Very short this, but a little too long for a tweet!
But it occurred to me … if a school is appointing a new headteacher, do they take into account the career and educational views of the candidates’ fathers? If Arsenal break their transfer record in purchasing a new striker, does the life of that particular footballer’s mother have any bearing on the negotiations? When people form personal relationships, are each other’s parents determining factors? They are all extremely important situations for those involved. Deciding the next prime minister in 2015 will, also, be very important. Do the political views of Ed Miliband’s father matter at all? Whatever one thinks of Ralph Miliband’s politics, and indeed whether he “hated Britain” or not, the fact is, the whole debate is completely pointless.
No less a personage than our Prime Minister has stated that Andy Murray should be knighted. It says it all about the downward spiral of the honours system in this country. I should be clear, I don’t agree with the British honours system. I do believe in recognising people’s achievements, but not by making them members, officers or commanders of an empire. Think of the atrocious acts that took place in the name of building the British Empire, and then consider if being made a member, officer or commander of it is such an honour after all.
However, leaving all that to one side, and accepting that we have the honours system that we have, it is the case that there has been a decrease in the valuation of such honours. Let us consider Olympic champions. Harold Abrahams, made famous to modern day sports fans through the film Chariots of Fire, won 100 metres gold in 1924 and had to wait until 1957 before being awarded a CBE, partly in recognition of his work as a commentator and chairman of the Amateur Athletic Association. Daley Thompson won two Olympic gold medals, three Commonwealth titles, gold medals in World and European Championships and set four world records, all in the 1980s, but had to wait until 2000 before receiving his CBE. That used to be the form. Do really well as a sportsman or woman, then have an illustrious post-competition career, then get some kind of gong, a CBE for the very best and very rarely a knighthood for the exceptional. What happened in 2012? Everyone got very carried away, so that in the honours list immediately after last summer’s games gold medal winners such as Mo Farrah, Jessica Ennis, Katherine Grainger, Victoria Pendleton and David Weir received immediate and, in my opinion, hastily awarded CBEs. Bradley Wiggins, Ben Ainslie, David Brailsford and David Tanner (“David who?” I hear you say) all received knighthoods. Sarah Storey was made a dame, the female equivalent. Yes, their achievements were excellent, particularly that of Wiggins having just won Le Tour, but come on! A knighthood, so soon?
There is no doubting that Alex Ferguson deserves his knighthood, but 1999 was a bit early. The time for him to become Sir Alex is actually now, upon retiring from football management. Have a look at a few notable football managers prior to Ferguson: Bill Shankly got no more than an OBE, Bob Paisley the same, despite his Liverpool team totally dominating football in England and Europe between 1975 and 1983, including six league titles and three European cups. Jock Stein managed the first British team to win the European cup in 1967, as well as countless Scottish league titles and cups, but was never knighted.
And that’s just sport. In the world of the arts, recognition of achievement falls well below that of more popular pursuits. It struck me only last week that Harry Christophers, who has directed the internationally acclaimed The Sixteen for the past thirty years, taking them to the very pinnacle of choral music, had to wait until last year’s honours list to receive a CBE. There appears to be great disparity between various aspects of public life and how success is perceived. In the business community you get a knighthood simply by becoming chairman of a large company, rather than because of any specific achievement. If you really want an argument for why the whole system is a complete waste of time, it can be summed up in two words: Jimmy Savile.
If we are going to stick to a meritocracy that aligns itself to the values of a long-gone and much-maligned (and quite rightly so) empire, then at least let us have some consistency. If we don’t, it merely demeans and devalues the achievements of so many heroes and heroines that went before us, and before these things began to be handed out so freely.
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.