Linocut Exhibition at the Horsebridge

Cutting away the surface to let light into the world

The highlight of last year’s carnival fund-raisers was the auction, organised by Julie Wassmer and myself, and held in St Peter’s Hall on Cromwell Road.

A number of prints were sold, including two linocuts, one by Ben Dickson, the other by Ben Sands. The Ben Sands was kindly donated by his son, Mat, and fetched the princely sum of £150.

My sister bought it. I’m looking at it now. It’s a black and white scene of Morris Dancers outside the East Kent on May Day 1987.

The dancers are leaping into the air, their feet off the floor, while the crowd looks on, clutching pints, or laughing and joking amongst themselves.

The image is taken from the far side of the road, outside the British Legion. There are two cars in the foreground and a couple of people trying the cross the road.

It’s a wonderfully evocative piece of work, vibrant and alive, full of incidents and wonder, all captured in exquisite detail.

You can read the faces of the characters in the crowd, and even the sky seems alive, as if the sky itself was part of the dance.

Ben Sands died in January 2016, but this year marks his centenary, in honour of which there will be a major exhibition around his birthday in July, which Mat and I will be helping to organise.

Meanwhile there will be a number of Ben Sands’ linocuts on display in a large group show on at the Horsebridge from the 11th of January till the 2nd of February.

Curated by Ben Dickson, it will feature works by linocut artists from around the country, including a number from Whitstable. There will be an opening event at 3.30 on the 11th where people can meet the artists and discuss their work.

The reason they are called linocuts is that they are cut into linoleum, but the technique works with other media as well, including wood and vinyl.

Properly speaking it is known as relief printing. The body of the medium is cut away to leave raised areas which are then inked up and pressed against paper to leave a printed impression.

There’s a wonderful quote from Ben Sands from an interview in 2003 which describes the process:

“Automatically, with practice, your mind sees that block as a field of solid black… when you start cutting you start letting the light into the block and revealing the world you are going to present to the public. Because you are letting light in all the time, every cut you make lets another streak of light in….”

I like that thought. Isn’t that what all art is in the end: a process of cutting away the surface to let the light into the world?

It reminds me of the song by Leonard Cohen:

“Ring the bells that still can ring/ Forget your perfect offering/ There is a crack, a crack in everything/ That’s how the light gets in….”

I’m looking forward to seeing lots of light at this exhibition.

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From The Whitstable Gazette 09/01/20

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Carnival Fundraiser Scrooge

It was my good friend and Carnival associate Belinda Murray who pointed out the resemblance between me and the figure of Scrooge in a recent Christmas advert.

Maybe you’ve seen it. Scrooge is seen rudely stepping passed people in a typical Victorian Christmas card scene. There’s a mother with her child looking in a toy shop window, and a busker playing a jaunty tune on his fiddle.

Scrooge does his “bah humbug!” routine, recommending a lump of coal for the child and deliberately kicking the busker’s hat, before looking into the shop front of a well-known high street opticians.

There are free offers in there, which, of course, makes him appreciate the joys of Christmas. He drops some coins in the busker’s hat and does a high kick, before declaring “Merry Christmas” to the people on the street.

He’s wearing a top hat and has long, white hair and a thin beard and he does look a little like me.

Coincidentally the Whitstable Carnival Association are holding a solstice benefit in St Mary’s Hall, Whitstable, on the 20th December, featuring Ivan’s All Stars and the Native Oysters Band.

We’re calling it the Bah Humbug Carnival Fundraiser. We named it that before anyone noticed the resemblance between me and the Dickensian character in the advert, I hasten to add.

I must admit I am a bit of a Scrooge. I don’t really like Christmas.

I like the idea. It’s a festival of light in the darkest part of the year, a festival of plenty before the lean months ahead. It celebrates the birth of a magical child in the depths of a cave.

That story is very old. It goes back to at least neolithic times. Many gods are said to have been born on the 25th of December. That’s because, three days after the Winter Solstice (the longest night) the Sun makes its first visible move on the horizon and the days become longer.

The magical child is the Sun, reborn every year in the depths of winter.

To the ancient people this would have been a matter of life and death. That’s why the festival is full of lights. They are the lights that keep the darkness away.

Midwinter is a reminder of death, and Christmas is a reminder of the life that is born again every year.

So I like that idea. What I don’t like is the rank consumerism of its modern incarnation, and the corporations’ push to commodify the festivities.

The old line, “peace on Earth and good will to all men,” (an old Viking Yule-tide greeting) has now become “more wealth to the rich and good sales for all brands.”

It doesn’t teach our children how to love and care for each other. It teaches them to love possessions and be greedy.

So me, I intend to raise a glass to the return of the Sun at the Solstice benefit on the 20th December.

I intend to make light of it. I will probably be dressed as Scrooge.

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From The Whitstable Gazette 12/12/19

The editor welcomes letters on any topical subject, but reserves the right to edit them. Letters must include your name and address even when emailed and a daytime telephone number.

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wow

So you don’t like Jeremy Corbyn

So you don’t like Jeremy Corbyn.

How do you know you don’t like him? Have you met him? Have you spoken to him? Did he come round to your house and kick your dog?

No. You saw him on the telly. He was bit scruffy and he didn’t know how to do his tie up properly. He didn’t bow his head enough at the cenotaph. He didn’t sing the national anthem. What else do you know about him? He’s an anti-Semite and a terrorist sympathiser is he? Google it. Where can you find an actual anti-Semitic or pro-terrorist statement? You can’t, because there are none.

You like his policies. You want railways and other utilities back in public hands. You don’t see why foreign-based state-owned rail companies should be taking profits from our subsidised rail system. You want to see our Health Service properly funded. You don’t want to see it sold off in a trade deal with the Americans. You don’t want to see our nurses using food banks. You think that corporations that use our infrastructure should be properly taxed. You are against tax havens and tax cuts for the rich. You are fed up with foreign wars.

But you don’t like Jeremy Corbyn.

Shall I tell you a secret? We don’t live in a democracy. You think it’s one person, one vote and that the will of the majority should prevail? It’s not. You get your vote, your thirty seconds of choice, between the man with the red rosette and the man with the blue rosette, but it’s the will of the most well-off that prevails. Power resides in the hands of those who have the most wealth, and governments do their bidding, not yours. So the choices you get are the choices between one set of wealthy people’s priorities and another, between one brand of free-market capitalism and another: between the blue Tories and the red Tories, Tory-heavy and Tory-lite. Your choices don’t come into it.

But you don’t like Jeremy Corbyn.

We’ve had relentless negativity about him since he first appeared on the scene. Why would that be? Maybe it’s because he’s offering you a real choice. For the first time in a generation, those are your priorities being set out before you, as a set of policies, not those of the wealthy elite. The same policies brought to you by the 1945 Labour government, and by governments across the Scandinavian world. Not extremist policies: Social Democratic policies. Policies that are known to work. So, unable to attack the policies, they attack the man.

It’s been non-stop, day-in and day-out, since he first won the Labour leadership, from every branch of the establishment. From the BBC, from the Guardian, from the government, from members of the Labour Party, those whose career trajectory has been knocked off track. From the Daily Mail and the Sun. Is it any wonder you don’t like him really? If the BBC told you that cornflakes were bad for you, and repeated this message every day for five years, chances are you wouldn’t like cornflakes either.

A friend of mine asked me why the Labour Party didn’t pick a more charismatic leader, a more handsome leader, someone who looked good on the telly?

That’s because we were fed up with Tory-lite. We were fed up with only getting the choice between one form of free-market capitalism and another. We were fed up with being told that if you didn’t pick the policies that suited the wealthy elite, you wouldn’t get into power. But what’s the point of power without principles? Tony Blair got us into power. He was handsome, charismatic and he looked good on telly, but look where he took us: into an illegal war in Iraq that has caused devastation across the Middle East, and terrorism across the world.

He also, coincidentally started the process of privatising the NHS. In other words, Tony Blair was a Tory, not a socialist.

Meanwhile Boris Johnson is refusing to talk to Andrew Neil, refusing to meet the public except in carefully stage-managed photo-ops, refusing to take unvetted questions from the likes of you and I. He’s being sold to us like a commodity, like a soap powder brand or a type of washing up liquid. Get Brexit done. Get Brexit done. Hands that do dishes. It’s an advertising slogan not a political platform. How many of you know what his actual policies are?

So this is my appeal to you. So you don’t like Jeremy Corbyn. Fair enough. But let’s look past the individuals and instead look at the policies. Take a look at the Labour Manifesto, then take a look at the Tory Manifesto. Weigh them up and consider them. How many of these policies are for you and your family, and how many are for the wealthy elites?

Meanwhile, to get a sense of what the Tories real priorities are, try these few sample facts out for size (follow links for verification).

Since being in power the Tories have:-

  • increased the wealth of the richest 1,000 people in the UK by 183%
  • increased homelessness by 165%
  • increased foodbank use by 3,800%
  • increased the national debt by 80%
  • increased outsourcing to private companies in the NHS by £15 billion (since 2015)

And you say you don’t like Jeremy Corbyn? Maybe it’s time think again.

Priced out of Whitstable

Flats and houses are springing up in town – but none for me

It seems my time in Whitstable may be coming to an end. I can no longer afford to live here.

I first moved to the town in 1984. It was an undiscovered little fishing village back then. I spent the first six months swimming in the sea and eating sea food.

It was the same year as the Miner’s strike. My first public appearance would have been standing outside the Co-op collecting money for the NUM. That’s more than 35 years ago now.

I’ve lived in every part of the town. I won’t list all the roads as it would probably take up most of this column. I’ve always rented.

For a number of years I lived in Maugham Court, in a flat belonging to a friend, which I sublet to a series of tenants. I made a number of friends in the process. More recently I’ve been sharing with friends in Essex Street, but they’ve decided to move. They’ve given me a year.

I’ve been looking at property. I have some money which Dad left me. Unfortunately it’s not enough to buy anything around here.

I’m too old to get a mortgage. I retired last year and all I have is my state pension.

I went to look at a Park Home: literally the only place within my price range. It was a glorified shed, 36′ by 10′: one bedroom, kitchen, living room, shower room, plus a small yard, selling for £65,000.

I could have handled that. It’s in a beautiful spot, by the woods, with a friendly community, but I’d be paying ground rent, plus bills, which would leave me with barely enough to live on.

How can this be? The building dates from 1978, is made of wood, and can’t have more than 20 years life left in it. It would need completely refurbishing.

I’d be watching my savings depreciate while waiting for my death. Once in it I wouldn’t be able to move out. If I didn’t like it I’d be trapped.

I could buy a town centre flat almost anywhere North of Coventry. I saw a one bedroomed flat in Arbroath, Scotland, a fishing village near Dundee, on an estuary, not unlike Whitstable. It was newly refurbished, with double glazing and central heating, within a few hundred yards of the harbour and the sea, for £50,000. Here in Whitstable you’d be lucky to buy a beach hut for that.

I’ve given my life to this town. I brought my son up here, made many life long friends here, saw jobs come and go. I was a postman for 15 years. I know every inch of it: every street, every patch of ground, every alley, every footpath.

Meanwhile there are flats and houses springing up in every corner of the town. None of them are for me.

It seems a crime that I can’t see out my last days here.

Such is the nature of the “free” market. Free only to those who can afford it.

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Whitstable author C.J. Stone priced out of town’s rental market:

From The Whitstable Gazette 28/11/19

The editor welcomes letters on any topical subject, but reserves the right to edit them. Letters must include your name and address even when emailed and a daytime telephone number.

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It’s More Than the Brexit Election

It’s class warfare in the most class conscious country on the planet.

The UK’s very tribal and class conscious. Urban, working class people in the old manufacturing centers, like Manchester or Birmingham, tend to vote Labour. Rural people, where ideas of patronage still hold, are more inclined to vote Conservative. The ruling elite, historically, all went to the same school. Twenty Prime Ministers went to Eton, plus large numbers of Cabinet Ministers and countless Tory MPs.

Labour members generally have more modest backgrounds. Until 1945, most Labour Party members were working class. Since then a significant number of lawyers and other professionals have joined the party, a process that had its apotheosis with New Labour in the 1990s. New Labour was the creation of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and was an attempt to rid Labour of its old Socialist credentials, to turn it into the British equivalent of the Democratic Party.

It almost succeeded.

By the time of Jeremy Corbyn’s rise, in 2015, a significant proportion of the Parliamentary Labour Party were Blairites. This was achieved by the simple expedient of parachuting Blair loyalists into vacant constituencies against the members’ wishes. If you want to understand the current struggles within the Labour Party you need to be clear on this point. Unfortunately for Blair and his allies, the membership of the Labour Party didn’t change. Given the opportunity to vote for someone outside the political establishment, they chose Corbyn, the rank outsider.

At this point the balance of the world shifted, both for Labour, and for the country….

Read more here

Hackney meets Glastonbury in Wetherspoons

Knife crime? This was a bored three-year-old playing a game

I went to Wetherspoons with a friend of mine and her two children the other day.

Their names are Angela, Toby and Kai and they live in Glastonbury.

Angela was born in Whitstable and often comes back to visit. She’s a bit of a space-cadet, as I’m sure she would admit, but I love her. For instance in 2012 she burnt all her things because she thought it was the end of the world.

“You realise you’re completely bonkers don’t you Angela?” I said, laughing, when she told me that. She didn’t argue.

She’s a single parent. Toby is three and a half years old. Kai will be two in February. The kids are a bit of a handful, a bit wayward and demanding. Angela is always chasing after them.

Sometimes she looks very tired. I would love to be able to take the children to give her a day off, but I don’t think I would be allowed.

Toby clings to his Mum like a limpet to a rock. I can’t imagine that he would let anyone else come near him.

Anyway, after lunch we were sitting there chatting. There was a scattering of toys about, crayons for colouring, and a couple of squeaky frogs. The scene was a bit chaotic.

There were two men on the table next to us. I’d clocked them earlier, but hadn’t really been paying that much attention.

Suddenly one of them said, “your child is stabbing the chair.”

I must admit it was the first time I’d noticed. Toby had a dinner knife in his hand.

He was leaning with his elbows on the chair poking at the cushion in a vague, distracted manner, lost in his own little world.

Angela apologised and took the knife off him. If that had been all there was to it, this wouldn’t be a story. Unfortunately the man decided to expand upon his observation.

“Only I’m from Hackney,” he said. “We know all about knife-crime up there.”

Pardon? Knife-crime?

This was a three year old with a blunt knife. It didn’t even have a pointed end. And it was a chair cushion he was sticking it to.

He wasn’t attacking an old lady on the street trying to take her pension money from her. He was a bored child playing a game.

How strange. Is this a London thing or what? It wasn’t only the absurd exaggeration.

Aside from the note of disapproval, there was also an air of worldly knowingness in his tone.

It was as if he was saying, “I’m from London, I’ve seen everything there is to see.”

Well yes, I’m sure you have. And the next time I catch a three year old robbing an old Granny with a butter knife, I’ll remember to ring the police.

Meanwhile Angela was embarrassed. We packed up hurriedly, wrapped up in our coats and went over to Cornwallis Circle to play on the swings.

No murders were committed while we were there.

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From The Whitstable Gazette 14/11/19

The editor welcomes letters on any topical subject, but reserves the right to edit them. Letters must include your name and address even when emailed and a daytime telephone number.

Send letters to: The Editor, Room B119 Canterbury College, New Dover Road, Canterbury CT1 3AJ

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Samhain Harvest Spirit

Why can’t people be allowed to top up their meagre wages?

It’s that time of years again folks.

The clocks have gone back, it’s dark by five in the evening, and there’s a smell of decomposition in the air.

Meanwhile the mushrooms are sprouting, the veil between the worlds has lifted and there are spirits roaming amongst us.

Thursday is Halloween. That’s Samhain in the Celtic calendar. Friday is the Day of the Dead. It’s the time when we remember all those who have passed over into whatever lies beyond this life.

Whether you believe in spirits or not isn’t important. What we are remembering is our own mortality. By honouring the dead we are paying attention to the fact that we are alive, and that life is rare and precious.

One of the news stories this week was about the fact that there is fruit being left on the trees because Eastern Europeans aren’t picking the harvest due to Brexit uncertainty.

According to the Grocer magazine, there are 1,500 unfilled vacancies on British farms.

It’s not that many years ago that most seasonal farm work was done by British labour on a casual basis.

I used to do it. Most of the people I knew did it. It’s good work, cash in hand, with lots of benefits. Up bright and early, in the fresh air, it connects you to the land and to the season in a way no other job can.

Traditionally it was done by women for pin money. Or it was done by students, or people on the dole. You didn’t have to give your National Insurance number. It was piece-work, meaning the faster you worked the more you earned, but you could go at whatever rate you chose.

You were paid on a daily basis. If it rained you didn’t get paid. I was a single parent at the time, on benefits, so the money came in useful.

They started busing Eastern Europeans in sometime in the early 2000s at around the same time the government started demanding that employers took a record of National Insurance numbers.

I wrote an article in the Big Issue about it at the time. I interviewed a local farmer. He said, “the Eastern Europeans are better pickers. They pick more fruit, they work longer hours and – I have to admit – sometimes we pay them a little less.”

This was in 2003. There still were English workers doing it back then. Since then the Eastern Europeans have taken over and almost no one doing seasonal work is British any more.

This is because it’s no longer casual. You have to declare your income. If you are on benefits you will lose them and it may take months to reinstate them once the work is over.

This seems absurd to me. Why can’t people earn a little extra to top up their meagre income?

Corporations like Amazon and Google get away with billions in unpaid taxes.

As always it’s one law for the rich, and another for the rest of us.

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From The Whitstable Gazette 31/10/19

The editor welcomes letters on any topical subject, but reserves the right to edit them. Letters must include your name and address even when emailed and a daytime telephone number.

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New York: City of the Nephilim

New York is not just a collection of buildings. It has a psychic presence too. CJ Stone goes in search of angels and movies in the City of the Nephilim as Atlantis rises from the waves.

Evolution

We came in on the George Washington Bridge on the Interstate, but you could see the city long before that, from deep inside New Jersey somewhere, the jagged line of skyscrapers flashing between the hills and trees, shimmering in the bright autumn sunlight like some giant bejewelled crown abandoned on the shore by a long-forgotten god. Manhattan Island. Was there ever a more iconic – or instantly recognisable – skyline?

And then we were sweeping in off the freeway along the slow arc of the ramp and down into the bustle of traffic along the highway, making for the Upper West Side.

What is it about New York? Even that phrase “the Upper West Side” is iconic – despite the fact that is no more than a geographical description – sending a spurt of adrenaline into the blood and making the heart beat a little faster. And now there we were amongst the snarling traffic, the mean yellow taxis, the lumbering behemoths of those great American lorries, the limousines, the big-wheel trucks, nudging forward from traffic light to traffic light amidst the blare of horns, the dust and confusion, edging slowly forward in the contending traffic like Darwinian creatures in an evolutionary struggle for survival.

Yes, that’s exactly what New York feels like. It’s like you’ve accidentally wandering into some accelerated version of evolution, like the city is urging you from behind – nudging you, pressing you – the whole weight of the city pushing you forward whether you like it or not.

As soon as you step out you can sense it: a kind of hormonal electricity in the air, humanity on a knife edge, an urgency, a drive, crazy, egotistical, vain, but marvellously exciting, as if anything can happen here, and often does, in the grand canyon avenues with the constant blare of traffic and the echoed wailing of police sirens, and people moving to and fro with such a mighty sense of purpose. The hustle. The noise. The constant movement, like a tidal surge of humanity welling up along the straight square streets laid out like graph paper and buzzing with life.

We parked the car, my brother and I, dropped our bags in the hotel, and went out to join the throng….

Read more here….

Review: The William Blake Exhibition at Tate Britain

Poet’s verses ring true as we face our very own revolution

I went to see the Blake exhibition at Tate Britain last week. I would love to recommend it, except for one thing. It cost £18 to get in.

The exhibition is obviously a great success. I went on a Tuesday and it was packed.

Tens of thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands, will go to see it. It will earn millions for the gallery.

And yet Blake lived his entire life in a state of poverty, dependant upon the charity of benefactors. Were he alive today he would not have been able to afford to go to his own exhibition.

This is only one of the many ironies we can associate with William Blake.

For instance, his most famous poem, Jerusalem, is virtually the English national anthem. And yet Blake was not a nationalist.

It was played at the wedding of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle. And yet Blake was a republican.

Jerusalem is sung at establishment events, such as the last day of the Proms, or the Conservative Party conference. And yet Blake was anti-establishment.

He was a radical protestant. He sported a Liberty Cap in support of the French revolution. He was tried for sedition for insulting the King.

Jerusalem appears in the preface to his epic poem, Milton, on the same page as a call to the “Young Men of the New Age” to rise up against “the ignorant Hirelings…. in the Camp, the Court, & the University.”

The “Hirelings” are still with us, of course, but these days we also find them in the BBC, the Guardian and the Parliamentary Labour Party.

“There is a Class of Men,” he adds, “whose whole delight is in Destroying.”

He is often considered a romantic. He was a contemporary of Wordsworth and Coleridge. And yet he spent the majority of his life in London. He was a city dweller, a working engraver; an artisan, not an artist.

His work is unique. There is nothing like it. One of the most wondrous parts of the exhibition is a series of twelve large colour prints that prefigure Surrealism.

They were created using tacky paint which was then put through a press to create a random texture, not unlike the “psychic automatism” pioneered by Max Ernst in the 20th Century. In other words, Blake was at least 100 years ahead of his time.

He lived at the turn of the 19th century in a period of great social and economic unrest, when the Industrial Revolution was shaking the very foundations of the world.

This is why he speaks to us now. Our world, too, is changing. The Information Revolution is upon us, and no one knows where it will lead.

As the song suggests, we should not cease from mental fight, nor should our swords sleep in our hands: “Till we have built Jerusalem/ In England’s green & pleasant Land.”

One last irony. Despite all this – or perhaps because of it — William Blake makes us proud to be English.

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William Blake Now: Why He Matters More Than Ever by John Higgs

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From The Whitstable Gazette 17/10/19

The editor welcomes letters on any topical subject, but reserves the right to edit them. Letters must include your name and address even when emailed and a daytime telephone number.

Send letters to: The Editor, Room B119 Canterbury College, New Dover Road, Canterbury CT1 3AJ

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