Saturday, 22 October 2016

Female artistry.

Today I have been reading about female artists in the newspaper.

Saturday's newspaper takes up a fair amount of the day, usually with a break in the middle when I walk to the supermarket. Anyway, today I read about female artists, among other things.

 * The British one.
The first was Pauline Boty, described as a pioneer of the British pop art movement. She died young, in 1996. Diagnosed with cancer when she went for a pregnancy check-up, she turned down the option to have an abortion, which would have meant she could have chemotherapy, went on to have her daughter and died when the child was five months old. A sad story. A lot of work remained in storage for years and years and even now seems to be overshadowed by the make artists from the pop art era. Her work looks interesting. Here's a link to the article about her.

 * The Serbian one.
Having read that article this morning, later in the day I managed to get hold of the colour magazine from today's paper. I had to return to the local co-op for that as I got home from this morning's outing to discover that part of the copious Saturday edition of the Guardian was missing. The shop assistant handed it over without a problem; she had thought that the suppliers had sent them one newspaper too few or one colour mag too many. Note to self: check more carefully in future.

In the colour magazine was an article about an artist called Marina Abramović, a Serbian, now aged almost 70 and still producing performance art. Reading a transcript of her spoken words, I find myself "hearing" it with a kind of Slavic accent: "You write of me like glorious image, then comes Ulay (her ex-partner) and I lost the case, then Abramović machine will destroy him, then calling me a racist and having three abortions for my art."

She has apparently been criticised by the media for having had abortions in the past in order to further her career. Here is what she had to say (imagine the accent): "Right now, the latest thing on the web is how I am killing children to make art. Only one man came to my rescue today and says George Clooney has two Oscars and nobody asks him why he doesn't make children. Why me?"

She has a point but I still find it hard to understand her kind of art. But that's just me. Here is a link to the article about her

* The Spanish one.
And, still on female artists, back in 2012 a certain Cecilia Giménez had a go at restoring an ancient painting in the church in her small town in Spain and became famous for making a huge mess of it.

 * The Canadian one.
Now in a place called Sudbury in Canada a similar thing has happened. The statue of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus outside Ste Anne des Pins Catholic church had been vandalised and baby Jesus lost his downtown Sudbury. Local artist, Heather Wise, offered to make a replacement, even if only temporary. Unfortunately the head in question has been compared to Maggie Simpson. Here's yet another link.

That's it for culture for today.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Places to live.

The Forbes list of the most reputable countries in the world. Each year, the Reputation Institute ranks the most nations and companies on the planet in various categories, using reams of survey data and its own proprietary RepTrak Pulse scoring system. Here are the results for 2016, based on some 48,000 responses from people in G8 countries, responding to questions on how they perceive different countries in categories from government to overall happiness.

 20 Singapore
19 Portugal
18 Germany
17 Spain
16 Belgium
 15 France
14 Japan
13 United Kingdom
12 Italy
11 Austria
10 Netherlands
9 Ireland
8 Denmark
7 New Zealand
6 Finland
5 Norway
4 Australia
3 Switzerland
2 Canada
1 Sweden

I wonder how they select the people to answer their questions and I wonder what questions they ask.

My knowledge of Sweden is rather limited. In fact IKEA is about the sum total of my knowledge. Oh, and fjords! My knowledge of Scandinavia as a whole comes down to the comedian Sandi Toksvig and quite a lot of excellent detective stories on film and in television series. There is the education system in Finland which is supposed to be very good and I hear that Finland send out "baby boxes" to all new mothers - a range of new baby essentials in a box which can be used as a crib for the tiny person - an idea that Scotland wants to pinch.

The few Canadians I have met have all been excellent people and some of my musical heroes come from that country: K D Land, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young.

So the top two countries seem fine. But they do have rather more severe winters than I am really prepared to put up with.

I half expected the UK to have fallen off the list and I notice that the USA does not appear in the top 20.

And here's a link to a series of jokes about Donald Trump, if you can stand to wade your way through them.

There you go!

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Talking to people.

Yesterday I had a good old rant about the parking situation outside our house. This morning we were having a late breakfast when the doorbell rang. Someone from the Liberal Democrats was there asking if we had any concerns about things in the area. So I bent her ear a little on the parking question. Lots of sympathy but not a great deal of practical help being offered. 

The same applied to the public transport question. I explained the difficulties of getting back from Manchester, or indeed Oldham, to Delph at the end of an evening when the last bus leaves at 10.30. So, she told me, what she and her husband usually do is prebook a taxi to be waiting for them when they get off the tram at Oldham Mumps. Oh, my! I never would have thought if that! Of course, what a revolutionary idea: add upwards of £12 to the cost of your evening out! 

Then, almost as if something was getting to me on a transport theme, I came across some statistics. Last June, Department for Transport figures estimated that over the next 25 years journeys by train, bus, bicycle and on foot would all fall. Car journeys, on the other hand, would rise by 10%. Three-quarters of all journey-miles are now in private cars. About 90% of goods and business traffic goes by road. Half of the country’s poorest households – about 800,000 families – have cars and spend a quarter of their income on them. This is probably because the bus service to where they live is so rotten. 

Here is a link to the article about it. 

And here is a link to one of my favourite journalists, Paul Mason, on a similar topic. 

And despite my moaning I still feel that we can manage perfectly well without a car - most of the time. 

Later in the day I was walking back from Uppermill when I came across a chap taking pictures of the old burnt-out mill building just near our crossroads. It turned out that he takes photos to update information sites about listed buildings. And it just happened that the old mill building, which burnt down during the summer, had been declared a listed building only a couple of months prior to the fire. Would you believe it? Has there been a bit of a scam going on to get around planning officers? Just a little coincidental! 

It was a lovely day to be out and about taking photos. Here are a few of mine. 

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Problems great and small!

We have an ongoing parking problem on our street.

There have always been occasions when you had to park a fair distance from the house, most notably every year on Whit Friday. Whit Friday is one of the few occasions when we have something close to a fiesta. For years and years there has been a brass band contest taking place in all the villages around here on Whit Friday, originally celebrating a long tradition of all the cotton and woollen mills and collieries having their own brass band but later involving brass bands from far and wide, including from continental Europe. There was even a film in which it featured: Brassed Off. Because of the band contest on Whit Friday all sorts of parking restrictions came into play and I would return from work to find I had to park almost a mile up the road.

Nowadays, this problem is not just a Whit Friday, come-day-go-day problem. To begin with there are simply more cars around. Many families have two or three vehicles to park. And this in an area where most of the housing was built before cars really came along. Then the industrial park which opened a little further down the road has been a great success but simply does not have sufficient parking space for all their employees and visitors. And finally, a new, would-be posh housing estate has been built on what used to be fields, or at least open land, with an access road about 50 yards from our house.This led to immediate parking restrictions and an argument with the construction company when our promised allocated parking spaces failed to materialise.

They never did materialise. And now, to add insult to injury, there are projected plans to paint double yellow lines on sections of the road, making the very limited parking immediately outside our row of houses even more in demand. Designated residents' parking has been denied us. If there were a school nearby causing problems, then such parking would be a possibility but the proximity of a thriving industrial estate does not count! We expect a visit from a local councillor some time soon to
review the situation.

Of course, in the wider scheme of things our problem is quite minor. George Monbiot frequently writes at length about environmental problems. Today it was about proposals to extend British airports. Proposals to fly planes using some other form of energy than fossil fuels are apparently untenable. So, says Mr Monbiot, if our airports are full, there is one solution: fly less. He personally restricts his flying to once every three years. We would find that hard. But then, it crosses my mind that perhaps he makes one long-haul flight every three years, whereas we make much shorter flights on a more frequent basis. Does that sort of even it all out?

Making his suggestion that we should all fly less often, George Monbiot asks, "Is this beyond contemplation? Are we incapable of making such changes for the sake of others? If so, our ethics are weaker than those of 1791, when 300,000 British people, to dissociate themselves from slavery, stopped using sugar, reducing sales by one-third. They understood the moral implications of an act that carried no ill intent, that seemed sweetly innocent."

Who knew that such ethical protests were going on all that time ago? However, I bet there are lots of people today who would find it easier to fly less frequently than to stop using sugar!

I keep seeing exhortations from famous people to please not let Donald Trump get into the White House. I have already written about Loudon Wainwright's "I had a dream" song. Bruce Springsteen has been on interview airing his negative feelings about Mr Trump. Now Michael Moore, film maker, indeed protest-film maker, has added his but. He has made and released a film: "Michael Moore in Trumpland". It is described like this: "he thinks his way inside the head of a dejected working-class citizen from, as he puts it, one of the “Brexit states” of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin or Ohio. All states that couldstill swing to Trump and lead to to an upset victory."

(As an aside, isn't it interesting how "Brexit" has extended its meaning ?)

Another anti-Trump celebrity is the actor Charles Dance, in Washington recently to receive the William Shakespeare Award forClassical Theatre. He finished off his acceptance speech in this way: “Finally, if I may, I would just like to wish you all a Trump-free future.” 

Only time will tell.

Meanwhile, here's a little news item that made me smile: "According to members of Trainspotting’s film crew, Oasis turned down the opportunity to feature on the soundtrack to the seminal 1996 film because Noel Gallagher presumed the film was about actual trainspotters rather than a black comedy about escapist, economically crippled heroin addicts living in Edinburgh."

It's not just voters who misunderstand things.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Reflections on this and that.

I've had lunch today with an old friend and we have set the world to rights between us. Here are a few of our cogitations.

 * Theresa May doesn't want Parliament to vote on whether or not to accept the referendum result. Maybe she is afraid that after so much negative talk about it, Parliament will vote to remain in the EU. What would happen if they did? Can the things that have been broken be put right? Have we let this cat so far out of the bag that there is no getting it back in?

 * And then there are the proposed lists. Employers should list their non-British employees - that is one idea. Today I read about a proposal that schools should do a kind of census on their pupils, not just what their ethnicity is but also where they were born. While this might help schools provide the absolutely correct help that some of their pupils need with improving their English, it raises fears that the information might be used for other purposes. Parents who have perhaps outstayed their work visa but whose children were born in his country might not send them to school for fear of being deported. Here's a link to the article. What a complicated situation.

 * Another bit of news that set us thinking concerns Steven Woolfe, involved in some kind of fracas in Brussels involving at the very least some violent pushing around. He has decided to leave UKIP. He says it is ungovernable and I'm pretty sure that sometime recently he said there was something rotten within it. Has he only just discovered this? It sounds as though the party is falling apart. However, UKIP has achieved Nigel Farage's stated aim of removing Britain from the EU. So he probably won't be too upset to see the demise of the party he created.

 * Meanwhile last night on the news I saw Raheem Kassam. He is standing for the leadership of UKIP, apparently. And I found myself wondering how such a man became a member of UKIP. It's like the Hispanics and Afroamericans who support Trump. How do you manage to support a party that looks down on your ethnicity? The world is strange!

 * And finally, here is something more cheerful. It's a link to an article about Suzanne Vega and how they came to make the song "Tom's Diner".

 This is what happens when two old friends get to talking about stuff.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Time marches on!

It's mid-October. The weatherman has been telling us that the temperatures are dropping. They are predicting possible snow in the far north of Scotland. The wind here has an edge to it. So why have I seen so many men in shorts out and about in the town centre today?

Not all of them were young men either. Very few of them looked as though they were on the way to the gym.

My daughter says it's men refusing to grow up and feeling comfortable in their shorts. As evidence of the men refusing to grow up business, she cites the number of 30+ year old males who go skate boarding. She even knows of one who straps his sixth month old child into a sling and takes him skate boarding with him. Provided daddy does not fall off the skateboard and squash him, the child will perhaps develop an excellent sense of balance.

Just in case anyone should think this is turning into an anti-men rant, let me say that I have seen examples of women dressed in an inappropriate fashion as well. On Saturday I saw two women - they looked like mother and daughter - both sporting those off the shoulder tops that you normally see at the beach. This was in the middle of Uppermill village centre on a Saturday afternoon in October! Maybe they felt a burning desire to show off their suntan before it fades. Or maybe it was the autumn sunshine that led to the exposure of flesh. I must add that other people were wearing scarves and, in some cases, gloves!

 I have grown used to young people going out half dressed in the evening: girls in skimpy, strappy dresses and boys in t-shirts, all with goose bumps. We saw a number of examples when we were in Manchester on Friday evening. During the daytime, however, when they are not going to be in a hot club without a cloakroom, people usually dress according to the weather, even young people.

 Does this inappropriate dressing happen in Mediterranean countries, I wonder? Do Spanish and Italian girls go out for an autumn evening dressed in flimsy frocks and without a coat? If they do, then they must do an radical re-think at some point because as a rule the more mature ladies get their fur coats out in the late autumn. And judging by the surprise with which people greet my sandals in April or May, they clearly expect you to wrap up warm in the north of Spain at least.

It must be a British thing!

Out and about in the shopping centre, I noticed a certain confusion. Shops do not seem to know whether to promote Hallowe'en, only a couple of weeks away, or Christmas, a bit more than a couple of months away. And so Hallowe'en masks and spooky skeleton suits jostle for space with Christmas cards and advent calendars. And mince pies are suddenly ubiquitous.

If you start eating them now you will be sick of them by the time Christmas comes round properly. Not only that; you will have already put on the extra weight that Christmas almost inevitably brings. 

Never mind, we can look forward to them all disappearing (magically, overnight) by Boxing Day.

And then we can start on hot cross buns and Cadbury's cream eggs. How the time does fly!

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Weekend activities.

So, I began this sentence consciously with "so" as many politicians and pundits appear to do this when interviewed. It seems to have replaced "well" as a kind of filler word while you get your thoughts a little organised. Strange! 

So, we went out early on Friday evening to get into Manchester in time for a Loudon Wainwright concert. He's always worth listening to and live is even better. His support act was Chaim Tannenbaum, who has accompanied Loudon Wainwright, and other members of the extended Wainwright clan, on a fair number of occasions. This time he was promoting his own CD. As support acts go, I would say he was rather superior. 

Loudon Wainwright sang, among other things, his recent song about Donald Trump. It recounts how he had a dream that Donald Trump was elected president and ends by warning us that nightmares sometimes become prophecies. Here's a link to a recording. Loudon said it started as a joke but is becoming more serious by the day. If Hillary Clinton is elected he expects to be okay but should Trump win, he told us, he might be arrested! I wonder! 

After the show we had the usual dilemma about getting back home from Manchester in the late evening. In the end we opted for the last train to Greenfield, hoping that we might be in time for a last bus from there or possibly find a taxi - probably cheaper from there than from Oldham. In the event we were clearly too late for any kind of bus. I asked a taxi driver waiting outside the station if he was free. No, pre-booked for some chap called Ash. As we set off to walk, a voice asked where we were headed. Young Mr Ash, who has a contract booking with the taxi company, was going part way along our route and was prepared to share his taxi with us. So we had paid for our bit of the ride and had a much cheaper taxi after all. The sense of community and general helpfulness has not entirely disappeared from the world! 

The rest of our weekend has been very quiet and tame. Listening to quite a lot of Bob Dylan - probably provoked by his winning the Nobel Prize. Shopping and cooking and walks in the sunshine. 

Yesterday we made the decision to go for a walk as the sun was shining. By the time we set off the clouds were moving in. predictably! But at least we did not get rained on. 

This morning we woke to rain. Well, I didn't realise it was raining until I stepped out of the door to go for my morning run. But I was all sorted for running by then so I just put my hood up and ran anyway. By the time I got back, the rain on the window had woken Phil. A rather inauspicious start to the day all round. 

However, the day improved and this time we set off while the sun was still shining properly and had a windy walk up one of the local hills. 

Another weekend sorted!