Wednesday 31 March 2010

Oh folly, folly

I was recently described, by someone who doesn’t know me, as an aesthete. The pseudo-libertarian blogger concerned, who shall remain nameless, meant it as a term of abuse, but I consider it a badge of honour. It would seem that someone who likes art, cinema, music, theatre and other ‘cultural’ activities is to be despised.

I was brought up on a council estate, when such things existed, and I have always considered myself to be working class. I take the Marxist view that if I don’t own the means of production then I must be working class. Simplistic some might argue, particularly as the ‘the middle-class’ doesn’t really figure heavily in the writings of Marx. Petty bourgeoisie, yes middle-class, no. In truth the middle-class wasn’t invented until after the First World War, so how could it feature in Marxist thinking? Despite considering myself to be working class I do come from middle-class stock and therefore have inherited a certain love of fine things, and fine experiences. I feel very fortunate that at this particular point in my life I am able, and have been able, to experience quite a number of what might be described as ‘aesthetic pleasures’. And so it was last weekend.

It was a nice bright evening when we arrived at the Prospect Tower just south of Faversham. The Prospect Tower was built as a ‘whim’ (a folly really) in the grounds of Belmont House. It seems to have become a glorified cricket pavilion, to which the many pictures that adorn the walls affirm. It is now owned by the Landmark Trust, an organisation that restores old usually quirky buildings and then rents them out as holiday ‘cottages’. As we sat in the main room drinking our tea, with the lady reading from ‘The Log’ (an upmarket guest book), it suddenly struck me how middle-class this all was. Oh dear!

We had a need for a long weekend away, a weekend somewhere where we could relax, not do too much on the tourist front, read books, write and feed our faces without having to worry about doing chores and other stuff. It was to be a weekend to recharge our batteries hence we plumped for somewhere to stay that was aesthetically interesting. A place to enjoy being in rather than just a dormitory. Somewhere to stay in. Having said that we did venture out a couple of times, once to Faversham and once to Whitstable, both nice places. Faversham is probably the most spread out market town that I have ever been to, giving the impression of being sparsely populated, although I’m sure it isn’t. There were people were about shopping, and the two pubs we drank in were reasonably busy. Whitstable proved to be a different kind of seaside experience. A long winding sea wall to walk along with a largely uncommercialised seafront which made a refreshing change. The south east is always portrayed as a bed of affluence, but this part of Kent doesn’t know it. I was amazed at how non-affluent it appeared to be. House prices seem most reasonable, virtually on a par with rural Norfolk, and the inhabitants are very salt of the earth.

The Prospect Tower is essentially made up of three cylindrical parts. The first houses the spiral staircase, the larger central cylinder houses the bedroom and above that the sitting room and at the other end you have the shower-room with the kitchen above rooms in the round, with period furniture.

The sitting room

The view from the battlements

One wonderful discovery that we made during our weekend away was a gem of a farm shop turned sizeable food retailer Macknades. When we visited their web site before going we thought, “This is too good to be true”. Thankfully it wasn’t, it was everything we’d hope for and more. We made three visits there. Oh why haven’t we got a place like it where we live?

I don’t know Kent that well but the little I’ve seen has left me hungry for more. We’ll be back!

Tuesday 16 March 2010

In praise of the midget gem

In the world of fruit, jelly and sugar based confectionery the midget gem is a jewel surpassed by none. It is the most delicious fruity sweet going. I'm not a great fan of the chocolate bar, Topics being about my favourite. When I have a sweet craving it is usually for something with a nondescript fruit bias. So its midget gems for me every time. Midget gems just tick so many boxes; they are sweet, soft, chewy, fruity and small. What’s not to like?

Very often in this life you get what you pay for. The more you pay the better the product. Not so with midget gems. Head and shoulders above any other is the Tesco Value midget gem. Not sure why that should be but it is. Fact!
They are softer than most. I’m not a big fan of hard gum. The fruit flavours are more nondescript than many of its contemporaries, to the point where I would defy anyone to pick out any recognisable fruit flavour. Far from being a failing I see these traits as being perfect for delivering maximum sweetie goodness. Ladies and gentlemen I endorse and recommend wholeheartedly to you this confection delight. Your pleasurable delectation will not be denied.

Thursday 11 March 2010

Voting floaters

I heard a commentator the other day refer to Gordon Brown as an unelected prime minister. I know why he said it. He said it to score political points. All’s fair in love and war and all that. But it is a claim that is wholly inaccurate. Or I suppose totally accurate as all prime ministers are unelected so to speak. Well they are if you discount the MPs part in the proceedings. It’s a claim that some people, rather naively will believe, and do believe as you often hear people say things like, ‘I’m not voting for David Cameron’ or, ‘I’m still going to vote for Gordon Brown’. The same charge was levelled at John Major and Jim Callaghan but it doesn’t change the fact that we the electorate have never voted directly for the leader of the government.

Unless you actually live in the constituency of a party leader then you are never going to vote for a prime minister. Actually there is no job of prime minister. It is not how our peculiar system of parliamentary democracy works. Under the present system it is a nonsense concept. I’m not defending our system but just pointing out many people’s misunderstanding.

At a general election we are voting for a person to represent us, and the constituency in which we live, in parliament. We are not voting for someone because we want a certain prime minister. Of course our voting could well influence the outcome but it doesn’t alter the fact that we are voting for a candidate in our constituency and that candidate alone. Up until the time I moved to Norwich I had always lived in a constituency that has been represented by a Tory. I’ve never voted Tory so technically I’ve never elected an MP. The fact that in 1997 I voted Labour like I’ve always done, and we came within a few hundred votes of electing a Labour MP, does not mean that I influenced the makeup of the government in any way, shape or form. The point I’m trying to make is that in our system we return an MP to parliament. As a constituency we entrust that MP with the power to represent us as their judgement sees fit. They represent us and make decisions on our behalf. That is how it works. It is the MPs and MPs alone that decide the flavour of the government and its leader. True, all of this will normally happen in a partisan manner, but there is no automatic link to deciding who ultimately runs the country.

Occasionally an MP will leave one party mid-term and join another, or go independent. They have every right to do this. They are representing their constituents and not a party. A similar situation applies to the position of ‘First Lord of the Treasury’. That appointment is delegated to MPs and their judgement.

As a collective, the constituency elects an MP. As a collective, MPs elect a government and its leader. Simples!

Monday 8 March 2010

Crazy Oscar

I don't really hold with awards for art. In reality they can only ever be subjective. But that said I was still pleased to hear that Jeff Bridges received a much deserved Oscar last night. As it happens we went to see Crazy Heart yesterday evening and came away having enjoyed it immensely. Since the Big Lebowski I've long thought Jeff bridges to be a great but under recognised actor. So it’s good that he has finally been acknowledged for that talent. Crazy Heart is a wonderfully gritty, amusing and sad film. It charts the travels of one Bad Blake, a down on his luck country blues singer songwriter who lives on the road and out of a bottle. He lives the life of the archetypal little known troubadour a life of seedy motels, casual sex and fast food. He’s on the slow road to oblivion when he pulls up at the crossroads of opportunity. The potential catalyst for his redemption is a young female journalist. I won't spoil the film for you if you've not seen it but shall we say that it ends in a way that lends itself to bitter sweet.

Unfortunately not everyone saw through the emperor’s new clothes that is Avatar and the film received three Oscars. Special effects and no substance is not a good recipe for a film. You might be able to fool large amounts of people with hype, smoke and mirrors. But you can't fool everybody!

Thursday 4 March 2010

One of the last true socialists

It was sad to hear yesterday’s news of the passing of Michael Foot, one of the countries last true socialists. Michael Foot was a conviction politician that rather unfairly took a lot of stick from the gutter press when he was leader of the Labour Party. I think he was ridiculed by certain papers because of is great intellect, something your average gutter hack isn’t capable of.

BBC Report

A tribute from Tony Benn, the last true socialist.

Monday 1 March 2010

Protestant work ethic

”Work is the curse of the drinking classes”

Following on from my previous post I’d like to challenge the notion of work.

Is work really necessary?

That might seem to be a ridiculous question to ask. Almost as a reflex action many people would reply “of course it is”.

One thing that does have some bearing on this issue is what you define as work. Is it how you earn a living? Or is it something by which you earn your living but do not enjoy and have no interest in? This distinction is important because for me work is something hateful, and if I were to do something that I enjoyed it would become a vocation!

I’m not naive enough to think we can all have vocations. I also realise that there are many unfortunates that would love a job of any sort. But I do feel we have gone too far down the road to becoming cogs in a vast money machine. There should be more to life than just making money. Money should just be the oil that lubricates and enables the good things in life to happen. Society does not put enough emphasis on happiness, collective or individual. Society currently dictates that we should ‘live to work’ and not ‘work to live’. That surely can’t be right can it?

All my life I’ve had to put up with shit jobs that I’ve hated. For as long as I can remember I’ve dreaded getting up and going to work. The only time I didn’t was for a brief period when I was self-employed. I’m not sure how much longer I will have to work, I’d like to retire in the next five years, but depending on who runs the country I’ll have to do another eleven or twelve years at least, and quite frankly I struggle with that prospect.

”Beam me up Scotty”

*The title of this post does not choose to highlight a particular religion and hold it up as an example. As an atheist I have no desire to live in a non-secular society.