Getaway bike, Notting Hill, London

September 15, 2008 at 3:50 pm (Espresso, UK)

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From Empire with love

July 5, 2008 at 12:09 am (UK) ()

How the James Bond exhibition in London fails to highlight 007’s less charming side

James Bond is arguably the mother of all ‎on-screen celebrations of white, European ‎masculinity. More than 2 billion people – ‎two fifths of the world’s population – have ‎watched a 007 film. Only Tarzan or Indiana ‎Jones might rival his stature. For Your ‎Eyes Only: Ian Fleming And James Bond – the ‎exhibition currently running at London’s ‎Imperial War Museum – sets out to outline ‎the relationship between the fictional ‎secret agent and the man who created him, ‎Ian Fleming.

Fleming (pictured) was born to a wealthy Scottish ‎banking family.

He went to the elite school Eton and then the military training academy ‎Sandhurst. His father Valentine Fleming, an ‎aristocratic MP, was killed in 1917, ‎serving in the same unit as Winston ‎Churchill in World War I. Peter, Ian’s ‎older brother, was handed the mantle of ‎family patriarch.

A journalist and established travel writer, ‎Peter’s derring-do in foreign climes in ‎part inspired his younger brother to take ‎to fiction. Ian ‎needed a refuge from his sibling’s towering ‎shadow and found this in the character he’d ‎created, James Bond.

Peter recommended his publisher Jonathan ‎Cape publish the first Bond novel in 1953, ‎something Cape did with reluctance. Another ‎‎11 novels were written before Fleming died ‎in 1964 – a window one cannot help but ‎notice — in which the sun truly set on the ‎British Empire. Bond, you can be forgiven ‎for thinking became a fictional substitute ‎for Empire, a national hero who could – and ‎did – take over the world, or at least its ‎imagination.

But historical context is not what this ‎homage to writer and character is about – ‎nor is it is about the gadgetry that many ‎Bond aficionados will be hoping to see.

Sure, there is the gun from Goldfinger; one ‎of the yellow space helmets from Moonraker; ‎a cello pierced by a bullet from The Living ‎Daylights; flick-knife shoes from From ‎Russia With Love; a spear-gun from ‎Thunderball; a transparent “nuclear” bomb ‎from The World Is Not Enough; a golden gun ‎with bullets marked “007”; a wing-mirror ‎dart-gun from Live And Let Die; the heart-‎transplant unit used for smuggling diamonds ‎in The Living Daylights; the overcoat worn ‎by Sean Connery in Dr No; Daniel Craig’s ‎bloodied shirt from Casino Royale; and a ‎portrait of Halle Berry in an orange bikini ‎in Die Another Day.

There’s also much to read up on – it is, ‎after all, a biographical display: here’s ‎Fleming in Switzerland, at school, here he ‎is with Ms X or Ms Y, his recipe for ‎scrambled eggs – there are truly Bond facts ‎galore.‎

But all this is no solace for museum-goers ‎there for more interactive fun. The exhibition’s problem is not its lack of ‎gadgets, but that they are not Bond ‎gadgets. A virtual roulette table turns at ‎the press of a button, sending a ball ‎landing on a number which then triggers a ‎Bond fact in audio. The two children I saw ‎playing with this machine, however, were ‎less interested in hearing what the ‎roulette table had to say about Bond, than ‎in spinning it around and around.

There is a signed letter to Fleming from ‎Joseph Stalin refusing him the audience he ‎had asked for one while in Russia, among ‎family albums and numerous postcards, ‎letters and loads of manuscripts. Then you ‎reach a glass display with international ‎editions of the novels.

Here, the exhibition loses its steam. Who ‎wants to see a wall of international first ‎editions?‎

And you can forget about any dissection of ‎the appeal of James Bond as the embodiment ‎of British imperialism too – eminently ‎civilised exterior, licence to kill without ‎compunction – is not touched on.
‎Tony Blair comes to mind. Aptly, we learn ‎that Bond attended Fettes, the same school ‎Britain’s former prime minister – though ‎poor Bond today would probably end up ‎poorly equipped in Afghanistan or Iraq on ‎the basis of dodgy information taken from ‎the internet and end up in an Al-Qaeda ‎video.

What struck me most at the exhibition was ‎an oil painting featured on the cover of ‎Live And Let Die depicting a restrained and ‎half-naked 007 looking on powerlessly as ‎two or three black men held a Barbarella-‎style blond captive – a possible indicator that ‎Bond is the product of a racist colonial ‎mindset.

‎ The exhibition is intended to celebrate a ‎hundred years since Ian Fleming’s birth and ‎to coincide with the publication of the ‎Sebastian Faulks-penned novel Devil ‎May Care – in which Bond visits Iran. Yet ‎although we might be on the brink of seeing America’s first black ‎president sworn in, we are probably a century away ‎from seeing a black James Bond.‎

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Negative advertising

May 28, 2008 at 3:56 pm (1, blog, England, Far right, UK)

Angry Whopper? I should think eating it would make you angrier. This being London, the Whopper pictured is no doubt tired of seeing darkies everywhere, wonders what happened to the real England, the sense of community that used to be here, blames it all on the immigrants and thinks fast food and Nazis are the answer.

Aren’t burgers German? Did Hitler not come to power with their support. It’s fitting that negative human traits should sell junk food. Below is a photo from Kentucky selling Wicked chicken. A reference to how the poor birds are treated and culled? No chance. Both these photos were taken in Whitechapel in east London last week
What next — Arsehole McNuggets? Wanker French Fries?

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national identity

July 23, 2007 at 2:42 pm (England, UK)

The English, as Jeremy Paxman noted in his book of that name, are for the first time having to define themselves. A hundred years ago to be English was just to be. Then there was the Empire. Today we have a few islands here and there and a footing in the Green Zone in Baghdad, official shelter of the coalition forces. Nice colour, but not quite the jewel in the crown India used to be; more Kryptonite than topaz.

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Two men in a pub

March 12, 2007 at 3:22 pm (Double espresso, UK, Voices)

BOB: Where are you from?
MAK: Battersea.
BOB: I’ve never seen you there and I live there.
MAK: It’s actually Clapham, not far.
BOB: My uncle lived in Clapham. He would have said something.
MAK: Okay. I grew up in Enfield.
BOB: Enfield? Hmm. My brother-in-law, he lived there.
MAK: Okay not Enfield, not Clapham. Richmond! That’s where I’m from – by the river.
BOB: Nah. You’re having me on. Went to school with a Richmond bloke.
MAK: “He would have said something.”
BOB: You from London?
MAK: Where does it sound like?
BOB: I’ve never seen you once on a bus, or the tube.
MAK: Well, here we are, pleased to meet you – Makan.
BOB: Pleased to meet you Mak — Bob. Tell me, not a Harrow boy are ya?
MAK: No. More of a barrow boy, me.
BOB: Only um, I don’t know anyone who lives there.
MAK: You don’t? Harrow it is then! Hold it, no. Me granddad was from Harrow.
MAK: Never mind. Anywhere else you haven’t been to? Sod it, I tell you what. I’m from Iran. That’s where I am from. Persia.
BOB: Purrrrrrsia, eh? Like the floating, grinning cat?
MAK: No that’s Cheshire.
BOB: My brother used to work there in the seventies.
MAK: What Cheshire?
BOB: No, Persia.
MAK: Well, obviously I can’t be from there then.
BOB: Eh?
MAK: He would have informed you, would he not?
BOB: You’re right, he would.
MAK: What was he doing in Iran, your brother?
BOB: He was training the Savak.
MAK: The Shah’s secret police? You are having a laugh!
BOB: He was. SAS. Training the Iranians.
MAK: To do what?
BOB: Bake biscuits.
MAK: Eh?
BOB: And cakes, Danish, pain au chocolate – the lot.
MAK: The British coached Iran’s Stasi to make cookies?
BOB: Yeah, well.
MAK: It’s not what you’d expect is it? I would have thought extracting confessions, forklift driving – not home economics.
BOB: It wasn’t all about violence. It was about cookery too. Reverie. Crockery.
MAK: Mockery. That’s probably where the expression “Take the biscuit comes from.”
BOB: Eh?
MAK: Brits teaching us how to cook the damn things.
BOB: Possibly. Look, my brother wasn’t in surveillance. It was more counter-surveillance.
MAK: What’s the difference?
BOB: Surveillance, you’re watching someone – or someone’s watching you. Counter-surveillance, you draw the curtains.
MAK: They needed the Brits to tell them that?
BOB: Well, a lot of people in your country had blinds. Not everyone had curtains. Lucky to have had him, you lot. Still, it’s got to be said. He never saw you.
MAK: Yeah, well, if truth be told, I was actually born in Baku in Azerbaijan. Not Iran.
BOB: Azerbaijan?
MAK: Don’t tell me someone – your niece, grandfather, uncle, your great-granny –
BOB: – No. No-no. Cousin. She got married in Azerbaijan.
MAK: I’m running out of land mass. Oh dear. Just out of interest how about Rio? De Janeiro.
BOB: Nephew, Stan.
MAK: Johannesburg?
BOB: Stepsister.
MAK: Reykjavik.
BOB: Aunt.
MAK: (LOSING PATIENCE) Tokyo. Adelaide. Prague. Lima. Tell me something, where are you from?
BOB: Hanwell.
MAK: Hanwell? Charlie Chaplin went to school there.
BOB: He did, you’re right.
MAK: Never said he saw you.

From February 2006

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The Tate we’re in

January 25, 2007 at 5:06 pm (Double espresso, UK)


H. is doctor, and no relation to Kafka’s K. “Breakfast?” he said. I’d eaten porridge. Also, had to deal with a bank charge related to the hypnotherapist I visited two weeks ago. She clocks £80 for an hour. How would I judge whether the therapy had worked, she asked. The thing is, if you’re paying that much, anything will. “Dance on shards of glass? Sure, if you say so — it’s lacerations of mind that worry me.”

I met H. at Oval station and we strolled into the crisp and cold London morning. Feeling unduly bloated, I said: “Is it possible my belly has expanded overnight?”

“Have you eaten a lot of porridge?” said H. — I was dead impressed. Unaware of my morning Ready Brek ritual (it’s been two weeks, now) H. pointed out both it and the boiled eggs, which I’m into at the moment, as culprits.

Anyway, we ended up at the Tate Britain where there is a sculpture/installation called State Britain, by Mark Wallinger. Wallinger has recreated the ongoing demo against the war by Brian Haw outside the Palace of Westminster. Haw has been there since 2001, when he was protesting against sanctions on Iraq. In May, the government introduced legislation to ban such demos taking place within a kilometre of Parliament Square.

The exhibition recreates every detail of Haw’s original set-up — colour and black and white photocopies of dead children, handwritten slogans and blow-ups of anti-war graphic art from the internet, tea flasks, a milk carton, rainbow peace flags. It is a haunting an powerful work.

H. and I observed a mother with two very young children, four or five years old. They were quizzing her. She, gently, explained to them how “some soldiers had are sent out to kill other soldiers”. There was a picture showing the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, and Jack Straw having dipped their hands into three bowls. “What’s in the bowls mummy?” one little girl said. “It’s not very nice,” mamma bear said, “but I think it’s blood.”

Click here to read Times reviewer Tim Teeman’s poo-poo the work. “A pro-war, pro-Blair work of art,” he writes, “now that would be radical.” Honestly, Murdoch press (don’t worry Tim, I’m sure the Tate’ll run a Campbell-Mandelson retrospective soon).

Yesterday, Mr Blair failed to show up to a debate in Parliament about the war; and today’s worthy (and headline-grabbing) defence of adoption rights for gay people in the face of opposition from the Catholic church is sure to distract us from asking why.

H. and I walked the short distance from the Tate to Parliament Square. Brian Haw was there, with his hat on, reading a book.

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Big Bother II

January 18, 2007 at 12:32 pm (UK)

For the benefit readers outside the UK and India, Soul Bean publishes a rather apt picture of Shilpa Shetty, the alleged recipient of racial abuse in the Big Brother house.  In the even bigger brother House of Commons, even Tony Blair has been drawn into the furore. The tagline of the animal rights poster below might read: “Boycott the media circus”.


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Big Bother

January 17, 2007 at 4:28 pm (UK)

Ofcom, the UK’s broadcasting regulator, has received 10,000 complaints about the allegedly racist treatment of Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty on Channel 4’s Celebrity Big Brother. One of her alleged tormentors is Jade Goody. Goody’s claim to fame is that she appeared on Big Brother, a few years ago, when she was a member of that increasing minority of the British population who have not appeared on a Big Brother show. She is also known for having the intellect of a hoof.

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Blair v Brown: The lowdown

September 11, 2006 at 7:24 pm (UK)


In an exclusive guest blog for Soul Bean Café, The Westminster Mole offers an insiders’ view of the ongoing tussle between the Blair and Brown camps

“A handful of ministers decided to write letters to Blair asking him to resign. Unsurprisingly, he said no and they resigned before the Prime Minister could sack them.”

The week before last, Tony Blair gave an extremely ill-judged interview to the London Times. He basically refused, again, to name a date for his departure and said that all those calling for his resignation should shut up and take him at his word that he’s going to go and leave ample time for his successor.

The Prime Minister said this after an unseasonably tough few weeks, during which he was seen by many to be offering yet more craven support for George Bush and the Israeli government during the conflict with Lebanon. To make things worse this all carried on into the parliamentary recess. Blair’s interview came just as most MPs returned from holiday.

They already had post bags full of vitriol about Lebanon from constituents of all political persuasions and the man responsible for much of this was blithely stating that any discussion about when he might quit was ridiculous and bad for the country (always a tricky one to float that).

Most MPs look forward to the summer being a time of intensive constituency-based work, a holiday of a week or two, and a selection of national policy issues that are little more challenging than whether Big Brother really has “gone too far this time”. When they come back from recess, they talk to each other. A lot. They do this because talking forms a large part of their job.

More bad press for UK foreign policy (synonymous with Blair), promising – yet, for Labour, hardly disastrous – opinion polls putting the Conservative opposition leader David Cameron’s popularity ahead of Blair’s (and his Chancellor and rival Gordon Brown’s for that matter) and post-vacation blues, reignited the Westminster village in a way that took any control of the news agenda straight out of Number 10’s hands. A crisis ensued.

For Labour supporters, this is where it gets really depressing. Again, to defuse things, the secretary of state for environment and rural affairs David Milliband announced Blair would be gone in a year. A handful of ministers decided to write letters to the PM asking him to resign. Unsurprisingly, he said no and they resigned before the Prime Minister could sack them. About 70 other MPs (enough to trigger a leadership contest) signed a letter saying that they were glad that Blair, through Milliband, had said he will not stay more than a year and that we should all get back to the business of doing what we were elected to do. It was hardly a ringing endorsement but it was a welcome post-holiday reality check.

The whole issue has been played out in the press as a battle of Blair v Brown. This is wrong and more than a little lazy. It is more a question of how and indeed when he is going to go. Everyone knows that Tony has become a liability and the game is up. He is supported by a group of loyal and noisy friends – just like the Chancellor – but for the vast majority of Labour MPs, regardless of who they are instinctively incline to support, the debate rests on when and how he should go.

Most of them realise that foreign policy has often coloured a reasonable domestic performance and although they are behind a revived Tory Party in the polls, the lead is hardly massive (nor indeed sufficient to gain power) and Cameron, whose deeply held regard for the way Blair operates could land him in trouble later, has no policies to speak of rather than going round getting photographed being nice to ‘the ethnics’.

Given all this, a descent into backstabbing and infighting (beyond the normal) is the last thing any MP wants. Gordon Brown knows this even though he came perilously close to looking like the Thane of Fife wielding the knife last week. He avoided this – just – and happily for him has almost certainly extracted a precise window during which Blair will announce his resignation.

This is about as much as he could have hoped for. The slightly resigned nature in which Blair was speaking at Quinton Kynaston School in north London last week made that clear. He even sounded a bit teary. Nevertheless, Brown is still mistrustful of the Blair hardcore who seem determined to put a credible alternative in place for next May (John Reid? too angry; Charles Clarke? too bitter; Alan Milburn? – Milburn’s friends wouldn’t even vote for him as PM). He also has to convince many of his fellow Labour MPs that what they have lost in Blair’s undoubted charisma and electoral appeal will be matched under his leadership. The challenge now is whether Gordon feels confident enough or, more likely, willing to hold a robust leadership election to exorcise the ghost of Blair and leave him with sufficient momentum to beat the Tories’ Blair MkII at the next general election.

This article was written by The Westminster Mole exclusively for Soul Bean Café

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Immigration and the press

September 7, 2006 at 4:59 pm (UK)

There is much talk of the UK being a small Island unable to cope with the number of rightwing newspapers crowding it. According to a government think-tank, the population of tabloid columnists is set to exceed that of newspaper readers by 2010. A charity set up to defend the rights of right-wing columnists, however, has stated that these figures are “irresponsible and inaccurate”. In a statement it said: “The notion that right-wing columnists might take over the country is ridiculous. Look outside your window, do you see a rightwing columnist?”

Sources suggest many in government are worried about the influx of rightwing opinion flooding the country from Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. Mr Murdoch, was unavailable for comment. He is paki and can’t speak English.

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