The Scotland Referendum – are we family?

This Thursday, 18 September 2014, the Scottish people (or, more precisely, the people registered to vote in Scotland) have the chance, in a referendum, to take Scotland out of the United Kingdom. While most polls have the “No” vote in the lead, there are a lot of don’t knows, so it looks like it’s going down to the wire.

My view, as a London-based Englishman who always identifies as British on forms – partly, but not only, because my mother is Northern Irish – is that I will respect the Scottish people’s decision on what they want to do. The sensible, low risk, thing to do is stay in the Union. But the exciting, once in a lifetime opportunity, is to gain political control of one’s own country. To escape from the rule from Westminster, often by political parties which have little support in Scotland.

If I was Scottish, and had the vote, I think I would be tempted to vote Yes. It’s too good an opportunity to miss. Self-determination, escape from the London elite. I’d be worried about the economic consequences, but I’d shut my eyes and hope for the best, assuming that human ingenuity would solve the potential problems.

As an Englishman and Londoner, I kind of hope the Scots don’t want to leave our country. We’ve done pretty well together over the past 300 years. We’ve had a prosperous economy, a strong democracy, we’ve fought together against powerful enemies. We had an Empire too, although we accept that that isn’t necessarily something to be proud of in this day and age.

We bicker and express our opposition through sport, especially rugby, these days. But we also experience unity through sport: the 2012 Olympics, the British and Irish Lions  tour of Australia both being fantastic examples.

At the end of the day, I’d support the Scots if they want to leave, but I can’t really see the point of doing so in this modern age, where national borders have less relevance, with the internet and international capital flows.

At the same time, I must admit that the “No” campaign in Scotland has been pretty poor. It has emphasised the economic risks of leaving, but has never really made the positive case for staying in the UK.

But what is that positive case? What is so great about the UK? You know,  if I got asked that by a pro-independence Scot, I would struggle to articulate the case. I guess I would say we have done alright for the last 300 years. We have a democracy, rule of law and freedom of speech which we should treasure, but none of that is unique to the UK. We have a beautiful island and brilliant culture. We come together in times of need – those two world wars, for example. English people live in Scotland, while London is Scotland’s third biggest city.

Is that enough? Quite a lot of it looks back. Looking forward, there is nothing new to offer, whereas the independence cause clearly does offer a bright new future.

Really, what the case for staying in the UK says is we are family. Like all families we argue, fall out, get back together, carry on. It’s where we can be our natural selves. But when anyone or anything threatens us, we close ranks: we know that, ultimately, we are one.

So the question for Scotland on 18 September is, are we family?

A very big question.

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Sportsthoughts (119) – Quins 0 Saracens 39 – what’s happening?

First home game of the new rugby Premier League season last night. A tough one against Saracens, winners of the league last year in regular time, although they lost in the play-off final to Northampton. Got there 15 minutes into the game as a result of work problems, but it was only 3-0 at that point and Quins seemed to be doing well. But it all went badly wrong…

Quins’ strategy is to build a team that can compete at the top largely through the development of home-grown academy players.  This is laudable. At the moment the first pick team has 14 Englishmen plus kiwi Nick Evans at fly half. Many of the team are either in the England squad, or are on the edges of it. The playing philosophy is attacking and entertaining. Everything that is good about rugby. It’s why I enjoy being a season ticket holder at the club.

It comes with a risk, though. Some of the other big clubs have bought heavily. Getting in seasoned internationals, players with experience and physical presence. Saracens, Northampton, Leicester, were dominant last season and every pundit at the beginning of this season predicted one of them to win the competition this season. The consensus was that Quins would be battling with Bath again for the fourth place.

It’s pretty hard to argue with that analysis, although I held out hope that Quins’ youngsters would reach the point where they could battle with the best, because they were the best.

Last night’s result damaged that hope, although it will be important not to overreact. The signs were there in the first match of the season, against London Irish, at the Twickenham double header. I just watched that one on TV. Quins won 20-15, but having cruised to a 20-6 lead in the first half, ill-discipline in the second half led to loads of penalties and two yellow cards against them. They defended well in adversity, but were lucky that Irish lacked the killer touch.

Against Sarries, it was again ill-discipline and basic errors that led to their downfall. Sarries’ first try came from a charge down of a Nick Evans kick and that set the scene for the rest of the game. So much poor decision-making: a few kickable penalties, which might have put points on the board, were declined in favour of kicks to touch in search of a try early on in the game, when there was time to claw their way back. Moves broke down, the ball lost in crucial positions, which allowed Sarries to break forward and win penalties, if not tries. And eventually morale sagged, the errors multiplied, the substitutions disrupted the team further and it all fell apart.

There was a leadership problem too. Chris Robshaw has relinquished the captaincy, presumably because of the demands he will have in World Cup year, as England captain.  That’s a questionable decision – even more questionable is the decision to make Joe Marler captain. Great man though he is, he’s a prop, always in the thick of the fighting, always on the edge of trouble. And likely to be substituted after sixty minutes or so. I’m sure he’s hugely respected by his teammates, but he just doesn’t seem the right man to provide clear-headed leadership on the pitch. What has been noticeable in the first two matches is that Robshaw is still half doing the job. But only half. So the clarity of leadership is missing. Uncertainty increases. And a team like Saracens exploits that brutally.

We have to hope the performance against Saracens is a one-off. It will surely lead to some serious reflection in the Harlequins camp, some challenges and a determination to put things right. The spirit of recent years can’t have dissipated, so hopefully they will rally and put in a great performance against Wasps this coming Saturday.

But this is the moment for the experienced players – Robshaw, Care, Easter, Brown, Evans, Robson – to take responsibility and show the youngsters the way forward. Even if Marler stays captain, which I assume he will.

Come on you Quins!

#COYQ

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lovelondonscenes – 67

The City from the Tate Modern. Two Saturdays ago, when we saw the Malevich exhibition.

First up the Cheese Grater and Walkie Talkie. The Gherkin is obscured from this angle by the Cheese Grater. Love how all these tall buildings now have everyday names.

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But St Paul’s reigns supreme. Always will.

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Have You Heard? – (54) “Royal Blood” by Royal Blood

Royal Blood are a two piece band from Worthing, near Brighton, who make an awesome noise and have exploded on the music scene this year. They are singer/bassist Mike Kerr and drummer Ben Thatcher. Their debut album recently charted at No1 and their latest tour apparently sold out in two minutes. They have had an extraordinary surge in popularity over the summer, which is a result of their awesome live performances on the festival circuit. I saw parts of their performances at Glastonbury and Reading/Leeds and was really impressed. The crowds were going wild. It was hard, primeval rock. The essence. It is brilliant to see a band getting massive because of their live performances. It’s like a trip back in time…

The debut album is an awesome journey through their sound. Two piece, guitar and drum bands have been in vogue recently. The White Stripes started it, but others, like Drenge and Japandroids have taken it on. I saw both of them at Latitude in 2013 – they were two of the best things I saw that year. This year a band called Slaves did the two man thing and rocked.  But I think Royal Blood have been the most successful at translating their live sound to record. It might be because Mike Kerr plays a bass with guitar effects (and possibly strings). It gives the sound a lot of weight. Yeah, this is heavy music.

The album is a joy from start to finish. It’s one of those albums that would have had a big PLAY LOUD sticker on it in the seventies, and yes, it is best played at maximum volume. The seventies might be its spiritual home, or even the late sixties, with the blues rockers like Cream… and of, course Led Zeppelin.

I’m afraid I can’t help it – this album reminds me of so many other sounds. It’s not derivative, it is inspired. Opening track “Out Of The Black” gives me Metallica, Muse and Led Zep in the first minute, with a hint of Arctic Monkeys. The White Stripes are clearly an influence and Queens Of The Stone Age too.

This is the band doing “Out Of The Black” at Glastonbury.

If you like hard rock, blues rock, metal, punk, rock’n’roll, I’d be really surprised if you didn’t like this album. It draws from classic bands from the past, but it is also completely contemporary. The melodies, the choruses aren’t designed for old lags like me – they are for the youth of today. Which explains its popularity. But it’s great for old lags like me too, because it is the latest brilliant example of why rock’n’roll will never die.

My favourite track, so far, is “Come On Over”.  ( I really like “Careless” too). The verse vocals are a bit murky on this video, but the beat is supreme.

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lovelondonscenes – 66

Smith Square, Westminster. Taken from the old steps of St John’s church. Stopped there today to eat my lunchtime sandwich.

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lovelondonscenes – 65

Osterley Park, West London, from across the lake. Taken from the dirt track/bridle path which runs close to the M4 – part of one of my favourite cycle routes (the dirt track, not the M4!). Took this last Sunday.

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Matisse and Malevich at the Tate Modern

Over the last week I’ve been to see a couple of really interesting and enjoyable exhibitions at the Tate Modern: the art of Kazimir Malevich and Henri Matisse’s “Cut Outs”.

Malevich is a 20th century Russian artist, although he was born in Kiev, to Polish parents.  His art changed over time as radically as Picasso’s. In the first fifteen years of the century, his art mirrored many of the trends in the west dating back to the mid-19th century. Impressionism, Cubism, the idealisation of the peasant. The art was vivid, intriguing.

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Self portrait

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Woman on a tram

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Peasant woman

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Woodcutter

Then he decided to create his own movement: Suprematism. It reflected what was going on in an increasingly revolutionary Russia, I guess. His big statement was a black square. Art “beyond reason”.

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Er, Black Square

Well yes. From this point I find his art interesting but not exciting or pleasing. He went back to more representative art in his later life. And that was good too. I’m always interested in the thinking behind the art-not-art. And often amused. But my instinct with Malevich, in his Suprematist period was, pull the other one, mate. This disqualifies me as an art critic, I know!

Everyone likes Matisse, don’t they? Beautiful colours, Mediterranean scenes, fresh, airy, look great on the wall of your living room. Nothing wrong with any of that. Art is allowed to look good.

The Cut Outs represent Matisse’s later work, in the 1940s and 50s, when his illnesses rendered him pretty immobile. So he began to cut out paper shapes, painted in vivid colours, and assembled them – or had them assembled by his assistants. The shapes were shifted around until his vision was fulfilled.

There’s something quite child-like about this. Who hasn’t, if they have children, painted bits of paper and made weird pictures with them? It is raw creativity, that takes no expertise, no prior experience. And it is such fun!

Yes, Matisse was more sophisticated than this, and grew increasingly sophisticated over the years of the Cut Outs. His work was described as a fusion of painting and sculpture.  But the pleasure in the paintings is primal and child-like. I loved the colours, the shapes. I wasn’t theorising, like I had to with Malevich. It was just pure pleasure. I liked the way he got involved with churches, and his “Blue Nudes” period, and the fact that he made a design for some limited edition carpets, negotiated a commission with some rich Americans. This is exactly what the Renaissance painters, Rubens and so many others did. Arts has always had patrons, who sometimes just want something nice, or big, for their wall!

Here are a few samples from the Matisse Cut Out canon.

Henri Matisse - The Fall of Icarus, 1943

The fall of Icarus

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One of the Blue Nudes

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Two Masks – I imagined it was a man crying

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The Mermaid and the Parakeet – spot them!

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The Snail – think about it!

The Matisse exhibition ends on 7 September, so get in there if you haven’t seen it! Malevich runs until 26 October.

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