Prolific writer and commentator John Walsh contributes columns to the paper as well as writing features, interviews and restaurant reviews. He has been editor of The Independent Magazine, literary editor of the Sunday Times and features editor of the London Evening Standard.
Thursday 13 April 1995
Meanwhile, another "comedian", allegedly called Aoshima, is taking over the governorship of Tokyo. If this does not turn out to be Ronnie Barker, I shall eat my sampan. What a leap forward civic politics will take in Japan when the main power centres are safely in the hands of the Two Lonnies.
Hell of a speech, that "cancer of bent and twisted journalism" routine by Jonathan Aitken, but where did it come from? I'm not suggesting the Chief Secretary - a distinguished ex-hack - can't write his own stuff; I mean, where did he get that rhetorical idiom, those quaint and sonorous rhythms?
Dickens, of course. Aitken's "Here in Britain we have the best media in the world and the worst media in the world" is a gloss on the opening line of A Tale of Two Cities, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times", and there's a distinct note of Sidney Carton about the conclusion ("I have done nothing wrong ... If it falls to me to start a fight ... so be it" seems to me not a million miles from Carton's celebrated valediction, "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done ...").
Aitken's complex image of a "twisted" cancer that is also a kind of forked tongue, can only have come from the great war poet Wilfred Owen, in "Dulce et Decorum Est" ("froth-corrupted lungs,/Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud/Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues ..."). The rest, however, is pure William Blake: the canker-in-the-system motif is from "The Sick Rose", the "grievances or grudges" nursed by those with their own "bitter agendas" is of course from "The Poison Tree" - and as for Aitken's now notorious closing flourish, about the "simple sword of truth and trusty shield of British fair play", this is clearly supposed to remind us of "Jerusalem" (in which a whole arsenal is deployed, included a bow of burning gold, arrows of desire, a spear, a chariot and an unsleeping sword). So there we have it - a veritable compendium of English literature in a few paragraphs. A shame the question-spurning Mr Aitken didn't remember Blake's less celebrated apophthegm: "Truth can never be told so as to be understood, and not be believ'd".
The tale of Sark, the Channel island with no cars and no income tax which is taking a lonely stand against the might of the European Union, continues to fascinate. The self-governing island (pop. 580) has an understandably prickly relationship with Europe. Being a Crown dependency but not a member of the Union, its fortunes are governed by EU trade and agriculture policies but it receives no Euro-benefits. What it has been receiving, however, in torrents, isEU documentation, demanding the tiny isle's ratification of a thousand irrelevant directives from the Maastricht treaty.
The Sark parliamentwas successively required to promise to let Bosnia- bound trucks to pass unhindered through its roads (Sark doesn't have any car-bearing roads); asked to agree to the building of a £1m abattoir on its land; and told it must agree to have an EU inspectorate examine its nuclear weapon stockpile. All these were duly rubber-stamped, but with increasingly loud snorts of disgust. Finally, the collective nerve of the 52-strong parliament snapped and it unanimously agreed to ratify no more.
This Mouse-that-Roared strategy will not, I fear, halt the stride of Brussels bureaucracy; but it illuminates precisely at what moment the straw breaks the camel's back in these tax havens: in this case when an edict arrived that allowed European "community nationals" to settle on the island. For Sarkians, whose 40 "tenements", or plots of land, are traditionally passed on from father to son, it was time to head for the barricades.
Piquantly, I learnt the names of the last outsiders to buy one of the cherished tenements as a tax-free home on this titchy, anti-European enclave. They are the Barclay brothers, David and Frederick, the reclusive newspaper magnates. Their newspaper? The, ah, European.
One of the spring's most eagerly awaited autobiographies is the cutely, if ungrammatically, titled Kathy and Me by Gillian Taylforth, which Bloomsbury publishes on 18 May. The memoirs of the lively EastEnders actress may have started life as a project through which to defray some of the £500,000 legal bill following her celebrated court case last year; but they're an imperative read for anybody interested in pancreatitis, police surveillance and the slip roads of the A1. I'd like to tell you more but unfortunately the book has been embargoed until publication, when the best stories will be run in the Sun, the paper that shopped Ms Taylforth in the first place, and confronted her in court. So instead, I'll just quote from the blurb, a small masterpiece of circumlocution: "Eventually, in 1994, after enduring almost a decade of such treatment by the press, Gillian and her family courageously took on the police, the media and the most expensive lawyers in the land when they decided the gossip and the lies had gone too far ..."
This summer sees the 25th anniversary of the Glastonbury Festival, the wondrous post-hippie jamboree at which media chaps with imminent mid-life crises sit in cosmically significant fields with Donga tribesmen, listening to music and smoking perfumed tampons. The coolest modern bands are promised for the silver anniversary (Oasis, the Stone Roses), but I'll be looking out for a group slightly closer to my own generation: The Who. Weirdly, though, I hear of a change of line-up. Roger Daltry will be singing, but on flailing-arm guitar will not be Pete Townshend, composer of The 'Oo's myriad hits. It'll be his brother, Simon. According to a friend at MTV, "Roger told me he wants to play with The Who, like before, but Pete's just not interested any more. He said, you don't need me, you got my brother, he looks like me, he plays like me ..." Jobs for the family, indeed. I look forward for the next Rolling Stones tour with Chris Jagger on vocals ...
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