Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Dreamer in a Landscape

John Craxton. Dreamer in a Landscape, 1942. Ink with pen and chalk

Andrew Lambirth's Spectator tribute to the painter John Craxton, who died recently, is a lovely read:

An artist with a particular interest in the inhabited landscape, Craxton could summon up the spirit of place with a wit and ingenuity that left most painters of his generation standing. Aware from youth that there is no art without other art, he sought out essence rather than originality, but achieved an original vision by the depth of his understanding and interpretation. John detested labels and pigeonholes, principally because they encouraged unjustified assumptions and lazy thinking, and he is frequently quoted as disliking the term ‘neo-romantic’, which was attached to his own work of the 1940s. It was the ‘neo’ he objected to particularly, being proud to admit his indebtedness to the Romantic vision of William Blake and Samuel Palmer, just as he would be the first to claim the inspiring influence of Byzantine art.

I had nearly forgotten about Craxton. When I studied painting nearly 20 years ago I found his work intriguing. I was in those days a devotee of Caravaggio, Degas, Van Gogh, Freud, Bacon, Whistler, the impressionists, the fauves, Stanley Spencer and the Camden Town painters. I still am. But it was a few years before I discovered my taste for English Romanticism. I had a good working knowledge of Turner, Constable and Samuel Palmer, however it was some time - after much solipsism and many nights spend wandering under harvest moons that I fell truly under their spell and was properly awed by their achievements.
Constable is out of fashion now, but I always think of him when I walk in a betting shop during the Flat season and see evening racing from Salisbury: not having the BBC's budget, the SIS only has cameras for long shots and this is a boon; you get a complete picture: the gaily coloured jockeys galloping through a blue and gold dusk, lush green turf dappled by evening sunlight, trees and the cathedral behind them in the distance. I must paint that view one day.

Walking through a warren of dark wet streets the other night I turned a corner I don't normally turn and there stood a pub, a proper pub with a proper name, lit up from one end to another with coloured bulbs and glowing with friendly light. It's a good pub that myself and my friends have fallen out of the habit of using. It was like encountering a lit-up pleasure boat on a dark and wintry river. Just the sight of it was a pep without even buying a drink.
I hope we don't lose too many places like that as England disintegrates - they make winters in these bleak cities a bit more bearable - but of course we already have.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Some scattered opinions

A quick apology for saying in my last post that single parents and the welfare/social arrangments of the underclass produce the Doncaster Junior psychopaths. I was careless in my use of language. Obviously I ommitted 'can' from the sentence.
While we're on the subject, I haven't got carried away with the flock that says that the whole thing was a sort of freak thing that could have happened anywhere and at any time. In this country it is only in relatively recent years that small children could have been subjected to such prolonged exposure to violence, drug ingestion, hardcore pornography, horror films and alcoholism. Yes, yes, the medieval period and the workhouses and so on, yes I understand. But monkey see monkey do.
A friend of mine who is a hairdresser said a friend of hers came into work a few weeks ago and told her that she'd found her two sons, both under ten, naked and 'spitting on each other's anuses'.
Evidently she was more bemused than worried by her discovery. But when my friend told this story in the pub all those present - some of whom were parents themselves -immediately came to the same conclusion: her children had been watching and acting out hardcore pornography.

So, James Purnell, Blairite golden boy and model member of the Political Class leaves the circus to find a proper job. At first I was surprised and was almost tempted to say well done, son: these sort of people never like letting go of power, but then I thought again. An intrigant like Purnell, who did his indentures in power-gathering under Tony and Mandy, will always have a good analysis of his own chances: he obviously sees defeat and a lurch to the Left for Labour leaving him on paltry money - by political class standards anyway - and well out of power for years to come.
Merely doing his job as a backbench MP won't excite Purnell, which, when you contrast it with his cant about serving the public as a 'community organiser' rings the bullshit bell for me.
He is well mourned in the Murdoch press today as well he might be: my contacts at Wapping have seen him down there often, currying favour back when the going looked good. He is 'bright', he is 'brilliant', was a 'rising star' etc.
If only the journalists who reeled this stuff off had practical experience of being within the jurisdiction of Mr Purnell's power.
In the middle of last year I found myself in dispute with the Department of Work and Pensions, Purnell's responsibility at the time. The incompetence was breathtaking. I spent many weeks without being paid what was due me. The call centre staff at Stratford Benefit Delivery Centre always directed me back to the Job Centre and the Job Centre always directed me back to SBDC; its staff were mainly foreigners who had no colloquial English, which made explanations time consuming and next to impossible. Two months passed and still no payment.
I contacted my MP and wrote to Purnell. I never heard back from Purnell but I got a very swift reply from my MP, a Tory who had just been exposed as exploiting the additional costs allowance to get himself a second home even though his actual home was only half an hour from Westminster.
In a roundabout way I heard that my MP planned to raise the matter of maladministration at the DoWP and its satellites in Parliament because of the sheer number of complaints he was getting from his constituents.
Meanwhile a reporter friend of mine from Wapping made a study of the DoWP - when ringing it up she always asked - could never find - anyone who knew who James Purnell was.
I sent in a few FoIs asking the things one always asks in FoIs to government and civil service: how many staff are off long term with anxiety and depression, how many are in rehab on the taxpayers' nickel, how much have you spent on prayer rooms, religious toilets, interpreters and halal menus, and, important in this case, how many complaints and disputes about Benefit Delivery Centres are under way. You usually get evasive verbiage or a request to reframe the question. In the case of complaints I seem to remember it would cost them more than the justifiable allowance to find out.
But let me make it clear, I've been in and out of the benefit system over the years and I have never known such incompetence and faceless bureacracy. I couldn't help but think: modern socialism: be shit and be untouchable for being shit.
All under the benign aegis of the great white hope of centre-left politics, James Purnell. Anyone who now says that Ministers cannot be responsible for their departments - a common view now among political class apologists - is essentially playing into the hands of the hard-core libertarians, such as Dr Sean Gabb whose hilarious book on how the libertarian Right might capture England, proposes simply abolishing departments such as the DoWP and the Foreign Office at a stroke.
Incidentally, Gabb's book is a splendid read as long as you don't take it too seriously. I read it in 2007, on trams and buses while commuting through chaotic south London, which was going through the high watermark of the teenage cult of stabbing, skunk and violent disorder caused by Mayor Livingtone's and New Labour's interference in police work.
Can anyone disagree with the basic premise of Gabb's book?
We face a new ruling class made up of the student radicals of the 1960s and 70s. Now in power, they are creating in their own behaviour all the corruption and bigotry and hypocrisy that they falsely alleged against the liberal democratic rulers they have replaced.

Dr Gabb's solutions are far more debatable; and I took issue with him dismissing the BNP as a vehicle for change only because they were 'tainted', and not because they are modelled on the Nazi Party of 1933.
You can download a free pdf on that link.
As for Purnell, he'll be back in about five years with 'street cred' to fight a floundering Tory Party.

I saw a bit of Tarantino's Kill Bill Part 2 on the TV the other night. The last film I saw at the cinema was Kill Bill 1 nearly seven years ago. When I left the cinema with my then girlfriend - who was equally bored by it - I thought, in an obscure way, 'that's the last time they do that to me'. By 'them' I mean the American film industry in general.
Among self-styled hipsters you are not really allowed to dislike Tarantino. Or rather you are allowed to not like his films but you will be branded narrow-minded and provincial if you do. A friend at the time took this tack but I said that you could hardly call a man narrow-minded and provincial who has seen and found merit films such as, for example, Last Tango in Paris, Roma, Pasolini's Salo and The Devils.
I watched about an hour of Kill Bill 2 and I suddenly I remembered very clearly why I dislike his films so much: it isn't that they are comic strip silly, I don't mind that. What I don't like is that within the framework of silliness and comic strip plot is pretension, pomposity and self-indulgence. The dialogue scenes that go on and on - like the absurd death scene of Bill - and demonstrate to me that even though Tarantino boasts of his multi-million dollar masturbatory plagiarism, he wants to be taken very seriously as an artist. His sensibilities are really that of the, horror of horrors, graphic novel. I think he thinks he's a sort of new Sam Peckinpah. But the difference is that while Peckinpah was self-indulgent he had a soul and was an adult and you can see this in his work. No so Quentin.
The exploitation films he adores were rightly regarded as down-the-bill rubbish - sometimes enjoyable rubbish but rubbish nonetheless - but Quentin the video store nerd doesn't like that. He doesn't think they are getting 'nuff respeck. He wants to bring back the old rubbish, pump it full of 'clever' dialogue and adolescent cruelty, and place it at the centre of the culture and have the critical establishment genuflect and the kidults go bandy.
And he's done it, more's the pity.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

The Bonfire of the Economist's Vanity

Sorry for radio silence. I had a month off from blogging. As James Brown sang: I’m back!

A friend of this blog asked me to comment about this editorial from last week’s Economist. Its angle is that Cameron’s ‘Broken Britain’ doesn’t exist.

Stepping back from the glare of the latest appalling tale, it is clear that by most measures things have been getting better for a good decade and a half…The broken Britain of legend is one where danger stalks the streets as never before. In the real Britain, the police have just recorded the lowest number of murders for 19 years. In mythical broken Britain, children are especially at risk. Back in real life, child homicides have fallen by more than two-thirds since the 1970s. Britain used to be the third-biggest killer of children in the rich world; it is now the 17th. And more mundane crimes have fallen too: burglaries and car theft are about half as common now as they were 15 years ago. Even the onset of recession has not reversed that downward trend so far.
Comatose teenagers line every gutter in the boozy Britain of popular imagination. Yet after a long period of increase, there are tentative signs that Britons are drinking less alcohol. The overall consumption of drugs is dropping (though some narcotics, including cocaine, are becoming more popular) and rates of smoking are now among the lowest in Europe.
As for family breakdown, some commentators seem to think that sex really was invented in 1963. British grannies know differently. Teenage pregnancy is still too common, but it has been declining, with the odd hiccup, for ages. A girl aged between 15 and 19 today is about half as likely to have a baby in her teens as her grandmother was. Her partner will probably not marry her and he is less likely to stick with her than were men in previous generations, but he is also a lot less likely to beat her. In homing in on the cosier parts of the Britain of yesteryear, it is easy to ignore the horrors that have gone. Straight white men are especially vulnerable to this sort of amnesia.

As an aside, and as a betting man, I would bet that the person who wrote this article is under thirty, either female, Asian or gay (or all three), from a middle to upper middle class background; they are some sort of senior intern following up an Oxford degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics with a stint at the Ec while pondering which career to pursue in the Political Class. They pitched the editorial and got the gig. That’s why the piece is so redolent of the flippant intellects, shrivelled moral imaginations and brazen incuriosity of the graduate class of today.
Anyway, enough of the rhetoric.
To take it point by point:

Regarding the ‘crime is going down’ mantra. Yes, certain types of crime are going down. Mainly the crimes that are motivated by Mr Marx’s commodity fetishism – burglary and car theft. This is indubitably a good thing. But why has it happened? In my view because consumer goods have never been cheaper, welfare provision is generous and credit was plentiful. If DVD recorders, computers and the like were well out of the financial range of the criminal class they would come into your home and take them off you, as they did back in the days when video recorders were the ne plus ultra of consumer fetishism.
When the truth about this country’s financial situation is laid bare after the coming election and the borrowed money tap is turned off for the first time in years as well as a new austerity applied to welfare culture, the behaviour of criminals is likely to change. It’s always worth remembering that when people can get something easily they don’t bother with the hard way – until they decide they have to.
The crimes that have escalated over the past 15 years are crimes such as violence and the use of knives among the young. That has rocketed. Any comparison of teen-on-teen knife murder in the past five years and 20 years ago will show that violence has exploded in recent years. But Left/liberal commentators shamelessly hide this in the general statistics.
I have argued about this many times with a well-known Labour-supporting journalist and he airily refuses to engage with it. Many crimes, particularly petty violence and shoplifting simply go unreported. The police make it abundantly clear they are not interested in ‘minor’ crime. This is the result of a highly privileged, socially liberal judiciary and public administration thinking it social justice to not enforce the law on these crimes. They forget that honest people in poor areas are the people who have to pay for their big-hearted actions. It’s hard to see Hackney, Croydon and Lambeth and their drugs, knives and welfare problems from Hampstead Heath.

The middle par is a splendid example of Political Class doublethink. Yes, every provincial town is a mess of violence and vomit several nights a week – my town centre most definitely is – but ‘there are tentative signs that Britons are drinking less alcohol.’ What signs are these?
Drink isn’t the problem anyway. It’s the entire social and cultural orientation of people that’s becoming a problem. Drink just unleashes it. Drink is just a detonator for the morons our society creates.

More doublethink:

The overall consumption of drugs is dropping (though some narcotics, including cocaine, are becoming more popular).

Nothing to do there but titter.

The third par is also doublethink. Or, perhaps, no-think. Like many a flimsy argument blithely put, it contains the seeds of its own destruction:

As for family breakdown, some commentators seem to think that sex really was invented in 1963. British grannies know differently. Teenage pregnancy is still too common, but it has been declining, with the odd hiccup, for ages.’

A girl aged between 15 and 19 today is about half as likely to have a baby in her teens as her grandmother was. Her partner will probably not marry her and he is less likely to stick with her than were men in previous generations.

How quick that last sentence is rattled off and how much nuance it contains!
And why won’t the man stick around? Because often he will have had no father himself from which to learn moral responsibility and civilised behaviour from; because the stigma of fatherless children was abolished by ‘progressives’ and because he no longer has to because everyone else – via the state – is paying for his children. This ‘empowers’ women, according to the Labour Party. An extreme example of the sort people these arrangments produce is the recent case of two junior psychopaths in Doncaster.

…he is also a lot less likely to beat her.

Yes, well, you can’t beat someone if you’re no longer with them.

I will admit that I don’t like Cameron’s phrase ‘Broken Britain’. It’s as phoney as a newspaper campaign. Of course, most of the people currently objecting to the phrase were the very people who were forever screaming about ‘Thatcher’s Britain’ and blaming every last ill on her government. For example, within the past few years the late Richard Stott in the Daily Mirror was still blaming every violent crime that occurred in Britain on Mrs Thatcher, 15 and more years after she left office. Labour must be careful over this.
Having interviewed Cameron I know that he has the single-mother welfare industry created by Labour firmly in his sights. Personally I think he’ll bottle it when the time comes but we shall see.
The Economist has long been a magazine extolling the selfishness and hypocrisy of liberals in love with consumer capitalism: Blair’s old speechwriter, Neether, in his role as comment editor of the Standard, seemed always to be getting senior editorial staff from the magazine to pen the spurious from-business-class defences of Labour’s insane immigration levels. Defences that have subsequently been proved by the House of Lords report on the matter to be completely wrong. Still, cheap labour’s cheap labour – it’s not called The Economist for nothing.
The more people I meet who are involved in the Political Class at even lowly levels, the more I encounter this idea that somehow a mixture of the preeminence of pop culture, feminism, gay rights and ‘multiculturalism’ means that Progress Has Happened and It Is Not To Be Gainsaid in Any Way. Anyone who asks awkward questions is held to be opposed to gay rights, feminism etc and is liable to be called a ‘fascist’ or ‘rightwing’.
I am in favour of gay rights and feminism, but I stop short at surrendering to the ideological fantasy that the family is not THE building block of a civilised society but A block and that everyone can do exactly what they like and it's all for the best in the best possible world. I've seen enough of it going wrong to know that is the moonshine of the socially leftish middle class.

Then there’s this pearl:

The waning of the manufacturing jobs that used to be the mainstay of the working class has created a generation of young males, in particular, who don’t know what to do with themselves.

Could have been written Marie Antoinette, couldn’t it? What has created the generation of young males ‘who don’t know what to do with themselves’ is the impact of trendy and ‘progressive’ social developments in homes and schools. Where nobody can or is allowed to stand up to these children before the road to the underclass is taken. Meanwhile the middle classes get the glittering prizes. And they call this social justice. As I once said to an Oxbridge graduate journo who was extolling the virtues of decriminalising skunk: ‘It’s all right for you. You can get away with it. Thousands of kids round here won’t be so lucky.’

The editorialist mentions how Britons are sentimentally looking back on – vile expression – ‘yesteryear’.
I don’t. I like to think I have a level head about what we have lost and what we have gained. And we have gained much. But some things, some worthwhile things, have been or are being lost. To point this out is not to be a sentimentalist. In my opinion, children who grow up on nothing but telly, the net, computer games and porn on their phone will be less pleasant, less lovable, less use and enjoyment to themselves and to others than children who grew up using their imaginations through playing with each other and reading and drawing so on. I may be wrong but what I see so far makes me feel I am not that wide of the mark. The innocence and space of childhood is being stripped away, sexualised and, somehow, nationalised. It fills me with dread. To note this is not to be nostalgist, surely?

To conclude. If The Economist want to see the sharp end of the pluralism they are in love with, they should get out of Shoreditch and spend some time hanging round the sinks, where the crack and kicking-heads-like-footballs culture is. Broken Britain may be a cliché, but you could hardly say it was in full working order, what with nearly 10 million people economically inactive and/or in the welfare system and a government which still insists we need foreign labour. After 13 years of an enormous socialist spending spree, the current situation leaves Blairite capitalists with some very thorny questions to answer.