Featured post

Cities

Levelling Up the United Kingdom (UK government white paper, February 2022) https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/levelling-up-the-united-kingdom

Carcassonne, board game by Klaus-Jürgen Wrede (2000)

Cities and the Wealth of Nations by Jane Jacobs (1984)

Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino, translated by William Weaver (1974)

My grandfather rarely made requests. He avoided dirtying his shoes, his tweed trousers were immaculately pressed by his wife without him having to ask, and he read the newspaper every day. But it was at his request that we had wound round and round French hillsides, with their attendant car sickness, and now sat, cooped up in the old Ford Cortina, on a bend in a road, listening to the creak of the windscreen wipers and staring out at a world of rain. Down there, distant, and intermittent between the slashing of the wipers, materialised out of the mist slate-grey conical roofs, the party hats of towers. My mother and grandfather got out into the rain so as to swap places, so that he could sit in front and get a better view, such as it was, while Granny squawked ‘George! Your raincoat!’

Sitting for a change in the front seat, amidst the fumes of petrol and sick, my grandfather gazed down at the gear stick and began to recite poetry in a husky sigh. I don’t know what the verses were. I only know they ended, ‘Carcassonne!’ 

Grandpa might have been reciting Mary Sherwood’s translation of Gustave Nadaud’s poem about a hardworking peasant farmer who wished to see those towers before he died:

“How old I am! I’m eighty years! I’ve worked both hard and long;

Yet patient as my life has been, One dearest sight I have not seen,

— It almost seems a wrong.

A dream I had when life was new; Alas, our dreams! they come not true;

I thought to see fair Carcassonne,– That lovely city,–Carcassonne!

“One sees it dimly from the height Beyond the mountains blue,

Fain would I walk five weary leagues,– I do not mind the road’s fatigues,

— Through morn and evening’s dew;

But bitter frost would fall at night; And on the grapes,–that yellow blight!

I could not go to Carcassonne, I never went to Carcassonne.

In 1972, eight years earlier than our family holiday, Italo Calvino published his Invisible Cities. Among his bejewelled collection is the city of Irene:

Travelers on the plateau, shepherds shifting their flocks, bird-catchers watching their nets, hermits gathering greens: all look down and speak of Irene. At times the wind brings a music of bass drums and trumpets, the bang of firecrackers in the light-display of festival…. Those who look down from the heights conjecture about what is happening in the city; they wonder if it would be pleasant or unpleasant to be in Irene that evening. Not that they have any intention of going there (in any case the roads winding down to the valley are bad)…. It is of slight importance: if you saw it, standing in its midst, it would be a different city; Irene is a name for a city in the distance, and if you approach, it changes….

Irene, by Johanathan Pellitteri, 2015, concrete, tar paper, aluminium

https://jonathanpellitteri.com/artwork/3954416-Irene.html

Calvino’s cities materialise out of aspects of the human mind: desire, memory, exchange and language. His cities are magnetic, fascinating, entrapping. This strikes me as a continental sensibility. In so much of our history here in England, the inhabitants of London and other cities seem to have been holding their noses and their breath, enduring till they could get enough money together to be catapulted back out into the land, plant gold into roses and potatoes, cosy cottages and country seats.

But then an ambitious farmer or country gent, ogling the neighbours, gets to dreaming of gold, and is sucked back into the vortex of the city. Another poem about Carcassonne seems to see urban battlements rising up from roots in rural hard work, rivalry and ambition. Perhaps it was this poem that Grandpa recited in the Ford Cortina with the rain drumming:

My Towers

Across the fields, at dawn

Roy Perkins’ silos shine

Like gleaming towers of Carcassonne.

A ray of morning sun

strikes up across the new ploughed ground

And turns my towers to gold.

Oh shining towers of Carcassonne!

(J Raleigh Nelson from ‘Sketches from Sunny Pastures’)

It is the money-making aspect of cities that plays out in Klaus-Jürgen Wrede’s boardgame Carcassonne (2000). In fact, so powerful are cities at making money in this game that a farmer has only to lie down in his field beside one and he wins his player points! (The dream of every farmer in the Green Belt, if only their land could be awarded planning permission…..)

I’ve been enjoying the Christmas gift of Carcassonne. It works as a game for two or more, so I can play it with my 9 year old. It has that pleasing combination of a little strategy, a little luck and visual patterns, as you gradually build up a generic map of mediaeval Europe, with fortified towns, monasteries, roads, bridges and the odd vegetable garden. You can make money in the countryside if you are a highwayman, or an abbot, but, contrary to what the poetry of the time might have suggested, knights and farmers only really make money when they’re involved in completing a city.

I feel that the inventor of this game must have read Jane Jacobs’ Cities and the Wealth of Nations. Polymath and campaigner for urban neighbourhoods in New York and Toronto, Jacobs wrote this convincing and still under-used guide to economic health in 1984, just twelve years after Calvino’s Invisible Cities.

Jacobs similarly takes the breath away with her gung-ho approach to urbanisation. According to Cities and the Wealth of Nations, pretty much all economic life is created by one city sparking life into another.  The countryside is abject poverty and dearth of imagination. If they had imagination there, they would be a city. Agriculture is healthy and diverse when it is near a city. She cites urban conurbations as far-flung as Tokyo and Toronto to support her thesis.

 The whole of Western Europe’s economic development in the previous millennium is down to the fact, says Jacob, that a few enterprising salt peddlers in the marshes of the Veneto began trading with Constantinople, just in time, before the economic fire in that ex-imperial city had finally burnt itself out. Those marginalised people, pushed off the good agricultural land, created Venice, and Venice created Europe.

 For Jacobs, Armageddon is the gradual dying off of cities, which she pictures like lights going out one by one:

Suppose, hypothetically, that the world were to behave like a single sluggish empire in decline. Such a thing could happen, if cities in too many places stagnated simultaneously or in quick succession… If global city stagnation ever does occur, it will inexorably cause economic life everywhere to stagnate and deteriorate, and there will be no way out: no existing vigorous cities to intervene, no young cities arising while they still have opportunity to do so. If that were to happen, we may be sure that as the practice of developing city economies vanished, the memory of how the thing is done would vanish too, and after that, belief that it could be done by perfectly ordinary people would no longer be credited… Indeed, it is not credited in much of the world even today. Isolated hamlets, bypassed countries like Ethiopia, would become the norm. Everywhere, all would become morosos, those without hope. We all have our nightmares about the future of economic life; that one is mine. (P.134)

Jacobs points out that Ethiopia BC and Europe in the early centuries AD had prosperous cities, but later lost the markets and forgot the skills. It can happen. (Author Philip Reeves solves this problem in his futuristic trilogy Mortal Engines by putting cities onto wheels. They then set about hunting each other….)

How do we know if a city is healthy or declining? Jacobs says it’s all down to ‘import replacement’. In fact import replacement is such a key driver for her I’m wondering why it isn’t in the A-level Economics syllabus. Economists, she would argue, have become all about measuring activity but not about discerning its origins.

Healthy, growing cities find ways to replace what they are importing. They make goods for themselves that previously they imported, leading to new and different imports and the ability to export goods on to other cities, who, if healthy, will then start the same process. In the course of manufacturing goods that were previously imported, cities develop myriad small businesses and myriad skills, which then combine and re-combine to make other products, hitherto unknown.

If cities do not manage to replace their imports, they are doomed. Perhaps in this context we can contrast Liverpool and Glasgow with Birmingham and Manchester. The former acted as gateways for commodities but did not add value and have since declined catastrophically from their nineteenth century glory while Birmingham and Manchester show more flexibility and inter-relate with larger hinterlands.

To aid ailing cities with hand-outs, such as the centrally funded micro finance included in the current government’s Levelling Up agenda, is, says Jacobs, to engage in ‘transactions of decline’. These transactions may be necessary politically, to hold countries together, but they do not turn around a regional economy. She draws on copious evidence at city, region and nation levels to show that aid does not work as an economic tool – which is not in any way to disparage its other aims, of relieving suffering or keeping the peace.

Either you make your own fortune or you don’t have a fortune. That is how it is. (Or is this the old Protestant work ethic talking?)

But certain circumstances make it easier for cities to flourish. One key factor is self determination. If cities can govern themselves, set their own taxes, strike their own currencies, put up and take down their own protective customs barriers, then they can respond more flexibly to the economic circumstances around them. Examples of this sort of success are Singapore today, HongKong in recent times, Trieste and Rijeka, when they were free cities of the Austro-Hapsburg Empire and, Italian city states in the Renaissance, the Hanseatic League in the Middle Ages, and so on.

The central tenet of the book is that nation states are not economies. Cities are economies. States therefore usually contain several economies but, within a nation state, most cities begin to die off in favour of just one. This is partly because the country’s exchange rate comes increasingly to reflect the trade of the most powerful city. Looking at the UK, our interest rates remain a little high in order to keep the pound strong which benefits the City of London but not manufacturing.

Jacobs’ title, Cities and the Wealth of Nations, is of course a deliberate reference to Adam Smith of Edinburgh’s influential work on how trade can create win-win relationships. Smith’s treatise, The Wealth of Nations,  is right about trade, says Jacobs, but wrong in seeing nations as economic units. In attempting to measure and influence so-called ‘national economies’, politicians and academics are fighting a chimera.

Jacobs’ work can be useful to Smith’s countrymen, as she favours devolution and self determination. The UK government’s Levelling Up agenda errs in seeing central government as part of the solution: it is more likely part of the problem. Allowing city councils to set their own council tax and business rates and to develop the economy of city and hinterland in their own ways is what will work.

Jacobs recommends ‘Drift’, letting things happen rather than over-planning. Her final chapter on the subject of ‘Drift’ emphasises the role of playfulness, invention and serendipity. Gunpowder was invented by the Chinese for firework displays. The first railway was an amusement ride in London. Oil wells were originally drilled for lamp oil. Later electricity was invented and found a new use for all that oil. Linked to this idea is the attention economy, and the trend of the last few decades where city economies have developed through links with their universities. Examples: Cambridge, Leeds, possibly Sheffield. And then there are cities that live on, purely because they so besot our fancy. Las Vegas, Venice, Carcassonne.

The forces that Jacobs notices can be well illustrated in Carcassonne which, from Roman times if not before, was an important fortified town positioned on trade routes that linked the Mediterranean with the Atlantic seaboard. It flourished right through the Middle Ages as a trading post and scene of religious strife before France was united into one nation. It then had a life as a fortified border town, until the French border was pushed further south. It continued to be successful at manufacturing woollen cloth, selling to the Ottoman empire, but its fortunes failed at the end of the eighteenth century when that trade with Turkey collapsed. It became just a local county town and only poor citizens remained living within its splendid walls. However, in the nineteenth century, the Parisian architect Viollet-le-Duc, in love with romantic notions of the Middle Ages, recreated the city as a gothic dream to inspire the yearnings of tourists and poets; thus restoring property prices within the city walls.

There remains an element of uncontrollable and unknowable mystery within even our economic life, no matter how hard we labour and how carefully we count our coins. The world’s real cities, our economic drivers, are not so far in nature from Calvino’s imagined ones, however fantastical they may appear at first reading. Calvino’s Argia is entirely below ground, Thekla is in a constant state of construction, driven by a fear of destruction; Esmeralda is a city of routes, feet pattering along canals and balconies or swallows swooping through the air; Raissa is two cities, a wholly happy one and an utterly grieving one, intertwined; Eudoxia is a mess and yet there is a map on a carpet which can guide you, although the map is tidy and the city is messy. Perinthia was designed to be entirely propitious following the guidance of the best astronomers and has produced nothing but deformity among the inhabitants, posing the question whether deformity was what the stars intended… And somewhere in the collection is a city suspended from columns by webs – but I can no longer find it.

These cities are described by the Venetian trader Marco Polo to the conqueror Kubla Khan, so that he can know the jewels of his vast empire. But the two men have no language in common. Polo must convey all this complexity through gestures, which trigger what the emperor already knows in his heart about his territories, or about human life. Later they let chess pieces stand for the different factors that can go to make a city, and they play the game together. Every pattern on the board stands for a city that exists, or has existed, or could exist.

Who will win the game? The warrior or the merchant?

Featured post

Narberth

Katie visits a Welsh town on the Landsker Line

COSTAINS GOES M.A.D. WITH NARBERTH MUSEUM | Western Telegraph

There is an excellent museum at Narberth in Pembrokeshire, converted from a bonded warehouse, where Scottish whisky was once kept behind bars in vats and doled out in small quantities once a week to the mutual profit of Westminster and James Williams Ltd. Now, above a café and two bookshops, children can bounce over the floorboards trying out trades such as saddlery and cobbling; or they can drink in the atmosphere of the mythic early mediaeval Wales of the Mabinogian in which Narberth was a prince’s court.

The name ‘Narberth’, which means in Welsh ‘up against a hedge’, doesn’t hold out much promise of a prosperous future. Yet Narberth in its hey-day, in the nineteenth century and early twentieth, had thirty pubs, and a wealth of tradesmen competing to serve all the needs of town and country. The town stood on the ‘Landsker line’, the boundary between the Welsh-speaking people of northern Pembrokeshire and the ‘English beyond Wales’, who had settled the south coast from Norman times if not even earlier. The linguistic line remained stable over some hundreds of years. For brief periods the English would sally north of the line, hungry for more farmland, only to find the uplands too wet and unrewarding, so that the Welsh regained them as their rivals retreated to more comfortable lives.

Genetic studies have found that these ‘English’ are very similar to the inhabitants of south-west England, and genetically distinct from people living just north of the Landsker line, indicating little cross-marrying between the linguistic regions. Evidently chatting up was counted an important part of the process. The divide was reflected in life at Narberth, where you could find a Welsh side of the street and an English side, each with its complement of shops and services.

If that makes Narberth sound provincial, it wasn’t. Situated just off the A40, which was one of the stage coach and mail coach routes from London to the Welsh coast and Ireland beyond, it benefited from a steady stream of visitors – and of course from imports such as the Williams whisky.

Continue reading
Featured post

INCOHERENT, THE BLM IS MERELY A BANJAX:  VAINGLORYING, AND A GHOULISH GRIEF-FEST BY THE INCHOATE  

Guest Post from Herbert Agyemang-duah 

White self-loathing and black self-pity: these seem to be the only two options in radical politics these days. On one side stand white liberals, white radical students, white writers, beating themselves up over their skin colour and the ‘privilege’ it apparently grants them. ‘Our whiteness is… the colour of shame’, as the playwright Eve Ensler says. And on the other side stand black activists: Feral street thugs,  black Oxford thinkers, black writers, presenting themselves as the damaged goods of history, beat up by tragic past events, and traumatised by ‘white privilege’, and in urgent need of recognition of their pain. What both sides share in common is a depressing, fatalistic attachment to racial thinking, to the racial imagination, and a commitment to the therapeutic project of expelling inner demons (whites) or demanding validation of one’s suffering (blacks).  

One of the most oft-repeated shibboleths of identity politics is that it is about challenging preconceptions and stereotypes. Yet the very act of focusing primarily on one’s skin colour, swerving sadly away from the three C’s. class, clan and culture, sex and gender biases, {as if nothing else about that individual matters} is troubling. This is navel-gazing at its most nauseous.  

Radicals once rejected the category of race; now.  they give it credence, give it succour, embrace it, and expand it and do a war dance. The new racialism, this ghoulish grief fest, this ghastly ‘danse macabre’, between white self-loathing and black self-pity, is best embodied in the Anti-Racist protests we have seen the last 12 months. ——–  

Continue reading
Featured post

‘A Woman’s Work Is Never Done!’

Reflections on Criado Perez’s Invisible Women

Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez
Tracy King with Invisible Women by Criado Perez

‘A Woman’s Work Is Never Done!’ So joked the three mechanics who worked across the road from me in St Albans, when they saw me hanging out the washing, admonishing Leo who was watering the patio, thus turning it into a pond; and running inside to prevent something from burning. On top of doing all that, I also forced an encouraging chuckle to the three workers over their joke, so they wouldn’t feel like a spare part.

Three studies of work-related stress, in Sweden, USA and Australia, have found that men flourish in the 41-55 hour a week pattern. Whereas women start to wilt round about the 40-hour mark. Why? ‘Delicately nurtured,’ as Bertie Wooster would say? The weaker sex? Unsuited to the workplace?

Invisible Women (Criado Perez, 2019) points to the missing piece in the jigsaw: the other hours that women tend to be working, unmeasured by these studies, outside the official ‘workplace’. Women are already beyond, often far beyond, the recommended 48-hour week.

Perez notes that when researchers have attempted to measure the world’s hours of unpaid work, they have found that women do 75% of it. In the UK, the Office of National Statistics discovers that men enjoy an average of five hours more leisure time a week than women. That might explain the odd feeling I had when I looked at the Guardian Soulmates website and found a whole lot of people (men), who defined themselves in terms of box sets and all-day bike rides. When would I ever have the time to do the sort of stuff I could write in an ‘about me’ section?

Soulmate found, when single men and women start to cohabit, the woman adds to her hours of housework while men’s goes down, regardless of who is employed in the couple. The Australian study quoted earlier found that single men and women, without dependents, were equally capable of doing a 48-hour week of paid labour. It was the ‘encumbered’ women who struggled.

When I started totting up my hours, after reading all these stats from Perez, I found that I was spending six hours a day on weekdays,  mothering. Then I asked myself, was that really work? After all, driving Leo to school, we listen to CDs. Well, I argued back, lorry drivers listen to the radio and they’re still paid. Then again, is it really work when it can be interrupted? Loading the washing machine with muddy football kits is interrupted by Leo asking me to watch his latest ‘cool move’, modeled on the Avengers – ‘No, that wasn’t it! I’ll start again, mum.’ But lots of people say they get interrupted when they work in an office. Does that mean it isn’t work? Sometimes Leo is pretty self-sufficient, but there’s still a background of vigilance: stopping the muddy boots at the door to prevent more work later, making sure he takes screen breaks, checking he isn’t trying to climb out of the bedroom window tied to an elastic band. Security guards, night watchmen, marshals also get paid to be available in case.

Sometimes, on rare days of harmony, it feels like I’m not doing the work, the work is doing itself and I’m stepping back to let a nutritious ecosystem operate. Earlier today Leo was bringing himself up, practising how to be a good host and empathic friend to the child of my mate who has had to go into hospital. The two fetched themselves snacks, played with lego, negotiated….

On the other hand, don’t managers get paid? – and more highly than the workers they are organising, as the managers’ work is particularly valued.

More challenging than all of those doubts is this: I love Leo, and chose to reproduce, so how can I then downgrade the whole thing by calling it a job? Yet can’t we love our jobs and our colleagues? Can’t we choose and believe in our jobs?

And does love require this ragbag of dull and wearing activities? The essentials of being a parent, fulfilling that role that no one else can fulfil, do not require any of the above list. Women have been conned into thinking that being a good mum involves a host of activities which could be farmed out or left out without any detriment to the child or the relationship. In fact all relationships would probably improve if women had more leisure.

Setting aside the problem of this so-called ‘women’s work’ – mainly housework and caring work – not being paid, nor carrying with it work-free holidays or days off to be ill, setting aside the financial aspect just for now: it still seems really important on health grounds to count the hours and make sure that no-one in our midst goes over the healthy limit of labour per week.

That could mean cutting down on paid work, it could mean cohabitees or co-parents taking on more paid work or housework to help the balance, it could mean paying for more domestic help. One Domino’s Pizza meal for a family would buy several hours of cleaning. Yet hiring a cleaner is painted as a rich person’s luxury while take-aways are normal. Or it could mean that some of the stuff just has to not get done. Homes and children need to be dirtier, meals simpler; children more self-sufficient.

Husbanding the hours also requires some clarity on what counts as work: stuff done for other people? Stuff that is not intrinsically enjoyable? Stuff without which life could not go on? Stuff that is goal-orientated? For now I am putting hobbies (Do I have any?) self care (but not grooming to please others), entertainment and absolutely mutual enjoyment into the non-work category, as well as sleep, and eating, when not required to monitor table manners or rise from the table to fetch glasses of milk; oh, and staring into space – the bliss! It’s tricky to know what counts as leisure, especially as we may pretend to ourselves and certainly to others that we are having fun, laughing as I did in the first paragraph at unoriginal put-downs masquerading as jokes. And that blurs the lines between work and leisure.

It’s 5pm on a Saturday. I have been on the job since 7am. That’s already a ten-hour shift. Now, for an hour, I am practising a pure leisure activity – writing for pleasure. No goals, no remuneration, no survival or caring involved.

Leo is asking me to play football, which I will not enjoy. It will be only for him. I already feel guilty that I am not already doing it.

It’s a challenge to insist on leisure, a challenge sometimes even to think what one would do in that leisure. Too much of it kills you. But so does too little. Heart disease, lung disease and depression are just three of the spectres that lurk for all those who over work. Other more invisible sacrifices made by invisible women are selfhood, soulfulness, identity, voice….

I go to my goalkeeping. Some people get paid to do it.

Feedback so far…..

As the text says, it matters who makes the definitions. If X thinks socks don’t need ironing but Y thinks they do, there’s an issue even before it’s decided who does the ironing. Ditto the acceptable frequency of cleaning, the quality of cooking. It’s not just an M/F thing of course – conflicting priorities and tolerances happen between any co-habiters. A lesbian comedy duo I’ve seen on TV a few times make chore-delegation a theme – difference become polarised until one is the slut and the other has OCD.

I think your male audience would have been gob-smacked watching you as goalie.

You have found some interesting facts and statistics for your article, which you have applied to the work women usually do. I understand the feelings expressed, but although I have never blogged, could it be more conversational and lighter even in tone, while making your valid observations? I think you could cut quite a bit, still leaving the ‘meat’ of your argument. (I think I would have simply raised my middle finger to the workmen.)

A stimulating and interesting piece. In the UK women statistically live 4 years longer than men. I wondered if there would be any change in terms of statistical longevity if the  number of ‘unpaid hours’ worked were magically equalised? Would women statistically live longer? Would men have even shorter lives? Would this be acceptable in terms of fairness? Quality versus quantity? Divided by fairness! It’s a complicated subject.

Brilliant, both the writing and sticking to the subject (see previous stories) it is so true and clear.  There are some 9-5 wage-earning jobs, however, that are more like 24-7 in their heads, and therefore not properly “helping around the house”.  Being a single parent and wage-earning doesn’t help, either.

Interesting, but an analysis that has been pondered over for many years.  Is it trite and a massive generalisation to say that men and women have different, complementary skills and that women tend to be more nurturing and willing to spend time and effort in doing   the ‘pointless’, unpaid tasks of child-rearing and housework ?

Featured post

Money does Grow on Trees!

Or sovereigns grow on sovereigns….

Guest Post

The Deficit Myth – Stephanie Kelton                                                         CD Morgan

The two themes at the root of the arguments here are that a right of Guaranteed Employment paid in a sovereign currency expressing a humane political sensibility will facilitate a stable economy because the stabilisers will be automatic. Kelton cites Adam Smith on how money is created interpreted according to Modern Monetary Theory and historical experience of Rooseveldt’s New Deal between the World Wars in support of her ideas.

I joined the Liberal Democrats shortly before the EU referendum having voted for in 1973 when a supporter of the Labour Party though my previous membership had lapsed. I ceased to be a supporter when I became a council tenant. Three friends introduced me to the Liberal democrats during the run up to the referendum. One of them is now a mother, one has returned to America and one has defected to Labour I imagine because she judges Starmer, whom she admires, as the most immediate likely to obstruct the march of the right.

When I started reading Stephanie Kelton’s Deficit Myth it was in the context of thinking about the Liberal Democrat conference having voted for a guaranteed basic income which I liked the idea of but had misgivings about because I could not see how it could be high enough to enable a person to live with rents so high. It is the lack of a right to a home that seems to me to be one of the roots of poverty.

There were a number of ideas I had to get to grips with but I was ready to change my mind or look at them in a new way and I needed to understand in the American context both historical and social. It was hard work though.

She shows her own thought development through her academic and political influences and experience as adviser to the Senate Committee that Bernie Sanders chaired. She clearly has a humane sensibility within which she develops her economic and social ideas. It is not an academic work but this is engaging.

Featured post

All Creatures are Too Small

Quack History

In the original television series about the 1930s Yorkshire vets, ‘All Creatures Great and Small’, an episode often opened with a close-up of a tweed jacket ripped between the shoulder blades, revealing the shiny blue lining beneath. Or an ancient mackintosh, tied round with a piece of rope for a belt, would spread across the screen like algae on mud.

‘That’s what they’re like up there!’ my Granny would comment gleefully from the sofa. She was proud and relieved to be Cornish and therefore more civilised, although she had lived in Yorkshire for most of her adult life until her husband retired and retreated back down south. ‘Never part with their money!’ (My Granny herself was known to cross and re-cross the road between greengrocers because of tuppence difference in a price.)

A kid in the seventies, I enjoyed the vet series for the animals. But for the adults I imagine that a lot of the pleasure was the delight of recognition, and reminiscing about old times before the War. ‘That’s what people were like there – and then.’ Robert Hardy, who played the senior vet, had grown up in the twenties and thirties and could draw on his own experience to build his character. He and Christopher Timothy, who played the younger vet, both rushed up to Yorkshire to meet the original people that the series was based on. They wanted to capture something real.

Another pleasure of the 1970s settee, I picked up from my grandparents, was self-congratulation: ‘Look how far we’ve come!’  – both as individuals, growing more prosperous in the four decades since the thirties, and as a society, with the great advances in medicine, such as antibiotics.

There was also a sense of pride, as a part of ‘their’ country (Yes, a lack of consistency here!) was revealed in its beauty, its eccentricity, its poignancy.

Fast forward another forty years to Channel 5’s remake of the series and ‘Look how far we’ve come!’ now drops from my own lips.

But I am speaking with horror.

I could hardly bear to watch, as my own society today was revealed via this period drama.

The Dales were no longer important. Our first view of them is just a wide expanse of uninhabited wasteland. It could be an American prairie, it could be Russia’s endless Steppe. We are no longer offered particular times or particular places for our entertainment. That audience would be too small.

James Herriot’s original story, of a university-educated townsperson among down-to-earth countrymen, a professional trying to earn respect, is beaten out into a more universal tale. It’s rags to riches.

The real James Herriot’s father was a plater in Glasgow, a skilled member of a ship-building team. He was also a pianist. His mother was a dressmaker and singer. That way, with four skilled professions, they were able to keep their son in education beyond the age of 14 and send him to veterinary college. But in East Enders writer Ben Vanstone’s version, dad is a docker. On the other hand, the episode is entitled ‘You’ve got to dream!’ – as if Herriot were giving up some nice reliable trade in order to pursue uplifting ideals of animal welfare. No one would want to be a docker if they could possibly help it. You wouldn’t just dream, you’d beg, borrow and pray to avoid that insecure and exhausting job.

All that notwithstanding, the young Herriot of the new series manages to set off tall and powerfully built (Nicholas Ralph) from his poverty-stricken family, dressed in a long cashmere coat that would shine even in Harrods. It seems that Brits nowadays do not wish to look upon rope belts or underfed heroes.

Continue reading
Featured post

Culture Shock

Reviewed by Katie Barron for Somatosphere

It has been a privilege, through reading Extraordinary Conditions, to come into contact with a writer and practitioner of extraordinary compassion. The book bears witness to a process of open-ended interviewing that contributed to presenting the lives and experiences of Jenkins’ interlocutors with a deep concern for their dignity and self-esteem……

More

 

Featured post

Loot

Loot by Katie Barron

We all like to hunt treasure and then hold on to it, no matter how much we think we care about the planet….

Loot by Katie Barron in: Lunate – Reflections on the World

Featured post

Welcome to the Nazis

Brexit is not done. Brexit is only just begun.

The nationalists are waving their flags. They want it to be forbidden for anyone to show a Europe flag. People whose work we rely on are losing their rights. They will be beaten up and told to go home. Then someone will suggest that to avoid being beaten up those with residency should wear some kind of sign….

My students are suffering racist comments weekly, even in Cambridge. One young woman pushed one of my students into the street and shouted, ‘Asian bitch!’ Another, in Ely, was told, ‘Go home to your own country!’

Our leader tried to circumvent parliament. Now he is going to broadcast himself direct to the nation, no longer bothering with the BBC.

Brexit needed to be fought against because of the attitudes and forces behind it. The liberals have been confused. They like democracy, they care about a host of issues all at once like climate change, zero hours contracts. Better off liberals feel sorry for people on low incomes and understand why they may want to vent. They have been intimidated by being called ‘remoaners’. They want to be positive and practical. Hitler was popular and supported by the poor. He still needed to be opposed.

The rise and rise of the right will not stop until it is opposed. It will find more and more to do, it is like a fire that has to keep being fed. It needs the next fight. What and who will it be?

What rough beast?

Image result for lawrence of arabia match trick

‘The trick is, not minding that it hurts.

Anything is better than remorse. So Britain is bolted into a masochistic frenzy. Every whiplash gives us a further thrill. The pound’s down. Oo! Do it again! The pound’s down. Aah! All the experts predict fewer jobs in the future. Do me! The CBI , the farmers’ union, the Bank of England, all those people who know, don’t want this to happen. How thrilling! My son won’t have a job, won’t be able to work in Europe, won’t have free healthcare. Fuck me again!

And now even the Remainers, instead of standing proudly as Bremainers, the true Brits who actually care about Britain, the real parents, the responsible grandparents – even they are joining in the orgy. Never mind what happens to our ability to eat, our ability to set terms and negotiate, let’s be ‘democratic’! Sovereignty for white male southerners, even if they have to brown-nose the Big Powers to keep it! Economic supremacy for the few, even if they’re supreme in a tiny pie, or in a soup.

I have the chance to vote, in a democratic election, for a party that will put an end to these revels, but I’m going to make sure I keep on sucking up to the Brexit brats. Anyone who’s stupid or ignorant or mean-minded, and the political and financial interests that are manipulating those people, I’m going to look after all of them, and do what they want and forget about what I want and what people like me want and need. Ah! – the bliss of self sacrifice! Ooh feel the adrenalin hit! The dopamine receptors tingle.  I surrender my intelligence, I surrender my home’s economics, I surrender my child’s future, I surrender, I surrender, I surrender. Doooo meeeee!

cbi-and-tuc-call-on-prime-minister-to-change-brexit-approach

nfu/why-a-no-deal-brexit-is-catastrophic-for-british-farming

Institute of Fiscal Studies/ Brexit Scenarios

LSE/ Brexiters’ predictions inconsistent with basic facts of trade

BBC 2019/ Pound sinks to 28 month low

The Second Coming by WB Yeats