Sunday, 31 March 2013

My brush with Boris

I am not a person who has many claims to fame.  I have never done anything notorious nor have I met many very famous people. To be honest, I'm not that interested in meeting the rich and famous - the ones I have had a minor brush with have turned out to be a bit of a disappointment - they're always so much smaller than they look on screen and the tales that some of my TV and film industry friends tell are enough to make you think that success in those worlds is entirely based on a predisposition to massive fuckwittage.

Consequently, a phone call a couple of years ago from a harassed sounding PA with a heavy Russian accent requesting that I set up a meeting between her boss and mine didn't do much to ruffle my feathers.  Although I'd heard of Boris Berezovsky and I was certainly curious at the prospect of coming face to face with one of Russia's most notorious ex-patriot oligarchs, here in deepest, darkest Surrey we are inured to the rich and famous and have a tendency to view them as a bit of a pain in the arse most of the time.  But I had never witnessed wealth and status on this level.
Boris Berezovsky - note the heavy in the background
Three identical, blacked out limousines swept into the car park.  A black Range Rover stationed itself outside the entrance.  Out of each limousine sprang bodyguards straight out of central casting - close cropped hair, black suits, white shirts, black ties, mobile phones clamped to one ear and a large bulge under one armpit.  They surveyed their surroundings before a series of grunts and nods passed between them and they opened the doors of the cars to let the occupants out. I introduced myself.  Mr B was warm and twinkly and instructed me to call him Boris.  He had that trick that some very successful people have perfected - that of looking intently at you, making sure that they use your name immediately and holding onto your hand for just a couple of seconds too long.  So Boris exerted his not inconsiderable charm, introduced the people who had come with him and headed into his meeting.  I learned later that he and his associates use separate limos to minimise the threat of kidnap.  

It's another world - one which makes me ponder how you get to the level of Boris, Abramovich, Patarkatsishvili et al from their humble beginnings.  I imagine the answer would be by ducking and diving and employing many none too savoury business methods - like arbitrage, for example.  Coincidentally (ahem) this is the latest Richard Gere film and what I had intended to write about until Boris hijacked the headlines.

The Shah and I have seen Arbitrage and I find it pretty much impossible to review, given that I fell asleep in it twice, it was so riveting.  As the Shah reported gleefully afterwards "you were snoring away at one point!" 

Anyway, I have always been somewhat ambivalent about Mr G, never quite got it.  American Gigolo?  Meh. An Officer and a Gentleman? Mayo....NAISE. And don't start me on Pretty Woman - there's nothing I enjoy more than a movie that glorifies prostitution. However, I really didn't expect the level of self aggrandising nonsense that accompanied his recent appearance on the Graham Norton chat show here in the UK. Just watch the first minute or two of this...

Now Graham Norton is hugely successful over here and gets all the big names to appear on his show.  Up until now, the majority of them have managed to give the appearance of being fairly reasonable human beings, if occasionally tired and emotional (I'm talking to YOU, Mark Wahlberg :))  Which begs the question, WTF did Richard Gere think he was doing tramping round the studio glad-handing the (largely torpid) audience?  Probably I'm just too British and up myself but it made me (and those watching with me) cringe.  If you can be arsed to watch the whole show, you will also be able to enjoy his attempts to make Norton look stupid by claiming not to understand straightforward questions and generally act as though he resides somewhere on the twat spectrum.  All of which makes me think that my TV and film industry friends probably have a point...

Thursday, 14 March 2013


Welcome to my very first film review.  Sleep easy Barry Norman.

In the wake of its Oscar win and many rave reviews, the Shah and I took ourselves off to see Argo the other night.  Not for us thlocal chain cinema flea pit with its revolting pick 'n mix that a thousand snotty fingers have pawed and its vom-inducing nachos adorned with a slick of greasy yellow slime.  Oh no - not for us the multi-screen behemoth with its tacky carpets, chavvy clientèle and the car park that saw a drive-by shooting not that long ago,- oho no m'lud.  We took out a small extra mortgage and sallied forth to our local Everyman Cinema which is nowadays adorned with comfortable sofas and dinky little tables on which to rest your over-priced Chablis, darling.

But to the film.  I have to admit that Ben Affleck with slightly long hair and a full beard is surprisingly gorj which was an added bonus as the rest of the cast were very convincingly attired in proper 70s over-sized spectacles, frizzy perms and what the Shah likes to call "fuck off collars".  These are so named because they are so ludicrous you take one look at them and go fill in the blanks.

I'm not going to re-hash the plot here, (yes I know I said it was a film review but whatever) save to say that the film concerns the fate of six American citizens who managed to slip away from the US Embassy in Tehran when it was stormed by militants and then had to be got out of Iran pdq.  It also details the preposterous plot that was cooked up by Hollywood to effect that rescue.

I wasn't expecting to be enthralled but I was.  I wasn't expecting it to be edge-of-the-seat gripping, but it was.  Modern day footage was very cleverly inter-cut with newsreel of the time in pivotal scenes, such as enraged Iranian militants chanting and protesting outside the embassy building and it brought back many memories of those days and of how, being so young (ahem) I was pretty disinterested in all that stuff going on, on the other side of the world. It seems extraordinary to me now that I couldn't have cared less - but I guess that was then and this is now and I have a good many more years on the clock in 2013.

Most of all, I wasn't expecting the film to be laugh aloud funny but, surprisingly, it was - in many places.  There has, of course, been a lot of online debate about its historical accuracy, yaddah, yaddah, yaddah -  I'm not getting into that - I enjoyed it.  The end.  So, here's a trailer, featuring a good deal of the lovely Ben and to quote one of the running jokes in the film - Argo and see it!

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Mo Better Blues

Mo Better Blues is, of course, a film starring Denzel Washington, about a Blues musician.  It has naff all to do with the contents of this post, but you know me dear readers and my love of a punning headline. 

This post is actually about...well, I'm not going to tell you because the topic is so dry, you will navigate away from the page in a heartbeat.

I was inspired to write it because of my experiences and those of a lady whose name I have forgotten.  I heard about her story on the BBC Breakfast News programme this week.  This is what happened.

Florence (for want of a better name) had been a long-time and loyal customer of Nat West Bank (henceforth to be known as Nat Worst Bank).  She had bought her insurance from them every year, happily renewing her policies, innocently assuming that her loyalty was being rewarded by the offer of the best prices.  This year she was charged around £1000 for her house insurance.  She happily paid up.  Then she got talking to one of her neighbours who was astonished and told her that she too was with Nat Worst Bank, lived in a house identical to Flo's and had paid the princely sum of £300 for her insurance.

Aghast, Florence phoned Nat Worst.  And what was the outcome?  Did they say "Hands up!  You've rumbled us - it's a fair cop!"  Did they feck.  They lived up to their well-deserved reputation as grasping, manipulative, avaricious b'stards and told her to naff off.  It wasn't until Flo approached BBC Radio 4's Money Box programme which took up cudgels on her behalf that they grudgingly offered her the same deal as her neighbour.  To her credit, Flo told them what they could do with their offer and, via a price comparison website, sourced the right product for £200.

Hearing this, I decided to shop around for my pet insurance this year (having lazily let Mr Tesco renew without caring last year).  Lo and behold, I found a product half the price of the Tesco offer.  So I rang them to cancel.  I got put through to a call centre and a charming young man called Mo.  This filled me with a warm fuzzy feeling because it always brings to mind Mo Farrah, Olympic Wunderkind.
You paid HOW much?
So I told Mo that I wished to cancel my insurance policy and he affected mortification, distress and borderline hysteria before offering me about 10 million Clubcard (Loyalty) points, a price reduction of approximately a third and various other goodies.  This annoys the life out of me. If you can do it for me now, why not previously? You grasping, manipulative, avaricious b'stards.

Mo was vaguely apologetic but clearly sensed that he had lost the sale, so babbled a bit about calling the bank to cancel the direct debit and hung up.

Which of course, left me with Mo Better Blues.