Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Layer 118 Snow, Social Pedagogy, The Musical Divide, Paying Taxes, and the Discontented.

The heaviest snow for 20 years had a transformational effect on London and south-east England yesterday. Such japes! If only every winter was like this one. Mass break-outs of community spirit, as someone said on the radio this morning.

In London there were no buses and trains running, so all schools and most work places were closed. The overnight snow had spread a blanket of brilliant whiteness nine inches deep over everything. There was virtually no traffic moving - just a few cars creeping slowly and crunching quietly down ungritted streets. There was silence everywhere.

This virtual bank holiday enabled parents and children, and grandparents, to go out together into a cityscape that very few of them had ever seen, or could recall from living memory. By the end of the day local parks and playing fields were populated with snowmen standing singly and in groups, like an Anthony Gormley landscape made of snow and ice.

Adults were playing in the snow! Making giant snowmen without a child in sight! Snowball fights! Some were taking photographs on their phones of one another’s snowmen. People were spontaneously chatting in public spaces that are normally empty except for occasional dog walkers. Kids were out with sledges, having a brilliant time.

In my local park I had conversations with people from Poland, Turkey, Slovakia, India, the Caribbean and Russia. Someone had proudly put a small banner with the word POLSKA on it across their snowman.

The dog that I walk these days went completely crazy the second she bounded into the street - rushing back and forth, ploughing her face into deep drifts, skidding and sliding. Since I’d forgotten to take a tennis ball out with us she was happy to rush after snowballs, bounding through the snow, looking puzzled and affronted when the snowball she was chasing disappeared into the deep stuff, and when she did manage to leap on the snowball she was chasing biting it and eating it like a lollipop, to the great amusement of passers-by.

Even after darkness fell there were people out in the parks and green/white spaces, and in the streets, just sightseeing and playing in the snow. It was a reminder of how community spirit in our cities is literally dampened by our climate - which in normal years is neither hot and dry enough or cold and snowy enough the bring people out of their homes to enjoy open spaces in significant numbers.

Most amusing image of the day today - Peter Mandelson tottering gingerly along Downing Street in shiny black loafers, terrified of going arse over tit in front of the lurking news cameras. Second most amusing - twattish women in stilettos.


I felt so pleased for those children whose parents allowed them to go out in the snow yesterday. We sometimes talk about a work/life balance for adults, but rarely consider whether it’s the right balance for children to be experiencing an enforced didactic education five days a week, with only two days a week for play, fun and self-direction.

Today we have news of another report on children’s wellbeing, another grim review of the diabolical things we do to children in our stupid society.


The buzz-word for today is Social Pedagogy - and both BBC radio and BBC TV have today run features on Denmark’s provision for looked-after children, since 6 out of 10 of such children in Denmark go on to higher education, compared with 6 out of 100 in Britain.

Somebody commented that it’s possible to have high-quality provision in Denmark because they pay 50% income tax and 25% VAT. But the point is surely that they see the need to have high-quality provision for children generally, and are therefore willing to vote in governments to pay for and run those services.

Barry somebody, the Chair of an all-party committee on children and childhood said, “Something dramatic needs to be done.” And indeed it does. A totally new look at how we care for and provide for children.

I guess it's worth saying one more time - it's about time we prioritised the well-being of children by prioritising the development of their social, emotional and spiritual intelligences, and in order to do that we need to develop those intelligences in adults.


The Musical Divide

Ennio Morricone is 80 this year, and is still going strong, both as a man and as a prolific composer of contemporary orchestral music. It’s interesting to compare contemporary and ‘classical’ orchestral music.

On Radio 4 last week someone who knows Morricone well said, “To be as accomplished a composer as Morricone you have to be deeply in touch with your own soul.”

How many of us are deeply in touch with our own souls? How would we describe to ourselves, or convey to others, the contents of our souls?

I have a new theory about the divide between enthusiasts for ‘classical’ music on the one hand, and on the other hand people who find the majority of ‘classical’ music absolutely dull, soulless, spiritless, tiddle fiddle twaddle. (No bias showing here, I hope.)

Indoctrination, snobbery, ignorance, pretentiousness, fear and narrow-minded prejudice are the key concepts here.

On the one hand we see middle-class, predominantly Eurocentric, Arian people who grew up in households where classical music was played on gramophones at a sensible volume, and where the aspirational offspring were given expensive musical instruments and private tutors, plus private or grammar school education where they learned to play in the school orchestra.

On the other hand . . . we see the rest of the world, whom the aforementioned would see as the deprived, uncultured, ignorant, untutored and unenlightened. Whereas, in point of fact, most of the rest of the world has listened to classical music and decided IT SUCKS. We see people who enjoy other forms of music that expresses THEIR sensibility, the reality of their lives, their feelings, their passions, their joys, their sadness, their spiritual experience.

Listening to Desert Island Discs, it’s so interesting how all the bourgeois, high-achieving anodyne individuals who go on the programme so rarely choose more than a token track that actually rocks, swings, grooves or moves the body and soul. Why is that?

Who was it who first said, “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing”? Must google that.

It’s obviously a mark of being ‘cultured’ if you profess a love of somebody singing something solemn and portentious in German or Italian, something most people find incomprehensible and dull, even on a purely musical level. And of course to be properly bourgeois you must sit up and beg when you hear the words Mozart, Beethoven, Vivaldi, Bach, etc.

I very much doubt whether these classical music-loving desert-islanders have ever listened properly to the greats of jazz, blues and rock, including Robert Johnson, Duke Ellington, Sarah Vaughan, John Lee Hooker, Louis Jordan, Slim Gaillard, Ray Charles, Keith Jarrett, Lester Young . . . to say nothing of Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Dave Gilmour, Manu Chao, Joni Mitchell, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Bob Marley, Bruce Springsteen, etc.

To say nothing of the great folk and roots artists of Africa, India, Japan, China, the Caribbean, etc.

All of them deemed inferior and unworthy of a trip to the desert island.

In the words of the great Leonard Cohen - “But you don’t really care for music, do ya?”

This week I’ve been working on my Desert Island Discs, and have managed to shortlist around 300, which is my minimum, otherwise I don’t go. These are my legacy tracks, and I will now begin the task of assembling them on sets of CDs to give to family and friends.



Last week there was a brilliant TV broadcast of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘folk music’ ‘Seeger Sessions’ 17-piece big band, filmed in London, featuring a veritable host of great musicians, and Bruce himself in great voice.

Bruce and his E Street Band then lit up the interval of Sunday’s Super Bowl - a mini-show of incredible energy and passion, in the middle of what was one of the greatest Super Bowls of all time.


Pay Your Fucking Taxes.

This week The Guardian began publishing its investigations into tax avoidance in Britain, in a series of articles that can only cause incredible fury in anyone who gives a fuck about exploitation and social justice in what we laughingly call our ‘society’.

“Pay your fucking taxes!” said Jon Stewart in The Daily Show today, talking about some American fat cat.

And talking about the bank bail-outs, Stewart called those trillions that were given to the bankers in order to keep the banks solvent “Revolution Insurance”. Quite so.


Rumblings of Discontent

Meanwhile the working classes in places like Britain, France and Greece are beginning to find ways to express their fury about the bank bail-outs, the bankers who caused the economic crisis, the job losses, the ineptitude of politicians, etc.

The growing number of demonstrations and strikes are looking ominous to those who fear civic unrest and fear demands for radical changes to the way this country runs its businesses, its economy and its politics.


The Doves Are Dead

Here are some voices speaking from the depths of their souls - voices from Israel - reported on R4:

“If someone hurts us - I say bomb them out of existence.”

“The doves are dead.”

“Israel has to be tough - we’re on our own here. People all over the world hate us and want to destroy us.”

“The early Zionists had vision. We don’t have that any more. We just have to protect ourselves.”

“The Israeli media hardly report the images of the destruction in Gaza.”


Of course virtually those same words could have been spoken by any Right-wing American talking about America since 2000/01, since Bush and his gang stole the election, and since the twin towers came down.



An all-party Parliamentary enquiry into the care of people with dementia started work last week. It seems that people who work in care homes for people with dementia have to have training on health and safety, etc, but do NOT have to have training in understanding the nature of dementia, or understanding the needs of people with dementia.

Does this seem like an acceptable situation? No, it fucking doesn’t. So how come it’s allowed to happen? Would I like my mum to be in a care home and looked after by people who didn’t understand her difficulties or her needs? No I fucking wouldn’t.

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