Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Trollied Tuesday: London pubs

Last weekend my eye was a caught by a piece in the Times which purported to list the ten best pubs in London. I thought it rather an odd list, but I know these things are always designed to provoke disagreement and stimulate debate – oh and to plug things.

In this case compiler Peter Haydon was plugging his new book: London's Best Pubs. He describes it as "a celebration of the spirit of pubishness everywhere. It is also a statement of what we stand to lose if today’s neo-Puritans get their way", so I cannot but wish it well. (At this point, it's worth reminding regular readers of my praise for one his previous volumes: An Inebriated History of Britain).

Nevertheless, I must question the pubishness of some of the pubs he selected for his top ten. Apart from the choice of the Coach and Horses in Soho, which is fine if you are interested in watching drunks or are an exhibitionist drunk who believes that makes you interesting, the problems with the list are immediately apparent from the number one choice: the Sloaney Pony.

Yes, you will get a good pint there, as you will in most of the places in the top ten (some of them old favourites of mines). But the fact that the White Horse is full of braying nincompoops (it's in SW3, what you expect?) does somewhat disqualify it from the great pub status.

Drinking, you see, should be about more than just the raw material you are pouring down the throat. To transform it into a worthwhile experience you have to consider such matters as the conversation, the tone and the spirit of the event. And that's even when you're drinking alone.

If you drink in select company, you won't go too far wrong (a few tins of special offer lager on a park bench with the right people would be far more fun than a couple of bottles of Chateau Lafitte in the company of tossers). What a good pub does, though, is provide good booze, food if you're that way inclined, while facilitating good company, wit and high entertainment. There's no formula to it, more a sort of transmutation of the base metal of humanity into the gold of companionship.

Would you like examples of this? The easiest thing is to investigate for yourself. But if you are looking for guidance, allow me to offer a blatant plug here from some ne'er-do-well associates of mine: the new Fancy a Pint? In London. You can't go wrong really*, it's been written with the expert assistance of a panel of lushes, layabouts and larrikins, including myself.

* Bar the baffling ommission of Lucky Seven on Cricklewood Lane, obviously.


Sunday, March 29, 2009

Caught red handed

Jacqui Smith, oh dear. The really important question is what should we call this scandal: w–ergate? mastur-gate?

The rest is pretty predictable. Can Jacqui Smith survive? no. A truly shameless and able politician might brazen it out when caught with their snout in the trough; even if, as in Smith's case it's no so much a snout as a whole pig's worth bar a couple of trotters and a little tail wriggling pinkly that is found in the mountain of swill. But when you manage to be a laughing stock with it, there is no hope, none whatsoever, of survival.

Does she warrant any sympathy? Some, but not for the expense gouging that led to this. If you play the system to the extent that you are happy to get the taxpayer to subsidise your family home (officially the second home, far from Westminster, even if it is lived in by your husband, who is paid £40,000 a year to act as your parliamentary aide), its entertainment system, an 88p plug, a £1,ooo antique fireplace, your internet subscription and even a viewing of Ocean's 13 and so on and venally on, it's no wonder you might inadvertently claim a state-sponsored wank or two as well. Or even be bothered to distinguish between legitimate expenses and grabbing whatever you can.

Oh, okay there are a couple of questions remaining. Why didn't her husband, Richard Timney, not use that internet subscription to seek out free smut?

And what of his viewing material? We told that one of the films may have been Raw Meat 3 (link safe for work). A cursory search for this cinematic classic leads one to suspect that it is somewhat homosexualist in nature (link not overly safe for work). It's possible there are other naughty films with the same title, of course, or even that he might have been watching another one of the naughty channels but that would possibly explain the Home Secretary's anger.

PS: Another thought occurs to me. The paper that first broke the story was the Sunday Express (prop: Richard Desmond). Did it have direct knowledge of what he might have been viewing by any chance?

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

EDW: pants and politicians

It might not be elegant, but there is something both amusing and gratifying about seeing politicians stripped of their dignity.

There is a theory that if you are nervous about addressing an audience or an individual, you should imagine them in their underwear or in the nude and your fear will vanish. Similarly, when a politician is stripped down in this fashion their authority vanishes. Certainly Irish Taoiseach Brian Cowen lost most of the tattered threads of dignity and respect that clung about his stately, plump personage when some prankster placed in two of Dublin's main art galleries a couple of pictures: one showing him on toilet, the other being the delightful image you can see on your left.

To compound the embarrassment, Cowen and his underlings over-reacted a tad. (One hears rumours which may explain why). RTÉ was forced to apologise for reporting the stunt (you may watch it here, apparently the initial report was seen as an attack on the dignity of the office of taoiseach; as if the likes of Bertie Ahern and CJ Haughey were universally revered statesmen); gardaí have, unbelievably, been called in to investigate. The reaction to this over-reaction has not been kind: but the derision and anger is well-deserved.

As it is Biffo can only aspire towards attaining the dignity and respect accorded to John Major - another failed leader in the Cowen-esque mode. It was Alistair Campbell's masterstroke to convince the world that John Major was a man who tucked his shirt into his underpants. It was almost impossible to take him seriously after that. (Oh and the Afghan hat did not help).

It takes a truly special political talent, though, to achieve this level of humiliation solely through your own efforts. Chris Bryant, now deputy leader of the commons, managed it though, when he injudiciously posted a picture of himself wearing only his underpants on Gaydar. (Here it is, if you care for such things). What a silly sod.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Trollied Tuesday: drink pink

Interesting bit of boozenomics this week: British sales of rosé have risen to the extent that the pink stuff has joined the basket of good used to calculate inflation. (Wine in a box is out too; but something tells me that having lots of relatively cheap booze on tap is going to become more popular soon).

Anyway, the bare stats are one thing, but what do we extrapolate about British drinking habits from this? Probably that aspiration isn't dead yet: people want to believe the climate is continental - it is not; or else that good rosé is easily found at a reasonable price - it is not. I did have a look in a large-ish Sainsbury's this afternoon to see if I could find some decent pink stuff, but none of the sub £8 wines looked especially appetising; there was, however, plenty of Mateus Rosé. That does make me question how far rosé's rehabilitation has really progressed.

Please note, I do like the stuff. At its best it has a zest and freshness that is evokes the joys of spring and early summer; it can be the most joyous of wines – refreshing in extreme heat, warming when the temperature is cooler. However, if the buying habits of people who will either pay over the odds for wine or drink any old gut rot for reasons of fashion are being used to calculate vital economic indicators, then I fear we may be in more trouble than I had thought.

Nor shall I comment on pink champagne. It is a drink best left to women and homosexuals. These two groups may yet spend us out of recession.

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Saturday, March 21, 2009

Bounder banned

Say what you like about George Galloway (actually don't; he's the most litigious figure in public life since Lord Archer) but you cannot deny his rhetorical talents. His description of Christopher Hitchens as a "drink-sodden former Trotskyist popinjay" was a classic. As the target of the jibe himself admitted, it was only a little bit unfair.

But an equal zinger has now been attached to the man himself. In justifying the decision to ban Galloway from Canada, a government spokesman Alykhan Velshi described the supporter of Hamas as an "infandous street-corner Cromwell".

Here I detect a distinct and ironic echo of Gray's Elegy in a Country Churchyard ("Some village Hampden that with dauntless breast/ The little tyrant of his fields withstood,/ Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest,/ Some Cromwell guiltless of his country's blood."), whether it is conscious or not.

Nor do I know whether Velshi is aware of, or cares about, Galloway's Irish Catholic background. But it gives an added sting to the jibe about his cheap demagoguery , and is as good a summary of the man as any. As for infandous, meaning - as you must know by now - unspeakable, you've probably made your minds up about the man by now.

Mocking this rather Spode-like figure probably harms him far more than banning him from, in another one of Mr Velshi's picturesque phrases, "peeing on [Canada's] carpet".

Incidentally: the New York Times, of all papers, has a nice take on the whole business: Canada bars 'indandous' British politician, journalists reach for dictionaries.

PS: So far as I can recall the British MP to banned from a North American country, for somewhat similar reasons to Galloway, was Gerry Adams. Adams, however, was not lacking in friends in the US Congress. (I'm not crazy about this banning of elected politicians from Western democracies, incidentally. Congressman Peter King, a dyed in the wool Noraid supporter - until 9/11 obviously, was never banned from entering Northern Ireland, for instance. I can't see how that would have helped matters at all).

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Friday, March 20, 2009

Obama says something retarded

That is to say makes an unfortunate slip about the handicapped.

He's not yet been a hundred days in the White House and the world economy is still in crisis and that minor kurfuffle in Afghanistan is yet to be resolved. Clearly the man's a hopeless amateur. Small wonder the backlash has started.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

EDW: Turned out nice again

For advice on how to conduct oneself with a modicum of dignity at the seaside, please study this video of Blackpool. Any true Englishman can wear a suit at the seaside, so there is no need - none whatsoever - to rush into t-shirts, shorts and so on just because the temperature has reached double figures. Where do you think you are? Abroad?

Most readers, I trust will not need this advice. Those in paid drudgery are strongly advised, however, to play this video and sing along. Ideally keeping time with your little sticks of Blackpool rock.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Trollied Tuesday: notebook

Ever since I encountered a gentleman in a green shirt and jester's hat in the gold, white and green slumped pungently across a seat on the Tube on Sunday I remembered the best attitude towards St Patrick's Day: it's no big deal. If you are so inclined, you might wish to say a Mass. If you are in Ireland and have the day off, enjoy it. Not a day for proper drinkers, though. Too many amateurs about.

But excessive grumbling about it being a glorified marketing exercise aimed at plastic Paddies (which it is, outwith Ireland) is as foolish as going to Kilburn for the craic (an English word in origin, by the way). So when Eamon Forde writes in the Times (found via Harry's Place): "The celebration originally marked the arrival of the Catholic faith on Irish shores, but in an increasingly secular country, it now celebrates the futility of drunkenness" does make one wonder whether the bottle or the crozier has been a more harmful influence on Ireland. (Remember too that the Pope did sanction Henry II's conquest of Ireland from which a few, erm, difficulties sprang.)


Worth remembering, too, on the day in which Guinness tries to turn Ireland into a marketing device, that there are other drinks. As I observed around this time last year:

There is a rather sentimental idea that Guinness tastes better in Ireland. It's not entirely true; for one thing the stuff you get in London is all brewed in Dublin these days. Besides, in Cork you should stick to Beamish or Murphy's… One's physical location, then, is less important than one's state of mind.

This theory might be tested by the news that the Beamish & Crawford brewery in Cork is to close this month. Production is be moved to the same place in which Murphy's is brewed (owned by Heineken). Apart from the sadness of an era ending, and the loss of 120 jobs, there is a vague unease about the loss of something else.

Rationally, there is no reason why changing the location in which the drink is brewed should affect quality. Guinness after all can be made in enormous quantities and, if kept properly, tastes superb. And yet this news creates a vague unease. The trend favoured by large brewers of consolidating production in ever larger plants has seen many fine beers lost, and many others have suffered an appreciable loss of quality.


Worse is the latest affront: the minimum alcohol price. It seems that not even Labour is stupid enough to try and whack up the price of booze before an election in which it might struggle to win votes. I dolefully predict the idea will be dusted off after the election by whoever wins (okay, it'll be the Tories then).

It will not work, because people will find ways of getting drink if they must have it. Some other crude device will soon be found to bash the drinker over the head. If this blog has any purpose, and I try to avoid such fripperies, it is an implacable opposition to this sort of nonsense.

Leaving aside the shredding of the economy, which will probably see people drinking less (while wanting to drink more) the most curious aspects to this proposal are some of the unintended consequences. For instance, port and sherry - say at 20% alcohol - would most likely be among the drinks that would see the biggest price rises. (Someone at least has had a stab at the maths: a bottle of sherry could rise from £4.59 t0 £7.15 - roughly a third I make that.) Buckfast, of course, will not be affected: indeed its price might even fall. This isn't a way to tackle problem drinking.


With nice circularity, then, a prediction. Tomorrow's Irish papers (north and south) will be full of hand-wringing about drink and violence. What does it mean? Simple, the press loves hand-wringing, lots of people in Ireland like drink and a significant minority can't handle it. Put them in a drunk tank, ignore them, or a combination thereof will be more effective in curbing their excesses than most other measures.

Except mockery. Remember The Simpsons: "All this drinking, violence, destruction of property... are these the things that we think of when we think of the Irish?"

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Brought to book by De Paper

Newspaper proprietors don't have anything like a tough enough time of it (until they end up like Conrad Black). But at least they are forced, occasionally, to suffer the sort of people who work for them. So well done to my former colleagues at the Irish Examiner. I'll let Media Monkey take up the story:

It could be the plot of a rubbish airport novel. Having endured the imposition of cost cuts and a wage freeze, the staff of two Irish newspapers were outraged at their owners' choice of speaker for the company's annual dinner - Lord Archer. The journalists' union at the Cork-based Irish Examiner and the Evening Echo sent a letter of protest to the papers' owner, Thomas Crosbie Holdings, reasoning that a convicted criminal - particularly one who was jailed for perjury in a libel trial against a newspaper - was an unfortunate choice of speaker to address a newspaper publishing group.

TCH got off relatively lightly this time. A few years ago they invited Henry Kissinger to some jamboree they sponsored. On the day of his arrival the Examiner, as it then was, carried a column by Ryle Dwyer about their honoured guest. Curiously I can't find the actual article (NB: this could well be down to incompetence rather than anything more nefarious) but it was either the one with the headline "Time to put Kissinger in the dock with Pinochet" (reaction to it here) or maybe it was the piece (quoted here) that included lines such as:

Even if the IRA were responsible for everyone killed in the North's troubles - that would not be remotely near the number of deaths in which Kissinger was implicated in Cambodia, Chile and East Timor, not to mention his conniving treachery in prolonging the Vietnam War.

Then again, it says something in their favour that Dwyer remains a columnist on the Examiner.

NB: If anyone can correct the gaps in my account, I'd be most grateful

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The consolations of idleness - a reprise

The soupy folly of the "at least the recession is allowing us to get in touch with what's really important" school of thought (best left to clergymen and Liberal Democrats that sort of thing), it is pleasing to note that people are coming to the conclusion that the pursuit of money, status and other such vapid gewgaws are hardly worth the 18-hour days, corporate greasing and the rest.

Anyway, this caveat in place, you may wish to read this piece from the Sunday Times about men who, perforce, find themselves gentlemen of leisure. And aren't they getting to love it, just?

The three former bankers had already dubbed themselves the Musketeers and have spent the first few weeks of 2009 on a rollercoaster ride of lunchtime martinis and paintballing. [Cut out the paintballing, lads. That's just embarrassing] Charles — who was laid off in December — has two kids and thought he would get rid of the nanny after the first flush of freedom, but three months later she’s still clocking on. “I found there was just too much to do,” he laughs.

Of course, the Musketeers are the lucky ones. Their bank balances are buoyant from years of lucrative toil, to say nothing of decent pay-offs or a spouse still slogging away. I go to meet them on a Tuesday afternoon at a gastro-pub in Primrose Hill, where they are finishing up a long, boozy meal. “We’re the ladies who lunch,” cries Matthew, 41. “We do a different restaurant every week — all the places we used to read about in Style, but never had the time to try out.”

At this point it's worth pointing out that most of them made so much money in their soul-sucking jobs that they can afford to do this (but then what's the point of making money if you don't get to fund more agreeable activities with it?). But interestingly a few of them appear to be relying on the woman in their life continuing to go out to work.

One may argue about whether or not the idea of getting women to work harder while the men are no longer relied upon to generate all the cash – remember Jerome K Jerome hit on this as a fine idea more than 100 years ago – is something society ought to do more to encourage. Appealing as it is, there might be downsides. Some people might even think it unfair.

However, it could not be more damaging that those saps who measured their value by the size of their pay packets. Nor can I see why it would undermine someone's sense of self-worth or esteem. On the contrary, having somebody to bankroll me in the style to which I should like to be accustomed would do wonders for the ego (heiress or working girl, it would make little difference to me).

Anyway, as ever, I digress. Let us hope that those able to live in this more gentlemanly fashion, will realise their previous folly. For them the prospect of a higher state of existence beckons - a life of contemplation, fuelled by martini lunches.

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Erik the Guardian Reader

I've lost count of the number of column inches devoted to the claim that the Vikings are a positive role model for the contemporary, multicultural era. But whenever I've read a report in which the reporter, with wide-eyed amazement tells us that there was more to Vikings than raping and pillaging, I've never been able to repress the thought "and this is news to whom exactly"?

(For instance, I don't think it was exactly a secret that Alfred the Great and Guthrun agreed to share England, the Danes converted to Christianity - thrilled by its love your neighbour sentiments we may be sure - and that was an end to the trouble. Well, we'll get back to that in a moment).

Multi-culturalism 11th century style. It is
probably preferable to modern-day Luton, however.

It's become fashionable to regard the Vikings as master tradesmen, seafarers (they were that too) and to downplay all that rapine and fighting. Possibly its apogee was reached in the decision to name the technology that allows electronic devices to communicate with each other after Harald Bluetooth on the slightly spurious grounds that he'd first united Denmark and Norway.

And yet this vogue for presenting the Vikings as role models for a globalised, multicultural world seems a bit too goody goody and shiny eyed. The Vikings lived during the middle ages, a brutal and terrifying age, and they survived and thrived in it thanks to their own courage and resourcefulness. However, the most important lessons that era offers for our own age have always been along the lines of: "don't do things like they did in the middle ages".

Consider for example what the Viking presence in England led to. After the raiders started coming across the sea again, Ethelred Unraed surpassed his previous ill-thought out responses with the St Brice's Day Massacre, an attempt to kill all the Danes in England (who had indeed become well established in the country). The response was predictably brutal, of course, and when it ended with Cnut on the throne there's a good case for regarding Engand as part of the Viking world.

Remember, too, how the Viking era in England ended. Harold Godwinson (himself of Danish extraction) seized the throne. The last of the Vikings, Harald Hardrada invaded and, along with most of his army, died at Stamford Bridge. But while all that was happening, the Normans - essentially a bunch of French-speaking Vikings (now there's an alarming combination) - were en route for England. Their arrival spelled the end for the old ways of the English and the Danes. (And caused a fair few problems from the Irish, Welsh and Scots, but that's another story).

Consider also that the Vikings were also greatly in demand as mercenaries - the famed Varangian guard - and their skills at navigation and trade made them among the more successful slavers of the era, selling their Slavic captives in the east, taking cheap labour back to Scandinavia and, at the other end of the Viking world, populating Iceland with the children fathered by their Irish slave girls. (Incidentally, if you're going to drag unwilling Irish girls across the sea and have your wicked way with them, you'd need to be every bit as tough as the stereotype suggests). The raping and pillaging was central to who they were, because that was the only way they could survive and thrive. If it won them sufficient land in England or Ireland to farm then, yes, they might calm down a bit. Until the next wave of violence swept over them.

I don't doubt that the actual academic conference that started this current wave of Viking revisionism in the press is taking a more nuanced and subtle view about how the Vikings interacted with the other peoples of the isles. Really my beef is with the more simplistic press converage and the idea that one corrects a historic stereotype by downplaying the brutal realities behind that stereotype.

But when you get reports with headlines like Vikings 'lived harmoniously with our ancestors' it's probably time for a reminder that they were our ancestors too, and the "harmony" was more a case of two bunches of tough, warlike people finding a balance that removed the need for endless conflict.

If more British and Irish people start to see themselves as descendants of the Vikings, it'll probably be a positive thing. Apart from the vague sense of unity it engenders, the Vikings were a pretty impressive bunch. Brave, formidable and master seamen. Just don't make the mistake of thinking of them as cuddly Guardian readers who might have got a bit too boisterous from time to time.

UPDATE: Why, yes, The Guardian did indeed respond with an editorial praising the ability of two culturally similar peoples to co-exist in a sparsely populatred country once one lot had adopted the other lot's religion. "Before long, the Vikings lived side by side with the people they invaded, leaving many of us with our own inner Viking. There's a lesson there."


Monday, March 09, 2009

Ineluctable modality of lying

Some kind of survey: most people lie about reading books they haven't read.


To impress people.

No, why?

Is there any evidence this approach has worked? Are there women out there who dream of being wooed by someone who has read Ulysses? Are there men who could never love someone who has not read 1984? Has anyone ever decided that someone was, in fact, less than the total tosser they appeared to be because they had read the Bible cover to cover?

Lying about things you have read, but do not want to admit to having done so, that I could understand. Readers with impressive memories might recall that there are those who would take against a Flashman fan. More generally, being over-read may make one appear a dweeb; the sort who would bang on about modernist classics or lengthy Russian potboilers. A friend of mine was once approached by a bar maid in a pub in Dagenham while he was flicking through a book - Natasha's Dance by Orlando Figes. (NB: it was mine. I was in the gents at the time). "What's that you're reading?" she asked him. "A cultural history of Russia," he replied. "What's wrong with you?" she asked. "Why can't you read things that normal people read, like Martina Coles?" He could not answer.

Don't forget the fun of celebrating the gaps in one's own knowledge.

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Saturday, March 07, 2009

Not worth the effort of a proper headline

Something truly indefensible from the Guardian:

So today, in an attempt to satisfy your dog show yearnings, The Guardian launches Grufts, the search for the World's Leading Liberal Dog.

Quite apart from the ik factor, the very idea of a liberal dog is an affront. Your average dog, you see, is a servile parasite. They'd do very well under feudalism, communism or any ideology which involves a strong leader. But liberal? Not at all.


Wednesday, March 04, 2009

EDW: Lord Palmerston

Shall we stop whining about the fact that Barack Obama has returned the bust of Winston Churchill that his predecessor had installed in the Oval Office?

(Was this some grudge on behalf of his grandfather's treatment during the Mau Mau rebellion? Does he not care about Britain? Personally I reckon that whereas Bush wanted to be Churchill, he wants to be Lincoln.)

The Mau Mau theory might have something to it, I suppose, so Gordon Brown's decision to give Obama a biography of Churchill might not have been the wisest gift (the pen holder made from the timbers of a 19th century warship, on the other hand, is a fine choice; I'd be very glad to receive something like that myself).

However, were I in Brown's shoes I'd have given him a bust of Lord Palmerston, the last Edinburgh University educated PM until our own dear leader's accession. (Admittedly, Tom Paine would be the ideal Brit for the current president's office, but I've EDW'd him already).

Henry Temple might seem an eccentric choice. If "dear old Pam" is remembered at all these days it's for the fact that he was, in the face of some pretty stiff competition, the most sly and cynical of all British PMs, for gunboat diplomacy, a colourful private life and genial populism. (Oh, and the story that he died having sex with a parlour maid on a billiard table. In his eighties. Sadly, it appears he died while going through his ministerial papers; a half-written letter was found by his side. Still, it's a fitting tribute to him that people prefer the former story. After all, he did refuse to move into Downing Street because his house in Piccadilly gave him much better opportunities to eye up passing fillies). Florence Nightingale gave him a rather handsome epitaph: "Though he made a joke when asked to do the right thing he always did it."

But he was not, please note, entirely devoid of principle. His zeal to curb the transatlantic slave trade managed to inflame the Americans to the brink of war (at this point we'll gloss over his sympathy for the Confederacy in the US civil war, eh?) He would support liberal, progressive causes abroad - if possible; balanced against that you have things like the Don Pacifico Affair - you know the Civis Romanus Sum speech - and the manner in which he masked naked self-interest behind an appeal to high ideals. Which is not to say the ideals were absent.

Palmerston's highest statement with regards to international affairs was:

"I hold that the real policy of England... is to be the champion of justice and right, pursuing that course with moderation and prudence, not becoming the Quixote of the world, but giving the weight of her moral sanction and support wherever she thinks that justice is, and whenever she thinks that wrong has been done."

It's somewhat reminiscent of Tony Blair, isn't it? And you might wish to compare this rhetoric with the frequently sordid and self-interested reality. Nevertheless, many politicians have juggled principle and pragmatism in this manner. It is the peculiar genius of Lincoln, Obama's hero, that he made the latter the servant of the former.

Still, at this point it is worth noting that Obama seemed far keener to meet Blair than he was Brown (who wouldn't be?). Consider also the president's approach to foreign affairs (get the clearly doomed British and Japanese PMs in and out of the White House as quickly as possible; offer the Russians a quid pro quo to stamp down the Iranians - oh and do it in a way that subtly enhances the division between Putin and Medvedev - and make it clear to your allies that you are mainly interested in what they can do to help in Pakistan/Afghanistan) in the light of Palmerston's view that a country has no eternal allies, only eternal interests.

The conflict against the Taliban/al-Qaida/militant Islam is, after all, one where America's national interest and the support of justice and right neatly dovetail. One wonders if the track record of the prime minister at the time of the Indian mutiny would have anything to offer the 44th President of the United States in that regard. It strikes me that Obama is someone who would appreciate his qualities more than many people could imagine.

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Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Trollied Tuesday: hitting the Scots where it hurts

Who'd have thought it would be Scotland that would come up with a puritanical, penny-pinching and somewhat empty gesture? But there is is: the plan for minimum alcohol pricing.

Cut price offers encouraging bulk buying are also to be banned along with money saving promotions like "3 for 2" deals.

The display and marketing of drink is to be restricted to specific areas within off sales premises.

To be honest, apart from allowing the SNP to be seen to be doing something, I doubt it will make much difference. Sure, it will make life that bit more difficult for retailers.It might, if the Scots whisky trade is to be believed, have the unintended consequence of harming one of the country's most profitable industries. Depending on how draconian the minimal price is, it might significantly disadvantage every drinker because of the actions of the minority.

One figure bandied about is that from a University of Sheffield study: "a minimum price of 40p per unit caused overall consumption to fall by 2.6%, with larger decreases amongst young drinkers and excessive drinkers". If someone's drinking is going to be significantly affected by an 80p can of lager then I suggest that the price of drink is the last thing you or they want to be worrying about. I also note in passing that this sort of pricing would still make shop-bought drink much cheaper than a pint in a pub: so not much help for the poor old publican who is still being clobbered by the smoking ban.

This whole business of singling out cheap booze as the villain of our days, rather than a small nutmeg of consolation, is that it hopelessly muddles up cause and effect. From the Times report:

Ms Sturgeon said the government wanted to hit “low-cost, high-alcohol” products, such as ciders and beers, which she described as “the products of choice for young drinkers”. Despite their hopes of targeting young people, Kenny MacAskill, the Justice Secretary, admitted that tonic wines, such as Buckfast, would probably not be affected by the proposals.

So not so much action on alcopops or the neds' drink of choice - Buckie. (For those who don't really understand the peculiar potency of this drink, this should enlighten you). Besides, the real problem with Buckfast drinkers is not that they are damaging their health, that's their look-out. It's that they are more likely to make life miserable for everyone else.

But taking away their drink is beside the point really. If someone is the type of person who is going to drink Buckfast (or, as one acquaintance of mine does, Scotsmac), then something is already badly wrong. And fixing that defies glib, headline-grabbing solutions.

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