Sunday, 19 December 2010

This is what gets on my wick about the assumptions of Guardian music writers (I have known one or two):

Par from Beefheart's obit:

'Captain Beefheart was also a visionary in one other, often overlooked, way: he hymned the natural world in his own inimitably odd way on songs such as My Human Gets Me Blues and Wild Life. He was an ecological warrior long before it was fashionable. His death, after a long period of self-enforced seclusion, comes at a time when it is difficult to imagine anyone as eccentric – and as eccentrically gifted – finding a place in contemporary pop culture. In the era of The X Factor the old-fashioned showbusiness values that the 1960s rock revolution was meant to have swept away have returned with a vengeance. There is no place now in pop for the madcap and the beautifully demented, but there is always Trout Mask Replica. Approach with caution.'

In the era of The X Factor the old-fashioned showbusiness values that the 1960s rock revolution was meant to have swept away have returned with a vengeance.

No, they haven't returned. Old fashioned showbiz values meant the performers you see on X Factor would have been booed off. Simple as that.
'The 60s rock revolution' was balanced on the despised 'old fashioned showbiz values' in the sense that you had to have a talent honed through discipline, you had to be 'good'. You don't anymore and that is more a result of 60s cultural relativism, digging a pony as Lennon had it, than Cowell's shit-peddling.
I was sad to hear of Beefheart's death. I've long been a fan, even though I think he was a bit of a charlatan.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Colour Study for That's Life, That's What All the People Say. Chalk.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Email to a pal re Melanie Phillips

THEY all slag her off but I read her book Londonistan and everything she says in it is borne out by current events - London and environs is the biggest breeding ground for Islamic terrorism outside the Orient* and the British public are paying for it with their taxes through benefits, grants and paying for the EU to build a legal system that gives protection to the radicals. No surprise the exploding dimwit in Sweden was radicalised here. She made the point that when the mullahs came here in the 80s, the Govt and MI5 made the basic error of thinking they would only cause trouble abroad so let 'em get on with it. For this reason I wrote to her and suggested she should use a George Orwell quote from his essay England, Your England, as an epigraph for the paperback edition:
'The insularity of the English, their refusal to take foreigners seriously, is a folly that has to be paid for very heavily from time to time.'
I thought of that line on the 7th July 2005.
Of course, Orwell's next line was: 'But it plays its part in the English mystique, and the intellectuals who have tried to break it down have generally done more harm than good.'
He goes on to say, rather wonderfully:

'The mentality of the English left-wing intelligentsia can be studied in half a dozen weekly and monthly papers. The immediately striking thing about all these papers is their generally negative, querulous attitude, their complete lack at all times of any constructive suggestion. There is little in them except the irresponsible carping of people who have never been and never expect to be in a position of power. Another marked characteristic is the emotional shallowness of people who live in a world of ideas and have little contact with physical reality. Many intellectuals of the Left were flabbily pacifist up to 1935, shrieked for war against Germany in the years 1935-9, and then promptly cooled off when the war started. It is broadly though not precisely true that the people who were most ‘anti-Fascist’ during the Spanish Civil War are most defeatist now. And underlying this is the really important fact about so many of the English intelligentsia – their severance from the common culture of the country.
In intention, at any rate, the English intelligentsia are Europeanized. They take their cookery from Paris and their opinions from Moscow. In the general patriotism of the country they form a sort of island of dissident thought. England is perhaps the only great country whose intellectuals are ashamed of their own nationality. In left-wing circles it is always felt that there is something slightly disgraceful in being an Englishman and that it is a duty to snigger at every English institution, from horse racing to suet puddings. It is a strange fact, but it is unquestionably true that almost any English intellectual would feel more ashamed of standing to attention during ‘God save the King’ than of stealing from a poor box. All through the critical years many left-wingers were chipping away at English morale, trying to spread an outlook that was sometimes squashily pacifist, sometimes violently pro-Russian, but always anti-British.'

Still a recognisable picture, mutatis mutandis and accepting that they now have power, eh?

The essay can be read here.

*A word I have started to use again as it apparently offends both Islamic and Marxist mullahs. As a kid it was a word I enjoyed (Biggles in the Orient, for example and the whole mysterious Chinaman trend in adventure fiction). I even considered supporting Leyton Orient because of my liking for it.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Study for Hastings Pier After the Fire

Charcoal and chalk on brown packing paper, 4/12/10.

Friday, 3 December 2010

The Philosophy of Losing

‘HABIT is stronger than reason.’ So said the philosopher George Santayana. The aphorism could well do with being posted in prominent positions everywhere bets are taken on horses.
I did not wish to burden you with a disquisition on horse-playing this early in my return to the online fold, but feel what I have to say will benefit me (by the action of writing it down) and you if you ever decide to gamble on racing yourself.
I had planned a little canter round the subject of what happens to revered American film directors once they’ve got their Oscar and have entered their seventh decade, but that can wait.
I don’t know if Santayana was a racing fan. It’s possible, I suppose. He knocked about Europe a fair bit and lived in Italy for years. He might possibly have had a few lire on the Palio. However, his little Christmas cracker motto nicely illustrates the primary error of the average punting mind.
Every punter has a bad habit. Indeed most punters simply have bad punting habits full stop. Mine is doing each-way trixies (A multiple bet consisting of three selections covered by three doubles and a treble – four bets. Each way makes eight bets. We’ll come back to trixies another time, for they are rivalled only by women as vehicles for inflicting joy and misery).
The first, foremost and worst punting habit is the one that ensures there is a profitable betting shop situated roughly between every pub and bank in England – the indiscriminate backing of favourites.
Happily it is not bad punting habit of mine. Though I have plenty.
If favourites won all the time there would be no racing and no betting. You cannot ‘buy money’ by lumping on short-priced favourites. OK, it can be done sometimes and is done, but as a strategy it is foolhardy and will send you to the poorhouse in short order. Yet the same people go back day after day to shove their hard-earned or not so hard-earned money at the cashiers for the ‘good thing’, the the jolly old favourite. Habit proving very much stronger than reason.
You are more likely to find me having unprotected sex with an African prostitute than putting a packet on a nag at evens or odds-on.
The following anecdote should prove nicely instructive about the folly of backing favourites.
I was walking to work in central London a couple of weeks ago when I remembered there was quite an interesting-looking race on the Newbury card that afternoon. That particular jumps meeting always has some class action and is usually worth getting involved in. I entered a betting shop in Camden Town a few minutes before the start of a novices' Chase.
The first thing I noticed was a young man gabbling into his mobile phone with a betting slip in front of him which had ‘Spirit River, £200 win’ written on it in an unsteady hand. Oh dear, I thought.
The place was full of Chinese and Poles plus the usual pensioners and builders. They were all lumping money on the favourite, a handsome, powerful-looking French beast, the aforementioned Spirit River, trained by the very clever Nicky Henderson (who trains the Queen's National Hunt prospects). With one eye I watched Spirit River cantering down to the start on the main tv set and with the other, so to speak, I had a glance at the form.
I’m not the greatest judge of equine physique but there was no doubt Spirit River was the best horse in the race and would win if he put in a clear round over fences. He looked as if he would have a high cruising speed and plenty in the tank.
It was a novice chase, so they were all hurdlers looking to score over fences for the first time. Hurdles are much different from fences. Fences are bigger and more of a challenge. If a horse is used to lifting his legs to a certain height he may find he has a surprise when going over fences in a race scenario. However, it was clear everyone in the shop and at the racecourse had elected to believe that a good hurdler will be a good chaser first time out despite plenty of historical evidence to the contrary.
Paul Nicholls’ well-regarded Celestial Halo was also making his chase debut but I didn’t fancy him over fences just yet. A tricky horse, he is.
My eye was taken by Cois Farraig, the only horse in the race with point-to-point experience. Point-to-points being amateur steeplechases.
At 10/1 and with some fence experience he looked like he might be worth a bet. I didn’t expect him to beat Spirit River in terms of racing, but in terms of jumping. If he could jump better than Spirit River – if the favourite fell, to be precise – then he was in with a serious chance I reckoned.
Meanwhile, money continued to pile on the favourite, Spirit River, which was 10/11. The young man approached the counter and pushed £200 under the window. Oh dear, I thought.
Off they went. Cois Farraig led until the fourth fence when Spirit River headed him. I felt a tad gloomy because Spirit River was doing OK. In fact I was on the verge of throwing my betting slip away. The Sporting Life’s report tells what happened to the favourite next with greater concision than I can hope to rival:
‘Led 4th, blundered and fell 11th. Opened 11/10 touched 11/10. £1000-£800 (x3) £500-£400 (x4) £1200-£1000 £1100-£1000 (x2) £550-£500 £473-£400 £1000-£1000 £500-£550’
The figures that follow the description are a record of some of the larger punts made with bookies in the betting ring at Newbury.
When poor old Spirit River fell a great oriental lamentation spread across the room, punctuated with Polish oaths. I simultaneously yelled, with a bit of mockery in my voice: ‘There’s no easy money in this game, fellas!’
The Poles regarded me sulkily for that. The Chinese said nothing. They simply shouted at each other and the screen. But I was busy watching my horse, which had looked as if its jockey, Dominic Elsworth, was easing it down for place money in the wake of the favourite. Now Spirit River was out of it every other jockey in the race suddenly realised they might be set fair for some of the £25,000 prize money. Cois Farraig picked up sharply, was
‘slightly hampered 11th, led 12th, driven after 2 out, stayed on well’
to win.
I did a little dance in front of screens as I sometimes do under those circumstances.
The race announcer, who’d said he’d backed Spirit River, sounded a bit gutted when talking the race over. No one but me was at the pay-out window. ‘Well done,’ the commentator said, ‘if you picked that one out.’
‘I did!’ I announced to the shop before toddling past them all – including the now dazed-looking youth who put £200 quid on Spirit River – back on to Camden High Street to continue my journey to work. A profitable little diversion.
But the nub is that the following day, the following race even, 90 per cent of the punters in the shop would be back on the favourite, lumping on short price certainty. Habit being stronger than reason.
Spirit River is once to keep an eye on. He’ll win a chase soon enough.
As I walked along chuckling a bit, another Santayana quote suggested itself as a betting shop legend, perhaps embossed on brass plaques above the main screen: ‘If pain could have cured us we should long ago have been saved.’