Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Ken and culture

Ken Livingstone is trying to draw clear blue lines between him and Boris, this time on culture.

I'm voting for Ken, reluctantly, and one of the reasons why I'm doing so unenthusiastically is the policies he set out today.

Ken's approach to culture is trite, made for the easy soundbite, and while it has a veneer of coherence, really says nothing at all.

Ken's only major initiative has been endless festivals, the important of which are dubious. London's cultural vitality comes from the preponderance of great cultural institutions (the British Museum, Royal Opera House, etc.) and several important pockets of flourishing local and neighbourhood cultural production, a lot of it community and voluntary based.

The mayor has had little impact on either. The whip hand on London's cultural policy is held by institutions of national and international importance, which have no business being told what to do by the mayor, and the boroughs, which look on him with suspicion.


Something bizarre came through my front door. A free newspaper, sponsored by The Mirror, imploring me not to vote for the BNP in the upcoming London elections. Its back page announced that the BNP would remove black footballers from the Premiership, and its centre spread presented recipes from Aynsley Harriot and Jamie Oliver, the cooking of which apparently will combat facism.

My biggest concern is that we give the BNP an inflated sense of their actual worth. The freebie sheet announced that if 5% of London's voters gave their vote to them, then the BNP would claim an assembly seat.

Of course this would be no good thing, but the occasional nutter, loon or even Nazi is the price you pay for proportional representation.

More to the point, when elected, BNP councillors have either failed to perform even the smallest part of their duties as elected representatives, or time after time condemn themselves out of their own mouths as, given a platform, they cannot resist making ludicrous statements.

Yes, we need to fight the BNP, but let's not risk encouraging them by making this bunch of two bit lunatic Nazis seem in any way credible.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Wednesday, 16 April 2008


I have been noticed by a fellow chronicler of Ladywell life.


T is five months old and is growing and changing all the time. It was only in January that he first started to smile, but now he has this wonderful little giggle that he does when I play with him. I love the way that, when presented with something new to see, he goes quiet and his little head sweeps slowly from one side to another, and then back again, as he takes in whatever is the object of his fascination. Every day something is new, and it is fantastic.

I'm not sure that I have changed that much. That's not to say that I haven't, just that I'm still too close to whatever change has occurred to really understand it. It is odd, though, to think that only a few short months ago it was just the two of us and now there are three. Strange to report, but I have difficulty remembering just what life was like without him.

It all feels very much of the moment, and although we are already booking nursery places, future days seem a very long way off. On the subjects that the Sunday papers say I should worry about, I have not given any thought to. Which school and university is not a concern as yet. I am also not boring people with trivial statements about how I will disown him if he doesn't support Bristol. I'm not, if the truth be told, thinking about markers that have to be reached in the short, medium or long term.

The reason is, I'm sure, that my overwhelming ambition for my son is just that he is happy. How he achieves that is something I will have a huge part in, but, ultimately, it is down to him. I need to help him find the way, not show him a path and, anyway, I'm just enjoying T being T too much at the moment to think of anything else.

Monday, 14 April 2008

Keep Luvvies and Hacks out of Cultural Policy

I have written before about the dangers of privileging aesthetic criteria in cultural policy making. The people that would disagree with me would be artists and arts critics. In the past week or so we have had two excellent illustrations of why these people need keeping at arm's length from cultural policy making.

Firstly, the Arts Council took a hit because its funding forms ask questions about a potential recipients' representativeness - in particular, board members' sexual orientation. Yes, it's a bit overkill, but my understanding is that this is part of the equalities monitoring process, and not part of the hated target culture that so exercises our creative colleagues. That didn't stop the Telegraph peddling the view that money would be allocated on the basis of whether you are gay or not, and it didn't stop no less personages than Sir Ian McKellen and Michael Frayn bemoaning this seeming bureaucratic irritant.

That many organisations - public and private - use equality monitoring forms to see just who applies for jobs or, in this case, grants, is obviously irrelevant.

The second example saw Margaret Hodge complain about the small number of women in senior arts positions. Laura Cunningham shot back in the Observer with some examples of women at the top of the arts world doing great things, but she didn't let the facts get in the way of a good story. Hodge wrote to The Observer this Sunday pointing out that only 33% of arts board members are women.

Cummings' anecdotes, like the opinions of McKellen and Frayn (and many of the reactions to the McMaster report earlier this year) prove a golden rule of cultural policy - the luvvies and the critics don't actually know very much about the way things really are.

So we should be very careful indeed if we are thinking about giving them a privileged position in cultural policy making.

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Brockley and Ladywell Cemetery and Spring

A small baby is a wonderful thing, but it does mean that you can't get out and about as much as you did, so long walks or cycle rides in the countryside are on hold at present.

Time spent in Brockley and Ladywell Cemetery, though, is bringing me close to nature and ensuring that I am not totally overwhelmed by concrete, litter and the outpourings of the internal combustion engine.

Dodging showers, T and I wandered through today at the end of a walk that took in Hilly Fields and most of Brockley. In the short time that we were there I saw a green woodpecker, a jay (I think) and watched some rather confident robins watching me. The sound of birds singing dominated all. There were bluebells and primoses. One grave was covered in primroses of different colour, and I wonder if some mourning relative planted them years ago, and even now they are blooming though whoever planted them is long gone, and whoever they were planted for long forgotten.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Londoners for Peace

Getting off the train at Ladywell this evening, I was confronted by Londoners for Peace campaigning for Ken Livingstone.

I took a leaflet which tells me that Ken is opposed to the invasion of Iraq and Trident's replacement, while Boris is in favour of both.

Great - interesting background, I'll agree, but I vote for a mayor to sort out London's problems, and I vote for a government to sort out our foreign policy.

This is a local election, and I don't like people bringing in spurious and irrelevant issues and telling me that I should vote on that basis.

Friday, 4 April 2008

Ladywell Tavern

My local is getting a facelift to go with its new landlord.

I say "my local" with two qualifications. Firstly, I'm not that much of a local compared to many of those who drink there regularly. Secondly, I've not actually been in that much.

True, I've been there to watch football, rugby or cricket when it's been on Sky, but I don't have any drinking partners in the immediate vicinity, and it has to be admitted that it can be an intimidating place for a woman to go, so it's not exactly the haunt of choice when the wife and I nipped out for a swift pint. To be honest, it has been quite unwelcoming on occasions.

So, on the face of it, I'm glad it's getting a new lease of life, but I have a few nagging doubts. It might not be completely my cup of tea, but it is for a lot of people, and they have every right to expect to have a local boozer that reflects them and who they are.

The Ladywell Tavern is in dire need of a revamp and to be more welcoming to more than its regulars, but I would be sad to it become just another trendy boozer indistiguishable from those of Brockley, Honor Oak Park or Crofton Park.

It's a tough balance to strike, but I hope they make a decent pub that can a nice local for the people round here.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Liverpool - Capital of Culture?

To Merseyside, to stay with the in-laws (T's first trip north).

Some discussion of Liverpool's status as Capital of Culture. Maybe it was the Scouse demographic I was conversing with, and my survey was less than scientific, but there was almost universal cynicism.

It has had it's problems, but it would unfair to read failure into the year from this alone. Especially if the city is shrewd enough to use it to change perceptions. However, it's off to a loser from the start if it can't sell the vision to the locals, even if it successfully convinces the outside world that Liverpool has changed.