Wednesday, 21 October 2009

COME AND SEE OUR PLAY!


Lake Geneva, Summer 1816: A brilliant, glamorous, scandalous group come together. Rumour and speculation is rife amongst the locals. Many know the literary products of those days – Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and John Polidori’s The Vampyre, both the result of a ghost-story writing contest – but the details of the holiday remain hidden until now. This completely improvised play reveals what probably definitely happened at the Villa Diodati.
Burton Taylor Studio, Oxford. Directed by Yours Truly. Tonight through Saturday, 9.30pm. Book tickets here.
Update: It's also been jolly funny!

Thursday, 15 October 2009

On Europe


I went to Brussels in March, and wrote about the experience on ConservativeHome.
Perhaps the most striking realisation was that despite my advanced Euroscepticism, I remain a wholehearted supporter of the Conservative Party. Any temptation I may have had to vote UKIP (a temptation to which I succumbed in 1999) has long since dissipated. (I have also written on ConHome about why I don't vote UKIP any more, so I won't rehearse my reasons here.)
Political parties are collections of individuals. Of course they can and must have a corporate position, particularly among the leadership, but it is equally right that the people who comprise them should be allowed to hold some differing opinions.
Most party members / supporters accept this. The problem tends to arise when splits occur on fundamental issues. Such an example is the UK's relationship with the European Union. On this matter, dyed-in-the-wool Tories can differ wildly.
But I think there is a way through, of sorts. We can and should debate whether we stay in or out of the European Union. I say we should leave. But as long as we are in, it seems to me right that we do try to influence legislation that will affect us.
That's why I have time for people like Richard Ashworth (above), the Tories' agriculture spokesman in the European Parliament. He has a different perspective to mine, but I nonetheless liked and respected him a great deal when I met him.
Today he has put out a press release on the Single Farm Payment (introduced by Labour in 2005). A National Audit Office report has found that the cost of processing a claim has risen to around £1,743. Under the Scottish system it is just £285!
Richard comments:
“The government deliberately went against all advice and created an exceptionally convoluted system for administering payments, for which our countryside and taxpayers are still paying the price.
“The Single Farm Payment has become a shining example of waste and incompetence from this government. Ministers who have overseen this calamity owe our farmers an apology.
“If the government can't get it right after four years, it needs to seriously reconsider the current system.”
Some might say that these press releases achieve little, and that we shouldn't try to do good work in the European Parliament but just get on with leaving. I disagree. The point is that as long as we stay, EU law will affect us. I don't believe that trying to improve it lessens the chances we will withdraw. I think that as long as one belongs to a polity one must engage with it. And I suspect Richard would agree.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Horam The Great

Here's a lovely piece from my erstwhile colleague Danny Finkelstein. Tory MP John Horam has two big claims to fame.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Scene From A Country Life

I have a new favourite walk.
It starts in the next village, and involves following a footpath that runs alongside a working farm. I love everything about it - the way the dust kicks up off the orange-brown floor (but not too much), the signs of life (human, animal and grass) on either side, and the way the light hits everything around about this time of day.
I know that going to the top of the track and back is a good stroll, and so the whole thing is a perfect experience.
What is worth noting is that this is a country scene, rather than an urban or a "natural" one. It is the ideal combination of leaving things as they are and very much not doing so. I hope the farmers who work there and their families are thriving - for both altruistic and selfish reasons. Long may that scene remain.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Another Day, Another Link

Check out The Singing Defective.

He's a fine comic, and apparently a fine singer as well!

Thursday, 8 October 2009

All Is Well


I watched When Boris Met Dave last night. I wasn't going to, but the family were keen. It managed to grip my attention fairly well, but then I had a stake of sorts, as I used to work for Boris, have had (very brief) dealings with David Cameron and went to Oxford.
I always, always feel a small sense of bereavement when I watch a programme about someone else's days at Oxford or Cambridge. I wasted my time at university, and that spawns anger and sadness. The fact that it is now too late to put it right at once makes things better and worse.
But then, how different could things have been? I'd still have had OCD, unless we're really talking about an alternative universe, in which case all sorts of things are up for grabs. What about if we look at things that were in my control?
I'd have got a 2:1 instead of a 2:2 if I'd done some work, but I'm not convinced that would have altered my career path in any critical way. (And who the Hell wants to be an expert in, for example, Political Sociology?) I should have had a broader range of friends, and not spent all my time in college or at the Union. It might have been fun to act, but then again it might not have been.
I daydreamt about becoming President of the Oxford Union, but in truth I wouldn't have enjoyed spending even more time with that crowd. I would have loved to have been good enough to join their debating tours, but I wasn't, and I didn't work hard enough at trying to be.
What last night's docu-drama about Boris and David (I've never known anyone who knows Cameron refer to him as "Dave", despite what the media claims; not that it is remotely unusual for someone to want to be known by an abbreviation of their Christian name, for crying out loud) showed was that it doesn't really matter whether you sweep all before you at Oxford or not.
Michael Foot, Edward Heath, William Hague and Boris Johnson made President of the Union. Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair and David Cameron didn't even try. Oxford graduates who now light up the worlds of politics, letters or showbiz may or may not have thrived in those fields at university.
University is real life, make no mistake about that. If it wasn't, people wouldn't get so deeply unhappy and desperate and frightened while they are there. Or indeed ecstatically happy. But it is only a portion of life. Of course it's great to be happy and successful there and often it's good to meet your future spouse there. But what comes next is dependent on your university days only to a very limited extent.
Chatting about the programme afterwards a calm descended on me, just as it does on Sean in Good Will Hunting when he suddenly realises that for all his brilliance and cruel insight Will is just an adolescent. In my case, it was this: no-one is important at Oxford.
Being President of the Union is something. So is being President of OUDS, or getting a Blue. It's a real achievement to win a Scholarship or get a First. But you're only a King or Queen of a very small world. I can only name one President of OUDS from my time at Oxford, and that's because she was President of the Union as well. Many of my contemporaries would struggle to recall the names of any Union Presidents. I can name about three Rugby and Rowing Blues.
When Boris Met Dave painted a picture of a glittering and fabulous generation. But here's the thing - none of them, not even Boris, were nearly as well known at university as was suggested in the film. Their world seemed and seems infinite to them because they knew each other before and beyond Oxford, through class, school and familial ties.
I genuinely can't remember if I'd heard of the Bullingdon Club until after I'd left Oxford. They certainly didn't make their presence known to me, and although I would have beaten up any five of them if they'd tried to debag me, I wasn't sufficiently fascinated by such people even to dislike them.
Oxford is a chapter in our lives, no less and no more. The rest of the story is yet to be written, and there is plenty of time for several twists. And few of us would hope that the chapter on university was the most gripping, or expect it to be the key to the whole tale.
I regret the way I wasted my university days and the fact that OCD wasted them for me, but I don't feel the same pangs that I used to. In fact it's easier to walk past Trinity College (indeed it's a pleasure and a privilege) than it is to walk past the site of the Manor Ground, where Oxford United used to play their home matches. Now that is a real loss.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Walking The Walk

So we finished the film this weekend. Well, actually I finished on the film - there is going to be a lot of editing for others to do and the whole thing has to be distributed and marketed, so it's really not a wrap yet. And in fact even I'm not quite done, because there will be some dubbing to do. But still - a great adventure is over.
And what an adventure it has been. There have been times when I've worried about my performance and when I've been knackered, but I really have loved every moment. What a privilege to have had the chance to do something like this.
I have immense confidence in the people on whom responsibility for the film now rests. Our director and producer are absolutely first-class. They want for neither skill nor passion.
Perhaps the most exciting thing is that the worst case scenario is pretty good. The worst case scenario is that the film doesn't get picked up, and that all we are left with is a DVD to show our friends and family (and agents and comedy club promoters). That would be disappointing. But it wouldn't be nothing. "He's thrown a kettle over a pub; what have you done?" I starred in a f-king feature-length film, Gareth.
I'm proud of what we did. Proud that everyone was nice to each other, proud that we did it for love, proud of my performance and the performances of my colleagues, proud that we REALLY DID IT, and didn't just talk about it. It was more than worth it because of all that. Even if it's just something that only a handful of people get to see.
And that isn't the only possible outcome. Far from it. Because the final cut is going to be proper good.
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