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Sunday, 30 September 2007

Why LA Fitness is unfit, some thanks - and a few other reflections

Dr. Johnson, as you know if you read this, is perhaps my favourite person to crib from, though he made quite a few pretty sweeping and highly dubious statements.

One of his best lines came when he was asked to coin a good insult. His suggestion was: "Sir, your mother, under pretence of keeping a bawdy house, is a receiver of stolen goods."

Another I like was, "I do not wish to speak ill of any man , but I believe the gentleman is an attorney."

This strikes a chord with me right now, even though one of my best friends is a lawyer.

I am going through my third and, I devoutly pray, last divorce. A sad business. My lawyers are good - perhaps the best around - but seem unable to restrain their rapacity. Maybe it comes with the training. Not content with charging perhaps the highest fees in London, they insisted that I deposit a tidy sum with them in advance.

I can understand that, just, though I am hardly a likely defaulter; but to add injury to insult they charge me as we go along. So my money sits in their bank earning interest.

Let's moan about something else.

My partner and her sister are taking free trials of various gyms, while I stay home and do my usual set of exercises: three deep breaths, two twitches and a majestic fart.

Yesterday they went to LA Fitness in Fulham. The instructor was wonderful they said - he struck some impressive, near impossible poses of a highly contortionate nature, with the intention, I greatly fear, of conveying his abilities in closer contact with someone of either sex later.

They arrived to be greeted with far less than total apathy. Nobody told them where the changing rooms - or anything else - might be; they were expected to buy a lock to put on their locker; and they left just as ignored as they came.

What the hell is the point of offering a free trial if you ignore the people who accept it? When you're in a booming industry like health-freakery you can get away with this level of incompetence - but not forever, believe me.

You know, quite a few people suggested I write this blog but I always refused as it seemed grossly narcissistic and, again to quote Dr.J, "Sir, no man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money."

However, I greatly appreciate the comments I get - especially the last two. To give you another little gem I love, James Thurber wrote a very funny book about the great New Yorker editor Harold Ross, who was a very lugubrious soul and sparing with praise. Whenever he saw something he liked he would say, "I am encouraged to go on."

You comments ancourage me to go on, except one that I removed last week, because it was a) untrue in three important respects and b)it named names, which I try to avoid so as to and c) the writer (like many of this type) did not identify himself.

If he does I'll put him right - though I have a suspicion as to who he is. I do plan to write about all those things eventually - and accurately

Friday, 28 September 2007

The rumours are a damned lie, Sir!

Not long ago a friend asked me why I keep referring to “my partner”. “Some people might think you’re gay,” he said.

To be honest, I don’t give a hoot what people think, and at my age you have to take your pleasures where you can. However, after three marriages and a few other relationships, all with women, it’s a bit late for me to switch. I wouldn’t know where to start.

Anyhow, I call her my partner because calling her my girlfriend at my age sounds stupid; “mistress” is old-fashioned and, I think, impolite; so I'm left partner – though to be honest I hate the expression. It reeks of political correctness.

On the subject of taking pleasures where one may, the picture at the top is not there to arouse speculation; it was taken rather late on a Saturday night with – or rather in the beneevolent clutches of - the genial host of the Bridge End pub in Crickhowell, Wales.

The day after we got back from Cuba we went off on a trip with two friends to the Abergavenny Food Festival. This, to be honest, has a great atmosphere but as a place to try food is no more interesting than Borough Market by London Bridge.

Nearby Crickhowell, on the other hand, where we stayed in a b & b, has great character and at least three excellent hostelries. I don’t think there’s anywhere as good in Chelsea where we live. The Pig’s Ear is good, but absurdly expensive and I don’t know anywhere else that good.

We ended up in the Bridge End at eleven at night. The ladies I was with wanted coffee, but the landlord said they were closed. On the other hand, he said we could have a beer if we wanted – which we did. Followed by a bottle of wine, which he bought. What a lovely boy!

When I have a moment I’ll tell you a little bit more about what we saw in Cuba, where we actually went to do a seminar for some Motor Dealers from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. Did I mention that?

Saturday, 22 September 2007

Countries get the rulers they deserve – and vice versa

There is an old joke which, like all jokes, only works if delivered with a straight face and solemnity: “To be born an Englishman is to win first prize in the race of life.”

Anyhow, I know many of you are not in line for the first prize, and have better things to think about than the fact that English is not the same as British, and that our Prime Minister, Gordon Brown is Scottish, like his predecessor, Bliar, and many of his cabinet. Cameron is a Scottish name for that matter

The English, when they raise their eyes from their sundry follies, sometimes feel miffed about this, since although the Scots can vote in our elections, sit in our Parliament and run the whole show, we can’t do the same up there.

Gordon Brown is no fool – he is running rings round Cameron - and to take the eye off his Scottish origins he has launched a campaign about "Britishness", the latest manifestation of which is a contest to come up with a phrase or word which describes being British.

To this end I believe he has set up a panel of 1,000 useful idiots, making it into the sort of contest they have on the back of cereal boxes. This is brilliant, as it is at the same intellectual level as the things voters here really care about - like which of a group of freaks and buffoons should be thrown out of some dire place no sane person would want to be in the first place.

You may well wonder why describing what it means to be British matters more than determining whether we stay British by being allowed to vote on whether we should willy-nilly accept the carefully disguised new European Constitution.

But, ever a concerned citizen, even though I have not been asked, I feel it my patriotic duty to help in the task of defining ourselves.

This country is a very popular holiday (and work) destination, so even if you are not British you may like to know what to expect when you get here. What are the words or phrases that encapsulate our national charms today?

I have examined what seems to characterise us most, and come up with a list of plausible candidates. This was no casual study. I did so by dint of by walking around the streets in London and other major towns, reading the paper, listening to radio and watching, as little as possible, TV.

Finding just one phrase or word that describes us is not easy, as we have so many obvious qualities, but “Illiterate” instantly springs to mind. Even people with university degrees can rarely write English nowadays, as I know from reading far too many badly-written reports and letters asking for jobs.

“Obese” gets my vote, too. We dare not yet challenge the good citizens of, say, Houston, Texas, but in Europe only the Germans carry, on average, more wobbling flab than we now do.

“Noisy, drunken, tattooed and violent” is clearly a fitting phrase, as time in the hospital casualty department in any large town on a Saturday night will demonstrate. “Druggies” has a claim as well. If late at night you aren’t offered drugs in Soho nowadays, complain to someone – maybe the overpaid time-wasters at the Equal Opportunities Commission - because you’re being discriminated against.

How about “Pregnant at 15 - again”? Statistics show we are clear winners in that contest. Or perhaps “Idle”? The number of clearly able-bodied beggars you see on the streets is quite astounding. They do well too. I recently saw a black man who works from a bench in the King’s Road buying shoes in a shop nearby that’s far too expensive for me.

On top of that, an amazing number of people are paid to be unemployed or have jobs in the public sector that involve so little real effort they might just as well be. Thank God there are shoals of Poles and others who grapple with the hard graft.

I have to say, too, that “Mawkishly sentimental” has good claims. If you don’t believe me wait till you try to avoid being drowned by the tidal wave of slop that gushes out whenever the words “Princess Diana” are dragged out for another airing in the media.

It’s a tricky one, isn’t it? On balance, maybe “Gullible” gets my vote if we all fall for Gordon’s latest little ploy. But you do have to take your hat off to him. How many people could guide a country from massive surplus into massive debt in ten years and still be seen as a brilliant economic manager?

Now after that little bit of fun, before you all get carried away and imagine I’m just a miserable old misanthrope, I’ll come clean. I sometimes think all these qualities are counterbalanced by others like imagination, an unusual degree of tolerance, humour and a sense of fun, a belief in fairness, good restaurants serving almost any cuisine except our own, unusual skill at losing almost all sporting contests gracefully – and so on.

I also think that we have benefited hugely from all the people around who are not English. The great Scottish economist Adam Smith is a good example, though it seems our current rulers either haven’t read him, don’t understand what he said, or don’t agree with it. That’s a shame – and we are all paying the price.

Monday, 17 September 2007

Just when you thought it was safe to come out …

You have too much crap to read already, right? So when you didn’t see a word from me, you sighed with relief.

But with one bound, I’m back. From Cuba, actually

Two of my partners and I went to do a seminar there – for some people from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. More about that later, because we had a little holiday in Havana first, which explains the picture at the top of this piece.

Frankly, you need a holiday after flying with Air France, especially via Paris. You think Heathrow is a mess? Try Charles De Gaulle. Getting from one terminal to another is a nightmare – not helped by the total indifference of one or two of the staff. I was amazed nobody attacked one of them.

I love France - owned property there for years - but it puzzles me how the French can run such good railways, which deservedly make a profit, but an airline so bad it deserves to lose even more money than it does.

One reason must be that, in a bizarre and absurd rejection of national tradition, they serve some of the worst food I have had on a scheduled flight – at any rate one from a reasonably civilised country.

Maybe their rock-hard rolls were thoughtfully preparing us for the gastronomic challenges of Cuba, which has many delights - especially the people - but a pretty basic cuisine.

Were you struck by the children and the dramatic backdrop in the picture? Well that shot was taken in one of the most interesting streets I have ever seen. It's in a very poor part of Havana, and has been turned into a complete work of art by an artist called Salvador Gonsalves, whom we met.

A lovely man - if you're interested in art, google him.

Right now he is painting a mural in Turin - and I'll tell you more about how we met him soon, and why his visit to Turin prevented us from buying a painting we liked.

Saturday, 1 September 2007

A little musical interlude

People in my trade – direct marketing – know two infallible ways to get people’s attention: first, appeal to their greed, and second, flatter them.

Doesn’t that say a lot about human nature? Sad but true.

If you also say something that is undeniably true that does a lot for your credibility. So I’m sure you won’t mind being told you are a part of a small but immensely discerning and cultured minority.

Does "discerning and cultured" sound like you? Of course it does - which is why I am sure many of you are music lovers. If so, keep reading, because although I have absolutely no musical talent, two of my sons and one daughter have.

The music business is a dreadful one, and you need a lot of luck, so now one of this trio has quit trying to make a living at it full time, but the other two are still at it. One of them, Nick, makes most of his living doing a remarkably good impression of Paul McCartney. He works with so many tribute bands here and in France and Germany that I can’t keep up with him, but he also writes pretty good songs. By pretty good, I mean good enough to get recorded.

The one who has done best so far is Martina, who came round last Sunday night for dinner with her friend Raphael and her daughter Mina. Raphael runs a music festival in Switzerland, which seems to me a pretty good way to make a living. Better than what I do, anyhow.

Martina is rather big on creative gestation and has been labouring away forever on her new album, which I'm listening to as I draft this.

(The picture at the top is Nick and Martina singing at my birthday party last year. And by the way, if you want an amazingly cheap, very good photographer, I'd recommend the lady who took that - and about 300 others.)

There is a lot of agonising going on about the best running order for the album. In fact even I have been asked for my views, since although I have absolutely no ability I have bags of opinions. But I ask you, seriously, how can she fail with a producer like Danger Mouse? What an excellent name - and he seems to have quite a penchant for odd names, as he worked with Cee-Lo on the Gnarls Barkley album.

Martina’s album sounds excellent to me. Mind you, so did the last one- and it got excellent reviews; but the label promoted it, as far as I can see, by osmosis. Never very effective. But then record firms live in an alternative world, don’t they? They spend all their time looking for something that sounds like the last big thing rather than the next one.

A bit like young Mr.Cameron, come to think of it.