Thursday, 14th September, 2017

Business of the day:

✔︎ Passport ?
✔︎ Rail tickets ?
✔︎ Air tickets ?
✔︎ Know where I’m going ?
✔︎ Think I know how to get there ?
✔︎ Why am I bringing € ?

Basel — here we come.

Thought of the morning:

Since we are going to stop overnight in edgy Crouch End, and that will likely involve eating and slurping at the Maynard, I still maintain it would have been as quick, and not cost more, to have done it by Eurostar and TGV-Lyra.

But what do I know?

Déjeuner Du Matin

Bitter almonds, sour grapes, and a strong dose of Branch Corbynian Kool-Aid.

It is so instructive to see the self-confident storm-troops of Momentum take over a constituency Labour Party. Even one where the “Zombie Blairites” have built membership, canvassed relentlessly, won successive borough, London and parliamentary elections with ever-increasing majorities (and, yes, Hornsey and Wood Green, it is you of whom I speak). And not even a nod of acknowledgement to the service — some of it going back four or more decades — of the discarded remnants of the Ancien Régime.

Off with their heads!

Book of the last evening

A Legacy of Spies found its place on the shelf around 10:20 pm last evening.

As all the reviews say, it is somewhere between impressive and a masterpiece.

Two thoughts stick with me:

It is very much a tidying up of the unfinished. I don’t immediately see any of the star turns from the previous career of George Smiley who do not get another outing. The back-story of Peter Guillam is a masterly way into the story.

The other is the moment when Guillam tracks Smiley to Freiburg (not as the casual reviewer mistook, Basel). It is also the moment in the whole saga when George Smiley opens up, and so steps out of his established character:

… as if the thought has only now come to him, though I suspect it has been between us all this while:

‘I believe you came to accuse me of something, Peter. Am I right?’ And while it is my turn to hesitate: ‘Was it for the things we did, would you say? Or why we did them at all?’ he enquired in the kindliest of tones. ‘Why did I do them, which is more to the point. You were a loyal foot soldier. It wasn’t your job to ask why the sun rose every morning.’

I might have questioned this, but I feared to interrupt the flow.

‘For world peace, whatever that is? Yes, yes, of course. There will be no war, but in the struggle for peace not a stone will be left standing, as our Russian friends used to say.’ He fell quiet, only to rally more vigorously: ‘Or was it all in the great name of capitalism? God forbid. Christendom? God forbid again.’

A sip of wine, a smile of puzzlement, directed not at me, but at himself.

‘So was it all for England, then?’ he resumed. ‘There was a time, of course there was. But whose England? Which England? England all alone, a citizen of nowhere? I’m a European, Peter. If I had a mission – if I was ever aware of one beyond our business with the enemy, it was to Europe. If I was heartless, I was heartless for Europe. If I had an unattainable ideal, it was of leading Europe out of her darkness towards a new age of reason. I have it still.’

A silence, deeper, longer than any I remembered, even from the worst times. The fluid contours of the face frozen, the brow tipped forward, shadowy eyelids lowered. A forefinger rises absently to the bridge of his spectacles, checking that they are still in place. Until, with a shake of the head as if to rid it of a bad dream, he smiled.

‘Forgive me, Peter. I am pontificating. We have a ten-minute walk to the station. You will allow me to escort you?

Is this the creation or the creator speaking to the reader? Beside from the true John le Carré, we may also hear the Hampstead liberal intellectual, David Cornwall. “Freiburg” — “free town” — home of Hannah Arendt, Walter Benjamin, Max Weber, and even the enduring Wolfgang Schäuble. Not to forget Berthold Schwarz who first concocted gunpowder in Germanic lands. Even in that we may have something told us.

Unmissable.

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Wednesday, 13th September, 2017

Business of the day:

Getting books back on the shelves. Oddly, they fitted neatly until I tried to sort them a bit more logically. Half of Irish history is yet in a pile on the floor.

An hour spent untangling the spaghetti of a Mac, three hard drives, a CD-ROM, a printer, three assorted iPods, an iPad, a speaker system … eleven power points in use, off two wall sockets. The impossible we do on a regular basis. Miracles (why won’t the Big Bastard iTunes back-up show as connected?) have taken a trifle longer.

Book of the day:

Well into le Carré (page 143 of 264). Must have had a sleepful night.

Gripe of the day:

That same le Carré dust-cover.

It is oh-so-arty matte black. The result is it retains the imprint of every finger that holds it.

Quote of the day:

The day is still young, but I doubt anything is going to top this (Ed Caesar interviewing Gids Osborne for Esquire):

Osborne’s animus against May is complicated in origin — personal, political, ideological, tactical — but purely felt. When I met him at the Standard this past spring, he was polite enough about the prime minister. But according to one staffer at the newspaper, Osborne has told more than one person that he will not rest until she “is chopped up in bags in my freezer”.

Ear-worm of the day:

September in the rain. Problem is the internal sound-track keeps switching from the best (Dinah Washington) to the merely good (Julie London).

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Filed under Apple, Conservative family values, George Osborne, John le Carré

Tuesday, 12th September, 2017

Business of the day:

A bank account entry that is clearly wrong. Lady in my Life sorted it.

Some documents scanned for filing. This new Canon TS5050 certainly does the job (even better now I’ve put it on USB instead of wifi — which raises serious questions about just how many wifi channels — clearly too many — there are using the cable-modem).

Cursing the arrogance of seven Labour MPs who defected on last night’s three-line Whip, thus granting the Tories fourteen votes (+7/—7) on the Second Reading of this nasty Brexit bill. Quite how Dennis Skinner, the infamous Beast of Bolsover, shared a lobby with Tories and DUPpers escapes me. Yeah, yeah: it’s the pure cynicism of the Socialist Campaign Group of lefty Labour MPs (long-time stalwart, J. Corbyn). And yeah, yeah: the EU is a nasty capitalist club.

Yet, today we have UK inflation, measured by the much-manipulated CPI, at 2.9%. In old money, under what was the Retail Prices Index (now, like so much else, lurking under a non-acronym as RPIX) that would be 4.6%. Faisal Islam, of Sky News, accounts that as driven by record 4.6% spike in clothing & footwear. And then appends a chart lifted from the Office for National Statistics:

There’s another upward tweak due any day, with the scheduled gouging by the energy companies. Not forgetting that, by some sympathetic magic, hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico necessitate petrol price-hikes in Britain.

A swift segue to Bloomberg, and we find a headline:

  • Year-on-year CPI figure rises to 2.9%, beating median forecast

Got that? It’s a competition; and your actual British peasant just lost again. After years of wages being capped at sub-inflationary levels, here comes your next “beating” for being so naughty.

But — hey! — it’s all part of the feel-good factors derived from loyalty to one’s anti-capitalist “principles”, as a member of the Socialist Campaign Group, and huddling in the Tory lobby at the midnight hour. Over to you, Dennis.

Then there was a stretch of the morning, waiting for Peter/Pierre to arrive. Who he? All will be revealed under the next header.

Book of the day:

One added. One, and a vital one, inexplicably missing (the hunt begins). The rest in order of publication, from 1961 to the present:

And that, ladeez an’ gennelmen, is why not much will be heard of or from me for the rest of the day. I’ll be with Peter (born Pierre) Guillam.

 

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Filed under Britain, Dennis Skinner, fiction, John le Carré, Labour Party, Tories.

Monday, 11th September, 2017

Business of the day:

To be honest, not much.

A need to do an appointment at the other end of  York’s throbbing centre, which took all of an hour. This being Monday, in school term, before the students flood back, the streets are not chokka. Tourists and trippers are less in evidence. Even the usual “musicians”, who come to York so their music may die here, are hardly as numerous.

So a gentle amble there, and a Mercedes Citaro back.

Beyond that, time expanded to fill the void, with the wonders of cyber-space, and a small fret whether my repeat medication prescription has gone through. It has; so I can be dosed up for Helvetian exploration later in the week (watch this space).

There was a quick belt or two in a thread on politics.ie.

Oh, and ordered the new John le Carré from Amazon.

Carte du jour:

Apart from morning muesli, lunch-time Cheddar, and endless tea and coffee, a nice evening repast prepared by the Lady in my Life. It involved baking bits of chicken breast, and miscellaneous root-veg. I try not to get too involved in the process.

Booze of the day:

A definitely worthwhile New Zealand Chardonnay. Those antipodean grapes gave their all in a good cause.

Quote of the day:

The Guardian filleted yesterday’s Mail-on-Sunday for Tom McTague and Tim Ross writing about the 2017 Election Campaign:

The authors also reveal that May rarely visited party workers, fearing that Conservative HQ was “a pit of germs”. “There were quite a lot of germs flying around,” one Conservative source said.

How true. How very true.

Meanwhile, in his fortnightly column for the Miami Herald, Carl Hiaasen seems to be plotting his next novel (or even recycling the essential grief in every one of his novels) :

The aftermath is the most predictable part of any major hurricane encounter. That’s when people desperately turn to the big, bad, bumbling U.S. government.

It’s happening now in Texas, following the heart-crushing devastation from Hurricane Harvey. Politicians such as Sen. Ted Cruz and Gov. Greg Abbott, who built their careers ranting against the federal bureaucracy, are now singing a different tune: Help!

More than 570,000 Texans have already applied for FEMA grants. Unfortunately, the agency’s Emergency Response Fund will run out of money by the time this column is published, unless Congress (for once) moves fast.

Ironically, the cry for Harvey relief is being led by none other than President Trump, who recently proposed slashing FEMA’s budget by $600 million. Now he’s seeking almost $8 billion in aid for Houston and other flooded communities.

This is typical blow-hard hurricane politics, which is tolerable if the result is getting crucial assistance to the victims.

Cruz’s sneering opposition to the Hurricane Sandy relief package has come back to haunt him. Another hypocrite who voted against the New Jersey aid bill was our own Marco Rubio, who’s already pleading for federal dollars to help Floridians in Irma’s path.

Lingering question of the day:

If the Corbynistas’ shibboleth for selection/nomination is “Are you loyal to Jeremy?” (and I have a definite assurance that is so), have we not arrived at peak cultism? Isn’t that kind of dumb zealotry the slippery slope to drinking the Kool-Aid?

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Filed under Guardian, Labour Party, politics, politics.ie, York

Sunday, 10th September, 2017

Business of the day:

Home, James! And don’t spare the InterCity 125!

But first, breakfast at Monkeynuts. Because that’s what we do on such occasions. The breakfast plate (not the veggie option, thank you!) and two mugs of latte.

Then the 91 down to King’s Cross. Since it’s Sunday morning, that’s a whizz all the way.

Hang around for Virgin East Coast to flag up the platform number. A scamble through to platform 3. It’s the Inverness train, so it’s a diesel 125, not the electric jobs. On the other hand, it’s first stop York, and nominally a shade off two hours. Plus those refurbished Mark 3 coaches are still as good as it comes (the Mark 4s seem to have more cramped seating and less leg-room).

There’s a bit of hanging around in the north midlands, but else it’s Warp Speed, and we arrive almost on time — and that’s not the norm for a weekend service.

The York Citaro bendy-bus from the station to the top of our road: barely a hundred yards and we’re in the house.

And that’s it.

Carte du jour:

As above for Monkeynuts.

Tea from our own pot. The daughter and grand-sons paid an overnight visit and left milk in the fridge. But also, we find, clothes in the washing-machine.

The lightest of evening meals.

Beers of the day:

Give it a rest! Tea and Adam’s Ale (with orange cordial).

Quotes of the day:

Almost anything from Andrew Rawnsley’s Observer column, but his last bit seems portentous:

It is one of the paradoxes of minority governments that they can be both acutely vulnerable and remarkably durable. They are easy to wound, but much harder to kill. This could be a long fight.

Those of us who lived thought the examples Rawnsley cites (Callaghan’s long years’ journeys into the Thatcherite night, and the dark extended tea-time of John Major’s soul-less trek) would recognise that. This time, though, it could be even worse.

Rawnsley must be read alongside the opposite, editorial page. The two go together like stewed rhubarb and custard:

Britain has a Tory problem and, as the clock ticks, it is growing critical. The irresponsible behaviour of many Conservatives at this fraught juncture in the country’s affairs is nothing less than a national disgrace. How can May and her senior colleagues hope to negotiate an orderly exit from the EU when, leaking and briefing against each other, they cannot agree on handling even the most basic issues? How dare David Davis, the Brexit minister, repeatedly try to mislead parliament and the public with his patronising, faux-cheery accounts of the Brussels negotiations, claiming falsely that useful progress is being made? Such breathtaking disingenuousness echoes last year’s mendacious Leave campaign. It is equally objectionable.

By what twisted reasoning do Liam Fox, Jacob Rees-Mogg and fellow hard-Brexit Tories claim a mandate for foisting their extremist minority views on the majority of voters? Whether or not they backed Brexit 15 months ago, most people rightly fear a 2019 cliff-edge meltdown damaging livelihoods, incomes and their children’s and grand-children’s futures. Fox, minister for trade deals sans trade deals, embarrassed Britain, his hosts and himself during a recent visit to Japan by accusing the EU commission of blackmail. It was an ill-judged jibe that said more about the chaos characterising the government’s ineffectual stance than it did about Brussels.

Grief! We live in benighted, squalid, little country!

Ear-worm of the day:

In the RV1 bus last evening, coming back over Waterloo Bridge, with a bright sun lowering up the river. Trum-twiddle-trum-twiddle-trum-trum:

What else?

 

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Filed under Andrew Rawnsley, Kinks, London, Observer, politics, travel

Saturday, 9th September, 2017

Business of the day:

To the National Theatre for Follies.

We bought tickets at the announcement, just as the pre-production hype was building, mainly on the assumption that:

  • when the National do a musical,
  • when the cast is so stellar,
  • when it’s Sondheim —

— this one is going off the scale. And, counting the star-ratings given by the critics, it’s doing just that.

So, it’s the w7 to Muswell Hill, and the 43 down (in theory) to London Bridge, with a gentle amble along Thames-side, a light lunch somewhere, and arrive at the Olivier in good time. The best laid schemes …

All was going well until we hit a major snarl-up at Bank. Like that opening voice-over in Casablanca, “the others wait… and wait… and wait… and wait”. It stayed that way until the bus-driver relented, and allowed semi-legal escape by creeping along the wrong side of the pedestrian barrier. We are only at the bottom end of Moorgate. There are several options to get to the South Bank site, but here’s an opportunity to do something I’ve probably done at most a couple of times in living in London for over forty years: take the City Drain. Come to think of it, I’d reckon the last trip must have been on the 1940 rolling stock.

The Drain is something of an anomaly. It exists simply to bring the commuters from south-west London, off the Waterloo trains, across the river to the City, a distance of less than 1½ miles —something like four minutes end-to-end on a shuttle service. No intermediate stops. No possible extensions north, south, east or west. It simply exists.

So that’s the way we went.

The South Bank is redolent with snackeries, but we ended up inside the National: lattes and sandwiches. Haute cuisine, this is not.

Then to the wonder of real live theatre. Over two hours of it: no interval. And Follies enthrals. The context is a final meeting, in 1971, of the individuals who had inhabited this theatre and Weismann’s Follies between the First and Second Wars, for the theatre is to be demolished. The plot (as far as there is one), in essence, is a four-hander: two mis-matched couples retracing their lives and loves over thirty years. Lots of angst. And, at the end, the resolution is the same as before: the two couples continue to their previous lives, presumably a bit more aware of who and what they are. The twist is that Sondheim has each of them followed by a shadow of who they had been in 1941 (this production adds a shadow to each one of the cast).

Indeed this leads us to the great conundrum of the National’s revival of Follies:

Tracie Bennett, Janie Dee and Imelda Staunton play the magnificent Follies in this dazzling new production. Featuring a cast of 37 and an orchestra of 21, it’s directed by Dominic Cooke …

Extravagant staging. Big budget stuff. Yet the show is scheduled for barely eight dozen performances in total. On the other hand, there will be one of those National Theatre Live broadcasts.

If getting to the National had been fraught, getting back to Norf Bleeding’ Lunnun was as difficult.

We grabbed the RV1 hydrogen bus from the National to Covent Garden. So far, so very good. Then came the worst idea going: switch to a 4 to Archway. This route has to be one of London’s more circuitous. Saturday afternoon and Arsenal Stadium make it very heavy going. The result was the better part of two hours gone from my life forever.

Having arrived at Highgate Hill, it might seem logical to take a 210 up to Highgate Village …

Carte du jour:

There are many nosheries in the Village. So we eliminated the pub steak-houses (two previous nights’ running was enough of that). The best pizza-and-pasta joint could provide for us, but only if we were in-and-out in the hour. So we ended up in the Café Rouge, which was amazingly empty. Presumably because all the other trough-eterias were heaving.

Beers of the day:

Café Rouge supplied an adequate Merlot, then back (down the Hill and the W5 back to the Maynard) for another taste of that ELB Jubilee. I must have been getting an addiction.

Quotes of the day:

The show-stopper of Follies:

Imelda Staunton (as Sally) winding herself up:

The sun comes up,
I think about you.
The coffee cup,
I think about you.
I want you so,
It’s like I’m losing my mind.

What amounts to the punch-line of Follies (and this seems an addition to the play-script):

Philip Quast (as Ben Stone): You’re really something else!
Janie Dee (as Phyllis Stone): Bet your ass!

Readings of the day:

Somehow, I never got into the fat Saturday papers.

My reading of the day was the programme for Follies. Yes, I bought the play-script, but have done little more than dip into it.

Ear-worm of the day:

Part paradox, part because these “behind-the-scenes” musicals have a degree of parallelism:

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Filed under London, Theatre, travel

Friday, 8th September, 2017

Business of the day:

From Crouch End to Greenwich.

Stage 1: to Muswell Hill on W7, to find the Muswell Hill roundabout is now a major excavation.

Stage 2: from Muswell Hill to Bank on a 43 bus, to discover that whole stretch through Islington is now re-routed via Caledonian Road. Even more major excavations. Retreat into the Phoenix, Throgmorton Street, where I was joined first by Pert Young Piece, then by the Lady in my Life.

Stage 3: DLR from Bank to Greenwich, Cutty Sark. I used to be supercilious about the DLR, but it is truly a marvellous piece of kit, somewhere between a toy train and a proper grown-up railway — yet something more substantial than a tram. The weave through the towers of Canary Wharf is an experience worth the journey in itself.

At Greenwich, the task is to inspect the ceiling on a Painted Hall Ceiling Tour:

Up close, and personal, this is astonishing. I hope to live long enough to see the finished result.

And so, back the way we came,

Stage 4: DLR back to Bank. This time in the front seat, to play train-driver — and London has no greater thrill-ride for this Bill Hoole manqué.

Stage 5: from Bank, the 43 to Muswell Hill.

Stage 6, post-prandially, the W7 back down to the Maynard.

Carte du jour:

Something of an experiment: the “Miller and Carter” steakhouse, housed in what was once the cavernous “The Church” (a.k.a. O’Neill’s) in Muswell Hill Broadway.

For all of the pretensions, this is yet another branch of yet another tentacle of the Mitchell and Butlers octopus. Which makes it also a subsidiary in the Molson Coors megalo-brewing brand.

I felt obliged to see the place, having known it through various incarnations. For many years the former non-conformist tabernacle (all florid red brick and flint work) was being left-to-decay. It had been leased for a while as local council offices, but was then in a state of limbo and pigeon-crap. It was on the point of being demolished for a supermarket (the supermarket chains have eyed various properties — notably the Odeon cinema — but in each case have met the rising tide of middle-class N10MBYism). Eventually the teetotalist covenant was broken, and for a brief but happy moment it was “The Church” with a brew-house. That didn’t last long, and it went to being O’Neill’s, a barn of a sportsbar — a good place to watch the Rugby only available to Sky subscribers, but not a place to linger for the non-fizzy beer crowd. The arrival of Wetherspoons, taking over what was originally the old Express dairy on Muswell Hill roundabout (then, unhappily, as the teenies’ drink-and-drugs mart of choice), at what is now the Mossy Well changed the whole boozing culture of N10 — and for the better. Even if it also meant the loss of the Wetherspoons houses in Crouch End and at Highgate’s Gatehouse.

I’d have to presume that the Mossy Well, along with wider availability of international Rugby, drained the life out of what had been O’Neill’s — and so M&B are having another go.

I’ve now tried it once. It’s OK-ish; but I doubt we shall return.

Beers of the day:

A pint of Camden Pale Ale at the Phoenix. Err, well … if one must.

A pint of London Pride at the Gypsy Moth in Greenwich: definitely a step up in the world. If I can’t get ESB “lunatic broth” or — yet better — HSB (originally Gale’s Horndean Special Bitter from Hampshire) then London Pride is as good as Fuller’s gets. I’d have preferred a Young’s Special, when it was a London brew, but … horses-for-courses.

Finishing the evening: a taste more of that rather-toothsome East London Brewery’s Jamboree, on draught, at the Maynard.

Quote of the day:

Banner on Pentonville goal: “Serving the community for 175 years”. The “service” of 120 prisoners was abbreviated by the hangman,

Readings of the day:

The New Statesman and the New European.

Then A Great and Noble Design, the catalogue of Sir James Thornhill’s sketches for the Painted Hall at Greenwich. This really needs a complementary volume for the finished work: that will presumably follow from the conservation work. Oh, and a little pamphlet — just a dozen printed pages (English and French on opposites) of Thornhill’s own Explanation of the Painting. The bit of that which caught the Pert Young Piece’s eye went:

In the Middle of the Gallery next the upper Hall, is the Stern of a Britiſh Man of War, with a Figure of VICTORY filling her with Spoils and Trophies taken from the Enemy.

Under the Man of War is a Figure that represents the CITY of LONDON fitting on THAME, and ISIS, with the ſmaller Rivers bringing Treaſures unto her. The River TINE is there pouring forth his Plenty of Coals.

Her attention was that of an avid student of Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series, and re-reading (and audio-booking) the lot before we get volume seven.

My interest there was as much in the typography of 1726. What exactly were the rules of initial capitalisation (presumably for all nouns — easy), of ENTIRE CAPITALS (was this for Proper Nouns?) and for italicising (which seems just weird)?

 

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Filed under Beer, London, Muswell Hill, pubs, Quotations, railways