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

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Friday, September 21, 2007

Reflections on a successful city centre rejuvenation

I'm back from a week's holiday in Devon (my ancestral home) where I did various sightseeing trips with my mum. We went to some of our favourite haunts, among them Buckfast Abbey and Roadford Lake, on the A30 between Launceston and Okehampton. More of that in a moment.

I also went into Plymouth city centre for the first time in about three years. What a transformation!

I was brought up in Plymouth, trained there as a journalist and worked as a reporter for BBC Radio Devon when it opened, so I was fascinated to see how the city centre has changed. Drake Circus, a 60s shopping centre, had become a very ugly and rundown part of the town, and I feared that lack of investment, following the cruel scything of Devonport Dockyard, was going to consign Plymouth, once an elegant city, to a deteriorating backwater of charity and pound shops.

The new Drake Circus mall puts paid to these fears. Architecturally it is very bold and brave. I am impressed that Plymouth was confident enough to go for something so distinctive and memorable, rather than the apologetic architecture you usually see in malls.

As you approach the bombed ruins of Charles Church, a permanent memorial to the war where Plymouth suffered terrible devastation, you see gold panels flanking the church and showcasing it in a new way. And then the mall continues to surprise, with chunky glass and granite decoration along the side walls. Meanwhile the newly built Plymouth University rises up beyond the mall and sits in an area which used to look horribly shabby but now looks proud and modern. Bravo Plymouth! All that needs to happen now is some investment at the bottom end of town - Colin Campbell Court - which is looking very rundown and apparently suffers because visitors only go to the better part.

Back to the solitary beauty of Roadford lake. Roadford is actually a reservoir but it was created very sympathetically and is a peaceful haven and magnet for wildlife and birds. The photo shows the sun glinting on the lake with the tea room and visitor centre in the top right. The conference/visitor centre is fairly new but was added very inobtrusively, and means that the tea room is now open for longer in the year, which is excellent.

Start your trip with a light lunch in the tea room, where you'll find an excellent selection of delicious home cooked food. You may be lucky enough to be served by Shirley Maynard, who's worked there since it opened in 1990. She always remembers us. My dad and I used to love visiting the beautiful reservoirs of Devon and Cornwall. Roadford was a particular favourite, though I'm surprised it ever got built, such was the force of opposition from the "nimbys" and protestors. I hope they have eaten their words over the years, having seen how South West Water more than fulfilled its commitment to create a lake of beauty.

After lunch, set off on one of the walks. Some are marked suitable for wheelchairs; there are long walks and short walks. We walked to the bird hide, where we have yet to actually see a bird, but it makes a nice detour from the path. Unfortunately there's no longer a visitor book in the bird hide. We used to enjoy reading the various comments about what people had seen, including galloping herds of wildebeest sweeping majestically across the plain.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

An end to the career of Jim Davidson

This summer I successfully weaned myself off Big Brother, and didn't watch one minute of the old tripe. I suspect I'm not alone there, based on its dwindling viewing figures. The only reason Channel 4 keep it going is that advertisers like the demographic profile of the mostly teenage viewers.

I haven't turned my back on trash completely, I'm afraid to say, although I have decided not to get a Sunday tabloid any longer. I've always had the News of the World and the Sunday Times, apparently the most popular combo. But the NOTW has gone so much downhill that it nowdays has very little news or crusading journalism and I don't want to read about bimbo models and which "celebrity" footballers they managed to dupe into bed. Even the quality of scandal has gone downhill. Their few exclusives come when they dress up as sheiks and deceive people.

On the subject of trash, I've also been watching Hell's Kitchen this year. To start with, I just wanted to see what Marco Pierre White is like, as he's never done TV before. He's a very successful chef and businessman with several successful restaurants to his name, and he famously made Gordon Ramsay cry.

To start with, I thought he was fascinating: very charismatic and an inspiring leader. But as the days have gone by, I've got disillusioned with his daily pep talks and how he keeps repeating the same phrases: "allow me to take you by the hand and guide you," "keep pushing," "nature is an artist."

Plus he became very friendly with the repugnant Jim Davidson, the former comedian. I have to question Marco's judgment here. Last night Davidson was sent packing after his homophobic attacks on Brian Dowling. What made it particularly distasteful to watch was that Davidson justifies his attacks with arguments that he is now in a minority (fat middle-aged misogynist and homophobic bigots inc) and where does he, and those with the same views, go from here? He asserts that now we are all "PC" you cannot express any views these days without getting into trouble.

Yes and no. Firstly, he used to have a big following and he's now struggling to find work. What does that tell you? We are tired of his brand of humour and his risque and repulsive jokes. And that's not just the "PC" among us but his target audience, presumably a lot of whom were middle aged men.

Secondly, I'm against "PC" when it becomes ridiculous, but I do believe that everyone is entitled to respect and dignity. We must put an end to people being bullied or humiliated. Where I do resent the "PC" culture is when it comes to loony left wing councils and organisations and ridiculous court judgments. Two examples: a loony council recently failed to challenge two homosexual men who were accused of abusing the children they fostered, purely on the grounds that they didn't want to make it look as if they were persecuting homosexuals. And then there was the RAF typist who received massive damages for injuring a finger while typing, while the most horribly injured soldier to ever recover received a derisory sum that won't pay for his care for the rest of his life.

ITV took too long to step in to evict Davidson. The bullying was even more loathsome than that suffered by Shilpa Shetty in Celebrity Big Brother. We shouldn't even have had to see and hear Davidson's unsavoury and prejudiced views. Hopefully now the death knell has been sounded for his career and we won't see him again. He'll go into the trash can occupied by Michael Barrymore and John Leslie (and until recently, Bernard Manning). Brian Dowling, meanwhile, will now probably win Hell's Kitchen.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Try this instead of counting sheep

My drives to Swindon, once or twice a week, are very LONG - usually two and a half hours each way - and if Sarah Kennedy and Chris Evans, for some reason, are not behind the mic on Radio 2, I have to find other ways to amuse myself (I don't listen to a stand-in).

Sometimes listening to CDs is good, but not if I forget to change them. I also keep an eye out for Bailey's Equine Nose Bags - their lorries seem to make the same journey as me, starting on the M25 at 6am and heading down the M4.

And then there's the filmstar game. Now this is far better than counting sheep. What I do is imagine that I'm casting the biggest, starriest film ever. Every filmstar currently living is featuring in my film. It's easy enough to come up with the superstars, but you have to think of older actors, those who used to be famous but haven't been seen, plus foreign actors who crop up in Almodovar films.

I'm always very chuffed when I remember stars who used to be big, or at least well-known, like Theresa Russell and Debra Winger.

I usually have a full roster of British talent in my film (naturally).If I'm really bored - ie stuck n roadworks - I start to cast them alphabetically.

I find it very amusing to imagine what it would be like having Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida, Joan Collins and Lauren Bacall coming face-to-face with each other.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

The Underrated Mr Almond

You know how, when you're in a hotel in Europe, you find yourself glued to the BBC World Service because it's either that or CNN? Well, in Cyprus recently, I found myself watching an interview on the World Service with Marc Almond. And I thought: what a nice guy. He was very candid and very likeable. Not at all starry.

When he was in his heyday with hits "Tainted Love" and "Say Hello Wave Goodbye" I wasn't wild about him. I quite liked those songs, but I wasn't a fan. I didn't check out his music or concerts. Then a couple of years ago I came across a greatest hits compilation and I was amazed at the purity of his voice. The most amazing voice, such clear diction you can hear every word. You can really sense heartache, joy or whatever emotion is relevant about each song.

I've just downloaded his latest album, "Stardom Road," which is a collection of cover versions but each uniquely done. I particularly like his version of "London Boys," one of David Bowie's little known early songs.

A very under-rated artist in my humble opinion.
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