Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Derek Walcott by Clive James.

May 22, 2009

Over the last couple of weeks, the poetry-loving public has been exposed to the a rather ugly campaign in which the favourite for the post of Oxford Professor of Poetry, the West Indian poet, Derek Walcott, was forced to drop out of the race because of a vicious whispering campaign against him. Supporters of Walcott’s female opponent, and the person eventually elected to the post, Ruth Padel, are accused of anonymously spreading rumours about a twenty-year-old allegation of sexual harassment. The whispering campaign culminated in the circulation of a dossier accusing Walcott of being a sex pest.

 Click here to listen to Clive James – in a podcast for The Guardian – talk of his admiration of Walcott’s work, and read a poem he wrote in tribute.

Stuff no longer posted to the Pete Atkin Web Forum.

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Hazel O’Connor – Coventry’s Walk of Fame.

May 18, 2009

A little while ago I mentioned that three people I greatly admired were to be honoured by the City of Coventry by having their names added to the city’s walk of fame. One was my good friend Hazel O’Connor.

Hazel o'connor star

Hazel O'Connor - Coventry's Walk of Fame plaque. Unveiled 16/05/2009

On Saturday the 16th, Hazel was in the city just long enough to see her star unveiled in Walk of Fame.

 Hazel, who was also celebrating her 54th birthday on Saturday, said: “I ran away from Coventry when I was 16, not because it was Coventry, but because I was a wild, crazy, hippy chick!

“I’ve travelled the world but always come back to Coventry because it’s my roots and the people have such good spirit.”

Informal photograph taken at unveiling ceremony.

Informal photograph taken at unveiling ceremony.

Philip Larkin on John Coltraine.

May 18, 2009

For reasons which may become clearer later in the week, I have been reacquainging myself with some of  Philip Larkin’s prose and poetry. I’m not certain why it is, but every time I come upon a piece of his prose, I delightfully surprised all over again by how good it is.

Well, I still can’t imagine how anyone can listen to a Coltrane record for pleasure. That reedy, catarrhal tone, sawing backwards and forwards for ten minutes between a couple of chords and producing ‘violent barrages of notes not mathematically related to the underlying rhythmic pulse, and not swinging in the traditional sense of the term’ (Encyclopedia of Jazz in the Sixties); that insolent egotism, leading to forty-five minute versions of ‘My Favourite Things’ until, at any rate in Britain, the audience walked out, no doubt wondering why they had ever walked in; that latter day religiosity, exemplified in turgid suites such as ‘A Love Supreme’ and ‘Ascension’ that set up pretension as a way of life; that wilful, hideous distortion of tone that offered squeals, squeaks, Bronx cheers and throttled slate-pencil noises for serious consideration.” (Philip Larkin, ‘Looking Back At Coltrane’ in “All What Jazz: A Record Diary 1960-1971″)

The reader does not necessarily have to agree with Larkin to take pleasure in reading this. It’s prose writing of the highest order.

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.

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.

Julie London’s class.

May 7, 2009
BBC 4’s Legends series has been a very useful, if only because, on occasion,  it reintroduces the viewer to a popular artist whose artistary has, for some reason, been forgotten. Tuesday night’s  night’s programme, Julie London – The Lady’s Not a  Vamp, although not the most imaginatively titled or the most  revealing or searching of programmes, did remand at least one viewer of just how good London at her very best could be.

There has always been a problem with saying that one took her singing seriously. It was that everybody knew – of thought they knew – that what one was really taking seriously was the vocal sexiness that was married  to a body that men desired. The truth is that those that while those attributes counted in the short run, they counted less than people thought in the long run. In the long run, and this is the only run that counts, she had the kind of delivery, eschewing, as it did, the dramatics that tempted many of her contemporaries, that could hold the listener in thrall for hours, not because of how it sounded but because of what it sounded.

Her voice was at its very best when accompanied by a small group of musicians. It’s risky for a popular singer to be wholly dependent of on the voice alone, but London, despite her proclaimed – and seemingly ever present – lack confidence in her own vocal talent, took that risk , and the result for the listener was usually breathtaking.

Her vocal style has been described as being sultry, sexy, “come-hither”, intimate, breathy, warm, smoky, haunting, husky, sullen, sad, suggestive and seductive. It was all those things and more.

Small earthquake reported…

May 4, 2009

This snippet from The Guardian’s Media Monkey’s Diary caught my eye and fancy.

Monkey’s headline of the week comes from the Boston Globe: “Small earthquake barely rattles New Hampshire”. Tell Monkey more! “Katie Robinson, who lives in a neighbourhood above the epicentre of the small earthquake, said: ‘I didn’t feel anything.'”.

The Globe has got its troubles , but one of them is not thinking any event is unworthy of its attention. 

Small Earthquake Barely Rattles N.H.