I’m really not sure why I am writing this. I have never been so busy, what with this and that and everything else! A couple of things prompt me to write.
The Jonah Boy
Today is an important day in that this evening sees the opening performance of The Jonah Boy by 3rd year Music Theatre students at The University of Central Lancashire. The score is by Richard Taylor and the show is directed by Roger Haines. An actor friend recently commented on how impressed he was that we have people of Roger and Richard’s calibre coming in to work with students on the course. Last year Roger directed Richard’s Closest To The Moon with some of our then third years. It was a memorable experience for all concerned. What is so lovely is that Roger and Richad were both so keen to come back and work here again.
So, it’s all very exciting. It is not a premiere performance, as The Jonah Boy has been performed before. However, it is a re-worked version and so is a premiere of sorts. So, to all the cast, crew and creatives, may the rest of this week bring you great joy and your audiences great pleasure.
The passing of a leader
This week saw the demise of an ex-prime minister. In death, as she did in life, Margaret Thatcher continues to split the nation. Some are outraged by the estimated £10m cost of her funeral. Others think the arrangements do not go far enough. Whilst some propose the most eloquent and admiring of eulogies, others choose to use her death as a time to voice their hatred. I think the death of a frail woman in her late 80s is not an appropriate occasion for expressions of bile and recrimination, and certainly those close to her should be allowed to grieve privately and with dignity. However those in public life, especially those who rise to the highest of positions, have to live, and die, with whatever legacy they have bequeathed.
I think the Independent columnist Owen Jones has a point when he notes the irony in Labour MPs returning to Westminster today to pay tribute to the Baroness, given what she had caused to happen in many of those MPs’ constituencies three decades ago. Of course, as the Leader of the Opposition, Ed Milliband would be expected to be dignified and reverential in turning up today. In fairness, some Labour MPs, like her lifelong enemy and critic Dennis Skinner, have stayed away. Glenda Jackson did turn up, but took the opportunity to remind the House of the ”most heinous, social, economic and spiritual damage that Thatcher’s government wreaked upon this country.”
Another 87 year-old died this week; today in fact. He was also a leader. Prof Sir Robert Edwards led scientific research that resulted in the first ‘test-tube’ baby, Louise Brown, being born in 1978. To put it another way, he pioneered IVF treatment. It begs a question about which of these two eminent people did the most for good in our nation’s communities. It would be the Professor every time for me. Louise Brown has said that he brought “joy to millions of people.” Can that really be claimed, by even the most ardent tory, about ex-premier Thatcher?
We have all learned a lot more than we knew about Jimmy Saville in the last week or two. It has been pretty difficult to avoid the media attention on Saville’s history, sparked by the ITV Exposure documentary a couple of weeks ago, a programme I watched. I have no doubt that the claims made by the women in that programme are true. The many allegations that have come to light since, from people who doubtless found the courage to come forward from watching the programme, would appear to be a very sad but all too true testimony.
If Saville was still alive then these claims would have to go through a legal process. The fact that he is dead means that no due process has to be followed. People have called phone-ins on the radio with their stories. Many other branches of the media have carried allegations that appear to have snowballed in a gathering momentum of the uncovering of the truth. Perhaps there ought be some kind of process for allegations made against people who are dead. On this occasion there appears to be an insurmountable stack of evidence that can only have one conclusion: that Saville was an evil predator, who flouted the law and the trust placed in him, abusing children and other young people in the process. There would also appear to be very few people left around who will be suffering the fallout of all of this. He was the youngest of seven children; I have no idea if any of his siblings have survived him.
There will be other cases, however, where allegations are made against individuals, post mortem, that might suggest more caution, more discretion if not an actual legal process, not only on behalf of the individual but also for those close to them who live on. Anyone who alleges misconduct against a living person places upon themselves a burden of proof, and rightly so. This burden of proof would appear not to exist when making allegations about dead people. So what is to stop someone, over the past two weeks, who just happened to have been on Jim’ll Fix It or Top of the Pops in years gone by, contacting several tabloid newspapers and selling their story to the highest bidder, albeit there not being a thread of truth in it?
Further, if all the things said about Saville are true would it not be better that a legal process, rather than an inquiry, draws conclusions so that there is proper, publicly shared understanding of what this man had done? Based on that the stripping of a knighthood, or any other posthumous sanction, would have more credibility.
A few weeks ago I received a very kind invitation from Vivien Care at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (or Coleg Brenhinol Cerdd a Drama Cymru as it also states on the front of the building – strange there isn’t a different word in Welsh for Drama!). It came about due to one of my ex-students who had gone from UCLan to RWCMD. The staff in Cardiff turned out to have been as pleased and impressed with Jonny as we had been, which goes to show the legacy one leaves with students goes far beyond their module results and the certificate they are given when it’s all over. In fact it also goes to show that, actually, it’s never over.
So it was that yesterday evening was spent at the RWCMD. The new building is now a year old, and what a building! As I sat in the Richard Burton Theatre, awaiting the start of the MA Musical Theatre Showcase, I could almost feel the beads of envy seeping through my pores. It is a lovely small-mid scale venue with, unbelievably, stalls, circle and upper-circle seating.
It was great to see Jonny Landels as he takes his next strides on the road to a performing career. It was also good to see him working with his fellow students at RWCMD. It was a really good showcase; a really well balanced programme of monologues and musical theatre songs that gave each of the thirteen post-grad students their chance to shine. There were regional accents from all corners of the British Isles as well as from across the Atlantic, and refreshing it was to hear these speaking voices for what they are, rather than for what they might pretend to be. We kind of know they’ll be able to do decent RP, standard cockney and reasonable northern; they’re at drama school! But it was great to hear authentic hard-edged Scots and poetically beautiful Dublin, not to mention a lilting south Wales.
Meeting staff and students afterwards was great too. It took an instant to appreciate that these are people who not only care and are passionate about what they do, but are bloody good at it and who go about their business without pretensions. They perform again today in Cardiff and tomorrow in London. Good luck to all! I didn’t get chance to have a look at the Bute Theatre, but hopefully I will if I get chance to see Edwin Drood in December.
So, a big well done and thank you to Vivien and all at RWCMD! You’re all welcome at UCLan anytime.
I know lots of people who love sport, but are not that interested in golf. If you’re among their number then I encourage you to keep in touch with the Ryder Cup this weekend. When I see keep in touch, what I really mean is watch. To watch live you need access to Sky Sports, though the BBC are showing highlights, and for those of you doing a lot of driving over the coming couple of days, or possibly decorating the bedroom, there is continuous commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live.
Professional golf at the highest level is played by multimillionaires. One of the USA team, Brandt Snedeker, earned $10m last weekend alone. Perhaps that is what puts some people off golf, though it doesn’t seem to deter people having a keen interest in people earning £200k per week in the Premier League. The Ryder Cup’s uniqueness is that the twenty four participants, twelve each from the USA and Europe, turn up and play in what is regarded as the most important competition the game has to offer for not a single cent. They are playing only for the pride of picking up the gold trophy donated by Samuel Ryder in 1927. To witness the passion shown by these top, ultra-rich professional golfers playing only for pride, is to witness one of the most engaging and truly sporting events in the entire world of sport.
Hunter-gatherers worked in teams, the earliest groups of humans settled in small communities, working together to defend their territory and perhaps work at taking that of others. Professional golfers seldom work as a member of a team. They play the tour as individuals, aiming to win tournaments and earn lots of cash. The Ryder Cup is, for golfers at that level, a rare opportunity to bring into play that quintessential part of human nature where camaraderie and team spirit are all important.
As I write, the match, in the middle of its first day, is level at two matches all. In the afternoon fourballs the USA are winning in three of the four matches, with the Americans ominously sinking lots of birdie putts. It is still early days.
So, tune in, if you can, and follow what will be, as it always is, one of the greatest sporting spectacles on earth. The suspense, the emotion, the to-ing and fro-ing of matches’ scores will keep you totally enthralled. If you just don’t get those things about sport, then maybe it’s not for you. If you get any of that from football, cricket, Formula 1, gymnastics, tennis or any of the sports we enjoyed during London 2012, then the Ryder Cup is definitely for you.
The Catholic church in Scotland is led by Cardinal Keith O’Brien. By his acceptance of the church’s priestly vows he has denied himself the opportunity of marriage and, unless he has transgressed the solemn promises he made at his ordination, he has also given up sexual activity. In this latter sense Catholic priests essentially negate their sexuality, whatever might be their natural inclination. Ah, well! Clearly, then, Keith O’Brien is a man well qualified to preach on the subject of gay marriage! And yet he is very much on the offensive as he leads a campaign to, as he puts it, “maintain the universally accepted definition of marriage”. Well, that would be where his first claim is wrong. Whilst the words “catholic” and “universal” may be synonymous, his claim that marriage is accepted everywhere as the union of a man and a woman for the purpose of creating children is spurious. I say spurious not simply in that he is wrong but, assuming he is a man of a reasonable level of intelligence, he must know that he is wrong. His church might believe it, others dispute it. Ipso facto, it is not universally accepted. I say his church might believe it, but then that begs the question of what, or more importantly who, constitutes the Catholic church in Scotland?
He is wrong in a more profound way than simply not being right. The fact is that a significant number of his communion, north of the border, will have serious doubts about the veracity of the Cardinal’s claim. Does the Cardinal believe that all Scottish Catholics are straight? Of course he doesn’t. He knows, as we all do, that the predetermining factors of one’s sexuality are not cognisant of, nor pay heed to, religious upbringing and any flawed teachings that might accompany it. So, of course, Catholics are just as likely to be gay as members of any other religion, or none at all. So why the Cardinal is doubly wrong is because he is out of touch. He is in danger not only of leading a campaign many churchgoers may not subscribe to, but also of leading a church that leaves many of its members behind.
Why does any of this matter? Well, it doesn’t particularly matter to me. For one thing, I’m not Scottish. But it matters to many people in Scotland, be they Catholic or not. Whatever one’s views on religion and “the church”, there is a large number of people who live there who feel a sense of belonging; of belonging to each other, to their local communities, to their parishes. They feel that they belong to “the Catholic church”. Catholics account for a sizeable minority of the Scottish population (around 850,000 out of just over 5 million). Recent polling shows that around two thirds of Scots are in favour of the proposed changes that would legalise same-sex marriage. It would be incredulous to claim that none of the 850,000 minority belong to the two thirds majority. If, as I contest, a significant proportion of Scottish Catholics do not share the Cardinal’s view, where does that leave the church? Well, in other kinds of institutions it would create a real problem that, in many of them, would leave the head honcho’s position untenable. Of course, it doesn’t work like that in the Catholic church. Except it kind of does, in that congregations, particularly in recent years, have voted with their feet on many occasions and on many issues.
The Cardinal argues that redefining marriage in the way the Scottish government proposes would be “wrong for society”. Oh really? Whose society? By this very statement the Cardinal is either denying the existence of gay and lesbian people, or, if he does acknowledge their existence, seeks to deny them their right to decide whether they want to be married or not. The first of these would be ignorance, the latter would be authoritarian and dictatorial. The latter is more likely and in my book such wilful and totalitarian predication is a greater sin than ignorance.
It is right that our society and its institutions are inclusive. Local education authorities invite representatives from a range of faiths to be part of their decision making process. There are many other examples of the state including faiths, minorities and other sectors of society within its structures. In response to being invited to participate in the debate in Scotland the Catholic church should take a leaf out of its own book and consider the position of other minorities, and their needs and aspirations, rather than simply taking a pious stance based on a singular and narrow viewpoint that, as far as I am aware, has no basis in the teachings of the New Testament.
The Cardinal speaks of launching a national Commission for Marriage and the Family, which would take the campaign into schools and “develop an online presence”, producing materials and organising events. It sounds like something that the far-right members of the Republican party currently (and, laughingly, vainly) meeting in Tampa might dream up. Rather than dreaming up schemes that aim to further entrench the reactionary and bigoted views of the Catholic church in Scotland, the Cardinal and his bishops would serve their communities better if they became energised about removing the stigma attached to homosexuality as purported by the Catholic hierarchy for so long, and supporting the many thousands of young (and now not so young) people who have been negatively affected by it. They would also do well to remember that, in answer to the question above as to what or who constitutes the Catholic church in Scotland, it is not them but the 850,000.
Well, it’s Bastille Day in France, but I’m not in France so I am not going to write about that (but I will mention France in a bit). I am merely going to ramble, in written form, on a few musings that have been rattling around in my head recently.
First of all there is John Terry. A high-profile professional footballer shouts a racist obscenity at a fellow professional on the field of play. Apparently nobody really heard or saw it at the time (understandable given the noise and general commotion that accompanies these events) apart from an off-duty police officer who became the protagonist in pursuing the matter.
Once the allegation had been made the relevant video footage was all over YouTube and other on-line video sites, with links on millions of social network timelines. It ceased to be an allegation; it was plain for all to see. “You fucking black cunt”. You didn’t need to be a lip reader.
The facts of the court case that was played out this week are simple. Terry did not deny that he said it (impossible, given the video evidence) but argued that it was delivered as an ironic side-swipe at Anton Ferdinand in response to the latter’s use of the same terminology. Or rather, he didn’t argue; John Carter-Stephenson, his barrister, did. What actually played out in court was an esoteric argument surrounding the subtleties of semantics, as employed on the field of play in last season’s fixture between Queens Park Rangers and Chelsea. Yeah, right!
So what really happened, as we all know, is that a couple of posh public schoolboys argued back and forth about what lay behind what Terry said (not what he said, mind) and, as in the kind of debating society shenanigans these barristers would have been brought up on, in the end victory is determined not by true consideration of whether the man in the dock is guilty or not, but by who put up the best argument.
We know he was guilty. He even said so himself. The niceties of why he said it are irrelevant. Maybe, as an experiment, on 18 August this year, at my team’s first home fixture of the season, I should shout some racist abuse from my seat at one of the players and then, when being escorted from the stadium, try to convince the stewards that my remarks were merely the product of a postmodern, ironic, popular-culture-centric perspective and that I had been misunderstood. The stewards would simply twist my arm up my back even tighter. Rightly so. It simply wouldn’t wash. Neither should Carter-Stephenson’s nonsense have been allowed to.
Another result of the football fan’s racist outburst would be the subsequent lifetime ban from the stadium; possibly all football stadia. Why doesn’t the same punishment befall the Terrys and Suarezes of this world? The threat of a lifetime ban from football grounds for any footballer who shouts racist abuse, whatever inane reason they put forward for using it, might just work. And if Suarez and Terry are used to serve as a lesson to others, who would lose out? Nobody but themselves; and they would have deserved it anyway.
It’s not all over for Terry yet. The FA still have to decide what, if any, action to take. Come on FA, for once, have some balls in your deliberations!
Briefly, other recent musings have included:
What an amazing bunch of athletes the Tour de France contestants are. Not only do they put rolling-around-the-grass, pretending-to-be-injured footballers to shame, they would make rugby union internationals look like sissies. Only five British cyclists on le Tour but four of them have already won a stage, and Wiggins and Froome stand at the head of the classification. Wiggins looks odds-on to take the yellow jersey all the way to L’Arc de Triomphe, and things look very rosy for cycling medals in the coming weeks in London.
This summer has to be one of the worst I can remember in terms of weather. What the hell is going on? If it doesn’t improve we’re going to look bloody stupid in hosting the games (rather than simply grossly incompetent, which seems to be G4S’s main objective). I can’t imagine how the cricket season is managing to hold itself together. We are now, in the middle of July, grateful if it’s 14 deg C and just spitting outside.
One of my nephews, Jacob King, was 21 yesterday. There was a party. Lots of people were there, including many around his age. It just goes to reaffirm a) what a great guy Jacob is and b) how great, generally, young people are. I work with them. They are, on the whole, wonderful and I am sick of hearing and reading about negative aspects of young people and youth culture. All this rubbish is written and spoken by people who don’t have a clue; who don’t know young people and, most importantly, don’t understand them.
There! That’s it for now!
Yes, Dictum Meum Pactum. A Latin motto to begin the day with. It is, in fact, the motto of the London Stock Exchange, the kernel of our market-led economic world. It translates as ”My Word is my Bond”. What a wonderfully apposite maxim for the boys in the city to live by! Apart, that is, for the ones who work at Barclays (and very possibly Citigroup, JP Morgan, Deutsche Bank, HSBC and Royal Bank of Scotland – all being investigated across Europe, the USA and Asia). “Aha!” I sense you aspying; the RBS again!
You’ll know all the details by now – bankers lying to each other about the Libor (London Interbank Offered Rate) which not only makes for false interest rates as they lend to and borrow from each other, but of course filters down to small businesses and home owners, that’s like ordinary people, who will have been paying higher interest rates than they should have done because of this debacle.
The only surprising aspect of this, to me, is that people are surprised. Once again I cannot understand the jaw-dropping disbelief being shown by politicians, the media and other commentators. Don’t be surprised. They are greedy, manipulating, lying, cheating, corrupt people, without any moral compass, who are only concerned with how the system can help them get even richer than they already are. Some people may see this analysis as over simplistic, but it doesn’t make it any less true.
Barclays have been fined a record amount of £290m by the authorities. Big deal! Their annual profit last year ran into billions, and in terms of lending, borrowing and other dealings the banks work in hundreds of trillions. Barclays will be able to find the fine payment in its trouser pocket, so much loose change it is to them.
The really worrying thing about all of this, for me, is that this is what we know about. How much more is there in the recent history of high finance that we don’t, and probably never will, know about? Should Bob Diamond, Barclays Chief Executive resign? Well, of course he should. But it won’t change anything about the system. It would be a bit like republicans murdering a relative of the monarch. A huge, momentary impact, but doing nothing towards the ultimate aim of removing the monarchy.
We know that from real history, as Lord Louis Mountbatten was murdered in 1979 by the IRA. At that time it might have been accurate to have said “There’s as much chance of getting rid of capitalism as there is of the Queen shaking hands with Martin McGuinness”. Not anymore.
As we saw on our TV screens that is exactly what happened in Belfast yesterday. It was a moment that seemed completely unimaginable only a few years ago. My brother, at the time a Northern Ireland minister, took part in the historic talks at Hillsborough Castle in 2010 concerning justice devolution, one of the final, and most important solutions stemming from the Good Friday agreement. What a privilege to have taken part in something like that.
The last 25 years in the history of Northern Ireland should be a lesson to us all that almost anything is possible. What price the replacement of capitalism with an economic system based on economic fairness and equality? I wouldn’t hold your breath!