Boyd Tonkin: btw

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The Independent Online

Not dead, merely resting between roles, Cool Britannia has leapt out of its coffin, large as life and twice as irritating. While the Spice Girls sing or rather lip synch again, the Culture Secretary, James Purnell, has handed a 50m grant to the one gold-plated triumph from that unlamented era: Tate Modern. He said that such cutting-edge venues should help to correct "outmoded perceptions of Britain" in the approach to the Olympics.

We wouldn't want potential visitors to the London Games getting the idea that they might come to a backward-looking hidebound land, would we? Heaven forbid they might find the sort of place where the Prime Minister is an Old Etonian stockbroker's son who only ever worked in corporate PR, with his Cabinet a pack of braying toffs from those power-plants of hereditary privilege known as "major public schools". Because, unless Mr Purnell's boss gets his act together PDQ, that is exactly the country that will greet them in 2012.

* "I am Beowulf, and I've come to kill your mon-STAH!" The peerless Ray Winstone albeit in his granite-muscled, motion-capture form gets to deliver some of the choicest lines of the year in Robert Zemeckis's movie of the Anglo-Saxon epic. Sadly, Anthony Hopkins' Hrothgar then fails to reply: "But you promised to come between 10 and four, and I scrapped my weekly wolf-hunt to stay in and wait ..."

"Sorry, squire, I had to row over to Zealand on an emergency call-out. Sea-dragons in the drains. Mucky job."

For the past three weekends, a not entirely travestied version of a (possibly) ninth-century poem has broken box-office records, reaching millions who thought that Old English referred only to shaggy sheepdogs or some kind of painful sexual preference. The academics can't forgive this success, but I'm sure another godfather of the multiplex blockbuster would have taken a more generous view. The epic was the domain of language experts until, in 1936, the essay "Beowulf: The Monsters And The Critics" made a case for it as a thrilling work of art. The author? J R R Tolkien.

* Cheltenham, it seems, has changed the course of history. Admirers of the edge-of-Cotswolds spa have long resorted there for its renowned festivals of racing, literature and music. Now its claims to fame include the revelation that Farsi speakers at GCHQ, the Government's spying centre, interpreted the conversations that led 16 US intelligence agencies to believe that Iran had wound down its nuclear weapons programme after 2003. Next spring, prepare for a flutter on the newly funded Ahmadinejad Memorial Stakes.

* What a fascinating story from Panama about travelling far from your origins, only to return to the starting point. And how apt that the country's eponymous waterway and its first master planner, Ferdinand de Lesseps, should have inspired a palindrome much-loved by word-gaming nerds who ought to get out more. "A man. A plan. A canal. Panama!"