Is Julian STILL here? Fetch the rubber gloves!

/li> 8

comments

How long is too long? This is the question that troubles the conscientious guest.

Julian Assange, the notably unconscientious founder of WikiLeaks, invited himself to stay at the Ecuadorian Embassy in Knightsbridge on June 19. It is now exactly a fortnight later, yet he shows no signs of moving.

He is, by all accounts, an awkward sort of guest. In his book about Assange, his former second-in-command, Daniel Domscheit-Berg, lists many of his irritating characteristics, any of which might drive even the most pliable host up the wall.

Julian Assange: Just how long does he plan to sleep in the Ecuadorian Embassy?

Here are Julian Assange’s ten most annoying habits, with additional comments from Domscheit-Berg:

1.  He doesn’t say ‘hello’, he says ‘hoi’.

2.  He also likes to say: ‘How goes?’

3.  He enjoys sliding down bannisters.

4.  He prefers to eat with his hands. ‘Julian often behaved as though he had been raised by wolves rather than by other human beings.’

5.  He then wipes his fingers on his trousers. ‘I have never seen pants as greasy as his in my whole life.’

6.  He likes to take more than his fair share of everything. ‘If there were four slices of Spam, he would eat three and leave one for me.’

7.  He is a skinflint. He used to ask to borrow money so his whereabouts couldn’t be traced via a cash-machine transaction, but he carried on using this excuse even after appearing at televised press conferences.

      More from Craig Brown...   Who trashed Mrs T's shoes? See below... 05/06/13   Why the king of the corgis bit the dust: Eight things you didn't know about the Queen's coronation 03/06/13   Shakespeare? He's only in it for the money 22/05/13   CRAIG BROWN: The perils of beheading a giant prawn 20/05/13   I'll level with you: the British shelf is the best 15/05/13   You'll just love Geoffrey! He's a real character 13/05/13   What a handy place to rest a teacup, Prezza! 08/05/13   Come dine with you? Actually, I'd rather not 06/05/13   So that's why Sunny Jim was so perky! 01/05/13   VIEW FULL ARCHIVE

8.  He is an eccentric dresser, wearing two pairs of trousers, ‘though I’ve never understood why’.

9.  He likes having his bags carried for him.

10.  His standards of personal hygiene are, to say the least, erratic. He is also a fierce opponent of fresh air. ‘A coffin that had been reopened after a decade would have smelled better than our room.’

By the look of it, the Ecuadorian Embassy is not very spacious. Assange is said to be sleeping on an inflatable mattress, which suggests that he is camping out in a room intended for some other purpose, such as someone’s office.

One can well imagine the morning ritual of a poor junior Ecuadorian diplomat having to knock every morning at his own office door, saying: ‘Can I come in? Are you decent?’ Then having to wait while, in the fugged-up room, Assange puts on all his layers of clothing and deflates his mattress.

Judging by his actions up to now, Assange is untroubled by the fear of overstaying his welcome.

It’s always hard to judge these things — personally, I am always arriving too early and leaving too late - so perhaps it would be most tactful to point him to Barbara Cartland’s Book Of Etiquette, published in 1972.

Dame Barbara Cartland: If only the legendary etiquette expert were here to pass on her wisdom

‘Nothing is worse than guests who just don’t know when their company begins to pall!’ advises Dame Barbara, adding: ‘I regret to say that in my house if people over-stay, my husband gets restless and starts emptying the ashtrays into the fire.’

But by now the Ecuadorian ambassador will have given up hinting (‘I simply don’t know how we’ll manage without you’). He  will probably have moved on to hurling every embassy ashtray into the fire. 

Lady Elizabeth Anson, in her Party Planners Book, offers this advice to anyone seeking to  get rid of  an unwanted guest: ‘Some people are deadly stayers-on, so if you are giving the party, you may be forced to stop serving the food and drink and fetch their coats.

‘At the furthest extreme, if you go to bed yourself, they must take the hint!’

But would this tactic cut any ice with Assange? My guess is not. As the ambassador makes a show of climbing the stairs in his pyjamas saying: ‘Time for bed,’ Assange will simply reply: ‘Don’t worry about me, mate - I brought my own inflatable mattress!’

Assange is clearly one of those people who are immune to hints. In My Dinner Party Book, a third etiquette expert, Margaret, Duchess of Argyll, argued against inviting them at all. ‘Rule One - no bores,’ she wrote, with characteristic severity.

‘The men must all be interesting and the women must be intelligent, witty and/or beautiful. She may be your best friend, but if she’s plain and dull, too bad - she does not come.’

The best advice for getting rid of unwanted guests comes from that great neglected master, J. P. Donleavy.

In his book The Unexpurgated Code, Donleavy suggests making the overstaying guest undertake increasingly more onerous household chores, starting with day one, ‘removing junk from attics’; day two, ‘wood chopping’; day five, ‘roofing work’, all the way through to day 14, ‘sewer cleaning’.

Coincidentally, today is day 14 of Assange’s stay at the Ecuadorian Embassy. Send for the rubber gloves!


The A-Z of Scandinavian crime drama Part One: Knit one, purl one, stab one in the back

/li> 3

comments

The Killing, The Bridge, Sebastian Bergman, Wallander, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo . . . For those who can’t keep up, here is my handy cut-out-and-keep A to Z of Scandinavian crime drama.

A is for ANGST The inaccessible island of Angst, home to the reclusive, bearded Chemical Poisons billionaire philanthropist Ulrik Angst, is the annual setting for Angst family reunions. Sadly, their celebrations always end in tears, generally followed by a gunshot, an open window, footprints on the flowerbed and the naked corpse of an unknown woman in an upstairs bath.

B is for BILLIONAIRES All billionaires in Scandinavian crime dramas are reclusive and sullen and live by themselves on far-flung islands that receive only one and a quarter hours’ sunlight every third year. Though their ex-wives, business associates, children and servants have all died in mysterious circumstances, for some reason the local Police Chief insists that they are beyond suspicion, and will arrest anyone who thinks otherwise.

A Scandinavian cinematic hit: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

C is for CEREAL KILLER Who is the depraved computer genius out there and why has he got such a grudge against Rice Krispies? In the isolated village of Kliffhanger, hundreds of packets of cereal have been found with stab-wounds in their sides.

As he wanders through the dark woods that encircle Kliffhanger, the bearded detective Hans Upp hears the tell-tale sound of snap, crackle and pop before trying to call for reinforcements — only to find that someone is blocking his phone.  

D is for DARK Even in the strongest sunlight, all Scandinavian homes are dark. This may be due to the recent ban on windows put in place by shadowy Mayor Sven Svensson, who, it turns out, is the managing director of a rapidly expanding firm of brick wall manufacturers.

Cereal killer: In the village of Kliffhanger, packets of Rice Krispies have been found with stab-wounds

E is for EXPLODING VEHICLE Recent statistics have shown that five out of every seven Scandinavian vehicles are engulfed in a ball of flame within five seconds of their drivers turning the key in the ignition.

The Transport Minister, shadowy, bearded, billionaire Kjik Bjak, has ordered an official investigation, to be chaired by Ignatius Troll, CEO of the largest fire extinguisher firm in the city of Bunng.

F is for FRIDGE-FREEZER Every fridge-freezer sold in Scandinavia now comes with two free gifts: a syringe filled with a strange, unidentified liquid in the fridge, and a torso in the freezer.

G is for GRIEF The small town of Grief is exactly halfway between the villages Bjackke and Bjyond. Visitors to the town are greeted by a sign saying ‘COME TO GRIEF’. As they leave town, the sign in their rear-view mirror reads ‘YOU CAME TO GRIEF’.

H is for HALF-NAKED WOMAN The first, fourth and seventh episodes of every ten-part Scandinavian crime series features a half-naked woman being chased through a dark wood and/or a multi-storey car-park by an unseen man.

I is for INTERRUPTED Whenever people have sex in Scandinavia, they are interrupted by a mobile phone.

The caller then tells them that the killer is either a) planning to strike again or b) prowling around their house in a balaclava or, most likely, c) both. In some cases, the caller may also be the killer. As a result of these interruptions no act of sexual intercourse has been completed by a police detective in Scandinavia for five years.

      More from Craig Brown...   Who trashed Mrs T's shoes? See below... 05/06/13   Why the king of the corgis bit the dust: Eight things you didn't know about the Queen's coronation 03/06/13   Shakespeare? He's only in it for the money 22/05/13   CRAIG BROWN: The perils of beheading a giant prawn 20/05/13   I'll level with you: the British shelf is the best 15/05/13   You'll just love Geoffrey! He's a real character 13/05/13   What a handy place to rest a teacup, Prezza! 08/05/13   Come dine with you? Actually, I'd rather not 06/05/13   So that's why Sunny Jim was so perky! 01/05/13   VIEW FULL ARCHIVE

J is for JAM Well, it looks like jam. But on closer inspection by the bearded, overweight detective with the drink problem, the depressive wife, and the uncanny instinct for the criminal mind, it invariably turns out to be not jam at all but . . . human blood.

K is for KNITWEAR The serial killer is the only person in the room whose knitwear betrays a tell-tale bulge: three episodes on, he’ll pull it up to reveal it is lined with ten miniature home-made bombs, each in its own hand-knitted cosy.

L is for LAUGHTER The last person to laugh in a Scandinavian crime series was Sofia Strange, who laughed for just under two seconds in the seventh episode of the second series of The Suffocation. Two minutes later, she is shot by a mystery assassin with a deeply held grudge against people who smile.

M is for MORTUARY Even the smallest village in Scandinavia prides itself on its very own mortuary, populated by an intriguing mix of unloved vagrants, shadowy billionaires and transsexual croupiers, all in easy-pull display cases, ready for immediate mis-identification by a close relation.

TO BE CONTINUED...


Clive Stafford Smith book: Injustice - Life And Death In The Courtrooms Of America

/li> 0 shares 54

comments

INJUSTICE: LIFE AND DEATH IN THE COURTROOMS OF AMERICA

by Clive Stafford Smith

Harvill Secker £18.99 ☎ £16.99 inc p&p

Rating:

Mission in life: Lawyer Clive Stafford Smith defends prisoners on Death Row

Aged ten, Clive Stafford Smith saw a picture of Joan of Arc being burnt at the stake. He was particularly upset because he thought she looked like his sister Mary.

Five years later, he discovered that what he had imagined to be a singularly cruel part of history was still happening in America: men and women were  being executed by society. Aged 19, full of the idealism of youth, he set off for  the States, vowing to put an end to the  death penalty.

He managed to get himself a job with a lawyer in Georgia who was campaigning against capital punishment and spent his first season visiting prisoners on Death Row. ‘That summer my opposition to the death penalty slipped down from my brain and into my heart.’

Now aged 53, he has dedicated his life to the defence of prisoners on Death Row. Not all of his campaigns have, alas,  been successful. ‘Over the years, I have watched six of my clients die: two in the electric chair, two in the gas chamber and two on the lethal injection gurney . . . If I am forced to choose, I would probably say I hate the electric chair the most.’

He offers a gruelling description of the procedure: the metal cap placed over the head with a damp sponge inside to conduct the electricity better; the nut tightened on the electrode; the lower electrode placed on the right leg, which has been specially shaved for the occasion; the dark leather mask pulled down over the face, so that the witnesses in the soundproofed viewing chamber are spared the full horror of the final agony.

In America, justice and money are inextricably linked: or, rather, injustice and money. It cost O. J. Simpson roughly $10 million to hire the legal team and assorted ‘experts’ who managed, against the evidence, to gain him an acquittal  on two counts of murder. That same  year, the total legal budget available to eight people facing the death penalty in  Louisiana was $16,000, the same amount that Simpson was paying one ‘expert’ for a single day’s work.

Some of the most powerful passages in this uneven book relate to these bogus experts. Stafford Smith argues convincingly that the massed armies of ‘forensic scientists’ who are treated with such solemnity in American courtrooms are, in fact, peddling what he calls ‘junk  science’, or guesswork masquerading  as knowledge.

Those who claim to be able to identify handwriting, shoe-prints, hair and bullets (especially bullets) are little better, he says, than charlatans, yet they have managed to send hundreds of people to their deaths. Where, he asks, is the scientific evidence to back up their claims?

 Their supremacy remains unchallenged, he says, ‘in part due to the fact that many lawyers chose their profession because they hated the scientific subjects that might have taken them into medicine’. But is this really so? Not for the only time, he fails to bolster his assertion with the type of proof he would be scrupulous in demanding of his opponents.

He is not as other lawyers and has, accordingly, written an unlawyerly book, in ways both good and bad. On the one hand, he is passionate and humane, but on the other he is often overstated and haphazard, regularly spinning off into odd areas of irrelevance when he would be better off sticking to the point. For instance, in the middle of an interesting disquisition on money-laundering, he inserts a distracting anecdote about trying to take a pack of Newcastle Brown Ale into a high-security prison.

Graphic description: Stafford Smith has watched two of his clients die in the electric chair and he offers a gruelling account of the procedure

He sometimes seems as keen on starting arguments as on winning them. Arguing that, by the end of a case, a prosecutor may find himself justifying actions that he would earlier have rejected as corrupt, he invents a term called ‘Tony Blair syndrome’, and launches an attack on Blair’s acquiescence to Bush in the invasion of Iraq. But why drag Blair into it, thus ostracising many of those he is  trying to win over? Lawyers are meant to expand the circle of support for their arguments, not diminish it.

The basic story Stafford Smith tells in Injustice revolves around the case of a wealthy British businessman, now aged 73, who was convicted of double murder in Miami in 1986. Kris Maharaj has been in prison ever since, most of that time on Death Row.

From the evidence at the trial, the case against Maharaj seemed open-and-shut: he lured a business rival and his 23-year-old son to a Miami hotel room and then shot them both dead.

There seemed no room for doubt: a witness to the murders identified him, his lawyer offered virtually no defence, and Maharaj himself failed to testify on his own behalf. From the courtroom transcripts, it is hard not to agree with the prosecution lawyer that these murders were ‘especially wicked, evil, atrocious and cruel’. Maharaj was found guilty, and sentenced to death.

Stafford Smith first met Maharaj seven years later, soon after he had just lost his first appeal to the Florida Supreme Court. He was still vehemently protesting his innocence, but how to prove it?

One of the many peculiarities of the justice system in Florida is that the defendant has access to prosecution and police files only after he has been convicted, by which time it is too late. When Stafford Smith began digging around in these files, he came across a startling number of anomalies, none of which had been revealed during the trial.

 Six witnesses who had been prepared to testify that Maharaj was elsewhere at the time of the shootings had never been called; the older victim, far from being a retired businessman on a modest income, was in fact earning millions laundering money for  a Colombian drugs cartel, who had recently found out that he had his hand in the till; the supposed witness to the shootings had failed a lie-detector test; and the chief detective on the case had falsified and suppressed evidence. Yet nearly 20 years after all this came to light, Maharaj is still in jail.

The first judge, ‘Mousey’ Gross, was arrested halfway through the trial for taking bribes in another case; it is possible his replacement was being leant on by the real killers.

They are not alone: most of the judges, prosecutors, police and juries who appear in the book, drawn from this and other cases, might have leapt straight from the pages of Elmore Leonard.

A juror with a PhD in English tells  Stafford Smith that she is gifted with extrasensory perception, so she knew instinctively that a defendant was guilty, even though the DNA tests contradicted her. The man was sentenced to death.

A defence lawyer sleeps through part of a trial, and when his client complains, the judge refuses to admonish him, declaring: ‘The Constitution does not say that the lawyer has to be awake.’

A young attorney who is meant to be defending a young black man on a capital offence in Mississippi kicks off by saying: ‘Excuse me, your honour, can I have a moment to compose myself? I’ve never been in a courtroom before.’

Seven members of a jury in Florida drink beer throughout a trial; four of them supplement it with marijuana,  and during the course of the trial one sells a quarter-pound of the drug to another. Yet there is a rule against ‘impeaching a juror’s verdict’, so, even after all this evidence of debauchery, the Supreme Court refuses to overturn the conviction.

Stafford Smith is particularly depressing on the ability of juries to see sense. Studies suggest that as few as a third understand that the prosecution bears the burden of proof. A study of one jury revealed that none of them knew what the word ‘mitigating’ meant: one of them even thought it meant ‘aggravating’.

It is tempting to be smug about the superiority of British juries, but I’m sorry to say that, while I was reading Injustice, a friend who had served on a jury told me that a fellow juror had been convinced the defendant was guilty from the very start.

‘I never trust people with little piggy eyes,’ she had explained.


The A-Z of Scandinavian crime drama Part Two: Ordeal or No Ordeal? It's your choice

/li> 2

comments

Continuing our handy, cut-out-and-keep A-Z to Scandinavian television crime series...

Mission: In Dank Fog, the chief detective is assigned to investigate the murder of a naked man (posed by model)

N is for NOTHING IS EVER QUITE WHAT IT SEEMS Alert television viewers have long realised that, in Scandinavian crime series, nothing is ever quite what it seems.

For instance, in the 80-part series Dank Fog, the chief detective,  acting on a tip-off from the former boyfriend of a former girlfriend’s former boyfriend’s girlfriend, is assigned to investigate the murder of a naked man.

But on closer investigation of the corpse, it turns out that Nothing Is Ever Quite What It Seems: the detective notices a zip down its spine and undoes it, only to discover that inside the skin of the naked man is the corpse of a naked woman.

Twenty-five episodes later, the same detective revisits the corpse on a hunch, only to discover another zip on the spine. He pulls it, and discovers the corpse of the same woman, only this time she is fully-clothed.

Halfway through Episode 76, we will discover that this corpse is, in fact, a red herring, that the real crime was committed over 800 miles away by the only Cherokee in north-west Norway, and that, as usual, Nothing Is Ever Quite What It Seems.

O is for ORDEAL For most Scandinavians, life is an ordeal. On the popular Scandinavian TV game show, Ordeal Or No Ordeal, the mysterious banker offers 20 members of the public the choice of being buried alive, drowned in a disused sewage plant or pushed legs-first through a log-cutting machine.

Most pick the ‘Ordeal’ option on the grounds that they are bored and have nothing better to do.

‘Well, it makes a change,’ explains contestant Horst Mudd, as he lines up for the log-cutter.

Risk: Popular Scandinavian TV game show, Ordeal Or No Ordeal appears to be a spin on the UK's Deal or No Deal

P is for POLICE An ancient Scandinavian police proverb dictates that the more armed police are sent into a building to root out a serial kiiller, the less chance they will have of catching him. If 50 or more armed police storm a disused warehouse (see WAREHOUSES, DISUSED), the serial killer is guaranteed to kill at least ten of them before escaping through a secret drain.

Q is for QUIZ The first 27 suspects quizzed by detectives are always innocent. But what about number 11, who seemed so nice, and whose alibi was cast-iron ..?

R is for RELATIONSHIPS Always deteriorating.

S is for STJURFF and NJORNSSENS The twinned islands of Stjurff and Njornssens (annual rainfall: 420 inches per annum, total sunlight: 53 hours) are the perfect places to hide a kidnap victim: at the last count, the islands were home to well over a hundred.

T is for TAKEN OFF THE CASE One of the anomalies of the Scandinavian police system is that the second a detective comes close to solving a major criminal investigation, he is immediately Taken Off The Case and transferred to a regional backwater, where he is put in charge of minor parking offences.

Could it be that someone upstairs has something to hide? My own suspicions, for what they’re worth, have come to land on the shadowy, bearded police commissioner who is regularly to be spotted offering drug barons, senior politicians and call-girls the run of the mini-bar in the back of his gold Rolls Royce.

      More from Craig Brown...   Who trashed Mrs T's shoes? See below... 05/06/13   Why the king of the corgis bit the dust: Eight things you didn't know about the Queen's coronation 03/06/13   Shakespeare? He's only in it for the money 22/05/13   CRAIG BROWN: The perils of beheading a giant prawn 20/05/13   I'll level with you: the British shelf is the best 15/05/13   You'll just love Geoffrey! He's a real character 13/05/13   What a handy place to rest a teacup, Prezza! 08/05/13   Come dine with you? Actually, I'd rather not 06/05/13   So that's why Sunny Jim was so perky! 01/05/13   VIEW FULL ARCHIVE

U is for UNHAPPY Well, you’d be unhappy too if you found yourself buried alive in a coffin by a demented serial killer hell-bent on revenge against your father. But on the plus side, at least it’s a shelter from the rain.

V is for VANISHED Believe me, the corpse was there just a few minutes ago: I saw it with my own eyes.

W is for WAREHOUSES, DISUSED All warehouses in Scandinavia are disused, and invariably inhabited by up to a dozen serial killers at any one time, many of them taunting a kidnap victim who is chained to the wall and begging for mercy.

X marks those spots on the map of the city of Glumm where the various victims disappeared. Hey, I’ve just noticed something: if you join all the X’s together, they form an exclamation mark.

Y is for You Too If you too want to sound like a Scandinavian detective, simply insert the letter J in the middle of a word, the letter V at the front, and the letter N at its end. Then, if you need to employ the everyday expression ‘This is the police! Drop your gun and put your hands in the air!’ all you need say is: ‘Vthjisn visn the vpolicjen! Vdropn vjourn vgujnn vand vputn yourn vhjandsn vijn the vairjn!’

Z is for ZERO The population of the village of Stunngun is now estimated at zero. Only a few weeks ago, 50 different families lived there, but they have all gone missing, and no one knows why. Could it have something to do with the nuclear power-plant that shadowy, bearded billionaire Sven Lindqvist has been secretly building in his disused warehouse?


Your train delay is delayed due to future delays

/li> 9

comments

We apologise for this and for any future apologies. Our onboard dedicated customer service apology team will continue to deliver apologies at frequent intervals throughout the course of your journey with us today.

These apologies are due to circumstances beyond our control. Customers requiring apologies in braille, please apply to your train manager.

Please acquaint yourselves with the safety instructions situated in the head-rest opposite.

Sorry! Our dedicated customer service apology team will continue to deliver apologies throughout the journey

Customers are reminded that the consumption of safety instructions is a health hazard, so please do take care to ensure they are situated at a safe distance from all hot or cold snacks, available from our trolley service.

Customers standing in Coaches A and B are advised that there is still a limited amount of further standing room available in the remaining coaches.

On behalf of our onboard staff, thank you for travelling with us today.

Before embarking on your journey, please ensure you are in current possession of a valid ticket, as a prolonged custodial sentence may offend.

Standing room only! Customers are advised that there is still a limited amount of further standing room available

Customers in possession of Advance SuperSaver or Offpeak Leisurebreak tickets are reminded that they are not permitted for travel on this service, or any other.

Failure to comply with ticket restrictions may result in criminal proceedings.

Please check your ticket before travel, as on closer inspection you will see it is not valid anywhere, at any time.

Discounts do not apply. Tickets are valid only on the date and service shown on your ticket, which is not valid between 00:00 hours and 24:00 hours inclusive.

As part of our ongoing investment programme, we are pleased to announce that this service will be subject to a full range of delays  and cancellations.

All our other lines are operating a good service, so we would respectfully remind customers wishing they had boarded another train that they have only themselves to blame.

We thank you for your customer  co-operation and respectfully remind customers that for your security and comfort a full CCTV service is in operation. So whatever it is you are doing, stop it this minute. 

Customers are respectfully reminded that complaining is an offence.

  More... Network fail: One in three trains runs late, 'real' punctuality figures reveal Flames shoot hundreds of feet in the air after chemical-laden freight train derails and leaves at least two injured Can choo believe it? Train fanatic spends £22,000 building a railway line in his back garden

Customers wishing to board or alight should do so only when a train has arrived at its designated station stop. Passengers attempting to board or alight through closed doors and/or when the train is in motion may be subject to injuries.

Our next station stop will be our next station stop. Those wishing to alight at the previous station stop are reminded that they have just missed it and are consequently no longer in possession of a valid ticket.

Customers are reminded that Coach G is a dedicated quiet carriage.

Inspection: Check your ticket before travel, as you will see it is not valid anywhere, at any time

Those travelling in Coach G are requested to listen to the frequent onboard updates reminding them that Coach G is a dedicated quiet carriage.

A full list of station stops past, present and future will be recited into the quiet carriage in a loud voice at regular intervals.

For their added safety, customers in Coach G will be reminded every few minutes that they are not permitted to employ mobile phones, personal stereos, hammers, nails, squeaky toys, fog horns, loud hailers, trombones, dental drills, whoopee cushions, duck calls, party crackers, machine guns and/or bagpipes.

      More from Craig Brown...   Who trashed Mrs T's shoes? See below... 05/06/13   Why the king of the corgis bit the dust: Eight things you didn't know about the Queen's coronation 03/06/13   Shakespeare? He's only in it for the money 22/05/13   CRAIG BROWN: The perils of beheading a giant prawn 20/05/13   I'll level with you: the British shelf is the best 15/05/13   You'll just love Geoffrey! He's a real character 13/05/13   What a handy place to rest a teacup, Prezza! 08/05/13   Come dine with you? Actually, I'd rather not 06/05/13   So that's why Sunny Jim was so perky! 01/05/13   VIEW FULL ARCHIVE

Customers in Coach G who are attempting to read books or go to sleep are reminded that Coach G is a designated Quiet Zone.

This is another reminder for Customers in Coach G that Coach G is a designated Quiet Zone.

Furthermore, customers in Coach G are reminded that Coach G remains a designated Quiet Zone.

We apologise for further delays. These are caused by further delays.

This is Emma, your customer host. A full range of hot and cold coffees and teas, alcoholic beverages, soft drinks and a choice of snacks, sandwiches, pasties, biscuits, cakes and light meals are available from the buffet. The buffet closed five minutes ago.

You are reminded that armed robbery is a crime.

Customers planning to use the platform stairs at the next station stop are reminded while ascending or descending to ensure they lift their left and right legs in succession or face serious injury.

We apologise for the late arrival of this train. This is due to the late arrival of this train. Due to an earlier incident, all later incidents have been cancelled.

For those travellers wishing to make their connection, the train standing at Platform 6 has just departed. 

Please ensure that you take your personal belongings, cases and parcels with you. May we remind customers travelling with us today that, due to circumstances beyond our control, they will be subject to persecution.



Craig Brown book of the week: Among The Hoods by Harriet Sergeant

/li> 0 shares 3

comments

AMONG THE HOODS by Harriet Sergeant

Faber £14.99 ☎ £11.99  inc p&p

The cover is almost comically off-putting. A very soignee woman with meticulously coiffed hair and a shiny silk shirt looks out at the reader, arms crossed, with a self- confident, knowing air.

Behind her, in the dark middle distance, lurk half-a-dozen hoodies, all hunched up, their faces shielded from view, and, behind them, a gloomy mass of grey tower blocks.

It looks as if Penelope Keith has accidentally wandered on to the set of The Wire. And the book’s subtitle, My Years With A Teenage Gang, further adds to the impression that this is a book by Lady Bountiful about her afternoons spent popping across the river armed with a picnic hamper filled with nutritious scraps to throw to those simply darling little hoodies.

Guns 'n' poses: Harriet Sergeant with two of the gang on a trip to the Imperial War Museum

This impression is not, it must be said, wholly inaccurate. Harriet Sergeant is not the usual type of media commentator who hangs out with street gangs. She is so posh, and lived such a rarefied life, that before embarking on this project she had never met anyone who was a single mother.

She works for the Centre for Policy Studies, the Right-wing (or, as they put it, ‘Right-of-centre’) think-tank which has, in years gone by, been dutiful in coming up with intellectual and philosophical reasons for why the very rich should be allowed to get even richer.

Sergeant first met her gang of South London hoodies in 2008 when she was writing a report on why so many white working-class and black Caribbean boys were, as she says, ‘failing to make the transition to a successful adult life’. Like many researchers, she came armed with all sorts of depressing statistics, but with no personal experience of those she was writing about.

She was initially introduced to the gang in question by a reformed robber called Jerome, who now worked in a local community centre. They were all around the age of 15. ‘Everyone who bumps into us says sorry,’ boasted their leader, Tuggy Tug.

Tuggy Tug proved vociferous, but his English patois was so extreme that Sergeant couldn’t understand half of what he had to say. So Jerome agreed to translate, and the book that has emerged from their encounters is peppered with bracketed translations.

‘Obviously I wanna touch leg man and what comes from that blud and how easy it is to make that,’ says Tuggy Tug at one point, handily followed by Sergeant’s own rendition: ‘He wants to make money legitimately and enjoy everything that comes from living within the law.’

Harriet Sergeant is not the usual type of media commentator who hangs out with street gangs

Tuggy Tug and his gang made their money from mugging. As she drove away from that first meeting, at which she seemed to be making a bit of headway, Jerome told her that Tuggy Tug ‘had “clocked” my watch and suggested in the newsagent’s they “bang” me and steal it. “Well,” shrugged Jerome, “he wants £1,000 to buy a Smart car. He sees stealing your watch as a career move.” ’

But after a few more meetings, all of them pretty edgy, she becomes increasingly confident that she will not be their next victim. They clearly like being the subject of her attention, as well as enjoying the odd meal or pair of trainers she gives them. Also, as Tuggy Tug points out, they never target the white middle class, because then the police start taking an interest. ‘We touch you, it’s a jail sentence,’ he explains.

Before long, her interest in these boys begins to shift from the academic to the maternal. ‘Will you adopt us?’ one of them asks, and she realises he is only half joking. ‘I felt like Mrs Darling overwhelmed by Lost Boys.’

They begin to see her almost as one of them, and even offer to have anything stolen for her, asking if she needs ‘any kind of drugs or perhaps someone mashed up? Or maybe a Disability Parking Permit?’

The more she sees them, the fonder she grows. She becomes, she says, ‘like a proud mother, forever talking about them and boring my friends’. Her son notices that she has their photos, not his, on her mobile phone, and asks why.

She teaches Tuggy Tug how to floss his teeth. She accompanies him to court. She sticks up for him when a magistrate says something dismissive. She barracks the manager of a shop who accuses him of stealing. She takes him and his gang  on expeditions to Tate Modern and the British Museum.

At the Imperial War Museum, she tells them about the young men, only a little older than them, who fought the Battle  of Britain. Tuggy Tug listens amazed. ‘Behaviour that now led to prison, then would have won him adulation and a place in history.’

Over the next three years, she witnesses the way the lives of her privately educated son and the barely literate Tuggy Tug diverge. ‘Where my son’s opened wide with opportunities, Tuggy Tug’s closed down.’

She feels her previous moral certainties falter. ‘I could not make sense of it. I hated crime. I was unprepared to find goodness in criminals. My moral preconceptions were being shot all over the place.’

 Her own parents had been viciously mugged by a gang very similar to Tuggy Tug’s, yet she was now able to see the world through his eyes. ‘Here was a boy the same age as my son waking up in the morning hungry. Here was a boy robbing because he did not get enough to eat. How could this Dickensian world of crime and  hunger exist in our welfare state?’

For all her empathy, Sergeant feels sure she is in no danger of becoming a liberal. In fact, she despises the liberals she meets along the way. These include the ‘concerned’ documentary-maker who ‘talked about institutional racism, but, apart from a Nigerian poet, did not know any black people’ and the bossy woman from Children’s Services who is more interested in checking Sergeant’s credentials (‘Have you had a CRB check and what are your qualifications for working with youth?’) than in answering her questions.

Yet I think she does, against her instincts, turn liberal in one regard: by the end, she feels that individuals are shaped by society, and that, consequently, society is largely to blame for poverty and crime. ‘We are turning a large number of potentially decent young men into misfits and criminals,’ she says.

She remains solidly conservative, however, in her conviction that the welfare state – inefficient, overblown,  disempowering and cowardly – is to blame. Richard Taylor, the father of Damilola Taylor, who was killed at the age of ten by a teenage gang in 2000, has described the ‘catalogue of failures’ that led to his son’s death as ‘failures by the system to keep young people in school and off the streets, failure to prevent them from committing crime, failure by their mentors to give good direction and failure by the authorities to catch them sooner’.

Sergeant agrees with this catalogue, but emphasises the failure of the education system. Of the 6,000 young people who leave care every year, 4,500 have no educational qualifications whatsoever. Nearly half the prison population has a reading ability below an 11-year-old’s. For her, these people are the victims of the education system’s sheepish reluctance to enforce the civilised values that originally gave it birth. ‘If a society wants its youth to share its beliefs then it has to have the confidence to articulate those values with authority.’

You shouldn’t judge this book by its cover. Harriet Sergeant is no frothy Lady Bountiful. She shares George Orwell’s clarity and integrity and his readiness to mix with those he seeks to understand. Among The Hoods is a book written in anger, but born of patience and concern. It would be a terrible shame if it were dismissed as another reactionary rant. Those on the Left, Right and centre could all learn from it. In fact, if they refuse to learn from it, another generation of marginalised youngsters will surely be doomed.


CRAIG BROWN BOOK REVIEW: Titian, His Life by Sheila Hale

/li> 0 shares 0

comments

TITIAN: HIS LIFE by Sheila Hale

Harper Press £30 ☎ £24.99  inc p&p

Rating:

Sometimes, in the strange world of biography, an odd rule applies: the less that is known, the longer the book.  In a funny way, it is almost as if words were being employed to fill a vacuum.

Sheila Hale’s new biography of the great 16th Century Venetian painter Titian is more than 800 pages long. It is scholarly, erudite, panoramic, endlessly inquisitive and as clear as can be.

It successfully illuminates fascinating areas of European history, the rise of Protestantism, the clash of empires, the growth of Venice, the pursuit of beauty.

Detail falls on detail, detail on detail. Early on, a couple of lovely pages tell you, for instance, where all the different pigments in Venice came from at that time: malachite from Hungary, earth colours from Siena, lapis lazuli from the mountainous caves of what is now Afghanistan, crimson from the tiny bodies of female insects imported from India.

The pursuit of beauty: Titian's character remains deep within his works, such as Venus Of Urbino (pictured)

But where is Titian? He can be spotted in there from time to time, but chiefly as a successful businessman, beavering to make money through his brush and paints, then using it to invest in land and property. Of his inner life – and much of his outer life, too – we are left knowing nothing.

This is because there is plenty of information still available concerning his business accounts, but precious little about his thoughts. These, and much else, are lost to history.

He is, says Hale, ‘a silent artist’. There is plenty to know about Michelangelo and Leonardo, but Titian is largely absent from his own biography.

‘His surviving correspondence is mostly about business matters, and most of his letters were ghosted for him . . . None of his literary acquaintances ever mentioned his views about anything except painting.’

This means many of the bit-part players in the book are brilliantly vivid, while Titian himself, although onstage throughout, is doomed to lurk, dimly lit, in the background.

Scholarly, erudite, panoramic, endlessly inquisitive and as clear as can be

Take his best friend, the gossipy rogue Pietro Aretino, ‘journalist cum press baron, master of aphorism and hyperbole; pornographer, flatterer and blackmailer; playwright, satirist, versifier, bisexual libertine, connoisseur of art . . .’

If Titian was the silent artist, Aretino was the noisiest writer ever, issuing witty, scabrous, self-publicising pamphlets and letters throughout his life, full of gossip, scandal and outlandish opinions.

‘A man prolongs his life precisely in proportion to the extent that he satisfies his desires,’ he once said, adding that  if he didn’t have 40 lovers a month his health would suffer.

The manner of his end was marvellously appropriate: at a dinner party, he laughed so much at a joke that he leaned right back in his chair, keeled over, hit the floor and died.

But what of the silent artist? Hale credits Aretino with knowing more than anyone else about him, yet when Aretino came to publish a bestselling collection of letters written to him by famous men and women, he included only two by Titian, ‘presumably because they were of no literary merit’.

So Hale’s method in constructing his portrait is to paint the background in as much detail as possible, in the hope that the remaining silhouette will prove accurate.

What, then, can be definitely known about Titian? The answer is precious little. Throughout the book, dread phrases such as ‘continues to be the subject of fierce scholarly debate’ and ‘will never be solved to the satisfaction of all scholars’ crop up at regular intervals.

Titian's Sacred And Profane Love. Sheila Hale's new biography of the great 16th Century Venetian painter is more than 800 pages long

Even his date of birth – either 1488 or 1490 – will never be solved to the satisfaction of etc, etc. He came from a relatively prosperous family of timber merchants who lived in the mountains to the north of Venice. His father seems to have been a nice man, but one ‘whose goodness of soul did not yield to a sublime intellect’, in the words of a catty relative.

At the age of ten or so, Titian was sent to Venice to study painting, then taken on as an apprentice by Gentile Bellini, who told him he would never make a painter. He swiftly proved Bellini wrong, and by his mid-20s had become the most celebrated artist in Venice.

He had a slightly hooked nose, a bony face and a fierce gaze. His self-portraits tell us that much. And what of his  character? ‘A very famous man and excellent in art, as well as religious, respectable and honest,’ wrote one cardinal, unhelpfully.

From Aretino, we learn that he was competitive and a lively conversationalist, and from his business correspondence that he was unusually, perhaps even obsessively, interested in money, and a bit of a  procrastinator.

He was married twice, his first wife, Cecilia, having died. At one point, Hale refers to ‘Titian’s second wife, a shadowy figure who was probably the mother of his daughter Lavinia’, which reveals quite how many gaps there are.

At times, one can sense this scrupulous biographer’s frustration at the limited amount of information at her disposal. In painting terms, it is as if a sitter has gone missing from the studio after the artist has managed to sketch only the vaguest outline of his body.

And what of his love life? Titian’s female nudes are sexier than anything that came before, and most that came after, provoking the priggish Victorian John Ruskin to huff that his portrait of Mary Magdalen is ‘coarse of feature, with much of the animal in even her expression of repentance . . . a woman markedly and entirely belonging to the lowest class’.

But even though Titian employed nude models in his studio, there are, irritatingly, no reports of marital infidelity.

A meticulous biographer such as Hale is in consequence drawn into the push-me, pull-you world of speculation.

Generally, she acknowledges that he stayed on the straight and narrow, but then she will be driven to daydream: ‘He may, like his great modern admirer Lucian Freud, have needed to sleep with his models before painting them. But we will never know which, if any of them, shared his bed.’

In fact, I’m not sure that even this  sentence is strictly accurate: as far as I know, Freud managed to resist the charms of at least two of his models – Lord Goodman and Andrew Parker  Bowles – before painting them, and it’s hard to believe that Her Majesty was anything less than entirely upstanding when he painted her back in 2001.

There is one area of Titian’s personal life, however, about which we can be  reasonably well informed, thanks mainly to solicitors’ letters.

He had two sons: Orazio, who looked after his complicated business affairs, and Pomponio, or ‘poor Pomponio’, as Hale calls him, who allowed himself to be pushed by his father into the Church, proved a dead loss, and, as a result, became increasingly resentful of Titian, eventually claiming he had ruined his life. For the last eight years of Titian’s life, the two of them spoke only through lawyers.

This was, says Hale, the painter’s greatest  personal tragedy. Titian died, still at work, in his late 80s, his paintings becoming wilder, broader, more expressive and darker. He has often been compared to Shakespeare both in his range and his depth; and, as with Shakespeare, the only true route to his inner life is through his works.

But paintings are necessarily more oblique in revealing private thoughts and  emotions than poems or plays. We are left wondering.

Of two of Titian’s greatest portraits, of Pope Paul III and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, Hale observes  that they allow us to ‘see more at a glance about the characters’ than we could learn ‘from a hundred pages of written history’.

For all its many virtues, her biography of the painter is an example of the  same phenomenon. His character lies buried deep within his works; the rest is silence.


London Olympics: Hop along, Miss Marple, you're a dead cert to win

/li> 2

comments

10 things to look out for at the London Olympics

Olympian: John Prescott will be making his third attempt on the World Pie-Eating record

1. Among those taking part in Friday’s Opening Ceremony is Labour veteran John Prescott. Dressed in a specially-designed wipe-clean tracksuit, the former Deputy Prime Minister will be making his third attempt on the World Pie-Eating record. 

‘I’ve always liked me pies,’ said Lord Prescott last night. ‘And I’m going for gold by downing 17 lard pies in under 30 seconds.

‘To get my appetite going, I’ve vowed not to eat a single thing for at least 20 minutes before it starts. Well, perhaps more like ten minutes or maybe eight, if I’m really peckish. OK, call that five minutes, just to be sure.’

Lord Prescott added that he was ‘very proud to be part of the degeneration of East London’.

2. Designed to offer a portrait of Britain, the Opening Ceremony will also feature a cameo of Village Britain, complete with village pond, village pub, village green, village baker and village idiot.

The latter role will be taken by G4S chief executive Nick Buckles, who will sit in the village stocks singing a power ballad, No Excuses, specially composed for the occasion by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, while being pelted with rotten tomatoes.

3. Contrary to the claims of cynics, large parts of London will remain open to the general public throughout the Olympic games.

These include a 50-yard stretch on Coldharbour Lane in South London, a roundabout in Muswell Hill and a children’s playground in East Croydon.

The remaining areas will be accessible only to accredited officials, senior members of the Royal Family and top funny-man David Walliams.

The Olympic lane for the exclusive use of Olympic official vehicles (and David Walliams) on the M4 motorway into London

4. There are still tickets available for quite a few of the aquatic events. These include Men’s  Doggy Paddle, Women’s Freestyle Splashing, Mixed Bellyflop and Men’s 100  metres Breaststroke With Waterwings.

Widely considered one of the less exciting events, Men’s Floating has unexpectedly sold out. Starting on Saturday, it is expected to last until around noon next Friday. In a  last-minute ruling, competitors will now be permitted to bring along books, magazines and iPads.

  More... I'm working class, claims IOC chief Jacques Rogge (just don't mention the 5* hotel, chauffeur-driven car and five police outriders) The staggering 12,000 calorie diet of Michael Phelps: U.S. swimmer guzzles three fried egg sandwiches, choc chip pancakes, five egg omelette , French toast and grits – just for BREAKFAST Is this THE tackiest way to support Team GB? Full Union flag suit on sale for just £59.99

5. McDonald’s, Coca-Cola and Cadbury are among the sponsors of the London Olympics. As part of their official sponsorship contract, competitors will be subject to random blood tests before and after each event to ascertain they have consumed at least 2lb of the sponsors’ products, in any combination, within the previous 48 hours.

In the longer events — Mountain Biking, Marathon, Women’s 5,000  metres — McDonald’s will be permitted to set up special fast-service supply booths beside the track, so that competitors will be able to maintain their intake in line with sponsors’ demands.

Sweet deal: Have athletes consumed enough chocolate?

6. There are 30 venues up and down the country, stretching from Weymouth to Glasgow. The smallest of these is probably the Broom Cupboard in Uttoxeter, home of the Women’s Freestyle Text-Messaging Finals.

7. For the first time this year, Slow Bicycling has become an official Olympic sport. Competitors must keep going forward, but as slowly as possible and without falling off. The Men’s 5,000  metre race starts next Wednesday and is expected to finish early next year.

8. The only person ever to have won both an Olympic gold medal and an Academy Award in the same year is Dame Margaret Rutherford, who was awarded an Oscar for her appearance as Miss Marple in Murder, Most Foul in 1964 and in the same year won gold in the Women’s Hopping event at the Tokyo Olympics. ‘I’ve always been a decent hopper,’ she said afterwards. ‘I find it helps to wear a hat, a warm overcoat and sensible shoes.’

Model Olympian: Women's Skinny-Dipping is lead by Katie Price

9. The event to sell out most quickly at this year’s London’s Olympics was Women’s Skinny-Dipping.

Sponsors Channel 5 reacted furiously to suggestions that spectators were just going along in the hope of seeing young women in the nude.

‘Nothing could be further from the truth. We are all highly-trained and dedicated athletes,’ fumed team leader Katie Price.

10. The most eagerly anticipated event in the Olympics calendar is undoubtedly the Closing Ceremony on Sunday, August 12, when a pageant involving thousands of diehard cynics will take place in the Olympic Stadium.

‘Pouring cold water on major prestige events is what we British do best,’ says triple gold medallist killjoy Craig Grump. ‘The rest of the world will always be able to win in running, skipping and jumping, but when it comes to armchair sneering there’s absolutely no one who can beat us.’




Sorry Jeffrey, but the secret¿s out of the bag

/li> 2

comments

Lord Archer's latest book title 'best Kept Secret' has been employed by at least 14 other novelists in the past few years

How many more ‘best kept secrets’ can there possibly be? I ask this question because wherever I go, best kept secrets keep raining down on me.

The streets are awash with them. In the past week, I’ve read that Nelson Mandela’s personal chef is the family’s best kept secret, that Portugal is Europe’s best kept secret and that the Museum Of Archaeology is Cambridge’s best kept secret.

‘Is Jessica Chastain Hollywood’s best kept secret?’ asked the BBC entertainment and arts correspondent Tim Masters. It is a question with no sensible answer. If I had already heard of Jessica Chastain, then that would prove she wasn’t any sort of secret, best kept or otherwise.

On the other hand, if I had never heard of her (which, incidentally, I hadn’t), then the BBC’s revelation that she does, in fact, exist would mean her existence is no longer secret.

The latest issue of The Oldie magazine contains an advertisement for a new book called The Hidden Prince,  subtitled Royal Scotland’s Best Kept Secret. It turns out the author is using the term ‘best kept secret’ in its new sense of ‘hoary old chestnut, repeated over and over again for the past 100 years’.

      More from Craig Brown...   Who trashed Mrs T's shoes? See below... 05/06/13   Why the king of the corgis bit the dust: Eight things you didn't know about the Queen's coronation 03/06/13   Shakespeare? He's only in it for the money 22/05/13   CRAIG BROWN: The perils of beheading a giant prawn 20/05/13   I'll level with you: the British shelf is the best 15/05/13   You'll just love Geoffrey! He's a real character 13/05/13   What a handy place to rest a teacup, Prezza! 08/05/13   Come dine with you? Actually, I'd rather not 06/05/13   So that's why Sunny Jim was so perky! 01/05/13   VIEW FULL ARCHIVE

The advertisement continues: ‘In The Hidden Prince, Billy Rennie presents compelling information passed down from generation to generation regarding the secrecy surrounding a relationship between the late Queen Victoria and John Brown, who was most likely the love of her life.’

The blurb’s author then performs a little somersault: ‘Although this tale is not a new one, in fact, there was a film made on [sic] the story.’

In other words, the tale of the late Queen Victoria and the equally late John Brown might be more accurately described as Royal Scotland’s Very Worst Kept Secret. 

Two other best kept secrets I have spotted recently are ‘Sex: Ghana’s best kept secret’ (The Observer) and ‘Uruguay: South America’s best kept secret’ (BBC Travel).

What do they mean? Presumably, sex is not all that much of a secret to most of the 24 million people who live in Ghana. In turn, most of the three million Uruguayans must have a pretty good idea of where they live.

Never sluffish in leaping on the back of any passing cliche, Jeffrey Archer announced on his website in April that he had ‘just returned from Majorca, having completed the third draft of book three of the Clifton Chronicles, which will be titled Best Kept Secret’.

Last Friday, he informed his fans that: ‘After writing from 6-8am yesterday (the latest draft of Best Kept Secret), I donned a blazer and MCC tie and headed for The Oval to enjoy a magnificent day’s cricket.’

It pains me to have to break the bad news to Lord Archer, but the title Best Kept Secret is not itself a Best Kept Secret.

Jeffrey Archer, who has already published numerous books, likes to inform his fans of his daily activities such as 'headed for The Oval to enjoy a magnificent day¿s cricket'

In fact, quite the opposite: it has been employed by at least 14 other novelists in the past few years, so that the best kept secret list now includes: Best Kept Secret by Amy Hatvany (2011), Best Kept Secrets by Sandra Brown (2001), The Best Kept Secret by Mary De Laszlo (2004), The Best Kept Secret by Kimberla Lawson Roby (2006), The Best Kept Secret by Emily Rodda (1989), Best Kept Secret by Ellen McKinney (2006), Best Kept Secret by Scott Bridges (2011), The Best Kept Secrets by Charles Wright (1997), The Best Kept Secret by Otto Skinner (1996), Best Kept Secrets by Pat Krause (1988), Best Kept Secret by Sandra Casey-Martus and Carla Mancari (2010) and Best Kept Secret by Claude A. Peters (2004).

While we’re about it, next month also sees the publication of Best Kept Secret by Elsa Joseph, which follows the publication of Best Kept Secrets by Jennifer Bacia earlier this year.

This means that with Lord Archer’s Best Kept Secret coming out in March of next year, it is now possible for a keen reader to read a novel called Best Kept Secret once a month until October 2013 without ever having to read the same novel twice.

Having exhausted this seam, the reader might then tackle an endless procession of other titles in which Best Kept Secret puts in an appearance, like Jams, Pickles And Chutneys: Best Kept Secrets Of The Women’s Institute, Britain’s Best Kept Secret: Ultra’s Base At Bletchley Park, The World’s Best-Kept Beauty Secrets, The Path To Success: Famous DJs’ Best Kept Secrets, and so on and so on.

At the same time, he might listen to albums called Best Kept Secret by, among others, Sheena Easton (1983), Slum Village (2000), Lamb (2005), Jennifer Paige (2008), Jerry Douglas (2005) and Leona Lewis (2009). Yes, the secret is out: these days, the best kept secret is one that everybody has already heard.


Where is Paris, France? That's a good question

/li> 18

comments

The Republican candidate Mitt Romney answers all your holiday problems...

Q&A: Mitt is determined to answer the most vexing of questions

Dear Mitt, My family and I are thinking of vacationing in Paris, France. Just one thing: no one can tell us which country it’s in. Please help!

Jeff Bickle, Idaho.

MITT SAYS: That’s one question that I’m absolutely determined to address, Jeff. You ask: where is Paris, France? Good question.

Well, I tell you this, Jeff. The strength of our nation lies in challenging the challenges that continue to challenge us, and challenging them honestly, and with all the force at our disposal.

So let us be strong, because a strong America is our only assurance that prosperity will follow hardship. I hope that answers your question, Jeff.

Dear Mitt, What was your favourite part of your recent vacation in London, England?

Sally-Ann Travis, New Hampshire.

MITT SAYS: Don’t listen to the cynics, Sally-Ann. Never believe them when they try to tell you I made any so-called ‘gaffes’. Not true!

My recent visit to London was an unqualified success, no question. Without my intervention, those Olympic Games might never have started.

You see, I have to be honest with you, you can’t start a race without a pistol.

The right to bear arms is what made our country strong. As I told Prime Minister David uh, David uh, as I made plain to the Prime Minister, the pistol is what keeps the Olympic spirit alive, and no athlete, man, woman or child, should ever have to go out on that track without one.

A question of geography: The exact location of Paris seems to remain elusive

Dear Mitt, Have you discovered the location of Paris, France, yet?

Jeff Bickle, Idaho.

MITT SAYS: Thanks for asking this important question again, my friend. In pursuit of an answer I greatly appreciated the insights and perspectives of Britain’s leaders of the government and the opposition. Between them, they were able to inspire some valuable insights — and, as for the discovery of that particular location, Jeff, I remain very encouraged.

Dear Mitt, Is there a foreign country you would recommend for a vacation? Lee Sawyer, Texas.

MITT SAYS: It’s hard to know just how well any vacation abroad will turn out — and, let’s face facts, my friend, abroad is where these foreign countries tend to be, no one’s disputing that.

There are a few things about abroad that are, frankly, disconcerting. It’s no secret that these countries are openly run by foreigners.

There are stories about people being forced to eat Chinese food in China, and to wear bowler hats in Britain, and being required to drive around on camels in the desert, and that obviously is not something which is encouraging.

Uh-oh! Might I just add a few words by way of clarification to the words I have just clarified, whether intentionally or not? 

  More... TOBY HARNDEN: Obama should be on the rocks, so why is his millionaire jet-skiing rival struggling to stay afloat?

I’m absolutely convinced that the American people are ready to vacation abroad. Vacations are not about vacations, they’re about the people who go on vacations.

I trust people, I’m sorry, but I do. That’s why vacations, wherever they may be held, are often highly successful, even when they are taken abroad.  

And — yes — that’s why I stand by what I say, and, moreover, to say by what I stand. 

The maximum hand baggage allowance for international flights these days seems to stumble Mitt

Dear Mitt, What’s the maximum hand baggage allowance for international flights these days?

P van Z, Wisconsin.

MITT SAYS: Good question, my friend, and a question that fully deserves a straight answer. That’s why I want to focus on the growing challenges to the foundations of our national strength.

How we confront these challenges will determine what kind of America we will bequeath to our children and our grandchildren.

For I believe that a strong America is our only assurance that America will continue to be the strong America I believe in: an America that allows us to believe in a strong America, an America where millions of Americans believe in an America that’s the America millions of Americans believe in.

I trust that answers your question, my friend.

Dear Mitt, My family and I are still desperate to know the exact location of Paris, France. Mighty grateful for any help you can offer us, Mitt!

Jeff Bickle, Idaho.

MITT SAYS: I’m honoured and humbled that you should ask me this question for a third time. I stand by what I didn’t say earlier, though at this point in time I’m unfamiliar with precisely what I didn’t say, but I will be unyielding in my quest for clarification — and that’s a promise, my friend.



Gore Vidal, Dame Barbara Cartland and a fluffy fantasy

/li> 4

comments

Gore Vidal and Dame Barbara Cartland: one of them a muck-raking cynic, the other a fluffy fantasist. But which was which?

When Gore Vidal was told of the death of his old rival Truman Capote in 1984, he famously said: ‘Good career move.’ Exactly the same might now be said of Vidal, who has just died. Over the past quarter-century, his pronouncements had been growing ever more silly and off-target. His reputation was in decline. Death may prove his salvation.

In 1987, Vidal insisted that President Reagan was preparing for a world war, ‘a war, to be specific, between the United States and Russia, to take place in Israel’. Later that year Reagan and Gorbachev signed a missile treaty, and two years later, the Berlin wall came down.

Gore Vidal and Dame Barbara Cartland: one of them a muck-raking cynic, the other a fluffy fantasist

In 1998, Vidal claimed that Monica Lewinsky had been pushed into making her sex allegations against President Clinton by the American tobacco industry, and that she was lying. Later that year, Clinton admitted she was telling the truth.

In December 2000, Vidal declared that the threat to the U.S. from terrorism was minimal, and the U.S. government was simply scare-mongering: ‘The Pentagon assumes that, sooner or later, rogues will take out our cities, presumably from spaceships,’ he sneered.

Nine months later came the events of 9/11. Vidal then claimed that Osama Bin Laden was not involved, and that there was a media conspiracy to say that he was.

  More... Iconoclastic author, playwright, and politician Gore Vidal dies, aged 86 ROY HATTERSLEY: Gore Vidal: Sharpest tongue in the West

And so to Dame Barbara. As far as I can ascertain, she and Vidal met only once, in Bangkok in 1983.

Staying at the Oriental Hotel, Vidal was invited to lunch by his old friend, Princess Chumbhot. She told him that she had also invited Barbara Cartland.

‘I was overjoyed,’ Vidal recalled 23 years later. ‘I reassured our hostess that I was ready for Mrs Cartland, who was famous for her splendid costumes, intricate wigs, dramatic make-up, Rolls-Royces, and innumerable romantic novels about well-born virgins, male as well as female.’

Celebrated author, playwright and commentator Gore Vidal has died at the age of 86

Dame Barbara was delayed by traffic. Before she arrived, Princess Chumbhot asked Vidal if it was true that Cartland had not been invited to the recent wedding of the Prince and Princess of Wales.

Vidal replied that Princess Margaret had told him that Cartland had definitely not been invited. ‘Of course we were going to invite the old thing,’ he said she told him, ‘but the bride’s family said that if she came, they wouldn’t.’

According to Vidal, Dame Barbara arrived to lunch two hours late. ‘She wore neither hat nor wig, only wavy tufts of pale hair adorned her gleaming rosy pate.’

Over soup, Dame Barbara became incensed at the way Charles and Diana were being persecuted by the press: she had never, she said, seen a more loving couple.

Glancing at Princess Chumbhot, Vidal sensed the time was right to put their agreed plan into action. In his version, Chumbhot says: ‘How lovely the Abbey must have been. We saw it only on television, but you were there.’

‘Yes, yes, yes,’ replies Dame Barbara.

‘Do tell us what the Abbey was like.’

In Vidal’s account, at this point Dame Barbara pretends that something has caught in her throat, but Chumbhot won’t let the matter drop.

‘You WERE there?’

      More from Craig Brown...   Who trashed Mrs T's shoes? See below... 05/06/13   Why the king of the corgis bit the dust: Eight things you didn't know about the Queen's coronation 03/06/13   Shakespeare? He's only in it for the money 22/05/13   CRAIG BROWN: The perils of beheading a giant prawn 20/05/13   I'll level with you: the British shelf is the best 15/05/13   You'll just love Geoffrey! He's a real character 13/05/13   What a handy place to rest a teacup, Prezza! 08/05/13   Come dine with you? Actually, I'd rather not 06/05/13   So that's why Sunny Jim was so perky! 01/05/13   VIEW FULL ARCHIVE

Dame Barbara is thus forced to back down. ‘Well, it was for young people, really. So I gave away my tickets.’

This is Gore Vidal’s version of their meeting. He published it in 2006, by which time Dame Barbara was safely dead.

It makes a funny story, but was he telling the truth? Two details make me suspect that it was just another one of his little fantasies.

First, the Royal Wedding took place at St Paul’s Cathedral, not Westminster Abbey.

Second, and more important, Barbara Cartland had made a great fuss at the time of NOT attending the wedding. Instead, she held a party for her local branch of the St John Ambulance Brigade. She even appeared on television on the big day, memorably squeezed into her St John uniform. It is hardly likely that, having been witnessed elsewhere by millions of viewers, she would have then pretended she was present at the wedding.So much for Vidal the fluffy fantasist. But what of Cartland, the muck-raking cynic? In March 1996, she told Gyles Brandreth the real reason behind the break-up of the Royal marriage.

‘Of course, you know where it all went wrong? She wouldn’t do oral sex, she just wouldn’t. It’s as simple as that. Of course it all went wrong.’



Review of Raymond Chandler: A Life by Tom Williams

/li> 0 shares 0

comments

RAYMOND CHANDLER: A LIFE by Tom Williams

Aurum £20 ☎ £15.99 inc p&p

Rating:

Authors are seldom like their creations, but few are quite so different as Raymond Chandler.

His hero, Philip Marlowe, played by Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep, is the brave, crumpled, world-weary realist who, sometimes a little worse for wear, single-handedly takes on the corruption of Los Angeles while femmes fatales throw themselves at him.

As a private detective, he is the embodiment of Chandler’s beautiful sentence, ‘Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.’

Chandler himself was quite the opposite. J. B. Priestley described him as looking like a boffin in an Ealing Comedy. Unlike his hero, he was both tarnished and afraid. ‘Am I comfortable? No.’ he once wrote. ‘Am I happy? No. Am I weak, depressed, no good, and of no social value to the community? Yes.’

Worlds apart: Humphrey Bogart with Lauren Bacall, as Marlowe in the 1946 film The Big Sleep

Whereas Marlowe was tough and stoic, Chandler was thin-skinned and self- pitying. He resented even the gentlest criticism. Having finished the first draft of The Long Goodbye, he sent it to his agents, saying he would value their ‘comments and objections and so on’.

They read it carefully before sending him a letter saying the new book contained ‘some of your best writing’ but that, at times, Marlowe became uncharacteristically sentimental.

This mild, sensible advice deeply upset the prickly Chandler, who said that receiving this reply was like being ‘slapped in the face’, adding that ‘some of these comments, if correct, are devastating, and if incorrect are intolerable’.  A few weeks later, he sent the agents a telegram which stated bluntly: ‘I herewith terminate my agency account with you. Please acknowledge.’

In the same way, when J. B. Priestley went to Los Angeles, the blunt, pipe-puffing Yorkshireman got off on the wrong foot by saying, as Chandler drove him away from the airport, that although he liked Chandler’s books, he thought perhaps he should try writing something without murders in it. ‘Ray was quietly furious,’ writes his biographer, ‘and the drive home was a long and unpleasant one.’

A virgin until the age of 31, when he married someone 18 years his senior,  he remained nervous around women throughout his life. After his wife’s death, he wrote an extraordinarily moving letter to his English publisher, saying that ‘she was the light of my life, my whole ambition.

Anything else I did was just the fire for her to warm her hands at’, yet he had once drunkenly confided to colleagues in Hollywood that he wanted to divorce her, but she was too old.

The writer, Raymond Chandler

And as a sleuth among the mean streets, he was to prove, unlike Marlowe, hopelessly incompetent.

Towards the end of his life, he was commissioned by a newspaper to interview the Mafia boss ‘Lucky’ Luciano. Far from battling against corruption, he readily embraced it, describing this notorious mobster as a scapegoat who had been ‘deliberately framed’.

He added: ‘He has a soft voice, a patient sad face, and is extremely courageous in every way. This might be all a front, but I don’t think I am that easily fooled. A man who has been involved in brutal crimes bears a mark. Luciano seemed to be a lonely man who had been endlessly tormented and yet bore little or no malice.’

Even Inspector Clouseau was never quite so cack-handed.

Although he grew up in England, Chandler was born in Chicago in 1888, to a life of incessant grumbling. As a young man he got a job as a Whitehall civil servant, but packed it in after a few months: ‘I thoroughly detested the Civil Service.’ He then went to work as a reporter in Fleet Street: ‘I was a complete flop, the worst they had ever had.’

He tried his hand at any number of jobs – teacher, apricot-picker, shop assistant, tennis-racket restringer – before finding a successful niche, once back in America, as the chief auditor of a large oil company, rising to the position of director of three companies and president of another three.

It was only after he got the sack, at the age of 43, that he thought about making a start as a writer.

Even then, he took a year to complete his first story, Blackmailers Don’t Shoot, for a pulp crime magazine, and a further five years to complete his first novel.

On the page, he possessed all the brilliance, the self-confidence, the poetry and wit that he lacked in the world beyond it. 

In life, he was a chronic alcoholic, rarely going anywhere without a bottle of whisky in his briefcase, endlessly picking random arguments with people, and once even pulling out a gun and threatening to shoot himself, just because friends had cancelled a game of tennis.

Yet when it came to writing about alcohol, rather than drinking it, he was able to come up with a wondrously funny sentence like this: ‘I’m an occasional drinker, the kind of guy who goes out for a beer and wakes up in Singapore with a full beard.’

His method of writing was unusual, to say the least. He would take a sheet of yellow paper, 8½in by 11in, then cut it in half, and place it into a typewriter ‘turned up longways’. Using triple-spacing he would write a small number of words – between 125 and 150 – on each sheet of paper.

He thought this kept his prose lean and punchy: ‘If there isn’t a little meat on each page, something is wrong.’

This is the strength of his books, but also their weakness: each individual para-graph is marvellously exact but, taken as a whole, the plots are all over the place. He was never able to work things out in advance, which meant that he wrote his books from scene to scene, never knowing what was going to happen next.

More often than not, he would end up buried in a hopeless tangle of conflicting plot-lines, with the murderer still not caught for the simple reason that the author had no idea which one he was.

Famously, halfway through filming The Big Sleep, the director, Howard Hawks telegraphed Chandler asking him which of the characters had murdered the chauffeur. Chandler swiftly re-read his own book before telegraphing back: ‘I DON’T KNOW.’

Commissioned to write an original screenplay, he whizzed through the first half in three weeks but then came to a halt because, once again, he couldn’t work out who the murderer was. Confronted by this serious case of writer’s block, the studio offered Chandler an additional $5,000 if he could deliver on time.

Chandler reacted in fury, claiming that the offer betrayed Paramount’s lack of faith in him, and saying that his creative mechanism had now been wrecked. The film was never made.

‘If my books had been any worse, I should not have been invited to Hollywood,’ he once observed, ‘and if they had been any better, I should not have come.’

Hollywood was just the latest in a lifelong line of gripes: ‘The pretentiousness, the bogus enthusiasm, the incessant squabbling over money, the all-pervasive agent . . . the constant fear of losing all this fairy gold and being the nothing they have never really ceased to be, the snide tricks, the whole damn mess is out of this world.’

His life was tattered and unwieldy, filled with rage and frustration: his only consolation lay in filtering it all through his typewriter, so that it was transformed into his wry and magical prose.

His first biographer, Frank MacShane, put it nicely when he concluded that Chandler ‘led a tortured and lonely life only temporarily relieved by moments of happiness and given meaning by his stubborn adherence to the highest standards of art’.

This new biography might lack the elegance and sweep of MacShane’s, but it is a good starting point for those who can’t resist a peek past the glittering stage-set of an author’s work to the  tawdry mess that so often lies beyond.WORLDS APART: Humphrey Bogart, with Lauren Bacall, as Marlowe in the 1946 film The Big Sleep. Below: Raymond Chandler


Review of Frank Westerman's Brother Mendel's Perfect Horse

/li> 0 shares 0

comments

BROTHER MENDEL'S PERFECT HORSE by Frank Westerman

Harvill Secker £16.99 ☎ £14.99 inc p&p

Rating:

The very word ‘dressage’ makes me feel a little queasy. It seems perverse to turn a bold horse into a fancy-pants song-and-dance man, a sort  of Lionel Blair with hooves and a saddle.

The Lipizzaner is the breed that prances about at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna. It is apparently the creme de la creme, the Rolls-Royce of horses. Like the Rolls-Royce, it has long been the transport of choice for some of the world’s most unsavoury despots and tycoons.

Marshal Tito of Yugoslavia presented Lipizzaners to Nehru, Nasser and our own dear Queen, as well as selling a job lot  of 30 to Emperor Haile Selassie for his imperial stud at Addis Ababa.

Thoroughly bred: Lipizzaners are the result of four centuries of selective breeding and training

Nicolae Ceausescu and his equally grim wife Elena jointly owned a Lipizzaner stud farm in Romania. Napoleon owned a Lipizzaner, and Adolf Hitler ordered one as a gift for Emperor Hirohito.

Over the years, says Frank Westerman, the Lipizzaner has performed ‘at the coronation of shahs, parvenu sovereigns and Third World dictators . . .’ It can’t  be long before a Lipizzaner is spotted out for dinner with Michael Winner, or, sporting Calvin Klein shades, sunning itself on the deck of Simon Cowell’s yacht.

It is a breed that goes back centuries. ‘When you touch a Lipizzaner,’ Westerman was told by the owner of the riding school where he worked as a boy, ‘you are touching history.’

The owner went on to explain that the Lipizzaner was the product of four  centuries of breeding, involving tiny tweaks and fine-tuning, by the end of which human beings had produced a horse that could skip, pirouette and dance the Viennese waltz. Who knows? Perhaps in another 400 years, the Lipizzaner will be able to do the Twist, bake the perfect souffle and book easyJet flights on the internet.

The riding-school owner fills Westerman in on the horses’ background. ‘Since 1580, at the Habsburgs’ imperial stud farm on a ridge above Trieste, form had been given to a horse destined to bear kings and emperors. There the Austro-Hungarian equerries had created a pure and noble breed.

Power and grace, loyalty and eagerness to learn – these traits had all, by means of selection and cross-breeding, been brought together in one animal.’

A major theme of this book is the how the quest for the perfect horse echoes the quest for the perfect human being

And here we come to what turns out to be a major theme of this very meandering, off-centre book: the quest for the perfect horse echoes the  quest for the perfect human being. At the heart of Brother Mendel’s Perfect Horse is a moral and historical exploration of the world of genetics.

Needless to say, it is not long before both the Nazis and the Soviets barge their way on to centre-stage. As an Austrian, Hitler took a particular interest  in Vienna’s world-famous Spanish Riding School, and placed it under the army high command. In 1939, the Nazis  made a documentary film about it, the  46 Corinthian columns of the school all bedecked with swastikas.

Hitler became obsessed with confiscating as many ‘racially pure’ Lipizzaners as possible from all over the Balkans and, when Mussolini fell, from Italy, too. They were then gathered together in a secret stud farm in what is now the Czech Republic, close to the German border.

Elsewhere, Hitler’s equerry Gustav Rau set about a cross-breeding programme intended to create the perfect horse: one that was a dab hand at farm work, as well as being able to hop, skip and jump, and dance the military two-step.

‘At the stud farm we had a Noriker mare, a really heavy-limbed Shire horse, and we had to cross her with a Lipizzaner stallion,’ recalls one of his underlings. The resulting foal looked grotesque, with bones that seemed too big for its skin, but, being an ideologue, Rau managed to convince himself that his experiment was a stunning success.

Hitler became obsessed with confiscating as many 'racially pure' Lipizzaners as possible

Such cross-breeding was, of course, against all the tenets of the Nazi racial doctrine, which exalted the pure Aryan ideal. But then the Lipizzaner was itself a strange hybrid of Danish, Italian, Egyptian and Czech: no perfect Aryan, he.

Meanwhile, the Nazis were also developing stud farms for human beings: ‘The Fuhrer’s Brides’ was the creepy name given to the women placed on the SS’s Lebensborn programme, charged with copulating with SS officers in order to produce racially pure babies.

Inevitably, the Soviets had their own ideological take on genetics, which was the polar opposite of the Nazis’.

In 1948, Stalin called on Soviet scientists to cast biology in a new proletarian mould. The scientist in charge of this compulsory rebranding exercise, Trofim Lysenko, immediately declared that genes did not exist, but were instead a fiction perpetrated by the bourgeoisie, who wanted everyone to believe that one’s origins inevitably determined  one’s future.

Overnight, Soviet geneticists were dismissed or forced to repent. Anyone who continued to believe in the existence of genes was declared ‘an adherent of theories popular in Nazi Germany and still advanced by defendants of slavery and racial discrimination: the Americans’.

Pioneering voices such as those of  Darwin, Gregor Mendel and Thomas Malthus were all retrospectively condemned as the stooges of a capitalist  system hell-bent on promoting the virtues of competition. For Lysenko, Nature  was not red in tooth and claw.

In fact, quite the opposite: animals and plants were all, at heart, good communists, able to find strength in numbers, and to learn from their mistakes.

Accordingly, a vast, disastrous system of farming was put in place, based on  the utterly bogus idea that plants and animals will never compete with each other. Thus, when forests were planted, bundles of saplings were shoved in the same hole, in the belief that they would somehow come to a sensible agreement.

In Siberia, pigs were placed in the freezing cold, in the hope that this would toughen them up. Crops, too, would never be subjected to genetic manipulation. Sure enough, the saplings died, the pigs froze to death, and dire corn harvests resulted in the deaths of millions.

Yet it was not until 1964 that Lysenko was himself denounced as a ‘pseudo- academic’ whose crackpot ideas had reduced the Soviet Union to beggary.  At the same time, Mendel, the Austrian monk whose experiments with peas had introduced genetics to the world, was rehabilitated: in 1965, a delegation of  70 penitent Soviet scientists laid a wreath on his pea patch.

By now, you might be wondering what all this has to do with all those pirouetting Lipizzaners. Only a little, is the answer. Westerman is one of those writers who delight in freewheeling around a subject, swirling around here, there and everywhere rather than travelling in a straight line.

In terms of the Olympics, it is as if an athlete had decided against running as fast as possible from A to B, but had decided to take pretty little detours to P, J, and Z along the way.

The resulting book is, as a consequence, full of interesting tales but, in biological terms, it seems to follow the old Soviet system, bunging all its saplings into the same hole, trusting that, given time, they’ll sort themselves out.

Along the way, Westerman touches on all sorts of fascinating topics – cloning, apartheid, eugenics, bogus science, national identity – but never quite manages to graft them successfully to his key story of the Lipizzaners, as they are shunted hither and thither around Europe by successive regimes.

This jumble is muddled still further by Westerman’s undue interest in his own movements. He is incapable of interviewing someone without letting us know what they had for lunch, or precisely where he placed his coat. The author’s blurb tells us he is Dutch, but I suspect there might be a bit of Double-Dutch in his genes, too.



No heroics Popeye, just pipe down!

/li> 1

comments

Now that the 2012 Olympics are over, the question must be asked: how do our present sporting heroes compare with those of the past? How were they regarded by their contemporary fans?

For the past few weeks, I have been trying to find an answer to this question in the little-known Historical Online Archive at Kew, where hundreds of thousands of internet comments and tweets from ordinary Britons down the centuries are lovingly preserved. Here is a small selection:

How do heroes of the past match up to our newest sporting giants?

ATLAS: ‘What a big head that guy is. I really don’t think Atlas is half as good as he would be even if he was twice as good. I mean, any1 could hold up the world, given half a chance I would, but my back is playing up and my doctor has advised against, worst luck.’ Geoff, Nuneaton.

BANNISTER, Roger: ‘Why the big rush?’ Simon, Gateshead.

‘Check out those running shoes. Zut alors! They must be against the rules, otherwise no one would be able to run that fast. Next time he should be made to run barefoot.’Pierre, Lyons.

‘Four minutes? So what? I can boil an egg and eat it, all in under four minutes.’ Marjorie, Hants.

Does Popeye really get his strength from spinach alone?

BATMAN: ‘What a weed is all I can say. One things 4 sure. No real man would spend his time poncing about in tights and a cape. If he wants to be a perve then he should do so in private and not swoop out of the sky onto ordinary decent citizens of Gotham City. And as for his little sidekick Robin the so-called Boy Wonder — don’t get me started.’ Eileen, Chorley Wood.

DAVID: ‘OK, so Goliath might have needed taking down a peg or two, no one likes an obese guy with a beard and one eye, but then again no one likes a show-off neither and David had no right to push himself forward like that. And they say he’s a dwarf.’R. B. Smith, Haslemere, Surrey.

‘David’s gone all posh now he’s famous, but when I was at school with him he called himself Dave. Now he’s got ideas above his station: it’s all David this, David that. Just goes to show.’ Chris, Totnes.

HERCULES: ‘Some of us were taught not to boast, thank you very much. I’d have slayed the nine-headed Lernean Hydra, captured the Golden Hind, given the Augean stables a spring-clean and slain the Stymphalian birds, but I didn’t have the time. But I know that, if I had, I wouldn’t brag about it.’ Roger, Elstree.

HILLARY, SIR EDMUND: ‘Last week, I climbed all the way up the hill near our village in Yorkshire without the help of a Sherpa, I might add, but do I go on and on about it?

‘Next week, I plan to take a trek in the Pennines, but once again national Press coverage and a knighthood will be denied me, just because I’m not famous, and this is a celebrity-obsessed culture.’Nigel, Ampton Collier, Yorks.

      More from Craig Brown...   Who trashed Mrs T's shoes? See below... 05/06/13   Why the king of the corgis bit the dust: Eight things you didn't know about the Queen's coronation 03/06/13   Shakespeare? He's only in it for the money 22/05/13   CRAIG BROWN: The perils of beheading a giant prawn 20/05/13   I'll level with you: the British shelf is the best 15/05/13   You'll just love Geoffrey! He's a real character 13/05/13   What a handy place to rest a teacup, Prezza! 08/05/13   Come dine with you? Actually, I'd rather not 06/05/13   So that's why Sunny Jim was so perky! 01/05/13   VIEW FULL ARCHIVE

PEGASUS: Every1 goes on and on about what an amazing horse Pegasus is. All I can say is U must be joking guys. OK, so he can fly, but in my book that’s cheating and he should DEFINATELY be disqualified for life.’ Dobbin, Berks.

POPEYE: ‘Will someone please tell Popeye it’s a crime to smoke in public places and for smoking a pipe he can face a fine of up to £1,000. Disgusting habit. Also, if I were him, I’d get that right eye looked at. And while we’re on the subject, that Olive Oyl could do with gaining a few pounds or two. Has she got some sort of disorder? We have a right to know.’  G. W., Wilts

‘Lucky Popeye’s never gone in for the Olympics. He wouldn’t get through the drugs tests. I can’t believe that’s just spinach he’s eating.’        Jim, Gravesend.

TELL, WILLIAM: ‘The guy should be prosecuted. What’s he doing shoot-ing an arrow at his kiddy’s head? Typical Swiss. People who treat their children like that should be locked up. How’d he like it if I shot an arrow at his head? It would teach him a lesson he’d not forget in a long while, and that’s for sure.’          Hazel, Newport.

‘A wicked waste of a perfectly good apple.’ P. D., Birmingham.

WEBB, CAPTAIN: ‘We’d all be swimming the Channel, given half the chance, but some of us have better things to do, like work for a living. Under that bushy beard, he’s probably a highly privileged public school toff. Or black. The rest of us don’t stand a chance.’  Bob Anstruther, Salop.

ZEBEDEE: ‘He’s a pest to himself and the others on The Magic Roundabout. What’s the big deal? I’d be able to bounce around like that if I had a spring instead of legs. Talk about one rule for the rich. The rest of us just have to make do with what we’ve got.

And what kind of a name is Zebedee? Sounds foreign to me. And, while we’re on the subject, I reckon that rabbit is on something.’  Dan, Southend.


It¿s gold for the grumps of Great Britain

/li> 9

comments

Now that our perverse surge of national optimism is dying down, it’s time to play to our strengths. It gives me great pride to unveil a brand new range of medals awarded for what we British do best: moan.

GLUMPIC GOLD MEDAL  FOR WEDDED BLISS

Lord Byron: Winner of the Glumpic Gold medal for wedded bliss

Winner: Lord Byron (Team GB)

Byron walked into marriage like a prisoner to the scaffold. When his fiancee, Annabella, sent back two acceptances to his written marriage proposal, one to his country address, the other to his town address, Byron remarked: ‘It never rains but it pours.’

As he was making his marriage vows, Byron looked round at a male friend and grimaced.

Two months after their marriage, he took his new bride to stay with his half-sister (and former lover) Augusta. ‘Now I have her, you will find I can do without you,’ he said to his bride. ‘We can amuse ourselves without you, dear.’

Silver Medallists: Mr and Mrs Thomas Carlyle (Team GB)

‘It was very good of God to let Carlyle and Mrs Carlyle marry one another and so make only two people miserable instead of four.’

Samuel Butler, 1884.

Bronze Medallists: Mr and Mrs John Fowles (Team GB)

‘She hates the country, she hates the house, she hates me, she hates my life as a writer and, of course, she hates herself into the bargain.’

 John Fowles on his wife Elizabeth,  diary entry  December 18, 1965.

GLUMPIC GOLD MEDAL FOR  POP SINGING

Winner: Morrissey (Team GB)

‘I was looking for a job, and then I found a job,

‘And heaven knows I’m miserable now,

‘In my life,

‘Why do I give valuable time,

‘To people who don’t care if I live  or die?

‘Two lovers entwined pass me by,

‘And heaven knows I’m miserable now.’

GLUMPIC GOLD MEDAL  FOR CHRISTMAS CHEER

Edwina Currie: Full of Christmas joy and cheer

Winner: Edwina Currie (Team GB)

‘Christmas at home. I don’t like Christmas. There’s too much of it, and I don’t believe in it: the paganism, the rebirth in the depths of winter . . . the commercialism always makes me nauseous.

‘Long ago I did a deal with the kids: no presents, but I’ll take them to the sales afterwards . . . Ray managed to reduce me to tears after the meal when I said ’87 had been a good year. He said it had been a terrible year for him, with a broken neck most of the year and likely to be in pain all his life. He hurt his neck (not broken) in March when he went to Spain to play golf with his mates and got knocked about in a car crash; and then he invited one of them and his girlfriend on our holiday in Paris at Easter. I was livid and very upset.’

From Edwina Currie Diaries, December 25, 1987.

      More from Craig Brown...   Who trashed Mrs T's shoes? See below... 05/06/13   Why the king of the corgis bit the dust: Eight things you didn't know about the Queen's coronation 03/06/13   Shakespeare? He's only in it for the money 22/05/13   CRAIG BROWN: The perils of beheading a giant prawn 20/05/13   I'll level with you: the British shelf is the best 15/05/13   You'll just love Geoffrey! He's a real character 13/05/13   What a handy place to rest a teacup, Prezza! 08/05/13   Come dine with you? Actually, I'd rather not 06/05/13   So that's why Sunny Jim was so perky! 01/05/13   VIEW FULL ARCHIVE GLUMPIC GOLD MEDAL  FOR COMEDY

Winner: Les Dawson (Team GB)

‘I’m a very unlucky person. Treets melt in my hand, and Lord Longford once mugged me.’

GLUMPIC GOLD MEDAL FOR TOUR OF A DISTINGUISHED NOVELIST’S GROUNDS

Winner: Thomas Hardy  (Team GB)

When the young E. M. Forster visited gloomy novelist Thomas Hardy for tea in 1924, he found himself subjected to a particularly depressing tour of his garden. ‘T. H. showed me the graves of his pets, all  overgrown with ivy, their names on the headstones. Such a dolorous muddle.

‘ “This is Snowbell — she was run over by a train . . . this is Pella, the same thing happened to her . . . this is Kitkin, she was cut clean in two, clean in two.”

‘ “How is it that so many of your cats  have been run over,  Mr Hardy? Is the railway near?’ ”

‘ “Not at all near,  not at all near — I don’t know how it is.” ’

GLUMPIC GOLD MEDAL  FOR WASHING UP

Winner: John Fowles (Team GB)

‘Washing a tiny dead spider down the sink. It wasn’t even worth looking at — long dead, perhaps some linyphid. But as I did it, I thought suddenly, acutely and vividly of the human parallel; of being washed into oblivion down a sink.’

Diary entry, January 27, 1990.

GLUMPIC GOLD MEDAL FOR REACTION TO PROMOTION

Winner: Chris Mullin MP (Team GB)

‘To bed, feeling miserable at the thought of the avalanche of tedium to come.’

On being offered first ministerial post. Diary entry, July 28, 1999.

‘Awoke at 3am, still worrying that I have traded my self-respect and the respect of others for the lowliest rung on the political ladder . . . I lay awake until six compiling a resignation letter.’

Diary entry, August 1, 1999.