Friday, 30 December 2016

Time will tell

The tree of life, the tables of plenty and the pleasures of friendship
The epoch of incredulity
I’ve quoted this before, and I’m going to quote it again, surely one of the best openings of any novels from any age – from Dicken’s A Tale of Two Cities:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way….
Emily and Harriet in 2016
The best of times
On a personal level, 2016 has been a very happy year with some great reading, memorable theatre, excellent TV, terrific cinema. I’ve started to write an epic dystopian saga (yes, I have) and my first reader, daughter Emily, has given me astute feedback; Nick Shelton has turned pictures in my head for The Rhenium Wars into some wonderful illustrations. Sally and I had a lovely time at our 30th wedding anniversary party in July and we’ve had relaxing holidays in Scotland, France, Barcelona and London and gorgeous weekends in Badby.

Will the world in The Rhenium Wars become as vivid in my imagination as Middle Earth or Westeros....?


Unbelievable times
But then two unbelievable political outcomes were, for me, very unsettling: the UK voted to leave the European Union and Donald Trump won the US election to become the next President of the United States. Time will tell. Will the people who voted for Brexit and the people who voted for Trump get what they hoped for when they cast their ballot? We’ll look back in ten years and better understand the answer to that question. Time will tell.
More progress was made on LGBTQIA rights in 2016 which, according to the New Testament, would please Jesus
2016 in History
Will 2016 be known historically as the year in which more celebrities died than in any other year?
  • Writers: Richard Adams, Edward Albee, Sally Brampton, Anita Brookner, Umberto Eco, Dario Fo, AA Gill, Barry Hines, Carla Lane, Harper Lee, Peter Shaffer, William Trevor, Arnold Wesker
  • TV Performers: Caroline Aherne, Sylvia Anderson, Ronnie Corbett, Paul Daniels, Cliff Michelmore, Garry Shandling, Tony Warren, Sir Terry Wogan, Victoria Wood, Sir Jimmy Young
  • Musicians: David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Keith Emerson, Greg Lake, Sir Neville Marriner, Sir George Martin, Peter Maxwell Davies, George Michael, Rick Parfitt, Prince, Guy Woolfenden
  • Actors: Jean Alexander, Alexis Arquette, Kenny Baker, Patty Duke, Frank Finlay, Carrie Fisher, Zsa Zsa Gabor, George Kennedy, Burt Kwouk, Debbie Reynolds, Alan Rickman, Lord Brian Rix, Andrew Sachs, Sheila Sim, Liz Smith, Peter Vaughan, Robert Vaughn, Gene Wilder, Anton Yelchin
  • Cinema giants: Sir Ken Adam, Michael Cimino, Garry Marshall, Douglas Slocombe, Robert Stigwood, Michael White, Vilmos Zsigmond, 
  • Sports figures: Muhammad Ali, Johan Cruyff, Arnold Palmer
  • World stage, politicians and faith figures: Rabbi Lionel Blue, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Lord Asa Briggs, Fidel Castro, Jo Cox, Zaha Hadid, Nancy Regan, Janet Reno, Margaret Rhodes, Duke of Westminster, Elie Wiesel
Triumphs in spite of Disasters
The competitors who flew to Brazil will no doubt remember 2016 as the Rio Olympics Summer. The people of Cuba may see the year as one in which their country changed its outlook on the world. Barack Obama became the first US President to visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in Japan. Mission Juno resulted in a spacecraft being placed in a twenty month orbit around Jupiter. Solar power, virtual reality, nanotechnology in surgery and electric cars all made significant technological progress. Ebola was almost eradicated from West Africa and combating the Zika virus saw impressive international cooperation. 70,000 Muslim clerics declared a fatwa against ISIS. Strides were made in cancer treatments, Alzheimer’s research and animal conservation.
What will 2017 bring to the table?
Disasters in spite of Triumphs
Terrorists continue to attempt to disrupt civilisations across Europe, the Middle and Far Easts, Africa and America. The UK lost face (and is continuing to lose face) internationally as a result of the Brexit referendum and the inability of the government to project clarity and consistency in how to “take back control,” as if it ever could in a world of globalization and the internet. Post-truth news became a “thing” (ie making up facts and statistics and promoting lies seems now to be an acceptable strategy for political leaders, fully supported by the majority of the Media.) The Syrian crisis deepened, as did crises in Yemen, the South China Seas and the Korean peninsula. Natural disasters resulted in major death tolls in Ecuador, Italy, Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, southeastern USA and Indonesia.

What is now remembered about the 16th year of each century in the past millennium? Can history help us predict which events of 2016 will be remembered in 2116? Time will tell.

1916 
  • First World War ongoing: Conscription in Britain, Paris bombings, Battle of Verdun (1 million casualties), the Great Arab Revolt, Battle of the Somme (first use of British tanks, over 1 million casualties) 
  • The Easter Rising in Ireland - republican rebellion against British rule in Ireland
  • Einstein's Theory of Relativity
  • Tristan Tzar's Dada-manifest published in Zurich leading the way to surrealism and absurdity
1816
  • Mount Tambora erupts in Indonesia – the Year without a Summer 
  • The wreck of The Medusa (French frigate)
1716
  • First slaves arrive in Louisiana 
  • Decree orders all Jews to be expelled from Brussels
1616
  • Ben Jonson becomes poet laureate and in November his Collected Works are printed 
  • Spanish Inquisition delivers an injunction to Galileo 
  • Shakespeare and Cervantes both die on 23rd April 
  • Pocahontas arrives in England
1516
  • Venice creates First Jewish ghetto 
  • Ottoman-Malmuk War
1416
  • Alfonso V (the Magnanimous) becomes King of Aragon 
  • Jerome of Prague burned alive as a heretic by Roman Catholic church
1316
  • The Peace of Fexhe established power sharing between many sectors of society (crown, clergy, nobility and local city governments) 
  • French king, Jan the First, rules for only four days before he inconveniently dies
1216
  • French crown prince Louis enters England at invitation of rebellious barons 
  • King John loses the crown jewels in The Wash and dies in October
  • Henry III succeeds John and reigns for 56 years, the 4th longest English reign after Elizabeth II, Victoria and George III ("English reign" by counting from 1000 to present time since "British" or "UK" didn't exist for all that time)
1116
  • China invents the modern stitched-together book
1016
  • The Danes defeat the Saxons at the Battle of Ashingdon 
  • Canute (Cnut) claims the English throne after the death of Edmund Ironside
So how will 2016 be remembered?
Only Time will tell....

Thursday, 29 December 2016

See what death is doing

RIP: Debbie Reynolds, Carrie Fisher, Victoria Wood, George Michael, Anton Yelchin, David Bowie, Alan Rickman

So many deaths

2016 has been notable for the large number of “celebrity deaths.” It could simply be a coincidence that the people who first became internationally famous through mass media outlets are reaching that stage of life: Fidel Castro, Ronnie Corbett, Harper Lee and Peter Vaughan all had long and fulfilling lives so their passing seems fitting. Some, though, seem untimely: Caroline Aherne, Prince and, in just the last few days, Carrie Fisher (followed within 24 hours by her mother who had been ill for some time.)
RIP: Sir Terry Wogan, Paul Daniels, Carla Lane, Harper Lee, Peter Shaffer, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Caroline Aherne, Barry Hines, Prince, Gene Wilder, Robert Vaughn, Muhammad Ali

Life goes on

The only absolute certainty of life is Death. Everything else is choice, negotiation, compromise, luck and manipulation. Death, however, no matter what other choices we make, comes to us all. And the human race carries on. Striving, mostly thriving, aspiring and living in the shadow of the certainty of death. The tinsel time of year heightens feelings about grief as we go about celebrating, eating, drinking, reflecting on the past and planning the future. The following exchange in The Winter’s Tale always strikes a chord for me, although the promised “recovery” is hard won. Hard won.
PAULINA:     This news is mortal to the queen: look down
                    And see what death is doing.

LEONTES:                                             Take her hence:
                    Her heart is but overcharged. She will recover.
Judi Dench as Paulina in The Winter's Tale - Judi is currently thriving and working still, but has an acting style that, in my opinion, gives you birth, life and death, strength and vulnerability, comedy and tragedy - all combined in a poignant and appealing personality.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Deck the Halls

Smells, Tastes, Feelings, Sights and Sounds

I always advocate (but fail to get) an artificial Christmas tree in December so my family win every year and the smell of the real tree has become, for me, the smell of Christmas. The tastes of Christmas include pigs in blankets, mince pies and Christmas pudding. The feelings are Dickensian: bonhomie to family and friends, gatherings of games and gorgeous gluttony. The sights are everywhere: gaudy, romantic, occasionally religious, red and green. And at some point on Christmas Eve, the talents of Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, Vera-Ellen, Dean Jagger, Mary Wickes and Anne Whitfield in White Christmas will crystallise the sound of Christmas.
Michael Curtiz's film of White Christmas

Lyrics to White Christmas by Irving Berlin

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know
Where the treetops glisten
and children listen
To hear sleigh bells in the snow

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
With every Christmas card I write
May your days be merry and bright
And may all your Christmases be white
Day-glo table for the Lancelot-Barrs

Saturday, 10 December 2016

FOOM (Friends Of Ol' Marvel)

The Marvel Comics' Universe and the current film line-up of The Avengers

Oh, Mum, what did you do?

We all have childhood memories that we think leave a long-lasting effect. My brother and I were distraught when we came home from school one day to find my Mum had had a clear-out and decided to get rid of a huge pile of original Marvel comics…. Now, of course, they would probably be worth a fortune. So I credit that event with two things:
  • my loyalty to the Marvel brand and
  • my reluctance to throw anything away.
The genius of Marvel Comics’s Stan Lee was that he drew on the 1960s developing pop-psychology to present to teenagers a compelling escapist fantasy of legendary wish fulfilment. The comics spoke directly and emotionally to fans who felt marginalised, like Peter Parker in Spiderman. Stan Lee even addressed the reader from within the stories, asides just like in Shakespearean comedy. Stan Lee seemed like a childhood friend, so it’s a great joy to see him pop up in Marvel film cameos. I remember the first “club" I belonged to – Friends of Ol’ Marvel or FOOM – I wonder how many people, like me, kept hold of the club magazine….?

Arrested development?

How come I’m hooked on Shakespeare but I also love the X-Men, Spiderman, Thor, the Fantastic Four, the Silver Surfer and The Avengers? Is my development so arrested that I can’t distinguish between Quicksilver (in the X-Men) and Hamlet (in Hamlet)? Both Quicksilver and Hamlet have father issues…. And the underlying theme of the X-Men is the same as one of the strands in Hamlet – the outsider trying to
  • fight for personal and political justice
  • work out his own destiny and
  • control the impulse to revenge….

Searching for father

Eclectic Tastes: The Bible, Shakespeare, Marvel….

Definition of Eclectic: not following one set of principles, ideas or systems but using many parts of different ones.
An eclectic person is someone with catholic, broad-ranging and all-inclusive tastes; someone who sees no difference between “high” culture and “popular” culture, “elegant” style and “vulgar” style. I think that’s me. I think I have eclectic tastes. Yes, I love Shakespeare, but I also love the Marvel Universe and will happily watch a superhero film the same day as reading Measure for Measure. As evidenced in the image on the right I think of Shakespeare as an action hero and I see nothing incongruous about Sacha Goldberger's outfits for a few of the Marvel characters. My appreciation of Marvel characters preceded my Mum’s notorious clearout of old comics. You see, no-one, throughout my childhood, ever told me what to read or watch. Nothing was ever censored. Picking up an encyclopedia or The Bible or Shakespeare felt the same, to me, as picking up the latest edition of Fantastic or Terrific or The Mighty World of Marvel (the UK versions of Marvel comics.) (Click the links on the titles for a trip down memory lane if you remember these comics.) I’m glad I have eclectic tastes. There are so many more things to enjoy…. Excelsior!
 

Sunday, 4 December 2016

The grand old Duke of York

City walls of York
The walls of York began as an earthen and wooden stockade surrounding Eboracum (the Roman name for York.) Stone sections were added during the Roman occupation of Britain and a few of these remnants are still visible. During the centuries of Anglo-Saxon and Viking York (Eoferwic and Jorvik) it is likely that the walls were patched up in places but generally left to the weather’s ravages as the city focused on Christianity and Trading. During medieval times, though, when York became the York we know today, the walls were enlarged and reinforced and it is mostly these walls that have been renovated enough to walk on when you visit the city in 2016.

Barley Hall

York has a formidable distinction of being a thriving contemporary city (with its forward-thinking EU Remain-voting populace.) It is also a place that exploits its past for the tourist pound, but in a mostly respectful (and academic) fashion. Barley Hall is a prime example of the potential for forging new economic possibilities from a building that was about to be demolished – until the archaeologists realised how much of the original medieval structure was still intact under the layers of additions and alterations. In a recent visit I enjoyed a vivid display of the costumes from the BBC’s adaptation of Hilary Mantell’s Wolf Hall. Even without the headline-displays Barley Hall is evocative of a distant past that, in some ways, reveals itself to be unnervingly similar to today, even though swans and peacocks rarely feature on 21st century dining tables.

O tiger’s heart wrapped in a woman’s hide!

I’ve always loved York since learning at a young age that the castle nearest my childhood home in Wakefield, Sandal Castle, was the site of the nursery rhyme
Oh, the grand old Duke of York!
He had 10,000 men.
He marched them up to the top of the hill
And he marched them down again….
Tragically, of course, the grand old Duke of York also had the blood of his son, Edmund, smeared over his face by Margaret of Anjou, the wife of Henry VI and effectively the commander of the Lancastrian army at Sandal Castle during the Wars of the Roses. To add further humiliation Margaret placed a mock paper crown on the Duke of York’s head before slaughtering him and removing his head to be hoisted on a pike above Micklegate Bar in the city of York. Is all that true? It’s not in the nursery rhyme, that’s for sure, but Shakespeare has it covered in Henry VI Part Three. Ah, the good old days….
Margaret of Anjou kills the Duke of York (in Shakespeare's version) at Sandal Castle, Wakefield

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

Sweet though in sadness

I’ve already recorded that I love Autumn (birthday, sense of new start with the new school year, colours of nature.) Of course I also love Winter, Spring and Summer – each season generates distinctive features that I appreciate but I feel unfeasibly cockle-warmed when walking through the “Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red” of Autumn woodland. The quotation is from Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind, one of the most famous poems about Autumn, a hymn to the wind, “thou breath of Autumn’s being.”

Only Connect

In the poem Shelley imagines all the seeds buried beneath the earth like corpses now, waiting to burst into life again and break through the soil in a few months’ time. He imagines the dead leaves blowing and falling like thoughts, carrying messages across the world. The West Wind is “Destroyer and preserver.” Currently he feels earth bound, trapped in Autumn, but witnessing the maelstrom of nature preparing for its next phase and wishing his words could travel through the air like leaves. Only connect cries the poem, as EM Forster was to write in Howard’s End. Listen! Hear the voices! Hear the spring of human consciousness! Winter is coming…. And then…?

Stanza V from Ode to the West Wind

by Percy Bysshe Shelley (published 1820) – written in a wood near the River Arno in Florence
Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is:
What if my leaves are falling like its own!
The tumult of thy mighty harmonies

Will take from both a deep, autumnal tone,
Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, Spirit fierce,
My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!

Drive my dead thoughts over the universe
Like wither'd leaves to quicken a new birth!
And, by the incantation of this verse,

Scatter, as from an unextinguish'd hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
Be through my lips to unawaken'd earth

The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Out of the sky

Up The Shard, as you do....

Saltaire to London

Yorkshire is the bees’ knees to me! Stratford-upon-Avon, Badby, Northumbria, Scotland and Manchester are the bees’ knees’ best friends. So I suppose London can be seen as the bees’ knees’ mother. There are other places that could shiver my timbers and tickle my fancy that I haven’t yet visited: I suspect there are places in Ireland and Wales that will do it and I have abiding memories of English Heritage and National Trust properties throughout the land, not to mention formative times in Bath, Plymouth, Winchester, the Peak District, Cornwall, Devon and Kent. Dorset and the Isle of Harris are on my bucket list and I want to know more about East Anglia and Northern Ireland. And that’s without even leaving the British Isles. It’s a big planet, a huge continent, an enormous country, a gigantic city and visiting London gives me the feeling of the human race’s capacity for imagination, creativity, survival and endeavour, as well as the same capacity for greed, ruthlessness, destruction and conquest. London is the best of worlds and the worst of worlds. I sometimes feel like a frightened country mouse when I’m there and I sometimes feel like I own the place. Samuel Johnson was famously quoted by his biographer, Boswell:
Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.
New and old, London brashness and London antiquity - the Monument, the Shard, a coffee house

Glenda and friends

I’ve blogged about the prime reason for going to London earlier this month (to see Glenda Jackson in Shakespeare’s King Lear at the Old Vic.) It was also a good time to catch up with friends: Dud, John, Mary, Michele and Meera in different venues on different days. We were evacuated from the British Library by a fire alarm, gawped at the spoils of Empire at the British Museum, ate like royalty in the Oxo brasserie overlooking the Thames, visited Christopher Wren’s Monument to the Great Fire of London, witnessed artisan glass blowing in Bermondsey, went Up The Shard (mind-boggling and something to do again, I hope) and generally pounded the pavements admiring the soaring, tumbling, peculiar mix of architecture, slum, luxury, confusion, hope, culture, history, grief and joy. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by London so the friendly and calming oases in cafés, pubs and in London homes were a welcome relief from the onslaught of the city’s dynamism.

The 606 Club

In a dingy basement club, packed to the rafters with appreciative punters, we were privileged to hear John Etheridge play with singer Vimala Rowe, accompanied by old pal, Dudley Phillips on bass and Mark Fletcher on drums. Our proximity to the performers was sometimes a bit un-nerving but the evening contained some extraordinary and evocative sounds, rhythms and songs. Catch them by searching for the albums in the collages below.
Dud's first album, Life Without Trousers and Rowe/Etheridge album (featuring Dud) Out of the Sky contains tracks we heard that night in the 606 Club


Stephen Fry riff

One of my favourite books about poetry is Stephen Fry’s The Ode Less Travelled and he explains London as similar in a way to the English Language:
The English language is like London: proudly barbaric yet deeply civilised, too, common yet royal, vulgar yet processional, sacred yet profane. Each sentence we produce, whether we know it or not, is a mongrel mouthful of Chaucerian, Shakespearean, Miltonic, Johnsonian, Dickensian and American. Military, naval, legal, corporate, criminal, jazz, rap and ghetto discourses are mingled at every turn. The French language, like Paris, has attempted, through its Academy, to retain its purity, to fight the advancing tides of Franglais and international prefabrication. English, by comparison, is a shameless whore.
That’s “shameless whore” in a positive sense. Like London.

Top left is a mushroom starter by Betti and rest are at the Oxo tower


Friday, 25 November 2016

Like a scurvy politician

London

Recently returned from five days in London (which I’ll blog about soon) but the prime motivation for going at this time of year was to witness Glenda Jackson in Shakespeare’s King Lear at the Old Vic Theatre. I saw her last onstage in Peter Brook’s production of Antony and Cleopatra in Stratford-upon-Avon at the RSC in 1978 (aware that she was a double-Oscar winner for 1969’s Women in Love and 1973’s A Touch of Class. Since retiring from acting at the top of her game, she has been a member of the UK Parliament from 1992 to 2015 (23 years of honorably serving Hampstead and Highgate/Kilburn.) I am a fan of her film performances. As well as her Oscar-winning films and the TV series Elizabeth R, I thought she was equally brilliant in Hedda, Stevie, Triple Echo, Sunday Bloody Sunday, The Rainbow, The Music Lovers, Mary Queen of Scots {with Vanessa Redgrave} and The Patricia Neal Story.
Glenda Jackson from parliament to King Lear with Rhys Ifans as The Fool, Sargon Yelda as Kent and Morfydd Clark as Cordelia. Production photo credits: Manuel Harlan

Script as blueprint

Having seen King Lear with Sir Antony Sher recently, and blogged about it here, it was with some trepidation that I approached the play again so soon. I needn’t have worried – it was like a different play entirely, shorn of sentimentality, riven with intellectual decisions and riddled with disturbing and upsetting truths. Both productions were well worth seeing, in my view, though felt like entirely divergent works of art (as per Shakespeare’s genius and the way that any drama script is only a blueprint for theatrical interpretation.)
Lear: Glenda Jackson, Edmund: Simon Manyonda, Edgar: Harry Melling, Regan: Jane Horrocks, Cornwall: Danny Webb, Albany: William Chubb, Goneril: Celia Imrie, The Fool: Rhys Ifans, Ensemble/France: Matt Gavan, Gloucester: Karl Johnson. Production photo credits: Manuel Harlan

Like a scurvy politician

Any line in King Lear about power, ruling and politics had an extra resonance, given Glenda Jackson’s recent parliamentary career:
    Get thee glass eyes;    
And like a scurvy politician, seem    
To see the things thou dost not.
And the play’s devastating critique of the gap between rich and poor was fully potent in the mouths of actors like Glenda Jackson and Karl Johnson who played Gloucester:
So distribution should undo excess
And each man have enough.
Through tattered clothes great vices do appear;
Robes and furred gowns hide all. Plate sin with gold
And the strong lance of justice hurtless breaks:
Arm it in rags, a pigmy's straw does pierce it.
Harry Melling and Karl Johnson as Edgar and Gloucester; "I stumbled when I saw." Production photo credits: Manuel Harlan

Rage rage against the dying of the light

The Greg Doran production probably moved me more than this one by Deborah Warner, but this production made me think more angrily about the issues in the play. There were some theatrical and design decisions that were unsettling (probably intentionally so) and some performance moments that challenged my ideas about the play but as an experience it remained compelling to watch, probably intensified by sitting on the front row! The rest of the company all had their moments of stage glory but the abiding memory is of the towering performance by Glenda Jackson. This was a father raging against the dying of the light; a man who was frustrated that he was not being afforded the luxuries he expected to receive in his retirement; a king who discovered, alas too late, that his wilful rule had led to the most abject poverty (literal and metaphorical) in his kingdom. Glenda’s voice soared, swooped, growled, howled and machine-gunned every Shakespearean image and still left room for the soft caress of lines like
We two alone will sing like birds in the cage.
When thou dost ask me blessing, I'll kneel down
And ask of thee forgiveness; so we'll live,
And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh
At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues
Talk of court news, and we'll talk with them too –
Who loses and who wins, who's in, who's out
And take upon us the mystery of things
As if we were God's spies….
Unforgettable.
Rhys Ifans as The Fool and Glenda Jackson as Lear. Production photo credits: Manuel Harl

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Now I am in a holiday humour

Sally, Emily, Alex, Janet, Harriet and Michael, the Shakespeare Birthday Boy, in Autumn

Elton Old Hall

Soft padded luxury beds, piping hot showers, stairs, levels, space to spread, a bright conservatory and a walled garden – these were some of the treats at Elton Old Hall where we went to celebrate Michael’s birthday. Michael is my “Shakespeare buddy” and the man with whom I can be a Royal Shakespeare Company nerd without irony or embarrassment. We met in 1986 (soon after I married Sally) on the RSC summer school in Stratford-upon-Avon, the year The Swan theatre opened and we’ve seen just about every RSC production since then (and, separately, a fair few before that year too.)

Michael, Harriet, Tony, Sally, Alex, Joyce, Emily and the two Shakespeare "anoraks," me with Michael

Then and Now

Back in 1986 Michael and I were young whippersnappers on the Summer School, mixing with venerable folk who had seen Paul Robeson, Laurence Olivier and Vivian Leigh on the RSC stage. Now, in the approaching Autumn of our lives, we are the venerable ones who witnessed Sean Bean as a “teenage” Romeo….
Bright conservatory, atmospheric dining kitchen....

Surprise! Surprise!

All the guests had done a sterling job of managing to keep various elements of the weekend secret from Michael, but of course Shakespeare featured heavily in terms of a cake, some games and puns on the menu based on Michael’s favourite play, As You Like It. It has to be said we ate like medieval monarchs on gorgeously-decorated tables.

Haddon Hall

We also made a memorable visit to Haddon Hall on the Sunday. Haddon Hall is still a family home to Lord Edward Manners but the public areas are sympathetically restored and curated by enthusiastic guides. Haddon is a medieval/Jacobean house with brilliantly-preserved 14th century kitchens, working log fires and chimneys, ancient tapestries and wood carvings, a Banqueting Hall with a minstrel’s gallery, an inspiring Long Gallery, a Great Chamber with a Renaissance frieze and intricate plasterwork ceilings.
I think the big picture here looks like Haddon: the TV series coming soon to BBC

Boar and Peacock

Crossing the River Wye to get into the amazingly preserved courtyard, you have to pass topiary in the form of a boar and a peacock, two symbols that keep recurring through the house on furniture, plasterwork and ironwork. A wall section built towards the end of the 12th century is on display (King John’s Wall) and you can also see the interior of a chapel with a Norman stone font, 16th century oak pews and extraordinary frescoes of St Christopher, skeletons and St Nicholas calming the storm.

These trees shall be my books

Michael’s birthday, like mine, is in the Autumn season so I always associate the reds, golds and browns of Autumn with regeneration and renewal – a starting again of another year. New Year is of course New Year and Spring is Spring and both times contain Rebirth and Beginning concepts – but, in my imagination, Autumn also has a sense of Fresh Dawn because I was born then – and yes, I know the leaves are falling and the trees are dying – but the trees will grow again. Winter is coming….so is Spring….so is Summer….and so to next Autumn when Michael and I will be another year older….

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Enemies of the People?

Check out this link and this film

The Donald

It is easy to see why Donald (in my opinion hateful, ignorant, bullying, manipulative, deceptive) Trump has so much support in America. He, like the right-wing press in Britain, presses buttons that tap into the fears of people who have suffered as a result of the current capitalist system, a system which is increasingly widening the gap between haves and have-nots. Trump triggers fear and discontent in disaffected groups. But I am 100% convinced that he will do nothing, if elected, to help the plight of the working classes of America; on the contrary he will continue to be the person he has always been and, as President of the “richest” country on Planet Earth, he will be a very dangerous role model for the future of civilised humanity. This 11-minute link (here) is an effective piece of rhetoric that sums him up, I think, and well worth watching if you have a vote in the forthcoming American election.

The (in my opinion hate-mongering, thuggish) Daily Mail

I wish my own country was immune from the “Donald effect.” Sadly the right-wing press have shown what a pervasive and twisted bunch they can be. History tells us that parliament SHOULD have collective responsibility for major decisions that affect the UK and our standing in the world. I had reconciled myself to being one of the 48% Remainers after “losing” the EU referendum vote on 23rd June 2016 and have waited (patiently) to see what would happen next – and when…. So I waited…. And waited…. Over four months later there is still little clarity and much uncertainty about what will happen. So I welcomed the high court judges ruling that parliament should debate the details prior to triggering Article 50. After all, isn’t that what the Brexit vote was about? Taking back control! We took back control to…. The cabinet? Rather than parliament? Surely what the judges have done is absolutely what the Bexiters voted for…. Brought sovereignty back to the UK parliament….

Delicious Irony and Warning from Recent History

Wouldn’t it be a delicious irony if the Supreme Court rejects the government’s appeal and Theresa May has to go the European Court to appeal? In the meantime, here is an extract from a very recent cross-party interview following up the Chilcot report and the criticisms against Tony Blair for taking the country to war in Iraq:
Laurence Robertson, a Conservative, to Chilcot, Chair of the Enquiry Report: “What is your single most important finding?”
Chilcot: “….it was a failure to exercise collective responsibility for a very big decision.”
It’s worth remembering that the biggest accusation against Tony Blair is that he acted without consulting parliament. It would be a dangerous precedent to allow government to act unilaterally without a robust debate amongst our elected representatives in parliament. All the high court judges have asked for is that Brexit is debated and confirmed by parliament.

(Wilfully) Muddled Media

There are flaws in much of the right-wing press coverage of the high court judges’ ruling:
  • The Daily Telegraph (who should know better) states “This is a political dispute to be settled in parliament, not by judges,” seemingly misunderstanding that that is the whole point of the ruling, that parliament debates the Brexit terms…. 
  • The Daily Express (who is generally hysterical on its best days) compared the judges’ decision to “dark days when Churchill vowed we would fight them on the beaches” – a gross insult to all soldiers who fought in the world wars, I think 
  • The Sun (who I shouldn’t really give blog space but….) complained about one of the judges being a “foreign-born millionaire,” seemingly forgetting that The Sun itself is ruthlessly run by a foreign-born multi-millionaire   
  • But The Daily Mail had the headline that most infuriated me – Enemies of the People because the judges are in fact Friends of the People; their judgement stops authoritarian tyranny and puts elected MPs at the heart of negotiating the terms of Brexit i.e. representatives of ALL the people, not just the self-selected government ministers (chosen by a non-elected Prime Minister) who are all obfuscating what is going to happen, desperately hoping people are too stupid to notice and banking on the (right-wing) Media to inflame false claims.
Take back control into the UK parliament, said the Brexiters – and that’s what the judges have ruled.

Dr Thomas Stockmann

The main inspiration for this blog, though, is that the heinous Daily Mail bastardised and misunderstood the phrase Enemy of the People, made famous by a writer who is my Number Two (after Shakespeare.) If the journalists, copy editors or editors had half a brain they should know that the great Henrik Ibsen’s play An Enemy of the People refers to Stockmann who is an anti-hero in the great tradition of an individual who stands up to the baying mob and speaks truth to power. He exposes the environmental disaster that is about to engulf his town in opposition to the authorities and the moneyed classes. Stockmann is the opposite of an Enemy of the People. A key theme of the play is how the town is manipulated by those in power – just as, I think, the readers are manipulated by these dangerous headlines and just as the Brexiteers are trying to hide their lack of plans in the face of the complicated realities of “taking back control.”
Great hero of mine: Henrik Ibsen