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Posts Tagged ‘culture’

Leicester street art

I’ve been having a quiet time. Actually a noisy quiet time since much of it has been spent doing things like putting in a new garden fence (much hammering, sawing and swearing). But I thought I’d share these, following a recent visit to Leicester. Materials: chalk on paving slabs. Artist: I have no idea, but I hope he – it was a guy working on them, anyway – does well.

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Street art, Leicester, May 2013

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Street art, leicester, May 2013

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Bringing the music back

October 1, 2012 Leave a comment

If you don’t live in the UK, you probably won’t appreciate what a major step this is: the BBC have just reported that the red tape around the licensing of live music has been lifted from small venues (capacity up to 200). This means some 13,000 pubs and clubs no longer need to go through difficult bureaucratic hurdles and pay substantial licence fees in order to have live music.

It’s a big deal for small bands, people trying to get known in the music business and so forth, because when the current regime was introduced it resulted in many thousands of smaller venues closing their doors to live music. It also, of course, made it more difficult for more ‘experimental’ artists to get going – because who was ever going to take a chance on putting them on stage in a large venue that needed to recoup substantial licence costs? And by ‘experimental’ in this context I don’t just mean weird electronic and suchlike, but a range of styles and a range of performers who are trying to do something a little bit unusual and distinctive with their music, and trying to see if there’s an audience out there for them.

So now  a lot of musicians, aspiring bands and so on can return to the traditional route of building up a loyal following in their home town, and then around the country, going on the road to build their ‘tribe’ of followers a little at a time. And there will be, I hope, a lot more live music in a lot more styles and genres somewhere near you.

So, for once, I can report some good news and a sensible government policy!

Proper Engish, proper morals?

July 17, 2012 Leave a comment

I’ve lately been reading Henry Hitchings’ The Language Wars: A History of Proper English. This is a discussion of the development of the current multiple forms of English grammar, usage, styles and so forth.

On pages 108-9 there’s a discussion of Thomas Dilworth’s A New Guide to the English Tongue (1740) which in its day was ‘the most widely used spelling book on both sides of the Atlantic’. Hitchings points out that the book included sample sentences to be used as dictation/transcription material for students. The sentences included the following, and you can read them as messages from 1740:

– Pride is a very remarkable Sin.

– Personal Merit is all a Man can call his own.

– Riches are like Dung, which stink in an Heap; but being spread abroad, make the Earth Fruitful.

Allowing for the use of ‘Man’ rather than ‘person’ (it was written in 1740, remember), it strikes me the values expressed in these aphorisms remain as important now as they were then. Politicians and bankers take note!

Vampire breadcrumbs to the BBC

June 8, 2012 Leave a comment

Those of us who periodically write (or read) vampire related stories may be interested in a couple of recent BBC reports.

One is of a ‘vampire grave’ in Bulgaria containing several skeletons – the bodies appear to have been buried with metal stakes through their hearts.

Other similar graves have been found previously in Eastern Europe and, I believe, in Scotland and Ireland. From what I’ve read previously, metal stakes are unusual – at other sites wooden stakes have been used, as have heavy stones placed on bodies to pin them down, and postmortem decapitation. In some sites the bodies had stones placed in their mouths and the speculation is that this either prevented the spirit leaving the body, or prevented spirits taking possession of the body.

There are plenty of academic discussions of funerary rites and the handling of ‘dangerous’ bodies such as suspected vampires. It’s obviously a topic of interest to social scientists, historians, archaeologists and suchlike. A quick overview written for a popular audience is in the Orange County Review for 12 April 2007. I could point you to more scholarly sources but you’d need something like a JSTOR or ATHENS account to access most of it.

The other is of a ‘Victorian vampire slaying kit’ shortly to be auctioned in the north of England. Made in the late 1800s, it contains a crucifix, pistol, wooden stakes and mallet, along with glass bottles containing holy water, holy earth and garlic paste. It was possibly a ‘novelty item’ made as a result of the popularity of Stoker’s Dracula.

Half a conversation

April 22, 2012 Leave a comment

Hello? … who’s that? … Oh, hi. Yeah, it’s her phone … Well, the ringtone don’t work no more so I only know if there’s a call if I’m looking at the screen … Yeah, well it was throw the phone across the room or slap her, and I weren’t going to slap her even if she was a bitch … ‘Take the phone and get it fixed,’ she said, so that’s why I got it. Then she punched me in the mouth. That’s not right, is it? She shouldn’t of done that … So I’ve had it since last Friday, took it to the phone repair place on the market and he said the board’s split. Said it would take him a couple of days to get a replacement one in stock so I’m going there now … You want to give the phone back to her, bro? Yeah, after I get it sorted, but I’m not in town right now … Look, I’m not in town, right? My dad was in a car crash last night. Soon as the phone’s fixed I’m going to see him in hospital … I dunno, it might be a while. This evening maybe … Look, I can’t call you on this phone, there’s no credit on it … Just call me later, okay?

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Don’t ask me, I was on a bus a couple of days ago. The guy a couple of seats behind me was having this conversation, of which I only heard his side (indeed the whole bus heard his side, he wasn’t exactly keeping his voice down). I can only infer what had happened, but I’m conscious that inferences based on half a conversation can be completely wrong. For all I know he was rehearsing  lines for a soap opera with another actor on the other end of the line. Or maybe his life really is full of everyday soap-opera drama? At any rate, bus journeys are sometimes intriguing.

Fantasy, all over again

April 12, 2012 2 comments

Call it a reductionist, reified, economic determinist argument if you like. But I find it interesting that a bunch of TV and film productions in the last year or so have featured retellings and reinterpretations of fairy stories and folk tales.

The most obvious ones are Once Upon a Time (currently on UK’s Channel 5, but first broadcast in the US on ABC at the back end of last year); Grimm (police based but drawing on the Grimm fairy tales; currently on a UK satellite channel and first broadcast on NBC in the US late last year); and Mirror Mirror, a comedy fantasy just about to be released and based on Snow White. Several other films including Snow White and the Huntsman, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, and Jack the Giant Killer are scheduled for release later this year, or next year.

Meanwhile, it’s difficult to make a lot of sense of the competing figures for book and ebook sales because categorisations and descriptions of genres are so variable, but I’m willing to speculate that ‘fantasy’ is a fast-growing market especially for ebooks.

The thing is, so much fantasy chimes with the current social climate. A sinister world manipulated by strange beings who hold questionable values and don’t care about ‘ordinary people’? Threats lurking in unexpected places? Well, that would be the recession-hit world we actually live in. And if you look back at the roots of fantasy and folk tales, they constitute a body of warnings, parables and moral stories that encapsulate advice about how to survive in uncertain times. Watch out for seductive monsters with big teeth; for deals that appear to be too good to be true; for those who offer to fulfill your desires in exchange for your immortal soul, and so on. Yes, I know ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ can be deconstructed as a story about sexuality, but you get the idea…

So all the old folk tales are suddenly relevant all over again, because they respond to our current perceptions of the world, our concerns, and maybe even offer advice on how to battle ‘monsters’, however you might want to define them – demons, bankers, demon bankers or whoever. It’s unsurprising that TV and film production companies would catch on to that; it’s equally unsurprising that several competing series/films would go into production and onto our screens at around the same time.

The kind of argument I’m advancing here is hardly original: it’s been around for a long while. Try Lucien Goldmann’s Towards a Sociology of the Novel (originally published in French in 1964, in English in 1975, since reissued in different editions); or the more explicitly Marxist analysis of Georg Lukacs (the introductory book on Lukacs by George Lichtheim is a good starting point).

But I guess the interesting question is: what new stories, fantasies and moralities will come out of the current situation? Are we all condemned to our own personal Hunger Games? Or can there be a less horrific route to a happy ending?

Found sounds

March 31, 2012 Leave a comment

I’ve recently been looking in some detail at community radio, this being related to a speculative project I’m planning to do a little later in the year. I’ve become a regular visitor to the coffee bar at my own local community radio, Hermitage FM but thought I’d share this one I’ve just discovered: Resonance FM.  They’re based in London and the community they transmit to is essentially a creative one: their ‘About’ statement indicates it was established in 2002 by the London Musicians Collective, as a ‘radical alternative to the universal formulae of mainstream broadcasting. Resonance 104.4 fm features programmes made by musicians, artists and critics who represent the diversity of London’s arts scenes, with regular weekly contributions from nearly two hundred musicians, artists, thinkers, critics, activists and instigators.’

And it really is music you won’t hear on any commercial station; cutting edge, innovative, experimental, and hugely varied. It gives exposure to bands, individuals, loose collaborations, and plays the kind of stuff that’s only ever ‘published’ as pressings of a hundred or so white-label vinyl records. I’ve yet to hear anything on there I didn’t find stimulating, provocative or inspirational.

Your own milage, or course, will vary – just bear in mind I grew up listening to everything from punk, goth and rave to Stockhausen and Subotnik, and the first and only musical ‘instrument’ I learned how to play was a VCS3 analog synthesizer!

Community radio, by the terms of UK licensing rules, only transmits at 25 watts with a typical range of 5 kilometres from the transmitter, and they’re based in central London. The good thing about the internet, though, is you can get a live feed to your PC and a lot of their stuff is also available as podcasts.

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