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Monday, November 24, 2008

91: Klass act?

I really don't have anything against Myleene Klass. She always seemed to me to be the one with durable talent in Hear'say, and her classical training gave her an edge that others didn't possess. Recently though, she seems to me to have become the epitome of televisual dumbing down. Not only is she ubiquitous to the point where it is almost easier to count the shows she isn't presenting or being featured in, but she appears to have decided that having the "common touch" means that she has to call everyone "sweetheart". I hope it is not just me, but this young woman is surely in possession of a wider vocabulary, and doesn't it come across, in any case, as just a tad patronising?

Of course I don't know her personally and I have little doubt that Myleene is a lovely person in real life, so what I am bemoaning is her TV "persona": the personality facade behind which the real Myleene lurks. She may be the newest kid on the meedja block, but she is also in real danger of rushing unnecessarily rapidly towards her sell by date.

Latterly Miss Klass can be seen in virtually every single commercial break as one of the M&S advertisment posse alongside, amongst other stalwarts, the long lasting, Twiggy. Myleene recently provided the educated "totty" in Last Choir Standing; played second fiddle to Gok Wan in his latest televisual vehicle, Miss Naked Beauty, in which she appears to be wearing rather more slap than Auntie Gok should really approve of for his potential ambassadors; hosted Divas 2 yesterday evening; and is about to take over from Nicky Hambleton-Jones on (How To Look) 10 Years Younger. Poor Nicky's wings didn't spread any further than presenting this rather cruel and yet obvious programme that offered the scalpel as an easy way of retrieving faded looks and still she found herself dumped for the (7 years) younger model. There's a lesson there surely?

Myleene is losing her Klass. She is becoming just another girl done good pseudo personality with seemingly little discernment about the work she chooses to do. Of course she is a working mum too, a perfect one at that, displayed Demi Moore like holding her distended belly on the front of a magazine, yet just weeks later slipping effortlessly into the slinky designs she sports for her presenting projects. Does anyone remember the crumpled black binliner on one episode of Last Choir Standing.

Her almost impossible decision must have been whether to cash in on her current popularity and go for the quick cash or to play for keeps. Perhaps she has a game plan and we won't after all be seeing much of her in a few years. For her sake I trust that she has worked this all out and is just making well-payed hay whilst the celebrity sun shines. Otherwise Klass won't last.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

90: An abbreviated adieu

It was the first French funeral I had ever attended and I really didn't know what was expected of me or indeed what would happen. I knew that, contrary to J's wishes, his father had decided on burial rather than cremation, but quite what the funeral entailed I had little idea.

We arrived just before 1400 at the cemetery in Libercourt, a small town off the A1 from Lille to Paris. It is a typical French graveyard, though not on the edge of town as many are, and completely unlike the grassy regimented war cemeteries we often see in the media. Walled with gates, concrete pathways and gravel, they have always reminded me a little of municipal dumps and I suppose in some ways they are, though somewhat prettier.

Max and I were in charge of the floral tribute and learned that we should place it by the chapel just across the road. This turned out to be a brick structure inside the main gate and not unlike a large bus shelter: it was one bare concrete-floored room with double doors opened to the outside. We found a place for the flowers and retreated to the undertakers' opposite to await the arrival of the coffin. Standing there rather uselessly, at one point Max's mother took pity on a weeping solitary man and joined him to our sad little party.

We were in fact there to support J-M who was J's partner of almost two years. We didn't know J particularly well though we were saddened by both the manner and the fact of his passing. As none of J-M's three children was present, we became de facto chief mourners.

We made our way back to the shelter/chapel, where the coffin had now been installed on a gurney covered with a richly coloured cloth. We stood inside lined up on either side. It was only when the mourners came in one by one to pay their last respects that I realised why we were there. Keeping my eyes mostly on the floor or towards the coffin avoiding people's eyes I nevertheless was able to see that the dress code was smart-casual with the emphasis on dark casual. I felt a little overdressed in my suit and black tie. Most people advanced to the foot of the coffin, stood a moment or two in contemplation, touched the coffin either briefly or more lingeringly and some made the sign of the cross. Once in a while an over-eager hand would literally leave the coffin rocking and J's brother almost tenderly held on to the other end. J-M managed to get through the ordeal without obvious tears though J's father's red-ringed eyes and the one girl who could not hold back her sobs, stretched my ability to control my tear ducts.

It felt like an eternity with each extended gap between mourners seemingly the last till finally the funeral directors came to take the family flowers and to place the coffin in the vehicle that would convey J to his final resting place. Once again his brother surprised me when he carefully wiped the surface of the coffin where the flowers had been. We had heard he was a bit of a brute and not accepting of his deceased brother's sexuality.

The cemetery was still resplendent with chrysanthemums of every hue placed there, as is the custom, for Toussaint (All Saints Day) on 1st November less than two weeks before. In the dazzling early winter sunshine you could for a moment have believed yourself in a formal garden.

Not 50m from the chapel we came to a vault, a concrete lined grave, lonely in the middle of the cemetery and with no immediate neighbours. It seemed a rather functional unforgiving spot for someone who less than a week before had been alive although evidently deeply unhappy. Then the coffin was propped up over the opening on a metal bar. It was at this point that we were directed along a path and we found ourselves blinking against the brightness in a line up. Max's mother ducked out, as I would have done had I known that every mourner would then make their way down the line murmuring sinceres condoléances and shaking our hands. This must be something like the Queen feels on a regular basis though mostly for happier occasions. For me it felt somewhat fraudulent and afterwards I learned that some people had asked who the tall fair haired man was. At least for them I had added a little mystery to the day.

Then back to the grave, into which the coffin had already been lowered, to see J-M drop a bouquet of dark red roses onto the lid. That was a particularly poignant moment. That was about it really. We stood to one side with J-M for a few minutes then made our way back to his house for coffee and chocolate biscuits. No words of caring and love had been said. There had been no ceremony of any kind, though I suppose we had taken part in a rite of sorts. Later on but before dark, J-M returned to say a final farewell when he had the cemetery to himself and all the mourners and family had departed. Perhaps then he was able to take time to think or to say the words he needed for his own fond adieu.

This was a life much grieved but perhaps the least celebrated I can remember. Perhaps there hadn't been too much to celebrate? J was 29.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

89: Yes we can! Yes he did!

It could have almost been an anti-climax but this morning there is a feeling of euphoria in the air, a feeling of change and possibility, the beginning of a new era. I cannot for a moment pretend to know much about US politics but I do know that the Bush years have finally been swept aside and his much discredited two terms will soon be consigned to the history books where they belong. Barack Obama represents something different, something fresh and exciting a huge antidote to what went before. He's the first major leader of the western world who is younger than I am, yet his appeal is broad across ages and cultures except perhaps the white vote which still had a majority for McCain, a decent man whose conceding address was dignified and magnanimous.

I instinctively supported Hillary Clinton but saw that her experience meant that she is linked inextricably to the past. I wondered whether, having accepted the Democratic presidential nomination, Obama should choose the New York senator as running mate. He didn't, and the supposed "dream ticket" never was. He was right. It would have been as distracting a double act as it would have potentially been a good one. Will he now appoint her to a senior position in his government. Perhaps that is where she will be able to do most good rather than in the "non-position" that is the Vice-President's role.

This takes me back to 1997 and the long night when Labour swept away the tawdry Tories. We were then full of hope, and it is fair to say 11 years later that some of those hopes have been dashed, some of that expectation not realised. Much of what the Labour goverment has achieved is not well communicated and languishes hidden away in boring black and white whilst the new Conservatives' slick PR and colouful marketing grabs all the headlines.

Obama has four years, possibly eight, to turn the biggest democracy in the world around. Let's all give him the space and the support he needs and accept he won't be able to work miracles.