Skip to main content


Showing posts from June 6, 2013

Is Julian STILL here? Fetch the rubber gloves!

/li> 8 comments How long is too long? This is the question that troubles the conscientious guest. Julian Assange, the notably unconscientious founder of WikiLeaks, invited himself to stay at the Ecuadorian Embassy in Knightsbridge on June 19. It is now exactly a fortnight later, yet he shows no signs of moving. He is, by all accounts, an awkward sort of guest. In his book about Assange, his former second-in-command, Daniel Domscheit-Berg, lists many of his irritating characteristics, any of which might drive even the most pliable host up the wall. Julian Assange: Just how long does he plan to sleep in the Ecuadorian Embassy? Here are Julian Assange’s ten most annoying habits, with additional comments from Domscheit-Berg: 1.  He doesn’t say ‘hello’, he says ‘hoi’. 2.  He also likes to say: ‘How goes?’ 3.  He enjoys sliding down bannisters. 4.  He prefers to eat with his hands. ‘Julian often behaved as though he had been raised by wolves rather than by other human bei

The A-Z of Scandinavian crime drama Part One: Knit one, purl one, stab one in the back

/li> 3 comments The Killing, The Bridge, Sebastian Bergman, Wallander, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo . . . For those who can’t keep up, here is my handy cut-out-and-keep A to Z of Scandinavian crime drama. A is for ANGST The inaccessible island of Angst, home to the reclusive, bearded Chemical Poisons billionaire philanthropist Ulrik Angst, is the annual setting for Angst family reunions. Sadly, their celebrations always end in tears, generally followed by a gunshot, an open window, footprints on the flowerbed and the naked corpse of an unknown woman in an upstairs bath. B is for BILLIONAIRES All billionaires in Scandinavian crime dramas are reclusive and sullen and live by themselves on far-flung islands that receive only one and a quarter hours’ sunlight every third year. Though their ex-wives, business associates, children and servants have all died in mysterious circumstances, for some reason the local Police Chief insists that they are beyond suspicion, and will a

Clive Stafford Smith book: Injustice - Life And Death In The Courtrooms Of America

/li> 0 shares 54 comments INJUSTICE: LIFE AND DEATH IN THE COURTROOMS OF AMERICA by Clive Stafford Smith Harvill Secker £18.99 ☎ £16.99 inc p&p Rating: Mission in life: Lawyer Clive Stafford Smith defends prisoners on Death Row Aged ten, Clive Stafford Smith saw a picture of Joan of Arc being burnt at the stake. He was particularly upset because he thought she looked like his sister Mary. Five years later, he discovered that what he had imagined to be a singularly cruel part of history was still happening in America: men and women were  being executed by society. Aged 19, full of the idealism of youth, he set off for  the States, vowing to put an end to the  death penalty. He managed to get himself a job with a lawyer in Georgia who was campaigning against capital punishment and spent his first season visiting prisoners on Death Row. ‘That summer my opposition to the death penalty slipped down from my brain and into my heart.’ Now aged 53, he has d

The A-Z of Scandinavian crime drama Part Two: Ordeal or No Ordeal? It's your choice

/li> 2 comments Continuing our handy, cut-out-and-keep A-Z to Scandinavian television crime series... Mission: In Dank Fog, the chief detective is assigned to investigate the murder of a naked man (posed by model) N is for NOTHING IS EVER QUITE WHAT IT SEEMS Alert television viewers have long realised that, in Scandinavian crime series, nothing is ever quite what it seems. For instance, in the 80-part series Dank Fog, the chief detective,  acting on a tip-off from the former boyfriend of a former girlfriend’s former boyfriend’s girlfriend, is assigned to investigate the murder of a naked man. But on closer investigation of the corpse, it turns out that Nothing Is Ever Quite What It Seems: the detective notices a zip down its spine and undoes it, only to discover that inside the skin of the naked man is the corpse of a naked woman. Twenty-five episodes later, the same detective revisits the corpse on a hunch, only to discover another zip on the spine. He pulls it, and

Your train delay is delayed due to future delays

/li> 9 comments We apologise for this and for any future apologies. Our onboard dedicated customer service apology team will continue to deliver apologies at frequent intervals throughout the course of your journey with us today. These apologies are due to circumstances beyond our control. Customers requiring apologies in braille, please apply to your train manager. Please acquaint yourselves with the safety instructions situated in the head-rest opposite. Sorry! Our dedicated customer service apology team will continue to deliver apologies throughout the journey Customers are reminded that the consumption of safety instructions is a health hazard, so please do take care to ensure they are situated at a safe distance from all hot or cold snacks, available from our trolley service. Customers standing in Coaches A and B are advised that there is still a limited amount of further standing room available in the remaining coaches. On behalf of our onboard staff, thank y

Craig Brown book of the week: Among The Hoods by Harriet Sergeant

/li> 0 shares 3 comments AMONG THE HOODS by Harriet Sergeant Faber £14.99 ☎ £11.99  inc p&p The cover is almost comically off-putting. A very soignee woman with meticulously coiffed hair and a shiny silk shirt looks out at the reader, arms crossed, with a self- confident, knowing air. Behind her, in the dark middle distance, lurk half-a-dozen hoodies, all hunched up, their faces shielded from view, and, behind them, a gloomy mass of grey tower blocks. It looks as if Penelope Keith has accidentally wandered on to the set of The Wire. And the book’s subtitle, My Years With A Teenage Gang, further adds to the impression that this is a book by Lady Bountiful about her afternoons spent popping across the river armed with a picnic hamper filled with nutritious scraps to throw to those simply darling little hoodies. Guns 'n' poses: Harriet Sergeant with two of the gang on a trip to the Imperial War Museum This impression is not, it must be said, wholly i

CRAIG BROWN BOOK REVIEW: Titian, His Life by Sheila Hale

/li> 0 shares 0 comments TITIAN: HIS LIFE by Sheila Hale Harper Press £30 ☎ £24.99  inc p&p Rating: Sometimes, in the strange world of biography, an odd rule applies: the less that is known, the longer the book.  In a funny way, it is almost as if words were being employed to fill a vacuum. Sheila Hale’s new biography of the great 16th Century Venetian painter Titian is more than 800 pages long. It is scholarly, erudite, panoramic, endlessly inquisitive and as clear as can be. It successfully illuminates fascinating areas of European history, the rise of Protestantism, the clash of empires, the growth of Venice, the pursuit of beauty. Detail falls on detail, detail on detail. Early on, a couple of lovely pages tell you, for instance, where all the different pigments in Venice came from at that time: malachite from Hungary, earth colours from Siena, lapis lazuli from the mountainous caves of what is now Afghanistan, crimson from the tiny bodies of femal

London Olympics: Hop along, Miss Marple, you're a dead cert to win

/li> 2 comments 10 things to look out for at the London Olympics Olympian: John Prescott will be making his third attempt on the World Pie-Eating record 1. Among those taking part in Friday’s Opening Ceremony is Labour veteran John Prescott. Dressed in a specially-designed wipe-clean tracksuit, the former Deputy Prime Minister will be making his third attempt on the World Pie-Eating record.  ‘I’ve always liked me pies,’ said Lord Prescott last night. ‘And I’m going for gold by downing 17 lard pies in under 30 seconds. ‘To get my appetite going, I’ve vowed not to eat a single thing for at least 20 minutes before it starts. Well, perhaps more like ten minutes or maybe eight, if I’m really peckish. OK, call that five minutes, just to be sure.’ Lord Prescott added that he was ‘very proud to be part of the degeneration of East London’. 2. Designed to offer a portrait of Britain, the Opening Ceremony will also feature a cameo of Village Britain, complete with village pond,

Sorry Jeffrey, but the secret¿s out of the bag

/li> 2 comments Lord Archer's latest book title 'best Kept Secret' has been employed by at least 14 other novelists in the past few years How many more ‘best kept secrets’ can there possibly be? I ask this question because wherever I go, best kept secrets keep raining down on me. The streets are awash with them. In the past week, I’ve read that Nelson Mandela’s personal chef is the family’s best kept secret, that Portugal is Europe’s best kept secret and that the Museum Of Archaeology is Cambridge’s best kept secret. ‘Is Jessica Chastain Hollywood’s best kept secret?’ asked the BBC entertainment and arts correspondent Tim Masters. It is a question with no sensible answer. If I had already heard of Jessica Chastain, then that would prove she wasn’t any sort of secret, best kept or otherwise. On the other hand, if I had never heard of her (which, incidentally, I hadn’t), then the BBC’s revelation that she does, in fact, exist would mean her existence is no

Where is Paris, France? That's a good question

/li> 18 comments The Republican candidate Mitt Romney answers all your holiday problems... Q&A: Mitt is determined to answer the most vexing of questions Dear Mitt, My family and I are thinking of vacationing in Paris, France. Just one thing: no one can tell us which country it’s in. Please help! Jeff Bickle, Idaho. MITT SAYS: That’s one question that I’m absolutely determined to address, Jeff. You ask: where is Paris, France? Good question. Well, I tell you this, Jeff. The strength of our nation lies in challenging the challenges that continue to challenge us, and challenging them honestly, and with all the force at our disposal. So let us be strong, because a strong America is our only assurance that prosperity will follow hardship. I hope that answers your question, Jeff. Dear Mitt, What was your favourite part of your recent vacation in London, England? Sally-Ann Travis, New Hampshire. MITT SAYS: Don’t listen to the cynics, Sally-Ann. Never believe them when

Gore Vidal, Dame Barbara Cartland and a fluffy fantasy

/li> 4 comments Gore Vidal and Dame Barbara Cartland: one of them a muck-raking cynic, the other a fluffy fantasist. But which was which? When Gore Vidal was told of the death of his old rival Truman Capote in 1984, he famously said: ‘Good career move.’ Exactly the same might now be said of Vidal, who has just died. Over the past quarter-century, his pronouncements had been growing ever more silly and off-target. His reputation was in decline. Death may prove his salvation. In 1987, Vidal insisted that President Reagan was preparing for a world war, ‘a war, to be specific, between the United States and Russia, to take place in Israel’. Later that year Reagan and Gorbachev signed a missile treaty, and two years later, the Berlin wall came down. Gore Vidal and Dame Barbara Cartland: one of them a muck-raking cynic, the other a fluffy fantasist In 1998, Vidal claimed that Monica Lewinsky had been pushed into making her sex allegations against President Clinton

Review of Raymond Chandler: A Life by Tom Williams

/li> 0 shares 0 comments RAYMOND CHANDLER: A LIFE by Tom Williams Aurum £20 ☎ £15.99 inc p&p Rating: Authors are seldom like their creations, but few are quite so different as Raymond Chandler. His hero, Philip Marlowe, played by Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep, is the brave, crumpled, world-weary realist who, sometimes a little worse for wear, single-handedly takes on the corruption of Los Angeles while femmes fatales throw themselves at him. As a private detective, he is the embodiment of Chandler’s beautiful sentence, ‘Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.’ Chandler himself was quite the opposite. J. B. Priestley described him as looking like a boffin in an Ealing Comedy. Unlike his hero, he was both tarnished and afraid. ‘Am I comfortable? No.’ he once wrote. ‘Am I happy? No. Am I weak, depressed, no good, and of no social value to the community? Yes.’ Worlds apart: Humphrey Bogart

Review of Frank Westerman's Brother Mendel's Perfect Horse

/li> 0 shares 0 comments BROTHER MENDEL'S PERFECT HORSE by Frank Westerman Harvill Secker £16.99 ☎ £14.99 inc p&p Rating: The very word ‘dressage’ makes me feel a little queasy. It seems perverse to turn a bold horse into a fancy-pants song-and-dance man, a sort  of Lionel Blair with hooves and a saddle. The Lipizzaner is the breed that prances about at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna. It is apparently the creme de la creme, the Rolls-Royce of horses. Like the Rolls-Royce, it has long been the transport of choice for some of the world’s most unsavoury despots and tycoons. Marshal Tito of Yugoslavia presented Lipizzaners to Nehru, Nasser and our own dear Queen, as well as selling a job lot  of 30 to Emperor Haile Selassie for his imperial stud at Addis Ababa. Thoroughly bred: Lipizzaners are the result of four centuries of selective breeding and training Nicolae Ceausescu and his equally grim wife Elena jointly owned a Lipizzaner stud farm

No heroics Popeye, just pipe down!

/li> 1 comments Now that the 2012 Olympics are over, the question must be asked: how do our present sporting heroes compare with those of the past? How were they regarded by their contemporary fans? For the past few weeks, I have been trying to find an answer to this question in the little-known Historical Online Archive at Kew, where hundreds of thousands of internet comments and tweets from ordinary Britons down the centuries are lovingly preserved. Here is a small selection: How do heroes of the past match up to our newest sporting giants? ATLAS: ‘What a big head that guy is. I really don’t think Atlas is half as good as he would be even if he was twice as good. I mean, any1 could hold up the world, given half a chance I would, but my back is playing up and my doctor has advised against, worst luck.’ Geoff, Nuneaton. BANNISTER, Roger: ‘Why the big rush?’ Simon, Gateshead. ‘Check out those running shoes. Zut alors! They must be against the rules, otherwise no o

It¿s gold for the grumps of Great Britain

/li> 9 comments Now that our perverse surge of national optimism is dying down, it’s time to play to our strengths. It gives me great pride to unveil a brand new range of medals awarded for what we British do best: moan. GLUMPIC GOLD MEDAL  FOR WEDDED BLISS Lord Byron: Winner of the Glumpic Gold medal for wedded bliss Winner: Lord Byron (Team GB) Byron walked into marriage like a prisoner to the scaffold. When his fiancee, Annabella, sent back two acceptances to his written marriage proposal, one to his country address, the other to his town address, Byron remarked: ‘It never rains but it pours.’ As he was making his marriage vows, Byron looked round at a male friend and grimaced. Two months after their marriage, he took his new bride to stay with his half-sister (and former lover) Augusta. ‘Now I have her, you will find I can do without you,’ he said to his bride. ‘We can amuse ourselves without you, dear.’ Silver Medallists: Mr and Mrs Thomas Carlyle (Team GB) ‘I