Archive for the ‘Arts, books and culture’ Category
A rude, swaggering barrow boy. Meet the Beeb’s new (acting) DG – worse than the old one (Telegraph blog)
Talk about out of the frying pan, into the fire. The BBC has just, at huge expense, seen the back of one incompetent Director General, who proved himself to be too feeble for the job. Indeed, as David Dimbleby points out in the Telegraph, the fact that Entwistle resigned so readily shows he never had the spunk (or was it something to do with the allure of his severance package?). Now, it seems, in the figure of Tim Davie, the BBC has appointed someone far worse.
In an interview with Sky intended to introduce Britain to the new acting DG, Mr Davie proved himself to be rude, obnoxious and confused. He started off with a cocky wideboy’s swagger. Before long, however, he got himself snarled up in answering a question, and tried to save his own blushes by taking route one. That is, walking off.
This is so ridiculous it is almost funny. A journalist should at the very least understand how to answer awkward questions from other journalists, and to treat them with common courtesy. But wait – Mr Davie isn’t a journalist. Read on the Telegraph website
In a recent Spectator column, Charles Moore referred to the BBC licence fee as “the most regressive and most ruthlessly collected of all government imposts”, and called the annual sum of £145.50 “seriously painful”. Personally, I have no problem with it. You see, I’ve never paid it.
For all of my adult life, I’ve never owned a television. In the past, this meant that one was limited to watching videos, which was extremely limiting. These days, however, with the advent of DVDs and the internet, there is not a huge difference between having a television and not having one.
True, I can’t just switch on the box and veg out; I need to choose what I watch before I veg out. True also, I don’t have easy access to every single programme known to man. But neither of these things trouble me. I can watch BBC programmes for nothing on iPlayer, so long as I steer clear of live viewing, for which a licence is required. I can watch Channel 4 on Demand, or catch films via DVD, or downloaded on iTunes, Curzon Soho online and any number of other websites. Read on the Telegraph website
After John Humphrys’ savaging of the softly spoken George Entwhistle on the Today programme, the writing was on the wall. He’s fallen on his sword. Or rather, his sword has fallen on him. Or rather, a gallon of sewage.
This has been like watching a car crash in very slow motion. Humphrys: You didn’t see that tweet [which told the world that Newsnight was about to make extraordinary accusations against a senior Tory]? Why not? Entwistle: I check Twitter at the end of the day sometimes – or I don’t. Humphrys: But it was in the Guardian yesterday, did you not read the Guardian front page yesterday morning? Entwistle: No, John, I was giving a speech. Humphrys: Nobody said anything to you at all? Entwistle: No.
Thus Entwistle’s “baptism of fire” became an immolation.
Now, I feel really sorry for Entwistle, and I’m sure he’s as nice as everyone is saying he is. But in truth, he was not – as he has been forced to admit himself – cut out for the job.
In recent hours, Twitter has come out in sympathy. Stephen Fry, in a seeming expression of Christmas cheer, called Entwistle “a kind, wise man”. Words like “talented”, “decent” and “experienced” are being bandied about two a penny. But the fact is that Entwhistle lacked guts.
The fact that he took his eye off the ball in such a stupendous fashion indicates an absence of drive, edge, va-va-voom, hunger, and commitment. You can’t be a softy and hold a job like that. If a DG doesn’t pick up a catastrophe in the offing and stamp on it quick, what on earth is he for? He should be obsessively checking Twitter, looking at the front pages, and keeping tabs on key BBC output, not fannying about with lesser concerns when a tornado was brewing. He should have identified the problem and blown the whistle, and done it fast. In failing to do so, he blew the Entwistle.
Following the Savile earthquake, a more belligerent, pugnacious spirit might have been inclined to grit his teeth, ride it out, acknowledge mistakes and take dynamic action to put things right. Instead the new DG was left reeling, and the aftershock caught the man napping. Lord Patten said he has taken the “honourable” route. In reality, his own failings had left him with no alternative.
If times had been kinder, and Entwistle had not been tested, he might have enjoyed a long and happy tenure. But, as the old saying has it, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Entwistle didn’t. And so he had to go.
The sad thing is that this story reflects what is happening in the BBC in general. Entwhistle’s self-inflicted implosion is like a Kamikaze pilot aiming at himself. The fact that the Beeb as a whole is doing precisely the same thing indicates that he is a BBC man through and through. But it does not bode well for the Corporation.
The scratch and whisper of nib on paper. The silky loops of ink. The luxury of signing one’s name with a flourish. All of these are part of the seductive charms of handwriting. Not to mention the delight of receiving a letter, seeing the hand of someone you love – and finding it once again, 20 years later, between the pages of a book.
Since the advent of the computer and mobile phone, however, digital messages have been usurping our affections. In June, a survey commissioned by the stationers Docmail found that the average person hasn’t written by hand for 41 days, and a third of the population hasn’t done so for six months. Another poll has found that a third of teenage girls – and half of teenage boys – have never written a letter.
But it is not all doom and gloom. A plethora of new books extolling the virtues of handwriting has hit the shelves this year, including For the Love of Letters: the Joy of Slow Communication, by John O’Connell;Paper: an Elegy, by Ian Sansom; and The Missing Ink, by Philip Hensher. All of these are starting to save handwriting from extinction.
And it is working. Last year, John Lewis announced that sales of stationery were up by 177 per cent. This year, sales of many pen brands have increased by a further 20 per cent, and the Rachel Ellen notecard range is up by 33 per cent. Smythson, stationer to the Queen, is enjoying record profits. And with Royal Mail expecting to handle 700 million Christmas cards, it seems handwriting is undergoing a revival.
“Years ago, when handwriting was an everyday thing, the sense of specialness wasn’t so marked,” says Hensher. “But now there is a sense of something truly special. Handwriting is how we reveal our personalities to the people we love. People are realising that they can give pleasure so easily, just by 10 words on the back of a postcard.” Continue reading on the Telegraph website
In A Tale of Love and Darkness, the 2002 masterpiece by Amos Oz, Israel’s pre-eminent novelist, there is a scene involving cheese. The question, as debated by customers in a grocery shop during the years of Israel’s youth, was simple: “To buy or not to buy Arab cheese?” On the one hand, the Arab cheese was tastier and cheaper. “But if you bought Arab cheese, weren’t you being a traitor to Zionism? Somewhere in some kibbutz or moshav, in the Jezreel Valley or the Hills of Galilee, an overworked pioneer girl was sitting, packing this Hebrew cheese for us – how could we turn our backs on her and buy alien cheese? Did we have the heart? On the other hand, if we boycotted the produce of our Arab neighbours, we would be deepening and perpetuating the hatred between our two peoples. And we would be partly responsible for any blood that was shed, heaven forbid . . . Could we be so heartless as to turn our backs on [the local Arab producer’s] rustic cheese? Could we be so cruel as to punish him? What for?”
So this quasi-Talmidic analysis goes on. Then a wry authorial voice breaks in: “Imagine the contempt with which Tolstoy would regard anyone who would buy one kind of cheese and not another simply because of a difference of religion, nationality, or race! What of universal values? Humanism? The brotherhood of man? . . . Shame! Shame and disgrace! Either way, shame and disgrace!”
This extract captures perfectly the peculiar power of a novelist’s voice to portray and interpret circumstances of political complexity. Oz cuts through the temporal, focussing instead on the fundamental universals of, as he would put it, “the human condition”; as a result, his rebuke has an almost Old Testament gravity.
Amos Oz is almost as renowned for his journalism – which he has relentlessly used to advocate the pursuit of peace via a two-state solution – as for his fiction. Yet he has always been careful to maintain a partition between the two, even using a different type of pen – one blue, one black – for each mode of writing. “I never mix them up,” he told the New York Times in 2009. “One is to tell the government to go to hell. The other is to tell stories.”
It is undeniable that the moral authority that Oz commands through his fiction lends his journalism an especial power. This dynamic has many precedents. Ernesto Sábato, the Argentinian novelist who died last year at the age of 99, is a case in point; he grew to be regarded as the foremost moral authority in the country on account of his writing. In 1983, towards the end of his career, he was appointed to lead an investigation into the fate of the 30,000 “desaparecidos”, or “people who were caused to disappear”, during the military dictatorship of the Seventies and early Eighties. His report, Nunca Más (Never Again), was a remarkably thoroughgoing, dispassionate reckoning of the human rights abuses that had occurred. At first glance, it may seem strange that a novelist was selected for this job. The circumstances were complex, but there is no doubt that it was Sábato’s moral standing – which he acquired primarily as a novelist – that gave him both the gravitas and impartiality to conduct the affair. Indeed, when he was appointed, there was a real sense that nobody else in the country could do it.
But the fact remains that there are some things a novelist can’t do. Despite decades of campaigning by Amos Oz and his friends, for instance, the two-state solution seems more elusive than ever.
Earlier this month, another distinguished Israeli novelist and peace campaigner, David Grossman – whose son, Uri, was killed in action in 2006 in southern Lebanon – joined forces with the Algerian writer Boualem Sansal to launch a fresh lobby for peace. Supported by a range of respected literary figures from around the world, they presented their appeal at the closing session of the World Forum for Democracy. The creation of a viable Palestinian state, they argued, would require “painful compromises for both parties,” including “the abandonment of settlements or their exchange for land, the renouncement of the right of return of the 1948 refugees, the sharing of Jerusalem.” They stated that there is still a “possible solution” for the Israel-Palestine conflict, but “maybe not for long”. But as moving and commendable as their speeches were, it is unlikely that many of those present believed that they would yield any significant results. Continue reading on the Telegraph website
Flyboarding, the biggest new craze in watersports, was invented a year ago by a jet-ski champion called Franky Zapata. He posted a video of it on YouTube, and it was viewed 2.5 million times. The first flyboarding championships have just taken place in Qatar.
And now you can do it here. In June, Marc started a company calledFlyboarding.co.uk, which has been a roaring success. Both men and women have been trying it out all over Britain, and it has been hired for birthdays, stag dos and corporate events. It may not offer any fitness benefit, but flyboarding is the next big thing. Which is how I ended up connected to a jet ski in the rain.
It’s going to be very simple. Marc and his colleague, Jason Fox – an ex-Army professional fireman – will ride the jet ski. When Marc opens the throttle, water will be sent through a hose into the board on my feet and spurt out at high pressure, giving me a powerful propulsion. Jason, sitting on the back, will prod me away from obstacles with a large foam spear. My job is to harness that power, balance on a cushion of water pressure – and fly.
I take a breath and plunge in. Immediately I find myself being thrust at high speed through the waves, a sock in a washing machine, gulping for air. Marc turns the jetski off and sighs. “Just relax,” he calls, “and keep your body straight.”
After a few long minutes I have established a degree of control, and find myself circling the jet ski like a shark. “Now,” shouts Marc, “take off.”
I try to stand and, to my amazement, London rises around me. I reach an altitude of about six feet, then lose my balance and belly flop. After several more tumbles, something finally clicks. I am surfing the air like a comic-book villain. This, I think, is almost worthy of James Bond. Continue reading on the Telegraph website
‘It’s very hard to snuggle up to a white radiator,” says 57-year-old Vincent Thurkettle, author of The Wood Fire Handbook, his eyes glinting with joie de vivre. “But it’s the easiest thing in the world to snuggle up to this.”
He gestures to the roaring wood fire, in front of which is positioned an old, sagging sofa. In the winter, he tells me, when he comes in after a long day working outdoors, he often curls up on the sofa for a nap.
This week, we had the first frost of winter. Across the country, central heating systems are being turned on, and people are starting to look for cosy corners in which to bundle up. According to Philip Harvey from the buying agents Property Vision, the property market reflects this.
“As the weather starts to turn and the nights draw in, buyers’ minds change from looking for a property to take advantage of a hot summer’s day to properties to snuggle up in on a cold winter’s night,” he says. “Some want a property with a large working fireplace in the drawing room, or an environmentally friendly log burner. Others prefer inglenook fireplaces, or those that have a snug built in to ensure that the fireplace is large enough to heat the entire room.” Clearly, Vincent Thurkettle is not alone in his passion for wood fires.
But he has taken it further than most. Seven years ago, when he was 50, Thurkettle was at the peak of his career as the deputy director of the East of England Forestry Commission. His career had been defined by his love of trees and the outdoors, but he found that his seniority meant that he was permanently stuck behind a desk. Men like him may dream of changing their lives, but few have the courage to do it.
Not so for Thurkettle. He left his job and found new “life-enhancing” ways of making a living. “There’s not one minute of any day that I wish I was back in the office,” he says. “I work twice as hard for half the money, but I’m happy.” Most of his time is spent outdoors, and his life follows the seasons.
In March, he tends to his field of Christmas trees that he sells later in the year. In April, once the trees are all flourishing, he goes diving for sunken treasure at an 18th-century wreck off the coast of Britain, and prospects for Welsh gold. He doesn’t make much from these hobbies, he says, but he makes enough. In September he returns to Norfolk to sell his trees until Christmas. Then he “clears off somewhere warm”, like Australia, Spain or Morocco, and spends three months writing. Continue reading on the Telegraph website
Crowdfunding: how the kindness of strangers is changing business (from the Sunday Telegraph Seven Magazine)
Bullying; out-of-control Facebook parties; unimaginable filth a mere click away. The internet has given us many reasons to shake our heads, worry about our children, and mutter about its dangers. But the online world is as wondrous as it is dangerous. For every vile troll there is an example of an extraordinarily creative vision brought to life by the power of the web. And there’s perhaps no better example of this than crowdfunding.
Put simply, crowdfunding is when enterprising artists and business people appeal to the world to make micro-donations, which, taken together, are enough to fund a project. The idea began to take hold in 1997, when fans of British rock band Marillion launched an internet fund-raising campaign to bankroll an American tour. Over £35,000 was raised, and the tour went with a bang. Today, crowdfunding is used by film-makers, charities, technology companies, even football clubs. For projects that would otherwise struggle to get off the ground, it’s a godsend.
Recently, the writer Alexander Masters announced in The Daily Telegraph that he was setting up a crowdfunding project to pay for research into treatments for the “Steve Jobs” cancer. For Masters, this is personal: one of his close friends suffers from the disease. A possible treatment has been found, he says, and the only thing missing is £2 million to develop it.
In Britain, it is becoming commonplace for organisations unable to secure state funding to take on this approach. The website Spacehive, which describes itself as “the world’s first funding platform for public space projects”, is a case in point. Through the site, one can “fund a new park or renovate your high street as easily as buying a book online”. Projects include a “forest garden” in south London, free Wi-Fi provision in Mansfield, and turning a primary school into a community centre in West Yorkshire.
Some American states have responded to the recession with radical experiments in citizenfunding. In 2010, voters in Colorado Springs chose to avoid tax rises in exchange for dramatic public spending cuts. One in three street lights was turned off; bus services were reduced; park maintenance was put on hold. But residents could choose to fund these things themselves with small ad hoc payments. If the $125 needed to turn a street light back on was raised, on it went. Park bins could be provided for $3,000. It was not without controversy, but voters soon got used to deciding for themselves which services they wanted to maintain.
In Britain, it is unlikely that the Government or local authorities would ever consider such radical measures. But with crowdfunding spreading into areas from which the Government has withdrawn, within a few years we may think nothing of philanthropically supporting what previously were basic services.
By far the biggest crowdfunding success stories today come via the New York-based Kickstarter, which recently began accepting UK projects after launching in 2009. Although most of the thousands of ventures on the site only just reach their funding targets, several have ended up attracting far more money than they asked for. When a company called Palo Alto, for example, requested $100,000 to manufacture a smart watch that displays messages or emails from mobile phones, they were rewarded with an overwhelming $10.2 million.
When it works, crowdfunding is a thing of beauty. Like a less brutal and humiliating Dragons’ Den, the artist or inventor makes their pitch. If the public likes what they see, they contribute as much or as little as they like, and in return they get, say, their name on credits, an early look at the product, or simply the warm feeling of having helped.
But when such vast sums of money are suddenly generated from the goodwill of strangers, things can become acrimonious — especially when a crowdfunded company fails to deliver on their promises. Last December, the Oregon-based start-up ElevationLab used the site to ask for funding for a minimalist iPhone dock. They received almost $1.5 million, which far outstripped their target, and each donor was promised a dock. But the company, taken by surprise by the scale of demand, experienced production delays. To make matters worse, the launch of the iPhone 5, with its new connector, effectively rendered ElevationLab’s dock obsolete. But they were under no obligation to return the money, and to date have not done so.
In April, Amanda Palmer, singer with the Gothic Boston duo the Dresden Dolls, put a request for $100,000 on Kickstarter to fund her new album and tour. Within a month, she had received $1.2 million. Then she put out a plea for local musicians to play on her tour without any recompense save unlimited beer and a promise to “hug/high-five you up and down”. After objections were raised, she agreed to pay all the musicians who accompanied her.
Despite the risks, with the alluring possibility of instant funding for even the craziest ideas (Detroit’s life-sized Robocop statue comes to mind), it’s clear that crowdfunding is here to stay. Here are five projects proving that this is no bad thing: Continue reading on the Telegraph website
I am a user of the iPhone 5. On the whole, it’s pretty good. Apart from if you want to use the maps app, that is, in which case you’d better leave an extra half hour for asking directions from pedestrians with Samsung phones.
Whether or not the boffins at Apple are going to be able to fix their infamously terrible maps app remains to be seen. Given the length of time it took Google to get theirs right, I’m not expecting a serviceable version any time soon. But I think there is another, bigger problem with Apple products which seems to be concealed by a conspiracy of silence. Well, let me break it.
Over the weekend, I was ill. As if in sympathy, my trusty 2008-vintage iMac chose to pack up as well. I ended up spending some time on the phone to an Apple geek called Junior, who helped me erase and restore my corrupted hard drive. While on the phone, he asked why I was still using such an old machine. The reason, I told him, is that any Apple product post-2008 hurts my eyes after about an hour of use. I get nausea, dizziness, a cramping sensation in my eyes, and sometimes shooting pain. All of this is rather unhelpful for someone who makes his living in front of a computer screen. So I’m stuck with the aged models.
I described the trauma I have gone through in trying to get this fixed. To begin with, I persuaded an optician to issue me with a pair of glasses even though I didn’t really need them. No cigar. I tried covering screens with anti-glare film, implementing the “20-20-20” rule (look at an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes), doing eye exercises, and adjusting the brightness of the screen and the size of the font. Nothing. In the end, I resigned myself to using pre-2009 hardware, which doesn’t hurt my eyes at all, even if I stare at the screen all day. Problem solved. But for how long?
Now, I’m no scientist, but I have noticed that it was around 2009 that Apple started replacing their LCD screens with ultra-bright LED displays. There may be more to this than meets the eye, of course, but it does seem to be the case that LED screens, or certain components inside them, have something to do with it. To be fair, this may not be a problem with Apple alone. I don’t really use PCs if I can help it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if many of them caused similar problems. Continue reading on the Telegraph website
Just occasionally, a writer or artist – or both in one – emerges who is so astoundingly original that everything else suddenly seems like a facsimile of what has come before. Chris Ware, the 45-year-old American comics artist, is one of these. Widely hailed as one of the foremost practitioners working in the medium today, his new book, if one can call it that without being reductionist, is a work of such startling genius that it is difficult to know where to begin.
And that is part of the point. Take the “cover”, for instance. The work is presented in a large, rectangular box covered in seemingly random letters and fragments of images. It takes a while to trace a path through the puzzle and reveal the hidden title: Building Stories. This creation of a luscious vista of words and pictures that the reader must decode using a variety of subtle threads and directions is typical of Ware; abandon yourself to the process and enlightenment gradually dawns.
The lid comes off to reveal 14 different books, pamphlets, posters and miscellanea which, when pieced together, form a multi-dimensional story about the inhabitants of a Chicago apartment block. We meet, in exquisitely intimate detail, a melancholy thirtysomething woman with an amputated leg; a couple whose relationship is poisoned with the deepest acrimony; and the elderly landlady of the building, her life locked in a cycle of loneliness and nostalgia. All of this is presented in Ware’s distinctive style, which blends evocations of the aesthetic of the early 20th-century American south (Ware collects ragtime paraphernalia) with a melancholy existentialism and pawky humour. Continue reading on the Telegraph website