The English Cold*

Hello again. I have returned.(sound of muffled boos offstage)

Temperatures of -11 across southern England, bloody carnage in Gaza, winter vomiting virus, the credit crunch, the demise of Woolies, MFI, Zavvi and more, 1000 jobs lost at M & S, goodbye to Harold Pinter, Eartha Kitt, Ron Asheton… an alarming number of people thinking Jeremy Clarkson would make a better Prime Minister than the dour Scots incumbent, and most shockingly (for the UK press) no gong for our Brucie (Forsythe, that is – Springsteen is a Yank and doesn’t count)… yes, the family winter holiday in England has been shadowed by some pretty strange and unsettling events in the UK and elsewhere which I have watched with a growing concern that is nevertheless tempered with a distinct feeling of distance… in a few days we return to Phnom Penh and our expat existence, back into the warmth and mild craziness of the city that has been home to us for over three years, away from the freezing fog of gloom that seems to currently envelop the sceptred isle…

Fortunately we have had a wonderful time with our families and friends, and young master O in particular has thoroughly enjoyed the festive season and all its excesses. Many delightful images from these last few weeks crowd my brain and banish the lingering, lurking dark shadows cast by the tabloid grimsheets, the bleak mid-winter pinnacle that was scaled by ‘Eastenders’ (‘Dancing On Ice’ is no longer recommended by the beloved tabloids – whither the Dickensian scenes of yore? “ Oh, Gorblessyew no, no ‘ot chestnuts for me, guvnor… iffen I drop ‘un, me and the missus and kids will fall frew the melted ice…”) and all the other frankly awful programmes that crammed the digital airwaves in the name of entertainment. British television has sunk to new depths of triviality, repetition and crassness, so much so that the endless property and antique programmes that fill the morning (and afternoon) schedules are beacons of old-fashioned family values in a cloying sea of profuse profanity and backstabbing viper-tongued fast-cut mediocrity. No, that last phrase does not refer to the Queen’s Speech. It was the usual ‘aren’t-things-orful-for-one-and-one’s-subjects, but if we all pull together we can get through this (becorse one is just the same as you plebians underneath it all)’ stuff and nonsense. You can’t fool me with all that Helen Mirren smoke and mirrors nonsense, ma’am… also full of smoke and mirrors but the best thing on the X-(mas) box by a haunted-country-house mile was something called Jonathan Creek, starring the mumblingly excellent Alan Davies – it was a good old-fashioned brain-teasing complex whodunnit crossed with a gothic mystery, so let us rejoice just a smidgeon, as all hope for British television may not be lost after all.

Or is it? Smoke and mirrors pretty much summed up the New Year festivities as presented on’t telly also. It seems that the nanny state has decided once and for all that we should not be subject to the sight of drunken revellers drowning in the Trafalgar fountains or spewing over the Royal Mile, but rather we should enjoy an annual incrementally more expensive and destructive firework firefest around the London Eye… wow! After about five minutes the realization dawns that one colourful big bang is pretty much exactly the same as another… never mind, there’s always the bafflingly obtuse Jools Holland and his Hootananny to turn to – this year the audience was again the boringly usual selection of middle-aged ‘celebrities’, mainly unfunny male comedians, that must make up Jools’ drinking buddies, the only real humour coming from this years diva in residence, Duffy, who appeared to have not only ingested rather too much electric soup before raiding what she thought was her wardrobe (but was actually her mum’s lace curtains) but also to have taken several substantial hits of helium prior to performing… the Minnie Mouse revival starts here…

However, the season to be jolly was not all artifice – real joy was to be had from watching little O shuffle wide-eyed through the frosty leaves in the wood behind his grandparent’s home, shout his greetings to Santa up the chimney on Christmas Eve, rip the paper from his presents with exuberant glee on Christmas morning, proudly ride his red tricycle around the tree (with matching feather boa adorning his neck), tuck heartily into his Christmas dinner with lip-smacking relish and then regale us with ribald tales from the playschool as he puffed merrily on a monstrous Cuban cigar and sipped from a large glass of Cognac in the fuzzy ennui post Her Majesties fibfest. Okay, so that last part was also a fib…

It has been heart warming to see how O has again taken to his family in the UK, the strengthened bonds forged during this holiday and it will be really hard for us to say goodbye, as it always is…. Sorry, this is getting a bit maudlin, isn’t it? Let’s lighten up and talk about something cutting edge and, like, relevant to the real world out there. So, who’s going to win Celebrity Big Brother then? Ulrika? Tommy Sheridan? Ooooh, who knows? Who cares? I certainly don’t. I should be given an honorary place on yet another waste of thirty minutes of valuable lifetime, namely BBC 2’s ‘Grumpy Old Men’. Rick Wakeman is on there, and definitively proves on a weekly basis that wearing a sparkly cape and eating curries and drinking beer to rile macrobiotic bandmates in Yes was not his sole contribution toward lightening the burden of humankind through humour. Yes folks, being grumpy can be fun!

Apologies for the lack of Christmas Quiz this year. Couldn’t be bothered, to tell the truth – compiling it would have cut into valuable Celebrations/Toblerone/Quality Street eating time over the holidays. Who knows, I may spring a surprise quiz at some point in the not too far distant future. Or not. We’ll see…

Next blog will be brought to you from the Kingdom of Cambodia, for the time being it’s bye-bye from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland… mind how you go on that ice…

*an album by July Skies – watch this space closely for more effusion on these guys soon…


  1. thered1 · January 8, 2009

    Glad to have you back. I can add this back to my list of things to read while procrastinating at work.

  2. Bonnie · January 9, 2009

    James, I must know you and yours. I happened upon your blog this evening in PP and had to write… Who knows what you’re like as a person – I enjoy reading you! That’s rare enough to merit trying to make contact. (Yeah, fatheads unite, whatever. 🙂


    • Bonnie · January 18, 2009

      By the way, I realized when I reread my comment that the term “fatheads unite” might easily sound at best odd, and at worst offensive. So my apologies… Neither were intended!!

  3. Salman Khan · May 10, 2009

    This is a TEST Comment
    Salman Khan
    Salman Khan

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