Miscellany and detritus, from the writer of Is This Mutton?com

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Friday, August 31, 2007

The Diana Myth

The Sunday Times ran a thought provoking article by Germaine Greer headlined "The Diana Myth." At last, I thought, someone who thinks the same as I do about Princess Diana.

Today, with the Diana Memorial service, it's wall-to-wall Diana. But it's not as if this is a one off. She never goes away. Not only is there is a steady flow of books from shabby spongers, with the contents increasingly becoming like Chinese Whispers, we have the Mail and Express stoking the coals of the ludicrous theories about conspiracy and murder. Why should the royal family or anyone want to kill Diana, when she was no longer married to Prince Charles? True, she was making a fool of herself with a succession of men (Gilby, Hewitt, the doctor, Dodi to name but four, and then there were hundreds of calls to someone she fancied but who was married, Oliver Hoare), but there was no reason to murder her at that time.

I think her supporters like to think she was murdered because it implies mystery and glamour, whereas the reality was: she died in a car crash where the driver was over the drink drive limit.

The French categorically denied she was pregnant, and a recent report said she was not serious about Dodi anyway but merely trying to get back at the Asian doctor she was apparently in love with.

I'm amazed at how so many have been duped by Diana over the years, and the way she has been elevated to folk hero or saint status. Her supporters will say she did a lot of work for charity. True, but no more than the Princess Royal. End of discussion. And does the Princess Royal ring the tabloids to tip them off about visits to homeless people or AIDS victims at midnight? No, she doesn't. Diana did frequently, apparently.

Diana's supporters will also talk about the magic she had with the ordinary person in the street: her warmth and so on. Well, given that our royal family is sadly dysfunctional in that they are so uptight and repressed, anyone showing a bit of warmth would stand out. But I don't think it's so unusual in the real world. And she was a nursery nurse, so you would expect her to be empathetic.

If you take away the "warmth" and the good works for charity, you have left many undesirable qualities which get brushed under the carpet. Attention seeking. Passive aggression. Neediness.

Diana's role and reputation seem to have been blown out of all proportion to reality, and I for one wish we would move on. Finally we have a woman who makes Prince Charles happy (who always made him happy) who is content to let him, as heir to the throne, have all the limelight. She does not resort to playing games in the media, even when vilified. She is a far more suitable character to be Queen than the unstable and star struck Diana.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

And now the good news: er.....

Regular readers will know that I enjoy a rant against the Daily Mail, and most newspapers and the BBC in general for the poor journalism that is rife in Britain: lack of objectivity, hidden agendas, perpetuation of damaging stereotypes and refusal to carry anything other than bad news.

Last week I decided I would try to restore the balance by publishing some good news each week. I'm not talking about heart warming tales of people doing good works for charity. No, I'm talking snippets which make us feel good to be British. Surveys that make us look good compared to other countries. Stories of our eccentricity. People standing up to hoodlums. Court cases where bureaucrats lose lots of money.

Surely there are surveys which reveal more positive facts about Britain than those we hear about? Today's example is that teenagers drive while under the influence of drink and drugs. Great! Surely there must be some positive attributes for teenagers? They can't all be obese, gun-touting, illiterate, drunken louts as the press portrays them?

Anyway, my good intentions faltered last week because try as I might, I couldn't find any good news in any of the papers. Sometimes you find something which sounds vaguely encouraging, for example, how statins may reduce the risk of senility. But these health stories are ten a penny and frankly hokey, in my view. I'm always furious when the Daily Mail takes a health study, usually on a women's issue like HRT, and publishes a shock horror front page aimed at frightening women everywhere, when the survey is statistically useless, and they fail to provide the counterbalance of other studies. See what I mean about objectivity?

The only good news stories I found, and I didn't think they would bowl you over, were: Madrid's public service TV station decides to drop coverage of bull fighting; a First Choice air stewardess successfully delivers a baby during a flight, and the aforementioned about statins.

I am still scouring the papers and hope to bring you some better tidbits tomorrow. If you find anything, do share. Let's try to make Britain a more positive place. Yay!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Worried about David

As a lifelong fan of David Bowie, I have become somewhat concerned about his whereabouts. I know he's happily esconsced in New York with wife Iman and daughter, but we've seen so little of him for the last three years. During his last tour in 2004 (when I saw him at the Birmingham NEC), he had the incident (in Norway I think) where a dart nearly blinded him, and then he had what was described later as a mild heart problem, similar to that suffered by Tony Blair.

But since then, we've hardly seen him and there have been no new albums except compilations. Strange for someone who has always been so prolific. Indeed, when I have seen him (at society gatherings or awards ceremonies, pictured in Hello) he looks bloated and unwell, most unlike his normally angular self. I don't buy the argument that maybe he just wants to take life easy and put on a bit of weight. I think maybe the heart problem was worse than we were led to believe.

I'm so hungry for a new album, a tour and an appearance on Jonathan Ross. My fervant hope has always been that David recaptures the public's imagination by having another blockbuster album. It doesn't have to be brilliant but purely commercial, like Let's Dance. The whole Facebook generation seems oblivious to him (you can only locate him there as "Bowie" if you want to find his music) and this is criminal when you consider that of all today's artists, he has had the most impact and influence. Plus he is still the coolest man in pop, even at the age of 60.

I read somewhere he has turned down an honour, which I think is very sad. It seems crazy when musical lightweights like Cliff Richard and Rod Stewart get honoured and Bowie doesn't. So I hope the right thing is done. Gordon!

Meanwhile: David where are you?

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Fairytale surroundings at Aurora

Eating out is one of the great pleasures in life and I have been eating my way round London's finest restaurants for some time now. I don't like pretentious, nouvelle, overly fussy or, conversely, poor value for money and slapdash. So I've become quite a difficult customer to please. Sometimes a pub meal can be great and memorable. Sometimes a Michelin starred restaurant can be choked by its own hype.

My latest foray was to Aurora at the Great Eastern Hotel in Liverpool Street. Not to be confused with a different and far inferior Aurora in Lexington Street, this one used to be a Conran restaurant (no longer). Here you can enjoy modern European cuisine in the beautiful surroundings of a landmark building from the golden age of steam railways.

The dining room itself is amazing with a Victorian stained glass dome. There was enough room between the tables to feel private (unlike a lot of London's restaurants where you are practically sitting with the people to your right and left). Service was excellent, discreet and inobtrusive. Impressive amuse bouches were followed by, for me, Cornish mackeral, which looked and tasted sublime, and then salmon en croute from the carvery trolley with new potatoes and broccoli. My only criticism is that the salmon was slightly overwhelmed by the sauce. As our main course was delayed, we were offered a complimentary pudding and chose the least calorific option, a baked peach with a light-as-a-feather tiny sponge pudding and a tangy sorbet.

All in all, Aurora fully delivered against the very positive reviews on the web, and is well worth a second visit.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The magic of Faro

We've just been back to Faro in the Algarve for a long weekend. We did the same last year, in September, when I suddenly decided I must bask in the sun for one last time before winter. This year, we went earlier (August) but our holiday in June seems a long time ago and the British summer seems to have given up the ghost.

I would fully recommend Faro if you want a simple, authentic, pretty place with a wonderful hotel overlooking the marina that has a "grown-up" outdoor swimming pool on the top floor.

The hotel in question is the Hotel Eva, which is just across the road from the pretty narrow town centre streets. There you will find very few big international shops. With the exception of Spanish retailers Mango and Zara, the shops are local, some selling pottery, one, Bijou Brigitte, selling lovely necklaces and beads. The streets throng at night with the sociable Portuguese (who outnumber the foreign tourists), and there is always entertainment, singing or dancing, in an outdoor stage next to the marina. There are plenty of outdoor restaurants offering locally caught fish.

Faro is not a seaside resort, although if you want a beach there are plenty of small boats in the marina which will take you to fairly nearby beaches. We were too lazy for that. For us, it was straight up to the top floor and the big, rectangular swimming pool, pool bar which does great salads at lunchtime, and a comfortable lounger. It was very relaxing with hardly any children. I had expected August to be really busy, but it wasn't painfully so.

Getting to Faro is easy: Easyjet have numerous flights each day (we counted four landing within 15 minutes of each other, one morning as we were having breakfast).Ryanair and BA also fly there. From Faro airport it's an eight euro drive, lasting 10 minutes, to get to the Eva and your own piece of heaven.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Weep for the British farmers

I'll admit that I wept when I heard the news at the weekend that foot & mouth disease had been found on a Surrey farm. Very swiftly the EU pulled the curtain down and the memories of 2001 come flooding back: the funeral pyres, the black smoke, the grief.

Now I am furious that the fault appears to lie with one of two research laboratories. There are even claims it could be sabotage. I just hope that the two farmers whose herds have been slaughtered will get legal redress for what has happened. As to Britain's reputation abroad, no compensation will restore that. I am pleased to see that Gordon Brown was quick to deal with the issue but he needs to take a very firm public stance if his govt owned laboratories caused the issue in the first place.

Years ago there used to be a saying that there was no such thing as a poor farmer. Now I find it very unlikely that can be such a thing as a rich farmer. Not cossetted and blessed with mountains of subsidy like their French counterparts, life is hard for the British farmer. He or she may have had to diversify; may have had to start again because of BSE and foot & mouth disease, and may be on the point of ruin because of the weather this summer.

Add to that the giant supermarket retailers, and the contempt in which they hold farmers, and you can see it's a brutal, stressful existence. Our retailers make handsome profits and we pay the most in Europe for what's in our shopping trolley.
But farmers get paid a pittance for their milk and their meat and can be dropped after years of trading if one of the supermarkets decides to save a penny here and there.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Musn't grumble (but here goes)

Thanks to the Telephone Preference Service, I have managed to get rid of 99% of those infuriating cold calls. And the Mailing Preference Service has put paid to all the direct mail we used to get. I'm very careful now when I sign up for new websites or catalogues that I tick, or untick, the right box so that they don't share my address with third parties.

All well and good. But since these services came into operation, the amount of junk through the letterbox has quadrupled. I often work from home and during the day I can expect around 10 leaflets on average, ranging from takeaway menus to people offering the services of cleaning / carpentry / carpet cleaning / yoga lessons. Then there's the "to the householder" old tosh that the Post Office is allowed to get away with, and numerous free newspapers and magazines.

I just don't want any of it. The trouble is, I don't see a way of saying no, except for a huge sign saying "NO LEAFLETS / FREESHEETS. HUGE SNAPPING TURTLE ATTACHED TO LETTERBOX". They're generating a huge amount of rubbish, plus alerting burglars when you're away and the letterbox is stuffed with free newspapers. My vote goes to the local councillor who puts an end to it.

Friday, August 03, 2007

The return of glamour

The breathless excitement heralding the new fashion collections in magazines usually leaves me a bit cold these days (it's only ever a rehashing of something from a different decade) but the Sunday Times Style magazine succeeded this week in making me feel, ooh, quite tingly.

First they showed a fashion layout for now with figure hugging clothes. Not a smock or empire line to be seen! And how much sexier the models looked. Empire line, kaftans and smocks have been one of the worst trends for years. Unless you are tall with an ironing board figure (straight up and down, like Paris Hilton), empire line does you no favours. I've tried several variants but always end up looking like Abigail from Abigail's Party. This was particularly gutting when I was keen to buy a floral maxi dress to waft around in on my holiday.

So I'm pleased to see the return of the waist, missing for too long. Before the empire line we had the abomination of jeans and trousers cut miles below the waist, with teenagers flashing their "T" bone thongs, tattoos, muffin tops and God knows what else. And it wasn't just teenagers but women who should know better.

The Style magazine also featured some of the clothes and accessories for autumn. The return of black! Yippee. Gorgeous, gorgeous shoes - brogues with heels (I love those), Mary Janes, t-bars, in patents and metallics. Pencil skirts. Fitted jackets. All very yummy. At long last, a return to glamour. We will all look like laydeez!
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