Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 2019

I attended this exhibition through a Radio Times private viewing event, and enjoyed a glass of wine and an informative talk, before taking in the artwork. It was through the Radio Times I experienced my first foray into this historic event, my other two attendances being facilitated by the Royal Society of Chemistry Summer Party. Having indulged in “private viewing only” nights, I can’t face the idea of mixing with the general public now.

On entering the Wohl Central Hall it was clear the displays were hung a little differently, and during the talk we were told this year’s pieces were hung in a more traditional way, reflecting the early days of the Summer Exhibition so “skying” was very evident, with many smaller pictures being placed high up in clusters. Quite a bit of standing back and craning the neck was required as a result, but I still managed to locate some beauties I’d noted. My overall favourite was displayed in this way, 103 Feline Focus a stunning acrylic painting of a lynx (I think), by Susan McWhinnie.

103 Feline Focus-   Screenshot

Two years ago I discovered (after the event) that the exhibition pieces could be viewed online. So for 2018 & 2019 I did my homework and reviewed the artwork beforehand, and this helped enormously in enjoying the experience. I had an idea what to expect, knew where to find some favourites, and generally felt a lot less overwhelmed by the whole thing. But the highlight of the evening had little to do with the art on display; it was meeting and having a chat with Alison Graham the Radio Times TV editor.

I had read a couple of critic reviews online that were polar opposites in opinion, one loved it, and one loathed it. But both agreed there was a general theme going on, one that reflected today’s society with its environmental concerns and political issues. Frankly, as I said to Alison Graham, we are beaten over the head enough about this when you read the paper, switch on the TV or radio, I don’t need it hammered home in art installations as well! I admit though, that if the Summer Exhibition is ever meant to reflect the era it was created in, several pieces certainly lived up to that expectation. Many obviously said something about the state of British policy today, some examples being:

39 KEEP OU with a rat hammering a padlocked shutter with the T by Banksy created from a customs arch salvaged from Heathrow Airport

522 We Are All Immigrant Scum by Jeremy Deller a textile banner that says so much

36 Blinkered a white horse with a union flag face, walking alone through a seemingly darkened forest, I guessed had a Brexit affiliation.

979 Rule Britannia Etc… a pencil drawing by Liam Walker was haunting as it depicted a destitute woman on her knees, above her a distinct woman’s leg with stiletto heel about to stamp down hard. It wasn’t hard to fathom whose leg it might be, though the heel was too long!

But the most disturbing piece of all was a crow installation 938 Parliament (The Voices In your Head) by Tim Shaw, which was accompanied by the Donald Rumsfeld known/unknown dialogue. The combination was quite terrifying; I dodged past the artwork as quickly as I could and refused to listen to the sound bite. Environmental issues were themed, in my opinion, through animals pictured in their death throes, several skeletons (extinction) and emaciated looking polar bears (endangered species), which I found upsetting.

A few pieces reminded me of the styles of Edward Hopper and Roy Lichtenstein and I really enjoyed seeing them. Hopper has an evocative feel to his work and frequently shows people  clearly in a world of their own, lonely gas stations and buildings-733 Overly Excited About Oil by Tim Goffe. Lichtenstein with his pop art displays clean lines and great colour giving a poster type quality just like an advert-448 Graffiti Standard With Socket by Jason Barron.

Give me some whimsy, beauty or nostalgia any day, something that makes you appreciate living in this multi-faceted world and brings you joy. So I clung to wonderful depictions of animals, fantastic scenic views, art with great pops of colour, tactile looking sculpture, and pieces that either made me think of something in particular, or garnered a sigh of utter contentment. For fun, I like to pick out pieces I’m particularly attracted to, and create a hypothetical arty shopping list. Having viewed around half the exhibition over the couple of hours I was there, and despite the “agenda” pieces I ruefully passed by, I managed to find 46 pieces that would cost around a minimum of £297, 013. Two items were not for sale and two piece were “poa-price on application” so far too expensive anyway. But compared to my 2017 blog tally, I had 11 more items and saved almost half a million pounds.  I’ve noted some of my hit list here:

18 Freddie (bullfinch) & 19 Bob (robin) were small but intricately beautiful needlepoint and stumpwork pieces by Stella Knight. (£795 each)

124 The Owl Is Wisest… Because The More It Sees The Less It Talks oil on linen painting by Jane Eva Cooper. The best owl spotted (I adore these birds); the others seen were hideous/disconcerting. (£700)

132 Easy Tiger-Mach Brothers a resin and foil sculpture of a very lifelike looking tiger, although his stripes were created using red & silver Tea Cake wrappers (non Tunnocks ones but M&S!). Pure nostalgia and the sculpture was brilliantly done too. (£57,600)

213 Young Hokusai Meets Old Hokusai In Middle Age a fun beautiful watercolour by Chris Orr. I have a real soft spot for Hokusai, so this was special to see. (£8,500)

227 Glasgow Subway by Paul Crook acrylic painting that made me think of Lichtenstein and my home city. (£3,800)

270 My Birthday Flowers by David Tindle a simple understated yet lovely acrylic painting of flowers on a window ledge that made me smile and sigh contentedly. (£10,000)

753 That Severe Frontier, Meta Incognita Peninsula, Baffin Landscape by Nicholas Jones a simple, beautiful landscape acrylic painting. Sigh. (£11,000)

856 Eye Test by Sir Michael Craig-Martin a great fun pictorial test that is more one of memory to name the items. Pure whimsy that really got me thinking “what’s that again” (£10,300)

868 Mallaig stunning piece showing a huge moon hanging above the tiny dimly lit town by Jock McFadyen. I’m instantly attracted to moon pictures and find them incredibly evocative (£1,275). Digital pint was  much cheaper than its big brother (350) at a whopping £55,000.

1213 Early Light a linoleum relief print by Joseph Winkelman, gorgeous moonlit trees. Sigh (£350)

1257 Cameras (linocut) by Hannah Forward as I love photography this couldn’t fail to please me, pure nostalgia. (£750)

1353 PC From Venice San Trovaso (acrylic on canvas on wood relief) by Joe Tilson shows a postcard poking out of an airmail envelope. This made me fondly remember writing abroad to relatives and pen pals in my younger years. And I recalled a piece of art work I did in first year English for something related to the book we were studying, and the teacher thought it was good enough for the headmaster to see it. I never got it back, it was a once only hand drawn effort, but I remember EXACTLY what I did, and in some ways my idea wasn’t too dissimilar to this piece. As I chortled, I wondered if my effort made on a larger scale could earn me £45,000 today!

For posterity I’m going to list all my 46 hit list pieces by number, for although the exhibition has finished now, you can still see them online using the Royal Academy Explorer.

18; 19; 30; 31; 43; 54; 103; 124; 132; 136; 213; 215; 227; 241; 244; 270; 274; 277; 281; 337; 362; 448; 458; 733; 736; 753; 797; 821; 856; 868; 873; 890; 911; 1037; 1091; 1133; 1153; 1182; 1209; 1213; 1222; 1257; 1353; 1377; 1445; 1573

When Rob and I left the venue we were both given a rather nice goodie bag which contained a Radio Times magazine, tea-towel, postcard and marker pens, a small high-brand bar of chocolate & discount voucher, flower seeds and a Sherlock Holmes book. It put the finishing touch on a very pleasant evening.

32 Easy Tiger-Mach Brothers- Image credit abmj

 

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The Moon Landing-Fact or Fiction!

Neil Armstrong made “one small step for man” fifty years ago, and during the anniversary celebrations for the Apollo 11 mission, I couldn’t help but notice on social media the large number of people who believe this achievement never happened, and that the story was fabricated. This hit home even more whilst viewing the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in early August, where I spotted a beautiful moon picture 729 (acrylic on paper map) by Ray Verrall called COVER UP. Although the title may have simply been an indication of how the artist created his piece, I interpreted the meaning as being similar to Fake News, and this deeply angered me. I have always believed the moon landing did happen, and here are my reasons why.

When the space race began in the late 50s there were much fewer areas of opportunity where an individual, company or government could invest time, energy and money. The Apollo era of the 60s and early 70s seemed a time of optimism and idealism, where the US government willingly supported investment into technology and science companies to MAKE SOMETHING HAPPEN. The investment was in a common cause to beat the Russians at their own game, and win the ultimate prize in the space race.  Cynicism followed, engulfing the mid 70s and much of the 80s where hardnosed business and mass commercialisation began to rule the world. The late 90s crash brought us all back down to earth! An introspective time began, which also coincided with an era where the options for investment were far greater, and so resulted in a more diluted effect encompassing projects. It’s for this reason I believe man hasn’t returned to the moon again. The appetite isn’t there, governments are too busy fighting within themselves, rather than pursuing a common goal to beat the opposition.

Commercial big money and the accumulation of it, such as property, banking, stocks and shares drive the economy today. Not so much the investment in speculative projects, which requires the spending of massive amounts of cash. The global financial crash sent shock waves around the world. In the Noughties a tendency for introspection and wariness began, but the damage was already done. It still seems that speculation to accumulate wealth gets approval, but speculation to invest is looked upon with suspicion.

These days we see a far greater number of individual multi-millionaires than in the 50s/60s. It is those people who are more likely to be entrepreneurial enough to be inclined, or enticed, to invest in “high risk” projects like the space program. The US government of the 60s in particular, seized the opportunity to invest in an ideal. Today, governments are not likely to be so heavily involved or motivated in this type of endeavour, being fuelled more by big egos verging at times in despotism.

In closing, I can understand why some people believe in conspiracy theories, especially when they involve events from an era less digitised (no social media, 24/7 news or internet). With today’s modern technology you can access, analyse and dissect information, in a way that wasn’t conceivable a few decades ago. However, I fully believe that the Apollo missions did take man successfully to the moon and back. Astronaut Michael Collins who remained in the command module said “we are like the periscope on a submarine; you see us but underneath are thousands who keep us in position”. The Apollo project was geographically diverse, enjoyed astronomical expenditure, and involved thousands of personnel from government, military and civilian organisations. Keeping such a massive collection of people and company data effectively gagged for half a century, I find highly unlikely. But to question the integrity of the Apollo astronauts, I find both distasteful and unforgiveable. The Apollo 11 crew all left the space program, and Buzz Aldrin’s subsequent battle with depression and alcoholism, suggests little thought was given to aftercare. When you look at the space program as a whole, and consider the horrific deaths of the Apollo 1 crew, Aldrin’s personal difficulties, and the high casualty rate on astronaut marriages, it’s too much of a sacrifice, just to enable the perpetuation of a facade.

50 Year Old History Lesson-Man on the Moon

On July 16th 1969 Apollo X1 launched 3 astronauts on a historic mission into space: the goal, to put a man on the moon and bring him safely back to Earth. These last few days I’ve enjoyed learning more about Apollo 11’s story and seeing it through fresh eyes, thanks to three fabulous pieces of film. I’d like to share some thoughts about them here.

By chance, I discovered the “Apollo11 Movie” was showing in selected cinemas for a limited period, none of them local to where I live. Luckily I was on a whistle stop visit to Glasgow and managed to see it at the Film Theatre. Shortly after, at the local VUE cinema I attended a “one night only” Q&A viewing of the documentary film “Armstrong”. Then a few days ago, I watched a docu-drama on BBC2 called “Eight Days: to the Moon and Back”.  For “Armstrong” Neil’s family provided interviews and access to private home movies, whilst former work colleagues’ and friends, shared their memories of the man who made history. It greatly helped in understanding Neil a little bit more. The other two films used previously unseen footage mixed with recognisable archive material, and declassified audio files giving access to crew dialogue never heard before, which allowed a fresh perspective on events.

Sitting watching the “Apollo11 Movie” the sheer magnitude of the operation was overwhelming. I always knew the rocket was big, BUT the sight of workmen walking in front/alongside the platform taking Apollo XI to the launch pad, was stunning. The enormous platform tracks moving so slowly, giving the sense of barely perceptible movement emphasised just how huge the platform and its rocket load were. How tiny those men seemed in the vastness of it all, rather like the photo showing the lunar module on the moon surface, with a tiny Earth hanging above them in the blackness of space. Similarly the lunar module appeared miniscule against the moon backdrop on its return to the command module. The sheer size and weight of the rocket was unwittingly summed up by Neil’s eldest son in the “Armstrong” documentary. He couldn’t see the actual rocket on the launch pad after ignition, because it was engulfed in clouds of billowing smoke and initially rose very slowly. In every film the noise created by the fireball of burning rocket fuel was tremendous. The background music in the “Apollo 11 Movie” was powerfully atmospheric, complimented the spoken audio and beautifully enhanced the pictures seen. I wasn’t aware that as the astronauts were climbing into the capsule ready for lift-off, engineers were still at work fixing a critical valve that was showing a malfunction! I knew there was little fuel left in the lunar module as it approached the moon surface, but was shocked to read 16 seconds worth in the film. During the Q&A segment after “Armstrong” I heard it was 18 seconds, but both films agreed that less than 5% capacity was left in the tank.

The documentary regarding Neil Armstrong was informative, evocative and heartbreaking at times. The footage of Neil and Janet with their first two children Eric and Karen was particularly poignant, as Karen developed a brain tumour and died aged three on her parents wedding anniversary. Everyone was devastated, and clearly Neil threw himself into his work even more as a way of coping, or perhaps avoiding the emotional fallout. His wife Janet, the glue of the family kept things going, and had another son Mark shortly after Karen’s passing. Throughout the interviews it was obvious Neil’s long absences for work and his reluctance to talk about much of anything, hugely impacted on Janet.

From his first 20 cent toy aeroplane Armstrong was obsessed with flight, gaining his pilot’s licence before his driver’s one. He got a navy scholarship to university, served in Korea and returned afterwards to complete his studies. From there he went on to fly F-15s before joining the space program. NASA  protocol would have had Buzz Aldrin as first man, but Neil’s more measured quiet and introspective nature seems to have been considered more appropriate, considering the magnitude and significance of the moment. And so Buzz was relegated. I wonder if it was him who saluted the US flag after President Nixon’s phone call. I hadn’t fully appreciated the flag salute, until I recalled that Armstrong was termed a civilian astronaut. I thought they were either all military or civilian, having left the services to enter the space program. Another thing that surprised me, was the fact there had been great debate about whether the US or UN flag should be unfurled on the moon. Neil apparently said that “others cleverer and better educated than him made the decision”. Dumb debate I thought, American mission, money, vision and astronauts, so a no brainer for me. A beautiful song played as the credits rolled for “Armstrong”, and during the Q&A I discovered it was a poem written by Neil Armstrong’s son Mark and sung by Mark’s daughter. It was a fitting tribute.

“Eight Days: to the Moon & Back” was an intriguing mix of new and archive material with added dramatic enactment. The first fascinating insight was the number of hours in space each astronaut had accumulated before Apollo XI: Aldrin over 90, Collins over 70 and Armstrong barely over 13 hours. This may have been partly due to Neil’s uncomfortable ride on Gemini VIII which spun uncontrollably after docking with a target vehicle, resulting in the mission being curtailed. Talked about in the “Armstrong” film, Neil showed great presence of mind to save the situation. His eldest son recalled how NASA had installed a squawk box at home, so mission control transmissions could be heard. When things turned sour with possible fatal consequences, the squawk box went silent because NASA  didn’t want to broadcast bad news. Janet Armstrong went to mission control to find out what was going on, and was denied access or any news. Eric mused that he wouldn’t have liked to be the one facing his mother’s wrath that day.

I was reminded of a book called “The Astronaut Wives Club” that told the space program story, from the wives point of view. What was clear to me was the seemingly complete dereliction of duty NASA displayed toward the families. Effectively space program astronauts and their wives were launched into a celebrity kind of existence, without any media training, psychological, medical or pastoral care for the wives and families. The Armstrong squawk box saga was a prime example of this blasé attitude. The insatiable lust for any kind of news during the Apollo XI mission required the crew to make frequent TV broadcasts from space. And when they returned to Earth, a worldwide tour engulfed them and put them into a situation they were neither prepared nor trained for. It’s something of a miracle that Neil Armstrong with his few but pinpoint accurate words, had a way of summing up things beautifully. The sentiment “how vulnerable the Earth looked, how it must be protected not from natural disaster, or technology but from man himself” I found incredibly meaningful.

Two surprising nuggets of information came to light regarding Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin on this historic mission. More than once it was acknowledged that Aldrin helped enable the lunar module to launch from the moon surface. A vital switch was broken and Aldrin fixed it with his felt tip pen. One report mentioned that Buzz found a piece of plastic on the lunar surface, which may have come off the module control panel due to a knock from a space suit. He picked it up and replaced it with the help of his pen. The second point I found extremely moving, and was reported in the “Eight Days: to the Moon and Back” program. Aldrin took a piece of communion bread from his church to the moon, so he could give thanks with his Sunday meal taken on the lunar surface. The audio accompaniment to this had Aldrin requesting “that the people of the world take a moment to give thanks in any way they feel appropriate”.  A dramatised segment depicted Aldrin taking his communion bread, before we saw real footage of Walter Cronkite the US news anchor covering the moon landing, bowing his head in silent prayer. I was deeply moved at this point, much the same as Cronkite himself had been when the lunar module safely landed. The great news man admitted to being lost for words and was seen to brush away a tear. The enormity of the whole thing still gets to me as well, and I shed tears too. Who wouldn’t be emotional witnessing humankind’s greatest technical achievement?

 

 

Brexit-Three Years On From the EU Referendum

When the UK went to the polls on June 23rd 2016 and voted by a small margin to leave the European Union, I suspect that NOBODY believed this result would have created the utter shambles British politics is in today. Parliament has been paralysed for those three years due to a combination of the narrative being totally dominated by the Brexit issue and an ineffective (incompetent) Opposition.  Consequently, no meaningful decision making or action has taken place, and the act of “running the country” has effectively frozen. About the only thing Parliament has agreed on was that a NO-DEAL exit wasn’t an acceptable option, yet I don’t see anything being done to stop this scenario taking place.

Our membership of the EU is hanging by a thread, having passed the 31st March 2019 predicted exit date. David Cameron having mandated the referendum, for no better reason than to appease the more radical faction of his own political party, seemed shocked at the result and abruptly departed office, leaving someone else to clear up his mess and landing them with a thankless task. Theresa May stepped into the job she had coveted after a “political coronation”, and appeared to be always mindful of the radicals when trying to negotiate the terms of our EU departure. By doing so she failed on just about every level to please anybody, meaning an extension until October 31st was given, in an attempt to sort something out. Having failed to keep the Tories happy, May has stepped away from the cauldron and a Conservative leadership campaign between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt has begun. Campaign “hustings” have got underway, and I have no doubt that Brexit will dominate just about all of the discussions. The media seems to be salivating over these proceedings and report them in a way that suggests the general public has some meaningful say in the matter. Yet it’s the Tory membership (160,000 strong and around 0.25% of the population) who will decide the next British Prime Minister! When you look at these figures it doesn’t seem very democratic to me, it just magnifies the frailties of our “first past the post” political system, but that’s a totally different argument.

Personally I wouldn’t blame the EU if come October 31st they say Go and throw us out with or without a deal. Whoever is Prime Minister then, could say “they delivered Brexit as promised” without actually doing anything. If the British Parliament wants a deal, they have to vote for something that’s on the table. Further negotiations are not on offer the EU says, regardless of what British politicians say to the contrary. The vague hope of a further extension period may be offered as an olive branch by the EU, if a second referendum or a general election were on offer. In theory this could result in the stalemate between opposing sides being broken, but I’m not so sure myself. I have this ghastly feeling Johnson could be dumb/bullish enough to call an election, and win the damned thing outright, following the worldwide trend of “unexpected” election results. Despite his Leave campaign battle bus slogan “£350 million a week to the EU could go to the NHS” being an outright lie, he seems to be the leading candidate for the top job. Figure that one out!

My guess is that both leadership contenders will say just about anything to garner member votes. Like all politicians they are adept at not really directly answering a question, and using subtle changes in dialogue to suit the audience in front of them. I’ve read and heard so much nonsense since the EU referendum that I can’t take anything now at face value, and have become highly sceptical. For example I’ve seen “the £39 billion divorce settlement will be saved because it’s not legally binding”, or “the tariffs saved on goods from outside the EU will be enormous”. Neither of these statements hint at the alternative interpretation/truth: that the divorce settlement is payment for our legal obligations to date, or that the tariffs imposed from within the EU could be far higher resulting in costs going up.

Just two months after the EU referendum, standing at a bus stop in Stoke (area voted Leave), I was informed by a woman that the black foreign speaking customers who filled McDonalds, had two years to go back to where they came from and give us our jobs back! They were not like us she said. When I pointed out that’s not what the EU referendum was about, I was told that’s EXACTLY what it was for. As she ranted on, my ears bled and my heart grieved because she honestly believed what she was saying. Once again I had the feeling of mortification at being British, as described in a blog I posted months before the EU referendum. This is the link below:

https://angiesallsorts.wordpress.com/2015/09/18/national-identity-abroad/

I’ve always said that the Scottish Independence Referendum created a schism within my home nation and re-enforced the one between north and south. The EU referendum did exactly the same thing, polarising opinions and hammering home regional differences. And unfortunately it brought out the worst in some people too. The result somewhere down the line could be a distinctly un-united kingdom for a Britain that is most definitely not great anymore. And the responsibility for this outcome would lie at David Cameron’s door.

Had the narrative of British politics since 2016 been written as a novel a decade ago, it would have probably been considered an outrageous/great piece of fiction. Alas, today it is a sad horrible reality.

Hear Here 1: World Voice Day

I’ve just discovered April 16th is designated World Voice Day, an initiative to celebrate the most fundamental skill humans use to communicate. Everyday our voices are used to impart information and express thoughts and emotions, so when it goes wrong it’s a big issue. So any advice we can find on how to use the voice properly, giving it care, and knowing how to rehabilitate it correctly is essential, especially if you use your voice a lot professionally, or enjoy leisure pursuits such as singing.

Being married to a university lecturer, whilst doing hospital radio and football commentating myself as a volunteer, I’m only too well aware of the ravages the family vocals can suffer. Yet I know nothing about proper voice projection, nurse through the gremlins in an amateurish way and keep my fingers crossed. I’m hoping to pick up some tips online now I’m aware of this initiative.

Thinking about the voice, I was reminded of a wonderful free exhibition that was held in the British Library from late 2017-May 2018. This audio delight celebrated 140 Years of Recorded Sound and featured numerous examples from the earliest days of audio recording. These included a 1889 Ludwig Koch recording of the family pet a shama cage bird, an indigenous tribal song (late 1800s) and  a 1911 acoustic /1927 electric recording of the same orchestral piece highlighting the development of recording techniques, and a Radio Caroline sample. You could sit in two or three record booths and listen to a large selection box of vocals through headphones. The ones I noted hearing: a ropey recording of Florence Nightingale from 1890; Suffrage of Women Christabel Pankhurst 1908; Empire Exhibition speech by George V 1924; a very faint Amelia Earhart 1932; Great 1935 Radio Luxemburg Cashmere Bouquet Trio with piano excerpts. More modern sounds I enjoyed were Tony Blackburn introducing Radio 1 in 1967 and LL Cool J from 1985.

Mediums used to enable the audio to be heard were also displayed, such as gramophones, boom boxes and mp3 players, as well as the formats used to store the audio such as tapes, records and discs, alongside some more unusual and innovative forms. I was surprised to see X-RAY FILM records used to make bootleg audio from the late 40s to early 60s in Russia, playable STAMPS from Bhutan 1972 and VOICE LETTERS from the war years. The size of the audio paraphernalia varied enormously, from a gigantic 20 inch Pathe disc weighing over 2kg used for loudness at outdoor venues, to a miniature gramophone designed for the Queen Mary dolls house, complete with a 34mm 78rpm disc with a 22 second recording of God Save The King sung by Peter Dawson. Apparently 35,000 of these tiny discs were created in 1924 as souvenirs at 6p each!

Going back to the idea of large sized gadgets guaranteeing loudness in outside venues, I was struck by the sheer scale of the Sharp GF-777 radio cassette from 1983. Weighing over 12kg and at nearly 73cm wide it certainly lived up to the description boom box, and made me think of the opening credits of the TV show “Fame” with music blasting down the streets from music systems as students danced. Colour was added to the displays with pictorial record sleeves and maybe the odd small poster too.

Another element to the exhibition was a small section dedicated to how we used to listen to the radio, for so long the main form of entertainment in households before TV was commonplace. I was interested to see old Radio Times editions and fascinated to read excerpts from Alfred Taylor’s audio log from the 1920s. You see I had an audio log myself from the mid 70s to very late 80s, for my short-wave radio listening. My husband followed this pursuit too as a child/teenager, and he still has some of his paperwork. Alas, my childhood logbook is long gone now, but I resumed the activity in adulthood. It was lovely to think that an interest in radio, the ultimate vocal medium, traversed the decades to bring Alfred, Rob and I together in shared delight.

Off The Beaten Track 8

More Questions Than Answers

It’s been a gloomier Brexit week (24th-30th March) after MPs failed to pass any one of eight indicative amendments, meant to help find a way forward in our exit strategy from the European Union.  One thing was proved beyond doubt however, that MPs in Parliament know exactly what they don’t want, but have no idea what they do want, with regards to Brexit. I was reminded of the Johnny Nash song “There Are More Questions Than Answers” and found an unexpected cache of collective knowledge regarding this dilemma on Twitter!

By chance I came across a question well known classicist Mary Beard had put to her followers:

Ok one and all, let’s have the future exam questions that might get set on Brexit… 20/50/100 years hence. Any level from GCSE to degree! Make them smart and challenging!

One contributor Jens Wiechers put things this way-Really dark: Discuss the confluence of events that led to the 2nd Gunpowder plot, the destruction of Parliament, and the abolishment of parliamentary democracy in Britain

A disturbing yet scarily plausible scenario I thought. Many were equally thought provoking.

User Arthur Downing asked: Was Brexit a Tory party civil war, English civil war, or British civil war?  Muriel Esposito offered this philosophy exam question: Is the duty of an elected Government to make decisions for the greater good of its country, or to execute the will of its people? Discuss

Somewhat baffling (my medieval history/old English knowledge is scant to nonexistent)

Erica Laine-Discuss the concept of vassalage as seen in the 13th century and the 21st century as seen by Jacob Rees Mogg. Compare and contrast the treaties which informed The concepts. Why was JRM nicknamed Softsword after March 2019?

So it was good to see some science references I understood.

Toby Schuster put forward for Philosophy A-Level: Examine the veracity and plausibility of the Schrodinger immigrant (the one that steals all the jobs while simultaneously raking in all the benefits)

Richard Delevan asked: “Special place in hell”. Explain whether Brexit was endothermic or exothermic. Show your work. Bonus: defend or refute Donald Tusk’s theories on same.

As I read through some of the replies, I was interested to find that many people shared my feelings that the Brexit referendum could be the catalyst that leads to the eventual breakup of the UK. This sober mood was lightened by a healthy dose of much needed hilarity as well. This thread had me chuckling as it just highlights the craziness of the whole Brexit saga, detailing the rapid descent from serious to absurd in brilliant fashion.

To what extent can the break-up of the old United Kingdom into the independent nations of England, Scotland and Wales and the unification of Ireland be said to be caused by Brexit? How does this relate to the current moves for an independent Northumbria and Wessex? Adrian Bowyer

And Cornwall? Tom Scorza

That, united with Devon, became the new South West EU nation, after the “Clotted Cream agreement” in 2021 (jam 1st/clotted cream 1st on alternate days of the week, with two Sundays guaranteed per month on each option) Marta M Gonzalez #FPHD

And how did they solve the cream or jam first backstop? Richard Thomas #FBPE

Mix and spread the result… Adrian Bowyer

Mary Beard later offered another question-How do political systems ever manage to resolve irresolvable disagreements. Athenian democracy tried ostracism (exile one of the blighters for 10 years). Would it work for us. And WHO WD IT BE?

Immediately I thought of David Cameron who got the country into this Brexit mess in the first place. I spotted his name far less times than I expected, perhaps because since leaving Downing Street he has gone into a self imposed exile anyway. Another name I didn’t see as often as I expected was Theresa May. Landed with the Brexit task after Cameron stepped down, I feel she’s done the best job she can, but her inflexibility has made things worse. The Tory “spectre” names came up a lot: Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees Mogg, Michael Gove and to spread the political fallout a little wider Nigel Farage (UKIP) and former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair got an dishonourable mention too! Blair’s name pop up perplexed me a bit as he’s been long out of government. Yet it highlights a stark reality about peoples’ political instincts which can be fickle, because regardless of the issue under discussion, old prejudices and alliances come to the fore, for better or worse.

Nostalgic Memories-The Chip Book Club

It’s World Book Day today in the UK (March 7th) an initiative set up to encourage children to read more books. Apparently vouchers are made available to help kids purchase a book at low cost. There wasn’t anything like that in my day, BUT I remember very fondly saving my tuck shop money to buy books from The Chip Club (Scholastic Books). From the late 70s to early 80s I looked forward to reading the leaflet advertising the terms offers. I made my purchase and they were delivered to the school. It was my first foray into the heady excitement of buying books. I never did buy the Chip Club diary which was much coveted, but I managed to make enough purchases to earn a Super Chip badge, which I treasure to this day.

       My treasured Super Chip badge. Image credit abmj

Somehow my Chip Book Club library managed to survive the parental cull, when my Mammy would toss out books I’d read for jumble sale collections at the door. I think I tucked them away from display, simply because I never knew the entire time I was in Cleland, what belongings of mine would be missing when I got home. To my knowledge these are my Chip Club treasures.

                       My Chip Club Library. Image credit abmj

Later on as a young teenager, I persuaded my Mammy to get a membership for The Leisure Circle, to enable me to buy science, poetry and photography books from saved lunch money. Then when I married, I enjoyed being a member of The Softback Preview and World Books clubs with my husband, which partly explains our well stocked book shelves today. The thrill of being able to buy a book has never left me.

Angela McCully-Jackson's blog