Tag Archives: Indian

Michael Palin in the rainforest + steaks rubbed round toilet rims in Hampstead

Last night I dreamt that I was in some sort of Eagle Has Landed / Went The Day Well? scenario in which my village (I have never lived in a village) was being taken over by infiltrators, except the infiltrators really were the villagers themselves and I and others were trying to get out before the violence started. Surely some psychological theory to be had there.

A photograph not taken by a forest tribe

I had that dream before I saw Michael Palin at the Oldie magazine’s Soho Literary Festival yesterday. He was plugging his upcoming travel book Brazil, which is published in a couple of weeks.

“My father lived through two World Wars and one of the greatest Depressions the world has ever seen,” said Michael Palin, “and how they came out of that – how they psychologically dealt with it – is amazing.

“We have had a very cushy time with lots of choices, lots of stimulating chances, just in travel. No-one in the 1950s… Certainly when my father was around, you didn’t travel except on company business. The idea that you can travel recreationally, that you can now go almost anywhere in the world for a relatively small amount of money… that is all new.”

When Michael Palin arrived at one remote Amazonian community, already in the village were one American anthropologist, one Brazilian film crew and one American photo-journalist.

“This was a remote part of the southern Amazon Basin,” he explained. “The extraordinary thing was that this tribe who, fifty or sixty years ago, had barely made contact with the rest of the world, had seen so many photographers come through that the one thing they wanted was to become photographers themselves.

“These people were still dressed in primitive rainforest garb, wearing skirts, all painted with their basin haircut and hennaed hair, but they all had quite sophisticated cameras. This remote tribe was filming us.

“To me, the big story of this place was how people can change – Two thousand years or whatever of civilization, the Enlightenment, all the various steps we’ve taken to get to the ‘sophisticated’ world we have now – and they just jumped straight from face paint and catching frogs to computers. And they understood them perfectly well and they were actually quite truculent if you gave them a rather second rate edit app – Some people give us this the other day! – These guys were waiting for the new iPhone 5.”

Steaks on toilet rims in Hampstead

In another session at yesterday’s Soho Literary Festival, The Times’ food critic and humourist Giles Coren was plugging his new book How To Eat Out.

He used to be a waiter at a restaurant in Hampstead and was asked about a section of the book in which he says the steaks were wiped on the floor.

“It is rumoured,” Giles said, “that people you don’t like… Well, it’s since George Orwell in Down and Out in Paris and London claimed to have spat in everybody’s soup, but you only need to read six pages of Orwell to know he’s the kind of fellow who would do that.”

And wiping the steaks on the floor in Hampstead?

“It was actually on the toilet and the lawyers wouldn’t let me say that,” said Giles. “The guy was called The Captain, named after Captain Sensible; he was a Russian punk. This was in the late 1980s and he just didn’t like what he called capitalist shitbags. He came over basically (joked Giles) just to wipe steaks round the rim of the toilet bowl and serve them to some really quite nice people in Hampstead.”

What this says about the relative values of Amazonian tribesmen and Westerners, I dare not even begin to imagine.

1 Comment

Filed under Dreams, Food, Humor, Humour, Travel

Duck! The dangers of Chinese subtitles, kidnap and Rupert Murdoch’s flying bus

Yesterday, I went to see a movie The Beginning of the Great Revival (aka The Founding of a Party), which was screening in London as part of the China Image Film Festival. It seemed to be very good film. A sumptuously made movie. Of course, if you work for the state film company, have a virtually limitless budget and you are making a movie about the founding of the Chinese Communist Party, this could help. But I thought I espied a director who had been influenced by Sergio Leone’s historical epics.

I say The Beginning of the Great Revival “seemed” to be a very good film because, alas, despite opening and closing titles with English translations, the actual two-hour long historical epic turned out to be in Chinese with Chinese subtitles.

This reminded me of the time I sat through Sholay at the National Film Theatre when they had accidentally rented a print of the epic Indian language movie with French sub-titles.

I speak neither French nor Hindi but you cannot fail to enjoy an all-stops-pulled-out Bollywood film where (as always) people randomly burst into song and the hero has both his arms cut off yet continues to fight in true action man style. (Both Sholay and Monty Python and the Holy Grail were released in 1975 so I doubt if either ripped off the idea of an armless hero; it must have been the spirit of the times.)

I also do not speak Mandarin nor read Chinese script and my knowledge of Chinese history 1910-1921 is a tad hazy, but The Beginning of the Great Revival was never less than interesting. You can see why in the (subtitled) trailer on YouTube:

I was brought back to some form of reality when I came out of the cinema and read Rupert Murdoch’s iPad-only newspaper The Daily. The front page story was:

DUCK! – Anyone’s guess where 13,000-pound satellite will hit

sub-headed as:

READY TO TUMBLE! Satellite hurtles toward Earth – and scientists can’t say when or where it will hit

This was a story I had never heard of before – and I had seen the lunchtime news on BBC TV yesterday.

“NASA scientists,” The Daily said, “are shrugging their shoulders with little or no idea when – or where – a satellite the size of a bus will fall to Earth. The latest projections last night were that the defunct NASA satellite would tumble to Earth from space sometime this afternoon, but because the satellite is free-falling, the space agency and the U.S. Air Force cannot make a precise prediction about when and where it will hit.”

According to the article, NASA claimed the chances of someone being hit by a piece of falling debris was 1 in 3,200 and the debris would fall along a 500-mile path.

Those odds of 1 in 3,200 seemed surprisingly low to me.

“The only confirmed case of a person being hit by space junk,” The Daily told me, “was in 1997 when Lottie Williams of Tulsa, Oklahoma, was grazed on the shoulder by a small piece of a Delta rocket.”

NASA has apparently warned people against touching any part of the satellite they might find lying around on the ground.

“While it contains no hazardous chemicals,” The Daily reported, “the space agency said people could potentially be hurt by sharp edges.”

Apparently what NASA calls “medium-sized junk” falls back to earth about once a week. Debris the size of a bus falls about once a year. When bits of the Skylab space station (the size of a house) fell onto parts of Western Australia in July 1979, local authorities fined NASA $400 for littering.

I thought I should perhaps check if anything the size of a bus had fallen on London while I was in the cinema watching the glorious founding of the Chinese Communist Party in The Beginning of the Great Revival so I got a London Evening Standard (which is now owned, like the Independent newspaper, by an ex-KGB man).

Its front page news was a story about a boy who had been encouraged to read by the Duchess of Cornwall. I could not find any story anywhere about anyone being killed by a bus from outer space falling on their head so, when I got home, I checked the BBC News channel (no unusual deaths; no mention of death from above) and then checked my e-mails to find one from mad inventor John Ward – designer and fabricator of the highly-prestigious Malcolm Hardee Awards for comedy.

He told me he had been booked by the University of Lincoln to appear on 12th October at something entitled An Eccentric Symposium – Tomato Tomäto.

Among other billed events and speakers at this academic symposium are ‘Project Pigeon’ (“an art and education project that works with pigeons as a vehicle to bring people together”), the World Egg Throwing Championships and a talk on Gender, Exercise and Art by Anthony Schrag, an artist now living in Scotland whose work, according to the University of Lincoln, “focuses on blowing things up, climbing on things and occasionally kidnapping people”.

I could take no more.

I went to bed.

When I woke up this morning, the BBC News channel was reporting that the NASA spacecraft could not be found, but it had passed over the UK twice during the night and was now “the size of a refrigerator”.

They also reported Prime Minister David Cameron’s warning to the world that we live in dangerous economic times.

Fuck the economy. Where is the fridge?

2 Comments

Filed under China, Eccentrics, Movies, Newspapers, Science

Are Pipex/TalkTalk, BT and Virgin Media in a contest to be the most incompetent UK telecoms company?

Right… Standby for a pointless complaint about an insanely incompetent British company. Indeed, companies. No enlightening information. No message for Mankind.  Just a rant… You have been warned… What’s the point of having a blog if you can’t have a rant?

Is there actually no competent telecoms company anywhere in Britain?

Really.

A serious question.

BT treats its customers with much the same care and respect as the Libyan and Syrian governments treat its people.

But Pipex/TalkTalk appears to be in some sort of heavy-handed contest with BT and Virgin Media to win a prize as the most PR-stupid and professionally incompetent telecoms company in the UK. They seem to manage to be devious, deaf and incompetent simultaneously. At least Virgin Media is not devious, it’s just plain incompetent.

Virgin Media claims to have the fastest broadband in Britain but, in my first-hand experience, its broadband does not work for 60% of the time and constantly drops. Someone else I know reckoned, for her, Virgin Media’s broadband was perhaps 10% the speed of her former BT line for 90% of the time. Perhaps it has the fastest broadband in Britain over a measured two second spurt. Try to get any customer service, of course, and you might as well be trying to play football underwater.

As for Pipex/TalkTalk…

In the last five weeks, I have had five cold calls from them using an 0161 (Manchester) telephone number but actually phoning from abroad to avoid the restrictions on cold calling within the UK. When I asked the man with the Indian accent where he was phoning from, he said South Africa.

At least Pipex/TalkTalk’s people are comprehensible, if unwelcome. BT, in my limited experience, have ‘help centres’ in ‘proper’ India staffed by unfortunate people with accents more incomprehensible than drunken Glaswegians wearing gas masks. That’s not racism, it’s a rant against BT’s stupidity in having foreign help centres. They might as well have their help centres staffed by deaf mutes in Guatemala for all the good they do. When will BT realise that saving money on help centres costs them more in lost customers and disastrous damage to their already low image?

I used to be with Pipex. I left because they were generally incompetent, they couldn’t actually supply me with VAT bills and two separate Pipex people told me I had to make phone calls to them not use the internet because the Pipex online service was “insecure”. Not reassuring in a telecoms company. What I didn’t know then but do know now is that apparently Pipex routinely cut off customers who left them before the changeover date for a new supplier so that customers were left without a line.

Now they are trying to tell me they are part of Pipex/TalkTalk and are a brand sparkling new company and offer sparkling service.

I think Colonel Gaddafi’s spokesman has been saying much the same thing about the Libyan regime every few weeks over the last few months. I can’t say I’m convinced.

I work on the principle of three strikes and you’re out.

If I get cold calls, I ask to be removed from the list of the company. After trying this twice – or, if they’re lucky, three times – the phrase “Fuck off, you cunt,” tends to get used in the hope they put me on a list of people who perhaps don’t altogether want to be cold called and might just hurl random verbal abuse at anyone who calls me.

If I forced my way into the home of the chairman of Pipex/TalkTalk five times in five weeks, I somehow think the sentence “Fuck off, you cunt,” might be very justifiably used by him to me. If someone forces their way into my home, uninvited, via my telephone line, I feel much the same applies. If you come into my home uninvited, you can’t complain I am being unreasonably impolite if I tell you to fuck off out of it again.

I find “Fuck off, you cunt,” is often an effective deterrent to unwanted calls and far less hassle than complaining to any alleged regulatory body. With luck, the company has some list of abusive potential customers. Pipex/TalkTalk seem not to understand the words – simple enough to understand, I would have thought.

Like I say, five calls in five weeks.

Clearly they think it is good PR to circumvent the UK restrictions on cold calling by phoning from foreign soil. And clearly they think it is good PR to keep calling an ex-customer who is not a current subscriber and who had zero interest in re-joining them even before these annoying phone calls.

They’re not alone, of course.

I had much the same trouble with BT. I eventually left them when they would not stop making marketing calls to me despite the fact I was on the Telephone Preference Service list to receive no calls.

“We can’t stop marketing calls,” I was told by two separate BT Helpline people. “It’s another department… No, I don’t know which department. It must be one of our marketing departments.”

A friend of mine tells me the tale of BT harassing her dying mother with marketing calls which could not be stopped. It added to the distress of her mother in the months before she died. This same friend has had  a worse time than me – she herself had hassle from BT marketing calls for months and now has had computer-generated calls from Barclaycard for six months (using an array of different originating numbers and still continuing) because their computer got her confused with someone else. The calls say – “Please call this number”.

Can she get the calls stopped by calling the number(s) given? No she can’t. Can she get the calls stopped by writing to Barclaycard? No she can’t.

I am currently with the very efficient Sky TV, though their lines are supplied by the appalling BT and occasionally drop in two of my rooms. But, unlike the utterly unspeakable Virgin Media lines, at least they work almost all the time.

Sky seem to be the only British telecoms company that has anything like a customer-friendly policy – or a broadband service that works – or any corporate ideology that values PR.

So Rupert Murdoch is OK with me.

But perhaps I am tempting fate…

(There was a later mention about this in my blog on 22nd May)

1 Comment

Filed under Ad industry, PR, Telecoms

Britain is full of immigrants

Allegedly, the USA is the ‘Land of Opportunity’ where any immigrant can arrive with nothing and create a new life for himself or herself with unlimited potential. But you cannot become President if you were not born in the USA.

What’s that all about?

I have a British friend whose parents were Indian – they arrived and settled here in the UK in the 1950s and 1960s. She told me (and I admit I was surprised) that she had never experienced any racial discrimination in the UK. She never encountered it until she lived in the USA.

It does seem to me – in a vast generalisation – that the US is a land of separated peoples. They define themselves as Irish-American or Swedish-American or African-American and they tend to retain their original nationalities in social clubs and by living together in areas, sometimes ghettos.

In Britain, after a couple of generations, people define themselves as British.

People talk about Britain having a 2,000 year history – since the Romans invaded. But that’s bollocks. The Romans didn’t even control the whole of Great Britain – the main island of the British Isles. They invaded and controlled what is now England, the lower part of Great Britain; for a very brief time they controlled parts of what is now Lowland Scotland (Hadrian’s Wall is south of the current border); they never fully managed to control Wales; and, as many have, they pretty-much gave up at the very thought of controlling Ireland.

Last century, actor Gordon Jackson was the definitive Scotsman. He played the butler Hudson in the original ITV series of Upstairs, Downstairs and, whenever movie-makers wanted a Scotsman in their film, he was their first call. He epitomised Scottishness.

Occasionally I used to work with one of his sons. When he (the son) reached his 40th birthday, he told me that, the older he got, the more Scottish he felt.

“Where were you born?” I asked.

“Hampstead.”

Hampstead is in North London. But then, if you are the son of Gordon Jackson, you are going to feel Scottish. His mother was Scots too and, though brought up in London, they had a holiday home in Pitlochry.

I remember standing in an office in the London Weekend TV tower looking out at a misty, drizzly South Bank and Westminster scene and saying to this Son of Gordon Jackson:

“Now that is dreich.”

“Definitively dreich,” he replied.

Dreich is a Scots Gaelic word which is virtually impossible to define in English. You have to see what it describes if you want to understand it.

There is an interesting theory that the Welsh – or, at least, the people in the middle of Wales, the mountainous parts, the parts that ironically get at bit uppity about being called British and insist on keeping the Welsh language afloat – are actually the only remnants of the original British, pushed back into that western bump of Great Britain by successive invaders from the south, east and north of the island.

The original British were killed-off or bred out of existence perhaps 1,500 years ago.

Basically, everyone in Britain is an immigrant except, possibly, the forefathers of a few Welsh people.

In the legend of the Knights of the Round Table, the point is often forgotten that King Arthur was killed. The invaders, in reality, won. The losers possibly fled West.

My surname is Fleming so, at some point, my forebears came from Flanders/Belgium/Holland. But, despite an uncalled-for English accent, I am Scottish. The Scots and Irish are allegedly Celtic but, to my eyes, are clearly Scandinavian – pale skin, light hair, sometimes freckles. I used to have dark brown hair and a ginger beard. That’s Scandinavian.

The Welsh are said, like the Scots and Irish, to be Celtic; but the Welsh are in generalised physical terms nothing like the Scots and Irish – they tend to have dark hair, for one thing.

The Celts, again in very general terms, came from Central Europe. So they are sort-of German though, when I worked in the Czech Republic, the locals reckoned the Celts had actually come from what is now the Czech area of Central Europe.

The Anglo-Saxon English are from what is now Germany – the result of invasions by the Angles and the Saxons.

A Danish TV director I know, who worked with both me and Son of Gordon Jackson, told me he once drove round Yorkshire and recognised most of the names of the towns and villages: they were either recognisable Danish names or bastardisations of Danish names.

Hardly surprising, given that Denmark ruled most of England for so long.

To be a racist, you need to be ignorant of history. To talk of “racial purity” anywhere requires a deep ignorance of history. To talk of “racial purity” in the UK requires a remarkable level of crass stupidity.

I am old enough to remember TV documentaries about the last Yiddish language newspaper closing in the East End of London. Some of the street signs there – around Brick Lane – used to be in Yiddish; now they are in Bengali. Limehouse in East London used to be a Chinese area. Now there’s a little Chinese area in Soho (artificially created, it has to be said, by ‘Red Ken’ Livingstone). Everything is constantly changing.

The English language has thrived on constant new inputs from foreign languages; it is constantly changing. The ‘British people’ (whatever that means) have thrived on constant new cultural inputs and there is constant, vibrant change. Britain is constantly being re-born. Unlike the USA, we seem to have integrated and assimilated our immigrants over time. Admittedly we have had longer.

Britain, depending on how you define it, didn’t even exist until 1603 (when James VI of Scotland became James I of England) or 1707 (when the Act of Union was signed). The flag which the British Army flew at the Battle of Culloden in 1746 in support of their Hanoverian monarch was not the current Union flag. The current so-called ‘Union Jack’ did not exist until 1801 when another Act of Parliament united the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland.

If/when either Northern Ireland or Scotland breaks from the United Kingdom and becomes independent, then the flag will have to change again.

No-one in Britain is, when it comes down to it, actually British. We are all immigrants. The British are long-dead, except perhaps for a few distant relatives in Machynlleth.

What “Britain” means is a moveable feast.

5 Comments

Filed under History, Racism

Yesterday I met a man from Atlantis who speaks Japanese

For ages, I have thought there was mileage in a Real People chat show on TV – if you go to any bus queue in any town in Britain and choose any person at random then, with the right questions, that person will reveal the most extraordinary life story.

Life truly is stranger than fiction. Novels are very often watered-down versions of the truth and they have been watered-down simply to make them believable.

I was reminded of this when I was passing through the food department of Selfridges in Oxford Street yesterday and I was offered a free tea sample by a Greek-Bulgarian sales specialist working for the East India Company which was bought by an Indian entrepreneur in 2005 and which opened a shop in London’s West End last year. It turned out the tea-offerer was from the island of Santorini (claimed by some to be the origin of the legend of Atlantis). He told me he spoke six languages including Japanese and Scots Gaelic – which he then proceeded to do.

Speak Gaelic.

It is a tad odd to have a Greek-Bulgarian from Atlantis who works for the East India Company (given its charter by Queen Elizabeth I in 1600) speak Gaelic to you when you are passing through the food department of Selfridges department store.

To surprise me, it would have been enough for him, as a Greek-Bulgarian, just to work for the fabled East India Company because I hadn’t realised it had been re-born.

While being one of the most successful commercial companies ever to exist –  at its height, the company allegedly generated half of world trade and it established Singapore and Hong Kong as trading centres – it also effectively ruled India with its own army on behalf of the British government 1757-1858 and virtually built the British Empire by monopolising the Opium Trade – it was responsible both for the Opium Wars and the Indian Mutiny!

That Indian entrepreneur – Sanjiv Mehta – who bought the name in 2005 and re-started the company last year is a near genius. People are buying recognisable brand names for millions of pounds/dollars all over the world and the East India Company must be one of the most famous names worldwide – it has been around for 411 years – though I’m not sure trade with China will be easy!

So it would have been enough for the tea-offerer, as a Greek-Bulgarian, just to work for the fabled East India Company but, good heavens – perhaps you had to be there – a Greek-Bulgarian who works for the East India Company, comes from the original Atlantis and speaks Gaelic! What are the odds of that combination happening? If you wrote a novel with a character like that in it, people would laugh at how stupid you were for including such a literally incredible character…

What price a Real People chat show?

1 Comment

Filed under Books, History, Television, Travel