Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Every Good Boy Deserves Favour

Glenn and I went to see a very good play on February 5th 2010 with some friends - this was 'Every good boy deserves favour' by Tom Stoppard and André Previn at the National Theatre, London. We also bought the script for it afterwards. André Previn usually, of course, conducts music composed by others; so it was wonderful here, to see him composing his own music and putting this all together with Tom Stoppard.

The play is about two men in a mental hospital; one of which is a political dissident (Alexander) and the other that really is mad (Ivanov). Ivanov thinks he has an orchestra. And there was a real orchestra on the stage at the National Theatre, so that was also an unexpected, but nice, surprise. The play was dedicated to Victor Fainberg and Vladimir Bukovsky, who were both former Soviet political dissidents. In the National Theatre programme it says that:

“Bukovsky spent a total of twelve years in Soviet prisons, labour camps and forced-treatment psychiatric hospitals and was one of the first to expose the use of psychiatric imprisonment against political dissidents in the Soviet Union.”

The play had many important things to say about both how badly political dissidents are often treated (and how labelling them ‘mad’ can be so convenient) and the complexity of the concepts of madness and sanity in themselves. There were many really witty and clever lines in the whole play. Here are some samples.

Alexander, for example, as a political dissident, is obviously very sceptical about how and why people end up in mental hospitals, and says that the people that are locked up in mental hospitals are sane, whilst those that walk free are mad. But the Doctor replies to Alexander, saying:

“The idea that all the people locked up in mental hospitals are sane while the people walking about outside are all mad is merely a literacy conceit, put about by people who should be locked up. I assure you there’s not much in it. Taken as a whole, the sane are out there and the sick are in here. For example, you are here because you have delusions that sane people are put in mental hospitals.” (p. 23)

What a great play on words and concepts.

Then, the Doctor says:

“If you’re not prepared to discuss your rationality, we’re going to go round in circles.” (p. 23-4).

But of course, if he is mad then how on earth can he discuss his rationality? I laughed so much at this line.

Then a little later the Doctor says to Alexander that:

“Stupidity is one thing I can’t cure. I have to show that I have treated you. You have to recant and show gratitude for the treatment. We have to act together.” (p.25)

The absurdity of it all is clearly and obviously apparent.

A bit later still the Doctor then says to Alexander:

“Your behaviour is causing alarm. I’m beginning to think you’re off your head. Quite apart from being a paranoid schizophrenic. I have to consider seriously whether an Ordinary Hospital can deal with your symptoms.” (p.28)


Alexander replies, saying:

“I have no symptoms, I have opinions.”

And the Doctor says:

“Your opinions are your symptoms. Your disease is dissent. Your kind of schizophrenia does not presuppose changes of personality noticeable to others. I might compare your case to that of Pyotr Grigorenko, of whom it has been stated by our leading psychiatrists at the Serbsky Institute, that his outwardly well-adjusted behaviour and formally coherent utterances were indicative of a pathological development of the personality. Are you getting the message? I can’t help you.”

‘Your disease is dissent’ – what a brilliant and clever line that is!

Subsequently, the Doctor in talking to Alexander’s son says:

“He’d rather die than admit he’s cured? This is madness, and it’s not allowed!”

Sacha, Alexander’s son replies:

“Then you’ll have to let him go.”

The doctor says:

“I’m not allowed to – it’s a logical impasse. Did you tell him he mustn’t be so rigid?”

At the end of the play, a Colonel arrives. The intention is to ask the 2 in-mates some questions and if they answer them satisfactorily then they will be discharged. But he gets the 2 muddled up. So, he asks Alexander if he has an orchestra and Ivanvov if he thinks that sane people are being locked up in mental hospitals. Of course, they both say ‘no’ to these questions, so the Colonel then discharges them. So, the Colonel is also pretty ‘off his head’ himself, is he not?

The cleverness and the absurdity of it all, and of course, this is a reflection of the craziness of life in general; of this mad capitalist world that we have to live in, that we also have to operate rationally in, in some way or other. It also demonstrates how political dissidents are often treated in this mad world.

Stoppard, Tom and Previn, André (1978) Every good boy deserves favour and professional foul, Faber & Faber: London (Playscript)

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

'All Because of You' by Melissa Hill

I have read yet another really good book by Melissa Hill – every one of her books is turning out to be a winner! This one is ‘All Because of You’, Published by Arrow Books: London, 2007 – see http://www.amazon.com/All-Because-You-Melissa-Hill/dp/1842232746/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1266326708&sr=8-1.

In this book, we have Tara Harrington, who is a life coach, and is living happily with Glenn. Now then, once again, we have the delight of the twists and turns that Melissa Hill always seems to bring into her novels. One never quite knows where they are going to go. I was absolutely convinced by the impression that she wanted her readers to have; the way in which she wanted her readers mind to go. On reflection, I think that to some extent this is her way of having fun with the readers, as well as engaging them, and it certainly makes the books very intriguing – hey, she could probably write some good detective novel if the mood ever took her! On the other hand, it can be a little maddening at times, I have found; I am not too sure that I always like having my mind played about with in this way. Oh well – it all makes for an interesting life! But why do I feel moved to say this right now, one might ask? Well, this is because, in this story, in the beginning it seems that Tara is living very happily with her partner Glenn. And ‘Glenn’ even has 2 "nn’s" – just like my Glenn. My Glenn gets very mad actually when people only insert one ‘n’ – our names are such personal things to us, are they not. Anyway, on page 14, for example, we have her saying:

“With his almost jet-black hair, liquid brown eyes and naturally sallow skin, Glenn was the kind of guy that always turned heads, and, not for the first time, Tara couldn’t quite get her head around the fact that he was really hers.”


Then, on p. 22 it says:

“Tara…had no interest in marriage whatsoever, and she and Glenn were perfectly happy the way they were.”

Then, in order to keep the reader thinking in this way, much later, on p. 205 she says that:

“Tara had always been attracted to dark, brooding, creative types..”

After all this, wouldn’t you, like me, be convinced that Tara and Glenn were partners and lovers, and very close ones at that?

At the same time, it also seemed rather odd, because in some ways Tara and Glenn did not seem to get on very well. When they went on holiday to Egypt together, for example, Glenn went off on a scuba-diving course whilst Tara met a friend, Natalie and went off looking at the pyramids and sight-seeing with her. Not exactly the way that you’d expect a devoted couple to behave, is it? Then, it all really turns sour when we discover that Glenn has got a girl pregnant. So much for them being a devoted couple one thinks. Then – here comes Melissa Hill’s surprise. Glenn is not Tara’s lover at all, but her son. Heavens. I couldn’t believe it. She is really having fun with the readers mind; certainly keeps one gripped to ones seat anyway.

Then, here is the second twist (there are 3 main twists in the whole plot altogether). Natalie is beautiful and longing to get married, but she is always too impatient with her men. As a life coach, Tara gives her some sound advice with her latest catch, Jay. This includes not sleeping with him straightaway. Tara is very successful here to such an extent that Natalie and Jay’s relationship really blossoms. This is all done through phone calls. Then, when Tara finally comes face-to-face with Jay, she discovers to her utter shock and amazement that Jay was the first love of Tara’s life. They went out when they were teenagers; Tara got pregnant by Jason and this resulted in Glenn, and Tara ended up bringing Glenn up as a single parent.

Meanwhile, Tara’s best friend Liz is married to Eric, with one son Toby. Whilst Tara's sister Emma (who has always been indulged) announces that she is pregnant, but can’t and won’t say who the father is. Various things happen which makes Liz suspect that Eric might be the father. Then, it turns out to everyone’s utter amazement to be Colm, the well-known gay in the community. Still feeling slightly unsure of his sexuality Colm went with Emma for a while, but this just helped him to clarify his thoughts and feelings and to recognise that he was definitely gay. He then moves in with Nicky. Emma always liked to try and go for and get that which was difficult to obtain (as she had been spoilt) – this partly explained her desire to go for Colm. But:

“…she’d been stupid to think that she had a chance just because the long-term object of her affection hadn’t been living an openly gay life. Colm had struggled for years with his sexuality (when they were younger, in this village an admission would have been impossible) and she’d been stupid to think that he would – or even could – change his mind. But you couldn’t help who you fell in love with, and unfortunately for her, Emma had been in love with Colm for a very long time…despite what she knew herself to be true, for as long as Colm struggled, she’d always thought she was in with a chance. (p.420)

In the end, Tara goes with Liz’s neighbour Luke. Luke really thinks Tara is something and is happy to take her baggage as well (which I could relate to!). It ends with him jokingly talking to her about her baggage and saying:

“Well, knowing you…it’ll be environmentally friendly and biodegradable baggage, so I’m sure we won’t have to deal with it for long.” (p. 449)

And they end up kissing.

Perhaps, some of the coincidences seem a bit unlikely, but still, all in all, another really great read!

Monday, 15 February 2010

'Feminism and the Novel: 1880-1920' - and Thomas Hardy

I picked up an interesting book in a book sale at Ilford Library recently. It was entitled ‘Women and Fiction: feminism and the novel, 1880-1920’ by Patricia Stubbs, Harvester Press, Sussex, 1979.

I skim-read it – particularly as I had not read some of the authors referred to, so did not want to delve into some of it too much. Nevertheless, some interesting angles and topics were covered. Authors examined in the book included Thomas Hardy, George Moore, George Meredith, H.G. Wells, E.M. Forster, D.H. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf.

However, what particularly caught my attention, and why I decided to write this blog was in regard to what Patricia Stubbs had to say in regard to Thomas Hardy and feminism.

Thomas Hardy

I have always loved Thomas Hardy’s books. The first book of Hardy’s that I read was ‘Tess of the D’Ubervilles’, which was part of our English A' Level; I have also seen the film. I loved Tess and then went on to read all of his books in time. The Tess story is, though, of course incredibly tragic.

Also, of course, Hardy was a determinist. Now, this is not a position that I adhere to or, indeed, agree, with. I think it is best to think that we are in control of our own lives - even though this is obviously strictly limited within the confines of society. But nevertheless, one will get further on in life, and more likely to break through various barriers if one adopts this approach I think (whilst also remembering not to get too despondent if it doesn't work out!).

But no matter – despite all this and the rather negative and depressing messages that he gave overall in his books – I was, and still remain, hooked and absorbed by the books.

There is just something about Hardy's books that really draws me to them. I love the description of the Wessex county and countryside for one thing, and the way that all the novels were set in this fictitious county. I also love Hardy’s description and portrayal of the characters. I find that I get very absorbed in the whole atmosphere. And I find the plots compelling. Three of my other particular favourites are 'Jude the Obscure', 'Far from the Madding Crowd' and 'The Mayor of Casterbridge' (loved watching Alan Bates in the televised version of this). Well, 'Jude the Obscure' did also have some message of hope as well of course- with someone taking himself off to Oxford like that, to try to get himself an education.

Also, many years ago, when Glenn and I were on holiday in Weymouth, we went to see Thomas Hardy's cottage in Dorset. It was incredible; exactly how one would imagine the place that Thomas Hardy would live in to look like. So often our imagination does not tally with reality; but this really did! What was surprising though, at the time, was that no-one else was there and it was not open to the public or anything. There were no signs of commercialisation at all. Searching now on google, I see that Hardy's cob and thatch cottage is owned by the National Trust and was built by his great grandfather in 1840. By the look of it, one can visit by appointment only. Hardy also lived a long life, which has always pleased me to know (unlike so many gifted people, such as Jane Austen dying at the age of only 40 years).

Thomas Hardy's Cottage in Dorset

Now, what Patricia Stubbs said about Hardy I found to be very revealing and was not something that I had ever really considered much before. It also gave me a better understanding as to why, perhaps, I have always loved the books so much. Stubbs said that Hardy could get into a women's mind, and that he could to this much more effectively than getting into a man's mind.
She says that:

"Critics continually comment on the relative weaknesses of Hardy's male characters, and are right to do so. It is the women who dominate, and they do so through their sexuality." (p. 65)

Then, a litle later Stubbs says that Hardy:

"…was consistently interested in women and became more compassionate towards them...Hardy showed how women's lives were distorted simply because they were women, trapped in a moral order rooted in sexual discrimination, and in a social structure which refused to acknowledge them as complete human beings." (p. 80)

This is, indeed, very correct I think - but we must not fool ourselves into thinking that this has all been solved today and that now everything is perfect in regard to these matters. The way that society is structured still means that women are kept in their place in many ways, and that it can be very difficult for them to really flower.

Hardy also focuses on the destructive nature of sexuality, and Stubbs says, that there was no joy in sex for Hardy in his novels. I found all this absolutely fascinating.

Of course it has to be remembered that Patricia Stubbs, whilst a feminist wrote the book very much from an overall academic perspective, I think. She was a tutor at the Open University, a Lecturer in English and General Studies, and also worked as a Research Officer for the Equal Opportunities Commission. But still, I found it very interesting and enlightening.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

'Wishful Thinking' by Melissa Hill

I have now read another really excellent book by Melissa Hill - 'Wishful Thinking', Hodder and Stoughton, 2008

There is something about Melissa Hill's whole style of writing that just really appeals to me SO much. They are books that I can engage with quickly, whilst at the same time they are quite a challenging read - one often has to get to know different characters that seem at first to be quite disconnected but as the stories unravel the connections start to unfold. The books are written in a very feminine-type of way - sorry if this sounds like stereotyping, but writing is all about liberation and self-expression as far as I am concerned and so this is what I am finding in regard to these books! The plots are very clever, ingenious in fact, I think - they twist and turn and go to places that one would and could never imagine - they really surprise you. Furthermore, they deal with the complexities of human emotions and relationships and the various ways in which people try to deal with different situations. The characters are well-formed and one can relate to them. Also, whilst the plots are complex on one level they also have a certain level of wonderful simplicity to them - the author does not try to be 'flash' just for the sake of it, if you get my drift. Yes, as you can see - I am hooked! I feel sure that Melissa Hill must really enjoy writing her novels as well - I don't think she'd be able to write this way, if she didn't. And what she says in the Acknowledgements about her husband is very nice, I thought: "...much love and thanks to my lovely hubby Kevin. I really couldn't do any of this without you."

So, what is the plot in 'Wishful Thinking' about then? There are 3 different female characters in it, leading 3 very different lives. There is Louise, who got run over (the driver went through a red traffic light), and she is putting in a legal claim for compensation (but it spending rather too much on the credit card in anticipation of this 'windfall'!). She is also now very concerned about her looks and has lost a lot of weight. Secondly, there is Dara who has a good job in the legal profession, but is being pressurised by her family to get married; the family seem very worried about her being 'left on the shelf' now that she is past 30 years. So much so that she marries Mark, but in her mind, he is not the love/the passion of her life. Instead, Noah was - but that went wrong and he has now married someone else. Then, there is Rosie, who has lost her husband and is so very kind to her 2 children, but they take dreadful advantage of her. Personally, I found the Rosie-story line the most enticing; I really liked Rosie, but also really felt for her, and wanted her to 'stand up' for herself' more - which she did in the end, thank goodness.

What happens to these various characters then? Well, everything really comes good for them in the end - the book is very optimistic in this way.

Firstly, Louise gets taken in by a gorgeous looking guy Sam, who it then turns out is just using her for his own purposes/material gain. He testifies against her in court, saying that she is a spendthrift (including her getting persuaded to move into an expensive flat with her friends). Also, he said that she said that the accident was probably partly her own fault, because she wasn't paying enough attention when she crossed the road! Then, we find out that Dara is working for the defence in this court case; she is very concerned about the possibility of Louise losing the case. But Louise doesn't - she gets eighty thousand euros in compensation, so all comes good.

In regard to Dara, Noah comes back on the scene, claiming that he got it wrong and he wants to be with her. Dara thinks that her real passions and feelings lie with Noah, not with Mark, so she sees Noah (although doesn't sleep with him). Meanwhile, Mark shows what a kind, caring person he is - he shows concern about Dara's father's health for one thing, and goes to the hospital with him. Then, it all comes out about Noah - Mark is furious. Dara says she has to make a decision; Mark says, what makes her think that the decision is all hers? He might decide that he doesn't want her any more (they have only been married for about 6 months) - he needs to go away and think. He says that Noah likes it in 2's, like Noah in Noah's Ark - very funny that, I thought. In the end, they sort it out - Dara decides that she does want Mark, and that Noah was in the past, and now over and done with. But how that decision is arrived at will be explained more shortly...

Meanwhile, Rosie is being treated just so badly by her children - I couldn't believe how selfish they were being. Her daughter Sophie wants to buy this really posh house for her husband and child, but they want Rosie to be the guarantor for the mortgage. Which would mean, of course, that if they defaulted on payments that Rosie would have nowhere to live. But she loves her daughter, so she agrees. Her daughter then starts spending money like water, and doesn't seem interested in her mother at all - even when her mother goes to see her, phones her up and makes it clear that she needs her daughter's company and advise. Sophie does not even seem to want Rosie to look after her own grand-daughter, now and then - she prefers to employ someone because she thinks they are 'expert'. Whilst her son David's marriage has gone wrong, and he wants to come back to live with her. He comes back; but he treats his mother quite shockingly. Taking over the house; redecorating it and moving the furniture about in a way that Rosie does not like; being cruel to her dog (to such an extent that he lets the dog out on the street and it gets run over and dies - heavens!); not liking his mother's cooking (he has become a vegetarian) etc. Meanwhile, Rosie joins a painting class, and meets a nice man (the teacher) who rates her artistic ability.

Now, what unites these 3 people is a train crash - they all live fairly near each other in Ireland, by the way. Louise would have been in the train when it crashed if she hadn't been sick and got out - could she use this as a way of disappearing, she wondered? (these were her thought processes before the court case went in her favour). Dara and Mark were both in the train crash, and injured, but Mark's injuries were far worse than Dara's. And it was when facing the possibility that Mark might die, that Dara realised just how much she loved Mark. And Rosie should have been on the train as well, but wasn't either. But her daughter and son arrived at her house, and she overheard them talking, saying that she had been killed in the train crash, and thinking about how best to divide up their inheritance! Poor Rosie - she is speechless. This part of the book reminded me somewhat of 'The Shell Seekers' by Rosamunde Pilcher - a book I read a short while ago (again, being attracted by the cover and the look and feel of it - see previous blog entry). The main character in this book had 3 children who seemed far more interested in their inheritance, and in what they could get out of their mother, than their actual mother. Both of these mothers had to draw a line under their children - and both did this very effectively. Also this makes one think about how important it is to do this in general! For Rosie, this meant moving house, and being nearer her painter teacher, Steve; stop being the guarantor for her daughter's house and telling her son that he can't live with her any more. That all worked out fine; her daughter was able to learn to be more prudent; her son went back to his wife, and she was now going to enjoy her life in the way that she wanted to - relaxation, good friends and lots of painting by the sea.

So, as I say, good things came to all the characters in the end. But of course, this has to be done by making decisions, and not just by wishful thinking. Rosie advises her son not to just live on wishful thinking; him and his wife have not been able to have children (which caused all the problems in the first place). Melissa Hill says:

"But Rosie understood now that wishes didn't just grant themselves. You had to take your wish, and make it happen all by yourself." (p. 373)

All-in-all, a great read!

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

King's College London and Education Cuts


The CUTS bite deeper and deeper whilst the world gets madder and madder!

Our eldest son, Alexander, recently told us about 3 Professors in Philosophy that are going to be made redundant at King's College, London. One of these Professors teaches logic and is a really excellent teacher, Alex says (of what is, after all, a very difficult subject) - nearly all the students get Firsts in logic with him apparently. King's management is arguing that it wants to terminate 'Computational Linguistics' (a radical new field of philosophy, where IT meets the outer reaches of logic). However, the two philosphers in question do not see themselves as being primarily Computational Linguists, but philosophers within the philosophy department. At the moment, a lot of meetings are being held and many protests are going on, against it all. At least it is good to see staff and students working together in this way, but what a frightful situation.

Following on from this, Graham Coult, the editor of Managing Information then informed me that 22 posts were being cut in Arts and Humanities at Kings; also that the Chair of Palaeography there was going.

Then, Glenn went to the bookshop, Bookmarks and found out about a whole day teach-in that is taking place at King's against the education cuts in general. Publicity information about this is below - we hope to go along.


Join the teach-in to build the resistance!

King’s College London, 27th February, 11.00am – 4.00pm

Hosted by: King’s UCU, The No Cuts @ King’s Campaign, and the London Education Activists Network

Education is under attack. Up to a third of university funding - £2.5bn – is to be cut, 30 universities could shut down and over 14,000 lecturers may lose their jobs.

Big businesses exert more and more control over the university system. Cuts in student places and higher fees could exclude many people from higher education altogether.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Education workers are lobbying for strike action, following the victory at Tower Hamlets College. Students are protesting across Europe, organising occupations to stop neoliberal reforms – and taking control of campuses for another kind of education.

This February we will be hosting a day of alternative lectures and tutorials in King’s College London to bring together staff and students to celebrate what education could be – and to prepare for the battles ahead.

Initial line up includes:

Terry Eagleton: literary critic
Michael Rosen: poet, children’s author and education campaigner
Alex Callinicos: lecturer and radical theorist
Juan Carlos Piedra: Justice For Cleaners


Activists from Ireland and Austria
Education workers who have led successful strikes
Voices from students and campaigns around the country

(Other speakers – to be announced)

Alternative Lectures and Tutorials include:
*The crisis in our universities and the battle for education
* Education for liberation – what could our education look like?
* The corporate takeover of our universities
* How do we fight for free education?
* Building fighting unions
* Education for all – challenging Islamophobia, racism and the points based immigration system
* The tasks ahead – building resistance that can win

London Education Activists Network: http://educationactionlondon.blogspot.com/

The Flow of Ideas: http://www.flowideas.co.uk

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Exercise Classes

Well, I have put myself on a somewhat vigorous exercise regime. When writing and working on the computer a lot, it is important to get enough energetic exercise to balance things out. But I must, of course, be careful not to overdo it!

Anyway, twice a week I am now going to what is known as 'The Exercise Clinic'. The session is taken by a lady who used to be a classical ballet dancer; she has a wonderful figure, and an amazing posture of course. I would like to look a bit more like that - but that will take a bit of doing (to put it mildy)! But she is a very good teacher, and comes round and gives us personal help and advice as well, which is also all very good.

Then, I am going to another session on circuit training - very energetic that one! I am with quite a few young mums, which is rather nice. Their toddlers get looked after by the vicar's mother-in-law whilst we all run and jump around. Works really well.

And in between all this I am going swimming and walking etc (things I have always loved doing), and am really trying to think more about my body and my posture in general. Finally, I feel that I am in a position where I can give it some better attention. But of course, as I say, I must also try to make sure that I don't overdo it! Life, as ever, is a fine balancing act.

I was also interested to discover the other day that the lady that takes 'The Exercise Clinic' is hoping and intending to compile a DVD and an ebook around her exercise class. With this in mind, she has been taking a lot of photos. Many people that to go her class have really benefitted from it all; and will continue to do so. It is an overall all-body exercise, so it can particularly help older people that have arthritis. One lady, for example, was even able to 'throw away' her walking stick after attending the class.

It is noticeable though, that there are no men at all in the class - and it is not a ladies only class or anything. It is sad that men seem to feel awkward about attending such classes, or think it is a waste of time, not for them etc. All such attitudes helps to explain why women live longer than men on average, I am sure. I was talking about all this to our eldest son, Alexander, recently, and it is interesting and useful to try to bring all these different elements together. He himself has noticed the difference in attitude between myself and Glenn on these health matters, for example!

So, it is not simply the case that men get the best deal in capitalism; it is far more complex than that. Because men are physically stronger than women, society wants and expects them to work harder and longer. This can be related, specifically, to Glenn Rikowski's labour-power theory. More value is embedded in men's labour-power than in women's; this is then transferred into the workplace and men work harder and for longer hours. And so they earn more. See Glenn's article, 'Against What We Are Worth', on our website, which explores this whole topic in a lot of depth -

At the same time, society is more understanding with women in regard to their health. People are very aware of the fact that they would look pretty callous if they did not take women's issues (such as monthly cycles) on these matters seriously. Also, of course, the consequences could be very serious; women could, indeed, become very ill; tribunals could result etc. There is little such sympathy or concern for men on these matters though; instead, they should stop just being a wimp, is more of the mentality that is generally foisted upon them. But it is certainly somewhat ironic that the sex that is physically weaker, and so has to take better care of its health in order to survive, ends up doing just that, and then, on average, lives longer. We are back, once again, to the inequalities and the horrors of capitalism.