Thursday, 27 December 2012

Fontella Bass and the royalties

Last month I sent off a couple of royalty cheques to my musical associates. A modest amount by rock star standards, but enough to make it worth their while to walk to the bank. I mention this because so many in the business lost out on royalties for their compositions. We have just lost Fontella Bass, at the age of 72, who co-wrote the million selling, multi-covered, Rescue Me. A brilliant song and one which is soaked in black American soul feeling. Fontella hardly got a cent from Rescue Me until decades later and much litigation. Florence Ballard of the Supremes was living on welfare when she died. Others cheated out of royalties include Merle Haggard, Meatloaf and Tom Petty, but they are a handful among a cartload of artists who have routinely been denied their fare share.

"Record companies use questionable accounting tactics and contractual provisions to get away with unconscionable things," said accountant Wayne Coleman, whose St. Louis firm has recovered more than $100 million in unpaid royalties for clients, including Haggard. "Of the thousands of royalty compliance audits I've conducted over the past 30 years, I can recall only one instance where the artist owed money to the company." (LA Times)

The record companies simply drag their feet and in the worst cases, just clear off with the money.

Artists will readily admit that they are as lambs to the slaughter. All the ones I have talked to about this recommend that up and coming musicians prioritise the finance side as a number one issue because they knew sod all about it in the beginning.

I have to relate a related, if not on-topic story: Some years ago a friend of mine hung out with a band called The Move. He was also, for reasons he could never quite fathom, a favourite of Don Arden, who at that time was managing The Move. Don Arden is perhaps only known today by some as the father of Sharon Osbourne, but back in the Sixties he was a very serious manager and fixer, having signed Gene Vincent,The Small Faces and the Move. Arden had brought Sam Cooke to England, along with Little Richard and Brenda Lee. He was not one to suffer fools, or indeed to suffer at all. He had a reputation for being very heavy and famously had Robert Stigwood dangled from a balcony by his ankles for attempting to lure the Faces away from Don.

My friend had written a song called Something and it had been recorded along with a Roy Wood number called Blackberry Way. Don turned to my friend and asked which song should be the "A" side, "Something" or "Blackberry Way". My friend thought for a moment and told Don that Blackberry Way was probably the better song, despite having written "Something". The rest, as they say is history. In February of 1969, "Blackberry Way" went to number one.

If you ever have the time, look up "Something". It's a great song, and sung by Carl Wayne, it could have been keeping my friend in decent red wine if he had been perhaps a little less modest in the self-belief department.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

A Killing

In our household there has been much talk of killing. There has been more talk of The Killing, Series 3 than the killings in Connecticut.

Before I try and explain why this is, perhaps its worth getting the trivia out of the way. I am not going to spoil it for people who haven't seen the marvellous Norwegian crime show, except to say that the end was shocking and put a conclusive end to any speculation that there might be a series 4. It was a Reichenbach Falls moment, in which the author has effectively, if not in fact, killed off the main protagonist. (Of course, Conan Doyle tried to kill off Sherlock at the Falls and as we know, had to resurrect him due to the outraged calls of his fans.) Some of us have become utterly fascinated by these Nordic Noir thrillers. I think it is because for me personally I feel I have something deeply connective with that kind of tired resignation, that lack of surprise when people do very bad things, and an almost perverted fetish for expensive lighting and woolly jumpers. It also bears no relation to the real kind of killing - for example that of Norwegian, Anders Breivik, whose identity was not a mystery and whose apprehension was not an exercise in forensic detective work.

As for the mass murders in Connecticut, the death of 27 people, by a lone gunman, barely out of childhood himself, it seems too distant and also so overwhelmingly real. From a news perspective, this kind of thing seems to happen with depressing frequency. The perpetrator is always a freak, a loner with imagined issues to resolve by the use of indiscriminate violence. The act is banal in its execution and yet so violent and so obscene that it becomes difficult to give it more than a fleeting thought, for, to dwell upon the reality, the loss of life, the heartbreak, the sense of utter despair, is to become helpless with emotion. My knowledge of these killings will not do much more than make me feel how evil can momentarily triumph. It may make me angry. It may make me sick. Whatever it does I am certain I cannot do anything about it.

Or perhaps I can. Perhaps we all can.

Everyone has a breaking point. Some of us have been there. Sure, most of us have not become mass murderers but we may have gotten close to being destructive at some low point in our lives. How we treat each other, how we use every single encounter in our lives may impact profoundly on another person. A kindness, a forgiveness, a leg up, a bit of generosity or honesty - just finding a wallet in the street and returning it - could tip the balance.

For those of us who are wearied with the less positive elements of life, perhaps the answer to our putative helplessness over the killing of innocents, is to make sure we are not guilty of tipping someone we know over the edge. Perhaps I have over-simplified an issue that is primarily about a very disturbed young man who has destroyed many lives and perhaps there is nothing any of us can do about it, but we are after all, the sum total of our encounters and life choices. Why not make those choices good ones, for ourselves and those around us?

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

It's only a hat

Can you, with a degree of confidence, pronounce the name Jatenderpal Singh Bhullar? Yes, you probably can. It's important in a way for Jatenderpal is a Scots Guardsman and by all accounts, a credit to his regiment. Not a very Scottish name though, is it?

Well, it seems we shall all have to get used to that an awful lot more because, according to the newly released census figures, and a positively salivating BBC, white Londoners for the first time find themselves in a minority.

But back to Guardsman Bhullar. Guardsman Bhuller requires, by dint of his religion, the wearing of a turban. (I don't know anymore if that is even the Politically Correct term, but it will do.) There has been opposition to this because it precludes him from wearing the traditional headgear of a Scots Guardsman, which consists of one and a half pounds of dead bear. Real, actual, dead bearskin.

People do seem to get het up about the most trivial things. Whereas I do not expect a free for all, I mean, the wearing of a John Deere baseball cap or a ferret, possibly in this instance, Guardsman Bhullar's headwear does have cultural and religious relevance to him and as a member of a proud warrior race with some history of its own, I would let it go and celebrate the fact that England was built upon the loyalty of those who it first colonised and then became a partner with.

As for the alarming growth in non white immigration, I take a less liberal view.

White Britain is at the social, cultural and technical peak of global affairs, along with other white European countries, Jamaica isn't, South Africa Isn't, and neither is Pakistan to name but three of dozens. And yet, members of these countries appear to be able to invade our shores at will, bringing with them all the attitudes and values which are antithetical to our way of life.

Democracy hangs by a thread. It is already the case that some parts of this country are controlled by people who do not subscribe to British values and they make their voice heard by manipulation of our voting system as well as simply being a loud, noisy and tyrannical minority.

Lest anybody accuse me of being unfair, I wonder what would happen if white settlers in Pakistan or Egypt demanded the kind of benefits and privileges we accord to them in this country? The answer is already out there and it is unequivocal.

I had a number of conversations with someone who had lived in Zimbabwe for 25 years and owned and ran a farm. Seeing the writing on the wall they sold up at a loss and left. The new, white buyers thought they were going to make a huge profit on the land and yet, now, instead of fertile plains of profitable crops, that very land lies empty and barren, grabbed by blacks under the state-sponsored scheme. Tales of rape and violence against whites in Zimbabwe are rife, but my farmer friend told me that they are more frightened to be in South Africa, which is going the same way.

It's just one anecdote. But there are many such anecdotes out there. They all point to the same thing. You can impose so called "equality" but you cannot change behaviour and culture.

The best you can hope for is that people who come to this country from less civilised parts of the world may just aspire to live like us, be at peace like us, and benefit from the kind of fairness and common sense accorded to Jatenderpal Singh Bhullar.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012


In the days of The Sagas, Icelanders practiced the law of banishment. Someone found guilty of a crime was literally banished from society and its protection. Furthermore the outlaw, for that is what they were, could be lawfully killed. Banishment was meted out to murderers and those who went "beserk" among other things.

It worked in a society that was strongly bound by the family and extended kin and where interdependence was a matter of survival. Often, banishment meant death by starvation or violence from other outlaws.

It is interesting that Holland, perhaps renowned for its liberal attitudes to things like sex and drugs, has instituted the idea of "scum villages" where perpetual criminals and anti-social elements can be housed.

I can see the point of this. Having lived in Rotterdam for some time, many years ago, I was amazed at the fantastic quality of social housing. People were proud of their council flats and the gardens were kept like Buckingham Palace. Of course, Amsterdam is slightly different and has over the years experienced an influx of immigrants from former Dutch colonies.

The only question you have to ask is this: If you are of modest means and your first home is rented from the government, do you want your life ruined by those who take no pride in their homes or, indeed destroy everything that makes your house a home? Do you wish to be awoken in the night by smashing windows, or do you want to be fearful everytime you step out of the front door? Do you want to be verbally abused and intimidated?

Is it not the case that social housing is right? Social housing is the sign of a caring and mature society. But allowing scumbags - drug dealers, violence and filth to enjoy the privileges of the good is the sign of a mad society. It's time to reel in the largesse, the woolly liberal thinking and chuck out those who make the lives of decent people a misery.

It's time to banish troublemakers from the protection of a society that has fought for its values.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

A spanking day for the press

There has been a flurry of comment about the Leveson report. It's really a complete waste of paper because, as Guido Fawkes pointed out, Leveson's weighty, four-volume dictum spent one page on electronic media. I tried to catch one of my chickens today with no luck - she ran away. It's the same with mass media. If you think in terms of regulating it on a national basis you are living in the past. The internet is geographically and nationally beyond control. Long may it be. As for the luvvies who live by the media, they also die by the media. It goes with the job. If you get caught with your trousers down and somebody is remotely interested in this, you have to accept it as part of being "famous".

Personally I am not interested that Max Moseley likes being spanked. I was rather sad that he had to leave F1 because of the revelations about his private life. Ultimately, it is none of my business, as long as he does not go on TV and pretend he's a saint.

Having mentioned F1 I feel I must sum up the season. (Non fans look away now)

Lewis appeared much more comfortable in his skin once the news of his move to Mercedes came out. We forget sometimes that these are boys. Most of them are younger than my son. They have to handle a heck of a lot and some do it better than others. Jenson is a case in point. He is laid back and relatively well-adjusted. My heart goes out to Narain Karthikeyan who is probably the worst F1 driver in the business. It's a bit of a contradiction really because you have to be pretty good to get into the sport at all. My tip for next year was Sauber, but they lost their ace card, Sergio Perez to McLaren. It's all in the air, but I still carry the torch for Monisha Kaltenborn, F1's only woman team boss.

In the end, Vettel won the championship because his car was better than the Ferrari of Alonso. My vote for driver of the year though has to go to Alonso for making a mediocre car look good. He does not get sportsman of the year because of the bad grace he and his team showed over the result and throughout the season. Where does that leave McLaren? They have made a massive gamble with Perez. I don't think it will pay off. They need a reliable car and some slicker pit lane activity. Finally a word on Jake Humphrey. I was one of the doubters when he appeared as the BBC anchor for F1. "Oh no, an embryo" I whinged. Well, he did good and it's going to be difficult to replace him. Jake has a distinguished career ahead of him. Perhaps not in the same league as Sir Peter O'Sullevan (incredibly still alive) or Murray Walker (incredibly still alive) or indeed Brain Johnston (dead), but nevertheless, Jake stands on their shoulders.

That's it for now. I don't know if there will be more before Christmas, but enjoy yourselves.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Well, nobody's perfect

In November 1968, the government of Harold Wilson passed the Trade Descriptions Act. In essence it forbade

misdescriptions of goods, services, accommodation and facilities provided in the course of trade;

and also

to prohibit false or misleading indications as to the price of goods; to confer power to require information on instructions relating to goods to be marked on or to accompany the goods or to be included in advertisements; to prohibit the unauthorised use of devices or emblems signifying royal awards

What it did not do is protect items that have a claim to being regional in some way, such as the Melton Mowbray pork pie. Food products whose makers wish to use a description unique to a locale have had a lot more trouble in getting these protected than our European counterparts. Why, for example has the Saucisson d'Ardennes, backed by the Belgian high court, acquired protected status and not the Lincolnshire sausage? The latter has been put up for it more than once and oddly, been rejected, not by the EU but by DEFRA. As a Lincolnshire lad I can assure you that these sausages (at least the ones made in the county) are unique and taste nothing like the fakes you can buy everywhere.

Well, I like to know that a sausage has provenance, and bearing this in mind I was interested in the story, another Belgian story, of a man who was devastated to find that his wife of 19 years, had started life as a man. The deception was wilful and part of a plan by his spouse to get Belgian citizenship, after being brought to the country as an au-pair.

Apparently the poor man is now undergoing psychiatric treatment and trying to have the marriage annulled. He also is quoted as saying, "Even during sex, I never noticed anything".

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Rotherham's right of self-determination

People like certainty. They like re-assurance and, what better way to underpin a validation of deeply held values than to hear a speaker appeal to the emotions that strike a chord. The key, for the speaker with ambition, is to be vague. Get specific and you alienate. Stay vague and you bring along all. Hitler did this perfectly. He didn't start out by telling the crowds that he was going to gas 6 million Jews, because for most, this was not a good thing. What Hitler did was to speak of sections of the community who were going against the common will in the vaguest terms possible. If I said that what this country needs is a return to British values, I wonder how it would go down? Oddly enough, I don't think it would go down well, for "British Values" has become, in the eyes of some, synonymous with racism and bigotry. It is all the more strange because to me, the term means, above all, enterprise, fairness, democracy, freedom of speech and a common purpose. In fact, it is a measure of the perversion of language that certain ideas like this have become taboo.

But what did Hitler set out to achieve? In simple terms he set out to create a master race, devoid of inferiors. He set out to place Germany at the pinnacle of human achievement and spent a lot of time constructing an edifice which reflected that. He also removed, by force, any opposition.

In order to whip up support for his vision he needed a scapegoat. He needed a scapegoat that would bear on its back all the failures of the German people. Scapegoating is a key element in the rise of Fascism. There has to be a monster which is incapable of self-defence.

And so it has come to pass that anyone who seeks to preserve our way of life, by, for example, putting limits on immigration, is now termed a racist. It's very clever. Ask the average person what a racist actually is and I doubt if you would get a coherent answer. But that does not matter, the damage is done. It's a word which, without being very specific, is now a portmanteau for anyone who does not subscribe to multiculturalism or unfettered immigration or indeed, the right of British People to self-determination. It is all the more a perversion of the term that those who come from the other countries in question practice such severe forms of racism and fascism that it is incredible that anyone gives them right of entry, let alone the right to stir up insurrection and hatred.

I think we have come to a watershed moment. The recent case of a family in Rotherham, a decent family who are foster parents, being denied their altruism because they voted for UKIP is a kind of marker in the war of words and views.

In a way I sympathize with the people of Rotherham. They voted Labour and by association they voted in a Labour-leaning council, whose executive must do the will of their leaders. It's called self-determination. We all have a right to elect people who will do our bidding.

The kindly people in this sorry affair have no redress. They have been branded racists becausee they voted for UKIP. It is a paradigm of the Hitler/Goebbels principle: keep it simple, keep it vague and never reveal the true purpose. Those in Rotherham who think they are doing some lost young people a favour by denying them a home, have bought into an impossible and dangerous dream of ideological purity, the likes of which we have not seen since the 1930's in Germany.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Rome wasn't built on sausage rolls

It is said that Rome was not built in a day. But then again, neither was Luton. It follows that time spent does not equal progress or quality of end result.

It's also a common complaint that things move too fast. Somehow people are expected to arrive at their destination before they leave. It's exemplified by the unthinking use of social media and the dozens of occasions when the sender regrets not spending an extra moment or two considering the possible ramifications of a tweet or an email.

Has the world changed this week? It depends on your definition of "world". My world changed because I collapsed, last Tuesday, with severe dizziness and vomiting. The room was spinning and for the rest of the evening, between being sick, was spent moving around on all fours. I still have some balance problems and feel very weak. It kind of distracted me, but not enough to stop reading the news.

I fear the police have been a bit too busy. One mounted officer arrested some ne'er do well attempted to feed a police horse a sausage roll, in a "threatening or abusive manner". It reminds me of the time, not so long ago, that someone else got arrested for saying that a police horse "looked gay". What is it with mounted officers? Are they a bit, well, big girl's blouse? (They'll probably round me up and sit me in the comfy chair for that remark).

Arresting a DJ in his late sixties, for allegedly jiggling some adult woman's boobs, over thirty years ago, seems to me like hysteria.

We still have to learn some lessons about this deluge of information and instant referral to everything and everybody. After all, Rome was not built in a day.

Saturday, 3 November 2012


Has anyone watched ITV4 re-runs of The Saint recently?

The reason I ask will become clear if you read on. The Saint, with Roger Moore in the title role was typical of the period; The Baron, Man in a Suitcase, The Avengers, The Champions were all done on a budget tighter than Ann Widdecombe's knickers. The shows were filmed back to back by an assortment of young directors and they were mostly carried by the star. One director who worked on Man in a Suitcase (and several others in the genre) told me that Richard Bradford was monosyllabic with fatigue.

Of course, they never really went to Monaco or Paris or Tangier or anywhere much further than Pinewood Studios and today that is obvious. Apparently the opening shots of The Champions is simply the three characters standing against some 8mm holiday movie of Geneva and the impressive building was a labour exchange in East London. Still, as a kid I bought it, bought right into it and marveled at the sophistication of the lavish apartments and fancy cars, chief favourite of mine being Simon Templar's P1800 Volvo.

The reason it was sort of believable was partly because nobody really traveled abroad and, set against a contemporary factual world of brown and green institutions, rotten food and Morris Minors it appeared fantastic.

And here is the serious structural problem with the recent BBC Series "Hunted". Like the 60's adventure shows it relies upon some heavyweight acting. Like its 60's counterparts it has villains who go to extraordinarily complicated extremes to achieve their ends. But unlike The Saint, or Danger Man or Jason King we are no longer impressed with the setting. So, these operatives from this mysterious organisation called Byzantium have a fancy table that is a bit like a giant iPad. So, they have BMWs and Mercs. Their HQ has a lot of glass in it. So far there is nothing to distinguish them from investment bankers.

The problem with the casting is that it is rather uneven. There are some strong performances - Patrick Malahide is haunting enough to become a meta-character like Gene Hunt, a kind of cypher for all that is dreadfully evil. He really is very good to the point that I would be rather nervous to meet the actor. As for "Sam", I am afraid that she just doesn't do it for me. This rather slight girl with blond hair and fish-lip pout is no Sara Lund and yet she appears to be able to deck male baddies twice her size. Come on, you have to have something credible to hang onto in a fantasy series like this.

It's not that the plot is utter, utter tosh. It is, but that is not the main failing of Hunted. It's overwhelming failure is the production design and the dismal locations. I suppose the thinking was, "Nobody will believe this so let's make it look as gritty and realistic as possible". Well, nobody does believe it, but it would have been nice if at least we could have fancied the car.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

A Victory for the little guy

Amid the overly hysterical and the reductio ad absurdum of the Savile case there was, tucked away off the front pages, a story which is much more likely to affect you and me. It concerns the single determined battle of one man who, fed up with numerous cold calls from auto-dialling centres decided to do something.

According to The Telegraph:

Richard Herman, 53, was so upset with firms phoning him up and trying to sell him goods and services he decided to charge them for the time they took out of his day.
He recorded the calls and then sent an invoice charging £10 for every minute he spent on the phone.
When they refused to pay up he sued them at the small claims court and won.
The marketing company AAC agreed to pay the full £195 for 19-and-a-half minutes of calls, plus a £25 court fee. 
If there is such a thing as abuse and scandal - quite overly used and cliched words these days - then this is it. What is remarkable is that he took them to court, or in this case, threatened to take them to court, and won.

We in this country are tired of all the little injustices which plague our lives; politically correct councils, over-zealous uniformed government agents and companies who use the lack of regulation or just ignore it. If there is one thing all of us agree on it is the need to clamp down on these call-centres and in particular the ones who generate silent calls ( a function of the auto-dialling systems they have). They plague our lives and are at least unsettling and at worst just plain scary. In terms of actual time-wasting and the volume of calls generated they are responsible for causing millions of disruptive moments in the daily lives of the population. Neither the phone companies or the rather useless Telephone Preference Service or OfCom have so far done anything effectual in ending the misery.

And that is why one man fought back. It is a victory for the little guy. For those who stand up to injustice it shines as a beacon of hope and encouragement.

Sibelius 2nd Symphony - RSNO Søndergård

Last night I went to a classical concert. I went along to hear one of my favourite pieces, the Sibelius Symphony No 2. It was part of a concert in Edinburgh at the Usher Hall, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, conducted by Thomas Søndergård. My history with this piece goes back over 30 years and it is fair to say that I have heard it in several versions over the years, both live and on disc. 

The programme included a stunning contemporary piece by B Tommy Andersson which was at once accessible, pastoral and peculiar. There followed an aptly chosen two pieces by Mahler and as far as my Mahler knowledge goes, it was typically Mahler - mischeiveous and lyrical. Then came the Sibelius. One commentator has said of it:
The second symphony will always be the "best" symphony for those who have fallen in love with its memorable melodies and heroic character. The work is a highly functional synthesis of classical luminosity and romantic feeling
 This "romantic feeling" conjures up all sorts of things associated with the culture and landscape of Finland:
 "In comparison with the first symphony, the second symphony already shows a dignified man of the world looking into the horizon. We have moved from Slavism to Central Europe. Still, from time to time I also see images of Karelian grandmothers practising their witchcraft."
Jukka-Pekka Saraste, conductor, 2002
 This was the first time I had witnessed Mr Søndergård. His style is flash, although that epithet was of old reserved for Sir Malcolm Sargent, though mainly for his mode of dress rather than his reading of scores. He is steeped in the same kind of Nordic narrative that has of late become so fascinating to the British. 

 The RSNO were whipped through the symphony at break-neck speed. (If you are not familiar with it, just think of a song, any song, that you know well and sing it faster than it is usually rendered.) The effect is creepy and, although it brings out fresh nuances and a degree of virtuosity, it does perhaps lack the broad canvas that most renditions of the no.2 reveal. The brass section seemed more in evidence but I put this down to the acoustic peculiarities of the venue.

And then I came across a revue of an earlier concert by the same conductor, though not the same orchestra:

I particularly enjoyed the performance of the symphony and Thomas Søndergård seemed to propel it onwards with an exuberance that threatened to leave some of the more elderly players in the BBC Symphony Orchestra lagging behind the beat. The BBC SO’s sterling brass section seemed almost as enthusiastic as Søndergård himself  (Jim Pritchard, Seen and Heard International) 

Sibelius' second is one of his greatest works and the score can be surprising for a conductor coming to it fresh. Søndergård certainly surprised me, but not in an altogether good way.

So there you are. I was not altogether mad when I thought this piece was being played fast or if you like, exuberantly. It is in the end a matter of taste and I like my Sibelius as I prefer revenge, a dish best served cold.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Mightier than the Tweet?

The pen may be mightier than the sword, as Edward Bulwer Lytton announced in his play about Cardinal Richlieu, but like The Spanish Inquisition, I doubt if Lytton expected the explosion of verbiage that is currently a result of the information super highway.

Pens and swords require practice in order to use them. When was the last time you used a pen? I mean, I don't mind if it was a Parker Centennial or a Mont Blanc or one of those tyrannical biros you get sent by charities, but when was the last time you wrote more than a few lines with a pen?

I had to use one the other day and it was a trial. I could hardly hold it properly because I am so out of practice. I suppose I could give up keyboards and confine myself to writing with a pen for a while. I wonder?

It brings me to the subject of Tweets. People get into trouble for Tweeting. I think this is largely because Tweeters are inveigled into stupidity. Somehow the brain just does not equate little thoughts tapped into a tiny keyboard as being the same as communicating face to face. And yet, this device can have very far reaching consequences. And what of Tweeters themselves? They seem to be either vain or boring and almost always, misunderstood. It's not that I am superior to them. I can sit in a car wishing the most painful death to cyclists and other drivers, but those thoughts generally remain in my head. Somehow, the act of Tweeting embues a fleeting un-censored thought with gravitas when actually, it should not.

I opened a tweet account a long time ago and did about 4 or 5 Tweets and then thought it was daft and a waste of time. I cannot think of a single compelling reason to do it.

Sometime back I got a party invitation, printed, on cardboard, through the post. I can attend, safe in the knowledge that there will not be 4000 uninvited guests who just happen to have heard about it on Facebook.

When the secrets of society are laid bare they are not very nice as a rule. When the innermost thoughts of people are broadcast from the rooftops, hue and cry ensues. Shall we ever learn the way of silence and contemplation or will all this instant information turn the country into hundreds of baying mobs with either, an axe to grind, or a sword to wield?

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Sound and Fury

Having had a serious interest in politics for many years, I have naturally not given much attention to the major speeches of the conference season. I know it keeps a lot of journalists in business but speeches rarely change anything. If they do, it is because the speaker is someone who has the power to cause you to listen. Thereafter, it is largely a case of summing up the mood of the audience and crystallising their half-formed feelings and notions.

Here are a few comments from pundits:

David Cameron's speech to Tory Party conference was boring, well delivered and basically irrelevant (Independent) was the ideas that were spelt out today, and the way that they were, which sounded authentically like David Cameron. (Nick Robinson, BBC)

This wasn't a speech with new thinking on the big challenges for the future. It was more of the same old ideas that didn't work the first time round. (Francis O'Grady, TUC)

David Cameron's speech shows Ed Miliband has got under his skin (Guardian)

David Cameron has shown why the Tories are the truly moral party (Peter Oborne, Telegraph

My favourite, by far, is Max Hastings damning with faint praise:

he will be remembered in the same breath as Harold Macmillan, who behaved as prime minister in accordance with the Old Etonian maxim, that a gentleman should not be seen to try

All in all, apart from Peter Oborne's somewhat baroque reading of it, the Cameron speech did not appear to have them fighting on the beaches. 

Reading through dozens of comments by us ordinary folk, I get the impression that nationally, this speech to the Tory Party Conference did not set the country alight. Telegraph readers were outraged at Oborne's summing up. Nobody really thinks that politicians are in any sense, "moral".

David Cameron has many perceptional problems when it comes to explaining himself, not the least because he does not seem to employ the kind of people who can get the message out. But his main problem I think, is that he does little to demonstrate an empathy with the mood of the country, and in particular, Conservatives.

So far so good. I have not made any major revelations. We all think Cameron's a bit shit.

I began by highlighting the nature of speeches. What makes a speech great is that it comes from the heart and it strikes a chord with the many, not the few. If there is one lesson to be learned from the raft of conference chatter it is that politicians are still out of touch, still bereft of a moral compass and still apparently, in it for themselves and their chums.



Tuesday, 9 October 2012


I am troubled by the recent vandalism done to a work of art. I am talking about the Rothko.

The perpetrator and his "manifesto" is of no interest to me. And I am not particularly interested either in the commercial value of the painting (some examples have sold for £50 million).

To me, fine art represents one aspect of the breathtaking virtue of humanity. It is not the only one of course, and it does not compete perhaps with acts of charity or science or the love and nurture of your fellow beings or even philosophy, but to create a work of art is to get at the core of what it means to be human.

Quite simply, to deface a true work of art is to deface humanity.

I am quite conservative when it comes to art. I don't like or care for a lot of stuff that masquerades as art and I marvel at the absurdity of supposedly intelligent people who think that a pickled shark has any value whatsoever.

But Rothko is art. At least, I think it is and certainly I experience it as such but this is where it gets difficult. I could try and describe the experience, but it wouldn't help you. It's so deeply personal that I might as well attempt to explain God and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Jimmy Savile told me it was for charity but it still made my eyes water

Well, since everybody else was, why not jump on the bandwagon? After all, he's dead and it's not as if anybody at the BBC including quite a lot of  high profile "talent" seemed moved to say anything for 30 years. When I was in broadcasting, whenever Jimmy's name was mentioned you always got a knowing look. So why didn't anybody squeak? Is it because its a can of worms? Has Paxman got more in common with Grayson Perry than we know and likes nothing better than to slip into a LBD after grilling Mandy on Newsnight? Is Clarkson into caravan holidays and shih tzus? You never know with the BBC. It's always been a job creation scheme for pervs and the Savile case is no surprise.

Richard Branson, captain of industry and Starfleet appears to have been vindicated. Its all very well, but when Virgin originally got the franchise they were promising a full restaurant service on the London to Edinburgh run. That soon vanished, as did rather a lot of profit from the various fiddles run by the stewards, not the least of which was selling "complimentary" coffee (served in first class) to the ordinary punters and pocketing over two quid a time, or how one middle manager managed to have an affair on his company charge card. (And yes, I can substantiate it) Nobody ever got sacked from Virgin, not even for being found out.

I notice Tescos share price has bombed since I published my supermarket guide (see below)

I try and keep abreast of the music scene as I have both and academic and a business interest in it. Mumford and Sons? What's that? Coldplay with banjos?

I notice that Eric Hobsbawm has passed to the great gulag in the sky. When I was at college he was more or less required reading, which is kind of ironic, since he was a Marxist, and in every Marxist state things have either been compulsory or illegal. Still, his perspectives are interesting, not because his conclusions are sound but because of how he reached them.

I notice with distaste that a lot of disputes these days end up in court, or with a police caution. It's usually the women claiming to be a "victim" - as if they had no free will. Hardly a paradigm of gender equality is it, when a woman goes complaining to anybody who will listen. Claiming victim hood is a serious thing. Best to leave it to those who are real victims and not merely a mechanism for revenge or derogation of responsibility.

As for Sir Jimmy and me, it was close, but no cigar.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Bond and the Dream

I get interested in the amount of comment about James Bond and in particular the amount of arguing over who is the best Bond. Yes, I know a lot of people will say, "No contest, it's Sean, by a mile" but it isn't as simple as that. Bond is first a fiction and second a dramatic construct in which thousands of artists have made a contribution. You get the music of John Barry, then David Arnold, coupled with a tried formula of using the stars of the day to do the title theme, always, if you listen, with the Bond leitmotiv.

Then there is the look. Even I would look good in a £5,000 bespoke suit, an Omega Seamaster on my wrist, at the wheel of an Aston. Bond does not do Catford or Daventry, and even if he did, Ken Adam would have designed the set.

Bond is adored by exotic girls, most of whom have starred in a bit of French soft porn, fluency in English not being a barrier, since Ursula Andress was apparently dubbed.

I think the preference for Bonds is a generational thing. Your favourite is the one you grow up wanting to be. For me, it is Roger Moore and I will tell you why. I remember him from The Saint, which if you watch the re-runs, despite it being made for 7/6d an episode, is carried by Roger Moore's charisma and commitment. Secondly, I could never take the character of James Bond entirely seriously and neither did Moore.

The defining scene for me is Moore in the ski/parachute opening sequence in The Spy Who Loved Me. When it came out audiences cheered. And there's the point. Moore had stand-ins and stunt men. A large crew waited for days in the freezing cold to get the shots. It was pure fantasy and a testament to the many film makers and technicians who put it together.

So really I have no favourite Bond. The films are simply a triumph of motion picture craftsmanship and the hero, such as there is one, is the on in our shared dream.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

WW's Supermarket Guide

Waitrose has had a marketing campaign backfire, or, in modern argot, a massive fail. The store invited people to respond to an online scheme to answer the question: "I shop at Waitrose because.."

Answers ranged from "I shop at Waitrose because it makes me feel important and I absolutely detest being surrounded by poor people" to "I will not stand next to scumbags in Marks and Spencer". I don't live near enough to use a Waitrose, but when I did I frequently got elbowed out of the way by overbearing women with a sense of entitlement. And you never knew, if someone brayed the word, "lettuce" whether they were demanding salad or admonishing their offspring.

Supermarket shopping is a minefield. Mainly because by no stretch of the imagination is it ever "Super". So here is a rough guide for those housewives who want to please their man and provide delicious treats for him after his hard day at work.

Marks and Spencer
Not really a supermarket at all, rather a place to ponder the meaning of life. (I never realised how vital pink peppercorns and smoked sea salt were.) Tip: Go around M&S and take note of all the clever things they do with Bulgar Wheat, and then go home and replicate the recipe. It's the most serene supermarket there is and you pay a premium, but none of it gets wasted.

I must admit that even as a snob I find Asda remarkable. The choice is incredible and the prices are keen. The check-out people at our local are chosen for being interesting and entertaining. I never tire of engaging them in conversation. Shopping in Asda is like eating Fugu, the puffer fish that has to be prepared by specially trained chefs so that it does not poison you. Either you risk being run over by the morbidly obese on their mobility scooters or someone will look at you and cough in your face. This happens to me every time I go there and it is frightening, but you get a huge rush when you realise days later that you have not died of TB.

I would rather vote Liberal Democrat than use Tesco. Everything about it is bad. I have seen their potatoes sprout faster than I can get them home. Ours fills up with school-kids every lunch time and they create havoc without let or hindrance. The stuff Tesco sells is only just ok, but since they try and make you buy three of everything, usually stuff that goes off, it is ultimately a waste of money.

Lidl and Aldi. The chattering classes appear to adore them. I don't know why. The range of choice is poor and they are not particularly cheap. Exceptions are things like fake Birkenstocks, the real thing costing £40 and their knock-off ones are a fiver. I have worn both and there is not a haporth of difference. You could save money in Ubermarkets, but you may as well go to Asda and get their cheapy range.

Sainsburys is a 30-mile round trip for me so I rarely go. When I do, I generally find it is not a wasted journey. They don't move things around so often, either, so you can find what you want. Their Free-Range chicken is the best supermarket option, bar none. I buy thigh fillets for curries - much more flavour and not expensive, especially if you have to cook for a lot of people.

The Co-op
Sadly the Co-ops around here are pretty dismal, made worse by shelf-fillers with Porton Down style body odour. Not so in Switzerland. (More on abroad later). The Co-op has its market, which appears to be aimed at people who don't care what they eat. End of story. Distress purchases only.

Going Abroad
Here my experience is very limited. The Co-op in Switzerland is absolutely fine. Marvellous, as is the Swiss equivalent of Happy Shopper - Pam. Both offer groceries that would not look out of place in Fortnum's.
Migros is hugely popular and it is also run as a cooperative. It also happens to be the largest employer in Switzerland with more than twice as many workers than the Federal Government. The Coop is second highest employer. The Swiss go there once a month to buy washing powder in boxes so large that you can later donate them to a family of Romanians to live in.

I would be interested to know your shopping favourites and hates, especially if you shop abroad.

Monday, 17 September 2012

The Age of Unenlightenment

Even a cursory look at The Age of Enlightenment reveals that it was neither liberal nor particularly enlightening save for a few strands of thought espoused by individual thinkers. It is not practical to encapsulate the concept in a concise timeline. It is also dangerous to assume it was "humanist" in the sense we understand it today because most of the leading lights of the Enlightenment still had a belief in the Almighty. Science and scientific reasoning were to become a kind of test of truth and of what can actually be seen and known. The Enlightenment was not so much a rejection of God but of religious authority. The quest was absolute truth based upon what can be truly known, not on arbitrary rules, which of course were largely determined by the Church; what could be known by observation and the application of common sense, in a word, reason. It was a utopian meme where its adherents believed you could build a society based on common sense and tolerance. It collapsed under the weight of reality and in particular, the French Revolution, just as the hippie dream of the Sixties died at Altamont.

Modern notions of human rights can be demonstrated to have their roots in The Enlightenment, but as David Hume might have said, you can enshrine the right of a beggar to have food, but at the same time you enshrine the right of some to become feckless and indolent.

By the same token, enshrining tolerance in law merely favours an arbitrary community, it does not create tolerance and neither is it going to create a better world, it is merely going to shift the goal posts for a while and worse, allow a hitherto unfavoured segmment of society to gain the upper hand.

Hume understood the concept of right and wrong. I am not sure that we do anymore.

I began to conceive this piece by thinking about something else; decadence. I wondered what it meant, historically and how it affected historical outcomes. By decadence I don't mean a bunch of rather fey young men who dabbled in naughtyness for naughtyness' sake, but a kind of moral collapse that made an impact. It seems to me that decadence has far more to do with societal attitudes than a few mucky books.

Berlin in the  20's and 30's was a hypocentre of decadence. Europe was satirized by people like Fritz Lang and Bertholt Brecht: "There is no greater criminal than a man without money"

There was hyperinflation. Keynes wrote:

"The various belligerent Governments, unable, or too timid or too short-sighted to secure from loans or taxes the resources they required, have printed notes for the balance"

Today we live with an absurd sense of entitlement. The politicians are too cowardly to say no and we are too weak not to say yes. Weimar Germany slid into evil and totalitarianism and did so not because it was too naughty, but because it was too greedy.

When the shit hits the fan this time around, we had all be very careful who we chose to lead us back to reality.

In a free society, government reflects the soul of its people. If people want change at the top, they will have to live in different ways. Our major social problems are not the cause of our decadence. They are a reflection of it. 
Cal Thomas

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Richard III - Habeas Corpus

I am very excited, perhaps more than I should be, that it looks as if some archaeologists have found the body of Richard III. It is because this somehow connects the myth with the reality.

If they do find his mortal coil there is bound to be a massive resurgence of interest in the monarch. The Richard III Society has been around for sometime and seeks to redress the bad press:

We are a society of people who prefer that history should be based on ascertained facts rather than on intuition, propaganda and spin.

According to them the main accusations against Richard are:

  • he was a nasty hunchback who plotted and schemed his way to the throne;
  • he killed Henry VI’s son Edward;
  • he killed Henry VI (a sweet, innocent saint);
  • he got his brother, the duke of Clarence, executed;
  • he killed the Princes in the Tower (sweet, innocent children);
  • he killed his wife Anne because he wanted to marry his niece Elizabeth;
  • he was a bad king;
  • and so it was lucky that Good King Henry Tudor got rid of him for us.

 They disagree, obviously,but they are not hysterical about it, they merely attempt to redress some of the biased reporting given out by people long ago. 

What seems so fascinating about the prospectus of the RIII Soc. is that they seek to place Richard very much in the context of his time. I was intrigued to read:

Nowadays, too, the terms of the debate are shifting somewhat.  It is not so much about Richard III as about the period of Richard III.  As Sean Cunningham says, ‘Richard has been put back into the context of an aggressive society riven by feuding over land and influence.’  Sharon Turner in the nineteenth century had already set Richard against the background of his violent times, saying, ‘[he] did not live in an age of modern moral sensibility’.  Moreover, the more interesting debates are now following Paul Murray Kendall into the more sensitive and imaginative regions, and asking, not ‘Did Richard III have the Princes killed?’ but ‘What was it like to be Richard III?’  Was he, or would he have been, given longer on the throne, a ‘good king’? – and what is a good king anyway?  

All these questions are good for applying to our times, so for that reason I shall be interested to learn more.

(For American readers: "Richard", "Richard II" and "Richard III - Habeas Corpus" are all available as movie downloads from Amazon,)

Monday, 10 September 2012

F1 - Lewis hits back at criticism: "Is it cos I is a prat?"

I can remember where I was when Kennedy was shot - at home, watching television. I can also remember where I was when the planes hit the twin towers. I was at work and the news was brought to us by a particularly unreliable person. This person, a partner in the firm, more of a sleeping partner and a dead drunk partner whose clients could never get hold of him. In other words, when he waltzed in, mid-morning, to tell us the news about 9/11 my first reaction was, "He's a dick and he's made it up".

This is to point out that the messenger should always be someone you can trust. On Lewis Hamilton and his putative break with McLaren and move to Mercedes, I was keen to listen to the people who have weight and credibility in the same way that if Moira Stuart told us that the Russians were coming, I would pack my bag.

From now on, if you don't follow Formula One Grands Prix, most of this will be unintelligible, as will the in-jokes.

A recent trawl through the quotes from former world champions, on the subject of Lewis Hamilton, all amounted to one thing; he is immature and not a team player. Nicki Lauda went as far as to suggest he was morbidly dangerous. Of course, what is most interesting is the tendency, when pundits are talking about Lewis, to cite other drivers as being "mature". And it is what the team principals don't say and the way they say it that leads me to suppose that Lewis is about to leave McLaren.

Let's get Eddie Jordan out of the way first. (Many would like to). Eddie, despite his uber-vain sartorial taste, is no fool. So ok, he looks like a Thunderbirds puppet but he ran a successful F1 team and now sails the seven seas in a boat that would probably need the Ark Royal as a tender. He did a very newsworthy interview with Bernie Ecclestone in which Bernie let slip that MSC was leaving Mercedes. And that set the ball rolling on the present Lewis saga. He is clearly in the loop when it comes to gossip around the paddock.

Cut now to the recent interviews with McLaren Team Principal, Martin Whitmarsh. It was not so much MW damning LH with faint praise as signing his death warrant. Whitmarsh's BBC interview after the race at Monza was the decider for me. If My boss were talking like that about me I would be crapping myself. If my wife of 17 years were talking about me like that I would be expecting a divorce in the post.

They all of course try to put a positive spin on the situation but as they say, you can't polish a turd.

So, unless I am very much mistaken, I am predicting that Lewis Hamilton will leave McLaren and since neither Red Bull nor Ferrari are interested (see?) it looks like Mercedes.

Some time at the beginning of the season Lewis invited some black female pop star into the pit garage at McLaren. The place was crawling with her "entourage" - lots of very fat blobby bodyguard types with a lot of jewellery. The odd glance from the team mechanics told the story.

Lewis thinks he is a rock star. He is generally sweetness and light when he is winning and a pain in the arse when he isn't. A more petulant, immature driver cannot be found in a sport where petulance and immaturity are just another button on the steering wheel.

So Lewis, I'm not having ago "cos you is black". Indeed you have a white mother and a father who you seem to disrespect. I am having a go because you are a prat and if you carry on like this you will only be remembered for being a prat and not the great driver you are.


Team of the weekend for me is Sauber. It's all working for them despite the occasional bit of bad luck. They are on course for the team's first F1 win, if not this year, definitely in 2013.

Question: why do the BBC's F1 commentary boys all wear such tiny tight trousers? Jake Humphry's look as though they were acquired from ASDA's "Back to School" range.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Nice Weather

A fail-safe conversation opener; "Nice weather".

As I write this the sky is blue and the sun is shining. I feel a lot better about that. Statistics on Seasonal Affective Disorder are a bit nebulous but I dare say most of us have been affected by the amount of sunlight we get at one time or another. Of course there is physical proof that a lack of sunlight can be bad for your health, the most obvious is a vitamin D deficiency, sometimes embodied in Rickets which is caused by lack of the vitamin due to poor nutrition and a failure to metabolise it. The disease still occurs in Britain, predictably in the North and poorer areas.

But given a reasonably healthy diet, why does low natural light cause us to be miserable?
Nordic countries traditionally have high rates of suicide but the statistics do not give a clear view of what is going on and clearly there are a number of factors in the epidemiology. Suicide rates in Greenland are high, but the rate the summer! And not everybody in California is deliriously happy.

It begs a question. Well it does for me. When am I most happy? I am most happy in the bosom of my family. Elsewhere I have been at my happiest at the helm of a sailing boat. There was a point when (forgive the Jonathan Livingstone Seagull moment) I felt at one with the elements; in essence I forgot myself and became a part of the wind and the water.

I can remember taking a narrowboat from Bath to London during one of the coldest, wettest starts of the season. I felt miserable at times, but never depressed and never far away from the lush promise of a hot bath and a feeling of having achieved something.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Smoke on the Water

I have just returned from a holiday jaunt, so don't bother to burgle me. I notice that some country bloke shot some burglars and is now under arrest for GBH. Well, I also have legal weapons and will use reasonable force to repel those with criminal intent. As it stands, the victims of this incident may well get a tougher sentence than the perpetrators. That cannot be right can it, or am I missing something?

I have been to Switzerland, specifically near the Lake Geneva shoreline. It's quite disconcerting to travel through village after village where the residents have created public displays of flowers, where there is no litter, and where the bus driver can remonstrate with rowdy school kids without threat of arrest for child molesting.

I was on a local train and got asked for my ticket. I struggled to fish it out of a bag and the conductor just waved his hand and said, "OK, that's fine." It is not too much of a sweeping generalisation to declare that the Swiss are conservative as compared to the UK. Universal votes for women did not happen until the last Canton, Appenzell Innerhoden, changed the rules in 1990. Coincidentally, AI has the lowest divorce rate in CH and parity with cattle on a one-human to one-cow ratio.

Swiss males are required to train in the use of guns and keep weapons at home. The majority of gun crime is perpetrated by those with illegally held weapons. Not surprisingly many in the rural areas never lock their doors or worry about their children making their own way from school.

There is no correlation between the legal ownership of guns and their misuse. The Swiss are, from birth made to understand the value of social and personal responsibility and it's obvious corollary - freedom.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

A decade of reckoning

There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known

Prince Harry has been photographed in the naughty naked nude. I suppose I shouldn't be shocked. I mean, I shouldn't be shocked that some weasly, slimebag of a hanger-on has ratted him out for a few dollars or a momentary feeling of empowerment.

All we do these days can be laid bare in an instant. (If you will forgive the pun). The decade of reckoning began with the MPs and their expenses. Then it was the turn of the press. What was hitherto done in secret is now vulnerable to the white heat of technology. More often than not, some petty, or not so petty, thief is captured on one of the 1.85 million CCTV cameras in the UK. The first thing the cops do in certain types of investigation is to look at computer history and mobile phone records. In my lifetime it took a man at the Post Office who had to run up and down banks of switching terminals, merely in order to trace a call in real time. If the perp hung up, it could not be traced. When Watergate broke, it was down to a lot of very non-technical detective work by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. There was no electronic trail, it was a paper-trail. Maybe the famous tapes were an early indication of just how important electronic media was going to be in exposing misdeeds.

There is a race, from both sides of the spectrum: governments are implementing more measures to enable them to access private data and at the same time, hackers and whistle-blowers are running rings around them by publishing the very types of data that your government wants to hide.

Neither will win. What has been entered on the keyboard may as well have been carved in stone on Mount Rushmore.

The question is, how to live with it, for surely you cannot hold back the tide? My guess is that we are experiencing a revolution that affects us in much the same way that the industrial revolution affected people in the 18th century. It is massive change at a rate which is impossible to assimilate in real time.

Presently, we are not dealing with this very well. The police are running around the place arresting 17 year-olds who get a bit mouthy on Twitter. For some reason, people are shocked that Prince Harry is a bit of a lad. The Americans want Julian Assange's head on a plate because he has published stuff that makes them uncomfortable. Celebrities are using their money to get super-injunctions, just so that we will continue to believe in their god-like purity. It is not as if any of the revelations, insults or secrets should be shocking or surprising. Real people in real life can be shits. If you lock up everyone who is a shit the streets will be very quiet indeed.

The technology will not go away, the genii is out of the bottle. Somehow, we need to learn how to deal with the information overkill and the rather glib reaction to it. Society has to become, either more tolerant, or more self-censoring.  I think we should embrace the monastic tradition and declare little to the outside world but a benificent smile and a desire to serve without earthly reward. 

Sunday, 19 August 2012

An Act of Vandalism

Two acts of vandalism this week:

Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. “It is written,” he said to them, 'My house will be called a house of prayer', but you are making it a den of robbers".

A sheer act of vandalism and disrespect for the Church and its authority. This man upset hard-working people who were going about their lawful business, just some beardy sandal-wearing liberal who dared to challenge the status quo. It is disrespectful to worshippers an must surely have upset some priests. Who did he think he was, for Christ's sake? (You know where this is going don't you?)


The other "act of vandalism" relates to a rather enjoyable story about Charles Saatchi. Apparently he cannot give away his £30 million "art" collection, donated by him to the nation. The collection, which includes such masterpieces as Tracy Emin's un-made bed languishes in limbo because no gallery wants to exhibit it. Even the Tate, who started the ball rolling over 30 years ago with a pile of bricks does not want it. I would be interested if anybody is prepared to defend this collection of rubbish. These works, when you strip away the hype, are mostly a cheap juxtapositional trick; e.g., put any old crap in a gallery and hey presto, it's ART! No it is not. Art is a struggle between the artist and their medium. It is a struggle to convey a certain feeling, set up by highly complex interaction of painted or moulded shapes. The worst thing an artist can do is to fake his own work and believe me, it is possible! At the bottom of anything that resembles real art is honesty and integrity. It does not matter if you like it, but as long as it sets up an interaction with the viewer that is more than just a shrug of the shoulders, then it can be said to be art. Work that is made, merely to elicit a shock or some other cheap response is not art. It is a turd on the pavement that will give you a similar feeling if you tread on it.

I like, Gilbert & George, Rothko and Pollock; hardly chocolate box stuff. (Stand in a room full of Rothkos and the energy coming from what is essentially some large blocks of colour is astonishing.) I admire the Impressionists for their ability to create feeling and visual pleasure by the use of carefully placed brush strokes that are more than the sum of their parts. To me, our greatest living artist is David Hockney. His ability to sum up the spirit of the age is genius. Anybody who has observed the work of Anthony Gormley must surely see how he has cornered the market in presenting sculpture in an elemental environment. It is the quintessence of the struggle between man and nature.

The last few decades of Brit Art have been acts of vandalism. Let us hope that we can close the book on this sorry saga.

(Sorry if this has veered off into pseuds corner with the Art bit, but the language of art narrative tends to need it if you are going to go further than "it's nice".)

Sunday, 12 August 2012

The UK Feelgood Factor

I was wondering what to write about this week. It seems that the country is waiting. Not for me, I mean,  but generally. London is waiting to get back to normal, whatever that is, and the papers are waiting for Clegg and Cameron while they go on holiday. I am waiting to go on holiday myself, hoping to have sorted out various minor ailments before departure. Parents are waiting for the kids to go back to school. I had an idea to talk about David Cameron but frankly, there is little to say. It is not as if he has said or done anything that is of any importance. Not one of his speeches has resonated beyond the room in which he gave them. He cannot say "the toff's not for turning", because he patently is. He could, in the context of the legacy of the Private Finance Initiative say, "Never in the field of public finance has was so much owed by so many to so few". But I doubt whether he would, given that PFI was a Tory invention, cleverly adapted by Labour to bankrupt the Health Service.

But a quote caught my eye, from none other than Alistair Campbell:

I think these Olympics could be one of the most significant events of our lifetime. They are changing the way British people think about themselves and about their country. We have shown we can do big things well. We have shown we can succeed at anything we set our minds to. We have changed the way many overseas think about us.

Now, I am not a fan of the man, but he has a good point, pregnant with prescience. I have barely seen or heard five complete minutes of this sporting occasion, but I am obviously aware of its impact on London and the rest of the UK. Interestingly, there were no big-hitting security alerts, no terrorist attacks and no strikes. People appear to be waxing lyrical about it and nay-sayers like me are likely to be lynched if we criticise it.

When Campbell risks a smack on the cheek from futurity, with his hostage-to-fortune assertion about the games being "one of the most significant events of our lifetime" it makes you wonder. Public outpourings of emotion, whether they be in Nuremberg or Wembley do resonate down the decades. Live Aid changed the way we think about raising money for charities and became a model for dozens of clones. It could be argued that Cameron's commitment to increasing overseas aid is a reflection of the political and social ethos that was prompted by, not only Live Aid, but by Live 8 and "Make Poverty History". I am not recommending it, just observing it.

As for Alistair Campbell, could he be right? Will Britain ride high on the momentum of public cheerfulness and will it lead to a better self-image and, more importantly, a better image abroad?

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Good Fascism, Bad Fascism

Can anybody explain to me the difference between the scenes depicted in Leni Riefenstahl's 1934 film Triumph of the Will and the opening ceremony of the Olypnics?

Albert Speer's son, Albert Speer, also an architect, believes that architects are not social engineers. He is misleading of course when it comes to the minutiae of designing buildings; the concept of "defensible space" is just one example. But in terms of overall vision and intent, architects are generally just executives who carry out the will of their sponsor.

A while ago, Bryan Ferry got into trouble:
 In an interview with a German magazine, he described Albert Speer's buildings and Leni Riefenstahl's movies as 'beautiful'. The tabloids savaged him and he apologised, explaining that his comments had been taken out of context and that they did not mean that he approved of the Nazi regime. (Telegraph).
There seems to me to be a bit of doublethink going on. You can debate the beauty or otherwise of Speer père's work, but you can hardly call bricks and mortar Fascist. In this respect, context is everything.

That is not what people believe. They generally believe that if you get offered an apple by Hitler, it is a bad apple, but if you get offered an apple by Mother Theresa, it is a wonderful apple.

If I described the opening ceremony of the not to be mentioned event, as a "Cathedral of Light", a triumph of will, a celebration of physical perfection and dominance, can you really, with hand on heart, tell me you know if I am talking about Nuremberg in 1934 or London in 2012?

A bit of a stink

The Twitter situation continues to make headlines (see below). As if the police did not get the message from the judiciary about the slender chances of convicting noxious use of the platform, another Twit was arrested, a 17 year-old, for making unpleasant comments, this week. It gets worse; a granny in some cafe was allegedly accused by the waitress of being stinky. The granny was so upset that she dialled 999 and the plod duly came out to the restaurant to remonstrate with the waitress and the management.

I wonder how the police have the time to do this. Shouldn't they be looking out for real criminals? Of course, as far as I know, no crime had been committed. The only way you could get nicked these days for this sort of thing is to publish a criminal libel, that is, communicating to a third party a libel about another which alludes to a criminal offence. Of course, if you come from certain minorities and feel in any way slighted, the cops will be all over you with condescending bounty. Had this granny some sense, she would have either put up or shut up. If she demonstrably did not smell she could have sued the cafe for slander. Of course, this option would have cost her money and the chances of winning would have been slim indeed.

This is play-ground stuff. He hit me, Miss. She pulled my hair, Miss. I am unsure why some people have lost the ability to stand up for themselves and must, at considerable waste of time and resources, use 999 as a first resort, but I have a theory.

People lack meaning in their lives. There is no focus. Most have a second-hand set of experiences gained by watching television. Deep down they know this is not real, but it makes them delude themselves for a moment that, having watched a program about Norway, they know about Norway.

Norway and Women who stink? It's all part of the simulacra; copies of copies of life which suppress the ability to think. What you end up with is shock and surprise. People are now so far removed from reality that almost anything can bring on an attack of the vapours. People buy chicken in Tescos, but it it does not convey the reality of animals whose existence consists of being injected with antibiotics, caged in squalor, so that their short, uncomfortable life can end in a shrink-wrap package with a picture of a jolly farmer on them.

People object to fox-hunting but that merely shows how arbitrary they are about animal suffering. If they really cared that much the meat industry would have collapsed long ago. It did not, because the comfort zone of dissonance is sufficient to protect them from anything that smells bad.

When the veil is lifted, for a moment, perhaps in a cafe or a public encounter, is there any wonder that the reaction is utter shock?