Rome-ward bound

June 26, 2007 at 7:49 am (UK NEWS)


Tony Blair went to see the Pope last week. He wants to convert to Catholicism. No wonder the pontiff looks worried — can the Church bear the strain? (“Forgive me father, for I have sinned. Now where shall I begin?”) The Vatican will have to build a special confession booth for Blair — a line of priests will form outside, taking turns to absolve him.

STOP PRESS: News arrives that Blair is to become Bush’s peace envoy in the Middle East. Oh, but he’s a warmonger you say. True, but the thing is the president can’t spell — what he’s actually becoming is a piece envoy, securing a piece of the pie for us in the region. The sad fact is that there are enough religious lunatics bent on killing people there without him moving in.

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Three awards and one man of distinction

June 22, 2007 at 12:36 pm (UK NEWS)


Last October former Iranian president Mohammed Khatami – a man who has yet to be investigated in connection with human rights abuses and murders that occurred under his watch both as president of Iran and during his tenure as head of the country’s ministry of culture and Islamic guidance – travelled to the University of St Andrews in Scotland to accept an honorary degree for his efforts in promoting “dialogue between faiths”.

(Surely an insult to the women stoned by his government and the writers and political dissidents it has killed.)

The National Union of Students said that it was “appalled” and issued a demand for Khatami to use his influence to secure the release of Ahmad Batebi, the pro-democracy demonstrator imprisoned for his role in the student protests of 1999, before any honour was bestowed.

The NUS, like many, regarded St Andrews’ move as an endorsement of Iran’s criminal theocracy by a UK institution. So perhaps we can forgive the poor old mullahs for being slightly baffled now that another British institution – the monarchy, no less – has given Salman Rushdie a knighthood. (He’s been made a ‘Sir’ as Iranians say.)

Quite what the UK government is playing at is unclear, but so curious is the tango between these two nations that we shouldn’t be surprised if in the next few months President Ahmadinejad himself flies to Scotland to pick up a tartan turban and a bottle of scotch for the Supreme Leader – with some deep-fried Mars bars and a kilt thrown (and if we’re lucky, a headbutt).

Or perhaps the University of St Andrews will come to its senses and follow the example of Edinburgh University, which decided last week to strip Robert Mugabe of the honorary degree it awarded him in 1984. (Hopefully, 23 years hence Khatami will not be the leader of Zimbabwe.)

As for Sir Salman, if only he had the gumption and wisdom to follow the example of the fashion entrepreneur Joseph Corre (pictured) – and son of designer Vivienne Westwood – who turned down his MBE, rubber-stamped as it was by Downing Street.

He wrote in The Independent yesterday: “I couldn’t accept an honour from a dishonest man. And Tony Blair is a dishonest man… Mr Blair has caused many miserable deaths and tortures.”

Too bad that – unlike this honourable businessman – the world’s Bush-friendly Sir Salmans are not willing to swim upstream.

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June 18, 2007 at 11:04 am (FILM REVIEW)

Written and directed by Deepa Mehta, Water is a film that will leave you thirsty for a script. It, at best, is a shoddy waste of time if a worthy addition to the con-artist cinema of the Orient. The story centres the chubby-cheeked eight-year-old Chuyia, whose father wakes her up:

“Do you remember getting married?” he says.

“No,” she replies.

“Your husband died. You’re a widow now.”

“For how long?” she asks.

Remarkably, the child claims not to remember having been married, even though her husband will have attacked her on their wedding night. Her head shaved, Chuyia is dumped into the hands of a refuge for widows.

(Oddly, one elderly widow there seems only to remember her wedding night, and the sweets she received then.)

The refuge is controlled by a matriarch-cum-brothel madam, who forces a fair-skinned, beautiful, European-looking woman called Kalya into sex work. Kalya befriends Chuyia, introducing her to her puppy – which she is allowed to keep along with her long hair.

When Chuyia goes running after her dog, she bumps into Narayan a liberal young Brahmin, who is more 1990s Islington yuppy than 1930s Indian nationalist. The upper caste/outcast love story that emerges is so clinical, shallow and unmoving that divulging what happens next will detract nothing from the film.

Narayan finds out that his father is one of his wife-to-be’s clients (a great twist had any of the characters depth – “You disgust me” he tells papa). Still, he decides he still wants her.

Only too late, Kalyani kills herself. (All this against the lusciously shot backdrop of a mystical India filled with wailing, sitars, and, for a welcome dose of realism, men scrubbing their armpits in rivers.) The evil matriarch sends little Chuyia to be one of Kalyani’s clients who is an Anglophile as well as a paedophile.

Chuyia is helped off a boat, back from her ordeal, by the film’s third female heroin Shakuntula. Audience sympathy is, by this point, fast running out. So what do you do to retain it? Wheel out Gandhi of course. Yes, folks, the last scene of this film shows the Mahatma making a – surprise, surprise – weakly scripted speech to a wooden audience in a train station.

He boards the train, which Shakuntula, who takes it upon herself to deliver the deflated Chuyia the great man, chases. Conveniently she spots Narayan to whom she manages to hand the child with the instruction, get her to Gandhi! Poor old Gandhi not only liberated India, but also the director of this charlatan of a film from having to think of a proper ending.

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Good review of bad film

June 8, 2007 at 10:49 am (blog)

Guardian critic Peter Bradshaw’s thumb-down to Ocean Thirteen is worth a read.

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Why babies are overrated

June 8, 2007 at 12:08 am (blog)

Meet Ariana, seven weeks old. Her mother, Christina Papadopoulou, supplied this snap to She is of course, lovely, but in this picture simply outgunned by the cuteness of the bear.

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A view from Iran

June 6, 2007 at 2:36 pm (blog)

It’s pelage season in Iran. The well-to-do of Tehran take time off and head to the segregated beaches of the north. Men armed with binoculars line up to hire speed boats to gawp at the women’s section from a distance. “The problem is,” says Arghavan, a 25-year-old graphic designer, who came to London four months go, “that you can’t get rid of segregation overnight. Can you imagine how those men would react without a curtain separating the genders?”

So, what do to?

“Well,” she says laughing, “you’d have to wipe the slate clean of a whole generation and start with a society which from the outset allowed men and women to share a beach just like here.”

She adds: “Relations between men and women can be normal, if only the state would leave them alone.”

Arghavan and her brother, she says, were recently stopped in the street and had to prove they were siblings. “If we couldn’t,” she says, “things could get much bigger.” A woman’s father, she said, would have to tell a court he was aware of who she was with. And if the father refused to do this?
“No father would refuse,” she says. “But if he did the girl could be stoned.”

I was recently cornered by a post-grad student in the US who said that actually, things are far better for women in Iran that we in the West were led to believe. “When was the last time you went back,” she said, implying that I did not know the reality on the ground. Are things really okay?
“It depends which family you’re visiting when you go there, their economic situation,” she says. “In [the wealthy] north of Tehran you might see lifestyles you won’t see the like of here in the West,” she says. “But venture out into poorer areas and the villages and meet a 25-year-old woman who was forced into marriage aged 15 and it’s a different story.”

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Comedy in Hampstead

June 5, 2007 at 11:53 pm (One-man show ad)


Friday 29, Saturday 30 June
Sunday 1 July*, Monday 2 July*

* with SHAPPI KHORSANDI in preview of her Edinburgh show ‘Carry on Shappi’


Downstairs at
The Washington
50 Englands Lane
London NW3 4UE

Tube: Belsize Park

Info and reservations: xxxx
or email:xxxxx

Tickets: £8 (£6 students)

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No thank you, Mr Hirst

June 5, 2007 at 5:45 pm (blog)

Is a human skull encrusted with diamonds art? In this day and age, once the diamonds are in you can call it what you want – a symphony in G minor, a film, kabuki, a Punch and Judy show, Jaws, the list goes on.

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