Hit & Run: Agony and the ecstasy
Tuesday 15 December 2009
When Silvio Berlusconi was whacked in the face with a heavy object on Sunday night, politicians were loud in their protests. "What they did to Berlusconi," said his coalition partner, Umberto Bossi, "was an act of terrorism." But what about the insult to Milan Cathedral, a souvenir model of which was the object that struck him?
The Duomo di Milano is one of the biggest and grandest churches in the world. Its history is awe-inspiring. A succession of visionary architects and engineers took over five hundred years to build it. It began in late-Gothic style in 1386, the nave and aisles were done by 1452, the eight-sided cupola and 60 statues of saints and prophets were up by 1510, a vast organ was inserted in 1552, wooden choir stalls were built by 1614, and the main spire, with its gorgeous "little Madonna" in baroque gilded bronze, was elevated 300 feet in 1762 (though it's often invisible in fog.) Locals had to wait until 1858 for new stained glass windows, and the last gate of the cathedral was inaugurated in 1965. The main façade has only just been renovated in 2009.
Because of the bizarrely protracted building schedule, modern Milanese use the phrase "fabbrica del Duomo" to suggest that a job will be extremely long, complicated and hardly worth the bother – like "painting the Forth Bridge," only much, much worse.
The Duomo has seen things you wouldn't believe. Napoleon Buonaparte was crowned in there. One of the nails used in the crucifixion of Christ in 33 AD is embedded in the wall, marked by a single red light bulb. Shelley used to swan about the nave, reading poetry. Tennyson ascended to the roof to inspect the Alps, and, a century later, Luchino Visconti filmed a scene from Rocco and His Brothers up there. Mark Twain wrote, breathlessly, "What a wonder it is! So grand, so solemn, so vast! And yet so delicate, so airy, so graceful! A very world of solid weight and yet it seems... a delusion of frostwork that might vanish with a breath!"
And all these ineffable moments may be eclipsed by one thought: that Milan Cathedral was, in statuette form, the missile chosen by a slightly mad but not untypical Italian to express disapproval of the Italian premier and media mogul, and find he had thousands of fans on Facebook and Twitter. It may have taken 500 years for the Duomo to acquire a role; but it may have been worth it. John Walsh
The Tao of Tucker – a short guide
If the devil gets all the best lines, Malcolm Tucker runs him a close second. Here's a sweary selection of Tuckerisms from The Thick of It's recently completed third series.
* "I wouldn't fucking piss on you if you were fucking allergic to piss."
* "I've got more on my plate than a spinster at a wedding."
* "I thought I'd made it clear that when I want your advice I'll give you the special signal, which is me being sectioned under the fucking Mental Health Act."
* "I've got a to-do list as long as a fucking Leonard Cohen song."
* "He's so dense, light bends around him."
* "I'll be with you in two shakes of a crying baby."
* "I'm fucking all ears. I'm fucking Andrew Marr here."
* "Please don't get up, I'm not Viagra."
* "Get over here. Now. Might be advisable to wear brown trousers and a shirt the colour of blood."
* "I think we should use the carrot and stick approach, yeah. You take a carrot, you stick it up his fucking arse, followed by the stick." Tim Walker
Why the smart money's on opening your own bank
It's clearly lucrative (at least in more normal times) – so who wouldn't jump at the chance of setting up their very own bank? With the British retail banking landscape now dominated by monoliths, and with so little real competition, the Government is encouraging newcomers to the scene; there haven't been any truly new start-ups for a century. One of the first arrivals is Metro Bank, which is preparing to open next year in London, with two branches in Holborn and Kensington.
Metro, which already has a successful model in the US, promises branches called "stores" and a trademark coins-to-notes converter called a "Magic Money Machine". Cute – but it's not how I'd do it.
So can I – can anybody – just rent a shop space and charge customers £30 every time they go over their overdraft limit? Sort of. Wannabe high-street bankers must first apply to the Financial Services Authority, who will require the completion of a form called the 'Deposit taking application'. Download it from the FSA website. You'll also need to provide supporting documents and, later in the application stage, attend interviews. "You'd need to provide us with information on your business models, capital resources, your liquidity, human resources – who's going to manage it, who's going to control it, who'll be your CEO, CFO," explains an FSA spokeswoman, "Then, we'd need to know about your corporate governance policies and then generally your company's policies, your IT system, the country of origin of the firm, wider economic considerations." Sounds simple enough, although applications can take nine months to complete. "It's a very thorough process, as you can imagine," assures the spokesperson.
But here's the tax-free bonus: so long as you're not called Miss Tesco or Dr Natwest, there's absolutely nothing to stop you from naming it after yourself. Susie Rushton
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