Friday, September 28, 2007

Lead, Kindly Light.......

In 1878, an English chemist, Joseph Swan (sometimes Swann) developed the first practical incandescent light bulb. In America, that fertile inventor, Thomas Edison, had been trying to do the same without success and had consoled himself with reciting “Mary had a little lamb” into his newly invented phonograph.
Always one with an eye for the main chance, he claimed the bulb as having been his invention, a myth that has endured until this day. However, he was pragmatic enough to go into business with Swan and the Ediswan company was formed.
Now, it seems, they are being held responsible for global warming (well, some of it) and their invention will shortly be banished from the marketplace.
We shall be forced into buying those expensive, but apparently ecologically acceptable substitutes, that give an eerie glow when they finally decide to strike up the band.
Their hesitation when one flips the switch is, I suppose, a measure of their prudent desire to save the planet. Perhaps they are considering whether we should be entitled to see or not to see, that is the question.
Since the light they produce is useless for reading, I shudder to think what it will do for the literacy rates but anyway the planet will be saved, if not the libraries.
I'm told that, in spite of their inflated price, they will last twelve times as long as the Ediswan variety. Well, I've got news for them. Not in our household they don't. In fact their life expectation seems, if anything, less than the old fashioned, planet wrecking variety.
I'm all in favour of saving the planet, who wouldn't be, but my suspicions are aroused when supermarkets, not notorious for their love of humanity, eagerly embrace the idea.
Could it be that there's more profit in selling the new bulbs?
More Tesco friendly than Eco friendly, perhaps?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

To Your Health!

How very unreasonable of that nasty Mr. Sarkozy to suggest that Brits taking early retirement in France should cough up for their health care. How terribly un-British!
The French health system groans under the weight of British retirees who contribute nothing to the economy and, even more sadly, often very little to the social life of France.
The Dordogne is in danger of becoming a British enclave and any moment I expect to see a branch of Tesco opening its doors there to cope with the clamour for Heinz Baked Beans and PG Tips, to say nothing of Marmite.
Many of those who are proposing to come and live here quite cheerfully subscribe to private health plans in the UK but now seem appalled that they should be expected to do so in France.
The largesse so freely distributed amongst immigrants to the UK, both legal and illegal, is an assault on the pockets of their tax paying citizens and it is hardly surprising that the French government, usually pilloried in the British press for their fiscal imprudence, should decide to do something to plug the leak.
In a nearby village, the young doctor there, whose father had been the local medecin before him, recently hung up his stethoscope and moved to a different location.
His reason? The village had been overrun by British retirees who not only besieged him with their complaints but also, on many occasions, forgot that they needed to pay him his modest fee of 20 Euros for a consultation.
One man used to stop by each morning “for a chat” and then asked to have his blood pressure taken. After a good many days of this, the doctor presented him with a bill for 20 Euros, ensuring that he never came back for another check.
One woman patient, whose mission in life seems to be to visit as many specialists as possible for her ailments, was heard to remark of the EU, “I wish we'd never joined.”
Mr. Sarkozy might be tempted to agree.
But health care, even when you have to pay for it, is still very affordable here and, if you can afford to retire early, surely you should be prepared make some contribution to the society that is accepting you?

Monday, September 24, 2007


Few fans of P.G. Wodehouse will fail to recognise the title and recall that it concerned that inveterate pig-fancier, Lord Emsworth, and his prize Berkshire sow, Empress of Blandings.
They will recall, also, that it was the call used to encourage porkers to get their noses in the trough and fatten themselves up, something which Emsworth's favourite book on the care and maintenance of pigs, “Whiffle on The Pig,” had inexplicably failed to mention.
But in our nearby village of St. Pierre à Champ in the Loire valley, the pig business has taken a turn that would most certainly have engaged his Lordship's attention.
Not much happens in this sleepy village whose inhabitants number somewhere in the three figure range. Listening to grapes ripening was probably the most exciting event - until recently.
It was then discovered that the soon to be retired mayor had done a deal with a producer of premium porkers to locate a major piggery just upwind from the village. He himself was preparing to move well away from the area to a less super pig populated zone. I'm not too sure what the collective term for pigs is but I suppose “a grunting” would work, in which case the porker population was to be some 30,000 gruntings.
Indignation amongst the populace was at boiling point. The French, in general, lack that excellent safety valve of the British as exemplified by “Disgusted, Tonbridge Wells,” and equally lack an equivalent newspaper to write to.
In every Frenchman's soul burns the spirit of revolution and, last weekend, the populace took to the streets.
No doubt fearful that there was a guillotine stored somewhere in a barn for such contingencies and mindful of their duty to protect the Mayor, the Gendarmerie arrived in force.
By evening, things had quietened down but every house in the village now has a “For Sale” sign on display.
And, as you approach the town, there is a sign. It reads:
“St. Pierre à Champ – Village for Sale.”
Ryanair flights to this part of the world are stuffed to the gunwales with Brits looking to buy a house in France. Now they could bid for a whole village.
Should do wonders for sales of “Whiffle on The Pig.” And probably there will be a vacancy for the post of Mayor.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Life, Chez Blair

Yet another celebrity autobiography is coming your way. This time it's Cherie Blair who has thrown her literary knickers into the ring with her forthcoming “tell all” story of life chez Blair.
If she does indeed forego her husband's famed economy with the truth and “tell all,” it should make for far more compulsive reading than most in this genre.
No doubt she was motivated by a desire to poke a sharp stick in Alastair Campbell's eye but also by a need to generate some cash. With an out of work husband and a millstone like the fortress, mausoleum and money pit of Connaught Square around her neck, what's a girl to do?
Winston Churchill had made do with a much more modest residence in Hyde Park Gate, and without bullet proof glass, as well.
The problem with all celebrity biographies and autobiographies is that they are seldom strictly truthful. There is a need to uphold the public persona in most cases and few are prepared to be as honest as Lord Mountbatten.
When asked discreetly by his biographer, Philip Ziegler, what he should leave out, he replied, famously, “Put it all in. Warts and all.”
Somehow I doubt that Cherie's book will include too many warts, unless you include her wacky lifestyle guru and her failed conman boyfriend in that category.
Cherie's father played a peculiarly unattractive character in the TV series, “Till Death Do Us Part.”
Unfortunately, for many of us, Cherie Blair has seemed as peculiarly unattractive in real life.
Perhaps her book will put the record straight.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Flying Squad

The two most thankless jobs in the United Kingdom must be those of Prime Minister and policeman.
In the case of the latter, their task has been made almost impossible by red tape and ridiculous constraints upon their actions.
The recent tragedy upon a motorway is now the subject of an “investigation,” not upon the actions of the miscreants, but upon the police who were attempting to apprehend them. No doubt these blameless officers will now have to waste a few days of their valuable time filling out forms and answering fatuous questions such as “why did you pursue a car that refused to stop when ordered?”
That a good many deaths have occurred as a result of high speed chases in recent years is an undoubted fact. But so has the need for such chases in a society that is allowed by the courts to thumb their nose at authority.
Had the police been successful in this case in apprehending the men, after they had spent the next few hours form filling, no doubt some bonkers magistrate would have released them back into society with a mild admonition not to do it again. Which, in all likelihood they would have done, having got away with it once.
Of course, the policemen in question could have sat supinely by and watched the car recede into the distance.
In which case, it would be as well to replace police cars with golf carts.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Bank of Toyland

American bankers from the 1929 era would have felt right at home in the offices of Northern Rock last week. The absence of many tall buildings from which they could jump might have inhibited them, of course, but, other than that, the surroundings would have been familiar.
As was the government's predictable advice. “We have nothing to fear but fear itself” was the message, hoping to instil the spirit of FDR into the hearts and minds of the British clients who had placed their savings in what was now, quite clearly, the bank of toyland.
Unsurprisingly, the public, no doubt mindful of the specious way in which the government had deluded them in the past into going to war against Iraq, refused to believe them and prudently elected to get while the going was, if not good, faintly accessible.
And who can blame them?
The Bank of England, whom, in a past and distant era, might have had some credibility, is now no more than a compliant mouthpiece of government. The relaxing of the controls formerly placed upon banking institutions was a political manoeuvre of dubious economic worth.
For Northern Rock was not a bank in the traditional sense of the word. It was a business based solely upon the projected increase in property values and funded largely by loans, not deposits, a sort of real estate perpetual motion that should have been rubbished by any competent monetary authority.
And the gall and disrespect shown by the principals to their clients by voting themselves substantial bonuses (on top of their already substantial salaries) when they were well aware that the ship was heading toward a substantial northern rock, is unbelievable.
It seems that most of the board of Northern Rock will escape the debacle with substantial financial benefit.
It's a strange world where fiscal imprudence and bad management is so rewarded.
I note that many of those queuing to withdraw their funds are of an age when they can perhaps remember the last time the government assured them of the integrity of a bank.
It was called BCCI.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Mr. Toad of Toad Hall

In days of yore, he would merely have had to tell his coachman to give the fellow a damned good thrashing with his riding whip. But good help is hard to come by these days and so the Marquis of Blandford had to do the job himself- which resulted in his having his collar felt by the fuzz and an unsympathetic magistrate consigning him to the pokey. Which just goes to show how little respect there is for class nowadays and the appalling lack of domestic servants. Surely he could have got himself a Polish chauffeur to have done the job.
But there again, chauffeuring is pretty much confined to those working for government ministers, who may well be as incapable of steering a vehicle as they are of steering a country in the right direction.
Road rage is not a new phenomenon. Boadicea's habit of putting knife blades on the axles of her chariots, whilst it may have made for ease of movement during rush hours, was, if not rage, a trifle bellicose. And some of the activities during Ben Hur would have raised eyebrows at the British School of Motoring.
The French have long recognised the open road as a suitable outlet for their belligerence, and this is manifest in the antipathy shown by non-Parisian drivers to those from that noble city. French number plates bear the number of their department, making Parisians easily spotted.
My wife, who is from Texas but who has lived here long enough to consider herself a paid-up member of the “Drive Parisians off the Road” society, is a good example.
“There's one,” she'll cry. And set off in pursuit of some poor Parisian and his family, wending their way to the coast for a spot of “vacance.”
But now the authorities have decided to bring a halt to this innocent bit of fun. Shortly, number plates will no longer indicate the department of origin of your car. The official line is that it will save administrative costs. But we all know that it is really an attempt to curb one of the Frenchman's more innocent pleasures.
We no longer have many Marquises here in France, most of them having suffered a more Draconian style of punishment than that meted out to Blandford, but there are a good many Mr. Toads on the road in every country.
The sooner we all get back to driving our canary coloured, horse drawn caravans along peaceful dusty lanes, the better, I feel.
Then, of course, you might wind up with a bad-tempered horse!
“Poop, poop,” cried Mr. Toad.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

English as She is Spoke

The suggestion that prospective immigrants to Britain in search of a job should be able to demonstrate their command of the English language is a bit rich coming from a nation whose attitude towards those speaking other languages is, to say the least, cavalier.
Clearly, it is of value to the immigrant to be able to do so but it would be more equitable perhaps to apply the same test to the British candidates. I reckon, from what I hear on my visits and read in the comment columns on the internet (where grammar, spelling and punctuation are gleefully ignored), many would fail miserably.
And most Europeans (and even some Americans!) pick up the language quickly and there is no better way to learn a language than by living and working in the country.
Currently I am working on a book for a Romanian. I do the writing since his written English is admittedly poor. But his grasp of spoken English is far superior to many of the natives - and, in addition, he can manage fluent French and Italian plus a smattering of Spanish. Much of this facility he attributes to his schooling in Communist Romania where great emphasis was placed upon languages and their basic construction.
Since even spelling seems to have been removed from the curriculum in the schools in the UK and now that the BBC, once an arbiter of the well spoken word, has gone overboard to address the yoof of the nation in their own argot, it seems that the fate of the English language may well lie with the immigrants.
With an ear now un-tuned to the prevailing English patois, I find that it is easier to communicate with those from elsewhere than with many of the native Brits.
Which is a bit sad.

Friday, September 07, 2007

I Never Heard Pavarotti Sing..........

....which is a great pity. Of course, I have heard recordings of him, which are now the best we can do. But nothing compares with hearing an artist live.
In one of my father's rare bursts of extravagance, he once invested in the latest in technology for record playing. It was called the Pye Black Box and combined with a new system of recording, by Decca, I believe, was a quantum leap in music reproduction.
But returning from a concert, he would put on a recording and, slowly shaking his head, say “It's not the same, is it?”
And it isn't.
And matters have not improved too much for all the impressive technology. CD recordings, which are touted as having the background noise suppressed, sound soulless, the technical whizz kids having forgotten that much of the concert hall atmosphere comes from the background noise which they have kindly suppressed.
Opera has never been one of my favourites, along with ballet, but it's the music and the singing that I enjoy. I always found the stage cavortings a bit of a distraction and so would attend, often with my eyes shut. I reckoned the management should have let me in for half price.
But if Pavarotti should be remembered for anything other than his magnificent voice, it is surely that he has aroused so much popular support for good music.
And that can only be a good thing – as long as you don't try to listen to it being squirted through the earpiece of an i-Pod and go to a concert instead. We will never hear Pavarotti again, more's the pity, but his memory will linger on.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Fast Track

The euphoria surrounding the arrival of the first Eurostar into Paddington that had managed to break the 80 m.p.h. barrier on the English side of the Channel was understandable. When it's the first new line to be laid in down in 100 years, a bit of a celebration is called for.
It was a pity that “the longest champagne bar in Europe” wasn't ready in time but, given the current performance of the track-laying troops in Britain, they were probably relieved to find that the train stayed on the rails all the way.
I and my regular fellow travellers will welcome this new line when it opens for business in November. At present, having been whisked from Brussels or Paris in record time, only to find our breathless pace slowed by the 9.45 all stations commuter train from Penge being in the way, causes an unnecessary rise in blood pressure amongst the travelling executives, who have put away their laptops at Dover, anticipating their arrival in London. They then find they have time to complete another business plan before the thing shuffles into Waterloo.
In fairness, the TGV does tend to have the same problem around Paris occasionally when it has to share the track with its plebeian brothers and sisters, but it's never for very far.
It seems to have taken a long time to build – Brunel would have done it in half the time, I'm sure, even if he might have put the rails too far apart and not to the wheelbase of m'lud's carriage.
But, better late than never, and perhaps the best thing is that the wonderful construction that is the old St. Pancras station has been preserved.
Mind you, it's going to mean that the old cry “St. George for England, St. Pancras for Scotland” will need some revision.
And Britons can console themselves that, whilst they may have come late to the high speed train party, the original TGV was designed by an ex-patriate Brit.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Taming of the Shrew

Some of us are old enough to recall when a ditzy Australian broad by the name of Germaine Greer got a round of applause from the menfolk of the world by suggesting that women throw away their bras, and a big thumbs down from the better endowed among the ladies for the idea. At the time, those of us that noticed, probably thought of her as an entertaining oddball
Since then Miss Greer has capitalised on this not very original concept and, by dint of acting like a latter day Mrs. Pankhurst, has made a tidy living from it.
One of her more pithy sayings was “You're only young once, but you can be immature forever,” and, by golly, has she ever proved it to be a fact.
Now the publisher Bloomsbury has unleashed her latest book upon the world and “Shakespeare's Wife” is appearing at a bookstore near you.
As a subject for a biography, there can be few more daunting subjects since there is little documented evidence of Anne's life. Much is made of Shakespeare leaving her his “second best bed” in his will but, although it may have been a comment on her performance in that arena and the reason he spent so much time with the boys and girls at the Globe Theatre, it seems to have been a pretty normal sort of bequest for the times.
Miss Greer has got over the problem of lack of information by, rather than digging up Anne, unearthing William, whom she finds to be pretty mouldy. Syphilitic, in fact, although upon what evidence she is suitably coy.
It strikes me as being a silly and pointless book.
However, I'm pretty sure that William Shakespeare will be read, acted and enjoyed long after the world has forgotten Miss Greer and her outdated feminist ramblings.