Mr Goodwin, Mistletoe & Wine and the compelling case for temporary knighthoods
✒I very much like the idea of withdrawing knighthoods. Why not make them all temporary? Few of us expect to have the same job all our lives, or drive the same car, or live in the same house. And just as members of the public can write in to nominate people who deserve honours, we should be able to suggest the names of those who ought to lose their gongs. I’m sure you have a few ideas yourself. If not, why don’t you take a train to Manchester at a busy time, and ponder “Sir” Richard Branson?
(By the way, I was surfing the net, looking for videos for the Guardian’s excellent online feature, Old Music, when I found myself at Amtrak, the American railway. Riding on the City of New Orleans, as in the famous song, all the way from Chicago would cost $115 for the 927-mile trip – £73, or 8p a mile. Riding on the Branson Pendolino to Manchester from Euston at peak time, standard class, costs £126, or 64p a mile.)
Then we could reverse all the usual cliches. The Sir Fred Goodwin figure would arrive at Buckingham Palace with his family smartly dressed. He’d smilingly show off the medal, or whatever it is. Then he would go inside, kneel in front of the Queen, who would lift her sword from his shoulders, and announce, “Arise, Mr Goodwin!”
And how about stripping Sir Cliff Richard too, as punishment for Mistletoe & Wine?
✒I went to the huge annual Australian wine-tasting the other day. It’s been a difficult year or so for the happy country – drought and the strength of their dollar have pushed prices up fast, and allowed the French to reclaim some of their market share here.
One way the Aussies have fought back is with bizarre names, no doubt in the hopes of catching attention on the shelves. Here are a few of their wines: Skuttlebutt, The Opportunist, The Pugilist, Bootstrap, Giles, Riposte, Ten Miles By Tractor, Skillogalee, Running With Bulls, The Last Straw, The Cover Drive, and The Trial of John Montford, which sounds more like a novel than a bottle.
Mind you the most off-putting wine name I know is Fat Bastard, and that’s made in France.
✒On my desk lands a slim volume, called Among Booksellers, by David Batterham, who I have never met, and of whom I hadn’t even heard. He has collected all the letters he sent from his travels, mainly round Europe and America, to his friend, the artist Howard Hodgkin.
It is a strange book, but beguiling – you meet the weird people who inhabit the world of antique bookselling (my friend, the late Derek Brown, loved old books, and fantasised about a rare book shop with a sign, “All incunabula in this bin, £5,000″). And there are old crones serving terrible meals in French hotels, crab‑like people who try to cheat him but halve their prices when he insists, the discovery of amazing volumes he can sell in London for 10 times what he paid. I expected to toss it aside, but couldn’t put it down.
The book is, of course, self-published. Something such books usually have in common is that there is one really interesting section. They were in Bomber Command, or had a spell playing the piano in a Turkish brothel, or worked with Margaret Thatcher. One of these days, if I have time, I shall read a hundred of these books and put the good bits into a single volume. (The authors will cheerfully sign over the rights, since they will think it will sell some of the 4,927 books they have left over from the 5,000 they had printed. But of course no one will buy their book, since they’ll know they’ve already got the only interesting part.)
The fascinating bit in Mr Batterham’s book is about the Duke of Edinburgh, who apparently is a bibliophile. He has a secretary who orders books for him. “The duke keeps a cupboard of goodies, such as the books he buys from me, so that people who want to give him a present can choose something he is known to like! Then they buy it from him, and give it back.”
What a wonderful idea! You get both the present, and the money.
“Happy birthday, Simon! What would you like?”
“Let’s see what we have in the cupboard. Ah yes, how about this signed first edition of Pride and Prejudice? Or a