Monday, July 30, 2012

whatever happened to the “greenest government ever”?

You’ll no doubt recall David Cameron’s claim at the last election that his would be the “greenest government ever”.
Isn’t it funny how the PM and, in particular, his Chancellor seem to have conveniently forgotten such pledges once they were elected.
A report in this morning’s Guardian refers to a scientific study set up to address climate change sceptics’ concerns about whether human-induced global warming is occurring has concluded that “humans are almost entirely the cause”.
The study suggested there would be 1.5 degrees of warming over land in the next 50 years.
Yes, I know, you’ve heard it all before, but the dire consequences of our continued failure to address climate change cannot be over-stressed. If humanity cannot get its emissions to peak by 2020, there is little chance of holding down temperature rises to under 2C by 2100. Major changes to our planet will then occur. Deserts will spread, ice caps melt, sea levels rise, coastal zones will be inundated and hundreds of millions of people will be left homeless. Rising temperatures will melt the world's regions of permafrost, releasing more carbon dioxide and methane, which will raise temperatures even further.
Last week saw NASA report about the unprecedented melting of most of the Greenland ice sheet surface.
Meanwhile, Mr Osborne – who clearly knows far more about climate change than all the experts (and determined to redirect whatever green policies the coalition might have had) – recently told parliament: "I am worried about the combined impact of the green policies adopted not just in Britain, but also by the European Union … if we burden [British businesses] with endless social and environmental goals – however worthy in their own right – then not only will we not achieve those goals, but the businesses will fail, jobs will be lost, and our country will be poorer."
In other words, let’s put climate change issues on the back burner!
The trouble is this particular back burner just happens to be gas-powered… 
This extract is from another recentreport from the Guardian:
“The Treasury has been accused of undermining government attempts to secure the future energy requirements for the country and improve the green electricity supply, by meddling in its energy bill, which MPs now say is ‘unworkable’. Tim Yeo, the Tory chair of the Commons energy and climate change select committee and an ex-minister, told the Guardian that George Osborne is sacrificing the green energy plans in order to placate Conservative backbenchers, many of whom are campaigning against wind farms and new pylons in their constituencies. He said: "They are working particularly to target some Conservative backbenchers, pursuing a policy designed to prove that they are not going to get into so-called costly green initiatives. It is extraordinary.
Yeo's criticisms came as a letter came to light sent by Osborne to Ed Davey, making clear that unabated gas power should remain a dominant part of the UK's energy mix until 2030. This position, the culmination of more than 18 months of backroom maneouvrings by the gas industry and the chancellor and his advisors, would be fatal for the UK's climate change targets, but would play well to Tory backbenchers”.
The Chancellor is effectively attempting to tear up the Climate Change Act and fire the trigger on a full scale dash for gas. In addition, Osborne has (understandably, as far as I’m concerned, and NOT before time!) been receiving a LOT of criticism – from the business community and others - over his handling of the economy.
For goodness sake Mr Cameron, get a grip and let’s see you beginning to fulfil your green election promises. It’s NOT about political point-scoring, it’s about something FAR more important than that… my grandchildren’s future.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

let the games begin...

I thought last night's opening ceremony was simply spectacular... amazingly impressive and, at times, hugely moving (as far as I’m concerned, anyway – although I DIDN’T actually cry!).
So many “boxes” ticked quite brilliantly: national pride; celebrating diversity, character and achievement; breathtakingly different; quirky; funny; moving; technically wonderful; surprising; and magical; (and, probably, much of it only understandable to us Brits!). I think the BBC’s Chief Sports writer, Tom Fordyce, has described it perfectly here.  
And I thought the decision to use seven young athletes to light the cauldron (and WHAT a cauldron!) at the end of the opening ceremony was absolutely PERFECT… and quite inspirational. Just imagine if YOU had been one of those nominated young athletes – they must have been BURSTING with pride!
I have to admit to having some last-minute nerves about the ceremony(!)… I feared the organisers were going to get things embarrassingly “wrong”… perhaps be too jingoistic? Even amateurish or missing the point? Of course, I needn’t have worried – it was all just brilliant (except, perhaps, for the GB team outfits!?).
As you might be aware, there’s been an awful lot of hype regarding how successful the GB Olympic team will be in 2012. Frankly, although it would be wonderful if the team DID win lots of medals, I’m not all that fussed about the team’s success rate (I accept I might feel a little different in a few days’ time!).
But, I have to say, I also really enjoyed the lead-up to the festival – the infectious excitement and the huge public support for the entire Olympic torch journey (which really surprised me).
So, feeling proud to be British feels pretty good!
PS: Perhaps, my one regret is that I wasn’t one of the thousands of Olympic volunteers (in London, Weymouth or wherever). I can partly excuse myself due to my recent voluntary work with the Iona Community – until January, I wasn’t sure if and when I would be working on the island. This meant that I couldn’t commit myself very far in advance. Perhaps I could and SHOULD have made further efforts…  

Friday, July 27, 2012

the crying games

The long wait is over.
London 2012 has finally arrived.
In a few hours time, the opening ceremony will be upon us and, hopefully (by the time it’s over), we’ll all be feeling pretty good about ourselves (if you’re British!). If, on the other hand, you happen to be one of those people who will be moaning about the money being spent on the event or who are still feeling aggrieved because they were completely overlooked (without ANY justification whatsoever, obviously) when it came to carrying the Olympic torch, then it’s probably best you don’t bother to read on…
This is going to sound pretty pathetic but I know, on the basis of past experience, that there WILL be times over the next fortnight or so, when I’ll be sat in front of the television with tears running down my cheeks (to Moira's disbelief)! Yes, despite all signs to the contrary, I'm quite an emotional bloke (soft?) and can, for example, always be relied upon to cry every time I watch “The Railway Children” – especially the bit when Jenny Agutter exclaims “Daddy, my Daddy”!
But sport?
When and why?
This is somewhat difficult to predict, but it MIGHT occur in any of the following situations:
1.       When someone who is “expected” to win a gold medal - but has a history of not-quite-doing-so in the past - actually DOES (eg. Katherine Grainger, rower, three times Olympic silver medalist?).
2.       When someone who is “expected” to win a (particular) medal, doesn’t.
3.       When someone who isn’t “expected” to win a medal, does.
4.       When after four years of training all focussed on these Olympics (or whatever), breaks down with an injury (eg. Derek Redman, 400m runner, tore his hamstring in the semi-finals but, with the help of his father, completed the lap to a standing ovation).
5.       When someone far exceeds everyone else’s expectations.
6.       When television directors ensure that heartstrings are pulled by playing a particular piece of evocative music as a backdrop to some clip of deserving action.
7.       Who knows, it might even be the opening ceremony?
Perhaps it’s something to do with my own competitive nature when it comes to sport… which makes me “feel” the joy or the pain too? Maybe it’s because I envy the fact that THEY are participating and I never got even close to doing so (slight understatement!!)?
So, I just want to apologise in advance for any blubbing over the coming days. I’ll be as right as rain again in three weeks time, I promise.
I WON’T be keeping a tally...
Let the (crying) Games begin!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

iona photobook

Well, I actually DID get around to producing a photobook at last!
I ended up using Blurb – and have to say that I was very impressed by their stuff (lots of helpful videos etc and everything reasonably straightforward – as they kept stressing: “just get started it’s the best way to learn”… or words to that effect). I would certainly have no hesitation in recommending them to others.
I ordered one hardback and one softback copy and they duly arrived yesterday. I opted for the 10x8” (25x20cm) trim size – so it’s not huge!
Despite having checked things as carefully as possible, I’ve subsequently noticed a couple (and there could be more!) of slight glitches and things that I might have done differently – but hey!
Although the book is available to purchase through Blurb, that certainly wasn’t the point of getting the book produced. It’s really MY own personal – essentially pictorial, but with some accompanying text – reflection of my two-month stay on the island as a volunteer with the Iona Community. It’s a book of photographs of places and things, NOT people (although I do mention various staff members and volunteers I worked with by Christian name – but NOT in a horrible way, I assure you!).
In order to include as many images as possible (within reason), I was very conscious that a) my favourite “short+long” landscape format would have to be compromised for the majority of the photographs, b) some images would be much smaller than I would have ideally wanted and c) in the interests of “design” consistency, some original page layouts had to be abandoned (eg. my “volunteer farewell poster”).
Anyway, I enjoyed the process of producing the book and it will certainly be a lasting reminder of my time with the Community.
Photo: photobook front cover.
PS: I’m not going to highlight the glitches!
PPS: click here if you want to check it out.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

how much more can we take?

I’m currently reading Gordon Brown’s book “Beyond the Crash: Overcoming the First Crisis of Globilisation” (yes, it’s something you could ONLY choose to do if you’ve retired!). As you might imagine, it’s not a particularly popular book, in the commercial sense – which might explain why I was able to buy it for £2 (a tenth of its original price) at “The Last Bookshop” in Park Street, Bristol!
He wrote it in the months immediately after his general election defeat. He talks about us needing “to learn quickly of what went wrong” and that “most banks hadn’t been honest… the process of declaring the extent of the losses and the full scale of the toxic assets – of executives telling their seniors, management telling the board, the board telling the market and their shareholders – was proving so painful that too many people in the banks were deluding themselves that the problems would disappear”… “Short-term incentive structures, which relied excessively on self-regulation, aggravated rather than contained the recklessness of risk-taking… there is an incentive to drive up short-term shareholder returns by moving risks to off-balance sheets and increasing short-term turnover through increased fees, profits, and bonuses”.
It’s a wide-ranging book and, no doubt, one that I will struggle even to BEGIN to understand (an understatement!).
So Brown’s book makes interesting reading when set against the incredible accounts coming from the US Senate this week as executives from Europe’s biggest bank, HSBC, were subjected to a humiliating onslaught  over revelations that staff at its global subsidiaries laundered BILLIONS (yes, billions) of dollars for drug cartels, terrorists and pariah states (note: I ended up reading about this in the Guardian – at the time of writing, on the BBC’s website, the HSBC story doesn’t get ANY headlines (and it’s only the sixth story on its Business Page”).
It all makes frightening reading:
·         “’Pervasively polluted’ culture that persisted for years”.
·         “HSBC's subsidiaries transported billions of dollars of cash in armoured vehicles, cleared suspicious travellers' cheques worth billions, and allowed Mexican drug lords buy to planes with money laundered through Cayman Islands accounts” (note: there are allegations that some 47,000 people have lost their lives since 2006 as a result of Mexican drug traffickers!).
·         “Other subsidiaries moved money from Iran, Syria and other countries on US sanctions lists, and helped a Saudi bank linked to al-Qaida to shift money to the US”.
But, on the positive side, the bank HAS apologised for its "lapses" and said reforms had been put in place… so that’s a BIG relief for all of us, I’m sure.
The US Senate committee had been conducting its investigations over the past decade(!) and the permanent subcommittee of investigations had apparently examined 1.4m documents as part of its review. I can’t see the UK parliamentary structure providing the necessary finance to make similar checks in this country.
HSBC is likely to be fined a “massive” amount of money – which seems reasonable in the circumstances(!) – but one can only hope that action (imprisonment and massive fines) will be taken against the greedy, callous perpetrators to send out appropriate signals to others.
Where will it all end?
PS: Well, Dominic Rushe's Guardian piece ends with the following:
“But the report comes at a highly sensitive moment for British banks in the US. Following Barclays fine in the Libor-interest rate scandal and the massive losses at JP Morgan Chase's London offices US politicians have become increasingly critical of the UK's financial services sector…
At a recent hearing into the JP Morgan losses, Carolyn Maloney, a Democratic representative from New York, said: ‘It seems to be that every big trading disaster happens in London’.”
Oh good grief!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

together again, after all these years…

Somewhat worryingly, it’s very nearly 45 years since some of us (at least!) started at college in Oxford and yesterday 17 of us met together at The Lamb and Flag (formerly “Dirty Dudleys”, near Kingston Bagpuize in Oxfordshire – with its slightly dodgy memories/associations with our student days!), followed by a wonderful walk up White Horse Hill at Uffington. This wasn’t a college reunion as such, simply a reunion of our close group of college friends. We’ve arranged these occasional get-togethers from time to time over the years (and some of us have met up more frequently too), but it’s been some nine years since our last “reunion”. This time, “John Trem” bravely offered to do all the organising - something he now probably regrets! 
It was lovely to meet up again (and, do you know, we’ve hardly changed a bit over the years!) AND we were incredibly lucky with the weather too – it stopped raining just long enough for our walk.
Oh happy days!
Team Photos: Top 2012: John, Laura, John, Paddy, Steve, Ted, Nigel, Steve, Janice, Joan (just!), Moira, Bev, Adrian (just!), Christiane, Jane, Tony and Rosemary.
Bottom: c1990 (with some offspring!)?… I won’t try putting names to everyone!
PS: I DID try to find a black+white photograph of some of us around a bench on Boars Hill from c1970, but failed miserably, I’m afraid!
PPS: double click on the image to enlarge.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

monsieur lazhar

Moira and I went to the Watershed for the first times in ages to see Philippe Falardeau’s film “Monsieur Lazhar”. Algerian immigrant substitute teacher Bachir Lazhar (Mohamed Fellag) - who isn’t quite who he claims to be - steps in to help a class of 11/12 year olds in a Montreal junior school following the suicide of their previous teacher. Fellag is simply wonderful in the main role (despite reminding me of David Suchet’s Monsieur Poirot character in his, Poirot’s, gentler moments!), but the children are also quite brilliant too. Charming, sensitive and moving.
I loved it.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

more bank robbery stuff

Thank goodness for the Financial Services Authority (FSA)!
Apologies. Yes, I KNOW I’ve got a bee in my bonnet about bankers - but the more I learn, the more I don’t understand.
Simple question: What is the role of the FSA?
Well, this is what its website says:
“We are the independent body that regulates the financial services industry in the UK”.
“We have been given a wide range of rule-making, investigatory and enforcement powers in order to meet our four statutory objectives. In meeting these, we are also obliged to have regard to the Principles of Good Regulation”.
"We regulate most financial services markets, exchanges and firms. We set the standards that they must meet and can take action against firms if they fail to meet the required standards"
"We are accountable to Treasury Ministers and, through them, Parliament. We are operationally independent of government and are funded entirely by the firms we regulate”.

I watched another brilliant interview by Jon Snow on Channel4 News yesterday (if you didn’t see it, then I suggest you click here). He was talking to Andrew Tyrie MP, Treasury Select Committee Chairman, about the letter Lord Turner (Chairman of the FSA) had written to Barclays Bank in February 2012 indicating the FSA’s concern regarding its “pattern of behaviour over the past few years”… and that it wanted “something done about it”.
Ooooh! That’s real fighting talk, that is. They’ve been concerned for a long time (but haven’t done anything about it)… so let this be a warning to them… because, if they don’t improve, we might even start stamping our feet or tutting or something... Right, that’s told them… oooh, they must be REALLY scared now!
In his interview, Jon Snow pointed out that it seemed that the relationship between Barclays and the FSA had broken down since 2009 – and that although he felt the regulator might be “fighting, but the regulator was losing”.
Andrew Tyrie’s response: “The regulator was getting tougher... making clear that they were getting more and more upset…I don’t know if they were being tough enough…”.
Pause for intake of breath…(!).
Snow concluded the interview asking: “We customers, we civilians, we voters are looking in on a tiny sliver of the City’s activities… if this is how bad it can get in one bank, what about the whole of the rest of the City?”
How bad indeed!
What IS the point of having a regulator (entirely funded by the firms it regulates!) if it appears to be totally ineffective?
I’m at a complete loss.
Photo: Andrew Tyrie MP, Treasury Select Committee Chairman.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

yet more iona reflections

I’ve been home now for some 10 days or so and am beginning to get back into my “old” routine. I love being back amongst my family and old friends, but obviously miss seeing the daily beauty of the island, the changing light, my new “Iona friends” and the general rhythm of the days.
The internet is wonderful in that I’m able to keep up with things that are happening on Iona on a daily basis through the blogs and facebook comments from resident staff and current volunteer members of the Iona Community.
But, inevitably, this also has its downside.
The other day, for instance, after what was apparently a gloriously sunny day on the island, a sudden storm developed, followed by a magnificent evening sky… here is sacristan Dave’s description: “Watched the rain come in like a black wall over Mull today. It was brilliant sunshine and hot where I was standing then suddenly cold torrential rain. There was a remarkable rainbow over the Abbey, but I didn't have my camera so you'll just have to imagine it...”
Fortunately, fellow-volunteer Lee Ann DID record the evening sky (here’s her lovely photograph).
I felt very envious and suddenly wanted to be there again to experience/capture the moment.
Photo: sunset over distant islands.
PS: I’ve previously mentioned that the BBC was on the island to record a programme with Stephen Oliver and John Bell. This went out this morning on Radio4 (40mins long) and featured, amongst other things, the wonderful Gail Vincent from the Iona Community. But I want to stress that I also played an absolutely crucial part(!) in the programme: a) “Morning Has Broken” was chosen by me(!) and was recorded in the morning worship that I led (fortunately, you can’t hear me singing along – I was SO scared by the close proximity of the microphone that I just mouthed the words!) and b) I was one of the 20 plus guests and volunteers who were asked to provide the “backing vocals” in the extract from the Morning Worship book that John Bell read (again, fortunately, you can’t hear me!).  
PPS: The sad thing is that they also recorded a brilliant evening service led by resident staff member and lovely friend, Becki – but failed to include any of it (perhaps they’re saving it for a “peace-and-justice-special"?!).

Saturday, July 07, 2012

angry but powerless?

In a week that saw the resignation of Bob Diamond as chief executive of Barclays over its role in rigging the Libor interest rate and parliament deciding on a review of the banking scandal by a joint committee of MPs and peers (instead of a judicial review), I’m finding myself becoming more and more disillusioned, angry and frustrated by the ethics of political and commercial life in Britain today. Yes, I know it would be incredibly unfair for ALL politicians and businesses to be “tarred with the same brush”, but you get my gist…

All this coincides with the publication of a study by Democratic Audit into the state of democracy in Britain over the last decade which warns that it’s in “long-term terminal decline”. The Guardian’s Juliette Jowit explained that, although the study acknowledged that there had been advances in some areas, “it found evidence of many other areas where Britain appeared to have moved further away from its two benchmarks of representative democracy: control over political decision-making, and how fairly the system reflects the population it represents – a principle most powerfully embedded in the concept of one person, one vote. Among its concerns, identified from databases of official statistics and public surveys, were that Britain's constitutional arrangements are ‘increasingly unstable’ owing to changes such as devolution; public faith in democratic institutions ‘decaying’; a widening gap in the participation rates of different social classes of voters; and an ‘unprecedented’ growth in corporate power, which the study's authors warn 'threatens to undermine some of the most basic principles of democratic decision-making'". In addition, the study noted a further 62 ‘new or emerging concerns’, including electoral fraud and declining newspaper sales and audiences for TV news.
Today’s Guardian included some other fascinating, related articles.
Marina Hyde summed things up beautifully:
The most recent years have visited all manner of calamities upon the populace of this septic isle, from the banks, to the politicians' expenses, to the phone hacking, to the banks (and possibly the politicians) again. Trailing in the wake of these disasters come the postmortems, the inquiries judicial and parliamentary, and the anger that never fails to spill over into mindless apathy… The form book suggests that we will continue to avoid considering the possibility that we get the press and the politicians – and by extension of the latter, the bankers – that we deserve. Hundreds of MPs who gamed the expenses system have already been re-elected once, and many of them will be again in 2015. Leveson's conclusions will doubtless make no mention of the millions who devoured fairly unjustifiable stories about people's private lives, and to whose likely provenance they may have exhibited their own version of wilful blindness – and anyway, most of those who read the News of the World now gladly buy the Sunday Sun. I fear no significant number of customers will move their money to ethical banks”.
Deborah Orr noted the following:
“Because bankers just aren't that good at picking up signals from government, even straightforward ones delivered in the form of repeated, public pleas such as: ‘Lend more money to small businesses’; ‘Tackle your appalling bonus culture’; ‘Pay your taxes’. In fact, banks seem marvellously able to do as they please, even when they have been bailed out by the state at breathtakingly massive public expense. The banks appear to have all the power in this abusive relationship, not the state. The banks have power without responsibility. The state has responsibility without power. This doesn't seem like a sensible way to arrange matters”.
JonathanFreedland, meanwhile, was urging the Labour Party to “voice this anger before it’s too late”.
“One by one, institutions that people once depended on – banks, parliament, police, press – have been exposed as, if not legally corrupt, then rotten with greed… If this mood of radical disillusionment persists, it could shake up conventional politics… For if this rage does not find a peaceful outlet, it will find another way. But make no mistake: it will out”.
Burying your head in the sand is clearly no solution and yet “doing something about it” is another matter. I’m not very good when it comes to trying to articulate these concerns and I certainly don’t have the necessary knowledge or experience to engage MPs and/or political leaders in constructive or fruitful dialogue. I’m feeling angry, but powerless… and yet, just doing nothing won’t help in the slightest. Who knows, maybe I’m going to become a political activist in my old age?
Answers on a postcard please!

Friday, July 06, 2012


As some of you may know, I simply love the work of John O’Donohue.
I’ve previously used this extract from his wonderful piece entitled “To Cross the Thresholds Worthily When a Great Moment Knocks on the Door of your Heart” (from his book “Benedictus”) in an assembly for Year 11 school-leavers:
“It remains the dream of every life to realise itself, to reach out and lift itself up to greater heights. A life that continues to remain on the safe side of its own habits and repetitions, that never engages with risk of its own possibilities, remains an unlived life.
There is within each heart a hidden voice that calls out for freedom and creativity.
We often linger for years in spaces that are too small and shabby for the grandeur of our spirit.  Yet experience always remains faithful to us. If lived truthfully and generously, it will always guide us towards the real pastures.
Looking back along a life’s journey, you come to see how each of the central phases of your life began at a decisive threshold where you left one way of being and entered another. A threshold is not simply an accidental line that happens to separate one region from another.  It is an intense frontier that divides a world of feeling from another. Often a threshold only becomes visible once you have crossed it. Crossing can often mean the total loss of all you enjoyed while on the other side; it becomes a dividing line between the past and the future. More often than not, the reason you cannot return to where you were is that you have changed; you are no longer the one who crossed over…”

At the end of my time on Iona, I wanted to say a few words to my fellow-volunteers – in gratitude and appreciation for all that they’d meant to me during my stint on the island… and so, once again, I used these words of John O’Donohue’s at my final meeting with them to express how I’d felt that our time together had, in various ways, been a kind of threshold for all of us too.
Since returning home, I’ve been using a book of daily readings and meditations from the Iona Community entitled “Living Letters of the Word”. Significantly, today’s reading was an extract from an Iona Community Annual Report by Peter MacDonald (Leader of the Iona Community – whom I’d met during my time on the island) entitled “A Threshold Experience”(!). Here’s an extract:
“Much of the Iona Community’s work is concerned with bringing together people from different backgrounds and with different perspectives in safe but creatively provocative encounters and situations. In academic fields such as anthropology and psychology, such encounters and situations are described as ‘liminal’. The Latin word ‘limen’ means threshold. Threshold space where all transformation happens. Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest and writer who led a programme week in the Abbey, comments: ‘Nothing good or creative emerges from business as usual. This is why much of the work of God is to get people into liminal space, and to keep them there long enough so they can learn something essential. It is the ultimate teachable space… maybe the only one. Most spiritual giants try to live lives in “chronic liminality” in some sense. They know it is the only position that insures ongoing wisdom, broader perspective and ever-deeper compassion…’
“Liminal time and space provide us with the opportunity to step back from our lives, from social and cultural norms, to look at them afresh, enabling transformation to take place. The Iona Community believes that Christians are called to threshold spaces and activities”.
Photo: door to St Columba's Shrine, Iona Abbey. 

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

in the best possible taste

I don’t watch much television these days.
Apart from a tiny bit of Wimbledon tennis, the only TV I’ve watched (and that only on catch-up) since returning from two months on Iona is Grayson Perry’s three-part series on Channel 4 entitled “In the Best Possible Taste” –his/her examination of class and taste in the UK (well, England anyway!).
I found them absolutely compelling and was incredibly impressed by Perry (Essex-born artist and transvestite) as a TV presenter. No doubt television companies will be queuing up with ideas for future series! The three programmes focused on Working Class, Middle Class and Upper Class aspects of our society. Perry (like me: middle-class-from-working-class-background?) seemed to be readily accepted by “all classes” in the series – with the possible exception of some from the “upper classes ” who seemed to be a little embarrassed and defensive by his interest.
I personally found some of the “aspirational middle class” people a little embarrassing (especially the woman who bought the entire, furnished showhouse on the so-called “model” middle class estate!), but actually felt that I became a little more sympathetic to some of the working class attitudes and behaviour through the programme.
As part of the television series, Perry ended up producing six wonderful, large tapestries telling the story of class mobility. They’re all full of carefully-observed detail, humour and poignancy and I’d certainly like to see them on show at the Victoria Miro Gallery, London (“Vanity of Small Differences” exhibition lasts until 11 August and it’s free).
Photo: “Annunciation of the Virgin Deal” (middle class) tapestry.
PS: It’s interesting how television has become such a force in helping to showcase an artist’s work. I was terribly impressed by the David Hockney “A Bigger Picture” exhibition at the Royal Academy earlier this year (which was the subject of a special “Culture Show” programme – and even inclusion in “Countryfile”!) – which surely must have broken the RA’s attendance records? I suspect that the Channel 4 series will have a similar effect on Grayson Perry’s current and future exhibitions (although those who saw his brilliant “Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman” exhibition at the British Museum won’t need any further encouragement!)... click here for my quick "take" on both exhibitions.

Monday, July 02, 2012


I feel a little guilty about blogging about this because it feels like an invasion of someone’s privacy.
I found this photocopied photograph of a couple on their wedding day – taken in the 1940s perhaps? (click on the image to enlarge – and let me know if you can more specific!). It had been crumpled up and wedged into a gap between stones that formed the large cairn on Dun I. I used to climb up Dun I (the highest point on Iona at a mere 328 feet) quite frequently during my time on Iona – it’s just a 20-minute walk from the Abbey - usually so I could watch the sun set over the ocean.
It’s been well over a week since I discovered the image (I’m writing this from home in Bristol) and I’ve found myself thinking about it on a regular basis ever since.
I obviously don’t know ANYTHING about the photograph and can only speculate about why it was there (and realise that there could be a whole host of possible explanations).
These are MY assumptions – all probably incorrect(!):
That the picture had been left by a son or daughter.
That the husband and wife are now both dead.
That it might have been “planted” on Dun I to mark their wedding anniversary.
That the photograph had been left on top of Dun I very deliberately – the decision to do so certainly wasn’t an impulsive decision.
That the person who left the photograph had made the journey especially for this purpose.
That Iona (and perhaps the view from the top of Dun I?) had special significance for the husband and wife (and/or the son/daughter?).
That the photograph had been left in gratitude.
I discovered the photograph just as the sun was setting on a simply beautiful, wind-less evening.
I said a quiet prayer and returned it to its original place on the cairn.
It reminded me about the precious contributions that family members have made to my own life and that, perhaps, I’ve all too often under-valued the love and support that I received from my own parents (my father died in 1992 and my mother in 1999).
I very much hope that the person/people who left the photograph found the experience helpful/beneficial/significant.
I found their gesture valuable and surprisingly poignant for me personally.
Thank you.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

could it be an age thing?

Although I kept a weather-eye on what was happening in the world, via the internet, while I was away on Iona for two months, I feel as if I’ve been spending a fair amount of time since my return playing catch-up as far as news+newspapers are concerned (yes, I HAVE been aware of the main action in the Leveson Inquiry and the fact that Paul Lambert has become the new Villa manager!).
Strangely, it seems that the matter of “age” has been a common factor recently:
1.    David Beckham’s failure to make it into the GB Olympic team has been put down to age (they overlooked me too, so I think they might have a point!).
2.    I found myself fascinated by much of the debate around Jeremy Paxman’s TV humiliation of junior Treasury minister, Chloe Smith (regarding the deferred 3p rise in fuel duty) on Newsnight and her earlier (apparently equally poor) “performance” on Channel 4 News… it seems as though her boss (George) was dining with friends at the time and had been unavailable! In some quarters, Paxman was being criticised because she was just a young, inexperienced minister and he was an experienced street-fighting media-man!
3.    Interesting, there was an article by Steve Richards in The Independent which also talked about politicians (in this case, Cameron+Osborne) being out of their depth due to their inexperience (here's a brief extract): "They are by no means alone in this, but they are much the most exposed. In spite of the storms, both are still fairly effective performers. Most of the time they are calm and witty in the Commons and in interviews. But in terms of policy-making, and in the confused projection of their agenda, they struggle to stay afloat. For illumination, always follow the policy trail, not the public demeanour of the policy-makers".
4.     Ironically, the next article I read (in the Guardian) was talking about the possibility of Tony Blair becoming Prime Minister again!
5.    In the light of the latest recent Banking scandals, there was an intriguing article by Ian Leslie, again in the Guardian, linked to bankers and City traders entitled “The Problem with Testosterone”. Here’s just a brief extract: “The researchers found that on days when the traders beat their previous monthly average, their testosterone levels would go through the roof. One trader, for example, enjoyed a winning streak that saw his profits reach twice his historic average – and his testosterone increase by 76%. Even more significantly, Coates and Herbert found that when traders' morning levels of testosterone were higher than normal, they made higher profits than days when they started off with low levels. In other words, better trades produced more testosterone, and testosterone made them better traders. What makes you a better trader for a day or a week, however, can in the long term lead you to take disastrous mistakes”. So, maybe that’s an age-thing too!?
Too old? Too young?
Somewhat ironically, all this comes after I’ve spent the past two months working with volunteers in the Iona Community – whose ages ranged from 18 up to mid-60s.
For what it's worth, I think we complemented each other beautifully (but I would say that, wouldn't I)!
Photo: little mouse Chloe and big, bad Jeremy on Newsnight.