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Thursday, April 17, 2003


Apart possibly, from new orders saying you can go home, nothing could be, I am sure more welcome in Iraq, amongst our service people, than the arrival of a truck like this heaving with blue polythene bin bags. We know, from the regular e mailed Battlegroup updates we get, just how much parcels and mail (blueys and e blueys) from loved ones at home, mean to our service people. Priceless in terms of raising morale and providing much needed glimpses of normal life especially, no doubt, in 'billets' that must leave them wondering how the country ever got dubbed the cradle of modern civilisation.

Now, very probably, when they're off duty, Steve and his pals are developing their sun tans. But you know, intuitively that this all expenses paid vaccation to sunny Basra, in terms of living conditions, must be the definitive package holiday from hell. They have plenty of sun and sand of course, ( alas the tide's always out) and the bare luxury of walls and a cooling roof over their heads, but their modern hotel leaves all to be desired ,in every other respect, in terms of a cosy home-from-home.

These are uncomplaining, resourceful professionals who know how to make the best of roughing it. Adversity is the great educator and leveller in terms of what an individual truly values and the raising of awareness of how much in common we all have. There is great empathy with Iraqi civilians and I am sure too, with it, greater appreciation of just how lucky we all are back home with the everyday things we take so much for granted. The gutted hotel shell's one real luxury is, I hear, its concrete floor. Sandals, shorts and picnic hampers are not, alas, standard issue. Walk, mentally, a hot holiday mile in army boots and full uniform; feel the strain on the ankles and calf muscles through shifting sand underfoot to appreciate the simple pleasure of footfall on something more concrete! We will have to wait until Steve comes home with his photographic souvenirs and personal accounts of his experiences to get a fuller flavour of what it was really like.

Known as Operation 'Iraqi Freedom' in the United States, the British, possibly because we are a nation of avid newspaper readers, fans of crosswords and the word board game Scrabble, opted for a more cryptic code name Operation 'Telic'. Telic, derived from Greek, sent most of us looking for a good dictionary!

Brits and others can access general information about all our armed services and their work,as well as official photographs from the Iraq conflict, at the Ministry of Defence website which can be accessed by clicking on this picture link.

Here, on the home page, you will see the following picture link

Click on it and scroll down to the photo galleries link. You will find here, a regularly up-dated collection of high resoluton photographs organised in catagories (delivering humanitarian aid, operations on sea, land, air and preparation and training.)


I can't help but admire most of the journalists, whatever organisation they were working for, who covered the war, but especially those embedded with and sharing the real discomfort and danger firsthand. But, somewhat crazily and trivially, as the action dies down and becomes less news-worthy, papers here are begining to speculate about the relative star qualities of individual journalists in terms of their authoritativeness, the quality of their reflections and interpretions of what they witnesed and gave us to camera. One front runner here, a BBC man, is tipped for the Iraq Oscar, but there seems to be as much column footage discussing his looks as is devoted to his journalism. He wouldn't come anywhere in my list of who deserves an award if we really need one.

As a past fan of BBC News, it became clear to me, during this conflict, the organisation ( not most of its professional correspondents on the ground ) had become complacent; it was at last obvious that it previous status as a global neutral authority had taken a severe pounding.

This was especially evident back at the studio as it filtered, often second-hand, incoming news and so very cautiously interpreted it. It was, I felt, out of touch with the competition and the daily papers were openly acusing it of bias, notably the broadsheets.(So called 'quality' newspapers, the preferred read of the 'chattering classes' over here, as opposed to the bigger circulation tabloids) I watched, almost exclusively, the more reliable Sky News, or ITV News, whose teams seemed always to be either more in or at least up with the action as it happened and no one fronting back at their studios looked as apparently bored and dispassionate as did some BBC presenters.

Ultimately, this war was unique in the way that live television cameras seemed just about everywhere, and that meant that the journalists and their words, at times, were almost superfluous and images did the talking for them. A lot of the mythology of warfare has gone for good as a result and especially the myth of safety, through technological advantage, because we know, even if we shouldn't need telling, that it falls down , in the end to how individuals react and perform their duty, often under extreme pressure.

Three reports stick in my mind above all others, though there must be countless other incidents that we will never know about. These provided first hand insight, at the individual level, as if you were there, thanks to some unsung gutsy cameraman, seeing it through his eye-lens. Fox News had Greg Kelly in the thick of it as tanks rolled for the first time into Baghdad. We saw also, I think, from the same source, a live skirmish with hand to hand fighting that really gave you a sense of the courage, mutual concern for each other, and professionalism of soldiers. It wasn't sanitised, it wasn't Hollywood. Then there was John Simpson's cameraman, making news as he recorded it, with that unforgettable image of him wiping his own blood from the camera lens as blue on blue fire scored a direct hit.

Another lasting memory will be those impromptu interviews, along the way, with predominently relatively young marine infantry men from both the US and UK forces who showed equally re-assuring courteous gallantry and dignity as they calmly tolerated the journalists, spoke modestly and then got quietly on with their jobs. No sign mercifully,of Bruce or Sylvester here; no role for macho prima donas, just disciplined team players.
johncoxon 2:19 PM - [Link] - Comments ()
Wednesday, April 16, 2003


Thinking again about the silly
Turner Prize and the questions that asks about 'what is art?', the Turner prize and the Tate Gallery in particular, seem often to focus on arty-farty trivial things with one thing in common. The works rarely 'speak for themselves' and either require explanation or essentially beg the question 'what is art?', because so many of the new the things just can't be art if you are reasonable sane.

The whole business, these days, it seems to me, is completely subjective pretending to be objective, and, yet, alas, are more and more tied up with government grants, patronage, politics, profit, and sensationalism. The latter is the cheap, fiscal led, fast track; at worst, putting the modernists against the 'romantics' and very probably the neo-romantics ( those that draw paint and sculpt things that you can recognise, would pay for, and would invite into your home.)

There is no longer the self-destructive imperative to be content to starve to death in a garret but you sometimes wonder if, in the light of opus, old world values, like hard work, craft and imagination have gone out the window. The muses used to visit and drive people on; now I am not sure whether to be amused', bemused, confused or abused by some of this outrageous stuff.

At the risk of being subjective, (and how can person genuinely not be in most things,)the better new works have that courteous, unpretentious undefinable 'I like that, clearly modern, but I am not sure why it is pleasing' quality . Then there is that huge, alternative catalogue of 'works' that puzzle for all the wrong reasons; make you think 'How many minutes did that take to do ?, and 'I could have done that'( did something similar in nursery school ) [kindergarten] and would be too embarrased to parade it as serious art!

With these works, out goes one notion; the idea that you expect an artist to have skills that are better , in the field, than Mr. Pedestrian. Consider, for example, that genre that look like mocking colour samples on white canvases, where they look like the average householder amateur decorator, armed with paint pots and a roller, could have done as well!

Modern galleries have things that please, amuse and beg genuine questions and respect, and which posterity will very much appreciate and, charitably, you hope that this is a feature of the majority of things that get a permanent exhibit. Then there are those hangings or standings that come with the distinct feeling of 'You really think anyone would want to buy this or take it seriously?' and a sense that the artist is laughing very loudly, at you, all the way to the bank.

When I was an early teenager, at a private independent school, we had no idea how priviledged we really were to have an art teacher called Mr. Russell. He had the look of Claude Monet, I liked to think, in his latter years.(If you could imagine Claude stretched upwards, thinner and taller you'd get an idea of what he actually looked like.) He had desheverelled longish hair, an amazing white beard, looked like an refugee from Montmartre and of course sported a wardrobe of corduroy, (all unironed and looking as if he dressed from a charity shop.) He had no control over the boys (it was a single sex school)of course but was a masterful, old school , locally grown, very, very good landscape artist working with great skill,equally, in oil, water colour, charcoal or pencil, with consumate ease. He probably was forced to teach simply to survive because we gave him a hard time. You knew instinctively that he had never had a teacher training day in his life, but oh how he modelled what we should do. He showed us a range of classical and twentieth century masters and I recall being miffed that, having shown us a range of modern abstracts, he was totally unimpressed with my designs. He raved enthusiastcally over those of my friend Richard and I just could not see why.

And now, as we come, close to my 53rd birthday, I offer the electric blue abstract image that heads this entry and is all my own work. Had I produced it in 1963 , Mr Russell would, I am sure have liked it. 'Not great but, sort of modern abstact, maybe promising' might have been his eight-out-of-ten comment.

Now the above image is, as you will immediately recognise , sort of modern, and I suggest a significant work of Art.

I'm not chiefly known as an artist, but, on seeing the image recently, a notable local art academic and gallery owner commented. 'the electric, threatening blue, as I see it, represents man, insignificant under the endless expanse of sky and no longer at one with the universe, or understanding of it. He is imprisoned under it. The stark black geometric patterns symbolise man's imprisonment on earth and the constraints diseasing the modern mind , enmeshing and holding in the spirit and imagination.'

I have to confess that I made that bit up and in fact it is a cropped digital photo. I was at the riding school, bored with watching the lesson and went, armed with my digital camera,looking for things to photograph. I stood directly under a huge electricity pylon and snapped upwards, not expecting a result in the dimming evening and, by luck rather than design, given the limitiations of available light and my little in-built flash, I had a reasonable picture and wondered what to do with it.

johncoxon 11:42 PM - [Link] - Comments ()

DANDELION (Taraxacum dens-lionis (Desf.),Leontodon taraxacum (L.),

The dandelion is a beautiful, tough and amazing plant but it is victimised by gardeners especially, simply because it is the most prolific, invasive weed in Britain, (a weed being a flower or plant growing where it is not wanted.)

It bears a rich yellow flower; a gorgeous sunburst of small petals, ( scientifically speaking ligulate bisexual florets) and when it bears seeds, each domed head is a myriad of delicate gossamer-thin seed threads, called the fairy clock. Traditionally, our children pick and blow these fluffy headed fairy clocks. They count the number of breaths it takes to disperse all the seed heads and thereby tell the time. One puff for each hour.

In France, the dandelion is also known as pise en lit( wet the bed) because of the diuretic property of its leaves. It is also known by the names pee-the-bed, lion's tooth, fairy clock, blowball, cankerwort, priest's crown, puffball, swine snout, white endive, wild endive. Its humble leaves and roots are a veritable pharmacy as suggested by the derivation of its Latin name
Taraxacum, derived from the Greek taraxos (disorder),and akos (remedy), on account of the curative action of the plant. And just take look at the extract from a herbalist website in my comment box to see what this humble weed is good for !

As if the plant knows it is good for us, with all those hundreds of wind borne seeds from the 'fairy clock', it spreads like a plague. As well as it's staggering potential to multiple seed, the plant has an amazingly tough tap root and it you try to pull up a plant by hand, you inevitably leave part of the tap root beneath soil level and that , magically, produces another plant.

johncoxon 2:55 PM - [Link] - Comments ()
Tuesday, April 15, 2003
We had an e mail tonight from Audrey, Steve's lovely wife, which contained a wonderful and absolutely awesome photograph of the entire Third Battle Group, arranged, with typical military precision, displaying complete professionalism and confidence, across the Iraqi sands. The picture file was absolutely huge and I am absolutely gutted ( UK slang for upset/ devastated )that it is far too big to include here in its original size.

Naomi's dad, Staff Sergeant Steve Hanson,is somewhere in that lot, grinning, but we'll have to wait until he visits us again so he can point himself out!

I would have liked to have sent the original to Mr.Mohammed al-Sahhaf, as accurate information evidently didn't come his way an awful lot. But in his mysterious absence, I have added what I am sure he would have said, together with what the troops would have shouted back in unison, pantomime style, very loudly, to him. The use of the stencil font (for the boys reply) reflects my military background and solidarity with them of course.

Look in the comment box for a painfully reduced thumbnail of the entire Battle group photograph, which is available in its entirety, as an e mail jpeg, upon request to me . See my e mail address on the left of screen. Steve by the way, and his hardy colleagues, are now billeted in a Basra hotel. They all watched an hotel being looted and later, alas, learned that it was to be their home-from-home for at least the next three months.

The British Army are very sensitive to the welfare of their military personnel these days, especially families. British regiments are essentially extended families and officers take their welfare role incredibly seriously. The military have developed a highly efficient postal system using what are known as blueys and more recently, e mail blueys ( the latter a free internet e mail postal service) Bluey is military slang , as it is a sort of air mail, and that service uses very thin, pale blue stationery, available free from our post offices, hence bluey) and that enables loved ones to keep in touch. I have read how the receipt of these communications visibly lifts the morale of our remarkable service people, providing them with a vital sense of normality.

You might find this quote from a general letter sent home, by an officer, to regimental British families of soldiers involved in keeping the peace in Basra, informative. Steve and his people are somewhere in Northern Basra , where there is a port and an Iraqi Naval academy. I quote:

"As Y Company moved on to seize the vital power station facility, the final clearance of the Naval Academy was left to us. The main concern was to prevent the looters, but in particular to prevent them from picking up the arms and ammunition littered about the area. To this end we started forcing the looters out, and collecting together the weapons. Over the period of the next 48hrs a stockpile of over 500 rifles and machine guns, with over 80 RPG anti-tank weapons, 18 surface to air missiles, 6 anti-ship missiles and over 40 mortars up to 120mm (our largest is 81mm) was amassed.

In addition about 16 ISO containers of ammo were cleared. The academy was an Iraqi equivalent of Dartmouth or Sandhurst, but in a very derelict state, but despite this the looters continued to attempt to enter and wreck what was left. Under firm direction they were steered away, in many cases having to abandon their ill gotten gains. Stu Wickham gets a special mention, as he calmly apprehended two individuals who had picked up 2 of the afore mentioned AK 47s. He could have legitimately shot them, but to his credit and as a reflection of the high standards of professionalism being shown by all
the Fusiliers in the Company,
(Steve, gentleman soldier is assigned with the Fusiliers-John Coxon interrupts ! )confronted them and then subsequently detained them without a shot being fired. It is worth mentioning that we were stopping the looting, despite the ill advised and unprofessional comments of some individuals outside the Fusilier battle group, who commented that the British Army was there to fight not to stop looting.

Well that is a genuine quote, directly from Iraq, in personal letter form by which our officers try to keep our military families informed and which I wanted to share with you. People like Steve and his men are very typically British, strong and proud, but with their strength, comes humour, common sense, humanity, sensitivity and restraint. They are doing a great job out there, and I unashamedly salute them .

johncoxon 11:58 PM - [Link] - Comments ()

johncoxon 1:40 AM - [Link] - Comments ()
Monday, April 14, 2003

Click on above image to see the large version. The graphic art in street hoardings (billboards) and magazine advertisements are a reliable indicator of different cultural values, even though we can be sure that the advertising industry, in any country, will likely go as close to the edge as the different codes allow. Ads that are panned are usually pulled because they either cause offence or mislead and it is perhaps the ads that offend (or are deemed likely to cause widespread offence) which are most indicative of national values. This example was originally designed as a magazine perfume ad and regarded by that company as 'sensual and aesthetic' and then got just four complaints. When it was put on hoardings there was a very much larger pool of objections. It was finally ruled as o.k in a magazine context but withdrawn from street hoardings because it was sexually suggestive and 'likely to cause serious widespread offence.'

In Britain, advertisements are regulated by an independent watchdog known as the THE ADVERTISING STANDARDS AUTHORITY (ASA) Click on this name to link to their home page on a truly comprehensive web site which details amongst other relevant things, (for those interested) British codes of conduct governing advertising, their mission , composition, procedures, and detailed reports on individual adjudications. If you click on their logo, below, it will link you directly to a revealing thumbnail catalogue of 40 advertisements that the ASA judged as deviating from the accepted standards within the British Code of Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing (The CAP Code) in the year 2001.

One example to be found here is this health and safety ad from the British Safety Council that features Pope John Paul 11 in a hard hat under the motto ' The 11th commandment - always wear a condom' and I believe that this ad was responsible for more complaints than any other, certainly in its year (1995)

This ad illustrates pretty well how tricky the job of vetting can be. The ASA's adjudication acknowledged the educational good intent in the advert but upheld that it was deeply offensive to Catholics, particularly in view of the unauthorised use of an image of his Holiness and that church's ethical stance on the prohibition of contraception.

The ASA acknowledge that the actual number of complaints received for each advertisement they are obliged to investigate are actually relatively very small indeed, but warn advertisers not to take this as a justification for abdicating responsibility under agreed codes, as all complaints are taken seriously and acted upon if they break the rules even if only one complaint is received. The ASA council act as both judge and jury and is made up, currently, of eight men and five women. When you look at their record, over the last forty years, their decisions do reflect changes in values and all judgements seem reasonable and pretty even-handed.

How well would you do, as a member of the ASA dealing with the 600 complaints that this soft drinks ad generated in 1968? It features a particularly glamorous Jersey cow (rather than bull!)

Would you pull the ad? The test would, I guess, be particularly tricky for a vegetarian-bovine-feminist-activist. When you have decided, check that ASA anniversary index link to see their judgement.

Some products provide advertisers with a bit of a headache in terms of how best to promote a one-dimensional product in fresh, creative ways. No more is that dilemma more likely to arise that in the field of under-garments or anything that involves items associated with the your 'birthday suit!'

Currently the ASA are deliberating following fifteen complaints about the recent advertising campaign, 'String time', run by underwear manufacturers, Sloggi. They are promoting a new range of G-strings or thongs in a national outdoor poster campaign. The complaints, so far, are not about indecency but sexism. (Sloggi in fact produce thongs for men too)

Sloggi's latest ad features a rather tacky, soft porn ,rear view of four leggy female models in just high black stilettos with their perfectly rounded bums sticking out from their new thongs. Three of the girls are modestly wearing hats. They are all superimposed on a kind of Magic Roundabout landscape that includes artificial flowers and features one girl holding a watering can while balancing, inexplicably, on one leg. The concept is based a pun on the word 'springtime', with the facile rubric 'It's string time'. Click on this image to see the actual image to judge for yourself.

As testament to the loosening of traditional British prudery and modesty in the national consciousness, images of bare bums have already successfully run the gauntlet and now are featured prominently on T.V ads and public hoardings. Kleenex toilet tissues are running a 'Be Kind to your bum' campaign which features black and white photographs of naked male and female backsides. There is no question of them being sexist, possibly because the target audience, on paper at least, so to speak, is very evidently male and female. (Of course the images have no exemplars of unsightly larger bums, like my own, and do not include zits or dimples.

Now I have as yet not been called upon to wear a thong, I don't wear one, nor do I currently intend to, but I am particular about my underwear as many men have become in an era where you are more likely to be judged by them, by a potential partner, for example, during intimate relationship preliminaries. Many men have been forced to reconsider their under-the-trouser wardrobe in the true and certain knowledge that billowing, ill-fitting cotton under- garments, whilst, as mother said , ensuring modesty and supporting fertility, are, in fact a complete turn off. At last men have been made conscious of their underwear and very probably what it might say bout them say about them, often by their protesting partners. My own collection of Sloggi briefs are comfortable and I find them well tailored to fit my own modest needs.

The 'Springtime' thong ad will probably be allowed in magazines but withdrawn, under protest, from public hoardings. I don't personally find it comic rather than offensive , but it is ,I guess, aimed, not at women, but largely at men, especially as the style of the graphic is typical of the often ludicrous settings and coquettish posturing favoured by 'glamour photographers' in the soft-porn girlie mag industry. There are a staggering range of fantasy ads that exploit directly or indirectly the female form in various stages of undress. Almost all feature pristine female (and only more recently too, male) facial and body models to sell just about anything, and the effect of this has to be to dispirit so many ordinary people, damage their sense of self-worth. That engineered anxiety is a calculated essential in the marketing of products and brand names that promise to restore or enhance self-esteem (that such images may deliberately or accidentally help to wreck.)Now that is really offensive.

Choice of underwear and other clothing, finally, ought to be a personal one and, for me , based on what you feel happy and comfortable with. I have never really been into clothes, brand names or my outward appearances. I am open to constructive advice or criticism in terms of what I wear these days , within limits, because I choose to show due consideration for my partner's wishes as she does mine, which seems a reasonable courtesy.

I know of post-divorced single women, trying to establish a worthwhile new relationship, who have come across misguided males, whom they have kicked into touch for demanding they lose weight and invest in a thong collection. That reminds me, also, of a recent trend in marketing, over here, before Valentine's Day, where men seem to be now openly encouraged in high street shops, to buy somewhat tacky, flimsy female lingerie, including thongs, for their partners. What message that could that give out to the recipients depends on how secure that person is in their own sexuality , self-image. It inevitably may beg the question, who the gift is actually for?

Before we get too heavy, there has been a growing, and to my mind, healthy market for clothes and marital aid accessories that cater for those who want to spice up their love life by mutual consent. One company, Ann Summers, has become nationally synonymous with that industry and once traded by mail order or more commonly by home based, franchised, fun night, women only house parties. The company sees themselves as entirely separate from the seedier, under the counter side of the Erotica and Porn industry, and as supplying a worthwhile service. Typically, when they applied to establish one of there stores in the prestigious Trafford Centre Shopping complex in Manchester, it was met with a furore of righteous indignation in some quarters where this was probably viewed simply as yet further indication of the total moral decline of the country. Common sense prevailed and the store is doing very good business for the right reasons.

Finally, back to the Iraq War and an image of how the mighty have fallen. Here, someone famously infamous, who enjoyed the security of keeping private how he liked to spend his leisure time, has it exposed to the world for the first time! It demonstrates how humour can be the best therapy in helping ease tension and anxiety at home and boost morale in the field. It arrived, ironically, in my inbox, as I was finishing writing this long entry and originated from an unofficial military family support /chat group. It had the caption ' I know you want me really' but begs other original suggestions, which you might like to post in the comments box and I'd love to pass on to that group. Click the followimg link to see how the mighty have fallen

johncoxon 9:04 PM - [Link] - Comments ()


The British Sunday Telegraph's Andrew Alderson announced here today, under the heading, 'True lies' make web star out of Saddam's mouthpiece' that Mohammed Said al-Sahhaf, (known from here on as MSS, the AWOL Iraqi Minister of Information) is assured of a virtual afterlife at least in the form of an increasingly popular tribute website.JOKER IN THE PACK(This site confirms that the popular conception of Americans having no understanding of humour based on irony is erroneous!)The site started off as an American private joke between friends and, speedily, by word of mouth, began to have a life of its own.

The website is very obviously in it's infancy with a rudimentary home page with a sparse menu but all the major gems from MSS's to-camera ad-lib scripts. One page takes us to made up , humorous postcards of previous historical conflicts , annotated with the kind of deluded spin that MSS has become legendary for. New takes are found here on Waterloo, The Alamo, Gettysburg, and even the fictional confrontation between King Arthur and the hapless Black Knight from Monty Python's Holy Grail. That picture, with MSS superimposed on it, has the caption 'The Black Knight be praised, has slaughtered the infidel Arthur, who is now burning in the pit of Hell. Even as we speak the Black Knight dines at the round table.'

Elsewhere there is a page devoted to reader tributes, and there is a protest that this man, regardless of his gruesome C.V., ( nowhere mentioned) must be saved and rendered immune from Justice. Personally, I think he ought to opt for self-destruction and that would be seen in some quarters as martyrdom, but since he is already a legend in his own lunchtime, it really doesn't matter. Another page on the website (that inevitably is destined to grow and grow) suggests that Sydney Pollack is the host's nominee for the role in the film 'The Minister', predicating that one day ,Hollywood will make a movie with MSS as the hero. Reader's ideas are included on the page with , amongst others, Woody Allen and Michael Caine as alternative candidates, although, based on his recent performance at a British court, Michael Douglas has to be my favourite.

The site also has a link to another website where we can buy the new range of MSS merchandise, featuring MSS's image and his screen printed quotes on mugs and tee-shirts. Now I predict that when our national authoritative dictionaries are modified to accept new current language, the al-Saffahism will be added to our mother tongue.

Actually, already, MSS's legendary inversion of reality has been screen-printed onto tee-shirts for a North-East England football club, Newcastle United; the shirts bear MSS's image and the logo, 'Sunderland will not be relegated'. (Newcastle are regional football rivals to Sunderland, a team in dire straits and guaranteed to be relegated from their current division.) MSS has already entered our folklore and has become the new icon for ironic self-deception. The final irony is that Mohammed's last words before his disappearance may well be his epitaph. "I now inform you that you are too far from reality." he told the gathered press. Andrew Alderson's full article can be found at TELEGRAPH

johncoxon 12:01 AM - [Link] - Comments ()
Sunday, April 13, 2003

Shakespeare, in Hamlet, Act 3 , scene four, gives us the quaint English phrase ' hoist by his own petard', something to do, in that context, with him poking fun at a military man being blown up by his own slow-fused bomb, which is strange because I always thought 'petard' was related to the French verb peter, (to fart,) and thus your misfortune was to have the wind blowing in an adverse direction when you thought you had oh so discreetly broken wind or farted. It is akin to our figurative expressions 'shooting yourself in the foot' and 'scoring an own goal'. The transcript of the Michael Douglas: Zeta Jones trial reveals glaring comic examples of such self-defeating behaviours and confirms that Zeta and Michael are equally vain and ingenuous, where previously, I just thought it was Mr. Douglas Junior!

In effect, in the case of Catherine Zeta Jones , under cross examination, did far more harm to her carefully manufactured image than any illicitly taken photographs from her wedding could ever do. The pictures, she protested made her feel 'violated' because, would you believe it, they 'were badly lit and out of focus!'

Catherine, pictured so tastefully here, is a girl from the traditionally modest, and self-effacing British principality of Wales who made good and now sports a Beverley Hills drawl where, most people from that region, who migrate for pastures greener, retain something of their original accent. New money tends to fall over itself in my experience and barely conceal its own vulgarity. I bet honest natives of Swansea must be cringing with righteous indignation at the performance she made of herself in the trial. Her rebuff to the accusation that this was about money was that, that amount of money 'maybe a lot to people in this room but it is not that much to us !' Well what an endearing statement and ill-conceived like the 'trial' itself . The couple are thought to be 'wadded' with a personal fortune in the region of £250,000,000, so you guess, factually, that a million in compensation is peanuts to them . But what a stupid thing to say in public.

Catherine was about to dig an even bigger hole for herself and showed that she is very probably even more vain and misguided than her older husband, whom you'd expect to have had a little more sense. It appears that Catherine Zeta Jones was chiefly offended by a particular photograph of her eating cake. There were in fact two photographic versions of the same thing. The cake was the same but both Michael and Catherine took equal over-reactive offence at the unauthorised photograph against the more 'tasteful' authorised photo of her lovingly having cake forked into her gob by the adoring Michael. The official photograph symbolised luv because the fork was a respectful distance from her mouth, but the unofficial (you guess, slightly blurred and out of focus photograph) was career-threateningly traumatising because the same fork was so distressingly in her face and for her, was an image announcing to the world, ( which she felt required her perfect figure to be an essential part of her professional credibility) was feasting herself lasciviously.

(Funny thing is that, according to one still enamoured Welsh fan site, Michael actually presented Catherine, then his fiancée, with this
special cake on her thirtieth birthday in recognition of her achievement in winning what is , apparently, the 'prestigious' British Tap-Dancing Championship, and in recognition of all her hard work in that field. No photographs are available publicly alas, of her eating that cake, although the trial gave that sense of a couple wanting to have their cake and eating it , so to speak.

Apparently guests and ancillaries were carefully screened, on entry , even the imported male voice choir, for cameras, lest they, according to Michael Douglas's testimony, led to 'misunderstanding' or threatened 'the intimacy, beauty or joy of our wedding.'Bless!

I thought that Price ( nearly as common a surname as the ominipresent Jones and Smith in the Welsh phone book) was a great name for barrister /Q.C. acting for the defence. He had it in one, telling the couple that their lawsuit was relatively trivial, when the court, he maintained, normally, heard genuine cases for claims for damages in compensation for actual physical injury or violent death.

How, I wondered could you claim for damages, after all, which were to something unreal, an artificially mastered public image? Michael Douglas was grossly offended, as you'd expect, by that comparison and bleated that the photographer had been 'disrespectful'. Given the actual offence against the emotive string of adjectives that both she and her husband used in describing their distress,this was deeply risible.

Now I know a fair bit about weddings in my culture and essentially ( and legally) they are public events. Whether or not you are so loaded that you can buy a secure location and have a huge security net around it, there is a condition that must be legally met. Openness. Church or other doors cannot, legally, be locked during a marriage service over here, because the officiate has to invite anyone who knows of any 'just cause or impediment why the two should not be lawfully wed' to speak or, 'forever hold their peace'. Both sadly proved, on the day, each to be entirely worthy of each other and yet I would not doubt their affection and loyalty to one another. It's how the court case made them look.

Now I carry a camera most places I go and have been around at a number of weddings of truly genuine people. Compare the wedding of the Douglas's with that of one of my two lovely nieces. The couple distributed handfuls of disposable cameras for guests to enable informal photographs to be taken at the wedding and the reception. (They also had an official professional photographer who produced the standard formal stuff especially well.) But the bride and groom took such joy and humour looking over the hundreds of alternative images that the people who cared about them snapped at the time and took the slightly less 'flattering' ones with grace and a sense of humour.

I work with children who have learning difficulties and some have obvious physical differences and sometimes, if you were not sensitive you could do them a great disservice. It is all about when you actually take the photo and because I care about each of them, I try to choose my moment carefully, largely because I am aware that I am in the business of building individuals up in terms of their self-esteem and self-image. Now, it seems to me that the gatecrasher who took the illicit photos of Catherine (I don't recall Michael was offended on anyone else but his bride's behalf) did not have a brief to confirm Catherine Zeta Jone's official version of her carefully tailored and controlled self-image. Technically, on photographic paper at least, she is conventionally a very attractive woman, but not 'beautiful' in my undertanding of the word (which has to include the nature of the person-more important than the mere surface.) I guess the snapper took his chances and shot what he saw and the images were essentially real.

And when I look at photographs of myself, well I am not very photogenic, but Angela took a group of photographs that are the basis of the collage at the head of my Blog. Personally, she hates the central image of the 'me' with the fingers on jaw and the 'wildly penetrating' eyes and prefers the softer smiley ones. Mike and Catherine are relatively pretty facially and conventionally, but they are, like me, bearers of a range of looks and moods and in their professional lives they have to act out numerous roles. Look at all those people who cringe when a camera threatens to take a view of them, a snapshot! It isn't your essence that a single picture captures, it is just a moment and a clip of something much bigger and more beautiful and natural, or should be. Catherine particularly disappoints in this regard and indirectly Michael, bound of course to defend her 'honour' if it is threatented (and I suspect was the driving force in taking out this unwise lawsuit ) proved himself to be , chronologically speaking , equally naïve, spoiled and Tinsel-Town shallow.

Some people need Royals or celebrities to compensate, perhaps, for the shortcomings of their own lives and often identify and even try to copy their life style, 'fashion sense' and thus live in an equally self-destructive, fantasy-based reality. Michael's parting shot was that the wedding (carefully orchestrated and flashy) arrangements were to profess love for each other, but, ultimately, they proved themselves to be united only , in the public eye, in self- adoration.

Now Tom Jones and Richard Burton are very probably the best-known celebrities of modern times to have their humble origins in Wales, and both, it seems to me, would keep a welcome in the hillsides because they never were precious or self-deluded ; they were appreciative of their roots . Richard and Elizabeth Taylor had their thing,were surrounded with public attention and managed great things in their profession. They had good and bad publicity. I sometimes had the feeling that Richard was self-consciously 'acting' but I always loved the depth and range of his amazing speaking voice which was rooted in his Welsh culture (which still has a strong oral tradition.

Now, personally, I don't have an opinion about Catherine Zeta Jones the actress , because I have never seen any of her movies. I have seen Michael Douglas in one or two, and really very much enjoyed the comedy and boyish escapism of 'Romancing the Stone' But, having been wedded, literally, for a quarter of a century , to a woman who came from a small Welsh town, I can just hear the comments in those small Baptist and Methodist non-conformist chapels in the Welsh valleys, about that awful Jones girl who let the side down , betrayed the nation, corrupted by success and forgetting the decent earthly values of the 'Land of my Fathers'.

In the future, I am sure, both Michael and Catherine will perform before the camera very successfully, speaking lines that have been written for them, in a land clearly where they are both more safe in terms of 'credibility'.While we watch theatre or cinema, there is the notion of 'suspended disbelief'as we are drawn into the magic of theatrical artifice and accept what we see, temporarily,as real. For me Cath and Mike have now totally blown it professionally,regardless of how gifted they both are in their field,and , in the future, whatever makeup, costume or role either of them are paid to put on , they will simply be two extremely privileged, arrogant young people I won't be able to take seriously , either as themselves, or the people they are being paid so very much to portray.

johncoxon 2:52 AM - [Link] - Comments ()

john/Male/51-55. Lives in United Kingdom/Engalnd/Salford, speaks English and French. Eye color is brown. I am what my mother calls unique. I am also creative. My interests are photgraphy/local history.
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