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.

News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
peopleReports that Brand could stand for Mayor on an 'anti-politics' ticket
News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
News
Voluminous silk drawers were worn by Queen Victoria
newsThe silk underwear is part of a growing trade in celebrity smalls
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Candidates with surnames that start with an A have an electoral advantage
newsVoters are biased towards names with letters near start of alphabet
Arts and Entertainment
Isis with Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville)
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jay James
TVReview: Performances were stale and cheesier than a chunk of Blue Stilton left out for a month
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

    Maths Teacher

    £110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

    Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

    £40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

    ***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

    £30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

    ***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

    £35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

    Day In a Page

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?