Friday 18th May 2001
It takes something for a 32-year-old record to be the one I instantly think of putting on in retaliation after reading a particularly vile editorial in a right-wing paper. But The Pentangle's "Once I Had A Sweetheart" - currently filling the room where every word of this site has been written - is the best possible retraction I can imagine to this obnoxious piece of work: http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/0,,56-203774,00.html (Christ, will I live to my dying day in guilt at the partial endorsement of Murdoch's evil implied simply in linking to it; I even stopped watching The Simpsons purely out of hatred for the man).
Read it and shudder. Think of the disturbing racial connotations of the phrase "legitimate chime"; is my playing the new Eve album (http://www.elidor.freeserve.co.uk/eve.htm) to be considered an "illegitimate" sound in Dorset? Think of the contempt implied for anyone who might appear conventionally middle-class but who takes up the better aspects of the hippy movement and embraces it into their lives; are they supposed to still be living like the characters in Terry and June or George and Mildred in 2001? Read it and realise that right-wing contempt for the progressive ruralist wing of the hippy movement - sheer anger that it set their beloved cultural territory in such a forward-looking direction anathema to their self-proclaimed ownership of it - is still as strong as ever, these three decades past. Read it and realise that Richard Thompson's guitar solo on "Matty Groves" is still passionately anti-Tory while "Get Ur Freak On" is the most apolitical record ever made. Read its final paragraph twice, if you can take it, and realise that, for many Tories, the only problem with John Major's idealisation of suburbia and the countryside as they supposedly were in the last decade or so (circa 1957-1967) before the hippy movement took hold, and his contempt for the idea that people can and should aspire to something more, was and is that he didn't go far enough.
But shit like this at least reminds us progressives just how fundamental the battle is: just what kind of countryside do we want? Do we want a countryside that lets things in, invites new arrivals, accepts, celebrates, forms a set of progressive communities for the future? Or do we want a countryside that hates the last 35 years, shuts things out, defines itself by what people "should be satisfied" with, treats people who listen to Ruff Ryders records the way it used to treat lepers and people carrying plagues?
It comes down to one thing. Do we vote for a progressive party - in the West of England, this is easily most likely to be the Liberal Democrats - or do we let the Tories back?
Never in living memory has the gap been greater. Voters in West Country marginals will have two utterly oppositional ideas for the future of those places facing them on 7th June. Vote Lib Dem - which is what all progressives must do in most such seats - and you vote for the next century. Vote Tory, and you vote against the modern world itself. The more culturally globalist the British people become - Dorset people are now infinitely more globalist than even Londoners were 40 years ago - the greater the rejection of the Tories becomes. Cultural globalism is rendering the Tories obsolete, showing them up for the untenability of their nasty, defensive ideology and belief system.
So, if you care for this country, vote on Thursday 7th June. Vote instinctively, vote ideologically, vote for the one you fancy. Just for God's sake vote. And for God's sake vote Labour, Lib Dem, SNP, Plaid Cymru, Green, Socialist Alliance or whatever is the progressive party you feel is best suited to the seat, though I would recommend that people only vote for the last two mentioned above, and other unelectable left-wing parties in our outrageously unfair first-past-the-post system, in seats already held securely by a progressive party. Just for God's sake, if you have the future of this country in your mind at all, don't vote Tory.
The progressive ruralist future - seemingly permanently unreachable in the 1980s - is in our grasp. It's almost there. On 7th June, don't think about it. Just do it.
Thursday 12th April 2001
EDITOR ADMITS MISTAKES
By Our Folk-Rock Correspondent Lt-Col Charles Fotheringhay-Swarbrick
A national newspaper editor today admitted that his journal had made a number of "catastrophic mistakes" concerning a well-known folk-rock band, but that he did not consider this to be a major offence.
The editor, widely known as "Rakish Charlie", said that the occasion when a member of this band had been falsely declared dead was brought about by "one of our 18-year-old new recruits. Wykehamist, he was. We only take the best here. Was sleeping on the job, and I don't think he owned any records other than Radiohead's OK Computer. They went to good schools, they did. The young Wykehamist - lovely fellow, by the way - had never heard of the violinist, whoever he was. Come to think of it, neither have I."
"And then there was the little incident with the imaginary letter from the colonel who didn't really exist. Well, how could you expect us not to print a letter referring to Robin Page? He speaks for the dutiful plain heart of England. I cannot believe that anyone would make fun of him, apart perhaps from one 'student' from one unspeakably vulgar 'polytechnic', who was doubtless responsible for the letter. They really should reopen the mines as a sensible level of employment for these people."
"As for the incident where a member of this band had died but we made no mention of the fact, you can't really ask me about that. That was well before my time. Dear old Lord Hartwell and dear old Bill Deedes had decided that our readership were more interested in the deaths of bishops' wives and obscure 1930s civil servants, and who can fault them? Actually, I can't even remember the singer's name. Sandy Henney? Oh no, that's Prince Charles's private secretary. Ah well, it'll come to me. Dear old Lord Hartwell. God rest his soul."
The newspaper editor was however keen to reassure those worried about declining journalistic standards that he would once again be joining thousands of other loyal Tories for their annual summer gathering this August in a battlefield somewhere to the north of Banbury.
CROPTORY 2001 CANCELLED
By Our Conservative Staff Craig Fairport-Lawson
The Croptory Festival, the annual summer gathering of the Conservative Party, has been cancelled this year because "there simply weren't enough Tories to fill a field."
Every summer since 1979, thousands of solid heartland Tories have convened in a battlefield in North Oxfordshire to sing along to such classics as "Meet On The Ledge Of Central Office", "Who Knows Where Our Strongholds Go?" and many, many more.
However, the 2001 festival will not take place because "the number of known Tories left in Britain would only fill the patch of land beneath that ancient oak tree." Said a Conservative spokesman, Nicholas Simons, "We've been struggling for years against new, young, hip styles of politics. How many young people would stand around amidst a load of old men in Arran sweaters, and put their fingers in their ears while Mr Hague is making a speech of 40 passages and no recurring theme, when they can go and watch modern political styles being performed at, say, the Reading and Leeds New Labour festivals?"
"I'm afraid the Croptory Festival's time is up. We were left behind by trends and we didn't realise it", said a weeping Simons.
Monday 9th April 2001
Polly Toynbee is undoubtedly right to point out the flaws in our current mood of national paralysis and depression (http://www.guardian.co.uk/britain/article/0,2763,469366,00.html). But Britain is unquestionably in a serious "down" phase right now, for the first time since the Major era. Blairite optimism and the general air of excitement for the future which went with millennium fever seem a long time ago, in the era of foot and mouth, rail crisis, fuel protests and a general air of disillusionment; the crushing realisation that the new century is, in itself, no more "modern" than the old, and that many of our national inadequacies are still all too obvious. British incompetence and self-pity rules, OK.
But, as the Observer say in their editorial (http://www.observer.co.uk/leaders/story/0,6903,470169,00.html), it's easy to exaggerate all this; the media, especially abroad, have simply lurched from one extreme to another in their portrayal of this country, from Cool Britannia chic to "third world island" scare stories. The previous idea was fatuous and inane, true, but this one is potentially far more damaging, because more inaccurate; most people's lives are still as they were, there are no serious shortages in the shops, none of the "Luddism" which Toynbee's American email correspondent suggested was "running riot" in this country (perhaps PBS showed The Day Britain Died - http://offthetelly.users.btopenworld.com/reviews/2000/daybritaindied.htm - and portrayed Robin Page's anti-internet hysteria as representative of all British rural opinion).
Things like the weather are purely coincidental; yes, I remember waking up to glorious springlike February mornings in early 2000, and yes, we had nothing of the sort this year, but that kind of thing is just a matter of chance, and while as Toynbee says it is all intensely symbolic, we should not make mere symbolism out to be anything more profound.
Much has been said this year about the collapse of internet mania after the peak of late 1999 and early 2000, but this applies mainly to the economic failure of e-commerce ventures, and means nothing to the rest of us, the majority of internet users who have been relieved that the net has "returned to us", in the public mind. Anyway, there are two other factors often ignored here: as a medium integrates itself into your consciousness, using it is less of an "event" and it's just something you do, but if anything you appreciate it even more (my view of the net has certainly changed in this way over the last year, and the same change took place with TV in the early 60s and video in the late 80s / early 90s), and internet fever was an adjunct to millennium fever; at the moment which everyone had imagined for years as the moment when a technological future would reach its peak, people were bound to go over the top about whatever the dominant new technology was at the time. I, for one, doubt whether anyone would have got so evangelical about the net had it taken off in, say, 1993 / 1994.
And haven't we seen all this before? Isn't this mood - the comedown from millennium fever and Cool Britannia, as we realise that little has really changed yet, at least on the surface, and our creaking infrastructure remains to be reformed - an echo of the "comedown" mood that ran from about 1970 to 1974 in the wake of the decline of the hippy movement (and in that case, of course, the actual election defeat of a Labour government)? I think I can understand now why records as monotonously melancholic and, on the surface, utterly uncommercial as Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon and Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells could sell so monstrously well back then; in many ways, we're living through a subcultural replay of the prolonged post-hippy melancholia that ran through the early 70s. Roger Waters's lachrymose yet strangely moving "Time" resonated with those who had seen the collapse of the alternative society and were feeling that they had failed according to its criteria and according to the criteria of their post-war middle-class childhoods; could it be that bands like Starsailor and Turin Brakes, horrendous though they are, mean something similar to the erstwhile Oasis lads in the current atmosphere of national disillusionment? The sound of the "New Acoustic Movement" (spit) owes more than a little to the early 70s, now I come to think of it ...
I don't know. All I know is that, yes, I do feel strangely disappointed to be living now. I do feel somehow lost and sad that the towering ambitions of two or three years ago haven't turned into reality, yet. But I wouldn't dream of joining in the orgy of bashing your own country and declaring us to be rotten, parochial and dying on our feet indulged in by the unspeakable likes of A.A. Gill. There's a lot of genuine modernity still lurking within this country. Rain, foot and mouth and the state of the railways might divert our attention from that, but they don't cancel it out in any way. So when Vaughan Simons says that "I wish that the government would just leave the internet alone, I really do" (http://www.simons.clara.net/weblog/2001_04_01_archive.html), he should consider the alternatives, and remember how ghastly the previous government was, and any future Tory government surely would be; the entire country defined as though it was 1958 forever (Hague may not have been alive in 1958, but he has utterly failed to live up to his early promise of moving the Tory party away from that narrow, ethnically exclusive idea of national identity). There was always going to be a comedown, but this country has come a long way in four years, and it has a long way still to go. It will get there, it's just that it will be a harder and more complicated journey than some of us dreamed. But this is just an interruption, and it is certainly not the end.
Michael Meacher was quite right, by the way. The enquiry into foot and mouth will have to have an impact even more profound than that which the Taylor Report after the Hillsborough disaster had on football, if British agriculture is to receive the serious reforms for the better which it deserves (and Maff must go forever; those who have sabotaged http://www.maff.co.uk and http://www.countrysidealliance.org deserve ample praise). And every word Nick Cohen says in the Observer is true, as ever; anyone interested in this issue should read the column at http://www.observer.co.uk/comment/story/0,6903,470263,00.html. That is all.
Sunday 25th February 2001
Further to the below, may I recommend the following:
My doubts about Nick's current direction are starting to decrease; of course the style is tongue in cheek to an extent, but he seems genuinely prepared to take on and celebrate the spiritual elements of the music he's appropriating currently in a way he wasn't in some of his more cliquish, obsessively metropolitan and PoMo recent thoughts. I'm up for (at last!) hearing Folktronic now, I think. Actually I first read the above thought while BBC2's I Love 1985 was resounding from the next room, and I felt quite ashamed of myself. In any other context, it would have been pleasant nostalgia, but the sheer reminder of the visual glossiness, sneer at anything remotely ideological and proud, conscious emptiness and meaninglessness of the year 1985 - the polar opposite of 1969 - made me feel physically sick when I mentally compared the programme with what Nick was reminding me of. In context, it felt like all the worst aspects of the decade before last being shown up and found utterly wanting alongside the creators and curators of more distinguished times.
Especially well done to Nick for alluding to the character of Neil from The Young Ones, and not just because I do so in one of the earliest pieces on this site (http://www.elidor.freeserve.co.uk/english.htm); the character is a fascinating example of how the lazy sneer at hippies simply passed from punks to yuppies, ultimately no different whether it was expressed by Clash fans or Simply Red fans. When the programme began, in 1982, there were still considerable cultural echoes of punk, and Thatcher had yet to achieve the massive majority she needed to push her revolution further, so Neil was an expression of the punk generation's cynicism towards the generation that had preceded it. By the second series in 1984, all echoes of punk were truly abolished and the yuppie era was rapidly gaining strength and pace, and it's telling that Neil could therefore evolve into a symbol of ambitious City high-fliers' sneer at the anti-commercialism of that late 60s / early 70s ethos, but with the character barely changing at all. For what it's worth, though, the commercial exploitation of the character and the entire 80s ethos of "weren't people silly in the 60s? Ha ha ha!" did choose something of a sitting duck; "Hole In My Shoe" is an unwitting encapsulation of all the excesses of its era. At least he ruined something that was never up to much; "Paper Sun" and "Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush" remain classic singles (the only Steve Winwood songs I like, actually) and it he'd covered either of those, then truly beautiful period relics would have been desecrated.
An hour ago, snow covered the entire ground outside here; now most of it has melted (though it's still on the car roofs and in the gardens) and been replaced by frustratingly dull and mundane cold rain. Ah, the joys of writing here beside my window in the early hours. May I never lose my fondness for it.
Wednesday 21st February 2001
Hermester Barrington's comments come as close as anything can these days to persuade me that punk might just have been ideologically right. But even they don't quite.
Monday 19th February 2001
A vignette for the internet age, and specifically the Napster age:
I'm downloading The Lox's shamelessly hateful "Wild Out", on the recommendation of Simon Reynolds (http://members.aol.com/blissout/fave2000.htm), with whom I was talking last year about childhood holidays just a few miles away from here. Then someone starts uploading from me Steeleye Span's version of "Padstow", a song which in an earlier recording was one of John Betjeman's Desert Island Discs in 1954, and which I haven't heard anywhere since Derek Jameson stopped doing the breakfast show on Radio 2. And then I add that user to my hotlist and find that she's sharing Public Domain's "Operation Blade". With such marvellous, fascinating cultural contradictions are we now faced every day, and however much I may anguish over them sometimes, I know ultimately that I love it.
Then I hear that my grandfather has died. These are strange times, and I'm thrilled to be living through them.
Two hours later:
I don't know what to say about my grandfather's death, really. It's not that I'm unmoved, it's just that Grandad never seemed that important to me; my living in another part of the country until I was 14, and then seeing him only a few times, and not really being interested or stimulated by the experience, thereafter, always made him seem like a benevolent, ever-present member of the family, but not one I ever felt close to, though I did like him, and he liked me, and as a young child we both got a lot of pleasure from seeing each other. Indeed, my memories of him will always be faint, half-recalled childhood visions - coming down for a holiday and talking with him about the Jarrow Marches or old Newcastle United footballers, something like that - rather than anything profound or making great impact on my life.
I'll miss you, Grandad. But the state you were in by the end, in a nursing home and unable to speak or, really, do anything for yourself, it was the most peaceful end I could have imagined.
(6th June to 17th August 2000)
(26th July to 17th August 2000)
(26th August 2000 to 1st January 2001)