A roam around my books 6 – the die is cast.

My academic books were purged shortly after my finals and the losers traded at the university book mart. The survivors, including those which have never been opened in the intervening years, have not been threatened since. They are pillars of my bookcase, as safe as the fading photographs in rarely opened albums, repositories of memories created decades ago. I often see them on the shelves of university contemporaries, representatives of our shared student experience.

la-tete A roam around my books 6 - the die is cast. Some language books have sneaked alongside the text books, a reminder of an alternate life path which was scuppered when I had just turned seventeen. At the time I had mastered Corneille, Molière and Henri Troyat’s existentialist roman, La Tête sur les Épaules, all in their original French. I needed a good grade to read languages. French and Italian would have been my choice. I knocked on the staff-room door and asked Mrs Harrison if she thought I would get a B in French at A level. “No.” And so the die was cast. I applied for social sciences on my UCCA form.

I did get a B in French and over the years have attempted to learn Italian and German on many occasions. The older I get, the more difficult it becomes, and I seem to default to French whenever my brain is telling me to speak Italian or German. I probably accepted my French teacher’s assessment too quickly. Although I was torn between my love of languages and passionate interest in politics, I suspect I readily accepted her judgement because of fear. I can still remember the trepidation I would have felt as I imagined leaving my yet-to-be-made new university friends to spend a year in a foreign country as part of the mid-course year abroad which all language students took. I would have conjured up an image of a lonely garret in a world where everyone else knew and understood each other.

Before the Internet and Facebook leaving school at 18 was a daunting prospect. I still have a horde of letters I received from old school friends written from their colleges around the country in our first year away. Certainly we all found new circles of friends very quickly, eased into adulthood by a benign college or university environment. I’m not sure if subsequent letters were destroyed, but I suspect by the second year we no longer felt the need to spend hours writing letters to school friends when we could be drinking coffee with new friends, or perhaps trying to interpret Marx, Marcuse and Gramsci was taking up too much of my time.

la-tete A roam around my books 6 - the die is cast.The book that stands out for me is Erving Goffman’s ‘The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life”. This has been re-read since university, and many times. Goffman analyses social encounters from a dramaturgical perspective. We are all players on the social stage. Back stage we rehearse our front stage performance. Here we are alone, our authentic selves. On the front stage the actor uses impression management tools to manipulate the audience, to present an image, a pattern of behaviour that is contrived to achieve a goal. The argument in the book influenced my novel, the psychological thriller, “Deluded”.

 

PERFORMANCES


BELIEF IN THE PART ONE IS PLAYING

When an individual plays a part he implicitly requests his observers to take seriously the impression that is fostered before them. They are asked to believe that the character they see actually possesses the attributes he appears to possess, that the task he performs will have the consequences that are implicitly claimed for it, and that, in general, matters are what they appear to be. In line with this, there is the popular view that the individual offers his performance and puts on his show ‘for the benefit of other people.’ It will be convenient to begin a consideration of performances by turning the question around and looking at the individual’s own belief in the impression of reality that he attempts to engender in those among whom he finds himself.

            At one extreme, we find that the performer can be fully taken in by his own act; he can be sincerely convinced that the impression of reality which he stages is the real reality. When his audience is also convinced in this way about the show he puts on – and this seems to be the typical case – then for the moment, anyway, only the sociologist or the socially disgruntled will have any doubts about the ‘realness’ of what is presented.

   At the other extreme, we find that the performer may not be taken in at all by his own routine. This possibility is understandable, since no one is in quite as good an observational position to see through the act as the person who puts it on. Coupled with this, the performer may be moved to guide the conviction of his audience only as a means to other ends, having no ultimate concern in the conception that they have of him or of the situation. When the individual has no belief in his own act and no ultimate concern with the beliefs of his audience, we may call him cynical, reserving the term sincere for individuals who believe in the impression fostered by their own performance. It should be understood that the cynic, with all his professional disinvolvement, may obtain unprofessional pleasures from his masquerade, experiencing a kind of gleeful spiritual aggression from the fact that he can toy at will with something his audience must take seriously.

It is not assumed, of course, that all cynical performers are interested in deluding their audiences for purposes of what is called ‘self-interest’ or private gain. A cynical individual may delude his audience for what he considers to be their own good, or for the good of the community, etc.

Erving Goffman, The Presentation of Everyday Life, Pelican 1974, p 28-29

 

la-tete A roam around my books 6 - the die is cast.Copyright secured by Digiprove © 2017 Lynn Steinson
la-tete A roam around my books 6 - the die is cast.
Posted in Books | Tagged , | Leave a comment

My Desert Island Discs

images My Desert Island DiscsIt’s ten years since I last compiled my desert island discs. It began as a dinner party game and then some close friends created a CD for my birthday. A thoughtful gift. I would happily listen to them all on my desert island but, after a decade, I thought it was time to review my choices. I think you are only allowed eight, although I chose ten last time. The choice is going to be tough.

images My Desert Island Discs

Desert Island Discs 2006

David Bowie has to be on my list. He performed at two of the best concerts I’ve ever seen, at Preston Guild Hall and Newcastle. Although this was mainly because he is an incredible, charismatic performer, it was also because I was actually close to him. This was in the days before stadium gigs and video screens, when you could run to the front of the hall and kid yourself he was looking at you.It was going to be Drive in Saturday off the Aladdin Sane album but a last minute change of heart means my first choice is Life on Mars.  It reminds me of sixth form college and the years just before we all left for various universities and colleges around the country. There’s always a frisson of excitement when I hear it. Pity all those years can’t come back.

David Bowie,Life on Mars

Pharrell Williams is the most contemporary artist on my list, although the track I’ve chosen is from the nineties when he was with N.E.R.D. I think his video with Robin Thicke for Blurred Lines became as notorious as  The Stranglers’ performance with strippers in the seventies. I seem to recall being conflicted, then. I was annoyed that the Students’ Union had banned The Stranglers from playing Langwith, although at the same time outraged by the band’s attitude to women. I saw Hugh Cornwell at Glastonbury a few years ago playing with an excellent young female guitarist. There were just the two of them. How things change. I think student unions banned Blurred Lines from being played on campuses but it hasn’t harmed Pharrell’s success. It was a good strategy to write a child-friendly feel-good song by way of redemption, I guess. Last time I chose White Lines and Rapper’s delight, this time I’ve chosen Rock Star,  as my hip hop track of choice. He did a great version with Shay Haley of N.E.R.D at the Manchester Arena last year.

N.E.R.D, Rock Star

images My Desert Island Discs

Ray Davies with the cast of Sunny Afternoon

I had to reject Start Me Up because I have heard it played at Trump rallies and I really do not want to have any memories stirred of that vile man while I am on my island. I’m sure it’s no more The Stones’ fault than it is Mick Jagger’s responsibility that his ex-wife has married Rupert Murdoch, but I just don’t want to be reminded. Tumbling Dice reminds me of many Langwith discos but it is going to be passed over in favour of fellow Londoners, The Kinks, and You Really Got Me. I remember this from the first time round and still have the album ‘The Well Respected Kinks” although it jumps along now. It has travelled well in time and still excites in Davies’ musical Sunny Afternoon.

Kinks, You Really Got Me

I have seen the tribute band Doors Alive many times over the last eight years (fourteen to be precise). Their front man Willy Scott, whose impression of Jim Morrison was so mesmerising, has now left. I guess it’s hard to keep a tribute band going when you are older than the lead singer was when he died. I think my enthusiasm for the band has waned too. So I think I will leave The Doors out this time. Instead there’s a band that represents all things Mancunian to me. Oasis’ music is played at every Manchester City home match. It’s a difficult choice to make when there are so many good songs which stir up some great memories, but I think it will be Don’t Look Back In Anger as my fourth record. Noel Gallagher wrote it in just 15 minutes.

Oasis, Don’t Look Back In Anger

I still love the Marvyn Gaye and Tammy Terrell song, You’re All I Need To Get By. They really sound like they mean it, but I’m going to replace this track with a Beatles’ song. I remember being in Cuba sometime during the 90s. Paul McCartney had been there a month before on holiday. Unfortunately this meant some of the musicians in Santiago de Cuba had to be cajoled into playing traditional Cuban music instead of Yesterday. In Camagüey I remember watching a local guy playing a copy of the White Album on the roof terrace of a café. He was holding the record cover as if it was sacred. He had a look of rapture on his face, and he kept looking at me as if to say, ‘Isn’t this just amazing?’ I guess Cuba got Beatlemania 30 years after most of the world. In My Life, sung by John Lennon is my fifth choice. It seems to sum up my life up as well. Probably everyone’s.

The Beatles, In My Life

I like to listen to local music when I travel. Unfortunately my visit to Ali Farque Toure’s café on the banks of the River Niger in Mali took place some months after he died. I don’t actually remember hearing much music being played in Mali so I discovered most of it in Manchester. I saw an amazing concert by electronic Kora players, Ba Cissiko. Africa Express, a tour of artists from the continent put together my Daman Albarne, a few years ago was an incredible night. The album Mali Music, which he collaborated on, is magical. My sixth choice, however, is from East Africa. Teddy Afro singing Menelik from the album Tikur Sew. It is about King Menelik who fought and beat the Italians in the nineteenth century. Ethiopia is the only African state that has not been colonised, a fascinating place. I came across this song when I was putting together a slide show of my Ethiopian holiday photographs and was searching for atmospheric music. I also came across a video with a Teddy Afro sound track commemorating 28 Ethiopians who had been brutally executed on a beach in Libya by ISIS/Daeesh. It was incredibly moving, but not something I can ever watch again. I don’t think Facebook ever offered the option of uploading an Ethiopian flag in solidarity, but then I don’t think there was much coverage of the atrocity in the European press at all.

Teddy Afro, Menelik

I’m conscious there are no women on my new list. It’s as masculine as the Labour Party nominations for city mayors. I do like lots of women singers but they just have not made my short list…and I cannot leave the next guy out. I’ve always liked The Jam, Style Council and Paul Weller. You Do Something To Me always does. I never tire of it. Like Bowie, he has my respect for turning down any honours from our corrupt system. Come to think of it, that’s another reason for rejecting The Stones. His music has echoed in my life ever since I took my first job teaching French. That’s something my recent friends might not know about me – there’s a small group of people in Essex who know me as Mademoiselle.

Paul Weller, You Do Something To Me

My last choice is another Manchester band and I am torn between Joy Division’s Love Will Tear us Apart and New Order’s Blue Monday. I tingle each time I hear their opening bars. My favourite film is 24 Hour Party People about Tony Wilson and Factory records starring Steve Coogan. You can sit in a booth in Manchester Library and watch it for free with a cup of coffee and a cake. Now that’s my kind of city! I have been lucky enough to see both New Order and Peter Hook’s The Light this year. What a revelation Hook’s voice is. Very powerful. I like all versions of the records but, as I have to choose, my eighth and final record will be Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart.

Joy Division, Love Will Tear Us Apart

I’ve turned down Bob Marley, Dolly Parton, Mavis Staples, The Temptations, Beyonce, James Taylor, Ricky Lee Jones, R.E.M, Lou Reed, Astrud Gilberto, Labi Siffre, Idris Elba, Frank Sinatra, Buena Vista Social Club and The Specials to name but a few. Music has been in my life since I remember listening to the Light Service on the wireless and, later, Radio Caroline on my transistor radio. I can’t imagine life without the thrill of a familiar record, the anticipation of a concert. I’ve been very lucky to have had the chance to enjoy so much live music. I remember in the early nineties spending New Year’s Eve on a boat in San Fransisco Bay. Every song they played seemed to be by a Manchester band. It made me realise how much this part of the UK, with Liverpool, has influenced modern music.

images My Desert Island Discs

Not this time.

Although I have shelves of novels I always enjoy a good biography or diaries. My favourite book used to be The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov but I would always relish an autobiography more than magical realism these days. Oloadah Equiano, Chris Mullin and Alistair Darling spring to mind. I suspect I’m intrigued about people’s lives and what makes people tick. However, I am going to choose a text book. I wondered if solitude on a desert island might motivate me to read and master Das Kapital, but I suspect it would not have been finished (or maybe started) by the time I was rescued. My book would be another memory of York University, Erving Goffman’s The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, on which most of Laurie Taylor’s lectures seemed to be based.

images My Desert Island Discs

I had wondered about having a supply of Beech’s rose and violet creams as my luxury item,  but they might melt in the sun. I wonder if I would be allowed a language course? It would seem a useful thing to do. If so I would probably choose German, as I always regretted not studying it at school.  And the record I would choose if I could only take one? David Bowie of course.

images My Desert Island Discs

 

images My Desert Island DiscsCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2016-2017 Lynn Steinson
images My Desert Island Discs
Posted in General, Music | Tagged | Leave a comment

On Neoliberalism. In conversation with George Monbiot, Home, Manchester. 17 May 2016

‘Two and a half of you,’ George Monbiot concludes, counting the raised hands which affirm that their owners are indeed comfortable with the definition of “neo-liberalism”. Half an hour later every member of the audience is familiar with the political philosophy that frames all our lives.

Monbiot delivered his critique without notes and a comfortable style which, to me, was engagingly reminiscent of Hugh Fearnley-Whittenstall. Different schools I discover on Wikipedia; Stowe for George and Eton for Hugh, though both were born in London and went up to Oxford before relocating to Wales and River Cottage respectively. Here’s a brief summary.

Most people don’t have the faintest idea what neo-liberalism is, yet this philosophy has created just about every crisis we face. Anonymity is the source of its power. It’s so pervasive we don’t see it as an ideology. Yet it was deliberately conceived and refined to change power relations and transform human life. It is a philosophy defined by competition. Through buying and selling we can decide who is deserving and who is underserving. Collective bargaining is a distortion. Minimise taxation, privatise state assets. Inequality is virtuous. It is a means of generating wealth to trickle down. That’s the theory. We all internalise and reproduce the creed.

The neoliberal project

Its architects were Hayek and Von Mises, two Austrian exiles who feared the manifestations of collectivism and social democracy would crush the individual and would lead to totalitarianism. In the 1970s Keynesian theory ran into a series of crises. It could not cope with globalisation of economies. Under Reagan and Thatcher the political project trialled in Pinochet’s Chile was implemented. There were massive tax cuts, war was declared on trades unions and the mass privatisation of state assets was instigated. The theory was adopted by the Democrats and the Labour Party.

It’s not political parties that change the world, its political philosophies that then change existing parties.

The doctrine of freedom and choice is used to beat down any opposition. “There is no alternative.”

Always ask; freedom for whom and against whom?

Freedom for the pike is not freedom for the minnows.

Freedom from regulation is freedom to poison lives.

Freedom from taxation is freedom to redistribute wealth to the rich from the poverty stricken.

Freedom from wage regulation is freedom to exploit.

Whenever you hear freedom expressed in vague general terms interrogate it. What enslavement might it cause?

The doctrine of change and freedom is always associated with measures to reduce choice and freedom.

There is a pseudo market economy where gatekeepers can charge rent for access. A new rentier economy has been developed. Assets are rented without genuine investment, and milked. There is booming inequality. The wealth of the poor is transferred to the economic elite. Wealth creation has now become wealth extraction. It is aimed to shrink the scope of the state, which is politically dangerous. As votes count for less and less the state can only assert control by the heel of its boot. The middle and lower classes are disenfranchised. Fascism feeds on the disengaged.

Neoliberalism is a coherent political project which collapsed in 2008 yet the Left has failed to develop a response, it has merely tried to disinter Keynes. The Keynesian response is to stimulate more demand but what are the environmental consequences of this? The Left needs a new general theory, a framework for the 21st century, which can be universally reproduced.

George-Monbiot-300x170 On Neoliberalism. In conversation with George Monbiot,  Home, Manchester. 17 May 2016

Hegemony

Cultural hegemony as Antonio Gramsci described it is where the views of the ruling class are replicated by others.

The Institute of Economic Affairs is a lobbying group with massive corporate funding promoting neoliberalism. The BBC can’t identify them for what they are and allow them to disguise themselves. The media is entirely captured by people like Murdoch, the Barclay Brothers, Desmond.

Millionaires have funded economics departments which practised neoliberalism and broke the Keynesian dominance.

We are exactly like the Russian oligarchies, grabbing assets when they come up for grabs, but we don’t see it in those terms but the theft is the same. People don’t get killed but it is a complete racket. The privatised public utilities are now debt-ridden private monopolies extorting their ill-gotten gains, not delivering public services.

On Devo Manc

It’s like George Osborne said, ‘Here’s a load of shit we generated in central government, now you can deal with it.’ A genuine devolution would be positive but this isn’t an effective devolution agenda.

Monbiot’s book available from the Guardian Bookshop now.

How did we get into this mess? George Monbiot

 

 

George-Monbiot-300x170 On Neoliberalism. In conversation with George Monbiot,  Home, Manchester. 17 May 2016Copyright secured by Digiprove © 2016 Lynn Steinson
George-Monbiot-300x170 On Neoliberalism. In conversation with George Monbiot,  Home, Manchester. 17 May 2016
Posted in Authors in conversation, Politicians in conversation | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Gloria Steinem in conversation with Rachel Cooke

 

image-1-204x300 Gloria Steinem in conversation with Rachel Cooke‘I’m 81 and still introduced as an ex-bunny girl, it was a bad career move.’ Gloria Steinem must have related this anecdote herself many times. The association with the identity of Playboy Bunny which Steinem assumed for her expose ‘The Bunny’s Tale” in 1963, has lingered throughout her life. It’s associations superseded the accomplishments of the professional journalist and temporarily stalled her career.

The wide gold hipster belt she wears is reminiscent of the sixties, the decade in which the activist came to international attention as a leader of the feminist movement. Her light brown hair is thick, casually styled. She is chic in black jumper and flared trousers. This is what 81 is and it looks good. Informed and articulate. Reflective and forward thinking.

She discusses the systemic causes of the attempts to control female reproduction and bodies. Women in Native American and pre-Christian societies in Europe and Africa controlled their own reproduction. There were no definitions of gender as we have now. People were people. We should support everyone’s right to be themselves. Everything is connected to aggression against women. It is an indicator of a country’s propensity for military aggression.

The media shapes perceptions of people and movements. In the US the feminist movement is often characterised as white and middle class. In reality it was supported by 30% of white women and 60% of African American women. The civil rights movement was led by college educated Martin Luther King and Stokely Carmichael but it was not depicted as a graduate movement. The media like to divide issues. Even though the civil rights and feminist movements developed simultaneously, with cross membership, they are presented as separate and discrete but that is not the reality.

The United States is about to cease being a majority white European country, the first non-white generation has been born. Now the right view the white race as committing suicide through contraception and abortion. Until the 1970s the Republicans were pro-choice, but when the Democrats became more racially inclusive, the racist Southern Democrats joined the Republicans.   JFK had to convince the electorate that his presidency would not mean rule by the Roman Catholic Church but sixty years later religion is openly driving political policy on the right. There’s a need to decouple the attachment of religion to governance.

Steinem is a supporter of Hillary Clinton, but not on grounds of gender alone, she would not be supporting Sarah Palin. It’s not about electing one woman, but about making life better for all women. It’s about content. She acknowledges that Senator Sanders is good on issues such as college debt which attracts young white women, but Hillary has the support of the majority of Latino and African American women. She has got to win. Diversity will save us.

My Life on the Road  by Gloria Steinem

Asked for advice by a member of the audience Steinem responds, ‘Don’t walk around saying, “What if?”‘

This morning I heard Rick Wakeman saying that his friend, David Bowie, could not abide “could’ves” . ‘I could’ve done this, I could’ve done that.’ 

This is the lesson from today 22 February 2016.

If you think you can, then do it. Don’t ever say, what if? 

 

image-1-204x300 Gloria Steinem in conversation with Rachel CookeCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2016 Lynn Steinson
image-1-204x300 Gloria Steinem in conversation with Rachel Cooke
Posted in Authors in conversation, Review | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Where were you then? A tribute to David Bowie

FullSizeRender-229x300 Where were you then? A tribute to David Bowie
Some minutes after seven I was still nestled in goose down with one eye on the clock and one ear to the radio, drifting in and out of sleep. Radio Four’s Today programme was giving a lot of air-time to David Bowie’s new album and his old hits. A good start to the week.  I had bought ‘Black Star”only yesterday and loved it. Echoes of ‘Low’ and ‘Station to Station’ I thought, but also something completely new. It was very annoying that both Will Gompertz and David Sillito kept using the past tense in their reports. It was as though they were presenting an obituary.

FullSizeRender-229x300 Where were you then? A tribute to David Bowie

Aladdin Sane 1973

Then Nick Robinson confirmed, in a voice that suggested he knew what I was thinking, that it had been officially confirmed that David Bowie had died only twenty minutes ago. I got up instantly. Facebooked, then watched the television as David’s back catalogue was sampled on all breakfast programmes. A parade of tributes from journalists followed, many simultaneously claiming shock at the news, whilst claiming prior personal knowledge of his fatal illness. I guess journalists are quite accomplished in reporting the implausible. A biographer claimed David had deliberately manufactured the time of his own death to maximise media publicity. He was, after all, supernatural and had the powers of magic, she said. Lorraine Kelly, looked on incredulously. So do myths begin and legends made. Meanwhile, Angie Bowie who, only days ago said she only felt sorry for their split because she lost her job, is oblivious to her ex-husband’s demise as she is cooped up in the Celebrity Big Brother House.

My generation mourns the passing of an artist who entranced us while he blazed a trail through the seventies as Ziggy Stardust, then surprised and excited us with every new album and musical turn in subsequent decades. Only a few weeks ago I posted a blog about my musical biographies. I have expanded the piece about David here.

FullSizeRender-229x300 Where were you then? A tribute to David Bowie

Aladdin Sane 1973

In July 1972 David Bowie looked straight into our sitting rooms from the Top of the Pops studio and things were never the same again. He was like no-one else we had ever known. An out-of-this world being, at once regal and coquettish, who seduced a generation of teenagers when he pointed directly at us with a flourish of his wrist singing, “so I picked on you-ou-ou” then brazenly hung his arm around lead guitarist, Mick Ronson. The following year Nationwide, the magazine show of middle England, screened a ten minute feature about the Aladdin Sane tour. The reporter employed the same condescending manner that The Beatles had endured ten years before. Like the Beatles, Bowie influenced a generation of musicians and teenagers but he did not have the family-wide appeal of the Merseysiders. We knew the androgynous singer represented something new and edgy but we weren’t quite sure what it was. By now we had more than the weekly Top of the Pops as a means to watch our favourite bands. Producers, such as Granada’s Muriel Young, had created showcase programmes on children’s TV which, with BBC2’s ‘Old Grey Whistle Test’, gave the well-informed viewer the chance to watch the latest pop music from arriving home from school until bedtime.

FullSizeRender-229x300 Where were you then? A tribute to David Bowie

I first saw Bowie in his guise as Ziggy Stardust at Preston Guild Hall in the summer of 1973. I had missed the earlier Ziggy Stardust tour and was determined not to miss this one. I still have a vivid memory of that night. After all, when we ran to the front of the concert hall – it was still allowed, if frowned upon, – he looked at me flirtatiously and sang, just to me. After the show, Sheena and I went to the back of the hall to wait for David’s departure. He was driven off in a limousine as we ran down the road after him screaming. We felt we owed him that. Sheena, was triumphant that, against fierce competition – she had the nail scratches as proof –  she had caught the copper ring that he had thrown into the crowd. She wore it constantly for several weeks, until her finger turned green. I used the memory of this in a scene in my novel ‘Deluded’.

FullSizeRender-229x300 Where were you then? A tribute to David Bowie

David Bowie and Mick Ronson

The ‘David Is’ exhibition at the V&A in 2013 was a delicious treat. I went twice. I was mesmerised by the original lyrics of Ziggy Stardust, written on ruled paper in David’s hand. The walls of videos transported me back to the exhilaration of the seventies, the flirtatious grin penetrated my soul yet again. Some idols fall, but David’s standing soared when I discovered that he had rejected a knighthood in 2003.

As his music has played throughout to-day on radio and television it seemed as fresh as it had been forty years ago. It has been the soundtrack to my life, as it has for so many others. Every time I have seen him live, I have been overwhelmed by his charisma which has left me reeling. I am glad I played ‘Black Star’ yesterday and appreciated it. Now, I find it too raw, too haunting. It will take some time before I can listen to that album again.

FullSizeRender-229x300 Where were you then? A tribute to David Bowie

‘David Is’ Exhibition Catalogue V&A

FullSizeRender-229x300 Where were you then? A tribute to David BowieCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2016 Lynn Steinson
FullSizeRender-229x300 Where were you then? A tribute to David Bowie
Posted in General, Music | Tagged | Leave a comment

A roam around my books 5 – books to be left alone

Inevitably, only a skeleton collection of books read during my teens, twenties and thirties remains. They have survived many removal boxes and stiff competition from newcomers for space. I remember savouring Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance during a dark, wintry afternoon in the bedroom of my student house, while listening to The Seven Seas of Rye. Yet it was unanimously derided by members of my book group – but not their twenty-something offspring – when they read the Robert M Persig’s road book for the first time. I did not attempt to re-read it. I did not wish to destroy fond memories, it has happened too many times before. Books have a time to be read, and to be left alone.

diceman A roam around my books 5 - books to be left alone

During visits to old uni friends’ houses a survey of their bookshelves, even today, reveals a startling similarity to some of my own. Among the blue-backed Pelican books there is often a thick black spine emblazoned in vibrant orange with the words, The Dice Man, Luke Rhinehart. Unlike Zen this book has been read on several occasions. It was recommended by my Sociology Lecturer, Laurie Taylor, during my first term at uni I think. He was a charismatic performer, easily packing lecture theatres at 9.15 a.m., a feat which was rarely, if ever, achieved by his department’s then nemesis the Department of Economics.

diceman A roam around my books 5 - books to be left alone

The university bookshop must have sold out, as everyone I knew suddenly seemed to have a copy, and it became the main topic of heated conversation between social scientists for a few days. I do not have the inclination to read very many of the browning pages now, although I am tempted to read the first few chapters and last. I recall it was very funny at times but unevenly paced. It certainly did not change my life but it has instigated many an imaginative evening when the throw of the dice determined what was to happen next.

There is a small selection of books of films and TV programmes. Nowadays it is easy to fulfil the desire to remind oneself of a moment in a TV programme, or even re-watch the entire show. During my childhood and years as a young adult there was no such luxury. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was screened at 7.30 on Thursday evenings. If you did not catch it then you missed it. No video, no plus TV, no catch up, no YouTube. The only way to prolong the enjoyment of a favourite series was to read the book, or buy the bubble gum cards.

diceman A roam around my books 5 - books to be left alone

The Thornbirds novel was adapted for television as a mini series and I read it with the characters and story already in my imagination. There was depth in the writing and it did not disappoint. Having seen a re-run of the television series I feel I could not re-read the book. I know the ending. That journey cannot be taken so innocently again.

Once a film had finished its run at the cinema usually the only chance of seeing it again was when it came to television. That could be many, many years later. There are some books of films I can remember reading but are missing. Joan Wilder’s Romancing the Stone, and Saturday Night Fever have not survived an historic book cull. The novel of the screenplay of Romancing was written as if Joan Wilder, the novelist Kathleen Turner plays in the film, had written it. Quite clever I thought at the time. In popular culture Night Fever is associated with John Travolta gyrating in a white suit to the Bee Gees’ music, but it has far darker urban themes. The tie-in novel picked up on these and was grittier than the film, I recall.
diceman A roam around my books 5 - books to be left aloneIt is rare that I have enjoyed watching a favourite novel adapted for the screen. Margaret Atwood’s stories filled my evenings in my twenties. I devoured the Handmaid’s Tale way before the film was made, so the well-thumbed pages of this paperback were not turned by me. I have no recollection how I acquired this version. I certainly haven’t re-read the novel. The work was compelling, but, like Lionel Shriver’s We need to talk about Kevin it was too raw, too bleak, too plausible for me to want to read again. Yet, these are both contenders for my best book award.

diceman A roam around my books 5 - books to be left alone

diceman A roam around my books 5 - books to be left aloneCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2016 Lynn Steinson
diceman A roam around my books 5 - books to be left alone
Posted in Books | Tagged , | Leave a comment

A roam around my books – 4

IMG_1869-300x225 A roam around my books - 4
I love biographies. What are the qualities, the chances or choices, that lead to achievement and fame? Just how does a writer decide which events to include or omit from the narrative of a lifetime. A linear sequence of episodes does not make a story. There has to be tension and suspense, just as there is in a novel. To write a story about a human being seems to me to be far more complex than creating a character from imagination. And autobiography, even more problematic. Where on earth would I begin? Well, with my books of course.

I have a fascination for music. It has always been in my life. During my childhood it played on the family wireless or on my transistor radio. Inevitably, I have rows of books recounting the life stories of famous music stars.

The Beatles crashed into British culture at all levels. Christmas carols were subverted. The three kings memorably followed Ringo Starr. Dora Bryan sang that all she wanted for Christmas was a Beatle. Anything associated with the word “Beatle” sold. Even the party game Beetle Drive had a short lived resurgence in popularity, despite its spelling and mind-numbing dullness. On Christmas Day evening 1963 cousins fought for the right to be Paul McCartney as they mimed to the Beatles. I suspect this was the only time in the sixties when left-handed children were advantaged. Their audience of grandparents, aunties and uncles had already been interrogated about the origins of long-dead relatives. This was in the hope of discovering that there was some genealogical connection to Liverpool. Everyone knew the words to the number one single “I Want to Hold your Hand”, not just the kids. The explosion of youth culture in the north impacted all generations. It gave their elders permission to be proud of their roots, until then disparaged and marginalised by the media. BBC reporters initially treated the Beatles like representatives of some curious alien planet, but the quick wit and humour of the Liverpudlians quickly exposed the brittlesness of the stuffy representatives of the establishment. For the first time in living memory it became fashionable to speak with a regional accent, especially if it had a tinge of Scouse.

IMG_1869-300x225 A roam around my books - 4

In July 1972 David Bowie looked straight into our sitting rooms from the Top of the Pops studio and things were never the same again. He was like no-one else we had ever known. An out-of-this world being, at once regal and coquettish, who seduced a generation of teenagers when he pointed directly at us with a flourish of his wrist singing, “so I picked on you-ou-ou” then brazenly draped his arm around lead guitarist, Mick Ronson. The following year Nationwide, the magazine show of middle England, screened a ten minute feature about the Aladdin Sane tour. The reporter employed the same condescending manner that the Fab Four had endured ten years before. Like the Beatles Bowie influenced a generation of musicians and teenagers but he did not have the family-wide appeal of the Merseysiders. We knew the androgynous singer represented something new and edgy but we weren’t quite sure what it was.

IMG_1869-300x225 A roam around my books - 4

The “David Is” exhibition at the V&A in 2013 was a delicious treat. I went twice. I was mesmerised by the original lyrics of Ziggy Stardust, written on ruled paper in David’s hand. The walls of videos transported me back to the exhilaration of the seventies, the flirtatious grin penetrated my soul yet again. Some idols fall, but David’s standing soared when I discovered that he had rejected a knighthood in 2003.

Ray Manzarak’s (RIP) tireless promotion of the memory of Jim Morrison (RIP) and the music of The Doors spurred me to rediscover the band sometime during the early nineties. I had already been touched by their music and a Top of the Pops performance by the charismatic Morrison. I was initially drawn in by Danny Sugarman’s (RIP) biography and his fascination for the compelling Morrison. Now I have a small collection of books on the band.

IMG_1869-300x225 A roam around my books - 4

Motown stars are also prominent. Berry Gordy’s account of the setting up of Tamla Mowtown is fascinating. I have read the Smokey Robinson autobiography twice. What a life.

24 hour party people was written by Mr. Manchester himself, situationist Tony Wilson. Steve Coogan played the reporter in the film, one of my favourites. Tony Wilson was the anchor on Granada Reports up against Stuart Hall’s Look North West on BBC. No contest for me. Granada was at its best in those years. Wilson had been one of the audience at the famous Sex Pistols gig at the Lesser Free Trade Hall which influenced a generation of Mancunian musicians. He used his position at the television station to showcase punk and new wave music, predominantly acts from the North West. His show So it Goes was always a thrill to watch when I returned home from university for the weekend. Always something new and something exciting.

Now that my appetite for the trivia about musicians is largely satisfied by Google I don’t buy as many biographies, although the tomes still demand more space than the shelves provide. Rod and Elton your days in my bookcase may well be numbered as newcomers demand to be shelved. But there will always be space for books,new and old, about David Bowie.
IMG_1869-300x225 A roam around my books - 4

IMG_1869-300x225 A roam around my books - 4Copyright secured by Digiprove © 2015 Lynn Steinson
IMG_1869-300x225 A roam around my books - 4
Posted in Books | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Yanis Varoufakis in conversation with Paul Mason.

The British left’s confidence has been restored by Jeremy Corbyn’s astounding pasting of New Labour candidates in the September leadership elections.

At the Labour Party Conference in Brighton Corbyn urged us ‘not to [walk] by on the other side of the street when people were in trouble’ and, quoting Ben Okri, reminded us of our capacity to love. At several fringe meetings during the Conference I almost expected the audience to start interjecting ‘Amen’ or for the speaker to relate the parable of the Good Samaritan. Undoubtedly the modern labour movement owes much to the humanist values associated with Methodism, but the left also has roots in the international socialism of Marx and Engels. The Germans based much of their writings on their research and experiences in London and Manchester and consorted with Chartists like George Julian Harney.

So Central Methodist Hall, Westminster seems an apt venue to host this secular messiah of the left, former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis. The Great Hall is packed, tickets sold out weeks before. As he walks onto the stage to rapturous applause, the Carly Simon song, ‘You’re so vain’ flits through my mind, but that is unkind. It is confidence rather than vanity that the tall Greek exudes. But charisma he has in spades. Besides he was only thirteen when the song was written.

Yanis has a permanent glint in his eye. One can only imagine the atmosphere in the room when he was negotiating with Hollande, Merkel and the Troika, and their relief when he resigned. He seems rankled and surprised that his opponents seem to have no sense of honour and that the acrimony of the negotiating room has spilled into personal enmity outside it.

yanis-2-300x212 Yanis Varoufakis in conversation with Paul Mason.
So what does he make of Europe? Should the UK stay in? It’s the largest economic zone in the world. If we leave The EU what will be achieved? There would be a move to fragmentation in Europe. The greatest economy in the world would be disbanded. There would be a new Berlin Wall east of the Rhine and north of the Alps. The German working poor would become unemployed and the rest of Europe would fall into depression. If that is allowed only the ultra-right will win. ‘We have a moral duty to stay in Europe and democratise it.’ Minutes of meetings would be a start. At the moment there are no records so you can never find out what has been said. Printing out every page of the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement should also be demanded. A suggestion which met with enthusiastic applause.

Advice for Corbyn? Use people’s quantitive easing and the power of the Bank of England for state funded investment into new and green technologies. At the moment quantitive easing is used to fund mortgages which inflate London prices and make the rich richer.

Surveying the audience, which had little representation of young voters, he commented that the young ‘seemed only interested in creating the killer app which must make them a fortune. We must inspire the young.’

I would certainly agree. An apathetic electorate, engaged only with social media and videos and games is a threat not just to democracy but to their own freedom.

Yanis Varoufakis “The Global Minotaur” Guardian Books

Paul Mason “Post Capitalism” Guardian Books

yanis-2-300x212 Yanis Varoufakis in conversation with Paul Mason.

The event was organised by The Guardian, recent Pulitzer prize-winner and the most-read serious global newspaper after the New York Times. Its membership and events programme are part of its strategy to allow readers to get closer to the Guardian’s brand and open journalism philosophy and, one presumes, to create an additional income stream as the media environment transforms in the digital age.

yanis-2-300x212 Yanis Varoufakis in conversation with Paul Mason.Copyright secured by Digiprove © 2015 Lynn Steinson
yanis-2-300x212 Yanis Varoufakis in conversation with Paul Mason.
Posted in Politicians in conversation | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

A roam around my books – 3

I love to travel, venture into the unknown. Two shelves of travel books represent my worldwide quest for understanding the world we live in a little more, questioning ‘knowledge’ which had hitherto been taken for granted, or learning and seeing something completely new. The well-thumbed pages of these books accompanied me as memories of five continents were formed.

My yearning to travel began in gentile Lytham St. Annes. As Uncle Frank and Auntie Irene’s slide projector threw images onto the sitting room wall of Austrian fountains playing beneath cascades of baroque steps. I resolved that I would holiday abroad when I was grown up. I did not have to wait that long. Fortunately my mother also had the travel bug. She had once holidayed in Interlaken with the afore mentioned Irene, and she was intent on returning to Switzerland. So when I was ten we flew to Basel and then took a train to Lugano. As we made our way around Italian speaking Ticino I became obsessed with all things Swiss, collecting chocolate bar wrappers and till receipts. This all-consuming passion and commitment was usually only reserved for Davy Jones of the Monkees. I remember my mother was rather disappointed with the Coca Cola. She remembered sipping a glass near the summit of Mont Blanc on her previous visit, but it was not quite as she remembered it. I suspect there had been a major change in the recipe during the intervening years.

coke-300x198 A roam around my books - 3

26 years old, Irene and Edna first and second on the left, on their first holiday abroad. 1952.

Looking back our arrival in the Alps was remarkable as the last 15 miles of the 260 mile journey to Gatwick airport was made via Reigate General Hospital in an ambulance, while our Triumph Herald was towed to a garage where it took several months to repair. My father, never seen without cap and glasses, had to spend the early days of his first excursion outside Britain with limited vision until the local opticians were able to provide a new pair of spectacles. I can imagine that was a big dent in the holiday budget. His blurry vision did not seem to dampen his mood, maybe he was just grateful he had managed to react quickly and save his family from obliteration. The taxi driver who hit us, overtaking on a narrow road, was later charged with dangerous driving. Looking back we were lucky to get to Switzerland at all, but even as the hours ticked away at the hospital my mother never once considered that we might not be boarding the Swissair flight to Basel.

For some reason, perhaps to avoid travelling the length of England to an airport, our next holiday was a package to Lloret de Mar from Ringway, still under Franco’s fascist rule at the time. This was not considered a great success, I think, and my mother was soon organising a more challenging itinerary to yet another dictatorship, Caetano’s poverty-stricken Portugal. The purpose of most of our fellow holidaymakers in Figueira da Foz was to visit the shrine at Fatima. Maybe the name of the tour company Pilgrim Travel might have been a clue. Despite the inclement weather during the first week, the terrorist bomb in the harbour and the stink of the meat market I had the travel bug by the time we got back.

coke-300x198 A roam around my books - 3

Paddling in the Atlantic. Figueira da Foz. c1970.

I am not going to find my favourite book amongst the travelogues but certainly these books trigger memories of extraordinary experiences: prayer flags flying over the stupas in the Himalayan Buddhist state of Bhutan; animist shrines and rock tombs in rural Dogon country, Mali; pondering the similarities between the conquistadors, Spanish Inquisition and bloodthirsty Aztecs while in a church in Mexico City. All these recollections and more permeate my imagination and ultimately my writing.

Often the biggest surprises have been found where they are least expected. This often happens in The States. In the John Paul Getty Museum I overheard an American asking if the likenesses on the thousands years-old Roman-Egyptian funeral masks were so good -though how would he know?- because they had been taken from photographs. In Colorado I encountered men wearing big Stetsons. ‘Are they being serious?’ I asked my travelling companion, as I wondered if the men were on their way to some mad hatters stag party. For some reason I had thought only television characters in Dallas actually dressed like that. Conversely my media-induced perception that historic Native Americans only lived in tee-pees was disproved by the awesome cliff dwellings of the Mesa Verde in New Mexico.

The Taj Mahal was so familiar, and so exactly as I imagined it, that I was unmoved. I felt I had already been there a hundred times. Unexpectedly arriving in Villahermosa in Western Mexico, to avoid a Zapatista uprising, I took an unscheduled tour of the previously unheard of, La Vente. The local guide stood before a large stone head, its African features carved several hundred years before Christ, and dismissively said the likeness was of a slave, ‘of course’. The tour group silently compared their knowledge of transatlantic history and the evidence before them. Many scholars claim the Olmec statues have no connection with Africa. I just don’t believe them.

coke-300x198 A roam around my books - 3

In Peru my two companions from Surrey, decided to educate me on the dietary habits of Manchester. They were insistent that the fish and chip shops in Manchester sold deep-fried Mars bars, and were well known for this. I explained that actually it was Glasgow that I thought had the dubious honour of being famous for this delicacy. They could not be persuaded. As our small plane accelerated down the runway at Nazca I finally agreed. ‘Yes, yes Manchester is known for its deep-fried Mars Bars,’ fearing that any further argument would interrupt my enjoyment of the mysterious Nazca lines which were about to unfold before me. I still wonder at their insistence that this incorrect fact is true. I guess it must have been crucial to the establishment of their cultural superiority.

But usually it is the local people, not the tourists who are memorable. Near the source of the Blue Nile in Ethiopia I met Mermer who was able to talk with great authority about all the Arsenal players who had ever transferred to Manchester City. If there is an Ethiopian Mastermind he would surely win with his specialist knowledge of Arsenal Football Club. I hope he achieves his ambition to be an engineer.

coke-300x198 A roam around my books - 3

coke-300x198 A roam around my books - 3Copyright secured by Digiprove © 2015 Lynn Steinson
coke-300x198 A roam around my books - 3
Posted in Books | Leave a comment

Historians make history, but not in circumstances of their own choosing…

thompson-300x102 Historians make history, but not in circumstances of their own choosing...

Edward Palmer Thompson’s selected works

“Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under circumstances of their own choosing, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past”, Karl Marx.

Edward Palmer Thompson was a product of his time and circumstances. He was born in 1924 in Oxford to Methodist English missionaries. After a private education he was called up, at just 17, to fight in the Second World War, first in Africa, then in Italy at the battle of Cassino. His older brother Frank, a British officer, was executed fighting fascism in Bulgaria, a story Edward recounted in “Beyond the Frontier: The politics of a failed mission to Bulgaria 1944”. After the war Edward went up to Cambridge where, like many of his generation, he joined the Communist Party of Great Britain.

If one of his children had become leader of the Labour Party he would surely be the subject of a vitriolic campaign by the Daily Mail to be outed as a man who hated Britain. As it is, he is now remembered by the media in the book reviews of the broadsheets as the author of “The Making of the English Working Class”. The book is celebrating a landmark anniversary this year. It has been in continuous print for fifty years. Thompson is one of the 250 most frequently cited authors of all time, and the most cited historian. His seminal book is largely responsible for the attention given, during the late twentieth century, to the histories of neglected, or forgotten peoples, including the attention given to black history. The book is grand in many ways although its author may be charged with a serious omission – women are largely absent from the pages of the book.

thompson-300x102 Historians make history, but not in circumstances of their own choosing...

The Making of the English Working Class

Thompson rejected the rigid base/superstructure definition of class advocated by Marxian economic determinists. His paper in the New Reasoner No 1 Summer 1957 pp 105-143 “Socialist Humanism, An Epistle to the Philistines’ rigorously attacks Stalinism. Values were important to Thompson. He left the Communist Party following the Soviet invasion of Hungary. With Trevor Huddleston, A.J.P. Taylor and J.B. Priestly he shaped The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) in the late fifties and was a prominent leader of the peace movement until his death.

The sixties was a time of change when bright and creative men and women from the north were influencing national and international culture. For the first time in the media regional accents were not merely accepted but were fashionable. These young men and women did not “know their place” and if they did they were not going to accept it. Thompson’s “Making” was born at this moment unveiling the traditions, intelligence and ideas of this part of England which was suddenly in the public eye.

The number of undergraduate social scientists and historians expanded following the establishment of the campus ‘plate glass’ universities like York, Kent, Sussex and Warwick. The number of those obtaining first degrees more than doubled between 1960 and 1970, from 22,000 to 51,000. [1] Higher education was now available to a new generation of eighteen year-olds, many were the first in their families to benefit from higher education. Their ancestors may well have been those who were “making the English working class”. They provided an enthusiastic readership for the output of the campus historians of the sixties which included Ralph Miliband, Perry Anderson, Robin Blackburn, Asa Briggs, Christopher Hill, Eric Hobsbawn, John Saville, Dorothy Thompson -his wife whom he had met at Cambridge- and Raymond Williams.

Marx’s statement that, “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it” was a guiding principle. Thompson had a purpose, to rescue the stories of the losers in history from the “condescension of posterity”. Thompson had moved north after Cambridge, working under Asa Briggs in the University of Leeds, leading courses in the Extra Mural Studies department while he was researching and writing the “Making”. He was in the north, just as the north was asserting its cultural identity he was rescuing its cultural history.

I recall hearing Thompson speak in Hyde Park, sharing a platform with Tony Benn I seem to recall. He was a powerful speaker, a man who did not merely write about the theory of Marxism but was also committed to its praxis. He was steeped in literature and philosophy which informed his work, and a Marxism which he redefined. He was a socialist humanist, historian and activist, an intellectual of the New Left and, along with Miliband, a fierce critic of Soviet communism.

I have read “The Making” through at least twice – at over 900 pages, not a book which can be devoured too quickly- and dipped into it many times. My 1975 copy contains many marks in biro, and from a more recent read, in highlighter pen. On pages nine and eleven two quotes have been marked by both.

“And class happens when some men, as a result of common experiences (inherited or shared), feel and articulate the identity of their interests as between themselves, and as against other men and women whose interests are different from (and usually opposed to) theirs.”

To Thompson class was a relationship, not a thing. It was the driver of historical change.

“If we stop history at a given point, then there are no classes but simply a multitude of individuals with a multitude of experiences. But if we watch these men over an adequate period of social change, we observe patterns in their relationships, their ideas, and their institutions. Class is defined by men as they live their own history, and in the end, that is its only definition.”

And for me that is also the definition of history.

[1]House of Commons Library,Education Statistics. SN/SG/4252 Last updated: 27 November 2012. p 20.
http://www.parliament.uk/Templates/BriefingPapers/Pages/BPPdfDownload.aspx?bp-id=sn04252

thompson-300x102 Historians make history, but not in circumstances of their own choosing...Copyright secured by Digiprove © 2013 Lynn Steinson
thompson-300x102 Historians make history, but not in circumstances of their own choosing...
Posted in Books, Forgotten histories | Tagged , | Leave a comment