Monday, 25 January 2010

Staw portrays himself as a Doubting Thomas

Did Jack Straw burnish or tarnish his image at the Chilcot hearings yesterday? One the one hand he described doubts that most of us hope our senior politicians have when making the gravest of decisions. Apparently, he expressed these doubts to Blair and others in the cabinet; unlike Campbell last week, he appears not to have sworn fealty to his then boss. Blair will have to explain why he disagreed with his Foreign Secretary. But ultimately the arguments convinced him. Straw supported the war, rigorously, if I remember.

The former Foreign Secretary can be wily with his words – he’s a lawyer after all. His Chilcot performance will have been planned to portray himself exactly how he wants to be portrayed.

Monday, 11 May 2009

My parallel lives

Parallel me had better be having a bloody good time of it. Because if there is not a parallel me maxing out on supermodels whilst saving the world – christ, I hope he’s not like Bono – then what on earth am I doing here?
I like to think that I occupy this pinnacle of middle ground semi-achievement for a reason; that in my own small way I ensure the space time continuum fully functions, allowing my other selves to fly headlong at the sun.
At least I’m not that other me, Apprentice contestant me, who’d sell cyanide to children for profit – sale or return. Or, the other, other me: drop-out me who inhaled that teenage spliff a little too deep and didn’t look back – or forwards for that matter – and has loafed on a Goan beach for the last twenty years. Buff, bronzed Olympian me might be interesting for a medal or two, but I’d get bored with the fitness regime and end up wallowing in a blubbery middle-age aftermath. Politician me? No thanks. School teacher me, controlling delinquent teenagers? Very worthy, but I only just survived my own adolescence. Maybe there is a me who summoned the courage to ask Sharon Tindale to dance at the school disco.
Presumably, our parallel selves are born, and expire, together. This may explain the continued existence of Keith Richards. Maybe core Keith is a suburban Gran who will be baking cakes until she reaches 93, not quite knowing why she taps her foot when a Stones riff comes on the radio All the Keiths will expire at once when she finally drifts off, having baked her last victoria sponge.
Once time up has been called for me and my Parallels, we’ll all gather at bar cloud nine and tell our tales over a cocktail or two. Mountaineer me will explain what losing a finger to frostbite at 13,000 feet feels like. Botanist me will tell of Borneo leeches found under foreskins. Modern artist me will explain how the meaning of life can be found in a pile of mouldy old socks.
Once stories are told and we’ve all had some R&R on cloud Caribbean, we’ll allocate missions before shooting down the birth canal for another tour of duty. Rock star me probably o-deed on the LA lifestyle last time around and wants some suburban banality.
Me? I think I’m ready to take on a bit more action next time around. Funny, I’ve always thought The Edge and I would make good drinking buddies.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

A quick coffee stop

The Parma AC shield stuck to the pillar, the barista shouting food orders along the glass and brass counter in a thick Italian accent, the San Pellegrino lemonade sitting alongside the Coke cans - the M Bar is not one of a faux Italian chain.

Beneath the Victorian arches of Leadenhall Market, the M Bar has survived City crashes and crunches since 1975. And even in these constrained times, careworn insurance brokers still need a caffeine shot to kick-start the day.

The wood panelling and brass fittings have worn well. Upstairs, on the narrow mezzanine, bentwood chairs sit under square onyx tables. When the weather warms customers move outside.

There is another place to drink strong coffee, looking up at a glass and iron roof: in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, Milan.

An Americano as hazel as Sophia Loren’s eyes is £1.60.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Stressed by the tube? Get out and walk

Stupidly, I once took the tube from Leicester Square to Covent Garden; the ticket seller laughed at me. Ever since, I’ve made an effort to walk if I’m moving about Central London.

How many commuters cram underground to get from Waterloo to London Bridge when a brisk riverside walk encompassing the Southbank, the Tate, the Globe and a view of St Paul’s takes just 25 minutes? How about the ten-minute walk from Euston to Holborn that passes Ghandi’s statue in Tavistock Square and the lime trees of Russell Square Gardens? Does anyone but me soak in the opulence and gentility of Mayfair on an overland stroll from Bond Street to Green Park?

London is a surprisingly compact city, once you open up the A-Z and start walking. The back streets and alleyways hide quaint churches, quirky pubs and quiet gardens, and modernist offices tuck up against Edwardian terraces. London’s architecture is as diverse as the people who occupy it.

But it is not just the buildings and spaces that make a good walk. Before Christmas, I saw Ronnie Wood and Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones departing a restaurant after what must have been a very leisurely lunch – it was 4.30 in the afternoon. Early one morning I passed Ricky Gervais walking to his office near Tottenham Court Rd. Back before Trafalgar Square was fully pedestrianised, I came across a business like Princes Anne discreetly slipping into her car outside the National Gallery.

Traffic pollution used to put me off the idea of walking until I read about the air quality on the tube. And I have never been sneezed on or coughed at by a fellow pedestrian. I don’t want to exaggerate the health claims, but even a brief stroll must burn off a few biscuits worth of calories.

I do admit, many of London’s pavements can be as jammed as the Jubilee line. But use Wigmore Street instead of Oxford Street and you won’t have to walk in the road; take Jermyn Street over Piccadilly because the shops are much more interesting; and the Barbican’s walkways beat the busses of London Wall.

Watching dawn break whilst walking over Hungerford Bridge, the dome of St Paul’s turned golden by the rising sun, the odd clubber slouching home against the flow of suits off to the office, is a pretty good way to get the day going.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Winter is great

Isn’t it grand that Winter is here. No more sweltering on the tube, the dawn-chorus alarm has turned itself off and the pavements are blissfully tourist free.

Where did the summer go people moan. What summer I reply. One of the great advantages of winter is that we know it will be cold, sometimes wet and occasionally snowy, so we are not disappointed.

And we British look far better during winter. The frosts and winds bring a colour to our cheeks and winter coats hide our well-fed tummies. Lets face facts: us pale-faced, pot-bellied Brits do not look at our best during the spring and summer months.

Walk down Oxford Street in December and observe how well-dressed the average Londoner looks. Long wool coats, muted autumnal colours and svelte boots – we look almost European. Not a knobbly knee or ill-fitting sandal in sight. Some men can even be spotted wearing trilbies and fedoras.

The city looks better too, night makes London sparkle. If you don’t believe me, get up high where there’s a view sometime after dusk and you will see laid before you the metropolis in all its splendour.

Not only de we look healthier in winter, we are healthier. Cold burns calories as the body works hard to heat itself up. This is why British food is winter food. Lancashire hotpots and Sunday roasts got our ancestors through the winter months long before central heating was invented – the mouth-watering flavours of winter foods are buried deep in our subconscious.

With winter keeping most tourists at home, our streets are free of Parisian school kids and American royalty spotters. London is just so much easier to get around in winter.

Except when snow makes everything grind to halt. Sunny days cannot stop the trains, but a couple of inches of snow and we all get the day off work – it is like being a kid again, when the radio tells you your school is closed.

If you are still not a fan of winter you might have to get used to it: our winters are set to get colder if you subscribe to the global-warming-shuts-off-the-gulf-stream theory. To me, that is another reason to crank up the heating, burn some more fossil fuel, and snuggle up under the duvet. Which brings me to one last winter benefit…ever wonder by so many babies are born in September and October?

This column was published by the London Paper and can be viewed online at:

The joy of hotels

Don’t believe business types who complain about nights far from home, spent in hotels.

To me, hotels are blissfully anonymous places. The barman pouring my drink calls me by name, but it is a name that means nothing to him. Ice or no ice, water or soda, are the only decisions required of me. The conversation is deviod of prior expectation and post justification.

Hotel rooms are free of household chores, even the towels get picked up from the floor by someone else, without complaint. Kicking off shoes, falling onto the bed, clicking the TV on, I choose the channels, I alone.

Long baths in the hottest water don’t cause queues and family strife. The newspaper sections are mine, all mine. And breakfast in bed, delivered to the door, is a decadent delight.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Strictly come dancing is not the Olympics

So week nine of strictly ended with the judges in a spin and the contestants in tears. Judge Len Goodman didn’t even try to hide his contempt for the public decision and dancer James Jordon pleaded with the audience to vote only on dancing skill.

These two seem to have forgotten the very simple rules of the game: half the votes come from the judges and half from the viewers; the couple with the most votes stays in. The judges may be professionals but the viewing public are not, and they vote for whoever takes their fancy. Those that phone in do not have a rule book they must follow. Strictly isn’t the Olympics. If the 100m gold medal went to the slowest runner there would be a suitable outcry, but this is a television programme. More people like John Sergeant than Cherie Lunghi.

As for Len getting his tuxedo in a tizzy about the situation he was placed in – he could always resign in protest.