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Diatribe

Like many in the UK, I came to scoff and stayed to praise (to misquote Oliver Goldsmith).

I thought it was ludicrous that the British should have bid for the Olympic Games, that London is far too crowded to seek to attract still more people, that the vast sums of money needed would be better spent on schools and hospitals, etc. I still think that, but if anything could have reconciled me to the Games in London it would have been the opening ceremony, directed by Danny Boyle.

After the punctiliously regimented display by Beijing it was clear that something very different would be required if it were to make any impression, and nothing could have been more different.

From a Tolkienesque vision of bucolic paradise, Boyle took us through the industrial revolution (with Kenneth Branagh as Brunel) through to the present but by a route that reduced right-wingers to apoplexy but struck a bell (literally and metaphorically) with those on the left of centre. He recorded the history of dissent, via the suffragettes and the Jarrow hunger marches in the 30s. while paying tribute to those who died in the Wars and in the bombings on the London transport system the day after the London Olympics was announced. The queen has never been more popular than in joining in the sketch when James Bond collected her from the Palace and they parachuted together down into the Stadium. Mr. Bean (who seems to be enormously popular with children all over the world) joined Simon Rattle in playing the theme from Chariots of Fire (well, he played one note repeatedly) and then by cheating, won the race. And in a dance number dedicated to the NHS (which must have had the Government silently writhing) a reading from Peter Pan by J K Rowling paid tribute to J M Barrie, Lewis Carroll and Harry Potter.

Altogether the emphasis was on a kind of self-deprecating humour in the context of multi-culturalism with the involvement of the young. The National Anthem was performed by a choir of children with hearing difficulties, with those unable to sing signing the words.

But the thing that swung it for me was the tributes he paid to some of our more unappreciated heroes. The spotlight shone on Tim Berners Lee, to whom so many of us owe so much although many may not know his name. He is credited with having created the World Wide Web, the means by which we now are able to contact our friends and family who are far away, and then he gave it to the public. He could have made so much money out of it that Bill Gates would have looked like a pauper in comparison, but he gave it away. I know how much he has enriched my life.

And the Olympic flag was carried by, among others, Doreen Lawrence, the woman who fought so hard for so many years to bring to justice the racist thugs who killed her son in an unprovoked attack and then were protected by a network of the crime families to which they belonged, the corruption of a number of policemen, and the much wider network of institutional racism; Shami Chakrabati, the very intelligent and articulate (and beautiful) woman who has been at the helm of Liberty, the human rights organisation, for years; Daniel Barenboim who is trying to bring together Israelis and Palestinians through his own medium of music; the Secretary-General of the UN; Sally Becker, who worked to relieve suffering during the wars in Bosnia; Marina Silva, the environmentalist; and Mohammed Ali, who needs no explanation.

My business partner, whose views are to the right, while appreciating the parachuting in of the queen and the tribute to the NHS, complained that there was no sense of direction. I disagree. I think it portrayed a nation successfully becoming multi-cultural without disintegrating, technically proficient (in that all the firework and lighting effects worked), and imaginative in designing those special effects, while retaining a self-deprecating sense of humour: a national at ease with itself (if one disregards the very bitter resentment widely felt against an undeserving, overpaid echelon at the top). And that’s not a bad place to be.

So, hearty congratulations to Danny Boyle for showing us a self-portrait to be proud of and to try to live up to.
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Is this progress

Following Thursday’s election for a new leader for the Welsh Nationalist Party, Plaid Cymru, the papers reported that this was the first time that a non-native speaker of Welsh had been elected.

Interestingly, what the radio at least did not make a point of emphasising, is that fact that she is also the first woman leader of the Party. Even more amazingly, none of the reports I have read (although I only read the broadsheets) have reported on her age and bust measurement.
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Thought for the Day

The horoscope of my 88 year old brother today is "Your sex appeal is running at high speed. Your current love interest will be especially attentive, but avoid new romances that might fizzle out quickly if there is nothing more than a chemical attraction." He is looking forward to the day eagerly.

I countered with a T-shirt slogan: "If it were not for airport security, I wouldn't have a sex life". Especially relevant since I have just had to undergo airport security to get here to the US.
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I can hear Canon Collins, late Dean of St. Pauls, stalwart of CND and South Africa Defence and Aid, turning over in his grave as St. Pauls plans to expel the demonstrators so as to appease the moneylenders of the City.

No expelling the moneylenders from the Temple for them.
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Jun. 7th, 2011

Well, that was the most fun I have had in the theatre, well, since I saw John Barrowman as Robin Hood in pantomime a couple of years ago: David Tennant and Catherine Tate as Beatrice and Benedict in Much Ado About Nothing; rather like a pantomime as well, singing and dancing and the entire cast giving the impression that they were having a really good time. The audience certainly had a good time: at one point the two principles ‘corpsed’ on stage and the audience went into helpless giggles with them as they tried, not very successfully, to recover their composure. Tennant really knows how to play an audience.
As a struggling writer/actor/manager, Shakespeare would have loved it.

Tennant’s Hamlet was filmed for TV. I hope they film this as well.

A nice contrast to the previous evening, spent watching Turandot: brilliant singing by the Welsh National Opera, but what a turkey of a story. Turandot turned up in the second act wearing a blue mid-calf business suit and a blonde hairstyle which made her look just like Mrs. Thatcher. It has to have been intentional – no-one could have chosen that outfit for a medieval Chinese princess by accident. The ‘hero´was just as unpleasant. When the slave girl kills herself to save him, he just says: ‘she is dead’, ignoring the fact that she continues to crawl over the stage for the next couple of minutes. As Mr. H said, the two main characters deserved each other.

Until now I had Tannhauser labelled as the worst opera story ever, but I think Turandot pushes it into second place. I’m not sure what we were doing there in the first place because Mr. H tells me that he does not like Puccini. Why he would spend good money on tickets for an opera by a composer he does not like is beyond me.

Well, at least it got me away from the dreadful smell from the fridge/freezer which had died, so that all the contents were rotting. Even after I had cleared it out the stink persisted for a couple of days.
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Spain may 2011

Mr H and I are just back after a week in Spain. Having been to Cordoba 20 years ago (when we had just met) and been very impressed, we thought we would go back. Sadly, this involved the horrors of flying Iberia: no direct flights to Cordoba, so I booked direct flights to Seville, 2 nights in a hotel there and 5 in Cordoba. Very efficient: except that Iberia then cancelled their direct flights to Seville on those dates. Since I couldn’t change the hotel bookings without a penalty I accepted flights with a change at Madrid. Well, all four Iberia flights, coming and going were late, the seats were extremely cramped, and they don’t even give you water unless you pay for it. What a cattle truck.

Seville was good, hotel right in the old quarter where the streets are too narrow even for a single car, and by chance we timed our visit for the feria, so loads of girls and some women were wandering round in dresses tight down to their thighs and then flounced, shawls and flowers in their hair, usually accompanied by males wearing jeans with holes in them and T-shirts with slogans, much to Mr H’s disgust. The only men wearing the traditional short jackets and flat hats were the drivers of the carriages for hire.

After two days we got the train to Cordoba – about an hour’s journey – much more comfortable: air conditioned, relatively spacious: you are not allowed on unless you have a specific seat booked. Again, a hotel in the pedestrian area in the old part of the City, right opposite the Mosque.

Cordoba describes itself as a foundation of European culture and is a candidate for the European City of Culture for 2016.

An important Roman City when the river was navigable, it was held by the Visigoths for 150 years and subsequently captured by the Arabs in about 720-30. By the 10th century it was the largest city in Europe (with street=lighting 700 years before London), remarkable for the cultural co-existence of Muslims, Jews and Christians, and it was in this period that the Great Mosque was built over the Visigoth church: a breathtaking building which was one of the largest mosques in the world. Of course that was too good to last. First a wave of fundamentalist Berbers displaced the Caliphate (and one of Cordoba’s most famous sons, the Jewish philosopher Maimonides fled to Egypt) and it was re-taken by the Christians in 1236 when Muslims were given a choice of expulsion or forced conversion. A cathedral was built within the confines of the Mosque. The Jews were given a choice of expulsion or forced conversion in 1391, and Cordoba was a site of the Holy (sic) Inquisition. A synagogue is listed among sites to see in Cordoba, but it is a bare shell.

Initially, my reaction on coming to Cordoba again was unfavourable. It was crammed with tourists and many of the streets round the square containing the mosque/cathedral are lined with rather tawdry souvenir shops, but once we had settled down and discovered the beautiful courtyard with its orange trees where we had breakfast every morning, a friendly tapas bar to eat in the evening and the local bakery to buy water and snacks it became much more welcoming.

While we were there the Festival of the Patios was on, which probably attracted even more tourists than usual. A lot of them were Spanish and there were also many Japanese parties, and with both these groups being rather short in stature I felt like a giant.

When I was growing up Spain was a miserable place, poverty-stricken and run by a right-wing puritan Catholic dictator. It is a very different place now. Of course, a vast amount of EU money has gone into it and it still has major economic problems, but it is a much more relaxed and prosperous country and much more open to other points of view than the narrow-minded primitive religious autocracy that it used to be.

Of course, Mr H speaks fluent Spanish so I tended to sit there like a lemon while he chatted up all the waiters, shop-keepers, etc. so perhaps the impression I got was a bit distorted but generally the locals seemed very friendly
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It seems that Gaddafi’s forces are about to wipe out the rebels. Britain, France and Lebanon (with the backing of the Arab League – and that’s a miracle in itself) are seeking a Security Council Resolution at the UN for enforcement of a ‘no-fly’ zone.

And what is being asked here is “Where is Obama? What are the Americans doing? Preparing to sit on the sidelines and watch the massacre and they/we did with the Marsh Arabs after the First Gulf War?"
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Irony

And to cap it all there is an email in my Inbox this morning from Amazon

“LAPTOPS – huge savings”.
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Feb. 26th, 2011

We have had a break-in at my house in London.

I am in Cardiff, but my room-mate (in the US sense of the word) Gus had just put her toddler, Ioka, to bed and put the lights off in the extension when she heard footsteps on the roof of the extension. She grabbed the child and ran out of the front door. She went next door and left the child and by the time she got back to the house and called the police the thief/thieves had jemmied the window on the first floor back room, gone straight downstairs and put the chain on the front door to delay anyone trying to get in.

The police were there in six minutes. By that time the thieves had gone and had taken with them the two laptops in the house but do not seem to have taken much more. I will have a good look when I get back but they seem to have been looking for electronics that were easy to pick up and to flog, and we don’t go in much for a lot of that stuff. I was a bit peeved that they had found my computer, which I had hidden under the bedclothes in my bed. I imagine they will equally be a bit peeved when they find that it is very much on its last legs and has a shift key missing, so it will not be likely to fetch very much. I knew I was going to have to replace it soon anyway. Fortunately I had backed it up a couple of weeks ago.

The surmise is that they thought the builders might have left some tools around, but they took them home every evening. Having seen all the things we don’t have, we do not think they will be back any time soon.

Actually, it was a bit reminiscent on that ad they used to have on TV where the girl tells her neighbour that he has been burgled and that the burglars have left the place in a dreadful mess, which he takes as a sign that he should call in a cleaner. The builders were putting in a new bathroom and a walk-in wardrobe, so I had moved a clothes rail into the new area but left most of the clothes in a pile on the chair. My neighbour was very embarrassed when she told me that it looked as if the thieves had been through all my clothes and left the room in a mess, only to be told that no, that was how I had left it.

Ah well, it could have been a lot worse.
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I was walking to the Underground along Oxford Street when I noticed that I was walking past a long queue of young people, rather like the queue outside the 100 Club that time. I looked to see if there was a club, and then thought there must be a celebrity opening a new shop but no, they were lining up outside the Salvation Army! How weird is that.

………………………

At school I remember being told in history about 1848, the Year of Revolution in Europe. Then, when I first met Mr. H we went on holiday together in the south of Spain and afterwards drove up through Spain and France to spend Xmas in Ferriere-Larcon. We had the car radio on much of the time, as as we listened the drama unfolded: the Berlin Wall came down, the Ceauseskus were killed in Romania, and the Iron Curtain crumbled.

The North African and Middle Eastern situation feels like that.

I credit Obama with the foresight to over-rule attempts by the US Foreign Office to prop up an unsustainable status quo (in the interests of stability), attempts that would ultimately have been unsuccessful because the flood of public opinion would have overwhelmed them. Of course, not all revolutions are successful: Libya will be a much harder nut to crack, but the trend is unstoppable.

“There is a flood in the affairs of men……….”
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