Archive for April, 2007

Hazel O’Connor & Cambridge Rock Festival

April 30, 2007

I notice from the 25th of April edition of Hunts Post that my good friend Hazel O’Connor is in the line-up for the final day of The Cambridge Rock Festival, which takes place between August the 16th and 19th at Wood Green Animal Shelters in Godmanchester. 

As a majority of the artists booked are not exactly to my taste, I’ll be giving that particular gig a miss, but I do recommend Hazel to anyone who might be going.

And, of course,  if she is ever playing a venue near you at any time, I suggest popping along to see her. She’s, in my opinion, terribly underrated and deserves more recognition than she has ever had.     


Siobhán Kilfeather (1957-2007)

April 28, 2007

I every so often find it awe-inspiring just how exceptionally brave people can be when faced certain death. Each time I hear, or read, of someone going about their daily business in a matter-of-fact way, I ask myself how they do it. Why don’t they go to pieces?   What got me thinking about this today was my reading of the Guardian obituary  of the academic Siobhán Kilfeather, who died of cancer at the age of  49 on April the 7th. According to the writer Claire Wills, an academic colleague and friend, not long before she died, Killfeather said that one of the things “she was surprised to find herself regretting was that she might not get to find out what happened to Harry Potter”.  Wills writes:

Such oblique and funny asides were characteristic of her. It was not so much about the waste of time reading the first six volumes, but her intense engagement with plot. Narrative was fundamental to her worldview. She was fascinated by the way that the formal requirements of plot and storyline both ground us in a particular past – for her a past rooted in Catholic Ireland – and at the same time create the tensions and possibilities for unknown futures.

It’s something of a testament to the resilience of the human spirit that she could at that time entertain not thoughts so seemingly frivolous but any thoughts other that of the self-pitying “why me?” variety.  

Clive James’s Cultural Amnesia.

April 27, 2007

William Deresiewicz has written a long and perceptive review of Clive James’s* Cultural Amnesia** in yesterday’s issue of The Nation.
It’s, for very good and obvious reasons, headed Café Society, but, bearing in mind that it is written for an American readers, many of whom will not be familiar with Mr. James’s writing , I believe it could just as easily, and as usefully, be called Introducing Clive James.
If you consider these paragraphs lifted more or less at random from the piece, I think you’ll see what I mean:
His imagined reader is a young intellectual making his or her start in culture the way the author himself did half a century ago, and James offers a steady stream of advice on how to go about the business of self-education: must-reads and how-tos, anecdotes and exemplars. One of his highest terms of praise is “he figured it out for himself.”
In James’s cosmology, the university is the infernal (and infertile) counterpart to the paradise of the cafe. Humanism means interconnection, and the cafe gives that interconnection social form. Academia necessitates specialization and incessantly discourages intellectual breadth (now more than ever, no matter how much lip service is paid to “interdisciplinarity”)
Cultural Amnesia is an extended defense of literary journalism as occupying not only an honorable place within the hierarchy of cultural discourse but the supreme one. For journalism demands both simplicity and compression, and compression makes language glow. James’s stylistic models are writers like Altenberg, who could “pour a whole view of life, a few cupfuls at a time, into the briefest of paragraphs.” His highest hero, “the voice behind the [book’s] voices” (and one of several exceptions to his rule of writing only about twentieth-century figures), is Tacitus. It was Tacitus who wrote the sentence out of which the entire volume grew: “They make a desert and they call it peace.” James heard the line quoted as a young man and “saw straight away that a written sentence could sound like a spoken one, but have much more in it.”

*see blogroll on the right.   

**subtitled Notes in the Margin of my Time for the UK and Australian market and Necessary Memories from History and the Arts for the U.S market 

A slightly ammended version of this appears Midnight Voices section of the Pete Atkin website

Where’s evidence that Wi-Fi is safe?

April 27, 2007

Today’s Sky News report that teachers are calling for a full scientific investigation into wireless computer systems, following reports of electromagnetic radiation among staff and students, is quite worrying in lots of ways.  

One of the biggest worries is that there does not appear to be any hard evidence that Wi-Fi is actually safe to use. The teachers are not attempting to question the evidence; they are asking for a scientific investigation to be carried out. In my naivety, I had always thought that the introduction of such technology was done after exhaustive studies into what effect of it might be. But, it appears not. I imagine that the problem nowadays is that anybody asking whether or not a piece of equipment that you can buy over the counter is safe to use would be seen as a Luddite who is intent on holding up the march of progress.

Fuel consumption in the U.S.

April 27, 2007

As the U.S edges itself closer towards paying $4 a gallon for fuel, Andrew Leonard,  in an essay written for today’s Salon, says that recent reports coming from researchers at U.C. Davis’ Institute of Transportation Studies say that drivers are no longer “adjusting their driving habits in response to the rising cost of fuel”. Information coming from the Department of Energy show that American drivers are driving more. 

Leonard wonders why this is the case. The last time prices rose, drivers cut back on the driving they did. Not this time, it appears. He is not wholly convinced the Davis researchers explanations – that more  people live in the suburbs and driving farther than they did 20 years ago and increased fuel efficency – fully accounts for this. As far as he can see, the increased fuel efficiency would, to some extent, offset the increase in milage.

He thinks that there has been major psychological shift. 

Could this be a case of the oil shock that cried wolf? The oil shocks of the late ’70s coincided with the mainstream debut of the environmental movement. The two phenomena sent messages to the general public that reinforced each other. Conservation: good for the world and good for your pocketbook.

But what happened next? Oil companies desperate to break the stranglehold of OPEC spent billions of dollars developing new sources of supply and the price of a barrel of crude went on a sustained decline. At the same time, the environmental movement quickly became a toxic political football. The messages sent by these phenomena reinforced an entirely different conclusion. First, there was no real reason to worry about fossil fuel shortages, since the magic of the price mechanism would fix any such problem, just as it did in the 1980s; and second, conservation was something only business-hating hippie left-wingers cared about. What a relief! Not only is buying an F350 a sound investment, but patriotic, also!

Now that, it seems to me, is a pretty plausable explanation of what’s happening and why it’s happening.

Don’t tell them; show them.

April 26, 2007

This diary entry was filed under the heading You Don’t Say by Washington based journalist and blogger Graham Meyer:  

From Clive James’s essay “Blood on the Borders,”* about crime fiction, in the April 9 New Yorker:

Camillieri can do a character’s whole backstory in half a paragraph, and only rarely do you get that giveaway trade trick by which one character tells another what he already knows, so that you can find out. “You know what he’s like,” says A to B about C, and then proceeds to tell B what C is like, as if B didn’t already know.From Don DeLillo’s* short story “Still-Life,” in the same issue:

“There’s nothing to discuss right now. He needs to stay away from things, including discussions.”


“You know Keith.”

“I’ve always admired that about him. He gives the impression there’s something deeper to him than hiking and skiing, or playing cards. But what?”

This entry was posted on Wednesday, April 25th, 2007 at 4:12 pm and is filed under Readings. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

* Blood on the Borders
** Don DeLillo

Succinct and very much to the point, I’d say.

Jack Nicholson turned 70.

April 25, 2007

I forgot to note it at the time, but The Observer’s film critic Philip French paid tribute to Jack Nicholson, whom he called “the greatest American movie actor since Cagney, Bogart and Stewart” on the occasion of his having turned 70. 

There is no doubt about it he has greatness stamped all over him. There are at least five Nicholson performances that I find endlessly fascinating. Two of my own personal are the one he gives in as Robert Eroica “BobbyDupea in Bob Rafelson’s Five Easy Pieces,  as near-perfect performance as it is possible to give and the one he gives in  The King of Marvin Gardens, which is to me is one of those wonderfully selfless performance that we have now forgotten he can give give.

A great actor who may very well have something more to give.

Robert Hughes on the art market.

April 25, 2007

There is a fascinating, if somewhat too brief, interview  given today by the art critic Robert Hughes  today John Stoehr, art critic with the Savannah Morning News

Hughes: ..There are certain areas in which America is extraordinary, mainly its museums. For 30 years, the center of the arts world was New York City. I don’t believe that now.… There’s no question that New York is the center of the art market, but I wouldn’t go any further than that.

Since I’m not a collector and not terribly interested in the world of the art market, I’ve never reported on the art market. It has always struck me as a vulgar activity. There’s no glamour in it for me. What matters to me is the food on the table.

SMN: So is the center of the art world elsewhere, like London?

Hughes: There’s no particular place anymore. Artists happen to be rather scattered about. When I first came to New York, I thought I was coming to a place like Paris in the 1920s, a place buzzing with fascinating ideas. This was not actually true. It was booming, but often with a bunch of rubbish. Conceptual art, which was vogue then, couldn’t be more boring.

SMN: What is the value of art criticism?

Hughes: Art criticism is valuable to the extent that it is good writing. Most criticism isn’t good writing, but merely the production of words. There are some art critics today who I enjoy reading. Michael Kimmelman (art critic for the New York Times) is one. Either art criticism is good writing or it’s not. As for the famed power of the art critic, forget about it. It’s long gone. It was rendered irrelevant by the art market. The people with the greatest influence on the art market are dealers and auctioneers, not critics.

It good to be reminded that the centre of being the  art market is probably  not necessarily the place where the best art or artists are found.  

Peter Rippon 1937 – 2007

April 13, 2007

This is how my local paper, Coventry Telegraph, has reported the death of the first tutor I had when I joined the Open University as a mature undergraduate. 

Teacher who turned author dies, aged 70

Apr 13 2007

By Cara Simpson

AN AUTHOR and retired Coventry schoolmaster has died, aged 70 – sadly, before completing his fourth novel. Peter Rippon* taught English literature and was head of general studies at King Henry VIII** school, Warwick Road, for 33 years.

He wrote three novels when he retired and was working on a fourth book, The House of Sache, loosely based on the great-great-grandfather of his wife Angela.

Mr Rippon died in Myton Hospice, Warwick, on April 2, after a nine-year battle against prostate cancer.

King Henry VIII’s head of English Sheila Woolf paid tribute to Mr Rippon – who lived in Milverton,
Leamington – and said he had been an extremely popular teacher. 

“He made an enormous contribution to the school and was an extremely clever man. He was one of those people who was interested in everything, made students interested in things they never thought they would be interested in, and was held in immense affection by all those he taught, especially the sixth-formers.”

The first draft of his unfinished work tells the tale of a man who started life as a tinsmith from Berlin and married into French aristocracy.

His widow, Angela, aged 64, said: “He was always writing in the study in the morning and afternoon and always had ideas for stories. He was a loyal husband and very supportive.

“Even though he was academic, he was open-minded and didn’t look down on people.

“He was very resilient, determined and had a lack of self-pity. He didn’t let the illness get him down.”

The music lover’s first novel, The River Crossing, was published in 1998 and told the fictional tale of a
Leamington woman who went on an adventure and disappeared without a trace in 1882 until her diary materialised in the 1990s.

When it was published, Mr Rippon, who was fluent in five languages, told the Coventry Telegraph he had always wanted to write and penned his first story when he was 24 years old.

He later went on to publish two further novels, Shadow in Sunlight and Italian Caprice.Mr Rippon was born in Birmingham, read modern languages and English at Queens’ College,Cambridge, and travelled throughout Europe, spending two years teaching at a Swedish university, where he met his wife, and a year in France.In the 1980s he studied for an M.Phil in French ideas and T S Eliot at Warwick University and became a part-time tutor for the Open University.

Mr Rippon also leaves three children, Guy, aged 31, Polly, 33, and Edward, 29.

Daughter Polly, who lives in Sheffield, said: “He was a loving dad and will be missed by a lot of people. He was good-humoured and always had a good story to tell. He loved food and drink and was good fun until the end.”

A service and cremation will be held at 2.15pm next Thursday, at Oakley Wood Crematorium, Bishop’s Tachbrook, near Leamington.Donations can be made to Myton Hamlet Hospice care of John Taylor Funeral Care, 1-3 Russell Terrace, Leamington, CV31 1EZ.

My own recollections are that Peter, whom I knew for little over a year in the early eighties, was a kind, generous and patient fellow, with a wry, if somewhat pedagogic sense of humour.

Most of the stories he told me were stories that did not necessarily reflect well on him. Once when I was struggling to finish a piece of work, he told me this little tale to make me feel better. The thesis he wrote on T.S. Eliot was supervised by eminent Eliot scholar Bernard Bergonzi, who had, he told me than a few of the eccentricities the prejudiced mind associates with an academic.

After proudly reporting to Bergonzi , as he had to do regularly, that after a week hard slog had had produced 5 or 6 hundred more words towards his thesis, he would ask Bergonzi, by way of making some small-talk, how he was getting along with a piece he was doing on another aspect of Eliot’s poetic output.  ‘Oh, I knocked out about 20 thousand words’ would come the reply’ ‘But I had to scrap 10 thousand – not very good you know’.  After that’ Peter would say, somewhat ruefully ‘I just felt felt that I’d done no worked at all’.

I suspect that the story was apocryphal and Peter’s way of telling me not to feel that bad when my progress was slow – it was that way for everyone at some time or other.

A good teacher and a nice man whom I now wish I’d got to know better.


*Peter three novels were The River Crossing (Minerva, 1998), Shadow in Sunlight (Blackie & Co Publishers Ltd, 2002) and Italian Caprice (Pen Press Publishers Ltd, 2005)

**King Henry VIII School is part of the of Coventry School Foundation. Past pupils include the neurobiologist Colin Blakemore , the theatre director and writer Bob Carlton and the poet Philip Larkin.

Everybody lies under duress?

April 11, 2007

John Naughton, by way of commenting on the fact that we are expected to believe that British military personnel captured by the Iranians lied to their captors under duress while we still hold on to the belief that the people being held by the Americans will tell the truth under duress, has made this  thoughtful entry into his online diary. 

There are strong moral arguments against torture. But there is also a very good pragmatic argument against it, namely that people will say anything — anything — to stop the torture. Ergo, you cannot believe anything they tell you under such circumstances.

No matter what anybody says, the Bushs and Blairs of this world will go on insisting that that they are better at getting at the truth than the “bad guys”, whoever they may be.