Monthly Archives: March 2004

Defy orthodoxy. Buy something from my new sponsor

You’ll have noticed (if you can see my right-hand nav at all, which some of you apparently can’t) that my weblog is now sponsored by an Apple dealer and an online liquor store. This seems quite appropriate, given my interests. The new addition, Arthur’s Bar, is not your standard bottle shop either – principally, if you ask me, because of one extraordinary product – a blended whisky that costs nearly 150 quid per bottle. Classic Cask is the only 35 year-old blended whisky in the world and Arthur’s Bar is the only place you can buy it (they blend it themselves, you see).

Any half-qualified alcoholic will tell you that nobody bothers to keep blended whiskies for more than about twelve years – the bottle of Classic Cask in my drinks cupboard was distilled in 1964 – the year of Coltrane’s A Love Supreme and Harold Wilson’s first Government. The extraordinary complexity and smoothness (that’s the limit of my fancy booze reviewer language right there) of this whisky should be enough to persuade you to remortgage your house for a bottle of something so strange and so lovely. You’ll have to take my word for it, though – they don’t do free samples.

Warm white wine, peanuts, outer space, celebrities… Marvelous

Alex from Blur at the launch of Demos' space report, 3rd march 2004Colin Pillinger at the launch of Demos' space report, 3rd March 2004
The highlight of the week was on Wednesday. First, fantastic French Vietnamese lunch with parent and wife Juliet, baby Rosa, sarcastic artist Paul Murphy and noted author Yolanda Zappaterra (they don’t have a high-chair but Bam-Bou was probably the most baby-friendly restaurant we’ve ever been to), then to Carlton House Terrace to help Demos launch their latest genuinely cool report on space (which you can download in full here). Think Tanks are pretty dry places and they’re less influential than they think. ‘Evidence-based’ policy-making turns out to be third-way mumbo-jumbo – most public policy is inevitably still cobbled together in the corridors and smoke-filled rooms – usually in the hours before a really tight vote.

Politicians (especially jaded, second-term politicians) care less about the coherence and long-term value of their policies than about the next electoral test. When outsiders do exercise influence the legislative outcomes are usually so compromised and hedged as to barely resemble the original, crystaline thought (hence the messy, slightly desperate programme of ‘government by wheeze’ we’ve seen lately – lots of panicky, irrelevant, second-priority laws making it to the statute book because tougher, more realistic legislation would produce more unsupportable rebellion).

Your average Think Tank thrashes around in its own public policy thicket – housing, science, health. Not Demos. I’m trying to imagine the original meeting: “let’s do space”. “What, you mean like public parks and stuff”. “No. I mean space. Outer space. Beam me up, Scotty. Hubble. Beagle 2” “Bloody hell. Good idea. Bags the jet pack” “All right. But I’m wearing the Spock ears.”

Of course, the best part of the evening was chatting with completely undaunted Colin Pillinger, the man behind Beagle 2, and clever Alex from Blur. Pillinger was mobbed by his fans – mostly male, difident and forty-something. Some were actually asking for autographs. Alex was more-or-less ignored but hung around until he could politely leave. Space was top dog at least for this evening.