Opinion

Has Boris and Cameron’s secret pact unravelled?

There is a narrative developing on the left that Boris Johnson never intended to take Britain out of Europe and is, right now, shitting his pants at the demons he has unleashed. Various stories tell it differently. Some suggest that he joined the Brexit campaign after previously being strongly pro-Europe to position himself with UKIP voters and other far right extremists.

On this take on history, Johnson expected not to win, but to steal the electoral base from far righters such as Farage, the BNP and other fascists, to lead the Tories under his leadership into a new term. The narrative goes, this explains why he looked so grim and ashen-faced on Friday morning and called for delay in invoking Article 50. It is true that he certainly didn’t look ecstatic, and has given a speech since the result telling Remainers that “we are part of Europe”.

It’s an interesting take, and one that could easily be true. Two arrogant Bullingdon boys allowing their sacred bonds formed at Uni and their arrogance at their perceived stupidity of the working classes to think they could pull a fast one over them. This all is possible.
However, the argument then goes on that neither Cameron nor Johnson will EVER invoke Article 50. This is dangerous politics. Whatever the machinations and hidden motives behind the result, WE CANNOT AFFORD TO THINK THIS WILL NEVER HAPPEN.
Push, now. Push for a second referendum. We have a short window in which Boris and Cameron are paralysed in the headlights of history. We must ensure we get a second referendum. The lies of the Leavers have been exposed. Many voters didn’t vote, many are shocked at the lies unravelling so quickly. The nation is in flux and we have not yet embarked on a course that would see us sailing away from Europe forever. WE MUST ACT NOW.

Some of you may be thinking “oh well, the referendum – it is all decided” and give up. No. Countries across Europe have a history of re-running referenda until the desired answer is given. Farage would certainly not have let this go. Remember, a referendum is advisory data for Parliament to consider. They are not legally bound to act on it. We have a short window to make ourselves heard.

Already there is a second narrative being driven by the media. It talks about “regrexit” – those people who just voted to stick one to the Establishment without thinking their vote counted. It may be true, it may be spin by a shocked, liberal-minded media. But it is a lifeline. We should grasp it.

I urge you, now – sign the petition on the UK government site. Act now. There is still a chance that we can save this country from the abyss. Do not give up the fight. And do not fall into cynicism. If you care about this country and your lives, push for a clear result. Remember, the Farage would certainly be doing so, in this position. We are in extra time. We have all to play for.

Now, mobilise.

https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/131215

Does Disney’s new Jungle Book do Pompey’s Rudyard Kipling justice?

Disney’s 1960s adaptation of The Jungle Book and The Second Jungle Book is a classic of silliness with great tunes. It also has, apart from the title and the names of the characters, nothing to do with the pair of children’s books written by Rudyard Kipling in the 1890s. The books are far darker, deeper, truer and better in every way. So, what of the new 2016 version?

I admit I was late to Kipling. I only read The Jungle Books as an adult, having been steered away from them by the light and frothy cartoon. But, one day, having read that they were true classics, and considering Kipling’s Portsmouth pedigree, I thought I would check out the work of this locally grown boy.

Kipling’s life in Portsmouth was tough. Left in the town by his parents, who returned to India where they worked as civil servants, he found himself in the clutches of a psychotic nanny, Mrs Holloway, to whom he later referred in his autobiography Something of Myself as “The Woman”. Six years of hell ensued, as she terrorised him, punishing him for the tiniest, ordinary things kids do – even punishing him for “showing off” when it was discovered he needed to wear glasses. Justice for such transgressions took the form of beatings, and of being locked in the house alone while the household went on holidays, or prevented from reading, which he averred, made him seek to read all the more earnestly. It was bad. In fact, his life in Southsea led to a nervous breakdown at the age of 11.

Little wonder that many of the short stories in The Jungle Book and The Second Jungle Book tell the tale of a child, Mowgli, abandoned in a hostile jungle where he must learn The Law to survive. This is a direct reflection of his own experiences. No surprise, either, that Mowgli grows up determined to kill his tormentor, in this case, the lame tiger Shere Khan. In another story written after The Jungle Books, Kipling produced a fictionalised account of life in Southsea, Baa Baa Black Sheep. In this, the boy threatens to burn down the house of Aunt Rosa (this story’s verson of The Woman), to kill her and her son and wreak awful revenge on the boys who bully him at school at Rosa’s instigation.

Despite all this darkness in Kipling’s childhood and in the childhood of Mowgli, The Jungle Books are filled with wonders. The behaviour of the animals to each other and to Mowgli, of the man-cub’s learning to become socialised into the group and the adventures he has along the way are rich in poetic truths. From the specifics of an imagined boy’s life, one learns the way real human society works and how a child must learn to fit into his environment and still be himself. Thus, the learning of secret words which will make the animals help him (interestingly, Kipling also wrote about Freemasonry – another society using secret codes, in The Man Who Would Be King; the motif of secret communication returned again in Kim); or his kidnap by the Bandar Log monkey tribe, during which he discovers their utter fecklessness; or the wise guiding paw of the old bear, Baloo.

Striking is the choice of antiquated modes of speaking, which emphasise the formal and informal. Throughout the book, the animals refer to each other as “thou”. This convention, and the semi-mythical register they speak in makes the stories read almost like religious texts at times. They feel powerful in a way that most children’s books don’t – and truer because of it.

Of the final vengeance Mowgli wreaks on Shere Khan, the tiger’s brutal death and how Mowgli skins the body and brings the hide to The Council Rock where the wolves meet to discuss The Law of the Jungle, that section is truly horrific.

So, how does the new Disney live action / CGI movie fare?

Neel Sethi in Disney's The Jungle Book

The movie is, actually, pretty good. It is in many ways truer to the spirit of the books than the 1960s aberration that does so little to recognise Kipling’s genius. Bagheera, the black panther, is sleek, noble and powerful. Baloo, annoyingly, is a charming buffoon – a hangover, I suspect, from the cartoon. Kaa, the giant snake is, inaccurately, interested only in eating Mowgli, whereas in the original stories their relationship is far more subtle – and indeed in the books it is Kaa who saves Mowgli from the Bandar Log when he arrives at the last minute after Baloo and Bagheera are overrun. Kaa’s hypnotic fascination of the monkeys is spine-chilling in the book.

In the movie, the collection of stories is streamlined. So, it is now Bagheera who finds Mowgli, whereas it is the boy himself who walks to Raksha, the she-wolf, in her cave, and is adopted by her. It is she who faces down Shere Khan who tracks him there. All this is removed from the story, understandably so, because the relationships would become too tangled.

What suffers because of this is the subtlety and nuance of the many-faceted stories and their meanings as they are pulled together into a single narrative, and, unfortunately the film takes on a far too familiar shape. Mowgli has an arch enemy, Shere Khan, and must acquire the skills to overcome him by finding his true self. It is the old story of the Hero’s Journey – pretty much the secret origin story of every single superhero movie that has been made in the last 20 years. It feels as if Hollywood has forgotten that there are other stories than those told by the DC and Marvel franchises.

There is one outstanding positive about this movie, however. Neel Sethi is the only real person we see in it, and he is utterly convincing. How he acted against green screens opposite non-existent co-actors is difficult to imagine. Sure, there would have been stand-ins for him to play against in the scenes, but the act of sustained imagination required of acting in such an environment is impressive. One moment sums it up for me. Mowgli is sitting on Baloo’s stomach floating down the river, when the bear unexpectedly splashes him. The look on Sethi’s face is one of genuine surprise. It feels utterly real – and this with a character made of digitalised pixels.

In other ways, the choice of Sethi as Mowgli is perplexing. He has long gangling legs in the film, and seems often to shuffle around, as if he is picking his way along a stony beach, barefoot – surely not the way a child born to jungle life would move. This, again, is perhaps a call back to the perennially annoying Disney cartoon in which Mowgli is comically gawky.

Towards its end, the movie descends into the Bond-villain-meets-his-doom denouement that this type of production can’t avoid.

So, what happens to Shere Khan being trampled to death and skinned in an act of concerted pack revenge?

All this is gone. Instead, Mowgli faces the tiger alone, and consigns him to the flames in a grandiose fall into a jungle fire. It is a very different feeling from the books, which emphasise co-operation. This is the story of a hero acting alone.

Nevertheless, this is a good effort. Unlike the 1960s cartoon, it does have something to do with the books it is named after. Not as much as I would like, but at least a little bit.

Perhaps it is a good thing that these films are so different from the books. After all, the books continue to stand in their own right as a separate – and far superior – entity to the Disney versions.

A Long Journey Left – an experiment in political awakening

(Below is the first time I have ever written autobiographically about the political beliefs instilled in me from early on. Not deliberately instilled, just taken for granted that they were right. It is part of a larger programme. But that whole story is a long way off.)

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Picture the scene. A young boy of perhaps four years old standing in a grand old house in the Hampshire Downs, an elegant double staircase shining in the sunlight. Something is going on outside to do with sailors, the milling of people and the buzz of excitement. The day is magnificent.

Near the base of the stairs on the wall is a portrait that has drawn the young boy’s fascination. A man with white curly hair, pale, unsmiling and with pale blue eyes. The boy has an impression of golds and red and a dark background.

A man comes up behind the boy and puts his hand on his shoulder.

“Daddy, who is this?”

“That’s Nelson,” he says.

The boy is confused. Using one word for a name like that means you know him. But the boy doesn’t know him.

“Who is Nelson?”

“He was a great man,” says the man. “A sailor. A very great man.”

The boy considers for a moment. “He looks very small,” he says, unable to work out the scale of the portrait, which is not quite life size. He looks at it for a while longer then turns away.

Later, he sees his father shouting orders to a company of sailors marching up and down a parade ground, and there is a man with a lot of gold on his sleeves that his brother takes a photograph of with his new Polaroid camera. People speak about this man with his gold sleeves with reverence, and the boy hears with mild interest that this is the uncle to the Queen. The adults approve of this. All is right with the world. Far, far right.

Thus I was born into the fagbutt of empire. When I was a boy, I used to marvel at how many countries at the Olympic games would parade around the stadium with a Union Flag (dad was always clear about this, “it is only a Union Jack when flown from the Jack staff of a ship,” and I still can’t shake off the usage despite that not being the case), and swell with pride. Some time in our past, we had “won the war” (my schoolfriends would chant this sentiment inaccurately, controlled by the rhyme scheme: we won the war, in nineteen forty-four). We had also won the world. Great Britain did indeed live up to the adjective. Foreign countries and their people were owned by us.

Later in life, one of the habits I had to get out of was asking people with a brown skin where they were from. My dad and his generation did it all the time, and it wasn’t meant to be offensive. It was genuinely, I guess (what with him having stayed at various old colonial bases around the world), a question of “Oh, I might know your country”. It was friendly.

I kept up with the whole “where are you from” thing until the 1990s when I was in my 20s, when I began to notice how often people shrugged almost with desparation and said: “London,” curtly. This, in my enthusiasm, was not enough. “Oh, where are you parents from?” – this question followed on from my parents’ example. This follow-up question would get a more curt response. It was only after some reflection that I began to see that this was not necessarily friendly, in the way I intended, but equally could be deemed as: “You are not British. What are you really?”

After a while, I stopped asking that question. But it took some time. And that, I suppose is true of many another ingrained response from a period that is now history, and yet which still manages to make itself felt with its dead hand on the present by the many people who lived through it and didn’t question what it meant.

Is the America’s Cup the new Pope’s Toilet?

In the little-known Uruguayan movie The Pope’s Toilet, a promised visit by the Pope drives the populace of Melo, a deprived and rundown town into a frenzy at the promised bonanza coming to their doors.

Hyped by a near-hysterical Press and lackey local politicians to believe that ever-increasing numbers of wealthy Brazilians will descend on this massive event, one impoverished citizen, Beto, conceives a unique means of serving the promised 200,000 visitors. Beto makes a living smuggling lower-tax goods across the border from Brazil, and he puts his life savings and daughter’s education fund into buying and building a paid-for public convenience in his back garden.

The pressure on his family who are living hand-to-mouth and the near-mania the town’s inhabitants achieve as the day draws near tests relationships and pushes Beto to the edge under the mounting expectation that a gold rush is upon him.

In the end, a corporate Pope turns up with his retinue of coaches stuffed with cardinals and elite hangers-on out for a day’s jolly. These VIPs all have their food and drink – and more importantly for Beto – their toilets, provided on board their coaches, conveniently keeping them as far away from the poor as possible.

Meanwhile, the 400 people who turn up to attend the Pope’s mass are served by 387 trinket stalls. The blessing is given in a matter of an hour or so and then the event is over. No one is any richer, but everyone is a little wiser.

Looking at the VIP grandstand on the seafront today, in the place which is psychologically associated in the people of Portsmouth’s minds with free entertainment and with freedom to relax in a city that has the densest population of any city in Northern Europe, I thought on this film and was struck by the way large corporations, be they religious or commercial, arrange matters for their own convenience at the expense of the people they are supposed to serve. Looking at the sparse attendance on the first two days and the grumblings on social media, I am wondering as Saturday morning dawns if The America’s Cup will indeed become the new Pope’s Toilet.

I hope not. Sincerely, I want Portsmouth to be a place where people have a great time. But I also want the businesses who have descended on our town to show a bit of understanding of who we are. Because if they’d done that, there might not be the grumbling and muttering that has sullied what should be a fabulous event.

The pre-poured beers standing at £5 a pint in the Waterfront Arena are perhaps emblematic of the show thus far. Whilst it is true that locals of Portsmouth were offered free tickets to attend the four-day event, that generosity was attenuated by the sheer expense of having a day out there.

To gain admission to the Waterfront Arena, you must surrender your own food and drinks. Social media includes accounts of parents with 2-year-olds being refused admission with their baby food. It includes coeliacs turned away with their own food even though they simply couldn’t eat the food being served inside the Arena. All this in a place which is psychologically to many Pompeyites THE ONLY picnic area in the city, where many a barbie has burned a hole in the grass and many a cheap-bought sausage undergone cremation before finding a final resting place in a bin.

So, what do you get if you decide to play along and enter the Arena?

The original reason that Southsea Common was saved from developers was that it provided clear lines of sight and constituted a killing zone to deter attacking French troops intent on burning the dockyard. That’s why it was kept clear for hundreds of years while the town jammed up to its edges.

The atmosphere inside the Arena on the first two days was dull (and to be fair, what else could it be in Friday’s deluge?) and appeared primarily designed for stalls to make a killing from the attendees. Most food was pitched at £6 or above – which for a take-away of not particularly generous proportions made primarily of, for example, egg noodles, stings the wallet. There are some stands that give the Arena a local presence. Strong Island are there, as are Pie and Vinyl – both hip organisations with cool appeal, somewhat incongruously sitting in a field containing a large corporate stand with a BMW on it.

There is also a large stage with big screens. There appears to be no obvious programme for the events on the stage in the day, but the sailing can also be watched on the screens. Thankfully so, since the only people with a really excellent view of the sailing in the water are the corporate VIPs who have taken up squatting rights in the city’s free entertainment arena at the bandstand.

The plight of the traders on the seafront near the Hovertravel terminal speaks plenty about the way big business thinks about – or doesn’t think about – ordinary people trying to make a living. The 4-metre-tall fencing that has sprung up along the seafront has blocked off local shops from being able to sell to the public tantalisingly close on the other side of that wall. Local businesses who have provided services for years, if not decades on that spot deserve a share in the high times if they come. They are, after all, the ones who kept the seafront alive long before a Louis Vuitton PR manager, a BMW sales executive or a BAR Landrover events promoter ever heard of Southsea.

For me – and this is a personal opinion – the real problem with this event in a city like Portsmouth is that it is exclusive. People need tickets or they are excluded. People need money or they are excluded. People need to be in the arena or they are excluded. People need to understand about boats, about BAR Landrover and about sailing… or they are excluded. And of course, you need tens of millions of pounds to part-own one of those strange boats that don’t even seem to touch the water. There hasn’t been enough reaching out, enough education, enough explaining to the ordinary people why this distant event should be significant to them.

All this is in distinct contract with the spectacularly successful Trafalgar 200 event in 2005. Generally a masterpiece of event management, the whole marvellous, crazy event saw hundreds of thousands flock down to the open seafront and enjoy the day out. Almost everyone benefited. Local businesses and other street traders alike had a massive market to sell to, prices were kept sensible by genuine competition – people didn’t feel trapped into spending more than they normally would on food – and there was plenty of money to go round among the traders, be they local or otherwise.

The current sponsors have taken this model and inverted it by pushing people off the Common and seafront west of the Castle unless they have tickets.

That’s a foolish thing to do – especially when another, sensibly-priced event is due to give a top-notch show in just a few brief weeks. And when, actually, the America’s Cup may be a big deal for a small yachting elite and their wealthy sponsors, but is not a big deal for a working class town struggling with illiteracy, poverty and the day-to-day grind of life. Those people need a break, not to be sold at.

I so hope that there is a good crowd today and that the weekend goes well. I do believe that the America’s Cup will be good in the long run for Portsmouth. For that reason, I hope there is a good vibe in the town, and excitement at the races. But I also hope that next year the promoters do things differently and don’t just parachute in their VIPS and take over the seafront and Common for 4 days whilst the locals feel they’re being sold overpriced concert tickets and beer.

In many ways the Common is a near-sacred place to the people of Pompey. That means you have to get it right or you will feel their wrath. Exactly that happened in 1874 during the Battle of Southsea, in which thousands descended on the Common to prevent an attempt by a precursor of today’s fence-obsessed Corporations to enclose a tiny part of it. Back then, the Riot Act was read, and in four days of continual fighting, the people burned down the fences. It set a folk memory in Pompey people’s minds that actually, the Common is ours.

You mess with that belief at your peril, you people in your VIP stands. Please remember that.

Now here’s to future success for the city and for BAR Landrover. But in partnership with all of us, please, not at our expense.

How the propaganda machine stole your vote

Recently I had someone comment that those who were unhappy with the election results “do the general public a disservice” by saying this. He went on to say:

“You assume that people must be misinformed or that they aren’t able to make decisions by themselves. Have you considered that the general public DO know what the Tories are offering and that is why they voted for them OR what they offer was still better than the other options? This wasn’t a squeak over the line but a clear majority. This wasn’t a vote by the rich alone, but by a whole nation.”

I wish that were true, that the people of the UK really engaged with what the parties offered and used their heads rather than their hearts. But that isn’t the case. If it were, The Sun wouldn’t have carried photographs of Miliband eating a bacon sandwich because he pulled a funny face, they would have focussed on policies. The main right wing newspapers and broadcasters wouldn’t have gone out of their ways to insult Miliband personally, they would have focussed on his policies. They wouldn’t have stirred anti-Scottish racist sentiment that will backfire in the long term because now the Scots genuinely (and rightly) feel they aren’t really part of the UK.

But they did do that. Why? Because they know how to tug the emotional strings of a populace they have already frightened with outright lies, of which there were so many that unless you took the time to dismantle how each lie sat on top of the next, you would simply not have a clue how much distortion had gone on.

Most people also don’t vote on abstract concepts. They didn’t vote to save the NHS because on the surface it still appears fine, although major independent groups are warning that it is being rotted away inside. Just one example.

Most people don’t vote on what doesn’t directly affect them, such as the extraordinary high fees in education which entrenches levels of class entitlement and privilege that we haven’t seen since before the war, because most people aren’t students.

Most people vote for a simple thing: an ideal, an emotion – they don’t have degrees in economics which enable them to really take the figures apart. They don’t have degrees in media studies which enable them to dismantle the semantics of media broadcasts. They vote on a gut feeling. On what is essentially a faith.

And that is what this result is. A victory for ignorance and fear over justice and hope.

And if you voted for that, knowing the facts, well… I hope you sleep well at nights.

How the Tory re-election dishonours our VE Day heroes.

It’s a bitter irony that a Tory government intent on dismantling and privatising the NHS and making education increasingly expensive should be re-elected on the 7oth anniversary of VE Day.

In World War 2, the country’s victory was the result of a contract between the men and woman who served, fought and died, and those who ruled.

The landslide victory of the Labour government in 1945 was the delivery on that contract. The victory had been predicted for years beforehand by writers such as J B Priestley, who voiced the soldier’s claim that he should receive his just desserts for the sacrifice he gave. He demanded no less than a New World, in which war was no longer necessary and social inequality was reduced forever.

In 1945 Tory party Treasurer Lord Marchwood acknowledged in the Picture Post that “young people and servicemen are Left-minded” but was “certain that Mr Churchill’s appeals will have had the effect he desired.”

But the Tories didn’t understand the selflessness born of war. Hints of how military life had affected young servicemen and women appeared early in the war. On 28th July 1940, J B Priestley wrote of a letter he’d received from the father of an airman, who said of his son and comrades:

“Don’t insult them by thinking they don’t care what sort of a world they’re fighting for. All the evidence contradicts that.”

He went on to quote his son, who had been a salesman before he enlisted:

“I shall never go back to the old business life – that life of what I call the survival of the slickest; I now know a better way. Our lads in the R.A.F. would, and do, willingly give their lives for each other; the whole outlook of the force is one of ‘give’, not one of ‘get’. If tomorrow the war ended and I returned to business, I would need to sneak, cheat and pry in order to get hold of orders which otherwise would have gone to one of my R.A.F. friends if one of them returned to commercial life with a competing firm. Instead of co-operating as we do in war, we would each use all the craft we possessed with which to confound each other. I will never do it.”

VE Day wasn’t a win for Churchill. It wasn’t a win for vested interest or corporations. It was a victory for the ordinary man who came home to build a fairer, more just Britain.

He didn’t want anything exceptional by today’s standards. Only what most of us nowadays take for granted as we grow up.

It included simple things. No more disfigurement or death from easily preventable diseases; no more dying in agony because you couldn’t afford to pay the surgeon; no more being held back because the education system excluded intelligent pupils because they were poor.

It also included provision that those left disabled, blind and limbless thanks to their heroic efforts should be treated with dignity. That’s why Remploy factories were opened – to give those heroes a sense of purpose and a future.

That’s what the returning servicemen got, until this government made the most concerted effort yet to dismantle that covenant with the people, by beginning the privatisation of health services and education. No surprise either, that the current administration closed the Remploy factories.

This weekend, tens of thousands of people will mark the 70-year VE Day commemoration.

Bizarrely, my experience is that – not all – but many of them will be primarily of the right. Fuelled by a mixture of English nationalism and nostalgic Conservatism they will inadvertently mock the extraordinary heroism of the war. Up and down the country, sadly muddled Little England flagwavers will conflate fighting for freedom with Toryism because Churchill was in power at the time of the victory.

It is strange that nowadays war anniversaries are often the natural playground of uniform-renting stockbrokers co-opting the heroism of courageous men and women who made the extraordinary victory possible. As if they laid down their lives to create a world in which the disabled kill themselves after being refused state aid and the poor live on charitable food hand-outs while the wealthy gamble away the country’s money and get off Scott free.

So, whether you are a pacifist or not, remember VE Day. It was a genuine moment of hope in history. It was the moment when the State was taken by the nose and for a while at least made to care for its citizens.

Remember, whatever you do this weekend. Remember how much you owe to those selfless individuals who fought not only for your freedom, but for your education, your health and your welfare.

Remember, too, that 70 years on, vested interests have set themselves the task of rolling back the good work of those heroes, for the sake of a corrupt ideology which makes the rich richer while the poor are oppressed.

If ever there was a time for fair-minded people to regroup, it is now. It is time to think on what has happened – on the day on which much of the good work done 70 years ago is due to be undone.

Remember the wartime spirit of hope and reconstruction. And remember, if you are of the left, you are the heirs of those heroes who fought for future generations to be protected, to be educated, to be treated with fairness and be given the opportunities denied to their parents.

Remember too, the fight must go on. VE Day or no.

David Hare’s Skylight highlights how things have changed since he wrote it…

Carey Mulligan and Bill Nighy on stage together – being able to watch two big names in Portsmouth, I mean, what’s not to like?

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National Theatre Live at the Vue Cinema on 31st July gave us that. In fact, it’s better than being in the West End’s Wyndham Theatre from where it was broadcast. You can eat popcorn and icecream if you like in seats designed for a 21st Century frame. Though this was the “Encore” broadcast, a re-run of a play originally broadcast live on the 17th July, and starring two hugely accomplished actors, the experience really gives you the feel of the live event.

It does take some adjustment, seeing stage acting on screen. When Kyra (Carey Mulligan) enters with her shopping, her body language as she heavily plonks her bags on the table feels distastefully overdone. Her peculiar treatment of the text books she brings home from her work as a teacher jars the eye used to the nuanced performance of the big screen.

Just so with the arrival of 18-year-old Edward, walking into the flat on the sink housing estate where Mulligan lives because she left the door open. But then, this is hard to swallow for another reason. I mean, who leaves their door open on a snowy winter’s night in a clearly troubled housing estate? I mean really, who does that? It seemed strangely middle-classly cutesy, as if Hare had forgotten Kyra lived in the inner city, but in a little country cottage somewhere in the Home Counties.

Their initial interactions were what I had feared the whole play might be. At times unreal but with occasional moments of brilliance in the dialogue, something did not gel. Edward was clearly a 2D device used to set up what was to come later between Kyra and Tom (Bill Nighy). It was uncomfortably done. Edward’s flouncing out at the end of the scene with his “You’ve got to speak to him Kyra!” was straight out of Victorian melodrama.

Tom’s arrival was much better. The story unfolded. Businessman Tom and teacher Kyra had once been an item – having an affair while he ran his expanding chain of restaurants through the 1980s. Their affair had been discovered by Nighy’s wife and Mulligan (a nice middle class woman) had gone into teaching in East Ham.

Along the way, there were moments of comedy that highlighted the snobbery of the business classes and the idealism of liberal middle classes. Essentially the play was about the collision of two world views – the money-minded and the liberal left, interspersed with some cooking and a break in the middle for a shag, which thankfully happened in the interval.

As a writer, it was interesting to see how basic the play was. David Hare, one of Britain’s greatest living playwrights, used cookery to give the two actors something to do while they slugged it out with each other or came to understandings of each other’s views, or grew close, or grew apart. The cooking (I’m sure a symbol of consumerism, community and shared endeavour) alleviated the boredom of the pair standing and pontificating about how their particular views of the world were right.

Hare made a pretty good fist of making Nighy’s character likeable and sympathetic, but it was clear as the play went on that this wasn’t going to be one of those: “make your own mind up” types of plays. Carey Mulligan’s Kyra, the impassioned and idealistic middle class liberal who had given up everything to be a teacher was clearly the character with whom Hare most identified.

Towards the end , both characters ceased to be people at all. Mulligan’s Kyra especially became a mouthpiece for Hare’s opinion, with a long, tedious rant about how marvellous the public sector is and the platitude that “Wealth Creation” was not the truly important thing about life.

This was clearly intended as the highlight of the second half: a kind of super-eloquent Sixth Form Common Room rant, in which the Kyra rehearsed Hare’s particular political bugbears, and received spontaneous applause from the Wyndham’s sympathetic audience. He had pressed the right buttons for his audience, then.

By this time I genuinely had the feeling that Hare had written the play by tickbox. “Oh, okay, so I’ve now done the bit where he accuses her of being guilty. Now let’s do the bit where he accuses her of running away because she’s still in love with him. Okay, now we do the bit where she accuses him of cowardice. Okay, now selfishness…” and so on.

By the time you’d got to the end, just about every base was covered. The two characters were indeed symbols (something Hare himself highlighted in his script) who covered all the angles in the eternal battle between the private sector and public services, and between the unfaithful businessman and his young lover, picking up hypocrisies along the way.

But one really important angle was never approached.

Kyra mocked the idea of people involved in “Wealth Creation”, pointing instead to “real people” as if people involved in business are somehow “not real”. And that was the heart of the problem.

There was a much more profound discussion to be had here about that unhappy marriage, in which business and social enterprises are spliced together. Each is dependent on the other. Business is reliant on education to produce people with innovation and drive, self-belief and originality. As such, business cannot complain about taxation. It is reliant on the use of those resources to supply its employees and its consumers. The employees of business are also “real” people, prone to all the weaknesses of greed and stupidity and selfishness if that connection between business and the wider community is not nurtured.

At the same time, workers in State education (symbolising the public services) have trouble accepting the fact that without business they would not exist because no taxes would be taken to pay their wages. The fact that today there are fewer public sector wage packets than there were 6 years ago is a much bigger discussion about how the marriage works. What the covenant is between the public sector, the wider public and business was not even considered in this play.

That, I suspect, is partially because Hare is not interested in this more nuanced way of looking at the world. His writing comes straight out of the idealism of the 1960s. It’s also because Skylight was first performed in 1995, way before the Credit Crunch was a twinkle in Tony Blair’s eye. And to be frank, it showed.

Savoy Buildings Site – An Email To Portsmouth City Council Planning Department

Consultation for the Savoy Building site is currently underway and will be drawing to a close soon. I strongly urge you to write to the planning department to voice your concerns about this proposed site.

The proposed building Savoy Buildings site development. This image copyright McCarthy and Stone.
The proposed building Savoy Buildings site development. This image copyright McCarthy and Stone.

The email to write to is: planningreps@portsmouthcc.gov.uk

Please put the planning application reference in the subject line as follows:

Application Reference: 14/00790/FUL Site Of Savoy Buildings & Savoy Court

Here is my email to the planning department.

Dear Sir,

I am writing to object to the planned McCarthy and Stone building on the site of the old Savoy Courts building, for the following reasons:

1) Despite McCarthy and Stone’s assurances that the building is “in keeping” with others along the seafront, it is vastly at odds with the design of the buildings around it. It is a large, square, brutal structure that will dominate that part of the seafront and does not reference any of the vernacular around it, this despite McCarthy and Stone’s assertions to the contrary.

2) In their public consultation, McCarthy and Stone claim to have been sensitive to the original line of the building and the “curve” of the boundaries. This is untrue. The original building was set back by three metres or so from the boundary of the property. It had a gathering area and large set of steps up to the building. The effect of the building being pushed forward to the boundary is to oppress and dominate that part of the seafront.

3) This part of the seafront requires special attention and deserves better architecture since it is central to tourism in the area. Pretty architecture and the general lived experience of the streets is one of the things that draws people to Southsea.

It is vital that you make this site look right. Southsea has an attractive and nearly intact Victorian / Edwardian seafront, with a few jarring exceptions. Maintaining that aesthetic will serve Southsea better in the long run.

4) The number of parking spaces have been worked out as per “the average” for a building of this type, according to Councillor Will Purvis when he spoke at the Public Consultation about this.

However, this is not an “average” location. On a hot summer’s day, the elderly residents will be visited by numerous family members keen to spend a family day on the beach and hoping to avail themselves of the free parking the site may offer. Expect overspill on the surrounding streets.

5) I have set up the following petition on 38 degrees as evidence of local feeling against the current plans.

https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/the-mccarthy-and-stone-proposal-for-the-savoy-buildings-is-bad-for-southsea-seafront

For the sake of balance, I also set up a petition approving it, here:

https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/the-mccarthy-and-stone-proposal-for-the-savoy-buildings-will-enhance-southsea-seafront

You will see that there is a vast difference in number between those in favour and those not. I set up both petitions at the same time, and advertised them equally, allowing them to then spread by word of mouth.

Local feeling is very strongly against this development as it stands. Please help to protect Portsmouth from a dreadful mistake.

Thank you,

Matthew Wingett

Matt’s 2013 Progress Report…

Well, it’s been an up and down sort of year. It started with something of a feverish burst of creativity – working with The Three Belles to craft their stage show Sing Sing Sing into a brand new beast for performance at The New Theatre Royal, Portsmouth on 5th February. Two weeks of intensive collaboration, co-directing the show and helping out where I could came to a conclusion on that chilly night, with a packed house and a very happy audience.

For me, this was one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever done. Working closely with the Belles, chucking ideas at Anneka, Izzie and Sally and playing creative tennis by email with the script was joyous.

After that day in early Feb, I hit a low, I have to say. The cold nights of winter continued. A trip to the Tunisian desert with Jackie was fascinating, but she had to put up with me being a grouch. It was great to see her loving it, though. And there was a moment, when the desert foxes barked in the distance and the star-filled night froze the water in the washing-up bowl to a thick sheet of ice, that I realised a little bit more about the strange nature of the world.

It was extraordinary walking across a lunar landscape with a wind blowing for 500 miles off the snowcapped mountains of Morocco across the flat lands, bringing sand and dust and a reminder of the great empty spaces outside of civilization, and dumping it all in my salad. How much sand I ate that week, I do not know.

Strip out the machinery and the creature comforts and you see humans at their most impressive – living despite the harshness of their surroundings.

Slowly winter opened into spring, and in a moment of optimism I decided that I would take on the house. I ripped up the floor in the dining room to investigate a damp patch in one corner of the room, and ended up renewing the joists, rebuilding the walls (and nearly collapsing a corner of the house), mixing by hand and laying half a ton of concrete to build a hearth and tanking a wall after the replacement of the damp proof course didn’t have the desired outcome.

All this took many months while I worked on other projects. In the writing sphere, I continued my articles for The Best You magazine, and I conceived a whole series of ideas for stories, wrote a radio play starring The Three Belles, commenced a novel starring them, wrote a little horror story for the Day of the Dead event organised by Will Sutton and developed different talks for different audiences on the nature of writing.

This year also saw the departure of Dom Kippin, the Literature Development Officer with Portsmouth City Council, who had brought so much to city culture. I stepped in for him after he departed to give a talk entitled: “Portsmouth The Home of Great Writing” – and demonstrated how the city itself had shaped the thinking of some of the greatest writers of the last 150 years, including Conan-Doyle and Rudyard Kipling. The talk was well-received, and I think that’s one I’d like to do again.

Other connections with the council included me writing the educational resource material for the City Museum’s Egyptian exhibition – which included its own real mummy. This was utterly fascinating and took me back to the time I lived and taught in Egypt. I have a mass of resource material on this amazing country, and it was fun to delve into the old knowledge and reuse it for kids. This is something I adore doing.

Other connections with the Council were less fruitful. Having a series of ideas knocked back by the City Development and Culture Service in a manner that was both rude and combative hit me hard. I remain deeply committed to Portsmouth, but will find other ways to express my love for the place, and am looking elsewhere for for ways to promote the city and my ideas.

The hypnosis has been fun. I have several people now wandering around able to give talks to crowds, who were absolutely terrified of getting up in front of others before I put them under the ‘fluence. This, I have to say, has been deeply rewarding. I love to give people more freedom. There have been some wonderful successes in this line, including some people who were very low who I’ve really helped to see things in new ways. This is not boasting, just a reflection of their feedback. We have to do what we can for others, I guess.

The later half of the year saw some projects outside my normal workload. Developing the relationship at The Three Belles’ In The Mood show between Charles Fallowfield-Smith and Gail was fun. The first time Gail gave me a slap in front of the Gen Pub was interesting – especially hearing the audience’s gasp…

This got me thinking about how you work the emotions of a big crowd. Stepping in to compère The Three Belles‘ show at Gravesend gave me an opportunity to do more of the same. I was given about 45 minutes’ notice to get a talk together. I had a hoot and the audience loved it. Developing Gail and Charles’s relationship further at St Ives was really cool. The black eye she gave me after our drunken row at that show was great fun – as was extemporising a speech when I had no idea what I was going to say even as I stepped on to the boards. All good stuff and genuinely not nerve-wracking.

The character of Charles that I play fits like a glove, and it was fun in December to compère again for the ladies at Portsmouth Guildhall in front of a crowd of 350 on that big stage. Where else would I learn to play with an audience? Thanks to the Belles for that.

There have been other moments. Waking on a hillside not far from Evesham with Jackie was lovely. There is a magic that happens when we go on holiday in the camper van. Back at home, helping to get the house together with her, creating a home space that works for both of us – this has been new territory for me. It has stretched me, too – but I’m pleased with the results we have started to achieve together and I forever look forward to being with her when we are apart.

The year ends with new ideas and thoughts. I want to work more with actors and write more stage works. The Three Belles have shown me how my words can really come to life in a way I never expected. There is a new project in the offing with them, too.

A fascinating year. I feel like it has been one of transition. There is more to tell, but this, I think summarises the important stuff.

Thank you for being my friend.  Have a wonderful New Year.

Mx

 

Angelina Jolie – To Say “Grubby” Doesn’t Say Half Of It – Book Review

Angelina – An Unauthorized Biography, by Andrew Morton

Book Review

What can I do in reviewing this book except give you my overriding impressions?

The first one is about the subject matter as Andrew Morton likes to portray her. Under his hands, Jolie comes out of this book as a nasty, mercurial, capricious, selfish, unfaithful manstealing drug addict who continually lies and presents the truth to suit her own needs.

It’s not a flattering portrait by any means. Manipulative, destructive and shallow, Morton presents us with a picture of a woman driven by a series of addictions and compulsions. She is a whirlwind of sexuality and deceit who is quite happy to walk into stable relationships and wreck them to serve her own ends. Even her later work with the UN is portrayed as in some way capricious and self-serving, and even her treatment of the kids she adopts is according to Morton at best worthy of suspicion and at worst actually illegal.

Unlike Jolie, this book is not pretty. There is something mean of spirit in Morton, and it comes through in the overall impression her gives of Jolie, rather than the facts of her life taken individually.

The cause for Jolie’s unstable personality as it is here presented leads me to the second observation about the book. Morton is just as happy to point to the fact that Jolie is a Gemini to account for her character traits as he is to fill the pages with whacky post-Freudian psychobabble to describe her motives. The book is much better when Morton is not theorising on the deep unconscious reasons for Jolie’s behaviour and actually tells you about her behaviour. I don’t expect to be told about her personality on the basis of her star sign or spurious psychology just as I wouldn’t expect to be told that the lumps on her head are evidence that she was more amorous than other women, or that the full moon turns her into a werewolf. That, Mr Morton, is space-filling – and piss-poor writing.

That said, this book does give an account of Jolie’s life which – with its emphasis on destructive sex and drug abuse is like watching a slow motion car crash. She cuts herself as a kid, her mother gives up her bed to Jolie and her boyfriend when the couple are just 14, Jolie nearly stabs him to death and he does the same for her at the same age and both go to hospital… And so the sad show goes on. The young Jolie takes copious drugs and screws anything that is slightly warm and still breathing, and appears perfectly happy to wreck relationships and treat the people around her like disposable syringes. Essentially, she is portrayed as a fickle, feckless “user” – in all its connotations.

It’s not nice reading, but I suspect it is in part accurate – though it skims over Jolie’s acting skills and attempts pat “psychological” interpretations of her life as seen from the outside rather than giving a genuine insight into the woman herself. In Morton’s telling, the life she leads becomes so debauched and so dissolute that even she can’t handle it any more – the night she shares an apartment with her lover, ex-husband, lesbian ex-lover and her girlfriend and has a breakdown is pricelessly funny in the deadpan way it is delivered by Morton. I don’t think he was meant to be funny, but one can have little sympathy for a two dimensional character who has been set up by the author as willing to make a mess of her life apparently on purpose.

The character of Jolie is remarkable in this book simply because she weathers it all. She’s portrayed as a kind of adult role-play Lara Croft who raids married men’s beds rather than ancient tombs and comes out completely unscathed.

Where others would go to pieces, she simply goes for the next fix, which is either a tumble in the hay with someone else’s husband or a shot in the arm to keep her going. Unafraid to wreck the happiness of others to supply her own obsessions and compulsions, I found that I at once hated this version of Jolie and begrudgingly admired her for her apparent armour-plating and psychotic self-serving.

Her treatment of her father Jon Voight throughout is awful. Morton implies that Jolie wants to blame him for all her woes rather than address them, mature and grow up. This, could be true, I suppose, it could be the extreme life that the extremely wealthy lead, or it could be a gross caricature. If it really does lift the lid on what is beneath the surface beauty of Hollywood, and of Jolie, then it made me glad of my rather boring life.

To be frank, I felt grubby reading about Morton’s Jolie and her shenanigans.

Some things are better left unsaid. And some books unwritten. This is one of them.