Thursday, October 13, 2011

Gimme Shelter

In parallel to property mega-inflation in the capital and the nationwide credit crunch, the UK housing charity Shelter confirmed today that private rental levels are officially unaffordable - as linked to a percentage of personal income - in 55% of local authorities in England. London in turn is two and a half times as expensive as the rest of England.

This rank discrimination jigsaws with perfection into the decision of the British student body to focus protest on college fees as opposed to the much greater evil of cross-generational career-destroying internship abuse and with demographic changes afoot in South East England unparalleled in Europe since the wars of the Yugoslavian succession. Arguably the most fateful, albeit unlikely, combination of social changes since VJ Day.

The toxic swamp of London now offers a hectic New York-style lifestyle without any of the fun. A regimented Teutonic work experience without any of the financial rewards of living in Germany. And now a private rental sector offering up sub-standard micro-living conditions for the price of concomitant financial insecurity for life.

At the very least I trust there are going to be some cracking good folk songs coming out of all this one day...

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Europa Hotel Belfast

There is some extraordinarily moving footage from the 2010 Glastonbury Festival of Ray Davies of The Kinks performing an emotional version of the song Days. This was shortly after the death of the original guitarist Pete Quaife.

Days is a wonderful encapsulation of both affection and loss alike for partners, family. friends or even animal companions.

It can also be read as a goodbye to better times gone by from the perspective of a current period of personal change, growth and struggle. That in the same vein as Van Morrison's Madame George - recorded as the very streets and districts of Belfast in which the song was set approached blanket physical and societal collapse during the Troubles.

Earlier this week I watched a BBC documentary about the much-bombed Europa Hotel in Great Victoria Street in Belfast - which is located beside the equally bombed train station that was referenced in the same Morrison song. Some impressive archive footage and computer-generated reconstructions of the attacks were balanced out by wearily predictable reminiscences from the likes of Anne Robinson, Trevor McDonald and John Suchet of their time there as journalist residents while bitter oul Belfast burned and blew up around them.

There still always seems to me to be a faint trace of cosmopolitan superiority in such interviews as to how the restless natives were behaving at the time in Reginald Maudling's "bloody awful country". And indeed a wee bit of a snigger at the parochialism of the hotel restaurant's services and penthouse lounge dollybirds. When the last Prime Minister of Northern Ireland Brian Faulkner insisted during the 1972 closure of the Stormont parliament that the country was "not a coconut colony" he was probably getting closer to the truth of mainland political attitudes than he could ever have realised.

All so truly tiresome of course in light of the sheer tragedy of the destruction of one of Britain and Europe's great port cities and the fact that so many posters on Northern Ireland internet forums to this day often reference the people gone from those times as much as the terminal physical changes since the late Sixties.

Overshadowing all of course being the proud fact that during the Northern Ireland Troubles many more good people stayed in Ulster than ever left for North America, South Africa or Australasia.