Tuesday, 31 January 2012

my films of 2011

Black Swan.  I LOVE Natalie Portman, but this was a terrible lot of old Grand Guignol tosh.  Disappointing.  Barbara Hershey, an actor who has spent her life being underrated, was good as her mum.

Rien a Declarer. (Nothing To Declare).  Dany Boon again.  What it is to be French.  And to be Belgian.  Conceit is the abolition of customs posts in the EU in the early 1990s.  Hilarious.

True Grit.  Really stylish.  Wonderful script.  I never saw the original, because I had political objections to John Wayne when I was young.  But this, I like Jeff Bridges.  His character, Rooster Cogburn, fetches up in travelling Wild West shows.  Whatever were those all about?  Stylish, but maybe slightly dull.

Made In Dagenham.  Or, 'We Want Sex Equality' as the French insist on titling it.  Utterly excellent.  Should have had an Oscar.  Daniel Hays stands out in support, as the husband - the film is set in the Dagenham car works female machinists' strike for equal pay in 1968 - not feel-good but dark.  And about standing up for what is right.  A wonderful film.  Sally Hawkins, an actor I did not know, as the young wife who becomes a union leader, is brilliant.  Rosamund Pike as the factory boss's wife. the pink clothes pegs, yes I remember those.  Geraldine James.  Bob Hoskins.  I could go on.  Brilliant, brilliant.

Fighter.  A true story, and the protagonists are still alive.  Blue-collar America.

Pina.  By Wim Wenders, about the late choreographer Pina Bausch, one of the most beautiful films I have seen in a long time.  Oddly, it was in 3D but I was not watching in 3D.  So, so lovely.

Midnight in Paris.   Woody Allen.  With Owen Wilson, who is excellent.  He was playing the part the younger Woody Allen would have played.  Very cool, and very funny, imagine meeting Toulouse-Lautrec at the Folies-Bergere.  I loved it.  Quite probably this is going to be the film of the year.

Tous les Soleils.  I went to see this on my own, not because i particularly wanted to but because it was filmed, and set, here in Strasbourg - but I was glad I did.  Strasbourg is quite extraordinarily beautiful - I have been privileged to live and work in several beautiful places - and they made the main characters, brothers, Italian, so the issue of French or German did not have to be addressed.  I liked it.

The Beaver.  With Jodie Foster, I always like to see her.  A film about a family, and, especially, about depression.  Dunno.  Really, dunno.

Omar M'A Tuer.  A true story of miscarriage of justice here in France.  An illiterate Moroccan gardener is working for a wealthy French woman.  She is murdered.  His name is written in her blood (the title says "Omar killed me" in ungrammatical French,  though the murder victim was highly educated). Omar is still alive and living in Toulon.  A luminous performance from Sami Boujalili.  I thought it subtle and interesting, but it seems to have sunk without trace.

Chico and Rita.  The first BD, or graphic novel, film I have seen in a very long time.  Spanish language, set in Cuba and made, bizarrely, on the Isle of Man.  Latin jazz piano and horn.  The French get animated films as not many but the Japanese really do.  What do flesh and blood actors think about animated films? Are their livelihoods being taken away?  Discuss.  Go and see this, it is affecting and interesting, and the soundtrack is great.

Deep End.  I went to see this not knowing what it was going to be.  It is quite possibly a masterpiece.  Hugely scary and macabre, London seen by an outsider (Jerzy Skolimowski) set in a bath house, with the young Jane Asher, who apparently says now that this is one of the things she is proudest of having done.  A work of staggering brilliance.  But made in 1970 so how can I call it a film of 2011?

Le Moine.  (The Monk).  I lasted about 15 minutes.  Lots of people in monastic clothing walking about looking mysterious in 17th-century Spain.  And (you guessed it) there is a Mysterious Woman.  Do.  Me. A.  Favour.

Une Separation.  (A Separation).  Iranian.  Tehran as you have never seen it.  Quite brilliant.  Affecting, metaphorical, go and see it.

Les Deux Chevaux de Genghis Khan.  Odd thing.  A German documentary film about Mongolia.  Starring Urna, who is excellent.  The real star is the Mongolian landscape.  As always.  The great skies of the steppes, and the strange music they make.  I love it so.

Killing Bono.  On one level, what nonsense.  Irish film.  But on another, why not, and it is a true story.  Bloke nearly gets to play with Bono, but doesn't.  Ho hum.  Quite entertaining.

Happy Happy.  Norwegian.  Despite that title, about as happy as Scandinavian films usually are.  One dysfunctional couple meets another, with psychopathic son and closet gay husband.  Aaargh.  And yet the scenes stay with you.  Check it out.  There's lots of snow.  And a choir.  And knitwear.

Horrible Bosses. Well, it was quite entertaining.  Jennifer Aniston surprisingly funny and good as a bizarre nympho dentist.

Tu Seras Mon Fils.  (You Will Be My Son).  It takes place in the Medoc vineyards.  It is about inheritance, and property, and wine.  It all ends Very Badly. But hugely impressive.  Go and see it if you can.

One Day.  Terrible load of tedious old crap.  When she got killed I was hoping he would be too just to spare us all.  But despite all the criticism Anne Hathaway's accent was fine.

La Guerre Est Declaree.  (War Is Declared) True story of a couple (the director and producer, and one of them stars) whose baby son is diagnosed with a rare cancer, and how it fucks up their lives.  Well, it is full of joy despite that.  Cool.

This Must Be The Place.  Sean Penn, and the premise is Talking Heads.  Beautiful and puzzling.

Le Cochon de Gaza.  (The Gaza Pig).  Amusing, rather gentle and optimistic, against the stereotypes.  Filmed in Malta nd set in Gaza.  Date deliberately unspecific, because Israeli troops still there.  A Gaza fisherman pulls in a live pig in his net.  Hilarious at moments.  The ending doesn't work - but check out MIss Piggy!

The Artist.  Wow wow wow.  Who would have thought? A silent film which is fab.  I loved it. Totally,

Drive.  I have been a fan of Ryan Gosling since seeing Half Nelson a few  years ago.  In this he wears a very cool jacket, does not say much, drives a car, stares into the middle distance, oh and he kills a lot of people.  I think when people get stabbed it probably looks like it does in this film.  Visually beautiful.  I'd see it again.

Moneyball.  Very clever.  It's about baseball.  But you don't have to know about baseball to appreciate it.  Brad Pitt I think.  Pretty good stuff.  Intelligent script.

The Lady.  Michelle Yeoh plays Aung San Suu Kyi.  Rather well, it seems.  Burma is so beautiful.  And I liked David Thewlis as Michael Aris.  Good.

So, if you ask me to choose, it is difficult.  For films of 2011, I  think The Artist, Midnight in Paris and Made in Dagenham.  Not necessarily in that order.  The most important film I saw in 2011 though was Deep End.  On the whole, a very good year for films.

Friday, 27 January 2012

human rights worries in Europe

well, someone called Ben Ward thinks there is more to worry about than there used to be. He says those interested in human rights should be delighted at last Year's Arab Spring. But - there always is a but - the West did Bad Things - the UK may have been complicit in rendition to Gaddafy's Libya. If you were going to do a profit and loss column exercise on this you'd probably say that Libya's embarking on a path to democracy after decades of dictatorship is more good for Libya than the rendition, if it took place, is bad. You can read the piece here f you want to. Italy and France taking action against Roma because they are Roma is bad. Greece's treatment of migrants is bad. Well, yes. But Mr Ward would have us believe that things have got worse. I disagree. Racism won't go away. But it's worth trying to make it go away. And far more of Europe has a commitment to human rights, democracy and the rule of law than it did when I was young. The response to terrorism is to limit some freedoms. Yep. Has to be done sometimes. That is even written into the European Convention on Human Rights. As I am sure Mr Ward knows.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

the fat mole

It appears that the "mole", wrongly described as such in certain media, the Labour councillor who was overheard talking loudly in a supermarket about Reading Labour's plans to sack the council chief executive, was none other than Fatboy Hartley, and that this is why he was sacked from the Cabinet. I did wonder. He's standing down from the council anyway, so it would only have been a matter of weeks before the Cabinet post changed hands anyway. Well, it would be in character. No taste, no discretion, no style, no political acumen. Yup, that's the Hartley we know so well. In other news, did readers see on Twitter yesterday that a site called This is Wiltshire reported a visit to a river in the county which has unexpectedly dried up - the constituency MP, Claire Perry, was present, as was Charles Walker MP, who is chair of the All-Party Angling Group, as was another person, described as "Reading MP Martin Salter". The caption to the picture accompanying the story said "Martin Salter MP". Now what gave This is Wiltshire the idea that Mr S was an MP? It won't have been either of the two actual MPs who were present. So where do you think the lie came from?

Monday, 23 January 2012

Best Blessings of Existence 27

welcome back, Emma B, we have missed you.  The beautiful, and the damned, and the cast increases in numbers...

the Sceptre Room at the top of the stone staircase reminded her of Jenny Wren’s rooftop garden in Our Mutual Friend.

Peering through its high lead- paned windows at the world below, she thought of
The clouds rushing on above the narrow streets ... the golden arrows pointing at the mountains in the sky from which the wind comes

Come up and be dead she said to Belinda.

But if the latter had any recollection of Professor Newbolt’s lecture on Les Fleurs du Mal: a Dickensian Vision; she gave no sign and headed, like a bloodhound, to the drinks table.

Glasses of red and white wine in serried ranks (not champagne) were tended by hospitality staff in their new smart/casual uniforms. Waiters circled with honey glazed cocktail sausages studded with sesame seeds; party pickles; asparagus wheels (cut price catering) and she took a gherkin in preference to a sticky, sweet sausage.

And was your husband an MP too? enquired Belinda.

No, she replied He’s dead – I mean he is, but we divorced a long time ago.

As she accepted the standard words of condolence, she remembered that Belinda had never known Paul and would be incapable of differentiating a Truscott from a Chase.
She belonged to that earlier world of Peony Hall with Lionel Kerridge in role as scourge of Jane Daventry rather than bond slave to an ageing Blanche du Bois.

Although of course, continued Belinda, between sips; we all expected you and Derek to tie the knot ------ Oh gosh – there’s Heather! Isn’t this wonderful?

Belinda Briscoe had not distinguished herself at Dorlich.

Her solid 2.2 was as predictable as her footwear (desert boots regardless of climate or occasion); her membership of the Pip’n Jay Country Ramblers and her captaincy of the Peony Hall lacrosse team.

After Dorlich, she had worked as a Hospital Administrator before sinking into marriage and children with Giles Lambton, an earnest mathematician. They had been joined at the hip since Fresher’s week and he was doubtless her first and last lover.
In fact the only interesting thing about Belinda Briscoe was the fact that Sandra Milford had ruined her party in 1975.

The thought of spending the entire reception with Belinda was intolerable and the approach of a stout woman who must be Heather Lydgate clinched it.

With a smile both polite and preoccupied, she waved at Heather, made her excuses and crept decorously into a corner.

Derek was regaling a small group of guests at an adjoining table.
He was swaying to and fro; flicking his thumbs in his waistband, and patting a settled paunch. She observed that his complexion was blotchy and suspected an untoward reliance upon Mr Weston’s good wine.

As she sipped the unpleasantly warm wine on offer, she reflected with annoyance that a man with the income of Derek could have spent more on the refreshments. He had exposed himself as an out and out cheapskate and she marvelled at Belinda’s astounding presumption that the Pants Ahoy escapade had been a serious ‘affair’.

Of course anyone who had responded to an examination question on Jane Austen’s presentation of courtship in Emma with a robust defence of Harriet Smith’s delusions about Mr Elton:

(Did you read the novel before writing the essay, Miss Briscoe?)

must be cursed by a permanent impairment of judgement.

But had Belinda communicated these opinions to others?

And was she doing it now?

She suppressed a frisson of anger at the absent Sandra Milford who had regaled the details of her skirmish with Derek to their entire social circle and shot a surreptitious glance in the direction of the drinks table. The two women seemed to be working their way through its contents with neither discrimination nor taste – but they were certainly communicating something to an avid audience.

The composition of the audience was disconcerting if not downright eccentric.

She had been invited to a reception in The Sceptre Room to commemorate a former colleague’s 25th anniversary of unbroken service on the Front Bench and the handwritten note from his researcher had stated that Derek had particularly wished to reconnect with all his old Regional teams.

On her arrival at Westminster in 1997, she had been disconcerted to discover that Derek Kingsmill was her first Regional Whip. After six months, the groups were changed and she found herself under the supervision of the late Pete Dent, but Derek had continued as a Whip; rising in seniority before his subsequent Ministerial posts at Education, Trade and Industry and International Affairs.

She had not been a long-standing member of Derek’s flock. But now she appeared to be the only former member of a Kingsmill ‘Regional team’
in the room.

Indeed, if you discounted Chief Whip Terence Gale (who was ensconced in conversation with Heather Lydgate) and Gretchen Andrew (who always attended everything with the purpose of burnishing her leadership credentials); there were very few MPs from any team or none – in the room.

Except Bill Cornish…

Derek’s reception was a Dorlich Reunion, circa 1976. It would have been ideally situated in the University’s Gloriana Suite but to assemble such a gathering in the Sceptre Room at the House of Commons was bizarre. Gissy had not been excluded because she had been consigned to the Westminster equivalent of Siberia - but because she was an MP.

This was not a reception for MPs.

She consumed a bite sized Yorkshire pudding topped with slivers of beef and horseradish and surveyed the scene.

The distinctive figure of internationally renowned geneticist Sir Leslie Potts had now joined the Lydgate group alongside Sandra’s love rival, Clifford Morledge and they were both chatting in animated style to none other than Hamish Underhill; Lucinda Prynne; Jocasta Sharp and Nathaniel Bilbie.

Sarah Cassidy and her husband, TV presenter Robbie Nantwich, formed a separate group, near to the door with Terence Gale and a late arrival; the distinguished anthropologist Ben Bex-Oliver.

To the right of the Gale coterie were some faces that were vaguely familiar from Derek’s set in the Social Sciences Department amidst a sprinkling of Sandra’s undergraduate contemporaries from Chemistry and some who must have studied Biology with Leslie and Classics with Ben.

The issue was no longer the whereabouts of Gissy, but the absence of Lynne; an impermeable conundrum. She adjusted her coat and walked towards the exit – to find her way blocked by the substantial figure of Terence Gale.

An hour later, she had spent longer in enforced association with the former residents of 14a Wellington Parade than in her entire university career.

Terence Gale and Wendy’s PPS Mike Stubbs appeared to be monitoring the conversation; plying the group with wine and canapés - or preventing anyone from leaving?

Bill Cornish greeted her with an effusive embrace and Derek Kingsmill ignored her as usual.

So why had he invited her?

She felt increasingly ill at ease; took another drink and scanned his guests.
Nathaniel Bilbie of the pink crotchless panties and green sombrero was debating Bulls and Bears with Major Hamish (Spliffy) Underhill of the Rifles. Lucinda Prynne was a grandmother and Jocasta Sharp whose unbridled love life had propelled her to the Out Patient Department at the Dorlich Special Clinic for Sexually Transmitted Diseases, had recently assumed a posting as Lord Lieutenant of Chervil County.

The beautiful and the damned of Dorlich……..

Who had, in reality, been neither.

They had been good looking, rich and young and as such, had donned fancy dress for three years prior to embracing the shades of the prison house in the City, the Army and the Shire Counties of England.
They were no longer trailing clouds of glory and she had absolutely nothing to say to them about anything.

But then, she and Lynne had never had anything to say to them…

I can’t for the life of me think why I’ve been invited!
It’s not as though I’ve seen any of the crowd for years – except Leslie because our professional paths cross – sort of…
But he rang up last week and practically dragooned me into attending! I’m not a political guy! As for Derek – I could have walked past him in the street and not known him from Adam --- and what about you?
Weren’t you a friend of a girl called Maisey in my Classics set?

Ben Bex-Oliver was a remarkably handsome man; the wine was, after all, palatable and perhaps a chocolate strawberry might suffice…

She refreshed her glass.

mindbending fuckwittery

His Master's Voice has chosen today to publish a picture of yours truly with book what I have wrote (click on right to get your copy) having said they were publishing it last Wednesday. In a very short piece they managed to get the date of the 1997 general election wrong. They said it was 1999. Ignorant, much? But of course these are Proper Journalists, hein?

1Q84 - the riddle (partly) answered

Saturday, 21 January 2012

1Q84, Haruki Murakami

this book is an enigma, a riddle, the most mysterious part of which is - how do you say the title?  and how do you say it in Japanese?  Anyone tell me?  The three volumes, I think the best part of a thousand pages, though when you read on a Kindle (highly recommended unless you are in a dark room) you can't tell how many pages there are or how long the book is, took me into their world.  And it was a world I not only did not want to be in, but a world I did not even want to think about.  And yet I couldn't stop reading.  The translation (the three volumes have two different translators, presumably so the English version could be got out quickly to an impatient public) is limpid and beautiful.  I have debated with commenters before about works in translation.  I don't disapprove of translated books, as some seem to think, I would just rather read the original.  This translation made me want to read Murakami in Japanese.  Well, I will try. If I had to use one word to describe this book it would be "creepy".  The hairs really did stand up on my forearms while I was reading, and I really did get a dry throat and a pounding heart while I was reading, and heave a sigh of relief when what I was dreading did not happen.  There are stand-alone statements in the book which are either profound or meaningless, or possibly both "Reality was utterly coolheaded and utterly lonely".  "That's what the world is after all: an endless battle of contrasting memories".  "You can't choose how you are born, but you can choose how you die."  There are supposed to be only seven plots in the world, and this is the star-crossed lovers one.  But - a boy who carved rats from wood?  Terrifying little people who come into the world out of dead creatures' mouths?  An angry television licence fee collector we never see?  The dowager in the butterfly house, straight from The Big Sleep.  And from a conversation I had with my former Japanese teacher, who was a college friend of Murakami, after the 1987 UK hurricane, about the destruction of the butterfly house at Kew.  I promise you, six degrees of separation. Where was I?  The book is set in 1984.  Importantly, because no mobile phones or internet, and thus more secrets.  Crucial to the plot is an emergency escape stairway on the Tokyo elevated motorway, intended for drivers who have had to abandon their cars because of fire or earthquake.  The book was written before the Fukushima earthquake and tsunami happened.  The plot is star-crossed lovers, and I wondered from time to time about the utterly improbable things that happened.  Could a person kill another person while that person's bodyguards are in the next room, and get away with it?  (I'm not telling you whether that actually happens or not, only that it is planned).  One character is given a pager (in 1984?  Well, in 1980 I saw video recorders in Japan, and had never seen them before) and keeps and uses it for quite a a long time, without ever seeming to need to charge it.  Murakami writes the same character often in his books.  The depressed, traumatised, barely articulate, beautiful teenage girl - maybe he goes too far this time in giving this one "improbably large breasts", the teenage suicide (these two may be the same person), the tough woman Bad Things Happen To.  And music.  Always music.  Here Janacek's Sinfonietta and the song 'Only a Paper Moon'.  Ah yes, the moon.  Two moons in the sky.  Why is that so frightening?  The nights here have been cloudy lately: on the next clear night i shall be afraid to look up at the sky. A man tells his life to his father, who may not be his father, and who is in a coma.  Everyone has memories which may not be memories, which may be false, or may be something else altogether.  And sometimes - a wilting rubber plant on a balcony, a billboard advertising petrol, an empty children's playground at night - the quotidian life is glimpsed as an opportunity to go Somewhere Else. I have read some books which I have been glad to finish, because I haven't liked them.  I've read some books which I have been glad to finish because I wanted to find out what happened in the end.  I've read some books I was sorry to finish because they were such good stuff.  When I had finished the first two volumes of this (published together in the UK and Europe) I was positively gibbering because I couldn't get wifi to download the third one.  But I was relieved to finish this book.  I don't want to think about that world, in which there may be two moons in the sky, 1984 is 1Q84, little people come out at night to make strange things, and some people who seem strange or absent are not really quite human. It's important.  Read it.  And then let's talk. 

Friday, 20 January 2012

Hungary for change

anyone else worried about recent events in Hungary?  I know that when there is democracy people quite often vote for the wrong parties, but what is worse than that is when those elected pull up the ladder behind them by removing democratic safeguards.  Hitler did this.  Hamas did it too, more recently, by throwing the legitimate heads of the administration out of windows (nice).  Now it is happening in Hungary.  There is only one radio station left which supports the opposition, Klubradio, and the government-appointed Media Council has now reallocated radio frequencies, so that Klubradio will have to stop broadcasting at the end of February.  They can perhaps become an internet radio station, I don't know.  Anyone?  Anyone?

Thursday, 19 January 2012

crow no go

the excellent Marbury has this, which indicates that there was at one stage US research into using crows to find terrorists.  Srsly.  I take it seriously too.  That is largely because I am reading 1Q84 (readers, tell me how to say the title) by Haruki Murakami.  Anyone who has read him before knows that cats and birds matter in his books.  There is a crow in this one which terrifies me more than any bird has since Hitchcock.  I have been reading the book (on Kindle of course) for something over a week, and am over halfway through the third and last volume.  Please please let me finish it soon, so I can do something else - and so I can stop looking apprehensively up at the sky at night.  Any readers read this?  Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Tory team in Reading

just for the record, dontcha know.  Looks a pretty effective bunch - mostly. (although Licensing is spelled like this)

Leader and Enterprise & Economic Development – Cllr Tim Harris

Dep Leader and Equality, Communities & Voluntary Sector – Cllr Jeanette Skeats

Finance & Property – Cllr David Stevens

Strategic Planning & Transport – Cllr Richard Willis

Children, Education & School Improvement – Cllr Mark Ralph

Transformation, Policy Co-ordination & Scrutiny – Cllr Tom Stanway

Environment & Housing – Cllr Isobel Ballsdon

Community Care & Health – Cllr Dave Luckett

Culture & Sport - Cllr Emma Warman

The following have been appointed as spokespeople (not Shadow Cabinet positions):

Lead for Crime & Policing – Cllr Jenny Rynn

Lead for Licencing – Cllr Jeanette Skeats

Lead for Planning – Cllr Isobel Ballsdon

Deputy Lead for Culture & Sport – Cllr James Anderson

Deputy Lead for Children, Education & Families – Cllr Sandra Vickers

Deputy Lead for Transport – Cllr Azam Janjua

In addition the following have been appointed:

Deputy Whip – Cllr Jenny Rynn

Cycle Champion – Cllr Dave Luckett

PR & Media – Cllr Richard Willis

we've got all the stuff we need, thanks very much

a piece in Le Monde today caught my attention.  It's here (in French) and it refers to a report that the British have now got all the consumer goods and possessions they need.  That a "peak" of consumption was reached a few years ago, and now the British are buying less stuff, using less energy, producing less rubbish, and so on.  It has been shown historically that this does happen in cycles.  I suspect that this has less to do with people having all the stuff they think they need than with changes in the way consumption is done.  After all, I didn't know until fairly recently that I needed a Kindle, but now I do.  But I scarcely buy paper books any more, and I used to buy them quite often, which meant that someone worked a fork-lift truck in a warehouse and someone else drove a van to deliver the book to a shop or another warehouse, and a postman delivered it to me, or I got on a bus and went to a shop and bought it, paying a human assistant for my purchase, and then I went to IKEA and bought some shelves to put the books on.  Pretty much all this stuff now happens electronically for me, and I am quite sure that the people who make that purchase happen are fewer in number and with more specialised skills than before.  And think on - I was struck by a shot in the (rather wonderful despite what most of the critics have said) film 'The Iron Lady' set in the 1970s.  The lights went out, as I remember them doing then, and the Cabinet was plunged into darkness.  Margaret Thatcher triumphantly pulled a torch out of her handbag and lit up the proceedings.  If the lights go out I can read print books by candlelight, but after a few hours my Kindle and iPad are useless.  And I remember the 1970s, so I always have candles and matches where I can lay my hands on them in the dark.  That doesn't mean I should stick to print.  It just means things are different.

Do we have all the stuff we need?  If you work at home, these days, you don't really need a home office.  No big printer, no fax machine, no tower for your computer's hard drive.  You don't even need to be at home.  Your notebook computer, or even your phone, is good enough for most kinds of work.  The newest workplaces don't even have offices.  People just work where they are.  So that's Less Stuff.  My daughter has just moved house, and she and her family now live in what was built about 20 years ago as a work unit, in south London.  But nobody wanted to rent small purpose-built work units.  So it has been converted into a charming, spacious, light and airy maisonette.  And guess what, my daughter sometimes works there when she works from home.

What do readers think?  I couldn't find anything on this subject in English, but I'm sure there are other articles.  Home computers and then the internet were supposed to enable us to work anywhere, so we would live in cottages in Wales.  But we don't.  We live, increasingly, in cities, and the article in Le Monde suggests that it is this too which helps reduce consumption - because greater interconnectedness, which urban populations have, means less need for resources - cars, home and garden maintenance and so on.

Would welcome developing this notion a bit further.  Clever people out there to help?

Oh, and here is a Kindle book for you.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

should newspapers behave like this?

The Times has put its editorial outside the Paywall. Here is an extract from it. Seems reasonable to me.

People who are misrepresented or mistreated by newspapers deserve quick and easy access to a meaningful form of redress. Corrections should be in a regular, prominent place. Editors should be willing to remedy a substantial mistake on the front page by at least flagging a correction on the front page. And it would be helpful if the regulator posted newspaper corrections on its website and circulated them to all editors and newsdesks.
Newspapers should contact the person or institution that they are writing about before the story runs. This is for reasons of decency — it is better to tell something unpleasant to someone’s face than go behind their back; it is for reasons of accuracy — you want to know their side of the story; and it is for reasons of fairness — it gives them a chance to inform friends, family and colleagues of negative coverage to come.

different kinds of news?

The person called Sarah Hamilton, who wrote the email I reproduced in my last post, says that the hate piece published about me by the Reading Evening Post was "not a news story".  I have never really got this.  Do you think that when people read a newspaper and turn to a "diary" or other "light-hearted" item they make the mental adjustment "This Story Is Utter Bollocks".  "This Story Is Not True".  "The People Who Wrote This Don't Really Think This".  I do know that when a former colleague was subjected to a long-term campaign of personal vilification by the odious Matthew Norman in the even more odious Guardian she couldn't legal him, because what he wrote was "light-hearted diary items".  She got him in the end, when he put something similar in what purported to be a "serious" story.  But readers don't make that distinction.  They really don't.  And the writers surely know this.  So, readers of the Reading Evening Post, and any misguided souls who read the Guardian, please remember that a "diary" piece may be all lies.  And that's just fine, says Ms Hamilton.

Monday, 16 January 2012

HMV barked

this is the reply I got just now:

Dear Jane,

Thankyou typo! for your email.

This was a Diary piece written by Paul Cassell, who does exist, it is not a news story or should be "nor is it"defamatory.

'Quiet please' it was "quiet pleased" actually is a silly error.

Your picture and news story will still appear and is scheduled for this Wednesday. oh goody

waiting to hear His Master's Voice

Below is the text of my communication sent today to the editorial bosses of the Reading Evening Post.  I have not attached the article to which I refer to this post, as I do not publish hate speech, but it is attached to the communication I sent, for ease of reference.

To whom it may concern, Reading Evening Post

I would be most interested in your comments on the attached article, published in the Reading Post last week, and which has been sent to me. It appears to have been inspired by my informing the newsdesk that I had published a novel, and that I would be in Reading in some days' time. In fact the Post did send a photographer, as did Reading's other local paper, which also sent a reporter. However, the attached, by an individual styling himself Paul Cassell, who as far as I am aware I have never met, was published separately. Leaving aside the lamentable standard of literacy in the words allegedly written by Mr Cassell, if he exists ("quiet pleased"), the item was almost entirely copied and pasted from my blog, without attribution, which is deplorable journalistic practice in itself. As you see, it is topped and tailed with abusive personal attacks, and also attributes to me views and feelings I do not have ("quiet pleased" again). No-one from the Post spoke to me at any time - the photocall was arranged by an email exchange between me and Linda Fort. She had no discussion with me.

That the Reading Post should publish savage personal attacks on me is hardly unfamiliar behaviour. It did so regularly for a number of years, rarely seeking any comment from me or allowing me to respond. A person who is in public life must develop the resources to deal with the grubbier elements of the dead-tree press. But it is many years since I was a public representative of any kind in Reading. I simply thought that now my novel has been published it might be of interest to Reading people. Both Reading papers apparently thought so too, which is why they photographed me with the book. The Reading papers were far from the only media outlets I contacted, or who expressed an interest.

Elderly family members in the Reading area do not deserve the distress which is caused by a hate piece of this kind. The matter is currently with my legal representatives. Ahead of any representation I may make through them I am offering the Reading Post the opportunity to comment on the hate piece they published. I could wish that they had done me the same courtesy. I am also offering the Reading Post the opportunity to make restitution, of a nature to be discussed, and of course to apologise.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Jane Griffiths

My novel is to be found here.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Congratulations, Reading Evening Post!

Things I thought I'd never say no. 327.

  I get some haters on this blog from time to time, but the Post has now gone better than most of them.  They left out the gun porn that I get from time to time (those are the comments that get deleted, oddly enough) but there's still time for that.  Thanks Reading Evening Post for offering me a photocall tomorrow to publicise my book, I shall be there.  Such a tidal wave of pathological hatred and lies from someone on your website called Paul Cassell (who?) is bound to drive up sales, ta very much.

My little book has done no harm to anyone, and I am glad that it has not so far been treated unkindly.  Readers will however wonder who this person is who is being savagely attacked by this Mr Cassell, who as far as I know I have never met.  A piece of staggering journalistic ineptitude.  Congratulations chaps.

See you tomorrow, Reading people.  I've almost forgotten how to get there, it is years and years since I had anything to do with the place.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

the smack of firm leadership

this from Conservative Home on events in Slough:

Cllr Rob Anderson, the Labour leader of Slough Borough Council has been deselected as his Party's candidate for Farnham Ward. He is looking for another ward to represent. The regional Party Director Malcolm Powers has been passed allegations of irregularities. Another selection contest, for Chalvey Ward, was rerun after Powers intervened. In that battle Cllr Natasha Pantelic, the Cabinet Member for Education, was chosen by one vote having been deselected from her own ward of Bayliss and Stoke.

Now Cllr Anderson has sacked one of the Cabinet colleagues, Cllr Fiza Matloob. This has been done under the Strong Leader Model which has been adopted in Slough to give the leader the power to hire and fire.
They all appear to be at each others throats. A third of the seats are up for election in May.

Strong Leader Model, hein?  First I'd heard of it.  Perhaps those closer to Labour management circles in the UK can enlighten me further.  Would be most interested.  There were times when strong leadership was just what was required.  I certainly recall the then South-East Regional Director, Mike "Mad Monk" Creighton, now Head of Compliance at Labour national HQ (you couldn't make this up) being threatened during the parliamentary selection process in Reading East - by people who were not from Reading East.  A bit of strong leadership would not have come amiss then, but was not to be found.  So this is Mr Powers' new idea.  Jolly good.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Priors Gardens

first feedback I have had since the book was published on Saturday morning is - we like the NewYork shoot-out sequence.  Well well.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Priors Gardens - the story of the book

Flashing Blade has posted about the story of the book I wrote, published yesterday.  He is right to do so, because it was his idea in the first place.  It came from a missed flight (not our fault) which left us at a loose end one afternoon in west London.  On the rather long Tube journey out to South Ruislip, where I spent most of the first seven years of my life, I told him about the two girls my age who were my neighbours there, and what I knew or thought had become of them.  Two at least of the three of us became quite famous in our way.  So he said, this is a great story.  So I wrote it.  It is fiction.  Knowing those families and especially those other two girls inspired me to write it, but the characters are fictional.  Read it.

my books of 2011

I am quite a fan of David Mitchell, and I read, in late June, Black Swan Green, the story of a 13-year-old boy in a village in middle England, in 1982.  The boy has a stammer he manages, mostly, to conceal from his peers (as I did mine) but Mitchell, oddly, calls the stammer The Hangman.  No.  It is more like an iron bar.  David Mitchell has never written a dull book, and this was fascinating - he uses onomatopoeia or similar, and writes about England "English church bells go 'trip, trip, dranggg and baloooom.".  That is so exactly how they go.  I did like that.    Anyway, the book is a coming-of-age story.  A boy grows up, a little.  Finds out about girls, a little.  Someone dies.  A baby is going to be born.  A family fractures.  A childhood home is left behind.

Ivo Andric, The Bridge on the Drina, was first published in Serbo-Croat in former Yugoslavia in the late 1940s.  I read i t in French translation before.  In the second half of 2011 I read it again in English translation.  It is the story of a bridge, and of a country (Bosnia).  This was a country they tried to kill.  A country that barely exists.  That existed (in Yugoslavia) when this book was written, but no longer does.

John Updike, Rabbit is Rich, the first Updike I have ever read, and I have to say I am a believer.  Lovely writing.  A discontented man. I like discontent.  Here is his description of the man of the book pulling a lettuce for salad for that day's meal, in the evening "Dark green around him is damp with coming evening, though their long day's lingering brightness surprises his eye above the shadowy masses of the trees."  The title notwithstanding, the man of the book is not rich, and so I wonder if the whole thing is meant to be ironic.  Fantastic stuff though.  Family members gather for a wedding, and Rabbit remembers a sledge (a sledge!) and a child who died sledging on their street when he was a child, and how all the children knew it, though their parents did not tell them.  It is dated about finance and technology and as a book published in I think 1981 must be.  People were signing mortgages at over 13 per cent.

I read a lot of American stuff in the second half of 2011, including Raymond Chandler 'Farewell My Lovely' - I very well remember the film with Robert Mitchum - "It was a blonde.  A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window."  And "I like smooth shiny girls, hard-boiled and loaded with sin."  How excellent is that?

I read, too, Alistair Darling, "Back From The Brink,".which is much exercised by the vileness of both politics and the media.  And he does not like Gordon Brown very much.  I went on, still in politics, to Philip Gould, "The Unfinished Revolution".  Well, Gould is dead now.  And then to Chris Mullin's early diaries, because he writes very well and entertainingly, whatever I might think of him personally (a very nasty creature indeed, and he was a rubbish minister too).  Mullin mentions, interestingly to me, a person called Judy Stowe, who used to be in charge of South-East Asia Stuff at the BBC World Service back in the day (Mullin has a great interest in Vietnam and is married to a Vietnamese person), I knew Judy to be a Khmer Rouge apologist of the first water, but let that pass.  Mullin has the reputation of having written a pamphlet called "How to Deselect Your MP" and he clearly does not like this notion, for he reminds us that it was written in the 1970s, and was called "How to Select or Reselect Your MP".  An aside on Mullin - he cites Frank Dobson as saying "Bill Clinton's only mistake was not asking Ted Kennedy to drive Monica home".

Another political book that was published in 2011 was "Prime MInister Boris and other things that never happened", an Iain Dale publication edited by Duncan Brack, to which I had the honour to contribute a chapter.  It makes an interesting read.  Some of the chapters are quite scholarly, and some are lighter weight.

In the second half of 2011 I had the good fortune to make a month's trip to Australia, and I read a book by Howard Jacobson "In the Land of Oz", very dated, but not uninteresting.  He and his wife sit stony-faced through Crocodile Dundee, because they disapprove of it, but the blue-collar Australians around them roar with laughter and delighted recognition throughout.  And Jacobson and spouse (who is Australian) despise them for it.  And he is aware of the kind of traveller he has been, in his Australian odyssey - "Now I know what kind of traveller I was.  I journeyed to the centre of dialogue; wherever it was I thought I'd been I'd never in fact set foot outside a conversation.".

I reviewed previously 'Ghost Map', about the cholera outbreak in London in 1854 and my hero Dr John Snow, who understood that the pump was to blame, which I followed coincidentally with 'Nemesis', by Philip Roth,  about polio in New Jersey in the 1940s, a book that shocked me, because it ended so darkly, and so soon.  It's a book about what "everybody knows" but which so often is not true - such as catching polio from swimming pools.  Which you do not.

I read about languages too,  and was pleased to be reminded of Chomsky's sentence "colorless green ideas sleep furiously', intended to show that  a sentence can be perfectly grammatical and still mean absolutely nothing.

An interesting one was 'The Kid' by Sapphire, the story of the son of the woman she wrote about in 'Push', published in 1996 I think, which became the film 'Precious'.  She is a poet, and it shows.  Worth it. Though very dark.

I even read a theological commentary in 2011, on 'The Song of Songs', largely because it was written by my brother, Paul J. Griffiths,  but also because this is the book from the Bible I  perhaps knew the best for a long time, because RE lessons at school were so boring that we used to spend them reading the "rude bits" in the Bibles we were issued with.

And right at the end of the year I was reading Orwell's essays.,  This inspired me to read Dickens, which I never really have, though some of him was read to me through childhood bouts of tonsillitis.  What is hugely interesting about Orwell's essays is that if he is writing, for instance, about Henry Miller's 'Tropic of Cancer', he spends most of the essay writing about James Joyce.  Could a person get away with this today?  I am still reading the collected essays at the time of writing, but so far 'The Lion And The Unicorn' is what stays with me.  About England.  He wrote this in 1940, and says "the pacifists are mong those who wish for a Hitler victory"/

In the last two years or so I have been reading a lot of William Boyd, having read him first at the end of the 70s when he first published, gone off a couple of books ('Brazzaville Beach' and 'Stars and Bars') but have very much come back to him.  A great writer and a great storyteller.  I read 'Fascination', a collection of short stories. Explicit homage to Chekhov, 'Woman on the Beach with a Dog' and 'The Pigeon', a little bit self-conscious.

I finished the year re-reading Wiliam Boyd 'The New Confessions' which may be his masterpiece.  Bows low to Jean-Jacques Rousseau.A whole life, and a whole century, though I suspect he wrote the same book again later, of which more, indeed, later.

That's not everything I read in the second half of 2012, but it's most of it.  I did so much travelling and other work that I read less in that six months than I usually do.  Making up for it now.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Priors Gardens

is the name of my novel, out today on Kindle.  Someone who has just had a look at it described it as "Take Three Girls", and maybe it is a bit like that.  It is a story of the baby boom.  We boomers have not tended to create much fiction.  We have been more of an activist generation.  But perhaps now is the time for us to write our stories, and to write the stories that move us.  Anyway, I have written one.  You can get it here.

Friday, 6 January 2012

give her back the time she's done

Rebecca Leighton, a nurse at Stepping Hill hospital in the north-west of England, was jailed for six weeks last year on suspicion of tampering with saline solutions and drips and causing the deaths of a number of patients.  Why she was suspected I don't know.  But she was vilified, pictures from her Facebook page published everywhere - I know what she looks like for that reason - and more than one newspaper appeared to think her guilty.  Public hatred was such that she was not released from prison as early as she might have been because a judge thought she would be safer inside.  Well, guess what, it turns out she was innocent - she was released last September because there was not enough evidence to continue to treat her as a suspect - and another nurse is now being questioned about the matter.  It also appears that a great many more people may have died as a result of this murderous activity than was at first believed.

Rebecca Leighton appears to be fortunate in that she has a family and a partner who have stood by her, despite her "party lifestyle" as the media described it.  Those who are alone when something like this happens to them are not so lucky, as Christopher Jefferies found out the previous year when various newspapers decided that he had killed his tenant Joanna Yeates.  And he had not.  Glad to say the actual murderer is now doing time.  And since when does a "party lifestyle" make you more likely to be a murderer?  Sickening.  Shameful.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Mr Caramel's loose talk

Francois Hollande
Francois Hollande, who as readers will know is the Socialist party candidate (and current front runner) for President of France, to be elected in May this year, has changed his style, after a soft start (to which he owes his "caramel" nickname).  He spoke in Merignac to a packed hall of 1400 supporters, some of whom were waving banners, and there was a lot of pointing, and a louder voice.  Well, good.  But he still looks to me as though he is reacting to whatever criticism the media have, rather than setting the agenda, as someone who wants to be a world statesman should do.  Perhaps aware of this himself, he had lunch with a bunch of journalists on Tuesday.  Now if you had spent any time interested in politics in the UK you would expect that what he had to say at that lunch would then appear, carefully managed, in selected media outlets.  Well, this is France, and these lunches and dinners happen all the time, and very rarely does anything appear, because journalists like to protect the privacy of politicians.  Hmmm.  A different culture.  Discuss.   Anyway, what emerged from this lunch, and appeared in Le Parisien yesterday Wednesday, was that Hollande allegedly referred to Sarkozy as a "sale mec".  This was quickly denied by several, but not all, of the journalists who were there.  It was equally quickly seized upon by Sarko's people, who demanded a public apology "excuses publiques".  Le Monde today takes the opportunity to report this, and to praise the UMP rebuttal strategy "la riposte systematique" which has roared into operation ahead of Sarko himself declaring his candidacy, expected next month.  Apparently there are no more press releases or lines to take "elements de langage" in written form, it is all done by telephone and text message.

Oh, and "sale mec", I hear you ask?  Hard to translate.  "Mec" is simply colloquial for a male person.  "Sale" means "dirty" and also has the connotation of "badly behaved", a naughty child may be referred to as a "sale gosse".  Anyway, it's not a nice thing to say.  Google Translate says it is "dirty guy", which sounds frightfully camp.  I would translate it as "a shit".

Nice one Francois.  Watch your step.

Monday, 2 January 2012

sloppy over Feltham

"it should be remembered that Feltham and Heston was a Tory seat in both 1983 and 1997", says former Labour councillor John Howarth (prop. Public Impact Ltd, remember "Your Better Off With Labour"?) writing on his blog about the by-election in that constituency last month, caused by the death of its Labour MP Alan Keen.  Except that it wasn't.  Alan Keen took the seat from the Tories in 1992.  Howarth couldn't bring himself to mention the name of Alan Keen, because Howarth's precious boy Martin Salter wanted to be the candidate there in 1992, and despite some seriously dirty tricks, in which Mr Howarth was also very much involved, failed in that ambition.  So not only is Mr Howarth engaging in cheap spite, he is too lazy to check his facts.  Quite in character.  I wouldn't even post about him if his blog accepted comments, but he is in the Reading Labour mode of broadcast, not receive.  You can read the shite for yourself here. He is also, I notice, serialising a piece of fiction.  I wonder where he got that idea?

He ends the post by patronising the victorious Labour candidate in Feltham and Heston (well, she is only a girl, and not even entirely white it seems):

Finally, It’s worth congratulating Labour’s Seema Malhotra, an obviously bright woman who could go far.

and finishes with an asterisk (although there is no asterisk earlier in the text) and a weak attempt to justify his own laziness:

* Apologies to readers for a few more typos than normal in my first draft - I’m putting it down to using an iPad touch screen thing with a will of its own.

No.  Typos are in a text because the person responsible for that text failed to check for them and get rid of them.  Anyone can do that.  It's got nothing to do with iPads.  I've been using one of those since 2010 and haven't produced any more typos than I did before.  Lazy arse.  Unprofessional.