Saturday 15 August 2009

Alaskan Invasion

I shall head off and away from these shores before Sarah Palin launches a mercy invasion to save us from the evil NHS and its "death panels". As I said not long ago it is worrying that the most information rich society in human history gets things -- especially facts that can easily be checked --so wrong.

Sunday 9 August 2009

The Non-Sensual Poet

Poets are having a good summer. The Tennyson bicentenary has acted as a well timed reminder of a real master. Keats' house has reopened. Andrew Motion has remained an energetic ambassador post-laureate. And we have even had Rupert Everett mincing about on Byron.

Thomas Rees writes to offer a treatment on Shelley. It's a cracking yarn, as Thomas' usually are, about Shelley's attempts to free the Irish and the Welsh from English rule. The young firebrand had the unusual idea of encasing seditious pamphlets in little caskets he made and then launching them by balloon. Perhaps an eighteenth century version of political Twitters. Anyway when one of his caskets landed into the hands of the secret police Percy Bysse was forced into "exile" in North Wales. There his attempts to radicalise the locals were not met with the enthusiasm he had hoped -- they felt they already had enough poets. He did however see a devil in his garden and get to work on one of his masterpieces, Queen Mab.
Despite eloping with a sixteen year old Shelley was not wildly interested in sex. His passion was for revolution and free thinking. Sadly that means we probably won't see a BBC adaptation of
Thomas' story, not even one with Graham Norton as Shelley.
In the meantme I continue to try and persuade Thomas to write a biography of his godfather, the Cambridge spy Guy Burgess. If he doesn't perhaps I should.

Praying for Rain

Right now not everyone is worshipping the good weather. My uncle and aunt in British Columbia are in the middle of the terrible forest fires that have been ripping through Okanagan and in particular Terrace Mountain where they are. They have been on evacuation alert for some time and thought the worst was over. Last week the wind changed and the fires intensified. People have to act very quickly to avoid disaster -- they managed to evacuate with pets and a few essentials. Everyone is now glued to the weather and fire forecasts hoping the house and home will be safe. A rainy spell would be great.

My cousin Nicole keeps us updated on her blog

Close encounter

My niece Lily has a close encounter with a cricket on the beach today. The meeting went very well and they both enjoyed making each other's acquaintance.

Wednesday 5 August 2009

Most viewed...

This story is several months old but is still one of the most viewed on the BBC website. I guess it's easy to see why...

An 18-year-old has secretly painted a 60ft drawing of a phallus on the roof of his parents' £1million mansion in Berkshire. It was there for a year before his parents found out. They say he'll have to scrub it off when he gets back from travelling.

Tuesday 4 August 2009

Happy Birthday Mr President

I am normally a great fan of the bottom up communications revolution -- after all this blog is a part of it --but it does have its downside. Sometimes I yearn for proper fact-checked journalism as a source of information. Perhaps in that world we wouldn't find ourselves in the crazy situation where a significant -- and worse of all growing -- proportion of the American people believe a crazy lie. A lie that is easily disproved by fact, common sense and circumstance. I mean the "birther"conspiracy that the USA is suffering right now. The theory is that President Obama was born in Kenya not the USA and is therefore ineligible to be president. It's the sort of daft rumour that demands evidence and as soon as that evidence comes it is dismissed as a conspiracy. The US right wing -- so stung by its crushing defeat in 2008 -- has bought into birtherism to the extent that even senior republicans will associate themselves with the lies. The rumour has been disproved again and again and yet -- fueled by today's incredible communications netowrks -- it continues to gather momentum. I don't really want to add to the buzz except to express my bemusement that the most informed society in history can continue to believe patent untruths. But they do, faked moon landings, Area 51, 9-11, 7-7...and all.

"Evidence" that President Obama was born in Kenya

Award Triumph

My nephew Stanley has won third prize in the Trewennach Horticultural Show (Minature Garden category) for his work "Spooky Island Garden"

Alice at 96

This is my grandmother Alice celebrating her 96th birthday this week.

Another rainy evening...

A lovely weekend but August has been naughty on weekdays, so far. Last night was wet so no walk in the woods. Instead down in the cellar to the dusty DVDs and I chose a Columbo box set. I watched a couple of episodes which I thoroughly enjoyed. Of course they were 1970s ones. It is such a delight to luxuriate in the costumes, interior decor and cars. Wow.

In some ways Columbo was a showcase for LA-style gracious living in the early 70s. Each episode unveiled a lifestyle UK viewers in their small, crowded and damp homes could barely dream about -- swimming pools, views from the Hollywood Hills, butlers, mock stately homes, ultra modernist apartments, fine dining. It was lifestyle almost before lifestyle had been invented.

But I think the king of the cop shows was also remarkably subversive. Firstly, and most obviously, the rich, clever, socially successful were the villains and they were outwitted by the scruffy low paid cop. Then underlying all this is a series of derogatory messages about the then super rich. They are unpatriotic. They always seem to drive foreign cars -- Mercedes, Jaguars, Rolls Royces, Ferraris. Remember this is the time of the first real attack from foreigners on blue collar Detroit. The baddies compound this by eating -- and obsessing about -- foreign gourmet food. That is arch and un-American. Worst of all they always drink brandy. Get this always, check it out. Brandy of course being an imported imposter unlike honest old bourbon.

A further folly of the super-rich is their reliance on up to the minute show-off gadgetry. Audiences saw, for the first time, telephone answering machines, home cinemas, remote control TVs, car phones and a myriad of home automations. But this conspicuous consumerism is also their undoing. Many a Columbo plot turns on one of these supposedly foolproof gadgets not fooling the dear old Lieutenant. The dear old Lieutenant who keeps his old car and even older raincoat.
Sitting here in 2009 we are learning painfully about the unbalancing effect of super wealth on the economy and society. It is more serious even than murders in the Hollywood Hills. Columbo now seems both prescient and quaint. Quaint because its underlying egalitarian message is a belief of the past. Now we have legions of pushy PRs telling us how much we should respect and worship their wealthy and famous clients. A detective and social subversive like Lieutenant Columbo wouldn't get past the electric gates before the slick private lawyers had him taken off the case.

The other way that Columbo subverts is in its narrative construction. It is a whodunnit where we actually know from the very beginning who did it. The pleasure in the storytelling here comes from watching Columbo snare his victim. Despite breaking all the rules it works. It is a real pity TV executives today don't have the guts to depart from their one-track formats and take such risks.