Tuesday, 30 April 2013


This is meant to be a great, celebratory year for Dr Who.  Fifty years since the first broadcast in 1963 of 'An Unearthly Child'.

On November the 23rd, to be precise, a day after the assassination of JFK and the deaths of Aldous Huxley and CS Lewis.

So this should be a great series, with lots of opportunity for tongue in cheek jokes and echoes from previous stories. 

There has been some of that, but after three episodes it all feels a bit...


Even last week's 'let's explore the Tardis' show - although better than the first two episodes - wasn't that great, and there were (arguably) continuity issues. 

Oh well, we can only hope for better later.

Monday, 29 April 2013

Pumping Bellows

We went to the Manet Exhibition last month at the Royal Academy. Now, it wasn't bad, but I have to say I don't think it justified the hype.  There were one or two really great portraits - like the Berthe Morrisot that was (over) used to advertise the show.  But overall there were too many not-quite-good-enough works, of dour-looking men in suits, that didn't excite.  And because of the hype it was too crowded.

And then we went upstairs to the George Bellows - which is a show that is still on, and almost empty when we went. Smaller, focussed and much, much more wonderful.  Almost all of the works you'd want to see are there, hanging up high in the Sackler Gallery, floating above the sour, dour Manets.  The colour, composition and narrative excitement of these paintings are a wonder.  I'm so pleased to have had the chance to see them.

My only reservation is a sense that the RA is a bit hesitant about the show.  It isn't that well advertised;  people seem surprised when you tell them about it.  There is only one large poster on sale associated with the event - although, admittedly, a ravishing New York street scene and landscape, it is not enough.

Anyway I bought it of course, and took to the Thames Gallery on the East Dulwich Road to get framed.  They loved it when I took it in.

And then, when I picked it up they said that two more had come in for framing... do I detect a small South London Bellows Burn? 
(PS: This is a different landscape... I'd love a print of it  *hint*)

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Ancient Greek Wisdom

Mega biblion, mega kakon - translated as 'big book, big evil' - was Kallimachos of Cyrene's judgement on the Argonautica of Apollonius of Rhodes.  He apparently detested the populist appeal of Apollonius's epic.

So where, today, are the equivalent terse, direct critics, at a time when our need is so great (see George R R Martin and the Game of Thrones series for an example).

I only have so much time to read, and it is being seriously impeded by all those big, bad books.
On the other hand, I've just finished reading Derek Walcott's White Egrets, a brilliant collection of poetry from 2010.  It's 89 pages long and not one word is out of place. 

I suspect it took me longer to read than the first GoT book. But on the other hand, I didn't begrudge a second of the time.

Short book, big  good.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Poem of the Week

Dover Beach
Matthew Arnold

The sea is calm to-night.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand;
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

On the South Bank of the Thames, in the Cold Spring Sunshine

After a visit to Tate Modern, which surprisingly wasn't irredeemably awful (they've reorganised their stuff since I was last there, so that it makes a little more sense, including putting some of the things I don't hate in the same spaces - like a gallery on 'Realisms' which chimes with Christine Lindey's course on The Alternative Tradition, a little), I came out into the Spring sunshine to see these two  chaps eating fire and juggling:
Which was quite fun. 

I then did something I rarely do: the tide was out, so I went down to the beach; the real South Bank of the Thames, if you will.
The Shard seems small and unimportant from this angle, compared with the expanse of the River and the rest of London.  And there is a wealth of stuff down at water level you don't see from up on the embankment.
And of course, the River itself is closer.
...while the bridges are... up there.
The red piers from the old, 1864 Blackfriars Bridge are especially impressive from the waterline.
While the Millennium Footbridge (no longer so bouncy) was very busy on the day...
And finally, just like almost every other cultural barn in London in the last ten years, Tate Modern is getting a new bit built...

Thursday, 18 April 2013

No Interest...

So.  Over the last two days I visited Leeds, Durham, Newcastle and Sunderland.  I met no-one who showed the slightest (positive) interest in Thatcher's funeral.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Sharp Elbows

A lot of people seem to want to mourn the passing of Margaret Thatcher. 

A few will be family and friends, of course, who knew her as a person, and didn’t hate her. 
Others may think of her as someone who gave them opportunities when she was in power, to ‘get on’ and to strive to do well. 

Still others will feel that, although they didn’t benefit personally from her policies, she did achieve a number of much needed reforms, such as breaking the power of the Unions and privatising a lot of state-run industries so they could 'thrive' away from the public sector. 

And of course there are the Tories who, as well as falling into one or more of the camps above, are taking the opportunity to turn the whole event into a long-running party political broadcast.

I’m afraid we at TANH don’t fall into any of those groups.

The greatest peace time Prime Minister of the Twentieth Century? Unquestionably Clement Attlee, who achieved more, of greater and longer-lasting benefit to the people of this country in one term of office than she managed in three.

And the things the Attlee government achieved – the welfare state, the NHS, a cradle-to-grave safety net for the citizens of the UK – helped the poor and the disadvantaged, helped to build and nurture people’s lives, and helped to construct a fairer society.  They assumed an inherent sense of community and shared values.

Whereas the ethos and spirit of the Thatcher-led changes were captured brilliantly by Glenda Jackson last week: vices become virtues; you need ‘sharp elbows, sharp knees’, not care and compassion.

In ThatcherWorld, you get on by shoving people aside, pushing them out of your way, and getting one up on them.  You don’t inhabit a common society with shared goals.  Her policies were needlessly brutalising and destructive; if you accept that her objectives and intentions were sound (and we don’t), there were more collaborative, less plain nasty (to quote Theresa May), ways to achieve them.

Jeremy Hardy on the News Quiz refused to crow over her death, saying he sided with John Donne: ‘every man’s death diminishes me’ – a sentiment, I feel, she might have struggled to understand.

One of the things we’ve found interesting has been the way in which any dissent from the institutional praise of this most divisive of politicians has been carefully muffled.  Not silenced entirely, but certainly sat upon - from the BBC playing only a few bars of ‘Ding Dong, The Witch is Dead’ (no. 2 in the download chart as a result of market forces), to the criticisms of the ‘Turn Your Back’ movement, and the Sun’s ‘Spot the Leftie’ headline. 

Of course, some of this is understandable – a reticence about speaking ill of the dead, a desire not to upset her family and close friends, but we detect more.  The industries and cronies that have grown up on the coattails of the awful changes her government made to the way our country works are trying to avoid an Emperor’s New Clothes moment.  

Because if the death of Margaret Thatcher gives the right a chance to eulogise, it gives the rest of us the opportunity to point out just how fundamentally, fatally, destructively and hatefully wrong she was.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Iain (M)

Catching up on the last couple of weeks, it seems important to spend a moment considering Iain (M) Banks' announcement that he has terminal cancer, on his Web Site

I remember reading all of his books in the '80s and '90s.  The Wasp Factory, Use of Weapons, Consider Phlebas, Walking on Glass, The Bridge, the wonderful The State of the Art and so forth.  I always saw his writing as one connected piece - I didn't distinguish between the M and the not-M parts of his oeuvre.

I've probably read fewer more recently - but then I probably read less fiction overall nowadays; I still enjoyed both Transition and The Steep Approach to Garbadale.

When Cameron and his crew got in, he also wrote a terrific letter to the Grauniad, part of which we duplicated on TANH. 

And I can remember after a Beccon, and hence a long time back, sitting in the lounge of the hotel waiting to leave for London.  Just hanging around with friends.  Iain came in and bought red wine and champagne all round, and talked to us about our lives and children.

A lovely man!  I hope he enjoys his last few months - and may they be not too few, at that.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Poem of the Week

Tramp the Dirt Down
Elvis Costello

I saw a newspaper picture from the political campaign
A woman was kissing a child, who was obviously in pain
She spills with compassion, as that young child's
Face in her hands she grips
Can you imagine all that greed and avarice
Coming down on that child's lips

Well I hope I don't die too soon
I pray the lord my soul to save
Oh I'll be a good boy, I'm trying so hard to behave
Because there's one thing I know, I'd like to live
Long enough to savor
That's when they finally put you in the ground
I'll stand on your grave and tramp the dirt down

When England was the whore of the world
Margaret was her madam
And the future looked as bright and as clear as
The black tarmacadam
Well I hope that she sleeps well at night, isn't
Haunted by every tiny detail
'Cos when she held that lovely face in her hands
All she thought of was betrayal

And now the cynical ones say that it all ends the same in the long run
Try telling that to the desperate father who just squeezed the life from his only son
And how it's only voices in your head and dreams you never dreamt
Try telling him the subtle difference between justice and contempt
Try telling me she isn't angry with this pitiful discontent
When they flaunt it in your face as you line up for punishment
And then expect you to say thank you straighten up, look proud and pleased
Because you've only got the symptoms, you haven't got the whole disease
Just like a schoolboy, whose head's like a tin-can
Filled up with dreams then poured down the drain
Try telling that to the boys on both sides, being blown to bits or beaten and maimed
Who takes all the glory and none of the shame

Well I hope you live long now, I pray the lord your soul to keep
I think I'll be going before we fold our arms and start to weep
I never thought for a moment that human life could be so cheap
'Cos when they finally put you in the ground
They'll stand there laughing and tramp the dirt down

Thursday, 4 April 2013


Look, its April 4th, and London is traditionally a little warmer than many other parts of the country.

So why is it snowing?

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Museum of the Year Shortlist

Fantastic!  The shortlist for the 2013 Museum of the Year includes Dulwich Picture Gallery and the Horniman amongst the last 10.

Unfortunately no mention of the Brunel House Museum (which won a different award in 2010) - nor the Nunhead and District Municipal Museum and Art Gallery

Perhaps another year?

Monday, 1 April 2013

April 1 2013

I loved Radio 4 on barcoded trains this morning, but this was better...