Baroness Shirley Williams in conversation with Judith Bunting

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I’m just back from a hugely enjoyable evening at New Greenham Arts, near Newbury. It was the “Going for Gold” interview with Baroness Shirley Williams by Judith Bunting, Liberal Democrat PPC for Newbury. As usual, Shirley was supremely knowledgeable, eloquent and passionate. A real inspiration, who drew many entralled non-LibDems to the evening.

Thinking it might be an urban myth, or something I dreamt, with some trepidation I asked Shirley if it was true that she was second in line to star in the film National Velvet. She confirmed this enthusiastically and gave us the full story of how it happened. She was sent by her parents to the USA for three years, in the wake of the Nazis coming to power in Germany. The film’s producers asked film critics to choose one child for each region of the USA to go forward for the role. They were looking for a fair haired girl of 11 to 13 years old with an English accent and manner. Shirley was put forward by the critics of the US Mid West and came second to Elizabeth taylor for the role.

We also found out that Shirley ran with Roger Bannister, doing a five minute mile herself, while he was somewhat ahead with a four minute mile, of course.

Shirley gave us her very acute views on subjects such as NHS reform, the House of Lords, press reform, secret service surveillance, education, women in politics etc etc.

A fantastic evening. Well done to Judith Bunting for organising and hosting it.

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The Israeli pilot who refused to bomb a Lebanese school

imageWe spent Friday and Saturday ensconced in the 2013 Venice Biennale. As before, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

As usual, a whole host of countries had a pavilion each, showing off the best of their modern art.

If I had to choose a top two, the United Kingdom would be a number two. But, then, I’m biased and they did give us a very good cup of tea free. “English Magic” was the name of the British exhibition, which was by Jeremy Deller. It featured a lot of David Bowie and a vast painting (above) of a hen harrier clasping a Range Rover. All good fun.

My choice for number one is the Lebanese entry, “Letter to a refusing pilot” by Akram Zaatari. It features a mesmerising film, part of which is below. It tells the story of Hagai Tamir, who was an Israeli pilot in the Lebanese war who refused to drop bombs on a school.

No doubt some would ask “Is it art?”. During three days looking at the very best of modern art (we went round Peggy Guggenheim’s gaff as well as the Biennale) that question crossed my mind often.

There must be several million examples of “modern art”. Some of it is wonderful, some of it is baffling. For some reason, people always pick on Tracey Emin’s unmade bed or Damien Hirst’s rotting cow. But as well as the baffling, there are thousands of examples of vibrant, breathtakingingly beautiful pieces of modern art.

Water taxi fire vendetta in Venice

imageI’m now back from a very enjoyable long weekend in Venice. We seem to have conveniently side-stepped some sort of storm.

While in Venetia, this headline caught my eye:

Stesso palazzo in frezzeria. Nuovo incendio il sospetto della vendetta

Googly translated this means:

Frezzeria in the same building. New fire on suspicion of revenge.

The news billboard included a photo of firefighters approaching a water taxi.

Sounds like a very good case for Inspector Montalbano…although slightly out of his patch.

Lou Reed RIP

Lou ReedIt’s a bit weird sitting here hearing an Italian radio station play “Walk on the wild side”, which will no doubt receive millions of plays in the next few days.

However, I much prefer this one, which never fails to send a little (pleasurable) shiver down my spine. It’s “Perfect Day”. In many ways, it’s the antithesis of “Wild side”, which is redolent of heavy mood changing substances. “Perfect Day”, by contrast, has Reed with an innocent-sounding voice singing about a nice day out in the park, albeit with the inevitable darker undertones of “reap what you sow”. Wonderful.

The song was the B-side to “Walk on the wild side”. There’s a long article on it on the Independent web site.

Cornish boy does what comes naturally

imageEarlier this week, Stephen Gilbert MP threw a lifebelt to a woman floating past the House of Commons. It is worth remembering that Stephen is MP for one of only a few UK constituencies with two coasts and that he was born and brought up by the coast.

Due to the omnipresence of water, Cornish children tend to learn to swim very early and get a lot of practice. Awareness of the danger of drowning comes early. In my home town, there’s a river, a canal and the roaring, unpredictable Atlantic. So if you don’t learn to swim quick, you could have a short life.

So the woman who floated past the Commons was lucky there was a Cornish boy with his eye on the river. Not every MP enjoying a tipple would have reacted so quickly.

Photo by UK Youth Climate Coalition

Very good news: Yanks bugged Merkel's blower

Άνγκελα Μέρκελ, Angela Merkel: Queen of Europe, by wikipedia User:א (Aleph)Angela Merkel is the second most powerful person in the world, according to Forbes.

Yesterday this second most powerful person in the world phoned the most powerful person in the world, Barack Obama, to ask him if he had been bugging her phone. Obama said he isn’t and will not bug her phone, and is reviewing what phones were bugged in the past.

In other words, the US have bugged Merkel’s phone in the past.

Well thank goodness for that. For months it has been obvious that the spooks in the US and the UK have been allowed to get away with bugging everything that moves or makes a squeak or a click. It is not surprising that they were bugging Merkel.

Angela Merkel has previously been relaxed about the NSA/GCHQ revelations. Not any more. That is very good news, in my view. Good news for anyone, like myself, who has been and is horrified that the NSA and GCHQ are harvesting vast piles of our data on a regular basis with precious little legal restraint.

Perhaps something, now, will be done about it.