Showing posts from January, 2010

Sweet and sour: where the Quaker cocoa went

If I were going to make a TV documentary about the Cadbury-Kraft affair, I’d certainly want to include footage of Margaret Thatcher’s visit to the English confectioners’ home in Bourneville, just outside Birmingham (that’s Warwickshire, UK, not Alabama, USA).
She went there in April, 1979, at the start of her victorious battle to become UK Prime Minister. This campaign has been described as Britain’s first “television election”, and Mrs T and her advisers understood exactly what was entailed: instead of talking about politics, she travelled to picturesque places and did vigorous, picturesque things in picturesque costumes, simply because this is what television needed her to do.
She wore a white coat and hat. So did the parliamentary sketch writer, Frank Johnson, “and about a hundred television and press photographers and reporters,” as he remembers in his delicious memoir, Best Seat in the House: “the whole effect resembled a lunatic asylum in which the doctors had themselves gone bers…

The most extraordinary blog you’ll ever read

We live in an age of ludicrous hyperbole. I just pushed a supermarket trolley with a banner on it for an instant coffee which didn’t say “good coffee”, but, in gold letters, “GLOWING WITH POLYPHENOL ANTIOXIDANTS.”
As trolley, banner and I moved along a gently-sloping travelator outside the store, loudspeakers shouted warnings at us which would have been apt had we been roped on the Old Man of Hoy.
(I just googled Old Man of Hoy to make sure he wasn’t Hoye and got a sponsored link offering to “Find the Best Results for Pictures Of Old Men!” - What?)
You too will have encountered the assistant who stares at you with weary indifference or borderline hostility beneath a sign assuring you that he or she is “passionate about customer service.”
My journeys on the C2 bus in London NW1 and NW5 were recently enlivened by signs urging me to “Love Your Local High Street!”
Now, Kentish Town Road has a certain, time-warped idiosyncrasy and charm: the Owl Bookshop, sticking two literate fingers up…

Unnatural signs and wonders?

The redwings swept in from distant countryside, birds I hadn’t seen since I lived on the edge of Dartmoor, twenty or so years ago. They swarmed onto a chestnut tree behind my back wall before stripping a nearby hollybush of all its berries, and moving on.
(Driving across the moor at Christmastime we had every species of weather in an hour: December sunshine, clear and bright as brass, a snowstorm, sleet, rain, and a giddy ascent into the clouds near Vixen Tor. Lapwings, yes, but I never saw a redwing, although at that moment I’d forgotten I remembered them, if you see what I mean.)
Now I briefly got one of those Shakespearean fits: what did it portend, this surge of country birds into the middle of London? The fall of the House of Windsor? The return of Edgar Allan Poe? The re-election of Gordon Brown?
It was the freeze that brought them, of course, a matter of survival. But, as I watched through binoculars, their presence connected me to half-forgotten bits and pieces of my past: a chan…

Cardboard guns and a babble of bias

As we UK citizens surfaced through the ice into 2010, British politicians began wheeling out and firing their heavy artillery. Actually, that’s how they want to make it seem, but isn’t really the case. What’s happening is, the politicians wheel out big, gun-shaped tubes of cardboard and the media take turns to shout “bang!” Then you get a long shrapnel crackle of voters jabbering on the radio phone-in shows.
Can we stand four months (or more) of this? Of Punch Brown and Judy Cameron stertorously and inanely claiming and counter-claiming, maligning and counter-maligning, with intermittent yaps from Toby Clegg? Four months (or more) in which the media collude and pretend that all this meaningless vapour is real smoke and ordnance in a textbook case of what Jay Rosen memorably described as the “lame formula” of “he said, she said journalism” – as opposed to reporters and commentators saying “look, the economy is prone and blue, so it doesn’t matter who says what or who wins, because whate…