Saturday, 30 August 2008
In this case the work in question is Gwen John’s portrait of Mere Poussepin, the founder of the Order of the Sisters of Charity of the Holy Virgin of Tours, acquired by the Barber in 1976. There are thought to be 16 pictures in the Mere Poussepin series, five of which are shown in this exhibition and this affords a rare opportunity to compare and contrast these variations on a theme. In addition there are some exquisite watercolour and gouache sketches of members of the congregation of the church at Meudon where Gwen John lived from 1911 until shortly before her death in 1939.
Apart from this summer exhibition, the Barber’s permanent collection contain an eclectic mixture of early Italian, Dutch Masters as well as Pre-Raphelite, Impressionist and Post Impressionist works. Two that I really like are Johan Christian Dahl’s Mother and child by the sea and A Peasant Woman Digging by Vincent van Gogh. Perhaps the van Gogh could form the focus of the Barber’s next “Reunited” exhibition?
Thursday, 28 August 2008
Now this is not an uncommon event, but it has required the resources of a hard-pressed health service and a local charity to make sure that this youth can access the treatment he needs. Clearly, the State and the charities bear the cost of this quite unnecessary incident. However, the publican bears a degree of responsibility for allowing underage drinking in his establishment, as does the 16 year-old himself for seeking to drink while underage. The licensee can be clearly identified and has broken the law, yet is likely to get off scot-free or with a caution if the Police are particularly diligent.
We owe it to the rest of society to teach our youngsters that the excessive consumption of alcoholic drink is both anti-social and dangerous, and can frequently result in the development of alcoholism. Importantly, it is in the premises where alcohol is consumed that this message needs to be constantly reinforced and where the law is currently being ignored in the name of increased profits for the drinks industry.
Isn’t it now time for society to require the Police to enforce the law relating to alcohol consumption more rigorously and for licensees who blatantly disregard the law to suffer some sort of financial or other penalty directly related to the total cost of treatment in incidents like this?
Tuesday, 26 August 2008
The issue is encapsulated in this paragraph from a report by the Prince’s Trust on the website of the National Literacy Trust:
Statistics show that in 2004, there were 649,000 16 to 24-year-olds in the UK who were economically inactive and not in full-time education, and a further 405,000 unemployed. There are also an estimated 10,000 15-year-olds who are 'missing' from school in England and are not accounted for anywhere in the system. Each year more than five per cent of 15-year-olds leave school without any qualifications. (Prince's Trust, Reaching the Hardest to Reach, 2004 and Breaking barriers? Reaching the hardest to reach, 2003.)
These statistics properly apply to England rather than Wales, and the Welsh Assembly Government claims that the performance of Welsh schools is marginally better than these statistics suggest, nevertheless it is clear that far too many young people leave our schools at a significant disadvantage due to poor literacy. These young people are usually disaffected, not only with school, but with society generally. They are thus more likely to find it extremely difficult to gain employment and are likely to be at greater risk of offending and/or being dragged into substance abuse and other self-destructive activities.
So, by all means celebrate the success of the successful pupils, but do not ignore those who are not so fortunate. Even more importantly, judge your local school by not simply by the academic achievement of its best pupils, but also by ability of its most disadvantaged pupils to read, write and cope with numbers when they leave school. This is a truer measure of a school’s performance.
Monday, 18 August 2008
Harold goes on in this vein: “… I am giving them warning that the people of Llandrindod will not be bullied in any way as we now have the measure of our opponents… Any more behaviour of this type by the officers or the board of Powys County Council will not work as we do not intend to put up with having criminals and drug dealers brought from all over the UK to Llandrindod Wells… We will not compromise, negotiate or give way in any form and we demand unconditional surrender on your part. You must withdraw your planning application.”
Clearly, Harold is suffering from a severe attack of megalomania, and it is regrettable that there are people in Llandrindod who are keen to egg him on in his delusions, by allowing him to represent them in such inflammatory terms.
It is worth noting and remembering what Clive Stafford Smith, the human rights lawyer currently defending some thirty or so people incarcerated at Guantanamo Bay, has to say about this kind of politics. In his recent book “Bad Men: Guantanamo Bay and the Secret Prisons (2007)”, Stafford Smith says this:
“The dynamics of the politics of hatred are simple: it is much easier for a politician to convince the electorate to hate a particular group of people and blame them for society’s ills, than it is to resolve the complex issues that are really the cause of the problems.”
This politics of hatred has been used by Harold Nicholls and his acolytes for both their campaign for the Designated Public Places Order relating to Temple and Memorial Gardens and for their current campaign against the granting of change of use for Gwynfa, allowing the creation of a temporary hostel for homeless young people. Now he chooses to issue totally unjustifiable threats against Councillors and Planning Officers.
What next for the Harold Nicholls’ clique? The formation of a Llandrindod branch of the British National Party?
Thursday, 14 August 2008
(Please double-click on the title above for more information)
Today's Guardian blog has an interesting article on the Government's proposals to "...compel telecoms companies and internet service providers to keep details of all your emailing, browsing and phonecalls for up to 24 months."
For a Government to seek such powers in peacetime is quite unprecedented and is a wholly unnecessary infringement of our basic rights. Presumably it is justified by the rather vague concept of the "War on Terror", however, if a Government thinks that such measures are necessary to fight this rather vague, US-inspired concept, then surely the war is already lost. The "terrorists", or rather the threat of terrorist action, has so restricted our ability to go about our everyday lives free from contant and increasingly intrusive surveillance that the very concept of "freedom" is rapidly disappearing from Britain and many other allegedly democratic states.
However, it is not only the Government who is backing increased surveillance of British citizens in Britain, the Conservatives, in the name of freeing up police time, would weaken the provisions of ther Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 by stopping the current requirement for special authorisation for CCTV surveillance, using automatic number plate recognition software and surveillance of a public building. Nor, under the Conservatives, would authorisation be required for covert recording or bugging of a house, car, or using thermal or x-ray surveillance of a building.
This raises the question of whether we can, any longer, trust our politicians whatever their allegiance, to protect our civil liberties, and once again it seems necessary to pose the eternal question: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
Tuesday, 12 August 2008
After years of simply catching the odd stroller event and only attending concerts when someone really special was playing, this year I was able to make a more deliberate concert choice but at the expense of one of the best stroller programmes in recent years. So I managed the 25th Anniversary Brecon All Stars with Joe Temperley, Scott Hamilton, Enrico Tomasso, Martin Taylor, John Bunch, Dave Green and Steve Brown who gave a polished performance throughout and a particularly interesting rendition of ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’. Later on the Friday evening John Etheridge, Arild Andersen and John Marshall really challenged the audience with a sparkling set, full of energy and great sound.
On Saturday I caught Arild Andersen again, this time with Scottish saxophonist Tommy Smith and drummer Paulo Vinaccia, and this was distinctly more Nordic in flavour. Tommy Smith seemed more mellow and with a more subtle edginess than when I last saw him at Brecon. Courtney Pine and his band were a complete delight with their tribute to New Orleans and the music of Sidney Bechet. This was a concert that the late Philip Larkin would have found interesting given his admiration for Bechet, and I think he would have approved Courtney’s interpretation and extension of the spirit of Bechet. The sheer energy of this band was breathtaking, and there was great audience participation from a responsive Brecon audience.
Probably the best concert that I attended was that of Roy Hargrove and his Quintet on Sunday afternoon – an all round triumph for these outstanding jazzmen, I was particularly impressed by pianist Gerald Clayton who gave an accomplished yet understated performance. This band really understood Ellington’s attitude to swing.
Wayne Krantz, with Paul Socolow and Cliff Almond, was both energetic and loud and much improved when the sound balance was adjusted. I like his music although I am not sure quite why, it is so unlike anything else I get to hear. Finally, I took in the Gwilym Simcock Trio fresh from the Proms where they had given the debut performance of Simcock’s “Progressions” to considerable acclaim. In Brecon they were really very good and gave a virtuoso performance including some jazz standards interspersed with some excellent works composed by Simcock himself. Gwilym Simcock is more than a rising star, he is rapidly becoming established as a true great of British and European jazz.
Saturday, 9 August 2008
Well, Harold is either unaware of, or is deliberately choosing to ignore, the ‘sofa-surfers’, the young people who are bedding down on a friend’s sofa or floor overnight, or more likely over several nights, and then moving on to do the same at the home of another friend. Those of us who work or volunteer with these young people estimate that on any one night in Llandrindod, between five and ten young people are ‘sofa-surfing’, and doing so in constant fear of being moved on when the landlord of their host finds out what is going on.
It is inconceivable that Harold Nicholls, being the prominent local landlord that he is, is not aware that this goes on, so he must know that there are significant numbers of local young people who are homeless and need the protection that a hostel, such as the one proposed, could afford them. Most of these young people are not able to afford the rents charged by Mr Nicholls and his fellow landlords, even if these landlords would be willing to take them on as tenants, and that is why there remains the huge number of empty flats in the town.
As for Councillor Price, he is quoted, in reference to the property known as Fairview which already provides some accommodation for homeless adults, as saying that people with no local connections to the area were brought there and then given free rein to do exactly what they liked. The key to this is the notion of ‘local connection” and how this should be interpreted. Does ‘local connection’ mean local to Llandrindod, local to Radnorshire, or local to Powys? From the authority’s point of view ‘local’ seems to be interpreted as local to Powys, in which case Llandrindod is likely to see an influx of homeless young people from both Brecknockshire and Montgomeryshire. So what? Homeless young people from Llandrindod are currently being offered temporary accommodation in Ystradgynlais where according to the same rule, ‘local connection’ is interpreted as including people from Llandrindod. In fact, fairly recently a County Councillor from the Ystradgynlais area complained to me about Ystradgynlais being required to house people from Llandrindod.
What is needed then, in this overheated debate, is some sense of perspective, both moral and geographical. Homeless young people exist in most of the major settlements in Powys, some of these young people manage to stay under the radar and do not necessarily register as homeless with the authorities, nevertheless they exist and if they are to have a chance to improve their current circumstances and their life chances, the offer of accommodation in a temporary hostel could be that crucial first step towards getting themselves together.
To all those residents who are currently supporting Harold Nicholls and Gary Price in their rather dubious campaign against this hostel, I say this - what if your brother or sister, or your son or daughter needed this facility? Would your attitude to it be any different?
Wednesday, 6 August 2008
"While the popular image of a homeless person is still a man with a dog and a can of lager, that perception hides a much more varied and complex reality. In fact, a report, which was published at the weekend, based on an analysis of figures from 248 councils in England and Wales, found that the number of homeless women has soared by nearly 80% in the past five years. There are now 144,162 single women, many with children, on council waiting lists for accommodation. And, according to Leslie Morphy, chief executive of the charity, Crisis, these horrifying figures - compiled for the report, Women and Homelessness, which was put together by the Conservative party - are actually an underestimation: "Many vulnerable women escaping domestic violence lie low and stay away from councils altogether so are not counted.""
Just in case you think that this can't happen to you, or anyone like you, the following is a salutory reminder that homelessness can happen to anyone at any time:
"One of the prevailing misconceptions about homelessness is that it happens only to those who are predisposed to it. In fact, it can and does happen to anyone. Hazel is an accomplished musician and published writer, while Maria... was studying to become a teacher at university in Paris when she first lost her home."
Saturday, 2 August 2008
I do find Harold’s attitude appalling – in a previous letter to the same paper he equated homelessness with alcoholism and drug addiction - now in his latest rant, he implies a severe risk to public safety if a maximum of six homeless people are temporarily housed in this property:
“We have the support of our county councillors and our town councillors and I would appeal to the other 12 county councillors in Radnorshire to stand by the people of Llandrindod Wells to ensure the safety of our older citizens and children.”
How ridiculous! If Harold had one ounce of humanity within him, he would realise that his extreme position is totally untenable.
Harold also exhorts Nick Bourne Conservative AM for Mid & West Wales Region and Suzy Davies, Conservative PPC for Brecon & Radnorshire, to write letters to the planning department on his behalf, and it will be interesting to see if they are taken in by Harold’s frenzy of intolerance.
This whole episode reminds me of the mass hysteria that was similarly aroused in Portsmouth some 10 or so years ago when the local community was encouraged to see a paedophile behind every tree, fence and front door. Such was the totally unjustified and irrational fear that was whipped up by the Portsmouth “nimbys” that the premises belonging to a paediatrician was attacked and vandalised, the crowd being, either unable or unwilling, to distinguish between a paedophile and a paediatrician.