Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Don't talk to me about Tesco today

I was mentally writing a blog in praise of Tesco - the gist of which was to recall how we used to flock to France to enjoy the wonderful supermarkets, but how they have been completely overtaken by the likes of Sainsburys and Tesco, whose stores are cleaner, quieter and more efficient, and whose staff are infinitely more polite and helpful than Carrefour and Champion.
That was until this morning, when Tesco were supposed to deliver our Christmas wine order between 9 and 11. Around 11.10, as there was no sign of them, we had to go out, and when I got home I rang for another delivery date. John in the warehouse said they had tried to deliver at 11.15 and my order had now been off-loaded and I would now have to place another order.
A long harangue about systems that are designed for warehouses and not customers, and how the fault surely lay with Tesco and not me, left John adamant - except that he would give me a £5 discount on the re-order (less than 2% of its cost). Anyone who has had to place a long wine order with Tesco will know how insulting that offer is.
So, I'm sorry if there won't be any Champagne for you this year. And sorry Mr. T., I won't be writing my eulogy just yet.
Which way is Calais?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Those who love me can take the train

No, not Richard Branson's new ad – it’s the English title of a French film. It’s about an artist, Jean-Baptiste, living in Paris, who is dying from AIDS and asks to be buried in provincial Limoges, near his old family home. His friends sre apalled. Why does he want to be buried (literally) way out in the sticks, a four-hour train ride away, when all his friends live in Paris? His response is ‘Ceux qui m'aiment prendront le train’ – those who love me will take the train.

The film is the story of the journey of Jean-Baptiste's friends, ex-lovers and relatives, mostly strangers to each other, and the process of their getting to know each other. You start to think that the wily Jean-Baptiste must have known exactly what he was doing – as if the journey was some kind of test to see who really did care for him - in bringing them all together, knowing that they would get along, and possibly share each others' grief.
In today’s fragmented world, it might be a good principle for any significant event - wedding, bar mitzvah or anniversary – as a way of filtering out those who only come for the beer, and of bringing closer together the ones who care, and whom you love.
But you must ensure that the event be held in a distant location – and that it has a railway line.

'Rage, rage, against the dying of the light.' The young Dylan Thomas tried desperately to get his father to be angry about dying. But why should he if he doesn’t feel it? Men do not anger easily.
It’s a well-known fact that women, more than men, have a tendency to rage - to lose their tempers when inanimate objects fail to do what is expected of them. Let a suitcase not fasten, a door fail to close or a pair of glasses hide from immediate view, and it will be anthropomorphized into a villain - no matter that the suitcase was still locked from its previous use, that the door could not close because a rug was left lying in front of it, or that the glasses were left in another room.
A man, on the other hand, on striking his thumb with hammer or locking himself out of the house, would simply say, ‘Now wasn't that careless of me’.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

In a New York state of mind

This time next week we’ll be there – arguing with security guards, cursing rude cab drivers, browsing in Border’s, shopping in Gap, reading the Times, dodging puddles, looking at Picassos and Cézannes, paying astronomical prices for wines, seeing G. Bush on TV, ah-ing at the giant Christmas tree…
Just like home then.

Doing a lot more walking these days – which is good for me. But to get to more distant places like the barber’s, library, post office, I have to borrow DG’s car. After all, I can’t go wearing out mine.

Poll fault

Great game of footy Tuesday night. Celtic won and went forward to the knockout stage of the Champions League. (The club Championship of Europe.) Some may find it out of character for me to be lauding the victory of a Scottish club over an English one, but you will understand if I tell you that the English club was Manchester United. And although both teams’ managers, one of whom is a Knight, are Scots, it’s the non-Sir, Celtic manager Gordon Strachan, who does not spit his chewing gum out onto the pitch.
The only sour note to the match is my usual gripe: refereeing. There were two crucial decisions in this match, and he got both wrong.
Why, oh why - I’ve just been to the barber’s and am still talking in Daily Mirror-speak - why, oh why, as the game gets faster and more skilful, (not, sadly, thanks to the British-born players, who are hardworking but, Rooney apart, generally pretty unenterprising), do the refs get slower and more indecisive? Worse, why do the more arrogantly stupid ones get picked for the more important games? It seems that the more red and yellow cards you give out, the more impressive your CV, whereas the measure of competence should surely be exactly the opposite: the fans pay to watch football, not referees being rewarded according to the number of times they hold up the game.
The busiest ref. in the Premiership, Graham Poll, has refereed more games than any other this season, and has given out 54 cards, or 4.64 cards per game. The Premiership cards-per-game average is 3.3.
And one last statistic: Poll has issued twice as many bookings to away teams as to home teams. Who's making the decisions?

But the real battle is being fought out at the Woolloongabba Cricket Ground in Brisbane, Oz. The attention of the English-speaking world, with the exception of a few minor colonies, is focussed, not on Baghdad, but on 22 guys in white. In case you’ve been in one of said colonies or on Mars, the Ashes have started. It starts at midnight and ends at 7.30 am UK time – hence my bleary-eyed appearance. I’d like to explain cricket simply, but the only way to understand it is to see it. And if you know baseball it’s even harder.
Unfortunately the ’Gabba is a bit of a graveyard for English cricketers – the Aussies call it the 'gabbatoir' - and things are, as usual, not going well. I was there 48 years ago almost to the day – I was very young at the time – with equally disastrous results: Oz won by 8 wickets with a day and a half to spare. We can only hope for a monumental tropical storm.
Former colonials may be intrigued to learn that England’s opening batsman - if we ever get the Aussies out - will be Alastair Cook. You’re never too old.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Where and who am I?

I guess I should change my handle. It’s a misnomer now. How can you justify calling yourself Riviera Writer when you’re in Windsor? I could call myself ‘WW’ – but people might think it’s just a speech impediment. And I’m not even sure about that second ‘W’ these days. Perhaps a single ‘W’ would be OK: Fleming-ish intrigue is hot right now.

I’m still enjoying my Philip Roth – but then I’m a slow reader. (Bought a book on Fast Reading ten years ago – still haven’t finished it.) Like Joyce, his throw-aways are better than most people’s darlings: eg. ‘…good name for a crow, Status’. But, unlike Joyce, he telegraphs them in advance – dullards like me need that sort of help - which is why I still can’t take large doses of Joyce.

I can’t get on with all this miniaturisation: headphones that either fall out of your ears when you run, or, if you push them too far in, disappear into your Eustachian tubes, (give me those big chunky ones that make you look like WWI pilots); and mobiles whose keys are so small you can never hit fewer than three at the same time. It’s partly eyesight – can’t tell you the number of times in hotel showers that I’ve tried to lather up with body lotion - but not completely - I’ve got this radio on which you can only change stations if you’ve just cut your fingernails. Which fortunately is not a problem since by then my auditory cavities are full of headphone anyway.
Three paras beginning with ‘I’ – it must be time to stop.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Merry Cliché

It’s started. Like the Christmas shop windows that are dressed up earlier every year, the clichés have begun: ‘It doesn’t really feel like Christmas, does it?’ (Gutless as always, I say ‘No’ – but I never know what it is I’ve agreed to.)
And soon. the news stories: ‘Dreaming of a Tight Christmas?: High street feeling the Pinch’. Cue shots of Woolworth’s and Selfridges’s shopfronts and shopkeeper interviews: ‘So far things are looking much better for us than last year’.
Harrods is, as usual, doing well. Their Christmas ‘Diamond’ crackers (presumably containing a diamond) are a snip this year at £799; they’re also doing ‘Russian’ crackers at £999. Do you get a Russian inside each one – or just another cracker?

A recent Rod Liddle piece in the Sunday Times commented on the fact that in its latest attempt to nail the British National Party – our Fascist political party which is almost as far right as GWB and perhaps even TB – the law brought two of its members to justice charged with making racist remarks. The utterances were to the effect that large numbers of British-born Muslem extremists constituted a danger to the British public. After a long and expensive trial, they were acquitted.
Coincidental support came from two influential but unexpected quarters: first, British-born Muslems blew up three packed London Underground trains and a bus, and secondly, Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, Head of MI5, reported that large numbers of British-born Muslem extremists constituted a danger to the British public. ‘Will Dame Eliza feel the heavy hand of the Law on her shoulder?’ asked Liddle. Somehow one doubts it.
And does this mean that I am making racist utterances? I don’t think so, but if I am, what about Nottingham City Council? They uttered that they were banning black cabs from bus lanes.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Power does funny things to people

When you’re in a foreign country - and short-sighted - you tend to offer banknotes because you can’t be bothered counting small change. This means that you accumulate a lot of change. I was leaving Nice yesterday with a serious list to the right, rattling a Las Vegas slot.
Coming through what’s laughingly known as security at Nice airport I had so much cash that I had to put it into a little plastic basket. The DG sails through; I stand by the X-ray machine waiting for my cash to emerge – which it doesn’t. When I complain to the ‘security’ guard, she pulls aside a curtain, revealing the missing basket. She casually leans over and flicks the tray with the antenna of her mobile phone - causing it to tip its contents into the machine. Unwilling to leave my cash for this lout, I scratch around (unaided) trying to recover my coins.
When I get to Phase 2 – The Search – the DG is waiting (I had the tickets) and asking what I’ve been doing. ‘That stupid woman', I say, 'tipped my money all over the floor’. The Search officer hears me complaining, recognises the word ‘stupid’ (French: stupide) and – as petty officials do - decides to show solidarity and give me the works. He searches my flight bag as slowly as he can - taking things apart to try to make me lose my temper, or my flight. He finally pounces on a tiny, almost empty tube of ointment no bigger than my little finger. ‘I am confiscating this’, he says. ‘It’s not explosive’, I say, squeezing out the last drop of cream and spreading on my nose. ‘See’ I say, ‘my nose did not explode’. ‘I am confiscating this’, he says again. ‘Oh no you are not’, say I, ‘I am presenting it to you as a câdeau de Noël’, and I hand him the empty tube.
We caught our flight – but only just.
There is no officialdom more petty than French officialdom, because they can’t be disciplined or fired, or the unions will close the airport in a flash. I’ll tell you sometime about the airport Post Office that closes for a long lunch break.

A little pad on the Riviera, some might think, is all cakes and ale or gâteaux et vin. But there are associated problems that many people don’t appreciate. Socks, for instance. A single-homed person finding an odd sock in a drawer will eventually get tired of looking for its twin and throw it out. But the dual-residenced person, especially the mean ones, will say ‘ the mate of this sock must be in residence B’. So they take it with them on their next trip.
But not only do you not find the missing sock there – you discover another single sock - or even two – and assume that their partners are in residence A. So you carry them there - together with the first sock because you think its other half must be in A after all.
Eventually you finish up with this sad bunch of much-travelled but lonely socks – peripatetic hosiery on an endless quest for a partner. You have to feel especially sorry for the likes of Roger Moore or Elton, who, with homes in four or five countries, must spend their whole lives re-uniting socks.
But the DG, who can be pretty ruthless at times, has now come up with an effective if Draconian solution. She has made me swallow the pill and bite the bullet (not easy to do simultaneously) and step up to the plate. We have a new edict: socks still single after ONE trip are to be put down.
It’s a cruel world.

Friday, November 17, 2006

We're all Royalists now

Ségolène Royal has walked away with the Socialist party (PS) members’ selection as its candidate for next year’s presidential elections with over 60% of the vote. She left her next two competitors trailing and her live-in partner – the PS party leader, François Hollande, by whom she has four Royal offspring – out of the race.
The Royal name may sound familiar. In 1985, when France decided to test its nuclear bombs in the south Pacific, the other islands in the region were extremely concerned, and Greenpeace sent a ship, the Rainbow Warrior, to New Zealand with the intention of sailing into the area to try to discourage the tests. The French president, François Mitterand, would not be thwarted: he sent the brother of one of his closest aides to discourage the Greenpeace protesters.
This they did pretty effectively, blowing up the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland harbour killing a photographer. According to Antoine Royal, his brother Gérard planted the bomb. Mitterand’s trusty aide was their sister Ségolène, who said recently that she couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about.
As the Independent pointed out recently, ‘Mme Royal's meteoric rise in French presidential politics has been based partly on willingness to talk plainly on "family" issues’. But not the Royal family, it seems.

A popular quotation in our house is from Lord Melbourne, who said of a 19th century British historian, ‘I wish I was as cocksure of anything as Thomas Macaulay is of everything’.
I’ve been musing on this since learning that not one, but two of my most respected friends have described me as ‘inscrutable’.
I’ve always thought myself highly scrutable. Blogito ergo sum. Anyone who blogs lays out his prejudices for all who are interested to see. Like Lord Melbourne, I worry about the number of subjects on which I don’t have any strong opinion, but in general I’ve tended to agree with the person who said it was better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and prove it.
If scrutability means revealing my Thoughts on Life, they are going to be disappointed: these boil down to a few fairly conventional ‘pros’ – life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness - and even fewer ‘cons’, such as cucumber. More Pandora’s box than Aladdin’s cave.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Nervy (adj.) having or needing bravery or endurance

I‘d never heard of Nervi until a few days ago, but we just spent a couple of most enjoyable days there. It’s a coastal suburb east of Genoa on the Italian Riviera. The drive there is knuckle-whitening – there’s hardly any part of the 200 kilometre autostrada that isn’t a viaduct or a tunnel, there are no straight bits and the inside lane - and sometimes the outside – is bumper-to-bumper with trucks. Our little rented Clio only came up to their hubcaps. But it’s worth every gear-changing, nerve-wracking mile.
One of the myths they teach you in elementary school is that there is no tide in the Mediterranean because it’s an inland sea. (Try telling that to the people of Venice.) You’re reminded of this at Nervi: its whole coastline is a cauldron of waves, glooping into caves and crashing against rocks that are weirdly shaped granite, striped in black, white and the colours in between. There being no beach, the town has made the rocks a feature and built a superb promenade above them, where you can walk, run, eat, drink, or just watch the waves.
It’s probably un-European to say this, and I may get a call from the mob, but I find indigenous Italian cuisine reliable if somewhat short on variety, but in Nervi we had probably the best Italian food outside Soho or Little Italy.
A couple of other nice features: some excellent art musaums and - I don’t know if they’re nationwide or not but it's the first time I've seen them in Italy - a plethora of Vietato Fumare signs. Not just lifts, but shops, bars and even whole hotels are smoke-free zones. And there’s not a trace of Christmas: no trees, no mock snows, no Ho-ho-hos.
We’re going back to Nervi.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

L'Après-midi d'une phone

There’s a huge cyprus just outside here – its shadow is visible in the Oct 29 post – and it’s full of hyperactive starlings. I can’t do a picture of them because they never stay still long enough. Especially when the sun starts to set, when they come out for the evening fly-past and go into feeding frenzy on the bugs that by that time are feeling sluggish after a the long day.
There are human starlings: they attack around dusk, because they think the pickings will be easier. Their market research has shown that, about that time, you should have just got home from work and will be at your most lethargic and least sales-resistant.
We’re talking telemarketeers. You may think they are a nuisance, but to people who work from home (eg. me), they are the plague. I must say that I sympathise with the people who have to do this thankless and degrading job – if they have any human feelings at all they must hate having to disturb someone who wants only to kick off his shoes, have a Scotch and relax. But if you work from home, dusk is about the time the inspirational juices are starting to flow and you’re getting into 4th gear.
These days most of the call centres are on the Indian sub-continent (it’s cheaper than paying less industrious Brits) so the voices sound like bad impersonations of Peter Sellers in The Millionairess. Nothing wrong with that if you’re offering cheaper mobile phone calls or low-entry equity funds, but not if some degree of local knowledge is required, as in, say, telephone directory enquiries. ‘I’m looking for a saddler’s shop in Blackburn’; ‘Is that the Saddler's Inn in Blackpool?’ ‘No’. ‘I’ve got Sadler’s Wells Ballet Company in London’. ‘Never mind’. (Here’s a surprise – calls to directory enquiry services have fallen dramatically since they were de-monopolised. I wonder why?)
My pet hate about TMs (apart from the ones who gratuitously use my first name – see Gnomework) are the people who ring and say, ‘Hello, I’m Daniel’ - or ‘Hi, my name is Sonia’. You feel like saying, ‘No it’s not. You don’t need to Anglify your name - there’s nothing wrong with ‘Gupal’, or ‘Nazalee’. But why should I buy a financial product from someone who lies in their first sentence?’
Although it’s annoying when they stop you in verbal mid-flight, so far I’ve been polite – ‘thank you for calling’ I say, ‘but I never buy anything on the phone’. But the worm is about to turn.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Journalistic clichés 1

I’m moved by a heading on the cover of the current Monaco Times – ‘All that Jazz’, (about the Monaco Jazz Festival) - to protest about headlines. You might think that the fact that no one other than the headline writer has the authority to write them would be evidence of their special skills in that area.
But if this is so, why do they turn in such crappy headlines?
I once did a piece on the summer jazz festivals of the Riviera for another paper, and begged the editor not to use ‘All that Jazz’ – even providing her with some equally pithy, (and, I thought, more eye-grabbing) alternatives. She said she’d ‘do her best’. But no, it came out labelled with the old ‘ATJ’.
You can’t do a piece on a ski resort without seeing it topped ‘Skiers slope off to X’, or a story on a rural ramble without finding the words ‘Wild Side’ in the title.
Worst of all are the Financial columns: ‘Taxing times for the Self-employed’; ‘Barclays banks on Mortgage Business’; ‘Visa: is a rate increase on the cards?’ – and so on. And puns on companies’ products are compulsory. Take your pick: this from this week’s Sunday Times - ‘Cadbury’s future looking sweeter’. Airlines’ revenues, of course, always ‘hit turbulence’. As they used to say in the funnies, Aaaugh!
All this is not to say that I disapprove of punning headlines – I couldn’t, could I? But at least I don’t use some plagiarised worn-out, hackneyed, tired old clichés. Not at all - they are my own worn-out, hackneyed, tired old clichés.

Friday, November 10, 2006

What's in a hyphen?

Further to yesterday’s fearless rant on names, where do you stand on hyphens? I’m moved to ask because there’s a very serious report out today by the head of MI5, on the subject of what George Dubya calls ‘terrism’ – he doesn’t like more than two syllables in one word, unless it's ‘noocular'. But the report's gyst - basically that there are over 200 terrorist cells working in the UK (hey, wait a minute, no one told me about an election coming up!) - is completely upstaged by the name of its author, whose handle might have come straight out of P. G. Wodehouse: Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller.
In the library of a Welsh village, when I tried to book Internet time, I gave my name and the librarian said, ‘We have rather a lot of them in Wales – do you have another name?’ My point is that if it helps distinguish one Williams from another, I see nothing wrong with the odd ‘Rhys-hyphen-X‘. In Wales, they normally add the incumbent's trade at the end – like ‘Jones the meat’ or ‘Manningham-Buller the spy’. But neither ‘Manningham’ nor ‘Buller’ are names that would create havoc in a Welsh public library, so I don’t see the point.
Look, I know it’s not as simple as that: what if your family name is a much-loved and respected one – or what if your father were a knight, say, or a former Attorney General – or, as, in the case of Dame Eliza, both? Then I guess neither an obscure blog writer nor a wavy red underline from WORD would make you want to change it.
So it seems that on this I am – as I am about most matters – ambivalent.

Thursday, November 09, 2006


Mini-rant of the day – car rental companies, airlines, Amazon and telemarketeers who either want me to buy something or to invest in their mutual funds - who use my first name without my permission. If they knew me well enough to use my first name, they would know that no one - except a dear 95-year-old lady in Liverpool – addresses me by my baptismal first name – the name that before PC used to be called the Christian name – because I don’t like it and use it only on my tax return. So please, can we quit with the unauthorised mateyness.
(But then telemarketeers - who do have my sympathy because no one should have to do such an unpleasant job – are a special mini-rant for another day.)

Let’s hear it for the FLNJ. It’s the registered acronym of Le Front de Libération des Nains de Jardin – or the Front for the Liberation of Garden Gnomes. Even the British arm of the organisation calls itself FLNJ because it sounds vaguely political - and I suppose FLOGG would look silly. It is an international movement whose mission is to put an end to the abduction and enslavement of garden gnomes.
Hallowe’en seems to be the official opening of the gnome-liberating season. Last week 79 were sprung from the banks of a river in the Limousin region. No wonder homicides in France go uninvestigated – the flic are too busy retrieving gnomes.
If any of FNLJ investigators are reading this, there’s a couple in Beaulieu crying out for liberation. You’re not likely to notice them unless you’re standing at the bus-stop opposite because if you’re walking by, your eyes will be distracted downwards, intent on dog-poo dodging. But there they stand, feet set in concrete, one female and one male, atop twin gateposts – a sorry sight, seeming to appeal to passers-by to call the FNLJ.
The German chapter, Bewegung der Befreiung der Gartenzwerge, have tended to do things on a more official scale. In the 1990s customs officials confiscated 300 gnomes at the Polish border, and on another occasion seized a consignment of 11,000. Since then, in what are suspected as racially-motivated attacks, Czech-made gnomes have become targets of garden desecration. Blue-eyed, Aryan gnomes go unmolested.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Four legs bad

My sister-in-law is in year 54 of a life sentence, with no parole and no remission for good conduct. It’s not called Strangeways or Wormwood Scrubs. It is called Autism.

Autism: a lifelong disability that affects the way persons relate to those around them. (National Autistic Society.)
No, she is not autistic – her son is. But in the mirror world of autism, it is she who is the prisoner and he the jailer.

Autism usually appears in the first three years of life. (NAS)
Autism was identified in 1943, but it took time for the profession to catch on. Their consultant’s diagnosis (in 1956) on this hitherto happy toddler was: ‘Mrs. J, your child is naughty. Naughty babies are not my job.’
When he was eventually diagnosed, it was obvious that he would need full-time care. They tried specialist institutions over many years, but finally decided they could do better at home. The decision changed their lives.

The impact on the lives of an autistic’s family can be devastating. (NAS)
Living with an autistic turns you into one. You get so used to his phobias that you anticipate the tantrums and avoid situations that might set them off. Our lives are ruled by his pathological fear of four-legged animals. He likes birds and people in that order: we haven’t tried him with ducks and geese.

You flee from little creatures that we can rarely hear.
Terror pains your features - from threats we cannot fear

One summer, we were sitting outside our rented cottage in Tuscany when he suddenly leapt up and ran inside. We couldn’t make out why – until a fluffy kitten, no bigger than a hand, emerged from the long grass. He will run even if the only alternative is into speeding traffic, so you learn to spot the signals – the person carrying a lead, or just hanging about the way that dog-walkers do. His one concession to normality is drinking beer, so we patronise pubs whose car park is next to the bar, so we can pass his beer through the car window.

Autistics have impaired social interaction and lack the ability or desire to communicate. (NAS)
For an autistic, the normal means of communication: touch, speech, eye contact, and gesture are too much of a commitment – autism is shyness writ large. He uses the fewest words necessary to communicate his need – and no words at all if he can avoid them. In the car, a raised finger – never a whole hand - means ‘I need the toilet’.
Despite this handicap, on most days he learns something new. He doesn’t always get it right first time - like when he first washed the dishes and we’d failed to mention that you don’t need a whole bottle of detergent per wash. But he grows in stature with each demon conquered, and my late brother’s widow, now his sole prisoner, will not appeal against the sentence.

‘If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far way.’ (Thoreau)

Cynic's corner
Surely the Iraqis can't come up with a SECOND death sentence on Saddam Hussein before the the election booths open?

Sunday, November 05, 2006

La Napoule

I never feel more like singing the blues
If Liverpool win and Everton lose.
It happened yesterday: we’re now neck and neck with 17 points each from 11 games, but with us slightly ahead because of better goal difference. Cum ‘ed, lads

Been down the coast to La Napoule today to lunch with an old mate from Oz – a friend of 46 years, of whom I lost track for 20 somewhere between Sydney and London but who washed ashore on the Riviera in the same month as me in 1982. (We’re talking about a 50th anniversary reunion in Sydney in 2010.) The fabulous restaurant, - Le Boucanier (buccaneer – a good price for corn) - is right on the beach, overlooked by a 14th century chateau that was lovingly – and eccentrically – restored between the wars by an odd American sculptor, Henry Clews. (He thought of himself as Don Quixote and dressed accordingly, called his valet Sancho and christened his son Mancha. He’s worth looking up sometime.)
La Napoule also made a big impression on Hemingway, and was the setting for his Garden of Eden.
Great lunch Wally.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

The japes of Roth

It's all right about the monograms - two pages later I found that Roth was being ironic. The hero, when the super-confident lawyer finishes giving his advice, says, 'I never again want to hear your self-admiring voice or see your smug fucking lily-white face'. So much for monogrammed shirts - but he sure had me fooled. So not only do I have sluggish reading habits - they're not very perceptive either.

Friday, November 03, 2006

How to get seriously rich

I don’t often do investment advice. It’s too risky – like selling your car to a friend. But I’m making an exception today so you can get rich before Christmas. It’s this: 1. Find what I’m doing, and 2. Do the opposite. A once respected investment journal said I should sell a company now called DSGI, because it had no growth potential. So I sold almost half my holding at 146p. They’re now 218p.
Currency is another of my skills. We’ve decided to break our resolution not to visit the USA until George Dubya has gone – one way or another – and are doing a trip to New York at the end of the month. (Though NYC isn’t really the USA is it?) Smart, say friends – shopping in the USA when the £ buys $1.90. Not really, say I - when I bought mine it only bought $1.40.
More advice next week when I tell you about my adventures in techno-land.

At the end of our road in England is no ordinary Farm Shop: it’s in the Castle grounds and it’s where the Duke of Cornwall (aka. Prince Charles) purveys his produce – and very good it is too, especially the fillet steak. French TV News had a long item last night about the quaint British fad of Farm Shops. Good piece at first – interviewing Brits about why they buy organic foods. (Don’t trust chemicals fertilizers, GM foods etc.).
But the editors, eager to grab the opportunity to plug French beef, decided that it was a story about mad cow disease. It seems Brits are so paranoid about it that they no longer buy home-grown meat, (which is manifestly untrue.)
Why rant, you say? Well, first because BSE wasn’t mentioned in the interviews; secondly, because BSE was a global disease, occurring in France, Germany, USA and Canada – anywhere where cattle were fed dead cattle; and thirdly, for some years after BSE was cleared from the UK, France continued to block Brit beef – and was fined heavily by the EU for restraint of trade (even if they didn’t pay).
So it’s illegal to say that UK cows have BSE – but apparently not to imply it in a national news item. And that’s the last whine of the week: I’ll get to Rainbow Warrior another time.

I have sluggish reading habits, and am only now enjoying, belatedly, Philip Roth. (Hope to start on Jane Austen soon, then the full Brontës.) But Roth describes a self-assured young lawyer whose confidence is signalled by his dress – ‘…crisp white shirt, discreetly monogrammed…’ etc. – and I had to ask myself if a monogrammed shirt is a badge of confidence? It’s a badge all right, but of what? (Similarly with personalized car number plates – especially those with the manufacturer’s name on them. If I see you driving a Jag, do I need the registration plate to tell me so?)
Where do you stand on monogrammed shirts?
(But am still enjoying Roth - I got on to him because he was asked in a Radio 4 interview what he would change if he could go back over his previous work. He said. 'I'd leave out the adverbs'.)