Thursday, September 28, 2006

Which Doctor? Theatrical Impressions Of The People's Party At Play In Manchester

The Prime Minister, Mr Blair, has received many plaudits for his speech at the Labour Party Conference in Manchester, and rightly so. Theatrically speaking, it was splendid. I have not seen such easy command of the public stage since Mr David Rintoul played Baron Hardup in Cinderella.
Generally, Mr Blair is a terrible ham, and he is at his best when he is asked to deliver news that is optimistic, sentimental, or sad. It took a degree of artistry to utter Mr Alastair Campbell's phrase, "the people's Princess" after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, without it sounding mawkish, but Mr Blair succeeded, not least because the phrase included an implied snub to the rest of the royal family, whose grief was perceived by the jackalopes of the popular press to be insufficiently public. It is not enough to feel pain these days - one must be seen to do so.
This, and the fact that he has clearly not slept for 500 years, is a problem for Mr Brown. He is, as he said in his conference speech, a private man. He is also a man whose oratory is perfect for funerals, which is a problem in a society which is permanently drunk on perverted hedonism.
All of which makes the sudden emergence as a leadership contender of Dr John Reid seem especially odd. Mr Brown is a little like a country doctor who is convinced he knows what is best, but would rather than get on with sorting the problem than try to explain it to an electorate which is too stupid to understand. The other doctor, Dr Reid, offers a well-dressed brand of thuggery - a size 9 shoe from Church's, stamping forever on the human face.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Women Of Dalkeith Are An Anthropologist's Delight, But We Should Be Wary Of Popular Science

I was disturbed, this morning, to open my newspaper and find an image of myself staring back. For a moment I assumed that my tireless work for the community had been recognised, and I was being ennobled. But then I remembered that I had never met Lord Levy, and have never been in a position to lend a political party several million pounds. Nor, I regret to say, have I ever been offered a "bung", though I suspect these are less common in the world of competitive amateur theatrics than they appear to be in Association Football.
It's true, my eyesight is not what it was, and I may soon be forced to pay a visit to the Penny Arcade for a pair of reading glasses. On closer inspection, the picture in the paper was not my reflection. It was an artist's impression of an ape-girl from three million years ago, whose skeleton has been uncovered in Ethiopia. The "ape girl" features on the cover of National Geographic magazine, and provides a useful corrective to the airbrushed models one finds on less thoughtful publications. Australopithecus afarensis is not bonny, but she has pluck.
But, still, I am cautious about the veracity of this remarkable story. A few months ago, the remains of a "Hobbit" were found, but these have now been discredited, both on scientific grounds, and on the basis that - whatever one may think about Mr Charles Darwin and the evolution of species - it is unlikely that it occurred in a manner which could be explained with precise reference to the popular cinema of the early 21st century.
In truth, now that I look more closely, the ape girl seems less remarkable. I have come across many such anthropological oddities without digging a hole in the barren sands of Ethiopia. Indeed, a bus through Dalkeith usually does the trick.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

If The Chancellor's Unmentionables Must Be Mentioned, We Should Be Thankful That They Come From Marks and Spencer

Much has been written about the Chancellor, Mr Brown, over this past week, and most of it would benefit from being unwritten, if such a thing were possible. Mr Brown has been castigated for not smiling, and cremated for smiling too much. He is condemned when he does not act and mocked when he does. With disturbing frequency, he is described as "too Scottish"; a criticism one might make of Sir Harry Lauder, but not, surely, of the Chancellor, even if his nickname in the unpopular (that is to say, the former broadsheet) press, is Irn Broon.
Without venturing into the politics of the matter, I am rather fond of Mr Brown. He has what my mother Mrs Elder (or Ma'am) liked to call gravadlax, and - unlike, say, Mr Tommy Sheridan - is aware of the value of a nine bob note.
It is, of course, a symptom of the times that our politicians are judged on their appearances rather than their policies. Thus, while I find it distasteful that Mr Brown feels the need to invoke fatherhood as a symbol of his late entry to the human race, and I regret his decision to have his teeth improved with cosmetic caps, I find myself cheered by the news that, in the matter of unmentionables, he still worships at the altar of St Michael. This is no trivial matter. The premiership of Mr John Major was undone not by his incompetence, or the fact that he had all the charisma of a speak-your-weight machine, but by Mr Alastair Campbell's suggestion that he tucked his shirt into his unmentionables; a reasonable habit, but a profoundly unfashionable one.
There are, of course, hazards in the umentionable department at Marks and Spencer - not least that monstrous regiment of women who spend their days tugging testily at the joists of the smalls they are buying for their defeated and downcast husbands - but there is something reassuring about the Chancellor's choice. To put things in context: I was told recently by a political correspondent that Dr John Reid is in the habit of "going commando". I trust and pray that this description refers to his temper.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Mr Blair Is A Sick Whale Or A Fading King, And The Courtiers Are Growing Restless

Much as I enjoy pointless cruelty, the sight of the Prime Minister, Mr Blair, struggling to resist retirement, has been a painful one. When he doesn't resemble the bronchial Thames whale, being coaxed into open water by a caravanserai of insincere well-wishers, he is like King Lear pondering his departure from the stage. I picture him at breakfastin Number 10 Downing Street, tormented by his diminishing power, and seeking solace in the company of a Fool, or Mr David Miliband. "O, let me not be mad," he will be telling Mr Miliband (dressed, as usual in jester's hat), "not mad, sweet heaven. Keep me in temper: I would not be mad!"
At which point, from stage left, enter Mr Brown. "How now!" Mr Blair exclaims wanly, smashing the top of his boiled egg. "Are the horses ready?"