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The Morose Maestro

Leonard Cohen has been mourning his 80th birthday with a new album, Popular Problems. At 80, Mr Cohen should have come to terms with his problems but he seems unable to resist adding to them. Indeed, his life's mission seems to be making everyone as distraught, dismayed and depressed as he is. Perhaps it is because, as he once said in his characteristically lyrical way, "the heart goes on cooking, sizzling like a shish kebab." Or perhaps it is because his middle name is Norman. But, oh dear, he doesn't half moan. Even when he was young and succeeded — which, admittedly, didn't require any heroic effort — in bedding Janis Joplin, he wrote a funereal song about their encounter; "You said to me then you preferred handsome men/ But for me you'd make an exception/ Giving head on the unmade bed/ While the limousines wait in the street." Why does he write dirges? Because, he told The Times, "Everyone loves a sad song. Everybody has experienced the defeat of their lives." Oh rubbish. Anyway, what does Mr Cohen know about defeat? Here he is, still straddling the very top of his career. So what if he suffers an occasional twinge of haemorrhoids?

Between the Lines

The BBC series, The Great British Bake Off, in which a winner is chosen from a number of amateur contestants, is witty, amusing and informative. Needless to say, it has attracted the ire of those traditional features of British life, Mr and Mrs Outraged from Tunbridge Wells. Their moans focus on the occasional double entendres made by the programme's presenters as when the contestants, who had been given the task of cooking judge Mary Berry's cherry cake recipe, were told: "You have got two hours to pop Mary's cherry in the oven, and bring it out again." Even the venerable Mrs Berry came under attack when she praised a contestant for giving his biscuits a "good forking". Yet, just as baking is integral to British cuisine so is innuendo to British humour. Way back in the 1960s, Dirk Bogarde in Doctor At Large, examining a girl with breathing problems, places a stethoscope on her heart: "Big breaths, Eva", "Yeth, and I'm only sixtheen."  In the 1975 film, Confessions of a Pop Performer, a hideous old woman, looking for her daughter, querulously demands: "Has anyone seen my Fanny?"  "I saw the bride of Frankenstein once and that was bad enough." From Chaucer to Shakespeare to today, innuendo, however basic, is a peculiarly British form of humour. The Americans never mean what they say; the French — more is the pity — do. But in our once repressed, and now increasingly politically correct society, we must not lose our tradition of not saying what we do mean. And leaving people to make what they will of it.

Uncommon Ailments

The term "common" has offensive undertones to Britons. It denotes that something — or someone — is slightly beyond the pale. The Tory politician, Michael Heseltine, is the epitome of success; he was a self-made millionaire in his 20s, an MP in his 30s and a Cabinet Minister in his 40s. He bought a large house in the country and a smart pad in town and was the envy of everyone until Alan Clark made him a figure of fun with his jibe: "The trouble with Michael is that he had to buy his own furniture", as opposed, of course, to inheriting it. In short, Heseltine was "common". Thirty years on, the interior designer, Nicky Haslam, has devised a list of "common" behaviour. Some are commonsensical such as having imaginary food intolerances, banging on about your ailments, minding about smoking and constantly updating your IPhone. But his belief that jazz music is "common" is nonsense. And his dictum that "it's terribly common to be confident" is absurd.

Returning from World War II, the late Duke of Roxburghe was asked about his experiences. "My dear," he replied languidly, "The noise — and the people!" Such confidence is panache not "common" at all.

Candid Camera

Grace Mugabe, wife of Zimbabwe's doddering tyrant, says that some of his closest advisors are secretly undermining him. They "pretend to support President Mugabe," she sobbed, "And during the day even dance to songs praising him, but during the night they say he is too old and should go." In other news, Mao was a Chinaman.

 
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