Good morning everybody. I trust the snow is 'deep and crisp and even' where you are. I'm off to the annual conference of the Association for Welsh Writing in English, held at this time at Gregynog, the beautiful stately home in Mid-Wales owned by the University of Wales. Coincidentally, exactly where the heaviest snow is forecast.
Being a spring conference, the weather has always been, well, variable: I've been there in heavy snow and in hot sunshine before. Last time, it was all daffodils, bluebells and cute little baa-lambs. I shall take my camera today for a compare-and-contrast set.
Anyway, it's great to get away for a few days. No mobile phone reception. No marking (the pile glares at me from the top of the filing cabinet). Just people I like talking seriously and interestingly about the things I like. I'll go for a walk around the estate, drink fine ale in the cellar bar and catch up on all the academic gossip. Or alternatively, hide in the corner trying not to catch anybody's eye. There's also the launch of the new Uncollected Poems of RS Thomas edited by Tony Brown and Jason Walford Davies, and a new edition of Tony Brown's short biography of the poet. Tony supervised my MA so I'm biased, but here's my review: 2 thumbs up – a classic!
Meanwhile, did you see Question Time last night? This one called for an extra-large bag of the horse tranquillisers I now require to get through an edition of the show. It really was a barrel-scraping shocker, quite the worst episode in an already depressing series. The panel nowadays consists solely of predictable trolls picked (successfully) to cause outrage rather than to shine a light on pressing issues, while the audiences are getting more and more racist and reactionary. I strongly suspect local political parties have found some way to game the ticketing procedure. Last night featured Michael Gove, one of the most astoundingly arrogant and patronising politicians of recent years, Mark Littlewood (a think-tank lobbyist who combines the economics of Pinochet with the human warmth of a hungry Komodo dragon), Anthony Horowitz the writer who turned out to be an ideal potential press officer for Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists, Emily Thornberry of the Labour Party who struggled valiantly to get a word in edgeways, and Natalie Bennett of the Green Party who barely got to speak.
The lowlight of the show was Gove responding to a question about whether he ever listens to advice by interrupting Thornberry extremely rudely with the words 'yada yada' (from 47.45). He also repeatedly lied, particularly on job creation. He claimed (as the government always does) that 1 million new private sector jobs have been created. To my certain knowledge, over 180,000 of those are not 'new': they're FE academics who've been reclassified as private sector, despite still working for and being paid by state-run institutions. He also claimed that the recession was caused by state spending and not banks being over-leveraged in pursuit of unsustainable and frankly stupid financial instruments, leading to us having to bail them out, and a number of other direct lies. He said we were 'living beyond our means'. This is the same Michael Gove who 'flipped' his tax-payer funded home and charged us £7000 for a television.
And while I'm on the subject, this former Murdoch employee married to a current Murdoch employee managed to give a sterling and principled defence of press freedom without once referring to his former colleagues' use of press freedom: to hack the phone of a murdered teenage girl; to hack the phones of celebrities, their secretaries, their families and their friends in pursuit not of wrongdoing in the corridors of power, but to find out whether they were pregnant, or dating, or putting on weight, or losing weight; to set private detectives on hacking victims' lawyers and on Crimewatch presenters; to build up dossiers on political opponents and on and on ad infinitum. Did the Murdoch press uncover the parliamentary expenses scandal? No. Catch Jonathan Aitken or Jeffrey Archer? No. Expose Jimmy Savile? No. They bugged and burgled (to steal a phrase) across the world to monster the innocent and harvest ridiculous, pointless gossip. As far as I'm concerned, Michael Gove is merely on secondment from Murdoch. Or perhaps Alpha Centauri. We're just the mugs paying for him.
As an anecdote, here's a clip from The Brains Trust, a BBC Radio and then TV show from the 1940s onwards:
And to unite the two rants of the day's blogging, here's Anthony Hopkins playing Gwyn Thomas appearing on The Brains Trust in the dramatisation of his autobiography A Few Selected Exits: I wrote my PhD on Thomas.