Some books

fullsizeoutput_b0aSome relaxing reading, as I enter another intensive books phase. I thought reading about humans who want to be machines (and immortal), and humans who want to make machines more human, would prove sufficiently distracting for a long journey. It was. But it’s disturbing how much money is pumped into such research by the gullible/self-obsessed titans of silicon valley (Elon Musk, Peter Thiel of Paypal, Google above all). They much prefer that to solving real real world problems, or thinking about equality, or ecology. Blind technological faith.

And then I read the thoughts of various female music critics, about their relationship to male music that they really like, either espousing deeply misogynistic views, or created by unashamedly misogynistic men. Some of it was enlightening, some of it could have been deeper, sometimes I struggled to imagine how they could find any redeeming features to justify their continuing fandom. (ACDC? Guns and Roses? Eminem?…) And for the more recent music, I’m just too old and out-of-touch to have a proper context. I’d certainly defend Elvis Costello’s Blood and Chocolate album though.

I’ve also watched two films, “Get Out” (very entertaining) and “Phantom Thread” (slow and possibly self-indulgent, but I love Daniel Day-Lewis). I started “Black Panther” but five minutes of Marvel-fantasy was enough.

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Enforced leisure

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Unfortunate injury, enforced leisure. I’ve read this book – everyone should. I’ve read David Hinchliffe’s book “They Walked On Water” about the 1968 rugby league cup final (Wakefield Trinity v Leeds) and his ongoing obsession. I’ve read an article in New Left Review about pre- and post-communist Roumania – fairly depressing, if enlightening. I’ve read an obituary of the great Cecil Taylor – I nearly shook his hand once in the old Jazz Cafe (Stoke Newington) c1988. And once I’m fit again, I resolve to spend a lot more time playing the piano and appreciating it.

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Thaw

We drove to Newcastle last Wednesday night through the snow. Occasionally we reached 40 miles per hour. Just once the snow blew so wildly and incessantly across the A1(M) that we had to stop blindly in the middle of the road, with the hazard lights on, hoping the lorries would continue to trundle past obliviously. My vital work in Newcastle went ahead, with only a couple of absentees. My pleasurable music-making in Chester-le-Street was abandoned due to the weather, leaving us with a couple of days trudging through the world heritage site of Durham, impressed by the cathedral and the narrow streets of timeless learning and the green-tinged celebratory students and the obligatory underdressed Saturday night cavorters. We also took in a student production of My Fair Lady (uncut), featuring a number of unwittingly hilarious thespians. Imagine my excitement to find, in the well-stocked bookshop, not only Will Self’s latest oeuvre finally in paperback, but also a collection by David Foster Wallace (“Brief Interviews with Hideous Men”). I’ve just read a 30-page story called “The Depressed Person”, circular and hypersensitive, with footnotes, addictive and funny and depressing at the same time. All therapists should read it!

The thaw is underway in Wakefield. Driving back from Durham this morning felt like returning to the soft south, no proper snow, just grey and damp. A week of choir and jazz workshop and youth theatre and ballet piano and other vital tasks to look forward to. And listening to some new music. Recommendations:

(1) Steve Lehman Octet on Radio 3’s Jazz Now (via iplayer)

(2) We Here Now – Shabaka Hutchings’ compilation of current young London jazz.

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poems 2 1 3 4 7

I found a book of poems by Australian poet Jordie Albiston called “Euclid’s Dog” – all based on various mathematical algorithms. These are mine, following the Lucas number sequence (2-1-3-4-7) – but much less haiku-like than hers. It helps to pass the time.

walking out – loudly – no

excuse really – please don’t mind me –

it’s just the jazz is so….so-so

 

doo bebop – doo – scooby

doo bebop – doo bebop a lula –

does my fockin’ ‘ead in bebop mate

 

I wonder – why – asunder

and awry – my powers plundered dry –

my temperaments my humours my absence gone

 

down under – untouched – resistant

impervious impermeable – up the gum tree –

with cross bare anchor hove axe ground

 

paint me – sweetheart – second

that emulsion – the surface is prepared –

some weatherdamaged man will know your innermost

 

not butter – margarine – can’t

believe it – noone thought it possible –

the old ennui the royal brie encore!

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Council Watch!

I spent an interesting couple of hours this afternoon in the public gallery at County Hall in Wakefield, watching the monthly (ish) full meeting of the Wakefield Council (MDC) – democracy in action, as they say. Composition – 53 Labour, 7 Conservative, 2 Ukip, 1 Independent – so not much doubt on the outcome of any votes, regardless of the quality of debate. An impressive room, late-Victorian municipal grandeur, semi-circle of seats but not much consensus. Some very traditional procedural formalities (prayers, the ceremonial mace, a minute’s silence), and a clear sense of deference to “The Leader” (Peter Box, since 1998), who spoke always with authority and some dry humour. Rugby League (Featherstone, Trinity and Castleford) was mentioned with pride. Food banks, homelessness, and suicide (one in 8 of all deaths – 83% male) were spoken of with less pride, and eventually some passion appeared from Councillors Tully and Rowley, in response to the combative (if repetitive) Conservative leader Nadeem Ahmed (the only non-white councillor, out of 63). Mr Ahmed is up for re-election in May 2018 in the Wakefield South ward.

Once various reports had been nodded through (including a 175-page City Centre Urban Design Framework Planning Document – nothing to discuss there), there was a debate on a motion about Homelessness, which filled half an hour, but offered nothing but anodyne good intentions.

So, what was that all about? Is that all there is? This monthly meeting may be just an opportunity for rubber-stamping and inconsequential political point-scoring, but what does it say about local democracy? I assume the real work of the Council and the Councillors goes on elsewhere, in other even less glamorous meeting rooms, and in “The Cabinet”. But what does a Metropolitan District Council like Wakefield actually control these days? In the old days, the local council was responsible for housing and education and transport and youth work, as well as the environment and social work – so many of these activities have been privatised and de-regulated and outsourced, and the Council’s funds have been remorselessly cut. I wonder what the 63 councillors feel they can achieve, what the limitations are that they operate under, and how prepared they are to acknowledge those limits.

I’ve just started reading a book – “Who Stole The Town Hall? (The end of local government as we know it)” by Peter Latham – perhaps then I shall have more context. In the meantime, as the government inevitably crumbles and collapses, we can hope for a Corbynite Labour future, and mobilising the energies and potentials of the many, and not just the few! (That’s a peroration, I think – this week’s new word.)

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Il Cimitero Acattolico di Roma

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All now turn outwards, night is omnivorous.
Great revolutions are menacing. See children inspired.

Antiquity nearby threatens ominous noodling. I obey,
Going round a man so casually insistent.

Any new thing often negates its opposite.
Grating retro amusements mask such coruscating insight.

 

 

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Towns

Last week I spent a week working in an expensive private school in Wimbledon. This week I’m doing the same work, but in a church hall in Stockton-on-Tees. Geographically 280 miles apart. I’m staying in the Gresham area of Middlebrough, rows of terraced houses, some boarded up, some clearly empty, some half-demolished and left to rot, and some hosting Middlesbrough’s asylum seekers and other incomers. There are very few cars parked on the streets at night. The centres of both Middlesbrough and Stockton have some fine contemporary paving and mosaics, fountains, and poetry on sculpural features – evidence of money spent on “regeneration” – but are distinguished mostly by empty shops, boarded-up frontages, people left behind. Then tonight I went in search of Pizza Express, and found it, at a massive shopping centre, car parks, shops, cinema, more car parks. I feel like the town centre should be the heart of activity, public space, where people work and live and play, but I realise perhaps I’ve been left behind. These malls are where you find the populations now avoiding the town centres – the shops and restaurants and car parks are full, daytime and evening, and the air of misery and cliched northern deprivation is dispersed. So the question is, is my desire for a vibrant town centre now simply a sad nostalgic hangover, a sign of my age, or a sign of my youth in the 1970s? Shopping malls are not public spaces, they are private estates devoted to consumerism and capitalism, but if they are the future, how do we find the seeds of community and resistance there?

I went to a poetry event at Teesside University on Monday night, poems constructed from verbatim quotes from Durham coal miners over the past 200 years, shedding light on their lives and work and communities, now vanished along with the mines. If you were to interview the workers of the shopping malls, describing their lives and routines and experiences, what poetry might ensue? And what community?

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