Category Archives: News & Comment

Oh, hello

It’s been a long time, hasn’t it? Well, you can probably guess why. Yes, that whole B thing, quite apart from anything else. Everything is now seen through the prism of Brexit. Everything. It absorbs life and light, just like a black hole.

What was the point of sitting here, keyboard warrior, blethering on about things over which I have absolutely no control whatsoever? So, I didn’t.

At first, it was the world that was broken. Eventually, I thought, it would right itself. Except, instead, it seems to spiral further into complete insanity with every passing day. The world has now broken me. I only need to spend a few minutes looking around, or reading something about it, and I’m lost.

As a child of the Cold War, and having lived through the threat of thermonuclear annihilation during the 1970s and 1980s, I find myself seriously scared about the future. Just what does it have in store? Who knows, but it won’t be much fun from what I can see.

Anyway, aside from western civilisation collapsing and economic and social apocalypse come next April, what’s been going on?

I became overwhelmed with work. I just couldn’t do it. I sat and looked at my piled-up commission work, at what was happening on the bench, and threw my hands up in despair. I needed time off to consider my life, so everything is now way behind schedule. Thankfully, I have supportive and accepting clients. I am slowly trying to rebuild my enthusiasm for getting things done. The order book is closed until at least next year, perhaps longer. It’s a good job I don’t have to rely on my work to pay the bills.

Best Beloved is not well. He’s not really unwell, but he’s not the man he was. I think the global insanity, and my mental ill health, isn’t helping. We bumble on.

Billy-puss is the only real constant in life at present. He’s the rock that helps me keep somewhat grounded in the maelstrom.

We are actively considering a move. Not just to the next street, or town. I’d like to move to another country, but I’m about three decades too late to make that work. I could claim an Irish citizenship, thanks to a maternal grandfather, but I worry about maintaining links for my work and suppliers post that bloody B thing again. We could move to Scotland, before they split from this idiot England at last. Next best thing, I think, will be to move as far north in England as we can, to get away from the armageddon that Brexshit is likely to cause down here in Kent as the ports get clogged and the motorways turn into lorry parks. We currently have sights set on County Durham. It looks like a nice place, and we liked it when we paid a flying visit earlier in the year. A move can’t come soon enough for my liking. There’s nothing down here that inspires me any more.

The broken WordPress installation for this blog is still something I need to sort out. As I haven’t been posting here since the new year, there hasn’t seemed to be any point. There are alternatives, if I feel it’s worth the outlay, but good old inertia has a definite hold on me. I don’t expect I’ll bother sorting it out in the end.

So, there we are. Chaos and calamity reigns supreme, and it’s hard to keep a level head when all around is collapsing so quickly there’s no time to stop and think. I just keep trying to shuffle on regardless, though there seems to be less and less point to it all.

Don’t worry. Utterly depressed though I am, killing myself to end it all isn’t on the cards. That would be utterly pointless, and help no-one—least of all me! Something good will come out of all this, eventually. It has to.

More on positivity

If you recall, back in May, I linked to a post by Nick Miners about being positive. I linked to the post because it struck a chord with me about how it is so easy, what with everything going on around us and in the world generally, to be negative all the time. After a few years of things not going so well in my own corner of the planet, I had been generally trying to look on the bright side, and Nick hit home.

Nick’s been following up on the theme. Yesterday, he asked for examples of positivity from his Twitter followers. A mutual friend, Paul Dunning, responded. Paul, like me, is a designer by trade, and his interests are wide-ranging. In the past few months, he has been documenting the unique letterforms used by the local authority in his home town to name the streets. He is now creating letterpress blocks from the typeface, and I suspect a digitised variant won’t be far off.

I had a think, and while I am pleased the modelmaking work has taken off, I felt my positive contribution was Invicta Shutterbugs. I was really pleased with the way a regular local photowalk gathered interest, and how it’s led me to make new friends. Sadly, we haven’t figured out a way to share the resulting photography in a central place yet—something that bugs me and will need to be sorted out if the walks are to continue into another year. Anyway, Nick suggested the modelmaking would be more interesting, so I put some thoughts down and emailed him. You can read them on Nick’s blog.

I’d like to thank Nick for highlighting the need for positivity in our world. With the media churning out, and literally thriving on, bad news it is so easy to let yourself fall into the pit of despair. Realising there’s a lot of good about, and working away at making life better by having a more generally positive attitude to many things, can only make the world a better place.

BBC News – WWII Dornier bomber raised from English Channel

A German World War II bomber has been raised from the bottom of the English Channel.

The Dornier Do-17 aircraft was shot down off the Kent coast more than 70 years ago during the Battle of Britain.

via BBC News – WWII Dornier bomber raised from English Channel.

Now the long haul up to Cosford, and the long haul of preservation begins.

For other blog posts here about this story, search for “Dornier”.

Incidentally, it’s been mildly annoying hearing all the female news presenters pronounce Dornier like their favourite cosmetics company.

On positivity | Nick Miners Photography

I am, by nature, a “glass half empty” kind of person. There are times when I struggle to see the positive side to anything. There is much about life, my life in particular, for which I ought to be happy, but I still find myself in the company of that black dog from time to time—as many posts on this blog bear witness.

My friend Nick has written on his blog about being positive, especially in the light of events of the past day or so.

Negativity is easy. I see it as like falling into a pit; letting gravity do its work, you fall in, with nothing but the pit and negative people in sight, wallowing in the outrage. I see it all over – look at these AWFUL wedding photographers, and these HILARIOUS poor people at Wal-Mart. Yes, it might raise a smile, but the overriding feeling is one of negativity, almost celebrating the fact that we are not one of these people. Yet how do we know that these photographers are not happy, making a living doing something they enjoy, regardless of what we think of the results? Or that the people in the aisles in Wal-Mart are at ease with themselves enough that they feel the can go out shopping in those ill-fillting clothes without worrying about being judged?

via On positivity | Nick Miners Photography.

He’s quite right, of course. Read the whole post, and then you can join me in trying to look on the positive side of life again.

I could blame the media, with their ever-increasing desire for grimness.  That is, however, a bit of a cop-out. I don’t believe we actually need so many rolling news channels, but that’s another story. Yesterday’s “news” coverage of events in Woolwich came about as close as I have ever seen to showing someone actually being hacked to death live on TV. 

It’s obvious to anyone with eyes to see there are agendas being promoted all over the media. Sadly, there are plenty of people who lap up the ‘news’ and let it guide their own agendas. More people really need to wake up and see the media, the news media in particular, for the propaganda machines they have become.

It’s not easy, this climb to positivity, but it is worth every step. It starts by not believing everything you read in the papers or see on your TV. Learn to see behind the curtain, to see the mighty Wizard of Oz for what he really is.

First toys, then models and now works of art | Comment is free | The Guardian

The difference between a toy and a model has always been a vexing question, especially for boys. A common reply is that toys – a toy train, for example – is a simplified or exaggerated version of the real thing, while a model aims for true scale, detail and accuracy. This is fine so far it goes, but it invites the question of purpose, which at least in my childhood was so pressing to a six-year-old. Toys were meant to be played with; did models, like ornaments, simply stand aloof to be admired? As one grew older and clockwork became electric, OO gauge rather then O, the answer turned out to be “not always”. Perhaps “toy” and “model” represented no more than a change in terminology, to spare adolescents the embarrassment of remembering themselves as gullible five-year-olds pushing not-very-lifelike wheeled objects over the lino.

I considered these times on my way to see a new exhibition, Toy Boats, at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. At home in the long ago, we had a wooden Chinese junk that my father had made on his workshop lathe. It had anchors and little cannons and could be played with (“Careful!”), though it was never allowed near water. A yacht shaped on the same lathe, on the other hand, should have had water and wind as its natural elements, but it rarely sailed successfully, capsizing in the slightest breeze despite adjustments to the keel and a name (Titania) that with its last letter took pains to avoid the ominous. In the bath, a clockwork tugboat cheerily bumped against the enamel for a month or so, and then its machinery rusted.

My friend the postmistress’s son had more and bigger boats than I did – his three older brothers were all sea-going carpenters – and their persuasive detailing made them more attractive. But HMS Daring, the Empress of Canada and the rest couldn’t be trusted to the sea or even the pool in the rocks. They were confined to the living room floor. The boats we sailed we made ourselves, from a buoyant substance we found on the beach called “black cork” that smelt sulphurous and may have been washed ashore from old lifejackets. A penknife could trim and cut a piece into a reasonable galleon, with stick masts and paper sails. If they were swept away, who cared? There was more black cork to be carved and therefore only a fleeting sense of loss.

That last word was the first feeling to be evoked at the National Maritime’s exhibition, which opens with the rusted remains of an early 20th-century clockwork battleship, the Souvarov, which had been recovered from the bottom of a French pond after many decades. It happened often in the pre-plastic era – toys imitating life by sinking to the bottom or having their hulls and engines put beyond repair by too infrequent oiling or being stored in a cupboard while still damp. When the Round Pound in Kensington Gardens was drained in 1923, about 150 battered little ships were recovered from the mud. So much childish loss, so many tears.

Long before the modern attractions of Grand Theft Auto, these hazards of damage or shipwreck must have told against the miniature ship as a popular toy, at least beyond families rich enough to have houses with baths where children (as an exhibition caption nicely puts it) had the luxury of regular and prolonged bathing. Still, by the later years of the 19th century the workshops of Nuremberg were turning out thousands of tinplate warships for the British middle-classes. The Bing brothers, with the world’s largest toy factory, produced miniature Dreadnoughts flying union flags until the first world war began. To see these and many other magnificent battleships, cruisers and submarines, complete with brass guns and little sailors in blue, is to realise how much fun war must have seemed and how, uncorrected by other images, toys might in some small way, hidden to the conscious mind, have accounted for the public enthusiasm at its outbreak.

France fought back against the flood of German imports and built toy ships equal to the products of Bing, Marklin and Fleischmann. Britain, oddly for the world’s supreme maritime nation, made very few of its own until war cut off supplies. Bassett-Lowke of Northampton then began to produce small navies, clockwork or steam-driven, while what’s known as “Queen Mary fever” led to Cunard liners that could run around the carpet on wheels. But the real British thrust in terms of craft that could actually dip their bows into the water became the speedboat and the model yacht. In the years after 1918, unemployed men set to work to build yachting ponds in seaside towns such as Fleetwood and Gosport, where big crowds would gather to see the little boats race. Even now, Britain has about 100 model yacht clubs – this weekend in a pool at West Kirby flooded by the high tide of the Dee estuary, you can watch the international one-metre championships.

Toys or models, playthings or replicas? Perhaps none of these: radio control and sophisticated sailing techniques have made them more than ever an adult sport. The children’s toy boat, meanwhile, has slipped into the twilight of cultural history, to be remembered by EB White’s Stuart Little (an adventure on the pond in Central Park) or a trip to the Luxembourg or Tuileries parks in Paris, where you can still hire wooden yachts and retrieving sticks by the hour. The rest (or most of it) is primary-coloured plastic made in China, characterless, unmemorable and easily forgotten in the sand.

After the exhibition, I stopped by at a branch of Nauticalia, the mail-order company that has a chain of stores specialising in replica binnacles, ship’s wheels and hurricane lamps, as well as pennants, guernseys and sou’westers: many homes in Britain must look like the bridge of a spanking new 1950s trawler, with inhabitants dressed as spanking new 1950s trawlermen. There was also a section devoted to “collectables”. There they all were: replicas of the Cutty Sark, the Victory and the Golden Hind, plus a few nice old luggers. “Probably made in Asia,” so I was told by an assistant, and fixed to their stands as permanently as a handle to a jug. Completely unsailable; they couldn’t even be pushed like our Chinese junk towards the imaginary harbour known as the settee.

I took the train back to Charing Cross and walked across Trafalgar Square to have a look at the most famous marine model in recent British history. Yinka Shonibare‘s “Nelson’s ship in a bottle” will stand on the plinth at the north-west corner for the next 18 months and may well prove to be the most well-liked of the sculptures and people that have filled that space. It may or may not succeed in inviting us to “consider the relationship between the birth of the British empire … and multiculturalism in Britain today”, but it’s very charming. Questions arise, however. Did the artist actually make the boat? Could it ever be freed from its bottle? Finally, and arising out of so much disappointment from so long ago: Could it be made to sail?

It’s all about craft

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It’s all about the craft. I’ve been coming to that conclusion over the past couple of years.

High tech, computers and whizzy gadgets are all well and good. I wouldn’t be in business without them, if I am honest. But there’s something much more satisfying about design and art when it’s hand-finished.

I love the crafted feel of letterpress printing. A hand-finished book binding is a joy to behold. Hand-painting signwriting is undervalued. Even the dirtier stuff, like blacksmithing and, yes, even restoring cars and lorries, have aspects of the love, attention to detail and the craftsmanship involved. Skills and techniques handed down from generation to generation, sometimes through an apprenticeship, honed and practised to perfection.

I need to look at ways to incorporate more craft in my work, and to engender the appreciation of such things in clients. One day, such hand-crafted skills may return to the ascendant, because we never know when something will knock our modern society into a cocked hat.

BBC News – £80m Battle of Britain monument plan unveiled

Battle of Britain Beacon

Plans to erect a striking 116-metre beacon as a monument to the Battle of Britain have been unveiled.

The Battle of Britain Beacon will cost £80m and be taller than Big Ben.

The structure will be built at the Royal Air Force Museum in Hendon, north west London, and will house a permanent exhibition on the WWII air conflict.

The museum announced the scheme ahead of the 70th anniversary of the battle, which raged in the skies over Britain from July to October 1940.

Being a long-time Battle of Britain nut, I’m not sure what to make of this.

No news is, um, news.

It may have escaped your attention, but Blighty had a general election last week. We managed to somehow not elect a majority party to govern us, and talks have been under way in order to work out whether the third party will support one or other of the bigger parties in some form of power-sharing deal.

It’s all very interesting, if you’re into your politics. Let’s say it’s been dragging on now since Friday. There’s plenty of stuff happening, but it’s all behind closed doors, and those involved are being very tight-lipped about it.

Which isn’t helping the 24-hour news vultures, who have been thrown into a complete loop by the lack of information. They’ve resorted to political correspondents interviewing political reporters, who can only to report nothing new has happened, and it’s likely nothing new will happen for some time, and some people have arrived and/or departed from a meeting without saying anything concrete to anyone, but this is probably what they might have said, according to “a source”.

Effectively, the media has resorted to reporting on the reporting of the non-news, simply because they think they need to be first to break news if anything actually does happen. Which they don’t.

I mean, Europe’s in financial meltdown, a man has a bullet lodged in his head, some volcano is still erupting, BA is set for more strikes, we may see new Ladas arriving in Britain, over 60 people have died in violence in Iraq, decreasing biodiversity will damage economies, oil is still spewing in the Gulf of Mexico… Yet, we’re expected to believe that it’s more important to hear from a reporter who was nearby when someone went through a door but wouldn’t answer a shouted question.

Why don’t they just drop the farce and report on proper news until something actually happens? They’re making themselves into even more of a parody than they were to begin with! What makes it worse is they “break” the story in some weird game with the other news vultures where they try to be the first with the latest breaking news. Why not just let the story happen, find out what happened, check it actually happened, and then tell us about it?

Why do we need 24-hour rolling news anyway?

Stalemate: PR and PR, Ice Cream, Bananas and Fudge « The New Adventures of Stephen Fry

Stalemate: PR and PR, Ice Cream, Bananas and Fudge

By Stephen Fry
May 9th, 2010

Hermeneutics

One of the most puzzling features of the current unstoppable wave of political punditry that is flooding all channels and outlets at the moment (including this one of course) is the peculiar propensity of commentators to feel qualified to extrapolate from the election results the Manifest Will of Britain.  “The people have voted for change”, “The people have told Gordon Brown that he has got to go” , “The people are saying that they don’t really trust any one party”, “The people have said that they want Parliament reformed, the tea room in the House of Commons redecorated, new carpeting in the women’s lavatory of the House of Lords and a vegetarian option in the canteen.”  What fevered branch of electoral hermeneutics allows any such interpretations on the basis of the summing of millions of individual’s single votes I cannot imagine. It is possible that people do want real change, but a single cross next to a single name is no way to deduce it.

PR

We only get one vote, one cross to put next to one name. If you put your cross next to Victoria Tory’s name you declare that want her to be your MP, representing you constituency, although it is perhaps also permissible to assume that you are up for her party and her party’s leader winning an overall majority in the Commons in Westminster as well. If the cross is next to Fabian Labour’s name or Libby Dem’s one might be justified in assuming the same there too. There really is almost nothing more nuanced or sophisticated that one can infer from our recent general election except to say that that of the 68% who voted there weren’t enough who wanted Conservatives to win to allow Cameron to claim first prize, and even fewer who wanted to vote for candidates from the other parties. One could deduce a huge amount more if voters were allowed to express their preferences in an intelligent way that reflected how they really feel and think. The Electoral Reform Society is a good place to go for information as to how precisely such a form of voting could be implemented, as it is all round much of the civilised world. My friends at Vote For A Change have also been campaigning for the same thing. Proportional Representation is the prize that many of us hope this “confusing” election will deliver. But there is an obstacle. An obstacle so huge that I cannot see it being overcome.

The Sitch

Here is the situation as I read it.

  1. David Cameron’s Conservative Party elders and backbenchers will never allow him to seal a pact with Clegg that guarantees electoral reform in the shape of proportional representation.
  2. Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrat Party elders and backbenchers will never allow him to seal a pact with Cameron that that does not guarantee electoral reform in the shape of proportional representation.
  3. Cameron will spring an obvious trap by saying, “We’ll see. We’ll look into it. You can have concessions on schools and hospitals.” Children who want an ice cream know that when their parents say “We’ll see, but you can have a banana” it means no ice cream. The Lib Dem and PR pressure groups are perfectly aware of that too. Any talk of “an independent enquiry … a Royal Commission … a committee to look into it” will be treated for what it is. Fudge.
  4. Stalemate

It comes down to this: the Conservatives believe that under a PR system they will never achieve full supremacy in the country again. This would mark a sharp reverse in their ambitions. Their manifesto commitment to a 10% reduction in MPs and a consequent redraft of constituency borders would necessarily gerrymander massively in their interest, all but guaranteeing Tory power for the foreseeable future. The idea that they will for one moment countenance PR reform that will see them reduced, as they would interpret it, to the role of Euro-style hedgers, compromisers and pragmatic consensus inclusionists is more than a bitter pill, it is a suicide pill and Cameron knows that he could never induce the party to swallow it.

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A thoughtful commentary on the current political “sitch” in our glorious but befuddled country.