Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Too many Kims

These socialists like to keep things in the family, so only a few days after the Labour Party members were told that they could have any leader they wanted as long as it was a Miliband comes news that North Korea's next leader will be called Kim. Well there's a surprise.

Kim Jong-un's promotion to four-star general, in association with the first meeting of Korea's ruling party for 30 years, effectively endorsed Kim as the heir to his father, Kim Jong-il, who had himself succeeded his father Kim Il-sung.

I can understand wanting to keep the same name for your leader. Saves having to change the stamps for a start, but it is a bit unimaginative to stay within the family. There are plenty of other Kims out there to lead North Korea. Perhaps Kim Cattrall would be a bit too saucy, but what about Kim Beazley, the former Australian deputy PM who was known as Bomber Beazley for his love of miltary hardware?

Personally, though, I'd go for Kim Barnett, the former Derbyshire and England opening batsman. His leadership record - two one-day trophies with an under-resourced county - is much better than anything Kim Jong-un could offer and anyone who can carry off the bald head and moustache look with such panache will clearly go places in the Communist party.

Kim Philby would offer good communist credentials, too, and being dead for 22 years need not be a barrier to employment. After all, Kim Il-sung is still regarded as the Eternal President.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Just because he's more shiny

Some people say that the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) is hideously middle-class, the realm of pushy well-off parents who would rather pay for their antenatal classes than mix with the riff-raff on the free NHS courses and have no interest in the pursuits of the common man.

Nonsense. Why you can't get more in touch with the masses than the gathering of men from my NCT antenatal class on Saturday afternoon. There we stood at 4.30pm on the touchline of the rugby club, a thoroughly proletariat gathering of doctors, lawyers, bankers, academics and journalists, all checking our iPhones for news of the Labour leadership contest.

So shocking was the result that it quite put us off discussing house-prices, the cost of nannies and other topics of working-class discourse. Ed Miliband? Mili Minor? But he's only about 17. Even the socialist in our group (who lives in a nicer street than the rest of us, naturally) was aghast.

If we were shocked, David Miliband must have been thoroughly walloped by the news. Still, at least he's got a first from Oxford, which is what my wife always tells me when I beat her at Scrabble.

Marbury has a rather nice piece imagining the conversation that David might have had on Sunday with that great love of his life, Hillary Clinton:
Madam Secretary, we have David Miliband on the line

HC: David! How are you?

DM: OK, how can I explain this. You remember 2008?

HC: Do I remember it? You mean, do I remember the year in which I finally applied for the job I'd spent my whole life preparing for; the job for which I'd sacrificed so much, for which I'd slogged and scraped and sweated and self-erased; the job which was mine, which everyone said was going to be mine, because the way was clear now, the time was right; the job for which I felt readier than I'd ever felt for anything? Only for some young guy with next-to-no experience, this guy who seems like he's fresh out of school, who talks nice and tells everyone in the party what they want to hear and who opposed the Iraq war when he had nothing at stake - well I mean whoopy-doo, if I'd been a nobody at the time I might have been against it - this guy, who the media wet themselves over because he's so pretty and empathetic and wow, isn't he shiny - this guy saunters up and rips it out of my hands? Out of my fucking hands? Yes, I remember 2008, David. Why?

DM: Same thing happened to me. But that guy? My kid brother.

HC: Ooooooh. That's bad. That's really bad

Some call me the gangster of love

So, it's Ed. Now that the dust has settled in his family feud with big bro David, time for a reminder of the only Miliband that really matters: Steve.

If Ed needs some speechwriting tips - and after his ghastly "I get it" effort on Saturday, I think he does - he could look no farther than the lyrics to Steve Miliband's greatest hit: "I'm a joker, I'm a smoker, I'm a midnight toker. I get my loving on the run."

Or how about "Lovey-dovey, lovey-dovey, lovey-dovey all the time. Oo-ee baby, I'll sure show you a good time."
It beats Ed's "The Labour Party in the future must be a vehicle that doesn't just attract thousands of young people but tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of young people."

And if he can get the words "pompitous of love" in to a speech, I may just vote for him.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

At Hyde Park

I went to Hyde Park for the Papal Vigil last night, a beautiful, moving ceremony even for a non-Catholic like myself and marred only slightly by the enormous Irish family behind us who insisted on talking during the homily and the others who chose to leave early during the recessional.

I guess some people only go to church to tick it off, to tot up God points in the hope of gaining access to heaven. Showing respect for what is being enacted or for those around them is not considered. "Ah, we've seen the Pope now, why do we need to listen to him?"

My objection to Catholicism - indeed to much of religion - is that too many worshippers don't think about why they are there or consider the messages that are being passed on. There is beauty - although even that seems wasted on some - but too rarely brains.

Oh well, each to his own. I attended with my family (mother and sister are Catholic) out of respect for the Pope as a world leader, a religious leader and an historical figure worth listening to. I'm not sure how many Catholics would extend the same respect to the Queen or the Archbishop of Canterbury, but hypocrisy has always walked hand in hand with religion.

What I found particularly heartening at Hyde Park, though, was how lax the security was. Although strictly told to bring photo ID, we were waved through without needing to produce it. The only ticket was a hand-written name on a piece of paper that was barely examined and the stewards who checked our bags did so swiftly and not too thoroughly.

This is a GOOD thing. Not only did it mean that there were not enormous queues to get in, but it showed respect for the pilgrims and faith that they were there with good intentions. I see so often, particularly at sports events, stewards getting needlessly invasive with their body checks, treating the paying public all as would-be criminals.

They say that it is for our own protection, but I would rather leave it to the security services than grunts in yellow jackets. People generally are harmless and if evil men wish to attack us, they will find a way to do so.

Of course, we hardly fitted the profile of a would-be terrorist anyway, but that has not stopped stewards at sports grounds poking through bags as if everyone were trying to smuggle in Semtex with their smoked salmon.

One of the most dispiriting scenes I ever witnessed was at the Oval a few years ago where three stewards were gathering around an elderly man, trying to sniff a bottle of pop that had been in his bag to see if he had laced it with alcohol. Even if he had, he was hardly a trouble-maker.

It suggested that the Oval had no respect for its public. At least the Catholic church trusts people to behave. If only all people returned that faith.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Cringe of the day

An Alan Partridge - or perhaps, more appropriately, Richard Whiteley - moment in BBC News 24's coverage of the Papal Visit today. Carol Vorderman, that noted intellectual, spiritual leader and distributor of numbers on afternoon TV, was invited to run through what the Holy Father would be doing today.

"We thought you would be the right person to tell us," the BBC presenter said, "because it's a countdown we're doing to the vigil, isn't it?"

Yuck, yuck, yuckety yuck. I could expect that on Sky or GMTV, but not the BBC please.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Equal rights

The Times moved to a new office last week, just down the road while they refurbish Castle Greyskull, the monstrous fortress constructed by Ruper Murdoch in the mid-1980s. Our new lair at Thomas More Square is newer, flasher, smaller and a bit closer to Waitrose. There are pros and cons.

But one of the big cons, for men at least, is that we have to remember to take our security pass with us when we go to the toilet. The ladies can just waltz straight in and do whatever they take so long over doing in the ladies restroom, but the men's loos are, for some reason, next to a service elevator and so for some spurious security reason you can only access it with a swipecard.

I've not yet heard anyone whistling "Oh dear what can the matter be" after leaving their card behind and finding themselves locked in the lavatory, but it is bound to happen soon. Women may feel that there is a long way to go before there is equality in the workplace, but in this one area they have it so much easier.


There is also (oh the excitement) a new canteen for us to use, where the food for the past week and a bit has been free. I'm not sure why. One of the management bods said that it would make people better disposed towards the canteen rather than going to Waitrose or the pub for lunch.

Either way, free grub is not to be sniffed at. I saw one colleague filling a bag with a dozen KitKats. "For the children's lunchboxes," he explained. I suspect it will not be free for long.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Blitz spirit

A grocers at 43 Southwark Park Road was the first to get it during the Blitz. An incendiary bomb dropped on the roof at eight minutes past midnight on September 7, 1940. This was followed two minutes later by damage to a bakers a few doors down the road.

But the Blitz started relatively quietly. By 5pm, only 100 bombs had fallen on London. Then the barrage really started: 348 German bombers targeted the city, with more than 600 fighters protecting them. It must have been hell.

By midnight at the end of the first day of the Blitz, 843 incidents of damage had been logged by the London Fire Service, the latest an explosion in Poplar in East London in which 57 houses were damaged. Still, they had it easy. Seventy years on we've got a Tube strike in London.

The Guardian has the full list of damage on Day 1 of the Blitz and, very coolly, has mapped them on a Google satellite image of London so you can see where the bombs fell.

On that first day, bombs fell on Walerand Road and St Austell Road, just round the corner from where I live now, and on Garnet St in East London where I first lived when I moved to London. Yet somehow they missed the Millennium Dome.

My house has an old bomb-watching platform on the roof, where people must have stood during the Blitz and looked out for the sign of possible devastation. Next door is a postwar council block, one of the few non-Victorian buildings on the street. I can only assume that one night during the Blitz someone stood on the roof of my house and thought "shit, that's going to be close..."