Monday, 5 March 2012

NYT: Know Thy Contributor

Ever wondered how people get in to writing for newspapers?

With some people it's easy. They study some sort of journalism course then apply for jobs. Lots of jobs. They eventually get one of them then start tapping away at the out of date computer on their new desk.

But these sorts of people just write news. What about the columnists? The opinionistas who write leaders and the middle sections of the quality press. Where do they come from? Some of them are experts in the field they cover who have written books and get asked to contribute to the press. Others just appear like a nineteenth century party leaders or England cricket captains.

The spotlight that the Olympics has cast on London has inspired the New York Times to publish a handy guide for its readers entitled 'Explaining Londoners.'

Although I only have access to the online version of this the main piece seems to be an amazingly long essay by novelist China Mieville (me neither) who is from Norwich and writes Science Fiction.

You might think a SF writer a strange choice to write about the current state of London and you would be correct.

So what made the NYT choose Mr Mieville for this task? At the foot of the article they merely describe him as an author or several books who lives and works in London. It doesn't even say that he's a SF writer in case this would lead to readers not taking him seriously enough.

What they fail to mention is that he is a member of the Socialist Workers Party who has even stood for them at a general election. That he achieved 459 votes in a Labour constituency tells you all you need to know about how in touch with the real London they are.

Unsurprisingly, Mieville's never-ending piece paints a grim picture of London. He uses the classic Chomsky method of half truths and shameful exaggeration to suit his political ends. He knows the majority of the American readers will have no idea about the truth or even controversial nature of what he is saying so he can push is distorted reality on them with ease.

I won't go through all the errors he makes or lies he tells as that would require a dissertation and this is a blog not a PhD.

Speaking of PhD's Mieville's is a good example of his take on reality.

When speaking about the rule of law he claims that 'A world structured around international law cannot but be one of imperialist violence. The chaotic and bloody world around us is the rule of law.'

If you can't see how the law protects the weak from the strong you should move to a country without it for a few months.

There are plenty of people in this country who believe the same sort of nonsense as Mieville but they at least have the chance to see things in context even if they choose not to. What chance do American readers have? None. In the same way we could not truly appreciate Obama's rise or Tea Party lunatics.

The New York Times should be ashamed of itself. Printing a communist diatribe full of rewritten history that its readers will not be able to interpret with any sort of balance.

You wonder at their motives might be for commissioning this most biased and ignorant of writers. There surely must be more than the sour grapes from a failed Olympic bid as the Telegraph supposes.

Though as Tim Stanley points out in the same paper New York, it could be argued, is faring no better than London. He claims that against the U.S.'s national trend murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault all on the rise in the Big Apple. Murders up 14 per cent.

Perhaps the NYT just wanted its readers not to feel like they were the only city with problems.

If that's the case they should have sent a correspondent rather than a propagandist with an axe to grind.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Feliz Año Nuevo: parte dos

A head rests on the hotel bar.

Sevillanos looking for a drink
Hope? Despair? Relief?

The only sniff we'd had of a drink since dinner was bottles of wine sold in a bocadillo shop near Plaza Nueva. For this there was a queue round the block.

It was relief. Two-fold relief. When we saw that the bar was open the BH gave voice to what we were both feeling. "Thank fuck! I don't care what it costs. A bottle of Rioja please." The barman, startled by this Celtic outburst, needed some help translating this. Relief dropped the head to the bar when it only set us back €14.50. It was a touch dry. Crianza, so what can you expect?

Safe in the knowledge that we would at least be somewhere for the 12 bells we started to take in our surroundings a little better.

Despite the many miles trodden by these ol' feet I've not actually spent much time in hotel bars. Although new years eve and fairly late the bar was far from full.

Quiet though it was not. Thumping, dreadful, loud, Europop was disgorging from the speakers. The place was called the piano bar. There was a white grand piano in the corner. A folded piece of A4 rested on the keys asking no one to play it. One can only presume it was out of tune.

We decamped to a hall type area that was next to the bar. The music was not so loud here and a television had been set up for those who wished to watch the Spanish new year show.

Currently this was myself and my BH. New year's television in Spain appears to consist of a live music show which bears a resemblance to Eurovision. It is presented by an extremely friendly woman (she smiles a lot so she must be friendly) who changed her outfit after every song. At first this stuck me as a miraculous act of re-habiliment. After about the first half dozen changes I came up with the theory that she probably had a sound proof dressing room and the more time in there the better.

The hotel had organised a new year party for guests who had nowhere else to go. When we learnt of this we scoffed that it was unlikely to be the sort of event such cultured types as us attended. Now we were starting to worry that we might have missed out on the best the evening could have offered us.

As we were now about 20 minutes away from the year of London's Olympic glory this party should have been in full swing. We therefore thought we'd stick our head in and see what our snobbishness had caused us to miss out on.

Peeking through the open door of the party revealed about 20 tables with about four to six people sat around each one. Some had party hats on. Some did not. Some had smiles on their faces. Some did not. There appeared to be no correlation between party hats and smiles.

The BH utter the most complete two word description I've ever heard.

"Bad wedding."

We had not long retired back to our comfy sofa in front of the tele to admire the presenters latest dress when we both suddenly checked our watches. Not an unusual thing to do on new years eve, I grant you, but it was triggered by a most unexpected event.

Everybody left the party. Everybody. It was clearly not a nice day for a bad wedding.

What was going on? A mass walk out of revellers? Striking merrymakers? No.

It seems the metaphorical bride and groom were due to leave at ten to midnight and the party was over.

Their polythene partybags had not appeared to cheer them up. Not much anyway.

Everyone now preceded pick up a glass of cava from the (non) piano bar and drag chairs in front of the tele. Presumably so that they could see what the nice lady on the tele was going to be wearing at midnight.

At least the Europop had been removed from the bar's stereo to be replaced by more televisions. Some sort of improvement anyway.

The time came and grapes were eaten (in the Spanish style). Children who really should have been in bed went a bit mental, stuff happened on the tele and whatever the star had on couldn't have been that memorable because I don't have even the faintest recollection of it. But I'm sure it was interesting.

With so many people now in the bar it at least felt like a party. Though the chap in the kilt looked like he felt hogmanay was one time when Dundee had something over Seville.

Our televisual host seemed to have run out of dress changes so she wasn't allowed to be on tele any more.

Was slightly surprised by what replaced her on the box. It was a tour through the pop music history of different European nations. So no sooner had the new year's show ended that we were greeted by Sir Cliff's toothy grin belting out 'Congratulations' followed by Sandie Shaw's 'Those were the days'.

Things were looking up. They'd even run out of the dry wine and started selling us one even nicer.

There were some famous acts on the TV now but not always performing their biggest hits.

So to a background of 'Johnny and Mary' by Robert Palmer and Dire Straits' massive 'Tunnel of Love' we settled down to an evening of people watching. By that I mean sneakily making rude comments about our fellow guests.

It was excellent.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Feliz Año Nuevo

I never thought it would come to this. New year’s eve in a hotel bar listening to jingle bells. Still, we were grateful for it after the couple of hours we’d had.

It all started so promisingly. The BH (Better Half) and I had arrived in Seville on the 30th after finding a deal on and had found a bustling city centre where each narrow street was filled with table of people eating beautiful looking tapas.

After getting over the shock of seeing people eating outside in late December we found a table of our own and stuffed our faces.

I was preparing myself mentally for the problems one might face on new year’s eve in London. I made a note of as many interesting bars as I could so that we would have options on the big night. After all, we might not be able to get in to our first choice. They’ll probably be rammed with fiesta-ing Sevillianos right? Wrong.

The BH and I hatched a foolproof plan. We would head in to town, pick one of the many restaurants offering new years eve set menus and soak up the ambiance and see what goes on when the bell strikes 12. If there wasn’t much atmos in the restaurant we’d track down a bar full of locals and see what they were up to. Seville has loads of bars and hardly any non-Spanish tourists so we were guaranteed the real deal. See? Foolproof.

We got all dressed up in the hotel and I have to confess my mouth was watering at the prospect of all the Iberian culinario delights awaiting us. Bussed it in to Santa Cruz with that excited feeling you get before something great happens. Christmas morning as a child, parties as a teenager and food and wine as an adult.

I was imagining that there would be all sorts of Spanish stuff going on. Singing and jolliness or something. I suppose I only had a nebulous idea of what it would be like. Just something I hadn’t seen before.

It turned out that a bit more research was needed.

We’d been in Seville for about 30 hours and been mightily pleased with how cheap all the glorious food was. We were flabbergasted therefore to see the restaurant known to us as ‘Cow Place’ wanted €92 for a tapas meal with one glass of wine. One glass.

We had christened it ‘Cow Place’ as there is a life sized statue of a cow in the restaurant staring down at those eating its non-papiermaché cousins. A touch eccentric I’ll grant you but it looked cute and we had thought we would go there if we could get a table. The normal menu, displayed outside, was reasonable enough and it had seemed popular the night before so it seemed like a good plan.

This night it wasn’t very busy and we can all guess the reason. After all, we’d need a lot of wine to get over paying so much and God knows what a bottle of vino tinto would have been. On December 31 anyway.

Eventually we found a place for €40 for 3 courses. It was Italian. So much for an authentic Spanish new year but we were lucky to get in. A couple were um-ing and ah-ing about whether or not to go in and we nipped in and got the last table for two.

The decor was modern. Black walls and mirrors. The floor looked like party poppers had been popped.

It turned out that this €40 deal thing involved us sharing a pizza. So I guess €40 for two and a half courses and a glass of Lambrusco.

The second phase of the foolproof plan was starting to look more likely.

The food was all right. Nothing special. The service was pretty awful. Very inattentive and definitely getting the vibe that they wanted us to leave as soon as possible. They even seemed reluctant to let us buy more wine than the afore mentioned glass of Lambrusco. For once this had nothing to do with our behaviour. We found out why when we had had enough and paid up with a suitably tiny tip.

There was a huge crowd outside. I say ‘crowd’ rather than ‘queue’ because this is Spain and therefore ‘queue’ is not appropriate. They swamped us as we came out. They were so pushy I wouldn't be surprised to learned my phone had been hacked.

Phase two had its problems too.

Prepare yourself to read something truly shocking.

Are you prepared?

Every bar in Seville was shut. That’s right. New Year’s eve. Every bar. Shut.

I guess I was looking forward to something I’d never experienced before. It took about an hour to work out that every single thing was shut. I think it really sunk in when we saw the Scottish bar was closed.

Some of you are probably thinking 'Ah, but things open late in Seville. If you'd have hung around for a while you'd have found something great.' Well, maybe. But it was gone 11 and if they're not open by then they should see a business advisor.

Time was starting to run out and we needed to see in the new year somewhere. Somewhere with a bar. It was going to have to be the hotel.

We had no problem getting a cab as everyone was still fighting over our table in the restaurant.

As the cab pulled up a group of people were waiting to take it back to town. Surely this couldn’t mean even the hotel bar was closed? Or that things were about to liven up in town?

Find out in the next installment: Feliz Año Nuevo Dos - This Time It’s Hotel