Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Article excerpt

An evening of virulent anti-American propaganda at Covent Garden, or rather a terrific Madame Butterfly, brilliantly lit as well as sung. The evening was marred only by the distraction of a madwoman waving her arms at the edge of the stage. This was bootlicking by the Opera House to the Department for Culture. In order to get money from New Labour, every arts institution must prove itself 'accessible', apparently to all 60 million people in this island. 'Sign-language-interpreted performances arc part of the ROH's commitment to enabling as many sections of the community as possible to appreciate and enjoy its productions,' said the Butterfly programme. I am full of admiration for deaf people who relish the visual aspects of an operatic performance enough to pay three-figure sums for tickets. Surely the ROH has also got surtitlcs? Not good enough. The programme says that for some deaf people, sign language 'is their first language, and English their second or third'. Yet out of 1,200-odd people in the house that night, how many were both deaf and unable to read English? Two? Three?

A first: planting daffodil bulbs with a pickaxe - the only way to pierce the iron-hard ground.

Returning from a Scottish shooting expedition, a carrier bag containing four grouse was removed from me by security staff at Aberdeen airport. They said that the birds would pose a health hazard in the cabin, and must travel in the hold. Airport security staff, the sort of people who once became traffic wardens or food-safety inspectors, approach their work with sadistic glee. I was put through the search routine, down to the soles of my shoes, for a second time after surrendering the corpses. Matters grew worse at Hcathrow. The grouse were confiscated by the quarantine authorities. 'Quarantine authorities?' I howled. 'I've come from Aberdeen, not Ouagadougou!' British Airways explained apologetically that it was all down to the British Airports Authority. Its baggage-handlers' enthusiasm for removing other people's property is hard to restrain. I told BA to forget the damn birds - I would avenge myself later on BAA, one of Mrs Thatcher's most disastrous monopoly privatisations. The airline sent the grouse to my home later that day by courier. This increased my lifelong affection for BA, but seemed embarrassing. Many people have abandoned air travel not from fear of Osama bin Laden, but through weariness of the nonsense to which even non-grouse-carriers are subjected at airports.

Lovers of moules marinieres are sometimes dismayed by the mingy portions provided in English restaurants. The French are more generous. After a mussel orgy in Brittany the other day, I counted 128 empty shells on my plate. The inner man suggested that this was about right.

I watched for the twentieth time TopsyTurvy, the best British film of the past decade. So many brilliantly gifted actors and actresses shine once in such a piece, then disappear off set, apparently for ever. Acting is much the cruellest of the artistic professions. Even the most moderate writers can gain steady work as newspaper columnists. There arc far more slots than there are pens competent to fill them. Fine thespians, meanwhile, vanish without trace. …

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