Sunday, 23 March 2008


By a concatenation of circumstances too complicated to bother with I ended up doing my shop in Tesco's yesterday. Tesco is on my list of Things To Be Avoided If Possible, but it was moderately interesting to be there.

Different supermarkets, I have noticed, do different things well. Sainsbury's, for instance, has reasonable bread (well - the Taste the Difference range) and bagels, and a lime and cannellini bean dip which makes me make Cookie Monster noises of happiness. Tesco cannot bake to save its horrid life. All its bread is dry. I always get Tesco bread home and wonder if it's yesterday's; stale is the norm. Asda bread smells too bad to take into your house. There is Something Nasty going on in the Asda bakery, and I have no desire to find its results loosening my fillings.

Yesterday it also had No Diet Baked Beans In Small Tins. It had own brand, but let's face it, Heinz have some sort of addictive chemical that others don't, and there is no point trying any other brand for baked beans, tomato soup or tomato ketchup. They don't taste the same, and it is like being a cat weaned onto Whiskas who is now being fobbed off with Go-Cat to try. I find this impressive; lots of own brands just aren't worthwhile - Kelloggs, for instance, has no superiority in branflakes or sultana bran, and you may as well buy Generic. However, when it comes to Special K, Kelloggs is somehow - better. It's lighter and less clarty. Eating Special K is just like eating cardboard however you slice it, so this is the lesser of two evils; but isn't it when there are two evils that it matters most to have that tiny margin of increased bearability?

A couple of days after the No Diet Baked Beans in Tesco debacle, I wended my way to Waitrose (accompanying my sister, who is too delicate for Tesco). It was a scene of nearly sylvan delightfulness. The aisles of Waitrose are staffed by teenagers of delicate beauty and low plummy accents, the tills by women of a tad more experience but similarly RP accents. Nobody shouts or blocks your way by gathering in mighty legions of the supermarket-uniformed with loading pallets in a circle between you and the milk. Not only did it have Diet Baked Beans, it has cheaper sun dried tomatoes than Sainsbury's and sweet chestnut spread. And its own brand food tastes like food.

And the moral of this is, you should not go to Tesco, where £1 in every £8 is spent. You should support your local Waitrose. Use it or lose it. Because if they fall by the wayside, where will you be able to get a pint of milk safe in the knowledge that you will never run into anybody you know ever?

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Too Late ...

Torchwood may be improving, but its credibility is being hopelessly undermined by Capn Jack's parallel universe existence as Judge John on I'd Do Anything. I am hopelessly ashamed of myself - as is so often the case when I admit to my preferred telly viewing - but already I am doomed to be drawn more and more into I'd Do Anything. It is the inevitable attraction of opposites: belonging to the humanoid sub-genus "I'd do nothing under any circumstances including probably the threat of death by encroaching natural disaster bar make a last cup of tea", I am magnetically attracted to the stories of those best described as the sub-genus "those who can be a little bit arsed" and mesmerised by "those who'd do anything".

Although loathing Andrew Lloyd Webber with a fixed and beady hardness which he has done nothing much except appear on my telly to deserve, I suffered similarly during How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria. I grew increasingly fixated on the Romanian Maria who was unsuitable but could sing circles round any of the others. Blatantly bloody scary, having survived a post-Soviet hell-dimension and escaped, she had neither the accent nor the softness to play a singing ninny-nunny-nanny type, but how could you not admire her sheer flinty determination? You weren't given much of a choice; it was a total fix for Connie from the get-go - see Krenztvs passim on anti-democracy in vote-in shows on the BBC. ALW got to choose. Sometimes he chose crapcakes candidates to make sure Connie wouldn't have any competition. One suspects that the reason the BBC promotes Comic and Sport Relief so enthusiastically is that the public phone in money which is then spent without the smallest reference to the donors, and nothing gets the BBC hot like money whose destination they choose. I'm not suggesting they embezzle it, just that they love to be the Power who picks what's worthwhile and what isn't.

I couldn't watch Joseph because it made me feel ill. I was unable to fancy ANY of them, and I didn't go much on the Judges' opinions of good singing voices either, because they all seemed to me to have trained in the Tinny and Nasal School of Song - you know, We'll Make You Sound Like a Calling Kitten OR YOUR MONEY BACK!

But Nancy and Oliver - what more heady cocktail could the BBC offer? Girls with tragic stories (and only one, disapproving Daddy between them) and big eyed boy children with perfect skin and unbroken voices (every single one with a Very Supportive Daddy); the whole thing is a festival of camp that only the hardest heart could refuse.

Over the coming weeks, the many, many sad stories of these girls' lives will be put to the test; their poverty, lack of opportunity and struggles against adversity explored, explained and subjected to the public vote, until one girl, who may or may not seem to be the best at singing, acting or dancing (but who will at some stage be called upon to smooch Capn Jack, mark my words gentle reader) will be crowned Queen of the Nancies. It's ten weeks of utter bliss.

Friday, 14 March 2008

White Nights & Secret Histories

As part of the BBC season about white Britain, there was a "re-evaluation" of Enoch Powell's famous "rivers of blood" speech last Friday. The history of the late sixties and early seventies alone made an interesting programme, its claim to "re-evaluate" the speech still more so. The speech remains one of the most mis-quoted in recent history, because like all great quotes, the man never actually said it - and this seemed to be the key point. Enoch Powell never said it. In a subsequent telly outing, he defined his terms very clearly, explaining that he did not see people as different because of their colour, but because of their culture.

The programme seemed to seek to make him directly responsible for a failed policy of multiculturalism, precisely because he had opposed and, worse, sought to open a debate about it. Apparently neither the media coverage, nor the internal politics of his party, nor the fears of the native working class at the start of an economically wobbly period were in any way to blame. Well done them, eh?

The mob loved him, and the mob in this case were Alabama via Huddersfield, but Enoch Powell had not taught them this. I suggest anybody who thinks the British Empire did not deliberately make the British people very racist indeed, by calculated campaigns of indoctrination to justify itself, consciously "stepped up" on the arrival of emigrants from the West Indies after the war, is a lazy and partial historian. Enoch Powell's language was indubitably racistand ugly, and its emotive nature actually damaged his case, because it allowed the debate to be stifled and obscured by the opposition, who seized on it to make him seem inhumane and dangerous. One should beware people who issue warnings about other people's faults; we see the faults in others we most abhor in ourselves.

Enoch Powell looked dangerous. He had the bright piercing blue eyes of an out-and-out maniac. You would not wish to be trapped in a lift with Enoch Powell and that piercing gaze. He looked like he might laser you in two with it if you disagreed with him. But his real misfortune was that he was intelligent and educated. He thought that politicians could talk about issues like grown up people, and that things could be discussed, and who knows, even retracted if they seemed to have been taken the wrong way, or to have suggested something mistaken or not-thought-through. Enoch Powell believed in freedom of speech, and that is, indeed, very dangerous - for politicians.

For the rest of us, it is important. Debates need to be had. Those who advocate violence to resolve conflict are a problem, but those who think that violence can be avoided when food and space and other good stuff are limited and population is not are idiots. History shows that sticking your fingers in your ears and shouting "No! No! I can't hear you!" solves nothing. Politicians have got so mealy-mouthed and wishy washy that nobody addresses how inbred children make up a disproportionate number of those born with disabilities, and teachers are blamed for the kidnap of 13 year old girls by their parents for forced marriage.

The next offering was "The Poles Are Coming!" a hilarious programme which told us all what we already know, the highlight of which for me was the Peterborovian natives explaining over their cans of Stella outside the Unemployment Office that they were desperate for work, but not so desperate they would do any. The work on offer was arduous, cold and grim - vegetable harvesting, and it was a long day. That said, it paid £7 an hour. I know this is not a great deal of money, but seven hours of it would pay more than a week's income support, and that would mean that in the other days of the week, you could easily earn more money than you get on the dole. You would have to earn your rent as well, but that would still mean you would end up with £100 a week in your pocket. Dammit, I bought a house on £7.50 an hour.

This fits in with My Mighty Question: if we have migrants finding jobs, why are we paying able bodied homegrown couch potatoes to sit around on the dole? I want to know.

I'm also quite interested in how come all these foreign workers - who are surely paying tax - are such a strain on resources. Where is all that income tax going? Or have the government lost that as well? Oh look, there's the problem! Not the migrants, but the crapsticks administration who don't know they are there because they don't keep records at passport control or at the Tax Office. William the Conqueror would never have run the country like this.

Back with Enoch Powell and voluntary repatriation, I felt that the Czech sleeping under a bush, and the Poles who spoke of people who "couldn't come back" might not have found that as racist a policy as all that.

Sunday, 2 March 2008


I have a sneaking regard for the Eurovision Song Contest. It is rather like one's parents' stories about the war; having found them tedious and annoying for the first thirty years, sometime in your fourth decade you change your mind and decide they are interesting, and social history, and not so much justification for homicide as they once seemed.

However, unlike your parents' stories about the war, Eurovision has actually changed. And with every passing year it becomes more camp, more bizarre, and more incomprehensible.

It has long been hard to understand by what criterion Israel is part of Europe. Indeed, my understanding of Israel was that it was created by people who needed to escape Europe, so even its desire to be involved is pretty baffling. Geographically (which is often how countries are defined) Israel appears to be in Northern Africa or the Middle East. Really not Europe. Yet there they are, upon occasion even there they are winning. Strange.

Less strange but more annoying, is the addition of every tiny country which used to be in Russia and now wants to be in the EU. Again, this is all very bizarre - they made a great deal of fuss about not being in Russia, but five minutes out and they want to join another pan-European community. It makes little if any sense. If they think Brussels is going to allow them their own sense of individual nationalism, they clearly haven't yet been through the designated food definition laws which have got the English Press so aeriated so often in the last 35 years. If they think Brussels is going to dole out the profits of capitalism so as to help them to catch up to the West, they must think that Western Europe has no sense of self-preservation or self-promotion, which is not a conclusion history would necessarily lead to.

However, this would not matter if they weren't busily voting tactically in the Eurovision Song Contest that it has become practically a foregone conclusion that a) an Eastern European former Communist State will win and b) nobody West of the Iron Curtain will get a look-in.

This fills my soul with dark inchoate rage.

Let us for a moment discuss the music. The music was - throughout one's childhood - nearly uniformly awful, but the songs that won were sometimes quite perky little pop songs. The point was that there was always one song that was okay - and this all-right-tune, regardless of the petty politics of Malta and Spain and Certain Other Countries always voting for each other, won. It was the law.

Now, however, there is far too much politics. And it isn't right. Primarily because it strips us of even a remote chance of winning - worse, of a remote chance of making a decent showing on the score board. This flies in the face of all Eurovision tradition; Nul Point throughout is the province of the Scandinavians. But the real problem is not the dodgy tactical voting - although I would like to point out that these people are using the tools of democracy to make a laughing stock of us - no, the real problem is that there are around a million of these itty bitty teeny weeny totty dotty Used-To-Be-In-Russia countries. If you have about ten countries in a contest, then you have a statistical hope of winning every ten years or so. Once you are up to 49 countries - well, you do the sums. I think England should start watching again in about 2046.

When I rule the world, I will fix this in a simple manner, or by making the votes of countries proportionate to their population. Since we have always been - with Germany - the industrial heart of Europe, with the resultantly dense population, and now we have started another wave of immigration, I figure England's will be the only vote worth having. We will once again rule the musical waves and Hurrah for Us. Alternatively, we should start breaking down our countries into smaller components, allowing us to rig the voting. The UK has four parts for a kick off, without getting into the whole question of the Isles of Wight, Scilly and Man, and the Channel Islands. France has Brittany, Spain has Catalonia, and Germany could claim to be about five countries right off the bat.

The Eurovision Contest, however, has another plan. This year there will be not one but TWO semi-finals. This will bring a certain result, which is - all Western Europe will be out before the final. Western Europe will then not watch the final in droves. Eastern Europe - which uses the Contest primarily as a platform for national advertising for tourism etc - will have lost their target audience and be Annoyed. And next year, I suppose the Contest Planners hope, one or two of the Westerners will be allowed back in. I don't know that this will work, but I do assume it's their plan. And if it doesn't work - well, who cares? Let's have our own competition; something we do best; something only we Brits can do - live costume drama anybody?