidays: were tempting a few trailblazing Brits abroad – an all-inclusive Globalair holiday to Mallorca cost 35 guineas, and …  

15                 British Airways: British European Airways way back then, were offering  8 days in Paris for £25 and 8 shillings, or a fortnight on the Venice Lido for £55

16                 Married life: barely one in 20 births were outside marriage, the majority of women married by 24, only a third of wives worked, and divorce rates were as low as 2.1 per 1000 married couples

17                 High rise tower blocks: slum clearance programmes were well under way and building upwards was seen as the communal progressive future

18                 Birmingham Bull Ring Centre: construction started on Brum’s state of the art indoor shopping complex

19                 Ken Morrison: opened his first supermarket in Bradford

20                ‘Golden Wonder’: cheese and onion, the first flavoured crisps, went on sale

21                 The Ring Pull:  invented by Ermal Cleon Fraze (of Dayton Ohio), revolutionised the drinks industry – it was the real thing!

22                 ‘Maxwell House’:  Brits were beginning to wake up and  smell ‘coffee pot fresh’ instant coffee

23                  ‘Players’: cigarettes were sexy, and the ‘People Love Players’ advertising slogan was to be found everywhere – with not a government health warning in sight 

24                 The Ford Cortina: was the undisputed car of the decade

25                The Ford Consul Classic 315: with a ‘boundless boot’, twin headlamps, front disc brakes, variable speed wipers and a top speed of 80 mph (well 78.4 to be precise) could be all  yours for  £745 (£13,000 in today’s money) 

26       John Bloom’s Rolls Domestic Products: labour saving domestic appliances, such washing machines, became available at a price that was within reach of the working class   

27                 Formica: Formica kitchens were all the rage as was…

28                 Bri-Nylon: the very first full page colour advert in the Sunday Times colour  supplement  was for a Bri-Nylon carpet

29                 11 plus examinations: still separated children into grammar school and secondary modern – but the call for a comprehensive review was beginning to gather momentum

30                 Satire:‘Private Eye’ magazine began life as a silly jokes publication with cartoons – a sort of alternative punch and …

31                 Millicent Martin: had us humming  along to the signature tune of a newly launched satirical TV review of the week ,‘That Was The Week That Was’ – or ‘TW3’ – presented by David Frost, produced by Ned Sherrin and scripted by John Cleese, Peter Cook and Roald Dahl, to name but a few

32              Transistor Radios: prices dropped dramatically for the most popular electronic communication device in history, and for the first time people could listen to music wherever they went   

33                 Alan ‘Fluff’ Freeman: invited ‘Pop Pickers’ to join him in a new weekly chart countdown show, on the Light Programme – just about the only contemporary Pop Music programme to be aired by the BBC – ‘All right? Stay bright! – Not arf!’  

34                 Acker Bilk: the bearded jazz clarinetist, in the bowler hat, had the best-selling single of the year with  ‘Stranger on the Shore’

35                 The Beatles: famously turned down by Decca Records, released their first single, ‘Love Me Do’, on the Parlophone label – and the rest as they say is history

36                 The Twist: the first world-wide dance craze was led by Chubby Checker who won a Grammy Award for ‘Let’s Twist Again’ – Best Rock & Roll Recording!

37                 Telstar:  became the 1st communications satellite intended for regular service – relaying TV signals from North America to Europe. A  pop tune of the same name, by the Tornadoes, became the 1st and only instrumental to simultaneously  top the charts on both sides of the Atlantic  

38                 JFK: Jack Kennedy, was US President at the  time of the Soviet Missile Crisis, successfully negotiating the removal of USSR missiles from Cuba – the nearest the ‘super powers’ have ever came to war.

39                 Marilyn Monroe: in March, 36-year-old ‘Norma Jeane’, icon of the silver screen, won a World Film Favourite Golden Globe, by August she was dead, found lying naked in her bed with an empty bottle of sleeping pills by her side

40                 James Bond: ‘Dr No’, the first Bond film, was released starring Sean Connery as 007, with Ursula Andress striding out of the ocean, in a white bikini, and into popular cinematic history   

41                 ‘Lawrence of Arabia’: starring Peter O’Toole in the title role was ‘blockbuster’ of the year, winning 7 Oscars, including ‘Best Film’, but Gregory Peck stole ‘Best Actor’, as Atticus, in the highly acclaimed film version of Harper Lee’s classic novel ‘To Kill A Mocking Bird’.      

42                 DH Lawrence: the indecency ban on the controversial 1928 novel ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ was finally lifted and schoolboys across the nation searched between its paperback covers for the ‘dirty bits’, without really knowing what they were looking for!

43                 Ground-breaking novels: ‘One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich’ was published by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, raising global awareness of  the Soviet Union’s forced labour camp system, while in the ‘land of the free’ Ken Kesey’s ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’, set in an asylum, raised questions about the institutional process and the human mind

44           32 Campbell’s Soup Cans : the humble soup can was immortalised  by pop-artist Andy Warhol, using a semi-mechanised silkscreen process   

45           Concorde: Britain and France signed an agreement to develop the world’s first supersonic airliner

46          ‘Nike’: Phil Knight developed the first Nike running shoe

47     Stirling Moss:  retired from Formula 1 racing after a crash left him in a coma for a month and partially paralysed for 6 months. He raced to 16 Grand Prix wins and was runner-up in the driver’s championship on 3 consecutive occasions. For years thereafter anybody picked up by the police, for exceeding the speed limit, would be greeted with the line, ‘Who do you think you are then– Stirling Moss?’

48                 The Football World Cup:  was held in Chile and won by Brazil who beat Czechoslovakia  3-1 in the final (without their star player – Pele)

49                 Eusebio: Lisbon side Benfica beat Real Madrid 5-3 in the European Cup Final. Eusebio scored 2 goals launching himself as a European rival to Pele, for the title of  best footballer in the world  

50               Ipswich Town: won the Football League Championship for the only time in their history, managed by Alf Ramsey (who would later lead England to 1966 World Cup glory), while Tottenham Hotspur won the FA Cup Final for the second consecutive year, beating Burnley 3-1, with goals by Jimmy Greaves, Bobby Smith, and a penalty by captain Danny Blanchflower.

And that was the year that was 1962.





‘Pigeon English’

21 01 2012

Thoughts for the Day:

‘You are not responsible only for what you say, but also for what you do not say.’

‘Everything that is done in this world is done by hope.’

‘Whatever your heart clings to and confides in, that is really your God.’

Martin Luther King Junior (1929-68)

Martin Luther King Day (17.01.2012)

A principal figure in the US Civil Rights campaign, the Baptist minister advocated non-violent direct action in the battle against discrimination, winning the 1965 Nobel Peace Prize before his assassination, in Memphis Tennessee, on 4th April 1968.

King will forever be remembered for his, ‘I have a dream…’ speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC, following the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of the US nation – August 1963

The 3rd Monday of January – close to his birthday of 15th January – is designated a US Federal holiday. This year he would have been 82 years old.

‘Jambo Rafiki!’

It was an unexpected surprise to briefly catch up with my friend (‘rafiki’) Msafiri last night, owner of the ‘KMC’ bar in downtown Nyakarambi (Rwanda) – home of the special omelette, goat (‘iheni’) kebab, ‘Primus’ beer and big screen Premiership football.  

During my ‘VSO’ stint in Rwanda, a visit to ‘KMC’, a couple of times a week, was a social highlight. It was the only bar in Nyakarambi with its own generator so when the regular power cuts cloaked the village in darkness we were still in business.

The Internet in Rwanda, as with the rest of Africa, is notoriously unreliable, painfully slow, and so it’s difficult to maintain regular correspondence. But last night, quite by chance, Msafiri and I were both on ‘Facebook’ at the same time and managed ‘talk’ for a while.

Msafiri was in the capital, Kigali, closing a deal – expanding his ‘business empire’ by the acquisition of a 30 room hotel (with its own small garden) in the city. I really hope it works out well for him.

It’s nearly a year since we last met up in Rwanda. It was Msafiri, with his safari guide friend Ben, who accompanied Chris and me on our unforgettable Tanzanian voyage of discovery in the Serengeti and Ngorongoro.

Africa is calling. It would be great to return – perhaps next year!                       

 ‘Pigeon English’  

Perhaps I’m a bit slow off the mark, but I’ve just finished reading Stephen Kelman’s debut novel, ‘Pigeon English’. It was brilliant, ‘Asweh!’  – to pinch a favourite Ghanaian expression from the central character, eleven year old immigrant, Harrison Opoku.

It is a story written from a child’s view point, but it is not a children’s book. Recovered from a literacy agency’s ‘slush pile’, it famously became the subject of a bidding war between twelve UK publishers, before being secured by Bloomsbury for a high six-figure fee and gate-crashing the 2011 ‘Man Brooker Prize’ shortlist.

Putting the hype aside, it is an excellent read, funny, moving and ultimately, as Harri might say, ‘hutious’ (frightening).

It is a tale about the pressures of growing up in modern urban Britain, with its attendant poverty, gang culture and knife crime. It owes much to the real life experience of the author, growing up on a Luton housing estate, and the tragic case of 10-year-old Damilola Taylor, killed on a Peckham estate in 2000.

Harri, newly arrived in London from Ghana, with his mother and older sister, Lydia, lives on floor 9 (out of 14) in ‘Copenhagen House’, a ‘Dell Farm Estate’, tower block.

His father, grandmother and baby sister Agnes are left behind in Ghana, until enough money can be raised for them to relocate, to a ‘better life’ in England.     

Harri is pre-occupied with the excitement of adjusting to a new lifestyle in an alien culture, and coping with the half-understood menace that pervades the shady underworld that surrounds him.           

Harri narrates the story and much of its humour comes from the mixture of ‘pidgin’, that he naturally uses, and his interpretation of new ‘Londonese’ words and phrases he picks up along the way. “In English there’s a hell of different words for everything. It’s for if you forget one, there’s always another one left over.”              

The title refers not only to the way Harri speaks but also to a feral pigeon that he tries to befriend and that he comes to believe is watching over him – a sort of guardian angel.  

Alongside Harri’s childlike desire to outrun everyone in Y7, in his treasured ‘Diadora’ trainers (from the Cancer Shop), and his growing affection for bespectacled, blonde, Poppy, sits a dangerously naïve fascination for the threatening Dell Farm Crew gang members.  

There’s also a murder mystery to solve. Who ‘chooked’ the dead boy outside ‘Chicken Joe’s’? Harri and his friend Dean, who knows everything about being a detective, aim to find out…

‘Advise yourself!’ – it will make you laugh, and cry, ‘for donkey years.’    

 

 





‘…if you want something done ask a woman’ – ‘The Iron Lady’

20 01 2012

‘Thatcher-bites’:

‘I am extraordinarily patient, provided I get my own way in the end.’

‘To me, consensus seems to be the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies. So it is something in which no one believes and to which no one objects.’

‘If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman.’ 

“It will be years before a woman either leads the Conservative Party or becomes prime minister. I don’t see it happening in my time” (in 1970)

Meryl Streep on ‘The Iron Lady’:

“The more I learned, the more my view of her changed. Wherever you stand on her policies, and many people didn’t like her, the scale of her influence and the fact that she got things done was extraordinary.”

…she was at 10 Downing Street for ten and a half years. I admire that achievement. I stand in awe of it, even though I didn’t agree with a lot of her policies.’  

A Conservative view of ‘The Iron Lady’

 

‘Call me Dave’ Cameron (Coalition PM):

‘… a really staggering piece of acting, but a film I wish they could have made another day.’

 

@LouiseMensch ‘Bagshawe’ (one of ‘Dave’s Dolls’ – ‘Chick-lit’ author & Tory MP for Corby):

‘Meryl Streep should probably get an Oscar for an amazing portrayal (but) there was too much of a concentration on Lady Thatcher’s dementia and not enough on her life story, her achievements.’  

 

Lord- ‘On your bike’ – Tebbit (patron saint of cyclists & former Tory Party Chairman):

 ‘…half-hysterical, over-emotional’

 

Michael – ‘Tarzan’ – Heseltine (king of the political swingers – former Thatcher government minister and leadership rival):

‘…Mrs Thatcher was a formidable prime minister and to produce a film in her later stages of life depicting the problems of advanced old age, I find extremely distasteful’

 

It is probably fair to say that no British Prime Minister has ever split public opinion quite like Mrs Thatcher – the longest-serving Prime Minister for more than 150 years and the first woman ever to take the role.

For anybody who experienced the divisive Thatcher era it is highly unlikely they do not still carry some baggage from the political fall-out of the period. Rather like ‘Marmite’, the lady polarised public opinion. She certainly wasn’t to my taste!    

I’ll be honest, yesterday’s trip to ‘Vue’ ‘The Iron Lady’  was always going to leave me somewhere on the scale of moderately irritated to seethingly irrate. It won’t surprise those who know me well,  that I disliked Thatcher’s public persona and detested her politics. For me, there weren’t and never will be any saving graces – and I’m not for turning.   

The last thing I wanted to sit through was a sugar-coated Hollywood account of the Thatcher years, but on the other hand I very much wanted to see screen legend, Meryl Streep, playing the title role for which she has already carried off a ‘Best Actress’ Golden Globe award and received a BAFTA nomination.

She’s also the bookies’ favourite for a record 17th Academy Award nomination and a 3rd Oscar.       

Meryl Streep is already guaranteed a place in the hall of fame for all-time great actresses, and this is another truly outstanding performance, or, to use US parlance, she’s awesome.

Her mastery of the Thatcher voice, annoyingly screechy in the early years, measured, full of stateswomanly gravitas (but equally annoying ) following the political ‘make-over’, is uncanny. She has also unerringly captured and mastered every movement and facial mannerism of the handbag swinging grocer’s daughter from Grantham.        

The film controversially depicts Thatcher, now aged 86, a confused and lonely woman who constantly hallucinates about her dead husband Denis – a supporting role for which that most versatile of British actors, Jim Broadbent, has been BAFTA nominated.

Sixty two year old Streep plays the politician over a 40 year span, depicting her rise and subsequent fall, through a series of flash backs of the major events in her political and personal life.

As a biopic it largely fails, lacking depth and authenticity, lapsing too readily into ‘faction’, with selective editing of the more controversial events during Thatcher’s reign – which will not be to everybody’s taste.

In striving for balance and fairness its tone is largely apolitical with many of the excesses of ‘Thatcherism’ diluted or air-brushed out completely.

The focus on Mrs Thatcher’s declining years and her struggle with dementia is carefully calculated to evoke an emotional audience response, and the film’s emphasis is predominantly about creating a sensitive portrayal of the woman, wife, and mother behind the fabled Iron Lady – a woman who climbed the greasy political pole in a male dominated world but ultimately lost her grip on reality and slipped into oblivion.

In trying to appeal to a wide audience, of varying political persuasion,  the film falls between two stools. Thatcher lovers will no doubt bemoan a degree of understatement, surrounding what are considered her major political achievements, and the muting of  Tory triumphalism, while those on the other side of the political fence will balk at an overly sympathetic view of a political tyrant.        

For me this film will always be about the extraordinary performance of Meryl Streep, the actress, rather than Margaret Thatcher, the politician.