Saturday, 22 January 2011

Last orders?

Reports come to the Observatory that two fine old pubs in Nottingham face an uncertain future.

I have been drinking in these pubs on and off for over 30 years, and I would hate the thought of them closing and becoming yet more offices or retail space. The Salutation in particular is such a part of the city's history that it would be a terrible loss if some way cannot be found to keep it going as a pub.

I have fond memories from the late 70s when there were two big youth tribes out there - the heavies/hairies and the punks. I remember some lairy Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights in and around Slab Square when there would be a goodly number of each lot on either side of the square, with Tug Wilson standing majestically in the middle, keeping the Queen's Peace. Thursdays, I hear you say? Oh yes, in the old days Thursday was payday, and there'd be plenty out in town. It was in those days, and into the 80s, that the Salutation top room had a reverse dress code: if you didn't look grungy enough (for which read: long hair, denim, leather, patchouli) you'd be strongly advised not to bother. (Mrs QO and I didn't have any trouble gaining admission.)

The Sally of late has still been a welcome home to those who like rock, blues and good beer, though it's a little gentler all round to my mind. No bad thing, let us say, and the building itself is one of the appallingly few authentic old ones left after our city fathers wrecked most of the rich architectural heritage of this old town. I hope that both these pubs can be saved, though in today's climate I fear it will be difficult. It may be a harsh choice: sacrifice the Royal Children for redevelopment, to save the Salutation. I would hope that it doesn't come to that.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Another vision

Sit back, relax, and share with me another out-of-body experience. We Observe silently and unseen, immaterial yet alert... the scene is the study in a house in Stoke Newington. (Sorry about dragging you to Stoke Newington, but it's necessary for the plot.)

A house in Stoke Newington. Ed Balls is sitting at his desk mulling over the papers in his newly-delivered Shadow Chancellor's red box. A dread burst of music comes from a desk drawer. He starts... his face becomes ashen... he opens the drawer and picks up the blackest Blackberry ever...

EB: "My Lord Mandelmort... I had not thought to hear from you yet."
LM: "Balls. But moving on. Edward... you recall our last conversation?"
EB: "Of course, my lord."
LM: "I thought I would call to congratulate myself on your appointment as Shadow Chancellor, Edward. And to let you know that... it begins."
EB: "What begins, sir?"

A moment's silence... then a dry, scaly noise like a dead rattlesnake being dragged over a corrugated tin roof.

LM: "Oh, Edward. You disappoint me... again. I had thought that by now, under my patient tutelage, you would have acquired some instinct for politics... some acute nose for the breeze of change. Do you not see? Have you learned nothing? The tide is afoot. The scales of power are ripening. It is time. TIME!"

Mr Balls breathes deeply.

EB: "Well, my lord, I must admit I was pleasantly surprised to be called by the Party Leader and asked to take over from Alan Johnson. One has to feel sorry for him."
LM: "No, Edward, one doesn't. Such is political life. He chooses to put his private life first. A mistake I never made, and one which I trust you will never make. Not, I might add, if you wish to continue as my Chosen One in the Great Path of Destiny."
EB: "Er... the 'Great Path', my lord?"

There is a moment's silence on the BLACKberry... the silence of a newly-dug grave at midnight, the silence of a dead kitten, the silence of something really nasty and silent, in fact.

LM: "Edward. Attend and concentrate. Unless like me you are prepared to make... certain sacrifices... you will not have the lifespan to fully comprehend the Master Strategy, but let me give you the salient points, in the hope that you may yet see the dark. The Great Enemies have joined forces in a doomed coalition. In preparation for this, we engineered a financial disaster that is still not fully understood by the electorate, but suffice to say that all the headline economic and social indicator figures will be against those who so laughably think themselves in charge of the country. Unemployment and inflation: up. Public sector investment: down. Sterling against any currency you like to mention: down. Mortgage rates: up. Repossesions: up. Size of Katie Price's breasts: well, who can say? But none of this will look good in the media. Apart from the latter, conceivably. However, the Tories and the Little Friends will soon be fighting among themselves like two ferrets in a sock. All you have to do is be ready for the inevitable collapse. You cannot fail."
EB: "But... surely, my lord... if we come to power again, we will be inheriting a train-wreck, surely? What will we be able to do?"
LM: "Ah, you begin to see. Of course Britain will be worthless. That has been coming for years. As an independent power, Britain's day is long past. We will be classed along with Borneo, Kazakhstan or even France. No, Edward, forget that out-dated model. Within a mere two decades there will be only two powers in the world, and you can be at the forefront of one of them."
EB: "Er... I assume you mean the United States... and China?"

There is a slow, crackling laugh.

LM: "The United States? Oh, dear me no, young Balls. Once President Palin takes power - as she will, for the American voter will never ultimately be able to resist someone cute who likes guns - it will take only months for civil war to break out. The Mexicans will reclaim what was once theirs, the few remaining Americans with any sense will flee to Canada, and the cities will burn. No, the two real powers in the world will be China... and The Greater European Union. Yes, the real destiny of Europe is to be one great power. That is my master-work, Edward, that is the goal for which I have worked these seven centuries. And it can be your destiny too."
EB: "But... I don't understand, my lord..."
LM: "You, Edward, if you follow the Path I lay out for your unworthy feet, will one day be President of the Greater European Union. The one which will encompass all of the European continent, Scandinavia, the former USSR, even the bits nobody really wants, like Wales. It will be the only power great enough to stand against the Asian Tiger. The Yin against their Yang. The Fork against the Chopstick. The Poppadum against the Prawn Cracker."
EB: "Um... I thought poppadums were Indian?"
LM: "India too will be part of Europe, Edward, as it might just as well have been under British rule. They will be able to see which side of their chapati the ghee is on, trust me."

Mr Balls puts a hand to his furrowed brow.

EB: "But how... how would I be able to win an election to be President of such a great power, my lord?"

The silence from the BLACKberry is this time even more nasty and silent (if that were possible).

LM: "Who mentioned an election, Balls? Did I get elected to the House of Lords? I despair of you. I must warn you... there is another candidate in my mind."
EB: "But who... who else could there be, my lord?"

Another telling pause.

LM: "Edward. I refer you to the Shadow Home Secretary. And such an appropriate title, is it not? In the shadows... in your home.... be careful, Edward. Be very careful..."

A chilling laugh echoes down the line before the buzz of disconnection becomes all that Mr Balls can hear... he stares towards the door of his study... who is it that moves in the hallway?

Monday, 17 January 2011

And the winner...

... of the "No shit, Sherlock" prize for 2011, although the year has barely started, is Sir Philip Hampton:

"Sir Philip Hampton told the BBC that too many average investment bankers were getting above average pay."

Further comment from me would be supererogatory.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Vive la difference

The people I'm furious with are the women's liberationists. They keep getting up on soapboxes and proclaiming women are brighter than men. That's true, but it should be kept quiet or it ruins the whole racket. Anita Loos

Not long after Mrs QO and I were married, I said to her that I was thinking of sitting the Mensa application test. "Well, why not? I might too," she said. So one evening we both presented ourselves at a room in People's College and sat the test. Naturally, the first thing we did thereafter was to repair to the Trip to Jerusalem to compare notes on how we'd answered the questions. We'd got into that habit at college, since we were both reading for English degrees. With pints in front of us, we started the analysis.

"So what did you put for question 2 - Ecuador or Butterfly?"
"Um... I thought if you rotated it 180 degrees you'd get an aardvaark."
"Oh... never thought of that. OK, so what about question 5? The one where if you put a 20 kilo weight on the scales, would the other end go up or down? I thought down."
"Wha'? No, no, the answer had to be the triangle, cos everything else on the diagram had three sides."

I have never hated a man enough to give his diamonds back. Zsa Zsa Gabor

And so on. It became evident we'd approached things in quite different ways. The one thing we were agreed on was that the young lady who'd acted as Mensa host and invigilator was an arrogant twat, and also that we'd have another pint before going home. OK, yeh, that's two things. Whatever. (Mrs QO would have said 'snowflake', obviously.)

A week or so later the results arrived. In a rather tense silence each of us opened our envelope and had a look. Our eyes met and we swapped letters. There was a moment of some disbelief, and swapping back of letters for a second look. We'd got exactly the same IQ score, though we knew damn well we'd put quite different answers down for a fair number of the questions. We found this outcome particularly satisfying... we were different, we were individuals, but we were of equal worth. Almost as satisfying was the fact that we qualified for Mensa but didn't join, partly following the Groucho Marx line: 'I wouldn't join any club that would have me as a member,' and partly because of the arrogant twat who'd represented the organisation at our test. I'm sure they're not all like that, of course (he said hurriedly in case of legal action).

I have an idea that the phrase "weaker sex" was coined by some woman to disarm some man she was preparing to overwhelm. Ogden Nash

I like to think we've never fretted much about gender roles in our marriage (except where it's blindingly obvious we should, and we'll skate by that, if that's all the same). We seem to have settled into various roles in the household dictated more by personal inclination than any sexual stereotype. Mrs QO does electrics; I do electronics. She does plastering; I do plumbing. If a power tool is used in the house, it's by her; I do more of the run of the mill cleaning and tidying. I know more about our insurances and pensions, while she administers the Christmas card list and mail-merges the address labels with a nonchalant ease of which I'm in awe.

So far, so very much 'us, us, us' but then it is my blog, so suck it up. No, seriously, there was a wider point when I started this post, though I must admit I've kind of forgotten what it was. Something to do with gender stereotyping being fatuous and futile, I think.

Tell you what, let's all go and have a drink. And I'll drop a picture in here while I try and remember all the brilliant socio-sexual analysis I was going to do. OK, this is a cheap gag, but I want all the men reading this not to be too upset at the thought of being far less complex, adaptable and subtle than women. Grow a pair and deal.

I'm not offended by all the dumb blonde jokes because I know that I'm not dumb ... and I also know that I'm not blonde. Dolly Parton

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Folkwaves and BBC dorks... an update

Despite spirited protest, the BBC in the East Midlands has dropped its specialist music programmes on weekday evenings. Mrs QO and I listened to the first edition of the replacement programme hosted by Richard Spurr. Well, I say 'listened': we managed about seven minutes, of which three and a half were Flowers in the Rain by The Move. I daresay I shouldn't judge the programme on the three and a half other minutes, but you know what? It's my blog, and I will. I will rely on the comments made by others who did listen to a fair chunk of it.

It became apparent that the new three-hour show was to be a mix of bland oldies, inane talk, phone-ins (I gather nobody did, or if they did, they weren't allowed on air, probably because they were complaining) and interviews with such important people as somebody who didn't win The Apprentice. Our brains started running out of our ears; not a pleasant sensation.

Way to go, Auntie Beeb. Cutting-edge public service broadcasting at its bluntest. Piss off thousands of loyal local listeners to serve up exactly the same dross that commercial local radio used to do until it failed because advertisers realised nobody was listening.

And we might usefully define 'listening' here. The BBC maintain that the RAJAR figures for the specialist music programmes were low. I haven't seen the figures, so won't comment directly on that point. (Well, it's early in the year, I get back to my normal unreasonableness about March.) But we all know how often the radio is just squeaking away in the background, a kind of comforting white noise but not something you really tune into mentally. The specialist music programmes were listened to pretty intently, not just because of the music that was played, but for the local information and comment offered. Audience satisfaction would be very high, I'd argue, whereas the new programme is just tediously more of the same stuff we get all day, and I suspect would get much lower listener ratings, even if the total number of radios tuned in turns out to be higher. That in itself remains to be seen. Certainly nobody in the QO household will be listening to local radio in the evening any more, though we did on three or four nights a week before.

The reason the BBC doesn't have to mix it in the commercial world is so it can do stuff that the commercial broadcasters can't. It seems terribly sad to me that after more than 20 years of these excellent specialist shows, we now have a bland, 'one size fails to fit all' programme of ineffable tedium.

Getting going with 2011

I always find the first week after New Year a bit of a trial. It's particularly bad this year, since Christmas on Malta proved so enjoyable. Suffice to say that we left Liverpool John Lennon International at 7am with the temperature around -10, and the next morning we were gazing from the fortifications of Mdina in bright sun and a rather less challenging 20 degrees. Here's what it looked like.

I love England, but must say that having left the country and flown south for Christmas for the first time, I have a better appreciation of why so many birds migrate.

Howsomever, here we are, back in dear old Blighty, faced with the challenges of a new year, and indeed a new decade. I have made the usual New Year resolutions - mostly to do with self-indulgence - and will be getting down to them next weekend. I can never face getting back to work after Christmas as well as bodily self-denial. Yes, I'm worthless and weak. Deal with it.