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Friday, 2 December 2011

The Modigliani Cushion Forgery

I had this brilliant idea to remake some famous paintings in felt and turn them into cushions.  It's a bit Post Modern, and also rather lovely.  So, here is my first one, almost there. 

Only when I checked the painting's title, I discovered it was a fake, in the style of Modigliani, by someone called Dehory.  Which probably makes it even more interesting, in a Post Modern kind of way.  I think I'll stuff the cushion with rocks.   

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Paying the Price for Post-Modernism

I went to see the Post-Modernism exhibition at the V&A yesterday.  It was great.  So much fun to be had with a teapot, and David Byrne’s actual big suit.  Post Modernism is one of those terms I’ve never quite felt comfortable using, like abstruse, and existential, and neo-platonic, so I thought the exhibition would help. 

I was a bit vexed about the charging.  It’s reasonable to pay for special exhibitions, especially when the rest of the museum is free.  And £11 for a full ticket is not cheap – a bit more than a peak time movie ticket with extra 3D specs, or a latte for yourself and 3.23 of your friends -  but there are concessions available if you happen to be a student, or young, or old or disabled (though not, sadly, if you're just broke, which most of us are at the moment). 

But they don’t ask you for £11, they ask you for £12.50, recovering the tax relief on the extra as a donation.  V&A will have done the sums.  More people will be inclined to pay a small extra donation on a hefty ticket price, than a hefty donation on a lower ticket price, so that’s what they’ve plumped for.  But I thought it was a bit of a cheek, especially as you can’t get a sandwich there for much under a fiver.
I absolutely love that many of our museums and art galleries are free. It means that these amazing places are crowded out with kids (this is half term) which is brilliant for our cultural education.  It also means you can pop in and have a look at a small part, without feeling you have to traipse right round to get your money's worth.  Everyone can.
This isn't possible in Paris, where hardly anything is free.  Nor in Rome, which is also expensive.  Nor in New York.  Except at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  This place has a good system.  They ask you for a voluntary contribution of $25.  They make it sound like a fixed price but the truth is you can get in for anything, so long as it's money. 
I chose not to pay the full amount to the Met, partly because I thought $25 was a bit stiff, partly because I intended to make several visits, and partly because we invite Americans to pop into Tate Britian, Tate Modern, the National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, the British Museum, the V&A, the Science Museum, the National History Museum, and hundreds more for absolutely nothing. 

This would be a good system for our museums.  Instead of a limp notice suggesting a donation of £3 with a perspex box full of foreign bank notes underneath, why not get everyone to pay something, a penny or a hundred quid, each reaching into their conscience, no judgement attached, tax relief on the whole lot if appropriate?

I'm not going to say how much I paid to the Met, just suffice to say it was my reverse Boston Tea party, let’s call it the 82nd Street Coffee Break.  But does it count as post-modern?

Monday, 10 October 2011

How to visit your daughter in university halls

The best advice is - don't.  Don't, unless you didn't actually drop her off there, and want to be able to imagine the place.  Or unless she begs you to visit.  Or she's forgotten something both heavy and so valuable.  These are the only reasons to go.

If, like me, you didn't get this advice in time, and, like me, had booked tickets to see Othello at the Crucible on her third weekend, then here are some supplementary codes which must be adhered to at all times:

1.  Don't insist on going to her room, especially if she's showing signs of reluctance.  You can probably conduct all necessary transactions in the corridor.

2.  If you are invited in it's best not to say:

      a)  don't you have access to a Hoover?
      b)  wouldn't it be a good idea to hang up some of these clothes?
      c)  isn't there anywhere you can empty this bin?
      d)  isn't that the candlewick bedspread out of the spare room?

3.  If she introduces you to her housemates, treat this as the honour it is, and remember:

     i)   for the first time ever, you are on her turf.  She might not have completely got the hang of how to treat a guest, especially a middle aged one with parental issues, but nevertheless, she is in charge;

     ii)  no one will be interested in what university life was like thirty years ago so don't even think of comparing it; 

     iii) don't offer any advice, however tempting - not about making the most of the opportunities, managing finances, getting essays in on time, eating healthily, getting some exercise, not doing drugs, not drinking too much - NOTHING.

4.  And lastly, if they tell you they're having a roast chicken tomorrow night, with Yorkshire puddings, don't explain Yorkshires go with beef, as does English mustard.  They make the rules now.  You are not-very-interesting history.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Another Cushion

In the absence of a sensible piece of writing, here is the latest cushion I made.  It was a present for a couple of kids that got married earlier this month.  The wedding was on Shelter Island, Long Island, which accounts for the date being the wrong way round.

Friday, 2 September 2011

The Great Swimming Costume Swindle

I hardly ever go swimming, rarely sunbathe, so my requirement for swimwear, or a swimming costume as I can’t help but call it, is minimal.  However, for reasons too complicated to go into, I have recently returned from the kind of holiday where such a garment was the principal requirement for most of the day, and it caused me to ponder how ghastly the whole business is.

There are three options for women: all in one, a bikini, and what has come to be known as a tankini. 

The one piece can be flattering, if you choose the right cut for your body shape, and the more you spend on it, the nicer it will be.  I don't have personal experience to verify this conjecture having only shopped at M&S, but it is the way for most things.  Whilst  there is plenty of room for improvement in M&S's cut, fabric and colour range, I have to hand it to them for fit since they have the sense to make both standard and long. For people like me, whom Trinny describes as having short legs but I prefer to think of as a long back, this is wonderful.  How come this isn't the norm?

So, the one piece.  Relatively flattering, and undeniably comfortable in respect of its core function - actual swimming.  But, rather in the way that a seal is graceful in water and clumsy on land, its impracticality as a piece of mainstream clothing is hideous.  Going to the loo, in a word, is a disaster.  The costume must be peeled off in its entirety, leaving one to do one's business completely in the buff before wriggling it back on, tugging and stretching the damp fabric into place over a clammy torso.  If you happen to have put clothes on top of your one piece, it’s worse.  Every single item has to be removed before you can relieve yourself.  There might be hook on the door of the cubicle.  There might not.

The bikini, then, solves these problems.  Indeed, but it raises others. I don’t want that much flesh exposed, not when I’m outside, with other people.  I’d feel the same even if I didn’t have a foot long scar down my middle which makes me look like a pyjama case.  On top of that, my skin is pale, it’s just more burning to worry about.

The obvious answer, as I have been advised many times in shops, is the tankini - a longer top, with pants or shorts. This is truly a hideous garment, and my informal study of women at the pool demonstrated that not a single woman can carry it off. The tops are too short, flaring out a little, and ending calamitously an inch or two higher than the top of the pants, offering just enough space for the flappiest part of the tummy to hang below.  Convenient for toileting, perhaps, but in every other respect, only grim.

The answer is easy, but I can't find it anywhere.  I want pants, or shorts, either is fine, and then a long stretchy vest.  The vest can have a built in bra, or even underwire for those that like it, but the body of it must fit tightly, like a one piece, and reach to whatever length is desired.  Myself, I'd like it to top thigh, just over my bum.  Give it to me in something dark and mostly plain, perhaps spots or stripes, definitely no geraniums. 

It would look a bit like this:

Rocket science?  Not really.

Please someone. 

Monday, 8 August 2011

Billy and Harley Get Hitched

Here is the cushion I made for my next door neighbours' wedding last weekend.  Our cats, Billy and Harley, are the best of friends, and this turns out to be an extraordinary likeness (with all thanks to Hamish for the original drawings).

Sunday, 17 July 2011

She might be in Tangiers

This blog has gone on holiday for a couple of weeks.  You can have a taste of the fun it's having by clicking this link:

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Love is what you need

I love everything in the Tracey Emin show – I’ve been twice now, and although the shock's gone the second time, the deep and poignant truths are just as strong.

I love her blankets with their intimate personal tales told in cramped handwriting; I love her fluorescent phrases glowing from the walls; her line drawings, as fragile and vulnerable and broken as their subject matter and her extraordinary artefacts, her chairs, beds, sofas, boxes.

But I’m going to pick out three things, two are films and the other is … hard to describe.

Why I Didn’t Become a Dancer, is one of those stories that speak of despicable injustice that turns it into triumph.  Tracey describes her early teenage in Margate and how at 13 she started having sex with older men.  It was free and fun, as indeed, by the sound of it, was she.  And then at 15 it started not being so much fun.  She was disillusioned both with these older men who shouldn’t have let her do all this, and fed up with Margate, and turned to dance as her escape.  She entered a disco competition which might have catapulted her away from the tedium of her seaside town.  It was going well, the audience was loving her, clapping, cheering, she knew she was going to win, then she heard a group from the audience and they were shouting, Slag Slag Slag.  Humiliated, she fled.

The film moves forward.  Tracey is dancing to You Make Me Feel, in an grand empty room, while the voiceover lists the boys’ names, “Shane Eddy Tony Doug Richard …this one’s for you.”  Tracey has transported herself into the stratosphere of fame and fortune, by talent, hard work, determination and personality, while they will still be strapped to the grim ordinariness of their lives, arguing with their girlfriends, shouting at their kids, hard up, no prospects, same low level misogynist attitudes skulking around their ugly heads.  Dressed in cut offs and a red shirt as if she’s just popped in off the street, a portable CD player in the corner, the clinching beauty is her smile.  She remembers the names of these men who should have known better, and they are, right now, the reason for her success.

The second piece I adore is the conversation that plays on the tiny TV set in the corner of the main gallery.  It’s between Tracey and her mum, presented artlessly, no interviewer, just someone with a camera, a little table and some chocolates.  Only four people can share this at one time, from headsets.  We are in the front room with them.  Mum is telling Tracey she would have been disappointed if Tracey had had children. It’s complicated, unusual, multilayered, touching truths that belong to all women.  But this piece of the conversation delighted me:

Mum:  If a cat slows you down, what would a baby do?

Tracey: You can get on a plane with a baby.  You can’t get on a plane with a cat.

Mum: Non-plussed silence

Tracey:  A baby grows up and makes you a cup of tea – a cat can’t do that.

Mum:  Are you sure about that Tracey – are you sure about that?

And lastly, The History of Painting Part 1 - used tampons, one little blackening thing in each of four perspex boxes, resting on a piece of toilet paper.  I’m not sure what it’s about, except it’s linked with pregnancy tests and abortion.  But I loved it, for its sheer brass neck. 

Thursday, 7 July 2011

I just want to let you know ...

Teachers nowadays are encouraged to send motivating notes to their students just before their GCSEs.  The purpose, I presume, is to give the kid a last boost of feel-good before the big day, a pat on the back for all their hard work.  What a lovely idea.

I found out about these when clearing out my son’s room, discovering one of them in his bin.  It was a postcard, the first words I just want to let you know… were pre-printed. 
This is what the teacher had written next:   “…that you have been very lazy but if you learn the key words you should be able to get a decent grade in the exam.”

There is a sub-text to this, about the curriculum, playing into the hands of those that argue (I am amongst them, actually) that GCSEs and the modular curriculum is a dumbing down, that the stuff they have to learn is banal, boring and largely basic.  But what I tackled him about was the main event.  “Lazy!!??” I screeched.  "But I thought – you told me – don’t you realise how important these – your future - blah blah water off a ducks back blah – you said you’d pulled your socks up - blah." 

“I have,” he said, in his laconic drawl, and to prove it he fished out another of the notes he’d received and read it out to me:
“Dear [identity protected for legal reasons]
I just want to let you know that although at times you seem half asleep and ask me questions that make me worry, you have been a pleasure to teach and deserve to do very well in your exams.”
Again, there was a glaring sub-text – or not so much that, but a irreconcilable paradox. I mean, how can a kid like that be a) a pleasure to teach, and/or b) deserve to do well - very well?

"And you're trying to convince me this is proof that you’ve mended your low down ways?" I wailed.  "Don't you realise – blah – future – education opportunity – how many times do I have to - university very competitive – water off duck’s back – blah – nothing worthwhile you don't have to work for  – blah."
He looked at the note again, then at me, raising his shoulders, holding out his palms in that way that signals, how come you can't even understand this?
Half asleep,” he said, “not actually asleep.  Seem,” he said, “not are.”  He paused to check the text.  "At times," he said, "not always."
"But that doesn't make any sense," I shrieked.  "How can you - what do you ...?"  And that was the point when I realised that the contradiction was reconcilable afterall, and that he'd demonstrated exactly how in the last couple of minutes. 

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Cutting the Apron Strings

The Jane Shilling memoir I read a while back and reviewed here  got me  thinking about the process of letting children grow go, and what a complicated and intricate business it is.  We might think we have, but have we, can we? 
So, I thought I'd put together some questions, to see how well I was doing at letting my fledglings fly.    

1.       You are going back to work, leaving your baby with a childminder for the first time.  Do you:

a)      Fuss over him, eventually ringing the office to say you’ll have to start the next day?

b)      Throw your arms up in triumph – at last, the first bit of freedom you’ve had in six months?

c)       Leave quickly, and fall apart in the car.  You’re a thousand times more upset than he is?

2.       Your sixteen year old starts going out with a man your own age?  Do you:

 a)      Lock her in her bedroom at night, and insist on chaperoning her to school?

b)      Move out of your own bedroom on the grounds that he’ll be wanting the ensuite?

c)       Leave magazine articles around the house featuring Ron Wood and Hugh Hefner?

3.       How do you respond when your seven year old comes home from school and says everyone’s been invited Rosa’s party, except her – do you:

a)      Ring up all the parents involved, insist on a meeting with the families, the teacher, the head teacher, social services, the police and the local press?

b)      Tell her to get a grip.  When you were a kid, no one even had parties?

c)       Ask her if there’s anything else she’d like to do that day, and keep your sleepless, weeping nights to yourself, and make a mental note not to invite that child back?

4.       Your fifteen year old son wants to go on holiday with his mates, but he’s got no money.  Do you:
a)      Say absolutely not.  Holidays are for families? 

b)      Give him a few hundred quid, and say go and enjoy yourself.  It means seven days without him – that’s too good an offer to miss?

c)       Tell him you can find him plenty of work, weeding, chopping wood, mowing grass, cleaning bathroom and will pay him £3 per hour.  When he argues minimum wage, you remind him he’s too young to qualify but you agree to the rise if he gets on with the job without moaning.  Then you round up the hours from 3 to 6, and give him a bit extra because you can't believe he’s done such a good job?

5.       Your daughter makes an appointment to see the doctor, without reference to you.  Do you:

a)      Ring the nurse, she’s the cousin of your next door neighbour’s best friend.  She’s bound to be able to find out what the problem is?

b)      Ask her outright – you’re her mother, you have a right to know?

c)       Say nothing unless invited?  Actually, you've got no choice.

6.       Your firstborn is nearly at the end of the first year of college.  Do you:

a)      Ring the tutor to check his coursework’s in on time and ask when the parents’ evening is?

b)      Sell the house, move into a one bed apartment somewhere exotic and far away?

c)       Pay their rent.  Given a choice, you’d rather they were hungry than homeless? 

7.       Your daughter will get the sack if she’s late again, and she’ll be late again if you don’t give her a lift.  Do you:

a)      Take her, even though it’ll make you late for your own job.  It’s your fault for not waking her earlier?

b)      Refuse, she had it coming?

c)      Take her, but make your irritation so clear she’ll never want to go anywhere with you and then charge her for the petrol?

8.       Your thirteen year old has been invited to a party where you know there’ll be alcohol.  Do you:

a)      On no account can she go, whatever promises she makes, whatever adults will be present, however important it is to her in terms of her friendship group.  No, that’s final.

b)      Tuck a bottle of vodka in her handbag?

c)      You don’t want to say no, because that will make her even more determined.  You don't want to sanction it by offering her a lift home, but you don't want her getting in some drunk teenage boy's car.  You don't want her staying the night, but it could be safer than coming back.  You ring another kid's mum to find out what they think.  They think the same as you.  Relax, look on the bright side.  The fact that she's told you where she's going is as much as you can expect.  And you won’t discover the half of what she’s got up to until she’s well into adulthood. 

How did you do?

Mostly a)  Your child will be tied to your apron strings till he’s 60.  Either that or you’re in for some serious fireworks.  Neither of these options is pretty.

Mostly b)  Remind me again, why did you have children in the first place?

Mostly c)   Sometimes you get it wrong, sometimes you get it right.  They'll survive, and hopefully you will too.

Friday, 24 June 2011

The First Love Story

Fantastic, I see that the poet, Glyn Maxwell has been commissioned to turn Paradise Lost into an Opera.
I am not a fan of Opera.  I think perhaps it’s one of those early immersion pursuits and I’ve left it too late – it’s also dashed expensive - but I am a fan of Paradise Lost.  I feel about Milton very similarly to the way I feel about Bob Dylan - prepared to snap up greedily pretty much anything by or about, even if a lot of it misfires.

James Barry
Satan and his legions hurling defiance towards
the Vault of Heaven

I did book two for A Level.  It’s really good stuff.  Satan has been expelled from Heaven for insurrectional activities against God and he’s not happy about it at all.  Apart from the discomfort of the eternal fire, his pride is hurt.  His real torture is internal – a mind game that he’ll be playing till the end of time, destined to rebel, but knowing his attempt will come to nothing.  That’s why he picks on Adam and Eve.  If he can’t hurt God, then at least he can have a go at destroying God’s toys.

I won't deny some of it is boring.  For instance, the part where a sanctimonious Son of God chats with his Father about how man will fall and then be saved (by a sanctimonious Son of God), and Raphael telling Adam how the angels were thrown out of heaven - well it's not exactly Stephen King - but they are worth it to get to the parts that are, as Maxwell says, “I mean just – wow!”

To start with, there's the description of the Creation, (anyone who’s not prepared to accept the importance of this story, even as a myth, look away now). 

Let there be light, said God, and forthwith light
Ethereal, first of things, quintessence pure
Sprung from the deep, and from her native east
To journey through the airy gloom began,
Sphered in a radiant cloud, for yet the sun
Was not; she in a cloudy tabernacle
Sojourned the while.  God saw the light was good;
And light from darkness by the hemisphere
Divided: light the day, and darkness night
He named.  Thus was the first day even and morn. 

Don't you think it makes the King James version read a bit like Janet and John?   

But Milton's triumph is to turn the Fall into the first love story.  Adam and Eve, blissful in Paradise, are tricked  by Satan.  Where the bible can only offer illogic or at best misogyny, Milton’s first couple fall because of the very instincts that make them human.  Eve is moved by her boredom as Adam’s sidekick, and he is persuaded by love.  There are so many passages I’d like to quote – Adam and Eve’s canoodling in the garden; her convincing him she wants to go further afield and get on with the gardening on her own; his reluctance, but he won’t forbid it:

Go, in thy native innocence, rely 
On what thou hast of virtue, summon all.  

But the passage I love above all the rest, that makes me weep every time I read it, is this.  It’s the moment when Eve returns from taking the apple and tells Adam what’s she’s done.  And then this:

Lucas Cranach  Adam and Eve

Adam, soon as he heard
The fatal trespass done by Eve, amazed,
Astonie stood and blank, while horror chill
Ran through his veins, and all his joints relaxed;
From his slack hand the garland wreathed for Eve
Down dropped and all the faded roses shed:
I was going to stop there, but just look at what happens next:

Speechless he stood and pale, till thus at length
First to himself he inward silence broke.
                O fairest of creation, last and best
Of all God’s works, creature in whom excelled
Whatever can to sight or thought be formed,
Holy, divine, good, amiable or sweet!
How art though lost, how on a sudden lost,
Defaced, deflowered, and now to death devote?

Adam and Eve expelled from Paradise

Adam has a choice:  Stay in paradise, eating mangoes and talking with the tame tiger, or disobey God and face death with Eve.  You’d think he’d want a few moments to make up his mind, after all he’s only known her a few days, but it takes him five lines:

Certain my resolution is to die;
How can I live without thee, how forgo
Thy sweet converse and love so dearly joined,
To live again in these wild woods forlorn?
Should God create another Eve, and I
Another rib afford, yet loss of thee
Would never from my heart; no no, I feel
The link of nature draw me: flesh of flesh,
Bone of my bone thou art, and from thy state
Mine never shall be parted, bliss or woe.

It’s tempting but cheapening it to say it’s Hollywood.  Opera is exactly the right medium.  And I like the sound of what Maxwell’s done to it.  But there is nothing, absolutely nothing, to beat the original. 

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Another big mess the Tories are getting us into

I am dismayed that Ken Clarke’s modernising proposals for criminal justice have been shelved – if only the subject could be aired in a civilised and rational way, preferably with a gagging order on the Daily Mail, it might  have stood a chance.  But perhaps even more serious, are the proposed cuts to the Legal Aid budget which might save the Treasury £350m, but it will impoverish the country way beyond that saving.
The Justice Secretary says that legal aid will still be available for claims where people’s life or liberty is at stake, where they are at risk of serious physical harm, or immediate loss of their home, or where their children may be taken into care.  That’s certainly reassuring, but let’s just imagine a few other scenarios where it won’t any longer be available:

A woman goes into hospital for a routine hip replacement, contracts gangrene through the hospital’s negligence, which then requires further operations to rectify, resulting in a much longer recovery period, with considerable loss of earnings, and possibly a permanent disability requiring extra care and support, not to mention months, or years of further pain and suffering.

A building firm fails to erect its scaffolding properly and a worker falls, breaking his arm.  He’s an independent contractor, so if he can’t work, he isn’t paid.  It takes him 3 months to get fit to return. 

You’re a plumber and were contracted to do a lot of work on a flats conversion project.  You’ve been engaged in it for the best part of a year.  None of your invoices have been paid, you’ve been fobbed off with excuse after excuse and now you’ve had enough.  You threatened to take him to court and now the builder turns round and says your work was substandard.
There are thousands of scenarios like this, and more controversial ones – cases involving immigration, race, sex, disability discrimination, family cases where parents are locked into disputes over the children. 

Assuming you don’t have the money to take the case to court, you will have two choices – just put up with the injustice you’ve suffered, or try to do it yourself.  And this is where the proposals really fall down.  Countries that spend less on legal aid, spend considerably more on the court system, providing supporters, assistance and guidance to litigants in person to help them through the process.  That doesn’t happen here.  Litigants up till recently have been represented by someone who knows that they are doing, who speaks the language and understands the processes.  Litigants in person require a huge amount of hand holding.  Some judges will be prepared to help these people, but the net effect will be even more of a backlog, less certainty on timings, a clogging up of the system, which will, of course mean more costs.  Judge’s time doesn’t come cheap.
But the biggest loss will be to the moral and ethical foundation of the country; the UK will become a place where only the wealthy can enforce their rights. The victims of these cuts are ordinary people to whom bad things have happened, out of the blue, through no fault of their own.  They are not scroungers, they aren’t greedy, self-serving representatives of the litigation culture who will claim a few quid for stubbing their toe on the pavement, and we must not let the government, of the Daily Mail, persuade us that they are.   Think again, you Tories.  This is a crazy mistake.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Another cushion

This is my latest cushion creation, a present for my daughter's 19th birthday (yes, that daughter).  It's not a great reproduction, it looks better in the flesh.

The baby is Imogen at two, when she sang Maria from West Side Story all the way to the Loire, well, all the times she wasn't sucking on that tee shirt - the blue one it was called, but it was really a sort of dirty grey.  Later she played the pious nun (ironically), in the Sound of Music. 

In the background are the seven hills of Sheffield where she's off to university in September.  Also are car jokes, diving jokes, an Ahead Only sign (meaning onwards and upwards rather than don't come back), and a piece of pure joyous poetry from our mutually favourite genius.  It says:

May your heart always be joyful
May your song always be sung
And may you stay forever young

It's felt and fabric applique, embroidery, and as a homage to Tracey Emin, laundry marker on an scrap of sheet for the Dylan quote.

She loved it.

Monday, 20 June 2011

What is wrong with the Church of England?

Today’s proclamation by the  Church of England  that it will tolerate the proposition of an openly gay bishop appals and revolts me.  The reason it revolts me is because a gay bishop’s elevation is conditional on his repentance of previous homosexual activity, and a promise to never do it again.  It is a mealy-mouthed, resentful nod to current legislation rather than a decision made on the principles of modernisation, humanity and common sense.  What they are saying is this: it’s okay for a man to have sexual feelings towards another man (we are talking about men here, the church has parked the question of women bishops to at least 2012); but it’s not okay for him to act on them.

Frankly, I would rather have a redneck evangelical or a fundamentalist Muslim declaring that homosexuality is the stain of the devil, and that such sinners must be either cured or condemned, than this squeamish faint-hearted hypocrisy.  

Apart from the irrationality in this approach (either the Bible says homosexuality is okay, in which case, bring on gay bishops, or it doesn’t, in which case, if you really believe the Bible is actually the word of God, then tell them no), it’s what the Church of England’s decision says about its attitude to sex in general that merits picking over.

A few years ago, the Church could have hidden behind the argument that sex should only take place within the context of a monogamous and committed relationship, banning openly gay  bishops on the grounds that they are statistically likely to be promiscuous (I haven’t researched this, but I’m sure it would've been possible to come up with something).  For consistency’s sake, they’d have to have considered extending the ban to unmarried straight men, too.  But since Civil Partnerships became the law in 2004 this argument is no longer available.

So, is it because the church says that sex is for the procreation of children?  Some religions do - Catholics for instance, the ones who don’t agree with contraception even in the face of critical over population, poverty and AIDS, but as far as I’m aware this hasn’t been a big part of the C of E platform.  As far as I recall, I’ve also  not known the Synod to declare a ban on the ordination of married bishops who’ve decided they don’t want, or already have enough, children.  Sex for fun then, it must be supposed, is tolerated amongst the straight male clergy.

So it gets back to the basic bad wrongness of homosexual sex, and this irrationality at the centre of the decision – that a gay man isn’t an abomination in the eyes of God (I'm deducing this from the fact that he can be made a bishop) but if he acts on his desires, he is, which to me is just the same as saying that being gay is wrong.  And for my money, I’d much rather the Church owned up to their prejudice, rather than to pretend they are making a step forward.

When I was still trying to make religion work for me, I attended a service at St Albans Abbey, where Jeffrey John, the man most suited to the job of Bishop of Southwark, but for his being openly gay, is Dean.  He was apologising since had to rush off because he was due to welcome a number of eminent judges who were coming up for some ceremony later that afternoon.  He’d offered his house as a place they could get changed.  He was popping back now, he explained, to his place, where a group of old men were getting dressed into tights and wigs, which was, he added, exactly what a lot of the congregation feared would happen when he was appointed.

Ho ho ho, how the congregation chuckled.  And this is probably the best way to go with the Church of England - little jokes, here and there, bringing it up close to its homophobia, amongst other, prejudices. But if I were him I’d be sorely tempted to say he’d had enough, that they can keep their miserable little illiberal concessions and stuff them up their cassocks.  For me, the church is just too slow to grow up, which is why I’ve moved over to the Humanists.  

Saturday, 18 June 2011

That was then ...

with apologies to Adam Mansbach 

You have a dewy, unblemished complexion
And I am an old crone.
All the more reason, my darling,
To leave my makeup the fuck alone.

Yours is a generous nature,
To a relaxed view of possessions are prone.
When it comes to my makeup, I am the opposite,
So leave it the fuck alone.

You don’t consider it stealing,
You think of it more like a loan.
But foundation, once borrowed, is hard to return.
Leave my stuff the fuck alone.

I love you, my darling, completely,
And at you I do hate to moan.
Give me a break, get your own bloody makeup
And leave mine the fuck alone.

You say you never have money,
Decent brands are too costly to own.
That’s what Maybelline and No 17 are for.
Leave my makeup the fuck alone.

I’ve bought you tons of it over the years
In the hope that you’ll stick to your own.
But when it’s all gone, you just tuck into mine.
Leave it the fuck alone.

I don't check your page on facebook,
I don't eavesdrop your calls on the phone.
I don't rummage through your private belongings
So please leave mine the fuck alone.

I’ve had to ask you so often
My voice, it’s beginning to drone.
For the last time, my darling, keep your sticky little paws out of my wardrobe.
Leave the fuck alone.



Friday, 17 June 2011

My dad - Richard Overton

Even though my dad dismissed Father's Day as a bit of American nonsense dreamt up by the card industry, I am nevertheless going to post the obituary I wrote about him, when he died four years ago.

Richard Charles Overton

My father, Richard Overton, was born on 18 May 1923, in Blundellsands, a suburb of Liverpool, and grew up as the eldest of four children, his parents having lost their first child to meningitis before Richard was born.  He and his two brothers were sent to prep school at Tre-arddur Bay, Angelsey.  The Headmaster, Ioworth Williams insisted on two things: first  that the boys would learn to swim by a dip every morning in the icy waters of the North Atlantic and second that they would learn to skip.  My father took to the swimming, even though it was combined with Mrs Williams’s obligatory prophylactic of raw egg and milk, but skipping was a skill he never mastered. 

Richard moved on to Sedbergh in 1937, another school with physical rigour at its heart.  The ten mile run over the Cumbrian fells was an annual tradition to which he returned regularly over the years.  Richard flourished at Sedbergh - academically, socially and in sporting achievement.  He left both schools as head boy and with a constitution that would see him through the physical hardship of war and a career in the Colonial Service. 

Leaving Sedbergh in 1942, Richard joined the 9th Border Regiment, and began his army career as an NCO, in charge of a group of conscripted Liverpudlians who didn't take well to the early morning starts demanded by the army.  Such was the 19 year old's difficulties in rousing his squadron, that he was reprimanded by the sergeant major.  How, the superior officer asked, did Corporal Overton expect to lead his men into battle if he couldn't even get them out of bed?  Richard was commissioned in Bangalore in l943.  His arrival in Burma coincided with the start of the 180 mile retreat to Imphal, a difficult and dangerous trek across mountainous terrain in monsoon conditions.  The soldiers were ordered to abandon all but the most basic kit, each carrying what he would need on his back, including guns and ammunition.  Richard later wrote to his mother that despite these orders he had managed to hold on to several books.  The Division suffered severe loss, but were successful in their return to the Imphal Plain which would later become the springboard for victory.
Richard 1943

On demobilisation in 1946 Richard went to Magdalen College, Oxford, to study History, a lifelong passion of his.  Oxford was a divided place immediately after the war.  Students arriving straight from school must have seemed immature, untroubled and naïve to the men returning from the front, and Richard reported that some tutors too seemed ignorant and largely uninterested in the traumas these young men had been through.  He transferred to Law, before settling on the Colonial Service training in which he found his true motivation and purpose. 

Richard with the Fon of Banso January 1957
Richard joined the Colonial Service in 1950 and his first posting was to Calabar in Eastern Nigeria.  The Colonial Service offered Richard the perfect career as District Officer.  The role, broadly defined as running the colony on behalf of the Queen, in practice involved a vast miscellany of disparate and at times extraordinary activities.  One day he would be determining appeals on complicated legal questions - polygamous inheritance, custody of children or ownership of land; the next he might be returning an illegally incarcerated chimpanzee to the jungle, or hearing a village's complaint about an elephant that had been causing havoc with the banana crop. 

Richard enjoyed this job enormously, and it's not difficult to see how close a fit it was with his interests and talents.  His passion for fairness, his slowness to judge, a natural tendency to listen with patience and empathy together with his sense of humour equipped him perfectly for the judicial element of the role; his love of the outdoors and walking fitted him well for the long treks to remote stations, often for weeks at a time.  His innate courtesy and good manners and his meticulousness in matters of writing and administration qualified him for the ceremonial and official duties.

Not all tours were spent in the bush and in 1955 Richard was posted to the government headquarters in Buea, Southern Cameroons, as the colonial equivalent to Secretary to the Cabinet.  It was here he met Susan who had recently arrived as secretary to the Commissioner of the Cameroons.  They were married in November 1957 and spent the first years of their happy marriage in Mamfe, making many good and lifelong friends.

Nigerian independence signalled the end to Richard and Susan's time in West Africa and they returned to England in 1962 with two young daughters, a third born later in the year.  Richard worked for a short time in the Drapers' Chamber of Trade before taking up a post at  the Commission for the New Towns in Crawley in November1965, their newly born son completing the family.  Richard remained in this job until early retirement in 1983.   

Richard was never quite complete without a dog. When Susan first met him in Buea, he was caring for a sick dog, a fierce ugly brute (by all but Richard's accounts), which was discovered, on its death, to have been suffering from rabies.  Consequently, Richard had to undergo a long course of painful injections, administered by the wife of a close friend who happened to be the local nurse.  A costly business it turned out to be, both physically and in quantities of whisky the patient required to get through it. 

Richard and the golden retriever, Truman (1982 -97) were a familiar duo around his village, Warnham in West Sussex.  The impartiality Richard maintained in his judicial role in the Colonial Service seems to have been forgotten when it came to this animal.  Whatever the evidence to the contrary, Truman was always assumed to be on the side of the innocent.  I remember one infuriating occasion when the dog disappeared on a walk.  I spent over two hours calling and searching, but in the end was forced was to the house without him.  Dad immediately returned to the spot,  only to find the dog casually waiting for him.  Truman’s word or mine – there was no point even trying.  During the late 80s and early 90s Richard  took Truman on several long walks, including the Coast to Coast from Whitby to St Bee's.  It is typical of Richard's mixture of practicality and eccentricity that he organised, with the precision of a polar expedition, the dog's food parcels to be sent (by Susan) to a series of landladies in advance of their arrival.  And I have no doubt there were, once again, several large hard-backs in his rucksack. 
Richard and Truman

Richard believed in the right of all living things to be treated with kindness and respect, whether they be rabid dogs, hedgehogs, stray cats, stick insects, guinea pigs or, perhaps especially, birds.  An interest in ornithology began early, documented in his first letter home from prep school at the age of 7.  Upper lip remaining firm, he assured his parents of his happiness, remarking upon some "very interesting ducks" to be found near the school.  I remember many family journeys being delayed by the car sidling to a stop, often without use of indicators, as Richard, craning out the driver's side window and peering into the sky, while simultaneously reaching for his binoculars, would declare some indistinguishable dot in the heavens to be a kestrel or a buzzard, waiting until it disappeared into invisibility before resuming the journey.  He put empty beer barrels into the chestnut tree to encourage owls, and nesting boxes on carefully chosen walls to entice flycatchers.  Sometimes his passions would conflict:  the swathes of netting he placed around the lawn to stop the cricket balls getting lost in the hedge could prove lethal to hedgehogs.  A familiar sight during the autumn was Richard, after his nightly inspection, painstakingly disentangling the string from a tightly screwed up ball of prickles.

Since retirement, Richard became increasingly active in various political and environmental campaigns.  Two years ago he attended the end of the Aldermaston walk and only last year, Parkinson’s Disease making such trips very difficult, made it into central London for the CND Conference.  Despite the strongest of political feeling, he never lost sight of his priorities; categorically declaring that "one should never demonstrate on an empty stomach" he bought me a good lunch on both occasions.

Global warming and the threats to the environment were another pressing concern for Richard.  As his illness progressed, he became more lively and intense in his campaigning zeal, writing letters, attending meetings, and finding opportunities to inform and agitate.  He had been hoping to deliver a paper to the Horsham Natural History Society on global warming the day before he went into hospital in January.  His work was characterised by tireless research, reading and discussion.  However strongly he felt, Richard always expressed his opinions with respectful acceptance of a contrary view.  Ultimately optimistic about humanity and permanently questioning, Richard never lost his belief in the possibility for positive change.

Richard is survived by his wife, Susan, his four children, nine grandchildren, and his dog; he has left a deep and resonant impression on many more lives.

Born 18 May 1923, died 11 February 2007