Saturday, December 19, 2020

More Of Your Conversation Would Infect My Brain

MI6 operatives, agents and informants may be committing ghastly crimes in the UK, a watchdog has revealed. The Investigatory Powers Tribunal disclosed the ruling despite government attempts to keep the matter a secret. It also suggested that questions raised should be disclosed to campaigners, who have been asking for greater legal clarity over what the intelligence agencies can do. And, what they can't, obviously. It comes a day after the intelligence services watchdog raised its own questions about some MI6 activities. Since 1994, MI6 - the UK's foreign intelligence service - has been able to authorise people that it recruits to 'help the UK overseas to commit crimes' as part of its 'targeting of threats to the UK.' The ruling said the agencies' informants, known as covert human intelligence sources, may have been allowed 'to participate in criminal activity in the United Kingdom' and raised the question of 'whether that conduct was lawful.' At last one MI6 operative was said to be both shaken and, indeed, stirred. 
From The North favourite the very righteous Eddie Izzard, Cerys Matthews, Rhys Ifans and Rob Brydon have all loaned their voices to the cult animated series Ivor the Engine for its first production in more than forty years. The actors helped work on an audiobook, featuring seven new stories about the little Welsh steam locomotive, during lockdown using 'phones and goodwill.' Proceeds will go to Welsh children's cancer charity Latch. Ifans described it as 'a pleasure' to read Ivor's Birthday. The steam engine was the loveable locomotive of The Merioneth and Llantisilly Rail Traction Company Limited and known for playing in his local choir. The animation - using stop motion of cardboard cut-outs painted with watercolours - was first made in the 1950s in Kent by someone whose insight into Welsh culture came mainly from Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood. BAFTA-winner the beloved Oliver Postgate wrote the scripts, filmed the scenes and voiced many of the characters - including Ivor's distinctive chuffing sound - with Smallfilms partner and animator, Peter Firmin. Although Bagpuss - voted Britain's most popular children's TV show in a BBC poll - and Clangers, which returned to the BBC recently, are Smallfilms' most famous productions, Ivor The Engine came before both of them. Twenty six episodes were made in 1959 and were constantly repeated throughout the following decade with a further batch of forty episodes made, in colour, during the early 1970s. On the sixtieth anniversary of Ivor's TV debut, Postgate's son revealed that he was hoping to bring the cartoon out of retirement and turn Ivor into a film star. The little engine with a dragon called Idris living in his furnace had his adventures with his loyal driver, Jones the Steam. Other characters regularly featured included choir master Evans the Song, Dai Station, Owen the Signal, the Indian elephant keeper Bani Moukerjee, Mrs Porty and Alice the Elephant. Ivor's latest adventures will be the first time the locomotive has had an outing since the final television episode was produced forty five years ago. 'Oliver Postgate's stories were the soundtrack to so many childhoods,' said the Welsh broadcaster and musician Georgia Ruth. 'So it was a joy to get a chance to read one myself and help a really deserving charity at a difficult time.'
Google applications - including YouTube, Gmail and Docs - suffered a rare service outage, with users being unable to access many of the company's services earlier in the week. The outage started shortly before noon (UK time) on Monday, lasting for more than half-an-hour before services were restoredas suddenly as they had disappeared. After the initial shock, it was genuinely hilarious to see the reaction from numerous people running around like chickens with their heads cut off because they were unable to access Google. In particular, one pure dead ladgeful hipster glake caught many people's attention with the following pitiful Twitter whinge.
Presumably, it was so dark in the toddler's bedroom that Joe couldn't, you know, find the sodding light switch. Albeit, not dark enough that he wasn't able to take to social media and inform the universe of his woeful situation. Plank. Anyway, despite the widespread outage, Google's service dashboard initially showed that there were no errors - before switching to red status across most services (except Google Search which could still be accessed). 'Google has been contacted for comment,' BBC News noted excitedly. 'But one spokesperson said they were unable to access their e-mail.' No shit? Oh, the irony. 'All services are now restored,' Google subsequently weaselled in a statement. 'We apologise to everyone affected and we will conduct a thorough follow-up review to ensure this problem cannot recur in the future.' Such failures in Google's systems are rare, though a problem with some servers caused difficulties for US users in June 2019. In that instance, the culprit was a change to server settings which was supposed to have been applied to a few machines in a specific region but was, accidentally, applied to many more. Soon-to-be-former President Mister Rump blamed the Democrats. Probably.
Little Mix performed as a trio for the first time on the semi-final episode of Strictly Come Dancing at the weekend, shortly followed by the announcement that Jesy had left the popular beat combo. Which, obviously, shocked (and stunned) the entire nation to its virry core and beyond. This was Little Mix's first appearance on the BBC in at least a couple of weeks since Little Mix: The Search (which did so well in From The North's 'Worst TV Shows of 2020' awards) ended. A happenstance which, this blogger must confess, did cause him to briefly wonder if the BBC are currently contractually obligated to feature Little Mix in every single programme they make? Can we look forward to them rocking up during the New Year's Day Doctor Who special? Are they going to have parts in the next series of Line Of Duty? Will they be singing for Tommy when Peaky Blinders returns? Who, dear blog reader, knows? Or, indeed, cares? As for Strictly's forthcoming finale, dear blog reader, this blogger has but one thing to say; come on Bill, every fiftysomething in the land who didn't think they could dance is with you.
TV channels must look after members of the public who take part in their shows under new rules unveiled by Ofcom. The broadcasting regulator said recent years had seen 'a steady rise in complaints about the mental health and wellbeing of programme participants.' The deaths of a string of participants on TV shows also raised concerns. Ofcom has told broadcasters they now have a responsibility for people who 'might be at risk of significant harm as a result of taking part.' Quite why Ofcom - a politically appointed quango, elected by no one - needed to say this since it should be sodding obvious to any TV producer with half-a-brain in their head and a properly functioning moral compass is, at this time, unknown. Oh, wait a minute - could it be because some people working on TV shows, particularly in the commercial section, are worthless, morally bankrupt bastard scum? Answers on a postcard. In May 2019, the death of Steve Dymond a week after he filmed an appearance on the late - and not even remotely lamented - The Jeremy Kyle Show led to a public outcry and the cancellation of the ITV programme. Last month, a coroner said that Kyle 'may have caused or contributed' to Dymond's death. The sixty three-year-old died of a morphine overdose and heart condition. Calls for greater care were also raised after two former Love Island contestants took their own lives in 2018 and 2019. Sophie Gradon and Mike Thalassitis took part in the ITV2 dating show in 2016 and 2017 respectively. Ofcom's director of standards and audience protection said: 'People taking part in TV and radio programmes deserve to be properly looked after.' No shit? And, you've just realised that this week have you, pal? 'Our new protections set a clear standard of care for broadcasters to meet - striking a careful balance between broadcasters' creative freedom and the welfare of the people they feature.' The regulator said the new rules were 'aimed at protecting vulnerable people and others not used to being in the public eye.' It added: 'Broadcasters will need to take due care where, for example, a programme is likely to attract a high level of media or social media interest; the programme features conflict or emotionally-challenging situations; or it requires a person to disclose life-changing or private aspects of their lives.'
And now, dear blog reader, it that time again ...
The Fall. Demonstrating exactly why wet weekday afternoon's in December were simply made for iPlayer bingeing. Particularly the, hugely-underrated, third series.
The Valhalla Murders. It's been described by more than one critic of no importance as, essentially, The Bridge Lite but that's damning this fine Icelandic noir with grossly faint praise. This blogger, needless to say, thought it was great.
Star Trek: Discovery. Star Trek universe remakes of and/or sequels to Mirror, Mirror are, of course, ten-a-penny dear blog reader. However, this blogger never expected them to do a direct sequel to The City On The Edge Of Forever as well!
Only Connect. Dangerously, you might just learn something from it. That'll never catch on.
Them Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart. This blogger has always regarded Them Bee Gees as hugely under-rated. Which, considering they're, what, something like the eighth biggest selling act in the history of popular music may sound like an odd statement to make. Nevertheless, it's true. Not so much via the disco stuff - this blogger is fine with that, it's great pop music, after all - but certainly with those early, singer/songwriter, proto-Beatles records they made in the late 1960s. Frank Marshall's gorgeous documentary demonstrates exactly why the Gibb brothers were so important an act and why they loom so large in this blogger's legend.
The Inside Track: 2005 Ashes. Ah, the sweet, sweet smell of nostalgia.
This blogger also had the extreme misfortune to catch an episode of a programme which he had seen lots of trailers for but hadn't, previously, seen in full, Dave's Big Zuu's Big Eats. If you haven't come across it before, dear blog reader, this features the titular Big Zuu, who is a large chap and some sort of chef - probably quite a good one judging by some of the dishes he cooks up. He certainly seems to think so. He is, also, a rapper-type-individual who is 'massive' on 'the Grime scene.' Apparently. He speaks in a language which this blogger does not recognise as English or anything even remotely like it. In this programme his - self-appointed - task is to whip up meals for a several of those bloody awful, wholly unfunny individuals who so stink up the majority of Dave's 'original [alleged] comedy output.' So, if the thought of spending an hour in the company of the likes of Phil Wang or Desiree Burch is your idea of genital torture, dear blog reader, this might not be the programme for you. But, as bad as this blogger has made it sound already, there is one further element which makes Big Zuu's Big Eats virtually unwatchable. Everybody shouts, dear blog reader. Big Zuu shouts. All the sodding time. He shouts at his 'boyz' - Tubsey and Hyder. Tubsey and Hyder shout back at him. He shouts at his guests (who do include a couple of people whom this blogger used to have a bit of respect for, like Jimmy Carr and Josh Widdecombe). They all shout back at Big Zuu. Everybody shouts, dear blog reader. Loudly. And often. Until you just wish they would simply shut the fuck up and eat their - to repeat, often quite good-looking - nosh. To be completely fair to Dave, Big Zuu and the rest of those taking part in this woeful ... thing, the various trailers for this programme are a pretty accurate reflection of their content. including all the shouting. So, this blogger really can't say that he was taken unawares by any of this. Suffice to say that this blogger will, in future, be avoiding this loud, brash exercise in self-aggrandisement as much as is humanly possible. For the sake of his eardrums as much as anything else.
Richard Schiff has detailed the moment he and his wife heartbreakingly discussed him potentially not surviving Covid-19. The West Wing star and long-term From The North favourite - as previously reported by this blog - contracted the virus in November and became so ill from the virus that he thought he was going to die. Speaking to the odious oily twat Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid on Wednesday's Good Morning Britain Richard, who is now happily recovering, spoke about the moment he realised he may never touch his wife Sheila Kelley again. He was filming The Good Doctor in Vancouver when he was struck down with symptoms and he had to go to the hospital. He recalled: 'I had a conversation with my wife and had to speak about maybe not seeing each other again. The worst part of it is the epiphany, the realisation, that you may never touch each other again - that struck home more than anything else. We gotta go at some point but the idea I'd never touch her again was striking but luckily I made it ... I am ex-smoker, pre-diabetic and old so I had some strikes against me but when it happened it was scary. The doctor said my inflammation markers were bad the said "you need to go to ICU and on a ventilator" but I said no.' Instead he 'fought it off with oxygen, Remdesivir and steroids' and he says he is 'feeling lucky, grateful and positive.' And, it was really nice to see Richard being interviewed on CNN later in the week looking so healthy.  
Like many of us, Sir David Attenborough has had to adapt to new ways of working since the Coronavirus pandemic took hold. For his latest series, the ninety three-year-old - who has been shielding - had to record many of his voiceovers from his home in South London. 'I'm very lucky, I don't have a huge garden ... I live in suburban Richmond-upon-Thames but I have a reasonable-sized garden and it has a pond. I've lived here about sixty years.' But, anyone tuning into Perfect Planet will feel as far away from London as it is possible to be. The five-part series transports viewers to numerous parts of the world including the tidal islands of the Bahamas, Kamchatka in Russia and the Galapagos Islands. Not particularly unusual for a Sir David documentary, you might think. But this time, the focus is on how the forces of nature - weather, ocean currents, solar energy and volcanoes - drive and support life on Earth and how wildlife adapts to whatever the environment throws at it. The opener looks at the impact of volcanoes, featuring the inhospitable but vast breeding ground for the lesser flamingo at Lake Natron in Tanzania, in the shadow of the active volcano, Ol Doinyo Lengai (the Mountain of God). Filmed by drone for the first time, the episode hones in on the intimate scene of these leggy birds laying their eggs on tiny nests built on the highly caustic soda flats of the lake. Later, the chicks tentatively emerge and begin to find their feet. 'That flamingo sequence is one of the most incredible sequences I've seen on television. It's been filmed so beautifully, the use of drones - it's so skilful, the pictures are indelibly planted in the mind. It's extraordinary,' says Sir David. Unsurprisingly, filming in such a harsh environment wasn't easy. The soda flats are pretty inaccessible, says Matt Aeberhard, one of Perfect Planet's camera operators. 'More people had landed on the Moon until fairly recently than had landed on the flats. It's a highly caustic environment. The pH there is about twelve - not far off household bleach. The only option to get there is a hovercraft, which was fun but the rubber skirt is shredded by the jagged soda crystals.' The Maasai people who live nearby pitch in to help stitch the rubber back together. And more local film crews were used to reduce the carbon footprint. The series aims to demonstrate how the most dangerous of natural forces are also essential to life on our planet. There are fifteen hundred active volcanoes worldwide and we wouldn't be here without them, says series producer Huw Cordey. 'They are effectively the architects of the planet.' Without them, we'd have no breathable atmosphere - no oceans and no land. To demonstrate the point, we are also treated to scenes of land iguanas on the Galapagos Islands gingerly clambering down to a volcano floor to lay their eggs. But filming such scenes isn't without risk and there was one accident during the series. 'We were filming the geysers in Kamchatka,' says Cordey 'and one of the camera operators stepped back into a small pool of boiling water. He burnt his shin and carried on for a week but ended up having a skin graft.' And, while natural forces may be dangerous to humans, the series inevitably concludes with an episode focused on the opposite - the impact of our behaviour on those natural forces. It's very timely given the extreme weather events in US, according to executive producer Alastair Fothergill. 'It's no longer enough to make purely celebratory nature programmes. But there are solutions. With the political will we can turn this around.' Sir David agrees: 'I keep reminding myself, we have three times the amount of humans as when I first started making TV. We can sort it out if we all behave in certain ways but to start with you have to recognise the problem.' With that in mind, his thoughts turn to the recent presidential erection in the US. 'America is the most powerful country in the world and has a huge influence,' he says during our Zoom interview, telling of his delight at Joe Biden's pledge to re-join the Paris climate agreement. Sir David demonstrates his joyful reaction on hearing President-elect Biden's statement. 'I did this! [Sir David gets up, raises his hands in the air and cheers]. I can't ever remember getting out of my seat and cheering - I've never done it before!' And, what does he think of our own government's recently announced ten-point climate plan? 'It won't go far enough, no plan would ever go far enough. We are facing a real crisis, this is not just talk or fantasy. If we heat the Earth so the Arctic melts, every city will be under water. Most cities are near the coast. But, we've still got a chance to stop it happening. You have to say there's a strong element in the US that don't believe in it, including the current president [of the US].' Speaking of his own influence, Sir David says that he mistrusts 'too much personality. I'm sure Greta [Thunberg] would say the same. We understand a personal statement is more powerful. Greta says it all the time: "It's not me, it's the science and the scientists we should listen to."' Even, he says, he could do more when it comes to waste, especially at Christmas. 'Wrapping paper - I'm as guilty as anyone. The guy who collects refuse from our house will probably say the same.' He says that the Coronavirus pandemic has made us 'realise our dependency on the natural world. The extravagance of Christmas is out of place at this particular moment.' And is there anywhere he hasn't been that he would like to visit when travelling is back on the menu? 'Central Asia, the Gobi - but there are no animals there, just fossils, so I'm not likely to be sent!'
Some really sad news now, dear blog reader. Jeremy Bulloch, the actor who starred as the bounty hunter Boba Fett in the original Star Wars trilogy, died on Thursday according to his representatives. He was seventy five. 'We are very sad to announce the death of Jeremy Bulloch,' his agents at Brown, Simcocks & Andrews said. 'He died peacefully, in hospital, surrounded by his family, from health complications following his many years living with Parkinson's disease. He had a long and happy career spanning more than forty five years. He was devoted to his wife, three sons and ten grandchildren and they will miss him terribly.' According to Bulloch's website: 'He spent his final weeks in the wonderful care of staff at St George's Hospital in Tooting, close to the house where he and his wife Maureen had lived together for more than fifty years. Maureen and two of his sons, Jamie and Robbie, were with him during his final days.' Bulloch played the mysterious Boba Fett in 1980's The Empire Strikes Back and 1983's Return Of The Jedi. He also had a cameo in 2005's Revenge Of The Sith
Born in Leicestershire in 1945, Jeremy began acting as a twelve year old in 1958 in a breakfast cereal commercial. He appeared, aged seventeen, in Summer Holiday, alongside Cliff Richard. Jeremy took on the role of Boba Fett in 1978 while he was starring in the ITV sitcom Agony. He had previously featured in a - now virtually forgotten - BBC soap The Newcomers. His other credits include the James Bond movie Octopussy as Q's assistant, Smithers (he also appeared, briefly, in both The Spy Who Loved Me and For Your Eyes Only). After several uncredited screen appearances - including in movies such as A Night To Remember and Carry On Teacher - Bulloch's first regular role was in the 1960 TV series Counter-Attack! and, subsequently, The Chequered Flag. He went on to have a recurring role in Billy Bunter Of Greyfriars School (1961). He also appeared in two Doctor Who stories, The Space Museum (1965) and The Time Warrior (1973) and took part in the acclaimed Robin of Sherwood as Edward, one of Robin's Merrie Men.
His CV also included appearances in The Cat Gang, A French Mistress, Caught In The Net, Spare The Rod, The Devil's AgentPlay It Cool, The Dawn Killer, Mary, Queen of Scots, O Lucky Man!, Can You Keep It Up For A Week? and The Littlest Horse Thieves. And, on TV, in Giving Tongue, Sloggers, Bottle Boys, The World Cup: A Captain's Tale, The Arthur Askey Show, Crown Court, The Professionals, Only When I Laugh, Theatre 625, Chocky, Jenny's War, The Odd Man, Casualty, The Bill, [spooks], Bonekickers, Vile Bodies, The Strange Report and Law & Order: UK. His half-brother was Robert Watts, who was a producer on The Empire Strikes Back, Return Of The Jedi and the Indiana Jones movies. Jeremy's son Robbie portrayed Matthew of Wickham in four episodes of Robin of Sherwood alongside his father. Another son is the translator Jamie Bulloch. Jeremy's sister, Sally Bulloch, was also a child actress before becoming an executive manager of The Athenaeum Hotel.
John le Carré, the pseudonym of the author David Cornwell, has died this week at the age eighty nine. He was judged by many - this blogger very much included - to be one of the masters of the spy novel. Meticulously researched and elegantly written, many of his books reached a wider audience through TV and film adaptations. Le Carré stripped away the glamour and romance which were a feature of the James Bond novels and, instead, examined the real dark and seedy life of the professional spy. In the twilight world of le Carré's characters the distinction between good and evil, right and wrong was never that clear cut. David John Moore Cornwell was born in October 1931 in Poole, Dorset. His father, known as Ronnie, was a fraudster, described by one biographer as 'an epic conman of little education, immense charm, extravagant tastes, but no social values.' Those exploits gave the young Cornwell an early introduction to the arts of deception and double-dealing which would form the core of his writing. His mother walked out on the family when he was five and the young David invented the fiction that his father was in the secret service to explain his many absences from home. After attending Sherborne School he went on to the University of Berne to study foreign languages. He did his military service in the Army Intelligence Corps, running low grade agents into the Eastern bloc before going to Lincoln College, Oxford, where he gained a BA. After teaching at Eton for two years he joined the Foreign Office, initially as Second Secretary at the British Embassy in Bonn. During his time in West Germany he worked in the intelligence records department and began scribbling down ideas for spy stories on his trips between work and home. His first novel, Call For The Dead, appeared in 1961 while he was still working for the service. He adopted the pen name, John le Carré, to get around a ban on Foreign Office employees publishing books under their own names. The story introduced characters who would reappear in subsequent novels including his most famous creation, George Smiley. 'The moment I had Smiley as a figure, with that past, that memory, that uncomfortable private life and that excellence in his profession, I knew I had something I could live with and work with,' he noted. The novel was the subject of a fine 1966 movie adaptation, The Deadly Affair with James Mason in the Smiley role.
Le Carré's career as a spy ended when he became one of many British operatives whose names were given to the Russians by the traitor Kim Philby in 1963. Philby, who defected to Moscow, later became the inspiration for the mole, Gerald, in Tinker Tailor, Soldier, Spy. It was Le Carré's third novel, The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, which cemented his reputation and allowed him to take up writing full time. Published at the height of the Cold War it challenged the perception held by many of his readers, that Western spies were above the dirty tricks practiced by their counterparts from the East. The novel won The Golden Dagger award for crime fiction and was turned into a memorable film with Richard Burton in the role of the disillusioned spy, Alec Leamas and Rupert Davies as Smiley in 1965. In direct contrast to Ian Fleming's romantic, globe-trotting James Bond fantasies, le Carré portrayed his spies as fallible human beings, fully aware of their own shortcomings and those of the systems which they served. Le Carré believed that his fourth novel The Looking Glass War, published in 1965, was his most realistic description of the intelligence world in which he had worked and cited that as the main reason for its relative lack of success. The follow up, A Small Town In Germany, was set in Bonn, where le Carré had worked and warned of the dangers posed by a revival of the far-right in German politics. In 1971 he published an autobiographical novel The Naïve & Sentimental Lover, based on the break up of his first marriage, to Alison Sharp. Smiley re-emerged in the acclaimed 'Karla Trilogy', Tinker Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1974), The Honourable Schoolboy (1977) and Smiley's People (1979). These books took his readers deep into MI6 - 'The Circus' - with jargon such as 'honey trap'", 'mole', 'lamplighter' and 'The Cousins' becoming common parlance. They also raised serious questions about the lengths to which even democracies would go to preserve their own secrets, something which exercised le Carré greatly. He argued that in a world where official secrecy is all-pervasive, the spy novel performed a necessary democratic function. To hold up a mirror, however distorted, to the secret world and demonstrate the monster it could become. Ironically, he delighted in maintaining secrecy in his own personal life, refusing for many years to even acknowledge that he had been a spy himself. He jealously guarded his privacy, travelling alone and incognito when he set off to research his novels. For years he refused invitations to do any interviews, maintaining that what he wrote was 'the stuff of dreams, not reality' and he was not, as the press seemed to imply, an 'expert' on espionage. As the Soviet bloc began to implode le Carré switched his attention to the conflict in Palestine with his 1983 novel The Little Drummer Girl. Three years later he finally managed to exorcise the memory of his father with the publication of A Perfect Spy, which many critics consider his most accomplished work. The life of the spy, Magnus Pym, is dominated by memories of his father Rick, a rogue and conman whose character is firmly based on Ronnie Cornwell. In 1987, after years of being ostracised by the Soviet authorities, le Carré was given permission to spend two weeks in Russia, as a guest of the Soviet Writers' Union. It was rumoured that the wife of the Russian leader, Raisa Gorbachev, was a fan of le Carré's novels and that she had a hand in gaining the necessary Kremlin approval for the trip. His output continued to be prolific with a 1989 novel, The Russia House, marking the end of the Cold War and the reappearance of George Smiley in The Secret Pilgrim in 1991. His first post-Cold War novel, The Night Manager, detailed an undercover operation to bring down a major international arms dealer. Like Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy, Smiley's People and, later, The Little Drummer Girl, it was subject of an acclaimed and award-winning BBC TV adaptation. The 1996 novel, Tailor Of Panama was inspired by the Graham Greene story, Our Man In Havana, while The Constant Gardener, published in 2000, saw him switch his attention to corruption in post-colonial Africa. In January 2003, two months prior to the invasion, The Times published le Carré's essay The United States Has Gone Mad criticising the build up to the Iraq War and President George W Bush's response to the 11 September terrorist attacks, calling it 'worse than McCarthyism, worse than the Bay of Pigs and, in the long term, potentially more disastrous than the Vietnam War' and 'beyond anything Osama bin Laden could have hoped for in his nastiest dreams ... How Bush and his junta succeeded in deflecting America's anger from bin Laden to Saddam Hussein is one of the great public relations conjuring tricks of history,' he wrote. His remarks probably contributed to accusations of anti-American bias in his 2004 book Absolute Friends, an examination of the lives of two radicals from 1960s America, coming to terms with advancing age. In 2006 his twentieth novel, Mission Song, detailed the sometimes complex relationships between business and politics in the Congo. In 2017, le Carré expressed concerns over the future of liberal democracy, saying 'I think of all things that were happening across Europe in the 1930s, in Spain, in Japan, obviously in Germany. To me, these are absolutely comparable signs of the rise of fascism and it's contagious, it's infectious. Fascism is up and running in Poland and Hungary' He later wrote that the end of the Cold War had left the West without a coherent ideology, in contrast to the 'notion of individual freedom, of inclusiveness, of tolerance - all of that we called anti-communism' prevailing during that time. His final novel, Agent Running In The Field was published late last year and cast a highly jaundiced view over Twenty First Century politics, notably Brexit. One of the novel's characters refers to soon-to-be-former President Mister Rump as 'Putin's shithouse cleaner' who 'does everything for little Vladi that little Vladi can't do for himself.' The novel's narrator describes Boris Johnson as 'a pig-ignorant foreign secretary.' He says that Russia is moving 'backwards into her dark, delusional past' with Britain 'following a short way behind.' Le Carré later said that he believed the novel's plotline, involving the US and British intelligence services colluding to subvert the European Union, to be 'horribly possible.' Le Carré compared Rump's tendency to dismiss the media as 'fake news' to Nazi book burnings and wrote that the United States is 'heading straight down the road to institutional racism and neo-fascism.' Notably self-disparaging about his own achievements he consistently refused honours. 'A good writer is an expert on nothing except himself,' he once said. 'And on that subject, if he is wise, he holds his tongue.' Credited under his pen name, le Carré appears as an extra in the 2011 film version of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, among the guests at the MI6 Christmas party in several flashback scenes (a similar cameo also occurred in The Night Manager). He recorded a number of incidents from his period as a diplomat in his autobiographical work, The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories From My Life (2016), which included escorting six visiting German parliamentarians to a London brothel and translating at a meeting between a senior German politician and Harold Macmillan. In 1954, Cornwell married Alison Ann Veronica Sharp. They had three sons - Simon, Stephen and Timothy - and divorced in 1971. In 1972, Cornwell married Valérie Jane Eustace, a book editor with Hodder & Stoughton. They had a son, Nicholas, who writes as Nick Harkaway. Le Carré lived in St Buryan, Cornwall, for more than forty years, owning a mile of cliff near Land's End. He died from pneumonia at the Royal Cornwall Hospital, Truro.
A US judge in Michigan has ruled that a forty two-year-old man can seek compensation from his parents for destroying his vast pornography collection. David Werking, who was living with his parents following a divorce, sued them over the items, which he claims were worth over over twenty five thousand bucks. Which, when you think about it, is a Hell of a lot of porn. It's certainly more than this blogger owns. But, perhaps, I've said too much. Werking's parents argued that they told Werking to not bring the items to their home. The judge said that, even as landlords, Werking's parents had 'no right' to dispose of items owned by their son. Werking had lived with his parents in Grand Haven, Michigan, for ten months after his divorce, but moved out in August 2017. He now lives in Indiana. He said that he had left his 'extensive and irreplaceable' collection of mucky magazines and films at his parents' house when initially moving out, and later discovered that they were missing, the Holland Sentinel newspaper reported. The parents said that they were 'not willing to help move the items' to Indiana and did not want them in their home. Werking filed the lawsuit arguing that the filth was 'illegally destroyed' in April 2019. E-mails between Werking and his father stated that the items included 'twelve full boxes of pornography plus two boxes of sex toys,' according to the Sentinel. Werking said there were over sixteen hundred DVDs and tapes. In one e-mail, Werking's father told him he did his son 'a big favour by getting rid of all this stuff.' Following the verdict, an attorney for the parents said that she was working to determine the damages and had 'hired an expert from the Erotic Heritage Museum in Nevada' to 'help with the process.' The Werkings must outline the damages to the court by mid-February.
The publishers of a book about 'cancel culture' by that odious right-wing bag of filth and former NME journalist Julie Burchill has cancelled it after the writer was accused of Islamophobia on Twitter. Oh, the irony. The book, Welcome To The Woke Trials, had been due to be published by Little, Brown in April. But, now it won't be after Burchill, not unusually for Our Jules, got herself embroiled with a very public - row. Specifically with the writer Ash Sarkar. Little Brown said that her comments were 'not defensible from a moral or intellectual standpoint' and 'crossed a line with regard to race and religion.' A statement from the company said: 'We will no longer be publishing Julie Burchill's book. This is not a decision we have taken lightly.'
And, speaking of odious right-wing scumbags, the government is promising to focus more on people's social class and individual 'character', as it overhauls its, alleged, equality policy. Or, lack of equality policy if you prefer. Lack of Equalities minister the odious, full-of-her-own-importance right-wing scumbag Liz Truss claimed that the discrimination debate 'should not focus solely on race, religion, sexual orientation and disability.' Quite what the discrimination debate should focus on, if not race, religion, sexual orientation of disability, the Lack of Equalities minister the odious, full-of-her-own-importance right-wing louse Truss did not say. Discussion had 'too often' been dominated by 'fashion' and not 'facts', the Lack of Equalities minister the odious, full-of-her-own-importance right-wing smear Truss claimed. One or two people - of the odious, right-wing filth persuasion - even believed her. 'Time and time again, we see politicians making their own evidence-free judgements,' the odious, full-of-her-own-importance right-wing stain Truss alleged. Pretty much proving her own point by making her own 'evidence-free judgements.' Yes, dear blog reader, once again it's worth noting that there are many good people in the word and some outright bad buggers. Most of us as somewhere in the middle, simply trying to get through life without hurting anyone else too much. And then, dear blog reader, there are some people who are, simply, scum. The Lack of Equalities minister the odious, full-of-her-own-importance right-wing louse Truss, for one. The government announced on Wednesday that its report into racial inequality will be delayed until next year, citing problems caused by the coronavirus pandemic. It is, it claimed, looking at health, education and criminal justice, but also 'wider inequalities' such as issues faced by working-class white boys. As a working-class white boy - and bloody proud of it - this blogger would really like the government to get their shit together and concentrate on real inequalities. And, if they could see their way to making one, sneering, upper-middle-class white woman currently not doing to - tax-funding - job she's been appointed to really badly, the tin-tack, that'd be good too.
Speaking of yet further right-wing scumbags, dear blog reader, the House of Commons leader that thoroughly vile and awful Rees Mogg individual has accused Unicef of 'playing politics' after the charity launched a campaign to help feed poor children in the UK. The Tory MP - and louse - claimed the charity was 'meant to look after people in the poorest countries' - which they aren't or anything even remotely like it - and should be 'ashamed.' Bit of a pot-kettle-blackish type scenario, there. It comes after Unicef said it would pledge twenty five grand to a South London charity set up to help supply breakfast boxes to school children over the Christmas holidays. Unicef said that every child deserves to 'thrive' no matter where they are born. Responding, Rees-Mogg said Unicef 'should be ashamed of itself. It is a political stunt of the lowest order.' Is it really so very wrong, dear blog reader, to hope that someone catches a horrible wasting disease? Yes, it probably is.
Still on the subject of right-wing scumbaggery, Boris Johnson's outgoing aide Dominic Cummings (very popular in Barnard Castle) has attacked a system which, he says, 'incentivises politicians to focus more on Twitter and gossip-column stories about their dogs' while 'ignoring existential threats.' In The Spectator, he also warned that parts of the UK's 'nuclear enterprise have rotted from years of neglect.' And, he called for more focus on 'low-probability, high-impact events.' No names mentioned in the piece, of course, but which prominent resident of Downing Street combines a love of dogs and social media? The Prime Minister's fiancée Carrie Symonds, frequently pictured in the company of Dilyn, her Jack Russell cross, perhaps? Symonds was widely seen as 'particularly influential' in Cummings' recent - highly amusing - departure from Number Ten. On Thursday, government figures revealed that Cummings' salary rose during 2020 from between ninety five grand and ninety nine grand to somewhere in the region of one hundred and forty five thousand knicker, making him among the highest-earning special advisers in government. And now, one of the most unemployed.
Further right-wing scumbaggishness now, dear blog reader. It's been quite a week for such malarkey, you might have noticed. A former Texas police captain has been extremely arrested after he drove an air conditioning repairman off the road and held him at gunpoint over false election fraud claims. Mark Aguirre said he believed the driver was transporting seven hundred and fifty thousand fake ballots. He wasn't, just in case you were wondering, dear blog reader. Instead, all he was carrying was air conditioning parts and tools. Sixty three-year-old Aguirre was hired to investigate alleged pre-election voter fraud by 'a group of private citizens.' For which read right-wing scumbags. Despite repeated allegations of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 presidential erection spearheaded by soon-to-be-former President Mister Rump, his Republicans have produced scant evidence of any such thing. Their claims have taken centre stage in Texas, where key Republican officials and their scum allies have made several - amusingly unsuccessful - attempts to overturn President-elect Biden's, now-certified, victory frequently relying on far-flung and unsubstantiated conspiracy theories. Aguirre was hired earlier this year by a Houston-based group called The Liberty Center [sic] for God & Country, according to a statement from the Harris County District Attorney's office. The group reportedly paid about twenty private investigators hundreds of thousands of dollars to uncover alleged voter fraud across the state. Aguirre received over two hundred thousand bucks. According to Harris County District police, Aguirre put surveillance on the hapless repairman for four days, convinced that he was 'the mastermind of a giant fraud.' Which, again, just to repeat - he wasn't or anything even remotely like it. On 19 October, he slammed his SUV into the back of the man's truck to force him off the road and threatened him with a handgun, placing his knee on the man's back. When police officers responded Aguirre's call, he told them the repair truck contained fraudulent ballots. When no ballots were found, Aguirre himself was very arrested for assault. If convicted, he faces up to twenty years in The Slammer. 'He crossed the line from dirty politics to commission of a violent crime and we are lucky no-one was killed,' said Harris County District Attorney the superbly-named Kim Ogg, in her statement. 'His alleged investigation was backward from the start - first alleging a crime had occurred and then trying to prove it happened.' Aguirre was a twenty four-year veteran of the Houston police force but was fired in 2003 after he led a failed parking lot raid. He has since run a private investigation company. Liberty Center's CEO, Steven Hotze, is a right-wing activist who filed two unsuccessful lawsuits to have over one hundred thousand ballots thrown out in Harris County earlier this year, according to the Texas Tribune.
And now, dear blog reader, for the single biggest waste-of-space on the BBC News website this week. A recipe for Best Roast Potatoes. Err ... 'Take some tetties. Peel them and cut them to the required size. Roast them.' Fer fek's sake, dear blog reader, it's hardly Lobster Thermidor, is it? This blogger gets the whole 'you boil them first' and he realises there is a debate about where lard or goose fat is best for the roasting (this blogger always uses the latter, if you're wondering). But, still, the process isn't rocket science, is it? Next there'll be a 'recipe' for how to cook chips, mark my words.
Shortly before this From The North bloggerisationisms update went live, dear blog reader, the second-to-last pre-Christmas Stately Telly Topping Manor weekly shopping was, as it were, safely gathered in. And, truly, it was geet lush in this blogger's sight, so it was.
A paw print made by a cat in Roman times has been discovered on a two thousand year old roof tile in Gloucester. It was dug up in Berkeley Street in 1969 but the footprint has 'only just been discovered.' Quite why it took fifty one years for someone to spot something so flaming obvious, the report doesn't say. The print was found by an archaeologist at Gloucester City Museum who was examining thousands of fragments of Roman roof tile. The cat is thought to have snuck across the wet tiles which were drying in the sun in about AD100. And, to have been hoofed up the arse with a sandal by an angry tile market seconds later. The tile, a type called tegula, was used on the roof of a building in what became the Berkeley Street area of modern Gloucester, a spokesman said. Councillor Lise Noakes, from Gloucester City Council, said it was 'a fascinating discovery.' Fascinating, certainly. A bit overdue, definitely. 'Dog paw prints, people's boot prints and even a piglet's trotter print have all been found on tiles from Roman Gloucester, but cat prints are very rare,' she said.
The latest From The North award for the most utterly stupid headline of the week - if not of the decade - also goes to the BBC News website for the truly glorious Christmas Post Delays Blamed On 'High Demand'. You don't say? So, there's more post at Christmas time than there is at any other time of the year? Well, who'd've even thought it?
The New York Times has returned an award and had another withdrawn after it found discrepancies in its podcast on the Islamic State group. After a two-month investigation, the newspaper said that the podcast, Caliphate, 'failed to meet its editorial standards.' In the 2018 series, Shehroze Chaudhry, one of its central figures, claimed that he travelled to Syria and joined IS. But the Times said on Friday that it found 'a history of misrepresentations' about Chaudhry's alleged involvement with the group. As a result, it has returned a Peabody Award which it received for the podcast. The Overseas Press Club said that it had also rescinded its Lowell Thomas Award given to the show's producers. Dean Basquet, the Times' executive editor, said in a podcast on Friday that 'this failing wasn't about any one reporter. I think it was an institutional failing.' The podcast's host Rukmini Callimachi - a four-time Pulitzer Prize finalist - has been reassigned from her duties covering terrorism. In a statement on Twitter, Callimachi apologised for 'what we missed and what we got wrong.' The paper began its review of Caliphate after Pakistan-born Chaudhry was extremely arrested by Canadian police in September and charged with hoax-terrorist activity. The Canadian broadcaster CBC used his alleged IS name, Abu Huzaifa al-Kanadi, in a 2017 report, in which he described 'lashing' a man with a whip as part of his duties for the violent Islamic group, but said he never killed anyone. His account prompted a debate in Canada's House of Commons, when the opposition questioned why he was allowed to still live in the country. Then, in 2018, the New York Times broadcast an interview with Chaudhry on the Caliphate podcast, in which he claimed that he had executed people for IS. But after its latest internal investigation, the Times said it had found 'no corroboration' that he committed the atrocities he described. It said at least one photo posted on his social media, allegedly showing him in Syria, was a copy of widely available news photography, published by Russian news agency Tass. Other images had been posted on Twitter by Syrian anti-war activists years before his claim. According to the Times, Canadian and US officials have said they are 'confident' Chaudry is 'a fabulist' who never travelled to Syria and concocted stories to escape from his more mundane life in a Toronto suburb. Chaudhry, who works at his family's restaurant in Oakville has not publicly commented on the charge against him. His lawyer told the New York Times tht Chaudhry was 'not guilty' and would 'contest the hoax-terrorist activity' charge, which carries a sentence of up to five yearsin The Joint.
As previous mentioned on this blog, Jupiter and Saturn are set to cross paths in the night sky, appearing to the naked eye as a 'double planet.' The timing of this conjunction, as the celestial event is known, has caused some to suggest it may have been the source of a bright light in the sky two thousand years ago. The planets are moving closer together each night and will reach their closest point on 21 December. Stargazers in the UK will have to keep a close eye on the weather to avoid an astronomical disappointment. 'Any evening it's clear, it's worth grabbing a chance, because the weather doesn't look great,' Doctor Carolin Crawford from the University of Cambridge's Institute of Astronomy told the BBC. If there is a gap in the winter gloom, both planets will appear in the Southwest sky, just above the horizon shortly after sunset. Monday is going to be a wet and windy day for many but come evening, most of the cloud and rain will be clearing away. Therefore, there should be plenty of clear spells developing across most parts of the UK. The exception to this may be in the Southwest of England, South and West Welsh Wales where cloud will stick around with further rain spreading in as the vening progresses. As planets cross paths on their journey around the Sun, conjunctions are not particularly rare, but this one is special. 'Conjunctions are great things to see - they happen fairly often - but [for the planets to be this close] is quite remarkable,' Professor Tim O'Brien, an astrophysicist from the University of Manchester, told BBC News. The two planets have not been this close to each other in a dark sky for eight hundred years. 'None of us is going to be around in another four hundred years, so just keep an eye on the weather and pop outside if you get the chance,' O'Brien continued.
Finally, dear blog reader, this week this blogger saw a headline which stated MacKenzie Scott Gives Away 4.2 Billion Dollars In Four Months. Bloody Hell, Keith Telly Topping thought, '(If You're Going To) San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Some Flowers In Your Hair)' must've sold far more copies than he'd ever imagined.
And remember, dear blog reader, in these pre-Christmas lockdown times, should the pubs be reopened for a few days over the festive period, be very careful with whom you interact. And, indeed, how.