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Bryn Terfel, an unbridled force of nature

Bryn Terfel, an unbridled force of nature

Last Updated: 12:01am BST 20/06/2008

Paul Gent reviews an eclectic Bryn Terfel recital at Wigmore Hall

There's no one quite like Bryn, as Wigmore Hall clearly recognised when they asked him to return for this fund-raising gala recital in the presence of the Duke of Kent and Princess Alexandra.

Wigmore has only £400,000 to go to pay for the leasehold on its building, and its well-heeled patrons had paid more than £200 a ticket for this chance to hear the Welsh bass-baritone, accompanied by Malcolm Martineau.

The hall has great artists every day of the week, but Terfel is rather more than a great artist - he is a force of nature.

He strode on stage at this black-tie event wearing an open-necked shirt and a multi-coloured cumberbund, and he held the audience in the palm of his hand for the next two hours without apparently even trying.

Terfel, thrillingly, recognises no boundaries. With his burly physique and farmer's boy features, he gives the impression of being just as much at home in a rugby club as performing for royalty.

That extends to his musical tastes: he seems genuinely as happy singing Rodgers and Hammerstein as Wagner. To some it's crossover, to him it's all the same stuff.

The first half of the recital consisted of English songs, starting with a nautical selection that included John Ireland's setting of the poem Sea Fever. He broke the ice of what could have been a stiflingly formal occasion by telling the story of the marathon boozy lunch he'd been to the day before, and immediately ripped into Peter Warlock's paean to rum and beer, Captain Stratton's Fancy.

The second half started with some Schubert, and just as you thought the evening was becoming a touch too matey and easy, he turned inward to produce a rapt performance of Litanei auf das Fest aller Seelen, that reminded you why he won the Lieder Prize at the Cardiff Singer of the World competition way back in 1989.

The recital ended with songs from Scotland, Ireland and, of course, Wales, and here we were treated to Bryn the entertainer. He cajoled us into singing the chorus of Molly Malone before admonishing us sadly: "They sang it better at the Concertgebouw..."

And in the encores he came down off the stage to serenade members of the audience with a tongue-in-cheek passion. With someone else, it could have been cheesy, but Bryn is a star - he makes his own rules.


Baffled by Beijing (北京五輪)

Baffled by Beijing

Britain's brilliant Olympic weekend has provoked intriguing questions. What is Yngling? Does Chris Hoy wear normal trousers? Where's the smog? And why would silver medallists cry? Stephen Moss, Kira Cochrane and Simon Burnton provide the answers

The Guardian,Tuesday August 19 2008

How does Chris Hoy find trousers to fit him when he's not cycling?

With great difficulty, we presume. Look at those thighs. They're incredible. If ever a pair of legs deserved their own postcode ...

Someone who works at the British Cycling Federation (not in an official capacity) says, gamely: "I'm sure that buying trousers is a problem that the sprinters have, because they do have very well-developed legs, to put it mildly, and I'm sure some of the slimmer-line styles wouldn't fit them. "The two guys who really stand out as being likely to have trouser problems are Chris and Jamie Staff. I would imagine Jamie Staff has major trouser problems. They've both got a very, very well-developed muscle mass." Yes, yes, but what do they wear? "I see Chris and Jamie around the office, and they wear quite normal jeans and things like that - I just think that they would probably struggle with some of the fashion-type trousers. If you see the legs close to they are incredibly impressive. I'm sure that a tailor would be extremely shocked".

Why are Caribbean sprinters so good?

If the father of Usain Bolt, who smashed the 100m world record in winning gold on Sunday, is to believed, it's because of the local food speciailites. "It is definitely the Trelawny yam," Wellesley Bolt said by way of explanation after his son's success. Backing him up, the women's 100m winner Shelly-Ann Fraser said of the Jamaican clean sweep: "A lot of yam, banana and dumplings produce top three!"

Six of the eight starters in the men's 100m final, and the first two across the line, were from the Caribbean; all three medallists in the women's event were from Jamaica. The region's proximity to the US helps - the best athletes are spotted and offered scholarships to top colleges there, where there is excellent coaching. But it is also becoming more common for some to stay in the Caribbean, with the sport massively popular and standards of coaching and facilities growing rapidly. Some say that the Caribbean's traditionally strict upbringing instils a sense of the required discipline - Jamaican Asafa Powell, former world-record holder, is the son of two pastors, and says that his focus is down to his childhood: "I couldn't miss one day in church and my mom and dad still call to see if I'm going to church." Running is big in the Caribbean; the weather is good; and sprint champions are revered. But the main reason for Jamaicans' success, according to Fitz Coleman, a technical coach on Bolt's team, is the attitude. "We genuinely believe that we'll conquer," he says. "It's a mindset. We're small and we're poor, but we believe in ourselves."

When did "to medal" become a verb?

It is tempting to say about a week ago - this ear-grating usage, as in "Romero is the only British woman to medal in two different sports", has disfigured the Beijing games - but, annoyingly, some dictionaries do accept "medal" as a verb, meaning "to decorate or honour with a medal" or "to receive a medal, esp. in a sporting event". It is, however, clearly an ugly Americanism - the earliest identified use of the word meaning to win a medal dates from 1966, in California, and the Washington Post was using it by 1979 - which needs to be stamped out. The sooner medal-obsessed Americans stop meddling with the English language the better.

Whatever happened to the British love of heroic but buffoonish failures?

Once we could laugh at ourselves. Eddie "the Eagle" Edwards became a superstar for being the world's worst ski-jumper (or, as the Italians preferred, "ski-dropper"). But eventually the litany of failure - in cricket, football, athletics, more or less everything, really - got to us. Steve McClaren and his brolly seem to have been the last straw. Now, we don't even send no-hopers to the games, lest the "Team GB" brand be tarnished.

How dull! Eddie the Eagle soared to become a global phenomenon. He made a disc, Fly Eddie Fly, which reached the top 50 in the UK, and repeated that success in Finland with Mun Nimeni On Eetu (My name is Eetu), despite not speaking a word of Finnish. What price Bradley Wiggins enjoying chart success with a disc called Go Bradley Go, let alone becoming a disco sensation in Helsinki? Failure is always more interesting - and more entertaining - than success.

Is it unseemly to cry when you get silver?

There are two ways to see winning Olympic silver. You are either the amazingly accomplished second-best sprinter, shot-putter, diver, tennis player, small-bore rifle (prone position) shooter in the world, or you are a USELESS FAILURE, a HOPELESS LOSER. "Second is nowhere," as the sports psychologists like to say.

Traditionally, Americans have taken the latter attitude. They expect to win, so second is a defeat. Close but no cigar. Michael Phelps wouldn't have been allowed back into the country if he'd won eight silvers. China is taking the same hard line: when one of its competitors in the shooting last week managed only a bronze, a TV interviewer rounded on him, demanding to know where it had all gone wrong. But other, more accommodating countries - us, for instance, or Belgium - have been less embarrassed about celebrating silvers and bronzes. Well done, jolly good show, marvellous effort.

Now, all that is changing. Katherine Grainger, the senior member of the women's quadruple scull, burst into tears after she won silver - admittedly her third in successive games. Nothing but gold would do for Grainger or the rest of the sobbing crew.

"I feel so empty," said one. This is a worrying development. What on earth would they have done if they'd come last, or not even made the final, or sank? Save the tears for a real disaster, and be thankful you didn't come 23rd, like Paula.

Do chicken nuggets make you run faster?

If Usain Bolt's example is anything to go by, when it comes to sporting performance, chicken nuggets are the new superfood. On the day that Bolt broke his own world record in the 100m sprint, taking the race in 9.69 seconds (having glanced around many metres before the end, clocked his lead and thumped his chest happily) chicken nuggets were his sole source of energy. "I never had breakfast,' he said afterwards. "I woke up around 11, I watched television, and then I had some [chicken] nuggets for lunch. I went back to my room, I slept for two hours, I went back for some more nuggets and came to the track."

So can chicken nuggets make us all run faster? "I suppose it depends what you do with them," says Ron Maughan, professor of sport and exercise nutrition at the University of Loughborough. "Assuming you eat them, it's highly unlikely that they'll help." The problem is that while nuggets can be a reasonable source of protein, which is good, they also tend to have a reasonable amount of fat. When it comes to developing as a sprinter, Maughan suggests that you're probably better off eating lean chicken-breast sandwiches during your training periods.

Why are we so good at sailing, rowing and cycling, but useless at track and field?

The Australians like to joke that we Brits are good at sitting-down sports. Unfortunately, they're right. The 3,000m steeplechase, the pole vault, weightlifting, not a hope. But give us a seat on a bike, in a boat or on a horse and we're potential world-beaters.

Part of the reason may be our innate laziness - the weather in the UK is bad and we spend most of our time indoors watching TV or playing online Scrabble - but the real key is the number of countries that participate in each sport. In three-day eventing, at which we are traditionally strong (and where we usually manage to find a member of the royal family able to compete), there are just 75 competitors. In athletics there are 2,000. To succeed in eventing you would need a fantastic horse, probably worth £250,000 or more, and the means to transport it to Beijing; in athletics you need a strong pair of lungs. Ethiopia, Morocco and Kenya are very good at athletics, but they are absolute crap at three-day eventing.

The key to winning medals at the Olympics is to think small. Don't target sports that everyone can be good at - athletics, boxing, football. Go for technologically complicated and expensive sports that hardly anyone can afford, such as yachting. Or, better still, sports that are both mind-blowingly dull and need expensive facilities, such as cycling and rowing. Britain should press for formula one motor racing to be included in 2012. Then let's see Jamaica find someone to rival Lewis Hamilton and his McLaren.

Just how weird is Rebecca Romero?

Anyone who watched Romero being interviewed in the velodrome at the weekend, just after she'd steamed to gold in the women's individual pursuit race, might be moved to suggest that she is very weird indeed. In a good way, of course. While other athletes spend their post-race interviews simply glorying in their success, Romero retained an almost superhuman intensity. "If I hadn't done it today, I don't know where I would be," she said, before adding, in the most ominous declaration of this or any games, "probably on the floor, dead somewhere".

OK then. The national women's cycling coach, Dan Hunt, has said that Romero's ability to push her body through the pain barrier is "astonishing", while Dave Brailsford, performance director of British Cycling, has commented that "in terms of being able to hurt yourself ... boy, oh boy!" And it is this awesome commitment that has enabled Romero to become the only British woman ever to compete in two different sports at an Olympic Games - at Athens in 2004 she won silver in the women's quadruple sculls. "Winning gold was like D-day," Romero said after the race. "I had to face my demons, grit my teeth, and ride the best race of my life. And I did it." Terrifying.

But is Romero as weird as Michael Phelps?

Well, that's debatable. The athlete known by his teammates as Squid Boy, by others as Superfish, and by one of his Russian rivals as "a normal bloke from another planet", is not quite like anyone else on Earth - no one but Michael Fred Phelps has won 14 Olympic gold medals, including eight in the past week. Physically, he is, in some ways, not so far outside the norm - at 6ft 4in he is actually a few inches shorter than fellow American Tom Malchow, the previous world record holder in the 200m butterfly, and his 6ft 7in arm span is considerably smaller than the gargantuan 7ft 5in reach of the 1980s German swimmer, Michael Gross.

In every other way, Phelps is remarkable to the point of weirdness. He eats 12,000 calories a day - and manages to burn them all off. He has double-jointed ankles, knees and elbows. He swims more than 100km a week, and trains every day of the week, every day of the year, including Christmas Day. His coach, Bob Bowman, has said that he sometimes has to "physically shake" Phelps to break his pre-race trance. As one sports writer said: "Phelps can manipulate water like no human since Moses."

He is very weird indeed. Stunningly, astonishingly, fantastically weird.

And how normal is Rebecca Adlington?

If Romero and Phelps come across as somewhat bizarre, British swimmer Rebecca Adlington is almost jaw-droppingly normal. Sure, in terms of her achievements, she's outstanding. She is the first British woman ever to win two swimming gold medals, and the first British female Olympic champion in the pool since 1960. She has also sliced a significant 2.12 seconds off the 800m freestyle record, which was set way back in 1989.

Before breaking that record though, she admits that she had to lie on the floor to avoid "standing up and being sick, because I was more nervous than I've ever been in my life". When told that the press had been poking fun at her Mansfield home town, she retorted that "we've lived there all my life, we love living there, and we wouldn't ever move", and on the subject of rewards, she's said that she won't accept any endorsements that get in the way of her swimming.

Far from putting on an aura of steely sophistication, Adlington has admitted to being "scared of the sea. I'm absolutely petrified. It's the unknown. I can't stand fish". And in reflecting on the games, she commented that: "He [Phelps] is so amazing. I'm just glad that I've done what I've done at a games with him, so I get to tell my grandchildren that I was there when Michael Phelps got his eight gold medals." Which may be about the most modest sentence you'll ever hear from an Olympian.

Doesn't it all make you proud to be British?

No, in a nutshell. Of course it's jolly nice that our sailors, rowers and cyclists are doing well, that "Dame" Rebecca Adlington has proved that we can swim, and that Louis Smith's bronze - our first gymnastics medal since 776BC - has given the lie to accusations that we are all lazy, obese couch potatoes who always got a note from our mothers to get out of doing gym at school.

But all this "Proud to be British", "Will the Olympics rescue Gordon?", "Putting the Great Back into Britain" stuff is nonsense. To paraphrase Dr Johnson, sporting patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel. Think bread and circuses, Hitler at the Berlin games in 1936, East Germany's obsession with its medal tally and willingness to go to any drug-induced lengths to boost it. If sporting achievement is really the litmus test of whether a country is any good, it's a fair bet that it's an extremely dodgy, recession-threatened, knife crime-haunted, educationally chaotic, politically neutered country. Also in my view.

How does the medals table work?

Well, that all depends. Go to the official Olympic website and you'll find China top by virtue of winning 36 golds, 17 more than anyone else. Here, one gold is more valuable than any number of other colours - Tunisia, with a single gold medal but nothing else, sit happily above Belarus, who have three silvers and seven bronzes. Over on the official American Olympic website, however, the US are top because they have won a total of 65 medals of any colour, two more than China. Last month Georg Dutlik, head of the EU commission in Vienna, said that all of the European Union's medals should count as one, in which case we'd be top whatever way you look at it. The Americans think we're fifth at the moment, the Chinese reckon we're third. I like them the best.

Does anyone understand the rules in the velodrome?

To the uninitiated - and let's be honest, we were all uninitiated until a few days ago - the cycling is impenetrable. Cyclists in absurd headgear and body-hugging Lycra suits go round and round a wall of death in a variety of events that seem to bear no resemblance to a race. In the keirin, a man on a motorbike even takes part. No prizes, you might think, for guessing who will win. In the "sprint", riders seem to compete to see who can go slowest, and only with great difficulty do they manage to stay on their bikes. As for the points race, Nasa scientists are still trying to find the formula by which the medals are awarded.

The official games website offers a rather dry explanation of each of the events, including the sinister-sounding madison, but it's a bit like describing a spiral staircase. You really have to see it. Even after reading the detailed exegesis, the points race remains elusive: how come riders who get a lap ahead, apparently the objective, are then placed at the back to ensure they do badly in the sprint that takes place every eighth lap? At least it is made clear that the curious man on the motorbike is only there for show. He drops out near the end, having demonstrated that none of the cyclists can overtake him.

But who cares about the rules? We're winning all the medals. And the great news is that Ken Livingstone has volunteered to ride the motorbike (a low-emission one of course) in 2012.

What do the Olympians do in the evenings?

You'd think that after all that exertion and pressure, athletes might find time for some more relaxed physical jerks after dark. Of the 100,000 condoms available to competitors at the start of the games, though, only a third have been used so far - a big change of pace from the Sydney games in 2000, known as the Shaglympics, during which the organisers ran out of prophylactics and had to rush to the chemist for more. There are two explanations. One, no one's getting any; two, they're doing it without protection. Let's hope the former. Still, others are finding pleasure in entirely non-physical pursuits. Rafael Nadal was recently spotted using an evening off to do his laundry. Well, those shorts won't wash themselves.

Where has the green line gone?

Coverage of the swimming featured a helpful green line that whisked its way up and down the pool at world-record pace, so everyone could see by precisely what unlikely margin it was about to be broken. But it has disappeared for the athletics, which is a bit of a shame. A BBC spokeswoman explained that the line had been added by the host broadcasters, but her technical people said swimming was "very two-dimensional" while athletics features an unhelpful "bend", so don't expect to see it again any time soon.

What is Yngling and how do you pronounce it?

Yngling is a type of keelboat, and easily the silliest of the 23 varieties of keelboat currently accredited by the International Sailing Federation, most of which sound like cast members of the Gladiators - Tempest, Lightning, Dragon, Melges 24. OK, the last one doesn't sound like a Gladiator. Its Norwegian inventor designed it for his son in 1967 and named it Yngling, Norwegian for young man. This is its second appearance in the Olympics, where it is raced only by women - the men's keelboat is the more gladiatorial Star. A spokeswoman from the Norwegian embassy says the word "is slightly old-fashioned now" but confirms that it is pronounced erngling, with the initial Y sounding like a German U with an umlaut. "It's not really a word we use a lot," says a colleague.

Is John Major responsible for team GB's success?

Some are claiming that because John Major was prime minister when the national lottery was launched, and the lottery now funds many of Britain's successful athletes, the cricket-loving trapeze-artist's son is responsible for our place in the medal table.

Britain would almost certainly be much less successful were our best athletes not given some money, but key coaching appointments - Jürgen Gröbler in rowing and Bill Sweetenham in swimming, for example - have been just as influential. Besides, the lottery awards funding based on how well each sport does. So if you could only do well by getting lottery money, and the only way to get lottery money was to do well, the nation's sportsmen would be sent into such a tailspin of bewildering logical conundrums that they would hardly be able to run/row/pedal/swim/sail at all.

Why were there so many records broken in the pool?

At the Water Cube last week possible answers to this conundrum were being created and destroyed again almost as regularly as world records. Several technical possibilities have been suggested - the pool is both wider - it has 10 rather than eight lanes - and deeper - by about 3ft - than average, stopping nasty, distracting waves from bouncing around the place, while the plastic lane-dividers provide an extra calming effect. However, even the pool's designer, Sydney-based John Bilmon, says most of this is nothing new and believes, somewhat self-servingly, that athletes have simply been inspired by the beauty of his building. In all, 25 world records were broken in 32 events - not bad, but when the nation's athletes are better prepared than ever before and are all focused on peaking for this one event, not a total surprise.

And then there's the outfits ...

Can special clothes really make you faster?

Behind Britain's brilliant cycling squad is a team of nerds, known as the Secret Squirrel Club, who do nothing but refine their apparel. These boffins have spent the past four years hunched in their laboratories to create a £10,000 superbike, designed with assistance from arms manufacturer BAE Systems. Nothing was left to chance; at one point the squirrels spent several days in a wind tunnel testing the aerodynamic efficiency of a variety of wheel spokes. It seems to have worked out quite well. It's not just them, though - everything in Beijing is better, faster, lighter. The latest gymnastics shoes weigh just 10g, about the same as a £1 coin. Athletes have shoes designed to help them round bends. In the pool, 94% of the gold-medallists and 23 of the 25 world record-breakers were wearing Speedo's new Fastskin LZR Racer skinsuit, called "technological doping" by a jealous bloke who wasn't allowed to wear one and didn't swim very fast. It all helps, but then Phelps also thrashed the 200m butterfly world record with his eyes blinded by leaky goggles. Some of these guys would probably be pretty fast dressed as a pantomime cow.

Do some countries not care about the Olympics?

Brunei doesn't seem to care much. It forgot to register its two athletes, was disqualified and is the only country not taking part. Even Tuvalu is represented, presumably in the swimming. One might think, given their abysmal showing, that all the countries of South America don't care, but they do. It's just that they're too poor to develop the facilities needed to compete with the Olympics-obsessed countries of Europe, North America and Asia. The games are being followed with interest in South America, even though the medals won thus far by countries in the region have been paltry.

Should we feel sorry for Paula Radcliffe?

The quadrennial Paula debacle has provoked mixed reactions. In the Guardian, kindly Richard Williams called her attempt to win in Beijing, despite being underprepared after a leg injury, heroic. Jeff Powell, in the Daily Mail, was less forgiving, labelling her a "drama queen", and complaining that the race was all about her 23rd place rather than fellow Brit Mara Yamauchi's record-equalling sixth place.

The fans on her website had better not get hold of Powell. They can barely contain their emotion. "If medals were given out for sheer guts, Paula would win gold," says one. "I'm so proud of her. She's an inspiration. She showed the true meaning of the Olympics and should now be a contender for SPOTY." But should she? SPOTY here means Sports Personality of the Year, but the only prize Paula is likely to win is Silly PR-conscious Optimist of the Year. She was unfit; everyone knew that; Team GB had a reserve, Hayley Haining, who was in shape and could have run in Beijing. Paula's participation, while great theatre, was dumb sport. In my view.

Is hyperactivity a boon if you're an Olympian?

It seems to be. In fact, if this games has taught us anything, it's that hyperactive kids can be high achievers. Louis Smith, for instance. The British gymnast was considered a handful at school, and channeled his energy at Huntingdon Gymnastics Club, where out-of-control boys were disciplined with 200 circles on the pommel horse. The punishment certainly paid off - at the weekend, Smith won bronze in the men's pommel horse event, becoming the first British male to win a gymnastics medal in 80 years.

And then, of course, there's Michael Phelps, who was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder as a kid, and briefly put on medication. His mother Debbie has said that when he was in kindergarten, "I was told by his teacher, 'Michael can't sit still, Michael can't be quiet, Michael can't focus.' I said, 'maybe he's bored.' The teacher said, 'He's not gifted. Your son will never be able to focus on anything.'" And to that teacher must go the gold for least accurate prediction, ever.

Who are all these commentators?

We're used to having the same, familiar voices providing the soundtrack for major sporting events, but this is different. Where are John Motson and Peter Alliss? Who are Garry Herbert and Matthew Syed? It seems the days of the versatile jobbing commentator are almost over - now everyone has to be a former Olympic medalist. At the diving, Leon Taylor; at the judo, Nicola Fairbrother; at the hockey, Sean Kerly; at the weightlifting ... OK, we don't have a former Olympic medallist in that so we get a jobbing commentator. On the plus side, they know a lot about their sport. On the down side, they keep going on about stroke rates and their voices go squeaky at important moments. Also, shouldn't there be a clause about not interviewing athletes while they are both a) panting and b) weeping? Putting your arm on their shoulder and telling them to "take your time" DOES NOT MAKE IT OK.

Do men and women have equal opportunities in the games?

The Olympic playing field for men and women has levelled considerably in the past few decades, with women's football being introduced in 1996, for instance, weightlifting in 2000, and wrestling in 2004. There are still some areas where women aren't allowed to compete, though; specifically, boxing in the summer games, and ski-jumping in the winter games. And the overall number of events for women is far lower - while men have 12 canoe-kayak races to compete in, for example, women have only four. In fact, the disparity is so marked, that there are only 127 gold medals available to women in Beijing, compared with 165 gold medals for men.

Gold-winning British cyclist Nicole Cooke, spoke out about this state of affairs after winning the first of Britain's gold medals last week in the road race. "I think the biggest thing to address," said Cooke, "is the inequality of cycling medals between the sexes"; a reference to the fact that, while men can compete in seven events in the velodrome, there are only three women's events. (And Briton Victoria Pendleton might well have won them all.)

According to the International Cycling Union, the reason for this is "historical" - which presumably also explains the disparity between the number of male and female events available in sports including rowing, weightlifting and wrestling. Harriet Foxwell, of the Women's Sport and Fitness Foundation, hopes that in 2012 there will be "a more equal playing field: there should be the same number of medals for women as men, all sports should be contested by both sexes, half the volunteers should be women and there should be a dramatic increase in the number of female coaches".

Why are we called "Team GB"?

Mainly because it is considerably easier on the tongue than "the Great Britain Olympics Team", according to the woman behind the brand, Marzena Bogdanowicz. "I think I had the idea in 1996 or 1997," says the BOA's then director of marketing. "I went to the games in 1996 and the logo at the time was just the lion and the rings, but we weren't strong enough as a brand to just be a lion and the rings. So coming back I wanted to find something that was less of a mouthful, and also had that team feel. We looked at the options and came up with Team GB." The result didn't just look good on T-shirts, it also inspires Britain's best. "Come Sydney 2000 we had Team GB everywhere," Bogdanowicz says. "When the athletes arrived, they saw that and they knew they were part of a bigger team, not just a group of athletes or swimmers. That had a positive effect on everyone." The statistics back her up: in the last games before she got to work we won one gold medal. So far in Beijing we have won 12.

Where's the smog gone?

In the past week, the high level of concern about Beijing's air quality has proved largely unfounded. The removal of 300,000 high-polluting vehicles from the city's streets since July 1 - a measure that will last until the end of the Paralympics - has apparently made a huge difference, as have the meteorological conditions, including a series of downpours that have helped clear the smog.

Have we peaked too soon before 2012?

Team GB headed to Beijing with a target of 41 gold medals, which means we have another 14 still to come. The idea was to finish eighth in the final medal table here, and fourth in four years' time, but at this rate we'll have used up our entire supply of excitement about cycling by then, while Tom Daley will be a considerably-less-cute-than-14 18. But fret not - the chances are that we will improve on this performance when the circus comes to London, if only because the entry requirements for the host nation are so relaxed that we'll have far more competitors and some of them are bound to get lucky. So put that "I heart Yngling T-shirt" somewhere safe - you haven't finished with it yet.

The Answers

The Answers

General English

1a. narrow; b. dim/dull; c. kind; d. inedible/uneatable; e. invisible; f. good; g. slowly; h.rough; i. expensive; j. sweet

2a. I waited until he had closed the door; b. I have helped him with his homework many times; c. I think the first day of the year is always exciting; d. He switched on the wireless and listened to the programme; e. She asked me to write a letter

3a. sister; b. niece; c. nun; d. witch; e. goose; f. mermaid; g. waitress; h. heroine; i. vixen; j. cousin

4a. The angry geese snapped at my bare feet; b. These young deer lived in yonder valleys; c. The police-constables chased the thieves across the roofs; d. He will come for you but not for us

5a. decided; b. repeatedly; c. immobile/stationary; d. surrender; e. punctually; f. barren; g. annually; h. invisible


1. 12,012

2a. 21 ½; b. 18.02

3. 14 minutes

4. 44 minutes late

5. 1 hour 49 minutes

6. 10.35 a.m.

7. 5 teachers

8. 192 tins

9. 30

10. 2 minutes fast

General Intelligence

1a. remote; b. difference; c. descrease; d. tight; e. disturb; f. finish; g. before; h. aged; i. punctual; j. hand

2. Tom is the best friend

3a. 15; b. 26; c. 23; d. 52; e. 75; f. 21; g. 60; h. 18

4a. The *path* ran down the *boy*; b. Jane *bird* like *flew*; c. The *swam* *fish* in the sea; d. The dog *down* the cat *chased* the street; e. The *writing* was *teacher* on the blackboard; f. Jimmie *sleeping* the *stroked* cat; g. Mother *scrub* Mary to *told* the floor; h. There were many *streets* on the *people*; i. Willie had ten or eleven *birthday* on his *letters*; j. They lay on the *birds* while the *grass* flew above them; k. The children were *long* after their *hungry* walk; l. John ran in the *cake* while James ate *race* in the refreshment room; m. Leaves were *trees* from the *falling*; n. The child *while* *slept* the wind blew; o. John wrote his *book* on this new *name*; p. My cousin is *fortnight* to stay with me in a *coming*; q. As their mother had a *noise* they were told not to make a *headache*; r. He *read* on his glasses and *put* a book; s. John was *last* of his class *top* year; t. As it was *quietly* heavily they had to play *raining* indoors; u. The frightened child *man* away from the angry *ran*; v. The squirrel *top* up to the *climbed* of the tree; w. Mabel *singing* round the garden *ran* at the top of her voice; x. *Play* school the children went to *after*; y. He gets *eight* when the clock strikes *up*; z. The *sock* was knitting a *mother* for her son.

5a. herd, shoal, swarm, flock, murder; b. United States of America, British Broadcast Corporation, Her/His Majesty’s Ship, please turn over, United Nations Organization, Her/His Royal Highness, Member of Parliament

6. Celia Clark, Sally Smith, Molly Jones, Ruth Jones, Ruth Evans, Gwen Brown

7a. ruler; b. thread; c. colour; d. mountain; e. writing; f. drink; g. print; h. mattress; i. stand; j. heat; k. sailor; l. shape; m. think; n. palm; o. chocolate; p. paper; q. plank; r. scarf

8. Until you are [strikethrough]often[strikethrough] told to let [strikethrough]him[strikethrough] go your end of the [strikethrough]missing[strikethrough] rope, hold it firmly in the left [strikethrough]with[strikethrough] hand

9a. TOE; b. PAINT; c. WATER; d. WORD; e. HOLE

10a. sever; b. duplicate; c. frequently; d. might; e. apparel

Pens down, no cheating: you may now start your own 11-plus exam

Pens down, no cheating: you may now start your own 11-plus exam
Last Updated: 12:01am BST 27/06/2008

General English

1. Black is the opposite of white; long is the opposite of short. Now write down the opposites of these words: (a) Wide (b) Bright (c) Unkind (d) Eatable (e) Visible (f) Evil (g) Quickly (h) Smooth (i) Cheap (j) Sour

2. Write these words in the correct order to make sentences: (a) had waited the until door I closed he (b) many with helped I his him homework have times (c) first year of always exciting I the the is day think (d) listened on programme the switched to wireless he and the (e) to asked a letter me she write

3. Give the feminine of each of the following: (a) brother (b) nephew (c) monk (d) wizard (e) gander (f) merman (g) waiter (h) hero (i) fox (j) cousin

4. Re-write the following sentences, using the plurals of the underlined words: (a) The angry goose snapped at my bare foot. (b) This young deer lived in yonder valley. (c) The police-constable chased the thief across the roof. (d) He will come for you but not for me.

5. Write down one word in place of each phrase in italics: (a) The boy made up his mind to sell his bicycle. (b) The girl tried again and again until she succeeded. (c) The vehicle was standing still. (d) The soldier was forced to give himself up to the enemy. (e) My brother always comes to school at the right time. (f) The soil is not yielding any produce. (g) The firm’s books were examined every year. (h) Some animals are not able to be seen at night.


1. Write in figures: twelve thousand and twelve.

2. (a) 6 3/4 of 4 2/3 - 10 5/6 ÷ 1 1/12
(b) 1.06 × 2.04 ÷ 0.12 3.

3 A race started at 23 minutes past and finished at 23 minutes to 4. How long did it take?

4. A train due at 5.43 a.m. arrived at 6.27 a.m. How many minutes was it late?

5. The road from a town ‘A’ to another town ‘B’ is uphill for the first 2 miles, level for the next 3 miles, and downhill for the last 2 miles. If I can walk at the rate of 4 miles an hour on the level, 5 miles an hour downhill and 3 miles an hour uphill, how long shall I take to go from A to B?

6. A train due to arrive at 9.50 a.m. was 45 minutes late. At what time did it arrive?

7. There are 98 boys and 102 girls in a school. There is 1 teacher for every 40 children. How many teachers are there?

8. Three cases contain 789 tins of sardines. In one there are 267 tins and in another 63 more than in the first. How many tins does the third case contain?

9. Find the sum of all the numbers between 1 and 13 that are divisible exactly by 3.

10. A clock is 12 minutes slow, but is gaining 5 seconds per hour. A watch is 20 minutes fast, but is losing 7½ seconds per hour. How many minutes fast will the watch be when the clock shows the right time?

General intelligence

1. Copy down the word at the beginning of each line. Then choose one word from the line that has the opposite meaning to the word in capital letters.

NEAR: close, remote, distance, open.

LIKENESS: enemy, similar, enjoy, difference.

ENLARGE: decrease, wider, picture, big.

LOOSE: find, tight, escape, prisoner.

ARRANGE: fix, grate, disturb, target.

BEGIN: finish, start, conclusion, commence.

AFTER: following, morning, behind, before.

YOUNG: adult, father, aged, grow.

LATE: time, punctual, hour, sooner.

FOOT: hand, yard, summit, kick.

2. My best friend is tall and dark. I am nine and he is ten. He is one of these four boys below. Read the following sentences and write down my best friend’s name: Harry is younger than me. He is short and dark. Dick is ten. He is a tall boy with fair hair. Tom has dark hair. He is older than me and is a tall boy. Frank is a tall boy with dark hair. He is nine.

3. One number in each line does not fit in properly with the others. Find this number.

(a) 2, 5, 8, 11, 15, 17

(b) 29, 26, 21, 17, 13, 9

(c) 1, 9, 16, 23, 27, 31, 34

(d) 2, 6, 18, 52, 162

(e) 144, 120. 96, 75, 48, 24

(f) 21, 19, 16, 13, 10

(g) 1, 4, 16, 60

(h) 4, 9, 14, 18, 24, 29

4. Each of the sentences given here can be made into better sense by interchanging two words. Draw lines under those words. Example: Eggs lay hens. Now do the sentences below for yourself. Remember, underline just two words in each sentence.

(a) The path ran down the boy.

(b) Jane bird like a flew.

(c) The swam fish in the sea.

(d) The dog down the cat chased the street.

(e) The writing was teacher on the blackboard.

(f) Jimmie sleeping the stroked cat.

(g) Mother scrub Mary to told the floor.

(h) There were many streets on the people.

(i) Willie had ten or eleven birthday on his letters.

(j) They lay on the birds while the grass flew above them.

(k) The children were long after their hungry walk.

(l) John ran in the cake while James ate race in the refreshment room.

(m) Leaves were trees from the falling.

(n) The child while slept the wind blew.

(o) John wrote his book on his new name.

(p) My cousin is fortnight to stay with me in a coming.

(q) As their mother had a noise they were told not to make a headache.

(r) He read on his glasses and put a book.

(s) John was last of his class top year.

(t) As it was quietly heavily they had to play raining indoors.

(u) The frightened child man away from the angry ran.

(v) The squirrel top up to the climbed of the tree.

(w) Mabel singing round the garden ran at the top of her voice.

(x) Play school the children went to after.

(y) He gets eight when the clock strikes up.

(z) The sock was knitting a mother for her son.

5. (a) Write down words which describe a collection of: cows, fish, bees, sheep, crows. (b) What do the following letters stand for? U.S.A., B.B.C., H.M.S., P.T.O., U.N.O., H.R.H., M.P.

6. The leader of a Guide Patrol is named Mary Jenkins; so her Surname is Jenkins, her Christian name is Mary, and her initials are M.J. There are 6 other girls in her Patrol; each has 2 initials.

Surnames: Brown, Smith, Evans, Clark, Jones.

Christian names: Molly, Celia, Gwen, Ruth, Sally.

Two girls have Surname and Christian names beginning with the same letter; two others are named Ruth. One of the Twins has the same initials as the leader, and the other has the same Christian name as Evans.

Write down each girl’s full name

7. Look at this example: cow, pig, horse, grass. Three of the words are names of animals. The other word is the name of a plant. It has been underlined because it is different from the others. Now go through the following examples, underlining the word in each row that you think is different from the other three.

(a) pencil, chalk, ruler, pen

(b) velvet, muslin, calico, thread

(c) yellow, green, red, colour

(d) river, lake, sea, mountain

(e) writing, book, story, novel

(f) milk, drink, water, tea

(g) book, volume, magazine, print

(h) carpet, rug, mat, mattress

(i) skate, stand, slide, slip

(j) cold, warm, heat, freezing

(k) policeman, soldier, sailor, airman

(l) round, shape, square, oblong

(m) shout, think, speak, whisper

(n) oak, ash, elm, palm

(o) sweet, rich, chocolate, sugary

(p) pen, pencil, paper, crayon

(q) hammer, plank, chisel, hatchet

(r) hat, cap, bonnet, scarf

8. Cross out clearly what is not wanted in this silly sentence, so that is shall read properly. Do not cross out too much, and do not add anything: Until you are often told to let him go your end of the missing rope, hold it firmly in the left with hand.

9. Complete each of these sentences by underlining the right word in the bracket: (a) BACK is to FRONT as HEEL is to (SIDE, TOE, PLACE).

(b) INK is to PEN as (HAIR, HANDLE, PAINT) is to BRUSH

(c) MAN is to CROWD as DROP is to (FALL, FLOCK, WATER).


(e) HOUSE is to MAN as (SHELTER, HOME, HOLE) is to FOX.

10. One word in each group of four means the same or nearly the same as the word in capitals. Write this word down. Example: SMALL: baby, size, little, mouse Answer: little

(a) CUT: knife, sever, canal, wound.

(b) TWIN: engine, triplet, brother, duplicate.

(c) OFTEN: sometimes, frequently, always, again.

(d) POWER: might, strong, cable, electricity.

(e) CLOTHES: washing, shut, frock, apparel.

Essays and compositions

1. Write a short account (about four or five lines) on any four of the following:

(a) Everest

(b) Westminster Abbey

(c) The Gothic

(d) Williams Shakespeare

(e) Queen Salote

(f) The Maoris

2. Imagine you are a scarecrow and tell a story about yourself

3. Some children are playing at the seaside in an old boat – the tide rises – the boat floats out to sea – a thick fog comes down… Tell this story as vividly as you can, adding the excitement and fear of the parents, and finish the story in any way you like.

4. Write a composition on one of the following subjects:

(a) Imagine yourself on a long journey in an aeroplane. Your engine fails and you have to land on a desert island. Describe the island and tell what happens to you there.

(b) Write an account of an unfortunate picnic.

(c) Describe a market day in a country town.

Buddha and the barrel

Buddha and the barrel

The former capital of feudal Japan is famous for its historical sights, but Tokyo's young come for the surf not the shrines
Jamie Brisick The Guardian, Saturday August 2 2008

A visitor to Kamakura in the 13th century would have been met by gangs of sword-wielding Samurai strutting the streets in full regalia, en route to a Shinto shrine or Buddhist temple.

Today the uniforms are less intimidating and visitors come here to worship a very modern deity: the god of surf. People in wetsuits clutching surfboards pedal cruiser bikes through the torii, the stone gates that lead from Kamakura's main street on to Yuigahama beach. A gaggle of skateboard kids in tattered Vans, low-slung Dickies and baseball caps worn back to front do tricks in the beachfront parking lot. A lithe man in his mid-40s loads a tangerine orange standup paddle board on to the roof of his shiny black Mercedes SUV.

Take away the Japanese signage and Asian faces, and Kamakura looks more like Malibu or La Jolla than the former capital of feudal Japan. The shrines and temples still draw the tourists, and the guide books still call it "the most historically rich day trip from Tokyo", but surf culture, adopted with a sophisticated and stylish twist, is perhaps the biggest thing to rock Kamakura's sandy shores since the tsunami of 1495.

On a sunny Saturday morning, my wife Gisela and I catch the train from Tokyo to Kamakura, which takes 50 minutes. Taxis, tour buses and sign-toting hosts greet the droves of weekenders that bring bustle to this otherwise sleepy seaside hamlet. If you're here for the shrines, temples, and world-renowned Buddha you turn left; if you're here for the beach, as we are, you take a sharp right.

It's a quick 10-minute walk from station to sand, past the Kauai Aloha Hula boutique, Rave Surf and Sports, and the Seedless restaurant, which boasts "California/Yuigahama cuisine". I've brought my own board and O'Neill fullsuit, but if I didn't have any gear it wouldn't be a problem. There are at least eight surf shops within walking distance of one another, a handful of surf schools, and an entire block of windsurf shops where boards and wetsuits can be rented.

The scene at the beach is straight out of the book of surfing cliches as enthusiasts with sun-reddened faces and broad shoulders, wearing Wayfarers and boardshorts, swap stories in the parking lot. Yet there is something quintessentially Japanese about it: a row of sandals has been carefully left at the edge of the beach, and unlike their carefree Californian and Australian counterparts, Japanese surfers carry portable showers, foot towels, and plastic coat hangers on which to dry their wet suits.

Most of what I'd heard about Kamakura came from Daisuke, a Japanese expat whose love of surfing and the Grateful Dead led him to San Francisco about 10 years ago. He'd told me it was the surf capital of Japan, where US soldiers stationed at the nearby Yokosuka naval base introduced the Japanese to surfing after the second world war. It was by no means a world-class surf spot, he said, but it had fun, learner-friendly waves.

The waves are too small to gauge the skill level, but judging by the upbeat mood of the surfers, the simple fact that they're out in the water, soaking up rays and strutting their fashionable wares, is enough for most of them.

After surfing, Gisela and I check into the Kaihin-so Kamakura, where the tatami mat floors, sliding doors, segregated baths and meticulously groomed garden with koi pond remind us that we are actually in Japan.

We have a late lunch at the small and cozy Ocean's Kitchen, where a chirpy, smiling waitress serves us a caesar salad topped with tuna sashimi, a spicy coconut veggie curry, and a bottomless cup of ice-cold green tea. Between bites we learn that she lives in Hawaii, but came back for the summer to work and visit family. "I like Kamakura," she says, "because I can surf before and after my shift."

After lunch we wander through narrow lanes, past boutiques and shops named after famous Hawaiian surf breaks (Middles, Makapuu), and come to the Daibutsu (Great Buddha). Cast in the 13th century, Daibutsu is 13.35m high and sits in a shut-eyed lotus position, which is remarkable considering what it's been through. During the 1495 tsunami the temple that housed the statue was washed away, but Daibutsu refused to budge. Later, at the Hasedera temple, we'll see this link with the sea once again. The Kannon statue, an impressive 9m-high, 11-faced goddess of mercy, is said to have washed ashore on a rogue wave. At sunset the haze clears just enough to reveal the snow-capped peak of Mt Fuji. The scene bears a striking resemblance to Hokusai's Great Wave Off Kanagawa.

Rarely do you find surf butting up against such culturally rich shores. If the fickle one fails to deliver, the 700-year-old one will. Best of all, it's manageable by foot - you needn't bring more than a day bag.

The following morning the sea is flat, but such is the nature of the ocean. Had we been here the previous weekend we'd have had a decent swell. Kamakura, I learn later, is best in August and September.

With no surf to play in, we stroll the boardwalk of Yuigahama, pass a row of weathered boathouses draped in floats and fishing nets, a pair of windsurfers rigging up at the shoreline, a rickshaw runner in split-toe surf boots. On the way to the railway station, we stop off at Kua Aina for a quick bite. The walls are covered in vintage surf photos, the flat screen plays a recent surf video, and the diners are - you guessed it - surfers. When the waitress sets down a plate of French fries on the table next to us, and the three baseball-capped kids attack it not with fingers but with chopsticks, it all makes perfect sense.

Sake is not so hot in Tokyo - but now it's cool with trendy New Yorkers

Drink: Sake is not so hot in Tokyo - but now it's cool with trendy New Yorkers
The ancient craft is under threat unless it can turn the tide on its own shores
Justin McCurry in Osaka The Guardian, Monday August 4 2008

Centuries after their ancestors first turned rice into wine, the Japanese are falling out of love with their traditional tipple.

Once a staple in homes and restaurants, sake is being squeezed out of the affections of the average drinker by imported wine and shochu, a fiery local spirit that is undergoing a renaissance in the trendy bars of Tokyo.

Now that sake's central place in Japanese social occasions is under threat, the country's struggling breweries are pinning their hopes on growing interest on the other side of the Pacific.

According to finance ministry figures, sake exports rose to a record high of 11,334 kilolitres last year, up from 7,051 kilolitres in 2001. About a third goes to the US, followed by Taiwan, Hong Kong and, more recently, China, where shipments doubled to 426 kilolitres between 2002 and 2006.

While sake is enjoying unprecedented popularity overseas, at home it is in terminal decline. Since peaking at 1.7m kilolitres in 1975, sake consumption in Japan has fallen every year since 1995 to a record low of 700,000 kilolitres in 2006. The Japanese drink just a third as much sake as they did 30 years ago, when it accounted for a quarter of all sales of alcoholic drinks. Today the figure is closer to 7%.

Sake's stateside renaissance is being driven by a handful of family-run breweries quick to realise the dangers posed by their compatriots' waning appetite for their national drink.

"People ask if we alter the flavour of our sake to suit the American palate. We do not. We are just selling them sake that we believe is the best around," says Yasutaka Daimon, the sixth-generation head of Daimon, a sake brewery in rural Osaka prefecture.

Matter of survival

Daimon, whose family has been brewing sake - a rice-based fermented beverage - since 1826, was among 20 breweries that co-founded esake.com, a group to promote their products overseas.

The results have been dramatic. After sending their first batch of sake to the US in 2003 the breweries recently sold their 91st container, each holding 1,250, six-bottle cases. Their premium sake is now available in 45 states. For small-time brewers like Daimon, cracking the US and Asian markets is not simply about higher profits margins; it is a matter of survival.

He now exports a third of the sake produced at his brewery, where brewing methods have changed little for almost two centuries, and recently sold his first case of a high-end sake in the emerging luxury-goods market of Russia.

Sake has even won over the world's most notorious wine snobs: the French. Jean-Paul H?vin, the renowned Paris chocolatier, regards Kawasemi no Tabi, a sweet sake brewed in Niigata, as the perfect accompaniment to his confectionery.

But consumption in Europe still lags far behind that in the US. "Whereas Europe is traditionally wine country, the US is not traditionally anything," says John Gauntner, a sake expert and author of five books on the subject.

"Americans like their wine, but it's less established, so the country is more open to new trends. Europeans taste sake and say 'yes, it's good and clearly a quality product', but the next drink they have is wine.

"But this too is slowly changing. There is more potential [in the UK and Europe], as Europeans surely have a more refined palate than North Americans."

While sake's spread has benefited from the global popularity of Japanese food, its decline at home has been quickened by a shift from the traditional diet of fish and rice to one that includes more meat and dairy products.

The industry was also hit by the tax agency's decision, 20 years ago, to stop issuing new brewing licences when existing master brewers retired and were unable to find successors. In the 1980s there were an estimated 3,500 breweries; now there are 1,350.

Style-conscious drinkers

For brewers like Daimon, the best hope of a revival in the domestic market may rest on triggering a knock-on effect among ambivalent Japanese who decide to give sake another chance once they see how well it is going down among the style-conscious drinkers of London, New York and, increasingly, Moscow and Beijing.

"Young people who come here to drink my sake say they didn't realise it could be so good - they thought it was an old man's drink," said Daimon. "The Japanese are very concerned about what foreigners think of their country, so if we have more success in the US market, then Japanese consumers may give it another try."

But insiders believe the industry can no longer depend on the legions of Japanese office workers who habitually punctuate their daily commute home with a visit to the pub.

"Sake is finally coming into its own as a connoisseur beverage [overseas], so I do not think the novelty will wear off," Gauntner said. "Its roots and true quality are too deep."

Critics in a hostile world (FT)


Critics in a hostile world
By Martin Bernheimer
Published: July 4 2008 07:24 | Last updated: July 4 2008 07:24

These are hard times for journalism in America. Newspapers are at best shrinking, at worst folding. Fewer than 10 cities still support more than a single daily. Writers face buy-outs, lay-offs or firing. The papers that survive are making do with fewer employees, fewer pages, fewer articles and fewer opinion pieces. Critics are looking more and more like dodos.

A primary cause of our imminent extinction must be the internet. An impatient generation is succumbing to the free and easy lure of computer enlightenment. Sure, not all those who cover the arts in old-fashioned print are paragons – still, most do have sufficient education and/or experience to justify their views. On the web, anyone can impersonate an expert. Anyone can blog. Credentials don’t count. All views are equal. Some sort of criticism may survive the American media revolution, but professional criticism may not.

Essentially, our civilisation is tilting towards anti-authoritarian contests. Audiences, not judges, select winners. Call it the American Idolisation of culture. On TV, contestants get voted off without explanation. Quality is measured by thumbs, up or down. Scholarly analyses have turned into irrelevant extravagances for snobs.

Many US papers have abandoned thoughtful, detailed reviews altogether. Publishers, editors and, presumably, readers want instant evaluations and newsbites, preferably with flashy pictures. It is Zagat-think, simplicity for the simple-minded.

Of the thousand journalism jobs reportedly lost during the past year, 121 belonged to specialists covering music and dance, film, books and television. The music critic at the Kansas City Star was told to walk after eight years of heavy duty. The Miami Herald’s critic was granted eight weeks’ severance pay. The Los Angeles Times no longer employs a dance critic. The Village Voice in New York and the Los Angeles Weekly have ceased coverage of “classical” music. The Seattle Times no longer employs a music critic. Even the relatively secure New York Times has found two of its venerable critics – one in music, one in dance – to be expendable. Time and Newsweek gave up earnest arts coverage long ago.

The departure of a staff writer does not invariably mean the end of criticism. Sometimes the gap is filled by “stringers”, often inexperienced freelancers paid by the piece, and not paid well. Some papers rely on recycled wire service reports. Exclusive viewpoints are low priority, if any priority at all. When Rupert Murdoch took over the Wall Street Journal, he proclaimed his intention to compete with the New York Times by expanding arts coverage. The evidence of that remains slim and dim.

Sam Zell, the real estate mogul who recently bought the Tribune Company of Chicago, is implementing an unprecedented 50/50 ratio between advertising and editorial content. The new system, which will affect the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune and 10 lesser publications, stresses local coverage at the expense of world news. The revised focus is officially delineated in the Orlando Sentinel, a Zell purchase that promises to be “more vibrant and modern – as dynamic as Central Florida ... [with] powerful local content ... aggressive consumer coverage ... stories that touch the emotions ... provocative voices, including yours”. So we enter a cowardly new world.

Ironically, several academic institutions are offering programmes dedicated to improving the quality of arts journalism. The University of Southern California is spending $1m to train incipient critics. Syracuse University has created a master’s degree programme for the same purpose. One wonders where the graduates will find work.

Historically, the best critics have guarded standards, stimulated debate and, in the complex process, reinforced the importance of art in society. They have been tastemakers, taskmasters and possibly ticket-sellers. Some have even written well. Despite automatic controversy, they played a role in aesthetic checks and balances. If their opinions were important, the reasons behind them were more important.

Critics, antagonists claim, should be objective. No way. Objective observers would note that Artur Rubinstein could be guilty of playing between the piano keys. Subjective critics reasoned that his sense of poetry, interpretive insight and expressive passion made the wrong notes irrelevant. Objective critics sometimes noted that Maria Callas sounded strident and wobbly. Subjective critics felt her magnetic power overrode technical blemishes.

T.S. Eliot said “criticism must always profess an end in view, which appears to be the elucidation of works of art and the correctness of taste”. We like that. Brendan Behan, though, called us “eunuchs in a harem” and Ralph Vaughan Williams said we were “misbegotten abortions”. Tough critics never win popularity contests.

Occasionally critical clashes make history. In 1950, the soprano Margaret Truman, daughter of Harry S, suffered delusions of adequacy in a recital in Washington. The critic Paul Hume was not enthralled, and wrote: “There were moments when one could relax and feel confident that she would indeed achieve her goal, which was the end of the song.” The president responded by writing to Hume: “Some day I hope to meet you. When that happens you will need a new nose, a lot of beef-steak for black eyes and, perhaps, a supporter below.”

It’s dangerous work. But somebody has to do it. Or not.

Martin Bernheimer won the Pulitzer Prize for criticism while at the Los Angeles Times. He now covers music in New York for the FT and for Opera magazine

The shop of Charles


Welcome to one's shop
Last Updated: 12:01am GMT 14/03/2008

On Monday, Prince Charles will officially open a new store - his own. Mark Palmer hails the latest addition to Britain's 'posh nosh' brigade

Inviting yourself to cut the ribbon at the opening of your own shop might smack of desperation. But when that shop is called Highgrove and you're the Prince of Wales, you could be forgiven for not casting the net a little wider.

It should be quite a gathering in Tetbury on Monday when Prince Charles dips his royal toes into retail for the first time. Perhaps other shopkeepers from the Gloucestershire town will be on hand to offer advice and welcome this entrepreneurial newcomer to their ranks, although the manager of Somerfield directly opposite says he hasn't been invited.

There's little chance of Highgrove, as the Tetbury shop is called, stealing much in the way of core business from the supermarket chain, unless Somerfield intends to diversify into organic thyme and lemon jelly, apricot, date and pistachio biscuits or Aga gloves depicting idyllic scenes from the Highgrove garden. "Everything we sell either comes directly from Highgrove and its home farm or reflects the prince's wide-ranging interests," says Christine Prescott, Highgrove's commercial director.

"There's a provenance behind each product and we want to give as much explanation to buyers as we can. We also hope to do mail order via a website." Why this flurry of commercial activity? The Queen has farm shops at Windsor and Sandringham, but this is an altogether more ambitious departure for a member of the Royal Family.

Demand must have something to do with it. More than 23,000 people visit the Highgrove gardens each year, always in invited groups (there's a two-year waiting list) and all on behalf of good causes. At the end of the tours, there's a chance to buy a memento at the estate shop near the car park and the tills trill triumphantly.

Opening up to the general public seven days a week in bigger premises nearby would seem a natural progression in such a burgeoning market, and the people of Tetbury seem only too pleased that the shopping experience in their town will be enlivened by the prince's outlet.

"It will increase traffic and we'll have to get used to more buses at peak times, but it can only have a positive effect for most of us," says Philip Gibbons of Tetbury Old Books on Long Street. "The shop seems to have been fitted out very well and I can personally vouch for the prince's carrots, which have an exceptional sweetness." The leased shop was once part of the Lloyds bank building next door, but was virtually derelict for many years.

Now it has English and Welsh oak floors, with reclaimed terracotta tiles in the courtyard, where many of the plants the prince reputedly engages in conversation will be on sale. At the front, there's a large table with a slate top carrying the entire Highgrove Hens range of cups and saucers, plates, bowls and egg cups, hand-painted by Sam Buckley, a graduate of the Prince's School of Traditional Arts.

There are ash and beech chopping boards from £35; a kitchen towel holder featuring one of the finials from the top of the house (£17.95); hand-made wooden toys, including a splendid horse and cart (£125); place mats adorned by prints of the prince's watercolours (four mats for £45); insect houses to encourage organic devotees; and every possible kind of garden implement, log baskets, tea towels, wine glasses (recycled glass, of course), jams, jellies, chutneys, mustards, honey and vegetables galore. (The shop stocks some Duchy Originals products, too.)

One of the most popular items is expected to be the prince's perfumed soaps, which are made by hand in Lebanon in what is thought to be the oldest soap factory in the world. He came across it on his travels. There are three varieties (£5.95 per bar): orange blossom, honey and tuberose, each renowned for holding its scent longer than is usual and, as it says on the label, "leaving the skin warm and sultry".

Expect, too, a run on Highgrove Organic Apple Juice, which is made from Blenheim Orange apples picked from orchards at the Duchess of Cornwall's house, Reymill, near Lacock, Wiltshire, the property she bought following her divorce from Andrew Parker Bowles. Light on sediment, heavy on flavour, a 74cl bottle costs £3.25. And, as with everything on sale here, it comes with a reminder that all profits go to the Prince's Charities Foundation.

But it's not just a case of satisfying demand. The prince - or, rather, his charitable foundation - is cashing in on a growing phenomenon that he would never dream of describing, publicly, as "posh nosh". But that's what it is and everywhere you look there's an example waiting to prise open your wallet. In return you'll get a beautifully designed carrier bag containing lots of healthy, wealthy goodies to make you feel that much better about yourself. And they might just boost your eco-credentials at Sunday lunch.

From Holker Hall, in Cumbria, where Lord Cavendish's family has lived for generations, to the Howards, at Castle Howard in Yorkshire, and from the Duke of Buccleuch's various estates selling Buccleuch Foods ("Scotland's first aristocratic heritage brand") to Lord and Lady Devon's Food Hall at Powderham Castle in Devon, you are never far from a posh farm shop. The trend that began in the late 1970s at Chatsworth has reached its zenith in the immaculate, aspirational shops that define the Daylesford Organic empire.

"I think you'll discover the prices at Daylesford are a little higher than ours," says Christine Prescott, with a nice line in understatement. And a little higher, too, than they are at the Chatsworth Farm Shop, where the client base continues to be more zip-up fleeces and two-door hatchbacks than Prada suede and 4x4 BMWs. Which isn't to say that business is on the slide at this venerable Derbyshire institution. On the contrary. It is booming to such an extent that the Duke of Devonshire has just spent £500,000 expanding the shop.

"The more food scares there are, the better it is for us," says André Birkett, general manager of the Chatsworth Farm Shop. "People want to know where things come from and they want to trust what they are eating. We are putting in a deli and a wet-fish counter, and the Duke intends that all preparation of food should be visible. He wants people to interact with what we are selling. It's not a fad here. It's a passion.

That's why we get more than a million people through the door each year." The place is heaving when I turn up early on a Monday. There are mothers with children, pensioners with friends and a smattering of tourists no doubt sorry that Chatsworth itself is closed for winter. The atmosphere is the antithesis of rarefied. This is a culinary cathedral that remains a broad church, with just enough of a credo to keep abreast of modern times without ever needing to preach or explain itself with overcooked language. There are storyboards above each section, introducing you to suppliers such as Jim, who runs a nearby free-range chicken farm, Shirley the egg lady and Joe, who produces award-winning cauliflowers.

"One of the biggest changes is seeing people come here to do the bulk of their shopping," says Birkett. "It used to be more of a novelty buy. That's why we've changed all the labelling. In the old days, the jams and chutneys were done up with ribbon as if they were gifts. Now there's just a strip of labelling so you can get a good look at the product."
The Chatsworth Farm Shop turns over £5.5 million a year. I'm keen to know how much profit that produces. "Sorry," says Birkett, "I can't give you that figure. But I can tell you we make a large contribution to the Chatsworth estate and will be playing a big part in helping the Duke with his ambitious plans for the future.'

' The lunchtime restaurant queue is a guarantee of Chatsworth's sustainable future. It's a simple, comforting menu and the room has one of the most quintessentially British views of any restaurant in the country. Only the coldest of hearts could not be warmed by the sight of the St Peter's steeple in the village of Edensor, reaching upwards and framed by the Dales as they rise and fall into the sun-dappled milky distance. Order the roast of the day (£8.50) and you know for sure that you're biting into local livestock and nibbling away at supermarket dominance.

Down south, Daylesford Organic has all the passion of Chatsworth but with more than a dollop of glitz in the mix. Take the A346 from Stow-on-the-Wold and you will soon see a brown sign. It directs you to the estate of the JCB head honcho, Sir Anthony Bamford, but really it is introducing you to a lifestyle that for the vast majority is 90 per cent dreamland and 10 per cent reality, a world where departmentalisation is achieved by the lighting of a Fairtrade scented candle and three mornings a week of sivananda yoga in Lady Bamford's converted hay barn.

It's a lifestyle that has you sorting out the first course for dinner at the deli counter before popping next door to treat yourself to a £2,900 handbag made from crocodile skin.
It's easy to scoff, but take a tour behind the scenes with the Daylesford farm manager, Richard Smith, and it's impossible not to doff your hat to the commitment to the organic cause. "

You can have all the money in the world, but you still have to rotate the pasture properly, monitor fertility and apply traditional stockmanship,'' says Smith. "It might look all manicured and middle-class, but a lot of graft and expertise goes on out of view of most people.

The important thing is that they get the message about what we are trying to do.'' They could hardly fail not to. "Respect and nourish the land, and it will nourish you," says a sign near the book section where titles such as Bringing Tuscany Home, The Story of Tea and Green is the New Black compete for attention, while I Want To Feel What Love Is comes over the sound system loud and clear.

What constitutes a farm shop is debatable. Carla Carlisle and her husband, Sir Kenneth Carlisle, a minister in Margaret Thatcher's government, have a shop at their farm near Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, but they don't sell any fresh meat or vegetables. Instead, several of their barns have been tastefully converted to house a smart restaurant called The Leaping Hare and a "lifestyle" store stocked with mirrors, throws, leather boots, porcelain, soaps and the estate's Wyken Vinery wine.

But on Saturdays, the Carlisles host a farmers' market that sells local beef, pork and lamb, free-range organic chicken, stoneground flour, British cheeses and, as the website puts it, "a chance to change the world".

"There's a big explosion in farm shops but it's a risky business unless you're selling other things as well as meat and vegetables," says Lady Carlisle. "The mark-up on a bar of soap is much more than on a lamb chop. The Prince of Wales has caught the mood exactly right. People like to know where everything comes from, whether it be olive oil or a hand-made wooden spoon. Some of us have been blazing this trail for many years and it's good that the prince has become one of us at last.''

· Highgrove, Prince Charles's shop at 10 Long Street, Tetbury, Gloucestershire (tel: 01666 505 666), opens for business on Tuesday.

· Chatsworth, Derbyshire (chatsworth.org)
This doyen of up-market farm shops opened in 1977 in a small room in what used to be the carriage horse stables. It's now the size of two tennis courts, with a fully-fledged restaurant, deli and butcher's. The Dowager Duchess of Devonshire pops in on Fridays and mingles with an egalitarian crowd. To be seen among the chutneys at Chatsworth (above) are Tom Stoppard, Nigel Havers and Alan Titchmarsh.
· Castle Howard, Yorkshire (castlehoward.co.uk)
You won't bump into Sebastian Flyte of Brideshead Revisited fame but you can wander around this sensational house after visiting the Stable Courtyard's six shops, including one selling "country lifestyle". The Farm Shop has won awards for its estate-reared Aberdeen Angus beef. Ask for the head butcher, Paul Nicholson, and you'll get the leanest cut of all.
· Holker Hall, Cumbria (holker-hall.co.uk)
The Cumbrian seat of Lord and Lady Cavendish (below), but there's nothing overly grand about the shopping, even though the farm shop bills itself as the Holker Food Hall. Holker Shorthorn beef is popular in March. There's a good range of herbs and spices, and the Holker hampers make excellent gifts.
· Daylesford Organic, Glos (daylesfordorganic.com)
Based near Kingham in Gloucestershire, but with a thriving London shop in Pimlico (with the Bamford & Sons clothes emporium around the corner in Sloane Square) and about to conquer the whole country. Kate Winslet (top left) is regularly spotted stocking up on groceries. It's frighteningly expensive, but undeniably chic. Alex James (above left) and Liz Hurley (left) love it, too.
· Wyken Vinery, Suffolk (wykenvineyards.co.uk)
Stunning conversion of a 400-year-old barn in a beautiful rural setting, with plenty of walks to hand. Lady Carlisle has exquisite taste and her Leaping Hare restaurant is worth a visit in itself. In summer, check out the gardens around Wyken Hall, the Elizabethan manor house where the family lives. No one could feel out of place here. There's a bustling farmers' market on Saturdays.
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