Thursday, 22 February 2018

We're doomed!

Like any parent, I want the best for my children. I want to do what I can to secure their future.

And in the UK, that future increasingly depends on one thing. Brexit. The terms on which we leave the EU.

And that's just where it starts to get worrying.

Although I voted remain in the referendum I can see a number of reasons why the EU isn't all it's cracked up to be, not least the bloated, expensive bureaucracy that drains billions from across the region.

But let me outline what I believe might turn out to be the single most important reasons staying IN is the best course for the UK.

It isn't something many of us would have been able to predict when the referendum was held. It isn't something to do with the economy, with the City, with farm subsidies or spurious claims that the NHS could benefit to the tune of our monthly EU contributions (much of which comes back to us in... farm subsidies, among other things).

It is this. It is what is happening today, what was announced this morning. It is the farce that is the political attempt to sort the whole mess out, the in-fighting, the personal jockeying for position, the greed for power.

Because that EU bureaucracy, that unelected oligarchy, that hindrance, those faceless mandarins who dictate the shape of our bananas and the size of our sausages (not that they did) have been the ultimate (and rather sensible) brake on the wilder, greedier, madder, ratings-driven and attention-grabbing antics of our own political 'elite'.

It's hard as a little Englander to shake off the sense that we're better than Johnny Foreigner and superior to all those Continental types. But it's not exactly being unpatriotic to face awkward facts. And the awkward fact is that - when we leave - we'll be in charge.

But that 'we' is not 'us'.

This isn't about the will of the British People Jacob, or the sovereignty of Parliamentary democracy. Because as they all know down at Westminster, all that is just fodder for the unrelenting cannon of personal political ambition.

This is about them. What they want. Where they want to be and how they want to get there. And they'll be in charge - completely, utterly, absolutely.

Just look at them!


And let's not forget our own power-broking, ratings-hungry, power-greedy unelected oligarchy - the increasingly irrelevant press owners and editors.



I hope you're sitting comfortably...

Actually the one good thing that is nothing to do with Brexit or politics or anything else is that - in the age of the inexorable rise of social media - the above (unelected) power brokers (Rupert Murdoch and Paul Dacre) are finding their influence waning somewhat.

People get their news online these days. And their opinions, too. Which means we've all got a platform to express our own views. And here are mine.

When will the flat-earth society that is the Brexiteers realise that the facts, the overwhelming facts, are clear. Things will undoubtedly be worse when we leave the EU.

When will the Conservative party admit that it - and it's power-hungry politicians - are behind this mess. It's not about the country, or the will of the people. It's about the mess of the Conservative party.

Talking of which, when will Boris Johnson admit that his 'principaled' stance was no more than a sham, that if David Cameron had campaigned for leave, he'd have put his considerable bulk behind Remain. And as for Michael Gove... well, let's not go there.

All of which leaves this man. Maybe...


The one thing most people in this country seem to agree on when asked in survey after survey is their distrust of elected politicians.

If that's true, then we're in for a turbulent time. All the evidence shows just how hard the transition from EU membership is likely to be, and that at least in the short-term there will be a negative effect on the UK economy.

You can negotiate as many trade deals as you like, you can restore rights over British waters to our fishermen and cosy up to China and Korea. You can even see if the old Empire (sorry, Commonwealth) wants to do business with us once again.

But it's this lot who are going to be sitting round the table. They're the ones negotiating.

And at the moment, they couldn't negotiate themselves out of a paper bag, never mind the European Union.

Dinnae say I didnae warn ye!


Sunday, 18 February 2018

The Serpent's Promise

The Serpent's Promise: The Bible Retold as ScienceThe Serpent's Promise: The Bible Retold as Science by Steve Jones

I like Steve Jones. I like his refreshingly sceptical attitude to almost everything. He has a way with words too, for a scientist. And the subject matter of The Serpent’s Promise promises to be fascinating - the hidden half-truths as well as wilder theories of the Bible given scientific scrutiny.

There’s a surprising amount of myth-making that seems on the surface to have a plausible scientific explanation, such as the Great Flood explained by catastrophic glacial melts at the end of the last Ice Age; the dietary prohibitions of Leviticus explained as early food hygiene regulations; even Adam and Eve (or a similar unnamed pair of common ancestors) explained by the double helix of our DNA.

But this book was a surprisingly slow read, partly because many passages demanded a second glance, but mainly because it just never quite took off as a narrative. That, and the fact that Jones is guilty of double-standards where his own views are concerned (allowing himself a leeway that would is utterly absent when scrutinising religious doctrine) spoils what should be a five-star read.

Just one example of the latter will suffice. On p.41 we get the bold assertion that the Battle of Brunanburh in AD937 occurred on the Wirral, all without so much as a ‘maybe’. Maybe it’s ok for the scientists to play fast-and-loose with the facts as far as other academic disciplines are concerned, I don’t know. Or maybe they feel so secure in their impregnable rational realm as to make such claims with impunity. But the idea that the Battle occurred on a Cheshire golf course is no more than speculation: in fact; there is a weight of evidence that suggests many other possible locations, some with a much stronger claim.

All of which is fine, of course. That's history. And as Jones repeatedly points out, that’s what science does, too: hypothesise, then test to destruction. What it doesn’t do (I thought I heard him say) is present hypothesis as fact. Especially, I would say, historical hypothesis relating to events over a thousand years old.

If anything that’s the weakness with what is otherwise an excellent book. Jones (and he’s not the only one to do this) can’t help being a little less rigorous with his own knowledge of other disciplines than he allows the rest of us to be with his.

Physician, heal thyself... as it says in the Bible (Luke, 4:23)!

View all my reviews

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Go WILD!

Some years ago I went to see a performance by the National Theatre of Brent in which two actors - Jim Broadbent, and Patrick Barlow - performed The Greatest Story Ever Told (basically, the Bible) in a little under two hours. Just the two of them. Oh, and the audience. If your play demands a cast of thousands and a range of locations, what do you do? Involve the audience, of course, who in this case were slaves rowing the Roman galleys as well as angry crowds at the crucifixion.

That's also the secret of Dinosaurs in the Wild, which has now opened at the Greenwich Peninsula (a short walk from the O2). It's immersive theatre - plus multi-media and animatronics -  in which you're less spectator, and more participant in a time-travelling adventure.


We were invited over to the launch party on Tuesday - me, happy to be asked to a party; Charlie, over-the-moon to go anywhere that involved anything to do with dinosaurs...


Neither of us sure was what to expect. But it certainly did not disappoint! There were canapés, there was champagne, a little light 'celeb' spotting (Charlie was especially pleased that Chris Packham spoke to him!)


And of course there are dinosaurs. 
Lots of dinosaurs doing the things dinosaurs do. 


Actors play the parts of scientists and tour guides and you - the audience - play the part of time travellers taken back in time (67 millions years back in time!) and through a series of stages from laboratory to dino hatchery and, ultimately, to the piece de resistance where you actually get to see the dinosaurs in their natural and original habitat. It really is the most tremendous fun. And very well done. And there's poo, too...


Dinosaurs in the Wild is at the Greenwich Pennisula, London, until July 31st 2018. A family ticket (2 adults, 2 children) costs £23.75 at peak times and you can find out more and book tickets here: https://dinosaursinthewild.com/ticket-information/.

And as they say... Their time, their world - your adventure!

Thursday, 8 February 2018

The end is nigh...

It's a plot worthy of John le Carré. Or it would be, if there was time.

But the clock is already ticking.

I'm talking Armageddon, nuclear annihilation, mutually-assured destruction, the end of the world as we know it.

And it's all a game. An Olympic Game(s), to be precise.

Allow me to explain. (Or pitch the movie!)

I don't sleep well. Some nights I hardly sleep at all. And although the pre-bed sleep hygiene is good (no blue lights, hot milk, reading a (real-life) book) in the small hours there's often nothing for it but to reach for the phone. I can read a book without waking my wife. I can scroll through Twitter, check Facebook, catch the news... anything, really, to while away the hours of darkness once you know that sleep is nigh on impossible.

But that last one. Catch up on the news. There's a time in the wee small hours when - whether due to sleep-deprivation or not, I don't know - my rational sensibilities are completely askew, when my imagination can skim a news story and race from, I don't know, a percentage fall in the Dow Jones to all-out Wall Street Crash.

And it was like that last night (this morning) with the Winter Olympics.

You see, it's all very nice North Korea agreeing to join forces with their southern kin and play ice hockey together. And it's lovely that Kim Jong-un is sending along his sister. No, really. Lovely.

But hasn't it struck anyone else as, I don't know, ever-so-slightly odd that all this bessie-mates stuff has suddenly appeared out-of-the-blue when the two countries have been on a war-footing for most of the past few years?

I mean, Damascus Road conversations happen. But that's not the irrational explanation I came up with at three in the morning.

No.

What if it was all a gigantic trick? What if the ice hockey team - or, better still, Kim's sister - somehow smuggled in, I don't know, a dirty bomb. (She could take it in her diplomatic handbag, after all.) What if it was all a very clever plot to hold the south - nay, the world - to ransom? And nobody was any the wiser. Because they all thought jolly old Mr Kim was turning soft. Hitler was an animal lover, after all.

But, while our guard is down, the ice hockey team (who are really a crack North Korean commando unit led by Kim Yo-jong) unpack their diplomatic bags, assemble their weapons of mass destruction and...

At that point I think I (mercifully) fell asleep. And by the time I woke up, it was too late. Too late to continue the plot. Too late write the book.

Too late to save the world?

Who knows?

I've done my bit.

You have been warned!



Sunday, 4 February 2018

Time makes ancient good uncouth


It's a good painting, isn't it? Skillfully done, artfully posed, compositionally satisfying. And exploitatively law-breaking...

Probably. If painted today.

But it wasn't. It was painted by John William Waterhouse in 1896.

In 1896 you could be hanged by for murder. You couldn't vote if you were a woman and if you were a child of 13 without the means to pay, you couldn't go to school. Two million of you (as recorded in the 1891 census) were servants and if you were killed or injured at work you (or your family) weren't entitled to a penny in compensation. (That Act followed in 1897.)

And the subject of the painting - Hylas and the Nymphs - comes from an even earlier era. In the Classical Greece of the painting's subject there were far worse fates than being a servant or - for a child - being sent up a chimney rather than sent to school.

Life was different then. Standards were different. Worse, in many ways. But using that to judge (and censor) art of the era is a dangerous (and futile) occupation.

Of course, that's not what they said they were doing. When Manchester City Art Gallery took down the painting, they cited 'artistic reasons' and a desire to 'provoke debate'.

Fine. If a tent or an un-made bed can be a work of 'art' these days, so can a blank space on the wall.

But why, in that case, also remove all examples - postcards, keyring, bookmarks, - of the picture from the gallery shop as well?

I suspect the reason reveals the fig-leaf of 'debate' behind which a censorious act of judgmental bigotry was hiding. Like the fig-leaf of 'moral purity' behind which the bonfires of Nazi book burnings were being stoked. Or the fig-leaf of religious piety behind which the Pope, apparently, insisted Michaelangelo paint, er... fig leaves on the Sistine Chapel nudes.

Because, as the American poet James Russell Lowell had it, 'Time makes ancient good uncouth.' To try and judge the past by the standards of the present is futile, and risks blowing history - as well as Waterhouse's nymphs - right out of the water.

Far better to let them be in their tranquil lilly pond, don't you think?
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