I spent a pleasant day in Whitby on Friday. Sometimes the town is best seen at this time of the year, when rain and sleet and cold winds blow around the semi deserted streets. And that's the point: Whitby now doesn't seem to have an 'out of season' period. The place can be so jam packed it's hard to move. Hardly anybody was struggling through the weather to visit the excellent Pannett Art Gallery, which has a rich collection of marine art, much of it produced by the Weatherill family. In the Whitby Independent Bookshop I bought a book on the artist Eric Ravilious, which had a (very) slightly damaged cover. Without asking for a discount I was offered one. All hail the independent bookshop!
It occurred to me today, listening to the news that the five star hotel used to house corrupt Saudi royals, etc. has now been emptied after the inmates had fessed up to £100 billion of corruptly gotten gains, that we in the UK should adopt the same approach. Let's round up those against whom similar charges could be laid, and lock them up in one of those failing Trump golf resorts in Scotland. After a while, they too might admit the error of their ways.
To what extent should one trust online reviews? By way of comparison, would you go up to a complete stranger in the street and ask them for their opinion about a certain product? And then trust the response? Throw in the possibility that your random stranger actually works for the product’s manufacturer or their chief competitor and the expectation of hearing a totally non-detached opinion diminishes. I only ask because I just happened to come across one bad review of Garners Original Pickled Onions. Having been brought up on Mrs Triffitt’s* genuinely original pickled onions, I can only say that Garners negative reviewer must have been brought up on something from a taste-free moulded plastics processing factory.
*Mrs Triffitt ran a grocery shop in Norton (East Riding) before the age of supermarkets.
I borrowed a copy of Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning from friends the other day. A slim in size but substantial in wisdom volume. Apparently it has sold over nine million copies but I had never come across Frankl before, nor indeed the ‘third school of psychology’ which he founded. Frankl, who died in 1997 aged 92 was a survivor of Auschwitz and Dachau and learnt from his experiences a great deal about overcoming suffering, without resorting automatically to some other worldly manifestation of, e.g. religious belief. His approach, which he called Logotherapy has at its core an existential form of positivism (apologies to any terminological purists here). Meaning, and the value of having meaning are not prescribed by rote but are to be found in the will to meaning, to identify it in oneself. It would be as valid to find that meaning in yearning for a season ticket to Elland Road as it would be to wish for the everlasting life (for some of course this might amount to the same thing). Frankl does not set out a hierarchy of meaning, wherein some things are deemed more important than others. The search for The (capital ‘T’) meaning of life cannot be a search for a single, ‘correct’ answer. His approach is therefore humanist and tolerant and acknowledges that religion can be as valid a response as any other to the human need to fill the existentialist vacuum. Whether any religion is ‘correct’ is perhaps as useful a query as to whether Leeds United is more or less meaningful than Manchester United. Not that such an issue is without contention amongst rival fans of course.
Friday night was the opening night of the Scagglethorpe International Art Biennale 2018, surely a night to remember. Well, I can remember some of it. Openings are, after all, the best part of art exhibitions.
This one showed works (apart from my own) of Richard Barnes, Peter Coates, Tina Davy, Catriona Stewart and Simon Thackray. The theme 'Farmyard Animals' was scrupulously ignored in most of the works - another characteristic copied from our companion biennale, Venice. I did an interview on Radio York on Saturday morning (8.45 on the Julia Lewis show) and am still wondering if that was wise. It may have kept people away. Will there ever be another Scagglethorpe International Art Biennale? Some of my exhibits will appear on this website shortly.
I can't summon any enthusiasm for 'City Region Mayors.' I read on today's Labour List website that Dan Jarvis MP is throwing his hat into the ring to be Sheffield City Region Mayor - a position which apparently will come with very few powers but which will give the government's 'Northern Powerhouse' schtick a little more credibility (which it doesn't deserve). Having said which, when John Prescott offered regional devolution, it hardly turned the electorate on to learn that they may have had a tenuous say in, e.g. Regional Spatial Planning Strategy (whatever that is). If we are to have devolution in Yorkshire, can we not go the whole hog - which means for starters that Yorkshire - as a whole - (on its historic boundaries, including Middlesborough) gets some real power. 'Real power' in this case means devolving Whitehall money decisions and pretty much everything that Holyrood has. The Tories in East and North Yorkshire won't like it, but here in North Yorkshire we have a surfeit of councillors and a surfeit of councils that is almost on a par in today's context with what existed pre-1974 local government re-organisation, unfit for purpose.
Not a brilliant picture I know - my old mobile is very picky about taking photos, generally not wanting to - but here is a recognisable murmuration of starlings that has been performing over my house these last few weeks. Not as big a murmuration as those seen elsewhere but a delight all the same, although the car needs washing more often. A small price to pay!
I was reminded of the above 'Chanogram' (a Charlie Chan aphorism) when out on a walk yesterday (between North Grimston and Settrington). The 1920s to 1940s film detective had many such sayings, illuminating (or not) his wise, 'oriental' insights. The Charlie Chan films merit a whole chapter in my book of the moment, Buddha in the Machine: Art, Technology and the meeting of East and West. So spotting this hole in a mirror smooth pond seemed like a remarkable, if meaningless coincidence. But in a curious, Zen-like way, it was a thing of beauty, based on the simplest of technologies: a drain pipe.
I receive a daily list of climate change news items from the world's media using a service called 'climate list' (worth joining if you're interested). Today I was struck by two headlines:
Effective response to climate change depends on hope, not fear
Are There Zombie Viruses In The Thawing Permafrost?
The moral in very British terms is hope for sunny weather but always carry a brolly.
At the ever excellent Scarborough Jazz Club (more on which in a moment) last night I decided in the full flush of inspiration to resurrect an idea I floated unsuccessfully two or three years ago. Namely, to unilaterally declare that Scarborough will be the European Town of Culture 2019. Yes, I've checked on Google and nobody else seems to have taken up the title. There was a village in Holland a few years ago that declared itself to be the European Village of Culture and by all accounts they did quite well. When I first suggested this idea, I think people asked themselves 'what's the point?' Here's some reasons why. 2019 is the year of Brexit (allegedly) but we're not leaving Europe are we? It may well be that the EU has declared that the UK cannot host the European Capital of Culture 2023, but at least at the start of next year we'll still be in the EU so there's no impediment there. Why Scarborough? Apart from thinking of it first, Scarborough has a wonderful cultural 'capital' which is too often neglected. We should celebrate it and make its presence felt. Then there was the fact that for many years Scarborough hosted a Benelux Festival, celebrating an outward facing embrace of our European ties, no doubt partly based on the arrival of the great Dutch herring fleet when there were still fish to catch in the North Sea.
I will think of more reasons as time goes by, but for now it is official: Scarborough is the European Town of Culture 2019. Drop me a line if you like the idea. By the way, there's no money, no committees, no bureaucracy.
Last night's jazz was clearly inspirational - a world class performance by the Ricardo Alvarez Quartet. Alvarez, a Chilean said he came from a city of five million, yet it only had one jazz club. Here we are in Scarborough, population c.70,000 and we have a jazz club which is at the top of its game. Last night was exceptional, it was astonishing to find such top class entertainment for a meagre £6 on the door (plus raffle). The players Alec Robinson on piano and Emlyn Vaughn (bass) performed with the intense rigour their instruments demand, Alvarez on tenor sax seemed to be in some sublime state of transcendence and the drummer, Casper Haslam gave a crashingly outstanding performance, not only with his kit but his endless range of facial expressions - the latter aspect being, I think an essential component of a jazz drummer's oeuvre. Bloody marvellous!
Preview invitation - exclusive to readers of this website! 6.30pm Friday 2nd February
Exhibition artwork: Simon Thackray