29 November, 2013

"Let them eat cake" - 2013 style.

Occasionally, a chance event, a bit of news in a newspaper or a snippet of TV confronts us and puts into context some of the many unacceptable and bizarre aspects of our modern society.  I was reminded of this yesterday.

Nigella Lawson & Charles Saatchi - £76,000
a month credit card spend viewed as "trivial"
I popped into the local village shop to buy some milk. As I stood in the queue at the checkout a lady in front found that she did not have enough money to pay for her shopping so she asked the till operator if a couple of items could be returned. The lady did not look particularly “poor”; maybe she had simply not got as much money in her purse as she thought that she had. On the other hand, maybe she really was having difficulty making ends meet. Each week we see and read of many places up and down the UK where food banks and other emergency measures are being introduced by charitable organisations  to help people who are short of life’s essentials. The news reports of late have been full of items related to “pay day" loan companies who charge huge amounts of interest to anyone unfortunate enough to need a borrow a few pounds to get them to the next pay day.

I was thinking about this as I returned home and when I got home I read in the Guardian of the latest bizarre and worrying exposures in the Nigella Lawson/Charles Saatchi court case involving the use of company credit cards by two of the employees. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the particular trial issues or the exposures about Nigella Lawson being a drug user I am more concerned about some of the facts that seem to have emerged. I read that the court was told by Saatchi’s accountant that  “Charles Saatchi and Nigella Lawson considered monthly credit card bills of tens of thousands of pounds run up by their assistants to be "trivial matters", with Saatchi becoming concerned only when the sums reached an average of £76,000 a month...”. Figures like this are eye watering, offensive and obscene.  They make the rewards of the ordinary man and woman, struggling to pay their  bills - and even the moderately “well off” - quite inconsequential. Indeed, they also cast a mocking disdain over the lives and worth of ordinary people. How can people like Saatchi and  Lawson conceivably have any grip or insight into the ordinary man and woman when this is the world that they inhabit where £76000 a month is considered “trivial”?  I thought of the lady in the village shop. Sadly, however, in the UK society of today this is not unusual – the gap between the haves and the have nots is widening exponentially.
Sam Laidlow - shall I or shan't I take that £2.6 million bonus?

A few weeks ago, when public outrage was at its height about the escalating cost of gas and electricity to consumers and when the big energy companies were putting up their prices  and seeking to justify these, every newspaper, every news programme, every politician and media analyst had an opinion. Whatever the rights (if there be any) and wrongs of energy costs there was one item that attracted my attention. The chief executive of Centrica, Sam Laidlaw, announced – presumably in an effort to gain public approval – that he would be foregoing his bonus package of £2.6 million. Now, at one level I have certain sympathy for Mr Laidlaw – he was clearly endeavouring to show his unease with the very large bonus that he was entitled to and by foregoing it this would, hopefully, show that his sympathies were with financially squeezed consumers. The poor man was damned if he did take his bonus and in this case damned if he didn’t because I’m sure that there were many, like me, who whilst applauding his action, at the same time seriously queried why it should be that anyone in our society should be offered such a large reward on top of their very high salary. The bonus was described as an “incentive package” – does this mean that people like Mr Laidlaw don’t try very hard unless they get huge amounts of “extra” money?  One can only assume that to be the case since otherwise the packages would not be offered in the first place and if indeed that is the case then I can only question whether these are the right people for the job – that they only work at their best when huge amounts of money are paid to them over and above their already agreed salary. And that brings in my second point; namely that it cannot be otherwise that no-one (yes, I mean no-one – bankers, footballers, pop stars, CEOs etc.) can conceivably be “worth” this amount of money in relation to others. That Mr Laidlaw can afford to be so magnanimous that he turns down his £2.6 million begs the question how much money does he have? The eye watering amount that he can “turn down” is a profound insult to millions of people up and down the country – especially in this time of austerity – when ordinary people are being asked to tighten their belt and important money is being denied to important public services. For the vast majority of the country a tiny fraction of the money so easily refused by Mr Laidlow would be a huge fortune and difficult for them to comprehend. The whole thing sheds an unpleasant light upon the state and values of our modern society.

The worrying thing is that these mega rich are the shakers and movers of society – the Saatchi’s, the Lawsons, the Laidlows et al are the people who wine, dine and party with senior politicians and who make decisions and have influence on our behalf – while most of the rest of the population metaphorically stand out in the cold and press their noses to the window while they gaze inside at the merry Dickensian scene. We have apparently not moved far in the past century and a half since Dickens wrote his scathing social commentaries. These are the sort of people like Peter Mandelson, a senior Labour Party politician and government minister, who a few years ago said he was “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich” and then added, as an afterthought, when he was criticised “as long as they pay their taxes”. Sadly, of course, tax havens and clever accountants ensure that these people rarely pay their due in taxes and Mandelson’s comments sound hollow coming after spending a holiday with Russian oligarchs and other international shakers and movers on the Greek islands.

But few of us are immune, as George Monbiot reminded us in the Guardian earlier this week. The mega rich influence us all and make us all envious and greedy and want more. Monbiot rightly commented upon the latest Christmas must haves as advertised in the Guardian magazine:

“.........Saturday's magazine contained what looks like a shopping list for the last days of the Roman empire. There's a smart cuckoo clock, for those whose dumb ones aren't up to the mark; a remotely operated kettle; a soap dispenser at £55; a mahogany skateboard (disgracefully, the provenance of the wood is mentioned by neither the Guardian nor the retailer); a "pappardelle rolling pin", whatever the hell that is; £25 chocolate baubles; a £16 box of, er, garden twine. Are we so bored, so affectless, that we need to receive this junk to ignite one last spark of hedonistic satisfaction? Have people become so immune to fellow feeling that they are prepared to spend £46 on a jar for dog treats or £6.50 a bang on personalised crackers, rather than give the money to a better cause..........”.
These two 50 inch TVs will just fit into my Christmas stocking!
They may well pull my wall down but hey, tasteless gross and greed is good
- the top people do it all the time so why shouldn't I? I'm being patriotic by
helping the economy, but I'm not sure which economy?

We are all the time being encouraged to jump onto the bandwagon of excess, to lose all understanding of value or worth - £46 to buy a jar to keep your dog biscuits in, £16 for a box of garden twine,  personalised crackers........ as Monbiot reflects it is an orgy in the best tradition of the declining years of the Roman empire! If you want any further proof of that read the reports today of the orgy of buying at Asda stores on the awful American import "Black Friday" where retailers offer items at knock down prices. The only problem is that it resulted in fights, arrests, unacceptable behaviour as thousands scrambled and fought for what they perceived as a bargain Christmas must have - for example, monster size TVs which are totally inappropriate, tasteless and unnecessary in the average sized home.  The orgy was repeated across the USA where, I understand, guns and knives were the weapon of choice as you fought other customers to ensure that you got your bargain in the sales at Walmart.

What have we become?
Asda's Black Friday in Bristol UK - this man had to be restrained
 when he became violent because there was a limit on how many TVs
he could buy!

When we read of and see the excesses in society compounded and promoted by the Satchis, the Lawsons, the Mandelsons, the Laidlows, the professional footballers and pop stars, the bankers and the city traders it should come as no surprise that we are, to a degree, all caught up in and influenced by it. It becomes the accepted code and gains its own ethical justification and moral acceptability. I do not believe that people like Lawson, Saatchi, Laidlow and the rest are intrinsically bad - after all, who would not turn down £2.6 million or an allowable credit card spend of £76,000 each month if it was offered? But how can people in receipt of this sort of lifestyle have any understanding of the rest of society. I am, by many standards, "well off" but we still have to count the pennies to make sure that we don't go into the red at the end of each month. And, I still find it difficult to comprehend how difficult it must be for the person who does run out of money before pay day, I did feel guilty when I watched the woman in the shop return her items of shopping, and when I watch the poor of Africa on my TV I cannot begin to understand and feel the the life that they accept as normal but which for me would be quite unsustainable. So, I do not believe that the mega rich can even begin to comprehend the lives and problems of the majority of those on the  planet - and that is dangerous, for, as I have said, they are shakers and movers who either are, or have access to, those in power.

Boris Johnson - he likes to portray himself as a lovable
 buffoon and people are taken in. He is in fact devious,
calculating and very dangerous. Watch what might happen
if he attains real power.

Already we can see a return to the sort of Gordon Gecko society that prevailed in the late 80s and early 90’s where “Loads a money”  became  the watchword and where young men and women saw fast expensive cars as an entitlement and a just reward for fulfilling their meaningless City tasks. This morning I read that the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, in a speech yesterday commented that inequality was essential to foster "the spirit of envy" and that greed should be seen as a "valuable spur to economic activity”.  Gordon Gecko’s oft quoted words “Greed is good” ride again. Indeed, Johnson, in his usual flippant and light hearted way took his logic further – saying something that even Gordon Gecko might have blanched at – namely that inequality should be furthered by pouring more resources into those with high IQs. This, according to Johnson’s warped and amoral  logic would, he said (in a bizarre and flippant metaphor) ensure that more people, “like cornflakes in a packet rise to the top”.  I have no doubt that Saatchi, Lawson, Mandelson and Laidlow would echo that sentiment. I would also have no doubt that Boris Johnson would equally and greatly approve of the actions, rewards and views of Laidlow, Lawson, Saatchi and Mandelson. Having said that, however I wonder how Johnson squares this with his declaration that he is a Christian – after all, greed and envy are two of the seven deadly sins! I wonder how many of the other deadly sins Johnson and his ilk would feel might benefit our society – how about a bit of lust or a dash of sloth and one could not, of course, do without a lot of  pride and gluttony followed by an after course of wrath. I suspect that in the mad and perverted world inhabited by the Lord Mayor of London the answer to that question would be lust, gluttony, sloth and the rest are conditions only displayed by the lower orders - those of us who do not possess an IQ of 130 and are, therefore, thoroughly undeserving. For those beautiful and gifted people who sit at the Lord Mayor’s table – the Saatchis, Lawsons, Mandelsons, Laidlows and the rest - they are merely displaying fine taste and spurring on the economy, not committing any of the deadly sins - that, they might remind us is a failing and duty of the lower orders. "Pass me  another slice of your delicious chocolate cake Nigella , my dear" I hear drift out through the window and into the ears of those standing out in the cold, noses pressed to the window, envious of the good fortune and grandness of these illustrious people. 
Joseph Chamberlain

What have we become?

Governments of course wrestle with this problem – what to do about it? No one is prepared to offend the mega rich - we are told they will run off to some far tax haven if we tax them too much or don’t pay them their bonus; the premiership footballer will take his talents to Italy or Spain, the banker and CEO will depart to financial centres new in Singapore, Hong Kong or New York where greed is supposedly “good”. For my part there seems no need to wrestle, it is not a difficult problem. Let them go to where they think that the grass is greener - even if by it we are the losers  then at least we will have the knowledge that we did the right thing.  The role of government is not only to govern but to take a stand and in the end do what is the morally right. If our government cannot act from a moral standpoint then what are we to do and what have we become? In the UK we are less able to change what happens in Africa or some other desperately poor part of the world but we can do something about what happens here - just as Americans can do something about what happens there - but the will to do this needs to be present. Sadly I do not believe it is and I further believe that as greed permeates wider society it is becoming less so. But in thinking this I am also reminded of a comment from Joseph Chamberlain the 19th and early 20th century politician and statesman: “My aim in life is to make life pleasanter for the great majority; I don’t care if it all becomes in the process less pleasant for the well to do minority” . Chamberlain’s comment seems to me to be a pretty good basis upon which to take firm action in our own countries.
The Obamas giving out food in the capital of the  world's richest nation!

Today I read that Barak Obama, his wife Michelle and his children were handing out food in a Washington food bank – one of the largest in the American capital and close to the seat of government. One cannot but applaud the American President for getting out into the streets and meeting some of the less well off in his society. But the whole thing is quite obscenely bizarre and at the same time totally indefensible; that the most powerful man in the world, the leader of by far the richest nation in the world is giving out food within yards of the centre of American government. It is quite unbelievable. That the richest nation in the world cannot effectively ensure that its population is well fed and that the President feels obliged to do this on “Thanksgiving Day” whilst at the same time presiding over the most unequal society on the planet is surely a damning indictment upon how we in the west conduct ourselves. But I have no doubt that Charles Saatchi would merely think these matters “trivial”, that Boris Johnson would believe that people needing food handouts had only themselves to blame for not having an IQ of 130+, that Peter Mandelson would comment that he was “intensely relaxed” with the situation as he popped another piece of caviare into his mouth and I suppose that the lovely (I use the word in its loosest form) Nigella Lawson would simply advise the lined up poor waiting for their food handout that they should pop out to the shop to buy her latest cookery book – so that they can  make a lovely rich chocolate cake for their next dinner party! In 1789 as the hungry Parisian mob crowded around the gates of the Palace of Versailles the Queen reputedly advised them to go and eat cake if they had no bread. Marie Antoinette, it seems, is alive and well in London and Washington. Our technology might have improved since that date but perhaps our  basic humanity hasn't.
Nye Bevan

Solving this situation is not a difficult problem – it is simply one that needs acting upon. It is a moral imperative not an economic problem.  Its seriousness and implications are such that the possibility that a few might get their feelings (and bank balances) hurt is inconsequential. Joseph Chamberlain recognised this a century ago but we have largely lost this desire and resolve to take strong action. As the old saying goes “we are failing to see the wood for the trees”  -  we are not addressing the real problem of too few people having  too much wealth. Instead, governments tinker round the edges but fail to grasp the nettle and do something. The problem in recent years has been blamed on a number of factors – most notably the banking crisis. But this is largely a “cop out” – it gives those with the responsibility for leading us and taking the hard decisions an effective way out. Everything can be blamed on the crisis and meanwhile Saatchi, Lawson, Johnson, Mandelson, Laidlow and Johnson and the rest continue on their merry way. But it is not new, the banking crisis has only exacerbated it. The culture of greed that has become endemic in the latter years of the 20th and early 21st century was envisaged over 50 years ago by Nye Bevan the great Labour politician. Bevan one of the architects of the welfare state said “ Soon, if we are not prudent, millions of people will be watching each other starve to death through expensive television sets”. How  very true Bevan’s forecast has become, and as we saw yesterday on Black Friday in America and the UK people fighting in Walmart and Asda stores because they all wanted 50 inch TVs how prophetic!  The  day Bevan forecast has, it seems arrived - we have a society today that sees some individuals regarding £76,000 each month as trivial or a £2.6 million bonus as essential or “turndownable”; we have people who are willing to pay £46 for a jar to keep the dog biscuits in whilst in that very same society we have a rapidly increasing number of people dependent upon  food banks, or having to return their shopping at the till, or needing to seek out loans to get them through the next few days and put food in the bellies of their family, and inexplicably  we see the President of the world’s richest nation giving out food to his nation’s many less fortunate – good to see, but it should not be necessary. I wonder if Obama or Saatchi or Mandelson or Johnson or Lawson or Laidlow reflected upon this bizarre and indefensible situation or upon the words of Nye Bevan  as they lay in their beds last night? I suspect not.

There is something very clearly very wrong.

22 November, 2013

"The Day the Music Died........."

The start of it all.....a sunny morning in Dallas
In yesterday’s Guardian (November 21st 2013) columnist Martin Kettle commented that it is only people who are now reaching retiring age who can remember what they were doing when John F Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas on November 22nd 1963. Kettle’s point is well made – to the vast majority of the population it is now simply an historical event – like the sinking of the Titanic, the trenches of France in the Great War, or the Beatles in life performance – a bit of recent history captured on increasingly ancient looking flickering film. Despite this, the significance of the event has not over the years dimmed and it still has the capacity to intrigue, sadden, anger and mystify those who lived through it and can indeed remember where they where and what they were about on that fateful November day. Those flickering images can immediately transport us back to the sounds, sights and emotions of that weekend - mention Dallas or Book Depositary or Lee Harvey Oswald and I guarantee anyone of my generation will immediately be back there remembering with clarity the images and the feelings of half a century ago.
Seconds later the world changed........

I can certainly remember with precision what I was doing and where I was. It was early evening, I had just had my tea - egg and chips made by my mother - as I sat at a little table in our tiny front room. My empty plate was still on the side of the table and in front of me were my A level geography notes about the geology and topography of the Armorican Massif in north west France – the subject of an essay I was about to begin writing for my homework. My mother was in the kitchen and on the TV  the local evening news programme was coming to an end. I had sat with my mother and watched the programme while we ate our tea in front of the fire. As the programme came to a close the normal programming was suddenly interrupted and the first details began to creep through about Dallas. I called to my mother in the kitchen – “President Kennedy has been shot”  - she came an stood in the doorway, the tea towel in her hands. At that stage there was total confusion, it was not known if Kennedy had survived or not – that only became clearer later on. My mother was pretty unmoved by the whole event – she didn’t have much time for Americans or politicians of any hue but more importantly didn’t really “do” emotions, ideals or being carried away by events. She was the ultimate  utilitarian pragmatist  but I was not only totally engrossed by the developing drama but increasingly caught up in the horror and tragedy of the situation. I, like Martin Kettle, was a teenager and needed no convincing of the significance of the events - I can still remember my feeling at that time and again today as I write this blog or when I see the old footage of the events in Dallas that – in some way -  it was the day that the world’s innocence died. To my generation it seemed, and still does, that an opportunity was lost and that the world was never quite the same again.

One of the most poignant and powerful photographs ever
taken and LBJ swears the oath on the aeroplane, Kennedy's
body stowed in the hold and his wife still spattered with blood
It is, I think, a generational thing. Dallas on Friday, November 22nd 1963 has become such a talismanic event largely because it affected mostly those, like me, who were growing up into the world rather than people of my mother’s generation. It occurred at a time when there was considerable uncertainty in the cold war world of the early 60s, the Cuban missile crisis was still very fresh in everybody’s mind.  The sixties were just getting under way – it was the time of youth and optimism in a dark political and militaristic world - and at the forefront of that were the Kennedy’s, a glamorous couple who, it seemed, had the answers to everything, they had the power to inspire and the power to make things happen. JFK was undoubtedly a celebrity – but not, I venture, the shallow and hollow celebrity of today. Yes, he was young, glamorous, powerful – but above all he could inspire and lead. He offered something that no other person of the time did – and especially to the young. It has occasionally been said that the death of Diana was similar to that of Kennedy – well maybe it was memorable and the outpouring of grieve was considerable, but it did not have the same resonance and even now is fast leaving the national consciousness. Diana’s death was a shock and a loss to those who worshipped the celebrity value of a fairytale princess – but a princess who had no substance other than her glamour and her life style. She was merely the stuff of tabloids - a Walt Disney Cinderella type character. Kennedy offered – and still does - so much more.

In the hours that followed I can still remember with great detail the events as they unfolded. On the Saturday morning, as I walked around the town centre in Preston where I lived, I joined the crowds of people standing outside electrical shops and TV rental companies as everyone craned their necks to see the latest black and white images from America. In the Saturday afternoon I went to watch my football team, Preston North End, play Rotherham. Preston were at the top of the division and would have expected to win but the game, as I remember it was overshadowed by the news from America – the footballers looked uninterested, the crowd silent and the game, passionless, dragged to an uninspiring 2-2 draw. It was almost as if the players and the fans had silently agreed that on this terrible day to celebrate a goal or a victory would be tasteless and a draw seemed a respectful result.The players seemed to be waiting for the referee’s final whistle anxious to return to the dressing room and be away from the trivialities of a football match. Many fans had stayed away and when that final whistle went there were no rousing cheers or the usual chattering and joking supporters forcing their way out of the gates – everyone was silenced, their passion and emotion already spent, anxious to be away and  return home to the warmth and security of their firesides. That night the scathing satirical BBC TV ‘That Was The Week That Was’ cancelled its scheduled show and instead  put on a serious programme about the Kennedy administration  to reflect the mood and the respect: “the first western politician to make politics a respectable profession for thirty years — to make it once again the highest of the professions, and not just a fabric of fraud and sham…….We took him completely for granted”  I recall the unusually sombre David Frost announcing - the usually scathing, ribald and cynical lampooners on the show suddenly becoming serious, meditative and respectful to the dead President

My two books

And so it went on – the photographs coming out of Washington, the image of Lyndon Baines Johnson being sworn in as President on the aeroplane while Kennedy’s wife stands at the side still wearing the blood speckled pink costume she had worn in Dallas, the killing of Lee Harvey Oswald, the funeral. And two years later, in 1965 – just before I went off to teacher training college – I walked into Sweeton’s book shop in Preston and paid 55 shillings (I know because the price is still written inside the front cover) for a copy of Arthur M Schlesinger’s newly published study of the Kennedy administration “A Thousand Days – John F Kennedy in the White House”. The book still stands on my bookshelf and has been read and dipped into many times over the years. It was the first biographical book or political work that I ever bought.

And as I looked into Schlessinger’s book this afternoon, reaching back to that time when I bought it as a twenty year old it was like taking a step back into the world’s and my own history - touching the past - refreshing my thoughts, feelings and fears of that time half a century ago. And as I flicked through I came across the last few pages which relate the immediate aftermath of the events in Dallas – the way that the assassination was reported across the world, the despair in Washington and across America, the tributes that poured in from the great and good and from the humble and unknown and I was immediately struck by something – how similar those last pages are to the last pages in the great biography by Carl Sandburg of another assassinated President - Abraham Lincoln. Sandburg’s great trilogy “Abraham Lincoln”  -  a book  I read at college as part of our American history course - sits on my bookshelf at the side of the Kennedy book and is also something I dip into from time to time and which I have read many times over the past 40 or 50 years.  Sandburg records that at the death of Lincoln a Swedish reporter wrote that "in the harbour of Stockholm flags hung at half mast on all the ships........Our men clenched their fists in vain fury and our blue eyed women shed many tears in memory of the remarkable man". And Schlessinger says of Kennedy's death someone in Ireland  wrote "Ah, they cried the rain down that night" - and someone else said "We'll laugh again. It's just that we'll never be young again" Maybe Schlesinger got the idea for the final pages of his work from Sandburg’s, I don’t know,  but the tributes and the words in the final volume of the trilogy “The War Years 1864-65” feel very similar to Schlessinger's

When Kennedy died I can remember reading a list of alleged similarities between the two men and their respective deaths. For example, both presidents were concerned with the problems of black Americans and made their views strongly known in '63. Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862, which became law in 1863. In 1963, Kennedy presented his reports to Congress on Civil Rights, and the same year was the famous March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  Both presidents had a son die during their presidency. Both presidents were shot in the head, both were shot on a Friday in the presence of their wives, both were accompanied by another couple and the male companion of the other couple was wounded by the assassin. Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth, ran from a theatre to a warehouse whilst Kennedy’s alleged assassin Lee Harvey Oswald ran from a warehouse to a theatre. The list of “similarities” – many mythical – grew in the weeks following Kennedy’s killing and many of them have, over  a period of time, been  “debunked” but what cannot be denied is that these two men had great similarities – they were leaders who inspired and invoked great affection, they had both in their lifetime and since their deaths achieved almost mythical status and they were known for their considerable powers of oration and rhetoric and ability to express simply but powerfully the hopes and dreams of their fellow men.
Lincoln at Gettysburg - an artist's rather fanciful picture

And by a curious coincidence, this week of remembrance for Kennedy and that fateful day in 1963 is also the 150th anniversary of what was possibly  Lincoln’s greatest (certainly, most quoted) speech the Gettysburg Address delivered at Gettysburg on November 19th 1863 when America was still deeply involved in its great and terrible Civil War. The Gettysburg Address is a supreme example of Lincoln’s ability to use the power of words and rhetoric to express the feelings, the hopes, the fears, the dreams, the beliefs of a nation and of every common man:

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

Abraham Lincoln
But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honoured dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”.

Even today, one hundred and fifty years on it is difficult to read Lincoln’s words without a sense of awe – the man had a feel for the occasion and for the beauty and simplicity of words. His words that I would guess all – friend and foe – could relate to and understand and would compel anyone to rise to. In short they are the words that would make men want to follow him into battle or to aim to make the world a better place. Kennedy, too, had this power. His Inauguration Address in January 1961 gave warning of his power to inspire and many of the quotes from that speech have become part of political and popular culture:

“.....Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.......... If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich..........Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans - born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace.........Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country....”
Kennedy at his Inauguration

These are the great ideals which get to the core of humanity – it is what leadership is about – inspiring others so that they want to be lead by you and they want to aspire to the things to which you aspire. And throughout Kennedy’s presidency, as with Lincoln, there came comments, quotes and speeches that caught the imagination and set these men apart from their political peers:

·         “Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal.....”.
·         “The very word 'secrecy' is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths, and to secret proceedings”
·         “I look forward to a great future for America - a future in which our country will match its military strength with our moral restraint, its wealth with our wisdom, its power with our purpose” .

And, as we listened to words such as this from JFK we all fell under his spell – it was a dream of what we all might be. As the Pied Piper's magic flute lead the rats and then the children of Hamelin  so did Kennedy's words lead my generation. The children of Hamelin listened to the promises in the Piper's music and they believed him:

..........For he led us, he said, to a joyous land, 
Joining the town and just at hand, 
Where waters gushed and fruit-trees grew,
And flowers put forth a fairer hue,
And everything was strange and new;
The sparrows were brighter than peacocks here, 
And their dogs outran our fallow deer, 
And honey-bees had lost their stings, 
And horses were born with eagles' wings........

And so, too, did we believe Kennedy when he told us that soon he would put a man on the moon, that he would keep us safe in the frightening months and years of cold war world, that he would make everyone equal and free - like the Piper he was promising "a joyous land". And to add to this he said we could all be part of it and be important - and by association we all thought that a bit of the glamorous life that was Camelot, the Kennedy ideal would rub off on us all.

Kennedy was fortunate, he came to power at a time when global communications were becoming a reality and his words spread not only around his own country but around the world – he became not only an American politician but a world politician. The things that he said in his day and his country were immediately responded to by people in other nations and are still just as relevant today – they cannot and have not been forgotten as all too frequently are the sound bites of our modern politicians – off the cuff comments instantly made and sooner forgotten. Lincoln did not have Kennedy’s global opportunities but his words, when reported, still gave him world status for exactly the same reason that Kennedy’s did – they inspired and made people want to be better:

·         “A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free.......”
·         ” May our children and our children's children to a thousand generations, continue to enjoy the benefits conferred upon us by a united country, and have cause yet to rejoice under those glorious institutions bequeathed us by Washington and his compeers”.........
·         “ Let reverence for the laws, be breathed by every American mother, to the lisping babe, that prattles on her lap -- let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges; let it be written in Primers, spelling books, and in Almanacs; -- let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice.......”
New Yorkers read the news

In the cynical world that we now inhabit it may be that the language of Lincoln and perhaps even Kennedy looks a bit “old hat”. Watch Kennedy’s Inaugural Address when on a cold wind swept day he did not have the benefit of auto cues and all the paraphernalia of the modern, hi-tech, media savvy politician where every word is measured and calculated, where every detail is costed and has passed through various vetting stages so that it does not promise what cannot be delivered and in being so is anodyne and neutral. Read Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and understand that he penned and spoke these few words while himself being very unwell – witnesses tell that he was weak and looked haggard, he felt dizzy and a few days later went down with small pox. But in just over two minutes, he reiterated the principles of human equality,  talked of  "a new birth of freedom" and looked forward to true equality to all citizens. Just like Kennedy a century later and just like the medieval Pied Piper he held out a dream, something to aspire to and to inspire. Like Kennedy’s Inaugural address it was not  the speech of the bean counter and the HR manager, the speech of the uncommitted and dispassionate that promises nothing and inspires no one – the two men held out ideas and promises that are eternal in man’s quest for good governance, moral leadership and man’s place on the planet – and that is why they appealed to our inner nature.
An unremarkable and rather ugly building that became
imprinted on everyone's consciousness 

It is possible that the only politician of today who still has the power to inspire is Barrack Obama – and a few months ago I read an article about him and his speech making abilities. The writer referred to Obama’s powers of oration and suggested that in this country (the UK) we “do not have a tradition of rhetoric or great orators” and so should not expect it of our politicians. Given the points that the writer was making in the wider article he may well have a point but I found it difficult to believe that this was a reason for our politicians not to develop those skills – for in the end these are what people relate to and remember. I also thought it a sad indictment on the nation that has brought forth Shakespeare, Chaucer, Milton, Cromwell, Swift, Dickens, Kipling, Churchill, Gladstone, Foot, Bevan, Lloyd George, Powell – there can be few nations on Earth with the literary wealth and parliamentary history to compete with the UK. If we in the UK - the land of Shakespeare and the mother of Parliaments -  cannot produce great, inspiring leaders capable of appealing to and verbalising our inner thoughts and aspirations as Kennedy and Lincoln did – then who can?
The Funeral 

An oft quoted comment is that “A dream without a plan is just a wish” – very true, dreams by themselves are not enough. If one has a dream for something better then one needs a plan in order to make that dream a reality – but it is the dream that is important. Sadly, our politicians of today have forgotten the importance of the dream, the ideal – they concentrate only on the detailed and costed plan. Without the dream, the ambition, the aspiration or the inspiration there will be no plan and no enthusiasm or commitment  amongst the populace. Kennedy and Lincoln knew this and were masters at defining their dream and making it the dream of others. They made their respective societies believe that every individual could play an important part in the fulfilment of that dream – and in doing that it made every individual feel better about him or herself. We could all make a difference they told us, and each of us could make the world a better place. That is why they caught the imagination of the world and especially the young. In Kennedy’s Inaugural Address some of his concluding comments spelled this out:

“All this will not be finished in the first one hundred days. Nor will it be finished in the first one thousand days; nor in the life of this Administration; nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin. In your hands, my fellow citizens, more than mine, will rest the final success or failure of our course.......”

A statement such as this is inclusive – it has a hidden message and sub conscious appeal to our inner self - that we can all be part of that dream, we can all effect change and be better people for it. It speaks to our innermost emotions and feelings. It is what leadership should be about, giving a society a direction and  something great and worthwhile to aspire to rather than the modern politician’s safe and anodyne shopping list of policies cobbled together by bean counters, media executives and special advisors. But, it has an inherent danger. Its strength is also it weakness for in appealing to our innermost emotions, ideals and aspirations it can also threaten those who  are not or do not wish to be part of that dream and different ambitions, ideals and aspirations. Kennedy was loved by millions across the world but his dream was also a threat to some. Lincoln too was loved by many but hated by others. Martin Luther King, closely involved with the Kennedy presidency, was an integral part of the Kennedy dream and he projected his vision, his dream, through his mighty “I have a dream speech” in the march on Washington in August 1963 - his vision, his dream was a touchstone that perhaps more than  any other would ultimately change the world and bring about something that had begun with Lincoln a century before – the improvement in the lot of black Americans. But it also threatened the status quo and within a few years King was dead by the sniper’s bullet, just as Lincoln had died at the hand of an assassin and so, too, did Kennedy fifty years ago today.

Fifty years ago I can remember feeling that somehow Kennedy’s death had shaken my simple faith that all was right with the world – the ideals and promises he had offered seemed now dead. Simplicity and innocence had died – now fifty years later I still believe that to true. The world changed fifty years ago today - to use today’s terminology it was a game changer. In the years since Dallas much of the Kennedy myth has been debunked - he was, it seems, a serial adulterer and he very skilfully used the power of the media to promote the Kennedy image. But in a sense that highlights how innocent we all were and how we believed what he said and promised - it does not detract from what he offered to us or the impact that he had upon our lives then and, for people of my generation still does, today. Since Kennedy politicians of every hue have realised the potential of the media and the importance of their own "image" - sadly, however, they are not, as Kennedy was, "men of substance" and their hollow words simply come out as cynical, opportunistic sound bites.  I cannot listen to the darkly allegorical song by Don McLean “American Pie” without thinking about that loss of innocence. “The three men I admire most, The Father, Son and Holy Ghost”  at one level in McLean’s song referring to Buddy Holly and other victims of the air crash which killed Holly in 1959 but metaphorically it is also about the loss of innocence and despair of a whole generation when JFK, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King all fell to the assassin’s bullet and the world became less innocent and a poorer, more fearful and complicated place – in short, “The day the music died........”

"........I was a lonely teenage broncin' buck
With a pink carnation and a pickup truck
But I knew I was out of luck
The day the music died.....
......Oh, and there we were all in one place
A generation lost in space
With no time left to start again......
.......And in the streets, the children screamed
The lovers cried and the poets dreamed
But not a word was spoken
The church bells all were broken
And the three men I admire most
The Father, Son and the Holy Ghost
They caught the last train for the coast
The day the music died......"

"A generation lost in space, with not time to start again" - these words sound remarkably like the those of the handicapped  little boy in the Pied Piper who could not walk fast enough to keep up with the Piper and the following children. The door in the hillside closed before he could follow the Piper to the land of his dreams -  he felt "bereft" - and so, too,with our generation Kennedy, the "piper," was taken away - "the day the music died" and we were "a generation lost in space with no time left to start again".

".........I can't forget that I'm bereft 
Of all the pleasant sights they see, 
Which the Piper also promised me....... 
..........And just as I became assured
My lame foot would be speedily cured, 
The music stopped and I stood still, 
And found myself outside the hill, 
Left alone against my will, 
To go now limping as before, 
And never hear of that country more........"

Robert Kennedy
And perhaps the most relevant comments on Dallas came from Robert Kennedy when he himself was in the running for President in 1968. Robert Kennedy said (quoting George Bernard Shaw) “There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why... I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”  This is the very essence of what his older brother John Kennedy had offered – to “dream of things that never were”.  And we all responded “why not?”  - but then came Dallas. The Kennedy's and King were all dreamers who offered their dream to mankind and, it seems, like Lincoln suffered the consequences.  Perhaps the only other person whose death had a similar effect on my generation was John Lennon - also gunned down - and he too was the ultimate dreamer. His song "Imagine" did exactly what Robert Kennedy spoke of it asked the question "why not". And Robert Kennedy went on “Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total; of all those acts will be written the history of this generation”  Again, exactly what his older brother promised us -  that we could all play a part in this great venture to make things better, and thus be better people ourselves – but then came November 22nd 1963.

At the funeral of JFK his brother Robert quoted Shakespeare (Romeo & Juliet). His words were perhaps the most apposite, pertinent and true of all the words spoken then or since for their reflection of what people of my generation  were thinking  about the man gunned down in Dallas.Juliet's words about Romeo said what we all felt and, I venture, still do even though the years have passed:

When [he] shall die
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.

16 November, 2013

"Aha" - The Penny Dropped!

A 16th century idea of Archimedes in his bath.
Notice the crown on the floor at the bottom
I suppose a scientist researching some important scientific phenomena must get a real thrill when he or she makes a breakthrough and realises that they have made an important discovery. Equally a detective must smile quietly to himself when he puts two and two together and realises who has committed the crime. In Ancient Greece, Archimedes must have felt the same way when, according to legend, he leapt from his bath and ran naked down the street shouting “Eureka” (I’ve found the answer)  having been struggling with the King’s order to find a way of testing that the royal crown was of pure gold and not a mixture of gold and base metal.

Similarly, we’ve all experienced the moment when we’ve realised something to be true or untrue or we’ve suddenly seen the answer to a problem of some kind or we’ve suddenly mastered some new skill after much struggling. At times like this we say “the penny dropped”. I remember when I was at teacher training college these events were often described as “Gestalt moments” named after the German psychological behaviourist  Gestalt Theory. “Gestalt moment” simply means “the moment of realisation”. Gestalt is German for seeing the whole of something – in other words when it all makes sense to you. I can still remember sitting in a psychology lecture at teacher training college and hearing one of the lecturers, describing a Gestalt moment as an “Aha Moment” – just like Archimedes’ “Eureka!”  In a classroom it’s great when one of your pupils gets that “Aha Moment” – when they’ve “got it” and I suppose an inherent part of your job as a teacher is ensuring that the right steps are put in place to ensure that children at some point are lead to the stage where they can make the final connection and  “get it”. It’s the basis of learning theory.
If you are in the Ruddington area next Saturday
drop in and enjoy the concert!

Well, a few days ago I had an “Aha moment”. It wasn’t a great scientific discovery or an important part of the development of humanity. It was just a satisfying realisation that something I had long known was “connected” to something else  - and it pleased me. Suddenly it all made sense. It was the sort of useless information that might be worthy of the game “Trivial Pursuits” but for me it rounded things off nicely or in other words, “the penny dropped”.

Over recent weeks Pat has been putting together her programme for the next concert to be given by her choir – The Ruddington and District Choral Society. I always help her with this task and do a bit of the research required to complete the programme notes on the various composers and pieces to be sung. Next week’s concert  will comprise of Mozart’s mighty Requiem, arguably the greatest of all requiems and certainly one of the world’s very great pieces of music, and a smaller piece by the English composer Benjamin Britten – Rejoice in the Lamb. This year is the centenary of Britten’s birth and throughout the year his music is being celebrated up and down the country and throughout the world – by small local organisations like Pat’s and by national and international orchestras, choirs and opera companies. Britten is often considered to be the greatest of English composers after Henry Purcell and although his music is more modern it is amongst the most highly internationally acclaimed.

Writing the notes for Mozart’s Requiem  was easy – it is often sung. The story of Mozart’s life is so well documented and the mysterious and chilling tale of the Requiem is the stuff of musical legend. No matter how many times I hear the Mozart’s final work, written on his death bed, the hairs on my neck still stand up – and I know that I am not alone in that. Britten, however, was less known to me. Like most, I knew basic information about him – how he settled in the Suffolk seaside town of Aldeburgh with his partner Peter Pears, I knew a little about his great operas like Peter Grimes, I was familiar with his more accessible  and renowned music such as The Young person’s Guide to the Orchestra, and Pat and I have visited the world famous concert venue created by Britten at Snape near Aldeburgh (see blog    http://www.arbeale.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/the-right-stuff.html ). But beyond that the man and his music was a bit of a mystery – so finding out about him was a worthwhile and enjoyable experience.

Britten was born in Lowestoft, the son of a dentist. He was heavily influenced by his mother and began composing his first works at the age of five. Later, he was a boarder at the Gresham’s School in Norfolk - a period of his life he hated. He disliked being separated from his family and often commented that his lifelong pacifist beliefs were rooted in the bullying and stern discipline that he witnessed there. He studied at the Royal College of Music and first came to public attention with his choral work A Boy Was Born in 1934 but with the premiere of the opera Peter Grimes in 1945 he leapt to international fame. The recurring theme in all his work is the struggle of an outsider against a hostile society, and the corruption of innocence.

Benjamin Britten
One of his first jobs was composing for films produced by the GPO. Through this he met the poet W.H. Auden with whom he became a lifelong friend. At the end of the war he and the violinist Yehudi Mehuin toured German concentration camps, performing for the survivors.  What they saw so shocked Britten that he refused to talk about it until towards the end of his life, when he commented that it had coloured everything he had written and thought since. It further confirmed to him his pacifism and his anti-war feelings show prominently in his monumental War Requiem – a piece in which he uses some of the 1st World War poetry of Wilfred Owen. In 1942 Britten registered as a conscientious objector and settled in Aldeburgh where, after reading the poem "The Borough" by George Crabbe he wrote his great opera Peter Grimes a piece that with the War Requiem would be his defining work.

Britten died at the sadly early age of sixty three and was the first composer to be given a life peerage and became Baron Britten of Aldeburgh. As I researched, the more that I found out about Britten, the more I warmed to him. He was a quiet, retiring individual whose anti war views and pacifist beliefs seemed to match my own. Like me he loved gentle, bleak and beautiful landscape and big skies of the Suffolk coastline, seemed a gentle individual and, although I don’t know his music well seemed to reflect humanity in it. No jingoistic, militaristic, pomp and circumstance music of the Elgar type – but more like that of Finzi and Vaughan Williams – to do with the essential Englishness of the nation, the country side and the common man.
The mail train about to pull out of London
A few days after completing my research on Britten I happened to be reading a review of a book about the poet WH Auden. The review mentioned that Auden, as I had written in the programme notes, had worked with Britten on a GPO film in 1936 – and suddenly, the proverbial penny dropped – I had my “Aha, I get it” moment, my Gestalt!!

I suddenly realised that the GPO film was, in fact, something that I knew well from my childhood and that the words it contained were some that I had used time and time again in the classroom in my life time of teaching. The words were those of a poem – Night Mail - that I can quote great chunks from because I have used it so often in school. It is one of those invaluable poems that children can understand and that when read aloud gives them the real feel for the rhythm and sound of poetry. I quickly went to Wikipedia to check if I was right – I was!  This is the stuff of trivial pursuits – but it pleased me!
From the film - the mail sorters on the train

In the programme I had noted that: “One of his first jobs was composing for films produced by the GPO. Through this he met the poet W.H. Auden. The GPO film I realised is one I can remember watching often on the old black and white TV we had at home in the 50s and 60s. Parts of the film were used as a break, an interlude (remember those!) between programmes. It showed a steam train thundering along through the night whilst busily on board letters were sorted as the mail train journeyed from London to Scotland. As the train passed various stations sacks of mail were dropped off or collected. It was all very thrilling stuff for a ten year old  at the time and as the film flickered on there was stirring music in the background and over the music, the voice of a man reciting the words of “Night Mail” using the rhythm of a train hurtling along the tracks as the metre. You can see a short extract from the half hour film and hear Britten's music and Auden's poem in the video below. In the years since I have used the poem so often in the classroom and each time that I did I remembered that old black and white film I used to enjoy as a child - but never knowing that it was a “combined effort” between the poet and one of the country’s greatest composers:

This is the night mail crossing the Border,
Bringing the cheque and the postal order,
Letters for the rich, letters for the poor,
The shop at the corner, the girl next door.

Pulling up Beattock, a steady climb:

The gradient's against her, but she's on time.

Past cotton-grass and moorland boulder
Shovelling white steam over her shoulder,
Snorting noisily as she passes
Silent miles of wind-bent grasses.

Birds turn their heads as she approaches,
Stare from bushes at her blank-faced coaches.
Sheep-dogs cannot turn her course;
They slumber on with paws across.
In the farm she passes no one wakes,
But a jug in a bedroom gently shakes.

Dawn freshens, Her climb is done.
Down towards Glasgow she descends,
Towards the steam tugs yelping down a glade of cranes
Towards the fields of apparatus, the furnaces
Set on the dark plain like gigantic chessmen.
All Scotland waits for her:
In dark glens, beside pale-green lochs
Men long for news.

Letters of thanks, letters from banks,
Letters of joy from girl and boy,
Receipted bills and invitations
To inspect new stock or to visit relations,
And applications for situations,
And timid lovers' declarations,
And gossip, gossip from all the nations,
News circumstantial, news financial,
Letters with holiday snaps to enlarge in,
Letters with faces scrawled on the margin,
Letters from uncles, cousins, and aunts,
Letters to Scotland from the South of France,
Letters of condolence to Highlands and Lowlands
Written on paper of every hue,
The pink, the violet, the white and the blue,
The chatty, the catty, the boring, the adoring,
The cold and official and the heart's outpouring,
Clever, stupid, short and long,
The typed and the printed and the spelt all wrong.

Thousands are still asleep,
Dreaming of terrifying monsters
Or of friendly tea beside the band in Cranston's or Crawford's:
Asleep in working Glasgow, asleep in well-set Edinburgh,
Asleep in granite Aberdeen,
They continue their dreams,
But shall wake soon and hope for letters,
And none will hear the postman's knock
Without a quickening of the heart,
For who can bear to feel himself forgotten?

This was where Britten and Auden joined forces for the first time – Britten providing the music, Auden the poem. Suddenly, the whole thing made sense to me!

Britten and Auden were two of the towering figures of 20th century music and literature and my little Gestalt moment encouraged me to find out more. I already had information on Britten – and as I said above, I had increasingly warmed to the man as I found out about him. Auden, however, was less well known to me, but as I researched I noticed some interesting parallels between Britten and the poet. The collaboration between the two that started with that 1936 film began a relationship and similarity of outlook and history that lasted throughout their lives.
WH Auden

Both men had attended Gresham School in Norfolk – although not at the same time, Auden being a few years older that Britten. Both were politically and philosophically on the left, both died relatively early (63 and 66), both had fathers who were in the medical profession – Britten’s father was a dentist and Auden’s father a doctor. Both had mothers who were ambitious for them – indeed Britten’s mother often said that her son would be the fourth “B” in music – Bach, Beethoven, Brahms.......Britten.  Both were from a Christian background (both Auden’s grandfathers had been senior Church of England vicars) but both largely rejected formal Christianity as they grew up. Britten became increasingly sympathetic to the radical social theology propounded by the Bishop of Woolwich in Honest to God  whilst Auden became driven by the significance of human suffering and man’s response to it rather than worship of a “God figure” – a theology  powerfully voiced by the German Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was executed by the Nazi’s. And finally, both Auden and Britten were homosexual.

Reading about each man suggests that both largely rejected the musical and literary mainstream – Britten spent much of his life in the remote town of Aldeburgh and Auden, although a traveller who spent much of his life in the cultural maelstrom of New York, very much did his “own thing” – he was often regarded as the enfant terrible of literature. The work of both reflects a similarity – much of Auden’s poetry and Britten’s music is underpinned with issues related to morality, ethics or politics. Britten’s War Requiem or his opera Peter Grimes or his Sinfonia da Requiem – or many other of his works - reflect his beliefs about humanity and morality. The same is true with Auden with many of his works such as Musée des Beaux Arts or Fleet Visit or The Unknown Citizen exploring political,  religious and ethical themes.

But finally, and in a perverse way they both became best known for single works that seemed to touch the public’s imagination in a more populist way. Despite the great musical works that Britten composed, despite his undoubted talent and ability to garner huge praise from the musical establishment, to the man in the street it was a small work, almost an aside, which brought him into the wider public consciousness – his “Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra” . Written in 1946 for an educational documentary film about music it is based on part of Henry Purcell’s seventeenth century music for Abdelazer  and is intended to show off the sounds, tones  and capacities of the various instruments and sections of the orchestra. Since the day it was written it became a much played piece and part of the schooling of millions of school children in the UK and further afield. There are probably very few people who have not at sometime heard it. And for Auden, too, his work was brought to the wider public consciousness in a way that he probably could never have imagined (or, knowing Auden, approved of!) when he wrote it. Night Mail  is one of the great English poems but this was eclipsed some years ago by the 1994 Oscar nominated film Four Weddings and a Funeral. In the film Auden’s poem Funeral Blues is read as part of a funeral service - see video clip below. It rapidly became known as Stop All the clocks...... the words of its first line - and since then has been a much used item at funeral services - the film made Auden's poetry instantly accessible to everyone:

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone.
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He is Dead,
Put crépe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song,
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong
The stars are not wanted now, put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

The power of words and music are basic to the human condition - indeed it could be argued that they are two of the essential ingredients that make us human and which separate us from the animal kingdom. From the advent of time man has thumped out a rhythm, sung and danced to the sound of some simple instrument, listened to and sung sacred words uttered by priests and poets, thought in words and expressed his emotions through words and music. Music and poetry are manifestations of humanity.
The wonderful shell sculpture on Aldeburgh beach. The words
around the edge "I hear those voices that will not be
drowned" are from Britten's "Peter Grimes" but could be
a metaphor for the beliefs of Britten and Auden

Britten and Auden like other composers and poets had the capacity to speak powerfully through their words and music and when I had my little “Aha moment” I suddenly realised that the two came together in things that had been part of my life since childhood. An old black and white film, a poem much loved and recited, pieces of music that I had long known and a composer and a  poet who I had always thought of as separate but who were in fact part of the same whole – like a jig saw they all fitted together. In other words the same whole, the same  Gestalt! And I liked that – it might be a trivial bit of information but it pleased me!