When I was doing English Lit A level, many moons ago, one of my classmates had a great passion for the writings of Virginia Woolf. She was not on the curriculum, and our English Master openly mocked this boy’s predilection, preferring instead the richness of Shakespeare, the subtlety of Jane Austen and the almost masochistically intensity of Gerald Manley Hopkins. Michael Holroyd’s seminal biography of Lytton Strachey was published that very year of 1967, yet it was only when I went to university that I got round to reading that and then dived into the world of the Bloomsbury Group like a young penguin that has just learned to swim. Once installed in Brussels, working for Reuters — and therefore at last in a financial position to buy lots of books — I savoured Virginia Woolf’s novels and all the volumes of diaries and letters and the wide range of related biographies as they came out. It was the first collective love affair of my life. So it was with a certain amount of trepidation that this morning I went to the Press View of the new Virginia Woolf exhibition at London’s National Portrait Gallery. All fans, like my school-friend, his name now long forgotten, to an extent feel they possess their idol and so it was too with me and Virginia nWoolf. Even her feminism stirred me. I was reassured in advance of the exhibition to know that it was curated by my old friend and former colleague at English PEN, the art historian and biographer, Frances Spalding, who indeed gave a brilliant unscripted tour of the exhibition to the thronging hacks at this morning’s Press View. Of course, I needn’t have worried. This is the first exhibition of its kind, amazingly, focused on the central figure of Virginia Woolf, but through photographs, paintings, letters and ephemera following her sensitively through the various phases of her life and her growing struggle with depression. Having lost so many dear friends in the First World War, she was metaphorically pummeled to the ground by the Second, with the complete destruction of one of her London homes, and the horror of more human losses. Inevitably her end is seen as tragic, with her suicide by drowning in 1941, her husband Leonard no longer able to haul her up from the depths of despair. But mercifully, she had retrieved her diaries from a bomb-damaged house and these were later stored in a bank vault by Leonard. Their later publication told us so much about the author, her life and loves (of both sexes), but also so much about England in an era now gone and of her passion for London. All this and more comes out so clearly in the exhibition, which should not be missed. And highlighted on one wall is a quote that remains in my mind above all else that she wrote: “Thinking is my fighting”.
Posts Tagged ‘London’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 9th July, 2014
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: English PEN, Frances Spalding, Leonard Woolf, London, Lyton Strachey, Michael Holroyd, National Portrait Gallery, The Bloomsbury Group, Virginia Woolf | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 1st June, 2014
I was saddened, but not surprised, to see in the Observer this morning that Frank Field, Kate Hoey and a few other UK Labour grandees have called on Ed Miliband to pledge to “constrain” EU labour mobility, i.e. undermine the principle of freedom of movement of people, which is a core element of the European single market. Such curbs, which many Conservatives also back, are of course a central plank of the UKIP agenda — so long as Britain remains an EU member. I understand why the UKIP surge in last week’s European and local elections last week has unnerved Britain’s two largest traditional parties, but that does not mean that the anti-immigrant and anti-EU rhetoric of Nigel Farage’s crew is right. On the contrary, true statistics — as opposed to UKIP propaganda and Daily Express lies — show that Britain has benefited hugely from labour mobility. Though over 2 million EU migrants have come to this country, a not much smaller number of Brits have moved to the continent. One in seven new businesses that have been set up in this country have been started by EU migrants, bringing new vibrancy to town centres in places like Southampton. Often people here complain that the migrants are “taking our jobs”, but the evidence does not back that up. Often the migrants are doing work that Brits just don’t want to do (such as fruit-picking and being waiters in restaurants). Moreover, to the predominanly young British who can’t find a job at the moment, I urge: skill up, maybe learn a language or two, improve your work ethic and throw yourselves into the energetic UK economy that is now the fastest growing in the OECD! Of course, the rise in population attributable to immigration has put real pressure on housing and schools and some social services, but the solution to that is to build more homes and other facilities, something Labour singularly failed to do during its 13 years in power. Moreover, I love the diversity that EU migration has brought to this country, especially to multicultural London. Far from being made uncomfortable by hearing people in the train speaking a foreign language, as Nigel Farage claimed, I see this as one aspect of our wonderfully rich and varied culture: an opportunity to learn more, not to go off into a nationalistic corner and sulk.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Daily Express, EU labour mobility, European Single Market, Frank Field, freedom of movement, Kate Hoey, Labour, London, migration, Nigel Farage, Southampton, UKIP | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 30th March, 2014
One should never read too much into one opinion poll, but the YouGov figures researched for the Sunday Times today are a shot in the arm for pro-Europeans in London. They show that the capital’s voters are quite distinct from those in most of the other English regions, by putting UKIP in fourth place behind the Liberal Democrats and the LibDems at around twice their national opinion poll rating. The results are as follows: LAB 34%, CON 22%, LD 18%, UKIP 16%, Grn 7%, Others 2%. Though one cannot predict with absolute certainty the outcome of that under the d’Hondt system of PR used in the European elections (variables being the actual number of votes cast for each party and the total number of votes “wasted” on tiny parties that don’t win a seat), nonetheless were those percentages replicated on 22 May, instead of the current situation in London of 3 Tory MEPs, 2 Labour, 1 LibDem, 1 UKIP, 1 Green, there could be 3 Labour, 2 Tory, 2 LibDem and one UKIP (and no Green). That certainly gives the Liberal Democrats in London a reason to get their adrenalin flowing, and it would confirm what I have increasingly felt over the past couple of years that a majority of London’s population realise that it is not in Britain’s interest to leave the EU, as UKIP wants and the Conservatives appear to be engineering almost by default. Many Londoners have jobs that depend to varying degrees on British membership of the EU and of course the very substantial number of EU migrants living and working in the capital must realise that it is in their interest that Britain stays in and fully signed up to the core principle of labour mobility within the EU. All EU citizens resident in London can vote in both the local and European elections, in the latter instance providing they sign a form saying they won;t vote in their home country. I believe Nick Clegg called it absolutely correctly by making the Liberal Democrats the Party of IN. In fact, we always were, but the party centrally was nervous about saying so. Now we can be out and proud for Britain in the EU, championing the argument that it is good for British jobs and for our place in the world. But we have to motivate those who agree with us to actually vote!
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 15th January, 2014
Europe is blessed with myriad iconic historic sites, from the Parthenon in Athens to the leaning tower of Pisa, all instantly recognisable even to people who have never been there. But perhaps because they are so well known and so frequently photographed we tend to take them for granted. However, the US-born Greek artist Philip Tsiaras has deconstructed these and other landmark images by adding extraneous elements, such as stones or brightly coloured confetti, so that we are forced to review what we see with a fresh eye. His prints and photographs are on display until the end of this month at the 12 Star Gallery at Europe House in Westminster until the end of the month in an exhibition, “European Treasures”, opened last night in the presence of the artist and the Greek Ambassador. As Greece has just taken over the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union it was a fitting way of kicking off the gallery’s year. Philip Tsiaras is prolific and works in a variety of media, exhibiting and travelling widely out of his bases in New York and London. He told me at the vernissage that he loves the buzz of London and surprised me by praising the UK government’s decision to impose a £50,000 annual levy on wealthy foreign residents, on the grounds that then they are left alone, whereas in the US the taxman is always digging around trying to find out how much income and wealth the person really has so as to rake in more.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 2nd November, 2012
Today ballot papers started arriving at the homes of Liberal Democrat members in London so they can choose the order of the list of candidates for the European elections in 2014. There are nine candidates for eight places (a tenth, Elaine Bagshawe, has withdrawn). The Liberal Democrats are a democratic party, so everyone who has been a member for longer than a year gets the chance to take part by single transferable vote (STV). In 2004 and 2009 I was Number 2 on the list, and as such just missed actually getting elected to the European Parliament by a whisker, so no-one can be surprised that I’m going for Number 1 this time. Being an MEP is something I have always wanted, more than any other form of political office, though I did serve as a borough councillor for a while. I used to cover the European Parliament and other European institutions when I was based in Brussels, originally with Reuters but later freelance. In the early days it was something of a talking shop, whose members were appointed by their national parliaments and had almost no power. But in 1979 there were direct elections for the first time, giving the institution more democratic legitimacy. In Britain these were on a first-past-the post system in large constituencies, in London’s case usually comprising three boroughs (I fought London South East, which was made up of Bexley, Bromley and Greenwich). But in 1999, the Labour government rightly bowed to pressure from our continental partners to adopt a fairer, more proportional system.
I have often attended events at the parliament in Brussels and Strasbourg (yes, of course I am in favour of the abolition of the wasteful shuttle between the two!) and for many years I have been an elected member of the governing Council of the ELDR — the European Liberal Democrat and Reformist party, which groups like-minded parties from across Europe, including a number of states not currently members of the EU. In fact, this time next week I’ll be in Dublin at the 2012 Congress of ELDR. This moves round Europe, partly to give a boost to the host party; the last ELDR event I attended was in Yerevan, Armenia, in May. The Parliament itself now has much stronger powers than it did in the past, with many major decisions now being subject to ‘co-decision’ between the Parliament and the Council of Ministers (which is made up of Ministers from the governments of the 27 member states). MEPs usually sit on a couple of major committees; my choice ideally would be in EU external policy/foreign affairs and overseas development, but of course London concerns would figure large among my priorities, including the use of European structural funds to help create jobs and foster regenration in deprived areas of the capital, including my own home borough, Tower Hamlets. Because of my professional background, obviously culture, media and related issues are also of great interest. In fact, I write regularly for the culture website of the European Commission’s London representation. And I agree with EU founding father John Monnet that one thing maybe the European project should have stressed earlier and more strongly at the beginning is the crucial value of culture, identity and diversity.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Bexley, Bromley, Brussels, Dublin, ELDR, European elections, European Parliament, Greenwich, Liberal Democrats, London, Strasbourg, Tower Hamlets, Yerevan | 3 Comments »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 6th August, 2012
The euphoria over TeamGB’s triumphs at the London Olympics over the past few days, as well as the boost to national morale that the Games have been giving, has caused a flurry of speculation about whether London Mayor Boris Johnson could become the next leader of the Conservative Party and therefore possibly Prime Minister. He always denies that this is his ambition but I doubt whether he would turn down the opportunity if it came along. Of course, he would have to get back into the House of Commons to do so, but that would not be difficult if a safe Conservative seat comes up at a by-election – definitely not Louise Mensch’s Corby, incidentally! Boris’s great advantage is that he appeals to many non-Tory voters — indeed to many people who don’t normally vote at all, including youngsters. Thus he was able to defy national opinion polls and retain the London mayoralty in May (though Labour made a big mistake in choosing tired and tarnished Ken Livingstone as their candidate again). There is a mixture of brilliance and buffoonery in Boris that is sometimes irritating but often endearing. Who else could have been left dangling from a wire during a slightly misfired stunt near the London Eye at the weekend and keep their reputation intact? And he has a way with words, like a boy’s own cartoon figure. I first came across him in Brussels when he was a boy, as I knew his parents Stanley (a writer then working at the European Commission) and Charlotte (an extraordinary artist). Boris returned to Brussels later for an ill-fated stint as a reporter covering the EU, when he lost his job for not letting facts get in the way of a good story. But his wit and verve and sheer cheek eventually won through, making him now one of the most highly paid newspaper columnists in the country. One thing is certain: in comparison with Boris, David Cameron looks insipid. But does that mean Boris would make a better Prime Minister, despite Cameron’s mistakes in government? That I doubt. One can clown about as Mayor of London; in fact it gives the job some panache. But that’s not an act that would transfer well to 10 Downing Street.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Boris Johnson, Brussels, Charlotte Johnson, Corby, David Cameron, Ken Livingstone, London, London2012, Louise Mensch, Mayor of London, Olympics, Stanley Johnson, TeamGB | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 18th June, 2012
It was a smart move of the Stratford Picture House to screen an avant-garde full-length feature film on London just a javelin’s throw away from the Olympic Stadium, though I was surprised and saddened to find only half a dozen or so other people in the audience. The film was Patrick Keiller’s ‘London’, made in 1994 and set two years earlier. It is the first of three ‘Robinson’ films that he has authored. Robinson is the companion and sometime lover of an unseen narrator, voiced by actor Paul Scofield; together they trudge round London’s gloomier parts, bemoaning how inferior it is to continental Paris, with the latter;s good food and proper outdoor life. The pair certainly find desolate and inhuman vistas aplenty in London, redolent of urban blight and the legacy of industrialisation. They make a pilgrimage to various sites connected with Rimbaud and Verlaine, though the transgressive poets’ main abode in London was apparently knocked down to make way for the Post Office Tower (cheekily shown as a phallic innuendo is intoned). But to describe the film in this way is not to do it justice, as it is at heart a series of static images, rather as if an alienated but literate observer is stood still, just staring ahead. Trains (and one cruise liner) provide the greatest movement throughout. The narrator at one stage declares that Robinson (equally unseen) ‘believed that, if he looked hard enough, he could cause the surface of the city to reveal to him the molecular basis of historical events, and in this way he hoped to see into the future.’ There is one scene where the flaneurs chance upon a hallucinatory street at the side of St Paul’s cathedral, still frozen in the 19th century. But essentially the viewer is being challenged, the over-riding sense of melancholy punctuated at times with bursts of sardonic humour. It’s not an attractive portrayal of our capital, which was indeed rather dull in 1992, though even worse in 1972 and infintely worse in 1952. One could hardly call it dull now. But I wonder if Patrick Keiller — who currently has an exhibition on at Tate Britain, called ‘The Robinson Institute’ — did foresee what things would be like now?
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 10th October, 2011
Sectarian conflict has been a depressing sideshow to many of the uprisings in the Arab Awakening this year, the latest being the bloody crackdown on Copts demonstrating in Cairo last night. But whether it is Egypt, Syria, Iraq or indeed Great Britain, a mature policy of multiculturalism is the only answer. This doesn’t mean one size fits all; each country or situation has its own specificities. However, in the 21st Century and inh an increasingly globalised world, we all have to recognise that we live in mixed societies and that this is a healthy, enriching thing if handled properly. In London, of course, this is stating the obvious, as one third of the population of the great metropolis weren’t even born in the UK, let alone in London. But even when there is a clear ethnic or religious majority in a society, there needs to be an inclusive approach that embraces everyone, in an atmosphere of respect and tolerance. This is something Israel could do well to learn. Turkey, interestingly, is making small steps in the right direction, after nearly a century of imposed monoculturalism, though much still remains to be achieved. The European Union is of course by definition multicultural and officially celebrates its diversity. But in Europe as elsewhere, these fine words have to be put into practical action.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 2nd October, 2011
This evening I took part in a TV curent affairs show in which the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations were the main focus of attention. I was interested by the argument of two other participants in the discussion — far to the left of me — who declared that what was happening in New York and a growing number of cities across the US is all part of the global awakening and realisation of the wickedness of banks and the capitalist economy that has spread across North Africa, the Middle East, Europe and now North America. I remain unconvinced. I can see that there are links between the protests of people who are unemployed or worried about cuts or their pension prospects, whether they are taking place in Athens, Madrid or San Francisco. But that trend is not the same as the cry for freedom and democracy that has gone up from Tunisia to Syria. Besides, the call from some of the American marchers — and my fellow pundits who are so sympathetic towards them — was to bring down the banks. Ruin them. I am as unhappy as the next person about the obscene riches some of the top bankers have earned and the way casino banking jeopardised the world economy. But bringing down the banks is the last thing we need just at present. It would send us straight back into an even deeper recession.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 12th August, 2011
It has long been said that London is a city of many villages, but in recent years the ‘village feel’ about many areas has disappeared. This is partly because of insensitive redevelopment, but a more serious cause is the change in people’s lifestyles. Many Londoners today simply don’t know their neighbours, don’t patronize their local shops (apart from quick dashes to the nearest convenience store when the milk runs out) and they plan their social life city-wide. That’s all very well up to a point, but only up to a point. Neighbourhoods should be communities, diverse yet united and concerned with maintaining or improving the local quality of life. Of course, this concept was at the heart of ‘Community Politics’, launched by the old Liberal Party back in the 1970s. But it needs to be dusted down and re-invigorated, especially in our capital city. Paradoxically, the violence, destruction and looting of the past week has indirectly given a healthy impetus to the process of regeneration. People have come out of their little cocoons or dormitory-apartments and declared a stake in their neighbourhood. Political parties, faith groups and community organisations should seize the moment and regenerate the character and spirit of their neighbourhoods before people slip back into their isolation and their inertia.