Sunday, 31 January 2016

12 Films At Christmas - 12

Yes, yes, I know it's bloody ridiculous to have taken this long to get round to it but there are excuses - Shakespeare/Bagehot, laziness, disorganisation etc, all the usual suspects.

So to conclude a fairly unadventurous dozen we complete the set with The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. This could have turned into an obnoxious over-acting contest but the band of consumate professionals never descend to that. Quite right too to see Tamsin Greig granted provisional membership of the National Treasure Society with her part in this film.

For forty minutes I was enjoying the whimsy and the acting but I felt I already knew exactly where the plot was going. In fact it transpired I didn't, not exactly. Alright it's not Inception (am I the only one who pretends he fully followed that one?) but it does enough. 6.5/10. 

See you next Christmas.  

Decency And An Indecent Stunt

Sir Terry Wogan died overnight. An absolute master of his art and by all accounts a man infected by decency. Decency, the reason Graham Norton is so much better a broadcaster than Jonathan Ross, and the reason that Kevin Bridges is better than Frankie Boyle. Being a shitbag is not of itself admirable.

Someone else who comes across as intrinsically decent is Andy Murray. He lost another Grand Slam final to Novak Djokovic this morning - Ausralian Open - no crime in an age when three of the very greatest players of all time are plying their trade: Federer, Nadal and Djokovic. Murray has won two Grand Slams, an Olympic title and, almost single-handedly, the Davis Cup. Why has he not been knighted? Perhaps just a matter of time but the delay seems churlish.

An indecent stunt - Mcdonnell tax return - John McDonnell has published his tax return, with which I have no problem (it's not very interesting and that, of course, is why he feels safe doing it), but more to the point he has challenged Gorgeous George Osborne to do the same - the mealy-mouthed implication is that not to do so somehow unfits a man for public office. This is bollocks. Any old reader of the OG will know that I don't like George Osborne but the fact that his family has money is of no relevance. It is relevant to question (as the self-flagellating McDonnell does but never out loud) whether it is right for anyone at all to be what he would define as 'rich'. By all means, let's have that discussion if we really must, although it's pretty wearying stuff to those of us who grew up with hyperbolic Marxist jealousy. What is not manly (another word that will upset my old bien-pensant mates, and, yes, I confess that is precisely why I've done it) is to indulge in this sort of low attack.

Tax adviser visits HQ
And since you ask, no I strongly doubt that the Google tax deal is a good one for UK plc but I do understand the massively unbalanced nature of the negotiation that led to it. Being a tax collector used to be a respected trade for the intellectually gifted - now the brightest and best work on the other side of the fence for the shit-bag lawyers and accountants who sponge off the behemoths like Google. They are immensely clever and tragically soulless. It is my generation (God damn us) that has made the world like this. For someone at least trying to shed a little light on the topic, try this as a starting point - Sales Tax?

More cheerfully and, as usual several years behind trend, I have just discovered Pramface on Netflix. Has anything ever been quite so comprehensively well cast?

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

A Statement Of Plain Fact

Charles Moore is an Old Etonian and the authoritative biographer of Margaret Thatcher. He is also an unapolegetic huntsman and climate change sceptic. None of these things can dispose a man to omniscience. However his column in last week's Spectator contains a well written paragraph that bears repetition in full. It is right in all it says and provokes thought.
Airey Neave was born 100 years ago this Saturday. He was the queenmaker — the Tory backbencher who could reach backbench colleagues beyond Margaret Thatcher’s reach and persuade them to choose her as their new leader. He was also the first British officer to escape from Colditz, one of those involved in the Nuremburg trials, an intelligence officer and an accomplished writer. Mrs Thatcher became leader in February 1975 and Neave became her chief of staff and Northern Ireland spokesman. On 30 March 1979, five weeks before Mrs Thatcher won her first general election, Neave was killed by a bomb planted on his car in the House of Commons car park by the Irish National Liberation Army. ‘Some devils got him,’ she said that day. ‘They must never, never, never be allowed to triumph.’ In October 1984, Mrs Thatcher herself narrowly escaped death when the IRA blew up the Grand Hotel in Brighton on the night before her party conference speech. On 30 July 1990, a few months before her fall, the IRA murdered Ian Gow with a car bomb at his house in Sussex. Gow had been Neave’s parliamentary private secretary, and after Neave’s murder, became Mrs Thatcher’s outstandingly successful PPS. Like Neave, he held strong unionist views about Ireland. So Mrs Thatcher’s career as Prime Minister was book-ended and punctuated by Irish Republican attacks aimed directly at her and those closest to her. It would be an exaggeration to say that ‘some devils’ were allowed to triumph, but it would be a statement of plain fact to say that Jeremy Corbyn (and Ken Livingstone and John McDonnell) led the way in welcoming the devils’ leaders and blaming Britain, not the terrorists, for IRA violence. This should not be forgotten.
What I resent about the leftists he mentions is not that they held these views (I knew and even respected plenty who shared them - I was after all a student in the seventies and I am by conversion, like Moore as it happens, a papist ) but their knowing evasions on the topic in these changed times. Sorry lads but your ends do not justify the means. That is a lazy argument.

Monday, 18 January 2016

You Just Don't Get It

Our esteemed House of Commons is currently distracting itself from the many important issues before it by debating whether the odious Donald Trump should be banned from Britain. This debate was itself mandated by the gimmick of an online petition which has garnered over half a million "signatures". The process is of course bollocks, every bit as much bollocks as the suggestion that Trump should be barred from the country. If you don't understand why either of these things is bollocks then we have to stop beating about the bush and say that - you just don't get it. Not my best honed line of argument I will confess but life's too short. Let Trump come if he dare (he won't) and let me go and exercise my right to protest against him (I haven't been on a good demo since the old Legal Aid cuts). This man is poison but Britain is perfectly capable of showing him up as the moron that he is. And so, pray God, is the United States of America.

Here's something our pea-brained politicians could try to get their heads round (this matters particularly if you live in Port Talbot - Steel plant jobs cut ) - how about an unwhipped debate on the friction between principles of free trade and state support of vital industries in an imperfect world. We could invite the ghosts of Gladstone and Crossman to investigate this from first principles, that is to say from problem to solution rather than the preferred modern mode of starting with your answer and working backwards to the facts.

Monday, 11 January 2016

12 Films At Christmas - 11

Yes I know it's not Christmas any more, even for a perpetual student of life like OG. However I just didn't get round to finishing off my yuletide dozen. So when I was feeling pretty ropey this morning (sore throat etc, not the Black Dog I'm glad to say) I took a break from my Shakespeare/Bagehot and made myself watch Revenge of the Sith. I did so with trepidation in light of the state of underwhelmedness the first two Star Wars instalments had provoked. And here's the news - it starts unpromisingly but gets considerably better and by its end is the best by a mile of those first three episodes. All you need to know is in the prologue scroll - 'There were heroes on both sides. Evil was everywhere." A good tag off which to hang a morality tale.

Same clunky dialogue and unconvincingly star-crossed lovers but some nice filmic touches - the assassination of various Jedi echoing the seminal baptism scene from The Godfather. The descent into evil is always compelling and this descent was suitably nuanced. Get past the first half an hour (sorry but wise-cracking Obe-Wan doesn't pass muster) and you're into the territory of a good film. 7/10.        

Cultural Iconography: David Bowie

I woke this morning to the lead story on Radio 4 - the death of David Bowie. This was a fitting choice of top story.

The great, the good, the mediocre and the talentless will all by now have had their say on this great man via their Twitter feeds but little of it will throw any illmunation on one of the most important cultural contributors of my lifetime.

When I did my presumptuous advent calendar of cultural icons and influencers in 2014 (available on this blog at the mere click of your mouse) I included not a single musician, not even Mozart. Unusually for me I have an attack of modesty (self-knowledge really) when it comes to the case of music - I lack any technical competence to criticise. However of all the musicians who have practised in my life, I have the untutored view that Bowie was the greatest. It just feels that way. So here is my favourite Bowie video. I don't know why, it just feels that way.

His death is sad of course but the general appreciation of his talent is cheering. So as I walked back from dropping the Precious Jag at the garage I listened to my digital radio and Radio 4 continued to entertain me with Start the Week on the making of modern Russia. David Aaronovitch on the panel - always good value. That's what I pay my taxes for.

Monday, 4 January 2016

Thinking While Running

What with the damage I did to my calf muscle in the Royal Parks Half back in October, a degree of lassitude and, of course, a nicely elongated personal Christmas season (mine started with the Chateau Roberts seasonal shindig on the first weekend of December and finished yesterday - through all of this the Groupie has been shamingly industrious) Big Fat Pig has been neglecting his running of late. So today's outing was the first for an age. And do you know what? It went well by the standard of these things thank you. BFP does seem still to be carrying some residual fitness from all that autumnal effort, which is pleasing.

To distract myself from the anticipated agony of the run I let my mind wander over a range of compelling subjects (well to me) and the resulting pensees are now set before you.

Yesterday witnessed a great piece of test cricket - 198 balls, 258 runs . The achievement should stand long in the memory. On the same day in Australia, 88000 attended a meaningless Twenty20 game in Melbourne while only a paltry 7000 could be arsed to attend a test match at the Sydney Cricket Ground. A great sport stands at death's door and the combined forces of commerce and television couldn't give a shit. The once vaunted West Indies stand emasculated in the test arena, meanwhile one of their better players chooses to ply his trade as a one-day mercenary and feels himself able to use a post-innings interview to make smutty advances to his interviewer - Chris Gayle Behaves Like A Knob . I have of late been reading extracts from the 1960 Wisden whilst at my toilet (this is a polite way of admitting that I keep a copy of Wisden in the bog - as any gentleman should). This was just before the advent of professional one-day cricket and although it was a world which clearly had to change we now face the simultaneous defenestration of baby and bathwater. I have no answer to all of this but can only observe that it is a monstrous pity.

Yum yum
Great discovery of the Christmas period was the rioja recommended to me by the estimable staff at Majestic for our party - Vina Majestica - bosting as we Masters of Wine are prone to say.

War and Peace on BBC1 last night. Pacy and involving and nostalgically plush. However, not entirely sure that we needed the addition of some incest to the Tolstoy mix. And how are they going to do justice to the whole thing in just six episodes? Judging by last night it will be fun finding out.

No half marathon this year but might dip my toe back in the triathlon waters. Pig in water, pig on a bike, pig on the run.

It has ocupied nine troubling years but just before Christmas my psychiatrist released me from her care. I will never be (probably never have been) entirely well but I have a far greater understanding of what ails me and a hugely increased tolerance of mental illness - my own and other people's. The process has been shambolic at times but overall it has been a great advertisement for the beleaguered NHS.  The service is in disarray and remains unmanageable in any commercial context, however it and the love of my family and friends conspired to save my life. Thank you all. I will do my level best to stay better.

And then the run was over. Three miles. Just thnk what mental elevation I will achieve as I get to longer distances. I bet you can't wait.


Saturday, 2 January 2016

12 Films At Christmas - 10

The great films you can watch over and over again. Every Christmas I find myself reluctant to watch It's a Wonderful Life, on the grounds that I know exactly what's going to happen. Every Christmas I am wrong. Yes I know it is sentimental and a little preachy but this really is commercial film-making transmuting into art. It makes you feel warm inside, it makes you laugh and, this being my thing of the moment (you may have noticed this) it makes me ask what would a quintessential American hero like George Bailey make of Donald Trump? I can tolerate the ineffective and sanctimonious in politics (Obama), even the charlatans (either Clinton) and the patrician smug (Cameron) - these are all the peculiarly lovable blemishes of democracy. Trump is the most dangerous Western politician seen in my lifetime. I'm really sorry but you haven't heard the last of this. I am finding it much easier to know what I despise than to locate what I want. I wish it were other.

It's a Wonderful Life. 9/10. 

12 Films At Christmas - 9

In amongst all that Star Wars watching it was delightful to come across an unexpected joy ensconced in the television schedules. I have to admit that The Sapphires never touched my consciousness when it was released but I recommend that you watch this if you happen upon it. A highly improbable tale of four Aborigine girls performing American soul to troops in Vietnam under the stewardship of a drunken Irish manager, it has charm and vitality and, without labouring the point, a lot to say about race. At its centre are two top grade performances by Deborah Mailman and Chris O'Dowd. Far worse films have been showered with awards. 7/10.   

12 Films At Christmas - 7 & 8

Overcoming my scepticism I resumed the Starwarsathon by going back to the prequels.

The Phantom Menace remains a biggish disappointment. Woeful dialogue, clumsy, unfunny comedy and the dire Jar Jar Binks. However it is just about bearable for the integrity of the extended yarn. I can see why Ewan McGregor would have essayed his best Alec Guinness accent but I'm afraid it becomes tiresome and doesn't fit the lines he is given. The wisdom of the later episodes is sacrificed for some ill-advised and ineffective wise-cracking. The effort to perfect the Guinness mannerisms is wasted when George Lucas seems this time to be writing for a different character. 4.5/10.

Attack of the Clones is considerably better though still sketchily scripted. There are ample occasions where less would be more (though I will grant that this was also true of the original Star Wars - the sheer then unaccustomed pace of that film blinding us to the defect) and other times where more explication would help. The descent of Anakin to evil is rather clunkily signalled and his love affair with Padme can be excruciating, though this last is often true of love in films aimed at children (boys?) of ages various. I concede this element is vital to the fable but regrettably the principal lovers lack chemistry - cf Ford and Fisher in The Empire Strikes Back, both better actors of course. 6/10.