28 February 2011

The Baron's Speech

A repeat of an old Round the Horne reminded me of Patrick Campbell, an Irish raconteur who used to appear quite often on television in the 1970s. Here's an example of his work.

So many things to cherish: Robert Robinson's famous scrapeover, the astonishing beauty of the young Joan Bakewell, and the embryo of evil that was Noel Edmonds.

But, of course, what's most striking is that BBC tv used to regularly feature a man with a pronounced stammer, with an attitude that said "You just be patient. This man is funny and charming and worth waiting for."  It treated his "impediment" as just a way of speaking, no more an impediment than Frank Muir's rhotacism.

Campbell himself put it best:
From my earliest days I have enjoyed an attractive impediment in my speech. I have never permitted the use of the word 'stammer'. I can't say it myself.
When did you last see someone talking with a stammer on television who wasn't the subject of a documentary? Probably never, unless you're as old as me. Stammering has become defined as a disability. If that helps people get treatment (and if they want treatment) I suppose that's good, but it brings all the familiar downsides: the stammerer is pitied, not fully respected. If Campbell were to appear on television now - as a judge on Strictly Come Dancing, say - there'd be a feeling that he had no right to be there, that the BBC was being politically correct in forcing us to listen to him.

Perhaps - and I'm no pessimist - we really are in a crueler world these days.

27 February 2011

Forgetting the things we like

A few years ago I was sitting on a slow bus to London, and heard a young woman telling her boyfriend about how much she used to enjoy ceilidhs. She got very enthusiastic about it, but then said "But I don't go any more. It's not very cool, is it?" Her useless lump of a boyfriend completely ignored this open goal, and it was left to me to say "Don't worry about whether it's cool or not. If you like ceilidhs, and you obviously do, you ought to go to them. If your useless lump of a boyfriend won't go with you, you should dump him because he's obviously dangerously scared of new experiences, and, if I may say so, shows a distressingly small desire to do things that might make you happy. I'll go with you."

Of course I didn't say that, but I should have. Some of it at least. Why do people stop doing things that make them happy? I'm the last person to answer the question because I spent years not cycling, and now I've rediscovered something else I more or less stopped doing.

For a few years I was a pretty solid vegetarian, but then I started eating fish now and again, and then, fatally, I started going to Spain. There is a vegetarian restaurant in Barcelona, but it's a long way to go when you're in Extremadura, for example, where bits of pig are part of every thing you might be served. So I'm carnivorous again, and the arguments in favour of vegetarianism aren't strong enough for me to change back.

But recently I've discovered the joy of home-cooked vegetable curry again. The recipe is simple. Fry some onions and garlic in oil. Grind up a selection of spices, and fry them off in the oil. Take whatever vegetables you have - carrots, parsnip, potato, peas, cauliflower - and dice them. Fry them lightly in the oil then add a tin of tomatoes, and maybe some yogurt, and simmer till cooked. Sprinkle with garam masala and coriander leaves and serve with simple basmati rice. Quick, easy, and very tasty, so why did I stop cooking and eating it?

People are stupid would be my conclusion, but that's not fair. All the evidence so far points to a less flattering conclusion: I am stupid (and so is the woman on the bus, but at least she and I are not useless lumps like her boyfriend).

So the thought for the day is that we should all from time to time think about the things we used to love doing. Why don't we do them any more? What the hell is stopping us?

20 February 2011

Charlton 1 Exeter 3

What a disappointing day! This was the game for which seat prices had been reduced to £5. Consequently the ground was packed, but there wasn't much to entice the new or returning fans back. I suppose saying "the team has played worse than that and won several times this season" doesn't help, but it's true. The level of play was - on the whole - well above some of the games won during Parkinson's time, but there were familiar failings. Above all, a slow central defence. Gary Doherty, in particular, looked too easy to beat: every time he was challenged for a ball you feared the outcome. As there are only older and slower players available to replace him, this is worrying.

And the attack, despite making several opportunities, lacked the moments of inspiration needed to convert them to goals. I'm less worried about this: I would hope Chris Powell has the nous to bring out the spirit of adventure the forwards need. I also hope he noted how much better the team looked with Therry Racon on the field.

14 February 2011

Amazing offer

I don't carry adverts on this blog. Not out of moral qualms, of course, but simply because no-one wants to give me money to do so. So, think of this not as a nasty advert, trying to sell you something you don't want, but as an avuncular word-in-ear, pointing out something wonderful you might otherwise have missed.

All seats at Charlton's match against Exeter City on Saturday are on sale for just £5 - that's any seat, any age. The Valley's a great place to be at the moment, with a real feeling of something very lovely being born, and this is a very cheap way to be part of that. Exeter will be bringing loads of fans - who are usually very enthusiastic and noisy, so there should be a cracking atmosphere.

If you've ever thought about going (back) to Charlton, here's an easy way to do it. Details here.

13 February 2011

Charlton 3 Peterborough 2

Such a good feeling at the Valley yesterday. Let's ignore the football for a moment, and concentrate on the return of the feesh.

There's only one thing worse than not having a big screen and that's having a broken one. All season it's sat there like  a reminder of better days, physical proof of the financial problems. And if you'd asked me if the club should spend money repairing it, I'd probably have said no - there are a lot more ways the money could be better spent. But the news in midweek that it was back in action brought a smile to my face, and it was really good to see it shining out in new improved definition. Before the game, it showed "This is the Valley", an inspirational and moving collage of clips from Charlton's history.

But the team didn't seem to have watched it until half time. Peterborough were by far the better team in the first half, and easily deserved their lead. Charlton had looked bad in all departments, with only Jose Semedo looking at all solid. For the second time in recent games the referee had to leave the game. It looked quite serious - he was stretchered off - and I can only hope that it's a good sign I can't find any news on what state he's in.

The second half saw Scott Wagstaff replaced by Pawel Abbott, who went on to give his best performance for Charlton. After about 10 minutes I realised that somehow Charlton were playing really well, and then they happily confirmed it with two goals in two minutes. A third seemed to have settled the game, but Charlton haven't changed that much, and Peterborough's second, in injury time, meant it stayed interesting to the final whistle.

So - Chris Powell maintains his 100% record as a manager (one out of one with Leicester, four out of four with Charlton), and really seems to be instilling confidence and effort into the team. There's only one thing better than winning, and that's winning - in some style - after being behind.

10 February 2011


Theatre during the football season? That's unusual, but tickets were on sale for just £15 so it seemed worth a try. Although the indications weren't good: Greenland is a play by four different writers, based around the theme of global warming. The obvious dangers are that it'll be incoherent and/or ranty. But one of the writers is Moira Buffini - who wrote Welcome to Thebes - so that's a good thing. (The others are Matt Charman, Penelope Skinner and Jack Thorne - and I don't know anything about them.)

I found a couple of reviews before I went, but didn't read them closely. Michael Billington's lukewarm review gave 3 stars. I think he rarely goes lower than that. He says the play "stabs the conscience without offering a perceptible point of view". Once again (as with Thebes) he's looking for something that isn't necessarily what theatre should be offering (in his review of Thebes he lamented the "unresolved contradiction between free will and fate"). He also says it might have been helpful to create characters, then embody the debate in them.

You have to be open to a less traditional view of theatre to enjoy this play, I think.  The structure is that there are four or five different stories interweaving:

(i) a labour party politician attends the Copenhagen conference
(ii) two women recount their differences over their attitudes
(iii) a young woman gives up her career as a trainee teacher to become an environmental activist
(iv) a young man applies to university; simultaneously his older self studies guillemots in Alaska
(v) a man takes part in a symbolic version of Deal or No Deal

Some stories are better than others. Number (i) is by Buffini, I'd guess; it has a lot of the same texture as Thebes and similarly melds the personal and political. Number (iv) is equally strong: a multilayered and quite moving story. Number (v) lost me fairly badly: I never thought not watching Deal or No Deal would be a source of regret.

The structure doesn't give the characters much room to develop, it's true, but I think they are sufficient for the purpose. It's a play of ideas and spectacle, and this sometimes makes it seem a bit impatient.

Charles Spencer in the Telegraph hated it. I think he has a problem with complexity, because it really isn't "two punishing hours of strident polemic". True, it doesn't give any houseroom to the notion that global warming isn't happening - that would be very much like saying disbelievers in gravity should contribute to the science curriculum - but it does explore the divergences of opinion as to how bad it will be, or what can be done about it. Didn't he notice that - for example - the politician wanted the climate scientist to be more forthright in his predictions? He's an idiot.

It's not by any means perfect, but it was an enjoyable, thought-provoking night at the theatre.

01 February 2011

Inner city flight

Actually, where I live is quite suburban. Just the other day, only two miles or so from here, I saw the blue flash of a kingfisher diving on the River Beck, and I've seen herons in Deptford. But it's turning a bit inner city right now, and the first clue was an innocuous looking letter from the Nationwide Building Society.

On first read, all I picked up was "we're closing your local branch" and to be honest, that doesn't affect me much. I can't remember the last time I went there. I've got a couple of old accounts, dwindling away in these low-interest days, but that's it.

But hang on, the suggested alternative branches are in Beckenham and Eltham - both at least 3 miles way. Why not Lewisham? Oops, they're closing that as well. They're closing all the branches in inner Southeast London, in fact. I knocked up a google map to illustrate this. The blues are the branches that are closing.

View Nationwide closures in a larger map
As you can see, there's going to be a big gap where there's no Nationwide branch. (Oh how ironic that name is.) So I read the letter again.
Nationwide is a mutual with no shareholders and our profits are re-invested for the benefit of all our members. That's why we have to ensure than any activity we undertake is profitable and effective in generating value for the benefit of all our members.
So, what they're actually saying is that not having shareholders means they have to act exactly as if they did have shareholders. And so branches that have unprofitable "transaction patterns" have to go. Doesn't really work for the benefit of those members, does it?

The phrase "transaction patterns" is tell-tale. I imagine it means there are a lot of low-value transactions, people, possibly elderly and poor, drawing out the week's spending money. I'm sure there isn't much profit in that, but what's happened to the concept of mutuality?

I've stuck with the Nationwide partly because of its mutual status (and from seeing what happened to customer service with Abbey National when it became a bank). Whenever I had the chance I voted against demutualisation. Now it all seems a sham.

And worse. Inner city decline in America in the 20th century was partly caused by the practice of "redlining" - denying financial services to certain neighbourhoods. With a lack of investment, businesses fail, and the neighbourhood as a whole gets poorer. Loan sharks (legal and illegal) move in. In America the neighbourhoods that were typically redlined were those with a high proportion of black and poor residents. Does that remind you of anywhere? Nationwide is essentially pulling out of a poor part of London where there just happens to be a high proportion of people from ethnic minorities.

Naturally, I'll be all but closing my accounts with Nationwide. I'll keep a little money there so that if demutualisation is ever proposed again, I can vote for it.

Meanwhile, this:
"Sorry, we couldn't find a policing area that matched your search."
Oh great.

Other bloggers on Nationwide:
Seven and Seven Eighths
The Greenwich Phantom