Brahms above – Here are a few more pictures
Brahms above – Here are a few more pictures
After writing about St Theodore, I was sent a copy of an icon of St Theodora, whose feast is on 11th September, a very different saint, though, to the Empress found in mosaics around the Church of Agia Sophia in Istanbul. There are very few images of this Theodora. This is my version here-
A few years ago I was in Northern Albania searching for the women who dressed as men in local villages. Maybe they no longer exist, but that tradition goes back some way and seems, from this story, to have Christian precedence. (in contradiction of Deut 22.5 and maybe of 1 Tim 2.9) I think St Theodora is a model for the Twenty-first Century!
St Theodora was an early ascetic from the Fifth Century, during the reign of the Emperor Zeno. She was among 10 women who lived and dressed as men in Oktodeka, one of the many monasteries surrounding Alexandria. The abbot simply assumed she was a eunuch.
At some point, she was accused and presented with a child that she was supposed to have fathered with some serving wench. Together they were expelled from the Monastery. Now, the hagiography makes a great point of telling us that the child was not hers and that the tales were fabricated; it is also not at all clear at thispoint that any of the other monks actually realised she was a woman. However, there is also a story of an adulterous affair that she had while she was still married to her god-fearing husband, Paphnutios. She seemed to have been told by a fortune-teller that if a sin was committed during the dark and that if no one else could see, then God would not see it either. She was distraught and sought the advice of an abbess who heard her confession, and reminded her that Mary had washed Christ’s feet with her tears. It was repentance for this affair that drove her into the monastery in the first place.
A period of repentence passed while she and the child wandered around the desert and they were then readmitted to the monastery. She had brought the child up as her own and while he seems unnamed, he is recorded to have been a godly and good boy in all respects. When she died, the abbot was astonished to find that Theodora was a woman and not a man after all.
What happened to Paphnutios? After his wife’s death, he seems to have been inspired to become a monk as well. Oh! And her “son” ultimately became abbot.
While the story is riddled with holes, it nevertheless makes very good reading and St Theodora emerges rather well as an early Christian version of Victor/Victoria or Mulan. Whether she had illicit sex once or twice does not seem to matter much- she took responsibility for the child who had been given to her (think of the teacher in “the Corn is Green” by Emlyn Williams- do you remember Toyah Wilcox as the naughty girl who leads Morgan Evans astray?) and seems to have kept herself to herself so much that even her supposed gender remained unknown.
It is tempting to see in St Theodora some sort Patron of the modern age, perhaps more clearly than the highly colourful and embellished story of the soldiers St Sergius and St Bacchus (or of Juventinus and Maximus martyred about 50 years’ later). Their story is improbable and the actual text (the passion) is full of anachronisms. Their humiliation when they refused to sacrifice to Jupiter was to be paraded in women’s clothing and beaten to death – that happened to others too. A “John Boswell” from Yale fairly recently suggested that Sergius and Bacchus were in fact lovers, described in a martyrology as erastai. He argues that before their execution, they were married in a rite called adelphopoieis and had received some form of Church blessing. All this is a bit spurious. John Boswell’s claims, nevertheless, make fantastic reading, but that, I am afraid is where it ends. He describes a civil ceremony for the emperor Basil I and a mass gay wedding taking place in the Lateran. Even if his claims were about a Wagnerian-style “Blut–Brüderschaft“, I find it odd that it should ever have taken place in the Lateran. But as the present incumbent of the Lateran might now say, “Who are we to judge?” Indeed!
I have been making some videos about poetry, some for British schools and some for a Russian university. I was asked this morning whether one of the poems I have recited is a great poem or not. It made me think.
There are certainly great poems in the anthologies I am using, but, to be frank, there is also alot of rubbish. When it comes to Stephen Spender’s poetry, I am really not sure what to say. He was one of two poets I met while I was an undergraduate- the other was Elizabeth Jennings with whom bizarrely I shared lodgings down winchester road. She was nocturnal, peculiar, deeply religious and also a film fan. There was a time when the two of us went repeatedly to see Attenborough’s “Gandhi”- at one point she was astonished to be tossed out of the cinema by an usher who thought she was a tramp. I rented a converted conservatory in the garden, and Elizabeth Jennings used to come into the garden and watch my rabbits. We also gossiped about John Gielgud and Daniel Day Lewis who was her godson and was about to take over from Rupert Everett in “Another Country”. What an interesting lady, and, of course, when I read her poetry today, I can still hear the cadence of her own voice, and her writing, thus, is coloured by a starry-eyed memory.
Spender brings with him some of the Elizabeth Jennings’ baggage in so far as he was also linked to many people in the arts’ world, and meeting him was a bit like touching literary divinity. Or was it minor sanctity?
The problem with Stephen Spender is that he is not really very good. Even in his day, he was regarded as second-rate, a cheap Rupert Brooke. So much so that Cyril Connolly pulled him up over his “bad writing”. But he enjoyed “being a poet”. There is a story which he quotes in his own memoir “World Within World” where he meets TSEliot for lunch and Eliot asks him what he plans to be in life-
I said: “Be a poet.” “I can understand you wanting to write poems, but I don’t quite know what you mean by ‘being a poet,'” he objected.
His was, I fear, the pose of “being a poet” rather than actually doing the job. He wrote a good deal (again in his memoir, he confesses that he wrote four poems a day while Auden managed only one in three weeks, but the quality control was different). He enjoyed the image- so much so that the leader of the communist party apparently said that the best thing Spender could do for the cause was to follow Byron and die. There is even a link between Elizabeth Jennings and Stephen Spender- Cecil Day Lewis was one of Spender friends!
Like the current Minister of Education in Russia, Spender also admired Stalin. “Forward to Liberalism” is evidence of his gullibility, stupidity, naïveté. But it is the way he seems to have treated his lovers that really gets my goat. I don’t have alot of time for people who indulge in open relationships- in the end someone always gets hurt, but Spender seems to have gone on and on with this – leaving his first lover to tend to his garden, abandoning his first wife Inez Pearn, and cheating on his second. To judge from the account given by his sculptor son Matthew, Natasha Litvin was determined to brazen it out. When his mother died, Matthew opened up a can of worms that was an open secret anyway.
“Her take on her marriage is that my father, when he met her, had put his former homosexual life aside and become totally straight and faithful to her. This is a myth that meant a great deal to her, even after Dad had died. But she knew that I didn’t really go for it, and she knew that I felt that once Dad was dead his life should be reinterpreted in a different way. For a start, my father left hundreds of indiscreet letters all over the place. But there was never a confrontation; we just simply didn’t mention it, either of us.”
In the end, I think we read Spender only because he lived so long and knew so many people. Even his exposure in a portrait by Hugh David and then in the Leavitt book “While England Sleeps” that makes it quite clear he never took his parents’ advice to avoid the company of “rough” boys, adds to his image. It is that image, rather than any of his actual writing that will be remembered.
I have been an educational consultant for some years now, and before that was a tutor and teacher. I have spent a long time dealing with foreign children of all ages who have come to the UK for their education. Some have done so on a shoestring, and some have cash to burn, but all have been hit by the testy machinery of immigration visas, and often this has hindered their GCSE, A level and exam progress. In at least three cases known to me personally, a student has done extra years simply because of bureaucratic foul-ups by the system. Sometimes, agents in the host country are to blame because they do not understand the system. But whatever the excuse, we should be ashamed to make young people suffer in this way, particularly when we are also taking their money.
I first noticed the Scottish MSP Humza Yousaf because he criticised the removal of Tier 1 in 2012 by the present Government. This is the visa that would allow a student, on completing a degree in the UK, to put his or her studies to use in a job. It generally allowed the student two years’ employment. It was a chance to test their skills in the market for which, quite frankly, they have been prepared. More than that, it was an opportunity for the Government to get some serious tax from people who no doubt will command high-salaried placements in the city. The alternative is to apply for a job and be sponsored under Tier 2. This is a complex and expensive procedure that few businesses are willing to undertake. What it means in practice, therefore, is that jobs are given to UK/EU citizens on graduation rather than to those from outside the EU. In other words, we have educated these people and get little benefit when that education is over. That makes no sense and it flies against the lessons of history. Education is a form of diplomacy and we should take it seriously.
Mr Yousaf said that the removal of the Tier 1 visa, along with many other aspects of aggressive immigration policy was damaging Scotland’s economy. But the reason behind the target was a commitment given by David Cameron to reduce UK immigration to below 100,000 by 2015, and certainly to bring down the annual net immigration figure of 260,000.
Now, Humza’s point was that immigrants had not settled across the UK evenly and far too few had made it up to Scotland. So, if public opinion in England was negative about immigration, in Scotland there was a different picture, and Humza in particular, himself the son of immigrants, with a mother from Kenya and a father from Pakistan, has mounted a campaign to welcome immigrants there. Scotland needs an immigration policy tailored to its own needs, but while we remain a UNITED KINGDOM, surely we should be working together with Edinburgh to tackle immigration and channel more people north!
The problem is not about net immigration. It is about the overall spread of immigration. And playing a numbers’ game is not the solution as indeed the present Government has discovered. The numbers are down, but in the South, people still complain- and that fuels the rise of racism and of UKIP. Ironic, then that Scotland is asking for immigrants. Isn’t the solution staring at us in the face?
Reform immigration control
A tight regulation for immigration which is conservative/coalition policy is fairly straightforward in principle. But it is a mess in practice because the Government inherited an unfit system from Labour. It is about proper control of our borders, which, of course, I welcome. What I do not welcome is the pressure on the two well-documented groups who actually should receive our support – these are students and refugees. We cannot tackle the problem of illegal immigration by appeal to bureaucracy because illegal migrants rarely have proper paperwork. That is why we need less bureaucrats and more people working on the street to catch gangs of dodgy undocumented migrants, or people catching a lift across the channel under lorries and slipping away at the first stop on the M1.
Just a few weeks’ ago, there was a report of two Albanian men arrested because they had been sitting on the rear axle waving at passing motorists from a Polish lorry. They were detained at junction 16 near Watford Gap services. A spokesman for Northamptonshire Police said: “We received a call at around 8.50am from a motorist who spotted a man waving at traffic while hanging on to the underside of a lorry”. The lorry driver was not aware of the stowaways. This may be a National issue, but when it happens near Northampton, it also becomes a local issue. I have no idea whether the two men were refugees or illegal migrants. I have suspicions, of course, but the fact remains they were also endangering other motorists and the police interception saved lives.
This is a dramatic story, but many local taxi-drivers will say they regularly pick up undocumented foreigners from Junction 16. It is the first stop on the M1. If the taxi-drivers know this, why does the immigration authority not? I suspect it is understaffed. Too much attention is paid to bureaucracy and not enough to front-line staff. This means that it is those with paper-work who receive the most scrutiny. Regrettably, that means students and refugees.
Why students and refugees are important
The reason we need to reign back our attacks on students and refugees is very simple. Refugees command our support because the way we deal with the most needy in society is the way we should be judged. As for Foreign students, they not only bring in extra money, but they are often the very people who, in years to come, will be running their own governments and businesses. These are the people with whom we hope to do business in the future and I hardly think they will welcome our attention if their principle memories of their time here as students are of being fleeced by scurrilous colleges and thrown out of the country willy-nilly because their paperwork needs renewing half-way through their course. (I do not understand the need, for example, to set up a new visa for children committed to a British education when they pass from GCSE to A levels and remain in the same school. This means delays and anxiety on top of the need to wait for GCSE results. Often, it means starting the 6th form late.) We need to support these students, not savage them.
Both students and refugees have a history of investing in and enriching our society. This cannot happen if we treat them like dirt. It harms us in the long run and it shames us. These two groups are becoming a scapegoat because we cannot be bothered to track down illegal migrants and we cannot prevent or indeed monitor gangs coming here from across mainland Europe.
We should not be demonizing groups of people- East Europeans and those outside Europe for instance; we need now to pool resources and work together to target those people in our society who are doing us damage. We cannot tackle the Eastern European gangs who target, for example, Pakistani houses in Banbury, unless we work together with the Rumanian and Bulgarian communities who know so much more about this than we do. And, of course, as I have repeatedly stressed, we cannot deal with Islamic terrorism without the help of Orthodox Islam.
Rather than alienating swathes of our population with continued talk of “widespread abuse”, we need urgently to make friends and reach out to our neighbours.
The Post Study working group
In March, a number of Scottish businesses and educational professionals called for change. A Post study work group was set up in August 2014 and made recommendations in March about how best to reinstate the Tier 1 visa, urging London and Edinburgh to work together. The following findings were published:
Scotland also proposes that any time spent in a post study Tier 1 type visa should also count towards a residence visa – of indefinite leave to remain- should a former student wish to apply. The smith commission suggested the Westminster and Scottish Governments should “…work together to explore the possibility of introducing formal schemes to allow international higher education students graduating from Scottish further and higher education institutions to remain in Scotland and contribute to economic activity for a defined period of time.”
It is not just Scotland but the whole of the UK that needs to “attract and retain” world-class talent. We need the Tier 1 visa too.
It is always a pleasure to be able to put up a picture of Margaret Thatcher. She was a dream to draw so any excuse to do her in black and white or in colour as here is wonderful and today, the current leader of the Labour Party (and a man I remember meeting on occasion as he flitted out of Corpus where a great friend of mine – a committed Thatcherite- was ploughing away at a doctorate), has come out with a plan that categorically demands to be slapped down by the Lady in blue. She would have said of this plan as she famously said of Socialism in general, “the problem …is that you eventually run out of other people’s money”.
Now, Miliband proposes to cut the University tuition fee from £9000 by £3000 or so, and to do this, he plans to tax savers. In other words, all those people who have dutifully followed present Government advice and put money away for a rainy day will have it pinched and given out willy nilly to students who think the world owes them a living. I wonder how many times Ed plans to raid the piggy-bank? Specifically, the costs would be met, he said, by reducing tax-relief on pensions for anyone earning over £150,000 per year. I am sure that was greeted, even in Labour circles, by barely disguised squeals of pain! It’s like handing the teenager the family car to crash.
Miliband is quite right that the current trail of debt that lies in the wake of our further education experiment is wrong, leaving many students with over £44000 to pay off after graduation, but it is not as simple as that. The whole system creaks because it is allowing enormous debt to build up all over the place, and some of it that must inevitably be written off. (I would make the case case, incidentally, against conscription, surely a waste of so much money in so many countries across Europe. If you want an army, you have to set one up with a serious plan, proper training on proper equipment; it is not a serious fighting force if it is simply seen as a rite of passage) At the same time, the caps on tuition fees mean that Universities cannot really charge what they feel they are worth and everyone in this deal is struggling to make ends meet. Often when there is a mess like this and on this scale, we can look around and see at least someone leaping around with a smirk of satisfied delight, but in this case there seems to be no one. Everyone suffers! It becomes even worse when you reflect that it was the Blair government that put pressure on smaller universities to expand their campuses and trade in their carefully hoarded private wealth for reliance on state funding. (Why would they do this?) You only need to look at the mess of the Stockton campus in Durham to see just how badly this sort of thing can go, and Durham was certainly not alone.
We were wrong to try to send 50% of all school leavers to university. That is the bottom line. University should be an exceptional experience and not a routine rite of passage. It is not about drinking ale and recreating scenes from the “Inbetweeners’ movies”. University life is about learning how to process information at speed and under pressure. It might also be about gathering specific skills, but it is a privileged time and we should teach students they need to value that experience. In fact, by demanding that so many students pass through the University gates, we have cheapened the further education brand, jacked up the overall cost and encouraged the development of a range of “mickey mouse courses” that beggar belief.
Miliband’s proposal is more extreme- he is taking from Peter to pay Paul. But essentially, while they maintain this fantasy that 50% of all students deserve a University place, any plans are merely an attempt to rearrange the bunting at “Freshers’ Fayre”.
UKIP does better than the other parties, demanding a reduction in that 50% aim and offering to cut the tuition fees on key subjects. I think these would be things like Physics, Medicine, Computing and engineering. While I might quibble with the subjects on offer “at discount rates”, I think the overall vision is remarkably clear. It is not yet clear how this would be funded- in my own opinion, and in the long run, if our universities were to recover their reputation for overall excellence, the number of foreign students might well provide an opportunity to raise enough money to fund scholarships to cover the tuition costs of education National students in important subjects. But this might take time and Heavens! We need to start treating foreign students better than we do now. Not only do they pay more but if we get it right, and they profit from their education here, they will be the leaders of their own countries in a few years and it will be to them that we turn for alliances and assistance. If we treat them badly, why would we expect them to want to do business with us? This was one of the great principles of the British Raj and one of the great disasters when Edward Heath turned his back on the Commonwealth. We need those committed international alliances that are forged over decades, not weeks and that are of mutual benefit. We need to know there are people across the world who speak our language, both culturally and linguistically. In short, abandoning the Tier 1 visa, like so much of the visa bullying that surrounds the education of foreign students in the UK is stabbing ourselves in the collective foot, and we will suffer greatly in years to come for our short-sightedness and parsimony. More on this later in a dedicated post!
Today, Mr Farage made it clear that cutting the deficit remains an absolute priority so again echoing the Lady: We cannot spend what we do not have. Mr Farage criticised Osborne for failing to grasp the nettle- “George Osborne was right to say he would eliminate the deficit by the start of 2015 but he failed to do it because he had coalition partners who did not appear to be very interested and he did not himself make some of the tough choices.”
Putting our house in order, not promising to spend more than we can afford, while rewarding those who put in the time to study those skills we badly need- all this is simple, as Mr Farage would say simply a matter of “Common Sense”.
Here is a letter I wrote to Chris Bryant, the MP caught in his underpants posing on Gaydar.
Dear Mr Bryant,
I write as a former Director and as the Guardian to a young boy who is currently at school in Harrow, the school that was once attended by the singer James Blunt. I also write as a teacher who has a wide experience of education and who still regularly visits local state schools to give unpaid lectures about A level and University options. I believe whole-heartedly in a meritocracy.
Dear Chris Bryant MP,
You classist gimp. I happened to go to a boarding school. No one helped me at boarding school to get into the music business. I bought my first guitar with money I saved from holiday jobs (sandwich packing!). I was taught the only four chords I know by a friend. No one at school had ANY knowledge or contacts in the music business, and I was expected to become a soldier or a lawyer or perhaps a stockbroker. So alien was it, that people laughed at the idea of me going into the music business, and certainly no one was of any use.
In the army, again, people thought it was a mad idea. None of them knew anyone in the business either.
And when I left the army, going against everyone’s advice, EVERYONE I met in the British music industry told me there was no way it would work for me because I was too posh. One record company even asked if I could speak in a different accent. (I told them I could try Russian).
Every step of the way, my background has been AGAINST me succeeding in the music business. And when I have managed to break through, I was STILL scoffed at for being too posh for the industry.
And then you come along, looking for votes, telling working class people that posh people like me don’t deserve it, and that we must redress the balance. But it is your populist, envy-based, vote-hunting ideas which make our country crap, far more than me and my shit songs, and my plummy accent.
I got signed in America, where they don’t give a stuff about, or even understand what you mean by me and “my ilk”, you prejudiced wazzock, and I worked my arse off. What you teach is the politics of jealousy. Rather than celebrating success and figuring out how we can all exploit it further as the Americans do, you instead talk about how we can hobble that success and “level the playing field”. Perhaps what you’ve failed to realise is that the only head-start my school gave me in the music business, where the VAST majority of people are NOT from boarding school, is to tell me that I should aim high. Perhaps it protected me from your kind of narrow-minded, self-defeating, lead-us-to-a-dead-end, remove-the-‘G’-from-‘GB’ thinking, which is to look at others’ success and say, “it’s not fair.”
James Cucking Funt
This is Chris Bryant’s reply:
Stop being so blooming precious. I’m not knocking your success. I even contributed to it by buying one of your albums. I’m not knocking Eddie Redmayne, either. He was the best Richard II I have ever seen.
If you’d read the whole of my interview, you’d have seen that I make the point that the people who subsidise the arts the most are artists themselves. Of course that includes you. But it is a statement of the blindingly obvious that that is far tougher if you come from a poor family where you have to hand over your holiday earnings to help pay the family bills.
I’m delighted you’ve done well for yourself. But it is really tough forging a career in the arts if you can’t afford the enormous fees for drama school, if you don’t know anybody who can give you a leg up, if your parents can’t subsidise you for a few years whilst you make your name and if you can’t afford to take on an unpaid internship.
You see the thing is I want everyone to take part in the arts. I don’t want any no-go areas for young people from less privileged backgrounds. And I’m convinced that we won’t be Great Britain if we waste great British talent in the arts. You seem to think talent will always out. My fear is that someone like Stanley Baxter, the son of a disabled miner in the Rhondda, who rose to be one of Britain’s greatest film actors (Zulu), would have found it even harder to make it today.
That’s why we need more diversity at every level in the arts – in education, in training, on-screen, on stage and backstage – and we need to break down all the barriers to taking part so that every talent gets a chance.
Stanley Baxter’s career was in part due to his teacher Glynne Morse, though his success was more to the friendship with Emlyn Williams, a friendship also shared by Richard Burton. In the end, the role of good teachers is paramount: it is not the contacts these teachers provide, but the inspiration, encouragement and the basic skills they impart.
The Telegraph kindly printed a letter I sent to them: 21st Jan 2015:
SIR – Mr Bryant asks where the next Albert Finney and Glenda Jackson are to come from.
Perhaps rather than playing the class card and bemoaning the success of a public school-educated pop singer, he should reflect on his own party’s chaotic education policy and consider the fact that both of the actors he refers to came from a more meritocratic age, and both attended grammar schools.