The weather in Stockholm today is terrible.
This is precisely the sort of thing that kills me. What happens whenever I feel like going for a nice walk where it’s quiet and dry? The rain pours down and flattens my hair, that’s what.
I wonder what it’s like back in dear old Blighty?
On second thoughts, I don’t really care: I’ve said farewell to that particular land’s cheerless marshes. I swear it’s the last time I sit on a delayed, overcrowded train stuck among the railway arches somewhere between London, Liverpool, Leeds or Birmingham. There’s nothing worse than being hemmed in like a boar.
Even so, I’d still like to go back now and then to chat about precious things.
But, really, the things you read in the British newspapers! All those jeremy hunts spouting inane rubbish about love, law and poverty.
Perhaps it’s just me, but don’t the way things are going make you wonder if the world has changed? I don’t trust anyone these days, not with all the lies they make up. True, people don’t have long hair any more. And all the pubs have shut down together with the churches. But the liars are still at large: everyone’s out to snatch your money or wreck your body.
God, my limbs ache. And it feels so lonely, despite being hemmed in by so many bores.
And the media doesn’t help either. I read about a gang of kids peddling drugs. Honest to God, I never even knew what drugs were at their age. I was too tied to my mother’s apron strings to worry about incarceration, castration or coronations.
Actually, that reminds me of one bright spot to brighten up Blighty’s cheerless marshes. Did you see that picture on the front of the other day’s Daily Mail? I know she only suffered mild concussion, but it was a really wonderful thing to see her royal lowness all bandaged up and with her head in a sling.
I wonder what Charles thought when he saw it? He’d probably liked to have been the monarch on the front cover, veiled in some regalia nicked from his mum.
Why is it that he of all people should be next in line for regality? I bet if the libraries or archives were still open any one of us could find some historical facts to prove that they are a pale descendent of some old queen from eighteen generations back.
No-one cares of course. Especially not those flag-waving patriots hemmed in like boars along their rain-soaked street parties that stretch from London to Liverpool, Leeds to Birmingham.
Honestly, the only way to get them to listen would be to break into Buckingham Palace armed with just a rusty spanner hidden inside a sponge.
Sneaking past Charles wouldn’t be difficult: he’d be too busy struggling into his mater’s bridal veil and practicing his coronation steps to notice me flit past.
And I bet his mother would confuse me for someone else:
“Eh, I know you”, she’d rasp, “and you cannot sing”.
“That’s nothing”, I’d reply whilst prising my corroded tool from its soft wrapping: “you should hear me play piano”.
This won’t happen, of course. It’s raining too hard for me to venture out.
So I may as well stay here where it’s quiet and dry.
Perhaps I’ll take a surreptitious peek at the Daily Mail online. Oh, look! It says here that the queen has just taken a nasty tumble...
Morrissey/Marr (with Mills, Godfrey & Scott)
“The Queen Is Dead (Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty)”
The Queen is Dead, Rough Trade / Sire, 1986, 6:24
11. hunt out
or drive from cover
or shelter by hunting
or persistent search;
to track out;
to arrive at
Oxford English Dictionary, 1989 / 2012
“Great and congrats on Brussels. Just Ofcom to go!”
So goes a text message sent to James Murdoch by Jeremy Hunt, just hours before the Secretary of State for Culture was appointed to oversee News Corporation’s £8bn bid to take control of the satellite broadcaster, BSkyB.
Hunt claims that this was entirely consistent with his publicly-stated position.
Oddly enough, this is probably the reason why Mr Hunt will retain his job. Because the real issue here is whether Hunt was an appropriate individual to fulfil an impartial, “quasi-judicial” role in relation to News Corporation’s bid.
And who was it that considered Hunt to be the “solution”? Step forward Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne and his boss, Prime Minister David Cameron.
If Hunt were to resign these two politicians would be dangerously exposed.
Meanwhile, it has today been reported that the cap on tax exemption for charitable giving announced by Osborne in his last budget has been dropped.
No surprise there. What is of note is the very deliberate timing of this announcement, coming as it does on the day that Hunt gives his evidence to the Leveson inquiry into media ethics and during a period when parliament is not in session.
Words like unethical, incompetent, vacillating, self-serving and undemocratic spring to mind.
Now compare those words with the ones spouted by David Cameron when launching a new draft of the Ministerial Code fewer than two years ago:
We must be different in how we think and how we behave.
We must be different from what has gone before us.
Careful with public money.
Transparent about what we do and how we do it.
Determined to act in the national interest, above improper influence.
Mindful of our duty.
Above all, grateful for our chance to change our country.(1)
So, great and congrats, Dave – there is no doubt about it: you really are changing our country.
(1) Oonagh Gay, The Ministerial Code, Standard Note: SN/PC/03750, last updated 27th March 2012, available at, http://www.parliament.uk/briefing-papers/SN03750.pdf.
“[A] rich mixture of foreign influences
has entered our homes for centuries
and continues to do so today.”
So says the introductory panel to the exhibition “At Home With the World”. This is the title of the Geffrye Museum’s contribution to the laughably labelled “Cultural Olympiad”. The temporary display seeks to explore notions of Englishness in the domestic sphere. What – if anything – is nationally distinct about the homes of England given the ongoing patterns of “foreign influence” that pervade our public and private spaces?
This question resonates with a line of dialogue from a play that I am going to see later this evening just up the road from the Geffrye Museum:
“All I want is the England I used to know...
When you knew where you were and
all the houses had gardens and
old ladies could feel safe in the street at night.”
This understandable nostalgia is ratcheted into a gleefully xenophobic rant by a mild mannered man who goes by the name of Martin Taylor. He must surely be the most compelling and controversial character conjured up by the playwright, Dennis Potter.
His play, Brimstone and Treacle charts how monstrous Martin wheedles his way into the moribund home of the Bates family. Tensions between the unhappily married Mr and Mrs Bates are exacerbated by the condition of their tragic daughter, Pattie. She lays bedridden and brain damaged following a traffic accident.
Martin decides to quite literally lend a hand. The nature of his grotesque physical intervention led to the censorship of Potter’s Brimstone and Treacle.
Potter wrote his television play for the BBC some four decades ago. Time, however, has not diminished the shocking denouement of the drama.
So it is with a growing sense of guilty excitement that I sit in the sun-drenched café of the Geffrye Museum writing these words and waiting impatiently for the drama to unfold.
Until now I have only ever seen Potter’s work through the mollifying medium of television. The chance to come within touching distance of Dennis’ devilishly disturbing world has brought me to London and the Arcola Theatre in Hackney.
As luck would have it, the last leg of my journey to the theatre involved the number 149 double-decker bus from London Bridge station. It strikes me that the loathsome Norwegian terrorist, Anders Behring Breivik should be compelled to serve out his life sentence on this bus route. He’d be driven out of his miniscule mind by the glorious microcosm of London life that is played out by a worldwide cast of bus passengers, 24-hours a day.
If it were not for the number 149 I wouldn’t have passed by the Geffrye Museum. This marvellous museum has provided the ideal preparation for Brimstone and Treacle. As a “museum of English homes and gardens”, it is filled with stage-set interiors charting a chronological sweep through English domestic history.
The Bates’ morose middle class abode of the mid-1970s would fit in beautifully as one of the room sets of the Geffrye Museum.
These museumified interiors confirm our collective obsession with “home”. Many people share the sentiments of Mr Bates: they long for a private refuge from the world flanked by a neat little garden and a street outside filled with safe-and-sound old ladies. Of course, these exact same private paradises are all too often the setting for all manner of barbarisms perpetrated by “sweet talking rapists at home”.(1)
The domestic sphere is, then, a potent mixture of brimstone and treacle. Dennis Potter makes this shockingly apparent in his brilliant play of that title. I really hope that the Arcola Theatre does justice to Potter’s helping of demonic hospitality.
(1) The Blow Monkeys, “Sweet Talking Rapist at Home”, Whoops! There Goes the Neighbourhood, 1989, RCA.
(After) Brett Murray's "The Spear"
See "Jacob Zuma painting vandalised in South Africa gallery"
BBC News, 22/05/2012, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-18159204
Security measures are being put into place to safeguard the much-heralded London Olympics.
It comes as a blessed relief to discover that the streets of Britain’s Megacity are to be patrolled by thousands of military personnel. The skies above will echo to the roar of attack aircraft. The waters will be awash with warships. Meanwhile, tower blocks in the vicinity will house surface-to-air missiles. Networks of surveillance cameras will monitor the streets.
And rest assured that, in the unlikely event that disturbances should occur, sonic cannons will be swiftly deployed. They will be wielded by the “tens of thousands of troops and private security guards working alongside police officers and the security services”.
But how will honest, law-abiding citizens recognize these guardians of the peace? Well, I can exclusively reveal the new-look uniforms with which they are to be issued (see image). Of course, should you be fortunate enough to come across such an operative, you will be left in no doubt.
They are just what Britain needs in these troubled times of austerity: judge, jury and executioner rolled into one.
Chief among these lawgivers is Judge Dredd of Dennis Potter Block in the Brimstone-&-Treacle Sector. He has already seen service at the first Luna Olympics.
When asked if he had a message for any olympian perps, muties, monsters and fatties, Dredd replied simply: I AM the law.
And with that in mind, let the Brit-Cit games begin!
Yesterday Rupert Murdoch gave the first of two days of evidence to the Leveson Inquiry. A couple of things stood out that, when tied together, lead to one inescapable conclusion.
The first point of interest was Murdoch's insistence that "politicians go out of their way to impress people in the press".
This, he went on to add, was "part of the democratic process. All politicians on all sides like to have their views known by the editors or publishers of newspapers hoping they will be put across, hoping they will succeed in impressing people, that's the game."
Nevertheless, Mr Murdoch flatly denied ever asking for, or receiving, preferential treatment from politicians.
Is this to be believed? Well, consider this: in 1981, Rupert Murdoch was seeking to acquire The Times newspaper. Despite repeated and categorical denials, there is now evidence to show that he had a secret meeting about the matter with the then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. It took place on 4th January 1981. Five weeks later her government sanctioned his take-over of The Times and The Sunday Times without referring it to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission.(1)
Now consider something else Murdoch told Leveson: "If politicians want my views they should read Sun editorials".
This is a tacit admission that Rupert Murdoch - as many people have long since argued - exerts a direct and decisive influence on the editorial opinions of his media outlets.
Remember that, aside from The Sun, Mr Murdoch's media empire owns, among other things, The Times, The Sunday Times and (until he culled it) The News of the World. Recall too that Murdoch's News Corp was within an ace of acquiring outright control of the satellite broadcaster BSkyB without the decision being referred to the Competition Commission.(2) This was thanks in large part to his incestuously close links to Prime Minister David Cameron and his cabinet colleagues such as Jeremy Hunt (Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport) and the former Times journalist, Michael Gove (Secretary of State for Education).
For a single individual to control such a large chunk of the media landscape is wrong for precisely the reasons that Rupert Murdoch set out in his evidence to Leveson: "All politicians... like to have their views known by the editors or publishers of newspapers hoping... they will succeed in impressing people". How right he is: from Thatcher to Cameron via Blair and Brown - all have gone out of their way to impress Rupert Murdoch.
But Rupert Murdoch was fundamentally wrong about one thing: this is not "part of the democratic process".
It is the death of the democratic process.
This is why his media empire should be broken up.
How depressingly appropriate that it should fall to Murdoch's own evidence to Leveson for this case to be made rather than coming from the mouths of any of our fawning, self-serving and inherently unethical politicians.
(1) Andrew McIntyre, "Thatcher and Murdoch met before Times acquisition", New Statesman, 19/03/2012, http://www.newstatesman.com/newspapers/2012/03/meeting-thatcher-murdoch-times.
(2) The matter was eventually referred - but only because of the phone-hacking scandal at the News of The World.
Two politicians have featured on this blog in recent weeks:
As it currently stands, Hunt says he did nothing wrong and James Murdoch dismissed the email comment as a joke.
But this is no laughing matter.
Yet don't be surprised if Hunt clings on to his job: the government needs him to stay in post in order to protect the British Prime Minister, David Cameron.* Cameron is just as guilty of unethical behaviour in his dealings with the Murdoch empire.
One positive thing has emerged out of all this. In his evidence to Leveson, James Murdoch conceded that greater efforts should have been made to "cut out the cancer" of phone hacking at his organisation.(4) Good to see Mr Murdoch accept something that Dennis Potter pointed out many years ago: Rupert Murdoch is a cancer that has infected and undermined British society for decades.(5)
The parlous state of Jeremy Hunt’s political health is a direct consequence of that cancer.
Get well soon, Jeremy!
(1) "Let them eat cake, Lena", 18/04/2012, http://www.stuartburch.com/1/post/2012/04/let-them-eat-cake-lena.html.
(2) A hint of Hunt's partial handling of cultural affairs is outlined in my blog posting, "Hunt's cunning stunt", 23/03/2012 http://www.stuartburch.com/1/post/2012/03/hunts-cunning-stunt.html.
(3) "James Murdoch at the Leveson inquiry - live coverage", http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2012/apr/24/leveson-inquiry-phone-hacking.
(5) "Dennis Potter and Rupert", 19/07/2011, http://www.stuartburch.com/1/post/2011/07/dennis-potter-and-rupert.html.
* Another figure to watch out for is Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education and a former journalist at The Times. He is apparently "greatly admired by Rupert Murdoch". For his part the politician is less enamoured by the Leveson Inquiry, describing it as having a "chilling effect on freedom of speech". The man is clearly beyond parody.
See Nicholas Watt, "Leveson inquiry has chilling effect on freedom of speech, says Michael Gove", The Guardian, 21/02/2012, http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2012/feb/21/leveson-chilling-freedom-speech-gove.
It is reported that the Swedish defence firm Saab AB has been marketing its JAS Gripen fighter plane under the mantra, "see first – kill first".(1) This is distressingly ironic given that the Swedish government recently deployed the aircraft over the skies of Libya under strict instructions not to engage Gaddafi's forces. This, I argue, was in order to ensure that Sweden could continue to export weapons whilst safeguarding its spurious reputation as a "super power for peace".(2)
The Duke of Sutherland is awfully rich.
And now he's even wealthier thanks to the £95m of largely public funds that were used to pay for two of his Titian paintings.
These masterpieces were produced in the 16th century by an Italian artist for a Spanish king.
It's amusing to think that they have now been "saved for the nation". But shouldn't this be "saved for the state"? What happens if Scotland votes for independence? Will the two "nations" get one each?
And when will all this nonsense end about saving things for nations?
How many paintings would remain in the National Gallery if everything had stayed in its home nation?
Source: Stuart Burch, "The national question", Letters to the Museums Journal (UK), issue 112/04, p. 22-23, 01/04/2012, http://www.museumsassociation.org/museums-journal/comment/01042012-letters
Danny Robins has a voice like Tony Blair and loves Sweden with the same intensity as does David Cameron and his "free" school sidekick, Michael Gove.
Like me, Danny is married to a Swede. Yet the Sweden that he conjures up in BBC Radio 4's The Swedish Invasion is no place that I've ever visited.(1)
But then again, unlike Danny Robins, I've never exterminated an elk in Eksjö...
In his programme Danny salivates about the land that "gave us IKEA, Volvo and Abba". It is, of course, also the country that rocks our world with top-design products like Saab AB's Carl Gustav 84mm Recoilless Rifle: "The best multi-purpose weapon there is".(2)
This globally exported grenade launcher is in fact so potent that it shares its name with the king of Sweden.
Alas, there was no time for Danny to discuss Sweden's burgeoning weapons export industry.(3) This is a real pity because, if he had focused on this aspect of "the Swedish invasion", he might have squeezed in an interview with Sweden's former defence minister, Sten Tolgfors. Mr Tolgfors resigned yesterday in the wake of reports that he had sanctioned covert Swedish support for the construction of a weapons factory in Saudi Arabia.(4)
But why should we trouble our pretty blonde heads with such things? It's far nicer to seek out a snug, "mysig” IKEA-furnished corner and lose oneself in Steig Larsson's cosy world of rape and murder.
Pure fiction, Danny, eller hur?
(1) Jo Wheeler (producer), The Swedish Invasion, "An Unique" production for BBC Radio 4, broadcast 30/03/2012 and available to listen for seven days. See http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b010k2f6.
(2) "Carl-Gustaf M3 - Weapon System: The best multi-purpose weapon there is", http://www.saabgroup.com/Land/Weapon-Systems/support-weapons/Carl_Gustaf_M3_weapon_system.
(3) Read more about this explosive aspect of the "Swedish Invasion" in my soon-to-be-published paper, "Banal Nordism: Recomposing an Old Song of Peace".
(4) "Swedish Defence Minister Tolgfors quits over Saudi deal", BBC News, 29/032012, accessed 30/03/2012 at, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-17548390.
jerrican | jerrycan, n.
"A five-gallon (usu. metal) container for petrol, water, etc., of a type first used in Germany and later adopted by the Allied forces in the war of 1939–45."
"Originally: a pie of seasoned meat, esp. venison, enclosed in a pastry crust and baked without a dish (obs.). In later use: a small pastry case folded to enclose a (usually savoury) filling, similar to a turnover."
I am a republican with little interest in the pharmaceutical industry. This summer will therefore be a testing time for me, what with London hosting the Olympic Games and the British monarch celebrating her diamond jubilee.
Fortunately these two events are only temporary. They will, however, leave lasting legacies. One such is the 175,000 m2 Westfield Stratford City shopping centre. Britain’s gold medal haul would really rocket if the "Retail Relay" were to become an Olympic event.
Heaven on earth is now a reality for the shoppers of London.
Meanwhile, another legacy project has yet to be accomplished. And, in an effort to help ensure that it remains that way, I have rushed to my keyboard with the same zeal as a drug-fuelled athlete reacting to the boom of the starting pistol.
For it grieves me to report that a group of cretinous politicians are proposing to turn the Houses of Parliament's "Big Ben" into the "Elizabeth Tower" in honour of our dear old queen.(1)
Now, a number of arguments can be deployed to support this obsequious suggestion.
Firstly, the name change wouldn't really matter. The vast majority of locals and visitors would continue to mistakenly refer to it as "Big Ben". Its proper – and far more mundane title – is simply "the Clock Tower". Big Ben alludes to its great bell, which in turn is probably a reference to the politician and engineer, Sir Benjamin Hall (1802-67).
Secondly, the re-christening would bring this iconic symbol in line with the Victoria Tower on the other side of the building. This erection takes its name from Queen Victoria, Britain's erstwhile longest-serving monarch.
Ditching Ben in favour of Liz would add yet another royal epithet to the Houses of Parliament – or, to give it its formal designation: the New Palace at Westminster. This title reflects the fact that Sir Charles Barry's architectural fantasy arose from the ashes of the old palace. Only Westminster Hall survived the inferno that engulfed this ancient edifice in 1834.
The centuries-old Westminster Hall is skilfully integrated into Barry's neo-gothic design. Earlier this month the queen paid it a visit in order to witness the unveiling of a stained-glass window to mark her jubilee.(2)
As she looked up at this glittering tribute, I wonder if she spared a thought for Charles I? For it was in that very same building way back in January 1649 that this soon-to-be-beheaded monarch was put on trial – and sentenced to death.
Charles's nemesis was Oliver Cromwell.
Cromwell was still causing a right royal rumpus two centuries later. This was in relation to the decorative scheme planned for the New Palace at Westminster. If you look carefully you'll see that parliament's façade is festooned with statues of the various kings and queens that have ruled England and Britain through the ages.
This carved history posed a dilemma to its designers: what should be done about Cromwell?
For the sake of historical accuracy and completeness he ought to have been slotted in between Charles I (executed in 1649) and his son, Charles II (restored to the throne in 1660).
But placing a regicide in a royalist pantheon proved to be a commemorative step too far.(3) Cromwell was sculpturally excised from British history. Not until the very end of the 19th century was the Lord Protector rewarded with a statue. He stands there to this day: at one remove, deep in thought and with his back turned to parliament.(4)
So, whether you like it or not, Cromwell is part of Britain's political and monarchical history. If "Big Ben" must have new nomenclature, then it should from this year on be known as "Cromwell Tower".
What better way to mark Queen Elizabeth's jubilee? A silent admonition not only to this monarch but to all her heirs: they occupy positions of privilege and power not by right but by accidents of birth.
Other, far less anachronistic and slightly more democratic systems are possible.
The Cromwell Tower will remind the House of Windsor and all their subjects that we should not take the status quo for granted.
God Save the Queen!
(1) James Chapman, "Bong! Will Big Ben tower be renamed after the Queen? MPs call for the London landmark to be renamed for the Diamond Jubilee", Daily Mail, 23/03/2012, accessed 25/03/2012 at, www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2118999/Big-Ben-renamed-Elizabeth-Tower-Queen.html.
(2) Jon Craig, "Westminster To Honour Queen's Diamond Jubilee", Sky News, 20/03/2012, accessed 25/03/2012 at, http://news.sky.com/home/politics/article/16192187.
(3) The phrase "A regicide in a royalist pantheon" appears in the fifth chapter of my PhD, which concerned the commemorative history and symbolism of parliament and the adjacent square. See Stuart Burch, On Stage at the Theatre of State: The Monuments and Memorials in Parliament Square, London (Nottingham Trent University, 2003).
(4) The stupendous statue of Cromwell - with bible in one hand and sword in the other - was made by Sir William Hamo Thornycroft RA (1850-1925) and completed (without an unveiling ceremony) in 1899. Ever since 1950 he has stood face-to-face with a lead bust of Charles I inserted into a niche on the façade of St. Margaret's Church opposite...
... as can be seen below:
Yesterday I commented on one of the ways in the British government's budget for 2012 "limits use of tax reliefs and tackles [tax] avoidance."(1) There now exists a cap of 25% of income on those seeking tax relief of more than £50,000.
Included amongst these nasty tax-avoidance scams is charitable giving.
This, I argued, contradicts the government's clearly stated wish to see large increases in the amounts of money wealthy philanthropists give to the arts.
A day later and this contradictory state of affairs becomes even more perplexing. It has been reported that Jeremy Hunt - the culture secretary - has decided to get rid of the current chair of Arts Council England, Dame Liz Forgan.(2)
Hunt wants to appoint someone better suited to "increasing the amount of private giving to the arts".(3)
Rather than jettisoning the Labour-appointed head of the Arts Council, perhaps Mr Hunt would be wiser to look for scapegoats amongst his specious colleagues at the Treasury?
(1) Stuart Burch, "Biting the hand that feeds", 22/03/2012, available at, http://www.stuartburch.com/1/post/2012/03/biting-the-hand-that-feeds.html.
(2) Charlotte Higgins, "Liz Forgan asked to quit Arts Council England when term ends", The Guardian, 23/03/2012, accessed 23/03/2012 at, http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2012/mar/23/liz-forgan-arts-council-england.
(3) "Jeremy Hunt to appoint new chair of Arts Council England", press release 035/12, 23 March 2012, available at, http://www.culture.gov.uk/news/media_releases/8936.aspx.
Yesterday was budget day. How thrilling!
George Osborne, the British chancellor of the exchequer (i.e. finance minister), has now delivered his annual budget to the braying mob in the houses of parliament.
In the light of my own particular interests, I searched his report for sexy words like "museums", "culture" and "heritage". The welter of problems facing the economy meant that these were hardly likely to feature very heavily.
However, one aspect of note did crop up. This concerned charitable donations made by wealthy philanthropists. It transpires that tax relief on this sort of giving is now capped at £50,000, or 25% of the giver's annual income.
Why do this? The answer, it appears, is in order to "curtail... excessive use of [tax] reliefs."(1)
And yet, mindful of the negative impact this might have, the Budget Report is quick to add:
The Government will explore with philanthropists ways to ensure that this measure
will not impact significantly on charities that depend on large donations.(2)
Let's hope that their exploration is a fruitful one! The Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) fears that the measure might "strangle" major donations.(3)
Given recent reductions in state support for culture and the present administration's supposed interest in non-governmental "big society" initiatives, it is surely bewildering that a disincentive of this nature should be introduced at this time.
Can any charitable soul kindly explain the logic behind this sort of political schizophrenia?
Please note, however, that they must not under any circumstances devote more than 25% of their time to coming up with a plausible answer.
(1) Budget 2012, §1.192 (available at http://cdn.hm-treasury.gov.uk/budget2012_complete.pdf).
(2) Budget 2012, §1.193.
(3) "Budget 2012: Charities could lose big donors", BBC News, 21/03/2012, accessed 21/03/2012 at, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-17458362.
Sculptor: Sir William Wilson (1641-1710), c.1680
William Cavendish, the First Duke of Newcastle-upon-Tyne
is notable in Nottingham not Newcastle
on the site of a slighted castle that has been unfortified
upon the façade of a fired house that is no longer a home
above a door that is now a window
that looks into a room without a floor
of a pioneering public art gallery
which has now been
privatized behind a paywall.
assaulted, belittled, castigated, decapitated,
emasculated, flayed, goaded, hobbled,
incapacitated, jinxed, kiboshed, lacerated,
maimed, nobbled, ostracized, pelted, queered,
rubbished, slated, traduced, usurped, vilified,
whacked, xoanoned, yoked, zapped
At the end of last year I posted the following, facetious tweet:
Today marks exactly X year(s) since
something crucial happened.
It is very important that we remember
this vitally significant anniversary.
My apparently inane twittering represented a conscious attempt to poke fun at our collective obsessions with the past. It feels as if every chronological coincidence is pounced upon as an excuse for commemorating something that simply must be recalled.
Proof of this will be in abundant supply in 2012. A cavalcade of all things Dickensian will mark the fact that one of England's greatest writers happened to be born exactly 200 years ago. Charles Dickens will be deployed as a cultural flagbearer during the London Olympics. Yet how members of the sporting fraternity will actually pick up a book by Dickens is far from certain...
Moreover, before we get carried away with what is remembered, it's always a good idea to ferret out those things that have been conveniently forgotten or suppressed. And what better day on which to consider the overlooked than 1st January 2012? This is because exactly ten years ago something truly momentous happened. But no matter how hard you listen, you'll hear no fanfare or fireworks. There are no pageants or celebratory get-togethers. No back-slapping congratulations and high-spirited toasts.
Because the birthday to which I refer is a mournful affair. A decade after its birth this prematurely aged ten-year-old is adrift: "floating without steering or mooring; drifting... [W]ithout purpose; aimless... off course."(1)
Adrift. There could be no better word to describe the Euro. This shiny new currency was introduced shortly after midnight on 1st January 2002. As the clock struck midnight "celebratory fireworks exploded above the European Central Bank headquarters in Frankfurt. The Pont Neuf in Paris was lit up in European Union blue, with 12 rays of light to symbolise the 12 nations circulating the euro."(2)
The skies are dark a decade hence. Our politicians don't have time to get nostalgic about the past. They are too busy fretting about the future.
The tenth anniversary of the Euro is adrift. How terribly appropriate.
(1) Collins Dictionary, London & Glasgow, 1987, p.16.
(2) Nicholas Kulish, "To be franc, after 10 years the euro has failed to make its mark", 02/01/2012, Sydney Morning Herald, accessed 01/01/2012 at, http://www.smh.com.au/world/to-be-franc-after-10-years-the-euro-has-failed-to-make-its-mark-20120101-1ph5x.html.
_ Today is the day of Václav Havel's funeral. To mark this occasion I have been reading his remarkable "Letter to Dr Gustáv Husák, General Secretary of the Czechoslovak Communist Party". This is dated 8th April 1975, shortly before Husák assumed the presidency of Czechoslovakia. He held this post until 1989. His successor was Václav Havel. This is a remarkable turn of events given that the Husák regime imprisoned Havel for his political beliefs.
In his letter of 1975, Havel makes a number of fascinating comments about history.(1) For Havel, "true" or "real" history is chaotic. It comprises a whole series of unique, unrepeatable events. It follows, therefore, that only a truly vibrant society – "a society that is really alive" – is capable of appreciating and generating true / real history.
The antithesis of this authentic history is what Havel calls "pseudo-history", the author of which is "not the life of society, but an official planner." These apparatchiks substitute "the disquieting dimension of history" with a remorseless succession of "non-events": stilted, stifling and repetitive anniversaries, celebrations, parades, congresses. These are used by governments to maintain the pretence that "history is moving". The result is that,
thanks to this substitution for history, we are able to review everything that is happening in society,
past and future, by simply glancing at the calendar. And the notoriously familiar character of the
recurrent rituals makes such information quite as adequate as if we had been present at the
This raises a slightly tricky dilemma, however. Václav Havel is likely to be commemorated by a phalanx of "recurrent rituals", including anniversaries, celebrations and perhaps even the occasional congress or two. Maybe his birthday – 5 October – will become "Václav Havel Day". But wouldn't it be awful if this became just another "non-event" in the commemorative calendar? Surely the worst possible way of remembering Havel would be to enlist him to the cause of pseudo-history; to trap him in all the "trappings of state"?(2)
With this in mind, any incipient "Václav Havel Day" must be a madcap mix of "the continuous and the changing, the regular and the random, the foreseen and the unexpected". It should be a moment of radical reflection – as much about the present and future as about the past. A true "Václav Havel Day" would be an occasion to bring our societies to account in all sorts of innovative and satirical ways. Put simply: to create true history. This would safeguard us from falling into a nostalgic yearning for a pseudo-past and succumbing to the dead hand of pseudo-history.
Václav Havel is sadly no longer alive. It is up to us to ensure that he goes on living in the realm of true history.
(1) The following quotations are derived from Václav Havel's "Letter to Dr Gustáv Husák, General Secretary of the Czechoslovak Communist Party", pp. 3-35 in Living in Truth (Jan Vladislav, ed.) (London: Faber & Faber, 1989).
(2) Stuart Hughes, "Vaclav Havel funeral: World leaders pay respects", BBC News, 23/12/2011, accessed, 23/12/2011 at, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-16304858.
Cut Croc (or) Lacerated Lacoste
__Earlier this month it was announced that a series of London-based museums would be renewing their £10m sponsorship deals with BP.(1) These initials - BP - are derived from "British Petroleum", the name the company adopted in 1954.
Some people feel that it is inappropriate for institutions like Tate or the British Museum to accept money from an oil company responsible for such environmental disasters as the Sea Gem oil rig collapse (1965), the Texas City Refinery explosion (2005) and the Deepwater Horizon well explosion in the Gulf of Mexico (2010).
However, as the firm is keen to stress, BP means "Beyond Petroleum". Associating itself with art and culture is therefore good for business.
But is it good for society?
Recipients of financial support - be it in the form of public grants or private sponsorship - need to guard against undue influence or censorship. A cautionary tale is provided by this year's Lacoste Prize at the Musée de l'Elysée in Lausanne, Switzerland. Despite claims to the contrary, it appears that pressure from the sponsor has led to the cancellation of the award.(2) This seems to have been triggered by the Jerusalem-born artist Larissa Sansour and her artwork, Nation Estate (2011-12). Inspired by Palestine's bid for nation status at the UN, Sansour has opted to imagine a dystopian vision of a future world in which the
Palestinians have their state in the form of a single skyscraper: the Nation Estate.
Surrounded by a concrete wall, this colossal hi-rise houses the entire Palestinian
population - finally living the high life. Each city has its own floor: Jerusalem, third floor;
Ramallah, fourth floor. Intercity trips previously marred by checkpoints are now made
Aiming for a sense of belonging, the lobby of each floor re-enacts iconic squares and
landmarks - elevator doors on the Jerusalem floor opening onto a full-scale
Dome of the Rock. Built outside the actual city of Jerusalem, the building also has
views of the original golden dome from the top floors.(3)
Executives at Lacoste felt that all this was a far cry from the competition's theme of happiness ("joie de vivre"). Lacoste's sweet little "green crocodile logo" was clearly about to lose its cheeky grin.(4) So the company sought to close the elevator doors on Larissa Sansour's Nation Estate.
If this was their intention, then the opposite has transpired. I would never have heard of Larissa Sansour or her thought-provoking sci-fi skyscraper without the helpful intervention of Lacoste.
So perhaps private sponsorship isn't such a bad thing after all?
(1) Mark Brown, "Galleries renew £10m BP deal despite environmental protests", Guardian, 19/12/2012, accessed 22/12/2012 at, http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2011/dec/19/galleries-renew-bp-deal-protests.
(2) "Lacoste Prize cancelled amid censorship row", BBC News, 22/12/2012, accessed 22/12/2012 at, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-16299688.
(3) "Nation Estate", accessed 22/12/2012 at, http://www.larissasansour.com/nation_estate.html.
(4) "Lacoste logo", accessed 22/12/2012 at, http://www.famouslogos.us/lacoste-logo.
__"Revolt... steps out of living within the lie... [and] is an attempt to live within the truth...
"When I speak of living within the truth, I naturally do not have in mind only products of conceptual thought, such as a protest or a letter written by a group of intellectuals. It can be any means by which a person or a group revolts against manipulation".
Václav Havel (1936-2011), The Power of the Powerless, 1985
18 April 1926 - 3 December 2011
_ I am a child of Thatcher’s Britain. As such, one of my earliest political memories was a television interview between Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Diana Gould, a teacher from Gloucestershire. The exchange concerned the highly controversial sinking of the ship, General Belgrano. This occurred during the war between Great Britain and Argentina regarding the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas). Transcripts of the interview are available online, as is the actual television footage.(1)
Gould was motivated by a belief that the Belgrano had been in international waters and on a bearing that took it away from the Falklands at the time it was torpedoed by the British submarine, Conqueror with the loss of 323 lives. She felt, moreover, that this action occurred at a time when a peaceful resolution of the conflict was still possible. Gould presented these arguments in a lucid, forceful manner which clearly rattled Thatcher.(2)
Diana Gould died a few days ago at the age of 85. Whatever one’s politics, she deserves to be remembered for the courage she demonstrated in standing up to the Iron Lady. I find this as inspirational today as I did as a ten year old schoolboy. We need more Diana Goulds: everyday heroes and heroines who refuse to be cowed into silence by overbearing politicians and gutter-snipe journalists.
And remembering Diana Gould obliges us to recall the jingoism of the Falklands campaign. This was encapsulated in a single word: "Gotcha!"(3) That was the infamous headline used by The Sun newspaper on 4th May 1982 to announce the sinking of the Belgrano. Dennis Potter's characterisation of Rupert Murdoch as a cancer in British society finds irrefutable proof in those six letters.(4)
Let us hope that future generations opt to celebrate the humble heroism of Diana Gould (1926-2011) rather than choosing to wallow in the belligerence of Margaret Thatcher and the malevolence of Rupert Murdoch.
(1) See, for example, "Diana Gould", accessed 09/12/2011 at, http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Diana_Gould.
(2) "Diana Gould" (obituary), The Telegraph, 09/12/2011, accessed 09/12/2011 at, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/8944544/Diana-Gould.html.
(3) Roy Greenslade, "A new Britain, a new kind of newspaper", The Guardian, 25/02/2002, accessed 09/12/2011 at, http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2002/feb/25/pressandpublishing.falklands.
(4) See my first ever blog posting, "Dennis Potter and Rupert", 19/07/2011 available at, http://www.stuartburch.com/1/post/2011/07/dennis-potter-and-rupert.html.
Para, jämsides med.
En annan sort.
Bevingaren, 1980: 90
Even a parasite like me should be permitted to feed at the banquet of knowledge
I once posted comments as Bevingaren at guardian.co.uk
Note All parasitoids are parasites, but not all parasites are parasitoids
Parasitoid "A parasite that always ultimately destroys its host" (Oxford English Dictionary)
I live off you
And you live off me
And the whole world
Lives off everybody
See we gotta be exploited
By somebody, by somebody, by somebody
<I live off you>
Germ Free Adolescents
is a short step.
The word is
now a virus.
key words: architecture | archive | art | commemoration | design | ethics | framing | freedom of speech | heritage | heroes and villains | history | illicit trade | landscape | media | memorial | memory | museum | music | nordic | nottingham trent university | parasite | politics | science fiction | shockmolt | statue | stuart burch | tourism | words |