Saturday, 11 June 2011

What fright from yonder window breaks......

Desert Island Discs is a funny place to have an epiphany. I had never heard of Alfie Boe despite his international success as an opera singer, a musical comedy idol and a pop star. To any other ignoramus on the planet, I should explain he was a clog-wearing factory worker, one of nine living in a council house in Fleetwood, who became an opera star. The epiphany was the revelation that he shares with Aled Jones a rare and extraordinary talent and charisma, combined with being an ordinary and likeable young man who liked being in opera but hated watching it.
Up to then it had been a Bloody Sunday. I had just read that regional accents are fading out and being replaced by a Jamaican patois, and there is to be a new production of Romeo and Juliet in which a 14-year-old Juliet strips and makes simulated love on stage, before an audience.
It is the idea of Julian Fellowes, whose wife is a Lady-in-Waiting and who, on the strength of an “Upstairs Downstairs” lookalike script, is wheeled out by the Media TV an as an arbiter of aristocratic behaviour.
One essential quality of the true aristocrat is an assumption of modesty. It is not one that this expert on the behaviour of butlers shares.
He says his script is faithful to Shakespeare’s intentions. It features “appropriate” actors who appear close to how Shakespeare originally envisaged his star-crossed lovers.
Since in Shakespeare’s day Juliet was played by a boy, I think that unlikely. There is some reason to suspect Shakespeare’s sexuality but I cannot see him staging a homosexual romp.
I am not sure the idea is even legal. Fourteen-year-old girls still have some tattered remains of protection. The Government is to ban suggestive posters near schools and the pornographic exploitation of young girls. They are worried that, despite sex education that involves putting condoms on bananas, we have the greatest number of schoolgirl mothers in Europe. They seek to reduce it. An under-age love-in would seem to miss that high expectation by a wide margin. I cannot believe that such performances chime with a society which frowns on smoking on stage.
Be at ease.
Mr Fellowes assures us he is writing a film script which is both sensual yet tasteful enough to avoid accusations of child exploitation. His version, he insists, “keeps pretty true to Shakespeare but is more accessible. We tell the story more economically too.”
I worry about his Thatcher- like use of the Royal “We” but I suppose when your missus is a monarch’s “Gopher” one slips into such usage. But be assure:
“It is now Fellowesian Shakespeare. I’ve kept all the famous scenes and what was said in them. So we have, for example, kept the lines about a rose by any other name.”
I am sure we, perhaps even Shakespeare too, bask in his magnanimity.
In the same Sunday newspaper I was treated to a whole page devoted to a girl’s love affair with Martin Amis. Would that be the would-be literary genius with the mouth of rancid teeth and concomitant halitosis?
I have been reading a manual on how to be a Stoic, because it seems to me that might be just what I need in this whirligig world. Little comfort so far. The author points out that in classic times philosophy was studied as an explanation of life. No longer. Today’s philosophers specialise in logic, metaphysics, politics, science, religion and ethics. There are studies in the philosophy of sport, feminism, even the philosophy of philosophies.
Clearly they have given up on life and who is to blame them?

Research by the Centre of Social Justice has established that the Olympic Games, which will feature 26 sports, will not induce people to take up a sport. Previous Olympics, including Sydney 2000, failed to produce an increase in participation. It added that there was no evidence of a link between national sporting success and increased levels of sporting activity.
So far this International Sportsfest has left its host countries in debt. But there are benefits. Those remaining FIFA bosses who escape prison will enjoy a £1.3m junket, including five star hotels and tickets to events like the final of the 100 metres, denied to the rest of you.(I wouldn't go if they were staged in our front garden. Indeed I would draw the curtains) Sepp Blatter, its head, and his Secretary General have been given “all areas passes”, and will be ferried round in chauffeur driven BMWs. Other FIFA bigwigs have been awarded tickets in all prestige events, and 200 heavily discounted rooms in The Mayfair luxury hotel have been booked. We will pay FIFA technical staff £200 a night subsidies for the three weeks they will be here. FIFA will also be offered 2,000 Olympic tickets at face value. In fact the reason so many people were disappointed in the ticket ballot is that only 40 per cent of the tickets available were offered to the public because 60 per cent have gone in freebies.
Last year the Spectator published the complete, contractually binding and previously confidential set of demands made by the 115-member International Olympic Committee (IOC).
London is required to provide the IOC and the ‘Olympic Family’ with 40,000 hotel-room bookings for the entire duration of the Games. The city must control all billboard advertising, city transport advertising, airport advertising etc. for the duration of the Games and the month preceding it. Customs officers and police must ‘co-operate’ in taking action against unapproved Olympics advertising and enforce the confiscation of non-official goods. Brand protection teams will ‘conduct surveillance’. They must ‘attempt to confiscate any infringing material whether inside or outside the venue’.
Spectators at the Games ‘must not wear clothes or accessories with commercial messages other than the manufacturer’s brand name’. ’No athlete or other participant’ at the Games may wear any clothing on which the manufacturer’s name takes up more than 10 per cent of the surface area. No journalist covering the Games is allowed any ‘signage of any kind’, even for his or her own publication — on ‘camera bags, hats or other garments’.
The Olympics flag must be more prominent than the Union flag. There must be a royal reception on the day before the Games open, at which, ‘IOC members are presented to the Head of State’.
Billboards and pageantry throughout the city shall be in French as well as English.
The IOC is getting 250 miles of so-called ‘Zil’ lanes — named after the old Soviet limousines that enjoyed traffic-free passage. They will stretch from London to Weymouth, where the sailing games are being held. It now emerges that there will also be 500 air-conditioned limos, whose drivers must wear hats and uniforms. London must provide a ‘dance cafĂ©’ in the £325 million Olympic Village. A flower shop is required, which the IOC insists ‘should provide a range of flowers and gifts for customers’.
A balloon rental service is optional, .but ‘it is recommended that the same housekeeping staff perform their duties for the same teams daily’, because this will ‘build relationships and trust’, ‘give confidence’ and ‘maintain standards’.
A letter to a friend
Dear Sarah,

Thank you for your kind concerns about our wounded dog. The other night when he could not sleep I sang him a lullaby. It seemed to soothe him, though once, when singing with the choir of The Big Pit at Blaenavon, I threw the entire choir out of tune and they begged me never to sing with them in public.

Last night - or more accurately at 4 am - the prisoner/dog wakened me demanding to perform his ablutions. He has to go everywhere on a lead, so, harnessed up, prisoner and escort marched into the garden where he instantly knocked me over and escaped. At my great weight, once over, I cannot right myself. I tried pulling myself up by a rose bush and pulled out the bush by the roots. I tried to climb up my walking stick and broke the stick. My floundering about roused the prisoner's curiosity and he abandoned what was clearly a carefully crafted escape plan and came back to find out what I was about. At that point my nerve broke and I fear I abused him. Oh well, his eyes said, if that is your attitude... and stalked off. When, after half an hour, I eventually stood upright and staggered into the room we had vacated, the prisoner was happily sleeping and scornfully snoring - in My Chair!

The whole thing was clearly a devilishly cunning plot. I expect he had heard that when a butterfly dies in Africa the effect is felt here. I see myself as an elderly, crippled, overweight butterfly. The stop press news is that he has been back to the vet and is mending nicely. I am not.

Much love,