Archive for the ‘history’ Category

Adam and the eve

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Yesterday in 1916 was supposed to be the day of the Easter Rising in Ireland. However, because Eoin MacNeill countermanded the order, the rebellion was delayed by a day amid confusion. I marked the eve of this momentous event in Irish history with a day in Dublin of much more coherence.

It began at the GPO in O’Connell Street, epicentre of the Rising, with a visit (with my sister- and brother-in-law) to a new permanent exhibition space built into the yard of the Post Office as part of the centenary commemorations. The exhibit I most enjoyed seeing was one of the original printed posters of the Proclamation. Due to a shortage of type in Liberty Hall where the document was printed on the eve of the insurrection the C in Republic is made from a converted O and the E in the next line (“to the People of Ireland”) is made from an F with an extra bit added in wax.

At the end of the exhibition is a marble and digital wall of all the recognised 1916 combatants (all those eligible to receive a pension from the State) on which we found my wife’s great uncle Patrick Donnelly of Louth, something for my two half-Irish boys to take pride in.

We walked up O’Connell Street with various signs of the centenary commemorations in windows and on lampposts, portraits of the Proclamation signatories, banners from the city council. The Sinn Fein office had a suitably Soviet hoarding with raised fist heroics. We ducked into Moore Street, to which the GPO combatants fled at the end of the uprising, visiting the lane where the O’Rahilly had died after writing a haunting last note to his wife (one my late sister-in-law Bronagh used to have on her wall). We also saw the houses/shops where the fleeing revolutionaries took shelter, numbers 16-20, which are currently under threat from property developers. In front of the boarded up red brick buildings was a rough looking band of Northerners from some kind of pipe band, tattooed to the hilt.

This set us up nicely for our next encounter – masked (Continuity) IRA men at the Gardens of Remembrance (which are dedicated to the memory of “all those who gave their lives in the cause of Irish Freedom”) gathering for a parade to the GPO. Those not in paramilitary-style masks and shades had on Celtic shirts with player names on their backs like Pearse and Sands. This motley crew looked out of step with the times and as bonkers as the rebels may well have seemed as they left Liberty Hall for the GPO on Easter Monday 2016.

We popped in to the Hugh Lane (Dublin City gallery) for a fascinating exhibition about Roger Casement, High Treason based around a large painting of Casement’s appeal by John Lavery, High Treason: The Appeal of Roger Casement, The Court of Criminal Appeal, 17 and 18 July 1916.

From there the three of us headed over to Glasnevin cemetery, the only location in Joyce’s Ulysses I’d not yet visited, and the main burial place in Ireland. From Michael Collins’ much-decorated grave to De Valera’s down-at-heel one, from monumental sculpture by James Pearse (father of Patrick and Willy) to the small marker for Countess Markievicz (part of a mass Republican grave), we followed a super-enthusiastic (oddly) Dutch historical guide around a 1916 themed tour under bright afternoon sunshine. The various characters joined by the Glasnevin tour also linked back to both the Casement case and the many stories making up the content of the new GPO exhibition. So all in all it was a considerably more coherent day than 23rd April 1916 in Dublin and across the country, and more satisfying.

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High Treason: The Appeal of Roger Casement

100 years on to the minute and the yard

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It’s strange how things work out. I found myself today at noon under the portico of the GPO in Dublin, by my calculation within a couple of feet of where Patrick Pearse first read the Proclamation of Independence 100 years ago today. I’ve no Irish blood but I find the event very meaningful and resonant and it meant a lot to me to be present there and then. I made a special trip to Dublin for today to mark the centenary of the Easter Rising.

I took the train in to Connolly Station (named after one of the signatories of the Proclamation, socialist leader James Connolly, in 1966 to mark the 50th anniversary) from Rush, a small station north along the coast from Dublin where scenes of Neil Jordan’s Michael Collins were filmed. On the train I sat at a table with a mother and daughter who were busy planning the logistics of some major shopping manoeuvres for the day. I revelled in the gap between what was on their mind and what was on mine.

On arrival in the city I walked round the corner to Liberty Hall, Connolly’s headquarters which played a central role in the planning of the uprising. The original building from which the rebels marched to the GPO on the fateful day is no more – in the Sixties it was built over to make a statement about modernity in the form of a highrise union HQ. Shortly after I arrived a woman dressed in dark green 1916 Irish Citizen Army uniform was preparing (with a modern worker with a droopy moustache and hi-viz vest) to raise an Irish flag of the era. She was then joined by two other ICA women and a troop of armed men dressed up in period uniforms. They marched out of an adjacent alley and gave the flag-raising sufficient gravity before a crowd of just a couple of dozen motley passers-by, tourists and left-leaning supporters.

I followed them off along the quay to the point where they were dismissed and wandered off. As I walked down the quay on the route I imagine the rebels took just before noon on 24th April 1916 to the GPO in Sackville (O’Connell) Street I could easily conjour up their emotions – they would have been perhaps slightly self-conscious in similar ‘unofficial’ uniforms as they walked among the few Easter holidayers on the streets that Monday morning. They would have been nervous on the short walk knowing they were about to raid the GPO and reach a point of no return.

As I turned right into O’Connell Street a crowd was gathered in front of the GPO. A trade unionist or socialist of some kind was making a speech, amplified off a stage just beyond the General Post Office, recounting and interpreting the events of Easter Monday 1916. Banners for various contemporary campaigns to do with energy companies and water charging and the like leant an appropriately grass-roots political  vibe to the gathering. This was the Citizens’ Commemoration and it was a refreshing contrast to the bigwigs’ official ceremony on Easter Monday a few weeks ago. Suddenly on stage appeared a friend, ironically from just the other side of Highgate Hill from me, actor Adie Dunbar, who was playing Master of Ceremonies with his usual aplomb. I texted him from between the bullet-scarred classical columns of the Post Office. As noon approached, the hour Pearse came out of the building to give the Proclamation its first airing to mainly uninterested passers-by, somewhat against the odds I saw the mother and daughter from the train. They were rushing by through the now dense crowd with shopping bags in hand, pretty much oblivious of the commemorative event going on around them – a perfect echo of the Dublin citizens who largely ignored Pearse and his men.

A few minutes before twelve Adie announced that a descendent of one of the GPO combatants, the O’Rahilly, would lay a wreath at the entrance to the monumental building. Proinsias O’Rathaille, the grandson, walked a few inches in front of me and I found myself among a small group of media photographers as he laid the wreath to the fallen. As the clock above the window in which the emblematic black sculpture of Cuchulainn is displayed struck noon I was within a couple of yards of the focal point. Strangely I don’t think anyone had focused on the precise spot where Pearse would have been standing.

Foggy Dew was sung. The Proclamation was read. The Soldiers’ Song was sung. I watched for a few more minutes from the stone base of a column. I left to the strains of Fenian Women’s Blues, a song by a young Irish singer drawing attention back to the women who participated in the Rising but were to a large degree airbrushed out of history.

I walked round the corner to the Winding Stair bookshop, one of my favourite spots in Dublin, and picked up a souvenir in the form of a copy of Ruth Dudley Edwards’ new book The Seven, about the signatories of the Proclamation. Still buzzing from the intersection of history, time, place, my life – the rhyming of hope and history.

History says, Don’t hope
On this side of the grave,
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up
And hope and history rhyme.

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My Patrick Pearse T got another outing today

Today in Dublin in 1916

Today in 1916, Dublin – Easter Tuesday – Support real and imagined

Easter Tuesday (25th April 1916)

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British troops (and machine guns) on the streets of Dublin

Holed up in the GPO Padraig Pearse writes an optimistic report for a Republican newssheet: “The Republican forces everywhere are fighting with splendid gallantry. The populace of Dublin are plainly with the Republic, and the officers and men are everywhere cheered as they march through the streets.” Not totally true. At the Jacob’s factory, for example, a mob jeers at the Volunteers inside: “Come out to France and fight, you lot of so-and-so slackers!” (I suspect they didn’t really say “so-and-so”, the feckers.) Pearse also writes a Manifesto to the Citizens of Dublin: “The country is rising to Dublin’s call and the final achievement of Ireland’s freedom is now, with God’s help, only a matter of days…” Not totally true. Risings outside the capital are to a large extent sporadic and confused.

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British troops marching prisoners

Rumours abound. The Germans have landed in support of the uprising. Rebel reinforcements are converging on the capital. Cork has fallen to the Volunteers. The British barracks are beseiged and on the point of surrender. The whole country is up in arms. Not true at all.

In fact British troops are arriving in numbers by train overnight from Belfast and Kildare and en route by sea from Britain. They machine gun the men and women of the Citizen Army on St Stephen’s Green, firing down from the height of the Shelbourne Hotel, forcing them to retreat to the College of Surgeons. They take back the City Hall, confusing the female rebel fighters for kidnap victims. “Did they do anything to you? Were they kind to you?”

They retake the Daily Express offices beside City Hall. Meanwhile in the Irish Times (paper not building) reports of the uprising are suppressed and replaced by a short piece of under 50 words, opening…

Yesterday morning an insurrectionary rising took place in the City of Dublin.

and a counter-proclamation from Lord Wimborne, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, announcing the imposition of martial law. The authorities are getting a grip on the situation after a slow start. The proclamation speaks of “a reckless, though small, body of men” and of “certain evilly disposed persons”.

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Next: I’ll pick up Easter Wednesday (26th April 1916) on 26th April 2016

Today in 1916, Dublin – Easter Monday – One small step, one giant leap

Easter Monday (24th April 1916)

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Padraig Pearse

Around noon James Connolly and Padraig Pearse lead 150 rebels up Dublin’s O’Connell Street. They march as far as (appropriately enough) the Imperial Hotel when Connolly suddenly gives the order to wheel left and charge the GPO. Once inside the first task was to persuade baffled customers that they were for real and that said customers needed to take off, get outta here.

Pearse had been appointed President of the Republic and it fell to him to proclaim said republic. He came out of the Post Office looking “very pale” and read the now famous proclamation.

ad-hist-procLiguist and writer Stephen McKenna was among the small crowd who witnessed the momentous event:

“For once, his magnetism had left him; the response was chilling; a few thin, perfunctory cheers, no direct hostility just then, but no enthusiasm whatever.”

Half an hour later a company of mounted British lancers charge down O’Connell Street, sabres drawn. Shots ring out from the GPO and the Imperial Hotel, killing four of the imperialists and scattering the rest. Battle has commenced.

Rewind to the start of this resonant day. Rebels turn out in Dublin but in reduced numbers after the chaos of Easter Sunday. They gather in the guise of Irish Volunteers on manoeuvres but at noon transform into determined and bold revolutionaries. They seize key buildings across the city with the GPO as HQ – Boland’s Mill, Jacob’s Factory, the South Dublin Union and other strategic buildings. The Citizen Army takes a position on St Stephen’s Green. (During the night British troops sneak into the overlooking Shelbourne Hotel effectively neutralising the position.)

They move on Dublin Castle, the centre of British administration, but misjudge and hesitate resulting in the gates being shut in their faces. They take adjacent City Hall instead. During the aborted assault Abbey actor Sean Connolly shoots an unarmed police constable, making 45 year old James O’Brien one of the first fatalities of the Rising. A couple of hours later, at 2pm, Connolly, up on the roof of City Hall, takes a bullet in the stomach and bleeds out in front of his 15 year old brother, Matt.

Looting starts around O’Connell Street as local people sense the opportunity of disruption.

More lofty deeds are being carried out on the roof of the overlooking GPO. Eamon Bulfin, a lieutenant in the Irish Volunteers, is sent up to raise a green flag with the words Irish Republic and a golden harp.

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made by Mary Shannon, a shirtmaker in the cooperative at Liberty Hall

A green, white and gold tricolour is also raised on that roof, for the very first time over the Republic of Ireland.

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The largest military parade in the history of the Irish state passes the GPO as part of the 1916 Easter Rising centenary commemorations in Dublin – 27 March 2016

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The essence of Padraig Pearse

Today in 1916, Dublin – Easter Sunday – A bit of a mess

Easter Sunday (23rd April 1916)

Marked the day by going to the National Film Theatre to see The Trial of Sir Roger Casement, a television play from 1960 (on Granada) starring Peter Wyngarde as Roger Casement, who was hanged for treason 100 years ago not a million miles from here (in Pentonville prison) and even more shamefully chucked into a pit of lime. That’s Peter Wyngarde of Jason King and Department S fame. It was 56 minutes of skilfully crafted court room drama, with a contemporary commentary well integrated into the flow. Casement was arrested on Good Friday 100 years ago…

Scroll forward two days and it is as much a confused fiasco as Casement’s bumbling efforts on the Kerry coast. Had the arms shipment from Germany brokered by Casement arrived as intended, Eoin MacNeill, Chief of Staff of the Irish Volunteers, might have supported the Easter Rising but as it was, considering the rebels to be underarmed and to have no chance of victory, he countermands the order to gather and ultimately rise up against the English and thereby creates confusion across the country. The plan had been to assemble armed men (and women) of the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army across Ireland as cover for the start of the Easter Rising.

MacNeill’s withdrawal of the order for ‘manoeuvres’, indeed “all orders given to Irish Volunteers for tomorrow, Easter Sunday”, is published in the Sunday Independent.

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The Countermand Order

Significant numbers of IV and ICA gather in Dublin and across the country but are uncertain what’s to happen. Needless to say it’s raining in much of the country as the volunteers hang around awaiting orders. Most end up dispersing (although many are still set to mobilise the next day if so commanded).

The rebel leaders decide just to postpone the uprising until Easter Monday despite MacNeill’s countermanding order.

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Eamonn Ceannt

Eamonn Ceannt, one of the seven men to sign the Proclamation of Independence which was read out today (2016) in front of the GPO in Dublin, as it is every year on Easter Sunday, was on the IRB (Irish Republican Brotherhood) Military Council with Joseph Plunkett and Sean MacDiarmada. He was appointed Director of Communications as well as commandant of the 4th Battalion of the Volunteers. During the Rising his battalion of over 100 men was stationed at the South Dublin Union, with Cathal Brugha as his second-in-command.

Ceannt returns home at 2am on Sunday and tells his wife Aine: “MacNeill has ruined us – he has stopped the Rising.” In the morning he heads to Liberty Hall to consult with Connolly and the others. His battalion meanwhile gathers at his house, the bicycles stacked four deep in the front garden. Ceannt returns to the house in the evening and begins filling out mobilisation orders. The bundle of papers commands his men to assemble again on Easter Monday. The decision to proceed is in motion…

Once the GPO fell and the rebels surrendered, Ceannt, like the other leaders, found himself in Kilmainham Gaol. He was shot like the rest in the stonebreaking yard on 8th May. He was 34. He wrote a last message a few hours before in cell 88:

I leave for the guidance of other Irish Revolutionaries who may tread the path which I have trod this advice, never to treat with the enemy, never to surrender at his mercy, but to fight to a finish… Ireland has shown she is a nation. This generation can claim to have raised sons as brave as any that went before. And in the years to come Ireland will honour those who risked all for her honour at Easter 1916.

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Today (2016) the Irish tricolour was raised above the roof of the GPO with planes of the Irish Air Force flying overhead trailing green, white and orange. What would Ceannt have made of that?

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The ceremony in the Stonebreakers’ yard in Kilmainham Gaol today with The President of Ireland and the flag of the state

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The ceremony in our kitchen today with the flag of the state

 

Today in 1916, Dublin – Easter Saturday – Nearly strangled at birth

Easter Saturday (22nd April 1916)

As I start this post the centenary commemoration and celebrations of the Easter Rising are kicking off in Dublin. I was hoping to get over there but couldn’t quite make it happen. I got a bit of a feel for the mood and thoughts when I was over in Donegal last week. The last time I was in Dublin for the anniversary was on 8th April 2007, the 91st. That day I went down to the GPO to watch the official commemoration at which a female officer of the Irish army read out the Proclamation of Independence in front of the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and the President Mary McAleese. It was on the stairs of the General Post Office that Padraig Pearse first read those words a century ago.

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To transport myself there for the 100th I’m going to post a hundred-years-ago-today account of the Rising over the next week.

The Easter Saturday should have been the eve of the Rising but the big day had to be postponed by 24 hours to Easter Monday.

On the Saturday the under-secretary for Ireland Sir Matthew Nathan writes to the chief secretary Augustine Birrell saying: “I see no indications of a rising”. So a bit like Michael Fish missing the Great Storm of October 1987 or Dick Rowe turning down The Beatles at Decca. Nathan was a career colonial administrator, born in Paddington of Jewish descent.

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Before: Liberty Hall

Meanwhile James Connolly and men of his Irish Citizen Army are installed in Liberty Hall on Beresford Place/Eden Quay,headquarters of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union and of the ICA. It’s where Constance Markievicz and Maud Gonne ran  a soup kitchen for workers’ families during the Dublin Lock-out  in 1913. In 1916 it served as a factory for the manufacture of bombs, bayonets and arms for the impending rebellion. Eventually the leaders of the Rising marched from there to the GPO to proclaim the Republic and start the Rising (but more of that on Monday). The building was left vacant throughout Easter Week, but the British didn’t know that and selected the Hall as the first target to be shelled. It was largely destroyed by British artillery during the Rising.

So back to the previous failure of British intelligence – “I see no indications of a rising”. The next day Nathan and the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Lord Wimborne, find out that five 50lb  cases of dynamite have been stolen from a quarry in County Wicklow, just south of Dublin, and the police suspect they have been taken to Liberty Hall. At the Vice Regal Lodge in Phoenix Park Wimborne and Nathan discuss the situation with the military and police. Wimborne wants an immediate raid on Liberty Hall with arrests, using 100 troops and 100 police. The Royal Irish Constabulary are more cautious, reckoning the leaders will not be there (some were), there will be significant loss of life and the press will be highly critical. Wimborne eventually agrees to postpone till Monday to allow time for the military to prepare properly and on the basis the rebel leaders would probably be there. In Wimborne’s words: “It was no good to stir up the hornets’ nest unless they could capture the hornets.”

Had they acted on Wimborne’s initial instincts the Rising would have been strangled at birth on Saturday and, in the words of Euston’s finest, no terrible beauty born.

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After: Liberty Hall

All Sixes and Sevens

To be “at sixes and sevens” is a British English idiom used to describe a state of confusion or disarray.

6/7: Ten years ago last night I was at a Greek restaurant in Primrose Hill with my Best Man celebrating our native city having been awarded the 2012 Olympic Games. It was a balmy summer night and we were high on it.

I love a man in uniform - me as London 2012 volunteer

I love a man in uniform – me as London 2012 volunteer

Earlier in the day I’d been in a meeting room at Channel 4 with my then boss, Heather Rabbatts, whose husband was a key player behind the London 2012 bid, specifically the use of London’s youth to capture the spirit of the proposition. We stopped mid meeting to switch on the telly and tune into the result announcement. “The International Olympic Committee has the honour of announcing the games of the 30th Olympiad in 2012 are awarded to the city of………. London!” Hugs were hugged, champagne was broached. 7/7: The next morning – a decade ago this morning – I was in the gym in Pimlico before work. I was watching the screens vaguely whilst running and suddenly some kind of power problem seemed to be hitting the tube system. As I jogged on the power surge turned gradually, uncertainly, into something altogether darker… A few hours later saw me walking from Horseferry Road via Camden & Kentish Towns to Muswell Hill. Up to Kentish Town I was with a commissioning editor from Drama, I forget her name after these years but I have a hazy notion of red hair. She lived really near my younger brother off Prince of Wales Road. I’ve no real memory any more how I got from there to Muswell Hill, but I arrived just in time for my older son’s art exhibition which was happening that afternoon and was the object of my cross-London journey. He had created art – the opposite of Hasib Nobody, who was the same age (18) as that son is now when he bombed Londoners. We walked back among other walkers who combined sadness and shock with determination and resilience – an unspoken solidarity which was the opposite of Mohammad Nobody, Shehezad Nobody and Germaine Nobody (age 19). They bombed Londoners caring only for the future of their own black souls, ironic since their only future was ash, alone in their eternal shame. In the wake of their zombie crime no real mark was made on London. Its diverse population just grew. No Muslims were assaulted. It grew into the most popular city on the planet.

A Spitfire Mark 1A  called P9374

A Spitfire Mark 1A called P9374

As I walked home from work tonight I went to have a look at a Supermarine Spitfire mark 1A, the hero of the Battle of Britain alongside the 18 and 19 year olds who flew them, risking their lives to defend their country against Fascism with no thoughts for their own futures. The plane is to be auctioned for charity thanks to a US philanthropist in two days time, the eve of when the Battle of Britain started 75 years ago this month, 10th July 1940. At lunchtime I had popped over to Tate Britain whose walls are pockmarked by the bombs that dropped on our city later that summer as the Blitz began. The cowardice of 7/7 made less impression on this city than those bits of shrapnel that took little bits of stone out of the Tate’s walls. Inside those walls today I saw a work by one of the two greatest artists of the 20th Century – Three Studies for Figures at the base of a Crucifixion. The mouths according to Francis Bacon are of Hitler and fellow Nazis spouting bile and hollow propaganda – the kind of thing ISIL and Al Qaeda pour into the ears and vacuum headspaces of young Muslims and rootless converts. Painted 4 years after the Blitz kicked in it captures the bestial depths humanity can plunge to – but in an act of creation and human brilliance which is the opposite of 7/7. It’s an act of love and – as we all know – love is stronger than death.

The creative process is a cocktail of instinct, skill, culture and a highly creative feverishness. It is not like a drug; it is a particular state when everything happens very quickly, a mixture of consciousness and unconsciousness, of fear and pleasure; it’s a little like making love, the physical act of love.

– Francis Bacon

Love in London

Love in London

Me and my friend were walking, in the cold light of morning

Tears may blind the eyes but the soul is not deceived

In this world even winter ain’t what it seems

Here come the blue skies, here come the springtime

When the rivers run high and the tears run dry

When everything that dies, shall rise

Love, love, love

Is stronger than death

– The The

by my old friend Marco

by my old friend Marco

The hero of In Bluer Skies

The hero of In Bluer Skies

Tears through the Years – Sheffield DocFest Day 3

Fred Hampton Black Panther

Started the day with the best documentary I’ve seen so far – The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the revolution.  I was introduced to its talented, measured director Stanley Nelson as I entered Showroom 3 cinema. I told him about some footage we found in the attic of Solus, my first job, of James Baldwin with two Panthers in London (with Huw Wheldon for BBC’s Monitor shot by Jack Hazan).

It’s a masterful historical doc, the story told perfectly in a clear, disciplined and balanced way. Huey Newton’s story is plain tragic. The women protagonists are powerful and impressive. The stand-out character is Fred Hampton, a captivating orator assassinated by the Chicago pigs.

The story couldn’t be more resonant than now with the chain of events unravelling recently like this:

I chatted after with Stanley and Dick Fontaine (of the National Film & TV School) about the trustworthiness of police testimony then and now, and the power of the US authorities through the last 50 years.

Middle of the day was Roast Beef’s curious The Russian Woodpecker – an oblique route in to capturing the looming resurgence of the Cold War. It takes an artist, Fedor Alexandrovich, to know which way the wind blows in Russia/Ukraine and to become as much an over-the-horizon radar as the mysterious Duga early-warning system he discovers in the shadow of Chernobyl. Conspiracy theory, Cold War paranoia, arty kookiness and Soviet spookiness make a heady brew. Fedor and director Chad Garcia attended the screening in Sheffield’s library.

Rounded off the day at a session on Long Lost Family chaired in his usual ebullient way by ITV’s Simon Dickson (a former colleague at Channel 4) and featuring Davina McCall and Nicky Campbell. It is quite the most emotional show on TV and beautifully made (bar the music). The high production values and excellent direction mark it out from its roots in a Dutch format and a US version. Captures exactly the strengths of UK factual TV. Constructing the format on the official social worker process of adoption reunion was clever thinking. Davina and Nicky are both total pros with real heart. I’ve just watched the latest episode and there was not a dry eye in the hotel room.

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The Morning After The Morning After The Night Before

There are good victories and there are bad victories. Yesterday was the 70th anniversary of VE Day, the day my fellow citizens danced in the fountains of Trafalgar Square to celebrate the fall of Hitler and the Nazis and the triumph of Democracy.

8th May 1945

8th May 1945

Yesterday was also the day I woke up from not much sleep, having listened most of the night to the results of the General Election as they came in, to the prospect of a majority Tory government and 5 more years of a very different austerity to what faced the victorious nation in the aftermath of the war. Instead of bold visions of the future like the National Health Service this is a prospect of the NHS being sold off to rapacious corporations who actually don’t perform any better than the incumbents and cream off cash for shareholders at the expense of the service-users. The last 18 months has seen not only an obvious deterioration of the NHS, in particular A&E, but also a blossoming unfairness. We’re not all it it together and never have been. The Conservatives aren’t capable of doing One Nation, it’s not in their nature.

Last week Richard Rogers, the architect of 124 Horseferry Road, Channel 4’s HQ just round the corner from the Houses of Parliament, came in to his building to talk to us, the staff of C4, about his work and life and the building we work in. He was interviewed by Channel 4 News’ Cathy Newman in our cinema and among the most interesting revelations was that he hadn’t intentionally created the Channel 4 penis. It’s long been an urban myth that when you look down on the two revolving doors and the see-through entrance canopy it was deliberately designed to look like a todger.

The entrance to 124 Horseferry Road

The entrance to 124 Horseferry Road

Rogers was genuinely surprised at the revelation so the urban myth was officially put to bed. At the amusement no doubt of the lowly member of Richard Rogers’ draughting team who probably snuck it in.

Rogers also spoke about how, when he comes home to his self-designed Georgian conversion in Chelsea, most of the buildings he walks by at night have next to no lights on since they are not homes but investments of the rich and foreign, they are laundered cash and expressions of no faith in their own nations. They are emblems of the last 5 years of Tory-driven government, empty, an insult to the sufferers of the nationwide housing crisis, dark, undermining of this great city, my native London. For the first time in my life it is deteriorating before my eyes – as I discussed here in Blitzed Again.

So I woke up from the kind of sleep you’d get in an Underground tunnel at night with German bombs falling above, shell-shocked by the unexpected result of a majority Tory government in the face of weeks of polls and punditry to the contrary. Not only that but the excellent Labour candidate in my constituency (and I’m not a Labour supporter) also failed to get elected in spite of a truly exemplary campaign – well organised, committed, personal and with heart. Sarah Sackman is a talented local candidate, young and with energy, not cynical but engaged and hopeful. Instead we got 5 more years of a tired party hack who can’t even be relied on to protect the Grade 2 listed library at the cultural heart of our community. After writing this I’m off on a march to call for the saving of easyCouncil Barnet’s library service – another aspect of public life the last Cameron regime failed hopelessly to safeguard right across the country.

I actually voted for Sarah but it was the result of a vote-swop facilitated by Swap My Vote www.swapmyvote.uk through which I had my Liberal vote cast in the West Country where a slim LibDem majority was being defended. In return I voted for Labour on behalf of a total stranger who I met through the site and exchanged a few messages through Facebook to get a sense of his bona fides. His vote, which would have had no impact where he lives, got to contribute to a very tight Conservative-Labour race here. It was an uplifting contact through new technology and for me was the only silver lining of the horrendousness of this drawn-out election. Apart from the unelection of the horrendous George Galloway of course (if only Scotland would take that son of theirs back). It represents the upside of the internet age in that this clever application of web technology means that if we don’t get given Electoral Reform (4M UKIP votes gave them 1 seat, 1M Green votes gave them 1 seat, while 1.4M SNP votes yielded 56 seats) we the people can take it for ourselves. Those numbers should leave a lot of frustrated and disempowered and angry people in their wake. I have never voted tactically before in the whole of my adult life but I just couldn’t face 5 more years of being all in it together with the complacent, hypocritical, greedy and out of touch.

Swap My Vote was set up in typical internet start-up MVP style by a Channel 4 colleague, Tom de Grunwald, and a PhD scientist, James Allen. It is a ray of light in the looming darkness.

So I got up with effort and went off to work. I felt the need to talk to people so on my way in to the Richard Rogers penis-less edifice (will this lot of Tories sell off this bit of the family silver?) I went to a meeting at the media cliché that is the Groucho Club in Dean Street, Soho where I had the privilege of watching Nick Clegg’s dignified and masterful resignation speech, truly historic, with the historian Simon Schama. I recently saw him deliver his own masterful speech at Names Not Numbers in Aldeburgh where he spoke without notes for over an hour in a fluent and inspirational way which was the quintessence of what a university lecturer/professor should be. We also watched Ed Miliband’s resignation speech, an interesting contrast, not because it was poor or unfelt, but because it lacked the same insight and historical scope.

From there I walked towards the office in the company of a Cambridge mathematician I had also befriended at Names Not Numbers. We picked over the ashes together. We took our leave at the new 4th plinth, Gift Horse, a sculptural statement by German-American artist Hans Haacke about austerity in contrast to City excess.

I walked across the square to look again at the fountain captured in the VE Day photo which opens this, enjoying the joining across seven decades through photography:

1945 meets 2015

1945 meets 2015

The VE Day 70 display boards, courtesy of the Mayor of London who re-entered the House of Commons yesterday as a potential rival to Cameron, Dougal to Cameron’s Ermintrude, afforded an opportunity to link then and now:

VE Day 70 Nelson's column Trafalgar Square 1945 2015

I then headed straight down Whitehall an hour ahead of the wreath-laying commemoration for this special VE Day at the Cenotaph. I didn’t have the heart to glimpse over at 10 Downing Street.

ve day 70-preparations-for-cenotaph-commemoration-london

Hello! sponsored by the UK

Hello! sponsored by the UK

A veteran of the VE Day celebrations 1945

A veteran of the VE Day celebrations 1945

There are bad victories and there are good victories. I did my best to drown the bad in the good, like empty cans in a fountain.

1971 – The Year The Music Was Alive

The Day The Music Died

The Day The Music Died

Yesterday Christies in New York sold the manuscript and notes for Don McLean’s 1971 mega-hit ‘American Pie’ for $1.2M. It’s a view back from the perspective of 1971 over the 60s and 50s to an age of innocence represented by Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and The Big Bopper. The lyrics have a reputation for being impenetrable and rich in sub-text, though it is easy to spot Dylan, The Stones, The Beatles, The Byrds, Janis Joplin et al as he takes us through from his 12 year old self mourning the loss of Buddy Holly and co. in a tragic plane crash in 1959 through to a jaded, nostalgic 24 year old surveying the wreckage of the Hippy era. When asked what it means McLean’s favourite answer is: “It means I never have to work again.”

I went back this evening to check whether the song is as irritating as I remember. It is. The description of “bubblegum Dylan” is not far off (I think the phrase is Alexis Petridis’s). But the song’s sale and the fact it is trying to capture the meaning of a particular point in music history makes it a good springboard for a project that’s been brewing up in me for quite some time.

Over a couple of years I kept noticing that a number of classic records were recorded in 1971. After a while it seemed more than just coincidence. And as the 1971 records gathered I noticed that in many ways they seemed to represent the essence of the 60s/Hippy era even though they were a couple of years late numerically. How come the 60s seemed to climax in 1971? What was special about that year?

I went back to look and picked out 10 records that seem crucial to that year, and then one track on each that gets to the heart of the record. I’m planning to do a post about each of them in the wake of this intro. So first up will be ‘Natural Woman’ by Carole King from ‘Tapestry’…

February 1971

The Year The Music Was Alive (February 1971)

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