To London again. Seen from Lambeth Bridge, the Shard seems both very tall and not-really-that-tall-considering. Something to do with the tapering shape. The London Eye always looks massive because the brain doesn’t expect a ferris wheel to be that size, especially when placed opposite Big Ben. I’ve only been on the Eye once, back when it was the Millennium Wheel, and though it’s a great experience I wish they hadn’t plonked the thing by Westminster Bridge. It trivialises Parliament, which is one of the most edifying edifices in the world.
So Maggie T still causes division, even amongst the Dabblers. Well we can debate her legacy until we’re all heartily sick of her and each other. I’m one of the generation that could be called Thatcher’s Children. For a good while I assumed that ‘Prime Minster’ was the feminine for ‘President’, as ‘actress’ is to ‘actor’. National power was matriarchal, being shared between the Queen and her dark alter ego, Mrs Thatcher. For it was also the absolute orthodoxy in my formative years that Thatcher was evil incarnate; her name was a byword for it, like ‘Dracula’. Everybody knew this (inexplicable really, that the British electorate kept voting for her).
These days I tend to think that political leaders in general have far less ability to either improve or damage a vast, elusive thing like ‘society’ than they’re given credit for (eg. globalisation and cheap Far Eastern manufacturing were what really did for the dockers). So you’re left with the person: a grocer’s daughter who kicked the male Establishment’s arse for over a decade. What’s not to admire? That said, there was an exponential increase in comprehensive schools on her watch as Education Secretary, equality of opportunity has plummeted partly as a result, and now politics and the top level of virtually every sphere of public life is dominated by the kind of toffs she used to wallop about Westminster with her handbag. Crickey Moses, she’d have drunk wets like Cameron, Clegg and Miliband for elevenses.
Jonathon Green’s post on the unreliability of ‘official’ etymology was a salutory piece, and now I learn via The Spectator’s Dot Wordsworth that the real origin of the term ‘Paralympics‘ is simply a combination of ‘Olympic’ and ‘Paraplegic’. The official line, and they must know it to be false, is that the ‘para’ refers to being ‘alongside’ the main Games. The coverage has been very good, and the late-night Last Leg programme was a pleasingly Channel 4-ish dose of irreverence, which rendered the attention-seeking ‘jokes’ of Frankie Boyle irrelevant. The normal process of watching a Paralympic event is: astonishment; involuntary laughter; speechless admiration. Did you see the amputee high-jump competition?
What is the Londoniest place in London? I’ll nominate Baker Street tube station. There’s a sad, rich griminess about the bricks; it reeks of Sweeney Todd and the Blitz. Gerry Rafferty chose his song title wisely. If they ever tart up Baker Street tube station then London as I’ve known it will cease to exist. Though I suppose the city always changes and everyone’s London ceases to exist eventually.
Sad to hear of the death of Terry Nutkins. My most devastating claim to fame, at least amongst fellow Thatcher’s Children, is that he once came to my house. My sister and his daughter were briefly classmates (the Nutkinses moved around a lot, so it didn’t last), and he came to collect her after a visit. He was huge, and entered our abode in a sort of looming semi-crouch, as if it were a house in a model village.
An email both intriguing and shattering dropped into the editorial inbox this week, concerning Sweeper!, the postmodern literary masterpiece attributed to football manager and former Manchester United player Steve Bruce. A man purporting to have worked for the publisher came across my review and had this to say:
I have been having a laugh while reminiscing about some fun times I had when was younger, and remembered a project I had been involved in many many years ago. The Paragon books, Striker, Sweeper and Defender “written” by Steve Bruce.
All 3 books were published by Paragon Publishing in Huddersfield. They were written by the owner of the company, a guy called Reggie Sharpe. A former headmaster, who was trying to make money as a publisher … He wrote each book in about 3 days, and then had them printed. Steve Bruce had nothing to do with any of them, I doubt he even read them cause they really were drivel. I think he got paid around £2000 per book for having his name and image used, and attending a book signing at Waterstones in Huddersfield. …The whole affair was a money making scheme, designed to sell Paragons books. Bruce was nothing but a paid figured head who’s fame was used to create awareness. But I think that the sales were poor, with only a few hardened fans parting with their money. The rest of the copies were pulped I believe. Sorry to shatter peoples images of Steve the author, but he really wasn’t.
Reeling, I shared this potential bombshell with fellow Bruce enthusiast Jon Hotten. But after some discussion we agreed that it couldn’t possibly be true, at least, not entirely. Certainly I can believe that Striker! was ghost-written (I haven’t managed to get hold of Defender!) as it has an entirely orthodox use of grammar, syntax, spelling and contains the rudiments of a plot. But Sweeper! is a very different beast. Sweeper! contains lengthy digressions about Steve Barnes’ favourite football tunnels, and his wife’s fondness for shopping and whether a pork chop is an essential ingredient in a cooked breakfast. And it contains this passage:
The gun was level with my belly. So this was what it was like to die. There was no doubt I was going to die. And not even in Newcastle. Not even Premier League. In Halifax, of all places, with a club in the third division.
Sorry, but no ghost-writer is that good.
There’s an improbably excellent pub tucked away at the top of Paddington station called The Mad Bishop and Bear. When I have a hour or so to kill before my train I can generally be found inside, availing myself of its commendable selection of Fuller’s ales. So there I was this week with pint of Discovery, trying not particularly hard to not eavesdrop on an interview that was taking place on the next table. A very-obviously American lady was interviewing an English academic for some PHD she was doing. Towards the end of the conversation the academic asked her if she was from Australia. She laughed. You bloody ignorant fool, I thought to myself, of course she’s not from Australia, that’s the most American American accent you could ever hear, you absolute plonker. “Wow, do I sound Australian?” she said [no you don’t, I thought, you sound incredibly American]. “ I’m not Australian, though I did live there for a bit,” she continued. “No, I’m actually from Canada.”