Wednesday, June 27, 2007

A Call for Help

Customer Help Line Call Centres in Britain have got a pretty skunky reputation. Often this is because they are located far from the scene of the action in some far flung part of the former Empire where rice and labour are both cheap and available and the 'on hold' music is played on a sitar.
The exotic appeal of this, accompanied by the strong odour of garam marsala, when attempting to locate the last train from Biggleswade, does much to enliven the business of rail travel. And, a good many other services adopt the same policy.
Here in France, we don't have the same problem, probably due to a shortage French speakers in India.
As a man of the world myself, I maintain a modest bank account in the UK and, yesterday, I needed to take a look at it by way of the internet banking service provided by these guardians of my wealth.
Since I rarely trouble to do this, not unnaturally, I had forgotten a few minor details of the procedure. Like most of us now, the number of passwords, secret questions (what was the name of your favourite teacher at school? I didn't have one – I hated them all) and codes for reinstalling your software when it all goes kerplump, that one has to keep on file would fill the London telephone directory.
After six goes to access my account, I gave up. Or rather the software did. Bossily, it said I'd got it wrong too many times and they were taking their ball back.
I dialled the help line and settled down to browse through the Encyclopaedia Britannica, as one does when in for a long wait. I figured that I would at least make it to Krasnokamsk – Menadra before I got an answer but I had not even got stuck into A-Ku-Ta, who, as you know, founded the Chin dynasty, when a very English voice asked 'could he help me?'
I explained my problem and, as is my wont, while he was tapping away at his keyboard, I engaged him in a bit of trifling persiflage to pass the time.
“Your English is jolly good,” I said, “where are you calling from?”
“Leicester,” he replied. At which the line went dead, no doubt a supervisor having pulled the plug on hearing his indiscretion. Call centres are, by law, supposed to be located in Mumbai.
I redialled.
On the second ring, a charming female voice enquired 'could she help me?'
“You're calling from Leicester, aren't you,” says I.
“Yes, how did you guess?”
“By your accent – I've got an ear for this sort of thing.”
“I'm from Swansea.”
I must say that girls from that part of the world give lie to the claim that education is lacking in Britain. In a trice she identified my problem.
“Are you typing it in all upper case?” she asked, adding, as clearly she regarded me as a bit of a nut, “I mean in the big letters.”
And, by golly, she was right first time.
So this particular call centre gets top marks from me. It would be indiscreet of me to mention the name of the bank, since you all might rush to move your accounts there and overwhelm the service.
But for crossword puzzle lovers, I can tell you that its name has four capital letters, you know, the big ones, and that it seems to have started life in the Far East.
Other than that, my lips are sealed.

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Monday, June 25, 2007

Crotchets in the Mud

“You're just an old fuddy-duddy,”says my wife, “and don't appreciate modern pop music.”
“Right on both counts,” says I.
The fields are alive, with the sound of music, or they were for the past few days in a soggy area of Somerset. But did 177,000 or so people go to listen to music?
Somehow, I doubt it. They went because it was one of those things to do.
The other day I was chided gently by a correspondent for a remark I had made about a group called Bon Jovi, who would be performing at that overgrown circus tent, now renamed O2. Quite rightly he pointed out that one man's rock is another man's roll and that there would be something for everybody in subsequent offerings. (Snow White on Ice, is one!) Where he was in error, however, was in assuming that I knew who on earth Bon Jovi was, or perhaps were.
I'm sure they're jolly good if you like that sort of thing, but, 'if this be musick,' as the bard might have said, surely it should be listened to in peace and quiet? Standing shoulder to shoulder in a group of twenty thousand frequently arm waving fans, many of whom are watching the performance on huge screens, since they can't actually see the stage, doesn't strike me as being a musical experience, more of a cult following..
From a musical point of view, it's as strange to me as trying to listen whilst walking down the street or riding on a train with an earpiece plugged into your lughole. I listened to an iPod once (when I finally discovered what it was) and it was reminiscent of the description given to the gramophone when it first appeared. I believe it was George Bernard Shaw who said the name derived from the Greek, “Gramo” - I shout, “Phono”- through a tin tube.
A guitarist friend of mine, defending Pop, admitted that he'd tried jazz but the chords were too difficult. Rock, he said, was much easier since there were only three chords per tune on average – and it also paid better.
Which probably explains a lot.
I'm told that Elton John was trained as a classical musician, in which case, he hides it very well, but at least I can discern a melody and form in his compositions – more than I can do from most of the other groups, showing there is something in having a musical education.
Bach was an exponent of the pop music of his day and the Jacques Loussier group exploited this in their fine recordings of updated performances of his works, 'Play Bach.' Loussier had studied for six years at the Conservatoire National de Musique in Paris. Jazz at its very best, played by real musicians with not a guitar between them and able to manage a sequence of more than three chords.
But Bach, luckily for him, never performed before 170,000 fans in a muddy meadow and I understand that there were few arrests at any of his performances for drug taking, drunkenness or theft. He also earned less than most of the performers on display at the weekend.
His music is, however, still appreciated and performed 250 years after his death.
I wonder how much of the present day output of Pop will still be around 250 years hence?

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Saturday, June 23, 2007

Riding the Rail

A feeling of impending doom is creeping over me as I reflect that, in a few days time, I shall be in England and striving to board a South West Rail train from Waterloo.
I know now how the deportees to Auschwitz must have felt, since it seems that the company has found an old Gestapo instruction manual relating to the treatment of passengers in their care.
The last time I was in Waterloo station , I saw the shuffling line of miserable beings trying to buy their tickets from the few open booths. As I needed one, I had to join the line and timed the wait at twenty minutes.
Now it seems the company is instructing its customers (although they seem to have forgotten the term themselves) that if, due to the inefficiency of the staff dishing out tickets, they elect to board without and pay on the train rather than missing it, the wrath of the almighty, in this case South West Rail, will descend upon them with all the majesty of the law.
In an attempt to avoid the humiliation and disgrace that might befall me under these circumstances, I went to the National Rail Services website to buy a ticket on-line and in advance. All seemed to be going splendidly until I got to the part where I was to purchase the ticket. Then I was offered a drop down box listing the rail companies (there seemed to be an awful lot of them) and asked to select the company I needed. Apparently, National Rail don't know which trains go where. As I am not an aficionado of the British rail system, not surprisingly, I didn't know. Incredibly I had to turn to Wikipedia to find the service that ran to my destination.
It turned out to be South West Rail.
Returning to the National Rail website, I consulted the drop down box.
South West were not listed. I gave up.
So now I am doomed to show up at Waterloo way in advance of my departure time in order to join the shuffling throng of misery that makes up South West's passenger clientèle.
I see that the company made a huge profit last year, so perhaps they will be able to afford to open up a couple more of their ticket windows soon.
One of the advantages touted for private enterprise is that gives the consumer freedom of choice, but in the case of the British rail system, it provides no choice, a grossly overpriced and under performing service of incredible and baffling complexity.
Nearly all of the European rail network is government run or subsidised. It is clean, efficient and cheap.
I wonder what George Stephenson would have to say about the mess they've made of his invention?

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Friday, June 22, 2007

Doomed to The Dome

So the languishing white elephant on the shores of Greenwich is now renamed O2, a name which strikes me as being about as silly as The Dome. Stinks, my old chemistry master, could have told them that it stands for oxygen but I suppose it's better than calling it H2S, although that may well be the result, especially as it's built on the site of an old gasworks.
The American investors are pouring an enormous amount of money into the project which, from the pictures I've seen, looks like Tesco meets Las Vegas, the sort of entertainmentopolis that I would not be found alive in, let alone dead.
The proposed casino area is discreetly fenced off whilst the board of directors are no doubt waiting to see which of Gordon Brown's team will be the most suitable recipient of a backhander in order to get their gambling licence back. At the same time, they may be considering means of repossessing the cowboy boots, belt and hat from one, J. Prescott, that failed to do the trick last time.
To me, it's a peculiarly unlovely building that would look better demolished and forgotten and will hardly bring much added lustre to Greenwich. There are more worthy things of interest in the area.
The Greenwich observatory which, to the chagrin of America, still regulates the world's time and defines its longitude, is home to a marvellous collection of clocks, including John Harrison's timepiece that solved the riddle of establishing longitude. Dava Sobel has written a superb book on this entitled “Longitude.”
And then there's the National Maritime Museum, a treasury of the nation's sea-going history whose buildings includes the Queen's House, designed by Inigo Jones.
The area is replete with other fine examples of good architecture and the Old Royal Naval College is a masterpiece of Sir Christopher Wren's, whose beautiful work, complete with dome, is in stark contrast to the obscene dome nearby on which so much money is being lavished.
O2, who strangely are in the telephone business it seems, are inaugurating their venture with a concert by Bon Jovi, a rock group.
For a more tasteful experience in the area, I suggest a walk in Greenwich Park.
Get some O2 in your lungs and try and forget about The Dome, an excrescence on an otherwise attractive scene.
Earplugs may be advisable when Bon Jovi strike up.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Skulduggery at Waterstones

Aspiring authors will undoubtedly be alarmed to hear that Waterstones, one of the larger book stores, and many supermarkets, are allegedly demanding hefty premiums from publishers for the pleasure of promoting their books.
For those of us at the sharp end of the business, this will come as no surprise. What many newcomers to the business find surprising is that, in addition to these demands to promote a publisher's book, the retailers also demand a whopping 55% discount in addition to reserving the right to return any unsold copies.
This latter requirement does benefit the reader, who can frequently pick up heavily discounted copies, but does nothing for the struggling writer.
Publishing is an expensive and chancy business and it's a brave publisher indeed who will take on an unknown author on literary merit alone. It's an industry with tight margins and commercialism unfortunately takes precedence over art.
This accounts for the obscenely large advances on royalties paid to many celebrities for their memoirs or to established authors, whose next offering can be relied upon to produce the goods.
All bad news for the newcomer who, in desperation, sometimes turns to the oft-derided but very practical business of self-publishing. The advent of computerised, print on demand, processes where books are stored as a computer file and then printed, one at a time, as required has made this possible.
Unfortunately, it means that the editorial process that tends to separate the dross from gold, is absent, leading many reviewers to ignore such works.
The sales effort, paid for by the conventional publisher, is also missing, rendering it difficult to achieve much in the way of substantial sales to the general public, although this is of lesser importance if the book is of a specialised nature.
The publisher of the Da Vinci Code issued 50,000 copies to various reviewers and book buyers in order to promote the book – and, incidentally, to make it an immediate 'best-seller.'
Such largesse is denied the average scribe.
All in all, it's a sad indictment of the modern trend toward huge retail groups such as the supermarkets who, in spite of their claim to be acting pro bono publico, are merely acting on behalf of their directors and shareholders to maximise their profits.
Waterstones would appear to be no exception.

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Eva Braun and Adolf

There is an enduring interest in the history of the Third Reich that has spawned innumerable books on the subject and upon its dramatis personae. My own interest is that, indirectly, it affected my life as it did so many others of my era.
Thus when I saw that there was a new book entitled “The Lost Life of Eva Braun,” I ordered a copy.
It arrived on my desk with a thump, a paperback running to an incredible 636 pages.
I had once contemplated a book on the same subject but, on reviewing the subject and the available material, figured that I would be hard pressed to get more than a hundred pages. If, as is often said, Josef Goebbels was the only truly interesting character in the Nazi hierarchy, Eva Braun must rank as the least. About as significant a figure in the history of that epoch as my Aunt Fanny.
Angela Lambert, the author of this new tome, is a successful novelist, with tenuous links to the Germany of that era, and she has produced an alarmingly overweight biography of an alarmingly underweight subject.
Perhaps a clue to the problem lies in her admission that, until she started work on the book, she was “in a state of comparative ignorance about the Third Reich and the Second World War.”
As one would expect from a novelist, the book is an easy read. Where it fails is that, possibly due to her crash course in the history of the period, her story primarily covers the ground trodden by rather more knowledgeable historians. It becomes an easy read primer for the story of the Nazi party and of Adolf Hitler, Braun has merely a walk-on part.
Even worse, it has led her into perpetrating errors, some simple, some more serious. Although she has clearly spent a lot of time researching aspects of the story, she mentions spending hours in the dusty auction house of Hermann-Historica, searching for proof that Eva Braun had never been a member of the Nazi party, some rather more obvious details have escaped her.
At the wedding of Eva's sister to Hermann Fegelein, she says, “In the official wedding photograph, Hitler for once in civilian dress (he had sworn to wear uniform, like his soldiers, until the war was over), smiles thinly through narrowed lips.” As I write, I have this picture in front of me. Hitler is in his regular war-time garb and, if that's “a thin smile upon his narrowed lips,” clearly I need a new pair of glasses. But then, I don't have the imagination of a novelist.
The book has more footnotes than I have ever seen in one volume, some of them running to nearly a full page, always a deterrent to easy reading. And some are grossly incorrect. She states that Hitler's doctor, Theodore Morell was “cross-examined, found guilty and hanged after the Nuremberg Trials in 1948.” In fact, Morell was never charged with any crime and died of a stroke in 1948.
Possibly she was confusing him with another of Hitler's doctors, Karl Brandt, who was executed for his part in the Holocaust.
But it's these sort of crass errors that undermine the value of her book, which largely goes to prove that indeed, Eva Braun, barely merits more than a hundred pages.

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Saturday, June 16, 2007

Thanks, Your Majesty

“You're not in it again,” says my wife.
“So I see. Clearly a simple clerical error that will, no doubt, be rectified in six months time.”
We were discussing the Queen's Birthday Honours List and I must say, apart from this one omission, it seems to have been compiled with common sense this time. As Winston Churchill once remarked, it would be impossible to please everybody with such a list but at least, this time, we have been spared the proliferation of pop stars of dubious talent who appear simply because they had lunch with that other sometime banjo player, Tony Blair, at Chequers. Benefactors of the government are also mercifully absent.
I was fearful, in view of the rumours that were spreading around, that a well known kicker of the football was to be included, which would make his wife a Dame, an unusual appellation for someone resembling, both in shape and talent, an ironing board.
The Queen, does, of course, have little to do with the process and I suspect has often been appalled in the past at some of the honorees. But Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense and she hides her feelings well.
Noel Coward had to wait until he was in his dotage before being recognised for his services to the country so it's no wonder he bunked off to Jamaica, and many other deserving characters have inevitably been passed over – see the first few lines of this piece.
Now that the system is open to the public to vote, this does place an awful lot of trust in the good taste of the populace, something which has not been obvious in the past. Presumably the Honours Awards Committee take this into consideration when compiling their final list for presentation to the Prime Minister. Perhaps it is the fact that there is no genuine incumbent at No.10 at present that has made it so sensible.
But as someone once said “It's always nice to get an Honour. It irritates one's enemies so.”
And Denis Thatcher, while accepting his gracefully, did say that he'd have preferred a membership to Sunningdale Golf Club.


Friday, June 15, 2007

Child Pornography

According to the E-Mail I received five times yesterday, all I needed to do was to send an SMS message to the UK number shown or, alternatively, to call another UK number and I would gain access to PURE CHILD PORNO site.
Full of righteous indignation, I abandoned the urgent project on which I was working, to alert the authorities. Here, I reasoned, donning my deerstalker, was a simple piece of detective work. There had to be someone at either of those two numbers and all that would be needed to apprehend the culprits would be to trace those.
Not having access to any contacts for reporting this sort of thing, I turned to Google.
The first site that showed up was ASACP, a child protection agency, and they had a form to be completed. But my receiving an E-Mail with telephone numbers did not impress them. Rather stuffily, they said “We do not accept "spam" email reports, however, if the website address of the suspected child pornography site is contained in the email please report this to us. Issues regarding "spam" email in general should be addressed with your ISP (internet service provider).”
The sender of the E-Mails was using a Yahoo address so I checked their help site. Sure enough, they had a process for reporting “phishing” E-Mails or Spam – but nothing for reporting child pornographers. I did get a response – someone would get back to me within 48 hours.
Next I tried the Serious Organised Crime Agency, set up last year by Mr. Blair. It seemed totally disinterested in my problem. However, I did find the Internet Watch Foundation address on their site. They too had one of those handy-dandy forms to complete but, once again, only seemed interested if I had actually accessed a porno site. I completed it as best I could and shot it off to them. I'm waiting to hear.
In desperation, I sent a copy of the offending E-Mail to New Scotland Yard, where no doubt it is languishing under a pile of complaints concerning motoring offences. I've had no acknowledgement that it has been received, let alone looked at.
Somehow I can't help feeling that had I been reporting someone for driving in London without paying a congestion charge or loading their wheely bin with the wrong sort of items for recycling, the majesty of the law would have descended immediately upon them.
But it seems that Child Pornography is, well, just kid's stuff.
The full transcript of the E-Mail (one of them) was as follows:
“Send sms with code CP to +447894034180 or simply call +441638663732 and you gain access to PURE CHILD PORNO site.
If anyone knows who to report this too, I'd be much obliged.


Thursday, June 14, 2007

London Transport

Alcoholism is no laughing matter, and hard-pressed London commuters can hardly have been amused to find that the man advising Ken Livingstone on transport issues in the capital, had been spending the last three months undergoing treatment for the condition. Now hospitalised in the US, they can only hope that the treatment he prescribed for their rail and bus services works, as does the treatment for his own condition. At present, it does appear that the arrangements were made by a man possibly in a drunken stupor.
On a salary of £2.8 million a year, one can well afford to get sloshed pretty regularly and Mr. Livingstone might take some responsibility for Mr. Kiley's unfortunate condition. The consultant himself admitted that he was highly paid for doing “not much,” no doubt allowing himself ample time to indulge in some heavy drinking while the commuters were struggling to get home. He himself had little distance to travel as his contract also included the use of a £2 million house in Belgravia.
Quite what qualities an ex-CIA operative could bring to a transport problem is a moot point, but you can hardly blame him for not turning the job down. After all, £3200 a day is worth having and you can get a lot of gin and tonic for that and still have the bus fare home to Belgravia.
Mr. Livingstone's spirited defence of his consultant included the rather strange claim that the remark, that he was highly paid for doing not much, was made while he was drunk.
How we all wish we could have such a generous and protective boss.
And the London commuters can rest assured that their consultant, whom they are paying so handsomely by way of their Oyster cards and congestion charges, will still be on the job and looking after their interests, albeit from several thousand miles away.
Mr. Kiley is to be allowed to complete the last nine months of his assignment whilst cosily drying out in the United States.
With the exchange rate at nearly $2 to the pound sterling, £3200 per day equals a lot of Jack Daniels.
Mr. Kiley may still be in trouble, never mind the travellers on the London transport system!

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Tunnel Vision

My TGV train from Lille was running late. From Waterloo, the Eurostar had whisked me under the Channel but now, as we approached Tours, things went awry.
When the conductor removed his official cap and sauntered onto the platform, casually lighting a cigarette, I figured we were in for a delay.
An apologetic announcement followed, thanking us for our understanding, at which a large percentage of the passengers piled onto the platform, puffing furiously. A phalanx of French fumeurs or whatever the collective term might be.
There was, said the apologist, a problem with “Le Controlleur.” He didn't specify the problem and I had visions of Sir Topham Hatt, perhaps having overindulged himself at dinner, struggling to gain control of the TGV network. Or, since the whole system is computer driven, peering at the screen on his laptop, where Microsoft would have posted one of their enigmatic and totally useless warnings that the software had crashed.
I had taken the rail route as I was sick and tired of being abused by the BAA staff at Stansted Airport and their laborious and pretty useless security measures. My shoes had been irradiated so often by their X-Ray machine that they were glowing in the dark and I was fearing for my toenails.
Train would take the strain.
And so it did, until we pulled into Tours.
The Eurostar, especially when it terminates at the new terminal in St. Pancras in November , is about as civilised a way of travelling as one can find in this age. A new line will enable it to travel at its maximum speed over this new link, Railtrack staff having been instructed to try and get the distance between the rails closer to the norm of 4 feet 8 1/2 inches, a standard that sometimes seems to elude them on the present track.
The train that goes to Brussels is exceptionally comfortable as most of the passengers are commuting on business. The Paris route is a bit more stressful as it is frequently loaded with families travelling to Disneyworld. I suppose they have to get there somehow, but not on my train.
However, as I have to get to Angers, it's the Lille route for me via the Brussels train and then the TGV.
Compared with the farcical security at airports, the Eurostar people have their walk though scanners, now a rite of passage in this world, set so that only a fully loaded Kalashnikov is going to trigger the alarm.
And nobody has to tell you to insert the metal end into the buckle.
They seem pretty confident about the water tightness in the tunnel as well, since there's no life-vest drill!
The French TGV network has an enviable record of timekeeping and our arrival in Angers, fifty minutes late, was the first time in a good many journeys that I can recollect being delayed by more than a few minutes.
As we exited by the ramp, SNCF staff were on hand with pre-paid envelopes for us to claim a reimbursement. They guarantee that you will not be delayed by more than thirty minutes without compensation.
Personally, I would settle for a signed photograph of Sir Topham Hatt.


Friday, June 08, 2007

It's Not Cricket

“Why,” asked my wife, “are you always poking a stick at the English?”
She meant British, but she’s from Texas and, like many Americans, is not heavily into the subtle nuances of the thing.
It gave me pause for thought. Then I realised that it was simply because the Brits are such an easy target. All one has to do is to read the morning papers and, voila, you have enough material for a complete comedy show.
There is no other nation, certainly not in Europe, that has, what is often referred to, as freedom of speech. Every paper and Internet news site, having dug up some scurrilous bit of “news,” invites comments from its readers and there is no IQ test of the contributor before they publish.
“Can’t you find something snide to say about the Spanish, Germans or French for a change,” she continued.
So I turned to the French press. And all I could find was news.
Le Figaro was about the most entertaining. They did have a small piece on the release of Paris Hilton, without much in the way of comment, and a cartoon of George Bush and Angela Merkel with Pinnochio-like noses, but that was about it for fun. Not much to go on there and there wasn’t even a space for me to get my comments published.
And the French government are, well, just plain boring. No Patricia Hewitts, John Prescotts or junior ministers anxious to stick warning labels on every bottle of plonk or to interfere in the life of the family. It’s enough to give anyone writer’s block.
So sadly I had to revert to the British.
Cricket was a dignified game when I went to school over there and, as I now have to follow the game, courtesy of the media, I turn to the BBC website to read the over by over commentary. But no longer are there the John Arlotts, Rex Alstons or Brian Johnstons contributing. Now the stuff seems to be written by some retarded juvenile, obsessed with his own importance, who, once in a while mentions the state of play, but who spends most of the time publishing inane E-Mails he has received from equally obnoxious viewers.
The Guardian newspaper is even worse and only the Daily Telegraph has the good sense to restrict itself to printing the scorecard.
It was, I feel, much better in the days when contributions by readers to the newspapers were largely from retired military men, usually signing themselves, “Disgusted, Hove.”
At any rate, they knew how to spell and that you began sentences with a capital letter. Also, players were not called Vaughny, Belly, Straussy and suchlike schoolboy appellations.
Have to go now to write a letter to Le Figaro about their cartoon. I’ll be signing it “Dégoûte, Saumur.”


Wednesday, June 06, 2007

In Vino Veritas

How lucky we are, living in France, that we are not at the mercy of a nanny government that seeks to curb our every right and one that has now, surely, taken a step too far, a step that would, in a nation with any backbone, result in revolution.
I refer, of course, to that incursion into the private life of the secret suburban wine drinker.
I was alarmed to find that, since being introduced to wine at the age of about ten, when it was a permanent feature of our family meal, I must have consumed several thousand times as much of this noxious (in the eyes of the British government) substance as is good for me. Good!
Our village here in the French countryside has a population of 1400 and is home to nine wine producers, much of whose product is, I’m sure, sunk by the locals. I understand that milk is available to special order and the farm at the back of the house does have a few dairy cows loitering about, but the “boisson du jour” is definitely vinous.
And yet, I have never seen a drunken local and the average life expectation appears to be in the low nineties.
But to hear the British government, it would seem that the population would be much healthier having the odd slurp of cyanide, and no doubt surveillance cameras will soon be installed in every British home to ensure that their guidelines are not exceeded by Dad uncorking a second bottle.
Years ago, every bar in France had a huge poster on the wall announcing the evils of drunkenness. “Repression de l’Ivresse” it would announce to the Gauloise smoking, pastis drinking patrons. They seem to have disappeared, the posters, not the patrons, so either it worked and fewer got drunk, or it failed and they just ran out of posters.
So wine labels in Britain will now carry a diminutive version of this warning. Cigarette packets have done so for some years and I wonder how many smokers, reaching for a gasper, have been brought up short on reading the dire prediction thereon, and tossed the pack away. I’m not much of a gambler but I bet you it’s not too many.
It is, of course, too fine a point for anyone as dense as a government to see, but it’s not wine that is the problem – it’s people. Civilised nations don’t drink wine to get drunk, they drink for the pleasure of the taste and as an invaluable, indeed, essential, aid to the enjoyment of good food.
But Britain seems to be a nation of binge eaters and drinkers, which will, I suppose, metamorphose into a nation of overweight alcoholics.
I’m sure the labels on a wine bottle will bring a rapid halt to this. The legacy of the Blair Presidency (well, what else would you call it? Dictatorship?) is to impose these sort of piffling regulations as though all the electorate were complete and total morons and not just those that voted them in.
In Vino Veritas goes the old saying. No doubt that’s why the government wants to put a curb on wine drinking. Truth will out.
Meanwhile, as soon as I can find the corkscrew, I’m into my second bottle.

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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Olympian Foolishness

So the London’s (or is it Britain’s?) Olympics have a new logo.
The current ‘nearly past his sell by date’ Prime Minister says:
“When people see the new brand, we want them to be inspired to make a positive change in their life.”
Having looked at the thing from all angles, the hope might be that more will be inspired take up graphic design as a profession as, on this showing, it is drastically in need of some fresh talent. It seems to be a profitable line of work, as long as you can find some sucker to cough up £400,000 for a doodle.
When I lived in London, there used to be a pavement artist sitting at the bottom of Charing Cross Road whom I’m sure would have been happy to provide a rather more attractive design for a lot less money.
The promoters of this bizarre bit of artwork describe it, breathlessly, as: “dynamic, modern and flexible, reflecting a brand-savvy world where people, especially young people, no longer relate to static logos.” This rather ignores the fact that it looks terrible.
But then, viewed as a percentage of the ever rising costs of the Stratford E15 regeneration project, I suppose it’s a mere fleabite, and the expense will be forgotten in the tide of recrimination that will follow, as the concrete slowly crumbles.
London’s website on the subject enthuses:
“Since winning the bid, there has been overwhelming public enthusiasm for London 2012.”
Whether this overwhelming enthusiasm will be maintained when the taxpayers of London find out how much of the cost is coming from their pockets, is debatable. And let’s not mention the plundering of funds from the arts to subsidise the games, games in which the British are not usually very successful on past form. It has already swallowed up an extra £675m of lottery money, much of it coming from projects such as local sports and arts ventures, projects of far greater value to the nation as a whole.
Apart from the temporary employment of a vast labour force, probably mostly from Eastern Europe, it’s hard to see what the long term benefit will be to that soggy patch of East London. From the site you can get an excellent view of that other white elephant, the Millennium Dome, lying wraithlike across the muddy waters of the Thames, the ghost at the feast.
Historically, there has never been much use found for Olympic stadiums after their moment of glory. Most seem to wind up as home to soccer teams.
And for a nation that constantly complains of its housing shortage, surely the money would have been better spent on some decent houses for the East Enders. Over £9 billion can get you an awful lot of houses.
But, of course, that’s not so politically attractive.
The whole project has been in some disarray from the start and, on taking a closer look at the symbol, it seems to epitomise the fractured and disorganised state of the scheme and, indeed, the general thinking of the government.
Perhaps it’s a rather appropriate design after all.


Saturday, June 02, 2007

Serious Fraud

The Crown Prosecution Service has decided that there is insufficient evidence to charge Mr. Hugh Grant for assaulting a member of the paparazzi with baked beans. Personally, I feel that he should not have removed them from the can. There must, however, be more than enough documentary evidence for charging him with the far more heinous offence of masquerading as an actor.
A whole slew of films has exhibited his one facial expression to the exasperation of directors and viewers alike.
“Now Hughie, baby, let’s have an expression to show your feelings and emotions. No, not that one, we used that one in the last three movies. What’s that? It’s the only one you’ve got?.................Hey, Mac, bring on the dog, we’ll use a cutaway shot of him showing his emotions.”
But, come to think of it, there’s an entire cast of thousands out there doing much the same thing in the name of celebrity stardom.
Now if you, I or Mrs. Mcgintle from Number Seven across the street, set ourselves up as entertainers and took money from the public, the Old Bill would be round in a trice, fingering our collars and accusing us of taking money under false pretences.
Yet this is what is happening before our very eyes, as singers who can’t sing and actors who can’t act are propelled into stratospheric adulation by a public who must surely be blessed with cloth ears and a decidedly shaky appreciation of the thespian art.
The cinema and television are much to blame for this. Victorian music hall artists, along with players in Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, were kept very much on their toes and up to par with their performance by ribaldry in the first case and rotten fruit and vegetables in the second.
Sadly, these admirable performance improving aids are not available to most of the stars of today, who have to rely upon the anodyne reviews by the media, anxious to improve their circulation by not upsetting any fans.
An over ripe tomato would be a salutary comment on many a performance.
I realise that the Serious Fraud Office must be very busy at the moment looking into affairs in Downing Street but surely they could spare a few officers to investigate the dross being dished up to the paying public?
If that’s not Serious Fraud, I don’t know what is.

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