Thursday, 28 June 2012

Ring of No-Confidence

I'm delighted to find this photograph on the blog Viv's View. The ring was bought at Chatuchak weekend market in Bangkok and is as fine a piece of jewellery as I've ever seen.

ZZ Top

With the European Championship being not terribly inspiring this time round, I've given up watching and instead taken to celebrating the 40th birthday this week of my favourite foreign player by watching old footage of the very beautiful Zinedine Zidane.

Above is a photo I took in Marseilles a decade or so back, when the great man was in his pomp. And these are some of the reasons why European football's not as good without him:

Thursday, 21 June 2012

John Gouriet

I worry sometimes that I don't really keep up with current events. I spend so much time trying to think myself back into the period I'm writing about - the 1990s, at the moment - that things come and go without my ever noticing them.

Even so, it's pushing it even by my standards that it's taken until this evening for me to notice the sad passing of John Gouriet nearly two years ago.

I interviewed Mr Gouriet when I was researching my book about the 1970s, Crisis? What Crisis?, because he was the last surviving of the four founder members of the Freedom Association. We got on rather well, once I told him that my father had been the bandmaster of the 15th/19th King's Royal Hussars back in the days when Mr Gouriet was an officer in the regiment.

He was honest, courteous and completely bonkers. Undoubtedly the most right-wing man I've ever met, he explained with absolute certainty that not only was Edward Heath an enthusiastic cottager, but that he was also a KGB sleeper agent.

I'm fairly sure they don't make them like that any more.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Don't Cook, Don't Cook

There's an advert running on the radio at the moment by the Fire Brigade, warning us about the danger of housefires that start in the kitchen. It's hinged around the European Football Championship and suggests that after we've come back from the pub, watching the match, the last thing we should do is try to cook. 'Show your kitchen the red card,' it urges, 'and score a goal with a takeaway instead.'

I'm sure that these 'campaigns' make no difference whatsoever. I still cherish the adverts last year telling us that stepping in front of an oncoming train at a level crossing probably isn't a wise move.

(Why is public money still being wasted on this nonsense? I seem to recall the current government promising that this stuff was being cut back after the Blairite Golden Age for advertisers.)

But assuming that we do need to be patronised, isn't there enough of a problem with the nation's inability to cook already, without the Fire Brigade joining in? The government's always keen to tell us that we have an obesity crisis on our hands. Which doesn't sit particularly well with state-funded propaganda encouraging us to augment our lager intake with fast food.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Going South

Back in 2001 a German diplomat named Tilman Hanckel upset some of the British media with an interview on Radio 4’s Today programme, in which he noted: ‘I only came to London in July and in a way it is my first Third World posting.'

It was meant as a joke, though that got lost on British journalists who’ve never got the hang of the German sense of humour. But Hanckel’s comments were made more than a decade ago, and since then the UK has been continuing its long-term decline, to such an extent that we are now on the brink of his words becoming reality.

Just how close we are to this fate is the subject of Going South: Why Britain Will Have a Third World Economy by 2014, the new book by Larry Elliott and Dan Atkinson, published today.

Elliott and Atkinson have been issuing warnings of catastrophe ever since their off-message classic The Age of Insecurity (1998) in the early days of the New Labour government. Most famously, their book Fantasy Island (2007) took the opportunity of Tony Blair’s departure from office to point out that the financial boom which we’d been enjoying for a decade-and-a-half was built on the quicksand of debt and was entirely unsustainable.

Now, however, they’ve revised that position a little. ‘Fantasy Island was wrong,’ they admit: ‘it was not nearly gloomy enough.’

Not to worry, however, because this latest instalment really is gloomy.

Elliott and Atkinson have always been unconvinced by the optimistic froth spouting from the lips of whichever plausible young men are currently in the ascendancy in Westminster, insisting that the underlying economic tides have been turning against Britain for decades.

Unfashionably, they still pay attention to those things that used to worry us, but which now seldom make the news, as politicians attempt to persuade us that everything will turn out alright – things like the balance of payments deficit, for example, or the level of personal debt.

Their analysis of where we are now doesn’t offer much hope for the future: ‘Britain is in deep trouble and ready to blow,’ they conclude.

There’s a little comfort to be derived from their belief that ‘a total breakdown of organized society, along the lines of the 1970s television dramas Survivors and Quatermass, is not on the cards’. But that’s immediately followed by warnings of ‘brownouts and blackouts with regard to the electricity supply, water shortages, interruptions to gas supplies and breaks in the coverage of fixed-line and mobile telephone services’.

I should point out that this makes it sound like a depressing book. And indeed it is. But it’s also a terrifically entertaining read, romping through a century of fantasy and folly to show that politicians and experts, as well as self-interested institutions like the CBI and Bank of England, have been in pursuit of a mirage for the whole of living memory.

Nothing much has changed, and certainly nothing has changed for the better. ‘We have now finished the story of Bleak House and are sitting down this afternoon to enjoy the first chapter of Great Expectations.’ That was Neville Chamberlain, as chancellor of the exchequer, in 1934, but – with cultural references suitably adjusted for less elevated times (something about how Britain's Got Talent, probably) – it might as well be George Osborne today.

Despite the excellent diversions into history, most of the book is centred on the present and on the immediate future. And for those of us who aren’t as economically literate as the authors, there’s real pleasure to be derived from having the financial and industrial state of the nation being laid out in such clear, readable prose.

It confirms pretty much what we’ve all suspected: that we’ve been living in a state of self-delusion for a very long time. Even the much-vaunted City of London, one of the few ‘success’ stories of modern Britain, suffers from ‘the so-called Wimbledon effect, in which London hosts the world’s best but lacks domestic champions of its own’.

It’s wonderful stuff, and an essential corrective to a culture in which ‘the fantasy lives on that the United Kingdom is just a couple of policy reforms and a slice of luck away from a seat at the top table’.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Lee Enfield: Song for Bill Haley

So this is a video that I made with my friend Paul Thomas of a track titled Song for Bill Haley. We're recording under the name Lee Enfield:


So what about this Jubilee business? asks Tyrone Jenkins in a comment on an earlier blog posting.

I remember the silver jubilee of 1977 as being a very odd week. I'd bought God Save the Queen, of course, though to be honest - while I liked the words - I didn't think the song itself was a patch on Anarchy in the UK, and wasn't as good as the b-side, Did You No Wrong.

And the best lyrics weren't those about the Queen, anyway, but the wider stuff: 'Where there's no future, how can there be sin?' There's a phenomenal line to put in a best-selling pop single. He was a fine lyricist, that Johnny Rotten, as well having one of the great rock and roll voices.

So that was mostly my soundtrack to jubilee week. But it wasn't the only thing I was listening to. Because that week my dad was conducting the massed bands of the Prince of Wales's Division in a Beating Retreat gig on Horseguards Parade. So I went to that, the same evening that Prince Charles went (he presented my dad with a Jubilee Medal), and very good it was too. Ended with an excellent arrangement of the Evening Hymn and Last Post.

A week of split personality, then. Though, looking back, what punk and a military band spectacular had in common was that my hair didn't fit in with either: too long for punk, and very definitely too long for the Army.