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.