Simon Hoggart’s week: An old mugging scam through the wonder of Wi-Fi
My historic moment on the underground is marred by a message that was obviously not all it seemed
✒Thanks to modern technology they have installed Wi-Fi in some of the bigger London tube stations. It’s a great idea; you can spend hours browsing the Guardian website, or porn, while waiting for your train which is cancelled due to signal failure.
Thanks to this miracle, I was at Waterloo station when my BlackBerry went “brung!” It was a historic moment for me. I pressed the button, and there, a hundred feet below the ground, I could read – a scam message! “You may not remember me, but I desperately need your help. We are in Spain and have just been mugged…” These strike me as risible; even if you recognised the name – a one-in-a-thousand chance – you could easily tell that it was a scam.
When I worked in downtown Washington DC it was common to be approached by well-dressed men, who had been robbed and needed just a few dollars for the subway home. Since they were asking for only around $3 or so, they probably did quite well. I used to say, “that’s terrible! We must go to the police now! This mugger is probably still prowling the streets – hey, why are you leaving?”
✒The House of Lords had a short debate this week on the reform of the House of Lords. Amid the fuss in the Commons about fuel tax and crooked bankers it got rather lost, but I enjoyed it.
Lord Richard, who chaired the joint committee on reform, said, “It was indeed a privilege and a pleasure, though perhaps not a treasure beyond measure.” So, let’s get Dr Seuss into the House! Lord Strathclyde wanted the law lords to return, but he said ruefully that it might not be possible since you can’t get toothpaste back into the tube. This must be the only time that the grandest of all our legal grandees have been compared to Euthymol. [[ opt cut ]] Lord Williamson, who is 78, said sadly that he could expect “personal decomposition” before the peers agreed on their own composition. [[ end opt cut ]]
It was left to Lord (formerly John) Reid to rip apart the estimate of costs, which involves paying peers only when they report for duty. “What would we think about any new company that starts with 450 employees and bases its overheads and costs assessment on the hope that they will not turn up for work?”
✒Because Nora Ephron, who died this week, was married for a spell to Carl Bernstein, of Woodward and Bernstein, he appeared in two successful films played by Hollywood stars. In All The President’s Men he was Dustin Hoffman and in Ephron’s Heartburn, he was Jack Nicholson. Many of us would go to our graves happy if we could make that claim. Better than being played by Danny DeVito or Timothy Spall, anyway.
Heartburn is, in part, about Bernstein’s affair with Margaret Jay. She was then married to Peter Jay, the British ambassador to Washington, and presented a news programme on NPR, the admirable non-commercial US radio channel. She was, I gather, not universally loved. The offices had a public tannoy system designed to track down any employee.
Bernstein would phone, and would be asked his name. “This is a private call,” he would mutter. The tannoy would boom out, “Carl Bernstein for Margaret Jay!”
✒Stanley Hall, a moated Tudor grange in deepest north Essex, is like the house in Le Grand Meaulnes, impossible to find, idyllic when you get there, and almost impossible to find again. Every year they devote a weekend to opera. This year they had the brilliant idea of combining Mozart’s The Impresario, adapted to be about a bankrupt opera company putting on Pagliacci, with the same cast later in Pagliacci. So it was an opera about an opera company putting on an opera which is about putting on a play. It was absolutely lovely.
Last year the temperature was in the 30s, and the forest scene in Eugene Onegin was played by two men in huge Russian greatcoats. This year the rain sluiced down and the marquee groaned in the wind, as we enjoyed an opera set in an Italian town in August.
✒More Olympic horrors. It’s now alleged that the surface to air missiles installed around the East End will not just shoot down planes in a 9/11 style attack, but will be used against anyone breaking the incredibly strict sponsorship rules – so don’t even think of drinking Pepsi, or trying to pay for anything with MasterCard. To misquote PG Wodehouse, “he had the air of one, who, bending down to pick up his Burger King burger and fries, suddenly felt a Rapier missile in the small of his back…”
You might think that it’s impossible to get tickets for the top events, or even the most boring. Think again! A company called Prestige Ticketing is offering entry, “and you might be surprised at the prices”. I am. They want £595 to watch the beach volleyball, though the “canoe sprint” is a piffling £295 – for an event you might not watch if it were taking place in your park boating lake.
You can have a nine-hour day at the athletics for £695, though less than four hours of that features people actually running, jumping or throwing things. But you do get breakfast, a champagne reception and lunch to fill the empty hours.
And a week or so back I mentioned the school in Sussex which wasn’t taking children to see the Olympic torch for health and safety reasons. They have relented. Sort of. Bizarrely they held instead a “schools torch relay”. Runners carried the torch to a minibus, which then drove close to the nearest school, to which they ran with the torch, a distance of, well, entire yards.