Monday, February 27, 2017

La Antigua of yesteryear

Back in the 80s, La Antigua was a rather different place...everything on a much smaller scale. For the visitor there was only a handful of restaurants to frequent and bars to prop up. 

The ‘in’ place was Mistral with its jovial French Canadian host André, situated opposite the recently restored mansion that housed Doña Luisa Xicotencatl

There was an elemental family eatery called El Cappuccino (where you couldn’t get a cuppuccino) and Welten, where you had to knock on the door and let them have a good look at you before admittance would be granted, and if you did then get in, you’d find the place full of ageing Nazis. (It’s still there, but the goose-steppers have all have died off and you can walk in wearing sandals.)

There wasn’t anywhere to eat or drink on the Parque Central. Visiting gringos went around the corner to Mio Cid for their Gallos or the slightly seedier Moscas y Miel, run by an old geezer from Catalunya. 

Ethnic cuisine was definitely thin on the ground. There was Zen behind the cathedral and Cactus, a much missed Mexican café. 

El Sereno hogged what counted as the high end pretty much all on its own. 

For a slice of cake, some agua de calcetín and some undisturbed hours one could head to Las Americas or La Cenicienta, then in its original location on the Calle del Arco.  

La Fonda de la Cale Real was already in situ on that famous thoroughfare, but the most interesting little hideaway was further along, close by the arch: Quesos y Vino. 

Few would probably realise now that this is one of those surviving appellations like Carphone Warehouse, which speaks to the demands of an earlier category of customer, for this little place, barely more than a hole in the wall with a pizza oven and a few stools, was seemingly the only outlet in town for those two staples of the European night out - cheese and wine. Though most of the locals came for panitos and rosa jamaica. 

You’d also have had a hard time finding a single café serving espresso-style coffee in that era, so perhaps old Viglianesi missed a trick there. 

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Unmentionable Inequalities

From a political perspective the most serious problem developed societies face today is that they are increasingly taking on the social contours of developing societies. As such the really worrying developments are not the disparities of affluence, but those of culture, education and maybe also of intellect. 

The USA has an internal myth than can cope with inequalities of wealth, but it handles these associated alternatives rather less well. Other developed nations struggle to name them candidly in political discourse. 

They make the middle classes feel especially vulnerable because they start to perceive themselves more as a side effect of the economy around them than as its fundamental engine. 

A chasm opens up between the more and the less advantaged within the middle orders as fewer and fewer well-rewarded positions are available to those that are unable to fit the profile of ambitious white collar ‘information workers’. 

The liberal middle class elite hasn’t suddenly become more stuck up as a consequence of globalisation, it has just become more discomfitingly ‘elite’ relative to the social strata immediately around it. 

The discomfited middle classes have a tendency to scapegoat both the rich and the poor for this situation. They revert to an old-fashioned model of how things ought to be in order to explain their predicament, rather like science teachers doggedly representing the universe as a big empty space some of which has some stuff in it. 

Their social universe has similar binary attributes - every individual is a maker or a taker, a contributor or a parasite and pretty soon everyone outside their own millieu, the poor, immigrants, financiers, the global super-rich, even disembodied ‘corporations’ are earmarked to the latter categories and thus become ‘enemies of the people’. 

Ordinary, hard-working people. You’ve heard the rhetoric. It’s called populism. It’s the worm within the politics of the developing world and now it is back with a vengeance in the developed world as well. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

Failed futurist?

It has been amusing to read this week how sceptical H.G. Wells was of the BBC and broadcasting in general. “Broadcasting shouts out its information once and cannot be recalled.” Anything broadcast immediately disperses like smoke in the wind, he opined. Why would you pay attention to this when you could read a book by a great mind, and why would you ever listen to music on the radio when gramophone records were available?

If there was any audience at all for the airwaves, it would inevitably consist of “the blind, lonely and suffering people” — or “probably very sedentary persons living in badly lighted houses or otherwise unable to read, who have never realized the possibilities of the gramophone and the pianola and who have no capacity for thought or conversation.”

So wrong, and yet somehow so right. 

One of Wells’s more prescient critics pointed out however that “he evidently hankers to listen constantly to the great, when a simple mathematical calculation would show that this would not be possible. There are not enough great people in the world.”

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Words spoken on February 6th

Many of us perhaps knew Daddy as he was over the past couple of decades, a man enjoying possibly the best retirement it is possible to have, maybe not the individual leading the more action-packed life of adventure which preceded it....adventures across several continents, across two marriages - more specifically between those marriages - and across a long and successful career as entrepreneur turned company Chairman. 

When I was little I remember people asking him what he did for a living and he'd reply Industrial Theatre or even Commercial Showbusiness. It was an industry that he and his partner Malcolm built from the ground up in the late 60s - and MMA Presentations Ltd, as it then began, evolved into the dominant outfit within it across the whole of Europe. 

Industrial Theatre: it's a term that points to some of the other playful oppositions at the heart of Daddy.

He could strike one as the most risk averse adventurer (or perhaps an adventurous risk avoider)

...a non-believer with the most complete, well-grounded and admirable value system you could ever hope to encounter, apparently unreflective nature with a profound intuitive connection with what others might offhandedly call creation, 

....a keeper of traditions with an aversion to rituals, gregarious and generous to a fault, yet always deeply shy, and ever a man who could spot a rip off when he saw one. 

His first great adventure took him, aged 13, across the pond when the Nazis controlled a large part of Europe, their U-Boats sinking two of the ships in his convoy. 

On arrival at the docks in New York, he received what we might today call a topical greeting from the first native he encountered, a New York Cab driver: Well Limey, he inquired, how's it feel to be a refugee? 

From the Big Apple he went west to Kansas City Missouri and an all-American adolescence: high school, flag saluting, the boy scouts, a prom date and his first significant change of identity: from Henry to Hank.

Back in London as the war drew to its conclusion and his parents Mark and Rose had opened their home, specifically their living room floor, to American GIs on leave and needing somewhere in the city to kip for the night, Daddy enlisted and was commissioned into the Royal Fusiliers.

He was soon despatched to Egypt to take charge of a motorised courier platoon in the Sinai Dessert, an adventure which commenced when he famously paid off his army driving instructor, so that right up to the end of last year we were never quite sure if he really ought to be bombing around that little car of his. 

In 1948 he crossed the ocean once again to seek his fortune in the Argentina of Juan Perón. 

It would be an adventure of the amorous variety that brought this chapter to a close when officials connected with a woman scorned had his leave to remain there duly cancelled. 

But from Buenos Aires he extracted an extraordinary lifelong friendship with a French woman called Michelle,  girlfriend to his best friend Nick. Though they only met up again person a handful of times, they kept in touch for almost 70 years by letter, by telephone and then by email - and she always called him Hanky. (This morning she sent me a lovely message)

Then began the years of marriage and family, and between them a more mysterious interregnum, involving underground jazz clubs, playing the bongos and some well-situated bachelor pads. The showbiz kicked off first, but the industry was not far behind. 

Daddy always wanted to write this story himself. Today I have only been able to provide a taster of the tales he might have told. He was justly proud of everything he had done and the things he had achieved, in life and in business. 

But he was never a showy man. Some even said they could find him a little intimidating. Only last week Leonard, his accountant of half a century told me how he first met Daddy in his Hertford street office sitting behind a desk on a raised level looking down on him, and how at the time, he was a just little bit scared. 

In latter years Daddy’s been known for an occasional grumpy turn or, as Neale's story before attested, a degree of consternation at small changes in his everyday environment, a quality he shared with his capricious cat Meow. 

Yet he had this admirable knack for treating everyone he had dealings with as if they were equally important to him, was quietly sentimental and just occasionally, a bit of a pushover. 

Back in the 50s he was winning prizes for his fantastic dahlias and throughout his life retained an extraordinary flair for transforming any unlikely space into a garden. On the little balcony outside my bedroom, just months after I left home for good, tomatoes and cucumbers soon flourished where, he would soon quip to me, only been beer cans had been growing before. 

So it was hardly surprising that he was surely never more contented than in these last few years - a town mouse turned country mouse - free to indulge in his lifelong love of nature, doting on his soul mate, his garden, his canine and feline companions and his ever-devoted horse Twoflower. 

It was - at every stage - a life well lived....and no matter how hard he worked at leading a good life for himself he always strove to create the best possible existence for those he cared about and in this I can count myself most fortunate and forever grateful. 

Thank you all for coming today.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Imminent Danger

The idea that the very poor, the very rich or indeed the newly-arrived might somehow be stealing from me - or more worryingly still, represent an imminent threat to my way of life - has never really bothered me.

Yet if one or all of these notions are a fundamental part of the way you think about politics, then you are in fact in imminent danger of voting for a populist.