Search This Blog

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Ensemble intercontemporain review review

I read for a laugh a review in the Times signed  ‘Richard Morrison’, presumably a nom de honte, since no-one would put their real name to the pretentious twaddle preceding it. Here, in breach of goodness knows how many copyright laws, is the article with my commentary…

‘There was something mournfully symbolic [writes Richard] about the first London appearance of the Ensemble intercontemporain since the death last month of Pierre Boulez, who launched it forty years ago.’ How wonderfully farsighted old Pierre was, to have launched this London appearance of the Ensemble forty years in advance- an unprecedented degree of notice for a musical concert. Even my arena-busting  ‘Ms Streisland and the Three Tenors’ was conceived, planned and sold-out less than a year beforehand. I had the four of them at the chateau for rehearsals, and a right mess she left in the toilet. Where was I… oh yes…
‘Not a whiff of homage crept into the programme.’ One should imagine not. A creeping whiff would be an exceptionally rare phenomenon.
‘Boulez had no time for sentimentality and was scathing about musicians who based their interpretations  on extra-musical considerations’. True. Old Boulez I knew well. Many was the time he and I would pass the hours in some small cafĂ©, he hunched over an early-morning absinthe, tearfully lamenting the inability of your contemporary musician to strike just the right level of musicality. "Essay mon cher brave," he would appeal, peering at me earnestly through the greasy and dandruff-strewn lenses of his lunettes, "why are the musicians of today always so under-musical or so over-musical? I don’t understand this… this.. how you say extra-musicality."
‘Posthumously he is reaping what he sowed.’  Posthumous reaping! There’s your answer to the farm labour shortage. Get the long-dead peasants back to do it.
‘The Ensemble intercontemporain, it seems, adopts the same stance.’ That was old Boulet's influence again. Damned odd he thought it would look if each member of an ensemble stood in a markedly different way. A most disturbing impact on the conceptual integrity of the performance. He insisted on his player's adopting identical stances throughout each piece to reinforce the extra-musical consonance.
‘ I could admire this icy objectivity if it wasn’t also applied to music that cries out for emotion, or at least some sign of engagement.’ Firstly note the music is crying ‘out’- an excellent clarification, lest you had mistakenly supposed it was crying in. And it is wonderful to learn that while the music cries out for emotion it could actually be persuaded to settle instead for an arbitrarily small sign of engagement.
‘The concert was confined to pieces for two pianos, sometimes also with percussionists.’ Here we see the tragic effect of the premature streaming into arts or sciences  of the pupils in our schools. Had Richard been able to study mathematics alongside his A-levels in clichĂ© and poor syntax he might have learned that the properties of a set can be confined to X or they can include X and Y; they cannot be confined to X and sometimes include Y.
‘Debussy’s En Blanc et Noir for two pianos was the chief casualty.’ Another excellent clarification, lest you imagined, in this concert confined to pieces for two pianos, a whole orchestra is on the go. And re-assuring to read that the casualties at this concert were not leaderless.
‘Written in 1915, it speaks of loss on the battlefield and the clash of civilisations- at least to my ears.’ It would be a stern critic indeed who would demand Debussy's composition speak to any of Richard’s other organs of sense, so we can’t really fault the music for speaking to Richard's ears alone.
‘The dark energies of Bartok’s stupendous Sonata for two pianos and percussion are harder to subdue, and the performance was admirably cogent.’ What do we make of the plural energies? Perhaps the energy of the one piano and the energy of the other piano. Or perhaps the energy of the pianos and the energy of the percussion. Or maybe the energy of one piano plus the energy of the other piano plus the energy of the percussion. You see- that’s what happens when you set these pieces for more than one instrument- total confusion.
‘Yet even here the slow movement’s dancing fervour was politely subdued.’ Generous feet, sorry, no mean feat with all those hard to subdue dark energies.
‘The biggest disappointment, however…’ The courteous ‘however’ forewarns us that notwithstanding the big disappointment of the Ensemble's icy indifference to the music's crying out for even a tiny bit of engagement, and the big disappointment of the hard-won subduement of the darkly energetic dancing fervour of the slow movement, an even bigger disappointment is on its way.
‘… was Edler-Copes’s (sic) ‘Presence’, derived, it seemed, from type-writer rhythms repeated endlessly’.  To be fair to Edler-Copes, who was once a pupil of mine, the derivation of a work from endlessly repeated  type-writer rhythms is far from straightforward, not to say infinitely time-consuming.  I understand he’s still hoping for them to stop.

Connoisseurs of literary humour the world over: We know how he feels.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Reading less of the TLS

I read this morning that Truman Capote, when in New York, would purchase the Times Literary Supplement at a downtown store and carry it to his apartment many blocks away with the cover showing. Perhaps I was wrong to conclude that sales of TLS had shrunk owing to misguided editorial policies and poorly-written content. Perhaps it is because we, its scathing readers, are no longer in droves providing it with free publicity by carrying it home from the store with its cover showing. I wonder…

Later that day…

I have a tentative new theory that might account for the miniscule circulation of the TLS. This afternoon in Brixton, wishing to revive the old custom, I bought a copy of the TLS with the intention of carrying it to my Spartan quarters with its cover showing, thus providing free exposure and celebrity endorsement to the ailing rag. The pedestrian route to Mayfair took me through some of the toughest estates in London, and in not one did the publication in my hand prompt the slightest flicker of recognition among the countless hundreds of loitering youths whom I passed. One shrinks from suggesting it, but could it be that the TLS has  lost touch with the kids in the street?

Monday, 15 February 2016

Ronnie O'Sullivan's Big Break

The sports pages of various newspapers contain critical accounts of the decision by snooker ace Ronnie O’Sullivan to sacrifice a 147-break by choosing to pot a final pink in place of the black required to achieve the maximum score attainable in a single ‘frame’ of snooker. Uncharitably the cynical hacks attribute to Ronnie’s act the motive of avarice. The prize available for professional players achieving a one-four-seven in an official match is subject to a roll-over mechanism which increases its value exponentially as each successive match passes without the prize being awarded. Ronnie, the hax contend, forewent the prize with the intention of repeating his feat of snooker genius at some subsequent competition for vaster reward.
Having coached him since his childhood, Ronnie I know like my own foster-children. He is naturally gifted with the cue and was quick to emulate the techniques I demonstrated at the 18th century table in the billiards room that once belonged to George 3rd (the billiard room, that is, not the table). Atop the massive mahogany legs, the slabs of peerless Welsh slate, and the finest West-of England green baize, I honed Ronnie’s game to its shining pinnacle of cuemanship. In addition to my finesse at the table, Ronnie was quick to assimilate other attributes I demonstrated to round-off his capabilities as an entertainer. Always leave the audience wanting more I told him.  I am convinced that his recent forfeiture of a 147 owed more to my lessons in showmanship than to the mean financial calculations imagined by the press, not least because it followed an example I set in Ronnie’s presence not two days beforehand, when, at a charity darts demonstration with Eric Bristow, I deliberately sacrificed the darting equivalent of the 147- the nine dart finish, choosing to tease and astonish the lager-swilling audience with a final double-bull in place of the double fifteen they expected me to attempt.
And it is not just in the world of precision sport that I have perfected the art of leaving my audience craving for more. Consider the number of times you have read eagerly through a post on my blog, only to find… no funny punch line!

Connoisseurs of literary humour the world over: Sure, you man's not wrong there. Must be months now he's been keeping us wanting more. He's got  that off to a fine art, no mistake.

A dawning realisation

Apart from here, in this golden treasury of literary humour, you rarely read of setting realisations. I had a dawning realisation about that under-reported phenomenon this very morning.  Questions need to be asked. What brings about the setting of a realisation? What is the mean duration of the setting process? Can a realisation be unset through the application of modern psychological techniques? I suppose that old age, alcohol and other abused substances, dementia, and the cares of an overburdened mind might all contribute to the statistical likelihood of realisations setting. That certainly seems true in my case….Where was I going with this?

Connoisseurs of literary humour the world over:  We never saw that coming. That’s a good one. Much funnier than his last few posts anyway.

Trained Architects

This morning a television programme tells us that a particular property now in the precarious care of the National Trust had been designed by a ‘trained architect’. You know, I never realised there were untrained architects. (Removes spotless half-moon spectacles, delicately rimmed in purest gold, to denote earnest reflection by unparalleled intellect). ‘Though I suppose that could account for Southampton.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Peer to peer lending

Carney was on the 'phone this morning. Did I hear Lord Turner on the BBC? Peer-to-peer lending grown to £6billion. Couldn't believe it had got so big. There were only about a thousand peers, right?
Seven hundred and ninety, I corrected.
OK so that makes it ... erm..about £750k each?
Seven point five million each, I corrected (numbers were never his strong spot).
Seven point five mil each!!???
During the stunned silence that followed, I reflected upon the tawdry business that Carney had brought to my attention. It was not news to me, of course. I knew first hand that it was not possible to walk from one end of the House of Lords bar to the other without being pestered by swarm of peers offering or begging for loans. I also knew what Carney possibly didn't, that an informal derivatives market had been established in the members' cloakroom on the second floor, where IOUs were more numerous than the paper towels.
Carney's shrill voice recalled me from my reverie. How can it possibly be seven point five mil each? Surely they don't all have that kind of money, even with all the bungs?
It took time, but I finally explained, through a series of childish analogies involving the exchange of baseball cards, that the £6billion figure was a simple sum of the absolute values of each of the individual peer-to-peer transactions- many of which where simply selling a loan on, or borrowing money at a lower rate to offer it on at a higher one- rather than representing a real indebtedness of £6billion among our noble peerage. He didn't quite understand me, but he could at least appreciate that it was more complicated than he had first thought, and he signed-off promising to 'think about it a bit more before the next MPC'.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Trump's defence concerns

I confess I had been somewhat puzzled by the agitated reception given in some quarters to the news that I had supplied the missing technical expertise that allowed the North Koreans finally to complete their inter-continental ballistic satellite launcher. A call this morning from Trump supplied the answer...
Trump alone among recent US presidents has never quite trusted me, and in fairness I can understand why. Early in his career as a property speculator I ...lured is not quite the word I want.... I involved him in a rather complex deal that financed the establishment of the main campus of my charitable research foundation, leveraging the value of the oil rights for a large section of the eastern Mexican Gulf over which I had an option. Through the deal I acquired the campus and he the option; how was I to know the option was worthless?
You might think Trump would at least credit me with the value of the experience, which has allowed him to become a somewhat shrewder player in the property market, but reasoning has never been his strong suit (odd the reinforced clothes some of these speculators wear), as this morning's call made clear. He started on his usual pugnacious note. Hey, what was I doing helping those commies. Why was I making missiles for them. Didn't I know North Career was unstable (I assume the spelling). And more of the same. I continued with the crossword until he lost steam, then patiently explained that the rocket which the North Koreans had launched with my help was intended to launch satellites, and I let him know, having exacted suitable promises of secrecy, that into the microprocessors that ran the guidance system for the rocket I had embedded firmware that, unbeknown to my clients, would never allow a ballistic trajectory outside their territorial waters.
I could tell that Trump didn't entirely trust my answer. OK wiseguy, he went on after a few moments of muttering to himself, if you're so smart answer this. Suppose they launch a satellite, and suppose it can get itself into a geo stationery (I assume the spelling) orbit. And suppose that orbit is right on top of Washington DC. How do we know there ain't a nuke inside it? Huh? And how do we know one day they flick a switch and a bomb-bay opens under that baby and out drops an H-bomb straight down on DC. I don't remember quite what he said next, as 17 down was really bugging me: 'Cervantes wearing cricket pad has a bit' (9).

The North Korean Connection

I hear murmurings from Stockholm about my role as advisor-in-chief to North Korea's nobel- sorry, I meant noble, programme to escape our pedestrian terrestrial environs and reach the lofty purity of space. Dear me, the world is such a nest of hypocrites. Virtually every country in the west, and most in the east, has its own satellite, so why should North Korea be denied the convenience? And if my charitable research foundation in Nassau makes a million or ten from correcting a few fundamental failings in the design of their inter-continental ballistic satellite-launcher, where’s the harm in that?

Monday, 8 February 2016

Braking Bad

This morning I received a charming letter from a young lady who asks whether the unbearable congestion on our inadequate motorway network is due in part to an increase in the average length of the motor car.
Not appreciably, is the short answer.
To increase the capacity of our motorways we need to reduce the length not of the vehicles but of the gaps between them, which account for the greater proportion of the space on a carriageway.
As long ago as 1971 I sent detailed proposals to the Department of Transport, complete with drawings and specifications and even a working prototype. The idea was simplicity itself. Each car would be fitted with a frontal probe, the remote extremity of which would support a sensitive pressure switch wired to the braking system. A car would be driven with the tip of its probe ‘kissing’ the rear of the car in front, so that when the leading car braked each preceding car would have its brakes activated by its pressure switch. The photograph of the handsome prototype tells its own compelling story…

Of course the Luddites at the DoT came up with various objections. The probes would make parking difficult. The probes would trip pedestrians. The probes would project into the transverse carriageway at T-junctions, and more of the same. But when within two weeks I had dealt with those objections with revised telescopic probes, made to withdraw discreetly with a few pumps of a dashboard-mounted lever, more followed until it became obvious that they were ‘false’ objections, raised with the sole aim of discrediting the proposals. We can only guess at what sinister motivations were at play, what backstairs influences, what bungs, bribes and other sweeteners from vested civil-engineering interests concerned only with maintaining the demand for ever-more highways to be built. And today you, the poor commuter, are paying the price. It makes my blood boil.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

An insult to the intelligence

I switched on the BBC classical music programme Radio 3 this morning in time to catch the last 23 bars of Szell's Tyrolean scherzo in f. The recording was clearly that of the Budapest concert in May '06 with Marajeck on first violin- I remembered it as much for the post-concert show that Marajeck put on at my suite in the Gellert as I did  for a disturbing  rattle from the  tail piece of the second 'cello, which was quite impossible to ignore. After the music had finished the dim presenter reminded herself of the name of the piece, and then made a most unexpected confession.  She was sorry, she said, she didn't have the name of the conductor among her notes, but she would find it and let us know as soon as possible!
Does she think that we....don't know the conductor?? I was still in a whirl when the next piece ended, and she tells us that she's got that name for us, it was Ernst Massendorfer. Of course it was Massendorfer. Does she think we can't tell the baton work of Massendorfer from that of Furtwangler, Alsop, Barbirolli and the rest (I will leave out that other annoying Rattle)?  What will  she tell us next- that the music was played on violins and other orchestral instruments? I am all for giving a chance to young radio presenters struggling to learn their trade (remember my work with Wogan, after all), but I won't sit there and be insulted by my own radio. There have to be yet another letter to the BBC Board in the STERNEST POSSIBLE TONES.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Hawking's Tourette's

Hawking has Tourette's. Oh yes, don't you doubt it. Think of it, why else would all his public talks be pre-recorded? They say it is because Steve  can only drive his voice synthesiser at five characters per minute. If you reflect for a moment you will  conclude that simply can't be true. There's Steve solving the Einstein field equations to calculate the entropy divergence of colliding black holes- how is he meant to do that if he can only write five digits per minute? And if the  public facts were not enough to convince you, I can tell you privately that as long ago as 1997 I had written, and he had tested, an optical device-driver that allowed him to speak in real-time through a vocabulary of eyeball movements, somewhat like the strokes of a pen in short-hand.
No, the real reason for the charade of the pre-recorded speech is his tragic development of Tourette's, as if motor neurone disease was not a sufficient burden in itself. Through consultation with Stephen and his family, those of us who act as the guardians of his public image decided that we could not risk the damage that might arise to his noble intellectual persona if his talks were peppered with the whistles, clicks and obscenities that he could  no longer find the power to suppress. But surely it would have been possible for you, people ask, to have implemented an algorithm to strip out the swear words and other ejaculations in real time as he 'spoke'. True, but no algorithm  could have disguised the resulting pauses, and we thought that any hesitations in his speech would have been almost as damaging to Stephen's image as the cursing and monkey noises they replaced.
While the case was easily made for suppressing the evidence of his Tourette's in public, a more subtle moral dilemma confronted us in relation to his work at the university. While they started out with great forbearance and sympathy, the other theoretical physicists at the Cavendish soon became intolerant of Stephen's limited and repetitive repertoire of intrusive and disrespectful sounds, claiming it rendered them  unable to concentrate on their analysis. There were demands made at the senate that the 'voice-box' should be switched-off when Stephen was working alone- a reasonable request, you might think, but a cruel one in actuality. Stephen  had made it abundantly clear to me that the act of uttering the obscenities and other animalistic noises had a profoundly soothing effect, and to switch off his voice-box would be like a physical gag, which surely no-one would allow in this enlightened age. Fortunately a simple solution- headphones- allowed both Stephen and his irritated colleagues to coexist in harmony once more. Stephen is now able to chirrup and swear as he likes when performing his calculations, while his colleagues are undisturbed in performing theirs. And so I continue to improve the lot of mankind wherever I can.

Friday, 5 February 2016

Keeping it up

Grandad, the little one asks, what happens to all those letters you get?
She is referring, of course, to the sacks of mail emptied daily onto the Etruscan marble top of the table in the main hall that once belonged to Pious IX (the hall that is, not the table, which was ex Francesco Medici via contacts in Argentina best not mentioned further here).
Why little one, Grandad reads them all, then they are kept in those books over there. Points vaguely to the east wall of the library, where countless books bound in Cardinal red kid hold the correspondence generated by my work, meticulously indexed in 12-point Sushing Immacula printed on hand-scuted 250gm paper. Pick any volume at random, open it where you like, and the same sort of drivel will be found- typically questions about the inspiration for my writings, usually from those in search of some inspiration of their own.
Take this one, from June 2015. Why, it asks, are there sometimes such large gaps between the entries in my blog? Is it because I am working for long periods in other media? Well, yes, I suppose that accounts for it partly. I have my other means of expression- film, music, theatre, opera, my bronzes, the sketches I send to Foster and Piano, the choreography, my old Leica L3, the wrapping of the Grand Canyon in cling film, programming Deep Blue- and so on, and  they all, to some extent, eat into the time I have to enter the character of the bloggeur Peluxes. But I can't entirely dispel a suspicion that behind the question there is an assumption that posts such as these- golden nuggets of literary humour- can somehow be.... just made up. That they can be...dashed-off in a moment, and that if it weren't for other distractions my blog could be a near-continuous outpouring.  One might as well ask why the seven-year gap between the Special and General Theories of Relativity? Was Einstein doing something else?  Why the eight year gap between War and Peace and Anna Karenina? Did Tolstoy take up photography? Blog posts such as this are not simply...written. They are conceived, nurtured, refined, examined from every angle. The actual typing of them is like the birth of a child- a few short moments of painful effort after months of development.

It's as if people think that I come in from the pub, tell the lovely wife to put her feet up and I'll get her a cup of tea, then type the first old nonsense that comes into my head while the kettle boils. How do people get these ideas?

Shouted from a distance: Where's that tea? I'm dying of thirst here.

Self: Sorry sweetest, just coming.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Terry Wogone

Having intended to remain silent on the matter I have been persuaded to pen suitable words to commemorate the sad passing of my erstwhile mentee Terry Wogan. I first heard the young 'Tell Woe' (as I nicknamed him) in London's St Thomas's hospital, where I had been brought in to establish a neurosurgical unit and he to push the trolleys that bore my patients. When one of the announcers on the hospital's radio service fell ill, Tell Woe volunteered to take her place, fancying himself as the next Jimmy Young. His programme was aired in the surgeons' mess, and I quickly became sensitized to the tedium of his delivery, which was limited in the main to the passing on of 'special hellos' to patients from their relatives, and reading in a soporiphic monotone the daily specials from the canteen menu.
Sensing that the lad had not the first notion of the numbing effects of his performance, and wishing to be relieved of the ordeal of overhearing it, I suggested to him that he might find it educational to allow me to take the lead in one of his slots, a suggestion to which he gladly assented.
Even today I remember almost word for word the off-the-cuff banter I uttered in a rich resonant baritone when the strains of the theme music died away. Something along these lines...
'Yesterday in my Spartan Mayfair apartments my work on some matter of profound global moment was interrupted by one of my domestic staff. A call from Los Angeles. President Kennedy was hoping to speak with me. I put down my papers and beckoned for the call to be put through to my desk. The usual pleasantries were exchanged. Jackie and kids fine. Bobby still a worry, and so on. Something of my impatience must have sounded in my voice, for JFK apologised for taking my time, but needed some advice. This Bay of Pigs business. Military chiefs spouting on about game theory. Didn't understand a word of it. Didn't think they understood a word of it either. Given my role as von Neumann's mentor could I shed light on best strategy etc etc. I said it was best if he left the thinking to me, and I would call Kruschev after supper. No thanks necessary, Happy to help. Hope the introduction to Marilyn had lived up to expectations, and so on. No wonder I never got round to the crossword. But how's this. One across: 'Judas preferred chocolate to pigeons'. Seven letters. Prize to the first patient to ring in.' Then straight into the second movement of Scheherazade.
To say that Tell Woe  was gobsmacked my impromptu delivery would be a major understatement. It was at least two hours before his  hanging jaw closed and he uttered a word. That, I told him, is radio magic. But how, he wanted to know, how could he, with his narrow life experience, and his meagre fund of stories, possibly match my own peerless performance. Tell Woe, I said, art need not be true. No-one needs to know that you are a young good-for-nothing wastrel. If your true factual recollections  are insipid and forgettable, invent. Unshackle your imagination. Let your listeners believe you are a seasoned man of the world, with Hollywood connections, backstairs influence, money, sex appeal. and the rest. It is radio, don't forget, so they cannot see the callow Limerick boy, they can only hear the character that he projects. And most of the rest you know. Tell Woe and I remained close friends, sharing carefree hours on the golf-course. With  my talent for mimicry I was able to emulate his delivery faultlessly, and when in Broadcasting House I would often take over the microphone during his show so that he could slip out to Ladbrooks. Of course, television put a stop to those innocent capers, as I could never disguise my appearance to match his dumpy gormless look.

Celebrity Mastermind

The blood pressure was up again last night, and no surprises there. Keep it to yourself but some months ago I bet Melvyn Bragg and Joan Bakewell that I could take any dunce they cared to mention and cram them to win Celebrity Mastermind, using, of course, the techniques of didactic gradualism. Now I know what you are saying, and I agree, I agree:  betting those two old chisellers is hardly a fitting demonstration of the powers of so monumental a development as didactic gradualism. But let’s just say that there were some old scores to settle, and leave it at that.  So hands were spat on and shook, and the bet was made, the next step being for my counter-parties to nominate a suitable subject for the trial. Well they took their pints and withdrew into a corner of the pub for a prolonged and evidently heated discussion, returning some minutes later with crafty looks and the smiles of anticipated victory. I sat stiffly erect and waited for their worst with a look of granite dignity and forbearance; but I must confess that an involuntary wince was the reaction when they announced the name: JP McCoy.
I’d known JP since he was a lad mucking out the racers at my stud in County Meath, and even then, when his toughest mental challenge was to figure out how to move horse muck from point a to point b you could virtually hear the mental cogs grinding. How he had gone on to become  the greatest jockey of his generation was a triumph of my training over his rudimentary capabilities.  Never give up- no case is completely hopeless, I said to myself repeatedly on the gallops as JP jumped the rails instead of the fences, and I said the same thing to myself when Bragg and Bakewell sprang his name upon me. After all, I had overcome bigger challenges- look what I managed with Hawking, after all.
All the same it was fierce work. I had JP flown out to my apartment in Dubai, where the harsh prohibitions on the consumption of alcohol might constrain his tendency for purposeful rambles down Toping Street. I shall never forget the first night in which we thrashed out a list of the ‘specialist subjects’ which JP would have to master if he were to win the coveted ‘Celebrity Mastermind’ bowl, and I my bet. There were four subjects on the list, one for each of the knock-out rounds of the competition, and one for the final:

The techniques and equipment of fly-fishing

Styles of peasant dance


Historical currencies of Spanish origin

 I have neither the space nor the inclination to describe here how JP and I spent week after agonising  week building his knowledge of these subjects through minute incremental steps. Never had the principles of didactic gradualism a sterner test or a clearer vindication, for JP emerged blinking into the harsh Dubai sunlight on the eighth week almost as knowledgeable as I of our four focussed fields of study. And so to last night…
It was the first round of Celebrity Mastermind 2016. JP against the actor, author and presenter Steven Fry,  style ‘guru’ Gok Wan, and weather girl Carol from the BBC. Carol had made a hot start with her specialist subject ‘symbols used in meteorology’, clocking an impressive 10 points. Smarmy Fry fared less well on ‘Chapters 3, 6, and 11 of Right-ho Jeeves’, gaining only 9 points after unforgivably forgetting that newts were of the family Salamandridae. But it was Wan who set the bar with a fearsome 13 points, snapping out name after name of ‘Models who appeared on the catwalk at the last show of Parish Fashion week 2014’.
I clutched the arms of my chair as JP was invited to take the hot seat, peering at the  television to see whether his walk across the studio floor betrayed any signs of ‘green room’ indulgences. Nor did my grip loosen by the smallest fraction as the questioning began:

Humphries: What is the common name of the technique by which the leader is attached to the line through an inverted hitch.
JP: The Itchen  back-flip.
Humphries: Correct. Which type of caddis fly larva is mimicked by the lure known as a ghiillie’s eyebrow.
JP: Saluris Madriedae
Humphries: Correct. In the 18th century what was the weight of heaviest recorded salmon to have been caught with a line on the River Tay between  Golmoray and the ‘Stirling Bends’.
JP: Sixty four pounds, seven ounces and four drachms.
Myself, leaning forward in chair: Attaboy JP!
Humphries: Correct. What is meant by ‘under champing’?
JP: A largely obsolete practice of casting with a horizontal ruffle that was once popular with the ‘underhand butts’ school.
Humphries, smiling: Correct.
Myself, half standing: Yes!
Humphries: For what purpose might a ‘poplin Mary’ be employed?
JP: To re-inforce a weakened top-knuckle that had caught on an overhanging tree, submerged supermarket trolley, or countless other forms of obstruction that plague the life of the angler.
Myself, punching air with fist: Yeah… textbook!
Humphries: Correct. In which navigable waterway has the practice of double reefing been banned by the British Waterways Board since a fatal accident in1953?
JP: The Firth of Forth.
Humphries: Correct. Which of its members were removed from the Standards Committee of the British Angling Authority after the  ‘eased spindles’ scandal in 1904?
JP: Brigadier Sir George Robert Carlisle; the Right Reverend Enoch, Bishop of Ely; Lord and Lady Aberaeron; and the Duke of Argyll.
Humphries: Correct.  What is the maximum modulus of elasticity of nylon headers under the Glamorgan convention introduced in 1988 following an accusation of sprocket packing at the  West Highland championship?
JP: 4.8 Pascals.
Humphries: Yes I’ll accept that, or Newtons per square metre.
Myself, outraged, flecks of spittle at corner of mouth: Time wasting- get on with it!
Humphries: What notable printing error characterises the rare 2nd edition of Sir Arthur Bower’s classic reference ‘Imitating the Thorax of the Water Nymph with natural Hemp Sutures’?
JP: The reversal of a plate.
Humphries: More specifically…
Myself, shouting hoarsely: Pedant!
JP: The colour plate facing Page 64 in which three faux nymphs are shown with doubled barbs.
Humphries: Correct.  Whose 1921 record for catching the most brown trout with slip-faced ticklers was temporarily broken by Alison Broad using synthetic rayon slip-faces in 2003 before the use of rayon was overturned in the ‘Cahill’ judgement.
JP: Father Patrick Sweeney of St Brendan’s Church, Mallow.
Humphries: Correct. What  is the conventional penalty for a frayed  tie-end in Class 2 international fly judging.
JP: Three points provided the frayed-end is no longer than 2 millimetres, otherwise five points.
Humphries: Correct.
Myself, having drained tumbler of premium malt in a single gargantuan swig: Come-on come-on!
Humphries: With what elongated variety of close-chuffed fly is the Welsh opera singer Bryn Terfyl closely associated?
JP: the triple ‘French’.
Humphries: Correct. Since 2006 what has been the maximum number of eyelets permissible on a split cane rod under international competitive salmon fishing rules?
JP: thirteen if the bottom runner is more than 30 centimetres from the butt.
Humphries: Correct. For what non-compliance were all of the lady members of the Canadian team disqualified in the Henessey casting handicap at Stockbridge in 1963?
JP: The use of ovolo barbs with less than the minimum legal radius of curvature.
Humphries: Correct. What is the common term for…I’ve started so I’ll finish… the piece of equipment that consists of a spool, ratchet, centre pawl, eccentric crank, spindle button and clamp and which is used to regulate the distention of the line?
JP, squeezing a perplexed chin: ermmm…
Myself, nodding at television, eyebrows at maximum altitude: ….
JP: errmm…
Myself, head turned upwards imploringly to the unheeding gods: for *****sake it’s THE REEL MCCOY!
JP: errmm…
Myself: nnngggggggnnnnn
JP: ..the reel?
Humphries: Correct.
Myself, dissolving with relief: thank God for that.

 Hard as it might be to imagine, the general knowledge round was even more fraught, but JP had done enough and beat Gok by a convincing 3 points, leaving weather-girl Carol and smarmy Fry trailing some way behind. Less than a week now to the second round, and my nerves are still in shreds.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Kids Company

This morning sees the publication of the 'PACAC' report on the failure of 'Kids Company', the children's charity headed by the colourful Camila Batman-Ghelidjh. I first met the young  Camila Ghelidjh, as she then was, in Iran, when in 1982  she accompanied her father who came to seek my advice in connection with a matter relating to the estate of the recently-deceased Shah Mohhamad Reza Pahlavi, to whom the Ghelidjh family was distantly related. Although her father was the ostensible leader of the little delegation that sat drinking Persian tea in my office, I soon observed that Camila was the  driving force behind the enquiries into the Shah's testatory status, and switching from the mode of legal advisor to that of psychologist I readily established that hers was a most acquisitive nature.  I was not in the least surprised, therefore, when she approached me in later years to draft the now-notorious 'pre-nup' for her marriage to billionaire socialite and philanthropist Bruce Wayne, from whom she took the name Batman-Ghelidjh; and it was interesting to note from the PACAC report  that none of Camila's personal fortune was ever risked in the coffers of her charity.

Of course, the bulk of the criticism in the PACAC report is rightly directed at Alan Yentob who chaired the board of trustees which so-badly failed to instil adequate standards of governance at the failed charity. That Yentob failed can hardly be a surprise to anyone aware of his background- his only work experience has been gathered during a lifetime at the BBC, that most-introspective of organisations whose standards of governance were responsible for Jimmy Saville, and, worst still, for the £6.8m pension pot it has put aside for Yentob himself.