Juxtaposition gives context and perspective; two adjacent stories in today’s Daily Mail shed an uneasy light on one another. In one article, we read about how the entrepreneur James Caan insists that parents should not help their children to get jobs. This proposal drew scorn from Tory MP Brian Binley, who said “If parents aren’t there to give all the help they can to their children then I don’t know what they are there for.” A Downing St spokesman offered David Cameron’s view that “…every parent wants what’s best for their children.”
However, the next story on this page describes the case of four-year-old Daniel Pelka, who had apparently been starved and beaten to death by his mother and her husband. Obviously, not all parents are filled to bursting with devotion and kindness.
Several years ago I was preparing to test the adhesion of a paint coating by using sticky tape (press it firmly down, then yank it briskly off-voila!). This tape is remarkably expensive, since it is rigorously tested to confirm that it has the required bond strength. But when I pulled the free end of the tape it unrolled itself, showing almost no adhesion; and the un-tacky ribbon exhaled a faint acrylic smell, suggesting that the contact polymer film had been incorrectly prepared.
I was reminded of this by a news item in today’s Telegraph; Polish-born pianist Krystian Zimerman recently spotted an audience member filming his performance on a cellphone, and left the stage in protest. He later explained that his recording contracts were being jeopardised by unauthorised YouTube postings of concert footage; how can a record company be expected to make a profit when their merchandise is already being given away? The news item ended by mentioning that (shortly after 9/11) Zimerman’s Steinway Grand was confiscated (and destroyed!) at JFK Airport by security officials who thought that the glue used in its construction smelled like explosives. Strange, I thought most airports have forensic laboratories which can precisely identify tiny amounts of explosive or narcotic materials. Perhaps the customs officials undergo special training – like sniffer dogs – which enables them to detect drugs and Semtex.
One performer whose instrument would never have been handled badly by the airport staff was Liberace, the corny, charming showman who dominated Las Vegas for much of the 1970s. Watching elderly footage of this character (on YouTube, naturally) one is reminded of how innocent and uncynical the world was back then. He was exceedingly camp, but vigorously denied accusations of homosexuality; this refusal to acknowledge the truth meant that he was not seen as provocative or challenging, and audiences were still happy to watch him perform. A newly-released film, Behind the Candelabra, covers the six-year liaison between Mister Showbiz and his secret boyfriend, Scott Thorson. It seems absurd that anyone would want to make a film about this character nowadays, and ludicrous that the lead roles would end up being played by Michael Douglas and Matt Damon. And completely unbelievable that the film is being hailed as a critical triumph, despite having originally been shunned by all the Hollywood studios.
The film was broadcast on HBO Television in the States, and one viewer headed for the IMDB message boards to post an angry tirade, ending with the sentence: “This movie could definitely distort young minds as the script is quite disgusting.”
Than which I can imagine no higher praise!