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So What?

 

Any education system that puts too much stress on getting ‘right’ answers runs the risk of crushing the natural instinct young people have to experiment. You don’t learn new things to impress others but to discover them for yourself. Extrinsic motivation is no substitute for the intrinsic purpose of finding out how the world works and determining your place in it. Making mistakes is the only way to learn what works. It’s all too easy to repress the discovery urge in children and to make them fearful of change.

Herbie Hancock’s story about Miles Davis has inspired me to riff on the theme. The uncertainty of the future calls for a creative response which is fearlessly experimental. Rule nothing out and incorporate everything. Natural evolution itself proceeds by accumulating past success and the cultural evolution that is our special invention should never be hijacked by political elements who wish to exclude particular influences. Art and science must remain open to the world.

To help myself argue from first principles, I’ve revisited the WordPress Daily Prompt site – now extinct – and its fitting final word: Retrospective.  I had to dig down in my own Archive for this draft post which, without a hasty bit of improvisation, might never have seen the light of day. And a word by itself is nothing – alongside others it can become everything.

Could mortal lip divine
The undeveloped Freight
Of a delivered syllable
‘Twould crumble with the weight.

Emily Dickinson

At risk of crumbling, then, here is my poem:

R each back into those days gone past.
E mbrace mistakes and forget fear.
T rial and error’s long and winding
R oad has led you thankful here.
O pen up your heart and mind to
S eek the lessons you have learned.
P erspective is the hard-won prize when
E very corner’s safely turned.
C oming up and straight ahead
T he way is still as yet unclear.
I f your SATNAV screen go dead
V alue common sense instead.
E ach step into dark bring cheer.

 

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Image: Imgur

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The Proof of the Pudding

“Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” – Banksy

 

“Don’t know whether to say Mmmm … or Ouch! ” – Me

 

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Picture Credits, in order:

Quora
Wikipedia
W Magazine
StyleCaster
Mirror
Highsnobiety
Maxim
Urban Gateways
StreetArtNews
PopUp Painting

Digging Deeper

So, no more WordPress Daily Prompts!

Like any addict with supply problems, a week in and I’m still wrestling with a cold turkey – feathers everywhere – if you see what I mean. It’s been hell. Sweats, cramps, fevers, insomnia, the works …


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Actually, it’s not been that bad. In fact, I haven’t given it a moment’s thought. It feels like the school holidays have started and I’m climbing trees, having escaped that old bossy-boots of a teacher who kept giving me random things to write about.

Oh yes, the ball’s well and truly in my court! All I have to do is pull back my racquet and let fly … but where to place the shot?

Aarrrggh … decisions! I hear that ball thump into the wire behind me, the derisive laughter of my opponent … curiously familiar, wonder who it is … and now I’ll never know because I’ve just woken up to the sounds of birds and bees, the scents of garden flowers and an unsipped gin-and-tonic in the arm of my reclining chair.

Hmm, reckon I should stop stressing about style and just scramble the ball over the net any old how. As our bewildering world unravels ever faster, it’s too easy to convince yourself nothing you say will make any difference and – the curse of every passionate perfectionist and thwarted idealist – you don’t bother to say anything. Nothing’s your fault, anyway, though Philip Larkin is as perceptive as usual on the subject of luck:

Bad As A Mile

Watching the shied core
Striking the basket, skidding across the floor,
Shows less and less of luck, and more and more

Of failure spreading back up the arm
Earlier and earlier, the unraised hand calm,
The apple unbitten in the palm.

I think back three years to when the apple of blogging was still unbitten. Here are my first two posts:

My voyage of exploration begins. I want to recapture the spirit of childhood, when we would set out from home with the deliberate aim of getting hopelessly lost. No point in going over old ground, after all …

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I find it sad that children today don’t occupy the streets and open spaces like we did when I was young. There have always been risks in such freedom but we made a habit of going around with our friends, rarely if ever alone. We knew the dangers and were able to avoid them. So many kids were out and about, there was safety in numbers. With more adults around, too, we behaved ourselves most of the time because we didn’t want to get into trouble. In this way, we learned how to take responsibility for ourselves.

Sitting alone in your bedroom is not a healthy substitute, especially when you factor in the online risks and bad cyberspace influences that would shock many parents. It’s a case of out of the frying pan into the fire, I’m afraid. Let’s make the open air a place for children again, providing proper facilities and a sensible but not stifling adult presence. It would be quite a challenge but I can’t think of a better way to create the communities of the future …

Back to 2018, I’m struck by the campaigning tone and buoyant optimism above. Plug in to your inner child, I seem to be saying, and everything becomes possible.

Yet here I am, three years on, myself a pitiable victim of those same online risks and bad cyberspace influences … well, aren’t we all, after the surreal horrors of 2016 and their unfolding fake-news consequences? And as for guiding the young, fat chance when the adults appear to lack all direction!

Enough reality already! Or perhaps, less unreality masquerading as reality …

So the other day I was telling my little granddaughter this joke:

There was a vicar who used to visit his parishioners’ homes where they often asked him to stay for tea. They would sometimes serve him baked beans on toast, which he hated but was too polite to refuse. So anxious was he not to cause offence that he always pretended to enjoy them. People would tell each other how much he enjoyed baked beans with the result that he was rarely given anything else.

One day he was given a double helping, so he asked for a glass of water and when his host went into the kitchen he frantically spooned baked beans into the top pocket of his jacket. When the host brought the water, the vicar was licking his lips and polishing his plate with the toast.

On his way out he thanked his host from the bottom of his heart, patting his chest and spurting baked beans everywhere. He ran out in acute embarrassment but his host couldn’t wait to tell the next-door neighbour. ‘Do you know,’ he said, ‘the vicar likes baked beans so much he keeps a big stash of them in his pocket wherever he goes!’

Squeaky clean and yet silly enough to please any four-year-old, I’d say!

It was one of three jokes my dad insisted on telling at every family gathering. I won’t trouble you with the other two. We’d heard it lots and would always groan, of course, but my granddaughter asked for it again … and again!

It suddenly occurred to me that I was telling it just like my dad did – same intonations, same actions, same everything. Our relationship was always a little uneasy – common, I think, between us post-war kids and our pre-war parents – but this  was one of those moments where the present links up to the past in a flash. Gratitude for my old man welled up in me for the first time in … well, ever, really.

Sad but true.

Tell me about when you were little, she says, a frequent request. This time I tell her about my dad and some of his funny ways. All of a sudden, he’s still here.

There’s an African saying, I believe, that it takes a village to bring up a child. And if there’s one thing that should bring us all together, it’s the welfare of children. There is a very real sense in which nothing else matters.

Here is a positive little film that makes the point better than I can. The apple is always unbitten.

 

 

In Commemoration of the WordPress Daily Prompt – While Struggling with the Sudden Realisation that From Now On any Boot up the Backside will have to be Mine!

R eached the
E nd of
T he
R oad with nowhere to look but
O ver my
S houlder at all those
P oems I wrote under the influence –
E very day a new word, prompting me to draw heady notions from the
C ellar of my mind and pour
T hem
I nto leaky
V essels just like this one. And around about now I’d usually think about
E nding.

Ah well, onwards and upwards! There’s always the dictionary, opened at random. Close your eyes, stick a finger on the page … presidency. Er … perhaps resist easy salvoes in Donald’s extremely nervous company, yeah?

Hmm, not bad, though I say so myself as shouldn’t. Random has always been my preference over Predictable. I love starting sentences with no idea how I’m going to finish them … said the new prisoner to her uneasy jailer. What I’d really like is to come up with something absolutely original that would make everyone else kick themselves for never having thought it. In other words something so blindingly obvious, it would be hiding in plain sight.

A pipe dream, of course, because how could so many billions of people miss such an evident truth?

Surely the only way that could happen would be if they weren’t talking to each other properly … if they were subject to leaders (or leaders of opinion) who told them what to believe and who to associate with … if they were working all the hours available just to make ends meet … if their brief acquaintance with leisure pursuits was dominated by an overwhelming desire to escape … if their circle of friends and thereby access to different viewpoints was – for a whole variety of reasons that were largely beyond their immediate control – narrowing … if their default response to other points of view was not to debate them but to demonise them … if – but hang it all, why am I wasting time wondering about all these hypotheticals when the plain reality is that there’s nothing new under the sun, you can’t teach your grandma to suck eggs and everything you buy does exactly what it says on the tin?

Why worry? Be happy. And yet …

To wrestle with my disquiet about things, I used to keep a journal. And then another. When the word-count exceeded The Encyclopaedia BritannicaI called it a day. Now I just write on a single sheet of A4 whenever I feel like it – chance observations, stuff I copy down, things I overhear – the usual sort of thing, only nowadays I try to make connections because I know that when I come to the end of the second side I have to flip back over and write a title which encapsulates the whole kit and caboodle.

One of the greatest double acts ever to grace the variety stage, incidentally. Like most  comic pairings, their humour derived from an uneven relationship. Although the same gender, age, ethnic origin and profession, they were drastically different in terms of personality and behaviour. Where Kit – the straight man, feed, dead wood, or stooge – was reasonable and serious, Caboodle – the funny man, banana man or comic – was amusing, less pretentious, silly and relentlessly zany.

These stage personae were, of course, entirely fictitious. In private life Kit was the life and soul of the party and would do anything for you, while Caboodle was a poisonous killjoy whose only pleasures were malicious gossip and petty humiliation. Their greatness, for those who style themselves connoisseurs of the comic arts, lies in a transcendence of mere humour in favour of a kind of existential embarrassment. Kit and Caboodle were never afraid to die onstage and often did.

Coming Soon:  Plan B

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Image: Marketing Solutions

Stimulus: WordPress Daily Prompt Retrospective

TMM: A lonely job

When I read a post that I wish I’d written because it (a) says what I’m thinking and (b) says it better than I could, there is only one thing to do … reblog it!

I read it just after reading this rather startling thought, from Scott Fitzgerald: “Either you think, or else others have to think for you and take power from you, pervert and discipline your natural tastes, civilise and sterilise you.”

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“An artist is always alone – if he is an artist.” – Henry Miller

Writing is a lonely job, no doubt about it. And no matter how successful you might become, you’re still alone. It’s the inexorable truth of the writer’s condition: you sit at your desk, in an empty room or in the most crowded coffee shop, yet you’re alone. You just do your thing.

Of course, this poses a rather interesting question: if you spend that much time alone, how do you find stuff to write about?

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Fly free, fly high

Today’s Daily Prompt word Silhouette triggered nostalgic memories of Lotte Reiniger’s stop-go animations, often shown on television when I was young. High-tech they weren’t – but exquisitely expressive nonetheless.

Exotic folk tales like The Arabian Nights always awakened my imagination, instilling a  love of escapism that found a later echo in sci-fi and fantasy. The magic was in the reading, however. I sometimes found illustrations disappointing and often felt that TV and film versions were crass and clunky. Between page and picture something had disappeared.

But these little animations have a tremulous, gentle delicacy that somehow preserves the dreamlike appeal of traditional stories. Here is one I particularly remember. Second childhood, perhaps, but the older I get the more I find myself returning to such sources of innocent pleasure …

A Short History of Dance

I picked up a flyer the other day for Rebellion Festivals which, I discover, take place in London and Amsterdam next year. Oh, and there’s a four-day event at the Winter Gardens, Blackpool – a venue I associate with much daintier and more decorous leisure pursuits like ballroom dancing. Here are poster images of the Empress and nearby Tower Ballrooms from their heyday in 1938:

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The Blackpool Tower Ballroom (from an original painting by Fortunino Matania, R.I.) - From a 1938 programme for the Winter Gardens Complex

I wonder what these audiences would have made of the pogo-inducing punk bands who will be playing at the Rebellion Festival 80 years later. But setting aside the culture chasm, those conventional 1938 crowds and their 2018 punk progeny do have one thing in common – both are a decade into austerity arising from a major financial crash.

We may or may not be talking about similar social stratas but it’s still worth considering how different generations respond to economic adversity: in 1938 by escaping into a conformist gentility originating in our aristocratic past and in 2018 by, er, escaping into an anti-bourgeois revolt with working-class roots. Two escapes: the first escapist and the second more akin to escapology.

It was the cheeky insouciance of the Beatles that first turned the tables on the cultural dominance of the upper crust’s Hooray Henrys and Henriettas. The Fab Four got their feet in the door and 15 years later the punks kicked it open. Deference had disappeared and with it – or so it seemed – the hypocrisy of sweeping stuff under the carpet and drawing a discreet veil over, ahem, unsavoury subjects.

You can hear the resounding echo of all that iconoclasm in the names of bands appearing at the Winter Gardens. Several I recognised but here are some I didn’t:

Lower Class Brats
Peter & The Test Tube Babies
Subhumans
Dirtbox Disco
Toxic Reasons
Gimp Fist
Culture Shock
The Defects
Newtown Neurotics
Vice Squad
Rubella Ballet
The Stupids
Los Fastidios
Rude Pride
Cheap Sex
Paranoid Visions
Barstool Preachers
Filf
Drongos For Europe
The Crippens
Hagar The Womb
The Restarts
Contempt
Choking Susan
Spunk Volcano & The Eruptions
Hands Off Gretel
Geoffrey Oicott
Knock Off
Warwound
Wolf Bites Boy
The Mis-Made
Tiger Sex
Pizzatramp
Headstone Horrors
Boots N All
Surgery Without Research
Flowers In The Dustbin
Millie Manders & The Shut Up
Fire Exit
No Thrills
The Droogettes
Vomit
Delinquents
Litterbug

What teenager worthy of the seventy-year-old label hasn’t wasted an afternoon or three sitting around with a couple of mates inventing stupid names for bands? I remember being hugely impressed with one that Peter Sellers came up with, probably on one of his solo record albums produced in his pre-Beatle days by George Martin who also produced the Goons’ records such as the immortal Ying Tong Song:

What a treat for us kids to hear grown-ups coming up with such inspired nonsense! And the band name that impressed me so much? Snotty and the Nosepickers!

Hmm, guess you had to be there … wearing short trousers and still laughing like a drain when references to anything mildly rude arose. This was the stuffy 1950s, of course, when the scope for cultural rebellion was so much wider. Tiger Sex or Knock Off   wouldn’t have got anywhere near the Winter Gardens at a time when TV would only show Elvis the Pelvis from the waist up.

The 1960s – much-maligned by sexual puritans and social conservatives – brought an end to paternalist censorship. Abortion and homosexuality became legal, capital punishment was abolished and measures were taken to improve the position of women. The 1970s brought further social reform, including the Race Relations Act.

The economic deregulations of the 1980s were, in my view, a backward step. The responsibility of Maynard Keynes was replaced by the anarchy of Milton Friedman, which culminated in the 2008 crash and consequent austerity – an austerity that bears down unfairly on the young.

If I was 18 now, with hair, I’d be dyeing it green … and dying to pogo up and down to a punk band called Screw The System or something! Better anyway than having to take part in dance marathons for peanuts, like youngsters 80 years ago, before they were marched off to fight in a war whose primary cause was the very same Depression that had forced them to dance for their dinner and a temporary roof over their heads in the first place.

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Ah, what the hell, enough of this Black mood … I’m going to cheer myself up with another listen to the Ying Tong Song!

Images:     Arthur Lloyd      History By Zim