From talk of storming the Ecuadorian embassy to keeping Chinese tourists at bay, this is a comical administration
?If you get your eye in, this is rather a comical administration. They do for the government what that amateur art restorer in Spain did for the Ecce Homo. Or J. Cheever Loophole for the practice of law.
Just at the time we need to be delicate with Latin America, they talk openly about storming the Ecuadorean embassy. (Shouldn’t we just ignore Assange? It’s the single thing he couldn’t bear.) In the afterglow of the Olympics they reveal they’ve been misleading us about the sale of school playing fields.
Theresa May won’t make it easier for Chinese people to come here “for security reasons” – no doubt terrified by the hundreds of Chinese jihadists now storming round Europe – so they spend their millions in France and Germany instead.
And George Osborne produces a new British miracle: austerity combined with massive increases in public borrowing.
I was reminded of the Keystone Cops, rushing hither and thither to no apparent purpose, creating mayhem wherever they went. But at least they gave the impression that someone, somewhere was actually directing.
?Phyllis Diller, who died this week, always made me laugh, though she harks back to an earlier age in comedy when the only women who got work were those who were prepared to mock themselves and women generally.
You rarely get that now. I never saw her live, but in the course of research into America’s tackiest tourist attractions, I once visited Frederick’s of Hollywood bra museum. Along with bras from Madonna and the Supremes, there was one owned by Phyllis Diller, marked “this side up”.
?”Sir” Richard Branson may be the Julian Assange of British business, in that both believe the world revolves around them. Hence Branson’s decision to set up an air service between Manchester and London, above the route of the train line that’s been taken from him. (To be fair to Branson, his Pendolinos do the journey, city centre to city centre, in just over two hours – much quicker than the plane, unless you are transferring at Heathrow.)
But my new hate-line is the recently nationalised east coast. Going to Edinburgh the other day our loco broke down, and we limped into Grantham where the management in effect hijacked a Leeds train and made it go to Edinburgh, thus making everyone on a hideously crowded train very late. Coming back they had cancelled the train before ours which, consequently, was jammed with people standing. They wouldn’t even bring the trolley down, “for safety reasons”. They apologised endlessly, but nobody offered a reason for the chaos. And have you noticed the creeping growth of railway talk? It’s no longer a train, with engine and carriages, but a “set”. Trains are at a “stand” rather than a stop. We “arrive into Darlington” instead of “at Darlington”. I don’t blame them though for the unstoppable “train station”, an American phrase that distinguishes it from the more common bus station. The British term, when needed, is “railway station”, but we lost that years ago.
?I mentioned last week that we had been to see Tristan und Isolde sung at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh. What I didn’t mention was that Isolde was sung by Jennifer Wilson, the magnificent diva who comes from suburban Washington DC. She is a big woman, over 6ft tall and broad to match. Her bosom was simply majestic. All she lacked was a horned helmet.
The Americans have a popular if slightly puzzling phrase, usually applied to sports, “the opera ain’t over till the fat lady sings”. When the Baltimore Orioles lost something like their first 20 baseball games one year, they put posters round the city showing a vast soprano in a helmet, with the legend, “She ain’t sung yet!” They went on to have a much better season.
Tristan was played by the Canadian Ben Heppner, and he has a belly quite as superb as the diva’s own embonpoint. Luckily they weren’t staging it because at the point where the opera is over, the directions say, “she throws herself on Tristan’s dead body”. It would have been like a bouncy castle for several minutes.
Her Liebestod was out-of-this-world electric, thrilling, and when she walked – no, sailed – into the hotel lounge where we were all having a restorative drink, everyone stood up and applauded. She was extremely gracious.
?To lunch at The Oldie magazine, another celebration of its 20th birthday and to mark 75 glorious years of its editor, Richard Ingrams. There is a panache and self-confidence about these occasions which I like.
Edward Enfield said he had been invited to a party at Hatchard’s book shop, and had consulted his son Harry about what he should say when he met all these famous writers.
“Just keep saying ‘marvellous!'” Harry advised. One of those he encountered was Laurie Lee, by then more or less blind and deaf.
“Your book is marvellous, marvellous!” he said. Lee peered at him. “Is this praise?” he asked. “In that case I’ll turn my hearing aid up.”
Maureen Lipman recalled how her late husband Jack Rosenthal had been working on a play in Los Angeles where he was accompanied by a young female researcher. “Crossing the hotel lobby he saw an old, saggy man with a gorgeous girl one-third his age. He thought, ‘do you have any idea how ridiculous you look?’ then realised he was walking towards a mirror.”
And Barry Cryer, one of the magazine’s best-loved favourites, said: “we’ve got to the age when the candles cost more than the cake … I can remember when Tony Blair was white. Now he’s the only person I know who’s a Roman Catholic and an Orange man at the same time.”
?More pointless labels: Nick Fisher was delighted to learn that his bag of Sainsbury’s ice cubes were “freezer-safe”. Iain Kelman was equally pleased to be told that his bottle of Asda own-brand water was “good for hydration” (“as opposed to washing the car?” he asks.) And driving from Northern Ireland – where they drive on the left – into the Republic, John Cartledge saw a helpful sign telling him to drive on the left.