Sunday, 25 January 2009

BURNS NIGHT

25 January is the traditional date to commemorate Scottish poet, Robbie Burns(a poet I have always struggled to understand, even when 'translated' into English; because Scotland, I'm afraid to say, is not a place that holds many happy memories for me...).

BUT....

The BBC have roped in no less a personage than HRH The Prince of Wales to read a couple of Burns's poems online. Here's a sample:

'My heart's in the Highlands, my heart is not here,
My heart's in the Highlands, a-chasing the deer;
Chasing the wild-deer, and following the roe,
My heart's in the Highlands, wherever I go.'

Doesn't this ring a bit false? Doesn't it, doesn't it...? For starters, Charles Windsor (or Charles Mountbatten (corruption of the German 'Battenburg' -Saxe-Coburg-Gotha) isn't even Scottish! His grandma, the late 'Queen Mum' was a Scot of sorts, though seems to have spent most of her life in England, supping G and Ts with English Upper Class society. But he is a crypto German with a bit of Danish mixed in...I can understand why his heart's in the Highlands, though - like many of his poor benighted subjects right now, I guess: any dreamland will do to escape the Recession. But I always thought that the great Robbie -(Rabbie?) B himself was a lowlander. Did he not come from Dumfrieshire???

There's nothing new under the sun. We're still 'led' by in this country (or expected to defer to) whimsical fools caught up their own entrails of nostalgia. ('My heart's in the Highlands' indeed - well, f... off there, Sir, give up your Succession, and start paying a few more taxes...!). And the BBC, playing true to its toadying form, commissions a non-Scot Royal to lead the honours...Where's the logic in that? What a load of old Cobblers, as HRH the Duke of Edinburgh (Charles' German-Danish dad) might say...Plus ca change...

Thursday, 15 January 2009

PRINCE ALBERT (OUCH!)

Extraordinary search (research, in fact) for Prince Albert, Consort of Queen Victoria, threw up 2 links - before the one to the Prince himself - to 'Prince Albert (PA)' which turns out to be a 'popular' type of penis piercing. Clicking on the Wikipedia link - quite by accident, I promise, because I made this search in all innocence (I could have been a child researching a history project, for God's sake!) produced some horribly graphic pictures, showing where the ring was to be positioned in both circumcised and fully capped male members. Have we gone completely mad? Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, for all his probable faults (especially as a parent to his eldest son) deserves far better than a third place listing on Google below some sick popular fetish. When I wrote PINCUSHION, the third in a series of psychological chillers (available in BeWrite Books via Amazon et al), I wanted to question the stupid fashion for body piercing, rationalised, very solemnly, for me by a bestudded and pierced anthropologist with whom I taught 'contextual/cultural' studies some years ago at a second-rate art school recently turned into a 'university college'. (This same college, in Cornwall, was funding the final year of her PhD research into fetish clubs in London, and even paid, through the same round of research funding, for the massive tattoo she had done on her sternum; in fact, she took immense gratification from flashing her cleavage at the Principal, remarking that 'he'd paid for it...) I knew, from her research (and photos from The Torture Garden) that genital piercing was quite a fad (so much for originality and personal autonomy..); but calling these penis rings after 'Prince Albert' is new to me - and quite beyond the pale.

Cripes!

Meanwhile, rockets fall on Gaza, children are murdered by their parents, and 500 plus jobs per day, it seems, are being axed in Britain's economic downturn.

We don't live in a perfect world, I know, but these 'Prince Alberts' make no sense at all, and the fact that they are 'mainstream', it seems, evidenced by top billing on Google, only makes fools of us all.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

MAKE DO AND MEND

Watched a 'Style' programme on BBC4, covering the fashions and habits of wartime Britain. Clothes were, necessarily, less ornate, but elegant, nonetheless, and certainly smarter than they are now in our infantile age of tracksuits and trainers. Food was scarcer and frugally used, but healthier and more democratic since even the 'best' restaurants were obliged to offer meals at a government-fixed price, equating the cost of a meal at The Ritz, for instance, with one at a Greasy Spoon in the old East End. There was a sense of danger, the Blitz making every hour an uncertain proposition. So people made an effort to look their best and get on with it. Ostentation and excess were out. You had to make do and mend.

I still have many of my grandma's things from the 1940s, including photo-magazines dramatically capturing The Blitz, and a whole trunk full of clothes patterns. (Such was grandma's skill at making do, I even have a few of her old wartime Clothing Coupons.) When I downsized here from her old house to my tiny one, my biggest regret was leaving her old treadle-operated Singer sewing machine, although I still wear the magnificent sheepskin coat she made on it (after the War) and one or two other pieces untroubled by the moth. Grandma always looked stylish, although her 'look' was probably fixed in the 1930s (and I still have her Twenties silk wedding gown and tennis dresses). She carried on making do and mending long after the War was over, guided by the less-is-more principle and the kind of 'investment' dressing that valued quality above all else. Her clothes were always made of the finest wool or silk or cotton, with the exception of her nylon stockings (after rationing had stopped, of course).

On Monday, on a two-hour break between trains in Reading, I wandered aimlessly around the Sales; but, in spite of the 70 percent reductions (which mean little, really, since most of these things were over-priced in the first place), I saw little of enduring value and certainly nothing to tempt me to do my patriotic bit and spend (how absurd that diktat is!). It was the same in Truro yesterday, which is now making me wonder why I am bothering to 'save myself' for London when I go up again next week. There are more interesting things to be had in many of the charity shops, my current favourite being The Salvation Army one off Regent St, W1. It seems as though we have become so used to an excess of disposable tat (a throwaway consumer society, sacrificing to to the gods of shopping every Sunday), we just can't cope when 'deprived' of unlimited opportunities to spend. God help this country if we were under fire like the people of Gaza. It has now become politically unwise for a Labour Goverment to start issuing austerity measures (though the Tories had no choice during the War), so instead, we get the likes of Peter Mandelson promising to shore up businesses (what businesses., I wonder - not bloody INDUSTRIES, I bet) with taxpayers' money 'to get the economy going'. I object to this. Sure, the Thatcher government did nothing to help the miners and everything to help Britain run down into the stupid, financial services-led economy that has got us into this current mess; but non-intervention can, sometimes, make people more resourceful - happier, even, in their own resourcefulness. As someone living on a fixed income, and recently a semi-invalid, I hated the excess of recent years. I longed for a time of more frugality, reflection, quality, genuine creativity, rather than the celebrity flim-flam kind (a la Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand - you know what I mean). Maybe the hour is coming. So let's make do and mend..

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

STAYCATIONING

It seems that The Collins English Dictionary people have been having a huge lot of fun with new entries for the coming year, examples of which are:

1. Staycation: a holiday at home (or at least not one taken abroad);
2. Recessionista: someone who can't afford a holiday at home OR abroad;
3. Manscaping: grooming a man's body hair (the mind boggles...);
4. Bad-bank: i.e. Northern Rock or other state-supported financial institution (all Icelandic banks perhaps);
5. Credit-crunch: No explanation needed;
6. Brickor mortis: the product of items 4 and 5; and
7. Downturn: we should all know that by now.

Most sobering of all perhaps are:

8. Antisocial networking: posting a negative message about someone on Facebook et al; and
9. Defriending.

I had to defriend someone recently. A woman who I went to school with (in the last century, of course), who I can't really remember as ever being a close friend of mine but who suddenly got in touch with me about ten years ago to announce that she was going to visit me in Cornwall with her new (much younger) husband and baby son. They arrived about 3 hours late with her remarking sniffily: 'Oh, it's small and noisy here, isn't it?'. After listless conversation and the dried up lunch I offered, we all went out into the garden where they proceded to take snaps of each other, but none of me (the long-lost 'friend') or my very photogenic daughter. Nevertheless, the Christmas cards kept coming after this dismal reunion, every year, without remission, and latterly including those dreadful, smug bulletins about what the three of them had been doing. It was like being assaulted by unwanted information; and, as with any unwanted information I might tune into quite involuntarily on the radio or TV (or web), I decided it was time to turn it off, especially since my own, weakly expressed exchange of information (I actually apologised for not sending them a Christmas card this year) met with a pompous and outrageously patronising rebuff about someone as obviously poor as me letting myself into a load of trouble for sending my talented daughter to a top independent school (the point about her scholarship had obviously not been well made), not to mention considering a boarding education for her - particularly insensitive this, since I would never have considered it at all had I not been a lone parent with cancer. Then I got a load of patronising but clearly unsympathetic comments about my cancer treatment. So I defriended. 'Thank you for getting in touch at Christmas, I wrote, 'but I haven't seen you for many years and I think it's fair to say that, at nearly fifty, we have both moved on.' There was a reply, but, true to my defriending principles, I declined to read it. The D word in Collins thus rang a bell with me yesterday, but not a pleasant one. Not a D major!


The prospect of staycationing at home here in Cornwall doesn't fill me with the joys of spring either. But spring is coming, and I think I might manage a short staycation in south east England, looking for a medium to long term move when the curse of the bad banks has been lifted and brickor mortis relieved.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

WISE WORDS

These words of wisdom were sent to me today by my friend, Rosie Howes:

"The Budget should be balanced, the Treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled and assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed lest [we] become bankrupt. People must again learn to work instead of living on public assistance'

Cicero, 55 BC"


QED. So is there really nothing new under the sun?

Saturday, 3 January 2009

CELEBRATING HITLER

Seems that Liverpool's successor as Euro City of Culture is not some Baltic town, as I had thought (where did that come from??) but the Austrian city of Linz, so beloved of Adolf Hitler (known in my family as Asshole Shitler) that he planned to build a 5-star luxury ADOLF HITLER HOTEL in the place and plant statuary representing German 'heroes' (some contradiction in terms there, what?) along the city's 'Niebelungen Bridge'. Far from distancing themselves from this dubious (to put it politely) legacy, the good burghers of Linz (too many old Nazis and their descendants on these teutonic Councils, I fear ) are refusing to 'sweep Adolf Hitler (Shitler) under the carpet', but are determined to celebrate his association with their city with a series of reference points along the so-called culture tour.

OK, so Linz is one place I won't be visiting, ever. I have already cancelled my trip to Vienna in March, and feel quite glad about that now, whereas before I was wavering.

Adolf Hitler and Culture. It beggars belief. Can't the Austrians find someone else - surely - to celebrate? Mozart (done him to death, I guess), Schubert, even Johann Strauss..(but he was Jewish, I think - hmmmmmmmmm).

Thursday, 1 January 2009

NEW BEGINNINGS

2008 ended for me where it began, in the metaphorically and meteologically cool city of Liverpool, which has just handed over to some uncool place in the Baltic states (I think) as European City of Culture. After a miserable Christmas, which saw me in a very dark place indeed, post 'flu and a dose of the family break-ups which always come back to haunt me at the end of the old year, Liverpool has raised my spirits. It was my salvation long ago, when I was at school there and discovered such treasures as The Walker Art Gallery, The Playhouse, and The Neptune Theatre. Not to mention, of course, the irrepressible heart of the people. All the cliches about the place are true - Scallies and all, but it remains a cool cool place, up there with the coolest places on earth.

Apart from that, the so-called festive season consisted largely, as far as I could see, of dodging viruses (no easy feat on stuffy UK trains) and the feeding-frenzy that is the Yuletide shopping fest. It's not really festive at all any more, because there is so much of it. Christmas may be there, ostensibly, to celebrate the birth of the divine Infant, Jesus Christ, but in the second Millenium it's become well and truly infantilised. It used to be the case that only (lucky) children received a large number of Christmas presents; but now everyone is expected to 'buy' for the slightest adult acquaintance, and not just tokens of appreciation and regard, but sackfuls of unwanted tat. I read somewhere that eBay saw a surge on Boxing Day in sales of unwanted Christmas presents. Something like a billion pounds worth of tat. (Credit crunch - wot credit crunch?!) It's probably fair to say that Christians, whose feast this is, buy less than anyone else, because it's only practising Christians who see Dec 25th as something more than a day of gross self-indulgence - not that there aren't plenty of self-indulgent Christians, too, I am sure. Because the New Year has come, with its universal message of hope and renewal that everyone can understand and believe in, I feel able to crawl out from under my stone to say these Scrooge-like, curmudgeonly things. But I can't be the only one who feels like this about Tinsel-Tide.

Animals set store by winter and hibernate. Come autumn, we humans too used to garner and gather in, but now we expect to have an abundant harvest, all the time, 365 shopping days of the year. So while I feel deeply for those who are losing their jobs in retail following the demise of giant chains like Woolworth, MFI, et al, I won't be venturing out to the sales to spend money I can't afford. This is not, in any case, the way to shore up a failing economy; but perhaps the old way of simple economy is. It's salutary to have to save for treats, instead of indulging the infantile drive to have it all on demand. It's creative to scour one's cupboards to cobble up frugal but nutritious meals, instead of spending a fortune on packaged 'cuisine' at Marks and Spencer's food-porn theatre. (OK, home made pea soup might not be as sexy as some M and S pudding oozing chocolate and cream, but it is better for body and soul.) It is character-building to learn to live within one's means. At least, I hope it is - it's been a long time since I had to to do it. But I have done it in the past, when some weeks, in Maggie Thatcher's '80s hell, I had only about a fiver to live on (and sometimes had to borrow that fiver from my neighbour). We are still one of the world's richest economies. Most of us have food to eat, water to drink, and a bed to sleep in. Most of us, note - but by no means all. And it is the by-no-means-all that should be exercising us, not the closing of another tacky furniture store or the failure to get the banks to credit us with some tacky package holiday or planet-polluting car. We may not have the sense to know it, but we have it pretty good.