Sunday, 31 August 2008

Next stop Gnometanamo?

Rapturous at the prospect of jetting off for a cut-price weekend away, Mr Gnome poses pertly on the parapet of a provincial airport's multi-storey car park.

Moments later, at ground level, the Human Being is stopped by a trio of plain-clothes airport staff.

'Excuse me, sir, but we couldn't help noticing that you were taking photographs up on the sixth floor of the car park. It looked as if you were taking pictures of a little thing. A bird?'

'Er, are you security?'

'Yes, sir, we are.'

'Oh. Well, actually (fumbling in bag) I was taking some pictures of, um, my gnome.'

By now the trio are in the full-on presence of Mr G.

The HB continues feebly: 'He has a website.... He isn't political.'

A pause. The prospect of internment looms briefly.

But, once again, the 'G-force' has its semi-numinous effect.

The trio smile and move on.

Mr G and the HB continue to check-in, both strangely encouraged by the vigilance and politeness of these watchful guardians.

(Grateful fraternal acknowledgment re headline.)

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Nano domini

Poor Mr Gnome, lofty of thought, virtuous of conduct, pure of heart - and yet, when it comes to certain products, a total retail-recidivist.

Egged on by the Human Being, he poses beside this luscious i-Pod Nano, which is not in the least bit borrowed.

Pause and listen.

Yes, those unattractively sibilant cries of 'My preciousss, my preciouss....' are indeed emanating from the shameless lips of the product-sated Human Being.

But what's not to love about this small-but-exquisite masterpiece of modern engineering?

Elegant, easy to use, intuitive, simple, beautiful.

Yikes, we're getting carried away.

It's a jolly good toy and we like it very much. We promise to play with it nicely and not to break it.


Wednesday, 27 August 2008

What was one doing when...?

I've been invited to recall what I was doing when I heard of the following events.

Princess Diana's death - 31 August 1997
I was camping in a field near Stratford-upon-Avon. Prior to packing up the tent, I switched on my car radio.

Instantly aware that something wasn't right - why was James Naughtie presenting the news on a Sunday?

Tone of voice suggested a death. For a few seconds, I don't know why, I thought that Mother Theresa had gone aloft. And then Naughtie confirmed Diana's death.

Margaret Thatcher's resignation - 22 November 1990
A headteachers' meeting re the National Curriculum, near Andover, I think. Cold afternoon.

A tubby headteacher announced the news at end of the meeting. Majority of those attending applauded, which I could understand - but felt was rather mean-spirited.

Attack on the twin towers - 11 September 2001
I was at work. A colleague heard news from a friend via a phone call.

The BBC website was not working and I went to my car to hear the report confirmed. At this point neither tower had collapsed.

I called my brother in Boston, Mass, to check that he and his wife were all right.

I felt overwhelmed.

In the evening I went and sat quietly in Coventry Cathedral.

It's of no consequence, but kind New York friends once took me to brunch in the Windows on the World restaurant at the top of one of the towers. Windows on milk that day - we were in the clouds.

England's World Cup Semi Final v Germany in - 4 July 1990
Er, so sorry. God didn't give me the appropriate gene for this one.

Why couldn't the question have been about the 1966 World Cup Final?

President Kennedy's Assassination - 22 November 1963
I guess, for my generation, the head-and-shoulders-above-the-rest event.

I was thirteen and in the study hall at boarding school near Bath doing 'evening prep' - so the time was between six and eight o'clock on that Friday evening.

My friend Andrew McNinch was called out to take a phone call. Passing my desk on his return he whispered: 'Kennedy's been shot.'

I think that our housemaster confirmed the news at the end of prep.

The next day my brothers and I went home, for a planned two-day visit.

News bulletin followed news bulletin. The images: the motorcade sweeping through Dallas in clear sunshine; the jolt following the shot; Mrs Kennedy turning and reaching out towards the Secret Service agent and pulling him into the car.

And later, the swearing-in of Lyndon Baines Johnson aboard Air Force One. Mrs Kennedy beside him, still wearing the same blood-spattered outfit.

On the Saturday evening we watched the first episode of a brand-new TV series called 'Dr Who'.

Sunday evening brought the news of the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby.

Prayers in our church, of course for the first Roman Catholic president.

Of no consequence, but C S Lewis and Aldous Huxley died on the same day as JFK.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Versed past the post

Cheltenham race course was the venue for Mr Gnome's epiphanic encounter with tip-toptasic troubadour Ian McMillan.

The almost shockingly gifted McMillan, accompained by his equally talented orchestra, was performing a selection of songs and verses at the Greenbelt Arts Festival.

Funny. Moving. Witty. Clever. Droll. Tuneful. Punchy. Wistful. Robust. Funny.

Ian McMillan celebrates the hidden stories of those whose stories are rarely told - and makes you laugh, think and, in my case, dash away the occasional manly tear.

Mr McMillan offered an improvised poem (to jauntily soulful accompaniment from the orchestra) based on three topics called out by members of the audience: 'myself', 'British summer weather' and, inevitably, 'gnome'.

The moving epic that emerged, Homerically, from Mr McMillan's lyre depicted Mr Gnome fleeing inclement weather across a wide vista encompassing the delights of both Ibiza and Cleethorpes.

A gnomapotheosis.

The applause was rapturous.

Hurrah for the magnificent Mr McMillan.

And, all you poets out there, Mr Gnome modestly acknowledges his ability to inspire, which is, I guess, a talent - to a Muse.

By the way, this event was sponsored by the Church Times.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

K? See!

Mr Gnome realizes, to his chagrin, that he rarely 'bigs it up' for individual human beings.

Not any more.

He is determined to probe a wide variety of human types and raise a rousing 'Hurrah!' for any tip-top folk that come into his zone of awareness.

And who better to start with than the remarkable KC pictured (in slightly more youthful days) above? (Specs appeal, or what?)

Chef de cuisine, raconteur, computer wizard and all-round good egg, the reticent and industrious KC falls effortlessly into the category of 'once met, never forgotten'.

Hardworking, charming and good-humoured, KC has, naturally, much in common with Mr Gnome - with the exception of stature.

KC is tall. Very tall. If you encounter him, remark on his tallness - he'll like you all the more.

No surprise to discover that KC is a 'radio man' with a strong leaning towards the 'high end' of BBC Radio 5 Live. Mr Gnome is forever grateful for the nudge that led to his discovery of broadcaster par excellence, the great Rhod Sharpe, the insomniac's friend.

One could go on....

Hard to believe it, but KC is about to celebrate his fortieth birthday.


Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Apple of his i

The Gnome can't help it: he's overcome with pleasure at his proximity to the new i-Phone.

Ownership? Far from it. A kind friend graciously permitted the impromptu pose.

Mr Gnome isn't a massive materialist. Flashy cars, for instance, do nothing to warm his heart.

But, no surprise, he weakens when he encounters small-scale elegance and fitness-for-use.

The i-Phone has these in abundance.

It's only a matter of time before Mr Gnome is blogging from one of these beautiful implements.

Er, and of money....

Sunday, 17 August 2008


Here we all are enjoying ourselves on the beach: my parents, their three sons, our two older cousins - and Stumpy the Welsh corgi.

Location? Definitely Devon, possibly Dawlish Warren.

The year? It has to be around 1956 or '57.

I'm guessing the younger members of the party have been in the sea, 'bathing' as my mother would have called it. But absolutely not before a minimum of one hour has elapsed from the end of our picnic lunch.

Two of us are keeping off the afternoon chill with our new zip-up jackets: they were called 'windcheaters'.

Dad, who clearly has not been in the water, is dressed up in tweed jacket, shirt, tie and pullover.

Our teenage cousins are in the height of Fifties chic - the choker of pop-together beads was the absolute dernier cri....

Meanwhile, check out the totally typical beachwear of the background figures.

Our mother, I feel, is looking a wee bit strained. Hardly surprising.

She would have organised the outing, prepared the picnic and driven all eight of us to the seaside, jammed into the bench-seat Ford Zephyr - and all at the age of approximately fifty, when many women are relaxing into the grandma role.

My father, already far from well, did not outlive the 1950s.

My mother, born in 1908, died ten years ago.

Tuesday 19 August would have been her one hundredth birthday.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

A minor destruction

So easy these days to check up on train times by calling National Rail Inquiries.

No complaints from Mr Gnome (pictured yesterday on a somewhat moist platform at Bridgend, Wales) about this tip-top service.

Prompt attention yesterday from polite operator with crystalline diction and a friendly manner.

He was anxious to offer some extra info alongside the train times that were the object of my call.

There were, he said, 'destructions on the line near Worcester'.

Yikes. I feared the worst.

He continued breezily: 'But this is a minor destruction and should be cleared within the hour.'

Phew. That's my kind of destruction.

At which point the penny dropped: my informant was Malapropping.

He must have meant 'disruptions'.

Hear and now

Tootling home yesterday from a wedding in wet south Wales and letting the train take the strain.

Two gentlemen my age board at Cardiff and sit at the table section that I've previously had to myself.

They chat animatedly to one another using signing.

Next stop Newport, where train is flooded with English football fans who are male, loud and very well tanked up..

They fill the three seats across the aisle from us, until then occupied by a lone young woman.

They greet her and seem to think that the manner in which they address her is charming in a breezily laddish way. It's not. She politely extricates herself and moves elsewhere.

A fan asks one of my seat companions to move over so that he can sit across the aisle from his chums. Fan eventually realises that the gentleman is deaf and is reluctant to move because he will no longer be seated directly opposite the friend with whom he's signing.

Anyway, the gentleman shrugs, smiles and makes the requested move.

Journey continues. Fans discuss the match, with occasional forays into their work and their love lives. All at high volume and larded with the inevitable f-word.

We dip into the Severn Tunnel, the din unabated.

My companion opposite must have picked up my vibe. He is busy with his phone, keying in a message. Then he grins at me, and holds up the phone, displaying the message shown above.

We bond.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Write and wrong

Mr G has a reputation for being a bit of stickler, particularly with regard to spelling and the use of the apostrophe.

But stickling can easily become pompous pedantry - a brush with which Mr G hopes he'll never be tarred.

Hence his wish to celebrate, rather than snipe at, these recently spotted 'signs and wonders'.

Mr G thought about popping in to the GLAMOUROUS SHOW BAR to discuss the small matter of the superfluous 'u'.

But he reconsidered and moved on.

Does the extra letter detract from the sparkling neon invitation of Birmingham's answer to La Cage Aux Folles?

It doesn't.

Same goes for a cheery Warwickshire chip shop, sprinkling its apostrophes with an open-hearted abandon that defies criticism.

It's a case of 'So wrong that it's right.'

Three hearty cheer's for Chip's & Fishe's - and a breezy 'U Hoo!' for the GSB.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Sing out!

Ever eager to celebrate all that's positive and purposeful, Mr Gnome shouts 'Hurrah!' for two crackingly charismatic choirs.

Both have been participants in the BBC's contest Last Choir Standing.

Strikingly different from one another in many ways, these ensembles exhibit the elements that Mr G so enjoys - energy, enthusiasm and, of course, musical excellence.

In addition, there's the indefinable spirit that they communicate - it's clear that singing is so much more than a hobby to these men and women. The phrase 'breath of life' comes to mind.

Click below to relish the infectious chutzpah of the Brighton Gay Men's Chorus, giving 'I Am What I Am' their not inconsiderable all.

And here for the dignified strength of Belfast's Open Arts Community Choir's performance of Labi Siffre's 'Something Inside So Strong'.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas any more....

Mr Gnome's recent South Bank stroll made him aware of the glitzy summer-holiday production of The Wizard of Oz, playing at the Royal Festival Hall.

I've always been in two minds about the famous film on which the current show is based.

I saw it in May 1960 when it was already an old movie. The occasion was a school half-holiday to celebrate the wedding of HRH the Princess Margaret, a pint-sized celebrity whose life had more than a few features in common with that of the film's star.

The scenes that I find most compelling are those shot in black and white, set on the Kansas prairies, the 'home' from which Dorothy escapes (via a clonk on the head) to the migraine-inducing Technicolor dazzlement of Oz.

In a strange way I find these scenes infinitely more dreamlike than anything else in the movie: the careful 'planting' of the characters who will re-appear in new guises; the genuine terror induced by the fearsome Miss Gulch; the sense of inexorable progression to disaster as the clouds gather and the storm brews.

And, of course, the extraordinary moment when Dorothy starts to sing 'Over the Rainbow' - the beauty of the voice, the unaffected simplicity of the performance, all underpinned by the training of an artist who, at fifteen, was already a veteran.

And then off to Oz with its shrieking, bilious colour schemes - and the (ding dong!) dead witch (memorable striped stockings), and the arrival via bubble of the beyond-loopy, candy-floss pink 'Good Witch', with the finger-nails-on-glass voice.

And the Munchkins. I still find them unutterably weird and unappealing. Can't help it.

I loved the knockabout Lion and Scarecrow. But my favourite was the elegant, wistful Tin Woodsman - what troubles could underlie such sorrow and yearning?

The Witch? I always found her too speedy and frenetic to be truly scary. But she had style by the broomload, infinitely preferable to the pink crazy woman.

It's a bizarre, unique film. I've not seen another that comes anywhere near it in sheer bravura oddity. Perhaps that goes a little of the way to explaining why it attained and has kept its iconic status.

Having tasted this heady brew, it's nigh on impossible not to become, in one way or another, a friend of Dorothy.

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Lean times

On a recent visit to London's South Bank Mr Gnome dropped in at the National Film Theatre to admire its stylish new foyer.

The red-and-black theme carried over serendipitously to this poster for the great 1954 comedy showing as part of the centenary celebrations of the director David Lean.

Hobson's Choice is perhaps less well-known than, say, Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, Lawrence of Arabia, Ryan's Daughter and Dr Zhivago.

Undeservedly, I feel.

It's a wonderful, charming film, shot in lustrous black and white and making the turn-of-the-century Salford locations look as if Francis Frith prints have sprung magically to life.

Based on Harold Brighouse's 1916 stage play, the film tells the story of how the steely-willed Maggie Hobson defies her father - and convention - to marry the man of her (unusual) choice and, in so doing, to make a bid for independence and self-determination.

A forgotten gem, in my opinion.

Note the stunning use of space and atmosphere in this clip.

Score by Malcolm Arnold, by the way.

Friday, 1 August 2008


August already?

Greeted this morning by a far-from-speedy chum, Mr G has decided to take this month at, well, a gastropod's gait.

Shakespeare mentioned snails some eleven times.

Most famously describing the schoolboy 'creeping like snail unwillingly to school'.

Tart-tongued Rosalind tells Orlando she'd rather be wooed by a snail than by him.


Because the snail comes complete with both his own house - and his destiny - horns, that dreaded, heavily freighted Shakespearean funny word.

But also very charmingly, in Venus and Adonis:
Or, as the snail, whose tender horns being hit,
Shrinks backward in his shelly cave with pain,
And there, all smother'd up, in shade doth sit,
Long after fearing to creep forth again....