Sunday, 30 September 2012

Bond and the Dream

I get interested in the amount of comment about James Bond and in particular the amount of arguing over who is the best Bond. Yes, I know a lot of people will say, "No contest, it's Sean, by a mile" but it isn't as simple as that. Bond is first a fiction and second a dramatic construct in which thousands of artists have made a contribution. You get the music of John Barry, then David Arnold, coupled with a tried formula of using the stars of the day to do the title theme, always, if you listen, with the Bond leitmotiv.

Then there is the look. Even I would look good in a £5,000 bespoke suit, an Omega Seamaster on my wrist, at the wheel of an Aston. Bond does not do Catford or Daventry, and even if he did, Ken Adam would have designed the set.

Bond is adored by exotic girls, most of whom have starred in a bit of French soft porn, fluency in English not being a barrier, since Ursula Andress was apparently dubbed.

I think the preference for Bonds is a generational thing. Your favourite is the one you grow up wanting to be. For me, it is Roger Moore and I will tell you why. I remember him from The Saint, which if you watch the re-runs, despite it being made for 7/6d an episode, is carried by Roger Moore's charisma and commitment. Secondly, I could never take the character of James Bond entirely seriously and neither did Moore.

The defining scene for me is Moore in the ski/parachute opening sequence in The Spy Who Loved Me. When it came out audiences cheered. And there's the point. Moore had stand-ins and stunt men. A large crew waited for days in the freezing cold to get the shots. It was pure fantasy and a testament to the many film makers and technicians who put it together.

So really I have no favourite Bond. The films are simply a triumph of motion picture craftsmanship and the hero, such as there is one, is the on in our shared dream.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

WW's Supermarket Guide

Waitrose has had a marketing campaign backfire, or, in modern argot, a massive fail. The store invited people to respond to an online scheme to answer the question: "I shop at Waitrose because.."

Answers ranged from "I shop at Waitrose because it makes me feel important and I absolutely detest being surrounded by poor people" to "I will not stand next to scumbags in Marks and Spencer". I don't live near enough to use a Waitrose, but when I did I frequently got elbowed out of the way by overbearing women with a sense of entitlement. And you never knew, if someone brayed the word, "lettuce" whether they were demanding salad or admonishing their offspring.

Supermarket shopping is a minefield. Mainly because by no stretch of the imagination is it ever "Super". So here is a rough guide for those housewives who want to please their man and provide delicious treats for him after his hard day at work.

Marks and Spencer
Not really a supermarket at all, rather a place to ponder the meaning of life. (I never realised how vital pink peppercorns and smoked sea salt were.) Tip: Go around M&S and take note of all the clever things they do with Bulgar Wheat, and then go home and replicate the recipe. It's the most serene supermarket there is and you pay a premium, but none of it gets wasted.

I must admit that even as a snob I find Asda remarkable. The choice is incredible and the prices are keen. The check-out people at our local are chosen for being interesting and entertaining. I never tire of engaging them in conversation. Shopping in Asda is like eating Fugu, the puffer fish that has to be prepared by specially trained chefs so that it does not poison you. Either you risk being run over by the morbidly obese on their mobility scooters or someone will look at you and cough in your face. This happens to me every time I go there and it is frightening, but you get a huge rush when you realise days later that you have not died of TB.

I would rather vote Liberal Democrat than use Tesco. Everything about it is bad. I have seen their potatoes sprout faster than I can get them home. Ours fills up with school-kids every lunch time and they create havoc without let or hindrance. The stuff Tesco sells is only just ok, but since they try and make you buy three of everything, usually stuff that goes off, it is ultimately a waste of money.

Lidl and Aldi. The chattering classes appear to adore them. I don't know why. The range of choice is poor and they are not particularly cheap. Exceptions are things like fake Birkenstocks, the real thing costing £40 and their knock-off ones are a fiver. I have worn both and there is not a haporth of difference. You could save money in Ubermarkets, but you may as well go to Asda and get their cheapy range.

Sainsburys is a 30-mile round trip for me so I rarely go. When I do, I generally find it is not a wasted journey. They don't move things around so often, either, so you can find what you want. Their Free-Range chicken is the best supermarket option, bar none. I buy thigh fillets for curries - much more flavour and not expensive, especially if you have to cook for a lot of people.

The Co-op
Sadly the Co-ops around here are pretty dismal, made worse by shelf-fillers with Porton Down style body odour. Not so in Switzerland. (More on abroad later). The Co-op has its market, which appears to be aimed at people who don't care what they eat. End of story. Distress purchases only.

Going Abroad
Here my experience is very limited. The Co-op in Switzerland is absolutely fine. Marvellous, as is the Swiss equivalent of Happy Shopper - Pam. Both offer groceries that would not look out of place in Fortnum's.
Migros is hugely popular and it is also run as a cooperative. It also happens to be the largest employer in Switzerland with more than twice as many workers than the Federal Government. The Coop is second highest employer. The Swiss go there once a month to buy washing powder in boxes so large that you can later donate them to a family of Romanians to live in.

I would be interested to know your shopping favourites and hates, especially if you shop abroad.

Monday, 17 September 2012

The Age of Unenlightenment

Even a cursory look at The Age of Enlightenment reveals that it was neither liberal nor particularly enlightening save for a few strands of thought espoused by individual thinkers. It is not practical to encapsulate the concept in a concise timeline. It is also dangerous to assume it was "humanist" in the sense we understand it today because most of the leading lights of the Enlightenment still had a belief in the Almighty. Science and scientific reasoning were to become a kind of test of truth and of what can actually be seen and known. The Enlightenment was not so much a rejection of God but of religious authority. The quest was absolute truth based upon what can be truly known, not on arbitrary rules, which of course were largely determined by the Church; what could be known by observation and the application of common sense, in a word, reason. It was a utopian meme where its adherents believed you could build a society based on common sense and tolerance. It collapsed under the weight of reality and in particular, the French Revolution, just as the hippie dream of the Sixties died at Altamont.

Modern notions of human rights can be demonstrated to have their roots in The Enlightenment, but as David Hume might have said, you can enshrine the right of a beggar to have food, but at the same time you enshrine the right of some to become feckless and indolent.

By the same token, enshrining tolerance in law merely favours an arbitrary community, it does not create tolerance and neither is it going to create a better world, it is merely going to shift the goal posts for a while and worse, allow a hitherto unfavoured segmment of society to gain the upper hand.

Hume understood the concept of right and wrong. I am not sure that we do anymore.

I began to conceive this piece by thinking about something else; decadence. I wondered what it meant, historically and how it affected historical outcomes. By decadence I don't mean a bunch of rather fey young men who dabbled in naughtyness for naughtyness' sake, but a kind of moral collapse that made an impact. It seems to me that decadence has far more to do with societal attitudes than a few mucky books.

Berlin in the  20's and 30's was a hypocentre of decadence. Europe was satirized by people like Fritz Lang and Bertholt Brecht: "There is no greater criminal than a man without money"

There was hyperinflation. Keynes wrote:

"The various belligerent Governments, unable, or too timid or too short-sighted to secure from loans or taxes the resources they required, have printed notes for the balance"

Today we live with an absurd sense of entitlement. The politicians are too cowardly to say no and we are too weak not to say yes. Weimar Germany slid into evil and totalitarianism and did so not because it was too naughty, but because it was too greedy.

When the shit hits the fan this time around, we had all be very careful who we chose to lead us back to reality.

In a free society, government reflects the soul of its people. If people want change at the top, they will have to live in different ways. Our major social problems are not the cause of our decadence. They are a reflection of it. 
Cal Thomas

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Richard III - Habeas Corpus

I am very excited, perhaps more than I should be, that it looks as if some archaeologists have found the body of Richard III. It is because this somehow connects the myth with the reality.

If they do find his mortal coil there is bound to be a massive resurgence of interest in the monarch. The Richard III Society has been around for sometime and seeks to redress the bad press:

We are a society of people who prefer that history should be based on ascertained facts rather than on intuition, propaganda and spin.

According to them the main accusations against Richard are:

  • he was a nasty hunchback who plotted and schemed his way to the throne;
  • he killed Henry VI’s son Edward;
  • he killed Henry VI (a sweet, innocent saint);
  • he got his brother, the duke of Clarence, executed;
  • he killed the Princes in the Tower (sweet, innocent children);
  • he killed his wife Anne because he wanted to marry his niece Elizabeth;
  • he was a bad king;
  • and so it was lucky that Good King Henry Tudor got rid of him for us.

 They disagree, obviously,but they are not hysterical about it, they merely attempt to redress some of the biased reporting given out by people long ago. 

What seems so fascinating about the prospectus of the RIII Soc. is that they seek to place Richard very much in the context of his time. I was intrigued to read:

Nowadays, too, the terms of the debate are shifting somewhat.  It is not so much about Richard III as about the period of Richard III.  As Sean Cunningham says, ‘Richard has been put back into the context of an aggressive society riven by feuding over land and influence.’  Sharon Turner in the nineteenth century had already set Richard against the background of his violent times, saying, ‘[he] did not live in an age of modern moral sensibility’.  Moreover, the more interesting debates are now following Paul Murray Kendall into the more sensitive and imaginative regions, and asking, not ‘Did Richard III have the Princes killed?’ but ‘What was it like to be Richard III?’  Was he, or would he have been, given longer on the throne, a ‘good king’? – and what is a good king anyway?  

All these questions are good for applying to our times, so for that reason I shall be interested to learn more.

(For American readers: "Richard", "Richard II" and "Richard III - Habeas Corpus" are all available as movie downloads from Amazon,)

Monday, 10 September 2012

F1 - Lewis hits back at criticism: "Is it cos I is a prat?"

I can remember where I was when Kennedy was shot - at home, watching television. I can also remember where I was when the planes hit the twin towers. I was at work and the news was brought to us by a particularly unreliable person. This person, a partner in the firm, more of a sleeping partner and a dead drunk partner whose clients could never get hold of him. In other words, when he waltzed in, mid-morning, to tell us the news about 9/11 my first reaction was, "He's a dick and he's made it up".

This is to point out that the messenger should always be someone you can trust. On Lewis Hamilton and his putative break with McLaren and move to Mercedes, I was keen to listen to the people who have weight and credibility in the same way that if Moira Stuart told us that the Russians were coming, I would pack my bag.

From now on, if you don't follow Formula One Grands Prix, most of this will be unintelligible, as will the in-jokes.

A recent trawl through the quotes from former world champions, on the subject of Lewis Hamilton, all amounted to one thing; he is immature and not a team player. Nicki Lauda went as far as to suggest he was morbidly dangerous. Of course, what is most interesting is the tendency, when pundits are talking about Lewis, to cite other drivers as being "mature". And it is what the team principals don't say and the way they say it that leads me to suppose that Lewis is about to leave McLaren.

Let's get Eddie Jordan out of the way first. (Many would like to). Eddie, despite his uber-vain sartorial taste, is no fool. So ok, he looks like a Thunderbirds puppet but he ran a successful F1 team and now sails the seven seas in a boat that would probably need the Ark Royal as a tender. He did a very newsworthy interview with Bernie Ecclestone in which Bernie let slip that MSC was leaving Mercedes. And that set the ball rolling on the present Lewis saga. He is clearly in the loop when it comes to gossip around the paddock.

Cut now to the recent interviews with McLaren Team Principal, Martin Whitmarsh. It was not so much MW damning LH with faint praise as signing his death warrant. Whitmarsh's BBC interview after the race at Monza was the decider for me. If My boss were talking like that about me I would be crapping myself. If my wife of 17 years were talking about me like that I would be expecting a divorce in the post.

They all of course try to put a positive spin on the situation but as they say, you can't polish a turd.

So, unless I am very much mistaken, I am predicting that Lewis Hamilton will leave McLaren and since neither Red Bull nor Ferrari are interested (see?) it looks like Mercedes.

Some time at the beginning of the season Lewis invited some black female pop star into the pit garage at McLaren. The place was crawling with her "entourage" - lots of very fat blobby bodyguard types with a lot of jewellery. The odd glance from the team mechanics told the story.

Lewis thinks he is a rock star. He is generally sweetness and light when he is winning and a pain in the arse when he isn't. A more petulant, immature driver cannot be found in a sport where petulance and immaturity are just another button on the steering wheel.

So Lewis, I'm not having ago "cos you is black". Indeed you have a white mother and a father who you seem to disrespect. I am having a go because you are a prat and if you carry on like this you will only be remembered for being a prat and not the great driver you are.


Team of the weekend for me is Sauber. It's all working for them despite the occasional bit of bad luck. They are on course for the team's first F1 win, if not this year, definitely in 2013.

Question: why do the BBC's F1 commentary boys all wear such tiny tight trousers? Jake Humphry's look as though they were acquired from ASDA's "Back to School" range.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Nice Weather

A fail-safe conversation opener; "Nice weather".

As I write this the sky is blue and the sun is shining. I feel a lot better about that. Statistics on Seasonal Affective Disorder are a bit nebulous but I dare say most of us have been affected by the amount of sunlight we get at one time or another. Of course there is physical proof that a lack of sunlight can be bad for your health, the most obvious is a vitamin D deficiency, sometimes embodied in Rickets which is caused by lack of the vitamin due to poor nutrition and a failure to metabolise it. The disease still occurs in Britain, predictably in the North and poorer areas.

But given a reasonably healthy diet, why does low natural light cause us to be miserable?
Nordic countries traditionally have high rates of suicide but the statistics do not give a clear view of what is going on and clearly there are a number of factors in the epidemiology. Suicide rates in Greenland are high, but the rate the summer! And not everybody in California is deliriously happy.

It begs a question. Well it does for me. When am I most happy? I am most happy in the bosom of my family. Elsewhere I have been at my happiest at the helm of a sailing boat. There was a point when (forgive the Jonathan Livingstone Seagull moment) I felt at one with the elements; in essence I forgot myself and became a part of the wind and the water.

I can remember taking a narrowboat from Bath to London during one of the coldest, wettest starts of the season. I felt miserable at times, but never depressed and never far away from the lush promise of a hot bath and a feeling of having achieved something.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Smoke on the Water

I have just returned from a holiday jaunt, so don't bother to burgle me. I notice that some country bloke shot some burglars and is now under arrest for GBH. Well, I also have legal weapons and will use reasonable force to repel those with criminal intent. As it stands, the victims of this incident may well get a tougher sentence than the perpetrators. That cannot be right can it, or am I missing something?

I have been to Switzerland, specifically near the Lake Geneva shoreline. It's quite disconcerting to travel through village after village where the residents have created public displays of flowers, where there is no litter, and where the bus driver can remonstrate with rowdy school kids without threat of arrest for child molesting.

I was on a local train and got asked for my ticket. I struggled to fish it out of a bag and the conductor just waved his hand and said, "OK, that's fine." It is not too much of a sweeping generalisation to declare that the Swiss are conservative as compared to the UK. Universal votes for women did not happen until the last Canton, Appenzell Innerhoden, changed the rules in 1990. Coincidentally, AI has the lowest divorce rate in CH and parity with cattle on a one-human to one-cow ratio.

Swiss males are required to train in the use of guns and keep weapons at home. The majority of gun crime is perpetrated by those with illegally held weapons. Not surprisingly many in the rural areas never lock their doors or worry about their children making their own way from school.

There is no correlation between the legal ownership of guns and their misuse. The Swiss are, from birth made to understand the value of social and personal responsibility and it's obvious corollary - freedom.