Archive for March, 2021|Monthly archive page

The Road to DeMaskUs – life after Lockdown

An Anderson shelter in Poplar, East London, 1941 [Photograph: IWM]

Coming out of this third Lockdown following along the government’s ‘roadmap’, it is like emerging from a bomb shelter blinking into the light. As your eyes adjust to the brightness, you look around to see what’s still standing. So with the relief, liberty and happiness, it is natural to feel some uncertainty and anxiety too.

Television quotation

Imitation is the sincerest form of television

Fred Allen, comedian (1894-1956)

Allen’s quip is of course derived from one of Oscar’s:

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”  

or to give it its full run:

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.”

Oscar Wilde

 

FRED ALLEN with Cigar – performing into an NBC microphone 1948
OSCAR WILDE with Cigarette

That Interview

‘Oprah with Meghan & Harry’ (ITV 8/3/21 Harpo Productions)

I watched the interview in the same room as I watched the Bill Grundy interview with the Sex Pistols. It was one of those landmark TV interviews that come along only every few years. Of course the Diana Panorama with Martin Bashir in 1995 (An Interview with HRH The Princess of Wales) was another such interview, of which Oprah’s is a direct descendent. 

The best piece I’ve read about it was this one by historian David Olusoga in The Guardian – he singles out the wedding of Harry & Meghan and the London 2012 Olympic Games (for which I worked as a volunteer in the media operation, specifically the website – the best summer of my adult life) as two great opportunities to take Britain forwards, two moments when the country projected itself as “effortlessly global and at ease with its multiculturalism” and then argues that the monarchy, Establishment and country have failed to live up to this vision. Frankly the world is better left to the likes of Danny Boyle (creator of the brilliant 2012 Opening Ceremony) when it comes to realising visions.

london 2012 olympics rings

Oprah’s dropped jaw above was in response to the point Meghan Markle made in the interview about race: 

Meghan: “In those months when I was pregnant … we have in tandem the conversation of ‘He won’t be given security. He’s not going to be given a title.’ and also concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he’s born.”

Oprah: “Who is having that conversation?”

Meghan: “That was relayed to me from Harry from conversations that family had with him.”
 
It’s the main thing that was picked up from the interview, underscored by Oprah’s jaw-dropping. It is quite a nuanced discussion point, particularly with the limited context. However the broad brush effect is to paint the monarchy and by extension the country as imperial racists to the global audience.
 
So it is important to put some perspective around this. Trevor Phillips, former chairman of the Equality & Human Rights Commission (EHRC), head of the Commission for Racial Equality 2003-2006, deputy chairman of the board of the National Equality Standard, and director of Pepper Productions, did this effectively in a piece in The Times this week.
 
Oprah, who made her name acting in the The Color Purple, would be more aware than most of the fact that she lives in a country essentially built on slavery and genocide. As Islington-born Phillips puts it:
 
“Britain now stands in the dock internationally as a breeding ground for casual racial bigotry. Brits will see some irony here. Most of the finger pointing comes from the United Staes, a country where young black men are frequently gunned down by white police officers; where black families on average have one tenth of the wealth of white households; and where, outside work, people of different colours seldom mix.”
 
He reminds us that:
  • people of colour are more likely to report racial harassment in every other EU country (apart from Malta)
  • rates are twice as high in Ireland, Germany and Italy
  • UK has more people of colour in high ministerial office than the whole of the EU put together
  • The current Cabinet includes Kwasi Kwarteng, Priti Patel, Rishi Sunak & Alok Sharma (making up over 17%) among its number, Sunak being strongly fancied as the next Prime Minister.
Trevor Phillips & his partner Helen Veale of Outline Productions
David Olusoga

The Wrong Wall – quotation

You can spend your life climbing a ladder and then realise you had it up against the wrong wall

Derren Brown (How To Academy podcast 2021)
Derren Brown, mentalist / illusionist / author on Happiness

Derren Brown draws attention to the ‘frog on the lily pad’ (horizontal rather than vertical) model for living – you sun yourself on each waterlily until you’ve had enough and then move on to the next one for fresh experiences and pleasures.

 

Louder than words (Clapham 13:03:21)

Free State Monopoly

There aren’t that many things not on the Internet. But here’s one. At least it only has a tiny presence thanks to ArkAngel client Google Arts & Culture and The Little Museum of Dublin. Here’s that one screen

And now it’s time to correct the situation…

An Irish Monopoly set from 1936

This set was picked up in Carlingford, Co. Louth around 2012. It was manufactured during the Free State period (1922-1937) in Ireland which adds a whole level of interest to this artefact. The patent application number indicates it dates from 1936, the penultimate year of the Free State.

Reference to the Irish Free State in the instructions.

The Irish Free State (Saorstát Éireann) existed from 6th December 1922 to 29th December 1937. It was established  under the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 1921 which marked the end of the three-year Irish War of Independence, an event whose centenary falls this year. It pitched the forces of the emerging Irish Republic in the form of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) against the British armed forces and various paramilitaries. In the wake of the signing of the Treaty an even more bitter and highly divisive conflict erupted in the Irish Civil War (June 1922 – May 1923).

When I was over at RTE (the main Irish public service broadcaster) in Dublin in 2017 speaking to their board about digital strategy two of the participants in the meeting had to leave slightly early to go meet the President and discuss plans for the marking of the centenary of the Civil War a full five years out, indicative of how sensitive the subject still is a hundred years on.

The only thing missing is the dice shaker

A second small presence has come to light in researching this post – the vestiges of an eBay sale on Worthopedia, an antiques price guide. There are some photos of a set in much worse condition but it includes a dice shaker. That set seems to be missing one of the six player pieces. 

From crummy Crumlin to the shrewd investment of Shrewsbury Road

This set was dug out last night thanks to James Joyce – specifically the Finnegans Wake Research Seminar at the Institute of English Studies & School of Advanced Study at the University of London. We were focused on this part-sentence: “terminals four my staties were, the Geenar, the Greasouwea, the Debwickweck, the Mifgreawis.” It’s a reference to the four key stations (“staties” is a dimunitive of stations plus a nod to the Free State/Free Staters)  in Dublin (before they were renamed to their current names) and by extension to the four provinces of Ireland: Great Northern (Amiens Street; Ulster); Great Southern & Western (King’s Bridge; Munster); Dublin, Wicklow & Wexford (Westland Row; Leinster); and Midland Great Western (Broadstone; Connacht). It got me thinking as to whether those stations appear on my old Monopoly set. It turned out there are no stations – in their place are cinemas or ‘cinema theatres’ as they were then termed, reflecting the transition from one popular entertainment medium (of the 19th Century) to the next (which characterised the 20th Century), ‘picture palaces’ being in their heyday in Ireland when this set was made.

Three cinemas and a theatre displace:

King’s Cross / Reading Railroad
Marylebone Station / Pennsylvania Railroad
Fenchurch Street / B. & O. Railroad
Liverpool Street / Short Line

depending whether you are British / American. The cinemas are all from the posh sounding Savoy chain – the Dublin, Limerick and Cork branches.

Presumably the name is derived from the Savoy Hotel in London. That has its own theatrical links as it was built by the impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte, funded by the profits from his Gilbert & Sullivan opera productions. It opened in August 1889 and was the first luxury hotel in Britain, introducing electric lights, electric lifts and bathrooms with constant hot and cold running water. Which brings us to the Electric Company and the Water Works, both of which are present and correct. One of the best sections in Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ is an encyclopaedic yet poetic description of the water works serving Dublin. The protagonist Leopold Bloom is boiling some water for tea:

“What did Bloom do at the range?

He removed the saucepan to the left hob, rose and carried the iron kettle to the sink in order to tap the current by turning the faucet to let it flow.

Did it flow?

Yes. From Roundwood reservoir in county Wicklow of a cubic capacity of 2400 million gallons, percolating through a subterranean aqueduct of filter mains of single and double pipeage constructed at an initial plant cost of 5 pounds per linear yard by way of the Dargle, Rathdown, Glen of the Downs and Callowhill to the 26 acre reservoir at Stillorgan, a distance of 22 statute miles, and thence, through a system of relieving tanks, by a gradient of 250 feet to the city boundary at Eustace bridge, upper Leeson street, though from prolonged summer drouth and daily supply of 12 1/2 million gallons the water had fallen below the sill of the overflow weir for which reason the borough surveyor and waterworks engineer, Mr Spencer Harty, C. E., on the instructions of the waterworks committee had prohibited the use of municipal water for purposes other than those of consumption (envisaging the possibility of recourse being had to the impotable water of the Grand and Royal canals as in 1893) particularly as the South Dublin Guardians, notwithstanding their ration of 15 gallons per day per pauper supplied through a 6 inch meter, had been convicted of a wastage of 20,000 gallons per night by a reading of their meter on the affirmation of the law agent of the corporation, Mr Ignatius Rice, solicitor, thereby acting to the detriment of another section of the public, selfsupporting taxpayers, solvent, sound.

What in water did Bloom, waterlover, drawer of water, watercarrier, returning to the range, admire?

Its universality: its democratic equality and constancy to its nature in seeking its own level: its vastness in the ocean of Mercator’s projection: its unplumbed profundity in the Sundam trench of the Pacific exceeding 8000 fathoms: the restlessness of its waves and surface particles visiting in turn all points of its seaboard: the independence of its units: the variability of states of sea:.. “

D’Oyly Carte hired César Ritz as hotel manager and Auguste Escoffier as chef de cuisine – in the spirit of love of coincidences, Gilou Escoffier is the name of a key character in one of the best box sets around: ‘Engrenages’ (‘Spiral’ in English) – it’s the last thing I was watching (last night) before writing this. Eight series are currently available on BBC iPlayer. It’s a police/ lawyer / prison drama which is currently the best way to visit Paris – via a flight of fancy.

Joyce wrote ‘Ulysses’ in exile on mainland Europe and reconstructed his native city from Thom’s, a comprehensive guide to Dublin, specifically the 1904 edition, which is the year the novel is set. 


Thom’s Official Directory
(Dublin, 1904)

I first saw a copy of this book at the Stiftung James Joyce (JJ Institute) in Zurich, guided by the venerable head of the institute, Fritz Senn. I started by checking out my sister-in-law’s street in Ballybough near Croke Park as it was in 1904 as a test case of a place I knew intimately in the city. It’s only 5 minutes’ walk from Bloom’s house where he was boiling the kettle that night in 1904. The section of ‘Finnegans Wake’ we were exploring last night, led by Professor Finn Fordham of Royal Holloway, University of London, involved some kind of recreation of the city through maps. Whipping out the old Irish Monopoly board seemed entirely appropriate as it is one of the most famous (and distorted) recreations of a city (various cities) ever. 

Creativity & Ego

Your ego can become an obstacle to your work. If you start believing in your greatness, it is the death of your creativity.

Marina Abramović, artist
Marina Abramović at “MARINA 70” – 2016 at the Guggenheim Museum, New York

Ego is very hard to combat but it takes us in false directions much of the time, distorts our decisions and brings lies/fakery into our creative endeavours. 

Hope

This girl/young woman is amazing and a beacon of hope, not least on the day after Trump made his first post-presidential speech in Florida. As things currently stand, the bottom third of Florida is likely to be under water by the end of this century. Here’s what the Climate Crisis means for The Sunshine State.

Few places on the planet are more at risk from the climate crisis than south Florida, where more than 8 million residents are affected by the convergence of almost every modern environmental challenge – from rising seas to contaminated drinking water, more frequent and powerful hurricanes, coastal erosion, flooding and vanishing wildlife and habitat.

The Guardian 21/4/20
I Am Greta

Nathan Grossman’s excellent and moving feature documentary I Am Greta is available now on BBC iPlayer and Hulu.

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