Thursday, 28 August 2008

Police, politicians and paintings

Sometimes the juxtaposition of news items simply can't be ignored.

A snippet on Today (Radio 4) this morning caught my attention: A couple in Cambridgeshire were being burgled, and phoned 999, only to get a text message from the local police instead of an actual Bobby.

Next item up was Nicholas Penny, director of the National Gallery, asking the nation to stump up £100 million to buy a couple of paintings. Well, they're Titians, and I'm sure they're fabulous. But they're owned by the Duke of Sutherland and they've been on loan from the Duke of Sutherland's estate since 1945. Is the guy really so hard up that he needs to cash in his family heirlooms? I doubt it.

Normally I wouldn't join the chorus who cry for 'money for nurses/schools' [insert pet issue of your choice], mainly because the sums involved in such cases tend to be trifles in the overall scheme of government spending (and as a former civil servant I know that a million quid doesn't go very far).

Nicholas Penny said that buying the pix would "end decades of anxiety about them being sold overseas". Doesn't the man realise that one of the many things people do when they holiday abroad is visit famous galleries to see famous painting? I could take him a tiny bit more seriously if he was wanting to save something from destruction, but overseas? What's the big deal?

Sometimes public spending is a case of 'what goes around comes' - e.g. give civil servants a 4% pay rise and they'll have a tiny bit more spending power in the high street and the VAT will dribble into the Treasury's coffers. In this case, though, I can't see it happening. Do we really think the Duke will stump up the Capital Gains from his 'car boot sale'?

On the other hand, £100 million (or even half of that - which is what he's likely to get) would buy quite a few bicycles for the Bobbies of Cambridgeshire, and if it's a choice between fighting off burglars rummaging through my drawers and keep a couple of paintings on home turf, I think I know which I'd choose.

[Sorry; links are to Daily Telegraph (top when I Googled), as BBC website has gone temporarily awol.]

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Weird radio

I don't usually listen to Classic FM, but my desk-side radio is still tuned in because I was working over the weekend (when R3 goes a bit jazzy).

I'm interested in demographics, and how advertisers tap in to same to get us all to buy stuff. But they've got me worried this morning.

My ear'oles were assaulted by a weird ad for the Classic FM chart show: "Will the Three Tenors knock the chanting monks off the top of the chart?" [Ans: "Do I give a damn?"] followed by the programme sponsor's 'ident' which went something like:

"The Classic FM chart, brought to you by Pedigree Joint Care - putting the bounce back into old dogs."

Conjures up some very strange images in my mind (surely Classic FM's listeners would be better off sticking to the Viagra?)

Monday, 25 August 2008

A lesson from Doris

I just caught the end of a major interview with Doris Lessing on today's Woman's Hour (Radio 4). The fragment I heard was fascinating - particularly how winning the Nobel Prize has affected her. But there was one comment that stuck out a mile:
"Being old is a way of life."
By which she meant, she's so busy taking herself from one hospital appointment to another that she doesn't have time for much else - certainly not writing!

Not the cheeriest of thoughts, but perhaps a useful incentive to get on with things while you have got the time…

… if only. I once heard a similarly (un)inspiring aphorism:
In youth, you have health and time, but no money
In middle age, you have health and money, but no time
In old age, you have time and money*, but no health.
*Whoever wrote this obviously wasn't a freelance editor living in the South East with a massive mortgage and son who hoovers up food as fast as I can shove it in the trolley.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

Big Read (aka I nicked this from Dougalfish)

Spotted on Dougalfish's blog, and so hard to resist:

Big Read

The rules:

1) Bold those you have read.
2) Italicize those you intend to read.
3) [Bracket] the books you LOVE.
4) Reprint this list on your own blog.

1. [The Lord of the Rings], JRR Tolkien
2. [Pride and Prejudice], Jane Austen
3. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman
4. [The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy], Douglas Adams
5. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, JK Rowling
6. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
7. [Winnie the Pooh], AA Milne
8. Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell
9. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, CS Lewis
10. [Jane Eyre], Charlotte Brontë
11. Catch-22, Joseph Heller
12. [Wuthering Heights], Emily Brontë
13. [Birdsong], Sebastian Faulks
14. [Rebecca], Daphne du Maurier
15. [The Catcher in the Rye], JD Salinger
16. [The Wind in the Willows], Kenneth Grahame
17. [Great Expectations], Charles Dickens
18. Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
19. Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Louis de Bernieres
20. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
21. [Gone with the Wind], Margaret Mitchell
22. Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone, JK Rowling
23. Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets, JK Rowling
24. Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban, JK Rowling
25. The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien
26. Tess Of The D'Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy
27. Middlemarch, George Eliot
28. A Prayer For Owen Meany, John Irving
29. The Grapes Of Wrath, John Steinbeck
30. [Alice's Adventures In Wonderland], Lewis Carroll
31. The Story Of Tracy Beaker, Jacqueline Wilson
32. One Hundred Years Of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez
33. The Pillars Of The Earth, Ken Follett
34. David Copperfield, Charles Dickens
35. Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl
36. Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson
37. [A Town Like Alice], Nevil Shute
38. Persuasion, Jane Austen
39. Dune, Frank Herbert
40. Emma, Jane Austen
41. [Anne Of Green Gables], LM Montgomery
42. Watership Down, Richard Adams
43. The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald
44. The Count Of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
45. Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
46. Animal Farm, George Orwell
47. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
48. Far From The Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy
49. Goodnight Mister Tom, Michelle
50. The Shell Seekers, Rosamunde Pilcher
51. The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett
52. Of Mice And Men, John Steinbeck
53. The Stand, Stephen King
54. [Anna Karenina], Leo Tolstoy
55. A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth
56. The BFG, Roald Dahl
57. Swallows And Amazons, Arthur Ransome
58. Black Beauty, Anna Sewell
59. Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer
60. Crime And Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
61. Noughts And Crosses, Malorie Blackman
62. Memoirs Of A Geisha, Arthur Golden
63. A Tale Of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
64. The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCollough
65. Mort, Terry Pratchett
66. [The Magic Faraway Tree], Enid Blyton
67. The Magus, John Fowles
68. Good Omens, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
69. Guards! Guards!, Terry Pratchett
70. Lord Of The Flies, William Golding
71. Perfume, Patrick Süskind
72. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, Robert Tressell
73. Night Watch, Terry Pratchett
74. Matilda, Roald Dahl
75. Bridget Jones's Diary, Helen Fielding
76. [The Secret History], Donna Tartt
77. The Woman In White, Wilkie Collins
78. Ulysses, James Joyce
79. Bleak House, Charles Dickens
80. Double Act, Jacqueline Wilson
81. The Twits, Roald Dahl
82. I Capture The Castle, Dodie Smith
83. Holes, Louis Sachar
84. Gormenghast, Mervyn Peake
85. The God Of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
86. Vicky Angel, Jacqueline Wilson
87. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
88. Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons
89. Magician, Raymond E Feist
90. On The Road, Jack Kerouac
91. The Godfather, Mario Puzo
92. The Clan Of The Cave Bear, Jean M Auel
93. The Colour Of Magic, Terry Pratchett
94. The Alchemist, Paulo
95. Katherine, Anya Seton
96. Kane And Abel, Jeffrey Archer
97. Love In The Time Of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez
98. Girls In Love, Jacqueline Wilson
99. The Princess Diaries, Meg Cabot
100. Midnight's Children, Salman Rushdie

53/100 - not quite as many as I thought I'd read. Odd.

Far too difficult to choose a favourite. I'd normally say Rebecca, but can't ignore Jane Eyre, Catcher in the Rye, Pride and Prej, Lord of the Rings, blah blah.

Am now even more aware that I haven't read a good book in ages. (Too much time wasted on blogging and such-like?)

If you wanna be a … [sing it] record breaker…

… Dedication's what you need.

Anyone born in the 60s will remember the classic 1970s kids TV show Record Breakers, hosted by the late Roy Castle (first-rate brass player; third-rate singer) and the highly irritating lyrics of the show's theme tune:
"If you wanna be the best
If you wanna beat the rest … …"
It didn't sink in at the time - more's the pity - that Roy was right: dedication IS what you need.

I've slumped on the sofa in awe for the last two weeks as Team GB has worked its magic in the Bird's Nest, the Water Cube, and the Laoshan Velodrome [of which more anon] and there's no doubt about the dedication on display. But there's also a fair dollop of borderline lunacy too. Who in their right mind would swim 10km in a slime-filled open water circuit with Russians pulling at your ankles? Bonkers.

But they are certainly dedicated; and it's fascinating. Why do some people have such determination while others give up at the first, second, or (if they're pushed a bit) third hurdle?

I read Paula Radcliffe's autobiography (My story so far) to try to find out, but I'm none the wiser (fascinating though it was; and eugh, those ice baths, brrrr). The blurb on the back of the book asks: "What has driven this 'quintessential girl next door' to achieve so much… ?" But we're never given a straight answer, other than a hint that it's something that's in her blood: "I don't remember a time in my life when I didn't run".

Clearly, Paula and I are poles apart. I can remember a day when I did run - just the one. It sticks out in my mind because, buoyed up by swanky new running shoes (to give me better support while walking the dog!) I tried to jog along one side (yup, just the one side) of the footy pitch in the field behind my house. I gave the dog a fright, and thought I was about to have a coronary!

I do envy the athletes their passion, though. They are totally and utterly dedicated to their goal. It must be devastating when they don't achieve it, but they just seem to pick themselves up and try again.

It has to be said, though, that they do have a great support network behind them, so maybe that's part of the key - you don't want to let your trainers/team-mates down.

For us lesser mortals, it's hard to keep up the momentum. Plodding on is as much as most of us can manage, with the occasional sprint when a work-related deadline's in view. I guess if I were hungrier, that might have a significant impact on my determination; but it's also partly to do with the goals I've chosen to give myself.

Passing Grade 4 piano is my goal for this year, and so far I'm pretty wide of the mark - not having touched the keys since the school holidays started. Only a week to go 'til my first lesson, and teacher will not be best pleased. But as he also has one eye on the fact that I'm a paying "customer" he won't be half as hard on me as the legendary Miss Watts was in my school days (rap on the knuckles with a ruler, anyone?). So if anyone's reading this, do me a favour and start nagging!

Thursday, 21 August 2008

I'm fine… and how are you?

Why do radio journalists insist on wasting valuable airtime asking all and sundry about the state of their health? It's a mystery.

Whether it's Jeremy Vine or Eddie Mair, just about every blasted call follows the same tedious pattern:

"What do you think, Mr X?"
"Hello, Jeremy/Eddie [insert tedious presenter of your choice]; how are you?"
"I'm fine, Mr X; how are you?"
"I'm fine. Now, about house prices/dog fouling/obnoxious teenagers/telecoms rip-offs…"

Aaaagh. It drives me crazy.

To make matters worse, 90% of the population seem to think this is also necessary for business calls. I'm sorry, but I really don't want to give the details of my health to every poor soul manacled to their call-centre desk.

You would think the centre managers would have realised what a total and utter waste of time this is and, given the overwhelming drive for profits over customer service, they'd have cut all this nonsense out of their "scripts" ages ago, but apparently not.

Or is it just that 90% of the population feel much more kindly disposed to their fellow human beings than I do?

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

It's not Frankenstein we should fear, but big pharma

Last week Prince Charles spoke out against genetically modified crops (aka "Frankenstein foods", if you read the tabloids).

It's about time people stopped focusing on the science (which may or may not be an issue) and thought long and hard about the economics of GM. What a pity Phil Woolas (Defra minister) continues to miss this key point. So I decided to set him straight:

Dear Mr Woolas

In the wake of Prince Charles's interview about genetically modified crops, you have been setting out the Government's policy towards GM. As a Labour Party member (who hasn't yet completely chucked in the towel), I'm writing to draw your attention to my concerns about GM, and to explain why I would like the Labour Party to re-think its attitude to GM.

For me, the issue is not about the science - it's the economic/political risks that concern me, principally the need to ensure "sustainability" of food supplies.

Do you really think it's a good idea to let the future of world food supplies lie in the hands of a small number of international chemicals companies? Letting the "market" control life's essentials is already leading us into trouble:

* We are already suffering the consequences of energy being controlled by hostile regimes and/or greedy international businesses. (Hence I'm all in favour of increasing home-grown energy from wind farms, wave power, PV, and micro-renewables.)
* Meanwhile, thousands die every day in developing countries because they can't afford to buy medicines from the pharmaceuticals giants; and back home in the UK some drugs have to be "rationed" because they are too expensive (i.e. shareholders in Glaxo et al don't want to see their profits shrink).

I don't object in principle to on-going scientific trials of GM crops, but they should be conducted by government scientists, and the results should be widely published. Any patents that result should be made "open source" so that farmers around the world can benefit from technological developments - instead of the technology being controlled by a handful of extremely powerful and secretive organisations (Monsanto, inevitably, springs to mind).
Of course, Mr Woolas is far too busy to reply in person, but the Labour Party's communications department assures me they'll pass on my comments to the appropriate department. Yeh, right. Well, I won't hold my breath…

Shame on Daily Mail subs

Whoever came up with the barmy idea of today's Daily Mail front page splash? (I shalln't dignify it by adding a URL)

Fancy putting gold-medal-winning Olympic Champion Christine Ohuruogu alongside washed-up-rocker and child-abuser Gary Glitter! It beggars belief.

Totally and utterly insensitive. I'd suggest a more appropriate front page:

Best of British: Christine Ohuruogu
Worst of British: Daily Mail journalists

So much for the summer

If anyone is following this blog (OK, I know ONE person is), you'll have noticed a deafening silence.

As well as taking a holiday, I've been too absorbed in my own small worries to be bothered about writing here. But it doesn't take too long before the world in general gets up my nose to an extent that I can't hold back any longer…

So I'm back; and the summer's not over yet, I'm sure.