Friday, 10 August 2012


We are all Romans now so let us harken to the words of that supreme classicist Boris Notquitegoodunov:

Team GB’s gluttonous desire for gold shows no sign of being sated. Their extraordinary efforts have brought rapture to streets, parks and living rooms in London and all over the country, if not the planet.”

The chief executive of Coca-Cola, that well known drug, defended the role of Olympic sponsors saying that without them the Games would not be anything like as “rich an event”.

Lord Moynihan wants the Government to improve school sports, apparently unaware that the government encouraged Heads to sell school sports fields.

Stop the world! One Elwyn Court, March, wishes to get off.

After being tricked into accidentally watching some luckless brutes hurl themselves over a fence I did find myself cheering Sir Steve Redgrave.
Five seconds after he won a fourth rowing gold some commentator had asked for his reaction. "If I ever sound like I might do this again," he puffed, "F**kin' shoot me."

If - and I doubt it - the Olympics are remembered for anything by mid- October it is the threat that Boris is going to be our next Prime Minister. I would have thought we have had enough experience of Bullingdon hearties to put us off for life; though he has shown talent for one essential attribute: he is a good talker. Our present leaders Tweedledumb and Tweedleme got their jobs by talking. David Davis, who showed principle and common-sense, lost by a breath. Boris wins Freudian hearts and minds by waving the Union Jack and shouting for a ladder whilst dangling helplessly from a wire pulled by an inefficient European. A potent job description

His next crowd puller will be to drift helplessly heavenwards in a hot air balloon which can only be controlled by deflation. A sure vote-winner.

Regeneration of London, I hear you ask? Don't ask me. Ask any London trader. The streets of the capital are deserted. Tourists are practically down to single figures, restaurants are empty, shops are all but giving away goods and hotels are reducing prices in what should be their best months. Flat lining Britain is down to its last luncheon voucher; our most respectable bank is accused of laundering billions of dollars of blood money; staff at Care Homes for the mentally unwell are only marginally kinder than the guards in the Bastille; old people's homes and public lavatories are closing; welfare is being cut...

Outside the magic Olympian Home of the Gods amateur sports clubs are closing for lack of funds; very few state schools still have playing fields; overseas trading is back to beads and mirrors level and the world economy is in the unbreakable grasp of an Uber Mafia. Wall Street is badmouthing British banks in a move to wrest dominance from the City.

But see us ride a bike, a horse, or jump over a fence to win fools' gold medals. That is what it means to be British.

Regeneration? Do we have to have an elaborate sports day before slums can be cleared? If I want planning permission for a greenhouse, do I have to dig a swimming pool in the lawn? If we had not wasted billions on side shows we could have cleared twice as many slums. America spent the money it saved by not having the Games on real regeneration.

Demonstrations of athletic prowess? They are exclusively glorifying gold medal winners. Hear our asinine commentators... “He will have to make do with a silver,” one brays. Eclair Balding, the Head Girl who objected to being called a dyke on a bike and advised a winning jockey to get his teeth fixed, headed a feeding frenzy round a Chinese school child. She DID win a gold medal in record time but all that proved was that she was high on drugs, the pack claimed. Her parents told us Chinese training methods are so hard that when she phoned home she was always crying and a top official confirmed she had been tested free of drugs.
The aptly named Gaby Logan devotes a segment of her programme to the Underdog of the Week. She mocks competitors who don't do well to the soundtrack of a silly tune. A poor reward for the years of training any athlete must undergo just to qualify.
My own choice of sporting dexterity involves the skilful use of the knife and fork - or indeed the chopstick.

The very names of Chinese food are celebratory... Five Willows fish; Chicken Chessmen; Velvet and Satin Chicken, made with golden needles (dried lily flowers) and cloud ears (tasty fungus); Yang Chow; Lion’s Head (sounds more exciting than meat balls); and my favourite, Cloud Swallows, chicken-filled filo pastry, moulded to resemble Imperial Goldfish.
The Chinese take food and drink with becoming seriousness. In his seminal book “The Importance of Living” the Chinese scholar Lin Yutang lists twenty-one proper moments for drinking tea, including “when the children are at school”. It is bad manners to eat until all are ready or the host says “Sack fen” (nice rice). Rude to point chopsticks upwards or at anyone, but not to spit out bones or lift your bowl to your mouth. When replete, place chopsticks horizontally on plate, not bowl.
Chinese New Year marks the return of the God of the Kitchen after ascending to heaven to report on his earthly family to Sheung Duy, the Almighty God. Back in those happy days when we lived in Wales, at Chinese banquets we all wore finery to pay respect to ancestors, family and friends. I was able to omit the tradition of settling all debts. I am a dead ringer for the Chinese God of Prosperity, who is mostly belly, though there, alas, the resemblance ends (HSBC managers please note.)
The best banquet I have ever eaten included two kinds of soup,Thai chicken salad, Cantonese roast pork, Japanese sushi, potato cakes, chicken wings and tempura, Chinese dumpling, lobster crackers, Dim Sum, spare rib, roast duck, Malay pork satay, Mongolian beef, Indonesian chicken curry, Thai red curry and four different puddings. As George Meredith wisely said, “Kissing don’t last; cookery do!”

One Chinese New Year I won a rabbit in the raffle. Thank Sheung Duy, I did not win a dragon.

Now that the newspaper column has become the Chiltern Hundreds for unwanted editors and their wives, it gives a poignant pleasure to read again two of the masters of the genre. (Note to the young or foreign: The Chiltern Hundreds is the office without power given to politicians who have outlived their usefulness but could turn nasty if abandoned.)
Cassandra at His Finest and Funniest” and “The Best of Mulchrone” have both been re-published by Revel Barker, rapidly becoming Archivist to our Inky Trade.
Inevitably comparisons are made. My own view is that Cassandra had the edge on Mulchrone, which is a bit like saying Byron had the edge on Milton.
I would put Cassandra on a level with the great essayists like Lamb, Hazlitt, Coleridge at his best and de Quincey. And that is the highest compliment I can pay. Only Montaigne reigns supreme. But he, of course, invented the genre.
Viewed as literature, such columnists as Bill Connor (Cassandra), Mulchrone and Ian Mackay (who founded their school in the News Chronicle) are truer to their roots in Montaigne than the novel has been to its beginnings. From Thomas Deloney, the first  novelist, a pedlar who tramped the roads of East Anglia in the days of the first Elizabeth, selling his tales on market stalls, through the “journey” books of Fielding et alia to the last thriller novels of Dickens and Wilkie Collins, only the detective novel has followed a discernible succession.
Mulchrone, Connor and Mackay obeyed Montaigne’s dictum that the only subject he was qualified to write about was himself.
They had his eye for anecdote. He tells of an old woman in his village who was raped by fourteen soldiers and said it was the only time she had ever been pleasured without sin. He busied himself amongst life’s trifles and gave them importance.
Of the three writers under advisement, Mulchrone is, in my view, the best reporter. His account of the Denbigh Pie is my favourite piece of reporting. It is written with love, but with a gimlet eye that misses nothing. He was equally good on greater occasions like the wedding of Princess Alexandra to the Hon Angus Ogilvy, in which he correctly saw a love match.
Their happiness in each other lit the old stones, dimmed the light of the monster called TV, put pomp in its place,” he wrote.
And later: “They smiled their joy right at the great challenging head of the Archbishop of Canterbury. And his Grace of Canterbury just had to smile back ….... IT WAS AS IF THE NORTH FORELAND HAD BROKEN INTO A GRIN.”
To appreciate that magnificent line you would have to have seen Archbishop Ramsay who was forever old. Mulchrone denied authorship of his most famous line “Two rivers flowed…” About the only writer I know who would have been so honest.
Cassandra’s quiver of words was bigger and he used it to deadlier effect: “A hangover is when your mouth tastes like a tram driver’s glove. When your boots seem to be steaming and your eyes burn in their sockets like hot gooseberries.”
He was a great Word War Wager, his invective darkening the skies like the arrow night of Crecy. His hatred of the Christmas Card Artillery was Olympian. “I am an old gunner in the Christmas card Artillery…”
I only met Cassandra once, when we briefly shared a urinal in Withy Grove, Manchester. Mulchrone was an old and deeply valued friend. Mackay I met occasionally in the Manchester Arms where he shared a drink with another of my heroes, Whitney Rowland.
I once told Victoria de Los Angeles that if my house caught fire the first thing I would save would be her recording with Jussi Bjorling of “La Boheme”. I lied. I would save Cassandra, Mulchrone, and Mackay.
Happily their tradition of fine writing survives. Add the name of Geoff Mather who shed gold on the pages of the Daily Express in the days when it was still a newspaper and happily survives to write a sparkling weekly blog. Try him at: