19 April 2007

Yes, M&S should fire Ferry

Bryan Ferry has recently got himself into hot water by praising the style of Nazi architect Albert Speer (whose brilliant biography by Gitta Sereny, I heartily recommend) and film maker Leni Riefenstahl. He apologised or clarified his remarks by saying: "I apologize unreservedly for any offence caused by my comments on Nazi iconography, which were solely made from an art history perspective. I, like every right-minded individual, find the Nazi regime, and all it stood for, evil and abhorrent" (from Wired News).

As far as I am concerned, these comments just compound his crime. The Nazi machine systematically crushed modern art. The book burning is well known, but more obscure now is the exhibition launched in Munich in 1937 entitled "Entartete Kunst" or "Degenerate Art", which was held to lambast the art of the Weimar years and included works by Chagall, Max Ernst, Paul Klee and Kandinsky to name but a few. This was contrasted with an exhibition of approved Nazi art which mainly contained sterile neo-classical works of muscular figures doing heroic things. Amusingly, the crowds flocked to the degenerate exhibition whereas the approved one was empty.

Entartete Kunst was mirrored by a ban on left wing and Jewish playwrites, such as Brecht and a complete ban on jazz on account of its "unpure" black roots.

Of the few things I am quite proud of, for my history A-level project, I wrote an essay on why the Nazis reacted the way they did to Weimar culture. I managed to find one of the few surviving artists from the 1937 exhibition, Hans Feibusch, who was in his 90s but was still working and living in St John's Wood. He gave a couple of hours of his time to a pretentious 17 year old to talk about his experiences in the 1930s and how he had got the hell out of Germany once Hitler came to power. He also reflected on modern art and on how even he had his limits - I don't think he was a Tracy Emin fan.

I guess there will always be people who say "at least he made the trains run on time" or think black leather has a certain something, but to praise the Nazis for style when they did so much to destroy the defining art and style of the 20th century is sadly ignorant. No, M&S should not fire Ferry for his crass remarks but M&S should fire him for his lack of artistic knowledge revealed by those remarks.

17 April 2007

Poll Tax Rubbish

If the success of the Thatcher years were fairly measured by the protests against her then the fact that the single biggest incident of civil protest in ten years was over a reform to local government finance must surely indicate that in 1990, things were pretty good for the average Brit. As I have always understood it, the objection to the Poll Tax was that it was unfairly regressive in that within each local authority everyone over 18 paid the same amount of tax regardless of income or other wealth. The Council Tax, which replaced it, is charged in relation to the value of the house against which it is levied, with discounts for people living alone and consequently is regarded as being completely fair, or at least not worth rioting over.

In the current climate of climate angst, green taxes are the sine qua non of contemporary politics. Local authorities have risen to the challenge by suggesting they should tax more heavily those households which produce more than a certain amount of waste each year. It is said that such a system would encourage people to use less packaging and recycle and compost more. Whether it is also designed to ensure that we finish what’s on our plate has not been revealed, nor, if it is, how this would gel with the government’s drive against obesity. But I digress.

With the exception of a few good people who grow all their own food and then compost what their own, or their dog’s, digestive system simply cannot accommodate, most of us generate a certain amount of rubbish mainly in the form of plastic, paper and glass packaging as well as the remains of last night’s takeaway. But there’s the rub: which households are producing the most sacks of rubbish? Is it (a) the single person living off takeaways and M&S meals for one; (b) the young couple who are never at home; or is it (c) the family with small children who never go out.

Speaking from personal experience, it is (c) by a rubbish strewn country mile. Yes, my family recycles, we would love to compost (but without a garden we have no intention of opening a branch of Dickens World in our own kitchen) and we have food delivered in environmentally friendly cardboard boxes. But we still generate an absolute ton of rubbish each week for the good bin persons of K&C to collect.

There are five of us living under one roof: three adults (including the au pair) and two babies. We would be heavily penalised by a rubbish tax, I am sure. The first irony and unfairness is that such a tax would effectively be per person - not even per adult, and would be no less regressive than the Poll Tax - even less so if there were no exemptions for students or the unemployed. Where are the rioters when you need them? Secondly, the demand for new houses - driven in no small part by desire of a large number of people to live alone - is a massive source of carbon emissions and pollution so much so that sole occupancy should really be penalised rather than rewarded. Unless, of course, you think the answer to global warming is for us all to stop breeding, in which maybe we should all live alone slowly going sterile whilst eating pizza and watching Vicar of Dibley repeats on UK Gold +1.

16 April 2007

Scotland be brave?

The last time I clearly remember an April as glorious as the one we are currently having was precisely 10 years ago and I spent almost all of it desperately trying to help the Tories cling, if not to power, then at least to the Bristol West constituency. Of course, they did neither. Like the devil, back then Labour had all the good tunes. Our charge that one of the "New Dangers" of New Labour was constitutional damage to the UK as Scotland would get a vote on whether or not to have its own parliament was greeted with the unanswerable - "its only a vote - why shouldn't they vote on it". Ok, not unanswerable - we had the answers, but it was obvious that nobody cared even what the question was as they started humming D-ream's "Things can only get better" at you - "so that's an undecided then, sir?".

It's deja vu all over again, as Labour, having let the Nationalist genie out of the bottle is forced to argue why the Scottish people shouldn't be granted their second wish. Right now, on the front of Labour's campaign website is their slogan "Not breaking up Britain". Aside from the use of "Not" at the start of any slogan being disastrous ("Not doing much" etc), is the smug and arrogant assumption that their third way namby pamby hotch potch of a parliament is a perfect constitutional creature and not some evolutionary blip on the road to something altogether more natural - perhaps something that stands on its own two feet and possibly with opposable thumbs to boot.

At this point I have to declare my interest: none whatsoever. Like most southern conservatives, I pretty much regard Scotland as a foreign country. I have spent more of my lifetime in Belgium, Sweden, Germany - even Bermuda, than I have in Scotland, and I cannot see that changing for a while. I have nothing against the Scottish people - I even married into a Scottish family, but all this indifference makes me highly sympathetic to the idea that if the Scots want to vote themselves into economic and political oblivion by choosing independence and in one fell swoop inflict a deadly blow against the Labour parliamentary party by casting out (or perhaps reclaiming?) 39 MPs including Brown and Browne, then who am I to quibble?

In any case, independence for the Scots makes more sense today than it ever did. Traditionally, hard working and enterprising Scots got the hell out of there and came down to London. In these times, what chance do they have, when for the price of a one bedroom flat in the Royal Borough of K&C you can purchase several hundred acres of blasted heath and a property with a moat, turrets and probably a coven of witches if you drive a particularly hard bargain.

Go back to a land down under...

...where the women blow and the men chunder... as the song might have said.

Australia - land of my fathers, or grandfathers at least, Baillieu HQ so to speak. Last week her government announced a doubling of its troop commitment to Afghanistan and in a recent Spectator article, Australian volunteers were praised by the Territorial army's City of London branch for their enthusiastic contribution to our forces.

How does the UK repay this friendship? By reverting to a policy from 200 years ago - shipping young folk (back) to Australia for the crime of wanting to stay, work and pay taxes in the UK for more than one year. A few years ago the tight two year visa offered to young Australians was altered so that out of the two years, only one year could be spent working. I don't know about you, but I would be hard pressed to find a year's worth of travelling to be done inside England, Scotland and Wales - so what is the other year for, other than working illegally?

This is the plight of the very nice boyfriend of our German au pair. He has been working for my sister's payroll business (www.paycheck.co.uk) for the last six or so months, and by all accounts has been an exemplary and valued employee, to such an extent that my sister's company went to the trouble of making a visa application so that he could extend his stay. However, his lack of formal higher qualifications meant that the Home Office turned him down, so he has to leave.

No doubt, there will be those who say this is fair as the Australians apply similar restrictions to our (lightly qualified) young people. Two points: first, two wrongs don't make a right and if we relaxed, may be they would as well. Second, we have a booming economy crying out for hard working young people with a variety of skills and qualifications - we don't just want Polish builders, Slovakian waiters and Latvian (whatever Latvians do)... Young Aussies come with no (serious) language barrier, are all properly educated to GCSE or more likely, A Level or degree standard.

Not the most sexy campaign at the moment, I know: more immigration! But it is a serious issue: my wife successfully sponsored her architectural assistant to stay in the UK recently (at some financial cost), whereas in my office, we lost two excellent Australian secretaries when their visas ran out meaning that time and money had to be spent recruiting and training new people (who are also excellent) and I hate to think of the number of brilliant nurses who must leave the NHS to go home when their visas run out - hopefully they're exempt, but I doubt it.

10 April 2007

Celebrity neighbours

I know that we live very close to Tara Palmer-Tomkinson as I have been told this by neighbours and I have seen her with my own eyes coming out of the local coffee shop. I was quite pleased that in a recent interview, her flat was described as being in the middle of South Kensington, as this sounds a lot better than Earls Court and should help the re-sale value no end (not that we need it given the craziness of the current housing boom in West London). I have also spotted Jonathan Aitken walking rather slowly along the Earls Court Road a few times, but that was not half as exciting as once passing Roger Moore on the Old Brompton Road. The celeb I see on a regular basis though, is fellow blogger Evan Davis, who is often heading to the tube in the morning at about the same time as me. As a fan of his blog as well as his TV and radio work, I sometimes mull over an opening gambit with a view to striking up a conversation with him - however, not wanting to be a creepy stalker type, I don't. Tonight, I saw him on the way home from the tube and we sort of criss-crossed eachother as I took the initiative by crossing the busy road in a daring manouevre but then he overtook me as we approached the bus stop near the turning to my road - he is surprising lanky and walks very fast, which is perhaps another reason I never strike up a conversation with him. But up ahead of me he did get stopped by someone else wanting to speak to him. About the BBC's view of the current housing boom in West London? What the Dragons are really like outside of the Den? No, just for directions to the tube station. Oh, the fickleness of fame....

Keith Ingram

I have noticed a fair number of visitors to this blog coming via a search for Keith Ingram. If you are one of those and are looking for information about his memorial service, here are the details:
Thanksgiving Service for Keith Ingram, ‘Inky’

Sunday 3rd June 2007
A Service of Thanksgiving for Keith Ingram, ‘Inky’, will be held at the School on Sunday 3rd June 2007 at 11 am. We anticipate that a great many of Inky’s friends, former colleagues, and pupils will wish to attend and, whilst we plan to accommodate as many people as possible, as it is during term we will have to manage numbers very carefully. Therefore this will be a ticket-only event and applications will be processed in the order of receipt. Whether you are able to attend the Service or not, we would welcome your recollections of this remarkable man. Please email ods@dragonschool.org or return the enclosed form to the OD Office as soon as possible.