Since last I kept you my neglected,  imperfect,  haphazard diary much seems to have happened.  I have twice spoken in the House of Commons, been to America,  dined with Kings,  recovered and lost again my high spirits.

No one now enjoys the House of Commons more than I. I am truly bitten by it.  The first week I was shy but flattered,  then I had a fortnight of doubt, and of boredom, but ever since I have loved every minute of it. I like the male society. It reminds me of Oxford or perhaps of the private school to which I never went.

Chips Channon, diary, 4 May 1936.

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Not Jeremy Corbyn

Well, I think Margaret Beckett probably meant to nominate Richard Stilgoe.

richard stilgoe

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Effing & blinding, past & present

The ever-readable John McWhorter  turns the air blue in the Wall Street Journal:

Novelist Frances Trollope was appalled at the amount of cursing she heard among working people when she toured America in the 1820s. At the turn of the 20th century, a slang dictionary notes that the F-word was already in widespread use, although we hardly know it from anything anyone put in writing at the time. In the early 20th century, a cigar-chomping man-of-the-people sort like journalist H.L. Mencken freely used the term euphemized as SOB among friends, despite never venturing it in his newspaper columns.

Still, a sense reigned that one kept the “bad words” out of polite society. The same year that Ginger Rogers was substituting tummy for belly on Broadway, Cole Porter put the SOB term into a song lyric sung by a woman in “Gay Divorce”—but with the joke that when the singer uttered the final word in the expression, a drum smack from the pit drowned her out. Certain proprieties were assumed in public settings.

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Still the best send-up of the BBC. Broadcast on the Beeb,  of course, long before they dreamed up”W1A”…

(Does “Points of View” still exist? Do people still write letters?)

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Why would you want your children to build sandcastles?

When you can pay someone to build them instead? “Youngsters will even be able to assist the butler in creating their sandcastle…” 

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He almost changed history


My Daily Express feature on Georg Elser, the carpenter who came close to assassinating Hitler and who is now the subject of Oliver “Downfall” Hirschbiegel’s excellent film, “13 Minutes”:

The Elser we see on film is no dour ideologue or embittered misfit but an outsider with charm and wit, a ladies’ man who is a gifted musician as well as a fine craftsman. Photographs taken of him after his capture show, understandably enough, a downbeat, unkempt figure. But Hirschbiegel insists that the Elser who emerged during research was much more debonair. “I had descriptions, by ladies basically, all describing him as a very beautiful man, with very good manners,” he says. “And they say he had beautiful hands. Overall he felt like a character out of time, you know – a bit like a hippy, a smart hippy. He’s totally uneducated but he’s a free mind, a pirate.”

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Cute Carla, bawdy Brassens


A song for Bastille Day. It’s not really the alternative that it jokingly claims to be. Great fun though. I just never thought I’d hear a woman sing it…

Posted in Comedy, France, Music | Tagged , ,

A face in the crowd, Hamburg

toledano exhibition hamburg

Mingling with the first-nighters at the opening of the Phillip Toledano show in the Hamburg Triennial of Photography.  Here’s part of my Times review:

When just about everyone, thanks to smartphones, can become a photographer, what is the role of photography? … [A] glimpse of things to come is found at a captivating show from the Finnish Museum of Photography, given the social media-savvy title, “#snapshot”. Walking into the slightly gloomy industrial space at the city’s Oberhafenquartier, you are confronted with a mountain of photographic prints that neatly symbolise our obsession with transmitting images across the internet.

Erik Kessels’ “24HRS in Photos” draws on a simple idea. Using special software, the Dutch art director downloaded and printed every image shared on Flickr around the world in the course of a single day. Some 350,000 shots have been gathered. A collage of faces, pets and mundane images reminds us how cavalier we are about flooding the world with our memories. Other parts of the exhibition — co-curated by Risto Sarvas, a data analyst rather than a card-carrying member of the art world — remind us how our habit of sharing Instagram shots and the like compromises our privacy.

Nearby, in the same room, Catherine Balet’s extraordinarily atmospheric series, “Strangers in the Light”, presents a tableaux of atomised individuals immersed in their smartphone and tablet screens around the dinner table or at family gatherings. Balet’s vision is troubling yet it is redeemed by her wonderfully sensitive use of light: the shafts of silver light from the gadgets are as full of potency as sunlight filtered through stained glass in a Renaissance painting….

A hallucinatory atmosphere prevails at the magnificent Phillip Toledano show at the Deichtorhallen. In “Maybe” the British-born, US-based artist peers into his own future, posing in a series of intricately choreographed shots in which he plays out variations on his twilight years. The images provide a parallel to his earlier collection, “Days with My Father”, which documents the time he spent with a parent stricken with dementia. The shots are painfully raw at times. But Toledano is never a voyeur. Like the everyday smartphone user, he is sharing his life with the world, but these images, etched with infinite care and precision, are the work of a master painter.

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lenny kravitz paris

Lenny Kravitz outside Serge Gainsbourg’s home, rue de Verneuil, Paris.

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