South America Day 1: to Argentina – virgin territory

I’ve never set foot in South America. The nearest I’ve been is Tijuana in 1980, the day John Lennon died. So on landing after 13 hours of flying it felt very far from home, that well-off-my-manor feeling I get in South London.

On the way in to Buenos Aires in the taxi I spoke to the driver in a mix of my little Italian, my even less Spanish, and a bit of extrapolation from French – it just about worked. We passed two trucks full of live cows.

Most of the journey in was heavy traffic on big boulevards. I could see the European thing everyone talks about but mainly in areas punctuated with boxy modern architecture. It was only on Day 2 I saw the real charming McCoy.

El Rosedal Buenos Aires gardens
I’m writing this on Day 2 in El Rosedal, a beautiful sun-dappled formal garden with a bust of Shakespeare a few yards away (a gift from the British community in 1964 to mark Shakey’s 400th birthday, which seems to have survived the little unpleasantness around the Malvinas unscathed). There are fountains gushing, a couple of pretty girls drawing, pink gravel paths and fresh verdant grass – what more could one want?

On arrival at the Plaza Hotel, pulling up into a classic arcade worthy of the classic name, I had the thousand yard stare of overnight travel and was therefore relieved to find the room ready at 10:30 in the morning. I did some typical modern free overtime for work before heading out for a bite to eat with my full tourist kit – small shoulder bag, camera, trashy novel and a free map of the city.

Put a toe in the water of the ciudad, enough to find a homely Italian cafe where I sat reading a book about Nazis over a plate of papas (I’m not sure if that is a quaint nickname for potatoes or their official designation – or is it the pope? [who is of course Argentine]). After a much craved for coffee I went to visit the British Council offices opposite the hotel on Plaza San Martin. Beautifully decked out in wood and curves I got to meet all the staff from Receptionist to Director and hear about the work of the greatest diplomatic institution in Britain alongside the BBC World Service.

florida garden cafe buenos aires

A bit more flaneur-type wandering with camera (I rarely use it these says due to phone handiness), then coffee and cake at the Florida Garden, an old school cafe where I sat at the mirrored bar under the solicitous eye of a smartly liveried waiter. The weather was London drizzle – while London enjoyed the tail-end of its Indian summer. Today is officially the first day of Autumn in GB. Here in BA it’s Spring.

I hit the luxurious sack early to reduce the stare by 998 yards. It worked.

Don’t You Go

If you ever wanted to know the value of Scottish-English union it’s perfectly captured in John Martyn – born in England, educated in Glasgow, genius fruit of the union of an English mother and Scottish father – and if you voted today in the Scottish Independence referendum I hope his words guided your hand:

Can’t you see it in my eyes? I’m saying
Don’t you go
So many reasons you should stay here, baby
Don’t you go, don’t you go

one of the great Anglo-Scots

one of the great Anglo-Scots

So here I am sitting in a land colonised by Scots (at the Beech Hill in Derry) following the outcome of today’s vote. I’m genuinely and deeply concerned about how things turn out. As I watch this non-television let me set out 4 of those ‘reasons you should stay here’, 4 reasons why it would be a shame (in its true sense) for this family of nations to be torn apart…

1. The history of the world is one of the ebb and flow of the scale of our nations, seeking the optimum size to organise ourselves at. Roman Empire too big. San Marino too small. Scotland is too small too. It is not a substantial enough market to thrive. You only have to look south from here to the Republic of Ireland and, for example, to my industry, television/media to see that 4-5M people does not enable you to compete effectively or have a stable base from which to work outwards. 63M constitutes a really good market from which to radiate.

2. Diversity strengthens, tribalism diminishes. Genetics makes this very clear.

A mix of Jamaica and Derbyshire

A mix of Jamaica and Derbyshire

3. If Scotland leaves the UK, by definition it becomes a competitor and although a neighbour, effectively only on the same basis as Ireland, Norway or France. Any business with a UK remit will no longer have any duty or strong rationale to buy from Scottish suppliers.

4. There’s so much conflict and shit in the world, we need to find family and friendship, unity and co-operation wherever we can.

british and irish lions

Here’s hoping unity and being greater than the sum of our parts wins the day.

Update 06:08 19th September 2014

The voting results have reached their conclusion. We remain together, for which I’m grateful. My hopes are these:

That the incredible energy released by this exemplary exercise in peaceful democracy with its turnout of a standard-setting 86% is channelled into [Alex Salmond is just making making his speech of defeat as I write - he just used the words "at this stage" with reference to Scotland's decision, typifying once again his weasel nature, given his promise to respect the result] is channelled into making the future of Scotland an even greater success.

That Scotland with all that energy becomes a powerhouse alongside my own native London in driving this union forward.

That the massive issues facing our united kingdom of inequality and poor representation, the need for social justice and sustainable living get tackled by all our populations. As a lifelong non-Tory, non-Labour voter I’ve never had a vote that truly counted.

That we do not take one another for granted as nations and revel in our strength together.

Strength in numbers

Strength in numbers

Fuck 9/11

Enjoy the craic, man

Enjoy the craic, man

Another year, another day reclaiming my birth date.

I kicked off the day with a jog round St Pancras & Islington cemetery (at this juncture I’m the world expert on that place) listening to David Crosby on BBC Radio 4’s Master Tapes, great stories from late 60s LAlaLand. I bought a copy of If I Could Only Remember My Name when I got back to the house, struck once again by the odd pricing of music these days – £7 for the MP3 album, £5 for the CD with free MP3s. I hope the Great Digital Rip-Off on books and music gets addressed before too long – you corporate feckers, you’ve got no manufacturing or distribution costs these days, do the right thing.

First food of the day – a blackberry off the bush on our fence.

First work of the day – looking at rough cut of Episode 2 of the short form series I’ve commissioned about Bez, Happy Monday and aspiring politician. This episode was shot in Portmeirion, famed for The Prisoner and suppression of freedom. They probably would have had fracking there if it had been invented. Needless to say this episode is called: I am not a Number.

Next a meeting at Temple tube with Steve Moore, former Channel 4 colleague and always good for a great chat. And this one was a humdinger! Better than a novel…

We went on to visit the Temple to discuss an interesting project of his for 2015. I got a private tour of the Temple Church, a location made popular in recent years thanks to Dan Brown, conducted by the very expert Robin Griffith-Jones, Master of the church, who explained the essence of the Magna Carta to me. I hadn’t grasped he was the Master/some kind of vicar and took him at first as a trendy lawyer with a taste for round-collared shirts.

In the tradition of Video Arts (where are my royalties?) and other such learning there are a convenient three points to grasp:

  1. no taxation without representation
  2. equality in the face of the law / fair trials
  3. constitutional restraint / the monarch is not above the law

Pretty civilised – especially in contrast to the 9/11 fuckers and their ‘values’.

The barons negotiated with King John (was not a bad man, he had his funny ways) in the safety of the church (Joe Public was keen to lynch KJ), a tough week of negotiations guided by William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke, evidently the hero of the day. They then all went up West and signed the mother (of all bills of rights).

Then into Channel 4 HQ for a meeting about Don’t Stop the Music (“Give us yer focking instruments!” – Bob Geldof) (“petition donations here dontstopthemusic.co.uk” – Stephen Fry) – no, we mean it, give that old unused instrument of yours here and now.

Followed by a meeting with cake kindly provided by the gals at Antidote Media, a new indie (cake monetary value technically below declarable levels but sentimentally worthy of an entry on declaration of gifts).

In the evening went en famille to The Bald Headed Stag. That was a tip of the hat to my grandmother Rita who used it as the orientation point for all her car journeys regardless of where she was going. Nice drop of green gazpacho, a pint of Normandy cider, then back to ours for a family viewing of Educating the East End.

No nutters in the sky. A flawless day.

in memoriam Rita Harris

in memoriam Rita Harris

The 10 Books which made the most impact on me

A friend of mine, Carol, (aka The Naked Novelist) via my bestman Stuart, passed on a challenge this week: to list the 10 books that have had the most impact on my life. So that’s impact, not my favourite 10.

Here’s my stab at it…

1. ‘Here We Go’ – the Janet and John book I learnt to read with: “Look, Janet, look!”

janet and john here we go book
2. ‘Ulysses’, James Joyce – it’s about everything, and very resonant if you’re a Jew married to an Irish woman “Yes, yes, yes!”

First edition (I'd love one of these)

First edition (I’d love one of these)

3. ‘Paradise Lost’ Books 1 & 2, John Milton ed. John Broadbent – the poetry’s pretty damn good but the footnotes were a revelation – it helped me realise school subjects are artificial divisions and everything’s connected to everything else. “Of man’s disobedience and the fruit of that forbidden tree…”

 'Paradise Lost' Books 1 & 2, John Milton ed. John Broadbent book
4. ‘Asterix in Britain’ – I loved the notion of an invasion succeeding because one side stopped for tea at a set time every afternoon (5 o’clock)

Asterix Chez les Bretagnes

Asterix Chez les Bretagnes

Time for Tea (a fatal weakness)

Time for Tea (a fatal weakness)

5. ‘The Dinosaur Strain’, Mark Brown – got me into the subject of Creative Thinking, led to me making a computer game (MindGym) and ultimately to writing my own book about Creativity, ‘When Sparks Fly’ (5/8 finished, interviewed Jamie Oliver for it today)

the only picture I can find as it's almost extinct

the only picture I can find as it’s almost extinct

6. ‘Romeo and Juliet’, Shakey – emblematic of the year I had an inspiring teacher (English teacher of course – Mr Fitch RIP MA Cantab) who got me really reading

romeo and juliet shakespeare arden edition
7. ‘The Riddle of the Sands’, Erskine Childers – made me realise what a burden material possessions can be in the scene where the protagonist can’t get his trunk into the sailing boat and has to dump all his shit on the quay

'The Riddle of the Sands', Erskine Childers penguin book
8. ‘The Complete Plays of Joe Orton’ – bought it for a 6th form project, turned me on to satire and the Sixties

'The Complete Plays of Joe Orton'  book
9. ‘Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide’ – pored over this fat tome when I first got really into movies as a teenager

'Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide' 1979
10. ‘On the Road’, Jack Kerouac – led me to Allen Ginsberg who in turn inspired ‘When Sparks Fly’ (see above) and is the subject of the first chapter, With a Little Help from My Friend

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

on-the-road-book-cover-jack-kerouac-poster

jack Kerouac-On-The-Road book novelIf it’s not too Neknominate, please do share your Top Impact 10 below (or a link to it)…

All 4 one

goggle box tv series channel 4

Was up at the Edinburgh TV Festival at the end of last week – very much a Channel 4 flavoured one. Channel 4 was named Channel of the Year 2014.

C4’s Chief executive David Abraham gave the opening MacTaggart lecture (the first one by a C4 chief exec in a dozen years and it’s been four years since any UK broadcaster has been invited to speak). It centred on championing British creativity and the unique climate of creative freedom and risk-taking that we have in UK public service broadcasting. He highlighted how important it is for the broadcasting and media industry, politicians, regulators and the public to robustly defend and build this outstanding public service system at this particular juncture, when it is under assault from without (especially US multinational corporations) and within (short-term thinkers and profit-takers). He concluded with a call to action for the next generation of media creatives. It was a generous speech, acknowledging both BBC and ITV’s role in the very special TV ecology of this country.

At the Festival awards, Channel 4 also picked up the award for TV Moment of the Year for Mushi’s speech in Educating Yorkshire and won the Programme Innovation category with The Murder Trial. There was further recognition for C4’s current affairs film Children on the Frontline, with Marcel Mettelsiefen picking up the Debut Producer/Director Award.

Such a whitewash of the awards is almost without precedent at Edinburgh and reflects a revived creative spirit at Horseferry Road after the annus horribilis that was 2013 both for C4 and the BBC. For me personally, the new focus on short form video which has come about this year enables the happy surfing of this wave of new energy. Here’s one of my first commissions in that area from a young British director, Umut Gunduz, who I met at Google HQ in St Giles a few months ago – the series is called Double Vision and the first episode is Cycle of Love.

double vision first date cycle of love

Dear Dear Dickie – 4 ways to remember Richard Attenborough

The Great Escape (1963)

This one (from the year I made my debut on earth) is for me his most memorable role as an actor – as Bartlett, who can forget that tragic end, machine-gunned in a field by the heartless Nazis alongside his stalwart Scottish buddy, MacDonald (played by the ever dependable Gordon Jackson)?

The Great Escape poster Richard Attenborough

 

In Which We Serve (1942)

His fresh faced debut, already a screen presence to be reckoned with. Directed by David Lean and Noel Coward, a suitably English place to start.

In_Which_We_Serve richard attenborough actor

 

Chaplin (1992)

My hero well captured by the talented young Robert Downey Jnr. under the assured direction of Dickie.

richard attenborough chaplin robert downey jnr director

 

Cry Freedom (1987)

I remember this one opening my eyes to the outrages of apartheid South Africa back in my university days. Denzel Washington was powerful as Steve Biko and first came to international prominence under Dickie’s direction.

cry_freedom_denzel washington kevin Klein steve biko donald woods

Richard Attenborough was instrumental in the establishment of Channel 4 – Deputy Chairman from 1980 to 1986 as it got on its feet and Chairman from 1986 to 1992 through its golden age.

He was also a key leader in BAFTA, associated with the Academy for 30 years and President for over a decade.

richard-attenborough oscars academy awards

I interviewed Lord David Puttnam about him recently for my book, When Sparks Fly. I was thinking of including him in the Film chapter (Choose Life) which focuses on Danny Boyle. With its central theme of the creative rewards of openness and generosity, Attenborough struck me as the cinema embodiment of British public service values. Channel 4 and BAFTA are just two of many appointments which demonstrate his prodigious energy and unfailing commitment to public service media/arts, from the brilliant Chickenshed Theatre to the Mandela Statue Fund.

1964

1964

 

 

New season

After some time off over the summer, the new blogging season begins much as the new football season has kicked off. May it be as successful as this… (enjoying Spurs week at the top)

Screen Shot 2014-08-25 at 01.33.52

Songlines #10: Bach to the Future (James Rhodes)

james rhodes pianist film shoot

Shooting the pianist

The Question:

What piece of music means the most to you?

One of the world’s outstanding pianists, James Rhodes, speaks eloquently – on a fag break after a shoot for a forthcoming Channel 4 multiplatform project on music education – about a supremely resonant, moving piece of music central to his life.

The Piece: the chaconne from D minor partita for solo violin, transcribed for piano

The Composer:  Bach, transcribed by Busoni

Here’s what the piece sounds like:

Songlines #9 The Flower Duet

Songlines #8 I’m Waiting for the Man

James Rhodes pianist

 

Train of Thought (Phase 2: Month 4)

Steam train colorised

There’s something about trains that’s very conducive to thought.

But let me back track. The last time I wrote about the progress of When Sparks Fly was over a month ago when I was in Toronto. The way I’m working on it is not as I’d planned – a regular pattern, albeit less concentrated, like when I was on sabbatical. In practice what’s happening is that I get fits of inspiration, often after reading something stimulating, and I’m writing in intense bursts. So I’m switching now to monthly reports.

During Month 4 of the post-sabbatical phase (i.e. May) I went to meet a big publisher – the first I had approached. It was a good meeting, good chemistry and strong interest. What became evident from the meeting though is that I need to start the book slightly differently. I wanted to plunge in in media res of a striking story about murder, drugs, guns and writing. To suit this publisher I’d need a more conventional intro. I started work on the intro on the train up to Sheffield for DocFest last Sunday as referred to in History Boy.

Bournemouth seaview

Today I was headed in the other direction to Bournemouth to visit the university with Enfant Terrible No.1 who is interested in Advertising and in Digital Media. Despite it being an early start for the weekend I had the double delight of (a) finding that the first half of the intro I wrote last week (when a bit drunk on champagne from a party just before travelling), which I thought was a bit of a stream of consciousness blurt, was actually pretty coherent and (b) finding an elegant way through to the end of the piece which flowed well into Chapter 1. So by the time we got to Bournemouth (stopping occasionally to watch the England-New Zealand rugby test on ET1’s phone) the intro had been wrestled to the ground and I had a complete draft with which I was contented, even excited.

After the university visit I walked down to the sea with Enfant Terrible No.1 and came out by chance where my grandparents used to have a flat, at Elizabeth Court by the cliff lift. Quite a nostalgia trip. Took photos of the building and its view on my phone, conscious of the fact mobile phones were scarcely invented last time I was in that spot.

Off the back of the visit I got an invitation to come and talk about the book and its Advertising chapter on Paul Arden as a visiting lecturer. That will be fun to do pre-publication to road-test the material.

As part of the response to the publisher I also changed the sub-title. He advised that I broaden the scope from a tight focus on Creativity. I had no problem doing this as that was inherently in the text. So I altered it from “the creative rewards of openness and generosity” to “the creative & personal rewards of openness and generosity”.

This week I’ll revise the Proposal document accordingly and send the intro and revised Proposal back to the publisher. And carry on writing the Film chapter on Danny Boyle. A couple of DVDs arrived in the post on Friday including, neatly enough, Film4’s  Trainspotting.

The evolution of evolution

evolution denied ape to man

 

 

 

Peabody Museum, Yale (1935)

Peabody Museum, Yale (1935)

surfer_surfing_evolution_surf_bumper_sticker

evolution

Conceived by the one in red

The inspiration

The inspiration

take that progress evolution

evolution-man-ape-cage

action man evolution

inspired by Apple

iNspired by Apple

evolution phones

evolution mod

evolution monkeys

evolution-stop-following-me

 

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