22 Following

A little tea, a little chat

I've been a compulsive reader, writer and theatre goer all my life. My book blog is here: http://alittleteaalittlechat.wordpress.com/ Mostly food at the moment but also knitting is here: http://cathyingeneva.wordpress.com/

Currently reading

Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism
Sheldon S. Wolin
The Temptation of Saint Anthony
Gustave Flaubert
Nebula Award Stories 3
Harlan Ellison, Gary Wright, Samuel R. Delany, Michael Moorcock, Fritz Leiber, Roger Zelazny, J.G. Ballard, Anne McCaffrey
Cosmology and Controversy: The Historical Development of Two Theories of the Universe
Helge Kragh
Max Frisch
The World According to Clarkson - Jeremy Clarkson What’s that? You can’t hear me? Brrrm, brrrmmm. BRMM. Well, I’m living a hundred yards from the first Formula 1 Grand Prix of the season and it’s bloody noisy. I can – vrm vrrrm VROOM – hardly hear you either, so we’re just going to have to pay attention aren’t we? More attention, in fact, than we usually do.

First I want to start with a word from my sponsor, Ferrari, who is paying me to go down the road to write this review over breakfast as they know a writer needs a bowl of porridge and a bit of peace and quiet. The word from Ferrari is this: would I mind – and not to make this dependent for one moment upon the fact that the caramelised bananas on top of my porridge is something for which they’ve footed the bill; nope, they insist that my review stays independent despite their financial investment in my wellbeing – would I mind if Jeremy Clarkson put in a bit of a foreword to this review. Of course I can say no, or yes. (In fact, looking at the last sentence, I suspect no would mean yes and vice versa…)

Hello. This is Jeremy Bloody Clarkson here; that’s right, Jeremy – there’s nothing wrong with boys getting about in fast cars around a track – Clarkson. It’s called having fun and any bleeding heart liberals out there who have a problem with that can leave right now. Go on. Go and find a fox to be friendly with and if it lives anywhere near me, tell it to stop eating my chickens.

Anyway. I’ve have a look around this goodreads site. A lot of wanky smart-arses if you ask me. Half of it doesn’t even make sense. I mean look at: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/38366837 This guy’s had a university education. At my considerable expense. He’s a doctor, for God’s sake. He’s probably allowed to say what’s wrong with me. Doctor Rayner. A PhD in linguistics. Well. You’d think he’d be capable of putting a few words in his review, wouldn’t you? I mean, what is the point of a book review without any words in it, anyway?

And another thing. Why is it that all the reviews of my book are two lines long? ‘He’s funny.’ ‘He makes me laugh.’ Well, yes, thank you. I already know I do that. It’s what I get paid for. It’s why I’ve got a very large house in the country and a fox-chicken problem. I was expecting insights, though. ‘What I’ve learned about life from Jeremy Clarkson.’ That sort of thing. I have no doubt this review here by NGE will be different.

But before I hand it over to her, this thing about her not getting enough. I’ve looked at the pictures in her profile and frankly, my estimation of chaps who read is going down all the time. She’s got a bunch of male friends on this site – what’s wrong with you all for God’s sake? Stephen – you have a harpsichord. The girl loves boys with harpsichords. I know that to be a fact because she asked me if I had one. And Whitaker. You live practically next door. Paul and a few others, well, okay, I see you are married and yes. Thinking back to that thing I wrote in The Times the other day about threesomes with supermodels – well, I won’t tell you exactly what my wife thought about it because I see content here can get flagged. So, yes, issues there. But Doctor Emmanuel Rayner. You really have to pick up your act if you want to pull birds, mate. I’ve had a bit more of a look at your stuff and it turns out that the reviews with words in them are worse than the one with the weird lines. I mean, what you’ve done with Shakespeare. We start off with perfectly good sonnets from the best writer ever in the whole world and that’s what you’ve done with them. Forget the poetry. Get yourself a fast car, doc. You’ll have them lining up.

What I’ve learnt about life from Jeremy Clarkson

This is what I don’t understand. Like most people who hold views that we tend to label ‘conservative’ he is easy to understand. What he says is what he does. I don’t even know if we should give his views on global warming the compliment of being called sceptic. He loves cars. His views on global warming are consequently derived from that. If he is in one corner, in the other are people probably pleased to label themselves ‘left-wing’, who tell us global warming is this really important thing we have to believe in. And the last thing you can say about these people is that what they say is what they do. When I suggested in a discussion here re global warming last year, that we should all be giving up unnecessary air travel – specifically I referred to chess and bridge tournament and conferences – not one person was willing to agree. When I suggested it on my bridge blog, ditto. We are creatures of inertia and we don’t want to be the ones doing the right thing if nobody else is. Fair enough. But honestly. Don’t turn your noses up at Jeremy Clarkson, please. The guy’s funny and he has the odd crusade in his life which is well worth being on.

Not least, aspects of environmentalism, I might add. He has a thing about packaging and good on him. I’ve been shoppping lately at a new organic-fair-trade-shop-locally sort of place and I’ve never seen so much packaging in all my life. Clarkson routinely leaves loaded supermarket trollies and walks out – or so it is reported – I like that. It’s probably more than I do for the whole idea of helping out the environment. Not that I’m a shining example.

He thinks injured British soldiers should be treated better. Absolutely. He thinks we need a radically different attitude to mistakes. This is so true. We haven’t always perceived mistakes through the eyes of lawyers. I don’t really understand how it is that we have permitted them to take over our sense of right and wrong.

And what about this: he has never liked Tony Blair. Now, most of my ‘left-wing’ friends did like Tony…and then didn’t. What does that mean? Me, I couldn’t stand him from the start. He seemed to me one of those loathsome new Labour types who look and behave exactly the same as the other side while paying lip service to the idea of caring about the things you pay lip service to caring about too. That’s democracy at work, I guess. You do get what you want.

I don’t actually have to prove he is funny, do I? He’s the sort of person girls like even though he’s sexist. Yes, this is a good example, lifted from wiki and without a citation, I might add:

Clarkson is opposed to the opening up of the countryside to ramblers, under the right to roam, and became involved in a protracted legal dispute about access to a "permissive path" across the grounds of his second home on the Isle of Man since 2005. The dispute has since been resolved amicably, with Clarkson accepting honorary life-membership of The Ramblers' Association.

He’s that sort of guy and if you’d just remember, as you are jet-setting from conference to conference, or holidays, or whatever you are avoidably jet-setting to, that you ARE doing that, even though you know you shouldn’t be…well, you’d find him funny too, even though you disapprove of his straight-forwardness. I’m just saying here, should you really be on your moral high-horse in the first place.

But, okay, this is one I rather liked.

Willkommen and Achtung, This is Austrian Hospitality

A small tip. The border between Switzerland and Austria may be marked with nothing more than a small speed hump, and the customs hut may appear to be deserted, but whatever you do, stop. If you don’t, your rear-view mirror will fill with armed men in uniform and the stillness of the night will be shattered with searchlights and klaxons.

I’m able to pass on this handy hint because last week, while driving in convoy with my camera crew from St Moritz to Innsbruck, a man suddenly leapt out of his darkened hut and shouted: ‘Achtung.’

I have no idea what ‘achtung’ means, except that it usually precedes a bout of gunfire followed by many years of digging tunnels. I therefore pulled over and stopped, unlike the crew, who didn’t.

The man, white with rage and venom and fury, demanded my passport and refused to give it back until I had furnished him with details of the people in the other car which had dared to sail past his guard tower.

I’d often wondered how I’d get on in this sort of situation. Would I allow myself to be tortured to save my colleagues? How strong is my will, my playground-learnt bond? How long would I hold out?

About three seconds, I’m ashamed to say. Even though I have two spare passports, I blabbed like a baby, handing over the crew’s names, addresses and mobile phone numbers.

So they came back, and the driver was manhandled from the car and frogmarched up to the stop sign he’d ignored. His passport was confiscated and then it was noticed that all his camera equipment had not been checked out of Switzerland. We were in trouble.

So we raised our hands, and do you know what? The guard didn’t even bat an eyelid. The sight of four English people standing at a border post in the middle of Europe, in the year 2001, with their arms in the air didn’t strike him as even remotely odd.

We have become used to a gradual erosion of interference with international travel. You only know when you’ve gone from France into Belgium, for instance, because the road suddenly goes all bumpy. French customs are normally on strike and their opposite numbers in Belgium are usually hidden behind a mountain of chips with a mayonnaise topping.

But in Austria things are very different. Here you will not find a fatty working out his pension. Our man on the road from St Moritz to Innsbruck was a lean, front line storm trooper in full camouflage fatigues and he seemed to draw no distinction between the Englander and the Turk or Slav. Nobody, it seems, is welcome in the Austro-Hungarian empire.

The camera crew, who were very disappointed at the way I’d grassed them up and kept referring to me as ‘Von Strimmer’ or simply ‘The Invertebrate’, were ordered back to Switzerland. And me? For selling them out, I was allowed to proceed to Innsbruck.

Which does invite a question. How did the guard know where I was going? We had never mentioned our destination and yet he knew. It gets stranger, because minutes later I was pulled over for speeding and even though I had a Zurich-registered car, the policman addressed me straight away in English.

This puzzled me as I drove on and into the longest tunnel in the world. This was puzzling, too, as it wasn’t marked on the map. What’s happening on the surface that they don’t want us to see?

Finally I arrived at the hotel into which I’d been booked, but a mysterious woman in a full-length evening gown explained menacingly that she had let my room to someone else. And that all the other hotels in Innsbruck were fully booked.

Paranoia set in and took on a chilling air when I learn that one of the army bobsleigh people I was due to meet the following day had been kicked to death outside a nightclub.

I ended up miles away at a hotel run by a man we shall call ‘The Downloader’. ‘So, you are an Englisher,’ he said, when I checked in. ‘There are many good people in England,’ he added, with the sort of smile that made me think he might be talking about Harold Shipman.

Something is going on in Austria. They’ve told the world that the Freedom Party leader has stepped down, but how do we know that he’s gone and won’t be back? Let’s not forget these people are past masters at subterfuge. I mean, they managed to convince the entire planet that Adolf Hitler was a German. Most people here do think Haider will be back. As chancellor. And that’s a worry.

I’m writing this now in my room, hoping to sent it via email to the Sunday Times but each time I try to log on, messages come back to say it’s impossible. Maybe that’s because The Downloader is up in his attic, looking at unsavoury images of bondage and knives, or maybe it’s because I’m being watched. Journalists are.

Either way, I’m nervous about smuggling text like this past customs tomorrow when I’m due to fly home. I shall try to rig up some kind of device using my mobile phone, hoping these words reach you. If they do, yet I mysteriously disappear, for God’s sake send help. I’m at the…