CRIES & WHISPERS

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The Independent Culture
4 TODAY EVERY phone number in the country gets an extra digit. This is irritating, unless you happen to be a printer or stationer. But not half as irritating as the ads British Telecom ran to tell us about it. Tagged "It's 1 to remember", the campaign has been unmistakably one to forget. Old photographs have been used to liken the event to landmark moments of the Sixties (ie. the formative years of your average ad-person), such as England winning the World Cup and man landing on the Moon.

"Everyone's gone to the Moon," sang Jonathan King, 30 years ago, and it's finally coming true. British Airways recently had a TV commercial featuring an astronaut: at least, unlike BT's, the ad didn't think weightless equalled witless. Space exploration is explored anew in a play at the National, The Blue Ball, memorably hailed by my colleague Irving Wardle as "a load of cobblers". The forthcoming first novel by Philip Norman, Beatle-ologist, is actually called Everyone's Gone to the Moon - though it's about a Sunday-supplement writer, of all people. Tom Hanks' next film is Apollo 13; if Forrest Gump is anything to go by, it will be made of the wrong stuff. One small step for man, one giant clich for mankind.

4 IN THE world of classical music, the currency is no longer symphonies and concerti. It's gobbets and snippets - pop-length pieces, to be rounded up and issued on pop-style compilations, with titles like Serenity and Tranquillity. The purists scoff, but the results are a lot more appealing than symphonic rock. So I turned with interest to a new release from Teldec, Sensual Classics Too. It promises "over 75 minutes of musical passion", and sports a photograph of a half-naked couple caught in a passionately musical encounter. On closer inspection, it turns out that they are both men. The album is a service to the gay community (says Teldec) whose special needs have at last been recognised with suitable music. And what might this music be? A Dvorak Slavonic Dance, a Schubert Impromptu, a Beethoven Romance and other items whose gay angle is, frankly, oblique. Could this be just a grubby fumble for the Pink Pound?

4 TO THE Royal Academy, to celebrate Simon Schama's BBC series and book Landscape and Memory. In case you've spent the past two weeks deep in a forest, this is a history of man's relationship with nature. Being both a book and a programme, the project was launched with no fewer than four speeches, plus highlights of the series - a history of the world in 10-and-a-half minutes. It showed how far the televised lecture has come since Kenneth Clark's Civilisation. Rather than leaning on a balustrade in a tweed jacket, Schama sits on a stepped podium, specially built in the studio. Grey shirt done up to the top, hands waving, images of nature spinning around him, he is a cross between a presenter of The Late Show and the top half of a ziggurat.

As a speechmaker, Schama is from the school of T Hanks. He didn't just thank everyone, he called them up and gave them a hug. Noting that some people had found his book too sunny, Schama hit the rising note for which he is apparently famous, and told us: "if so, it's because of you". Us? The assembled liggers of literary London? "Yes, YOU. You're all so wonderful, such wonderful friends. You make it all such FUN." Etc, etc. Evidently, to tackle Arcadia, you need a hell of an ego.

4 OLDER readers may remember this column going on about the high price of CDs. Now, posthumously, our campaign seems to be working. Music Week reports that the average disc now costs £12.42 - still too much, but 70p less than last autumn. This is attributed largely to the new MVC chain, which undercuts Our Price by about £1. The survey shows prices still varying wildly. So please, carry on not paying full price if you can help it.

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