Monday, 27 August 2012

The Olympics... and Beyond

After the flash, fast forward motion video up the Thames to Tower Bridge, after Kenneth Branagh's 'master of industry' act and before the pogoing Punkmonsters and Dizzee and before the people in jackets walking around the stadium (at which point I switched off) there came a brief hiatus in proceedings at the Olympics Opening Ceremony. The dark, satanic towers were nearly up, the stadium bathed in an apparent smoky belch, and a mostly intrigued, I suspect, audience had time to collect their breath. 'This,' opined commentator Trevor Nelson, 'is my kind of history lesson'.

I kind of knew what he meant. I didn't really need BBC snooker anchor-woman Hazel Irvine explain to me the tragedy of the Peterloo Massacre, either, but it was delightful anyway. I could go on at length - the shimmering NHS/Mary Poppins (Peter Pan subtext?) set, the postmodern play of James Bond and the Queen (or should that be the Queen and James Bond?),  Pop Music as Britain's great cultural export etc etc. I liked the Opening Ceremony.

Things have been changing in my life. I have been supporting the Great Britain team at the Olympics throughout recent weeks and my team did well, winning lots of medals. Great. I have a semi-friend who comes from Croatia. She beamed with pride at the weekend when relating Britain's success to me. 'Mo Farah won gold' I noted. 'Yes.' 'Two' she added in that clipped East European tone. It's easier supporting this country in sport than opposing them, a radical agenda that upset all manner of mainstream cultural assumptions many years ago. It was different then - from the early nineties onwards - and it was football and England and The Sun back in the early nineties which reached its apogee for me in about 2002, 2006 with England's World Cup exits being received by national mourning. Those red and white St George's flags - I liked them, felt proud to lie with my lover in a room with one stretched across the window but they took on a quasi-religious tone in the wake of England's defeat and in the context of a country struggling to understand the semiotics of advertising and thus struggling to adjust to government much by media manipulation.

But I cheered Andy Murray's three-set victory over Roger Federer in the tennis and brightened throughout at news of more Golds. I will try to support the England football team from now on. There is maybe some sense to it and lots of heritage. The United Kingdom is the nation I was born in. I don't agree with the global political system of nation states competing for land and resources. For me, as for Virginia Woolf, 'My country is the world.' Being proud to be English? No, this is not what my rediscovered sporting patriotism is about. Down in Albion there's far too much of that.

So, onto the so-called 'quality broadsheets.' I think this term (which never really strictly made sense, anyway) is fast approaching being dropped altogether. What is it they have done this time? Those right-wing and left-wing great bodies of carefully articulated information regarding the world today. Well, call me old-fashioned but I like my news at the front of the paper and my sport at the back. You know, it makes sense, it has a traditional heritage that everybody can follow. News at the front, sport at the back. Ok? Perhaps its more than that. The first few days of the Olympics saw The Guardian devote fifteen pages to this jubileee of sporting events. Then something about Aleppo.

There's a phrase isn't there, 'No news is good news.' Those of us more inclined to the left in our politics have long understood the hint of truth that hides within this lunatic phrase. I know men and women who sift through these tree-rings and I point bits out and I go 'That might be promising,' before they explain to me how, once again, this is going to f*** people over. But they carry on reading, day in, day out. I wonder what they make of these detailed discussions of the need for cycle paths and whether it is acceptable to fancy Jessica Ennis. Or 'Triumph at the Rowing' or 'Oldest man wins Equestrian silver' or 'Usain Bolts Again.' Good news! Maybe this is the point. Maybe the slug-bods that are nibbling on the rotting, fallen bits of Mr Murdoch have decided, 'Ah, people are right. It's good news they want. Let's give them some good news. Let's have them think that all is well with the world so they'll not worry so much and buy our papers just for fun.' 'Tell you what, here's an idea, why don't we have the sport at the front of the newspaper? Because Britain are alright at sport, for such a small country, and it's cheaper than winning wars.'

Some of the above may have some relevance, some grounding in what's happening in the British media today. Not the good news part, though, because Tia Sharp went missing and was then discovered, murdered, and that made front page news or at least Pages 2 and 3. I am, naturally, saddened by the tragedy. Yet it may be worth commending those journalists who ventured beyond the confines of the Olympic Park and went out and brought this to public attention: something rotten has happened in the state of the United Kingdom.

I hope that this recent move in the broadsheets to portraying national sporting success on its front pages is at least reined in from the ludicrous attention that these Games have received in recent weeks. A picture is alright, you know: a distant picture of men in whites sprinting towards wickets; horses having their bodies follow their necks over great walls of grass and birch; two pretty ice skaters clinging to each other in their glitzy suits with similarly sparkling smiles. And then a comment, and a small article explaining the sporting occasion to which such a picture alludes. This can be interesting, refreshing, different and even newsworthy. I am fine with this.

I haven't even started on the whole 'Just maybe the Olympics are the celebratory event that the British public needed to pull itself back together and feel good about itself (while global corporations have their steely claw talons embed their grip deeper into the earth... and the icecaps melt)' aspect of articles I was continually giving up on after a paragraph last week. That's not journalism, that's somewhere between ill-conceived soothsaying and inane propaganda.

We are all in this together. Me, Boris Johnson, Kenneth Branagh, the Spice Girls, the family of Mark Duggan, and many more. Probably we all see sport as a good thing. But the reports that we receive of this sunny weather and this brave new Britain need more thought and less financial influence.

This article was originally published at http://howtowinatracing.wordpress.com/ on 14 August 2012. I flirted with a Wordpress journal for a while but, for the time being, I am staying here and will let readers know of any developments.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Untitled

oh, f~~k it... new blog thing. just give up messrs. google, sell it, give up etc. anyway. what the f+++ is this? someone telling me about steel armour plated battalions only the best need apply? [thanks, its kind of you]= irony. they should teach kids in schools how to learn about the subtlety of advertising. well, they should. plus, they should give them big introductory courses re: discussion of obscene distribution of wealth and less obscene levels, something like that. i'm hooked, mate. i cannot keep away. except when the drugs go - then i'm just walk with the silent, sound like depeche mode. depeche mode. that name is fine. let's watch some videos, friends, friends, friends, unite, fight the power with words and get a good big printing firm. work it out. a band dedicated stuff to me last night. if if if nobody else fancies becoming a musician i'm your man. ah, tomfoolery, tomfoolery, and these quiet newhaven nights... I really like this next video. It's not Dexy's Midnight Runners but, I don't know, I like it... This crowd is so happy to put their hands together and... I don't know, to me it looks like a proper fun night out. I miss them. They were good. Don't know why I'm moaning, I just miss them my lady, alright. Look at the guy. He's got his retro school jumper on, had about ten too many pints cause he's so nervous and its still - I don't know... it's not even very wild at all, at all. I'm going to give up soon and live free and EASY... go to Spain. Anyway, enjoy!



They're funny, the Dexy's. Kev's just Kev. Keeps trying a comeback but it ain't the same. I keep drinking the rose. I'm like Elvis Costello (bit of a twat, apparently, so I read today - bit up himself, so I'm spreading that rumour. Why not? I buy it. He was, I don't know, he introduced me to expressing my anger in a semi-vaguely-creative format, was good. But... I can, I don't know, I can imagine him thinking he's important in things, I think I'm important in things far too much of the time and probably... well... Elvis there didn't help. I won't say another word, Elvis. It's just a rumour. I won;t say another word. There is some doubt. I've never really thought of love as some kind of tumour. You've got a life to save except I'm just joking. But for lines like oh... "its the words that they don't say"... I was such a wuzzy and fuzzy little madhead listening to Elvis. Strange little tunes that... Ah, watched a comic tonight - comedian. Rubbish. Thought: there's a career. Fuck it, maybe. Boredom creeps, moving up slowly. Jane singing Jim Morrison's 'Unknown Soldier' to me. One night out and I feel like a toff. I am a fuckin' toff. Heel or revolt. Find a fucking wall and start it. Settle down. Listen to a video. Go buy a semi-interesting book from Oxfam. FFF this song... smile awhile please... we try to be cheery 'ere in the cagoule-ridden beautiful south... (it's sweetish)



Right that's just fuckin' superb. May you all have a happy day or evening. Send us an e-mail if you have no-one to run home to, that is just so... not really my life (exactly) but touching... so sweet and proper real life love song, ah...

Postscript (27 Aug 2012): I was drunk when I wrote and published this journal entry. It has been up here for a month now so I hope it doesn't cause offence and think it may as well remain.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Life

I've been busy and creative recently. I've also been drinking too much. My main task has been developing a music workshop course to run at the community centre where I work. This is a challenge but the lessons have been quite fun to plan and I'm excited about the 12-week course that begins on April 23rd.

On the PC I've been learning more about programming. My long-term goal in this area is to create a database which takes a lot of data on horse racing from the web. Then analyse that data and win a lot of money by placing some clever bets. Ho hum. So looking at accessing the Betfair API and scraping some horse racing results. For those interested here are a few links to some useful tutorials.

Gambling and Technology
Using VB2008 to access the Betfair API
Timeform.NET - Data mining http://form.horseracing.betfair.com library
Python Betfair Library on Google Code
Anyone want a horse racing database?
Getting data from RP online cards

Python and Visual Basic are the two languages I'm studying. The general impression seems to be that the former is brilliant. The Python OS is probably best downloaded from ActiveState while How To Think Like A Computer Scientist is a comprehensive tutorial which quickly gets you coding.

I've had a good look at numerous Google products recently. The browser, Chrome, I really like. It comes with a great set of web developer tools included, has a moderately slick design, and seems fast. The music sequencing apps available look like fun too.

Blogger, which this website is produced with of course, is rubbish and I'm not so much pondering a move to Wordpress as I just never get around to actually doing it. They've been messing about with YouTube aswell and everywhere you look with Google they are trying to get to you to social network. YouTube seems to have a very similar set-up to Blogger and for people providing content, either publishing blog posts or uploading videos, these tools are extraordinarily limited yet continue to frustrate with their lack of clarity. I wonder why they seem so badly developed and I can only imagine some bigger kind of socially networked search experience is being planned around co-ordinating these sites and frameworks. Which, you know, could be alright. Then they have this Google+ and iGoogle which seem for now like pitiful efforts at this sharing online content thing. Yahoo is just as bad and Facebook wins every time. I try not to do social networking - heck I don't even allow comments on this blog. But I have wasted a fair bit of time messing around with the playlists function on YouTube this week. I won't bore you with all that but here's Franz Ferdinand directed by the Thirty Two partnership wittily showcasing the awful truth of indie rock'n'roll which is grown men in suits scouting for drugs. Let's push things forward...



So there we are - drugs, gambling, youth work and programming. I haven't taken 'drugs' as we know and love them for years. As Morrissey says, I never really knew what drugs were. Did Brighton win last night? No. Where am I going to with this? Er... well, I'm not really planning at producing some flashy website to display my wares. I would like to help a few young people realise that it's perfectly alright to desire fame but understand too that music as a career is really possible. Then I get into Mr Cameron's big society and start paying the kids peanuts for knocking around a music studio because it can be fun (i.e. deliver a job training scheme). I've even been hassling one or two people in Newhaven about a potential venue I have my eye on.

But, yeah, real busy and then I need some capital and hence the silly programming/gambling plans. I'm getting quite old to be getting around to all this. The Citalopram and the Unemployed Centre have both been really helpful. I think you get the drift some focus is possibly needed. No videos from The Streets on this website yet. The Streets are not so much the dirty truth of indie rock as how it should be so enjoy...

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Still I must speak frankly, Mr. Shankly

Good morning.

Something of an update then for any (you never know) readers out there. I have a job (of sorts) at Brighton Unemployed Centre. That occupies roughly two days a week and I've been working there for over six months. I am a Welfare Rights advisor there, which mostly means I give out advice about how to claim benefits and help people with filling in forms. I like the work and the centre a lot.

I'm still trying to live on benefits myself. That question about 'Am I looking for work?' or 'Am I scrounging? flared up a bit in my head the other day. That's quite rare. I don't usually feel bad about not working but there is one kind of part of my extended family and somehow meeting them always gets me feeling bad about it. Not that I do generally feel bad about it because I don't. Watching Question Time is always a healthy antidote to feeling like this. People whose houses are worth two million pounds sitting in the audience and lamenting the proposed higher taxes on such a property. I didn't work because it never looked interesting. I didn't want to do some very mundane job. While I'm not speaking very clearly on the subject please check out this video. Good 'ol Saint/Lunatic Mozzer chats to Adrian Chiles and Christine Bleakley (is that her name? should be).



So there we are. Adrian Chiles: 'We'd all have to sympathise with the white collar workers' - it's pretty inane; Bleakley rolls in with her rather generic line about 'kids to feed, bills to pay.' Then Morrissey just goes on. Why work in Tescos, indeed, when you could paint? And you could just travel the world and have fun.

Oh, plus Jeremy Vine being Jeremy Vine and David Cameron coming across all shiny and clean as ever but saying sorry, at least. Morrissey asking almost genuinely 'Is it me?' to which the interviewers don't understand and 'Yes, yes, it's you' and Morrissey's bafflement at such a response. It's TV footage worth seeing, I think.

I'm hoping when Digital Switchover happens to quit on TV for good. It would make an interesting change. I've been thinking about moving location again - to Brighton - but this is probably just March madness and I shall probably still be receiving guests in Newhaven in a year's time. We'll see.

I am on the computer a lot of the time. What did I do before I had an internet-ready PC in my home (about 2005)? I really should give up. I don't really social network. The e-mail ticks over with the odd message to friends. I'm always browsing sites thinking about programming. I spent a long time learning about making music on the PC (using Ableton Live, mainly). Then Cheltenham races arrived this week and I got hooked. I could get over this.

The world is outside my window but the trouble is I seem to need alcohol to get me much excited about it. I know I've played you a video already but some Half Man Half Biscuit surely wouldn't go amiss. This one is from their recent album, '90 Bisodol (Crimond)'.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

South Coast Climate Camp

An un-named group of environmental activists (possibly Brighton Climate Action) has established a small camp around the disused and boarded up property of the former St Anne's School in Lewes. Lewes County Council has allowed this property and its beautiful grounds to go unused for some six years since the closure of this school for children with special educational needs. Some local concern has been raised and fears are that the Council will sell the site to private developers in order to raise funds to tackle the 'debt crisis.'

Lewes citizens and environmental campaigners are thus coming together in a bid to ensure that a former community resource does not fall into the hands of private capital. There has been growing media coverage of the camp and of the future for this beautiful site which is home to many trees, flowers, herbs and wildlife. Lewes is a town with a largely affluent population and a history of embracing radical political ideas. In recent years it has gained press coverage and investment for its role as a Transition Town. Plans are well underway (shares are being launched) for a solar power station to be constructed upon the site of a former brewery. In short, there is much popular local support for green politics.

I'm delighted to get the chance to be involved with this project. Digging allotments for a collective community seems to make sense in a town where waiting lists for private allotments are so lengthy. Workshops on beekeeping and permaculture are inspiring and I am learning much about how to live showing more respect to the earth. 'Sustainable community' is the idea. The site being occupied inevitably challenges the government's whole policy on the pre-eminence of property rights. This brings with it both the possibility of eviction and negative press coverage.

It's very interesting for me to see to what extent the townspeople of Lewes (where I grew up) will choose to get involved with the camp and with the discussion surrounding the future use of the site. A public meeting around a campfire on Tuesday evening was attended by the County Council Director of Property, John Morris, among other local councillors and prospective candidates in the forthcoming local elections. This suggests that contemporary politics is changing and local residents who attended the meeting seemed largely in support of the climate campaigners' actions and intentions.

It feels quite refreshing for me to turn away from the ethical bankruptcy of an increasingly globalised capitalist system that doesn't seem to work very well for the majority of people and attempt to live a little differently. To take a spade and turn some earth and work some land to produce food that doesn't require intensive pesticides and doesn't need to be flown major distances because the interests of corporate profitability are just not involved. I support this attempt to live differently, more in keeping with the earth. I have a sense of caution, too, and a wariness towards radical political agendas being pushed on me. I have no wish to get arrested but this project seems to have good intentions behind it.

I am reminded of a quote from the beginning of Patrick Keiller's film 'Robinson In Space':

"Sitting comfortably, I opened my copy of The Revolution of Everyday Life: 'Reality, as it evolves, sweeps me with it. I am struck by everything and though not everything strikes me in the same way I am always struck by the same basic contradiction: Although I can always see how beautiful anything could be if only I could change it, in practically every case there is almost nothing I can do.' A bridge between imagination and reality must be built."
Here's a link to the South East Climate Camp website:
http://brightonclimateaction.org.uk/

Saturday, 23 April 2011

The Referendum on AV (Alternative Voting)

Literature has been delivered to my home regarding the referendum on the voting system used to elect MPs to the House of Commons in the United Kingdom.

The clearest and most helpful pamphlet I have seen so far has been that put together by the Electoral Commission: 'Local Elections and Referendum.' Here is a link to that booklet in PDF format which could help anyone who is confused as to what the referendum on May 5th is all about.

While local government elections may be taking place on the same day for this referendum, those eligible to vote will receive a ballot paper with this question:

'At present, the UK uses the 'first past the post' system to elect MPs to the House of Commons. Should the 'alternative vote' system be used instead?

You show your choice by putting a cross (X) in the 'Yes' or 'No' box on your ballot paper.

I intend to vote 'Yes' to Alternative Voting in the referendum. I am a little disappointed, however, with the promotional literature for the 'Yes' campaign. They have sought to imitate official census-style typography while including a list of celebrities who are voting 'Yes.' The 'Yes to AV' campaign gives three reasons for voting 'Yes': 1. MPs working harder for you, 2. Tackling 'jobs for life' in Westminster, and 3. Giving you a stronger voice.

'Giving you a stronger voice' is important, I think. The UK has a strong tradition of 'moderate' government. The freedom of the democratic voting system is arguably one of the most cherished aspects of this country's heritage. Yet in recent years there has been a growing dissent regarding our political system. Critics of many opinions and persuasions lament that 'nothing ever changes' and (in terms of political parties or politicians) 'they are all the same.'

AV is about 'giving you a stronger voice' in that you may vote first for your favourite political party. I am strongly inclined to vote for the Green Party because I am concerned about global warming and climate change. Under the system we use at present - which involves just one round of voting - I sometimes vote strategically (for one of the main political parties) because I feel the Green Party is unlikely to win and my vote would seem almost as if it were wasted or futile.

But with a system of Alternative Voting in place I would get to show my support for the Green Party and - in further rounds of voting - (presuming the Greens have not won many votes and have been knocked out of the election) I get to contribute towards an elected majority by voting for one of the main political parties to govern.

The 'No to AV' promotional literature seems rather sneaky. The Tories are campaigning for a 'No' vote and yet the 'No to AV' lobby is happy to muddy Nick Clegg's name in this literature. This is the same Nick Clegg who happily brought the Liberal Democrats (a party with minority support at the last election) to an alliance with the Conservatives (a party with minority support at the last election) to govern just over one year ago. This coalition has introduced a swathe of immoderate cuts to public services and social benefits while saddling students with the cost of tuition fees. That the 'No to AV' literature should try to suggest that this lobby group is against cuts to public services will hopefully not fool sensible voters in the forthcoming referendum.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

The Edge of Dreaming

Amy Hardie's documentary, 'The Edge of Dreaming,' describes her increasing obsession that she will die at the age of forty-eight years old. Amy doesn't have many dreams. She dreams that her horse will die and, on waking, runs out to a nearby field to find him dead. A later dream prophesises her death at the age of 48 and she struggles to rid herself of this fear. Soon she gets a diagnosis of a seriously debilitating lung complaint and before long the documentary maker is chronicling her family's increased worry and confusion about all these troubling signs.

The documentary-maker searches through the film both for scientific reasons underlying the strange phenomena of her dreams and for healing to her frightening lung condition. But it is the experience of a shamanic trance that finally helps Amy Hardie to heal and she moves into her forty-ninth year. From this we may conclude that dreams either can and can't or may and may not be prophetic.

This is a film made by Amy Hardie about Amy Hardie. Yes, there are other concerns and of coure it relates to the wider world that she lives in but being as she is the documentary maker she uses techniques, such as montage, to impress on the viewer a vague sense of a spiritual transformation or revelation that intimately relates to her.

There is science in this film but this is depicted by a naive drawing of the interior workings of the brain with synapses firing neurons etc. It is all too easy to watch this film and think that there is scientific consistency to the ideas that Amy Hardie desperately stumbles upon in her bid to stay alive. For me, this is a touching portrait of a beautiful loving family and that's about it.