I used to have reservations about Ute Lemper as a singer, but on Radio 3 this afternoon, performing with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, she was stunning. I’m sad that I missed the Hebrew and Arabic songs she began her show with.

Apart from an abortive attempt to read Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone—I gave up, bored—the whole HP phenomenon has passed me by. On Christmas day, therefore, I resolved to watched the movie. I’ve not found it so difficult sitting to the end of a film since Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Some of the child actors were excellent (including Daniel Radcliffe who played Potter) and the sport of Quidditch was a fine invention, but, despite the lush production, a lot else was just not very good. As with so many British classics—including the book that inspired the name of this ‘Blog—Potter sneers at length at the lower-middle classes. Harry’s evil step-family live on a new-build estate on a street with “Privet” in its name (all posh English gardeners are supposed to look down their noses at said bush—it’s terribly non-U). Potter’s real, loving parents, on the other hand, lived in a nice period cottage in the country. Like all true aristos, Potter has greatness in his blood and he doesn’t do anything as vulgar as trying too hard when he is finally spirited off to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry—which is clearly modelled on one of Britain’s great public (meaning private) schools. The magic bank where Harry Potter’s inheritance is kept is run by hook-nosed beasties; they are described by one of the characters as “clever as you like, but not the friendliest of creatures”.

The real problem with Harry Potter is what ultimately did for the Star Trek franchise. There is no sense of genuine danger or threat because, instead of using pre-existing elements of the story to resolve tension, Rowling just pulls an answer from nothingness, adopting Trek‘s subatomic-particle-of-the-week approach to all cliffhangers.

“Captain, the ship will be destroyed within seconds if we can’t stabilize the hull!”
“Perhaps we can re-route the phasers to produce a stream of deus-ex-machinons!”
“It’s working!”

How can you give a toss about a story in which at any minute you know Rowling is going to do everything but tell you “it was all a dream”? A few of you might remember the terrible Children’s Film Foundation productions they used to fob British schoolkids off with at cinema matinees in the 70s. In them, annoying child actors would battle sub-Dr Who special effects and the world’s wussiest criminals. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was like one of those with a NASA-sized budget. It’s lucky Potter was played by such a sympathetic performer, rather than some stagey squirt, because the sheer laziness of the plotting made me resent almost everyone involved, including the ever-reliable Robbie Coltrane and thinking man’s MILF Zoe Wanamaker.

Now the mixed. My brother-in-law bought my sister an iPod Mini for Christmas. The iPod itself is a pleasing object with a smart, if not immediately intuitive, interface. The supplied headphones are not just fashion accessories but deliver the music well. Apple’s proprietary compression system is excellent. (Perhaps I could detect just a hint of wispiness through my own expensive, over-ear Sennheisers.) Of course the whole package is overpriced. Worse, however, if you are a PC owner, I have to warn you that the bundled iTunes software is a roadcrash of twisted unusability. Installing and configuring the programs for our dear Clare and transferring just a couple of music CDs to her PC was a frustrating experience that I have no desire to repeat in a hurry. Now that is also how I feel about seeing Harry Potter films.