Monday, 31 October 2011

Words and Phrases that Annoy Me

Why do we meet with people nowadays, when we used to just meet them? I've tried replacing 'meet with' with 'meet' and 99 times out of 100 the 'with' is redundant.

On the other hand, people debate someone quite often these days when they should have a debate with someone about something, in my view.

I know I shouldn't let these things irritate me, but there's only so much deep breathing you can do on any one day.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Language and Art

Thanks to a kind relative, I was given a pass to the Frieze Art Fair, where I listened to some interesting talks, including one about the predominance of English in the art world, which ended by speculating that possibly Chinese would soon take over (a suggestion echoed by Charles Moore in the 15 October issue of the Spectator.  He says this: 'But if, as one keeps expecting to happen any day, the Chinese decide to make blatant their struggle for world domination, surely an obvious tactic would be to try to make life harder for English. The French have failed in this, but they lack the numbers. Drawing on their hundreds of millions and their growing strength in trade, the Chinese could edge the world away from English. If they did so, they would disable most of their western competitors. Anglophone monoglotism - even more extreme in the United States than in Britain - is a symptom of laziness of the top dog, so surely it cannot last much longer.'

I'm not convinced that the power of English is actually fuelled by English native speakers and their laziness. I think its domination is probably due partly to the fact that it is relatively less difficult than other foreign languages for Romance language speakers and Germanic language speakers, because it shares some of their vocabulary, and partly to history, which, via the British Empire, led to English becoming the second language in India, for example. Time will tell who is right.

After going to the Frieze Art Fair and looking at the stuff on display, as opposed to listening to the excellent talks, I was struck by this description of somebody in Edward St Aubyn's new book At Last : 'he collected hideous contemporary art with the haphazard credulity of a man who has friends in the art world.'

Friday, 28 October 2011

Words and Phrases that Make Me Think of Pseuds Corner

I don't know why but whenever I come across the word 'shard' or its plural, I hear a distant alarm bell, and see in my mind's eye a sign that says, 'There be pretentions here'. Perhaps it's unfair, but the word does seem to exercise a peculiar magnetism for writers teetering on the edge of ravines in which thickets of purple prose are lurking (sorry, that in itself tended a bit to the purple - it's so easy to slip into. In fact before I descend further, I'm going to pick up my few remaining shards of language and slope off. Goodbye).

PS via Will Self, whose article, (which, the reader learns at the end, can be read in a longer form elsewhere - although why anyone would want to put themselves through any more of the harrowing stuff, I don't know; the article is one of the few cases I've come across where a writer's brave decision to be 'unflinching' might possibly have been revised to allow him to be just a bit - or even quite a lot - more flinching), I discovered thanks to Frank Wilson, I learn that London is about to come into possession of its own sparkling shard. Is this an indication of the city's now terminal decadence or just a sign that my prejudice is completely out of step with the times?

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Signs of the Times

One of my daughters says that she finds a lot of the graphic design in Budapest somehow depressing. I can see how she might - much of it is left over from the 50s, I think, and there is an oddly grim austerity about it.

All the same, I'm perversely fond of it and will be sad when every trace of it has disappeared, as it will inevitably - along with the many funny little businesses that look as though they have no right to exist in the sleek 21st century:

(Actually I think this blue and red one may be a newly put-up attempt at being 'retro' so possibly someone has picked up the idea that foreigners like me actually find the stuff appealing)

I think this one is probably post-1989, but it's still rather more bluntly explicit than anything you'd find in Canberra:

On the other hand, maybe I could say goodbye to Communist-era signs, if it meant getting rid of the ridiculous floor protectors country museums still insist, out of a spirit of Socialist bloody-mindedness, that visitors have to tie on over their shoes:

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Battered Penguins XIIa

My father's final address was a flat numbered XIIa. It took me a long time to realise what it was disguising, but by then it was too late and he was gone.

Anyway, this is my third attempt at Graham Greene. I read Brighton Rock decades ago and hated every minute of it; I read May We Borrow Your Husband, which I thought nasty; and now I've read this collection of four stories, which I actually quite enjoyed.

The first of the stories is really a novella, dealing with the memories of a man who, having received a pessimistic medical prognosis, returns to the place he spent a lot of time in as a child. There he recalls a very vivid dream, which the reader comes to believe may not have been a dream, although it must have been really. In the dream, he lives for a time under the ground with a very peculiar old man who makes him read ancient newspapers out loud to him - "'But the paper's nearly fifty years old,' I said. 'There's no news in it.' 'News is news however old it is ... News keeps. And it comes round again when you least expect. Like thunder'" - and his wife, who doesn't speak, but quacks instead.

The next story is fairly brief, the account of an encounter between a wine merchant and a writer whose lack of belief is, he maintains, 'a final proof that the Church is right and the faith is true.' It contains the interesting assertion that 'One does not feel alone abroad' and a description of someone who has 'skin wrinkled like a stale apple.' In the early part of the story, a schoolteacher responds to a pupil's question about the beliefs of an author by saying, 'A novel is made up of words and characters. Are the words well chosen and do the characters live? All the rest belongs to literary gossip.'

The third story tells of a doctor who refuses to bend the rules for a lonely patient who, in entreating him, says rather movingly, 'if a man is alone in the world he grows to love his habits'. After the patient leaves, the doctor finds his house requisitioned by the army and turned into an illegal casino. His approach to dealing with this is to 'sit on the bed and read a little Schopenhauer to soothe himself.' Peculiarly, the motif of crunching an apple is repeated during the course of the short narrative, although I don't know to what purpose.

The final story is a piece of dystopian fiction that contains some beautiful images and is full of insight about leadership.

Greene's prose is very bare. It seems to me to lack warmth, although I feel that in writing that, without supplying close textual analysis to support my claim, I am straying into rather sloppy arguing. The rare female figures who appear in the volume are described without any sense of sympathetic recognition, and I suspect it is that that may be what I find difficult about Greene. I don't usually subscribe to the idea that works of art can be particularly female or male, but his writing does somehow strike me as coming from an exceptionally masculine perspective. Again, I am aware that I should cite chapter and verse to back my assertion up, and, if really pressed, I suppose I might try to do so in the comments.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Cultural Highlights

In the demented frenzy of the provincial visitor, I went to as many plays and films as I could while in London. I saw Playboy of the Western World at the Old Vic, a theatre I'm very fond of. I'd read the play at university but never quite got the point of it. I'm not sure I still do, although at least I now understand that it's an extremely black comedy - I'm ashamed to say that I didn't entirely pick up the joke back then. It had some good lines, my two favourites being  a) when one character admonishes another for 'shaking the fat of my heart' and b) when another, (a creature entirely without passion, in fact), describes his fate as to be 'simmering in passion until the end of time'. Also-rans were, 'It's true mankind's the devil when your head's astray', and 'There's a great gap between a gallant story and a dirty deed'. The play was performed with gusto, although I'm not sure the lead boy was perfectly cast.

I also went to The Tempest at the Haymarket, because it is my favourite of Shakespeare's plays and also the first play I remember seeing in a theatre - we were taken from school in the late sixties to the then dazzlingly new Chichester Theatre to see a wonderful production.

I pity any schoolchildren who have been introduced to the theatre or to Shakespeare by the production I saw on this occasion though. Ralph Fiennes played Prospero as if he were Caliban, mixed with Coriolanus, in which part I'd seen him on film the night before, Ariel was played as if he were a gabbling drag queen who'd taken Lyn Barber's mother's elocution classes (see note below) - only his 'You are three men of sin' speech had any resonance and that was largely due to the fact that it was amplified by loudspeakers, which is not my idea of good acting.

Miranda was like something out of the kind of play that you might see at a school where Gussie Fink-Nottle gives out prizes. She managed to stress every line badly, her hands held stiff by her side, jabbing down to emphasise each phrase, her whole body bent forward stiffly as if the words were being forced out like squirts of toothpaste. 'What brave new world that has such people in it', she blurted, looking round, with a little giggle and then grinning inanely as she shifted from foot to foot. Oddly, the comic scenes, which are usually a little pathetic, were the best bits of the production. I think the fact that, in a performance of the play that contains some of Shakespeare's greatest poetry, the bits of nonsense about drunken sidekicks stood out probably demonstrates just how dire the evening was.

The costumes appeared to have been dredged from a very ancient dressing-up box, and for some reason Prospero's cloak seemed to have been constructed from those American Indian dream-catcher things that hippy shops sometimes sell. Most of the cast gave the impression that they considered it miraculous enough that they'd managed to memorise their lines without prompting and that to expect them to acknowledge the extraordinary poetry of the play was really too much to ask. Depressingly, the audience, mostly foreigners, agreed with this assessment, rewarding Fiennes and his cohorts with a quite undeserved standing ovation at the end.

What I wished was that Lydia Rose Bewley, who I saw at the Jermyn Street Theatre, (which I love), had played Miranda. She was playing the part of a young girl in a revival of a 1950s play called Riverline and she had that rare magic quality that allows a performer to light up a theatre. The dilemma is that she is not a slim woman and I am torn between thinking that it is most unfair that she will probably miss out on parts because of her weight, when she is so clearly a really marvellous actress, and recognising that, good though she is, my first reaction, and that of other people I overheard talking at interval was, 'Isn't that girl rather fat?' As soon as she opened her mouth she completely transcended that impression, but the trouble is that current fashion is against the meaty and all for the thin.

(This is from Lynn Barber's memoir, An Education and mirrors exactly the kind of performance Ariel provided: "For elocution competitions and exams, it wasn't enough just to recite a poem - all the words had to be accompanied by gestures. Thus, references to moonlight, sunlight, stars or any form of weather involved looking upwards; references to storms, rain, frost, involved pulling an imaginary shawl round one's shoulders and blowing on one's nails. (Does anyone, in real life, ever blow on their nails? I have never seen it.) Weeping or even mild regret meant wiping one's eyes with the back of one's hand; laughing meant much shaking of the shoulders, a la Edward Heath. Elves and fairies always started their speeches in a crouching position and then leapt up, spun round, and dashed madly across the stage with arms outstretches. Skipping was sometimes required. Searching for anything or even just looking necessitated a hand above the eyebrows shielding the eyes, accompanied by a pointing gesture.'"

Sunday, 23 October 2011


You don't have to spend long in Hungary to learn that Trianon is a national obsession, together with the map of Hungary as it once was. Today, the anniversary of the start of the 1956 revolution, I came upon a Jobbik demonstration. Jobbik is an extreme rightwing party with all the usual unpleasant attributes.

To distinguish themselves from the hoy palloy they dress entirely in black, which is, to say the least, threatening.  A few of them go for frogged woolen jackets, high black boots and jodhpurs, while the rest content themselves with Doc Martins into which they tuck their trousers, teaming these with black jackets that bear slogans like 'For a more beautiful future', or maps of Hungary before Trianon:

 Few Jobbik members look like the sharpest pins in the box. On the other hand, they do like pins:

 Those little black crosses have 'Trianon' written on them.
 The shields up the top have 'Erdely' written on them, which is the Hungarian word for 'Transylvania'.

As well as pins, beer was also available. It was a kind I haven't seen before: it had the old map, coloured in with the Hungarian flag, on its label and it was selling very well indeed. It was a beer that was intended exclusively for Hungarians, so, of course, I didn't buy a bottle:
They were also flogging keyrings that I thought were rather pretty, but, sadly, I knew I couldn't have one. I may be conservative, but I'm not quite ready to go around carrying the insignia of the equivalent of the National Front.

(I should point out that Jobbik's was not the only demonstration in Budapest today. There was also a larger - although also far from enormous - anti-Orban demonstration on the Elizabeth Bridge, coming at things from the other end of politics. All in all, despite the szomoru vasarnap kind of weather, it was cheering to see what a far cry it was from 23 October, 1956, when it came to freedom of expression today.)

The Power of Making at the V & A

While in London I went to see The Power of Making, a Crafts Council exhibition at the V&A. According to the publicity material, the exhibition 'celebrates the role of making in our lives by presenting an eclectic collection of over 100 exquisitely crafted objects.'

This description led me to expect a room full of finely handcrafted examples of work by extraordinarily skilled traditional craftsmen. While there was a very beautiful saddle and a section of drystone wall included among the things on display, on the whole I was disappointed.

The exhibition organisers appear to have been aiming to present crafts as trendy and 'cutting edge', rather than as a link to the past and to the wisdom of our predecessors. In accordance with this goal, the only hand embroidery allowed to appear in the exhibition is an example that includes swear words; the one piece of lace is in the form of a G-string;  of the two patchwork quilts, one is made from lengths of documentaries about feminism, while the other- which appears at first glance to be a more traditional kind of thing - has, for unfathomable reasons, been equipped with tilt-sensing wiring.

Many of the other exhibits are the products of technology rather than crafts skill: for instance, there is a dress that is made from a substance called 'Fabrican', which comes, as its name suggests, in a spraycan and which you use to create clothing by spraying it at yourself. There is also a jumper hanging in a case, which has blobs in it that were once holes; these have been mended not by darning but by something called 'Woolfiller', which is applied to a fabric and has microscales that grab onto existing fibres to somehow grow patches.

Of course, aesthetically, traditional crafts do often leave a great deal wanting, as the exhibition shows when it does occasionally let pure dexterity slip in. The cake that is included - in the shape of a very realistic baby - and the blindingly finely wrought but utterly kitsch examples of nail decoration demonstrate this clearly. The three-times man height figure of a gorilla made out of metal coat hangers that greets the visitor at the entrance is far more engaging. The trouble is it is hard to see in what way it represents craft. Similarly, the dress made of leather and covered in thousands and thousands of steel pins is a wonder to behold but, since its label declares that it cannot be worn and is in fact a sculpture, it is hard to understand where it fits in the context of craft.

I suppose it all depends on how 'crafts' are defined. For me and, judging by the comments on the Crafts Council's own site from the public, for many people, the word conjures up the idea of objects that are not sculptures or art objects but are either decorative or functional and whose manufacture involves slowly accrued skill of the kind that involves the uniquely human attribute of superb coordination of hand and eye. At least half the objects in The Power of Making exhibition do not fit this definition since they are, according to their information labels made almost exclusively with technological input rather than fine motor skill.  An object that is made using only 'mechanical engineering, electronic engineering, computer science and materials engineering' or 'mechatronics, injection moulding, machining, wiring, assembly and software programming' is not a crafts object, in my eyes. Nor is a shoe that is made by 'vacuum casting, spray painting, metal and plastic turning and circuit programming' or a lampshade made by 'selective laser sintering, rapid prototyping and stereolithography'. As for how a model of a dissected frog made from Lego can be said to be promoting contemporary craft, (the stated mission of the Crafts Council), that is anybody's guess really.

I suppose I of all people ought not to have been surprised by this exhibition though. After all, when I worked at the Crafts Council many years ago, the revelation that I liked hand-sewing patchworks was met with fairly universal recoil and disgust. 'Ugh, I hate doing things with my hands', was the response of one senior officer at the time. Clearly, not much has changed.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Cheer Up

If you ever feel that your life is a little dull, remember, you could be spending it working for this mob:

You can't fault their brass maintenance though, can you?

Kindred Spirit

Last week the Spectator asked its readers to make up a poem expressing their distaste about something usually considered beautiful. To my delight, one of the entrants shares my views about Gaudi:

Friday, 21 October 2011

Battered Penguins XII

I first discovered Edmund Crispin when my brother left one of his Gervase Fen books behind at our house. Although theoretically detective novels, these books have absolutely nothing in common with the dark, gory tales that are modish today. Instead, the reader finds himself in a slightly PG Wodehouse-esque world, where murder happens, but, rather than being something nasty, it is really just the pretext for taking the reader on an amusing stroll.

In Buried for Pleasure the stroll we are taken on takes place in a village called Sanford Angelorum, where Gervase Fen is trying to drum up votes so that he can become an MP. Until Chapter 8 there is not actually even a hint of murder. Instead, Crispin, with the conspiratorial tone of a friend with whom you are sharing sweets at the back of a school classroom, creates an amusing little world, in which the barmaid is dogged by a devoted pig, a lunatic with a fetish for gloves and a belief that he is Woodrow Wilson is on the loose and the landlord of the pub, in his attempts to renovate the place, is progressively demolishing the whole building.

An idea of Crispin's tone can be gleaned from his description of the neighbouring town - 'Sanford Morvel looked as if it were trying to be a gracious, peaceful country town and failing very badly' - and its hall, 'which ...was of that kind peculiar to the English genius, whose heating is defective, whose lights illuminate only those parts which do not require illumination, whose windows are worked by an agglomeration of screws, rods, and cog-wheels of which the motive power, a detachable handle, seems perennially to be mislaid - a hall, in brief, which the architect had designed to accommodate itself to almost any social activity from church bazaars to The Mikado and which, in consequence, accommodates itself to none.'

The book would almost certainly be condemned by those people who are setting up the alternative highbrow Booker prize, but it made me laugh quite often and gave me a couple of hours undemanding pleasure. That was more than good enough for me.

A Kind of Genius

To be a court reporter must require a certain kind of genius. How else could one go on, day after day, producing banalities such as this one from an article on the Queen's current trip to Australia: 

"Brilliant spring sunshine flooded the room during the Queen's meeting with Ms Gillard, perhaps prompting the monarch's opening remark: 'It's a beautiful morning again.'"

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Once More Unto the Breach

Despite being excoriated by various of his fans after last writing about Adam Curtis, I cannot resist returning to the subject. This is because I realised, when I went to his completely sold-out talk at the Frieze Art Fair last week, that he commands a large and unquestioning audience. This is a worry, for he needs to be questioned a great deal.

Curtis began his talk by stating that we all think that we live in a non-hierarchical world. He then explained that what he wanted to do was talk about the world outside us, beyond our own individual experience and that of our friends.

'Now we think we know more about our context than ever before', he continued, going on to suggest that that context is only giant scenery made by film makers, journalists and so forth. 'I want to talk about how that world is constructed and how you know if it's true,' he said, 'and what you do if you think you stumble on something you think is wrong - how you crack and break through and remake the scenery.' He said his work is an attempt to take stories that have been constructed in a certain way and pull them apart and say, 'Have you thought about telling the story in this way?'

'I am a journalist,', he told us next, 'I am interested in getting as close to truth as possible.' He described a thing called Jupiter which exists within the BBC and contains all the rushes from which footage is taken for news bulletins over a period of 14 days. He said he loves looking at the stuff that is in Jupiter, as it gives a strong sense of how partial and fragmentary the view we get of what is going on is.

Our news consists of mere fragments plucked from the onrush that comes in from the world, he told us, rather evocatively. To demonstrate what he meant, he screened about three and a half minutes of footage from a 36-minute film of Kim Philby's funeral, of which only 12 seconds was actually used in a news bulletin. 'Playing it long makes it real,' he observed when it had finished.

He then went on to describe some of the programmes he has made, beginning with Pandora's Box, from 1992, in which he said he told the story of how the idea that science could build a better world shifted in the 70s and 80s to a distrust of big science and its unforeseen  consequences. He said that in the early 70s on the BBC there were countless programmes that were attacks on scientists. He stated that government used science for political and social goals. He said the Thatcherists believed that monetarism was a science.

The reception Pandora's Box received - many people believed it was an attack on science, apparently - led Curtis back to thinking about the problem of breaking through the scenery, smashing the template in people's heads to get them to see new stories and arguments. Skipping forward to 2001, with this in mind, he said, he embarked on a project about consumerism, which, he said, had long interested him, because consumerism 'is intimately related to power, but also because I knew that consumerism is in all our minds - not only did we shop but we thought we knew about it, and it was a thing in all our minds. I wanted to find a way of telling it as a history that you pulled back and looked at in relationship to the way politics and the exercise of power have changed in the last 100 years.' The discovery of Edward Bernays, a relative of Freud and 'pioneer of PR', was his way of doing that, allowing him to take consumerism from 'being the thing it is and to put it into a new cradle'.

What that new cradle was, I never clearly understood, but the hand that rocked the cradle appeared to belong to a hippy, or, indeed hippies in general. 'I have a tendency to be really nasty about hippies', Curtis commented in answer to a question at the end of his talk, (this I suspect was an example of what he repeatedly referred to as his habit of being 'larky'), but his contention in his 2001 project was that, far from being  against capitalism, hippies became a central regenerating force of capitalism (and, therefore, presumably, consumerism).

 Footage involving something called the Human Potential Movement and Dr William Coulson and the sad story of a nunnery exposed to his theories, EST sessions and shots of Jerry Rubin as an EST disciple and of his friend, a non-EST disciple, who described the post-EST Rubin as 'socialism in one person' was screened next and after it Curtis asked why everything rebellious and anti-authoritarian is always taken up and used by marketing. His suggested response was that perhaps capitalism is actually about being rebellious and perhaps the phrase 'socialism in one person' perfectly encapsulates the nature of capitalism.

The Power of Nightmares series came next. Curtis explained that he decided to play with imagery and music and humour in this project, in order to try to break through the scenery and break the spell of fear and also so as to throw a brick through a window and get our attention. To illustrate what he meant, he showed us the opening sequence of the first programme. He then went on to detail his work with Punchdrunk Theatre and to show us a clip from an experimental film he made. Annoyingly, I didn't hear him mention All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace at all.

Curtis's concluding minutes were devoted to telling us that we live in an age in which democracy is defined by individual choice but that, since the start of the economic crisis, his impression is that people are becoming aware of the loneliness of individuality. People like stories, he said, 'they're like maps that guide you through the scenery.' Fox News, he claimed, understands this: it tells a story, 'Fox News is fun', he added provocatively. The Tea Party also knows how to tell a story, he went on, a story that goes back to a mythical US past, a fiction.

Curtis said that he believed that journalists need to tell stories about the real world that connect with the way we feel, because we live in a time where we are encouraged to emote. A new way of making journalism is therefore needed in which hardline political reporting that tells you things you don't know will be fused with the emotional force of a novel that you can't wait to return to. He moved on from this to stating that being alternative has become conformist. Nowadays to be different and surprising, he said, you need to show moral values and heroism (although he hastily reassured his audience that he wasn't advocating a return to Christianity, just in case he was about to lose any street cred). Returning to the problems of individualism, he pointed out that when you go with friends into a dark wood it is exciting but when you go alone it is scary. He mentioned in passing that what characterises a lot of television makers is deadpan irony and said that that is not what is required right now.

There was very warm applause at the end, and many questions were asked afterwards, but the questions were fawning rather than searching. No-one asked whether Curtis would like to have a debate about the various propositions he put forward as unarguable (one of the many habits of his that I object to is this one of stating as fact things that are not): 'We all think we live in a non-hierarchical world.' Do we?; 'Now we think we know more about our context than ever.' Is that true?; 'Consumerism is a thing in all our minds.' Is it?

No-one asked in what way exactly the Philby footage made anything more real. For me, it was just voyeuristic - the coffin was open so the dead Philby's face was very clearly visible, until his Russian widow decided to give him a two-minute kiss on the lips (I'm not sure which image I found more distasteful) - baffling and utterly uninformative. It was merely a jumble of pictures. We didn't know who the people we saw were, beyond the two main actors (if you can call Philby's corpse an actor). What was shown did absolutely nothing to resolve the central mystery of Philby's treachery.

No-one asked whether Curtis really, as he seems to imply in The Power of Nightmares, thinks that, had the neo-cons not, as he claims, set out to destroy Kissinger, Brezhnev and Nixon could have worked out a modus operandi that would be better for everyone than what we have today (actually, I did try, but my waving hand was ignored [clearly a conspiracy to stifle dissent, don't you think?])

No-one asked what the hell any of this - "consumerism 'is intimately related to power, but also because I knew that consumerism is in all our minds - not only did we shop but we thought we knew about it, and it was a thing in all our minds. I wanted to find a way of telling it as a history that you pulled back and looked at in relationship to the way politics and the exercise of power have changed in the last 100 years'" - actually meant in plain English.

Most importantly, no-one pinned Curtis down on what exactly he is on about with his advocacy of a new mode of emotionally resonant Fox-style news and no-one challenged him by asking whether it isn't perhaps rather the duty of reporters to ignore the baser desires for titillation and distraction of consumers, in favour of presenting the facts, unadulterated by tabloid style human interest bait.

All in all, Curtis's talk lacked coherence and clarity (rather like his documentaries, in my view). In fact it was so full of waffle that I am finding it hard to write about it succinctly (that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it). His  arguments dissolve in my hands as I try to grapple with them, because, in place of research and facts and closely thought-out argument, what he mainly deals in is manipulation of images. He says he likes to get to the truth, but it seems to me that he prefers to dazzle with tumbling successions of distracting pictures, accompanied by what our Furby used to describe as 'loud sounds'.

The love Curtis expressed for that thing called Jupiter, combined with his idea that seeing more footage of an event will help us understand its reality, is at the heart of where I think he is wrong. Human judgment is at its weakest when dealing with images, which often, despite their vivid nature and apparent authenticity, omit important detail rather than providing a glimpse of the truth. Sadly though, in our increasingly visually obsessed age, this preoccupation with pictures guarantees Curtis an audience and adulation, whereas the dense, ordered, thoughtful work of really clever, learned, scholars who actually know what they're talking about is less exciting and therefore often overlooked.

What makes me worry that Curtis's influence might be not merely irritating but actually dangerous is that the single message that kept threading its way through his apparent ramblings was the suggestion that an abandonment of individualism and an embrace of some kind of new collective social order might be a pretty good thing. What I can't help wondering is whether, beneath his light, 'larky' exterior, Mr Curtis has an agenda. Was the decision to choose Philby's funeral footage to illustrate his views about brevity insignificant or is it possible Mr Curtis was actually paying a secret homage to the man?

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Speaking of Pots

After looking at those lovely ancient pots yesterday, I read the latest issue of the Spectator and came across this very faintly relevant cartoon:


I went to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge the other day. It's completely free (apart from the cost of the plane ticket from Australia, of course) and it is full of treasures. The first things to catch my eye on this visit were these:

Look at the dates. Staring at these objects, I feel that there's almost a direct line back through time between me and an individual who sat quietly somewhere, making them with patient skill. (And don't let's even get started on what's going on in Sudan these days.)

And as for the glass how did it survive at all? By not passing through my butter fingers I suppose.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Knock Knock

I think if it came to the point where I needed to put this sign on my front door, I might consider changing my choice of clothing:

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Qantas Pilots are Adorable

While various of their colleagues cause frustration and inconvenience to passengers, Qantas pilots have chosen another way of taking industrial action. This is how they are doing it:

"The Australian and International Pilots Association (AIPA) is also engaged in a row with Qantas but said it had no immediate plans for strikes.
Its Qantas members continue to hold low-level industrial action, including making short announcements to passengers and wearing non-Qantas ties."

Friday, 14 October 2011

This Explains a Lot

There is a fuss going on about the shortlist for this year's Booker Prize. Supposedly, it is too populist. As a result, it was announced yesterday that a new prize is to be set up, so that books of higher literary value can be recognised. Or, as one of the organisers put it, 'There's nothing wrong with readability, but not all writing sets out to do that. Some writers aspire to something finer':
Now I understand why so much of what I pick up in the bookshop is unreadable - it's all those writers aspiring 'to do something finer.'