October 07, 2019 15:17
Roger Lewis of The Times has a lot of good things to say about Patrick Kidd's new book...
Brexit, a catastrophe for the rest of us, has been a boon to the political sketchwriter, who hitherto was compelled to cook up jokes about legislation to protect hedgehogs, committees pondering the fluoridation of the water supply, and earnest debates regarding raising the legal age for buying fireworks and using sunbeds.
Suddenly, after the referendum in 2016, bigger issues were at stake — not how Westminster could unpick more than 40 years of European integration, but whether John Bercow could beat his personal record of spending 684 minutes in the Speaker’s chair without needing the lavatory. Patrick Kidd’s theory is ingenious. There must be a secret “feeding and filtration system” fitted under the green leather upholstery.
Kidd, sketchwriter for The Times from 2014 to 2019, clearly relishes what he calls parliament’s “cabaret hour”, especially the eccentric rituals, involving the Cap of Maintenance, the Loose Change of Necessity, the Cuppa of Relief, the Biro of Whimsy and the Notepads of Irreverence. He cherishes too the endangered fauna found in these crumbling, leaking neo-gothic buildings — “loons, thieving magpies, gannets, boobies, bustards, lots of spotted shags and a multitude of tits”.
The Weak are a Long Time in Politics is a gathering of, as it were, verbal Peter Brookes cartoons, a skewering of characters capable of unabashedly giving diametrically opposed answers in five minutes to the same important question.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, for example, with his antique suits and snooty manner, is “MP for the 19th century”, his drawl putting Kidd in mind of “lemon curd on a crumpet”. Make no mistake, however, Rees-Mogg is as genial as a gangster performing dentistry with a pair of pliers.
Theresa May resembles “a lightly grilled camembert”, and Kidd describes her “stern, birdlike face and sophisticated fashion sense” — her habit of decking herself in coloured pebbles. In action she could be like “Margaret Thatcher without the warmth”, and her speaking skills were, apparently, nonexistent, like “a nervous librarian reading the phone book to a conference of narcoleptics”.
Keir Starmer, we are informed, “always looks perplexed and on the verge of tears, like Stan Laurel”, while David Davis looks like “an East End boxing promoter”. Zac Goldsmith speaks with all the passion of “a vicar in Waitrose who has discovered they’re all out of halloumi”. Nigel Farage barks his speeches like “an eel salesman in Billingsgate”.
Kidd, whose language is as joyously absurdist as Wodehouse’s, is sensitive to linguistic misuse. He can’t abide the ghastly Whitehall clichés that assail his ears day after day. Ukip may have been (in David Cameron’s words) “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists”, but Farage’s militaristic verbiage, as quoted by Kidd, is sinister: “We need to reform the columns of the People’s Army and get back in battle order.” They must be running out of black shirts in Jermyn Street.
Nor, at the other declamatory extreme, is Kidd taken in by the empty baroque rhetoric of Boris Johnson, the stupid person’s idea of a clever person. His speeches, despite the orotundity, seem to have been scribbled on an envelope a moment ago in the lift. Kidd, a Classics scholar, notices when Johnson gets his ancient mythology allusions muddled up. Without mercy he shows Johnson mixing bizarre metaphors about flying buttresses (“Yes, a buttress... supportive of the EU kirk but not particularly fussy about exactly how the masonry interlocks”), and he has no patience with Johnson’s obsession with silly photo opportunities: Boris eating pies, waving flags, driving lorries, “his chest thrust forward like a gorilla”.
The unexpected star turn of this collection of sketches, however, is Jeremy Corbyn. Kidd can’t get enough of this dreary, whining phenomenon, who is like one of those indestructible beetles who’ll crawl out of the rubble after a nuclear war. Kidd has fun with a ticket inspector asking a Labour flunkey whether Corbyn had a railcard, as if the Labour leader were “a catatonic patient in a geriatric ward”.
Corbyn is less interested in Britain’s woes than in “arranging rallies in aid of Peruvian basket-weavers”. He takes pictures of manhole covers as a hobby, owns an allotment (where he meditates on “the wonders of planting beans”) and makes rambling speeches, “fluffing every seventh word”. “I’ve just come from a bio-gas generating plant,” is the opener to one speech, “nailing the rhetoric like Churchill”.
Like all good satire, at bottom Kidd’s work is deeply serious. When the nation is “in greater need of talented leadership than at any point since the Second World War”, we have a leader of the opposition who achieved two Es at A level, who in debate turns winning positions into losing ones, and who is constitutionally “unable to press home an advantage”.
With Cameron, who resigned when the referendum result came through, we had an unhelpful patrician and complacent smugness. He was a man given to making “that trademark smirk when he thinks he has been clever”. Johnson, as foreign secretary, had wondered: “Where have they put Ceylon?” His attitude as we confront the Brexit brink is still: “What a lark leaving the EU would be!”
Kidd imagines the most rabid of Leavers would be happy to see the “blocking up of the Channel tunnel and the banning of the production of croissants”. That may be no exaggeration — I know of old folks’ home inmates who were Brexiteers because the Hungarian chef had made their food too spicy.
Kidd quotes, without mockery, Sir Nicholas Soames’s view that, instead of going to war, as in the past, the EU has ensured “freedom, security and prosperity” across the Continent. Britain is now being destroyed not by external enemies, such as Mr Hitler or Napoleon, but by mad internal stresses and schisms, egged on by politicians who muse: “Why can’t we have a system like that nice Mr Erdogan is after in Turkey?”
I predict Kidd’s masterly volume will be considered vastly more enjoyable, and insightful, than any of the dour official chronicles of our era, which academics, historians and commentators even now may be busy drafting.
The Weak are a Long Time in Politics: Sketches from the Brexit Neverendum by Patrick Kidd, Biteback, 349pp, £12.99
Read the original article here.
October 01, 2019 12:59
September 24, 2019 10:19
It’s been a tumultuous year in British politics. No-deal is on the horizon, Parliament are popping in and out of the Houses of Westminster like a jack-in-the-box, and several key politicians are causing waves as they continue to make their Brexit dreams a reality.
But what does it all mean? What should you know about the political landscape we’ve found ourselves in, and who do you need to keep tabs on as the weeks roll towards 31st October?
Worry no more. We’ve got the definitive list of Brexit books that you should be getting stuck into.
Jacob’s Ladder, by Lord Ashcroft
Want to know more about the man behind the Mogg? The man who once declared that ‘unsalted butter is a crime against the Holy Ghost’? Jacob Rees-Mogg has had a long and colourful career in politics, but never has he taken centre-stage quite like he has now. From his childhood to his beginnings in Oxford, find out more about the politician who has had such a hand in shaping the country’s Brexit policy. Written by Lord Ashcroft, it’s baffling and fascinating in equal measure, and a great introduction to the world of the backbencher.
The Big Book of Boris, by Iain Dale and Jakub Szweda
What can be said about Boris Johnson that hasn’t been said already? Love him or hate him, you can’t deny that Johnson’s magnetic personality and force of will have seen him thrive in the Westminster arena and reshape politics in his own image. What better time, therefore, to dive into the book that brings together the best of his quotes- from his time as Foreign Secretary to his declaration that his chances of being Prime Minister were equal to his ‘being reincarnated as an olive’?
F**K Business, by Iain Anderson
Business and politics go hand in hand… but what happens when one of them becomes ever more unstable? What do economists do when they feel that they can’t trust politicians? With the relationship between the two always changing, it’s time to swot up on how the relationship between Parliament and business might impact us all when Brexit finally does happen. Leading you along this thorny path is Iain Anderson, whose ringside seat in the political and economic arena has given him unparalleled insights into what went wrong, and how we can fix it.
Punch and Judy Politics, by Ayesha Hazarika
We’ve all seen it on television: the Leader of the Opposition nailing the Prime Minister down on a technicality, and the Prime Minister firing back with a wounding statistic about their rival. If you’re looking for an introduction to the tradition-laden and often confusing world of Prime Minister’s Questions- the ultimate game of cat and mouse- then look no further. Full of funny anecdotes, history and (most importantly) information about how it actually works, it’s the book to have at hand as you watch Boris Johnson battle his recalcitrant Parliament.
The Weak are a Long Time in Politics, by Patrick Kidd
When politics becomes satire, then sketch writers have a field day. And that’s exactly what Patrick Kidd has done: faced with an abundance of political silliness, he’s compiled a list of sketches from the past few years and put them into one big book. By turns funny, groan-worthy and gobsmacking, it’s a book you’ll have a lot of fun reading- and a surprisingly sharp account of Parliament’s descent into utter lunacy.
Not had your fill of Brexit antics? Why not check out our Twitter feed to catch up with the latest news at Biteback, or – even better- subscribe to our newsletter to receive our monthly newsletter All Things Politics?
September 19, 2019 10:15
Everybody who knows anything about motor racing knows the name of Stirling Moss, the first real professional motor racing driver. During the twelve years that he raced, he was runner-up in the World Championship four times, often driving inferior cars, but he was never the winner. He also championed the cause of the British motor racing industry, often preferring to drive a British racing car whenever possible.
On his 90th birthday, we chatted to Val Pirie, the author of the newly-published book Ciao, Stirling, which offers a new insight into the life of his extraordinary man, and their close friendship.
Read on for more!
Hello, Val! In your own words, tell us what your book is about.
No-one knows what Stirling was really like when he wasn’t racing, or what he did after the accident that put him out of racing. There is a plethora of books about his racing, but nothing about his life behind the scenes, or what he did after he had to give up the only way of life that he knew. He had few real friends and unfortunately, most are now no longer around.
Stirling is one of the nicest, most honest people in the world but he has always been rather shy and no-one can appreciate just what a kind, caring, yet sometimes infuriating person he is!
We all have our foibles, and Stirling is no exception. He has chosen his few friends with care over all the years that he has been in the public eye. He is a private person and I only hope that I have done full justice to my best friend and mentor.
What made you want to write the story of what Stirling Moss is like?
None of his family have fully understood why we were - and are - such close friends. We have stuck up for each other through thick and thin, and continue to do so.
He is my best friend and I felt that people should know about him as a person.
When I first joined Stirling Moss Ltd, there were two camps: Moss and Hawthorn. (i.e. those who thought Mike was the greatest and did not like Stirling and vice versa). They were liked and loathed in equal measure and I wanted to put the record straight because no-one, apart from Stirling's friends, actually knew the real Stirling Moss and what made him tick. In fact, when people used to accost me and say that they didn't like Stirling Moss, I would always ask them if they had met, or knew, him.
They hadn't and didn't!
What was Stirling like to work for?
A perfectionist! What else can I say? Living up to the expectations of a perfectionist is always difficult, particularly when you were supposed to be a mind reader - even though one was 'never paid to assume'!
To say it was a challenge would be quite an understatement!
What was your favourite part of the job?
I didn't look at it as a job: more of a rollercoaster.
One had to be prepared to do anything at the drop of a hat. This certainly taught me to look after my own affairs later on in life, but it also made me into a workaholic, which I still am today as an octogenarian!
What’s your favourite anecdote about working for Stirling?
There are several, because we rushed around all over the place as the job took on different aspects but I suppose doing things on the spur of the moment were the most memorable, because Stirling normally used to plan ahead with the utmost detail. Acting off-the-cuff was unusual! The only time I had to sign his name on official documents, along with him signing a similar stack of documents, simply amazed me, as did 'hitch-hiking' in the East End of London and acting like naughty schoolchildren afterwards, the driver being completely unaware of who he was transporting, were the first to spring to mind but there are many others mentioned in the book.
What’s your writing process like? How long did it take you to write the book?
It actually did not take me very long in terms of writing but, because I am such a busy person, it took longer than I would have liked. It probably took longer dealing with the publishers!
I first started writing it on my knee when I was travelling. I even scribbled around the type on the front pages of newspapers, which I then transcribed onto a document when I had time!
Writing about things that happened so long ago, when things - and London - were so very different was great fun. As were the people of the day. London was like a village, which is more than one can say of it today. According to Stirling, though, it is still the centre of the world!
Are you planning on writing another book after this?
Yes, but not a biography.
I have had the outline of a children's story in my mind, which my daughter has been asking me to resurrect, for ages and I have thoughts about another fiction book as well.
It is difficult to know which one I will pursue first or whether either will be printed but it is good to keep one's mind occupied and one's fingers doing something other than housework!
Do you still watch motorsports?
Only if I have to!
Thank you, Val!
Ciao, Stirling is out now in hardback. Get your copy here- or read more about the man himself in this article from Motor Sport.
July 09, 2019 10:48
Harvey Elliott, the 16-year-old whose move from Fulham to Liverpool is being widely predicted, is just the latest in a long line of players who have found it impossible to resist the lure of Anfield – even when the club was in the Football League’s old Second Divison...
In the summer of 1960, Gordon Milne found the appeal of a move to Liverpool FC irresistible even though it meant leaving Preston North End who were in the old First Division and going down to the Second.
Milne, who had just come out of the army after doing his national service, says: ‘I’d played 80-odd games for Preston in the late Fifties and I’d also played for the army team, which in those days was a good strong side.’
First Arsenal made an approach for the newly demobbed Milne, before Bill Shankly, the recently appointed Liverpool manager who had played for Preston, expressed an interest. ‘You don’t want to go to London, son,’ Shankly, a Scot who specialised in succinct advice, told Milne after making a special trip to see him.
He also told Milne, ‘We’re a sleeping giant’, a reference to the fact that Liverpool, who had won their fifth League title in 1947, were now in the second tier and still looking to win the FA Cup for the first time.
‘I’d read about Shanks,’ Milne says. ‘He was just an enthusiast. His passion was for football and he believed in Liverpool. He knew what he wanted and he knew how the game should be played – simple and straightforward. He always emphasised the team, players complementing one another.
‘But at the time it worried me whether I’d made the right decision by turning down Arsenal, who were in the First Division. It was only in the long term it turned out to be the best move I ever made.’
Liverpool paid £16,000 for Milne with the player receiving the statutory tenner as a signing-on fee.
‘Shanks had started building at that time and I was the first one of that team he signed,’ Milne says. ‘Afterwards he signed Willie Stevenson, big Ron [Yeats], Ian St John and Peter Thompson. This group joined what they’d already got there: Tommy Lawrence, Chris Lawler, Gerry Byrne, Ian Callaghan and Roger Hunt.’
Milne did not start well. His first-team debut was against Southampton in a Second Division match at Anfield a few weeks after joining the club. It ended in a 1-0 defeat.
‘I always remember Joe Fagan, who was number three behind Shanks and Bob Paisley, coming to me. Joe had a different nature from the other two, a softer nature. Joe said, “The manager thinks it’d probably be better if you had a little spell in the reserves. Moving clubs is a big thing.”
‘In those days you didn’t challenge things. There wasn’t the arrogance among players there is now.’
After that faltering start against Southampton, Milne would become a key member of one of the great teams of English football in the twentieth century. He made more than 200 appearances for the club, helping them win League titles in 1964 and 1966.
In 1966, as an international player, he narrowly missed out on selection for England’s World Cup-winning squad.
Milne has mixed memories of the loss to Southampton on his debut.
These include being driven to Anfield by his dad with his mum and Edith, his wife-to-be, coming along, too.
‘There was no meeting at a hotel or anything like that. You just turned up at the ground. It was a wet night, we parked in a side street and walked to the ground.’
When they went back to the car after the game, they found it jammed in by other parked vehicles.
‘Now I’d just signed for Liverpool and we’re standing there wondering what to do. Some fans came by who recognised me. “Oh, there’s Gordon Milne. Let’s go and help.” And they bounced the car out. They bounced it so my dad could get the front of the car out. “Don’t worry about the game,” they said. “It’s only your first game.” All this sort of stuff. Typical Scousers.’
This is an edited extract from When Footballers Were Skint by Jon Henderson / @hendojon published by Biteback Publishing and now out in paperback.