Welcome to Spiel, the JC’s blog.

  • Next - the good news

    Candice Krieger
    May 6, 2009

    The high street has had little to cheer about of late. And so, it came as something of a surprise today when Simon Wolfson, the chief executive of Next, revealed impressive trading figures - better than expected by his own admission.
    Sales for the 14 week period to 2 May 2009 were only down 2.3 per cent, ahead of the Group's -6 per to -9 per cent estimate. Yet the company is not getting carried away and said the figures need to be treated with caution, as they are flattered by a number of factors:
    • A later Easter which is good for retail generally
    • Much warmer weather than last year which benefits sales of summer clothing
    • Fewer people travelling overseas during the Easter holiday as a result of the
    weakness of sterling.
    As a result of the better than expected sales to date, the company has added £15m to its internal profit forecasts but said: "These improvements could yet be offset by the effects of pandemic flu, although at this stage it is hard to predict the impact on consumer behaviour." An introductory range of customised face masks might help.

  • You don't have to be kosher to love Brent Cross's newest cafe

    Jan Shure
    May 6, 2009

    On Friday, I went to Tel Aviv for lunch... well, not really, but it felt that way. Where I actually went was Kanteen, the shiny, new kosher café at Brent Cross. The first kosher eaterie in a major UK shopping mall, it has a distinctly Israeli feel to it. And not just the menu, which is undeniably similar to a thousand cafes across Israel; the ambience is pure, distilled Tel Aviv, too. The edgy, monochrome décor featuring curvy, black leather chairs and boldly-patterned, black-and-white flowered laminated tables, lift it from the usual run of kosher cafes, while the Bugaboo mummies chilling over capuccino and toasted tuna bagelach, to the little knots of kippah-wearing businessmen discussing turnover across Lavazza espressos and omelettes, to the glamorous balaboostas enjoying a relaxed lunch with friends before heading home to make Shabbat dinner, made it entirely reminiscent of a Friday afternoon in Sheinkin or Tel Aviv Port.

    Up against the competing offerings at Brent Cross, it may turn out that you don't have to be kosher to enjoy brunch or lunch at Kanteen.


  • To see ourselves as others see us

    Jenni Frazer
    May 5, 2009

    Hampstead Theatre is celebrating its 50th birthday this year and has chosen to mark it with the revival of its 1975 Michael Frayn hit, Alphabetical Order.

    It's set in a newspaper library and though the new production has some starry names - Imogen Stubbs, Gawn Grainger, even ex-Coronation Street's Chloe Newsome - it has to be admitted that the play has not worn well.

    However, I think I can understand the rave reviews from the London critics. It's simply that Frayn has created some hilariously recognisable stereotypes who have probably haunted every newspaper office there ever was: the person who manages to impale themselves on their desk spike; the slightly decrepit messenger who could bore for Britain; the features editor who persists in addressing everyone as if they were mildly backward schoolchildren; and, bang up to date, a leader-writer who could be Boris Johnson in another life.

  • Treif Flu

    Simon Rocker
    Apr 30, 2009

    It's not only Israel's deputy health minister who wants swine flu renamed because of religious sensitivities. Representatives of Britain's pig famers also want the appellation dropped because they fear it may damage pork sales.

  • Are second sons really more rebellious?

    Alex Kasriel
    Apr 29, 2009

    Today's Daily Mail runs a story which tells how recent studies prove what we already suspected: younger sons are more rebellious than their conservative older brothers.

    The newspaper uses Second Testament Bible story The Prodigal Son to illustrate the point.  But there are more biblical exceptions to this rule, than examples that prove it: Jacob and Esau, Cain and Abel, Joseph and all his older brothers. 

    Which other younger brothers are actually the heroes of the story and are there any more examples in the bible that prove the rule?

  • Who said Hallel today?

    Simon Rocker
    Apr 29, 2009

    When the Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks, brought out his new edition of the Singer's Siddur, the main prayer book for Orthodox congregations in the UK, two years ago, it was the first to include a section for Yom Ha'atzmaut, Israel Independence Day.

    When it comes to Hallel, the traditional festive prayers of praise, the siddur notes that it is recited "in most communities" - and that there are "varying customs: some say it with, some without, the opening and concluding blessings".

    Perhaps a half-Hallel with berachot is the most appropriate for Yom Ha'atzmaut.

  • Swine Flu - don't say it!

    Candice Krieger
    Apr 28, 2009

    Israel's deputy health minister Yakov Litzman this week urged people to refer to ‘Swine flu' as "Mexican flu" for religious reasons.

    Mr Litzman, of the ultra-religious United Torah Judaism party, said: "We will use the term Mexican flu in order not to have to pronounce the word swine,"

    Blogger DovBear makes an interesting point:

  • Krystian Zimerman - idiot

    Stephen Pollard
    Apr 28, 2009

    What can I say? I've been busy, I've been away, I've been...nah, no excuse. I've been a bad blogger, but I'm going to turn over a new leaf from today.

    Meanwhile, one of my very favourite pianists, Krystian Zimerman, has turned into one of my least favourite men, after this puerile, ignorant, and downright rude behaviour:

    Poland's Krystian Zimerman, widely regarded as one of the finest
    pianists in the world, created a furor Sunday night in his debut at
    Walt Disney Concert Hall when he announced this would be his last
    performance in America because of the nation's military policies

  • The Blessed Leonard

    Jenni Frazer
    Apr 24, 2009

    It was only a matter of time before the mad professors of Bricup, the academic boycott group, turned their attention to the proposed visit of Leonard Cohen to Israel in September, and urged him not to stage a concert there.

    According to a report in Ha'aretz, Haim Bresheeth, Mike Cushman, Hilary Rose and Jonathan Rosenhead, representing the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine, sought to soften Mr C up by telling him "Your songs have been part of the soundtrack of our lives, like breathing, some of them."

    They then went on to warn him: "You will perform in a state whose propaganda services will extract every ounce of mileage from your presence. They will use it to whitewash their war crimes."

  • Not all the Apprentices are 'pants'

    Candice Krieger
    Apr 24, 2009

    Sir Alan Sugar can breathe a sigh of relief. After Wednesday's episode of The Apprentice - during which the challenge was to create a marketing campaign and TV advert for a new cereal brand - he may have questioned the credibility of the aspiring apprentices. Team Ignite came up with the cereal "Wake Up Call" and their brand's cartoon character "Pants Man" - and advert - was justifiably ridiculed.
    Mona explained (to an audience of high profile advertising professionals): "The slogan we've come up with is 'Put your pants on the right way'." The whole team should have been fired on the spot.

    But it emerged this week that last year's winner Lee McQueen has proved his worth, securing his first major contract for Sir Alan. Convenient timing. The former recruitment sales consultant - who won series four despite lying on his CV - worked on a deal to supply BP garages with digital information boards, made by Sir Alan's new digital signage company Amscreen, run by Sir Alan's son Simon Sugar, the former Commercial Director of Amstrad.

    Sir Alan said: "We are very pleased to be announcing this deal that will see the Amscreen network installed in BP stores. Lee has been working very hard for the past year and has progressed well, having played a key role in these negotiations. He has proved that I made the right decision by choosing him as the Apprentice, although you can rest assured I won't be letting him rest on his laurels - he still has a lot to learn." Hopefully not how to put on his pants.