Monday, April 30, 2007

Everything is beautiful

Wiltshire is in bloom after the warmest April on record – that’s in 350 years – and our neighbour’s lambs are now with their siblings, gambolling joyfully as only a species with its own exclusive verb can.
There’s also a new colour taking over the countryside around here: the hills are awash with the colour of traffic wardens’ jackets.
It’s brassica napus or, for Archers listeners, rape-seed oil, and it’s the in colour this year. Apparently the oil is not only the most poly-unsaturated, but it’s also the most economical source of bio-diesel fuel, so it looks as if it’s here to stay. Pity it doesn’t come in a more attractive colour.

No way, Jose I mentioned last week Jose Morinho's outburst about how Man U are always being awarded penalties while Chelsea never get one. It was obviously one of those claims that could easily be proved or disproved, but I was too lazy to check it.
Now Rod Liddle in the Sunday Times has taken the trouble. (Well, he gets paid.) The highest number of penalties awarded this season went to, not Man U, but Arsenal (8), then Everton (7), then a 6 and a couple of 5s, and only then Man U (4), followed by Chelsea (3). Sorry, Jose – you doth protest too much.
As for Everton, things are not looking so good. Two weeks ago they looked a certainty for a UEFA Cup place, but they lost to lowly Watford. Then on Saturday, despite having led Manchester United by 2-0 with half an hour to go, they managed to present them with four free goals. (Far be it from me to suggest a conspiracy, but I understand that a clause in Rooney’s transfer contract said that Everton would be due a large sum of money if Man U won the Premiership – and one of Man U’s goals was an own goal scored by a former Man U player whose brother still plays for them, and another was scored by - Rooney.)
So now Everton lie only sixth, with Chelsea to play – away. Since Chelsea now can’t win the Premiership, I’m hoping that they’ll do the decent thing and lie down.

A writer in the Financial Times last week - can’t remember who or the precise wording - said that bloggers were mostly IT contractors with bad personal hygiene and no friends; who are endowed with boundless communications capability but a profound lack of anything interesting to say. I object: I’m not an IT contractor and don’t have boundless communications capability – but hey, three out of five ain’t bad.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

What's a talent like yours doing in a dive like this?

At last, someone has said it in public. Jose Morinho, Chelsea Manager, interviewed on Saturday, said his team would not catch Manchester United under ‘the new rules of football’. When asked what were the new rules, he said, ‘it is not possible to get a penalty against Manchester United’.
Yes, we’ve heard Morinho’s outbursts before, but this time he’s right – though I might qualify it with ‘especially on home ground’. It’s also tempting to add, ‘and furthermore, no one is allowed to tackle Christiano Ronaldo, because when Ronaldo dives he always wins a free kick’. (Cue wink at team-mates saying ‘See - it works every time’.)
But then Jose blew it: he said, ‘and it is not possible for Chelsea to get a penalty.

Virginia Woolf said it – not about football but about life – that if you personalise your argument you weaken it. Once Morinho introduced his personal paranoias, a perfectly valid case, about gutless refereeing, was lost. I'm not saying refs are dishonest - yet. It must be hard to be independent when you've been pre-conditioned by a knight and are being advised by 70,000 Cyclopean Mancunians.
That woman who stopped T. Blair in his tracks to complain about NHS waiting times while he was happily glad-handing his sycophants, ruined everything when she brought in her family’s problem. Blair pounced on the get-out-of-jail card: ‘I’ll get someone to look into your case’. Problem solved – for her - but the NHS waiting times remain. Thousands of doctors are emigrating because they can’t find jobs, but it takes four months to see a cardiologist.
On August 12, 2006 I was referred for some tests. I got there in October but the machine was broken, then missed my appointment in December (my fault). ‘No problem’, they said when I rang to apologise, ‘we’ve sent details to your GP’.
The GP says he’s not able to interpret them, and writes (yes, ‘writes’) to a different cardio, at a different hospital, requesting an appointment. And yesterday, April 23, was the big day – St. George’s day, when the cardio-vascular dragon was to be slain! Result: the ticker’s in great shape - but if the symptoms return you can always get another appointment.
There I go, doing what Virginia says I shouldn’t. But it’s hard not to.

No I don't want to know about Santa Claus: Since I did my rapturous post on spring and lambs, Bridget has burst the bubble. I thought that Spring burst out all over like they say in Oklahoma! (or was it Carousel?), chased off old man Winter, opened up the daffodils and told the little lambies it was warm enough to join the world. Now the lambs are getting bigger and boldly going several feet from the food source.
Bridget is a farmer’s wife, and she has been correcting my ovine dreams. Even lambing, it seems, is technologically-induced. The farmer withholds contraceptive treatment from individual flocks so that all the Mums in that field will conceive at the same time, thus making more effective use of labour and transport.
Another romantic illusion shattered.

What’s it all about? Alfie. Alfred Edwards started a football club in Italy in 1899 and, like a true Englishman, called it, not Milano, but Milan, and the name has stuck. So tonight’s Champions League semi-final is Manchester United v. A.C. Milan. I’m told I protest too much about refereeing so won’t – except to award the Irony of the Week prize to the Gum-chewing Knight, Sir Alex ("Mind-games") Ferguson. He has had the gall to appeal publicly to referees to ‘protect’ his diving diva from over-enthusiastic defenders who might be tempted to try to get the ball off him. I don't know whom to support - patriotism is struggling with fairplay - but you never know: against Milan, Christiano might find himself in a diving Olympics.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Smile on the face of the Eiger

You know you’re getting old when you find yourself admiring actors who turn out to be the offspring of actors you admired: Vanessa Redgrave, whose father’s Macbeth was my first theatre experience; Zoë Wanamaker, daughter of the incredible Sam; Jamie Lee Curtis – you get the point; Colin Hanks, Bart Simpson – er - George Bush?
I found a new one the other day - Rachel Stirling. Apparently she’s to be the new Bond girl, in the footsteps of her delectable mum, Diana Rigg, (whose Mother Courage out-Brechted them all) and whom I fancied. She smiled at me once, but I don't suppose she remembers.
I was skiing at Kleine Scheidegg, at the foot of the North Face and was making my timid way down when this vision in a beige cat-suit passed by - and smiled at me.
It must have been a practice run - they were shooting On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – but she wasn’t skiing. She was kneeling on a chair that was on skis. In front of her, a cameraman skied backwards, his skis on back to front – don’t ask how he got his boots on – while, behind, another skier held the end of a rope tied to the chair, presumably in case it got out of control. In the middle of this convoy knelt Diana, swaying from side to side in a way that no one ever would on a straight schuss, and waving her ski poles like Toscanini – but andante, because they would speed up the shot later. When she got to the bottom of the slope there was a helicopter waiting to take her up to the top again. I went and queued for the cable car.
It only ever happened to me once – but then, to a lot of people it never happened at all.

Out, Out, brief handle I’m having a spring sale in which everything is free. It’s a title sale. No, not real estate – it’s when you think of a title, but (as A A Gill says in his book with the borrowed title Previous Convictions) you can't be bothered to write a book for its plinth. There’s one about talent-bereft singers on The X Factor that I was going to call ‘New Faeces of 2007’, but I hereby relinquish all rights.
There are lots more that I’ll never use. About bitchy female columnists called Ladies Who Lynch; or the views of referees on tennis brats: The Umpire Strikes Back. They’re anyone’s.
But I’m keeping The Last Mango in Paris and A Fridge Too Far – cookery and dieting pieces will always sell.

Found in Translation Among the literary treasures left here by our trusting landlady is The Odes of Horace, printed in 1889. Quintus Horatius Flaccus was, (it says here), born in 65BC, the son of a slave, and died in the sixth year BC. It’s always hard to know with translations, whether they’re better or worse than the originals – who knows if:
Awake! for morning in the bowl of night
Has cast the stone that puts the stars to flight

- were the words of Omar Khayyam or Fitzgerald?
And who cares, I guess. Not being able to read Farsi or Latin we’ll never know, so why not just enjoy it? This is a bit of Horace’s Ode to [his boyfriend] Mǽcenas. There are a many translations of it, but this one (Dryden’s) is my favourite – and it should be well out of copyright by now:

Happy the man, and happy he alone
He who can call today his own
He who, secure within, can say
Tomorrow do thy worst, for I have lived today

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Happy Easter!

It’s spring. Two days ago, not a lamb in sight. Today , dead on time, (Good Friday), looking out of the Wiltshire window, there’s hardly a sheep in sight who is not accompanied by brand new twin sprogs with nothing on their minds but food – something with which the lumbering, dag-encrusted mums are evidently well endowed. (Don’t anyone mention mint sauce.) But where are the proud dads - resting?
Happy Easter everyone!

It must have been a slow news day. I guess the media were all waiting for President After-dinner Jazz to squeeze the last drop of PR from his magnanimous gesture. (As also did our own media - at the expense of the four soldiers killed in Iraq on the same day.)
The BBC News carried an item about Britain that our local TV station in Nice had run more than three weeks ago. It’s a piece about the ubiquitous CCTV cameras that not only spy on and film us, (Britain is the most CCTV-watched country in the world), but that can now shout at us: like ‘No skateboarding’ or ‘Pick up that cigarette packet you just dropped’. Ayatollah Blair likes control: ID cards (a case of locking the chicken-shed door now the fox is inside.); DNA, eyeball and fingerprint data bases. Even Uncle Sam has a picture of my eyeballs.

Funny thing about control - while trying not to attach the word ‘freakery’. People who try to control other people – whether with tears, withdrawal of emotional or physical needs, spying, nagging, blackmail or threat of violence - usually begin with insecurity or fear. Fear of exposure; of loss of financial security; of loneliness – fear of partner, of children or relative leaving them. It’s a kind of disease, and if neglected can become at best a habit, at worst an obsession, with the original fear forgotten (A dominatrice I know controls - adult - family board games to make sure the same person doesn’t win twice!).

As fiction it can be fun: anything from dramatic (Pinter) to hilarious (Steptoe). Controller/controllee relationships need not be male/female. They can be female/male (African Queen), male/male (Maugham’s The Servant – screenplay, interestingly, by Pinter), female/female (The Killing of Sister George), parent/child (Mommie Dearest), or child/parent (King Lear). But in real life it is tragic.

The irony of control is that it never works. On the contrary, it usually ends up causing exactly the eventuality that was most feared. At first the controllee doesn’t even know. It creeps up on him (it’s not necessarily a ‘him’ of course but you have to say) imperceptibly, with decisions like whether they wallpaper or paint. He may prefer paint, but partner spends more time with wall than he does. What kind of car? He might feel a little more strongly about that one, but what the hell - he’s in love.

It may even be well-intended – controllee thinks he’s keeping partner happy and partner is saving him the bother of dealing with trivia. And so it goes until the decisions get weightier – and controllee realises with a shock that it’s a long time since he initiated or participated in a domestic decision.

Eric Berne, in Games People Play, talks of ‘an ongoing series of complementary ulterior transactions progressing towards a [...] predictable outcome’. In advanced stages, there’s no room for compromise: Contollees can give up careers, ostracize lifelong friends and even relatives, until there’s only one way out. ‘Out’ can mean booze, different partner or just ‘out’

We can’t always fight it – we know we probably will end up with Heathrow Terminal 5; street lighting that blocks out the stars; Gordon Brown as Prime Minister, carrying ID cards or living in a house we don’t like. (But it's not all bleak: Blair will eventually leave and take up his directorships in British Airways, BAe and the rest.) But at times we might have avoided some of them if we had spoken up earlier.

Not enough control I bought three things on Monday: a new TV set, a DVD player and a flat screen for the computer. None of them were usable. The TV (Curry’s) came without a cable to connect to my antenna, the DVD (Amazon) came without a SCART cable, and the screen (also Curry’s) came without a VGA cable to connect to the PC. Don’t say I should have spoken up earlier – I did. Curry’s said they were in the box.

Too much control I know I go on a bit about referees, but last night’s UEFA cup game between Sevilla and Tottenham could have been a great one – two good teams who play fast, flowing football. OK, a bit of police brutality – when else do they get a chance legally to crack a few English heads? – and some spectacular diving by the Spaniards: what else is new? But the score was made farcical by the stupidity of the referee, who had blown his whistle before the ‘fouled’ player hit the ground, and was standing over the penalty spot a second later. It was obvious that Robinson had got both hands to the ball, and that the player with the ball at his feet would trip over him – even if he had not intended to. Robinson got a yellow card for letting it be seen that he was not in full agreement with the ref. The other 20 million were not charged. That ref. has a promising future.

Sentence with more 'thises' than Richard II Hope you've been watching this: This is This this week - not better than usual, just a bit different. There's still time to catch it. Looks like a great idea, eg. for dilettante bloggers who don't want the commitment of a full-time blog. Apply here.