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...

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Laurel And Hardy And Twats At Oxford

I remember once reading a thread on the "Exiles" section of the main Belfast internet forum where a lady in her sixties from Canada wistfully recalled the good old days and the friends she left behind. She mentioned three of them by name in the hope that the possibility may arise in the scary new digital world that somebody would know them and there might be a way to re-establish contact. The first reply from a jet black Ulster cyber-humourist simply noted: "They're all dead".

My first interface with the fateful circularity of life came as a child when I was watching an old compendium of clips from Laurel and Hardy movies - one that included the famous Way Out West sequence of their charming soft-shoe shuffle outside a saloon bar. On asking my mother about their whereabouts thereafter I was informed that alas they were gone in body and spirit. A crushing and literally tearful blow I recall to this day.

For many people in their forties and fifties Laurel and Hardy were a mainstay of television viewing in their youth. In hindsight, and while cross-referencing their filmography, I can distinctly recall seeing the entireity of their 1929-1935 talking shorts. These were often transmitted around the 6pm slot on BBC2 in the late Seventies and early Eighties. Likewise for all thirteen of their Hal Roach- directed feature films made between 1931 and 1940. I also remember that Channel 4 showed some of the later Twentieth Century Fox and RKO features during the Nineties - A-Haunting We Will Go, Air Raid Wardens, The Big Noise etc - though these were essentially of interest to movie buffs only by virtue of their status as some of the worst films ever made.

One of the final Laurel and Hardy features to be generally well regarded was 1940's A Chump At Oxford. In this film Stan and Ollie are a pair of total fuckwits in America who manage to foil a bank raid. The kindly and decent bank manager subsequently offers them a reward of their own choosing. Being conscious of being complete morons they decide upon "an education". They are subsequently dispatched to Oxford University England while dressed as Eton schoolboys - as fifty year olds.

At this point an interesting timelapse interface kicks in with regard to the social backgrounds of the New British nomenklatura - of both conservative and socialist hue - who have governed us so magnificently in recent times to offically make the UK the happiest country on earth. Not.

For on arriving in Oxford the world's most beloved comedy duo are mercilessly harried and bullied by the resident sneering and well-heeled students including a particularly young Peter Cushing. They are directed to their digs by way of a maze and - while lost therein - are practically scared to death by a genuinely terrifying apparition of a ghost-demon which of course is nothing more than a bastard upper class prank. Their accomodation also turns out to be the dean's residence and he is well fucking furious.

This of course is trumped by Stan Laurel bashing his head and transforming into Lord Paddington - the ultimate upper class sneering cunt imaginable.

Ear-wiggling and monocoled Paddington physically thrashes the student body ranged against him before turning on his erstwhile buddy Ollie and tormenting him mercilessly. From calling him "Fatty" every minute to denigrating his obesity and physical bearing is truly painful to watch even seven decades later. Stan finally snaps out of his reverie but not before directly inducing Oliver Hardy's nervous breakdown.

This movie is dated beyond words though this ten minute segment alone is a priceless moment of truly magnificent comedy and arguably one of the highlights in the entire career of Ulverston's finest son.

The rock group Mott The Hoople once reflected upon the light-year distance between the Liverpool docks and the Hollywood Bowl. Cumbria to Culver City was certainly no mean feat either let's face it.

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.