Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Why I Hate The Archers

Two pieces - firstly a performance piece for Stroud Valley Arts and An Evening with Elvis; secondly a more discursive piece for the page.

A tale of why I loathe Ye Archers
By William Shakespeare

Vile Archers!
Noisome effusion of middle England on the airwaves,
Pestilential vapour of Ambridge enclave,
Coddling of the mind so that even a monarchy
Doth seem less imposition and ivy-clad parasite,
But rather more Merrie Englande of fair pageant and heritage -
For if the citizens of this fair land do believe in the fairy tales and fictions
Of Ambridge and Borsetshire,
Then how couldst  they reject a monarchy’s addiction?

Our very rulers do tell us that this imagined ruralia
 Is ‘the nation’s favourite radio drama’
And ‘the soundtrack of our lives for over six decades’,
But tis infantilising and embarrassing and deceiving:
Forsooth, it once killed off a character because, in real life,
She argued for trade union representation and Equity wage rates,
But it allowed the real Dan and Doris Archer
To go round jollily opening Tory summer fetes,
Forsooth, tis the aural cousin of the Daily Mail,
The Daily Telegraph and the Countryside Alliance:
Our land is now more reactionary than it was before the birth
Of this accursed invention:
Who in their left mind can possibly deny that these two events are causally linked?
There will be no improvement in our real lives
Until we get rid of this excruciating piece of fiction -
Or, until, ye fellow minstrels and troubadours,
My comrades and cooperatives of this fair audience
Verily decide to write our own scripts:
If the tale of Helen’s plight can raise £75,000 for Refuge,
Then verily just think of how we could take control of our whole land and nation
If we take control of The Archers,
And occupy Ambridge.
Ye subjects of the airwaves!
Arise from your slumbers and become free citizens!
Become thee, the scriptwriters!
My esteemed and wondrous audience,
Seize thee the quill!
Overturn the Ambridge Village Fete!
‘Expropriate the expropriators’:
Listeners of Radio 4 unite.
Ye have nothing to lose but your chains on the airwaves of your minds.

Why I Hate The Archers

I hate The Archers
Because the very name is feudal and militaristic:
The massed ranks firing their longbows under the tutelage of King and barons,
This sceptred isle,
An illusion of equality created by a nationalist, Shakespearian trope,
Nomenclature as false consciousness;
I hate The Archers
Because the programme came along in 1951,
When the toffs began to fight back against the new welfare state and nationalisation,
With the familiar complaints about red tape, bureaucrats, loss of competitiveness,
Loss of tradition, loss of individuality, loss of self-reliantly standing on your own two feet:
The Archers’ conception and birth lies firmly within this ideological context –
A deeply reactionary programme that leads the most sane left-wing people
To completely suspend all disbelief, and talk about these characters
And their petty fictional lives ad nauseam and all the time and at the drop of a hat;
I hate The Archers
Because the programme has now risen beyond satire in this deeply reactionary modern age
(With Cameron and country suppers and Chipping Norton and Rebekah Brooks, dogs and horses),
Even though it was parodied, fifty years ago by Tony Hancock,
Guying a nation held in thrall to a fictional world of ruralia –
as though it were a more authentic time and place than the real world,
It’s no wonder then that we have a monarchy when adults believe country fairy tales,
Programmes like The Archers just soften up the populace for the real thing,
It’s like subliminal Goebbels on the BBC.
And I hate the way Middle England reimagines itself in a knowing sort of way,
With a nudge and a wink that we don’t really believe in the cartography of Ambridge:
Borsetshire, Fawcett Magna, Loxley Barrett, Penny Hassett, Manderton Cross et al …
I know Thomas Hardy did the same with Wessex,
But his were tales of the harshness, struggle, and futility of life,
The unrelenting exploitation of poor rural workers, men, women, boys and girls,
As opposed to the cosy fictions of what the BBC calls,
‘The nation’s favourite radio drama’;
It’s infantilising and embarrassing:
Who cares about how Phil Archer proposed to Jill?
Why would anyone in their left mind want to remember
When ‘Jennifer Aldridge learned of Brian’s affair with Siobhan and met their son Ruairi’;
Or recall ‘When Walter Gabriel’s monster marrow, grown for the
Annual Flower and Produce Show, exploded over Tom Forrest’;
Or ruminate over ‘when the Grundys were evicted from their family home, Grange Farm’.
BBC Books tell us that the programme
‘has been the soundtrack of our lives for over six decades’;
It has revered and has been revered by the monarchy,
It killed off a key character because she was pro trade union and Equity,
While Dan and Doris Archer went round jollily opening Tory summer fetes,
It is the aural cousin of the Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph and the Countryside Alliance:
Our political, economic and social capitalist system is now more reactionary
Than it was before the Archers’ birth:
Who in their left mind can possibly deny that these two events are causally linked?
There will be no improvement in our real lives until we get rid of this excruciating piece of fiction,
Or until we write our own scripts:
If the tale of Rob and Helen and the story of Helen’s plight can raise £73,000 for Refuge,
Then just think of how we can take control of our nation if we take control of The Archers,
Become the scriptwriters!
Revolutionise the Ambridge Village Fete!
‘Expropriate the expropriators’,
Listeners of Radio 4 unite.
You have nothing to lose but your chains on the airwaves.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

“Ye Grande Commemorative William Shakespeare Rodborough Inquisition”

Stroud News Report:
A group of some forty strolling players and spectators gathered in Coronation Road, Rodborough, on Saturday for a Shakespearian celebration. Scenes from a variety of plays were enacted in the street and in houses and gardens on a sun-splashed spring afternoon.
The day started with a quiz about Rodborough in Shakespearian couplets; next came Act 1 Scene 2 from The Tempest with Prospero and Miranda on Ye Lawne. The promenade then led to a garage roof where the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet ensued: could such a promenade through such tableaux vivant have been happening anywhere else in the country?
The motley troupe of residents then crossed King’s Road for a moving and comic interpretation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a back garden. Style then changed after another promenade for ‘the Scottish play’ as kitchen sink drama, before the road was re-crossed for the gulling of Malvolio in another outside re-creation.
All the while the strolling players were being followed by a boat, carried by James Pentney, who gave a talk about how he is planning to visit Iona and the Scottish islands for a poetic pilgrimage to the burial place of the historic Macbeth.
Next came Shakespeare’s views on football; then King Lear and then Phyllis Duffield’s rendition of the Seven Ages of Man. Phyllis who is 86 and travelled up from Bristol for the event, pointed out that “I have only reached five of these seven stages!”
Another promenade followed for Benedick’s soliloquy from Much Ado About Nothing and Hamlet’s final soliloquy reflecting on Fortinbras’ military campaign against Poland.
One last promenade meant the ending of the revels with a quick fire ‘Ten Dirty Jokes from Shakespeare in Ten Minutes’.
Wine, water, fruit and strawberry cake kept the troupe nourished through a unique and memorable afternoon.

Ye Grande Rodborough Revels
To commemorate the birthe, life and deathe of one
 William Shakespeare on Saint George’s Day 2016
In Coronationne Roade, be ye Subjectte or Citizenne

Ye Planne (Whatte coulde goe wrongge?):
1.   Ye introductionne to ye dayye: Stuart Butler atte two of the clockke:

Ye Grande Commemorative William Shakespeare Rodborough Inquisition”

Good morrow, good friends, pray tarry a while
Forget the business of modernity’s style,
And list to my questions about this fair parish,
Try to gain points, and memory to cherish -
So let us begin and commence this day’s sport,
Let the game be well judged, and fairly fought.

So raise your hand, please do not shout out,
This is a quiz, not a rabble-rout.

Question one:
A turnpike once climbed over Rodborough Hill,
What is the evidence that stands there still?

Question two:
A picture doth swing in the morning sun,
Of who, who died in 1861?

Question three:
The great poet Wordsworth ne’er visited here,
But where is a reference to his life so clear?

Question four:
I carry no sword, pikestaff, nor lance,
But where round the corner is a reference to France?

Question five:
A film was once made whose start’s on the Common,
With Ricky Gervaise; is the title forgotten?

Question six:
Which village nearby was once known by its suffix,
But we now define by its short sounding prefix?

Question seven:
Three pubs in the parish serve its residents well,
But which would be for Oliver Cromwell?
(And a bonus award for a successful try
At telling me some strange reason why.)

So by my troth, this is question eight,
Imagine thou art on the common dark late,
You are searching for bears, not the dancing kind,
How many are seen with the naked eye?

Now question nine, I search for an old shop,
Where is the one that once was the Co-op?

The final round: a dog of some calibre,
Who nearly became the England manager?

Our revels are ended - the game has been won,
Tis time to swap shirts before the day’s run,
I swap mine with Shakespeare, with a poem sublime,
Tis all about football, in memory’s rhyme:

‘Sphere! Leather sphere!
See how I kick the muddied orb
High into the vaulted azure sky,
Far above London’s dark grime and soot,
Until it doth descend,
When I trap it with my boot.

Then have I ambition mundane,
One terrestrial aim:
To advance upon the opposition goalie,
To score with a shot oh so sublime,
That doth transcend reason and rhyme,
Receive applause as offered from some votary,
Far more art and artifice in that
Than in writing this preposterous poetry.’

I thank you, lords, ladies and commoners.
On to the next stage, by your leave.

2.   2.10 ish: House Onne: 1.2 Tempest

3.   2. 25ish: House Two: ‘We're thinking of Romeo & Juliet balcony scene or Merchant of Venice courtroom’

4.    2.40 ish: House Three: parts of A Midsummer Night’s Dream 3.1 and 5.1/2

5.     2.55ish: House Fourre: ‘Think we're going to go for the big one and do the two scenes from Macbeth either side of the murder of Duncan. But not the "is this a knife I see before me" speech ...You may have to suspend your disbelief a little more than usual!’

6.    3.10ish: Housse Five: Malvolio and the letter

  7. 3.25ish: House Sixxe: 2 quick speeches (Lear and Edgar)   OR Trish’s mum, Phyllis Duffield - All the World's a Stage; then a quick talk from Jim Pentney about his boat and a poet and his Macbeth island voyage re-creation.

8.     3.40ish: House Sevenne - Much Ado: Benedick’s soliloquy reacting to his friends pretending that Beatrice is in love with him; Hamlet: Hamlet’s final soliloquy reflecting on Fortinbras’ military campaign against Poland; The Tempest: Prospero’s ‘Our revels now are ended…’ speech

9.    ‘House Eightte: to be confirmedde

10. Ye Common: 10 dirtye jokes from Ye Barde in 10 minutes

Thursday, 14 April 2016

The Reformers' Memorial at Kensal Green: A Stroud Connection

 Allen Davenport - the son of Ewen handloom weavers, who taught himself to read and write near the infant Thames; then Spencean, Owenite, feminist, Chartist, writer and poet - is remembered on the Reformers’ Memorial at Kensal Green. The memorial is dedicated 'to the memory of men and women who have generously given their time and means to improve the conditions and … happiness of all classes of society … The old brutal laws of imprisonment for free printing have been swept away and the right of selecting our own law makers has been gained mainly by their efforts. The exercise of these rights will give the people an interest in the laws that govern them and will make them … better citizens.’'
Here are a few of the 70+ names of the reformers, radicals and, yes, revolutionaries:
Robert Owen, Charles Kingsley, Thomas Spence, Allen Davenport, Francis Place,
Harriet Martineau, George Odger, Elizabeth Fry, Arnold Toynbee, Charles Bradlaugh,
William Morris, John Ruskin, Josephine Butler, Joseph Priestley, Thomas Paine,
William Hone, John Stuart Mill, Major Cartwright, Richard Carlile, William Lovett,
Henry Hetherington, John Frost, William Cobbett, Samuel Bamford, Henry Hunt,
Ebenezer Elliott, Richard Cobden, Robert Cooper.

This is august company for Allen Davenport. This is why we are undertaking our pilgrimage along the banks of the Thames – we’ll have to take a memorial for John Frost as well, perhaps. Someone needs to remember his selection as prospective Chartist parliamentary candidate for Stroud, up there on Rodborough Common on Good Friday, 1839.

The column stands next to a memorial to Robert Owen. It’s near the Ladbroke Grove entrance – a ten to fifteen minute walk from the station.

Friday, 8 April 2016

Conversation with a Chartist Ghost

April can be a cruel month:
The magnolia in all its blossoming glory,
The cut of a keen north wind,
The Thames still high and turbid
(Pockmarked by hailstones),
As we (I have Allen Davenport's ghost as company)
Made our way to Paddington on the GWR,
And thence to Ladbroke Grove and Kensal Green cemetery,
To leave a commemorative stone taken from Ewen,
Alan's birthplace, etched A.D. in his honour,
At the Reformers' Memorial in the cemetery;
This son of a handloom weaver is in august company:
Revolutionaries such as Frost and Spence;
Radicals such as Hunt, Cartwright and Cobbett;
Christian Socialists such as Charles Kingsley;

I placed the stone on the column to photograph -
It started to rain in Dickensian buckets.

I took a few quick snaps,
Then made my way back to the canal,
Where my daughter Alice and boyfriend Josh had recently moored,
Hard by E.M. Lander Ltd.,
Monumental Masons and Sculptors,
Coincidentally, and improbably, connected to the mentor of Jim,
And it was Jim, of course, who had etched the stone from Ewen.

The talisman worked its magic in the damp air of the cemetery,
And Allen started to converse with me,
In the shelter of a yew tree:

'I desperately wanted to come down to Swindon on the new railway back in May 1839, and thence to Cricklade, Cirencester and Stroud by coach. I was intent on appearing at the Selsley Hill Chartist meeting, but bread was costly, wages were scant and times were hard. I had the intent, but not the wherewithal; so I had to stay put.
How I would have loved to have glimpsed my old birthplace; dear old Ewen ... It would have been forty years... And how I would have loved to have spoken out on those verdant Cotswold hills and to have shared a platform with the delegates from the National Chartist Convention. But we thought of you all at our branch meetings at Clerkenwell, and sent some supporters down. It must have been a fine sight with 5,000 people there with their flags and banners and with the sun sinking down beyond the Severn.’

He went silent for a few seconds.

‘But thank you for thinking of me.’

Silence again.

‘And thank you for the engraved stone. It's haunting to see such a stone engraved with my initials, gathered from where I learned to read and write, down by the banks of the infant Thames at Ewen. I remember doing such practice myself.
I shall watch your pilgrimage along the river bank from Cricklade and back to London with interest. But when you return to the Memorial, remember that I was buried in unconsecrated ground, just beyond the cemetery. That was my wish. I had and have no religion.
But I’m proud to see my name on the Reformers’ Memorial, here in Kensal Green. And strange to think that my name shares space on the column with that of John Frost - prospective Chartist parliamentary candidate for Stroud against Lord John Russell; selected on the top of Rodborough Common on Good Friday 1839, if my memory serves me well.’

More silence.

‘Well, my time's up. Got to get back. But good luck with the film. I barely saw even a photograph in my time. But don't be surprised if I make it down on the train this time. Be ready for me on Selsley. Goodbye and thanks for coming.'

And with that, he was gone.

The next day in Stroud, I mentioned my visit to an acquaintance in the Shambles; she told me that she used to live in the grave digger's cottage on the Harrow Road, next to the cemetery.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Bath Walks on the Legacies of Slavery

A message from Richard White:
Greeting walkers,
A good days walking on Sunday. Somewhat overwhelmed with stuff to think about and so many metaphors I am exhausted!
Here is an instantblog posting for starters:

Follow the route, the tweets and pics for my brief enchantment with the steam railway in which I wandered up the wrong side of the river for a while and finally headed back to catch up with Viv.

The brass, the copper, the cloth, the chocolate, the eels, reggae and rastafarian heroes, coal, zinc, plastic, people, much so much...empire and the Atlantic trade keeps the thought cycle on its legacies turning.

So the next walk I would like to invite you to is
on Sunday May 1 to walk from Avonmouth to Bristol. sensing legacies of slave ownership...what came up the river?...sugar...ways of seeing...tobacco...ideas ... music...

any idea about how we might blag a boat trip from Bristol to Bath to complete the recce of this circuit sometime in June/July?

With that in mind this looks worth checking out:

In Bath look out for Utopia/Dystopia during the Fringe in May, there will be a walk on these themes past the residencies of some of Bath's Last Legal Slaveowners which I hope you will take part in and help make...details to follow.

...and any help/ideas/proposals for putting together funding for the whole project ....maybe sometime next year .... would be really helpful!

as ever please circulate this to anyone who you think may be interested
and if you want your address deleting from this list just let me know

Best wishes

Richard White
mob: 07717012790