Aye Elvis.

Elvis tribute actI went to see “Aye, Elvis”.   It was such good fun. It’s a  musical.  So poignant ,  I laughed tears and wept at the pathos.   A Scottish woman, leading desperately lonely life, looking after her wheelchair bound mother, working for next to nothing as a checkout girl at the local supermarket, not well educated but the salt of the earth.  From Aberdeen.  Who have you heard of from Aberdeen?      At a local pub karaoke competition she performs an Elvis number.  In pure Scottish, if yer ken wha I mean.

Arre ye lonsime ta neet

De ye miss me ta neet

Ah yer sorrie  wer driffin apairt

She was awful but she is convicted she has it nailed.  She puts her whole heart into it  and it was a joy to watch and to listen to. She wins the £20 karaoke prize and emboldened by the win she buys herself a full glittery sequined Elvis jump  suit and enters a national Elvis Tribute competition And it is glorious, she puts her heart into it.  And it is funny and poignant.  But she’s noo good enough.  There is a happy romantic ridicules ending full of pathos and Elvis songs.   Ahh, its such fun, just what the festival is all about.  Five stars from me.

 

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Private Peaceful – review.

morpengoMorpurgo;s  Private Peaceful is very disappointing.   Perhaps we expected too much after the stunning writing of War Horse, , its astonishing stage production and the film.  Or perhaps World War 1, as a vehicle for drama has passed its peak and needs to take a rest.

Of course one reason may be that without the need of any spoiler alert, we all know the end of the story. it is a universal and self evident truth that a world war one rank and file soldier, executed by firing squad is invariably innocent, has been treated unfairly and unjustly and his killing is a tragedy.

But this was a poor production.   As Private peaceful recalls for us, on stage, his life we see him terrified and traumatised by the horrors of  trench warfare.  He cowers under the barrage of artillery.   We all know, particularly from War Horse, what can be achieved on a stage, but here, the soundtrack of the gunfire and artillery is almost in the background and has none of the volume and horror that would induce the kind of terror and trauma being enacted upon the stage.  It is as if they had got a bog standard recording of  gunfire/artillery from Bargain sound effects for your drama group.com    One would reasonably, I think, expect to flinch from the sounds/ horror of a full scale artillery bombardment, but in truth, you could hear a crisp packet rustle.     And the shots that bring Private Peaceful’s life to an end, surely they could have been loud enough to shock us in our seats, just a little bit?

The story was not as powerful as I had imagined it would be.  Almost every cliche of world war one was thrown in.   Below age signing on;  close friend signing on with you;  friend getting killed;  nasty shouting sgt.:  weak officer;  girlfriend back home; letters about babies.

I have not read the book and cannot say whether this was an accurate reflection of Morpurgo’s  work.  If it is then Private Peaceful is not his finest hour..

 

 

 

 

 

Part 2:  A New Presidential election is Imperative.

This is a follow up to a piece I wrote back in 2012 entitled “The RTE have tarnished the Presidency” (http://bit.ly/2MoCa1Q

It is widely accepted that Trump secured the presidency of the United States of America with the help of some dodgy tactics, fake news, manipulation of social media and a ruthless disregard of ethics.

Let us accept that is true.

When it comes to manipulation of  social media and fake news then it worth recalling how Michael Higgins became President of Ireland.

He, personally played no part in the social media manipulation and the fake news that swamped the electoral process won him the election.   But he was, and remains,  the principal beneficiary of a manipulative process that effectively stained the election and stained the office of the presidency.

Let us recall.

We are a small country and national television debates have a markedly greater effect here than they might in a country with a massive population and many many cities and centres of population.      So it was that our most important TV station, deploying its most notable and expensive presenters, and having the most sophisticated monitoring  process  for   filtering “public” contributions and participation in their programmes, (and a wealth of experience in so doing), allowed a entirely fake social media account to plant an entirely fake story, at the prime moments of the principal national debate and  to entirely destroy the campaign of the then frontrunner.    No not just the front runner.  Sean Gallagher was way ahead, no one could catch him and no one would have caught him had it not been for the fake account, the fake allegation and RTE’s role in allowing it to run.

One of our major political parties,  Sinn Fien, was responsible for the fake news, manipulative attack, and they were aided by a supine RTE.

It undermined the integrity of the election and, in my view the integrity of the Presidency.

So now, when we have to consider whether there should be a new Presidential election or whether we should allow President Higgins into a second term without having to face the electorate, then let us remember what occurred.

It is, in my view imperative there be an election to clear the Presidential electoral process of the legacy of a fake news, manipulated unpleasant odour that saw the wrong candidate win.   Or perhaps, for I am a supporter of Michael D, the right candidate win for the wrong reasons.

Of course Michael D should stand, again if so wishes and if he does he would certainly be the candidate that I would support.  But not to have an election is to give legitimacy to the fake news manipulative process that took over the election, for if we are authentic in our collective condemnation of fake news, Trump and all that goes with it, then we owe it to ourselves.

 

De Profundis compared – Edinburgh Festival

callowlogan

De Profundis  must be one of the most powerful letters in English literature and each year, it appears, in one form or another at almost every Edinburgh Festival.

This year it was Simon Callow in a highly praised performance at the Assembly rooms on George Street.  He attracts, as one would expect for such a distinguished figure in the world of the theatre, large appreciative audiences.

I last saw De Profundis at the Edinburgh Fringe some four years ago, performed, on that occasion, in a much smaller theate, by Gerard Logan and I must say that it was a superior performance to that of Callow.

De Profundis is a very intimate letter and resonates its power when the theatre is smaller and the audience not so vast as that that gathers in the great music hall theatre on George Street.   That, I think, must have contributed to my preference for Logan’s performance.

But there is more.  Callow performs the prose in anger, accusatory anger, for it is an angry letter, whereas Logan’s performance was one of despair and regret.  He did not shout his accusations against Bosie and I think, by doing so he  caught the passion of it better.

The setting of such performances in Edinburgh, indeed, for must shows in Edinburgh, including De Profundis is mostly black curtains and almost nothing on the stage.   Callow had a wooden chair, rather a big chair.    The performance is set in prison but it did not look like a prison chair, nor feel like a prison chair.   It looked too comfortable for a prison, like an IKEA chair rather than a prison stool.  For most of Ca[low’s performance he was seated in the chair, sitting bolt upright angrily proclaiming his accusations against Bosie.   By comparison with Logan it was rather stilted, for Logan was at a desk and it looked much more like a piece of prison furniture; and he was standing, with the “letter” itself in his hands, and he moved with the rhythm of the despair in the letter and it produced a more convincing performance.

Wilde was 43 years old when he wrote De Profundis.   He was a broken dandy.   Callow is now 70 years old.   It is terrible to be so ageist but I think Logan rather carried it off a little more successfully.

For both men, the simple act of committing to memory, not just a few lines but the entire 50,000 word text of the long, powerful prose as it meanders over the minutiae of the Bosie/Wilde  relationship, at times petulant, full of self pity, seething with humiliation and regret, anger and love, is quite astonishing.

Callow’s performance brought forward prolonged  and deserved applause.  Logan’s, as I recall, brought us to our feet.

The wise and foolish Wicklow Virgins

It is the unusual, out of the way things you might accidentally stumble across that make a visit to a famous city memorable.   Edinburgh, like all great cities has it’s must see places, must go to events, its great houses and  art galleries, its long turbulent history, royal and religious and of course the Castle, the Royal Mile, the Edinburgh tattoo and the finest International and Fringe festival in all the world.

We took a house, for the festival, in the Broughton district.  It’s a little off the main city, to the east, close to Leith walk, but still full of those fine stone grey Edinburgh town houses.   traquair-church.jpgAcross the road was a rather noble and superior looking grey stone church, incongruous and a little anonymous, sitting as it does on a busy roundabout.  It turned out to be long de-consecrated. It had been a church of the Catholic Apostolic movement, zealous believers in the second coming, but it  is now preserved as a Scottish heritage project know as the Traquair centre.*

It is a fine building, from a distinguished Scottish Architect,**  but it is  the interior that is most important and for which the building is now listed and protected, for it is adorned with over 500 square meters of the most beautiful religious murals.***  A touch of Italy in the Auld Reekie.

Screenshot 2018-08-09 21.28.23

For me, one of the more exciting aspects of the murals, far too little known outside of Scotland, was that the artist was Irish.

I like to think I know a bit about Irish artists. I  have a small collection of Irish works myself. But I know that I have much to learn and I must confess that I had never heard of this Irish artist, not a whisper of her name in Ireland.  And she was a real revelation, for she is exceptionally well known in Scotland, exceptionally talented and in fact enjoys an international reputation.

phoebe anna traquair

She was Phoebe Anna Moss, born in Dublin in 1852, raised in County Wicklow, the daughter of a prominent Dublin Physician, she studied art and design at the Royal Dublin Society.

She was employed, in Dublin,  by a Scottish paleontologist, Ramsey Traquair, then working at Dublin’s National History Museum, to illustrate his collection of fish fossils. They fell in love and married in Dublin, in 1873.  A year later her husband was appointed Keeper of natural History at the Edinburgh Museum of Science and Art and she left Dublin for ever.   It was in Edinburgh that  she made her name as a major, internationally recognised artist.  One of her great admirers was W.B. Yeats who wrote of her, to Lady Gregory,

Nearly all my time in Edinburgh I was absorbed in Mrs Traquair’s work and find it far more beautiful that I had foreseen – one can only judge of it when one sees it in a great mass, for only then does one get any idea of her extraordinary abundance of imagination . . . I have come from her work overwhelmed, astonished, as I used to come long ago from Blake, and from him alone…”

She became a noted member of the Arts and Craft movement and the church murals, while clearly having an Italian influence in their concept, also  display influences from among otherstraquair centre Burne Jones, Rossetti and William Morris.  I was particularly struck by the Morris like details she painted above the arched stone doorways.

By all accounts she was a feisty red headed Irish woman, but five foot tall and full of creative energy.  It was she who simply approached the deacons of the church and told them she was going to paint their walls for them!

It took almost nine years, (between 1892 and 1901) to complete the work and for  the Irish, the greatest  interest will be her series of panels within the church narrating the parable of the wise and foolish virgins****

Here they are in all their glory, in one  of the five virgin panels, being summoned by  the Lord and clutching their famous oil lamps.  Five of them, the wise virgins, carry containers of oil.  The other five, the foolish virgins, have lamps but carry no oil.

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The background landscape is  unmistakably the hills of Wicklow, and who, in Ireland will fail to recognise the Sugar Loaf mountain

Henceforward, at least for me, these virgins, wise and foolish, will always be known as the wise and foolish Wicklow Virgins!

Let the trumpets sound:

Screenshot 2018-08-09 21.28.10

 

 

* Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh EH3 6BB

** Robert Rowand  Anderson (1834 – 1921)        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Rowand_Anderson    

*** Although the obvious Italian influence would suggest they are Frescoes it is more correct to describe them as murals.  The Fresco technique involves applying  pigment to a wet plaster surface whereas here, Mrs Ttarquaid has applied oil paint, diluted with turpentine,   onto a  hard dry surface prepared with lead white..

****  “Then the Kingdom of Heaven will be like ten virgins, who took their lamps, and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. Those who were foolish, when they took their lamps, took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. Now while the bridegroom delayed, they all slumbered and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, “Behold! The bridegroom is coming! Come out to meet him!” Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” But the wise answered, saying, “What if there isn’t enough for us and you? You go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.” While they went away to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins also came, saying, “Lord, Lord, open to us.” But he answered, “Most certainly I tell you, I don’t know you.” Watch therefore, for you don’t know the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man  is coming.”       Matthew 25:1-13

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dinner at the House of the Dead.

Sad to note that the House of the Dead on Ushers Quay in dear old Dublin has now closed and will not be available, this coming Bloomsday (16th June) for the wonderful Joycean dinner hosted by my great friend Brendan Kilty  that were such a joy in the years gone by.    This is a review I did of one such dinner, many years ago

To ushers quay, to the House of the Dead, wherein Joyce set the most famous of his short storieshouse of the dead, “The Dead”. The house is a tall elegant Georgian building with long and equally elegant windows overlooking the river Liffey and the new James Joyce Bridge designed by the Spaniard Santiago Calatrava and of which Joyce would surely approve.

The Georgian interior is lit by candles and the table set as it would have been for a well to do family Christmas in the early part of the twentieth century. We are gathered to celebrate Joyce, to recreate the dinner party, to sing the songs, recite the poems, to drink the wine, to enjoy the open fires, to indulge, reflect. In the same house, in the same rooms that Joyce himself recited the poems and sang the songs and drank the wine and from which experience he wrote such powerful prose.

There is turf on the fire and a beautiful Dublin girl is singing The Lass of Aughrim, accompanied by an Irish fiddle player, no less a musician than John Sheahan of the Dubliners. There are more songs from Joyce and from O’Casey, and tunes from the tin whistle the mandolin and the fiddle, there are poems and a visiting American academic dances and sways before the glowing turfs. Late into the night we spill onto the quays still haunted by the singing and knowing well enough that there will be few nights in Dublin, or indeed anywhere else that will be as enjoyable as dinner at the House of the Dead.
 

The Bingham Picket line Arrest…

There’s this school in Bingham.  The Toot Hill comprehensive school.  Popular with the children of  a large number of Nottingham commuters that have chosen to settle in this dormitory village,  more of a town these days, set halfway between Nottingham and Newark, just off the old Roman Road known as the Fosse way, or now, the A46.

bingham buttercrossIt’s not a very attractive town with most of the buildings being quite new and constructed with all the imagination of a dull municipal architect, although there is a very handsome and ancient buttercross set in the market square.

In 1979 the manual and ancillary workers employed by the Nottinghamshire County Council at the Toot Hill comprehensive became caught up in the Low pay campaign of the National Union of Public Employees and joined the strike action, popularly known to history as the great winter of discontent.    Thus, the caretakers and the cleaning staff together with the school meals staff came out. And it was bitter and controversial.

It was a bad winter and without the caretaking staff to stoke the boilers that kept the school warm then the Toot Hill school faced closure.  In addition, there was to be no cleaning.  Not of the classrooms, not of the corridors , not of  the toilets.   But Nottinghamshire County Council, under hard-line Tory control, was determined to keep the school open and face down the manual workers.   They hired dozens of Calor gas heaters and the school buildings became encased in a ring of large Calor gas cylinders placed outside the windows of classrooms and corridors.   The teachers decided not to support the strike and kept working and the council managed to find enough strike breaking cleaners to keep emergency cover.

Early each morning in the bitter winter cold, the striking caretakers and cleaners would mount a picket at the entrance drive, at the top of the hill where incoming teachers would drive up to the school carpark.   Their instructions were not to try and stop them entering the school but to hand out strike leaflets and to try and persuade them to support the low pay campaign.   For the teachers It was a fairly friendly “information picket” although there were real attempts to stop the regular deliveries of replacement Calor gas cylinders.

On and on went the strike through that dreadful winter and it was my task as the regional organiser to visit this picket line, and many others throughout the county, to keep support going, pay strike pay and generally keep an eye on things.

It was a bleak,  cold and frosty Monday morning,  horribly early, 5 am or thereabouts.  Five or six pickets, school caretakers and cleaning staff, well wrapped up, stamping to keep warm in the freezing temperatures, waiting for the gas cylinder delivery trucks to try and stop them entering, ready for the teachers to arrive to try and persuade them not to enter;  a few posters, official strike notices, armbands, stickers.

badge nupe picket

A white saloon car appeared at the bottom of the drive.  It was too early for the teachers.  The  saloon stopped and it was clear we were being watched by the driver.   He started to move up the drive and suddenly, without the slightest warning, he accelerated.   At high speed he sped towards the picket, causing them and me to leap out of the way, for had we not done so he would have hit at least one of us.   The car had swerved deliberately towards the picket and now sped off up the drive at high speed into the school carpark.    We were in a bit of shock.   I ran up to the car park to accost the driver,  He had spun round in the car park and was now facing the exit.  I ran to the driver’s window which was down.  Grabbed him by the throat of his white shirt and called him an unprintable type of person, accused him of deliberately trying to ram us and punched him in the chest.  Hard.

He resisted and grabbed my wrists and we struggled for a minute or so.  He shouted out he was a police officer and then produced a pair of epaulets saying he was Inspector Smith. And that I was nicked.   My aggression subsided, and he roughly handcuffed me and was bundling me into the car.  By now the other caretakers had reached the car park, equally angry,  I shouted to them that I was being arrested and they should call the regional office.

He took me, Inspector Smith, to Bingham Police Station where I was formally charged with obstruction and assaulting a police officer.  I was photographed and fingerprinted and an inventory of my possessions was made.  In the pocket of my Barbour jacket was £15,000.   Money I was distributing as strike pay to various locations around the county.   Russian gold, Inspector Smith called it as I was banged up in a Bingham cell.

It was not long before the Union solicitor arrived and I was duly bailed to appear before Bingham magistrates to answer to the charges.  I can’t now recall the name of the solicitor.  She had offices up on Derby Road and a large black dog and had been commissioned by the Unions regular solicitors, Thompsons, to deal with the arrest.  The arrest attracted a fair amount of press coverage.  Not that arrests on the picket lines were uncommon, they were not, but the arrest of a full-time union officer was a little unusual.

A problem arose in that the chairperson of the Bingham magistrates turned out to be the Chair of Nottinghamshire County Council Education Committee.  Notts County Council were the employers against whom the strike was directed.   I was advised to make an application to a High Court Judge at the Nottingham Shire Hall for an alternative venue for the trial because of the possibility of bias in Bingham.   A barrister was appointed and thus it was I appeared before Mr. Justice Savage, in his chambers, at the Shire Hall Courts.   The Shire Hall was in very poor condition as the cleaner’s caretakers and boilermen employed therein were all out on strike in the same low pay campaign.   Thus, the place was freezing cold,  it stank, the toilets were blocked, the ancient stone floors filthy with litter, uncleaned for many weeks.  Mr. Justice savage wore a red robe, but no wig.  I think he only wore the robe because it was so cold with just a two bar electric heater. There was a military officer in the room in dress uniform with a sword across his knees.

“Are you the chap responsible for the strike here?” asked the judge.

Despite my lengthy political explanation of the low wages that the  Shire Hall manual staff earned, in comparison with that of judges for exapple, and the deep political necessity for the strike and the need to establish a mimimum wage,  during which my barrister was desperately trying to shut me up, the application to change venue was denied.

And so, to the Bingham magistrates court.   Councillor Minkley, she who was the chairperson of the Education Committee decided not to sit and I do not now recall who it was who heard the case.

As luck would have it we had found an elderly German piano teacher who had been out walking her dog on the relevant morning.  She had witnessed the white saloon car, driving at high speed and swerving towards the picket.   She had not seen what happened in the car park but was a first rate independant witness as  to the behavior which prompted the subsequent confrontation and she completely corroborated the narrative and evidence of the other picketers.

My own evidence was that as the responsible union officer I felt it necessary to advise the driver that I would have to report him to the police for dangerous driving.   When I told him this, in a polite but firm manner, He replied by saying “  I am the fucking police and you, you communist bastard, are nicked”

I somewhat doubt that the magistrates believed this was the truth of what occurred in the carpark, but the evidence of the German piano teacher was so strong that it was sufficient to have the charges struck out.

There was quite a lot of press coverage of the trial.  It was the days before social media and I am sure if it happened today the local twitter feeds would be full of negative comments.   To express your hatred in those days required that you find a notepad, a pen, an envelope, a stamp and then search for an address and go to the trouble of visiting a post box.   Even so, there were one or two rather horrible letters.  The one that most pleased me was from the British National Party who sent a letter addressed to the “communist bastard” Nottingham.   No name no address.    The local post office kindly filled in the details and delivered it safely to my home in Snienton!

 

The story of the strike at the Shirehall is told here:  Winter of Discontent and the Nottingham Shire Hall

We never really reconcilled with Councillor Minkly, even though we sent her a valentine card:  Cuts valentine poem