Sunday, 10 July 2011

Is Britain today, the Spain of the Renaissance?

Is Britain today, the Spain of the Renaissance?: A response (of sorts) to @agidgetwidget's 'microcosmic paradigm of civilisation experiencing the de-evolution from Renaissance to Popularist Banality to 0'.

While attendance of art galleries in London is up, one must weigh whether this is because of a longing for art, or if this is due to other, perhaps less purist reasons, such as those art galleries being tourist attractions or a source of free 'entertainment' during the years of economic recession. At the height of the Renaissance, all of Europe was gripped with a fantastic appetite to indulge more in art and artistic ideals. From the Germanic countries came philosophies and music the likes of which had seldom been seen before, while from southern Europe came a level of painting and drawing that would revolutionise the medium and remain popular to this day. In Britain, poets such as Milton and Spenser, playwrights such as Shakespeare and Marlowe and the refinement of political satire were key. However, there has always been one country in Europe conspicuous by its absence from the greater renaissance movement and this country of course is Spain. Spain was in the grip of the Inquisition and artistic things were oft viewed with suspicion. Aside from the undoubtably influential and highly thought of presence of Francisco Goya, Spain produced nothing to further the European renaissance. As the rest of Europe explored all possibilities of art, with the exception of Goya, Spain remained in a rot. The ruling royal elite aside, Spain was a country of peasants and priests, a standard that the Inquisition looked to maintain as this made their grip on power tighter. Indeed it was so tight that a revolution against the church was never even talked of, and it was only when the French invaded Spain that the Inquisition was destroyed.

Let us imagine what the entertainment was like to the Spanish of that time. Simple, almost romantic visions are conjured up. Flamenco and gypsy dancing (when the agents of the Church could not see it), perhaps board games of the time and of course wine. Work robbed them of energy and their commitments to one of the most oppressive religious movements in history robbed them of time and energy to become creative at all. Bar Goya's efforts Spain remained a place where culture died at the heel of the Inquisition until Napoleon brought his war to the Iberian peninsula.

Now, let us make some hypothetical considerations before looking at our own time, and specifically Britain in the 21st century. First we must concede that the church has not that power anymore (though in Britain it hasn't any really power for a hundred years at all). But the obvious replacement for the halls of God would be television. Each night before it, so many of us bend our knees and stare agog at the majesty we are shown. We use it to seek advice and hope that it will tell us what to do. 24 hour rolling news is like a channel dedicated to the movements and ideas of the new trinity that is mankind, his television and 'entertainment'. We see our brothers and sisters doing thus and then decree from the pulpit in our hearts and minds whether this is right or wrong. The television has its own room - each lounge a vestry. Our chief source of worship, wisdom, 'entertainment' and perhaps even guidance on an almost divine level, is the chattering box that we can control (though I fear, not as much as it can control us).

Those peasant pastimes of the Spanish during the renaissance years, what might they have been today? The dancing, that would once have been in fields or in the houses of friends now is found in clubs and bars where music blares out from speakers to drown out conversation (for conversing is key to creation which is active and they want you passive). It is as if we do not seek to think but to avoid thinking by stamping our feet and returning to a more instinctive form of 'entertainment'. And in those bars and clubs, still we find the drink of Bacchus and so much more. Alcohol still plays its part, though there is far more on offer than a cheeky rioja.

And we can return to boardgames now, though they have become electronic. From handheld devices to the consoles whose wires hang from the backs of television sets like the vines grasping for the glorious sunlight, our dice are now controllers and the best we can hope for from our opposable thumbs, that gift which took us from the animal kingdom and made us man, unique among all the creatures of the earth, is that it doesn't get cramp while trying to make Mario rescue the princess.

So take that Spanish peasant lifestyle and look at Britain today. More people are going to clubs to dance their evenings away, the sales of those consoles and their games are always climbing and our consumption of beer, wine and spirits will not abate. And every day, we feed a little more of our souls to our televisions. Viewing figures are sky high and only going up. And we pay for every one of these privileges. These populist pleasures drain us of that which we struggle for each day. Every nugget of gold that we scratch together is spent on alcohol, nights out and Nintendo.

And as this recession claws at the public purse once more, our oppressive inquisition in Britain has found those bastions of thought and education, of art and culture and painting them with bulls-eyes, for they are the easiest of targets. They will find more money from our wine, but this is for our own good as it will discourage us from drinking and being antisocial though really the thought of us sober must be terrifying. The economy would collapse for one thing and we might start thinking about our lives for another. No, it is the institutes of art and education that have already fell to the first salvo of barbaric cost-cutting. Public Libraries are closing for we have no time to read of the majesties and wonders of the past. Despite these noble places offering to those who seek it, young and old, a fountain of knowledge, wisdom and learning. And now universities are to become private companies obsessed with money first and learning second. They, our noble government said that one or two of these institutions would charge the maximum fair for entrance into the higher levels of thought and the tutoring that this requires but now nearly all have slapped fees on them as high as the very buildings they occupy. Each student now may go and feast on knowledge but only if he or she is willing to live a life of debt to a state that gave them nothing. But as long as they can dance…

And art funding for galleries and museums slashed like a child swiping at a spider's web. To keep the most amazing works of our artists and those from around the world, curators must now busk and plead to keep their doors open and their walls painted. Britain's government thinks not of art. For so much of art is free and they cannot find a tax for this. But as long as we have our television…

But what of television? And radio? What of the bbc? An institution built to educate, inform and entertain with impartiality at a small cost per year per household. Even they must suffer. The World Service, a station listened to around the globe in so many languages, a source of truth in its highest regard, is now a burden. It is no longer a service in the eyes of this government who think that we cannot afford to be thought of as a nation of truth perhaps and service to the world. This station that has kept the world informed through wars and revolutions must pick and choose which branches it must keep. Some already have perished. But we still have our wine…

Yes, our wine. Our taxable wine that makes us weak in the face of our government and makes the cuts we see each day to the highest levels of artistic endeavour, seem like but a scratch. And ay, there's the rub. But had we not a renaissance, we'd not know that phrase, but in the years to come, perhaps as the populist pastimes make roads, the future generations won't know them. For their schools were deemed too expensive and their universities a luxury and their libraries a decadence and the art galleries a gift to tourists, not for them.

So the topic of this essay, was wether my microcosmic paradigm (that is Britain today) has experienced a de-evolution from renaissance to populist banality. I think I've stressed that I believe it so. But I can give you reason too. Money. Art does cost money, but an artist never creates because of it. A true artist creates because he or she believes and feels that they have to. Their fee is but a way of sustenance so that they may continue. But a politician will look at an artist and think them a fool. And artists have, its sad to say, no control over banks and economies. Britain today is one of hand-ringing and people muttering about sticking together through hard times, though the only evidence for these hard times is that we have a government telling us we are living in hard times instead of a government that was telling us that salvation is just around the corner. Television has become God, and those populist pleasures are now the norm. There is still art and culture, true, but it has not the support it used to have. It is now for making money from tourists. If there was a renaissance in this country once, it doesn't live here any more.

Have we then descended to zero? Have we gone to a level of 0 creation? No, but if things do not change, if art does not receive the support it requires, it will soon. But at the moment we are at the mercy of politicians who see half price Budweiser and X-box bundles as the answer, so as they say on television; watch this space…

We are not Spain, for we have no Goya. We have not Spain, because we have no hope of france invading us and smashing every blasted set. We are not Spain, because they have better weather than we do. We are worse now than Spain was then, because things will only descend further into the mire of populism, while the angel of culture dies quietly, with an arrow made of money, buried deep within her breast.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Roy Hodgson - Dull, But Dynamic.

So it's Roy Hodgson is it? After all that longing for King Kenny to return, Liverpool get Roy Hodgson. With those last minute rumours about Capello, Liverpool get Roy Hodgson. And I don't think that's a bad thing. Not one bit.

The best metaphor I can come up with for Roy Hodgson, is that he's like an old whore. Leathery complexion, devastated eyes… No, not like that. What I mean is that he's been around a lot, and he's seen a lot of things. He's not as glamourous as the younger generation, and he's not willing to try as many radical things anymore, but boy, has he got experience!

There's already a little bit of whinging going on among kopites (just a bit). People are saying he's a hair-shirt manager, that Liverpool are admitting that they're not the best anymore. But that's the thing. Liverpool aren't the best anymore, and they need someone solid, reliable and sensible to help rebuild the ephemeral Anfield Way. There isn't anyone better at that, than Roy Hodgson.

Roy Hodgson has a lot in common with some top managers. He can get a huge amount of effort and teamwork out of players who didn't cost him much at all, just like Arsene Wenger. He's got a fantastic scouting network, just like the one that Alex Ferguson has developed over the years. And he understands the English game as well as Harry Redknapp, if not a bit better.

Furthermore, he lacks some of the serious faults that have hindered recent LFC managers. He won't let the team turn themselves into the Spice Boys, nor will he buy players simply because they meet the criteria of being young and French (you know who I'm talking about). But he isn't as much of a departure from Benitez as you may think.

Rafa was a very technical and calm manger. So is Roy. Rafa relied heavily on his scouts to bring in bargains. So does Roy. But all of that aside, the crucial difference is that whereas Rafa was incapable of operating without money, Hodgson can thrive in that situation.

I'm looking forward to this season now. It won't be full of silverware, but Liverpool might pick up a trophy before the end. There won't be any huge new signings, but there will be some promising youth team players coming through. There won't be high drama, but for the first time since Dalglish left, we might get some sensible soccer out of Liverpool, and that has to be the way forward. Until we get our own billionaire at the helm.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

RoboRef - How we need you now...

If you're a sci-fi fan like me, you'll be looking forward to the day when cyborgs stalk the earth. Well, a certain type of cyborg anyway. I'd prefer Bladerunner style Replicants to a legion of Arnies roaming around with shotguns and dark glasses. But, alas, this day is not quite nye. And, if you're a football fan, the current state of robot-less existence is a bit of a shitter.

Day two of the last 16 has seen two huge (and very bad) decisions made by humans that even the C3POs of the future wouldn't make. In England's game against Germany, Frank Lampard's strike DID cross the line (by a couple of feet probably - or a mile and a half depending on how drunk you were when you saw it) and Carlos Tevez WAS offside when he scored Argentina's opener against Mexico. You don't need to be a football fan to realise how big an impact these wrong decisions can have on a game, and you don't need prior knowledge of Asimov's laws of robotics to realise that, surely, technology is the answer.

We don't need cyborgs. Just a couple of cameras, and a micro-chip or two in the Jubilani ball (which, with any luck, would weigh it down a bit).

After Tevez struck, the Mexico players ran over to the linesman (the term referee's assistant is redundant because he's really not helping the referee in this situation) and began their protests. The referee dutifully ran over to break up this show of dissent, but then, to his horror, the goal was shown on the jumbo screen in the ground. Every fan, every player, and the hapless linesman saw it. Tevez was at least a yard offside. It took less than a minute for the replay to appear. Is that really breaking up the game? Would that 30 seconds really ruin football?

You can't blame linesmen completely. They are only human, and therefore it is their nature to err once or twice. But when the results can mean so much in the modern game (not just for fans or players, but also for global and national economies), surely 'he's only human' is a cry for technology to be introduced. And when every other major world sport, from American Football and Rugby to Tennis and Cricket have embraced technology, why must football continue with its stubborn, pointless and hard-headed rejection of it?

We have the technology, we can rebuild the reputation of football officials, and it won't cost $60,000,000 to do it. If Fifa asked, I bet Apple could make them an iLino with wifi an. And until it happens, we have to suffer these awful injustices. It makes one dream of Cylons. It really does.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Election Cartoons

Here are a few of the images I've doctored since the ConDem Nation started. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Letter To Nick Clegg

The following is a letter that I wrote on the 12th May 2010 and sent to Nick Clegg c/o Lib Dem Party HQ:

12 May 2010
Nick Clegg
Deputy Prime Minister
4 Cowley Street

Dear Mr Clegg,
I awoke today to find myself living in a nation where political beliefs have become a bargaining tool. They can be twisted, manipulated and forgotten entirely to suit those who seek power, as you yourself have proved over the last few days.

My political nature is progressive. My classical views range from ‘merely liberal’ (a phrase you ought to get used to under the whip of David Cameron) to socialist, to down right communist when the mood takes me. What's more, I vote in a constituency more blue than a blue veined, blue spotted very blue thing with added blue bits on it. In this constituency, the main rivals to the Conservatives, are your own party (or the party you now share ownership of with Mr Cameron - or has he given you to Sam Cam as a gift?) and so I voted for you. You may now consider this vote rescinded. You didn't win there anyway.

I will never be a Tory. As long as blood pumps through my body, for as long as the sun reaches the horizon each night and appears again the next day, I will not be BLUE! And yet, I find that my support of you, the praise I heaped on you after those debates, has, in admittedly small way, led to a Conservative majority with a progressive party as its pawn. How do you think that makes me feel?

Ok, so you got some concessions. A vote on the future manner of voting is something that I'm in favour of, and I welcome it. And stopping some of the Conservatives' more ridiculous cuts in public spending is welcomed too, but you could have stopped the whole lot as part of a majority opposition! But you are too much a coward for this You may argue that a stable government is good for the economy, but with George Osbourne as chancellor!? My only hope is that Vince Cable will show more backbone than you.

You settled for this just so that you could sit next to David Cameron, nod and smile like his pet, as he reintroduces fox hunting? Or when he proposes a new arsenal of weapons? Or the dropping of the human rights act? Or when he wants to leave the European Union? Will you clap and cheer for him on these fundamental issues, issues in the past so vitally important to you (apparently) and your party, though he need not even look in your direction?

Still, I must congratulate you on becoming Deputy Prime Minister. You are now allied to party favoured by, among others, Rupert Murdoch, Lord Ashcroft, Robert Mugabe, The Latvian Nazi Party, Polish Homophobes and Arnold Schwarzenegger. If you are happy cuddling up to such bedfellows, and as long as you get that nice seat next to Dave in the middle of the house, you should be very happy.

However, as you have begun this new administration on a sour note, I feel it only right that I should end this letter on one. I now have no protest vote in my constituency. Even if your referendum works out. For I will never vote Liberal again. Your shabby little grab for a morsel of power, betraying your ethics and the ideals of those who have followed you, have forever soured me against you and your yellow bird. Never has a political party had more apt a colour of identity.

Just remember though; Governing parties only lose popularity, and you are now allied with your closest rivals in many marginal constituencies. Their voters have long memories of glory days and they will mobilise more than we socialists and liberals will to get rid of you. When they heal, they will drop their crutch and your alliance will seem as though a bad dream to them, as you crawl, head down, in smaller numbers still back to your seats in opposition. I only hope that they are on the same side of the house too.

Yours, in pity, regret and disgust,
John R. Ashton M.A. (signed).

Friday, 26 February 2010


White water strolls by my window
Looking up at me with steady fascination
The trapped man in his clouds
Growing green with nature
As the world brings another person's day

Falling words lie stricken
As the white water whistles
A tuneless tune with no beat
That gulls and cars hover over in the wind
Below a coiled snake who turns

Transparency is dirtied and opaque
As the temperature drops
With the walking white water
Carrying its detritus on its shoulders
bulging with its efforts before the rain

No umbrellas float down river
But wheels trample and trumpet
On the other side of the world
Beyond the lazy white water
Cascading horizontally towards its peace

Full of oil but low on fuel
Hearing taps and jazz go out
Ongoing inevitability and structure
Makes me wish I could walk out
And stroll with the white water for a while

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Snow poem


Cascading almost in stop frame animation
The sherbet sheets softly fluff the world away
Under a clean canvas that drifts down
A thousand feathers pass my window in a minute
Drowning the warmth from the open pane
Tickling my nose in the delicate breeze
Barely lifeless as the flakes descend
Sending me into silly smiles I forgot I had
Thoughts of plastic sheets on abandoned golf courses
We pretend to be a bob sleigh team
Or all the snowmen born of my hand
Shrinking back with spring thaws
The day I walked on Dutch canals beneath the windmills
All those gloved hands and rosy cheeks
That stung in whispered winds or splashed water
Each brilliant moment defined by the falling snow
That gathers at the base of everything
And reaches up with comforting coldness
Hushing troubles with its beauty and all those memories