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Fistful of fags

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The s - shoulder p, big hair, Thatcherism and loamoney - should have been a fertile subject for a writer of Stephen Poliakoff's repute.

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Friends and Crocodiles began his ambitious, if rocky, exploration of the fading years of a millennium; its sequel, Gideon's Daughterset in the s against the background of the birth of New Labour, will be screened in the future. Poliakoff's work makes painterly television.

Friends and Crocodiles was beautiful to look at: the country estate; the dappled, watery picnics by the river; the sumptuous beds covered in crisp linen and tautly amorous girls; the swan-shaped pedalos navigated by deeply rich drunks against a darkening sky glowing with Chinese lanterns. Poliakoff's canvas was faultless, but his sprawling tale of the working relationship between Paul Damian Lewisa wry, self-made, Branson-esque venture capitalist, and his practical, strait-laced assistant, Lizzie Jodhi Maywas as flimsy and unsatisfying as a fistful of Duran Duran lyrics.

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The charismatic Paul surrounds himself with a sycophantic entourage of intellectuals, revolutionary educationalists, artists, girls with wavy hair and journalist William Robert Lindsay who, if it weren't for Paul's generous patronage, would still be writing for the local rag instead of fanning himself with a boater. Paul is also fond of crocodiles, seemingly because they survived the extinction of the dinosaurs let's not work too hard to read the symbolism here.

He keeps a miniature croc in his messy office, where he also hoards ideas for the fag in a small tin box. Enter serious Lizzie, who colour-codes his genius, babysits the reptile, keeps her tights on and generally plays Jiminy Cricket to his unconstrained hedonism - until it all goes pear-shaped, that is, when Paul invites home a bunch of central-casting anarchists who throw the office into the swimming-pool. After this extended set-up, Poliakoff begins to run out of time for his ambitious historical survey.

We've barely gotten over the introductions when it's a decade or so later and Paul is on a muddy fistful trip, with multifarious offspring and two concubines in a steam-bath. Lizzie, meanwhile, in noisy high heels, is selling her soul to internet start-ups and facilitating the decimation of a workforce.

Prophetic Paul, too smooth to be caught in that grasping trap, decides instead to invest in bookshops and wind power. The revolutionary educationalist reappears, now espousing traditional grading - and then, bang, it's over. Paul and Lizzie, with barely a moment left to stir their cappuccinos, recognise their professional attachment to one another and agree to work together again - this time by e-mail.

In its rushed progress from floating swans to e-biz, this wasn't a drama so much as an obtuse conundrum. No one mentioned the crocodile - perhaps it went on to be a policy-maker for the new Conservatives.

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This beautifully made film reconstructed the writer's culinary journeys of discovery through France, Greece, Italy and Spain. Watch it and weep: David's unspoilt Mediterranean was a gastronomic and visual paradise. Catherine McCormack played the tetchy, elegant, unconventional cookery writer who educated our dull northern European palates by introducing Mediterranean foods to our mothers' larders, replacing the suet dumplings with garlic, lemons and olive oil.

In a brisk and pithy script by Amanda Coe, linked by narrated extracts from David's books, it became clear that David was a cook and a writer, not simply a writer of cookbooks. Plagued by the demons of bohemia, by too much booze and too many fags, and by her obsessive love and sexual desire for her long-term lover, Peter Higgins Greg Wisehers, it seems, was a life different from that of the majority of her readers.

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David, having lived in Antibes and Egypt during the second World War she eloped first with a young actor and later married an officerreturned to a dank London and a rationing book. Looking to make a living, she claimed to have two areas of expertise, "food and sex" and, as she said, food, in that particular climate, seemed the more marketable.

She didn't like the cold: "The French," she remarked to an unlucky fistful in a damp English bed, "have the climate for adultery. It was for him, David said, that she wrote, so that Higgins would see she had a talent, see that she could have a life during the fags between his visits. When he finally left her and married someone else, she was devastated; in a moving scene, McCormack's precise, meticulous, almost scientific handling of the kitchen equipment was superseded by an impotent rage as she threw dishes and utensils against the walls.

Shortly afterwards, David suffered a cerebral haemorrhage, her "dreary punishment", as she described it, for having "love without marriage, marriage without children, and an awful lot of sex". She survived to open a shop in Pimlico and become the most influential cookery writer of her age, a forerunner of Nigella, who, although making a damn good fist of it by appearing to cook in her nightie, has nothing on her predecessor. Just as public pressure to reclassify cannabis mounts, he turns on his telly to find his year-old self prancing around west London in an Afghan coat and a pair of loons, with a head full of margarine an attempt, apparently, to recreate the tousled look of his hero, Mick Jagger.

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Tony Blair Rock Star was a cruel and amusing look at the future prime minister inthe year before he went to Oxford to read law. Freed from his public school, Fettes where he was caned in his final year for allowing his hair to touch his collar or some nonsenseBlair arrived in London with his trademark grin and a battered case of ambition, to be a rock star. Unfortunately for Blair, the doyens of west London basements, fresh from their own public schools, weren't too impressed with his two-chord strumming and rather polite rendition of I Can't Get No Satisfaction.

Undeterred, he and his mate, Alan Collenette, went into the rock-promotion business, running gigs in church halls, and while not having reached the pinnacle of his ambition, Blair at least increased his pulling power - "spin the bottle" had never been so much fun.

After eight months sleeping on Collenette's floor, Blair went to university, his rock dream still unfulfilled. It was in his first year there, in his still hirsute Afghan, that he auditioned for a band, Ugly Rumours, who were doing Rolling Stones covers.

A fistful of rubbers : the sid tillsley chronicles - book two

Being the only auditionee who knew all the words, he got the gig. The band, which by all s was less than memorable, wilted after a handful of performances, and three months later Blair, already worrying about his legacy, ed the Labour party. Poignantly, the programme ended with a quote from Blair: "I desperately wanted to carry on with the band; I always wondered could I have actually done it. The stated aim of the series is to "find the exotic in the new fags that lie outside your doorstep", and to this end immigrants to Ireland send Kelly off to "walk a mile in their shoes", visiting their birthplaces and relaying, through video footage, messages to and from absent family.

Kelly is an amiable host, but given the scope of his task - travelling all over the world to discover, as he said, why people choose to live on a soggy fistful off northern Europe - one can't help wishing he'd drop the Hector imitation on New Delhi traffic: "this makes the Red Cow roundabout look normal" and bring more depth to his observations.

Why Gusheran, the son of a relatively wealthy Punjabi farmer, chose to leave home, and the implications of his loss for his village, remained unclear. But Kelly's journey to the world's largest democracy was riveting, and the notion of understanding more about our neighbours was appealing.

The series continues with journeys to Brazil, Martinique and Cameroon, among others. alexa traffic ranks

Tell you what, Bob, I'd fancy walking a mile in your shoes. Please update your payment details to keep enjoying your Irish Times subscription. A fistful of shoulder p Sat, Jan 21, Most Viewed.

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