Saturday, August 27, 2016
A stifling hot afternoon in the dog days of August was probably not the best time to go for a walk to locate some of the lost and abandoned places in the countryside around the Sussex village of Hooe. It was probably less ideal to take two of my kids – hot, bored and fractious at home – but the promise of a missing village and a deserted prison were too much of a lure for inquisitive boys. One of them told me, excitedly, he had seen an episode of The Simpsons where Bart breaks into an old prison and sits in the electric chair. I told him I could not guarantee methods of execution or that we would even be able to get inside.
We parked up at the Lamb Inn outside Hooe and then had to play chicken to get to the other side of the very busy A265 to access the footpath heading south through Hooe Level. Marked on the OS map in gothic font to indicate a site of antiquity, Northeye village was an island when this area was not marshland but part of the sea. Northeye was overcome by the waves in 1260 and nothing remains of the village now except an incline in the flat landscape and some barely perceptible lines in the grazing fields where the foundations of buildings once stood. We discovered this after negotiating the winding path that crossed and re-crossed this wetland’s network of intersecting drainage channels. “There’s nothing here,” the youngest sagely observed.
More recently, the name of the village lived on half a mile to the north-east. HMP Northeye opened in 1969 on the site of a radar station and was a category C prison that used the original RAF huts to house prisoners. It was expanded in the 1970s but there was a serious riot in 1986 in which nearly half of the prison was destroyed after being torched by inmates. The complex then became a training centre for overseas students for a time but is now abandoned. Having gone back across the A265, this time further east, we skirted around the perimeter and could see ghostly buildings through the faded green chainlink fence. With high summer vegetation dwarfing some of the structures, there was more than a hint of Satis House about the place.
With the day at its hottest and most humid, we still had one more stop to make on our circular walk. Heading north-west, up through higher ground, we eventually found the church of St. Oswald’s Hooe sitting in splendid isolation amidst fields of burnished gold. Not lost or abandoned, this still-used Norman church was more a victim of relocation. Originally at the heart of the village of Hooe, sometime in the 14th century the church found itself left behind as the residents began to settle further north at what is now Hooe Common. Why this happened is not entirely clear but it is thought that the original village was burnt down as a result of the Back Death. In the still of the afternoon, with the only movement a slight fluttering of the St. George’s flag atop the square tower, the boys were happy to shelter from the sun against the stone cold east wall as I explored the churchyard.
The final leg, with all three of us flagging in the heat, took us back down the hill to the Lamb Inn. Presented with the choice of a drink in the pub or driving to Bexhill for ice cream, democracy defeated me. The youthful block vote deprived me of a restorative pint of cider but rewarded my wingmen with Mr Whippy.
Sunday, August 21, 2016
A year ago, I was convinced that Jeremy Corbyn was the person best placed to lead the Labour Party and I cast my vote in the election accordingly. One year on, when my ballot paper drops through the letterbox tomorrow, I am certain that I will not be doing so again. The writer and actor Alex Andreou has set out an eloquent and lengthy exploration of the causes of his own disillusionment with Corbyn. I won’t repeat his litany of the shortcomings of our leader, but Andreou’s reasons for his volte-face chime very closely with my own and it is well worth a read.
For Andreou, it was Corbyn’s performance in the EU referendum that was the final straw; for me, it was his refusal to stand down when his own MPs overwhelmingly delivered a vote of no confidence in him. I do not think it matters how The Coup started – it’s called politics - but the fact is that scores of young and talented left-leaning Labour MPs also lost faith in the leader of their party. I know that the membership is now deemed to have holy sovereignty but we are a party that seeks parliamentary power to deliver our socialist beliefs and MPs need to be a well-led and cohesive force.
I suspect that Corbyn would have stood down but for John McDonnell; if you watch Jeremy’s video plea to members at that time, when he blinks at 1:38 you can just see HELP ME written on his eyelids. And for all the faux outrage over The Coup, we seem to forget that Corbyn is leader as a result of his own coup: pleading for nominations from MPs to broaden the debate and then very efficiently signing up thousands of supporters to deliver victory (marginally more full members voted against Corbyn than with him last year, but amongst supporters it was a landslide).
If I am disillusioned, I fear that others are deluded. We have experienced a lifetime of losing on the left and Corbyn suddenly makes us feel like winners. Indeed, the mailshot I have just received from his campaign is branded with the slogan Winning Values; but these victories are all inward looking. Corbyn wins the right to automatically be on the ballot: victory! Corbyn defeats the legal action to make him seek nominations: victory! Corbyn’s slate is elected to the NEC: victory! New members win the right to vote in the election: victory! All this winning but there is absolutely no sign that the people – the voters - share the new-improved-size Labour Party’s love for Corbyn. His supporters point to some average mid-term election results but the pattern shows that Labour is in danger of becoming a metropolitan party: there have been some devastating council by-election losses in provincial areas as well as damning national opinion polls.
I do not think Corbyn is interested in becoming Prime Minister; what is important to him is leading a party of political purity: the means has become the end. I support his core ideas around employment, housing and transport but Owen Smith has done more to present how these will be realised in the past few weeks than Corbyn has done in the past year. A more effective and efficient leader will be able to communicate the policies that, up until now, have been hidden behind the person. The problem is, Labour has become ‘Just Jeremy’ and this is not entirely his fault.
The worst part of the mess we are in is what is being ascribed to Corbyn by those who follow him. If it wasn’t so tragic it would be funny - or do I actually mean that the other way round? My main reaction to recent events has been to find them incongruously funny – I cannot take Jeremy Corbyn seriously anymore. The more po-faced and humourless his adoring Momentum masses become, as they spiral towards electoral oblivion with their matching graphic design, the more hilarious it gets; and I keep being reminded of two comedy films from that most politically significant of years, 1979.
Whenever I see footage and images of the mass Corbyn rallies, presented as proof of just how popular Jeremy is, I immediately think of Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Graham Chapman, playing the eponymous hero mistaken for the saviour, is pursued through the streets by a horde of persistent and devoted pilgrims that he cannot shake off – “Now, fuck off!” “How shall we fuck off, O Lord?” – and he has to fall back on his mum to convince his followers that “he’s not the messiah, he’s a very naughty boy!” And whenever I see Corbyn interviewed, delivering messages that a year ago seemed refreshing but now, with hindsight, seem rudimentary and ill-thought out, I am reminded of Peter Sellers’ character, Chancey Gardener, in the film Being There, where the statements of a simple gardener - “as long as the roots are not severed, all is well” - are taken for words of profound wisdom by the political class. Both of these films are perfect metaphors for what is happening in the Labour Party at the moment. I have no idea how this movie will end, if indeed it ever will, but once you have seen the emperor naked, there is no going back; you have realised the joke and it is very funny – but it is so funny it hurts.
Saturday, August 6, 2016
When Ryley Walker came over from the United States two years ago to play at record store and gig promoters Music's Not Dead's third anniversary celebration in Bexhill, the halfwit in me meant I did not go. Only having heard of him fleetingly when his debut album, All Kinds of You, had come out a few months earlier, I passed up the chance to see the Chicago-based musician for a fiver at the modest Albatross Club on the seafront on the grounds that Bexhill was about to host relatively expensive appearances by British Sea Power and Johnnies, Marr and Lydon. With hindsight, it was clearly my loss.
Last year, Walker's soulful bluesy folk - music that seems to draw most comparisons with Tim Buckley and onetime Hastings resident John Martyn - began to attract more attention. Second album, Primrose Hill, garnered glowing reviews and featured in many end-of-year best album lists, with Mojo praising his "wild complexities of sweet melody and song" and comparing his guitar playing to Bert Jansch. And now, as if to compound the Pentangle dimension to his sound, Walker has been touring with that band's legendary double bassist and sometime John Martyn collaborator, Danny Thompson.
There was no Thompson at Hastings' cathedral-like St. Mary in the Castle last night but this did not detract from the quality of Walker's performance. With the Norwegian duo of Julius Lind on electric bass and Stale Solberg on drums, the trio showed that Walker has quickly moved on from last year, with the bulk of the set made up of songs from forthcoming album, Golden Sings That Have Been Sung. And the songs were golden: highlights included The Halfwit in Me ("about being a dummy in Chicago"), The Roundabout and Sullen Mind. Walker's acoustic guitar shimmered and soared and his freeform interplay with Solberg's percussive idiosyncrasies was joyful.
Naturally funny and engaging, Walker was effusive between songs and expressed his love of seaside towns, drinking and eating fish 'n' chips but said that he fears violence from seagulls more than almost anything else in the world. There is a sense that he enjoys being permanently on the road and when he (sort of) name checked Music's Not Dead ("Music Stays") he asked where the late bar was. Finishing with a stellar version of Primrose Green, there was just time for one quick encore before the drinking could begin in earnest.
Earlier, Brighton-based Holly Macve had played a short set of haunting songs accompanying herself on guitar. Recently signed to Bella Union, I saw the 21-year-old support John Grant last year and was struck by her mesmeric and ethereal voice - a real talent destined for great things.