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Archive for May, 2008

The French

It can’t be often that a man (or even a wildebeest) returns from Paris with a drastically improved view of the French people, but I think I MAY have done just that.

I am second to none in my dislike of the French: their rudeness, indolence and self-regard, but this recent trip saw my attitude shift somewhat, possibly at the hands of service SO excellent that I would have had to have been an inanimate block not to have reconsidered.

We were staying at The Crillon, which was pretty magnificent, but the real acid test was that at 9.15pm, when Wife and I were drinking in the bar, we asked one of the waiters if there was anywhere outside the hotel where we could eat. Despite it being late (for Paris) he went away and made a reservation at a restaurant that was a five minute walk, for ten minutes thence.

And when we got there, we had one of the best meals I have ever had. As Wife pointed out, the French idea of service is perfect invisibility, whereas the UK is too keen to follow in the obnoxious American model of “Is everything OK for you, guys?” as the first forkful goes towards your mouth, and the “Let’s be friends” chumminess that makes the idea of a service charge feel like offering one’s friends £20 to go to the pub with you…

So, the French have some way to go with me (something that will sadden them greatly, no doubt), but they have put on a jolly good show of late, and can count themselves as being on the first rung of the ladder of acceptance.

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I know this comment isn’t really “on” – but as we sit here “en famille”, I can’t help but notice the striking resemblance between the youngest of the Von Trapp daughters and the red-hooded dwarf murderess who appears to such striking effect at the end of “Don’t Look Now”. I wonder if there is an obvious “hommage” at play in Roeg’s masterpiece, or if it’s just a happy accident…

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There is someone on youtube.com who has made it his work to transfer some of the jewels of the BBC’s dramatic output of the last thirty years onto that site, and I would like to shake him by the hand and/or buy him a doughnut.

Thus it is that The Theban Plays by Sophocles (with a cast including Juliet Stevenson, Claire Bloom and John Gielgud) and The Trojan Women (starring Genevieve Bujold, Katharine Hepburn and Vanessa Redgrave (as well as, slightly improbably, Brian Blessed…) are up there to view on his site. What have the BBC done with these rare treasures, some of the greatest works of culture, brought to life by some of the greatest actors of the last century? They have deleted them.

No doubt they have hung onto the stuff that really matters: things like “Noel’s House Party”, “Goodnight Sweetheart” and early transmissions of “Pebble Mill”, but, I mean: WHAT? I am not being a high culture snob, but to quote Hanif Kureishi and one of my favourite comments ever (made by him during a Radio 4 debate on “High Culture and Popular Culture, addressed to some Piers Morgan/ Mark Frith type idiot): “I’m sorry, but opera IS better than “Just Seventeen”, it just IS.”

What the hell do the BBC think they’re doing? Rather than deleting this stuff, they should be transferring it to DVD and selling it to raise some money (and anyone who thinks there isn’t a market out there would do well to look at the upsurge in the study of Classics at schools and universities all over the country recently; as well as considering all those people who would simply enjoy this kind of feast on its own dramatic terms). No doubt it contravenes some kind of ludicrous “exclusivity” clause – maybe whichever cretin instituted that would like to consider the best-selling football song of all time: not “Three Lions”, not “World in Motion”, not “On Top of the World”, but “Nessun Dorma”.

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Wife is on a purging mission. If I didn’t know better, I would assume that she was eight months pregnant and the famous “nesting instinct” had kicked in in reverse. I came upon her (not like that, it’s not that kind of blog…) sweating and carting around bagfuls of toys and books for the charity shop, having just purged Eldest Son’s bedroom. Established readers will remember that Youngest Son has – fairly recently – been subjected to a monastic style of living, imposed on him for kicking my father, so there was no need to go through that exercise again for him.

Spurred on, I decided to follow her example and set up about re-arranging the furniture in our bedroom, in advance of the builders turning up to install an en suite bathroom in there (amongst other things). Thus were unearthed ancient piles of dust, letters from British Airways, and (as ever) about £300 worth of taxi receipts. Things are now re-arranged, so that the bedhead is no longer surmounted by the Masaccio book jacket poster, but by an engraving of St. John’s College, Oxford – which means that my suspicions that I will one day be killed by a falling picture in the night will have an excitingly ironic “Jude The Obscure” build to them.

The ottoman is in the bay window (where it can absorb what little heat emanates from the radiator there, and the wall that used to house the bed now enjoys (in Estate Agent Speak) a chest of drawers, an armchair and a butler’s table with Wife’s Grandmother’s Russian correspondence box upon it. So, now you know what our bedroom looks like – apart from the fucking great hole in the ceiling, from when the bathroom above flooded and STILL hasn’t been repaired. Anyway, the renovation of the whole house is starting reasonably soon – so it makes sense to get the same builders to everything (or so I keep pretending to myself, every time I look at the ceiling which lends our rather beautiful bedroom an unwelcome Dostoyevskyan air).

Wife was pleased by the transformation. I know this because her comment on my three hours of puffing and sweating was: “The ottoman looks better there.”

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Normally, this is something that we say to one of the children when they start using words like “Toilet”, “Ta” or “Night night”: the middle-class enzyme kicks in and we defend our vocabulary as if it were our fortress (and now is not the time to go into the fact that “vocabulary IS our fortress, ackshooally, Crispin…”).

However, there was something of a greater imperative at work the other day, when Youngest Son came in to talk to Wife and me.

“Daddy, I have got some good news.” (This is his opener to cover a range of positive events from “I have not wet my nappy” to “Third World debt has been cancelled”)

“Oh yes, what’s that, darling?”

“Well, I have tidied up the sofa.”

“That’s very kind of you darling.”

“Yes, because before that it looked like shit.”

“What did you say?”

“It. Looked. Like. Shit.”

“What was that last word?”

“SHIT.”

“We don’t use that word, darling.”

“Oh. I didn’t know.”

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I have had an absolute show-down with Travesty Of All Things Gay.

Working with him is like trying to do your job, while at home there is a girlfriend who keeps phoning to say “I’m going to slit my wrists”, following up fifteen minutes later with “I’m going to take an overdose”. I think he doesn’t like how smoothly everything is going (we’ve had a series of excellent meetings, the common theme of which has been that he wasn’t THERE) without him, and so takes revenge by throwing in little bombs of “I want to have a 7am breakfast meeting!”, “I want to talk about Masterbrand. At MIDNIGHT!”, “I don’t agree with the proposition!” whenever he can.

My coping strategy has been pretty straightforward: “Ignore Him” – but unfortunately, that isn’t tenable in the long-term, so we had a conversation, which I think he thought was going to be about how he wanted to run things, but which was actually run more on the lines of “This is what you will be doing, Travesty Of All Things Gay”. Once he saw the way that things were going, he started nodding along and saying “I think that sounds absolutely great.” – but I can’t pretend that the way I was talking really gave him much alternative.

We’ll have to see how things go – but I don’t expect a Christmas card…

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This has been an absolute shitter of a week, with so much to do that I have started workdays at 5am, and finished at 11pm on three occasions. Add to that a trip to Milan, and it’s no surprise that I’ve just had 14 hours’ sleep, and am looking forward to this Bank Holiday Weekend like a man looking forward to the end of his gaol sentence.

Tuesday sees me going up to Port Sunlight for a meting, and then to Paris on Wednesday and Thursday for research groups. On the decided plus side, I’m staying at Le Crillon and Wife is coming with me, while the children are looked after by my parents – so she is currently planning an itinerary that would make the Bank Manager blench…

I went out for drinks with Old Friend At Work after we finished up (now that she has been elevated to the Worldwide planning group, her office is opposite mine, so we can do semaphore for “Let Us Leave This Place In Search of Champagne” through the glass walls), and with pleasing predictability, we ended up sobbing about Shakespeare and comparing different plays, as we shouted out iambic pentameters.

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