Things I love…

Dover Press jungle animals stickers

The Dover Press free samples. Always something useful, always something bonkers. Next time you’re in the West End go into the Dover shop in Earlham Street – a proper goldmine of graphic ephemera (including all those fantastic woodcut creatures from the O’Reilly books).

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Brown vs Blair links

Charles Clarke’s blistering Telegraph interview and, of course, the interview with The Standard’s Associate Editor Anne MacElvoy that brought his entertainingly incendiary views to light in the first place. The Statesman’s interview with David Milliband (the one who looks like Mr Bean) and, from the same issue, Martin Bright’s It’s Already Over.

One of those articles that’s so juicy it makes you go weak at the knees: Robert Harris in The Times compares Gordon Brown to Richard Nixon, not because Brown’s a crook but because they’re both autistic. Trust the Beeb to produce a useful timeline. Meanwhile, back in The Telegraph, word has it, this Sunday, that Brown wants a contest, not a coronation. Nice piece from The The New York Times (from a proper London-based staffer Alan Cowell, not an agency) on the mess and Cowell again, this time providing an Idiot’s Guide to Gordon Brown for one of those lovely NY Times slide shows (you know when you’re really in trouble when the NY Times rolls out a helpful infographic).

I guess I should link to the Beeb’s transcript of Brown’s interview on Andrew Marr’s Sunday morning show (although I really can’t concentrate on what Brown’s saying since my sister-in-law pointed out that his lower jaw does this strange thing at the end of every sentence) and to his other media appearance this weekend, in The News of The World. Happy also to link to Germaine Greer’s Question Time unease with the idea of a Brown premiership from earlier in the Summer (courtesy YouTube).

Couple of whinges: why is it so hard to find articles at the newspapers’ web sites? Even the venerable, the first proper British newspaper web site, back in about 1993, still can’t provide a useful search feature and The Standard’s is worse (try searching for articles by Anne MacElvoy. You could be forgiven for thinking she doesn’t work there at all).

The Statesman on the other hand, a tiddler by any measure, must have the most sophisticated web presence of any UK non-techie periodical. Good search, a mature attitude to free vs. paid-for content and loads of simple ways for bloggers and bookmarkers to chip in. At The Statesman they’ve learnt from the social media phenomenon that you build currency by providing free access to interesting articles: something that’s taking the other mainstream media owners a bit longer to realise.

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Now that’s not very nice is it?

Rude error. What were they thinking?

Visiting the still-in-closed-beta web site of Newmark and Jarvis’ intriguing citizen news startup Day Life today I guess I was expecting the kind of cuddly and informal welcome you get from all these cuddly and informal Web 2.0 businesses. No such luck. What I got was about as close to a ‘fuck off’ as I can remember receiving in fifteen years of aimless clicking around the web… What are they on about?

Click the small pic for a bigger one.

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Disconnected thoughts on Blair’s mugging

It’s been too late for Gordon Brown for at least a full parliamentary term. Using his party muscle to secure the leadership now is petulant political vandalism. He is shedding votes by the day.

Brown’s studied absence from the national debate on health, education, transport, immigration, the war in Iraq, Lebanon… (you name it, in fact) once seemed wise, above the fray. Now it seems creepy and Machiavelian. Not a good basis for a very public leadership campaign. Worse, if he deigns to rejoin the fray now and become a visible, engaged politician again, the public won’t buy it (“Ooh! Look at that funny, haggis-shaped man eating ice cream…”).

Snotty, frustrated backbenchers, party activists, MSPs et al need to remember that Tony Blair is the party’s most electable leader since… ooh… forever and that kicking him around the block just because they can will not serve them well in their next public contest.

Parties in general – and the Labour party in particular – are less relevant than they’ve ever been. Closing the committee room doors and sorting out the nation’s leadership over tea and big plates of biscuits is no longer an option. The relevant electorate this time round is not the party but the country.

Political unwisdom

There are many reasons to be frustrated if you’re a Labour supporter right now. First, there’s the epic squandering of political capital. In the year-and-a-bit since Labour’s important and unprecedented third general election victory in a row Labour has inexplicably surrendered so much ground to the Tories that the humungous electoral mountain that stands between Cameron and Number 10 looks – for the first time – climbable. Bugger.

Second, there’s the leadership’s profoundly depressing loss of authority. It’s scarily like the decline of the Tories post-Thatcher. The upper hand has been ceded to the kind of bitter backbenchers and ministerial nearly-men who brought Major low (the ‘bastards‘) and ultimately precipitated the 1997 Labour landslide. Stupid stupid stupid.

Third, and, I’ll admit, most depressing, there’s Gordon Brown, looking less and less like the quiet, competent, unflashy leader-in-waiting and more and more like a scheming Venetian Archbishop, hatching plots and directing his lieutenants from palazzo to palazzo in an effort to dethrone The Doge (that’s enough dodgy Italian Rennaiscance analogies – ed). Brown’s complete silence during the whole leadership row now seems both weird and calculating and his competence to lead both the party and an entire bloody country post-Blair is increasingly in question.

All of this (plus that bloody memo) points to an accumulation of the kind of political clumsiness many of us thought was now firmly in Labour’s past. Maybe it really is time for a bracing parliamentary term in opposition (just one please). Something to snap the party out of its solipsistic trance and get it back to thinking straight about Government.

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Joy Division on YouTube

So what is it about this nearly thirty year-old video that makes my spine tingle. Bloody hell…

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OK. I give in

Christoph Eschenbach conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra

So, I’ve always been suspicious of orchestral music. I’m no musician (no kidding) but I love music and a long time ago I decided that orchestral music was all together too bourgeois for me, too big and industrial in scale. Orchestral music in the nineteenth century mold – hierarchical, formal, un-ironic (capitalist, black tie music, I used to call it) – made me uncomfortable and I took refuge in much more direct and emotional chamber music from the same era (Schubert, Beethoven, Haydn, Mendelsohn…). But, obviously, you can’t ignore the orchestras and their repertoire. They’re a presence, an unarguable cultural force, even in these difficult times for classical music.

So I tuned in to tonight’s big prom: The Philadelphia Orchestra’s epic double header attempt at the fifth symphonies of both Beethoven and Tchaikovsky. First of all, watching it on the TV, the Beethoven was so awesome and so honest and the whole orchestra so committed that I was totally won over. Then, in the interval, Christoph Eschenbach, the orchestra’s super-charismatic conductor (the kind of guy you’d really want as a boss) was interviewed and he was so fascinating and his involvement with the music so complete that I decided I’m now definitely over my aversion to orchestral music.

The second half was the convincer. I’ve never liked Tchaikovsky, a composer from the wrong (flabby, pre-modernist) end of the 19th Century, lacking the rigour and intensity and broody, Middle European grit of the early classical stuff that I love and the scary atonal stuff that followed. Yes – obviously, I suppose – the Tchaikovsky was amazing. I don’t have the wit to describe this quite amazing, muscular, emotional material but you can listen to the performance (and, I hope, Eschenbach’s terrific interval interview) at the Radio 3 web site for a week after tonight. Do so.

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Grief and crocodiles

Steve Irwin with a crocodile at his Australia Zoo. A photo from Richard Giles

In our house we’re sort of unexpectedly mourning strange, stupid Steve Irwin. The man was a bit rough – a sort of Anti-Attenborough, barely literate (mashing up the language like George W), constantly wading into nasty-looking lakes and rivers and oceans in his stupid khaki shorts (did the man not possess a pair of swimming trunks?).

Anyway, he may have been a bit unhinged (I really don’t know how Terri put up with him – the baby incident must have nearly killed her) but he got millions of kids excited about wildlife (well, mostly crocodiles, I suppose) and he was obviously a genuinely big-hearted bloke with a great passion for big, fierce creatures. Now that he’s gone I find myself missing him more than I’d have thought possible. Silly sod.

When I told my eight year-old son about Irwin’s death – carefully and with a mind to what he might hear at school if I didn’t prepare him – he thought for a minute and then said: “I suppose they’ll only show the old TV shows now, then”. There you go: that’s all you need to know about an eight year-old’s concept of loss.

Thanks to Richard Giles for the terrific Creative Commons pic.

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