Monday, 31 December 2012

An Automotive Tale

Now I want you to look at this picture. Can you see the battery? No, neither could I. This is the engine compartment of an Audi A4 diesel. It is important to our story. That story is of what the Roberts family spent the latter part of Christmas Eve doing. In hearing it you will find the answer to the burning question - how many Robertses does it take to jump start a car?

Dramatis Personae:
D1 - daughter number 1
D2 - daughter number 2
PF - pater familias aka the Overgraduate
Mrs R - the true leader
Fifi - D2's car, a Ford Fiesta
Peugie - D1's car, a Peugeot
the Audi - Mrs R's car

Our tale is this: D1 goes out for a drink with some friends - not a wild session just a civilised tipple with mates. Destination, Mere Green at a specified pub. D2 who is staying in for a change (social animal) will pick her up later. PF listens vaguely to these arrangements and gets the gist. At the appointed hour D1 telephones D2 to pick her up. She is no longer at the original public house but at another more congenial and around the corner. D2 sets off in Fifi. Simples? No. D2 arrives at the pub and meets D1. She stops Fifi for this purpose. She then quite naturally tries to restart Fifi. She fails. In the mistaken (but charmingly trusting) belief that PF knows about cars she phones him to report the dilemma. PF assumes it is a repeat of an earlier problemn with the key, grabs the spare key and tears out to the original pub to effect a rescue. He goes in the Audi. In his disorganised and inattentive hurry he does not take his phone, nor does he acknowledge the change of drinking venue. At the original pub he finds neither Fifi nor his daughters. He drives home very fast and is informed of the correct destination. He sets off again, now armed with his phone. He meets D1 and D2. Fifi does not start with the new key. A call to the AA looms but first PF will try the jump leads - which are in his precious Jag back at the family seat. He and D's 1 and 2 return home in the Audi. Jump leads collected, PF and D2 return to the locus in quo. By this time some innocent fool has parked next to Fifi so that it is not accessible from the Audi. PF eventually pushes it out into an open space while D2 steers. Audi is then moved alongside. PF opens the bonnet of Audi - can he find the battery - can he bollocks. Consults handbook. Can't read it. Needs reading glasses. D2 can read it but cannot locate the info. So D2 phones Mrs R and requests her presence with PF's glasses. Mrs R and D1 now attend in Peugie. All members of the family and three of its four cars now invoved in the enterprise. It transpires that the battery is hidden away but that there are jump start points if you know where to look. These are (with some difficulty) located and, very much to PF's surprise, Fifi sparks to life. PF modestly assumes heroic mantle having demonstrated his ascendancy over machines. The tribe now returns to the family seat in convoy. All agree it's good to do things as a family. Happy bloody Christmas. 

12 Films At Christmas - 5 & 6

It is easy in this age of wide screen television, high-definition and early dvd release, to forget the former cultural importance of the full-length Disney cartoon. They took years of patient hand production and they were accessible only by cinematic release. Most certainly Disney did not until recently expose them to the butchery of poorly formatted televisual display. No, we queued round the block to see them at the local flea pit, in my case the long-ago demolished Palace in Erdington. We attended with gangs of school friends, converging free from parental restraint on the High Street from our various corners of the borough. There was always a supporting film for us to tolerate and to serve to ratchet up the anticipation of the feature. During the support we would boo any romantic moments. The Palace Erdington was not a place for romantics. So it was with relish that I sat to watch 101 Dalmatians with my family on the splendour of our own big screen and with a whole leather sofa to myself. On certain days this is my favourite Disney cartoon, on others not. Damned fine entertainment either way.

We watched 101 Dalmatians by choice but Lady and the Tramp on the following day was a happy accident of the television schedules - shown uncut and uninterrupted by advertisements on a suitable screen. Another lovely film. I hope we might see their ilk again but the commoditisation of the cartoon art makes this unlikely - for example I note that there was a direct-to-video sequel to Lady and the Tramp and that there is a clearly inferior Tinkerbell product doing the Christmas rounds and culling a few easy holiday dollars. A shame. If you want to hear a more expertly voiced polemic on the demise of the true cinema I recommend the estimable Doctor Mark Kermode's The Good, The Bad and The Multiplex, available from all good bookshops. There is of course plenty that can also be written about the death of the bookshop. Another time.

Sunday, 30 December 2012

12 Films At Christmas - 3 & 4

An adaptation of one of my less favourite Shakespeares starring a pubescent Hollywood pretty boy ought not to float the good boat Overgraduate, but you would be wrong to assume this in the case of Baz Luhrmann's William Shakesperae's Romeo + Juliet. This is a seven out of ten jobby and definitely worth your time if you spot it on the schedules. Fast paced, noisy and not over-reverent is a style that suits the Bard.

And next comes another classic doomed romance, the oh so British and lovely Brief Encounter which I enjoyed re-watching on a newspaper free-gift dvd housed in the neat pile of such largesse in Anglesey. The whole thing simply reeks of thorough-going professionalism - not a wasted word or frame. It is interesting to compare its self-denying noble ending to the more modern and liberal treatment granted to the same material when rehashed in 1984 in Falling in Love - not of itself a bad film but not as good as the original.

Brief Encounter is at the very least a nine out of ten and belongs on those lists of films you must see before you die. Next time it shows up on the tele schedules I suggest you arm yourself with a bottle of red in a darkened room and treat yourself to the pleasure of 86 minutes of cinematic master craft.  

Friday, 28 December 2012

12 Films At Christmas - 1 & 2

Not content with telling you what to read I will now pass judgement on the first dozen films I watch over the festive period. The arbitrary process by which I watch will presumably uncover some turkeys as well as gems and I will do you the favour of saving you the bother of watching the duds. 

Into which category (duds) the first film belongs. In fact rather more than that, it is a piece of egregious old bollocks of which the participants should be ashamed. I myself feel a little dirty for having watched it. This film is Anonymous - a misbegotten propounding of the old theory of Shakespeare not having written the plays attributed to him. In this version of events the Earl of Oxford gets the credit. Not content with slagging off the boy Shakespeare the film also finds time to belittle those two other pillars of Renaissance drama, Marlowe and Jonson. There is no hint of tongue in cheek about this dire little picture. It is indefensible and worthless - please on no account watch it - to do so only encourages them.

On to happier matters, our second film is Sideways. This potentially slight tale of two Californian friends making a last trip prior to the marriage of one of them manages to be funny, sad, wistful and engaging. Thomas Haden Church as Jack gives us a character of the type all men know and, despite ourselves, love. In a bizarre way he stands in direct line from Terry Collier in The Likely Lads. I give this one eight out of ten and thoroughly recommend it. It is almost as good as Anonymous is bad and that is saying something. 

Monday, 24 December 2012

Advent 24

East of Eden - John Steinbeck
"Thou mayest rule over sin", Lee. That's it. I do not believe all men are destroyed. I can name you a dozen who were not, and they are the ones the world lives by. It is true of the spirit as it is true of battles - only the winners are remembered. Surely, most men are destroyed, but there are others who like pillars of fire guide frightemed men through the darkness. "Thou mayest, Thou mayest!" What glory!
This is the single most important passage in my literary experience. I remember vividly the riverbank I sat by as I first read it. I don't as a rule do a lot of riverside reading so this may in part explain its memorability, but I'm pretty sure it would have made its mark wherever I encountered it.

And so I wish a truly happy Christmas to all of you and remember you heard it here first - thou mayest rule over sin.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Advent 23

The Sabre Squadron - Simon Raven

Simon Raven died on 12 May 2001. On the day that his obituary appeared in The Times my father called my office and left a message with my bemused secretary, 'Fly flags at half mast - Simon Raven dead.' Raven was scurrilous, lazy, louche and above all else, brilliant. His ten novel sequence Alms for Oblivion is masterly and constantly readable. I select The Sabre Squadron as my marginal favourite. As with all its companions, it can be read in or out of chronology. The standard line is that Raven squandered his immense gifts, but you have to say when you read this that they must then have been some bloody gifts.
Time hath, my lord, a wallet at his back,
Wherein he puts alms for oblivion,
A great-sized monster of ingratitudes

The reference comes from Troilus and Cressida. Not untypical of Raven to pick effortlessly from an obscure play.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Advent 22

Empire of the Sun - J. G. Ballard

I must say I'm getting excited and I already know what's going to be number 24 on the Overgraduate calendar. How on edge must you be?

J. G. Ballard's novel of the second War is magnificent. Anthony Burgess (see Advent 11) reckoned it 'An incredible literary achievement and almost intolerably moving. A brilliant fusion of history, autobiography and imaginative speculation.' Too bloody right squire.

Wars came early to Shanghai, overtaking each other like the tides that raced up the Yangtze and returned to this gaudy city all the coffins cast adrift from the funeral piers of the Chinese Bund.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Advent 21

A Handful of Dust - Evelyn Waugh
... I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning, striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
The epigraph to this great novel is taken from Eliot's The Waste Land. Waugh then proceeds to be as good as the implied promise of the quotation and shows us great fear in small things. From my admittedly limited survey, I suggest Waugh as the greatest British twentieth century novelist. He has to be on this list and this is the narrow victor as my favourite. Tomorrow I may feel differently, but by then it will be too late. As an aside I am surprised to discover that it has never been the choice of a castaway on Desert Island Discs although George Malcolm and Edward Fox were allowed to cheat and select a Waugh omnibus . Not the spirit of the exercise at all.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Advent 20

Master and Commander - Patrick O'Brian

The extended sequence of the Aubrey/Maturin novels (twenty works in total) is not merely a notable literary achievement but also a substantial piece of scholarship. It begins with this novel and the chance meeting of our two heroes at a music party in the port of Mahon. Jack Aubrey is a young, heroic naval officer prone to disaster at shore. Stephen Maturin is a land-lubber surgeon, naturalist and spy. They form one of the great literary alliances. Alan Judd has called the sequence 'the greatest extended story since Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time.' Powell, by the way, narrowly misses out on inclusion in the calendar this year on the grounds that I cannot in truth select one novel which stands out sufficiently from the others.

Here is Alan Judd again, catching the strengths of the novels,
They [Aubrey and Maturin] are united by sympathy, respect, acknowledgement of difference, a sense of justice and affection. All this is suggested more in the spaces between words than expressed directly, except when they make music together. In the portrayal of this friendship we learn something of all friendship, just as in the series as a whole we learn of loyalty and betrayal, love and mutability, interest and humour. 

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Advent 19

The War of Don Emmanuel's Nether Parts - Louis de Bernieres

Forget Captain Corelli's Mandolin (which I do accept is jolly good) this, his first novel, is de Bernieres' best. I am not quite clear whether this is magic realism because all that Genre Studies stuff confuses me, but what I do know is that it contains quite the best description of depression I have ever read.
The two ideologies fought full-scale set-piece battles in his mind, and he drew further and further away from that clarity of vision which he had carried with him all his life. He looked back at that vision with regret and nostalgia, but also thought of it as a time of immaturity. Like all intelligent men who no longer know what to think, he sank into a depression so paralysing that he became estranged from himself.


Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Advent 18

Cities of the Plain - Cormac McCarthy

This is the final and ferocious conclusion to McCarthy's Border Trilogy which I recommend in its magnificent entirety. It is about men born out of time and about an unarticulated American mythology. It is quite brilliantly written. Requires concentration but this is one you should make time for. On a scale of one to ten, this merits eleven.
She patted his hand. Gnarled, ropescarred, speckled from the sun and the years of it. The ropy veins that bound them to his heart. There was map enough for men to read. There God's plenty of signs and wonders to make a landscape. To make a world.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Advent 17

A Perfect Spy - John le Carre

Philip Roth (who let's face it is entitled to an opinion) called it 'the best English novel since the war'. Certainly I think it a perfectly constructed work which escapes the perceived confines of its genre - one most certainly need not like spy thrillers to admire this book. If I were teaching creative writing this is the book I would make them read as an example of good practice.

Like yesterday's choice this one sits in Anglesey - I first read it here when on holiday and I associate it with happy, summer days which just goes to prove that good writing can even blind one to the privations of the Welsh summer.

Lights had come on, ambulances were racing on the spot without apparently knowing where the spot was, police and plain-clothes men were falling over each other and the fools on the roof were shouting at the fools in the square and England was being saved from things it didn't know were threatening it. But Jack Brotherhood was standing to attention like a dead centurion at his post, and everyone was watching a dignified little lady in a dressing gown coming down the steps of the house.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Advent 16

Pigeon Post - Arthur Ransome
I have often been asked how I came to write Swallows and Amazons. The answer is that it had its beginning long,long ago when,as children, my brothers, my sisters and I spent most of our holidays on a farm at the far end of Coniston. We played in or on the lake or on the hills above it finding friends in the farmers and shepherds and charcoal-burners whose smoke rose from the coppice woods along the shore ... I could not help writing it. It almost wrote itself.
So wrote Arthur Ransome in his Author's Note to preface the 1958 editions of the Swallows and Amazons series of novels. I read and re-read all the copies in Erdington Library and own various editions myself. These are children's books written with adult aplomb. They do not patronise. They stimulate and entertain. They exude optimism and humanity. I choose Pigeon Post, my copy of which lives on my bedside table in Anglesey so that I can dip into it whenever I am there and wish to be more fully transported to my innocent age.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Advent 15

The Blind Assassin - Margaret Atwood

Winners of the Booker Prize do not always carry a reputation for readability but this book is not difficult at all. It has been said before and more politely but Atwood is very clearly a right clever sod. Top draw deluxe.

But I leave myself in your hands. What choice do I have? By the time you read this last page, that, if anywhere - is the only place I will be.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Advent 14

Slaughterhouse Five - Kurt Vonnegut

This might, I suppose, be categorised as an example of the fantasy genre but it is so much more than that - also a war story, a love story and a sharp black comedy. It shares with Gatsby the great grace of being readable in only a couple of sittings. So it goes.

I really did go back to Dresden with Guggenheim money (God love it) in 1967. It looked a lot like Dayton, Ohio, more open spaces than Dayton has. There must be tons of human bone meal in the ground.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Advent 13

Wise Children - Angela Carter

According to some people (well, alright, they include me) Shakespeare is all about duality. And this glorious book is positively Shakespearean in that respect - it plays with North/South of the river, rive gauche/droite, legitimacy/bastardy. It achieves its comic effect by often vulgar means. It is totally wonderful.

I always think there was a sort of mean connection between their birth and our puberty. Typical dirty trick that Saskia might pull on us, that we should turn into women just at the very moment when they turn into babies. Always a different generation. That's the rub. We've never been equals. They've always had that edge on us. So rich. So well-connected. So legitimate.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Advent 12

Catch 22 - Joseph Heller

Yes I know that this one has been in a previous Overgraduate advent calendar, but this year is all about books and I simply cannot leave out this one which redefined the possibilities of fiction so far as I understood them more than three and a half decades ago. Brilliant, exciting, troubling, polymesmeric indeed. Home to another great opening featuring a cleric,
It was love at first sight.
The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain he fell madly in love with him.
This book is so good that I notice I have paid it the ultimate compliment of using a virgin betting slip as a book-marker in my copy.
Tomorrow, another book I've mentioned before and which is anarchically funny

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Advent 11

Earthly Powers - Anthony Burgess

I promised you the best opening line in literature and here it is,
It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me.
Anthony Burgess was a great talent, apparently slightly miffed at not getting his full critical dues. I have my own theory about this and it has to do with his sporting a quite atrocious comb-over. I might be wrong but I'm not sure that such a barnet has ever garnered the Nobel Prize. Mind you the frigging EU picked up its Peace Prize this week thus allowing Baroso to get all sanctimonious with us, so Burgess, were he alive, might feel he was in better company with all the rest of us who've never won anything.

Back to the novel - Earthly Powers lives up to all the promise of its wild beginning.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Advent 10

Brighton Rock - Graham Greene

Tomorrow we will have what I believe is the best opening line in literature, but today we have the most chilling closing sentence. You will have to read the novel to understand why. It will not be time wasted.

She walked rapidly in the thin June sunlight towards the worst horror of all.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Advent 9

The Jungle Book - Rudyard Kipling

Once upon a time there was an odd, noisy little boy called David who was determined to join the Cub Scouts as soon as he was old enough. And being a wilful child he determined that he should prepare for this event by reading The Jungle Book before his eighth birthday. And this he did and cemented his love of books.

Oh hear the call! - Good hunting all
That keep the Jungle Law

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Advent 8

Jennings Goes To School - Anthony Buckeridge
It would be a waste of time to describe Linbury Court Preparatory School in great detail, because, if you are going to follow Jennings through his school career, you will be certain to alter the shape of the building so that it becomes, in imagination, your own school.
And so I did, through reading every one of Buckeridge's charming and often riotously funny books. These books gave me the greatest press of my unstarred life when my adaptation (in which I also acted) of the Jennings books prompted the Erdington News to lead with 'Boredom Drove David, Age 12, to Write Play'. All downhill after that I'm afraid. Failed to train on in racing parlance. I never did hang out much with the cool kids.


Advent 7

Under An English Heaven - Robert Radcliffe

My father and grandfather were both air force officers, the latter as a member of bomber crews. This novel celebrates the particular merit of that warrior class. Ordinary men made extraordinary by combat.

A simple stone cross had been erected before it, and a brass plaque read: 'To the memory of the men of the 520th Bombardment Group, 8th US Army Air Force, Bedenham, England, who gave their lives in the name of freedom, 1942-1945. Their name liveth for evermore.' 

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Advent 6

The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald

You know how some things are so hyped that when you finally come to experience them, they are a let-down. Well that is exactly what I expected with Gatsby. Nothing could surely be that good. But it's the damnedest thing - it really is that good. Thanks to Rachel because she studied it for 'A' level and it was that which made me read it. As with most things in life, she understands the book better than I do but even I am not enough of a churl to resent my children being cleverer than I am. On the contrary, I take great pride in it.

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.
‘Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,’ he told me, ‘just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.'

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Advent 5

Berlin Game - Len Deighton

The great sadness of the fall of the Berlin Wall is that there is no call now for the old-fashioned spy thriller, in which all the protagonists are grubby and compromised.

This is an exemplar of the genre by a most professional and skilled writer.

The competence of the writing is not the only aspect of this book which appeals. No, I have vivid memories of the time when I read it - I was not, as they say, in a good place and this was a pleasing distraction.

'How long have we been sitting here?' I said. I picked up the field glasses and studied the bored young American soldier in his glass-sided box.
'Nearly a quarter of a century,' said Werner Volkman.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Advent 4

David Copperfield - Charles Dickens

I have to admit that I have always struggled with Dickens, indeed with the Victorians in general, apart, of course, from my fixation with my boy Walter Bagehot. Bagehot, incidentally, rather despised Dickens.

But I stuck with the project and David Copperfield and the Kindle came to my rescue. One of the great strengths of the Kindle is the array of classics you can download for nothing and carry around for those moments when you can actually face them. Where else but my pocket can you find cheek by jowl Das Kapital and the King James Bible?

Dickens himself seems to have had a soft spot for Copperfield as the Preface to a later edition revealed,
Of all my books, I like this the best. It will be easily believed that I am a fond parent to every child of my fancy, and that no one can ever love that family as dearly as I love them. But, like many good parents, I have in my heart a favourite child. And his name is DAVID COPPERFIELD.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Advent 3

Debt of Honour - Tom Clancy
In retrospect, it would seem an odd way to start a war. Only one of the participants knew what was really happening, and even that was a coincidence.
So commences this high-grade piece of conspiracy hokum. Doubtless I have shredded what little credibility I have as literary critic but one thing you have to say about Tom Clancy - boy can he do plot. Never mind the deficiencies in characterisation, blah, blah blah, feel the width of the plot.

This novel also (spoiler alert) anticipated the mode of most infamous terrorist outrage by eight years.
So, thus far we have had two books for children and an airport pot-boiler. Tomorrow I will try to redeem myself. 

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Advent 2

The House At Pooh Corner - A.A. Milne

Another one for children of all ages. Don't worry all you serious souls there will be some grown-up books later in the season.

I've had a good old think about this and, do you know what, I think the Pooh books may just be the funniest in the English language. And yes I have considered Dickens (funny but lacks brevity which is the soul of, well you know), Wodehouse (undoubtedly a contender), Kingsley Amis in Lucky Jim (brutally funny), Three Men In A Boat (considered and wholeheartedly rejected - sorry chaps I just don't get it), Waugh, Raven, Powell etc etc. No if you want to laugh and feel unsullied about it, you can't beat a good Pooh. Apologies I couldn't resist that, which explains my own absence from the list I suppose.

One day when Pooh Bear had nothing else to do, he thought he would do something, so he went round to Piglet's house to see what Piglet was doing. It was still snowing as he stumped over the the white forest track, and he expected to find Piglet warming his toes in front of his fire, but to his surprise he saw that the door was open, and the more he looked inside the more Piglet wasn't there.
Not a wasted word. Top prose from the Boy Milne.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Advent 1

The Silver Sword - Ian Serraillier

A book from my childhood but a book for all times and ages. Its epigraph is from Tippett's Child of Our Time,
Here is no final grieving, but an abiding hope.
The moving waters renew the earth. It is spring.

Much to my delight I have located my ancient Puffin paperback copy this morning, priced both in old and in decimal currency so my guess is I first read this in 1970 or 71. I do know it is a book I returned to numerous times for its sense of dignity and warmth. I discover from the battered old pages that the illustrations are by C.Walter Hodges, the author of another chidhood favourite, The Overland Launch.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Yo Ho Ho. By Their Covers Shall Ye know Them

As the seminal advertisement intones - holidays are coming, holidays are coming, holidays are coming. This is how I introduced the first of my advent calendars two long years ago:

I love Christmas. More particularly I love the build-up to Christmas. I love December. Once we get to 1st December I hold that we can start being festive. So as a treat for our readers we at The Overgraduate are going to construct our own little advent calendar. Each day between now and Christmas Eve (which is of course the very best day of the year, better than Christmas Day itself) we will celebrate a cultural artefact of note. These will be a celebration of the Beast's occasionally low, mostly middle-brow, infrequently high-brow tastes.

All of this still holds true but this year we are introducing a little discipline into the calendar compilation - more fun for me because I have been refining the list for a couple of months now. I have an immodestly titled tome by Harold Bloom on my shelf, How to Read and Why. Now The Overgraduate would never be so bold as to tell you what to read but he will let you have his idea of twenty-four books which have meant a lot to him. And books do furnish a room.

Here are the rules: fiction only; one book per author; romans fleuves - only one volume permitted; there must be a copy in my library; no wizards; editor's decision is final.

While I've got you, one more thing. We watched an episode of The West Wing last night. If something that good can be made in the world's harshest commercial television market, do we really need a licence fee here? Like most questions, I don't have the answer but it makes you think.


Cameron Good, Cameron Bad

Two interesting and important political debates this week. The Boy Cameron is plain wrong on one of them and seems to be stumbling towards being right on the other. By prior standards this improves his career average.

... and a Babycham for the lady please
Let's start with minimum alcohol pricing - a pointless and vacuous policy. Rule 1 - if you find yourself in agreement with that bloated statist (yes that is a deliberate double meaning) Alex Salmond, you should probably have a rethink. This policy is inflationary and victimises the poorer in society. Here's the thing - if you think that alcohol is evil and should be banned then bloody well say so, and while you're at it explain to me if you think either Prohibition era America or modern-day Saudi Arabia is a good model. Retail price maintenance doesn't work. In fact I think we can make a case that it's immoral. Certainly it is not the sensible province of government. This member of the drinking classes will not be much affected by the provisions (my tastes are rather more expensive than that old chap) but that doesn't mean that this policy is other than a piece of patrician bollocks - which given that it is coming from Cameron is probably not something one should be surprised about.

Still Cameron is doing rather better in the face of the Leveson Report, distancing himself a little from those righteous reactionaries Miliband and Clegg. That the press have on occasion behaved execrably is beyond doubt. That our police should do more in the face of abuse is blindingly obvious to all bar Lord Leveson. That stautory interference in the 'press' is undesirable ought to be clear to anyone who thinks our legislators generally a shower of shit. Here's the news - such interference would be beyond the pale even if our parliament were rammed full of modern day saints. And a practical question - what do we mean by the 'press' in the age of Twitter, Facebook and The Overgraduate? Is your correspondent to be licensed/regulated?

Still that's enough of the serious stuff. When next you hear from me it will be to introduce this year's advent calendar. Peace on earth and goodwill to all men indeed.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Of Cookery And Drivel

I love cookery programmes on tv. There's no point in denying this - when it comes to matters culinary I have hitherto been the archetype of the spectating classes who watch rather than do. I have some of the books as well, spines lovingly uncracked and recipes safely unfollowed. My inactivity is not deliberate or applied, it just, well, is. So I have vowed to do a bit of cooking and my good intentions had their first outing yesterday. And because good food is to be shared and I have warm feelings towards you I am taking you on the journey with me.

venison sausages braised
in red wine
We start at page 87 of Delia Smith's Winter Collection, recipe also available at Delia Online. Now I know what you're thinking - where the bloody hell did he get venison sausages? But that's the chef's art you see. I didn't, I substituted Sainsbury's pork and caramelised onion. Worked well. Also substituted red chilli jelly for red currant because that was what I found first on the shelves and I liked the sound of it. Inspired choice methinks. And if you are minded to try this at home, in answer to the inevitable query about where you find juniper berries, the answer is that you resolve to do without them and then find them at the back of the cupboard where Sharon has secreted them. There is red wine in this recipe so please also remember Keith Floyd's golden rule that you should not cook with wine you would not gladly drink. This recipe uses half a bottle so you have to drink the other half yourself. It goes off otherwise. If I say so myself, this first outing of the Galloping Overgraduate was a resounding success - Sharon has booked me for a repeat gig next week. The bonus is we now have yet another subject on which I am an expert.

I promised you some drivel as well as cookery and I'm afraid it issued last night from Nicholas Hytner whose production of Timon of Athens I so enjoyed at the National recently - see Overgraduate 9 November. In collecting one of his two London Theatre Awards Hytner rallied the assembled luvvies thus,
He called on Culture Secretary Maria Miller to fund all theatres to the level enjoyed by the National Theatre in order to stimulate philanthropic giving.
"Philanthropy is not an alternative to public money - it is a consequence of public funding," he said.
Does that actually mean anything?

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Of Real Sport

He plays well just to annoy me
Kevin Pietersen, Kevin bloody Pietersen. Only days after my (I still aver accurate) designation of him as an 'extravagantly gifted but aggravating tosser' he made a quite brilliant century in a quite brilliant test match in Mumbai. Report at England v India

Now please note that this innings of Our Kev is noteworthy because it was made in a proper cricket match, the very pinnacle of the sport. It was the 22nd occasion on which Pietersen has passed 100 in test cricket, a feat his stoic captain, Alastair Cook had beaten him to by a matter of minutes. These are things worth lauding, as is almost nothing achieved in the non-cricket that is Twenty20. I have given it some thought and have decided that this is a subject on which I should refrain from my usual live and let live type tolerance. There are people who disgaree with me on this matter but I would remind you that there are also people whom we actually allow to vote and who will swear that Andrew Lloyd Webber is better than Mozart. Res ipsa loquitur.

I would go so far as to say that of all man's competitive inventions the game of test cricket played between sovereign nations on a spinning wicket is the very best. And that comes from a rugby man whose cricket skills (unlike those of his brother) were decidedly sub-standard. Catch it while you can because once Twenty20 takes over the world cricket will be as relevant in sporting terms as WWE.

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat, please put a penny in the old man's hat. As you wade through the accumulations of blizzard degree commercial blandishments, you are no doubt sustained, as am I, by the imminence of the cultural jamboree that is the Overgraduate advent calendar - twenty-four days of cultural delight and enlightenment, or delightenment as I have decided to market it. I have a real treat for you this year, the qualifying rules for which will be explained next week. The official betting partner of this site (for those wishing to speculate on the likely identity of door 24) is Ladbrokes because I find their adverts with Chris Kamara very droll.       

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Beautifully Made, Empty And Very Violent

My title is the summation given in Halliwell's Film Guide of Once Upon A Time In The West. Halliwell also accords it three stars (four is his maximum) which, rather aptly I think, puts it in the company of Pulp Fiction. So yes you should see it but don't get carried away by it. What would you do without me?

Sharon's out which is why I watched it this evening. Not her sort of thing at all.

Degrees Of Separation

Have you seen those new advertisements featuring Kevin Bacon? Good aren't they? Except of course that I have no real idea what it is supposed to send me out to buy. Is it something to do with 4G, because if so I'm afraid these sorts of decision are out of my control. Anyway, I think they're clever.

let the serendipity commence
Which brings me to the point. I like serendipity. I am presently listening to Charlie Mingus's Tijuana Moods. I am listening to the entire album in the correct order - it is a fact that middle-aged men of my type worry that the iPod shuffle feature is killing appreciation of the album as a distinct art form. This is another of those subjects to which I may return.

So I notice that the next track listed after the Mingus album is Charlotte Gainsbourg's AF607105 and I just ponder whether the flight number of the title has some particular significance. Thus do I toddle to the serendipitist's default method ie. as the young so charmingly put it, I Google that shit. Whereupon I discover that the lyric to the song was written by that prince among men Jarvis Cocker. In my view Cocker should get a knighthood, but what do I know? 

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Dear Auntie

The BBC is problematic. I swing between thanking the lord for it and wishing it abolished. These are the six public purposes identified in its royal charter and the Beeb's own thumbnail sketches of how they deliver

Sustaining citizenship and civil society

The BBC provides high-quality news, current affairs and factual programming to engage its viewers, listeners and users in important current and political issues.

Promoting education and learning

The support of formal education in schools and colleges and informal knowledge and skills building.

Stimulating creativity and cultural excellence

Encouraging interest, engagement and participation in cultural, creative and sporting activities across the UK.

Representing the UK, its nations, regions and communities

BBC viewers, listeners and users can rely on the BBC to reflect the many communities that exist in the UK.

Bringing the UK to the world and the world to the UK

The BBC will build a global understanding of international issues and broaden UK audiences' experience of different cultures.

Delivering to the public the benefit of emerging communications technologies and services

Assisting UK residents to get the best out of emerging media technologies now and in the future.
This list contains a predictable dose of blather but rather as with motherhood and apple pie it would be churlish to condemn its sentiments. So I won't - not today anyway. I reserve the right to churlishness at a later date. The £3.885 billion question is whether a mandatory licence fee (and about £270 million of other government funding - a mere bagatelle my boy) is the way to achieve these vague aims. Here's a few pros and cons.

Credit (Debit): Count Arthur Strong's Radio Show (any repeat of the Clitheroe Kid); Kirsty Wark (Jeremy Paxman); Jim Naughtie (John Humphrys); Clare Balding (Willy Carson). Please don't start me on Jo Whiley. I mean really there's no excuse.

So that's it - a not even vaguely in-depth analysis of public broadcasting.

Ponder this: the BBC failed to spot what most bar room philosophers had guessed years ago, that Jimmy Savile was a nonce. In their proper guilt at this oversight they next rushed to condemn a politician who had never been to Wrexham much less gone there regularly to bugger schoolboys. They then conducted an onanistic witch-hunt with a view to burning one of themselves at the stake and having got their scapegoat felt so convinced of their rectitude that they paid him compensation but decided to burn him anyway. This we are told is the behaviour of an organisation the envy of the world. Masters are you mad?

The Sporting Nation

We English have been taking a bit of a pasting lately.

Perhaps no shame in losing to this goal:

In fact no shame in losing at any sport - shame is for bigger things. However I think we are entitled to a little grumble about our rugby and cricket teams and the manner of their defeats by Australia and India respectively. The rugby defeat put the captain's optimism/naivety into perspective but let me remind you that Chris Robshaw has been here before, in the less exacting context (though it surprised me at the time that not more was made of it) of Harlequins' defeat at Connacht in last season's Heineken Cup. He and his teammates proved quick learners thereafter. Same again please.

No criticism of the captain sustainable with the cricket but others were pitiful, notably and predictably Kevin Pietersen. What an extravagantly gifted but aggravating tosser.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Thought(s) For The Day

This An Inspector Calls business has the power to make you ponder a bit. Though not last night during an epically, comically, worryingly inept technical rehearsal. Still a good night's sleep and an enjoyable perusal of the Argentinian Pumas dismembering the curiously uninvolved Welsh in Cardiff (catch highlights at Wales v Argentina) have got me out of a mild pessimism and back on the philosophical treadmill, in between bouts of line learning. Which treadmill has generated the energy to cut and paste these conflicting gobbets of wisdom.
But just remember this. One Eva Smith has gone - but there are millions and millions and millions of Eva Smiths and John Smiths still left with us, with their lives, their hopes and fears, their suffering and chance of happiness, all intertwined with our lives, with what we think and say and do. We don't live alone. we are members of one body. we are responsible for each other. And I tell you that the time will come when, if men will not learn that lesson, then they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish. Goodnight. (Inspector's final speech in An Inspector Calls) 
Now where there are no parts, there neither extension, nor shape, nor divisibility is possible. And these monads are the true atoms of nature and, in a word, the elements of things.
(Gottfried Leibnitz 1646-1716) 
The state is the great fictitious entity by which everyone seeks to live at the expense of everyone else.
(Frederick Bastiat 1801-1850)
Or are they conflicting? Discuss - as examination questions often used to say.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Peering Over The Fiscal Cliff

I saw the wholly laudable National Theatre production of Timon of Athens last week, another very worthwhile day trip to that London. The professional critics have had their say so Simon Russell Beale needs no extra boosting from this amateur but there was much to admire and stimulate even beyond his central brilliance: the staging, Hilton McRae as Apemantus, the not so sly digs at certain celebrities (I wonder if Tracy Emin saw herself), the seamless editing of the difficult (and some argue incomplete) text and, not least, the adequacy of the pre-performance sauvignon blanc. It is a play that sits very nicely in an atmosphere of capitalistic self-doubt. Its run was sponsored by Travelex - money changers in the cultural temple.

I saw Timon whilst in the middle of reading Atlas Shrugged, a novel to which I will return in a later blog but whose themes, much as your modern bog-standard American liberals might like to deny it, chime rather nicely with this unfamiliar corner of Shakespeare. And by another nice coincidence this all sits with rehearsing An Inspector Calls and playing the tragic apologist for 'hard-headed practical men of business' Arthur Birling. Arthur's not all bad you know, but his wife, well that's a different matter.

And just to bring all this into sharper focus we have had an American election which was fought between two schools of legalised plunder - immoral capital and thieving state. As the song goes, this is an age of miracle and wonder, but it is also an age of moral vacuum. But hey ho, it's only a game and, as my old mate Arthur Birling suggests, a man has to make his own way.   

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

At Last A Sane Moderate Voice

Please click the link to hear the brilliant, multilingual, sane socialist Gisela Stuart speaking about the UK's relationship with the EU. We euorosceptics are not all barking mad you know. Mind you the next one who calls me a socialist better watch his back.

a still small voice of calm

Friday, 26 October 2012

... Are Brilliant Mark XII

How bloody clever
This one occurred to me as I crossed between car park and theatre in Stratford a couple of weeks ago. Locks - as in the confined sections of rivers or canals where the level can be changed for raising or lowering boats between adjacent sections. Bloody clever.

Beauty is truth, truth beauty
This next one may seem unlikely for chap who so prizes words but there's a man-made scheme I've always thought utterly brilliant and which is all about telling tales with numbers: double entry book-keeping. The first time it was shown to me (ironically as part of the old, and I have to say lamented, Solicitors' Final Examination Course) it just struck me that this was, as Keats might have put it, a thing of beauty.

Wise guy
Martin Scorsese. I have just listened to an old Film Programme podcast of his interview with the estimable Francine Stock and it sent me scurrying to my notebook with a note to revisit The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp because any recommendation Scorsese makes must be worth following.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

What I Did On My Holidays. Day 4.

A quiet day to finish this too short break on account of Sharon feeling under the weather. Still it's an ill wind etc and it gave me the chance to start learning lines for An Inspector Calls. Also the opportunity to read some more of Atlas Shrugged (don't condemn me yet - judgement to follow in the fullness of time) and to listen to the download of a BBC production of Inspector. 

In deference to Sharon's health we shelved the Pol Roger for a more auspicious occasion and went to the cheaper end of the cellar, well it's the garage actually. I did however do what will doubtless be the final barbecue of the season. The primeval thrill of open fire cooking is yet more exaggerated by the fall of darkness over the flames. Show me the power of man's red flower, as King Louis so astutely demanded in the canonical Jungle Book, Disney version not Kipling natch, though family lore has it I read the latter when little more than a foetus.

We're so retro darling, you know we even have a VHS player at our country estate and it was on this venerable machine that we watched Wilde, a copy of which would appear to have been lying unwatched for a decade and a half. Not bad actually, the first half too fragmentary, the second (once the odious Bosie appears on the scene) more compelling. Stephen Fry very good as Wilde but the revelation to me was Jude Law, commandingly loathsome as Bosie, capturing what Roger Ebert describes as the character's 'fatuous egotism'.

Caught a nice line while station hopping yesterday on the way to the bottle bank (we have a gold account) - 'Me, a narcissist? If I was a narcissist I'd be the first person to know about it.'

Monday, 22 October 2012

What I Did On My Holidays. Day 3.

Middle age brings an ability to be excited by the mundane. So it is that the delivery of  a new fridge to the Roberts' coastal estate was yesterday's big news. It completes the refurbishment of the kitchen undertaken by my own artisan hands. The walls are magnolia (it looks better than it sounds) and the panelling is a brighter shade of green than Sharon would have chosen but I was alone in B&Q when I made the choice. The piece de resistance is the new floor - self-adhesive vinyl tiles which, if I say so myself, look rather bloody marvellous.

But the fridge is not all that happened yesterday. I played golf - nine holes (for that is all there is) at Baron Hill Golf Club in Beaumaris. I am considering taking up country membership. I hardly ever play these days but the price, typically of this blessed island, is far from ruinous and the occasional holiday dalliance with the stupid game might be welcome. The course is apparently the oldest nine hole course in Wales and it is rocky, hilly, charming and suitably forgiving to what I now am - a duffer prone to unlikely outbursts of competence.

I took this from the Overgraduate chopper yesterday.
It took me ages to paint those white lines on the golf course. 
 Chilean sauvignon blanc again yesterday while watching the excellent Homeland. Tonight,  barbecue with Pol Pot's friendlier younger brother, Roger.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

What I Did On My Holidays. Day 2.

Shaz and Dave on the Orme
 The Great Orme. Even better views than Portmeirion and these are absolutely free if you take on the mildly strenuous task of walking all the way to the top. Alternatively you can be a day tripper and take the cablecar or the tram or even drive up. You should walk. I prepared for our expedition by eating a generous portion of Llandudno seafront cod and chips which is no doubt what Hillary and Tensing scoffed before they set off up Everest. There are several paths up the Orme. Take a circular route by following a different one down and thereby make sure you get to take in the views both east and west.

Chilean sauvignon blanc with tea. Very acceptable.

What I Did On My Holidays. Day 1 - Evening.

We have acquired a bargain box set of twenty Woody Allen films so happily watched Manhattan again. I say again but I don't think I had actually watched this since seeing it at the cinema back in 1979. It had not inspired affection in me whereas many other Allen films have done so. I think I've detected the problem - it's not Annie Hall, a film which has massive emotional resonance because Sharon and I saw it on our first date.

Anyway, I suspect I enjoyed it more this time around. It still isn't Annie Hall but it doesn't set out to be. It is not Woody Allen's fault that you only go on one first date. Less whimsical, it is Allen's paean to a city he loves and the conflicted people who live there. It is funny but not as pressingly so - mind you it has several treasurable Allenisms - at one point he credits Diane Keaton's character with winning the Zelda Fitzgerald award for emotional stability. The black and white cinematography is stunning and the insistent score is key. Not one for the top fifty (which I promised to foist on you ages ago and still haven't done) but definitely worth catching.

We had pasta and garlic bread for tea washed down with cava. I recommend this as well.

Friday, 19 October 2012

What I Did On My Holidays. Day 1.

Rhod Gilbert puts it best, 'Come to Wales ... it's not shit any more.'

We spent today at Portmeirion, Clough Williams-Ellis' bizarre and lovely folly. Not one building but more than forty perched beautifully on a private peninsula.

Williams-Ellis worked on the site from 1925 to his death in 1978, fitting this consuming hobby around his professional practice as an architect. Before he acquired the site he had found time to serve in the Great War, winning the M.C. in the Tank Regiment. He lost his only son at Monte Cassino in the second War. I also note that he had attended Oundle School thus proving that my dear friend ViperJohn was not the first glorious nutter to grace that hall of academe. 

Portmeirion is not pristine. It has an air of getting-by rather than profiteering and is an antidote to the Disneyfication of architectural whimsy. The architecture adds to the scenery rather than seeking to overwhelm it. There's lovely.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Lions Led By Donkeys?

"Don't worry, all we have to do
is seem less preposterous than
Harriet Harman and John Bercow.
Piece of piss"
David Cameron is a muppet. Ed Miliband is worse. Nick Clegg is a tosser. That's it for the in-depth political analysis. Really though, I, like millions of others, have paid my taxes and (relatively speaking) behaved myself and now I get governed by a complete shower of shit. What happened? Consider these two chapters of utter incompetence both born of the Boy Cameron's desire to seem in touch. Act your IQ not your shoe size you muppet.
Killing burglars is cool
Gas price shambles

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

You're 'Aving A Larf

Tomorrow belongs to me
They do these things to wind me up I'm sure. A couple of years ago I observed that Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize by reason purely of not being George W. Bush. St Barack at least had the decency to seem mildly embarrassed by the episode.

Now the august judges have gone much further and awarded the prize to the European Union whose unelected President the Great Potentate Baron Jose Manuel of Barroso has signally failed to display any Obamaesque unease at this award. One does have to have a giggle at the thought of the spendthrift EU being on the receiving end of a million oncers from the Nobel committee. I bet it lasted all of a couple of seconds.

And if the EU got the award for, let us say, not being Communist Russia or perhaps, whisper it only, not being Nazi Germany, then might it not have been better directed to that greater buttress of European peace, NATO?

But what do I know and who is John Galt?

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

God Bless America ... Oh And James Naughtie As Well

It is hardly a novel observation that America is a frustrating contradiction. I veer from railing against its inanities (of left and right, of Obama and Ryan) to recalling how it welcomed my twenty-one year old self and tilted me gently towards manhood. Its sense of possibility is compelling and through all my world-weariness it again dragged me back to hope last week.

I sat in the corner of the Arden Hotel last Friday, a lone theatre goer, cradling a glass of sauvignon blanc (favoured pre-theatrical beverage) and passing the time before a performance of Pericles, Prince of Tyre. As with most poseurs I had as company a book of poetry - you know that game you play when you sit in a public bar and pass judgement on the other customers, well for others in the Arden last week the mot juste would have been wanker. So there I was, the wanker reading poetry, when America came riding over the hill like the cavalry. Frances E. W. Harper was the daughter of freed slaves and used her poetry to advocate racial equality. As with all the best writing, this lends itself to appropriation:

"Bury Me in a Free Land"

Make me a grave where'er you will,
            In a lowly plain, or a lofty hill;
            Make it among earth's humblest graves,
            But not in a land where men are slaves.

I could not rest if around my grave
            I heard the steps of a trembling slave;
            His shadow above my silent tomb
            Would make it a place of fearful gloom.

 I could not rest if I heard the tread
            Of a coffle gang to the shambles led,
            And the mother's shriek of wild despair
            Rise like a curse on the trembling air.

            I could not sleep if I saw the lash
            Drinking her blood at each fearful gash,
            And I saw her babes torn from her breast,
            Like trembling doves from their parent nest.

I'd shudder and start if I heard the bay
           Of bloodhounds seizing their human prey,
           And I heard the captive plead in vain
           As they bound afresh his galling chain.

If I saw young girls from their mother's arms
            Bartered and sold for their youthful charms,
            My eye would flash with a mournful flame,
            My death-paled cheek grow red with shame.

I would sleep, dear friends, where bloated might
            Can rob no man of his dearest right;
            My rest shall be calm in any grave
            Where none can call his brother a slave.

I ask no monument, proud and high,
            To arrest the gaze of the passers-by;
            All that my yearning spirit craves,
            Is bury me not in a land of slaves.

Download at iTunes (other systems
are available, but I don't know how
to use them)
So that's America dealt with. Next James Naughtie. He did a model interview with the Prime Minister on Radio 4 this morning - catch it if you can because even the assiduously fair-minded Naughtie got frustrated with Cameron's smooth evasions. But it is not Naughtie as political interviewer I want you to revel in. No, I want you to download as many podcasts of Book Club as you can. I have just listened to J.G. Ballard and Philip Pullman in quick succession. That is why I pay my licence fee.

Monday, 8 October 2012

The Anti-Golf

I have avoided the subject of the Ryder Cup for a week now. So here are some observations/reservations.

Ryder Cup aside can anybody point me in the direction of popular european unity?

Magnificent as the moment may have been why did Martin Kaymer not first shake his opponent's hand before leaping into the arms of his teammates? The other way round and there would have been grumbling.

What had happened to the rough at poor old Medinah? Does a great golf course really need to be emasculated to accommodate a long slugging cum putting contest? Sublety used to be one of golf's great markers.

All of which sounds a little carping. So finally I will say this: bloody great television (despite that awful twat Rob Lee - has there ever been a greater contrast than between him and the peerless Ewan Murray?), bloody great sport, simply bloody great.