Thursday, September 09, 2010

Newsflash - Paisley not a Catholic

I believe we have a contender for the scoop of the year.

Sky News has discovered that Ian Paisley is not enthused by the prospect of Pope Benedict visiting Britain.

Or, if you are stickler for protocol, the Rev Lord Bannside is not entirely delighted that Josef Ratzinger will be welcomed by the British state. As Sky puts it:

It is not the first time that the Free Presbyterian preacher has protested at the presence of the Pontiff - You don't say.

If that surprises you, it may be as well to sit down before the additional disclosure in this story: his Lordship attempted to dissuade Tony Blair from joining the Roman Catholic church.

There has been much speculation about why Catholicism so appealed to Blair; I have yet to read his memoir (I'm waiting for it to appear in charity shops; I'll send the cover price to the Royal British Legion) but I am led to believe that he does not fully explain this in his book.

In the interim, the question as to why an institution that has colluded in some monstrous errors and crimes (many of which appear in direct conflict with its founding principles) and managed to make a mess of all manner of basic administrative tasks, all the while maintaining an utter faith in its own righteousness and entitlement to power and wealth, should have such an appeal for one of the architects of New Labour must, sadly, remain a mystery.

I do so hope that Lord Bannside and Prof Dawkins will find themselves standing side by side when barracking that silly old German fellow next week.

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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Trollied Tuesday: Rejoice

Heavy drinkers outlive non-drinkers.

So there.

Perhaps that old jibe – you won't live longer, it'll just feel like longer – has some validity. I'm no expert (on medical matters, I mean, I think I can claim some expertise in drink-related topics) but surely a sense of general well-being, stimulation and all the other positive qualities associated with drink have some health benefits?

Perhaps Byron expresses it best:

Man, being reasonable, must get drunk;
The best of life is but intoxication:
Glory, the grape, love, gold, in these are sunk
The hopes of all men, and of every nation;
Without their sap, how branchless were the trunk
Of life's strange tree, so fruitful on occasion:
But to return,—Get very drunk; and when
You wake with headache, you shall see what then.

Ring for your valet—bid him quickly bring
Some hock and soda-water, then you'll know
A pleasure worthy Xerxes the great king;
For not the bless'd sherbet, sublimed with snow,
Nor the first sparkle of the desert-spring,
Nor Burgundy in all its sunset glow,
After long travel, ennui, love, or slaughter,
Vie with that draught of hock and soda-water.

(from Don Juan)

Oh, and the Duke of Hamilton is still with us.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A song, a dance, a polemic about corruption in the Niger delta

There are many people whose lives do not make an ideal subject for a musical. Archbishop McQuaid, Baruch Spinoza, Steve Biko, Jean-Paul Satre, Norman Lamont or Geoffrey Boycott, would not be transformed into colourful and entertaining figures simply by adding an exclamation mark to their name. After all, one of the central jokes in the Producers was the sheer preposterousness of making a musical about Hitler.

Even allowing for the modern trend of making musicals about popular music (presumably to save the hassle of actually writing new songs) I would have put Fela Kuti in that list.

It seems I would have been wrong.

Since this is the internet, I don't think we need let the fact that I haven't seen Fela! (I'm afraid that is the name) stop me from commenting. I would not have thought that 20-minute songs that fuse jazz, funk and traditional African music with scathing political and religious commentaries would be the ideal format for an all-singing, all dancing extravaganza.

But really the concept is so ludicrous that it is impossible not to warm to it. (After all, opera doesn't have any problems with utterly ridiculous plotlines or subjects - Nixon in China? Why that's just the thing to write songs about). One also loves the attempt to sanitise some of his less, shall we say, progressive views.

His wives, or "queens", as he refers to them, are depicted as regal, dignified companions. Others, however, have criticised the play for this. Fela, in fact, married 27 women in 1978 before he adopted a rotating system of 12 wives. In the play, he is able to explain his life choices, but the women are silent.

Aye, good luck with that. One of Fela's finest songs, let us not forget, was Lady; a lengthy plea to women to learn their place and do whatever men tell them. It's not necessarily a view I'd endorse (though the sound of Harriet Harman's voice inevitably prompts me to put it on); but I don't think it matters. The musical merits are, I'd say, pretty indisputable; and it really doesn't need repackaging for a Broadway audience to demonstrate that.

However, there is an even more unlikely subject for a musical. Proving that life once again mirrors Father Ted (with a nod to I, Keano), Italian audiences have been treated to a musical based on the life of the late pope John Paul II.

Non Abbiate Paura, or Don't Be Scared, this show, like the others, is bustling with show-stopping songs, dance routines and drama. It is an attempt to cram the 84 years of his life into two hours. The musical was written by two priests, one who wrote the script, the other who crafted the songs.

Unfortunately, the best song ever written about Catholicism is not, so far as I can tell, part of the show. So here it is.

First you get down on your knees, and fiddle with your rosaries...

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Trollied Tuesday: a class that is pure class

It is rare that you will find an advertisement as on the money as this. A wine glass that holds a complete bottle: it is perfectly pitched to its likely audience, is accurate and amusing. Advertisers take note - this is how you do it.

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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Trollied Tuesday: the Duke of Hamilton

Back to blogging then, with a spot of public service thrown in. Those of you who are familiar with Hampstead, in particular the delights of its pubs, will doubtless be saddened to learn that one of the finest of these pubs - the Duke of Hamilton - is under threat.

It seems there is a property developer who has decided that what this distinctive area needs is more yuppified housing. I would disagree with this proposition on principle - Hampstead's charms are being watered down by the fact that its becoming a sanitised haven for the blandly wealthy - but when it comes at the cost of a distinctive local amenity then the very prospect seems intolerable.

It is one of the finest examples of a community pub one could hope to encounter: it offers a range of good beers (Meantime stout rather than Guinness is a good indication this is something beyond the run of the mill) and a decent cross section of local society. There is no food served, making it more a venue for thinkers and talkers (a recent visit yielded some splendidly lurid - and quite unrepeatable - anecdotes about Lord Mandelson); its closure would see something unique and distinctive, replaced with something that brings little benefit to the world at large.

I must confess, slightly shame-facedly, that I only learned about this threat to the pub last week (via Facebook, in fact) and having decided to wait until Tuesday to post this, the deadline for objections to Camden council has just passed. We can only wait and hope for a proper review. In the meantime, if you are ever in NW3 you would be well advised to visit the pub - either to pay your last respects or, hopefully, to contribute to its long-term survival.

Monday, June 07, 2010

'Could the minister tell the house who ate all the pie?'

I worry sometimes that this blog does not carry enough stories from the Scottish Parliament. To remedy this state of affairs, here's one: the subsidised restaurant may shut because MSPs prefer pie, chips and beans from the canteen.

Holyrood chiefs are considering closing the restaurant, which is subsidised by the taxpayer, because too few MSPs eat there to make it a going concern.

The eatery offers healthy dishes sourced from the finest Scottish produce, but most MSPs prefer the more calorific, mass-produced dishes on offer in the staff canteen.

Happy the land, you may think, that has politicians that closely represent the populace. I remember working in Dundee a decade or so ago. There was a large Asda store nearby: the small deli counter offering olives, cheeses and so on was dwarfed by pie counter – or 'peh coonter' if you want to get a reasonable approximation of the local accent – that was several metres in length.

When the history of Holyrood comes to be written, there could well be a chapter on pies. A few years ago the arts minister lost his job after he told MSPs he had been late for question time because he was at an Arts Council meeting; in fact he had been eating a pie in the canteen.

There is the wider questions of whether the powers that be at Holyrood have tried to make MSPs something they are not. Before the gourment restaurant that no one uses, there was the issue of the "think pods". These are, effectively, window seats built into MSPs' offices. The idea was that MSPs would sit in them, looking out across the city of Edinburgh and and the people of Scotland.

The intention was that this vista would inspire them to think about how they could best serve the nation. The problem was that the pods were too narrow for many of the pie-loving parliamentarians.

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Trollied Tuesday: on not being a saloon bar bore

Here's some advice on that on avoiding that fate (or the worse one of people feeling sorry for you): don't make bluff jokes about rules for drinkings; and don't come up with a silly catchphrase when it comes to ordering a refill.

Once noon arrives, though, he brightens up, proposing the first scotch of the day with one of those bluff jokes about rules for drinking so dear to saloon bar bores the world over.

There's more of that in an (unintentionally) entertaining encounter between Decca Aitkenhead and Christopher Hitchens.

One school of thought has it that that "inside Hitchens the revolutionary, a home counties golf club bore is wildly signalling to be let out." Andrew M Brown goes on to argue that Hitchens's family background, naval, conservative and - damningly - minor public school is too heavily engrained on the character.

There's a danger of turning this into a nature vs nurture argument, isn't there? Still it is just as reasonable to argue that a full awareness of the horrors of a minor public school background would be enough to drive anyone into the arms of Bacchus.

Let's get back to that Guardian interview, shall we?, for there are a couple of other details worth noting. One the prissy, self righteous, perpetually disapproving tone adopted throughout by the interviewer that surely says as much about her as Hitchens's inner home counties bore says about him. (One notes also the tone is especially jarring from one who wrote a book about slumming it around the world while taking ecstasy).

One might argue that in the face of such purse-lipped prigishness one has a positive duty to make a drunken disgrace of oneself. In doing so, Hitchens manages a purely Gainsbourgian moment.

Poetry, he does volunteer, always played an important part in his impressive sexual success. "You're disarming yourself in an important struggle if you can't produce a fucking sonnet. What if I had to try on my own merits? You've got to have some sort of reserve arsenal." He looks incredulous when the photographer, a very beautiful young woman, expresses doubt about the efficacy of this seduction technique.

"Oh no, not if it's done right," he says knowingly. Go on then, I say. Give us a demonstration. "Maybe at lunch?" he suggests, cheering up immediately. "Let's have lunch, and make a day of it." And so, inevitably, we adjourn to the pub.


We pass a highly enjoyable few hours in a pub garden, during which he tries out successive renditions of a Shakespearean sonnet, Being Your Slave, What Should I Do But Tend, on the photographer.

"Well?", I ask her.

"Give her time to let it sink in!" he objects.

"Um," she ventures. "I'm feeling something like blind panic."

"Really? No!" And he's off again. "Being your slave what should I do but tend/Upon the hours and times of your desire?"

"My feeling," she reports kindly after he finishes, "is that I would be more seduced by argument."

It's not easy combining tragedy and comedy: if it requires a lifetime's drinking to do that, then pour the man another one.

Oh and as for the jokey attitude towards rules for drinking being the hallmark of the saloon bar bore; it's simpler than that. It's the having the rules themselves that are the problem.

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