Thursday, February 18, 2021

Robert Maxwell a Trump Prototype


Reading John Preston’s highly entertaining biography of Robert Maxwell (Fall) one is struck again and again about the parallels with Donald Trump. The incessant self-glorification displayed by plastering their names everywhere: Maxwell House, Trump Towers etc.; the venality of their business dealings: cooking the books, moving money to and from shell companies etc.; their shameless bare-faced lying even when confronted with cast-iron evidence; their intolerance of any dissenting voices; their move into politics (Maxwell was, bizarrely, a Labour MP); their courting of Russia; their unabashed philistinism; and above all their certainty that the rules don’t apply to them. Both are textbook narcissists. One of the very many revealing anecdotes in Preston’s gossipy book is that Maxwell had a habit if using hotel towels to wipe his arse and would then toss them on the floor. Characteristic I suppose of the man who pillaged the Daily Mirror pension fund and then left his successors to sort out the mess. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Groveling and Patronising on ITV Racing


Those of us who follow horse racing were not at all surprised to see a clip of Matt Chapman from ITV having a good old grovel in the presence of Sheikh Mohammed on the BBC Panorama program about Princess Latifa. Chapman’s cheeky chappy, anti-establishment, man-of-the-people persona is transformed into craven deference when he encounters Arab royalty. Mind you the Queen too is happy to receive the old brute at Royal Ascot notwithstanding the UAE’s attitude to kidnapping and basic human rights. Of course the racing industry here and in the UK is highly dependent on Arab largesse. Unemployment in County Kildare would rise sharply if Sheikh Mohammed packed up his tents and left. In recent years Saudi Arabia has joined Dubai as a lucrative venue for horses, jockeys and trainers from this part of the world. It hopes that through sport we will think they’re all fine chaps really and that we will ignore its tendency to murder dissenters, cage its women and exploit its third-world labor force. Our governments will not speak up – especially the Brits who supply them with weapons to terrorize their less fortunate neighbours in Yemen. ITV Racing gives superb racing coverage and has been a life-saver to many (including myself) over the past year. Its pundits, especially Mick Fitzgerald and Ruby Walsh, are articulate and informative and the elegant and knowledgeable Francesca Cumani adds a touch of glamour. However, in addition to its ridiculous kowtowing to Arab princes and the British Royal Family, I regularly pick up a whiff of rascism in its patronizing attitude to some of Irish racing’s more colourful characters – a recent episode where the Cork trainer Michael Winters was encouraged to roll around the parade ring (see above) comes to mind. More idiot him you might say but I’d like to see them try it Paul Nichols. Ed Chamberlain is culprit in chief in this regard, followed closely by nice but dim Ollie Bell. Francesca and the two small men are blameless.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Help! The New Yorker is Gaslighting Me

Those of us who read the New Yorker are aware of two singular aspects of that distinguished publication. One is its adherence to the arcane, if not archaic, practice of using diaereses (umlauts to many) in words with doubled vowels – as in reëlection. A silly affectation to some, a charming idiosyncrasy to others. The second is its punctilious fact-checking – a commendable practice in this era where any disagreeable news can be deemed fake. However, my recent experiences with The New Yorker have told me that not all parts of the organisation function with the same rigour as its editorial department. Read on.

I have had a subscription to The New Yorker for many years, along with subscriptions to the New York Review of Books and the London Review of Books. Last summer I decided to cancel my New Yorker subscription for a variety of reasons. Too many magazines to catch up on was one reason. Also, the delivery of the New Yorker had become very erratic, none for weeks then three together, then another out of sequence and so on. No doubt a Covid-related problem or fall-out from Trump’s efforts to fuck up the U.S. Mail. Also, I wasn’t reading many of the long format pieces in which The New Yorker specializes. Often I just wasn’t interested in the subject matter. I always enjoyed David Remnick’s opinion pieces and anything by Adam Gopnik, John Lee Anderson and Janet Malcolm and I still read the book reviews, the film reviews and the wonderfully esoteric restaurant reviews but I just wasn’t getting enough out of it. So I decided to cancel my subscription. This took effect from mid-September 2020. I got a barrage of emails subsequently urging me to renew and then silence.

Last month I was very uncharacteristically checking my AMEX statement when I was surprised to see a charge on the 17th December for $199.99 for The New Yorker (see image below).  Easily sorted I tell myself and call AMEX. That’s when my heartaches began. AMEX tell me that they will set up a dispute process but that it could take weeks to resolve so the easiest thing to do is call the New Yorker and they’ll issue a credit. I crank up my Skype application and call the New Yorker (no free-phone number for international customers). I get on to a woman with an almost impenetrable accent who promises to investigate and call me back. She does not inspire confidence. Eventually after two further phone calls (each one requires the laborious reiteration of my problem) I am told that I will have to email my problem to the customer service department (NYRCUSTSERV@CDFULFILLMENTS.COM). A tedious business that puts the onus on me to sort out a fuckup by them. I lay out my problem yet again via email and get an email response from someone called Marie informing me that “We are unable to locate the account with the information provided.” She then asks me for my full address which has already been included in the email I already sent her – and which is clearly visible when you scroll down from her reply. We went back and forth a few times and eventually on 28th February I got a response from someone called Marcy saying:

Dear Subscriber,  

Thank you for contacting The New YorkerOur records show your subscription expired with the September 14, 2020 issue. We are unable to locate your credit card payment so we cannot process a refund. Please contact your credit card company to research and reverse the charge.”

 So I’m sent back to AMEX. The New Yorker can’t locate the credit card account from which it has received $199.99 – the money has gone from my bank account through my direct debit with AMEX. I call AMEX again and  they say fine we’ll fix it but it will take 6 or 7 weeks.

Then on the 2nd February I get this email, not from my old buddies in customer services but from

Thank you for continuing your subscription to The New Yorker. We value you as a part of our community of readers who appreciate distinctive coverage of politics, international affairs, arts, culture, business, science, and technology, as well as fiction, criticism, and, of course, cartoons.”


They are clearly trying to drive me crazy. I tell them so via email.

The maddening thing about such egregious mistakes is the amount of time I have to spend trying to sort out their problem. Calls to AMEX, calls to The New Yorker, endless emails from different people in customer services. And still no resolution, no apology, and no refund yet for the money taken from my account. 

If anyone in there cares a damn, my dispute reference is KMM128924181V63095L0KM










Monday, February 08, 2021

Honeysuckle and Other Heroes




It was nice to get a break from the existential pressures of the lockdown, from dwelling on the brutal contrast between the superabundance of the past and the circumscribed present. Not to mention the ominous future. Temporary relief came in the form of a two-day racing festival at Leopardstown and the first weekend of the Six Nations rugby. Bread and circuses in abundance. 


Outside the annual Cheltenham Festival, these were the best two days of NH racing I have ever viewed. The first day was the most interesting. Honeysuckle (above) is an unbeaten mare but there was a feeling that distance-wise she may not be up to Champion Hurdle standard. Her performance in the Irish Champion Hurdle was so convincing that she is now favourite for the Cheltenham version. She led from start to finish and easily beat a field comprising all her major Irish rivals (including Saint Roi who I now officially disown). Earlier the Willie Mullins juggernaut rolled on with Chacon Pour Soi and Energumene hacking up in their respective trials. However, the last race on the card, the bumper, featured the most impressive winner of the day Kilcruit (also trained by Willie Mullins). This was a race designed to tell us who was the best bumper candidate in Ireland for the Cheltenham equivalent next month. Every runner in the race had winning form – the crème de la crème. Kilcruit won hard-held with his jockey looking over his shoulder for non-existent challengers. If he stays sound he could be another Istabraq or Arkle. Mind you he’s already a 6-yo so he needs to get a move on. The following day threw up another Cheltenham hottie trained by Mullins: Monkfish won as he pleased and should join Mullins long list of  Cheltenham winners. The Gold Cup trial was a personal disappointment for me. I had hoped Minella Indo would redeem himself after his Christmas fall at Leopardstown and go on to glory at Cheltenham. Instead he jumped slowly throughout and his bad mistake three fences out only confirmed what was becoming inevitable. It was a poor enough trial with the Mullins plodder Kemboy winning easily. My old school-mate Joe Donnelly’s Al Boum Photo looks to have little serious opposition at Cheltenham. In a mud-bath Native River could be an alternative after his performance at Sandown last Saturday.


Over to the rugby. I didn’t watch France versus Italy as I don’t approve of public humiliations and it’s clear that Italy are now only in the tournament because we all like visiting Rome very two years. Scotland versus England was an absorbing contest. It was clear from the start that Scotland were well up for this. They showed more passion and energy than a strangely listless England and were worth much more than the modest margin of victory. Hogg was heroic and while Fin Russell is not quite as cool as he thinks he is (and missed a possibly vital kick at goal) he does supply that unpredictability that makes things happen. 


Over to Ireland versus Wales. First, lets be clear that had Peter O’Mahony not been sent off Ireland would have won easily. Maybe the ref could have let him off with a yellow. It was so early in the game (and the tournament) – and clearly adrenalin-fueled carelessness rather than evil intent. Even reduced to 14 men, only for a few silly errors and misjudgments we should have won anyway. Wales were poor and we held them easily in the tight. The problems came behind the scrum with our stretched defense and with errors in judgement by Lowe particularly. He showed positional naivety for both Welsh tries. For all his flair, I don’t expect to see him picked against France. But he was not alone Earls, Sexton and Burns at the end all made kicking mistakes that cost us. And Beirne was penalized unjustly near the Irish line. A egregious error by that officious little prick Wayne Barnes (Joe Schmidt please note). On a positive note, Henshaw and Beirne were heroic and Keenan and Stander weren’t far behind. It’s yet another one that got away - particularly annoying against the Welsh who have robbed us before at Cardiff (isn’t that right Mike?).

Wednesday, February 03, 2021

Sex and Drugs and EDM

The Edge by Jamie Collinson


In these troubled times it’s rare for me to raise much beyond the occasional half-hearted titter – usually when watching reruns of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Bitter recognition rather than real amusement. Therefore having to be rebuked by my dozing partner as I laugh hysterically while reading in bed is a most uncommon occurrence. The source of my uncontrollable mirth is The Edge – a first novel by music industry wheel Jamie Collinson. The particular scene that got me going was set in a restaurant where our hero is trying to impress a new girl friend by ordering a challengingly spicy dish. The consequences are the death of cool in more ways than one. A novel should be entertaining and informative and Collinson’s book is both. The protagonist, Adam, is a Brit living in LA – the disgruntled manager of the LA branch of an organization marketing music that he no longer feels passionate about. His company promotes EDM and related contemporary formats. The play list at the end of the book that reflects the preceding events is more to Adam’s taste. And to mine - not least his nod towards “All or Nothing” by the Small Faces. We know Adam is a good lad at heart because when we are introduced to him he is bird-watching (he knows a hawk from a hand-saw) – a cast iron guarantee of essential decency. Our belief in this essential decency is challenged but not defeated throughout the book which contains an heroic amount of drinking, casual shagging, and cocaine snorting. The lad has, like the base Indian, cast away a pearl of a girl-friend (Sofia) back in London years before and spends a lot of time brooding over the sequence of events that caused their split. This long departed loved one has cast a shadow over Adam’s life. In the meantime he is taking his pleasures where he finds them. However, a kind of redemption beckons in the form of another candidate (Erica) for the role of soul-mate and we are given an insight into the mating rituals of these hip LA inhabitants. It being the music scene, the novel abounds with monstrous egos, massive coke consumption, and serious political maneuverings as the characters grovel or lord it depending on who they encounter. Office politics in these woke days are convincingly invoked also as the employees jostle for position and HR crises arise. A less than enthusiastic response to having a free Kombucha tap available can merit a query from London HQ. Adam is adrift and the bulk of the novel has him struggle between the best and the worst of himself. He’s a man who resists everything except temptation and it’s getting him in trouble. Will he get the girl? Will he find a more satisfactory career? You’ll have a lot of fun following his picaresque adventures to find out. 

It’s published by OneWorld. Not sure if it’s in the bookshops yet but you’ll find it on Amazon.