Thursday, 14 July 2016

Winter is coming ... to the beach

Every year, at around about this time, I take a number of books off shelves and stack them in a corner of the flat.

Then, over the following period, they are shuffled, increased one day and decreased the next, as I debate whether or not this is the right selection for holiday reading and whether there are enough books or too many.

Every year, I am told by people that I should get a Kindle. Every year, I explain that:

I do not actually like reading books on a tablet;

if I drop a book on a damp beach, the damage will never be greater than a single lost book;

I distrust The Cloud and continue to prefer to actually have my ‘stuff’ under my control and my control alone.

The first part of this usually occurs a month or so before a trip. This time around, it has been just a few days – which possibly suggests how welcome the trip itself is going to be.

And while there is therefore little adjustment time, the pile itself reveals a considerable jolt in my reading habits over the last eight months or so.

Back in ancient times – okay, the end of the 1970s and beginning of the following decade – I ‘discovered’ horror and fantasy fiction.

In the case of the former, it was largely Stephen King and, in the latter, Tolkien and, a few years later, Terry Pratchett.

I read Stephen Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant novels avidly, plus works by William Horwood.

But then, Sir Terry apart, I drifted away from fantasy because it all really rather seemed to be largely inferior Lord of the Rings. This is possibly the point at which to state that, for vaguely complicated reasons, in my mid-twenties I did a series of commissioned illustrations of places from Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit for a hotel owner in Torquay who just happened to be called Tolkien and was a nephew of JRR.

Unfortunately (or not – I don’t recall them being stunning, and they took me an age) I have no record of them. Hey ho.

Be mother to your own Funko Pop dragon
Late last year, it seemed the time to pick up LoTR once more. Reading the first part again, I found myself thinking that Frodo is still wet and irritating, but I also enjoyed the poetic stuff much more, including Tom Bombadil.

And I moved from that to Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy – works I’d been promising myself I should read for some years.

Thus far, I’ve only read the first book, Titus Groan: I didn’t find it a quick read, but it is a stunning one, and it reawakened by interest in fantasy. Surely there had to be works out there that didn’t just slavishly echo Tolkien’s formula?

One of the first books I found was Neil Gaiman’s American Gods – a sure fire hit given my predilection for Norse mythology (I have also been reading more extensively than before this year).

Half a dozen of the Sandman graphic novels sit on my shelves and there is also Dark Omens, a copy of the novel he co-wrote with Sir Terry years ago, but I had not dipped into any of his own novels.

Sure enough, I loved American Gods. I love Gaiman’s version of Odin and all the other gods from around the world that he brings to life.

The Other Half read and enjoyed it too, so his Anansi Boys is going with us on holiday.

The discovery of the Gollancz Fantasy Masterworks has opened up a wonderful variety of works, including Robert Holdstock’s Mythago Wood, which is a slow burner, but draws you inexorably under its spell.

What is not a slow burner, however, is George RR Martin’s A Game of Thrones – the first book in a series that seems to have spawned a little TV show.

Now I haven’t even watched a trailer for the TV version, but the first 800-page volume utterly gripped me.

This is masterful storytelling – not least given the number of threads that Martin develops at the same time and his ability to ensure that the reader never becomes confused or loses track of what’s going on and who is who.
... or your own direwolf

I still haven’t watched any of the TV version, but I am now aware of the look of it and the actors playing the main characters – and also some of the collectibles that are available. It is, as you may gather, my new favourite thing (just in time to be able to join in with all the comparisons between the stories and the state of British politics) .

The second book was the first thing into this year’s book pile – followed a short while later by the third – or to be strictly accurate, part one of the third instalment.

TH White’s The Once and Future King – his series of novels about King Arthur, including The Sword in the Stone – makes the pile: another that The Other Half is also likely to indulge in. I’ve spent years thinking that I should read some version of Arthurian legend and the time has come.

After a recommendation from a delightful Polish barista in a local coffee shop, I have just been reading – and thoroughly enjoying – The Last Wish, a collection of short stories featuring Geralt, the witcher of Rivia, by Andrzej Sapkowski.

Blood of Elves, the first full novel, is already waiting on the shelf, but that is for another time.

For a change of flavour, the holiday fantasy is joined by two Maigret novels and one collection of three modern Italian crime fiction novellas.

But I already know that, as we head south on Friday, it will be A Clash of Kings that will be the first tome to be opened. I can hardly wait.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Music to go

I believe that young people call this sort of thing 'skull candy'
Technology, when it works, can be brilliant. When it doesn’t work … it can make you wonder, with growing frustration, what happened to the idea that it was all supposed to make life easier.

I’ve written before about the travails of being a classical music listener dealing with iTunes, but it is getting no easier.

Last year, given both its age (and thus a sense of its limited life drawing inevitably toward an end) and the prices old ones were fetching online, I made the decision to mothball my classic iPod and get a new generation one.

Mistake. The new one is a pain – the biggest size at that time is barely able to hold my classical music collection, let alone anything else, and has not allowed for any growth.

It’s irritating to have it insisting on showing everything I’ve bought digitally so that I play it from ‘the cloud’. I’d barely bought any classical music digitally and stopped buying any music at all digitally some time ago.

I’ve stopped buying comics digitally too, because I’m bored with discovering that, when I want to read or listen to something, it is no longer where I had downloaded it to upon purchase, but I have to download or stream it again, from … The Cloud and possibly with additional costs.

Would anyone really accept buying a book from a bookshop and then finding, when you actually want to read it, the bookshop has taken it back and you have to go and get it again.

Why would I want to do any such thing with, say, a three disc opera while I’m on holiday, for instance?

So, the iPod classic has come out of mothballs and, over the last couple of days has polished and plugged in to the computer, after yet another struggle uploading the music I’ve bought in the last year (not actually a vast amount).

At over six years old, my computer works wonderfully. Well, sort of. Because it’s two months ‘too old’, it is no longer possible to upgrade the operating system and, therefore, much other software.

The classic un-mothballed, with Music Angel
In other words, it is becoming obsolete and I face having to buy a new one later this year. And because of changes to tech – and concomitant efforts to get people to store their stuff in The Bloody Cloud (or somebody’s else’s computer, as it actually is), I shall also need to buy a disc drive and then a multi-USB block so that I can have more than one peripheral attached at any one time.

Ah, the joys of consumerism and the ways in which, having conspired to ensure that we now need tech, we have to keep buying it (and more).

Anyway, all this makes adding in new music to my library just a bit more complex. No album cover art ever imports automatically; I have to do it manually, finding it on the internet. And then, of course, there’s the perennial problem of re-writing information so that you get some sense of organisation.

It makes sense with classical music to organise a collection by composer for the most part. In which case, every opera, for instance, needs retitling so that it reads: ‘Composer: opera; [disc number]’, otherwise your Puccinis are all over the shop and nobody wants that.

It’s worth noting that my music listening has been improved of late with the purchase of a new pair of headphones.

Now several years old, my Sennheiser plugs had taken to crackling madly on orchestral brass and percussion sections once I hit any sort of volume.

But here’s where the internet is wonderful: inevitably, there was a guide to be found to headphones for classical listeners – indeed, the one I found was at gramophone.com and is regularly updated.

After a detailed read, I ordered a pair – and although it’s meant moving away from plugs (but big ones are so on trend these days), the sumptuous quality of sound is more than enough compensation.

Something old ...
Interestingly, the new ones are Audio-Technica ATH-M50X studio monitor professional headphones – designed very much with DJs in mind – but the definition when listing to an orchestra (you can almost pick out individual instruments) is superb and makes you feel drawn right into the heart of the music.

In addition, I found a Music Angel – a diminutive speaker for an iPod, smartphone or tablet. It needs no batteries, running off the gadget itself, and while the sound is hardly earth-shattering, it’s a great way to ensure that you can play your music when you’re away from home and there is no need to keep your music to yourself.

And since it just jacks into your gadget, it's less likely to be rendered worthless by Apple changing stuff again. 

So now I’m musically set for the holiday – kitted out for travel and for our temporary residence.

Of course, having got such things working again, the temptation has been to buy some new music.

And something new
And the most recent additions to the collection include Hildegard von Bingen’s Canticles of Ecstasy from the Sequentia Ensemble for Medieval Music, conducted by Barbara Thornton, and the Danish String Quartet playing pieces by Thomas Adés (Arcadiana from 1994), Per Nørgård (Quartett Breve from 1952) and Hans Abrahamsen (10 Preludes from 1973).

You might suppose that, separated by ticking on for a thousand years, these lie at opposite ends of the musical spectrum.

However, they share a certain quality in their sparse, rather purifying sound, which creates an introspective, meditative state of mind – a musical cleansing after too much (if that’s possible) 19th century symphonic richness.

As such, both make very welcome additions to my collection.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Break out the Bolly – Ab Fab's back

If the film version of Absolutely Fabulous isn’t the greatest comedy ever made, then at the end of a week in which the UK went completely bonkers, it was pretty much perfect Friday evening entertainment.

It’s extraordinary to remember that the TV show first saw the light of day in 1992, but it’s been with us, on and off, ever since.

Now, finally, it reaches the big screen.
Essentially 90 minutes of sketches, all written by Jennifer Saunders, we see Eddy (Saunders herself) and Patsy (Joanna Lumley) fleeing to the south of France after apparently killing supermodel Kate Moss.

This time, they have to rely on Saffy’s daughter, the street wise Lola (Indeyarna Donaldon-Holness), to help them work out how to escape, since the intervening years have not made the duo any more sensible.

It has some laugh-out-loud moments, but is mostly at the level of inspiring a wide grin while watching.

A few brief existential moments from Eddy are probably the weakest aspects of the film, which is also incredibly indulgent in terms of the guest stars and cameos.

But the script has plenty to enjoy, with plenty of jokes about modern life, from people who say ‘totes’ or ‘O.M.G.’ to the problems of social media and being ‘trollied’ to sex changes. And of course, the world of fashion is a gift to comedy.

Julia Sawalha is back as Saffy, along with June Whitfield as Mother.

It moves at a pace and ends with a nod to Hollywood’s greatest comedy, Some Like It Hot.

If the sum of the parts is not entirely fabulous, one of those parts most certainly is.

Lumley lights up the screen every time she appears: gurning and sneering her way through increasingly improbable situations, bolstered by Bolly, fangs, drugs and self-injected Botox.

Thank goodness the years have not taken a toll on Patsy – a new dose of her sheer awfulness is worth the admission alone.


Sunday, 19 June 2016

Ever wondered what your pets do when you're out?

It happens so often. As you pull the front door to, there is a moment when you wonder just what goes on when you’re not there. What do the furry members of the household get up to.

I admit it: I have actually waved goodbye to our three cats on occasion by telling the oldest of the trio, Boudicca, not to let the younger ones have a party and wreck the place.

And I’m sure that I’m not unique – though I’m also prepared to bet that at least some of it can be blamed on Animal Magic – the children’s TV programme that ran from the 1960s to the ’80s, which saw Johnny Morris voicing assorted animals and birds.

Indeed, The Other Half and I have, on more than one occasion, ‘voiced’ animals and birds we’re watching at the time (we do a great routine for seagulls).

As such, The Secret Life of Pets was always going to be our list of films to see.

We’ve known about it since last July, when, on our return to cinema viewing after 16 years away, a trailer preceded Minions, last summer’s release from Illumination. The chance to catch a preview was too good to miss.

As a bonus, Illumination’s latest release is preceded by Mower Minion, a new, four-minute short featuring the banana-loving yellow creators of chaos.

The plot of our main feature is straightforward enough: in a bustling New York, the life of Max – a little terrier – is disrupted, when his owner brings home a new dog, the huge, shaggy Duke.

When they don’t get on, that leads to the pair getting lost in the streets of the city, without their collars – chased by wardens as strays, before being rescued by Flushed Pets, a revolutionary group of formerly domesticated animals led by Snowball, a tiny, cute but psychotic bunny.

But when they are revealed to Snowball and his crew as “leash lovers,” the situation looks desperate.

Can they escape? Can they get home? Can they get on? Will their friends be able to help?

With obvious similarities to Toy Story, this is a feel-good, family film.

At 90 minutes it speeds along at a merry pace, with new characters introduced throughout.

There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments and more than a few references for adults to knowingly spot.

This may not be complex stuff, but it is a real pleasure – and is quite gorgeous to look at.

And the makers have also spent time genuinely watching animals to know how they move and react in certain situations – there will be much that you’ll recognise.

So, if you want something to make you laugh uproariously and forget the state of the world today, The Secret Life of Pets is a great option.

Oh – and the makers even manage to get a Minions reference into the film too.
It opens properly this Friday across the UK.

Friday, 10 June 2016

ENO's Tristan strikes the wrong chord

There was probably going to be a time when I saw a production of an opera that was trying just too, too hard.

Unfortunately, it happened at the London Coliseum, at last night’s opening of the English National Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde.

It’s difficult to know where to start, so probably best to do so at the beginning.

The orchestra under Edward Gardner was in good form – the prelude was beautiful, if perhaps a tad slow. But that would be being overly picky and, given what followed, I’m determined to grasp at all available straws.

The sets have been designed by world-renowned artist Anish Kapoor, and Act I takes place within a series of three triangular boxes.

This is good: it bolsters a sense of the divide between the lovers – including a divide of social convention – with a void between them for most of the act. It also has drama.

The metallic surfaces reflect light superbly and glow. I rather assumed that we would continue with something similar throughout, since it seemed set to convey Wagner’s ideas around night and day very well.

It might have needed to be built a little more strongly, though, since a bit of early business between Kurwenal and Brangäne gave one section a severe shaking. And some of the audience apparently missed out on some of the ‘action’ as the walls created blocked sightlines.

But oh, the ‘business’. As one young member of the audience noted to me in the first interval, it was all very “distracting”.

Nice set – shame about the costumes
In their respective compartments, Tristan and Isolde are dressed by their servants, bit by painful and inexplicable bit: he as a Samurai warrior, she in a ridiculously over-large crinoline – only for both of them to cast off these garments the  minute that King Mark turns up.

A King Mark of Cornwall, that is, who had apparently wandered into the Mikado dressing room and emerged on stage as an aged Japanese emperor.

Given that Kurwenal and Brangäne were attired and made up as Restoration fops, this was a cultural mash up on speed.

There was, of course, the music. And Wagner’s music is sublime.

On the singing front, Craig Colcough as Kurwenal and Karen Cargill as Brangäne gave wonderful vocal accounts; one can easily conceive of the latter as an Isolde herself.

Stuart Skelton as Tristan is a fine tenor who seemed wooden in the first act in particular, but probably in large part because he was having to act the mannequin as he was dressed.

Heidi Melton is clearly a good dramatic singer, but there is a tightness in her voice in the upper registers, and she lacks the tonal warmth of Cargill.

But if Kapoor’s first-act design worked well, the second act was less convincing – then again, it suffered from crackpot direction that no amount of design could have salvaged.

Daniel Kramer may be in the process of taking over the reins at an ENO that is struggling, on and off stage, but on the basis of this production, that does not give great cause for optimism.

Why, oh why, oh why would you have the lovers play out the great love scene in Act II as though they’re mentally-ill self-harmers?

One could say that ecstatic love is akin to a form of mental illness, but in the context of this work, using the idea of self-harm does two things.

First, it diminishes the power of the love that is central to Wagner’s vision.

Second, it buys into the idea of the final part of the opera as a ‘liebestod’ – literally, a love of death.

That was not something that Wagner ever called it or intended. Isolde does not die at the end, but experiences a transfiguration to join Tristan on some eternal plane.

Love on a gurney – watched by an old man
Now you’re welcome to say that that’s bonkers, but the whole point of Tristan and Isolde is this extraordinary, transcendantal love – are we now so cynical and so enamoured of victim porn that we have to see it like this, with the lovers themselves as damaged, vulnerable human beings who need to be protected (strapped to a hospital bed) for their own sakes?

I skipped the final act. I realised that there was simply no way that I could make my first live ‘liebestod’ this one.

Later, via social media, I was informed that I was “lucky”.

But not only did Kramer’s direction leave me cold, I have absolutely no idea what costume designer Christina Cunningham was thinking. Okay – I have a little with the dandified servants (overweening court officials), but once you’re straining to find a rationale, you’re in trouble.

As to the Samurai and Japanese costumes – I can only guess that this is some convoluted way of hinting at ritual suicide and thus, again, playing to the whole idea of the love being a love of death.

And why was King Mark played as such an elderly man? In the story, hes the uncle of a teenage Tristan, so hardly has to be ancient. Was this an attempt to make the audience consider the potential consummation of his marriage to Isolde as akin to child abuse?

The problem here seems to be: get a world-known artist to design the sets (knowing this will get attenntion), skimp on the leading singers and season with gimmicks.

Perversely, perhaps, my ear was in practice enough to really appreciate, for the first time live, the marriage between word and music – something that Wagner strived to make completely organic.

What a shame that such a moment of personal development came in such a dismal production.



Wednesday, 8 June 2016

The Threepenny Opera – get ready for Brecht on 'roids

It says something when critics are confused. And looking at some of the reviews of the National Theatre’s new production of The Threepenny Opera, a number of the critics out there are very confused.

For instance, it had been cleansed of all politics, suggested one review – which, were it true, would make it the most bowdlerised piece of Brecht ever produced.

It is also patently untrue and begs the question of what any such reviewer thinks is politics – let alone whether they actually know anything at all about one of theatre’s most iconic writers.

Brecht himself voiced the opinion that the British did his work no favours, treating it too reverentially and making it po-faced rather than fun.

The Other Half – a serious Brechtophile and a half – and I have been fortunate enough to see a number of productions that suggest Brits have learned how to do Brecht.

These included the 2009 National Theatre production of Mother Courage, with Fiona Shaw in the lead and songs reworked and played live by Duke Special, so we were expecting great things on our return to the Olivier for his most famous work.

A new adaptation by Simon Stephens has made textural changes – for instance, to more strongly reference bankers, which illustrates just how much this production is very conscious of its political heart.

Rufus Norris has enjoyed a mixed reception to the start of his tenure as artistic director at the National.

In a online comment after the Guardian review, one wit noted dryly that, in the style of its famous reviewer, Michael Billington, Norris’s latest outing had been given a three-star rating, meaning that it could be anything from crap to life changing.

So it was with the merest hint of trepidation that I entered the theatre last Friday evening. I don’t want to see Brecht treated like a religious text, and I’m far from being against adaptation and so on in principle, but would it really work?

Over the following three hours, there were moments when it felt as though I was closer to the soul of the Weimar cabaret scene than I have ever been before – even when listening to the songs of that era.

Brecht’s tale of London’s underworld, where the poor cannot afford ethics, is as resonant today as ever. Hypocrisy, the bread and circuses of pageantry, sex and violence and sexual violence, now with added gender play – it’s all here.

Roslie Craig as Polly and Rory Kinnear as Macheath
As too are beggars, disabled military veterans, crooked coppers and men whose minds have been damaged by war – appropriately, in Afghanistan.

While some changes have also been made to the song lyrics, Kurt Weill’s score is treated with due reverence and performed superbly by an eight-piece band, as it was originally. And this, of course, includes the iconic Mack the Knife.

It’s difficult to reconcile the doubts of some critics as to the quality of the singing – it was excellent throughout and Weill’s music has rarely sounded so downright, deep down sexy.

Indeed, many of the songs offer a very different feel to the general cynicism and decadence of the whole, giving characters the chance to reveal that they do dream and imagine something better, in sharp contrast to their physical, everyday lives.

But here’s the nub. In enjoying the dysfunctionality that is portrayed in front of us, we become complicit in the cruelty. It’s like Jeremy Kyle on speed.

Brecht has tied us in philosophical knots – with a piece of theatre that claims to eschew any moral.

Norris’s direction is spot on, giving us a performance of unrelenting energy and pace.

Vicki Mortimer’s design is wonderful – making the artifice and theatricality absolutely clear. Having characters enter and leave by tearing (or cutting) their way though paper flats is really effective – and the ruined mass of flats that creates Macheath’s den is so evocative of the decay all around (and also reminiscent of the set in GW Pabst’s 1931 film version).

The costumes evoke the Weimar period, with added Keystone cops and robbers.

The cast is uniformally excellent.

As Macheath, Rory Kinnear seems to be a physically calm presence in the midst of a whirlwind of action around him. But there’s always something sinister in that calm; a sense of latent violence – he brings to mind the brooding menace of the Mitchell brothers in EastEnders, but with knobs on; a thug with a soft underbelly.

But as Peachum, Nick Holder outdoes him in the nastiness stakes – perhaps most particularly when turned into a rotund Louise Brooks-alike in the second act; pinstripe suited and on black heels, threats and brutality his daily currency.

Nick Holder as Peachum and Peter de Jersey as 'Tiger' Brown 
Haydn Gwynne as Mrs Peachum is in wonderful form, while Rosalie Craig makes a marvelous Polly – apparently vulnerable and naïve, yet hard as nails when she needs to be.

Sharon Small is a super Jenny – her Surabaya Johnny is simply excellent, ranging from the poignant cry of a dreamer to the incandescent rage of the abused.

A special mention too, to Jamie Beddard as Matthais, one of Macheath’s four core gang members: casting a disabled actor in the role brings an extra dimension to the work’s sense of being about the disenfranchised and discarded of society, and Beddard’s performance adds a really ballsy note to proceedings.

It is great to see Elisabeth Hauptmann’s contribution as collaborator recognised – her German translation of John Gay’s Beggar’s Opera formed the basis for The Threepenny Opera.

This production might not be ‘life changing’ theatre – but it is an excellent, provocative, in-your-face, fuck-you evening’s entertainment that will live for a very, very long time in the memory.

I rather think Bert would have approved. The Other Half certainly hasn’t stopped singing since.

It’s in repertory until October. Find out more at www.nationaltheatre.org.uk.

Monday, 6 June 2016

The incontinence of noise

Young, well-spoken and well-to-do, she sat at the back of a bus, phone to ear, explaining to a friend in a carrying voice about that afternoon’s appointment with her gynecologist, seemingly oblivious to all those around who were perhaps less than enthusiastic about the details of the encounter.

On a train, speeding north from London, a young man, seated at a table in a standard-class carriage, opened his laptop and decided that this was the perfect environment in which to conduct a business video conference call. Everyone within three or four seats in all directions was included – irrespective of their wishes or even the interests of business confidentiality.

These are two snapshots of a modern Britain where humans have become noise incontinent. And they will be familiar to most of us.

But it is not just a matter of conversations made public. It’s one thing for headphones to leak sound, but at least the wearer is making an effort.

Yet it is now the norm, in urban areas, for the first good weather of the year to see windows and balcony doors flung open, and music ‘shared’ with neighbours.

“Music,” that is, consisting of little more than booming bass. The same “music” that you’ll hear from passing cars, whether the windows are down or not.

But this is not simply a matter of individual behavior.

In shopping arcades, going far beyond the curse of muzak, shops blast out sound – presumably, because a psychologist somewhere has discovered that hi-tempo, booming tracks encourage spending and quickly.

The Arndale in Manchester is one example: on a visit one Sunday morning, only the Waterstones Bookshop and Games Workshop were peaceful – although both were busy. Even the Disney Store was playing music loudly – hi-tempo and with a beat, albeit rather more in keeping with little pink princesses.

On a larger scale, it is now apparently acceptable for a rave festival to be arranged and staged within 50 metres of homes, and if residents do not like feeling their bones rattled, that’s their misanthropy.

It never is, incidentally, Chopin rattling someone else’s windows – or Johnny Cash or Dean Martin or even Abba or the Stones.

But try to find a coffee shop – chain or independent – that doesn’t insist on providing some sort of soundtrack to your morning cappuccino. It might just be the radio, but you could be forgiven for thinking that we are scared to sit peacefully; to allow ourselves the opportunity to hear ourselves think.

There is a narrowing of basic good manners here – not a conscious one, but resulting from a sense of individual entitlement that requires no justification and expects no challenge.

‘Why do you think it’s fair for you to make other people listen to your conversation/music?’ This is not a question that usually earns a classier philosophical response than some form of take on a shrugged ‘because’.

Although in order to do so would require a way of explaining why the ‘right’ to converse or play your music in such a way as to force it on others trumps their right not to have it thus inflicted. Since nobody is saying that you cannot play your music or have your private conversation, then that would be difficult.

Perhaps much of it is about consumption.

On one level, we consume the gadgets that allow us to converse wherever we want. And then we consume anything we put on them. Except that, since we are encouraged increasingly to keep it in the cloud, we don’t really have it at all. When we want to conspicuously consume that tune again, we have to download or stream it once more – possibly with added consumption via whatever charges our telecommunications provider might levy.

On another level, there is a growing emphasis on consumption as a core part of citizenship: see all manner of things, from the small-state fundamentalism of the concept of the ‘citizen consumer,’ to the rising importance in the economy of the retail sector (and therefore of our personal and collective consumption).

You can find florid declarations of spending as a patriotic duty to aid the nation’s economy, while increasing suggestions that we’re in for a period of sustained low interest rates (in part because of past and present spending on ludicrously-inflated mortgages) produces a concomitant sense that we might just as well spend our hard-earned, then.

Once having consumed, we then have the right to enjoy that consumption. And after all, if it is a patriotic act we have carried out, then who can deny us enjoying it in whatever way we please? There’s no such thing as society any more anyway.

Now consider the onslaught on personal privacy of the last decade or so: the UK as the CCTV capital of the world; attempts by governments to introduce ‘snoopers’ charters’ to combat terrorism and child abuse º the two terrors of our age: all produce a semi-constant response of how, ‘if you’ve nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to fear’.

The ‘rights’ and ‘entitlement’ of the conscientious consumer sit well with an era in which the desire for privacy can be viewed as an admission of some guilt or other.

Consume, let others see your consumption – and never worry if you’re being overheard or watched, because it’s happening anyway. Quiet and privacy cannot be bought and sold: they have little value.

This incontinence of sound – this droning, banging, driveling bombardment of noise – is itself symptomatic of something wider: of a dumbed-down public discourse where whoever shouts loudest is heard; where considered arguments are battered out of the way by sensation and fact-free claims.


Will it take until all the satellites fail and all the ‘clouds’ burst and all the gadgets seize up to make us appreciate once more, quietness, a private conversation and music enjoyed without the need to foist it on others?

Or before then, will it dawn on people that all this incontinent noise is simply one more cover for our intellectually incontinent politicians and the corporatocracy on whose behalf they work?