Monday, 26 August 2013


I am I admit a little smug. Smug is a wretched word describing a condition of self-satisfied, self-restrained righteousness that is most unattractive. I’m smug because I’ve lost 10 kilos since Christmas. I look like Gary Lineker. “Well fit” as they say in my gym (I made the gym bit up, sorry, there has to be a limit).

And then I saw that picture of our leader on holiday in Cornwall.

He looks a bit pie-addicted, a bit… how shall I put it?... well tummied. The sort of Tory who hunts and is  “no stanger to the Melton Mowbray.” As Caitlin Moran said he looks like a ham. I’m afraid he does.
David belongs to a particular breed of politician – I refer to well known porkers like the remarkable Alex Salmond seen here describing the size of the haggis he has his eye on for a light snack between bills.

So am I just being fattist in the same way Julius Caesar was thinnist (hating Cassius’ “lean and hungry look”)?
On balance I prefer life affirming enthusiasts who eat and laugh and party. Bill Clinton, naughty in so many ways, was kept in shape by a chef who doctored his food with highly flavoured low calorie stuff. (“No Bill that wan’t a pie it was a calorie free soya and, lentil crispie.”) 

It’s the larger than life bit that worries me. It suggests they may lack the restraint that we seem to need in a crazy world. 

In a book called the Peter Principle written by  Laurence J Peter in 1969, a study of why things always go wrong in business, he has this to say about leaders:

(Many) simply follow precedents, obey regulations and move at the head of the crowd. Such people lead only in the sense that a carved wooden figurehead leads the ship.”

If we want our figureheads to be slim, fit and attractive we have poor pickings amongst our current front benches. But maybe the zeitgeist has shifted anyway as America suggests looking at future presidential candidates, from Mr cool, sleek Obama to a new breed of figurehead like the hotly tipped Republican Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie.  

I’m tempted to get off the slimming wagon. After all, scrawny suddenly seems so yesterday. But even as I feel like partying I look at the photo of the Cornwall Corpulent again.
Diet Coke anyone? 

Monday, 19 August 2013


I was looking at the protesters at Balcombe on TV, few of them I think actual residents of that unremarkable village north of Haywards Heath at which the occasional Brighton train apologetically pauses.  Their faces were etched with rage and in tow they had young children vigorously chanting “frack off!!

Maybe it’s my age but I found the sight rather disturbing. Firstly seeing children being encouraged to mouth near obscenities seemed wrong and secondly the level of the debate seemed approximately at the level of “just do what I say and think as I do or I’ll kick you in the balls and bite your arm”. (Suarez you should be here.)

To feed the next generations and to keep them warm and safe I am prepared to go to some trouble. It’s no longer good enough to deny the potential benefits of GM given the pluses that could give us in cheap food. It’s unfair patronising the poor in a kind of Green Marie Antoinette way saying “let them eat organic”. 
Or as my grandparents called it “not enough to eat”. 

Nor is it acceptable to turn our backs on cheap energy because the form of extraction feels wrong. Funnily enough if we were to send men underground to get the gas I think the protestors would feel better. Don’t ask me if fracking is 100% safe but it seems unlikely to pose any of the dangers painted in blood by the Balcombe Brigade . According to Matt Ridley the five alleged downsides – it pollutes the aquifiers, it produces loads of climate damaging methane, it uses vast amounts of precious water, it releases hundreds of chemicals into the rocks and it creates earthquakes are all plain wrong, not marginally wrong, plain 100% myths.
In the back of my head I hear the enraged protestors chanting “frack off capitalist toff” and wonder if what they call a mad dash for gas isn’t on their part a strangely conservative desire to get back to nature or, as I’d describe it, dying prematurely.

I wonder if they wouldn’t all be happier seeing the demise of supermarkets, cheap clothes from M&S and central heating. 

Nature is not all good – it can be very cruel. Science can allow us to give it a helping hand sometimes. And I wonder if the passionate ideology of the protesters can obscure that.

Life for mankind is generally improving rapidly. We are winning that strife for life. And we should resist the voices that base their arguments on their gut and anger alone.  

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

But is it art?

The question that constantly gets asked plus another one - “does it matter?”

Over the last month I’ve luxuriated to the sound, skill and passion of the Heath Quartet playing Haydn and Mendelssohn and to the raw energy and panache of Tamsin Waley Cohen playing Ravel.

I’ve read a wonderful book Peter Hall and Marilyn Scott’s on sculpture heads in which the subjects talk about the experience and the role of sculpture portraiture. Here’s what Times Art critic, Nancy Durrant, said about her experience:

A portrait is not a mirror. The face in the mirror is the one that you show it; a portrait is you through another’s eyes- you have no power over what he sees. And yet vanity, insidious beast, does its best. You don’t even realise you are doing it – pouting a little; assuming a slight smile; sucking in your cheeks; creating the face that you think you have, or want people to see. But it’s no use. The artist knows it…..”  

All the above are unquestionably art and good art.

And then there’s the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy and I begin to wonder.

Much of it so depressing and ordinary and it fails the acid tests:

  • Does it make me think?
  • Would I like to own it and have it in our house?
  • Is it in some respect outstanding?

And then I saw the sculpture “Christ Swarm” by Bill Woodrow….astonishing, frightening and squirm inducing, Dae Hun Kwon’s Chalna, the Girl Mailing by the Postbox, whose sculpture always excites me and Emily Allchurch’s Grand Tour, a novel on canvas.

From depression to exhilaration…plenty of art, plenty of outstanding stuff and enough I’d like to own. But there are so many weeds, so much scrubland and such hard work.

And now a confession.

I wrote recently and teasingly about Gangnam style. Unfamiliar to me. Pop. Virally launched and it became the best-selling record and most watched video around the world. The Korean Psy and his entourage riding their invisible horses. I watched it a couple of times and then showed it to my grandsons (aged 5 and nearly 7) who thought it was terrific and very engaging.

I had a look at some of the (translated) lyrics
Gangnam style - Sexy Lady oh oh oh oh
A girl who looks quiet but plays when she plays
A girl who puts her hair down when the right time comes
A girl who covers herself but is more sexy than a girl who bares it all
A sensible girl like that.

Curiously reflective and romantic. When did you hear the Troggs, Stones or Arctic Monkeys praise “common sense”? And then when Psy sings about himself:

I’m a guy
A guy who seems calm but plays when he plays
A guy who goes completely crazy when the right time comes
A guy who has bulging ideas rather than muscles
That kind of guy

“Bulging ideas” is a brilliant description of Asian entrepreneurial spirit.

Is it art?

I don’t know, I don’t think so but I think it matters.

I think it’s fun.

And I love my invisible horse.

Written by Richard Hall and first published on

Monday, 12 August 2013


When I was very small I was shaken awake by mother one Sunday night. She had urgent news for me.

“It’s wonderful. Wake up. Bird Dog is number one”.

She’d been listening to Radio Luxembourg and she was living proof that being old didn’t mean you couldn’t join in. Or was she? At that moment I wondered if the Everly Brothers were meant for me.

The recent controversy over social media this week made me think about age.  The trouble is if you are in that quarter of the population over the age of 60 who are struggling to either comprehend the way to make it work or to come to terms with whether it actually matters, social media seems as hard to understand as the Sex Pistols were to our parent’s generation.

Much of the problem lies in the sheer inappropriateness of MPs and mature citizens, with their aching extremities, pretending they are young and trendy and merrily tweeting their passing thoughts. It also exposes the dangers of playing a game where you don’t really know all the rules.

As Daryll Scott the Creative Director of Noggin advised us: don’t try and join in because whilst it’s second nature to the young it’s not for you. You trying to be techno-cool is embarrassing, as embarrassing as a 60 year old trying to dance the invisible horse Gangnam style. After all do you remember watching your father doing the twist?

Enter 17 year old Jordan Hatch. Government is now advised by teenagers like him. We’ve seen him this week in his shorts and trainers talking very sensibly about websites. Someone who knows how to interpret fashion trends and predict what will be important and what won’t.

Many people say the world has been usurped by a conspiracy between technology and youth – that quarter of the population aged between 15 and 30. But beware they have discarded their laptops for their mobile phones and the social media they like and use are way beyond Twitter and Facebook. They’re Pinterest, Snapchat, Kik and Tumblr. Things are changing very fast.

But what is fashion and what’s sustainable?

What price the Washington Post?

Actually it’s $250 million. That’s what Jeff Bezos of Amazon paid for it. He has a brand that resonates with truth; a brand that’s been around for nearly 150 years; a brand that could link past, present and future handled right. (Look at the success of the Mail Online which is,  now, the world’s most popular news site.)
The trick will be to do what happens in Dr. Who – regenerate every so often as the Mail has done.
So when they shake you awake now they’ll be saying.

“It’s wonderful. Private Eye Online has overtaken the Huffington Post. Honestly.”

Monday, 5 August 2013


It was “Broadchurch” that got me thinking. You know the Dorset Noir TV series that got such astounding ratings on ITV. I was given the box set for my birthday and we’ve spent the past week glued to it.
It got me thinking that Michael Douglas was right when recently he said that the long form TV series like Games of Thrones, the Borgias, Wired and so on were the future of film.

Their publishers said the same to Dickens and Trollope …”look Charlie just write an 800 page cliff hanger with lots of characters and weave a really complex plot. Just remember big is beautiful”

After a week in which they held the smallest penis competition in Scotland – I’m serious – and EF Schumacher the economist who wrote “Small is Beautiful” was on my mind, this may seem a bit of a surprise.

After all our attention spans are reducing…aren’t they?

We’ve got 20:20 in cricket, speed dating, speed interviewing, snacking and in Pecha Kucha the 7 minute presentation (20 slides, 20 seconds each) which is designed to be twice as good as TED speeches  which last twice as long.

So short is good. We’re all obsessed it would seem by the “quickie”. When I got sent a 25 minute YouTube piece I found myself feeling my time was being stolen. ..”where do I find a spare 25 minutes?

When I read anything now I think “get to the point PD James, stop prevaricating.” Given this logic the greatest crime novel title would be “The Butler Did It”.

But the return to the Aga-slow-cooked plot where the complexities and weakness of human behaviour get played out and twists and turns happen with tantalising unexpectedness,  is not a sign of a fashion change. The appetite for good stories just never went away. Ask JK Rowling, ask Ken Follett, just as we asked Dostoevsky or Wagner….well… imagine the abbreviated Ring Cycle. No actually now I think about it, speed Wagner should be mandatory.

The reason the Reduced Shakespeare Company is so funny, apart from brilliant performance and scripting, is that it’s mad. Hamlet in 30 seconds is a hoot. Whilst performed over three hours it’s harrowing. Probably even the Petra Kucha (or 20:20 version) of World War II would be pretty funny too.

Only comedy works in the short form - hence PG Wodehouse. In our noir world you need time to eat, digest and discover.

Me? I’m now off to create “Mad Men Noir”. It’s long. It’s brutal. It’s going to be terribly depressing. It’ll involve heavy drinking, the serial killing of competitors and the most complicated marketing plan ever.
As to whether these blogs are too short read next week’s effort which will be 800 pages of unremitting misery all in black and white.