Monday, 15 August 2022

OUR DOG ATE MY HOMEWORK

I have always been impressed by the inventiveness of the young when lying. Our 8 year old granddaughter demonstrated a surprising sophistication when slightly late in returning home. I suggested excuses: 

“we could say there was a sinkhole in the road which was vast and several cars had already fallen down it – the screams of the people down there were blood curdling”. She shook her head. “too much stuff grandpa let’s just say there was a big hole in the road that meant we had to take a long way back…” She has all the makings of a Tory politician, that girl.

I remember one chap who realised that dog had had its day and said “our parrot shredded my homework…” He was shredded himself for that.

Angry Parrot - Openclipart

But nowadays we are protecting our young from books that might cause them stress. A number of Universities have triggered “beware” notices on or banned several books and plays. Amongst others “A Midsummer night’s Dream” – for classism; Strindberg’s most famous play “Miss Julie”contains discussions on suicide; works of Jane Austen, Chaucer, Charles Dickens and several others.

Introduction to A Midsummer Night's Dream | SkyMinds.Net

To return to our inventive young, we are handing them the ammunition to avoid work.

“I couldn’t read King Lear…ageist,  violent and sad” 

“I’m not doing any more maths as a professor in New York said ‘the equation 2+2=4 reeks of white supremacist patriarchy’.”

“I can’t do history as I’ve read the old historians we’re asked to read were narrow-minded white men who delighted to write about other white men”

“The Fairie Queen is potentially homophobic – I can’t read that.”

“Oliver Twist is about pederasty, criminality and violence towards women – why was it published?”

Why aren't students choosing to study English and the arts at A-Level?:  Part one - FFT Education Datalab

The continued decline this year in the number of young people taking English Literature ’A’ Level and the removal of it from some University syllabuses should allay concerns we have about the stress-inducing literature.

I read English at Oxford and if I’d had access to this branch of stress-sourcing I’d have slammed the ghastly Beowulf straight on to that list of “banned texts”. Why? Animal abuse, misogyny, classism and more. Indeed I’d have led a crusade against anything Anglo Saxon on the basis that this was a beastly, cruel period study of which should be avoided. Like Covid it should be locked down.

Beowulf Anglo-Saxon Poem || Origin, Summary and Analysis

Yet those providing the reference points for such censorship of literature and other subjects like Latin (“Latin is a dead language – studying it equates to necrophilia”) come from a bunch of radical thinking post-graduate Tutors who have created the anti-establishment wokeism that can infuriate or divert.

For me increasingly it is diverting but it suggests the study of the humanities at University may be becoming increasingly controversial and expendable. The very idea of a University education being essential has been contradicted by the legacy of punitive debts such an education creates.

Yet, as you’ll previously have gathered, my view about today’s youth or indeed youth at any point of history is that they were/are in general optimistic, good humoured and enterprising.

Cool loos you can use: Top 10 public toilets worth talking about -  Cheapflights

Three tiny lavatorial examples of this:

Years ago before Oxford Colleges were unisex a woman’s college installed a urinal for visiting men. Above it a woman had written. 

“Who is Armitage and what is shanking?” 

In an American college someone had inscribed over a washbasin “Think.” Sometime later someone added an arrow from “think” to where soap was dispensed and it said “Thoap.” 

Finally In a pub urinal the immortal “The penis mightier than the sword”

So long as we encourage such laughter, irreverence and freedom of speech all will be OK.


Monday, 8 August 2022

"CRISIS. WHAT CRISIS?"

This is what appeared on the front page of the Sun referring to the then Prime Minister, the laconic Jim Callaghan, during the so called Winter of Discontent in 1978.

Misery Monday: Then was the winter of our discontent | Shropshire Star

44 years later we’re back again to the “C” word. Friday’s Times headline was ”Britain slides into Crisis.” Note, not Crashes, not Plunges but Slides. There’s a  graceful inevitability to sliding but there’s only one direction to slide…down. And in the context of economic recession there’s a subtext…a slide isn’t sudden it’s a progressive state often caused by inattention. 

Growing inflation and recession have been inevitable for most of this year so there are no surprises here. It’s not just Britain that has its problems, Europe is struggling towards recession too with Italian debt the highest on record and France and Germany both struggling to cope. Most worrying of all is the Chinese economic slump and especially the issues with a mortgage-repayment- revolution. It smells a bit of 2008.

The Fire of the Dragon

Read Ian Williams – “The Fire of the Dragon” which is just out. A reviewer for the Daily Mail called it “a devastating exposé.” Chinese ambition for global domination mixed with internal discontent and an economy in trouble is a caustic cocktail.

So what can we do? Apart from being worried, frightened or just angry.

Boris Johnson 'does not have a nap' during the day, Downing Street says |  Politics News | Sky News

Our own slide into crisis is an acceleration owing to sleepy, eye-off-the-ball government plus the pandemic, Ukraine and Brexit. The global picture isn’t our concern  right now. That blaze down the road can be sorted out when the fire in our own home’s been extinguished.

I recently helped in a recruitment process of young, recently graduated Financial Analysts. The candidates were well qualified, gifted, high-achievers with positive attitudes to life. They were impressive. I was uplifted.

The biggest lessons they discussed were the resilience of human beings and the positive outcomes that crises like the pandemic, brought out in general and, specifically, in the ability of specialists to achieve in months what would normally have taken years. They didn’t talk much about government but instead about the inspirational impact people could have who had the will and capability to change things.

Kate Bingham - SV Health Investors

The heroes of the pandemic were  Kate Bingham who drove the vaccination programme and the team at Oxford who got so much of the Astra Zeneca programme to happen so quickly.

One of these clever young people I met said, crisis, more often than not, accelerated creative solutions and that, in general left to their own devices to work things out, people came up with good solutions or, at the very worst, muddled their way through.

These candidates’ faith in human ingenuity, reliance and energy has been missing in the media and in many people I speak to.  A more accurate Times headline would have better described the mood if it had read “Britain slides into depression.” But these clever, single golf handicap, accomplished musicians, county standard chess playing, A* gathering, 1st class degree (of course) young people were clear-sightedly confident “it” – this crisis- could be fixed. And fixed quickly.

Their refreshing view of life and their own obvious ability to juggle as well as excel cheered me and made me want to make sure we keep them rather than lose them in the brain drains that happened in previous economic difficulties.

The Soho House Privateclub is Opening in Brighton! - Brighton Journal

Later that day walking along Brighton Seafront I saw what just 20 years ago had been scruffy, grotty quality stalls and caffs but was now transformed to a smart – could have been the South of France – resort of the middle class. This uplifted me further. So again:

Crisis? What crisis?


Monday, 1 August 2022

CHEER UP!

Imagine a news flash over 50 years ago “Today the pound hit a new low against the dollar” followed by the tuneful

“Woke up this morning feeling fine
I've got something special on my mind” 

That’s actually what  happened in 1964 with that Herman’s Hermits hit, I’m into Something Good

Herman's Hermits | Discography | Discogs

Herman’s Hermits had loads of UK hits and 18 top 40 hits in the USA selling over 80 million records. Lead singer Peter Noone described their name as being a huge disadvantage – The Beatles, Stones, Animals or Who all had names allowing them a breadth of repertoire and were all hard-core, genre-changing bands. In contrast Herman’s Hermits sounded a just a bit silly and they only produced hits about young love but most of all were feel-good. 

Isn’t “feel-good” what we all desperately need now? Hence I suspect one of the problems the BBC has. Their interviewers are really good at being nasty and gloomy. 

BBC political editor's threat to kill noisy cockerel outside holiday home 

On Times Radio recently an interviewer of a Labour Shadow Frontbencher failed to get a straight answer to any of her polite questions. Afterwards she lamented her performance saying she’d tried her best. Her crestfallen humility was in pleasant contrast to most of her peers.

It's hard for us to compare 1964 with today. In almost every respect today is better in terms of health, wealth, education, opportunities and our general infrastructure. We’re spoilt for choice with hundreds of TV channels  and free music and everything shows we have it better now than we did then. 

Back in the 1960s “mental health” was not a topic of general conversation but had it been I suspect casualties to it would have turned out to be just as great as they are today.

So where do we get our feel-good pick-me-ups today?

Fact: the commercial world for music has changed. Example: The Arctic Monkeys are going on tour soon – 59 gigs in 19 different countries in 4 ½ months. Ticket prices range from £140 to £300 and way beyond. They’ll be very tired and richer when they get home after Christmas.  Tunes will be the last thing on anyone’s minds. 

It's About Damn Time for a New Lizzo Video

Near to top of current best sellers: Lizzo and “About Damn Time”? Terrific song and video but not the pink-scrubbed-clean sound of a Herman ditty. Kate Bush is currently the third best-selling song with “Running Up That Hill.” But it’s 37 years old.  And it doesn’t have a catchy tune. Back in the day of Herman they used to say if you heard a milkman whistling your latest single that you had a hit on your hands.  I haven’t heard anyone whistle anything recently. It went out of vogue about the same time as smoking. 

But don’t we all need a tuneful song to ease the pressures of an overheated world.  An upbeat tune to remove the black-dog grumpiness in the news?  We used to have Herman and the Hermits, the Hollies and Joe Brown. Now we have videos and musical extravaganza.

By the way, talking of tunes and feel-good I see Joni Mitchell was persuaded to sing at the Newport Rhode Island Jazz Festival  - it was very emotional stuff. And it struck me she once had a “woke up” song too:

“Woke up, it was a Chelsea morning
And the first thing that I knew
There was milk and toast and honey
And a bowl of oranges, too
And the sun poured in like butterscotch
And stuck to all my senses

Oh, won't you stay, we'll put on the day
And we'll talk in present tenses”


Joni Mitchell Reclaims Her Voice at Newport - The New York Times

Ah. I feel so much better already.