Friday, 29 January 2010

Kitsch Klassic

I've previously mentioned that wonderful book by Sylvia Gibson, Latawnya the Naughty Horse Learns to Say "No" to Drugs, the publication that is guaranteed to put your child off… horses for ever.

I can only find one copy for sale, at £95, but Laura has located a scanned copy of the whole thing. So if you like surreal, patronising and badly written propaganda featuring dubious 'ethnic' names and pictures of horses smoking and swigging from bottles, off you go. It was written in 1990! What the hell did Gibson think 90s kids were like?

Still, it beats My Friend Flicka.

I've beaten Youtube (and some quality music)

I used to tell everyone that Youtube had everything, literally everything.

It hasn't. Having been alerted to a clip of Decca and the Dectones doing The Beatles' 'Maxwell's Silver Hammer' and Decca (my heroine Jessica Mitford, the titled Communist who ran away to the Spanish Civil War with Churchill's nephew, then moved to the States where she spent her time agitating for socialism and Black Liberation (hence her friendships with Angelou and the Black Panthers' leadership)) duetting with Maya Angelou, played on Radio 4's The Write Stuff, I rushed to Youtube to post these cultural artefacts for your pleasure.

Defeated. No Decca and the Dectones. No Jessica Mitford. No Decca Mitford. What's wrong with this planet? I've had to download the album, and will post some for you. It's hard to describe but I'll try: drunk aging aristocrat (b. 1917) with no musical talent but a massive ability to cause mischief and have fun 'sings' hippy song. Bear in mind that is the polished studio version, and unfortunately the one without Angelou.

1. 'Maxwell's Silver Hammer' by Decca and the Dectones:

2. Grace Darling' by Decca and the Dectones:

Blair: the digested digest

To save you the effort, here's basically what Blair has had to say so far.
1. F**k the lawyers.
2. F**k the liberals, invasion's cool.
3. It doesn't matter if evidence is fake and/or hyped up by his advisers, what's important is whether he personally believes it.
3. Let's f**k Iran!
4. Mmmmmm, Bush.

Mmm, great plan. He really is a third-rate mind (at top rate fees - £2000 per minute at one recent function - more than Ronaldo).


Just pressed 'buy' on the Apple Store. 2.53Ghz, 4Gb memory, 320Gb hard drive 13.3" MacBook Pro. Certainly the most expensive object I've ever bought, despite the Education discount. I already feel guilty…

That Friday feeling

Hello. How are you all? New term working out, students and teachers? How's the summer, New Zealanders? And the winter, Americans, Germans and other northerly types?

Life here is starting to take shape again. I'm back swimming and will be fencing again soon. Teaching has started and I'm starting to remember students' names once more (rather than 'oh look, it's Mr. D6 Could Do Better') and I've loads of work to do: four new lectures for next week, a conference paper and a book chapter, plus all the usual.

So what have I done this morning? Applied for a job, kept a close eye on Blair's evidence (predictably evasive, sanctimonious and unintelligent) and had coffee with Neal, who turned up late for swimming, between seeing enthusiastic students and sipping Chartreuse… it's a hard life. I'm teaching Introduction to Literature this afternoon, and then plan to settle down with some theory.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Meanwhile, outside politics

Those of you interested in football may have chanced upon a game played last night by two little-known teams from the Manchester Area, for a chance to play in the final of the Carling Cup (sponsored by Britain's worst lager).

It had everything: a derby match between the biggest club in the world which is currently finding things difficult, a newly-enriched team keen to escape the shadow of its neighbour, grudges between players and a previous leg (2-1 in City's favour) to build on. So obviously I didn't watch it, but did feel for Emma, marooned in some business hotel in Swindon, and for Neil, who lives in London but isn't a Manchester United fan - he's one of the few Man City Londoners not currently living in some kind of shelter.

From the newspaper reports, it was a classic. A 3-1 victory in stoppage time to Manchester United (4-3 on aggregate), with full-blooded commitment from both sides (and unfortunately the fans, who threw coins and bottles at Craig Bellamy, one of the premiership division's leading thugs).

I vaguely wished for a Man City win - as a Stoke fan, I'm always for the underdogs, and Emma has agreed that if Manchester United win no silverware this year, she'll ditch her vegetarianism for a slap-up feed of animal products, so certain is she of at least one victory. I hope she likes these.

For Fox sake…

Despite Americans voting overwhelmingly for the most liberal President since Roosevelt, they watch Fox News, a living, breathing Daily Mail with even fewer ethical worries. Despite dumping their own polling data in favour of one which looked worse for the Democrats, despite using library footage to make a rightwing march look better-supported, despite actually sponsoring neo-fascist rallies, calling Obama a racist and 'accidentally' repeatedly labelling Obama 'Osama' and despite hiring Sarah Palin, its motto is Fair and Balanced: and the US public believes it: a recent poll found that Fox is the US's most trusted network.

American readers: perhaps you can enlighten us. Is it the language? The certainty? How are they doing it? Even members of its owner's family hate Fox!


I'm pretty lazy. Sometimes, I can flog myself until I do some work, and on some of those occasions, I can manage something decent. Sometimes though, you just have to admire the drive of people like Mary Daly, the controversial radical theologian who died recently. Her obituary includes the casual phrases 'she was awarded her first PhD' and 'acquiring further doctorates'.

Doing a PhD is a major undertaking, as several of my readers know. It takes several years of dedicated study and writing. At least in the humanities, it means isolation and poverty. One is quite enough - several is insane.


Oh how I want the Apple iPad. I've resisted the iPhone on financial grounds. I've kept my iBook G4 for 7 years: I'm a sensible Mac user. Or I was until today. Rationality has been swept away. I don't really need an iPad - I've no internet at home and prefer reading books, but there's something wonderful about a good idea executed well.

I know this makes a sad, consumerist hypocrite, which is probably why I'll never own one. I am going to buy a MacBook Pro next week though…

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Saved by the books…

Struggling with finding anything intellectual enough for the Subject Centre, I'm temporarily distracted by the arrival of more new books from the OUP (there's a sale on).

So what's going to stare accusingly at me from shelves until the day I die?

Gwyn Jones's translation of Eirik the Red and Other Icelandic Sagas
Angela Leighton's exploration of form and Victorian poetry, On Form
The Oxford History of English 
John Kerrigan's Archipelagic English: Literature, History and Politics 1603-1707.

More for the Iraq junkies

Former Attorney-General Lord Goldsmith is giving evidence to the Chilcot Enquiry. It seems that he thought that the war was illegal, then probably illegal, then maybe legal and finally definitely legal - we haven't quite reached the stage where he explains this, but there's plenty of good stuff already, such as Blair's unwelcoming response to legal advice.

Clearly everyone giving evidence so far is passing the blame to Blair, as though we lived in a dictatorship rather than a parliamentary, Cabinet democracy. If true, government's broken. If not, what a spineless bunch.

Blair gives evidence soon. He may take one for the team by accepting blame, he may proclaim God's permission and refuse to accept that anything at all was even slightly dubious, or he may dump Brown and his surviving colleagues in it. My guess is a mix of b and c with a side order of enormous arrogance.

Getting tongue-tied

Amongst the professional development courses on offer at The Hegemon, a colleague recommends 'Starting a Conversation'.

Now I'm a shy and retiring rodent, but really: lecturers are rather good at speaking and listening - they're core attributes of the job. Amongst ourselves, conversations are even easier. Conventional gambits are 'how's your marking?', 'have you seen how much the V-C paid herself this year?' and 'why is management so patronising, arrogant, uninformed and prone to nonsense like 'Starting a Conversation'?' - openings which usually lead to lengthy discussions even without professional guidance…

I Am The Thorpedo

Back to the pool today, after 6 weeks off from illness and stuff. What a humiliation. I lasted 25% of my usual time and 20% of my habitual distance before retiring exhausted. I powered through the water with all the force and aquatic grace of a delinquent butterfly, yet everything aches. It's going to be a long way back…

Aims for today are to finish marking the interesting MA dissertation ('the body in sporting fiction') and to write my piece for the subject centre. And to avoid lovely fattening foods.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Its poor peeple wot is ruining educashon for us ritch ones

One of the tokenistic endeavours of New Labour is the Number 10 Petition. Have a look: anyone can start a petition and feel like they're political activists. They range from insane ('cut all links with the USA') to unpleasant to uninformed ('stop handing out top of range cars as invalidity vehicles') to predictable Daily Mail (i.e. both: 'rename the B3102 HIGHWAY OF HEROES'; microchip all illigal immigrants') and sweetly mad ('make all Media fairer and unbiased' - 9 petitioners, 'stop all child abuse' - obviously the Prime Minister can do this personally)… down the rabbit hole we go.

It's like all of Ewar's Shropshire Star letter-writers have got together. I do like the call to reintroduce the brown bear to the UK. Though why bother with this gentle animal? Import Grizzlies! That'll help with the obesity crisis too. I also love 'Stop Shire Horse Extinction' and 'Sort out the mess in this country'. Who could disagree? 'Ask the Met Office why 100% of all forecasts are wrong' sounds like Mr. Mike Haseler doesn't like snow… I must stop, it's addictive.

Someone who should be writing her PhD spotted this glorious effort:

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to stop under privaledged kids being accepted into private schools.

Full marks for mean-spiritedness - none for literacy or brains. I've never seen a campaign launched against the poor before (unless you count Blair cutting child benefit, and the collected works of the Conservative Party, 1979-1997). I'd like to shut the private schools, but this is very weird. How exactly does this person thing the PM could even do this? Why would these schools want to lose their only fig-leaf of public good? Bonkers…

Here's the full justification:

The government gives people who do not earn enough tax credits, housing benefits, working tax credits and etc. They get free education anyway. So why do people who work hard to get a high income have to pay extra money for their child's education so these people can get into private practically free!!!

Conspiracists, start your engines!

The lonely death of Dr. David Kelly gets stranger. He was, if you recall, the defence analyst who leaked the story that the government 'sexed-up' the dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, because he felt that we were being rushed into war on a false pretext.

Once unmasked by an astonishingly vengeful government (an anonymous aide let a journalist read out a short list of suspects until the right name was reached), and after an appearance before a House of Commons Select Committee which was sympathetic but clear about his situation ('you've been hung out to dry', a Labour MP told him), Kelly went for a walk in the country and killed himself.

And so there the matter rests - or it did until today, when it turns out that the Hutton Inquiry into the Iraq war secretly sealed Kelly's medical records for 70 years - twice the usual period, and doubly odd given that he never received a proper inquest. Needless to say, those who feel that governments occasionally practice assassination are putting two and two together.

I don't think Kelly was assassinated. Alastair Campbell and friends destroyed his livelihood, credibility and employment - that was enough. That said, I can quite understand why this very strange decision is fuelling the suspicions of the conspiracists.

Moody blues

The new Tinderstick album has arrived, Falling Down a Mountain. As usual, it's jangly guitars, minor-key strings, gravelly voices and smoky nightclubs - as usual, it's a triumph. Before Britpop spoiled everything, all indie music was like this: not the same sound, but committed and thoughtful and not constructed with an eye on getting some free clothes and an appearance on kids' TV).

Here's one of their old ones, 'Tiny Tears':

Just keep calm…

Morning everyone. Well, it is here, just about. It's a brave new dawn of teaching instead of marking, but the hangover is hard to shake off - I was too tired even to go swimming this morning, despite being in bed by 9.30.

What a day it's going to be - students collecting essays, some teaching, and I have a piece to write for the English lecturers' newsletter: a chance to give my colleagues nationwide a broadside of full-on Vole. I think the key is to avoid trying to be funny: it's not my métier. Pomposity, on the other hand, I can do… but perhaps not. Any ideas?

Meanwhile, the keel of my cultural ship is broken: none of the Guardian's links are working for me, so all I can see is the front page and lots of 404s. Aaaarrrggghhhh - deprived of guilty liberal-centrist views and Steve Bell. It's going to be a long day.

Monday, 25 January 2010

“Oh wad some power the giftie gie us / To see oursel's as others see us!

Tonight, of course, is Burns Night, the annual celebration of Rabbie Burns, poet, rebel, loyalist, romantic, contradiction and all-round Super Scot.

The traditional celebration involves whisky (well, duh) and haggis, the king of foods. Congratulations American readers: haggis is now legal for import, after 21 years of paranoia. Here's one of his lesser-known poems:

Heart, lungs, liver and lights
A Haggis wi' neeps every Scot delights.
Oats, pepper, whisky too,
All washed down wi' Irn-Bru!
And after a snifter o' skag and Buckie
Patriotic Scots sneak off for a…

I'm not a Scot, but Burns is a fantastic poet and haggis is just wonderful. As long as it's homemade or from MacSween. Even their (ahem) vegetarian haggis is lovely. As an after-dinner treat, why not have that traditional Scottish Deep-Fried Battered Mars Bar (I kid you not)?

Stick em 'up: this is a bank manager

Well, the marking's done - 240 essays read, written on, graded and added to the electronic system. Now all I have to do is teach and field the multiple interviews with students (the good ones) about how to improve their understanding, and find somewhere to stash the hundreds of uncollected pieces (bad students!). What I really want to do is crawl into bed and stay there for a week.

Infuriatingly, I left my Francis Wheen book at mum's place yesterday, with two chapters left. I hate waiting to finish books. I'll be in a different mood and mindset by the time I get back to it. Instead, I read Shane Ross's The Bankers: he's an Irish Senator, and the book names the guilty men and institutions which have ruined Ireland. In a nutshell: if every businessman, senior civil servant and politician goes to the same two or three schools and universities, plays golf at the same club and spends his time hobnobbing with the same small group, nobody is every going to say 'no', whatever you do. Politicians wanted cash, developers wanted loans and planning permissions, bankers wanted higher salaries and deregulation, regulators were former bankers (or joined the boards of the banks subsequently).

Even the Central Bank, the country's banking authority, stuffed its board with get-rich-quick bankers. The stockbrokers constantly hyping bank shares were owned by those banks! Chances of them pointing out that the banks were unstable? Zero.

Who lost out? Any depositor in Irish financial institutions, anyone with a pension, anyone who had to take out a massive mortgage to buy even the smallest house - and all the taxpayers who bailed out this tiny group of banksters. Who were also politicians. And regulators. Were it not for the rain, Ireland, far from being the Celtic Tiger, has been a banana republic since independence.

Anyway - Sarah's given me a calming book of proverbs to restrain the ranting, and I'm off to celebrate Alan's 52nd birthday. Then sleep…

And so it begins again…

Ms E-mentor sends her colleagues this, which pretty much sums up what I suspect my dear students think!

Pornograffi, yn cymraeg

I'm not a fan of porn - I'm far too leftwing and ex-Catholic for that kind of nonsense.

But I do worry that minority languages will fade if they aren't used in all walks of life - Welsh was saved, then throttled, by the Chapels. It's surviving very well because shaven-headed lads in checked shirts can behave as badly as they like on Friday nights in yr hen iaith.

So I'm pleased to announce that you can now peruse some very clichéd 'teacher-getting-her-kit-off' photographs which feature a basic Welsh lesson. Full marks for linguistic skills, no marks for liberal values.

I haven't followed his link, of course, but the initial reference is here on Babylon Wales, with a safe-for-work picture.

Interestingly, the Academi dictionary says there's no Welsh word for erotica, and the Welsh for 'pornography' is pornograffi, which implies that sexual imagery is a late, English import. Either the Welsh are sexless, or they're so well-adjusted and sexually satisfied that such material is superfluous

I'm now an official subject of research. Oh dear.

The Kerrywoman sends me news of a piece of cutting-edge research which might tell me all about myself (and how I'll type myself out of a job):

'"Because I need somewhere to vent": the expression of conflict through
work blogs'. James Richards, New Technology, Work and Employment, Mar 2008, Vol. 23 Issue 1/2, pp. 95-110

Straight to the top of the reading list.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Stoke City ruin my marking

I'm listening to the Stoke-Arsenal match - this is my version of live-blogging. I know we're going to get hammered, but for the moment I'm feeling very smug: Stoke winning 1-0 after 70 seconds (from our trademark Rory Delap long throw) and all the pressure is on their goalmouth.

The crowd are in full voice - but then again some of them warmed up at the racist march held yesterday…

Update: controversial equaliser just before half-time. And so it begins…
Update: Stoke shots: several million. Stoke goals: 1. Arsenal shots: 2. Arsenal goals: 1.
Update: Big Mama Sidibe and Ricardo Fuller combine for a Stoke GOAAAALLLLL! And we have substitutes left, unlike Arsenal. Amazing that Sol Campbell's going to have a full game. Good on him.
Update: Now it's 3-1 and we had one disallowed… 4 minutes of extra time and Arsenal fans aren't waiting until the end.

All done: we've shown North London how to play attractive football and win. Oh, and local racists: two of our goals were scored by a Jamaican: the sort of guy you abuse on the bus. Think on!

Quelle surprise

Under the Conservatives in the 1980s and 1990s, much was made of the 'ratchet effect'. This was the theory that if the Tories headed off far to the right of politics, Labour would have to follow them to avoid accusations of being Communist extremists: formerly moderate left policies would be seen as far-left. 

It worked beautifully: Labour acquired a leadership which abolished all socialist policies and spent more time publicly attacking its own members than it did opposing Conservatism. 

I hoped that this was merely an electoral tactic, and that since the Tories received a massive beating in 1997, the ratchet would move leftwards: that to appear sane, the Conservatives would have to move left. Until Cameron appeared, they remained on the lunatic right fringe: under him, they've acquired the discourses of liberalism, but underneath they're just as rightwing as previously. 

Worse than that: Labour (and the electorate) have continually moved to the right, under pressure from… well… nowhere. Blair, Brown and New Labour appeared simply to be, underneath it all, very rightwing. 

"Tony Blair's great legacy has been to achieve Margaret Thatcher's ambition," said Curtice. "One of the consequences of the New Labour shift to the centre is it has moved the electorate to the right." Curtice argued that the shift, towards more conservative views, were likely to boost David Cameron's campaign – particularly as messages about cutting spending had become more popular.

Their consumerist, free-market economics and obsession with surveillance and biffing Muslims has set the moral and political tone for the entire country, leading to a population of selfish Tory racists - hence the upcoming election defeat. Why vote for soft right when you can vote for the party which doesn't just authorise greedy bigotry, but sees these qualities as wholly admirable… Intelliwench, are there any jobs going at Appalachian State?

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Stoke's in the news again

And as usual, for the wrong reasons…

Today saw a march by the latest bunch of fascists, the English Defence League (weirdly, there's a Welsh Defence League too, though it seems to consist of English men and doesn't concern itself with English second-home owners and the fate of the Welsh language). And as usual, the fascists couldn't control themselves and went on the rampage. The supposed cause was 'Islamic extremism', despite the fact that Stoke's Islamic population is small and well-integrated. There's certainly no sign of extremism.

They simply provocateurs. Stoke's been a multicultural city for well over a century. Jews, the Irish and people from the subcontinent helped to build the city and run its services - particularly the hospitals - without any street-level tension. What's happened to Stoke is that fascists have talked the impressionable into thinking that economic failure is the fault of immigrants, foreign bankers or other strangers: Mosley did it very successfully in the 1930s in this city, and the BNP and their splinter groups are doing the same. When they aren't agitating, there isn't any trouble - instead, the fascists are trying to inflame a situation for their own political ends.

Stoke's problems are those of capitalism. It had three skilled industries: coal, steel and above all, pottery. Globalisation has encouraged the shareholders of all these industries to close down their Stoke operations and move elsewhere without a thought for the workers. Neither the proletariat nor the political parties meant to represent them are organised enough to resist the logic of the market, and into this vacuum stepped the fascists, who've replaced the class analysis with a racial one. It's a tempting argument for some Stokies: failed by the educational system, by the economic climate and by the government, some of them listen to a thug with simple answers delivered in a local or at least working-class accent. 95% of Potters aren't that stupid, of course - but the blame must lie with mainstream politics.

The Tories openly espouse globalisation as 'efficient': their interests have never been those of the working classes, but at least they're honest about it. Labour is more culpable, because it deliberately abandoned all pretence of resisting monetarism and globalisation as soon as power beckoned, too spineless to put an alternative case to the voters.

Islamic extremists didn't steal your job: capitalist extremists did.

Remedial maths

Via Pharyngula, who enjoys setting his readers on stupid polls, some basic statistics for media fans:


Never go to Ventura, California

Over here, my friends use Pringles tubes to make novelty Melanie Philips Magazine Racks

Over in Ventura (which looks innocently pleasant), judging by the Google search which led one confused (and presumably disappointed) cybernaut to Plashing Vole, they make "Pringles Tube Sex Toys". 

Feel free to use the comments section to speculate on how possible or desirable this may be. Perhaps this benighted individual is an ex-pat Brit whose sexuality was formed watching Blue Peter transform cardboard and washing-up bottles into art, or perhaps the recession is really biting over there. 

They're all I've bloody got to eat!

Britain's juniper bushes are declining and only the scientists who spend most of their time designing more efficient holocausts can save them. What a lovely little PR puff. 

Just because I can

Going home, despite its drawbacks, has its advantages: digital TV (reminds me that multichannel = lots more of nothing on), wood fires, a fat kitten (which apparently tries to get at the snooker balls on the television screen) and mother's new MacBook Pro. I'm very attached to my 7 year-old iBook, but it's starting to struggle. A MacBook keeps appearing in my dreams (largely, it must be said, enabling me to mark endless essays) and now I'll have to buy one… In the meantime, I'm just playing with this wonderful machine.

So, apart from marking, what have I been up to that I'd want to share with the world? Well, reading. I know, I know. It's a crazy zany mixed-up world. How about if I said I was reading TO THE EXTREME!!!!!? NU-reading? Reading to the MAX? Mm… perhaps not. 

What have I been reading? While marking, I read stuff that I'll never have to teach. Recently it's been Norman Spinrad's Child of Fortune, a really interesting exploration of the hippy ideal and where it went wrong - set in space (which is very 60s in itself). I've also read Burgess's End of the World News which is fun and interesting, and now I'm on Francis Wheen's Strange Days, his history of the paranoia and weirdness of the British political scene in the 1970s. Highly recommended. 

Friday, 22 January 2010

Politics news

There was actually very good news this week, but it's being ignored: unemployment decreased a little, and crime dropped a lot, not that you'll see any mention of that in the rightwing press, Obama's going for the irresponsible banks, Brown's really going to support the Tobin tax and fewer people than ever are going to church. 

So much for Cameron's core 'Broken Britain' campaign. So let's tease him about his little poster campaign more. These are my current favourites and the last two are my own suggestions, generated with this handy tool (click for bigger images):

The Holy Spirit

My French/Northern Irish friends know how to make me happy: a bottle of Chartreuse appears in the post just before I leave work. It's made by monks, you know. Insert your own jokes…

Oblivion beckons.

that's all f-f-f-f-f-folks!

Sorry not to entertain/bore you today: too much on, far too stressful. I'm off home tomorrow, so may drop in over the weekend, but I'll still be marking… Have a good weekend.

Folking brilliant

I'm snowed under by marking, hence my (relative) silence, but I can't help enthusing about the gig I went to last night.

I was exhausted, yet thinking about staying in the office rather than go to see The Imagined Village, such is the pressure of work, but my colleagues insisted, so off I toddled. My seat at Birmingham Town Hall is one I've picked before - aisle, high up in the circle. The sound's great, the view's good and there's legroom. The way I felt, I thought I might fall asleep, but as I was on my own, it wouldn't have mattered much.

I've got The Imagined Village's two albums, but haven't had much of a chance to listen to the new one yet. I played it in the office and liked it - it's good modern folk - but thought it was a bit flat.

How wrong I was. Live, this supergroup are stunning. The full album lineup includes members of the Carthy family, Transglobal Underground, Billy Bragg, Benjamin Zephaniah and all sorts of other luminaries, but the touring lot were Martin Carthy, Eliza Carthy (swoon), Chris Wood, Johnny Kalsi (on dhol and many other Indian percussion instruments), Barney someone, a stunning sitar player, a drummer and a electronics guy, who did amazing things on his theremin.

I guess most people think that folk is mimsy rubbish about shepherds with an undertone of xenophobia. Last night proved how utterly wrong that view is. A big band sparking off each other and singing songs about the recession and dating aliens is something to behold: powerful, subtle, fun.

The thing about folk music is that at it's best, it's like good literature. We all know that there are very few plots (some say 9, others 7): it's how you make it your own that determines whether you're a good writer. With folk, the themes are often similar, and the tunes are a mix of new and inherited ones. The art is in taking the familiar and rendering it unfamiliar. The Imagined Village did this to stunning effect, particularly with the openers, Sweet Jane and John Barleycorn.

Part of the power of the gig stemmed from their palpable anger at the BNP, which is trying to attach itself to the folk scene. Martin Carthy read out the Guardian's account of Nick Griffin turning up at his daughter's gig to propose 'doing something': Eliza was visible horrified. The band are hugely proud of the contribution to their sound made by their Asian sitarist and percussionist ('the future of English traditional music', Martin called them). They called a temporary halt while they filmed the audience shouting 'Bollocks' to the BNP, something they're doing at every gig - apparently ultra-white Shrewsbury wasn't very enthusiastic the previous night.

All exhaustion vanished during the set. They properly rocked: I've never seen a cellist, a sitarist and a bouzouki player do the heads-down-in-a-circle rock-out thing while a theremin wailed and a sampler added instant extra musicians, but it made perfect sense. Last night destroyed for me the notion that folk is a conservative art form.

The night finished with two standing ovations and a mass singalong. 3000 people following Martin Carthy and (gradually) the rest of the band in what he introduced as 'a little folk song from Wolverhampton': Slade's 'Cum On Feel The Noize'. And away I went, proud to be a part of something so passionate and so meaningful.

Here's some video : the live Sweet Jane is great, though the clip isn't brilliant quality.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Subversive teachers speak out!

I'm still marking - my scripts are still measurable by the foot rather than countable. My academic colleagues and I are all excited by a study which says that college lecturers are predominantly lefties or liberals (hardly a surprise: conservatives tend to want more money). I think there is something inherently liberal/left about making a commitment to education. The basic reason, I suspect, is that liberals like argument, debate and the free exchange of ideas. Conservatives just don't: the old ideas (the Bible or whatever) said everything that needs to be said and teaching otherwise is just subversive.

I'm a teacher for a number of reasons - I'm otherwise unemployable, I like being paid money for talking about books and ideas, something I'd otherwise only do in the pub or on street corners, but most of all because I and most of my colleagues believe that with learning comes, power, freedom and responsibility, to oneself and to others. Without it, one is a passive consumer of other people's visions.

There's also, perhaps, something self-indulgent about being a teacher. Despite the scorn heaped upon us by students for our hair, clothes, beliefs, we enjoy the privilege of shaping students' perceptions of the world, often a traumatic process. It's not about grades, it's about sharing the excitement of discovering that everything is richer, more complex and more important than we previously thought - which is why a life teaching something 'vocational' doesn't appeal.

Being a teacher was once a religious duty. The tutor cast off thoughts of fame, temporal power and riches. There is something slightly self-denying about the job, despite the fact that we earn way more than most people in this country. We tell ourselves that we fulfil a duty rather than have a job, which is true, and that we're satisfied with a noble role - which is certainly true for me.

The duality of the Romantic/Puritan position is fascinating. Here's R S Thomas (an agnostic clergyman and poet) expressing the satisfaction of a stripped-down life better than I could ('At the End')

Shelley the Republican, I think I love you

She's like all of Ewar's letter-writers rolled into one. She's so quotably insane that she's clearly a parody. This is all from the 'God's Hitlist' section. Apparently God spends his time pondering the respective positions of America's political parties, and He's made His choice… Beware - this is an exhaustive list of His dislikes, as dictated to Shelley the Republican. Why He dislikes Chelsea Clinton and Kurt Vonnegut is left unclear… Daniel and Emma: I hope you're honoured to be equated with paedophiles and Linux users, as vegetarians.  I'm deeply honoured to be on the list under several categories.

Heaven's clearly no fun at all.

His expectations are abundantly clear and well documented in His bestselling book – The Bible. Any questions as to your behavior and conduct in your time on Earth find quick answers there. Should I have gay sex? No. Should I take the Lord's name in vain? No. Should I vote Republican? Generally, yes, since they are the only party that believes in God and God’s word.

God’s people hitlist: God wants them dead because they harm America!
Barack “The Muslim” Obama
(aka “Homobama”, “Barack Osama”, “Husein the Terrorist”) 
Tristan Shuddery (He died due to auto-erotic asphyxiation in Room 66 of the Motel 6 in El Reno, Oklahoma on March, 15 2007. He was found the next day by the housekeeper. He was our friend and and part of the STR writer crew but he turned against God. He died and God won!) 
Cory Doctorow ( Pro-hacker liberal, runs a satanic blog called “Boing” ) 
Richard Dawkins 
Michael Moore 
Hillary Clinton 
Bill Clinton 
Chelsea Clinton 
Cindy Sheehan (Has publicly repented from her sins – God won!) 
Al Gore 
Al Franken 
Barrack Osama 
Boris Yeltsin (God Won) 
Kurt Vonnegut (God Won) 
George ?Greasy Greek? Soros 
Charles Darwin (God Won) 
Marcel Marceau (God Won) 
James Cameron 
=============Wrong Choices

God’s lifestyle choices hitlist : God hates people that belong to one of the groups below because they harm America!

  • Gays

  • Liberals
    Animal Rights People
  • Muzlims
    “Global Warming/Cooling” Believers
    Linux users
    “Purpose Driven” churches
    Government school teachers
    The anti-smoking lobby
    College Professors
    Hybrid Cars

=============Harmful groups and parties

God’s groups and parties hitlist : God hates people that are member or support the groups and parties below because they harm America!
Democrat Party 
=============Harmful bands

God’s music hitlist : God hates people that listen to the bands below because they harm America!
Neil Young 
Red Hot Chilly Peppers 
Patti Smith 
Bob Dylan 
Little Richard 
The The 
David Rovics 
All hip-hop and other musical forms that promote and encourage degraded, drug-addicted and murderous black culture 
Any and All American Idols 
Friends, Family and Fans of Any and All American Idols 
The Dixie Chicks 
Linda Rondstadt 
Ravi Shankar 
Bruce Springsteen 
Doris Day  
Anyone who has ever appeared in, listened to, rented or bought in any form the “musical” Rent

God and woo in one!

Ben Goldacre directs our attention to a magical confluence of Republican politics, bigotry, Christianity and the worst of junk science.

Finally a 100% effective cure for homosexuality!

Do you know somebody who is suffering from homosexuality? Leading psychologists such as James Dobson agree that homosexuality is a sick diseased perversion which must be cured. However until now ex-gay therapies have been expensive and hard to obtain. Despite our prayers and best lobbying efforts most insurance companies will not pay for treatment to cure homosexuality. That may all soon change thanks to the re-discovery of a 200 year old remedy: Homeopathy.
Thanks to the homeopathic treatment’s high water content they can actually provide much needed moisture. This has been proved to help maintain your body’s fluid balance.
According to Dana Ullman, America’s leading Homoeopath there is a 100% natural cure for homosexuality: Natrum Bromatum. This medical wonder can stop all homosexual urges after only one week of use. Dana has used Natrum Bromatum to cure more than ten homosexuals of their deadly perversion. Thanks to his innovative treatment these men are now living healthy and productive lives. Three of them are married with children. How many people has standard medicine cured? Not one I will bet. 

It's glorious. I'd love to see the peer-reviewed evidence for that '100% effective', and I now realise that drinking fluids is a useless method of 'hydrating' myself compared with homeopathy. That explains why I look like a prune.

Be sure not to miss the link to 'God's Hitlist'. That's loving of him.

Singing Symposia

After Ewar's discovery of Yale's embarrassingly weak recruitment song, Intelliwench (a revered professor) donates her institution's equivalent, and it's a humdinger. The chorus is stuck in my mind for ever. I loves the Hammond break, the sheer length, and the new voices which break in every so often. I do wonder why Appalachian hasn't chosen to write the song in the Appalachian folk genre though…

There is one fly in the ointment. As it's called 'Appalachia is HOT HOT HOT', the related videos on the Youtube page aren't, well, very academic. I'm sure you know what I mean. Still, I think this is better than Yale's prissy song. Not for Appalachia a detailed description, in song, of where you can eat if the restaurant's closed. No, you go to Appalachia because it's HOT HOT HOT!

UK universities are really missing out. Keep them coming, kids.

Treat your employees fairly, they do a good job. Not too difficult, is it?

This piece from the Times Higher Education Supplement is more relevant to The Hegemon than to any other educational institution in the country. Our bosses (those who got us a multimillion pound fine) receive much, much higher pay than the Prime Minister, including 'performance related pay'.

We get the sack, and survivors get 0.5%. With inflation at 2.9%, that's an effective pay cut of 2.4%. Our superiors have solved the league table problem - by withdrawing from it entirely.

To sail ahead, staff should be in the same boat on pay
21 January 2010
Exeter study identifies correlation between success and wage equality. Hannah Fearn reports
Universities that pay their staff well are likely to outperform their rivals and score highly in national league tables, while those with a wide disparity between vice-chancellor and rank-and-file pay are likely to sink down the rankings.
These are the conclusions of a study by academics at the University of Exeter, which identifies a close correlation between staff pay and institutional performance.
In a document detailing the preliminary findings of the research, the authors state that "group performance is highest when all group members, leaders and followers alike, are rewarded equally for success. This is because pay sends out strong signals about shared identity - a feeling that all members are 'in the same boat'."

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

All educational problems can be solved by breaking into song

Ewar has discovered a mini-musical by Yale University (!) as part of its recruitment drive. It's a kitsch classic, like a particularly humourless Christian rock odyssey. I won't steal his thunder by posting it here. You'll have to go here.

I'm mailing The Hegemon's marketing department right now.


Hello. Relatively quiet today, as I've got enormous amounts of marking to do, and had a Very Serious Meeting about whatever it is that we're meant to be doing here.

Anyway, some bright Web 2.0 sparks have decided that we have collectively failed as far as reading goes. Because none of us are capable of detecting nuance, tone or mood from the written word, they've invented a special symbol, or massive flashing signpost, to indicate sarcasm - the SarcMark

It's obviously what I've been waiting for. It abolished all that pesky ambiguity that we've wasted our time with. If only Jane Austen had known about this, I wouldn't have whiled away summer afternoons explaining to my students that when she wrote 'it is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife' (Pride and Prejudice from memory, ladiesngennelmen), she was being sarcastic or perhaps ironic, or even playful, but probably not overly serious anyway.

Clearly the new version would run something like this:

Rich blokes want birds, innit!!LOL!!!

I know that sometimes you, dear reader, fail to appreciate my humour, but that's because you're stupid I'm not very funny. There hasn't been a sudden failure of print or readers. Words on screen don't suddenly lose power because of where they are. So all in all, well done, SarcMark designers. What a brilliant idea. You guys are brilliant and your idea will be on every keyboard within a year.

Computer insists yes

One of the delights of the digital world is the way corporations attempt to insinuate themselves into your consciousness as cuddly mates. I once had an e-mail which started with the words 'Dear [Vole], Amazon loves you', which is demonstrably untrue. It never calls, never writes, unless it wants feeding, like a cat, and never answers e-mail. It's a simulation of emotion, spurred on by the knowledge that capitalism can only ever emulate true symbolic exchange, in Baudrillardian terms.

Today's mail from Amazon read 'we've noticed that you buy classical music, so you're bound to love our Pop Star to Opera Star store'. It's a tacky 'reality TV' show. Er, sorry Amazon. Like a girlfriend who's bought a tasteless article of clothing because she doesn't understand her bloke (or vice versa), you've created only embarrassment.

I buy classical music therefore I'm bound not to love Pop Star to Opera Star. I also buy lots of pop music - and am doubly immune to the charms of this show. Reality TV of this sort peddles the lie that if you're a (very, very) minor celebrity, you can do absolutely anything. In reality, being a true pop star involves musical talent, charisma, style and cultural nous. Even plastic pop stars learn a few things - lip-synching, hiding their personalities if marketing demands it, wearing outrageous clothes etc. etc. These skills shouldn't be belittled.

Opera singers need decades to develop a different set of skills: musical talent and sensitivity, respect for colleagues, theatrical ability, endless discipline.

The idea that because some idiots have scored minor hits as indentured labourers in some hit factory and have inflated egos doesn't mean that they can be opera singers. The very idea insults pop and opera alike.

So Amazon, we need a little talk. Your algorithms are all wrong. It's not me, it's you. I think we need a little space. To be honest, I've been seeing other online booksellers for ages. ABE. Alibris. Bookbrain. Yes, I know, I'm a slag. But you've never really cared about me, have you?

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Fashion does its bit…

How does the fashion world react to the recession? By reducing its prices? By just shutting up?

No such luck. One designer bases a range of clothes on the homeless 'look'. Wonder if these clothes will be sent to Haiti. More pictures and discussion here.


You know I have a low tolerance for misplaced apostrophes. That's nothing.

Maximum respect, ladies and gentlemen, for "The Blog Of Unnecessary Quotation Marks" (did you see what I did there?).

Cameron's coming for YOU!

David Cameron has announced his big plan for 'saving' the state education sector (i.e. the one he has no personal experience of, having attended Eton).

"With our plans, if you want to become a teacher – and get funding for it – you need a 2:2 or higher. And we will also make sure we get some of the best graduates into teaching by offering to pay off their student loan. As long as you've got a first or 2:1 in maths or a rigorous science subject from a good university, you can apply."

1. Nobody with a third-class degree will be accepted onto teacher-training courses. I'm fine with that.
2. Nobody from former polytechnics will be accepted.

Oh dear. That's all my students. It implies that anybody studying at a former poly is thick. Only… some subjects were and are specialities of ex-polys. They weren't lesser universities, as they're treated now, but specialist institutions.

Many people attend such institutions because they can't or don't want to move away. They have family commitments, or jobs (part-time students are much more common in ex-polys). Staying at home is also a logical response to poverty - not everyone has Cameron's money to support their kids. Likewise, we specialise in second-chance education for mature students, whereas Cameron's vision of education is one of lithe young 18-year olds playing croquet (for some) and surly poor and ethnic students learning the rudiments of plumbing in dour Northern towns (for the rest of us). There's no vision of education as liberation or empowerment here - instead it's a means of entrenching privilege. Sure, a few outstanding poor students will be plucked from Skid Row to prove that the system works, but there sure ain't any commitment to raising the sky for everybody.

It's perfectly possible to end up at a low-entry institution thanks to poor quality schooling or personal failings. I did rather badly at A-level and got into my university (Bangor) via the Clearing system, then finished by first degree top of the year (3 prizes too). Some people blossom late: Cameron will condemn you to the mistakes of your teenage years.

What the hell does Cameron define as a 'good' university? I suspect it's very easy to get high degree results from rich kids with all the resources in the world, who've been trained to assume that they can do whatever they want if they work hard enough and who've always been treated as golden children. It's harder to motivate and equip students who have children, a job, a difficult educational background and still manage to study. I'm hugely more proud of those of my students who've struggled against huge disadvantages and gained a 2.2 than I am of those who stroll in, do no work and get a 2.1.

But no. For the Conservatives, a 'good' university is one with a rowing club, lots of privately-educated students and a good deal of prestige.

The Tory plan (explained in this article) is that the division between polytechnics and universities will be reinstated. On the face of it, that's fine. The polytechnics specialised in high-quality teaching, often of vocational and science-based courses. Many of them did these better than the universities: my own institution was nationally famous for the range and quality of its languages teaching. Then in 1992, they were forced to become universities, and started to look like 2nd-class cousins - judged for the quality of their research output despite never having been funded or encouraged to pursue research before, judged for their 'low' grade intake, despite having a commitment to their local communities and widening participation.

The Tories don't want to reinstate the potentially useful division of labour between universities and polytechnics. Instead, they want a two-tier system in which rich posh kids go to prestigious places to become leaders of society, and the rest go to their local community college to become call-centre drones and mobile phone salemen. Yet again, Ritzer's McDonaldisation thesis is proved accurate.

Cameron's plan is nothing more than thinly-disguised class war.

Now that Kate's instituted it, I nominate David Cameron as Wanker of the Week 2.

Roll up, Roll up for the Charismatic Hoon

Mr Hoon, you'll recall, was the co-author of the pathetic little plot against Gordon Brown a couple of weeks ago. Those of you with a penchant for very dull men might even recall that he was a spectacularly dull Minister of Defence for a few years.

Today he's giving evidence to the Chilcot enquiry into the war. As you'd expect, he's fighting the spirit of enquiry with the shield of yawn-inducing boredom, but there are a few gems.

He was asked, as Minister of Defence, whether he knew that Britain was offering troops for the Iraq war.

Lyne says that by May 2002 the Americans had reached the view that the British were offering a large land contribution. Sir Christopher Meyer referred to this in his evidence. Did Hoon know about this?
Hoon says that he was not aware of this.
This man was in charge of Britain's armed forces.

Update: understatement of the century:

Chilcot asks if there was a concern about the British not being able to control what the Americans were doing.
Hoon accepts this was an issue.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Wanker of the Week

Nominated by Kate: Steve Penk, the DJ who played one of my favourite songs, 'Jump' by Van Halen, because he was annoyed that a woman was delaying traffic by threatening to do just that, from a bridge.

I seem to remember a story last year in which a Chinese man actually pushed a potential jumper from a bridge because he considered the man to be an attention-seeker.

Mmm, empathetic.

I know how Dumbledore feels

There's a scene in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince which finds the saintly professor forcing himself to drink enchanted/poisoned water which sends him mad with terror - and yet he has to continue imbibing until it's all gone, or his quest fails.

This is an exact analogy for marking essays. The first few this morning were fine. Some were good, others less so. Several hours later, I'm ready to sell my grandmother to cannibals if it would end the torment (though actually the alternative is to clean my flat).

I don't mind marking essays where the effort hasn't been rewarded by enlightenment. It's easy to tell how much work has gone into a piece, and effort does deserve recognition. What's soul-destroying is the plagiarism, especially lazy plagiarism. If you copy from the web, at least copy a decent source. I've had a couple today that have cut-and-pasted from a site riddled with factual errors. If you'd written it yourself, you might have done better…

A final thought. If you're only here for the piece of paper, I guess plagiarism is fine. It's an efficient method entirely in keeping with the instrumentalist, individualist and consumerist ethos dominant in Western society. However: learning should be transformative. You should be changed by everything you hear and write. Losing the opportunity to debate rather than listen to lecturers, and plagiarising essays doesn't hurt us (though it is disappointing). Most of all, it robs you of the chance to transform your intellect, your personality, and your future.

It's also a mammoth pain in the arse, trawling the web to track down your sources.

For a wittier and more learned take on plagiarism and intertextuality (though he doesn't se the word), read this essay in yesterday's Observer. In case you don't know the difference, plagiarism is the use of other people's ideas or words without acknowledgement. Intertextuality is the use of said ideas or words with the deliberate intention of touching off associations and memories: the author wants you to know where they came from, to add significance. Eliot's Waste Land uses countless fragmented quotations and references because one of the ideas he's exploring is the loss of a stable and coherent culture (destroyed by war, technology, lefties and so on), from which he pillages the references. You, on the other hand, nicking paragraphs from essays on '' isn't a witty and philosophical redefinition of the nature of scholarship, authority and the ownership of ideas…

Don't take the soup, do send your money

Haiti was hardly a natural disaster. Other countries in the area have survived recent disasters in far better shape - such as Cuba and Dominica, the country which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti.

Haiti has been an international football for basically all its existence, colonised by France and Spain, punished for its wonderful slave rebellion, occupied by the US, and toyed with during the Cold War, then abandoned when it was no longer useful. It has never had a stable, altruistic government, enduring a litany of dictators who ravaged the place for personal gain while following orders from the nearby superpower, or self-styled saviours who, failing to make any headway with a society that filled the void where government should be with gangs, ended up selfish or incompetent. If Haiti was a Muslim country ripe for 'radicalisation', or it had oil, then it would never have reached this condition. Experts in all areas would have been dispatched to help, food would have appeared, elections would have been held. Instead, we get a token UN force and medical aid from Cuba, which is on a major diplomatic mission to South America and its neighbours.

The earthquake was bad, but the massive death toll and damage are entirely caused by historical conditions. Without stable government, Haiti never had the money or inclination to develop boring institutions like an Inland Revenue, a Forestry Commission, a Trade Ministry, or a Buildings Inspectorate. Without managed trade, the Haitians had little access to hard currency, and therefore taxation was difficult. No tax = no importation of fuel for cooking. No fuel = massive deforestation: I saw a picture the other day of the Haiti/Dominica border. The Haitian side was totally denuded of trees, whereas the Dominican side was thickly wooded.

Without trees, topsoil is eroded and land is destabilised. Without town planners and buildings inspectors, Port-au-Prince became a jungle of flimsy concrete buildings sited on destabilised, deforested land. When the earthquake hit, the hills collapsed and the buildings fell down on top of each other, leading to the horrendous death toll we have.

Pat Robertson saw the disaster as God's punishment, and plenty of people would like to see it as an unforeseeable Act of God. It wasn't. We caused it, through neglect. Boring organisations like the Department for International Development fund botanists, architects and infrastructure experts to do this kind of thing, but their budgets are too low because we hate paying tax, and their attention is diverted to whatever country we've invaded most recently. No doubt their budgets will be cut even further under whichever government we're getting next.

Meanwhile, what to do with your money. Haunted by racial memories of 'taking the soup' (the British habit, in Famine Ireland, of feeding the starving only if they converted to Protestantism), I'm wary of religious aid. Even if their motivation is getting to heaven by doing good works, I'd rather give to secular charities. Richard Dawkins has made it easy: send your money here and every penny will be given to the International Red Cross and/or Médècins Sans Frontières. He'll even cover the administration costs if you use PayPal.

Send your money, and ask hard questions of your politicians.

Day 93 of the marking marathon

Still slogging through massive piles of essays. As usual, there are excellent ones, good ones and, well, others, though often lightened with hilarious comments which I'm not going to share with you.

I ran away from marking yesterday to go for a local walk with Dan and Emma. We struck out west of Penkridge and mostly squelched through muddy fields, meeting nobody. The animal life had returned - kestrels, yellowhammers, reed-buntings and best of all, a pair of hares, not too far from us. They even had a perfunctory go at boxing. If only I'd had my camera… Hares are great - they're quite rare (and apparently very tasty), they have massive ears and back legs, and run very, very fast.

Friday, 15 January 2010

And now for something completely different

A slice of pure pop genius:

Don't mention the war

While the England-South Africa cricket is rained off, enjoy this piece of political satire from Spitting Image, 'I've never met a nice South African', which was their contribution to the anti-Apartheid struggle in the early 1980s.

It certainly wasn't the official line: Margaret Thatcher repeatedly called Nelson Mandela a terrorist (see David Cameron's apology and Tory former minister Tebbit's rejection of that apology here) and supported the South African regime mostly because it was militantly anti-communist. Oh, and she didn't like black people either. Young Conservatives used to wear t-shirts reading 'Hang Nelson Mandela'.

They'll be back in government in May. Just saying.

Iris Robinson: the truth finally emerges

1. She's involved in a sex scandal with a young boy.
2. The government covered it up.

Clearly, she's an Irish Catholic priest.

Case closed.

More fun than marking!

If you haven't seen them, the Tories' poster campaign features a heavily airbrushed leader of the Tory Party with the slogan 'We can't go on like this' (which makes it sound like he's asking for a divorce).

Some naughty boys in the Labour Party have made the tools available to create your own. Here are some examples (I really like the Harry Enfield 'Tim Nice-but-Dim' one), and there are more here. Get the template here and use Franklin Gothic Demi for the font. I'll have a go once I've done more work.

How to do real populism

The UK government announced that it would tax the pool of bankers' bonuses above £25,000 at a rate of 50%, a sensible move and one I'd like to see extended past this year. But in political terms, they downplayed it - even suggesting that it would raise only £500m, when it appears that around £2bn will result.

Over in the US, where Obama hasn't even got an election to fight (unlike here), the President is instituting another tax on bankers, but he's taking a very different approach, and one which Brown might learn from if he wants to win power. This is how to do real hardball politics.


told Americans that he was determined to recover "every single dime" of the scheme unveiled in the dying days of the Bush administration.
"My determination to achieve this goal is only heightened when I see reports of massive profits and obscene bonuses at the very firms who owe their continued existence to the American people, who have not been made whole, and who continue to face real hardship in this recession," Obama said.

Instead of setting a phalanx of lobbyists to fight this proposal or employing an army of lawyers and accountants to help evade the fee, I'd suggest you might want to consider simply meeting your responsibility."
"If these companies are in good enough shape to afford massive bonuses, they are surely in good enough shape to afford paying back every penny to taxpayers". 

One for Dan

As an almost-graduate of Hull, he'll appreciate this headline:

'Hull Could Be Transformed into a Venice-like waterworld' (when sea levels rise). Mmm, gondolas pushing through a sea of used syringes and emptied rusting cans of Skol Super. Hull, despite an historic core, was once voted Crap Town of Britain No. 1. Dan assures me that it's worse than Wolverhampton. It certainly shares no characteristics with Venice.

Must grow a beard…

Despite being snowed under by marking, I'm feeling very relaxed and happy. Anita and I went to see Spiers and Boden last night, at the New Victoria theatre in Newcastle-under-Lyme. It was the first night on a tour consisting of… one night. Folk gigs are odd anyway - you never know whether the crowd will sing and dance or not, but this was in a round theatre, which was polite but very intimate. Every proper folk beard in Staffordshire was present and correct.

Folkies are also immune from record company shenanigans - usually releasing their own stuff or being signed to sympathetic labels. This was never more clear than last night. Neither musical genius had been pressured to smarten up: they're clearly familiar with the changing rooms at Oxfam (though they're dressed up in this clip).

I liked the echoes of rock gigs: instead of ranks of spare guitars, Mr. Spiers was surrounded by different melodeons, and Mr. Boden had a couple of violins, a guitar, and an amplified plank to stand and dance on. They were great.

Except for the banter. In folk tradition, the origin of each song and an explanation of what it was about seemed to be compulsory. Sometimes, a terrible joke accompanied the context. However, there was some wit involved. One anecdote was followed by this comment: 'That's a traditional English joke, collected by Cecil Sharp and it's now in the Cecil Sharp Library' (sorry, obscure folk music joke. Perhaps you had to be there).

Anyway, it was a wonderful night, aided perhaps by the Zubrowka and apple juice cocktails…

Better uses for a riot shield part 1

I've been pressed up against a wall of riot shields, so I'm all for the alternative use demonstrated in this video. How sad that these larking coppers have been disciplined. To maintain policing by consent, we need to see that cops do have a human side - something they've increasingly forgotten over recent years. Which is why I can't find any reason to condemn these guys.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Filling the remaining gaps on my shelves

A few more books appear in my pigeonhole today: Jean Hegland's teen post-apocalypse novel The Forest, Curtis Sittenfeld's Prep, which sounds like a teen version of Donna Tartt's The Secret History, and Alex Preston's The Bleeding City. This last is an advance review copy and the novel's about a hedge fund trader and the city's excess, by a guy who is a merchant banker with creative impulses. It'll be interesting to see what his insider take is (clearly he hasn't 'repented'), and I assume that it's one of the early texts in what will become a flood of Crash Fiction.

Also received: a CD of Morten Lauridsen's choral music, including O Magnum Mysterium - he's the post-minimalist composer currently reviving the genre. Not convinced yet, but it's good stuff. Don't worry about the lack of visuals - the quality of the piece and choir are what matters.