Friday, 26 October 2012

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists

                 Philanthropy at its best  (picture published by
I finished reading Robert Tressell's book -The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists- almost at the same time as the outcome of last week's Galician elections was being announced. To be perfectly honest, I'd finished the book a couple of days before but what Tressell's work depicted and so bitterly criticised about Edwardian England was still lingering on my mind as news about another downfall was becoming reality.
Tressell's must-read book is an all too depressingly familiar criticism of  Capitalism as a system that will inevitably ensure wealth and privileges for a selected elite who can only prosper thanks to the systematic abuse, oppression and robbery of the working classes. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists is considered to be the first Socialist novel, which largely focuses on the miserable lives of a group of workers in Southern England. The author considers these hungry, exploited poor wretches as the real philanthropists, as it is only thanks to the appalling conditions they live in -not far from slavery- that their 'Masters' can live in obnoxious luxury, whilst pretending to care about the well-being of their 'inferiors'. As the writer says, they are 'loathsome hypocrites'. What the book so well reflects is the way these deprived men and women are willing to maintain this farce, much to the dismay of Owen and Barrington, the only characters who are able to see and fight such injustices.
All these thoughts about the  relationship between the 'Masters' and their serfs  came to me as I was following the results of the aforementioned Galician parliamentary elections, which somehow reinforced Tressell's theories. Once again, those who are really screwed and bear the brunt of a crumbling system voted in support of their masters, perhaps in the hope of obtaining some minor favour or simply because their ignorance and fear is bigger than their sense.The masters' dogs (in the novel represented so well by Hunter-also known as Misery) did everything they could to help perpetuate this vicious situation, as illustrated in the above picture.
The 21st Century's philanthropist don't have their trousers ragged but instead they have a system that is falling apart behind their eyes and they are not even getting the breadcrumbs.A despicable spectacle indeed.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

The Closed Circle

Things could only get better
With The Closed Circle, Jonathan Coe's last volume of the trilogy started with What a carve up!, the writer send us right back to those years we've left not long ago; those years when it seemed that almost anything was possible, when things were looking up and they 'could only get better'. The story starts off by taking us back to some of the main characters of the trilogy's previous book, The Rotters' Club; instead of the happy and  innocent 70s when they were growing up, we find them now at the turn of the millennium, their lives now very different to what they'd perhaps imagined.The Blair years are in full swing and through the character of Paul, now a Labour MP and self-confessed Blairite, Coe takes aim at those who so well knew how to play the game and used the party's supposedly progressive agenda to gain power and glory.
Somehow predictably, it is also the tale of those golden boys and girls, so talented and with a bright future ahead of them who never fully realised their potential and now wander around quite erratically, stumbling upon failed relationships and forgotten life projects.
In true Coe's fashion, the book's stories are intertwined and connected in a way that sometimes are surprising and sometimes quite easy to predict where the author is leading us to.
All in all, The Closed Circle is an interesting read, particularly because it depicts quite well the arrogance and vanity of the political elite, ultimately only interested in raising their own profile, in the hope of getting their slice of the cake.
If you like the fantastically written and performed sitcom 'The Thick of It', you'll probably enjoy this book.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

There'll be days like this

Born to rant: The Man is back
The man whose voice heals the soul, as someone once famously- and accurately- described Van Morrison's voice, is back with a bang. After years releasing records that lacked the spark and intensity that had become his trademark, Van The Man seems to have found his former self, which means that (possibly) one of the angriest and most unfriendly artists in the business is in top form, if his latest release is anything to go by. It's been four years since his last record and I must confess that I hadn't missed him much, perhaps because I'd grown a bit bored, being fed up and disappointed at both the man's latest efforts and his ever moaning about everything. After a couple of days listening to the new album though, it is now quite clear that you shouldn't underestimate the man; just when I thought that my long-standing relationship with the Lion of Belfast had come to an end, he resurfaces with a collection of gems that takes me straight back to the good old years, when his voice and music would be played endlessly.
Admittedly, there's nothing new here, nothing that will surprise seasoned fans but, really, there is no need for that. Born to Sing: No Plan B (you can guess from the title that we are for a treat) grabs you from the very first note and then there's no way back; that powerful and unmistakable voice, those delicious sax solos, the bluesy touch, a wonderful and impeccable band of six musicians in full's all there.
Quite interesting, from the lyrics point of view, is the fact that some of the songs included here are a scathing attack on the greed shown by the 'global elite'.He hasn't become a political activist though, as he says that this he is just 'observing the world around him'.I guess taking a political stand would be too much to someone who seems to live in a sort of ivory tower, surrounded by soul records and secretly yearning for that distant Caledonia on a golden autumn day.
There might not be Plan B, according to Van Morrison, but with albums like this, quite frankly, who needs one?