November 29th, 2007

The Cat of Death

schadenfreude corner 2 - harriet strikes back

Prime Minister's Questions yesterday, as I thought, was mighty entertaining, and not only for the sight of David Cameron driving Gordon Brown close to a rage again. Apparently, the Prime Minister's image people have been trying to stop him getting angry, but that's really like telling a glacier to stop calving icebergs.
What I thought was interesting was Harriet Harman sitting right behind Gordon - you'll recall he was less than supportive of her in his press conference - with a stone face for much of the time. Half the time she appeared to be looking at Gordon's back and wondering which vertebrae to slip the knife between. The other half she seemed to be engaged in a staring contest with Theresa May, her opposite number. Either that or she was bemused by Theresa's cleavage-liberating top, presumably deployed to discombobulate Gordon.

I hear now that Harriet's people are saying that, during the Deputy Leadership contest, they went to Gordon's people asking if there were any Labour donors they could go to for funds, and Gordon's people gave them the name of one of David Abrahams's sockpuppets. Harriet's days are numbered - Gordon never wanted her in the job in the first place - but I think she's going to take people down with her when she goes. Let's not forget, her husband is the Labour Party Treasurer, and he didn't know about the Abrahams donations. And funnily enough, I think Harriet and her husband are telling the truth and they're spitting blood to find out that people like Hillary Benn did know about it. I think they're realising how much Gordon's cabal has sidelined them and they're starting to think about payback.
Or I could be wrong. It's happened before, it will happen again.

Anyway, I thought the performance of the day belonged once again to Vince Cable, who I am warming to very much. He didn't say a lot, but he made it count. And he's got great delivery.

Villagers who suffer from insomnia or have no taste can view the antics of the Mother Of All Parliaments here. Scroll down a bit until you find `UK Politics' and then click on `Prime Minister's Questions.' It should be up for the next few days.
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    porcupine tree

book plug, and indeed music plug

I've just finished reading, back-to-back, two completely different books about war correspondents, both of which you all should read.
The first was David Loyn's Frontline, an account of the brief history of the Frontline camera agency whose work you will have seen without ever knowing it. Some of the very best footage from the first Gulf War, Bosnia, Chechnya and Afghanistan was filmed by Frontline cameramen, most of whom seem to have been former Army officers and all of whom Kipling would have recognised as men constitutionally disposed to play the Great Game. Loyn himself is a BBC foreign correspondent of no small standing who knows what he's talking about, having worked with Frontline cameramen on many occasions.
I first read the book a couple of years ago in a publisher's proof ahead of interviewing Loyn about it. He was a very good interview and when I saw that the book was finally in paperback I bought it and read it again, and it's an extraordinary account of what goes on behind the pictures we all see on television. Much recommended. The story of Vaughan Smith's epic journey into Iraq during the first Gulf War, dressed in his old officer's uniform - basically he conned his way to the front - is worth the price alone and is begging to be turned into a film.

Loyn mentions a lot of journalists in his book, and one of them is Anthony Loyd, another former Army officer who defected to the Street Of Shame, although in Loyd's case it was as a print journalist. His reports from Afghanistan, Sierra Leone and the self-evisceration of Yugoslavia are incredibly powerful. His Another Bloody Love Letter is a companion piece to his earlier My War Gone By, I Miss It So, and it's strong stuff. He speaks with enormous frankness about his heroin habit, the experience of losing friends in war zones. The section of the book about the conflict in Sierra Leone is a marvel, although the cost of that marvel is that two of his friends died. It really brings you nose-to-nose with the personal cost of those news articles we read over breakfast. Loyd sometimes tries too hard for the Byronic and misses, but when he relaxes and just lets himself go, as with the Northern Alliance fighters he met in Afghanistan shortly after 9/11, "who looked as if they were going somewhere bad to do something worse," I think he shows a marvellous eye. Once again, much recommended.

Both Loyn and Loyd have walked the walk and know what they're talking about, and I have a lot of admiration for their work.

On the music front, I've been listening to Blackmore's Night a lot recently, as you might have gathered, but my scouting trips to Zaavi (which is what the Virgin Megastore is called now, apparently) provided me with an opportunity to check out a couple of bands I only know from rave reviews in the papers.
The first of these is Tunng, about whom I know nothing. Tunng take a little getting used to; they're kind of folky, but not, and they're growing on me in a good way.
The second is Porcupine Tree, a band put together by Richard Barbieri, who was Japan's keyboard player. I like Japan's work a lot, I'd heard good things about Porcupine Tree, so I got a couple of their albums, and was pleasantly surprised. There's prog-rock there, there's nu-metal, there are interesting lyrics, there's impeccable musicianship, there are really good guitar solos. It might not be to everyone's taste, but I like them.

But the song I still listen to just before going to bed is Blackmore's Night's `Fires At Midnight,' from Past Times With Good Company. Listen to it if at all possible.
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    blackmore's night