Monday, November 19, 2007

Smoking Zone

Lemmy's in big trouble. Not the acid or speed catching up with him, nor even any of the 2000 birds he's shagged. Nope. The diehard rocker has (gasp) smoked a cigarette on stage! I bet 1000s of horrified heavy-metal fans clutched their tattooed knuckles to their noses and rushed for the exits as soon as he lit up.

And he might have got away with it on the night, too, but oh no; Sheffield Council Officers are on his case, one said," Other venues on the tour will be notified and appropriate action may be taken should any further incidents take place." Bloody hell. I really really want to be there when some oik from the Ways and Means Committee gets up and asks him his name, half way through Ace of Spades.

Things could get even worse if the tour takes in Naples. No chance of nipping out for a quick puff between sets there. The council has banned smoking outside, in public parks and during "demonstrations and cultural events" if children or pregnant women are nearby.

I wonder whether anyone actually sat down and worked out the odds about being struck down by 1 tobacco smoke molecule per squillion cubic litres of air? Here's a helpful article saying that the dangers of it happening are slightly less than winning the lottery whilst being struck by lightning during a blue moon. No matter. Naples Council will say you can't prove that never happened, can you? Aha then! Banned! Next!

It's neo-eco-envy-health-fascism, it really is. What is it with people that they have to find some other group or individual to detest and persecute. I think the demonisation of smokers, or reveling in the trials of people like Britney, Amy and the McCanns happens because so many desperately need someone else to be better than... that it's easier for people to focus on others instead of on improving their own selves.

I really do hope that next time Mt. Vesuvius erupts nobody gets hurt. But if a tragedy does occur, that Sheffield Council is on a twinning visit to its Neapolitan counterpart at the time.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Ginjinha joints

First of all, a couple of hints for how the whole experience of jetting off on a lovers break could be improved by the Powers That Be:

Airlines: Take a stand on fatties. To protect the comfort of normally-sized passengers, anybody over 12st. must pay excess baggage. And you know those frame thingies at check-in that cabin-baggage has to fit into before it can go aboard? Well make one like a plane seat. And if they can’t get their arses into it, make them pay for two seats or throw them off the flight. Serves them right.

Passport Control:
OK, here’s a test. If it takes about 20
seconds to check each document, how long will it take for a planeload of 200 passengers to get through immigration? Answer: Over an hour. So given that a plane lands at Luton every 5 minutes, why have only two officers on duty? Oh wait.... it's the Home Office, innit? Useless gits.
Well, here I am back in cold, dank, over-complicated England, torn away from hole-in-the-wall Ginjinha bars where you sip sweet cherry liqueur for a euro a tot, lazy outdoor lunches of freshly caught/freshly grilled sardines and young-pressed vinho verde, world class coffee and pastries, and aromatic roast chestnuts to be relished in late autumn temperatures in the 60s and 70s.
As you’ll have guessed, I spent the whole flight home squashed up next to a member of the Obese Community who needed a seat and a half to pour his blubbery bulk into and then God knows how long queuing up with the Poles, Romanians and Bulgars for the privilege of being allowed back into my own fucking country.
But Lisbon is beautiful. It has a vibe, charm and pace all of its own, more like a provincial town than a capital city even though the whole museum, arts and opera thing is there if you look for it. It’s got a unique lived-in feel to it thanks to its central shopping and cultural area being right on the doorstep of its residential heartlands, so that tourists share easily in the everyday world of Lisboetas. And luckily for everyone, the Portuguese have resisted the worst excesses of mass Starbuckisation, so instead of having to search around for a ‘typical’ experience, you can drop in anywhere and be served with the courtesy, friendliness and natural hospitality that’s the hallmark of this gentle, decent country.Sadly, this might be the last foreign sojourn for quite some time. Our terrier (who is far too spoiled to be left in kennels) disgraced himself by widdling on the curtains of the lady who looks after him while we're away. So unless another can be found - that's it. But good to have gone out on a high... Portugal was the first holiday I ever shared with Mme., many years ago. It's aged well.. so has she. We had no money, drove all the way through France and Spain with a tent in the boot of a little car. A memory that's stuck with me all this time is of a rifle range at a small town fiesta. You had to fire at a target that released a spring so's a furry toy tied to a length of elastic flew at you when you hit. The prize was a glass of ginjinha - I couldn't miss and at 5 shots an escudo, I had them lined up along the counter. Cheers and shouts of "mais ginjinha!" went up from a growing crowd of hangers on every time I scored a bullseye - we all got merry except for the poor stallholder who got ever more miserable as he just kept on pouring.So there I was again... downing ginjinha with the priceless extra benefit of its flavour bringing back the memories, as tastes, sounds and scents always do best. Life is circles.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

**** OFF, YOU ****!

"**** off Gordon ****ing Ramsey and **** yourself, you ****ing jumped-up ****ing ****er. Oh, so you think the ****ing food in ****ing Skegness is ****ing atrocious do you? Well let me tell you, Mr. ****ing so-called Michelin One Star (One B*****k more like) Ramsey. You’re ****ed because nobody comes here to eat your poncey ****ing rocket salad on a bed of sun-dried ****ing organic bananas ***p anyway. So do us a ****ing favour and **** off to ****ing Bognor ****ing Regis instead where they don’t know one ****ing end of a ****ing King Prawn ****ing Biryani from the other." Mabel Thorpe (Mrs.) (69).

Yes, Skegness is in the news again. Twice in fact. But more of that, as they say, later. Last time a famous cook tried to change eating habits, it was Jamie Oliver’s doomed effort to wean the nation’s schoolchildren off Turkey Twizzlers (cost £486m, results - falling school-dinner sales and fatter kids). Now TV’s celeb chef Ramsey wants to start a crusade to change the menus at Britain’s seaside resorts – this in the country that has introduced the All Day Breakfast to the Costa Blanca and whose national dish is Chicken Tikka Masala.

I can’t see it myself. Blaming the restaurants for poor food is like blaming the BBC for Strictly Ballroom – if there wasn’t an appetite for this kind of ready-chewed pap, they wouldn’t offer it. We have to face facts... Britain is dumb and tasteless. Sad but as true as any generalisation ever can be. Newspapers realise this, so do record companies, fashion designers, retailers and advertisers. So does the Government, for that matter. In the end, the consumer always gets his way. If enough people want rubbish, that’s what they’ll get. And we do. That’s why the biggest selling tabloids appeal to the worst instincts of the barely literate, music has been the same old tosh for years, tat clothes are sold on the basis of having the ‘right’ labels, shops cash in on the shopping-as-a-hobby OCD and goods are sold on image rather than features.

But forget the food, ignore the weather... Skegness has triumphed in the British Toilet Association’s prestigious Best Loo Award of 2007 (sponsored by Dyson Airblade), winning the coveted Four Star Commendation for several of its conveniences. So there you are, Ramsey. Shove that up your ****ing **** and smoke it. We’ve got our priorities straight without you. Our best selling plat du jour might only be chips with cheese, but when we go, we go in style.

Saturday, November 03, 2007


I can’t work out whether having a bandage on my car is something I should do something about or not, what with your motor being that most obvious symbol of your psyche and all. I’m kind of hoping that people will see it as meaning I’m so confident in myself, that I don’t need to boost my self-esteem with a manhood-enhancing boy-toy. This might be self-defeating, of course, if they (rightly) guess that I’ve lost the will to be interested in what anybody thinks since we moved out here. Anyway, it needed two front tyres for its MOT, so I took it into town. The spotty-youth at KwikPhytt annoyed me so much with that all-encompassing "Urr?" that they all do in the motor trade when they’re asking you what you want, that I reversed into a post on the way out and smashed the bumper.

Well, apparently you aren’t allowed to have sharp edges showing, so it’s been covered over with gaffer-tape to be MO’d and looks like Pudsey Bear. Or a pair of broken specs held together by Sellotape. Sod it..... I could claim on the insurance but I’m still hoping somebody will run into me so that I can get the front bumper fixed as well to make it worthwhile. That’s also been bandaged since I stood on it to reach the windowsill one night when I’d locked myself out of the house. What I really need now is to be gently shunted from the rear into a tree by somebody not too worried about their No Claims Bonus.

Mme. is just back from the supermarket. She says the youth at the checkout got as far as a bag of chestnuts before ringing his bell and shouting, "what are these?" to the supervisor. Wonder he didn’t just hold them up and say, "Urr?". It’s lucky it was Mme. and not me – she would just have fixed him with the withering stare that freezes nitrogen. I’d have gone into a strop and reversed the trolley into a display of soup cans. I’m still spitting feathers since the girl at B&Q corrected me for putting an ‘r’ in the middle of February whilst writing a cheque. "Well that’s not how you say it", she said. I hadn’t realised how well I can roll my rrrrs until then, "Febrrrruary, Febrrrrrrrruary!" Never able to do it before or since.

But there we are. None of us knows everything. I’m buggered if I can understand, for example, how easyJet can charge me less than a tank of petrol for a return flight to Lisbon. They can, though, and I shall be reporting from there in a week or two, if relations between Britain and Portugal still permit it. Since Tony Parshole, in his Mirror column told their Ambassador to "shut his stupid sardine-munching mouth", they might have cooled a bit. You’d think somebody who sees himself as a bit of an intellectual could come up with a better one than that. But no. In the land of the Urrs, the half-baked thug is King.

(That last line isn’t too smartarsed, is it Tarkwith?)

(Very possibly, dear boy.

Monday, October 29, 2007

New Latest Rage: The Anti-Celebs

Kate and Gerry McCann; where would we be without them? Oh, how they can be reviled – aren’t we all so much better than parents who leave their children alone to be abducted.... or worse? Much easier to hate them, rather than look up to the people they’ve pushed off the front pages. Instead of having to be envious of the great and good, whose lifestyles, looks, houses, cars and clothes can barely being imagined, they are there to be torn apart, mannerisms mocked, appearance criticised, their ambition and their relatives derided. No longer any need to aspire to riches the Beckhams have got.... we're better off than even the most famous anti-celebs without even trying. Oh what joy!

You can’t have missed it. As well as in the comments in online newspapers, it’s all over the internet in forums like the Mirror's here and the many blogs that specialise in bringing you the latest hot info about their guilt.

If you haven’t been keeping up, it goes like this.... The ‘Tapas 9’ a group of coke-snorting swingers (or possibly even friends) have a Pact of Silence over Madeleine’s disappearance after she was left alone while they were drinking 14 bottles of wine in a restaurant. The whole thing would have been hushed up in the UK press due to a Government-led conspiracy thanks to Gerry’s involvement in a secret nuclear committee, the Freemasons, and the Illuminati and holding damning evidence about Gordon Brown’s extra-curricular activities on a rocking-horse. Meanwhile, investigations by the Portuguese Police (the PJ) are being thwarted by leaks of their incompetence being fed to the tabloids by their pink-shirted (say no more!) spokesman Clarence but have a killer piece of standalone evidence they have not yet revealed. Actually, it’s far more complicated than that..... It’s all an EU backed hoax to make us wear microchips. The Find Madeleine Fund (all pre-planned), is being used to pay the McCanns’ mortgage when Kate could easily sell her Rolex on Ebay or stop having her hair done and buying new tops. And it’s a fit-up by the Portuguese Government to save their tourist trade.

Not surprisingly, then, people are in a lather over it all. "I’m ashamed to be British!", says one.
"That’s nothing. I’m even more ashamed!", says another.
"You’re nowhere near ashamed enough... I’m ashamed to be on the same planet as Britain!", foams the third.
"Yes but I’ve been a nurse for 30 years and, believe me, I know what went on!"
"Ha! I’m a social worker and I’ve seen all this before. It stinks."
"I’m a trained psychologist and they’re all paedophiles, I tell you!".
"I’m a mother of 5 and I would never have left my kids like that!"

So it goes. Their words are studied for unintentional slips, their dress sense is analysed, they are labeled narcissists, sociopaths, working class oiks thrust into an incongruent profession. Their boxy house just goes to show how tasteless they are and their cries of innocence are proof that they are guilty. Every crackpot theory builds on the last until the teetering pile of evidence from the armchair sleuths is overwhelming for the nutcases and curtain twitchers who can’t get enough of it. Anyone who diverges from this view is dismissed as a supporter of child neglect. Any criticism of the PJ is met with chants of "xenophobia!" and "racism!".

Well, of course, at the end of all this, they may of course be guilty of a horrible crime and the most outrageous attempted coverup of all time. We just can’t know.

Meanwhile, move over Heather Mills. No wonder she’s complaining all over the daytime TV and radio. She’s last-year’s anti-celeb. Kate and Gerry are the new biggies and, man, don’t they shift papers. I must google who it was that said you can 'never lose money underestimating the good taste of the British people'. He couldn’t have known how right he was going to be proved.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Music night.

Joining me on the blog today is our Arts Correspondent, the distinguished music critic, Tarkwith Vonackle. He is here to give us the benefit of his impression of last night's concert by the City of London Sinfonia and soloist Benjamin Schmid at Kings Lynn Corn Exchange.
ASU: Good evening Tarkwith, thank you for being with us.

TV: Good evening, I'm very glad to be here.

ASU: Well, perhaps you'd be kind enough to begin by commenting on the Orchestra itself, first of all, what did you make of the viola player who wasn't wearing any shoes? Is that unusual in a concert of this nature?

TV: What?

ASU: You know... did you think he'd left them at home, like, or would you think he'd just forgotten to put them on?
TV: I didn't even look at their feet. Anyway, I'm here to discuss the musical aspect.

ASU: Yes of course. Sorry, please go on. Can I ask you about the soloist, then? Not as good as that bird last time, was he?
TV: Actually I thought he was excellent bordering on genius. He brought, I thought, a fresh and vibrantly Eastern European interpretation to the Sibelius which I've never..
ASU: No, I mean, you know, not as good to look at, like.
TV: I hardly think looks come into it! His technique, as he displayed especially during the encore, was simply breathtaking and...
ASU: Yes, yes, fair enough. The thing is though, whereas she sort of looked as if she was concentrating when it wasn't her turn, he twitched about like Michael Jackson on speed, didn't he? What's that all about?
TV: Well it's because he's so deeply affected by the music that he loses physical control. Not that this detracts from his playing which, if you'll permit me to say so, was one of the most spellbinding performances I've ever witnessed.
ASU: Ah right. OK then, what are your thoughts about the second half?
TV: You mean the Brahms?
ASU: If you say so. Went on a bit, didn't it?
TV: Actually, I thought the time flew by. And I also thought the City of
London Sinfonia was the ideal orchestra for this particular symphony which, if not played with the verve that is their hallmark, can sometimes sound moody and uncoordinated. But they got its lyrical aspects spot on, especially in the lushly melodic First Movement. The woodwind section in particular, most notably the principal flautist who is called upon to work quite hard throughout this piece, scored very highly in my opinion.
ASU: Oh you mean Karen?
TV: Eh?
ASU: Karen. On the flute. I'm sure it was her from that chamber ensemble that we saw at Stickney Church last winter when it was so cold we all nearly froze to death.
TV: Yes, well. Be that as it may..
ASU: And the good looker on the front row of the cellos is Judith, seen her somewhere before in a different outfit, as well...
TV: As I was saying. This orchestra never fails to put in a performance that has a modern-sounding freshness and rhythmic emphasis that, at the same time, respects the classical tradition. Conductor Douglas Boyd is to be commended for conveying his energy and vitality to the musicians who clearly welcome his presence on the rostrum and respond with enthusiasm.
ASU: I suppose they have to get jobs wherever they can...
TV: So all in all, it was a highly satisfactory evening and I think that West Norfolk Borough Council should be congratulated on bringing first class musicianship out into the Provinces.
ASU: I'll second that. Tarkwith Vonackle, thank you so much for your time. I'm very grateful. Goodnight and thank you again.
TV: You're most welcome, dear boy.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Ann Keen MP

I don't really do politics as a rule, now that there's as much ideological difference between the Parties as there is between Tesco and Asda. But I saw this simpering New Labour Clonette, Ann Keen, on our local TV tonight. She's Under-Secretary of State at the Dept. of Health and was answering criticism over the lack of NHS dentistry. Our area, apparently, has the worst provision of anywhere in England. Unfair, given the well-known fact that Lincolnshire people have at least the same number of teeth as anybody else, if not more.

Anyway.... it's not so much the failure of the Government to do its job properly that made me loathe her, for we're all too blase about stories of patients dying in filthy hospitals or pensioners pulling their own teeth out to bother looking up from our dinners. It was the way she denied responsibility
- the pure contempt for the audience in the cynical way she brushed aside the questions without giving a toot whether anyone saw through her or not. It came across in that shameless, arrogant, loathsome, mealy-mouthed, smug, complacent, conceited, sanctimonious way that only politicians can pull off.

When it was put to her that 60% of dentists were now in the private sector, she responded that, "40% are doing a good job treating NHS patients and 28m people are receiving free treatment" - and she was proud of that.
Replying to the point that only a few years ago, NHS treatment was available to everyone - she said it never was! So there we are... 32m people in this country have to get their teeth fixed privately and it's not a problem the Health Minister recognises. The bit this silly bint omits to say, is that the rest of us have paid for the service but can't get served. It'd be interesting to see how she'd react if she'd queued up at Luton Airport only for easyJet to tell her the first 40% of passengers had got on the plane but it was now full up and she could whistle for a refund.

However bad things get, politicians will chew their arms off before admitting even a chink of criticism through their armour,
no wonder they're despised and distrusted. It used to be granite-jawed Soviets who would whitewash the truth on the other side of the Iron Curtain, now it's our very own home-grown chubby-cheeked New Labour aparatchiks, like her. Perception has replaced truth for this Government. So many lies have been told that another can be uttered without hesitation or embarrassment. No conscience, no admissions. Ann Keen no longer needs to know the facts, only what the people need to hear.

Actually, I shouldn't imagine Ann Keen MP does have much of a problem herself. She's got her £91,000 ministerial pay to fall back on. Plus, she's married to 70 year old Alan Keen MP who, despite not having spoken in a single debate
last year and asking just one Question, still pulls in a £60,000 parliamentary salary. Or, they could dip into some of the £250,000 they claim between them in expenses. Yes indeed, one might ask whether the £400,000 a year these two cost the nation might be better spent on bringing a few Hungarian dentists over.

Ann Keen was a District Nurse before entering Parliament - an honest trade but hardly worthy of a promotion to Government office, although it could come in handy. I suspect that her rise has more to do with her brown-nosing talents and reliability in toeing the Party line than any organisational ability or relevant experience, though. I expect the Civil Servants do most of her job for her and the rest consists of saying what she's told to say. Fits in well, then.

Anyway... if you came to this page via Google and have any dirt on Ann Keen let me know, email me if you like.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Away Day

The 10.11 from Wainfleet to Grantham echoes a more leisurely era. It trundles gently through the flatlands and scattered villages; a carriage almost to yourself, calling here and there to pick up a handful of rustics - I dare say if you stood beside the track and waved a white hankie, the driver would stop the train and get out of his cab to help you aboard. I can't remember the last time I traveled like this, but it's actually quite pleasant, as long as you've got plenty of time. I gave myself 20 minutes from leaving home to catch it, spent another 10 on the windswept platform and 15 after that, we were passing the end of our lane and I could see my house. I should think if I'd set off in my car in the first place, I'd have been about half way to Grantham by then. Such is the inconvenience of public transport and why the enviro-fascists can't get anybody to use it when there's an alternative. But anyway, eventually we got there and waited for the connection to Kings Cross. This was even better - I've no idea why people complain about it - it thunders along at 100mph, they bring you a cup of complimentary coffee and a biscuit, give you a newspaper and it arrives bang on time. So in other words, what I'm saying is; when I got to London, I was still perfectly happy and normal and in relaxed Lincolnshire mode. Completely unfitted for what hits you there.

God it's horrible.

There's a distant and demented look etched into people's faces. It's as if they have to be somewhere else in their minds in order to cope with the unbearable stress of it all. Nobody can wait a split second longer than they're used to doing - on stairs, escalators, ticket barriers, platforms. They sit (if they're lucky) on the Tube, grimly gripping the precious strip of bench with their buttocks, as if it's the last lifebelt in a terrible shipwreck. They don't look at anything or make eye contact with anybody - everything has to be seen out of peripheral vision as they stare blankly forward with halibut eyes. When you arrive at Piccadilly or wherever, you can't get off before the new arrivals force their way on unless you're as ruthless and determined as they are. If you do manage it, don't pause to look for the exit because the irresistible human tide will pick you up and sweep you along. Back at street level, it's just as bewildering and frenzied, especially in
coffee shops that sell stuff you've never heard of and you get shunted down the queue while you're struggling to understand the menu (how strange that it's possible to order a coffee in most European languages on the Continent but that same knowledge is useless in London).

It's a rum thing, this sense of alienation -
to be expected abroad in places like the Rif Mountains or the Gobi Desert, but something more of a shock when it's in one's own country - and I was surprised at how strongly I resented it. Worse than differences based on age, say, or income or gender. Not even being lost and alone in a gay nightclub in Bolton could be more unsettling. No doubt Londoners would take time to adjust up here, too, where the nearest traffic light is 15 miles away and you can't go for a haircut or to the doctors or for an illicit assignation without bumping into a neighbour. It means you can't live in the protective shell that slowly encrusts people in the overcrowded cities. I lived down there for a while, yonks ago, and was oblivious to it. Was part of it, probably. Maybe it's changed. But more likely, it's me.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

West End Wonder

Boeing Boeing at the Comedy is miraculous farce. It made me heave with laughter. The cast is sensational - Jennifer Ellison was a revelation, so was Elena Roger, well they all were - and the whole experience of seeing something done as well as it's possible to do can't fail to lift the spirits.

The mechanics of the plot - a Parisian architect simultaneously engaged to three air-hostesses - contains all the jokes that can (and are) wrung out of it in a production that, despite the age of the script, sounds as fresh as a daisy.
Not, of course, that humour rooted in sixties attitudes towards the sexes and national stereotypes would disturb me, of all people, but it's interesting to see how well it works on audiences in the more PC times we live in now. Probably this is due to the strength given to the female roles, who are shown looking rather pityingly on the mens' plight as the plot unwinds to its predictably inevitable conclusion of all three fiances being in the apartment at the same time.

It's a satisfyingly familiar set - a panelled, white-painted semi-circle with plenty of doors for people to rush in and out of and hide behind. Even the Barcelona Chairs are in on the joke. Mood music comes from French cover-versions of contemporary pop favourites, so there's even the bonus of the Gallic inability to do rock and roll to have a smug chortle over, as well.

The West End theatre scene is a National Treasure. It should be on the NHS.
Shame this is yet another revival, though. It seems that only shows with a hoary pedigree run long enough to make their angels a return on their money. With Sound of Music, Grease and Joseph pulling the punters in on the back of cringe-making telly; Fiddler, Cabaret and Buddy clocking up over 100 years between them; the movie spin-offs and the Juke Box musicals - all-new and original clearly isn't box-office any more. Never mind. Nothing wrong with nostalgia. This show is bound to tour... a must see.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Heading Home.

I should think everything about the horrors of the airport experience has been covered by now, in countless places on the bloggerama. But just in case this one's been missed - "RELAX AND SHOP". They put it on the departure screens until your flight details come up, as I expect you know. Not "or", note, it's "and" - as if it just naturally assumes we're all moronic shopping-type people for whom the two activities are synonymous. Christ, they might as well put a sign up saying, "Yes this is a hellhole and we got you here miles too early because we're crap at organising ourselves but we don't care so why not buy yourself a pair of shoes or a plasma screen TV to take your mind off things until the scrum starts at the gate". Anyway.... after all that and more, we landed at Malaga. And after that and more still, we'd driven far enough north and found ourselves clinking big balloon glasses of Soberano brandy in a hotel that's changed little since last time we were there. Well, except the view from the back is restricted by a spanking new biscuit factory. Manolo still gets the dinner ready when he's good and ready and there's still no choice except take it or leave it. Excellent. And I'll draw a veil over the rest, because it's all that everybody knows that it is who loves Spain and the rest won't be interested.

So then, traveling back south, we arrived back at the Costa del Sol at its western end, somewhere near Algeciras - pretty much the beginning of the unbroken ribbon of town that stretches all the way along the Mediterranean coast as far as Barcelona and beyond. If anyone ever tells you they've got a lovely place down there, don't believe them. It's a long, ugly, concrete antheap clambering up and over hills and mountains like some gigantic sprawling Alcatraz with block after block swallowing places and towns that once had an identity of their own but are now just roadsigns on this amorphous belt of over-development. Why anyone should want to live there is beyond rational belief, unless the lure of year-round sunshine propped up by cheap gin strikes deep into some recess of the human psyche, caused by the presence in other people of a gene that I'm short of.

Just a couple of points of interest (to me, at least). One... La Marina restaurant, right on the beach in La Linea (a town so hideous that even tourists won't visit) must be among the best in the world. It serves paella, or grilled sardines, or pretty much anything else freshly caught from the sea, on a shady terrace with a stunning view of the Rock of Gibraltar. Inside, waiters rush and shout, arguments spill out from the kitchen and bartenders slam glasses down on the bar and pour drinks into them from improbable heights, with a flourish of the wrist and without wasting a drop. Spanish to the core. Two... the last glimpse of the Costa. Just where the plane leaves the runway, to head over the Med before turning left and gaining altitude over Malaga, there's the only patch of undeveloped greenery with its own shoreline for a thousand miles. Sure enough, so precious is it, there's a golf-course on it. As jet engines roar upwards over them, with Boeing undercarriages scraping their sunhats, the tourists play. I bet the Spanish have a word for them.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Heading South

Being away from here for a while let me wonder why the hell I write this. For readers, for me, for a faux posterity? Who knows. Although judging by the style I'd slipped into, it looks as if I'd begun to struggle to emulate others in the worldwide bloggerama. Meaning, I lost my voice.

Anyway, I'm going to Spain for a bit, to look for it. And to look for bits of Spain that used to be there a few years ago, before the EU's Social Fund poured its (our) billions in. The bit where you spent the days with cheap wine at zinc tables in cheap bars, and they asked you to stay for dinner - and if you said yes, they went out the back and strangled a chicken for you. The Spain where you could sit in the late autumn sunshine, watching the same swallows you'd left behind in England zipping past you through mountain clefts, on their way to Africa. The Spain where the Guardia Civil would flag you down in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere, and share cigarettes and brandy. Hot Spain, the Spain of endless roads and dusty little towns where weak lights spill from cafes that always have their knot of old men in them, however late it gets. Tapas, churros, cuba libres. Bulls. Plaster saints and fireworks. Lines of olive trees on mountainsides stretching as far as you can see. Storks and vultures. Chicas.

After that, I'll go to see an old friend who lives in the thousand-mile long strip of town that starts at Gibraltar and blights the coastline as far northwards as Barcelona. We'll wallow in the old days, rage against modern times. Comfort food for the mind, I need it. Things have taken somewhat of a sideways turn at Shook Towers.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Flower wars

When I took up exhibition dahlia growing, I did ask myself whether it was rock and roll enough for me. Did it fit with the image? Would Johnny Cash admit to growing dahlias? Most role models in the world of the Flower and Veg. Show are Geordies called Stan, with Woodbines behind their ears and whippets on leads. So I suppose Sting might do it, but who wants to be like him. In the end, I decided it could actually add to my machismo, much the same as having Marion for his real name made John Wayne seem even less like a man you'd mess with.

The clincher came from studying women's blogs and the realisation of what my potential as mate material was. When I read, ".... he cooked me a meal and cleared up as he went!" to dozens of approving comments from the sisterhood, I saw to my horror, that if Mme. had to make a list of her top ten requirements in a bloke... and then score me against them, I'd be off having to advertise myself on Yahoo Personals before you could say 'candlelit dinners and country walks'. Evidently, they like to see your gentler side as well as your endowments. So giving them a bunch of flowers and being able to say, "I grew them myself" isn't a bad insurance policy at all.

Well, of course, all this is a load of bollox, just an excuse for me to witter about my dahlias in the countdown to the big show, in about 10 days time. Heady business. Just one chance to get it right per year. Screw up and the trophy sits on somebody else's mantlepiece while you can only gnash your teeth for twelve whole months. The problem this year is the Green Spot of Death (see pic above) where the inner petals aren't forming as they should. As any exhibitor will tell you, this is due to too much/little nitrogen or phosphate and/or over/under watering. Or thrips, of course, or virus. Whatever I do is as likely to make the bloody thing worse as to cure it.

I've just had a call from one of my rivals, saying that hers are awful this year, and she doesn't think she'll have any to exhibit. I have a sneaking feeling that this is akin to Ferguson hinting to Wenger that his whole defence has the mumps on the eve of a Cup Final, though, so I'm taking it with a pinch of salt and carrying on with my strict training regime. In fact I went out and glared at them, just before sitting down to write. If that doesn't work, it's the Tomato Fertiliser next. If that fails, it's another whisky.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Catching up and putting off

Should have gone to a recital, this lunchtime, given by a friend of Mme.'s at Boston Stump. But there was going to be a soprano and a baritone as well as the pianist, so I pulled out at the last minute, not without catching a 'look' from Mme.'s north eye.

Shame, really. I could have told myself that it would have done my soul some much-needed good; sacred music soaring to the rafters of an ancient church where thousands have sought mercy over the centuries. But the fact is, I can't stand operatic voices. I know I'm probably missing something very moving and precious but I can't so there we are. A couple of months ago, she took me to a professional opera production in Skegness... yes, you read that right.. a professional opera production in Skegness - we are cultured in the extreme out here. Turandot, I think it was. Or it may have been La Traviata.. anyway, by the interval I was flagging with an almighty headache, backache, legache, neckache, arseache, earache and bleeding from the nostrils, etc. (that last bit might have been slightly imaginary) so we left early and, miraculously almost, I revived completely as soon as we got in the car to come home.

So today, I've caught up on some weeding. A pain in the hip has been bothering me lately, and by the time I'd weeded to the end of the garden, it hurt so much I could hardly walk back. Maybe it's a sprain, but I doubt it although I'm hoping if I rest it long enough it will recover. Been a few weeks now, though and, at the back of my mind, I know full well it's to do with an operation I had after an accident about 10 years ago. Had to have bone graft... I asked the surgeon afterwards where he got the bone from. "Donors", he said. Well, I was still feeling a bit muzzy and it seemed odd that people would donate bone. Blood I could understand. You can lose a pint of that and not miss it. But bone? Who's got any of that to spare? It was weeks before it came to me. Dead people. So if I ignore it a bit longer maybe it will go away, otherwise I might have to trouble them for a bit more.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Service with gritted teeth

I can still remember the first time I was in America and ordered breakfast. In a voice like chocolate-coated cherries dipped in sweet wine and honey, the waitress asked me, "how do you like your eggs?" The question absolutely floored me. Nobody in my life up til then had given a shit how I liked them. You just got them however they came, usually swimming in grease with milky yokes and burnt at the edges. From somewhere deep down in my memory, I heard another voice, like James Garner saying to Doris Day, "sunny side up." Feeling as if I was about to make this gorgeous creature burst into hysterics, I screwed up all my courage and said it. Well, muttered it, without much of an idea as to what it might mean but hoping that she'd forgive a foreigner for struggling with the language. "Sure", she said, "want some coffee while you wait?" It was as if I'd made her day.

In Spain they can plonk a Cuba Libre in front of you with a wristy flourish. Italians make you feel part of a theatrical experience when they bring your espresso. Even daunting Parisian waiters in long aprons and black waistcoats act as if they're members of an honourable profession and worth their extortionate tip. Everywhere you go, service in cafes, bars and restaurants is seen as something that's a fair exchange between punter and provider. Except, of course, as we all know, here in the good old UK.

We've got two types. Both are aimed at overcoming the deep-rooted British horror of appearing to be servile. There's the scripted ("Hi, my name is Kayleigh/Kyle (eye contact)... welcome to (smile don't forget to show teeth)... how may I.. etc.) and then there's also the bogus mateyness. The first helps staff to hide behind a set of words devised by a team of expensive PR consultants, the other cunningly gives the impression that the waiter is not actually an employee at all but is doing you a favour as pal to pal. This is the one that grates on me the most. It's usually done with a, "there you go".

"There I go!?" Wtf does that mean? I see the food or drink on its way and can pretty much guess what's coming next, and sure enough, "there you go" dribbles out of their mouths before I can stick my fingers in my ears. Too late to leave the place, the stuff's on the table. You won't see them again till they come back and say, "is everything all right for you?" See.. they've done it again. "... for you". What that really means is, "this food is perfectly OK - but are you the sort of stuck-up sod who nit-picks?". If you say anything critical at this point, it will be taken back into the kitchen for the chef to spit in it before sending it back out.

Radio Five Live presenter, Phil Williams, told the tale on his show the other night of how he'd put a bogey on the ice-cream of an awkward customer, and watched as he ate it. "Yeah but", he explained, "I was only 17 at the time." Oh well that's all right then.

Actually, para 3, sentence 1 is wrong. There's a third type of service now. One of the benefits of educating everyone to the point where they've got so many A levels that they'd rather be on the dole than get a job that's beneath them, is that the service sector is now staffed by Eastern European doctors and physicists who can earn more working here as waiters than doing their real jobs back home. So if you find the right place (oh, and Australians are excellent, too) you can get served in the real sense of the word.

Not many have found their way out here in the wilds of Lincs. yet though. Still, it's a beautiful day for a change. So tonight it's out with the patio-heaters, and on with the barbie. Anything but eating out.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Men's blogs, women's blogs

Keep clicking on 'Next Blog' at the top of the page and you soon end up thinking that the world is populated only by Brazilians, Korean adolescents and fundamentalist Christians. Or; you can find a blog you like and keep clicking from their links to link after link after link and you find lots of like-minded people. I've spent an idle hour or two doing this and it's impressive (and a bit humiliating) to see just how articulate and amusing so many of you are.

OK, this is just a rule of thumb I found. A rule of thumb, OK? If your blog doesn't correspond to it, thank you for not shooting the messenger.

Blogs by men, when they're not focusing on extraneous subjects, like politics and hobbies, tend to deal with items or incidents they want to put their own twist on. When they're writing about stuff that's happened to them, they mostly keep the personal details out of it, referring to their wives and g/fs only as extras in the drama.

Women's blogs on the other hand, are almost certainly going to be diaries, with plenty of domestic details and scene-setting including men, kids, housework, chocolate, men, clothes, hair-dos, chocolate, minor domestic crises, men and chocolate. Lots more soul-searching and openness too and support from the sisterhood.

So pretty much old news there, then, in terms of the well-worn male/female stereotypes.

The big difference is frankness about sex. Women living blameless suburban lives feel able to tell the world the graphic details of their sex lives - often, literally, blow by blow. Mostly moaning about how bad blokes are at it, except when it's that ONE man they had but lost.

Men hardly mention it at all, unless they're boasting and/or fantasising about having improbable sessions with insatiable women. And certainly never complain. But there we are... we men are lucky just to have the good old on/off switch so pretty much anything will do for us.

And there's the thing. All men fancy just about all women. Women understand this and know it gives them the power to pick up any man, any time. Offer and acceptance. We do the posing and preening, they make the choices in the end. In a different life, I knew blokes in the same position - attractive, wealthy and famous enough to give the nod to any woman right up to and including the toppest of tottie, and they'd come running. Comfortingly, they all had pretty miserable experiences with the ones they tried to settle down with.

Too much choice seems to do that to you, like always being tempted by what somebody else ordered in a Chinese restaurant - there's bound to be
something better on the menu for people with otherly-developed appetites.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Mablethorpe leads, the world follows

Here's the thing that will do for Mablethorpe what the Guggenheim did for Bilbao. It's an entry in East Lindsey Council's competition to find the design that will take the beach-hut into the 21st century. Over 500 artists and architects joined the competition to design it, from over 20 countries including Malaysia, Australia, China, Holland, Japan, Lebanon, Singapore, USA, Israel and the UK.

This was among the best they could come up with.

That's all I can think of to say, really, without sounding (perish the thought) negative.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Meet the new neighbour

There's that scene in Carry On Up the Khyber, where Sid James and his guests insist on enjoying a banquet, ignoring a deadly bombardment from the mighty Burpars, led by Kenneth Williams as the dreaded Khasi of Kalabar and his sidekick, Bungit Din (Bernard Bresslaw). The chandelier crashes to the floor, the window is blown in, a mortar round blasts the string quartet off its feet. Do they wince? Not once! Do they flinch? Never! British you see. Made of sterner stuff. Only Peter Butterworth sees the danger, a gibbering wreck, draining bottle after bottle to steady his nerves as the manic party goes on, oblivious to its fate clamouring at the gates.

I think I'm turning into Peter Butterworth.

Learco Chindano, who stabbed Head Teacher Philip Lawrence to death 12 years ago, has won his appeal against deportation to Italy on Human Rights grounds. His victim's widow says, "I am unutterably depressed that the Human Rights Act has failed to encompass the rights of my family." and goes on, "I am deeply concerned for everything I have worked for, including the setting up of the Philip Lawrence Awards. I feel as if I can't fight any more - I feel I can't survive this." What reasonable person could disagree with her?

The Home Office says it is disappointed. It's lying. The Government doesn't give a toss about the human rights of decent people. This country is the dirtiest, the most dangerous, the worst educated in the Western world. We are the drugs capital, the clap capital, the divorce capital and the abortion capital. And we send our troops abroad to die fighting shadows instead of using the money to fight against criminals at home.

I don't know which is the worse, those of us can who can only think about getting pissed to soothe our nerves, or the rest who party on, as if oblivious to the threat. It's the new British way. At least the Carry On team had the excuse of being paid to act like idiots. And the bunch of comedians running the country?

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Gone to blazes

It's easy to be sniffy about resorts like Skegness, and looking around message boards today, I've seen plenty of the, "fire caused £2m of improvements" type of comments. But even if it's not your idea of heaven, it provides a cheap and cheerful holiday destination for hundreds of thousands of the unpretentious and their kids.

Thankfully, nobody was hurt in the blaze - and the listed building that was destroyed was of no more than sentimental value. So if things are done right, this area of the seafront could be a big improvement on what stood there until Thursday night. What's so disturbing, though, is the undercurrent of suspicion.

Was it arson? It's being said that cars belonging to the developers were torched at the same time, in separate incidents outside the town. Ominously perhaps, their spokesman said on local TV that Skegness 'has to decide whether it wants them there, or not'. Yet through entrepreneurship, enterprise and doggedness they have shown there's a strong future for investment in the British seaside. As well as the £4m they'd pumped into this complex, they'd revitalised a dilapidated old hotel further up the foreshore by restoring to former grandeur an asset that can attract a different type of tourist from the traditional caravaner.

I only hope vested interests and the petty-minded at East Lindsey Council don't get in the way of a giant leap forward in the town. This spot is prime and now probably unique in any UK resort in having the potential for a totally new-to-Britain concept of entertainment and hospitality, if the opportunity is grasped. No more Golden Age stuff. OK? Forget the folks who wrote in to have you spend £Ks on restoring the Fairy Dell because they loved it 50 years ago. Expunge from your minds any thought of donkeys and chip shops, we've got more than enough already.

People nowadays want to be dry, warm, sleep in clean sheets, have fabulous food, great service and not have to go far to spend money. Here, they can't. In the USA, they can! Let ME be the first to volunteer to go to Atlantic City (expenses only, thanks) and see what I can come up with.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Holey Moley

I was on my knees scrabbling and barking at the front lawn this morning, when the post-lady arrived. The worst thing was that she affected not to notice or ask me what I was doing, just gave me a pitying look. A shame, because I had a perfectly reasonable explanation. Without a neatly mown lawn, you're pretty much nobody round here. Tidy grass is mandatory and you're expected to keep it looking a credit to the village.

So I was trying to get Toby, our Jack Russell, to take an interest in the mole-hills that are disfiguring our sward. He's normally a docile character. Cats get him worked up into a snarling bundle of uncontrollable fury, so do pheasants, but moles, unfortunately are something he doesn't give a toss about. If only he'd just rouse himself to catch them and shake them to death, it would seem more natural, somehow, than the ultimate weapon - a trap.

We've tried the humane method. A gnarled old country bump.. err.. chap from the down the lane told us to put prickly twigs in their runs. Tried this. No good. We've also had a tip from another old local - bury bottles up to their necks in the ground, and the wind blowing over them will make a humming noise that they can't stand. Bit like wind-chimes, which we all know are hellish, so it might just work. Well, I can't see us getting away with this, though, without breaching some EU Directive on Disposable Waste
Recycling although it does seem an appealing way of getting rid of Mme.'s empties without endless trips to the Spilsby bottle-bank.

I'm at a loss. I wonder how many mole pelts are needed to make a pair of moleskin trousers . Hope Bianca Jagger doesn't read this blog.... if I could just catch the little varmints unharmed, anaesthetise them before giving them a painless lethal injection and skinning them - I might be on to a winner here - Lincolnshire's first ethical fur farm!

Thursday, August 16, 2007


Years ago, all you had to worry about was spraining your wrist as you heaved to close the latticework steel door, then you braced yourself for the jolt and could count the floors going by as you waited for your level. Kids happily stuck their feet through the grille and their mums told them off if they got them amputated when passing floors. It was completely optional to open the gate anywhere you liked and have to clamber up, or down, to where you wanted to be. Nobody complained.

Next came the soothing Muzak, then it was de rigeur to install mirrors so that you could check for lurking muggers before you entered what had by now become luxuriously appointed comfort zones with bench seats and carpets. This lasted until they reverted to being vandal-proofed coffins, clad in graffiti-resistant tungsten and stinking of urine.

The latest improvement is that supercilious bird they have on SatNavs and answerfones who tells you, "Doors (pause) closing". "Going (pause) up." "Doors (pause) opening". What next, a NASA style countdown? Or has everyone become so stupid that they need it all explained to them?

No. More likely, it will be a Health and Safety announcement to stop clients suing for crushed legs and whiplash.

If so, it's not enough. What they need is a video: "Welcome aboard this OTIS VRX3777bx9. Even if you've ascended with us before, will all passengers please take a moment to study the safety features of this podule. Egress is by the same aperture by which you ingressed, (here). In the event of a sudden non-fatal emergency scenario, whistles will descend from the ceiling (here) and you should put them to your lips (like so) and just etc., etc......" "Please be aware that we are about to achieve our departure and adopt the Brace Position now and..."

Have you ever had an accident that wasn't your fault.....

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Going west

An email has flooded in, from a reader complaining that I never reveal any personal details (the nerve!) and wanting to know why on earth I went to Warrington at the weekend.

Had to go all that way to see a doctor who I trusted, such is the Health Service in Lincs. OK? Enough or you want to see the x-rays?

I'd thought the Warrington Travelodge was a bargain at £26 when I booked it, and I suppose it was, in a way. It's downtown, between the award-winning bus-station and Asda. Most of Warrington seems to have been demolished in the 70s, the slums replaced by spanking new (then) roads with the backs and sides of B&Qs, and Kwik-Fits everywhere. A brown Tourist sign points to the Cultural Quarter. No doubt it's a sight worth devoting a whole hour to, but we decided to give it a miss. We didn't see many actual people around, it being Sunday evening they were probably all at t' chapel. Outside the hotel, though, a couple of youths in combat fatigues were lounging on the kerb smoking. They might have been guests avoiding the latest ban, but I hoped they were there to prevent our car being torched by local youngsters during the night.

Inside, a security guard took our details, the lobby had tables and chairs bolted to the floor, the windows in our room had black mould on the windows neatly co-ordinating with the greying net curtains. The view was over a main road and a railway line to factory roofs on the far horizon.

Luckily, we'd brought sandwiches, otherwise it would have been a trip to the vending machine downstairs for supper. We watched Mountain! on the TV, with Griff Rhys-Jones showing us a different Britain, green and pleasant, photographed lovingly from the air. I wonder if even Warrington could be made to look attractive from a helicopter. So to bed, with traffic along the roughened tarmac of the adjacent pedestrian-crossing as background noise.

I had an email from Travelodge, too, this morning asking if I'd recommend the place.

They must be joking. The full price of this room would have been £50. For the same amount or a tad more or less, we've luxuriated in places like the Melia Horus in Zamora, the Puerta de la Luna, Baeza, or the Molina Lario in Malaga. What is it with English prices? Pity the foreign tourists who are swayed by blurb on our hotels' websites.

Next day, we joined the motorway for the journey back East and sanity. The M62 is not for the faint-hearted. It's an 80 mile an hour traffic jam, snaking its way through spectacular Pennine scenery which, if you even glance at it, will get you killed instantly in the resulting pile-up. Then on to quieter driving along the semi-deserted M180, which leads from Scunthorpe to Grimsby, so no surprise there, then. And back through the lanes to home. Glad to be back too. Disorienting to lie facing south with the sea on your right.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Avast behind!

Girls, girls! What are you doing to yourselves? When I were nobbut a lad, sights like this were so rare we could afford to joke about them. Now, it's no laughing matter. Mountains of wobbling flesh are everywhere. Quivering acres of flab are changing the nation's scenery for the worse.

I'd previously thought that Skegness was full of them only because it's flat terrain and attracts the sort of holidaymakers who get turned away from airlines on safety grounds. But for reasons not worth going into, I was in Warrington at the weekend and they're stiff with them there, too. So at a service station on the way back, I did a scientific countup and found that less than 4% of the whole female clientele was decently svelte. Then, this morning it turned personal. I was lectured on my (barely discernible) cholesterol level by a nurse whose uniform was straining at the seams. Well, OK, she droned on about my smoking as well but it all seemed so offputting knowing it was coming from somebody who can't shave her own legs without using a mirror.

I blame the Government. Obesity has only become so widespread in the last three years, since it started lecturing everybody about getting fatal diseases from overeating. Now it's pretty much the norm. It does prove that TV programmes by that woman who makes people cry and inspects their faeces have no effect, though, which is a slightly positive note.

Fortunately, Mme. gets more willowy by the day so is immune from criticism. Her sister says it's because of the stress of having to live with me but I've never believed what she says about anything since she tried to sell me a time-share in Croatia.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

End of the pier, again

Superb stuff on Saturday night with the return of That'll Be The Day to the Embassy. Dozens of the best songs from the 50s to the 90s, great comedy routines and razor-sharp impressions. The highlight in a super-talented cast, for me, is always Katy Setterfield who deserves a far wider audience on her own account, rather than as an imitator of stars with not an ounce more talent than she herself possesses.

But that's showbiz, folks. She's doing well to be working at all, lacking the all-important TV exposure that pretty much guarantees any mediocrity their place in the public's affection. As an Amazon reviewer says of Britain's Got Talent winner, failed opera hopeful Paul Potts, "For those who think they are such experts that they are qualified to point out all (his) faults I would like to enlighten you on this: WE DON'T CARE WHAT YOU THINK!!! We know what we like".

This is the beauty of TV talent shows. They allow people like the reviewer to become a fan of somebody, secure in the knowledge that they're joining a cosy club made up of millions of their like-minded who also bought the hype or, as it's now known, narrative. Katy's narrative is that she's bloody good at what she does. The appreciation of her comes from nothing more than the effect her performance has on audiences.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

End of the pier

Tarkwith being indisposed following a bout of depression brought on by the return of Victoria Derbyshire to his favourite morning fone-in programme, it fell to me and Mme. to take on the task of bringing continued Culture Coverage to the blog. Right then, here we go. 'Family' entertainment is an all-but lost concept, so credit to the Embassy Theatre for at least trying to bring it to Skeggie audiences. Last night's Summer Spectacular, starring Bernie Clifton, barely attracted enough families to make its comeback a dead cert. but it turned out to be a worthy effort, given the current dilapidated state of live entertainment.

With a sparse cast-list of just the headliner, a troupe of lively dancers, a chirrupy songstress, a dated male lead and a gymnastic duo from Hungary (where else?) it could never be more than a pale shadow of the golden age of variety. But, luckily, Clifton's clowning managed to glue the thing together. There's no doubt that the man is drop-dead funny. (I'm on safe ground here. I know it's true because he wowed the Guardian's critic with the self-same act at last year's Edinburgh Fringe.)

From his opening line of, "Be honest. You thought I was dead, didn't you?" (yes) through wrapping the audience in gaffer-tape, lurching around on his trademark ostrich - including assaulting Katie from Hillsborough in its mating ritual, wrestling a 20 ft. high inflatable diving suit and getting kids up onstage to help with singing 'Dick Dodd's Dad's Dog's Dead' he kept us laughing right up to his leave-em-with-a-song finale. Sung wearing a white dinner-jacket, naturally as befits a proper comic.

As for the rest... well the Duo Denvy thrilled as shapely Gabriella clambered up her muscular partner to swing and swivel high in the air on various death-defying contraptions. I thought the well-drilled Tiffany Dancers hoofed
engagingly to some neatly choreographed routines. Shula Keyte had the right combination of moves and vocals for her role as a lead in excerpts from the musicals, but was let down by the ear-splittingly tinny sound-system. John Warwick did his best but you couldn't help but wonder whether he'd quite have been in the show if he hadn't been its director and co-producer - a little less of the John Hansons about him would have helped. (And John, love... ditch the Nessum Dorma. Pavarotti you ain't.)

So all in all, as good a way to spend a Monday evening as any.. in fact better than most and beating nights spent raging at the awfulness of the telly by miles. The memories to come away with are the sounds of kids and grown-ups helpless with laughter at a comedian who would, no doubt, be proud to say he doesn't do "stand-up". No nastiness, no modern cynicism. Just makes folks laugh.

Monday, July 30, 2007

From our Arts correspondent:

To the other corner of The Wash last Saturday, King's Lynn for a concert by the Philharmonia Orchestra and violin soloist, Min-Jin Kym.

The venue, their much restored Corn Exchange (1854), stands in a nice Georgian square with its back to the docks on the River Ouse. Opposite is the Crown Hotel, an invitingly lovely building whose user comments on Tripadvisor would put off all but the hardiest from staying there. English hospitality and service at its most typical, apparently.

The programme had been selected with a traditional audience in mind and didn't disappoint. First up was Rossini's Overture, Barber of Seville. Conductor
Joji Hattori's satisfyingly flowing black locks shook impressively in the appropriate manner as he took the orchestra through it at a cracking pace. Then Min-Jin floated onstage, gold slippers peeping from under a diaphanous pink silk gown, to perform Beethoven's Concerto.

There's always something so vulnerable seeming about violin soloists, who have nothing to sit behind like cellists or pianists do, while they wait for their turn to play. She must have felt the weight of the thousand pairs of eyes focused on her while she stood, sometimes picking imaginary specks of dust from her Strad, or making tiny adjustments to her bow, or just scratching her shoulder. Then when it was her time, she lit the stage up with her presence, her control over volume and intensity, her total command of Beethoven's score and her ability to make individual notes flow together like liquid ripples. She pushed it to the limit and, towards the end, she had something of the matador about her, showing just that touch of exaggerated pride at her mastery of the piece and making us wonder if she could dare to reach for new heights as the inevitable climax approached.

She'd dominated the Philharmonia throughout, fully deserving her ovation. Whether through design or inability to keep up, they'd played rather a restrained role. I'd have preferred a more evenly balanced partnership, and a little more interest shown by some members - notably the first cellos who looked bored witless throughout. But after the interval, it came into its own with Tchaikovsky's Sixth.

Opinions differ as to whether this symphony is really the composer's 'last will and testament'. But it's hard not to see it as such and that thought might well have been in Hattori's mind, judging by the way he conducted it. The first movement - alternatively lushly romantic and moodily pensive is said to symbolise Tchaikovsky's forbidden homosexual love-affairs. The 5/4 time of the second makes it sound like an impossibly awkward waltz to be danced to by someone who can't fit convention. The third, with its martial theme; sometimes imperious, sometimes almost comic-opera, ends in a towering crescendo dominated by the brass and almost always draws applause from sections of the audience who think the work has finished. It's as if he's saying, "yes, see - see what I can do to you when I want to. You loved me, didn't you? Now listen to this..." And so to the final movement, almost unbearably deep and miserable, with parts harking back to the romance in the first, eventually simply ebbs away from us into nothingness.

Nine days after the premiere, Tchaikovsky's life had ended too.

On that sombre note, we left for home. Our lives changed, just by a small amount, by a Korean violinist, a Japanese conductor, Italian, German and Russian composers and a historic town in the flatlands of rural Norfolk. If only all multiculturalism could be as satisfying as this.

Tarkwith Vonackle

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Le Fromage du Mort

Dinard Airport was built to serve an age when air travel was a more personal pastime. You find this out as soon as you find yourself squashed into its baggage hall even more tightly than you were in the Ryanair Boeing that you landed in. Still, its advantage is that it's only steps into the outside world once you're through the perfunctory immigration check.

Our base for the 4 night break was an hour's drive away at the Manoir des .. oh damn, I've forgotten the rest. Anyway, it's just outside Sables d'Or des Pins and good because it doesn't have a restaurant and they leave you alone to come and go as you wish.

The attraction of this part of Brittany, of course, is that it's a coast like you wish England had - and would have if it wasn't for the way our coastline has been spoiled by pandering to the worst elements of mass tourism. Dramatic cliffs, hidden coves, long sandy beaches, fishing towns with actual fishing boats in their harbours, pleasant courteous waiters who bring delicious local produce to your table cooked to perfection at prices that make you swear never to be ripped off in an English restaurant ever again.
We spent most of the time at nearby Erquy, where the west-facing beach curves in a perfect crescent and you can eat coquilles St. Jaques and drink a glass of cider on a cafe terrace, looking across the harbour where the day's catch is brought to.

Well we inspected the sights, as you do on holiday. Remnants of abbeys, ancient stones, things that you don't give a second glance to back home that suddenly become must-sees when abroad.

We'd rented a Ford Fusion. I've driven automatics for years and this thing showed me why. To change gear you had to ram the clutch so far into the corner of the footwell that it could only be done using the very tip of your big toe. Agonising. And with a gear lever that felt like stirring Artex with a feather. After 100 years of motoring, how a major manufacturer can come up with such crap is beyond me. Not that it would matter if the public's irrational hatred of automatics could be overcome and we could all drive sensibly. Why they can't be arsed even to lock the car door without a remote control and yet insist on faffing about with a manual gear-box is a mystery.

Back at the airport, there was a sign saying what was forbidden to take on board. Among them, amusingly I thought, was 'smelly items'. We smiled condescendingly, thinking it was a quaint mistranslation from the French. Not so! Les Douaniers Francais could hardly be more rigorous on this matter! In a search of Mme.'s hand-luggage, an eagle-eyed gendarme detected a suspicious tub of Boursin fromage and confiscated it forthwith. Comforting to know the War on Terror is being taken so seriously on both sides of the Channel.