Who would have thought it ?

I had resigned myself to seeing Ed Miliband and Alec Salmond walking, Alec twisting Ed’s arm up to his shoulder blades, into 10 Downing Street. And I was spared that awful prospect. The Great British Public, in an amazing exhibition of bloody mindedness, changed their minds, not at the last minute, but the very last second, and decided that the Tory party was the lesser of the two weevils.

Not only that,the GBP decided to sack Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage. Miliband had to go.He looked like a man who knows every trick of politics, but can’t have a conversation about the weather.
His minders gave him awful, pseudo- cool lines – ” I am primed for power !” he announced the other night.
And ” Hell yeh !” is a phrase which will live in infamy.

But it wasn’t just Miiband.It was all the other dead beats from the Gordon Brown era who weighed him down- Ed Balls, Miliband’s partner in crime in the good old days, bit the dust as well, as did Wee Douglas Alexander, who masterminded the whole sad campaign. They all got it monumentally wrong.

I’m sad about Nick Clegg. He has that earnest, eager to please look which makes you feel sorry for him.I know, he was damned to the lowest fires of hell for reneging on his promise over tuition fees. He was wrong,but I believe he’s a decent man.

I took most delight in the defeat of Nigel Farage. He is the very embodiment of Toad of Toad Hall – the loud clothes, the bouncy, out of control enthusiasm. Don’t let his loutish charm seduce you. His audience is the old, the embittered, the saloon bar philosophers who look back to a time when England Ruled the Waves. Thank goodness he’s resigned….except he’s left a window open so he can unresign if he wants to…that, and the fact that UKIP polled 5 million votes makes me frightened.

I am not a passionate Conservative, but I voted for our local Tory because….because you have to vote…it’s your duty and your obligation, and you should be grateful that you’ve got a say, however tiny, in what happens in our country. And the Tories ? Maybe they’re the least worst choice. That’s why I voted for them.

Why we should feel sorry for politicians

Democracy is a creaky old machine, but it’s the best worst choice.Don’t bother to vote- and you let the loonies in.I’ve just done my bit . A cross against the name of a decent man who cares about his constituents and who, for the next five years, will enjoy modest affluence and total anonymity.

We demand the impossible from our rulers. We want a Rolls-Royce health system, but we don’t want to the extra taxes it requires. We want a financial safety net for all those in poverty, but jib at the thought of means testing. Scotland appears to want independence and a hefty financial leg-up as well. We want the lolly, the cake- and we want to keep our sixpence too. We want our politicians to be as saintly as St Francis and as cunning as Machiavelli.

I’m sure most of them come into the trade with the highest intentions,but in the end, do they stand come up against the old conundrum – do the ends justify the means ? Do they stand up for what they believe in?Or do they bow their heads and become lobby fodder ? The campaign certainties of Red and Blue fade into a world of grey.

We need politicians who are prepared to compromise.I want politicians who will horse-trade, who will engage with the other parties.I want hard headed men and women who can balance their party loyalties with the needs of the whole country. I don’t want charisma – simple competence will do me fine.

And will I get it ? Look at the party leaders, all of them…..it makes you weep.

The canvas and the camera

NPG 4691; King Charles II attributed to Thomas Hawker

I was in London for a couple of days last week, and I managed to achieve a lifelong ambition. I went to the National Portrait Gallery. It’s a wonderful place, packed with paintings of the great and good. It’s fascinating ferret out the secret meanings and assumptions that lie beneath them. There’s a portrait of Sir Francis Drake which is grossly out of proportion – he’s 95% body and 5% head. In fact the painter wanted to show off the silk and lace clothes that he was wearing, and didn’t worry too much about his facial features. It’s quite possible that Sir Francis had a body double for the frills and furbelows and only came to sit for the headshot.

But there was one painting which really stood out from the rest. It was the portrait of Charles 11 at the top of this post.I know it reaches new depths of lo-finess – but I wanted you to have some idea of what he looks like.

The painting is about power, and the meaning is conveyed in two ways. First of all there’s the clothing- rich silks and brocades gleaming and glittering. I wonder if he could have walked around with all that stuff draped over his shoulder.

And then there’s the physical posture and the face. King Charles looks like a man of power. He’s sprawled in the throne of England, legs akimbo. He really owns the space. But it’s his face ( and that’s where the poor reproduction makes things tricky)- it’s his face which gives it all away.I’ve never seen such a powerful portrait of anger. His brows are drawn together, there’s a sneer reaching down to the corners of his mouth. He doesn’t want to be there at all- he wants to be founding the Royal Society or having it away with one of his mistresses. There is a terrific immediacy in this painting, a capturing of one moment in time.

Except it didn’t happen this way. The creation of the picture must have taken weeks. Day after day Charles made himself the puppet of the painter, putting his limbs into the right position.This portrait, like all portraits, is a fake. It has the pretence of immediacy, but it also has a depth that could only be captured over a period of time. The finished painting is an account of the relationship between Charles and his portraitist at the time it was created.

What about photographs, then ? Photographs have immediacy, right enough. They can capture a scene which existed for 1000th of a second. But they say little about the subject and everything about the photographer. Photographs capture a moment of light on skin, nothing less, and maybe nothing more.

I’m not saying that portraiture is in any way better than photography. I would claim that it has more depth. A painted portrait is an account of a relationship; a photograph captures a moment in time, where the subject is often caught unawares. Painters paint..yes.. and what do photographers do ? They shoot.

The Queen


Of course I drink.
I couldn’t make it through the day without
a shot or two of schnapps or whisky sour
to keep me sane. The castle’s an asylum
for the upper classes. And who can tell
attendants from the criminally deranged ?

That’s why I sneak down here, back to my roots –
the bar I worked in when I was a kid.

Take the PM. I know he looks the part –
that silver hair, the patronising voice.
It’s just a front.
His brain is riddled like a mouldy cheese.
Tormented by his girl’s virginity
he eavesdrops on her every word,
salivating at each hint of sex.

I envy her soft skin, the swelling breasts,
but not her innocence. Virtue must be spent,
not hoarded, else it soon turns sour
and that leads on to madness.

No-one has the right to be so pure.

My son. The necessary heir. After the birth
his brutish father died. What choice had I
but wed his uncle ?
No child can rule a kingdom.

Get me another drink. Make it a double.

We never bonded.
I hated touching him.
His skin was always cold.

And now he’s grown
there’s even less between us.
He loiters with his college friends
in shadowed corridors,
blows me a kiss as I pass by.
I hear him sniggering behind his hand.

There is an emptiness behind his eyes
as though his life’s a constant agony.
I can relate to that.
Sometimes he frightens me.

One more for the road, then I’ll sneak back
to the asylum.
Drink up ! I swear
this stuff will be the death of me.

Six impossible things before breakfast

Like the Queen in ” Alice in Wonderland:” I can  almost believe six impossible things before breakfast. I can believe that there is a Twitter group which encourages  pop fans to cut themselves when one of the band decides to leave. I can believe that an average airline pilot can hide his mental problems from the  safest airline in the world, and murder himself and a hundred and forty-nine other people.I can believe that a supporter of extreme Islam can go on protest rally, and then blame the police when his daughter runs away to Syria. I can believe that Nicola Sturgeon wants, not only independence for Scotland, but a hand in the government of England. I can believe that MP’s can let out their London homes and live in hotels, thus gaining for themselves a nice little windfall- indeed I would expect nothing else.


But the one that sticks in my craw is this- I cannot believe that someone should threaten to murder the Director General of the BBC  because he sacked the loathsome Clarkson, after he ( Big Jezza) had punched a producer in the face seriously enough for him to go to A and E. Murder ?  I cannot believe that this is true, or that the police are taking it very seriously.

And yet , apparently, it is. And they are.

Oscar Wilde in lead boots


I thought I’d managed to sidestep the Martyrdom Of St Jezza. I know nothing about cars – well- I know they have seats and four wheels and something called an engine that makes them go. I cannot drive – yes- there are a few of us dinosaurs left. I had a driving lesson once, in an empty carpark. The moment I touched the accelerator we ran into a brick wall. I put it into reverse and tried again. We shot backwards into the opposite wall.In moments I had turned a perfectly nice Mini into  something which looked like a large, crumpled suitcase.

So I am no petrol head, though I’ve seen a couple of ” Top Gears.” That was enough. What caught my attention first was the hierarchy.Big Jezza is boss. The other two- the one who looks like a small rodent and the one who looks like a walking mop, fawn upon The Master, feeding taglines for him to top, giggling with delight when they are  made the butt of his razor wit. They are the straight men to his Comic Genius.They are the weedy kids sucking up to the big bully.

And then there’s the language. There may be people who believe that the whole show is made up on the spot, that this is all witty spontaneous knockabout fun.I have one word for you – teleprompter. Oh – it’s technically very clever and delivered with flair and (over rehearsed) panache, but the whole thing reeks of over-writing and hours spent hammering the keyboard.

Now, I may not know anything about cars, but I know a lot about language and style, and I can de-construct a sentence faster than  Jezza could strip down a gearbox.

Let us consider some of The Big Man’s gems.

“There is something really funny about the sight of an angry young woman being hosed into the gutter by a tank.”

The keyword here is “funny.” It’s a nice, soft word unlike ” amusing” which is a bit prim. So you’re set up for something cuddly- and you get a neat little cameo of police brutality. It’s initially shocking, and then…a bit sniggery. The Master is appealing to your dark side.It’s a bit of schadenfreude for the masses.

Let’s try another one:

“Speed never killed anyone- suddenly becoming stationary – that’s what gets you”

I must admit this is quite clever- the reversal of expectations, the playing with words.It’s the sort of thing Oscar Wilde would come up with on a bad day. In fact that would be a good description of Clarkson’s writing style.He’s Oscar Wilde in lead boots.

Here’s one  last example:

” There’s no such thing as cheap and cheerful. It’s cheap and nasty, and expensive and cheerful.”

It doesn’t actually mean anything. He’s playing with words here. Perhaps worth half a snigger.

Clarkson is surface all the way through, with a polish of malice on top. There. I’m feeling better now. Except that I’m not.

When the sad news broke ( A Nation Mourns) James May ( the one who looks like a mop) said ” It’s a tragedy.”

No James. It isn’t a tragedy.It’s the just punishment of a loud mouthed, overpaid lout.

150 people killed in a plane crash. Now that is a tragedy.






You know what ? English just got lazier.

Like an amateur virologist, I’m always on the lookout for little bugs of language which infect the public domain. Do you remember upspeak ? That irritating, childish way of putting a question mark at the end of each sentence ? Thank goodness,it’s largely died out ? I’m glad you don’t often hear it anymore ?

(Get a grip man! Get a grip !)

I’ve found a couple of new bugs, swilling around at the bottom of my test tube. You know what ? The first one is “You know what ?” It’s a world weary way of putting someone in their place. It prefaces a statement of the bleeding obvious that everyone with half a brain should understand. It’s sarcastic, pompous …and proliferating by the minute.

I can excuse Mark Kermode, the film critic, for using it. He does cagey, ironic, like no-one else. But I was shocked to hear John Humphries use it on the Today programme the other day. Big Humph, Guardian of the English Language Flame and Scourge of Scurvy Politicians. Tsk..tsk.

I like that.Tsk tsk…but I digress

Resilient. Good word. Strong.Real world. Think steel sheet. Think Nelson’s flagship, battered by French cannon balls, but bouncing back. You don’t think car parking regulations, employment contracts,confidentiality agreements. They all have ” inbuilt resilience.” I am so re-assured.

“And what about “robust” ? Every time there is a disaster, a debacle, a fracas or just an administrative cockup, there’s some poor sap in front of the news cameras, and they always say the same thing ” We now have robust procedures in place to ensure that this never happens again” No ! Really ? That’s ok then.

There is a new bug on the block. I’ve only heard it a couple of times, but I suspect it could become an epidemic.

” Here’s the thing”

I can’t work out what it means. What thing ? Where is it ? Is it a big thing ? Can I see it ? It’s telling you that something is there…and I’ll let you know what it is in a minute. If you say ” I’m going to talk to you today about house bricks” and then reach under the lectern , take out a brick and hold it up, THEN you can say ” Here’s the thing.” But not before.

I note that Ed Millipede is an early adopter, so it’s bound to be a success.

Finally “issues” or rather ” Ishooz.” OK it’s been a portmanteau word for years, but I came across a wonderful useage yesterday, on the website of ” Rialto”- a highbrow magazine. I leave you with this gem:

” We have had an issue with a few of our magazines.”


There is a kind of love called maintenance

Which stores the WD40 and knows when to use it;

Which checks the insurance, and doesn’t forget

The milkman; which remembers to plant bulbs;

Which answers letters; which knows the way

The money goes; which deals with dentists

And Road Fund Tax and meeting trains,

And postcards to the lonely; which upholds

The permanently rickety elaborate

Structures of living, which is Atlas.

And maintenance is the sensible side of love,

Which knows what time and weather are doing

To my brickwork; insulates my faulty wiring;

Laughs at my dryrotten jokes; remembers

My need for gloss and grouting; which keeps

My suspect edifice upright in air,

As Atlas did the sky.

This is another poem by UA Fanthorpe,who wrote the sheepdog poem. In a way the two poems are comparable – they’re both about love – but not flashy, romantic infatuation. She writes about the love which is at work quietly, in the background, a love which does, rather than blusters; which knows when to oil the wheels of the relationship.

The first half of the poem is about day to day house-keeping – the insurance, the milkman, the dentist – the kind of mundane tasks which keep the show on the road. It’s a heavy load to carry – like Atlas holding up the world .

The pivot point of the poem comes here:

“The permanently rickety elaborate
Structures of living’

Every life is complex and provisional.Relationships, like houses, need to be looked after, otherwise they fall into disrepair, and suddenly she’s talking about herself as a house in need of maintenance – “Laughs at my dryrotten jokes” “ My need for glossing “

This is a love poem to her partner – the one who smooths her way, who knows what she wants before she knows it herself.

There are lots of people like this in the world. We should be grateful to them.

You will find an audio version of the poem here:

You can hear another UA Fanthorpe poem- ” the Sheepdog” here:

Jane Nightwork

Jane Nightwork was one of Shakespeare’s characters who never quite made it on stage.
She’s mentioned briefly in ” Henry IV Pt 2.” Two old country lawyers, Shallow and Silence are looking back fifty years to the time when they were at university when they were roaring boys, drinking and wenching. Jane Nightwork was one of the ladies of the night, who relieved them of their money, as well as their virginity.

I decided to give Jane a voice.

Here she is.

Flat on my back
in the black grass,
daisies, like fallen stars
about my face,
and his hand
up my petticoats
and heading slowly north.

We haven’t got all night.

I am his first time.

He is fifteen.

Our clothes fall, rustling, to the ground
and he is on me, gasping, urgent,
shivering between fear and lust.
My fingers skim his chest, feel
the soft skin, the beating heart beneath.

Flat on my back
in the black grass,
open as earth
and he the plowman.

Afterwards he wept – they often do
that first time, then
I kissed away his tears
and we danced again.

Underneath his cloak we lay
and watched the circling stars until
dizzy with their reeling,
we fell asleep.

The moon tilted, tipped
her bowl of light
so the air shimmered,
each field was spiked with frost,
and the river slithered sleek
as quicksilver
through the sooty dark.

We dressed, backs turned
and took our separate ways,
each nursing our delight, and shame
like Eve and Adam
that first night in Eden.

Sunday Moment of Zen: The Lazy Song

Originally posted on The Man of Words:

Leonard Nimoy was a quiet titan. An actor, director, photographer and writer whose career spanned decades and epochal changes in Western society. He was a defining part of the industry I’ve loved, or worked in in some capacity, my entire life. On The Search for Spock he directed one of the most thrilling pieces of cinema I’ve ever seen, the theft of the Enterprise. In Star Trek IV, he gave every one of his colleagues a moment to shine and showed me the offhand, relaxed beauty of the Bay Area. I fell in love with San Francisco in that movie. Decades later, I’d find out he was telling the truth about the city and I loved it even more. Nimoy’s acting, and direction, on the end scene of both Star Trek III and Star Trek IV is note perfect and uses subtlety, implication and music to create immense…

View original 120 more words