19 June 2009

Look at my lovely laptop

Last year I poured thousands of bathroom pounds into the local economy, but it still didn't prevent the recession. So I shouldn't claim that my purchase yesterday of a new laptop is going to turn things around. But it may make me happier. Here's a review of it; it's an Acer Aspire Timeline 3810T. It has two amazing features. First it's less than 2.5cm thick when folded. That's thinner than most books! Second, it has a claimed battery life of up to 8 hours. And I've read reviews that say this is true.

So that's long enough for any sensible train journey, or even a flight, if I did that sort of thing. At the moment I'm in Catford library using the free wifi to download OpenOffice. That's one of the weak points of the deal - it comes with very little software.

And I have rejoined the library - in preparation for my life as an old git. The wifi is slower than I hoped, possibly it's very heavily contended, so it's predicting 30 minutes still to go of the huge download. Opposite me a young black woman is studying accountancy and occasionally slumping into sleep, unsurprisingly. She's pretty, and on top of the heap of books is a copy of The Pink Paper, which I'm guessing is there to fend off unwanted attention. If only it was a copy of Which Older Man?.

It has struck me how little time I spend in Catford other than in my house. I never shop here, for example, or go to one of the many inviting pubs. And just down the road in Lewisham, there's been a rare example of wit from a W H Smith employee.

18 June 2009

Jim Dowd and Petty Cash

A pretty good name for a country and western duo, don't you think?

Now that Parliament has "published" "details" of MPs' "expenses", we can have a better look at what Jim Dowd's been up to. Sorry, Jim, but it still is very boring. The main itemised expenditure is on his mobile phone (because clearly he would not have had a mobile phone if he had not been an MP) his ISP (Madasafish, as it happens, because, as we've seen, he's on the cutting edge of tinternet), and a large amount of expenditure on printer toner. (Actually, his mobile phone bills are really low. Does he have no friends?)

But every month without fail he spent £250 on "petty cash". Is it a coincidence that this is exactly the amount an MP can claim without evidence? There's absolutely no clue what this petty cash was spent on. And Jim might argue that he's followed the rules. He may even argue that he probably spent more than £250 a month on petty cashy things, whatever they are. But I don't suppose he knows.

To a cynic - and I wasn't always a cynic, honest - it looks as if he's basically added £3,000 a year (after tax) to his salary. Nice one, Jim.

Do they all do this? Bridget Prentice, my other non-existent MP, hasn't made a regular claim for petty cash. She also (as far as I remember) hasn't claimed for her mobile phone or internet connection.

At the last election, I broke the habit of a lifetime and didn't vote labour, because of Iraq and the assaults on civil liberties, etc, and because Jim had done nothing nothing nothing to object to these things. I'm increasingly glad I did that.

Even when he's (possibly) abusing the system, he does it with a complete lack of flair and style. He'll probably slip under the radar, get elected again next year, and carry on doing the nodding dog act, only this time in opposition.

14 June 2009

True confessions

Some throwback of religious feeling in me must be at work. It's Sunday morning, so time to confess two shameful secrets.
Picture of Caroline Flint

1. In spite of, well, everything I still find Caroline Flint very attractive. Look at that lovely face, that faraway look, that beautiful shiny shiny hair. Mmm.

2. A decent interval has passed, so I think I can get away without being lynched when I say that I couldn't stand Clement Freud on Just a Minute. I'm sure what he did was clever, but it wasn't funny. An example of someone persisting in rubbish so long they earned national treasure status. (See also, not that far away, Nicholas Parsons.)

Now, to act out an even older ritual, I'm going to have a bath.

10 June 2009

All's Well That Ends Well

It must be summer because I've been to the theatre. As previewed at the weekend, it was to see All's Well That Ends Well at the National Theatre.

Some very positive comments to make. First, the design and the staging were great. Rhoda Koenig in the Independent curiously attacked these as if they were some kind of dressing-up, to disguise the difficulties of the play. In fact the use of costumes and imagery from different eras, and the pervasive use of fairy-tale motifs is inherent to the reading of the play: you can't take it as realist in any sense. Helena, the central character, is sometimes Cinderella, sometimes Red Riding-hood, sometimes Patient Griselda. The play, in this production, can be seen as a meditation on the various roles women can take in the world.

Other positives: a lot of the jokes worked. The character of Parolles really fitted in well, despite some over-playing, as a foil to the story of Bertram. His character reminded me of Lucio in Measure for Measure - clearly immoral but with important lessons to impart, and a joie de vivre to be envied. Some very good acting in some minor roles. Good music.

Any negatives, I think, stem from the fact that the play can't really work these days. The main reason, as I suggested earlier, is the character of Bertram. In this production his callowness is emphasised, but that only adds to the mystery of why Helena should fancy him. The Parolles subplot fatally undermines any moral standing he has. Even in the final scene, he lies and lies and lies until he can't get away with it any more. The King forgives him. As in a lot of late Shakespeare there's a clear longing for reconciliation, but it isn't worked through. The text doesn't provide any justification for it, and this production can't. In earlier times, perhaps Bertram's reported military achievements would earn respect. But that doesn't work nowadays. Instead, as Billington says, the closing tableaux reflect an air of perplexity: what the hell's just happened? That may be the only reaction we can have to this play these days.

09 June 2009

My new MP does not exist

Picture of Bridget Prentice
It was probably a waste of time to have a go at Jim Dowd the way I did. Because of boundary changes he's only my MP until the next general election, when my address becomes part of Lewisham East. I doubt if this will boost the value of my property.

So, what of the sitting MP in Lewisham East, Bridget Prentice? She's got a website but doesn't know how to use it, it seems. The main story on the home page says that "on Friday night I informed a packed meeting of Labour Party members of my decision to stand down at the next election" but there's no hint of when this particular Friday night was.

If you dig around, you find that she has a column called "Letter from Lewisham", which is nice. But the most recent entry is dated 1 December 2008 (and ironically headed "Fresh Hope"). Actually, the story itself is encouraging: she helped get the Forced Marriage Act through parliament, and it's clear it means a lot to her. She's rightly proud of her part in it. But nothing since then.

There's an odd page called "Have your say" where three people have left questions - the most recent in May this year - but no-one has provided an answer.

The biography page's most recent information is that on 9 May - what year? it doesn't say, but it was 2007 - she was "appointed as Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the department for Constitutional Affairs (now The Ministry of Justice)".

The latest press release is an interview with the Mercury from 24 October 2007.

A really random photo gallery includes a picture of someone called Josh Beasley in his vest for no apparent reason.

The "Publications and Speeches" page also seems to have run out of steam in 2007, as does the Video page.

So, not quite as bad as Jim, but similarly one is left with the impression that she really doesn't care any more. I suppose, to her credit, she did seem to care once, unlike Jim. And apparently she is still Parliamentary Under-Secretary, so she's got some reward for her Jim-like devotion to the party line.

I'm writing this the day after Labour backbenchers missed the chance to strike at Gordon Brown's leadership. Some have called them cowardly. From my experience, I think they're just not interested any more. Jim might get re-elected next time - he probably will - but it won't really make any difference to him if he doesn't. Bridget's already packed her bags. If the election's a year off, she just picks up another year's salary, and, it seems, doesn't have to do that much to get it.

This has been quite a depressing exercise, but I think it demonstrates that the Blair generation of Labour MPs is completely spent now.

07 June 2009

Hooray for Saturday night telly!

My twitter bio reads "part snob, part thug: snug" and last night the snob won. Christ, saturday night telly is rubbish, innit? A new show, hosted by Graham Norton, might revive the variety format, but with guests like Lionel Richie and Boyzone, it's hardly cutting-edge. So, telly off, I read All's Well That Ends Well, which I'm going to see on Tuesday at the Nash.

It's a very rarely performed play, and I'm not sure I've ever read it before. Now that I have, I can understand why it's rarely put on. First, the language is strange: very dense and repetitive. Then there's an unfortunate amount of clowning, with the usual jokes about venereal diseases. Above all, though, when I finished the play, my first thought was "Well, that was morally repugnant."

The central character, Helena, cures the King of France's illness. In return, he gives her the young Count Bertram in marriage. He snobbishly rejects her, going through the ceremony but refusing to have sex with her. Later, she gets the chance to trick him into her bed, and at the end of the play, reveals the deception to him and he accepts her.

According to wikipedia "Victorian objections centred on the character of Helena, who was variously deemed predatory, immodest and both 'really despicable' and a 'doormat'". To get all valley girl on their ass, HELLO? Helena strikes me as a brilliant character, out to get what's due to her. And obviously far too good for Bertram, who is, to get all cockney boy on his arse, a total dickwad. So the ending, with its implied "so that's all right then", is shocking.

I'm impatient, now, to find out how the Nash production covers this. Michael Billington in the Guardian gives four stars but hardly covers this reversal. He says:
even though hero and heroine are finally united, there is a look of aghast bewilderment as they pose for the cameras.

The Times review by John Peter gives five big stars and says:
The ending, like a court scene, presided over by Oliver Ford Davies’s wise, grumpy King, leaves you with a magisterial and cunning ambiguity, a sense of the brooding openness of life, of which Shakespeare is such a master.

Which is really O Level standard analysis.
(Rhoda Koenig in the Independent, by the way, hated the production so much she barely comments on the interpretation.)

So, an evening to look forward to. And staying in snob mode, I then watched BBC2's Arena programme on T S Eliot. And realised that as snobs go, I am not fit to wipe his monocle.

[MP3 file of this post]