Friday, 28 November 2014

Complacency and the Death of Phil Hughes

The complacent response of the media to the death of Australian batsman Phil Hughes, not least from the BBC’s Jonathan Agnew, is perhaps to be expected. “It’s all part of the game,” seems to be the most common reaction.

The felling of Hughes in Sydney by a fast, rising ball highlights the appalling design deficiencies of protective helmets.

I was there in 2002 at the WACA in Perth when England’s Alex Tudor was poleaxed by a 90mph delivery from Brett Lee. It was sickening. Poor Tudor was never the same again.

That one went through the front of the visor, whereas the Hughes blow struck him on the completely unprotected back of the head. Both injuries happen not frequently, but on a pretty regular basis.

It seems that helmet manufacturers are more concerned with turning out a product that looks cool than with real effectiveness. Perhaps the death of Hughes will prompt the cricketing authorities and those manufacturers into producing something that’s actually fit for purpose.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

What Charles means is…

Stimulated by some photographs of the early days of Saatchi & Saatchi, the first meeting of the Garland-Compton board with them after the ‘merger’ in 1974 came back to me.

At the head of the table at 80 Charlotte Street was Charles Saatchi. On his right brother Maurice and on his left Tim Bell.

It fell to Charles to speak to us. He mumbled for five minutes or so. I don’t recall anything that he said – I’m not sure that I could decipher a word of it. Not his thing at all.

Silence fell over the room. What had we got into? This seemed like a visit from Cosa Nostra.

Then Tim spoke up.

‘What Charles means is that Saatchi’s is the fastest growing, most creative advertising agency in Britain. And our intention, together with you guys, is to become the biggest, most creative agency on the planet.’

Oh, well that’s all right. And that’s what happened.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Immigration and UKIP

Dennis Skinner, the Beast of Bolsovcr, says it like it is about immigration and UKIP:

Never thought the day would come when I'd be cheering him on.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Trolls ‘R’ Us

Confronted by the latest trolling scandal, Sophie said to me: ‘Of course, we just used to shout at the radio or the tellie when people said things that annoyed us.’
And it’s true that the situation has been transformed by the availability via social media of direct access to the targets.
So, while threatening dire retribution on some public figure is horrible in all circumstances, at least in our own lounge rooms no one else is affected (aside from our own immediate family, who know already what loud-mouthed bigots we are).

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Getting to Yes in Europe

David Cameron talks about reforming the European Union and getting a better deal for Britain. But it seems that his only negotiating skill on view is to use “strong-arm” tactics ‒ grandstanding, making unilateral demands and threats ‒ and then to appear surprised that other countries are failing to fall into line.

If he were to make any progress at all, on any of the issues that matter, he would have to build alliances founded on mutual interest and mutual trust. This could only be achieved behind closed doors, not in open session. In reality, he seems to have no friends in Europe at all and minimal leverage.

The fact that he seems either unwilling or unable to build these alliances suggests that his real agenda is to create a situation where Britain’s exit from Europe is inevitable.

If this is not the case, perhaps a basic course in negotiating skills would be appropriate. I’d suggest starting with a close reading of Fisher and Ury’s Getting to Yes*.

*Getting to Yes: Negotiating an Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher and William Ury

Saturday, 8 November 2014

White Horse – Number 1

I wrote about the new management of our local pub in King’s Sutton (or gastro-pub I should say), the White Horse, not so long after they moved in and transformed the place – food, drink, service, value, ambience etc.

I walk past just about every day, and we go in to eat there with pleasure on a fairly regular basis, so it’s become clear that business has steadily grown under the watchful eye of front-of-house Julie and chef Hendrik.

What I hadn’t realised is that they are already Number 1 on Tripadvisor out of no less than 147 eateries in the Banbury area. What a gift for our lovely country village.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Slooshying Schubert

Richard Sykes writes to me in response to my question (following the Schubert Project at the Oxford Lieder Festival):  "Where were all the students in this great city of learning...?"

Roger, have you read A Clockwork Orange? Alex, reformed by the drugs and aversion therapy to which he is subjected, finds that his musical tastes have changed:

"It was like something soft getting into me and I could not pony why. What I wanted these days I did not know. Even the music I liked to slooshy in my own malenky den was what I would have smecked at before, brothers. I was slooshying more like romantic songs, what they call Lieder, just a goloss and a piano, very quiet and like yearny, different from when it had been all bolshy orchestras and me lying on the bed between the violins and the trombones and kettledrums. There was something happening inside me, and I wondered if it was like some disease or if it was what they had done to me that time upsetting my gulliver and perhaps going to make me real bezoomy."

I rather suspect that this is Burgess reflecting on his own experience of evolving musical tastes and the ways in which we experience some musical revelations only as we age. Certainly that was my experience with Lieder. As an Oxford undergraduate I loved "classical" music, and attended concerts in the city. But I would not have seriously considered attending a Lieder recital. Now, in my late 40s, something has happened inside me, few things give me more pleasure, and I love to slooshy Lieder in my own malenky den and in Oxford's malenky concert hall too. In years to come, I'm sure some of those students will, too.

So good to be reminded of the extraordinary polymathic Anthony Burgess, who regarded himself as both composer and writer, although his compositions have rarely been given airtime.

I came to lieder rather earlier than Richard Sykes – in my early twenties ‒ but if I’d been a student in Oxford before connecting with the genre, I’d have missed out too.

My own epiphany came when I bought Saga’s 1966 recording of Janet Baker singing Schubert, Schumann and Brahms. Still essential listening. Here she is with pianist Martin Isepp in Schubert’s ‘Der Musensohn’:



Sunday, 2 November 2014

The Last of Schubert

To the final concert of the Oxford Lieder Festival. My ninth in the series a mere sampling of the 109 events on offer over the past three weeks.

It’s been a magnificent achievement, including all of Schubert’s 650-odd songs the first time this has been done in Britain. And not just concerts, but also masterclasses, family events, study days, lecture-recitals, socials and so on.  

It has been the brainchild of the excellent accompanist Sholto Kynoch, who recruited the finest singers and pianists, old and young, organised the whole thing into brilliantly-conceived programmes, recruited a band of cheerful helpers, performed personally in many of the events, and was around meeting and greeting throughout. What a stunning achievement.

My own special memories?

The young Swiss baritone baritone Manuel Walser singing Schlegel settings and the even-younger Slovenian soprano Nika Gorič singing Schlechta; the Swedish mezzo Maria Forsström singing Schiller; Schubert’s Octet, brilliantly played by the Principals of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment; from the older generation, Sir Thomas Allen singing Winterreise and the great Dutch bass Robert Holl singing Mayrhofer settings.

And, in the final concert yesterday, the seventy-something year old Sarah Walker, melting hearts with a superb all-female chorus in one of Schubert’s Serenades, and the last thoughts of Schubert in the Heine settings from Schwanengesang, sung with profound stillness by Jonathan Lemalu (above). Lastly the intimate playing of clarinettist Mark van de Wiel in “The Shepherd on the Rock”.

But… where were all the students in this great city of learning? Just a fiver for them on the door. Conspicuous by their absence.