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.

Arts and Entertainment
filmPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
General Election
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

    £14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Administrator is requ...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - Commercial Vehicles - OTE £40,000

    £12000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion and growth of ...

    Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - Sheffield - £50,000

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer position with a...

    Recruitment Genius: Operations Leader - Plasma Processing

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Operations Leader is required to join a lea...

    Day In a Page

    Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

    Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

    His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
    'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

    Open letter to David Cameron

    Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
    Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

    You don't say!

    Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
    Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

    So what is Mubi?

    Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
    The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

    The hardest job in theatre?

    How to follow Kevin Spacey
    Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

    Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

    To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
    Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

    'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

    The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
    Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

    This human tragedy has been brewing for years

    EU states can't say they were not warned
    Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

    Women's sportswear

    From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
    Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

    Clinton's clothes

    Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders