Monday 30 June 2014

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Goodbye" to an old sociologist called John Westergaard

John, who has died at the age of 86, a renowned academic who championed the study of class inequality as a defining feature of capitalism, was born in Putney seven hundred and twenty years after the Parliamentary Army in the English Civil War discussed a future political settlement on Putney Heath in 1647. John would have been familiar with the words of Colonel Rainsborough speaking for the Radicals and against the landed Grandees that :

"I think that the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live, as the greatest he; and therefore truly, Sir, I think it's clear, that every man that is to live under a government ought first by his own consent to put himself under that government; and I do think that the poorest man in England is not bound in a strict sense to that government that he hath not had a voice to put himself under."

What you possibly didn't know about John, that he :

* was born the son of Danish parents, his father a civil engineer, attended primary schools in Wimbledon and when he was 11 years old in 1938, just before his parents divorced, moved with his mother and elder sister to Copenhagen and sent to the elite boarding school, Soro Akademi.

* after the outbreak of the Second World War and the German occupation of Denmark in 1940, was bullied by pupils at school for being 'English' and by a Nazi-sympathising master who delighted in making snide remarks when British forces suffered reverses and while he was away at school his mother was active in the Danish resistance using their flat as a safe house for activists and a base for the 'underground' Danish Navy.

* had his formative ideas shaped by his resentment of authority and abhorrence of nationalism as well as an appreciation of the importance of freedom of thought and social justice and the personal tragedy of losing his best friend, Niels Stenderup, executed after an incident in a queue for tickets at Copenhagen's main station in which a German soldier was slightly injured and his older brother, Niels, killed in 1944 while serving in an RAF Lancaster bomber in a bombing raid over Berlin.

* later said that : 'the contortions and perplexities of politics under occupation'  stirred him 'into much puzzlement about how it is that society ticks, and often ticks so badly. Turning to the social sciences for possible answers seemed obvious' and was drawn to socialism, both as a counter to Nazism but also belief based on our common humanity and the equal right of all citizen to lead fair lives.

* after the War, served, for a short period, in the British Army of the Rhine as a mail censor, taught English as a foreign language in Copenhagen, then back in Britain at the age of 21 in 1948, became an undergraduate at the London School of Economics and after the fist year 'plumped for sociology' which was 'almost unknown territory' and 'only a shakily established academic discipline in Britain, but it seemed to promise insights into where our societies have come from and where they may now be going – wide enough to straddle the concerns and findings of other, more specialist social sciences.'

* followed graduation in 1951 with a research post in 'town planning' at University College London and apprenticeship with leading urban sociologist, Ruth Glass, who introduced him to leading sociologists of the day and who, herself, born in Berlin, had left Germany with the rise of the Nazis in the 1930s and was a committed Marxist with a passion for social justice and belief that the purpose of sociological research was to effect social change.

* in 1954 in his 'A Profile of Lansbury' with Ruth, about a new East London housing estate, pre-dated and anticipated Young and Wilmott's 1957 'Family and Kinship in East London' when they noted 'the neighbourliness, the local patriotism, the spirit of give and take. Families have helped one another moving in; housewives look after the children of neighbours; the Coronation was celebrated with the traditional street parties. Above all, most people in Lansbury have a great affection for their own borough and the East End'.

* after a year at Nottingham University, returned to LSE at the age of 29 in 1956, where he worked as a lecturer then reader, remembered for the succession of cigarettes he consumed in his delivery, remembered by ex-student, Paul Stewart, later a Professor at the University of Stathclyde with : 'I still have my second year essays with many comments in his clear, tiny writing. He helped me to think systematically and make a rigorous argument, as well as enlightening many of us about inequalities in modern Britain'.

* sympathised with 1960s students protesting against academic authoritarianism and later said : 'a sizeable number of teacher rebels came from other disciplines. Sociology cane to be regarded  as the vanguard of subversive radicalism, which was a caricature. It had a much more diverse ideology' and in 1965 in 'Towards Socialism' published his influential 'The Withering Away of Class : A Contemporary Myth'.

* moved to Sheffield University in 1975 at the age of 48 and at a time when the consensus view was that class in Britain had indeed withered away, wrote 'Class in a Capitalist Society' with Henrietta Resler, the first comprehensive anatomy of class inequality in Britain, focusing on power, social mobility, the welfare state and the influence of the media.

* at Sheffield was successively Head of Department, Dean of Faculty and finally Professor Emeritus in 1986 and was one of the mainstays, with John Griffith and Ralph Milliband, of the 'Council for Academic Freedom and Democracy' which, founded in 1970, fought hundreds of cases on behalf of university and college staff in defence of their academic freedom and democratic rights..

9780745601076: Who Gets What? : The Hardening of Class Inequality in the Late Twentieth Century* in his 1995 book 'Who Gets What?', showed that class inequalities had persisted and hardened, pinpointed the top 1% of wealth holders as the capitalist core and argued that private property was the key determinant of continuing class privilege and illustrated the ways in which the capitalist economy influenced the construction of institutions such as the welfare state.

* worked at Sheffield until he took early retirement at the age of 59 in 1986. along with his colleague, Eric Sainsbury, in order to protect his younger colleagues from staff cuts having not regretted a life devoted to sociology saying that if he had : 'hoped, perhaps, to discover through sociology, a means of stitching together some grand 'theory of everything social', that was too much to expect from any single conceptual framework, including the modified sort of Marxism which' he found had given him 'quite good mileage'

* held 'visiting positions' in eight overseas universities, served the British Sociological Association as President  from 1991-93 and was prominent in the International Sociological Association and although Marxism fell out of fashion, remained true to his convictions and was gratified to see the renewed attention given to inequality by, among others, Thomas Piketty who has said : 'Capitalism automatically generates arbitrary and unsustainable inequalities that radically undermine the meritocratic values on which democratic societies are based.'

* had Mary Evans, Centennial Professor at the LSE who worked with him for six years when he was Editorial Advisor to BSA members up to 2003 when he was 76, say of him that he had " the most infectious laugh, a cheeky boyish one which I can hear now and that’s how I’d like to remember him - laughing. There was never a time when I didn’t look forward to meeting and talking to John. I respected and admired John, feel lucky to have been able to work with him, and will remember him very fondly."

What better epitaph might an old sociologist have than, to the end and through the vicissitudes of life, he maintained his boyish laugh ? 

Friday 27 June 2014

Britain is about to become even less of a country for those old men who are not 'digitally engaged'.

Francis Maude is the 61 year old Conservative Minister for the Cabinet Office and son of the former Cabinet Minister, Angus Maude. As a boy he attended the fee paying boys public school, Abingdon School, followed by a law degree at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. Young Francis clearly lived the life of a privileged boy far removed from that of ordinary people. Following university he was 'called to the bar' to practise criminal law in 1977 at the Inner Temple law courts in London. Now as a privileged old Cabinet Minister he is still far removed ordinary old men and women whose lives he is about to affect for the worse, for Francis has come up with a cunning plan to save tax payer's money by removing the cost of manning phonelines or face-to-face services. 

Despite the fact that more than five million old men and women who are pensioners and are not and have never been 'on line' Francis has decreed that :

* millions of pounds can be saved by copying airlines, which only provide services face-to-face if there is no way to do so online for : ‘Our point is that everything that can be delivered online should be delivered online and only online.’

So old men and women 'out there' you : 

* must start using the internet or run the risk of losing access to government services, the vast majority of which will only be available online in the future.

* should get ‘digitally engaged’, because getting to grips with the internet is a ‘better thing for people’s lives’.

* get ready to get access to a computer and a printer to :
- download the 30 pages of the 'carers' allowance' used by 3.2 million carers a year.
- access driving licences, the small claims service and documentation relating to ‘lasting powers of attorney’.

Like an old feudal lord, Francis is going to provide 'some' support for the old people within his fiefdom by providing help for internet use in an ‘assisted digital service', through charities such as the Alzheimer’s Society, with the proviso that help would not be offered 'repeatedly’.

Pensioners’ groups have reacted with fury, saying that old people who refused to ‘conform’ to the state’s demands would be treated as ‘second-class citizens’ and those who had paid taxes all their lives should be able to access government services in whichever way they feel most comfortable and not left to ‘drown’.

Dot Gibson, of the 'National Pensioners’ Convention' said :
Ministers were creating an ‘information gap’ and ‘the idea that we all have to be digital citizens or else we end up as second-class citizens is wrong.’

Caroline Abrahams, of Age UK said : ‘No-one should be locked out of any services simply because they don’t use the internet.’

Like the feudal lord of yore, Francis only has the interests of his old at heart because 'actually people will have in future richer lives if they become digitally engaged.’

So old men of Britain, you who are not 'digitally engaged' and can not afford a laptop and computer, get yourself down to your local library, if you live in a town and have one and start downloading what you need.  If you are unable to travel or live in a village with no library access, tough. Your already, lonely and difficult life, has just become more so.

Thursday 26 June 2014

Britain is no country and Sheffield has no Station for an old Freedom Rider from Barnsley called Tony Nutall

South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive cut free travel for pensioners and disabled people from 31 March this year, saying the changes brought the area's concessionary travel 'in line with bus and rail schemes across much of England'.

Sixty-five year old Tony Nutall was one of those who joined the 'Freedom Riders Group', whose members modelled their protests on the American civil rights protesters and campaign to get free travel for the elderly restored in South Yorkshire.
Tony, a former Health Service Manager, can be seen here with other protesters in April, about to embark on their 'Freedom Ride 5' from Sheffield to Penistone via Barnsley back in April.

In a partial U-turn, South Yorkshire restored free travel for the disabled last month and pensioners were given 'half-price rail fares' at certain times, but the campaign by the 'Barnsley Retirees Action Group' with ‘freedom rides’ in which protesters travelled without paying their fare, continued. On Monday, accompanied by police, up to 60 travelled from Barnsley station to Sheffield, with some refusing to buy a ticket. On the station platform a group of 45 protesters were 'kettled' by police while staging an impromptu demonstration.

It was in this demonstration that :

* a blind woman was injured when she fell over a wheelchair and other protesters said they suffered cuts and bruises as a result of being “manhandled” in clashes with British Transport Police and members of Northern Rail’s rail response team.

* two people using sticks were reportedly knocked over and a man was ‘almost knocked out of his wheelchair.'

* a journalist from the local paper was allegedly threatened with arrest under the 'Terrorism Act' and made to delete footage because he did not have permission to film at the station.

* Tony was pounced on by police, bent over double and his arms twisted behind his back with one woman, shocked by their heavy-handedness, shouting: "What are you doing? He’s an old man, leave him alone."

* a number of station staff were also said to have been hurt during the incident in which they claimed to have been physically and verbally abused by the demonstrators.

* Tony along with fellow protester, sixty-four year old George Arthur, 64, a former primary teacher, was arrested and charged with 'obstructing a police officer.'

* police chiefs have said that they were investigating the incident.

After the event Tony said : “This sort of thuggish behaviour is not acceptable, especially when used against older and disabled people who cannot defend themselves. It was a cowardly attack. I was trying to link arms with people and five officers grabbed hold of me from behind and forced my head down. They marched me back and forth with my head bowed down and put me on the floor. I was handcuffed and taken to a police station. It was a peaceful protest by people who are hardly likely to use violence against blokes who look like they have been brought in from the local nightclub.”

Tony said campaigners would not stop until concessionary travel was reintroduced under the old terms : “The fight goes on. We are determined and we think we are in the right.”

Tony and George have been bailed to appear at Sheffield Magistrates' Court on 7 July.

Sunday 22 June 2014

Britain is no country for an old carer with a pain patch called Walter Crompton

A recent article in the 'Daily Mail' by 60 year old Richard Littlejohn and as part of the paper's 'Dignity for the Elderly' was entitled :
Modern Britain : no country for old men

Richard chose to illustrate his point by focussing on the case of 83-year-old grandfather Walter Crompton, who :

* had been his wife's 'carer' for the last 15 years of his 60 year marriage, but when her dementia took a serious turn for the worse, reluctantly admitted her to the Allendale Residential Home, in Blackley, Manchester.
* found that during one of his regular visits, his wife complained that her arthritis was causing her severe discomfort and having a pain patch in his pocket, placed it on her arm.

* four days later, was arrested by police on suspicion of ‘administering a noxious substance’ with intent 'to injure, aggrieve or annoy' under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 and, if found guilty, faced a maximum of 5 years in jail.

* had his house searched while locked up in a cell without food for seven hours, was fingerprinted, forced to give a DNA swab and at midnight was interviewed before being bailed in the early hours of the morning.
* found, that as part of his bail conditions, was barred from contacting his wife and later said : "I used to see her every day, but after my arrest I was told not to contact her at all. I was allowed to see her later, but only under supervision with someone watching us. Two or three days a week there was no one to go with me, so I was restrained from seeing her. It was terrible."
* had his case passed to the specialist Greater Manchester Police Public Protection Investigation Unit and after a two-month investigation, was told he would not face charges.
'After his dreadful ordeal, Walter would be forgiven for concluding that modern Britain is No Country For Old Men.'

Tuesday 17 June 2014

Britain is a country which should loudly say "Happy Birthday" to its old and unfeted film director called Ken Loach

Ken, whose films over the last 50 years, noted for their social realism, driven by his left-wing views and denied the accolades in Britain which they have been granted in Europe, is 78 years old today.

For me, he will always be remembered for his wonderful film, 'Kes,' which he made in 1969 when I was 22 and he was 33. Forty four years on and it still makes me smile :

The football match : and the caning :

What you possibly didn't know about Ken, that he :

* was born in Nuneaton, Warwickshire and from the age of 11 attended King Edward VI Grammar School, left and served two years national service in the Royal Air Force, then studied law at St Peter's College, Oxford University and performed comedy in the 'Oxford Review'.

* made 10 BBC' 'Wednesday Plays', including the docudramas 'Up the Junction' in 1965'Cathy Come Home' dealing with the issues of homelessness, unemployment and the working of social services in '66 whose impact was so massive that it led directly to a change in the homeless laws.
* directed the feature films for the cinema, 'Poor Cow'
in '67 and 'Kes' recou , the story of a troubled boy and his kestrel and listed as Number 7 by the British Institute in the list of 'Best British films of the Twentieth Century',

*  made the 'The Gamekeeper' in 1968, but was less successful in the 1970s, suffered from poor distribution, lack of interest and political censorship and found his 1967 documentary : 'The Save the Children Fund Film' so disliked by the charity that it attempted to have the negative destroyed and wasn't screened publicly until 2011.

* made 'Looks and Smiles'
in 1981 and was commissioned by Channel 4 to make 'Questions of Leadership', a documentary series on the response of the British trade union movement to the challenge posed by the policies of Margaret Thatcher's Government and concluded that the decision not to screen the programmes, 'politically motivated'.

directed 'Which Side Are You On? in 1985 about the songs and poems of the Miners Strike commissioned by ITV's, 'The South Bank Show' also withdrawn from transmission.only to see it broadcast only after it won a major prize at the Berlin International Film Festival.

* in the late 1980s and into the 1990s, made the critically acclaimed, 'Hidden Agenda' dealing with the political troubles in Northern Ireland, 'Carla's Song' set partially in Nicaragua.

* saw 'Land and Freedom' in 1995, examining the Republican resistance in the Spanish Civil War, with its quintessential 'Loach sequence' of a political discussion amongst villagers trying to decide whether or not smallholdings should be collectivized, win the 'Ecumenical Jury Prize' at Cannes and become a box-office hit in Spain, where it sparked intense debate about its subject matter. 

* often saw his films achieve more popularity in mainland Europe than in either Britain or the the USA where 'Riff-Raff' in 1991 won the 'Felix Award for Best European Film' receive less acclaim in the USA where it was shown with subtitles because of its English dialect and in  2006, won the 'Palmed'Or' at Cannes for 'The Wind That Shakes the Barley' , about the Irish War of Independence against the British the Irish Civil War during the 1920s.

* saw 2009, 'Looking for Eric' , featuring a depressed postman's conversations with the ex-Manchester United football star, Eric Cantona,  played by himself, fail to get wide release and only make £12,000 profit, despite receiving critical acclaim.

* in 2011, released 'Route Irish' an examination of private contractors working in the Iraqi occupation and saw his most recent film, 'The Angel's Share' about a young Scottish troublemaker, given one final opportunity to stay out of jail receive the 'Jury Prize' at the Cannes.

* in the series,'The Film That Changed My Life', in the Observer newspaper in 2010, Loach cited Vittorio De Sica's 'The Bicycle Thief' made in 1948, as the movie that 'most inspired him to pursue a career in filmmaking'.

*  this year saw 'Jimmy's Hall' selected to compete for the Palme d'Or in the 2014 Festival :

Ken, actors and critics talking about his films :

Ken, with self-deprecation, on film making : "A movie isn't a political movement, a party or even an article. It's just a film. At best it can add its voice to public outrage".

Friday 13 June 2014

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Goodbye" to an old artist-photographer, once 'Laureate of Teenage London' called Roger Mayne

Roger, who has died at the age of 85, is best remembered for his black and white scenes of working class life in Southam Street in West London in the late 1950s. His photos remind me of my own and similar childhood in a Armada Street in Deptford, South London between 1947 and '57. He often focused on the vitality of children living the playful childhood he had not  experienced in his own stern, 'academic' upbringing without comic books and doubtless, any joy.

What you possibly didn't know about Roger, that he :

* was born 1929 in Cambridge, the son of a ex-Headmistress mother and father, the Headmaster of Cambridge and County High School for Boys who, frustrated in his ambition for a legal career by financial constraint, pushed his children hard and after leaving Rugby Public for Boys School at the age of 18, studied chemistry at Balliol College, Oxford University with a hobby in photography and later said "I can’t really say how I first began to be interested in photography. I think photography probably found me."

 in Oxford, came under the influence of Hugo van Wadenoyen who became his mentor and whose 'Wayside Snapshots' in 1947 marked a decisive British break with pictorialism in photography and was an early attempt to use the book format as a means of showing a photographer's personal pictures and was helped by him to show his work at 'Combined Society' Exhibitions, a progressive group of local photographic societies which, in 1945, had broken away from the moribund Royal Photographic Society 

* after graduating, began to build a career as a professional photographer and in 1954, moved to West London, stayed with photographer and artist, Nigel Henderson who was working on the streets of Bethnal Green (right) and was partly financed in these years by royalties from his late father's series of school textbooks, 'The Essentials of School Algebra'.

* made his public debut in 'Picture Post' Magazine at the age of 22 in 1951 with a photo essay in colour of the making of the abstract ballet film, 'Between Two Worlds', directed by Sam Kaner and also took the stills for the film.

* in 1952, acquired a copy of Cartier-Bresson's new book, 'The Decisive Moment' and saw its photographs as a series of exclamation marks and 'visual explosives' which informed his own street photography working at a time when prevailing ideas were those of the Director of the V & A Museum who told him in 1954 that 'photography is a purely mechanical process into which the artist does not enter.'
* working as a freelance, documented the streets and activities of the East End of London and, in 1956, in an exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts established his photographic reputation for social realism and illustrated his style of street work when he said : I went to South London and I saw, in the distance, a bombed building with a lot of children playing in it, so I thought that might be an interesting subject. So I walked towards this building and when the children saw somebody with a camera they immediately stopped this fascinating thing, whatever they were doing which intrigued me, so they all came out and wanted their photograph. You used to get this cry, ‘please take my photo Mister’.”

* became interested in one street close to where he lived in North Kensington : " I remember my excitement when I turned a corner into Southam Street, a street I have returned to again and again… I think an artist must work intuitively, and let his attitudes be reflected by the kinds of things he likes or finds pictorial. Attitudes will be reflected because an artist is a kind of person who is deeply interested in people and the forces that work in our society."

* was attracted to Southam Street with its large decaying terraced houses and shared lavatories, crammed with people living in crowded rooms who spent much time outside in the street and with his 'Zeiss Super Ikonta' camera around his neck, befriended the residents who became accustomed to his presence and oblivious to his snapping and the documentation of their lives in 1,400 negatives over 27 occasions.

* would later say that his Southam Street Album of photographs became a noose which, "In a sense I put it round my own neck” and was unhappy to be labelled as a 'photojournalist' saying : "I’m not happy about this. I had to earn my living, so I do think of myself as earning my living on the fringes of photojournalism, but I do think of myself as a fine artist. My intention is to be a fine artist, but I think that it is the nature of the medium of photography that one has to start with what photography does, which is to take records of things. So I think you take a record and if, for various reasons, everything comes together, then the record will raise itself to a work of art."

*  at the age of 29 in 1958, met playwright, theatre director and future wife, Ann Jellicoe, whilst photographing a production of her play, 'The Sport of My Mad Mother'.

* was said of by the novelist Colin McInnes, the author of  'Absolute Beginners', his 1959 book based on a teenage photographer on the verge of making it, "he is one of the few English photographers I know of who have disclosed to me a world of modern fact : a portrait of sub-life of which, without him, I would have been unaware" and commisioned him to take the cover image and on first sight said : "we all gawped at it and slapped it on the cover there and then."

* continued freelancing, producing photographs of youth culture and architecture and featured in 'Vogue' magazine with 'The Teenage Thing'  in 1959.

* saw his 'Southam Street Project' inspire Ann's best known play, 'The Knack', first performed at the Royal Court in 1962 and later adapted into a film directed by Dick Lester starring Michael Crawford and Rita Tushingham  and filmed in the Southam Street area which was transposed to 'Northam Street'.

* witnessed the V & A eat its words when, by 1964, it had bought and exhibited his work, before he left London and between 1966 and 69 taught at the Bath Academy of Art, Corsham.

* collaborated with Ann to produce, in 1972, 'The Shell Guide to Devon' and in 1975, moved to Lyme Regis and undertook landscape photography in Southwest England and Europe much of it in colour with Mediterranean work in Dubrovnik, Rhodes and Corfu and in 1980 diversified into etching, drawing, and painting.
* was no longer in London when the Southam Street community was swept way as part of a slum clearance programme and replaced in 1969 by Erno Goldfinger's brutalist experiment in high rise tower block living, Trellick Tower.

* in 1986, at the age of 57, saw the V & A stage a major retrospective of his work and revive interest in his 'Southam Street Series' which he re-edited and lamented that : "by doing that I drew all this attention and I just saddled myself since with Southam Street."

* in 1989 saw the BBC 'Timewatch' team make a programme on Southam Street and the 1990s bring a new audience with concert back drops, record sleeves and press adverts for singer Morrissey.