The opening salvo of the next stage of the campaign to build yet another shopping arcade in Leamington was fired last Friday in a bizarre news article in the Courier.
The article purported to be a report of a meeting on the previous Thursday evening at which 'small business owners learned more' about the new plans of council and developers 'to build a £90 million shopping centre in Leamington town centre' (sic).
Except, of course, the Courier goes to press before the meeting took place, so the use of the past tense is just a tad disingenuous. The reporter confirmed to me that he was not at the meeting, and so couldn't actually report it. My guess is that he merely changed the tense of the press release from the council or the Federation of Small Businesses, under the aegis of which the meeting was held. But I could be wrong.
According to my sources, attendance was about 10 or 12; probably the first time such a small gathering has received such prominent coverage.
But that is not the point. The point is that this is one of ways in which the illusion of 'consultation' is projected to the town. This ’report’ will be quoted in months to come by the advocates of the scheme as evidence of the ways in which the council engaged with major stakeholders.
We've been here before, of course, when letters inviting those businesses which would be affected to meetings were not actually delivered. We’ve watched Powerpoint presentations which made statements but never showed evidence. We listened to developers promise to get back to us but they never did.
We rallied and we argued and the proposals were defeated at the planning stage.
Clearly, we had won a battle but not a war. Because here we go again, with the council using their vast resources - how do they justify using our own business rates to destroy us? - to relaunch the whole thing, this time using an 'independent report' as its starting point.
This report, which is neither Portus nor Grimsey, is the third such report commissioned by the council in the last ten years. According to the Courier, it "highlights a need for a new shopping centre the size of the Clarendon Arcade to draw shoppers back into Leamington”.
What a surprise?! A report commissioned by the council coming up with a conclusion devoutly wished by the council. “The size of the Clarendon Arcade”? Really? How fortuitous.
Philip Clarke, the senior projects co-ordinator for WDC, last seen in 2012 taking credit for the fact that Leamington was doing better in attracting shoppers than any of its neighbouring competition and therefore, you might think, not requiring anything “to draw shoppers back into Leamington”, is quoted as saying: “this was part of our programme to engage with some of the main stakeholder groups which also include BID and the Chamber of Trade.”
When I spoke to BID on Friday afternoon, they had no idea what I was talking about and rushed off to buy a copy of the paper!
It is in fact part of a long-term battle by the planning department to develop the Chandos Street car park, which it owns.
In their determination to create this new arcade, they are destroying what remains of the heart of a Regency town, ignoring the evidence of their own eyes - the masses of empty stores - and once again sentencing those residents, retailers and restaurants in the area to another long period of uncertainty.
But what do they care?
These are the guys who also make it virtually impossible to park in Leamington in order to use the High Street attractions. They haven't read the Grimsey Report, which recommends that there should be a 'free two hour high street and town centre car parking system'.
Actually, they probably have read it. But they've ignored it. Because they want to play at being builders. Free parking would transform local business. We all know that.
Existing businesses, independent businesses, local residents, you just keep paying your rates while we spend the money paying consultants and offering deals to 'anchor stores’.
(And just wait for the rumours about John Lewis coming to town to start again as they did last time.)
As the Grimsey Report says, a necessary precondition of re-establishing our high streets is that we accept that “there is already too much retail space in the UK and that bricks and mortar retailing can no longer be the anchor to create thriving high streets and town centres”.
This is of course an ’independent report’. But it’s not the independent report that Mr Clarke and developers Wilson Bowden want. It’s the report that rate-payers and townspeople want, because it addresses real, day-to-day concerns.
We know that there are empty retail premises all over this town and probably more to come. More bricks and mortar means more empty premises that we, in the end, have to pay for.
Unfortunately, empiricism and common sense have seldom been relevant in this town and it sure as hell isn’t in this debate.
The Courier piece showed, first, that the council officers and the developers are already starting their campaign to influence the councillors; and second, that the Courier is complicit.
We need to get moving. This time, unless we respond quickly, they might actually succeed in building - at huge cost - a white elephant which will destroy our town.
(The Strategic Perspectives report is available here: http://www.warwickdc.gov.uk/WDC/Planning/
Geoff Renshaw in the Leamington Society's newsletter http://leamingtonsociety.org.uk/Newsletters/
August%202013%20Newsletter.pdf provides a reasoned, informed and compelling response which I commend to you.
Also, you can download the Grimsey Report at http://towns.org.uk/files/
Alexander Pope, contemplating the nature of criticism
It has been suggested recently that I am, in these blogs, thinking of myself as a critic. I am not.
I am, on occasion, critical - of a wine, a book, a painting, a piece of music, a restaurant, a ball player. But that is not the same thing at all. The role of the critic is to be, not negative, but positive: to evaluate, to provide deep context, to establish relationships, to elucidate and enhance. In this sense, I suppose that from time to time I write within a critical tradition, but that is not my intention.
This is a blog, not an academic treatise. I allow myself half an hour and plus-or-minus 500 words for each post. The prompts are my reading and listening, my eating and drinking, my obsessions, my social activities. But as some of my excellent correspondents have pointed out, there is a theme developing from these disparate activities, of which – to be honest – I was not consciously aware.
This theme, it would appear, is the appreciation of all activities as a totality, as part of ‘life’ – a word which Leavis substituted for tradition and continuity.
My subjects, whether they be a new Dylan album, a fine claret, an exhibition or a baseball game, are part of life and contribute to the fundamental ‘vitality’ which is ‘crucial’ to developing an individual ‘meaning of life’, the making of valid choices not through evasion but single-minded commitment.
If I had to categorise what a friend flatteringly characterised as ‘these essays’, I would use the word explorations, which is itself an important Leavis word, and as he said in another context, ‘all important words are dangerous’.
In this case, the danger comes from imposing an importance on my observations which they are incapable of bearing. And often, I confess, they are gut reactions rather than considered judgements.
In the tutored tastings at the Foire aux Vins, for example, I hated the sweetness of the whites, the oakiness of the reds. The maligned wine critics of my previous blog could doubtless explain and maybe even justify. For me, it is simply not to my taste.
Does this mean, therefore, that when you read this blog, you are merely the recipients of some undigested prejudices?
I promise you, you are not. Because more often than not, I start only with a topic. Over the course of the 500 words, I develop my approach and attitude and finally a judgement, a valuation.
So in the average blog what you are reading is the record of a process of internal debate and argument, backed by Wordsworthian spots of time, structured in the form of Judt’s Memory Chalet, supported by quotes from better writers, and concluding with … well, a sort of conclusion.
Bit like this one, really.
Today from the everysmith vault: Yesterday, of course, was the wonderful music of the test match commentary. Today, it’s the New Riders of the Purple Sage from July 1971. A 10 minute version of Dirty Business, with Jerry on pedal steel, is the highlight.
Market days in Uzès are not merely an opportunity to stock up with fresh, local produce: fruit, vegetables, foie gras, goose rillettes and the like. They are also, perhaps even primarily, a social occasion. The one-way system is clogged, Le Parking Gide is complet from early in the morning and the bars and restaurants, diminished in size by market stalls encroaching on their outside space, are full as the inhabitants of the Uzège converge on the town to catch up with the gossip and enjoy an early pastis.
For me, it is an excuse to walk into town from our village, along the ancienne route: past the sewage works and the sunflower fields, over the small stream, up a 70m incline to the cemetery, entering the old town via the cobbled, pedestrianised rue Xavier Sigalon, named after the Romantic painter who was born in Uzès in 1767 and lived and died in a stereotypically Romantic – that is to say, unsuccessfully and unsold – manner. (He deserved more: his painting Locusta, exhibited in the cathedral of Nîmes, is an extraordinarily powerful work.)
From our gates in St Quentin la Poterie to a coffee at Marie’s Le Bengali in Uzès is a distance of just under five kilometres and takes me about 40 minutes, which is – serendipitously – the duration of a single podcast of Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time. Schlepping there and back makes me something of an expert on at least two topics each day.
For those unfamiliar with this excellent programme, I should explain that the admirable Melvyn gathers around a microphone a collection of learned academics, each of which is a specialist in the subject of the day. I have downloaded the complete back catalogue and enjoy choosing the educational backdrop to my walk from the huge, eclectic collection of programmes.
Melvyn by Jill
There appears to be no rhyme or reason to the selection of these subjects, beyond the random decisions of Melvyn Bragg himself. In the last couple of months, we’ve had Queen Zenobia and Levi-Strauss, cosmic rays and Icelandic sagas, gnosticism and prophecy, Montaigne and Checkov. Each has been illuminating and fascinating and one arrives at one’s destination if not wiser, certainly far better informed.
Currently, I am able to tell you a great deal about the Putney Debates and Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall, the war of 1812 and Bertrand Russell. I can tell you very little, however, about game theory and Fermat’s last theorem, despite listening to each of those programmes twice. I suspect this is because Bragg, representing the intelligent but non-specialist listener, was also struggling to prompt his very smart guests and ask the questions necessary for elucidation. But like him, I did try.
A friend of mine, in his post-graduate days at Nottingham, used to walk to Forest games in the company of fellow academics. To pass the time, they would take turns to deliver a paper on the way. I have always thought what an excellent idea that was.
A walk through the French countryside, with In Our Time on the headphones, is my version of that pastime. And when I arrive at my destination, I have the pleasure of coffee and conversation, pastis and producteurs rather than analyses of the failings of Forest.
Thanks, Melvyn. (And sorry, Martin.)
Today's listening: John Fahey at the Great American Music Hall in 1975, thanks to a free download from Wolfgang's Vault. His Tribute to Mississippi John Hurt is sensational.
Today's listening: It ought to be John Cage, but 4'33" is a long time. And as Chris pointed out, which version? So I'm playing Love Minus Zero/No Limit because my love, she speaks like ...
It is somehow appropriate that the Saatchi Gallery should host an exhibition of Soviet and Russian modern art. Set in the imposing space of the Duke of York’s HQ in Chelsea, the gallery established by one of the major beneficiaries of Thatcherism and global capitalism is currently showing two very different but contiguous exhibitions of work from the first three decades of Moscow-based, post-Stalinist modern art.
What is interesting is the paucity of ideas from those who looked to mimic the west, and the accomplishment of those who wished to engage with Stalinist and socialist (they are different) realism in a modern, political and creative manner.
So the highlights for me were the mocking works of the Soks Art movement, which draw on pop art and socialist realism, and the nostalgic socialist realist works of which the Meeting of Two Sculptures above, by Leonid Sokov, is a favourite, as Lenin peers at a faux Giacometti.
In a single piece, we see the clash of cultures, the struggle between what is permitted and what is forbidden, the synthesis of old and new left.
This is art. This, below, is an easy, cheap, advertising idea.
Well, ok. But to quote Lenin legitimately, it is one step forward, two steps back.
One understands why it might have been conceived, even executed. But one fails to understand why the image sits on a wall in a gallery in London.
It's glib and it's facile, and it is a matter of concern that this kind of western icon has been appropriated by the new Russia and its non-conformist artists.
It's a mystery why the curators of the Saatchi Gallery believe it worthy of our attention and their very expensive wall space, unless it is to celebrate the ways in which an ex-communist state can so easily be absorbed into our own business of art.
It is from one form of conforming to another.
We spent the morning at the Duke of York's HQ. That evening, we were at the Duke of York's Theatre to see The Judas Kiss, David Hare's play about Wilde.
It was always a good play. But now, in this revival, with Rupert Everett as Wilde and Freddie Fox as Bosie, it is something of a triumph.
In this script, and in this performance, one sees both sides of Wilde: a man who will not compromise his moral integrity, and a man who is hell-bent on self-destructive martyrdom.
In the second half, he is a shrunken figure, but a brave and determined figure, whose wit and intelligence remain despite knowledge of his imminent betrayal.
The theatre is old and cold; the noise of the underground reverberates regularly. But the play is profound and cathartic. I commend it to you.
Today's listening: Miss Sold from the Swaps. We all know that this is a great live band, but they can do it in the studio, too.
My first blog of the new year, and typed on a different keyboard from each of the previous posts.
It’s true. I have, after all these years, migrated to a Mac.
Sure, I already have an iPhone, an iPod and an iPad. But the huge leap (of faith?) was to put aside the last of a succession of Sony Vaio laptops and embrace this Macbook Pro. My decision has met with a couple of different responses.
Some have expressed amazement that I was not a Mac person all along. After all, I have worked in the ‘creative’ industries since … well, since before computers. And it was us advertising people who first embraced the Mac.
Others have expressed amazement that I have made the change at this stage of my life. They know me well. They know that I was one of the original QDOS (quick and dirty operating system) people. People like me worked with word processing programs called Lexicom and WordPerfect. We used Control + keystrokes rather than the mouse. We despised the so-called intuitive commands of Windows 95 and the patronizing graphics of the Apple.
And what was all that stuff about style and design? Wasn’t the Sony Vaio equally gorgeous, equally classy, equally functional? Of course it was. And is.
But, as I have discovered over the last few days, there is something unusually satisfying about working on a Mac. It’s not solely the keyboard, which is the best I have ever encountered. And it is not the proprietary software – I am actually using Microsoft Office for Mac. But there is something about this beautiful aluminium (aluminum) machine which makes work a pleasure.
It is a cultural thing, I suspect.
I remember the move from Blackberry to iPhone. It was a recognition that, at my age, I could afford to be less formal, less business-like, less professional. I could justify using a phone which allowed me a little fun, some enjoyment, even (especially?) if it was at the expense of a nano-second’s delay in sending and receiving e-mails.
There is this slightly hippy-ish feel to the Mac, which is opposed to the Big Blue, IBM, business-like Microsoft.
Steve Jobs, famously, was a collector of Dylan bootlegs and something of a Deadhead, walking on stage to announce the iPad to the sound of the Dead’s Friend of the Devil. He was no Jerry, being too authoritarian and dictatorial, but he was perhaps a Captain Beefheart. An anarchist and a control freak.
There have been some books published over the last 12 years that draw these parallels, as well as some weird conclusions.
It would not have been possible to foresee back in the late ‘60s, or in 1972 when I first saw the Dead in the UK, that there would be, now, a book entitled Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead by a couple of guys from Harvard; or that some professor at the School of Business and Entrepreneurship in Florida would have coined the term dynamic synchronicity to describe what the Dead did and what Apple do.
It’s a horrible phrase. I prefer what Jerry said, that “it is not enough to be the best at what one does; one has to be the only one who does it.”
And I think I prefer Apple’s line, Think different.
Of course, I would prefer the adverb. But I’ll settle for it.
And, grammatically incorrect as it is, this exhortation, this instruction, to think different, is my new year resolution. One of them, anyway.
Belated best wishes for 2013 to all my readers.
Today's listening: Janis, from February 1969. One of the first shows without Big Brother and the Holding Company, and it shows. But there's no denying her wondrous voice and charisma.
Credit: the Guardian
Lord Patten is one of those people, so common in public life, whose inexorable rise defies the democratic process.
His success dates from the time he was rejected and ejected as an MP by his constituents; at which point his friends in high places gathered round and appointed him, successively, a European commissioner, governor of Hong Kong and, most recently, chairman of the BBC Trust. And yes, remuneration in each case is significantly more than the minimum wage.
Despite his conservatism, Patten has had a pretty easy ride from the left; principally, I suspect, because, as Dr. Johnson would say, he has not merely read a book, but read it through. He is plausible, a tolerable dinner party companion, and – as one of the Dimblebores characterised him this morning – a “shrewd old bird”.
Clearly, not shrewd enough. His appointment of George Entwhistle, by all accounts a decent man, was a misfortune. His dismissal of George Entwhistle, careless. Literally so.
As so often these days, in the face of a crisis, the cry of the establishment goes up: “deputy heads must roll”.
Which is not to diminish the egregious offence of Newsnight’s allegations against Lord McAlpine. As the subject of a current false and defamatory statement on the internet, I know how much the sheer injustice hurts. I cannot imagine what Lord McAlpine suffered as millions believed for 72 hours that he was a paedophile. Compared with the Newsnight allegations, my problem was petty and trivial and I am humbled by the dignity with which McAlpine bore himself during those initial hours after the broadcast.
The false and damaging statement was made without research or evidence. Disgracefully, he was not even contacted to be given an opportunity to deny the charge, which had spread virally across the internet before being formalised in a Nationwide broadcast. In the fuss about Newsnight, we have ignored the importance of the internet, where more people garner their information than from hundreds of Newsnight broadcasts.
I have recently stumbled across the website of an organisation called CUREE, the Centre for the Use of Research and Evidence in Education. It is based, intriguingly, in Coventry - just down the road from where I am currently sitting. Its mission is to support and promote “the use of evidence by building bridges between academic research and professional practice”.
I am impressed by its objectives and its methodologies, and it occurs to me that the team at CUREE might establish similar organisations in other disciplines.
It is clear that Newsnight could do with a Centre for the Use of Research and Evidence in Journalism.
We could perhaps introduce a centre for political appointments.
And maybe there is also a role for a Centre for the Use of Research and Evidence in restaurant reviewing.
An edited version of this post appears on Wilde's Things: a restaurateur's blog at www.wildes.uk.com
Today’s listening: Brothers by The Black Keys. Don’t know why this has evaded my radar until now, but I will be making up for lost time.
This is the time of year when my perusal of The Boston Globe and other US media outlets is even more intense than normal. Not, or not solely, because baseball has returned, but because it’s election time in the States and today is Super Tuesday, the pivotal day after which Republicans may know who will represent them in their efforts to unseat Obama.
One man with very firm views on the issue is Rush Limbaugh, a ‘Conservative opinion leader’, who hosts a radio show on Premiere Radio Networks across the US. More than 15 million people tune in to each show. That's 15 million people who listen to a man who believes feminists are ‘feminazis’, who characterizes military people who have doubts about war as ‘phoney soldiers’ and who famously accused Michael J Fox of faking his Parkinson’s Disease in order to promote stem-cell research.
Just recently, he has targeted a law student called Sandra Fluke, who believes that contraception should be covered by student health insurance. This seems to me to be a reasonable proposition, but you can argue it both ways. Limbaugh, however, doesn’t argue; he rants. This woman is actually a ‘slut’ and a ‘prostitute’, he shouts down his microphone.
Encouragingly, the insults were too much even for his own audience and he has ‘apologized’. How? By asserting that his comments were intended to be ‘humorous’. It was ‘a joke’.
Now, it is easy for those of us in the UK to adopt a slightly superior air when faced with the rantings of the American Right. As I’ve pointed out before, we smile condescendingly when Republicans spell incorrectly, commit malapropisms and go over the top with their evangelical tirades against what they see as Big Government.
We shouldn’t be so smug. We have our own version over here.
Jeremy Clarkson has an audience even larger than Limbaugh. He is a winer and diner with the Prime Minister. And he has the same casual racist, sexist, homophobic attitude to the world beyond his eyrie in Chipping Norton as Limbaugh does to the world beyond the Tea Party.
There is another parallel. When Clarkson is forced to apologize, as for example when advocating that striking public sector workers should be shot in front of their families, or for his gratuitous insults to India and its people over Christmas, he responds as a Limbaugh. The comments were intended to be ‘humorous’. It was a ‘joke’.
And this, as my friend Charlotte Ford pointed out recently, is the behaviour of the school bully. Racist, sexist, homophobic, oafish behaviour is actually a joke that the rest of us don’t get.
It’s not. It’s racist, sexist, homophobic, oafish behaviour. And it needs to be stopped.
Today’s listening: The Further Festival at Mountain Aire, CA, from May 2010. Two days of joyful recreation of six of the Dead’s greatest albums.
Working class boy to middle class intellectual to lord of the realm. Our Melvyn: digital finger portrait by Jill Every
The famous old Regent Hotel in Leamington, which opened in 1819 and played host to the young Princess Victoria, had 100 bedrooms and a single bathroom. It is now a Travelodge. Its dining room and public areas, once the centre of fashionable society, are currently boarded up while we await yet another mass catering chain to take over the lease. Twenty years or so ago, however, in its already fading glory, Melvyn Bragg and I serenaded a young lady called Joanna with the first couple of stanzas of Dylan’s great song; his light tenor and northern vowels harmonising rather well, I remember, with my middle-class (classless) baritone.
I’ve been a fan of Melvyn’s ever since. His popular and popularizing programmes on contemporary culture have been a pleasure, always; provocative and insightful, occasionally.
But I’m not sure where he’s going with his latest series, on class and culture. It’s good TV, for sure, racing through footage of brass bands, rock and roll, choirs, ballet and opera as he attempts to explain how working-class, middle-class and upper-class cultures have interacted. It’s autobiographical, too, because implicit in the programmes is the story of the young working-class boy from the north of England who became a rich Hampstead intellectual and now sits in the House of Lords.
In Melvyn’s terms, it all seems fairly simple and seamless. In Melvyn’s life, it probably was and is. But I don’t think he’s really getting to the heart of the matter.
I am not, any more, one of those Marxists who regard culture as part of the ‘superstructure’, a manifestation of the economic ‘base’, as the economic circumstances of man determine his consciousness. I do, however, subscribe to what Raymond Williams termed ‘cultural materialism’. Raymond’s essay “Culture is Ordinary” was a key text for many of us in the ‘60s, because he argued that culture was not separate, as it was being presented to us by our tutors, but “a whole way of life” and thus, by definition, political.
He went further, expanding the definition of culture. Yes, working class culture is choirs and brass bands, and those few proletarian novels which we studied as part of the English tripos. But it is also political organization. It is a march, a strike, an event, a movement. The cultural (and political) significance of the brass bands and the male voice choirs is not so much the music: it is, primarily, the very existence and organization of the band or choir itself.
I doubt whether Raymond would have agreed, and I suspect Melvyn does, but I see this theme also in the counter-culture of the ‘60s, in The Grateful Dead, in - today - the culture of the Internet, and in a whole raft of similar phenomena which I hope my readers will add.
Culture is ordinary. And that is what makes it extraordinary.
Meantime, thanks to Melvyn. Always a pleasure. And, on this occasion, provocative also.
Today’s listening: Dylan’s 1961 Carnegie Chapter Hall show. One of my most treasured possessions is an original flyer for this concert (All seats $2), and this has been recently released. I don’t think it is ‘official’, and it appears to differ not at all from the ‘bootleg’ which I possess. But it’s great nonetheless.
E.M. Forster famously remarked that "If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country".
Forster, writing just before the outbreak of the second world war, was arguing in his Bloomsbury way that the modern state was in itself opposed to personal relations. And it was personal relations which should form the basis of a good life.
I won't bore you with a re-hash of my 1968 critique of the philosopher G.E. Moore's Principia Ethica, from which Forster's statement is derived; suffice it to say, I don't agree. But the proposition is relevant to the l'affaire Murdoch, because most of the major players are 'friends' and Cameron himself made great play of the fact that Coulson 'is a friend and remains a friend', adding that he would have to be a particularly 'unpleasant sort of person' were he to renege on his offer of a 'second chance'.
That dinner party in Chipping Norton about which I've been banging on all year (David Cameron, James Murdoch, Rebekah Brooks) was not a meeting between a prime minister, a chairman of News International and an editor of the News of the World. It was, Cameron told us and Parliament, just a few friends having dinner: the subject of the BSkyB shares was never mentioned.
But that was then. Once the sluice gates had been opened, Cameron was forced to make the choice. And he made the choice that one would expect. He was going to have to be precisely the 'unpleasant sort of person' he wished not to be. His friend Rebekah Brooks should go. Andy Coulson should go. No more weekends at Chequers for these guys.
It is 60 years since Jeremy Thorpe summarised MacMillan's sacking of most of his senior collagues in the cabinet: 'Greater love hath no man that this, that he lays down his friends for his life'. Cameron followed his Tory predecessor's example.
This generation of Tories - the Eton/Bullingdon Club generation - has some history here. Remember the behaviour of the egregious Osbourne, when in his eagerness to score points against Peter Mandelson back in October '08, he broke an unwritten law of friendship (what happens on millionaires' boats stays on millionaires' boats) and provoked a damning response from Nat Rothschild in - appropriately, you may now think - The Times.
Cameron's decision clearly came as a shock to the Murdoch camp. Rebekah Brooks, for one, is reported as being 'upset' by the behaviour of her 'old friend'. She, of course, could turn on so-called friends for the sake of an election or even a cheap headline; they could not.
But they do. All of them. Sooner or later.
Murdoch's grand gesture of friendship - closing a 168 year old newspaper in order to protect Brooks - appears to be his last in that direction. And Cameron is now showing a new ruthlessness in culling his friends, treating long-established relationships as if he were de-friending on Facebook.
Cicero had it right. "The alliance of wicked men should not only not be protected by a plea of friendship, but rather should be visited with summary punishment of the severest kind ..."
Today's listening: more Glenn Gould playing more Bach.