Sunday, 20 January 2013

In The Deep Midwinter

It's snowing. It's snowing. I love the snow. It excuses isolated indolence within our lovely home. In fact we haven't been utterly indolent - yesterday we walked down to the shops, no doubt inspired by the Shackleton documentary we'd watched the night before. We bought Mexican food which we had for tea last night.

Well, what have I been up to in the post-Christmas lull? Ooh, this and that, you know, this and that. I've been putting in some time with my old Victorian mate Walter Bagehot - there may be an element of the self-fulfilling prophecy but I find a lot of modern resonance in good old Walt's oeuvre. Remember that con-artist Tony Blair and 'Education. Education. Education.' Well try this for size,
Our University has shown upon what principles a sound and sensible culture can be given to young men sincerely bred in different religious creeds, without sacrificing either the faith to the culture or the culture to the faith … The cry should now be “Educate! Educate! Educate!”
 
That was Walter to the graduates of God's own University of London in 1867. A time, by the way, when the University had its own MP voted for by the alumni. Sounds a great idea to me. I see no sound reason why I shouldn't have at least two votes to the one of most mortals.

We went to see Merry Wives of Windsor at the RSC. A beautifully staged production of a lesser play which, to my mind, tails off in the final acts. A good night though. I do recommend the rebuilt Royal Shakespeare Theatre as a congenial performance space.

Time spent with Walter also gets me thinking about the stinking morass that is modern constitutional politics. I've been having some thoughts as to what Bagehot would make of the EU. To the extent that it disenfranchises its citizens and leaves government to an elite, he might be anticipated to approve. However Bagehot accepted such arrangements to the extent that they were either efficient or dignified. You will have a job convincing me which category le Grand Projet can squeeze itself into.

I'll tell you who is efficient - that Alex Salmond. He has manoeuvred the SNP into a position of beautifully unaccountable power. You have to admire his method. And even more skilfully he knows his limits - he will always struggle to tick the dignified box so he would keep the monarchy for that purpose. Hard to deny that Queen Elizabeth II does dignity in spades. I bet he's read his Bagehot. She definitely has. Daft they ain't. Heard him the other day on the radio and his latest little tic is never to say just 'Scotland' but 'oil rich, green energy rich, Scotland.' I wish him well. If the Scots transpire to want the sort of Scotland Salmond would want, a Scandinavian annexe, then they can go with my blessing because the majority of the English, to the extent they ever really think about such things, want something fundamentally different. In an uncomfortable way I rather admire Salmond.

Ronan O'Gara has received  a one week ban for full-on kicking a bloke last weekend in a Heineken Cup match. Apparently they took account of his 'previous good record.' Wtf - if you added up all the yards he has run over the years to land a cheap shot in fights that were none of his damned business you'd get to Cork and back a good few times. Gobshite. 

Friday, 11 January 2013

12 Films At Christmas - 11 & 12

A pair of enjoyable caper movies to finish off the dozen. First we pose the biggest question in the film world - how was it that Guy Ritchie simply could not make a decent film whilst married to Madonna but, as soon as he got unspliced, he relocated his mojo? Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is a right good lark and Robert Downey Jr may have his personal issues but he has watchability in spades.

And it is watchability/star quality/charisma which carries our final film - The Sting. Newman and Redford. Enough said.

So that is it - a dozen films selected rather at random and, I am pleased to conclude, only one dud amongst them. This is the last time I will mention Anonymous but if I ever learn that you have watched it despite my warnings then I will ban you from this blog. It's for your own good.

Monday, 7 January 2013

12 Films At Christmas - 9 & 10

We next come to two adaptations from children's literature and this gives me an excuse to vent a bit of prejudiced steam at what constitutes good reading, as if you hadn't had enough of that through Advent.

The Harry Potter novels have much to answer for. I did my English degree with members of the Potter generation and if they got their taste for books from Potter then I'm all in favour. As plain story-telling they are great - a ripping good yarn. And yes I did read them all because like everyone else I cared what happened to the characters. However the later books in the sequence have no sense of self-control. Had Rowling become too important to be edited? These books are hundreds of pages too long. There is another problem - magic can cover-up any number of implausibilities of plot and circumstance. It is a lazy device if not treated carefully. But on balance I very much approve - something about which the author will I'm sure give not a damn.

All of which very long-windedly brings me to Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Second in the sequence and not  a bad film if you like that sort of thing, which, on the whole, I do. But it works like this - I prefer the Potter books to the films, whereas I prefer the Lord of the Rings films to the books. Does that make me a bad person? Final word on this film - it includes Dobby the house elf, a great creation, and it contains next to nothing of the Weasley twins thus sparing us from surely the worst sustained cinematic acting of all time.

Our staircase walls are adorned by twenty-one framed reproduction Herge prints from the Tintin books. They look great. I grew up with these books; my older daughter has a set of the books bought for her by an attentive and wise godfather. So I came to the Spielberg adaptation with trepidation - these books deserved a heady mix of reverence and chutzpah. I need not have feared. Bloody great film even when seen in boring old 2D. I am thinking of adding Spielberg to my Christmas card list. Boy done good.

Friday, 4 January 2013

12 Films At Christmas - 7 & 8

We delved into the Woody Allen box-set again a couple of nights ago. Most inappropriately Sharon and I have taken it in turns to be unwell since Christmas so we have watched a lot on the television whilst kept from our normally giddy social life. Those detecting a heavy dose of sarcasm in that last remark will not be wide of the mark.

The only problem (and for reasons I will go into it is probably not really a problem anyway) with watching a lot of Wooody Allen is that you can see some of the jokes coming. Not that I'm complaining - I have always liked Jewish masturbation jokes. In this film it comes (ooh err Mrs) early on - Woody's wife suggests that they cannot have children because he has 'ruined' himself - perhaps by excessive masturbation - 'Leave my hobbies alone' ,Woody snaps back

Hannah and Her Sisters isn't really a film with anywhere to go but it meanders beautifully and is graced by a performance from an absolute master of cinematic acting, Michael Caine. Less is so much more in his hands. As to the familiarity of Allen's themes and methods, well, when Wayne Rooney scores a goal one doesn't bemoan having seen him do it before. Woody Allen is a prolific goal scorer.

And next we have the absolute antidote to the complete guff that is Anonymous (see film number 1 in this thread). I have often opined on the role of the clever bastard in cultural delivery and now I give you Exhibit A - Tom Stoppard. What an absolute blinding screenplay he delivered for Shakespeare In Love. Where Anonymous pretends to learning, Shakespeare In Love wears genuine scholarship lightly. Where Anonymous insults great reputations, Shakespeare In Love gently burnishes them without being po-faced. And another thing - hiding behind the Oscar winning efforts of Gwyneth Paltrow and Judi Dench there is a seriously good supporting turn from Ben Affleck. A cracking good film. In case you have missed the point - Anonymous is a steaming pile of manure.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Old Dave's Almanack 2013

Including a review of last year's predictions and this year's less than confident sooth-saying.

Here was my predictive menu for 2012:
2012? Well France will win the Six Nations now they have a decent coach. Wales will not be as good as their followers are being encouraged to anticipate. England will be half-decent which will make the appointment of a permanent new coach all the trickier. Anticipate serious civil unrest in southern Europe. My capital wealth will be further eroded by the malfeasance of others. Goldman Sachs will prosper, though hopefully not in India. GB will win 16 gold medals at the Olympics. Our press will charcterise this as failure. Public sector employees will eventually have to accept that their pensions are unsustainable and their industrial action will fail to attract its own Billy Elliot style romanticism - there will be no ballet dancing son of a geography teacher plucking at the heart-strings of the public.
 
Time to eat some humble pie.
  • France disappointed me but they do have a decent coach and their autumnal hammering of the Australians augurs well. They suffer from the same problem that besets English professional soccer - a domestic championship stuffed to the gunnels with foreign galacticos.
  • Wales set off as if determined to rub my nose in it, winning all five games to take a Grand Slam (albeit with some spineless assistance from that show-pony Steve Walsh) but have since then lost seven consecutive matches, including home defeats by Argentina and Samoa. On balance I got this one right.
  • I was spot on about England and the coaching appointment.
  • 25% unemployment in the southern european states can surely not be sustained peacably for too much longer.
  • According to my banker I am marginally richer than I was a year ago. This is a recovery built on foundations of sand.
  • Gloriously wrong on the Olympics. See earlier blogs from my vantage point as a volunteer under label 'London 2012'. A sheer bloody triumph - the Olympics that is, not my blog.
  • Public sector pensions - start a conversation on this one with friends in the pub and wait till the teacher present goes for a piss to find out what people really think. Not pretty. Actually, don't start that conversation - save your sanity and just let this run its own mucky course.
2013: France to win the Six Nations but no Grand Slam; England to continue to progress but haltingly; Wales to recover; Lions to win series in Australia. I can't be arsed with any precise political predictions because we will merely have a tiresome early setting of ground for a UK election not apparently due until 2015 - this setting of the date years in advance being one of the powers President Dave vainly took unto himself upon his non-election in 2010. America will stagger towards recovery not because of any political will but because it is America. The American century may be over but don't expect this remarkable country to lie down and be upstaged without a fight, certainly not by as immoral a beast as China.

It is midday on 1 January and already I feel tired. Best advice I can give is that which I use to sustain myself: don't let the bastards wear you down.