The Story of 1804 – from Haitian Independence to the Battle of Tsuntua

1804 proved a remarkable year in world history, in the arts, in science and industry, and in the shifting, kaleidoscopic dance of liberty and empire. This revolutionary age reaches a kind of climax: a good starting point for understanding the 19th century that emerged.

Warfare between Russia and Persia, America and Tripoli, and elsewhere in Africa and India, draws new political boundaries. Serbia rises against the Ottoman Empire, while a major uprising against the ruling Qing dynasty is defeated in China. In post French-Revolutionary Europe, a rare peace of some two years begins to strain and shatter as Napoleon Bonaparte crowns himself Emperor, with consequences for Europe’s immediate future. Between the beginning and end of the year, all these shifts, transitions and confirmations of political and territorial power from the Americas to Africa to the Caucuses accumulate to suggest a perceptible change of circumstances. This looks evident in retrospect, but must have seemed momentous to those alert to world affairs at the time.

220 years later, this year in a series of posts, I’ll look at significant global events throughout the four seasons of 1804. I’ll explore their background and their consequences, and trace connections and parallels between them to make some meaning out of the events of the year.

Old Wine in New Skins

Thoughts on re-presentations of vintage Doctor Who

In the run-up to Doctor Who’s sixtieth anniversary last month, two announcements in particular took this fan somewhat by surprise. Firstly, accompanying the release of the bulk of 20th century episodes onto the UK’s publicly-funded streaming service BBC iPlayer, came a brand new spin-off series exclusive to that platform: Tales of The Tardis.

Secondly, the BBC confirmed the rumour that early black and white episodes of the series might be colourised for broadcast. Rumours initially suggested An Unearthly Child, the first story, would get this treatment, but certain rights issues prevented it from making it onto iPlayer at all. Unbowed, Auntie Beeb commissioned a colourised, edited, and enhanced edition (a “cosmic makeover” according to the press release) of the second Doctor Who – and first Dalek – story, the seven-part serial usually known as The Daleks.

To mark the anniversary I’ll share my thoughts on these matters, dipping into the now public archive of vintage Doctor Who, and explore some of the issues around presenting them in new ways. Another surprise was the inclusion in the iPlayer release of animated versions of missing Doctor Who episodes, and I’ll begin by discussing one of these.

Continue reading “Old Wine in New Skins”

Art of Paris 2

Part Two: Cabanes Imaginaires Autour du Monde

This is the second in a series of posts relating my visit to Paris in October 2019.
See Part One

My first day’s Parisian wanderings led me to the Louvre, which I’d not planned on visiting. Before I even realised that’s where I was, my eye was drawn from a distance to this free outdoor photo exhibition, works by the photographer artist Nicolas Henry. At first sight it reminded me of a fairground, being a collection of three colourful, slightly higgledy-piggledy, circular structures.

Closer up, the work revealed itself as a collection of photographs of people in what appeared to be staged environments.

Gallery

The work was made over a number of years, Henry travelled the world to explore diverse communities, and enlisted the help of his subjects to produce these fabulous, very human and charming images. According to the blurb from the book of the project:

these participatory stagings are composed of large-format sets bordering on theater and installation, produced with the help of part of the village or neighborhood.

translated from Cabanes imaginaires autour du monde: Worlds in the making Hardcover – Illustrated, 28 Sept. 2016

According to the theatre director, producer and actress Irina Brook, M. Henry’s photographs illustrate perfectly Shakespeare’s sentence:

Le monde entier est un théâtre, et tous, hommes et femmes, n’en sont que les acteurs

“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely Players”

As You Like It Act II Scene VII

The backdrop of the Louvre can be seen advertising its Leonardo Da Vinci exhibition, a sell-out show and one of the largest ever collections of Da Vinci in one place at one time.

You can see more of Nicolas Henry’s work, including selections from this project, on his website.

If you want to see Cabanes Imaginaires Autour du Monde for yourself, it remains on show in Paris until the 30th November 2023.

Tribe

As an undergraduate I became interested in the the word ‘tribe’, as we use it colloquially. Despite thinking of it as word for something other, non-modern, non-industrial and even pre-agricultural forms of social organisation, I was aware the word was thoroughly civilised in its provenance, from the Old French tribu or directly from Latin tribus.

I’ve just come across some etymological notes on the word’s slang usage from those days, which I reproduce below.

From Slang and its Analogues by JS Farmer et al, which is available online.

TRIB subs. (Old Cant) – A prison (B.E. and Gross): see cage [that is tribulation]. He is in trib (B.E.) = ‘he is layd by the Heels, or in a good deal of trouble’.

TRIBE subs (colloq.) – A number of persons: in contempt.
d. 1685 ROSCOMMON, prol to Duke of York at Edinburgh. Folly and vice are easy to describe, the common subjects of our scribbling tribe.
1859 TENNYSON, Geraint. A tribe of women dress’d in many hues

Sunday Afternoon Radio

I spent the afternoon of the 24th October this year listening to two instructive, entertaining and even illuminating editions of two standards of BBC Radio broadcasting.

Desert Island Discs, running continuously on the BBC since 1942, interviews each week a ‘castaway’ entitled to choose eight sound records, a book and a luxury to console them in the event of them following in the footsteps of such archetypal castaways as Robinson Crusoe and Tom Hanks.

My maternal grandmother was a big fan of the show, though it’s the kind of thing I would only listen to if interested in the guest. On this occasion I tuned in on spec, and found myself engaged and intrigued by the castaway and his choices: Michael Sandel, a noted political philosopher. I’ve just re-listened to the edition, including the bit at the start I missed. Well worth a listen, Sandel’s choices include Hamilton, from the musical of the same name, which he mentions listening to more critically recently in light of his own critique of the ideology of meritocracy, Billie Holliday’s Strange Fruit and Nina Simone’s Feeling Good, as well as other delights I’ll leave you to discover for yourself.

Radio 4 being primarily a station of the spoken word, a valuable commodity, nevertheless produces a slight weakness in DID‘s format: we only hear the briefest of clips from each choice.

Radio 3’s Private Passions, in which guests are invited to share their favourite recordings usually of classical music or poetry, has the luxury of longer excerpts, but otherwise in form resembles nothing less than a slightly higher-brow version of DID. Indeed the emphasis remains on the conversations. Scheduled after DID, the two together form a good solid hour of enlightening listening both to musical choices, perhaps unexpected or familiar, as well as to the perspectives of some notable and fascinating people. On this occasion, Private Passions interviewed the ever-interesting Rory Stewart, former diplomat, Tory MP, and possibly spy. Stewart talks most interestingly of how little he misses being a politician. He’s particularly good on detailing an insider’s view on exactly how the political system corrupts those involved in it, so that by the time you get to cabinet level and thus power, all your ability to think critically and with nuance and compassion has been eradicated from your political practice. He even goes as far as to suggest if he had succeeded in becoming Prime Minister, which he had a crack at in 2019, he thinks he would have been ‘corrupted’. The interview also gives an insight into Stewart’s experiences in the Middle East, as well as his cultural interests there and in Scotland, including an interesting excerpt from a recording of Scottish folk singing, as well as usual suspects Handel and Bach.

Both episodes remain available on BBC Sounds, and repay a listen:

Taxing the Rich

A year or so ago there was a possibility I’d be interviewed for a story in the Daily Telegraph. I subscribed to the paper to check out the journalist involved, and have never got round to cancelling. The paper sometimes called The Torygraph, the paper of that party in effect, might be useful to read to keep an eye on what Britain’s most establishment political party is up to. It gave, to cite a relatively trivial but instructive example, the most in-depth coverage of the Handforth Parish Council episode featuring Jackie Weaver (if your memory stretches back that far), with the most detailed background information.

This week in the paper, an article on US politics caught my eye. The report, on Biden’s budget’s progress, seems to me a good summary. Though highlighting the views of billionaires and opponents to a proposal to tax unrealised capital gains, the details provide a more balanced view.

Continue reading “Taxing the Rich”

Philip Martin

The writer Philip Martin has died. Probably best known for the 1970s TV play and later series ‘Gangsters’, which was set and filmed in Birmingham, ‘Gangsters’ stands up today partly as social commentary and partly as an exemplar of non-realist TV drama somewhere between Patrick McGoohan and Dennis Potter.

He subsequently wrote two rather idiosyncratic, very political and satirical Doctor Who stories of the mid-1980s, and in a strong field was probably the best new writer for the series in that decade. Martin, while taking Doctor Who in new and bravely uncomfortable directions, impressed fans at the time as a possible successor to Robert Holmes. Certainly of the 80s writers he was closest to Holmes’ style and approach to the series. Vengeance on Varos, his first Doctor Who story, satirised reality TV years before it was even invented, and features outstanding guest performances from Nabil Shaban and Martin Jarvis. Its sequel a year later seemed to inspire director Ron Jones to create some powerfully surreal, dramatic and moving moments of television, with strong performances from Nicola Bryant, Brian Blessed and Colin Baker. Nicola Bryant tweeted her tribute:

Martin went on to write for the excellent 1987 sf drama series Star Cops with the episode This Case To Be Opened In A Million Years, which gave us some of the best character moments for the protagonist Nathan Spring battling his demons – and the mafia – in Venice and on the Moon.

Philip Martin was a visionary, offbeat writer and deserves to be remembered as a legend for his contribution to British TV drama.

RIP Philip Martin 1938 – 2020

Art of Paris

Part One: The Public Sphere

In visiting Paris last year in pursuit of art I had two specific objectives: an exhibition and a gig., But as I outlined in my walking blog, the journey would be nothing without the unexpected. I thought I’d offer a more focussed look at what art I found, beginning with the art of the street, the public arena where commissioned sculpture, modern and historic, competes with graffiti, architecture, and gardens, to create an admixture, a many-voiced public conversation we call ‘the city’.

Elegy & Memorial

Angel Bear

Warning: bad French, and an Anglo-Saxon swear-word

In 2015, in advance of the COP21 climate change conference, France’s state owned national rail commissioned the Angel Bear sculpture from artist Richard Texier, which I encountered in front of the Gard du Nord’s classical facade. According to the Solis Art Conseil:

the 7.5 metres high silhouette seems to disintegrate under the effect of a mysterious evil…the silent cry of the bronze animal captures passers-by to raise awareness of the urgency to act. Air despite its 4.8 tons, the chimera spreads its wings in an attempt to escape, out of the world already

https://solisartconseil.com/en/notre-serie-de-lete-oeuvres-monumentales-a-paris-lartiste-richard-texier-2/

More memorials of Paris

Pasted on a pillar, letter by letter, one Zebodj Mohamed ‘killed by the police’ remembered alongside a graffiti artist’s memorial to 17 Octobre 1961, the Paris massacre; the Fontaine Molière, a memorial in the 1st arrondisment to the playwright with whose name the French language is sometimes associated, is the work of two sculptors directed by an architect; and tucked away in a park lies a small but powerful memorial to the Shoa survivor, writer and activist Elie Wiesel.

Harvey Milk, the first openly gay person to be elected to public office, and assasinated a year later is memorialised with a Place name, while a street memorial commemorates some of France’s colonial history, the inscription reading ‘A Nos Morts (‘to our dead’) INDOCHINE ALGIERS,

Attraction Touristique

And then there are those big public statements of Paris architecture. My wanderings led me to my first view of the Eiffel Tower, icon of modernity, foreground traffic between us. An outdoor exhibition attracted me from afar, with its colour and shapes, to the Louvre, where I became fascinated by the people, their identities framed against the scene.

Next time…

In Part Two of this travelogue I’ll take a look at the free open-air exhibition Cabanes Imaginaires autour du monde

Photographie de Paris

Twelve months ago I spent a few days wandering round Paris, in the symbolist tradition sketched in my walking blog, exemplified by Baudelaire. Taking photographs wasn’t uppermost in my mind, but I thought it would be good to make some kind of visual record, and so I offer a little video/photo journal of that visit.

Arrival

advert in Charles de Gaulle airport
in Charles de Gaulle airport

First Day

Art for art’s sake

Last week, in my post on walking, I mentioned the poetry of Charles Baudelaire, in which the figure of the flâneur emerged. I first heard Baudelaire’s stuff as a youth, in translation, in this extraordinary recording made in 1968. It was good to hear it again, and I thought it worth sharing.