Monday, 17 December 2012

Arts funding - squeezing out the little guy

Blog 36

December 2013


                          Picture of the Month: furl all flags?


Quote of the month Mick Hume on Leveson
Issue: Arts funding: a worrying trend
Poems of Place 13: Paradise of Pignut
Contribution: ‘An Almighty Lesson’ by Bron O’Brien
Correspondence: a summary

Lauren gets the Bull
This month (December) Brooklyn-based author LAUREN OLIVER received the top German prize for young adult fiction, the BUXTEHUDER BULLE for her second novel, Delirium described by the Sunday Times as ‘convincingly terrifying as the North American of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale’.

   The Bulle prize was launched by a local bookseller Winfried Ziemann in 1971, the aim to prompt young people to take ‘an active and in-depth  interest in reading’, further to ‘promote the widespread publication of good books for young people’.

   Worth 5000 euro, the Buxtehuder Bull is judged by an equal number of young readers and adults. Congratulations, Lauren; and well done Buxtehude for sponsoring the prize down the years. As a mark of its commitment, this picturesque town an hour from Hamburg created, in June 2011, a BULLEvard  in the town centre surfaced with copper plaques bearing the names of the award-winners and the titles of their books.

Plus ça change?
Leveson has reported. Such was the publicity the Leveson Inquiry received down the months since its inception in 2011, such was the clamour of headlines on 30 November when the report was published that, for a moment, one might have been forgiven for thinking that overnight and for ever things would change.

   Within days the Leveson balloon began to shrink. Within a week it was in a state of shrivel, the attention of politicians, press and public well on the way to forgetfulness.

   Still, there was the sight of Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson trekking to the Westminster magistrates’ court to identify themselves prior to a trial (next September!) on corrupt payment charges. The shame of it!

   And yet…in the blink of an eye Miss Brooks and her husband were occupying the Royal Box at Newbury races, along with Cilla Black, Liz Hurley, Lord Lloyd-Webber and Labour supporter Geoffrey Robertson QC, to watch the Hennessy Gold Cup.

   It is not known whether phone hacking, allegations of bribery, the suffering of victims that had been targeted, pillaried and stalked over many years by the press were discussed. Maybe the topic of conversation was ‘country suppers’. What is known is that Beks got a £10m pay-off from Rupe.

 Quote of the month Mick Hume on Leveson
The truth is… that the British press is far from free or open enough, even before a new regulator is appointed to teach it a lesson. Press freedom and openness is already constrained by more than 50 different laws, and by a conformist culture of You Can’t Say That. We need to begin from the position that our society needs greater freedom of expression, not more formal and informal constraints on what can be said or read. From ‘Ditch Leveson – let’s get back to first principles’, published in Spiked!       13 December, 2012. Mick is author of There is No Such Thing as a Free Press…And We Need One More Than Ever (Societa, 2012).

Arran-based writer ALISON PRINCE questions the direction of arts funding in Scotland. Her article prompts fears that the marginalisation of individual artists and small arts groups may be happening in the rest of Britain.
    The rumpus about Creative Scotland has perplexed many people. Just what is going on? As a professional writer, I have something of an overview. I was a member of the Scottish Arts Council’s Literature Committee for some time, and knew the nitty-gritty of grant applications from the inside. As a recipient, I had earlier been helped immensely by an occasional travel or research grant that enabled a book to be completed.
    In those days the Scottish Arts Council (SAC) operated modestly from a couple of converted Haymarket houses, and its function was clear-cut. As well as supporting the big enterprises such as Scottish Opera, it provided vital sums of money – often quite small – that could make the difference between surviving and not surviving in the choppy waters of freelance creative work.
    But everything changed. Perhaps in a wave of euphoria following the construction of the Parliament building in Edinburgh, a mixture of ambition and spin swept over Scotland like a tidal wave.

Favouring the big guys
Grubby little artists were out; the big art business was in. The SAC morphed, slowly, painfully and expensively, into Creative Scotland. It designed a numbingly dull logo at dizzying cost and moved into a glass palace behind Waverley station, a prime Edinburgh site.
    Individual artists began to realise that they no longer mattered. Those who ventured to seek support for a new project were told they should raise a first thousand from elsewhere, then Matched Funding might be available. For those already struggling to survive, as artists commonly do, that was not helpful.
    A lot of potentially good work died before it was born. Depression grew. Artists tend not to be business people. They are prepared to live on next to nothing because of the absolute imperative to pursue and develop a creative idea, and even when successful, they seldom swim happily in the world of form-filling and accountancy.

As Creative Scotland sailed on, an unhappy silence set in, which did nothing to convey the dismay felt by countless working artists. It was the established leaders of the profession, secure enough not to care what the new organisation thought or did, who opened a counter-attack. Don Paterson, one of Scotland’s leading poets, wrote a strongly critical letter that hit the headlines, and since then, Creative Scotland has been blasted by a communication from 400 of the country’s most eminent writers, musicians and artists, demanding a rethink.
    Sir Sandy Crombie, Chairman of the Creative Scotland board (formerly chief executive of Standard Life, which is hardly arts-related) said the board had been ‘taken aback’ by the intensity of criticism. He offered the excuse of ‘limitations and expectations’ imposed by the Government and Lottery on how their funds should be used, but that is exactly what must be tackled.
Artists not executives
The truth is, artists do not constitute a corporate Art Business. Like cats, they are difficult to herd and highly individual. The old SAC’s system of flexible funding understood this and embodied a hands-on working relationship with artists all over Scotland. In its place we have a glass monolith with a massive desire for self-publicity.
    It serves the abstract concept of Scottish Art, but has lost connection with the people who make art happen. The fact that the board admits to being ‘surprised’ by the strength of feeling expressed in the letter from the 400 leading artists tells its own story.
    Why were they surprised? Such blindness is a matter of national concern. Something has to change, and not in terms of adjustment to the window-dressing. Creative Scotland must listen to those who do the creating.
Alison’s article was originally published under the title Creative Scotland nibbles at the bullet in the Isle of Arran’s impressive newsletter Voice for Arran (, November 2012, published monthly.


In one year in one month in Mountfield churchyard
An unnamed anthologist listed a century of plants
Among lichen-enamelled tombstones:
Yarrow, ransome, Lady’s smock, kingsweed,
Wood anemone (my favourite), rocksfoot and violet,
Primrose (Auntie Muriel’s dearest), hairy bitter cress,
Nipplewort, common cat’s ear, willow herb,
Bed nettleweed (how’s that?), smooth hawkbit, ribwort,
Good Friday grass, herb Robert, barren strawberry,
Goat willow, birdsfoot trefoil and hogweed,
Plantain, prickly sowwhistle (so pigs whistle as well as fly),
Hairy tare, cleavers, common mouse-ear, bush vetch
And so on, accounted for in faded type held
Recited by Perdita, enfolded Ophelia in watery grave.
 And with each name, a story, a remedy, a caution,
Most of all, a sermon on life and death,
For with what reverence drove our historian
To tease out from tuft and cranny
This breeze-brushed registry of short lives,
Each a poem in word or phrase, a masterwork
Of shape and pattern, colour and scent.

Doubtless our sorrel scribe, our ox-eye archivist
Now feeds the willow herb. I would like to think
There is a will somewhere that declares
‘My body I bestow to the eternal sustenance
Of saxifraga and shepherd‘s purse, periwinkle and celandine;
In return for one summons of bugle at dawn,
One vista of bluebells at dusk; with this codicil,
To the grim reaper astride a Honda mowing machine;
My children from puritans and lawns!’
By Bron O’Brien

In the beginning, God was happy. Mankind was happy. The world was happy. But Serpent was not happy. One day Serpent said, ‘God, life is boring.’
God replied, ‘Why is that?’
‘There are no weekends,’ said Serpent.
God was pleased to grant humanity weekends, but asked, ‘How shall weekends be different?’
‘For five days,’ replied Serpent, ‘people will work, for two days, they will play.’
God was puzzled on two counts, first why Serpent wished for the bliss of heavenly weeks to be reduced by two days, and second He was confused by the reference to work.
Sure it had been seven days of hard work to create the world, but now there was no need for anyone to lift a finger.
Serpent explained, ‘If people do not work, they will have nothing to spend…which brings me to a further request.’
God scratched His head in puzzlement. ‘But I have provided for us all, for ever. I am satisfied, Man is satisfied, the world is satisfied.’
At this moment Serpent sprang his surprise: he reached into a fiery bush and drew out Woman by the hand. ‘I took the liberty,’ he said, ‘of fashioning a complement and helpmeet for Man.’
‘Well I’ll Adam-and-Eve it!’ exclaimed God. ‘What is her purpose?’
‘You will see,’ responded Serpent. ‘Look into my crystal ball. It is a vision of the future.’
‘I see,’ commented God, ‘that the man and woman –‘
‘Indeed,’ interrupted Serpent, ‘they are wearing clothes.’
‘Garments to cover up their nakedness.’
‘But why? I granted them unblemished skin and nakedness, and here in Paradise it is neither too cold not too hot for man and womankind to cover themselves up.’
‘They call it style O Wondrous One. And with style comes quality and with quality comes aspiration and with aspiration…’ Serpent paused. ‘…comes cost, or to put it more simply – money.’
‘I notice,’ said God, ‘that Man and Woman are not only wearing garments, they are shod like horses.’
‘Shoes, Almighty.’
God’s all-seeing eyes cast a wider glance. ‘But I notice not all my subjects are wearing them.’
‘It’s the system, Lord. Style makes for difference and difference makes for style.’
‘These are words unfamiliar to me, Serpent.’
‘We are all individuals these days, Almighty One. It’s the rage. Even you. I mean, not to put too fine a point on it, you could do with smartening up. A suit, perhaps, shirt, a tie, some transport…You see, Lord, people are way ahead of you. Oh, and aftershave. Beards are definitely out. No style.’
‘Who decides these things?’
‘The ladies, of course,’ joked Serpent, meaning every word.
So God shaved off his beard, acquired a suit from a bespoke tailor recommended by Serpent; inched himself into shoes and gazed once more on the World of Difference as Serpent described it.
Serpent saw God in a state of confusion and bewilderment. ‘Everything,’ confessed God, ‘seems to have become so complicated.’
Serpent had a ready answer. ‘What we need, Lord, is some rules, the kind that keep people in line, contented with little, ever-grateful to our good selves.’
The Almighty felt himself on safer ground now they were not talking about style and difference. ‘Since the beginning I have always respected  the freedom of my subjects, so long as that freedom does not harm others.’
‘Freedom butters no parsnips, Lord.’
‘I’m not sure I understand you.’
‘Well, if everything was free, Lord, if people could just walk into shops and take what they wanted there’d be chaos.’
‘Didn’t I tell you? A little innovation of mine: places of convenience where people spend their money.’
‘That’s twice you’ve mentioned money. Just what is it?’
Serpent controlled his impatience. ‘You buy things with it, Lord.’
‘But my subjects can have whatever they want, whenever they want it, according to their need.’
‘Not any longer, Lord. There’s no profit in giving stuff away.’
Shamed by his ignorance of all these new words, God held his tongue, resolving to watch and see what this thing called money did.
But he was not happy. He was not sure his subjects were happy. He was longer sure the world was happy.
Perhaps Serpent knew best. He nodded when Serpent said, ‘Leave it all to me, Lord. I’ll scribble down a few rules and regulations, do a bit of order, separate the better from the lesser sort, and by morning you’ll have a brave new Paradise; only in this case there’ll be money in it for both of us.’
Still only half-persuaded, God went off to bed carrying the latest Argos catalogue, given him by Serpent. ‘Rest your eyes on that, Lord. It’s got everything humanity will ever need.’
The very next day God sent off for another pair of shoes. They were never delivered, so he asked Serpent for an explanation. ‘No cash, Lord, no shoes.’
‘Then spare me some cash.’
Serpent seized his chance. ‘What I recommend is a pay-day loan. Subject to interest, of course.’
‘Thinking of his new shoes, covetous of those shoes with a luminous flash on the side and heels thick enough to enhance his height, God replied. ‘Don’t doubt my interest, Serpent.’
‘These days we call them trainers. Often people riot in order to obtain them. This particular pair is state of the art. Five hundred per cent interest, per week, Lord.’
Unaware of how out of his depth he had become, God smiled. ‘I’ve a thousand per cent interest in those shoes.’
Serpent smiled: ‘I’m glad that makes you happy, Lord.’ He tapped God’s catalogue. ‘Anything else you fancy while we’re at it? A sack of fertiliser for the Garden of Eden? A Samsung Galaxy, thirty quid off? Designer shades to protect you from the Light of the World? Available while stocks last. I might be able to fix you up with two for the price of one. Seeing it’s you, I could make it a trinity.’
God was engrossed. ‘I’ll see what else interests me.’
Serpent was happy.

We introduced Bron’s work to A Writers’ Notebook in Blog 34 (October 2012) – Two Dialogues (A* and E-). Many thanks, Bron. We look forward to publishing more of your work.

Our postbag was set a-bulging following NED BASLOW’S letter to hard-up composer WAM affectionately known as Wolfie. This was divided between those angered by what one correspondent described as ‘speechless arrogance’ on the part of Ned when he took issue with the compositions of John Cage or Gage, and a number who generously offered food tins and second hand toys for WAM and his family.

   The good news is that Ned reports plenty of early bookings for the Wickerstaff-cum-Fernhaven Arts Festival and it looks as though Wolfie will be writing a dozen arias for Lord Gilbert’s opening recital to which members of the royal family have been cordially invited.

   We were hoping to publish Ned’s next letter in his publicity campaign but this will have to wait till the January edition as Ned and his wife Betty will be occupied, night and day, throughout the Christmas period running the recently-introduced soup kitchens in Wickerstaff and Fernhaven. Contributions of tinned soups, veg, fruit, corned beef, spam and Ardennes paté would be welcome if delivered to the Watsonworksblog office. No bric-à-brac, please.


Seasons Greetings!







Friday, 23 November 2012

An artist's perspectives

November 2012

    Shankill smile

  NOTES IN PASSING: Hamilton in perspectives
  Poems of Place (12)
   CORRESPONDENCE: Media Comment
  Ned Baslow: Yours truly...
Richard Hamilton: Late Works at the National Gallery London
Each generation of artists absorbs and reflects the art of the past. Hamilton’s late works hint at the frequent visits he made to the gallery. In particular there’s the fascination with perspective which, with a contemporary twist, revisits the work of generations of artists reaching as far back as the first great master of perspective, Piero della Francesca.

Hamilton’s stark interiors are as impersonal as Piero’s yet as full of meaningful detail, suggesting that the modern artist wandered the Ducal Palace in Urbino (location of Piero’s Allegory of the Flagellation) as well as heading for the Dutch, German, French and Italian collections in Trafalgar Square.

Brothers on a horse
The tools of perspective are walls, tiled floors, pillars, roofs, pavements, while mirrors turn perspective in to puzzles that don’t quite constitute mystery. The stress is on the ambiguities of perspective. For the most part, there is an absence of any hint at narrative. Here Hamilton departs from even the modest storytelling of one of his inspirers, Pieter Saenredam. This 17th century Dutch artist is primarily interested in recreating the space of the Interior of the Buurkerk in Utrecht. We have male figures, a couple of dogs, a basket, offering us no surprises and no narrative. Yet on a wall to our right as we view the picture, there is an illustration – of the four sons of Aymen of Dordogne escaping on a magic horse after one of the brothers has killed Charlemagne’s nephew. This detail humanises Saenredam’s picture, takes the edge off the austerity of the church interior so subject to the regulation of perspective.

Enter the nudes
Hamilton is not averse to doing something similar. He does it with photo-paintings of nude women. Do they humanise the austere mis en scène into which they are placed? Most notably Hamilton gives us a version of a Fra Angelico Annunciation with a very modern-looking nude announcing the news to another very modern-looking nude Mary in The passage of the angel to the virgin. Uneasy presence The device is not offensive or in bad taste, but it is unenhancing and borders on cliché. However, Le Chef-d’oeuvre inconnu paintings based upon Velasquez’ Toilet of Venus (facing us rather than with her back to us as in the original) with Titian, Poussin and Courbet looking on, suggests a tale and not a little wit.

What Hamilton does here is leave us with impressions and expectations as we head off into the galleries, perspectives-stalking for the most part. Drawn in by perspective We examine the old in the light of the new. There are reminders of Hamilton in the pillars in Murillo’s Christ Healing the Paralytic, the arch in Jordaen’s Portrait of Govaert van Surple, in the tiled floors of De Hooch’s Interior of a House in Delft. Equally we are offered reminders of what we have seen in the Hamilton show of his stark photo-realism in van der Heyden’s View of Westerkerk, Amsterdam or Gerrit Berckheyd’s Market Place, Haarlam. Returning to Hamilton after a galleries tour with his images in mind you realise that one of the figures standing in the all-white, perspective-conscious surround of the exhibition space itself – is you. All it needs to make the exhibition complete is a dog, a basket and the four sons of Aymen of Dordogne on a magic horse.

The Hamilton exhibition is on at the National Gallery till 13 January, admission free.


It was four-thirty in the morning
 Real time. The shark-fin of Roseberry
Was long passed, and the dark Clevelands
Stood in moonlit contour, two-dimensional
As flat as blue-black steel.

We stopped. They’d said,
It does not look like a star.
To us it was a torch, its beam
Stretching as far as your arm, human size.

Yet Hale-Bopp is comet-size,
Its bronze legacy millions of miles in length;
Its story the history of mankind –
Arm’s length, that is, against the span of time.

When last the comet passed this way
The Egyptians were erecting pyramids
And by the next visit people might have learnt
To live at peace with one another.

A few moments later as we sped south
Feeling awed, even a little religious,
A hare panicked into our comet beams.
My swerve was too slow, too late
And Hale-Bopp was how it sounded
As dawn for this timid beast
Would ever be an arm’s length away.

The following poem was rediscovered from Verse & Prose (1958) an independent publication featuring student writers at the University of Nottingham, edited by Howard Erskine-Hill ‘for private circulation only’. We feel ‘a poem of place’ by Josephine Brocklesby warrants inclusion in this series. If you’re still in the land of the living, Josie, please get in touch and send us some more of your poems.

The train’s huge sound is suddenly less:
We break from the tunnel’s hollow space;
And abruptly the falling light
Strikes that girl’s wet face.

She weeps.
Though outside the ancient sun
Gleams on the sea Odysseus sailed,
The sea now is a milky haze
Motionless veiled.

I knew that my Italian words
Never could give relief;
Yet surely this stretch of quiet sea
Must break upon her grief.

Who knows but Venus on this shore
Her cool sea-garment shed?
But beauty has not dried those eyes
And Ulysses is dead.

Blogs 33 and 34 published a selection from the Preface of the 8th edition of The Dictionary of Media of Media and Communication Studies (Bloomsbury Academic) by James Watson and Anne Hill. The editor is very pleased to publish the following comments from readers.

New destroying the old?
Dear Ed., The extract from your Preface to the 8th edition of the Dictionary of Media etc. balances good with bad news concerning New Media. In my opinion there’s been too much stress on the new, to the neglect of the old. As a local newspaper reporter I have seen my paper switch from daily to weekly. We have lost 50% of editorial staff and those that are left fear for their jobs. We’re not alone in being at risk as a result of the shift from print to e-text, from traditional to e-shopping, as any stroll down the streets of our towns and cities makes only too clear. You get the feeling that Britain is closing down.

Are we to be left with on-line communities, which are not genuine communities at all? I hope that in the event of my coming across your dictionary (if there are any libraries left to find it) I hope I’ll find entries that further question the ‘good thing’ that the Internet is claimed to be.
Yours etc.

Demotic or demonic?
Dear Ed.,
Instead of referring to the ‘demotic turn’ in the selection from The Dictionary of Media and amp; Communication Studies, why not just go ahead and call it the ‘demonic turn’? What are half the twitters but demons heaping their messages with bitter insults or banal gobbets of pseudo wisdom? I’m hoping to see if your book is in our local library; if so, I’ll be checking whether there is an entry for Twitter and whether you give it the kick in the crutch that tweeting deserves.
Yours really annoyed.
Twitter Hater.

There’s always cash for luxuries
Dear Ed., We’re in the middle of recession. Many kids and their families are going hungry, yet when the latest piece of New Media software is launched there are queues out the door ready to spend hundreds of pounds on what are gimmicks. I would suggest that in offering an overview of contemporary media, whether it be the ‘usual suspects’ – newspapers and TV, the media corporations – or smartphones, attention should be directed a bit more to what used to be called the Third World, now The South.
The gaps between rich and poor can scarcely be said to be narrowing, nationally or globally. The danger is that while we’re all socially networking we forget what’s going on in the ‘real’ world beyond our shores.
Gwen R.

The sound of Twitter?
Dear Ed., My wife and I are just back from a trip to Africa. We couldn’t believe it – the mobile phone is as familiar as it is back home. Electricity and water may be in short supply, but the birds are drowned out by the sounds of twitter!

Correspondence is welcome – on art, books, media, politics and culture generally. Please mail your comments to

Yours truly…the Ned Baslow Letters
Such is the promotional power of the Internet, in this case the interest stirred by Councillor ‘Lord’ Gilbert Stokoe MBE when he announced in Blog 34 news of the Wickerstaff-cum-Fernhaven’s proposed Festival of the All-Stars in the summer of 2013, that the task of publicity manager Ned Baslow has got off to a roaring start. No ‘cold calling’ required, for he tells us his postbag is already bursting. To make the point he has given us permission to reproduce his reply to the solicitation from a musician of talent who has fallen on bad times.

Dear W.A.M.
Thanks a lot for your handbill sent to the committee of the Wickerstaff-cum-Fernhaven Festival of the All-Stars (2013), seeking support for the parlous state of your finances, and offering to write a five minute composition for every £25 subscribed. Normally my wife Betty and I put anonymous appeals of this sort straight in to the bin; and in this case we were very tempted to do so as the message was in German, and Gothic lettering at that.

  Fortunately my Betty has a GCSE Grade C in German and was able to decipher the gist of your message. Naturally we have both heard of you, though we very rarely tune in to BBC Radio Three and have not been to a symphony concert since the Relaxing Classics Festival at Derby Town Hall, where Betty had a coughing fit and thoroughly spoilt the closing minutes from the sound-track of Star Wars.

To be truthful, it was my son Benjie who rescued your leaflet, his quick eye spotting a reference to Eine Kleine Nacht Music, a piece that he practises with his piano teacher, Mr. Eccles, who, Benjie says, believes that you are the greatest composer of all time – after Ludwig van Beethoven, that is. Personally, given the chance to cast my vote, I would go for Arthur Sullivan (as in Gilbert & Sullivan) on account of the pleasure he’s given me and my family over the years, his Pirates of Penzance being my particular favourite.

On the other hand, since she’s started an Open University course, my Betty has been driving me out of the house and into the pub by playing CDs of somebody called John Gage, or Cage. This ‘composer’ knows six notes (if that) and keeps repeating them over and over again. My Betty calls it ‘mesmerising’; me and Pongo Eccles have another word for it!

Your story of penury and neglect upset Betty and me, bearing in mind your undoubted genius. Neither of us believes that you’ve hit hard times simply because your Emperor was heard to say, after sitting through one of your operas, ‘too many notes’. As it happens, we may be able to help you. We are planning to mark the 25th anniversary of the Wickerstaff-cum-Fernhaven Pantomime & Light Opera Society with a festival that we’re confident will be reported the length and breadth of Britain. To this end we are inviting artistes of distinction to participate.

We are planning a grand opera based on Cervantes’ story of Don Quixote (starring our President, Lord Gilbert with me as his sidekick, Sancho Panzer), plus concerts (including Lord Gilbert’s Songs from the Shows), talent contests, poetry readings and a range of tableaus re-enacting great scenes in world history. The venue for many of our alfresco events will be the meadow and paddock of the Stokoe Estate.

You will find you have much in common with Lord Gilbert who has for the past 30 years sung in the choir of St. Olaf’s, being soloist on all occasions that anyone can remember. He is also famous throughout the county for his starring roles in The Desert Song, White Horse Inn and Salad Days. To proceed to the opportunity we have in mind for you: Ernie Shaw who usually arranges our panto music has gone to Tasmania to stay with his pregnant daughter Phyllis (incidentally a fine soloist, well known for her impersonation of Judy Garland singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow).

This leaves us short of an arranger; better still, a composer; someone to do justice to Cervantes’ great story. Which brings me to cost: £25, or the equivalent in Euros, does present difficulties if all we get is five minutes’ music. What we need is an overture long enough to get everybody settled and in the mood and half a dozen catchy arias as you call them, so long as Lord Gilbert as the chivalric knight doesn’t have to tackle notes much higher than middle C. We are making progress in negotiating rights with Señor Cervantes, but we do have difficulties with the author’s insistence on communicating with us in Spanish, and his rather stubborn resistance to sponsorship by SpexSavers, arguing that Quixote’s attack on windmills has nothing to do with shortsightedness.

However, Wolfie (may I?) that is our problem, not yours. We cannot, of course, at this stage guarantee fees in advance of completion but as Lord Gilbert believes, ‘Every down-and-out deserves a second chance’. In short, if you wow us with a decent tune or two the euros will roll (though our preference would be to pay in sterling). We look forward to hearing from you; in the meantime, Betty is sending you a cheque for five pounds to tide you over in these difficult days. Believe me, we are all suffering under this wretched government.
 Sincerely and in admiration of your fine operettas so far,
Ned Baslow Etc.

Thanks, Ned. Let’s hope Wolfie gets on his bike. We have a feeling that this Festival will excite the same national passions as this year’s Olympics and the Rolling Stones’ concert at O2.

James Watson books. Five originally paper-print novels are available from Amazon Kindle: THE FREEDOM TREE (£1.03), set during the Spanish Civil War, reaching its climax with the bombing of Guernica.
TALKING IN WHISPERS (£2.01). Chile during the tyrannical rule of the generals.
TICKET TO PRAGUE (£1.63). Tale of a friendship between Amy, a teenage rebel, and Josef, an elderly Czech poet who had lost the will to write; until she reads him The Good Soldier Sveck. JUSTICE OF THE DAGGER (£2.03). Earthmovers, the Yellow Giants, advance on the rainforest of East Timor. The people have only arrows and courage to resist them.
FAIR GAME: THE STEPS OF ODESSA (£5.15). Uneven playing fields in Ukraine: with the ball at her feet Natasha shows talent, resolution and the will to win. Her quest is to discover whether these qualities translate into life.

THANKS FOR READING THIS. As usual, contributions are always welcome. Mail to

Thursday, 18 October 2012


And the gardens are neat and tidy.



Blog 34
James Watson
Friends and contributors

A Writers’ Notebook



Photo of the Month
Gable end, Derry, July 2012
Media: that ‘demotic turn’
Part 2 Preface to 8th edition of The Dictionary of Media & Communication Studies (Bloomsbury Academic, 2012)
Saved within the saved
Auschwitz: a prospect
           Tony Williams
Two Dialogues
          Bron O’Brien
Poems of Place (11)
           Prayer cards at Ilam
‘Getting under way’: A letter from Councillor Morgan informing us of Ned Baslow’s letter campaign to put Wickerstaff-cum-Fernhaven annual festival on the international map. Concessions to readers.


Media: that ‘demotic turn’
In Blog 33 an edited version of the Preface to the 8th edition of The Dictionary of Media and Communication Studies (Bloomsbury Academic, 2012) by James Watson and Anne Hill asked whether the phone-hacking scandal that engulfed the media empire of Rupert Murdoch has brought about a fundamental change in the way the media go about their business in relation to government, the police and the public.

Less sensational than the hacking saga, but of equal interest is what Graeme Turner calls ‘the demotic turn’. In Ordinary People and the Media: The Demotic Turn (Sage, 2010) Turner writes that the media audience ‘is mutating from a model of receptiveness we might identify with broadcasting, towards a range of more active and more demotic modes of participation that vary from the personalised menu model of the YouTube user to the content creation activities of the citizen journalist or the blogger’.

  As for whether increased public (demotic) participation is, as some digital optimists believe, also empowering, whether the new media are a force for democratisation, Turner remains sceptical, believing that outcomes ‘are still more likely to be those which support the commercial survival of the major media corporations rather than those which support the individual or the community interests of the ordinary citizen’.

Primacy of entertainment
The demotic turn is a shift ‘towards entertainment’ and this ‘may prove to have constituted an impoverishment of the social, political and cultural function of the media; the replacement of something that was primarily information – as in, say, current affairs radio – with something that is primarily entertainment – as in, say, talk radio – is more realistically seen as generating a democratic deficit than a democratic benefit’.

   The 8th edition of The Dictionary of Media and Communication Studies recognises the options and the possibilities with regard to technology and cultural change but also acknowledges that the pace of change of one is more rapid than the other.

    It is undoubtedly true that the Internet has opened portals to individual and group participation and interactivity that permit a diversity of viewpoint and expression rarely if ever experienced in the past.

Salem and Slim
Cyberspace is a constellation of bloggers, a territory of streams emerging from and flowing in to and across contemporary life, and on a global scale. Salem 9, blogging from Iraq, fed an information-hungry western society glimpses of life in an invaded and occupied country which traditional news reporting could not match.

   During the so-termed African Spring of 2010-11, blogger Slim Amamou’s invitation to join the interim government of Tunisia was described by Jo Glanville in her Index on Censorship (No. 1, 2011) editorial, ‘Playing the Long Game’, as ‘one of the most remarkable acknowledgments of the role of digital activists in civil society, not to mention the symbolism of his appointment in a country that has stifled free speech for decades’.

Twitter ‘revolution’?
Yet for every optimist such as Glanville there is a pessimist such as Evgeny Morozov whose The Net Delusion: How Not to Liberate the World (Allan Lane, 2011) puts the case that the ‘twitter revolution’ might do more harm than good to the cause of democratisation.

  The jury is out, as it is on the efficacy of what has come to be termed citizen journalism. This raises lively issues concerning the relationship between amateurs and professionals particularly in the light of the cost-cutting in news services by traditional media organisations intent on putting profit before public service; the result, Graeme Turner’s ‘impoverishment of the social, political and cultural function of the media’.

Threat to the open network
Equally we note the concerns of Tim Wu, inventor of the term net neutrality (and author of The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires, Knopf/Atlantic Books, 2011), when he posits the theory that traditional media moved from the freedoms of the open prairie to corporate enclosure and this process may be being repeated in the network society.

   Already, he writes in his Introduction, ‘there are signs that the good old days of a completely open network are ending’. Acquisition, alliances, expansion, synergies are pursued with missionary zeal by the new leviathans. Industries become empires. Jostling for attention becomes jostling for control, not unlike that exercised by governments rarely hesitant about legislating against freedom of expression.

    It could be said, to look on the bright side, that the difference is that new technology has greatly loosened up patterns of hierarchy and may even have made inroads on hegemony. Students of communication would do well to carefully scrutinise competing visions of the future of the ‘networking society’, in particular the role of information and knowledge in a context driven by economics and ‘must have it now’ public attitudes.

   Above all, the case must be made and re-made that in the information age the communications industry is, in Tim Wu’s words, ‘fundamental to democracy’, needing to be resistant to wholesale appropriation and to the controlling ambitions of governments.  


Saved within the saved
Auschwitz: a prospect
By Tony Williams

We have seen the images so often, the watchtowers, the railway tracks, Arbeit macht frei, endless rows of barrack huts in Birkenau. What I was not prepared for on a visit this summer was the masses of visitors being bussed in from all over the world and the total absence of the feared tourist carnival atmosphere. People went from station to station in silence, only registering their visit with the ubiquitous phone cameras.

   There are at least five stations of homage: the former Jewish area of Kasimierz in Krakow, Auschwitz, Birkenau, Oskar Schindler’s factory, the Wielicka Salt Mines. Including the latter might seem odd since it is not a sad place and not directly linked to the Holocaust. But there is a link.

Notices of dismissal
One Sunday afternoon in 1943 one of the underground caverns hollowed out by salt miners over the centuries and famously decorated with religious sculptures in salt, was the scene of a works outing, a banquet provided by the Schindler factory in Krakow.

   After the meal was over all the workers were handed envelopes which they were not to open until they had reached the surface. This envelope contained their wages and a mystifying notice of dismissal together with a stern warning never to approach the Schindler Enamel Factory again.

   The following day the factory was paid a Gestapo visit and over the loudspeakers a list of workers’ names was read out. After each name the works secretary said ‘dismissed’. So they missed their call to the gas chambers. Saved within the saved.

The Schindler Enamel Factory Museum gives an extensive picture of life in Krakow after 1919, especially the Jewish population and their contribution  to Polish cultural life. Many poster announcements document the series of increasingly harsh measures taken by the invaders after 1939 against the Jews.

   Another note on the Schindler story. Not content with sticking his neck out to save his Jewish workers, Schindler actively engaged in war sabotage. The Zossen munitions plant south of Berlin had to discard the bulk of war munitions and supplies received from the  Schindler Enamel Factory as worthless. Fighter plane radiators, for instance, contained traces of tin which melted when hot and blocked the valves. Unbelievably the neck which Oskar Schindler stuck out did not end under the guillotine.


Two Dialogues
By Bron O'Brien 

Dialogue 1: A*
 ‘Dad,’ said four-year-old Daisy. ‘I just can’t get my head round Pilgrim’s Progress. Or for that matter Dante’s Purgatory.
   ‘Daisy, you’ve got to persist with these things if you are to please Mr. Gove. I told you when you were poo-pooing Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina for falling for a soldier, give credit where it’s due. Perhaps it was the English translation.’
   ‘I read it in Russian, Dad.’
  ‘Okay, it’s a great book in any language.’
  ‘To be honest, I’m too taken up with Chopin at the moment to focus on reading, regardless of Mr. Gove’s view that music butters no parsnips.’
  ‘You’re strong on mazurkas. But your Grade 8 in piano shouldn’t suggest you rest on your laurels.’
  ‘Why do we talk in idioms all the time, Dad?’
  ‘Forget the idioms, how about your maths?’
  ‘Are these problems really degree level?’
  ‘Taken from a Finals paper.’
  ‘Does that mean I could start my PhD next year?’
  ‘Harvard won’t consider anybody under ten. Just concentrate on the National Curriculum.’
  ‘School’s dropped it.’
  ‘So it’s become one of Gove’s academies despite your letters to the prime minister.’
  ‘We’re to have four hours a week of spelling and punctuation. That could help with my novel, only I was planning to write it like James Joyce and forget the full-stops. Dad?’
  ‘Was that you on Radio 4 this morning?’
  ‘Yes me and Teddy. He’s been worrying about me again.’
   ‘Teddy thinks I’ve been overdoing it.’


Dialogue 2: E-

‘Dad? How could I win 21 gold medals?’
  ‘Pinch ‘em.’
  ‘But if I was honest.’
  ‘You’d have to get up before eleven in the morning.’
  ‘I think I’d like to ride one of them horses that jump over fences.’
  ‘There’s no grass round here, son, to feed em. They dug it all up for the car park.’
  ‘I could fetch some in Uncle Joe’s wheelbarra.’
 ‘We’re not speaking to Uncle Joe. Anyway, where’d you put yer grass?’
‘Hay. I think they call it once it turns yellow. Maybe in Mrs. Ashton’s backyard.’
 ‘Mrs. Ashton aint speaking to us no more since Rex ate their Sunday joint. Listen, how about me helping you with something I know about? Me as yer coach?’
  ‘Thievin an connin? Are they in the Olympics, Dad?’
  ‘Boxin, I mean.’
  ‘We’ve enough punchbags in this family.’
  ‘That’s yer Mam talking again.’
  ‘Swimmin – that looks easy.’
  ‘You never been swimming.’
  ‘I fell in once an reached the shallow end in no time. Old Louse-face, our PE teacher, actually clapped me.’
  ‘He was clappin you drownin, son.’
  ‘One of them posh bikes with no spokes, then?’
  ‘Aye, Velodromes, but they’ve no brakes, so you’d do yerself an injury.’
  ‘So you don’t think I should train for the next Olympics, Dad?’
  ‘I never said that.’
 ‘You think I’m in with a chance? Like you got confidence in me. ’
 ‘I never said that either.’
 ‘Well what did you say?’
 ‘I never said nothing.’
 ‘Then that settles it, Dad.’
 ‘I reckon it does, son. After all, there’s more to life than bloody medals.’

 Ed: Contributions are very welcome including selections from longer works. Please send to


Poems of Place (11)

                        PRAYER CARDS AT ILAM

                                    In the sweet silence of Ilam
                                    Summer-soothed beside Manifold
                                    And beneath Thorpe Cloud
                                    Where lord and lady lie
                                    In death’s stone: read
                                    The prayer cards of the living.

                                    ‘Please God, pray for Katy,
                                    Help her stop wetting the bed’;
                                    ‘For my Dad, Oh God,
                                    Who has a drinking problem’ –
                                    Carelessly scattered for interlopers
                                    To leer over: jokes in church.

                                     Crushed by reverence,
                                    It was never easy in the poor light
                                    To keep your face straight.
                                    And yet, here in Holy Cross speaks innocence:
                                    ‘Please pray for my family and friends,
                                    Especially my Mum, who does try her hardest
                                    To help with my pony.’

                                    Spoken from the heart.
                                    Do I hear you titter, Lord, yet smile
                                    With love at the lonely whispers;
                                    Or do I opt for the cold tomb’s tale
                                    And admit: these missives, being unstamped,
                                    Are returned to sender;
                                    Or gather them in a pile
                                    Marked ‘Not known at this address’?

Ed: The editorial team were delighted to hear from Councillor Gilbert Stokoe MBE announcing the Wickerstaff-cum-Fernhaven international arts festival planned for the summer of 2013. It is not the first W-c-F arts festival by any means.

‘Lord Gilbert’ as he is popularly known in the locality, explains: ‘The Events Committee decided that to celebrate our 25th, we have opted to go truly international. We have in the past recruited artistes from as far afield as Cromer, Preston, Newcastle-Under-Lime and on two occasions from across the border in Wales, one of our most enjoyed concerts being mounted by the Bodelwydden Male Voice Choir.

A match for Edinburgh?
Councillor Stokoe's letter continues: ‘As press officer of the Festival, Mr. Ned Baslow has volunteered to write to a number of celebrities in the world of entertainment inviting their participation in what we hope will put Wickerstaff-cum-Fairhaven on the international arts map along with the Edinburgh Festival, Bayreuth, the Venice Biennial and the Turnditch All-Comers Brass Band Carnival.

    The committee were delighted to be asked by the editorial board of your illustrious blog to provide copies of Ned’s correspondence as plans progress, with a view to maximising publicity for the festival. As I think I mentioned in my September letter, there will be special concessions for your readers, both for the many outstanding festival events and B & B accommodation at a number of venues, including the two-star Kilt and Thistle Hotel.’

Ed: Many thanks, Lord Gilbert. On account of the fact that Ned’s letter suffered an accident with a cup of black coffee and a melting chocolate bar, we have requested him to avoid using washable drawing ink in future.

Decipherment has been a problem, but Ned’s wife Betty has kindly promised us a typed copy. This much we can tell readers: Ned’s first letter is addressed to a penniless Austrian composer.