Thursday 22 December 2011


I've lost a follower. My number has dropped by one. I don't mind, but I wish I could work out who it is.

Occasionally I've been known to rant and rave about governments, bankers and the state of the world's economy, but often it's a little out of context. So I found this piece on the BBC very interesting and useful. If you get bored over the next few days have a read here. The only thing it doesn't do is say that the bankers all started lending ridiculous amounts to people who could never repay the debt...and they did that because of the lax regulatory framework set by the politicians. So whilst it's simple to look at and still comes back to bankers and politicians who betrayed us all.

Last night we went to Secret Cinema - me, The Cat's Mother, The Cat and her friend Hopeful. Now one of the rules about Secret Cinema is that it's SECRET. To my immense frustration, the run has been extended through January...and that's a long time for me to hold on to a SECRET. So in the spirit of the thing, I can't tell you what we saw, but I can tell you that it's a film I've wanted to see for absolute classic...and it completely lived up to expectations. I also can't tell you where we saw it either. But I can say that it took place in a building that I've been walking past for the last fifteen years without realising it is kept in a semi-derelict state for use by film companies. It's also next door to a pub which features heavily in one of my favourite films. We ate in a pop up restaurant catered by one of the best restaurants in London, so not only did we see one of the greatest movies ever made, we also dined well too. I think that it's OK for me to show you some of the photos I took, so you can see for yourselves that Secret Cinema is an amazing experience which creates an all-embracing night that we'll be talking about for months ahead.

If the pictures disappear, it's only because I've been accused of betrayal. And we wouldn't want that. if you have any ideas, please don't put it in the comments box, but do email me direct!

Wednesday 21 December 2011

I read somewhere...

...that this has been the busiest year ever for news. I'm not really sure what that means, but boy does it feel as though 2011 has been full of political, social and economic unrest. Add to that are the natural disasters which only go to show that Mother Nature is still master of the human race.

Worryingly it was only this week that Japan announced that the reactors at Fukushima had been brought under control. Remember the Japanese disaster? No was months ago, it's off the front pages. In fact it's off the news pages all together. We may well all be evolving into goldfish I think, so it's good that Google Street View took the time to do a series of before and after which you can see on the BBC here Sobering isn't it? Whilst we assume it's business as usual (except for me because the new camera I wanted is STILL not available because the Sony factory was disrupted...I've got my priorities right eh?), there are still thousands of Japanese who are displaced, and tens of thousands who lost friends and family.

I was very glad this week at the return of Millennium Housewife. Her blog was always most amusing, and helped me to become an enthusiast to go out and find blogs that have be come my staple reading. Have a read here

I was genuinely saddened to see that Vaclav Havel has died....his velvet revolution made an enormous impact on me when I was younger, and brought about many of the changes that have so shaped the world today. Without doubt he was a good man, a clever man, and some one who should be remembered as a great statesman. Here are some of his sayings.

The newspaper headlines have roared out this week that it was a lack of police planning that lead to the summer riots spreading. May be it did, may be it didn't, but I can't but help feel that whatever they do the police get criticised...certainly the suggestion that the police should have shot rioters seems more like a Jeremy Clarkson comment than something written by a learned enquiry. It's certainly not British...but then perhaps it is the collapse of any sort of British identity that has led to the underlying problems in our society

One of my favourite books this year has been 'Skippy Dies'. The title may not give you an idea that it's a humourous tale. It's long...pushing 700 pages, and took me a long time to read...not because it was difficult, but it was certainly dense...hardly a word wasted. If you get bored at all over the Christmas break I'd recommend it, as does The Guardian here

Hardly surprisingly I despair at the state of the world's economy. Actually less at the state of the economy, but more at the failure of the politicians to set out a vision, act with resolve and deliver a compelling solution whilst at the same time the banks continue to parade their arrogance in our face. By banks I mean the wider financial community which is still flaying around looking for an opportunity to land the killer blow. I can only say that my fourth favourite street artist Banksy has done well to encapsulate it in his latest work...and yes that is The City you can see in the background

On a lighter note...tonight is Secret Cinema...first one since I don't know when, last one this year. We're going dressed as rogues...and have been told to wrap up warm. Too excited for words.

Tuesday 20 December 2011

'tis the time to be jolly tra la la la la la la

I seem to be unable to keep up with everyone's posts over the last few weeks...I've done my best, but it's just sorry for that.

Christmas has kicked in with a vengeance in our world. At home on Sunday we had sixteen people round the table....that's a lot. They're all old friends of The Cat's Mother, but after three years I'm getting to know them quite well. At least I can remember most of their names. And that's a good start for me. They usually remember mine too. Lunch eventually finished at nearly eight in the evening, and the next day various of the guests spent at least the morning in bed recovering from a dose of over-indulgence. We spent the time after they left trying to clear up.

It was a good job then that yesterday was our office lunch. These things have always been important to me, I don't know why, but the office Christmas knees up always just bring the year to a happy close. Last year we didn't have a lunch as everyone kept chopping and changing so eventually I just cancelled the whole thing. This year we had ten of us round the table at Pizarro (a new Spanish restaurant in Bermondsey street) sells Spanish food, not pizzas as the name might imply. It was delightful. Strangely, the wine seemed to take up three-quarters of the bill, and only half of us were in this morning.

I've been trying to book a restaurant for my brother and us to meet up after Christmas. Remarkably every time I've rung over the last two weeks the line has been engaged. I've rung so many times I know the number off by heart. If it was a celebrity, I'd be in court for stalking by now. Eventually I sent them an e-mail. 48 hours later they rang back, I was driving so they left a message to say if I rang them back they would take my booking. I did. They were engaged. I'd have given up, but around us most places seem to be closed on the 27th. Anyway, in the same way that you can struggle for hours trying to open a stuck bottle of ketchup without any success and then hand it over to someone who does it immediately and with ease, The Cat's Mother rang, got through and booked. In the space of 30 seconds.

I was hoping to write a post about our fabulous new bathroom in Brighton. It may not be a major event in anyone's lives, apart from us, but it is the final and finishing step in modernising the Brighton flat. Alas and alack, the builders have done what builders do best. Sending the bill 'on completion' when the shower remains a hole in the ceiling, the electric light is still hanging at knee level, the shower screen is still flying free, the sink is at a tilt so empties its contents on to your lap when you fill it...and so on and so on. I won't comment on the radiator that has been carefull positioned so that when you sit on the toilet, you are guaranteed to burn your knee on it. I may need a cold shower to calm down. Oh. Er. Oh.

Meanwhile at home, and for the record (I don't want to be reading this in thirty years time with important bits missed out completely), one of our number is apparently determined to make our lives a misery and ruin what should be a splendid Christmas full of humour and good will. So if you want an extra person for Christmas time, just let me know....

Monday 19 December 2011

21st Century living

Winter has officially arrived. Yes last week we, in London and the South East, saw a snow flake fall. Inevitably the tube trains stopped running, the buses were consigned to their depots, cars crawled along at less than walking pace, shops immediately sold out of plastic sledges, people wrapped up in clothes that would keep them warm in the Antarctic, supermarkets ran low on stocks as hoarding took hold, employees of some of the leading businesses were unable to make it in to work and many homes were left freezing as boilers broke down one after another. You may well say that where you are had inches of snow and Arctic temperatures to match, but carried on as normal. Well of course you did. You all live near the North Pole and are hardy folk used to the privations of less refined living. Here inside the M25 bubble, we are different. Civilisation has reached a pinnacle, and we live cossetted, man-made comfortable lives untroubled by Mother Nature. The change in weather has hit us hard. Send food parcels...well luxury hampers in Range Rovers at the very least. Please.

Driving back from Brighton (yet again) I felt that 21st Century motoring had truly arrived. I opened an app on my smart phone to listen to internet radio station Q radio. The smart phone was plugged into the car stereo so I could blast out the latest songs at deafening volume. The phone was connected by bluetooth to the SatNav, enabling me to have hands-free phone calls throughout the journey. Of course I could have added yet more technology by using the phone as a WiFi Hotspot for my HP TouchPad to connect to. I could have then used the TouchPad to tune into the internet radio station and connect it to the stereo. But that would have been ridiculous.

At the other end of the car, the exhaust pipe continued to belch out black clouds of diesel smoke.

So it may have been a case of civilising cannibals by giving them knives and forks.

Tuesday 13 December 2011

Into battle we go...

There is a fabulous shop in Bermondsey Street Called Lovely British. It is indeed lovely, and as far as I can tell after some significant nosing around that everything in it is British. It is irony in no small measure then that the shop is run by a lovely lady with a heavy French accent.

One of the recurring themes in my life is the constant need I have to get into tussles, fights, disagreements with people and organisations. It's monotonous, and causes me to question why it happens. If I won some and lost some then I would just think of it as the ups and downs of life. If I lost them all, or nearly all, I would think of it as just me being a scrapper. But as it happens, there's hardly an occasion when I'm wrong, when I lose. That means to me, at least, that just to get through the mundanities of life I have to fight, fight, fight. Of course over the years this has made me, probably, more aggressive than I should be. This I'm convinced is nurture vs nature and at the moment nurture is the thing.

I wrote some time ago...we may be talking years here rather than months and certainly weeks...that I had taken on the management company for a flat I owned. The result was eight, nearly nine thousand pounds in my pocket. The tribunal had sided with me when they hadn't produced any accounts as required in the lease. The management company then did as they were told and started producing 'accounts'. I was suspicious so I had a look. A close look. They didn't look right. In fact they looked distinctly wrong. The Cat's Mother who is a Chartered Accountant agrees. The management company wouldn't budge, and so after a bit of a hiatus...and a threatening solicitor's letter from them (obviously a firm based in Liverpool - well why not when the property is in London, the managing agent is in Essex, the freeholder is in Surrey or there abouts?), I'm back filing a claim at the Residential Valuation Tribunal. We're fighting over £5000.

In March I changed energy supplier from EDF to may not have heard of Ovo, but do look them up, they're one of the smaller suppliers, and it will make your heart feel good. I heard nothing more from EDF until the beginning of November (yes that's a full eight months since I switched supplier. It was a final gas bill - they owed me just under £500. I'm still waiting for the final electricity bill. They would send me a cheque. Come the middle of December nothing so I rang them. Yes they said they haven't sent me a cheque they will. By the time I get the money it'll be nine months since I stopped have energy supplied by them. I find this unacceptable, as I bet they do that to everyone. That's a fat pile of cash they're sitting on which they don't deserve. They offered me £40 to go away. I said more. They offered my £50 if I don't rat on them to the Ombudsman. I took their 40 quid and told them I would complain to the Ombudsman. I have. I think they are a disgrace. I don't much care for the forty or fifty quid, but I seriously object to multinational companies taking consumers for a ride.

I still have an outstanding complaint with the Financial Ombudsman over Lloyds TSB.

I'm popping over the road now to buy something lovely and British.

Sunday 11 December 2011

Dereliction of duty

It probably sounded good in the brainstorming meeting which no doubt was run by an expensive marketing consultant, but I somehow felt that the trucking company may not have spent their money well when the side of their lorry was adorned with the line (in italics):

"We couldn't care any more"

I hope they weren't carrying someone's precious antique grand piano.

Europe's a mess isn't it? Whilst I can applaud Merkozy for getting tough about countries' budgets, I doubt that further integration is a good idea whilst the various pan-European political bodies remain shambolic at best and completely incapable at worst. Personally after many years of trecking round Europe changing currency every time I crossed a border I was delighted with the Euro, but it's a bad concept, badly implemented. It's frying pan and fire time though isn't it, and quietly The City must be smirking again as they realise how subservient the British Government is to it.

I've driven to Brighton and back in one day twice this week...which is probably the most the place has been visited in the last three years. We're having some work done there, and it always difficult to do it from a distance. I'm sure that builders are not malicious, but they have a habit of doing exactly what you don't want unless you keep the leash very short. And indeed, my list of corrections after the first visit was very long indeed, so much as I didn't want to, I was up early on Sunday morning to check on progress. No corrections this time, just some concern writ large that the work won't be done before the Christmas break. I still managed to be back within yawning and stretching time of the offspring arising.

There's a stretch of the A23 dual carriageway which has a double bend in it. I remember that when the road was upgraded, probably some fifteen or more years ago, this double bend was left as it was because the trees around it were ancient and protected. Sadly that doesn't appear to be the case anymore, and the whole lot have been chopped down. Perhaps they were diseased, perhaps the needs of road users were deemed too important, but whatever the case, they've gone, which is a real shame, even if it makes the road a little safer.

The Christmas season is well under way...tree up in the office, and now one at home too. To get us in the mood, we all trecked up to town to see Simon Callow re-tell Dickens Christmas carol. A completely bewitching performance managing to wring out every piece of emotion (from laugh out loud humour to tear inducing sadness) that's. That Simon Callow is a genius.

Friday night saw us walking the streets of London with Paul Talling. I'm not quite sure how I first came across him, but I'm glad I did. He is the author of two books - London's Lost Rivers and Derelict London. I have a fascination with old London and changing London, but am a complete junior school boy compared to Paul who has taken his passion beyond a hobby and now writes(Derelict has sold 13,000 copies) as well as running some very well-informed walks and talks during the summer months. We persuaded him to walk us up the old river Fleet, which essentially, is hidden in a sewer underneath Farringdon Road. Even in the freezing cold, the walk was fascinating...from the opening undiscovered (by us, at least) view of the Thames by night just near the remarkable Black Friar tavern (built on the site of a Dominican monastery), past Henry VIII's Bridewell Palace, through Smithfields meat market and on up to Clerk en Well, where we lay down in the middle of the road to peer a down a drain where we could hear and see the fast flowing river all the way to Kings Cross where he bade us farewell. Over three hours he didn't stop regaling us with the history and stories of the Fleet...mostly they seemed to involve nasty smells and carcasses floating down the river. The Boys particularly liked the (surely soon-to-be-revived) tradition of putting women in barrels and rolling them down the hills, the girls seemed to enjoy the more genteel history of the Venetian-like canal that Wren wanted to turn it into. If you get the chance go to Paul's web site here, and join one of his tours next we will.

The only downside is that I forgot to ask him to autograph the two books we had carried with us all evening

Friday 9 December 2011

Monday 5 December 2011

Banana sandwich

The BBC has published a map of every road death in Great Britain since 1999 here. As a regular cyclist I felt obliged to look at my route. I wish I hadn't. The morning route along the canals is fine...of course...but my winter evening route along the A11/Mile End road is a different story. It's not quite like the Somme, but the tarmac is littered with bodies. I'm not terrifies me as cars, vans, lorries and buses duck and weave without a care for anyone around them. Aggressive drivers are the norm; the timid just get cut up. As a cyclist I pedal hard and have a 'positive' attitude to maintaining my ground...but owning the territory is challenging, especially in the dark.

I'm thinking of suing Danny Boyle.

Friday night was audition night, and the man himself was there, smiling away at the 200 odd bodies stretching and gyrating. When I say 'odd' that is a description of the shapes and sizes of the people there rather than an approximation of the number. If I wasn't actually the oldest, I was well up there. At least there were no more leggy, lycra-clad professional dancers to humiliate the rest of us. We had been chosen for our acting abilities/our ability to follow orders in moving our bodies in sync. This time was even harder than the last time but I stretched as far as I could, I twisted right round as I was told and I gyrated but perhaps not in sync with everyone else. It was hard, but remarkably good fun...better than the first time round. Come Saturday though, I had a pain in my back. I've pulled something. Ouch, ouch, ouch. I deserve either a medal or a large compensation cheque.

Saturday The Boy and I went off to Twickenham for a Northern Hemisphere vs Southern Hemisphere match in support of the Help for Heroes Charity. The Boy would have been playing the last match of the season at School, but a shoulder injury ruled him out. Shame. It may well have cost him his colours (again). There were nearly thirty thousand people there and we roared and we cheered...for both teams. It's interesting when you don't have a particular allegiance to either team (yes I know we're northern, but really....). I forgot to take my just had my phone with me. That doesn't stop me offering you a spot the ball competition. Unlike days of old, there's no £1 million prize...just the satisfaction of knowing you have found it.

And the banana sandwich? I was hungry Saturday morning, the bananas were just beginning to turn, so a banana sandwich it was. Brown bread. Benecol. I seem to remember Grandma in Cyprus making them when I was younger. They may have tasted better then than they do now.

Thursday 1 December 2011

Not a hint of irony

A very old and dear friend sent me an e-mail yesterday. She signed it off LoL. I think she meant 'lots of love', but maybe she was laughing out loud at her own note, or maybe me. I don't know. I just don't know.

My blood boiled when I read Alastair Campbell's 'evidence' at the Leveson Inquiry into press standards. Here we have the arch manipulator. A man that 'sexed up' a report to clear the way for Britain to go to war in Iraq leading to the deaths of hundreds of young British men and tens of thousands of Iraqis. This man does not speak with forked tongue. He is the devil incarnate, and no amount of charity work will make up for that. Ever.

Of course, one of the things that has come out already is that not even The Grauniad is immune to making up stories if it helps them sell a few more copies. That in itself is shocking and disappointing. Perhaps, if ever there was one needed, that is the strongest argument for an organisation such as the BBC which doesn't have to concern itself with the commercial imperative. I still trust it implicitly and I'm sure many others do too. It does create its own problems - and tales of extravagance are too common. But on balance I think that's not a bad trade off.

It was fortunate that after writing that paragraph I have become quite curmudgeonly, so tried much harder for the rest of the day to put a smile on my face. And that was fortunate as it enabled me to laugh when I might otherwise have grumbled. Last night I had to go to an annual industry event. It must have been important because I blew out Muffin Dad who had a spare ticket for a gig. Sorry. It's always a good evening, giving me the chance to 'network' and indeed just catch up with people I haven't seen for a while. Anyway, if you want to know how the marketing services sector is performing financially, I'm your man. Well at least I can relay second hand news. Pisspoor is the answer. But no more pisspoor than the rest of business. And not as pisspoor as it could be. As well as learning about the financial health of some of our most creative businesses, there were also speakers from various people linked to the Olympics. Including, government-owned Olympic sponsor and bank Lloyds. As you know my pretties, that's not a business I have much time for, although I cannot tell a lie, the presentation was interesting. The best bit was when the man said that they worked with various agencies, but their procurement department had not wanted to work with one that had had a very bad debt the year before. Now I'm sure I wasn't the only one who nearly fell off their seat, because the statement was made without a hint of irony. Not one ounce. Anyway, it made me laugh when I could have come over all grumpy.

I've come across a couple of terms recently that I absolutely love. One is the word popinjay (from SP's blog. It's not that I hadn't heard the word before, but I hadn't heard it for decades. It means various things including a person given to vain, pretentious displays and empty chatter, or a dandy or foppish person. But I shall henceforth use it to refer to the woodpecker that we can occasionally hear beating its brains out at the bottom of the garden.

The other is 'sea dust' which was referred to in Nursemyra's fascinating blog (I think...but I can't now find it, so apologies if I read it elsewhere - please just correct me). What is sea dust? It's plain old salt. But sea dust gives it a whimsical, even magical future I shall be asking The Cat's Mother to pass the sea dust and pepper - unless someone has another name for pepper?

Tonight I'm off to the school play. In the 'modern way' the audience will participate and have to move around the auditorium. I'm looking forward to it - The Cat has a part, although The Boy has sadly given up his acting career because he doesn't get on with the drama master. Sad. The Cat's Mother will not be there. She's off with the girls to The Stylistics who are playing at the O2. In case you've forgotten who this group are:

I used to love them but that was a long time ago.

Wednesday 30 November 2011

Lancing the Boyle

It seems that we are inexorably sliding to a place where nobody wants to be.

I have heard that Comet, JD Sports and Furnitureland have withdrawn all their representatives following the summer riots. Evidently, the riots were a conspiracy by foreign agents and part of a continuing pattern designed to provoke and inflame a crisis. In Iran, the 'storming' of the British embassy by a rabble has given the diplomats the opportunity of a return home just in time for Christmas. How convenient. And probably useful if you are the Ambassadors wife who doesn't want an Israeli bomb landing in your Christmas pudding. Whilst I don't expect our motley crew of Oxbridge-educated civil servants to solve the Middle East problem, not having them there can only make the situation worse.

After my encounter with Frankie at the weekend, it appears that that I must face another Boyle. This time it's Danny who will be conducting the proceedings at the next round of Olympic auditions. That makes me nervous as hell, especially as someone I know who recently swam the English Channel said it was all a bit much, and doesn't think she'll get through. I somehow can't see it going my way. But, cold, an' all I'll be there dancing, prancing, performing and gyrating until I drop. As I seem to be attracting Boyles like dead meat attracts flies, I expect next week I'll be singing with Susan.

As the kids trooped off to school this morning I couldn't help but wonder about how everyone whose offspring are at state school are coping today. 90% are closed I believe. On the one hand I have every sympathy with the strikers...after all if you've previously agreed the sort of pension that will keep you in the life style to which you've become accustomed, then why wouldn't you feel aggrieved. I know I would. But there's a reality which goes beyond Government policy. As the population ages, and there are fewer people to pay the pensions of the retired, less generous pensions are inevitable. The truth is that one of the reasons there has been so much immigration is that immigrants tend to be younger and more fertile (sweeping shoot me down), and that will help re-balance the ageing issue. But it's not enough and the public sector has expanded enormously in the last couple of decades (I believe that effectively the ONLY growth in jobs has been in the public sector), and the only way to pay theses people will be increasing taxes, and growing public sector debt. And we all know where that gets us don't we? Greece, Portugal, Ireland, and Italy all come to mind. So if you work in the public sector today...I really sympathise, but you really are just going to have to face up to reality. It probably should have happened many years ago - the Conservatives are an easy target of hate, but unfortunately Tony and Gordon lived in cloud cuckoo land.

Talking of boiling, here's a picture of The Cat's Mother. Strangely she's smiling. Strangely because she doesn't really cook much when given the chance. In fact Christmas is the one time she cooks rather than heats. That's no criticism, she heats up lovely. Her philosophy is that too many cooks spoil the broth. And one is too many. This picture was taken amazingly two years ago. MY kitchen as it was then was brand spanking new. This was the first time The Cat and The Cat's Mother had come down to Brighton for the weekend. It was lovely. And it gets better and better. So now its OUR kitchen, and strangely we regularly cook together. Sunday breakfast. Eggs, bacon, sausages, tomato and toast. The kitchen is really the heart of the home.

This picture is for Tara's Gallery

Monday 28 November 2011

Both sublime and indeed ridiculous/gangbang in a minefield

We were due to be meeting some old friends of mine on Saturday night, but as The Cat's Mother wasn't up to it I went alone. This was dangerous, particularly as history has a habit of repeating itself: when we were younger we used to go out as a group regularly and then spend the next few days recovering from severe hangovers. At our age we should know better. But it seems we didn't - this was just the start of the evening:

The good old days were much discussed: a visit to KFC to get a schlongburger (which was very funny at the time, after a day on the beach pouring beer down our throats); the time CD (he's on the left in the picture) fell off the kerb, smashed his shoulder on the ground and even now has a very large lump where it should be smooth, and so on. We headed to Pizza of London's trendiest eateries, and after a long wait (nearly and hour and a half) I had to explain to them them that one of our number is genuinely a VIP (not me - I wish!). The result was seats within moments, a free plate of charcuterie and some fawning that would impress even Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. I managed to stay quite sober as one of our number just spiralled downhill, quaffing enough to out do Ollie Reid at his best. This was fortunate because when I got back to Loughton (as my friends returned to their Camden abode) there was an argument with the taxi driver. I had agreed to share the cab because it was so late, but then objected to having to pay full price when the couple I'd shared with had also paid full price, getting out just a hundred yards from our house. For one journey the driver thought he should get paid fact triple as there was yet another person who had jumped in as well. Nice work if you can get it.

Saturday morning I was dropping The Cat's Mother off at the hairdressers. The same hairdressers that she has been going to since the dawn of time. As she's been under the weather all week, this was a good sign that all was beginning to get better. As we arrived, across the road was a 'luxury coach' with 'TOWIE tours' signs on it. I'm sure you know my views on The Only Way Is Essex. My heart sank as I could see there was a posse of elaborately made-up blondes and brunettes gathered by it, together with a camera crew.

I parked and whilst The Cat's Mother's hair was restored to its best walked down to Cost Coffee to grab a flat white and a lump of lard with raspberry jam (advertised as a raspberry and almond bake). I suddenly thought that the man standing behind me in the queue was the somewhat extreme comedian Frankie Boyle, and as that thought crossed my mind I got a text from The Cat's Mother to say that Frankie Boyle was indeed following me into the coffee shop. I thought I might say hello, but unusually my courage deserted me. I somehow felt I was beginning to skip into a parallel universe. He bought his juice and left as I sat wondering what was going on.

The rumour at the hairdressers is that this is a Frankie Boyle programme and the citizens of Essex are in for a cruel and vicious mauling. I wait to see and be amused.

Friday 25 November 2011

Bronze, Silver, Gold

At the Leveson Inquiry, celebrity after celebrity has come along to condemn the awful behaviour of the media. Fortunately these are generally REAL celebrities rather than the Z listers who have nothing to offer except their love of being in the limelight. Away from the proceedings the media barons are not slow to suggest that the Inquiry is simply revenge for the MPs expenses affair. This year we've had the Police on trial for their handling of riots. And I hardly need to mention the behaviour of that other pillar of society - the financial sector which has brought the country and the world to their collective knees. This week a judge was sent to prison for allowing their child to die after failing to get treatment for a burn they inflicted. I'm left wondering why it is that in past times when the very structures that support a civilised society have become so de-based, root and branch change has happened. Revolution even. But here we are with little more than tinkering to a tried, tested and failed system going on. Common sense says that a lot more needs to change than is actually happening. But the problem is that the career politicians in charge are nothing more than middle-managers, and we are bereft of political leaders with vision. It's rare that I find myself in agreement with Ken Livingstone, but I couldn't help but nod vigorously when he said on the Andrew Marr show last weekend that at least with Maggie Thatcher she had a view of how the world should be and her policies were there to drive that vision. Of course he did add that it was as shame that her policies were wrong, but at least she had a vision.

One pillar of society that at the moment appears to be going from strength to strength is the monarchy. I suspect Helen Mirren in The Queen and Colin Firth in The Kings Speech may have something to do with this. After the Queen's Annus Horribilis, the monarchy has steadily rebuilt its stature and standing. Well done Kate Middleton. I remain firmly in the 'Chop their heads off' camp, but at least I can appreciate their efforts. Prince Philip has hit 90, and he keeps the gaffs coming...good for him - here are some great examples which I've stolen from The Daily Telegraph and Wikipedia (always a reliable source):

1. China State Visit, 1986

If you stay here much longer, you’ll all be slitty-eyed

2. To a blind women with a guide

“Do you know they have eating dogs for the anorexic now?”

3. To an Aborigine in Australia

“Do you still throw spears at each other?”

4. To his wife, the Queen, after her coronation

“Where did you get the hat?”


“If you see a man opening a car door for a woman, it means one of two things: it’s either a new woman or a new car!”


Speaking about the rate of British tax, he said: "All money nowadays seems to be produced with a natural homing instinct for the Treasury."


On seeing an exhibition of "primitive" Ethiopian art, he muttered: "It looks like the kind of thing my daughter would bring back from her school art lessons."

The Duke famously proclaimed: "British women can't cook".


When asked if he would like to visit the Soviet Union: "I would like to go to Russia very much, although the bastards murdered half my family."

The Duke said to Tom Jones after his Royal Variety Performance: "What do you gargle with, pebbles?".

He later added: "It is very difficult at all to see how it is possible to become immensely valuable by singing what I think are the most hideous songs."

On the Royal Family's finances: "We go into the red next year. I shall probably have to give up polo."

On a tour of Canada: "We don't come here for our health. We can think of other ways of enjoying ourselves."

During the recession he mused: “Everybody was saying we must have more leisure. Now they are complaining they are unemployed."

When accepting a figurine from a woman during a visit to Kenya he asked: "You are a woman aren't you?"

He told a World Wildlife Fund meeting that "if it has got four legs and it is not a chair, if it has got two wings and flies but is not an aeroplane and if it swims and it is not a submarine, the Cantonese will eat it."

Prince Philip's opinion of Beijing, during a tour of China in 1986, was simply: "Ghastly."


To a British tourist in Hungary in he quipped: "You can't have been here that long — you haven't got a pot belly."

To survivors of the Lockerbie bombing he told them: "People usually say that after a fire it is water damage that is the worst. We are still drying out Windsor Castle."

"Aren't most of you descended from pirates?", he asked an islander in the Cayman Islands.

To a Caribbean rabbit breeder in Anguilla, he said: "Don't feed your rabbits pawpaw fruit — it acts as a contraceptive. Then again, it might not work on rabbits."


He asked a Scottish driving instructor in Oban: "How do you keep the natives off the booze long enough to pass the test?"


Following the Dunblane massacre, he questioned the need for a firearms ban: "If a cricketer, for instance, suddenly decided to go into a school and batter a lot of people to death with a cricket bat, which he could do very easily, I mean, are you going to ban cricket bats?"

The Duke asked a British student who had been trekking in Papua New Guinea: "You managed not to get eaten then?"

In Cardiff he told children from the British Deaf Association, who were standing by a Caribbean steel band: "If you're near that music it's no wonder you're deaf".


To guests at the opening reception of a new £18million British Embassy in Berlin: "It's a vast waste of space."

At a Buckingham Palace drinks party, he told group of female Labour MPs: "Ah, so this is feminist corner then."

On being offered fine Italian wines by Giuliano Amato, the former Prime Minister, at a dinner in Rome, he is said to have uttered: "Get me a beer. I don't care what kind it is, just get me a beer!"

"People think there's a rigid class system here, but dukes have been known to marry chorus girls. Some have even married Americans."

To Elton John: "Oh it's you that wons that ghastly car is it? We often see it when driving to Windsor Castle."

While touring a factory near Edinburgh he said a fuse box was so crude it "looked as though it had been put in by an Indian".

To the Aircraft Research Association, he said: "If you travel as much as we do, you appreciate the improvements in aircraft design of less noise and more comfort, provided you don't travel in something called economy class, which sounds ghastly."

Said to black dance troupe Diversity at the Royal Variety Performance: "Are you all one family?"

To a young fashion designer at Buckingham Palace he told him: "You didn't design your beard too well, did you? You really must try better with your beard."

On asking a female Sea Cadet what she did for a living, and being told that she worked in a nightclub (as a barmaid), the Duke asked “Is it a strip club?” Observing her surprise he dismissed the suggestion saying that it was “probably too cold for that anyway”.

At a prize-giving ceremony for the Duke of Edinburgh Awards a girl told him that she'd been to Romania to help in an orphanage. He replied: "Oh yes, there's a lot of orphanges in Romania - they must breed them".

"YOU have mosquitos. I have the Press."
- To the matron of a hospital in the Caribbean.

"If it doesn't fart or eat hay then she isn't interested"
- speaking about his daughter, Princess Anne.

"Can you tell the difference between them?"
- The Duke's question after President Barack Obama said he met with the leaders of the UK, China and Russia.

"The problem with London is the tourists. They cause the congestion. If we could just stop the tourism, we could stop the congestion."
- on London traffic.

"Well, you'll never fly in it, you're too fat to be an astronaut."
- to a 13-year-old whilst visiting a space shuttle.

“You look like you’re ready for bed!”
- To the President of Nigeria, dressed in traditional robes.

Of more note though than the man's quips is the Duke of Edinburgh Award. Now incredibly popular, in my day hardly anyone got involved. Of course, many do it as a way of oiling the wheels of the application process to get themselves into University, but some do it for the right reasons. I don't normally ask anyone to contribute to the blog, but by a coincidence of timing, I had an e-mail from Zoe McLean of AtoZ Expeditions which organises DofE expeditions, and here is what she had to say:

"Most people have probably heard of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, it has been around now for 55 years. However unless they have taken part, few people will realise the life changing possibilities that a DofE programme holds. Participants are challenged by the different sections of the award which include volunteering, taking part in physical activity and learning a new skill.

The most memorable and testing part of the programme for most people is the expedition. This is an antidote to modern society where young people are often portrayed as cosseted and inactive. Participants have to plan, train and then undertake an adventurous, unaccompanied and self-sufficient expedition. They are given the responsibility to take the lead and manage the risks of the journey rather than being led by an adult – something many, particularly younger entrants, have never experienced. DofE expeditions are not just about technical skills, they are a journey of self-discovery, participants will need to overcome challenges and hardships; becoming more resourceful and confident in the process.

Most participants choose to expedition on foot, carrying all of their kit for the duration, but for the adventurous there are other options such as canoeing, cycling or even sailing.

Today there is much focus on academic qualifications but with increasing numbers of young people gaining top marks, the ambitious need to find other ways to standout. Completing a DofE programme shows that a young person is dedicated, can use their initiative and is not afraid of a challenge – standing then in good stead for whatever their future holds."

I think in this day and age, every pupil should be encouraged to take's a really valuable learning experience.

I said coincidental timing, and by that I mean that Zoe's e-mail arrived on the same day that The School held, for the first time, an awards ceremony for the pupils who had achieved Bronze and Silver. The Cat and The Boy went to collect their certificates and badges. In both cases, the scheme has been really good for their development and I'm glad that The Boy will go onto do Gold. If he gets through, he won't be going on stage to collect his'll be a trip to Buckingham Palace. He's only allowed to take one person with him...I hope he invites Grandma in Wales as I know just how proud his mother would be.

Thursday 24 November 2011

A new start

The Cat's Mother has now left the building.

Yes, it's true. The Cat's Mother is no longer in residence.

Instead she has been usurped by The Baroness Puke Vom Honk'n'Heave. She moved in on Monday.

Let me tell you The Baroness is no match for The Cat's Mother. For a start she lies in bed all day moaning and groaning. There's hardly a smile to be raised.

What's worse is that she doesn't cook, she doesn't wash and she doesn't clean. So the kitchen is piling high with Dominos pizza boxes, the sink is full to overflowing...there isn't a mug to be found which isn't covered in a brown tea or coffee stain. The mice have become emboldened and have taken to organising hurdle races across the sitting room floor. We've been trying to shoot them, but none of us appear to be a good aim - their number are multiplying and we now have so many holes in the sofa and the walls we've run out of fingers and toes to count them. I've run out of clean pants so am now wearing them inside out and back to front, but I'm a feared this may not be a good long-term solution. Given his military bent, The Boy has gone commando. And we don't like to ask about The Cat. We had a go at washing, but when everything came out pink, we thought there must be something wrong with the machine.

On the up side, I've allowed myself to strip the motorcycle engine in the living room. I don't think the oily patches will show after a few weeks on the cream shag-pile carpet. The Cat has moved the drinks cabinet to her room which has given us a bit more space downstairs, and The Boy can now practice his guitar playing and drumming until three in the morning.

On balance, though, I'm not sure that, overall, it's a good deal, so I'm making a public appeal for The Cat's Mother to return. In the meantime, any food parcels would be greatly appreciated, if you could give us a clue about how to switch on the dishwasher that would be great, and if you could get Oxfam to deliver some clothes I'd be grateful.

Tuesday 22 November 2011

Round and around and around

Today is a bacon and egg sandwich today. The inevitable follow up to a curry and red wine evening last night. Life can be good in the simplest of ways sometimes.

Have you ever Googled yourself? Yes, of course you have. Don't deny it. Today I didn't Google me, I searched for Anish Kapoor, and was surprised and delighted to see that I came up (as in this blog) on the first search page. Of course, that doesn't mean anything, but as he is my favourite artist, I'm delighted to have an association. Irrespective of how tenuous! I first came across his work by accident when I was trapped in Madrid for a weekend by myself. It was so long ago, I'm not sure I was yet shaving. Anyway, I was amazed and continue to be amazed by his work. The first exhibition I took The Cat's Mother and The Cat to was Anish Kapoor. The first exhibit a giant vagina. Still they stuck with it. And my 50th birthday present from The Cat's Mother was a pair of Anish Kapoor cufflinks. Come the Olympics, I intend to be one of the very first up his curious tower which is being finished off at the Olympic park as I tip, tap away.

I've always been a great believer that what goes around comes around. So I recognise that when I'm a grumpy, miserable git, I'll get my comeuppance in due course. I usually do, and I'm glad to see it applies elsewhere. I spent a couple of years doing some work for someone known as a complete bastard. I'm quite adept, so managed to keep on the right side for a long time by most people's standards. But eventually it came to an end, with him owing me some £3000. Eight years down the line, and it was mostly forgotten, although never repaid. I was "disappointed" when I found out that he had bought a flat just round the corner from us in Brighton. An odd coincidence, and an unfortunate one. I secretly have been hoping to bump into him in public just to humiliate him on the streets - but the truth is he is so thick skinned I suspect it would just bounce off. By another interesting coincidence, one of the women I skated with on Sunday I discovered just above him. So I wonder what I could/should have said. Perhaps I should let sleeping dogs lie. I didn't tell her of the occasion when his wife burst into his office with her new born baby. She handed the baby over to the receptionist and said "You're fucking him, you can change his baby's nappies too" before storming out. Nice.

At home, there have been rewards. The Boy has been made Captain of the 2nd XV rugby team at school. One might feel that not being in the 1st XV would be a backwards step, but the appointment is more about his ability to motivate and lead people. An achievement worth a pat on the back. He's worked so hard at his rugby, having come to the school knowing only football, he went from just practicing with the team, to being a sub, to playing to going on tour and then onto the Firsts before this appointment. He's not the biggest lad in the squad, and he's not a natural catcher, but he's an important member of the team. Sometimes hard graft is the only way to achieve results.

I wonder what is going to happen in the middle does seem that the Arab Spring has made the whole region even less stable than it was before. Egypt is a powder keg. Syria? Well who knows how much more blood will be spilled. And what will the west do if the unrest spreads to Saudi? As for Iran. I feel I could almost hold my breath until someone drops a bomb there. Tricky, tricky.

Monday 21 November 2011

Two wheels on my wagon...

Sometimes you think someone is trying to tell you something. Last week I managed to get two punctures cycling in to work. The first I repaired, although it was a bugger and ended up taking me nearly 40 minutes to do, but the second left me carrying the bike over my shoulder for the three or four miles to the bike shop. I asked them to put winter tyres on, and they've promised me that I won't have another puncture for a year. We'll see.

On the other hand, I felt this week is going to be a good one when I was woken up by the radio and the station, Q radio, played all my favourite tunes as I gradually stirred myself from my slumbers.

Q has been incessantly playing an ad for 'Autoglass' - reminding us of how expensive it is to replace a whole windscreen rather than get a chip fixed. The Little Car has a chip, and I've suggested (incessantly) that The Cat's Mother gets it repaired. "Yes, yes" she says. And this is the difference between her and me. Friday she drove all the way to Bath for her weekend of retail therapy and 'treatments' with the girls. I KNEW the windscreen would crack and she'd be stranded for hours until a new one could be found and fitted. She thought nothing of it and went cheerfully on her way. Of course she returned without a problem. She has no worry lines. I'm looking more characterful by the day.

I've never thought of myself as a 'biker' but it does appear that two wheels are my preferred means of transport. Except when I'm on eight.

I've decided that if I'm to audition for rollerblading at the opening ceremony of the Olympics, I should follow my own advice: "If you're going to do something, do it properly". So on Sunday I had a two-hours skate lesson on the sea-front in Brighton. Whilst most of the rest of the country seemed to be smothered in fog, we were enjoying sunshine and warmth as the waves lapped against the pebbly beach. I skated in a t-shirt. And the lesson was invaluable, if just to remind me of how much I'd forgotten and how difficult it can be to make my body do things that feel unnatural. Fortunately I've got two more lessons this week. I can only hope I learn fast.

It was finally time for the motorbike to be repaired this weekend. Whilst a new speedo was being fitted, I was given the opportunity to test ride a new Ducati. As the sales man said, "I'm not going to sell you the bike, you should decide whether or not you want it." Nice technique. yes I want it's the equivalent of a Ferrari on two wheels. I was out on it for an hour and a half. It felt solid, it gently flows round the bends and sings when you hit 4000 revs. The whole thing just felt that it had been put together with precision, love and care...just like a Rolls Royce. Gorgeous. By comparison, my KTM is rougher and likes to be chucked around - designed and built by greasy bikers, but it feels a lot more solid than the other bike they let me have for a couple of hours - a smaller KTM which just felt like a toy (even though with a 600cc engine it is fast and flighty enough that it is the preferred choice of jewel shop thieves across London). I'd really love to get the heart is sold on it. Christmas is coming up after all, and I think I deserve a treat. But my head says I should wait. For once I think I shall listen to my head. With a new speedo, and the damage caused by the vandals/would be thieves my orange beast feels great and I enjoyed the ride into work today. Funny how just putting a new speedo made th whole bike feel better.

Friday 18 November 2011

Swimming in a sea of ignorance

The Cat's Mother has taken flight.

Well when I say taken flight she's off to Bath for the weekend with the 'girls'. That will mean a lot of screeching, screaming and shouting. All very Essex.

In theory that means I'm left in charge of the teenagers. As you can imagine that's not a great option. They're lovely. Really they're lovely. Sometimes. But truth be told I could do with 24 hours of peace and quiet. Where better then than a quick trip to Brighton, abandoning the offspring to burn the house down. You can't blame me really can you? I'll be on the seafront on Sunday practising and then having a roller-blading lesson for a couple of hours. I'm determined that if I'm going to an audition I'm going to give it my all. I haven't yet explained to the instructor why I 'urgently' need some lessons. I'm not sure I should. She might laugh at me.

It doesn't matter how old I get I still seem to find out things that frankly I should have known years and years ago. I find this quite exciting really. Some of these things; in fact all of them are quite simple stuff. When I started work at Rover some very many years ago, I, a car enthusiast discovered that some small cars have three doors and some have five. I had always assumed they all had just three. Just this week we were playing 'You Tube safari' start with a video of an artist/song you like and when it's finished click on the 'Similar videos' link to see where it takes you. It's great fun. Especially after a glass or two of fine red wine. As they say on the ads 'Fun for all the family'. Sometime into our safari we came across the video for Elton John's Tiny Dancer. It's a song we love. I've loved it for at least two or three years, and have thought it evidence that he's still able to bang out a good tune. So you can imagine my consternation when I read there on the screen that it's a track from Madman Across the Water, recorded in 1971. How could I have missed it for 40 years? I shall never know.

On the opther hand I was genuinely alarmed by a report on the Beeb today that some people think that anti-biotics will cure the common cold. They won't. Nor will the left overs from an unfinished course help you the next time you're ill. Evidently people 'self-medicate' and wonder why it all goes shit-shaped. There's a lad known to The Boy who's had a foot ailment for sometime....we may be talking years now. He's given drugs by the doctor but never finishes them, so it keeps flaring up. You'd have thought the very wealthy and successful parents would be able to manage to read a simple label on a bottle of pills and follow the instructions.

Thursday 17 November 2011

Fun, fun, fun

So the real losses caused by the banking sector are now beginning to be crystalised for the tax payer. In the case of Northern Rock, it's around about £400 million.I wonder how much the management team at the time of the first run on a British Bank for a hundred years has paid back. I wonder how much of a cut in the standard of living they have taken. I don't actually. I know. When the great privatisations of the 20th century were going on, the UK's family jewellery was given away for a song, with a very few people made millionaires. I wonder if the conservatives are going to repeat their mistakes again.

I don't remember a weekend as tiring as the last one - it's Thursday and I'm really struggling to wake up in the morning. Friday night was the Old Boys Dinner, an early start on Saturday to take The Boy to rugby, then into town to see Mark Rylance perform in Jerusalem, before returning to go to the Golf Club (I don't play, I just like eating, drinking and dancing) dinner dance. Got up early Sunday for Remembrance day and then went shopping for Sunday dinner. No wonder we crashed out for a couple of hours in the afternoon. Perhaps we were keeping ourselves busy to distract ourselves from a pretty challenging environment at home. Teenagers. Who'd have them? The tension is simmering and I don't hold up much hope there won't be an explosion.

If only we could solve problems the Volkswagen way. It's not that I've been asked to write about about them, and I have to say my experience of an Audi TT (made by Volkswagen) was not a happy one. BUT somebody mentioned a project the company is involved in, and all I can say is that if the theory that something as simple as fun is the easiest way to change people’s behaviour for the better is right, then it should be universally applied. Especially at home. Now.

This was the video that brought it to my attention

And there's plenty more interesting stuff to be found here

Tuesday 15 November 2011

"I cannot tell a lie....

....but the place is full of chavs."

It's come as something of a surprise to find out that I made it through to the next round of auditions to participate in the opening ceremony of the Olympics. Worryingly the next audition is 'role specific'. That would be fine, but I suspect I'm auditioning to rollerblade. Now some five to ten years ago I used to rollerblade a lot. Friday nights. Wednesday nights. 15 miles a time. I even did a rollerblade marathon. Truth be told I'm not sure I can even stand up in my 'blades now. Damn. The question is, should I duck out now with my dignity intact or should I go along for the ride, enjoy myself and leave with a painful arse?

Whilst it has hardly come as a surprise, it is a reflection on the true value of democracy and freedom of speech in the US that the 'Occupy Wall Street' camp has been cleared overnight. I think it is little different here - if The City had had its way the London protesters would also have gone by now. Occupy Wall St have made a fair point that 1% of Americans own the majority of the country's wealth. I'm not close enough to know what else they've said, other than they are inspired by the Arab Spring and they believe there is no morality amongst financiers. The authorities have used concerns about health and safety as the excuse to remove them. It's a poor excuse. Peaceful protest of any sort should be allowed in any free democracy...minor inconvenience and embarrassment should not be a reason to stop the proper expression of firmly held views.

Woodford Green is just about as middle-class as you can get. Lot's of lovely detached and semi-detached inter-war and post war mock Tudor houses. Disney would be proud. Cricket is played on The Green, and ducks swim in the pond. Until the recent arrival of a Tesco Express, the only supermarket was a Waitrose. The local garage sells sparkly new Jaguars and Range Rovers. Lovely. So it will cause some real soul searching to understand why in the space of 48 hours there have been two shootings in the area. At the local branch of 'Cakes and Shakes' (of which the headline quote was a description by The Boy's best friend). No one dead. Hardly a ripple on the news media. The only conclusion can be that this sort of thing is happening all the time. Scary.

Meanwhile, if you believe apartheid is wrong, sign here

Monday 14 November 2011

The last post

I'll take it as a compliment when one of the UK's leading plastic surgeons says "You must have had cosmetic surgery." On Friday night we were celebrating at the Old Boys Dinner. Acquaintances were being renewed, and it was good to see some people I hadn't heard from for more than thirty years. The conversation flowed freely. As freely as the complimentary wine allowed. Last year I organised the event; this year I threw my toys out of my pram when I realised this year's President was a fool (IMHO) and next year's is a well known buffoon. We held a two minute silence to remember the fallen, whilst in the background fireworks from some unknown party created sound effects that helped us all think of the trenches.

On Sunday it was Remembrance Day.

There was no sound in the school quad, aside from cable holding the flag clattering against the flagpole. It seemed entirely appropriate and remarkably atmospheric during the the two minute silence at the Remembrance Day Parade at The Boy's school. Then just before the drum signified the end of the silence, a bird noisily flapped its wings and flew off into the clear blue sky.

The whole event was incredibly poignant. Many standing in the autumn warmth and sunshine were moved to tears.

This year two people from the school have been killed in Afghanistan. Paul Watkins, a Gap Year student originally from South Africa who joined the Royal Lancers and Lieutenant Daniel Clack, a high-flying pupil, known to many who stood around the quad whilst the wreathes were laid. Dan Clack's parents attended the event, as did many of his former school friends - at the age of 24, it hasn't been that long since he was just another noisy schoolboy running through the ancient red brick corridors. 24 is such a very young age to die, and I'm not sure how any parent copes with that. Very sad. Very sad.

On Saturday morning The Boy was playing rugby for the school First 15. A match they won 44-0. The sweet taste of victory, and not a casualty in sight. That's the only sort of conflict I ever want him involved in.

Friday 11 November 2011


With remarkable irony, I managed to get a paper cut when opening one of the myriad catalogues that come through the door at this time of year. It was a catalogue for Robert Welch kitchen knives.

I know when it's time to get my haircut. I walk down Bermondsey street and peer in through the window of George the Cypriot barber. If the naked girl on his calendar is a different one from the last time I looked, then it's time for a trim. It's not that I really remember which girl was there before, its just that I recognise that I haven't seen the new beauty before. This week I spied a new girl on the calendar.

George is a feature of the Street, and there are others like him. I would imagine he's been in the street at least thirty, maybe forty or even fifty years. It's changed a lot in that time. Whenever I go in he likes to chat. Just about all his sentences include the word 'fuck' or 'fucking'. And I can always get the latest prices of flights to Cyprus. If I want I can buy a dodgy DVD, batteries, a pen or whatever is his latest scheme to bring in a little bit more money. He has to cut six people's hair a day in order to cover his overheads. I guess from that the rent is not too much. There's usually a good black and white or technicolour film on in the background. I know a lot about his family. His daughter is married to an Italian. I'm amazed that there isn't a Green Line painted down the middle of the road outside his shop. Opposite is a Turkish sandwich shop which I go in a couple of times a week. As far as I know there's no animosity, but I've never seen them speak either. In the Turkish shop I'm known as Mr Marvelous. One of the girls behind the copunter once asked me to marry her. I have a feeling it was more because she wanted a visa than because of the romantic way I asked for a chicken kebab with chilli sauce.

Next to George's is Al's Cafe. I think Al maybe Italian, although I've never asked. It's always busy with workmen buying their English Breakfast...bacon, eggs, sausages, beans and a big mug of tea. Delicious. I'm generally in there after a heavy night out to get my bacon and egg sandwich. White bread, no sauce thank you very much.

Twenty years ago, I started working in another part of London - Clerkenwell which at the time was similar to Bermondsey as it is now. Cheap and cheerful Cafe's and Chinese restaurants serving delicious albeit probably unhealthy foods. The whole area was forgotten and decayed. But in the boom years Clerkenwell changed as the money moved in. Printers were replaced by Corporate Design agencies, textile traders were replaced by contract carpet suppliers. The area became gentrified, the cafes went to be replaced by hyper-trendy restaurants and cutting edge bars. Shabby terraced houses were replaced by high-rise designer flats. On the one hand I can't say it's a bad thing. It's progress for sure, but whimsically I feel some heart and soul has gone forever.

The same is becoming true of Bermondsey. It's now fashionable. At one end of the street is The Shard, the spike of glass that rises high above the London sky-line and will contain designer flats, a fashionable hotel and restaurants cutting edge bars. At the other end of the street is the new White Cube Gallery full of uber-trendy arty types with more than a few bob to spend. And just beyond is Bermondsey Square, the new block of concrete and glass hotels, offices, bars and restaurants. In its centre every Friday is the 'world-famous' Bermondsey market - a now motley collection of market stalls flogging stuff that may well have come from a car boot sale. It's not the same as it was when you could smell, taste and feel the history.

I'm not sure how long George, Al and the Turkish sandwich bar will be around. I'm afeared not as long as I would hope. If I'm lucky they'll be here for another couple of years which is when I'm planning to move out of my office and work from home. Probably a shed at the bottom of the garden if The Cat's Mother has her way.

That's progress.

Wednesday 9 November 2011

Olympic dreaming

I can't remember the last time that I was as nervous as I was yesterday.

No it wasn't that I was concerned that Berlusconi might decide not to go. No it wasn't that I was concerned that Israel may launch pre-emptive strikes on the Iranians. No it wasn't even that I was worried that Theresa May has allowed hundreds of extremists in to the country because she's worried about people having to queue for too long. I like the gag that's going round at the moment: "Knock, knock" Theresa May "Come in"

No it was far more important than that.

It took me until my thirties before I stopped having stress dreams about exams. It seems I'm not alone...many friends say that it was similar for them. So I hope my experience yesterday will not lead to another decade of restless nights, but it certainly brought back memories of queuing up outside the exam room before the next 'O' or 'A' Level or degree exam.

I mentioned before, though I can't remember when, that I'd got an audition to participate in the Opening Ceremony for the Olympics. It was done in a moment of enthusiasm without really thinking it through. Yesterday, the day rolled round so I schlepped off to Three Mills where the auditions are being held. Although I cycle past there every time I come into work, on this occasion I decided to go by tube, managing to arrive three-quarters of an hour early. Amidst the decay and mess that is Bow, it stands out on the riverside as a beacon of beauty. A large complex of studios based around old warehouses where some of our favourite TV programmes and films have been made. I was not alone, and soon we were all in, registered and measured for any costume we might need. There were 200 of us, and in total, twelve and a half thousand are being auditioned. That's a lot of people ranging from 18 to 70ish, and from rank amateur Daddy dancers to professionals who presumably would like ti on their CV.

We've been sworn to secrecy about what went on...but it's the first time I've participated in any mass choreography. It may well be my last. It was a phenomenal amount of fun. But it must be said that although I regard myself as quite fit, within a few minutes I was huffing and puffing, read in the face with sweat pouring down my forehead. I guess having a heavy cold and cough didn't help things. Clearly the professionals did their thing and did it very well....they obviously had techniques for creating 'stand out' whilst the rest of us tried to even vaguely remember what we were supposed to be doing. My favourite person by a mile was an Indian man who came along in suit and tie whilst the rest of us wore baggy sports wear. Inspite of being encouraged to take it off, it remained on him for the entire three hours. So too did his thick square moustache and the biggest grin I've ever seen. I really, really would like to see him succeed...he was obviously loving it. The organisers were amazingly friendly and was a lovely thing to get to do with them.

As for me, I managed some parts OK, did other parts disastrously so have no expectations of getting through. Co-ordination was never my strong point, and that was amply demonstrated throughout the evening. And it obviously hyped me up as last night was particularly restless. I'd really love to get the chance to participate in the Olympics, but I'm not holding my breath. But it was a great experience, and I can now say I tried. And I shall be back to my Dad dancing at birthdays and weddings.

Tuesday 8 November 2011

And did those feet in ancient times

Whilst everyone was reading the press reports with the name of the new Bond movie which will come out next year, I was through pure good fortune walking through the filmset on the first day of filming. In the arches of Ewer Street in South East London was the venue. No doubt Danial Craig had hop and skipped directly from the press conference to cause some mess and mayhem in our locale. In a school boy way I find this sort of thing absolutely thrilling. It is the collision of fantasy and reality that makes you think it wouldn't be impossible just to slip from one to the other.

This morning too I felt like a bit part player in another movie - Contagion. The tube train managed to go one stop before the driver announced we were halted as someone had been taken seriously ill at Liverpool street and were being removed by ambulance. I buried my head in my book. After a while we moved again, then stopped as the driver announced another person taken ill at Liverpool Street. I buried my head in my book. After a while we moved again, then stopped again as the driver announced another person taken ill at St Paul's. I buried my head in my book. After a while we moved again, then stopped again as the driver announced another person taken ill at Liverpool Street....

Jerusalem is a place I've never been to. Nor do I have much desire to go there. I can't help but wonder how long it may in case be there. You've got Israel determined to have it all, Palestine determined to have their share, and in all likelihood (according to a report which will be launched later this week by the IAEA) the Iranians who might like to flatten it. I've never understood why western powers have turned a blind eye to the Israelis having nuclear capable weaponry. The almost inevitable consequence of this is bound to be a determination by an enemy of Israel to have a nuclear deterrent. So the likelihood of nuclear confrontation is that much higher. And let's face it none of us wants to glow in the dark, do we?

Jerusalem is high on our minds at the moment. In the West End Jerusalem has re-opened. It stars Mark Rylance and McKenzie Crooke, and was amazing when we first saw it a couple of years ago. It then transferred to Broadway where it was a run away success, and has now come back to London, marginally updated to reflect our current financial travails. That it was a success in America is truly remarkable because, on the surface at least, it is quite parochial. It is set around a dirty caravan parked in the woods featuring a motley collection of life's ne'er do goods speaking in heavy West Country accents. Teenagers, drinking, drugs and everything that doesn't speak well about life outside the mainstream is its lifeblood. On a bigger scale, of course, it's about the human condition. The Cat is lucky enough to be going to see it with the school this week, and we all get to see it again on Saturday for our afternoon's entertainment.

I suspect many of the play's character's were at Lewes this weekend. Lewes, the county town of Sussex is a sleepy old place that hasn't really changed for centuries. Yes there's a couple of supermarkets, a Boots and a few other chain stores, but if you peel back the modern skin you'll find it's the same as it was before electricity. It is rich in ancient timbered houses...including one that was the home of Anne of Cleves. The town has a rich history - some of it quite socking. The BBC has a good background to it:

A catholic background

Mary Tudor, was a devout Catholic, and during the reign of her half brother, Edward VI, lived in withdrawal from the Royal Court, and emphatically refused to accept the Protestant faith. Despite a conspiracy devised by The Earl of Northumberland [1502-1553], to prevent her succession to the throne after Edward’s death, Mary Tudor entered London and seized power to the throne from Lady Jane Grey who had been enthroned for a mere nine days.

Mary proceeded cautiously at first, repealing anti-catholic legislation, but soon, with the backing of Catholic Archbishop, Cardinal Pole, she proceeded to reinstate papal dominance and seal a Catholic union with Spain and Spanish King - Phillip II. The year 1554 was momentous. Lady Jane Grey was executed, Elizabeth, Mary’s half sister, was imprisoned and Mary I of England and Philip II of Spain were married. The following year was also one that will be etched on the annals of history with blood. The royal marriage between Mary and the Spanish Philip was deeply unpopular with such a close association with Spanish Catholicism. Mary’s persecution of the Protestants started in earnest in 1555, earning her the dubious name of “Bloody Mary”.

Protestants generally trace their separation from the Roman Catholic Church to the 1500s, which is sometimes called the magisterial Reformation because it initially proposed numerous radical revisions of the doctrinal standards of the Roman Catholic Church - called the magisterium.

Hundreds of Protestants were pursued and forced to languish in appalling conditions in jail while waiting examination or execution. No thought was even given for pregnant women, many of whom gave birth in squalid conditions with both mothers and babies dying in the company of odious criminals. There were eminent Christians in their number too: the Archbishop of Canterbury, several Bishops, dozens of clergymen and scholars – none were spared. Those who were lucky were able to escape abroad to France and beyond.

Toward the end of October 1554, a Bible-reading was taking place in the home of one Dirick Carver, a brewer from Brighthelmstone (now Brighton) with John Launder, Thomas Iveson and William Veisey. Under the command of Sir Edward Gage, the High Sheriff of Sussex, the four men were arrested at prayer. It was a short matter of time before they were brought before the court of Bonner, the Bishop of London in Newgate, London. They were kept there until 8 June 1855.
After forced confessions were signed, their fate was sealed.

On 22 July 1555, Dirick Carver, was taken by his Catholic persecutors, to Lewes town centre to be burned outside of the Old Star Inn, where the Town Hall currently stands. His Bible was taken from him and thrown into a barrel on the pyre. The crowd called to him, pleading God to strengthen his resolve and his faith. He knelt down and prayed, but was then forced to climb into the barrel too.

Carver took his Bible and threw it into the surrounding crowd. His final words were: “Lord have mercy upon me, for unto thee I commend my spirit and my soul doth rejoice in thee!” His Bible was preserved and is on display in Lewes Museum today. Clear evidence of his blood splattered on the pages of Judges, Zephaniah and Ruth is a graphic reminder of his physical ordeal.

On 6 June 1556, a further number of Protestants were taken to their flaming deaths in Lewes. Thos Harland, John Oswold, Thos Avington and Thos Reed had all spent a great deal of time in prison, and still rejected the Mass and refused to go to a church where the language was one they would not understand.

Despite these deaths, Bonner, the Bishop of London was not convinced that the heretics were being persuaded back to the Roman faith. So he arranged the largest bonfire of humans the
The 17 burning crosses serve as a reminder town or indeed the country had seen. The ten hapless Protestants were: Richard Woodman, George Stevens, Alexander Hosman, William Mainard, Thomasina Wood, Margery Morris, James Morris, Denis Burges, Ann Ashdon and Mary Groves.

Such was the conviction of the Protestants’ faith, that they could endure imprisonment, deprivation, torment and burning but they would not recant their deeply held opinions of the fundamental incorrectness of the Roman Catholic faith. The central belief of their Protestant faith was the belief that Jesus Christ was the head of the church, and it was inconceivable that the Roman Catholic Church should put the pope at the head of Christian faith. They stood firm with their principles and endured horrific persecutions, and it was only when Mary Tudor’s reign came to an end in 1558 that they were able to return to open worship.

John Foxe (1517 – 1587), was an English martyrologist converted from the Roman Catholic to the Protestant faith in about 1540, while he was a fellow of Magdalene College, Oxford. He committed the remainder of his life to the promotion of the English reformation. In 1554, he went into exile in Basic in Switzerland, to escape Bloody Mary’s persecutors, in the same
way as so many other Protestants did and he did not return until the Protestant Elizabeth I came to the throne.

It was while he was in exile he compiled an ecclesiastical history, 'Acts and Monuments', justifying the reformation and had it published in Latin in 1563 – the English version not being published until 1641. It became a testament to the Protestant strength of faith and his perceived injustice of Roman Catholicism.

It was through this publication that Foxe set out to prove that the Roman Catholic Church had been a false church since the 11th Century, citing the persecution of those agin the papacy and his declared conviction that the Pope was the anti-Christ. The persecutions in England often involved the death of his friends, turning his academic interest in the Acts and Monuments into a passionate and angry publication.

He wrote a comparatively small amount of the 'Acts and Monuments' himself, the remainder of the content coming from a huge array of letters, personal memoirs, registers and eyewitness accounts. It chronicled accounts from the 11th Century, accentuating the similarity between the reformation martyrs and those of the late imperial persecutions. He continued making amendments and additions from new information supplied.

When he was approached by the church for an abridged version, he refused, insisting on producing further revisions of the entire works in 1583. He was in the midst of planning further modifications to the publication when he died in 1587.

When Elizabeth I came to the throne in 1558, she had other religious problems to surmount with Philip of Spain, the husband of her deceased sister, still vying for the English throne, but the religious persecutions had all but come to an end.

The memory of the Lewes 17 is still celebrated with annual torchlight processions through Lewes which attract up to 80,000 people. Five bonfire societies carry 17 barrels of burning tar and 17 flaming crosses every 5 November.

We went to Lewes on Saturday evening. I've been a regular visitor for the last 20 years, The Boy has been a few times, and this was a new experience for The Cat and The Cat's Mother.

On the up side it was dry. On the down side there were 60,000 people crowded into the narrow streets. On the upside the event is still allowed despite our obsession with health and safety. On the downside the streets were full of the cast from Jerusalem. On the upside you're allowed to shout 'Burn the Pope' without meaning it and without being arrested. On the downside there were children who were terrified. On the upside the parades were spectacular. On the downside we queued for an hour and a half to get on the train from Brighton. On the upside we managed to get a good view in the high street. On the downside we had to fight our way through a crush that made you wonder if you'd ever be able to breath again. On the upside the costumes were spectacular (although I didn't understand the Zulu link). On the downside the bangers were very, very noisy and reduced The Cat's Mother to a quivering wreck. On the upside we had tickets to the best bonfire - Cliffe. On the downside it was a long walk. On the upside the fireworks were the most spectacular The Cat's Mother has ever seen. On the downside The Cat's Mother says she never wants to go again.