Friday, June 03, 2011

Friday Night Music - Ramblin Man

Ever since I discovered Hank Williams I've been convinced that no one could top his versions of songs like 'Lost Highway' and 'Ramblin Man'.

I don't think his grandson, tattooed metallist and all-round rude boy Hank III, quite tops it either - something about Hank I's slow, stately, deliberate delivery. But it's a very fine version in itself. Hank III is supported by veteran grungers The Melvins. (Del Shannon's pretty straight take isn't bad either.)

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

The Call of the Pipes

We're a bit strapped for cash, like so many families, so alas we pulled the mooted summer trip to Iceland, a place I've always wanted to visit and which is still pretty expensive - what must prices have been like before the crisis ? Instead we're going somewhere else I've never been, the Asturias region of northern Spain.

It was Cornwall for the last two years and Gower the year before - Susan insisted we get off the island this year. My suggestion of Arran alas was howled down.

The Spanish probably need what little dosh we have more than the Icelanders anyway. Iceland pulled the plug on its banks, took a big hit on its housing market and currency, but is now recovering rather well. The UK hosed its banks with taxpayer cash, propped up our insane property values, and we're in for a lost decade of stagflation.

Our young people are unemployed or under-employed, graduates are still living at home on £14,000 a year jobs at the age of 28. At the other end of the employment spectrum, fifty-something former project managers have been sat at home for three years, firing off ten CVs a day. Comment in today's Telegraph :

"I don’t know any extended family not supporting a distressed, disillusioned, despairing young person - often with a degree or good qualifications. And maybe sympathising with an older person, desperately jobseeking after redundancy.”
Our children, bar a fortunate few, will not be able to own the roof over their heads, something my and my parents generation could take for granted. We're going back to the days of my grandmother, who lived in rented accommodation all her life.

But compared with the Spanish, we have minor problems. 43% youth unemployment ! When you consider Spain isn't exactly flush with youths since the demographic collapse post-Franco, that's quite an achievement for Mr Zapatero's Socialists aka "the most loathsome government in Europe".

I really am surprised there's not mass civil disobedience. Their 1930s forebears - right or left - wouldn't have stood for it.

Where was I ? Dunno. But in solidarity with the young unemployed of Spain (sort of), we’ve booked a house this summer near the magnificently named Villaviciosa, famed as one of the very last towns to surrender to Franco’s forces, as well as being the birthplace of bagpipe maestro José Ángel Hevia Velasco. Be interesting to test the political waters.

Here's the man himself. Very Celtic - didn't realise the influences in that part of Spain - and it's cider country, too. The massed pipers at the end could be the Men of Lonach. You get a feel for the forebears of the Native Brits, making their way North from the Iberian Refuge as the last Ice Age glaciers retreated before them.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Invincible Ignorance

Polly Toynbee on "chavs" :

"Wrapped inside this little word is the quintessence of Britain's great social fracture. Over the last 30 years the public monstering of a huge slice of the population by luckier, better-paid people has become commonplace. This is language from the Edwardian era of unbridled snobbery. When safely reproduced in Downton Abbey, as the lady sneering at the scullery maid or the landowner bullying his workers, we are encouraged to look back smugly as if these shocking class differences were long gone. The form and style may have changed – but the reality of extreme inequality and self-confident class contempt is back...

Chav is used to mix together anyone of low status the speaker wishes to despise - and that includes the entire working class - on matters of taste as well as morals. Just go to the dreadful ChavTowns site and see how the two are elided."

Polly is so far off the truth you wonder if her ignorance is deliberate. She hears some posh person (in this case a Lib Dem politico tweeting unwisely) using the term and conjures up a conspiracy to demonise an entire working class.

The contributors to ChavTowns are overwhelmingly themselves working class people (and by the spelling and grammar, people who have been failed by our comprehensive system).

Working class people detest the chav/underclass far more than middle or upper-middle class people do, because they live among them and are exposed to their behaviour on a daily basis. That's why the contributions to ChavTowns are so bitter, angry and heartfelt.

Monday, May 30, 2011


The great Dalrymple has been at it again, taking aim at Scarborough. He should have gone to Whitby - plenty of impoverishment of spirit there, too, but in a more picturesque setting.
But there is no disguising the very considerable impoverishment of the town, an impoverishment that is actually characteristic of a high proportion of the country. This impoverishment is as much of the spirit as economic: nowhere in the world (at least nowhere known to me, including very many poorer places) do you see such a concentration of people who have given up on themselves, or rather, who never had any self-respect to give up on.

What one sees is a purely materialist society that is not even very good materialism, for it does not promote even those mental and moral disciplines that promote material success. A large proportion of the population has been left to the mercies of a popular culture whose main characteristic is the willing suspension of intelligence, and which does not merely fail to inculcate refinement, grace, elegance and the desire for improvement, but actively prevents them and causes them to be feared and despised.

I remember that my first awareness of Dalrymple was outrage in the Wolverhampton Express and Star and Brum Evening Mail at a piece he wrote some ten years back, on the new art gallery in Walsall.

Councillors in Walsall have leapt to the town's defence after a critic writing in an American magazine described it as like "Ceaucescu's Romania with fast food outlets". Walsall council leader Mike Bird dismissed as nonsense claims published on the internet that the Black Country was one of the "most depressing areas of urban devastation" in the world.

If you've been to Walsall lately (I have) you'll know that his description was harsh but fair.

I digress. Among the outraged defenders of Scarborough in the Spectator comments, the dissenting voice of one Harry Hutton.

"A great article from Dalrymple. No one with any self-respect or decency would live in Scarborough. The inhabitants are dirty, dishonest, gap-toothed swine.

My family left Scarborough when I was five, to seek a better life in the Gaza Strip. My parents were aid workers, and I spent my childhood in Palestine, Somalia, Yorkshire and the Congo. I met some rough diamonds in Mogadishu, let me tell you, but I never truly saw a society in collapse, where savages have the upper hand, until I returned to Scarborough. I was beaten and robbed by the villainous local peasants within an hour of getting off the train, then they tied me to a mule and I was dragged through a turnip field.

You simply can't treat people like that and expect to have a thriving tourist trade. Not for nothing did King John describe the town as "a weeping pustule'' on his realm."