Month: February 2016

I was mad in ’85 by Adam Steiner

Back in 2006, it was reported that Tony Blair received a request from the Kazahkstani President (that notable bastion, I mean bastard of human rights) to ban Sacha Baron Cohen’s film Borat, as President Nazarbayev felt it didn’t show his country in a good light. The film wasn’t banned in the UK, but was in Kazahkstan. However, by 2012 and with Blair reaping money by advising the country on its economic development, the country’s foreign minister, thanked Borat for boosting tourism.


Grimsby Dock Tower*

Baron Cohen is up to his old tricks again, and this time it’s personal, well classist. In his new film Grimsby, he plays Nobby Butcher an out-of-work father of eleven children, whose brother just happens to be a Bond-like secret agent (The Brothers Grimsby – get it). As you can imagine, the Grimbarians are not happy. Although meant to be a ‘comedy’ it is once again a film made by an Oxbridge-educated that demonises the working classes by playing the feckless card. He does try to redeem himself at the end by claiming, “We are scum, but it was scum who built hospitals and fight in wars.”

For our purposes today, however, Cohen has made the mistake of dissing a town. ‘Yes, we know we live in a shit-hole but it’s our shit-hole, and no outsider needs to confirm such a state of affairs,’ is how it goes. There are a number of lists, both serious and not, that rank towns and cities; most notable I guess being the annual crap towns that once had Hull (Grimsby’s Humber neighbour), next year’s European city of culture, at the number one crap spot. But it is a more complex set of contradictions that make up the place that we live. People want different things from a town, and it is not always a hate it/love it axis on which you judge the place you live.

ASAdam Steiner’s poem “I was mad in ‘85” reflects this dilemma in the metaphor of a failing personal relationship. As Adam says, his experience was drawn from” the physical environment of Coventry over the last couple of years. It is a strange and challenging place; the combination of the encircling ring-road, old building preservation and the latest phase of reconstruction makes being here a strongly divisive experience you love to hate (like Dylan Thomas’s ‘Ugly, Lovely Town” of Swansea’ “… an ugly, lovely town … crawling, sprawling … by the side of a long and splendid curving shore. This sea-town was my world.”) At once the rising scaffolds and ring-road subways seem insurmountable barriers to change but also jilted ramparts from which to try and make a positive stand about the place and its future – I enjoy that sense of thwarted romance.” (more…)

Telemachy by R.A. Villanueva

It is sometimes only when we look back, that we see how strange a situation we were once in. In the mid-to-late 90s, within a few months, I was giving a talk and seminar at the World Bank in Washington then on the other side of the world, running a workshop on a beach with local fishermen in Cebu Province in the Philippines.

The common thread was social development; the Bank were interested in new ways to measure the effectiveness of aid interventions, whilst in the Philippines, working with the organisation the Philippine Partnership for the Development of Human Resources in Rural Areas (PhilDHRRA), we were trying to strengthen local organisations entry into a global market created by the Washington consensus, the negative impact of which was being felt by small scale farmers and fishermen. I’m still not sure if either of these ‘interventions’ was the right thing. However, the experience of working in the Philippines for a short time, has never left me. The privilege of working with and befriending local people is probably the only way a foreign person is able to really see a country.

RAVillanueva (photo by Rachel Eliza Griffiths)

Photo by Rachel Eliza Griffiths

I am reminded of this experience when reading RA Villanueva’s brilliant collection, Reliquaria that has a number of poems from his heritage in the Philippines. But the thoughts are not solely because of my personal experience, but more widely of the influence of the ‘foreign’ on traditional ways, in this case Catholicism, Spanish and American influence in the country. In Ron’s poem, Telemachy, (more…)

Abandoned Airfield at Dunkeswell by Rachel McCarthy

Metal figures prominently in the lives of the working classes. The term, the common ‘five-eighters’, although sometimes defined as being the average suit size of a soldier in the second world war, and of the working week (8 hours a day, five days a week), it is also derived from the rivet size of the workers on the shipyards. Riveting was a big job; the Titanic was held together (for a short time at least) by over 3 million rivets. Nowadays, it is the welders who have taken over from these original five-eighters.

RMcCMetal has a long history, dating back to 6,000 BC with the use of gold fashioned into jewellery. Many of the main metals of today, copper, lead, iron and tin, date back to these pre-historic times. One of the more recent metals and the subject of Rachel McCarthy’s touching poem, Abandoned Airfield at Dunkeswell, about her father’s job fitting aircrafts, is Titanium; as strong as steel it is less dense, resistant to corrosion and perfect therefore for the construction of aeroplanes. Rachel takes us right into the huge workplace, (more…)