Scotched by Clarke's unseemly rush to the offie

Alan Watkins on politics

Kenneth Clarke seems so likeable, with his little chortles, his cigars, his uncombed wisps of hair, and body well-rounded by much consumption of malt whisky. He seemed to enjoy his budget speech enormously. He was like a man in his bath, welcoming others into the steam and suds. He only needed a few yellow plastic ducks to com- plete the happy picture. But history is full of jovial uncle types who proved to be gangsters and fools. The captain of the Titanic was probably very genial during the earlier part of the voyage. Clarke's affable air is a relief from Major and Mawhinney, but it proves nothing. Think of Nero.

I feel badly let down. It was that 27p off spirits that did it. For weeks now I've been carting home braces of Famous Grouse, in preparation for the inevitable increase in price. This assumption was not based merely on the fact that whisky gets put up every Budget. That would not have galvanised me, if I hadn't read that the Chancellor had been spotted not so long ago scurrying to his car with a whole crate of whisky.

In the light of the Budget, Clarke's scurrying seems mysterious. Why was he, who alone knew the prices would be going down, stocking up beforehand? Unless the crate was an early Christmas present, perhaps, from some hopeful distillery...?

At any rate, I am no longer wholly charmed by Kenneth Clarke.

OTHER nations get restless towards the end of a century, and dream of revolution; the British turn moralising and bland. Everything on our screens now is checked beforehand just to make sure it reaches the required level of blandness. We are not to be shocked or disturbed or thrilled. We are to drink our Horlicks quietly and think of England.

It was in this spirit of spiritlessness that Jane Austen's Emma was doled out to us last Sunday. Almost an exact imitation of the Gwyneth Paltrow movie earlier this autumn, it lacked that effort's only redeeming feature: Paltrow. Jane Austen cannot be dramatised. Everything extraordinary about her is in the words she uses. Brontes make much better film fodder: they don't care about words, only Victorian strictures and those blasted moors (what a miserable bunch they were).

I am forming a Society for the Protection of Jane Austen Against Andrew Davies, the one they keep asking to adapt her novels for television. Why get a guy who does not appreciate or understand Austen, why get a guy at all, to do this job? A guy who recognises that Emma is "not a pretty book" but fails to notice it's a splendid one.

His patronising interpretation of Pride and Prejudice (rescued by Colin Firth's eyes) was at least lively, compared to this funereal Emma, in which every silly plot device was religiously preserved but none of the wit. From grim, griping Mr Woodhouse and his perpetually frowning and none-too-bright daughter, to that haggard-looking Harriet, lugubrious Mr Knightley, and a manic Mrs Elton who seemed to be battling with a Pennsylvanian accent (you could imagine her rushing off to pickle something), there wasn't a laugh for miles. Even Little Henry's inheritance, a running gag in the book, was cast away by Davies like a complicated toy he didn't know how to work. For light entertainment, Davies relies instead on the obligatory country ball - women shuffling round in their nighties, and men with surprisingly puffy pants. Not a fun crowd.

But all was explained in an article Davies wrote for the Daily Telegraph last week. It turns out he doesn't actually like Emma - a fact which you'd think might have warned any skulking Janeite at ITV that maybe he wasn't the right man for the job after all. He finds her "worryingly asexual". Why so worrying? I find it rather wondrous. He also seems to have no idea what to make of a heroine who is not a paragon of virtue. Austen uses the moral difficulty here to create comedy. Davies makes psychobabble - a dreary gruel indeed - reducing Highbury to a dysfunctional community full of co-dependency and chicken thieves.

He sees Mr Woodhouse as "a manipulative old monster". This is too awful. Emma's basic kindness is revealed in the way she lets her powerless father feel powerful. Is it a crime to bear with and placate a foolish, fond old man? No. Actually, it's an act of love. Davies' adaptation, on the other hand, was an act of sabotage.

A FRIEND has sent me a tiny but enthralling book. (Tininess is always a plus.) It's called Mark's Little Book About Kinder Eggs, by Mark Pawson, who seems to have published it himself, using a Xerox machine and a stapler: 24 pages or so on the obsessional subject of Kinder Eggs, those hollow chocolates that contain toys. The author has been collecting these toys for many years now. He keeps the unopened ones in the egg compartment of his fridge. And there is something about the way he describes the toys that makes you really want to go out and buy a load of Kinder Eggs yourself. (Kenneth Clarke be damned.)

Such as "A turquoise and green dinasour [sic], a Tyrannosaurus to be exact. It fitted together in an interesting way, and is intriguingly non- symmetrical, most of the toys are basically symmetrical. Once assembled, it stands on a yellow base, onto the front of which you are supposed to fit the name TYRANNOSAURUS, cut off the instruction sheet. Instruction sheet has the usual black-and-white assembly diagram and a scale drawing, comparing dinasour with car. Reverse has a full-colour pic of Tyrannosaurus trashing a tree, in the background are three other dinasours, which I hope are other toys, this is a good-un. Ref 359."

Or, "Skindiver, yeah, this is more like it, dark grey, red, flesh (65mm.H). Man in a tight grey wetsuit with raised dots all over it! Red oxygen cylinders, belt and mask all in one piece quite tricky to fit together, detachable red flippers and holding a trident and torch. REF 215." It is somehow comforting to know, in the bleak mid-winter, that Kinder Egg toys are being properly catalogued.

Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
football
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him
musicIndie music promoter was was a feature at Carter gigs
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
News
Performers dressed as Tunnocks chocolate teacakes, a renowned Scottish confectionary, perform during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
news
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
Life and Style
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Fellows as John Shuttleworth
comedySean O'Grady joins Graham Fellows down his local Spar
News
people
News
Ross Burden pictured in 2002
people
News
Elisabeth Murdoch: The 44-year-old said she felt a responsibility to 'stand up and be counted’'
media... says Rupert Murdoch
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Extras
indybest
Sport
Arsenal signing Calum Chambers
sportGunners complete £16m transfer of Southampton youngster
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Senior BI Engineer (BI/MI, Data Mining)

    £60000 - £65000 per annum + Bonus & Benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior BI Enginee...

    Retail Promotions Manager – TV and Film Catalogue

    Up to £171 PAYE per day (equal to 40 – 45K ) : Sauce Recruitment: This is a te...

    Nursery Nurse

    £7 - £8 per hour: Randstad Education Leeds: Nursery Nurse Level 3 or above Ear...

    Special Needs teacher

    £90 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Special Need teachers required t...

    Day In a Page

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on