Thursday, 30 August 2012

Blue Moon

You can have a religious argument about the definitions of "a blue moon".  Whatever, this month contains the novelty of two full moons in one calendar month.

As it was so cloudy at the first full moon I wasn't able to see it so I'm hoping for better weather on Friday night. The August moon(s) are my favourite; she floats over the fens and fields as if looking for her own reflection in the water and windows.  The great harvesters creep over the land late in to the evening, half-paddle-steamer, half-dragon, then they vanish improbably by daylight as if they went back to giant burrows.

Logically, everyone knows the moon is a faraway rock but when you look at that silver white disc - or a ruby moon which I've seen - it is impossible to think of it as merely subjectively beautiful; she's objectively, intrinsically beautiful and always was long before there were any humans to wonder if you could reach her.

In 2005 Andrew Smith published his series of interviews with the astronauts who had done more than just wonder.  Standing at the pinnacle of thousands of years of technological development they had been able to answer the question: what's it like to go to the moon?

"Moondust - in search of the men who fell to Earth" was updated in 2009 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing.  It is now 40 years since the final manned Apollo mission and  Smith's book puts the programme in to its historical context. He secured interviews from the remaining moonmen, including email exchanges with Neil Armstrong who clarified many factual points about the mission.

Thank goodness Armstrong's mission was successful.  The emergency speech had already been written in case anything went wrongAnd yet, as Smith's book shows, there is curious sense in which the eulogy remains true; the moonmen suffered a kind of death because their old selves would not exist thereafter and nothing they would do subsequently could quite compare with those few days.

This full moon will not have Neil Armstrong beneath it. I believe she'll be looking for him.

Moondust - in search of the men who fell to Earth
Andrew Smith, Bloomsbury 2005, update 2009
ISBN 978 1 4088 02380

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Wanna buya Peter Oborne nuddy calendar?

Clutching a lace hanky and smelling salts, Peter Oborne launches in to Prince Harry on the basis that he shouldn't be having all this FUN with a willing young woman in case it fuels the fires of Republicanism.

Really? There has been comment about what we pay for the Prince, but then there would be anyway even if Harry was a cross between Cliff Richard and Mother Theresa. Even the staunchest anti-monarchist I know doesn't think that a young man doing something legal with a consenting adult in the privacy of his own hotel room should be pilloried because a scumbag took photos they should not have.

But since they did, let's be clear: this is a PR triumph.

The overwhelming response has been "Yaaaayyy, go for it Hazza" with a muttered side order of "Lucky sod, he even photographs well".  See our Prince? That one, the one who has plenty of blood in his veins, enough to raise a flagpole, well, that's how a Tudor prince is supposed to look. That's how we like 'em, as if they can kiss and fight and have a go at a serenade.

Of course, this would look saddo if he were still playing strip billiards in ten years time and begun to look as if his skin needed ironing, and the pretty girls exchanged for hanging about with creepy-looking ladyboys the way his great-uncle went over  the late Wallis Simpson, so he shouldn't make a life-long habit of it.

But right now the wisdom of Max Bialystock applies:  When you  got it, baby, flaunt it.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Festival City

Edinburgh is rife with festivals.  There is even a website listing them.   The city is the setting for a new novella by John Robertson Nicoll called The Balloon Man in Edinburgh.
On a fine Spring day in Edinburgh a strange, shabby little man alights from the train at Waverley Station and makes a beeline for Princes Street Gardens bearing gifts for the squirrels that inhabit the trees there. He meets an old Polish gentleman who, feeling sorry for the little "tramp", offers him free temporary accommodation in his large house on the edge of the City's New Town. But old Josef doesn't know what he has let himself or his tenants in for. Over the next few days the old landlord, poor lovelorn Miss Laird and the crook, Driscoll, will all feel the effect of Buster's presence and their lives will be changed forever.
Currently it is available in a Kindle edition, £1.78, and there is a free Kindle app for those of us - like me - who haven't got a Kindle and want to read it on the PC

John R Nicoll also has a blog and is supposed - nudge nudge - to be getting on with writing an important fact-based play about Scotswoman  Jane Haining, who refused to abandon the pupils under her care when the Nazis took power in Hungary. 

Monday, 13 August 2012

At the risk of saying something nice.....

Last summer we saw the worst of our youth in the looting and rioting events.  This year there has been a surprisingly touching and noble contradiction; look, they are healthy, they are sporting, they are doing something which involves aspiration and applied effort rather than blaming society.

The reservations about the Olympics  have to be assessed in context:  yes, it's hideously expensive but at least we have something to show for the money, unlike the billions we've shoveled in to the pockets of foreign dictators, pretending that it will help their wretched citizens, or the money we chuck every day down the hole of the EU.

For a start, the Kings Cross concourse is a marvel of engineering.  I look forward to the day they finally undo the bodge which was made of the original frontage but so far the job has been good.

Mayor Boris Johnson  has done well - a Pericles of our age, just like he always wanted to be - in wrangling the city in to a half-way decent condition.  It is a mammoth job as London has been bedeviled by corruption and incompetence since the day the Luftwaffe went home and left the rest of the destruction of communities to the brown-envelope and and system-build brigade.

Socialist utopia, my foot; those estates were clearly built by people who were devoid of talent or taste; it's probably a compliment to think they were bribed - they were probably so dim that they honestly thought they were building something pretty.  As it is, the average Victorian prison or workhouse compares favourably to the Pembury Estate.

There's still a long way to go but at least a start has been made.  The more those tower blocks come down, the better things will be.

Just how much better things are getting might not show to the average Londoner who is there every day but on my last visit there was one  small thing which made me think "Wow" and it won't be apparent to every visitor to this blog.

The toilets under Piccadilly Circus are finally working as they should be in a civilised city.  

Frankly, it was a surprise to find them open, but to find them with an attendant, spotlessly clean and not like unto the devil's arsehole was such a shock that I went back for a second visit in case I'd dreamt it.  There has to be an attendant; that prevents them becoming drugs-exchanges and doss-houses.  Chuck out the lesbian out-reach 5-a-day coordinators and hire lavatory attendants and watch your civic culture improve.

My wish is that in addition to good toilets, Boris considers re-introducing that civilising thing, the drinking fountain, where any passer by, no matter how rich or poor, can get a drink of safe, clean water to keep them from fainting.  It would also to cut down on all the manky plastic bottles floating about.

It can be done;  I give you Bergamo, which has the most wonderful water, like liquid light, freely dispensed from drinking fountains all across the city. Let MacDonald's sponsor the fountains; they can put their logo on it if they like; they can still sell their burgers, orange juice and hot coffee but a sip of water and a safe place to wash your hands should be freely available everyone in the city and ultimately to everyone on the planet.