Monday, 31 October 2011

It's time Jeanette Winterson let her cruel mother rest in peace

If the abuse suffered by Jeanette Winterson as a child at the hands of her adoptive religious zealot mother Constance some forty and more years ago happened today, it would most likely prompt the intervention of social services and possibly the police.
Twenty-five years ago Winterson launched her literary career with the novel Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit employing a good deal of her personal journey from her mother’s oppression.
Now Winterson has published a memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (Constance’s question directed at her daughter’s sexuality), the first section of which looks at the real life events behind the writing of Orange.

Friday, 28 October 2011

John Humphrys maps out the difficult path to welfare reform

If you want a primer on the issues facing the Coalition as it takes an axe to Britain’s benefits bill, you cannot do better than watch last night’s BBC 2 documentary The future state of welfare on iPlayer.
So this isn’t so much a review as an invitation to view.
Broadcasting veteran John Humphrys makes an unflinching analysis of the distance we’ve travelled in 70 years since Sir William Beveridge’s report paved the way to end the evils of want, disease, ignorance, squalor – and idleness.
Somewhere along the way the last of these guiding principles became corrupted and a culture of dependency was born.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Eurozone crisis - beware the Chinese bearing gifts

China has a role to play in the bailout of the Eurozone but on its past cautious record its contribution will not be a game changer. Any democracy movement worth the name would be crushed, but the country’s leaders are wary of being seen bailing out Europeans, while millions of its own people face extreme hardship.
One reason why the Chinese are such dedicated savers is because the state provides little support for its ill and old.
Even so the gradual spread of Beijing’s overseas investments beyond the US to Europe is one further sign of the shift of influence from the old to the new economies.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Thomas Gainsborough’s The Painter’s Daughters Chasing a Butterfly - an appreciation

It’s been some years now since I’ve had the pleasure of visiting the National Gallery in London and seeing Thomas Gainsborough’s The Painter’s Daughters Chasing a Butterfly.
Perhaps I’ve just been unlucky. Although I visit the gallery frequently to enjoy the treasures of one of the world’s greatest collections of Western Art, my favourite painting has been missing, being lent or cleaned or whatever.
Turner, Picasso, Rembrandt, there are many artists that rank higher in my enthusiasm than Gainsborough. But there is no single painting I love more than his one that heads this post.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Occupy protesters have lost the moral high ground

My grudging respect for the Occupy London Stock Exchange campaigners has all but dissolved on learning most of the tents that have forced St Paul’s Cathedral to close its doors are unoccupied at night.
The claim by the police, which I haven’t seen denied, means by regularly returning home for a shower and a warm bed – perhaps while holding down a job too – the protesters have missed out the bit about suffering for their cause.
It’s no wonder the happy campers are talking about sitting tight until Christmas and beyond, while the Cathedral and local businesses see their revenues evaporate.

Monday, 24 October 2011

"Change now" - the empty slogan of the Occupy protesters

It’s a great shame the Occupy London Stock Exchange protesters’ first action to emulate their Occupy Wall Street brothers and sisters has been to cause the closure of St Paul’s Cathedral.
I went to see for myself yesterday and clearly health and safety issues made necessary what the Luftwaffe failed to do – namely close the doors of Wren’s great masterpiece to the public indefinitely.
In so doing the Cathedral is denied entrance monies that support its upkeep. The Church authorities did the Christian thing and originally welcomed a small number of tents on to its privately owned property around the church when the protesters failed to ‘occupy’ the nearby London Stock Exchange.
There are now hundreds of tents – and a fresh site has opened in Finsbury Square, which is even closer to the heart of the financial district in London’s Square Mile.

Friday, 21 October 2011

What's your earliest memory?

Scanning the headlines seeking inspiration for today’s post, my brain has recoiled at the blood and mayhem that is dominating the news around the world. I rarely escape to cute mode so forgive this indulgence; it won't become a habit. But I am much taken with the video of these cot-bound twins.
It puts me in mind of what I think is my earliest memory.

I don’t have very good recall, for which most of the time I’m thankful. I don’t store away bad experiences, at least, consciously.
But my poor memory made it impossible to learn a play script or put together a stand-up comedy routine if I ever had a mind to tread the boards.
I digress. And my earliest memory? I think it’s a cot – I assume mine - with a broken removable bar. I hope I had the same sense of adventure as the toddler in the video.
What’s your earliest memory?

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Reflections on a mislaid Freedom Pass

“You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” So sang Joni Mitchell in Big Yellow Taxi all those years ago. Her words came back to me as I searched frantically for my Older Persons Freedom Pass earlier this week. Familiarity meant I had taken for granted what is a major money saving asset.
It was bad enough that I had to pay over £6 for a Tube into central London and back again just the once. But the prospect of paying for many such journeys until I received a replacement from my local council was a miserable one.
Fortunately on my return, I discovered that rather than accidentally throwing the pass away as I had feared, it was sitting in a jacket pocket in my wardrobe waiting to be reunited with its relieved owner.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Eggheads are not all they are cracked up to be

I heard a lecture entitled Late Work given by Professor Peter Brooks under the auspices of the British Academy at the Royal Society in London yesterday evening.
What with the Prof himself, a distinguished panel, and erudite observations from the large audience, it was probably the most intellectually charged event I’ve ever attended. Much of what transpired went over my head.
Unfortunately my abiding memory will be surprise at how many brainy people can have such poor hygiene standards - but more of that later.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

NHS: voters will hold David Cameron to account in 2015

The next General Election in the UK will be held on May 7th 2015 barring exceptional circumstances like successful no confidence votes in the House of Commons.
Tory strategy had been aimed at securing sufficient economic recovery by then to be able to drop the party’s dependence on the LibDems to remain in office.
But with growth flat-lining and the international outlook bleak, it’s likely prime minister David Cameron and his chancellor George Osborne may have to go to the country with the British economy still in the doldrums.
It will then be a contest in which voters will be assailed by Tory statistics showing recovery is just around the corner, while Labour will insist the government has failed and should be kicked out.

Monday, 17 October 2011

On junk, memories, failed novels, girlie bars, and Concorde

In anticipation of moving house – though nothing’s been signed yet – I spent a lot of today getting rid of stuff that somehow has been following me around for years.
I delivered a lot of books I’ll never read again to the local charity shop. It took longer to summon up the resolve to dump failed literary efforts of more than 20 years ago.
Abandoned novels written in longhand in old-fashioned ledgers and consigned to a battered suitcase and lodged in a cupboard, they’ve joined some ancient electrical equipment in my apartment block’s communal dustbins.
Having taken the detritus of my life including ancient income tax returns, cancelled shares, and other odds and sods in addition to literary output dating from my teenage years from my bachelor flat on to my marital home and then my divorcee’ s studio, there’s a lot to chuck out.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Tate Modern's Gerhard Richter show does justice to a great artist

If Germany’s Gerhard Richter isn’t the world’s greatest living artist, I’d like to know who is? Until his death in the summer us Brits bestowed the title on our own Lucian Freud.
But this was a piece of pretty harmless jingoism. I’d say any one room in the recently opened Richter retrospective at Tate Modern is equal in impact to much of Freud’s entire output.
Once Freud found his unmistakable studio based style - a Francis Bacon-influenced focus on human flesh – he stuck to it.
Not so Richter. Coinciding with the artist’s 80th birthday, Gerhard Richter: Panorama is a major exhibition that charts significant moments of his remarkable career in the wide subject matter and variety of styles – both representational and abstract – he mastered in a career spanning nearly five decades.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

How far should schools go in aiding the police in identifying young rioters?

My local free sheet the excellent Camden New Journal is leading this week’s edition with a story, which raises a moral issue that has left me in two minds.
Two local schools have been assisting police in identifying pupils caught on CCTV in the August riots in London.
One head teacher said his school was “duty bound” to assist the police, while the other couldn’t be reached to comment on the "hot potato" decision to actively support the investigation.
So far four teenagers face charges in the wake of the schools’ help. Of course this doesn’t make them guilty. But if found so, there are serious consequences over and above receiving a criminal record.
Stiff prison sentences have been handed out regardless of the youth of the offenders. A not necessarily short, sharp lesson might push an already wayward child into a life of crime.
The question is “What has the higher priority, a school’s duty of care to its pupils or to society at large?”

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Unequal Britain - the £265k garage and the dole queue

You know the world’s gone mad when you see a bog standard garage go up for sale at more than a quarter of a million quid. No more than 15 minutes walk from where I live someone is looking for £265,000 from the sale of theirs.
The location is in Belsize Village – arguably the best part of Belsize Park, a generally prosperous area of north-west London. But the 18’ x 8’ garage itself, as the picture above shows, is nothing special.
I’ve no idea if the vendor will get his or her price but the estate agent handling the deal thinks it is worth a try.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Of EuroMillionaire Dave's HATE tattoo

I have no rational explanation for my prejudice against the owners of visible tattoos. That is tattoos that would normally only be exposed on a beach – or, if you’re a woman, visible when wearing clothes suited to a night out.
It’s different if you’re David Beckham or in showbiz but if you’re in, say, my queue at the supermarket I will interpret the tattoo on your hand as saying “I don’t want a proper job and a decent career.”
If you have a tattoo on your face that says to me you don’t want a proper job and a decent career, ever.

Friday, 7 October 2011

BBC staff have been failed by their bosses

When us Brits used to boast we had the best television in the world, we meant the BBC. That claim went down the toilet about the same time it had become obvious we didn’t have the best national health service either.
The plan to axe 2,000 jobs at the BBC in response to a frozen license fee is a cruel blow.
Nearly a third facing redundancy over the next five years are working in BBC News. The quality of television journalism is certain to suffer and with it the democratic process. That both left and right complain about BBC bias is a tribute to its general impartiality.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

R.I.P Steve Jobs - GC pays his respects to a true visionary

There are already many fine tributes being paid Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, who lost his long fight against cancer yesterday.
New York mayor Michael Bloomberg is right to link Jobs name with those of Edison and Einstein. He changed the way we live and showed how the application of advanced technology can be applied to the everyday in computing, communication and entertainment.
The Jobs story, which saw him ousted from the company only to stage a triumphant return years later, is the stuff of business legends. His vision extended to spotting the potential of Pixar to change movie animation. He bought the company for $10 million in 1986.
Good design was part of the Jobs success formula from the original computers to Macs, iPods, iPhones, and iPads.
Back in 1985 Jobs said in an interview: “The most compelling reason for most people to buy a computer for the home will be to link it to a nationwide communications network. We're just in the beginning stages of what will be a truly remarkable breakthrough for most people - as remarkable as the telephone.”
He was a true visionary and will be much missed.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Boris Johnson's head-to-head with Paxo is only a taste of the battles to come

If you’ve never seen London’s mayor Boris Johnson in full flight you must watch his encounter with Newsnight frontman Jeremy Paxman on BBC2 television last night. Even if you’re familiar with Johnson’s studied eccentricity and missed it, their extraordinary verbal fisticuffs is must-see viewing.
Although Labour leads nationally in opinion polls, the party’s candidate Ken Livingstone is going to have his work cut out beating the Tory blond bombshell at the mayoral election next May.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Kirsten Dunst saves von Trier's Melancholia from catastrophe

The end of the world couldn’t come a moment too soon for me in Lars von Trier’s new movie Melancholia, which I saw this afternoon.
Opinion about the film, which deservedly won the best actress award for its star Kirsten Dunst at Cannes this year, has split the critics.
Melancholia is so stupendous, imaginative, weird, and outlandish that it rearranges the contents of your soul,” wrote Nigel Andrews of the Financial Times.
But I’m with Philip French of The Observer, who found “The movie is heavy, though without weight or gravitas – a solipsistic, narcissistic, inhuman affair.”

Monday, 3 October 2011

George Osborne's brass neck will rile voters

Chancellor George Osborne badly missed the mood of the nation in his speech at the Tory party conference in Manchester today.
In the knowledge his analysis of the dangers facing the British economy would be compressed into a 15 second sound bite in news bulletins, he repeated the phrase “Together we will weather the storm” more-or-less four times to get his main theme across to the public.
This is a variant of the “We are all in this together” mantra he has been repeating since before the General Election. He riled many last time round, who questioned how Osborne, a multi-millionaire and former Bullingdon Club member, had the gall to include himself among those facing hard times.