Saturday, 31 January 2009

Monet Monet Monet

I'm not convinced he's as good as Auntie Marj from Mount Maunganui, but Jim Feldman can be forgiven his harsh verdict on Vincent's talent, given he has more than a little of his own.

His "Macau Bridges" captures the atmosphere of the ex-enclave - the smog, the silty water - rather well:

Friday, 30 January 2009

Rafa Rules!

What a match! Rafael Nadal beat Fernando Verdasco 193-192, when poor old Fernando dumped a second serve in the net on match point. One particular point in the eighth game of the fourth set will remain long in the memory, with Nadal retrieving like a cocker spaniel on speed with a lime-green collar on its head.

Five hours and 14 minutes of pure magic, as two friends slugged it out, sportsmanship to the fore (we'll forget about the warning Nadal received for coaching, because I think it was only his Uncle Toni checking if he wanted snails and rabbit in his paella, and anyway it's a stupid bloody rule).

Of course, the real winner may turn out to be Roger Federer, who gets 30 hours more time to prepare for Sunday's final thanks to the Australian Open organisers putting cash before competition.

Then again, since he'll be up against tennis's bionic man, dubbed the one-man Spanish armada by Vijay Amritraj, it probably won't make a blind bit of difference, unless Federer can hit winner after winner and get 75% of his first serves in.

Tomorrow, it's the women (sort of) with Serena Williams poised to give a right hiding to Dinara Safina, the Russian with the mini beer belly who I find unaccountably hot.

Painters' Poll

In an extraordinarily close three-horse race (think Premier League if Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal were left to fight it out without the famous Man United), readers decided that facial hair does something for Cecilie, the moustache just edging out the Rafa Benitez goatee (with perplexing rant thrown in free of charge).

While in New Zealand (of which more later – I promise), I looked at some of my aunt's paintings, which were pretty damn impressive. She does them all from photographs. I asked her if she liked Van Gogh and she said she preferred Monet.

I've always associated myself with Van Gogh. The whole tortured genius thing, the brilliant, yet misunderstood artist, whose work no one valued when he was alive. (Even though his devoted brother Theo was an art dealer, only one – some say two – of his paintings were actually sold in his lifetime.)

When I go to karaoke, the three songs I always sing include "Vincent", by Don McLean. They would not listen, they're not listening still ... perhaps they never will.

The bastards.

That's why I got a blog.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Other People, With Their Differences, Can Also Be Right

One of Thomas Sowell's cheekier suggestions was that all politicians should be allowed to serve only one term. In this way, according to Sowell, you'd get better – or, at least, more attentive – governance from your elected officials, on the grounds that they wouldn't be spending most of the time trying to get re-elected.

Likewise, it's generally thought that the second term of an American President's tenure is the one in which he can concentrate on the enactment of legislation. Whether the legislation passed is to the benefit or detriment of the public is another matter.

Stuart Westley, the Headmaster (or "Master", as the post is called at my alma mater) of Haileybury in Hertfordshire, is in a similar position, bringing the curtain down on 13 years in the job this summer. In the latest edition of the school's PR magazine, Hearts & Wings, Westley gives the kiss of death to the Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) Pre-U curriculum/qualification, declaring that the present "trickle" of kids taking the Pre-U is "most unlikely" to turn into a flood.

"There is no guarantee that the qualification will be around in 20 or even 10 year' time, with the risk of leaving those who have committed to it with a qualification in worthless currency."

Ouch! Westley is of course an Oxford man.

On page 3, opposite Westley's words, is a glowing assessment of the International Baccalaureate (IB), the system my daughter is studying under, and which I am slowly trying to come to terms with. One of the aspects of the IB approach that I'm having to overcome resistance to – to say nothing of all the diagrams containing circles and arrows – is the verbiage. If the imprecision of the language used to sell the programme is a reflection of the type of instruction the kids get in the classroom (when they're actually being instructed, rather than "questioning their own knowledge" or "serving the community"), then good old A-levels present a very attractive alternative.

The IB's mission statement (reprinted verbatim by Hearts & Wings) is not imprecise so much as grandiose and utopian. I'm sure that the wording's been through focus groups and I don't doubt that most parents are "on message". What can sound nobler than kids from St Albans, Addis Ababa and Almaty "creating a better and more peaceful world" and becoming "compassionate lifelong learners who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right"?

Nothing, I suppose, except that these are the sort of lessons that you generally learn the hard way – I would say, can only be learned the hard way. Not in a classroom. Not at school. Not by comparing notes with other kids whose parents can afford £25,305 a year (fees only) to send their progeny to a place of such privilege.

The latest advertising for high-rise living in Hong Kong (with thanks to Hemlock - scroll down to Friday 23 January 2009) bears a startling resemblance to the IB spiel:

"The Metro Sophisticate. They are an interesting lot. Sophisticated. Knowledgeable. Socially, politically and environmentally responsible. Aware. Involved. Active. A breed apart, with wide-ranging interests and awareness born of open-mindedness and appreciation of different cultures."

I differ, therefore I'm right? Let's hope so.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Chinese New Year

A festival of eating and drinking began on Saturday with a very serviceable barbecue at the Kerry Lake Egret Nature Park in Tai Po Kau, south of Tai Po. The normal kind of HK BBQ fare sets you back 100 dollars a head, but you get a decent grill to cook on, nice views and minimal neighbours.

Then, it was off to the in-laws for New Year's Day, and another magical feast

served up via two gas rings by Poh Poh.

All watched over by resident deity Gwan Gung.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Heir to Throne Late Convert to Colonic Irrigation

"I think one was a little hasty to poo-poo Diana's position."

Friday, 23 January 2009

Lurve Conquers All on America's Got Talented Folks

"AWESOME!" yells David Hasselhoff. "That's showbiz! That's 'Merica!!"

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Understanding as Rejecting the Facts as They Are for Us in Favour of the Facts as They Are

"Each of us by nature sees the whole world from one point of view with a perspective and a selectiveness peculiar to himself ... We want to see with other eyes, to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts, as well as with our own ... We demand windows ... One of the things we feel after reading a great work is 'I have got out'. Or from another point of view, 'I have got in' ...

In coming to understand anything we are rejecting the facts as they are for us in favour of the facts as they are. The primary impulse of each is to maintain and aggrandise himself. The secondary impulse is to go out of the self, to correct its provincialism and heal its loneliness. In love, in virtue, in the pursuit of knowledge and in the reception of the arts, we are doing this. Obviously this process can be described either as an enlargement or as a temporary annihilation of the self. But that is an old paradox; 'he that loseth his life shall save it'."

(C S Lewis, Epilogue to An Experiment in Criticism, 1961)

Wednesday, 21 January 2009


Imagine my concern when I clicked the link for Chinadroll and she had disappeared, like Dame May Whitty in Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes, the film that also features Carstairs and Carruthers, two English blighters who keep moaning about life abroad, natives not speaking the lingo, that type of thing, what! A bit like fumie, really.

Back, though, to our blonde heroine, the Teutonic type so beloved of the Master of Suspense. What's up? Have squatters moved in? Has her chalet on Pui O been concreted over to make another car park? Did she get too close to a buffalo?

Worse of all is the cruel message that the new, and, let us pray, temporary owner has stuck up at what remains of the site. (And, let's face it, what is the site without all those promos for Cess's Canto courses?)

Can you believe it: some bastard's replaced Cess's old byline with a challenge of his own to the visitor: "Find something interesting?"

Since Lantau's own Tippi Hedren is unable to fight back at the moment, I thought the least I could do was to dedicate this week's poll to her. So, gird your loins and prepare to answer:

Does Cess look better con bigote or sans 'tache?

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Ride of the Rings

Queenstown's premier tourist attraction has to be the luge, which you to get to by taking a gondola ride. There are in fact two luge runs, one for beginners, called the Scenic, the other for people who reckon they've got the hang of it, called the Advanced, with commendable Kiwi matter of factness.

Like most things in New Zealand, if it says advanced, it means advanced, and if you go too fast, you're likely to go careening off the track into a pine forest, if you're unlucky enough to miss the rubber tyres that protect parts of the track.

Apart from that, there's not much to keep you up at the top, so we headed down for some serious mini-golf. There's an outdoor version (I got my name on the leaderboard as Hong Kong's joint leading scorer this year with a round of 50) and an indoor version, which has lots of bells and whistles. My daughter became fascinated by the mini gondolas that carried her golf ball up some fake rock-face, before depositing it on some piece of carpet miles from the hole.

On the afternoon of our second full day in the adventure capital of New Zealand (Queenstown is not for the faint of heart or the shallow of pocket), we headed off for one of the highlights of the holiday, the Ride of the Rings out at Glenorchy, the village that sits atop Lake Wakatipu.

To be precise, the ride takes place at Paradise, a sheep station that nestles at the bottom of the Dart valley.

This trail is ideal for first-timers, as you don't actually need to know how to ride, just how to sit on a horse. I was reminded of jump jockey Brian Fletcher, after he rode Red Rum to his first Grand National success in 1973. Returning triumphant to the winner's enclosure, Fletcher was lost for words, which might have had something to do with being confronted by David Coleman in a hat that was several sizes too small for him. Disarmingly modest for a man who'd already won his first National at the age of 19, Fletcher put it all down to Rummy's ability: "I only 'ad to sit on 'im," he said in a soft northern burr. "Only 'ad to sit on 'im."

Once on the trail, you get taken to or shown places where various scenes of the LOTR trilogy were shot. One of the spots is where the evil Sean Bean character (why are all the best villains Brits?) gets mown down by Orc arrows, before making a deathbed conversion and professing his secret love for Aragorn. (Who wouldn't, when Orlando Bloom constitutes the only opposition?)

One particularly boring bit of trivia shared by our leader was that every single bit of lichen, moss, liverwort, rotting log removed from the area prior to filming was lovingly replaced at the end of the shoot. Whether it was all alive – or, indeed, whether the rotting log was still dying – when they put it back wasn't made clear.

For the real inside track on the filming of the trilogy, and the tawdry way in which what HR folk like to refer to as the "human capital" was treated (as compared with non-flowering flora and non-human fauna with limited consciousness), you must wait for the next report, from New Zealand's most boring place (and that's saying something).

Monday, 19 January 2009

Bored of the Rings? Pars Tertia

"O little Town of Arrow, how stille we see thee lie."

Thus begins the great Norse legend, upon which Ruell, son of Gruel, based his epic based on the humble adventures of Pladou, son of Daglou, and his half-witted companion Sam Gungee, of no known parentage.

Centre of one of the gold rushes of the 1860s, Arrowtown attracted so many denizens of Canton that some restaurants had to severely curtail their takeaway menus, and a number even had to dispense with the maidens dressed in green, whose lot was to wander gormlessly with large foaming jugs in doomed attempts to persuade revellers to swap their Blue Girl for something optimistically called "probably the best beer in the world". Not when it doth use fetid local water, sweet hearte!

Our fellowship was put up at the Bains Homestay,

where a full English breakfast was available for those who still had room after savouring Te Anau's best Chinese fare, including goodly venison,

at the China City Restaurant. The land thereabout to the glorified B&B was like unto Hobbiton, with plentiful fruit trees, quietude all around, and the fair ways and greens of the Millbrook Golf Course, which renteth sticks, provideth buggies for the idle, and is a goodly test for the hacker without overtaxing his length.

Nigh unto Arrowtown (a one-horse hamlet with eleven eateries, including a Thai place run by migrants from the land of the rising sun, which serveth goodly and plentiful fare, and a fush 'n' chups shop run, as the whole world o'er, by visitors from Cathay) is Lake Hayes. Not much bigger than a pond, this scenic spot can be traversed in little more than two hours, without charge or fee, and without those gradients steep that bugger up those with dodgy knees.

Alas, the same cannot be said for the Town of Queens, a place full of knaves out to make a quick buck from unsuspecting travellers. Swept up by the frenzied air of activitie, we indulged ourselves in divers pastimes. As the locals warn, "Leave Arrowtown in haste, repent at lee-ja".

Our very first afternoon, we were whisked straight off to the gorge of the mighty Kawarau to sit upon 4-wheeled iron steeds powered by Suzuki and Honda for two hours of speeding through mud and water.

Great fun this be, but mighty heavy upon the pocket, setting our fellowship of three back 624 Sweetasien (or 2,680 Hong Kong) for the privilege of polluting the pristine countryside with machines fit only for Nazguls.

Like unto all the activities partaken of in Sweetasien, the instructors were of ability unsurpassed, not fussy like the nannies found in the realm of Donald the Black Dwarf, but swift to spot the talent of their charges and put them into groups such as suited them best, whilst minimising the chances of the punters buggering up their machines.

Upon the second day of our sojourn in the town of Arrow, I didst pamper my inner adventurer by going white-water rafting upon the gloriously named Shotover River. The ride thitherwards is truly spectacular and one of only three roads in Sweetasien upon which mortals are forbidden to take their chariots, with sheer drops on either side. (One of the others is Ninety Mile Beach, the bit which sticketh up like unto a hairpin from Auckland to the north, where idiots do take their cars only to see them engulfed by the mighty Tasman due to the long-attested action of the moon upon the oceans.)

Much to be recommended is this activitie (like unto all activities in the realm of Queens, it may be booked from Queenstown Rafting, a shoppe in town). "Do not try to stand in the water," exhorts the instructor in the team talk, "since your leg will bind itself under a rock, and forsooth the force of the mighty Shotover will push your head down and you will drown!"

Only after performing many manoeuvres upon the water stille was our captain prepared to let our team of seven proceed down the river, through six sets of rapids and one tunnel. The water that day was high with a grade of four, 'though next day I was told that the water had been upgraded to five, which is about as high as you'd want it, unless possessed of a wish for death you be.

My verdict? "Awesome. Wicked. Sweet as," as the locals say, in between jokes about their cousins from across the Tasman ("Please read carefully the safety instructions. We've got cartoons for the Australians," being typical of the banter displayed by the average Kiwi – and most of them are mighty average indeed).

That afternoon our quest took us to the town of Queens' most famous tourist attraction, its London Eye, save that it doth blend more pleasantly into the landscape than that ugly wheel. But seeing that I have filled nigh upon two pages with this rubbish, I will save that tale for another day.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Bored of the Rings? Part the Twain

Travelling to that portion of the common weal that is named Sweetasien in the elvish tongue and Neue Zeeland after the modern fashione, from that other parte of the weal that is named land of Austerus, home of the best balanced people in the worlde, having a chippe on both shoulders, we hired a doughty steed at the Town of Queens, in the lee of the mountains called Remarkable.

The steed, silver grey, was named Corolla, having been upgraded freely from that which we had been vouchsafed by Thrifty, son of Carrental, which rejoiced in the name of Suziki the Swift. What a felicitous start to our sojourn in Southern Sweetasien, the land beyond the Ferry at Picton!

Having stopped to water the steed as the sun was westering in the west, we were about to partake of our waybread when two wenches, each endowed with doughty gifts and keen to serve us, gladdened our hearts with talk of Glacial Rock Farmstay

just an hour's walk from Te Anau, or half a day, if you are an halfling and insist on stopping the entire bloody time to regale us with your boring stories of drinking bouts and wet T-shirt competitions in the fucking Shire.

Beautifully appointed 'tis this glorified B&B, though farmstay differs from homestay in that you must needs cook your breakfast yourself, elsewise get your missus to do it, while you stay in bed and enjoy the television that comes from the Sky. Not that you can expect all this for the price of an ale at the Prancing Nancyboy, as the landlords have three young bairns that need feeding, not to mention some fine steeds and a herd of cows I'd never heard of but which I was told are passing rare, and one night will sett you back 250 Sweetasien.

As fine a stepping-off point for Milford Sound

as you could wish, the caves of the glowing worms across the lake are well worth a visit too, though be sure to take something repellent (we used the collected speeches of Donald the Black Dwarf), as mosquitoes breed there like bacteria in the privy of a Hong Kong dai pai dong. The walk from Rainbow Reach

to Shallow Bay (parte of the Tracke Kepler) takes you across the River Anduin

by swing bridge and the journey entire (there and back again) takes you only three hours and more importantly causes no strain, neither to dodgy knee, nor to dicky ticker, yea! not even to your two-faced plastic friend, MasterSmeagol-GollumCard, who proclaims that he is "flexible", but forsooth does lie, since his flexibility extends only to your 12-year-old daughter, who thinketh that money it doth grow on trees, whereas he is in truth about as flexible as the restaurants of which Cecilie the Real Blonde doth constantly moan, which offer unto her pickled veggies e'en though she has ordered them not.

Near unto Te Anau, a little further back down the road whence you have come (being careful to observe the velocity limits, for the Sweetasien fuzz is hot as shitte about this), and clearly marked on the AA road map of the Land of the Long White Cloud, is Fangorn Forest, where John, of Rhys and Davies born, did do the voiceover for the tree that talketh exceeding slow, thus causing the last two parts of the filmic trilogy to be so very long. My little Eowyn

(that did cause the batteries in the camera digital to continuously run down on account of her habit of taking shots of every blade of grass trod upon by Peter the Fat and Bearded, son of Jack) insisted on driving down several leagues of unsealed road to reach this place, which looked to me about as nondescript as the Sandy Field whence I had come in the land of Donald the Black Dickhead. Nonetheless, the rainbow that did greet us there boded well and, that which I still can scarce believe, did send us on our way, counselling us to head north-east again, avoiding the Town of Queens (where Smeagol-Gollum had his lair), till we came to the little Town of Arrow. Of which more in Parte the Thirde.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Bored of the Rings? Part the First

I'm not an enormous fan of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. I prefer his four short stories, available from Amazon as Tales from the Perilous Realm. Even Tom Bombadil is bearable when he has his own little story dedicated to him, not least because in the "Adventures of Tom Bombadil" he appears without the most nauseating character ever to appear in print, his wife (or it is his "betrothed"? I daren't ask – 80 Tolkien aficionados will start tearing each other apart over the correct answer) Goldberry.

Her very name encapsulates the unbearable tweeness which Peter Jackson was smart enough to chop from his film version of the book, together with her annoyingly Tolkien-like husband (liege, seigneur, paramount?). When Goldberry starts singing, as Tom gambols around to the delight of Sam, Merry, Pippin and Frodo (did you know the ring-bearer was going to be called Bingo until Tolkien junior stepped in and said, "Father, knowest thou not 'tis a game played by wenches, withal?"), you know exactly where you want to stick one of her home-made oatencakes .

After reading various biographies of Tollers and the other Inklings, I now associate Goldberry with Tollers's beautiful but long-suffering wife. Tollers himself appears in at least four of the characters he creates. Besides Bombadil, who represents Tolkien as mystic and Lord of Faery, there's Frodo, Tollers as brave, young, ingenuous hero, Aragorn, Tollers as brave, little bit older, not so ingenuous as to be unaware of his sex appeal, hero, and, of course, Gandalf, Tollers as incredibly wise, if slightly intolerant, ageless-rather-than-old man-transitioning-to-immortal, with a very dry sense of humour to boot.

In case you think I'm making all this up, Tollers rewards the careful reader with some fairly powerful insights into his worldview. His attitude to women (basically good for housework and looking beautiful – I'm beginning to warm to him) is put into the mouth of Eowyn, although Eowyn would doubtless prefer Aragorn (her interlocutor below) to be filling that slot with his blade:

"All your words are but to say: you are a woman, and your part is in the house. But when the men have died in battle and honour, you have leave to be burned in the house, for the men will need it no more. But I am of the house of Earl and not a serving-woman. I can ride and wield blade, and I do not fear either pain or death."

Aragorn himself assumes the role of Socrates' pupil in the following exchange:

"'In one thing you have not changed, dear friend,' said Aragorn: 'you still speak in riddles.'

'What? In riddles?' said Gandalf. 'No! For I was talking aloud to myself. A habit of the old: they choose the wisest person present to speak to; the long explanations needed by the young are wearying.'"

But it's in the Foreword to the Second Edition of LOTR that the strength of the author's feelings comes across most clearly:

"Some who have read the book, or at any rate have reviewed it, have found it boring, absurd, or contemptible; and I have no cause to complain, since I have similar opinions of their works, or of the kinds of writing that they evidently prefer."

Tollers then gets his revenge in first against those who find three volumes unconscionably long for a simple travel tale:

"The most critical reader of all, myself, now finds many defects, minor and major, but being fortunately under no obligation either to review the book or to write it again, he will pass over these in silence, except one that has been noted by others: the book is too short."

Which is all by way of introducing my theme for the next few days: our recent exploration of some of New Zealand's Lord of the Rings sites. Travel with me as I take you to Fangorn Forest, Lothlorien, Isengard and Edoras. Nor will you have to rely on a Tolkien-sceptic like me. I will be drawing on the wisdom of two Ringphiles: Vernon from Twizel and my own daughter. She's half way through the book (ever the hands-on parent, I set her the guided reading task of counting how many times Tollers writes "westering", as in "the sun was westering"), and has watched each of the three films a staggering seven times.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Update from the Battlefront

Having donned my flak jacket and military helmet, found a helicopter I can stand next to so I have something louder than me to bellow against (my producer paid the pilot, who didn't want to waste fuel, to start it and rev it up), digged deep so I can take myself as seriously as Kate Adie (okay - I failed on this count), flown back to London so I can give an interview to a fellow journalist who aspires to be as earnest as me, I'm now able ("I'm sorry, Ulie, we're losing you") ... I'm now able ("Can you hear me now, Jon?") ... to update you on the situation here at the front as rockets fly overhead and semi-automatic gunfire pierces the cold night air as the Israelis continue their bombardment of our position. Ready ... Three, two, one. ACTION!

"600 journalists against just one Israeli platoon would seem insuperable odds, but somehow we're holding out. Even as I speak, though, I can just make out through the tobacco smoke that one laptop has gone down. Yes, I can confirm. One laptop is down. I hope to get an interview with the distraught journalist later, but for now, back to you in the studio, Jon. "

"Thank you very much, Ulie. I''m afraid we're losing you, but could you update us on the latest position? Is Gaza hanging on to its slim lead in the polls?"

"Yes, Jon, but it's very much touch and go. Israel has just launched another offensive, President Sarkozy has retaliated with some offensive comments of his own, both sides just want to see his wife in the nude, and no one, I repeat no one, has asked a journalist what they think for the last half hour."

"Very grim, indeed, Ulie. And any chance of other Arabs supporting the citizens of Gaza?"

"People on both sides are talking about miracles, Jon, but I think we need to keep it sensible."

"Thanks, Ulie. That was Ulie reporting for Anointed TV in Gaza."

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Gaza or Israel?

I generally shy away from controversial areas like religion, sex and politics, but, buoyed by the staggering response to the Christmas Tree Lights Issue, shaded by the flashers by a single vote, I thought I'd ease my way into this minefield with a relatively non-inflammatory question.

Don't pass up this chance to get in touch with your inner freedom fighter. No hiding behind human shields, please.

Moonlit Sanctuary

If you're in Melbourne or the Mornington Peninsula, it's well worth making a trip to the Pearcedale Conservation Park. We went on the longest day of the year to the Moonlit Sanctuary, which is essentially the name given to the after-hours tour that features the park's nocturnal animals.

A number of these are extinct on the Australian mainland, and may well be extinct soon on Tasmania, as only recently an idiot let loose on the island 16 foxes: eight vixens and eight dog-foxes. At least you can't call this mindless hooliganism. The park operates a simple yet effective defence against foxes in the shape of a special fence. First, it's twangy, like a guitar that hasn't been played for years, so the pests can't climb it. Second, it's high enough so they can't jump it. Third, wire mesh is laid flat along the ground 60 centimetres out from the fence so they can't dig under it. I asked our guide, Michael Johnson, whether the foxes don't just start their tunnelling a bit further out, to which he replied that they hadn't got that smart. Yet.

On the two-hour tour you'll see a few animals you recognise – wallabies, kangaroos, a sulphur-crested cockatoo, a koala, a dingo, an owl (a representative of the world's second largest species) – plus a host that you won't (unless you're David Attenborough), such as the ring-tailed possum, the eastern quoll (a sort of weasel – don't try and feed this one), and (featured below) gliders, a wombat and the comical owlet-nightjar. You can get up close and personal with these fellows with chunks of corn or, in the case of the nightjar, some kangaroo sushi.

There are also quite a few mosquitoes, so be sure to wear trousers and long sleeves, and take repellent.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Mamma Mia!

My holiday down under ended in a whimper when I finally caved in and decided to watch Mamma Mia! on Cathay's little TV Screen. Think RoadShow without annoying females called Yannes and Vanni making vaguely obscene hand signals at you in between the ad for skin whitener and the revolting one where you get to see someone's skin being sheared off as their wrinkles are ploughed up and filled with Polyfilla.

Mamma Mia!
has got to be one of the flimsiest films ever made. Flimsy, as in the nightgown some fifty-something-year-old with saggy mammamiaries wears, regrettably, rather than a negligee you slide off the nubile shoulders of a hot teenager.

The movie is little more than a Meryl Streep vehicle – A Streepcar Aimed No Higher. I like Meryl Streep as an actress. I loved it when she was going through her accents phase: Pohliish in Sophie's Choice, awfry English as The French Lieutenant's Woman, and a real sheilah as Lindy Chamberlain in the dingo movie. (Did you know dingoes are an endangered sub-species, owing to the fact that they like doing it with other dogs?)

She even gave a creditable singing performance in one film, whose name escapes me, where she belts out a number in the finale. Unfortunately, this went to her head and when the offer came to sing and dance her way through this menopausal "hen flick" she jumped at it. If there's one type of film I can't abide, and can't understand, it's the musical sung by amateurs. Think Moulin Rouge, where Nicole Kidman and Ewan Macgregor had a ball at the expense of the audience.

Of course, lots of people (mainly women of a certain age and state) love the film, which manages to trivialise and sanitise divorce, marriage and growing old, while attempting to raise mediocrity to an art form. Piers Brosnan's singing is so bad that you have to wonder if he's on Meryl's hormones. Together with the other two "men" in the movie, some boring Swede playing a boring Swede and Colin Firth playing Colin Firth – he gets to wear gay swimwear rather than the Bermudas that the others are given – Brosnan is so wet that when the three of them leap into the Aegean, their state doesn't change – the sea just gets wetter.

No one, but no one, must upstage Meryl, so the only one who can sing (Meryl's screen daughter), is played by a dwarf whose forthcoming nuptials never actually happen because the vicar receives a communication at the altar from her fiancé's bushy eyebrows, telling him that he must return to the Himalayas to marry the Abominable Snowwoman.

Meanwhile, the Abominable Showwoman gets her "man", Colin Firth goes gay, frumpy Julie Walters woos the boring Swede with an unusual version of "Take A Chance On Me", and the slutty one (the obligatory Kim Cattrall character) makes whoopee with her toy-boy, who bears a startling resemblance to the Robertson's Marmalade Golliwog after 40,000 volts have been put through his afro.