Them too


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Some random thoughts.

To avoid wasting time with the following, you could just follow this link instead.

What he said.


But if you are still here (you fool!) …


A friend once told me that my habit of smiling at women in the street was a bad thing. In fact, she insisted, smiling at a woman I didn’t know was tantamount to rape. Even the fact that I instinctively smile at anyone of any sex and purely in a friendly or amused way, should we happen to make the most fleeting of eye contact, was utterly irrelevant. The violation of my unsolicited smile was unforgivable, and I should take steps to cease doing so forthwith.

I didn’t.

But that is not to say I pooh pooh her argument entirely. For one thing I despise the folks who demand a smile in return and make crass comments to that effect, however friendly their manner might really be. I totally understand women who look fixedly at the ground as they pass and only hope they don’t really feel violated by what I hope and believe is a friendly look at a fellow human. Let’s face it, if we were dogs, we’d be discussing how invasive is a sniff of a backside.

And I do get many smiles back, mainly, it must be said, from women. Maybe there are some men who feel molested by my grins. But if we non-rapists are going to stop smiling and leave all beaming rights to the bad guys, I’d be very depressed. Victor Borge used to say that a smile is the shortest distance between two people — I do hope nobody really feels it’s all but penetrative.


This whole #metoo phenomenon is, imao, a phenomenon that is long overdue. at least in terms of the awareness it might bring; so we can hope that some good might come out of the despicable actions (allegedly) of a Hollywood mogul. People say he’s being scapegoated for an endemic problem; maybe, but if it makes a few other sleazeballs think twice and a empowers a few more of their victims to take immediate action, that’s one scapegoat worthy of its sacrifice.


And it is a phenomenon that should give all us blokes pause for very hard thought. Should we, rather than jumping into a #notme denial, not give some serious pondering time to whether we should be putting our hands up and accepting some responsibility, if not culpability? Even those of us, like your present blogger, who like to think we’re supportive; it’s not about beating oneself up and donning the old sackcloth and ashes, but checking not just our privilege but also our culpability and being prepared to fess up and change.


It’s a genuine question. I’m unsure to what extent we should do that, and perhaps more importantly how. And whatever the answer to that, there’s the next question for men and women and all points between and outwith alike: in the immortal words of Mary Beard, what are we going to do about it?


Yes of course there are men who are harassed and abused. I have been wolf-whistled and verbally accosted by men (in Old Compton Street, where I was wearing a very loud jacket) and women, though I take it as read, with my looks, that the attention was of a sarcastic or satiric nature, and time has definitely healed the tendency. I have been groped on underground trains and, on one tightly packed Northern Line carriage, the young woman in front of me was pressing her arse into my groin in a way that didn’t seem excusable simply as a result of the crush, a suspicion that was confirmed when the carriage population was drastically reduced and she not only stayed close, but bent down to adjust her shoes, still rubbing herself against me. But I didn’t feel violated or upset.  Nor did I find it totally enjoyable, a degree of bemused discomfort attenuating any arousal that some might have experienced.

And then there was the time of my first office job, the Seventies, the time of which folks who weren’t there say, it was different then, meaning that casual sexism was acceptable — not entirely true and it should be offset against the fact that a sexual genie was out of the very restrictive bottle of previous decades. With women’s increased sexual freedom came a lot of more unsavoury attitudes that had been festering in the bottom of the same container. It was the time of The Female Eunuch and the first full-frontal Playboy pics alike. The topless barmaid and the radical feminist had a common ancestor.

And in my IT office, an equal mix of mainly Northern men and women, amid the general banter and the crude comments, there was the occasional groped buttock or breast and sexual cajolery, but, as far as I remember, given and taken from both sexes.  A friend did sleep with the boss after a drunken party, but they had been colleagues and friends since their teens; in no way was it related to preferment (or even turning a blind eye to her erratic attendance hours) and it did result in the whole office learning how poorly the chap was endowed.

But I cannot put my hand on my heart and say with certainty that I never said or did anything that would qualify someone to say #metoo.


From the other side, I get more and more intrigued by the fact that I have a number of female acquaintances who insist #notme (though I have so far seen none risk the storm that might follow saying this online). And I wonder to what extent it is true that some women do get more of this attention than others (and there is no significant statistical difference that I can see between the groups, in ‘attractiveness’ or mode of dress or any other factor some might consider relevant). Or is it more likely that some are so accepting of it as part of the background noise of life, that they hardly notice it? Would that make it OK? Would that mean the others do protest too much? Well, when it seems a seamless line from whistles to rapes, no, I can’t see how it would.

Doubtless some guys who make boorish comments or whistle do not see it, at least consciously, as anything other than a compliment. Indeed, down the years, from second wave to this, when the subject has come up, there are always a few women (at least in the working classes wher your blogger comes from) who will bemoan that they’ve never been wolf-whistled and perhaps only half-jokingly wonder what’s so unattractive about them.


I always wonder to what extent the whole cultural pressure on women to be attractive and men to acknowledge this is a major stumbling block to progress. I can’t help thinking that while the ground floor of every department store or high street chemist is a sea of overpriced cosmetics stands, the cause of feminism, a cause that could benefit everybody, is very heavily handicapped.

But maybe that’s just because I’ve always been a lost cause in the looks stakes, and I find makeup on a woman a total turn off. Ho hum. It’s not easy being a Puritan, though it may help preserve my bi-celibate status.


But, as a friend says, if you think #metoo means you can’t flirt with women at all, it probably means you don’t know how to flirt properly. I could write reams about the question of flirting … maybe another day.


In recent months I have witnessed a couple of blokes outside a Leith boozer call to and then stand in the way of a young woman in a summer outfit. With dignity she just brushed past them and carried on her way, ignoring their ribald but not very aggressive comments. And only last week a respected retired professional gentleman has embarrassed me twice by telling women (on one occasion the life model we had just been drawing) to sit next to me, ‘because he likes pretty women’, making other ‘complimentary’ comments that would have made me uncomfortable even in the Seventies.

Now an activist friend has called on men to take action more often. As she asks, what those of us who pay such good lip service to recognising the problem (especially its sheer scale) have actually done about it. Calling out seems to be the preferred weapon, but cowardice does preserve consciousness in us all; I doubt I’d have been well received trying to show two drunks on Leith walk the error of their ways, and I’m bloody certain, even if I’d got away without physical assault. And though I did say, in admonishing tone, that I like sitting next and chatting to people, I didn’t feel able to give a lecture or start a debate on the topic, especially as the other incident was at a wake.

I know I have female friends who do call out casual sexism, such as guys at a bar discussing how to get served by the ‘hot’ barmaid, but my feeling is that po-faced lectures in such circumstances are actually counterproductive. As far as I can tell, they usually result in a stream of insults, accusations of homosexuality (and to these guys it is an accusation) and a dismissive attitude. If one calls out friends one is killing an atmosphere and quickly getting a reputation as an obsessive killjoy.

Of course the sexist is at fault throughout, but the aim must be to make things better, not just to feel one is on a moral high ground.



No doubt some will say (and have on social media already) that there’s a big jump from a compliment to a lass in a bar to assault and rape. But what has to be considered is the context and general level of background noise in which this occurs. If you’re a woman for whom a smile has been taken as an offer of sex, who has been touched lasciviously or gratuitously on public transport or groped by relatives and family friends since childhood, that compliment, that flirtatious comment might not feel so innocent or trivial. So, in the immortal words of Victoria Wood’s version of Ena Sharples, look sharp and think on. And the most important point is it’s about power and privilege, even just by dint of being male in ‘a man’s world’, the implied threat and that good old violence inherent in the system. That’s never been relevant in my low-key experiences of being on the receiving end, nor was it among colleagues in my laid-back IT departments (as far as I’m aware). As yer man who was abused in the forces (see link above) is well aware, even for him it’s a rare occurrence in a specific situation, not something he has to confront every time he leaves his front door.



Yesterday I saw an interesting point made in an article which spoke of  men in an auditorium being asked who among them took measures to avoid being attacked or hassled on a day-to-day basis, and what those measures were. Hardly any hands were raised. The contrast with the response to the same question from women was an eye-opener for many. But the odd fact remains that men are far more likely to be attacked, although less likely (though it does indeed happen) to be sexually assaulted or raped. Most people go about their daily lives without being attacked most of the time (me, two or three times in 65 years).  But that culture of drip drip drip harassment and perceived vulnerability has a huge effect on the ability to approach that life with confidence and free from fear.


So now we know that a large number of women, possibly all of them, certainly among the bourgeoisie and liberal ‘thinking’ classes, claim to experience harassment on a daily basis from an early age, and it seems little if any of this can be put down to oversensitivity, or whatever else some might wish to excuse it as.

The geek in me would be fascinated to see a graph or other visual showing what percentage of men were harassing women at what level. Is there a simple curve from a lot of guys smiling or leering or making comments, all the way up, via the bottom pinchers and rub-againsters, to the full-on molesters and rapists? And what would that visual aid tell us that would be of use? Probably nothing, but like I say, I do love a good graph.



Anyway, the day thou gavest, Earth going round Sun, has ended and this blog has rambled more than enough. I could write thirty pages more if I had world enough and time but I have a painting to finish and a novella to write, and I know I wouldn’t be likely to change the world even if anybody read this twaddle. Any regular readers will already be aware of my general ineffectitude and negative charisma. That’s another reason why I don’t engage in discussions with sexist pigs.  It’s like the old adage about teaching one to sing … it wastes your time and it annoys the (male chauvinist) pig. Not that I believe it can’t be done. I’m sure there is a way to engage (and it’s not just ‘how would you feel if that was your daughter/sister/granny?’, as double standards are, by definition, immune to that logic), but like I said, I’m no Socrates.

And, like I asked, as Mary B did before me, what are we going to do about it? That, along with Elaine Morgan’s suggestion (in The Descent of Woman)  that women will one day be encouraging men to ‘come on in; the water’s lovely’, does give me hope. It’s easy to deprecate men and, fuck me, do we deserve it, but if we can’t find a way out of the #metoo morass beyond the Solanas claim that all men are turds, nobody wins, least of all the lasses.

And they’re so sweet and lovely and sexy (I’m joking!), I’d hate for that to be the case.



From the Diary of a Waster


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Dear Diary

This week I sorted out my stuff to become an official OG (Owd Git).  I applied weeks ago (I got a letter telling me to). If you haven’t heard within 14 days, it said, call the helpline on this number.

11 days to go: nada. After ringing a train of phone numbers, each telling me I needed to phone another, I

Oh for fuck’s sake, shut up, Cowan, you irritating twat!

Sorry about that but what’s with all the waffle on Radio 3? And now after a short segment of a Beethoven piece (no bleeding chinks, my arse), there’s that bloody boring trailer for CD Review again. Just play some fucking music, for pity’s sake (shut up for fuck’s, play music for pity’s, them’s the rules). I can’t write words, when you is talking bollocks all the time. I might as well be listening to the sea of ad-interrupted pap on Classic fm!

Where was I?  Oh yeah …

xxxxxxxxx finally got through to a very helpful bloke in Swansea. Apparently I had filled in the date my marriage ended (well, I guessed at it, after a fruitless search for decrees absolute), but not the actual date of the marriage (I could have sworn i had). Not that anyone was going to ring me and ask for it, I had to go into panic mode and spend half a day on the phone.

What struck me is that I could tell him the date right off the top of my head, 40 years after I, like all traditionally raised husbands, forgot our first anniversary.

Well, my pension starts coming in on my next birthday, when I will receive the princely sum of twenty-seven pounds and thirty-eight pence. That’s one day’s worth. I wait four weeks for the next payment which should be 28 times that.

So the rest of the day was spent applying for housing benefit. How long that will take, I have no idea. Apparently I’m entitled to reduction in Council Tax and all but £90 of my rent. So a more frugal life beckons, the savings having run out.

No matter, my Chinese chum assures me I will be famous, and thus rich, when she finishes translating Little Mr Poonlop into Mandarin. I’d better get on learning the lingo for the book signing tour.

And buying a canvas to do a painting of her on the road to Assisi …And I found time after all the bureaucracy shit to reboot the Elsies project at Lucidity Ltd’s concepts pages

Now with added nudity but all in the best possible taste.

So it could be that life will settle down to something it’s never been before … normal.

Or it could be that I’ll be living in a packing case in LiDL’s car park.

I’ll keep you posted …


Reading the Raven


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In the Club one Tuesday morning, as I sat there quietly yawning
At the crossword in the paper with its clues so recondite
As I sat and sipped my whisky, in skipped Kenneth, very frisky,
Like some half-crazed Scottish pisky, asked me, eager but polite,
“Is it, maybe, rather risky, while I have you in my sight,
“To ask a question if I might?”

“You who sits, unkempt, unshaven, would you care to read ‘The Raven’,
“Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Raven’, at our ghoulish party night?
“Join the poor accurséd bleeders, whom we’ve chosen to be readers,
“With Poe’s morbid morsels feed us, dressed in red and black (not white):
“Read that tale of broken-hearted sorrowing without respite?”
And I answered, “Yeah — all right.”

But, as I thought on this arrangement I recalled a prior engagement,
Something that could cause estrangement, scheduled for that self-same night
A promise made to someone’s daughter, to a fair maid that I sought to
Meet up with across the water, for a promise of delight.
This I solved with simple slaughter, hid the body out of sight,
Freeing me to say “All right.”

Thus I could begin preparing, working out what I’d be wearing;
Found a smoking cap in velvet on a crafts and clothing site.
Chose a shirt and jacket, fitting for the seat where I’d be sitting,
Reading words to have them shitting, shitting in their pants with fright.
Could I bring them fear and trembling, with a thrill of dark delight?
A small voice answered, “Yeah — all right.”

How short-lived my soul’s elation, pointless all my preparation,
Themis will have reparation for my wicked appetite:
For my dreadful deeds my curse is I must learn those doleful verses
Which in fear my soul rehearses all day long without respite,
Knowing until time reverses nothing can my soul requite,
All because I said, “All right.”

I sent some stuff on a slow boat to China this week. Then I made the mistake of telling the recipient that’s what I’d done and found myself having to explain why I’d used the phrase, that the boat wasn’t necessarily slow …

But in researching the date of the song (1948), I discovered that it gets its name from a phrase used in Noo Yoick poker playing circles, as frequented by the songwriter, Frank Loesser, to describe a player who loses steadily but handsomely.

You learn something new every day.
Unfortunately, at my age, you tend to forget it a few days later.


The Danikils


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It’s UK National Poetry Day Tomorrow.

And, purely coincidentally, as I went to bed in the wee small hours, I suddenly had a Proustian flashback to a poem called The Danikils, by ‘T.Y.’

T.Y. was a lad called Alan Tinsley and his effort was on the front page of my earliest effort at journalistic excellence, a class newspaper, set as a project by an English teacher (the name and other identifying features of whom have completely left my brain).

Rather like Dr Johnson’s dog on its hind legs, we were a least as surprised that Tinsley had done this at all as by any qualities it may have had. He had never been noted as a creative mind, an average student (given that he was already in an above average grammar school setting), more inclined to science subjects than arts and lit. Indeed I often wondered if he’d found this parody elsewhere and sneaked it in, but that would not really have been like him either. Then again, I’ve written things myself which I’ve suspected were too good to be original (but every man likes the smell of his own farts, as they say), and wondered if I’d dug them from some dormant memory.

I doubt it was a great parody. Technically it was a matter of taking Wordsworth’s Daffodils and tweaking a few words here and there. I shouldn’t knock that approach, I use it far too often myself, even fifty years on. And the effect of Tinsley’s effort seemed very funny at the time, and not just to us sixteen-year-olds; the teacher was mighty impressed and also mighty surprised.

I wish I could remember more of it. I think the line ‘vacant and expensive mood’ was in there, but I have a feeling someone else, a professional writist like Paul Jennings may have used it too. Only one bit really sticks — I can’t even recall whether he wandered lonely as a cloud or some variation thereon, but lines three to six were definitely …

When all at once I spied a crowd
A host of hairy Danikils
Beside the pool, beneath the trees
Doing the dance of the cheddar cheese.

Well, it just goes to prove my assertion that anyone can do this parody stuff, and undermine any ambition I might have to sell myself as anything special, though I am assured by small Chinese women that I’m a genius.

And I’ve been asked to recite (or at least read) The Raven for the Scottish Arts Club’s Halloween Poe evening. I can’t think of that without tweaking the first line in a Tinsleyish manner myself. It always comes to my mind as …

Once, upon a midnight dreary, as I sat with Wallace Beery …

But I shall dress in black and do it straight of course. I’m even buying a smoking cap to wear as I read it from an armchair…

A video may follow. Or not.

Don’t Shoot the Piano Player


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“Let’s stop romanticising the misguided, possibly dangerous actions of spurned men.
On Saturday, the Bristol Post reported the story of how a 34-year-old man was intending to play one of the city’s public pianos in order to “win” back his ex girlfriend. Calling the woman who he’d been dating for four months “Rapunzel”, the stunt was intended to show off how much he loved her.
As is fairly typical in these kinds of stories, the Post branded the stunt as romantic, calling Luke Howard “heartbroken”, tagging his efforts as “dedication” in their tweet. However, in refusing to accept his ex girlfriend’s “no”, and by making a huge public statement demanding that she recognises his “love” for her, Howard’s behaviour is not romantic. It’s entitled – and it’s symptomatic of a wider problem of men’s harassment of their exes.
This is not the first time that women have been told to accept men not taking no for an answer as a romantic gesture. From John Cusack’s ghetto blaster in Say Anything… to the best man’s creepy filming of his friend’s bride in Love Actually, the ideal of a heartbroken man harassing the object of his affection has been sold to us as true love over and over again.
But there’s nothing romantic about refusing to accept that a woman has a right to leave you. It’s not a love story when a woman tells a man “no” and he demands she change it to a “yes”.”
[various posts, originating on a site called The Pool, I think]

I find the reactions in some quarters to this poor, suffering sod most upsetting, What mean-minded miserable buggers there are in this world. HAve they never been dumped? Or even loved?

On what basis are people extrapolating shit about ‘entitlement’, and his not accepting her ‘right’ to leave him? It’s a dumbass gesture born of wretchedness, and I’ll agree the guy seems a bit of a wet twerp, but at most it’s a case of pleading, not ‘demanding’. I see no evidence in article or interview of him not ‘accepting her right’, but he seems to be trying to exercise his own right of appeal (not very appealingly, it must be said). And unless the poor lass lives near the piano or he’s lugging around wherever she goes, he’s hardly ‘harrassing’ her.

Personally, I would support a policy of summary execution for anyone who dumps their partner without good demonstrable cause (though not after such a short relationship as his with ‘Rapunzel’, and with the proviso that the dumpee has to agree to it — and that after a cooling-off period). If I stabbed someone I could cause them extreme pain and some possible impairment, and I would quite rightly be castigated and punished for it, but the wounds would heal in short order, and life continue much as it was.  Dumping someone who loves you can cause at least as much anguish, physical pain, and even seriously increase their risk of heart failure, leaving internal scars that time does little more than stick plasters over, and which make successive relationships harder to hold down; but the law doesn’t even get involved unless the sufferer acts unreasonably and illegally. Even then the victim gets all the blame and deprecation, rather than any support or help.

Theologists used to say (maybe still do) that the greatest sin is to break a vow. If free will is the main gift of the deity, we take a great step by surrendering it to a promise.  So the greatest insult to said deity is to throw the gift back in Her face by breaking our word. And the same people who demand (and they are demanding) that guys simply accept the pain of being dumped are usually those who bemoan the lack of commitment shown by so many blokes these days. I have heard someone say that their vow to stay for better for worse, ‘didn’t include if it made me miserable’. For fuck’s sake, it’s no vow if you’re only saying ‘I promise to stay as long as it makes me happy’! And anyway, statistics show that a great many dumpers come to regret it later, by which times. I’d be the last to say ‘suck it up’ about any misery it does cause, but to cause even more misery to get out of it is morally no better than stealing to solve your cash flow problems.

But like I say, the guy seems to be making a prize pranny of himself. Stephen Pinker suggested that the irrational actions of the rejected have evolved to make the rejectee scared and more likely to stay around out of physical fear. I rather think they’re there to ensure the separation. Grand romantic gestures, and all the other things that a man or woman will do when scrabbling with bleeding fingertips to cling onto a crumbling cliff, do little more than make us look complete twats that no one could possibly love. That will kill any tendency to guilt feelings in the dumper, so they can go off and mate with some fresh supplier of eggs or sperm.  Life, eh?

I need a random title here etiquette


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I love the way that scams and spams come in waves. The next big thing, the bandwagon all the sad little wannabe crooks jump on to, despite the fact that folks might smell a rat rather quickly if they get ten mails telling them they’ve successfully cancelled an Amazon order they never made.

Yeah, I’ve been getting that one a lot lately. And the one where someone tells me they got my address (and presumably that of the other ten random addresses in the ‘to’ box) from a site where I registered to make money online. So even if I had ever done such a thing, would I not wonder why so many people were sending me similar offers to take my money off me at the same time?

But my favourite now is the one that tells me I have unread facebook messages (to an email that doesn’t even have a linked facebook account). But it doesn’t just say, “You have three unread messages on facebook” or that these will soon be deleted. Oh no, it also adds a random word on the end. I assume this is to fool spam filters looking for set phrases. The extra word is probably chosen at random from a dictionary and appended.

Some might think this would make the average user wary. But it is a known fact that these mails are full of bad English and spelling and stuff to make the smarter (or at least more fastidious) folk delete right away, rather than spark investigations and traces. So a stupid extra word will hardly be noticed by the less tech-savvy target audience who will think Oh dear, I hadn’t noticed the messages, I should go on fb more often, I’ll click here to … oh, shit!


But what I love most about these things is that the extra words provide me with a novel source of randomly generated concrete poetry.

This interest goes back ages. At university, we used to cut up newspapers and place the words on active hot plates, writing them down in the order they caught fire. Sadly none of the poems still exist (rather like the hall of residence in question); but these things, like Tibetan sand mandalas, are meant to be ephemeral.

As is this one, being the extra words of a week’s worth of such emails, in order of arrival. Not sure who Ripley is (except Sigourney Weaver in Alien or the dog in the very wonderful Edinburgh gelateria, Affogato), but it’s right on the money (see what I did there) about Mike Pence’s ‘cursive’ ambitions.

(you have) unread messages

paragraphing topics
attackers jaunts beggary
trucker ripley
delegation forward
cursive ambitions
pence littered fiddler




By the way, while I’m here, if anyone (especially in Europe or UK) would like to look at my chum’s questionnaire about music and the arts in education, we’d be so grateful we will kiss the statue of your choice at the next opportunity.

Some Things for Jing


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As my houseguest keeps making demands on me to download this, tell her about that or write something about the other, I might as well share some of the fruits to save the trouble of writing a blog per se

London’s West End

London’s ‘Theatre Land’ is the area known as the West End (the East End being found in the financial City of London and beyond).  Although companies in Shakespeare’s time had played at venues in less central parts of London, the first permanent theatre in the district opened in 1663 on Drury Lane (where the Theatre Royal now stands).

The West End is now the largest theatre district in the world, covering more than a square kilometre and containing about forty venues.

All types of theatre are performed, from classic drama to modern plays and stand up comedy. The West End also boast two of the World’s top opera houses, the Coliseum and the Royal Opera House (home to the Royal Opera and Ballet companies). But the area is best known for its musical theatre, from the Classics like Oklahoma and South Pacific to modern favourites like Phantom of the Opera, Cats, Blood Brothers and Les Miserables. Another popular genre in recent years has been the ‘juke box’ musical, where a story is constructed around the songs of a famous band or singer, such as We Will Rock You (Queen) and Mama Mia! (Abba).

Going to a West End show is now a feature of many tourists’ visit to London, and the area sells over 14 million tickets every year.


BBC Radio 3

The British Broadcasting Company Limited was founded in 1922. It was a private company, owned by a consortium of radio equipment manufacturers. In 1927 this became the British Broadcasting Corporation, a body under the ownership of the UK government but largely independent of their control.  The main source of funding was a fee paid by all who bought a license to use a radio receiver (and later a television).

By 1946 the BBC had two radio channels (and one television channel, the only one in the UK). The Home Service was mainly speech programmes (factual and drama) and the Light Programme provided ‘light entertainment’ (popular music, comedy, quiz shows etc). The Third Channel was formed to carry ‘serious’ music, drama, poetry, prose and discussion, a more intellectual content than the other channels or television. Leading philosophers such as Bertrand Russell and Isaiah Berlin as well as historians and other academics were regularly featured.

It was involved in the first broadcasts of some major works, such as Dylan Thomas’s ‘Pay for Voices’, Under Milk Wood, and many of the compositions of leading British and International composers, such as Britten and Shostakovich.

In 1967 the BBC made major changes, not only introducing a second tv channel, BBC2, but also responding to the challenge from commercial (and illegal) stations transmitting pop music for a younger audience, by introducing Radio 1. As part of this shake-up, the Light Programme became Radio 2 and the Home Service became Radio 4. Logically, the Third Programme became Radio 3. It still broadcasts predominantly classical music, with some programmes specifically dedicated to ‘early’ music (Bach and before), contemporary music, both mainstream and radical, Jazz and ‘World’ music. It has weekly drama programmes and opera broadcasts, and a nightly hour of debate, discussion or talks on a range of cultural subjects. Its main, commercial ‘rival’ for classical music is Classic FM, but this has a more mainstream agenda, concentrates on the less ‘demanding’ repertoire, and doesn’t often play whole symphonies or operas.

The Proms

The BBC Proms, or Henry Wood Promenade Concerts, are a music festival that goes back over 120 years. The idea of ‘promenading’ or strolling around while listening to music began in the mid eighteenth century. It was a regular feature of London’s ‘pleasure gardens’, public parks where orchestras or bands would play on the covered bandstands. Such stands, usually dating from the nineteenth century, can still be seen in many UK parks.

From the 1830s, indoor Proms, where seats were removed and the audience was free to move around were popular. In 1895, the conductor Henry Wood was invited by the impresario Robert Newman to begin a series of such concerts with the aim of ‘training the public by easy stages’, introducing them to classical music with popular pieces at first, then longer, more complex and modern works. Because there were no seats, larger audiences could be accommodated, and thus tickets could be much cheaper.  This meant a wider section of society could have access to top quality performances.

The Concerts were originally held in the Queen’s Hall, next to the BBC’s Broadcasting House in London, just north of Oxford Street. In 1927, after the death of Newman, the BBC itself took over the running of the concerts. At this time, Monday concerts were usually of music by Wagner, Fridays, Beethoven and a mixture of other works, especially by living composers, on other nights (no concerts on Sundays).

During the War, the BBC withdrew support and concerts continued with whoever was available under private sponsorship, until German bombs destroyed the Hall in 1941. The BBC resumed ownership and Sir Henry died in 1944, and the Proms moved, first to the Royal Albert Hall and then to the town of Bedford for a while.

After the War, the returned to the Albert Hall, where they have stayed eve since. A significant event was the appointment of Sir Malcolm Sargent as chief conductor, a post he held until 1966.  A very flamboyant man, he was nicknamed ‘Flash Harry’ He always wore a carnation in his buttonhole and made speeches to the audience, full of humour. As he was born a few months before the first Proms in 1895, he claimed that Henry Wood heard of this and invented the Proms, “to give me something to do when I grew up”. His speeches on the Last Night of the Proms, the big, fun concert, full of patriotic songs and silliness, set the standard for all conductors who have followed. When a critic accused him of making concert audiences act like football fans, he replied, that this was a good thing!

So now the Proms run for about eight weeks each summer and the number of concerts has steadily grown. This year there are 75 concerts, at least one a day for 58 days. As well as those in the Albert Hall, there are regular chamber music concerts in the nearby Cadogan Hall and, for the first time, a Proms in another city, as an extra concert comes from the UK City of Culture 2017, Hull. Concerts still concentrate on the ‘core repertoire’ of Western classical music, composers from Bach and Vivaldi to Shostakovich and Britten, but there are plenty of more recent (and earlier) pieces; the Proms commissions a number of new works from living composers each year and gives the UK premieres of many more. In recent years, the content has become even broader, with special concerts of film music, music for Children or based on popular tv series, like Dr Who. Pop bands, jazz and folk musicians are also featured, with special concerts dedicated to performers like David Bowie or Scott Walker. Some say this is ‘dumbing down’, others claim that it brings a whole new audience to the experience of concert-going, which is what Henry Wood and Malcolm Sargent intended to do in their times.

Cessation of hostilities


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I have a blocked drain, a slow brain and a fast train to take on Sunday. I’ve been hobnobbing and Smorresbroding in København and setting up websites and all that…

And I have a guest staying for a few weeks and Festival stuff to do, so don’t expect much if anything for the next few Wednesdays.

But you can do me a favour by taking a look at my chum’s questionnaire (work in progress, so criticisms as well as answers welcome), if you like. Especially if you live or was eddercated in the UK or Europe.  Ta.  See ya!

Click here. Go on, you know you want to …