Friday, August 29, 2008

Special Brew Saved My Life

Finally, the story to fit the headline has arrived.

Jaswant was by no means a heavy drinker but on the odd occasion when there was cause for celebration, he was partial to a Carlsberg Special Brew.

And what with all his relatives here, today certainly was a special occasion. No doubt about it. One drink led to another. And another. And slowly Jaswant wasn't in such a rush anymore.

"When his glass is empty, make sure you pour him another," his brother-in-law said to the barman. The barman duly obliged.

I've frequently heard good things about Sikh weddings and when it's a Sikh wedding in Belfast one can imagine it would be something pretty special. In this case the festive mood, which spilled over into Heathrow, caused Jaswant Basuta to miss the Pan Am flight that exploded over Lockerbie. The gods look after drunks.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Trollied Tuesday: an August Bank Holiday lark

Philip Larkin had it right, you know. How can you eulogise a lost idyll without reference to the the public house? A world of

dark-clothed children at play
Called after kings and queens,
The tin advertisements
For cocoa and twist; and the pubs
Wide open all day. (MCMXIV)

Oh for such an age again, the reader is invited to think. It's worth noting that the restrictive licensing laws in England and Wales were introduced during the Great War as a ghastly expedient to stop munitions workers getting drunk (it could have been worse, I suppose; absinthe was made illegal in France after the troops at the front line over-indulged in the stuff). While life for most people may have improved immeasurably in the latter part of the 20th century, the retention of the licensing laws did not aid this process. (Tony Blair, incidentally, is to be commended for attempting to restore some measure of this ancient liberty).

Of course it lacks the pathos of the 'thousands of marriages lasting a little while longer' , but there is still something pre-lapsarian of the old world, an other Eden if you like, of freedom to drink as and when one pleases.

Labels: ,

Monday, August 25, 2008

Looking too American not a problem in the States

Much of the British reaction to Barack Obama's choice of running mate has honed in on the rather embarrassing incident in which Joe Biden was caught plagiarising a speech by Neil Kinnock.

I'm not sure how much of an asset Biden will prove to be: if nothing else channeling Kinnock hardly screams "winner" does it? Still, so long as he avoids stunts like the one in this video, all may be well.

Given Biden's reputation as the most long-winded member of the US senate it is possible that he admired Kinnock as a model of brevity and laconic wit. Anyway, given that this unfortunate incident is half-forgotten in the US (like Kinnock in the UK, I suppose) I imagine it will be dragged up a few hundred times between now and the election.

If I were advising Biden, I'd suggest that he wittily defuse the situation by opening his speech to the Democratic convention by screaming "We're allll riiiiight."

PS: John McCain has been accused of lifting stuff from Wikipedia - the fact that it's foreign policy stuff, his supposed strong suit, hardly inspires confidence either. It could be worse, though, somehow I could imagine him borrowing from Iain Duncan Smith; a prospect that hardly bears thinking about.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Trollied Tuesday: history viewed through a glass

I've been reading a most entertaining and enlightening little volume called An Inebriated History of Britain by Peter Haydon.

Sadly it is not an actually history of Britain written solely whilst sloshed, but it's hard not to warm to a volume which opens with an attack on the Daily Mail and those sections of the Conservative party which opposed the plans to liberalise the licensing laws as an attack on civilisation as we know it.

As Haydon argues, the truth is that for the past 2,000 years, drinking has been one of the great British traditions. However, there is more to this tradition than simple excess, because every age has had it's own form of sterile and joyless puritanism which has sought to use the force of the law to force people to conform to their own standards.

What this book ably demonstrates is that such behaviour is almost always counterproductive. One early example will suffice. King Edgar decided to regulate people's consumption be decreeing that all drinking vessels should be a standard size - about four pints - and that these should be further subdivided by eight pegs, the idea being that the drinker could not consume more than one peg's worth at a time.

One problem was that it's pretty hard to judge exactly how much you were drinking so that if you overshot the peg, simple manners dictated that you drink down the next peg so that you did not shortchange your fellow drinkers. More than that, though, all self-respecting Englishmen regarded this heavy-handed attempt to regulate their behaviour as a challenge and, as later Medieval accounts make clear, used the measurements as a way of keeping score in drinking contests. The idea being to take your opponent down a peg or two, see.

There's plenty more in that vein throughout the book including the apogee of puritanism during the reign of Oliver Cromwell. As the subsequent excesses of the Restoration era demonstrated, the various attempts to curb people's enjoyments did not go down so well.

And here's the point that a real inebriated historian of Britain should make. Puritanism has poisoned many a worthy cause by hijacking it for its self-righteous moralising and controlling behaviour. It wasn't just the movement to curb the sovereign's powers in favour of a representative parliament that suffered, contemporary issues such the fight for equal rights for women, to give one examples, are in danger of being hijacked by joyless, sterile moralisers.

But let's not digress too far down this path for now. Instead let's remind ourselves than while the bores are always with us, in Britain the rolling, rowdy drunkard has traditionally stood in opposition to the puritan - and has generally won out in the end.

Consider for moment just how sinister the desire to control people's actions in order that they act according to one's own standards and morals really is and then be glad of these drunkards. They are one of the first and best defences of humanity, liberty and freedom of conscience. Raise a glass to them. Waes hael.

Labels: ,

Monday, August 18, 2008

One man's freedom fighter is another's memoirist

Britain's 'youngest terrorist' jailed.

Not really, though.

Hammaad Munshi, the 18-year-old in question was 16 when he was arrested. He might be the youngest person convicted under the Terrorism Act, as the BBC claims, but to call him Britain's youngest terrorist (sorry 'youngest terrorist') is pushing it a bit.

Brendan Behan was also 16 when he was arrested, and convicted, of trying to blow up British war ships in Liverpool on an IRA mission. He even wrote an entertaining and heavily fictionalised memoir about his experience: Borstal Boy. His is an example these young jihadis would do well to follow.

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, August 16, 2008

EDW: Jeanne Moreau

Jeanne Moureau's finest moment from one of the finest of all French films (whisper it, but I think Le 400 Coups is even better, but still).

For EDW purposes she admirably demonstrates - throughout Jules et Jim - that it's not just what you wear but how you carry it off.

All together now.

Elle avait des bagues à chaque doigt,
Des tas de bracelets autour des poignets,
Et puis elle chantait avec une voix
Qui sitôt m'enjôla

Elle avait des yeux, des yeux d'opale
Qui m'fascinaient, qui m'fascinaient,
Y avait l'ovale d'son visage pâle
De femme fatale qui m'fut fatal.

Incidentally, let's not forget her co-star Basiak (the fellow playing the guitar here) who wrote the song. Fine fellow.

NOTE: This was supposed to go up on Wednesday, as an elegantly dressed Wednesday thing but it - and some other stuff, now deleted - got stuck in the mix.


Friday, August 15, 2008

Scotland: a land of joy

Maybe the old distinction between a Scotsman with a grievance and ray of sunshine isn't quite so clear cut after all. The Ray of Sunshine reports:

THE traditional image of Scots as dour, doom-laden pessimists was shaken yesterday by a new Europe-wide survey showing them to be among the happiest people in the Continent.

When will people realise? Doom-laden pessimism is fun.

Along with stunning observations on the lines that people with money are happier than those without it, there are various attempts to determine just why the Scots are so cheerful. Disappointingly there has been no attempt to link this study with all the claims one hears that the Scots are among Europe's heaviest drinkers.

She was smiling on the inside.

However, forget from the stuff about a national sense of belonging and the search for political and economic explanations because there's one detail about the methodology that has so far been overlooked.

The Scottish part of the survey was conducted between May and November last year, after the SNP came to power.

I'd need a detailed breakdown of the figures to be certain, but I rather suspect that a certain football match we would otherwise prefer not to mention, but which happened at the end of the survey period might have caused a late surge up the happiness table.

Labels: , ,

Monday, August 11, 2008

How to improve the Olympics

You might have noted that the Olympic games have started; you might also have spotted the two biggest flaws in them: the rather overblown ceremonial aspect, with its undertones of totalitarian and nationalistic showing off, and the fact that most of the sports are far more fun to take part in than to watch.

Anyway, since London is hosting the thing next time around, I'm sure the organisers would welcome my advice on how they can put on a better show next time round. With regard to the opening ceremony my advice is not to bother.

It's not that as some of the more cringing and foolish commentators have suggested that Britain given nothing of value of to the world. However, understated modesty is one of the more appealing aspects to the British national character and I'd far rather showcase this than the rather less attractive jingoism and pomposity. Of course, the organisers could indulge themselves in royal-style pomp and ceremony and showcase all sorts of achievements in literature, philosophy, science etc, but why bother? The United Kingdom spent the 200 years between 1757 and 1957 rubbing its superiority in the face of the rest of the world, so there's probably no real need for any more vulgar boasting.

Better, by far, to let the athletes troop in the the stadium in a dignified and calm fashion. Get the Queen, or Prince Charles, or President Blair, or whoever is in charge by then to read out an exhortation to the athletes to play the game. Wish them all luck. Let them file out. Remember halfway through that they've forgotten to light the flame, bring them all back in. Light it. Give the president of the IOC a firm handshake. Wish them all luck, again, and get on with it.

(Alternatively: if anyone could top the famous Australian prank in which a pair of burning underpants atop a wooden chair leg were substituted for the real Olympic flame then that would be most welcome).

As for the sports themselves, darts and snooker should certainly feature. They might even help boost GB's medals total, but what really counts is the sports in which drinking and - in an ideal world - smoking feature heavily ought to be encouraged. Some other traditional British events like cheese rolling would help in this regard.

Olympics past also offer a number of events (pretty full list here) which sound like far more fun to watch than the stuff currently on the TV. Given that this is the rationale for including sports like beach volleyball (I note there is no GB team at present; I'm happy to offer my services as a selector for 2012 by the way) I don't see why the duelling pistol event, swimming obstacle race or bicycle polo shouldn't be added to the list.

This BBC blogger makes a good start with his observation that a revival of live pigeon shooting would be most welcome, but there are so many other animal events which could be included: fixed and moving bird target archery or running deer shooting*, for instance. But it's the equestrian events that offer the most appealing prospects. The 1900 games featured an equine high jump and long jump and a return of these events would certainly be welcome. However, what would be most impressive would be to introduce a triple jump for horses: for skill, artistry and athleticism it would be unbeatable.

Except, perhaps, for chessboxing.

*NB: they didn't use real deer and I think the bird target archery was similarly cruelty free. However, they did shoot real pigeons. Good. We should hold it in Trafalgar Square.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Trollied Tuesday: God forbid we should associate beer with enjoyment

Beer advertising is getting ever more restrictive. Anything that smacks of fun is out. As the Advertising Standards Authority has it adverts must not:
  • encourage excessive drinking
  • imply that alcohol has contributed to sexual or social success
  • show alcohol being handled or served irresponsibly
If only they could remove that annoying imagination, humour and creativity used to sell the stuff I reckon they'd be satisfied. In fact the Scottish parliament is already considering a total ban on alcohol advertising just to be on the safe side.

The thing is, while it might not always be true to suggest that drink does make you funnier, sexier and more fun to be around the joyless, puritanical, nannying mindset which seeks to remove any associations of fun from the advertising of alcohol definitely has the opposite effect.

Advertisers are smart to this already, of course; it's what they're paid for after all. In any case, what advertisers do is break all these rules on the internet with the additional bonus of being seen to be 'edgy' or 'rebellious' or whatever insidious bollocks viral marketing types spout these days.

This very naughty Guinness 'advert' is a good example of what might be done – were it not a fake which Guinness's parent company has specifically disavowed, demanding that it be yanked from the internet at once because it certainly doesn't want people talking about it. And it has done so very publicly just so there could be doubt about this. It would never do to bring this sort of thing to mind next time you are wiping the creamy top from a Guinness off your lips, after all.

Another fun defiance is this splendid Dos Equis series featuring the drinking habits of the 'most interesting man in the world' (I'm obliged to Conor for tipping me off about this one). "The police often question him. Just because they find him interesting."There's something undeniably Hemmingway-esque about the man. Anyway, since the associations of fun, excitement, vitality and drink making you even more interesting are frowned upon these days, it's reason enough to enjoy them. Add to that wit and style – "If I can count the coins in your pocket, you better use them to call a tailor" – and I'd say it's a pretty good advert for staying thirsty.

As for the beer, well it makes the character more intriguing, not necessarily more interesting, that he only likes a good, but not great Mexican brew. I'd prefer Guinness, myself.

But then drinks advertising has always been a fun thing in and off itself. Many of us, I'm sure will remember catchy and amusing ads from the late 80s/early 90s - mostly for cheap mass-produced swill you'd no more want to drink that you would spend the rest of your life listening to the Scottish parliament's health committee in session.

A good example is Tennent's lager. Leaving aside its infamous turbo tramp juice, the regular stuff appeals to a rather Buckfast-ish* demographic. And yet the advertising has been sublime. News of the proposed Scottish advertising ban prompted a fond reminiscence from the Spectator's Fraser Nelson. He rightly picks this pastiche of Whisky Galore as its masterpiece (not least for skewering the puritan mindset so perfectly), though this oneappealing as it does to workshy misanthropes with a sentimental streak who start dreaming of their first pint at eight in the morning might be a little too close to the truth to really work as advertising.

No matter. Anything which winds up the puritans, proves that ad men's lives are entirely futile and makes you smile has to be a good thing. I raise a glass of wine to these great beer ads.

* Buckfast don't do adverts. If they did, it would probably be nothing like this. It's called Lurgan Champagne for a reason, you know.


Monday, August 04, 2008

Oysters: smarter than Michael Gove and Polly Toynbee

Idiocy: it's everywhere. Not the honest fun of the silly season (who couldn't enjoy a story like this one about oysters?) but the real thing.

There is Gordon Brown's masterplan to save his wretched career by moving his cabinet to Birmingham for the morning. No more than that. A desperate stunt that suggests a truly pitiable lack of anything resembling a clue.

For the other lot there was Michael Gove who, having done good work in dispelling the idea that a Tory intellectual was a contradiction in terms, undoes it all with the wretched suggestion that gleefully dumb "lad's mags" (you know the sort of thing) are somehow turning young men who would otherwise be courteous, chivalrous and respectful towards women into selfish, irresponsible louts and bad fathers to boot.

He may well have a point about tackling the attitudes some men hold. However, if he thinks that the fact we are not much higher up the evolutionary chain than the oyster precludes us showing some consideration to others, or that cheap and trashy entertainment read by a wide cross section of young men does anything other than reflect people's attitudes, then it suggests the next government is going to be as clueless about people as the current one. At the risk of repeating myself: the media has far less influence than some people, including Times columnists, like to think it does.

Most annoying, though, is Polly Toynbee. Today I was obliged by a cruel necessity to get up while the hour was in single figures and travel into central London on the tube during rush hour. My mood was not the brightest. So when I, foolishly as it turned out, bought a copy of the Guardian to read on the way in, my initial reaction to the masthead reading "How the rich lost touch with the rest of us" by Polly Toynbee was to hope that this was an elaborate prank that would prove to be clever and well-executed.

It was not.

It's the "rest of us" bit that jars really. Polly Toynbee is paid a three-figure salary (she is coy about the precise amount) mainly for offering brilliant analysis such as "Gordon Brown will be a great PM", or "just you wait, Gordon will soon shake off his troubles and prove his worth once and for all", followed by "Brown? He's useless. Get someone else". Her editor earned more than £400,ooo last year. Both are well out of kilter with the wages of the average journalist including, I should think, many of those working at the Guardian.

This is not a good starting point to lecture us about inequality and how the rich do not understand how the "rest of us" live.

Now Toynbee does have a point about the way the very rich are avoiding paying their share of tax and how the government which she has done so much to support has colluded in this. But it's a problem that defies simplistic and overly self-righteous prescriptions of the type that some people have made a good living from offering.

And when it is someone like Toynbee, writing things like:

When asked to relate themselves to the rest of the population, these high-earners utterly misjudged the magnitude of their privilege.


None of us like to feel guilty about our comfortable lives, and it would have been absurd to expect mea culpas from these people just because they earned so much. What we had hoped for was more awareness, some recognition that their position needed explaining and even justification.

It's hard to take it seriously. Especially when the suspicion lingers that any solution offered is going to involve the sort of opaque, bureaucratic and inefficient solution, such as her beloved tax credits, that fits her preconceived notions of how government should operate. Still I trust Polly Toynbee will not be unjustly rewarded for her analysis.

Labels: , , ,

Friday, August 01, 2008

Biblious, altius, fortius

Not very newsworthy on its own: Andy Parkinson, acting head of anti-doping at UK Sport fears that young athletes will be tempted to take performance enhancing drugs - and that they'll find them relatively easy to get.

But this claim made me sit up:

We have growth hormone, which it has been demonstrated you can get from a pub on the corner

I am afraid to say this information had passed me by, although maybe Andy Parkinson has some more interesting neighbourhood boozers than me. I can't help but wonder what kind of cocktail one might make with HGH; I'd guess you could add it to a bloody Mary, possibly have it as a chaser with Guinness, maybe even have it with some Rigas Balzams.

Still, if aspiring sports stars are visiting pubs in search of improvement, there is hope for the future yet.