Category Archives: culture

Wall art bites

When we’re down in The Smoke, the Lady in my Life and I perch in “edgy” Crouch End.

“Edgy” in the sense it has evolved a Waitrose supermarket (wow!) and a new Waterstones book-shop. Not to forget The Queens (one of north London’s surviving gin-palaces) and The Maynard (more pub-bistro, but wider choice of beer and better bogs). Add in a whole selection of coffee shop/eateries — personal favourite is Monkeynuts (nearest thing to a good American diner — named, by the way, because it was once a tyre-fitters).  Everything any metropolitan yummy mummy with a seven-figure Victorian terrace could desire.

Eat yer heart out, ‘Ampstead.

As “senior citizens”, we old wrecks have free bus travel — thank you, Gordon Brown. So we waft down town on the 91 bus, which diesels its Metroline way to Trafalgar Square.

That established, this post can truly begin.

Along the Caledonian Road (“The Cally”, per-lezze), and two stops past “Her Majesty’s Prison Pentonville” (as the audio in-bus announcement has it) the bus pulls in beside Faith Inc studios, outlet of yet another anonymous North London street artist, “Pegasus”.

“Pegasus” left his mark there on the wall of Faith Inc. It is now, wisely, protected by a thick acetate sheet:

Nip across to Camden, where Hungerford Road and York Way intersect, and there’s another “Pegasus” work:

All around Amy Winehouse’s old stamping ground of Camden, you’ll get graffiti attempts — but Fallen Angel shows how it should be done.

Nearly as good is “Bambi’s” in Bayham Street, Kentish Town:

I have found it hard, without the signature, stylistically to separate “Pegasus” and “Bambi” — though she seems a smidgeon closer to “Banksy” (and borrows shamelessly from Warhol, of course).

Why am I bothering with this?

Because in a way it has a strange importance.

“Tagging” has been a phenomenon and an eye-sore these several decades. As that regency novelist didn’t generalise: it is a truth internationally acknowledged, that a streetwise youth in possession of a spray-can must be in want of a wall.

In recent years the quality of such “vandalism” had improved exponentially. Competition is good.

Back in the street-art stone age, once the tagger had evolved bubble-lettering and a moniker, what mattered was size and location.

Then it became multi-colours.

Then it became more pictorial.

Then it became “art”, and the artist had to have a personal tweak. Around Shoreditch, in particular, a Mexican arrival, Pablo Delgado made his mark with Lilliputian figures at the base of his walls, casting long shadows across the pavement:

Make of that what you will. Around the time of the London Olympics, Delgado was adding street-walkers (“because everyone is selling themselves”):

And the last stage of this progress is the art becomes — not just “saleable” and tee-shirt-able — but exploitable by third parties. In London (perhaps inspired by the Belfast “mural” tours) one can now sign up to guided walks of the best street art in a particular ‘hood.

The once-“edgy” is now mainstream.

 

 

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Filed under culture, London, pubs, Quotations

Cui bono? (As if you couldn’t guess)

The New Yorker, of all places, has a piece on Hillsborough — The Legacy of a Soccer Tragedy, by Ruth Margalit:

Margalit-HillsboroughSoccerTragedy-690

  • it comes prefaced by one of the most poignant images (see above) and one I cannot recall seeing before;
  • and, as befits The New Yorker, comes quite sophisticated with it.

After a predictable human-interest opener, Margalit attempts a swift survey of how we arrived at caging people at Hillsborough —

  • the Heysel Stadium disaster, blamed here on:

rioting Liverpool supporters at a match in Brussels had triggered a stampede that caused the collapse of a stadium wall, leading to the death of thirty-nine people, most of them Italian fans of the soccer club Juventus.

Let us not bother to harp on whether a wall that collapsed was the fault of a “riot”, or whether a stadium should be organised to prevent such a “riot”, and not have walls that collapse.

  • the baleful influence of Margaret Thatcher, concerned not essentially with human suffering but with public image:

“We have to get the game cleaned up from this hooliganism at home and then perhaps we shall be able to go overseas again.”

Margalit then does a quick flit past Nick Hornby and Jason Cowley — both valid sources — before arriving at the key point:

Luckily for those of us who love the “beautiful game,” the culture did change. The most immediate and lasting changes were prompted by the publication, a few months after Hillsborough, of a damning report by Lord Taylor of Gosforth, later England’s Lord Chief Justice, criticizing the soccer industry’s poor treatment of supporters. The report led to a complete overhaul of stadium-safety regulations, and to the requirement that every spectator have an assigned seat.

And with that came something else:

the new seating requirement also contributed to a change in demographics. A mostly working-class fan base gave way to a middle-class and upper-middle-class clientele, the only people still able to afford tickets: adjusting for inflation, ticket prices now cost at least three times what they did in 1989, and, increasingly, clubs offer perks like champagne-on-tap V.I.P. boxes to their most deep-pocketed fans. Money coming in from TV rights has also skyrocketed, from a revenue stream of about twenty million dollars a year in 1988 to more than five billion dollars a year in 2014. Next year, the English Premier League is expected to overtake the N.F.L. as the highest-earning sports league in the world.

Time for a small declaration of interest. My Pert Young Piece, saving for her gap year, had a good thing going. Alternate Saturdays, she was on the catering/waiting detail for those V.I.P. boxes at White Hart Lane (and its American Express black cards) for the football and Harlequins for the Rugby.

So what has happened to the mostly working-class fan base?

Those who have been priced out of those “safer” stadia now frequent sports bars. [Don’t get me started on these soul-less and depressing joints, fuelled by fizzy imported beers.] The numerous screens will, inevitably, be tuned to the Sky Sports feeds. This from 2013:

Pub landlords say the cost of screening top level sport is becoming so expensive it is making them switch off from showing the likes of Premier League football and the Ashes.

One pub and restaurant owner in Tunbridge Wells said he had to call time on the satellite service after Sky wanted a staggering £2,400 a month for him to show Sky Sports in his pub.

The cost of showing Sky Sports channels in public venues varies, but the national average is said to be around £400 a month for pubs.

I can easily spot what Jerry Hall sees in her octogenarian squeeze.

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Filed under Britain, culture, Murdoch, New Yorker, pubs, sleaze., social class

A further truth to be told

David Conn’s extended piece for today’s Guardian, on the Hillsborough cover-up, is journalism at its best, and the exemplar why some of us will support, buy and read that great newspaper until the end. Even at £2 a throw.

The on-line presentation is less cogent than what is in the printed version. For example, in the paper we find this:

Later that day, the prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, and her press secretary, Bernard Ingham, visited Hillsborough. [Chief Constable Peter] Wright briefed them. Ingham has always since said of Hillsborough that he “learned on the day” it was caused by a “tanked-up mob”. Ingham, later given a knighthood, has confirmed to there Guardian this was what police told Thatcher.

Good enough? That lets Thatcher off the hook?

Well, not for this blogger.

The culture of South Yorkshire police was “institutionally” corrupt. As Conn, also in the print edition, describes:

The evidence built into a startling indictment of the South Yorkshire police, their chain of command and conduct — a relentlessly detailed evisceration of a British police force. Responsible for an English county at the jeans-and-trainers end of the1980s, the police had brutally policed the miners’ strike, and was described by some of its own former officers as “regimented”. with morning parade and saluting of officers, ruled by an “iron fist” institutionally unable to admit mistakes. The dominance of Wright, a decorated police officer who died in 2011, loomed over the catastrophe. He was depicted as a frightening, authoritarian figure who treated the force “like his own personal territory” and whose orders nobody dared debate.

Those of us who had to drive down the A1 during the grim days of the miners’ dispute remember Check Point Charlie at the A1/A57/A614 roundabout, south of Ranby, where the A1 veers south-east. The lay-by (now by-passed by recent road-works) was where — day and night — a detachment of the Finest were posted, lest South Yorkshire miners escaped south to wreak havoc and mayhem.

CoulterJim Coulter, Susan Miller and Martin Walker produced a damning report (November 1984): A State of Siege, Politics and Policing of the Coalfields:  Miners Strike 1984. It was, but of course, just another loony lefty whinge — but it still stands up to scrutiny. The facts therein speak for themselves. The opinions have been proven by dint of experience;

It is important to understand the politics behind the policing because through the politics we can see what the Conservative government are pursuing is not the ‘rule of law’ but the ‘law of rule’; brute force and violence.

Rather than policing being an incidental spin off from the dispute it is at the very heart of it. [page 5]

Don’t believe me. Try ex-Deputy Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, John Stalker:

Britain has never been closer to becoming a police state than when Margaret Thatcher was in charge.

As Deputy Chief Constable of Greater Manchester I saw at first hand how her authoritarian policies could have permanently shattered the bond of trust between the police and the people.

She turned the police into a paramilitary force and put us on to a war footing.

I met her several times during my time as a senior police officer.

She took an uncommon interest in law and order, and always acted as if she was the Home Secretary as well as the PM.

That was never more clear than during the miner’s strike in 1984 when I believe Margaret Thatcher took Britain to the brink of becoming a police state.

She decided that “her” police force was going to keep the miners and pickets under control. It was all about showing who was boss…

We got streams of instructions from the Home Office on how the strike should be handled, cleverly covered with legal fig leaves saying things such as, “of course the Chief Constable has complete control over operational matters, but this is our advice”.

miners-strike-orgreaveThe “morgue” (the libraries of newspaper clippings, from before the days of the internet and electronic documentation) of any proper media operation will thrown up evidence that it was Thatcher’s wish and intention to create an “officer corps” to run “her” police service.

The ethos of the Thatcher era was an unremitting war against the “enemy within“.

At Hillsborough the enemy were the “animals” (yes: you will find that term used, and quoted in the subsequent Commons debate) who had to be caged. Five years earlier it had been the miners and their families whose liberties were revoked, whose homes invaded, who were strip-searched and violated.

When Thatcher and Ingham dropped in on the South Yorkshire Chief Constable, after Hillsborough, it wasn’t just a convivial visit. Whatever impression Wright foisted on Thatcher, she was more than a willing dupe.

The guilt doesn’t stop, conveniently, with Wright and his subordinates.

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Filed under Britain, civil rights, Conservative family values, Conservative Party policy., crime, culture, History, Law, leftist politics., policing, politics, reading, rightist politics, Tories., underclass

A stirr’d turd stinks (2)

Back to Twitter.

A certain  (who is a declared enthusiast for Donald Trump as leader of the free world!)  took offence at — of all liberal souls — The Guardian‘s Michael White. Mr Lawrie essential grief was:

slavery always illegal Scotland. Unlike England who enslaved & murdered millions.

This was repeated several times, never with any justification, and lead on to other excesses:

  • slaves in confederate states higher standard living than British working class.
  • Scotland has an elite; called the British establishment.
  • slavery illegal under scots law. Why no slaves landed in scots ports. Not so England.
  • not troll. Is fact. Scotland never had mass slave trade. Unlike England. Accept truth here.
  • not one African slave was landed in Scotland. Because it was illegal under scots law.
  • slavery was illegal in Scotland under scots law. Doesn’t contradict
  • scaremongering self loathing rubbish as though Indy scot would unleash 4th reich.
  • The SNP did not have Nazi sympathisers. You’re promoting an offensive lie.

Those may not be in the correct order

Not to forget — a gem among gems — that somehow the US Declaration of Independence sprang from the Declaration of Arbroath.

In all that there are three items worth considering:

  1. Scotland and slavery (which what I address in this post);
  2. the uncomfortable historic link between Fascism and Scottish Nationalism;
  3. that thing about the Declaration of Arbroath.

Scotland and slavery

The Battle of Dunbar (1650) lumbered Cromwell with 10,000 (his own count) Scottish Covenanters and Royalists as prisoners. He reported he had discharge half that number as “starved, sick or wounded”. The Royalist Sir Edward Walker reckoned on 6,000 prisoners, of whom 1,000 were dismissed.

Either way, that leaves 5,000 to be route-marched south. About 3,000 were alive to be incarcerated by Arthur Heslerig at Durham Cathedral. Further deaths (the bodies were found post-WW2 in a trench on the north side of the Cathedral) reduced that to just 1,4oo.  In 1651 these were despatched as indentured labour to the American colonies.

In 1666 the City worthies of Edinburgh took Cromwell’s example, and employed Captain James Gibson. With his ship, the Phoenix of Leith, Gibson contracted to take beggars, vagabonds and others not fitt to stay in the kingdome to Virginia.

Few of these transports would have survived the seven-year indenture in the plantations. The few who did became the overseers for the cheaper, more durable, black slaves. Here, then, is one reason for all those Scottish names among the descendants of the slaves.

The Royal African Company, founded in London in 1672, soon had this new trade in humans organised. The Scots merchants, like those of Bristol and Liverpool, found themselves outside the loop. In November 1692 the Leith magistrates consigned 50 lewd women, and a further 30 street-walkers by ship to (ahem!) Virginia. In 1706 Two Brothers of Leith reported a profit on a slaving voyage.

We don’t know how many slaving voyages originated from the Clyde: the Port Books before 1742 are lost, so Scots moralists can claim barely a dozen such voyages start from Scotland. What is unquestionable is that slave-produced raw cotton, sugar, and tobacco were being imported to Greenock. By no coincidence, Abram Lyle, as in Tate & Lyle, was a Greenock man. By the start of the 19th century, a third of the Jamaican sugar plantations were Scottish owned. By the 1730s Ricard Oswald, son of the Dunnet, Caithness, manse was the factor for his cousins’ trade in tobacco, sugar and wine, and traveling the American south and Caribbean. He became a government-contractor and war-profiteer (first a small killing in the War of the Austrian Succession, then £125,000 from the Seven Years’ War), and with this bought 1,566 acres of four Caribbean plantations, and 30,000 acres in East Florida.

Hard lives and (progressively) harder decisions

The comings-and-goings of Scottish traders meant some brought back their black servants: some seventy are recorded in Scotland during the 18th century. Therein Mr Lawrie’s defence of Scottish innocence totally collapses. Several cases came before Scottish courts where black servants had to plead for release from their servitude:

  • Robert Shedden brought “Shanker” to Scotland, to apprentice him to  joiner, and so improve his price back in Virginia. In April 1756, at Beith, “Shanker’ had himself baptised as James Montgomery. Shodden took the hump, and dragged him back to Port Glasgow to be sent back to Virginia. Montgomery escaped to Edinburgh, and sought his freedom. He was clapped in gaol while the magistrates had extended deliberations, and died before a decision.
  • Dr David Dalrymple brought “Black Tom”, a slave, born in West Africa,  from Grenada to Methyl in Fife. In September 1769 “Black Tom” was baptised as David Spens at Wemyss. Spend now told his former master “I am now by the Christian Religion liberate and set at freedom from my yoke, bondage, and slavery”. Dalrymple had him arrested, and local lawyers  — financed by collections from miners and salters (more of that in a while) — issued writs for wrongful arrest. Before the case could be decided, Dalrymple died.

Next: the Somerset Case. An English matter, but this is in all the schoolbooks as the definitive one: after this no slaves in England. Nope: another example of how textbooks systematically simplify to the point of lies.

  • Charles Stewart had brought the enslaved James Somerset from Boston. Somerset made a break for it, was recaptured, and consigned back to Jamaica. Three witnesses approached the Lord Chief Justice, who ordered Somerset be kept while the case was heard.  The LCJ’s judgement walked the narrowest of lines between common law and the interests of the traders. His ambiguous ruling was: no master was allowed to take a slave by force to be sold abroad because he had deserted his service or for any other reason whatever. Read it carefully: it doesn’t make slavery illegal: it did, however, give runaways pretext to take charge of their own future.
  • Joseph Knight was an enslaved African, the possession of Sir John Wedderburn in Perthshire. Inspired by the Somerset decision, Knight demanded his service become paid. Wedderburn refused. Knight absconded, and was arrested. The abolitionists, including Dr Johnson and James Boswell, interceded. In 1778 the case came to court at Perth, and was appealed to the Court of Session in Edinburgh — in both the judgement was that the law of Scotland did not allow slavery.

Salters and miners

Both essential industries, and a law of 1606 put coalyers, coal-bearers and salters in a state of perpetual bondage to their employer. Breaking the bond put the said Coalyears, Coal-bearers and Salters to be esteemed, reput and halded as theives, and punished in their bodies. Moreover, all maisters and awners of Coal-heughs and pannes, were empowered to apprehend all vagabounds and sturdie beggers to be put to labour. So: serfdom and press-ganging.

This persisted until 1775 Act. Let there be no doubt, as the Act said:

many Colliers, Coal-bearers, and Salters are in a state of slavery or bondage, bound to the Collieries and Salt-works where they work for life, transferable with the Collieries and Salt-works, when their original masters have no further use for them.

Even then there were conditions attached. It took until 1799 before all salters and colliers were free from the bond (but, even then, only when an apprenticeship had been served, or ten years’ service registered.

 

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By Bonnivard!

There was a time when we well-eddikated chaps found this stuff brought up with the pay-and-rations. Obviously, something here passed me by, or the brain-cells are popping bulbs faster than I thought.

There was I, as one does, idly leafing through Byron, and stopped off at Chillon.

Eternal Spirit of the chainless Mind!
Brightest in dungeons, Liberty, thou art;–
For there thy habitation is the heart,–
The heart which love of thee alone can bind;
And when thy sons to fetters are consigned,
To fetters, and the damp vault’s dayless gloom,
Their country conquers with their martyrdom,
And Freedom’s fame finds wings on every wind.
Chillon! thy prison is a holy place,
And thy sad floor an altar, for ’twas trod,
Until his very steps have left a trace,
Worn, as if thy cold pavement were a sod,
By Bonnivard! May none those marks efface!
For they appeal from tyranny to God.

Georgie-Porgie Gordon could crank out that stuff by the quire. I cannot enumerate the times I’ve skimmed that sonnet over the years, without a pause for thought. Similarly, at some stage I must have taken time out with The Prisoner of Chillon, which ought to have clarified my moment of mystification.

Essentially (and I can’t claim it all floods back to me), the castle had outlived its primary function as a point at which travellers heading for the Great Saint Bernard could be … err … fleeced. Small tricks like that kept the Counts of Savoy flush in Emmental and brandy. After a spell as a summer home for the Savoys, it became — as many of these joints did — a gaol.

Shoving inconvenient clerics, of the other faith (and there always was another faith), into chokey became an international sport. After all, some storage was required while Sire decided whether we needed a burning.

A Prior engagement

Which brings us to François Bonivard (or, as Byron has him, “Bonnivard”). He was a hereditary (i.e. he inherited from his uncle) prior of St Victor, just outside the walls of Geneva. Our Frankie was a merry monk, who preferred the pleasures of the flesh to the calls of mother church. Then fate came visiting him.

These being the years of the Wars of Religion, anyone and everyone had to take sides. Bonivard leaned to the reformers. Anyone going that way might easily offend a feudal lord of the other persuasion. The local Big Cheese was Charles III, Duke of Savoy, who readily hoovered up all the readies of those of the other persuasion. All that was left of the Bonivard patrimony was that one priory.

So François threw his lot (and there wasn’t much left) with the rebels. Which in turn meant he had to do a sudden bunk when the Savoyards came looking for him. He was betrayed by those he thought “mates”, one of whom (Abbot Brisset) snaffled his personal priory, and he spent a couple of years in Savoy’s Grolée clink at Lyon.

The table turns: Brisset ate something that terminally disagreed with him, Bonivard “escaped” from his prison, and made it back to claim his priory. All’s well that ends well?

As if. Bonivard went off for a weekend (dirty or not, but he had the beginnings of a reputation) at scenic Moudon, and found himself again in the clutches of the Savoyards, this time consigned to the Castle of Chillon — so we get there eventually — and was incarcerated there for the next six years.

Quality? Nah! Feel the width!

His release came when the burgeoning power of the city-state of Bern took over the Vaud. His priory was a rubble heap, and he was definitely out-of-funds. But Bonivard was instantly a national hero and a fire-brand: Geneva awarded him a pension, and a salaried place on the management committee.

He had also lost any pretentions to monkish celibacy, but a recognition of how to finance a rather rackety lifestyle — marrying a succession of well-off widows, until he arrived (#4) at a defrocked — in any sense — nun (she ended badly, drowned for immorality in the Rhône, with her inamorato beheaded).

Doubtless with a resigned sigh, Bonivard now devoted his declining years — until his death in 1570, aded 77 — to compiling the Chronicles of Geneva, and some other works, none of which need to detain us on any grounds of literary merit.

You need a good spin-doctor, my friend …

… allow me to introduce the sixth Baron Byron.

I seriously doubt Bonivard would have any significance had it not been for the romanticising he got at the hands of Byron.

Like any starry-eyed undergraduate, I fell for his mad, bad and dangerous-to-know attractions. When I woke the morning-after, I realised the language was superb, but any political or social thought was pretty jejune.

Which is all pretty well summed up by that slogan, worthy of any MadMen:

Freedom’s fame finds wings on every wind.

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Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose (revisited)

I picked up Jennie Lee’s memoir.

That shows my age. Who now remembers her? Let us, for now, remember just one incident.

Aged just 24 (at an age when women were then not sufficiently mature to vote) , in February 1924, she — a young teacher — stood for the Independent Labour Party in the North Lanark by-election. She, and the local miners, overturned a Unionist majority (MP: Colonel Sir Alexander Sprotof 2,028 into a majority of 6,578.  Her opponent in the by-election was Lord Scone, Mungo David Malcolm Murray, later the 7th Earl of Mansfield and Mansfield.

Then I came to this:

1924

Not much — apart from the obsession with male facial-ornaments — has changed.

I posted that on Twitter.

And nobody responded.

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MRDA endures

Mandy Rice-Davies Applies

[This is a much-abbreviated rehash from a long-decayed earlier post.]

MandyAs an acronym. this is ever-useful, implies that someone (especially a politician) is lying to protect their own interests. The expression should be kept in good working order, both to remind us that politicians only lie when their lips move, and to memorialise a good working girl.

Famously (and much regurgitated in the obituaries of the last few days) during the trial of Stephen Ward (who was falsely charged with living off the immoral earnings of Christine Keeler and Rice-Davies), the prosecuting counsel pointed out that Lord Astor denied any involvement with her. Rice-Davies replied, “Well, he would, wouldn’t he?”

Mandy Rice-Davis should remains a legend in her own bed-time for two things:

  • The technicians in at least one television news-studio expected a full drinks-round from any newscaster guilty of the predictable spoonerism: “Randy Mice-Davies”.
  • This bon-mot over the involvement with Lord Astor.

That would be John Jacob Astor, 3rd Viscount Astor of Hever. The present and 4th Viscount Astor is his son, William Waldorf Astor.

No, no! stick with it! It suddenly becomes interesting!

One thing to be guaranteed among Tories (apart from involvement with unsuitable young females — Miss Rice-Davis was all of just eighteen when she became an “acquaintance” of 55-year-old Astor) is serial monogamy.

So the present Lord Astor is not only a Tory in the House of Lords, he is Samantha Cameron’s stepfather.

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