Thursday, 27 April 2017

Sparrows in Aleppo


The rain has ceased and like a golden aria

A blackbird sings among the green.

That high, velvet trill of nature’s innocence

Caresses my mind and slowly

Pushes away a congregation of anxieties.

Did blackbirds sing in Mosul once?

Did Aleppo sparrows chirp between the shells?

Did not just one grain of Kabul sand

Outweigh my cushioned western worries?

Blackbird, caress my conscience.

We are the victims of geography

Pollen, history’s scattered humanity ill-fated

Cold beneath hate’s stars,

Burning in the sun’s misunderstanding

Terror and complacency, so many miles apart

The blackbird’s song reminds me that

Those of us bereft of Holy Books can only listen

Beyond sweet avian notes like windblown blossom

Our vocation, voyeurs of remote violence

Becomes another shameful occupation.

Monday, 17 April 2017


Thomas Cole The Journey of Life (1842) National Gallery


Oh, how they tell you,
There are reasons to be cheerful,
And oh, how you reply “I know”.
Yet windswept youth has a smiling agenda
The ocean which they sail upon,
Still unpolluted by life’s detritus,
Has distant horizons and lucky landfalls
Over which I have already walked.
But we in the long shadow
Of our greyness will nod and smile
Stumbling sages in the pot-holed landscape
Of the inevitable country,
For here the past is long,
The future short.
Here we face the pending mystery,
Reality’s cajoling fingers caress our necks,
Like anonymous lovers
Drawing us towards the great unknown.
What lies in wait there?
A new sunrise? A re-union
With loved ones gone before?
Will there be another childhood?
Are these the reasons to be cheerful,
Or palliatives to this arthritic fading being
Were heartbeats falter and
Exhausted muscles seize the dregs
Of energy and wrap the mind in sackcloth.

Oh, lighten up old man, they say,
Never throw away the dimming spark
Of life until the gift expires.

Friday, 31 March 2017

The Curse of Red Trousers


Working class people dress themselves according to their tribe. At the bottom level from teens to maybe mid-40s, there’s grey jogging pants, trainers, some kind of lightweight ‘sporting’ top, and until the ‘fashion’ dropped off recently the baseball cap was essential. The most ubiquitous accessory is the I-Phone, because without one you may be required to look away from your palm and realise there’s a real world out there.
And never forget the essential tattoos; these must cover any available space on limbs and be exposed in ever the coldest weather. The rest of society, those who may still have a paid job, will express a touch of individuality, but rarely be totally influenced  by the broadsheet media’s colour supplements which are in turn offering diluted ideas taken from the big catwalks, where ‘trends’ are ‘decided’ in Paris, Milan or London. The immediate output of those fashionista cities is aimed at the rich, people with far more money than sense.

In Britain, there are two other tribes worthy of mention; the rural farming types with their Berber jackets, green wellingtons and Harris Tweed outfits, and the multi-layered faux-aristocratic strata - those who may work in town (usually in banking, marketing, etc.) but live in the country. For example, you can always spot a middle aged woman from this bracket because she’ll enjoy a light sweater over a silk shirt which will be open at the neck to reveal a pearl necklace. The men, often convinced that their income makes them part of some antiquated aristocracy, when dressing down at weekends will try and confirm this by wearing the most ridiculous trousers they can find, and the preferred colour is red. Red or pastel trousers are the ultimate ‘Hooray Henry’ garb, and they signify a person well worth avoiding. As for this writer, obese, old and unkempt, without capacious black jogging pants and a t-shirt I’d have to go naked.

Every other day, TV offers us a sartorial enigma. For example, Michael Portillo’s penchant for riding the rails dressed like a box of multi-coloured marshmallows.
Most celebrities are prone to narcissism, but on antiques shows, whether you’re caressing a Clarice Cliff teapot or an Edwardian gold watch, an expert’s credibility might depend on the de rigueur tradition of looking like a florid cross between Willie Wonka and the next Dr. Who. Camera-hogging Tim Wonnacott, today’s king of the collectibles catwalk, seems desperate to appear in as many eccentric ensembles as possible - and never more than once. This means bilious mustard green jackets, hideous waistcoats of various hues, the ubiquitous coloured trousers, whilst his collections of colour co-ordinated bow ties and spectacles (always to be balanced on the end of his nose) are probably stored in an aircraft hangar.
Another serial offender, David Howard, is to dress sense what Eric Pickles is to hang-gliding. Every clip in shows like Bargain Hunt and Antiques Road Trip requires a different pair of trousers; lemon, puce, azure, white, lime green, and of course, hooray-Henry red. His Image result for images Antiques Road Trip David Howard
choice of shirts is no better. Probably the doyen of empathic presenters, Paul Martin of Flog It, sometimes resorts to a powder blue corduroy suit, but for most of his visits to stately homes (cue the Baroque music) he tilts respect to their upper-crust founders with … les pantalons rouge, Image result for images Paul Martin Flog Itwhilst the show’s Philip Sorrell will appear swaddled in a multi-coloured scarf even on a hot sunny day. Of course, this kind of down-market malarkey rarely impinges on the blue-blooded ambience of the BBC’s long-running flagship, The Antiques Road Show where the dress code suggests a Buckingham Palace tea party. No doubt the argument is that it all adds colourful ‘fun’, but one wonders what Clarice Cliff would make of it all.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017



Populism, political programe or movement that champions the common person, usually by favourable contrast with an elite. Populism usually combines elements of the left and the right, opposing large business and financial interests but also frequently being hostile to established socialist and labour parties.”

Encyclopædia Britannica

OAF: especially a man or boy, as an oaf, you think that they are impolite, clumsy, or aggressive. Synonyms: lout, brute, yob or yobbo [British , slang] , fool.

Collins English Dictionary

 Why do old fogeys like me carry on bleating and railing against the current world? Haven’t us old 70+ lefties learned our lesson yet? People don’t want our ideas, our romantic socialism, ‘to each according to his needs’, all that Marxist crap. As it was in the 1930s, they’re looking for a ‘strong leader’. They don’t want the world for themselves; they want to be placed on a make-believe treadmill of power which leads to a New Order. And that, in a scary nutshell, is why geriatric politics addicts can’t stay silent. Strong leaders are cropping up from Washington to Bratislava, shepherding the electoral sheep into a pen which will have all the potential for becoming a new theme park; ‘Dachau Lite™’

On a recent US TV satire show, Real Time with Bill Maher, he commented on the way he imagined Trump and the rabid new White House posse would be looking through the window  at one of the mass anti-Trump rallies and laughing, saying “Huh. Look at those fuckwits out there …”

As an illustration of the mistaken way we still think of democracy in the west, it was spot on target. That is exactly how the new breed of politician will regard organised mass protest; as a kind of slightly irritating vision of no consequence; simply close the curtains and it’s no longer visible. Since the early 2000s and the illegal Iraq War, the increasing number of marches and demonstrations, even when they do make the news, are generally ignored by the arrogant powers who rule us. Perhaps, because of the peripheral violence which accompanied the Poll Tax riots during Thatcher’s reign, some indication of the country’s mood did seep through the insulated, anti-public walls of parliament, but since then, demos and marches are simply a way for those of us who care enough about a campaign to let off steam and lose our sense of isolation for a day. We feel as if we’re ‘doing something’; we’re venting our anger.

In the past year, Western politics has lost any grip it once had on reality. We have entered the Era of The Oaf. Dialogue and debate have morphed into something new and frightening. The people have been shunted into two new camps; one is fuelled by intolerance, bigotry and irrational hatred, the result of being ignored by politicians (other than at election times) for so long. Much of this toxic human underbelly can now find its voice on social media. The other camp are the objects of that hatred, because this group have naively continued to believe in what they imagined was the status quo; that reason and balanced argument in the form of politely exchanged views were the vehicles of social progress. Such a view is obviously incorrect, and there is no longer any neutral middle ground.

Prior to the UK’s EU referendum in June 2016, those who had absorbed decades of straight bananas and cucumber anti-Europe propaganda in our increasingly scurrilous press had little choice other than muttering into their teacups and tut-tutting about ‘Political correctness/health and safety gone mad’. In many cases they were right. But given the one big chance to turn their
eternal dismay into an effective weapon, when June 23rd came along, fired up by the Daily Mail, the Express, Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, they realised that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to stick it to Westminster and the metropolitan elite. This new wave of populism, fuelled by deliberately and easily ignored falsehoods, the international legal and economic repercussions and a total lack of what the future might hold, was hammered into the bedrock of society like the last spike in the Intercontinental railroad.

I write this in the week which includes International Women’s Day.  Long before TV and radio, back in Russia in 1917 the day was the catalyst for the revolution, which would finally fully explode in October after Lenin and Trotsky’s return from exile. On that March day women left their workplaces and threw snowballs at factory widows where their menfolk were still working. Eventually everyone was out on strike. The difference between a protest like that and the chants and seas of placards today is that back then there was a plan; even behind the perceived spontaneity highly organised leaders existed who had policies and who could channel the mass anger into something progressive. The recent impressive Women’s March on Washington would have no impression on Trump and his cronies whatsoever, but at least the women would feel great about it all.

Those who voted for Brexit and Trump will tell us that ‘the People’s Voice’ has been heard. Has it? Is it being heard in the UK in connection with the theft-by-stealth of our National Health Service? No. Why is this? It would seem, with the exception of The Daily Mirror the only headline-worthy interest shown in the NHS is about the way it is failing and struggling, which is the direct result of gross underfunding. In February, frightened of not toeing the Laura Kuennsberg line,(She’s been dubbed ‘the Voice of Reason’ by The Sun) the BBC ran a devastating series of reports on the NHS over five nights, with hardly a positive word for the struggles caused by the government or for the dedicated, beleagured staff.    Health Minister Jeremy Hunt has in the past, as an author, expressed his desire for the NHS to evaporate, to be replaced by a US-style private insurance system. But did the presence of 200,000 angry pro-NHS protestors in London on March 4 persuade the Chancellor to make provisions for the NHS in his Spring budget? Of course not. That was another branch of ‘the People’s Voice’ which fell on deliberately deaf ears.

All the working class (as it was once known) have left is the withdrawal of their labour. Yet today’s Trade Unions are hamstrung by various laws imposed by the Thatcher government which Tony Blair decided to keep on the statute books. But unless we have a general strike across the country the struggles of varous bodies such as railway staff, campaigning not for wage increases but for public safety, will remain ineffective and be assaulted daily by the media. So it would seem, in the face of uncaring, hostile politicians and their tabloid supporters, that protest is dead in the water.

We now live in a time of growing inequality where the only people who matter to the political establishment are the rich. The rich have only one game plan - to become richer, and that plan has been fulfilled over and over again. Wild radicals talk of a revolution. But that’s romantic waffle. Lenin, Castro and Mao didn’t have to face today’s highly organised media propaganda machine, in all its many brazen disingenuous forms. For Britain and America to ever become decent, egalitarian societies bereft of self-serving greed, then the people will have to reach such depths of angry suffering  that the only way forward will be to physically lash out in mass organised anger. But this won’t happen in my lifetime. Protest is dead.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017


The Forgotten Works of
Paul Andreas Weber

In 1995 I was commissioned by The New Statesman magazine to write a feature on the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Dachau Concentration Camp just outside Munich. On that cold, sleet-driven day there was no comfort to be found walking around the massive site. It felt thick with tragic ghosts. When I entered what was once the camp's SS barracks, among all the murals and photos one set of artworks stunned me.
A. Paul Weber: The Informer
In the 1930s Weber saw the wickedness and hypocrisy behind the Nazi sideshow and committed his thoughts to art. I find it haunting, and, as the 21st century world slips back into that dark, proto-fascist 1930s mindset, these drawings seem to have a new relevance in the age of post-truth. The biography below is a translation from the original German direct from the weber Museum's web site. It still gives me the creeps and sends me back to Dachau every time I see it.


On November 1, 1893, Andreas Paul Weber as the son of a railway was

Born in Wizard in Arnstadt (Thuringia). His grandfather, the manufacturer Christian Kortmann, and his mother encouraged him in the literary and artistic technical fields. Weber attended the secondary school Arnstadt, later briefly the arts and crafts school in Erfurt.

1908-1914 he was a member of the young Wandervogel, a movement that was looking for a new lifestyle in the hiking and natural way of life. His love of country and nature were awakened when hiking through all over Germany. From these experiences out, also the national and nature-loving ethos of the artist is to understand, who already worked in these years as a commercial graphic artist.

In the first world war, he performed military service as a railway pioneer on the eastern front. From 1916 he worked as a cartoonist and Illustrator for the "Journal of the 10th army" until 1918, he was sent to Spa.

in 1920, he married Toni Klander; they had 5 children. In the following years, Weber achieved first successes as an Illustrator: it created illustrations to Hans Sachs, till Eulenspiegel, Reineke Fuchs and time-critical work "The contemporary" by Hjalmar Kutzleb. in 1925, the artist founded his own, named for Toni Klander "clan press". In the later collaboration with his eldest son Christian, signets, bookplates, and promotional materials were produced.

in 1928, Weber joined the resistance circle to Ernst Niekisch. He often only partly followed the ideologies of the intellectual circle, but shared its growing concern for the future of Germany with regard to the rising national socialism. In the years 1931-1936, Weber besides Niekisch was co-editor of the journal "Resistance", for which he designed the logo. For the resistance-Verlag, he produced numerous book facilities, but above all politically satirical illustrations. From 1932 to 1945, Weber was also the German folk calendar North Schleswig, gave out his friend Hans Schmidt-Gorsblock.


Weber moved to residences in Berlin-Spandau, upper Ellen, Nicholas Berg, Reinhausen, outdoor banes on the Lüneburg Heath in 1936 after Schretstaken (district of Lauenburg). Resistance published the monography of Weber, Hugo Fischer, which stipulates that appeared at this time:

"... the artist the world holding up a mirror, themselves recognize that he scares himself...".


On July 2, 1937, A. Paul Weber was arrested and imprisoned until December 15 in Hamburg-Fuhlsbüttel, in Berlin and Nuremberg because of its contacts with the resistance circle. In prison, he was allowed drawing apolitical leaves; first work on the motifs of "Chess player" and "Forest" was developed. After a trip to Florida in 1938, not used Weber his family due to the emigration, he began in 1939 regularly to deliver blades for the evil John derived "pencil Art Association" in Hamburg. This company aimed to publicise good graphics like all parts of society. Until 1980, Weber delivered for this 157 lithographs.

1939-1941 Weber worked at the cycle "Wealth of tears" (British pictures), which were published in the Nibelungen-Verlag Berlin. 1944/45, he was used for military service.


After the war, he created again critical lithographs to current problems. He met satirical human foibles and far-sighted pointed to abuses in politics, Church, judiciary, economy, art, medicine and the environment. 1954-1967 Weber worked at the magazine "Simplicissimus". This time the artist brought increasing recognition: already in 1951, a special "A. Paul Weber circle" was founded in the pencil Art Association, 1955 he received the art prize of Schleswig-Holstein, in 1963 the Hans-Thoma medal. Weber was appointed Professor in 1971, and was awarded the great Federal cross of merit.

the end

From 1959 until his death the "Critical calendar" published in self-publishing - a Yearbook with graphics, texts from literature and newspapers were put to the side. More than 600 works were published until 1980.

On November 9, 1980, the artist died 87jährig in Schretstaken. His urn was in the garden of A. Buried Paul Weber Museum. Weber's oeuvre includes nearly 3.000 lithographs, hundreds of woodblock prints, over 200 oil paintings, an immense number of gebrauchsgraphischer work and sketches, as well as several thousand drawings.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017