Monday, December 27, 2010

Layer 410 . . . Furious Writers, Free Books, Education, Diana Athill, More Burlesque, Buzz Words, and Saving The Daily Show

The batters have continued the good work from where the bowlers and the openers left off. Trott is back in the groove, with another big century. First innings lead is approaching 400 with only 5 wickets down. There are still three days to go. And Ponting has lost his rag.


The Boxing Day edition of The Observer carried several good articles and features.

Writers furious at plan to axe free books scheme for children

Philip Pullman, Carol Ann Duffy, Ian McEwan and Sir Andrew Motion round on decision to slash £13m government grant to the Booktrust charity

Britain's poet laureate has accused the government of behaving like "scrooge at his worst" after ministers decided to axe all funding for a free book scheme that benefits 3.3 million youngsters a year.

Carol Ann Duffy, who was appointed poet laureate in 2009, leads a series of writers who have attacked the decision to cut all government funding for the Booktrust charity which provides free books for children from the age of nine months until their first term of secondary school when they are 11.

Duffy said: "Support for Bookstart is support for the dreams and imaginations and futures of British children. To withdraw that support is to behave like Scrooge at his worst. Here's hoping the powers- that- be see the light in tiime, as he did."

Children's author Philip Pullman attacked the move as an "unforgivable disgrace", while the former poet laureate Sir Andrew Motion described the cut as "an act of gross cultural vandalism".

These uncompromising views were echoed by Viv Bird, chief executive of the Booktrust charity, who said she was "astounded and appalled" when told all government support for their work was going to be scrapped. "There was no dialogue. It was completely devastating," she said.

The reaction by authors to Gove's latest move has been furious. "It's like seeing someone smashing aside a butterfly with the back of their hand: wanton destruction," said Pullman. "Sheer stupid vandalism, like smashing champagne bottles as a drunken undergraduate. It doesn't matter: someone else will clear it up. Well, if you miss the first years of a child's development, nothing can clear it up. It's gone. It won't happen. A whole generation will lose out."

Referring to the charity's early years programme aimed at babies, he said: "Bookstart is one of the most imaginative and generous schemes ever conceived. To put a gift of books into the hands of newborn children and their parents is to help open the door into the great treasury of reading, which is the inheritance of every one of us, and the only road to improvement and development and intellectual delight in every field of life."

Motion backed these words: "The decision to scrap Bookstart is an act of gross cultural vandalism. For the last 20-odd years the scheme has successfully introduced an enormous number of young people to both the pleasure and the necessity of reading and has been of tremendous benefit in the drive towards literacy. Very well organised, and very well run by Booktrust, it has become a national institution, and the envy of the world [24 other countries now run a similar scheme].

"The savings made by its abolition will be negligible; the damage done will be immense," Motion added.


Diana Athill is still a rebel at 93, and ready to take on the Archbishop of Canterbury about God

During her special edition of the Radio 4 flagship news programme, she will be discussing infidelity and challenging the notion of religious faith in a prerecorded interview with none other than the archbishop of Canterbury.

Athill, a fearless champion of the right to live outside accepted moral codes, rejects the idea that we need a belief system as a guide or as an emotional crutch.

When, in the last decade, Athill published a series of provocative memoirs, she became a phenomenon in the book industry by tackling questions of age, morality, faith and sex at such a late stage in her career. "In Italy, they have published six editions of my book, Somewhere Towards the End. They have sold 20,000 and I suppose when I think about it the Italians are very fond of their old people."

Perhaps Athill is a natural subversive, and so makes a good radio interviewer?

"In so many families there is one person who is a questioner, I think," says Athill. "My brother and my sister, of whom I am very fond, both follow the family line. They still go to church, for example. I liked my parents, though, and I didn't want to violently rebel, so I went underground."

Athill's edition of Today will launch blithely into another taboo area: infidelity. "I have written a little piece about it I think they will use, although I do feel there is too much emphasis on sexual fidelity."

Athill will argue that there are two kinds of physical betrayal: the "awful" kind that marks a breakdown in a relationship, and the second kind, an unfaithful act that takes place when someone, "usually the man", succumbs to a little temptation.

"To mistake the second betrayal for the first is madness, because a marriage is far more important than that," she says.

The problem, she adds, is that women feel their value depends on it. "They are often really collapsed by it." Her own long, loving relationship with poet Barry Reckford notoriously involved a period of ménage à trois when he moved a younger woman into their Hampstead home.

Writing, she has found, is an obsession that can make relationships difficult. "It is about having a strong addiction to something that is so important to you. It can become more important than your wife or partner. For me, it was different: perhaps from having a long discipline of being a handmaiden to other writers, or perhaps because of the way Barry and I were together. Not possessive at all."

It might well look as if Athill's world has shrunk down in old age to the size of the room in which she lives and the garden she looks out on, bemoaning a drop in the bird population that she has detected. Yet her world is still as wide as human thought, encompassing all that books continue to give her.


It's Barbara Ellen's turn to wade in about burlesque.

This sub-porn for ladeez is not my idea of erotica

The movie Burlesque is a watered-down, weedy attempt to make stripping acceptable to women

In the film, Burlesque, Christina Aguilera plays a small-town girl with a dream. "I just wanna sing wearing slutty knickers!" Actually she doesn't say this, but she may as well have done.

. . . basques, pants, boas, leatherette, doffed sparkly bowler hats, and tapped canes. A queasy mix of Showgirls meets Seaside Special.

Shocking. But not in the way you'd think. Burlesque isn't a convention-defying movie about freedom, destiny, art; it is a boring movie about how nice your pants are.

The theme of "Cor, underwear!" was so strong I sat in the cinema feeling like a teenage boy furtively perusing the bra section of his mum's Kays catalogue.

I once spoke to renowned burlesque star Dita Von Teese, a doll-like beauty with flashing intelligent eyes. She told me that . . . burlesque was just stripping, and people who claimed otherwise were in denial.

This seems to be the true burlesque – clever creative strippers who got so good at putting a twist on what they do they turned it into an art form.

Yet in recent years burlesque seems to have fallen into the wrong hands, become restyled as sex with the safety brakes on, watered-down erotica that even women, Stephen Fry's pathetic sex-hating fools, can handle.

On the plus side, this has led to much nicer "burlesque-style" underwear, even in M&S. On the minus, it led to the kind of stripping a guy can get away with watching with workmates because: "It's not stripping, it's burlesque innit?" Hey, its so sanitised they can even take the little lady along.

Is this the real difference between stripping and burlesque – stripping is more honest? Men can't usually con their women into accepting stripping as an evening's entertainment the way they can with burlesque.

However, men can't be blamed for this. The most offensive thing about the movie Burlesque was how obviously this tedious feeble sub-pornographic baloney was aimed straight at the "ladeez". I simply don't think men would lower themselves going to the cinema for a 12A-rated peek at Xtina grinding and hair tossing in the style of Miss Piggy on heat.

Men wouldn't waste their time. The ones who are into porn have always stuck to their guns on this issue – they like the genuinely dirty stuff and that's that. You can't talk them out of it. It's not as if the internet has been getting any cleaner over the years.

Therefore the lukewarm weed-porn of something such as Burlesque must be aimed directly at women. And you wonder: how did women get so welded to this idea of sex as a fashion opportunity? How did they allow themselves to get conned?

The scratchy basques and tragic bowler hats of mainstream watered-down burlesque don't seem to be about female desire, or even male desire, rather female pleading and bartering for male desire. It makes Mr Fry look like he got it right.


I like this humorous piece:

The buzz words of 2010 explained

Every year sees new words coined and old ones gain new meanings. Rafael Behr decodes some of the key terms of 2010


I'm distraught to hear that The Daily Show will no longer be shown daily on More4:

Give us back this day our Daily Show

The decision to drop Jon Stewart's show is a huge loss for all those who treasure proper television

by Sarfraz Mansoor

The Daily Show, my favourite TV programme, is being taken off the air. More4 has announced it would no longer broadcast it every night; instead, it would run a weekly round-up edition.

The Daily Show is essential viewing not just because it is funny but because it often does journalism better than the mainstream news media it so effectively skewers. The show brilliantly dismantles the absurdity of 24-hour rolling news.

In Jon Stewart The Daily Show has an anchor who has become a figurehead for those in the reasonable centre whose opinions are often drowned out in the polarised world of Fox and MSNBC. I find it bewildering that More4, where you are never more than 30 minutes from property porn, wants to ditch a show with such a strong international reputation. President Obama, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have all appeared, a sign of how important it is to the political classes.

The justification More4 gives is that The Daily Show only attracts an audience of around 80,000 – the audience might be small but it is devoted.

I am desperately hoping that some other broadcaster will swoop in and save The Daily Show. It's hard to imagine 2011 without it.

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