Saturday, 30 April 2011

The Royal Wedding: A Group Delusion

Yesterday's royal wedding actually proved extraordinarily difficult to avoid as I had intended, not least because someone offered me money to write something about it. So I may as well do so here too.

Royalty? What's it all about? Well yesterday we saw exactly what it is all about and why; despite its innate absurdity and pointlessness, it endures. Royalty is like religion. Stop and think about it logically for a moment and it immediately loses its allure. That's why they go to great lengths to avoid logic and rationality. Royalty, like religion, appeals to our basic human instincts, our tribal nature, our love of ceremony and ritual. The trick is to make it look extraordinary and elevated, to make people seem other worldly. When they let that illusion drop, as we have seen in recent years, is when the edifice of royalty and the monarchy totters and threatens to fall.

Royalty is just uber celebrity. Whenever one of the principal figures appeared yesterday they were met with the kind of whooping and hollering you usually hear at film premiers for Hollywood royalty. Grown women became exultantly tearful because William looked at his bride adoringly. On his wedding day! Extraordinary! Here they were, famous people getting married and the world wanted to watch. Why? Best not to analyse that or we might feel foolish.

Not that Kate has been anything but impressive. In addition to her undoubted beauty, she displayed a poise and charm that was impressive. Ah, they said, but she seems so normal too. It's quite a combination. But doesn't that just make the whole spectacle all the more strange? This ordinary girl from a middle class if rather wealthy background, who has been to one of our best universities and has now married our most eligible bachelor has proven that royalty is actually nothing special. With a decent upbringing and education anyone can do it. So what's all the fuss about?

Yes now, for doing what they did she is now conferred with a title. She is now a royal highness, a title they guard ferociously and deny to those who don't toe the line as another royal bride found to her cost. Analyse that title for a moment. A royal highness. The act of marrying or being born into a family somehow makes them higher than the rest of us? It's utter idiocy. But best not to think about it.

And this, we have been told, is what will mean that the monarchy endures and is safe for another generation. The people voted with their feet and their remote controls (24 million watched in the UK alone early figures suggest - although if the abstentions were counted they would be in the majority). But have they really? What we saw yesterday was just a manifestation of our cultural vacuity, of our willingness to buy into something that tugs at our emotions, a shared experience that is sufficiently different and more glamorous from common experience to make it appear special whilst still tangible and close enough to that experience to bring empathy.  Weddings always create that in us, it's why we bother to get married. And that, ultimately, is all that happened yesterday.

And it may well be the case that this injection of a beautiful, intelligent young woman into the family will give them the spark they need to survive. Except of course we have been here before. Now she will be immersed in this stultifying embrace, the courtiers, who are the worst snobs of all, will try to mould her. The same people who considered it reasonable and politic not to invite this country's last two prime ministers (one of whom won 3 elections) will try to tell her what she can and cannot do. It will take a truly extraordinary woman with the abilities of Elizabeth I to resist them and not to be worn down by them. She will remain popular and may well have Diana's famous common touch. But that in itself will create problems amongst her new family.

Yesterday was indeed a triumph for this institution and its traditions, which are nothing like as ancient and venerable as we are sometimes led to believe. Many have been invented quite recently for consumption in the modern age. They're certainly media savvy. But still it often struggles to keep up and adapt. It relies on the fusty establishment, a conspiracy of silent reverence and public credulity to keep it in place. Yesterday was not a reinvention, it was a restatement of convention. The people cheering and expressing their joy yesterday were cheering something quite different - our love of celebrity and glamour and bright young things. The trouble with bright young things though is that they tend to become jaded. The caustic atmosphere of the House Of Windsor may well accelerate that process.


Thursday, 28 April 2011

So, Kate, What Was It About The Future King That First Attracted You?

What's all the fuss about with the photo above? Is it just me or does the prince look rather gormless? Kate, the commoner without the blue blood, looks lovely and natural and princess like. Her groom looks like what he is, a dorkish hooray who probably wouldn't be able to believe his luck that he was marrying this babe were it not for the fact that he has probably become accustomed by now to having won the lottery of life and regards it as his due. Sadly, thousands are going to turn out tomorrow and cheer him, thus confirming this illogical belief.

And do the TV presenters sent to cover this cavalcade of crap have to go on special courses to teach them that special fawning, obsequious banality they all seem to adopt? How can they bear not to raise an arch eyebrow as they interview people who are camping on the streets to see a coach go past, or wearing T shirts proclaiming that St Diana would have been proud? How can they keep smiling as they conduct yet another interview about jewellery, fashion and uninformed speculation about what the future holds for the couple? How can they report uncritically an opinion poll which reveals that William has the approval of 78% of people? Don't they want to ask why? What is it that he has done to win this approval?

Note that nobody is mentioning the last time we got this excited about a royal marriage and how that turned out. Remember how everyone intoned at the time that Charles almost certainly deliberately fluffed his lines during the ceremony to make his beloved bride feel better about doing the same. It turns out of course that he fluffed his lines because he didn't really want to be saying her name at all but someone else's. That's royal romance for you.

Anyway, the whole thing is making me nauseous and so I am fleeing the country. I'll be back next week.

The Real Special One

How marvellous that that arch cynic and some time cheat Jose Mourinho was undone by a real special one last night and now has the temerity to whinge about it. A man who sent out his team on a mission to frustrate, annoy, obstruct and generally wind up the opposition and smiled in the first half when it seemed to be working was eventually defeated by pure footballing genius. Mourinho is now reduced to complaining of conspiracies against him and his team instead of just accepting graciously that his tactics failed and football prevailed. I cheered when the first goal went in and danced with joy at the brilliance of the second. That is as it should be.

Water for Elephants21Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1The Lincoln Lawyer: A Novel

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

PMQs 27th April 2011 - The Calm Down Dear Edition

Why is it that people who are getting married feel the need to use their full names, the ones they last used whilst being held helpless over a font or which their mothers use when angry or disapproving of something? I speak not of Kate who on Friday will for some reason be Catherine. No I speak of Ed the leader of the Labour Party who recently announced he wishes to be known as Edward. Or perhaps this had nothing to do with his forthcoming and rather reluctant nuptials. Perhaps he felt Edward was more dignified for a prospective Prime Minister and a man with a stubborn streak of grey in his hair. Weddings were clearly on his mind though. He made a joke about proper attire for Friday's big occasion - a reference to the fact that there have been frantic calls from the various party leaders to the likes of Moss Bros or Savile Row according to preference as lounge suits have been declared out of bounds.

Yet this change of name policy seems not to have stuck. He remains Ed who would be Edward. Is this his first U turn? The Speaker, the only MP allowed to use names in the chamber, called him Ed and surely he ought to know. Still, at least he didn't call him Forrest.

And so, after a lengthy recess for a late Easter our MPs were back and shouting at each other once again since we are only a week away from elections. Happily the butchers list from Afghanistan was not as lengthy as it can sometimes be which is a sign of a kind of progress I suppose. Unhappily however, added to their names was the name of murder Northern Irish Policeman.

Forrest chose to go at first on the economy after today's reasonably good news about GDP growing by 0.5 in the first quarter of the yeat. Aha said Forrest and his nodding chum next to him, but, when added to the last quarter's decline of the same amount, this meant that the economy had flatlined. Dave was on feisty form and was having none of it. He pointed out that Labour had predicted a double dip (they hadn't gone quite that far but hinted at it just in case they were proven right and could claim to have told us so). More tellingly the PM dredged up the statistic that, during Forrest's time in the Cabinet, the economy never grew by more than 0.5% during a quarter. It is, in other words, an unspectacular but respectable growth rate considering the economic situation here and elsewhere. It certainly quietened the Labour ranks and won the PM the first round of questioning.

When Forrest came back Cameron was less assured. This however had little to do with Forrest's long rambling speeches come questions and more to do with the fact that Labour have discovered that Dave doesn't react well to being mercilessly heckled. This is the second time that Cameron has been put off his stride by sedentary interventions and today it meant he was unable to deliver a decent ending line. It should be noted however that the usually annoyingly interventionist Speaker Bercow was remarkably quiet and failed to intervene other than to give his speech about how annoying all of the shouting is. He then let the shouting continue. In the end Dave told them to shut up himself by deploying his best Michael Winner impersonation. 'Calm down dear,' he called across at one of his tormentors. It was not one of his greatest moments, although it did allow Labour to become sanctimoniously infuriated by what they called sexism and they do love to be angry about Tories.

All in all then not a good spectacle for all concerned. Dave started well and tailed off, although his answers to back bench questions were as assured as ever. Forrest still cannot do pithy and has taken now to giving a commentary, Tony Blair style, on the inadequacy of the answers he receives rather than seek to demonstrate this by argument. It's still not working well but today his rank and file did his job for him. Dave needs to develop a thicker skin or better, wittier responses to the barracking. Let's hope nobody shouts anything nasty about his suit at the wedding on Friday.

Water for Elephants21Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1The Lincoln Lawyer: A Novel

Let's Hear It For The Girls

Did you know that four of the five best selling songs of this year so far are by solo female artists? The only male in the quintet, although admittedly the best seller, is the sickly sweet, trite, packaged pop of Bruno Mars.

But why are the girls doing so well? Perhaps it's because they are edgy, challenging, cheeky and sexy. From the superb Adele (above) to the likes of Jessie J, Rihanna, Pink, Katy Perry they are eschewing the safe option, the sort of pap that the likes of Simon Cowell serve up and reaping the rewards.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

The Needs of the Many Outweigh The Needs of the Few? Tell That to Our Judges

Film 4 over the weekend, as part of its very entertaining Films for Life series, showed the great cheese and ham fest that is Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Seriously, this is more cheesy than a mouse's daytrip to Switzerland and with more hammy acting than a whole week of Eastenders. I love it.

The film, which culminates in the death of Spock who is then resurrected in the next film (far fetched? tell that to Christians) includes the classic lines about acting for the greater good: the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.

Perhaps this ought to be recommended viewing for our senior judges. It's not just that they are allowing unfaithful celebrities to use the full force of their ad hoc laws to drive a team of horses and coach through our freedom of speech, it is that, since the ECHR was incorporated into law, they are also invariably elevating the needs of the few or the one over the rights of the rest of us. From shagging footballers to would be terrorists, from television presenters to plane hijackers or criminal asylum seekers, all are running to the High Court to invoke their human rights whilst the rights of the majority are at best ignored or trampled. This is what happens when you hand out rights willy nilly without bothering yourself about responsibilities - a social contract if you will.

Not that this should come as a surprise to politicians. They were warned that this would happen when human rights legislation was incorporated by Labour who then spent the next ten years complaining about it. And for all of the political bluster over the last two weeks it is unclear, once the local elections are out of the way, if it will be politically possibly for Dave to do anything about it thanks to the presence of Nick and Vince who cannot for the life of them see anything wrong with the situation.

What ought to be done is that Parliament should give clear guidelines, debatable and renewable every parliament about how the judges should interpret human rights law according to the exigencies of prevailing conditions in immigration, terrorism and so on. That would be a sensible, democratic and proportionate response. The judges have shown themselves to be all too willing to assert themselves on these issues but with little regard to common sense or the needs of the many.

Water for Elephants21Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1

A Lesson In Fairness

Easter, as we all know, is supposed to be a time of renewal and fresh beginnings. How inappropriate then that the NUT uses it as a time for its annual griping about how awful things are for our teachers.

This year they are complaining that the government is threatening their gold plated and wholly unaffordable pensions and once more threatening strike action. The BBC featured a teacher the other day who complained that, shock, horror, she was probably going to have to work until the age of 68. It didn't seem to occur to her that she was lucky to be in  a profession that could more or less guarantee her that there would be work for her for an entire career, one which would offer many opportunities for advancement and improvement, real job satisfaction, excellent holidays at exactly the time when any future children shes chooses to have need her at home and the kind of security few will ever know.

The government has no choice but to address the issue of public sector pensions because they are out of control and have not kept up with changing demographics and age expectancy. The unions and their cheerleaders in the Labour Party will no doubt use their usual weasel word: fairness. The only fair thing to do is to ask teachers and others to work longer and contribute more for their more than fair pensions rather than expect them to be further subsidised by the rest of us.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Sex Sells

This weekend the various music television channels have been having an assortment of video fests including the greatest hits of various people and all of the number ones of the last 20 years. It's allowed me to catch up on all of the music I have inadvertently missed since Radio One became so awful. It's not the music I hate as I get older (with some exceptions) it's the puerile, witless presenters.

But when one comes to music of recent years fresh one can't help noticing how sex obsessed it has become. This isn't a complaint. I could watch Beyonce cavorting, Lily Allen berating men, and the gorgeous Rihanna all day long. But do you remember the days when the BBC used to ban songs and videos for their content. Now, if such standards were to apply half of the top 40 would be only allowed after the watershed. This one by Rihanna in particular leaves nothing to the imagination. I love it. And her.   

Sunday, 24 April 2011

It Should Have Been Me

Have you noticed how the whole royal wedding cavalcade of schmaltzy crap is being held up by monarchists as proof of its enduring popularity and role in our modern lives? And it is true that the whole thing does seem to be popular, although as ever it may well be a case of enthusiasm being felt more in the pages of our newspapers and TV screens than by the population as a whole. Most people I speak to (with the exception of my Mum) couldn't give a damn but are happy about the extra day off.

But why are our fusty royals receiving a much needed boost? Because they are importing some fresh, non aristocratic blood. I would be the first to acknowledge that Kate (or Catherine as the fusties insist upon calling her) is a great looking girl and seems to be very nice and normal. And she is managing to pull off being popular and princess-like despite the fact that she was born into a family of people who have had to work for a living. They have also managed to bring into the world and raise their lovely daughter, educated her and imbued her with a charm and modesty that is endearing her to the world. She is managing to look both normal and unspoilt and princess-like at the same time. And all that without having the advantage of being born into the firm.

So much for the theory that our royals have to be trained for a lifetime in order to do their jobs. Presumably that's why Prince Andrew is a freeloading embarrassment whom our diplomats routinely have to apologise for. Presumably that's why Charles makes an arse of himself every time he opens his mouth. The Queen, we're told, is a model of discretion and duty. This may be the case. But the royals are famous for blanking anyone who doesn't show them the respect and deference they consider their due. They surround themselves with lackeys who agree with every word they say and wouldn't dream of repeating the content of conversations. It's quite easy to be a model of discretion when you enforce omerta as the price for access. Anyone admitted into the royal presence must buy into the whole corrupt and corrupting system which is why it is self perpetuating. It is also why they are all so monstrously dull that they need regular injections of fresh blood to give themselves a bit of glamour and possibly to eradicate that unfortunate gene which sees all of the men go bald before the age of 30.

What this wedding is actually proving is that anyone with a decent upbringing can do what the royals do and beat them at their own game. Kate will very soon be the most popular royal precisely because she is not royal. So why not get rid of them all and give people of genuine charm and ability the chance to lead our nation? With this wedding that is effectively what we are doing anyway. Why not formalise the whole process and have a president as our head of state? It has the added advantage that we can get rid of them after a few years if they prove, like so many royals have been down the years, to be not terribly nice or admirable people.

Water for Elephants21Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1