Friday, 26 June 2015

Little Things Please ...

One of the things that please this little mind is to seek comedy in the television listings. I don't mean tracking down classic comedy programmes, no no no, what I do is to read across the schedules for amusing juxtapositions. Of which there was a beauty on Wednesday on E4: Great Canal Journeys … World's Largest Penis. The former being a cruise along the Rochdale Canal with Prunella Scales and Timothy West, the latter, despite its rich promise, transpiring not to be about Piers Morgan.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Returning To An Earlier Tune

There ain't half been some clever bastards. On which topic I've come across the doings of Francois Guizot. He was a leading historian with more than a passing interest in English history, a prolific and influential translator of Shakespeare into his native French and, in-between times, he found he had the energy to serve France as Prime Minister. He was a constitutional monarchist and I've happened upon his doings in the context of my research into our own favourite constitutional monarchist, Walter Bagehot. Because, dear reader, it was as a nominal response to Guizot's 1852 republication of his Shakespeare et Son Temps that Bagehot wrote his less voluminous (but nevertheless the jumping-off point for OG's postgraduate thesis) Shakespeare - the Individual. Walter, as he could, rather damned M. Guizot with faint praise, comparing him to Pitt as someone incapable of learning by experience. Walter's point was that Shakespeare had an 'experiencing nature'. I'm afraid that by extension Walter rather immodestly saw himself in this way.

Guizot was briefly exiled in London but it was in Bagehot's formative journalistic years so it is unlikely they met, which is a pity - I can imagine Guizot insisting on speaking flawless English and Bagehot equally adamantly sticking to French. I reiterate - there ain't half been some clever bastards.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Feet Of Clay?

What is one to make of the writer of this letter to his father?
I sit down in great perplexity of mind to write to you … I hope I am doing right, certainly I am not doing what is pleasing to me … I have for some time suspected, although I have tried to disbelieve it, as long as I could, that one of my companions Jessop has exceedingly improper connections, and that he is in the habit of visiting them at times, when Dr Hoppus thinks, he is engaged at college, and on Sunday evenings, when he is thought to be at church. Now certainly I feel that it cannot be my duty to allow this state of things to continue; I do not think it would be doing right either to Dr Hoppus or to Jessop himself; yet the office of talebearer is so invidious, and in general so contemptible that I confess I am exceedingly loath to undertake it. The immediate necessity of taking some step is, that tonight under pretence of going to a debating society at the college, Jessop is going to introduce another of my companions  Collier to these women: this certainly must be stopped and I possess no other means of doing so, but informing Dr Hoppus immediately.
What further do you make of that writer if you learn that he was sixteen years of age when penning this apologia for dobbing in poor old Jessop and Collier? Well you'll probably have guessed that the boy in the frame is our old favourite Walter Bagehot. He wrote this within his first month away at University College London as he took it upon himself to report the doings of two fellow lodgers at the house of Dr Hoppus. There is no record of what became of the miscreants but Bagehot's later correspondence suggest that he was himself sent to Coventry by fellow students and experienced some consequent difficulty in gaining admission to the college debating society. If we read a little later into Bagehot's time at UCL we spot his creation (with Richard Holt Hutton, later co-founding editor with him of the National Review) of a new debating society. None of Bagehot's biographers seem to make the link that this was necessary because the extant society would not have him. That however is for another day - what intrigues me now is the assessment those biographers make of what we might term the Jessop Affair, and what it tells of the process of assembling personal history.

It will not have escaped notice that I have a soft spot for old Walter. But even his greatest admirer (and in that category we could suggest two prime literary candidates - the said Richard Holt Hutton and Walter's first full biographer, his sister-in-law Mrs Russell Barrington) might have to concede that he was prone to priggishness. Mrs Barrington, indeed, might not have seen priggishness as a vice but she does perhaps unwittingly allude to the problem:
Walter Bagehot seldom had other than friendly relations with those with whom he came in contact, but his real friends were few.
Mrs Barrington's description of the Affair is charmingly delicate. Mention of Jessop's and Collier's names is excised; she quotes admiringly from Walter's letter but does so sparingly, omitting any mention that the alleged indelicacy related to 'women'. Bagehot's letter was presumably in Mrs Barrington's possession but it was not fully published (so far as I can tell) until it appeared in the penultimate volume of St John Stevas' vast Collected Works in 1986. Thus its contents were denied to successive biographers, Irvine, Buchan, Sisson, all of whom rely on Mrs Barrington's telling of the tale. Sisson (by a wide margin the least enthusiastic assessor of Bagehot) is in no doubt, "One cannot but think that the sixteen-year-old moralist was taking a bit much on himself." Sisson perhaps falls prey to his own Anglo-Catholic prejudices when he asserts that the young Bagehot was "merely the medium of his father's sentiments." Bagehot's father was a resolute Unitarian but might the young Walter not equally have been the medium for his mother's Anglicanism?

Possibly Buchan gets closest to a fair summation of Bagehot's behaviour,
It reveals at the same time moral courage, a strong sense of right and duty, together with something which could either be officiousness or an overdeveloped fastidiousness.
What if I had been one of Bagehot's co-boarders at UCL in 1842? I'm rather afraid that I would have been amongst those giving him a wide berth, only later coming to admire his strength. Nobody likes a smart arse.

Monday, 15 June 2015

A Good Time To Be Welsh

I qualify (in the terms that are accepted by international sport) as a Welshman but I have to say I have never knowingly presented myself as anything other than English. It seems that Christian Bale is the same - he was actually born in the Principality but avers himself English. I mention this merely because I had cause to admire the work of both the Bale boys at the weekend. And yes I know that they're not related but it makes a convenient peg on which to hang this post.

These for me were the cultural highlights of the weekend: Wales beating Belgium at football; Christian Bale (and others) in American Hustle; Gareth Edwards getting a knighthood.

I watched the football with my hands over my eyes because the fear kept creeping up on me that Gareth Bale and his team-mates would have the cup dashed from their lips at any moment. I really hope that they resist vertigo and go on to secure qualification for Euro 16. I actually hope that all of the home nations make it through. I know that Scots nationalism is tiresome but there is something charmingly bonkers about Gordon Strachan and I wish him well. As for Northern Ireland, well bonkers is a polite word for the whole country but I love it and the hospitality its natives have always lavished on me. England are already near as damn it qualified but I care least of all about their fate. Humility and English football make unlikely companions.

I came to American Hustle with trepidation because Daughter Number Two (usually a good judge) warned me off it. I think she was wrong. Christian Bale (whom I have never seen give a weak performance) was excellent. I thought this yet another notable example of America washing its dirty linen in public - I first heard that summation used by my father in the context of The Candidate and I have been reliably pilfering it for four decades now. 7.5, no, 8/10. That good.

Finally congratulations to Sir Gareth Edwards, the finest rugby player of my lifetime. Period.

PS. In case anyone is interested, Big Fat Pig ran for seventy-five minutes in the midday sun and came over all wobbly as a result. But he recovered sufficiently to mow the lawn so all is well.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Of Running, Rain And The Perfidy Of Builders

In case you missed it, that was Summer that we had on Thursday. Yesterday was murky and today it has just hosed down for most of the day. Which is at least good for my lovely garden but does encourage the grass to grow more swiftly than is ideal.

The view from the bridge of the good ship BFP
After a delay (detail to follow) I went out for a run in the rain. New running shorts were a success but my precious Oakleys were a categorical error. No matter how cool I think they make me look, they are impractical in heavy rain for the obvious reason that you can't see a bloody thing. And yes I do know that a man of my education should have been able to work that out but they do look soooo cool.

What kept me in the house was the promised attendance of our builder who simply never showed and ignored a dozen phone calls. This is uncharacteristic so I hope nothing nasty has happened but I do have to confess that my state of mind, couching it in Wodehousian terms, is that if not entirely disgruntled I am certainly far from gruntled. A glass of red is presently soothing the savage beast.

I ran a comfortable four miles but having to carry my Oakleys disturbed my finely honed body balance.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Pig In The Kitchen

Yesterday's chicken korma proved palatable enough and preparations for today's truffle chips are well in hand - spuds have been peeled and the oil will go on when Sharon gets back from work. I'm a domestic god.

An interesting wine from Majestic to comment upon. I think it's the cheapest I've ever purchased from them and it's definitely the first time I've chosen a non vintage Vin de France there. I've always had an unjustified (but it was mine and I was sticking to it) prejudice against French reds but lately I have mellowed or more accurately my taste has mellowed and I like the everyday usability of lighter French reds over their harder New World cousins. As I have said before I do however have the palate of a stray dog - but a stray dog who knows what he likes.

Anyway the bottles in question - Pied Tanque. When all is said and done it was the label that won me over. But having now tested it out, I can say that it's passable stuff and makes a good workaday choice. Just to show my philistine side I can confirm that it is nice chilled.

It's either chorizo or chilli spiced sausages to go with the truffle chips. What do you think?

As I write this I am listening to the second One Day International between England and New Zealand. In the first England scored a scarcely credible four hundred. Today New Zealand have done much the same and England are making a good initial fist of chasing that target down. I have to accept that it is arguable that these improved scoring rates have been begotten by my bete noir, Twenty20. However I say it again - this mania for instant gratification endangers the joy that is test cricket. Having said that, I'm going to sit down with a glass of chilled Pied Tanque to watch the match whilst awaiting Sharon's return.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

It's A Beautiful Day And I'm Cream Crackered

The reason? Well I felt a slight twinge in my calf when out running yesterday (not a full recurrence but I'm actually listening to what my body says to me) and that plus today's hottish weather led me to go for a swim, my first for some time.

My mood in transit to the baths was made lighter by hearing former teacher and all around good egg Ian Marchant on Radio 4. He, you will recall, is the reason I started this blog in the first place. So blame him.

Speaking of all around good eggs, today is the birthday of my brother, so many happy returns to WJR.

Yet again I have been good boy and prepared a meal for Sharon's return from gainful employment. Today it is a chicken korma made from scratch rather than from a jar. Tomorrow I plan posh sausages (code for Waitrose) with home made truffle chips. Admit it, you're impressed.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Cultural Exchange

As bid by our favourite poster ViperJohn, here are the expurgated highlights of the exploits of the Birmingham trade mission to Dusseldorf.

What a great place. We flew Germanwings which got the sick jokes for the weekend off to a flying start. The first night in Dusseldorf set the tone. We headed for the old town and moved easily between bars partaking of the local alt bier. We were back at the hotel for 1.30 but the hardiest of us were in the hotel bar until near 5.00. MH disgraced himself and invited scorn on all rugby players when he moved onto the Baileys. The Overgraduate brought the house down (well that is how he's choosing to recall it) with his oh so accurate rendering of M C Hammer's meisterwerk 'Hammer Time'. Much good sense was talked - of the type that ancient rugby players make a speciality. Brilliant night.

I was sharing a double with KF who claimed that my nocturnal writhing was such that he chose to sleep on the floor. I reckon he fell out of bed and didn't want to admit it. On Friday we took it relatively easy and worked out the lie of the waterfront land - it's mostly bars. We topped this off with a more than passable Lebanese meal.

Up latish on Saturday and forsook breakfast for early drinks in a scruffy but amiable bar where the assembled elderly locals were tucking into a fruhstuck of a mixed grill and schnapps. Who says the Germans don't have style? Onward from there on foot towards the old town, stopping only to have a sustaining beer in a Turkish bar with quite the most inept service in Europe. The afternoon took in more bars and a tram ride before most of us (certain members admitted fear of heights) ascended the 178 metres to the cocktail lounge atop the Rheinturm. MH and BH on the mojitos, OG cleansing his palate with a couple of pilseners.

Dusseldorf's finest
Saturday evening was one of those times when it all just fell into place. We timed it just right to grab a table in the Uerige brew-pub and thanks to an attentive waiter (you can see where that reputation for efficiency comes from) we never had to move from the big screen showing the Champions League final. There was even an Italian sitting next to us with whom we could share Juventus' pain. For me it was a pleasure to take in a whole game of football, something I do too infrequently. Played well it deserves that 'beautiful game' sobriquet. And boy do Barcelona play it well - supremely athletic and hugely skilful. A word though for Paul Pogba the tireless Juventus midfielder who was a giant in defeat. One of those nights. Thanks to CC, TW, PB, BH, MH and KF.

Sunday, scorching sun and a lot of walking between drinks before the evening flight back to Brum. Tired but elated would be the best way to describe my emotions. Good company can too easily be taken for granted, as can simple pleasures. As for Dusseldorf, you should go.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

A Good Film. A Good Meal.

Two of my favourite actors in the same film - John Cusack and Alan Arkin. Do you know what it is yet? The dangerously dark Grosse Pointe Blank - a blood-spattered comedy about a hit man and his visit to his high school reunion. 7/10.

As for the good meal, well if you pressed me on my favourite ingredients I think belly pork, scallops and black pudding would all be up there in the top twenty. So high fives to the good people at The Cock Inn at Wishaw who have put all of them successfully together on one plate. The Cock Inn has always done a good job in my experience but that plateful on Monday was a cut above the old norm. Either I was very lucky or they've upped their game and judging by the reactions of Sharon and Number Two daughter to their meals, it seems to be the latter. Another 7/10. Oh and an interesting Romanian sauvignon blanc.

Mind you the food and drink left me heavy legged on Tuesday when I dragged myself out for a wind-swept run. Hard work. Better today though when I stayed out for seventy-three sun-kissed minutes. Tomorrow it is off with the lads (aged gents who ought to know better in truth) for Colin Cragg's fiftieth birthday.. we're going to Dusseldorf and before you ask, no I haven't a clue either. Auf wierdersehen for now.