Tuesday, 27 October 2015

There's more to life than books y'know (but not much more)

I knew something was up from the moment that the bookstore clerk wished me 'Good Luck' as I walked out with my purchase. Further warning signs kept coming up from there on. The reviews calling it an "unpolished turd" The Buzzfeed-esque articles showcasing the "worst lines" not even mentioning the infamous "bulbous salutation" (which sounds somewhat like a Masonic greeting)
But nothing could ever truly prepare me for actually reading  'List of the Lost.'
First, let me make one thing clear. I love Morrissey. I love his music. I love his witty, insightful lyrics, giving lightning-like vignettes into love, life, death and losing your bag in Newport Pagnell. I find it in my heart to forgive nearly all the horrendous and tactless things he says. Even this book, in time. To put it simply, being a Morrissey fan is not something you take lightly. It's a bit like being in a cult, only with more middle-aged men with quiffs.
But I can't defend this, not this.
Compared to 2013's 'Autobiography' which ran to a behemoth 480 pages, big enough to squash a field-mouse if dropped from a sufficient height (something neither I or Morrissey support) 'List of the Lost' only lasts for a scant 118 pages, in a fairly large font at that (not even large enough to inconvenience a field-gnat probably) On this first appearance alone, how can such a slim volume attract such near-universal derision?
Easily, is the answer. Despite its deceptively small size, I have never known such a small book to feel so long. It makes 'Das Kapital' feel like 'Topsy and Tim'. 'War and Peace' like 'The Very Hungry Caterpillar.'
The primary reason for this, above all others, is Morrissey's, let us say, idiosyncratic writing style. Using a dozen words when only one will do, this reader got the impression that Morrissey seemed to be writing to impress some sixth-form English teacher who had slighted him in a previous life.  The trouble is, Morrissey's writing doesn't seem to have improved much from this hypothetical sixth-form period.  There was a sentence near the very end of the book that seemed to sum this up for me.
"All quiet, all still in this decent and pleasant atmosphere of slumber and repose, where lush houses of beddy-bye shut-eye snoozled in sleepland; a smiling sleep of dreamland."
What does this mean? What does this actually mean? Really? Elaborate with examples please, ask the examiner if you require any more paper. There is a very good reason authors don't write in this style Morrissey, unless of course you're counting the time that someone slipped Enid Blyton several tabs of acid in her evening Ovaltine.
Of course, if he's not just making up words, he's bombarding you with them to the point whether you wonder you're reading a medical textbook instead.
"The inscrutable glacial coldness of the mega-gnarly cave dweller had brought to mind the snot-nosed wretch that the boys had left to the woods. But this could not be irrelevant coincidence-or, to the esoteric world, not coincidence at all."
'Autobiography' worked because Morrissey's bitter wit and flowery language helped to enliven and enrich the happenings of his own life. When this is crammed into a fictional narrative, all 'List of the Lost' serves to do is act as proof for decades of Morrissey parodyists, proving all along what they were saying, that his writing is pompous, indeciphrable, and most criminal of all, dull.
If you can bother to excavate beneath this mess of description, 'List of the Lost' does actually have a plot, though a frustratingly vague one at that. Put as simply as I can muster, Lost revolves around four all-American boys (Ezra, Nails, Harri & Justy) who run for the half-mile relay team (an event which doesn't actually exist) for a prestigious Boston college in the mid 70's. When they're not screwing girls (none of which seem to have any personality or character whatsoever) or pouting homoeroticaly, they seem to spend most of their time speaking in a manner which I'm fairly sure wasn't common for American college students circa 1975.
"Ah yes! Sorry! God forbid a leg touches another leg and the entire foundation of rigid sexual mires crash to shuddering, shamed failure!"
Well quite.
Anyway, they somehow end up killing a homeless man they find in the woods for no particular reason (though not before said hobo goes on a incomprehensible five page rant) whereupon all manner of shit goes down over the remaining 70 or 80 pages. It probably doesn't reflect too well on Morrissey's literary prowess that I had to read several other reviews and synopses before realising that the litany of death and disaster that follows the tramp-icide is all meant to be interconnected.
In fact, the plot takes a back-seat so often to the lengthy and intolerable ramblings, I have to wonder if this book originally started life as a stream-of-conscious fever-dream which Morrissey ended up smushing a half-baked idea for a short story into in order to please his publishers. At least four or five pages are dedicated to talking about the American TV Western 'Bonanza.' Another page seems to delight in telling us all about supposed gay trysts Winston Churchill and famed song-writer Ivor Novello had during the war, only to abandon this a page later when he finds time to tell us what a shame it was that Alan Turing was persecuted so for his homosexuality. Mixed messages is something of a understatement.
All the Morrissey bugbears come under attack here. The monarchy. The meat industry. Margaret Thatcher (whose mention is so poorly shoehorned in as to be painful) All of these have been addressed in much better songs than this disagreeable tumour of a text.
In short, do not buy this book. Do not accept this book as a gift. Do not ponder reading this book. Do not even get it purely for the shock value, to revel in something in so goddamn unenjoyable. Even in that regard you will be disappointed.
Maybe, just maybe, if you had a very talented editor, you could ring a decent short story out of this. But I think the rot has gone too far. It all reminds me of an exchange between two great heavyweights of literature.  William Faulkner once said of Hemingway's work that "It has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary."
Hemingway’s response was: ‘Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?’

And that is precisely is what Morrissey has failed to grasp.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

'Something to do with Writing'

(Something I meant to post around 2014)
Bit of a weird title, don't you think? It's what I usually fall back onto when people ask me what I want to do in life. It's vaguer than a smudge in a blur factory, but it's a catch-all phrase which I hope at least captures the essence of where I want to go in life. The response I usually get in return is 'Ohhhhhhh....That's nice for you. What are you going to doing aside from that?' Upon which I usually stab their eyes out with salad forks. But lately, I've pondering whether there isn't some grain of truth in their moronic babblings, that any writing I will do is mainly for my own self-delectation, or if not for an absurdly small audience.
Hell, I don't even know if I'm going to post this, what I'm writing now may more be a way to vent and bitch and spleen about my wretched and grey life without incurring the wrath of others too much. So what went wrong you may say? Well lets go back around two years, back to around the last time I actually wrote on this blog to honest.
I was an optimistic sod back then, my brain full of rapidly evolving ideas of success and mild fame (less 'name up in lights', more 'name printed in Helvetica in the sideline') and I decided once I graduated university to try and see if I could get a writing portfolio together, maybe try applying for a graduate internship for a magazine or something. Of course, that germ of an idea got defenestrated as soon as I picked up my diploma.
That was when I realised there were a million and one other people in exactly the same position as me. All angling for their best shot at garnering the attention of someone important in the world of media, then riding that inevitable rocket-ship towards getting invites for Radio 4 panel shows and regular slots in the Guardian's 'Comment is Free' section. Not only this, these others, these hypothetical bastards, were all much better than me. Much better writers. Much more talented. Much more mentally well adjusted. The uber-mensch of those in their early twenties.
This was when I realised that perhaps my dreams were perhaps a tad less realistic than I had been thinking.
I mean, of course, gentle reader, you may rightfully judge me for this. It sounds awfully pompous and self-righteous to ramble about hopes of attaining fame and fortune without having done anything to merit it in the first place. But haven't we all harboured similar thoughts? Not just of being rich and famous, which is standard enough I suppose, but of considering ourselves 'different' and of a higher rank than anyone else in our field? That our obvious special qualities set ourselves apart from the rest of the riff-raff, and of course ensure that success and happiness lurk just around the corner?
Don't we all experience a similar experience like the one I have just outlined? Where we are brought back down to earth with an uncomfortable jolt, to be faced with the equally uncomfortable fact that there are others doing what we wish and yearn to do at a much higher level of skill and quality? Where we are faced with the cynical comments of parents and loved ones that is 'all well and good to do x, but you need to pay the bills as well....'
We are forced to set aside our hopes and dreams, partially through the exhortations of a generation who no doubt faced the same conversation with their parents some thirty or forty years earlier. And so the cycle continues.
We apply for soulless jobs at soulless businesses. We let pieces of our love, our passion for things in life, drain away each and every day just so we can help maintain the status quo.
This is why I grow so depressed at the growing contempt anyone who wishes to work within a creative industry faces, that this is a hobby, a worthless trinket, something fun to do at the weekends, not worthy of respect or a decent wage. I mean, 40 hour a week admin jobs are ten a penny, any miserable sod straight out of university can do those. But doing some like writing, or working in theatre, or art, or dance? Pffshaw! Those are something reserved for a select few! You shouldn't concern yourself with their doings! It's not like anything you do would be up to par anyways!
And so people find themselves feel themselves tacitly nodding along, agreeing with these bastards even though they know they're wrong, and any hopes and dreams of actually doing what they enjoy in life gets swept under waves of apparent 'responsibility' and trying to get through day-to-day life.
Eventually, such hopes and desires kept swept under the metaphorical carpet, shunted aside in favour of focusing on getting that promotion to unit supervisor (it comes with a £200 pay increase!) only to be shared with others when you become drunk and embarrassingly gin truthful, as you desperately try to either lie, or even worse, become melancholy about the whole thing with friends
That's why I say, fuck it. Ignore those spurious bastards. They have no music in their souls. Keep fucking striving. Keep writing awful fan-fiction. Keep throwing yourself into auditions that you know won't probably lead to anything. Keep pressing your unlistenable demos onto anyone who stands still for more than five seconds. I don't know whether it's realistic anymore to keep striving for success and fortune and fame and riches. But at least I'll be fucking happy this way, alone, screaming into the ether.

Monday, 17 August 2015

British Leyland Blues

As unreadable as it may be to blog about a throwaway comment Yvette Cooper made over a week ago, 'unreadable' is generally what I aim for with my infrequent postings, so I might as well remain consistent with my ramblings, if nothing else.So, to start with, we have Ms Cooper,  Labour leadership non-entity, and as a friend of mine once said 'someone who talks with a lot more conviction than she votes.' She, among the other two candidates (I think the last time I checked they were an android minus a personality chip and a female Dick Dastardly) are spending the majority of their leadership campaigns either maligning, bitching (or otherwise comparing to a baby-eating lizard) at the only genuinely socialist candidate within the whole proceedings, Jeremy Corbyn.Now, the strengths, principles, and luxuriant facial hair of Mr Corbyn have been commented on in far greater detail in other areas by far better writers, so I'll just concern myself with the matter at hand. Cooper, along her other candidates, poured scorn on recent statements made by Corbyn regarding his desire to see utilities and other erstwhile public services such as the railways to be re-nationalised. Again, aside from the fact that this is something widely supported by both the general public  (not to mention Labour members) I shan't comment much on that.No, my attention is drawn more towards a comment made by Yvette Cooper regarding Corbyn's mooted plans. She said- "The British economy needs new high-tech entrepreneurs, innovation and growing business, not a return to the days of British Leyland."What a stupid thing to say. What a moronic, wilfully ignorant, mind-numbingly stupid thing to say.
British Leyland has been a punchline for decades. It shall be for decades to come. Ever since the cheap, boring gags the Two Ronnies made in the 70's, up until now with the cheap, boring gags that Jeremy Clarkson et al make today. Everyone's heard the horror stories. Of the Allegro with 'the square steering wheel.' Of militant trade-unionism, endless striking and 'Red Robbo.' And of course of  'the nationalisation.' I mean, of course, that's what ruined it in everyone's eyes. Nationalisation doesn't work at all! Look at British Leyland! Look at those strikes! Look at those crummy cars! It must have been nationalisations fault! I mean, why else would such a big company go down the plug hole like that?
Why indeed. 
What absolutely no-one seems to understand at all is that nationalisation wasn't the thing that destroyed British Leyland. Oh no. Nationalisation was the thing that saved it, that allowed what was one of the largest employers in the UK to remain afloat. British governments did this quite a lot at the time. The bankrupt aerospace division of Rolls Royce was nationalised by Heath's government in 1971. The bankrupt British Aerospace was nationalised by the Callaghan Government in 1977. The bankrupt defence company Johnson Matthey was bought by the Thatcher Government for £1 in 1984. Politicians don't tend to mention these companies when rallying against the evils of nationalisations, for they were successful, nor do they tend to make such a large hub-bub against the bail-out and nationalisations of Northern Rock and RBS during the last financial crisis. Those are sacrosanct and kosher. I mean, those are 'high-tech entrepreneurs, innovation and growing business'! The protection of the banking and financial industry comes before all else! I mean, it's not as if the protection of hundreds of thousands of jobs and strategic industrial capacity with the nationalisation of British Leyland is in anyway comparable to these nationalisations! Oh no.
What people refuse to understand is that British Leyland was doomed, not because of its nationalisation, nor indeed because of its militant trade unionism (a factor which anyone with even an inkling of industrial history can see is greatly over-emphasised) but due to its sheer size. At the time of its formation in 1968, British Leyland was a business that encompassed everything from refrigerators to Rovers, from double-decker buses to dump-trucks. It had over 25 factories in the UK and over 100 overseas. It was the second largest company in Europe, and the fifth largest in the entire world. Exactly the sort of bloated, jumbled and confused company that New Labour would have liked to cosy up to. It would need an exceptionally talented team of managers to keep such a behemoth under control. Unfortunately, it had no such thing. A series of woefully out-of-their-depth executives, more interested in paying dividends to their share-holders (whilst meanwhile their continental competitors re-invested the majority of their profits instead) and pursuing severely lacklustre models, already outdated by the time of their release (the Allegro, Morris Marina and Maxi were already established parts of the model range by the time of the nationalisation) It didn't help of course, that any focus on industrial diplomacy with a growingly militant workforce was abandoned. I mean, in the face of such dizzying size and wealth, who wouldn't?
Perhaps it wasn't a question of what caused British Leyland to become bankrupt and then nationalised, but more why didn't it occur sooner. Even after the nationalisation, Leyland continued to decline. A proto-Thatcherite manager in the shape of Michael Edwardes closed down perfectly usable factories (some only built less than ten years previously), slashing the workforce and destroying well known brands such as Triumph and MG for good. I would say it's only by luck, renewed success in the early 1980's with the introduction of the Metro, Maestro and Montego, and the successful re-privatisation of companies such as Jaguar and Land Rover that any component parts of what was once British Leyland still exist today. 
And all this, all this tortured and complex (and unless, like me you have a thing for industrial history) and boring history is merely skimming the surface. I dare not even approach such topics as the 1975 Ryder Plan, which rationalised a monstrously over-bloated company down to size for instance.
This is what irritates me so when Yvette Cooper makes her ludicrously simplistic comments. It's all well and good to say what is effectively "BUSINESS GOOD, 1970'S BAD", but to do so is to willingly ignore the truth of what actually occurred, to wilfully ignore the fact that nationalising a bankrupt business is completely different to nationalising something within the public interest like the railways or utilities, and it is holding the manufacturing heritage and history of this country in complete contempt. Shame on you.


Monday, 10 November 2014

Monthly Animation Waffle:- Over the Garden Wall

Seeing as I blogged last month about my love of 'Bojack Horseman', the animated show that showed the dark and lonely side of fame whilst simultaneously making seal-based puns, I'd like to continue in a similar vein this month. I'd like to opine a while, if you'd indulge me (well if you're reading this, you're already technically allowing me to do so) on a very, very different but equally wonderful series I discovered  during my standard bouts of procrastination.
'Over the Garden Wall' is a Cartoon Network ten-part miniseries (the first that Cartoon Network have done) that aired over the course of a week (in fact starting a week ago today), each part lasting ten minutes. The miracles of the internet being what they are, I was able to watch it around the same time as well.
To avoid spoiling anything too much, I'll give you the abridged version of the plot. It centres around two brothers, Wirt (Elijah Wood) a cynical (but not unkind), shy teenager, and his younger kid brother Greg (Collin Dean) a wide-eyed innocent who delights in the fun and adventure to be had wherever they may be. Somehow, they are lost in a mysterious, possibly supernatural forest called 'The Unknown.' The episodes deal with the strange people and creatures they encounter as they try to find their way home. Accompanying them on these adventures is a world-weary and impatient blue-bird called Beatrice (Melanie Lynskey) who acts as a pseudo-guide and may know more about the whole situation than she's letting on.

This sounds pretty much like a fairy-tale right? You'd be correct in your judgement, from the aesthetics, to the way nearly all the parts can stand alone as a self-contained morality tale, even to the way each episode begins with a engraved frontispiece with the episode title on, like chapters. It all serves to convey a literary motif, as though this is all  like a fantastical book of 19th century children's fiction you often see in second hand book shops. One of those that comes complete with deep, lusciously detailed colour illustrations. The traditionally child-like and fantastical elements of the supernatural, anthropmorphised animals, and  spooky beings beyond the comprehension of our two main characters gel surprisingly well with the more adult themes approached within the episodes. Depression, loneliness, love, regret and betrayal all make their appearances within the span of this short series, dealt with in a way that doesn't feel awkwardly shoehorned in, or mawkish. In fact, the series as a whole reminds me more of a fairy tale for the older ones like Wirt. A fairy-tale for those dealing with that strange, awkward, un-knowable stage in life and those who may have seemingly left that child-like part of themselves behind as they search for a new identity.

The animation itself is simply stunning, reminding me at some times of the rich and vibrant colours of a Studio Ghibli production (this I feel, also came out in some aspects of the character design). The backgrounds you can just delve into and absorb their atmosphere like a rich perfume.  It also seems to have drawn influence from such varied sources as the Max Fleischer cartoons of the early 30's (keep your eyes out for a Betty-Boop-esque barmaid in one episode) and European folk art. Coupled with this is the sterling voice work of the main cast (Elijah Wood is especially wonderful at conveying the awkward, sometimes contrarian Wirt) alongside some great guest voice actors, such as John Cleese as a billionaire who may or may not be on the verge of madness, and Christopher Lloyd as a strange and sinister woodsman. Music also takes centre stage as well, with both the ambient soundtrack and specific musical moments (these are too good to spoil here) rooted firmly in the early 20th century American folk tradition. Some of the songs I could easily imagine Woody Guthrie singing in an alternate universe. Major props go to the The Petrojvic Blasting Company for composing the score.

So overall, Over the Garden Wall has all these high quality aspects coming together to produce a beautiful piece of work, which hopefully Cartoon Network will repeat annually, instead of just shoving into a metaphorical cupboard.  I have read some people online clamouring for more of this, a sequel, a series of these adventures, and I think they're missing the point. All fairy-tales, including this one, have a definitive ending, a 'happily-ever-after.'  To have something that exists in this day and age as an entire whole, with a beginning, a middle and an end and sans an undignified afterlife where network executives try to elongate and press as much money as possible out of it, is a very rare thing indeed. Besides, it would be most unfitting to the whimsy and imagination of the world conjured up by this series if they tried to recreate this microcosm again. I mean, can you really disappear down a rabbit-hole more than once?

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Pencils down.

"As well as this, China's growing naval power throughout the coming century may help to cement various territorial claims on islands..."
Shit, shit, shit. I'm out of space. I'm only fifty minutes into this exam and already I've spunked away all of my space for writing, what am I going to do now? I look around the sports hall, the lines of desks stretching out for eternity around me in all directions. Just don't panic, it's not the end of the world. It's not like this exam is the difference between getting a degree and not. Except maybe it is. All those nights of playing gin-based drinking games set to Question Time and coming in late for lectures have caught up with me. Even the ones I did come in for, the focus was more on the cute librarian type sitting in the front row. Never even approached him, alas. Regardless, I actually have to do well in this exam. No more endless dicking around for me, no sir. Well. I may have a drink or two when I'm back at the house. To celebrate. Or more likely, commiserate. It's nearly the last day of term and I'm in an exam for a subject I don't know or care about.

I don't even know what I'm meant to be writing anyway, my theory is if I put enough fancy, polysyllabic words in, the exam markers will be sure to think that this essay is a work of stunning genius rather than something cooked up in desperation by a perennial procrastinator with a love of thesauruses. My revision essentially consisted of hurriedly glancing through the course textbook (why do they always want you to buy the textbook? The only use mine came in was when I accidentally squashed that spider with it) five minutes before the exam. God I must have looked such an idiot. All  the calm and collected sorts with their angora scarves and turtle-neck sweaters sipping lattes outside the exam hall, discussing with their dreadful friends what their plans are for the summer, and then there's me. Wearing a pair of oversize jeans some guy left in my bedroom, a stained pullover that had until this morning been acting as a pillow, and madly flipping through an otherwise pristine textbook with arachnid entrails on the cover. I should have tried harder, I know I should have. But is it really my fault this course has been so unforgivably boring? Politics and International Relations? That's not a degree, that's a category on a quiz-show. Well yes, you did want to do English didn't you, but you didn't quite get the grades did you? Ha, thanks for reminding me brain, I did rather fuck up the ol' A-Levels didn't I? I could almost taste Mum's disappointment in me. "Well, there's always the back-up option darling, not that I thought we were going to need it...."
Snap out of it, this self-pity wankery is only just going to make things worse. What did that invigilator guy say at the start? Oh yeah! "Put your hand up if you require more paper." Simple as, couldn't be easier. I told you there was no need to worry. Except those invigilators are on the other side of the hall, suppose they don't see me? How could I get their attention? Maybe I should feign an asthma attack and collapse on the floor. No, too much. A coughing fit?

I glance at the clock dustily ticking away on the other side of the room. Shit. Already wasted five minutes worrying as it is. My heart's beating like a war drum, constantly getting faster and faster.
Swallow your embarrassment you damn fool, and raise your hand then! I raise my hand tentatively into the air, a dim distress beacon in the middle of an turbulent sea. Damn! that nice looking old man is busy with that gormless twat Simon from the study group on the other side of the room. He's probably forgotten how to breathe or something and he's getting the invigilator to remind him how. I don't want to have that other one deal with me, the lady, she hates me. I know I shouldn't have asked for a pencil from her at the start. I didn't mean to forget any form of writing implement, it was more the fault of the hangover now that you think about it.
I try and replay the scene mentally.
"This isn't normal you know, we're not meant to supply stationery to students, it's most unprofessional of you not to have brought something" she sneers at me, all the while looking at me as though I'd dropped my trousers and taken a shit in front of her, instead of ask for help.
"Well, yes but I honestly didn't mean to for-" I start.
The old biddy puckers her arse like mouth. "Hmmmm. I shall look in the supply cupboard. Wait here." She momentarily returns, clutching a blunt pencil in her claw like hand.
"Consider yourself lucky young lady, that was the last one. Now don't let me catch you coming unequipped to an exam again!" and she gives a terrible dry wheezing sound like a church organ being cleaned. It takes me a moment to recognise this as her approximation of laughter.

I shake myself awake. I've been daydreaming. I flick my eyes, paranoid, to the clock again. A minute has passed and they still haven't come to me! My arm's beginning to ache as the blood drains from it. Maybe I should be more obvious? I clear my throat. Nothing.
Maybe I should do it slightly louder this time? - I've just ended up getting the rugby-shirted meatsack in front of me to spin round in his seat and shoot me a filthy look. Great.
Oh god no, I've think I've finally drawn her attention, that old bat's coming this way! Just relax, act natural, you haven't done anything wrong, you just need more paper.
"Hi."
"Whats the matter? I thought I gave you a pencil earlier?"
"Oh, it's not that, I just need some more exam paper, I've ran out of room."
"Hmm."
She takes the exam paper from the desk and inspects it with a pair of deep, muddy eyes that are too large for her face. She sniffs. "Give me a moment." She's off, her heels clacking away on the polished parquet floor. Thank god for that. See? There was absolutely nothing to worry about at all was there? Easy as pie, in and out, etcetera, etcetera.

Now, we're going to get our paper, we're going to ace this test, and we're going to go back to the house and try and not collapse into a amorphous blob of nervousness. At least not just yet. Simple enough brain? I thought so. Maybe I can finally let all of this tension and worry go now it's nearly all over.
A familiar clacking noise comes back into earshot now. I've managed to settle myself down, my heart is now beating to the tune of a slow, steady drumbeat. I casually inspect my impeccable fingernails (something I've always been proud of, that) and await the Miss Haversham of the exam hall to make her return.
"There you go." she intones, handing me a new sheaf of papers.
"Than-" I start, but she's already neatly turned on her heels and is clacking off down the aisle.
Triumphantly, I shift back up in my seat. I take a deep, calming breath and glance momentarily at the clock. Twenty minutes left. I know I can do this. Pencil poised, I launch back into the flow of things-
"As well as this China's growing naval power throughout the coming century may help to cement various territorial claims on islands in the Pacifi-"
The pencil lead snaps. Shit.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Why I Joined the Green Party

Whilst I await a bolt from the blue to illuminate me with the Dahlian devilry needed to think of an ending to my latest short story, I shall instead bore you  with a short blog about why I decided to join the Green Party. This is in order to better explain my political thought process, as well as a way to try and keep this blog going, which is currently on life support.
So, Oscar, given you've been a member of three political parties prior to this (see this post I wrote years ago on that subject) why do you think the Greens are the best option for you now?
Well quite simply, they are the only intelligent, principled option for anyone on the political left. The previous parties I joined in the past (the Labour Party for six months, and the SWP for a year or so) I joined out of a means of finding my political feet, of testing the waters of each segment of the left. Either that, or more likely my younger self was very fickle. After that spate of party memberships, I vowed never to join a political party again. I could never find one that fully supported my views. I wanted something that was left of Labour, but not delusional or dictatorial like the SWP. I also wanted something that had committed and well-thought out principles, something that I had always missed, regardless of the party.
So why not give Labour another chance instead you may say? I mean Milliband's in charge now, and he's made some changes for the better, right? Now as much as I do like Labour (and having been a member, to a degree, support it) it's incredibly obvious to anyone with even the vaguest inkling of political ideology that they are lot more right-wing than they were. Throughout the past two-and-a-half decades, Labour has slid from being the implicitly left-wing party of Atlee & Nye Bevan, to just a vaguely centrist morass, diluted with populist ideals to the point of not being recognisable as the party it once was. That's not to say the Labour Party doesn't have its fair share of principled and wonderful people, my political idol Tony Benn once said that the "Labour party has never been a socialist party, although there have always been socialists in it – a bit like Christians in the Church of England." Decent M.P's such as Jeremy Corbyn or John McDonnell keep the torch burning for the spirit of socialism within the Labour party, but I realise as much as them (and indeed the vast majority of the party members, which has proven to be more left-wing than the leadership as seen here) do try and tilt the party back towards having some form of back-bone, after years of Blairite damage, it just won't happen within the current political generation.
Far, far better I feel, to support a party whose inherent values and policies speak directly to a disenfranchised and unsupported political class who have been spurned by Labour's need to hawk for as much votes as possible (which has in turn diluted their political spirit) A party which is pro-environment, pro-nationalisation, and is anti-austerity and anti-big business. The Greens have this in spades, and to actually find a party who hold firm, decisive principles is a breath of fresh air. Whereas Labour nervously pipes up now and then to spurn some hateful Tory nonsense, but nevertheless still support these decisions, the Greens have consistently and stridently spoken out against cruel and unnecessary austerity measures. Where Labour has accepted and for the most part acquiesced to Tory party decisions such as the recent privatisation of the Royal Mail, or spending cuts, the Green Party has long been a strident thorn in the side of these policies.
As well as this (the clue is in the name obviously) The Green Party are the only party I could trust to enact environmentally sounds policies. Whilst other political parties tack on environmental issues as a mere after-thought to appease the loonies, the Green Party are the only ones to truly realise that the major issue this century won't be the global dominance of some rising super-power, or globalisation, but the environment. Time after time experts have said we are reaching the point of no return with rising sea-levels or CO2 emissions, that we are consuming more resources than we are replenishing, that growing health issues surrounding pollution and industrial emissions are blighting the lives of thousands. Only the Green Party seems to have thought to themselves, "Hmmm, this actually is going to effect the lives of everyone on the planet more than anything else, we should do something about this." Such forward thinking is sadly absent within most parties at the moment. We may pledge to cut emissions, or we may promise to introduce more renewable energy sources, but are there any well-known policies most people could name that the current or previous government championed in order to make this so?

So why haven't you heard any of this stuff about the Greens? Apologies for coming over all tinfoil-hat-wearing, but most media not only has an inherent positive bias towards the ruling political establishment, but also towards what will get views and attention. For instance, U.K.I.P peddle a heady blend of bigotry, exaggeration and sensationalism posing as truth.  These are all political extremes, and because extremes garners attention, much in the way a loud drunken man shitting himself in the High Street garners attention, the media are drawn to it, giving it even more attention and stoking the flames of publicity ever higher.
Because the Greens are sensible, not notorious for publicity gaffes or controversial statements and actually base their policies on fact, (Caroline Lucas's support for homoeopathy notwithstanding) the media passes them by for the loud, brash, political circus of Farage who will no doubt garner more views or hits. But in spite of being mainly ignored by the mainstream media, the Green Party continues to grow in membership size and political influence, experiencing what some commentators are calling 'The Green Surge' (which sounds more like a detergent to me.) With more and more people off-put by 'big tent' politics and a larger more inherent distrust in the political system and leaders, it could be argued that people are being more rapidly politicised than ever. This can be especially seen as protest groups on both the left and right grow in size and popularity. As the existing three party system squabbles amongst themselves and tries to snatch for as much votes as possible from their traditional power bases, only one party can truly lay claim to being the principled choice for anyone on the left. That's why I joined the Green Party.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Happy Birthday Oscar! (Wilde)

'The Trials of Oscar Wilde, Trafalgar Studios'
As I nudged past the greying Quentin-Crisp-esque queens (the very best type of queen if you ask me) and the politely disinterested sixth form English class into the small basement room, I couldn't help but ponder if I had made a bad decision.
I had decided to take the 16th October off some weeks before, as a way to best celebrate the 160th birthday of my hero and idol, Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde. The fact that I had a load of paid leave to use up at the same time was entirely coincidental I assure you. I had seen that there was a play based on his trials (people sometime forget there were two trials, the initial libel action of Wilde vs Queensbury, then the subsequent criminal trial of Wilde vs Regina) currently playing at London's Trafalgar Studios.
I jumped at buying tickets, as not only was there to be free booze, but Wilde's grandson himself, Merlin Holland was to be present for a question and answer session afterwards! Head full of rapturous imaginings, I travelled up to London, only to immediately disappoint myself when I realised it was the evening show the extravaganza of free booze and questioning was to be at.
Ho hum. Settling down with a programme and a ludicrously expensive glass of prosecco I was far too awkward to resist getting (seeing as everyone else had one) I waited for the show begin.

Given we were crammed awkwardly into the small basement studio of the theatre, the play didn't really formally begin, more dissolve into existence as John Gorick (Oscar Wilde) made his entrance on stage, re-enacting Wilde's speech from the opening night of 'The Importance of Being Earnest.' Gorick's portrayal is probably the closest I shall getting to seeing Wilde in flesh. At times witty, evasive, catty, kind, selfish, naive or wise but almost always invariably charming. It also helps too that he speaks in suitably mellifluous tones. Franklin Dyall said Wilde's voice was like "brown velvet, played like a cello." Whilst this isn't quite that, I think he makes a jolly decent stab at such a thing anyway. Wilde remains an interesting and flawed character in this play, evoking both sympathy and pity at the depths that his pride and shame takes him to.
This as much as because of Gorick's portrayal as well as the script itself by Merlin Holland & John O'Connor, drawing much from the transcripts of the trials themselves. It would have been so easy to have portrayed Oscar as an epigram-throwing Saint Sebastian but instead the play portrays as something more complex and flawed, something which is ultimately more interesting and human.
Wilde whilst in the dock is out of his traditional comfort zone, that of hurling earth-shattering bon-mots like flower petals. He is not openly angry or upset, but he is most certainly uncomfortable. He tries to twist and turn away the line of questioning from himself, and indeed to turn away any hint of impropriety with all these pretty young men he spends so much time with.
His beautiful, effervescent speech is used to ensnare and strangle him, to drag him down into the muck and mire, it is still horrid to watch, even a century after these events have happened.

Aside from Wilde's portrayal by Gorick, is there much else to say about the play? Well, yes of course, but given that Wilde does literally and metaphorically take centre stage for so much of the action, the supporting cast of Rupert Mason and William Kempsell mainly act as means for Wilde to advance his story forward. However, their respective roles as Edward Clarke, Wilde's defence attorney (Kempsell) and as Edward Carson & Charles Gill, the two respective prosecutors (Mason) deserve special attention for the adroit and adept manner in which they are played, whether hectoring or coddling, wheedling information  out of Wilde or witnesses, they definitely grabbed my attention.

After the play I slowly meandered homewards to my awaiting coach, thinking. Was Wilde a martyr? He could have so easily escaped to France (as is mentioned in the play) or have dropped the libel action as soon as possible, when he saw it could never possibly go his way. Was he trying to defend his honour in some doomed, misguided attempt? Was he foolish? Maybe. Maybe any of these things really. Even though Wilde's career was effectively over from the time of his sentence to two years hard labour (despite the later emergence of De Profundis and the Ballad of Reading Gaol) and his name and good reputation was tarnished and thrown into the mud for decades to come (to this day, Holland's family has not gone back to using the name Wilde) he has now become an idol, a symbol for the decadence and beauty of both the late Victorian period and of the aesthete and bohemian movements that he espoused. Perhaps by allowing the bestial and cruel trial to go ahead, he was nailing his colours to the mast and allowing not just himself, but an entire epoch and segment of society to die with him, to instead allow the hypocritical and moralistic popular Victorian society to wash over him and in turn expose their own venalities. I could be wrong, I almost always am. What I am sure of at least is that Wilde remains my love, misguided as he may have been, martyr he may have become, beautiful in mind and soul as he always shall be.

The Trials of Oscar Wilde is on show at Trafalgar Studios 2 in London until the 8th of November. I sincerely hope you go to see it.