Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Seven songs for spring

How many fans and admirers is it possible for a fat man to have? I have been tagged three times to the best of my knowledge. George Szirtes, Poumista and Brigada Flores Magon have all asked me to join in this meme.

List seven songs you are into right now. No matter what the genre, whether they have words, or even if they’re not any good, but they must be songs you’re really enjoying now, shaping your spring. Post these instructions in your blog along with your 7 songs. Then tag 7 other people to see what they’re listening to.

Spring is associated with all sorts of corny music, "Paris in the Springtime", "If I Ruled the World", "Tulips from Amsterdam". It is a time of hope and romance. So what am I mainly listening to at the moment? Laments, that's what.

I have always had a soft spot for the lugubrious, but I think there is a bit more to it than that. If Spring is about new departures, that means leaving the old behind. When Persephone rises from the Underworld to rejoin Demeter, she brings life to the earth but leaves Hades and her realm in darkness. Spring is about parting too, about saying goodbyes.

Having just caught up with the world of music downloads I am exploring the music that I loved when I was young but never got around to buying. Most of it was contemporary folk; Dylan, Baez, Joni Mitchell and, of course, Leonard Cohen. My first song is one that is continuously buzzing around my head at the moment, Hey, That's no Way to Say Goodbye.

The mood is obviously infectious as the other night I listened to Mahler's Song of the Earth, with its sad and sensuous final movement evoking the fading of life into eternity, Der Abschied (The Farewell).

For me, Spring is also Easter in Greece and my friend likes to play the George Dalaras and Haris Alexiou CD, Mikra Asia, itself a remembrance of a lost world, as we turn the spit with the whole lamb roasting on it. I have been listening to it since I came back and here is a splendid live performance by Dalaras.

Returning home to a more frenzied life I calmed myself with the lyricism of Delius, a Yorkshire born composer of course. I chose to listen to On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring because of a memorable moment in a drive into the mountains in Greece when, by an old hollowed out tree, I heard the loudest and brashest cuckoo you could possibly imagine.

My trip into the past was not all bedsit misery. I heard Arlo Guthrie's Alice's Restaurant only once in the late 60's, but I never forgot it. The other day I downloaded it and listened to it again for the first time in forty years.

And when I need energising I turn to the driving jazz funk of Miles Davis's Right Off from A Tribute to Jack Johnson (and see this clip set to archive footage of Johnson himself). There is another memory here, it features John McLaughlin who I saw in a dazzling concert with his Mahavishnu Orchestra back in the early 1970's.

And my last one is a bit of a cheat as I haven't really been into it. Why do I feel the need for new starts, farewells and energising? This Bob Dylan song should give you a clue.

My seven tags? John boogies online every Friday. Scribbles is always up for a meme. Paulie is good for a tune or two. And what about those Critical Chatters in Crete? Come on Harry, give us a song or seven. Anyone who can throw up a post on interior design in 1970's Danish porn movies must have some interesting musical tastes, so how about it John and the Wife? And finally, I reckon we will get some good Jazz from Jim Denham.


Another fine night with fine people. In one pub there was the best idea I've seen yet to get round the smoking ban for nicotine addicts. The owners had placed pots of complimentary snuff on the bar. Clever.

(Posted especially for Karen. She's been to the Nou Camp you know.)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A sense of proportion

"You dirty rotten swine you! You have deaded me again!"
The Goons

The Independent
Prepared for the apocalypse: Mexico's masked metropolis
The Express
Government health advisers warn a worst-case scenario flu pandemic could kill up to 750,000 people in Britain alone and lead to mass graves, inflatable mortuaries and 24-hour cremations.
spEak You’re bRanes
I do not believe that there is a pig flu. I distrust all government.
There is only one thing to do. Take to the streets and demand your rights!

Sunday, April 26, 2009


Rugby League latest:

Whilst I was away, that august journal, The Salford Advertiser, reported that
Swinton Lions ascended like Jesus to the top of the Championship One table following two victories over the Easter period.
They played Oldham today and were cast out of heaven for the sins of knocking on, passing forward and missing tackles in a game where defence was seen as a tiresome imposition to be disregarded at will.

Oldham won 52-36. The match was played in the style of Dali.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Dancing to the Donkey of the Black Rock

The nickname of a singer and carpenter with a famously flat voice, here leading the traditional dancers in the square at Trikeri, a mountain top village at the end of the Pelion Peninsula.

Trickeri is celebrated for its mercantile energy, and sends its fishermen to dive for sponge all over the Levant. It possesses several schooners and tricanderis, which carry on, principally, the cabotage of these parts, but also venture as far as Alexandria and Constantinople. They did not recollect having sent vessels to Soujouk-Kaleh, and therefore it was needless to ask them about the Argo, or to tell them that their ancestors, thirty-five centuries before, had discovered Circassia, in a vessel, the timbers of which had descended from their mountains. In this narrow circuit of hills, enclosing the gulf, a great portion of which, too, is perfectly bare and completely barren, exists a population of 50,000 souls, amongst whom arts so varied flourish, and who, for centuries, have enjoyed freedom and abundance. Men have seemed to spring, in this favoured region, from the fructifying look of the rocks, still bearing the names of Deucalion and of Pyrrha. They have been protected, by their geographical position, from the savage tribes that, for so many centuries, oppressed their neighbours of the plain, and they have been shielded by the Church from the abuses of the Government. This district exhibits what the soil can produce, and what happiness man can attain to when relieved from the intrusion of laws.
Since then it's changed drastically in many ways, but perhaps not in all.

Photos by Aphroula

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


I went to a poetry reading last night. It wasn't like this.

More cultured, a bit like this.

With an added drop or two of this.


Words can hurt, words can savage. Then there is the regret of words unsaid, recalled too late. Yet, when wrapped in intelligence, principle and warmth, words heal. When crafted with beauty, they delight, intrigue and bathe you in thought. Tonight I needed those words; words about fish as a form of sexual instruction, about ghostly conversations, about endless labour in a hotel bedroom. I was lucky, they came my way, I am grateful.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Here we go again

It's fattie bashing time once more. And again we are being fingered for global warming.
High rates of obesity in richer countries cause up to 1bn extra tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions every year, compared with countries with leaner populations, according to a study that assesses the additional food and fuel requirements of the overweight.
Now I am quite happy with the argument that increasing consumption in the developed world contributes to global warming, but why is it assumed that us stout people are the only ones doing the consuming. We are the ones who tend to put the weight on, that's all. Skinny people who stuff themselves without piling on the flab are apparently immune from blame. And what about all those super fit exercise freaks who have to fuel themselves to maintain an abnormal exercise regime?

The point about focusing on obesity rather than patterns of consumption is that it places the blame for climate change on the sinful behaviour of fat people not on global inequities. Now take this gem:
They also factored in greater car use by the overweight. "The heavier our bodies become the harder it is to move about in them and the more dependent we become on cars," they wrote.
Sorry, it may surprise you that not only can I walk, I actually enjoy walking. It is more accurate to say that the older we get the less mobile we are and therefore are more dependent on motor transport. Have you seen any headlines saying that older people cause global warming? Soylent Green anyone?

No, instead we get the same smug message,
"Population fatness has an environmental impact," said Phil Edwards, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. "We're all being told to stay fit and keep our weight down because it's good for our health. The important thing is that staying slim is good for your health and for the health of the planet."
The interrelationship between global inequality and global warming is important and complex, I refuse to accept that my waistline is to blame.

Should I stay or should I go?

Alice Mahon
I have spent most of my life working for and representing the Labour Party. I always took the view that I should stay and fight within, but New Labour have done such a good job of demolishing our democratic structure that I realised there was nothing I could say or do to change things from within.
Harry Barnes
Rebels should rebel and not give up ... It is much more fun to be expelled from an organisation on an issue of principle, than just to pack it in.
It is the existence of such a sharp dilemma, rather than the choice made, which is the problem.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Leading edge, vibrant, diverse, etc.

We’ve witnessed a groundswell of people and communities creating and organising learning opportunities for themselves. The challenge for all of us is to ensure we seize these new opportunities, and drive, rather than fall behind, the leading edge. To consider how Government can best support the vibrant and diverse opportunities out there for private and collective engagement.

A world-class source for international, cutting edge bullshit bingo aside, perhaps the question should be asked why people are organising their own 'learning opportunities'. Well, some of the reasons are that the Government has pulled the funding for the adult education classes that one and half million of them used to attend, strangled others with bureaucracy and introduced crazy rules that stop people studying one subject when they are qualified at the same level in another. That's why.

For more on this rhetorical tendency see Paulie here.

There are no goats

But at least the sun is shining in Hull. Not brilliant to be back, though I never stop being grateful for the huge privilege of being able to escape to somewhere so wonderful as Pelion. I am a lucky fat man.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Public transport

Απόψε κάνεις μπαμ!
Σε βλέπουν και φρενάρουνε
Και σταματούν τα τραμ

Tonight you go bam!
They see you and they brake
And they stop the tram

I am about to play hell with my carbon footprint. Bugger.

Thanks to Aphroula

Friday, April 17, 2009

Recovering the public realm

It was good of Will to think of me and he was dead right to draw my attention to these reflections of k-punk in the aftermath of the G20 protests.
New forms of industrial action need to be instituted against managerialism. For instance, in the case of teachers and lecturers, the tactic of strikes (or even of marking bans) should be abandoned, because they only hurt students and members (at the college where I used to work, one-day strikes were pretty much welcomed by management because they saved on the wage bill whilst causing negligible disruption to the college). What is needed is the strategic withdrawal of forms of labour which will only be noticed by management: all of the machineries of self-surveillance that have no effect whatsoever on the delivery of education, but which managerialism could not exist without. Instead of the gestural, spectacular politics around (noble) causes like Palestine, it's time that teaching unions got far more immanent, and take the opportunity opened up the crisis - their crisis, our opportunity, as Harvey rightly characterises it - to begin to rid public services of business ontology. (When even businesses can't be run as businesses, why should public services?)
Action against managerialism eh? That sounds like a legitimate excuse not to carry out some of the mind-numbing tasks that form part of the modern educational bureaucracy. More seriously, this is about taking action that hits your enemies. Students are not enemies.

Of course being run on business lines is not always bad. Some businesses are well-run. However the managerialism that has infected the public sector is not based on the best business practice, instead it is an amalgamation of Taylorism, the conventional wisdom of management consultants and pseudo-marketisation. It is the product of bureaucracy, not commerce.

Two things strike me about managerialism. The first is that it affects the conditions under which public sector workers deliver services. It is an ideology of control, a system of domination that subordinates individuals' autonomy. It is anti-democratic. And so we become our own grudging oppressors, complicit in operating a system in which we have little faith so that we can protect something that we actually value.

Secondly, for us in adult education in particular, managerialism has been used as an instrument for the imposition of a specific model of lifelong learning. Today this increasingly means addressing the needs of employers, not employees note, and abandoning a broader, emancipatory notion of learning. And this is where the business model is so inappropriate. Public services' primary purpose is not to make a commercial profit. It is to deliver that service well and at reasonable cost, but above all it is to promote something of social value, a collective need, not just the needs of employers.

Those seeking utilitarian justifications for continuing liberal adult education like to point to the fact that the humanities, for instance, are capable of producing the 'soft skills' that employers need; analytical skills and creativity for instance. However, we have to recognise that they also produce those skills that employers most definitely don't want; articulate assertiveness, the ability to spot bullshit a mile off, a determination not to take crap. In other words, collective needs do not necessarily coincide with those of employers, they may conflict with them and strengthen the hands of their opponents. Don't think that those in power are naive enough not to know this too.

And this is where action gets interesting. Instead of moaning about pay (as I sit here in my second home in Greece I do not feel badly paid) or engaging in ill-informed gesture politics, there is space for action to attempt to re-establish the public realm, underpinned by an essentially egalitarian, humanist ethic that empowers people rather than renders them servile. A lovely thought, but will it happen? Don't bet on it.

My village

"But beautiful things are not luxuries, they are necessaries. Life would be unbearable without them".

Emma Goldman

Monday, April 13, 2009

The weather in Greece

Eat your heart out Suzanne Charlton, here is the TV weather forecast presented by Petroula Kostidou.

Hat tip Andy

Friday, April 10, 2009

Collectivism reborn?

It has been hard to rise from the slumber induced by the Greek spring and a surfeit of 'Wine Poems'. Eric Hobsbawm has just about woken me up with a patchy piece on the economic crisis that, at first, posits a false dichotomy between unrestricted global capitalism, “a sort of international bourgeois anarchism”, and “centrally state-planned economies of the Soviet type”, or Stalinism as he doesn't call it. A whole range of social democratic and democratic socialist alternatives disappear in the chasm between his two irreconcilable models.

However, he seems to be grasping for just such alternatives, though, curiously, he shows little faith in them,
You may say that's all over now. We're free to return to the mixed economy. The old toolbox of Labour is available again - everything up to nationalisation - so let's just go and use the tools once again, which Labour should never have put away. But that suggests we know what to do with them. We don't.
This pessimism seeps through the article, but he makes one pertinent, if commonplace, point deftly calling for “a return to the conviction that economic growth and the affluence it brings is a means and not an end. The end is what it does to the lives, life-chances and hopes of people”.

And that raises the importance of collective action, not as an alternative to individual liberties, but as an essential component of them.
The test of a progressive policy is not private but public, not just rising income and consumption for individuals, but widening the opportunities and what Amartya Sen calls the "capabilities" of all through collective action. But that means, it must mean, public non-profit initiative, even if only in redistributing private accumulation. Public decisions aimed at collective social improvement from which all human lives should gain. That is the basis of progressive policy - not maximising economic growth and personal incomes. Nowhere will this be more important than in tackling the greatest problem facing us this century, the environmental crisis. Whatever ideological logo we choose for it, it will mean a major shift away from the free market and towards public action, a bigger shift than the British government has yet envisaged. And, given the acuteness of the economic crisis, probably a fairly rapid shift. Time is not on our side.
There's that pessimism again, however his assertion of a collective interest in public provision chimes perfectly with those of us who still cling to a public service ethos. There is nothing new here. It could almost be a restatement of the 'Middle Way' of the 1930's. It is just nice to see advocacy of "public non-profit initiative" and "collective social improvement" at a time when one of its instruments, adult education, appears to be in its death throes with the remnants being corralled into the low-cost wishful thinking of informal learning.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Matters of no consequence

The Internet has been down much of the time. Apparently there was a fault with the server at Thessaloniki.

Yesterday, cold wet weather gave way to warmer air. The skies cleared and we have bright days and cool nights.

The winter's rain has left the garden a jungle and I have been involved in serious bramble removal.

Some vignettes:

I do not know whether KLM's airline meals are the worst, the most adventurous or an ironic reflection on the impossibility of mile high food. The main meal on my flight over consisted of a nettle cheese and salad sandwich with jam.

Chrysanthi, a neighbour, sitting in long grass under a tree in the next field, enjoying the warm sun, holding a young goat gently on her knee, whilst others calmly grazed all round her.

Under ten Euros for a five litre box of red wine called "Wine Poems".

And the nightingales have arrived.

Friday, April 03, 2009


Oh, to be in England
Now that April’s there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England—now!
Bugger Browning, I'm off to Greece.

Light posting ahoy!

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Another fat man on a keyboard

The composer Handel, cruelly caricatured by his soon to be ex-friend Joseph Goupy after a massive eating session. There is now a new theory behind Handel's obesity and gargantuan appetite, he may have suffered from binge-eating disorder. This theory also suggests his ill health and death were caused by lead poisoning due to drinking vast quantities of wine.

Today he would be a suitable target for Channel 4 or even held up as an example of a dangerous threat to the civilised world.

Instead we are left with the music; beauty emanating from the obese.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Adult education blues

Here is another lament for the demise of University Adult Education. Pol Pot analogy aside, it sums up the position pretty well, though some institutions are holding on and supporting lifelong learning. One of the better pieces of analysis of the situation that I have read lately is this academic paper by Chris Duke. He deals with both the demise of adult education, but also the failings that made it vulnerable. Duke puts forward a critique of the sterility of the Great Tradition*, which I wholeheartedly share. Yet he is also a partisan for adult learning, particularly for engagement.
Engagement today needs a compelling narrative that legitimises community and regional engagement work as integral to mission and policy, effectively embedded in the practice of the whole university as ‘what we do here’.
There is one, Patrick Geddes' University Militant. It was articulated just after the First World War; it is a narrative that has been forgotten.

Duke takes a lovely sideswipe at bureacucracy,
Any attempt to document, quantify and regulate the work of partnership and engagement in pursuit of social, civic and cultural as well as economic development is doomed. If pursued ruthlessly it will destroy the very work.
And I can't fault his judgement, nor his pessimism, here:
What is needed to promote university engagement and balanced regional social and economic development in the spirit of the early extension and tutorial classes today?

To borrow from the title of a book cited in this paper, something of the spirit might conceivably be rekindled, in a world desperately needing applied humanistic intelligence for the sake of sustained and balanced development of the eco-system and the social systems which we inhabit. But the form will have to be different. An effective solution will require clear and competent institutional leadership. This means courage and staying power, along with effective and confident delegation to and empowerment of strongly motivated academic organisational units... The extramural tradition should have been a natural breeding ground for the latter. Whether the new managerialism that prevails in many universities will produce this mix remains to be seen. Whether the competitive but changing environment of RAE and league tables will allow it is also a moot point.
"Desperately needed"? Yes, it certainly is. Valued by those with power? I doubt it.

*Discussed by Richard Hoggart, who once taught in the Adult Education Department in Hull, here.