The Point
Last updated: 19 June 2017.

...red sky thinking for an open and diverse left

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Recent Articles

In Praise of Beethoven

Arthur C Clarke - A Very Modern Odyssey

Tackling Private Landlords

Investigating the Value Form

The Eternal Dark Heart of Empire

If You Build Them, They Will Come

The Dawning of A New Era – A Brief History of 2-Tone and The Specials

Graeme McIver looks at the enduring appeal of 2-Tone, a musical movement that provided the focus for young people to take a stand against Thatcher’s Government and the social conditions of the early 1980’s. They did it with an articulate vision, sharp suits and incredibly infectious dance rhythms. Rock and Roll preached rebellion against your parents, Punk spat anarchy and nihilism but simply by existing, 2-Tone demonstrated a togetherness and solidarity between black and white youth at a time where the far right was active on the streets.

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And Now For Something Completely Different...

 

 

The news that the Pythons are doing a Stones, Zep or Who and reforming for a series of gigs at London's O2 arena (stuck up London-centric bastards! - Ed) has divided the nation. Near civil war has broken out and there is abject, terrible slaughter in the streets - although Eamonn says that 'Der is some hope of a constitutional settlement.' Whether you think it's just a bunch of cynical old septuagenarians up for one last payday, a glorious chance to revisit those fuzzy, warm blue remembered school playground recitals of the seventies, or almost as good as the Annual All-England Summarise Proust Competition, Graeme MacIver, fondly, nay reverently, but with an acute critical eye, looks back to the halycon days of 'The Beatles of Comedy' (as someone said, somewhere, apparently).

 

Michael Palin as "Denis" lecturing Graham Chapman's King Arthur in "The Holy Grail."

 

By any measure 1969 was a significant year.

The Cold War was at its height, man first walked on the moon, the Vietnam war increased in its ferocity, Richard Milhous Nixon became the 37th President of The USA, the Northern Irish "troubles" escalated and in New York the modern gay rights movement was born following the Stonewall riots.

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Some Shite on Leith

Graeme McIver hides his season ticket for Tynecastle and takes at look at Dexter Fletcher’s feel good movie of the year. It’s the film that should have been loved. The movie that ought to make his heart fly, so why is it he’s on his way from happiness to misery today…uh ha. (That’s enough corny Proclaimers song references…Ed)

Hmmm…how do you start to write a review of a film you weren’t particularly enamoured with when Impact Magazine, (Official Student Magazine of the University of Nottingham) says; You will have to be an unusually cold-hearted and miserable person if you aren’t slightly warmed by Sunshine on Leith.?

Cold hearted? Miserable? Me?

Maybe I am. Maybe in my dotage I’ve turned into one of those grumpy old men who complain about everything late at night on BBC2. Either that or people who know me will point to my football allegiance and say that I was never going to give a film based on the anthem of my team’s greatest rivals a fair and unbiased review. I can hear them now…”you just wanted to call the review Some Shite on Leith to suit your petty Hearts obsessed agenda!” But I have a confession to make. I actually quite like The Proclaimers. I even quite like the song Sunshine on Leith! (There I‘ve said it.) It’s just this film I don’t like.

 

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Praise of John Rae

 Steve Arnott introduces Praise of John Rae,

 by John Aberdein 

 

There’s a statue of Admiral Sir John Franklin in London.  Its plaque proclaims the English naval hero and explorer as the man who ‘discovered the North-West passage’ – the fabled trade route through the Arctic pack ice to Canada dreamed of by 19th century explorers and merchants.

 

This is a lie. Almost everywhere else in the world, and particularly in Canada where he is revered as a national hero, the Orkney born Scot John Rae is recognised as the true discoverer of the passage.

 

The Franklin expedition, HMS Terror and HMS Erebus, was lost with all hands after suffering two winter’s stuck in the pack ice. Franklin’s tenacious wife, Lady Jane, offered a huge reward for anyone finding or rescuing the expedition.

 

Polar explorer John Rae, starting out from Hudson Bay and sledging 1000 miles out into the ice was the only one to get sufficiently close to bring back relics from the expedition and speak to Inuits who had witnessed its final demise.  Rae’s report to the Admiralty, which drew the  conclusion that at the last, attempting to drag lifeboats over the ice and running out of provisions, the men of the Royal Navy had resorted to eating their dead saw him vilified in polite Victorian society and his Inuit comrades described as savages. This campaign of vilification was taken up by particular viciousness by the giant of Victorian literature and letters, Charles Dickens.

 

To this day, John Rae is the only British Born polar explorer never to have received any official recognition by the state for his pioneering travels and discoveries.

 

This is the subject of Saltire award winning writer John Aberdein’s epic, yet condensed, narrative poem - but it is not its all. John takes his subject matter and imbues it with many layers:  political, social and metaphysical. Published in a slightly different form in 1988, against the backdrop of Thatcher’s re-election to office for the third time, The Point is privileged to publish a slightly updated version of the poem, a marvellous and resonant piece of work - which perhaps like Rae himself, deserves much greater recognition than accorded it thus far.

John Aberdein is the Saltire prize winning author of Amande's Bed,  recently selected as one of The Scotsman's 50 greatest Scottish novels of the last 50 years. 

 

 

Praise of John Rae

 

Sir John’s prop was misshapen,

bitten and cased in ice;

he had a loco aboard,

plumb in the hold

of Terror, attending good result.

 

He was God-fearing and mast-upright:

he buried his dead crew

deep in the permafrost,

the sharp scent of flintspark 

in the pickmen’s nostrils,

that leaden Hogmanay.

 

O they went wandering then,

lugging a longboat stuffed with Bibles

and soap, they dragged their ark

to scour the sand and scarify the shingle,

puffing a cherrywood pipe.

 

They boiled their tea with glacier mince

and sucked a little chocolate, 

then scraped round, like a points race

at Stromness, their last warm dance-place,

and laboured the boat back.

 

They let go and sprang forward and died 

amongst their fellows gnawed by scurvy,

wolves and bears, and by each other:

for a while each survivor shouldered 

a serving of severed limb,

which became him.

 

It did not become John Rae to say so,

the Admiralty found no poetry in his chopped-up

prose, on the say-so of Inuit trappers:

the Empire’s men might swallow

cannonball at Sebastopol

but were not cannibals.

 

Parochial taboo of the wet Lords,

like the piano-leg attitude to sex:

does the soul really inhabit

buttock and slice of thigh?

Surely it is sepulchred in the empty belly:  

Grub first, then ethics

was Brecht’s chew.

 

But Rae knew the score, who had shot

grey heron through the Clestrain dyke

and ridden Brenda up the Hoy Sound tide,

listened to Knox lecture over Burked bodies,

gathered cranberries in his snowshoes

to stave off scurvy at Moose Factory,

years he was surgeon there.

 

The opposite of a romantic,

soaked to the moleskinned skin,

he tramped a hundred miles easy

in two days, he never piddled

at the side with his paddle

but propelled it sculling at the rear,

he took his pocket Bard

into his best fur bed to thaw the pages out.

 

He surveyed all he surveyed

and that was plenty, the wastes 

of Boothia, Pelly and Repulse Bay,

the worst was Melville, walking at night

under seventy pound packs in the waist-deep snow,

the knee-deep water, coming out of holes

on the slippery ice like quadrupeds,

supping soup from the stomachs of deer.

 

There was no lead in his tins

to derange the brain, and colic the gut

and make the limbs erratic:

he wintered off the river, sea and earth,

salmon and curlew fried over seal-fat,

no tins at all, no suicide solder running down

the sides of his hunter’s meat.

 

But the Admiralty had done for Franklin

and his 128 alright, the lowest tender

taken from Stephan Goldner on All Fool’s Day ’45,

and the bulk of 8,000 tins of beefs and soup

rush-packed inside one week.  The solder cheap as hell,

90% lead, hardly flowing into the roll-round seam at all,

but sticking like a poisoned comb into the men’s meat.

 

All the fancy rewards for the finding of Franklin,

twenties of thousands of pounds,

all the real love and amazing devotion of Lady Jane

to get to the bottom of mystery,

the mystery of capitalism,

why we let it so easily persist

with its money-saving on safety,

Piper Alpha, King’s Cross,

and all the Heralds of Free Enterprise

with their enormous price.

 

A far cry from Hudson Bay

demands to be heard: we are cannibals, Rae said,

so readily, who was himself lectured for being  

Over-liberal in all payments to Indians on his private account,

Rae who disciplined the dirty cook at Moose

for paying no heed to the men’s representations,

we are cannibals when market forces become supreme,

a message the Navy Lords found a bit too close to the bone.

 

Dickens also complaining, finding Rae’s report flawed

by its essential basis on the word of a savage,

who is always a liar and boaster in Dickens’ book,

Dickens with his fecund gallery of white character types

from Heep to Micawber, Pickwick to Havisham,

prepared, with a racialism rooted to this day,

to caricature not just Eskimos, but all victims of Empire

with the vices of that Empire, particularly boasting,

and endemically, of course, lying:

a dog-collar Empire, a dog in God’s clothing,

that gnawed at the vitals of all native culture.

 

Rae responded with overwhelming modesty,

contrasting his own small wandering experience

with Dickens’ very great ability and practice,

but despite the salvos, the salivations of Times readers

and the attempt by Dickens to crack his marrow,

he stuck to his guns on all the issues and Rae’s opinions

on Franklin’s end remained exactly the same.

 

His not the drawing-room or coffee-house horror

at the thought of men in extremis eating chunks of their species:

what devoured Rae was the lofty way

that naval brass swanning to the Arctic

would task the Hudson Bay traders with poor treatment of natives,

forgetting that ten times as much famine and misery

looked at them from their own doorsteps in Ireland.

Rae who had the wit to be civilised by his journeys,

learning the craft of snow-houses and honing his hunting,

noting that it was often an Inuit woman who brought down

the first spring goose, who had lived off a thin bone of ptarmigan

the long winter and, with powerful pun,

asked us to observe those who had never been 24 hours without food  

enlarging indignantly on the subject of cannibalism.

 

Rae, who lost only one man on all his 13 thousand miles

of open boat and snowshoe journeys, 

and that thought heavy to him,

would he have given countenance to a Pentland Firth crossing

at its tightest choke-point ten times daily

through the smash of winter?  

 

That would be to mistake his lesson,

knowledge and courage of judgement,

not a reckless throwing of oneself on the elements

as though being a modern white man conferred some immunity.

 

Rae, like the best Scots, was a perfectionist not an exploiter:

sewing his own breek-buttons and splicing rigging 

others might find infra dig, but he wrote,  

I care nothing about that

as long as the work is done to my mind.

 Coming back to Orkney one rain-thrashed Christmas Eve,

he refused his ordered gig on account of lateness,

walking 14 miles to Orphir over villainous roads, 

that was his measure.  Yes, he kept his own quarters

apart from the men, his ink frozen on the mantelpiece,

but was never divided from his fellows by labour.

 

Alone of the great Arctic explorers never made Sir,

his report often doubted, reward grudged,

discoveries he trudged first were labelled naval,

Collinson or McLintock given hydrographer’s honour:

bitter to him that, even in late life,

his views, from scurvy to sledging, hard-won, discounted,

a mere trader, a toiler from remote strata,

not part of the coterie of truth.

 

But his trips and his treatise 

were treasure elsewhere:

for Nansen and Amundsen and Rasmussen

he showed how to live in the Arctic,

less-laden on the small sledge,

with no tight forces discipline

but a good morale that is mutual,

where, as in any true democratic advance,

the speed of the party is the speed of the slowest,

though the strength of the party

is not the strength of the weakest,

and all are equal before death.

 

John Aberdein  

Filth

 

 

Liz Walker digs ”FILTH” – THE BOOK AND THE FILM

 

About a week before I saw the film I read the book for the first time.

I was struck by some of the similarities of the themes used in Welsh’s book to those in a book written nearly two hundred years ago, the great Scottish classic by James Hogg, ‘The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner ‘.

The Hogg character [ Robert Wringham ] feels his nefarious actions are justified by faith. The Welsh character [ Bruce Robertson ] pretends his machinations and deeds are justified because he is a policeman who is bound by the state  however brutal that state may be. Moreover he feels that the rules are for other people and that he is exempt from any laws or concerns of fairness. He also uses the so called brotherhood of the Masonic Lodge to further his plans which has echoes of the way Robert Wringham uses religion to justify his misdeeds.

The action for both books is concentrated, mainly, in Edinburgh and the city provides a chilling and distanced setting which gives a perfect backdrop for both characters descent into their own private hell.

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Paradise - Not For The Likes Of Us

As it nears the centenary of its first publication, Adrian Cruden offers a timely and eerily relevant review of Robert Noonan's "The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists"

 

As the BBC launches its second season of the sucrose costume drama "The Paradise" this week, vying with the kow-towing class-fest that is ITV's "Downtown Abbey", it cements yet further the long established fantasy of a bygone Wonderland Britain before the unfortunate upheavals following the Great War. A near complete perversion of Emile Zola's novel "Au Bonheur des Dames", "The Paradise" centres around the relationship of a pretty young sales assistant with the store owner, who kindly sets aside his acquisitive capitalism to help out her uncle and other quarrelsome local traders, whose small shops are threatened by his dazzlingly stocked predatory emporium. 

"The Paradise" gushingly confirms the sterilised view of the age as one of breathtakingly positive progress. This is much in line with Judith Flanders' book, "Consuming Passions", which makes the audacious claim that "building on revolutions in science, technology and industry, an entirely new world was created, a world of thrilling shopping sensations, lavish spectacle and wild theatricality – a world, in fact, very much like the one we inhabit today."

This assertion, of the similarity between then and now, is strikingly true, though not, perhaps, in the way intended by the author.

While these were indeed times of change, if anything was prevalent it was not the exciting aspirations or consuming passions of the well-scrubbed people in neatly-pressed clothes in TV dramas. Rather it was the abject poverty, drudge, discomfort, anxiety and precariousness of the lives of tens of millions of ordinary people. As Rowntree and Booth's research demonstrated, nearly one in three were in deep poverty and many, many more were close behind in spite of Britain's immense wealth at this Apex of Empire. 

This was not, of course, the established opinion at the time. The general view, mightily reinforced by the press, was that poverty was essentially the fault of the feckless individuals so affected. The cause was either their inherent sloth or their apparent decision to become addicted to alcohol. Sound familiar?

It was in this, his contemporary world, that Robert Noonan set his novel, "The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists", a wide ranging exposition of working class life combined with a manifesto for a socialist society.

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What the World is Waiting For - The Stone Roses Live at Glasgow Green

There are few things in life more powerful or enjoyable than the shared experience of live music, watching your favourite band, play your favourite songs surrounded by your best mates punching the air in delight. Graeme McIver braves the showers, flying glass bottles and the out of tune singing to end a 23 year wait to see The Stone Roses on Glasgow Green.

 

  

"It takes time for people to fall in love with you....but it’s inevitable"

Ian Brown 1989

 

 Let me put you in the picture…

The first 6 months of 1990 was an important and exciting time to be active in left politics. Genuine world changing events seemed to be happening on a weekly if not daily basis. The US had invaded Panama, the Berlin Wall finally came down, Nelson Mandela was released from prison, the Communist Party of Russia voted to end its monopoly of power signalling the end of the Cold War and the Poll Tax was introduced into England and Wales one year after Thatcher imposed it on Scotland. I would like to say that I was consumed by activity, at meetings every night, immersing myself in the big issues of the day, but I wasn’t. I was 21, just moved into my own flat and was mad about a band from Manchester. Don’t get me wrong, I was moved and inspired by Mandela’s release, the poll tax had helped to politicise me, but whilst many of you Point readers might have been thinking about events in Moscow, Cape Town and Berlin my thoughts were focused on a field, in the middle of industrial complex on the Mersey Estuary near Widnes. Along with a dozen or so mates from Selkirk we set off in a hired van for Spike Island to see the Stone Roses. With just one, glorious debut album and a handful of singles under their belt the Roses were in the vanguard of a new and exciting music scene that changed the face of pop music and youth culture in the UK. The rave generation had a guitar band they could like and indie kids stopped gazing at their shoes and started to dance. We all liked the Madchester scene of Happy Mondays, The Inspiral Carpets, James and in my case New Order but in the Roses we’d found a band we adored.

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Oasis: the Rise and Fall of a Working Class Band

Gary Fraser casts his beady eye over what the Gallagher’s did next. Great albums, great fights, great attitude and a great deal of drugs, there was never a dull moment when these Burnage Boys were around. Were Oasis the best group of all time? Definitely maybe.

  

  

  

Two of the best albums of the past couple of years have been released by the Gallagher Brothers, Liam and Noel. Oasis of course are no more but the Gallagher’s still produce high quality music. Noel’s High Flying Birds (2011) is something of a modern classic, an album full of beautiful melodies, catchy riffs, which demonstrate that on a good day Noel Gallagher is up there with the best of them. Following the Oasis split, Liam and the rest of the Oasis line up set up a new band called Beady Eye. However, their first album Different Gear, Still Speeding (2011) was more than disappointing to say the least. Liam it seemed was lost without his older brother. But he has proved the critics wrong. The new album, simply called Be (2013) is a pleasant surprise and a welcome return to form. It took me a couple of listening’s to get into it, but that tends to be the case with most of my favourite albums these days. Liam’s voice is still the best voice in rock n’ roll and now in his 40s his voice seems to have improved with age. In fact, Liam’s singing is so good that one critic said recently that it’s as if John Lennon’s spirit is singing through him. Now there’s a compliment.

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Obituary – James Gandolfini

John Wight writes a personal and touching obituary of Sopranos actor James Gandolfini who he knew and worked with on a movie during the time John spent in Holywood. The New Jesrsey born actor died of a heart attack at the age of 51 on June 19th 2013.

  

News of James Gandolfini's death brought back memories of when I worked on a movie he was in back in 2003. 

The name of the movie was Surviving Christmas - which as the name suggests was a Christmas comedy - and it starred Ben Affleck, who at the time was in the eye of the celebrity storm as a result of his high profile relationship with Jennifer Lopez. Gandolfini was the main co-star in the movie and I was there as Ben Affleck's stand-in - which in terms of status on a Hollywood movie places you somewhere between the ground and a blade of grass (okay a slight exaggeration, perhaps, but you know what I mean).

I had been in Hollywood a few years by then, been on countless movie and TV sets, and seen most of the major stars close up. The days of being excited by Hollywood, of experiencing butterflies in my stomach as I drove over to Warner Bros or Paramount or Disney Studios to work on a movie or TV show were behind me. Now it was drudgery.

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Say Yes to "No"

Anne Edmonds takes a look at Pablo Larrain’s “No”, the third in a trilogy of films that examines the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile.

  

Pablo Larrain, director of "No", remembers as a twelve year old waving a "Yes" flag on the day of Chile's plebiscite on Pinochet's future - his politics have changed since then: "No" is the last of a trilogy on the dictatorship - "Post Mortem 2010 ( which I've not yet seen) deals with the US backed  military coup that overthrew the democratically elected socialist president, Salvador Allende; "Tony Manero" 2008 is a dark film about the Pinochet junta in power; "No" deals with the 1988 plebiscite which turns out to be the beginning of the end for Pinochet.

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