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

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Friday, July 25, 2008

Privacy laws? Good idea

The Daily Mail and the News of the World are unlikely bedfellows but today, following the hearing in which Max Mosley won his privacy case against the News of the World, the Mail and the other papers are screeching about how it might pave the way for draconian privacy laws.


Now this wouldn't have been my stance a few years ago. As a trained journalist, I was all for freedom of the press and proud of the press we had in the UK.

But now? Well, the papers didn't even seem repentant last week when Robert Murat won half a million pounds because they made up stories about him in connection with the Madeleine McCann case. Yes, made up stories. Unheard of a few years ago except in papers like the Sunday Sport.

The truth is that Britain's press has become entirely inconsequential. How many papers honestly have world exclusives these days? How many genuinely reveal stories that are in the public's interest (rather than providing titillation, in the case of the NOTW, and the Mail in its salacious repeating of the story today)?

Answers on a postcard.

Recently I mentioned to a French colleague how our papers, including the broadsheets who are frankly just as bad, swoon over Carla Bruni's every move. She gave a shrug and said the French weren't bothered about Madame Sarkozy. Nor were they bothered when President Mitterand's mistress turned up at his funeral. They didn't care that he had a mistress, if they knew at all. Imagine what would happen here. I do remember in fact "Paddy Pantsdown" as the memorable headline which ended the career in UK politics of Paddy Ashdown.

A few privacy laws might do us all some good. It might free celebrities and royalty from paraparazzi everywhere they go, and put an end to the cruelty of pictures appearing in national papers pointing out celebrity cellulite or "curves."

Maybe with less trivia in the papers they would have to go back to being proper journalists, stop rehashing stories from their competitors (on Mondays the Daily Mail serves up everything that was in the Sunday Times) and stop trying people before their cases have been heard in court (let me suggest a couple of names: Robert Murat, Colin Stagg).

Finally, I heard the NOTW's lawyer bleating yesterday that Mosley wasn't fit to shake the hands of royalty around the world and lead the F1 gravy train. Oh yes? And I'm sure that the overpaid pampered men who live and work in the F1 world, with access to dozens of eager groupies, are all squeaky clean! Next joke please.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

A quintessentially English experience

Last night we went to a Picnic in the Park at Kenwood House in leafy Hampstead.

It was an experience as English as you can possibly get: hundreds of people shaking out their picnic rugs and unloading luscious picnics, mainly from M&S and Waitrose (I was picnic spotting). No youths bearing knives, except possibly plastic ones. Recession what recession - I saw numerous bottles of champagne and other fine wines. No bottles of Mateus Rose in Hampstead, that's for sure.

We collected our picnic having ordered it in advance from Carluccio's. Last time we went to Kenwood for a Picnic in the Park (two years ago) the hamper supplier was Marks & Spencer. I have to say that the Carluccio's hamper, at £45, was not good value. It was not very carefully packed and one of the bottles of water had leaked so the two paper plates were sodden. The contents were a bit hit and miss too. Too much rocket for my liking and everything seemed to be swimming in a patina of olive oil.

I've resolved to take my own picnic next year so we can have our favourite yummies. For me, quiche, kettle chips, Scotch egg and an egg custard tart. J is a man of simple tastes and would probably be satisfied with a ham and coleslaw roll and maybe a chicken breast to gnaw on (he is not a leg man).

Anyway the concert was superb - Summer Proms with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Lots of favourites: Sousa's Semperfidelis (the theme tune for Plymouth Argyle FC), Elgar's Nimrod (which always chokes me up, as it reminds me of my dad) and finally the 1812 Overture, regrettably without fireworks. A very enjoyable evening. I am trying to persuade J that we should go to Last Night of the Proms at Kenwood on August 23, but I fear that the deckchair and the cold has put him off until next year.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Flying with the shysters

We're back from our annual summer sojourn, and this year it was to the Greek island of Rhodes.
A splendid holiday was enjoyed. The hotel - Rodos Park Hotel - was superb; its location, near Old Town, was excellent, and we were blown away by the architecture. I hadn't expected Rhodes to have such stunning examples of medieval roads, not to mention the fortresses and castles from more recent (but still distant) times.

Only a couple of black spots. The first was the unrelenting commercialism of some of the restaurants in Old Town. We found three that were delightful, Fotis (the best fresh fish), Archodiko (very exuberant host and home cooking) and Odyssey (a superb oaky chardonnay was discovered). But there was one restaurant that defied belief. We had noticed some really tall buildings with rooftop diners and several levels of dining. We decided to try one, but once ushered into the building found we had to trudge up the steps in a very shabby staircase, and once at rooftop level, found there was no escape.
The tables were very close together, the other diners were looking round crossly (looking for the waiters we subsequently discovered) and there was a general atmosphere of discontent.
The three waiters were harried and stressed. The meal itself was dreadful. I wanted moussaka but it only came as a starter (which baffled me, because most restaurants would simply offer to provide a bigger portion as a main course), so I quickly opted for kleftico which I normally love. But it was inedible, and cost an amazing 34 euros! My starter was given to the wrong table; the water only came in small bottles. Everyone seemed to be challenging their bills and calling for the waiters.

So that was one bad experience. The other was the return flight with Easyjet. When I booked the holiday originally, the carrier was BA, but unfortunately the route was later sold to Easyjet. I don't usually mind them too much as long as you buy speedy boarding so that you can bypass the awful stampede. But they really surpassed themselves on the flight home.
It was due to leave at 11pm. We were all herded into the gate area (although the screens at Rhodes were not working so no-one knew which gate it was). 11pm came and went. No announcements, no staff to ask. Eventually there was an announcement from Easyjet to claim refreshments for the delayed flight. A stampede ensued for a flattened cheese sandwich and bottle of water. Another announcement wrongly said boarding was about to commence, but we couldn't see a plane. Nonethless there was another stampede. About an hour and a half later we did board (huge stampede this time because it was a different gate) and the captain gave the usual sob story about defective planes, planes flying from Heraklion etc etc, and then added that this was a brand new plane about to make its first commercial flight, and he had had problems with it earlier in the day. Too much information! I am an easy flier but I found myself gripping the seat as we took off, and familiarising myself with the emergency exit which we were sitting next to (having purchased, judiciously, speedy boarding).
My elder bruder and I always used to refer to Easyjet as the shysters, and it does suit them. If only they had made some sort of announcement or apology at the airport instead of leaving us stewing. We finally landed at 4.30am instead of the promised 1.00am and were home by 6am on Sunday.
Would we go there again? Well we might. But J seems to have a long haul hankering and I'd like to go somewhere more unspoilt - perhaps Croatia? So we'll see.
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