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The Miller’s Tail…

So Maria Miller, Sec State for Culture has fallen on her sword (for I am slain iDave!) due to her diddling expenses.

What the flying fuck do we have such a position for, apart from some croney of iDave diddling expenses, obviously?

Have you been to the National Gallery (it’s free by the way – and my favourite art gallery in the World*). Did Turner need a Department of Culture to paint his piccies? Did Francis Bacon? I recently saw some of his in Amsterdam recently**. Did Tolkien need one to write Britain’s favourite books? Did Elgar? Did the Beatles? The Stones? Does Adele? Do you or me? God help us Shakespeare managed to make it without the state!

Culture is simply what we do. In a sense it is what we are. We just do it. From posting video of a cat doing something amusing on Youtube to the Elgar violin concerto we just do it. In this case “we” is Kyung-wha Chung. She is my fave fiddler ever -do listen to the rest – it’s great***. And I have a weakness for the violin concerto. And that is her with the LSO conducted by Solti. Neither are Brits but Elgar was. And in a real sense that kind of sums up “culture” for me in the sense that here we have a piece of music played by a Korean/American with the orchestra conducted by a Hungarian/mainly American with an honorary British knighthood. What I mean is Elgar has “stretch”. All true culture has. Elgar is quintessentially English and not from a rich background (at one point he was employed to conduct an orchestra in the local lunatic asylum) but that his music can reach from Seoul to Budapest to Chicago and touch people enough to play it that well says something.

I have been to a folk festival (for my sins). It was curious. Apart from getting Brahms und Liszt (it was a stag do) it struck me how parochial (and in extreme cases nationalistic – not in a good way****). True culture is in a sense beyond borders. God help me I am English but I can’t stand the Tory club Little-Englander with his G&T any more than I can stick the “shop local, think global” lot with faux tribal tattoos. I was going to get one if I’d completed my PhD – my equation. Alas for me and an inker this did not come to pass. Folk is shite anyway. But what I was really trying to say is… I once came across in Georgia (USA – not entering the Putindoom) a fellow who expressed surprise at my mere existence. He declared a desire (and he was well adult) not only to never leave the USA (for there be dragons elsewhere ) but to never leave the state of Georgia. I’d just done a 2,500 mile road trip round the SE USA. I guess I just like globalization and that Huge Furnished Shitting-Stall can get his locally-sourced onions off behind his organic arras.

Anyway, that is getting seriously off the point (if there ever was one*****). This I like. (Aside – there is a shop in central Amsterdam that sells Brit stuff called “Arkwrights”).

Yes there was. Culture. It is universal and natural. It should be allowed to just happen but it is intrinsically global (and that scares people). Now don’t get me wrong – I have nothing against “local colour” but our culture is increasingly self generating and global. That does not mean it is less diverse. Gods no! You can get decent sushi in Manchester******. If that means the Eccles cake is heading the way of the sauropods then so be it. Mind, in Porthmadog you can get excellent fish and chips (but fuck all else). And they all speak Welsh! But that is not my point. You expect good fish of whatever sort in a fishing port. And good chips anywhere (apart from Amsterdam).

Culture happens. It can be global. It can be local. It can be both. Concentrating on the local is absurd in the age of jet planes and youtube in my eyes. The more it goes global the better I think. I have God knows how many channels off my Sky dish. I can watch a Nigerian soap opera if I want – I don’t because they are piss-poor but… Why do we need a culture secretary at all? Why when we have Easyjet? Why when we have the internet? Why when within walking distance I have have Chinese, Italian,Spanish and Indian take-aways/restaurants? Why have a culture secretary?

*I’ve been to quite a few of the greats.
**See, I’m not uncultured. I could have gone to the ‘Dam and spent my time bombed out of my box sucking dope from bongs shaped like penises. I went to the maritime museum, the Jewish history museum and… Mind the food over there ain’t great. I did eat kangaroo mind (a first for me) but it was bloody awful. Having said that it might be just due to the Dutch tendency to serve Flintsonian portions and bugger the quality. And chips with everything.
***But not as great.
****Not that that was anything like that.
*****There wasn’t really.
******My brother would disagree because he’s lived for several years in Japan.

25 Comments

  1. RAB says:

    “Why have a Culture secretary?”

    Oh that’s simples! To give a job to a good mate who is so fuckin useless at everything else, up to and including re-wiring a plug and changing a light-bulb, but knows how to dress for the Opera.

    Folk music isn’t rubbish (much of it is very good) but it has been strangely manufactured in this country. It was mainly down to a bloke called Cecil Sharp who went around the country collecting tunes and songs in the early part of the 20th century. Cider drinking yokels with fingers in their ears mainly, and he did it because he felt there wasn’t a proper folk tradition in Britain like there was in Germany, Austria or France. So he wanted to collect it before it was too late, so it wasn’t lost. Laudible I’m sure, but also terribly artificial and forced.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cecil_Sharp

    I read a rather fat tome called “Electric Eden” on the whole folk movement last year. An excellent book, but all your folkies, even up to the modern singer/songwriter ones like John Martyn and Roy Harper, Incredible string Band etc etc, were Leftie fantasists who wished to live in some Bucolic dreamworld that never actually existed. The likes of the Fairports and the Fotheringays, even Traffic all decamped to the country to get their heads and roots together man! Which meant in reality a leaky cottage in the middle of nowhere, with a rusty bath, and an outside loo, getting off their faces every night.

    My grandfather was born in Hermon in West Wales, in 1882. A village so poor it would be called a one horse town except they couldn’t afford a horse between them. He used to look up of an evening and see the magnificence of the heavens stars and planets… he just preferred that it wasn’t through the holes in his bedroom ceiling. He moved to the South Wales Coalfield towns aged 14 and couldn’t bloody wait! Bucolic dream my arse, civilisation ho!

  2. John Galt says:

    In 1882, to live the bucolic dream required an income (from tenants preferably) of a few thousand a year, anything else was classified as genteel poverty.

    The vast majority of our grandparents were most likely poor as church mice by comparison. My paternal grandfather was practically a scion of the working classes – lived his life in a slum, got his calf shot away in the Somme, pensioned back to Blighty with a relatively comfortable job as a postman (I shit you not, calf or no calf) and raised 15 children by two alcoholic wives in the same slum streets he was born in.

    It’s like a scene Monty Pythons the Four Yorkshiremen sketch without the bottles of Château de Chazelet

  3. Julie near Chicago says:

    So we have the Ministry of Truth, the Ministry of Culture, and, of course, the Ministry of Magic — of whom the representative was at one time Posey Pinks (a.k.a. Dolores Umbrage)… The quintessential bureaucratic tyrant. (I know there was some famous Nazi, but I can’t find the marble with his name on it.)

    My heart weeps for England.

  4. John Galt says:

    Weep thou not for England’s pain,
    nor shed a bloody tear,
    of those whose loss you would complain,
    the presents not the fear.

    For England long remember’ed,
    was neither there nor here,
    a chapter in a hidden book
    a poem no-one shall hear.

    The England of forgotten past,
    a poor remembered dream,
    more romantic is it cast,
    for never having been.

    Forgotten is the drovers whip,
    the blood amidst the corn,
    the peasants laboured hours lost,
    the squire sleeps past the dawn.

    All the things that England was,
    are but tales of might-have-beens,
    echoing through ancient halls,
    the truth has never seen.

    For England was a peasant land,
    It’s gentry far and few,
    from Downton Abbey to Darcy’s park,
    the servants never knew.

    Scratch a Briton hard and deep,
    you’ll find a peasants son,
    a hundred generations past,
    of ancient barons, none.

    For that’s the truth of who we are,
    an England at its best,
    is not the master at his hounds,
    but a peasant at his rest.

    A thousand years from now would seem,
    a frightened darkling plain,
    but truth be told (for lets be bold),
    that’s a pessimists refrain.

    If I would guess across the years,
    a different vision gleaned,
    of England’s rise again once more,
    a solar sail careened.

    Across the twilit heavens,
    shall old Blighty swing again,
    the echoes of the Pleiades,
    resound to Englishmen.

    For all our long fought history,
    our story’s not yet run,
    a shout on far off Betelgeuse,
    “I’ll have another one!”

    - A John Galt “Alcoholic Original” for Julie

  5. Yes people (on average) were poor in the past compared today – the technology was poorer also.

    Our system is actually worse (not better) than their level of taxes and regulations – we have technology that should be leading us to the stars (instead we congratulate ourselves on avoiding bankruptcy – for awhile).

    The state subsidy of the arts……

    There was no regular subsidy of the arts till World War II (Lord Keynes established the “Arts Council”) – it was a daft idea, and it has got dafter.

    The full title is now the “Department of Art, Media, Sport, and Equalities”.

    Anyone here think that this sounds like a good idea?

    By the way – Nick that man in Georgia.

    Not a bad State (as long as one keeps out of Atlanta) – but the States to the east (South Carolina), south (Florida), west (Alabama) and north (Tennessee) all have lower taxes than Georgia.

    But the man who would not travel outside Georgia most likely did not know that ………

  6. Sam Duncan says:

    “If that means the Eccles cake is heading the way of the sauropods then so be it.”

    It isn’t. As it happens, I noticed boxes of Genuine Lancashire Eccles Cakes in Morrison’s this afternoon, alive and well. Almost bought some, in fact, but I already had some hot cross buns in the trolley.

    But yeah, if they disappear, they disappear. “Culture happens” should really become some kind of slogan (only you can’t force it to, because… culture happens). It’s a bit like that old saw of life being what happens while you’re making other plans: culture is what happens while the subsidised Arts Community is looking the other way. Who is going to give a flying crap about Maria Miller in a hundred years’ time? What they’ll want to know about are stuff like Game of Thrones, Minecraft, and – we’re sorry, 2114 – One Direction. Those things, for good or ill, are our culture, not what the DCMSEFGHIJK pisses our money up the wall on.

  7. NickM says:

    Sam, I get your drift but 1D will be forgotten (or only hauled out on those clips shows fronted by a cybonic Jonathan Ross in 2114). I suspect the works of Bach, say might have much longer legs. But culture can’t be imposed. It is a vital mark of a healthy society that it just happens. If the culture minister can compose anything as sublime as the second movement of Bach’s concerto for two violins then fair enough but I saw the new one tonight on “Question Time” and he looked like a bad attempt at Uncle Fester. Some things just soar and some just don’t. Culture Secs don’t pretty much by def. He looked like some form of git – they always do.
    Always. Like some form of git.

    Gits may take on many forms except the forms are always superficial and it is always the same gittery that lies beneath. It is the entire concept of the position that irks me.
    .

  8. Single Acts of Tyranny says:

    Have you been to the National Gallery (it’s free by the way – and my favourite art gallery in the World*).

    At the risk of being pedantic, you know very well it’s NOT free. It’s anything but free, we all pay whether we want to or not.

  9. XX (Aside – there is a shop in central Amsterdam that sells Brit stuff called “Arkwrights”). XX

    You must be the only person I know of that goes to Amsterdam and buys…. marmite! :-D

    As to London gallerys/museums, my all time favourite id the Victoria and Albert.

  10. Andrew S. Mooney says:

    The reason we have a culture secretary who always looks like she is about to get a free pie and chips in every single photo that I have ever seen of her, is, fundamentally, oinky piggy English like you.

    The fact that you think that Tolkien is a piece of literary culture is surprising to me and would be news to him. He wrote those stories for children, and in fact he did write the Lord Of The Rings books for money, The Hobbit being so successful. At the same time he was Professor of Anglo Saxon and Norse at Cambridge University, funded by the general public via the government and the University Grants Commission. The fact that the webpage that you cite dates back to 2004 suggests that the survey was conducted around the time that “Return of the King” came out at the cinemas, and that lots of burbling popcorn munchers had seen it and voted for it.

    Shakespeare actually DID have public subsidy, by the way. He wrote plays for the royal court and it’s players, The King’s Men, lead by Richard Burbage – He therefore had to be quite careful about some of the content of them to avoid pissing his patron off. That is why Richard III is a massive propaganda piece.

    “Culture is simply what we do. In a sense it is what we are. We just do it. From posting video of a cat doing something amusing on Youtube to the Elgar violin concerto we just do it.”

    Which suggests to me that you equate culture with being popular. It’s not. Going to Church was once a part of English culture. Clue is in it’s name. Not any more, because it wasn’t.

    You then proceed to cite the fact that Elgar was born poor and was so unrecognised that he worked for a while conducting the orchestra of an asylum, approving of each as if it a mark that he was “paying his dues” rather than the fact that, then as now, all the way into history back, the British are just a bunch of oinky piggy plebs who didn’t notice how talented he was, because all great classical music composers were dead.

    Your equation – Sadly uncomplete – was your contribution to your chosen intellectual field. The fact that you would have chosen to commemorate it’s success by going out and getting a *tattoo* of it is so close to line that I briefly thought the entire posting was a piss take. Where? How about giving your girlfriend something to puzzle over while she’s giving you a blow job?

    You went to a folk festival, got drunk (That most British of things) didn’t like what you found but instead of just saying that it was not to your liking, brand it as “shite,” and stagger on.

    “Yes there was. Culture. It is universal and natural. It should be allowed to just happen but it is intrinsically global (and that scares people). Now don’t get me wrong – I have nothing against “local colour” but our culture is increasingly self generating and global.”

    Culture is mostly established as such by virtue of it’s age and it’s universality to those who learn it, including people yet to discover it, who then recognise it as great in spite of not being around at the time of it’s creation. They should know, as they lack any prompting. By that reasoning most of what we see around us today will be dismissed as the crap it rightly is. Stuff that was a part of someone’s culture can often get lost if they move elsewhere. Culture is also not universal, unless you count taking your daughter back to Africa to have her genitals slashed up by a witch doctor as being “just a part of these negroes and their culture,” and condoning it rather than stopping them.

    Your belief that you can get decent sushi in Manchester is also a reflection of this.

    http://www.manchesterrestaurants.com/japanese.htm

    Thing is, look carefully at the descriptions these main places offer. Four of them advertise themselves as “Fusion” restaurants, which means that they are not authentic Japanese food. One of them is Teppanyaki restaurant. Japanese people don’t eat Teppanyaki that much, it is only popular due to the fact that it was cooked, and so was more familiar to US servicemen after the war. The final one in the Print Works is run by Chinese people. They use Chinese rice, I know (and don’t mind it) because know a little about the food and can taste it. That and when I’ve been in there, they play nothing but Chinese music videos on the monitors. The only one that could therefore be an authentic Japanese restaurant is the small one near the MEN Arena. Since it’s only got 19 seats, that suggests that you cannot get decent Japanese food in Manchester for love nor money, because the locals don’t want it. They want some weird approximation of it that is not actually the proper thing, and forks.

    Concentrating upon the local is essential in an era of mass jet travel. Otherwise you are *just the same as everywhere else.*

    “Why do we need a culture secretary at all? Why when we have Easyjet? Why when we have the internet? Why when within walking distance I have have Chinese, Italian,Spanish and Indian take-aways/restaurants? Why have a culture secretary?”

    If that is your definition of culture, I seriously hope that you are not going to excuse mass immigration on the grounds that you can get ethnic food from it. Remember that these restaurants don’t hire locals, they hire their own. Absolutely fine presumably.

    Making the effort to get the proper thing, to insist upon it, is fundamental to you being cultured. Because most British people are epicly lazy and the English in particular, that is a novel concept to them. Name a German lager that was popular in England in the 1980′s and most of them will say Hofmeister.

    Have you ever considered that Tattoos are crass and that your intellectual laziness is the reason why this country has a culture secretary who treats it as a cushy job? You need people like that to look after such things for you.

  11. NickM says:

    Furor,
    The V&A I know well. As to “Arkwright’s” I didn’t even enter. I was on a short break. I just thought it amusing to to note it. SAoT, I know it isn’t “free” as such. But free entry to stuff in a sense is cool. Because we own this.

  12. Sam Duncan says:

    “At the risk of being pedantic, you know very well it’s NOT free.”

    Beat me to it, SAOT. TANSTAAFL.

    And I knew somebody would bring up the King’s Men. Let’s just ignore the fact that in the 16th Century you needed a licence from the King just to run a “legitimate” theatre. Shakespeare had to suck up to the state or he’d have been out of business.

    And indeed, that’s the way things are shaping, de facto, today. There is precisely one privately-owned, unsubsidized, theatre in the whole of Scotland: the Glasgow Pavilion. How can anybody else compete with the state using taxpayers’ money to bring West End touring companies to the King’s? (Buggered if I know how the Pavilion does it, to be honest.) If you’re in that game, you have to be subsidized or you’re sunk, not because that’s the only way it can ever be done, but because the state has made sure that it’s the only way it is done: it uses the bottomless pit of other people’s money to crowd everyone else out of the market.

    “Culture is mostly established as such by virtue of it’s age and it’s universality to those who learn it, including people yet to discover it, who then recognise it as great in spite of not being around at the time of it’s creation.”

    No. That’s great culture, high culture; the stuff that lasts. And as far as that goes I don’t disagree. But culture, per se, is simply an emergent property of human interaction, like society and markets. The point being not that a Culture Ministry shouldn’t try to decide what our culture is, but that it can’t, any more than Gosplan could run the Soviet economy, or the Académie Français can dictate a language.

    As Nick says, 1D are never going to be considered High Art. But, in centuries to come, they will be recognized, up to a point, as a part – a very, very, tiny part – of early 21st Century culture, just as “Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag” is part of the culture of the early 20th.

    “Remember that these restaurants don’t hire locals, they hire their own. Absolutely fine presumably.”

    Yep. They get money, we get interesting food. Everybody wins.

    You don’t know us too well, do you? (By the way, insulting the author’s country: great way to get off on the right foot. That’s got class written all over it. Nice one.)

    “Have you ever considered that Tattoos are crass”

    Frequently. Unfortunately they’re a part of modern British culture. Life sucks sometimes.

  13. Andrew S. Mooney, HEJ Laddie! Although no great fan of the English myself, being German born with family who were in Dresden in 1945, and raised in Scotland, your comments regarding the English are off the mark!

  14. Sam Duncan says:

    “Meanwhile”

    Oh, terrific. Paging 6079 Smith W…

  15. NickM says:

    FT,
    It has to be said, “You fucking started it!” For two and a half years I dated a Jew (an American Jew which is to a large extent why she was extant) who lost many relatives who “missed the boat” so to speak. Germany deserved the kilatombs of Hamburg and Dresden. I have been to Auschwitz. Germany fucking well deserved Operation Gomorrah for that. Having said that modern Germany seems like OK (but dull – it’s more the Efficiency Teutonicus, More let’s have efficient bus-lanes than kill the undesirables). That is fine with me. One of the very few things I like about Crimble is the German markets you get in Manchester. In a way it makes the war even more tragic. But I also like the sausages in a bun. Yeah, I know…

    In general,I seem to have pissed off lots of folks by this post – good.

  16. Julie near Chicago says:

    Dear Mr. Galt,

    Your passionate paean to the fantastic world of Jolly Old England was received and read with considerable interest and admiration. It roused in the dedicatee some ditty by some Blake dude that ends with “In England’s green and pleasant land,” but on a close re-reading of said literary contribution, I feel that your own makes more sense. Yet, simultaneously, I felt a strange, strong urge to pen a reply such as the one Sir Walter Raleigh made to Christopher Marlowe. “If all the world and love were young, / And truth on every shepherd’s tongue….”

    Alas, I couldn’t come up with anything that wouldn’t look downright dumb next to your endeavour. Therefore please accept my compliments, which I extend with utmost sincerity.

    Poetically yours,
    Julie

    PS. I STILL weep for England, you insensitive clunk! However difficult life may have been for English peasant, or for the worker in the Dark Satanic Mills, nobody but NOBODY in the Anglosphere (except for members of various Governments, and nitwit “intelligentsia” such as the odious Jed Rubenfeld) deserves to be surrounded by Ministries of Culture, which are guaranteed, GUARANTEED to be full of Umbrages. Whether outfitted in poison pink or not.

    Grinningly yours (or did I already use that?),

    –J.

    PPS. Your poem really IS very good — I was quite serious about that.

  17. Julie near Chicago says:

    And as long as I’m throwing bouquets of admiration at all and sundry (our JG being the “all” and Mr. NickM being, therefore, the “sundry,” I guess) I really enjoyed your posting, Nick. Very good. :>)

  18. Tim Newman says:

    Folk music isn’t rubbish (much of it is very good) but it has been strangely manufactured in this country. It was mainly down to a bloke called Cecil Sharp who went around the country collecting tunes and songs in the early part of the 20th century. Cider drinking yokels with fingers in their ears mainly, and he did it because he felt there wasn’t a proper folk tradition in Britain like there was in Germany, Austria or France. So he wanted to collect it before it was too late, so it wasn’t lost. Laudible I’m sure, but also terribly artificial and forced.

    That’s really interesting, I didn’t know that. But A.P. Carter did the same thing in the US, and the results were anything but artificial and forced. Perhaps the difference is that A.P. Carter arranged the songs in his own style, and then had The Carter Family perform them (brilliantly) in that manner, and it is really the Carter Family versions which everybody now considers the originals rather than some hillbilly off his head on moonshine. US culture – and probably the entire country music scene – owes such an enormous debt to A.P. for what he did (and it cost him his marriage). He ended his days running a general store in the middle of nowhere, IIRC.

  19. Tim Newman says:

    Also, so much of the US early country/bluegrass is pretty much English, Irish, and Scottish folksongs which have evolved. You can even sometimes hear the same lyrics and versus in each. A lot of them talk about crossing huge distances, particularly oceans, and coming home years later…obviously this meme originated back in the home country, not the destination.

  20. RAB says:

    Yes I knew that about Country/Bluegrass Tim, but then I would, it’s my line of work. I’m sure Cecil Sharp did the same as Carter, he even Bowdlerised some of the lyrics so as not to frighten the horses. There is an Institute/Foundation named after him that does very academic research into Folk music, and kills it stone dead. The sort of people who have a fit of the vapours if someone plugs in an electric guitar a la Dylan.

    But they were all dreadful old Lefties dreaming of a pre Industrial Revolution Workers paradise. This dude was hugely influential, dedicated Commie and a WW2 deserter!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ewan_MacColl

    And when Folk is good, it is bloody good! This song is about 300 years old.

  21. I don’t think anyone can quite destroy music like the “MOD” in Scotland. Endless hours of lone pipers standing on stage murdering some Reel. The SAME Reel for every one of them.

    Then stupid wee girlys having a prance around some swords that someone dropped on the stage, to an audience that would make an early 50s Japanese clasical music audience seem possitively wild in comparison.

  22. NickM says:

    Furor,
    I think you are conflating Scotland with culture. I have more culture in my kitchen sink.

  23. NickM says:

    Mooney, your comment which I have just read in full is so vile I’m leaving it up. But please don’t darken my towels again.

  24. Mr Ed says:

    Mooney

    ‘At the same time he was Professor of Anglo Saxon and Norse at Cambridge University, funded by the general public via the government and the University Grants Commission.’

    Priceless, you really know your stuff.

    ‘He wrote plays for the royal court and it’s players,’

    And grammar.

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