Archive | May, 2013

Hay-ho!

29 May

The Hay on Wye Literary Festival is in full swing and we attended a couple of events yesterday. To be more precise, I went in the morning and we both went in the late evening. Hay is a small town just over the border with Wales, and has more bookshops than you can shake a stick at. A couple of years ago the sponsorship of the festival moved from the liberal, arty-farty Guardian newspaper to the old time, one nation Tory Telegraph. There has been a marked dip in the alternative side of the festival, and it has become much more predictable. As Hay is only twenty odd miles away, it is, by our standards, on our doorstep. The weather yesterday was filthy, with steady rain falling for over sixteen hours, soaking but never torrential. What did you expect in Wales at this time of year?

Anyhow, I ought to say a bit about what we saw. In the morning, at 10 AM I went to see Barry Cunliffe talk about his latest tome, which deals with human settlement in Britain from Mesolithic times up to the Norman Conquest, lavishly illustrated and with a very fetching cover. Sir Barry, Emeritus Professor of Archaeology at Oxford, has the sort of vanity which rejoices in studied informality. The talk was pretty good, well pitched to an audience of limited expertise. He has gone through all the available evidence including the latest DNA and water isotopes in teeth to tell where people came from. There were brief and more traditional discussions of movements in Celtic art and who the Celts were, though this came off rather badly in comparison to the new stuff. There was also a discussion of the origin of languages, especially of the Celtic languages and the Germanic elements of south and east Britain from before the Roman interruption. The audience questions became fixated on this. I did consider queuing up to get a signed copy of the book, but decided against it as there was a huge swarm of accompanied children blocking the entrance to the book shop and because I can get a copy at £10:50 off at Amazon! He showed a slide of the Dover boat, as he was emphasising the sea as a means of communication rather than an obstacle. I would have liked to have mentioned the excavator, my friend Keith Parfitt, and the Langdon Bay hoard. Anyway, as everyone was sheltering from the rain and the queues for coffee were silly I decided to go back home.

I dragged a tired Hazel out to see Seth Lakeman in the evening. The event started at nine thirty PM, which is a bit late. As I only know a couple of his songs there was not a huge level of recognition for me and Hazel knew less. The audibility was further reduced by there being far too much reverb on Lakeman’s mic, which rendered even the spoken introductions almost inaudible. The balance was also a bit out, with the guitar level far too low compared with the other instruments. My understanding of such events is that amplified acoustic instruments give a muddier sound than purely electric ones, but there is no excuse for the voice being distorted. Worst of all was the habit of the lighting man to swing the swivelling coloured spots onto the audience during the upbeat numbers. It was like camping next to a set of temporary traffic lights. This might be alright in the mosh-pit but was only instant eye strain for those seated, especially if they wear glasses. Enough of the moan. Lakeman is a persuasive and exciting performer who writes good songs and has found a good band to perform with. He had a large number of people up and bopping by the end. He has a considerable and enthusiastic following and the atmosphere was good. It was nearly midnight before we got back and I was followed from Hay to nearly Leominster by a car with one blown headlight. That gave me a bit of eye strain as well.

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The self-destruct button

20 May

The Conservative backwoodsmen are fuming about gay marriage. They are also in incendiary mood about the EU. Meanwhile the economy is in dire trouble and growth is flatter than Keira Knightly’s chest. If you want to get re-elected, then just remember, it’s the economy, stupid! There is one point which may temporarily have escaped the backbenchers of the Conservative Party, which is that they are part of a coalition government. They are a minority party in parliament, reliant on the Lib Dems for the right to govern. If the coalition was to break apart tomorrow, followed by a vote of no confidence, they would lose the vote. Then a general election would be called and the Conservatives would suffer a crushing defeat.

So, here is a word of advice, don’t split and fight on issues the public cares very little about and concentrate instead on kick-starting the economy, unless you want to spend another decade in the political wilderness.

Making plans

15 May

I am currently recording the first book, Troubled Waters, as audio files. I have found that by reading aloud I find the imperfections of the text really easy to spot. This is not just for typos but also for the wrong word or a clumsy phrase. Having completed this exercise I will release the book in a new edition and also make it available as Pay On Demand (POD). Having invested in a decent sound recorder I thought I might as well edit the files and put them together as an audio book. That means that there will be three versions of the same story. Once that is done I will go through the same process with the second book, Down in the Flood. By doing it this way I hope to end up with a better product, available through several media. With a bit of luck it might take off.

When I started this process I thought that I should have some suitable music as a theme and introduction. For Troubled Waters I have decided on the second theme from Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No. 4 (The quiet bit). Because Down in the Flood is set in Paris in 1910 I looked up some details and found that Stravinsky’s Firebird was premiered there and then. I had to send for a CD as it was a piece of music I did not own. It got me to thinking that I ought to be playing suitable period music when I am writing, just to get me in the mood. I have an unrelated third novel set in early nineteen fifties Britain. That one will need some Benjamin Brittan, I think.

Anyway, I’ll keep you posted as the project proceeds. Nothing will be released until after it has been thoroughly reviewed and revised.

Don’t let the facts get in the way of your prejudice

13 May

Yesterday (Sunday), the Minister of Education, Michael Gove, said that if there was a referendum tomorrow he would vote for Britain to leave the EU. This opinion did not affect my opinion of Mr Gove or the position of Britain within Europe. I have worked closely with the local school and I can state unequivocally that Michael Gove is the worst Minister of Education I can remember, and that includes Margaret Thatcher [Milk Snatcher] under Ted Heath.

Today it emerged that the opinions of Mr Gove about children’s knowledge of history, as expressed in the Mail on Sunday were based on “facts” gleaned mostly from a survey commissioned and conducted by UKTV Gold and another survey carried out by Premier Inns. If Mr Gove can justify the policy of Education for the country on such rubbish data I think we should not only doubt his opinions on the EU, but reject them entirely.

Of course, this is not the only example. Nigel Lawson, Chancellor of the Exchequer under Margaret Thatcher was a complete disaster for the country. He too has come out as anti-EU. You can judge from what I have just written that I have little respect for his opinions either.

When you point out the flaws in their arguments and disprove their “facts” the anti-EU lobby will react in several ways. They will probably make a personal attack on the messenger. Then comes the apocryphal stories about someone they know. There is no arguing with them. An intellectual argument is dependent on both sides using reason and evidence. There is no point in arguing with someone who is either too stupid or too prejudiced to stick to those simple rules.