Thursday, April 29, 2010

Mind your own business

David has been posting an informative and typically brainbending series on statistics, in which we commenters have touched on the problems of opinion polls. As we know, political opinion polls favour Labour because Conservative voters are worried about possible haranguings from passing 80s alternative comedians; but I suspect that another element is that conservatives are more likely to answer with ‘mind your own business’, and thus polls are biased leftwards via self-selection.

Talking of which, I was once entering a branch of Sainsburys when a female peddler of some sort of plastic usury approached me and demanded: “Excuse me sir, but how much debt is on your credit card?” Now I like to think of myself as a cooperative sort and I always tell chuggers, surveyers and other pests to sod off in the nicest and most roundabout fashion, but the impudence of this one had me reeling and I couldn’t help but reply: “Um, that’s my business, thank you very much.” The sales trollop then had the gall to look stung and hurt, as if I had been rude to her.

That was some years ago so I can’t honestly say that such intrusive salesmanship is part of a trend; which is just as well or we’d have to dodge people trying to get us to test out free samples of Preparation H in the medicine aisle; or viagra-mongers demanding to know how the old fella has been standing up to his task lately.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Multiculturalism at its best

A thrillingly postmodern concern has been pushing its takeaway menus through the front doors of east Bristol. The 'Bombay Pizza Company' has hit upon the idea of selling classic Anglo-Indian dishes on pizzas. The 'Machlee Masala', for example, comprises balti sauce, masala fish, onions, tomato and coriander, and comes on a 9 or 12-inch dough base. Jalfrezi, rogan josh and even vindaloo pizzas are all available; or you can Build Your Own from a list of toppings including mushroom bhaji, tarka dhall, aloo gobi and mozarella.

The restaurant has apparently been much discussed in Mrs Brit's coven of new mothers. All the wives are, frankly, repulsed. Their husbands, by contrast, unanimously agree that this is a culinary enterprise of unprecedented genius.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Morwenstow

I am on a sort of holiday in Devon, though yesterday we lunched just over the Cornish border (luckily we remembered our passports) at the excellent Bush Inn, Morwenstow with an old family friend. He is a man o' the cloth and, like all deeply cynical English clerics with a black sense of humour, terrific company.

Morwenstow is notable for being the parish of one Robert Hawker, a 19th Century vicar who dressed as a mermaid, invented Harvest Festival, got namechecked by Dickens and smoked opium, amongst other commendable eccentricities. We had a poke around his church after lunch.


The above sign reads "These bench-ends date from 1575. Pilgrim pause to whisper into the ear of God your prayer in these our own times."

O my brothers, long dead, they are the same prayers. Always the same prayers.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Ronnie O'Sullivan misses, gives ball the bird

The snooker genius who hates snooker struck again in magnificent fashion the other day. This is just wonderful. Which of us hasn’t similarly heaped insult and abuse on some bastard inanimate object that absolutely refuses, through its own cussedness or because it is in league with the Devil, to cooperate?


Sunday, April 25, 2010

Weller and Waits

I don’t know what Paul Weller is taking these days but his new album Wake Up the Nation is nuts. Lots of two-minute 'songs', most of them chopped up into 20 second ADHD bursts of frantic drums, clanging and mad piano, over which Weller hollers catchily in Bowie Cockney ("Waiyke up the Naiytion" etc). It's definitely music of semiotic flexibility for a steady-state, sustainably-aware post-carbon economy. Anyway, great to see him discover his artistic mojo in middle age, after some years of dull stuff.

At this rate Weller will be Britain’s answer to Tom Waits. Arguably, Wake up the Nation is even more inventive than Waits’ great Island records which, wild and wonderful as they are, basically consist of five types of song used in rotation, namely the Rumbler, the Ballad, the Jerkin’ Jalopy, the Drunken Waltz and the Dirge.


Friday, April 23, 2010

Possible stag

First Summer is lasting well. Yesterday lunchtime I drifted quietly through Pipley Wood. That is, it felt like quiet drifting to me; to the fauna of the wood it was no doubt the cacophonous lumbering of a clubfooted troll.

It’s a very small, sparse wood so the sight of a deer rocketing out of a copse some fifteen yards ahead of me gave me a start; you don’t expect to see wild animals much bigger than a badger in such places. The deer whipped through the hedgerow, across the lane and into Dave’s fields. It appeared grey and possibly a stag – I say ‘stag’ only because in that fleeting moment it seemed somehow muscular and male.

When we retell these little stories of wildlife encounters, it’s always tempting to beef them up a bit. It was huge. It went like lightning. Perhaps that’s because there’s a disconnect between how interesting they are to the listener and how important they are to us. For urbanites it’s a rare treat to be suddenly confronted with the fact of being human in a non-human environment; to feel a trespasser because of it; and to try to capture and verify a fleeting moment when relying solely on your senses, memory and grip on reality, without the benefit of the prerequisite source of modern truth, the video action replay.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Sir John Soane’s House Museum

Last Thursday I got the willies. These particular willies were given to me by the Life Mask of actress Sarah Siddons adorning the wall outside the Monk’s Parlour in the basement of Sir John Soane’s House Museum, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London.

You may wonder how I came to be there, in the basement of that house in that famous public square once stalked by Tulkinghorn and scene of incompetent executioner Jack Ketch’s botched beheading of William Russell, on that Thursday last week, with the willies. The answer is that I took the Central Line to Holborn and walked, having been urged to visit the Museum by two London bloggers who between them know all there is to know about the great city’s countless hidden gems.

I lurched round the Soane Museum in hungover bewilderment. It is almost certainly The Best House in the World. I would like a Shakespeare Recess on my own staircase; on Soane’s, a rather lobotomised-looking Bard peers down at you from a shelf, reminding you that you are not a genius and have achieved nothing of lasting value as you ascend with guidebook and headache into the sickly glare of Turner’s Patent Yellow, which is the colour of the walls, curtains and furniture in the South Drawing Room.

Sir John Soane designed the Bank of England, amongst other notable buildings. His house in Lincoln’s Inn Fields is preserved as he left it two centuries ago, donated to the nation partly as punishment to his ghastly, ingrate sons. You can tell it’s old because all the items of furniture point at each other instead of at a television. A brilliant architect Soane was; a minimalist he was not. His rooms are stuffed to bursting with classical fragments and medieval masonry and other collections. He used mirrors and light with terrible cunning. I will not even attempt to describe the Breakfast Parlour, which plays architectural tricks with scooped-out domes and more than a hundred pieces of mirror. No picture could capture it; you’ll have to go and see it for yourself. And if you sidle through Soane's dressing room and turn right you enter a mind-bogglingly condensed Picture Room, which happens, almost by-the-bye, to contain A Rakes Progress and An Election by Hogarth.

Soane’s real toys are in the basement. The house is the physical manifestation of the mind of, if not a mad genius, then at the very least an eccentric talent. He once held a three day party to celebrate the acquisition of the sarcophagus of the Pharoah Seti I. That’s in the Sepulchral Chamber, along with lots of other morbid bric-a-brac. The Monk’s Parlour is an unsettling set of rooms built for the use of one Padre Giovanni, a holy man entirely of Soane’s imagination whose ‘grave’ is in the yard amongst the ruins of his fictional monastery. The headstone is engraved with the words "Alas! Poor Fanny!" (Fanny being the name of a Soane pet dog, whose corpse really is buried there).



Nobody knows how Soane acquired the Life Mask of the actress Sarah Siddons. Her face – sinister, pained, masculine or melancholy, depending on the angle – bursts ghost-like from the wall (on the right of the above picture); or perhaps is frozen into it like Han Solo at the end of The Empire Strikes Back. You should go and see this Life Mask, next time you’re in London. It will give you the willies. Entry to the Soane Museum is free though you should donate at least a fiver to keep this remarkable place going.



Picture is courtesy of the Sir John Soane’s House Museum. Please do not copy without permission. Thanks in particular to the extremely helpful Helen Dorey, who identified the Life Mask for me and emailed the pic.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Award-winner of the day


In 2009 Myers was named the American Humanist Association's "Humanist of the Year".

From PZ Myers' wiki page


Theory of the day

'Playbour' as a ludic dressing-up of the same old produce-to-consume paradigm of Western capitalism will easily be rumbled by the Multitude (see Antonio Negri and Micheal Hardt). 'Playbour' as the ideal reconciliation of social duty, and semiotic flexibility, in a steady-state, sustainably-aware post-carbon economy, might be an entirely new social ethic.

Pat Kane, former Hue and Cry singer and cultural commentator, on his blog.

---

Runner Up, and shortlisted for the 'Robust Beg to Differ-ing Award 2010'

He makes a comparison between Huizinga's idealisation of chivalric and carnivalesque play in the medieval era and the patriarchal guilds, wilfully embraced hierarchies and mass triviality of digital play today. Is our current ethos of play to be defined as "happy inspiration" in a world of neo-feudal and neo-militarist values and structures? This play-theorist would robustly beg to differ. But at the very least, these books make a strong case that we're all ludologists now. As the Tense Tens approach, we might as well get good at it.

Pat Kane, reviewing Fun Inc. by Tom Chatfield.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A poem for Recusant

Right in the Pharyngoolies
(a short poem inspired by this comment)


Theology, when it
is Dawkins and Dennett,
Can drive a chap to despair.

And one easily tires
of Pee Zee Myers.
The beard. The glasses. The hair.

Hitchens versus God

If you’ve got a rainy or volcanic ash-blighted afternoon to kill you could do worse than type ‘Hitchens versus Hitchens’ into Youtube and watch Christopher and Peter debate Iraq and God in 14 fun-sized chunks. Chris Hitchens is a brilliant debater – a brilliant man - but he always needs to go too far. This need is pathological but it’s the essential element of his Hitchness so complaining about it is beside the point. It does mean, however, that even when he’s absolutely right he always says something absolutely wrong.

Chris isn’t keen on religion. He hates God and also disbelieves in Him, so at root he only differs from the most tediously predictable atheists in terms of style (for which reason I shouldn’t be surprised if he does eventually change to either a more moderate or more idiosyncratic position if only to escape the consensus; in fact, I’m tempted to speculate that he would be much less hardline if he didn’t reside in the US, where he can still just about provoke a bit of outrage by being so; whereas over here the best way to create a row is to defend God-bothering).

We can divide his position into the atheist parts and the anti-theist parts. Obviously we’re talking about the Abrahamic monotheist faiths here – Hindus don’t get much of a mention. Hitchens does the atheist bit - ie. exposing the absurdity of literal belief in the stuff of the Bible- with great aplomb. Meh. Aren’t we past all that? Really, how many believers operating in Hitchens’ sphere of pontification literally buy it all without doubts that can vary from troubling to severe to total? Hardcore Born-Agains, perhaps, as best they can, but their faith always looks brittle and not much more interesting than any cult or reality-avoidance method.

The sophisticate columnist/debater’s battleground today, surely, is in the question of whether religion, regardless of the truth-value of its tenets, really does Poison Everything. There seem to be three main strands in Hitchens’ anti-theism.

The first is that organised religion is responsible for all of history’s violence and genocide and exploitation and filth and horror and squalor. His response to the Stalin/Mao/Hitler objection is to make a historical argument that Communism and Fascism were supported by various establishment Churches (Papists mainly), and then a philosophical argument that Communism and Fascism are themselves religions anyway. Surely he must feel himself treading from the solid ground of straightforward atheism onto the wobbly wooden bridge of semantic dubiousness here, but he persists with vehemence. The refusal to accept that both God-fearing and Godless humans are perfectly capable of great evil is his most obvious tumble into the Hitchens trap of Going Too Far and harms his seriousness. But that’s a hundred other posts at least.

The second strand of Christopher’s anti-theism is what I would crudely term the Swinging Dick approach. To worship an omnipotent, omniscient God is to be a serf, a sheep, a slave, a sop and a sucker. In other words, to be the opposite of The Hitch, fearless intellectual gunslinger, alone in a cold universe and kickin’ ass. Like Zaphod Beeblebrox, the Hitch has been inside the Total Perspective Vortex; he knew his place in the vast emptiness and liked what he saw. And if being an existential hero just happens to irresistible to the chicks, who is he to argue? The trouble with the Swinging Dick position is that it can lead to contempt; it conjures up the Ubermensch and Ayn Rand, or other unpleasant anti-human follies. This is because most humans are not Swinging Dicks and the Superman is a myth.

The third strand is the problem of evil (or the problem of suffering) which, he argues, makes the worship of an omnipotent God repulsive. Hitch goes for this at full throttle with the case of Elizabeth Fritzl. What could be more disgusting than your worship of a God who sits and looks on with folded arms as Josef Fritzl descends to his cellar once again? Imagine how many times Elizabeth must have prayed, unanswered, while God declined to intervene for 24 years. But this is an ancient problem within faiths and the anti-theist who believes that religion poisons everything should show why the post-God world he wishes to bring about offers something better or at least no worse to sufferers. In the believers’ universe, Elizabeth can at least hope for a better break in the afterlife, and for justice for Josef. In Hitch’s universe even this feeble consolation is denied. Life really is indifferent and there will be no more breaks. Of course, The Hitch can handle the cold truth but then he’s a Swinging Dick.

Hitchens and Dawkins argue that religion needs to disappear for the progress and evolution of humanity, yet the suspicion for an evolutionist must be that religion persists because it is in some way beneficial (Dawkins’ virus theory is wobblier than the Communism = Religion one). If religion could be destroyed it would soon be invented again because humans are not Swinging Dicks and by and large they appear to need some kind of organised Hope in order to function in this sorry imperfect world. Hitchens can’t directly advocate banning religion because he distinguishes his own post-religious utopia from the ‘religion’ of Stalinism by explaining that his is based on the principles of democratic liberal secular humanism. Inherent in that, if it is to be worth anything, is the refusal to persecute people for what they believe. So he must drive religion away by appeal to each listener’s good sense and better nature, with argument and reason, and with ridicule and accusations of evil. Good luck with that. Strange how many of those calling themselves ‘humanists’ want to eradicate a persistent and fundamental part of humanity.

The conclusion of all of which, therefore, is that if the Hitch were here, swinging his dick or otherwise, I would put it to him that while you can be both a humanist and an atheist, you cannot coherently be both a humanist and an anti-theist. Then I would take cover while he commenced kicking my ass.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Hegemony news

From yesterday's Sunday Times...

A TELEVISION star swigs her mineral water and throws the bottle into a recycling bin. In another scene, in the American version of The Office, the workers complain about metallic-tasting reusable water bottles and switch to filtered tap water instead.

They are among the television stars in shows from sitcoms to detective dramas who are lining up to bombard their fans with subliminal messages. “Behaviour placement” is aimed at persuading audiences to lead greener, healthier and happier lives.

The initiative reflects the “nudge effect” promoted by Richard Thaler, an economist, and Cass Sunstein, a lawyer who is advising President Obama on how to teach people to avoid bad decisions, from jumping red lights to eating junk food.



Sinister, isn’t it, the way these left-wing environmentalist Democrats have tapped into psychologically-based marketing techniques to be able to manufacture certain kinds of consent to certain kinds of agenda...

Review Show zinger

BBC2 live cultural discussion programme The Review Show (formerly Newsnight Review, formerly The Late Review) has of course declined significantly from the golden era of the mid 1990s when the regular dream team of Tony Parsons (cocky), Tom Paulin (preposterous) and either Julie Myerson Alison Pearson (head-girlish) or Germaine Greer (even more preposterous than Paulin) waffled away under the expert stewardship of Mark Lawson.

The presenters on today’s roster, including Malty’s favourite Kirsty Wark, aren’t a patch on Lawson, and, though the likes of Michael Gove (soon to be wasted on Government) and Joe Queenan provide some relief, too often the pundit-sofas are stuffed with interchangeable Guardian columnists who insist on mentioning the ‘illegal war in Iraq’ in every sentence and all talk over each other in their haste to do it, with Sarah Churchwell the rudest and most breathless talk-overer. The show doesn't need to be broadcast live; I’m convinced the whole thing would be much better if it were pre-recorded over a few hours and then edited down, to reduce the sense of hurry.

That said, Friday’s episode was a good one, with the usual political ratio reversed and some Scottish bloke called Pat Kane the only left-leaning conspiracy theorist. Most socialists have a contemptuous, impatient hatred of the People and must put the enduring popularity of conservativism amongst them down to ignorance or brainwashing by a sinister elite. Quite probably it does not occur to Kane - it is not even a possibility in his universe - that people can be decent, sentient and broadly right-wing all at the same time. It was warming to watch his fellow guests poke fun at him, and David Aaranovitch got off a real zinger right at the end with this exchange:

Kane: The Republicans are quite explicit about the fact that the reason they have had an American hegemony is because they tapped into psychologically-based marketing techniques to be able to manufacture certain kinds of consent to certain kinds of agenda...

Aaranovitch: Or to put it another way, people agreed with them.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Great Debate

Following the Great Big Historic Seemingly-Endless Telly Debate last night, I’m sure the question on everybody’s lips this morning is: how the devil are they going to fill three more hours of this? They’ve already covered immigration, crime, health, education, the expenses scandal and defence, and we’re only a third of the way through.

Assuming they’re not going to stoop to a swimsuit round, or take to the Total Wipeout course when they reach the BBC, I estimate that the only burning national issues still to be covered are:

- Why do the Scottish hate the English?
- Is global warming a myth?
- How can we get Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard to play together in midfield for England?
- Does Richard Dawkins exist?
- Is a golf hole-in-one a matter of skill or fluke?*
- What does an unborn baby dream about?


(*that one should produce a few fireworks, it always does)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

How the hell did this happen?

I can’t read all of James Lileks’ posts – there’s just too much bloggage for that – but nobody is more rewarding to dip in and out of than he. The man is a miracle of fecundity who has absolutely cracked the way to make the web work for his unique talents. As with Frank Key, we must thank the net for providing the perfect - perhaps the only possible - medium for peculiar geniuses.

My latest dipping-in yielded this piece of Lileksness:

Don’t know what to call it, but there’s something about “1960” that snares the eye and the imagination. It’s a half-century gone. It’s pre-JFK-in-Dallas, the fulcrum on which the post-war era balanced. It’s modern – “1960” sums up jets and rockets and whirring IBM computers and thin lapels, a time of crisp sharp technocrats. I imagine people who enjoyed the 50s, identified with the times, felt a certain trepidation when 1960 rolled around. A new decade clears the decks. I identified with the 80s, and hence the year 1990 felt like the lip of a cliff. You pass thirty, the decade changes, and you know it won’t belong to you the way the old one did. The 90s worked out just fine for me; we got a new medium, and that put a spring in my step. But if I’d been a man of the 50s the 60s would have been a time of ever-growing alienation. Each year put five years between the Now and the Then. You’d find yourself in 1970 wearing a polyester suit with wide collars and a tie whose knot was the size of a baby’s head, looking at a wood-grained plastic dashboard in an ugly car, the radio playing Mungo Jerry, wondering how the hell this happened.

Common problem, clinging to formative decades. I feel I lost the shape of the noughties somewhere near the beginning and god knows how the 10s will end, but we have no choice but to beat on, under the rocks and stones, into silent water, borne along, by events and trends beyond our control, beyond anyone’s control, ceaselessly into the future; though as David Cameron says, quoting High School Musical (which is a typical example of a noughties thing I failed to comprehend), at least we are all, well most of us anyway, and the web when cracked by peculiar talents helps here, in this, boats against the current, together.



Pavement Panto™ - rhyming the tongue cluck (The Leopard)

Came across a terrific piece of attempted Pavement Panto™ (remember that?) in, of all places, Tomasi di Lampedusa’s seminal work of Italian literature The Leopard:

Ignorant vulgarity exuded from his every pore; even so, the two listeners were astounded; Don Fabrizio needed all his self-control not to show surprise....Father Pirrone did let his tongue cluck on his palate; then, annoyed at having shown his own amazement, he tried to rhyme the improvident sound by making his chair and shoes squeak and by crackling the leaves of his breviary but failed completely; the impression remained.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Up with good things, down with bad things!

I was unreasonably tickled by the headline on the BBC front page yesterday, heralding the Tory manifesto launch: Conservatives ‘to make Britain better’.

So there you are then.

The other day I did at last think of something approximating a fundamental ideological difference between the two main parties. On a local BBC politics programme a Labour candidate answered an audience question about investment in manufacturing by stating: “We know that in Britain we can’t compete by manufacturing the cheapest widget, but we can be leaders in cutting-edge technology. That’s why we’ve given tax breaks to hi-tech industries…”

That kind of top-down thinking – that Government knows best and will attempt to manipulate the industrial landscape by tinkering with the tax system to promote those it thinks can compete and penalise those that can’t, rather than cutting financial barriers across the board and letting businesses decide these matters – is New Labour in a nutshell. They are, or hopefully were, the Great Tinkerers.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Watchgoose


A goose not dissimilar to the one pictured above patrols the entrance to the yard of Dave’s farm shop. It and I have taken a dislike to each other. It fancies itself as a bit of a watchgoose. Or perhaps a nightclub bouncer goose, and indeed it conveys this character so convincingly that when I approach the shop I often find myself inadvertently glancing down to check I’m not wearing trainers.

My method of dealing with its aggressive honking, flapping and neck-wagging is to clap my hands and pretend to laugh at it. In fact, I give it as wide a berth as possible while maintaining some degree of human dignity; its beak is at crotch level and I’m not too keen to get into a fight.

Supergrass

Is there a word for the little trick of the trade played by headline rock bands whereby they ensure their support acts are short in stature, have the volume at about 7 and are lit by a couple of 60-watt bulbs, so that when the main men finally come striding onto the stage they are dazzling, deafening giants by contrast? Supergrass had perfected this art by 2008, when they utterly blew away some sweet wee Scottish tunesmiths called Sergeant at Bristol Academy. In an idle reckoning recently, Mrs Brit and I were forced to agree, somewhat to our surprise, that Supergrass in 2008 was probably the most enjoyable gig either of us had ever attended. They were absolutely ace from start to finish, and very, very loud.

Anyway, Supergrass have split up after 17 years. I have only good things to say about them. Probably immortalised by Alright but they outlasted the Britpop boom and in their steady inevitable decline from Coolness they made six great albums, all of which I’m often in the mood to play, plus a shedload of fun and often dumb singles. They managed longevity without angle or tribe, they have pushed no boundaries nor taken their music into exciting new territories (ie. been blown on the fickle winds of fashion), they have changed nobody’s life with their attitude; they’ve just made a lot of really good songs. For these reasons they used to have the tag ‘everyone’s second favourite band’. That’s fine: pop music is what Britain does best and Supergrass did it as well as anyone and for much longer than most. I could have chosen from at least a dozen brilliant dumb singles but this one has the best video…


Monday, April 12, 2010

Role models 2: 'Typical Germans'

On the subject of Respecting The Ref (for which important virtue we can forgive rugby players the odd eye-gouge) I was fascinated by Sir Alex Ferguson’s complaint that the Bayern Munich players effected the sending-off of Rafael da Silva by hounding the referee in the manner of ‘typical Germans’.

I can only assume he was referring to the cold and sly professionalism of their hounding. Ferguson’s boys do their ref-hounding in the British style: with aggression certainly; with passion, sure; but always with honesty and heart on sleeve.


Role models


Fairywarming heart-tale stuff as the unpaid players of stony broke Portsmouth FC make it to the FA Cup final, thanks in part to Kevin-Prince Boateng (above) who, you will notice, has several tattoos of John Portsmouth Football Club Westwood adorning his person.

Such commitment and spirit is rare to find in professional sport these days. If only those overpaid, cheating, egomaniac, sly, prima donna rugby players could be more like footballers, eh?

Friday, April 09, 2010

The lanes in Spate

The notion that we have four seasons in England is a risible fallacy. In fact we have six: Spring, First Summer, Rainy Season, Second Summer, Autumn and Winter (or if you follow the Blodget method: Tally, Spate, The Time Of Mighty Remonstrations, Tack, Hub And Bolismus).

First and Second Summer can last anything from an hour to a fortnight each. Yesterday was the first day of First Summer (or Spate), a glorious bonewarming eye-screwing sun. I went for my lunchtime walk in my black Winter (or Bolismus) coat, but soon had to remove it and hang it artlessly over my shoulder with a hooked finger, much like a male catalogue model. Once or twice I also gazed across the valleys with one hand shielding my eyes so I imagine I cut quite a dash.

At the crest of the hill, beyond the piglets, I inevitably encountered the Local Character, on horse and with dog as usual. We had our best ever chat, covering the weather, the countryside and the MPs expenses scandal. The Local Character is not keen on electioneering. “Politicians and vicars are just the same, they only come to see you when they warnt something,” he grumbled enigmatically. I agreed.

As we talked, hoofthumps sounded in the field beside us and three horsey women came cantering along in the soil track parallel to the lane. The leading one called out an “Afternoon, M____” to the Local Character and then whipped her eyes guiltily down the hill. “Oh dear, I think we’re going to be told off”. A battered Landrover was roaring up the far edge of the field at terrible speed. The three horsewomen dashed onto the lane and tried to trot innocently.

“They’ll never get away from him at that speed,” said the Local Character. He was right; the Landrover caught them just at the bend in the lane, so we had a good view of the farmer leaning out of his window to give the trespassers an almighty bollocking.

“I always sticks to the lanes. There’s no need to roide on his land, though he’s alroight with me if I asks him cos my horse is old now. But I seen 'em roide roight in the middle of the field and go in circles. Not roight really."

As I walked back down the hill the Landrover passed me again. By the time I got to the field of the piglets the farmer was already there, lugging a vast plastic vat of whatever his pigs eat, working the land, sweating away in his place of business, over which the horsey women had trampled for their brief amusement. His name is Dave, I spend a bit of money in his farmshop. He’s a good man, if a touch lunatic about the eyes.

Malcolm McLaren RIP



Played Never Mind the Bollocks on the way to work this morning as a tribute. What an awesome album it is. I bought it when I was at school, during my Marxist-Anarchist-Bolshevist-Nihilist phase. Playing God Save the Queen as loud as my tinny speakers could manage with my bedroom window open was about the biggest danger I posed to bourgeois western capitalism, but it got me through.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Serious politics

'May you live in interesting times' is either a Chinese curse or something that people commonly believe to be a Chinese curse. We live in uninteresting times for British politics as there are no distinctive ideologies or, indeed, ideas in any of the major parties; just shades of centrism. Since political ideas and ideologies that stray from shades of centrism have a disastrous track record, ie. the 20th Century, we ought to be pleased, oughtn’t we? Those who are not pleased are those who are interested in politics and claim to take it ‘seriously’. But is complaining about a lack of radical ideas and firebreathing speeches and soapbox knockabouts really taking politics seriously, or the opposite, ie. demanding that politics be a source of entertainment? Why isn’t it a good thing that politics is dull and most citizens seek their entertainment elsewhere? And then again, how is it that in the USA, where the ideological gap between the so-called Left and Right is arguably even more negligible than here, the bloggers and wonks are able to work themselves up into such a hysterical, polarised frenzy? Too much politics? Isn’t politics just a necessary evil in the business of government? A relatively trivial sideshow? And what is the business of government? To protect us from the Hooded Claw and keep the vampires from our door, certainly, but why more? Doesn’t politics just encourage politicians to do ever more governing? And where did I leave my hat?

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Quoth the Wurzel

So The Wurzels have teamed up with the Conservative Party to bring down the inflation-plus-10% cider duty, the single most hated piece of legislation since the poll tax.

As documented here, I’ve had my run-ins with The Wurzels. It’s no surprise to see them meddling in the affairs of the state; they are a band of great and dark power. Warrior-Poets. Others have correctly observed that “When the moon shines on the cowshed” is the greatest opening line to any work of literature; and who can doubt the direct influence of “The Blackbird on Edgar Allan Poe? (For those who think the influence must be the other way about, remember that the Wurzels have been going strong since 1728, during which time they have played I’ve Got a Brand New Combine Harvester on some sixty or seventy million occasions).

No longer can I sleep at night, get peace of any kind,
That bird’ll be the death of me, he’s prayin’ on me mind!
If I chase him long enough, I’ll get ‘en by and by,
And celebrate me vict’ry with a girt big blackbird pie!


Cider tax? Nevermore!

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Batten down the hatches

...it’s electioneering time. I loathe the campaigning but enjoy election night on the BBC, can’t wait to see what absurd new graphical variations on the swingometer Peter Snow has been given to gesticulate at.

Nick Cohen has a useful crap-cutting guide here. I think he’s right that the expenses scandal – despite being cross-party - could still play a big part at the individual constituency level. Any MPs tainted could face a nasty backlash even in safe seats if their opponents get a decent hate campaign going.

Nick also observes that opinion polls are biased towards Labour. This may be due to the phenomenon whereby many people who vote Conservative don’t like to admit to it in case a 1980s ‘alternative comedian’ such as Ben Elton or Mark Steel happens to be passing and subjects them to a haranguing. Ignore all that and the electioneering and, unless local tactics require you to support the Lib Dems to keep Labour out, vote Tory for the aforementioned reasons.

Elizabeth, Doctor Who

I’d forgotten what an enjoyable film Elizabeth is (the 1998 one with Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush etc). Structurally it’s similar to The Godfather, only more exciting. Christopher Ecclestone overcomes outrageous pantaloons to shine as Norfolk. Joseph Fiennes looks like Sir Robert Dudley but he acts too much.

Ecclestone is now two Whos ago. Saturday’s new Doctor Who with Matt Smith was really rather good; funny and quick and slightly less running down corridors shouting about THE END OF TIME ITSELF than usual. I’m glad it was good, because David Tennant, though presiding over the programme’s Golden Age, was looking ominously like taking Doctor Who up the A470 from Cardiff to Prestatyn. A timely reboot, that.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Sacred music

Simon Russell Beale’s excellent BBC 4 series Sacred Music concluded last night with John Tavener, a composer whose intimidating, anachronistic religiosity reminds me of Geoffrey Hill’s. Makes you doubt your Doubts. It was nice to watch a whole programme about religion without Richard Dawkins appearing to state the bleedin’ obvious.

Sacred music is about humans, hope and hopelessness; God is the justification. In Dawkins’ and Bjorn from Abba's post-religious world, where middle distance-gazing professionals gather in conference centres to discuss painless suicide techniques, and where reclining in First Class on the Eurostar we eat Asian Fusion food from recyclable boxes and tap secret, bleak poems into our Apple notebooks et cetera, I Know That My Redeemer Liveth will still make perfect sense. More sense, if anything – the poignancy will verge on unbearable. Happy Easter!

Friday, April 02, 2010

Approaching the Piglets 2: The Revenge of the Piglets

Where Art meets Horror. And piglets.

video

Thursday, April 01, 2010

If Man is five



If Man is five, then the Devil is six. And if the Devil is six, then God is seven.

This much is given to us directly in the text. But what are four, three, two and one?

“The Baldwin brothers, in that order!” some wag might quip. Ignore him, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. This is a serious question and scholars have long debated it. Ignore them too, because the answer is that the Monkey is four, the Horse is three, the Chicken is two and one is the Dungeness Crab.

Surprisingly, or perhaps not, John Portsmouth Football Club Westwood is eight.