Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Friday, 12 March 2010

Spot The Difference (1)

A presenter of TV programmes for simple people, on buying and selling, fraud, 'top tips', and consumer nightmares. All these programmes include oft-repeated summaries as we go through, to make them understandable to animals. The presenter has an irksome 'cheeky-chappie' persona, and speaks with a rough accent.

An annoying, deceitful alien.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Ronald Searle Is Ninety

Earlier this month, the artist and cartoonist Ronald Searle celebrated his ninetieth birthday.

will always be remembered as the inventor of the St Trinian’s schoolgirls. He started drawing the girls during the mid 1940s, but grew imprisoned by their success; they and their school were killed off after nuclear experiments in the chemistry lab went terribly wrong. But the St Trinian's films which quickly followed during the mid-50s helped bring his artwork before a huge audience.

I love him for his Nigel Molesworth books: How To Be Topp; Down With Skool!; Back In The Jug Agane; Whizz For Atoms. With words by Geoffrey Willans, all are still available as Penguin Classics.

And Searle did so much more. The wonderful caricatures of
actors published by
Punch Magazine. His wine books. His cat books. The three hundred drawings he brought home from the River Kwai, enough to ensure immortality even if he'd done nothing else.

For many years, Ronald Searle has lived in France. On the continent, he's considered a fine artist who long ago outgrew his roots as a cartoonist. But here in Britain, he's still remembered chiefly for the girls of St Trinian's.

Steve Bell, the political cartoonist whose work appears in The Guardian, has said of him: 'What marks Searle's work out is genuine wit, intelligence and unabashed ambition. He is our greatest living cartoonist, with a lifelong dedication to his craft unequalled by any of his contemporaries. His work is truly international, yet absolutely grounded in the English comic tradition.'

The Cartoon Museum at Little Russell Street, WC1 is currently running an exhibition of Searle's work, showing 140 works spanning his seventy-five-year career, from
his early cartoons for the Cambridge Daily News in the 1930s to political cartoons for Le Monde in the 2000s. The celebration runs until 4 July.

Happy birthday Mr Searle.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Twinned With Father Jack

Earlier today I went to the local surgery to have an imperfection checked out. The doctor read through my records, while I looked around her room until my attention was snared by a poster on the wall.

The poster warned against excessive drinking, setting out a list of terrible ailments and organ failures certain to happen if you persist with such a lifestyle choice. Twenty-eight teeny units over seven days is advice that might have been proffered by Oliver Cromwell.

The doctor caught me. 'And how many units do you think you've consumed this week?', she asked sweetly.

I thought for a moment. I was in the company of a doctor. What would be the point of not telling the truth?

'Around twenty, I should think.'

The doctor nodded, satisfied.

Good job it was Monday.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Who's Lost Their Marbles?

Yesterday saw rioting on the streets of Athens, violent protests against the stinging economic and structural reforms being introduced by the Greek government in an attempt to avert a fiscal catastrophe. The Greek deficit is due to reach an eye-watering twelve percent of gross domestic product this year, stratospherically above the EU's three percent limit. Pay freezes, increased retail taxes and uplift of the current retirement age are all on the cards.

Greece managed to join the Eurozone because the European Union's convergency rules were bent to allow it do so. Since then, successive Greek governments have hoodwinked the EU over the size of the country’s budget deficit and its public debt, by blaming their predecessors and then promising to do better. Now, the current government is finally being forced to take the sort of budgetary action that was imposed upon Britain by the IMF in the late 1970s, but with one crucial difference. Greece can't devalue.

At a recent EU summit, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou shocked his colleagues by admitting Greece is riddled with corruption, which he claimed is the main reason for its economic woes. Remarkably, he's also blamed Greece's debt problems on the 1940s German occupation, saying, 'They took away the gold that was in the Bank of Greece, and they never gave it back.'

I have wide experience of trying to do business in Greece. No matter when I arrived in Athens for meetings, I found I was always a week early. Appointments were arranged, postponed, cancelled, rearranged. If any agreements with the other side of the table were ever reached they were liable, later, to be overlooked or denied. The bureaucracy I encountered while dealing with government departments, with manufacturing industry and with banks was drawn-out beyond sane description.

The blame for the current situation lies squarely on dishonesty, sleaze and fraud, practised widely by successive Greek governments and their public servants, as well as industry . Add to this bone-idleness, a retirement age of sixty-one, and a trundling administrative inefficiency that wouldn't disgrace the old Soviet Union at its craziest.

But how has it taken years of Greek profligacy for all this to come to a head? Brussels knew only too well what was happening, but chose to say and do nothing. Shame on both parties.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Sports Relief Celebrity Cyclists At Land's End

After a gruelling non-stop four-day stint through night and day on their bikes, the cyclists on the BT Sport Relief Million Pound Bike Ride - Fearne Cotton, Miranda Hart, Russell Howard, Patrick Kielty, Davina McCall, David Walliams and Jimmy Carr - have completed their fundraising journey from John O'Groats to Land’s End.

The exhausted but jubilant team reached the finish-line just before seven o'clock last night, having so far raised over a million pounds for Sport Relief. The team's efforts will help vulnerable people here in the UK, and in some of the world's poorest countries.

I nipped down to Land's End to give them a wave. Scores of people had turned out, and the celebs got a big cheer as they crossed the line, an endearingly home-made banner dangling limply over the road. Well done all, enjoy your brief stay in Cornwall.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

World Cup Willy

Last night I watched the football match between Engerland and Egypt. Rousing, end-to-end stuff against the champions of Africa. Substitute Peter Crouch scored two goals to leave us wondering why he doesn't start more games for his country. Frank Lampard, of permanently miserable visage, missed two sitters.

And what of John Terry? It seems the former captain of our national soccer team was naughty with a girl, and was caught out. To some people, this makes him a deadly enemy of football. It doesn't matter that John is one of our best players. Last night,
whenever he had the ball, many of England's own supporters jeered and booed; he took quite a roasting.

As a result, John made mistakes. Several times he kicked the ball in the wrong direction, as I understand it. Twice he fell over, without anyone from the other team brushing gossamer-like against his vicinity.

But never mind John and his problems. It's uplifting that the mouth-breathing, drunken, boorish element of those who follow football has taken the moral high ground, and condemned John's behaviour off the field by abusing him on it. This will help us win the World Cup, somehow.

How would those supporters have reacted if John had scored a goal?
Italian Fabio Capello, manager of our team, must be perplexed by the mad English.

Monday, 1 March 2010

NHS: Gnashing Of Teeth

Today I've tried to find an NHS dentist. I've made long calls, waited for robot voices to give me instructions and options. I've punched in various number selections on my phone, tried in vain to speak to a real person. Unlucky old son, the public money that should have provided a tooth service has gone on saving moss, or jobs for health and safety professionals.

Fearing my increasing phone bill would lead to destitution, I turned to the internet. The NHS website invited me to find my nearest NHS dentist, simply by tapping in my postcode. I tried my Cornish address, then my Hampshire address, then I made some up. Wildly, I searched places in Scotland. I might as well have tried Bulgaria, land of ox-carts and picturesque locals wearing national costume for tourists. No NHS dentist to be had.

But even in nearby Camborne, a run-down Cornish town where poor, fat people spend their limited resources on sweets and pork scratchings
, there are private dentists. Under this regime, you cough up huge sums for treatment you might reasonably expect from the NHS, a trade-off from mountains of income-tax paid over many years (except if you live in Camborne). Apart from blackened stumps and the breath of a nauseous canine, that's the only option. There are no NHS dentists in the world. May I have some of my tax back?