neiljohnsonarts

When I'm not at work, in the pub, or watching Bullseye, I take photos of things and write about stuff.
neiljohnsonarts has written 4 posts for

Stuff The Jubilee

Bin the crownIt’s not happening until June, but I’m seriously fed up with the Diamond Jubilee already.

I make absolutely no effort to find out anything about it, yet every time I turn on the TV, browse the internet, walk down the street, read a newspaper, go to a pub or a shop, even go to work, it’s being rammed down my throat so hard it makes me sick.

Ironically, the propaganda churned out by the Royal press machine to brainwash the population that these celebrations are worthwhile has served only to increase my opposition. The more I am encouraged to take part in and enjoy the jubilee celebrations, the less I want to. I’ve always had anti-monarchist tendencies, but ever since the ridiculous charade of the Royal Wedding last summer, my Republican views have grown ever stronger.

But let’s remember that wonderful day last April – wasn’t it just the Wedding of The Century? Britain at it’s best?

Kate’s lovely dress! Will’s dashing uniform! Their kiss! The carriage! The flag waving school children! An extra bank holiday! A nation united!

Bollocks. What a ridiculous fuss over the marriage of two people we don’t know and we are unlikely to ever meet. I can’t understand why there was such adulation over two people, who, if they were not obliged to, would not give a flying fart about 99% of those who profess to love them. Millions of pounds spent on security that could have been better spent elsewhere. The unconvincing attempts to portray a public schoolgirl of millionaire parents as a People’s Princess. The totally one-sided sycophantic 24/7 media coverage. Or the baffling obsession with Pippa Middleton. I wouldn’t. (No offence Pippa, if you’re reading this).

And we’re getting it all again…

The Queen’s wonderful service to the nation! The concert at Buckingham Palace! Kate’s charity work! Harry larking around (he’s such a card)! William protecting the Falklands! The barge parade on the River Thames! The flag waving school children! The community spirit! Street parties bringing the nation together! An extra bank holiday! The economic benefits to our struggling economy!

The last one is rather questionable. The Centre for Economics and Business Research estimates that each bank holiday costs the UK £2.3 billion and the Diamond Jubilee is no exception. Even the government’s own impact assessment for the extra bank holiday states that “inevitably there will be an impact on economic output as most workers are likely to be given the day off by their employer”.

Of course it’s not all about the economy though. In a further attempt to justify the celebrations, the impact assessment gushes that there will be a lifting of national spirit, improved national identity and increased profile of the UK to the rest of the world, extra tourism and trade, etc (it actually says etc). These benefits are naturally all intangible though and are impossible to accurately predict or measure. Isn’t that convenient?

Leaving aside the Jubilee for a moment, the arguments for and against the monarchy have been well documented over the years. For: history/national pride/tourism. Against: cost/undemocratic/inequality.

Much better writers than me have debated these arguments in detail so I don’t intend to discuss them here, but what I do want to do is highlight a few of the many recent royal stories that have attracted my attention.

The first one concerns our Brave Prince William, who was recently sent to the Falkland Islands to fly a helicopter around.

anti-monarchyI quote Rear Admiral John ‘Sandy’ Woodward: “To have a Royal anywhere near the front line is a bloody nuisance for the rest of the front line. You have to take extra precautions that he doesn’t get shot down, that his plane doesn’t fail. You maintain it three times as carefully. If you have a Royal on board your ship it is the end of your career if he gets so much as a scratch. It’s never said, but it goes without saying. He’s not there as a military man, he is there as air sea rescue which is really not military at all. It’s civil. I think it’s pointless, I can’t imagine why they sent him. Maybe they were just trying to wind up the Argentinians, I don’t know.”

My personal view is that this was a marketting exercise ahead of the Jubilee to increase our pride in the Royal Family and for them to highlight their usefulness to the nation – but then I am a cynical bastard.

Without question this episode demonstrates the blatant inequalities created by the very existence of a Royal Family: one man’s life valued much higher than that of the Joe Nobody’s around him, simply because he was born into a family of privilege.

Further evidence of these inequalities was recently provided by Buckingham Palace itself.

The Royal Household advertised for a trainee butler to serve the Royal Family. The salary is £15000 for a 45 hour week.

The job’s duties include: “collect and deliver tea/coffee trays, breakfast trays and newspapers for Royal and Household purposes in an efficient and discreet manner” and “to be responsible for the valeting of guests and Members of the Royal Household invited to stay with the Royal Family ensuring that clothes and uniforms are cared for to the highest standards”.

Christ, this doesn’t half boil my piss. It’s England in 2012, and we still have people serving other people. Masters and servants. This needs to stop right away. Let them carry their own trays, pick up their own newspapers and wash their own clothes like everyone else.

And they want us to celebrate this shit?

 
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The Right to Create

We hear a lot about rights. And rightly so, in most cases. Human rights, equal rights, the right to vote, the right to free speech, the right to work, the right to a living wage, the right to a free education, the right to bear arms, the right to party, the right to take a dump in public and such like. Much is written about these rights (well, most of them), so I’m going to write about another right, one which you may not have heard of, because I’ve just it made it up: the right to create. Right, so moving on (with no more crappy plays on the word right I promise)…

I do some creative things. I’ve hosted a few art exhibitions and displayed my stuff in public and all that kind of arty crap, so I like to consider myself an artist. (No, please don’t stop reading. It makes me feel better  to consider myself an artist when I’m at work stacking shelves in a supermarket at 3 in the morning). But because I need to earn a living I have to go to work full time, so I can only be a part time artist. And this pisses me off. And gets me thinking.Artist Studio, with paintbrushes, illustrating the right to create.  Photo: See-ming Lee

I’m faced with two choices. One, produce commercially viable art which makes me enough money as a full time artist that I don’t have to work but which compromises my art. Or two, produce art which satisfies my artistic integrity but which compromises my ability to make money and therefore means I have to work as well. (Don’t anyone dare mention three, produce art which satisfies my artistic integrity but which is also commercially viable, because rather like a relationship with Laura-Mary Carter of Blood Red Shoes, this is The Impossible Dream).

I choose the second route, because I feel that my art is something I should do to make me happy, not to make me money. Though I have even been a full time artist in the past. An actual arty artist too, doing the art I wanted to do and not the art I had to do to make money. But then I ran out of money and had to go on Jobseekers Allowance. And this meant that I had to find a real job. It didn’t matter what job I wanted to do or what job I could do well because those jobs weren’t available. I was obliged to get a job as soon as possible. Any job. I got a job in a call centre. It was very,very, shit. I was working shit hours for a shit wage in a shit job. It was a shit life.

But that’s fine, because at least I’m working huh? At least I have a job. At least I am paying my taxes. I am paying my way. I am not a burden to the working man. I am not a turd-encrusted pube on the asshole of society. I am not some scruffy arty tosser sponging off the state (I am just a scruffy arty tosser). No, I work. I am a good and useful citizen. Well if that’s all true, why was I miserable as fuck?

Because I was just existing.  I wasn’t creating.  I was a walking National Insurance Number. And I’m not the only one. I know countless artists, musicians, actors and actresses, dancers, writers, photographers, film makers, designers, performers and poets who work not in artistic fields but in call centres, shops, garages, offices, care homes etc etc. I don’t mean to demean those jobs and the people who do them, but my point is on the issue of choice . Many people want to work in those jobs, but many need to because they don’t have a choice. Shouldn’t a person be free to try and pursue the career they want? How many thousands of creative and talented people across the country are stuck in their non-creative jobs, compelled to waste their creativity and talent and ultimately their life by the conventions of society and the pressure to earn money? How many people are compelled to go through their life miserable as fuck, just so they can work and contribute and pay their rent and pay their taxes and therefore be a good and useful citizen?

Too many, I say. There is however, a solution to this sad state of affairs. It is based upon the idea that a person’s value to society is not based upon their monetary value. It’s not about the amount of taxes they contribute weighed against the amount of benefits they receive. It’s about the non-monetary value they can provide to society. Imagine if a person had the right to do the kind of work they enjoy and are good at. Imagine if they had the right not have to work in any shit job just because they have to. Imagine if  a person was allowed to use their skills, their personality, their talent and their passion to benefit others. Imagine being helped by that person. Imagine being that person. Imagine there’s no countries. It isn’t hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for. And no religion too. Man, wouldn’t everyone be much happier?

And to help create that happiness? I propose that artistic and creative people are given the right to create.

I propose an Artists Allowance. This would allow an artist to pursue their artistic activities without the need to work and without the resulting financial worries. Instead of being forced to work in shit jobs they are allowed to do what they want to do and do what they are good at doing. They are given the right to create.

What is this idealistic tosh? How could this possibly work? Naive? Ridiculous? Do-gooder lefty hippy bollocks? In these times of austerity, a whole load of people are going to get paid by the state to sit around on their arses so long as they call themselves an artist? I have got to be kidding, right?

No, because it’s not as simple as that. Firstly, the allowance should only be the equivalent of what the artist would receive if they were not an artist – i.e on Jobseekers Allowance or Employment Support Allowance or Housing Benefit – no more. A person would clearly be better off financially if they were working, thus ensuring that the Artists Allowance was not pursued just for the money. Who would give up a full time well paid job to receive a subsistence poverty income? Certainly not everyone. Those whose heart isn’t in it, wouldn’t. But I would, if I could do my art.

Secondly, the artist would have to prove they are an artist. They would have to attend the Jobcentre regularly to prove that they are pursuing artistic activities. Rather like filling in the oh-so-impervious-to fraudsters little Jobseekers Diary. Except the artist could prove they are pursuing artistic activities. A film maker would have to show their films. A painter would have to show their paintings. You couldn’t make it up.

Thirdly, and this for me is at the heart of the point I am driving at, the artist would have to contribute to society with their art. This is where we see the value of a person not just in monetary terms. Isn’t it right that a person is judged for what they can do for others rather than for how much money they earn? Yes, the state pays this person, but this person pays back society. There are many, many ways an artist can use their skills and create art to benefit their community. If the artist can’t think of a way, they won’t get the Artists Allowance and they can sell their shite and their soul to Ikea instead. This is a mutually beneficial allowance. Give and take. Not something for nothing.

And here we also have the state creating work. Not taking it away. We all know there are not enough jobs to go round at the moment. So let’s enable people to create their own. Let’s give people the work of their choice. Working for the state, for themselves, and for the community. Give an artist some money to spend on art materials and arts activities and arts events and their increased spending stimulates the economy. We would move away from the perception of art as a luxury for those who can afford it, but towards art as a more accessible, more local, more essential, part of the community. Furthermore, thousands of community or state artists who would now be working within the arts would mean that thousands of other people would be able to do the other jobs the artist would otherwise have been pushed into. Damn, we could even get the good old private sector involved too so they quit their tedious whinging about the bloated public sector and privileged public servants. Companies could sponsor an artist on the Artists Allowance. The artist could work for them on joint projects. The company could even get a tax break in return for their support (that should get them onside)…

So will there ever be a right to create? Will there shite. Our esteemed politicians go on about “progressive government”  and “Big Society” but they’re about as progressive as a brown Ford Cortina with a flat tyre stuck in reverse gear and as for the Big Society, well something else with the initials BS springs to mind instead. Should we have this right though? Bring on the debate…

Quick Reviews: Smile if You Wanna Get a Cadillac

Every week, one of our writers will be given five tracks – they could be unsigned, they could be international superstars.  Any genre could be included, and the writer gets one week to give their verdict on each song in under 100 words.  This week, Neil Johnson takes his turn.  If you like what you hear, click on the band names to visit their website, and if you want your music to be included in the future, send an MP3, picture, short bio and link to music@camelshump.co.uk.

 

Bob Dean: Can You See It

Bob Dean isn’t a man called Bob Dean. They are a band from Manchester. And none of them are called Bob, or Dean. But putting the misleading name to one side, this is a damn fine song. The opening piano melody and haunting vocal lead into a whirlwind of crashing cymbals and buzzing guitars that actually sent shivers down my spine. It’s melancholy without being depressing and triumphant without being self indulgent. And if that hasn’t convinced you to check out Bob Dean, if I said this reminds me somewhat of OK Computer era Radiohead would that encourage you?

Claire Kelly on the high level bridge, Newcastle Gateshead

Claire Kelly: Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby

Man this is smooth. As I listen, I’m transported to a red velour seat in the corner of a dark jazz club in NYC, where I’m chain-smoking and getting slowly arseholed on fine whisky.  Claire’s saxophonist wears a white jacket and black polo neck and her husky voice wraps around the room and draws all eyes towards her, including the rich record company executive standing at the bar armed with a recording contract. Having said that, it was probably recorded live in a Conservative club on Wearside with Match of The Day on in the background and an old bloke pissing on a plastic cheese plant in the corner. There’s no justice in the world.

George Cadillac and The Quarterbacks: Cadillac Dreams

I think these guys were the band that were playing in Back to the Future at the school dance. Remember? The good looking clean cut guys in suits? It was all romantic and sweet and mellow and harked back to innocent times of pinball machines and strawberry milkshakes and holding hands at drive-thru movies. And then Marty McFly turned up and rocked out Johnny B. Goode. Trouble is, while it was nice, before Marty’s appearance, the dance was kind of boring. And the thing is, on Cadillac Dreams, Marty doesn’t turn up. He was probably making out in the back seat of a Cadillac while listening to Chuck Berry instead.

The Tricks: Just For The Summer

This energetic indie-pop-punk track sounds like The Buzzcocks crossed with The Beach Boys crossed with The Clash. It’s anthemic, upbeat, catchy and memorable and it gets even better the more I listen to it. It’s good to hear a new indie band not poncing about trying to be clever or cool but just getting stuck in and bashing out a tune. What’s more, it is completely out of step with the universal depression enveloping ConDem Britain in winter 2012 and just what we need to cheer us all up. I like it very much.Tom Moriarty sitting next to a wall with a guitar looking moody

Tom Moriarty: Smile If You Wanna Get High

Apparently BBC Radio 2 has playlisted this track. Did they ignore the blatantly obvious drug reference in the title or do they just think that Tom likes pretending to be an eagle in his spare time? Anyway, musically, it’s definitely a radio friendly track, with a relaxed and easy feelgood vibe to it. It starts out with Tom’s gruff 30-a-day voice bemoaning his miserable 9-5 existence over a bluesy guitar riff and then turns, slightly bizarrely, into a gospel jazz singalong which indicates that everything is alright so long as you are flying off on holiday on an aeroplane. It’s certainly different to the work that many singer/songwriters are producing at the moment. I’m smiling.

Photography, People and Politics

It’s a rare occasion that I leave the house other than to go to work, Greggs, or the pub. I went to see a photography exhibition this week.

Entitled No Redemption and showing at Northumbria University, it is a documentary by Keith Pattison of the miners strike in 1984/85. Pattison was commissioned by Sunderland Artists Agency to document the strike as it affected one small community in County Durham; Easington Colliery. He lived among the community and recorded the strike from beginning to end.

Photo Credit - http://www.keithpattison.com

Pattison was accepted by the community as they wanted him to show their perspective, and this proximity to the miners and their families helped him create many striking images. He was present on the picket line, in the streets of the town, in the miners welfare and in their homes. The shots taken on the picket line were particularly effective, as he witnessed miners being arrested and police escorting working miners home. Some shots were slightly blurred and out of focus which gave the impression of a photographer hard at work, battling with his camera to capture an expression on a face and the feeling of a moment.The shots showed how life had changed for local people in the village; police guarding street corners as old women shopped and a school girl returning from school with police marching past. This kind of photo puts extraordinary events into the context of the ordinary.

One of the first things that struck me, upon seeing small children innocently caught up in a very adult world, was that I could have been one of those children. I was 4 at the time. It’s strange to think that this was going on as I was growing up, not just in a village down the road but all over Britain.

I find fault with the exhibition at this point, as the images were all in black and white. If the shots were in colour, I think it would have brought the events to life. It was in my lifetime, it was the 80s. Displaying the events in black and white ages them, and perhaps keeps them in the past. At the time a lot of photographers were shooting in colour as part of the “social realism” style of the day. This project would have worked well in colour.

Still, the exhibition got me thinking again about the strike. I was too young at the time to appreciate what was happening but as I’ve taken more interest in society, politics, history, the media, class issues and all that kind of crap, the strike fascinates me.

The strike initially began as a response to Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Government, announcing that many pits across the country had become unprofitable and would be closed. Many communities, especially in North East England, relied almost entirely on the pits. Without the pits there would be mass unemployment. Angry and fearful, many miners in the affected areas went on strike. Supported by their union, the National Union of Mineworkers led by Arthur Scargill, the strike was declared a national strike.

As it progressed the strike became increasingly bitter. Stung by a previous strike which effectively brought down the previous Conservative government, Margaret Thatcher brought down the full weight of the state upon the miners, their union and its representatives. She was determined to bring national industries into a free market and to crush the trade unions that prevented it.

Police were drafted in from around the country to oppress protests and used brutal and violent tactics, resulting in the injury and arrest of thousands of miners. MI5 was used to spy on union officials. The courts were used to freeze the assets of the union. Welfare benefits to strikers families were stopped. The right wing media condemned the strike on a daily basis, often editing events to make the strikers look bad.

Thatcher declared war on the striking miners and the union, calling them “the enemy within”. Scargill declared this to be class warfare, and for many miners struggling to feed their families and heat their homes whilst the middle classes thrived, it was. Millions of pounds of public money was spent on policing the strike – money that could have been spent on supporting the mining industry.

Support for the strike was much stronger in working class areas. Scargill was a hero to many, refusing to back down in the face of severe personal provocation from a government hellbent on destroying working class communities. To the ruling classes, he was a dangerous revolutionary intent on overthrowing their way of life with the intention of housing the Queen in a council house and creating a Marxist superstate.

Of course, there is only so long that a family can do without money, and the miners had to return to work. And of course many mines were closed, many jobs were lost, communities were torn apart and broken and lives ruined. The coal industry was privatised along with many other industries and unions damaged forever. Thatcher got her wish. The government was free to run the country at the expense of the poor for the benefit of the rich.

As in 1984, Britain in 2012 is divided along class lines. The Conservative led coalition government is continuing what Thatcher started, with a constant stream of policies protecting the privileges of their own class whilst simultaneously attacking the vulnerable working classes. The police continue to oppress demonstrations with brutal force and the right wing media continues to demonise those who go on strike to protect their livelihoods and their futures.

So when David Cameron talks about “Broken Britain”, he would do well to remember it was none other than his idol that broke it. But then, that’s exactly what they want, because when Britain breaks, it’s the poor people that suffer. And they ain’t poor.

Pattison’s exhibition is showing until 27th January. Here’s a link to the images if you can’t make it…

http://www.keithpattison.com/book

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