Monday, January 31, 2011

Photo of the day

Friday, January 28, 2011

Paraprosdokians of the day

1. Do not argue with an idiot. He will drag you down to his level and beat you with experience.
2. The last thing I want to do is hurt you. But it's still on the list.
3. If I agreed with you we'd both be wrong.
4. War does not determine who is right - only who is left.
5. Evening news is where they begin with 'Good evening', and then proceed to tell you why it isn't.
6. You do not need a parachute to skydive. You only need a parachute to skydive twice.
7. The voices in my head may not be real, but they have some good ideas!
8. Hospitality: Making your guests feel like they're at home, even if you wish they were.
9. I discovered I scream the same way whether I'm about to be devoured by a great white shark or if a piece of seaweed touches my foot.
10.I always take life with a grain of salt, plus a slice of lemon, and a shot of tequila.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

War Horse

I finally went to see War Horse which is now on at the New London Theatre in Drury Lane. I recommend it although it is much grittier than I'd imagined and I wouldn't advise taking young children along as it may give them nightmares! The best thing about it is the puppetry: huge puppet horses which come to life, twitching their ears and licking themselves. The story is corny in parts: the "bad" cousin is killed, the hero survives; the love of a horse transcends the war and creates the same emotions in English, Germans and French alike; the scene at the end where the boy finds his horse. I liked the way German and French were spoken on stage rather than using English with foreign accents which could have risked farce. I loved the goose puppet and the Sergeant-Major. My main disappointment was the ending: it was too abrupt.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Who's that man?

Over the shoulder of my lunch companion in London yesterday, I noticed a familiar face. He was wearing a smart tweed jacket, a crisp starched white shirt and an elegant tie. "Look discreetly behind to your left," I asked my friend, "and tell me the name of that man." "It's Chris Eubank, the boxer!" came the reply. Mr Eubank's mobile was ringing furiously during his lunch, although to be fair to him, it was on silent. Anyway, the result was he kept jumping up and walking away from his table to chat to the caller so I had a good view of his outfit. His jacket was three-quarter length and beautifully tailored, however, he wore it over blue jeans and black leather shoes which I thought rather ruined the ensemble. In my view, brown suede shoes would have been better but perhaps you think, "never brown in Town"?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Now and then

Friday, January 21, 2011

Teabag riposte

Sir, I don't know when Eleanor Roosevelt or Nancy Reagan made the comments about a woman being like a teabag, but I assure you that the underlying sentiment is much older.

My father, an old Indian civil service officer, used to tell me about an advertisement for Lipton's tea that was displayed in a grocery store in Surat in the early 1930s where he was an assistant collector. The sign said: "A man should be like his tea; his strength should come out when he's in hot water."

He said "tea" and not "teabag"; I think that ghastly thing had not been invented at that time.

Khalid Ikram,
Potomac, MD, US
Today's FT

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Photo of the day

Don't you just love the way America clings on to its colonial past?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Letter of the day

Sir, F. de Hennin writes that the Belgian head of state is the "King of the Belgians". I have lived in the country for more than 10 years , and have often been told that the King is in fact the only Belgian. The others are either Flemish or Walloons.
Charlotte Andsager
Brussels, Belgium

Yesterday's FT

Monday, January 17, 2011

Hero of the day

Sam Waley-Cohen had an absolute triumph on Saturday when he rode Long Run to victory in the King George VI at Kempton, beating the favourite Kauto Star. Sam's father Robert owns the horse and it's the first time for 28 years that the race has been won by an amateur jockey. Sam's day job is dentistry.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Letter of the day

Sir, US media anchor Rachel Maddow delights in referring to members of the Tea Party movement as "teabaggers". That would be a compliment according to Nancy Reagan who once remarked: "A woman is like a teabag - only in hot water do you realise how strong she is."

Aaron M.Fine,

Swarthmore, PA, US

Today's FT

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Lewis on Greece

If you missed Michael Lewis' article about Greece in last October's Vanity Fair, it's well worth a read:
Here's an extract:
"In just the past decade the wage bill of the Greek public sector has doubled, in real terms—and that number doesn’t take into account the bribes collected by public officials. The average government job pays almost three times the average private-sector job. The national railroad has annual revenues of E100m against an annual wage bill of E400m, plus E300m in other expenses. The average state railroad employee earns E65,000 a year. Twenty years ago a successful businessman turned Minister of Finance named Stefanos Manos pointed out that it would be cheaper to put all Greece’s rail passengers into taxicabs: it’s still true. “We have a railroad company which is bankrupt beyond comprehension,” Manos put it to me. “And yet there isn’t a single private company in Greece with that kind of average pay.” The Greek public-school system is the site of breathtaking inefficiency: one of the lowest-ranked systems in Europe, it nonetheless employs four times as many teachers per pupil as the highest-ranked, Finland’s. Greeks who send their children to public schools simply assume that they will need to hire private tutors to make sure they actually learn something. There are three government-owned defense companies: together they have billions of euros in debts, and mounting losses. The retirement age for Greek jobs classified as “arduous” is as early as 55 for men and 50 for women. As this is also the moment when the state begins to shovel out generous pensions, more than 600 Greek professions somehow managed to get themselves classified as arduous: hairdressers, radio announcers, waiters, musicians, and on and on and on. The Greek public health-care system spends far more on supplies than the European average—and it is not uncommon, several Greeks tell me, to see nurses and doctors leaving the job with their arms filled with paper towels and diapers and whatever else they can plunder from the supply closets."

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Canaletto and Bellotto

The National Gallery's exhibition, Venice: Canaletto and his Rivals, ends on Sunday and is definitely worth a visit. It is fascinating to see the works of Antonio Canal, called Canaletto, (1697-1768) and Bernardo Bellotto (1722-1780), his nephew and pupil, side by side, often of exactly the same view, and to examine their differences and similarities. The audio guide is excellent and explained that ,sadly, there is no recorded information about the relationship between the uncle and his precocious nephew.

By the age of 18, Bellotto could imitate his uncle's style so well that it was difficult to say who was the artist. In the 1740s their painting careers were blighted by the War of the Austrian Succession which deterred the British (their main customers) from making The Grand Tour. They parted company: in 1746 Canaletto moved to England for 9 years and in 1747 Bellotto moved to Dresden for 11 years.

The details are sketchy but we know that Canaletto returned to Venice in 1755, was elected to the Venetian Academy in 1763 and continued to paint until he died in 1768. He died in the same apartment where he was born, with very few possessions so he must have either led an extravagant lifestyle or not capitalised on his good reputation or perhaps his painstaking efforts to produce brilliant paintings (the rate of 4 per year was mentioned, in contrast to some of his rivals who "dashed canvases off") meant that his wealth was slow to accumulate. He never married.

His nephew Bellotto, on the other hand, was invited to paint Dresden and Pirna by King August III of Poland and after his death in 1763, became the court painter for King Stanislaw August Poniatowski in Warsaw. He died in Warsaw in 1780 and I assume he was far wealthier than his uncle.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The King's Speech

I enjoyed The King's Speech but after hearing so many rave reviews, I was left feeling slightly disappointed. Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham-Carter all gave excellent performances and the essence of the film (the Duke of York, who became King George VI, trying to have his stammer cured and his relationship with his maverick Australian speech therapist) worked well. However, this is perhaps the least interesting element of the drama of the times. A far more compelling story is the abdication and the relationship between the two brothers and their wives before and after. Perhaps Tom Hooper could try to address that at a later date?

Friday, January 07, 2011

St Distaff's Day

January 7 using to be called, jokingly, St Distaff's Day as it was the first day back to work after Christmas and the village women returned to their spinning wheels. Robert Herrick wrote this ditty about it:

Partly work and partly play
You must on St. Distaff's Day:
From the plough soon free your team;
Then cane home and fother them:
If the maids a-spinning go,
Burn the flax and fire the tow.
Bring in pails of water then,
Let the maids bewash the men.
Give St. Distaff' all the right:
Then bid Christmas sport good night,
And next morrow every one
To his own vocation.

Thursday, January 06, 2011


The Reverend Dr Michael Banner, Dean of Trinity College, Cambridge spoke about Brueghal's Adoration of the Magi on Thought for the Day this morning. In this depiction, the nativity scene is in the bottom left hand corner rather than being the central focus of the painting. The Three Kings do not have much majesty. There are ruins of a cathedral on the right. There are soldiers amongst the crowd. Brueghal's message is that God appears to a broken world, ravaged by war, scarcely noticed by the multitude.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Treasures of the Medici

One of the treasures of the Medici currently on display at the Musee Maillol in Paris is Botticelli's Adoration of the Magi. The three wise men depicted are Medici portraits: Cosimo the Elder (1389-1464) and his sons Piero and Giovanni. Meanwhile, Piero's sons Lorenzo and Giuliano watch from the side.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Lancelot Andrewes

2011 is the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible. One of the translators was Lancelet Andrewes (1555-1626), James I's favourite preacher, who was made Bishop of Winchester in 1626 . The translation was done in teams and Andrewes' team was responsible for Genesis - Kings 2. Andrewes' own translation includes the beautiful phrases:

"And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters."

T.S.Eliot was so inspired by Andrewes' poetic vision that he quoted one of his sermons in his poem The Journey of the Magi:

'A cold coming we had of it,

Just the worst time of the year

For a journey, and such a long journey:

The ways deep and the weather sharp,

The very dead of winter.'