Monday, 29 December 2014

12 Films At Christmas - 10

The Candidate (1972) - I remember watching this film on television with my father back in the 1970's and I recall in particular his assertion that this was a good example of America's laudable skill in washing its dirty linen in public.

This film prefigures Primary Colors and to a lesser degree The West Wing. As in both of those examples our protagonist is a Democrat  - as in Primary Colors, but decidedly not in The West Wing, the putative hero transpires to have feet of clay. Good stuff - and all of it written before Watergate had even started. 7.5/10

Saturday, 27 December 2014

12 Films At Christmas - 8 & 9

An interesting comparison between the latest (third?) golden era of Disney animation and its first .

Frozen is the modern offering. Slick CGI animation, good characterisation and a plot that zips along. All in all then a good film but, if I must be critical (and I must) I found it mildly unengaging and somehow too clinical in its artwork. Could be an age thing. 7/10.

The product of an earlier vintage is Pinocchio and I think, after due deliberation (and a bit more just in case) that I have to deem this film brilliant. Beautifully hand-drawn, taut ( not a wasted frame) and nicely disturbing - what does happen to all those naughty boys who are not rescued from metamorphosis into donkeys? This and other early Disney set the parameters of what should be expected from animation, parameters which have still not been expanded despite the advent of CGI. 9/10.
 

Thursday, 25 December 2014

12 Films At Christmas - 5, 6 & 7

I have been keeping my dear old Dad company for the last few days whilst Mater has been in hospital. We have watched three films together and here is my review of each.

In quick succession we on one evening, courtesy of ITV, watched Mission Impossible and Tomorrow Never Dies. The first of these features the ever watchable Tom Cruise and an almost total lack of comprehensible plot. Somehow the lack of plot doesn't matter as the film races from one entertaining improbability to another. You are rarely more than a few minutes away from an explosive piece of action, all under the expert direction of Brian De Palma. The final set-piece has a helicopter chasing a train down the Channel Tunnel. Fun. 6/10.

Tomorrow Never Dies is a not dissimilar piece of work but on an even more lavish scale with James Bond tongue-in-cheekery thrown in. It's not Skyfall or even Goldfinger but it's also a long way from being the worst Bond film. Piers Brosnan is a good Bond, the chase with the remotely controlled BMW is terrific and making the arch-villain a megalomaniac media baron is a neat twist. Also 6/10.

Our third cinematic venture was a very different kettle of fish but the best of the three. The Way Ahead dates from 1944, is directed by Carol Reed, co-authored by Eric Ambler and Peter Ustinov, and features more familiar British acting faces than you can shake a stick at. It would make an interesting companion piece for the much later and infinitely less optimistic Full Metal Jacket (see Overgraduate 17 December) since the latter's structure follows that of the former - raw military recruits being taken through training and then switching to their eventual deployment in battle. 7.5/10.

Advent 24

My apologies to anyone sad enough to have been waiting with bated breath for the concluding calendar entry. Due to a bizarre confluence of funerals, illness (of others) and botched amateur house-breaking (of which I will probably write at a later date) I was remote from internet access yesterday. Still, I'm pretty sure you will have guessed the unimaginative concluding cultural influence. Without apology I give you quite simply the greatest writer of them all - the Boy Shakespeare.

So much has been said about the Bard that his work can seem impenetrable. It categorically is not. If I was conducting a crash induction course I would start at the Globe preferably with a production of Macbeth - the plays were written to be watched live and performed raucously. I would move on to recommend Frank Kermode's Shakespeare's Language, a magisterially composed rescue from critical density of Shakespeare the dramatic poet. Next we would watch Julie Taymor's Titus followed by some WWE Wrestling as an illustration of modern context. And then I would realise that I was being presumptuous and pass the inductee into the hands of the peerless scholar Jonathan Bate, courtesy of his Soul of the Age - from which I now shamelessly quote.
Both 'not of an age' and 'Soul of the Age'. For Ralph Waldo Emerson, writing in nineteenth-century New England, Shakespeare was 'inconceivably wise', possessed of a brain so uniquely vast that no one can penetrate it. But at the same time, he was the incarnation of 'a cause, a country and an age'. It is this double quality that makes Shakespeare, in Emerson's fine phrase, the representative poet.
Happy Christmas one and all, and may your God go with you.
 

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Advent 23

Mindful as I am that it is terribly bad form to quote oneself, I nevertheless must refer you to my own entry on the estimable Victorian Web - a brief biography of Walter Bagehot. Readers of this blog and those who know me will already have been bored by me on the subject of this flawed Victorian genius but for anyone interested I refer you to Bagehot Biography

Tomorrow my ultimate cultural hero - about whom I have also unapologetically bored my acquaintances rigid.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Advent 22

Today we have the quite brilliant Clive James. Because his work is so accessible it is easy to overlook the enormity of his intellect. He is poet, lyricist, critic, commentator and novelist. It was dipping into his awesome Cultural Amnesia that gave me the idea for the calendar this year. Mine is a motley collection of twenty-four thumbnail sketches from the edges of reason. James' is an imperious array of one hundred plus cultural essays. Still imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. His essays and my calendar have only one common subject and that is Margaret Thatcher.

Clive James' best work? The lyrics he wrote for Pete Atkins' compositions in the 1970's - the more recent stuff is not quite as good. My absolute favourite lines,
I've got the only cure for life/ and the cure for life is joy/ I'm the crying man that everyone calls laughing boy.
 
 

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Advent 21

Rain Steam and Speed
Ruskin judged Joseph Mallord William Turner one of the 'seven supreme colourists of the world.' The
Boy Roberts from his perch in the half grown tree of big ignorance thinks him the greatest painter ever. So two pictures today - one of the man by the man and the other of a train by the man. Don't take my word for it, go to the National Gallery and see the original - it's free. That's why I pay my taxes.


Saturday, 20 December 2014

Advent 20

Simon Raven was described (by Roy Hattersley I think) as having the pen of an angel and the mind of a cad. This is apt. He was a jobbing writer, indeed his ruinously spendthrift tendencies meant that he had to be - Spike Milligan commented that Raven would have dramatised the phone book if there was a fee in it. However his finest output is of great literary merit. By finest output I mean the ten novel Alms for Oblivion sequence which he churned out between 1965 and 1975.

When Alms for Oblivion was republished in 1998 Raven wrote an acidic Introduction which properly punctured the flimsy balloon of Cool Britannia.
Once upon a time, however strong and righteous you considered your message, you scorned to become a pest: in 1998, however trivial your grievance, you find yourself encouraged and even 'morally obliged' to become not just a pest but a pestilence … Enough. This little essay has been about certain types of mind-less or sanctimonious behaviour which you will not find in Alms for Oblivion, except in small quantities deliberately introduced to be deplored, despised and mocked. These days you are not allowed to deplore, despise or mock them: they have become 'politically correct'.    

Friday, 19 December 2014

Advent 19

The most oft quoted remark of Margaret Hilda Thatcher bears repetition in full. That fullness gives it some context - a context denied by her vituperative critics.
I think we've been through a period where too many people have been given to understand that if they have a problem, it's the government's job to cope with it: 'I have a problem, I'll get a grant.' 'I'm homeless, the government must house me.' They're casting their problem on society. And, you know, there is no such thing as society. 
There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It's our duty to look after ourselves and then, also to look after our neighbour. People have got the entitlements too much in mind, without the obligations. There's no such thing as entitlement, unless someone has first met an obligation.
If you want to understand the true effectiveness of the Attlee government you need only look at at the collectivist funk into which successive Tory governments got themselves until blasted back into political vigour by Thatcher in 1979. Equally if you want to understand the true effectiveness of Thatcher's three terms in office you need only look at the supine free marketeering of the Blair years. Thatcher, unlike Blair, set the societal mood music.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Advent 18

The common conception is that the genius of Orson Welles was unfairly constricted by the Hollywood studio system. In her magnum opus, The Film Book, Pam Cook argues against this easy analysis,
Welles came to the film industry from radical theatre and radio, a political and aesthetic background that may have clashed with the prevailing ideology of the studio system but nevertheless found a place there, however unstable. His films appear markedly different from other studio products of the time in that they combined the techniques of deep-focus photography, wide-angled lenses, upward-tilting shots, lighting from below, long tracking shots and sets with ceilings in ways that went against the grain of the prevalent realist aesthetic. At the same time, they take full advantage of studio resources and technology.
Take in a Welles film if one is on the television and if you want an extra treat watch out for any old interviews with the man himself. Always fascinating.

Unoriginally, if I had to take just one of his films it would probably be Citizen Kane but I wouldn't be distressed if made to accept Touch of Evil.
  

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

12 Films At Christmas - 4

At the very least I would have to count myself an agnostic when it comes to the cinematic deity that is Stanley Kubrick. I have tried to do otherwise but I'm afraid I have always thought 2001: A Space Odyssey pretentious; Dr Strangelove is just not that funny (this may have something to do with personal antipathy to Peter Sellers - sorry I think he was  over indulged); A Clockwork Orange is an actively nasty little film that does scant justice to a magnificent source novel. So I came to watch Full Metal Jacket with less than eager anticipation. But you know what, it's really rather good.

Kubrick would not fly anywhere and for that reason Norfolk had to double as Vietnam - less than convincingly. The light is distinctly and unconvincingly different from the steamy reality of other Vietnam films (think The Deerhunter perhaps)  but this manages not to be an issue, in fact it may even be an advantage as it forces us to concentrate on the studied bleakness of the story. Definitely not happy family viewing but worth 7.5/10.

Advent 17

I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.
You do not need me to tell you that these were the words with which Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill addressed the House of Commons on the day that he was asked to lead a wartime coalition government. This most martial of politicians had never led a party into an election; he had twice crossed the floor of the Commons, from Conservative to Liberal and eventually back again. He had been both minister of state and a serving soldier during the Great War.

It says much about the Britain he led to salvation that his party was consummately defeated in the immediate post-war election. It says just as much that he again became Prime Minister in 1951.

He resigned from the Conservative Party in 1904 in opposition to Tory protectionism. History probably judges him on the correct side of that debate. He became a staunch anti-communist - again right. But he could be adamantly wrong - he was noisily against Indian home rule in the 1930's.

He was soldier, statesman, artist and author. He won a Nobel prize - for literature. When the BBC ran a series to judge the greatest ever Briton, Churchill's claim was promulgated by a Labour front-bencher. Churchill won the viewers' poll.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Advent 16

Carwyn James was the father of modern rugby coaching and the Lions team he oversaw to series victory in New Zealand inspired my generation of players. I read and re-read the school library copy of John Reason's vivid account of that seminal tour, The Victorious Lions - when I returned to school years later to present sports prizes (no one even remotely famous being available) I took the opportunity temporarily to liberate the book from that library. In a later fit of guilt I took the book back. I hope it is still there and that youngsters still read it.

James, by all accounts, was not an easy man. As a fervent Welsh Nationalist (who stood for Plaid Cymru in the 1970 election) he had no time for British institutions, making it ironic that his crowning achievement should be guiding the British Lions to defeat the All Blacks. He died relatively young but left behind successive generations of us who know that the secret is to get your retaliation in first.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Advent 15

George Orwell's fame these days lies principally with his two great fictions, Animal Farm and 1984, but I would argue that the more material glory lies in his non-fiction.

My beloved old Britannica (1959 edition for which I paid the princely sum of £1 on eBay) sums him up in suitably spare Orwellian prose,
As a prose writer, Orwell is in the radical tradition of Defoe and Cobbett. His criticism (Critical essays, 1946) is revealing and enjoyable. In his essays (Shooting an Elephant, 1950 etc), he shows lightness and grace.
One of the best of those essays is The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius. It was written in 1941 but still reads pertinently today. To quote Britannica again,
He was exceptional among writers of his generation in deliberately living under the social conditions he wrote about.
Here is that arresting Orwell style at work,
Meanwhile England, together with the rest of the world, is changing. And like everything else it can change only in certain directions, which up to a point can be foreseen. That is not to say that the future is fixed, merely that certain alternatives are possible and others are not. A seed may grow or not grow, but at any rate a turnip seed never grows into a parsnip. 
 

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Advent 14

The last of the entries from this year's calendar to have had the misfortune to meet the Boy Roberts.

Monsignor Tom Fallon conducted my marriage (which as anyone will tell you was my finest life move) and twenty-one years later he heard my first confession and administered my first communion. He could appear disorganised even a little dotty but he exuded spirituality. A great advertisement for his faith, he conducted his ministry by humane stealth. He worked on me for more than twenty year without me ever realising he was doing it.                                

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Advent 13

Of the various heroes recounted in this calendar I have met only three. Of those, we have already encountered Alan Murrall and the third will be related in a couple of days. Today however we have a man I spoke to only briefly and that to get him to sign a copy of his book, The Discipline of Law. He used a fountain pen and in a flowing hand inscribed it, 'To David Roberts, Denning M.R.'

An advantage of being a law student in London and in particular at King's is one's proximity to the Royal Courts of Justice. Nobody would have called me an assiduous student but I did pass time between lectures and before the bar opened watching Alfred Thompson Denning (Lord Denning, Master of the Rolls) administering justice in his matchless style. More than anything else one had the feeling of watching a great and accessible intellect at work. Here is Denning describing his method,

I refer sometimes to previous authorities - I have to do so - because I know that people are prone not to accept my views unless they have support from the books. But never at much length. Only a sentence or two. I avoid all reference to pleadings and orders - unless something turns on them. They are mere lawyer's stuff. They are unintelligible to anyone else. I finish with an epilogue - again as the chorus does in Shakespeare. In it I gather the threads together and give the result. I never say 'I regret having to come to this conclusion but I have no option'. There is always a way round - in my philosophy - by which justice can be done.
Denning lived for a century and I have read it said that in his dotage he betrayed some unsatisfactory opinions. That is sad but it is by his professional body of work that we should judge him and that, to my mind, makes him the greatest jurist of the twentieth century.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Advent 12

Clement Attlee, Prime Minister between 1945 and 1951: the man who in those six years set the agenda for the politics of the United Kingdom for more than a quarter of a century. Mass nationalisation, the NHS etc etc. All else that followed in that quarter century was a botched impression of Attlee's managed economy. His, then, was the world in which I grew up notwithstanding that he had been out of office for  nine years by the time I was born. The assumption of the permanence of socialism was not meaningfully questioned until I was old enough to vote. As legacies go you have got to say that is pretty impressive

He led the Labour Party for twenty years and on his retirement accepted an hereditary earldom. His grandson, the Third Earl Attlee, sits on the Conservative benches in the House of Lords.


Thursday, 11 December 2014

12 Films At Christmas - 3

Directed by Douglas Sirk (most famed for his melodramas) Has Anybody seen My Gal is a 1952 comedy filmed in vibrant Technicolor. Not a second of the eighty-nine minutes is wasted and at its centre is an agreeably amiable performance by Charles Coburn. Watch out also for some efficient juvenile scene-stealing by Gigi Perreau and a very early, very brief sight of a surly James Dean. 7/10.

Advent 11

Clint Eastwood. How cool is he? He went from being lampooned Western star to double directorial Oscar winner. Now the Fistful of Dollars trilogy is dissected by film studies classes and Eastwood himself is an exemplar of the less is more school of cinematic acting - 'Go ahead, make my day' - a phrase which you might like to note was used by yesterday's calendar entry when promising to use his presidential veto on any tax rises.

Tomorrow we will venture back into politics with someone pretty much as far from Eastwood's man with no name as one might imagine.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Advent 10

This one may seem risible to those of a politically correct disposition but what the hell.

Ronald Reagan. A man who moved from trade unionist soft left to flirting with the quasi-bonkers libertarian right. Manifestly no intellectual, though equally obviously not as dim as the bien pendant portrayed him. Nevertheless Reagan mattered. He predicted that the Soviet 'Evil Empire' could be made to crumble under its own weight. They laughed. It crumbled. He was a necessary conduit to the conditions that brought many of us to affluence. The abuses to which we subjected that affluence were hardly his fault. This latter point is often wilfully misunderstood.

Tomorrow another film star.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

12 Films At Christmas - 2

I am perhaps overly familiar with the 1994 manifestation of Miracle on 34th Street. This due to its extreme popularity with my girls when young. But last night we watched the 1947 original. I like the modern version but I am marginally more taken with the black and white original. It oozes innocence, is short and sweet but nevertheless finds time to take some sly digs at Freudian psychoanalysis. 6.5/10.

Advent 9

There can be very few studies of our parliamentary system that were so rapidly overtaken by events as Walter Bagehot's The English Constitution … As an account of contemporary fact , the book was out of date almost before it could be reviewed … Yet for anyone who wants to understand the workings of British politics … The English Constitution still remains the best introduction available.
Thus Richard Crossman on my old favourite Walter Bagehot. It is not Bagehot we are concerned with today but Crossman - intellectual, journalist, socialist politician and most importantly for my purpose, diarist. My introduction to both Bagehot and Crossman came in the reading list for the Constitutional Law module of my degree. Bagehot was recommended for those very reasons Crossman cited in his Introduction to the Fontana edition of The English Constitution. Crossman was recommended because his diaries made the matter of legislating and its attendant chicanery come to life.

As a diarist Crossman is mischievous, rarely boring, sometimes even impish. Take this brilliant sketch on Gaitskell in 1955,
He is a man not at all sure of himself outside his special subject, a man who felt himself a hero and a St Sebastian when he stood up to Nye and, most serious of all, someone who takes a moralising and reactionary attitude, which is in my opinion almost instinctively wrong on every subject outside economics   

Monday, 8 December 2014

12 Films At Christmas - 1

As in previous years I will share my filmic experiences for the season - there is no such thing as a prejudice not worthy of infliction upon you.

Although diverting in a rather shambolic way, I have weighed up the pros and cons and I'm afraid that Reasonable Doubt is a far from good film, indeed bordering on the bad. Let's hope things get better as Christmas approaches. 3/10.

Advent 8

Just as an aside, I really ought to point out that this is the first Overgraduate to be brought to you from a train - a picturesque journey through the snow-clad Scottish Borders.

Today we have the first of three filmmakers. Francis Ford Coppola conceives cinematic storytelling on the grand scale. His first Oscar was won for the screenplay for the epic Patton, but we are principally concerned today with the perfect piece of gigantism that is The Godfather Part II. Depending on my mood this can be the very finest film ever made.

Coppola owns a vineyard. Cool.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Advent 7

I have allowed myself only two sporting heroes in this list - maybe a fuller collection will make a future calendar.

So it is that I have to reject my two favourite male English rugby players, Tony Neary and Richard Hill alongside the matchless Maggie Alphonsi. Instead we have the incomparable Jack Nicklaus.

Nicklaus won 18 major championships (the test by which he himself asked to be measured) between 1962 and 1986. That differentiates him from the challengers to his primacy, Hogan and Player. On top of that he has become the world's foremost modern course architect. He has done all of this while maintaining a solid marriage (cf Woods and Faldo) and deporting himself with an unaffected humility that eschews false modesty. The greatest.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Advent 6

John Henry Newman (1801 - 1890) is perhaps the most notable convert from Anglicanism to Catholicism. He had links to Birmingham, studying at Oscott College (which sits proud on the horizon visible from the Aston Old Edwardian Memorial Ground) and eventually dying at the Oratory in Edgbaston.

My own passage to a far from devout catholicism is important to me. The mystery of faith has power to move and I detect  that mystery in the motto that adorns Newman's cardinalate coat of arms, Cor ad Cor Loquitur - heart speaks unto heart.

An interesting little fact that further recommends Newman to me - he took a third in his degree at Oxford.

Friday, 5 December 2014

On Me Hols

In Edinburgh for a break with my soul mate. Came up by train which was great but you really do have to travel first class. Does this make me a snob?

Did Princes Street this morning and then spent a good portion of the afternoon enjoying wine and fries in the Newsroom - details at Newsroom


Advent 5

There will be three poets in the progress of this calendar. Today we have the first. My knowledge of poetry is limited so it is with a degree of unaccustomed humility that  I offer this as the most affecting verse of all time.

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, 
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge, 
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs, 
And towards our distant rest began to trudge. 
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots, 
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind; 
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots 
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind. 

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling 
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time, 
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling 
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light, 
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning. 

In all my dreams before my helpless sight, 
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning. 

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace 
Behind the wagon that we flung him in, 
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face, 
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin; 
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood 
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, 
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud 
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,— 
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest 
To children ardent for some desperate glory, 
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est 

Pro patria mori.

Wilfred Owen went back to the front after injury, won the Military Cross  and died just one week before the Armistice on 4 November 1918. 4 November is the birthday of my revered father, who first alerted me to Owen's poetry.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Advent 4

Abraham Lincoln was not the unreconstructed saint he is sometimes portrayed to have been. He was a politician and we should always remember that politics is the art of the possible. However his conception of the possible was broader than most men's and that allowed him to utter the greatest (and blessedly short) political address of them all. It bears repetition:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Advent 3

Today the most balanced, charming , honest and deserving entrepreneur I ever knew. Alan Robert Murrall was a Black Country boy and autodidact. He loved things mechanical and even at the height of his business flight (and trust me he really soared) he remained a simple mechanic at heart. But actually no, he was so much more than that. Alan got business, simply got it. He proved Marx wrong.

He brought his humane commercial genius to bear in many fields and he took this callow young lawyer on the journey with him. He was a champion in haulage, mining, waste disposal, property and so much more. He was modest in his accomplishments and generous with his advisers. He always said thank you. I never met a good man who begrudged him. He was taken from us far too young and in my direst moments in commerce I try to think of Alan and the sheer bloody privilege it was to be on board for a small portion of his voyage.

Sadly I don't have a photograph of Alan but here is one of his beloved Bowmur trucks.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Advent 2

If you asked me my favourite place, Anglesey would stand a very good chance of getting my nomination. The A5 is  the traditional path to that island. The Menai Suspension Bridge was the initial link from the mainland. Both road and bridge were the work of a self-taught Scottish engineer, Thomas Telford (1757-1834).

The Overgraduate likes a good pun and notes with approval that Telford was known in his time as the Colossus of Roads.

Nowadays any sensible passage by road to Anglesey will favour the larger Britannia Bridge. That itself is a wonder but not its least charm is that from it you can see the Menai Bridge. This is man overcoming nature and at the same time decorating it.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Advent 1

Aeons ago I saw Keith Joseph (then high prophet of the English right) speaking to a student audience. The host institution's resident left had come prepared to heckle and make mischief - good for them, I have always envied the left their passion and organisation. But he disarmed them when he asked his audience to name the most important thinker of the previous two hundred years: a few young fogeys ventured improbable right wing totems, but Joseph posited Karl Marx and rather gratuitously pointed out that it had been Victorian England that had provided a home for this great thinker.

So, I suspect rather to the surprise of those who think they know me, my first cultural influencer is Karl Marx. His theories were the dominant seed of political and economic thought in the century into which  I was born, the starting point for discussion even in economies following a starkly non-Marxist agenda.

I am particularly taken, as I survey the moral wreckage of the business in which I work, with the doctrine of surplus value. The labourer produces daily more than enough for his own subsistence but the capitalist pays him only a subsistence wage and the residue is the surplus value which the capitalist/rentier can purloin for himself.

It took Marx to give his postulated nemesis a name - capitalism. No matter what else you might think, you have to concede that it is pretty cool to have naming rights over your sworn enemy.

This will not be an organised ramble through the back alleys of my mind, so tomorrow we will take a different path and consider civil engineering.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Getting My Retaliation In First

It is almost the time you have been waiting for - the Overgraduate Advent Calendar will be with you next Monday, heralding twenty-four days of intellectual stimulation, unbearable tension and fervent speculation amid the thinking classes. Well, that might be over-egging it a little but you know where I'm coming from.

But I need to get my excuses in nice and early. In fact I have to apologise for the misogynist cesspit that has clearly been my personal experience.

Where last year I gave vent to my cinematic prejudices and the year before that to my bibliophilic peccadilloes, this year we venture onto a loftier plain and try to isolate cultural influencers. Not influencers of the human race but merely of this member of it. So there will be sportsmen, politicians, actors, writers and engineers. And why does this cause me embarrassment? Because I have the list scrawled in readiness and there is but one woman on it. I wondered about excising that name and promoting a list of great men, perhaps to save great women for next year, but that would be dishonest. No, given the parameters I had set myself this is how the list came out and I will confess to being a little shocked, even ashamed at the outcome. So this year you can again call me middle-brow but add to it the taint of sexism. Which is pretty upsetting for a feminist. Mind you it would be a different matter if I had to concoct a list of the twenty-four nicest people I have known.

See you on Monday.  

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

From The Director's Chair

It's over, my first experience of theatrical directing. Our production of Coward's Hay Fever ran for four performances last week and it all went pretty much swimmingly. I hadn't dared to blog about it along the way for fear of somehow jinxing it.

Conclusions? For the duration of ordinary rehearsals one feels a degree of control; when technical and dress rehearsals are reached one feels woeful; during the run one feels utterly impotent; at all times one feels rather more than mild terror.

What of Hay Fever? It may be Coward juvenilia but that doesn't stop it being good. Coward always made out that he eschewed depth but no man is the best judge of his own plays. This is a play about apres la guerre insincerity, but written with a caustic sincerity. 'We none of us ever mean anything' says Sorel Bliss in a rare shaft of self-awareness.

To all the players and helpers thank you for the opportunity. Would I do it again? Yes of course - but not just yet - learning lines is much more manageable.

Surely Some Mistake

Am I getting soft in my old age? Not once but twice I have heard Keith Vaz being interviewed in the last couple of days and on both occasions I have found him sane and reasonable. This can't be happening.

Exhibit A: Vaz giving a balanced and generous assessment of Theresa May in Week at Westminster. Exhibit B: Vaz criticising the same Ms May when she chose on Monday to unveil new anti-terrorist policy in a speech outside parliament.

Now I have no doubt that Vaz will soon be back at his self-aggrandising best but for now credit where credit's due.

Friday, 21 November 2014

The Dream

I took in another edition of Sky's My Shakespeare earlier this week. It was Hugh Bonneville on A Midsummer Night's Dream and this was a good little programme about a more than good little play. Circumstance has plonked me closer to this play than most other Shakespeare and I am one with Bonneville in admiring its multiple layers. As with all of the Bard it needs to be played fast and not too reverentially. Seek out a production and enjoy.

Ched Evans And The Nature Of Rape

Ched Evans was a professional footballer. Ched Evans was convicted of rape. Ched Evans served the sentence of imprisonment imposed upon him. On his release Ched Evans was invited to train once again with his former employer, Sheffield United FC, with a view, one presumes to his re-employment. Cue howls of outrage and an eventual withdrawal of the offer.

Consider these questions:

  • Is rape a singularly heinous crime? 
  • Should the punishment for the crime extend beyond the adjudged imprisonment?
  • What is the difference from the multiple instances of professional football rehabilitating dangerous drink drivers or other species of criminals?   
The answers to these questions are uneasy but it would be nice to think that all of the outraged howlers had engaged with them before howling.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Rogues Gallery

British politics has been at its shameful worst of late.

George Osborne spinning (argot for lying) a settlement of our liabilities to the damned Grand Projet. I question whether I can vote for these shysters even in the face of the abject Ed Miliband.

The government pulling a stunt in the parliamentary debate about matters European. Wankers.

John Bercow poncing about indignantly in the face of said stunt. Wanker.

Yvette Cooper spouting ersatz indignation at the outcome on the radio this morning. Clown.

I've said it before I know, but really, what a shower of grade one unadulterated shite.

Autumn Internationals - Week 1 Round-Up

For England and Wales, predictable defats in the accustomed style. Good news for Ireland however who were impressively bloody, bold and resolute against South Africa.

Wales - they have severe psychological problems. The players are good enough but something is wrong in the head. And the bad news is this - Australia aren't that good and you keep losing to them.

England - kicked atrociously and too many players are off-form just now. You do have to say though that New Zealand are dauntingly professional in what they do. The irony is that the model for such modern-day proficiency is the 2003 England team. English rugby has taken too many steps backward since that high water mark. Self-inflicted wounds.

Ireland were terrific, only word for it. South Africa are no slouches but they were blasted off the field. Made me proud to be almost Irish.

A positive word also for Scotland who beat Argentina. Bear in mind that Argentina were last seen beating Australia.

Most enjoyable rugby I saw last weekend: King Edward VI Aston School - 31; King Edward VI Camp Hill School - 0. In triumph ever modest.  

Sunday, 2 November 2014

A Good Honest Steak

The Roberts Clan were out in force yesterday, celebrating BDR's imminent eightieth birthday. The venue was Miller and Carter at Boldmere. They do steaks, good honest steaks. I had a T-bone after a starter of belly pork and I was stuffed. The service wasn't the swiftest but it was busy. All swilled down with a couple of pints of Peroni and followed by Australian fizz and a bonfire at the old Roberts homestead.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Who's Afraid Of Quantitative Easing?

Robert Peston, BBC Economics Editor, is probably the most trusted economist in the country. This is not saying much, perhaps being on a par with least intolerable lawyer. And to paraphrase Woody Allen, lawyer is only a notch above child molester. Notwithstanding this qualification it is worth having a look at his commentary today on the vastness of QE - Loadsamoney

You will of course be holding off from important investment decisions until you have heard the Overgraduate world economic view, so without further ado I will give you the lowdown. I wonder whether Warren Buffet is one of my followers. The wonderful people at blogger.com make it possible for me to track the distribution of those reading my oeuvre and I have marginally more American hits than British. Which is a bit weird when you think about it.

Anyway that lowdown I promised you. Now it seems to me that economic bubbles burst when even the frigging idiots in capital markets realise that they are bubbles. We had a bubble inflated by private debt and it duly burst when the boys in the flash suits listened to Robert Peston. We supposedly avoided catastrophe and have blown up a brand new bubble using the oxygen of government money. The key's going to be holding your nerve as long as you can and successfully guessing when the coke fuelled loons of the City will twig that this grandiose pyramid scheme has to collapse. Just before that point you must sell up and head for the hills. Your guess is as good as mine.

Last one out switch the lights off and remember - it's only money.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Unfathomable

This will surprise you - I don't know the answer on this topic - Immigration

This is not even the lead story on today's news and yet we are talking about three thousand migrants drowned already this year. Rather glibly I wrote a couple of weeks ago that open borders and a substantial welfare state are incompatible. I stick to that but this is not some diverting abstract debate - it is life and death.  Being human is problematic.

Good Will Hunting

As I've said before, I'm a harsh judge, so when I give Good Will Hunting 7 out of 10, you can say that I was pretty impressed. Ben Affleck was good in Gone Girl but his authorship (with Matt Damon) of the screenplay for this film is a greater achievement.

In essence an old fashioned melodrama dressed up with tough modern language (which some might judge overdone) and eminently watchable. Robin Williams was well suited to sentimentality and this film has it in bucket loads. Good stuff and available on Netflix.

Also on Netflix we have been watching the American version of The Killing, having enjoyed the Danish original. Seattle makes a good substitute for Scandinavia. Far cry from Frasier Crane mind.

Friday, 24 October 2014

My Shakespeare

My Shakespeare is a little series running on Sky Arts. Now I know that I should probably deride Sky Arts as the televisual equivalent of Classic FM but I must confess to a liking for Classic FM - so much less daunting than Radio 3. Does that make me a bad person?

Overgraduate's fave play
So far I've watched the first two editions and the remainder are lined up on the old Sky box. The first was Morgan Freeman on Taming of the Shrew - a play with which I do despite my every effort still struggle, what with me being a feminist and all. Mind you I did like the idea of a Wild West set Shrew. The second was closer to my home territory: Kim Cattrall on Antony and Cleopatra, which, depending on the direction of the cultural wind, can be my favourite Shakespeare. Cattrall has played Cleopatra under the direction of the estimable Janet Suzman and Suzman was one of the interviewees on the programme. So was the even more estimable Jonathan Bate. But despite these star turns the show missed a trick. Bate (who really ought to be given a show, no a series, of his own) was given too little time and in particular was denied the chance to expound his theory that Enobarbus was a role Shakespeare wrote for himself. That however is a personal little quibble. The far graver offence was the prominence it gave to the ridiculous Vanessa Redgrave - great actress but specialist in risible opinions. I've scolded her before for her professed support of the premiss of the lamentable Anonymous, and this time she postulated that Antony never actually loves Cleopatra. I think the technical term is - bollocks. Rather more worthy of consideration was Patrick Stewart's insight that he had decided to play Antony as an alcoholic - Antony as alcoholic that is, not Stewart.  

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Gone Girl

I really don't go to the cinema often enough. There is something almost spiritual about the communal submission to the darkness. Plus no amount of televisual clarity replicates the full screen cinematic experience.

But a couple of weeks ago we did venture out to the pictures to see Gone Girl. Well? Pretty good actually. Perhaps 6.5 out of 10; and I'm a harsh judge. Sadly we went to the first screening of the day and the hot dog heater hadn't warmed up so I was thwarted in my dietary desires. So it goes.

We're All Climbing Up The Sunshine Mountain

just for information I'm not as fat as the bottom left picture suggests - I had my top knotted around my waist!
Well actually once we got past half way on the Pyg track we were shrouded in mist. To complete the difficulties there were very strong winds but nothing was going to stop the Overgraduate and his number one daughter (I speak chronologically) from reaching the peak of Yr Wyddfa (that's Snowdon to you and me) last Saturday. A brilliant day in excellent company and with Sharon acting as taxi at either end of our exertions. This was part of Helen's training for Kilimanjaro next January. As for Snowdon I'm going to do it again on a sunny day when I can see for miles. Bosting fun. And there was surpassingly excellent home made chilli con carne back at base camp.

We went up the Pyg track which is not for those averse to a bit of scrambling but discretion was the better part of valour on the way down and we came down the Llanberis path. The winds were brutal enough to blow me off my feet at one point in the descent, fortunately suffering nothing worse than a sprained ankle. I repeat, bosting day.


Tuesday, 14 October 2014

A Good Day Is Any Day That You're Alive

Thirty minutes ago I thought my computer was broken but turns out it was merely having one of those inexplicable moments pieces of machinery have around me - a high tech equivalent of the afternoon nap I suppose. So when the screen was being obstinately blank it felt like this had decided to be a bad day. But it turns out that it wasn't and I should learn to be more optimistic. So today is the first day of the rest of my life. And so is tomorrow.

Somewhere in, let us say, California there will be someone who has today seen his or her psychiatrist, had a hair cut and then been for a run. Today I have done all of these things and you know what, the pale English autumnal weather doesn't spoil it. Today has then been a good day.

The psychiatrist was measured and reassuring and has reduced my drugs. Now don't get me wrong, I'm grateful for the medication that has supported me for the last half dozen years but it feels good to be stepping down the regime and the vanity in me will be pleased if the attendant weight increase becomes a little less attendant.

As for running, I managed thirty minutes without too much agony and I did of course wear the Oakleys. I know that possibly makes me look a dick but you may as well go the whole hog when you're already wearing lycra. You can't knock the hair cut though - number 2 buzz cut all over, tapered at the back and well clear around the ears. Pretty fly.

You read it here first - new improved all-smiling little ray of sunshine Roberts hits the mean streets tomorrow morning. As for tonight, the claret beckons and I'm going to watch some baseball. A good day is any day that you're alive.

PS. I had spaghetti with squid pieces for my tea


The Discipline Of Law

Beware the late night blogger nursing both a glass of wine and a grievance. Step away from the invective.

Trust me I'm a lawyer - a phrase that constitutes a not meritless joke. But joking aside - trust me I'm a lawyer, and something is bugging me about the way I am these days asked or counselled to practise my trade. You see the thing is this - any half-educated pillock can be the sort of lawyer who can only ever tell you the reasons why you shouldn't do something. The better educated pillock (for there is no ground rule that precludes any stamp of lawyer from being a pillock) will tell you not only why you can do something but also tell you the efficient and lawful way of doing it. Good lawyers are enablers not road blocks. My hero Lord Denning put it well in Packer v Packer in 1954,
What is the argument on the other side? Only this, that no case has been found in which it has been done before. That argument does not appeal to me in the least. If we never do anything which has not been done before, we shall never get anywhere. The law will stand still whilst the rest of the world goes on: and that will be bad for both. 

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Looking For Reasons To Be Cheerful

They're hard to find, reasons to be cheerful at the moment.

On the home front I lamented the poverty of our politics a couple of weeks ago, but now that the party conference season is over (it ended with the poignant irrelevance of Nick Clegg yesterday) I should be permitted one more moaning spree. All over the place are the deafening sounds of silence, as truths are conveniently ignored. Bloody Ed Miliband, bless him, even managed to forget completely to mention the budget deficit. We were invited to admire the man delivering a speech without notes and instead found ourselves wondering from what planet he had landed. Looks weird, sounds weird, is weird. Earlier this week that prize clown Vince Cable was back to his best liberal flummery, although I suppose that to have being neither George Osborne nor Ed Balls as your unique selling point is not exactly bad marketing.

All of which domestic stuff can make us fail to notice the truly dreadful things that are going on in the rest of the world. In Hong Kong democracy protestors were beaten back by the weather, which might lead some to the uncomfortable conclusion that God is a totalitarian. The economies of mainland Europe are contracting back towards recession, dragged there by an inefficient single currency. Worst and most terrifying of all, ISIS (or whatever we are today supposed to call them) butcher their way towards their destiny of an all conquering Caliphate. Sadam, Gadaffi, Assad, Khomenei - all look to have been positively cuddly by comparison. The state of Israel will not survive unscathed in the face of a Caliphate and the attempted destruction of Israel will lead to global conflict.

So here are a few of the truths that go unacknowledged.

  • We may negotiate with God.
  • You can't have open borders and a worthwhile welfare state.
  • Sovereign states can and will default on their debts.
  • You either uninvent money or you have to balance budgets. The alternative is government as a gargantuan Ponzi scheme.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

50000 And Counting

At some time earlier today The Overgraduate had its 50000th hit. I know that this is nothing in the grand scale of the internet but I am still counting it as a most satisfying little landmark. Thank you to all our readers no matter how impermanent.

best with bacon sarnies
Your correspondent is in Anglesey for the weekend in what has turned out to be a fractured holiday, broken by work commitments (Sharon's not mine), rehearsals, postgraduate renewal (me not Sharon) and Sharon going from here to London to nurse an unwell daughter. Still it's an ill wind etc and without  Sharon to stir me from lassitude I have had an enjoyable couple of days taking in the Ryder Cup on my rather lovely Mac. Considering that the outcome is ostensibly predictable (Europe usually win these days) it retains the ability to shred the nerves. Some conclusions gathered from this episode of the compelling series: Colin Montgomerie was a marvellous player but, sad to relate, comes over in commentary as a singularly graceless man - actually no, singularly is wrong because he reminds one of Nick Faldo; Victor Dubuisson is one for punters to stay on the right side of; Patrick Reed was good for the Americans and no one who applauds Poulter's attitudes can rightly complain about Reed's pugnacity; Tom Watson is a giant of the sport, Paul McGinley an all around good egg; Scotland is pretty particularly when it doesn't rain; Sky have elevated the quality of television coverage; bacon sandwiches are lovely, particularly with a nice claret.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

A Good Letter

An excellent letter in this week's Spectator from the unashamed (and therefore mildly admirable) Europhile Denis Macshane.
... is there not an uncanny parallel between the rise of the Scottish desire to quit England and the English desire to quit Europe? The same arguments about control from a city outside the nation; about elites and technocrats dictating to and imposing upon a sturdy independent people.
He makes a good point but ignores the reasons why it is possible to be both a Unionist and a Euro-sceptic. It comes down to what the union in question can stand for. Despite my current contempt for most of our higher political class there is an important distinction between what the two unions might achieve. For anyone of a socialist or libertarian leaning the EU is already broken beyond repair - in fact it was built broken - it has always been (a fact that the likes of Edward Heath failed to acknowledge) a vehicle for a mainland European style of social democracy. The United Kingdom still (just about) offers hope to both left and right. We are at our best when radical and moral. It's a tricky old balancing act but it's worth the effort.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Toilet Humour

For those of a delicate disposition I warn you that things are about to get moderately lavatorial.

As any fule kno the bog is pretty much the best place to read. Thus I keep three books in our downstairs facility. One is a book of bad jokes, another is an early edition of Brian Glanville's magisterial History of the World Cup, the third is Taking Sides, a thrift store purchase and being a collection of Bernard Levin's journalism. It is to Mr Levin that I must give credit for today's bons mots - a phrase of his accurately captures the phenomenon that I have encountered over two tortuous afternoons. Levin talks of mental sludge and we're drowning in the wretched stuff.

This is, I have realised, the very apex of the season of mental sludge. It is party conference time. Yesterday was that unbearable git Ed Balls; today was the uber-weird Ed Miliband. Next week it will be Citizen Dave and the Boy George. Do you sometimes wonder if democracy isn't all it's cracked up to be?

But Balls first. Now Balls attended both Oxford and Harvard so we can pretty safely assume that he is quite clever. Which begs the question, why oh why did he presume to deliver such an intellectually lumpen heap of pudding-brained drivel? Does he really think that such crap can enlighten any intelligent audience? No, dear reader, he does not - the only people he wants to engage inhabit the floating centre of a few marginal constituencies. The rest of us can go hang.

As for Miliband, well he managed to say the word 'together' fifty-three times in his pile of platitudinous pap. Fifty-three effing times. We get it Ed. And the bogey men he fingered for our supposed ills? Well, the usual suspects - tax avoiders, fag manufacturers and owners of mansions. The current politburo speak is to drone on about those with the 'broadest shoulders' bearing more of the load. This is lazy insufferable twaddle. And next week we will hear more of the same  ... but different. Sod the lot of them.  A truly frightening conclusion.      

Friday, 19 September 2014

The State Of The Union

Had the Scottish independence referendum result been reversed it would have been characterised as that hoary old political entity a 'landslide'. In their state of thrall to that most sturdy of nationalists Alex Salmond, I have not found any media outlets purveying that term. Now Salmond has resigned as his party's leader and as First Minister so perhaps the analysts will get a bit braver in analysing his failure. He held a referendum at the time of his choosing, with the question of his choosing and he enfranchised  juveniles in a  cynical attempt to garner their votes. On a high turnout he lost by a margin of ten per cent. All political careers end in failure and we should welcome this one.

Glad I got that off my chest. To happier and more important matters I ran for thirty minutes this afternoon but am still suffering from tonky piggery.

I worked hard this week in readiness for a fortnight's holiday but have thereby merely made myself bloody knackered. I have two weeks in which to save my body. Pass the crumpets vicar.    

Friday, 12 September 2014

Thursdays Belong To Me

I work Monday to Wednesday and the plan is that Thursday belongs to me and Friday will belong to Walter Bagehot, Shakespeare and other matters postgraduate. That's the plan but as per my previous lament I'm generally shagged out by Thursday and manage nothing more than loafing about feeling sorry for myself. So last week I actually did something on Thursday and indeed I did something yesterday, even if it was working (reason for which to follow).

 damned funny old chap
I am in the early stages of directing a production of Noel Coward's Hay Fever (November 19 to 22 since you ask) and so took myself to Bath to see the Theatre Royal production. Lovely old theatre and an estimable rendition with Felicity Kendall in the lead. I can strongly recommend Bath and in particular the user-friendly Park and Ride scheme. No charge for the parking and £3.20 for the return ticket which deposits you in the centre of town. Had my habitual glass of sauvignon blanc before the show in a busy pub where, as in so much else, a Clive James lyric came to mind - 'I like to see a servile barman hustle'.

So that was last Thursday. And yesterday was work on account of attending Joy Collis's funeral on Wednesday. A bumper attendance and a just air of celebration for ninety-three years well lived.

There's a lot to have opinions about at the moment, not least the unedifying spectacle that is the Scottish independence referendum. Alex Salmond finally got his way and goaded David Cameron onto the hustings. It occurs to me that the most astringent analysis is that David Cameron is as odious to the Scots as Salmond is to the English. As for poor old Miliband, he is the same to very nearly all people - a tired joke. As for Nick Clegg, well, so what.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Why I Watch Cookery Shows

I was channel-hopping last night between the usual suspects - cookery shows, car restoration programmes, sport, bits of modern history. And it came to me - I know why I do this, certainly the cookery and the car stuff. It's to watch people doing something they are both good at and like. I envy them.

Every week I lay plans as to how I am going to use my leisure time and every week I fall short. You know why? I feel so bloody tired and generally peeved by my work. Perhaps it's an age thing. In my earlier incarnation (let us call it, Dave the mogul years - this requires a little licence but you get the picture) I was never a great believer in the dignity of labour but there were highlights at work to lighten the burden. I was pretty good at it and there were moments of excitement and (sinful I know) pride. Those days are long gone.

So I work assiduously (there is residual professional pride in behaving like an officer of the court) and then I drive home listening to my music. I think of my plans for the evening but know that once I have cleaned up the remains of whatever the cats have eviscerated that day, I will want nothing more than to gorge myself, drink wine, channel-surf and fall asleep. So all in all this is a bit of a triumph because on the way home today I decided to write my blog. And all I could find the energy to do was bloody well whine on about work and the awfulness of ageing.

Man of the Year
To happier matters. Few things external to my family can have given me as much pleasure as the England women winning their Rugby World Cup on Sunday, coached by this blog's old mate, Gary Street. God bless you Streety.  

Friday, 15 August 2014

The Comedy Of Errors

No this is not a blog about my attempts to get fit/lose weight. It really is about the Bard's early comedy.

I saw Propellor's production at the Alex a couple of months ago - pretty good though a sparse audience. As chance would have it we then got invited to corporate hospitality at Chester's open air theatre and once again it was The Comedy of Errors. The weather was merciful and the presence of a full-house is always a plus but even allowing for those advantages I have to say that this was one of the very best Shakespeare productions I have ever seen. Fast, Raucous and very,very funny.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Laughing Boy

I've got the only cure for life
And the cure for life is joy
I'm the crying man
That everyone calls laughing boy.

(Clive James)

I may have quoted these lines to you in the past but I was reminded of them today by the news of the apparent suicide of Robin Williams. When I hear such dismal news a little part of me survives. Which may seem an odd thing to say but this is my warped logic: when I was playing rugby I worked on the rough calculation that I would play in one game per season which involved a broken leg; as soon as that first broken leg had occurred I played with the ridiculous certainty that it wouldn't be me, not that season. So with the public loss of a depressive. I don't pretend it makes any sense.

As for Williams, my favourite roles were as Mork, Aladdin's genie and in Jumanji. A great sadness. The cure for life is joy.

Happier thoughts. On my drive home from work I have taken to surfing my iPod. News is for the morning trip. For the last couple of nights I have been listening to some Elton John and the thought struck me that much of what I admire in his music would have been available in 1974. The good stuff is all early. Thanks to the rather dreadful Diana tribute version we have lost sight of quite how good a record Candle in the Wind was.

An example of malign sports politics. For the past six seasons I have relished a trip to the Heineken Cup Final in good company. The new revamped competition (begotten in response to the English and French clubs lobbing their Gucci rattles out of the pram) will have its finale earlier in the year and smack bang in the middle of my golfing pilgrimage to Ireland, made in equally good company. Something has to give and I'm afraid it will be the rugby. Pity, but I'll save a bit of money. What I will say is that they'd better not muck around with the timing of Cheltenham or there really will be trouble.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Curse Of The Drinking Classes

What can I say other than, work bloody work. Mine is a chore but I'm trying to be a brave soldier so that's me done moaning. Well about work anyway.

I've just been watching the replay of Rory McIlroy's magnificent win in the USPGA Championship from last night. Was it my imagination or were there even more muppets than usual shouting 'Get in the hole'. America, land of the free, also land of the knob-head on this evidence. As for McIlroy, mighty impressive and so much easier to like than Tiger Woods.

This blog sends out best wishes to its favourite rugby coach, Lord Gary of Street, as he prepares his charges for a World Cup semi-final against Ireland on Wednesday. Fingers crossed.

22 minutes 06 seconds; 25.12; 21.13. Those have been my runs in the last couple of weeks. In addition I've done three bouts of rowing and three sessions on the cross-trainer. Still as fat as a tonky pig.  Bollocks.

But it 's not down to the red wine. That's good for me. Chateau Griviere 2006. Yum yum.


Monday, 21 July 2014

Men Behaving Badly

The Question Mark Trophy (it's a long story) Tour has been and gone and much poor golf was played at Chesterfield Golf Club and much even poorer golf was played at Grasmoor on the way home.

Despite the usual worrisome warnings about handicap certificates and dress codes Chesterfield proved a winning venue. A nice course in top condition and excellent sandwiches at lunchtime. I played despite the multiple injuries sustained in a drunken fall in the wee small hours, a matter over which we will now draw a veil. As for my golf, once I had my hangover under control I played some passable (though most certainly not victorious) holes. More to the point I did so in the company of men who take neither themselves nor the game over-seriously. I got pissed all over again on the second night but this time the only injury I sustained  was a burnt tongue as I attacked too quickly an otherwise excellent late night pizza. These then are the perils of middle-age for the shamelessly unrepentant baby boomers.

All this and good sandwiches too
All of which was a welcome distraction from the absolutely grisly news of the past few days - an airliner obliterated in the skies over Eastern Ukraine (Flight MH17 and Israel testing to the point of destruction the definition of a 'proportionate response' - Gaza Death Toll. So don't tell me I shouldn't drink so much at my age. Sometimes it helps to forget. 

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

The Unbearable Heaviness Of Being

45 sit-ups, 15 minutes rowing, more dumbbell work. Feeling recovered already from the dire mood at work and off to Chesterfield (via Uttoxeter races) for AOE golf tour tomorrow. Sod work.

I have yet again cracked golf in my own mind so cue the inevitable disappointment when I hit the course on Thursday morning. I don't care.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

A Marvellously Daft Game

Saturday morning so no diet today. Watched the entire morning session of the first test match between  England and India. England had been lamentable yesterday and resumed nine wickets down and behind the eight ball. So I told myself I would watch until the last wicket fell. This did not happen until ten minutes after lunch, by which time Root and Anderson had compiled a world record last wicket stand of 198. Cricket, a marvellously daft game.

Talking of daft games I've been enjoying the Scottish Open golf from Royal Aberdeen. Seaside golf is unbeatable and the spectacle has stirred a hankering to get to the links. The closest I can get is to visit the website of my old favourite Dunstanburgh Castle Golf Club. Dunstanburgh Golf

Fifteen minutes on the cross-trainer yesterday and another brief pounding of the dumbbells. Feeling in moderately canny fettle. Sun is shining, barbecue tonight. Back of the net.  

Monday, 7 July 2014

The Big Fat Pig Exercise Regime

This being the exercise plan that accompanies the patented BFP cereal/bananas/red wine diet. That being the diet you only do during the week by the way.

Today: two bananas, one bowl of cereal, no wine, forty sit-ups, twelve minutes of rowing, a session on the dumbbells. It's half nine in the evening, not even dark yet and I'm ready for my bed.

Massive plaudits to everyone involved in bringing the Tour de France's Grand Depart to these shores. Absolutely mega and I wish I'd been there.  

Friday, 4 July 2014

Inclement Weather

Action shot live from Benllech
I'm bloody starving - two bowls of cornflakes and a banana thus far. To take my mind off the hunger I have been reunited with my old mate Senor Rioja.

I played nine holes of golf in teeming rain and high winds earlier today at Baron Hill - it's a testing little course and I am still feeling my way into how to play it but it is nice to have a course I can call home. The club defines seniors as beginning at 55 so next year I can perhaps get a little non-strenuous competition. I'll have to resurrect an official handicap from the wreckage of my game (Heaven knows I can't play to the last one I had) but we'll leave that torture for another time.

All in all I'm feeling rather chipper today. I've had a week away from work which definitely helps and I had a great (if bibulous) time in London. And last night I slayed  one of my own ridiculous demons - I emptied my email inbox. So when all is said and done I deserve my glass of the old vino.

The World Cup quarter final between Germany and France is on in the background as I type this. Thus far I have managed not to watch a single match all the way through. I have said it before and, in defiance of the rule against self-corroboration, I'll say it again, football is the best game to watch as a partisan. However my own social engagements and England's mediocrity have meant that opportunities for partisanship were initially limited and latterly non-existent. Now, who does an Englishman choose between the French and the Germans? Beats me.

One thing the World Cup has brought to prominence in my mind is the incident of the plainly bonkers Luis Suarez biting an opponent. First up let's discount the offender's insistence that it was an accident. Was it bollocks. But what it does make me wonder is why is the biting so much worse than the leg-breaking tackle? Suarez has been banned from all football for four months and the instinctive reaction is that this is deserved. But how does this compare to the punishment meted to psychopathic tacklers? I haven't got the answer to this one but it is interesting how this behaviour is so uniquely reviled. Mind you I repeat, plainly bonkers.  

Thursday, 3 July 2014

That London (Continued)

Back from that London, in fact now on one of my Anglesey jaunts. I ate so bloody much in London that I have had to have a severe word with myself and consider adopting extreme measures to get my waistline back under control. The answer is in a diet of breakfast cereal, bananas and alcohol. What can possibly go wrong?

On the subject of alcohol, a quick word of praise for the Lowlander Beerhouse in Covent Garden - loads of fun beers and good no-nonsense food - the fish finger sandwich is wonderful to behold. Try their own Wit Beer. I did. Twice over lunch.

OG liked it
Theatre review. In advance of seeing it I had my fears about Handbagged, fearing a republican/Guardianista style piece of Thatcher bashing. Not the case - the play aims its barbs at all sorts of targets, not least that bloody woman, but it does it even-handedly and to good comic effect.It gets a 'worth seeing' from the Overgraduate.