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.