Welcome to Spiel, the JC’s blog.

  • Getting the basics right

    Stephen Pollard
    Jun 11, 2009

    I'm in Israel at the moment, on holiday, and am not supposed to be blogging - hence my absence during a tumultuous week in politics. But I have, of course, been following events both on TV and the web.

    What has struck me above all else is how terribly uninformed and inaccurate some - most? - of  the coverage has been. Take this, from the BBC site today. In itself it's trivial, but it shows just how the most basic understanding is often missing:

    Brown didn't trust me, says Flint

  • Definitely not a hot hotel

    Jan Shure
    Jun 10, 2009

    As the JC will report in next week’s travel pages, four Sheraton properties in Israel are to lose the Sheraton brand name that puts them firmly at the heart of the Starwood chain. According to the Israeli press, Starwood cited a need to maintain the standard of the prestige brand. But the report also claimed that franchise and management fees were in arrears. Whether Starwood is, indeed, tightening up standards, or whether they might be less assiduous in spotting flaws if fees were being paid, I have no way of ascertaining. What I do know is that two summers ago I had the misfortune to stay at one of the four – the Sheraton Plaza Jerusalem – and to say that it did not (even then)deserve the name Sheraton is an understatement on the scale of “Mount Everest is a small hill”.

    I have no clear recollection of the room, beyond the fact that it was small, shabby, poorly furnished and equipped with a bathroom which would have been barely adequate by three-star standards.
    I also remember that our room had a delinquent key-card unit that required us to have the card-key reprogrammed or replaced roughly every third time we tried to open our door. There were, of course, no house phones to call reception, so my husband had to descend the 12 floors to the lobby each time, have the key reprogrammed, and then return. And the lift was barely more efficient than the door unit, so the round-trip often took 15 minutes.

    Ah, the lobby! Probably quite grand when the hotel opened in the late 1960s, I doubt it has been seriously refurbished or renovated since. The furnishings were shabby and the coffee shop was third-rate, despite the Arab waiters’ best efforts to be efficient and courteous.
    But the very worst aspect of the hotel was the swimming pool. Access was tucked away down a fire escape – or at least, that is what the arrangement resembled – and I seem to remember signage was bad, so it took 10 minutes to find the route. There were threadbare loungers on scrubby grass, but no pool staff, no towels as I recall (and I was there in July, not December), and no facilities for buying food or a drink beyond, I think, a machine dispensing Coke (or possibly Pepsi).
    Our inclination had been to check out and move elsewhere, but it was (I think I mentioned) July, and there was not much else available. I remember wondering how such a property in the heart of this magnificent city, where truly fabulous hotels abound, could survive, and how Starwood could continue to allow it to function under the Sheraton brand.

  • Don't drink and dance

    Simon Rocker
    Jun 10, 2009

    Here’s a rabbi who thinks simchah dancing has got too rowdy.

    Writing of his experience of a recent wedding, Rabbi Dovid Landesman comments: “Frankly, the movements would have done the ‘bros’ in the ‘hood’ proud.”

    More on Cross Currents

  • BNP in the line of fire

    Marcus Dysch
    Jun 9, 2009

    It was the calm before the storm.

    BNP activists were standing around joking about their electoral success. Waiting for their leader to arrive in Westminster for his first major press conference since winning a seat in the European Parliament, they exuded the cocky smarm we have become familiar with.

    But they weren’t laughing for long.

  • Madness

    Geoffrey Paul
    Jun 8, 2009

    In the week that marked the anniversary of the D-Day landings and a war in which the UK lost nearly half a million soldiers and civilians in the struggle to defeat Nazism, UK electors send two members of the British National Party to join their representatives in the European Parliament. Is there a national streak of insanity?

  • Goodbye Pret Tuna sandwich

    Candice Krieger
    Jun 8, 2009

    Far be it for me to question the ethical, and admirable, decision of one of the food industry’s most accomplished chiefs. But news over the weekend that Pret A Manger co-founder Julian Metcalfe’s is removing the chain’s tuna and cucumber sandwich from the shelves has, I admit, left me a little concerned.

    Mr Metcalfe, shocked by a film outlining the dangers of intensive fishing methods, will remove all tuna sandwiches from the 150 shops across the UK. The chain is also taking premium bluefin tuna out of its sushi boxes and its sister chain Itsu.

    While of course his intentions are commendable – supermarkets have already followed suit banning bluefin from their fish counters – I just hope Mr Metcalfe will be replacing the tuna offerings. I am still mourning the loss of the tuna nicoise wrap, which was taken away so suddenly more than a year ago.

  • Also look the other way...

    Geoffrey Paul
    Jun 7, 2009

    Some friends of Israel, and many Israelis themselves, have been so forensic in picking through references to Israel in President Obama's Cairo speech that, to quote him from a press conference statement in Paris on Saturday, while “I've discussed the importance of a cessation of settlement construction... I also want to reemphasise, because that's gotten more attention than what I've also said, which is the Palestinians have to renounce violence, end incitement, improve their governance capacity so that Israelis can be confident that the Palestinians can follow through on any commitments they make across the table." Few commentators have so far seriously assessed what improving governance capacity means. In the first place, it must mean ending the internal strife between the Palestinian factions. Within the past 24 hours, Fatah has arrested Hamas members in the West Bank and Hamas has rounded up Fatah followers in Gaza, including one who reportedly died of a heart attack when apprehended and another who was accused of spying - he was charged with passsing information about Hamas to the Paletinian Authority. Every effort made by Cairo and others to bring the two sides to an agreement has collapsed. A final “reconciliation” meeting is due in Egypt on July 5. There is absolutely nothing to suggest it will be any more successful than the others. Mr Obama might yet find - like virtually every one of his predecessors - that his vision of peace is frustrated not so much by Israeli obduracy as by the inability of Palestinian leaders to stop burying the hatchet in their brothers' heads.

  • Sir Alan - you're hired (nearly)

    Candice Krieger
    Jun 5, 2009

    It is hardly surprising that Sir Alan has been appointed Enterprise Tzar to Gordon Brown - albeit "unofficially" at the time of writing.

    Come next week the Amstrad boss will have some spare time on his hands. His hit television show, the Apprentice, will be finished and he can leave his multi-million pound business in the capable hands of the series winners and his mini Sir Alans/Alanettes – assuming Kate wins that is.

    Jokes aside, Sir Alan, a long-standing Labour supporter and a close friend of the Prime Minister is well placed to advise the government on how to weather the recession. He already advises Downing Street on issues affecting enterprise and the economy, and is expected to push Britain's "green" and digital technology.

  • Have JDate boobed?

    Marcus Dysch
    Jun 5, 2009

    I gather there have been complaints from residents in West Hampstead about JDate’s latest billboard.

    The advert features a buxom woman holding a pint of beer and carries the tagline: “What’s more, she’s Jewish”.

    Her head has been sliced off the top however, leaving her cleavage as the er, focal point, of the poster.