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It looks as though we may be neglecting one lever at the moment: even discounting UKIP we have a substantial number of MEPs, who remain in place until we leave.The UK apparently has 73 MEPs – even discounting the UKIP group this is a sizeable wedge   Maybe there are alliances we could make, and maybe we need to explore filibustering/ blocking tactics in case we need that in our negotiation armoury .

Macron wants to reform the EC. As members of the EC until we actually leave, (which may be many years) we would be missing a trick if we did not seriously try to make the EC more like the organisation UK citizens would like it to be, given that it is in any case on the turn;  There are potential allies. And what have we got to lose ? The trouble with the British and the EU is that we never really joined it in the first place.We ignored European politics. Consequently I have never seen a blue-print for our ideal EC.

The arguments for leaving in a hurry look increasingly shaky. The most salient was: “We pay enormous amounts to the EC, and our ability to trade with other countries is restricted. When we get out of the EC and its restrictions we shall be [much] better off.” Both these linked propositions seem to be fading fast. Who believes that now? Actually we are spending vast sums on the bureaucracy of leaving the EC and neglecting other things in consequence.

A second main argument expressed itself as “ We shall regain sovereignty when we leave/ we will get back control over our laws.” No doubt there was a time when a nation-state could make its laws, ignoring all other states, and impose them absolutely in its own territory. We no longer live in that time. Part of our law is dependent on supra-national bodies or conventions (eg the UN Charter or the Geneva Convention, or the1999 Gothebrg Protocol). For instance, we are members of NATO, and under the Nato treaty, if a member state is attacked, we are obliged by treaty to declare war to defend it, Many British people would be shocked to find that this covers not only most Western and central European countries, but also the USA, Canada, Iceland and Turkey. If North Korea attacks the US, we are automatically at war with North Korea, and if Iran or Russia attack Turkey, then we are at war with Iran or Russia. It isn’t a choice: the decision is already made. The implications are rarely discussed. At the same time Britain is covered with US air bases,  vaguely disguised as RAF, but not in fact under our control. Funny that none of the Brexiteers talked about retrieving our military sovereignty from the USA: Wedgie Benn always did. 

Much more of our law depends indirectly on treaties and conventions agreed with other states. At the moment 44% of our trade is with the EU, which means that this part of our industrial export will have to conform to EC regulations if we wish to trade with EC countries. However, whereas at the moment we can influence the shape of EC reg as members by internal political pressure, leaving the EU strips us of ability to influence the making of the law we shall be constrained by.

There is a Left suggestion that EC Law as it stands makes it difficult to extend the role of the individual state (for instance, to nationalise industries or facilities), but this is disputed. What is indisputable is that EC law, like any law, can be changed. However that may be, it looks unlikely that there will be an increase in our freedom, personal or national, as a result of leaving the EU: more likely there will be a decrease.

The third main reason for seeking to leave the EC could be expressed as follows: “We will have full control over immigration and our borders/this is a small nation/we shall control who gets in, and stop our culture being swamped.”

It would be perfectly possible, in theory, to control our population by doing two things: firstly, requiring everyone to own, and carry, an identity card, and secondly, controlling our borders rigorously. The first of these actions would take some years to complete, but once done it would be possible to identify ‘illegals’, and the likelihood of being caught and the impossibility of obtaining social benefits would greatly reduce their number. Naturally this move would spawn a black industry of counterfeiting, and would have to be sophisticated enough to make that industry costly and difficult, which means that the identity cards would themselves have to be sophisticated and therefore expensive. Getting in and out of the country would take more time, and there would need to be an increase in the number of immigration officers. By the same token there would have to be a very great increase of border control officers, aircraft, ships and surveillance systems etc.

There are good reasons to suppose that this sort of increase of control would be resisted or rejected by both Public and MPs. We have already had a debate on identity cards. People don’t much like carrying identification, or being asked for it, and believe correctly that Government (aka Big Brother) will try to intrude further into private life by squeezing more surveillance info out of an identity card, which will inevitably be used for all sorts of reasons other than what it was invented for. If the cards were sophisticated enough to deter low-level counterfeiting they would be be expensive to make and to activate. Who would pay for them?

The issue of cost also looms large in relation to the control of our borders. One serious figure gives the coastal borders of the British Isles as 7,000 miles. We appear to have (according to the Independent) all of three Border Force cutter vessels to patrol it (Italy has 600 vessels and Holland 16). Again (according to the Guardian) “Nearly half of the unmanned seaports on the east coast of Britain were left without a visit from border enforcement officers for more than a year” There are about 8,000 personel in the border force, which looks equally light – leaving out clerical staff it might run to one officer per mile of coastline! As we know from Poldark, (where we rather admire it), the British are as good at people-smuggling as anyone else when we put our minds to it. After all, there is effectively no-one to stop us.

Most of our defence against mass migration, currently surging from the South, is the existence of Europe between us and the Mediterranean. If that cushion, resisting and absorbing the in-flow, fails, then we don’t appear to have much defence to fall back on. In other words, British immigration policy absolutely depends on EU countries

It ought to seem silly to say that a large block like the EU, if it had wise policies, could have some effect on the real causes of mass migration which threaten us all in Europe:  in the long run the remedy will require a sort of Marshall Plan for devastated or impoverished areas. operating over a long period. Move in the investment, and turn refugee camps into NewTowns. The UK on its own can’t and wont achieve this. The May Strategy – make the UK so unpleasant that no-one will want to come here – may be the only practical one left to us.

As to the swamping of our culture, what you might call The Return of Empire – West Indian and Asian immigration – has already had an enormously greater effect on British culture than any European input, though the major Empire surge is past. The Polish inflow has had little effect on our culture, rather than making it a bit easier to buy sauerkraut. There are apparently 270,000 French citizens living in London: point me to London boroughs which are being swamped by French culture?

While the current incompetent government dithers us away from the EU,imaybe MEPs could try to become more forceful and vocal. Anything for focussed political activity.  [Yes, I’m back]

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Meander Ploughing final copy

Meander Ploughing oil painting

Here’s a little story, a little story.

Towards the end of July I reveived an email from someone in America. It said her outfit (I’ll call her A) were interested in using pictures of mine as set decoration in a new Netflix series, tentatively titled ‘Ronald’. I thought this might be a joke, or a scam, but I asked for more info. Well, A replied, it’s a ten-episode series, with Emma Stone & Jonah Hill, directed by Cary Fukanaga (none of them known to me). My pictures would be used as set decoration in the ‘NATO offices in Iceland’. Checking on-line the series sounded plausible and the actors and director involved did exist. I had been to Reykjavik not so long ago, so it was also intriguing. They were interested in three paintings, A said: they would need hi-res digital scans; fee to be negotiated.

I thought that all this could sooner or later prove to be moon-dust. However, meantime I had two immediate problems. Firstly, I had no experience of negotiating a fee for repro rights, and would need some professional advice or representation. Secondly, I had not done a hi-res digital scan on any of my pictures. So I had to run around and find a scanner (not too difficult), and then find someone in the world of repro rights. I had a look at DACS (Design and Artist’s Copyright Society). and found that they do represent artists in this world. There was a difficult few days when A was pressing for immediate responses while I was busy filling in forms and getting myself represented by DACS. I was grateful to hand over to P at DACS.

At this point the location changed again, because the negotiation, given that it originated in the USA, was to be taken over by DACS’ sister organisation in the States, and the baton passed from P to F at ARS (Artist’s Rights Society). P told me F advised that they would look to collect a licensing fee of 1500 to 2000 dollars for the use, so a total of three and a half to four and a half thousand pounds total. That sounded serious stuff: after all, the total sale list-price for my paintings was about five and a half thousand pounds, whereas this would give me fees and leave me with the goods: only their ghosts gone. The only nuisance was that I would have to re register myself as a self-employed artist, having just agreed with HMRC that I could scarcely be regarded as commercially viable.

Bringing in the Hay lite

62 Bringing in the Hay. Oil on canvas 11.13

So far as negotiation was concerned, I said, I was more interested in my pictures being used than in the level of profit. As it happens I had a picture in a prestigious American gallery, and it would be nice to tell them that my work was moving around in Netflixville. What would all that add up to ?

So here comes the denoument (and we haven’t yet even had a nou): I got an email on 25 August from P to say that, after all, they had decided not to use my pictures as part of their set design. This was an editorial decision, he said. There you are, moondust again after one little month.

Somehow this all happened out of a clear blue sky: at least it means that the net is searched for material. I remain intrigued. Why might pictures of mine of the Norfolk landscape turn up on a NATO office wall in Iceland? Meantime, Ladies and Gents All, here are the said paintings before your very eyes: no new attempt has been made to extract their souls. Onwards and sideways.

Byre & Bird, Early Morning  small

Byre and Bird, Early Morning oil painting

 

P1000700

The Studio

Clearing out is the beginning of Open  Studios. Necessary, and useful because you have mentally to audit all that stuff, materials, tools, odds and bits, you have accumulated, So I move things around in circles and hop from one part of the floor to the next clear area, repainting with a lighter grey floor paint.  Result: cleaner, clearer, with more light. (The floor is chipboard, on top of polystyrene insulation, on top of the original plank floor of this off-the-peg shed). At the same time I put round a skirting, against the vertical lining boards. I do this mainly to inhibit mouse activity, but I must say the result looks very neat.

Mice are a permanent problem. They get into drawers and chew up my drawings; a mouse has even chewed away the fibres on the back of a canvas in one place, leaving small holes showing in the front paint surface which I will have to repair.  Why would they do that?  Aha, a visitor says: in the basement of the RA Schools they stored linseed, which turned out to be a food store for rats and mice. The little bastards have also chewed the spines off some of my books, for the starch glue. They chew off the best bits of drawings to make a nest in the drawer. Could be worse: I reused an ancient stretcher, and a wood-worm ate its way through the wood making marginal holes in my canvas. Thank God woodworm aren’t as nippy as mice.

Anyway, once the walls are toshed out white again the whole studio converted to an amazingly clear, clean place ( it’s never like that when I am actually working)  So it is actually a fraud on the public – like the Iraq war or Brexit. Never mind.  It’s the illusion which counts.  It reminds me of the time we used to pop round to have coffee in Terry Frost’s studio – pictures everywhere at all stages, hanging, leaning against the wall, ready for ‘the old one-two’; paint, brushes, stand oil, confusion, stove, warm Nescafe and chat in a creative clutter. Years later I saw his paintings hanging on the sterilised walls of Tate St Ives, & thought how changed they were as chaste icons. Should the product be exhibited quite clear of the warmth of its generation? Or contrariwise, why do we want to know how Hokusai produced his works: isn’t it enough to have the prints and drawings?

 

P1000709

Living Room

Visitors are generally very friendly. I feel an absurd need to chat them up.  Not to try for sales, but because my chatter seems to be required as part of the entertainment. As if I am the product, not the work. I know that most of them won’t buy anything – many can’t – and they know that I know, and so ad infinitum.  Some people don’t like what they see: too ‘trad’ or too ‘modern’. I am always one of Tom Lehrer’s children, as I go sliding down the razor-blade of life.  One woman complains that these aren’t textiles – she has been misled by a road-sign. Actually, Madam, they are textiles – but I know what you mean.

It’s an odd business, coming up with an answer to nobody’s question, and then putting it up for sale. Of course, the opposite has its drawbacks – I mean producing something commissioned, to someone else’s criteria, with all the frustrations of not quite fulfilling he brief, regrets the client etc. Though at least then you can hate the client, and not exclusively yourself,  sole composer and performer of inadequate tunes for an empty street.

Was it worth it? Yes. I cleaned out the studio.  The talk was good; the visitors were warm. I sold a print and three pictures to good friends. Does that count? I reminded my good friends that I am still here doing whatever ‘it’ is And two cards. – enough to buy the next batch of materials; my pictures cheered me up/my pictures depressed me. Shall I do it again?  I don’t think so.  Shut, Sesame!

Dear John Humphries,

I heard you recently belabouring a spokesperson for the Labour Party with Jeremy Corbyn’s response to the Falklands War. Well, that was thirty-five years ago, and we might have modified our views or our language in the meantime. But I was also opposed to the Falklands War at that time – as was Tam Dalyell, so it was hardly a lefty knee-jerk reaction. or one which ought to be used to score sound-bite points out of context.

An immediate cause of that war was the decision by the British Government to withdraw the Royal Naval Ice Patrol Vessel ‘Endurance’ – our only naval presence in those waters at that time. The Argentinians took that as a further signal that the British were not overly concerned with the future of the Falklands. Margaret Thatcher made a small saving in Defence to lose the Falklands, and made a war and paid a fortune to retrieve them. But once you start a war you start killing and injuring people: the financial cost was less important than the human cost, and the effect on the world.

In that Falklands War 907 people were killed (649 Argentinian, 255 British and three Falklanders). Of course many were also injured. The population of the Falkland Islands at that time was 2932. Dalyell’s objection (also mine) was that the official Opposition immediately endorsed whatever warlike action the Government might take. With a great deal of hindsight we now know that the then Argentinian rulers were unwilling to negotiate, and too stupid to see what might happen next (in spite of warnings from the Americans), though this does not justify our inadequate pressure for a negotiated settlement. The crucial factor was generous support for Britain from the US, without which the British strike might well have failed.

Thatcher was determined to have a military solution. Sir John Nott (who was then Defence Secretary) said he would have preferred a diplomatic solution, but added “Mrs Thatcher was of the view, which in retrospect proved correct, that unless we actually landed on the Falkland Islands and defeated the Argentinians, that the national humiliation which we ‘d suffered would not be retrieved.” (see report in the Independent, 21 April 1989). Thatcher does not seem to have considered the national humiliation which would have occurred if we had failed, and presumably took the projected loss of lives as a given.

By her action she backed big-nation power over principle and international law, and war war over jaw jaw. The principle which needed, and still needs, to be reinforced (often ignored in the past) was that sovereignty always rightly belongs to the people who live there. This is the only point on which I disagree with Tam Dalyell. Australia was not terra nullius, nobody’s land, and Palestine was not Balfour’s to give away. By once again discounting this principle rather than insisting on it, Thatcher made the world less safe. Furthermore, we took on a moral obligation to the US which did not stand us (or them) in good stead later on.

It may be that Corbyn’s reaction thirty-five years ago was a bit strident, in yer face Dave Spart-speak. But basically it was right. And now we would be safer, not less safe, with someone for whom war is not a solution until the last resort, and who does not believe in a first strike, or a last strike, ensured destruction of people and poisoning of the planet.

The greatest political step in my life-time has been the creation of the European Union. Through the foresight and good faith of the likes of Adenauer and Monet, and for the first time in centuries, the tribes of Europe inside this new entity have stopped killing one another: this greatest of achievements went almost unmentioned during our silly Referendum. But the biblical adage remains true, “They that live by the sword shall perish by the sword.”

 

 

mousedhackney

This is a drawing I did when in self-imposed exile in Hackney.  I was rather pleased with the drawing of two men working on the flat-roof on the other side of the wall, top right. But a mouse got into my plan-chest and chewed up the paper – and the men – for a nest. So much for vanity.

 

The men working on the roof were linked in my mind with the man on the building in the wonderful Jongkind etching. ‘Demolitions dans la Rue des Francs Bourgeois, St Marcel,’ where every line is alive. Jongkind seems to me to reach a peak of energy and expressiveness in his etchings which he never quite finds elsewhere. There is, also in my mind, a link to the two men working or the roof in my poem ‘Two walks with K‘.

jongkind-etch-lite-copy

Well. However that may be, the mouse won. Nothing lasts in this universe, as the Anglo Saxon poets knew. Or as Dryden later put it, with an etcher’s vigour:

All human things are subject to delay

And when fate beckons, monarchs must obey

 

Happy New Year (not to mice)

David

 

 

 

We were going to a wedding near Plymouth, so we booked through train tickets well in advance, and first class for more room and comfort, on the 10.17 from Diss in Norfolk – one and a half hours to London Liverpool Street. Once we were nicely installed and comfortable the pleasant voice of a lady conductor told us that we were to be ‘re-trained’ at Colchester because torrential rain the preceding night had affected the main line. So we scrambled, with our luggage, up and over to the other platform, where we slid randomly into uncomfortable seats amid everyone’s piled up luggage. This local train set off at a leisurely trundle, including an unscheduled stop, round Marks Tey and other stations towards Shenfield (whence, hopefully, to Liverpool Street). The comfortable one hour’s transfer time to get from Liverpool Street to Paddington gradually eroded. It was a relief from tension when we reached the time at which catching our connection was now entirely impossible.

 

Our train had eventually got onto the main line to Liverpool Street and seemed to be running normally when it stopped suddenly. The driver told us we had a red light: when someone told him what it was about, he would tell us. A few minutes later he said “There’s a problem with the points, and they are sending someone to check them.” A bit later he said ” They know what is wrong with the points, and they are sending for a man with a spanner” More minutes passed. “They’ve now told me to reverse the train back to Manor Park, then they’ll decide what to do next, so you’ll see me walking through the train to the back cab.”. So he passed through, after which we reversed in stately fashion back down the line to the station.

 

“I’m going to open the doors to let some fresh air in, but they may fix the points any time so that we can go forward, so don’t get out here, unless you want to.” A longer pause.

 

“After all that, it’s probably better for the completion of your journeys, and for my sanity, if you leave the train now, cross the platform, and take the tube – I’ve checked with Transport for London – will you honour their tickets? – Yes.” So we gathered our rucksack, luggage and wedding present and humped up and over again. We got into Liverpool Street at 14.10. Whether the train we left at Manor Park ever made it to London I don’t know.

 

We crossed by tube to Paddington where there can a long walk to the platforms, depending on which tube line you cross by. In the old days there were porters: nowadays an increasingly elderly population has to carry and trudge. The walks get longer. We can do this now, but in a few years? Fortunately, though we missed our booked connection, Great Western waved us through, and we slid into comfortable seats on the 15. 15 to Penzance. And settled down for an uneventful journey

 

Except that there were non-scheduled stops at Dawlish and Dawlish Warren. And then. just before Plymouth, the train stops. The impeccably voiced train conductor informs us that there is a cow on the line – : “Actually, cows.” Armed with a flag, he descends to shoo them off, and when he gets back in we proceed towards Plymouth, being told en route that passengers for the Looe line are to descend here, and take provided road transport, because they will by now have missed the connection from Liskeard.

 

“A collision with a cow could have serious consequences,” the conductor continues, “including possible derailment, so we will have to run slowly for a bit, until we know that we are well clear. Please don’t lean out of the windows here, you can easily catch a branch or something on the way, and endanger your eyes. I have had a number of injuries on this train, so do please be sensible.”

 

At last we get out at Plymouth Station, to find that we are penned in a long queue shuffling out through only one turn-style (while several station operatives lean on rails and watch impassively as if it is nothing to do with them). Our tickets have already been checked, several times – why is this happening to us? We’re very late, and tired, and we want to get out!

 

Most of the railway workers we encountered on this trip were diligent, helpful and friendly. They wanted to do a good job, they wanted to be proud of their enterprise. But the overall organisation let them (and us) down endlessly, just as it does in the NHS, of which more in a later blog.

 

Emergency has to be planned for. Rainstorms happen, just like snow, and leaves on the line; track and machinery need maintenance, as does trackside fencing, trees and hedges. All this means labour, labour means wages, more wages means reduced profits for railway companies, but better service and therefore greater profit (or lower losses) for citizens of this nation. I imagine most of us would prefer the railway system to be a national treasure, run by staff who are not only properly paid, but proud of their institution and anxious for it to give a sterling service to the person and the nation. Esprit de corps during the Olympics was wonderful to watch – but it shouldn’t be only for athletes..

 

 

Choices

‘No black!’ I heard my father say
‘Mourners in the East wear white’
his mourners tried to get it right –
everyone turned up wearing grey.

‘A barrow and a wooden tray
will do to wheel my body there:
leave the live flowers to bloom in air –
cut flowers will shrivel in a day.’

The coffin paused, my mother ran
and threw red roses on the lid
we didn’t know she had them hid,
it wasn’t anybody’s plan;

whatever it was the vicar said
I knew my father didn’t mind –
mourning is for the left behind
you get no choices when you’re dead.

 

On Saturday 24 September I visited a very fine exhibition of Christopher Wood’s paintings in the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester. Many familiar pictures, and some unfamiliar ones. I was particularly drawn to an early painting of flowers in a vase, presented as a black silhouette against a medium dark background. Disconcertingly, in the middle of the black shape of the foliage thrusting out of the vase, there is a cluster of carefully observed florets. The result is a bit like Magritte, but much more sensuous. Naturally (as is always the case) there wasn’t a post-card of the picture you particularly want to remember; I’m sorry I can’t show it to you. Maybe, in these digital days, you could buy an image for a small sum, generating fees for the gallery and the copyright holders.

 

Talking of small sums, it costs £10 to get into the Pallant House Gallery, which will inevitably cut out many people, and casual visiting.

 

On view in the Gallery bookshop there was a blazing cluster of Peter Iden reproductions flanking one of an Ivon Hitchens landscape. (Peter would have been pleased with the company). You can only see this work in reproduction in the bookshop: there is none in the Gallery. Here are some samples. About a mile away is the small room in a small flat where Peter did all his late abstracted Downland landscapes. It’s a neat illustration of the biblical adage, that a prophet has no honour in his own country

img_3235-copy img_3258-copy

P1000044

 

Here it is again – my friendly fieldmark. Most years the field next door (Claypit Hill rising to Dicky Hill- the two fields were merged in the years after the War, part of a general amalgamation of fields, and tearing out of hedgerows here), is ploughed up, harrowed, raked and sown, and then a final fieldmark is embossed on it like a watermark by a heavy tractor. It will sit here now for the next three seasons, accentuated by the growth as it comes, modified by the nature of the crop. It’s a natural  symbol – a bit like a Greek alpha or a rune, but very much itself. Next years fieldmark will probably look similar – but not the same – and will stare up at the changing moon, currently an orange sickle in the West at dusk, who presides over this sort of variability. It will certainly creep into some future picture of mine, as it has so many times in the past.

It’s a fairly odd thing to find a painting by one artist on one side of a canvas, with a painting by another artist on the other side – of course it does happen, but it isn’t very common, though artists have often painted over their own, or other people’s work. Well. now two Tony O’Malley paintings are coming up for auction, each with half a Francis Bacon sketch on the other side. There was an article about this, with pictures, in the Mail on Sunday. Of course, it wasn’t ‘a canvas,’ it was a piece of hardboard; it wasn’t cut in half by Tony O’Malley (we wouldn’t have let him saw the board, as he had a very dicky heart), and you had better not call him ‘a minor artist’ in Ireland.

 

Regular readers will know how the event came about (see St Ives Studio; The Disappearing Bacon which I posted on this blog six years ago). If you want to look at the MoS , go to: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3467476/A-20-000-slice-Bacon-artwork-renowned-British-painter-fetched-millions-cut-HALF-reused-minor-artist.html

 

What is amazing, and never occurred to me, was that the pictures would ever surface. I assumed that Tony would have primed the boards and then painted on them so that the Bacons would have been under two coats of paint: it certainly didn’t occur to me that he would have been foresightful enough to preserve what was already there. On one thing my memory let me down on – I thought the Bacon was on the knobbly side of the hardboard, but obviously it was on the smooth side. I suppose I was influenced, thinking back, by the fact that Bacon sometimes painted on the unprimed side of canvas, an idea he got from Graham Sutherland .

 

Anyhow, Tony painted on the knobbly side; two rather heavy, cludgy pictures, perhaps influenced by Alan Lowndes (who of course was in turn influenced by L S Lowry) – very unlike the luminous paintings he later produced.

 

As to the story (in the Mail on Sunday) about the row between Francis Bacon and his then lover, a painter friend (Clive Cable, who died some years back)) was in the pub in St Ives on one occasion when Bacon and his lover came in after a fight the previous evening. As Clive retailed their pub account of the fight, one of them dropped out his false teeth, and the other stamped on them!