Sunday, January 9, 2011

Layer 417 . . . A Generation Under Strain, Old and Sad, Parris & Portillo, Brandreth, Clive Rowe, Panto, and the Secret Mediterranean?

Having watched the first programme of Trevor McDonald's new series, 'The Secret Mediterranean', I felt moved to write something about it - but really, I don't know if I can be bothered. This is OK! TV for the retarded. This is Hello! TV for couch potatoes. You can get a pretty good flavour of what it's like from Sam Wollaston's review, and the spot-on CiF comments following it.

This is a stinker of a TV production. How can anyone possibly make a bad documentary about an amazing place like the Med? Sir Trev and the people from Plum Pictures can - with ease. Traipsing round ludicrously expensive 'yachts' and the super-luxury hotels favoured by the super-rich and famous, making fatuous comments in his plummy accent - this what Sir Trev McWhicker does best.

He and Plum even managed to make Venice look boring, whilst Trevor himself looked slightly seasick as he was gondoliered around the less well-frequented canals of this jewel of the Mediterranean. The reason some of those outlying, dare I say backwater, canals are infrequently visited (though hardly 'secret')  is because they are boring. I'd rather take a cruise down the Grand Union through the Black Country. As long as I didn't have Sir T as a companion.

You can never expect Trevor to say anything interesting about anything - but surely we could expect more than, "This is very narrow," "Oh, it's lovely!", "Quite marvellous!", "It's quite soothing in a way, isn't it?" "We made our way along the calm waters, as the city slowly drifted by, as if in a hypnotic haze." I kid you not.

"It's not very easy getting around in this city - on the water."

Quite so, Trev - that would be on account of the narrow canals.

"But it's more beautiful!" said the gondolier.

"That's a very Venetian view of life!" said TM.

Er - No, Trev. That's just a fact. Venice is, on the whole, incredibly beautiful.

The final straw was hearing Trevor calling the canals "canarls", as in "gnarls". Is this what elecution lessons do for someone? Is this what gets bland people knighthoods?


By way of contrast, and for some brilliant laugh-out-loud entertainment, you could go to see Clive Rowe in Jack and the Beanstalk at the Hackney Empire. Except you can't, since it's the last show today. Mr Rowe is fantastic as the Dame in this excellent production - dominating and carrying the show with his incredible voice, timing and comic persona.  

Pantomime is such an amazing artform - consisting of spectacle, audience participation, singing, dancing, drama, comedy, storytelling, men dressed as women, women dressed as men, etc. The giant in this production was really something special. Get a flavour of it here:


Arise Sir Clive: Dame Extraordinaire!


by SalvadorDarley
I'm not used to England having a highly organised, utterly competent and ruthless cricket team. I preferred the days of collapso cricket, Gower in the Tiger Moth, Devon Malcolm swinging the bat to get the hundred up, Tuffers wheezing around the outfield looking for his fags and the occasional, heroic match-saving innings or tight victory (when the series is already lost).

Subsequently I've gone off cricket as I don't really understand it any more.


"Live in the moment!" said Giles Brandreth, on Desert Island Discs. Zennist (!) Giles admitted he has no music in his soul, like so many of these desert islanders. He's a man of the theatre, a man of the spoken word, he told us, by way of non-explanation. As if you can't be passionate about musical expression  as well as spoken language . . .

However, he did select "Boum!" by Charles Trenet.

Is it legit on this programme to choose a speech by Laurence Olivier (from Othello)?

His love of musicals is interesting, given his lack of interest in music. Clearly it's the words and the drama that appeal to people who love musicals.

He also loves Gilbert & Sullivan - more camping about and more wordfests for people who aren't interested in music.

"I wasn't young like other people were young in the Sixties."

"It's been useful being camp and having people think I'm gay. Very good cover!"

"You can't imagine anyone with more advantages than I had - a middle class child of the mid-Fifties."

"I am the world's most spoilt and self-centred man."

Even so, there's something a little bit endearing about Giles, as his many fans will no doubt attest. He certainly doesn't come across as a hard-line Thatcherite, or a fully paid-up member of the Nasty Party.

In a similar vein, there was an excellent panel on Any Questions? this week - Ken Livingston, Matthew Parris and Michael Portillo. And Vivienne Westwood.

Parris and Portillo are a couple of interesting Tories - which you can't say about very many of them. Is it 'cos they is gay? You may not agree with their views, but you get a real sense of individuals who have long ago given up on parroting the party line, and who usually say what they truly believe. What's more they are knowledgeable, open-minded, decent, unbigoted and they think before they speak. And you can hardly say fairer than that. They may not have a complete grasp on economic theory, but then who has these days? They may not be egalitarians, but then neither were New Labour. And it's not entirely clear whether Ed Miliband's Latest Labour is going to be, either.

I particularly respect Parris for saying this:

Criticism of Tony Blair

Parris has suggested that Tony Blair has a deep flaw in his personality which made him unsuitable for the role of Prime Minister. On 18 March 2006 he wrote:

    I believe Tony Blair is an out-and-out rascal, terminally untrustworthy and close to being unhinged. I said from the start that there was something wrong in his head, and each passing year convinces me more strongly that this man is a pathological confidence-trickster. To the extent that he even believes what he says, he is delusional. To the extent that he does not, he is an actor whose first invention — himself — has been his only interesting role.

- Wikipedia

Classic symptoms of a psychopath, as I've said so many times myself.

As for Portillo, you have to have some respect for a man with enough of a sense of humour to say, "My name is now synonymous with eating a bucketload of shit in public".

That's right, he's talking about "the Portillo moment".


A couple of very worthwhile articles in the Observer today:

In contrast to Giles Brandreth's gilded youth -

No country for young people: is this generation under strain?

Young people confront a radically different social landscape to that of their parents, who stand accused alongside bankers and politicians of bequeathing an economic and environmental mess. Tracy McVeigh hears their views

Gary Watts said some very sensible things, including, "When you're growing up, no one tells you what life really is going to be like. It's constantly exams and then stress, more stress, coursework. By the time I reached 18 I was virtually burnt out from all of that."

Someone commenting on CiF said, - "Surely mankind will develop through education. If one generation is educated, and they educate more than the last generation, and that goes on in a long process with each generation more educated than the last, then surely that is a good thing?"

Well - it depends on what you mean by education. Learning to pass examinations doesn't necessarily equate with becoming wiser, more enlightened, more able to see the wood for the trees. Neither does it equate with becoming more emotionally intelligent, more empathetic, more intuitive, etc. In many respects our schools, through a relentless concentration on academic success, stifle the development of other crucial intelligences. Is this what our planet needs? Clever little academics with little in the way of human/spiritual values, little in the way of emotional and social skills and understanding? Is this not why we see so much drug-taking and violence in our society? No wonder some universities and some businesses are now beginning to see the need to produce more rounded individuals with more "life skills" and "employment skills", as they call them. Plus more creativity and more imagination. Thank goodness they do things differently in other, more enlightened, countries, such as Finland and Denmark, where education is still pupil-focused and pedagogy and the curriculum are still driven by respected professionals. Why are English pupils the most examined, the most miserable and the most burnt-out - as Gary Watts attests in this article? We do indeed have much to learn.

Oldham and Saddleworth: All three leaders are jumpy about the verdict of the Pennines

The Oldham and Saddleworth byelection highlights the challenges facing each of the parties in the year ahead

by Andrew Rawnsley

This Thursday, the good folk of Oldham East and Saddleworth will vote in the first byelection of the coalition age. Some of the bad and ugly folk will take part as well. The result will be part-verdict on what has happened since last May, including the performance of the coalition and the leadership of Ed Miliband, and part-harbinger of how voters are likely to react in the 12 months ahead, a year of sharp tax rises, deep spending cuts and threatened strikes. What's not so agreed is precisely what and whom is being tested in Old and Sad.


It was Derren Brown night on C4 last night. This guy is a phenomenon. What it must be like to be that clever, and to have that much nerve and originality? He must have some fun times too, with friends as funny and brilliant as Matt Lucas and Bill Bailey.

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