Archive for May, 2009

What £25m can get you.

May 14, 2009

According to today’s Yahoo News, a mere £25m can get you whole village of your own.

Entire village sold for £25m

Entire VillageAn entire village, including a cricket club has been sold for around £25 million.

Linkenholt, near Andover in Hampshire, is in an area of outstanding natural beauty and had a guide price of between £22 to £25 million.

Tim Sherston from estate agents Jackson-Stops & Staff in Newbury said the village has been sold subject to contract and the deal is now with solicitors.

“I cannot give any more information than that because we have agreed complete confidentiality,” he explained.

The village was sold by the Herbert and Peter Blagrave Charitable Trust.

Also included in the sale are 22 cottages and houses, a village shop, a blacksmiths, a commercial shoot, 1,500 acres of farmland and 450 acres of woodland.

The only thing in the village that does not belong to the charity and so is not up for sale is the 12th-century St Peter’s Church.

The trust held a meeting with villagers to outline its plans earlier this year and the close-knit community of around 40 has said it is keen to see the village stay the same.

Tenants will be able to remain in their homes after the sale.

It’s  a pity the church is not up for sale.  It’s so picturesque.

St Peter's Church

St Peter's Church

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Bringing culture to the White House?

May 13, 2009

If you wondered or not the White House was a better – and more civilized – place since the Obamas took up residence, then a peek at yesterday’s entry in the This Week With Obama blog may help you make up your mind.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Obamas Hosted a Poetry Jam (Pictures)

Yes at the White House. I will post the video when it is available. Change has really come, for real. And if you have not attended one, DO SO, it is that good.

Even on weeknights, the White House is a party house. The Obamas hosted a star-studded poetry jam Tuesday night that President Obama said was meant to “celebrate the power of words.” Michelle, meanwhile, told guests to “enjoy, have fun, and be loose.” Several writers of various backgrounds performed, including James Earl Jones and Mayda del Valle. Director Spike Lee, ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos, and even veep Joe Biden were spotted in the crowd, enjoying music from bassist Eric Lewis and singer Esperanza Spalding. “Our goal really is to bring the house alive,’’ White House social secretary Desiree Rogers said. Since Inauguration Day, the Obamas have hosted Sheryl Crow, Stevie Wonder, Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas, and Paul Muldoon, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet from Ireland

The signs are good, are they not? The whiff of phoniness that occasionally surrounded the Kennedys pretentions at holding the cultural high ground cannot be detected here. Or can it?

Teaching Shakespeare to the young.

May 12, 2009

I suppose that there was always something of an inevitability about it, but it is still disappointing to note that many schools have taken the government’s decision to drop SATs at key stage 3 as a signal that they can abandon the teaching of Shakespeare the 7 to 9 age group altogether.

The haste with some schools are dropping the study of Shakespeare, just because a familiarity with his work is no longer expected as part of a test has been reported, as part of an investigation of how performing companies who helped school introduce Shakespeare to key stage 3 pupils are fairing now that tests have been removed, by Chris Arnot in today’s edition of The Guardian.

One state school has apparently sold off its year 9 Romeo and Juliet texts to a nearby independent school because they “won’t need them any more”.

Apocryphal or not, that story sums up what Ian McNeilly of the National Association for the Teaching of English calls the “short-sightedness” of schools and local authorities who are “so geared to league tables that any activity that doesn’t provide measurable results immediately moves down their priorities”. Hence the sharp decline in CPD (Continuing Personal Development ed.)  courses for teachers and visits to schools by theatre professionals. No sooner had the government announced last October that testing would no longer be compulsory at year 9 than phones began to ring at the RSC Royal Shakespeare Company). Around 50% of its Inset (in-school education training) and CPD courses at Stratford-on-Avon and London’s Roundhouse were cancelled.

Those of us who believe SATs should be got rid wanted this because we believed that teaching for SATs alone, which is what many teachers were being forced to do, was wrong. When we saw the key stage 3 SATs being abandoned, we believed that schools and teachers were bein freed up to be more creative in the way they approached the teaching, not being given a licence to abandon a subject altogether. Ah, how naive can we be?

Royal Shakespeare Company

The City & Capitalism.

May 12, 2009

Seth Freedman, author of Binge Trading:The Real Inside Story of Cash, Cocaine and Corruption in the City, has written a rather good article  for today’s edition The Guardian in which he reminds us that the current preoccupation we have with blaming just the City for the financial crisis that has so crippled us ” is utterly unhelpful, and is simply an easy way for the public to ignore its ­collective ­culpability for the financial crisis”.

For all its faults, the City is ­essentially a manifestation of today’s culture, reflecting, and reacting to, the society that it is a part of. Those working in the stockmarket are not genetically programmed to dispense with morals and ethics in their pursuit of ill-gotten gains. Rather, they are products of a society that uses money to rank individuals in terms of success and status. It is ­inevitable that young, ambitious ­graduates will gravitate to an arena where they believe cash rains down like manna from heaven……………….

..The City does not exist in a vacuum; the stockmarket is the heart of a capitalist society, pumping blood around the system. And until capitalism is rejected by the world at large, to attempt to control it is useless: regulation only encourages more potent strains to spring up.

So long as money still trumps morals in society’s eyes, it is futile to protest about those who profit from swine flu by short-selling travel shares. Those frowning now at such activities will be smiling again in a few years when the boom times return. Underneath these short-term ups and downs, the corrosive nature of capitalism’s core still needs to be addressed before any fundamental and far-reaching change can ever occur.

Here we have the dilemma stated baldly and well. I wonder whether or not those who have considered the fall of Communism as a the victory of Capitalism – and there are many who do – can now bring themselves to consider the “corrosive nature of capitalism’s core” might be, let alone address it.

Clive James on teaching poetry.

May 11, 2009

During last Friday’s edition of A Point of View, (BBC Radio 4) Clive James, who was talking about what the new Poet Laureate  Carol Ann Duffy, means to us,  at one point turned his thoughts to the  subject of teaching poetry and how it should and should not be done. He acknowledged that there was a time he thought that poetry couldn’t – indeed, shouldn’t – be taught in schools.

That was until he recollected that in his youth he and his contemporaries “were made to memorise a poem or we couldn’t go home.” He readily conceded that though he personally benefitted from it,  this was far from being an ideal way of teaching or being taught.

…the best way, surely, is for the teachers to read out one of the phrases that drew them into a particular poem in the first place. Every good poem has at least one of them, the phrase that makes your mind stand on end.

I heard one of these yesterday, on a marvellous website called Poetry Archive, a creation for which Andrew Motion was partly responsible. On Poetry Archive you can hear the famous poets read out what they wrote. One of the poets is Richard Wilbur, the American poet who helped, fifty years ago, to do for me what Fanthorpe did for Duffy – provide an example. The Wilbur phrase that caught me this time, and took me back to when I was first under his spell, came from a little poem about mayflies. He visualises millions of them rising and sinking in the light, and he calls them “the tiny pistons of a bright machine”.

I was knocked out, and I couldn’t imagine anyone hearing that and not wanting to know more about Richard Wilbur. When they look him up, they will find that he was a soldier throughout the last campaigns of WWII from Cassino onwards, but when he came back from the slaughterhouse he hardly ever wrote about it. He preferred to write about mayflies.

For anyone who has read thus far, and has remained sufficiently engaged, here is Mayflies by Richard Wilbur read by the poet onThe Poetry Archive.

My own realization that poetic language did not have to be high-flown or unlike the language I spoke in everyday life came not from reading the school approved texts of poets by poets whose experience I could not, for the most part, fathom, so remote were they from my own, but from my first hearing, and then committing to memory these lines from The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot.

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,

The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes

Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,

Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,

Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,

Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,

And seeing that it was a soft October night,

Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

It has taken me years to figure out what the whole poem might be about, but throughout those years I have been convinced that any poem in which what the fog does – or on occasion appears to do –  is described in such a way had to have more gems to yield.

Far more people in motor service than in motor manufacture.

May 10, 2009

Richard Northedge, in his column for today’s edition of  The Independent on Sunday, puts together some facts and figures about the UK motor industry that I guessed at but could not say I knew for certain until now.

The myth is that carmakers are major manufacturers. That was why ministers battled last week to rescue jobs at LDV, Jaguar, Land Rover and Vauxhall. But that fact is the motor sector is a service industry: far more people sell and service cars than make them.

Ford employs 13,000 people making engines and vehicles – but 22,000 in its dealerships. Vauxhall, the UK subsidiary of the troubled General Motors, employs 5,500 people producing Astras at Ellesmere Port and vans at Luton; it supports another 7,000 people at supplier companies, but there are 23,000 jobs at dealers.

The industry’s trade body, the Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders, claims the sector employs more than 800,000 people but only 180,000 in manufacturing, with another 106,000 making components. That leaves more than half a million people in showrooms, service bays and elsewhere.

The people who work in the manufacturing side – my side – of the industry will probably find these figures a tad disturbing. They like to thing that their numbers count when the plead to be treated as a special cases.

Lord Danzi and the “Challenge Prize”

May 10, 2009

Two weeks ago, Health Minister Lord Darzi announced the ‘Challenge Prize’ scheme as a way of ‘ encouraging innovation’ within the NHS after setting aside £20million to pay for the promotion.

The Department of Health has said  that the scheme is designed to encourage breakthroughs in treating the most serious health problems which cost the NHS billions each year – including cancer, obesity, dementia and the effects of ageing.

The Observer‘s management editor Simon Caulkin, who for a long has argued that suggestion schemes of this kind  are not very effective in improving systems or institutions that need overhauling,

In his column today,  he makes a strong case against Lord Danzi’s contention  that “everyone to be thinking about innovation ….will drive improvement.”

To see what an awesome instrument a simple suggestion can be in the right hands, consider this. Toyota’s Japanese plants generate an astonishing 600,000 improvement suggestions a year. Equally astonishing, almost all are implemented, and none is paid for. Improvement in this scheme of things isn’t separate from the job; it is part of it. In this sense, honed by a constant stream of improvements, Toyota’s standard operating procedures stand as the embodiment of its organisational learning, accumulated over many years. Ability to harness the motivation of front-line employees is a large part of its competitive edge.

Composer Muriel Herbert 1897-1984. Post 2.

May 9, 2009

Claire Tomalin’s essay in the Review pages of today’ edition of The Guardian is a fragmented memoir to her mother, Muriel Herbert, and an account of the part she an others played in getting her mother’s songs released  on CD – Songs of Muriel Herbert –  decades after her death  

But sometimes I think that if I could switch back time to 1925, years before my own birth, I would say to her: turn away from the clever young Frenchman who is going to propose to you. Have nothing to do with him, do not even think of marrying him. Remain a single woman, devote yourself entirely to your art. Because you have a gift, priceless and fragile, which risks being crushed by marriage, by children, by the distraction and trouble they bring. Too late, again.

“There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall wrote the 50s critic and writer Cyril Connolly.  I accept that Tomlain has little enough to tell us about her mother,  but I suggest that there is enough in what she does tell us to for us  to conclude that the pram in the hall was not as great an enemy as the daughter seems to think it was.    

Saving Jaguar Land Rover.

May 8, 2009

As my retirement draws nearer, I have settled on the idea that I will  end  my life career in the automotive industry. It is altogether unlikely that if I lose my job at the age of 63, either through redundancy of through being  being retired early, I’ll find an employer willing to take me on for the three or four more years I wish to work.

So it goes somewhat against the grain to admit that I think that George  Monbiot may have a point when he says, asd he does in his Comment is Free column for The Guardian today, that Peter Mandleson and his Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform department is doing the public no service by offering £800m in emergency refinancing to the Indian firm Tata to support its  British subsidiary, Jaguar Land Rover..

Monbiot, who is already fierce critic of the BERR, believing it to be a fifth column within government that works mostly for corporations and business and against the public interest, contends that money to be spent on the Jaguar Land Rover could in fact do a lot more good elsewhere.

The government refuses to renationalise the railways, but it appears to be nationalising the motor industry. It has already laid out £2.3bn in loans and guarantees, a further £300m for its cash-for-clunkers scheme, and £27m to help Land Rover build a new model. The £2.3bn, Peter Mandelson says, is “effectively the same as underwriting the entire vehicle sector’s research and development and capital expenditure for a year”. Now Mandelson intends, more or less, to run Jaguar Land Rover. This puts the British government in the odd position of nationalising a foreign-owned company.

None of these bold moves have been accompanied by public consultation or consent. The government has entertained no discussion of how else the money might have been guaranteed or spent. Yet just about every conceivable alternative would have moved more passengers, employed more workers and cut more carbon for the same expenditure.

Safe bicycle lanes, buses that connect with trains and carry bicycles, “on-demand” taxi-bus and bell-bus services, trains we can afford to use, a dedicated motorway coach network, properly funded programmes to get children to walk to school – all of these would have created great opportunities for employment while building our long-awaited low-carbon transport network.

In all conscience, I cannot say that I disagree with what Monbiot says. I’d like to think that if Jaguar Land Rover did get the money it’s now expecting the organisation would begin developing products that will benefit of benifit to society, but I fear that it won’t.

Greer says farewell to The South Bank Show.

May 7, 2009

Writing in The Guardian today, Germaine Greer, says farewell The South Bank Show which after more than thirty years as “ITV flagship arts programme” will end when its mainstay producer and presenter, Melvyn Bragg, retires as arts controller in June next year. However, she is quite rightly happy about the fact that its rich archives remains  Britain and will be available for years to come.

The South Bank Show “chat-and-talent” formula worked better than it really had to, treading a fine line between the esoteric and the popular, discussing elite culture cheekily and popular culture in a serious way. The captain who guided it through the rapids was the sagacious Lord Bragg, who would rather be remembered as the novelist Melvyn Bragg. It is not often that you have to deal with an executive producer who is also an artist and knows what creativity feels like (and how hard it is).

The South Bank Show archive will be essential viewing for anyone aiming to give an account of the cultural cross-currents of the late 20th century – essential, if hardly sufficient. Its successors are the current generation of arts magazine shows, grabs at important subjects, presented by celebrities, shot upside down and backwards, with competing soundtracks, arts journalism as art itself, processed for a public with a three-minute attention span. By now the Bragg recipe for high culture mixed with low is de rigueur. Very few people can tell the difference and most of them are wrong.

Let’s hope that her optimism is not misplaced and that those archives, which are as essential as she says, do remain in this country and the country has the good sense to value them at their true worth.