Friday, 9 January 2009

The follow on


Wednesday, 31 December 2008


15 today. Happy birthday.

Thursday, 11 December 2008


The BBC is reporting that the Barclay brothers are withdrawing their investments from Sark. If the report is accurate, 100 people - a sixth of the population - will lose their jobs in hotels, estate agencies, building firms.

The decision follows an election on the island, the rococo intricacies of which quite boggle the brain. The point is that the electors spoke in a way that Sir Frederick and Sir David Barclay found unpalatable. Are these two facts connected? They look as though they are. Their spokesman has said that the islanders are now reaping what they sowed. Reaping what they sowed? That sounds rather like a total denunciation of democracy, a serious case of throwing the rattle out of the pram.

I think such a glimpse of naked contempt - for that is what it is - will come back to haunt them. I cannot wait to see them brought low by such hubris, dragged down by their own greed. It is to be hoped that they take their dupes and proxies with them. Private Eye is very good again this week. The stuff on the Telegraph, which the Barclays own and have run into the ground in search of a fast buck, is unmissable.

Blogging about it has to stop. This target fixation is getting serious and at the same time a bore. Move on Johnny.


The wayzgoose has been and gone. Chatting in Narrow St and stamping against the cold until the doors opened and then a vortex of faces and drink and talk and food and insightful conversation on the dark river walk to the next whisky bar, and then flinging out of the vortex and no memory of the road home. Twelve hours of such intensity that it passed in a second.

One can only hope there will be a 15th edition next year, but people move on or fade away, drink and madness picking them off. It was a celebration of something that was and as such it can't last forever and probably shouldn't.

Three incidents stand out. Firstly, the strange disappearance of Greyfriars Bobby. He was at my table and then we passed each other in the gents. A few minutes later his seat is still empty. Check the loo just to make sure his eyes hadn't rolled round in their sockets. No sign. Trot down to the bar. No sign. Go out onto the street. No sign. A hour or so later, a text explaining that he had pressing business though giving no details. All most mysterious.

Second, a disgraceful low tackle by Gaffer on the Mystery Blonde. Who the hell was she anyway to come flouncing in, flirting and chatting? Apparently, she was weighing up the dining room as a venue for a bankers' lunch, though I should think that having her arse felt has put her off and cost the landlady a few quid. Thank God Gaffer didn't go for double top - a fight would surely have broken out. The saintly Mrs Sew & Sew fired him into line, extracting the necessary apology which Mystery Blonde and landlady accepted. Later, shamefaced Gaffer exits early...pantomime villain getting his comeuppance.

Which brings us to the third singularly curious feature: how quickly it broke up. After the food, we moved down to the bar, most in the front, some in the back. Suddenly, there was no noise from the front. Gaff, Daisy, Girvan, Ellard, Trimboli, the Chief Inspector, even Brucie, all just gone. Bugger me.

This morning, Ander on the phone wanting to do the autopsy: "Such and Such is so improvident, Such and Such has knackered his liver, Such and Such is deaf and daft, Such and Such is still a ****, Such and Such is still sex on a stick." He's more of a bloody old gossip than I am.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008


Here is a contradiction to rival even the Govt's support (at 12pc interest) of the banks. Point of sale displays for tobacco products are being banned on public health grounds. Quite right. An appalling, filthy habit. Personally, I think smokers should be shot on sight to cut long-term spending in the health service.

But the ban is being delayed because corner shops fear that they will lose trade, thus spreading the contagion of recession. And of course, the duty and VAT are useful to the Exchequer. The story is in the print version of The Times, though not online.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Man with legs, woman with mostly shaved head and bunches

To Cockpit Arts in Deptford, three floors of craftspersons' workshops in a former factory office block. There are interesting things to see and buy (came away with a Lush lampshade in pig pattern, mushroom coloured, plus various other trinkets) and interesting people to look at. Firstly - it is December, albeit a sunny day - a man of mature years in shorts, displaying very hairy and muscular legs, runners' legs, I daresay. Why? Is he the sort of chap who sits in a chilly garden shed eating celery because such activity is morally improving? More alarming was the woman of mature years with a short back and sides but long hair on top all greased and oiled and smoothed and drawn into bunches that fell down in line just behind her ears. Why? I'm opening a stall there selling funny-looking people. The ones who gab irritatingly are quite reasonably priced, but the real money is in the ones who are conversation pieces, remaining silent and smelling nice.

Then to Greenwich, where an author looked very uncomfortable as he pushed his book - something about an American having amnesia in south London - and where the market was heaving but still yielded further trinkets for the girls' stockings. Bought cakes and made nervous bus journey home praying no one would sit on lampshade. Prayers answered.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008


Here is Andrew Hussey, presenter of France on a Plate, which aired on BBC4 the other night but deserves a wider showing. Mr Hussey, a clever fellow to be sure, takes his audience on a tour of French culture by means of food - which he clearly enjoys - architecture, and stories of the triumphs of La Belle Epoque and the loss of confidence - national and culinary - that came with the Algerian war. The food was divine, even the Lyonnaise sausage made of cows' stomachs wrapped up inside each other so as to appear in cross section like a Paisley pattern made up in offal. Then there was a vol au vent the size of a pillbox hat and filled with beautiful chunks of meat in a white sauce and topped with a pastry lid so soft that it would undoubtedly have dissolved to air and hot butter on contact with the roof of the mouth. Mr Hussey addresses his audience in a marvellous Scouse accent, switching to perfect French when talking to the battalions of chefs who were the stars of the show. But all is not well, and whereas the stallholders of Les Halles could once provide delightful produce from the empire cheap to Parisians, the country is now in the grip of malbouffe, with small, privately owned eating places closing by the score and McDonald's and Quick opening. All very interesting, and let's hear it for the big guy worth listening to. I'm sure the show will be repeated and can be viewed in the meantime on BBC iPlayer.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

And when did you last see the inside of a Woolworths?

It's no surprise at all, is it, that Woolies is on the skids. I don't even remember the last time I bought anything from within its portals. There was a branch in St Neots whose chief function was to provide a) a gathering place for Goths in the front porch, and, b) a handy shortcut to Waitrose through the back door. The supplies of chocolates could be got cheaper from the all-powerful Tesco, and the children's toys were of the variety bought to placate screaming brats and discarded, or broken, after two minutes.

The first signs of trouble went unnoticed or unremarked on but came a few years ago when, for example, the branch in Cambridge was closed and refurbished as some sort of cut-price place - now probably also closed. The staff must have known something was up, though. On the odd occasion that I took the shortcut to Waitrose and passed by the tills, the matronly assistants would be trying to sell stamps to anyone who'd bought from the selection of dowdy greetings cards.

Nostalgia comes in waves: in the 1970s the branch in Runcorn was very good for buying records and (oh, the shame) a little bit of light pilfering of paperbacks that looked quite racy but were just boring crap from hell.

The obvious difficulty now - apart from the livelihoods of the 30,000 employees, a surprisingly big number - is that Woolies' disappearance leaves a further gap in the high street. Think of a mouth with teeth knocked out. I suppose pound shops will take their place, or the Edinburgh Woollen Mill.


Went to Changeling last night and thought it pretty good. A nice bit of storytelling with interiors and exteriors that brought to mind Chintown and the final sequences of There Will Be Blood. The real shock, though, was to see that Mrs Pitt isn't just a pretty face. Cor! Wanted to see it at the Picturehouse in Greenwich but the timing wasn't convenient, so we trudged to the Odeon at Surrey Quays, where the staff were young, vacant and drawn from the reserves of Autism United. A out-putting experience to be "served" by people with absolutely no social graces. The customers were worse though, with one young lady insisting that she should have compensation because the screening was delayed for a few minutes. I shall be reluctant to go back there.