Monday, 28 September 2009

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Idle Does Keats

To Autumn Work
Season ticket to pissed Friday afternoons of utter uselessness.
Firm-bosomed assistants crediting maturing sums.
Conspiring with mates to loaf and to work less
And watch the time, to beat the evening run;
To bend the rules, to doze beneath the plane trees,
And fill each day, though it is such a bore;
To charm the board; catch Hazel's fragrant smells;
To telephone the Colonel; to eat pudding more,
And still more, and later, calculate my fees -
Filling in expenses being like shelling peas -
For work must never overcome my idle cells.

For those who need reminding of the original:
To Autumn

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.

J Keats

Friday, 18 September 2009

Media Barron

Brian Barron made a big impression on me in the mid 70s when I was a teenager, beginning to take an interest in current affairs and starting a Politics A Level, for which American post-war politics was a big part. Vietnam was riveting.
He was a superb journalist and a brave one too. I had an idea of emulating him after I left the Army in the 80s, but having got down to the last 24 for BBC Radio News (I think they had 2,500 applicants for half a dozen places), they failed me on the voice test. I should have tried ITN where they were much less chippy about public school accents, but a job offer came my way from the City and the money, though modest, was a lot better than that of a trainee broadcaster. If I'd known there were going to be so many wars just round the corner, I'd have stuck at it.
He began his career on the radio and built his reputation with his gift for using words to paint a scene with enviable immediacy and economy: the North West Frontier comes to life in "a dingy, smoke-filled eatery in Peshawar – a place awash with stomach bugs, assassins, spooks and Afghan rug sellers".
Superb; even a touch of the George Macdonald Fraser about it. I've been to Peshawar and this is on the button. Sorry he didn't make old bones. R I P

Thursday, 17 September 2009

To the Sweatshop

Idle no more.

It's a dashed bad show, but the bursar from the idle girls' country club is clamouring for a cheque, the lady idle will insist upon Caribbean winter breaks, and the wine merchant has applied for charitable status, so long is it since he had a sniff of a guinea from yours truly.

I had a chat with a man who knows someone in the City who told him that the smoke had cleared and as far as he knew no more large banks were going to go down the swanee. Furthermore, some of them were actually hiring and paying a living wage. Something to do with Government guarantees. Splendid.

So I'll see if I can quantitatively ease myself into the old dark navy blue, dust off the bowler and polish the silver ring on the umbrella. A word in the ear of the head steward at the club, and I'll be expecting the usual table at 1pm for the forseeable.

So, Monday morning, up to the smoke. Up in the air to Jersey, actually, for a quick shufti, followed by some nice fish, one hopes. More than that I cannot really say, but I'd appreciate no snide comments about bankers' bonuses or taxpayer bailouts. The way I was going, in a few more years I would have been eligible for the Nat King Cole, housing benefits and I dare say council tax relief as well. One's credit rating would have simply died. Just think what you have saved yourselves.

Given that only three of you read this, it won't be missed if it becomes a once-a-week job, will it? I will continue to visit the comment threads of more industrious bloggers.

The name of this blog is not changing. It wouldn't do to break into a sweat; busy people in a frightful rush tend to forget things and worry the horses. No, Idle it remains.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Thirty Years On

Idle spent his weekend in unbroken sunshine in Ulster. It looked lovely, but there is pain behind the beauty of the benighted province.

Some parts of Northern Ireland really are beautiful, such as Narrow Water above Warrenpoint. The layby just downstream of the old castle tower jutting into the water from the dual carriageway, and the gates opposite, were the scene of the second of two cowardly IRA atrocities on 27 August 1979, the first of which had killed Lord Mountbatten and members of his family at Mullaghmore. It was a warm and beautiful August Bank Holiday. A trailer of straw sat in the layby.
This is what the first Warrenpoint bomb would have looked like (the picture is of a simulation, carried out after the event). It was set off from across the water/border in Ireland, as a convoy of two army trucks and a land rover passed. Though targetted at Royal Marines, whose duties included safety at the small port at Warrenpoint, the victims were in fact a detachment of Paras, who were providing an extra company to the Queen's Own Highlanders, the battalion responsible for the bandit country of South Armagh.

The first bomb, about half a ton of explosive, killed six paras. The survivors, believing themselves to be under attack from across the border (the heat of the explosion having caused bullets and ammunition in the wrecked land rover to explode), returned fire across the water. A most unlucky civilian, a footman from the Queen's Household on holiday in Ireland was shot dead. (Independent reports afterwards confirmed sniper fire from the Republic). Immediately, the CO of the Queen's Own Highlanders scrambled with his signaller and medical team by helicopter from Bessbrook, a few miles to the north. Standard operational procedure required an incident command point to have been set up close to the explosion. Lt Col David Blair arrived to find that a stone gatehouse across the road from the old castle tower had been chosen.

His immediate concerns were to secure the area and evacuate the seriously wounded, which took time. He felt the gatehouse too obvious a location for the ICP and ordered those that could, to fall back further into the park behind the gatehouse (in the gateway bay opposite the castle tower in the top photograph, no longer there). But there was no time; the second explosion, half an hour after the first, was devastating (left). The IRA set it off just as a helicopter was taking off with wounded. Even larger than the first bomb, it destroyed the gatehouse and killed another twelve soldiers, including Lt Col Blair. Extraordinarily, the helicopter managed to just about escape the blast and ditch successfully, but the IRA's low cunning of second-guessing operational procedure had worked. To this day, the Queen's Own Highlander colonel is the highest ranked victim to have been killed in action by the IRA.

The Colonel's widow, together with many officers and Warrant Officers, marked the thirtieth anniversary of the horror last weekend. Services at Warrenpoint, at Ballykinlar and at Palace Barracks, Holywood were sombre occasions. But the drinking and carousing in honour of all the dead were less sombre. At a time when our armed forces are being starved of equipment whilst fighting unpopular and unwinnable wars, it gives us a melancholy pride to know that the tours of duty that we carried out in Ulster were done for a righteous cause, and were done superbly. It was said the Troubles could not be won militarily, but eventually the IRA sued for peace, by then infiltrated at every level and unable to sustain their war.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Gender Politics

Is it a girl? Is it a boy?
No, it's an IT.
Well, that's cleared that up, then. Probably wasn't a great idea to pose like that on the podium, though.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Yes We Liked It

To my shame, I'd never been to The Globe until last night. Four of us spent a couple of hours over tapas and cava before the show ripping into the carrion that is Brown and his government, and generally rubbishing the state of our once-great country. It was, we concluded, hopeless.
Well, my friends, I can tell you that three hours later, we were of a different opinion. Notwithstanding the fact that it took an American, Sam Wanamaker, to get the massive project done, The Globe is a wonderful thing. The look, the texture (lovely oak), the atmosphere, the good-humour and manners of the punters were all a joy. I will go back often, and I am more than happy to stand in the yard for a fiver if the seats are all gone.
We saw As You Like It, which suited a late summer evening at The Globe very well. Our lovers were excellent, particularly Rosalind, an actress called Naomi Frederick whose flat chest proves a positive as she hangs out with the lads in the forest clad in soft brown leather. No beauty, but sexy. Touchstone, the fool, delivered his puns and put-downs with error-free machine gun delivery and had us laughing hard. Too often the 'funny' parts are played by unfunny actors. This chap, Dominic Rowan, is a comic. You've never heard a voice so full of fruity melancholy as Tim McMullen's Jaques, and when he got to 'All the world's a stage...', well, where else in the world would there be a better stage to give the great soliloquy? Magic. The genius bard at his best. You have until October 10th to see it. Wrap up warm, smuggle in a hip-flask, and spend that fiver.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Pink Adair

A loyal reader of this blog (there is one) noted a lack of inspiration on my part of late. She is partly right, but a trip to the idle folks in Somerset, (lunch at the pub with Lil and Elby - de rigeur for all discriminating vistors to East Somerset) and plans to become less idle have all been contributing factors.
Work? you splutter. Yes. The 0645 train beckons, and I plan to do my bit to put out those fires, still burning in the nation's banks, and return at least one of them to the private sector, with a profit for the taxpayer and considerable spondulicks for yours truly.
This is where Adair Turner comes in. Or shall we call him Lord Turner of Ecchinswell? (A title derived, surely, by the reaction of his former colleagues - Lord Turner? Feckin 'ell!)
You see, Adair is head of the FSA, and despite their utter incompetence over the past three years (bonuses all round for 2008, natch), this coiffured ponce has seen fit to declaim that the banking sector should shrink (already done that, thanks Ades) and meet some 'socially useful' target (sounds familiar? It's got NewLabour stamped on it). Oh, and a global tax. I would have thought that a man who made his name in that temple of flim-flam, McKinsey, before buggering up the only major pension review undertaken in god-knows-how-long, should deal with the plank in his own eye before pointing out specks in others'. (Remember that he subsequently wished he'd been more radical with his review and had recommended raising the state pension age to 70. That's right - not raising the public sector pension age from 60 to 65, but the OAP from 65 to 70. Wanker)
If the financial sector is too big in Britain (and mostly responsible, therefore, for producing the tax revenue fire-hosed upon Brown's client state of public services), the answer is not to tax and socially-engineer it into retreat, but to encourage those other areas of enterprise that used to be so productive in Britain. Sadly, as we are now a country that exists in order to sell mobile phones, capuccinos and overpriced dwellings to one another, but achieve little else, the die seems cast.
Brown, and by extension Turner, espoused 'light touch regulation' for the financial sector. They then divided this responsibility between three jealous and untrusting partners. Light touch became no touch, and mayhem ensued. Don't assume the City hates regulation - it doesn't mind it a bit, as long as it is clear and unambiguous. And that is what needs to come out of this. Not creating an incomes policy. Just a clear set of rules, subsequently enforced. (Does anyone remember the government sacking Fred Goodwin when it took over RBS? No, thought not. The man more closely associated with corporate greed and crazy risk-taking than anyone else in Britain was allowed to retire early. With THAT pension pot. Only public outrage caused the government to try to negotiate a less vomit-inducing deal with The Shred).
Adair Turner may find himself out of a job if the boy Osborne does what is necessary, and gets rid of the FSA. But he will be given a golden parachute and will achieve a soft landing with another sinecure. He's clever, by all accounts, and nice (a friend found himself on holiday for a week with Turner and the small Ecchinswells, and said he was charming), but competent he ain't.
Will this do, Pip?

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Pull the Blog Chain

Now and again, driving in the evening, I find myself listening to that odd duo, Radcliffe and Maconie on Radio 2. They seem to know their music. They have a thing called The Chain, where each song must be connected, in some way, to the previous show's 'Chain' song. Sometimes the link is obvious, sometimes tenuous, often quite complicated.

I am going to attempt a Blog Chain, to coin a phrase. Lilith did a post yesterday which she called #1 in an occasional series of her Desert Island Dance Tracks. It was the daddy of all rock and rollers, Chuck Berry, with Brown Eyed Handsome Man.

I could have headed off towards Van the Man with Brown Eyed Girl, or any song by that great duo the Handsome Family. You see how this works? But my song, continuing the chain, is the first single ever released by the Stones. It is Chuck Berry's Come On. Berry released it in October 1961; the Stones released their cover less than 2 years later, so it was still pretty fresh. Berry's original was a slightly slower tempo, so the Stones rocked it up a bit, but didn't try anything too fancy. Where Berry had short flashes of lead guitar, the Stones went with Brian Jones' harmonica. Perhaps Keith was still finding his feet. The rythm section sounds sublime, as ever. I always have this on the playlist when we are dancing in the tent here and it never disappoints.

Okay, who's going to take this chain further? Ideally, you do a post on your own blog (flag it up in the comments section here so we know where to go). I fully expect this chain to sprout in myriad directions, and still be going strong in a year's time. I think it would help if you posted the best YouTube version of it you can find. I have not been able to find live footage of this one; never mind.

Get those discs spinning, folks. Let's see where it leads.