The Jaded Jedi

Journal and General Musings

Day 19 in the Corona house: I’ve got a little list

27/03/2020

I’ve got a little list – Opera Australia (The Mikado)

I wouldn’t class myself as a dedicated Gilbert and Sullivan fan. As is often the case with those of us who like words, it’s the lyrics that grab my attention and often admiration. However, I’m far from an officionado of their cannon of work. That said, both yesterday and today, I’ve been unable to better their numbers for summing up the general feel of the blog post.

Day 19 in the Covfefe house

It sounds very strange to say nineteen isn’t a very high profile number. I suppose what I mean is it’s one of those numbers that don’t feature in promotions such as 3 for 2 or multi-buy purchases. It isn’t quantitative such as 12 or 144 (dozen and score) and it didn’t pull the whole goth unlucky stunt like 13 did. You don’t see it marking milestone birthdays or forming natural numerical divisions. Indeed, if it hadn’t been for Paul Hardcastle in the 1980’s it could have been almost as low profile as 37. That is until a little virus with a nominal number 19 attached boosted it into our collective consciousness.

The nineteenth day in the Corona house has been one dominated by lists. Vaughan finds them a mechanism to give the day a little structure, gain a sense of having completed something constructive and even finds it eases any background anxiety somewhat. I don’t, however, that didn’t stop him from making me one anyway which I’m pleased to report has been completed, or will be once this post has been completed.

I often raise a wry smile from those who know me well as I do have something of a capability to plan ahead. Vaughan famously quotes a planning spreadsheet for our wedding which had over 350 lines each representing a task. That was a bit of an exception, but you get the idea. I should warn the Royal Mail that I’m going to be calling on their Santa list a little early this year as I’ve been developing a corporate naughty or nice list.

It may be of some use to others to read through mine or even keep there own for those people or organisations we will remember for all the right or wrong reasons after this crisis has passed.

If as a reader of this blog you come across examples of companies or organisations to go on either my list for outstanding contribution or outstanding cockwomblery please feel free to add them with a little detail as comments to this post. If we have sufficient for an update or any amazing examples I’d certainly welcome everyone knowing about it.

Could do better

So a quick run down of what caused some of those listed to land where they have. Let’s start with a few people and organisations from whom I would have expected more.

We all know the hospitality sector is being hit pretty hard. We also know it’s been given a fair bit of support in the last ten days. It’s one thing for the local chippie to shut temporarily, even though most haven’t, but what of millionaire celebrity chefs.
Gordon Ramsey has reportedly laid off around five hundred of his staff from across his Michelin star and fine dining establishments. Multiple press reports indicate this was done with a meeting and confirmation by text reading:

Gordon Ramsey, celebrity chef

I am writing to confirm that you have been given notice that your contract of employment will be terminated and you will be paid four weeks notice.

You will be placed on garden leave for the duration of your notice. Your P45, final holiday pay and any other monies owing will be forwarded to you in due course.

The staff have not had their posts held for them if/when the venues reopen and social media has been replete with staff spilling the proverbial if not literal beans claiming to have been ‘treated like sh*t’ by the celebrity chef. In a climate where businesses are straining to retain jobs these sweeping lay offs are not what I would expect from such a culinary luminary. I don’t think I’ll be going to Petrus any time soon even if I could afford the £300 per head (approx) for 3 courses and some vino.

Also in the ‘could do better corner’ are Rick Stein who has informed the staff in his chain of restaurants that they won’t be paid for the time the restaurant is closed although he has pulled up short of terminating their contracts. I must remember this the next time either of them praise their staff and say how endebted they are to them on their websites for example.

A similar criticism is levelled at Weatherspoons who won’t be paying their staff anything while they are closed and a particular mention in despatches for Mike Ashley of Sport Direct. He tried to stay open and keep the money rolling in – claimed his trading was vital to the welfare of the nation. Nice try Mike but no cigar this time.

Better examples

So much for the wander down crass and clumsy crescent, what about a tour along quality street. Whatever you think of his vaccums or their big wagons, special mention should go to JCB and Dyson Plc for rising to the governments challenge and re-tooling some of their engineering lines to produce ventilators.

In a move which is either superb marketing or schere bravado – or possibly both, the Government asked Dyson to manufacture a few thousand ventilators to their specification. Dyson (in terms) said well we could, but why would we?

The Dyson factory in Wiltshire looked at the spec and the response was – well they’re just not very good are they. We can do better than that, which it appears they then set about doing.

Some criticise Dyson for moving some of their production offshore and I don’t seek to defend that. However, the first 10,000 ventilators redesigned, patented and in production in Wiltshire should be arriving with the NHS in mid to late April. I for one was impressed with not only the willingness to take on the task at all, but to do so in the same timescale whilst improving the end product. Dyson Plc is on this years nice list.

As time is pressing this evening, (I must shortly be a combination of barmand and cameraman – a combination not known for … well anything really). Vaughan is about to tackle chicken cacchiatori on Grub with V-Dub so I must get him wired for sound. For that reason only glowing mentions in passing for both Brewdolph Brewery in Oxforshire who have turned their brewing process into one producing hand sanitisers and their first 10,000 gallons will be ready later this week. Once the current madness is over I trust they have a nice side line in the making for their pubs – can’t think of a better way of cleaning those pipes out.

In contrast to Weatherspoon and those celebrity chefs, it’s worth singing the praises of a local brewery and pub chain. East Anglian Greene King brewers have told their tennants to stay in their pubs, keep their homes (most live on the premises) no need to pay rent consider it a fee for providing security to the premises – oh and by the way we’ll still pay your wages for as long as we can. – Odd how the multi million pound chains can’t manage it but a medium sized local business can. – Discuss.

Those of you who know me well will know I can have an inappropriate sense of humour at times, earlier this afternoon was one such time.

Masks by Ralph Lauren

It may be wrong of me but I was both impressed and secretly amused to hear that the design and fashion chain Ralph Lauren have also joined the list of unexpected suppliers to the NHS. In what is a natural if unexpected fit, they will provide hospitals with surgical and protective masks. I have nothing but praise and thanks for them but couldn’t help but think – I bet they’ll leave the label on.

I could imagine disucssions between nursing staff. Dior? – No sweetie Ralph Lauren. I’m just waiting to hear that L’oreal are joinng the production efforts churning out masks emblasoned with ‘because I’m worth it’ Highly inappropriate possibly, but I’ve been isolating for nineteen days, you get your laughs where you can.

I hope we remember the relative actions and approaches of these organisations in our buying and patronage once we emerge from this rather bleak period. I will certainly try to.

Hoping to redeem myself however latterly, here are this evening’s Grub with V-Dub productions. Easy to follow and I can vouch for how tasty it is .. The chicken cacciatori isn’t bad either.

Now to look at some IT for watch parties. I don’t know how people manage this self- isolation …. there just isn’t enough time in the day.

Day 15 in the Corona house: Children will listen

24/03/2020

Day 15 in the Corona house

Day fifteen in the Corona house sees a change of emphasis rather than a change of scenery. A number of people have asked for more information on the songs related to each entry in this series. The eagle eyed among you will notice that there is a track play control at the bottom of this post and in due course on the earlier items. That will allow you to hear the track in question and tell you where it’s from if you wish to investigate further.

As I start to compile my update news is starting to detail Boris Johnston’s speech to the nation tonight. This follows a COBRA meeting earlier today without the usual afternoon press conference. What that means is unclear to both Vaughan and I but it’s caused an axiety spike at Gumnut Towers.

We would like to be able to get back to the Acreage, however, it appears the screws may be tightening so that’s by no means certain. We have to be here until Friday so it’s Pexit-day (Peckham Exit) minus four. Perhaps by the time I finish this post, it will be a little more clear as to when or whether that can be possible.

Other than the open question as to whether/if we can get back to the Shire, today has been a day of re-evaluation both on a personal and wider level. My last day of work is this Thursday at which point my role becomes redundant and a twenty three year chapter comes to an end. Perhaps surprisingly, I’m not as downbeat about it as you might expect. I don’t recognise the workplace I joined and its values have changed. So, for those of you old enough to remember Rhoda, in the words of her mother, the wonderful Nancy Walker, it’s time to roll up your tent and move to another village.

I can’t have been too concerned about the state of affairs as I was able to notice the absence of a handful of friends from Facebook. Some tactful enquiries all came back with variations on the same theme. In simple terms, people were saying they were stepping back from the fever-pitch of lunacy, selfishness and doom goblins that social media was presenting to them at present.
I do hope I wasn’t one of the doom goblin in relation to Covid-19 (or as my new bff Randy Rainbow referred to it, causing me to spit tea over the floor, Covfefe 19. But more of that later).

Having taken a break from much of the social media world myself in recent weeks, I can entirely sympathise with their point of view. Spending time in self-isolation can, in the absence of routine, become a series of duvet days. While that sounds enchanting on day one, it really has a short shelf life. It’s very easy to spend excessive time listening to two entirely uninformed ‘experts’ slugging chunks of the bejeezus out of each other on Facebook, Twitter or similar. Whilst I’ve been as tempted as others to pull up a chair and see if Uber eats are doing popcorn, I’ve avoided the temptation. It’s really pretty unhelpful.

There isn’t enough news.

Similarly, the news channel has been relegated from our usual background chewing gum for the brain. Apart from the fact that the looping news is hardly filling us with confidence, it also steals the day. You start off with what looks like a normal day and bibbady bobbady boo before you know it the content is running through its ninth loop and it’s half eleven at night and I’ve still not finished my blog post.

One of the up-sides of the isolation is you get to find out surprising new bits of information about each other. Today I added to my list of OMG moment and in so doing identified another film to show Vaughan as part of his musical theatre education. I was discussing a particularly dim reporter at one of the morning news conferences who had a particularly squeaky and deeply irritating voice.

The wonderfully awful Lina Lamont.

Without thinking anything about it, I turned to Vaughan and said ‘The last time I heard a voice like that was on Lina Lamont … an’ I can’t stand it.’

Vaughan looked at me blankly, I returned it equally non-plussed but for different reasons. ‘Lena Lomont – you know singing in the rain?’ The look I was receiving didn’t change. At this point I found myself wondering if the Ventolin inhaler left at Gumnut by Vaughan’s mum last Christmas was easily to hand. I had a very sudden feeling I might be needing it.

There are certain things as a gay man that you take for granted. The standard things. Things such as being familiar with the singing greats, Lisa, Barbara, Madge etc. Others might include being able to zhuzh up anything from a present wrapping to a boring party and having a natural ability to accessorise. However, even these are based on some basics like having watched and being able to quote from the Wizard of Oz, Priscilla Queen of the dessert and Singing in the Rain.
“You have seen singing in the rain haven’t you?” I ask
“Nope” comes the answer ….
HOW CAN THIS BE??? I picked my jaw up off the floor, silently sang three verses of I will survive and added it to our viewing list. It’s at times of national crisis you find out the important things.

The last piece of re-evaluation may take me into the realms of the dictator in the eyes of some. However, is it just me who is getting increasingly appalled at the standards of journalism we’re being subjected to currently? As I’m stepping into commentry about the free press, I should clarify where I stand and position my complaint within the context of the accepted wisdom surrounding our press. Churchill set the bar pretty high with:

A free press is the unsleeping guardian of every other right tbat free men prize; it is the most dangerous foe of tyranny…The press will continue to be the vigilant guardian of the rights of the ordinary citizen. – Winston Churchill 1940

I’m fully in support of that position. Nor would I differ with no less a figure than Thomas Jefferson, I always get very wary when I hear people calling for controls on the press. That isn’t what I seek to do, but I am rapidly forming the view that current news reporting is broken and has developed into something I don’t class as responsible journalism.

Today, I heard reporters asking what are technically known as ‘bloody stupid questions’. One asked ‘Do you think the NHS is ready to cope with the coming crisis?’ Where had she been for the past three weeks. It would have been a naive question two weeks ago, but now it’s just bizarre.

I wouldn’t seek to control, limit or censor the free press. I may not like some of what they do either in terms of content or method, but I recognise the truth in Chuchill’s words. We would be far worse off without them. However, I think we deserve better and I wish they’d up their game.

Sometimes, more is most certainly less and there is just not enough news – at least not for 24 hour news. I suspect that we have 4-6 hours of new news on a typical day. However the rolling news cycle means we have to pad the rest with opinion, speculation and dare I say a sprinkling of sensationalism. I for one would be very happy to see the likes of BBC and Sky rolling news channels restructured to provide less but better national coverage and fill the time with important events from elsewhere, truly to educate. However, I suspect that genie is well and truly not being put back in its bottle.

This concludes today’s rant thought for today so I will close with the title that nearly was. Having seen a short clip that activated my chuckle muscles, we nearly paid homage to Dame Elaine who’s laugh is infectious – there’s something I hope you do catch.

In a story I thought was falcified, but does appear to be substantiated in a couple of interviews, it appears Madonna had infact misheard the lyric as ‘don’t cry for me I’m the cleaner’ until the point she had to learn the song for her role in Evita. I do hope it’s true as it’s so delicious I’ve already put on three pounds just by telling you.

It seems that during the time taken to write this piece, the PM has announced the next measures to be taken. Although things have been tightened up it does look as though we will be able to make a one off return journey to the Acreage in due course. So it will be an exit from Peckham (now known as Pexit) in 4 days and counting. Then isolation at the acreage.

As promised something to leave you with a smile, I hope. It seems we are not the only ones isolating.

The title of this post comes from Into the Woods and for those who have expressed an interest in hearing them can be played on the control below.

Children will Listen – Barbra Streisand (from Into the Woods)

Day 14 in the Corona house: And the money keeps rolling in (and out).

22/03/2020

Day 14 in the Corona house

The last day in self-imposed quarantine and today’s blog entry takes its title from Evita. I’ve had a number of people ask whether all the daily updates in this series have been taken from song titles or musical numbers. Jules Phillips and Karen Young were the first to notice the linkage which was always an extra mental diversion on my part. It’s been quite fun finding a musical descriptor for the daily update. I hope you’ll excuse me sending multiple replies by answering here. They have all been songs, many but not all from musicals. The full list being:

  1. Turn a different corner – George Michael
  2. Tell me more tell me more – Grease
  3. Stuck in the middle with you – Stealers Wheel
  4. The Scientist – Coldplay
  5. A little bit of history repeating – Shirley Bassey
  6. How do you solve a problem ask Korea – Sound of music
  7. I am reviewing the situation – Oliver
  8. Hey, hey, I saved the world today – Eurythmics
  9. Empty chairs at empty tables – Les Miserables
  10. Let’s do the timewarp again – Rocky Horror picture show
  11. If I only had a brain – Wizard of Oz
  12. There’s got to be something better than this – Sweet charity
  13. One day more – Les Miserables
  14. And the money – And the money keeps rolling in (and out) – Evita

Looking at the list, I suspect I’ve over compensated by omitting my favourite musicals. Nothing from West Side Story or Phantom and two from Les Miserables (The Glums) which I can appreciate without really enjoying. I have seen Phantom over 50 times and could happily go back again whereas I’ve seen Les Miserables twice. The first time was harmless though I was largely underwhelmed. The second time was difficult although there was a lovely period in the middle when it stopped and I had an ice cream. If you’re off to see Les Mis, ice cream is the answer.

Today’s blog title chose itself. Well it chose itself in the sense that Vaughan only stopped singing it when I agreed to use it. But actually, it fitted well with the prevailing discussions. They seemed to be about whether the UK was doing enough for particular sections of the population.

Coronavirus rescue packages in £ (billions)

I’ve been reasonably happy with the response of the UK government although I don’t claim to be an expert. I’ve also revised my view of Boris Johnson since seeing his handling of the crisis. What’s not in doubt is the extent to which the money is flowing out of Government coffers. Ultimately it’s largely borrowed and at some point we’ll have to pay most or much of it back, but that’s not the priority at this time. But it is worth remembering, if only because it will come as less of a surprise when governments of whatever hue seek to recover it from us over the next five to ten years.
Without seeking to make a party political or EU point of any kind, it’s worth comparing our response compared to other countries.

Before being too critical and even allowing for the fact that some of the promised funding is in the form of loans rather than grants, the UK £330 billion is significanly more than the £41 billion of France or the £36 billion of Germany. All are dwarfed by the US who have a bill going through Capitol Hill requesting just short of $1.6 trillion, or £1.3 trillion pounds.

Looking at the current statistics on reported cases, perhaps it’s no surprise that the US is spending so much. It looks very much like the US is going to become the world epicenter of the pandemic within a couple of days as they look set to overtake Italy in terms of reported cases. Rather than paste a blurry graph here, I’ll leave those who are interested to open the graph showing the current situation across a number of countries. This will update a few times a day depending on what else we’re doing and how much cider has flowed.

Some of the spend in R&D is already starting to show promising results. Of course, we’re probably six to nine months at least from an effective vaccine in humans. However, some very intersting technological solutions from across the scientific communities. Rather than repeat them in text, if you have 20 minutes to spare and want a little encouraging news showing some hope for a way through the crisis, you could do worse than watch the most recent episode of the BBC technology programme Click.
I admit to having shamelessly copied it but hope that the potential benefit in terms of a positive message and boosting mental health may cause the BBC to overlook this matter. If not, I will of course take it down, but until I’m asked to click away. – If all else fails look forward to later updates from Brixton jail.

Some positive developements showcased by BBC Click

While on the subject of good news and wishing to reassure, I think it’s worth including one of the staff videos for a London hospital trust. It’s audience is intended to be hospital staff, but it shows the amount of work and effort being put into keeping existing, new and potential patients safe.

Just how prepared are our hospitals – A glimpse at St Barts, London.

Although I’m going to continue the blog for at least the next couple of weeks, I do need need to conclude the 14 day strand. So a few loose ends to tie off and a few words of encouragment for those who are just entering or in the early stages of self isolation.

It’s true that it’s tricky at times. Whether it’s keeping up your step count, wanting to visit friends, relatives, family or just go to the shops it does place a significant break on your personal liberty. However, the two important messages I feel I would make to anyone are these. Firstly, these difficulties aren’t major, they are merely temporary irritants and nothing compared to the traumatic times our grandparents and great grandparents lived through. It’s only 14 days for most people and it’s achievable without too much trauma.

The second and much more important is that it’s vitally important we do isolate or at least significantly reduce unnecessary contacts. I could rattle on about why, but I think most of us know why if we’re honest. In any case, I couldn’t beat this rather simple but highly effective graphic. Latest research shows the virus is more transmissable (easier to pick up) than at first thought. Instead of each person passing on to two or three people it’s now thought to be more like four or five. It’s too late to avoid the spread, but we can minimise and reduce the speed of it. Please think about each contact – they can and do make a difference.

Since yesterday’s installment, I have been mildly chastised for letting standards slip. Apparently ‘Billy the bog-roll’ jars and might even be described as course (heaven forfend). So with that in mind, may I update you with the final measurements of William the lavatory consumable. At the start of Vaughan’s experiment, we had a partial roll with a depth of 1cm remaining. William then entered the scene and will leave it with 1.5 cm remaining.
As a full roll has 3cm depth of tread the results of the Norweigan jury show that one roll of paper consumable product was used during the 14 days in question. – Now we need a comparison, over to you Jules and Leon.

Yesterday, I mentioned serendipity, defined as ‘the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way’. Having been chastised for the Billy incident you can’t imagine how pleased I was to see Sheila Harrod a very musical lady of my acquaintance post this little ditty.

One thing I’ve found over the last 14 days is that you pick up old hobbies and get around to projects or interests you’ve had on hold for some time.
In my case, returning to the blog is a case in point. Although I have yet to open any of the three books I’m hoping to read during this period of purdah, I have selected them and put them in order so it’s just a case of sitting still long enough to do the reading bit. As for Vaughan, he’s rekindled his interest in cooking where that’s more than merely a practical need. One side effect of this period in isolation may well be that my clothes shrink. They’ve done it before.

Had we been at the Acreage, I would probably have looked to work on my piano. I should have taken up the offer of a travel keyboard when it was offered for just such circumstances, but that’s something for me to look forward to and the neighbours to dread when we get back to the Shire.

Another example, a man who decided to pick up a guitar. His subject of choice was panic buying. It’s quite an interesting insight into what people do in quarantine but if you’re also a fan of the guitar (Leon) than you may also appreciated it for his ability to play the instrument.

I’m afraid I’m not responsible for the vertical video syndrome – it’s how it was recorded but I know it bugs some people disproportionately. So what of the serendipity? Well, that comes in the title of his ditty. Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce Mr Bob Bowles and his bog-roll blues.

I have further developments to report in the tour of Somerset cider producers. Today we sampled the wares of Hecks cider.

Before too much concern is expressed about our livers, we are splitting the bottles between us so it’s merely a sample and we do toast Sir Osis of the Liver the patron saint of cider drinkers before partaking.

This was a winner in my view though a tad dry for the Mem’Sahib. For those who were disturbed by Billy the bog-roll, look away now. Today’s selection is catchily and probably descriptively named Slack-ma-girdle I’ve yet to explain the local dialect, probably best left unsaid.

Finally something that made me smile a little this evening. Vaughan made a very good meal for Sunday dinner. Roast leg of lamb. Though it wasn’t the subject of Grub with V-Dub yesterday, it most certainly could have been.

The issue was what to have with it. Looking through the cupboard we hit on an unexpected find. A show reserve Margaret River (Australia) Shiraz from 2005. I looked at it doubtfully – I think it’s too good for a Sunday dinner I suggested.

Vaughan looked at the label noted it was 15 years old.. “Oh well” he says “We could all be dead in four weeks – where’s the cork screw?”

Day 13 in the Corona house: One day more.

22/03/2020

Day 14 in the Corona house

Day thirteen at Gumnut and we’re reaching the end of self-isolation following our return from Milan. However, I suspect that’s a moot point as both for reasons of medical history and the increasingly severe drive to stay at home, it’s not likely to be much different for me for a few weeks at least. Vaughan suffers a bit more than me from cabin fever but Southwark is a hotspot within the hotspot of London so we’re both likely to be home birds for a while yet.

I should start by asking where did those 14 days go? That should be followed quickly by a warning. There’s been a fair bit happening over the past 24 hours, so I’m perhaps a little heavier in the word count than usual. I’m still learning the bits to edit, reduce and precise without losing the interest, relevance or reason for including the content in the first place. Bear with me during that process while I tread the fine line between natural flow and rambling, hopefully staying on the right side.

Time flies – wise words indeed

I would have to say the past 24 hours has been defined by the certain knowledge of tempus fugiting.

A few things contributed to this. The first was the news that someone I knew in passing had become ill and died after contracting the Coronavirus. I don’t claim to have known Nick Matthews well, certainly not well enough to call him a friend, though our paths had crossed professionally a number of times. Nonetheless, it was a sobering moment when those you know (even slightly) fall victim to the virus. I was aware that he had recently suffered a heart attack and I suspect his BP may well have been on the high side, but knowing all that, it was still a shock. Let’s keep it just one person if we could please.

The second component was bizarrely the news of the death of Kenny Rogers. I wasn’t a particular fan, but like most people who can remember the late 70’s and early 80’s his voice formed part of the soundtrack. A school friend Les picked up on my saying Kenny Rogers reminded me of kinder times. Quite spookily, he was able to reference the same memory, a radio show hosted by the late Terry Wogan that boosted Kenny Rogers into the public consciousness, even apparently if you were just a teenager.

My mate and collie lover Carole

The third factor was one of those acts of random chance, a meeting (if you can meet whilst being ten feet apart) of pure serendipity. I was walking Taz this morning and noticed a lady trying to pack artwork into a large plastic crate on one of the park benches. We wouldn’t have spoken but Taz went and dropped his tennis ball into her container which may not have helped the situation. She introduced herself as Carole and spoke to Taz and even threw the ball for him. I gathered from distance that she had just been collecting fabric samples from the Camberwell college of Art before it closed.
Over the next three minutes, she told me she was about to retire after working for thirty years as a west end costume designer.

Her plastic box was topped with programmes from Phantom. Les Miserable, Wicked and Miss Saigon, all of which she had worked on. There was also a picture which seemed out of place. She must have seen me looking at the picture as she smiled and said ‘It seems like a lifetime ago.’

In that moment, I was reminded of a documentary in which Shirley Black (formerly Shirley Temple) asked ‘what’s left to do when you’ve reached your peak at age 10?’ Thankfully, in both Shirley and Carole’s case the answer is quite a lot, a life in the diplomatic service beckoned for Shirley Temple and an award winning costume designer lay ahead of Carole.
Many of you of a certain vintage will be familiar with Carole, in fact she holds the Guinness world record for the the longest appearance on TV. She’s clocked up over 70,000 hours putting any film star of the modern era into the shade. I’ll let you into the secret a little later but it made me think how some people remain ever young in our minds regardless of the passage of time.

I returned to Gumnut Towers anticipating that Vaughan would still be semi-comatose for another couple of hours. However, I was to be surprised. Vaughan who enjoys cooking and is a pretty good cook had decided to go global. He was up (well nearly) and planning his first pilot episode of Grub with V-Dub.

Lights, camera, dress…

I’ve still a lovie at heart and immediately thought production values, nice opening credits, check lighting in the kitchen and had something along the lines of Great Peckham Menu. Vaughan told me he was thinking of something more like fun with flags but with more peppers (or capsicums as he calls them).

Those of you who have trodden the boards in any capacity will understand my sense of impending doom when I realised Vaughan had started his project while I was upstairs trying to find the best camera to use. With the sounds of live streaming eminating from the kitchen I hurtle down the stairs thinking ‘What? Is he insane? No dress rehearsal!”

Today’s pilot episode featured a chicken curry which I must say was (as we say in the west country) gurt peachy lush. There were a few technical issues and a couple of prop malfunctions but despite me sitting on the stairs breathing into a paper bag and tutting about working with amateurs all went as well as it could – without a dress rehearsal. Vaughan had a great time and we have some vlog equipment on the way so there were lessons learned from the pilot – watch out for Chilli and Spaghetti Vaughnalaise following in due course.

Among all this self-isolated excitement, I have been chastised for not updating on a few outstanding matters. Let’s start with our cider stock. It’s been slightly depleted. I am able to report on Taunton Cider’s First Pressing medium cider (4%). As the name suggests it’s medium, quite fruity and drinks as Vaughan would say like apple juice. (Score 4 out of 5)

Secondly, on Torres cider farm’s Along came a cider (5.5%) which is a medium cloudy cider from a farm specialising in scrumpy. Need I say more?

Scoring split the judges. I gave it a 4, Vaughan gave it a 3.5 saying it had a cloudy taste which I have not decided on yet. – That said it disappeared pdq. The next cab off the rank will be Hecks Girdle-slackner. Watch this space.

Billy the bog-roll, like Elton is still standing.

I’m instructionised to inform Brent who may be a reader of this blog to prize open thy wallet and extract a tenner.

I make no comment on to how he has done this, but Billy the bog roll is still standing and I have not been aware of any particularly Scrooge-like behaviour in the dunny department. Vaughan is claiming a fair and square victory in the loo-roll challenge. I’m informed his winnings should preferably be sent by bank transfer to avoid contact with filthy money. Don’t shoot the messenger I only deal in the reportage.

A few people have very kindly said they have enjoyed the last couple of weeks blog reports and asked if I’m thinking of continuing them. They weren’t started with any grand scheme of world domination in the blogging world, more as a means of passing the time. However, to know a few people have enjoyed them is very rewarding. As I’m likely to be in purdah at either Gumnut or the Acreage for a while yet, I’ll keep them going for the routine it brings as well as no small amount of enjoyment. Thirteen days down, one to go.

BBC Test card F

Oh and as promised earlier, this was the image I saw screenprinted onto a t-shirt while walking Taz.

This is Carole as I remember her in her (and my) younger days. Tempus Fugit indeed.

The vital Importance of Being Earnest (Vaudeville Theatre, London)

11/09/2015

TIOBE1An unusual but not unique blog today with a set of thoughts based around (among other productions) a review of The Importance of being Ernest. This classic comedy is arguably Oscar Wilde’s true masterpiece and is currently playing for a relatively short run at the Vaudeville Theatre, London.

As a fan of this Wildian romp through Victorian social climbing I was desperately looking forward to seeing this production. With David Suchet and Michele Dotrice there was a promise which was almost always carried the risk of under delivering.  However, in this case that was an unnecessary fear.

From the very first entrance on stage by Algernon Moncriefe, it was clear we were dealing with actors comfortable with large parts. The sets had been prepared with a conservative but effective attention to detail and simplicity but allowed a modern and witty directing style to keep the actors in a near permanent state  of animation.

Whilst this was well received by the audience (and ultimately it’s bums on seats that count) I thought the amount of ‘business’ on stage might be slightly more than was called for by the original, rather more leisurely script. However, it made for both a bright and pacey first act which took us rushing to the first of the two intervals.

globe2Only a few weeks earlier, I had been lucky enough to see As you Like It at the Globe theatre, a production I enjoyed and am similarly pleased to have seen.

However, for a production which spent so much time focusing on detail and accuracy there were a few ‘liberties’ taken with the production apparently to make the play more palatable to modern audiences. Perhaps the most notable being the entrance of Audrey (a comedy foil) on stage riding a 1970’s style shopper cycle which  although effective was certainly anachronistic. For anyone other than the purist (and perhaps not even all of them) this worked well and brought humour to an otherwise ‘hard going’ part of the play. However, for me it jarred, it was almost lazy, the easy way out.

Please don’t misunderstand me, the actors concerned were both excellent and unless Audrey snuck in the cycle as some elaborate ad-lib, were operating as directed. Presumably the addition was felt necessary to lighten the mood and make the scene more accessible to a modern audience? It’s simply that with so much attention to detail elsewhere this was almost patronising to the audience. Would a wooden wheel-barrow or a donkey or anything less out of time been an impossibility? Alternatively, why not in line skates or a moped?

My concerns, such as they existed were similar for the Importance of being Earnest. The text is certainly of it’s time and even dated in parts, but directors please note – 90 percent of the audience know this before they buy the tickets.

clownFor my taste, the production fell just on the wrong side (at times) of pratfalls and farce. Again, it was clear why, to ma language more accessible, text less dense and to give multi-dimensional characterisation to characters who stretch the suspension of disbelief at times.

However, the amount of physical comedy from a cast who clearly could have achieved the same level of comedy from the beauty of the text was at times overdone for my liking – although many in the audience clearly loved it and didn’t share my concerns.

It is impossible (or perhaps more accTIOBE2urate to say) that it would be inappropriate to single out any particular cast member as they were a true ensemble acting as a traditional troupe.

David Suchet’s Lady Bracknell was an amazingly subtle almost filmic tour de force of facial expressions and comedy timing. Having seen many others including Dame Maggie Smith and Edith Evans (albeit on film) he certainly found new space for this amazing character to live.

However, even here, (whether following direction or the actors wish not to ‘parrot’ Dame Edith), there was a singular choice which left me robbed of an old friend.

The best known line in the production is undoubtedly ‘A handbag?’ asked (usually incredulously) by Lady Bracknell on learning of the birthplace (or at least finding) or Jack Worthing.

Undoubtedly for the best of theatrical reasons, this was delivered not as a statement of shock or disbelief, but rather as a swallowed laugh. The only point in a spotless performance that I felt didn’t quite ring true.

DirectorSo was I glad to have seen the performances? Absolutely.  Did I enjoy them? Undoubtedly. My only appeal would be to Directors to trust their audiences to know the work they are about to watch or to be capable enough to endure the rough patches with the high emotional and performance peaks.

So much has been ‘dummed down’ in recent years that some of us seek out challenging, thought provoking and demanding theatre. Sometimes that also includes being reintroduced to an old friend who doesn’t need to have been subject to a ‘makeover’ or turned into pantomime. Be brave, be imaginative but remain true to the text and the spirit of the production.

Regrettably you are too late to see As you Like It, but if you get a chance to see The Importance of Being Earnest and tell me I know not of what I speak, I would thoroughly recommend you to do so. Two amazing shows.

The rehabilitation of an ‘artist’ and salvation for Weston ?

20/08/2015

Sometimes, the juxtaposition of two elements creates something that is greater than the sum of its parts. It appears to me, this is particularly true when the elements being brought together are unexpected and wouldn’t be something you would naturally think of in partnership. I think I may have spotted just such a marriage today. The problem is that by their nature it’s nearly impossible to spot the difference between an act of genius and a car crash.

‘Weston-super-Mare’, BR poster, 1948-1965.

‘Weston-super-Mare’, BR poster, 1948-1965.

From the 1920’s Weston Super Mare in Somerset developed a name as a traditional seaside resort. As a resort at that time it had a lot going for it, a great pier, easy rail routes from the industrial centres of Birmingham and Manchester and the warmer climate of the west country.

The town even made allowances for it’s rather ‘muddy’ beach (so much so it can rather cruelly be know as Weston-super-mud) by building and promoting a lido. With landladies arguably second only to those of Blackpool and a natural knack for advertising Weston became the west country seaside destination.

Under the banner or ‘Weston Super Mare with air like wine’ the town reached its zenith in the 1950’s and early 1960’s. Although remaining a popular summer destination for many, the town has suffered from the rise of cheap air travel and package holidays to sunnier and hotter locations. Indeed the reliability (or lack of it) of the British summer has perhaps been the biggest factor in the decline of Weston from those Halcion days, not even donkeys on the beach and a revitalised pier being able to fully compete.

As for that lido, unfortunately time has not been kind on what was once one of the jewels in the town’s crown. Gradual decline and disuse has left the building empty and in parts near derelict despite several attempts to revitalise or repurpose the complex into something more useful to the local community.

tropRebranded in the 1970’s and 80’s the Tropicana became something of a political football with several redevelopment schemes failing to get off the ground for a variety of reasons. In anyone’s books it is a rather sad and bleak shadow of its former self.

With changes to local government boundaries, many would argue that Weston has suffered from the continuing rise of Bristol.  With that city’s growth and rise as a regional centre, it is Bristol that has grown into the regional hub for business, entertainment and the arts more generally.

That said, not all Bristolian artists have been universally acclaimed or even that visible. Odd as it seems, there is a fairly strong history of artists acting counter-culturally and shunning the very oxygen you would imagine they seek – publicity.

Eddie Izzard Season Four Premiere Screening Of "Nip/Tuck" - Arrivals Paramount Studios Hollywood, California USA August 25, 2006 Photo by Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage.com To license this image (10076180), contact WireImage: U.S. +1-212-686-8900 / U.K. +44-207-868-8940 / Australia +61-2-8262-9222 / Germany +49-40-320-05521 / Japan: +81-3-5464-7020 +1 212-686-8901 (fax) info@wireimage.com (e-mail) www.wireimage.com (web site)

Eddie Izzard

Stretching back as far as  Pope and George Elliot there have been those artists who avoid the attention of the media of their time.

More recently, despite the initial unlikely nature of this relationship, artists such as Euan Uglow, Francis Davison, Michael Andrews and even Eddie Izzard have exhibited the same behaviours. Some appear to be genuinely averse to the attention whilst others may well be benefiting from their natural ability to manipulate the expected norms of modern marketing.

Perhaps the greatest current exponent of this art is Bristol born Banksy. His initial reticence in the early 1990’s may well have been because his early works were often considered to be little more than vandalism or graffiti. He was certainly not welcomed in many of the locations in which his stencilled art appeared, certainly not in those early years in any event.

One of the significant differences (with all except perhaps George Elliot) is the fact that Banksy has managed to keep his identity more or less secret since that time.Thought to be Bristol born Robin Gunningham or Robin Banks, speculation still abounds as to his true identity, no doubt adding to his cache and popularity.

banksyghazaKnown for satirical and thought provoking images, his work is now known world wide including the curtain being drawn back on paradise painted on the Israeli security wall within the Gaza strip. His artwork now regularly sells for up to £500,000

So, my unexpected juxtaposition could best be explained by the question ‘What happens when you cross Banksy with Weston Super Mare?’

The answer is something unexpected, bleak, thought provoking and subversive but which those lucky enough to have seen it say is an overwhelmingly positive and uplifting (if somewhat challenging) experience.

dismalandDue to open for local audiences tomorrow and to the wider public shortly afterwards Banksy has collaborated with other artists to create Dismaland. Complete with a very familiar type faced sign and morose volunteers welcoming guests to this bleak attraction this ‘bemusement park’ looks like breathing life into Weston over the coming months as it will undoubtedly draw fans from across the country and around the globe.

It will be interesting to see how the notoriously litigious Disney corporation respond to the parody (including ears on the volunteers that look remarkably mouse-like).

So is this just a publicity stunt or is there more to this surreal and ultimate in pop-up art culture.

bumper

Death on a bumper car

Taking over the whole of the tired and broken Troicana, Dismaland feeds on the atmosphere of entropy and decline with a mix of humorous and the bizarre, political comment and audience participation.

Although Banksy isn’t the sole artist, his work and that of Damien Hurst dominate the more challenging and provocative pieces. There is the unfortunate unicorn in formaldehyde (a Shetland pony gave it’s life for a piece I could really have done without) however, Hurst’s fragility of love featuring a beach ball hovering over a collection of sharp knives and shards of glass is both imaginative and strangely touching.

In addition to these pieces are works from other artists all with a darkness within their theme but somehow bringing a sense of wonder and tackling some fairly deep and topical issues ranging from immigration to commercialism and environmental issues.

The Princess' Carriage

The Princess’ Carriage

Perhaps the most political and subversive pieces is displayed within a decayed and abandoned castle (again a la Disney). In this, a pumpkin carriage is seen overturned in a tunnel with the body of Cinderella hanging from the carriage window whilst being photographed by the gathering paparazzi.

No explanation or parallels are drawn and none were needed. However, it was clear that the subtext was all too apparent to those viewing it.

This is far from the simple stencils on walls of the 1990’s. As someone who is not usually a fan of modern conceptual art, this collection made me think and respect the thought and effort put into its creation and presentation. Far from a car crash of a marriage, I suspect Weston will once again be the throbbing hub of the west country for the next six months or so.

Ironically, this year’s poor summer and the relative decline of the building is exactly what is needed to showcase this most unusual and imaginative collection.

Those in the town of Weston-Super-Mare can’t speak highly enough of Banksy and his counterparts. A true rehabilitation of those artists who’s work was washed from the walls years before. It’s unclear at this time where the money which will be raised is going and how much of this might find its way back to Weston. I hope this dark and confronting  collection of works brings some brightness and happiness to a town which has had more than it’s share of troubles. For something so initially dark, it is surprisingly uplifting and enjoyable. A strange but productive marriage.

The Museum of Old and New Art: Holding up a mirror to art ?

25/01/2015

In the 1990’s and early 2000’s, people would visit Hobart as part of a broader visit to Tasmania. Some would make a special journey within the island to visit the casino whilst others would be drawn by its greater number of historical buildings.

MONA Hobart, Tasmania

MONA Hobart, Tasmania

However, today, no trip to Hobart is really complete without at least considering a trip to MONA. The Museaum of Old and New Art is a striking and stark building in Hobart housing the collection of David Walsh. Although the term is rarely used now it was once described as a subversive adult Disneyland.

It is difficult to fairly describe the purpose of the museum and it may amount to little more than the sometimes indulgent collection of a multi millionaire. Whatever it may or may not be, it was somewhere I certainly wanted to visit during my time in Tasmania.

One of the things I have enjoyed most during my time in this continent of a country, has been the willingness  of Australians to be honest and mildly confrontational. Actually, it’s not that unlike  the directness you can still find  in parts of the north of England. There are few (if any) sacred cows and there is an unspoken understanding that challenge (sometime very direct challenge) is healthy. That is worth bearing in mind when considering MONA.

MONA Ticket Office

MONA Ticket Office

You  know you are in for something unusual based on the ticket office alone. Set in the otherwise tranquil Hobart harbour, this has a large shocking pink ballistic missile positioned on the roof. There doesn’t seem to be a particularly good reason why this is relevant, nor is there any attempt to explain it. This was a trend which was to continue throughout my visit.

In fairness, if you ask the staff in the box office why they have a pink ballistic missile on their roof, the answer is fairly straight forward  – ‘so people can ask why we’ve got a pink ballistic missile on the roof’.

It’s  a clue to the quirkiness of MONA but it also reinforces  the fact that the collection is idiosyncratic and personal – seeking no permission and offering no explanation. Whilst this has novelty and bravery it can also come across as ‘take it or leave it’ depending on the skills of the particular staff member concerned. I strongly suspect that the anarchic side of MONA would fully endorse such an approach, but it did come perilously close to being self-indulgent for me.

The ferry trip to MONA is great fun, much better than the road route. The catamarans continue the sense of quirky fun with children’s seats in the form of sheep  and an adult sofa in the form of a cow. After about  15 minutes, the ferry disembarks you at the steps to MONA.

MONA Interior

MONA Interior

The building itself is potentially the most impressive aspect of the project. Built deep into the native Sandstone this has cavernous beauty in the same way as some of the London Underground jubilee line stations.

Ironically, some of the museum staff are so intense about the exhibits that they miss the stark beauty of the construction.

After looking at one exhibit, a series of paving blocks removed from the former Hiroshima railway station, I wanted to take a picture of the sandstone excavations. Two of the staff were ‘in shot’. I explained this and asked if they could take one step aside so I could take the picture.  The reply of ‘it’s just a bunch of rock’ was ironic to say the least when standing in front of a highly prized exhibit that precisely met that description.

So what of the exhibits? In some senses it’s difficult to say. It is undoubtedly true that MONA has brought employment, tourism and therefore  significant economic benefit to the area. But arguably it could do so much more with very little effort. If you look at the brochure for MONA and compare it to other collections or museums there is very little in the way of explanation. The purpose, ethos and ambition of the museum is missing and the educational component is silent.

The Fat Car

The Fat Car

There are some very amusing exhibits. The ‘fat car’ presumably making a comment on the sedentary nature of modern life is a case in point. However, the exhibit cries out to be touched with an obvious tactile appeal. This is apparently alien to the museum who preclude touching, smelling, or flash photography throughout the site.

As a result, an entire facet of the exhibit was (in my opinion) lost. There was a theme of lost opportunity developing in my opinion. Of course, if this is merely the whimsical collection of a private individual then so be it – but it does appear to have the possibility to be so much more without risking damage to the exhibits.

MONA does offer the usual commentary via an Apple application however, this focused heavily on the artist, his or her location and history – but very little about their thinking or intent. Perhaps others shared my view that I would have learned more with a little more about the artists intent and a little less about his or her current address.

Some of the exhibits certainly had appeal and scored highly on the ‘art for the sake of art’ stakes. The montage above just made me laugh and feel happy which is a good enough reason to include it in an exhibition. I certainly don’t want to give the impression that there was nothing there that appealed, that certainly wouldn’t be true. However, the exhibits with appeal were (on my visit) in the minority.

Two of the subject matters MONA has stated as being important are sex and death. I don’t count myself as a prude but there was just too much focus on bodily functions, and what classic British understatement might refer to as ‘bawdy end of the pier exhibits. Among the list would be the man hanging himself by his penis, the wall of 90+ plaster casts of assorted vaginas, the public toilet which allows you to gaze up your own plumbing and the ‘poo’ machine. It certainly was a dominant theme, although I’m not certain it added much and could be seen as self-indulgent quirkery which ultimately could undermine the exhibits as a whole.

An interesting question was raised (or reposed) by some of the exhibits. What is the nature of art? Does putting something in a museum of art make it art? The cloaca replicates the entire digestive system resulting in a daily excretion. It’s technically clever, it’s certainly educational (or would be if the stages were explained), but is it art? I fear for my tastes it falls short of that description but that doesn’t stop me admiring its construction and potential.

Holding up a mirror to art

Holding up a mirror to art

One thing my visit to MONA did achieve reverts to the Australian willingness to challenge anything with nothing much off limits. What MONA does – or at least did for me – was to hold a mirror up to art. I didn’t particularly rate the majority of the content, but it did make me question what art means to me, what it contributes and why it is important. I may not have liked significant parts of the exhibits but actually, that isn’t the value in places such as MONA.

Would I go back? Not any time soon, but yes after a period of time. I would encourage most of my friends to include it on a visit to Tasmania. I don’t regret going at all. MONA helped me clarify the spheres of art that appeal to me by showing me some styles and trends that didn’t appeal.

I do hope that MONA continues to flourish but would like to see it educate and provide a little more context within which to evaluate the exhibits. It also made me want to revisit the National Gallery and the Tate in London. Also, I’ve probably reconciled myself to the fact that theatre, music, photography and what could stuffily be called ‘fine’ or traditional art is more to my taste.

In the same way that some say all publicity is good publicity, maybe this visit to MONA was equally valuable. Thank you for such an impressive and awe inspiring feat of construction and for refocusing my tastes. I may not be a frequent visitor but I would certainly recommend it as a thought provoking and sometimes challenging experience.

Is there nothing new under the sun?

15/01/2015

It is often said that the Bible has some of the best lines in the English Language and along with Shakespeare is the source of many common expressions and phrases.

Oxford English Dictionary

Oxford English Dictionary

It was while I was trying to find the source of a quote that ‘there is nothing new under the sun‘ that I attempted to access the Oxford dictionary of quotations. Due to an inadvertent mouse click, I found I had stumbled across the Oxford English dictionary quarterly updates. This sees a group of lexicographers (I wonder what the collective noun for those might be) deciding which new words have made it into arguably the definitive dictionary of spoken English. It was whilst I was reading the most recent updates (2012-2014), that the quote came back to haunt me.

First there were a range of words with mildly exotic sounds (at least I hoped they would live up to their promise). These included hench, humblebrag, binge-watch, listicle, perf and my personal favourite time-suck. None of these were recognisable to me and none had quite made it into polite conversation at least among the circles in which I circulated.

Then I hit a word admitted in 2013 which certainly had entered my awareness – Selfie. Defined as ‘A photograph one has taken of oneself to be shared. Typically on a smartphone shared via social media.

The Selfie Stick

The Selfie Stick

I was just contemplating the Selfie and the now apparently ubiquitous ‘selfie stick’ (an aid to assist with extra distance when taking your own picture) when it led to an interesting coincidental twist.

The rise of the selfie stick over the past six months has been amazing, it initiated a text message to the person who introduced me to the concept. I will state for clarity, I neither own nor desire a selfie-stick. Having a rather dry sense of humour, I advised him of my favoured synonym for the device (not I regret my own work) namely the Wand of Narcissus. During that exchange I was reminded of being taken in by reports of the new and improved only to find that history had merely repeated itself.

Last autumn, when we last spoke, I was ‘tipped off’ about a new medium for recording and listening to music. Apparently, I was assured this was the thing for the lovers of real music having warmth, depth and character lost in the harshness and unforgiving accuracy of traditional digital recordings. Even the teenage son confirmed he was a fan of the new technology sweeping specialist music shops across the UK.

I was given the name of a local shop and given a contact (all very cloak and dagger) with advice to ask for the latest Colvi freleases – any further information was met with a smile and ‘go and see for yourself’. I spent two days wondering what COLVI could stand for. No trade marks, nothing on Google and none of my friends seemed to know – it appeared I was on to something very elitist !

When the day arrived I went to the shop at the time suggested and as described, I couldn’t get near the counter for DJ’s, VJ’s, hip-hoppers, be-boppers and classical music fans. I was impressed at such a wide church of supporters and gradually made my way towards the sign reading ‘The latest Colvi releases’.

Coloured Vinyl

Coloured Vinyl

Imagine my surprise when I reached the front of the queue only to find myself confronted with a real blast from the past – coloured vinyl. Long players, 33’s, albums and 12 inch singles. It was like being dropped though a timewarp to the 1980’s.

What was clear was that these were welcomed by young and old alike. True hi-fiers were expounding their virtues whilst hipsters and teenagers wowed at the warmth and ‘honesty’ of the recordings. Smiling at the ‘joke’ of which I was the butt, I made my excuses – but not before buying a couple myself and wondering the the old ‘record player’ was still in working order.

In fact it would appear this new find is a real rebirth. More than 1 million vinyl records were sold in the UK in 2014 with many bands and artists offering a specialist vinyl release alongside their now ‘traditional’ CD and/or downloads. Over 200 stores specialising in vinyl or analogue recordings have opened in the same time. truly back to the future.

The first selfie ?

The first selfie ?

Then yesterday, the definition and novelty of the selfie was brought into question. In an excellent exhibition focused on the Bohemians of Melbourne one photograph jumped out at me. I had to look closely to see whether this early twentieth century self-portrait wasn’t just a clever staged shot designed to appeal to the selfie generation.

Although the passage of time makes the images of people caught in silver nitrate seem anonymous and somehow distant, it also makes their connection with us all the more obvious. The fact that nearly 80 years ago the desire to capture and share our own images was just as strong as today is reassuringly constant.

Taken in 1939 via a reflection in a mirror this couple could well be the first form of the selfie. I would certainly be interested in any earlier examples. Of course, at the time of the photograph this wouldn’t have had the catchy nomenclature of ‘selfie’ – it would probably have been a self portrait. However, it did remind me that there truly is nothing new under the sun.

So my task for the next couple of months while I research some other photographic history is to see if there has ever been a predecessor to the wand of Narcissus. I’m sure there has been if only I look hard enough.

For completeness, the phrase ‘nothing new under the sun’ is Biblical in origin being a partial quote from Ecclesiastes 1 4-11.

A retrospective on Martyrdom.

08/01/2015

Charlie Hebdo

Charlie Hebdo

Following the Charlie Hebdo shootings in France and the subsequent siege north west of Paris, I heard some comments which gave me reason to pause over how we view our own history.

For clarity, I believe the acts of the extremists in France were and remain abhorrent and I have no wish to act as an apologist for them in any way. However, I also believe it is very easy to caricature some of the actions after the murders as being wholly functions of Islam. A position I heard taken and would challenge with a quick review of our own history.

A frequent criticism of the gunmen’s attitude to the siege which followed their containment focused on their wish to die as martyrs. Some observers have seen this as reflecting on something fundamental unsound about Islam. Undoubtedly, it was a strong desire of those contained in the suburbs of Paris, but that doesn’t make martyrdom unique to any one religion.

Similarly many observers  comment on how much an Islamic martyr may be influenced by the promise of 72 virgins awaiting their arrival in paradise. Whether or not the person concerned believes this is rarely questioned, however the tone typically takes the direction that anyone would be a fool to believe such a promise which somehow confirms their actions as those of a mad man/woman.

In fact, Islamic scholars (like many Christians and Jews) are unhappy with what they argue are simplistic interpretations of their respective texts. The interpretation of 72 virgins being reserved for martyrs is a case in point. Many scholars point out that the Qur’an forbids suicide with Istishhad (the permissibility of martyrdom operations) being contentious and splitting Islamic opinions. They point to the fact that the promise of 72 virgins is made in the Qur’an to all believing Muslim men not just martyrs.

The origins of the word should give pointer, far from an Islamic stem, the phrase martyr derives from the Greek for witness. It has been applied to religious zeolites, (some might describe them as saints, some as extremists, others as the ultimate conscientious objectors) far before the present Islamic jihadists. Nor does Islam have the monopoly on martyrdom.

The first Christian martyr was believed to be Stephen (now Saint Stephen) who was stoned to death outside Jerusalem for continuing to defend Christ against a crown of those who doubted him. Even today, the official Catholic record of Saint Stephen’s life states ‘After such an expression of love, the holy martyr went to his heavenly reward.’ – How  is that so very different to the promises outlined by the arrival of multiple virgins?

Similarly (depending on your point of view), martyrs appear in the Jewish tradition. Many would include the killing of the innocents as the first example, but less contentious historical incidents are also recorded. The martyrdom of hundreds of Jews in Blois (France) over 800 years ago because of their religious beliefs being just one example.

Tudor Persecution

Tudor Persecution

In a recent visit to Melbourne museum I was reminded of those persecuted for their religious beliefs from English history.

Two contemporary images were on display the first (shown here) depicted a Catholic priest officiating at the burning of protestants under the reign of Mary Tudor. The engraving describes the martyrdom of the Protestants. This was strangely juxtaposed with a similar scene where the officiating religion was a protestant and those burned were Catholic. Strangely this made no mention of martyrdom, merely referring to the burning of Catholic dissenters.

This reminded me of Winston Churhill’s comment ‘History will be kind to me; I know because I shall write it’. Strange that the same acts could be described so differently. It did make it very clear that so much is dependant on your perspective, personal beliefs and prejudices.

It was also a timely reminder that our own history is sufficiently scattered with those who have been involved in creating or dying as martyrs that we should reflect on that before ‘writing off’ a whole people, nation or religion based on the beliefs and/or actions of some members of those groups.

As to the desire to ‘die as martyrs’ expressed by those responsible for the Paris siege this is hardly new. Police services around the world will tell you of ‘death by cop’ where some offenders wish to provoke police actions which would result in their death. Although this has no specific religious overtone, it is not that different at a behavioural level.

I have been reassured to see Muslim and Islamic community leaders denounce the actions of those who killed in Paris. I have no sympathy for those who took such appalling actions. There was no justification for violence against Charlie Hebdo, journalists, police or the public. Nor do I support religious martyrdom either historic or current. In my view, too many people of all religions have died in the name of religion.

My only hope is that we don’t ascribe negative acts, views or beliefs on whole communities based on fear. If we take the time to look we can find similar beliefs in our own histories. The last thing we want is further divisions based on the acts of extremists (of any kind) – or they truly have won.

Selfishness, stupidity or simply small mindedness?

03/01/2015

There is a widely recognised possibility that as we age we risk becoming more critical, less open to new ideas and norms and just turning into a grumpy old man or woman.

Cognoscente of those facts, I find myself about to write a ‘things are not what they were in my day’ entry. This immediately puts me on guard against being that miserable curmudgeon who sees no good in the current world. However, in this instance, I think that there is one specific social change which has developed (or at least become more visible to me) over the past twenty years that I wish had not evolved so markedly.

The Me-niverse

The Me-niverse

I make no claims that the observation that people have become more selfish is either new or particularly insightful. However, it now seems to be extending well past traditional boundaries of self-interest and reaching the point where everyone else is excluded from any consideration. Further that this exclusion is appropriate and natural behaviour.

Clearly the world is still turning on its axis, new friendships and relationships are being formed and developed, so this extreme view isn’t all pervasive, however, the direction of travel appears to be to an increasingly individual centric world.

For me, it’s currently some members of generation Y (mid twenties to early thirties today) who show this most markedly. It’s almost as though they exist in their own little bubble – their personal me-niverse. Nothing and nobody that doesn’t impact or interest them directly exists. It’s not merely that they put themselves first, but the most extreme examples appear to have an almost ideological right to ignore and exclude others.

How many times have you seen someone absorbed in their own world, usually associated with a screen or mobile device of some kind to the total exclusion of others. The thought that others may not wish to see, hear or share the experience not registering on the individual at all.  Increasingly, the view seems to be expressed that nobody is forcing those who find the situation inappropriate to stay around – ‘if they don’t like it, they can move’. In their view the individual has a right to do precisely what they want without considering factors beyond their choices.

Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher

In the 1990’s Margaret Thatcher was frequently misquoted as having said ‘there is no such thing as society’. Her full sentence continued ‘ it is made up of individual men and women.’ which rather changed the context.

However, much as I disagreed with many of her actions, it appears that the incessant rise of individualism is leading to the very position the misquote predicts. Charities dealing with ageing and mental health (for example) indicate it is increasingly difficult to engage with large sections of the younger demographic who fail to see any relevance for them.

The right to choice (which I absolutely support), appears to have increasingly obscured the consideration of the greater good (whether that is family or wider society).

The rapid increase in personal choice and the ability to ‘feed’ those choices with on-demand personalised information, data and media clearly marks a step change in personal freedoms. However, in my view it can also define your world too closely. One of the joys of living in the information age must surely be the capability to be surprised by the new and unexpected. Too much personalisation can in my view simply define our own limitations and stop us experiencing the novel, the challenging and the thought provoking.

Rapper Kanye West with Sir Paul McCartney

Rapper Kanye West with Sir Paul McCartney

I find I am increasingly disappointed with the lack of broad spectrum knowledge and critical thinking displayed (or not) by much of the population at the present time. Some may call this a resurgence of stupidity.

I know we all have different levels of capability, intelligence and reasoning. However, regardless of where you fall in those categorisations, the increasingly small personal worlds we create seem to be reducing our capability to absorb knowledge beyond our immediate interests.

One example is the recent collaboration between rapper Kanye West and Si Paul McCartney. The twittersphere has apparently been praising Kanye West for giving a helping hand to ‘up and coming talent’. The majority of tweeters having apparently been away on the day(s) the biggest selling singer/songwriter in history was mentioned in any of their education systems.

Whilst I don’t necessarily think my contemporaries would have been able to quote the lyrics of Irving Berlin, the  overwhelming majority would have recognised him as a major composing force of his generation. Although a narrow and trivial example, it does seem that a system wed to achieving narrow exam success combineed with an apparent reduction in the enquiring mind is not serving people well.

Whether the root cause is lack of interest, intellect or concern, I certainly think the current trend is a step firmly in the wrong direction and an opportunity not only missed, but wasted.

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