Here are the Main Points Again

From time to time I like to welcome new readers to this blog and thank those who have stayed with me, even if it’s only to post the odd ‘like’ or comment.  If you’re shy about commenting, please go ahead and do it anyway; I’m not combative and I won’t jump on you if you dare to express an opinion, even if I don’t agree with it.  That said, I don’t tolerate rudeness or trolling – not that any of you would be so ill-mannered as to attempt it.  So please feel free.

I’m very bad at mentioning my blog to people: often they come across it quite independently and are surprised.  Basically I’m a terrible self-promoter: as regular readers will know, I’m a member of the Insecure Writers Support Group and in an age where we’re all supposed to be self-sufficient, self-promoting little market forces all selling ourselves to each other, I’m a bit of a disaster.  You’re supposed to get out there and yell ‘hey, look at this!  This is brilliant!  You want this!  Come and get some!’  Whereas I just stand in a corner and mumble something like ‘well, there’s this thing over here.  It’s quite good.  I mean, I think so.  You might want to take a look – but only if you have time.’

Like I say, bloody disaster.

In other news, Tony Blair has been found!  Yes, he wasn’t in a bunker after all, but had scarpered to the Middle East where he is now taking part in the peace process – presumably to make up for  the part he previously played in the war process.  And possibly also trying to find some weapons of mass distraction.

Sorry, destruction.

And finally, a group of us gathered yesterday to watch ‘Pride’, the true story of how gays and lesbians (in the days before unwieldy acronyms were invented) collected money for the Welsh miners during the fatal strike.  I remember the strike vividly: it was remarkable for its viciousness and although there were faults on both sides (I was never a fan of Scargill) the police behaved appallingly.

But this was not that story but an altogether more heart-warming tale of two cultures; London, not exactly gay-friendly then but at least getting there, and rural South Wales where no-one has ever met a gay or lesbian (at least, not knowingly).  This is not, thankfully, an issue-laden film but one where two cultures unite against a common enemy: Thatcher and her cohorts, and where the attempts of a local homophobe with ‘a stick up her bottom’ fail to derail the connection that is made between them.  If I were going to be hyper-critical I’d say the film was a bit Richard Curtis, but I don’t care.  It’s great – and when the lights went up nearly everyone was dabbing their eyes.#

So if you haven’t seen it yet, go watch.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3169706/?ref_=nv_sr_4

And let me know if you spot Tony Blair anywhere.  The hunt is on!

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2063812/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

Kirk out

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What Manner of Folk be These, with Aran Sweater and Finger in Ye Ear?

English folk music is not nearly as well-respected as its Irish or Scots counterparts.  Maybe this is because we’re the dominant country, so we don’t have as much oppression to sing about – though I’d question this, in the light of historical events such as the Industrial Revolution.  But folk doesn’t have to be about oppression: much of it is about love – a love of place or a love of person (usually a woman since, let’s face it, most of these things were written by men) – and there’s a simplicity about the songs.  They arise out of working-class traditions and may not be erudite or complex but nevertheless have an authenticity.  Consider the simple pun on thyme/time in ‘A Bunch of Thyme’:

This also illustrates the primacy of the oral tradition, as the pun suffers from being written down.

English folk music has long been the object of ridicule: the sneers I’ve been subjected to for liking folk clubs are second only to those I suffered for being a Leonard Cohen fan.  The finger-in-the-ear-whilst-singing-nasally is a cliche too easily trotted out by cynics; but folk clubs are by and large open and inclusive spaces where a variety of styles can be aired and where people can come together to share songs.  You may think it’s ridiculous for a bunch of middle-class, middle-aged English folk to sing about being ‘lonely round the fields of Athenry’ but to join in with an impromptu rendering of a song you love is a moving experience.  It ain’t clubbing on acid, but it’s humming on real ale – and I like it.

Not that any of this sums up my experience last night.  I’d been meaning to go to Loughborough Acoustics for months and finally made it last night.  The club which hosts it boasted all the atmosphere of a wet bus shelter in Skelmersdale: I opened the folk room door with an ominous creak to find two-and-a-half men (one half hidden behind a PA) one of whom was on stage and tuning up.  I was greeted with all the enthusiasm of a horizontal wind blowing into the aforementioned bus shelter and approached the bar to see a complete absence of any Proper Beer.  Oh dear.  In the end I had some water and sat down to listen.

To be fair, I must have picked the worst night of the year to go to the club since everyone was apparently at some festival or other (not Glasto, I’m assuming).  It got better; people did eventually talk to me and by half-time I had thawed out somewhat, emotionally speaking.

I’ll give it another try.  Mind you, when I told my daughter I was going to a folk club she said ‘oh, what sort of folk are they?’  I think she considers me ripe for some sort of pensioners’ jamboree.  *Sigh*.  I guess this is what it’s like to hit sixty…

Kirk out

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Beyond Our Ken

I hope like me you’ve been watching the excellent ‘Handmaid’s Tale’: it’s totally up there with quality adaptations such as ‘The Night Manager’ and ‘Wolf Hall’.  Tales of oppression and liberation are always compelling; however, since it has still six weeks to run I shall hold off on a review.

But before last night’s episode (and after The Archers, of course) I caught up with one of Michael Sheen’s biopics.  Sheen is an actor best known for playing real people and has, in a process that is half-impersonation, half-representation, portrayed Tony Blair in The Queen, Brian Clough in The Damned United and David Frost in Frost/Nixon.  But last night he was Kenneth Williams in Fantabulosa!

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0790688/?ref_=ttfc_fc_cl_t18

In order to understand Kenneth Williams we must remember the age in which he lived.  He was gay at a time when homosexuality was still a criminal offence: being outed would not only have ended his career but perhaps also his life though ironically, it was being in the closet that probably drove him to suicide.  It is hard now to understand the degree of denial that existed about homosexuality; my mother was a huge fan of Kenneth Williams and would have been shocked to the core to discover that he was gay.  To one of my generation it was fairly obvious, but it wasn’t until his diaries were published posthumously that we knew for sure.  His diaries are a sad read; a tortured account of an inner life whose only sexual release was ‘the Barclays’.

Sheen is extraordinary as Williams: he’s a difficult man to play without resorting to caricature but Sheen manages to capture not only the mannerisms but Williams’ unique voice.  It was the voice above all which made Kenneth successful; it was nasal but resonant and he had the range of an opera singer, varying his tempo and register for comic effect.  Like Barbara Windsor he almost certainly threw away his talent on too many awful Carry On films: unlike her he was unable to form relationships.  Had he been born today he’d be able to marry and live openly: then again perhaps his loneliness was caused by other factors.

In spite of Sheen’s performance I found the film somewhat episodic, lacking a centre and consisting of vignettes: a scene with Jo Orton where Williams rejects a man’s advances; another glimpse of him eating with Orton’s lover Kenneth Halliwell; slices of Carry-On action (the other actors portrayed to the life) and slices of life with his mother who lived downstairs and remained his most intimate companion until his death.

With a story like his, you look back and think how did people not know?  True, a lot of people did know, and many more suspected, but nobody talked about it.  Gays and lesbians hid in plain sight.

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Nothing Will Come of Nothing…

… speak again.’   So says Lear to Cordelia – and pretty soon the government are going to have to say it to the electorate, ‘speak again – because we didn’t quite hear you the first time.  You weren’t enunciating properly.   You were trying to say too many things at once and we couldn’t make out what you wanted.’

Still, muddled as the result is, some things are pretty clear: first, that most commentators vastly underestimated Corbyn and his supporters.  I had felt for a long time that the press were overplaying their hand and that by getting out and talking directly to the public, JC could get past them.

https://wordpress.com/post/lizardyoga.wordpress.com/9023

And I’ve largely been proved right: the press threw everything they had at Corbyn and he still increased Labour’s share of the vote by 10% and the number of seats to 262, even winning ‘unwinnable’ seats like Canterbury and – what the hell? – Kensington.  Kensington!!

His critics are queuing up now to apologise and say they misjudged him: Owen Smith, Alistair Campbell, Yvette Cooper and so many others are falling over themselves to apologise and offer to serve in the shadow cabinet.  Likewise media commentators: Jon Snow yesterday and said ‘I know nothing about elections,’ and even the BBC has admitted its error, Laura Kuenssberg once again causing me to shout at the screen when she said that Corbyn had been subjected to unfair criticism.  ‘Yes, by you!’ I yelled.

We still need to win an election; but that is looking increasingly achievable now.  May’s hold on power is so tenuous and her coalition so weak and misguided that it is not a matter of whether she goes, but when.  Under any other circumstances than these, a Prime Minister who had called an election to increase their mandate and had instead lost seats would have to resign, not carry on as though nothing had happened.  Whether it be days, weeks or months; whether it be a leadership election or a vote of no confidence, she will be out.  And when there is an election Labour, with its membership now at 800,000 and rising (more than 150,000 new members since the election), are poised to win – and win decisively.  I watched JC on television yesterday: he looked poised, relaxed, assured and confident.  It was a pleasure to see.

Now is not the time for recriminations.  Now is the time to form a government.  JC4PM!

Kirk out

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Please Stand By. Calculating the Results of Your Election. Please Stand By…

Please stand by: conservative spokespersons are trying to find something positive to say about the election.  Meanwhile here is some light music:

The story so far:

We had an election.  Nobody won a majority.  Lots of people wanted the Maybot to resign but instead she went to see the Queen and had tea.  Here is a reconstruction of their conversation:

Maybot:  Your Majesty.

Queen:  Mrs Maybot.  One understands you have called an election to increase your majority and have in fact decreased it, causing one some concern as to your sanity.

Maybot:  Yes, your Majesty.

Queen:  Well, what have you got to say for yourself?

Maybot:  I know I’ve been naughty but please can I form a government with my friends from Northern Ireland?

Queen:  Won’t that threaten the peace process?

Maybot:  No.  Absolutely not.  Strong and stable, strong and stable.

Queen:  Oh all right then.

Meanwhile in another corner of London Tony Blair emerges from the cupboard where he has been held hostage.  He emerges blinking into the daylight to learn the news that parliament is hung and that his bete noir (or rouge) the Corbynista, has smashed his way to an increased share of the vote.  Just as he is swallowing this indigestible news, a reporter approaches.

‘Mr Blair?  What’s your reaction to the news?  Do you regret being so critical of Mr Corbyn?  Would you like publicly to apologise like Owen Smith and Yvette Cooper?  Mr Blair?  Mr Blair?’

But Blair has slunk off and is nowhere to be seen.  Latest reports indicate he is holed up in a bunker plotting his return to power.

More on this as it emerges.  Meanwhile back to the studio.

Kirk out

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The People Have Spoken – Sort Of

Yes, the people have spoken.  But we’re still trying to work out exactly what it is they’ve said.  Before I try to untangle it, there are some features of this election that are fairly clear:

First, young people were key.  Everyone thought they wouldn’t bother: everyone was wrong.  Young people came out and voted in large numbers, boosting the turnout in many places by students and young voters.   When I turned up to vote I was told they’d been very busy due to large numbers of students from the nearby college and university: ‘we’ve never seen anything like it,’ said one member of staff.  When our candidate went to the university he was met by 2000 students going in to exams, many of whom shook his hand and said they’d voted for him (in the end he failed to get in, though he halved Nicky Morgan’s majority.)

Second: the turnout was high.  In general there was a high degree of engagement in this election, due in part to Brexit but on the left to urgent concerns about the NHS and social care, and the privatisation of public services.  Overall the turnout was nearly 69%, more than two points higher than 2015.

Third, and for me most important: Jeremy Corbyn.  Here was an elected leader who from the word go had been derided, attacked, slandered and smeared by the press; treated unfairly by the BBC and undermined by his own party.  No sooner was he elected than they set up someone to oust him; he was given no chance in this election.  many feared defeat worse than 2015.  But they were wrong.  Commentator after commentator has (finally!) paid respect to how he has fought and won seats to turn the election round.  Labour have taken key seats from the Tories and although they have not gained enough to be the largest party, it is not over yet.  If all falls apart in the Tory camp we are waiting in the wings to form a minority government.  This, in my view, shows what can happen when, under election rules, the media are forced to report more fairly on the issues.  In the space of weeks, JC turned from a hate figure to someone whose policies and campaigning proved massively popular, attracting tens of thousands to public rallies and millions more on live feeds.  Canterbury, which has been Tory since Chaucer, became Labour; Derby North returned to Labour and many others were won or retained while Tory strongholds were threatened.  Amber Rudd nearly lost her seat in Hastings and the Kensington result has yet to come in because they’ve had a thousand recounts and the staff are all comatose.

So where are we?  To be honest, nobody knows.  May has no intention of resigning, though resignation would seem to be indicated, partly because there is no obvious leader to take over and partly because to resign might, it is suggested, precipitate another election.  And another election is the last thing anyone wants right now.

So at the moment it looks like the Tories will try to do a deal with the DUP.  This is not great, but I for one am massively relieved that they didn’t get an increased majority, since it looks like the end to privatisation of the NHS, the end to a hard Brexit and – please god – the end to Murdoch and Dacre dictating the results of elections.

Phew!

I am now exhausted.  I don’t know how politicians do it.

Kirk out

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How Does Your Garden Vote?

What with my time being divided between canvassing and gardening at the moment, it was inevitable I should eventually get round to thinking of the election in terms of gardening.

The other day we were having a discussion with someone on Facebook about manifestos: OH had opined that the Conservative one seemed devoid of content and asked for opinions from Tory voters, to which one friend replied that the point of Conservatism is precisely not to have ideas but to allow the economy to function on its own: to, as it were, find its own level.  The phrase ‘find its own level’ is reminiscent of water, but my mind turned to gardens.

So, imagine if you will, our nation as a garden.  When you start out, there seem to be two ways to go.  You can try to control everything: you can spray every weed, get everything out of your lawn that is not grass, have neat rows of flowers and veg and not a single weed.  This looks scarily controlled, and leaves no space for spontaneity or creativity.  In political terms, this represents total state control as practised by the Soviet Union and others (I won’t call it communism because it wasn’t).

Alternatively, you can practise the opposite policy of unfettered capitalism, and leave the garden to regulate itself.  Initially, this allows for plenty of spontaneity; but after a while the weeds take over and you end up with a garden full of the strongest, most invasive weeds – brambles, horsetail, nettles, dandelions and poison ivy.  Nothing else is allowed to flourish, and useful flowers and veg are throttled.  And so it is that capitalism swallows everything: public services, health, even democracy itself if we let it.

What we need, I suggest, is a mixture of the two: we need judicious pruning and weeding for beneficial plants to flourish; we need a zero-tolerance policy towards brambles, ivy and of course horsetail; and for other, somewhat beneficial weeds such as dandelions and nettles, we allow them to grow in moderation and in the right place.  This represents a mixed economy and in my view, allows the best of both approaches.

We need a mixed economy in order to flourish.  Capitalism has its place: innovation and creativity often flourish here.  We need creative people like Dyson, to name one person off the top of my head.  And public ownership has its place: some industries are natural monopolies, and essential services ought to be run in the public interest.

So, to summarise: if profit is allowed to permeate everything you get corruption.  If the state controls everything you can get stagnation.  Some things ought to be nationalised, most industries should stay privately run, and that way everything in the garden will grow in a balanced environment.

It’s not perfect, but what is?  A mixed economy is like democracy: it’s the worst system apart from all the rest.

Kirk out

 

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