Friday, 20 November 2009

Just sent to the Guardian

Does Alan Rusbridger not think Belgians are hip, cool, trendy, rock'n'roll enough? Did he not turn enough Belgian bands up to maximum volume in his boarding school dormitory and still think the act makes him "anti-establishment" 40 years later? Was he taken to too many concerts including works by French and German composers when he would rather have been listening to Radio Caroline? Would he have felt safer with Blair because he could then have been certain that there would be no remaining counterbalance to the dominance of Anglo-Saxon neoliberalism and rock'n'roll at gunpoint?

I can only assume that at least some of these criteria apply, because I cannot otherwise work out how and why you could have run the exact same headline as the Daily Mail (The great EU stitch-up, 20th November). If your editor ultimately feels safer with Cameron than Brown because Cameron went to the right sort of school, he should say so. Your front page headline confirms the Guardian's dispiriting slide to become a free advert for the very same American pop culture The Sun has been a free advert for these past forty years. You are still just about the least worst newspaper in the UK, but you can be right down there in the gutter when you want to be. Herman Van Rompuy was a far better choice than Blair, and he should not be smeared because your editor is still bitter about the Marine Broadcasting Offences Act.

Yours, disappointed,
Robin Carmody


I doubt it will be printed - letters that seriously challenge editors' assumptions rarely if ever are - but I think the point must be made that post-modernism, and the consequent view that Europe is where yesterday's culture came from, is a key factor in Britain's wariness of a unified Europe and certainly the biggest reason why the supposedly right-on Left end up, as here, saying exactly the same thing as the Mail. Europhobia born out of ideological opposition to "dead white males" and Europhobia born out of simple xenophobia end up in the exact same place - after today, who can honestly doubt this?

Wednesday, 18 November 2009


The first of BBC Four's "Women We Loved" season was excellent - all the unspoken tensions and gaping emotional holes of so many middle- and upper-class homes of the 1930s and 1940s, only in this case occupied by the woman whose legacy still shores up a romantic vision of those times in which that sort of thing simply didn't happen, all the right expressions, every silence in just the right place.

Contrary to what has until now been a popular myth, Blyton-bashing predates trendy-leftism by decades - she was effectively kept off the very BBC whose favoured style of children's broadcasting would be condemned by '60s and '70s leftists in exactly the same terms that they used to condemn Blyton, as though there was no objective difference between her and, say, Antonia Forest (it is significant that the BBC finally used Blyton's work on Jackanory in 1974, just at the time it clearly wanted to distinguish itself from the marauding left). Now that her reputation, at least as a storyteller, is so secure - partially through the new unquestionability of popularity, partially through simple nostalgia - and now that we've all seen how easily the New Left that condemned her so vociferously could merge into market fundamentalism under Blair, I think it can be safely stated that much criticism of her work had less to do with it being politically unsound (never as absolute a criterion for the New Left as they wanted us to believe) and more to do with a simple desire to react against what they saw as the oppressive cultural norms they'd grown up with, just as they'd have hated Eric Coates and Ronald Binge while championing as inherently progressive a form of rock music which cannot now be anything other than the cultural wing of neoliberalism.

For leftists of the Polly Toynbee / Martin Jacques generation and ilk - the harshest of all Blyton's critics - the world of the Famous Five would have seemed boringly omnipresent, the establishment culture, and the world of rock music would have seemed fascinatingly alien and exotic. For leftists of my generation, it is completely the other way round - when Blyton was so resolutely condemned in the '70s, the era in which most of her books had been written was still the day before yesterday, and her rehabilitation began when it really became history and, simultaneously, the tide of neoliberalism washed its vestiges away more effectively than the left ever could. In fact, much of her appeal today may relate to the way they present a calmer, less uncertain world in which neoliberalism had never upset every certainty, and they can therefore be justified - partially because of this, partially because of the revisions to most of her books removing the most of-its-time content - even by leftist criteria.

And yet even this is a serious simplification and idealisation of the truth: as Helena Bonham Carter points out in the Torygraph, Blyton was an early master of the technique of marketing of the self, decades before it had become institutionalised as the norm - her cynical manipulation of her public image anticipates the very neoliberal era her books are now such a tantalising escape from, so much so that her life may be a warning that the whole idea of "nice Toryism", most definitely a grand-scale lie now, was probably always a myth, except during a comparatively brief post-war period which she predated. Hers was a desperate legacy to overcome - her daughters turned out so wildly different, one a quintessential Middle Englander, the other defined by a far more liberal, psychological frame of awareness, that they simply could never even speak to each other. There was ample tragedy involving her grandchildren. As would have been clear to anyone who watched BBC Four on Monday evening, her life sums up exactly what her romanticisers and sentimentalists at the Mail and similar places want us to forget ever happened. Yet I cannot forget the thrill of the Five and the nagging feeling that, had it not been for her, I may never have read anything meatier, and I cannot write out of my mind the truth of her late-life interview (probably based on her first and last BBC appearance in 1963) in the BBC Four drama where she claims, to a knowing smile from her second husband, that children would always want what she gave them. I cannot forget that the majority of comparably huge-selling mass-market authors, whether for children or adults, of the mid-20th Century are barely read now, and that endurance - an endurance probably caused by her emotional and physical immaturity, which placed her pretty much outside normal human rules - is, I suppose, its own kind of immortality.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Never forget

that the old Daily Herald was the authentic voice of a particular way of existence, overwhelmingly shaped by collective endeavour and determination to create a more equable society (and let us not forget Dennis Potter's early involvement), and that the original Sun carved out of its remnants was, like Wilson's government itself, a tantalising attempt to bring the whole concept forward into the age that never truly was, the popular daily of a better world.

Exactly 40 years have passed since Rupert Murdoch acquired the latter paper. Today's Pick of the Pops - even if Dale doesn't play "Oh Well", perhaps the greatest single ever made that could reasonably be defined as rock music, right to the bitter end, as Peter Green returns to the forest, retreats from the world that made him and that he already knows is turning sufficiently that it would destroy him - will undoubtedly be a lacerating experience, so much so that I'm actually scared to listen to it. Because everything, in terms of equality and public stake in society, was steadily getting better until then. At that precise moment, the seed was planted for the passive-aggressive, narcissistic mess of reheated prejudice and market brutalism we live in today. A passing of ownership that went almost unnoticed was the beginning of the end for Butskellism and the start of the breakup of British public life and the descent of the working class into pathetic safe tribal wars: at that moment, those who had learnt over decades to work together began to be taught to hate each other, because Murdoch knew that a collective spirit, if not broken, would make it forever impossible for people such as him to restructure society as they intended. Within the middle class, the seed was sown for the world of unashamed knowledge and education for its own sake to also slowly die, though that would take another twelve years to really take effect - it was still hanging on when the working class had already been smashed, and I just about managed to catch its end, those Saturday mornings at the Royal Festival Hall, but the point is that had Murdoch not destroyed working-class solidarity first, he'd never have had the economic or cultural base to effectively do the same to the middle class in February 1981, in an act which some misguided Marxists thought even as late as that would be the last step before they took over.

This is, within the British cultural context and to some extent beyond it, at least as important an anniversary than the one recently marked in Berlin. Everything that is depressing and self-perpetuating about our present society, everything that alienates us from our neighbours and true allies, has its roots in that moment. I am not a reactionary. Sometimes the truest form of radicalism, and belief in some kind of positive future, is to condemn the false consensus of the present.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Swimming thoughts

There are still bits of Portland I've never seen in fifteen years. The old Navy leisure centre, five years younger than me, has a slightly run-down functionalism I find rather appealing - because however uninteresting it may seem, better that than the pseudo-opportunities of the Olympics, a stone's throw away less than three years hence, whose benefits to those outside a narrow nouveau riche are, at best, debatable (and it has the same clock as the first swimming pool I ever went to, back on the Estuary, which gave me pleasant 1988 flashbacks). The whole of Castletown has a sense of multiple worlds in collision - pub after pub closing, the new luxury flats going up in the old sports field, dangerous staircases still standing in the back streets, memories of the unending quasi-nightmare of the old hospital that part of me nonetheless now misses, the doomed grandiosity of the old Navy flats redesigned for the new elite as a 1950s liner directly facing the brutalist shell of those as yet unconverted, a general sense that this place - like the political state of the UK itself - is in a state of flux that will soon be decisively decided in favour of a certain narrowness that poses dangerously as "democratisation". The final impression you get is that, while the old Portland was probably unsustainable, especially once the Navy had left (just after I came), it should have a future less neoliberal and more equal than this one.

Those around me will never really understand why I see poetry in ruined brutalist buildings - they won't grasp that, for me, they represent a world and a way of organising society which for all its faults, and it had many, shared the benefits of new developments much more evenly around the populace than is the case today, where the Olympics coming to somewhere like Portland (or, indeed, east London) would have been a genuinely public project. All told, a strangely fitting backdrop to swimming ten lengths for the first time in eight years. I'll go back. But I hope the backwash of new wealth doesn't take the surroundings beyond the means of their people. The pub timebomb forecast fifteen years ago has undoubtedly gone off, and I can't say I'm too sad. But we don't have to throw the communality baby out with the insular bathwater. A fitting sign-off for the hundredth post.

Joss Stone: the legacy of capitalism's first great compromise

O. Henry said that to be really happy in this world you must have "a little country where you don't live". Britain was the first country in the world to have a predominately urban populace, yet ran in fear from the full implications of this shift almost as soon as it had happened. Joss Stone's new album Colour Me Free! - am I wrong to find this title distasteful, as if she's trying to imagine a title The Holy Sainted Aretha would have used, had she been as crass and moronic as Stone herself is, a few years after the Civil Rights Act? - entered the UK album chart at number 75.

They may not appear so to the tediously compartmentalist, but these three facts are inherently and absolutely connected. When I'm told that I shouldn't be more upset by "Rep Ya Endz" graffiti on Portland than I would be if I still lived on the Thames Estuary, I offer the defence that such an instant reaction is illogical, irrational and Neurologically Typical - in other words, everything those around me have always wanted me to become. The fact that it can come even from as logical and calculated and unemotional a creature as I am says, I think, everything that needs to be said about the society I've grown up in. I attempted to make that point here, back in the old ghost ship, but I know so much more now.

The root cause of Joss Stone's unpopularity in her home country, even while she can still have Top 10 albums in the US and some European countries, can be traced directly to the trade-off between the landed aristocracy and the new business elite which followed the Industrial Revolution. Rather than take absolute control, as their equivalents would go on to do in many of the countries which copied our original blueprint but were then able to overtake us because they weren't ravaged by the legacy of feudalism, the new elite accepted an uneasy compromise - sometimes cited, probably correctly, as the key event in British history - in which a romanticised vision of a pre-industrial countryside would retain a key cultural role wholly out of scale with its actual role in the heart-of-empire economy, or the percentage of the population who lived there. And so it has remained, carried down through the generations to the point where, even today, even amid the grand technological dissolution of geographical borders, most of our predominately urbanised populace will not accept from those who have actually grown up in that "little country where they don't live" what they take absolutely for granted from those who share their own background. As the English are now far greater "prisoners of history" than the Irish on either side of the border, so Stone, in her home country, is arguably the greatest prisoner of all.

Of course, in a fanatically market-led society such as ours all such romantic visions are bollocks - inherently culturally embedded bollocks, but bollocks all the same. At least I am a critic of global neoliberal capitalism, the serious restriction and curbing of which would be the only way it would ever be even remotely possible to reduce the impact of hip-hop etc. in the sort of communities our urbanised majority fondly imagines to be more rooted and "traditional" (whatever that word means after decades of marketing speak) than the ones they themselves live in. Those who mock Stone for what they would take as the absolute norm from Lily Allen or Amy Winehouse - or, indeed, themselves - would usually be the first to tell people like me to go live (no "and") in North Korea.

No doubt all urban populaces have a desire to imagine their countries' hinterlands as somehow shielded from the levelling effects of global neoliberal capitalism. No doubt tall poppy syndrome is at least as strong in Britain as it is in Australia (where that term originates). But I'm convinced that if Joss Stone was from Dartford - where both I and, more pertinently in this context, Mick Jagger - grew up - nobody would have batted an eyelid at her 2007 Brits appearance (Russell Brand had a nerve to take the piss, because he's part of the exact same culture as she is, but it's a sign of how embedded this psychological sense of the West Country is that it is somewhere deep inside even him), and she'd still be at number 1 as she was back when neo-feudalists invaded the House of Commons.

Not that I'd welcome that, you understand. I mean, her music is fucking tedious heritage shit. Exactly what Richard Drax and the rest of the resurgent feudal elite would want, then.

It was a post-punk standard for a reason

"Jerusalem" became a post-punk standard precisely because it was already a standard, but only in a segment of society which that generation rightly believed had distorted it and turned a radical socialist statement into a complacent hymn of praise to the very quasi-feudal way of existence it originally attacked: there was a wholly justified desire to reclaim it. Like the works of Powell & Pressburger or indeed Selling England by the Pound, it can be almost anything politically depending on the spin being put on it (I remember Gilbert Adair comparing and contrasting Arrows of Desire, Ian Christie's masterly study of P&P's works, with - yes, quite, exactly - Chariots of Fire, the New Heritage Right's rallying call when they were so nearly overthrown before they'd really begun), but the post-punk generation used it for a reason, and a very good one, akin to my own "reclaim the countryside" rhetoric at the beginning of this decade - it was taken back into the hands of those who need it, given the radicalism and crucial ambiguity it always deserved, reclaimed from those who distorted it as Major did to Orwell, and it is because of that generation that it can burn at the end of the "Dirtee Cash" video and you don't feel, ever, for one moment, that it deserves to be burnt.

Still no defence for either the ELP or Fat Les versions, though.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Buy this. Now.

the moment you put it on you know it's an experience, and if you're anything like me you have precious few of those

And when we remember the wall, we should remember ...

one of the highest water marks of the remaking of British pop destroyed in the South Atlantic

not that this is bad

nor is this (because that is what 1983 was doing to all of us)

but we live and die by this

It had to end - I just wish it had ended differently

Much that was repressive and needed to be destroyed undoubtedly ended twenty years ago. But much that was worth keeping, in terms of social camaraderie and a society not completely controlled by plutocrats, also ended. As was made clear in the BBC's Lost World of Communism this year, most of those who demonstrated were not against the idea of socialism, but against corrupt, unaccountable leaders who had distorted the concept. They wanted a freer and more genuinely equal form of socialism, not neoliberal dominance. I certainly don't think Berliners, whatever MTV and its acolytes would have you believe, wanted the reunited capital of a reunited Germany to end up with less cultural sovereignty for city and country, rather than more. They wanted, in short, a halfway house, the old independent left doctrine of "neither Washington nor Moscow" brought into reality.

That halfway house had looked genuinely possible in the 1970s. Had Callaghan held his nerve and the Soviet Union stayed out of Afghanistan, graveyard of all empires, it might yet have been achieved. A world in which the west became more socialist and the east more liberal, in which the worst repressions were torn down without being replaced by a mere triumphalism of pop culture and consumerism. A world in which Eastern Europe was, as it deserved, genuinely democratised rather than merely consumed by one form of autocratic control from outside in place of another. A world in which we all became more "global" in the truest sense, rather than many of us in fact becoming less so. There's nothing I wish more than that that world, so close to formation for a few brief years, had actually happened. That's what should have happened in 1989.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Not remotely offended by "autistic": it has to be said

and said, and said again

we will all lose

if we are not together we are nowhere, and who would not rather be somewhere than nowhere? that is why I am convinced we will see colonisation by the US, subtly introduced via Cowell

these people will alienate us from our true friends and allies more completely than we have ever seen before - we cannot let them win, and if that means giving up pop as a bad job, so it must be

No real surprise, to be honest

note the subtle, cynical mockery of fans who dare to question absolute market fundamentalism

though to be honest I, too, think they're deeply naive to be surprised: perhaps they should abandon football at that level

New Forest thoughts

- once, here, I referred to "the Hallowe'en wall". I've regretted that turn of phrase ever since - back in the age I'm getting at, it was still all about Guy Fawkes Night in England - but it's too late to change it now, and anyway I'd mentioned bonfires earlier in the same post, and didn't really want to repeat myself. What may not have been apparent to the casual reader who doesn't know what I know all too well is that this is a real wall, always for me most evocative of wind-blown autumn landscapes, which runs alongside the road which leads Portlanders to Wimborne Minster, or indeed the New Forest, or anywhere else where the Wilson Plot once lurked. It gives the impression of being a distinct dividing line - obviously not on a par with the barrier that split Berlin and the world until 20 years ago this week, or even our own Cutteslowe Walls, but on one side - the side you're driving on - you feel you're part of the mass society, the society of buying and selling, of instant access, of something that resembles democratisation so tantalisingly that you can so easily forget it's the complete opposite. Behind the wall, you sense, strange things may happen, things beyond your knowledge, or your grasp, or your control. I know Charborough Park is a particular family's estate, but somehow I can't help thinking an M.R. James scenario may have happened there, once. In my head, it was the 1970s scene of paramilitary exercises: men rehearsed behind that wall, planning for the day they overthrew the unions and restored feudal supremacy, paranoid that within ten years detente would have quietly turned into something greater, something in which they had no place unless they fought back now. Even now, looking behind the gates has an eerie, disturbing feel: the sense of a never-admitted underbelly of the elite, an underhand, undying refusal of any form of democracy.

The fact that I will almost certainly have a scion of that very family claiming to represent me in Parliament precisely six months from now - the same family that produced five members of the unreformed pre-1832 House of Commons - makes it all the more disturbing: that whole tribe has reinvented itself in terms of mass media while nobody was looking, every bit as morally bankrupt as it ever was, and far more dangerous because they've learnt how to distance themselves from their past, Joss Stone's marketing tactics turned into politics.

- someone had written "civil right or civil war" on the sign leading into the forest: was this a leftover from the era, which seems so much longer ago than it is, when some, myself included, wildly predicted social implosion over foxhunting, a legacy of the age when the Shires could only put their hopes in same vague new GB75 on horseback? Or is it very now, very 2009, born out of a deeper, more profound sense of alienation from the entire system, which will elect the NuTories and vaguely tolerates even the BNP not because of who they are but because of who they are not? Or is it - as I suspect - somewhere between the two: a statement that, without instant and permanent withdrawal from the European Union and a stupid, ill-defined attempt to "reclaim" a country that long since ceased to exist, or even be able to exist, on its own terms, the NuTories will have betrayed those who most strongly believe in them, that a mere continuation of NuLab's vague halfway house will inspire a violent reaction among those so long and so wrongly believed to be inherently peaceable?

- you can still forget everything in a place like the New Forest, still imagine yourself in some parallel autumn, some battle for the future that ended wholly differently, some world that never really existed (because my vision isn't anti-modern at all, it's altermodern)

- I'm pretty much exclusively listening to 1Xtra music while I write these postings

Samhain reviewing thoughts

I didn't say enough about Lost Hearts last Christmas - the song itself predated the TV adaptation, but I wonder whether "The Musical Box" by Genesis was influenced by a misremembering / creative misinterpretation of the original story? It's still the apotheosis of a certain sort of prog Englishness, next to which everything that came after (and it has never really ceased to exist, ever more irrelevant and pointless with time) seems shrivelled and that many more generations removed from the source. It's vicious, not a hint of stultifying whimsy. It's that much closer to the source. Gabriel knew both the idylls and the evils, or at least their last knockings. He also knew Lost Hearts, I'm sure.

And that last scene of all, as the children set free from Mr Abney's evil dance off into some parallel world, some time alongside our own where they will never grow old as the rest of us grow old ... that must have influenced Cresswell and/or Cant because it's too proto-Moondial for words (and that has never seemed more resonant and voluminous, never more capable of making you believe that there is that other time, somewhere: I hope, like nothing else, that I am still here to rewatch it when it's as old as Quatermass is now and even beyond, because the first things that really change your life are the ones you have with you in your last hours).

"then they should go and live there" reclaimed

"Then they should go and live there" is an infamous argument for good reason. I am not seeking to defend the way trade unionists abused their power in the 1970s and gave the Thatcherites all the excuse they needed (and I fear those in the Post Office are doing the exact same thing now) but the old rational-argument-destroyer "they should go and live in Russia" was as infuriating as it was primarily because it wasn't true: those smeared as such frequently had an immense feeling for British history and culture, merely a different interpretation of it from that cherished by Tories (Dorset as birthplace of trade unionism rather than as land of feudal lost content, etc.) and knew little, by comparison, about Russian ways.

But I would say the same argument could now apply far more legitimately if reversed and applied to all NuTory supporters, X-Factor watchers, trick-or-treaters and so on, people who - unlike the trade unionists whose knowledge of British culture and history was far greater than you will ever see among the New Etonians - really do owe their cultural, social and (let's not pretend anymore) political loyalties entirely to a foreign power. It is time we responded to these people by saying, quite simply, "if they think the US is so wonderful then they should go and live there". If they are that unable to come to terms with who they are and where they are then it is time we asked them whether they should even live here at all - at least while they remain dishonest about their true aims, for whose achievement Cameron is even now secretly hoping for Scotland to break away.

Never before now have we had so many cultural, social and political fifth columnists, and yet nobody - least of all those who invented the Soviet bedtime bogeyman and tried so hard to do the same to Islam this dying decade - is prepared to acknowledge or admit the fact. The unspeakable truth is that nobody in England really knows their own history and culture anymore. If they did, the phrase "then they should go and live there" would be common parlance - and, unlike in the 1970s, it would actually be justified. It is time we made it so. The alternative is isolation and a living hell ending in the smiling face of occupation from another continent. You can no more watch The X-Factor and condemn neoliberalism and NuToryism than you could read Der Stuermer and condemn Nazism.

However much he can irritate, nobody else could do this

nobody except Dizzee Rascal could get this on every music channel that might conceivably show it (and this version when I'm posting on here, exhausted). Nobody else could get into such a public environment such a brutal description of what neoliberal capitalism literally does: literally, the bonfire of thought, the symbolic destruction of any ambitions or aspirations anyone ever had that weren't built wholly on financial gain (that Diana shot is, clearly, not coincidental).

I'm still frustrated that he can't go further, indeed contradicts himself on the next track. But for this alone he deserves the praise of all those who want the pop myth destroyed and shown for what it is. He may still be that close, but he's closer than anyone else that deep in the public domain.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Icons of your past immerse themselves along with the rest of their class in Cameron's dystopia and the rest of us have to suffer for it part 34215

Alec Christie, face of all wonderment in The Children of Green Knowe 23 years ago, has "I'm Yours" by Jason Mraz as one of his favourite videos on YouTube.

A part of me just died.