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Life as we know it

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“Conservatives are not necessarily stupid, but most stupid people are conservatives.”

John Stuart Mill

I have manfully resisted (with but a few exceptions) making any commentary on the grim farce that is being played out in the old country in the matter of the leaving (or otherwise) of the European Union. The reasons for my reticence will – I feel sure – be obvious to many. Quite aside from any other consideration it is hard in the extreme to know what one could possibly write about this farrago (which quandary does not, sadly, seem to stop many of the more rabid online commentators).

If it weren’t all so damnably serious it would be quite good fun watching the Tory party twisting in the breeze as they try to hold together the fractious coalition of extremists of all hues that is their core constituency. Unfortunately the matter is serious – and thus no fun at all.

Yesterday’s ‘deal’ – which will apparently enable negotiations to move on to the next phase (trade talks) in the long, long process – was such an extraordinary piece of work, however, that my breath was quite taken away. I cannot decide whether it is a work of utter genius or just more stupid than can possibly be imagined. Without going too far into the nuts and bolts of the whole ghastly business, much of the recent debate has concerned the impossibility of maintaining a soft (ie – no controls) boarder post-Brexit between Northern Ireland (part of the UK) and the Republic of Ireland (very much a member of the EU). The rebarbative Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of Northern Ireland  (who are currently keeping the Tories in power as a result of a desperately poor post-election decision by the PM) scuppered the first attempt at an agreement on the very reasonable grounds that they didn’t want a ‘boarder’ between themselves and the UK either.

The essential paradox at the heart of the ‘interesting‘ compromise that was eventually agreed was summed up by online commentator, Andrew80, thus:

“That agreement in plain text:

  1. We’re leaving the EU single market and the customs union.
  2. There will be no hard border between NI and Ireland.
  3. To avoid that, we’ll come up with something clever.
  4. Failing that, we will stay in the single market and the customs union.”

The devil is – as ever – in the detail and the detail here will be decided at a later stage in the process… or not! This classic fudge – essentially kicking the can as far down the road as is possible – seems to have achieved the impossible and united all shades in… in what no-one quite seems to know! According to a range of commentators of all complexions the agreement is a vindication of their position. Others – again of all hues – are apoplectic with rage at this ‘betrayal’.

I guess that for Theresa May this counts as a ‘result‘!

You literally could not make this stuff up…

 

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Image by Andrew Thomas on WikimediaI could not resist sharing with the gentle reader this extract from a longer opinion piece concerning public offence – by Tim Dowling of The Guardian. In my view Tim absolutely nails it!

This snippet goes under the banner “In-flight entertainment“:

 

“Which brings me to the giant penis in the sky. If you know about it at all, you will have seen the image online at the weekend: a huge penile outline – with testicles – drawn using the condensation trail of a US military aircraft. About 2,500 people from Okanogan county in Washington state had a brief opportunity to be offended by it, although I can’t find any accounts of actual outrage – and one has to assume the locals are the source of all those gleefully retweeted pics.

I will admit that my first reaction to the image was: skill. I think all trainee pilots should be able to trace a passable penis in the sky before they graduate. The US navy thought different: it apologised for “this irresponsible and immature act”, and grounded the air crew of the E/A-18 Growler responsible. But I have to say that this is my kind of public offence: immature, irresponsible and absolutely massive. If there’s a better use of the $67m fighter jet, I can’t think of it.”

Too true…

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My post of yesterday concerning the poignant death of Gord Downie was necessarily brief – because:

– the occasion was just too sad and I could not find words to adequately express the sense of loss…

– because in many ways there is little more to be said…

– because there is much more to be said but there are many considerably more qualified (and way more eloquent) than I to say it…

Canadians doubtless need read no further but for others – particularly those across the ocean in Europe – I sense that it may be important to add something more for the benefit of those wondering what on earth all the fuss is about.

I posted this missive on the occasion of the Tragically Hip’s farewell concert last summer, which might give the puzzled reader some insight into why it is that the premature but expected death of a rock singer has so traumatised a nation. That it has indeed done so may be confirmed by watching Canada’s premier – Justin Trudeau – failing to hold back the tears as he pays tribute on national television. “It hurts”, he says. “We are less as a country without Gord Downie in it”.

Given the almost total lack of interest in the Tragically Hip outside Canada this may seem somewhat over the top. All I can suggest is that the gentle reader spends ten or fifteen minutes reading some of the many tributes to Downie, in order to gain just some insight into why he was so loved and respected. For example,

‘The place of honor that Mr. Downie occupies in Canada’s national imagination has no parallel in the United States. Imagine Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Michael Stipe combined into one sensitive, oblique poet-philosopher, and you’re getting close. The Tragically Hip’s music “helped us understand each other, while capturing the complexity and vastness of the place we call home,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement on Wednesday. “Our identity and culture are richer because of his music, which was always raw and honest — like Gord himself.”’

As Vozick-Levison suggests, Downie was much more than just a singer. He was a writer – a poet – an occasional actor – a philanthropist – an activist on behalf of indigenous peoples and much, much more…

Above all, perhaps, he was a Canadian.

 

 

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Gord Downie

 

1964 – 2017

 

 

Photo by Andy Dawson Reid

 

“First thing we’d climb a tree and maybe then we’d talk,
Or sit silently and listen to our thoughts
With illusions of someday casting a golden light
No dress rehearsal, this is our life”

 

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There is something completely magical about the way that fungi live patiently in one’s lawn – in the shape of millions of spores just waiting for the perfect conditions in which to thrive – before suddenly bursting forth for the purposes of reproduction. They have a relatively narrow window in which to do so once the air turns cooler and the moisture levels rise, before the first frosts persuade them once again to keep their heads well down for the duration.

Persistent little buggers, aren’t they!

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson Reid

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“At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas of which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other, but it is “not done” to say it… Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the high-brow periodicals.”

George Orwell

I found myself quite taken aback the other night whilst watching the season opener for the new series of ‘Saturday Night Live’ on the TV. The item concerned was actually pretty funny; a skit featuring actor Ryan Gosling delivering a rant about the designer of the credits on James Cameron’s film ‘Avatar‘ having chosen the font ‘Papyrus’ for the main titles.

I was surprised because I had not heard that this was ‘a thing’ – (or what would now probably be referred to a ‘meme’). The InterWebNet rapidly set me right – informing me that Papyrus is one of the most hated fonts ever and offering me a panoply of websites dedicated to pejorative references to its usage. The level of loathing was well up to usual InterWebNet standards, comparing the antipathy toward the typeface to that of ‘Comic Sans’ (though I did find it amusing that some wag had apparently merged the two to create what was briefly called ‘Comic Papyrus’ before being renamed for legal reasons to ‘Comic Parchment’. Blimey!).

Now – let’s sort out issues of self-interest right away. I use Papyrus in the banner for this site and have also used it in other places for titles. I like the font and I think that – in the right place – it works pretty well. So there!

Clearly at least some of the antipathy is simply down to popularity. Microsoft inadvertently created a monster by including the relatively obscure font with their Office suite, thus giving access to those who had no right to such things. Popularity seems to bring out the worst in some people and when Microsoft is involved it is clearly open season.

Certainly a case could be made concerning over (or inappropriate) use, but I suspect that something else is going on here. On one design website an article going by the title ‘10 Iconic Fonts and Why You Should Never Use Them’ includes the following:

“Unlike other reviled typefaces, though, Papyrus isn’t bad because it is overused: it’s bad because it just doesn’t look good. Kitschy, cheap and vile, Papyrus has no place in your designs.”

Ok – so those judgements are subjective in the extreme and the designer who wrote the article is an eighteen year-old entrepreneur, but do I detect a slight whiff of professional snobbery here?

Now – I spent forty years as an IT professional and it was certainly annoying when someone who had bought a computer from a store and read a couple of magazines believed that they knew better than I how to run an IT service – but the world has changed and the gap between the professional and the ‘amateur’ is no longer as wide as it used to be. Yes – I studied Computer Science and built a career in IT; I also spent more than four decades learning without formal training how to be a musician, a composer, a writer, a theatre practitioner… and in each of these I was aided by the rapid development of tools that placed in the hands of those who cared to put in the time and effort the means to reach a pretty decent standard.

The point surely is that – counter to some recent views to the contrary – ‘experts’ are a good thing… but that their expertise should be based on wisdom and such wisdom is usually acquired through (extensive) experience. Once achieved such doyens will doubtless be wise enough to recognise when some spotty youth armed with an iThing has actually produced something that they themselves could only dream of.

Flame off!

 

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Image from Pixabay…to those who receive the latest utterances from this source by email.

I was as surprised as you may have been that yesterday’s episode came bundled with the last nine postings also in tow. Sorry about that.

I don’t know for sure why that happened. There was a change to the blog during the week – in that I followed Google’s exhortation (never a good idea!) to make the site more secure by forcing the use of https instead of http. Now – that’s all techie stuff which I will reluctantly explain – if you really want me to…

Thought not!

Anyway – that change may have encouraged the mail plugin that I use to re-send the last batch of messages (thinking that the postings had changed). I guess we will find out when we see what happens to this one.

Apologies in advance should you get another unwanted batch of ten!

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Detail from a portrait by Jenny C HallI find myself moved to an unexpected degree by the recent death of that giant of the British theatre – Sir Peter Hall – at the age of 86.

It is a fact of life I suppose that, once one enters one’s autumnal years, the deaths of those with whom one is familiar – whether actually close or not – will have a cumulative and increasing impact. There have been losses over the past few years amongst that small group whom I personally hold to be ‘heroes’ which have been hard to take. Inevitably that number is only going to increase.

Peter Hall was not – for me – directly among that coterie. I am slightly ashamed to admit that I saw few of his many productions and – with rare exceptions – they do not feature in my personal canon of influential experiences. This is not in any way to denigrate the value of his vision, talent or achievement; in such matters opportunity and circumstance set us all on our own particular paths.

It is impossible, however, not to be overwhelmed by his impact and influence on British and international theatre during the post-war years. Consider:

  • he introduced London audiences to the work of Samuel Beckett in 1955 with the UK premiere of ‘Waiting for Godot’ when he was only 24.
  • in 1960, at the age of 29, he founded the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford, which he ran triumphantly until 1968.
  • he became the director of the National Theatre in 1973 and oversaw its protracted, painful but ultimately successful transfer from the Old Vic into its permanent complex on the South Bank in London.
  • he built an international reputation in theatre, opera, on TV and in film.
  • he was the founding director of the Rose Theatre in Kingston in 2003.
  • he was – throughout his career – a vociferous champion of public funding for the arts.

The news of Sir Peter’s death stirs a couple of thoughts and memories.

The National Theatre’s new home was opened in 1976 with a production of Howard Brenton’s ‘Weapons of Happiness‘ in the only one of the three theatre spaces then operational. I see from the InterWebNet that it ran for 41 performances – at one of which I was present. I marveled at the still unfinished building and at the wonderful standard of the production. The National was to become a most important venue for me – I have seen many productions there over the years; done the backstage tour more than once; participated in youth theatre workshops in its rehearsal rooms… and met the Girl for our first proper date in the bar outside the Lyttelton Theatre.

I am also a fan of the Rose in Kingston. Having been at school in Kingston and subsequently involved with youth theatre in the surrounding area, I was only to keenly aware of the lack of a theatre of any sort in what is an important centre to the south of London. I am delighted that the Rose now so splendidly fills that gap.

One sadness regarding Sir Peter’s last years was his diagnosis with dementia in 2011. Having observed my mother’s decline over her final years it must have been particularly poignant to witness such an intellect brought so low for so long.

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Image from Wikimedia Commons“We have wasted History like a bunch of drunks shooting dice back in the men’s crapper of the local bar.”

Charles Bukowski

I watched again the other night Cambridge University Professor David Reynolds’ fascinating documentary for the BBC on Winston Churchill’s long struggle during 1942 and 1943 to promote his preferred campaign in North Africa – and thence up through Italy and the Mediterranean islands to attack what he called ‘Hitler’s soft under-belly’ – in the face of constant and increasing pressure from the Americans and the Russians to open a second front on the European mainland by effecting a landing in France.

Professor Reynolds provides an excellent summary of the reasons for Churchill’s resistance, long beyond the point at which it must have been clear to him that the Overlord landings were not only inevitable but – in the face of the Soviet advances in Eastern Europe – increasingly vital should the British hope for any say in the shaping of post-war Europe.

Under political pressure in the UK as a result of the military disasters of 1941 and 1942 – the which had led to two votes of confidence in parliament – Churchill (and the country) was greatly in need of a victory. With his understandable fear of another catastrophic stalemate in the fields of France and the low countries (or of an attempted landing ending in disaster) having its roots in his experiences of the first war, Churchill took the view that any such success was more likely to be found in Africa than on the European mainland.

Churchill’s thinking was further informed by considerations that were of little consequence to the Americans or the Russians – those of empire. He saw maintaining control of the Mediterranean and of Egypt as vital to the continuance of British interests in India and in the colonies to the east. Professor Reynold’s documentary (along with Max Hastings 2010 book on Churchill’s war, the which I also read of late) brought home to me anew Churchill’s growing realisation – during the closing years of the war – that Britain’s position in the world order had been diminished irrevocably by the need to rely on intervention by the American and Soviet superpowers to save Europe. Even so, his sentimental attachment to the notion of a ‘special relationship’ with the US prevented him from recognising that the price to be paid for this salvation would be the ultimate surrender of the British empire.

The Second World War and the half century (and more) of world-wide chaos that followed have been so widely documented and discussed that it is difficult to reconcile what we now know and understand of the period – and of the vast change in Britain’s place in the world – with some of the shrill voices that are to be heard from Britannia in these troubled times. It is difficult enough to observe the resurgence of nationalism across a continent that has good cause to fear exactly that, without also having to listen to those voices that seem almost to be calling for a return to the mythical days of yore.

As Churchill knew all too well in his twilight years – those days are long, long gone!

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Photo by Andy Dawson ReidWishing a very happy one hundred and fiftieth birthday to (colonial) Canada – whilst recognising that the indigenous peoples of what is now the Canadian nation have a cultural history here of well in excess of three thousand years.

In any case – in the midst of the madness that seems to exemplify much of the modern world it is indisputable that the majority of Canadians offer a most welcome breath of sanity and that – whilst not perfect (nobody is!) – Canada is clearly doing something pretty right.

Hard to argue with Bono (later echoed by Barack Obama) that:

The world needs more Canada

Happy Birthday!

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