Sunday, June 29, 2008

Joan and Kirsty

Was kept up much later than planned this evening because BBC 4 showed the entire set of Joan Armatrading performing at Glastonbury earlier this afternoon. K and myself had a brief chat a couple of weeks ago about Ms Armatrading and how she seemed to have disappeared. Speak of the devil and she shall reappear...

Watching her for the first time for about 20 years (!) I was reminded what a wonderful quirky songwriting talent she has. For a few years in the late 70s and early 80s she even sort of made it into the mainstream. There's a wonderful subtle quality to a lot of the melodies and her lyrics can be surprisingly sharp and poignant.

That got me thinking of Kirsty MacColl and, if she were still alive, how perfect she'd be for an occasional Glastonbury gig. Of course her music was very different to Joan's but they both seemed uncomfortable with the mainstream; scuttling for cover should any song make the top 30.

I miss them both; it's nice to see Joan back, if only for an afternoon.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


Did the annual trip to Wimbledon yesterday in the company of my grand slam buddy SG, who was over from France.

In the past couple of decades we’ve done Roland Garros twice, the US Open once, and now Wimbledon. We talk vaguely about completing a personal grand slam and visiting the Australian Open at some point in future.

And so much for all that – what about the tennis?

We started on an outside court where Jarkko Nieminen (seeded 24) was playing unseeded American Wayne Odesnik. Nieminen is a Finn and had attracted his own slightly bonkers fan club along. We found their chanting a bit irritating; if I were him I’d have told the fans to shut up. I love the outside courts at Wimbledon. Particularly in the first few days of the tournament you can see some really wonderful players compete at a distance closer than the hotshots in your local park. It’s also odd to see tennis courts without any form of chain-link fences; at Wimbledon they are have an immaculate sparse kind of beauty. I once crept to the edge of one of the outside courts at the end of a long day and ran my palm over the grass. It felt as smooth and level as a good quality carpet.

We stuck around for the best part of an hour and then drifted over past court No 9 where a women's singles match was in progress (see picture) and took our not particularly wonderful seats in Court No 1. Despite being up near the roof the view was good. Tennis stadiums (with the exception of the awful “Ashe Heap” in Flushing Meadows) have an intimacy that for obvious reasons football and cricket grounds lack.

First up was the brilliant but inconsistent Richard Gasquet, who at the age of nine featured on the cover of the French tennis association’s magazine. See him play when he’s on form and you can see why.

SG, who plays tennis to much higher standard than me, was seriously impressed by his languid ground strokes. His opponent was the bizarrely named Mardy Fish, a cool young dude who looks as if he’s left his surf board in the changing rooms.
The match set a pattern that became familiar for the rest of the afternoon. For four or six or even eight games, the unseeded Fish looked every inch the equal of seeded Gasquet. Then something happened and there’s a particularly outstanding shot followed by an unforced error or two and suddenly the break of serve is there and set is gone. Fish wasn’t humiliated or crushed or rolled over; it was more a case of a point here and a point there that were lost, followed by games followed by sets. Gasquet won 6-3, 6-4, 6-2. I later learned he reckoned it had been one of his best performances ever.

Next up was the icon of the WTA, the face and image of women’s tennis, Miss Maria Sharapova. A Russian with an especially creepy controlling and manipulative tennis dad called Yuri, she has the looks and height and figure of a catwalk model, something her many sponsors and the WTA exploit to the full. Interestingly, she’s far from popular with us tennis heads and two short sets in her company was more than enough for everyone on Court No 1.

So why is she so hard to like?

There’s the irritating shriek that accompanies every shot; this is probably gamesmanship as an important element of tennis is the sound the ball makes as it hits the opponents racquet. Flat hard shots make a loud POCK! slice shots make a kind of a zipping noise, and topspin is a mixture of both. Expert players use their ears as well as their eyes to anticipate the direction and speed of a shot. Maria’s theatrical shrieks drown out the sound of the shot and generally irritate.

Then there's her ugly habit of glaring at her opponent just before she serves; in fact the glare seems to be an intrinsic part of her serve action. It's a nasty unpleasant habit, unworthy in a player of Sharapova's status and ability.

Finally there’s her style of tennis, which is completely one dimensional and mindless. The tactic is to serve hard and fast, and hit shots hard and fast. And that’s it. No wonder opponents like Justine Henin were able to outplay and out think and out guess her.

Just to put the icing on the cake, Sharapova’s opponent was the unseeded Stephanie Foretz, once ranked 62 in the world and now down at 105. She was no match for Sharapova’s power and speed, at least not in this match, and was crushed 6-1, 6-4. Proponents for equal pay for women’s tennis (a battle the women have won) would have a hard time defending this ridiculous mismatch which seemed designed to highlight the lack of depth within the women's game now that Hingis has been forced into retirement and Henin and Clisters have both voluntarily hung up their racquets.

Back to the blokes, and had the ever charming and popular Andy Roddick was up next, playing a young Argentinian called Eduardo Schwank who was coming fresh from an impressive 3rd round at Roland Garros. He managed to give Roddick (whose serve was scary it's so fast and powerful) a good match, Roddick eventually winning 7-5,6-4,7-6. The match could easily have gone to four sets and both SG and myself feel we’ll be seeing more of Schwank soon – you heard it here first.

Women’s tennis was redeemed a little by the final match we saw on Court No 1, which featured the beautiful and charming Jelena Jankovic. She has a sense of humour and is almost unique among elite professional tennis players in that still seems to enjoy playing the game (separate from the joy of winning). Playing a decent opponent called Olga Savchuk, the match was a bit closer than the scoreline of 6-3, 6-2.

And that was that for another year. We dawdled back past the outside courts where a few matches continued in the dusk and made plans to visit again next year.

Wonderful game, wonderful institution, wonderful day. Lucky me!


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A Mere Trifle

When roGER was young, life was so shit that things like this were a treat.

Watched an interesting and witty program last night about Tudor cuisine.

The message seemed to be that British cusine, even for the richest members of society has always been warmed over shit with boiled cabbage.

But last week’s show, watched in the company of “K” was even better; our heros experienced 1970s cuisine.

It was quite a jolt to realise what a creature of that wretched decade I am. Among the 1970s foods that I still like very much (even though I’d be ashamed to order them in public now) are:
  • Prawn cocktail
  • Steak and chips
  • Black forest gateau
Talking after the program had ended, K added trifle to her list and then we both realised it had been at least 10 years since we last saw trifle or a sweet trolley.

Strange to suddenly notice how the culture changes in your own lifetime…

Thursday, June 05, 2008

The Story of Hillary Rodham Clinton and the Genie of the Lamp

In December 2000, after winning her first election to become the junior Senator from New York, Hillary Rodham Clinton was strolling alone on a beach in the Caribbean, thinking about her aspirations to become President.

As she neared the end of the beach, far away from her hotel, she noticed light reflecting off something rolling around in the surf. She walked into the waves and picked up what appeared to be an old, rusted lamp, with an inscription of some kind.

As she tried to rub some of the rust off to get a better look at the inscription, the lamp suddenly spewed a great cloud of smoke that animated itself in the form of a great genie. The following conversation ensued:

Genie: Who is it that has freed me from my long confinement?

HRC: Um, that’s me, Hillary Rodham Clinton. Who are you?

Genie: I am the Genie of the Lamp! Hillary Rodham Clinton, for doing me this great service, I grant you 12 wishes. What do you wish?

HRC: 12 wishes?!!? Really? Wow, you know, I really really want to be President of the United States, but I think 2004 is too soon for me, so I will be running in 2008. And I’m sure that by then the Republicans will have so ruined the country that there is no way a Democrat can lose, so I only have to claim the Democratic nomination to take the Presidency. So, here is my first wish Genie, in late 2007, I want to have a multi-million dollar lead in fundraising over my closest rival.

Genie: It will be done.

HRC: Oh, and in case that’s not enough, I also want Bill and I to have made, say, over $100 million between now and then.

Genie: That also is not a problem.

HRC: Great, also, I want my name to be the most recognizable name in Democratic politics at that time!

Genie: Of course.

HRC: Super. I’m glad I met you Genie. Let’s see, I also want my biggest rival for the nomination to be…African-American!

Genie: It shall be.

HRC: Oh, and let’s not only have him be African-American, but have him be of mixed racial heritage, with a white mother and African-American father.

Genie: As you wish.

HRC: What else, what else, oh! I also want his last name, well, maybe that’s too much, his middle name to be the same as someone the United States has gone to war with twice.

Genie: Easily doable.

HRC: Well maybe the last name thing wouldn’t be too much, how about this, I want his last name to be almost the same as that of the first name of the biggest terrorist in the world!

Genie: A simple matter.

HRC: This is fun! Okay, um, I also want him to have written an autobiography in which he admits to doing cocaine.

Genie: You are truly devious Hillary Rodham Clinton, so it shall be.

HRC: And I want him to have gone to a church with a pastor who says crazy things on videotape like “God-damn America!” and have that tape played over and over and over on national television.

Genie: I believe that’s two wishes, Hillary Rodham Clinton, both granted.

HRC: He should also have an absentee father who was a Muslim! No offense Genie.

Genie: None taken, a Muslim he shall be.

HRC: I want to start off the primary campaign with a huge lead in the superdelegates!

Genie: Done.

HRC: And finally, I want to be the Democratic Party’s nominee for President in 2008!

Genie: I’m sorry Hillary Rodham Clinton, but that is your 13th wish, you only have 12.

HRC: Oh. Well, that’s okay Genie, I’m sure with all those other wishes I’ll win easily in a landslide.


I have no idea who wrote this brilliant little tale; it was found in the comments section of a blog just now, posted by "Urgh" with no contact details.

It's wonderful that Hillary isn't the Democratic candidate; not because she would have been a bad president - I think she'd have been excellent. No my problem with Hillary was just how much the right (and I don't mean just the extreme right) really HATE her in a deep visceral kind of way. Nominating Hillary would have meant millions of Republicans and centerists disgusted and angry after 8 years of George W Fuckwit, would have troubled themselves to drive to the polling booths and pull the lever for john McCain. Now such people will stay at home and (best case scenario) some of the centerists will be drawn to Obama and vote for him.

So... for the record I'm predicting Barack Obama will be the next President of the United States.


Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Oil supply