Book Review – The Establishment…

…And how they get away with it.  By Owen Jones.
The Establishment













This was not an easy book to read; not calming or uplifting. Jones sets out a tale of how, over the course of more than forty years, an elite, privileged few set about neutralising democracy and helping themselves to power and wealth at the expense of the rest of us.

At a high level, there’s very little in the book that I wasn’t at least vaguely aware of. But Owen Jones has been meticulous in his research; and conducted candid interviews with people who have first-hand experience of the processes and behaviours that the media try so hard to hide from view. Some of the interviewees were victims of the establishment. Others were in positions of power – and some of them still are, and continue to behave in ways that are harmful to society as a whole ( but make which make themselves and their peers ever richer), often with only a limited understanding of the effect their behaviour is having. Jones’ research has teased out a relentless stream of fascinating and infuriating detail. I found it difficult to put the book down, which for a work of non-fiction (if only it were fiction!) is high praise. And yet, despite being addictive, reading it feels just a little bit like self-harm. With each new revelation I found myself thinking ‘wow – I must try to remember that!’ (swiftly followed by ‘I’m not going to remember that!’) So many facts, but it’s all pulled together with great skill.

There are themes running through the book. One is the idea of how the establishment use scapegoats (such as the unemployed, trade unions or immigrants) to direct the public’s attention and anger away from their own nefarious activities. Another is the idea that while corporate interests are constantly chipping away at the state, promoting ever greater cuts in public spending, they themselves are being subsidised from the public purse at a level that actually dwarfs spending on public services. I was struck by his portrayal of those three letters ‘NHS’ having become little more than a logo behind which corporate interests operate, hidden from the view of an unsuspecting public. David Cameron said, I believe, that the NHS was safe in his hands. Owen Jones details the wide-scale of part-privatisations that have in many cases gone unreported.

As someone who follows anti-establishment commentary in preference to the conventional (establishment) media, I thought I knew a bit about the injustices in British society. But in this book I found plenty of revelations. For instance, after Ed Milliband was elected as leader of the Labour party there was a widely held view that they had picked the wrong brother. Owen Jones claims that after losing the election, David Milliband threw all his energy ‘into building an impressive portfolio of business interests’, and that he ‘made around one million pounds between his failed leadership bid in 2010 and his departure from the commons some two-and-a-half years later’. Perhaps Labour chose the right brother after all!

Politicians, the media, the police, big business, the city of London – one by one the groups that hold power and control our lives are shown to be corrupt; driven by self-interest to damage our economy, our environment, our society – who cares, so long as they get ever richer? I’m not sure I should be reading this kind of material. I have a keen sense of injustice – indignation is something I’m rather too good at. But then, Owen Jones’ scientific approach might have helped me to go beyond indignation and become more objective. And after two-hundred-and-ninety-two pages explaining what an unassailable and merciless grip the establishment has on society, he manages to end the book on an optimistic note, telling us how history shows that situations which seem permanent and irreversible can change – and often quite quickly. He suggests ways in which the status quo might be broken, and how we might build a better, fairer society

I’m glad that I’ve finished the book, but I’m also glad that I read it. Everyone should read this book, and it should be part of the school curriculum…

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Europe is in Jeremy Corbyn’s hands

It’s Labour dogma that will lose us our place in Europe.
Continue reading

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The Devil Rides Ute

UteI seem to remember I might have promised (or was it threatened) some more poetry. So here it is, another piece from my sojourn down under, inspired by a monstrous vehicle that trundled past me one day while I was walking to the beach.  I didn’t have the presence of mind to whip out my camera and take a photo of the actual, offending vehicle, so the one in the picture is the best I could find some days later (not nearly as large, imposing or frightening as the original subject).  Brace yourselves…

The Devil Rides Ute

There is a roar that cannot be purely mechanical;
A grating, rattling, rumble that could come from the belly of a dragon.
It shakes the ground, drawing out a terror presumed long dead.
From out of the subconscious, a materialisation of primeval dread,
And my mind slips, desperate for recognition,
Not wanting to acknowledge this ghoulish apparition,
So paralysed with fear, I can’t turn my head,
Until the monster is almost upon me,
And I’m engulfed in an acrid, black fog,
That chokes, and reeks of generations long dead.

And through the dark, cancerous fumes the monster forms,

White-black, with a presence larger than its worldly size,
White chassis, seen grey through the gloom,
Trimmed all around by black;
Black grill, black glass, vertical black exhaust,
Pumping translucent black fumes into a blue sky,
Black bumpers and bars, black tyres; black heart,
The creature moves slowly; in a world apart,
Floating, not rolling, on black wheels as tall as a man,
Or perhaps just as tall as I feel, shaking as I am with confusion,
Disoriented by this frightening intrusion,
Fearing death, overcome by strife, wondering;
What devil rides inside this affront to life?
More menacing still, unseen behind black glass,
What human mind could conceive to ride inside such a threat,
Such a provocation, that causes others to
Regret the invention of internal combustion? Continue reading

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Writer’s Retreat

Sydney Sketch 25.2.2016.adjusted

Why is it that ambition always exceeds the reality of what can be achieved? My writing holiday is now a fast-fading memory, and I’m left wondering how I could have imagined I would have got  so much done (see my last post). Continue reading

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The Mile High Poets Society

I’d like to share with you a poem that I wrote yesterday, while sitting in an aeroplane somewhere over Southern Europe. I say yesterday, but I can’t be sure of that, having crossed several time zones since then. And I say poem, but it’s actually more like a short piece of descriptive (and rather surreal) prose. But I decided to follow what seems to be the trend at the moment by throwing in a few random line-breaks and calling it a poem. After all, what makes something poetry is the same as what makes something art – the creator (of the work, not the fictional ‘Creator’) saying that it is.

So here goes. …Well, actually, I think I should set the scene first – changeIMG_20160202_053340 the mood from flippant to something more serious. So imagine me in full imaginative flow, gazing out of the window, all starry-eyed, at the beautiful cloudscape below (yes below, and not above). I’m on my way to Singapore, for a few days, and then on to my adopted home-from-home, Australia, and a few weeks spent mostly in beautiful, elemental natural environments – deserted beaches, bush-land teeming with exotic wildlife and, hopefully, some lovely warm weather. I’m going to walk, swim, relax, sketch and, most importantly; write. Perhaps I’m expecting too much from myself, but I’m hoping to complete a first draft of my novel, knock out a few short stories, and perhaps dream myself into some poems too. Absolutely no pressure. But I’ve made a start already. Whether it’s a good start or not, I’ll leave for you to judge.


The Plains of Heaven

A landscape of low white peaks and soft grey shadows extends away into the distance.
The horizon is a band of white,
Evaporating up into ever deepening blue.
Impenetrable cloud, like deep snow on solid ground,
But cotton-wool soft: a soft-toy Antarctic landscape.
I want to get out, I want to fall from this aeroplane,
To plummet through the air into a duvet-soft landing.
I feel as though the cloud must be able to hold me, to welcome me;
To embrace me into the purity of a world untainted by people, unsullied by life.

There’s silence, and stillness, and alone at last,
I lie on my back, cosseted; at peace.
I could stand up, walk, take one leaping step after another,
Bound moon-like across the endless plateau,
Entranced, indefatigable, bouncing along, happy now;
Joyous in the reborn innocence of childhood.
But it’s so comfortable just lying still in my cotton-wool womb.
I can’t bear to move.

My eyelids feel heavy; they close,
The whiteness engulfs me and I fall asleep.

Note: The plains of Heaven is the title of a painting by John Martin , a nineteenth century artist who specialised in very large canvases showing immense landscapes, seascapes, skyscapes; detailed, intense stunning works. Of course, he was working before aeroplanes had been invented, so he could only imagine what I was fortunate enough to experience

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It’s Art if I Say it is…

Last month I visited the newly extended and refurbished Whitworth Gallery in Manchester. (Whitworth Gallery) I remember the Whitworth as an impressive red brick Victorian building with an interesting collection.

Whitworth Gallery

The Whitworth now is a curious monster. The Victorian building is still there, as impressive as ever. The new extensions are a strange mix, in places blocky, clumsy, ugly; in others elegant, light, ethereal. The setting – Whitworth Park – is beautiful, and sitting in

Whitworth Gallery Cafe

Whitworth Gallery Cafe

the new glass-walled café is like sitting up in the tree canopy. The cakes aren’t half bad either. The new gallery areas are light and open but quirky, with balconies and views into adjoining rooms and to the outside – the kind of spaces that make you feel like exploring. Some of the materials used are lovely, but there were rather too many different materials, which made the place look a bit busy – not really what you want from an exhibition space.

The main problem for me though was the work, and the way it was displayed. They’ve concentrated on contemporary artwork, with the historical collection treated with something like contempt. Some of the new stuff was very good. Some of it was interesting. And some, well… One of the ‘pieces’ was a paint splattered overall hung on the wall. Brilliant! You finish creating your artwork, take off your overalls and think to yourself ‘you know what, the people at the gallery are such mugs I reckon I can probably sell them that as well’.

DuChampOn the wall opposite was a crummy, badly executed tapestry by that Tracey Emin. It showed (just about) a woman with her legs open and coins flowing out from her you-know-what (I’d use the correct gynaecological term, but I’m worried about this post being blocked by the search engines). I guess she’d say it’s not about having a talent for the media, so much as communicating a message. The message in this case is presumably that women are, and have been, exploited sexually. Well, wow Tracey, I’d have never have thought of that if I hadn’t seen your tapestry. Next to one of the works, there was a space on the wall. On the floor, beneath the space, was a dustsheet. The area was cordoned off by a barrier, as if there was some decorating being done. Both dustsheet and barrier each had their own labels – both were exhibits. By the side of the cordon, on the floor, was a walkie-talkie. I never did find out whether the walkie-talkie was an exhibit or had been left there by a member of staff while they went off to the loo. It didn’t have a label. But maybe that was a statement by the artist. Or maybe the non-existent label was a separate artwork in itself. That Duchamp fellow really started something.

AncientAll of the recent artworks were very carefully displayed, all had plenty of wall space. And then we came to the collection of watercolours. Crammed in with no more than half an inch between them, they completely filled one wall and half filled a second. They weren’t labelled individually, they were numbered, with a sheet of paper listing an artist and title for each number. Somewhere in the middle were half a dozen or so Turners and one of William Blake’s best known works (The Ancient of Days). Which were, apparently, an embarrassment to the gallery. They might as well have left them in the storeroom and had done with it. And this from an institution that won the Art Fund’s prize for Museum of the Year 2015! Just goes to show how much some of us are swimming against the tide. In fairness to the Whitworth, some of the modern exhibits were very interesting, and some showed great technical ability by the artists. Though, with a few exceptions, none of them were particularly aesthetically pleasing, which to me is an important consideration (being a fan of William Morris). I used to draw once. And paint a bit too. The only artwork I get to do these days is decorating our living room. Which is now, thankfully, finished. So I can hang up my overalls. Hang on a minute, I’ve just had an idea…


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First Reading

Last week, I did the first ever public reading of my work. It was at the monthly meeting of the Cardiff Humanists group, to which I’ve been going for more than a year now (Cardiff Humanists). The theme for this month’s meeting was ‘Poems & Pints’ (the meetings are held upstairs in the Rummer Tavern, opposite the castle).

I’m not really a poet. I did write some poetry when I was a teenager, but when I took up the guitar and started writing music, I moved from poetry to song lyrics. But when I heard the Cardiff Humanists were doing a poetry night, I thought that I ought to have a go. My natural instinct would be to hide in the shadows and let the more out-going people enjoy the attention. But writers are expected to be comfortable reading their work out to groups of people. And while my first novel may not have found a publisher, the second is well on its way, and it’s going to be better and, I hope, more saleable than the first. So I thought it was about time I discovered whether I stand any chance of coping with the publicity events I’ll undoubtedly be expected to attend should I be fortunate enough to get published.

I was a little nervous, and very tempted to keep my head down; not let on that I’d brought something to read out. I know most of the people there a bit now, but that didn’t make it any easier. In fact, it probably made it more difficult – it can be easier when you’re addressing strangers. I felt somewhat isolated too, because it turned out I was alone amongst the group in reading my own work (I had hoped there might be at least one other writer there!) So it felt like I was sticking my neck out a bit. I imagined people might think I was being pretentious.

I think the reading went reasonably well, and I got some good feedback on the poem. I was a bit timid, a bit too flat, too serious, and I know I didn’t look up nearly enough. But it’s a start. With more practice, I think I should be able to develop a more confident reading style, and learn to properly engage with an audience. I suppose the next step would be to get myself down to an open mic poetry night somewhere. I will just have to run off a few poems first…

PS: I’m not going to reproduce my Atheist-themed poem (called, ‘Things I’d like to say to the Aggressively Religious’) here, for fear of upsetting any of you who might be un-aggressively religious.

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