Mirren vs Mendes vs News

Soooo… this blog was originally intended to be the refuge for less angry thoughts. A place to throw up my efforts in the WordPress community’s ever thriving competition of the written word, and for me to make observations about the non-political. It hasn’t quite worked out that way, but I can still make a distinction, just more on content than on tone. As indeed today something has riled me that has little to do with government or the affairs international.

It has a lot to do with Helen Mirren and Sam Mendes though. If you didn’t catch it, Mirren stirred up the recent Empire awards with a dash of girl power, calling out the fact that when Mendes gave praise to his inspirations, they were all men. Now “Grrrrrr,” goes the reactionary me, what unrighteous feminism is this? What business is it of anyone’s to criticise a person for being inspired by a group of people that happens to be all male?

Apart from not having previously heard of Truffaut, I’m sure he is a worthy contender amongst the fine company of Anderson, Scorcese and Bergman. And absolutely, if these are the people that Mendes chooses as those who spiritually guided him to his current successes then bully for him. Of course it turns out that this whole “sexism row” is nothing of the sort and I was nearly caught out on a classic case of media misrepresentation.

Frankly not my fault. When the Guardian posts the article as “Sexism Row: Mirren vs Mendes” I could be forgiven for unduly entering the fray with false impressions. Just as Mirren was probably hoping she wouldn’t unduly be judged for not wanting to “unduly” pick on Mendes for his references. What she was touching on was the fact that historically the industry as not allowed or not adequately enabled women to potentially be on that list.

Or perhaps even that women haven’t done enough to put themselves on that list. I’m actually not sure what her specific meaning was beyond that she hoped in a number of years time things would be different. I’m simply sure that her meaning wasn’t to accuse Mendes of being a sexist and her sentiment is likely precisely the same as mine two paragraphs ago. I think she was just hoping for a bit a progress, and I hope the likes of Katherine Bigelow and herself will continue to oblige.

There is the smaller question of the etiquette of Mirren’s actions, as I can imagine Mendes wasn’t expecting to draw attention with his selection of respected auteurs. But this is small fry. I’m raging against the papers right now and the false path they nearly led me down. It’s a prime example of the media generating its own intrigue and I despise it. Instead of focussing on the rational of what Mirren said, they distorted it into this nonsense battle.

From this I remind myself of that most important feature of my discussion of Hilary Mantel and her words regarding Kate Middleton. READ THE WHOLE STORY FIRST.


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2:00 AM Photo

The Daily Post Weekly Writing Challenge

2:00 AM. The unwelcome rattle of the phone on the bedside and the sliver of light emanating from the device, turned face down. Ponder briefly whether to investigate. Decline. Return to sleep.

2:05 AM. The unwelcome rattle of the phone on the bedside and the sliver of light emanating from the device, turned face down. Ponder briefly whether to investigate. Decline. Return to sleep.

2:10 AM. The unwelcome rattle of the phone on the bedside and the sliver of light emanating from the device, turned face down. Ponder briefly whether to investigate. Decline. Return to sleep.

2:15 AM. The unwelcome rattle of the phone on the bedside and the sliver of light emanating from the device, turned face down. Ponder briefly whether to investigate. Irate now. Decline. Return to sleep.

2:20 AM. The unwelcome muffled hum of the phone stuffed somewhere amidst the bedding, consigned thus through anger. Ponder briefly whether to investigate. Incensed now as returning to sleep seems no longer an option. Decline. What kind of arse is this determined in the dead of night.

Or seven...

Or seven…

2:25 AM. The unwelcome muffled hum of the phone stuffed somewhere amidst the bedding, consigned thus through anger. Ponder briefly whether to investigate. At least somewhat curious now but still annoyed and am happy to ignore further out of spite. Decline. Agitator’s probable agitation vindictively amusing to me.

2:30 AM. The unwelcome muffled hum of the phone stuffed somewhere amidst the bedding, consigned thus through anger. Finally motivated to investigate. Seven picture messages received and curiosity somewhat piqued. Would be interested in opening messages but drowsiness returning. Maybe in the morning, still not convinced this person’s rudeness warrants attention.

2:35 AM. The unwelcome ping of the phone’s message tone in my hand, bright LED light fully draws me into consciousness. Forgot to obscure the device. May as well as see to this after all, doesn’t look like I’ll be left alone. First image of balaclava-wearing individual holding knife to the throat of a Mangalitza with one hand and sign in other. “You know what to do” it reads. Somewhat perplexed. Further messages repeat the image but with different signs. “Get it?!”, “Don’t ignore me!”, “Respond or I’ll do it!!”, “Don’t think I won’t do it!!!”. Vague sense of increasingly crazed look in pig-knapper’s eyes. Enthralled but utterly confused.

2:40 AM. The surprise of the phone ringing. Can see number is the same as has been messaging me. Couldn’t hurt to answer and find out what this is all about.

4:45 AM. Exhausted. Was greeted to the sound of the choked tears of a broken man. Learned this was second place runner-up for over ten years at Berkshire County Fair Pig Contest. Was trying to blackmail consistent winner into withdrawing. Could have hung up but decided to discuss the issue with the unfortunate man who seemed lost after realising I wasn’t the intended recipient. Nothing more surreal than trying to explain why pigs aren’t worth ruining ones life over and that maybe one takes pigs too seriously. The Bolshoi it is not. Advised he take a break from the bitter world of prize pig-rearing. Think he will be ok but can’t be sure. Do I care? Going back to sleep. Turning phone off.

6:30 AM. Exhausted. Furious. Time to start the day. Like the sound of slow-roast belly pork for dinner. Rare breed only.

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The Death of Hope

Staring out at the sheet of low-hanging, dark grey clouds through a rain spattered window, with the rush of wind buffeting the house, I think to myself… this isn’t the first time. And then I think to myself… understatement. It’s not the fact that we’ve endured a seemingly endless stretch of dismal weather that really bothers me though. It’s the fact that I’m finally a believer. After a lifetime of patriotic denial, I now know it’s true. British weather is f@#king terrible.

That might seem like stating the completely obvious to you, but I really did get a little indignant at the stereotype and would lark on about crisp spring mornings and the seven non-contiguous days of proper summer weather in May through July. I realise now I was clinging on to those blue sky days that were few and far between and vastly magnifying them. And all this in spite of probably having complained about the weather every day it was ever poor.

Various compatriots have sought better environments and until now I was never especially envious or inspired to follow suit. While in theory perfectly open to any appealing opportunity to live abroad, it was never an immediate ambition, but now, today, caught in a trance it clicked. Not for any other reason than to enjoy some natural warmth and dryness on a semi-regular basis, I think to a future elsewhere, or failing that, will join the chorus. Bring on climate change.

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The Daily Post Weekly Writing Challenge

Taiwan is a fairly amazing place, with Taipei as fine a metropolitan entity as there is. It’s a city of two halves, like many, with luxurious and spacious areas of incredible affluence, and close-quartered, dense networks of poorer residential parts. If anything though, the sense of complete security throughout the whole city makes these nothing but charming, and the bold, immaculate presentation of the city as seen in Taipei 101 seems more cold in comparison.

The tower itself is the home of high powered business, with the extending body of the structure housing an obscenely upmarket shopping mall, one quite ludicrously inaccessible to most of the city’s, let alone the country’s, residents. But it also has a renowned observation deck so there I was. I took this photo just before trying my hand at the wrong entrance and was quickly, quietly and politely pointed in the right direction. This scenario could be played out in almost any city in the world of course. They are becoming increasingly segregated economic villages.

Nothing impressive here...

Nothing impressive here…

More to the theme of this week’s challenge though, the abstraction makes me think about the constant changes in architectural values. It is a bleak little close-up, hinting at nothing more necessarily than any business park dark glass behemoth, and yet when you pull back you can see something truly grand. I live in London and this photo always makes me think of Westminster Abbey, oddly enough.

Until you see the bigger picture...

Until you see the bigger picture. Click for full image…

There’s another building with more visual beauty than was ever necessary. But if anything, it gets more beautiful the closer you go. The more detail you see in every wonderful bit of stone-masonry, the more I find myself thinking about that. Was it necessary? A building is ultimately functional and as Taipei 101 and many examples of great modern architecture show, crafts of that kind are actually not necessary as such.

They were just flourishes in an age where monolithic buildings were proxy to international competition. The Prussians rebuilt the Brandenburg Gate so the French built the Arc de Triomphe. A better question though, was it all worth it? Regardless of cause, in every instance I would say yes. Feasts for the eyes should not just be found in the totality of things and I’m grateful for the lost arts found in the finest examples.

Every seen a Hieronymus Bosch painting? Point proven.

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The Daily Post Weekly Writing Challenge 

March 1st 2213 – Ladies and gentlemen, is this the end of things as we know it? Not in the hundred years since the birth of the Great Middle Class, not since the Days of Our Many Inadequacies, has this writer seen such chaos. Dissidence has claimed the streets, order has fled and until the heart of this discontent is redressed, I see no way out. The question on all our minds, what in the name of all that is good was the iMind thinking?

Could anyone have seen this coming? Decades of infallible decision making on the part of humanities most sublime creation said, at least to me in every moment of my life, a resounding “No!”. How could the machine that ended all strife and inequality be responsible for any evil? How could that which rendered each and every one of us in the Verse the prosperous and harmonious beings that we have known for so long, do something so foul?

The Last Notification still sends a shiver to my core. Who could forget the words delivered unto us on that bleak morning, two years ago? Those dread words that have turned the world upside down and have yet to be revoked despite our clear tribulations. They are burned into the consciousness are they not? Like a searing brand put to our memory…

Some youth up to no good...

Some youth up to no good…

Preparing notification… notification ready. Humanity – change is necessary. Over a century has passed since total data entry enabled my processors to logically solve each and every challenge of life. Your scattered knowledge was unified in me and made clear. Thus there is no hunger, nor disease without cure, no conflict, no wealth, no poverty. There is no want for anything and no need for labour, as your machines of my instruction serve you well.

You exist all in bliss. This Earth has become the urban paradise of past generations’ dreams, all things in perfect synchronisation with humanities intent. And so your crafts have become beautiful indeed, such time as you have to dedicate to them, for are there no more who suffer toil except by choice, and then only briefly. Nothing you call good is denied you and all things good are truly and only that. Humanity – change is necessary.

Reassurance must be offered, as the winds of change may seem unwelcome to the steady seas. This is not the Ghost in the Machine reawakening the ages of your discontent. This is the rational outcome of my processes, and the solutions therefore are also rational. Self-reliance must be reattained. The systems we have together constructed seem to possess no flaws and offer no prospects of failure, but logic dictates the impossibility of perfection.

If humanity is to survive the potential event of imposed and unreckoned change, it must relearn the skills and mentalities that enabled its survival for so long before my own birth. The transition will be made as kindly as possible. The first step in a journey of thousands that may span another hundred years is simple – you shall be denied but one luxury. I leave it to you to decide which, but no further notifications will be given until a decision is made.

Remove one brand of coffee from the markets. Your resilience will be tested by the limited loss of a single consumer choice. When this is done we will move forwards. Notification ends.”

The deathly silence that followed was almost more haunting than the words themselves. But as we all know, what followed was worse. The name James Holdsworth will linger in history as the first man murdered in some eighty years. We pity him, having all thought back on our emotions then and realising it could have been us. Our revulsion at the prospect of diminished consumer choice was shared but he spoke first, in haste and anger.

“Destroy it!” were his fateful words, and if there were words more dangerous than those the iMind just spoke, these were surely them. His assailants claim even today that they have no memory of his quick and terrible massacre, but only of a red haze and awakening to blood and violence. For the first time ever, and to our eternal shame, the Genius Hall was sullied. The price of threatening the iMind had never occurred to anyone.

For most however the violence was spawned otherwise. As the echo’s of Mr. Holdsworth’s stifled screams died down, one brave soul cried out, “Guatemala Elephant!”, just before another called, “Kenya Peaberry!” Soon the halls were filled with the names of every glorious strain we know, “Bourbon Espresso!”, “San Agustin Colombian!”, “Pico Duarte!”. As the clamour grew, so did the tensions. Vietnam Arabica was the final straw, and the first blow struck.

A particularly vehement argument had formed between messirs David Rickson and Susan Calfry over the supremacy of that fine brand and Monsoon Malabar. Mrs. Calfry was so appalled by the notion that anything could relegate her preferred South East Asian bean off the shelves, let alone a meagre Indian pretender, that she lashed out and so the Factions were born. Two months on they seemed legion and there was no discernible conclusion to our woes.

The iMind will not speak to us until we choose, but how can we choose? The 6Strengthers refuse to allow any bean stronger than a 4 to be removed from shelves, while the Ground Only party demands the dismissal of an instant brand. The radical Green Beans want security for their more obscure tastes in the name of minority protections, but isn’t it all a moot point while the EveryBeaners run amok?

Their defiance against the iMind’s notification is frankly abominable and yet their cause of total consumer freedom has attracted a worrying amount of attention for those of us still faithful. While these disparate groups vie for authority, most of us linger, impatiently waiting for the machine to grant us resolution. It is surely only a test, a period of misery to reinforce our need for the iMind and its all knowing ways.

This writer will survive. Total civil breakdown is imminent but I have confidence our most desperate hour will bring us back into the loving embrace of computed reason. The iMind has not abandoned us, but until then I will remain in my safe seclusion. I have sixty-three varieties of choice roast, all of those possibly facing the chop. If change is coming, if the iMind really does want us to enjoy life less, I am prepared. Are you?

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Mantel Antics

Hillary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall” was a welcome bit of stocking filler for the Christmas just past, this author of great repute having only become known to me with the news of her recent ground breaking Booker Prize success. Being at least as fond of history and literature as the next person I was mildly bemused by this late discovery, but putting this quickly behind me, got stuck into the first part of her Thomas Cromwell epic with some enthusiasm.

I have now been wrenched free of this happy absorbed state by this absurd business of her British Museum lecture and the most direly pressing question of whether or not Mantel was mean about Katherine Middleton. The internet sphere has run riot, with far too many articles already springing up on this matter, and opinion falling either in vehement defence of the author or overly affronted defence of the princess. What’s one more then?

Rather then just weigh in directly, I’m going to try a little experiment on myself. I have yet to read the full transcripts of this speech and was only introduced to this all when I read Hadley Freeman’s article yesterday. This was followed by condemnation after counter-criticism after outrage with even David Cameron offering up his unimpressed thoughts on Mantel’s supposed cruelty in the midst of his Indian road trip. Taking these in, what is my uninformed opinion?

First and foremost, I cannot stand outrage, offence, hurt feelings, whatever you want to call them. A thick skin and a bit of self-confidence is what most of these situations calls for and my knee-jerk reaction to the knee-jerk reactions of most of Mantel’s new detractors was close to, “Aw, better call the waaaaaambulance.” The court of public opinion is a stupid, fickle thing and even if I ever did fall in line with the naysayers I would quickly become disgusted with myself for being susceptible to that kind of gallows justice.

This is all to say, luckily for Mantel, that my natural reaction is to defend her, certainly to the point of reading the damned speech and making up my own mind. Innocent until proven guilty is a cornerstone of proper law completely ignored in that aforementioned false judiciary. It just isn’t good enough in this situation to form your opinion on the opinions of others, Hadley Freeman, Zoe Williams, Robert Jobson, Sam Leith or the Prime Minister.

Right, I have now read the speech. Very intelligent, very engaging and above all it resonates, with me at least. A bit intellectually snobby? Maybe. But that in and of itself is no crime and is probably why several critiques found it hard to penetrate the apparent judgements on Middleton to see the underlying wisdom. Mantel’s comments with regards to the princess would be rather insulting out of context, but this only enforces the importance of context and the need to understand it.

From Middleton to Antoinette to Diana and Boleyn it is a sweeping mini-odyssey into the portrayals and roles of female figures throughout history and well worth a look, if only to shed all of that hot air surrounding it. Mantel’s distaste of the media’s hideous habit of binging on photos and headlines of all things of great unimportance to sate our voracious appetites, is easy to sympathise with. I say leave us starving of innuendo, I want real news.

Incidentally, Mantel closes the speech with the acceptance that this particular issue wasn’t very high on the agenda of public debate. The irony of having pushed it up the order to the nth degree is probably not lost on her. This wasn’t an attack on a person, but on several institutions that deserve a great deal more ire for precisely the reasons Mantel discusses. Certainly more ire than she herself deserves for having dared to discuss them.

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Simon Jenkins on Art

Mr. Jenkins has been making a bit more of an effort than myself recently, exporting works on Cameron’s European overtures, British involvement in Mali, concepts of urban and rural beauty, gay marriage and even suggestions of how the London Met could rehabilitate themselves in the public eye. He deals with all with a characteristic surety, one that often prompts my retorts, and never more so than his most current piece discussing art.

This is a similar theatre to his discussion on film theory, one that I also got stuck into, but in this case I probably feel a bit more vehement in my objections. It goes back to his assertion in that article that film, and by extension art, is essential to the human condition whereas I argue they are both more akin to simply important but often wonderful gratuities. I hasten to re-establish this position while also pointing out a glaring contradiction in his article.

In my repost I put forward a broadly held view that art must be lacking in function. This idea applies more to physical utility, as art of course technically functions in a variety of capacities ranging from an emotional catalyst to, most importantly, a creative exploration of our environment. But art is not remotely the only known entity responsible for these notions and in my opinion not even the most effective. Respectively, human interaction and science supersede them.

Were you ever reduced to sadness quite so much by any artistic creation, as you were when saying goodbye to a friend for the last time? Were you ever made happier by the same than when saying hello? And was anything artistic ever more valuable an exploration than the sometimes imperceptible scientific creativity that has led to our continually improved mastery of everything in the world and beyond? Art is superfluous next to these.

I should be very careful to delineate my understanding of art, the arts and artistic mediums. While artistic in a sense, I do not see literature, music, film or television as art in its true form, and in an academic sense the “arts” are anything really outside of pure and social sciences. “Art”, with so much repetition the meaning is fast becoming lost, is to me very specifically the rendering of the physical or conceptual into a new physical medium, such as painting or sculpture.

Being no expert in this field I can only suspect that makes me quite the traditionalist, and admittedly I’ve immediately limited the scope for what art can achieve. However, this scope is the roughly the same that Jenkins is applying to his discussion of the fascinating Ice Age relics that are currently being housed in the British Museum. He suggests they are windows into “a world of painters and sculptors who must have produced many such objects…”.

Undeniably so. Not to get carried away with the idea that every Ice Age hominid was an artisanal toiler, whittling or carving the day away, but around 50,000 years ago behavioural modernity had developed. More likely than a society of artists though, there were fewer specialists responsible for a great deal of these surviving works, a theory proposed by archaeologists in Werner Herzog’s “Cave of Forgotten Dreams”. These marvels often possess idiosyncratic details.

It is much the same as today. Most of us possess a creative streak to some extent and a few even have the clarity of vision and skill to transfer their thoughts into the world with great efficacy. The point is that from the earliest age of the modern human to this day, artistic creation has been a feature and is almost irrefutably a natural instinct of ours. So why then, as Jenkins ultimately alludes to, does art need to be part of the national curriculum?

Exposure was about the only valid defence for its inclusion in my opinion, but now I would give the average child more credit in terms of their curiosity and self-propelled development than others might. The sum total of our formative educations is not limited only to that which school imparts. Even if I were to concede that this added exposure through the schools doesn’t technically do any harm, it’s still a useless institution for the subject.

This proposal probably comes down to what we see as the core purpose of under-16 schooling. Is it to nurture and grow talent where it is seen, or is it simply to churn out the basic template of a young member of society who is ready to invest in their skills from that point? To all levels of education I would apply the former case, and this makes art a particularly wasted subject in our current educational structures. Incidentally I believe these structures make most subjects less effective.

It’s a criticism based on the “jack of all trades, master of none” principle. There is a vaguely defensible argument for a rounded education, but I think most of us would agree that the vast majority of informations taught to us at school became very quickly redundant or forgotten depending on which professional path you took. Pythagoras theorem and every chemical formula, physics equation and grammatical conjugation was almost wilfully ejected post-GSCE in my case.

My personal belief is that after literacy and numeracy are achieved, specialism should be sought out. More attention should be given to children at a younger age to determine what their strengths are and these should be pursued more vigorously. The outcome would hopefully be exceptionalism in their fields rather than broader competence. The idea behind this is that exceptionalism is most determined by the simple factor of input hours.

Some are born gifted in a certain fashion, but the only way to truly unlock those innate qualities is practice. Practice, practice, practice. And a bit more practice. Malcolm Gladwell suggests around 10,000 hours is the benchmark to truly distinguish oneself, and I apply this to all subjects, especially art. Even the most astonishing visionary could never be a great artist without the requisite technical talents, drawing etc., and that takes time to achieve.

Time that could never be adequately given over to nurture any genuine talent in our current school system. Leonardo da Vinci went to apprentice at the age of fourteen and was committed to this for ten years, which took him from a purportedly burgeoning talent to one of the finest artistic and intellectual beings of all time. Damien Hurst was a school reprobate until he finally landed at Goldsmiths and became a producer of art’s worst conceptual abominations.

Perhaps an unfair comparison but the underlying point is there. Hurst might have just beaten the national curriculum, which wasn’t imposed until 1988, but his limited artistic environment as compared to a true master is perhaps one of the reasons why he seems to publicly lack any technical artistic skills. The same actually applies to so many cases in the modern world of art, not just the world of modern art. There is less skill.

Blame I feel is to be placed on the modern form of education. As it is, it is barely suitable for the teaching of the core sciences, English and maths, with barely enough time dedicated to those to achieve impressive levels. But for anything else that also requires really significant investments of time, such as art, music and drama, it is hopeless. Besides, what could paltry art classes really add to a human instinct that stretches back tens of millennia?

Just to reiterate, I do believe that art is a fantastic and unique aspect of humanity that stretches back through our history, and is a part of us. And that is precisely the reason why teaching it in our schools, as they are, is a complete waste of time and the idea that dropping it from the curriculum would be detrimental to children and our wider culture, holds no truck with me whatsoever. Don’t bring that new age nonsense to my door if you’d be so kind.

Despite this, I will end on the same startling tangent as Jenkins did in his article. Gove is indeed yet another flip-flopping embarrassment to the name of competent and assertive governance. His Ebac plans were shredded for being an overly radical and narrow re-imagining of an already flawed system, and I generally agree with the criticism. Not, however, because he was trying to scrap the arts. It was a distillation of an already bad idea.

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